The countdown is down to its final few seconds as you begin descending from a drop ship. By the time the timer hits zero, your feet have hit the ground. It’s time to get going, so you immediately start sprinting, left pinky firmly pressing the shift key as your right hand grips the mouse. You’ve probably done this dance before if you’ve touched a multiplayer game in the last 5 or 6 years, so, naturally, it's what you do now. It doesn't matter that the sand is kicking up, and just over the hill seems to be the bones of some giant beast; you are just going to press forward, because that’s what you do in multiplayer. The environments may change, but the dance continues to have the same exact steps.

Then, all of the sudden, you start looking at your teammates. You have taken notice to the fact that you can reach higher vantage points. With the right timing, you can run across walls and bounce off them to get to your destination more quickly. Hell, a quick double tap on the jump button grants a short burst that lets you ascend even higher. The dust might have picked up, but what do you care? You have some premium territory, and now it’s time to start picking off whatever fool dares to come between your crosshairs. Aim down the sights, and shoot away. It’s as snappy as you would expect from any first person shooter that came after Call of Duty, especially one made by the creators of Call of Duty.

You didn't get other players with these shots; what you actually took down were nothing more than bots. You move, you shoot, and you keep moving. You’re navigating the field, still looking for the enemy, all the while dropping these hopeless drones. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see a big red dot on your radar. At this point, it might as well be the type of crimson that gets a bull to charge because you’ve had enough easy pickings with the bots. You want the satisfaction that comes with taking down an actual player. On the way there, you’re probably thinking about exactly how hard you’re going to go with the celebratory tea bagging process. Because really, what's the point of wrecking someone if you can't be demonstrative about it?

The two of you engage in combat, and suddenly the dance isn’t completely the same. Sure, you’ve seen bunny hopping tactics before, but wall running away as you had the jump on someone? Then, on a battlefield that already feels chaotic and is busy with the bots as well as your enemies, there are giant robots. Then again, your timer on the bottom right corner says you’re ready for titanfall. So why not bring the rain, and get a mech of your own, right? Now it’s time to live out my inner adolescent power fantasy of watching two giant robots clash.

When I was on the ground, the game was entirely about its mobility. I had the speed to cover ground quickly and some added tricks to get to elevated spots. The mech? This titan? He’s pretty quick for a lumbering brute, but it’s not like I’m controlling Usain Bolt here. There is a rhythm to the dance I’m not used to. I have to be mindful of strafing left to right to dodge a barrage of rockets, and there is still the issue that I’m also getting shot at by the other titan's big chain gun. Of course, I have all the same moves he has for now so we’re dealing with the same predicament. Strafing one way, trying to land that perfect shot, and noticing that health bar is dropping ever so slowly.

The heart's pounding, the right hand is heavily clenched around the mouse, and that robot? Still keeping you from your first piece of satisfaction that comes from taking down another player. And then you hit the titan, as the colliding metal gives off the grizzly sound of two big pick-up trucks colliding. The titan floats like a butterfly, but it brings the heat like a beast. Right now, you’re probably feeling like the baddest man on the turf. So hey how about you and your buddy Mike Titan (Right?) put together the finishing touches? Punch that arm right through the cockpit, rip that scrawny punk out, and crush that spine of his into dust. In those last moments, you’ll see the pixelated life leave his polygonal eyes, his limbs will go limp, and you’ll get the ceremonial experience points boost that has become all too common with modern multiplayer kills. That was the moment I said “Okay, Titanfall, it’s on”.


Titanfall isn’t going to be the game to convert the people who don’t like multiplayer into trying multiplayer. Why? Because a lot of it is stuff you’ve seen in multiplayer before. Jet packs, wall running, mechs, guns, a metagame? You’ve seen all of this before. Titanfall is a multiplayer game trying to appear fresh and distinct for those that still love engaging in online warfare, or those who are looking for something that feels like enough of a change of pace to bring them back and use it as a way to kill time between some other games. It is an example of how a few additions and a new direction can change the entire flow of a game.

The increased mobility gives the developers a reason to create buildings with multiple ingress and egress points, because you can cover ground quickly and ascend to higher points. That creates a need to present multiple attack routes and exit routes for a player. The titans themselves provide the bonus of a kill streak, without being broken. Instead of a rich get richer mechanic, it's a mechanic that all the players will have access to during the game. Some people can just access it more quickly by being better. And being in a titan doesn't automatically mean instant kills, because the maps are designed to give the titans a limited view of what is going on, and to give players enough space to avoid these mechs and launch surprise attacks to give themselves a fighting chance.

That the game mitigates the idea of rewarding the kill streak while providing bots adds another layer of strategy. Go for players or mitigate that head hunting by just being cautious and picking on bots, then go in and play with the big boys in your own big boy. The 6 v 6 player count also provides the same level of intensity you get from smaller, but more intimate multiplayer games like Halo and Gears of War, with the addition of bots and the titans themselves providing you the overwhelming chaos you get from more active shooters like Battlefield. It's a balancing act that takes this hodge-podge of relatively old game mechanics to create something genuinely distinct in the genre. It's not the revolution the genre needs, but it's definitely something different. 

While Titanfall can win you over with its gameplay, it might lose some of you on the value proposition. I personally would argue that it more or less cuts out the fat of most modern mp games (because who the hell really likes VIP? Or wants another horde mode, for that matter?), but hey, Titanfall has 5 gameplay modes. 3 of them are basically variations of Deathmatch, but the scoring is different. Attrition is team deathmatch where you get points for killing bots, titans, and players. Players get you more points for the sake of competitive balance. Pilot Hunter is team deathmatch where only player kill counts. Last Titan Standing puts everyone into a titan right away, and the first team destroy all the opposing titans (not necessarily the players) wins. The scoring system is different, but it all comes down to shoot dudes in the face... or shoot robots in the cock pit. There is also Capture the Flag, which is still Capture the Flag, which means it's still about as boring as doing homework. Hardpoint is domination from Call of Duty, which was just Territories from Halo, which was also Conquest in Battlefield, and well, you get the gist of it.

There is also this thing called a campaign, but it's basically just attrition and hardpoint with cutscenes in between matches. There is some effort thrown into this mode when it comes to the audio work, campaign specific moments, and the fact that you can only unlock the other 2 Titan chassis in this mode. However, it still feels like a throw away mode. Most of the story takes place during matches with someone speaking in your head, and a side camera showing you footage of the ongoing war. The game simply has too much going on to make this type of storytelling effective, and the campaign itself turns multiplayer into a chore as opposed to a source of adolescent power fantasy joy that it actually is.

Dropping the crazier perks/kill streaks of CoD, and the 3 levels of campaign-coop-competitive gametypes does cut down on the fluff, as I appreciate the less is more approach. In some of these cases, however, less is simply less. Titanfall does so much to change the flow of a modern multiplayer shooter, but makes no attempt in providing a game mode that is particular to just Titanfall. Sure, Last Titan Standing kind of fits the bill, but even then it's like a survival team deathmatch, but you're in giant robots. It also doesn't help that PC gamers have to deal with some poor optimization as the game simply isn't technically impressive enough (read: it does look good, but mostly because of it's artistic direction) to justify some of the hardware requirements. Gamepads also tend to get an aggressive aim-assist on PC. That stuff is fine on consoles where players have to deal with dual analog, but on PC that's just ridiculous.

