Salt and Sanctuary
Publisher: Ska Studios (2016)
Rating: Mature (violence, blood and gore, partial nudity)
Review contributed by DaHeckIzDat of the RPG Crew and edited by the VGC.
If you combined Dark Soul
s (PS3, 2011) with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
(PS1, 1997) you'd end up with something like Salt and Sanctuary (S&S), an obscure download-only game combining strong elements of both. You play as a sailor whose ship is attacked by a sea monster and wakes up on the shore of a mysterious fog-enshrouded island. You must then venture forth to... rescue a princess or something.
The game puts very little effort into the story but gives you ample freedom to explore. S&S is an open world side-scrolling platformer with branching pathways blocked either by locked doors or high-level enemies. The graphics are rendered in two dimensions but are no less haunting for it, conveying a isolated, abandoned feeling like Silent Hill
(PS1, 2000). Characters appear somewhat Muppet-like up close but usually the camera remains at a safe distance. It's possible to fall vertically out of one area and into another, and the lack of a map makes getting lost easier than it should be. The ambient soundtrack features minimalistic guitar riffs while exploring and expansive gothic choirs during boss fights. The combat is faster than Dark Souls but it still utilizes a stamina gauge to limit your attacks, blocks, and dodges. A wide range of weapons includes swords, spears and bows, allowing you dictate how you want to play the game. Sanctuaries act as save points and are filled with NPCs who sell items, upgrade weapons, or warp you to other sanctuaries. Killing monsters earns you salt which is spent to level up. Dying costs you your salt, and you have to return and avenge your death to reacquire it. Yes, the game is clearly using the Dark Souls formula. The high difficulty kept me on edge but the boss fights can be an exercise in frustration, mainly due to shoddy mechanics. Dodging in a 2D plane isn't very effective when bosses engage in long, sweeping attacks. More often than not I found myself standing still and blocking every hit, anxiously waiting for an opening to attack. While not as fine-tuned as Dark Souls or as accessible as SotN, Salt and Sanctuary is still a solid and challenging adventure that should appeal to fans of the games that inspired it. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Yacht Club Games (2015)
Few download-only games graduate to the world of physical media but Shovel Knight is truly deserving. On the surface this "8-bit platformer" is a loving homage to the NES era, offering addictive 2D action with retrograde graphics and audio. But this friendly, whimsical adventure is far more than that. Shovel Knight boasts more charm and imagination that any modern title in recent memory. Its low-resolution cut-scenes with scrolling text are refreshing and fun. A map screen lets you choose your path, gradually unlocking new areas and side quests. Villages allow you to upgrade, purchase items, and converse with townsfolk. The controls are dead-on. Shovel Knight can whack enemies with his shovel or bounce on them like a pogo stick. He'll face rats on propellers, bubble-blowing dragons, skeletons, wizards, and knights of all flavors. In an era where most publishers are too cheap to include proper instructions, the 40+ page glossy illustrated manual is a real treat. The layered backgrounds are rendered with pastel colors to produce some truly striking images. The lush opening stage not only features excellent Mega Man-style music, but a majestic palace in the background offers a tantalizing forshadowing of things to come. One stage is clearly modeled after Castlevania with its shadowy gothic scenery and ghostly adversaries. The water stage is probably the best of its kind. Instead of slowing things to a crawl, the water alleviates gravity to let you leap exceptionally high. There are innovations all over the place, like platforms that "blast off" when you hit their switch or snail shells that wildly bounce around the screen while clearing obstacles. Losing a life costs you one-fourth of your gold (a fair trade-off) and saving occurs automatically on the map screen. The MIDI soundtrack offers a fine selection of heroic, toe-tapping tunes. Shovel Knight is not the kind of game you expect to play on your Playstation 4, and thank goodness!
The fact that this is available at a bargain price is just icing on the cake. Buy this game now!!
Note: Also available for the Wii U and 3DS. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Skullgirls 2nd Encore (Japan)
Publisher: Autumn Games (2015)
I purchased Skullgirls thinking it was some kind of Halloween game but that's not really the case. It may have occult undertones but the game really isn't that creepy. Still, the graphics are appealing with bright, stylish anime visuals. The character roster includes a lot of freaky dudes and scantily-clad females. There's a nurse named Valentine, an Egyptian Queen named Eliza, and a robot ninja named R. Fortune. Cerebella is a chick with huge mechanical arms on her head
and Painwheel is an undead girl armed with spinning blades. Of the few male characters Peacock looks like something from a black-and-white Looney Tunes cartoon and Big Band is a behemoth with a marching band under his trenchcoat. The first time I played Skullgirls I made the mistake of choosing a shape-shifter named Double and I had no [expletive] clue what the hell was going on. All of the characters change forms extensively, and the battles amount to pure chaos with objects flying, people disappearing, and fighters constantly morphing. The imaginative stages have an artistic, oil-painted look. They incorporate brilliant skylines, mysterious city streets, a glitzy casino, and an opulent Egyptian temple. The electronic music during the battles is great, but the jazzy "showtime" menu music is cheesy. What really hurts Skullgirls is a lack of progression. Despite a wide range of modes (story, survival, arcade) the game doesn't record your accomplishments or high scores. You just unlock art and maybe rank into the online leaderboard (good luck with that). In survival mode your health doesn't even recharge between stages. My friend Brent and I gave the versus mode a try and our conversations were hilarious. "Did I do that or you?" "I don't even know who I am!" Skullgirls 2nd Encore has a fresh style but its gameplay made me feel like I wasn't in on the joke. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Soul Calibur VI
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2018)
The first Soul Calibur
(Dreamcast, 1999) set the bar pretty high for 3D fighters but its numerous sequels have felt much less inspired. With Soul Calibur VI Bandai Namco clearly has no idea where to go with this franchise. The game gets off on the wrong foot, forcing you to sift through a hundred pages of EULA whether you're playing online or not. This garbage has to stop because it's ruining gaming. The primary mission mode is a miserable exercise in paging through boring text and Crayola-quality illustrations. Fates intertwined... consumed by evil... astral fissure... whatever!
