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PS3

They will die. A lot.

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When a game gets touted “The Demon Souls of tactical RPGs”, one would expect a game wherein you will die over and over. For Kadokawa/NISA’s Natural Doctrine (stylized as NAtURAL DOCtRINE), that is the absolute truth. Though the frustrating difficulty is the only thing it shares with the games from the Souls series.

The world is made up of nations all competing control over a rare resource known as “pluton”. This rare material is essential for constructing important trinkets and also needed to cast magic. Producing pluton is not something humans can do as the raw ore that it is refined from is deadly to humans. This does not apply to goblins though, so a lucrative industry is born out of raiding pluton mines and murdering those poor goblins.

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Neophyte warriors/love team Geoff and Vasily are recruited by rifle-wielding, potion-throwing Anka to initially accompany her for some mine raiding. Along with some friends they meet along the way they are thrust into a scenario more than what they bargained for. Natural Doctrine‘s story is relatively good so I won’t be going beyond that for the sake of spoilers. Don’t let the boring starting sequences turn you off as it really gets interesting later on.

Just like most games in the SRPG genre, the story is advanced by a series turn-based battles on a grid map. What makes ND unique is the grids are not just one character per square. One grid takes up a bigger area on the map and up to four regular sized characters (some units take up more than one slot) can be in the same grid at a time. Although the character’s movement is still based on a number of squares per turn, you are free to position them within the square. It’s sort of like a combination of the Valkyria Chronicles and Final Fantasy Tactics system. Smart positioning is a must. Your life will be easier if you learn how to utilize environmental covers and guard weaker party members. Make one mistake of leaving your mage open and the next thing you know he finds himself on the receiving end of a goblin boomstick barrage. Oh, and if that happens it’s GAME OVER for you as losing one party member fails the whole mission. Nice!

The mechanic that you will absolutely need to master is the Action Link. Every action/command that one of your units do on his/her turn has link conditions that if met, will enable other units to take a turn outside his/her usual turn. This essential tactic can turn the tide of the often overwhelming battles that you will face if executed correctly. Because turns are determined by unit speed, being able to kill the enemy next on the initiative queue (shown on the top of the screen) gets you an enormous battlefield advantage. If the circumstances permits, you can decimate all enemies without any of them getting an attack out.

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Of course the enemies have access to the same Action Link system as you and they usually outnumber you.., not to mention they are programmed to know everything there is to know about the system while you try to figure it out outside the very basic explanation in the tutorial. So there’s that.

Haha.

Outfitting your characters is necessary to tackle the ever-increasing odds against you. Units prefer specific weapon types like swords/shields, guns, staves and bombs. Some characters can change weapon types mid-battle with no penalty and are more versatile. Accessories increase your stats and you can equip each unit two of them at a time. Equipment are gained in the battlefield via monster drops or by opening chests. There is no currency to spend or shops to use them on although you can farm dungeons multiple times to get more items from chests. Opening chests also give you an amount of pluton every time. The pluton is used by your magic-users to cast spells as a substitute for magic points. It seems very limiting but magic is very powerful in this game and can often be used to turn the tide in your favor when used tactically.

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Units learn skills using a straightforward skill tree specific for each character. A party member gains a skill point (Geoff gets two) every time he/she levels up. Spend points to activate either passive stat-boosting skills or an active skill that either adds a new command or enhances a an existing one. Consumable items are also gained through skills. For example, a skill gets a unit two potions for use in a mission and gets replenished for the next one. One awesome thing about the skill tree is that you are free to spend and unspend skill points as you see fit without restriction. This encourages experimentation and helps to find the right approach dealing with missions.

The visuals leave a lot to be desired. The anime art looks good but the 3D models and animation are not what you would expect especially if you are playing the PS4 version. The game is available on all three Sony platforms (PS3/PS4/Vita) and have cross-save functionality so I kinda understand that it needs to work within the weakest system’s specifications in order to have the same performance on all platforms. It’s still not an excuse considering it is a retail release. Muddy textures and clunky animations all over. Definitely needs more polish.

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The music annoyed me the first few stages mostly because I was always dying and had to listen to the same grinding tracks over and over but it got better as the story furthered. Cutscenes are fully voiced. The english voice work is a notch above what you would expect from a NISA release but a welcome japanese voice option for the gamers who want it is included and can be toggled anytime.

Like I said, Natural Doctrine is available for all three Sony platforms but it is the first of its kind on the PlayStation 4. So if you are itching to play a really challenging strategy RPG on your next-gen system, many hours of gameplay awaits with your purchase. If you only have the PS3 and you think the frustrating difficulty will put you off, then there are many games in the same genre available to you from its vast last-gen library. The game is perfect on the PS Vita as it lends itself beautifully for on the go gaming.

There is a separate online multiplayer mode included that is unrelated with the single-player campaign. It is a deck building card game but since the game was not released yet at the time I was playing it, I was not able to find anyone to play with online. So I can’t really say anything about multiplayer.

For this review, I played the PS4 and PS Vita versions. I did not try on the PS3 but I’m sure it looks and plays almost the same.

Mission Accomplished (Pros):

  • Very deep battle system: The game rewards you for smart tactical planning but will rape your butt the moment you make a mistake.
  • Interesting story: Starts slow but really picks up fast. A nice change from the lackluster story other games in the genre are known for.
  • Skill tree experimentation: You are free to learn and unlearn skills as much as you want means getting as strategic as much you want.
  • Not bad voice acting: Character banter in and out of missions are enjoyable. Although Vasily might grate on you (like FFXIII’s Vanille)

Mission Failed (Cons):

  • No mid-mission save: You can be playing for half an hour and then die. Some missions have halfway checkpoints but they are still far in-between. Much frustration.
  • No currency or shops: I don’t know but I like my RPGs where I can buy stuff.
  • Mediocre graphics: Hey, I’m playing on the most powerful console in the world but what the hell is this? lol
  • Tutorial not in-depth enough: The enemies know all the quirks of the action link system from the beginning but you are just given the gist of it and will have to learn as you go. So they will enjoy murdering you a lot early in the game.

Mission Stalemate (Love it or Hate it):

  • Difficulty cranked up to 11: Even on easy mode the enemies seems to be cheating. And some enemies can wipe your entire party in one fell swoop. Still, everything can be countered with smart positioning and careful planning
  • Grinding for items and level: Some like to grind, some hate it. I don’t mind, though.

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NAtURAL DOCtRINE

Developer: KADOKAWA GAMES

Publisher: NIS America

Available for: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita

Date: September 30, 2014

Thanks to NISA for providing us with the review copy.

Fairy Fencer F is a tough sell. It’s what most people like to call a ‘niche game;’ meaning a game that will only appeal to a specific minority of PlayStation 3 gamers. Set in a world that combines modern settings and medieval fantasy with magical beings that turn into weapons.

The game takes place in a time where two deities are locked in an endless grudge match. In an act of desperation, they both decide to seal each other with an innumerable barrage of swords. However, most of the swords miss and end up in the human world where they are known as Furies. These weapons have spirits within them that are known as “fairies” and those spirits engage in pacts with humans to release them from their seal in exchange for a wish granted to the savior. Humans who form these pacts are hence known as “fencers”.