Then there is the part where we question how Titanfall ranks with the best in its genre. Sure against modern competitors simply feeling different works in its favor, and it has enough of a skill ceiling to feel more interesting than Call of Duty ever did for a seasoned gamer. But against the all-time titans of the genre? It falls flat against the mightier competitors like an Unreal or a Counter-Strike or even something like a Team Fortress 2. On the other hand, it isn't exactly shallow, and there is a degree of mastery here when it comes to using the mobility in the game to your advantage. It'll certainly separate the best from the merely average players.

If you go into this as someone who buys into hype trains, you're just setting yourself up for a disappointment as Titanfall isn't a game that is meant for anyone that isn't still into multiplayer. For those of you that are into multiplayer or want something just different enough to get you back into it for a little while longer? Titanfall is that game, and it's a very focused multiplayer experience. It's a change of pace from the annual Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo entry. Titanfall is also an argument against those 3 franchises that shows that you don't always have to reinvent the wheel to make something interesting again. Instead, you should at the least consider switching the style up and watch the money pile up (yes, massive grin when I wrote that). Titanfall is an example of how important the flow of a multiplayer game is, and for now that's more than enough to make it worth a spin. So adjust your expectations accordingly, and join the action.

Final Score - 7/10

 

 

 

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Reviewed jointly by Justin McBride and Christopher Compton

Christopher: Pokémon, also known as Pokemans to all those parents with children born in Generation Y, has been around quite a long time. In fact, it might be fitting that the newest iteration of the franchise has been titled Pokémon Y (and X) as those children who played Red and Blue all those years ago are now old enough to have kids of their own. And maybe, one day, they too will come to mispronounce the word that once sent the phrase “GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!” rushing from their lips. If Pokémon X and Y are meant to be a Pokémon game for a new generation of players, this is a great, if safe, place to start.

Considering I haven’t played a Pokémon game since Ruby, starting Pokémon Y felt like meeting up with an old friend. He tells the same stories he always did, but they feel a little less stale and you’re mostly just glad to see him again. Familiar, perhaps, but there is an instant sense of comfort and joy to be found in something you know so well. I imagine the experience was a little different for you, having kept up to date with the series.

Justin: Indeed it was. I’ve always been a sucker for Pokémon games over the years and as such, I’ve owned every major release, including remakes (like Leaf Green and Heart Gold) and excluding the enhanced remakes in the vein of Pokémon Yellow. Naturally, I had a good idea of what to expect when I dove into Pokémon Y and my expectations were more or less in line with what I experienced.

But, this being the first entry on the 3DS, the developers sought to add a bit more flair to the series, producing the first fully 3D entry in the franchise. And the visuals do pop quite nicely. All Pokémon are fully animated in 3D, eschewing the 2D sprites of games past. Because of this, the world has never felt as alive and full of character as it does now and battles, though mostly unchanged in terms of fundamental characteristics, appear much more dynamic.

C: Pokémon Y doesn’t have a whole lot of growing pains to go through, mostly because it doesn’t really evolve the formula past “catch, train, and battle.” While that simple strategy holds up surprisingly well considering the franchise’s age, the pretty graphics, huge monster selection, and wealth of extra content further helps distract the player from a lack of truly new ideas.

J: Mega Evolution is the series’ newest gimmick, allowing certain Pokémon in possession of certain stones to evolve further during battle, seeing stat boosts and ability changes. This adds another layer of strategy to battling for serious competitors as it has potential to mess with an opponent’s battle plans. As highly touted as the feature is, it is rather limited in its execution, being confined to a mere handful of Pokémon, when considering the sheer number of Pokémon there are now.

With Pokémon X and Y, the series’ full roster of monsters to catch has ballooned to over 700, around 50 of which are new to the series. And with the new Pokémon, the new Fairy type has been added, adding a new dimension to the series’ signature rock-paper-scissors style of play.

C: Those are the kinds of changes that are welcome without being cumbersome. Fairy Types and Mega-Evolutions add an extra flavor and ‘mystery’ to the core gameplay, which might start needing more than just little bells and whistles to feel fresh moving forward.

J: Agreed. I quite liked how they both shook up the formula.

In large part, the series’ bread and butter has come from its connectivity features. I remember the days when I’d go over to a friend’s house and we’d trade Pokémon in our quest to fill up our respective Pokédexes or battle each other to see who had assembled the strongest team of Pokémon.

With the Nintendo DS era Pokémon games, one no longer needed a physical connection to the other player or even be in the same time zone to trade and battle their Pokémon, as the games stepped into the 21st century with online play. Pokémon X and Y have taken that even further and added a number of new features that make connecting with fellow trainers easier and more seamless than ever.

But, beyond the basic battling and trading features, one of the most addictive and fun new additions is definitely the Wonder Trade feature, which allows you to trade with another random trainer. You never know what you’re going to get for your offered Pokémon, and that’s part of the fun.

C: In a way, it feels like a Dark Souls-lite. You won’t see messages floating around the map or people invading your game, but the fact that players can effortlessly challenge you to battle or offer a trade from across the globe makes the adventure feel shared. Multiplayer too often feels shoehorned into games that don’t need it, but I can get behind this kind of subtle connectivity.

And then there are the less successful ‘innovations’. What did you think of all the new additions like Pokémon-Amie and Super-training? Personally, they were nothing more than fun little distractions that were forgotten around halfway into the game.

J: What? Oh, you mean those things I used once or twice and never used again?

As far as Pokémon-Amie is concerned, I only used it to evolve an Eevee into a Sylveon and that’s as far as I went with it. The little minigames were entertaining little novelties, but little more than that. I imagine Super-Training will be quite appealing to the super competitive crowd but I don't see the average Pokémon trainer concerning themselves too much with it.

I will say that they’re interesting concepts and ones that will find their niche among certain, particularly dedicated Poké-fanatics but I think their appeal is a bit too limited to warrant more than a passing interest.

C: Pokémon Y’s appeal to both casual and hardcore fans goes beyond just the gameplay though. You can really feel that Game Freak is trying to make a summarization of what Pokémon is in this one entry. Basically every popular Pokémon you can think of pops up at some point in the game (I could have done without an entire cave filled with Wobbuffets, but whatever), there’s the familiar ‘rival’ that constantly bumps into you on your journey (and gets her ass handed to her every single time), there’s an emphasis on people treating their Pokémon as equals in battle etc. It almost plays like a “Pokémon: Greatest Hits” album, filled with everything you would want out of a Pokémon game and then some.

J: But as hard as Game Freak tries, I don’t think they’ll ever be able to recapture the same kind of wonder and novelty of the original Pokémon Red and Blue. Perhaps it’s because I’m an adult now, as opposed to the innocent little 6th grader I was when the games released back in ’98.

No I’m not old.

C: You’re pretty old.

J: But anyway, as good as I think Pokémon Y is, it doesn’t seem to have the same “magic” the originals did. I never experienced the same kind of unbridled joy in Y that I fondly remember feeling when my Wartortle finally evolved into a Blastoise as I exited Rock Tunnel on my way to Lavender town. But, perhaps that’s the nostalgia goggles talking. Maybe I hit it on the head earlier with that “being an adult” thing I mentioned earlier. What do you think, Chris?

C: Think back to Pokémon Red and Blue. It’s likely that anyone who played those games remembers the creepy tune running through Lavender Town, or the feeling of being a hunter in Safari Zone. It’s those locations and moments that caused Pokémon to be so deeply engrained in the annals of nostalgia. Pokémon Y has the qualities of a lasting, possible generation-defining Pokémon experience. Players will remember the elaborate architecture of the gyms, the story of a jaded man and a lost friend, and the hours lost trading Pokémon with people around the globe (If I get another Bidoof, I swear to Helix…). The kids of Generation Y no longer have to look back and say ‘things were so much better before.’ Now, with Pokémon Y, fans young and old have a game they can both enjoy.