I never liked the create-your-own character concept because you always end up with some generic chump. This mode is so poorly designed I couldn't figure out how to quit
and had to restart the entire game to do so!
The story mode is similar but features actual characters from the game. Buried in the main menu is an arcade mode but even that is botched. Most of the 20 playable characters will be familiar to fans, including Astaroth, Voldo, Maxi, Cervantes, Yoshimitsu, Ivy, and Sophitia. The character models look pretty good... by PS3 standards
. The perfectly-curved females look so artificial - like wax figures. Stage locations feature some wondrous sights like temples, ports, and rolling hills. If only you could see
them! For some inexplicable reason they are blurred out!
The fighting action is respectable with tight controls and some brutal combinations. There's no blood but it's still painful to watch the mighty Astaroth stomp all over poor little Xianghua. Occasionally the game kicks into a slow-motion sequence culminating in some kind of rock-paper-scissors clash. I find it annoying how when a fighter is teetering on the edge of a cliff some kind of invisible barrier prevents them from falling off. It feels so 1998. The matches are now best of five, which drags things out something awful. When you lose a match in arcade mode you can just quit or start over. There's no score or sense of progression, making it feel like a waste of time. Bandai Namco really "mailed it in" with Soul Caliber VI, and I'm still waiting for them to reimburse me for my time spent scrolling through that God-forsaken EULA. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars Battlefront
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2015)
Rating: Teen (violence)
Battlefront immerses you in the Star Wars universe like few games can. In addition to revisiting memorable locations from the original trilogy, you can assume the roles of characters like Han Solo, Leia, Darth Vader, and Boba Fett. You'd expect the Emperor to kick ass, yet his ability to wield lightning is surprisingly limited. The most notable aspect of Battlefront is its graphics. The visuals are so photo-realistic that when R2-D2 rolls across the title screen you think you're watching a video clip. Likewise the sweeping musical score and memorable sound effects are used to excellent effect. Characters toss out amusing lines but it's fairly obvious they are not voiced by the original actors. Although noted for its online play, the PS4 edition of Battlefront does include some offline action. Five exciting training modes let you fly an X-wing through the canyons of Tatooine, ride a speeder-bike on Endor, and even participate in the epic battle of Hoth. Unfortunately these missions highlight the game's non-intuitive controls. The first time you play you'll have no idea what's going on. The button functions are a mystery and flying controls feel reversed. Using a tow cable to bring down an AT-AT walker inexplicably requires you to manipulate some squirrelly golf meter!
I did enjoy locking onto Tie fighters while dogfighting, and weaving around trees and ducking under logs on a speeder bike is quite thrilling. Battle mode lets you engage in ground warfare against computer-controlled bots. You can also play with/against a friend locally (split-screen) or online. I noticed a few quality control issues. The distance markers are so tiny you can barely read them. Also, I wish the game consistently assigned red and blue colors to the imperial and rebel sides. The environments look absolutely sensational, especially Hoth with its powdery ridges and inviting blue ice caves. Other locations include dusty Tatooine and the rainy jungle of Endor. Survival mode pits you against waves of increasingly difficult enemies. These local modes are nice but they are no sustitute for a full-blown campaign/story. In fact, they feel like an appetizer for the online play. I wasn't impressed with the online stuff at first, but sure enough I got hooked. These massive battles have the look and feel of an epic movie scene, although my slow Comcast connection resulted in some herky-jerky animation. There's a wide variety of scenarios to choose from, combining ground and air combat. Most are team-oriented so even if you're awful no one will notice. Overall Star Wars Battlefront looks like a million bucks yet doesn't feel like a fully-realized title. That said, it makes you feel like you're in a Star Wars movie, and that's worth a lot. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ubisoft (2016)
Rating: Teen (language)
No, Steep is not a game about making tea, but that's an honest mistake. I'm always up for a good snowboarding title but was dismayed to discover this game requires you to be connected to Ubisoft servers at all times
. They don't really advertise that fact, and the tiny "requires Internet connection" blurb on the packaging might be the understatement of the year. Once you register your account and curse Ubisoft under your breath you're obliged to sit through a time-consuming connection process. My friend Brent inquired in disbelief "You have to go through this every time you play the game?!"
