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Review: The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit

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At E3 2018, DONTNOD Entertainment announced that they would release a new, free-to-download game at the end of June, set in the same universe as Life Is Strange. The game turned out to be more of a demo that sets up Life Is Strange 2, titled The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. It’s available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows. While Captain Spirit only takes about 2.5 hours to complete, it felt wonderful to be back in the Life Is Strange-verse, even for a little while.

Captain Spirit stars a new character, a nine-year-old boy named Chris with an active imagination. He lives with his father; both are struggling to cope with the sudden death of his mother. His father does this through drinking; Chris does so by pretending to be a superhero called “Captain Spirit.” In the game/demo, your objective is to complete a number of “awesome” things that Chris has planned for the day.

First things first, a trigger warning: the original Life Is Strange dealt with some very heavy topics, including suicide, abusive parents, and kidnapping/assaulting young women. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit doesn’t get as dark as the first entry in the series. (It doesn’t have the same amount of time to do so anyway.) But it does show Chris with a dad who drinks heavily; it’s strongly implied that he’s physically hurt Chris when drunk, and he verbally lashes out at him more than once, depending on the choices you make. He’ll almost immediately backtrack and apologize, and he’s clearly trying to be a good parent, but that doesn’t excuse his actions at all.

My own parents are loving, supportive, and have never given me anything worse than a lecture. So, while I can say that I liked how Chris’ story was written, I can’t say whether or not his relationship with his father was handled correctly.  Regardless, if this situation hits a little too close to home for any of you, you might want to play something else.

That said, I immediately identified with Chris in another way. He spends a lot of time in his room or in his yard, playing with his toys as he acts out their adventures battling his arch-nemesis, “Mantroid.” I couldn’t stop smiling, because that’s exactly how I used to play with my toys. He does feel like a real nine-year-old kid.

There are a few little shout-outs in the game to remind you that Captain Spirit takes place in the same universe as Life Is Strange. This initially gave me the wrong impression that Chris might be related to Max or Chloe somehow. While I missed the previous cast of characters and would’ve liked to see a stronger link to them, I liked Chris so much that, ultimately, I didn’t mind switching over to his world.

The game plays the same as Life Is Strange, in the sense that you’re choosing what you want Chris to do and how to respond. But Chris doesn’t have time travel powers, so you’re stuck with the consequences of whatever you do. That felt weird at first. I’m used to trying something out, rewinding, trying something else, and then picking which outcome I liked best before proceeding with the story.

There’s also a hilarious mini game that you can play if you can unlock Chris’ dad’s phone. It’s a side-scroller starring “Hawt Dawg Man,” who dodges obstacles with his mustard jetpack. Although I never beat Chris’ high score, I had a lot of fun trying. It’s a nice bonus to flesh out the game and gives you something else to do besides your short list of tasks.

Captain Spirit ends on a good cliffhanger and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Chris’ story in Life Is Strange 2. The first episode of that game will be released on September 27 for the same systems as Captain Spirit. If you loved the original Life Is Strange, you’ll love this one too. And if you’ve never played a game in this series before, this is the perfect way to get a sense of what they’re like and whether or not you’d enjoy them.

Review: Final Fantasy X

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Final Fantasy X and I have what you might call an “on again, off again” relationship.

It’s the first Final Fantasy game that I ever tried playing, but then I gave up after dying one too many times on the Mi’ihen Highroad. (It took an embarrassing length of time for me to figure out the Sphere Grid system for leveling up.)

Over the years, I became acquainted with some of the characters through the Kingdom Hearts series and the Dissidia games. I’d also watched Noah Antwiler’s lengthy review/rant about the game. And then, at long last, I purchased the PS4 remaster and played it again, for real, while streaming on Twitch.

The verdict? Overall, it was a fun experience, and I love Tidus and Yuna to pieces. But it’s not my favorite Final Fantasy title.

Let’s start with the story and characters. Tidus is living the dream as the star player of the Zanarkand Abes (he introduces himself in this manner a lot), for a sport called blitzball. But on the night of a big game, his city is attacked by a flying, Godzilla-style monster called “Sin,” and when he wakes up, he finds himself in an abandoned temple. The people who find him claim that his home doesn’t exist…because it was destroyed a thousand years ago.

So Tidus struggles to adjust to his new life in the world of Spira and figure out a way to get back to Zanarkand. Along the way, he meets up with Wakka, a fellow blitzball lover who recruits him for his underdog team, Yuna, a summoner who has embarked on a pilgrimage to defeat Sin, and Yuna’s guardians, Lulu and Kimarhi. They are later joined by Tidus’ mentor, a former guardian named Auron, and a girl named Rikku, who has been trying to stop summoners from completing the pilgrimage for her own personal reasons. And thus we have our party.