Enter Fang, a lazy jerk wishes for nothing more than to sleep and eat all day. After pulling a sword from the ground, in the hopes to get an endless supply of food, He unwillingly gets pulled into a contract with an amnesic fairy named Eryn. He then sets off on an adventure to collect furies in order for him to recover Eryn’s memories. While the game’s main plot is nothing special, It makes up for it with an enjoyable cast of characters and fun events that add a tinge of lightheartedness.

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Fairy Fencer F shines most in its fun battle system which is a nice mix between turn-based and real-time elements. Anyone who has played the Neptunia games or Mugen Souls will be get used to it very quickly. During your turn you get to move around the field in real-time while your enemies hold still, providing you with all the time necessary to plan out your moves. Choosing From sword, knuckle, glaive, axe etc. attack types, you exploit enemy weaknesses to deal more damage. Further adding to dynamicity of battle is the “tension”, this gauge fills up as you deal and receive damage but goes down as you get healed and miss attacks. Tension increases your physical attack the more filled up the gauge is and at a certain point you can “Fairize” which greatly increases your stats.

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Outside of leveling you can augment your characters with “Weapon Boosting” in which you choose upgrades for your each of your characters separately with WP (Weapon Points) you gain from battling. These upgrades can range from as simple as stat increases to new moves and skills for exploration. The moves you take into battle are set in the combo editor where you customize each hit of your combo that is assigned to the cross, triangle and circle buttons. Equipping other fairies creates a “resonance effect” that gives bonus stats and other special effects that are strengthened by pulling the swords that sealing the gods.

The quest system on the other hand is shallow and doesn’t contribute anything to the plot. Most of these tasks are basic kill/fetch quests that tell you to “go hunt ten of these”, or go “gather five of these” which makes it feel more like chores rather than quests. The pub where you obtain quests usually has several missions at a time but don’t mistake that for freedom of choice. Nothing is keeping you from accepting them all because most of the tasks are naturally finished through your routine grinding. This makes quests no more than mere bonuses for grinding as opposed to meaningful tasks that reward the player for the extra effort.

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The overall look of the game is rather sub-par due to the fact that the game reuses a lot of assets from other games. While the 3D models of the characters are decent, most of the backgrounds and terrain are somewhat low-res and makes it feel cheap but the particle effects of moves are flashy enough to entertain. But the beautiful 2D art makes up for it and is brimming with personality. The soundtrack on the other hand shines with high quality songs that are reminiscent of classic final fantasy tracks. The voice acting on the Japanese side is superb but the English cast does manage a job in selling the characters as well.

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The main theme and atmosphere of the Fairy Fencer F is nothing you wouldn’t expect from the wacky crew at Compile Heart. With plenty of quirky characters who are parodies of stereotypes and 4th wall breaking jokes. Tons of fan service is not unexpected, with plenty of well-endowed women and lots of little girls that will satisfy everyone’s preferences. Unlike other Compile Heart games; However, It felt like the game was trying to tell a more compelling and serious story but its overtly cute art style doesn’t really help it.

Fairly Phenomenal:

  • Fun and engaging combat
  • Entertaining character interactions
  • Awesome Soundtrack
  • Deep upgrade system

On the Fence:

  • Sub-par graphics
  • Tons of reused assets

Prior to playing Battle Princess of Arcadias, All I knew was that it was a side-scrolling action RPG and somewhat resembles games like Dragon’s Crown or Muramasa: The Demon Blade. But that alone made me want to try out the game for myself and I was happy to have played it, for the most part.

Battle Princess of Arcadias is a downloadable PlayStation 3 game developed by Apollo Software and published by NIS. The story surrounds a battle princess named Plume and her quest to defend the kingdom of Schwert from evil monsters. But, as one might be able to deduce, the narrative here is anything but serious. As a matter of fact, that helps Battle Princess of Arcadias‘cause, as it comes off as a light-hearted stroll down fantasy lane with plenty of charming characters to boot. Despite this being a title that emphasizes gameplay above anything else, though, it still manages to take special care of developing a fairly large cast in a comprehensive way. In fact, the plot can become so front-and-center that certain scenes between dungeons can drone on for far longer than desired, simply because there’s quite a bit of text to read while the game tries to flesh out its world.

The game’s focus partitions into three distinct slices. Most common and obvious is the form of a traditional 2D beat ’em up. From Double Dragon to Muramasa, the need to roam across the land and smack the crap out of monsters is a call to adventure no one, battle princess notwithstanding, can deny. Arcadia’s modest attack suite, a light and heavy attack for each character, is confidently basic with the ability to string together different combos to spice it up. In the game, only one of three different characters at any given time. Blocking is not really encouraged due to the fact that it breaks your combo which goes into your overall rank at the end of the stage.

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Outside of these basic battles, there are also sieges and skirmishes that you can take part in. Sieges will have you and your brigades do battle against a single boss enemy. These battles are rather tricky, as you have to maintain your brigade’s formation and watch out for your own health and the enemy’s attacks. Formations are basic, a middle ground between attacking and defense. Attack formation is high damage but lowered defense and of course defensive formation is the exact opposite of attack. You must use the morale that you have gained during battle to switch out the different formations, with each switch reducing morale by a certain amount. There is also a retreat option if your brigade gets low in health. This option is great to try to quickly replenish your units but leaves you all along against a boss that you really cannot do damage against. Once you have done enough damage with your group, you can stun the boss and then with 100 percent morale, you can unleash a showdown move. This will have you button mashing the square button before the time runs out to attempt getting a high-powered attack.

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The third type of battles are skirmishes. These are sections that have players amassing troops to face off against an army of enemies. In this mode, players are asked to do what they did in the first but they are to also issue commands to their underlings. In this, we get a sort of strategic combat that really helps deepen the battles at large, as the straight-forward hacking and slashing components previously mentioned can be a bit shallow. It feels odd initially to go from playing the game in a typical beat’em up way to having to think tactically and adapt to situations on the fly; being able to order attacks, defensive maneuvering and retreats all come into play here, requiring a sound mind to topple the enemies that stand in a player’s way. In fact, these portions are extremely difficult simply because folks have to take on waves of enemies until a certain condition is met. It’s not a cheap difficulty, however; if players die, it’s on them, not some flawed mechanic 0verlooked in the development process. Lastly, we have the boss encounters. These work in the same way as the formation battles, except they’re usually a bit harder given the circumstances.

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From any point of view, Battle Princess of Arcadias’ looks quite nice. Or at, at the very least, it shows well does in screenshots. It’s also careful to make its characters sweet without feeling too saccharine, suggesting an appreciated amount of restraint in the art department. That being said, characters don’t animate particularly well – often times Arcadias feels like a highly polished browser game – but it’s something you seem to get used to after few hours have passed.The menu and interface are clean, intuitive and easy to navigate. The audio does a nice job complementing the aesthetics, with a soundtrack that is especially whimsical. Dainty compositions mixed with rocking anthems in boss battles were just the right blend to keep me hooked. There isn’t a dual voice-track option, which means Battle Princess of Arcadias‘spoken dialogue is all Japanese, which is perfectly fine with me but might turn some people off.

