Archive for December 2012

GameBabble – Dead or Alive 5 (review)

December 19, 2012

GameBabble is now in HD and what better way to kick it off than with a 20 minute rebuttal to the claim that DOA5 is “more of the same” in the guise of a review!

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Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale – 5/10

December 18, 2012

(This review was originally written for GamerCheese weeks ago but was never publiushed)

Apparently this holiday season is all about all-stars taking on Nintendo. We already saw SEGA’s All-Stars successfully take on Mario Kart in the utterly spectacular Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed. Now, it’s Sony’s turn with Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, a game that tries to compete with Smash Bros. However, this is dangerous territory where many have failed in the past. It’s easy to look at Smash Bros. and think “this is a simple and easy game to copy” when in fact it is deeply caked with nuance, options, and features. As such the best way to even attempt to compete is to do something different with the game. This is one thing PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale got right with its sizeable movelists and combo-filled gameplay. Unfortunately, they needed to do more than just that.

Of course the first thing people comment on is Sony’s lack of characters and this game makes that readily apparent. There are a few neat choices like Parappa, and Spike from Ape Escape. However some choices, like Fat Princess, are just embarassing and much of the roster consists of third party characters. The Big Daddy from BioShock being the most amusing to me as said game was a 360 launch title and the character is more commonly thought of as an XBox 360 character. What bothers me most though is the fact that it’s such a sausage fest. Our only female choices are Fat Princess and Nariko. This could have been alleviated had they used more than one character per game. Why not Keira or Ashlin from Jak and Daxter? What about Carmelita from Sly Cooper? Um Jammer Lammy would even be awesome! Heck, if you’re going third party then why not reach all the way back to one of Sony’s earliest mascots: Sofia from Battle Arena Toshinden! At least some of these characters appear in the background, for what that’s worth.

Upon starting it up you will see a very sparse selection of modes. You can play online, locally, do a few missions, or take on the story mode. Said story is sparse and character specific, with unique intros and endings for everyone that give them each a game-specific reason to wind up in this fight. Jak hears there’s a new source of eco, Raiden hears a “mysterious force” is bringing people together, stuff like that. Disappointingly said intros and endings are just two or three still images with some talking over them, but at least the end game rival battle cutscene is realtime. It is also worth mentioning that the end boss is awesome. I don’t wanna spoil it but I had waited years to punch his ugly mug.

The game looks alright, but ultimately unimpressive. The backgrounds are probably the best part, and are filled with little details and background action. The coolest part of them being how other franchises begin to invade them, like when Chop Chop Master Onion’s dojo gets attacked by Helghast war machines. Disappointingly though, the actual part of the stage you interact with is seldom more than a small collection static platforms with many stages being almost entirely flat. Character-wise, it’s a mixed bag. Many characters look identical to how they do in their home games, but some are just strangely off. Nathan Drake just looks wrong and Spike has both too much and too little detail in different parts of his design. The result is a game that looks strangely cheap in spite of everything going on.

The combat though is easily the highlight of the game. The game actively tries to top Smash Bros. here with 3 different attack buttons and a full set of directional specials for each. This results in more than 20 moves per character and makes up for the lack of tilt and smash attacks that generally plagues other games in the genre. Better still, the game has a legitimate combo engine, allowing attacks to be chained together. So, at first the game actually feels pretty darn good.

However, all of this falls apart once you realize that you don’t have a life bar. You don’t take damage in this game. In fact, the only meter you have is a super meter which your attacks fill. Super moves are the only way to KO your opponents. Each character has three different levels of super, but there is no way to do a level 1 super if you have two or three meters. You can only do the super you have the meter for. So, how much damage you deal to who doesn’t matter because there is no damage. You can wail on a crappy player, then unleash your super on the guy who is good. Combos may cause your super meter to fill faster, but that doesn’t mean much. All that matters is landing your super. This basically wrecks the game.

Lets look at Raiden, who is super fast, has quick moves with good range that combo easily, and some of the best supers in the game. His level 1 super is a spinning kick that comes out near instantaneously, his level 2 freezes everyone around him and makes all his attacks insta-kill for a limited time, and his level 3 does the same thing but puts everyone in cardboard boxes. Nearly every other game I played online was three Raidens and some other poor schmuck who was going to come in last place.