Eventually, Tidus becomes one of Yuna’s guardians as well, and through his new friends, he learns about Spira’s plight. Every ten years, they are attacked by Sin, and a summoner must journey to the ruins of Zanarkand to defeat it. After a period known as the Calm, Sin is reborn, and the cycle begins all over again. But is that really all there is to it? Could there be a permanent way to defeat Sin? And will Tidus ever get back to his Zanarkand?

So yeah, I adore Tidus. I know lots of gamers hate him. I understand why lots of gamers hate him. His voice sounds whiny sometimes- yes, sometimes– and he has his stupid moments. But I enjoy him so much, partly because of his flaws. When he got up and started yelling through a bullhorn that the Besaid Aurochs would win the Blitzball Cup, just after hearing an announcement that they’d never so much as won a game, I couldn’t stop laughing. Sorry, Tidus Haters. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on his likability.

Plus, his romance with Yuna is heartwarming. As a summoner, Yuna carries a heavy weight on her shoulders. Summoners in Spira dedicate their lives to defeating Sin, prepared to sacrifice anything and everything for their people. As such, it’s rare that Yuna or the people around her consider her own needs and desires. But Tidus is an outsider. He has no expectations for how Yuna should act or how she should serve him. He constantly asks Yuna what she wants to do and checks in with her to make sure that she’s okay. And Yuna is one of the first people to believe him when he says he’s from Zanarkand. They talk things out and listen to each other.

The music is just as beautiful as the love story, although this game is notable in that it’s the first main Final Fantasy title that did not have Nobuo Uematsu composing the whole score. He did some of the tracks; others were composed by Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano. Many of the tracks are some variant of three gorgeous themes: “To Zanarkand,” “Suteki da ne,” and “Hymn of the Fayth.”

The turn-based battle system has a fantastic feature: the ability to switch out party members in the middle of combat. This especially comes in handy because many of the enemies are specifically designed with one character in mind. Auron is the heavy hitter. Lulu uses offensive magic. Yuna is the healer and can take out difficult enemies with the aeons that she summons. Wakka hits airborn enemies with his blitzball. This allows for a more balanced party, offering everyone a chance to level up at some point.

On the other hand, the lack of exploration in this game surprised me. I enjoyed having the chance to fly around the worlds in Final Fantasy VI and VII. In X, you don’t get to control an airship until the very end of the game, and you can only visit a specific set of locations on the map. Up until that point, you follow a linear path on your journey through Spira. While this wasn’t a deal breaker for me, I did miss at least having the option to explore.

Now, there is one aspect of the game that I hated: blitzball. It should have been fun. And I will fully admit that I might not have gotten full enjoyment out of it because I wasn’t playing it right or took the time to understand the ins and outs of the game. But the time that I spent playing in the tournament wasn’t fun.

Blitzball is Tidus’ favorite sport and the tournament is one of the biggest events in Spira. It’s a game played in a giant dome of water. The players swim through the dome and try to score points through each other’s goals.

But when you finally get to play, most of the moves happen automatically. You’re encouraged to set your characters to automatically move around in the dome, and then you watch the players swim around. You get a chance to try scoring or throwing the ball to another teammate, but mostly, it’s just watching the players move around the dome. I never really felt like I was in control as I tried to play. When Tidus and the party got cut off from the mini game due to story reasons, it was the greatest punishment of all time.

Final Fantasy X might not be a perfect game, but I did enjoy most of it. The characters and the battle system are very enjoyable. I cannot compare the PS4 remaster with the PS2 or PS3 versions because I didn’t spend enough time with either of them. However, the game looks beautiful, and the remastered soundtrack sounds great. I’d rate it 7.5 out of 10 blitzballs.

Review: Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia

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The heroes from the Final Fantasy series cannot catch a break. Having been sent to a paradise world to rest from their battles, they discover that monsters have infiltrated said paradise. It’s up to them to band together and fight…again.

Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is a game for iOS and Android devices, recently launched in the United States. (It’s been running in Japan since early 2017.) Dissidia has become a crossover subseries of the larger Final Fantasy franchise. It started out with two games on the PSP, followed by the Theatrhythm music games on the Nintendo 3DS, and now an arcade version on the PlayStation 4, titled Dissida NT. They essentially exist to throw the major Final Fantasy heroes and villains together in one universe to battle it out.

