Super Smash Brothers for Wii U is absolutely stellar

The last Smash Bros. console iteration was released over 6 years ago and the gap before that was 7 years. That’s okay though, because it makes this gathering of the iconic and memorable characters all the more special each time it happens. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U arrives in a context that is in stark contrast compared to 2008’s Brawl release. Nintendo’s latest and first ever HD machine is struggling and the company has to prove the system’s worth with titles two years into the Wii U’s life cycle that could make or break the console’s success. A lot of pressure has been put on Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and it needs to be absolutely stellar to meet the expectations both Nintendo and fans have put on it.

Smash Bros. is an atypical fighting game where bouts between characters are based on whether one person can stay on a board or platform longer than the other. The objective is to attack your opponent to deal more and more damage and the higher damage inflicted on the character means the more susceptible they will become to getting knocked further off the stage. It’s a constant King of the Hill scramble to remain in the game and the last man standing is the victor. Playing a game is chaos especially when considering you have to deal combos, chase after helpful items and be wary of hazards on the stage itself to survive – and I love it. Fighting is also available on many control schemes, including GameCube controller via special adapter, so every player will find their comfort level with this game.

The roster is the biggest the series has ever seen and there is a character for every demographic, taste and preference. Mario, his Nintendo gang and a handful of guests from other publishers, including Pac-Man and Mega-Man, are crammed into this singular game and the amount of epicness is at an all-time high. Each character follows the same template of moves as far as input goes, but plays different enough from each other to require skill and time to master. Link has long range special moves like boomerangs and bombs while the more grounded Little Mac is much more of a close-range fighter. Each character also has attributes to consider while in battle, so you’ll have to take into account Ganondorf’s sluggishness or Pikachu’s aptitude to recover and return to a platform when knocked too far.

Modes are plentiful and all the favorites are back. Classic, All-Star, Home-Run Contest and Target Blast make their return and trophies are yet again collectible. Customization of Mii’s and Smash Bros. characters, which was introduced last month in the 3DS iteration is also back and can be transferred over from the portable version, too. New to Smash for Wii U this time around includes some extra modes and multiplayer features. For the first time ever, routinely single-player experiences like Classic, All-Star and Multi-Man challenges have been opened up to co-op experiences. This is exceptionally great with unlocking trophies in Classic and All-Star mode, because one run through can unlock two trophies at once when playing with a pal. Also, Cruel Smash, which up to this point has been an insanely tough 5 super beefed up Mii’s against you, is a much fairer fight when it’s 4 human players against 4. Also, 8 players playing on a single console arrives here as a first for the series and it is, in simplest terms, madness — the good kind of madness.

An exclusive mode, Smash Tour has some similarities to the 3DS’ Smash Run, but is a totally different beast all on its own. Up to 4 players wander around a party board in a set amount of turns gathering character traits like power, speed and jump and the goal is to collect fighters as you go. Random items can be used before each turn, such as setting up traps to disrupt each other or self-improving power-ups like doubling up the number on a dice roll. You get to play as the characters you collect and battles take place if players cross paths. In the end, the final battle pits all the characters you’ve collected with all the stats gained against each other and the player to get the most KO’s is declared the winner. Smash Tour is a welcomed and fun multiplayer option that I feel is better than Smash Run, which was a much more isolated and lonely experience before the final showdown.

Smash Bros. for Wii U is the first time the series has stepped into HD and it is very, very pretty. The game is a solid 60fps and the only time I noticed it dip was during the credits sequence. Otherwise, it ran smooth even during the most demanding 8-man matches. The music in Smash for Wii U is completely out of this world. The sheer volume of original and remixed tracks is staggering, but the quality of some of the songs is the real kicker. A Super Mario World boss theme with a Latin flair seems a bit strange on paper, but sounded both fitting and appropriate by every stretch of the imagination. And then there are the lesser known themes, like the final boss theme of Bowser’s Inside Story, which is a personal favorite of mine and was included into this soundtrack. This not only shows Nintendo is putting care and attention to their score, they’re also paying close attention to what the fans want.

About half of Smash for Wii U’s stages are from past titles, which, of course, have been bumped up to the visual standards of the rest of the game. As good as the old stages were, new stages introduced here are refreshing like the Metroid: Other M‘s Pyroshere stage and Star Fox: Assault‘s Orbital Gate Assault stage. The game also has stages of future games like Yoshi’s Woolly world which arrives sometime next year. Unlockable stages and music is also available, so the already impressive lot of content continues to grow as you play.

