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Reviews

Yeah. Definitely questionable.
Yeah. Definitely questionable.

I like video game versions of trading card games. Learning to play them via an in-game tutorial is better than consulting a printed rulebook, for one. And it’s much cheaper than buying the real-world equivalent especially with most of TCGs having expansions and collectible price market. It’s also more convenient to just play online (if the game supports it) than to trek to a local hobby shop and find people to play with.

Monster Monpiece is a card collecting battle game from Idea Factory. In the past, Idea Factory has licensed their games to other publishers (like Atlus, etc.) for North American release but this time, they are doing it themselves. I think it’s because the other publishers chose not to have a go at this one for reasons I’m about to tell you.

The gameplay part is solid but the theme is a bit risqué. Cards all depict “monster girls” — anime girls that are sexually suggestive in nature and mostly underaged looking (i.e. lolicon). Cards have the capability for upgrades to power them up by a mini-game system that you would not dare do in public. It involves stroking the front and rear touch panels of the Vita system, an action that is akin to jerking off the male genitalia. This unfortunately plays out via embarrassing moans and grunts from the female character illustrated on the card. After looking around to see if anybody was watching that mess over your shoulders, your efforts are rewarded with new abilities and higher stats for the card; and more importantly, the monster-girl’s artwork on the card will be changed. When I say “changed”, I mean “more naked”. So yeah.

Monster Monpiece’s tale is a typical anime-inspired save the world from a catastrophic event kind of story. The protagonist is ayoung girl named May who is in training to become a card wielder. The plot revolves around May’s relationship with the monster girls that reside magically in their cards (think Pokemon but with cards and loli girls instead of grotesque creatures) and solving the mystery behind an evil power turning other monster girls into “Lost,” or evil monster girl cards in human-speak. Small note, character skits are fully voiced in Japanese. There is no English audio option but the text translation is pretty good.

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I was surprised at the depth of Monster Monpiece’s core gameplay; as a reformed TCG addict I found the rules intuitive enough for lapsed gamers such as myself, or even new players to the genre to grasp. The game is paced really well, and doesn’t just throw you into the flames. It explains the basic stat and properties of the cards then walks you through a sample battle before introducing you to more advanced cards with specific abilities.

Obviously, being a TCG title, battles play out with a turn-based system. With a turn consisting of a player summoning a card to the board, spending mana. A set amount of mana is added to your pool every turn but certain card abilities give you more mana if you need it. The board consists of multiple lanes and squares where you put the cards when you summon them. At the opposite ends of the boards are each player’s “castle”. Your goal is to have a monster reach your opponent’s castle and reduce it to zero hit points. At each of your turn you can summon one card or pass. After that  phase, the cards in play will either move one space towards your opponent’s castle or attack an opposing monster if they are in range. Attack and defense are decided with the cards stats and abilities. ATTACK is how much damage the card deals, HP is how much damage it can take before it dies, and INT is used by healers and buffer type cards.

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The player has absolute control over what cards to use in the deck and one can even save multiple configurations. Each deck can have a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 40 cards. In my experience, getting your deck to the full 40-card limit is more advantageous as the AI often exhausts his deck in a long drawn out match. Running out of cards means automatically losing the match. You can build up your card collection by winning specific cards in the story or buying booster packs with the in-game currency earned by winning matches.

Upgrading your cards will require spending “Rub Points” which you acquire by winning battles. And as I mentioned above, you wouldn’t want anyone catching you doing this. The rewards are great (upgraded stats, new abilities) but they didn’t need to implement that specific gimmick just to do so. Sure, it’s funny the first few times but it is really embarrassing and the developers could have  honestly offered to disable this. You can’t really finish the game and win the more difficult battles far into the game so this awkwardness is unfortunately forced to the player.

There is an online mode where you can battle other players but I was not able to find anyone when I tried it so I reserve my judgement on Monster Monpiece‘s online modes. One other weird thing about the game: it has the Vita’s screenshot feature disabled while playing the game. Hmm, I wonder why.

It’s a shame that Monster Monpiece’s fantastic gameplay is forever trapped in such a sketchy presentation. But if you can look past this (and do the upgrading when no one is around), the game offers solid strategic gameplay that anyone can enjoy.

Rubbed me the Right Way:

  • Gameplay is solid. Surprising amount of strategy involved.
  • Lengthy campaign but structured perfectly to play on the go.

Rubbed me the Wrong Way:

  • Forced gameplay mechanics that are not really needed.
  • The hentai factor.
  • Screenshot feature is disabled while playing the game for some reason.

Monster Monpiece

Developer: Compile Heart

Publisher: Idea Factory

Available for: PlayStation Vita (Digital)

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.

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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.

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.