Pros:

  • Fun but somewhat simple gameplay
  • Deep equipment customization
  • Beautiful 2D art
  • Awesome soundtrack

Cons:

  • Uninspired  level progression
  • Shallow Story
  • Stiff animations

 

Battle Princess of Arcadias

Developer: Apollo Software

Publisher: NIS America (PS3)

Available for: PlayStation 3(Digital)

 

only magic can support those puppies.

Kill ‘Em All!1

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The Witch and the Hundred Knight

The Witch and the Hundred Knight sounds like a storybook fairytale full of magical creatures, royalty, enchanting forests, lavish kingdoms and eloquent speaking characters to fill your imagination of happiness and love. The game has all of this actually, with an extra spoonful… no, mouthful.. no, maybe a tub full of evil with an awesome soundtrack and deep and strategic gameplay. Development started in 2010 and was released in Japan on July 25, 2013. The localized release for the US is on March 25, 2014 while Europeans can except the game to release a little earlier on March 21, 2014. The Witch and the Hundred Knight (I’ll shorten it to Witch Knight) is an Action-RPG with Rogue-like qualities where your main goal is to help your master pretty much destroy the world. You play as the Hundred Knight, a tiny black familiar that kinda looks like Midna from Twilight Princess, to serve the foul-mouthed, slender, pretty, and powerful swamp witch, Metallia. You start out as a dumb and weak familiar with little to no abilities but as you progress through the unique and interesting story, you’ll start to figure out a lot about the game’s setting and the mystery of Metallia’s life while learning strategies for combat. The dialogue in WitchKnight is one of its best qualities as it will keep you interested in reading/listening through the whole script. It also comes with both English and Japanese voice acting. You’ll slowly start to realize why Metallia is a stone cold bitch as you learn more about the story, while accompanied by character art in the dialogue screens.

only magic can support those puppies.
Only magic can support those puppies using that Bra.

The soundtrack of WitchKnight is incredible as it feels cheery and quirky despite the game’s dark humor based storyline. It doesn’t feel repetitive at all and helps keep you alert through some of the grinding you need to do. Most enemies have their own voices too and the sound of the pillars you need to find is an important part of the gameplay. Witchknight has a nice storybook look in terms of its stage design and colors. They all seem to look good together as if it looks like a painting. Although the game is 3d and plays in 720p, the in-game character models really could have been much better. It’s already 2014 and even if the game was developed in 2010, the character models could have looked a little bit more… “HD,” a little sharper and a little less PS2-like. Would have been great if they could have made the characters stand out from the background more, especially Metalllia’s. For the gameplay, combat is basically hack and slash with some QTE’s for dodging. However, as the tutorials will show you, there is a lot more to the gameplay that it seems. You will need to develop a strategy per stage due to the Hundred Knight’s GCals, enemies and weapons. Gcals is basically like charmander’s flame. As you move through the stage, it slowly lowers until reaching 0 which will make you incredibly weak. You also have access to 5 types of weapons, with 3 weapon qualities among all of them. The rogue-like nature of WitchKnight also gives you random loot and weapons, a limited storage space (at first) and random bonuses depending on how much combos you pull out. There’s also a damage-chaining and a grading point system that could have used a tutorial but is actually easy to figure out once you notice it. There are many mixes of strategies that you’ll need to use every time you go out to fight, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Because of the combat system and customization you’ll be doing, the game can be pretty easy or pretty hard, depending on what you use and what level you are. Stat growth is dependent on what facet/form you will use throughout the game. While it might be tempting to spam attacks, the 5 weapon system will actually make you think about not spamming certain attacks to certain enemies. I recommend playing in Hard mode, just so it feels more fun.

You need to use specific weapons or your damage will be worthless.
You need to use specific weapons or your damage will be worthless.

Despite the need to grind in some stages, it doesn’t really feel boring and you definitely need to be alert because you need to monitor the Gcals, your HP, and what weapon you use, and the way of attacking you do. It’s hard to go on auto-pilot mode because of this, and that’s a great thing for the game. WitchKnight has a top-down view style and the controls are solid. The game also allows you to move the camera around which is very useful for this type of game. A concern about the camera though, is that certain stages have elements like trees or houses that block and hide your character. This is mainly annoying during combat, especially since you need to know what’s going on and what to do. And again, the character models sometimes blend too well into the background that it may sometimes be hard to find enemies especially if their colors are similar to the stage. Thankfully, the locking system will be able to counteract some of these issues. Those character models still really should look better even if the game was developed in 2010.

Stages look nice and painting-like but the Character models really could have looked much better.
Stages look nice and painting-like but the Character models really could have looked much better.

Another negative thing about the game is that even though it guides you through a tutorial for many of the features of the combat system and the game itself, most of the tips appear only during the loading screen and there is no ability to find these tips in the options or extras. The tips are very useful and could have been easier to access. But I guess it also makes the game more challenging, so it didn’t bother me that much and it helps players think about things which is something of a lost art these days. No tutorials option might alienate stupid people though. Some of WitchKnight’s features such as raiding houses and upgrading weapons do become useful, it also feels unrewarding and unneeded at times. Repeating the stages also doesn’t feel necessary to finish the game. Only super-completionists may really appreciate these features of WitchKnight. In conclusion, The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a solid, well-made game. It’s very enjoyable to play, the story is great and interesting (for me anyways), the characters are very unique and have plenty of personality, the soundtrack is great to listen to and is well worth buying the Limited Edition for. 1 – GET IT? METALLIA’S JAPANESE PRONOUNCIATION SOUNDS LIKE METALLICA, SO I USED METALLICA’S FIRST ALBUM AS A REFERENCE FOR A TAG LINE. IT IS ALSO A REFERENCE TO THE EVILNESS OF THE WITCH METALLIA

:yes I Liked These

  • The combat system in relation to the item customization
  • The music is great and should be in your playlist
  • The characters are fun
  • Metallia is such a great heel
  • I like the dark storyline; if you think it’s too dark, you’re too sensitive

:kobeyuck  I don’t like these

  • The PS2-like character models in 2014
  • So many bars at the HUD to monitor
  • Sometimes the background and elements makes your characters hard to see

Get ready for an awesome PlayStation month even if you don’t have extra money to buy new games!

First up, PS3 owners get Lara Croft’s latest adventure for zilch. Tomb Raider was one of our top games of last year and the PS4 definitive edition was just released this month so this is an amazing and surprising addition to the IGC.

The PS3 also gets indie love in the form of Thomas Was Alone — an award-winning platformer, and Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut — a survival adventure game.

Going next-gen nets you a free download of the excellent Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition. This co-op twin-stick zombie shooter that was originally released on the PS3 is now coming to the PS4 bundled with all the DLC and updated visuals.

On the handheld side of things we get the 3rd person shooter Unit 13 and Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (PSP game, playable on Vita). Kinda lame but you can’t beat free, right?