Amiibo is launching alongside with Smash for Wii U and it adds a bit more to the game. This optional purchase will allow you to level up your figure player and learn your playstyle to stand in as a computer controlled fighter. It’s a bit funky and not a perfect science, but gives you a little more for the nice figurine you just bought. It’s a very throwaway feature, but I do like the toys very much. Amiibo can also be used for other games, so it’s not entirely a waste if you find it pointless for Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U plays great, sounds great, looks great, has a robust roster and there’s a ton of modes to keep coming back for more. Also, with Mewtwo as a playable character promised as upcoming free DLC, you can assume there may be more stuff on the way. As far as downsides go, the menus are still confusingly laid out (addressed by many as a flaw in the 3DS version) and the Amiibo functionality isn’t anything grand to write home about. That said, this game gets so much right and gives a lot of play for your buck. Like Melee and Brawl on their respective consoles, Smash for Wii U is a must have for any Wii U owner.

Super Smash Brothers
Genre: Fighting
Platform: Wii U
Developer: Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: November 21, 2014

Rating: 9.5 / 10

Bayonetta 2: A polished and gorgeous adventure that Wii U owners shouldn’t miss

The fact that Nintendo went out of its way to publish and push a sequel to Bayonetta should say a lot about the company’s stance on third-party games. Bayonetta 2 stars a female protagonist of the same name and the game is as hardcore and as obscure as it gets. The original game gets packed in with Bayonetta 2 for one retail price, which could have been easily missed back when it released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This is the gem Nintendo fans have been waiting for and if you’ve been looking for more reasons to pick up a Wii U, Bayonetta 2 makes a big case for it.

The game takes place a few months after the first and Bayonetta and her fellow witch friend, Jeanne are doing some Christmas shopping. Action quickly ensues as they are attacked by angels and the two kick some major butt. However, Jeanne still ends up being taken into the depths of Inferno (hell of sorts) and Bayonetta pursues her. Witches, demons, angels — If you’re into mythical and religious connotations in your video games, this is totally for you.

Bayonetta 2 plays like the best version of your action favorites like Devil May Cry and God of War and takes it as its own with unique style and storytelling. You hack, slash, dodge and perform epic moves just like the other guys, but it’s met by a solid 60 fps, a smart fighting system and takes more liberties with not caring about how weird the Japanese inspired game gets. Witch Time and Umbran Climax also give more flare to each battle as they give bullet-time effects and high-powered summoning attacks respectively. There’s just something super satisfying about timing a perfect dodge and being able to unleash hell in slow-motion.

The flurries of attacks you can dish out on your opponents can become sensory overload, but that’s what makes the game feel grander than your everyday beat-em up. There’s no noticeable slowdown or hiccups during the fluid flowing on-screen action, so the ambitious vision of Bayonetta 2 going bigger and flashier is completely realized. The action is fast, but failure never feels cheap or unjust as it does in so many other games.

Cutscenes are brilliantly casted and the setpieces are quite a sight to see. I would stand around taking in the environments at times just to enjoy the architecture and environments built for this game. Also, when the ground beneath you begins to collapse on itself for whatever reason or a momentary shift of gravity occurs, it really feels like a living, breathing world you’ve become a part of. Some of the storytelling is done through still panels shifting like a Japanese comic or manga, which were effective and actually more enjoyable than your typical photo-realistic FMV cutscenes.

My playthrough of Bayonetta 2 was set to normal difficulty and that proved to be more than enough for me — Hard mode, I’m sure, will satisfy the hardcore. For the first few hours of the game, I was able to get by just through mashing the same combos and dodging attacks at the right time. Eventually, that kind of play caught up with me and I had to learn and execute more elaborate combos and attack strings as the game’s difficulty continued to rise. The payoff is great though and each victory felt more and more rewarding. There’s a scoring system that takes into account lives used and time it took to complete a mission and that should make perfectionists happy.

Bayonetta 2’s 10-12 hour story never lets up and it is a thrill ride through and through. There was never a moment where I felt bored or tired, which is a big contrast to many other beat-em ups that get too repetitious for my tastes. The writing can get a bit cheesy (and they’re thankfully skippable), but the main thing is the gameplay and it certainly delivers. This is a polished and gorgeous adventure Wii U owners cannot miss. Nintendo took a gamble with this one and it paid off big time.

Bayonetta 2
Genre: Action, Hack and Slash
Platform: Wii U
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: October 24, 2014

Rating: 9 / 10

Costume Quest 2 – a charming, albeit short-lived adventure (Xbox One)

If you’re a fan of Saturday morning cartoons and video games with charming ideas and imagination, Costume Quest 2 is your kind of game. Originally published by the now defunct THQ, the 2010 original finally has a sequel in Costume Quest 2. It returns to remind folks why they loved the first one and to also introduce newcomers to its unique style. It’s lighthearted and basic RPG gameplay isn’t your 60 hour story with 3 hours of cutscenes – Instead, this is game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and if you come into it knowing so, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Tim Schafer is no slouch when it comes to artistic and creative direction and Costume Quest 2 is no exception.

