Oxenfree - Xbox One

Between Oxenfree and last year’s Until Dawn, it is a good time for narrative focused horror games. I’m realizing in this moment that I haven’t posted a top 10 2015 games list yet, and I will, but in the meantime I can confirm Until Dawn has a firm spot on that list. It’s only a few months later and we’ve already been given another solid horror title. That seems rare. Is that rare? Seems rare.

Just how good is Oxenfree? Good enough that it inspired me to write my first video game review on this site in like 18 months.

It’s going to be hard to say too much about the overall concept of Oxenfree without spoiling anything. I went in completely blind, only knowing it had supernatural elements and was reviewing well. That’s the way I would recommend anyone go into it…which I realize in this moment is a statement that applies to nearly any piece of entertainment ever. Watching it unfold and seeing the game slowly unveil its hand is an absolute joy so I will give the most base level summary I can here - You are Alex. Alex and her friends are taking a boat to an island. They accidently make ghosts happen. Now go and play the game!

As mentioned, Oxenfree is absolutely story driven as talking with other characters and traversing the island makes up the majority of the game’s content. There are encounters with “enemies” but you are never at risk of dying/losing (at least not that I saw during my playthrough). There are technically puzzles, but only two different types and neither one is challenging. The first has you rolling through a radio dial to find the frequency that makes your controller vibrate, and the other has you trying to find the sweet spot while spinning a reel on an old tape player. Neither puzzle type is engaging and they are repeated numerous times throughout the game. I kept waiting for a twist on the formula to be revealed as things progressed, but the goal never changed, outside of making you do it more times in a single instance.

It’s a shame because the radio is actually a cool idea that, outside of those puzzles, is utilized quite well. At certain spots across the island, you can use the radio to dial into a frequency meant for tourists that will provide a summary of the area you are in. You can also just randomly skim through and find all sorts of creepy business, like ghostly voices or eerie, old-timey music and more. It’s a neat feature that I really wish they had been able to go all the way with.

Thankfully they (they being Night School, and this being their first game) nail the crux of the game, which is the story and characters. There is a staggering amount of dialogue choice here. Nearly all of Alex’s dialogue is selected by the player and allows you to shape aspects of the story as it unfolds. Some of the dialogue definitely does suffer from being a little too “teen-y” but there was nothing too cringe-worthy and thankfully the majority of the dialogue completely works. Each character is unique and not nearly the one-dimensional horror tropes I would have expected, especially coming off of Until Dawn. There is depth to everyone here, with even the bitchy character given layers instead of just being the one you’re supposed to hate. These are characters I cared about and I wanted to be damn sure I pulled them through this situation alive. Except maybe for Rem. Kinda fuck that guy.

The idea that you are shaping the story with your dialogue choices feels a lot more organic here than in many games that present these sorts of decisions. Often in these games, there are very clear moments where you know this decision is a biggie that will dramatically affect everything. Oxenfree plays it more subtle. Ok yes the choices often make it clear which path you are heading down (things like calling your step brother an asshole vs saying he seems like a cool dude), but it never felt like it all hinged on a few larger choices that undid the smaller ones around them. Actually, it’s done so subtly that when shown some of the possible alternate outcomes at the end of the game, I wasn’t even sure how to begin shaping the story in those directions.

While the story is strong, the pacing can sometimes feel a little frantic. The situation on the island gets out of hand real fast and I would have been perfectly ok with the introduction to these characters having a little more breathing room. From there, things move at a brisk but reasonable clip, before a finale that is in a bit of a hurry to wind things down. There’s also a weird bit of business with one of the collectible types, letters that are written by an unseen character that provide a tremendous amount of backstory to the situation. These letters aren’t introduced until the final act, and you are required to traverse the entirety of the island in order to gather them all up. At this stage in the story things are meant to be wrapping up, so the characters don’t even have anything to say to each other during this stretch. You’re left wandering the island in stark silence. The letters are absolutely worth seeking out, but I do wish they were available earlier.

I can’t wrap this up without mentioning that the game looks and sounds fantastic. Each and every location/backdrop resembles a painting and there is clearly a strong attention to detail. I do wish there was a larger variety in the environments (lots of cliffsides and forests to run through here) but what’s there looks phenomenal. I’ve seen mixed opinions on the voice acting, but outside of the occasional “well maybe a second take would have been good there” line delivery, I was quite impressed and the music is top notch. A terrific sounding game from top to bottom.

Oxenfree is a terrific start to what could be another phenomenal year for video games. For me it came completely out of nowhere and had time permitted, I would have gone through the entire experience in a single sitting. Alas, commitments to other human beings and adult responsibilities prevented this, but rest assured a second session was all it took to see the credits roll. …I’m never good at wrapping these things up. Oxenfree is good! Very good! If you like video games that are good, you should check out Oxenfree!

Shovel Knight - Wii U

Shovel Knight is the first thing I ever kickstarted. It was back in April of last year and at the time the predicted release date was September of that year. I was never too upset about the push backs as I am always in support of making a game better instead of releasing it in an unfinished state and trying to fix it from there. So while the wait was long to get my product, holy shit was the wait ever worth it and with a product as good as this, I’m glad they took their time getting it ready.

Shovel Knight is of course a throwback to the 8 and 16 bit era, feeling like a lost relic of the classic days of platforming. However it isn’t just a graphical throwback, this is a game that features the tight controls and fantastic level design of some of the best of that time. Were this released back in those days, it would absolutely be considered one of the best and you would still be seeing it on “Top 20 NES Games” to this very day.

While originally I thought this to be a Mega Man homage, with its 8 stages, each one providing a unique boss and power-up, there is far more going on here than just that. While yes much of the presentation strongly evokes Mega Man, you also have an overworld map reminiscent of Super Mario Bros 3, a Duck Tales style bounce move, and some Zelda II-esque town exploration. It’s the kind of homage though where they don’t keep calling attention to it. I kept waiting for in jokes and references to games of the past. An “I am Error” or something like that but it didn’t happen. Shovel Knight doesn’t just want to remind you of these great games, it wants to be a part of their ranks.

The game looks great. Yes it has the pixelated NES look but there are lots of flourishes and touches that that system wouldn’t have come close to being able to pull off. There is so much detail in the characters and in the background, not to mention the animations are fantastic. It also has an amazing soundtrack which again, would easily be considered amongst the best on the NES had it come out back then. I can only think of a few times where I was so into the music of a game that I actually bought the soundtrack. This is one of those times. The tunes are across the board phenomenal.

It’s hard to explain controls as it’s the sort of thing that needs to be experienced in order to truly understand them but believe me when I say that the controls for Shovel Knight are great, though I did need to switch the initial button set-up from its default. Everything feels tight and at no point did any mistake I made feel like the fault of the game.

The stages themselves are terrifically designed and each one brings in a new element, from floating statues you need to ride to moving walls to bouncing along the back of a huge beetle, each stage contains a unique element that keeps things interesting. I also found the lack of lengthy tutorials refreshing. This is very much like in the old days where you are introduced to a new mechanic and instead of being told how to use it, you are taught through a series of escalating challenges. It’s a great way to do things that used to be the standard. It helps keep everything moving and ensures the pace doesn’t have to slow down for unnecessary hand holding.

I went into Shovel Knight expecting a punishing level of difficulty but all things considered it’s a pretty fair challenge. There are certainly tricky parts and I absolutely died but there was never anything that felt cheap or unfair. Well ok a few of the deaths where an enemy strikes me and I went flying backwards into a pit were a bit on the irritating side though certainly nothing too detrimental to the experience. It also helps that level checkpoints are very generous and you also technically have infinite lives since the only punishment for death is the loss of some money. However Shovel Knight employs a Dark Souls-esque system where you can reacquire that money if you make it back to the same place where you died. There you will find it waiting for you but if you die on the way back, that money is gone forever. My one issue with this idea is that the money is floating wherever on the screen you were killed, so there were numerous instances where I had died from falling in a pit and therefore was unable to reacquire my lost cash as it floating above an abyss I couldn’t reach. Thankfully lack of money was hardly ever a factor for me in the game. I was stressed at first about losing it but by the end my playthrough I had purchased damn near every crucial item so by the time I started New Game +, I barely had to worry about cash ever again.

So yes there is a new game plus where obviously you get to keep all of your items and power-ups. New game plus is where the challenge really kicks in. The amount of checkpoints is halved and you take half the usual damage while I’m quite sure enemies take twice as long to kill. As of this writing I am on the second last level of new game plus and then plan to go through a third time for all the collectible music sheets I missed. So while the game is on the short side, there is plenty to do.

I feel I have said enough here. Shovel Knight is amazing and will almost definitely be making a return on my end of the year best of list. It’s a terrific throwback that doesn’t rest on simply being an homage and captures everything about the best platformers of the NES era. This one is a very easy recommendation to damn near everybody, even if you have started to become a little burnt out on the pixelated platform throwbacks.

Murdered: Soul Suspect - Playstation 4

Anyone who lives in Canada has no doubt noticed that in recent months, the price of video games, both in physical and digital form, has gone up between 5 to 10 dollars across the board. When this started, I quickly went on Amazon and pre-ordered a ton of games, locking them in at the cheaper price just to be safe. One of these was Murdered: Soul Suspect, which at the time I knew nothing about other than the basic premise of being a dead detective trying to solve your own murder. When the reviews came out and weren’t so kind, I took a chance and let the pre-order ride.

For the most part, I am happy I did so.

Up front, I need to once again reiterate something I have mentioned on this site numerous times in the past. I am ridiculously into mystery and crime games. I don’t mean that hidden object bullshit that disguise themselves as actual crime games, but the real deal. I have gone on record as enjoying all of the CSI games that have been released (where did those go by the way? I will happily kickstart some PS4 CSI action Ubisoft!), will purchase any PC mystery game my archaic PC will allow me to run, and felt that LA Noire was some sort of dream game that was made just for me personally. As a result of this affinity, my view on this game is likely a little skewed. It’s certainly no LA Noire, but it definitely goes above the CSI titles.

You are Salem Detective Ronan O’Connor and you are killed in the opening scene of the game, a pretty effective sequence where his life flashes before his eyes after being pushed out a window by local serial killer “The Bell Killer, named that because, why else, he leaves a drawing of a bell at each one of his murder scenes. From there you become a ghost who can’t move on until he has solved the mystery of his murder. Also he is still smoking a ghost cigarette the whole game which makes me wonder how the hell that works. How does he still get to smoke? Did the cigarette die as well? Does that mean that cigarettes have souls? Sadly we may have to wait until the sequel for those answers.

You are introduced to a wide variety of abilities in the early portion of the game. As a ghost, Ronan can hop into peoples’ bodies in order to read their minds, and occasionally do other things like influence their thoughts to get more information or peek at something they are looking at to see what it is. It all has a lot of potential but unfortunately it’s not used as well as I hoped. The mind reading stuff is cool, the spirit’s way of talking to NPC characters in the game. However all the other abilities are sparsely used and only at very specific moments. You’ll only influence people or peek or possess them to traverse the environment a handful of times and its 100% spelled out for you on each occasion. It’s too bad as it’s certainly a unique approach to this genre.

Linearity is actually one of the bigger issues with the game. Granted I’m kind of used to it since the CSI titles aren’t exactly exercises in free will, but it’s still too bad just how determined Soul Suspect is to ensure you don’t fail. At each new location you will be given several investigations to solve. Primarily you are searching the contained environment for a series of items that you are able to investigate/click on. Occasionally you will be asked to piece some of the evidence together to form clues, with the game giving you several options to choose from. At first I thought this is where the element of failure would come in since they show you three police badge icons, one disappearing every time you select the wrong answer. Imagine my surprise the first time I guessed wrong for the third time, and then nothing happened. The final icon didn’t even disappear; I was just able to keep right on guessing. Why even include that if it means absolutely nothing? In LA Noire you were able to botch up your investigation quite thoroughly but here you are always being led to a path that is near impossible to stray from. It’s as though the game’s biggest fear is that you will get stuck and is doing everything in its power to ensure that never ever happens.

