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TAT Archive – Bayonetta 2 Review

Originally published in 2014, for The Australia Times Games Magazine.

Bayonetta 2

Format: Wii U

Developer: Platinum Games/Bee Tribe (Bayonetta port)

Publisher: Nintendo/Sega

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All the way back in the ye olde days of 2010, a little-known Japanese studio released a videogame called Bayonetta.

Bayonetta, you see, was no ordinary videogame. It was the most videogamey videogame that ever videogamed. It starred a sultry witch who had a gun strapped to every limb, and a svelte outfit made from her own hair. She possessed a sharp attitude – and a sharper arsenal; demons, swords, whips, and shotguns were the order of the day, and they were used in creatively gruesome ways against her angelic enemies.

Wait? Angels?

Yes – as if unafraid by its blasé approach toward the very tenants of Christianity itself, this Japanese studio made Bayonetta face off against the very armies of God; divine beings that were both awesome and fearsome in their presences.

Divine beings that were squashed under the high-heels of a half-naked lady.

What game developer would dare to create such blasphemous content? Why, Platinum Games, of course.

Fast forward five years, and we now have Bayonetta 2, the sequel to one of the greatest action games of all time. Its development saga was almost as tumultuous as its Polygon-displeasing content (insider reference, yeah!), with raging fans that frothed at the mouth due to the game’s exclusivity on Nintendo’s Wii U console. However, this game wouldn’t have even existed if not for the House of Mario, who kindly offered to fund its development in return for said exclusivity.

Luckily it did, as Bayonetta 2 is hands-down one of the best games I’ve ever played, and my personal game of the year.

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Where to begin? Well, let’s take a look at the story; things start during Christmas time, when Bayonetta and her best friend Jeanne are doing a little shopping, before all hell (or should I say heaven?) breaks loose, as angels come after our heroines. This is where the game begins, as you are thrust into one of the most insane tutorials I’ve ever seen. How many games plonk you on top of a screaming jet as you battle angelic hoards, before engaging in an aerial battle with a skyscraper-sized demon?

Yeah, not many.

Things go awry, as Jeanne’s soul is ripped from her body, and taken to Inferno (Hell). Not one to let such matters lie, Bayonetta then journeys to the mountain called Fimbulventr, which is said to be home of the gates of Inferno and Paradiso – and the only one who can lead her there is a mysterious, card-wielding kid named Loki.

This is the basic premise, and things get quite a bit more convoluted as you journey throughout the game’s 10 hour campaign. Obviously, I won’t spoil things here, but the plot makes way for some truly crazy set pieces that will leave your jaw permanently stuck to the ground.

The gameplay itself echoes the best of the genre, like Capcom’s Devil May Cry and Sony’s God of War; but with everything turned up to 11. If you played the original Bayonetta (and if you didn’t, now you have no excuse – see the boxout) then you know just how tightly designed everything was. It is no different here, as Platinum once again proves its programming chops.

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As mentioned before, Bayonetta has a gun strapped to each appendage (her default setup), in addition to her main melee weapon. She has two main attack inputs (X and A) that can be mixed much like a fighting game, and this results in some truly spectacular acrobatics – especially combined with ranged (Y) and aerial (B) attacks. Pulling the ZR trigger lets Bayonetta perform a dodge, and pressing this at the right time triggers ‘Witch Time’, which slows time for a few seconds (enabling the Umbra Witch some extra offense).

Occasionally, enemies will drop weapons that can be used against them, and Bayonetta herself has two different weapon setups that can be switched with ZL (I myself am partial to the whip and chainsaw combo). To add to this, a special move called the ‘Umbra Climax’ acts as an overdrive mode, wherein pressing the L shoulder button when the magic gauge is full allows Bayonetta to unleash souped-up attacks. Combine all this with unlockable combos and equippable accessories (that fundamentally change the combat system), and you have a recipe for some deep, deep gameplay.

Structurally, it’s the same as its predecessor. Levels are comprised of fights and secret challenges that are graded from ‘Bronze’ to ‘Pure Platinum’, and performing well gets you more halos (the game’s currency) that can be spent at ‘The Gates of Hell’, a shop that is run by a demon named Rodin. Halos are exchanged for weapons, health, magic, helpful items and even Nintendo-themed costumes!

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So, there’s plenty of stuff to do. There’s even an online multiplayer mode called Tag Climax, which sees you and a partner band together and vanquish foes in the pursuit of tasty halos, which can be wagered, Sakurai-style.

Visually, Bayonetta 2 is simply incredible. The combat scenarios you will find yourself in will take your breath away, as Platinum’s visual designers squeeze every bit of power from the Wii U. I cannot tell you how many times I sat there slack-jawed, as the game bombarded me with insane graphics that accentuated the incredibly creative scenes that would put any anime to shame. I’m talking a boss fight amidst a rising ocean of blood. Chasing a dragon through a city-sized whirlpool. Fighting monstrous angels at the gates of Paradiso. It all hits home just how amazing a videogame can really be, and how they can offer experiences that are totally unlike other media.

Technically, too, the game is a marvel. Colours are a lot richer than the first Bayonetta, and the visual effects really illustrate just how much grunt Nintendo’s little machine is packing. It all runs at 60 frames per second, too (take that, Ubisoft).

I also must give props to the sound design. Bayonetta 2’s soundtrack expands upon the original by including orchestrated pieces that makes the whole thing feel more ‘movie-like’, and the voice acting is suitably cheesy, much like Platinum’s other titles.

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It’s rare when a videogame meets the hype, and even rarer still when it actually exceeds it. Bayonetta 2 is one of those games. I’m not the type of reviewer who likes to give out perfect scores like cheap candy – but in this case, I have absolutely no qualms in doing so, especially considering the free inclusion of the original Bayonetta.

This game is amazing.

10 out of 10
Boxout

Season of the Witch

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How does the original Bayonetta fare against its amazing sequel?

So, one of the major selling points (among many) of purchasing Bayonetta 2 is the free inclusion of the 2010 original game; Bayonetta.

Released to great praise four years ago, this was the game that cemented Platinum Games’ place as one of the best developers in the world, and going back, it’s easy to see why.

Bayonetta has aged incredibly well, and its fast-paced action gameplay doesn’t feel a day older than when it was first released. It’s essentially the same deal as the sequel – albeit a deal that feels a tad more difficult overall.

Performing Witch Time was noticeably harder when I revisited this game, and the use of equippable items is much more of a boon in acquiring those elusive Pure Platinum medals.

Visually, Bayonetta is noticeably drabber than numero dos, but it does run incredibly well on the Wii U hardware (the best version of all three available). Everything is silky smooth (totally not a double entendre), and the Pro Controller is equally as wonderful to use (though the Game Pad isn’t too bad, either).

As great as Bayonetta is, it is by no means a perfect game. The insta-death QTE segments are truly aggravating, and I have to wonder why Bee Tribe (the folks behind this port) didn’t just remove them entirely. Additionally, there were some instances of crap game design (one moment involving a jet propeller), a lousy boss (which has you using a turret), and moments where I could have sworn I pressed that button (you know the ones…).

Still, it’s not enough to ruin the experience – and there are some special extras to make the Wii U version just that little bit more attractive. The sultry witch can don outfits based on famous Nintendo characters like Peach, Samus and Link; which look suitably seductive (or ridiculous, take your pick) and even change aspects of the gameplay. For instance, using Peach and Daisy will have her summon giant Bowser fists, and using the Link costume will replace halos with rupees!

So overall, this is a mighty fine port – and one of the best extras in recent gaming history.

Two witches for the price of one? Who’d pass that up?

TAT Archive – Super Smash Bros. for Wii U & 3DS Review

Originally published in 2014, for The Australia Times Games Magazine.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS

Format: Wii U and 3DS

Developer: Sora Ltd/Bandai Namco Games

Publisher: Nintendo

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So, Super Smash Bros.

Ever since the 1998 debut of the original N64 game, Nintendo’s seminal fighting series has acted as a cornerstone of the company’s key software output. Aside from Mario, Zelda and Pokémon, Masahiro Sakurai’s mascot brawler is the most important franchise within the hallowed halls of the Kyoto firm; with each sequel met with a fevered anticipation that is simply unmatched by any other fanbase.

After Super Smash Bros. Melee represented a quantum leap from the modest polygonal original – and Super Smash Bros. Brawl further built upon that by stuffing it full of content – Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS is the culmination of everything that has come before; two games that are the products of 16 years of fine-tuning by Sakurai and his motley crew of talented developers.

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Now, let’s get the obvious out of the way first – Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is one of the best games on Nintendo’s stereoscopic handheld. Heck, it’s probably the best. And Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is one of the best games on Nintendo’s tablet-powered console. Hell, it’s probably the best. Er, Also.

In terms of content, nothing else comes close. It’s incredible just how much stuff Sora and Bandai Namco have managed to cram in such a dinky little cartridge and/or disc; to the point where it shames most other videogames.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It would be lousy of me to talk about the sweet, sweet features – without first going over the gameplay basics for those unfamiliar.

You see, Super Smash Bros is a fighting game. However, it isn’t a fighter in the conventional sense. Unlike games such as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, Smash Bros takes on a more party-based slant, with a greater emphasis on the ‘improvisation’ of fighting – rather than highly technical movesets. Instead of a traditional health bar, fighters possess a percentage meter that represents their stamina. Beginning at 0%, the percentage rises as damage is taken – and the higher the percentage, the easier it is for the fighter to be knocked out of the arena, which is how fights are ultimately won.

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There are no complex button inputs. Indeed, part of the appeal of Smash Bros is its ‘simple to learn, hard to master’ mechanics that are such a trademark of Nintendo games. There are two buttons used to attack; and holding a direction whilst pressing said buttons alters the offensive maneuvers. You can double jump, and use your up+B move to act as a last ditch effort to recover from a fall. Additionally, fighters can block by holding R, grab with L and even perform a few cheeky taunts with the D-Pad. These inputs basically act as the foundation to the surprisingly complex gameplay that can be found in this title, in addition to the alterations of the core fighting mechanics.

What alterations?” I hear you ask, dear reader? Well, this is where the whole ‘content’ thing comes in. You see, the party-based nature of the gameplay leads itself well to manipulation, and this represented in the incredible amount of modes that are on offer; modes that make Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS much more than just a simple brawler.

First, the single player. The most obvious of these modes is the Classic…Er, Mode. This is basically the standard ‘fighting game’ thing, where you select a fighter to take on a bunch of other fighters in order to reach the final boss (the returning Master and Crazy Hands). Even then, this mode is given a Sakurai twist; there are branching pathways, and gold (which is used to buy stuff) can be wagered for higher difficulties, much like Kid Icarus: Uprising. Similarly, All-Star Mode is a fight to the top; however, this is done in a chronological order (older characters toward newer characters – reversed for the Wii U), and it all must be completed with one life. However, players can enlist the help of another player, which greatly helps in acquiring character-specific trophies.