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Do Not Fall (Run For Your Drink) is a platforming/puzzle game where you play as a Bunny who is trying to make healthy drinks like pineapple juice or water. Actually, I’m not so sure with the story either but that’s not really important. The goal of the game is to finish each level and reach the goal using platform jumping and dashing, puzzle solving, and unlocking doors by gathering the scattered keys in each level. Sounds easy but almost each tile that you step on breaks apart in roughly 1.5 seconds. Not to mention the various obstacles and annoyances (I don’t consider them enemies) that you have to evade or allow to fall to their deaths. There are also challenges in each level with certain conditions that can make the gameplay much more challenging.

You may have low expectations when you first look at the game (I know I certainly did) but when you get into the game, you’ll slowly realize that you’ve been playing it much longer than you scheduled yourself to. The game presents you with three modes: single-player, multiplayer and online. two Difficulty levels with Normal (two lives) and Hard (one life and things move around faster just a teeny tiny bit).

Do Not Fall (2)

Visually, the game looks good. Even with the bright and colorful graphics, you can still have a sense of depth from the background and the game’s main area. You’ll also be able to tell the depth of certain tiles if they are higher or lower (or maybe not if you’re panicking about the time limit). Character design looks plain and dated but that’s not really a problem for most people. There are some nice CG movies about the drinks but I don’t know why it’s there.

The game’s background music isn’t memorable but it isn’t annoying either. I can describe it as happy and relaxing but you might forget about it while playing the game itself. There’s no voice acting in the game aside from the standard dying scream and some “YEAH I’LL WIN!” words from the main characters. Sound effects like when your dash ability has returned are great and can be helpful to finish the levels.

The gameplay itself is actually pretty fun and frustrating at the same time, which is a good thing. The first levels are cake and may turn people off but as you progress, the game becomes more challenging with bigger levels of multiple depth and harder obstacles. There will be a lot of trial and error and a lot of deaths along the way which will piss you off and make you want to finish the game some more. I played the game mostly on normal mode because I wanted to enjoy the game more. Hard mode is pretty fun for people who want a challenge as the game becomes a little bit faster and checkpoints are gone. Each stage also has a challenge such as not getting hit by sheep, or collecting a certain amount of screws.

Do Not Fall (3)

Replayability is average because I feel that the game doesn’t have enough appeal for most people to continue playing it after they complete the game. Aside from the grading system of F to S, completing the challenges and bonus stages, I don’t think I would crave playing it for a long time. Multiplayer mode can be fun with real human beings but I wasn’t able to fully take advantage of it because I am a basement dweller and I only played with the very simple minded AI. There are 6 multiplayer modes that are based on Soccer, King of the Hill, Capture the Flag and others. There are also worldwide scores for competitive people and an online mode that may or may not have a community (currently).

For $10 on the PlayStation Network, this game is pretty fun and well worth the money especially if you want a nice happy fun game that can relax and slowly enrage and raise your competitive spirit. My main negative for the game comes from the fact that you can’t change the controller layout or even use the D-pad which would be great for this game.

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A few days ago, I received a request from a non-techie friend that I review a few good laptop sleeve options for her. I found it an odd request; and being the usual grumpy and lazy butthole that I am, I had the following review drafted for the past few days:

sleeve

Realizing that the above was not acceptable for print on this very blog, I decided to march forward and write a more appropriate review of the only laptop sleeve I own, the Gentlemen’s Hardware Laptop Sleeve for 13″ Laptops by Wild & Wolf.

This is a premium laptop sleeve; certainly for more refined tastes (aka hipster ballmonglers like myself) and it shows even in the packaging. A little over-the-top as it comes in a thick box made of recycled cardboard (natch), the packaging contains the sleeve and nothing else. It’s a sleeve. I’m fairly confident that 94% of its intented buying audience knows how to work magnetic clasps.

Gentlemens Hardware Laptop Sleeve (2)

Being that I have borderline-member-of-the-homosexual-community skills in color-coordinating, yes—the sleeve matches my room’s carpet and floor. At any rate, the quality of the stitching and materials is top-notch. The lower containing area is built of very convincing, durable-looking faux leather, interstitched with a grey felt top area. A brushed aluminum magnetic clasp is confined inside the apex of the “envelope,” hidden by the subtly-embossed branding.

Gentlemens Hardware Laptop Sleeve (1)

One caveat—the case is made for Macbook Pros. I own a Macbook Air; so my laptop actually doesn’t fit snug and flush inside. I’m fine with this as I usually chuck in my laptop’s charger and my laptop peripheral of choice, Microsoft’s excellent Arc Touch mouse.