Although the investigations take place within small sections of each of the larger environments, you are given plenty of reason to explore in the form of many, many different kinds of collectibles. I believe the final count is somewhere around 250 items to find and collect. Thankfully they are not just there for the sake of it, each one actually adds a little extra to the overall back story, whether it be the Bell Killer himself or Ronan’s relationship with his deceased wife. My personal favourites are the location specific ones you can hunt down in each place that once you have them all, treat to you to a narrated horror story by one of the residents of Salem. They are appropriately creepy and it’s always nice to be rewarded for tracking down these items.

Outside of the investigations there are “action” sequences when you encounter demons that look like the bad guy from The Frighteners. You can’t take them on head on, you have to sneak up behind them and perform a finishing move. You can get close to them by hiding in….I forget what they are but essentially these like spiritual outlines, and every now and then there’s a crow nearby that you can use to distract them. These sequences aren’t too numerous which is good because they are not very fun. It often felt unbalanced, that sometimes a demon would notice me and the next time it wouldn’t despite doing the exact same thing. I’m guessing these sequences are there to give the game some more action but I personally would have been happier had they been removed entirely.

The best part of the game is Salem itself as it feels much more alive than I expected. There are people everywhere going about their business and it really makes the overall world feel lived in. You catch quick glimpses of conversations and while reading peoples’ minds usually leads to mostly inane comments, it helps that there are at least lots of people and most have something unique to say/think (though there are definitely some repeats in there as well). You occasionally get to help out another ghost find out why they died though these sequences are very limited in scope and very few and far between. I did have fun though hopping into every person in sight and seeing what was up with them.

I did also enjoy the story. Sure the big reveal does play its hand a little early and I can’t believe (the next sentence is pretty spoiler-y so you have been warned) that a bunch of cops working in Salem didn’t connect the dots in regards to the killing methods after working this investigation for months, but I still liked the general plot. The central characters are surprising well developed and there are a few genuinely surprising twists mixed in with the predictable ones.

I should mention that the game is quite glitchy. Twice I had my save file get corrupted, though that could be on the hardware side and not the software, I’m not entirely certain about that. Even still, I had instances where events wouldn’t trigger properly, characters would get stuck in the environment, several instances where characters would walk through objects as though they too were ghosts, and an early game objective simply remained my main objective for the remainder of the game no matter how much other shit I did. Outside of the corrupt saves (which again, may not be the fault of the game itself), there was nothing too crippling but it’s still worth mentioning.

I would say I enjoyed Murdered: Soul Suspect in spite of itself. It’s very linear and far too easy but I liked the story and genuinely enjoyed exploring the various environments and learning more about the town of Salem and its residents. It’s not a title I could recommend at its full price (which in Canada is almost 80 bucks after tax right now) but once it hits around 30, it’s a solid pick-up. It’s an easy platinum trophy too in case you’re into that kinda thing.

South Park: The Stick of Truth - Xbox 360

Before South Park: The Stick of Truth was released; I saw numerous comments about how it looked like it could end up being one of the best licensed games ever made. This statement was almost always followed by someone saying “Yeah but that isn’t really saying much.” I just can’t agree with that second point. It’s common to knock licensed games but people forget just how many great ones there are. Duck Tales, Goldeneye, Rescue Rangers, Chronicles of Riddick, Aladdin (both the SNES and Genesis versions), the majority of the Tiny Toon games, Ninja Turtles 2-4, the Arkham games (with the possible exception of Origins), The Walking Dead (the ones from Telltale, not that other….thing), and the list really goes on and on.

I say this because when I state that South Park: The Stick of Truth is indeed amongst the best licensed games I’ve ever played, I don’t want you to take that lightly.

Up until this point, the South Park games have been prime examples as to why many people knock licensed video games to begin with. It’s not even that they haven’t been great; they’ve almost all been actively terrible, with the possible exception of Let’s Go Tower Defense Play. I remember picking up South Park on N64 and being a little stunned that I spent the first couple of hours throwing dodge balls at turkeys and doing almost nothing else. The Stick of Truth had everything working against it as well with numerous delays and even a bankruptcy thrown in there, but miraculously they pulled it off and we have the South Park experience to end all South Park experiences.

You take on the role of New Kid, your typical silent protagonist whose perpetual silence actually factors into the story. Right off the bat it’s refreshing to have a game where characters openly acknowledge how strange it is that the main character refuses to ever talk to them. Immediately upon arriving in South Park, you are swept into an epic game being played by the kids in town where the humans and the elves are facing off over the titular Stick of Truth, which grants the user control over the entire universe. Things quickly escalate from there but I’m certainly not going to reveal any of the directions the plot ends up going.

Using the fantasy game being played by the kids is the absolute perfect way for The Stick of Truth to both pay homage to and poke fun at the fantasy genre. All of the swords, shields and consumables are simply everyday items a kid may find lying around and just given an awesomely fantastical name to make it part of the world. It’s well executed and surprisingly adorable, so long as you don’t take into account that the random battles are simply you kicking the shit out of other children who are playing the game.

The Stick of Truth captures the South Park aesthetic flawlessly, looking identical to an episode of the actual show. Characters move in the same crude fashion, locations are ripped directly from their respective episode and game play segue ways into cut scenes seamlessly, really completing the illusion that you are in fact watching the cartoon itself. There’s nary a load time to be found during the transitions either, everything flows perfectly.

Being able to fully explore the town of South Park is an absolute joy. Once the game opens up (which doesn’t take long) you are free to wander just about everywhere and I happily spent my first few hours of play completely ignoring the given quest and simply investigating every nook and cranny available. You can enter every character’s house, every business and essentially every building in sight, with only a few exceptions for areas you won’t be able to access until certain abilities are acquired. There are side quests to be discovered, loot galore, and dozens upon dozens of references to the show. It’s the most fun I’ve had exploring a video game environment in a long time.

Once I stopped exploring and was ready to experience the game proper, I was surprised at the amount of depth the battle system and overall mechanics offer. Anyone who has played any of the Mario and Luigi RPG titles should be familiar with the general battle system here as it relies on a similar idea of timing based attacks and defenses. Being able to nail your moves within the timing window takes a couple of fights to get used to, but it hardly takes any time before it feels completely natural. You can also use Fart magic (something I admittedly didn’t use very often at all), a variety of special attacks that use up your PP and several Summon attacks which are just…just incredible. There are also status effects you can employ on the enemy, having them bleed out, puke or be set on fire.

I also briefly mentioned the insane amount of loot in this game but I really need to stress that again – there is a LOT of stuff you can pick-up in this game. There are dozens and dozens of different kinds of weapons and armor you can collect. In fact, I don’t think I ever had the same piece equipped for more than maybe a half hour as something bigger and better was always right around the corner. There are also tons of patches you can add to your equipment which gives them a variety of perks such as increased damaged, defense, etc. Finally even the junk items whose sole purpose is to be sold are great as they are almost all items that are recognizable from the show and each comes with their own humorous description. Very rarely do I spend a good chunk of time simply reading through the descriptions of all my items, but it’s absolutely worth your while here.

The one problem with having all of this stuff is that once you get the hang of the battle mechanics, there isn’t a whole lot of challenge. About halfway through the game I had it set-up so that by the end of the first turn, every enemy was suffering from all status effects, usually resulting in quick deaths across the board. Aside from one boss battle, that is completely optional for the record, I hardly ever failed in battle, as by that point I was virtually unstoppable. Granted this also is affected by how I played the game since so much early time was spent exploring and doing side quests, I was plenty leveled by the time I was ready to dive into the story missions. I imagine this is how many players will do things though so this likely will be a similar scenario for most.

This should go without saying but I’ve seen enough people around the Internet pose this question that I feel I should still address it – no you should not play this game if you’re not a South Park fan, especially if you actively dislike it. This isn’t just a game that uses South Park as a general theme, this IS South Park through and through. It’s full of the standard gross-out humour the show is known for. If you need proof, one of the very first actions in the game is hammering the ‘A’ button so that your character can take a shit. Afterwards you can pick the shit up out of the toilet, and then later proceed to hurl it at your enemies in battle in order to gross them out. That’s a tame example of some of the shit this game will throw at you so if you’re not a fan, there is nothing for you here.

The other point of contention that needs to be addressed is the overall game length which seems to be a huge sticking point for many people. Because this game has the “RPG” genre attached to it, people have expectations that this is going to be a 40 hour epic. It is not. It took me about 15 hours to get through the game, and that was taking time to explore everything. Granted I didn’t get all the collectables and a few side quests remained unfinished so there are still things left to be accomplished. I really found this to be the perfect length though. There is absolutely no padding to this game. You never have to grind out levels or backtrack or do a series of monotonous fetch quests. What’s here is varied, fun and constantly changing. It’s a lean game and personally that’s how I prefer. In terms of replay, I will revisit this game the same way I revisit some of my favourite episodes of the show. There are also different classes to try (definitely have to do a second run through as the “Jew” class), and achievements which encourage multiple playthroughs so this is definitely one I personally plan to revisit down the road.

The Stick of Truth is South Park done perfectly, to the point where unless it’s a direct sequel, there is really no point in ever trying to do another South Park game because nothing will compare to this. It stays loyal to the show while also managing to be a great game. If you’re a fan, there is absolutely no reason not to get this. This is what licensed games done right looks like!

Outlast - Playstation 4

I play a whole lot of horror games and yet the same two games have topped my list of the scariest titles for many years – Silent Hill 2 and Fatal Frame. The former has one of the best game stories ever written and is loaded with unsettling atmosphere and disturbing moments. The second is the best at delivering sheer funhouse style thrills, loaded with jump scares and fucked up ghosts yelling at you about how they’re missing their eyeballs. Oh and for the record, I have not played Amnesia: The Dark Descent as my computer has issues playing any game released post 1998, hence it’s absence from the list. As far as I was concerned, Fatal Frame and Silent Hill 2 would remain the top contenders forever.

That is until Outlast kicked open my door, grabbed by the collar, shoved its mutilated face into mine and screamed “You scared now you fuck?!”

Why yes Outlast, yes I am.

As I mentioned, my PC is not terrific at running any games released after Sim City 2000 so I was genuinely disappointed when Outlast was released last Fall and I was completely unable to play it. I hung on to the hope that it might see a console release and not only were those prayers answered with the announcement of a PS4 version, but they were going one step further and making it free for all Playstation Plus subscribers. Huzzah! I’d have gladly paid 20 bucks for it but I also won’t argue with free. I’d heard the hype about how scary it was but had avoided the details as to exactly why, so I went in both excited and terrified.

The narrative in Outlast is pretty sparse. You play as journalist Miles Upshur who is given an anonymous tip to come and check out Mount Massive Asylum, a formerly abandoned mental hospital that has recently been reopened by the Murkoff Corporation. You arrive to find the main gate to the building locked so you’re forced to climb up through a side window. It isn’t long before dead bodies are falling down on you, impaled SWAT guys are screaming at you to get the fuck out, and big burly inmates are smashing you through bannisters. Things are way fucked in Mount Massive and it only gets more insane from there.

The game takes place from a first person perspective and they add lots of little touches that really help with the immersion. Of course when you look down you can actually see the rest of your body, something still oddly missing from many first person games even now. You can reach out and open doors either quickly or gradually, and when you peer around corners your hands actually come out and grip the surface in front of you. All of these are small touches that come together to give a real sense of weight to the Miles character.

Of course the primary gimmick here is the presence of a video camera. Pressing the R1 button brings up the viewfinder and you then see everything through the camera. There’s really no reason to ever not be recording as not only does it provide you with the ability to zoom in and out (occasionally helpful to spot something in the distance), but certain events, if recorded, will cause Miles to take down notes which you can them pop into a menu and read.

Where the camera really comes into play is with the use of night-vision which you can access at any time by pressing R3. The asylum is full of pitch black rooms and hallways so night-vision is an absolute necessity for large chunks of the game. It’s also a large reason why the game is so terrifying. The night-vision effect is perfect. It looks exactly how it would were you to look through a real camera and lights up just enough to see what’s immediately around you, maintaining a sense of dread that something could be just out of sight at any given time. Those glowy eyes man, *shudder*.