 

Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition (PS4)

Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition

Free for PS Plus members

Run-and-gun through the zombie apocalypse as hit arcade shooter Dead Nation shuffles onto PlayStation 4. Fight for your life alone or with a friend as Jack McReady or Scarlett Blake as you step onto the streets of a city overrunwith undead flesh-eaters. And, if you’re feeling really brave, take a walk down the Road of Devastation – a deadly experiment that pushes your survival skills to the absolute limit as you face hordes of zombies with no extra lives and no second chances. The dead may walk – but you can make sure they don’t walk very far.

 

Tomb Raider (PS3)

Tomb Raider

Free for PS Plus members

This newest rendition of Tomb Raider explores the intense and gritty origin story of Lara Croft and her ascent from a frightened young woman to the hardened survivor that she would become known as. Armed only with raw instincts and the ability to push beyond the limits of human endurance, Lara must fight to unravel the dark history of a forgotten island to escape its relentless hold.

 

Thomas Was Alone (PS3)

Thomas Was Alone

Free for PS Plus members

Thomas Was Alone is the critically acclaimed indie platformer about friendship and jumping. Guide a group of sentient rectangles through a series of environments, combining their skills to reach the end of each level. Listen to awesome music by David Housden, negotiate obstacles meticulously placed by Mike Bithell and immerse yourself in the characters’ journey with a voiceover read wistfully and amusingly by Danny Wallace.

 

Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut (PS3)

Lone Survivor Director's Cut

Free for PS Plus members

In this psychological survival adventure, the masked protagonist must escape from a city ravaged by disease, by any means necessary. Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is a new kind of adventure where the choice of how to survive is up to you. Sneak through without firing a single shot, or kill everything in your path. Eat and sleep well, or resort to drugs to keep going. Search for survivors, or try to escape the city alone. Look after your mental health, or descend into madness. Lone Survivor is a game where your choices genuinely matter.

 

Unit 13 (PS Vita)

Unit 13

Free for PS Plus members

Jump into the action with Unit 13 for PlayStation®Vita and conquer 36 tactical missions and 9 high value target battles as you help take down global terror networks and earn your place in the military elite. With the precision of the PlayStation Vita systems’s dual analog sticks and unique touch interface, Unit 13 is the perfect on-the-go action shooter. Wi-Fi connectivity adds fast 2-player co-op action, and 3G compatibility keeps you connected for instant social updates and new daily mission challenges.

 

Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite (PS Vita)

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite

Free for PS Plus members

In the world of Monster Hunter you’re never alone.
-The biggest Monster Hunter title to date with over 500 hours of gameplay.
-Huge variety of character customizations including 1400 weapons and over 2000 armor sets.
-Players can form a team of up to 4 players through Ad-Hoc play and experience the social gaming phenomenon.
-AI Felyne companion, who will accompany players on quests and provide aid through the challenging battles. With the ‘Felyne Exchange’ feature players can share their companions with other players, transferring data using the PSP’s sleep mode.
-Fans of the series can transfer their data from Monster Hunter Freedom 2.

 

Capcom’s premiere futuristic ninja is finally wrecking havoc both on PS3 and PS4 and Square Enix kicks off the public PS4 beta of their MMORPG. Rayman Legends also makes an upgrade to next-gen and you can also get good ol’ Adewale’s adventure without having the main Assassin’s Creed IV game.

Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag Freedom Cry ($14.99)
AC Freeom Cry
Rise up against slavery with the latest single-player action-adventure game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry is now available exclusively for download on PS4 and PS3. Born a slave, Adewale found freedom as a pirate. Now, 15 years after the events of Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, Adewale has become a trained Assassin.
Rayman Legends ($39.99)
Rayman Legends
The Glade of Dreams is in trouble once again! During a 100-year nap, the nightmares multiplied and spread, creating new monsters even more terrifying than before! These creatures are the stuff of legend… Dragons, giant toads, sea monsters, and even evil luchadores. With the help of Murfy, Rayman and Globox awake and must now help fight these nightmares and save the Teensies!
Strider ($14.99)
Strider
Strider returns in a brand new adventure, complete with incredible side-scrolling action, and lightning fast combat all in a massive interconnected world! Download the full game now and become the original assassin!
Final Fantasy XIV: A realm Reborn (Beta)
FF14 A Realm Reborn
Beta test the award-winning FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn now for FREE with players from around the world. The beta will be available from Saturday, February 22, 2014 to Sunday, March 2, 2014. Characters created during the beta are limited to level 20 and progress will not be saved after the beta ends.Create your own unique FINAL FANTASY hero and embark on the adventure of a lifetime to help forge the fate of Eorzea.

The excellent Tomba! 2 makes an appearance in the PSone classics section of the store as a follow to the original Tomba! that was released a couple of weeks ago. PS2 Classics have Neo Contra which I don’t remember ever playing. Heh.

Sales galore! Aside from the huge list this week, there’s a separate Rockstar Sale going on which you should check out. Bully for under $3 is a steal, my friends.

For fellow PS Plussers we are entitled to Remember Me (starring Renz Verano) on PS3 and Street Fighter X Tekken on Ps Vita for the exciting price of ‘free’.

For a complete list of additions and changes to the PS Store, hit the source link!

Awesome month coming for PlayStation Plus members. Sony has announced the February lineup for its Instant Games Collection but this time they made a nifty handy-dandy cool video detailing it. So watch it (embedded above) and be informed/amused.

For those of you who don’t want moving images, here’s a list and a picture:

Outlast (PS4)

Metro: Last Light (PS3)

Payday 2 (PS3)

Remember Me (PS3)  starring Renz Verano.

Street Fighter X Tekken (PS Vita)

ModNation Racers: Road Trip (PS Vita)

Square Enix wants to prepare us for the third and final part of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy and they are doing it in style. They’ve put together an awesome retrospective video summarizing the first two games in SNES-style 16-bit!

Complete with a chip-tuned version of the FFXIII soundtrack, this video makes me all the more excited for when Claire Farron finally returns in less than two weeks from now.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will be available for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on February 11th, 2014.

Starting this Tuesday (early Wednesday morning locally) and through next week, the North American PlayStation Store will offer 11 Final Fantasy titles at a discounted price (bigger savings if you are a PlayStation Plus member).

Prices listed are normal discounted and PS Plus discounted, respectively.

  • Final Fantasy IX — $5.99 / $5.39
  • Final Fantasy Origins  — $5.99 / $5.39
  • Final Fantasy XIII-2 — $9.99 / $8.99
  • Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Collector’s Edition — $35.39 / $32.39
  • Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Standard Edition — $23.99 / $21.59
  • Dissidia Duodecim Final Fantasy — $9.99 / $8.99
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy — $9.99 / $8.99
  • Final Fantasy III — $9.99 / $8.99
  • Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection — $9.99 / $8.99
  • Final Fantasy Tactics: The War Of The Lions — $4.99 / $4.49
  • Final Fantasy V — $5.99 / $5.39

So are you picking up anything?

Starting Tuesday, January 14th (Wednesday morning locally), Sony kicks off their huge PS3 and Vita offering with the “14 for ’14” PSN Sale.