Now lets look at Jak, whose controls are strangely unresponsive as his attacks all have a huge amount of wind-up and delay. He has basically no melee attacks and relies on guns with less range than Raiden’s sword. His level 1 super is an uppercut with massive wind-up and no range, his level 2 is a pounce with massive wind-up that kills the people around where he lands, but his level 3 lets him fly around invincibly and shoot insta-kill projectiles. That might be nice if charging a level 3 super didn’t take nearly the entire round and Raiden could do just as well at level 2. This game is completely unbalanced and I don’t think there are enough patches in the world to fix it.

I know someone is going to ask what makes them different from smash moves and the answer is that you have to be weakened first to get smashed. Yes a less skilled player can kill steal, but that’s why they play stock mode in tournaments. A lesser player may be able to get a KO, but a lesser player would also get KOed more often.

Also, Smash has an HP mode. Perhaps if this game had an HP Mode, it might work a bit better (though Jak would still suck). However, unlike the option coated Smash Bros., this game gives you little to no choices. You can turn off items and stage hazards, but that is about it.

At least I can say the unlock system is alright. The game starts you with all the characters and as you play them, they level up and unlock stuff like costumes, win poses, and online ID decorations. This means you can unlock everything in online play if you want to. The game also has combo trials and some challenge missions you can do, but not much else.

It does, however, have online play with shockingly good netcode. I experienced no lag and the only net hiccup I saw was a player teleport and one weird time when I picked Raiden and it gave me Radec. Playing online was actually pretty darn fun and honestly made me raise this game’s score by an entire point. However you eventually realize that it’s still all about landing super moves and any sense of serious competition goes right out the window.

I can’t complain too much about the sound. Characters all sound the way they should and the music is ripped from the games represented. No remixes and often said music is too ambient or unfitting to really work for a fight, but it’s inoffensive enough.

Presentation – Clever background animations, but characters look either copied and pasted or just plain off and the overall feel is cheap.

Optimization – I think I saw a brief framerate drop but otherwise it runs very smoothly and has crazy good netcode.

Ingenuity – A decent attempt at giving Smash Bros. deeper combat, skewered by its idiotic decision to base the entire game around landing super moves.

Sound – Characters sound the way they should, as do the stages though the music is often either bland or unfitting.

Entertainment – Fun combat and online play until you figure out how it all works, then it all just feels pointless and stupid.

5/10

I cannot stress enough how much basing the game on landing super moves utterly ruins the entire experience. If they ever patch in an HP mode, then add two more points to the score as even then it would be unbalanced and sparse. Characters feel uneven as though the devs blatantly hated some and loved others and there is so little to do in this game outside of multiplayer it’s kind of embarassing. How this game is a full priced $60 release while Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a $40 budget game I’ll never know as this honestly feels like a PSN game. If you want Smash, stick with Smash. If you want an alternative to Smash with deeper 1-on-1 combat, try TMNT Smash-Up. If you want a good cross-over game, get Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is the Western equivalent of DreamMix TV World Fighters, a novelty and nothing more.

Sonic the Fighters (unedited) – 5/10

December 18, 2012

(This is the original unedited draft of the review. To read the edited version, check out GamerCheese: http://gamercheeese.com/2012/12/01/sonic-the-fighters-review/)

Sonic the Fighters is a strange beast. It began with a programmer throwing Sonic and Tails into Fighting Vipers and Yuji Naka liked the idea so much it evolved into a full game. However the game itself was little more than a novelty and was so rare that few folks are even aware that the actual U.S. name of the game is “Sonic Championship”. Though plans for a Saturn release were in place, it didn’t actually see a home port until a decade later in Sonic Gems Collection. But now, thanks to XBox Live Arcade, the game gets another chance.

If you expect incredible plot in a fighter from 1996, you’re crazy. Dr.Eggman/Robotik has built an evil space station and someone needs to collect eight (yes, eight) chaos emeralds to power a single seater rocketship to destroy it. The cast, however, is definately eyebrow raising and makes you realize that even in the good old days of Sonic, there were a lot of characters. Bark the “Polerbear” (sic) is the only original character, with Espio hailing from Knuckles Chaotix, Fang from Sonic Triple Trouble, and Bean from Dynamite Dux. Obviously the mainstays of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy are all here too.