In the first two PSP games, the heroes and villains wake up in a strange world with no memories of their previous adventures.  They have a vague idea of who they used to be, and they know that they have homes they want to see again, but that’s it.  The goddess of harmony, Cosmos, and the god of discord, Chaos, enlist them to fight in a great battle for control of the universe.  The characters strike alliances with one another and grapple with various personal issues while trying to end the conflict for good.

Theatrhythm pretty much kicked the plot out the door from the get-go. Technically, the heroes are fighting Chaos again, but there’s no dialogue between them. You just pick a song from the series and try to keep up with the beats. They’re fun rhythm games and probably my favorite entries in the series, even though they don’t contribute anything to the story.

Now, we have Opera Omnia on mobile phones. This game changes things up by having the characters clearly remember their previous adventures in their home worlds, but have no recollection of their Dissidia battles. If you enjoyed Zidane and Squall’s odd friendship or Vaan saving Terra from Kefka, you’re out of luck.

In this way, Opera Omnia comes off as a soft reboot of the Dissidia series. The game doesn’t solely stick to major heroes and villains. You begin the adventure with Warrior of Light, from the original Final Fantasy, Rem from Type 0, Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII, and Vivi from Final Fantasy IX. As you progress through each chapter of the game, you gain more and more allies in the fight. And there are lots of allies from the entire series. Other characters can be unlocked for a limited time through special event quests. As of this writing, we’ve gotten Squall, Vanille, Setzer, Balthier, Eiko, Tidus, and Prishe in this manner.

Just to give you an idea, my current roster of fighters consists of twenty-eight characters. And I’m still on Chapter 4.

While playing this game, I got the impression that Square-Enix might’ve finally noticed that they’ve been giving Final Fantasy VII a little too much love compared to other entries in the series. While you pick up Cloud, Tifa, and Yuffie early on, they don’t appear as often in cutscenes as Zidane and Vivi from IX. And Final Fantasy VI has started to receive more attention at last. The Japanese version of Opera Omnia already has Terra, Shadow, Setzer, Cyan, Edgar, Sabin, Celes, and Kefka. Considering that the first two games only ever gave us Terra and Kefka as playable characters, that’s impressive.

So, what goal do the heroes need to accomplish this time around? It turns out that the paradise world they inhabit has become infected by “Torsions.” Torsions are basically dark wormholes that spew out monsters. The goddess Materia summons Mog the Moogle to collect warriors who possess the ability to seal the Torsions. Then the worlds can finally be at peace.

Did you understand all of that? Well, don’t worry if you didn’t. Mog and co. will repeat this information many, many, many times. It reminds me of The Room, the greatest bad movie of all time, where characters would often repeat dialogue and have the same conversations. But at least in The Room, the writing was so bad that it was funny. With these games, the writing’s just competent enough that it’s more annoying than funny.

And that’s always been a problem with the Dissidia series. I remember playing Duodecim for the first time and loving it. Yet as I got further and further into the story, I groaned every time someone brought up the manikins- the game’s enemies- which was often. “These manikins are everywhere!” “How do we stop the manikins?” “Oh no, here come more manikins!” “If we don’t stop the manikins, we’re all going to die!” “BUT HOW DO WE STOP THE MANIKINS???” Replace “manikins” with “Torsions” and you get the same problem in Opera Omnia.

It’s not all bad though. There’s a mini-arc of trying to catch and recruit Yuffie after she steals some of the party’s weapons- and then Zidane, who has acted very upset about losing his dagger, decides he’s going to flirt with her anyway. There’s another cutscene that consists of nothing but Zidane trying cheesy pickup lines on every female member in the party, with no success. And Chapter 3 has the heroes grappling with whether or not to join forces with Seifer and his friends. On the one hand, they seem to be fighting a common enemy. On the other hand, the two groups can’t stand each other and eventually decide to go their separate ways. This has always been the strongest aspect of Dissdia: when the writers indulge in the appeal of the crossover and have fun letting the characters bounce off of each other.

While the strength of the writing fluctuates, the battle system is a fun throwback to older Final Fantasy games that successfully mixes in some of Dissidia’s style as well. You get three party members who face off against enemies in turn-based combat. There are two types of attacks that can be used: Bravery and HP. The amount of Bravery that your character obtains determines how powerful your HP attacks will be. So, if your character has 0 Bravery, and you hit an enemy with an HP attack, the enemy will take no damage. This leaves some room for strategizing how you will attack enemies.

That said, as much as I love having so many characters at my disposal, it does make leveling up more of a pain. The game developers made an attempt to fix the problem by giving out extra rewards on certain quests if you use a particular character. You can also gain more experience on quests by using certain characters. Still, it’s a struggle, and it would help if the new characters you acquire throughout the story didn’t always start at Level 1, no matter where you are. It would make more sense to have them at different levels depending on when you acquire them, like other Final Fantasy games have done in the past.