As I've always said, if a game requires permission from a remote server to play, you don't even own the game. I tried to make the best of a bad situation but things were about to get a whole lot worse. The premise of Steep is free exploration of an expansive mountain range via skis, a snowboard, wingsuit, or paraglider. The lack of structure is supposed to be a good thing, but Steep is a disorganized mess. There are objectives scattered all over the place but little sense of progression. You can use binoculars to scout out new locations, but what's the point when you can just access the overhead map? The game itself is a colossal bore. There's no sense of speed whatsoever - even when soaring headfirst down a cliff in a wingsuit. While skiing or snowboarding it feels like you're just going through the motions while weaving around trees and rocks. The narrator's insistence that "This is our time!
This is living!
" is a little hard to swallow when you're wedged in a crevasse. I can't believe the game gave me credit for finding "points of interest" and "memorable moments" considering I never noticed anything even vaguely interesting. The featureless, repetitive slopes must be generated by some kind of algorithm. We Ski
(Wii, 2008) had more to see. The controls are terrible. Figuring out how to come to a stop is a never-ending challenge. During one ski run I found myself turned around and and couldn't figure out how to face forward again. In paraglider and wingsuit mode your character tends to obstruct your view, which is especially annoying during "proximity challenges." The parts of the game where you're flying through hoops rekindled painful memories of Superman
(Nintendo 64, 1999). If there's a point to playing Steep it was completely lost on me. I'd rather watch tea leaves sit in hot water. At least there's a payoff. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Capcom (2016)
Rating: Teen (mild language, suggestive themes, violence)
Are we really only up five?
I'm pretty sure I own at least 25 Street Fighter games! Anyway, in terms of pure fighting prowess Street Fighter V is second to none. The fighting engine is deep, layered, and finely tuned. If you peek into its 450-page strategy guide you'll come to realize that every frame of animation (60 per second) is significant. Street Fighter V is the "chess" of fighting games, and you could probably design a college course around its engine. Fortunately you don't need to be an expert to enjoy the game. Heck, I'm still a little hazy on the new V-systems. But it's fun to beat up on friends in versus mode, and the controls feel so good it makes me want to blow my money on an expensive joystick. The stylized character models feature exaggerated attributes consistent with the traditional illustrated Street Fighter style. Chun Li looks cute in her new policewoman outfit and Dhalsim now sports a gray beard. The artistic stages are teeming with activity but lacking in memorable detail. The 16-character roster (all unlocked) features familiar faces like Ken, Ryu, Chun Li, Cammy, Vega, Dhalsim, Zangief, and M. Bison. Die-hard fans will recognize more obscure characters like Birdie, Mika, and Karin. Nash is Charlie with a Frankenstein makeover. The four new characters include a middle-eastern named Rashid and the creepy magician F.A.N.G. Laura is a curvy Latina and Necalli is a dreadlocked savage with moves like the old Thunder Hawk. Critics have lamented the lack of single-player modes in Street Fighter V and they have a point. The shallow story mode consists of a handful of super-easy fights tied together by "stories" that barely even qualify as fully-formed ideas. Your other option is the survival mode, which at first glance seems like the only mode you'll ever need. You maintain a single life bar through a series of one-round matches, purchasing "battle supplements" between bouts to recover health or increase an attribute like attack power. I'm grateful high scores are recorded offline for all characters and skills levels, but I still miss an old-fashioned arcade mode. I just like the idea of facing every character once in best-of-three matches with fresh life bars. When you're spending points every three matches just to replenish your life, it feels like you're treading water. The online action is exciting if you have enough patience. It's time-consuming to set up a match and for some reason the game forces me use my favorite character (Ryu). Several items of the main menu prompt the message "coming in March". Street Fighter V definitely has enough cylinders under the hood, but there's something to be said for releasing a game when it's actually done. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Surf World Series
Publisher: Vision Games (2017)
While scouring Amazon for a surfing game I discovered this one lurking in the proverbial bargain bin. Surf World Series doesn't make a great first impression. The tutorial takes place in a wave pool (!) with graphics reminiscent of a PS2 title. Lessons about carving waves and riding inside "the curl" are easy to digest at first, but advanced lessons needlessly pile up the complicated tricks. I've been playing this game for weeks and still don't get the convoluted trick system. Events are short and sweet, set in exotic locations around the world. So why are these locations only identified by three-letter codes like BRA, PRT, and RSA? Would it kill them to spell out "Brazil"?! I mean, there's enough room on the screen! Despite the so-so graphics I did enjoy the different time-of-day and weather conditions. Timed events challenge you try to reach a target score while completing optional side quests. Once you get the hang of it the game really isn't that difficult. In fact, it's kind of hard to wipe out! What really bothers me are the boring, predictable wave patterns. Real surfers spend a lot of time looking for just the right wave, but here you might as well be back at the wave pool. I also dislike events that require you to perform specific stunts "perfectly", making it easy to get stuck. This game is too mechanical and I'm always forgetting how to execute some elaborate maneuver. There's also a lack of geography. You're always staring out towards the ocean, never getting a view of your exotic surroundings. The only hint of surfer culture is the laid-back music which I have to admit is pretty darned good. But Surf World Series didn't make me feel like a surfer; it made me feel like a guy sitting on a couch mashing buttons. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Tales of Zestiria
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2015)
Rating: Teen (Alcohol Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence)
Review contributed by DaHeckIzDat of the RPG Crew and edited by the VGC.