After playing the first section of Outlast, I was a little concerned that the primary scare tactic would be your standard jump scare. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of them in there and they are damn effective. They are great at playing on your expectations and not always delivering the obvious scare. They are also not afraid of stacking jump scares, delivering one and then immediately throwing another one at you before you have a chance to come back down from the previous moment. However the terror of Outlast goes far beyond just simple “BOO THERE’S A DUDE WITH SKIN OVER HIS EYES IN FRONT OF YOU NOW AND HE WASN’T THERE BEFORE OH SHIT” moments. It has an incredible sense of atmosphere, with the look of the asylum perfectly reflecting a building that is seemingly on the brink of collapse. A lot is done using sound, with creaking doors and distant voices surrounding you almost all the time. It’s the kind of game that shows someone in the distant running into the room you know that you now have to enter. It creates a never-ending sense of dread and unease, often making you want nothing more than to stand in place and not enter the next room.

There is absolutely no combat in Outlast. You are not able to attack enemies or defend yourself from them. All you’re able to do is run away and hide. Primarily you either duck under a bed or hop inside of a locker. This concept isn’t new to the horror genre, with past titles like Clock Tower and Haunting Ground employing similar mechanics, but it’s executed very well here. Being able to peek out and watch as the enemy searches the room for you is a tense experience, especially in the later parts of the game where the chances of them actually finding you are significantly increased. Having an enemy rip open the door to the locker I’m inside ranks up amongst the more terrifying moments in a game that is full of them.

There is a downside to these enemy encounter sequences. Outlast is a very linear title so once an enemy begins to chase you, there is often a set path you are meant to take in order to evade them. If you make a wrong turn along the way then you are done for as you can only take a few hits before you’re down. The checkpoints are usually generous but these sequences tend to reset you back to the beginning and once you have to redo these moments a couple of times, the tension is entirely gone and frustration starts to set in. Often though the chase sequences are extremely intense experiences and the ability to look behind you as you are running away is a genius stroke.

Another complaint, albeit a minor one, is about the aforementioned notes that Upshur makes as he chronicles events on his camera. The notes are written in a very sarcastic and often humourous way that doesn’t necessarily fit the overall tone of the game. This character is being put through the ringer both physically and emotionally and these notes don’t really reflect that, often making snide remarks about the events around him. It certainly doesn’t affect the game too much as reading these notes is entirely optional, but hey, I figured it was at least worth mentioning.

Outlast isn’t a very difficult game, though granted I played through it on the Normal difficulty setting and there are a few levels above that. You’re never going to get lost as there is always a single path forward, and although you may fail the stealth focused sequences a couple of times it never takes long to get a handle on how best to proceed through them. Using night-vision does drain your camera’s batteries, which requires you to find more, but this never posed much of a threat as I never had fewer than three batteries and usually had six or seven at any given time. It’s also a relatively short game, taking me a little under five hours to make my way through it. I doubt you would want things to go on too much longer though as it would definitely start to get redundant. This felt like the perfect length for this experience.

Outlast is an absolute must play if you care even slightly about the horror genre. It has some clunky elements and the narrative doesn’t always work but they know exactly what to do to scare the shit out of you. Wait until dark, grab some headphones and prepare to be fucking terrified!

Mickey Mouse in Castle of Illusion HD - Playstation 3

It has been a pretty solid couple of months for platformers. The Smurfs 2 turned out way better than any rational human being could have ever expected, Duck Tales Remastered turned out great, and now we have another HD update with Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. I have no clever way to lead into the review so please click onward so my time spent writing this wasn’t for naught.

I hadn’t played the Genesis version of this game for years, probably since not long after it was first released. Thankfully PSN pre-orders got a digital copy of it for free so I was able to refresh my memory with a playthrough of it before diving into the remake. It turns out to still be a fun, innovative and reasonably challenging platformer. I still prefer Genesis’ World of Illusion, primarily because of its coop play where the second person controls Donald, but Castle is certainly a classic in its own right. I didn’t realize it had enough of a following to create an HD update, but after playing it I’m certainly glad they made the decision to do so.

Castle of Illusion comes from a time where platformers didn’t bullshit around with complicated narratives, or really any plot whatsoever. Here, Minnie gets kidnapped and you have to save her. It’s all the game provides, and it’s really all the motivation that we need. There is an added element here where Sully from the Uncharted series provides narration for the story, usually at the beginning and end of each stage. There’s also the occasional bit of dialogue during the course of a level, but I never found that it became intrusive, despite a few complaints that I’ve seen around the Internets. Plus if it’s really bothersome, you can always turn the voiceover off completely. I personally enjoyed the narration and thought it added a lot of charm to the proceedings. Though at one point Mickey encounters living suits of armour and proclaims “These suits are not suitable at all”….so the audio still has its issues.

The game looks fantastic and clearly a lot of effort was put into the overall look. The amount of detail in each level is pretty amazing, retaining the same feel as the original stages but updating them in a lot of impressive ways.

The stages themselves follow the Genesis game very closely and anyone who is familiar with that title will recognize just about everything they will encounter here. There are of course plenty of tweaks to the proceedings. One example is in the first world, where in the Genesis game you are chased by an apple and have to avoid being crushed. It’s a very short sequence, lasting perhaps five seconds and not shifting away from the standard side scrolling perspective. In the HD update, the camera shifts around to show Mickey from the front (think the moose chase from Mickey Mania or the stampede from The Lion King game) and the apple chase is made into essentially its own mini-stage. There are lots of touches like this that alter your expectations so that even though the game is familiar; there are still surprises to be had.

The boss fights have of course been updated as well, with the bosses following the same basic patterns as the Genesis game, with also some added moves in their arsenal. The fights themselves though are still remarkably easy. The patterns the bosses follow are simple and you will get a sense of exactly what to do almost immediately. From that point forward you just have to repeat the same steps four or five times, and you’re in the clear. Granted that is exactly how many platformers play out their boss fights, but I recall hearing the producers of this game saying they were going to be upping the level of challenge so I was a little surprised to find out how simple these fights were. It’s not just the boss fights though; the entire game is a breeze to get through. I only died a handful of times from start to finish, and most of those were on the last boss, who still isn’t all that difficult once you get the hang of things.

The low difficulty gives the game a very relaxing feel. It plays great, with the controls feeling just as good as they did in the original. Jumping, shooting, it all feels solid and you’d be hard pressed to blame any deaths on shoddy controls. I found it to be the perfect game to just kick back to. I could enjoy a solid platformer, get a nice nostalgia fix, and not have to worry too much, if at all, about dying.

As expected, being based on a Genesis game, this is not a long experience. It will take you longer than the Genesis version since they do extend the levels and add in some additional content, but you could probably burn through this game in about 90 minutes to 2 hours or so. There are some collectables scattered throughout each level, which admittedly I haven’t finished acquiring so I can’t say for sure whether the incentive to get them all is there. I believe it’s mostly about unlocking additional costumes. So getting all of those will add some extra time, but this is still a 3-4 hour experience tops. To me, this is fine. It feels like the perfect length as it is and I really don’t think you would want any extra padding in there as it would start to get old.

Castle of Illusion HD is a solid remake and remains a very fun platformer. There is a lot of creativity on display in the levels, and it’s clear a lot of care and attention went into the visuals and game play. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Duck Tales Remastered, as I hold a lot more nostalgia for the original Duck Tales game, but this title went far above what I expected and I would easily recommend it.

The Smurfs 2 - Xbox 360

A lot of people were surprised when I said I was interested in playing The Smurfs 2 video game, since I was very vocal in my opposition to the movie itself (I mean come on, have you seen the trailers?!). The reason is simple – Way Forward made the game. Way Forward is one of very few developers (off hand the only other one I can think of is Twisted Pixel) whose name alone gets me interested in playing a game. In addition to some great original games such as Shantae and Mighty Switch Force, they also seem to be one of the few developers who treat licensed games with respect. Who would have ever expected Thor on DS to be decent? And yet these games swooped in and made a really solid 2D, beat-em-up.

So knowing these guys were behind The Smurfs 2, I figured it might actually be worth a look.

I of course haven’t seen The Smurfs 2 movie and never, ever, ever will, so I can’t say how closely the game follows the plot of the film. In a nutshell, Gargamel has created these two Smurf like creatures which he calls Naughties because Gargamel is bad at naming things. The two Naughties kidnap Smurfette and The Smurfs have to get her back. There’s some other stuff in there about magic and cartoon Neil Patrick Harris shows up for reasons I’m not clear on, but that’s basically all you need to know about the story.

As a whole, The Smurfs 2 is about as basic a side-scroller as you can get. At the start of each level you select a Smurf, each with their own special ability. You have five to choose from at the outset, with five additional playable Smurfs unlocking as you progress through the game. You can also only choose one per stage to begin with, though when you finish the game you can then switch between any Smurf as you’re playing through the level. There is actually quite a bit of variety amongst the various Smurfs powers. Papa and Vanity can freeze enemies, Smurfette can glide after a jump, Grouchy can ground pound, Brainy can double jump, and so on. Though I found once I unlocked Hefty Smurf, nobody else really mattered anymore as that dude just hurls barbells and destroys everything in sight. The only reason I would switch away from him is when I got sick of hearing his ridiculously repetitive audio clips. What the hell does "When in doubt, smurf out" even mean? It rhymes I guess, was that the only criteria it needed to meet?

I suppose we may as well move straight to this as the repetitive audio is one of my, if not my actual, biggest gripes with this game. Each Smurf has a handful of their own unique things to say, but they say them constantly. By the time you’ve played through a single stage with one Smurf, you’ve already heard everything they have to say multiple times. On top of that, they make a noise every time they jump or basically do anything. Your Smurf never shuts the fuck up and it becomes tedious almost immediately.

The worst though is what happens in True Blue mode. Every time you kill an emeny, you get a vial of…something…that fills up a larger vial at the top of the screen. Fill that large vial, and you enter True Blue mode, which means that the berries that you collect in each stage are now doubled in value. The thing is, when you’re in this mode, The Smurfs theme song plays the whole time. La la la la la la, la la la la la, you know how it goes. At first it was pretty cool to hear the theme as I figured it had to work its way in there somewhere.  The problem is that you are in True Blue mode constantly as it’s very easy to keep getting vials to maintain it, and even if you leave that mode, the larger vial is full again seconds later and you’re right back in it! It wasn’t long before I was playing the game on mute because I simply couldn’t stand to hear that theme song anymore. It’s too bad because the regular music is actually pretty decent, I just didn’t get to enjoy it for long at a time before LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA would smash its way through to assault my ears. I was tempted to just dodge enemies entirely so I didn't risk entering this mode, but one of the achievements requires you to obtain True Blue mode on every stage! So I was stuck.

The graphics are at the very least decent. There’s not much that can be done with the Smurf characters themselves since there is minimal visual variation between a lot of them, but the backgrounds contain a decent amount of detail and it doesn’t look as rushed overall as you may expect. The one piece of business that threw me off was seeing the Hank Azaria version of Gargamel in the final world, since up until that point you are only shown Gargamel through the cut scenes, where he looks like the cartoon version. I had almost forgotten I was playing the movie game at that point so seeing Azaria as the final boss was very surreal and kind of creepy.

The game play is simple but well put together. The controls feel solid, though it’s really just jump and attack. The Smurfs do move awfully slow though, and unless I’m completely missing something, there is no run button. Clumsy can do a somersault, which I would sometimes use to progress slightly faster, but other than that you’re stuck with the casual jogging pace all the Smurfs maintain. The levels themselves are well designed, if a little unremarkable. There is the occasional change up to the formula, such as a couple of vertically scrolling stages, but for the most part you’re simply running to the right until you reach the end. Occasionally Gargamel appears in a stage to throw an obstacle at you, but they are never a threat. In fact, they are such a non-threat that his surprise when his plan fails ("Fuck! I was sure two slowly descending obstacles would ensure your demise!") is kind of unintentionally funny. The boss fights that end each world are also, as expected, quite simple as they always require dodging a small number of attacks before the boss inexplicably falls down and you can jump on their head.

The game uses the Sonic approach to health only in place of rings, you have berries. You collect them throughout the stage and when you get hit you lose them all and go down to zero. Get hit when you have zero berries, and you’re dead. However the berries are so prevalent that it’s nearly impossible for this to happen. The berries spill out of you when you get hit so chances are great that you’ll just land on a bunch of them anyway.

So yes the game is very, very easy but it’s also The Smurfs 2 so it would be crazy to expect it to be anything but simple. There is some added challenge if you go for all the achievements since those require you to beat each boss without getting hit, and each stage does have mini-challenges you can complete that will add to the difficulty (don’t kill any enemies, finish the stage with 200 berries, etc). There is also a number of Smurf coins hidden in each stage, the majority of which you can’t obtain until a second playthrough. Still, even if you go for all of that, I can’t see this game lasting much longer than 5 or 6 hours. However, it is budget priced at $40, which makes the length easier to take.