Costume Quest 2 doesn’t stray too far from the original in terms of ideas and gameplay. Children are dressed in costumes for Halloween and collecting candy yet again. Twin duo Reynold and Wren are back to save the day and this time it’s a fight against a sugar-hating dentist. Basic stuff here, but it totally works for what this is. Unfortunately, voice over isn’t a thing here and it’s a shame, because I’m a huge fan of the voice work from other Double Fine games like The Cave and Psychonauts. The characters all have great personality and some of the dialogue is hilarious, so it feels like a huge missed opportunity.

The battles are more refined this time around as players are more engaged in the turn-based system with well-timed countering and present is a smarter element-based balancing system seen in most other RPG games. Inexplicably absent is a full HP heal after a battle and it’s replaced by the necessity to run back to designated water fountains in order to regain health. This wasn’t much of a problem, but did feel a bit like a chore or synthetic elongating of the actual game, which runs roughly 5-6 hours. I like walking back and forth as much as the next guy, but this was simply too much.

Visually, Costume Quest 2 brings back all the warm and fuzzy feelings of being plopped in front of the television as you sat, ate cereal and watched your favorite weekend morning cartoons. That’s because the game is full of colorful and expressive characters and, well, costumes. Hilarity ensues when you see kids who are dressed as something like candy corn imagining themselves as an actual piece of candy, while other kids take on their more epic costume counterparts like a superhero or wizard. There’s time traveling here too and it brings the team of characters into far out scenarios that are interesting and mix things up. Looking at how some NPCs and characters turn out in an alternate timeline is not unlike Marty’s experience in Back to the Future.

Costume Quest 2 is a short-lived adventure that you wish lasted a bit longer and fleshed out a bit more — There’s definitely room for growth. It’d be cool to see the series branch out to other seasons or holidays to introduce fresh and new ideas. This game will get lost in the shuffle of big name games you already have your eyes on this fall season, but if you happen to have a few bucks lying around and a lazy afternoon to spare, Costume Quest 2 is a solid pick.

Costume Quest 2
Genre: RPG
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox One (Also available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, PC)
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Midnight City
Release Date: October 29, 2014

Rating: 8 / 10

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call Review

Rhythm-based gaming hit a fever pitch about 5 years ago, which eventually collapsed on itself with the over-saturation of Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands. To me, the appeal of rhythm and music games died when the amount of plastic peripherals overflowed my gaming area; did I really need DJ Hero turntables? – Probably not. That said, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is the kind of game I’ve been avoiding for some time now. Although I hadn’t played the previous installment, I did have certain expectations for this sequel to 2012’s hit having played Elite Beat Agents and Guitar Hero on Nintendo’s handhelds before. I’m glad to say Curtain Call squashed those expectations.

In its most basic form, a rhythm-based game plays a track and you have to act according to the music all while being judged on accuracy. Curtain Call has that and builds on it to offer a richer and deeper experience. Your performance after a track isn’t just scored and forgotten about – your characters are leveling up and building up experience points just like the RPG-style gameplay Curtain Call‘s source material. There are three different types of gameplay and they include Battle, Field and Event. Field and Event styles of play are largely similar in that they play the same with slight tweaks in the visuals. Personally, I like playing in the Field just to see Chocobos.

When playing a Battle, what’s happening on-screen is reacting to how well you’re hitting notes and inputting the right commands. When a boss enemy appears, the game does a great job at getting you pumped up to hit all your notes. Leveling up will help build up abilities, including Thundara to deal magic damage after chaining a certain amount of notes or Counter to dish out physical damage after missing a few notes. Multiplayer modes are available too and offers fun for those looking for bragging rights. Can you hit notes better than your friend? You can find out both off and online.

There are multiple control methods to play Curtain Call and they can be changed on the fly during any given song. The ways you can play is through touch-screen, buttons only or one-handed. My preferred way to play was with the touch-screen via stylus, but there were times when I felt that the feedback of pressing buttons felt more comfortable – what can I say? I’m fickle. The one-handed controls I never got into, but I can definitely see the practicality of it during a train ride home during rush hour where I had to use one hand to hold on to something. There were moments where the circle pad didn’t recognize my directional input as much as I would have liked and that can be annoying for a accuracy based game no matter how few times it happened.