If there's one thing you could always count on from the "Tales of" series of Japanese RPGs, it's a great story. So what happens when you take that away? Tales of Zestiria, sadly. The hero is Sorey, a young man raised by the angelic seraphim who leaves his peaceful mountaintop home to face a demonic plague in the world below. With his pure heart and spiritual abilities Sorey becomes a legendary figure prophesied to bring the world into an age of light. While previous Tales games featured complex storylines with ample twists and turns, Zestiria settles for the most cliched, predictable "chosen one" narrative imaginable. Sorey comes off as the world's biggest goody-two-shoes and the supporting cast is equally bland. Cutscenes drag because no one has anything interesting to say, and even the voice actors sound disinterested. I made an effort to enjoy this, but it's just… so… boring!
Little else has changed from previous games, with real-time combat that uses O for physical attacks and X for magic. You can map various thumbstick and button combinations but enemies tend to be pushovers so button mashing will suffice. The camera remains behind you during battle, making it hard to judge the distance between you and enemies. The back of the box boasts of an open world adventure, but that's a bit of a misnomer. The over-world has indeed been opened up considerably but there's nothing to do but run between cities. I consider myself a fan of the Tales series but it's hard to ignore the shortcomings of Zestiria, especially without a strong storyline to hold the experience together. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2017)
Tekken 7 received glowing reviews over the summer, leaving me to wonder what all the fuss was about. Besides its high definition graphics, has this game changed at all
since the original Tekken
(PS1, 1995)? It's still a one-on-one 3D slugfest with a button assigned to each limb. The selection of fighters includes old favorites like Law, Paul, Kazuya, and Jack. I always preferred King, despite the fact that his cat head is too small for his body. Nina now comes decked out in a tattered wedding dress, Kazumi can summon a ghostly tiger, and Heihachi plays the obligatory villain. New entries include a hulking robot named Gigas who can catch an opponent in mid-air and throw him around like a rag doll! I was also surprised to see Akuma of Street Fighter fame. The remaining fighters seem to exist to meet some kind of diversity quota. The character models are sharp but robotic compared to the Street Fighter series. The realistic stages include some really dull locations like an endless sandbar, a volcano, and a mountain top. I did enjoy the helipad stage which overlooks a city skyline at night, and the stage featuring a platform surrounded by robotic arms is also impressive. The fights are action-packed thanks to crisp controls, imaginative attacks, and flashy effects. One new wrinkle is the "rage art" ability, but since there are no instructions figuring out how that works is an exercise left to the reader. The modes and player statistics are divided into online and offline categories. I like the concept but the offline selection didn't excite me. The story mode is so long-winded I could not stand
it! The arcade mode uses employs some kind of "kyu progression" system I didn't understand. What ever happened to keeping score? Oh sure you win gold coins to unlock bunny ears and sunglasses but who the hell cares?!
Tekken 7 is technically sound but it fails to offer the player compelling reasons to play. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (2018)
The original Tempest was a 1981 vector-graphic arcade hit that used a unique dial controller. The idea was to move a shooting claw around the perimeters of large geometric objects, blasting aliens crawling in from the distance. You could rapidly fire shots while strafing the lanes, and when you felt overwhelmed just unleash a "super-zapper" to obliterate everything on the screen. Its sequel Tempest 2000
(Jaguar, 1994) served as the flagship title of the Atari Jaguar console. It took the classic gameplay to new heights with psychedelic backdrops, power-ups, more stages, and catchy techno music. Tempest 4000 is surprisingly similar - even reusing the same soundtrack! Maybe that's not a bad thing. The rumbling intro really gets your blood pumping and the shooting mayhem is pure arcade fun. Using the thumbstick to navigate the perimeter feels inexact but is probably better than digital control. Holding down X engages rapid-fire but your shots feel intermittent until you upgrade your firepower. Obtain the "AI droid" and you'll get a robot who shoots by your side, doubling the destruction. Tempest 4000 does add a few new twists. Enemies are now seen approaching from the distance even before they reach firing range. There are more shapes to shoot, and they tend to burst into crazy pyrotechnics. When you die the stage doesn't reset, but instead drops you back into the current level with enemies now teeming along the edge. It's a little unfair, especially if you don't have the "jump" power-up. Between stages you travel through a space tunnel while trying to remain centered for bonus points, but it's nothing special. Tempest 4000 offers three modes of play, but you'll have to figure out the difference between them on your own because there's no [expletive] manual. The "classic mode" has so much flashing colors and distorted visuals it's sensory overload. Random messages like "PLEASURE" and "YES YES YES" make you feel like you're indulging in some sort of perverted fantasy. The game records high scores locally, and I love having the current high displayed at the top of the screen. For a longtime fan like myself Tempest 4000 is slightly underwhelming, but if you haven't experienced Tempest before you're in for quite a trip. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: HB Studios (2014)
It may lack the big-budget production values of Rory McIlroy PGA Tour
(Xbox One, 2015), but The Golf Club is a lot less aggravating. Instead of making you sit through a lengthy install/update process, the game just starts right up! What is this, the 80's?! There's no forced tutorials - just a well-designed menu with all the essential options. I was out on the links in no time, enjoying tantalizing views of rolling hills, sparkling lakes, lush foliage, and majestic mountain peaks. The game doesn't tell you how to play, but that's okay because Golf Club is intuitive. Swinging with the right stick feels natural enough and unlike other analog swing implementations, there's no meter. You'll need to experiment to figure out how to adjust your power, and during approach shots it's really easy
to overshoot the green. You need to do a lot of math in this game and applying backspin is kind of a mystery. The camera angles that follow the ball are exciting and offer breath-taking views of your surroundings. The action moves along at a steady pace so you can play a whole round in about a half hour. The player and courses are fictional, but a course editor lets you generate and edit random courses, so in theory you have an infinite selection. I loved its streamlined design but there are times when The Golf Club feels like amateur hour. The one-man commentator sounds less like a sportscaster and more like a drinking buddy. His remarks are so annoying and shallow that I shut him off. Another irritation is having to wait for the camera to swing around before I can line up my next shot. I enjoy the Friday Night Lights-style soundtrack but some of the natural sounds could use some work. Is that static emanating from my back speakers supposed to be a brook?