The Smurfs 2 is a better game than it has any right to be. It’s a solid, though short, platformer with some annoying quirks but it’s an easy recommendation for kids and even families to play together since it does contain four player couch coop. So there you have it, Way Forward has done the impossible and not only gotten me to contribute money to The Smurfs franchise, but to then actually recommend an aspect of it to the public. What a strange time in my life.

Famicom Detective Club Part II - Super Nintendo

et me say right away that I am a huge fan of any game involving solving crimes. No matter how terrible they may be, if your game says “Solve the mystery!” or “Catch the killer!” on the back of the box, chances are good you’ll get my money. All the CSI games, NCIS, an array of generically titled DS games, the list goes on. That being said, I am ashamed of myself that I am only now discovering Famicom Detective Club Part II for the Super Nintendo.

The game has never seen a release outside of Japan but a translation was released in 2004. I played the game on a reproduction cartridge made by OCDReproductions, and it’s a damn fine piece of work that comes highly recommended.

The story opens with your character running from the cops after escaping from a local orphanage in an effort to go out and find your parents. You escape arrest when a local detective says he will take you in. A few months pass and you are now working as his assistant. You are called to investigate the death of a local high school girl. As the investigation continues, you find that her death may connect to a girl’s disappearance from 15 years ago. It may or may not also tie into a local legend of the “girl in back” a spirit who has been seen lurking around the high school. And that ladies and gentlemen, is all I’m going to say about the plot.

Straight out, this is much more a visual novel than a game.  So if you don’t like the sound of spending 95% of a game reading dialogue, stay away. For those of you like me who occasionally love themselves a great visual novel, then you my friends are in for a treat. The story in this game is great. It sets-up an intriguing mystery and actually pays it off well. The twists are often surprising, though occasionally predictable, and the game moves along at a good clip, ending each chapter with a cliffhanger that will make you want to keep playing.

The game’s setup reminds me of titles such as Deja Vu on the NES. You have a window on the left where you view the environments from your character’s POV. On the right you have a list of actions you can perform, such as Speak To, Check, Show, Think, etc. You are free to travel to various locations although there are usually only three or four available to you at any given time. You also have an inventory but it too is quite limited. I very rarely got stuck during the game. It’s usually very obvious what the next course of action is, and if you’re unsure you can simply click through each option until things move forward. As I’ve said, there is very little actual game play to speak aside from moving from spot to spot and conversing with the characters.

My biggest issue with many crime themed games is that you the player will often figure shit out hours ahead of anyone in the game. So then you have to spend a good chunk of time watching the characters stumble about to piece together information well after you have already come to the obvious conclusion yourself. “Hmmm, there were red footprints at the crime scene, and this man’s shoes have red paint on the soles. What do you suppose this means?” Ahhhhh come on! You may occasionally get that here, but usually the characters catch up quickly, which is a huge relief.

Graphically there honestly isn’t a whole lot to say. There aren’t that many environments in the game and each one is only a still background image, though each one is full of detail. The characters look fine and are each distinctive from one another but aside from the movement of their mouth and changing facial expressions, there is little that is actually animated. They never physically move around (when they leave the scene they simply disappear from view) and even the story sequences are represented by a series of still images with only the same mouth movements. But again, visual novel, so the graphics serve their purpose.

One area I can definitely highlight though is the soundtrack. This game has wall to wall fantastic music. There may not be that many tracks, but each one of them is memorable. They do a terrific job of setting the overall mode and several were caught in my head for days after finishing the game. Jump on Youtube and check these tracks, definitely worth your attention.

The game should take you about 6 or 7 hours overall. There’s little to no alternate paths to take through the story really so any subsequent playthroughs will unfold in the same manner. If you’re not someone who goes back to read a book a second time, then one playthrough of this will likely be enough. Myself, I enjoyed it enough that I could easily see myself going back to it in a couple years to experience it again.

After playing Famicom Detective Club Part II, I honestly couldn’t believe I hadn’t gotten to this game until now. It’s exactly the kind of thing I love so I had to get out there and tell people. Check this one out everybody!

Game & Wario - Wii U

I suppose I’ve never really given my overall thoughts on the Wii U since the system launched last year. My wife and I got one on launch day (our first joint console purchase, awwwww) and had a blast the first day, playing Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros U with our friends. We also had ZombiU and Scribblenauts Unlimited, two games I had a lot of fun with as well. Things were off to a solid start overall. Then five months went by before I bought another game - Lego City Undercover. Fun game, but that is a long time to go without really playing a new console. Game & Wario is the first game I have bought since Lego. The drought of games looks to be ending in August, at which point the system will hopefully start living up to its potential (which I do think it has).

In the meantime we at least have the occasional Virtual Console title of worth, as well as fun but unremarkable games like Game & Wario.

A lot of people, myself included, were a little disappointed at the news that Game & Wario would not be following the traditional Wario Ware microgame set-up. Instead we get 16 mini-games, most focused on single player and a handful of multiplayer only selections. There’s still elements of Wario Ware in here, primarily the familiar characters and general bizarre sense of humour. Just be advised that you should not go into this expecting what past Wario collections have delivered.

Game & Wario is all about showing off the capabilities of the Wii U gamepad, a somewhat strange idea this far into the console’s life cycle but I believe this was meant to be released far sooner. There are no options to play with Wii remotes or Pro Controllers or anything else but the gamepad, this include the multiplayer offerings.

I don’t feel a game by game breakdown is necessary here since there really isn’t a whole lot to say about several of them. If you’ve played Nintendo Land (and if you own a Wii U I would be very surprised if you haven’t) then a couple of these games will immediately feel familiar. Arrow has you aiming a cursor on the screen while flicking the stylus along the game pad to fire at enemies, ala the ninja game in Nintendo Land whose exact name I forget because it was one of my least favourite offerings there. The same applies here with Arrow. Game and Wario’s Ski game also feels like the F-Zero mini-game, requiring you to tilt the gamepad to guide the player through an on screen course. Thankfully I quite enjoyed the F-Zero game, so I have found myself returning to Ski frequently.

Shutter is one of the best uses of the gamepad, turning it into a camera and asking you to search through a screen full of characters (very Waldo-esque) in order to locate specific people and grab a solid picture of them. It’s fun, inventive, and the ultimate proof that Nintendo really, REALLY, needs to make a new Pokemon Snap game.

Another one of my favourites is Patchwork, a simple but addictive puzzle game that has you placing different shapes with a pattern grid in order to form a larger image. I burned through all the puzzles fairly quickly, and am now completely prepared to buy any form of content that is just more of this.

My favourite game, and what I imagine will be most people’s favourite, is Gamer. This one is entirely focused on the micro games that the series’ is known for. The twist is that the character is playing these games on a portable system at night, and trying to hide the fact he’s staying up late from his incredibly terrifying Mother. So while you’re playing the micro games on the gamepad, you have to continue to keep an eye on the TV, as your Mom will continually try to catch you in the act of playing by popping out of various places. Oh also, her eyes glow like a god damn demon and if she catches you, her face transforms into this terrifying monster visage. It’s surprisingly tense and easily the best experience here.

Kung-Fu and Flight are both ok entries. Kung Fu gives you an overhead perspective on the gamepad, and a behind the back perspective on the TV, as you guide your constantly jumping character through five different courses. There’s Flight, a side scroller where you tilt the gamepad to guide your character along a path, gathering collectables along the way. Both of these are decent fun during the first run through of the levels, but once I found the hidden scrolls in Kung Fu and achieved the designated high scores in Flight (neither task took very long to accomplish), they didn’t provide a lot of incentive for me to replay them.

Let’s round the rest of these up. Bowling, which as expected has you sliding the stylus to roll the ball and then tilting the gamepad to guide it, is fun a couple of times but I haven’t revisited it since the first go. Pirates, a sort of rhythm game that has you blocking attacks from an opposing ship, is another that I have not gone back to since completing the stages. Bird is a simplistic puzzler which has you moving a bird from left to right, using your diagonally moving tongue to catch falling fruit for points. Design is a strange yet oddly compelling game which has you drawing a variety of different shapes (ex: a triangle with 2 inch sides) and angles. There doesn’t seem to be a variety of requests though so the replay value, for me at least, was quite low. Finally, Taxi is the last of the single player games, and is a mixture of driving and first person shooting. It sounds like a mess, and it kind of is, but once you get accustomed to it there’s some fun to be had.

To see the credits roll on this will not take you long at all as you are able to progress after just beating one stage/round of each mini-game. Each one does offer a variety of levels and modes to play, so there are reasons to go back. There are also tokens you can earn, that you can use to unlock tons and tons of collectables, some of which you can actually interact with, such as a bubble blower.

Outside of the single player offerings, there are four multiplayer only options. Sketch is my personal favourite, even if it really is just Pictionary. I mean Pictionary is perfect for the gamepad so it works out great. Fruit has one person trying to steal five pieces of fruit while the other players try to suss out which on screen character they are using to do so. Once you sort out what you’re doing, there’s a surprising amount of strategy involved and it’s pretty engaging. Disco is a rhythm game where each play uses one side of the touch screen to bounce notes back and forth. The controls never worked terrifically for us so after the first go, we have yet to go back to this game. Finally, there’s Islands which has you using the gamepad as a slightshot to shoot these things called Fronks at point value targets. It’s another pretty decent one but definitely works best in shorter play sessions.

Well shit, I essentially ended up doing a game by game breakdown either way. Too late to go back now I suppose.

I’m not at all surprised that Game & Wario came out as a budget priced title. In the end it’s a solid collection of mini-games, with a handful of great ones and a stable of mediocre ones. It does give you a reason to power up the Wii U again as there is fun to be had, though I doubt it will sustain you until the next big release for the console, Pikmin 3 in August.

New Super Luigi U - Wii U

Nintendo is the perfect company to produce DLC for their games, which makes it all the more frustrating that they have not fully embraced this idea. New tracks for Mario Kart, new characters for Smash Bros, there is so many perfect opportunities for them to release extra content. Yet aside from some extra Coin Rush courses for New Super Mario Bros. 2, there has been little to nothing from them in this regard. That’s what made the announcement of New Super Luigi U exciting. It would act as the first true test of Nintendo’s DLC capabilities. Would it be a clear cash-in? Or would they put forth the effort and really release a piece of content that was worthwhile? 

New Super Luigi U certainly sounds ambitious on paper. Nintendo has taken every single level from last year’s New Super Mario U, and retooled them in order to suit Luigi. The character has completely different physics from Mario, with a floatier jump and a lot more sliding along the ground. It’s not a slight change, Luigi feels 100% different than controlling Mario, and it will take some getting used to. Later levels do give you the option of reverting back to the Mario centric controls, but I found it near impossible to make the change after growing accustomed to Luigi’s play style.

The levels themselves are considerably shorter than those found in the main game. You only have 100 seconds to complete each one, with the familiar “you’re almost out of time!” music kicking off each level. The only situation where you can get extra time is a boss fight, which adds an additional 100 seconds to the clock when you enter the bosses’ door. 

What these stages lack in length, they make up for in difficulty. These stages are remarkably more difficult than those found in the main game. By the final batch of stages, I was averaging 20 deaths per level, minimum. Nothing ever feels cheap or impossible though. It’s a fair, and welcome, challenge. With possibly the exception of the late game level that consists of nothing but rotating wheels of fire. Kind of fuck that level.

The stages are tailored to suit the way that Luigi handles. If you get a good run going, you can complete many of the stages in 10-20 seconds. Pulling off a fast and flawless run through a level can be quite satisfying, and I found myself actually restarting a level not because I died, but because my momentum through the level was broken. I realize I’m probably going to be in the vast minority on this one, but at the very least it shows how fantastic the level design is. 

Nintendo catches a lot of shit about releasing the same games over and over again and I’ve never completely understood why that is. Yes they do release a fair number of Mario games, but it’s only the bankable framework for a consistent display of genius level design. Sure there are the occasional missteps (New Super Mario Bros 2) but for the most part Nintendo is unparalleled when it comes to putting a stage together, and this is another shining example. The stages in Luigi U are top notch, each one having it’s own theme or mechanic to make it stand apart from all the others. The stages may be shorter, but there was no slacking with their set-up.

