#Quickie: Battleblock Theater (XBLA)

Somewhere along the way, platformer games and I had some kinda falling out. After Super Mario World on the SNES they just never had that same appeal for me. With the exceptions of a few very innovative titles like Braid or Limbo I for the most part don’t seek these games out. However, there was one that I was hearing quite a good deal about and saw a lot of my friends playing it. It was the new game from Behemoth Studios: BattleBlock Theater. So being the credible and respectable game critic that I am (false), I knuckled under and gave it a shot.

The general jist of the story is you (the player character) and your friends go on a sailing trip on a “friend-ship” seeking adventure with best friend to one and all: Hatty Hattington. On the trip the boat is caught in a storm and is shipwrecked on a seemingly abandoned island. All of your friends are taken captive by the inhabiting cats, and Hatty is given a possessed top hat that takes control of him. In order to survive and escape, you are put through the many fatal trials of Battle Block Theater for the amusement of the cats.

Like most platformers, the objective is to get from point A to point B.  To unlock the exit you need to collect at least 3 gems and there are up to 7 gems and a ball of yarn in each level. The faster you complete it and collect everything the better your rank is. Most of the levels are pretty tightly contained, and I found myself breezing through the beginning stages of it. But as you play through, more and more block types are introduced throughout. Some of them bounce you like a pinball, some of them make you slide, some explode under you, some shoot lasers, some disappear for a few seconds.

Rage Quitter - BattleBlock Theater - Time Trial

But what I liked the most about it and probably the big selling point for me from a gameplay stance is the emphasis on perfection and speed. Needing to tear through levels at breakneck pace and solve puzzles as you do it made the game a very entertaining experience for me. The first few levels you just rip through but as the game’s layouts get more complex you really need to take a second to plan a few jumps ahead or it quickly becomes a mess of trial and error. But that fun kind of trial and error where you go. “Well shit, that didn’t work, maybe if go about it this way….”

Perhaps the best thing though, is the absolutely hilarious narration that takes place during the game. Our unnamed narrator in between stages delivers a form of paper cut out puppet show that explains the story and history of Battleblock Theater. It’s so sporatic and off the wall that it pretty much got me to laugh every time. During gameplay he will also make sarcastic comments at you while you play and collect things. He also has a very  “Still Alive” moment after you complete the game that I thoroughly enjoyed. The trailer {See below} features a song I loved so much its probably the main reason I purchased the game (and also made a ringtone of it).

There is also a series of co-op and multiplayer maps as well.  I didn’t get the opportunity to play the co-op maps but I have been told that the puzzles change to requires two people to complete them, a la Portal 2 for example. There is also a handful of vs modes like basketball, king of the hill, capture the horse (flag), and a classic beat em up to name a few. All of these can produce extra gems for you collect which you can use to purchase new heads for your player character, and there are a lot of them.

Rage Quitter - BattleBlock Theater - Boomshakalaka

If I had to complain about anything, I would say the games length is a bit short. Butit’s a 1200 point arcade game so I wasn’t exactly expecting an 80 hour adventure. There is also a level editor you can create for your friends and throw out online, but frankly that kind of feature is just way over my head. I didn’t use it in Little Big Planet and I can’t imaging myself using it here.

BattleBlock Theater I feel is one of the blueprints to a perfect platformer. Its got the right level of humor, fast paced levels, fun to play, and has some decent replay value to it. I would say it was absolutely worth the 1200 microsoft points so if you have the points to spend, grab a friend and give it a shot.

Buckle your pants, and check out the full review at Rage Quitter

#Quickie: Mugen Souls

Summer is tough for the gamer. From about March on, usually nothing comes out in the world of console gaming. When this happens, that’s when gamers get a bit more daring and try out things they normally wouldn’t or pick up niche things they wanted to try. Since I’m a bit of a fan of JRPGS and Nippon Ichi, that’s what I did with Mugen Souls, and dear god… I wish I hadn’t.