Gentlemens Hardware Laptop Sleeve (4)
Overall, this sleeve (or any similarly-styled sleeves like it such as Incase’s Pathway) comes highly-recommended. I tend to stay away from brightly-colored neoprene sleeves as they tend to leave their nasty textile dyes on metal or plastic. One of my friends’ laptops now has a permanent shade of red thanks to this poor purchasing decision. Two thumbs up, because leaving a score for a freakin’ laptop sleeve is gauche.

bospds005Bangai-O was quite the prolific little bugger. It’s really quite the challenge to accurately describe the entire essence of the series without doing disservice to it. On one hand, it’s a straight shooter—it’s hardly as spastic as say, Treasure’s own Ikaruga or Radiant Silvergun though: progression is stunted, if not addled with ADD. On the other hand, one could describe it as a puzzler—but then again, it really isn’t. See, I’m truly at a loss as to how to accurately portray the Bangai-O series in words. Then again, I could just show you guys hilarious YouTube videos of the games’ intentionally awful Engrish cutscenes.

The game’s main set-up is elegantly simple: there’s no “story” or “campaign” mode per se—your only motivation is to see this thing through the end. “Free Play” mode contains all of the stages within the game, and you can actually beat any of the 104 levels within it in any order you may deem fit. Stages can be either one-screen challenges or even multi-screen, ten-minute scrolling stages, but the main idea is to blow up your enemies using your array of weapons (homing and bouncing missiles, break guns, and even a gigantic baseball bat), the explosive environments, or even with the help of the other baddies within the stage. That’s essentially it. The English language is ill-equipped with exclamatories that could convey the puerile satisfaction one feels during a good round of Bangai-O.

bospds002And the level-editing mode is something else. Remember how you used to spend hours crafting courses in Stunts! or Excitebike (only applies if you were a spergimus prime child like I was)? Guess what, you’ll probably spend hundreds of hours trying to craft the perfect Bangai-O level. Without hyperbole, you’ll probably have a lot more fun either trapping yourself within a screaming orgasm of explosive turrets and twitchy corridors or creating that perfectly-balanced deathmatch level for you and your friends to enjoy than any other fully-featured videogame in recent memory. And, if you’ve heard, you can upload levels to the PC by using the DS’ microphone port as a makeshift modem. I’ve been spoiled by getting content on my 3DS via QR code that I cannot help but salute Treasure’s ghetto ingenuity here.

Okay, the graphics could stand to be a bit less sparse. The soundtrack can even be better than the drab beats they crammed in. But based on the puerile fun I had on both ends of the game, how can I not forgive these superficial oversights? Bangai-O Spirits needs to be a part of your DS’ library.

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scr003While there’s no shortage of puzzle platformers on the DS, at 200 points on the eShop I think Color Commando is at least worth a look if you’re jonesing for a solid pick-up-and-play puzzler. The game’s premise is simple: all you need to do is get from point A to point B (whilst picking up bonus coins to unlock extra levels). The game’s opposition comes from neon blob-type monsters that veer menacingly—and somewhat mindlessly—back and forth across the environment.

One touch is enough to kill the game’s main character, but luckily there are conveniently-placed cans of equally-gaudy colored paint that he can use to splatter over the faux tableau that is the environment. This creates a safe zone for players to traverse should the monsters happen to be in that same spot as the paint, allowing the game’s unchristened main character to safely traipse across to the end goal.

Good Points

  • Solid platforming elements in the vein of Lode Runner; this game can get really hectic in the later levels.
  • Rad and beautiful pixel art fills the game’s (limited) environments, though some of the UI elements seem to pale in comparison to the main sprites.
  • The painting mechanics are truly unique and fit the game’s bright and saccharine color scheme well.

Bad Points

  • The game’s animation is rather choppy and reminds me of playing a low-rent Sachen game.
  • The unfortunate use of Comic Sans for most of the game’s typography and UI elements. That is all.

Things that can swing either way

  • I’ve encountered a few bugs here and there but nothing game-breaking; sometimes I would have enemies completely covered and they’d still get me.
  • There is no story whatsoever; the game straight up plops you through tutorial stages before proceeding to the game proper. Personally I tend to skip through story sequences in games but I think this may be a negative for some.
  • This game is really short. I was surprised that I blew through this game in an hour; but then again you can always go back and replay stages you missed coins on.

scr002Color Commando was a good distraction… while it lasted. And while I’m not bummed about the game’s limited playtime, I’d like to see maybe an episodic series of similar games out of this developer. Though the game’s main mechanic certainly does not have enough legs to sustain several sequels, I felt that the sparse amount of levels killed off the game’s momentum far too soon. The game certainly could have used a few more enemy designs, maybe another piece of music to shake things up between levels, and about double the levels to be a solid recommendation. Still, at a price less than what most folks pay for coffee… It’s not half-bad.