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Stadium Mode takes the core gameplay of Smash, and has fun in creating new ways to play. The ever-popular Home Run Contest returns, which sees you given 10 seconds to bash a sandbag with a baseball bat, before launching it with a final super smash in the hopes of achieving incredible distances. Personally, I was chuffed when I managed to get over a thousand metres… Before seeing the seven thousand-plus that others managed to achieve.

Inadequacy get!

Target Blast is a surprising riff on the Angry Birds formula, which plays similarly to Home Run. However, this time, a bomb must be bashed, before tossing it into a creaky tower full of targets and special items. You get two tries for this, and the bomb can be tossed at different speeds, depending on the damage it receives.

Multi-Man Smash is back too, which pits you (and a friend, if you want) against waves of enemies that can range from pathetic (100 Man Mode) to downright horrifying (Cruel Mode). Besides them, there is also 3-Minute Mode, 15 Minute Mode, 10 Man Mode, and even an Endless Mode.

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Possibly the biggest 3DS exclusive feature is the Smash Run mode; which sees you (and up to three other players) run around in a massive map under a five minute time limit. This environment is littered with enemies, which must be (you guessed it!) smacked around in exchange for power-ups that give boosts to your power, speed, agility, etc. At the end of each round, you must put these abilities to use in a random game against the other players. This entails everything from a traditional smash, to a footrace that is vein-poppingly stressful. Of course, you can set whatever end game you wish to play in the settings, but I personally love the random aspect, as there’s no telling how useful your upgrades will really be.

At first, Smash Run can be particularly frustrating, as enemies will constantly kick your ass – but there is good reason for this. You see, this mode acts as somewhat of a colourful introduction to the biggest feature in this iteration of Smash Bros – and that is character customisation.

Each minute upgrade you gather for your character makes them stronger and better, and grinding the Smash Run mode sees you become noticeably more powerful. In a special menu, each character has room for 10 different custom variations, and each of these variations can be tailored to your own tastes. Not only can you choose a preferred costume, but you can give upgrades (which are found in virtually every mode) that boost power, speed and defence. Not only that, but you can completely change the movesets of every fighter, which results in a hell of a lot of variation.

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On the other side of the fence, the Wii U edition prides itself on Smash Tour, Special Orders, and 8 Player Smash. ‘Smash Tour’ takes the form of a Mario Party-style board game, with players amassing teams and special powers in order to win various battles that litter proceedings. This was designed to be an anarchic (and occasionally, even unfair) mode where anything goes. It’s a startling look into the more ‘lawless’ nature of Smash Bros; a nature that gleefully gives the two-fingered salute to absurd notions of ‘balance’ and ‘fairness’ seen in the pro-gaming community.

Special Orders’ has players take on challenges issued by series baddies Master and Crazy Hand, in exchange for wagered gold (or a free ticket). In each round, you are presented with a choice of three challenges. Every time you complete one, you then have the opportunity to finish the session by fighting whichever omnipresent appendage you have chosen (Crazy is the harder of the two). However, you can also choose to continue with more rounds – which get progressively more difficult. It’s a nice risk/reward element that is more forceful than in any other part of the game; one where you can practically hear Sakurai telling you to ‘put up or shut up’.

Despite all of this, perhaps the Wii U version’s biggest selling-point in the 8-Player Mode, with (you guessed it) eight players duking it out in specially designed stages. It’s quite amazing seeing this in action, as the game doesn’t drop a frame, nor does the visual fidelity take a hit. I’m loathe to constantly point out the flaws of other gaming companies in my reviews – but when I see eight highly-detailed fighters duke it out in 1080p and 60 fps, I can’t help but wonder why the competition has such a tough time with creating stable visuals on more powerful hardware. Sure, Smash Bros isn’t exactly an open-world game… But geez.

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Phew. This has been a lot to take in, isn’t it? Believe it or not, there’s still more!

Now, let’s talk about online. Because of the game’s party roots, the network mode has been split into two; For Fun and For Glory. ‘For Fun’ is basically no holds barred; everything is allowed, and nothing is forbidden. Items, Assist Trophies, stages… It’s all there. In contrast, ‘For Glory’ is for the serious folks; a pure and technical community that shuns gimmicks in favour of fighting prowess. Whichever mode you choose, you’re guaranteed to have a great time, and the network service is superb. Griefers are punished swiftly, and there is very little lag to speak of. It’s a far cry from Brawl’s horrendous service, that’s for sure!

Finally; characters. The main crux of the game, there are 49 fighters in all, and I guarantee you’ll find a favourite in there somewhere. Old stalwarts like Mario, Link, Samus and Donkey Kong return with a vengeance, along with new characters like Wii Fit Trainer, Rosalina, Little Mac and Shulk. Third party folks are back too, as Sonic, Mega Man and Pac-Man are on hand to represent the non-Nintendo (Snake doesn’t make a return, unfortunately). Even Miis are here, with three variations (Brawler, Gunner and Swordfighter) ensuring that anyone can now be a fighter (Hank Hill is bringin’ the pro-pain!). There are still a few clones and palette swaps, but the sheer number of original characters is nothing to sniff at. Also, keep an eye out for the future release of Mewtwo…

There are an incredible 34 stages to play in the 3DS edition, with personal favourites of mine being Spirit Track’s Spirit Train, Pac-Man’s Pac-Maze, and Xenoblade’s Gaur Plains. They all look superb, and are accompanied by one of the 115 (!!!) musical pieces that are included in the game. In contrast, The Wii U version has 47 stages, and 437 musical pieces. I don’t need to tell you that this is an insane amount, and I particularly enjoy the side-scrolling Pac-Land and Game & Wario’s terrifying Gamer (where you must actually hide from 9-Volt’s devil-mum).

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Trophies too, are almost too innumerable to count. Well, to be technical, there are 685 of them on 3DS, and 716 on Wii U – with each one being a viewable 3D model with its own humorous description. It’s simply baffling how they could’ve fit them all in – but they’re there. The aforementioned gold is used to buy them from a store, which contains special discounts and revolving stock. Gold can also be used to ‘buy’ time in the special Trophy Rush mode; for a maximum two and a half minutes. You basically smash boxes that contain gold, badges and trophies, whilst trying to keep a multiplier going. It’s addictive. Just like everything else. Shocker.

2017 Edit: Since its release, Smash Bros. has gotten even bigger. Bolstered by substantial DLC, the final product resulted in a tally of 58 fighters, including shock entries like Cloud Strife, Bayonetta and Ryu. The Wii U version ended up with 55 stages, 743 trophies and 511 music pieces, whilst the 3DS one had 42 stages, 707 trophies and 135 music tracks. Unreal.

So, Super Smash bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS is clearly jam-packed with content – but how does it actually run?

Unbelievably well, of course. The game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second on both versions, and characters are incredibly detailed; with hilarious facial expressions and poses that lend themselves well to the screenshot and replay features (I did mention them, right?). Colours are bright and bold, and look truly magnificent on the 3DS XL screen or TV. The 3D effect for the former – while nice- is hardly essential, but it’s impressive that it’s there at all, considering how much grunt the game packs. The music too, is wonderful, with fully orchestrated pieces from 42 different composers. Yes, you read that right.

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In conclusion, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS is a true feat of game development. It displays a loving tribute to Nintendo’s 125 year past whilst also showing-off just how well the development staff can maximise the potential of a relatively weak piece of hardware. In a way, I feel conflicted; my last review was the perfect-scoring Bayonetta 2 – and I hate myself for handing out another 10/10. But… Did you read the review? Do you see why I can’t give it any less than double digits? Because for me – games like Bayonetta 2 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS represents videogaming at its absolute best; products that are meticulously polished, a tonne of fun, and are filled to the brim with replayability (I still haven’t mentioned everything that’s included). In today’s age of DRM, buggy messes and penny-pinching DLC, it is wonderful to see gaming design still exist in its absolute finest form.

You’d be doing yourself a massive disservice by missing out.

10 out of 10

 

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Toy Story

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So, customisation is a major part of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, and Amiibo will play a major role. So, what is Amiibo? Well, it’s Nintendo’s attempt to take a slice of the Skylanders/Disney Infinity pie, with a range of NFC capable figures that are now on the shelves. “Wait…KFC?” I hear you ask, stomach growling in agreement. No, silly, NFC. Or ‘Near Field Communication’, to be precise. Basically, there will eventually be Amiibo versions of all Smash Bros characters, and these figures can be scanned into the 3DS (using an upcoming peripheral), or the Wii U GamePad, in the pursuit of creating your own custom character. You can then write the data into the figure itself, and take it with you to fight with other Smash players on 3DS or Wii U. It’s an ingenious idea, and one that isn’t limited to a single game. The Amiibo figures have been confirmed to work with games like Mario Kart 8, Hyrule Warriors, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Yoshi’s Wooly World! Bizarrely though, some toys have been incredibly hard to find – with certain characters supposedly already being discontinued, despite only being two months old. Nintendo, what are you doing?!

TAT Archive – Sleeping Dogs Wii Edition

Originally Published in 2014, for TAT Games

Sleeping Dogs: Bonus Wii Edition

Wait a minute! Wasn’t Sleeping Dogs supposed to be finished? It was after all a perfect trifecta. However, when composing those magnificent pieces, I became aware that the Wii had many other games that were worth your time – so I scoffed a 1-up, and went for one more go. Enjoy!

 

Little King’s Story

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Developer: Cing

Publisher: Rising Star Games

Released: 2009

Ever since the Wii Remote was first unveiled to the salivating masses in 2005, one aspect of Nintendo’s wonder-wand became ripe with opportunity – and that was its pointer controls. Of course, images of shooting games popped-in everyone’s heads – but another genre that would benefit greatly would be the RTS. Traditionally the domain of PC gamers, the Wii played host to one of the best strategy games of the last generation: Little King’s Story.

Designed by Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada, Little King’s Story is a brilliant and quirky game that mixes civilisation management with hands-on adventure gameplay and army-building. Taking the role of a lonely boy named Corobo, the game begins when he wanders into a strange land after chasing a group of rats from his home. There he finds a crown, which enables him to issue orders that cannot be refused. Like any 10 year old boy who would be suddenly blessed with such an awesome power, he uses it to rule the kingdom of Alpoko – whilst giving his best friends Liam and Verde the positions of ‘Minister of Anything’ and the ‘Record Keeper’. It’s a hilarious opening that sets the tone of the rest of the game – and it only gets crazier from there. Corobo is also accompanied by his trusted adviser, Howser the Bull Knight, who guides him in his ultimate goal of unifying the seven kingdoms by liberating each of them of their bizarre kings.

Essentially, Little King’s Story is split into two different gameplay styles. The first is the strategy aspect, which entails building your land and issuing commands to your subjects. In addition to constructing training facilities and shops, Corobo can walk around and recruit individual villagers to aid him in his quests, whilst also ordering them to perform various actions. Depending on their job classes, they can be more proficient at certain tasks; which opens a layer of strategy to whom you choose to have accompanied Corobo. For example, a soldier would be better at fighting monsters – but would in turn be pretty lousy at cultivating crops.