Since this is a free-to-play game, Opera Omnia does rely on microtransactions to some degree. The quickest way to acquire the best weapons and armor comes from the Weekly Draws and Event Draws. You can either pull for one weapon using a Draw Ticket or eleven weapons using 5,000 gems. You earn gems and tickets by logging into the game and completing various tasks. Or you can go to the Gem Shop and buy them.

The game gives you different purchase options, from a Bronze Chest that gives you 120 gems for $0.99, to an Adamant Chest that gives you 12,000 gems for $74.99. I can’t imagine spending $75 in one transaction for fake money, and for a deal that only allows you two pulls from one of the draws, it doesn’t seem worth it. But I’ve found the game to be playable without drawing for weapons very much. Time will tell if that changes as I get farther and farther into the story and the difficulty increases. It’s also worth noting that you can enhance your weapons yourself with materials that you find. But if you want good weapons fast, the draws are your best bet.

So far, Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia has been a fun experience and I enjoy playing it. I can’t wait to see what other characters get added to the lineup. (Locke? Rinoa? Where are you?) While the plot is still a little weak, I love watching the characters play off of each other and setting up a party for turn-based combat. If you’re a fan of any of the Final Fantasy games, it’s most likely that you will enjoy it too.

Initial Thoughts on “Hogwarts Mystery”

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It took almost two decades, but I finally received my letter from Hogwarts. And if you download the app for Hogwarts Mystery, you can get yours too!

Hogwarts Mystery is one of two mobile games set in the Harry Potter universe. The other, Wizards Unite, has not yet been released. While the latter appears to be similar to Pokémon Go, the former focuses more on the story and the chance to see yourself as a wizard in whatever House you choose.

After selecting a look for your avatar, you set off for Diagon Alley, as Harry did, make new friends and enemies, practice spells, and brew potions. You get to choose what rewards you earn for completing certain objectives in class. Every avatar has opportunities to level up in three ways: Courage, Empathy, and Knowledge. How you respond to various questions determines how fast you level up in each category, and sometimes an answer will be locked because you don’t have enough Courage/Empathy/Knowledge to say it.

You’ll also discover that your avatar has a mysterious family past: his/her brother got expelled from Hogwarts and disappeared. It looks like this will be the story arc that carries over for all seven years at Hogwarts. Luckily, your avatar finds a best friend in Rowan Khanna, who supports you in your quest for answers and defends you from anyone who tries to mess with you.

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I love her.

Rowan has been my favorite part of Hogwarts Mystery (outside of the wish fulfillment of going to Hogwarts). His/her gender changes depending on what gender you select, but I’ll refer to her as “she” for this review since that’s what I picked. She’s kind, funny, and loyal, and there’s something about her that just reminds me so much of the friends that I have in real life.

Unfortunately, I can’t hang out with my friends in real life while playing Hogwarts Mystery. I’d hoped that there would be some kind of multiplayer feature that allowed my avatar to interact with others. But so far, that doesn’t appear to be an option. Hopefully, it will come with an upgrade somewhere down the line, because I don’t want to imagine going to Hogwarts without my real friends by my side.

Hogwarts Mystery looks great, with fun, colorful graphics that remind me of the old Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets games that I used to play on my GameCube. There are times when my avatar’s facial expressions look awkward, but it’s not a deal breaker.

And speaking of those other video games, Hogwarts Mystery has some nice shout-outs to them as well. Your avatar will eventually learn the Flipendo spell, which never appeared in the books or movies, but was the go-to spell for just about everything in the video games. You’ll also learn how to brew Wiggenweld Potion, which Harry used to heal himself. It makes for a nice blend of the canon established by the books, movies, and video games, with something for every fan to love, regardless of how they were introduced to Harry Potter’s world. (Now, if they could just throw in a reference to A Very Potter Musical, I’ll be set.)

I’m enjoying the story so far. At first, I felt disappointed by the choice in setting because I wanted my avatar to be a random Hufflepuff having adventures during Harry’s years at Hogwarts. Now that I’ve actually started playing the game, I can admit that it was a good idea to place it in the time period between Voldemort’s initial defeat and Harry’s school years. This choice allows for an original story about your avatar and their friends, and we still get to interact with most of the teachers from the books, i.e. Professor Snape and Flitwick. Our avatar’s backstory has only been revealed in bits and pieces so far, but it’s intriguing.