Curtain Call is a fan service game more than anything. All the main and side characters represented here are easily recognizable by even the most casual Final Fantasy fan. Curtain Call‘s style is cutesy and miniaturized versions of lots of characters from Final Fantasy lore. Think of all the characters you love, such as Cloud, Titus and Lightning in Funko Pop! Vinyl form. The music chosen is not just from the main Final Fantasy series as Tactics, Dissidia and even the movie, Advent Children finds a place in this game. The tracks are as they were in their original form and discovering new tracks I’ve never heard before was delightful as well. This is truly a treat to your ears, so make sure you invest in some high quality earphones, because the 3DS audio output is unfortunately not the best or the loudest.

Whether you’re here to hear Final Fantasy II music or Final Fantasy XII music, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is an amazing retrospective for any kind of fan. Even if you’ve never played Final Fantasy before or don’t particularly like it to begin with, it’s still a great rhythm-based game with great music in its own right. The possibility of having your Final Fantasy dream team is completely realized here and it’s cool to see Square Enix celebrate its history of lovable and iconic characters into one title. The next and most logical step for the series’ future would be the inclusion of other beloved Square Enix characters like Sora and Chrono.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
Genre: Rhythm
Platform: Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Square Enix 1st Production Department
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: September 16, 2014

Rating: 8 / 10

Review: Super Smash Brothers for Nintendo 3DS

There’s awesome and then there’s mind-blowing. Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS on paper is as mind-blowing as it gets for any gamer. This isn’t just a cross-over or a collaboration of a couple of video game characters; this is a game that represents over 20 well-established and memorable franchises into a single game. Mario, Link, Pikachu and even third-party friends Mega Man and Pac-Man have come together to fight it out for no real reason and frankly, who cares! Smash Bros. for 3DS is the latest installment of a series that comes around with a new release once or twice every decade and all of Nintendo’s marbles are literally put into this one bag. With all the characters from all the different worlds come all of their respective developers and makers — a game with an all-star cast needs an all-star team behind it and that’s exactly what happened here.

Smash Bros. is a unique fighter where damage isn’t as much of a priority as staying on the stages or platform. The goal is to knock off your opponent and there are many strategies to do this. One of the more obvious methods is to attack your opponent and bring up their damage percentage; this will make your opponent more susceptible to being knocked further away. There is also the high risk, high reward way to win where you can put yourself in danger by attacking someone while they’re making their way back to the ledge. Stage control is the name of the game and you can witness videos floating on YouTube between pros to see how intense the gameplay can be. There’s something for everyone here as casual players can enjoy the stimulating four-player modes with items on, while serious gamers can play 1-on-1 games with items turned completely off.

The single-player experience has many options to choose from, though not much seen here is new to the series. Classic and All-Star mode is the meat and potatoes of the experience and will offer a significant challenge, especially for completionists who will be spending quite some time beating the game with the over 35 character roster. Classic mode is like most traditional fighters where you fight a series of enemies until facing off against the end-game boss. Classic is also a bit different in this iteration of Smash Bros. where you can choose your path to the end. With my 15 years of experience, I can safely say Classic mode on the hardest difficulty is by far the most difficult this time around. All-Star mode sees your fighter go through every character in the game with one stock of life and this is also the hardest version of this mode I’ve ever seen, because the roster is bigger than it’s ever been.

Single-player doesn’t just stop there as series staples like Home-Run Contest and Multi-Man Smash return while new additions, Smash Run and Target Blast make their debut. They’re neat bonus modes that allow you to take the core gameplay of Smash Bros. and use them to knock sandbags as far as you can in 10-seconds or blast bombs through walls Angry Birds-style. Smash Run is one of the new and most uniquely thought out modes that allows fighters to explore dungeons and build their stats RPG-style for 5 minutes. Then, a random style of battle ensues where every player’s newly built up characters are pitted against each other. The pay off isn’t as good as it could have been, because some of the battles completely disregard stats or are too short to let you get a good feel of all the hard work you just put in.

Another brand new feature for Smash Bros. is the inclusion of customized fighters. You can create and customize yourself in Mii form as a fighter and mix and match moves and character properties, such as speed and strength. Moves for in-game characters can also be unlocked to build your favorite version of your already favorite characters. Perhaps you want a Mario that can shoot fireballs straight forward instead of bouncing around — that’s entirely possible with the customization options and you’ll spend a lot of time figuring out your preferred set-up.

Online can be played with friends or players around the world through the matchmaking system. Playing with friends features everything you can do with local multiplayer and as long as there’s room, other friends can seamlessly join. Playing with strangers is also possible and it can be done through “For Fun” matches and ranked or “For Glory” matches. All the moving parts needed for an enjoyable multiplayer experience is here except for some online console gaming standards that I wish were included. One is the fact that you can’t mix and match friends and strangers — you can only choose friends only or strangers only. The other is no communication options; it would have been thoroughly impressive if voice chat was possible in any form, even if it’s just during post or pre-game lobbies.