J: In large part, I would agree but, as a veteran of the franchise, I’d say the updates included in Pokémon X and Y are more incremental than I’d like. If there were ever a series crying out for a fresh take on a tried-and-true formula, it would be this one. Though the battles are flashier, this is Pokémon and the basic gameplay hasn’t changed much from its Red and Blue roots. But, it’s a formula that, while long in the tooth, is about as “time tested” as they come. As much as I would love to see the franchise take a few leaps of faith, I find that it’s hard to fault the core gameplay, which is as good as it’s ever been.

Final Score – 8/10

Cranky Kong is a pretty dope ape as far as the Kongs and I are concerned. He’s got the“back in my day” lines that make old people funny. Plus, Cranky Kong is a bit of a classic to me because I remember going up to his house during the glory days of the original Donkey Kong Country. He’d be there making you think he’s going to share his wisdom, but he was really dissing you along the way.

So here Cranky is now in Retro Studios' second DK game, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze for the Wii U. For the first time ever in a DK game, you actually get to play as Cranky and use him in a meaningful way, but two decades of sitting on the sidelines has led him to enter a videogame as a glorified Scrooge McDuck rip-off. And that, my friends, is why Cranky Kong himself is the best representation of exactly what Tropical Freeze is.

Cranky is old, like a lot of the ideas in the game are. He’s a straight rip-off on one hand and Retro Studios isn’t exactly against aping what other developers have done in the genre. For all the fundamentally good design ideas in this game, one simply can't ignore that they are working off the basic template that Rare set for them in the 90s. Then there's the part where he is a no-nonsense type of Kong. He doesn’t want to hear you complain as he expects you, nay demands! that you execute with some precision, which is exactly what makes Tropical Freeze such a gratifying platformer.

Listen, if you’re coming into this game hoping that Nintendo is going to breathe some fresh life into the 2D platformer or that Retro is ready to put their own stamp on the genre, then, in the late and great words of Edna Krabappel: HA! It’s simply not going to be that game, and some people will be disappointed by that. I personally get that disappointment, but at the same time, Retro does one hell of a job creating a tightly designed platformer. It's devoid of imagination or creativity, but well put together at the end of the day.

With the addition of Cranky and the return of Dixie, Retro’s take on the DK series has a pair of new mechanics to work with. Cranky, as mentioned, is more or less Scrooge McKong (No, I absolutely couldn’t resist) who uses his cane as a pogo stick, and Dixie’s hair twirl allows her to hang in the air while also getting increased elevation to her jump. Diddy brings back his jet pack, and Donkey Kong is your playable character. To get every Kong letter, get every puzzle piece, and ultimately complete the game, you’ll need to make use of each Kong’s unique talents during specific levels. To make it to the credits finish line? You can just pair up with whichever Kong you want, and that basically comes down to whichever one compliments your play style the best.

You will play through six separate Islands over the course of Tropical Freeze (and a bonus island for completitionists), all of which have their own specific theme. These themes range from stuff like a tropical jungle, a frozen environment that fits the game’s title, and what was my personal favorite, an island dedicated to the sweet delicious nectar of juice. These themes serves as more than just a backdrop for your obstacle course conquering. They are, in many ways, a direction for how your obstacles are thought out.

Sure, the game has your usual assortments of platforming obstacles: ordinary ones, moving ones, bouncy ones, spring boards, and ones that drop you to your death if you stay on them too long. It’s all connected by vines and enemies that will either wander aimlessly, jump around, or throw things at you that you either need to dodge or try to jump on for increased elevation. The theming, however, dictates what those obstacles will look like and be comprised of. On the island dedicated to juice, for instance, you'll go through a juice factory. Naturally, you will see saw blades in the background carving into melons, oranges, strawberries and the like. These pieces will become your temporary platforms, and some of them will turn into jelly to provide you with the extra pep in your jump to get to your destination. Looking at something so beautiful is enough to make one crave a Jolly Rancher.

That’s not to say the game will give you much time to enjoy your Jolly Rancher. Like Retro’s previous Donkey Kong game, and like Cranky himself, Tropical Freeze won’t sandbag too long. You will be punished routinely for making poorly timed jumps and just assuming you’re going to just hopscotch your way to the end while staying within rhythm from the start of the level to the barrel at the end.  Eventually, each platform you land on won’t provide a moment of safety and you’ll often have to think quickly to move forward. Platforms themselves will become more hazardous, and enemies create a sense of urgency. One memorable underwater level has you doing your best to avoid a giant squid that threatens to engulf the player in the oppressive darkness of his ink.

There are also vehicle segments that include classics such as the mine cart and Rambi the Rhino, as well as the return of the rocket barrel from Donkey Kong Country Returns. I could have done without the rocket barrel, but the fierce mine cart levels, on the other hand, are far more enjoyable. These run-away mine carts will speed through levels, forcing you to make timely jumps and hop from one rail to the next. One such moment puts the game in a top down view, so you can work in a more horizontal manner as you move from rail to rail. It’s one of the few moments where the game can lay claim to doing something with DK’s formula that really hasn’t been done before. Rambi provides a bit of cathartic relief and barreling through a level with him is just one giant celebration of mayhem.

Some might find that the game too often throws obstacles at you that you simply can’t respond to quick enough, turning a lot of these vehicle segments into trial and error before you finally play them enough times to figure out what you’re supposed to do. The rocket barrel levels in particular deal with this, and frankly are less satisfying for it. Retrying mine-cart levels isn’t as irritating because of the sheer speed of the vehicle. The rocket-barrel, on the other hand, does create a sense that you're going through the motions because it is so much slower.

The most interesting change in the game is how it handles boss fights; Tropical Freeze features multi-stage boss fights. While it’s still playing to the videogame rule of 3(3 segments, 3 hits each), it provides, at times, a new spice to platformer boss battles. Enemies will gradually add new movesets, and the thrill of needing to conquer them in one run can create some demanding encounters. One such fight has you dueling with an owl who at first glance is going to just throw sharp feathers and baby owls at you as projectiles. You’ll dodge them, hit one of the owls, pick him up, and throw him at the big guy.  Then he’ll start getting annoyed and bring in a storm, and you will have to dodge giant ice balls, watch out for his feathers, and be mindful of the fact that those projectiles will now come at new angles. After that, he’ll start flapping his wings and create a gust that the player will have to push against just to stay on the stage, while moving from barrel to barrel to avoid a dive bomb, crop dusting move, and finding the opening to hit a baby owl and then throw at it the boss.

The more stringent segments of Tropical Freeze might feel long in the tooth, but sans the rocket barrel segments I found them to be fulfilling all the way through. At the end of the day, basic game design still makes for a satisfying game. Tight controls, well designed levels, and balance make Tropical Freeze well worth your time as a platformer. If you need some narrative context? It’s Donkey Kong’s birthday and he’s trying to celebrate it with his family with this delicious banana birthday cake. Just before he can blow out the candle on his cake, the Viking-esque enemies of the game blow some giant horn and blow him and the Kongs away, putting DK Island into a wintery state as opposed to its tropical beauty. What more motivation do you actually need? These nobodies that the developers of the game had no desire of even trying to paint as something interesting decided to crash the birthday party of gaming’s greatest gorilla. Kicking them off Donkey Kong’s home turf is really all the motivation you should need if you’re looking for a good platformer.