This ties into the action-based segments of the game. In addition to combating enemies and invading territory, Corobo must ‘fix’ the lands by using builders to construct bridges, miners to dig caves and clear landslides, and farmers to cultivate the fields. Of course, riches can be accrued and sent back to Alpoko, which makes invasion all the more addictive.

Ugh, that sounds horrible.

In a wonderful twist, Alpoko also has a massive parade the day after every ‘liberation’, which renders Corobo unable to complete many missions; simply because every person is too busy partying to listen. There are many other special days like this – holidays and festivals that add some flair to an already-colourful game. I won’t spoil ‘em though.

With a stirring soundtrack by Yutaka Minobe and Kingdom hearts composer Yoko Shimomura, Little King’s Story is an exuberant game that is one of the Wii’s best. It has also been a re-released on the PS Vita (under New Little King’s Story), but for my money, the original is superior.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars

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Developer: Eighting

Publisher: Capcom

Released: 2010

Did you know? Capcom is famous for its fighting games. Yes, it’s true!

All right, so we all know about the legendary Street Fighter II – perhaps the greatest fighting game of all time – as well as the innumerable spin-offs and sequels that have followed in the proceeding 20 years.

But the venerable Japanese publisher is equally famous for its ‘Vs.’ series – most notably, Marvel vs. Capcom. However, there was another lesser known crossover that made an appearance on the Wii in 2010 (2008 in Japan) – but one that was just as frenetic and grand.

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars is a celebration of the coming-together of Japan’s most venerable cartoon institution, and Capcom’s most famous faces.

Wait… Tatsu-what? Don’t worry; you’re forgiven for your unfamiliarity of this particular brand. Though relatively obscure in the Western world – you still may recognise some of its cartoons like Battle of the Planets (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) and… Er… Well.

Okay, so they are really obscure.

Which, it turns out, was one of the main criticisms of the game… After people begged for it to be released in English. You just have to love gamers some times.

But to be honest, I personally believe this is one of the main appeals of the game. Instead from filling the roster with tried-and-tested characters, Capcom took the plunge and introduced a wide range of new colourful fighters in the attempt to introduce us to the Tatsunoko franchise. From the aforementioned Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, we have Ken the Eagle, Jun the Swan, and Joe the Condor – three Power Rangers-esque crusaders that are clad in bird suits. There is also the android Casshan (who was the inspiration for Mega Man’s abilites), lance-equipped space knight Tekkaman, morphing superhero Hurricane Polymar, boy wonder Yatterman-1, his girlfriend Yatterman-2, and their statuesque nemesis Doronjo, the bloody warrior Karas, robo-soldier Ippatsuman, Tekkaman Blade, and the giant golden robot Gold Lightan – who is so big, he is considered two characters.

Phew. That’s a lot of Japanese names. But fear not, because there are an equal amount of recognisable Capcom favourites who are also ready to do battle!

Who, you may ask? Well, how about Ryu, Chun-li, Alex (from Street Fighter III), Morrigan (Darksiders), Batsu Ichimonji (Rival Schools), MegaMan Volnutt (Mega Man Legends), Kaijin no Soki (Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams), Roll (Mega Man), Saki Omokane (Quiz Nanairo Dreams – a Japanese dating sim), Viewtiful Joe, PTX-40A (Lost Planet), Frank West and Zero. Not a bad little list, huh?

In terms of gameplay, it echoes past ‘Vs.’ games, where tag-team fighting is the order of the day. Compared to the technicality of Street Fighter, the controls are relatively simple – with only three attacks at your disposal; light, medium and strong. Directional inputs enable some variety, as do the Hyper and Team Hyper Combos, which are suitably seizure-inducing.

Unfortunately, with the end of the Tatsunoko partnership, Capcom has ceased production of the game – making it a truly monumental task in finding a copy. Fortunately, it’s also available as an arcade unit, which makes it a little easier in experiencing the game. Either way, you should really try and find it. It’s quite good.
Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure

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Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Nintendo of Europe

Released: 2008

Much like first person shooters and real time strategy games, another genre that was ripe for the Wiimote-picking was the classic point n’ click adventure.

Hampered by the traditional d-pad/thumbstick set-up of past home consoles, the pride and joy of the PC crowd was finally allowed to spread its wings and find a wider audience thanks to the Wii. Though acclaimed titles such as Telltale’s Back to the Future, Sam & Max and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People were all good fun – it was Capcom’s Zack and Wiki that stole the crown.

A stunning, cel-shaded puzzler, Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure was one of the Wii’s first must-have third-party titles. Following wannabe pirate Zack and his flying golden monkey Wiki (so clichéd); the game takes you through a plethora of colourful and imaginative environments as you try to find the bones of Barbaros – a sentient golden skull who promises to lead the duo to the legendary ‘Treasure Island’. Along their journey, they’re accosted by ‘The Rose Rock Pirates’, which are comprised of the brattish Captain Rose and her simpering, love-struck crew. Fortunately, Zack and Wiki are supported by ‘The Sea Rabbits’ – a motley crew of inimitable folks that look like they were ripped straight from a Nintendo game. Truly, the character and art design is one of the best things about Zack and Wiki – and some of the best work to ever emerge from Capcom. The levels too, are incredibly inspired, with wonderful creatures and truly unique puzzles that can be as brain-bending as they are enjoyable.

And when I say ‘unique’, I really mean it. You see, the game doesn’t play like a conventional point ‘n click; you take control of Zack as he wanders around the game world and interacts with a wide variety of objects and enemies. This is where Wiki comes in; by shaking the Wii Remote, the polished primate transforms into a bell, which can be rung in order to turn certain creatures into usable tools. When Zack arrives at the appropriate spot, the game enters a first-person mode as the tool is used.

As you’d probably expect, this is done via the wonder of motion controls. Wait! Don’t go! Come back!

Because believe it or not, this is actually quite brilliantly done. Despite having about 80 different tools throughout the campaign, the designers never make it a tedious chore. In fact, I would say that it perfectly encapsulates the core appeal of the Wii by genuinely improving the traditional gameplay experience. For example, thrusting the Wiimote backwards and forwards will make Zack saw into a tree in order to make a bridge, or twisting it will make a key unlock a door. At one point, you even have to cradle the thing in your arms like a baby, in order to stop it from crying! It really is cool to try out all the different combinations – and though it could be argued that such ‘actions’ is simply a gimmick in the long run – they’re fun nonetheless. Again, it really is a testament to Capcom’s talents that so many options have been squeezed out from such a simple device like the Wii Remote. They really succeeded where so many others have failed.

If I had any criticisms, I would say that Zack and Wiki can suffer from logic lapses, which can lead to unfair deaths (forcing you to restart the level). In order to alleviate this, Platinum Tickets act as an extra life, and Oracle Dolls issue hints for those who are truly stumped.

Unfortunately, Zack and Wiki bombed badly at retail, which put the kibosh on any potential sequels. Maybe you should fix that, eh? Buy a copy or three and let Capcom know that we want more from them besides Super Mega Ultra Super Duper Street Fighter IV EX Alpha Arcade Edition Vol.XXVII.

2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U eShop!

 

MadWorld

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Developer: Platinum Games

Publisher: Sega

Released: 2009

So once again, we have a Platinum Games title taking a coveted spot within this feature.

Following the awesomeness that was Vanquish and Bayonetta, we now take a look at the company’s most infamous game; MadWorld.

Chastised by family groups for its violence and vulgarity, MadWorld was one of those rarities – a Nintendo-exclusive mature videogame. Though calling it ‘mature’ would be a little too complimentary, because this is as far as ‘mature’ a videogame can possibly get. However, I would say that this is a main reason for its charm, as the title doesn’t pretend to be anything else other than a Grindhouse-inspired piece of schlock.

Basically, the premise of the game is that of a death-laden reality game show. A terrorist group known as ‘The Organisers’ attack an island known as Varrigan City; by eliminating all transport and communications, before unleashing a deadly virus amongst the populace. If those infected wanted a vaccine – then all they had to do was kill. Enter Jack Cayman; a mechanic and ex-military man with a badass robotic chainsaw arm. Sponsored by the mysterious Agent XIII, he enters Varrigan to ‘play’ the game, as well as to rescue the mayor’s daughter.

Though the plot seems simplistic, it’s actually quite interesting and well-told, and Jack himself cuts and interesting figure. Of course, this being a Platinum game, the main selling point is the high intensity gameplay – and MadWorld delivers in spades.

The most immediate striking feature is the game’s graphical style, which riffs on the comic Sin City. Presented in a cel-shaded black and white style, the only colours shown during gameplay are the comic book-style onomatopoeia – and the red, red blood.

And there is a lot of blood.

Compared to the high octane thrills of Bayonetta, MadWorld is relatively simple – though equally as satisfying. Jack will hack and slash though countless goons as he makes his way through the city. On top of his chainsaw, he can grab a wide array of tools and weapons to use, as well as clutch his enemies and toss them around like rag dolls. Combat is accompanied by a score multiplier, which rewards you for stylish kills. There are plenty of context-sensitive areas which can end in a bloodbath, like meat grinders, acid baths, and lawnmowers. Offing foes in this manner results in the environment being drenched in crimson, but higher scores can be obtained if Jack tortures his foes beforehand. For example, throw a bloke (or even a chick) in a buzz-saw may result in a good score – but throwing a rubber tire over them, impaling their head with a metal pole, and then chucking them on the buzz-saw will result in an even better score.

The thing we do for high scores, eh?

That’s not all. Minigames can be found throughout the levels – which are introduced by the foul-mouthed Black Baron. These range from whacking adversaries onto a giant target with a baseball bat, throwing them in front of a moving train, and even shaking a champagne bottle – before jamming it into their heads, and watching them fly away in a cacophony of blood and foam.

So yeah. Not for the faint of heart, then. Bosses are also present, and they’re both very well-designed and great fun to combat. In addition, a commentary team comprised of Howard “Buckshot” Holmes (voiced by Greg Proops) and Kreese Kreeley (John DiMaggio) talk throughout the action – and their observations are both offensive and hilarious.

So check out MadWorld. It’s a somewhat overlooked piece of Platinum’s history, and offers a fascinating glimpse into just what kind of content Nintendo allowed on the Wii.

 

The Last Story

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Developer: Mistwalker/AQ Interactive

Publisher: Nintendo

Released: 2012

In past Sleeping Dogs pieces, I talked about Operation Rainfall titles Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora’s Tower, and how you should totally buy them.

Since I’m doing this bonus Wii edition, I thought I may as well shine the limelight on The Last Story… And how you should totally buy it.

Designed by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, The Last Story is an action RPG much like its Moogle-filled forebear – but with some key differences.

The most evident of these differences is the battle system. Presented in a semi real-time manner, The Last Story’s combat has more in common with Final Fantasy XIII or Xenoblade, where Zael (the main character) can freely run around the environments while his partners generally take care of themselves. There are no items to use, and each character has five lives per battle (making the game way too easy). Still, it does have its unique hooks.