Since this is a Luigi focused endeavor, some character needed to step in and replace Mario. I never expected them to go too far and all of a sudden include Wario or Peach or something. Here we instead have Nabbit, the rabbit thief thing that you have to catch throughout the game. He isn’t able to use power-ups, instead getting a 1-up for each item you grab in a level, but he is also completely invulnerable to enemy damage. The only way Nabbit can die is by falling down a pit. Other than that, you’re good to go. It’s a nice workaround if you’re absolutely stuck in a level, but I could see one player in a four-person match being bummed they got stuck with what could be classified as the “boring” character. Though the idea of tackling this game with four people is pretty ridiculous, so you likely want that one person who is untouchable.

For $20 ($30 if you wait until August to buy the standalone version), New Super Luigi U is an easy recommendation. Over 80 new stages (the boss fights are the same, suppose I should throw that out there since that is a slight bummer), along with coins and exits to find, and a main character who feels completely different from the main game, add up to make for a solid package at a reasonable price. It’s a great piece of content and I hope that’s a sign of more things to come in the world of DLC from Nintendo. 

Deadpool - Xbox 360

A part of me still can’t believe that a decent budget was handed over to create a fully focused Deadpool video game. Granted there was that depressing story a few weeks ago about the majority of the studio being laid off, but even initially I’m surprised this got the green light. Not that I don’t think he’s a popular character, but I didn’t think he was “star of his own video game” popular. The complete lack of advertising, as well as how difficult it was to find pure gameplay footage until pretty recently, certainly didn’t instill confidence. Alas, the game is now out and it’s....it’s something.

I’m familiar with Deadpool and I enjoy the character, but I don’t quite know if I could call myself a fan. I’ve read a few of the comics, am generally familiar with the character, but that’s about it. The idea of bringing Deadpool’s persona into a video game was intriguing, though I knew it could end up being charming, or the most grating shit imaginable. Thankfully I found it leans more toward the former, though if you aren’t at all knowledgeable about the character I could see that very easily skewing to the latter.

The story is non-existent. Deadpool threatens High Moon Studios (who is indeed the studio who made this game) into creating a game based on him and then a series of random things happens until the credits roll. There is a loose thread in there about killing Sinister, as well as the occasional task of rescuing someone, but mostly the narrative is about fourth wall breaking and insane shit happening. Once Deadpool the video game character has a conversation with Nolan North (who voices Deadpool) about voicing Deadpool in the video game, the tone is firmly established.

Having a video game character that is fully aware of being inside a video game isn’t a new concept, but Deadpool is the best execution of it I’ve seen so far. It does still get trapped in the standard video game parody tropes, where it falls victim to the very things it’s making fun of. Sure it can be funny to point out how redundant it is to fight another corridor full of bad guys, but it doesn’t mean I don’t then have to do it. However when the game goes more for sheer unpredictability versus parody, it works a whole lot better. Having a character that can change the rules at a moment’s notice keeps things interesting, and they make good use of this idea. One moment you’ll be hanging upside down from your own intestine, only to then be transported to a make believe surprise party where you can stroll around and hit on women. It’s the video game equivalent of a child hopped up on sugar. It won’t sit still for more than a minute and just zips around from place to place with reckless abandon. It could have easily been a bit too much but I found they kept themselves reigned in juuuust enough for it not to be ridiculously irritating.

Not all of the humour works as well as these random set pieces. Nearly all of the dialogue is between Deadpool and the voices in his head. At times the banter works quite well but a lot of the jokes are essentially the same. Deadpool is awesome, hey we should get laid, farts. Though I do have to commend the sheer amount of spoken dialogue there is in the game. Some sequences went on so long without any of the jokes looping, that I eventually caved and just progressed anyway. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the quips from Deadpool when he is in the midst of combat. These repeat very, VERY, often. My wife even commented on how often a few of the phrases were repeating, and she was only in the area for about 20% of the time I spent playing this game. So she didn’t even get to hear the worst of it. It’s certainly not game breaking, but a steady annoyance nonetheless.

That’s an awful lot of review time spent discussing the jokes instead of the game play. Well, that’s simple. The humour is the reason to play this game. The game play is serviceable, but that’s about the most I can say for it. It’s a standard third person brawler, with light and heavy attacks and a variety of weapons to choose from. You can also teleport around in place of dodging. The controls are a little stiff but I did grow accustomed to them and they never really caused me any major issues. The camera wasn’t as compliant. The fights often take place in small spaces and often the camera would frantically whirl around trying to keep up with the action, leaving me just hammering the buttons and hoping that good things were happening outside of my view. However, the main issue I had is that when using melee attacks, enemies would take a ridiculous amount of damage before going down. It grew monotonous quickly as it turned even minor encounters into endurance tests.

This made it tempting to spend the majority of my time using guns, but they come with their own set of issues. The biggest issue here is that the targeting doesn’t work terrifically. You can lock-on to enemies but the process is cumbersome and I never got a solid feel for it. You can mix up your combos between shooting and melee but once again, it never flowed well for me so I hardly ever bothered even attempting to do so. Shooting down enemies with headshots is definitely the most effective method, but I always felt I was landing these shots through sheer luck, not skill. The best I can really say about the combat/shooting mechanics is that they serve their purpose and aren’t awful, they just aren’t impressive in any way.

There are some platforming segments mixed in here as well but they are thankfully pretty rare. It can be difficult to assess just how far you should jump, whether a double jump is necessary, etc. If you fall, it’s back to the beginning of the platforming sequence, some of which are have some decent length to them. Thankfully the checkpoints as a whole are fairly frequent, and I can only think of a couple of times where I had to repeat a larger section of the game.

Deadpool is not going to take you very long to get through. I would say it took me about 6 hours, and I took my time to see and do as much as possible, and would sit for minutes at a time at certain points just to listen to the various dialogue. I feel it’s the perfect length for this experience. It’s humour is the definite strong point and I could see that starting to wear thin if things were to be dragged out much further.

Deadpool reminds me a lot of last year’s Lollipop Chainsaw actually. Not only because it’s releasing around the same time, but in that it’s a game whose decent mechanics are boosted by its strong sense of humour. Though I admit that Chainsaw’s gameplay would rank several notches above Deadpool. Fans should absolutely check it out as they should at least experience the presentation. Just be prepared to slot through some mediocre gameplay in order to see all that.

Medal of Honor: Warfighter - Xbox 360

Something strange happened in the days before Medal of Honor Warfighter was released. Sites weren’t given review copies, Wal-Mart dropped the price, other outlets offered to match that price, and EB Games was willing to give buyers back almost the full price of the game were they to trade it in. Needless to say, wasn’t looking too good for this one. I won’t lie, I only picked it up because I saw the Walmart price online and thought it was a mistake, so I wanted to buy it before they corrected their error. Nope, no mistake. It’s the same price as I write almost two weeks later.

So do I regret my purchase? You know where to go to find out.

Medal of Honor Warfighter is meant to be more authentic and actually depict the soldiers who are involved in this conflict. This means in between bouts of shooting dozens of disposable bad guys, you’ll see cut scenes where the characters deal with family issues. It’s an honorable idea, but it doesn’t work here. All of the “drama” is your typical movie of the week “why are you never around!?” issues that are beyond clichéd at this point. It also didn’t help that I wasn’t able to piece together which characters are which, so I was never able to get attached to anybody. There’s a moment late game where something bad happens to a main character, but I honestly didn’t know which one it was. I actually ended up assuming it was the wrong person, lessening the drama when I found out I was wrong.

Also why do the models of the women look so...non-human? The men look fine, no real problems there. But the women look they were designed by martians who were given a basic description of what a human woman is supposed to look like. I don’t know man, it took me completely out of the story every time one of these things came on screen.

So the story isn’t too interesting but whatever, plenty of other shooters have had mediocre stories and made up for it with fantastic gameplay. Yeeeaahhh, not so much with Medal of Honor Warfighter. The one nice thing I will say is that the actual shooting does feel good. The guns have weight to them and there’s satisfaction in taking bad guys down. I don’t know if it’s the sound, which is great, but taking these dudes down feels damn good. It’s too bad everything surrounding that solid shooting is so rudimentary.

Warfighter does next to nothing that you haven’t seen in other military shooters, in fact it may do even less. This is the absolute definition of a corridor shooter. You walk through a defined path until you enter a large area, some bad guys will enter, they will pop in and out of cover until you shoot them all, then you can continue on until the sequence repeats. You will also breach doors at least 3 times per mission. You do it so often that you can unlock additional ways to breach doors, and by the end of the game you will still have seen each of them multiple times. There’s just nothing happening here.

There are a couple of driving missions, and these are probably the one other thing I would point to as a possible recommendation for playing through the campaign. The controls have a good, loose feel to them and it’s actually pretty fun driving through a market, smashing through everything in sight. These missions are short, but they’re a breath of fresh air from the standard shooting gallery stages that make-up the majority of the campaign.

Though their length is nothing compared to this one sniper mission that appears about halfway through the game. You are given the task to snipe a guy who is out on a boat. You do so, and then your achievement pops and the mission ends. It’s literally less than 2 minutes from beginning to end, likely including the initial load time. It’s actually pretty hilarious the first time.

The campaign itself is about 3-4 hours and there’s little reason to revisit it unless you are absolutely determined to beat it on the harder difficulties. There isn’t even intel to collect, which isn’t necessarily a complaint, it’s just strange. I’m so used to it in all of these games by now. So perhaps Warfighter actually does do at least one thing differently, which does result in less to do.

The multiplayer is more interesting than the single player, but only slightly, I also can’t give a lot of thoughts on it because I have only been able to successfully connect to a match a handful of times. I know many people have had no issues, but from my perspective it’s a huge bust because each time I try and connect, it tries for a few minutes and then gives me an error message. I’ve tried now on at least three separate occasions at different points in the day, but it’s happened each time. I mean the sessions I had seemed to run well. Smooth, no lag, solid online experience. As with 2010’s Medal of Honor, it’s more team focused, with no all-for one deathmatch option available. They even take this notion a step further time around with the addition of a partner that is randomly selected for you. You guys can spawn on each other, provide ammo, and you can get additional XP for working together. It’s an intriguing system that makes me feel way worse when I inevitably suck. Also it could be me but it seems as though it’s taking a while to unlock anything interesting.

So I didn’t hate Medal of Honor Warfighter, it just falls into the same league as 007 Legends as a game that is so thoroughly mediocre and by the numbers that it’s own existence is a tad pointless. You could do worse, but I mean come on you can do so so much better. Halo 4 is about 12 hours away, with Black Ops 2 following next week. There’s simply no reason you need to get this one.

Sonic Adventure 2 HD - Xbox Live Arcade

I own Sonic Adventure 2 for the Dreamcast, I own Sonic Adventure 2 Battle for the Gamecube and now I have a copy of it for Xbox Live Arcade as well. Strangely this marks the first time that I’ve actually played it. After the discovery a few years back that Sonic Adventure isn’t nearly as fun as I remember, I was curious to see what I would end up thinking of this one about a decade after it’s debut.

Sonic Adventure 2 tells the story of Sonic and chaos emeralds and doppelgangers and human people and Eggman’s grandpa plays a role and also space. The story seems like it should be straightforward but holy hell do they ever have some Metal Gear Solid length cut scenes at times. It’s hard not to blank out after 10 minutes of Sonic Adventure story. I’m sorry but what’s happening is not riveting enough to get all this dialogue. It doesn’t help that the voice actors seem to be delivering the lines as slow and bland as they can possibly manage.

The story is divided into 2 sections that can you choose from the beginning - Hero and Dark. As you’d expect, in Hero you control the good guys (Sonic, Tails and Knuckles) and in Dark it’s the villains (Shadow, Eggman and Rogue). Each character has a distinct type of gameplay. Sonic/Shadow are your typical running and platforming stages, Tails/Eggman are more focused on shooting, and Knuckles/Rogue is a mix of platforming and treasure hunting.