No less then 14 PS3 AND 14 PS Vita games will have drastically slashed prices — up to 50% off and up to 75% off for PlayStation Plus subscribers.

Here are the games included with the sale for PS3:
Game Title PS Plus Price Sale Price Original Price
BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien $3.75 $7.49 $14.99
Crysis 3 $5.00 $9.99 $19.99
Deus Ex Human Revolution: Director’s Cut $13.49 $14.99 $29.99
ENSLAVED: Odyssey to the West Premium Edition $5.00 $9.99 $19.99
F1 2013 $20.99 $29.99 $59.99
Far Cry Blood Dragon $3.75 $7.49 $14.99
Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut (Cross Buy) $5.24 $7.49 $12.99
Pool Nation $2.25 $4.49 $8.49
Puppeteer $7.00 $13.99 $39.99
Rain $3.75 $7.49 $14.99
Rayman Legends $35.99 $47.99 $59.99
Tales of Xillia $10.00 $19.99 $39.99
The Wolf Among Us Season Pass $13.49 $14.99 $19.99
Thomas Was Alone (Cross Buy) $2.50 $4.99 $9.99
And for PS Vita: 
Game Title PS Plus Price Sale Price Original Price
Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two $7.50 $14.99 $29.99
Killzone: Mercenary $9.00 $17.99 $35.99
LIMBO PS Vita $3.75 $7.49 $14.99
Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut (Cross Buy) $5.24 $7.49 $12.99
METAL GEAR SOLID: PEACE WALKER $5.00 $9.99 $19.99
PIXELJUNK MONSTERS: ULTIMATE HD $3.75 $7.49 $14.99
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time PS Vita $6.75 $13.49 $26.99
Soul Sacrifice $9.00 $17.99 $35.99
SPELUNKY (Cross Buy) $3.75 $7.49 $14.99
Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark (Cross Buy) $4.19 $5.99 $9.99
The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season $5.00 $9.99 $19.99
Thomas Was Alone (Cross Buy) $2.50 $4.99 $9.99
Velocity Ultra Vita $2.00 $3.99 $7.49
Worms Revolution Extreme $3.75 $7.49 $14.99

 

Time to feed the ol’ PSN Wallet!

The third game to grace the next-gen Instant Game Collection is the survival indie game Don’t Starve for the PS4. In it you play a scientist trapped in limbo where you’ll need to use the available resources to not die. It is also a game that teaches us that rabbits are yummy.

If you are still sporting that retro machine called the PS3 (heh) then you can download Ninja Theory’s Dante reboot, DMC: Devil May Cry for it. In it, you play Keanu Reeves.

Sorry Vita owners. Nothing for you this week. Boo.

PlayStation Plus: Instant Game Collection

Don’t Starve (PS4)

Free for PS Plus members

PlayStation Plus Update 1-6-2014
Don’t Starve: Console Edition is an uncompromising wilderness survival game full of science and magic. You play as Wilson, an intrepid Gentleman Scientist who has been trapped by a demon and transported to a mysterious wilderness world. Wilson must learn to exploit his environment and its inhabitants if he ever hopes to escape and find his way back home.
DMC Devil May Cry (PS3)

Free for PS Plus members

PlayStation Plus Update 1-6-2014
In a society corrupted by demons only The Order can see the world for what it really is. Join Dante in the ultimate experience of stylish action chain together combo after combo with panache and dispatch demonic spawn back to hell – reveal the truth behind the lies. Explore Dante’s dark past encountering some the most familiar faces in the DmC universe. Call upon unimaginable powers combined with Dante’s epic arsenal of weapons: sword, scyte, axe, pistols and more. Face your demons…

 

If for some reason you still have your PS3 (heh) then you might want to check the ever so cool and essential System Update button in the XMB.

PlayStation 3 Firmware 4.53 is an optional update (for now) and is lugging these with it:

  • You can now set the group of players who can see your trophies. You can also specify for each game whether to show trophies.
    >See details
  • The PS3™ system can now perform the following operations when you set Settings [Settings] > System Settings [System Settings] > [Automatic Update] to [On], even if you do not subscribe to PlayStation®Plus. When this setting is [On], the PS3™ system will automatically start each day at the specified time, perform these operations, and then turn off.
    • – Download content items purchased with other devices
    • – Download the latest system software
  • Support of Closed Captions function on playing Blu-ray Disc™ videos and DVDs (SCEA UC model only). “Blu-ray Disc™” and “Blu-ray™” are trademarks of the Blu-ray Disc Association.

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The Guided Fate Paradox can best be described as a game with lots of big words in it. It also happens to be a hybrid Japanese RPG/Roguelike/dungeon-crawler. It is also a game where you need to grind. And a lot of it. Or maybe not so much. Thankfully, the punchline here is that the game happens to be unexpectedly fun.

I’m not a fan of grinding. I have terrible ADD and get bored pretty quickly; I was afraid that might happen while playing The Guided Fate Paradox. Thankfully, NIS America’s latest grindy/Anime-infused game has personality. The atmosphere is bright and colorful, the characters are nicely designed with many memorable lines (and have their own voices too! Something we take for granted in this day and age but still greatly appreciated). To briefly sum up the gameplay, it plays a lot like a strange amalgamation between Disgaea, Diablo and Torchlight.

06760168-photo-the-guided-fate-paradox

The story is very interesting and can get pretty deep and will sometimes make you think. Since I’ve been watching too much Anime lately, I’m afraid that I’ll mix up the character’s names (Ed. Note: this is the flimsiest excuse I’ve ever heard about skipping cutscenes). I’ll give it a shot though: you play a normal, boring guy (clearly intended to be relatable to the player, see: wish-fulfillment) named Renya. One day, this pretty lady in a maid outfit says you won the lottery. The prize? You become God. And now, since you have all these magical deity powers, you have to answer certain peoples’ prayers, like a Cinderella who is questioning her fictional existence in a book, or a bullied zombie kid; all the while trying to save the world from a sharply dressed Satan with some plot twists along the way. It’s like an anime Bruce Almighty with some nice DFCs and villains.

You’ll be seeing a lot of (skippable) dialogue in the game especially when starting but you might be missing a lot of funny, or useful dialogue though. The tutorial is accessible anytime in the menus. The game’s music is catchy and does most situations. The original song is pretty fun to sing along to. You also have the option to listen to original Japanese audio or a pretty good English dub.

Combat can feel repetitive and might make your brain go on auto-pilot. You kill monsters in a random dungeon and loot items then repeat. Know that the game is hard and can be frustrating mainly because you lose all your equipment and half your money if you die. I didn’t know this until it happened (though the game did tell me but I skimmed through it. I think). This isn’t a game that you should play continuously for a long time. Take some breaks and you’ll appreciate it more. There are plenty of weapon and equipment that you can loot and each has their own ability and is upgradeable. Fate paradox is a deep game and you will want to read the tutorial to understand it all. This isn’t a pick up and play game and completing and enjoying the game means you need to understand mostly everything you do.

Controller layout has a learning curve but learning is worth it because it makes navigating much easier. Camera angles can be annoying but you can change the camera angle. It would have been better if at least a silhouette of your characters appear when your view gets blocked. One more issue for me personally is the diagonal layout of the level. Even after putting many hours in the game, it still annoys be mainly because it’s not natural.