Thanks to an early plot twist, Zael gains a mysterious power that allows him to perform a move called ‘Gathering’. Basically, this makes all enemies focus their attention on him, freeing his comrades from being bothered as they try to cast spells and such. Additionally, Zael can ‘Focus’ on key areas, like weak points on bosses, and even bits of scenery that can be destroyed; for example, enemies hanging of chandeliers can be destroyed by a fire spell, or a bridge can be toppled, bringing its denizens down with it. That’s not all – in a neat twist, spells can be ‘combined’, which creates new moves. Each spell has a circle representing its range, and Zael’s own ‘circle’ can be mixed with different results – he can even negate the effect of enemy magic. In an odd design choice, Zael can even take cover behind walls much like a third person shooter, and can take pops at his foes with a crossbow, or stealthily eliminate them by stabbing them in the back.

As I mentioned, The Last Story is very easy – though it is still a fun game nonetheless. The narrative is very well-told, with genuinely likable characters and quality voice acting. Though pretty clichéd, you’ll still find yourself invested in the plot. Zael is a mercenary who dreams of one day becoming a knight, and his dreams eventually come true when he crosses paths with Calista – the princess of Lazulis Island. Eventually, he and his friends become embroiled in the conflict between Lazulis’ ruler, Count Arganon – and the orc-like race of people called the Gurak. Of course, there are plenty of twists and turns throughout the 20 hour story – but there is also a surprising amount of depth to the sidequests littered throughout the game.

The central hub to everything is Lazulis City – a large, medieval-style town that is jam packed with secrets to find and people to interact with. Aside from the obligatory fetch quests and “come find me!” hide and go seek games; there are also plenty of cool distractions that can suck away hours. The centre of the city is home to a battle arena, where cash and equipment can be won. Blacksmiths can craft new items, rare dragon armour can be found by amassing dragon coins, the subterranean depths can be explored, and there’s even a haunted mansion to investigate. The game can be hysterical too, with well-written jokes and slapstick humour aplenty. Just wait ‘till you make people fall over endlessly on banana skins and bits of fruit. Good times.

The Last Story is a majestic game that is well worth dipping into. Though the graphics are jaggy and the framerate can jerk wildly, it more than makes up for it with a wonderful environment and character designs that really makes Lazulis feel like a real place.

TAT Archive – Sleeping Dogs Pt.3

Originally Published in 2014, for TAT Games

Sleeping Dogs

Five more of the best games you’ve never played during the last generation… Again

Hi ho, and welcome one and all to the third and final part of this epic trilogy. Once more, we enter the dust-covered realm of those under-appreciated games of the last generation – under-appreciated games that are worth a second look-in.

Pandora’s Tower

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Format: Wii

Developer: Ganbarion/Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Released: 2012

The third and final game released as part of ‘Operation Rainfall’, Pandora’s Tower is somewhat of a rarity; an original Nintendo IP that doesn’t skimp on the gory details.

An action RPG in the vein of God of War, Ganbarion’s Wii effort places you in the shoes of Aeron – a prototypical silky-haired, boyishly handsome protagonist who is tasked with traversing 13 towers in the ultimate goal of defeating their ‘master beasts’.

Why?

No, it’s not because he wants to save the world – but rather, he desires to prevent his beloved Elena from turning into a giant slug. Yes, you read that right.

For you see, fair Elena is chosen to sing at the Harvest Festival – a sacred custom of her home; the Kingdom of Elyria. During her sterling performance, however, she is cursed and turned into a monstrous creature. Although reverting back to her human form, it is revealed that she will once again undergo the unwelcome metamorphosis – unless she eats the flesh of the 13 master beasts. Yeah.

Coming from a community of vegetarians, this is clearly a harrowing mission for the poor girl. Fortunately, this is where you – Aeron – come in. Meeting a mysterious merchant named Mavda (who carries the corpse of her husband like a backpack), Aeron receives the Oraclos Chain, a whip-like weapon that allows him to rend the flesh of the fearsome beasts.

So, still with me? Good, because this is only the abridged version of the game’s narrative. Truly, it’s to Ganbarion’s credit that they’ve created such a detailed universe, that it would be a massive shame if it was restricted to one game. Likewise, the art and design is simply top-notch, with incredibly detailed architecture, armour and weapon design that really sells the continent of Imperia as a real world.

But what about the game itself? Well, Pandora’s Tower is an intriguing mix of hack n’ slash and time management, with Elena acting as a traumatised virtual pet, who must be fed monster meat at regular intervals, whilst being soothed by regular chats with Aeron.

In terms of the action scenes, the Oraclos Chain is used as a multi-purpose tool. Not only does it rip apart enemies; it can also bind them together, allowing Aeron to slash them with his sword. It opens up a strategic front to combat, as the chain is unusable during these moments. Additionally, it can be used as a Zelda-type hookshot, grabbing distant items, pulling various switches, and allowing Aeron to do his best Indy impression by swinging across gaps. Items themselves can be sold, or used to craft new weapons and armour. When facing the master beasts themselves, Pandora’s Tower echoes the majesty of Shadow of the Colossus, with incredibly designed bosses that lumber about harmlessly. Of course, you’re forced to be a jerk by killing them dead. Jerk.

As I mentioned earlier, there is also a time-limit to proceedings. Basically, it’s up to you how often you visit and feed Elena. As you might expect, showing-up regularly makes her happy, while neglecting her turns her into an anti-social she-slug. Aeron must always be aware of the speed of his progress. He must always know went to press forward, or when to pull-back and fight another day. Either way, his actions will result in differing endings, which goes some way to offer replay value.

Pandora’s Tower is well worth tracking down. It is one of the few games where the Wii Remote + Nunchuk option is the superior set-up – genuinely highlighting how motion controls can actually improve a gaming experience.

2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U eShop!

 

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

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Format: PS3 & Xbox 360

Developer: Ignition Tokyo

Publisher: UTV Ignition Entertainment

Released: 2011

When one tries to think of instances of the successful intermingling of biblical tales and videogaming, thoughts generally turn to oddities such as animal-bothering simulator Super Noah’s Ark – where faithful reinterpretation isn’t exactly high on the priority list.

Props then, to Ignition Tokyo, for having the stones to create El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.

A stylistic retelling of the story of Enoch and his quest to find Heaven’s seven fallen angels, El Shaddai is a stunning effort by the Japanese developer; an effort that has sadly (albeit somewhat expectedly) gone unrewarded.

In case you need to brush up on your Bible studies (like, er, I did), the game centres around Enoch; a scholar who was allowed to live in paradise amongst the angels. Unfortunately, seven of the blighters decide that Earth is the place to be, so they decide to vamoose – resulting in a pissed-off God who threatens to drown humanity.

That is, unless Enoch can bring them back.

This is done by hacking, slashing, and hopping about on platforms. Yes, El Shaddai does its best Dante’s Inferno impression by becoming an action game; but unlike EA’s abominable effort, Ignition Tokyo handles the subject matter with a poise that is sadly very rare in the gaming industry. Instead of shock value, El Shaddai is an elegant piece of art, where wondrous watercolours and abstract imagery reign supreme. Truly, this is one of the best looking games you’ll ever play, with dreamlike environments and peculiar character design that makes every moment a pure joy for your eyes. Though the majority of the game is set in a giant tower, each ‘floor’ represents a different world that is completely different from the others. One level ‘does’ an Okami by smothering the screen in bold lines and traditional Japanese aesthetic. Another acts as a bright and colourful 2D platformer, complete with blobby little Nephilim characters prancing about. One stage even takes place in a futuristic city-scape, where Enoch gets to cruise around on a badass bike whilst demolishing giant robots.

Despite such a vast array in visual styles, the game still manages to feel cohesive – which is a true testament to the skill of the artists.

In terms of gameplay, proceedings are fairly simple. Enoch only has three different types of weapon at his disposal – and though they’re given fancy names, they pretty much fit the ‘quick > medium > heavy’ template, with combat echoing the tried-and-true rock-paper-scissors dynamic. At regular interval, Enoch must ‘purify’ his weapon by pressing the L button, lest he be corrupted by its energy. It’s basically a good/evil morality system, but it doesn’t make much difference in the long run. This is very much a narrative-focused game; there’s even a super-easy mode that negates the risk of death – and even in the ‘normal’ mode, there is little to fear from expiration.

Still, El Shaddai is still worth experiencing. Sometimes the thrill is in the story – and not the difficulty. It’s still fairly easy to find, so don’t resist snapping-up a copy!

 

Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Skies

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Format: Wii

Developer: Treasure

Publisher: Nintendo

Released: 2010

Remember that N64 game, Sin & Punishment? The one developed by Treasure, where you played as spunky teens Saki Amamiya and Airan Jo as they travelled through incredible environments, as they shot and slashed every living thing around them in the hyper-kinetic pursuit of that almighty high score?

No, of course you don’t.

Despite having full English voice acting, Sin & Punishment was never released outside Japan. For seven long years, we lowly Western gamers lived in abject misery knowing that we would never get such a brilliant title – until the glorious gateway known as the Virtual Console, which saw the game finally release worldwide on the Wii. In glee, we bought the game in droves (well, I hope you did, dear reader), and revelled in its bullet-ridden madness. Clearly, Nintendo noticed this flurry of activity, as it decided to commission Treasure to create a sequel tailor-built for the Wii.

Fast-forward to 2010, and Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Skies was born. Though Australia never got it (outside of one retailer). Typical.

Taking control of Isa Jo (the son of the original protagonists), and a new girl named Kachi, Successor of the Skies is basically the same concept as its forebear – only bigger, badder, and bolder. That concept? An on-rails shooter akin to Sega’s Space Harrier, where countless enemies and enormous bosses flood the TV screen as you madly try to keep your score multiplier alive and kicking. A melee weapon can also be used to slice enemies and deflect projectiles back to their original owners, whilst shifts in perspective ensure that things never get too stale. Furthermore, both Isa and Kachi possess unique traits that mix things up a little; the former can use his backpack to hover, whilst switching between auto and manual aiming; and the latter has a nifty hoverboard and the ability to lock-on the multiple targets at once.

Visually, it’s a stunner too. Much like the N64 version before it, this next-gen – ahem – Successor, pushes its host console to breaking-point. The Wii gasps and grunts as it pushes so many polygons at a blistering pace, whilst flaunting graphical effects like bloom, depth-of-field, and wobbly transparency-o-vision. Enemy design is similarly spectacular, with giant, screen-filling creatures that echo the tried-and-true traditions of the very best Treasure games – and the immense challenge that comes with it.

For a machine that was derided for its ‘casual’ slant, Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Skies is a remarkably hardcore Wii game; and one that should not be missed out on. Maybe if you all buy it, we’ll get a Sin & Punishment 3 on Wii U, eh?

2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U eShop!

 

Bayonetta

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Format: Xbox 360 & PS3

Developer: Platinum Games

Publisher: Sega

Released: 2010

September 13, 2012 will be a day that will be remembered for a long time to come.