It all shows that Donkey Kong is still capable of providing a worthwhile platforming experience and Retro Studios have proven they have a grasp of what exactly makes a good platforming game tick. The only constant issue is that two games into Donkey Kong’s comeback tour they’ve yet to put their own stamp on the game. Sure, in many ways they make the older games obsolete because of how dated those games (collision detection being the most noteworthy offender of the originals) have become. On the other hand, there was a time Donkey Kong was doing things differently from the rest of the platformers on the market.

Tropical Freeze by no means is a bad game, but it certainly feels like a platformer deprived of imagination or creativity. In a market that just got Rayman Legends, Super Mario 3D World, and has access to so many indie platformers, that’s like a bee without its knees or a walrus without it’s tusk, or Donkey Kong without his tie. It’s still a satisfying platformer, but it’s also just another platformer. Maybe the game will never reach the lows of Rayman Legends' Murphy levels, but it also makes no attempt to challenge the heights of Rayman’s music or stealth inspired levels either. Retro Studios may have been the guys who brought Donkey Kong back, but like the enemies of this game, Retro also forgot Donkey Kong had a birthday cake to blow out when the credits rolled. Just saying.

Final Score - 7/10

 

 

South Park: The Stick of Truth is the long awaited collaborative RPG from Obsidian Entertainment and South Park Studios written, voiced, and directed by series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The game has been in development for over 4 years and has faced a number of delays, and even a complete change in publishers. It was speculated that the game would eventually be canceled after its original publisher THQ closed its doors, but fortunately for us all, the game has finally arrived and it was worth the wait.

The game starts off with the player character having just moved to the “quiet mountain town” of South Park, Colorado.  At the start of the game, you are asked to customize your character and choose a class. The customization is familiar to anyone who may have played around with a South Park character creator in previous years and as such there are a lot of options immediately available. Along the journey you are able to augment and change your appearance by collecting wigs, face paint, glasses, and other accessories, and the extent at which you are able to make your character unique is completely unmatched by other games in the genre due to the show's minimalist art style.

Shortly after the game begins, you are greeted by some familiar faces who let you know that all of the kids around town are Live Action Role-Playing and are each is part of a faction vying for control of the illustrious Stick of Truth. “He who controls the Stick of Truth, controls the Universe,” says series favorite Eric Cartman, and what follows is a well-crafted narrative that is true to the show in almost every way.

Battles are turn based, but not in the traditional sense. Whenever you attack you must press a button in sync with a prompt. This allows you to hit the enemy multiple times, use a powerful heavy attack, or execute a magic infused attack. Which one you use is determined by the face button you choose to press when the prompt comes up. Special attacks can be used as well, sometimes requiring you to pull off a series of quick-time events for more damage. There's a similar system in place for defense as well, requiring you to press a button just before you re hit in order to reduce the damage you take. It's an important mechanic, and learning to execute this perfectly can mean the difference between losing 20% or 80% of your health.

All in all, the combat is responsive and provides a good amount of feedback when you strike. The one caveat for this is to make sure you play the game on a TV with low input lag, as this may cause a problem when trying to time your strikes accordingly.

Abilities, Perks, and Summons for battle are obtained by making friends around the town, in addition to ability points gained through leveling. Abilities are class specific and each class has numerous abilities they can learn as they level up. Moves can also be upgraded by spending skill points on them. This typically results in the ability having an extra buff/debuff when used. Perks are basic character stat augments that give you passive abilities in battle. Simply put, the more friends you have, the more Perks you can unlock.

Summons can be acquired by completing side quests for certain characters. For instance, delivering a mysterious vibrating package to Mr. Slave enables him to be summoned for use in any non-boss battle. Using a summon will essentially defeat all of the enemies and end the battle, which makes them perfect for difficult fights. However, each summon can only be used once per day, so choose when to use them wisely.

Outside of combat, the game often has you use items and abilities to progress through dungeon environments. You can use your ranged weapon to knock things down, and your powerful magic attacks (read: farts) to cause fires or explosions, among other things. Doing so will often lead to branching paths where you can find rare armor and weapons, or environmental hazards which can be used to clear entire rooms of enemies in a single motion. You gain more of these items and abilities to use outside of combat as the game progresses, and some can even be used to revisit areas for rare loot.

Any good RPG will always have a large amount of interesting side-quests and South Park: The Stick of Truth is no different. I completed all but two of the side-quests during my playthrough and I can honestly say that all of them are worth doing. Whether it is helping Al Gore hunt down the infamous ManBearPig or helping Stanley Marsh get his iPhone back from his sister, the side content is always rewarding in both a narrative and material sense, and it is a joy to explore the town and check in on iconic characters from the series.

South Park is a town filled with many interesting characters and locations, and the world is yours to explore. The town opens up to you almost immediately and it very apparent from the beginning just how much craftsmanship and attention to detail has gone into building it. Almost every building and house can be entered and explored. Most of which will have lootable chests, drawers, cabinets, and refrigerators filled with anything from cash and healing items to new weapons and armor. Fans of South Park will be overwhelmed with the amount of referential material to be found in the game. There are countless callbacks to classic episodes including some deep cuts that go as far back as the first episode, and Obsidian has done a good job of not shoehorning too much of it into the main story. Whether it is the 30 collectable Chinpokomon or just vender-trash items found around the world, there is no shortage of good references to get nostalgic over.

Environments are detailed in traditional South Park style and provide an atmosphere which makes the game feel like one big extended episode. It is astonishing how Obsidian was able to capture the look and feel of a South Park episode through the movement of the characters, and framing of the camera. Cut scenes are entirely in-engine and no matter how customized your character is, he is fully rendered in scenes.

If you are unfamiliar with the South Park franchise, then a lot of the references and side-quests may not resonate with you, and in that case it may make the game harder to recommend before watching a few key episodes. If I had to fault the game for anything major, it would be its reliance on your familiarity with the franchise.

Ultimately, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a love letter to South Park fans at large. It is a testament to the fact that with enough time and care, a licensed game can work. It is clear that Obsidian and South Park Studios had a concise vision for what the perfect South Park game would be, and this is it. Whether you are an Obsidian fan or a South Park fan, there is no reason in the world not to check this game out.

Final Score – 9/10

Editor’s Note: A retail copy of South Park: The Stick of Truth was provided to us by Ubisoft for review.

Dusty's Revenge

There was a time when 2D-beat’em ups were all the rage (Get it? You get it?) in gaming. From the glorious Streets of Rage to everyone’s favorite Ninja Turtles titles, they were exciting games in the arcade and on consoles. However, making the jump to consoles required the genre to add some more meat to its gameplay, so you started getting more intricate level design or elements from other genres; some games used platforming segments, while others added RPG elements.

Before long it was time for the genre to hit 3D, and by now you all know that part of the story due to the likes of Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, or God Hand. And because triple A games in this genre are mostly of the 3D variety, the 2D beat’em up itch only really gets scratched by the indie scene (with some exceptions), and these games are usually shaped by the games that inspired these developers. When you get an indie take on a beat’em up, the obvious call backs to Streets of Rage and its ilk are borderline high-handed. So in one way Dusty Revenge’s most interesting aspect also happens to be its freshest: the game is more focused on bringing in elements from the Devil May Cry franchise than it is anything else, as well as bringing the modern improvements of a 3D action game into a 2D styled game.

