Reviews

Guacamelee es magnífico!

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Review

It looks as if the Indie game movement is saving us again from what could be an anemic spring/summer release schedule. Drinkbox Studios comes to the rescue with its wonderfully done Luchador-themed brawler, Guacamelee. The game exhibits lots of flair while being extremely accessible — it provides MetroidVania veterans a challenge, while giving newbies an opportunity to embrace the genre.

The main character of the story is a lowly farmer named Juan, who finds himself confronted by a demon in skeleton form. This mysterious creature grabs your would-be love interest, kills you, then skitters away to complete his plan of world-ending domination. While in the afterlife, you are met by a female luchador who bestows upon you a magical mask that both brings you back to life and imbues you with the strength and speed of ten Koko B. Ware‘s.

You can tell by the cadence and snark-laden story that the folks at Drinkbox have really hit their stride when spinning a comedic yarn. The jokes are funny, the memes timely, and gaming callbacks just numerous enough to not be overdone. You can tell that they love games and love having a good time; that they appreciate traditions without taking themselves too seriously. This light and airy feel is evident within the art style as well. Guacamelee taps into Mexican folk art themes and Day of the Dead lore, jumping easily between the worlds of the living and the dead. A cartoonish Mexican town is your playground, laced with beautiful earthy tones with huge splashes of neon pastels around every corner. I played the game mostly on my Vita, but when I transitioned to the PS3 via my cross-save (more on this later) the colors jumped off the screen. Along with the gorgeous graphics comes a fun soundtrack that blares mariachi and electronic music that really fits the aesthetic and ties the package together nicely. The game feels like a lighthearted homage to old-school Mexico, with a layer of modern self-effacing humor on top.

Guacamelee Kid

Guacamelee’s combat is mostly of the combo/brawler style. Later in the game you meet a recurring character that gives you more wrestling moves to add to your arsenal. The interactions with him are some of the best in the game and provide a small shout out to Metroid along the way. The controls are easy to pick up and provide all the tools you’ll need to dispatch of the enemies once they get bigger and stronger.

Guacamelee Monster

The game wraps in about six hours but felt just right. It will take you longer depending on how completion-ist you are or how long it may take to get through some of the trickier platforming levels. Boss encounters are really well done and challenging. Interactions with the town’s people provide fun and silly side quests that don’t feel tedious, and if you wish you can even play with two people on the PS3

For a $15 price tag ($12 if you are a Playstation Plus member) you get a wonderful experience chock full of dopeness. I honestly think if you’ve been looking for a game that is great for pick-up-and-play purposes, you can’t really beat this one.

Kudos to Sony

Besides the awesome game and reasonable price tag, there are a couple of other things of note with this package. Some months ago Sony started rolling out some games under their “Cross-Buy” banner. So if you owned a PS3 and a Vita you could basically get the game on both systems at one price. Guacamelee is one of those games. Usually with a feature like this, the cross-save feature is implemented sloppily or in a convoluted way within the game. But Drinkbox does this simply and eloquently. Navigate through a couple of screens, upload your save, head to your home console, download and you are playing where you left off.

If this is a glimpse of what Sony was taking about with the connectivity between the PS4 and Vita, then I’m sold. It works extremely well and made me love the game as a commuter. One other added bonus is “Cross-Control”: you can also use the Vita as a second controller via Remote Play! The Vita’s screen becomes the games mini-map while you control the game you see on the television.

I love stuff like this and thought it was an awesome addition to the game. If you’d like some instructions on how to get this up and running check out the blog post on the Guacamelee site

The Champ is Here

After finishing the game I totally understand why there were long lines and lots of smiles to be seen coming from the Guacamelee station at IndieCadeEast this year. I wondered what all the commotion was about and now I get it. Beautiful games that provide nothing but fun should give people that kind of reaction. If you are tired of trudging through another shooter or sequel, you need to play and share Guacamelee with everyone you can.