The story of Mugen Souls roughly is this entity who resembles a pink haired elementary/middle school girl appears in the vastness of space. She awakens to the glimmer of the 7 worlds found throughout space and entranced by her sparkle, she decides that she wants to claim them for herself. To be the “undisputed god of the universe”. She is found in space by Altis (a demon who was thrown out of the netherworld and converted to half-angel) and Ryuto (a pervy kid who’s stolen a spaceship). Using her ability to make people become her peons, Chou-Chou subjugates Ryuto and claims his ship as her own, and takes of on her conquest of the world. Using her ability to transform into 8 differing personalities, she intends to “Moe-Kill” each world’s hero and demon lord into submission and claim the world for herself.

If there is something that non-anime fans could point to explain why they don’t like it, Mugen Souls would be a great example. It opens up with an overly girly J-pop dance number that to put simply is almost stomach churning. Many of character designs are designed to be overly cutesy. A lot of the gags fall under bad anime stereotypes or fanservice and have a tendency to fall flat. It does manage to produce a couple of laughs by poking fun at some of the things we take as normal in the world of adventure games, so it’s not completely abysmal. It’s fairly well voice acted, it just doesn’t really have a great story behind it.


(Footage captured from personal play for Rage Quitter)

But you will feel like a creep playing it, make no mistake. I said 8 distinct personalities, but what that should read is 8 distinct fetish types. At first I thought terms like Sadist and Masochist were thrown in there to be kind of  goofy with the types, but as you play through the game you really do start collecting people based on their fetish.  Some will make you scratch your head, some might make you uncomfortable, but the real problem comes in when you realize that the main character very clearly resembles a minor. Apparently this game had some controversy in getting localized because of this issue. Huge Shocker.

In the real meat of the game it fails pretty damn hard. It starts of fairly simple, overworld map with monsters to avoid, and engaging them takes you to a Phantom Brave-esq battle system. But as Nippon Ichi games usually do, you are bombarded with tutorials about the games intricacies and to say its overwhelming is an understatement. To quickly summarize. You can attack which has the possibility of teaming with other players for big damage, you can use abilities which can bounce enemies around the map and into other monsters or crystals for big rewards, or you can use Chou-Chou’s “moe kill” to convert them to items or your peons. Peons are used to upgrade your spaceship for the occasional space battles that occasionally come up during the story.

But the game fails its hardest is in its execution. The game is just broken. Even after installing to the HDD, the game suffers from horrendous load times, freezing issues, incredibly choppy frame rates, awkward controls and camera. It just makes for a horrible experience, and this really does more damage than anything else I can complain about. Believe me, there is a lot to complain about on this one.  Cheesy story, annoying grating and unforgettable music, complex combat system, excessive use of fight cutscenes. Perhaps the fact that it’s a virtual unknown release should give it a pass, but this is almost shovelware levels of bad quality.

There are a handful of good ideas and things that I liked that could have made the game fun if they were cleaned up, but there just isn’t enough good here to make it a worthwhile experience. Mugen Souls might possibly be one of the worst games I’ve played in a long, long time. Buyer beware on this one.

You can see just how much venom I spit over at Rage Quitter.

#Quickie: The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct

Over the past few years I have come to realize that there are two types of fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead: There are zombie fans who like the show and all of its moments (where I find myself). Then there are mouth frothing, muscle twitching, ravenous idiots who scream about how bored they are watching it if a zombie isn’t being shot in the face every 3.1 seconds, who don’t realize the show isn’t about zombies but about how people survive in the collapse of society (yes, I’m a tad annoyed with it). Well for those latter folks who can’t get hard on without seeing a walkers skull caved in every few seconds, now we have the chance to walk in the rednecky boots of Daryl Dixon in Walking Dead: Survival Instinct.

Sadly, for a game that’s based of a story driven show like Walking Dead you’ll find the story is probably weakest element of the game. Essentially you play as Daryl at the beginning of the outbreak and after a hunting mishap where he loses his father to walkers, he sets out to find Merle and find a means of escape from the infestation.  Essentially, that’s the whole plot. Not uncommon for a zombie game but pretty bland. It’s marred by the fact that at least 95% of the characters you meet in the game don’t really have any major story interaction aside from the mission you are in. If you complete their very poorly acted side quest  they can join you and scavenge for supplies in later missions (and will probably die in the process). Because of that, all of Daryl’s lines are responses to quests. They are hacky, forgettable, and allow for no character development or growth.