The visuals are surreal for many reasons. For one thing, the game uses the pre-Adventure character designs and is incredibly cartoony. Characters squash and streatch with limbs growing in size as they fight. It definately gives the game a unique flavor as I have never seen such a cartoony fighter in my entire life! But the other reason the game is surreal is because this port is in HD, with 1080p graphics and a 60 FPS framerate! Flat shaded polygons have never looked this good before! Even the game’s few textures look surprisingly high-res!

But what really matters is the gameplay and it’s here that you either love or hate the game. At its core, the game is a simplified Fighting Vipers with a few tweaks. Instead of blocking you have a limited number of breakable barriers that can also be expended to go into a Hyper Mode. Each characters movelist is somewhat small for a 3D fighter and many moves are shared between multiple characters. However, each character has a couple of special moves. Sonic can spindash, Amy can throw her hammer or squash enemies with it, Knuckles can glide, and so on. That may sound typical on paper, but 3D fighters seldom had such distinct moves back then. Go try Fighting Vipers if you don’t believe me. The resulting game is very basic and a little stiff, but far from mindless. In many ways, it’s a beginner’s fighter and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing to some people. Others though, will find the sparse moveset to be restrictive and will quickly drop the game. Lets not mince words here, the game is incredibly shallow and really meant more as a novelty than a legitimate fighting game.

Perhaps the most interesting element of this release is what has, and hasn’t, been added to it. The mode selection is definately sparse with nothing more than Arcade, Versus, and Online play avalible. The lack of a training mode is very strange. However, options to adjust the screen size, music volume, and all the dip switch settings are avalible. Also, as I just said, it has online play. The very idea of playing Sonic the Fighters competitively over the internet is worth the cost of admission if you ask me! It’s a basic game, so it’s not hard to get into and it’s something that has not seen any competitive play before. But this isn’t even the best new addition. The game now features three new secret characters! Two of them are the bosses, Metal Sonic and Dr.Eggman, who can only be used in offline versus and Player Matches. The third, however, is truly peculiar: Honey/Candy from Fighting Vipers, as a Sonic-styled cat. Hackers found her data in the game code a few years back, but she was unfinished and didn’t emulate properly. Now though, she is completely finished and functional and can be used in Arcade mode (but not Ranked Matches). Online play and Honey are probably this game’s strongest selling points.

This being a Sonic game though, the soundtrack is phenomenal. Upbeat techno tunes fill the game and the grand majority of them are awesome. In fact, pressing LT and RT on the main menu allows you to cycle through the game’s music and here you’ll find even more amazing tunes! Seriously, there are like four or five music tracks that I absolutely cannot place but are amazing.

Presentation – 1080p 60fps flat shaded polygons look surprisingly good!

Optimization – Game runs completely smooth and the netcode is so good I could play against my friend in Hawaii without issues.

Ingenuity – A very simple game, but the cartoonish moveset gives it a unique flavor.

Sound – Fantastic upbeat techno and fittingly cartoony sound effects.

Entertainment – You’ll either love the simple pick-up and play gameplay or hate the sparse and shared movelists.

5/10

Unfortunately I cannot score this game highly. I personally find immense merit in having a fighter that is easy to pick-up and play. Not to mention the cartoony style is unlike anything I have ever seen in a fighting game. However, from a serious competitive standpoint, the game is just too shallow. This is a love it or hate it kind of game and really more of a novelty than anything else. Thankfully, SEGA was smart enough to price it at $5 and at that price? It may just be worth it for the novelty value alone.

Tank! Tank! Tank! (unedited) – 7/10

December 18, 2012

(This is the original unedited draft of the review. To read the edited version, check out GamerCheese: http://gamercheeese.com/2012/11/27/tank-tank-tank-review/)

Well, the WiiU is here and with its release comes a deluge of gamers looking for something to play on it. It’s here that we slam face-first into the console’s biggest hiccup: nearly everything on it is a port of a game most people already own! So what’s new and exclusive to the WiiU? New Super Mario Bros. U, ZombiU, Nintendo Land, Scribblenauts Unlimited, and one other game: Tank! Tank! Tank! With perhaps the best box art in years and next to no press, Tank! Tank! Tank! is sure to cause many gamers to ask one very important question: Is it any good? The answer, however, is “Kinda, yeah but…”