PGA fans will probably opt for Rory McIlroy, but if you don't take your golf too seriously The Golf Club should suit you just fine. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2016)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, language, violence)
It's not easy to stand out in the competitive field of first-person shooters (FPS), yet Titanfall 2 manages to feel fresh and original. Your character has unprecedented agility by FPS standards, and your ability to battle from inside of a robotic mech adds a whole new dimension. I passed up on the original Titanfall because it was online only, but Titanfall 2 offers a monumental single-player campaign. I can't get over how good this game looks and feels. The animation is fluid, the controls tight, and the graphic quality outstanding. The first-person shooting feels instantly comfortable as you target enemy soldiers, flying drones, and dinosaur-like wildlife. I love how helmets pop off when you shoot enemies in the head. Weapon loadouts have multiple capabilities, and while they seem complicated at first, it's fun to experiment with them. I got a kick out of the gravity grenades which pull enemies together so you can shoot them all in one place. Pressing the touchpad button brings up your current objective marker, but I found the thin line indicator hard to follow. What shocked me about this game was at the amount of platform jumping. Titanfall 2 not only makes heavy use of wall-running and double-jumps, but expects you to string them together in combinations that will leave you breathless. Of course the true hallmark of the Titanfall franchise are its "titan" mechs. I like how your titan will grab you and stick you into his chest. The mech battles offer a brute force style of combat including lock-on missiles and a shield that absorbs projectiles and repels them back at adversaries. You'll spend most of the game running on foot but the titans play a major role in boss encounters. The missions are ingeniously designed. In one stage you trek through a topsy-turvy factory stage that reminded me of a scene from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. In another you toggle time at the press of the button, switching from past to present to locate new paths and remove enemies. It's mind-blowing. As I played through the game my opinion progressed from "not bad" to "this is great" and finally "I think I love this." I was close to giving it a solid A until the game crashed not once, but multiple times. I didn't try the multiplayer but have friends who have vouched for it. The bugs are unfortunate because Titanfall 2 is a head-popping, robot-wrecking good time. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet (Japan)
Publisher: Tecmo Koei (2016)
I've always gravitated toward "bullet hell" titles (call me a glutton for punishment) and this is a unique take on the genre. Instead of moving up a vertical scrolling field while blowing away swarming ships, Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet is a one-on-one fighter with rapid-fire shooting and melee combat. The basic concept is similar to Space War
(Atari 2600, 1977) as you exchange fire with an opponent on a screen-sized battlefield. The menu and setup screens offer a lot fun music and colorful anime graphics. But as you would expect of any game with the word "ballet" in the title, it sucks. An endless tutorial explains at the gauges, indicators, and attack modes in methodical detail. After paging through 500 text bubbles you'll just say to hell with it and quit out. There are so many subtle elements, like reconstituting your charge attack by "grazing" (brushing up close to enemy projectiles). Initiating a spell positions your opponent at the bottom of the screen and lets you pommel him with waves of bullets. Despite its anime style Bullet Ballet isn't much to look at. There are two fighters are tiny and surrounded by a pair of concentric circles. The background graphics are so uninteresting you won't even notice them. The bright-colored projectiles offer plenty of fireworks, but the action is mediocre at best and the constant shooting noise is obnoxious. Most bullet hell shooters reward the player with eye candy and a sense of progression. Bullet Ballet provides neither and doesn't even save your offline scores! It's a real shame because I got the special edition with a soundtrack and art book. I think my friend Scott put it best: "I don't know what's going on here, but it's not fun." © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Publisher: Sony (2016)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, use of alcohol and tobacco, violence)
With its lifelike graphics, dramatic acting, and cinematic storytelling Uncharted 4: A Thief's End toes the line between video game and interactive movie. I might have a problem with the lengthy cut-scenes if they weren't so damn good!