As a first person shooter from a technical standpoint, its functional. The graphics aren’t exactly triple A but they did look much better than the commercial makes them look. It uses the right amount of blood splatter when cracking a walker with a melee strike and has a nifty little sweat trickle down on the top of the screen when you become fatigued.  The melee is visceral and has the right amount of weight and reaction to them for it help immersion which might have been one of my favorite things in the game. The gun combat is pretty forgiving as well as you don’t need to be laser precise for head shots, although firing in the game almost ALWAYS alerts the attention of more walkers than you want so its usually better to find a stealthier approach.

But while this game has some good ideas and its heart was in the right place, its execution was incredibly poor. The game starts off murderous in difficulty as your melee is weak and the ammo is too scarce to fight off major hordes if you fire once.  But when you get Daryl’s signature crossbow, the game becomes insultingly easy. The scavenging for survival is a good idea, but gets horribly boring after one or two missions. In between story missions you get plunked into occasional scavenge quests with about 3 different small maps, which just makes them a waste of time to pad out game length.

There are literally no special walkers or human enemies in the game, so basically all walkers you see at the start are all you’ll see by the end. God forbid you get grappled by a walker too, because the escape mini game is cool but will leave you trapped and force you to do it for every zombie in the group. It drains your health and basically extends your game over by like 3 minutes. Micheal Rooker and Norman Reedus are brought in to reprise their roles as the Dixon brothers, but the story is so poor there’s only so much they can do with the lines (which is a shame, because Rooker is a really good voice actor).

There are nuggets of good ideas in this game, and I really did want to like it more than I did. It started off so hopeful, and has some decent mechanics built in. It sadly shoots its wad right out of the gate and basically has nothing to follow it with. No varied style of missions, no boss fights, no real story development. Bottom line is though, Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is just another entry of popular properties getting a bare bones shitty game to cash in on it. Rent it if you have to, but even that much is overspending on it.  Survival Instinct bites.

Y’all kin fine mah full r’view at Rage Quitter, Y’hear?

#Quickie: Bioshock Infinite

I really shouldn’t be reviewing a first person shooter. I find most of them to be exactly the same from every other one that comes out. However, there are a handful excellent examples of them that break my incredibly jaded exterior and provide a enjoyable experience. The original Bioshock is one of those examples. Bioshock 2 was not and was so poor that I didn’t want to play any more of the series.  However, the reviews this game have been so stellar I felt it could not be ignored. So with a bit of hesitation I redbox’d, knuckled down, and played through Bioshock Infinite.

One of my biggest selling points in the original Bioshock was its atmosphere. Scary setting, creepy enemies, excellent use of darkness and pacing. Infinite manages to flub on almost all of these points right out of the gate. Instead of the dark collapsing atmosphere of Rapture, we have the perpetually bright and sunny yet outwardly racist streets of Colombia. Instead of the terrifying creepy Splicers or the monstrous Big Daddies, we have 1920’s well dressed assholes with guns, and giant Mecha-Washington or the Handymen (which are just some asshole in a robot suit with a big glowing weakness on his chest). Sorry, other people with guns are uninteresting and get a big red X from me.

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/PgD7dpAz4eI

I felt they messed up with the equipment as well. In the original you got 8 or 9 weapons varying from boring old machine gun to fun weapons like the chemical thrower. In addition to having multiple weapon choices, you also had various types of ammo you could use for each weapon which had different effectiveness to different enemies. Bioshock Infinite instead decided it would bet better to fall in line with every other shooter and only allow you to carry two guns at a time with only one ammo type. Some people think its exciting to constantly be interchanging weapons. I do not, I don’t want to be stuck with a sniper rifle when I’m only sparsely in situations where it would even be useful.