Why? Because it was the day that Bayonetta 2 was announced – and it was coming exclusively to Wii U.

Like a hellish fissure that cracked along the ground, the internet exploded in a great rage that was felt in every digital corner. No one was safe, as vitriol was violently hurled toward Nintendo for ‘stealing’ their beloved Platinum-class franchise right from under their quivering noses.

Of course, anyone with a modicum of sense sees things differently.

Because the bottom line is that we are getting a sequel to one of the best action games ever made. We should be happy.

A foreign concept, I know.

Somewhat ironically, the original Bayonetta was published by Nintendo’s former nemesis, Sega – who also financed the similarly awesome MadWorld and Vanquish. The game puts you in the high (rocket) heels of Bayonetta – a witch packed to the brim with insane weapons, witty double-entendres, and shape-shifting hair that acts as her dominatrix-inspired outfit. The narrative is suitably crazy, when she awakens from a 500 year deep lake slumber, before finding herself suffering from some gnarly amnesia. It’s a bugger when that happens, huh? Anyway, she finds herself owning one half of the ‘Eyes of the World’, before being told by an informant named Enzo that the other half is in the European city of Vigrid. Over the course of the campaign, the plot twists and turns at an alarming rate, with lore about Umbra Witches, Lumen Sages, and Cardinal Virtues all up in your face.

The action is equally remorseless. Bayonetta makes games like Devil May Cry look positively sedate in comparison, with a combat system that is smooth as silk. Aside from the expected inclusion of combos and juggles, the sultry witch can also perform ‘Torture Attacks’, slow down proceedings with ‘Witch Time’, transform into vicious creatures, and steal weapons from her foes. There’s even an arcade shoot em’ up called ‘Angel Attack’, where you can blast angels for points – and then use those points for upgrades. Your ammo is a collectable currency called ‘Arcade Bullets’, which adds a nice dose of strategy to the proceedings. You can also collect ‘Halos’ in order to upgrade weapons and buy techniques, and do something relating to a ‘Climax’.

I’ll let you figure that one out yourself.

Bayonetta is such a smooth, complete package. Its tongue-in-cheek humour is symbolic of a wider design philosophy at work; a design philosophy that hearkens back to the good old days of gaming, where the only thing that mattered was being awesome. There are no pretentious messages or thought-provoking themes, or bare-bones linearity that accommodates only one play-style. Bayonetta is a gamer’s game, with Platinum’s obsession over minute details echoing the very best combat games from Capcom (which is apt, considering the two firms have shared personnel).

It’s says a lot when a game sells two million copies, yet still feels like a snubbed gem. It’s to Nintendo’s credit that it decided to revive the series for a second chance at glory, and I personally can’t wait to once again experience a climax with Bayonetta 2.

That sounded less disgusting in my head.

2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U and Steam!

 
Metroid Prime: Trilogy

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Format: Wii

Developer: Retro Studios

Publisher: Nintendo

Released: 2009

When composing a list of great videogames that were overlooked, one of the last titles one would expect to see is Metroid – one of the most iconic franchises in the entire industry.

Despite their incredible quality, the adventures of Samus Aran have never been particularly big sellers for Nintendo (relatively speaking), so it’s a shame to see such an amazing product like the Metroid Prime: Trilogy get such a limited release.

Packing Retro Studios’ genre-defining Metroid Prime games onto a single disc, this trifecta is utterly essential for any collector – and gamer – worth their salt.

First, Metroid Prime. Originally released in 2002 for the Gamecube, this was the game that finally bought the series into 3D (after skipping the N64) – and good lord, was it magnificent. Played in a first person perspective, Prime followed Samus as she explored the richly detailed world of Tallon IV in the pursuit of the alien Space Pirates. Much like its predecessors, the plot wasn’t told through cutscenes (*cough*OtherM*cough*), but via the world itself. Journal entries littered Space Pirate computers and terminals, whilst flora, fauna and enemies could be scanned and catalogued. The system really evoked a sense of ‘place’, as did the ‘Metroidvania’ structure that was successfully replicated in the 3D world.

Released in 2004, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is perhaps seen as the dark horse of the trio (though it is my personal favourite). Travelling to the planet Aether in response to a distress signal sent by Galactic Federation Marines, Samus finds herself trapped between two alternate dimensions; the light of the Luminoth, and the darkness of the Ing. Much like Nintendo’s own The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, this light/dark dynamic is used to its fullest potential, with the duelling gameplay creating mind-bending puzzles, and a reliance on polarising ammunition ensuring that there is a new twist to combat and exploration. It’s also the most difficult game of the collection – though it’s been toned-down a little from the GCN version. Additionally, there is a multi-player mode… But let’s just ignore that, eh?

The final title is the 2007 Wii original, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. This final chapter takes a more action-oriented approach – though it still contains plenty of exploration and puzzling. Instead of one location, Samus travels to different worlds in order to stop the spread of the deadly substance known as Phazon, as well as to combat a wide array of colourful (albeit poorly-voiced) bounty hunters. This was one of the first Wii titles to show what the console was truly capable of – both graphically, and in terms of the capabilities of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.

It’s the influence of the third game that has seeped into parts one and two. Now, all games are controlled with the Wii set-up, which works dazzlingly. In addition, the achievement-esque credit awards from Corruption are now incorporated across the whole package, rewarding players with artwork, music, the ability to take screenshots, Samus’ Metroid Fusion suit, and decorative knick-knacks for her ship. Of course, the GCN games also now run in widescreen, and there are various graphical tweaks to make the generational gap less noticeable.

If you can find it cheap (well, relatively cheap, as copies can fetch up to $200), you need to absolutely jump on it, and experience some 50 hours of the best videogames ever made.

2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U eShop!

TAT Archive – Sleeping Dogs Pt.2

Originally Published in 2014, for TAT Games

Sleeping Dogs

Five more of the best games you never played during the last generation

Welcome, one and all, to part two of Sleeping Dogs. If you’re tired of the ‘mainstream’ videogames clogging up your time – then do yourself a favour, and give these overlooked classics a spin. Cram ‘em into your disc slot, and enjoy the fact that you’re now on the ‘inside’ of obscure gaming culture. You hipster, you.

Deadly Premonition

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Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Developer: Access Games

Publisher: Rising Star Games

Release: 2010

Deadly Premonition is a bad game.

Looking like a forgotten relic of the PS2-era, it was designed by Hidetaka Suehiro – AKA SWERY – and was released to great derision.

Why? Well, there were the awful visuals, with fuzzy objects and muddy textures that made eyes water in disbelief. There were the unintuitive controls that made traversal a chore. The repetitive, plinky-plonky music that sounded like it was ripped straight from a low-budget RPG. The voice overs which reflected how bored-stiff the actors were. The stiff character movements. The useless map which made navigation next to impossible. The repetitive combat scenarios. The cereal-boxes masquerading as cars.

So, then why in the hell is this game included here?

Because, for all of its (many) faults, Deadly Premonition has gained a cult following. For almost every piece of scorn heaped upon it, the game was also showered with praise. Infamously one of the most divisive games ever made, SWERY’s magnum opus was granted review scores from both ends of the spectrum – with verdicts ranging from two to 10 out of 10. It even holds a Guinness World Record for its divisiveness – so it’s official and everything.

Supporters of Deadly Premonition found merits within its open-world (and open-ended) gameplay, which echoed Sega classic Shenmue. Playing as FBI agent Francis York Morgan (but please, just call him York), players find themselves in the enigmatic, Twin Peaks-esque town of Greenvale as they attempt to solve a gruesome murder of a woman. Partnering with the gruff town sheriff George Woodman and token female deputy Emily Wyatt, York gradually uncovers a bunch of gruesome secrets that is emblematic of the murder mystery genre. The plot is infused with a supernatural flair, as York is regularly accosted by murderous ghosts (that can be conveniently shot), suffocating red vines, and a Nemesis-style recurring enemy that wields an axe and sports a stylin’ red raincoat.

But the main ‘appeal’ of Deadly Premonition is Greenvale itself.

Truly, this is a town where one can get lost in (literally, thanks to the crappy map). From dusk ‘till dawn, Greenvale is crammed full of activities that threaten to make York completely forget why he’s there in the first place. Every major character has their own life they attend to; and when they’re not being accosted by the FBI agent, they’re going about their own business – business that even changes depending on the weather.

Although he can sleep in many different places, York has a room at the local hotel. Upon waking every morning, you have the choice of changing outfits (and cleaning dirty ones), shaving, and having breakfast. A coffee aficionado, York can even get his fortune told by his beverage’s swirling milk.

In the town itself, he can drive around in his squad car and search for numerous asides. Side-quests range from the obligatory citizen favour-granting – to things like fishing, racing, collecting rare cards, playing darts at bars, digging-up human bones (yep), and play peeping tom by peeking in windows (double yep). His vehicle can even run out of fuel and break-down – requiring funds to fix the thing up. York even gets hungry and tired, so players must regularly feed him and make sure he gets a nap once in a while.

Get past the slow opening hours, and Deadly Premonition will – at the very least – offer an experience you won’t forget any time soon.

 

Punch-Out!!

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Format: Wii

Developer: Next Level Games

Publisher: Nintendo

Release: 2009

You can be forgiven for not even being aware of this game’s existence. Just blame Nintendo. Shamefully, the company decided that the first Punch-Out!! sequel in nearly 15 years wasn’t worth an Australian-wide release (along with the similarly shunned Wii game Excitebots), leaving only one retail chain to stock limited copies of the game.

With Little Mac’s long-overdue inclusion onto the playable roster of Super Smash Bros, now is the perfect time to dive into this sleeper hit, which takes the all-time classic Punch-Out!! gameplay, and successfully transplants it into the 21st century.

Next Level Games have done a sterling job with this title, which boasts some of the best character animations seen on the Wii. Again under the tutelage of chocolate-scoffing trainer Doc Luis, Little Mac must (surprise) battle some of the world’s best boxers in order to make his way up the ranks and become the champion of the ‘World Video Boxing Association’.

In gameplay terms, this means battling tongue-in-cheek racial stereotypes via the traditional view behind Mac himself – just like it has always been. In truth, almost nothing has changed since Super Punch-Out!!, with Nintendo preferring to stick to the tried-and-true formula of scouting an opponent’s chink in their armour, before capitalising via unrelenting fisticuffs.

As anyone who has played any version of Punch-Out!! will tell you, the game is just as much puzzler as it is a fighting simulation – and the difficulty can be unforgiving as a result.

The Wii sequel is no different – which gives a black-eye to anyone who criticises Nintendo’s waggle box as the haven for ‘casual’ gamers only. Indeed, this is one of the hardest games I’ve personally played – but it can be beaten. Truly, for all of the spiffing visuals and cartoony imagery, Next Level has nailed the old school sense of success by perseverance; of learning every intricate offensive and defensive manoeuvre of rival boxers. Words truly can’t express the feeling of satisfaction when Mac just floors his adversary with one well-timed, accurate punch.