The clever, well-written dialog rivals that of a major motion picture. The gameplay is a combination of exploration, puzzle-solving, off-road driving, and wild shootouts. The tombs and puzzles have a heavy Indiana Jones influence, but there's dash of The Goonies as well. The game sets the stage with "flashback stages" recounting our hero's youth at an orphanage. The predicaments he and his brother find themselves in foreshadow the main story while fleshing out their characters. Uncharted 4 is first and foremost a pirate adventure, so expect gorgeous tropical islands, mysterious caves, and mayhem on the high seas. The game takes every opportunity to show off its spectacular scenery by letting you enjoy some amazing panoramic views. Certain games contain eye candy, but Uncharted 4 is
eye candy. You can practically feel the humidity of the dense jungle, smell the musty caverns, and squeeze the mud between your toes. For the first few stages the game feels like it's on autopilot as you effortlessly scale crumbling ruins like a contestant on American Ninja. Your ability to swing on ropes makes this feel like a spiritual descendant of Pitfall
(Atari 2600, 1982). Speaking of old school, in one part of the game you actually find yourself playing the original Crash Bandicoot
(Playstation, 1997) - a game within a game!
The driving stages are a blast, taking the term "off road" to the extreme. The puzzles are hard enough to make you think, but not so onerous you have to go digging for an FAQ. The real challenge of the game lies in its exciting gunfights. The battlegrounds allow for all sorts of strategy and barriers you take cover behind actually deteriorate as you take fire! The more I played Uncharted 4 the more I loved it. I'm glad the game has frequent autosaves because there are really no good stopping points. The only part of the game I could have done without was the prolonged ending, which brought back memories of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The game seems remarkably polished (no camera issues at all) so I was disappointed when it locked up on me. Unlike what other reviewers may claim, the gameplay is unchanged from previous Uncharted titles and the story is exactly what you would expect. Uncharted 4 is just bigger and better, and considering its pedigree that's saying a lot. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Fangamer (2017)
Rating: Everyone 10+
Review contributed by eneuman96 of the RPG Crew and edited by the VGC.
Summarizing a boldly unconventional RPG like this without revealing any spoilers is quite the challenge. Undertale puts you in the role of a child trying to survive an underground world so you can return to the surface. You'll encounter a wide variety of quirky enemies and allies, often in the form of half-goat and half-fish characters. Discovering a new creature is always a joy due to their creative designs and descriptions. Much of Undertale's appeal emanates from the fact that it subverts or eschews so many RPG conventions. For one thing, killing enemies is unnecessary. The player is allowed to spare them, usually after conversing with them first. Despite occasional moments of trial and error, Undertale is anything but dull whether you choose to be a pacifist or a psychopathic killer. The game goes out of its way to make you feel guilty if you choose the latter. Although battles are turn-based, enemy attacks are dealt with innovative shoot-em-up-style action segments where you dodge obstacles with a heart. The simplistic yet charming graphics (reminiscent of cult classic SNES title Earthbound) belie the insane amount of detail present in every other aspect of the game. With a memorable cast of characters, hilarious yet moving writing, and some of the catchiest video game music of the decade, Undertale will remain with you long after you've completed it. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2015)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)
Not since Night Trap
(Sega CD, 1992) has there been a game I'd describe as an interactive horror movie, but Until Dawn absolutely nails
it. The premise revolves around a group of teenagers that return to a ski lodge one year after a tragedy took place. Until Dawn borrows liberally from every horror movie and
video game including Evil Dead, The Shining, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Alan Wake, Saw, Scream, Heavy Rain, and I Know What you Did Last Summer. The results are spectacular
. The game looks like a million bucks, featuring remarkably lifelike characters with a full range of facial expressions. My friends actually recognized the real actors
who were digitized for the game! The atmosphere is moody as all hell
thanks to excellent cinematography and clever camerawork. Disturbing sound effects and a brooding musical score keep you on the edge of your seat. You control each of the characters in various scenes. Sometimes you wander around investigating flashing objects. When the action heats up you must respond to rapid button prompts, and that's exciting! Periodically you're required to make a decision. This might decide a course of action (safe route or shortcut) or determine how you relate to characters. I love the idea of a branching storyline, but it's not always clear your actions are having much impact. Often your two choices are only slightly different ("shut up" versus "dismissive") and the replay value is suspect. Until Dawn definitely strings you along but it's refreshing not having to conserve ammo, scrounge for health, or restart from the same spot over and over. Until Dawn takes full advantage of the PS4 controller. You'll slide your finger across the touch screen to light a match or browse a smart phone. You'll need to keep the controller perfectly still during certain scenes to avoid detection. Like Alan Wake
(Xbox 360, 2010) the game is broken into chapters, each beginning with a recap of the story so far. Yes, there are plenty of horror cliches (all
of them, I think) in the form of cheap scares, raunchy jokes, and people investigating noises when they should be running in the other direction. But I knew the game was something special when I found myself face to face with a psychologist questioning me about my actions in the game!