Though only avalible on WiiU, Tank! Tank! Tank! is not actually a new game. Rather, it’s a port of an arcade game from 2009 and it feels like an arcade port. It’s almost awkward too as I don’t think I’ve played a litteral arcade port in years! The original arcade game was little more than a multiplayer tank brawl. You took a picture of your face and then 1-4 players could either battle it out in a free-for-all, two-on-two team battles, or perhaps most intriguingly they could team up against swarms of giant robotic monsters in a mode strikingly reminiscent of Earth Defense Force. The home port contains all of this and adds two things: the WiiU-centric My Kong mode and a “Story” Mode. In My Kong, the gamepad player takes a picture of their face and it is textured onto a giant pink gorilla. The player with the gamepad then controls said gorilla while the other three try to take him down. Meanwhile, the “Story” mode can be played 2-player co-op and expands upon the Earth Defense Force-style mode. In fact, now it even looks like EDF! From the way the menus are laid out to the stage intros to how the operator girl sounds, it’s EDF! However, I put “Story” in quotes because this game has none. Oh sure it has characters and some banter, but it’s never explained who these enemies really are or what you’re doing there. You’re just a tank driver for some army-like group that fights giant robot monsters. But you know what? I’m okay with this.

Visually the game is neither impressive nor offensive. Everything is bright and colorful, and all the buildings are destructible. While it lacks the sense of scale that EDF has, but makes up for that in enemy variety. At first some folks might think the original Wii could have handled this, but a closer look shows otherwise. That said, the game has a few odd hiccups. The framerate drops and there is some slowdown every now and then even in single player. Perhaps most peculiarly is the fact that when taking a picture of your face, the game’s sound stutters. It seems as though Tank! Tank! Tank! isn’t quite as optimized as it should be.

Control-wise the game is very simple. Use the analog stick or d-pad to move, press any button to shoot. That’s it. No rotating the turret while moving in another direction, no alternate firing methods. Just move and shoot. Even y-axis aiming is handled automatically! While simplistic though, I found the game enjoyable. It does have one twist though: as you play, enemies drop power-ups that give you far more powerful special weapons with limited ammo.

The Story Mode tried to keep players attentions in one interesting way: alternate tanks. As you clear missions, you earn medals which unlock new tanks. These are divided into a variety of categories like “wheel” and “hover” and each have their own special weapons. Some of these get pretty bizzarre too, like the truck with a giant shotgun strapped to it or my personal favorite: a hovercraft with a giant trumpet. Better still, the announcer who never shuts up has special quotes for each weapon. I don’t know if I can ever get enough of his over-the-top screams of “Dance! To the muuu~sic!” as I destroy waves of robot mantises with my giant hover-trumpet.

This, however, begins to reveal the game’s flaws. For starters, why is Story Mode only 2-player and not 4-player? You do very similar missions in 4-player split-screen so why not here? Secondly, why can’t I use the tanks I unlock in Story Mode in other game modes? But perhaps most of all, where’s the online play? I don’t normally complain about a lack of online play, but when you’re selling a three year old port of a very multiplayer-centric arcade game for $50? Online play is kind of expected.

At least it sounds alright. The music consists almost entirely of blazing heroic fanfares, the kind normally heard in giant robot animes. The operator girl sounds both familiar and unoffensive. However the announcer never shuts up. This will either annoy or amuse you.

Presentation – Bright and colorful with a decent amount of detail but nothing special.

Optimization – Occasional framerate drops and sound stutters even in single player.

Ingenuity – An arcade-style tank game similar to Tokyo Wars or Battlezone with an EDF-style mode. Not particularly original, but something we haven’t seen in a while.

Sound – Sound consits of blaring fanfares and noisy announcers.

Entertainment – Simple cheesy arcade-style fun held back by the lack of online play.

7/10

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Unedited) – 9/10

December 18, 2012

(This is the unedited original draft of the review. To see the shorter, edited version check out GamerCheese: http://gamercheeese.com/2012/11/26/sonic-and-all-stars-racing-transformed-review/)

Kart racers are a fun genre, mixing bright colorful characters with unusual racing environments and an element of combat, it has a broader appeal than the average racing game. Problem is, most racing games throughout the years have been cheap cash-ins with very few companies putting real effort into their kart racer. This resulted in a stigma that drove much of the genre, aside from really cheap cash-ins, away and left Mario Kart with a monopoly. If you want a good kart racer, you get Mario Kart.