The Sonic/Shadow stages are easily my favourite. These stages are well put together and when you get a solid chain going of attacking and dashing, it feels real damn satisfying. Unfortunately these stages are where one of the biggest problems of the game come into play - the camera. You want your game camera to always give you a clear view of the action so you always know where to go and are able to aptly judge distance and those sorts of important details. This camera wants to go against the grain and show you exactly the opposite of what you want to about 60% of the time. You can try to adjust it, but often this camera doesn’t want to be adjusted and will just careen all over the place. Nothing like dying because the camera all of a sudden decides it wants to face you so you’re jumping around blindly. Also the final Sonic mission in space was one of the more infuriating experiences I’ve had in recent memory. This is largely due to the bad camera but also by Sonic’s occasional decision of “you can’t control me, I do what I want” which led to him spinning off the side of a platform.

The Tails/Eggman stages has them piloting a mech suit and shooting everything in sight. There’s also some platforming but the emphasis is definitely on shooting. These sequences are ok, the shooting and targeting mechanics feel fine, but it’s a little mindless. The platforming parts actually work pretty well, introducing a hover mechanic. For the most part though, you’ll be running through a corridor, stopping to target some guy and shoot them with missiles, proceed to next corridor, and so on, and so on, and so on.

The Knuckles/Rogue stages.....oh god these stages. I wasn’t a fan of the Knuckles levels in Sonic Adventure, and nothing has changed. There’s a good chance I like them even less now. In these levels you are given free reign to run around the stage, and the goal is always to find three of a certain object. You find them by paying close attention to a radar at the bottom of the screen which lets you know when you’re close to one of them. You also get clues to point you in the right direction. I really don’t care for these levels. I just don’t enjoy wandering aimlessly around a sometimes very open environment, hoping to god to get a ping on this radar so this will all finally end and I can hopefully move on to something a lot more fun. Sometimes they even throw a timer in there to make it extra fun! These levels are a complete chore and it seems like there are almost more of them than Sonic stages, and I don’t like that balance.

The music is as hilarious as ever. Of course the City Escape song is a classic and is legitimately awesome. Some of the others though…wow. The Knuckles stages usually have this one guy rapping and it’s pretty god damn amazing. I’m 90% sure the lyric in one of them is “you can die, I don’t love you” which is incredible to hear in a Sonic game. Unfortunately the novelty wore off fast since the song repeats ad nausea so by the time I would complete a Knuckles stage, I would have heard this rap song no less than 6 times. It goes from funny to tragic real damn quick.

I was kind of blown away by the amount of side stuff in this game. The Chao raising makes a return, where you can raise your little guy, increase his stats, and have him participate in activities. I will admit that I never get too deep into the Chao breeding, but what’s there is surprisingly deep and you could definitely sink some time into this.

In addition, we have the endurance mode where you take on all the game’s bosses back to back, there’s a kart racing mode which is a neat inclusion but is honestly not all that fun, and of course each story stage has several different missions you need to complete in order to unlock the game’s 180 emblems. The idea of beating some of these stages under the conditions they set seems insane to me, but for the 10 dollar asking price you get a whole lot to do here.

I wanted to like Sonic Adventure 2 more than I could. The Sonic/Shadow stages are a lot of fun, despite rampant camera issues, the Tails/Eggman levels have their moments, but the Knuckles/Rogue stages are a slog and I never wanted to go through them when they arrived. Therefore only about 60% of the game was fun to me. Not a bad ratio, but not enough to walk away too satisfied. Maybe this is one I needed to play when it first came out, but as of now, fun, but likely forgettable. 

007 Legends - Xbox 360

James Bond games rank right there with CSI and Cooking Mama as series that for reasons even not entirely clear to me, I will always play every entry that is released. I guess because Goldeneye generated such good will for me that I’m willing to stick with them. There have been some really good Bond games since (Everything or Nothing, World is Not Enough), some decent ones (Blood Stone, Quantum of Solace, Goldeneye Reloaded), and some not so good ones (Tomorrow Never Dies). Coming off last year’s surprisingly good Goldeneye Reloaded, I was curious to see where they went with 007 Legends, which takes levels from five past Bond movies, instead of making a Skyfall centric game.

Come along with me to find out if this joins the ranks of Goldeneye or Tomorrow Never Dies.

The set-up for this game is strange. It starts with a scene from Skyfall where Bond is accidentally shot by a sniper while on top of a train. As he falls down to the water below, he starts to have flashbacks of his past adventures. From there we journey through five past films, with Daniel Craig in place of all the previous Bond actors. It’s a very clunky and disjointed narrative, to the point where I wonder if it would have just been better to select a movie individually and not bother having a connecting story thread.

You’ll play through Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Licence to Kill, Die Another Day and Moonraker, with Skyfall being added later as DLC. They may seem like strange choices but for the most part I do get it. Clearly they wanted a movie to represent each of the six bond actors. With Lazenby you have no choice, with Dalton you don’t have much choice, but Moonraker for Moore? Really? Die Another Day would be strange but all the other Brosnans have already been made into games so I get why they went with this one.

Once you start playing the actual missions it becomes very clear very quickly that this isn’t exactly going to remain completely faithful to these movies. Remember that scene in Goldfinger where Bond guns down over a hundred guys while infiltrating Goldfinger’s lair? Or the scene in Secret Service where he mans a mini-gun in order to mow down another hundred bad guys? Not so much? I haven’t seen these movies in quite a while but you know what, me neither.

Ok so obviously they are trying to capture the Call of Duty market with this but aren’t enough games going after that game market? I don’t want my Bond games to be mindless shooting galleries. I want to feel like an actual spy. I want a more polished Alpha Protocol with the Bond licence. Granted there are stealth mechanics here, but they are terrible. As satisfying as it can be to sneak around with a silent pistol, popping guys in the head so as to not alert anyone, it only lasts a few seconds before inevitably being caught. You can’t peak around corners, you can’t hide bodies, and although there’s a meter to show how alert a guard is to your presence, I’ve been spotted through walls, behind crates, and sometimes even when I’m in a completely different room, so the meter means nothing. Some sections require you to go through undetected and it’s an exercise in frustration and trial and error. Thankfully these sequences are few and far between, but I was always ready to turn the game off when they showed up. You do get to do some hacking and investigating (every level is you fighting your way through a lair, investigating the villain’s office, and then fighting your way out), but they never amount to anything more than dull mini-games that are repeated far too often.

Every level ends with a boss fight and wow, I sure hope you weren’t waiting for anything exciting here. Picture if thy took Punch-Out and made it into a quick time event. Doesn’t sound very fun does it? You would be correct. This is unfortunately how every boss fight plays out so if you have ever played a video game before in your life, you should be just fine. Even if you haven’t so long as you have functioning eyeballs, you’ll be good. Sometimes you even have to stop and fight random guards in this fashion, which just seems silly since you easily dispatch hundreds of them through the course of each level without even breaking a sweat.

There are some chase sequences to switch up the mindless shooting, on skis, and in a car. The skiing one was actually a highlight but is over far too quickly. The Die Another Day car chase is ok, though isn’t the car supposed to be invisible? There’s also a zero gravity sequence near the end of the Moonraker campaign that I was a little impressed by. The game could have used more moments like these, but alas they are very short-lived and before too long you will always find yourself back in a nondescript corridor shooting the same enemies again and again.

The campaign will last you about 5 hours and ends abruptly, until we get the Skyfall DLC in a few weeks. After that, there are a few other options to keep your interest. The online multiplayer is serviceable but laggy, and I’ll go ahead and predict it will be very difficult to find games in just a couple of weeks time. Thankfully there is also split screen. You also have Spec Ops style individual missions, but once I hit the infiltration ones I had to stop because fuck the stealth in this game.

007 Legends is the most disappointed I have been in a Bond game. The shooting feels fine, but it feels fine in a million other games too. The stealth is very poorly implemented, and the mini-games are dull and repetitive. The campaign is over all too quickly and while the online is ok, I don’t think it will last very long and I’ve encountered lag in all the matches I’ve had so far. Maybe I’ll revisit things once the Skyfall DLC comes out, but it’s going to have to be pretty amazing to fully redeem this one.

Retro City Rampage - Playstation 3

I have been waiting for Retro City Rampage to be released for years, and it turns out it was anticipated for years even before I found out about it. The idea of an open world GTA style game with NES era graphics and tons of 80’s references sounded pretty fantastic. The game finally released last week and guess what? It’s pretty fantastic.

You take the role of Player, whose primary task is to collect a series of time machine parts for this game’s version of Doc Brown, Doc Choc. The plot is of course quite minimal and solely exists to loosely string all of the chaos together. The side missions tend to be the most interesting stuff, where you’ll team up with the Go-Go Busters, and make things shitty for the cast of Saved by the Bell.

The first 15 minutes or so of this game are incredibly chaotic, almost to a fault. You’re thrown reference after reference, frantically introduced to the driving and shooting mechanics, and tossed into the insanity with little to no warning. It’s once these sequences are finished and you are left to go at your own pace when the game really starts to take shape.

The game has a top down perspective in the style of the classic pre-GTAIII games. You are free to roam the map, gunning down civilians (I feel it’s important to point out that some of them have Kid N’ Play style fades) and stealing cars as you please. Some have said the objects and people are too small but I never had that issue. They’re small but it’s the throwback aesthetic they were going for, and I never had difficulty following what was happening on screen. I love the look of the game. It’s vibrant, colorful, unique, and makes me so nostalgic I want to weep.

The controls both on foot and in vehicle feel pretty solid. There are two driving control choices, automatic and manual, but I highly recommend automatic since you just use the two thumb sticks and it feels great. Shooting is a little less successful. You can either hold the square button or use the right thumb stick like a dual joystick shooter. You lock on to your nearest target but I found it doesn’t always work quite as well as you want it to. It still plays fine, but shooting is not the highlight of the experience.

The highlight is really just how out of its god damn mind the game is. It never lets up. From recreating the bank robbery from the opening scene of The Dark Knight, to a sitcom scene played out complete with a laugh track, to an all too faithful recreation of the infamous underwater bomb level from the first Ninja Turtles game on NES, you never know what the next mission has in store for you and it’s a huge driving force to keep playing through the game. I’m not usually the biggest fan of reference humour, but this game does elevate it beyond the standard Family Guy level of “Hey remember GI Joe?! We remember GI Joe!” by having it blend more seamlessly into the experience. They never call attention to them, they just happen to be there. The humour doesn’t always hit (the Go-Go Busters go for gross-out humour but it falls mostly flat), but it’s usually more successful than not, especially when it’s poking fun at the usual tropes of open world games, such as tailing missions and artificially lengthening the experience by having you drive back and forth across the entire map.

Unfortunately near the end the story leans more towards frustrating than fun. The missions become quite difficult, checkpoints become further apart, and there is a much heavier reliance on shooting dudes. The final boss is a motherfucker too, taking me at least 15 attempts before I finally took him down. Everything up until around mission 50 or so (there are 62 in total) is gold, the others after that become somewhat of a slog.

There’s much more here though than just the story missions. There are tons of murderous side spree missions you can go on, extras to find (my favourite being the invisible walls) around the map, and odes to other famous indie games in the local arcade. You can change your appearance at various stores around town as well. Unfortunately the map doesn’t indicate where the different stores are located, so until you learn the map (which is quite large), you’ll be relying on luck and aimless driving to find the places you’re looking for.

There’s a whole lot to love about Retro City Rampage. It has a great look, a fucking amazing soundtrack, and a great deal of charm. The gameplay is certainly fun, but it does get frustrating and the shooting, while decent, is not the best. For 15 bucks though (which nets you versions for both the PS3 and the Vita), there is a ton here and it’s a very easy recommendation.

Resident Evil 6 - Xbox 360

Wow. I did not expect this. Resident Evil 6 has to be one of the most divisive games I have seen in quite a while, hell maybe ever. If you love it, or even like it, you have shitty taste in video games and are a Capcom fanboy, and if you hate it you’re a troll who is just talking shit. The topics in any message board are almost entirely people trashing or defending the game, and if you actually ask a question about the game itself it’s often greeted with “Who cares the game sucks.” I question how many people saying that have actually played the game (which according to the Internet makes me a “fanboy fag”), but either way this game has taken a beating far more severe than I think anybody anticipated.

And I really don’t think it deserves it.