Whoa. A series of bonus videos include a Blair Witch-style "documentary". If you're the kind of person who allows themselves to be afraid and enjoys the feeling, Until Dawn may be the ultimate horror experience. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Wild Guns: Reloaded
Publisher: Natsume (2016)
This unlikely PS4 release probably caught a lot of gamers off guard. Reloaded's graphics and gameplay are nearly identical to the original Wild Guns
(SNES, 1994). I guess that makes it appealing for retro gamers who can't afford a copy of the original Super Nintendo cart. It's quite a shock to fire up your PS4 and see that 16-bit title screen with pixelated graphics and old-school music. Upon selecting one of four characters you find yourself in a wild west scenario fighting outlaws and retro-futuristic robots. Like the original version you can't move and aim at the same time. You'd think Natsume would have leveraged the modern dual-stick controller configuration to overcome that limitation. One button unleashes continuous fire (with shell cases flying), a second lets you jump/dodge, and a third unleashes devastating bombs (limited in quantity). The gameplay is pure arcade mayhem as you blast everything in sight. I love the explosions! When thugs get too close Annie can slug them with a baseball bat, which is awesome. Rolling and jumping lets you avoid incoming orb-like bullets, and I got into the habit of performing these maneuvers all the time
. Unfortunately this game made me realize just how awful
the PS4 directional pad is compared to the SNES. The stages look great and you get a wide field of view, allowing you to even see the rooftops in the street stage. High scores are saved offline for each difficulty, although you still have to wade through those annoying "can't upload" and "want to connect?" prompts. Reloaded incorporates two new characters but mainly just for novelty value. There's a dog with a drone that fires on his behalf, and a fat chick named Doris who tosses grenades. Neither is particularly fun to play. Four players can participate at once, but frankly even with two players the chaos is a bit much. I enjoyed Wild Guns Reloaded but frankly it made me want to go back and play it on my SNES. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: team
Our high score: 39470
1 to 4 players
Wipeout: Omega Collection
Publisher: Sony (2017)
Rating: Everyone 10+
Back in the day the original Wipeout
(PS1, 1995) blew me away with its sleek vehicles, futuristic tracks, and pulse-pounding electronic beats. The game had style to burn but it was too unforgiving. Rubbing against the side of the track would bring you to a screeching halt, allowing CPU competitors to whiz right past. Throughout the years the series has incrementally improved by offering wider tracks, a smoother framerate, and more forgiving gameplay. It's a shame Sony relegated the franchise to their handheld consoles, severely limiting the potential of the franchise. Until now, that is. Wipeout: Omega Collection includes three Wipeout titles: Wipeout 2048, Wipeout HD, and Wipeout HD Fury. Wipeout 2048 is the latest incarnation and definitely the main attraction. The animation is silky smooth as you gracefully careen from one elevated track to the next. Spectacular futuristic cities offer transparent roads, winding tunnels, and neon-lit skyscrapers. Wipeout HD and Fury are similar but with less detail and more narrow tracks. All variations offer an addictive blend of racing and combat. The shoulder buttons are used to sharpen your turns, but go easy on them to avoid fishtailing. Sometimes it pays to take the road less traveled, so seek out alternate paths. I love hearing that sexy British babe announce "new lap record!"
The tracks look attractive but they start repeating too early in the campaign. The weapons could be more satisfying. You'll nail another ship with a missile and it seems to have minimal effect. There's a nice sense of progression as you gradually unlock new ships and tracks. The two-player split-screen mode is fun too, allowing you both to compete against a grid of CPU opponents. Wipeout is known for its electronic soundtrack but some of the beats here are really sparse. Still, this game is addictive, especially when you get into a zone. Wipeout: Omega Collection is the arcade-style racer the PS4 library desperately needed. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Publisher: Bethesda (2014)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs)
Wolfenstein: The New Order kicks off with an exhilarating airplane stage that requires you to switch planes in mid-air
. Once on the ground you're attacked by mechs and terrifying robotic dogs. The narrative spans from the 1940's to the 1960's in some kind of alternate universe where the Nazis have won World War II. As if Nazis aren't bad enough, they've augmented their army with cyborgs and terminator-style robots. The controls feel crisp as you run for cover, target enemies, and perform sneaky takedowns. For the first hour or so New Order feels like an old-fashioned, balls-to-the-wall shooter. Eventually it settles into more of a stealth adventure, which is true to the series' roots dating back to the original Castle Wolfenstein
(Atari XE, 1983). Wolfenstein 3D
(Jaguar, 1994) also makes a cameo appearance in the form of a goofy "nightmare" sequence. For the most part New Order is pretty serious with heavy violence and even some sexual content. You play a soldier in a band of underground rebels. Semi-interactive cut-scenes will play with your mind and keep you on the edge of your seat. The first-person shooting is exactly what you'd expect, with a few new wrinkles like sprint-slides and health overcharging. Using laser cutters to break chains is cool, but using them to cut openings in chicken wire is tedious, especially since you have to keep waiting for the stupid thing to recharge. Cleaning out one concrete bunker after the next gets a little repetitive, and I really hate those annoying drones. It is kind of cool how scenery takes damage, so you can't hide out in one spot for too long. The robotic dogs are scary, but I find it odd how you can defeat them with... a knife?