However, Mario Kart is a Nintendo product and thus exclusive to Nintendo consoles. What about all the people that want a good kart racer and don’t own a Wii or DS? What about XBox 360 and PS3 owners? This was where SEGA and Sumo Digital came in with the original Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, a shockingly solid alternative to Mario Kart available on practically every system out there. It wasn’t flawless but it came quite close to Mario Kart and filled a much needed niche. Nearly everyone that gave the game a chance loved it too and were hoping for a sequel. Really, SEGA could have gotten away with rehashing the same game but with more characters and courses. However, that is not what they did. Instead, they got creative and brought us Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

At it’s core it seems like your typical kart racer. You have zany characters and crazy tracks, you hold a drift button to drift through turns and build up a boost, and you collect items to throw at your opponents. However there is much more to the game than that.

The game’s title gimmick is that as you race your vehicle transforms from a car into an airplane and a boat depending on the terrain. On paper this sounds a lot like Mario Kart 7, but in reality it’s closer to Diddy Kong Racing. Each of the vehicles handles quite differently and has large portions of the track dedicated to them. The boat turns the game into a weird fusion of Hydro Thunder and Mario Kart while the airplane is fully controllable (rather than just gliding like Mario Kart 7) and barrel rolls out of the way of oncoming objects to gain boosts. The trick system has been overhauled since the previous game. Rather than merely spamming a trick button on designated jumps, you now flick the right analog stick in different directions while you’re airborne. There are no longer those obvious “trick jumps” like in the previous games (or Mario Kart) but rather if you hit a jump with enough speed and manage to get a decent amount of air, it is up to you to make the call on doing tricks. It’s a real risk-reward element and adds another layer to the gameplay beyond “drift a lot”.

Speaking of drifting,¬† the boost you get has been tweaked. It is now much harder to get a level 2 or 3 boost and what’s more, there are levels beyond that. If you’re already boosting and you hit a boost pad or use a boost item it actually levels up your boost and makes you go even faster. Finding ways to chain together boost oppritunities is another part of the gameplay and results in the game going at Sonic speeds, in every sense of the word.

Lets not mince words here, this game is fast. Far faster than its predecessor or really any other kart racing game out there. In fact, it’s almost insulting to call this a kart racer which is why some folks even insist on calling it an “arcade-style racer” instead. Honestly, they aren’t wrong as the game often feels more like Outrun 2 meets Sonic Generations than Mario Kart. I can’t help but be reminded of SEGA’s old Genesis ad with the two race cars when comparing this game to it’s competitors.

But while the racing mechanics are rock solid, it’s the courses that are the real star of the show. Each one is based on a different SEGA game, from well known classics like Shinobi and House of the Dead to more unexpected ones like Skies of Arcadia and Burning Rangers. This alone gives the game a leg up on it’s competitors as it means the tracks are more varied than what you would see in a game based in a single world, but it goes further than that. As I mentioned, the tracks often take the players through land, sea, and air with their vehicles changing to match. However, some courses feature branching paths that can give you a choice of vehicles. Stay on the road as a car or take to the sea? But going even further than that, some courses even change between laps. The Skies of Arcadia stage, for example, comes under attack with pieces of the track falling away, leading to more jumps and longer flying segments as the track falls apart. Meanwhile, the Burning Rangers stage is an underwater lab that floods and by the third lap is almost entirely a boat race. Needless to say, these courses keep players on their toes, making it hard to just “drift a lot and boost constantly” or stick to a specific “race line”.

Of course there is another factor to any kart racer: the items. On one hand, the items are just random stuff like bees and snowballs, not actually related to any SEGA game. On the other hand, they are brilliant. All of the items are useful and balanced. The game’s equivalent of the banana peel is a puffer fish that can be either dropped behind you or shot forward like a green shell. Meanwhile the snowball comes in packs of three and fires quickly. If you hit your opponent with just one it stuns them, but all three actually freezes them and holding the fire button will fire all three shots at once! More importantly though, the game is devoid of any cheap catch-up items like bullet bills and blue shells. Yes, that’s right, there are no blue shells.

That should have been the game’s tagline: “Kart racing without blue shells”

While players in the back can get slightly better items to help them catch-up, none of them are overpowered and the person in first is still getting good items. Perhaps the most questionable item then, would be the character specific Super Star move. What this does is it turns your vehicle into its plane mode, though it hovers above the ground if you’re in a car or boat segment. This, however, causes it to go faster and ignore the terrain. While it is doing this you get an infinite supply of a character specific attack. However, these attacks are balanced for their infinite numbers and stun opponents far less than normal items. The result is that the Super Star is little more than a powerful boost.