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This Golden Arrow hits its Mark – Review and Developer Interview

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The mobile gaming space that was once dominated by Gameboys and Atari Lynxes (Ha!) has now been supplanted by iPhone and Android devices. Graphic advancements, miniaturization of  arcade classics and new twists on genres have made the mobile platform a force to be reckoned with. One of the most popular genres in “phone gaming” has been the “Endless Runner” one. Games like Canabalt, Temple Run, and Jetpack Joyride have been downloaded millions of times and have been on the top of numerous mobile “best-of” lists.

Their main objective is to jump or run through a space while collecting objects and avoiding falling or hitting obstacles. They are the best kinds of games for quick gaming sessions and scoreboard junkies because they scratch the “I don’t have lots of time to game” itch.  I can’t tell you how many countless hours I’ve eaten up trying to beat friends and family in my chase to be number one. For all that said, the runner grind of the collection can also be a bit boring at times. I’ve stopped playing just as many of these games because they don’t add anything to the experience besides the usual run, jump, rinse, and repeat.

Golden Arrow Runner

Luckily while at IndieCade East this year I came across a game that wanted to do something different with the runner genre. During the game slam, a young woman named Jenna walked up to the podium and gave a quick presentation about her game called “The Golden Arrow,” a game in which a bad-ass, monster-killing princess is the protagonist. My ears perked up and on screen was a retro, 8-bit-styled runner game that added a narrative to the timeless runner formula. I knew that I wanted to find out more about the game, and she said it would be hitting the iTunes store in the upcoming weeks.

I got my hands on the game and let me say, it really is a great game. Monster & Glitch, the one woman indie development studio headed by Jenna Hoffstein, makes a game that combines a fun, accessible playing foundation, delightful and propelling soundtrack with a charming narrative that both makes the game stand out and pushes the player forward.

The mechanics are straightforward: varying presses of the screen will determine height and duration of your jump over and across multiple platforms. Various objects will be put in your way to stop your journey, but through some quick responses and some help from smart game design you can extend your runs and get closer to your monster-killing goals.

Your score increases the longer you run but the twist is in how the story unfolds. After you run a certain distance you will receive a scroll that gives you another part of the narrative. In most runner games your progress resets after you die, but in Golden Arrow your runs are cumulative from one scroll to the next. So you will only have to travel the distance remaining after your last death. Being able to “pick up” from where you left off makes the game such a delight to play and keeps you engaged in the process. It totally removes the potential frustration that can happen in a game like this.

You can gain running speed by jumping into stars on the playfield. More important are the randomly placed rocks that you see in the world. I found that running into them slowed you down and gave you a little more control over jumping, especially if you need to make multiple jumps on a platform. Once I learned to slow down it exponentially lengthened my runs and thus my high scores. I was tops on the leaderboards for about ten minutes, until being dethroned. (Brianna, Jest, and Marmarh I’m coming for you!!)

Golden Arrow’s music also is a highlight. Wonderful vocals fill the start and story screens while pulsating chiptunes push you along your trek. Wait until you get to the 6,000 meter mark and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The story of the princess who finds her prince has been commonplace in many an enchanted tale, but there are a couple of poignant story bits there for discovery. I won’t spoil them but will say that some of them surprisingly touched me on a personal level. Once you finish the tale, you will appreciate the care with which Jenna weaves her story together.

Golden Arrow Story

Golden Arrow is great because it doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel, and in many respects it didn’t need to. What I believe sets this game apart from many of the games on the market is that it didn’t try to hook me with micro-transactions or time gates. It got me hooked by giving me addictive gameplay wrapped in a fun and engaging story. I suggest everyone pick up this game on the iTunes store for the low, low price of $.99.

Also I had the chance to sit down and chat with Jenna Hoffstein and talk about the game and how it was to develop The Golden Arrow. Check out our exclusive interview here:


No Love In a Elevator: Our Dead Space 3 Review

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Dead Space 3 is a game that everyone should play – especially other developers. Not because the game employs any interesting gameplay mechanics, or expands what you can do with an established franchise. Instead, Visceral Games and EA are showing the gaming community how you can easily run a series directly into the ground by running away from what made you great. Unfortunately and ironically it seems as if the title of the game has also described its latest iteration.