And they are truly some colourful adversaries.

Old favourites such as the weedy Glass Joe, the bulbous King Hippo, and the terrifying Mr. Sandman return, as well as newbies like Disco Kid and Donkey Kong (yes). As I mentioned, each (mildly offensive) character is like a living cartoon, with evocative facial expressions and exaggerated movements that really make them pop from the screen. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Super Macho Man flex his buttocks like a madman.

Er. Yeah.

As expected for a Wii game, there are multiple control options available, including the surprisingly playable combo of Wii Remote and Nunchuk, as well as compatibility with the Wii Balance Board. However, purists would ultimately benefit from the traditional ‘NES’ style input (solo Wii Remote held on its side).

If you can find a cheap deal online, I’d say go for it. You’ll be knocked-out by its quality.

Sorry.

2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U eShop!

 

 

ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Classics HD

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Format: PS3

Developer: Team Ico/Bluepoint Games

Publisher: Sony

Release: 2011

In the first edition of Sleeping Dogs, I talked about Ōkami, and its seemingly eternal struggle to find the audience it deserved. A continuous cycle of rebirth and negligence, Capcom’s cel-shaded masterpiece was re-released multiple times in an attempt to gain some much-needed attention.

In a way, the same thing has happened to Fumito Ueda.

With not just one – but two – virtually ignored PS2 classics acting as very fluffy feathers in his cap, the Japanese design luminary got a second chance with the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Classics HD – a PS3 port of, well, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

Despite being two different titles, Team Ico’s dual masterworks both share thematically similar aspects. Both are set in a mysterious, unnamed fantasy world. Both are achingly beautiful. And both communicate with the player in a minimalist fashion, where the mantra of ‘show, don’t tell’ reigns supreme.

And what a show.

First; Ico. Released in 2001, this was seen as (arguably) the PlayStation 2’s first killer-app. Set within a dank, gloomy castle, you play as…well, Ico – a young boy with horns, who awakens from a coffin-like prison. As he tries to find his way out, he eventually comes across a ghostly girl named Yorda – who speaks are cryptic language that serves as a communicative barrier between the two. However, this is where the beauty if the game shines through, as Ico and Yorda regardless develops a deep relationship as they manoeuvre their way through the labyrinthine environment. Holding hands in a touching fashion, they scramble, climb and solve puzzles whilst desperately trying to fend-off evil shadows that try to take the girl away. This is done by whacking them with a stick. It’s all so elegantly simple – that even the mere event of escaping in the courtyard and seeing the sunshine is an event in itself.

Now onto Shadow of the Colossus. Unleashed toward the end of the PS2’s life in 2005, this served as a prequel to Ico – but the gameplay itself was really rather different; not just from its forebear, but from anything else at the time. Taking control of a young swordsman named Wander, you find yourself tasked with slaying 16 monolithic colossi in an effort to revive a slain girl named Mono. There are no other enemies in the game besides these roaming giants; and they’re found by – ahem – ‘wandering’ a massive open land on your trusty steed named Agro. Once spotted, each monster must literally be climbed as they try to swat you like a fly, and this is where the main thrill of the game lies. The differing designs of each colossus ensure that every clash is just as much a puzzle as it is a sheer battle of wills, and the feeling of finally slaying each beast is one of euphoria and utter triumph. Shadow of the Colossus is bigger and bolder than Ico – but that feeling of ephemeral ‘otherness’ is still present; and it’s a feeling that is utterly unique to this HD collection.

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are undisputed works of genius that deserve to be remembered for years to come.

And the story is set to continue with The Last Guardian. Eventually. One day. Maybe before the sun explodes and kills us all.

2017 Edit: Oh my.

2017 Edit 2: It’s being remade for PS4!

 

 

Opoona

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Format: Wii

Developer: ArtePiazza

Publisher: Koei

Release: 2008

Opoona.

That’s a name that just conveys images of an epic adventure. An epic adventure that provides hours upon hours of in-depth gameplay, an involving plot, lush visuals and an intricate battle system.

Right?

Right. At first glance, Opoona is a deceptively simple-looking game. One could be forgiven for thinking its bright, bold colours and unassuming character designs are emblematic of a children’s game; one that belongs in the bottom of the Wii bargain bin.

Unfortunately, this untrue perception ultimately became the reality for this charming title by ArtePiazza, as sluggish sales ensured a swift demise for any potential sequel.

Releasing on the same day as Super Mario Galaxy tends to do that to a game. Sigh.

So, what is Opoona?

Described as a “lifestyle RPG” by the developers, the game follows the main protagonist Opoona (surprise!); an alien who possesses a mystical ‘bonbon’ that serves as his weapon.- a characteristic shared by his ‘Tizian’ race that act as guardian warriors throughout the cosmos. The story begins with Opoona on a vacation with his family, as they travel in a spaceship on their way to Landroll – a planet that has stopped rotating after a dark comet struck it centuries earlier. Humans now live on the world under domed cities, which serve as protection from the ‘rogues’ – monsters that have emerged from the gloomy crater.

After an unknown force strikes their ship, Opoona – along with his siblings, Copoona and Poleena – are placed into escape pods by their parents, and are jettisoned to Landroll. It’s a surprisingly sad scene – and one that makes you feel sorry for the kids, especially after what comes next.

Waking in ‘Tokione’ – the biggest city in Landroll, Opoona leans that his parents have been critically injured, and are hospitalised at the ‘healing’ city of Sanctuary. Whilst they recover, Opoona is forced to undertake a profession and contribute to Landrollian society.

With the core vocation of ‘Ranger’ (basically, a soldier), the young lad is tasked with entering the wilderness and offing monsters with his bonbon, as he makes his way up through the ranks.

The battle system is turn-based, with the player required to toss Opoona’s bonbon at a wide variety of colourful enemies. Speed and trajectory can be manipulated via the analogue stick, with curved throws and spirals essential to defeating enemies whilst bypassing dangerous obstacles (such as bombs).

As he makes his way through the game, Opoona eventually teams with his brother Copoona and sister Poleena, whilst undertaking a wide variety of side-jobs. Illustrating the ‘lifestyle’ moniker of the game’s tagline, Opoona can take advantage of many employment opportunities – such as farmer, miner, seamaster, cleaner, attendant, ukulele player and even TV star. Additionally, he can form relationships with many different NPC’s, watch TV shows, buy a pet, and even get an apartment.

With art design by Shintaro Majima of Dragon Quest fame, and a lovely soundtrack by Final Fantasy XII composer Hitoshi Sakimoto, Opoona is well worth tracking down.

 

3D Dot Game Heroes

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Format: PS3

Developer: Silicon Studio

Publisher: SouthPeak Games

Release: 2010

Ever wanted to play a Zelda game in 3D?

Well, now you can – with 3D Dot Game Heroes! Toss aside that lousy copy of Ocarina of Time, and play Zelda the way it was meant to be played – as if the last 30 years never happened.

Developed by Silicon Studio (the fab folks behind the 3DS game Bravely Default) 3D Dot Game Heroes is a love letter to the action-adventure games of the 8-bit era. Evoking the gameplay and imagery of classic games such as The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy Adventure, and Dragon Quest – 3DDGH takes these digital pioneers, and transplants them on PS3.

Set in the kingdom of Dotnia, you play as a custom created hero, as s/he bravely battles the evil forces of Dark Bishop Fuelle in a quest to rid the land of darkness and to prevent the resurrection of Gan… Er, I mean Dark King Onyx. Obviously, it’s all simple stuff – and that’s exactly the point.

The main appeal is in the 8-bit gameplay that is presented in glorious HD-o-vision. In a nice bit of lore, the King of Dotnia decreed that the land simply looked too tired in 2D – hence its transformation into (you guessed it) 3D. The blocky characters look gorgeous, and the gameplay itself is a smooth as butter.

There are no revelations here. You slay enemies, explore dungeons, gain items, and uncover secrets. But that’s all that’s needed. It’s an awesome nod to times past, and there are a couple of cool new ideas – such as an enormous sword that grows all the way across the screen, and an enemy encyclopaedia that is expanded by literally beating the book on their heads.

Now if that is no reason to buy this game, then I don’t know what is.

TAT Archive – Sleeping Dogs Pt.1

Originally Published in 2014, for TAT Games

Sleeping Dogs

Five of the best games you never played during the last generation

Welcome one and all, to the first of a series of features that will cast the limelight on videogames of the last generation – that is, videogames that were shunted to the side and didn’t attain the success that they so richly deserved. As we enter a new generation of gaming consoles and handhelds, it’s important to remember that there will be great titles; titles that exude imagination and quality in equal measures. Unfortunately, it is a given that many of these will be kicked to the curb. Heck, we’re already seeing it now (Wonderful 101, please stand forward). However, you can rectify those past sins, by following this essential guide.

Xenoblade Chronicles

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Format: Wii

Developer: Monolith Soft

Publisher: Nintendo

Release: 2011

If you were asked the question “what was the best JRPG of the last generation?” what would your answer be? Lost Odyssey? Final Fantasy XIII? Wrong on both counts, boyo. The correct response is “Xenoblade Chronicles, oh benevolent master.”

Such was the game’s quality that a massive fan campaign dubbed ‘Operation Rainfall’ was enacted in a desperate bid to get the game (along with The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower) released on western shores. And luckily it worked, because Xenoblade is the best JRPG of the last decade.

Following a young lad named Shulk – who finds himself wielding the mythical blade known as the Monado in a desperate bid to battle the fearsome Mechon – Xenoblade Chronicles is an epic adventure that is set on the battle-locked corpses of two gods. It’s not as gruesome as it sounds, as one god – the Bionis (where the good guys live) – is actually more like a rocky statue that is covered in mountains, forests, oceans and canyons. Its foe – the Mechonis – is basically a giant robot that is home to millions of smaller robots. Robots that love nothing more than invading the Bionis and slaughtering its denizens, that is.

At its most basic form, the storyline of the game follows Shulk and a bunch of friends who find themselves embroiled within the war of the Mechon, as they journey across (well, up) the Bionis in an attempt to kick ass and take names. Obviously, the plot gets much more complicated than that (what with this being a JRPG and all), but I’d be cruel to spoil it – as it does become genuinely mind-blowing before the end.

Also mind-blowing is the game itself; an epic adventure that pushes the Wii’s humble innards to breaking point as Monolith Soft treats gamers with some of the biggest and most gorgeous worlds ever seen in a videogame. Large cities, grassy plains, glittering oceans, steamy forests, snowy mountains, labyrinthine caverns, futuristic dungeons… This game has it all; and the fact that there are barely any load times is just the icing on this already-heaving cake. What’s even more amazing is that there is a very real sense of ascension as Shulk and his crew make their way ever upwards along the Bionis. The starting town? It’s on the knee. Those grassy plains? On the leg. Snowy mountains? The arm. That ocean? Plonked on the head. It all makes the linear corridors of Final Fantasy XIII look positively embarrassing by comparison.