The Guided Fate Paradox is a long, sometimes tedious but quite fun and entertaining game. It’s a niche genre but fans will definitely love this game. It might be too deep for new players but the tutorials make it accessible and easier. Can’t say enough good things about the game, so here’s my final recommendation: go buy it.

06760176-photo-the-guided-fate-paradox

Video game budgets have been skyrocketing ever since Yu Suzuki’s spectacular failure Shenmue saddled Sega to the tune of $70 million. It’s a worrying trend, as oftentimes instead of becoming sure-fire profit or loss products, they become gambits that make or break entire companies, series, or even entire genres.

Grand Theft Auto V embodies the industry’s best and worst excesses in a lengthy, ultra-violent $60 package, in the sense that it currently holds the title of being the most expensively produced videogame in history ($200 million is no chump change to publisher Rockstar), continuing a tradition of open-world crime simulators that it helped build. Coarse language, nudity, and wanton violence are the game’s bread and butter; and while these excesses may seemingly push away a large segment of the game-playing market, it’s clearly an appealing product to the niche that it strives to please.

Grand Theft Auto V (1)

Pappy Issues

Listen, I’m not here to discuss the game’s myopic portrayal of women, alright? I’ve already heard enough drummed-up complaints that the game should somehow shoehorn a “strong female lead” to appeal to the ever-increasing female gaming segment. I will argue the point of it (excuse my French) being a fucking videogame, a static narrative that you, the player, ride along with. The game’s overarching storyline—while in no means “Oscar-worthy”—conveys a gripping set of scenarios that leaves you wondering what the next messed-up scheme the game’s three anti-heroes will work themselves into. Poor me; alienated because I could not identify with the deranged lunatics I’ve been playing as. Perhaps I should go back and play games featuring heroes that I actually identify with; heroes like Squall Leonhart, Samus Aran, and Ninja JaJaMaru-kun. Oh wait.

And unlike in games like Tomb Raider, or heck even GTA IV where the storyline and cutscenes misrepresent the player’s actions and motives right after (the industry has since coined a term for this: ludonarrative dissonance), V believably puts you in the shoes of three types of criminal minds: Franklin, the “thug for hire” who kills and engages in “scores” out of necessity; Michael, the hot-headed  “reformed” criminal that blames all of his problems on everybody except himself; and Trevor, the wildcard sociopath that kills and robs just for the hell of it. Except if you’ve had issues with self-flagellation or never had a strong male role-model, there is barely anything that the gamer can identify with any of these characters. The game’s about feeling like a badass criminal within the context of a realistic depiction of an American city, and that’s something it does very well.

Since I already fell down the rabbit hole I ironically said I was trying to dodge, let me end this mini-rant with this statement, and something that will echo one of my esteemed colleagues’ sentiments: based on how tight the narrative is and how it flows together until the (bitter) end, clearly Rockstar’s writers had a vision on how to take the player along for the ride. Changing that vision in order to pander to a niche that doesn’t represent the game’s target audience only serves to harm the narrative, and is indicative of what’s wrong with media today: everything has to be safe, focus-tested, by the numbers drivel. Hell, if you want to play as a chick, you can do so outside the main storyline anyways when GTA Online comes out.

Grand Theft Auto V (3)

I Wanna Live in Los Santos

Getting back to the point: the game’s hook isn’t its chronicle of events (although Rockstar has done a bang-up job this time); if anything it’s the sense of world-building that Rockstar has carefully spent its budget on that hooks the player in. San Andreas (the game’s twisted version of Los Angeles and its surrounding counties) is a huge place, bursting with life and featuring a truly open and expressive amount of gameplay opportunities. One minute you’re shooting up Grove Street after a deal gone bad, then you’re practicing your swing in a few relaxing rounds of golf the next. Call it schizophrenic, but that’s where the game’s wide appeal comes from: unlike contemporaries such as Saints Row and Sleeping Dogs, the amount of gameplay opportunities is staggering. You can literally play at your own pace for dozens of hours and barely scratch the game’s surface—the glass ceiling almost doesn’t exist.

As a simulacrum of the real-life Los Angeles, GTA V‘s game world hits it out of the park. The usual culprits such as the dingy vistas of downtown LA and the hillside homes of the Hollywood hills are given accurate depictions, but even minor details such as an approximation of the Griffith Observatory and the scenic Santa Monica pier are rendered beautifully, with some of the best-looking shaders and lighting effects I’ve seen this generation, quite an important detail if you’re trying to relive sunny Southern California. Unlike the muggy, dingy sights of Liberty City, driving through the expansive areas of San Andreas—even the awful, white-trash rural areas—is a joy. I did have difficulty with the game’s framerate at times, however: speeding past heavily-populated areas often reduced the game into a slideshow, at least on the PlayStation 3 version of the game I played through. This is exactly why I couldn’t get into MercurySteam’s Castlevania games: I gotta have my locked 60 frames per second!

The game’s “switching” mechanic allows you to swap between characters almost at will (except when missions or certain storyline junctures forbid you to), dividing the plot and missions between the three main characters. It also gives a little bit of insight to the characters as oftentimes you’ll switch to them engaging in mundane or borderline-sociopathic activities before you get to take control. It really shines within missions, however as it gives the player the opportunity to cater to his or her strengths as a gamer and complete given tasks accordingly. For instance, you can come in with guns blazing as Michael, switch to Franklin to snipe away at incoming baddies, and pull back to Trevor’s POV to ready a getaway vehicle… provided that he’s not violating the corpse of a deceased prostitute at that moment.

And while I can harp on and on about the game’s open-ended nature, it’s the new addition of heists that reel in the gameplay and gives missions some much-needed structure. Heists are subsets of missions where the player gets to plan and coordinate thefts or assassinations of certain targets with the core player characters, as well as an extended set of accomplices that gain additional abilities as more jobs are pulled off.

The player gets to choose from a branching path of plans that ultimately require the procurement of the correct “tools” for the job, if you will: disguises, weapons, and getaway vehicles, for instance. Once the main mission commences, the heist can go through with varying degrees of success: you can pull the heist off successfully, lose some team members in the process, or fail spectacularly and get popped back to jail. The structure and scale of these heists are laudable in the sense that missions aren’t one-dimensional affairs anymore: you actually have a solid goal in mind with a payoff that far eclipses that of the little favors you do as a glorified gofer.

Grand Theft Auto V (4)

“Don’t Get Smart With Me, Boy”

Satire and subtle social commentary has always been an important hallmark of the GTA series; something that was lost on the initial release of GTA IV, and thankfully brought back in full-swing in this game. While it doesn’t quite knock you over the head with references, I enjoyed GTA V’s intelligent swipes at sensitive topics such as telemetric marketing under the guise of social networking, government snooping, and America’s entitlement problem. Think of it as The Onion to Saints Row IV’s Family Guy. Although the biting commentary has been extant from the series’ inception, it’s one aspect of the game that Rockstar hardly ever gets credit for.