I would go on about hidden super items and kart mods but this review is already wordy and I haven’t even spoken of the game modes yet! Suffice to say, there is more to this game than there first appears to be.

Fans of the original might be mildly disappointed that they have to work for their character unlocks now. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed features a World Tour mode full of challenges and special races. One challenge may be to drift along a specific line to earn time extensions, another may ask players to take down a tank, while another turns the game into OutRun and asks players to weave between waves of traffic. Clearing these challenges earns the player stars which are used to progress and unlock content. The harder the difficulty, the more stars you get. Contrary to what you might think, this game is not easy. Even on the normal difficulty, these challenges are tricky. Hard and Expert difficulties, meanwhile, are vicious. But, believe it or not, I have not seen a single speck of rubberbanding or blatant cheating. The game appears to actually play fair.

Amazingly, you don’t have to face this challenge alone. As you might notice, at the bottom of the screen is a prompt telling players to press start to join. Sure enough, practically every mode can be played in 4-player split-screen (5-player on WiiU)! Yes, this includes the World Tour mode. This absolutely boggles my mind. The game openly allows players to team up with their friends to take on brutal drift challenges. Better still, you and your local friends can even play split-screen online. That means you and your local friends can challenge your online friends and random opponents all at once. Multiplayer is truly where this game shines.

Of course that raises the question of framerate. The original game had some framerate issues, especially in multiplayer. Amazingly though, I do not have that problem here from my experience with the 360 version. Even in split-screen the game manages to keep a solid 30 fps almost the entire time. Only once did I manage to get a split-second of framerate drop in the many hours I have spent with this game.

Admittedly though, the online is a little odd. You can either make a custom private match, or join a ranked match, but you cannot do a public custom match.So you’re out of luck if you wanna race a specific course against random opponents. The way Ranked Matches work is reminiscent of Mario Kart and that is wonderful. You just click “Ranked”, it finds you some opponents, and you’re ready to roll. Once you clear a course, everyone gets to vote on one of three tracks to be the next course. It not only makes finding opponents easy (even pre-launch), but it keeps things moving at a good pace and keeps track choices varied.

Really, aside from fanboyish whining about them cutting a few of my favorite characters, I have only one complaint with the game: only one person can use each character. So if you wanna play as Sonic but someone else already picked him? You’re out of luck. The game tries to alleviate this by making players pick their characters again each round, but that is not a good solution. If two people are big Sonic fans, they should both be able to race to find out who the better Sonic is. One can only hope they come to their senses and patch this. But, considering they didn’t patch this with the previous game, I doubt they will here.

Beyond that the graphics are colorful and detailed, the courses are bursting with detail, and the music is excellent. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed features remixes of classic SEGA music fitting to each stage. While the lack of vocals on some formerly vocal songs is disappointing, the remixes are universally awesome. I could complain about them picking “Mambo de Verano” instead of “Samba de Janeiro” for the Samba de Amigo stage, or choosing “Splash Wave” over “Magical Sound Shower”, but at that point I may as well be complaining about the color of Sonic’s eyes!

Well, I guess there is one other thing I could complain about: no force-feedback racing wheel support. An odd complaint I know, but the previous game supported it and I may have bought said racing wheel just for that game. Don’t judge me!

So lets see, what we have here is a rock solid racing game with great graphics, lots of content, and boatloads of multiplayer options. I think it goes without saying that this game is good. Some have said that Mario Kart is still better for nebulous reasons, but this is only because they are afraid of shaking up the status quo. I, however, am not. This game wipes the floor with Mario Kart, and that’s coming from a guy who generally sides with Nintendo. Even if you do prefer Mario Kart, there is absolutely no denying this game is awesome.

Better still, the game launched at a discounted $40 price. While a lower price doesn’t make a bad game good, it should make a “I’ll wait ’til it drops in price” game into a “I should try it now”. Needless to say, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed recieves my wholehearted recommendation. Even if you don’t like kart racers, check out the playable demo. You’ll see what I mean.