The battle system, too, is wonderful. A mixture of turn-based and real-time thumping that is so popular these days, what’s really great is that punishment isn’t as arbitrary and frustrating as its genre forebears. Death isn’t met with a trip back to the last save point, but rather the nearest ‘landmark’ – points of interest that also serve as warp-points. You get to keep your experience points and items, which means there is virtually no risk in venturing off the beaten track and coming across a high-level foe – before it proceeds to wipe the floor with your corpse. Still, yay exploration!

EXP is also given out for completing side-quests – of which there are literally hundreds. EXP is also given out for… finding rare items and filling out an addictive stamp book, re-building an entire colony, crafting materia-style gems, finding secret areas, battling legendary creatures, etc, etc. It really is a generous game – one that gave me 112 hours of entertainment – and I still didn’t do everything there was to do!

Lucky there’s also a New Game + eh?

2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U eShop and New 3DS!

 

Shadows of the Damned

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Format: PS3, Xbox 360

Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture

Publisher: EA

Release: 2011

Ah, Suda 51. Who on this earth can resist the madcap antics of one of Japan’s most eccentric game developers?

A lot of people apparently, judging by the miserly sales of most of his games. To be fair though, Suda-san’s titles aren’t exactly what I’d call ‘accessible’. Killer 7, No More Heroes, Flower Sun and Rain… Honestly, this feature could just as easily be filled with Grasshopper’s output, and there’d still be games to spare.

Still, there’s one in particular that I found to be a righteous good time, and that was the EA-published Shadows of the Damned, an action-horror game developed in conjunction with legendary Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, and Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka.

Following the exploits of Mexican demon hunter Garcia Hotspur (yes), you find yourself descending into the very depths of hell itself, in the pursuit of your girlfriend Paula, who has been kidnapped by the king of hell, Fleming. Along for the ride is Johnson, a regal ex-demon who takes the shape of a skull that can morph into guns for Garcia to use. Guns that shoot bones and teeth.

Did I mention this is a Suda 51 game?

This all basically boils down to an eight hour long, fairly generic third-person shooter. However, the magic isn’t in the gameplay, but the insane, hilarious, and creepy settings. Suda’s version of hell is a unique blend of S&M, meathooks, and pitch black streets that look like they come from Ripper-era London. It’s a place where demons literally live and die under the suffocating shadow of Fleming’s tower. A place where bleating goat heads radiate safe, holy light. A place where wailing baby faces are fed strawberries in order to access secret areas. A place where a demon merchant named Cristopher sounds like a hillbilly. A place where a floating, defecating eyeball with wings acts as a save point. A place where Garcia sporadically screams “taste my big boner!”

Did I mention this was a Suda 51 game?

Fair warning to those who decide to track this cult classic down; it is not for the easily offended or faint of heart. But as a result, it is utterly crass and hilarious. Just the way I like ‘em.

 

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

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Format: Wii, PS2, PSP

Developer: Climax Studios

Publisher: Konami

Release: 2009

Over the last five years or so, it became a seemingly accepted fact that survival horror games were dead. Unlike the lurching monstrosities that so defined titles like Resident Evil, Clock Tower and Alone in the Dark, creepy games would remain six-feet under; without the opportunity to spring back to life like, well, like the living dead.

However, this isn’t entirely true. PC classics like Amnesia: Dark Descent, Slender Man and (to a lesser extent) Dear Esther proved that eerie experiences were still in abundant supply. Still, there was one home console that gave the PC a run for its money in providing frightful content… And that was the (yep, you guessed it) Wii (oh, PS2 and PSP too).

What? Balls and Poppycock!” I hear you bellow, as you shove a copy of Carnival Games in my face, “The Wii wasn’t even a real, hardcore games console! Everyone knows that!”

First, shhh. Be quiet. You’re embarrassing yourself.

Second. No, I’m quite serious. The Wii had some great horror games. Cursed Mountain, Fatal Frame IV, Project Zero 2, House of the Dead: Overkill, Dead Space: Extraction, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and The Darkside Chronicles… Heck, if you want to really stretch the genre’s definition, you could probably add the similarly unnerving Fragile Dreams: Farwell Ruins of the Moon and Deadly Creatures to the list too.

But one game trumps them all – and that is Silent Hill: Shattered Memories; a game that rivals Silent Hill 2 as the best of Konami’s psychological terrors. Yes.

I don’t take that statement lightly, but SH:SM is that good. It is an absolute travesty that it flopped the way it did, because I found the game to be a genuinely unforgettable experience.

A quasi-remake of the first Silent Hill, Shattered Memories casts you in the role of Harry Mason; a bespectacled author who literally loses his seven-year old daughter, Cheryl, after veering his car off the icy road. Harry awakens to find her missing, so he whips his torch out before venturing into the chilly (both literally and figuratively) town of Silent Hill.

But, before you do any of this, the game performs a psychological test on you. It needs to find out if you’re suitable, see. Under the icy gaze of Dr. Kaufmann, you are asked a series of uncomfortable questions that can directly influence aspects of the game. What kind of questions? Well, how about ‘Have you ever cheated on your partner?’ Or how about ‘Did you lose your virginity in high school?’ Or ‘Do you drink more than you should?’

As you give your responses (by literally filling in the papers), aspects of Harry’s journey will alter to reflect your personality. For example, if you like to partake in a little drinky-drinky, then cola bottles at an abandoned playground will turn into beer. Or, if the game thinks you’re a bit of a sex-pest, then female characters will be dressed a little more provocatively.

This is how Shattered Memories works. It’s always judging you. It even notes when your gaze lingers a little too long on a filthy poster, or if you care enough to glance at a missing child sign.

The gameplay itself is similarly hair-raising – and all the more brilliant for it. With his smartphone, Harry can take pictures of ghosts, call various numbers strewn about the place, and receive messages from dead people (that is relayed through the Wiimote’s actual speaker). Speaking of the Wiimote, so many incremental objects can be poked, prodded and fiddled with – giving the world a real sense of tactility. And eventually, when the monsters eventually come out to play, all he can do is run – there is no combat in this game.

An absolute must-play. But nothing beats Ninjabread Man on the scar-o-meter.

 

Vanquish

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Format: PS3, Xbox 360

Developer: Platinum Games

Publisher: Sega

Release: 2010

Ahhh, 3rd person shooters. Where would we be without ‘em? Since Shinji Mikami (yep, him again) reinvented the action-horror genre with the horrifyingly brilliant Resident Evil 4 in 2004, it seems that the genre hasn’t progressed a lot since Leon Kennedy’s foray into Europe. With the now-familiar ‘over the shoulder’ view that crams the protagonist into the foreground, TPS games have doggedly stuck to a tried-and-true formula – with perhaps the most famous recent games being Microsoft’s Gears of War series. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Suda 51 certainly didn’t with Shadows of the Damned.

But for one man, this wasn’t good enough. In 2010, shooting-action received a major kick up the ass with Vanquish – an unreal, lightning fast, bullet-ridden venture that was like the mental lovechild of Dragon Ball Z and Halo. And we have Shinji Mikami to thank for this sublime piece of software – a piece of software that was made by Platinum Games.

And if Platinum Games made it, then you know it’s good.

Set in the near future where the Americans have ventured into the ‘O’ Neil Cylinder’ – a solar-powered space station that acts as a reprieve from the over-populated and polluted planet known as ‘Earth’ – Vanquish begins when an evil terrorist group known as the ‘Order of the Russian Star’ hijacks the tube-shaped wonder city, before blasting San Francisco off the map with a super sun laser. Playing as nicotine-loving DARPA researcher Sam Gideon, your main ace in the hole is the ‘Augmented Reaction Suit’ (ARS), an awesome piece of armour that allows the magic to happen. Basically, This all boils down to Sam and a bunch of other soldiers being sent to the O’ Neil Cylinder to shoot a whole bunch of Ruskie robots (no human enemies here), whilst shouting obscenities and flipping all over the place. It’s as awesome as it sounds.

To put it bluntly, Vanquish makes every other 3rd person shooter look positively archaic in comparison. The fact that it hasn’t been copied since either speaks a lot about the timidity of other developers – or the sheer brilliance of Platinum’s coders. Probably a bit of both. I know I would be terrified if I ever tried to emulate the sheer intensity on offer here.

Right, so think of a TPS game. Okay? Got it. Now, imagine if your character has had a jetpack strapped to his back and his feet, which allows him to perform backflips, cartwheels, and floor-slides. Because that’s what Sam Gideon does. Not only that, but you can still fire your weapon while doing all of this, which gives a whole new layer to the gameplay. In order to stop players spamming Sam’s acrobatics, his suit’s power can easily overheat, adding a risk/reward dynamic that adds a tinge of strategy to the proceedings. At first, this system is quite complicated, and you’ll probably find yourself dying more often than you’d like. However, if you stick with it, a rewarding piece of software will eventually rear its head – one that really flaunts its intricate system. The fact that Sam doesn’t accrue items or skills at all during the (fairly short) campaign really speaks volumes of the talent of Mikami’s motley crew. The only way he gets better is if you get better.

When everything eventually clicks, there’s a sense of nirvana that very few games can achieve. Find Vanquish. Buy Vanquish. And master Vanquish. And cross your fingers that a sequel may rear its beautiful head one day…

2017 Edit: It’s on Steam!

 

Ōkami

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Format: PS2, Wii, PS3

Developer: Clover Studios/Ready at Dawn/HexaDrive

Publisher: Capcom/Activision

Release: 2006 (PS2), 2008 (Wii), 2012 (PS3)

In case you hadn’t realised, the common theme of this feature is about ‘failure’.

Not in terms of quality, but in terms of sales. I mean sure, underperforming games can still make a profit if they’re lucky – but to see such wonderful, original pieces of (dare I say it) art fall by the wayside can be an upsetting experience. Do you, dear reader, must have a beloved game that was misunderstood?

Well, imagine if you love Ōkami – like many people do – only to see it fail over and over again.

Whether it’s the original PS2 release, the 2008 Wii-make, or even the DS sequel Ōkamiden, it seems that those of us who covet the sun goddess Amaterasu are doomed to watch in agony as the masses relentlessly throw money at Call of Dutys and Assassin’s Creeds of this world. Heck, Capcom seems to think this way too. Why else would they continuously re-release it? Why else would they put the game’s eponymous white wolf in bloody Marvel vs. Capcom 3?

For those of you reading this who still haven’t played this gorgeous, ephemeral game, I’m gonna paraphrase Total Recall (the good one), and demand that you get your ass to PSN, and immediately download Ōkami. You’ll even get to dust-off that neglected PS Move.

Why? Because Ōkami is a living watercolour painting – and your controller is the paintbrush.

Almost out-Zeldaing Zelda, Ōkami is an epic (and I mean epic) adventure set within the world of Nippon – a fantastical Japan, basically. After a creeping darkness threatens to envelope the verdant country in a vile blackness, a tree spirit named Sakuya calls forth Amaterasu (the titular sun goddess) in a last-hope bid in ridding Nippon of the evil menace. This is where you come in. Wielding the ‘Celestial Paintbrush’, Ammy (as she’s fondly dubbed by her feisty, flea-sized friend named Issun) can literally paint onto reality itself.