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59f5be0045125df0324731441501004d-20130215-0169I’ve been obsessed with the idea of being able to play portable versions of my favorite console fighting game series ever since I laid my eyes on Crawfish Interactive’s amazing Game Boy Advance port of Street Fighter Alpha 3 back in 2002. While fighting-game snobs may turn their noses at the mere idea of playing a compromised port on a handheld with inferior controls, I really never cared as I haven’t been anywhere near competitive in fighting games in the past decade. I’m sure the PlayStation Vita would have blown my mind back then—questionable controls aside, the handheld has been blessed with excellent ports of fighting games left and right; all of them achieving visual parity with their console or arcade cousins.

Gosh, I haven’t played a Guilty Gear game in what, five or six years? Somehow I feel that fact still shouldn’t make me grossly unqualified to review GGXXACPR (holy heck, that was an acronym, wasn’t it?) as the series has maintained a status quo of stability and balance, which stalwart developers Arc System Works have been the gatekeepers of. As such, Accent Core Plus R (originally released in arcades in late-2012) is the penultimate iteration of Guilty Gear XX, of which its roots trace back to its first recurrence back in 2002.

Good Points:

  • It’s a pixel-perfect port of the arcade Guilty Gear game running on your Vita’s five-inch screen.
  • This is a deep, balanced, and perfectly-tuned fighting game; very unforgiving but also rewarding if you choose to sink some real time.
  • The rockin’ metal soundtrack is pure cheese and bliss.

Bad Points:

  • Any fighting game worth its salt should have a dedicated tutorial mode to allow newbies to catch up with seasoned veterans. Simply having a “beat up the stoic CPU fighter” training mode is unacceptable in 2013.
  • The letterboxing is a necessary evil: it keeps the original arcade game’s aspect ratio (and therefore, gameplay ethos), but may be viewed as distracting or tacky by the average gamer.

Things That Can Swing Either Way:

  • Already discussed to death elsewhere, but the stunning omission of online kind of hurts this game’s reach and appeal. Personally, I don’t think that’s a reasonable request for a budget $14.99 release.
  • Guilty Gear‘s depth is a big catch-22 for this portable iteration: it’s not quite a pick-up and play experience and requires a modicum of concentration to even play at the same level as the AI.

ggxI’ll have to say, GGXXACPR doesn’t mess around, in spite of its unnecessarily-lengthy title. After going through the requisite attract mode animations, hitting “Start” on the title screen whisks you pretty much straight to the brawlin’, with minimal frills. This user-experience design is something that extends into its core gameplay, as the Guilty Gear series has always been known for its no-nonsense, quick bouts, with the stylized anime graphics and myriad of attack effects being mere window-dressing to the fundamentally deep core gameplay.

However, if this is your first Guilty Gear rodeo, fret not: overlapping the frenzied-yet-precise gameplay are core mechanics that should be second nature to anybody who’s played a fighting game post-Street Fighter II. Punches, kicks, and slashes are chained together with relative ease; and your standard quarter-circle-forward motions should produce fruitful results with a good chunk of the roster. The AI is tough but fair; something that newbie players will happily struggle with for a while. As a fighting-game scrub even the default, middle-of-the-road CPU difficulty made me sweat quite a few times; and when the machine’s reflexes bested me I hardly felt discouraged as the fights were fair-and-square.

There’s a reason I spent so much time ruminating on the AI, as I’m forseeing a lot of Accent Core Plus R players playing this game solo: the game actually has no online modes. Sure, ad-hoc play is an option, but the chances of finding a Vita owner carrying this title—much less a Vita owner, period—are very much slim to none. However, there are quite a few modes to play through here; including a full-fledged (by fighting game standards) Story Mode, Arcade, M.O.M. (think Survival Mode with loot), and a goal-based Mission Mode.

As I alluded to earlier, as someone who hasn’t picked up a Guilty Gear game in a while, my biggest gripe has to be Accent Core Plus R‘s complete lack of advanced documentation or tutorial modes. If you want to get anywhere near competitive in this game you have to watch YouTube videos, read FAQs, and maybe even purchase a guide or two. That’s so… 1999, and quite honestly I have zero desire to repeat the follies of my teenage years. This actually wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the first stage in the game’s Mission Mode didn’t require me to perform an Instant Kill; some sort of special move that the manual failed to adequately explain.

That inadequacy put aside, Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R is still a recommended purchase. The price is right: at $14.99 on the PlayStation Store there’s enough depth and gameplay modes here to last you for  a while.  It’s a pixel-perfect port in every sense of the word: unlike the franchise’s earlier efforts on the PSP, there are no graphical concessions here; so every colored dot on the screen and every single animation from the arcade version is intact.