The sights and sounds are top-notch, especially the 60 frame per second gameplay. It’s amazing that this handheld title, jampacked with content can run so smoothly off and online. The themes used while browsing the menus or playing during any given stage is a festival of nostalgic favorites and remakes. Many themes return from Melee and Brawl as well as new themes, such as my favorite, Little Mac’s Jogging Theme. Many stages are also recycled from previous Smash installments and about two-thirds of the total being brand new. Most of the new stages are catered to this handheld version of game that will probably remain exclusive to the 3DS, including a Gameboy Kirby stage and Streetpass’ own Find Mii stage. Also worth mentioning is that every stage has an Omega Version of itself; a bare bones version of a stage for hardcore players to fight it out on while being able to enjoy all the awesome visuals without the gameplay distractions. I thought that the visuals and choatic gameplay of Smash wouldn’t work for a handheld, but it fires on all cylinders wonderfully.

Smash is back, folks and as the first release of this unique dual game effort (Wii U version coming later this year), Smash for 3DS certainly delivers. Minor issues include the screen being too small at times and some long load times, but there’s little to no hiccups that interrupt the fun to be had. Single-player offers a lot and multiplayer brings even more. This isn’t a downsized, compromised version of Super Smash Bros. – This is a fully executed game we all know and love derived from its prestigious console lineage. Whether you’re a veteran or brand new to the series, there’s a ton here with lots of replay-ability.

Super Smash Brothers
Genre: Fighting
Platform: Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: October 3, 2014

Rating: 9 / 10

Hyrule Warriors Review — A game dedicated to the Zelda fans

I haven’t played a Dynasty Warriors game in close to ten years, but my vague memories of the game recall a repetitive hack-and-slash with missions consisting of going from point A to point B. I also remember a steady slew of sequels not being much different from its last iteration, so I knew that the formula established by Koei Tecmo wouldn’t be messed with. That said, Hyrule Warriors didn’t initially appeal to me very much, that is, until I got to play it. A game that makes you feel like a badass with a sword who can take on dozens upon dozens of enemies at once makes perfect sense for the Zelda universe. Call it shallow, vain or whatever, Hyrule Warriors to me is a game that is entirely good because of Link, Sheik, Midna and the cast of delightful Legend of Zelda characters.

Hyrule Warriors pulls its story from the source material and interweaves past Zelda games into this one mash-up. Fans are kept in mind throughout the entire experience, including the use of familiar chimes and 8-bit nods. To elaborate further on the formula, large scale battles are taking place in the Zelda universe and your job as the “game changer” is to fight through hordes of enemies, win back territories and lead your team to victory — The shifting of which side is winning is entirely in your hands. It is a total power trip, because you see tons of enemies on-screen, but you know that they don’t stand a chance against your sword or whatever weapon you’re wielding.

There is little to no challenge here, outside of pattern-based bosses who are easily conquered once you discover the best opportunity to strike. During the majority of my experience, failure only came about when I was too busy annihilating enemies in one area and didn’t make it in time across a large field to aid my troops. But where the gameplay lacks, Hyrule Warriors makes up for with collectibles and extras. There are plenty of materials to gather to build badges, which help you in battle by building stats and adding new combos. Also, weapons can be found that may or may not be stronger than the one you’re wielding, so finding new loot is encouraged if you want to become the stronger and better. The replayability is there, but it’s not as rewarding as you’d hope.

There is no shortage of characters to choose from as there are over 10 characters and more on the way through free and paid DLC. Adding to the variety, each character also has multiple weapons to choose from, which all have varying effects and completely different animations. For example, Link has the Hylian Sword and Magic Rod and choosing one or the other feels like picking completely separate characters, because of the uniqueness each brings to the table. There are also elemental advantage/disadvantages that come to play for each stage, but the effects are so marginal that it doesn’t make much of a difference – most enemies are one-hit killable regardless.

Visually, Hyrule Warriors looks great, especially if you’ve been craving for Link and gang in full HD. The game runs smoothly for the most part until you reach areas where you’re overcome by enemies. Not only does the game slow down, there are also instances where enemies are popping in and out of sight. Usually these would be huge issues, but with a game like this, it’s understandable that some hiccups occur – it certainly doesn’t happen often enough where it becomes a gameplay problem. Multiplayer also suffers from slowdown, but it’s always appreciated when a Wii U game allows each player to have a dedicated screen, one player on the TV and one on the Wii U gamepad.

Hyrule Warriors isn’t a sophisticated, game of the year contender as other Legend of Zelda games, but it fulfills exactly what it aims to do. This is a Dynasty Warriors game with the skin of Zelda characters and that is exactly as it sounds on paper. If you’re not particularly fond of the Dynasty Warriors style of play, then do yourself the favor and pass on this. If you haven’t played any before or are a fan of the Zelda series, this is solid game that will offer hours of fun.