9/10

Code of Princess (Unedited) – 8/10

December 3, 2012

(This is the original extra lengthy draft of my Code of Princess review. To read the shorter edited version, go to GamerCheese.com)

Most of the games on the 3DS fall into a few categories: hyper polished first party games, quick ports, or cheap cash-ins. So, popping in Code of Princess is a strange experience as the game is clearly rather low budget and rough, yet is undeniably good. I’ve played games like this in the past, but this may be the first on 3DS. Turning it on you’re greeted with a 2D anime opening movie, and completely 2D menus that are very…utilitarian. They get the job done but lack any sort of flash. But once you start the game, it become fantastic.

Why? Well, to make a long story short: it’s Guardian Heroes. In fact, some of the Guardian Heroes team even worked on the game! If you’re unfamiliar with Guardian Heroes, it’s a side scrolling beat’em up with RPG elements that uses a very unusual control scheme. Rather than having up move you into and out of the background, it instead allows you to jump like in a fighting game. With these fighting game-esque controls comes a variety of special moves and combos as well while movement into and out of the screen is handled by having characters leap between three different “planes” of combat.

But what makes this game different from Guardian Heroes? Well first of all, characters have significantly more moves. Players can, thankfully, bring up a movelist on the bottom screen and the moves themselves are all simple. The most complex motion you’ll do is a quarter circle. The rest is simple directions or double-taps of directions plus a button. Movement between planes is handled in a more comfortable manner as well, you hold a shoulder button and press up and down to move in and out of the screen. This is great as I could never remember which way L or R moved me back in Guardian Heroes. Also, along with the fact that players each have their own systems and screens, you now collect items that can be equipped between stages to boost stats.

There are some downsides though. For one thing, you can’t crouch in this game, oddly enough. Also, at times there are too many moves that are too specialized have incredibly lengthy animations. There have been a few times where I’ve dashed in with Allegro and accidentally did his “play dead” move instead of the move I wanted. The biggest issue would probably be with the main magic user, Lady Zozo. You see, her Forward+X move is a rapid fire magic missile swarm. That’s great, but it drains mana. How do you get mana? Well you have to beat up on enemies with physical attacks or block some hits. However, Lady Zozo has very few physical attacks and trying to dash in and throw some jabs could cause you to instead waste mana on magic missiles or worse, attempt to do magic missiles without mana leaving yourself open. Make no mistake, these are problems that can easily be worked around with practice but they do get in the way.

The game itself is divided up into bite sized stages. Each stage generally opens and ends with some fully voiced story sequences and the core levels themselves are short. This may be disconcerning at first as the first few stages are little more than a single room full of enemies. However, worry not. As the game progresses you encounter lengthier stages. They’re still short compared to some beat ’em ups, but it works well for a portable environment.

The story is admittedly cliche. A Princess whose kingdom is overthrown by The Evil Empire runs away with a Giant Magical Sword and quickly meets A Ragtag Bunch of Misfits who uncover A Secret Conspiracy and have to stop An Ancient Evil. Yes, we’ve seen it all before. I mean, there are only so many excuses to get together a weird bunch of characters to save the world. The key here is in who these characters are and how they are written, and this is where Code of Princess shines. Princess Solange is a naive pacifist, Lady Zozo is an anti-social necromancer trapped in the body of a zombie, Allegro is an elven bard with an electric guitar and a massive ego, and the thief Ali is the deadpan snarker of the group. The game’s story is a plesant mix of lighthearted humor and occasional seriousness that works well and is incredibly entertaining. The voice work is fantastic too, which is good because the game is dub only thanks to the limitations of the 3DS’s cartridge-based storage medium.

You can probably blast through the story pretty quickly, but the game hardly ends there. There are also a number of unlockable characters and bonus challenge missions you can take on. The game boasts that it has 500 of them, but that is counting the multiplayer exclusive ones.

You’ll notice that I only listed 4 characters when the game advertises 8. Well, strangely enough, though the other characters appear in story mode they are not playable in it. You can only play as Tsukikage, Sister Hel, Master T, and Marconeko in bonus missions, versus mode, and multiplayer. This is especially befuddling because aside from one scene, all the Stories for the other 4 characters are the same, so why not let us play as the other 4 once they join up. Furthermore, while these characters tag along, they do so little one wonders why they are even there. Adding to the strangeness, this means that the only male character you can play as in story mode is the elven bard. While this complaint is minor really, I can’t help but feel like it was false advertising.