Screenshot Gallery

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This is a Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate review from the perspective of a (real) gamer who never gave this game the time of day back when it was immensely popular on the PSP or the Wii version with online multiplayer.

For the huge monster hunter fans out there, the only reason one can overlook your beloved title is the sheer number of games one can play out there and the fact that Monster Hunter is proven as a HUGE time sink. The game is very challenging and requires a lot of time and dedication to master and progress (meaning get lots of loot to craft new weapons, armors, and all the little items in-between) in the game.

Good Points:

  • This is one of the more beautiful 3DS titles which does not suffer from low frame rates or affect your eyesight during extended hours of game-play. 
  • Solid real-time combat mechanics rewards players who master their weapon types and learn monster tells.
  • The game shines in multiplayer mode where up to four (4) players can team up to take down monsters efficiently and provide countless hours of fun.

Bad Points: 

  • No online play. Seriously, in this day and age, it’s a travesty to NOT have online multiplayer for this  kind of game.
  • Farming for rare loot can be extremely frustrating at times.

Things That Can Swing Either Way: 

  • Monster Hunter is a “loot game”. You will spend most of your waking hours in the game making a list of items you need for specific monsters or areas and then you will proceed to farm these monsters or resource points repeatedly until you acquire enough items to craft your gear. 
  • The game is a huge time sink. You can easily surpass 200 hours of game play or more when you’re going full completion mode (crafting all armor sets, weapons and their respective decorations – stat bonuses).
  • The game is not a pick-up-and-play kind of affair. Every game sessions requires you to at least hunt a monster four or more times to actually feel some progress (by means of crafting a new set of items). This of course doesn’t include the times when you fail a mission (no loot rewards when failing missions).

The Low-Down:

Monster Hunter is a real-time action RPG where you play the role of a Hunter in the Moga Village which gets ravaged by huge monsters time and again. Your job is to deal with capture or kill these monsters (the PETA’s worst nightmare). If you are expecting something along the lines of more recently released action games such as Metal Gear Rising, you are sorely mistaken. Your characters regardless of weapon type move rather slow in comparison to other action games. This is by no means a design flaw as the game emphasizes timing and moving efficiently a lot.

From attacking using the various weapon types (12 different weapons), using restoratives like potions, to setting bombs and traps, you will have to learn to time your movements and attacks to meet great success or you will find yourself sucking real hard in Monster Hunter.

While you start from simple gathering quests or small monster slaying missions, you will eventually work your way to fighting extremely huge monsters and you will find yourself fighting some of these monsters several times in succession when you’re trying to build a new weapon or set of armor. These monsters need to be attack in specific parts (such as their tail, wings, or a large horn, etc.) until it breaks so that you can either carve the broken part, or unlock the item drop when you complete the quest (and carve up the monsters for everything it’s worth). These little requirements actually spike the difficulty of each monster as you have to fulfill specific requirements to get those item drops. Mindlessly killing monsters without a goal is one of the most inefficient things you can do in Monster Hunter. Everytime you get new loot for crafting, the recipe show up in the blacksmith’s store so it’s always good to visit him after hunting a new monster or finding new loot.

The Zinogre: Meralco’s Avatar

There are key quests for both solo and multiplayer mode you need to fulfill in order to advance to higher Hunter Ranks (HR) to unlock new monsters and stronger equipment. This is how you reach the end game. The highest rank is the G rank where I am told the level of difficulty is insane. Monsters are faster and more powerful, rendering your ever-slow moving character at greater risk.

To sum it all up, it’s one big grinding game full of challenges and it plays in real-time so the grind isn’t mind-numbing and dumb. It’s challenging and can be rewarding or frustrating. This is the kind of game which really sells consoles. But if you think about it, it’s a little weird that some people would play the franchise over and over to beat the same monster and craft their sets or fight a monster not in their old game but released in another game on a different platform. But hey, it’s people like these who helped me learn the ways of Monster Hunter and with this, I have to say that I am looking forward to a Monster Hunter 4 (hopefully with a western release plan and online multiplayer).

It’s a Social Game in a way:

Not in the sense of The Sims or some Facebook game where you spam people to come join you in playing the game. You can actually benefit a lot from this game if you’re not a shut-in solo-playing doofus like most games would have us be and even in the cases of MMORPGs. It’s a great way of breaking the ice between groups of gamers who’ve never really met or bonded before (at least in my case).

The punishing mechanics of the game actually ensures that nobody tries to trip on each other or get someone killed because everyone suffers and wastes their time. A lot of the game information such as monster weaknesses, strengths, and drops are actually found on community sites where players share information on their game exploits with others. Without all these player driven initiatives, we’d be walking around like headless chickens.

Bugs Bunny is pissed!