Tacking on with disappointment of the guns, the Vigor’s of Infinite weren’t really as up to snuff as the Plasmids of the original. There are a handful of cool ones like sending a murder of crows after someone or the ability to send a ghost after machines and people, but after I maxed out my Shock Jock and Devils Kiss (read Electro Bolt and Incinerate) all of the other vigors I could use were useless or ineffective. It felt like I had less options too since some of the effects of the older plasmids were condensed to a single vigor. Useful maybe but I liked the variety better, these you at least get to switch between all of them whenever you want unlike the weapons.

I will say there were two points in this game that I really did like. First off, Booker (the protagonist) and Elizabeth (the support character) make for an incredibly likable pair. Booker isn’t a silent protagonist like in the previous Bioshock games so it allows him to have some very good character building moments and with a pretty deep backstory allows him to grow as the game progresses. Elizabeth is a great support character because she is competent and confident without being aggressive or arrogant.  She also helps while you fight by finding ammo, restoring your health or salts (for vigors), and she even digs up money as you are exploring.  She really does get you to fall for her right off, and she seems to have this understanding that something big is going on around her.

 http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/31-NAkq8YEY

Because these characters are so strong, it goes a long way in helping the storytelling. Bioshock Infinite easily has one of the best stories in the series by far. It does have a bit of a slow beginning to it, but without spoiling just after half way the story goes batshit crazy and completely alters the dynamic of the story with a very sci-fi concept. And while the climax was disappointing with a lack of any real boss fight, the storytelling was beyond exceptional with a very incredible ending to the tale that left a lot of people with their jaw on the floor. It may be a little cliche given the introduced concept but it was executed so well I was willing to over look it.

So then, recommendation? How can I put this….  Well, I guess the best way to say is I’m glad I didn’t buy it, but glad I got to play it. From a strictly technical gameplay standpoint, they completely watered down the well established Bioshock gameplay aspects to make it fall in line with the every other 1st person shooter released in the past few years. It was boring to me in that regard. But the game weaves such an exceptional tale that it would be worth your time to at least see the game through to the end, either through purchase or rental. I don’t think it merits the near perfect scores its getting, but its a solid play.

Would you kindly see my full review on Rage Quitter?

#Quickie: God of War: Ascension

Do I even need to intro this game? Really? We’ve done this dance like 5 times already, its the same eff’n game. Alright fine fine… Kratos is mad about something and he’s gonna swing some blades on chains around and horribly murder things. Oh, and something about gods. We good? Ugh… fine.

God of War: Ascension takes place before the events of all the previous titles which is suppose marks the beginning of Kratos storyline (not enough to say before he already had his blades and was completely psychotic, but shush). He’s being tortured in the Furies prison for trying to break his blood oath to Ares and is fighting to escape and stop the visions that haunt him.  You know, like in all the other God of War games. This may be a new and original story, but I swear I’ve heard this all before.

The game is still fun. Unchanged really. Only really a few subtle differences. Kratos now has elemental choices instead of different weapons, which I liked. The rage meter needs to be full to use the heavy hitting combos regular players are familiar with, which forces you to be skillful and precise. Other than that though, the gameplay aspect isn’t exactly gonna throw you a curve ball.

But what IS different this time is the addition of a multiplayer mode. Usually I hate the addition of a online mode to a game that has never needed it before. But in this case, it’s the game’s major saving grace. It provides a new interesting way to play God of War, it seems incredibly well balanced, and probably the biggest selling point for me is that a Level 1 online player actually has a fighting chance of surviving against a higher level opponent if they are a good enough fighter. But if their not? No problem, there are chests to collect, traps to set, and checkpoints to grab to boost your score. Its fun to play, fast paced, and has quickly become my reason to play the game. For a guy who usually hates online play, this shocks and terrifies me.

The bottom line here is that God of War: Ascension doesn’t bring all that much new to the table. If you are new to the series or want to know more of the Kratos tale, its worth a play. If you are looking for a new type of multiplayer mode to try, Ascension delivers. Unless they plan on making some radical changes to this series, they really should consider making this the last God of War title while people still have fond feelings for it.

There’s as 87% chance you can find my full review at Rage Quitter.