We pick up the story some 200 years after Dead Space 2: the Unitarians have surpassed and supplanted their EarthGov rivals and have become much more powerful. So powerful in fact that they now have their own black-market-loving militia. Our favorite necromorph-stomping engineer, Isaac, is back and has been trying everything to forget the past. Everything, that is, except for Ellie, the one-eyed survivor from the Sprawl incident. It seems that in the time span from the last game, you two have become romantically involved, broken up, and now she’s dating a jerk who forces you – at gunpoint – to help him save her. Isaac can’t catch a damn break.

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I won’t go into spoilers in this review because for as forgettable and rushed as I think the product was, I want people to experience the narrative for themselves. Rather than do that, I will discuss the wrapper and not the candy.

Many Dead Space fans bought into the story and universe for a couple of reasons: wanting to be scared and really liking gory action. The first game introduced an eerie world filled with atmospheric solitude and a “strategic dismemberment” concept. Coupled with an iconic design for the protagonist, it created a very different and fresh take on the horror genre that captured people’s imaginations. Dead Space 2 expanded on that with updated graphics, a broadening of the mythos and ramped up the gore factor to ten. Dead Space 3 took almost all of that meaty foundation and actively chips away at it.

This is why this game is so frustrating. Early on, when Visceral announced this sequel, they gave us a glimpse into a game that wound up resembling Gears Of War more than Dead Space. Cooperative play and soldiers shooting at Isaac were the showcases. The gaming community saw this, heaved a collective sigh, and waited for a new trailer or word from producer Steve Papoutsis that the elements that embodied the series were still intact. Steve’s response was to reassure everyone and ask then to give the benefit of the doubt. After finishing Dead Space 3, it’s left me more disappointed than anything.

For every advancement made, the game feels like it takes a step or two backward. Gone are any of the memorable moments that you found in Dead Space 2, like the needle in the eye scene or any of interactions with the NPC’s.

The design of the characters seems a little off as well, especially Ellie’s. Her animations and speech often seemed rather disjointed. The addition of the Unitologists as a fighting force and enemy was a poor choice and removed any tension or horror that could have been. The allure of the crazy religious sect was that they were shadowy and all you really knew about them was their undying allegiance to the makers. When you meet them now they are nothing more than a SWAT team, hell bent on killing you. Adding enemies with guns, while providing only a tacked-on cover system that doesn’t really work did the game a disservice and lessened the final product, in my opinion. The new co-op character, Carver, didn’t really add anything of significance to the mix either in my solo game; although I hear he is fleshed out a bit more in the co-op missions. Everything in this game seemed a bit throwaway: the story, environments, and villain all seemed to be an afterthought. Even the small transitions that occurred when you put on a new suit seemed to be rushed. I loved the way the camera would focus and hang on your visor after you put on a new suit, though – it just added the small touch of flair and badass-ness that makes you want to be Isaac. The lack of those small touches makes me feel like the game was either rushed in some way or that the team put their efforts in other unseen places.

I will say this: the gun building in the game was the highlight for me. At first I scoffed at the two-gun approach, but in retrospect it made me experiment much more and try out new combinations more often. My assault rifle/rocket launcher combo made parts of the game much more enjoyable. I learned this the hard way when some boss battles took twice as long because I didn’t have the right weapon setup. It felt like in older games you could get away with just using a plasma cutter if you wanted to play that way but in Dead Space 3 you need to manage your toolset in smart ways or make a Swiss-Army type gun that suits all situations. Most people won’t know this unless they are told or find themselves consistently on the losing end of a fight.

Dead Space 3 had a bunch of things going for it when it was announced: it came with the foundation of having a pretty rabid fanbase, super interesting story with great characters, and some of the scariest tension-filled moments since Doom. It falls short on most of the things that made the franchise great, and adds unnecessary fluff to try and compensate. It seems like the tradition of weak third games in a trilogy has reared its ugly head and the Dead Space series looks to be its latest victim.

*Editor’s Note*

For the folks who rent this game, understand that there is an online pass required if you want to play co-op. I didn’t know this when I rented from Gamefly and was super disappointed that EA would gate a major feature behind a paywall. I know that this has become the way of the world, but it still stings a bit when you want to have the full experience in a narrative-based game.