But most of all, it’s a great experience to meet up with friends and new people, sit down and virtual-bond by sharing adventures, looting opportunities, have good laughs, and cringe in frustration (should you fail a mission). Then when reality kicks in (battery charge runs out, or over staying your welcome in some place), everyone can go grab a bite together, have drinks and what-have-you while talking about Monster Hunter or the other things in life.

Author’s Note:

I’m trying out a new review format to be more concise and prevent any tl;dr moments. Let us know if this kind of review hits the game’s spot on or not.

 

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It is known among the 30liv.es staff that I’m a fan of Atlus (Fatlus Friend) specifically for their SRPGs and their RPGs. As a matter of fact, I gobble up anything with “Shin Megami Tensei” or “Persona” because I’m just wired that way. Today I will review the recently released Figma figure of Aigis from the Persona 4 Arena (P4U The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena if you want to be anal about the Japanese version) fighting game.

Figma is a Japanese brand of collectible toys which can be posed. Initially, their items are generally limited to Japanese pop-culture (anime and video games mostly) but in recent years have expanded to western pop culture releasing  figures of iconic characters and personalities such as Robocop and even Michael Jackson. Anyway, on with the Figma #161 – Aigis The Ultimate Version. I’m no photographer so bear with me with the pictures (they’ll get better with the next toy reviews, I promise). In the mean time, click on the pictures to view larger versions.

The packaging like any other Figma figure is pretty standard outside the Jack Frost seal (upper left corner) certifying that this is an officially licensed product by Atlus.

Aigis Ultimate 1

The back portion of the box shows various ways you can pose the figure.

Aigis 2

The figure comes with the following accessories: two (2) face types, one (1) visor, one (1) Gatling gun w/ muzzle fire, one (1) canon, one (1) missile launcher, five (5) pairs of hands (like most Figmas), the usual figure stand and a plastic pouch to keep all your accessories in.

Aigis 3

One of the things I really like about this version of Aigis is the proportions of the body and the facial features in general compared to the previous Aigis Figma. Below is a comparison of the two Aigis figures and I threw in Metis for the lulz. The Aigis ultimate version is obviously a much smaller figure but with Figmas and Revoltechs, you don’t really get to complain about their size because these are non-scale figures and highly detailed posable 6 inch+ figures are quite rare and expensive.

Aigis 10

There really isn’t much to be said about this figure if you’re not a fan of Persona 3 or P4 Arena but it’s a good piece to start with if you want to collect Aigis figures as it’s easily one of the cheapest and nicest looking figures out there. The fun part about collecting a toy series like Figmas, Revoltechs or even Nendroids is the fact that you can interchange parts and accessories to form all sorts of crazy combinations (if done properly would look nice, if not, would just be downright creepy) or have nice cross over toy displays.

I pre-ordered this figure from Great Toys Online and guess what? They actually announced a price drop on their figures because the peso is fairing better compared to the Yen lately. An alternate colored Aigis Ultimate version is also available from Great Toys Online though it might be more expensive as it’s a limited edition series.

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Like all “when-the-world-ends” gear, these are only relevant when you survive the initial impact of whatever  disaster of cataclysmic proportion occurs on Earth or just simply your country or city. What this special series of gadget/survival gear reviews aims to do is to find relevant and not overpriced products you probably want around you should the world collapse tomorrow. Our first product for surviving the apocalypse is the Pensonic USB-Copy Star radio as seen on Lazada.com.ph .

Features:

For P749.00 the Pensonic Copy Star is pretty loaded with FM/AM/SW1/SW2 radio frequency receivers, MP3/WMA playback via USB or SD Card, direct to USB or SD Card recording, multiple power sources (built in rechargeable battery, DC power plug, and battery powered by 3 Heavy D size batteries), LED Flashlight, siren alarm button, and a jack for headphones.

Overview:

Peen 7
That’s a handful.

The Pensonic Copy Star is quite a big device compared to what people are used to these days. As a matter of fact, it’s actually larger than an actual brick. This is no state-of-the-art device either. Rather, it’s a mix of legacy technology with more modern features such as the USB/SD Card recording, music playback, rechargeable battery, and the LED flashlight… because LED flashlights did not exist back in the 80’s where this device would have been mind-blowing.

While the entire device is made from a plastic material, it has good weight on it and seems durable enough to withstand travel or an occasional improvisation as a blunt weapon. Sadly, it will only work to stun or daze humans or animals. It is quite useless against the walking dead or robots controlled by Skynet. With this, bear in mind that the Pensonic Copy Star is a support device so any sort of offensive power rating is moot.