Ultimately, Grand Theft Auto V still succumbs to the same pitfalls that have plagued the series since its move to 3D in 2001. Translation: if you’ve never liked the series, this game probably won’t change your mind. Helicopter and plane missions are still hot garbage, the graphics (although top-notch) will never touch an enclosed narrative like The Last of Us or Uncharted, and the game’s attempts at serious melodrama are hilariously flat. Ultimately these are old complaints, ones that do not mar the game as if you’re picking up a Grand Theft Auto game, chances are you already know what you’re getting into.

I’ll say this: GTA V is fun. And that’s something that Grand Theft Auto lost when it moved to the current-gen era of consoles. Rockstar let the game’s tone and narrative overwhelm the fact that it’s a dumb crime simulator packaged with a dumb (yet oddly engaging) plot. This is an excellent case of a developer trimming down the extra baggage that a series gets after so many iterations, going back to the core of what made the game good in the first place and reinventing it with modern sensibilities and a next-gen coat of polish.

Grand Theft Auto V (5)

The Kickstarter campaign of Keiji Inafune’s latest project Mighty No. 9 (aka his big “up yours” to Capcom for being douche bags in general) has hit its stretch goal of $2.2 million. This means we’re going to see Mighty No. 9 for consoles namely the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. If backers will plunk down another $1.1 million, then we will also see ports for next-gen consoles (PS4 and Xbox One) when it hits $3.3 million.

At this point, Mighty No. 9 is backed by roughly 39,000 people with over $2.2 million so that’s roughly $55 contributed on average. Makes me curious exactly how many people will be buying this game after it is released. You can head over to their Kickstarter page to find out what all the buzz is about and find out more about the game, especially the boss robots.

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Very good and nice.

Source: Destructoid and Kickstarter

But not GTAV obviously, duh! It’s the PSP game Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories that is free for PS Plus subscribers today. Take note that it is also compatible (and looks better) on the PS Vita.

Also free for the PS3 we have the longest, greatest, and most dramatic escort mision of all: ICO HD. It’s an HD remake of the beloved PS2 classic. I haven’t gotten around to finish it yet, but I heard the game hits you right in the feels.

ICO (PS3)

Free for PS Plus members, Regular Price: $19.99

ICO
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PSP, PS Vita Compatible)

Free for PS Plus members, Regular Price: $19.99

GTA LCS

 

Pretty lame week, if you ask me. We have only one more week left for September PS Plus so at least we know we are getting the excellent Rayman Origins (VITA) next week.

Grand Theft Auto V is this week’s game.

That’s it. Thanks for coming!

Here are this week’s vidyas:

 

Hot Wheels Worlds Best Driver (Wii U/3DS Retail)

We Sing: 80s (Wii U Retail)

Cut the Rope (3DS eShop)

Rage of the Gladiators (3DS eShop)

Star Wars Pinball (3DS eShop)

AiRace Speed (3DS eShop)

 

Grand Theft Auto V (PS3 Retail/PSN)

Hot Wheels World’s Best Driver (PS3 Retail/PSN)

Capcom Fighting Evolution (PS2 Classic)

Saints Row 4 – GATV Pack (PS3 DLC)

Saints Row 4 – Wild West Pack Pack (PS3 DLC)

Real Boxing (PS Vita PSN)

 

Grand Theft Auto V (Retail)

Hot Wheels World’s Best Driver (Retail)

Saints Row 4 – GATV Pack (DLC)

Saints Row 4 – Wild West Pack (DLC)

 

Foul Play (PC Steam)

Borderlands 2 – Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 2 (PC Steam)

Ironclad Tactics (PC/Mac)

Takedown: Red Sabre (PC/Mac)

Urban Trial Freestyle (PC Steam)

Saints Row 4 – GATV Pack (PC Steam DLC)

Saints Row 4 – Wild West Pack (PC Steam DLC)

Though people are more familiar with Capcom’s Mickey Mouse platforming jaunts (the Magical Quest series which eventually made it to the GBA), Sega’s early takes on the franchise were nonetheless as excellent, if not underappreciated. Sega themselves seem to think so, as they made the puzzling decision to remake 1990’s Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse as a fully fleshed-out 2.5D platformer that takes the feel of the original game and modernizes it successfully, taking more liberties from the original than other recent efforts (such as Wayforward’s take on Ducktales).

It’s-a-Me, Mickey!

Castle of Illusion HD (2)Mickey Mouse is, by default, the most recognizable face in all of videogaming. Eclipsing even Mario’s popularity, there have been licensed (and unlicensed!) Mickey Mouse games for systems since the Atari 2600. Unfortunately, as Disney’s properties became more diluted as time went on, so did Mickey’s own videogame appearances. This is why games like Castle of Illusion are important: it reminds license holders that quality games serve to bolster their representative brands, and that quality need not be an expensive venture (as this game unquestionably shames Mickey’s last adventure, Epic Mickey 2).

Remakes are a dicey affair, however: there’s a fine balance between simply upscaling assets to please the fanbase, and adding enough of your own twist to justify them spending another $15-60 on what is essentially rehashed content. Castle of Illusion should be the poster child of HD remakes in the sense that it presents a completely new experience that has enough call backs to the original source, yet stands alone as a completely new adventure befitting its modern platform homes.

Most of the game is presented in a 2.5D perspective, with lush backgrounds that are rife with animation, almost to the point of being distracting. If this was a sprite game, I’d laud it for having well-animated parallax backgrounds, but I can’t quite articulate what this translates to when the entire game is built with polygons. There are also sections where Mickey walks in to the background and competes in another plane, a shout-out to Sega’s own Bug!, perhaps.

Castle of Illusion HD (1)

This planar addition improves on other sequences from the original game: take for instance, the Indiana Jones-type chase scene where Mickey runs from an apple barreling down his direction from the original. The remake interprets it as a Crash Bandicoot-style chase towards the players direction. It’s little touches like this that make me appreciate the work put into this remake. Another example: one thing that peeved me off in the original game was the game’s wonky jumping physics (which you simply cannot screw up if you want your platforming game to be successful); which I’m happy to report that Sega’s Australian team successfully alleviated. Even the original’s almost-iconic boss fights have been kept mostly the same, but contain little 3D cues and patterns that freshen up the experience a bit.

Castle of Illusion HD (3)It’s not immediately evident, but you go through the same exact worlds as the original game, with very similar thematic experiences throughout. Even though you have a little castle hub as a level selector, this area simply masks the fact that you are taking a very familiar route to the original game. It’s genius, really: even the most jaded Sega veterans won’t immediately recognize that most of the original’s structure was reused, even with the inspiration being very clear. I really like the added touch of an in-game narrator, making this feel less like a game and more like an old Mickey Mouse hardcover storybook.

For Pistol Packin’ Pete’s Sake

Being a budget game, there are some presentation problems that I found particularly annoying. As I am a stickler for framerates, I found the game’s low FPS count (which dipped to the sub-15s in some areas of the game) to be jarring and unacceptable, given that I’m of the impression that even with the complex backgrounds the developers brought to the table, there isn’t much going on to make the engine crawl. This is exactly why I couldn’t get into the Spanish-developed Castlevania games no matter how hard I tried; though granted, I was playing the PS3 version (shame on me). No word yet on how it plays on the PC, but I’m hoping its a little more optimized.