#Quickie: Atelier Ayehsa

Since I grew up in the NES era, I have always had a soft spot for a good JRPG like a Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. A little over a year ago, I did a review for a game called Atelier Totori and basically had lukewarm feelings to it. However, its started an addiction that spanned 3 other games, and now it has moved onto a 4th in Atelier Ayesha: Alchemist of the Dusk.  The super condensed gist of the story is Ayesha is a young apothecary who lives alone since her sister Nio vanished. While visiting Nio’s makeshift grave, Ayesha sees spectral vision of her, and learns from a stranger that Nio still lives and through alchemy she might be able to save her, but she’s only got 3 years to do it.

The gameplay is true to form, traditional JRPG fanfare. The world map has number of checkpoints, and each point is a different location to explore and fight, usually 1-3 screens. You can usually see all the enemies on the screen so its not random battle, but its 3 vs many turn based combat. Since these games are very short, characters only get 4 abilities with a level cap of 50. Because of this, battles can come an go remarkably quickly depending on your gear. There are a handful of bosses that can eat significant time, but ultimately the main “draw” of the game is its item creation. As you play through you get more supplies and recipes  you combine those to create new items, which in turn you can use to make more advanced materials. The game moves at a breakneck pace so you have to keep moving to beat it before the time runs up.

The game is incredibly basic, samey, repetitive, and short.  All of these things can come off as negatives, but I gotta tell ya? This series has me by the balls. I have no idea what it is, but I get completely engrossed in creating items and learning how to do things faster. After I beat the game, I immediately fire it back up to see if I can unlock more or beat it faster. In addition to that? The series has some exceptional music, so much so that I’ve dug up and official soundtrack shortly after playing. And if you aren’t deterred buy some anime stereotypes, the characters have some fun moments too.

I’m completely dialed in into this series and I don’t know how it happened, but frankly I don’t even care anymore. I really get into these, I’ve already beaten it like 3 times and I am still playing it. If you are one of those types who gets turned off by a game with big anime eyes, turn based combat, or can’t get your gaming boner up without staring down the iron sight in first person? You probably should pass on Atelier Ayesha. But if you aren’t bothered those things, looking for something a lil different, and without a massive commitment? I would say give it a try, who knows? It might grab you, it certainly did with me.

You can check out my full review over at Rage Quitter.

#Quickie: Tomb Raider

I have never been a fan of Tomb Raider as a series as a whole. Bad conveyance, overly complicated, annoying protagonist, but most of all I just have never found them to be fun. However, since E3 last year the trailers for this Tomb Raider reboot have really captured my attention. Creepy horror like set pieces, stealthing around, kills with a bow and arrow? This sounds pretty awesome so far. So despite my personal pride, I decided to bite the bullet and dive into the newest rendition of this game to see if it can change my opinion.

Now I hate to use this comparison especially since Tomb Raider came out first, but it really feels like this version of the game was trying to borrow a lot of what made Uncharted successful. A much heavier focus on the cinematic (probably thanks to Square Enix), cover based 3rd person shooter combat, and insane blockbuster movie-esqe camera shots and action sequences. Some of them get so ridiculous that it borderlines on cartoony, but overall I think it works for this game. I usually complain that too many games are using cover mechanics in 3rd person format, but I find this to be one of the actual scenarios where it works.

Since the bow is your primary weapon (at least it was for me) stealth is key when dispatching enemies. Lara naturally crouches behind cover so it doesn’t feel like you are handcuffed to walls for firefights like in so many other games. More so than that, you can actually make a few kills if not all of them without being undetected which makes the game that much better for the stealth enthusiast like me.  The game while perhaps more linear than most Tomb Raider games are, does still offer a good range of exploration on each map so it never felt like I was just going from set piece to set piece like you do with most 3rd person shooters.

For a guy who for the most part has never been a fan of this series, Tomb Raider did a pretty good job of winning me over. Naturally I had some complaints but many of them were minor and it didn’t take away from the overall experience. I may not be the best judge to if it does the rest of the series justice but I can definitely say it was the worth the play.

Rage Quitter: You can find my full review over at Rage Quitter

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