This is where the big question comes up: Multiplayer. Yes, it has 4-player co-op and versus modes. Yes, you can play it online. However no, you cannot play the Story Mode in multiplayer. This seems like a big letdown at first as going through the story with friends would be a blast, but they would all be demanding you skip the cutscenes anyway. You can, however, replay story missions minus cutscenes in 2-player co-op. That’s the other thing, you have different missions in 2-player, 3-player, and 4-player co-op modes and admittedly you get far more of them in 2-player.

The online interface is strange, not using friend codes or the ability to join a friend’s game but instead requiring players to enter in 4-digit passwords to meet their friends in a game. Stranger still, once you complete a mission you are booted back to the search screen and thus can’t keep playing with the same crew you just found. It’s a little strange, but thankfully at least the netcode is decent. I admit I’ve encountered some massive lag in 4-player games, but 3-player matches usually work well and 2-player is almost consistantly flawless. This lag could also stem from one player having a weak connection. It’s hard to tell because, believe it or not, the game does not tell you the connection quality of the players you are playing with. Like I said, the online interface is strange, but it does work.

Guardian Heroes veterans will probably ask another question: What’s the deal with playable monsters? Yes, just like Guardian Heroes you can unlock monsters and bosses for play in versus mode. The real question is if you can use them in stages and online co-op. The answer is yes, though the option has to be unlocked. Beating the game unlocks the ability to use monsters in offline stages, while clearing 100 missions unlocks them for online play. This is fantastic as while many monsters aren’t particularly fun to play, the bosses most certainly are. Case in point: Baku Juppongi, the incredibly theatrical ninja, has just as many moves and skills as the main cast. It definately adds some extra value to the game.

The graphics are actually much better than they look. The game uses pre-rendered sprites, which seems off putting at first. However the sprites actually animate quite well and look pretty decent in motion. The real kicker though is the 3D effect. Yes, you would think a game with completely 2D menus would have lackluster 3D but you would be wrong. The game uses a good mix of 3D polygons and 2D sprites with a lot of layers going deep into the background. The resulting 3D effect makes the game look way better and gives a weird interactive diorama effect. On the flip side though, playing with the 3D turned off can make it difficult to tell which plane you’re fighting on and can make your character hard to see when the camera is zoomed really far out.

The music is really good, but unfortunately under utilized. Despite having a boat load of fantastic songs, they usually only use one of two songs for stages and a boss song. It’s rather irritating hearing how good Ali’s theme is only to realize you almost never get to do a stage set to it.

So, with all that said, is the game any good? I would definately say yes. While it has some dry presentation and odd design oversights, that doesn’t change the fact that it is a fun, deep, and meaty brawler. Not to mention that, at the moment, it is my most played 3DS game of all time and from the looks of things it’s destined to become a cult classic.

8/10

New Releases – December 2012

December 3, 2012

Well it’s December now. A little late if you wanted to make your game a big Christmas seller so everything not out now will be hitting in February and March. As such, not a lot to report this month but lets take a look anyway.

12/04

 Family Party: 30 Great Games Obstacle Course (WiiU)

Ladies and gentlemen I present to you the WiiU’s first low budget bargain mess! Launching at $30, this is the 4th or 5th game in Tamsoft and D3’s “Family Party 30 Great Games” series. Yes, the same fine folks that brought us Oneechanbara. The quality has been all over the place from passable in “Outdoor Fun” to utterly unplayable in “Winter Fun”. So why do I care? Morbid curiosity and desperation for a new WiiU game. Yes, I have played the other games in the series.
12/11

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (3DS)

Not sure if you got the memo, but Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is one of the most amazing kart racing games ever made. I’ve already bought it on 360 and WiiU and I am salivating at the thought of playing it on the go in 3D! Some reports say this release has been delayed until February but GameFAQs still lists it for December. We shall see.
12/13

Crimson Shroud (3DS Ware)

Now this is fascinating. Crimson Shroud is a very nice looking downloadable 3DS game that aims to recreate the experience of playing tabletop D&D. Characters are portrayed as painted figures in a sculpted miniature dungeon and players roll dice on the bottom screen. It will probably cost $8 and you can count me in on some on-the-go tabletop RPG meets JRPG action.

EDIT: Oh holy crap I just looked it up! It’s a Matsuno Game! The freakin’ Vagreant Story and FFXII team did this! DOUBLE SOLD!

…aaand that’s all for this year, folks!