Hyrule Warriors
Genre: Action, Hack and Slash
Platform: Wii U
Developer: Omega Force, Team Ninja
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Sept 26, 2014

Rating: 7.5 / 10

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Review

It can safely be said that two of biggest titles to make a name for themselves on the Nintendo DS are Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright. Their respective gameplay styles were tailor-made for the dual-screen, touch screen format and could not have possibly worked as well on anything else. Both also feature logic and thinking over flashy gameplay and already have more than a handful of titles under their belts with no signs of slowing down. Their similarities are plentiful and it has led to this singular moment, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — A crossover of epic proportions. Expectations are high and this mash-up certainly has a lot to live up to for fans of both series.

Witches are the theme in Layton vs Wright and it’s up to the two to get to the bottom of what is happening in the medieval world of Labyrinthia. The characters from both franchises get transported to this alternate world and the story develops from there. The game starts off quite slow and alternates between the two respective games a few times before the two main characters actually meet. The game eases new players into the different play styles and gives a good recap for seasoned fans. The game also gives you the option to skip some of the tutorials, which is much appreciated. Noticeable is the lack of challenge from the game overall. The puzzles and challenge in previous Layton and Wright titles have proven to stump me good, but not so much this time. On top of the lack of challenge, characters established from both worlds are also lackluster with only one more mainstay character from each title. Layton brings along with him his trusty sidekick Luke and Wright is followed by close friend Maya.

What plagues Layton vs Wright are some of the issues prevalent in each series. Layton games are a series of puzzles tied together with a point-and-click story; they can be a bit too hand-holdy and there is never a shortage dialogue. Every time the brilliant voice-over work is used, I breathe a sigh of fresh air from the constant reading, but it only happens so often. Also, I can’t imagine how hard it would be for my old man eyes to play a text-heavy title like this on a regular sized 3DS/2DS. It may be because Layton games are targeted to a younger audience, but the impatience I have with the title is the same I have with watching kids cartoons now — it takes forever to get to the point.

Phoenix Wright games are riddled with court sessions that you will have to read and decipher where a contradiction lies or where evidence will disprove a claim. It’s a fun system that works wonderfully when your brain is actually in sync with the direction the game is going. Unfortunately, my brain (and I’m guessing other people’s, too) often goes in another direction and whilst my reason for contradiction is 100% plausible, it’s written off as wrong. And even if you are right in guessing where the game is going, you have to figure out how to present it the way the game wants. For example, I knew that one of the contradictions was that a person could not hold two things at once and had to highlight this in a piece of photographic evidence — Turns out I picked the wrong hand and then had to choose the other. It is moments like this that make the game incredibly rigid and frustrating and what I wind up doing is picking every line of text for contradictions until I get it, because there’s no way of accurately knowing otherwise.

The two varying game styles never quite come together in a brand new way that I would have imagined, but there are elements that find their way into each other’s styles. Layton series staple, hint coins are usually used to help solve puzzles, but can now be used in the courtroom to highlight which lines to press or evidence to use, which turned out to be extremely helpful. Layton also finds himself alongside Phoenix in the courtroom to lend a hand in deducing evidence and putting pressure on the eye-witnesses. It’s a bit odd to see the two stand next to each other with their very different art styles, but it is goofy enough to work.

The sounds for this game is absolutely the shining star. Both series had iconic and memorable tunes and this mash-up brought the two minds behind the music together for some brilliant stuff. When the two styles of music is actually woven together, you can hear how much they actually complement each other in a magnificent way. Players who have never played either game will appreciate the stuff here, but there’s something extra special when you’ve played both games for so long — If only the game itself came together as magically.

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney serves its purpose well as a game where two iconic characters finally come together. Disappointment comes in the fact that so much more could have been done. The two games never stray too far away from their comfort zone and each take a significant hit in challenge and series lore. There are so many characters and stories from each franchise that could have been used, but sadly none of it comes through. There are some big missed opportunities here and here’s hoping the next game (if any) gets the job done right.

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle
Platform: Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Level-5, Capcom
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Aug 29, 2014

Rating: 7 / 10

Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 2 Review (Xbox 360)

Like any great TV show or episodic story-telling, playing the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead is an absolute must in order to get the full experience from season 2. After such high praise and critical-acclaim for the previous 6 episodes, expectations were high for the next 5 episodes. If you’re unfamiliar with the franchise or the types of games Telltale has been pumping out, The Walking Dead is a point-and-click, choice driven game. It’s more of an interactive story than a video game, but the choices you make will affect the story and put it in different paths. You can play an episode and compare notes to a friend who has played the same episode and realize you two have experienced a totally different part of the story — and that’s really cool.