I’m definitely a Resident Evil fan. I’ve played all the main games, and I would say at least 80% of the side story games, and I can’t really think of any I flat-out don’t like, with maybe the exception of Resident Evil Zero. I came to grips long ago with the idea that we’ll likely never get an RE in the style of the original, so I’ve just been trying to enjoy what we do get. Despite some claims Capcom made otherwise before the game’s release, RE6 is not in any way a return to RE’s roots. It actually strays further away from them more than ever. Does that bum me out? Sure kind of, but it doesn’t make me want to write the game off completely as it seems to with so many others.

Resident Evil 6 is divided into three campaigns – series veterans Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield, and newcomer Jake….something - each playable in both online and split screen coop. Leon’s campaign is very much in the same vein as Resident Evil 4 and 5, Chris’ campaign is essentially a full blown third person shooter, and Jake’s is a combination of the two more or less. There is also a fourth campaign as Ada Wong after you beat those three, which is maybe supposed to be a secret but it’s the worst kept secret in the history of the world, to the point where it is even mentioned on the back of the box. The stories for each do crossover with one another, and the story as a whole is just as Resident Evil-y as you could want in that it is over the top and completely insane. Limps are popping out of people, Umbrella, Wesker, lots of growly voice acting, you know the drill. I was never that invested in the story here, but will admit it did have a couple of interesting beats and twists.

 

Leon’s campaign was my personal favourite, as it does the best job of harkening back to RE4, with plenty of atmosphere and the return of good old-fashioned zombies. The opening chapter in and around the university is a highlight, since it actually creates some tension before all hell breaks loose, and it does an excellent job of depicting the chaos once everything goes to shit. It’s the kind of game where you have shot the president in the face within the first minute. Ridiculous, but also kind of awesome.

Chris’ campaign is the closest the series has ever come to just becoming a full blown action game as it focuses almost entirely on covering and shooting. There’s a tense sequence featuring a large snake inside an apartment complex, but for the most part all you’re required to do is run and gun. They even put you inside a jet for a somewhat ill advised, not all that fun to play flying sequence. Thankfully the core shooting in RE6 is still satisfying. I’ve heard many complaints about accuracy issues but I don’t think I ever once had a problem hitting my targets. Landing a well connected headshot and watching a creature’s head explode is about as awesome as it ever was. My biggest issue with Chris’ campaign is that they were clearly going for a more action oriented section, but they still made it tricky to find ammo in true Resident Evil style. You can’t have it both ways guys.  I know lack of ammo is supposed to make it more intense but here it’s just frustrating. Though admittedly it was a pretty incredible moment when I beat the final boss of the campaign with my last remaining sniper rifle bullet. Though had he not died after that, I wouldn’t have touched the game again for like a month.

Jake’s campaign is decent but it has a sequence so bad that it’s really the one and only memory I have walked away from it with it. During the second chapter you have to traverse a snowy mountain environment in order to track down three objects. You can make the journey on foot and hope that you don’t get knocked down to the ground by an enemy (which happens almost every single time you get hit by the way), causing you go to sliding back down to the bottom of an icy hill. Or you can drive a snowmobile using some of the worst driving controls in a modern video game. Either way I’m really sorry that you have to go through this. The stuff that surrounds this section is fine, but oh god did that ever kill the momentum for me. And why on earth would they design hospital gowns that split down the middle, allowing for cleavage? You’ll see what I mean.

On a technical level the game is phenomenal. It looks incredible, with each environment rich in detail that you’ll never be able to slowdown and appreciate in some instances. The creature designs are great and some of the best examples of the series, though it does feel the design session for each one of them ended with “and then we give it a gun!” The music maybe isn’t all that memorable but the sound is solid, with plenty of creature screams and zombie moans to keep you relatively on edge.

So while I enjoyed my time in each of the three primary campaigns, and found the shooting mechanics to be solid and satisfying, there are still an abundance of issues that keep the game from being as fun as it has the potential to be. The first is that it does a terrible job of explaining things to you. Usually I wouldn’t care since I’ve used the left stick to move and the right stick to look around so often that it’s starting to become condescending when games feel I need to be taught. But this one adds a bunch of new mechanics such as the ability to slide and shoot on the ground, not to mention dodging, and a completely overhauled inventory system. The game doesn’t feel the need to teach you about any of that so I was still discovering things I could do hours into the experience. I did eventually figure it out and got used to it but the new inventory system is pretty cumbersome, and made all the worse by the fact that you can’t pause while looking through it. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to make things more relentless and nerve wracking but it certainly made it way more aggravating. You also can’t pause the game if you want to change settings such as subtitles, which is just insane. Also there’s occasionally a bizarre issue where the fast 180 turn only turns your character around and not the camera. It didn’t happen often, but it’s worth highlighting.

Peoples’ biggest sticking point seems to be the QTEs, and I can’t really disagree with them. There are a whole hell of a lot of them and it gets old real fast. There are many points where they seem completely unnecessary. Why do I need to hammer the X button to climb across a beam when I can very easily hold the control stick to the right?! It’s pointless and adds nothing to the experience. Also getting through a section of the game only to be killed by an unexpected QTE will almost definitely happen to you at least twice, and it will be infuriating each time. With games like Uncharted often putting you in straight control over sequences that would normally play out via QTE or cut scene, it’s time for RE to step up their game. I won’t say the QTEs ruined the game for me by any means, but they are absolutely the low light of the whole thing.

The boss fights weren’t a highlight here either, though a couple of them such as the aforementioned giant snake are enjoyable. The biggest problem is that because of the crossover between the three campaigns, you will fight the same boss multiple times. Even though you’ll be doing it as a different character, often the experience plays out more or less the same. Of course the RE trope of having the big boss characters continuously come back to life is done here, but so excessively that eventually it becomes a little hilarious. Though it’s less funny when you realize you’re about to fight the same boss again for at least the sixth time.

Those gripes aside, I did enjoy myself with this game quite a bit. By the end I had become accustomed with the inventory system and the controls and was no longer having any issues with them. Yes there are sequences that are a slog to get through but there are many that are fun and a handful that are even a little tense. The game does overstay its welcome (you’re looking at 20-25 hours to get through the four campaigns), but there are plenty of extra modes to spend time with as well, such as the returning Mercenaries, if you need a break from the campaign. 

I don’t disagree with a lot of peoples’ criticisms of the game (except for perhaps “OMG Wrst game evar!!!”), but if you can accept that RE is now the equivalent of a blockbuster action movie, and are willing to get adjusted to some pretty clunky design decisions, there’s definitely some fun to be had here.

Lollipop Chainsaw - Xbox 360

IGN’s review of Lollipop Chainsaw opens up with a clear statement that nobody would ever state that the combat was one of their favourite parts of this game. You may point to any number of other things, but the combat would never be one of them. Sooooo guess what IGN? The combat was one of my favourite things about Lollipop Chainsaw. I call your bluff IGN!

Lollipop Chainsaw is the new Suda 51 joint, and that should tell you everything that you need to know right there. I think most everyone can agree that Suda’s games are, at the very least, unique. Perhaps not in game play execution, but definitely in style, presentation, and overall content. I’ll admit I’m pretty unfamiliar with the work that came before No More Heroes, but once I played that I knew I would be checking out everything else the man does, if only because I know I will see some shit that I have never seen in a game before.

Lollipop Chainsaw is no exception to this.

You play as Juliet, a blonde high school student who has just turned 18. She has a boyfriend, she’s on the cheerleading squad, and she also happens to be part of a family of zombie hunters. Following a short prologue chapter, Juliet’s boyfriend Nick is bitten by a zombie and taking drastic measures, Juliet hacks his head off with a chainsaw. She then straps his head to I guess her skirt (never really was too clear on that), which is where he spends the remainder of the game. He has retained the ability to speak (a fact even he is baffled by) and has dialogue exchanges with Juliet throughout. There’s more to the story (I mean not much more but there are some twists along the way) but at the very least that should give you an idea of what you’re in for here.

What I love about Lollipop Chainsaw, and Suda 51 games in general, is that they are as video game-y as a video game can get. There is absolutely no focus on trying to look real or be grounded in any semblance of reality. Like Nick’s ability to speak despite being a head. We know it doesn’t make sense, the game acknowledges this, but then never proceeds to offer any explanation at all, aside from “hey magic”. Most games need to explain the science or history of anything outside the realm of reality. Juliet has rainbows and hearts shoot out of her chainsaw because fuck it, why not. It keeps things interesting because you know there are no rules within this universe so literally anything can happen at any moment, and it will make equal sense since nothing at all makes any god damn sense to begin with. It’s a big reason why I loved Saint’s Row The Third so much. It’s always fun to play a game where you are never quite certain what insanity is waiting for you in the next chapter.

Despite all this madness, Lollipop Chainsaw is, at its heart, a beat ‘em up. You will spend the majority of the game using light and heavy attacks to smash your way through hordes of zombies, all the while unlocking additional moves as you go along. This seems to be the most divisive part of the game. Many have called it slow; I would instead use the word deliberate. There’s a methodical pace to the combat that many don’t seem to enjoy. I for one welcomed it. You can’t simply mash on buttons and hope everything works out ok, you have to time your movements effectively. Light attacks work best to merely stun your enemies, at which point a good swipe of the chainsaw will finish them off. The chainsaw, as one would expect a chainsaw to be, feels like there is weight behind it so wielding it for the heavy attacks is a bit sluggish. This means you can’t always rely on it as your go to weapon as enemies can easily sneak in a hit as you are tossing it around. You also have the usual dodge ability, although here you are using it to vault over and around your enemies. Personally I thought the combat worked quite well and yes it is a little less frantic than you might be used to, but you should get the feel for it very quickly. Plus eventually you can use the chainsaw in a dash attack, as a gun, and you can also perform various moves using Nick’s severed heard, so there is a lot of variety to be had here.

The game play is also varied up by introducing these pseudo mini-game activities, such as zombie baseball, zombie basketball, and a variety of homages to older school video games in one of the later stages. For the most part these are simply varied takes on the standard combat, but they do provide interesting shifts in the action, even if I did absolutely hate zombie baseball due to some questionable auto aiming. My advice is to turn that shit off immediately after acquiring the Blaster upgrade. Trust me, it makes a world of difference. Also is it really necessary for Juliet to proclaim “Chainsaw Blaster!” after almost every single shot you take?!

Visually the game isn’t anything too special, featuring some fairly bland environments and standard character models. The bosses do look good and are full of personality, but for the most part the game is mostly just serviceable in the graphics department. It’s the added little presentation elements, such as the rainbows that appear as you massacre zombies, that help to give it some unique flavour.

I do have to heap some praise on the audio though. First of all the voice acting is fantastic, with the highlight being Lex Luthor himself, Michael Rosenbaum, as Nick. He acts as the viewer, calling into question the insanity that is happening around him, while at the same remaining relatively level headed the entire time. He is the perfect contrast to the overly bubbly Juliet, who would likely start to grate on the nerves if she didn’t have Nick to play off of. The game also makes great use of its licensed soundtrack, with the expected “Lollipop” playing at the shop or on the costume select screen, as well as sprinkling in tunes like “Spin Me Right Round” as you grind up a bunch of zombies using a thresher. The cherry on the cake though is the use of Tony Basil’s “Mickey”, which is played anytime you go into special mode. I thought I would be plenty sick of this tune by the time the credits rolled but what do you know, the novelty has yet to wear off.

Of course one thing people always want to know in regards to a Suda 51 title is how funny it is. While I can’t put Lollipop Chainsaw above some of his other titles, it is definitely a humorous ride. There’s definitely a lot of shock/crude humour in there that doesn’t always work (you won’t even finish the first stage before you have one student comment on your tits, and another promise that he will be masturbating to the thought of you later) but I have to say a lot of it worked. Having a boss tell you he just jizzed a little after an attempt to kill him brings a smile to my face, what can I say? The banter between Juliet and Nick is almost always the highlight, and even manages to go the heartfelt route later on in the story.

One of people’s biggest gripes against Lollipop Chainsaw is its length, and I’m not going to tell you that they’re wrong. You can burn through the game’s 7 chapters (one of which is the prologue) in about 5 or 6 hours. I did it in two sittings and was a little shocked to find myself fighting the last boss so soon. Here’s the thing though - there is a crazy amount of replay value in this game. There’s time trials to finish, tons of things to buy in the store that require way more money than you will accumulate in a single playthrough, and some enemies and collectables only appear in the higher difficulties. Needless to say if you enjoy the game, there is plenty here to keep you busy.