A horizontal dash of ink will ‘cut’ enemies and obstacles in half. Drawing a circle in the sky will create a sun that will give warming light. A circle on dead plants will bring them (and the surrounding areas) back to life. Dotting the screen will send seeds forth, before sprouting and damaging demons. A circle with a small line through it will materialise a bomb. There are so many of these powers to be gained throughout the story, and it’s brilliant how the developers make the world your playground.

And what a world it is. Much like Xenoblade, you’ll find yourself incredulous in thinking that this game ever ran on such ‘weak’ hardware. Grassy fields, towns, cities, beaches, temples, mountains, oceans, swamps, ghost ships… And all of it coated in the splendid ‘sumi-e’ Japanese style that makes this title look utterly unlike any other.

There’s so much more I want to say about Ōkami, but to do so would spoil the surprises. The story is warm, emotional and sometimes very funny, with fabulous characters that – again – wouldn’t be out of place in a Zelda game. And when it finally ends, you’ll thank Capcom for never letting it die.

When God Closes A Door…

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Hey folks!

It’s been a bittersweet last couple of weeks. The Australia Times – a network of e-magazines that covered a whole range of topics – has closed its doors for good. As a contributor and editor of the TAT Games publication for nearly four years, it was certainly an eye-opening series of events. This was the first major outlet I worked for that suffered a closure, and a wide range of feelings washed over me.

Guilt. Should I have done more to market and improve the magazine? Over my tenure, I put forward quite a few ideas to help spice things up – but nothing came of it. I don’t blame anyone in particular – indeed, everyone I worked for were supremely excellent and hard-working folks…

Frustration. Oftentimes I felt like I was banging my head against a wall. I don’t know what the grand plans for the brand were, but it always felt like TAT was stuck somewhere in time, without a finger on the industry pulse. As sucks as it is to admit, the vast majority of the audience don’t want to ‘read’. They want to absorb info as quick and as easy as possible – and the magazine-based approach is very much a niche market in today’s world. It certainly didn’t help matters that TAT’s website needed readers to register in order to even see the content… in terms of user-friendliness, The Australia Times was – quite frankly – woeful in execution.

Relief. Finally, I felt like I could let go of the concerns after the closure was announced. I now have extra time for creative writing, as well as focusing my gaming-related energies to GSR. Don’t get me wrong – I’m eternally thankful for the opportunities TAT Games has given me; not only to flex my writing muscles, but to also gain valuable skills like team management, idea-generation, editing and communicating with companies. Skills that have transferred supremely to GSR. I’ll always be appreciative of that.

It’s stuff I’ve been thinking about more and more, especially now that my 29th birthday has just come and gone. Instead of being stressful about things I haven’t done with my life, I’m actually finding myself getting more mellow – especially now that I’ve made some lifestyle choices that have evoked more positivity (more on that in a later blog). That’s not to say I’m becoming complacent or unambitious; but rather, I think I’m learning to de-emphasise trivial concerns that have caused so much unwarranted anxiety regarding my professional and personal life – as well as coming to the slow realisation that life is far simpler than we make it out to be.

But more on that some other time! Now that The Australia Times will soon be going offline, I decided that my hard work can’t disappear – so with that said, I hope you enjoy my gaming archives that will soon be added to the site!

Have a good one,

 

– Kris

The Tarinn Fables: Kwennsefulass – Prologue!

Hey all! If you’re still on the fence about purchasing my book – then let me gift you with a free look at the prologue of The Tarinn Fables: Kwennsefulass!

Enjoy!

PROLOGUE

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Step by confused step, he slowly made his way through the dense underbrush of the forest. He didn’t know where he was, or even who he was. It seemed like years ago when he woke, but in truth, it had only been a few hours. The man had arisen from what seemed like an eternity of nightmares and untold horror – none of which he could remember. Much like his own identity.

As he slowly entered the world of reality, he felt an immense pain on his right cheek, as if someone had sliced him open with cold steel. This was odd, considering the fact that there was a mysterious sword lying right next to him, gleaming brilliantly in the morning sun. It had a dark lime handle with auburn ends, and a solid gold finger guard that was encrusted with a magnificent blue stone.

This weapon left the perplexed man awestruck, and when he absent-mindedly reached for the handle – and clasped it – he felt a surge of power that replaced his cheek pain with an even greater hurt. He tried desperately to let go, but the sword would not allow it. It wanted the grief-stricken person a taste of true power, and true consequence.

Suddenly the pain stopped, just as quickly as it began. Gasping, he released the sword gradually as pain seared its way through the rest of his body. Foe some inexplicable reason, however, he felt refreshed – like shedding an old skin.

He felt incredible. Reborn.

Clasping his chest to feel his madly beating heart, the breathless man noticed that he had another mysterious item – a necklace – a square shaped, emerald coloured necklace. It had a simple, peculiar design, and one finely engraved word; ‘Kwennsefulass’.

Kwennsefulass!

It was a word strangely familiar to him. Pondering all of this, the man continued to trudge through the forest, not knowing why. Maybe he was looking for help? Maybe some place to die? Either way, he was determined to go on.

About an hour later, the fatigued man heard the song of water – a bubbling stream. Rushing to it, he proceeded to take mad slurps, and wash away the grime. It was then he finally caught a glimpse of himself.

He stared into the pool and saw two brown eyes look intently back at him. He had a thick, black head of hair – almost to the point of shagginess. His body was well built and he possessed a pale complexion. Nothing, however, could have prepared him for what he saw on his bothersome right cheek; an immense scar that began at the corner of his eye near his nose, and extended slantwise right down to his jaw. Terrified, the man felt his cheek to make saw it wasn’t a dream.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

He considered the possibility that the pain he had felt previously was inflicted by a real dagger, and not an ephemeral one. Now he was even more baffled. Standing up, he continued on. Hours later, he trudged miserably. His stomach was growling in protest, adding hunger to the pile of negative feelings he continually suffered. His gut felt like an empty cave, just waiting to be filled up with valuable food. He tried to distract himself from his appetite by examining his necklace. That didn’t last long, for suddenly, the trees that had surrounded him vanished. He was finally out of the blackness of the forest, and overlooking an incredible piece of scenery.

< . >

In the distance was a small town, barely alive with human activity. Further away was the most amazing thing the man had ever seen; a colossal stretch of water as far as the eye can see. Dotted along its edge were small boats and ships docking into the settlement after a hard day’s work, for two suns – one white and the other red – slowly sunk into the horizon with a mute blazing glory. There was something undeniably spiritual about it, and this made the man very relaxed. He’d heard the name of this water before…

The sea!

Yes! Yes, that was it! Hoping for some answers and a place to rest his weary feet, the man headed for the town.

As he got tantalisingly closer, the townsfolk gradually noticed his arrival and wondered where on earth he had come from. This was most certainly a change in the daily routine of fishing and shipping cargo! A strange man in ragged cloths seemingly appearing out of nowhere was coming towards them and, not knowing what to do; some of the people simply went indoors to avoid him. Parents called their kids in, and shopkeepers packed up and left their stalls, leaving the main road deserted.

As the stranger wandered dazedly through the town with a pleading look in his eyes, he was stopped in his tracks by a gruff looking fisherman with a large grey moustache and a bandanna.

“’Ello, and what can we do fer ya?” he grunted in greeting.

Finally speaking to another person, the man cleared his dry throat, “I… I don’t know…”

Eyeing this new arrival suspiciously, the burly man tried again. “Err, okay. Do ya need any help? What ‘bout some information? Ya lost? Huh? Huh?”

Groaning in pain and confusion, the outsider tried asking a question. “Where am I? How did I get her?”

Clearly unprepared for such a response, and realising that this ragged man needed some serious help, the fisher gave up. “Look buddy; try the inn at the end of the town. That’s info central down there, that is.” He pointed toward the ocean. “Ya can’t miss it.”

Nodding in understanding, the new arrival shuffled off.

“Hey buddy!” The fisherman called quickly, “What’s ya name?”

Turning, the man replied, “I wish I knew.” With that, he walked off again.

Watching him slowly recede in the distance, the fisherman gave a sigh and went home. “This is gonna get interestin’” he muttered.

The inn was called the Queezy Fennick.

Odd, the man thought.

Out the front of the building was a quaint little fountain surrounded by an earth covered in small pebbles that led straight to the front doors. In the sunset they were illuminated into a fiery orange. Inside, the man heard music, conversations, laughter, and the occasional glass breaking. He breathed deeply and went in. Inside, he almost gagged on the smoke. Surely they can open a window? He thought to himself. Wiping his face, he proceeded to the counter for questions. He waited until he was served by a middle-aged man, probably the owner.

“Welcome to the Queezy Fen—”

The server stopped mid-sentence when he saw the man’s scar and torn cloths.

“Good God!” His eyes bulged in shock, “What the hellaroony happened to you?” He then snapped his large fingers, “Jeleenn! I need you for a moment!” He shouted.

At that moment a girl, who was probably seventeen or eighteen, with a slightly tanned complexion, long brunette hair, and striking sea green eyes, came bustling out the door. She carried a tray of mugs.

“Yes Dad? What is it?” she answered.

“Help me with this bloke. He looks half dead!” the owner observed none-too subtly.

The other customers, becoming aware of the commotion, began staring at the new arrival.

“Are you hurt? Have you been in a fight?” asked the girl known as Jeleenn. She nodded to the man’s sword.

“Um, well…” stammered the man.

“What’s your name?” interrupted her father.

All these questions! The man was tired of questions? He finally exploded.

“I’m fine dammit!” he cursed. Silence filled the inn.

Taking charge, he finally decided to answer a question, rather than ask one.

“I… I think my name is Kwennsefulass.”

New Website, New Challenges

Well, hi there! Didn’t expect to see you ’round here!

For those of you who’ve wandered in from the cold, and are wondering just where the heck you are – allow me to introduce myself!

My name is Kris Godwin, and this is my quaint little website. I’m a novelist, with one book already out there in the wild, and a second one on the way.

That book is The Tarinn Fables: Kwennsefulass, a fantasy tale that you can buy on Kindle and Kobo – so, please go and buy it! Now!

I’m also a videogame writer, and a Content Director for Game Shark Reviews, an awesome gaming site that is getting bigger and better every day!

Things are a little bare at the moment, as you can see. This is mostly due to a combination of technical incompetence (I ain’t a computer guy – as you can tell from my usage of the word computer), and personal issues that have placed numerous roadblocks in my journey to authordom.

Still, I’m excited for this new beginning. I have a few creative projects planned, and I’ll be using this blog to post everything – from current happenings, to in-progress/concept art, and even the occasional crazy, insomnia-fueled ramble.

Thanks for reading this brief introduction, and check out my links for more information!

Have a swell day.

– Kris.