Season 2 revolves around Clementine, who played as a supporting role in the first season and she is a totally transformed person this time around. She has matured greatly, but the game reminds you she’s still a kid with moments like awkward exposure to sexual and drug/alcohol related topics. It really humanizes her and you feel her pain as she is forced to grow faster in this dark and hallow world.

Blood-pumping, anxiety-inducing and haunting. I can go on and on about the many emotions brought upon me throughout season 2, because it was such a trip. Each episode put Clementine and the group of zombie walker survivors in more dire situations where the stakes became bigger and decision making tougher. By the end, I was struggling even behind the safety of my video game controller to make a choice that would determine the fate of the on-screen characters who I have become attached to emotionally.

I am as cold-hearted and stoic as the next gamer, but each life or death scenario felt weightier than the last. I can kill 500 people in a sandbox game like Grand Theft Auto V and not feel a thing, but one death here felt like a huge loss and that’s a big accomplishment in my book. There are moments in the game where Clementine is simply chatting with characters and learning about them which helps build depth with each person you encounter.

After each episode, the cliffhanger left me wanting more and the pain to endure another month or so wait for the next episode gradually worsened. Luckily, if you’re reading this and haven’t played an episode yet, then you get to binge play/watch the entire season in one sitting. Each episode takes about an hour and a half to complete so it is reasonably doable in a day if you’re dedicated enough.

Noticeably different this time around was the lack of puzzle elements. Although season 1 wasn’t super heavy with puzzle solving, there was still some figuring out to do. This time, the game flows with little to no possibility for error or interruptions because you weren’t paying attention for a moment. This really puts the focus on the story and compelling narrative and much less on being a “video game”. The finale had me on the edge of my seat more so than the previous episodes as all the build-up has finally led to the pinnacle of Clementine’s story. It’s so hard to describe without spoiling anything, but it is certainly awesome.

Telltale’s The Walking Dead season 2 is a major testament to the genius behind the game. The writing is great and comparable to the stories told on the TV and comic series — maybe even better! It seems Telltale is getting better at this type of gaming play style and it also seems like they’re not slowing down anytime soon. If you’re looking to get into season 2, pick up season 1 first to get a better grasp of the story; the best part is that these games are well priced, too. This review is light on word count, because there really isn’t much to say that wouldn’t spoil the story. It’s simple, easy to play and the story is amazing. Go get this!

The Walking Dead Season 2
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360 (Also available on PlayStation 3 and PC)
Developer: Telltale
Publisher: Telltale
Release Date: Season finale August 27, 2014
Rating: 9.5 / 10

Ultra Street Fighter IV Review (Xbox 360 Upgrade and Disc Version)

 

The third major update for 2009’s Street Fighter IV is here and nearly 6 years later, the title has finally arrived to its pinnacle. Ultra Street Fighter IV not only builds on the technical prowess of the fame fighter, it also oozes with fan service. The fighting game community is loyal and passionate and requests made from fans were heard clearly by Capcom. Characters were added, balancing requests were met and even some new features were added to give Street Fighter IV a proper send-off if this is truly the last time the title gets an update.

Ultra Street Fighter IV comes in the form of a disc or downloadable upgrade if you already own Super Street Fighter IV. Both versions are nearly identical aside from some title screen and opening intro differences. So if you’re thinking about picking up the disc version because of perceived load time advantages, there is none. The disc version does add some extra content that is unavailable on the upgrade version that will be addressed later on in this review.

New features have been introduced to Street Fighter IV through Ultra and one of them is the version select of characters. With each new iteration, returning characters to the updated version were tweaked to meet balancing needs. So characters from the beginning like Ryu, Ken and Chun-Li have more versions than say characters like Evil Ryu, Oni and Hakan who came onboard later on in the series. This gives fans the opportunity to live out dream matches like Street Fighter IV Sagat versus Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition Yun, which are two characters widely considered to be broken in their respective versions.

Also introduced are new mechanics, including Red Focus Attack and Ultra Combo Double. Red Focus is a better variation of the established Focus Attack, but the downside is that it costs more super meter bars. Red Focus, unlike regular Focus Attacks, can absorb as many hits as your health bar allows and can always crumple (make your opponent vulnerable) to extend certain combos. Regular Focus Attacks only crumples if held long enough, which is a risky thing to do. It’s all very technical, but it mixes things up big time for experts who compete on a competitive level.

Ultra Combo Double allows players to have both of any character’s two Ultra Combos at their disposal during a match. Before a match begins, a player commits to only one Ultra Combo depending on preference or which one would be more advantageous. For example, Adon’s Ultra Combo I is a very effective counter against projectile throwing players, but if the opponent is more of a grappler, then Ultra II may be the better choice. The tradeoff with using Ultra Combo Double is when an Ultra is used, it is much weaker compared to if you had chosen that Ultra alone.