That ends up being too tall of an order for the game to tackle, but the one area I find the game to be successful at is actually the combat. The game shows the developers have a handle on the technical mastery that makes this genre so satisfying. You’ll find juggles, frame specific combos, animation cancels, downward slashes, and a solid variety of dial-up combos. You also have a pair of sidekick characters that play the role of power up moves, namely Rondel, a rocket launcher (you aim it like you're playing Angry Birds, it's neat) toting Bear, and McCoy, a sniper dog. No seriously, it’s a dog who snipes, and he has a cowboy hat on. He kind of makes me think of what Scruff McGruff would look like if he became a cowboy.

It provides an extra layer of strategy to some of the encounters, as a few of them will require you to balance the use of these characters correctly. It's usually fairly simple stuff, like using Rondel on armored foes, and McCoy on hidden enemies using projectiles, and on a purely mechanical level, the game makes plenty of strides to keep you from simply mashing your way to the end. It’s just unfortunate the game doesn’t do enough in every other department to remain satisfying. As a matter of fact, the game can become dull after spurts of interesting combat segments.

One of the more noteworthy offenders is the primitive level design. Some might dismiss this drawback because of the “variety” of environments found in the game as backdrops. These include the old west, a jungle, ancient ruins, and the bane of my personal existence, a sewer level. However, that variety is entirely cosmetic. Once you have both sidekicks, these levels throw a lot of the same obstacles at you. It's your standard "go forward, area gets blocked off, you kill dudes, and then you move on" kind of design. The environments have no real trick of their own, and a speeding train feels like the only outlier in what are mostly cosmetic props.

Dusty Revenge also has an awful habit of regurgitating certain aspects of its design. For instance, there is one segment where wooden logs are set up in one large zig-zag, and as you ascend you’ll deal with enemies. However, you can just run right through that scenario with impunity to get to the next part of the level, and the game actually repeated that same set up a few times, right up until the last stretch of the game.

Boss fights are painfully simple in Dusty Revenge as well. All the boss fights in the game are pattern-based, and all of them rely on fairly simplistic patterns. Any tension one of the fights has is almost completely thrown out the window as dodging these moves is a non-issue most of the time. Some of it is a matter of adhering to the game’s weird way of conveying arbitrary moments where you can and cannot take damage. I’ve had moments where Dusty clearly ducked a swipe and was hit, and I’ve also had moments where I know I should have gotten hit and the game doesn’t even acknowledge it. The only real challenge comes from the fact these fights feature enemies with multiple health bars. It takes a fight that has maybe 3 minutes worth of ideas, and stretches them out to 5-10 minute affairs, if not longer depending on your level of aggression.

It’s a level of design that usually paints the not so flattering picture around indie games.  A lot of the design in the game feels straight up archaic, which is a point that carries over throughout the game’s presentation as a whole. Sure, the animations are well done, and some might enjoy the art, which is a weird mix of old west/cyberpunk and anthropomorphic character design. It's not exactly my cup of tea, but I can give credit to a game I find to be well animated. However, other aspects of the game's presentation are simply low budget.

The hit detection and its inconsistency is one thing, but that speaks as much to gameplay as it does presentation. The narrative and plot, however, are poorly executed aspects of the game. The story is told through cutscenes that use stills of the characters/actions happening in the plot. That aspect? I can dig it. The voice acting and tone of the plot? Not so much.

Dusty is simply too bland of a character. He starts this journey because his girl is killed off in the beginning, and of course he goes out looking for revenge (hence the title) in an attempt to avenge her death. Beyond that, however, there is no real reason to connect with him. There is never any real interplay between him and his sidekicks, and his dialogue is delivered in this overbearing, gravelly voice. It sounds like a weird mix of Max Payne and Kratos, but the delivery has twice the angst. It would be one thing if it was just the voice, but the fact that the script has some awful writing really bogs the whole experience down. The plot goes on and on about how this compass he has was pointing to some ruin, which is about where I started to check out. To be fair, I wanted to check out earlier, at a part where you find out his dad is named Dante, which is frankly much closer to being nauseating fan fiction than a respectable homage given that the game pulls so much inspiration from Devil May Cry.

If the game is trying to be intentionally corny, then I'd argue the game needs a change in tone. It's presented way too seriously for it's own good. If it is meant to be taken as seriously as I think the game takes itself, then it needs to consider loosening up. The game is about a rabbit killing dudes Devil May Cry-style with Scruff McGruff the sniper, and a little bit more camp and flare would have given the game some personality that it is currently devoid of.

The game also has technical problems, but some of what I dealt with has been patched. For instance, on my playthrough the moves list would outright disappear after I unlocked a new set of moves, which required me to start writing down the inputs for any new combos I unlocked. The game also crashed on me a handful of times, and I had some noticeable issues with framerate dips. It's certainly not devoid of some bugs at this point, but I get the impression PD Design Studios is making an effort to patch these issues out of the game.

If you really want to fight a giant robotic snake or a gimped version of King Kong, then Dusty Revenge has its moments. In fact, the combat is the kind of foundation you can build a terrific 2D beat’em up around. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the game is so poorly designed or uninspired. The level design has no personality to it beyond routinely getting a new coat of paint as the game progresses, and the inconsistent hit detection and presentation become grating after a while. The boss fights, which should be highlights of an action game, are an absolute slog to get through. The combat is solid, but that's not enough to recommend this game with all of its other problems.

Final Score - 4/10

Editor's Note: A copy of Dusty Revenge was provided to us for review.

I love games that wear their inspirations on their sleeve and Major Mayhem is one of those games: a game that blends elements of Contra, Virtua Cop, and 80's Action films to create a very fun “pick up and play” experience. I refuse to describe Major Mayhem as a “casual” game because completing and doing everything there is to do in the game requires a decent time investment. It’s nothing spectacular, but Major Mayhem is a good way to kill time whether it be on your smartphone, tablet, or on Steam.

Major Mayhem is a side-scrolling rail shooter like Virtua Cop andTime Crisis. Major Mayhem himself is described as a guy with “an itchy trigger finger, some scratchy stubble, and a fondness for shooting dudes in the face,” and I can confirm this is all accurate. The character seems to have been ripped from Arnold Schwarzenegger's Commando and had me smiling with nostalgia. The game itself is not too difficult – which is rarely the case for rail shooters and light-gun games – and it’s nice to play one without feeling like the game wants to completely ruin your day. When you do get hit by enemy fire, the Major loses an article of clothing, which reminds me of Ghosts N' Goblins and if you get hit three times, you die. You point and click at enemies to shoot them and sometimes jump over obstacles while on the move. Realizing when to stay in cover and when to get out and shoot is mandatory for success. There is a score system as well, and racking up combos and headshots raise your score.

The game has an extensive amount of content. Besides the default gun, the Major can unlock 20 different weapons, a slew of upgrades, extra costumes, and even the ability to call in an air strike. It is mildly unfortunate that you only travel to three locales. I would have preferred a smaller number of missions in exchange for more locales because the three (tropics, metropolis, and desert) are so good. Besides the campaign mode, known as "Classic,"  there are three more modes: Time Bomb, Arcade, and Survival.

The downside to all this content is that it must first be unlocked by in-game currency. I understand the game started on mobile devices but this release on Steam should have taken out the “Free 2 Play” aspects. Keep in mind that this is more of minor nuisance than a massive flaw, but it bother you if you play it consistently.

Indie games generally have a nice aesthetic to them and Major Mayhem is no exception. Colorful artwork and graphics make it visually pleasing while still being very easy to follow. Many rail shooters suffer from too much action on screen that make them difficult to follow but that issue doesn’t present itself here. The music is really the only disappointment, in that it’s only serviceable and I would’ve liked something more than constant loops and for the tracks to sync up with the onscreen action better.