Lollipop Chainsaw is definitely worth a look for its humour and presentation, but I was surprised how much the combat and overall game play pulled me in. It might not be Suda 51’s best, but any Suda is usually good Suda. …Suda.

The Walking Dead Episode 1 - Xbox Live Arcade

Telltale is one of a handful of developers who has earned my undying loyalty. You tell me they made a game, and I will immediately want to play that game. This is a team that decided it made absolute sense to develop an episodic series based on a relatively obscure web comic. You also have the successful revival of the Monkey Island franchise, three solid seasons of Sam & Max, and a Back to the Future series that is as satisfying a fourth entry as I could hope for. Then sadly we had Jurassic Park The Game, a rare misstep that seems to have generated a lot more ill will towards the company than is deserved.

I never reviewed Jurassic Park properly on this site so I’ll quickly summarize my thoughts here. Not the best. Story was vaguely interesting but the game play was boring and there were so many hiccups in the audio and visuals that I was expecting the game to collapse in on itself at any second. Based on how quietly it was slipped out the door, and the fact that they skipped the monthly releases and jus released them all at once immediately, I wouldn’t be surprised if Telltale just wanted to get this out and be done with it.

I am happy to report that not only is The Walking Dead a return to form for Telltale, but one of their best efforts to date.

Walking Dead the Game does not follow the story of either the TV show or the comics, but instead crafts a new tale that follows Lee and Clementine. The game starts out peacefully and leads to a fantastic introduction to the zombie situation.  From there I won’t say anything else about the specific plot beats, but it does a great job of capturing the feel of the comics (which I will admit I am far more familiar with than the TV show) and also getting you to care about the two leads. The writing is across the board fantastic and I was genuinely concerned about making sure nothing happened to either character. The supporting characters are a little more one dimensional, but this is only the first episode after all so there is plenty of time to flesh them out further.

The game play borrows several elements from past Telltale titles. You have the exploration aspects of Sam and Max and Monkey Island where you have control of your character as you traverse the environment, conversing with the other characters and solving puzzles. The puzzles are straightforward for the most part, with the objective and the path to achieving it usually laid out very clearly. I recall getting stuck only once, and it was only because I needed to let the story progress further in order to get the item I obviously needed. So the puzzles are certainly not going to stump you or impede progress in any way.

The Walking Dead also sees the return of the quick time events that were so prominent in Jurassic Park, only here the execution of them has been vastly improved. In Jurassic Park I never felt like there was a connection between the buttons I was pressing and the actions that my characters were performing. Here everything feels much more in sync and these sequences can be intensely stressful as you attempt to aim a weapon perfectly at a zombie’s head in order to take them down, or try to save a character from an impending zombie bite. Consistently throughout this episode of The Walking Dead, I felt something in the QTEs that I haven’t felt in a while – genuine tension.

If there was one aspect of the game that absolutely needed to be highlighted though, it’s the decisions you are forced to make throughout the course of it. In many games the decision-making is very clear-cut, with one path clearly being the one of good, and the other being the one of evil. There’s never a grey area, it’s usually “Do you want to let your girlfriend live?” or “Do you want to shoot your girlfriend in the face and then eat a baby and laugh?” The Walking Dead says to hell with that and gives you decisions where both options are terrible. I’m serious; these are decisions that you are flat-out not going to want to make. And the icing on the cake? You have a very small window of time to decide which choice you are going to make! Multiple playthroughs of this game are definitely encouraged as these are decisions that drastically alter the subsequent story events, and I imagine that will become more and more prevalent as the series continues.

The first episode of The Walking Dead can be completed in a couple of hours and ends with a preview for the next episode that will have you ready and eager for more. This first taste shows great promise of what is to come. We have excellent writing that stays true to the source material, well fleshed out protagonists and a branching story that confronts you with some of the hardest decisions I personally have ever faced making in a game before. Unless things go to hell amazingly quickly with the remaining episodes, then we could be looking at the best release from Telltale so far. Don’t let Jurassic Park taint this, get in on this!

Rhythm Heaven Fever - Nintendo Wii

No lie – Rhythm Heaven Fever was one of my most anticipated games of the year. I was introduced to the series with the DS installment a few years back, which I bought on a blind whim so I would have something new to play on my just purchased DSi. I sat down to try it out and ended up not moving for hours, a pattern that would repeat itself every time I fired it up. I wasn’t sure if we would ever get more Rhythm Heaven in North America and yet here we are, with a budget priced installment for the Wii.

And hey guess what? Turns out Rhythm Heaven is still fantastic.

The concept of Rhythm Heaven is simple, yet tricky to explain in a way. Basically you are taking part in a series of mini-games, each one requiring you to keep up with the rhythm of the music in different ways. It’s always done by pressing the A and B buttons, there is no motion control in play at all here, which for a game that requires you to be very precise with your actions, is a huge relief. While the primary goal remains the same (trying to keep the rhythm) it’s the situations you are put in that make Rhythm Heaven what it is.

This is made evident right up front when you are presented with the game’s first scenario. You are a golfer on an island with a smiling monkey and a mandrill (named Mandrill). The monkey will throw golf balls towards you and you have to hit the ball in time with the beat. From there is just gets crazier as soon you find yourself protecting two weasels on a date from getting hit by sports balls, traversing a tiny wrist watch filled with high fiving monkeys, and participating in a choreographed lobster dance. The game constantly finds new ways to use its simple mechanics and at no point does it ever feel like you’re doing the same thing again and again.

I will say that there are a handful of games I did not enjoy as much in the grand scheme of things. A game involving hooking fish at the end of a fishing line felt a little uninteresting and I never quite got a feel for Love Rap or the badminton airplane game. This is bound to happen and in a game with nearly 50 mini-games, it’s hard to get too upset when a few of them aren’t quite up to par with the others. For the most part each one of the mini-games is an absolute delight.

Even in the games I didn’t like in, the music is consistently fantastic. It’s catchy, upbeat and it feels great to play along with. I may not have enjoyed Love Rap but the song itself has been in my head for days, right along with the lobster dance song and a few of the remixes as well. It’s just a rotation of Rhythm Heaven Fever songs in my head 24/7.

I’ve heard a few complaints about the scoring system and that it seems to operate at random, making it difficult to acquire the medals you get for performing well on each stage. Personally I haven’t had any issues. At this point I’ve played through all of the games and have acquired just over half of the medals, as well as a handful of perfect runs. There has not been a single occasion where I was given my score at the end of a stage and thought “bullshit!” Even if you are technically hitting the right beats, the game makes it pretty clear up front (in an opening tutorial that I will say goes on for FAR too long) that it is also meticulously watching how early or late you press the buttons, and that factors heavily into your scores. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I have not found the scoring system to be flawed in the slightest so far.

You can probably already tell by some of the things I said in the above paragraph, but there is a ton of replay value in this game. Playing through the mini-games themselves, earning at least passing grades, will only take you a few hours (I believe for me it was around 6 hours). Of course that also depends on how often you have to replay some of the stages along the way. Once that’s done, there are medals to earn in each level and some of those are going to be a beast to get. THEN on top of that you can earn Perfect runs in each stage to unlock music and other items. This is something I don’t think I’ll ever pull off but I will gladly keep trying. There are also other fun surprises to unlock, as well as a two-player mode, which is slightly disappointing as it simply carries over existing games and doesn’t have any unique offerings of its own. Still though, all this in a 30 dollar package? You’re getting more than your money’s worth.

I love Rhythm Heaven Fever and would not be surprised if it found its way into my top games of the year oh so many months from now. It takes a simple concept and makes it consistently engaging, while surrounding it with great music and a colorful and fun aesthetic. Unless you hate happiness, I see absolutely no reason why you should not immediately buy this game.

The Simpsons Arcade Game - Xbox Live Arcade

It's insane that this day has finally come. For about 20 years now, I have wanted The Simpsons Arcade Game on a home console. Since the very first time I played it in the Smiths Falls Mall, I was hooked and the day I went there to find the game gone was soul crushing. I spent the next two decades hoping that in my journeys I would stumble upon it, and every few years or so I was lucky enough that this would happen. I loved that friggin' game. One of my fondest video game memories is when a friend and I stocked up all our quarters and actually beat the game with a crowd of people gathered around watching the machine. That was officially the last time I’ve ever had strangers impressed with my video game accomplishments. Sure beating the game was more a matter of having enough money and not so much skill but still, great memory.

A few years back when TMNT The Arcade Game was released on XBLA, it felt like we were potentially closer than ever to getting The Simpsons Arcade Game. A few more years went by and then we got an arcade perfect port of X-Men. Simpsons had to be next right?! Well there’s no story twist because yes, it was absolutely next. It is here and you can totally buy it right now!

Screw cliffhangers; guess what it was totally worth the wait. Now please please please click onward to see why!

The Simpsons Arcade Game is a simple beat ‘em up through and through. You get a basic story set-up, here it is that Maggie has been kidnapped by Smithers after a stolen diamond ends up replacing her pacifier. The only way to save her is to kick the shit out of anyone, man or beast, who dares to stand in your way. Your means of doing so are, as expected, quite limited. You can jump, punch, and do a special attack and that is the limit of your arsenal. You can pick up and throw items and occasionally pick up additional weapons such as slingshots and brooms, but for the most part you will be hammering the same button for 90% of the experience. It shouldn’t be fun but god dammit it really really is.

The game does make good use of the Simpsons license. Each stage is littered with cameo appearances from the show’s characters, although keep in mind that this game was released when the show was only a couple of years old, so there are many more recent characters that you won’t see here. Some merely appear in the background for a few moments, others you can interact with, such as Santa’s Little Helper who you can actually pick up and toss at enemies.

Of course this game is 20 years old at this point so you can’t expect too much visually but I was surprised at how well this holds up graphically. It’s bright, colorful, and yes pixilated as hell but that’s part of the charm. I’m very happy they didn’t go the Turtles in Time Reshelled route and try and modernize the look of the game. It works perfectly the way it is. The music is also fantastic, with the Krustyland music being a favourite of mine ever since the game was first released. Although they did get the actual voice actors to record some dialogue for the playable characters, they only say a handful of things throughout the whole game so get ready for a whole lot of repetition. Smithers and Mr. Burns also speak but wow they clearly didn’t get Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer for these. They didn’t even get sound alikes! It’s actually pretty hilarious.

I tend to judge a beat em up’s success on one primary criteria – how much fun is it to beat the hell out of things. Classics like Streets of Rage and Final Fight are great examples of this, as each punch is accompanied with a satisfying THWACK noise and it’s always a joy smashing your way through hordes of enemies. While I don’t thinkThe Simpsons Arcade Game quite hits those levels of satisfaction, it still feels great. Hit detection is solid and hurling an item through a row of bad guys, or using a hammer to smash a bunch of wayward tea cups, is absolutely delightful.

The game is just short enough that it doesn’t wear out it’s welcome, with each of the eight stages lasting I would say on average about 3 minutes. Each level is also completely unique from one another, with locations ranging from a downtown street, to a TV station where you fight robots and ninjas, to my personal favourite, the Dreamworld where you fight rampaging donuts and evil saxophones while running through the clouds. 

Thanks to the achievements, there is a decent amount of replay value. In addition to standard fare like beating the game with all four characters, you have some more challenging ones such as beating the game on Expert difficulty with only 10 continues, or getting to the end of the third level without dying a single time. It gives some extra incentive to keep playing and are all challenging, without being impossible. Plus you get 4-player online and local coop, which I know I’ll be going back to at random times just for the pure fun of it.

If you’re wondering if a huge part of the appeal comes from nostalgia, I’m leaning towards yes. If this is the first time you’ve played The Simpsons Arcade Game, I can’t guarantee you’re going to get a lot out of it. I played through it with my wife who had never played it before and she was a little baffled as to why I spent two decades waiting for it. Then again if you have any affinity for the classic beat ‘em ups of old, like Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and TMNT, then this should be right up your alley. But if you’re one of those people who saw the achievement for beating the game in less than 30 minutes and were outraged by the length, then stay away because clearly this is not your genre.

I love The Simpsons Arcade Game. I loved it when it was originally released, and that love has not disappeared. I played through the XBLA version 5 times and got every achievement. I then downloaded it on PSN (free if you’re a Plus member) and have started collecting all the Trophies there too. So if you were a fan back in the day, rejoice friends for our time has finally come!