Last and certainly not least, Ultra Street Fighter IV bumps up the character roster with 44 characters with 5 new characters; additionally, all previously released character costumes for the on-disc version. This is the meat and potatoes of the game that make this a worthwhile buy. Considering 5 new characters and previously released DLC, the dollar amount attached to the downloadable upgrade and disc version depends on your history with the game. Are you a player that already has Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition and already own a handful of costumes? Then the upgrade may be for you. For new players who want to start, the disc version is a great deal. AND… if you’re one of the hardcore of the hardcore, you get the disc version to complement your already three disc collection of Street Fighter IV ON TOP OF the downloadable upgrade that you already bought earlier in the summer.

Notably absent is the addition of new Trials. The 5 new characters do not have trials and the old characters did not receive new ones. Trials are used to practice combos and to learn them, so if you plan on picking up one of the new characters as your main player, you’ll have to find combo videos online through YouTube or Twitch.

The fun with Ultra Street Fighter IV comes with the community, so if you are a fan and plan to continue playing with friends and online, Ultra is a must have. Balancing changes and the addition of 5 new characters keeps things fresh and you will be left behind playing any other version but this one. If you’re a newcomer, all the mechanics and learning the fighting system can be overwhelming, but this new release guarantees there will be plenty of people to play with.

Ultra Street Fighter IV
Genre: Fighting
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360 (Also available on PlayStation 3 and PC)
Developer: Dimps Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: June 4, 2014 (Upgrade), August 5, 2014 (Disc)

Rating: 8.5 / 10

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark Review (Xbox One)

It’s another summer with blockbuster hits and this year sees the return of a summer movie favorite, Transformers. It’s always a good idea for a property to keep the momentum going with a big release like Transformers: Age of Extinction and one of those ways is to release a video game. Although Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark isn’t necessarily a direct movie tie-in game, it certainly is riding the Transformers hype train. The last two titles featuring the battling bots were generally accepted as great games, but with a new developer, the good times have unfortunately come to an end.

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark has a story like the movies where the good guys protect a very important object and the baddies are trying to obtain it for their own evil desires. This time it’s the Cybertronian relic, Dark Spark which would give its owner unlimited power such as bending the universe and leaving the planets at the mercy of whomever holds it. Whether it’s the AllSpark, the Matrix of Leadership or the Dark Spark, it’s pretty much the same story again and again. But the story shouldn’t matter too much as long as the game has good use of transforming, brawling with bots and the occasional driving sequences, right? Absolutely. But developer Edge of Reality fails to deliver any of that.

Transforming on the fly is easy, but the game doesn’t make it very desirable. Driving is clunky and simply no fun because of the bad controls and relatively little sense of speed. Transforming into aircrafts is better, but the flying portions of the game is where I found the most difficulty. Enemies shoot you down within seconds leaving you no time to react and even if you plan on getting away, good luck finding cover in the open air.

Whether you’re on your feet or roaming around in vehicle mode, each Transformer can fight using guns and special abilities. Each character possesses a unique ability and some are vastly favored over others. Drift can teleport and instantly kill multiple enemies at once as long as they’re in sight. The only thing stopping his ability is the game itself which will stop such a powerful move by none other than poor collision detection. Then there’s Sharpshot who has the ability to cloak, but is absolutely useless in the heat of battle which comprises most of this game.

Visually, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is indistinguishable from what you would typically see from a game made 4-7 years ago where it was acceptable to run 30 FPS and have your occasional dips here and there. Graphics are ok, but pretty average especially compared to the spectacular stuff you would see from the movies. Environments are bland and boring from the streets to the high tech bases. Apparently the old-gen versions are far worse, so I shudder to think what that experience would be like.

Much like fellow mediocre Activision licensed game Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse, a waved based co-op section of the game called Escalation mode is the best part of Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark. Teaming up with up to 3 of your buddies in a battle to survive is always a good time to be had and the only downside is having it end at only 15 waves. Wait scratch that, because the other downside is actually finding buddies willing to put up with getting such a lackluster game in order to enjoy one glimmering moment of fun in this package.

Playing Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark on a current generation console further emphasized that this game isn’t even passable as an early Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 title. Lack of polish, an uninspired story and overall blandness makes this another run-of-the-mill movie game that was clearly rushed to hit a certain release date window. One could only hope the future of the series would see High Moon Studios come back and salvage what is left of this steaming pile of broken and rusted metal.

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark
Genre: Third-person Shooter
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox One (also on PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, PC)
Developer: Edge of Reality
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: June 24, 2014

Rating: 4 / 10