Castle of Illusion HD (4)

Another issue I had which may or may not correlate to the fact that it’s a downloadable game (I’m blaming modern game design ethos myself) is that at around four hours, the game is too short and offers little incentive to play through it again. The game is simply far too easy for platforming savants to even consider a challenge, and while the levels themselves take a bit of time to complete (and collect the collectibles within), the boss fights don’t offer enough of a deterrent to progress, as they all have easily-defeatable patterns.

With those two minor issues set aside, I really enjoyed my time with this new Castle of Illusion. I was pleasantly surprised that Sega’s new Australian studio put so much care and effort into what could merely have been a quick cash-in game to appeal to both nostalgic gamers and Mickey’s built-in fanbase. While it fails to touch the cream of the downloadable platformer crop, Sega’s marvelous redux is well worth your time and investment, a rare example of a game that you can play with the entire family. A Sunday morning kind of game, if you will.

The Japan Sony Press Conference is still ongoing as I write this but the PS Vita part of it has just concluded.

Here’s what they’ve shown:

New PS Vita 2000 series. Thinner and lighter and presumably cheaper, it looks exactly like the original PS Vita but it now sports a cheaper LCD screen (original uses a glorious OLED screen), comes with 1GB memory, and will come in 6 different colors at launch. It will also be bundled with a 90 day PlayStation Plus subscription.

PS Vita Greatest Hits Line. Just like the PS3, select PS Vita games will be sold at a cheaper price point.

Cheaper memory cards and a new 64GB card. I need this.

 

Soul Sacrifice Delta anounced for March 2014. “This is a brand new version with brand new elements and brand new items which gives the unique flavor of Soul Sacrifice.” says creator Keiji Inafune. Mmmkay.

 

Phantasy Star Nova announced. This is a non-MMO version of Phantasy Star Online 2. It’s playable offline and 4-player online co-op ala MonHan.

 

Special Edition PS Vita Bundles Final Fantasy X and X-2 HD. Self explanatory.

Pretty exciting stuff. And because the PS Vita is region free, you don’t need to wait for a western release if you really want these.

Despite their questionable business practices, overt reliance on dumbed-down games that look down on the player, and continuous forcing of the Assassin’s Creed series down everyone’s throats (face it guys—the game will never be a classic) its games like Rayman Legends that make me forgive Ubisoft as a company.

Nintendo fans seem to be less-forgiving, however. I can understand: Legends was slated for a late-February release, but pushed back quite a few months as Ubisoft reneged on the game’s status as a Wii U exclusive, citing disappointing sales of their exclusive ZombiU as the primary motivator for this purely business decision. As I was curious to see how Ubisoft managed the port to other platforms without ancillary touchscreens, I requested a PlayStation 3 copy of Rayman Legends from the publisher for this review’s purpose.

Well at least you get to tack on a Mario hat on Rayman. That kinda makes up for the delay, huh Nintendo fans?
Well at least you get to tack on a Mario hat on Rayman. That kinda makes up for the delay, huh Nintendo fans?

To get that bit of trivia out of the way: the PlayStation 3 (and I’m assuming Xbox 360) version of Rayman Legends doesn’t feel like a half-baked port in direct comparison to its lead platform. From what I’ve been seeing, the main difference between the touchscreen-deficient versions of the game is that the CPU controls your fairy frog assistant, Murphy, providing context-sensitive actions that are triggered by button presses when needed. Levels that center on touch-screen puzzles are replaced with QTE-type affairs, which is kind of lame. Otherwise, it’s the same game with the same exact content* presented with the same amount of visual fidelity.

High-Fi and High-Fives

Touching on visual fidelity, Legends has that in spades. It takes the charming, flat-shaded look of Rayman Origins and bumps it up several notches, creating a stylized, colorful 2.5D look that reminds me of mid-90s quazi-CGI drivel such as Clockwork Knight… but in a good way. If you’ve played through its direct predecessor Origins you’d already know that Legends has a ton of variety tucked behind its deceptively simple 2D trappings.

That variety extends to its level design: touting more than 150 levels plus 40 more remixed from Origins, there’s a lot of content to wade through, and I could not pinpoint one single stage that I would consider filler. Apart from the main platforming stages, you’ll also run into “musical” levels—fun rhythm/platforming-based romps that serve to test the player’s ear/hand/eye coordination—as well as time-trial versions of the same stages you’ve already plowed through called “invasion” levels (it’s worth mentioning that the upcoming Vita port won’t include these levels out of the box, but will be patched in later).

Rayman Legends (4)

Whipped Cream and Lums

I realized that I jumped in head-first to the game’s mechanics before even explaining what the game’s about to the uninitiated. Legends is a 2D platformer, but one that relies more on twitch reflexes and speed rather than puzzle solving and exploration (because Baby Jesus knows that the world’s had enough of those “indie” puzzle-platformers). And when I say “speed,” I don’t mean that it’s paced the same way as a 2D Sonic; its pacing is more precise, deliberate, and frankly unforgiving. That’s not to dissuade the platforming wussies out there of course, the game is entirely fair, and gives the player ample time (and chances) to learn from mistakes made and eventually conquer any tricky bits.

And if you’ve played Origins before it, this indirect sequel metaphorically picks up where the last game left off, by taking the same ethos that it was built off of, and making just enough changes—visually and gameplay-wise—to get away from the notion that this is merely a level-pack, yet still keeping the core pace that hooked players in the first place. Expectations should be kept consistent: for the smart people who picked up the sleeper hit back in 2011, you already know what to expect here: a no-frills platformer that is thankfully light on the forced exploration and exposition that bogs down similar games in its genre (looking right at you, Ducktales).

I should also take some time to mention Rayman’s excellent co-op options: though not as accessible as a New Super Mario Bros. session, if you can get three other players in the room, the game’s frenetic pace and steady stream of jump-scares and fun boss challenges will keep even the most jaded of ex-gamers hooked until the bitter end. I’ve never had people play through more than ten levels of New Super Mario Bros. Wii but I had no problem finishing out a set of stages with a few non-gamer friends over at the office; which I found a little amazing and perplexing, personally.

Rayman Legends

I love when I’m unable to recite a particularly-good game’s storyline  because it underscores the fact that I enjoyed the ride not for the narrative, but for its gameplay merits. That being said, don’t ask me what Rayman Legends’ thumbtacked storyline is all about. All I remember is that I had to rescue a whole bunch of Teensies, or something like that.

It’s truly criminal that—like Rayman Origins before it—a lot of people will probably scoff at Legends’ appearances as a seemingly-outdated 2D platformer, when it’s not. Ubisoft has a real gem here, and quite a rarity: a game that can arguably out-Mario Mario. And even that bold comparison is doing the game a disservice, as I believe it can and should stand on its own as a unique experience that any gamer should experience and cherish. It’s gone multiplatform now, so there’s absolutely no excuse to skip this.

Rayman Legends (2)