The game’s humor shows up everywhere from achievement titles to being able to shoot the hats off ninjas for extra points. The lightheartedness of it all adds to the atmosphere and approachability of the game. There is some semblance of a story that involves saving your girlfriend (surprise!), but that is irrelevant to one's enjoyment of this game.

All things considered, you can do much worse than Major Mayhem. It’s a joy that indie games like this exist and keep being made; games that harken back to a time when gaming was not a multi-billion dollar industry but merely a way to escape and occupy yourself with a fun experience. And that is what Major Mayhem is, a fun game that’s also a love letter to fans of its influences that anyone can pick up and play. So get to it soldier, and enjoy blasting away bad guys with the Major!

Final Score - 7/10

The Wonderful 101 Header

EDITOR's NOTE: There is also a podcast piece that goes along with this where Gagan and Brian provide an even more in-depth review of The Wonderful 101

Growing up in the 90s, few things impacted my childhood quite like The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. I had all the major toys, I saw The Power Rangers Movie a bunch of times as a kid, and you’re damn right, I bought the video games. Building my zords was a blast, but playing the video games? That always left a lot to be desired. If they weren’t a rudimentary fighting game, then they would be by the numbers side-scrolling beat-em ups. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I certainly had some fun, but the games never quite captured the raw joy of watching The Power Rangers.

You’re talking about a kids show that had a colorful cast of superheroes fighting the good fight in the ultimate battle of good vs evil. There were giant machines that fused together into one badass machine, stylish poses, and the beginnings of Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions. People love crediting that to 80s action films, but I would contest that few did it quite like The Power Rangers did with their fireworks. Simply beating up bad guys in a video game isn’t enough to capture that feeling. You need a game that captures the style, the scale, and more importantly, the unapologetically atrocious dialogue that comes with it. In other words, you need a game exactly like The Wonderful 101.

In an industry filled with games about dread, vapid cynicism, or straight up chores, it’s a breath of fresh air when you get a game that celebrates pure, childish joy. Platinum Games have certainly built their legacy on making games with a certain brand of crazy, and that's what makes their games so entertaining in the first place. The Wonderful 101’s brand of crazy is a mixture of Saturday morning cartoons, the aforementioned Power Rangers, and pretty much any other show that was hoping on the Power Rangers craze. The Masked Rider, VR Troopers, Beatleborgs? Chances are you’ll find something in here that reminds you of one of those things.

It’s an insane celebration of the ridiculousness that was your childhood. The story is about the earth being invaded by aliens, which requires you and a super team of 100 superheroes to band together and save the world by guarding key statues that are part of the earth’s defense system named Mother Platinum, because of course it’s called Mother Platinum. You aren’t going to go up against an ancient civilization beyond your comprehension. You’re going to fight creatures with daft names like Geathjerks, Megangs, and I swear to you at one point something called a Gah-Goojin.

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The game features a plot line that has a bunch of running gags, and deliberately overblown dialogue to explain the silliest piece of technology found in the game world. Sure, some of these jokes will miss their mark. And at some point you’ll roll your eyes at the game because you think it’s just drawing things out, kind of like this review is. Maybe Platinum Games are actually saying something about the value of teamwork or maybe they're flipping the bird at those slick next gen games that talk more about their tech than their game. But then I always got the sense that both would completely be missing the point. This is pure insanity, and it certainly evokes it from beginning to end. All of this compliments a gameplay system that is unique in a genre that has become Platinum’s bread and butter.

If you have any experience with Platinum Games, you have a basic idea of what their games are about.. Usually they make beat 'em up action games (sans Vanquish) with a sense of style and a tough grading system. That much is still here, and The Wonderful 101 is definitely a beat 'em up, but to Platinum’s credit, this might be their most unique game in the genre yet. The idea is to give you the feeling that you are controlling one united team. You have primary control over one of the main characters, and then have another 99 characters follow you, giving you control of 100 heroes at a given time. Some of these heroes you pick up along the way during levels, and will only be part of the team for that mission. Other heroes you will find are permanent members of your roster, and have names like The Wonder Nurse, Wonder Santa Clause (because even the North Pole needs a hero), and even the game director Hideki Kamiya himself.

The game’s real trick is the drawing mechanic that is tied to the Wii U gamepad. You will draw shapes to create unite morphs with the right analog stick or the touchscreen. These unite morphs form the different weapons/creations in the game you will need to get through each encounter successfully. Drawing a circle creates Wonder Red’s unite hand, a straight line creates the Unite Sword with Wonder Blue’s trusty Valiantium Blade, and a zigzag makes the Unite claws. There is also a bomb attack that stops time, a whip, a powerful hammer, and a gun for more ranged attacks.

It can take some time to adjust to the controls, but ultimately getting into a grove shouldn’t be too hard, and the drawing mechanic slows things down a bit so you get enough time to draw the shape properly. Sometimes the game will register the wrong shape, but those tend to be rare cases. Ultimately, the standard moment to moment action controls pretty well.

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Putting together the correct shapes can be an empowering feeling, and you certainly get the sense that you’re controlling a larger team as opposed to a singular character. The combo system doesn’t have many elaborate dial ups for a bunch of combos. The A button uses your unite morph to attack (think heavy attack), and the x button does a team attack (think light attack).The nuance of the game comes from figuring out which of your unite morphs is better suited for a certain enemy. You’ll get obvious examples where the game tells you the answer, such as a robot covered in spiked armor that requires you to use the whip to rip the armor off before you can do damage, but plenty of the enemies require you to experiment on your own to figure out the quickest path to success.

Boss fights are the highlight of this frenetic action. You’ll need to figure out what you can dodge, what you can block, and which of your powerful unite morphs is the proper counter attack for your foes. The best example is an enemy that can pull off all the killer moves you can, providing a boss fight that is intense, chaotic, and borderline messy if you don’t get a handle on the many game systems at play. But if you do? You’ll be turning into a rocket one second, transforming into a tombstone to slam your foe down, changing into jelly to block a counter attack, and then wailing on him with a unite sword, while you task the rest of your squad to attack with a unite hammer.

When Wonderful 101 is firing on all cylinders, there isn’t a beat 'em up quite like it. Switching fluidly from weapon to weapon is a must, and the game does a good enough job with its built in fail safes to make that task easier. The enemies themselves are appropriately aggressive, and will come at you from all directions, punishing many of your mistakes as you chip away at large health bars and try to figure out the best approach. This can make the game feel like trial and error, but the checkpoint system is pretty forgiving. Death simply means you get respawned at your last encounter with the enemy health bar exactly where you left it.

Simply making it to the credits isn’t a difficult task. As in the case of most Platinum games, the difficulty really comes from Platinum’s strict grading system. True mastery of the game comes from being able to handle all these scenarios as quickly as possible, and without taking any hits, but the more conservative crowd will be able to make it to the end on pure will power alone. Other highlights in the game include a delightful Punch Out reference, a Dig Dug-esque maze sequence, an on-rails shooting segment where the canon is entirely built of your teammates, and an end game addition to your arsenal I have no desire to spoil.

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Unfortunately, not all of the alternate segments hold their own. Often you’ll find encounters where the game asks you to directly look at the gamepad screen, while also being mindful of what is happening on your TV. The controls for these segments never really feel tight. The fact that you’re never tasked with doing anything challenging can come off as a balancing move, but it really shows they had to dial things back just to make this work, and what they end up making you do often feels more like a chore that brings the pace of the game to a halt.

Shoot 'em up levels show up frequently all the way to the game's climax. Some of these levels are fine in their own right, but others simply miss the mark, usually requiring you to battle camera angles that either impair your vision or force you to process information far too quickly for what the game is asking you to do.