Radio Signal Reception:

Like most legacy devices, radio reception isn’t exactly good at least for those who have never used a radio back in the day. You’ll have to search for a good spot to set the radio down and adjust the antenna to get good reception… yes kids, there was a time when there were these abominable attachments even on cell phones that totally ruined a gadget’s form factor. Luckily, radios normally had retractable antennae.  The quality of the radio programs really depend on how strong their signal and your geographical location but overall, I was able to find decent signal for any radio station.

Digital Music Playback and Recording: Peen 8

The Copy Star is able to play MP3 and WMA file formats. Unfortunately, it is unable to play MP4 files so migrating your songs from iTunes is going to take an extra step in your apocalypse prepping. The recording function of the radio is actually just a record from (built-in) microphone so if you’re recording  something from the radio and a vendor passes by your house shouting “TAHOOOOO!”, that’s probably going to come out in the playback. All files are recorded in a layered MP3 format.

There is no LED/LCD panel to navigate your files on the USB and the instruction manual is pretty straight forward about it: when recording multiple tracks on your thumb drive or SD card, the copy star follows a last-in, first-out process. Meaning your playlist will always play the last track you recorded first and bump the older ones down. This play order can be rearranged on a computer, something you probably won’t have post-apocalypse. This is certainly a drag but then again, I think it’s safe to say that your Pensonic radio is going to be immune from Skynet.

I do have to point out that USB 3.0 thumb drives DO NOT work on this device. But any type of USB 2.0 thumb drive works just fine.

Peen 3Recharging and Battery Life:

On average we’re looking at 12-18 hours of function for the radio and approximately 8-12 hours of music playback via USB or SD card. It’s worth noting that there is no warning light indicating low battery life. The best signs are the following: radio reception and volume becomes weak, and your music playback via flash storage just stops working (one of our reviewers lamented that the device broke down so quickly, but it was just at the end of it’s battery life.)  You will not be able to use the flashlight as well when it is already low on juice.

Sound Quality:

Being quite a bit of an audiophile, to me the sound is really plain and for the price of the product it’s to be expected. What I can tell you is the sound is audible and quite clear at low volumes. Jacking up the volume turns it into an exploding nightmare of distortion though. Sticking in a good set of headphones barely helps in improving sound quality. Don’t expect to be able to kick out some jams and get people to bob their heads and groove to your digital mix tape… at least until you end up with the last working music playing device in the world.

So how is this relevant in a post-apocalyptic event?

In the event society breaks down, the basic commodities we take for granted such as electricity will become scarce. Following that is an immediate communication breakdown at least in terms of anything online and possibly telecommunications via land line and cellular phones eventually. You will need some sort of access to public information and radio will be one of the last forms of mass communication standing because you technically just need one person to operate it. Being able to receive short wave frequencies is also a plus as it is the most portable form of radio broadcasting and will likely be the last bastion of  mass communication and you will want to be in the know of what’s happening around you. Without the radio, John Connor wouldn’t have been able to gather the remaining human survivors to rise up against Skynet and its terminators.

When the power runs out on all your modern Li-ion powered gadgets it will be nice to have something battery powered around. You can at least make supply runs for batteries to extend the functional life of a radio, music player, back-up flashlight, and even an early warning device or decoy to lure zombies away from you ( remember the siren / alarm button). Should it ever come to your untimely demise *knock on wood* you can with your last breath leave a note or even a journal for people to remember you by (if there are any other survivors that is) by recording you exploits, day to day activities, or last stand with a preemptive epitaph.

However, should the world fall into the crapper with a worldwide EMP outburst, the Pensonic Copy Star will be nothing more than a brick, a fairly hazardous blunt weapon.

So the world didn’t end, what do I do with this now?

The Pensonic Copy Star is still a great travel radio and music player for those nights at the beach or just simply getting smashed in a remote location without any power outlet and places where expensive gadgets have a high probability of being stolen. You can also be a “hipster” and ironically re-live the days of the mixed tape where you painstakingly wait for good songs on the radio and record them. While highly impractical because people can (be filthy pirates and) just download songs online, spontaneity still has it’s own charm. It’s also possible to record the occasional funny radio ad or annoying DJ’s program and spread it among your peers and friends in your social network. Who knows, it might even go viral.

Pensonic devices have a service center in Manila located at the G-Max Service Center. #606 Evangelista corner G. Puyat street, Quiapo, Manila and their service hotline is (02) 733-2851 should you actually have problems with your Copy Star (we had none so far in a week of non-stop testing.)

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Earlier this week, the Nintendo eShop released the Castlevania – Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate demo and I gave it a go. The demo was short but gave me a very clear picture of what I would expect from the first Castlevania game for the 3DS: The mechanics of the full 3D environment Lords of Shadow (on the Xbox 360 and PS3) on a side-scrolling platformer.