Once I have a chance to run through the game on co-op, I will post my review on what new or interesting things are on that side. Hell, if you want to play co-op with me and help me review it, send a friend request to KAHJAH1 on PSN.


Jay-Z Brings His Own Roc To NBA 2K13

If you’ve been paying any attention to 2K Sport’s basketball for the past couple of years you already know that they have and are producing the BEST b-ball game you can buy. High praise from both media and fans has kept them on the mountain top, and without any competition this trend doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. With that said, I want to focus this review on the significant changes made this year and why you should care.

Jay-Z

For the past three years, 2K has pulled some of the biggest names in basketball to help promote their game. The signing of Michael Jordan and then Magic and Bird to round out some historic teams gave notice to their fan base that they were serious about not staying pat on the innovation front. This year they went full monty by bringing on hip-hop mogul Jay-Z to executive produce the game. Many people, myself included scoffed at the idea of bringing on Jay. What would or could he really add to the game that gamers care about? Is this just 2K adding a huge name for “front of the box” name recognition?

Upon starting the game you quickly understand why they did it. You are treated to a montage of Jay doing his thing at a concert with interspersed gameplay clips. You can’t not get a little hyped up by seeing the mix of the two; it sets the stage for rest of the mash-up experience that is the presentation style of 2K13. Right before you start a contest you might be shown highlights of your favorite team, synced to an Eric B. & Rakim or Nas video. Behind the foreground menus you see equalizers pulsate in time with Jay-Z’s assembled soundtrack. They are small touches and I’m still not sure how I feel about them, but it is a interesting direction nonetheless.

Music isn’t the only thing Jay influenced: he used his clout to get some future hall-of-famers to join the ranks as well. With a call or two, he not only got Scottie Pippen to add his likeness to the 92’ “Dream Team” but also snagged longed-for “Round Mound of Rebound” Charles Barkley who hadn’t been included in a basketball game since 1994.

I’m not sure how Jay-Z’s inclusion has translated to direct sales and I’m not sure how those presentation flairs have come across to the greater gaming community but I will say that it might have put 2K in a weird predicament. Where do they go from here and how much bigger do you go without alienating your core fans? I suppose we will see what happens next year in this respect.

Detail, Detail, Detail

There are still times when someone will walk in while a CPU vs. CPU game is going on and mistake it for the real thing. This is testament to all of the intricate motion capture 2K does every year. The thing that makes this installment so breathtaking is all of the in-between and collision animations they have this year. Going up for a contested layup more often than not will put you into a supremely life-like animation in which flailing limbs connect. It gives both players and the ball heft and weight; feet plant realistically while the inertia of gathered momentum moves players upward to the rim. It’s a beautiful game to watch. Players react realistically to getting hit and will sometimes react to those bumps by holding their heads or falling to the floor.

Added facial animations, authentic celebrations from both teams and crowds add so much to the gameplay and feel of the game. They’ve even found a way for the first time in a basketball game to introduce playcalling, substitutions and technical fouls on the Xbox 360 via Kinect. Massive kudos go to 2K for stepping all these up in a significant way.

VC?

2K has added “VC” (virtual currency) to be the backbone of how you progress this year in the “My Player” modes and “My Team” modes. Usually things like this don’t ping my radar, but this is the first time 2K has gotten into the micro-transaction game. You can purchase VC or earn them in game to buy virtual goods like animation packages, clothes and other accessories for your player. Although I am not a fan of micro-transactions, it seems as if they have been tactfully implemented.

The Wrap Up

This seems to be the most feature-complete game 2K has put on the market to date. From my experience, they have fixed a bunch of the online issues that plagued them for the initial month of last year’s release. Games I’ve played have been as smooth as you can expect from an online sports game and have been steady connection-wise. The removal of “My Crew” is disappointing but understandable.

Lastly here are some things of note.

• Some of the historic teams from previous years are missing. I truly don’t understand why this keeps happening? I wonder if certain players like Dr. J are only contracted for a year at a time and multi-year deals are too expensive. I think maybe if they put these teams in as DLC at a reasonable price, fans would be excited. Possibly doing a couple of era packs would suffice.