The camera itself is actually a drawback in the standard action as well. The game uses a fixed camera, and in most cases that is a non-issue. Usually the camera will show the entire field of combat. Other times, however, you’ll get moments where your enemy is blocked off-screen or you'll be presented angles that mess with your ability to draw the shapes necessary for your powers.

While The Wonderful 101 has many one-offs in an attempt to feel varied, you are going to have moments where you grow tired of the game's willingness to regurgitate segments, be it the shmup levels or even the game’s best boss fight. Third person beat 'em up games have included reoccurring boss fights since the original Devil May Cry, and some of them happen to be some of the all time classics in the genre. I am, however, a little sick of that trope as far as game design is concerned. Twice? Cool with that. Three times? I can dig it. Four times? Dial it back some, please.

The Wonderful 101 4

Ultimately, the game has its fair share of drawbacks by the time you hit the credits sequence. Heck, you might even think the game was a little too long and, as a matter of fact, one specific chapter could be cut from the game outright, and it would be a better experience for it. But the moments when the gameplay clicks can be cathartic when you’ve figured out the perfect combination to deal with an enemy. A game this different is the type of experience you expected the Wii U to deliver when they announced the gamepad in the first place. That it comes with an aesthetic/setting that is inspired, unapologetically cheesy, and perky all to the way to the end should be celebrated.

Final Score – 8/10


 

Warning: This review contains major plot spoilers for the original release of The Last of Us. Please complete it before reading this review.

When The Last of Us released last June it was critically acclaimed for its strong storytelling, immersive game play, and fantastic pacing. Much of what The Last of Us accomplished remains true to form in the long awaited DLC episode, Left Behind.

In Left Behind you take control of Ellie a few weeks before the events of The Last of Us, and also during a previously passed over part of the main game. The gameplay is largely unchanged from the Ellie sections of the main story, but they do a few interesting things with encounter design to change it up. Minor continuity changes, which seemed like errors in the main game, are also explained via the gameplay (for instance, where Ellie gets her bow and rifle) I played the game on the survivor difficulty setting because I honestly felt that it was the best way to experience the main game, and this decision was vindicated as Naughty Dog shows their clear affinity for designing challenging but fair encounters.

Left Behind ramps up the tension that was signature in the main story by starting you off with a single weapon and no ammo, searching for medical supplies to tend to the wound sustained by Joel at the University of Colorado. This section of the game takes place during a two week time skip that happens during The Last of Us. Ellie is not a fragile character by any means, but without crucial supplies, even a single infected enemy poses a deadly threat if you engage them in combat.

Naughty Dog’s attention to detail remains unmatched by any other developer in the field. The two distinct mall environments in the game have numerous unrepeated store fronts with products and signage exclusive to those areas. Every square foot of the environment is uniquely crafted with much thought and care being put into making sure the areas feel as authentic as possible. This separates The Last of Us’s world from other game worlds where seeing the same signage, textures and objects would be commonplace.

As a character, Ellie’s friend Riley feels like a natural addition to the cast and with just a single conversation between her and Ellie you are able to recognize their years of friendship. The relationship between Riley and Ellie is endearing and relatable even though the circumstances within the world they grew up in are so impossibly dire. You spend these segments exploring an abandoned mall in the Boston quarantine zone and acting like typical teenagers, throwing bricks at cars, and taking silly photos in a photo booth. The flashbacks with Riley are wonderfully juxtaposed against the tense and challenging Colorado mall areas of the game.

All said, it’s easy to recommend this add-on to anyone who enjoyed The Last of Us. Left Behind may not be the longest of DLC add-on but it leaves a powerful impression on the player and serves to further explain character motivations and story elements within the main game. When I finished The Last of Us almost a year ago, I would have been happy to say that I didn’t need a sequel. But after playing Left Behind, I am eager to see what the future holds for the franchise and hope that this is not the last time we see Ellie and Joel.

The magic of DLC is that it takes content which would have previously ended up on the cutting room floor and makes it available to players. An addition to the story like this one would have meant a full rerelease in previous game generations (e.g. Ninja Gaiden Black and Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance). Capping off this seven year console cycle, both The Last of Us and Left Behind stand as crowning examples of the best the PS3 had to offer and a fitting swan song for the generation.

Final Score – 9/10

Dead Rising 3-1

36, 981. That’s the number of zombies I killed in Dead Rising 3. Some I sliced in half with a flaming sword, some I electrocuted with boxing gloves fused with a car battery, some I exploded with dynamite strapped to a hunk of human flesh, some I impaled with projectile dildos, and some I just pancaked into the ground with a steamroller. The beauty of 36, 981 dead zombies is that I remember almost every insane tool of destruction I used to make that mountain of rotting corpses. Dead Rising 3 may not meet the high demands of ushering in a new generation of home consoles, but taken out of that context, it is wildly entertaining where it counts: killing zombies.
 
When it comes to playing Dead Rising 3, you have a decent amount of options. Most settings are self-explanatory, like Speed Run, Casual, and Hardcore. You can also experience the whole game in co-op to double the fun. If you’re a series veteran and enjoy being a masochist, the original Nightmare Mode is still there for your teeth-gnashing pleasure. I personally played it on the ‘Completionist’ setting, because I found the time constraints and limited save-slots of the first and second game to be painfully stressful. Call me a filthy casual if you want, but I preferred to explore the vast wasteland of Los Perdidos and uncover every little secret I could instead of rushing my ass through the entire campaign. I had to deal with some time-sensitive matters during my play-through, but nothing that made me feel that I had saved myself into a corner that would inevitably come back to haunt me.

As you can probably tell, I’m totally not bitter about my C-ending for the original Dead Rising. NOT AT ALL.

The setup is pretty much the same as it was in the first two games, with a few minor differences. You play Nick Ramos, a man who doesn’t have half the personality or charm of Frank West or Chuck Greene. He’s not there to cover wars or protect his daughter and instead spends most of the game whining or giving characters worried looks. He and his rag-tag group of survivors have six days to find a way out of the city before the whole place gets blown up. Sound familiar? The Dead Rising series has always been self-referential, and Dead Rising 3 gives fans plenty of treats to chew on, including a few cameos I won’t spoil. The attention to continuity is actually pretty surprising, given how ridiculous the overall plot of the series is.
 
As always, you kill zombies and collect PP, which is kind of like the game’s currency. The more PP you earn from killing zombies and completing missions, the more you can upgrade your character with new moves, inventory slots, extra health and so on. By the time you hit level 50, you’re basically a walking, talking tank. Challenge kind of goes out the window, but by that point, I didn’t really care. I was a zombie-killing god who couldn’t be bothered with the burden of mortality. The undead knew my name and feared it.
 
Having played the previous two Dead Risings, there are two instantly noticeable additions to this next-gen version. Crafting weapons was introduced in the past, but this being a sequel created under the mantra ‘bigger is better,’ crafting vehicles was the next logical step. Not exactly a bold step, but a welcome one all the same. Melding a motorcycle with a steamroller to create a fast, zombie-killing machine that mows down anything in your path—and also shoots fire for some reason because, why not?—is pure video game heaven. Dressing up as a fire-breathing dragon is pretty cool too, but it doesn’t rack up the kill-count quite as quickly.

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The other upgrade comes in the sheer number of zombies Capcom Vancouver has managed to squeeze onto the screen at once. The feeling of turning a corner and being surrounded by literally thousands of zombies screams next-gen. For the first time in the series, I actually felt like a horde could take me down if I wasn’t careful. The graphics aren’t wholly impressive and the frame-rate has a tendency to chug, but still. Thousands of zombies! Think of the possibilities.