Mirror of Fate is the bridge between the first Lords of Shadow and  upcoming Lords of Shadow 2 focusing on the “origins” story of several key characters in the Belmont bloodline. The story is a hate or love  kind of thing to me as it will shake up what you already know of Castlevania prior to the reboot.

The game is divided into four (4) episodes and characters to play as. However, these characters are technically the same and vary slightly only with their magic skills and secondary weapons. All characters wield a Combat Cross (aka The Whip) and have the same list of moves while their magic skills are mostly utilized as a tool for exploration more than a combat necessity.

You don’t pick up loot, there are no restoratives, there are no variety of weapons, armor, and accessories to find and equip. The only things you search for are power-ups to extend your health bar, magic bar, secondary weapon ammunition, dead soldier scrolls and bestiary scrolls for game completion.

Share new abilities through character lineage – Gamers pass on their characters’ newfound abilities in each era and discover the true destiny of the Belmonts.

– Konami Website

SS2
Hit and run is all you will be doing towards the end of the game. Standing like this (no matter how cool it looks) will only get you killed.

The “ability sharing feature” is quite laughable as the only ability that is truly passed on is “double jump” and the whip skills. Magic skills and secondary weapons are not shared between characters.

Truth be told, I only found myself using a very limited number of abilities through-out the game namely: Double Jump, Rolling, Counter Guard, and pressing the “Y” button 2-4 times or the “X” button 2-4 times for attacking. While there are several whip moves, I never felt the need to learn any of them at all.

All boss fights are fought on a flat surface and the key to winning is learning their limited attack patterns and keeping your distance while your Combat Cross (with insanely long reach) does all the work. It is rare to fight a boss which requires you to do some platforming, as a matter of fact I can just remember one boss fight which involved something other than rolling out of the way or jumping over the enemy.

There are no save points in the game as it utilizes a checkpoint system where the game auto-saves when you reach certain points and even in the middle of boss fights. While this reduces the frustration of dying tremendously, it doesn’t make platforming and boss fights as rewarding as it should be or challenging for that matter.

Skeleton Soldier
Play like a chump and you will come to hate even these lowly skeleton soldiers

What I can appreciate about the combat in Mirror of Fate is the fact that even the lowliest monsters will not tolerate a sloppy player. Hit and run is a thing in this game because putting yourself in range of monsters and not caring if you get hit or not is very punishing in this game. You cannot “out rank” monsters in terms of stats because there are none. To me, this is a welcome addition but fans of the Nintendo DS Castlevania games might disagree.

Platforming in this game is quite lenient as it was in the original Lords of Shadow. There are a lot of ledges to hang on and jump from. There will be swinging with the combat cross which is just a simple press of the “R” button when the hook is visible on screen. The moves look really nice but they really are not much of a challenge.

While the level of detail on the characters and environments are arguably one of the best I’ve seen on the 3DS, the game suffers from low frame rates especially when there are several moving elements on screen. While these drops in frame rates do not cause “lag-death” it is very straining on the eyes and tends to make playing for more than 30 minutes uncomfortable.

cutscene
Blood, gore, and cartoons! Wait, what?

Cut scenes have full voice acting and are presented in a cell-shaded animation style. They look really good on 3D mode but you will notice their lips aren’t synced with the character lines. As a matter of fact, they hardly move at all! It’s not a big issue but it does take away a certain level of immersion. Also, turning cartoony on the cut scenes just seems wrong to me. I would rather they keep the things consistent.

The music of the game is nice and sublime. It fits the mood of the game but I do miss the memorable and catchy tunes from previous Castlevania games which make you just want to linger on in a certain spot and listen to the music.

Seeing all the technical issues and limitations, we might be seeing this game pushing the 3DS’ hardware to the limit which isn’t exactly a good sign because Castlevania: Mirror of Fate is a very short game. I’ve clocked in over 8 hours of playing time to finish the game on normal mode with 80% of the game explored. The next step is playing the “Hardcore” difficulty setting unlocked after finishing the game once and to get 100% to unlock an extra cut scene and that’s that. I suppose you could push your playing time to about 20 hours maximum with consideration of dying more frequently due to a higher difficulty setting. Twenty hours is not the amount of game time I come to expect from a Castlevania title on the handheld. I am worried that this is as much content as we can expect should there be another Castlevania for a handheld console, the bar should be set higher compared to Mirror of Fate. I hope this is technically possible.

In conclusion, I like the direction Castlevania is going for the handhelds in general but this is still a work in progress as Konami is far from reaching that sweet spot that old and potential new fans of the series will all be able to appreciate. If you’re expecting “Symphony of the Night”, you will be disappointed. But if you’re a fan of the first Lords of Shadow or similar games such as God of War, and you’re in to 2-D platforming, you might consider picking up this game but I wouldn’t go as far as telling you this is a must-have for the 3DS.