Hitting the square button to pick up items can be tiresome, especially in storage rooms littered with junk. The graphics go for realism but are sometimes less than convincing. I enjoy killing Nazis as much as the next guy, but I could only take this game is short bursts. Some first-person shooters tend to make me queasy, and this is one of them. It's no surprise considering how you constantly need to adjust the camera to navigate claustrophobic passages. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a competent game but after a while I got the sinking feeling I was playing every first-person shooter I've ever played in my entire life. Note: The German version of this game substitutes the Nazis for the more generic (and less offensive) "Regime". © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap
Publisher: DotEmu (2017)
The fact that a 1989 platformer merits a PS4 release speaks to the greatness of the original. Fresh off reviewing Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap
(Sega Master System, 1989) and the Turbografx version called Dragon's Curse
(T16, 1990), I might just be overqualified
to review this modern makeover! The game actually recreates the original gameplay with remarkable precision, preserving the same stage layouts, items, and enemy placements. In fact, you can toggle between modern and classic modes on the fly! I was skeptical about the graphical makeover at first; cartoon characters lack the charm of their pixelated brethren. But the scenery... oh... my... goodness
. The lush backdrops add a whole new dimension to this game. The layered castles look magnificent and the coastal area is enhanced with a beach and pirate ship. Combined with relaxing drum music these scenic views call to mind Monkey Island Special Edition Collection
(Xbox 360, 2011). Some areas are nearly unrecognizable. Underground dungeons convey a damp, shadowy atmosphere enhanced by cool echo effects. In the upper reaches of the tower you can hear the wind whipping around and the muted sound of activities below. Amazing audio complements the fresh visuals, from soothing waves to crisp slamming doors. The soundtrack sounds like something from a Disney movie
for crying out loud. The controls feel tight and I love being able to manipulate items without bringing up an item screen. The only thing lost on me was how to save. Apparently there is an autosave feature although it doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere. Wonder Boy: A Dragon's Trap is an unlikely treat for Playstation 4, offering the simple fun of a classic game with all the bells and whistles of a modern title. How can you not
love this? © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Team17 (2017)
Do you have fond memories of classic 3D platformers like Spyro the Dragon
(PS1, 1998), Banjo Kazooie
(N64, 1998), and Jak and Daxter
(PS2, 2001)? Well, the good times are back
with this charming Kickstarter project, currently available on most platforms. Yooka Laylee is a refreshingly light hearted platformer starting a cartoonish lizard and bat who control as a single unit. Each vibrant stage is an inviting playground of platforms, mini-games, and puzzles. There's tons of stuff to collect and all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies to explore. There are even wild minecart stages a la Donkey Kong Country
(SNES, 1994). The characters you encounter are cleverly designed and their self-aware dialog is amusing. The Despicable Me-inspired villain has a hilarious sidekick who resembles a duck/gumball machine hybrid. Together they've constructed a machine which is sucking up every book in the world
. Their evil lair serves as the main hub, which is confusing since it also functions as its own stage. Collecting golden pages lets you gradually unlock new areas and quills let you purchases abilities. The smooth animation and orchestrated music score is impressive but the gameplay is uneven. The camera requires constant supervision and you might even get a little queasy after extended play. With no map to fall back on it's not always clear what to do next. Be sure to talk to everybody! The mini-games try to mimic old arcade games yet fail to register on the fun-o-meter. But my biggest complaint is how the game lets you toil in areas you don't have the ability to conquer yet. That would never happen in a Nintendo title. The good news is, you can just move on to the next thing, because there's always plenty to see and do. The game saves whenever you collect a major item but I wish I could save at any time. Yooka Laylee is good-natured and addictive. It's flaws may be plain as day but they are far outweighed by the fun you'll have. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Zoink (2015)
Rating: Teen (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Language, Crude Humor, Use of Drugs)
I've been a fan of side-scrolling brawlers dating back to Double Dragon
(NES, 1988) but modern games can't seem to get the formula right. My initial impression of Zombie Vikings was much like Dragon's Crown
(PS3, 2013) and Pirates Plundarrr
(Wii, 2010). The game offers artistic visuals, offbeat humor, and frantic button-mashing fighting. I'm always rooting for games like this, especially when they support four-player local action. Zombie Vikings opens with a cutscene replete with wacky humor and professional voice acting. But while the actors seem to be having a great time these long-winded cutscenes will eventually have you reaching for the skip button. The hack-and-slash action is pretty standard with an emphasis on combinations that allow you to spin through a group of characters like a whirling dervish. You'll slice and dice trolls, witches, worms, cats, and all sorts of gnarled creatures. But despite the stylish visuals and jazzy music Zombie Vikings left me cold. The muddled stages all look the same and any interesting animations are lost amidst the pulled-back camera and frenetic carnage. There's some technique (like throwing objects) but a mindless hack-n-slash approach works just as well. And who cares if you can deal 200 points of damage at a time when you still need to hit an enemy 20 times? The final nail in the coffin came when my friend Scott and I became hopelessly stuck and unable to advance. I had heard rumors that the game was buggy, but this qualifies as broken!
I suspect I could download some kind of enormous patch, but in this case I don't think it's worth my time. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
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