Aside from causing general mayhem, there are hours upon hours of side-content to get lost in. It’s easy to get distracted and I often forgot all about whatever fetch quest the main game had assigned me. Whether it’s scouring stores for blueprints to create new combo weapons or completing side-quests to gain new followers, there’s plenty to do in Dead Rising 3. Survival training missions, in which you are tasked with killing as many zombies as possible by a certain means under a ticking clock, were my personal favourite activities. They also offer the coolest feature in the game. The Xbox One automatically records the footage of you completing the challenge and stores it on your hard drive for you to tinker with later. Always wished you could show your friends that time you killed five hundred zombies dressed up as Blanka from Street Fighter? Now you can. Pretty damn cool.  

Unfortunately, all that gleeful insanity completely goes out the window when Dead Rising 3 tries to create a story for the player to care about. The game grinds to a near-halt every time it goes into a cut-scene, as if the writers were dared to pack in as much cheesy melodrama as they could in a three minute window. Maybe some of the writing is tongue-in-cheek, but for the most part, the tone just doesn’t gel properly with the gameplay. It probably didn’t help that I dressed Nick up as a transvestite prostitute for most of the game (seeing him try to act serious during life-or-death scenarios gave me an intense ab work-out), but that kind of absurdity is exactly what the plot could have benefited from.  The only thing that felt more forced than the predictable government conspiracy plot is the stupid, rushed love-story. The uninteresting characters go from sharing lustful looks one minute to risking their lives and everyone else’s for one another within the span of like a day. You say soul-mates in a zombie apocalypse; I say blatant wish-fulfillment. Less talk, more chop.

There are a handful of other niggling issues. Friendly AI has been improved, but still needs to be babysat through tasks that require some semblance of basic thought processes. Boss battles are back in the way of Psychopaths, but outside one or two encounters, they lack creativity and pose no real threat. It’s the simple pleasure of shooting fireworks into a pocket of zombies and watching them fly up in the air and explode in a shower of guts that won me over, not fancy set-pieces or failed attempts at pathos. Remember rule #32 of Zombieland: Enjoy the little things.

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Let’s face it: Zombies have been done to death. Putting down the undead just isn’t what it used to be. Dead Rising 3’s greatest accomplishment is that it makes killing zombies fun again. It’s not the most polished game or evidence for ‘video games as art,’ but as a sandbox for letting the player’s twisted imagination run wild, Dead Rising 3 excels.

Final Score - 8/10

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is the latest game in the long standing Metal Gear series, and while it doesn’t share the “Solid” moniker, the standard for top notch cutscenes, voice over, and gameplay can all be found here. This latest entry however is not developed by the Kojima Productions team, but by independent developer Platinum Games. Metal Gear Solid Rising (later changed to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance) was announced at 2009 and afterward sank into the shadows for years until it reemerged at the VGAs in 2011.

It came to light later that the game had been in development hell at the hands of Kojima Productions, who weren’t sure how to turn their “Cut and Take” mechanic into a proper action game. Instead, Hideo Kojima contacted Platinum Games (makers of critically acclaimed action games Bayonetta, and Vanquish) to see if they were interested in working on the title. How could they refuse the chance to work on a series as highly regarded as Metal Gear Solid? They couldn’t and as it turns out, it was a perfect fit.

Unlike other titles in the Metal Gear Solid series, Metal Gear Rising does not focus on stealth/shooting gameplay as its foundation. Instead, this game is part of the character action genre made popular by games such as Onimusha, God of War, and Devil May Cry. It serves as the second game in the series to feature the divisive character Raiden. It is easy to see why Platinum was a great fit for this game, and you can even see a bit of their heritage bleeding into the game. For instance the game features quick-time events from time to time during the action a la Bayonetta or Vanquish. These effects are not overdone, and usually serve as finishers for boss fights or large enemy encounters.

The gameplay on the surface follows the traditional X/Square button for light attack and Y/Triangle button for heavy attack formula but as you progress the Y/Triangle button is substituted for alternate weapons picked up from boss encounters. This is pretty standard for action games these days, but the game layers it’s other unique systems on top of this base, for instance, “Blade mode”. Blade mode is introduced to you very early in the game, and its importance is emphasized if you play the tutorial. Essentially it allows you to press LB/L1 to slow down time and use the right stick to move your sword to slash in any direction. This allows for accurate cutting and dismemberment of your enemies, which leads me to the next, and ultimately best, system in the game: ZANDATSU.

ZANDATSU translates to “Cut and Take” in English. When you activate blade mode, there are certain points on an enemy you can slash to expose an electrolyte filled cyber-spine. When exposed you can press the B/Circle button to take it and refill your health and blade mode gauge. This mechanic is not only essential to your survival, but also very satisfying to pull off.

Another integral mechanic is the parry system, which, unfortunately, the game explains very poorly. Even worse, it’s required that you learn it in order to complete the game on anything higher than “Easy” difficulty (Which parries for you in most cases). Unlike most action games, Metal Gear Rising has an unconventional dodge, so the game expects you to parry an attack that comes your way and if the timing is right, counter it. This blade-to-blade form of offensive defense is one of the most brilliant gameplay mechanics despite its failure to adequately teach it.

It’s hard to explain how it works through text, but I’ll try anyway. When an enemy is about to attack, it’s telegraphed by a red cross appearing at their eye level. When this happens, you must press the left stick in the direction of the enemy while also pressing the X/Square button. Raiden has a very large window to do this on the Normal and Hard difficulties, while the timing is a lot stricter on the remaining Very Hard and Revengeance difficulties. Alternatively, if you’re able to pull this off at the very last millisecond of the counter window, Raiden will automatically counter the enemy and in most cases trigger a blade mode event to eventually pull off the ZANDATSU move.

The game also features a lot of sub weapons and alternate weapons with their own abilities to try during combat and mix things up. Ultimately they are all overshadowed by the game’s reliance on your main blade, but some can be very useful on certain enemy types.

The boss encounters are a shining point of Revengeance. Each one is very well set up featuring great set-pieces and innovative combat mechanics you need to use to defeat each one. The game even starts off with a bang by having Raiden fight a Metal Gear model RAY in the very first level. This instantly got me hooked and I was more than ready to see what else the game had in store. One particular fight in the game is a smaller scale blade to blade fight in the style of a samurai movie. This proved to be equally as thrilling, if not more so, than the first level’s boss.

Metal Gear Rising: Revenveance takes place 4 years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4 and the world is very different. The game seems to go out of its way however not to mention characters that were once staples of the Metal Gear series, including fan favorite Solid Snake. This is okay and it is understanding as Raiden is very much the main focus of this game. If you’re a fan of Metal Gear Solid’s sometimes longwinded exposition through cutscenes and Codec conversations, you won’t be disappointed here. While there aren’t 8 hours’ worth of cutscenes like Metal Gear Solid 4, there are plenty to watch in between boss encounters and missions as well as the optional Codec sequences with your support team. It’s abundantly clear that Kojima Productions penned the story and choreographed the pre-rendered sequences in the game and it’s amazing that the game is so fluid between the gameplay and the cutscenes even though separate teams worked on them.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance proved itself worthy of the Metal Gear name and is a worthy entry into Platinum Games’ lexicon. If you like fast paced action games with a focus on deep mechanics and replayability, this is the game for you regardless of whether this is your first Metal Gear game or you’re a series veteran.

Final Score – 9/10