• There are still some significant players missing. Everyone is still waiting for Reggie Miller. (C’mon Jay, make the call!) Other players like Manute Bol, Lattrell Sprewell, Derek Anderson, and Derrick Coleman haven’t gotten their due.

• Why in the world is the All-Star Weekend DLC this year? To gate this behind pre-order DLC and then to not have it available day one is just not right. To top it all off, 2K didn’t make either the dunk contest or three-point contest playable online. It makes no sense and would have been so much fun.

• We are still waiting for an EA “Gameface” equivalent on the 2K platform. I can’t be that excited for “My Player” if my created player — no matter how much I try — won’t look like me. The tech is there. I would much rather that than making shoes.

• The removal of downloadable sliders is a heartbreaker to lots of folks who know that the game doesn’t always play to your liking straight out of the box. There are lots of dedicated folks in the NLSC and Operation Sports forums who take time to fine-tune them and help others out. The weird thing is that 2K has intimate knowledge of this, frequents those boards, but still omitted this feature.

• Saving replays and screenshots in a high-res format would be nice, as both consoles and PC version accept USB disks. Why not let things export to the HD?

Even with those niggling bits, 2K has again put out the most amazing display of basketball that you can purchase, a game that you can play long into the season and beyond. The jury is still out on the inclusion of Jay-Z, but again his influence has reached across multiple lines and actually made the game fuller on a gameplay level. If you are a fan, you need to play this game. There is no doubt that you will get your money’s worth.


It’s 4AM, Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

We want to give a  huge thanks to Rowan Parker, Lead Designer of 4AM. He was super awesome and took some time out to give us an interview about the game. Check it out below and then take a peek at our review.

Our Review

Over the years I’ve collected numerous games, spent hours traversing levels and killing bosses. Many of those games have gone by the wayside and into either the trade pile or the digital scrap heap. The few games I have kept are there because they are either artistically compelling, socially interactive or sensory feasts. 4AM from Pixeljunk hits all these notes beautifully. Powered by DJ Baiyon’s eclectic mix of trance and house music, the game puts you in the seat of virtual DJ. Using the Playstation Move as your only tool, you are able to mix and remix the tracks in the game with both precision and style.

4AM is both music creation tool and audio visualizer. You can play tracks from your PS3’s hard drive and delight in the gorgeous art the team put together, or you can go into the creator and get down to the nitty gritty. The aforementioned gritty takes place on what Lead Designer Rowan Parker calls the “Virtual Audio Canvas”. This canvas is represented on screen by different “tapestries” that move in sync with both the music and your motions. Each of the move’s four buttons correspond with each instrument of the different tracks. The square button might be a baseline while the circle might be a synth. Adding in solos and loops by holding a button or dragging in a instrument from the corners of your virtual space adds to the complexity or simplicity of the song you are performing.

Everytime you launch into the create space your routine is being broadcast live to anyone who might be using the live viewer at that time. This is one of the reasons why I like this game so much: the ability to have what you are doing be heard by others in real-time adds a level of both excitement and a small bit of anxiety to the mix. People can follow you and also give you feedback in the form of “Kudos”. If viewers are digging what you are doing a set of equalizer type bars will rise from the bottom of the screen. The instant feedback gave me an idea if a specific drum loop or one-hit loop was connecting with the crowd. I think I would have made Girl Talk or Tiesto proud.

You can download the free viewer if you are curious or just want to be a voyeur, but if you want to gain international fame a price of $10 USD will get you a lot for your money: 10 tracks that you can manipulate, Twitter and Facebook integration so you can promote your performances, and a really sweet interactive audio visualizer that is way better than the vanilla one pre-installed with the PS3. I believe this should be a pack-in game with every PS Move. It showcases the precision you can get with the device, has lots of physical and visual feedback and great music. Let’s hope that Pixeljunk continues to support games like this via DLC and other extensions of the social media hooks that work so well within the game.

4AM is a game that hits all the right beats and is something that any music lover should own. Bravo, Pixeljunk, bravo.