I also like how we get to choose our House, rather than take another quiz. Granted, I never had a preference until Pottermore’s quiz put me in Hufflepuff. And if you like taking quizzes, you’ll find the Sorting Ceremony a little anticlimactic. But then again, doesn’t this tie into one of the themes from the books?  As Professor Dumbledore says in Chamber of Secrets: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

So, the story’s great, the characters are wonderful, and the visuals look good. It’s a Hogwarts fan’s dream!

Except when it isn’t.

With a free-to-play mobile app, there will always be issues with micro transactions. After all, the developers have to make money somehow, and I don’t take issue with that. I do take issue with how the game prevents you from doing very much at any given time before you either wait for your energy bar to refill, or start paying.

Your avatar has an energy bar, and mine currently has a maximum of 25 points. Whenever you take lessons, your character spends energy doing things like studying, talking to Rowan, collecting potions ingredients, etc. And these are all things that you have to do in order to complete the lesson and move forward. More than once, I have run out of energy mid-lesson and needed to put the game on hold until the bar refilled. It’s also not very exciting or fun to tap away at your phone while your character “does” things and nothing’s really happening.

The game becomes more fun when you get to do things that don’t cost energy, like bonding with Rowan over a game of Gobstones and trying to guess the right responses to heighten your friendship. I’ve only just learned how to duel, but that looks promising as well. You need to pick whether to assume an Aggressive, Sneaky, or Defensive stance against your opponent, and then select spells or healing potions to use.

There’s one other major issue that I have with Hogwarts Mystery: the lack of customizable options for your avatar. Although you can adjust the shape of the face, nose, and eyes, all avatars have the same body type. You only get a handful of options for hairstyles and such when you first start the game, and everything else needs to be unlocked by spending gems and coins. This includes glasses. Why do we need to pay money to unlock glasses? Lots of people wear glasses. Harry Freakin’ Potter wears glasses. It’s not going to matter to most people, but it’s one of my pet peeves when a game doesn’t give you that option right from the start.

Given time, I’m hoping that the developers of Hogwarts Mystery will iron out the issues with the gameplay and find other ways to profit off of micro transactions. The game has a lot of promise with good characters, an interesting story, and shout outs to the Harry Potter franchise in all of its forms. If you’re a diehard fan, you will have fun here. But it requires either a lot of patience or a lot of Galleons to get the most out of the experience.

Recap Review: Tomb Raider (PS1)

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It’s a groundbreaking video game that stars a rare female protagonist. It’s been adapted into two movies starring Angelina Jolie, with a new reboot starring Alicia Vikander coming to theaters on March 16th. Thia the Bard has already written an excellent article for Real Women of Gaming about the impact that it had on the gaming industry with its famous protagonist, Lara Croft. It’s the one and only Tomb Raider!

It’s also a game that I never tried playing until recently. But then, lo and behold, I managed to find a copy in my local retro game store for $6, and here we are.

Tomb Raider, originally released for the PlayStation 1, Sega Saturn, and PC, stars Lara Croft, an adventurous woman who likes exploring dangerous locations and finding priceless artifacts. The game begins with Jacqueline Natla hiring her to find a piece of a scion in the mountains of Peru- but Lara is soon betrayed and strikes out to find the rest of the pieces on her own.

When I first started playing this game, I realized just how much modern games have spoiled me. I’m used to playing through tutorials that hold my hand the entire time, telling me exactly what buttons to press in every situation. Tomb Raider has a tutorial, but it’s not part of the main game. Instead, you can access Lara’s home in the main menu, and she’ll guide you through jumping, running, walking, etc. But even then, there’s no “press X to perform an action.” It’s always “press the jump button” or “press the action button.” You want to know which button’s the jump button? Well, you’ll just have to read the manual or figure it out yourself, because Lara’s not talking.

So I was completely out of my league when I first dove into the adventure and had to backtrack to Lara’s house to figure out what I needed to do. That said, I love the setup. It’s perfect for experienced gamers who don’t need a repeat lesson at the start of every playthrough, and also great for people like me who tend to start games, stop them when life gets in the way, and then pick them up again months later. The tutorial’s there to refresh your memory whenever you need it, and then you can jump right back into the actual game.

Unfortunately, the controls and graphics haven’t aged well. It can be difficult to navigate a three-dimensional environment with a control pad instead of a control stick.  I’ve done it in the past with DS games like Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. But Tomb Raider felt clunkier, perhaps because it’s on a bigger screen with wider areas to explore. Fortunately, the developers added the “walk” command that allows Lara to move slowly through treacherous areas, and while walking, she cannot fall over a ledge no matter how much you push her. This helps out a lot.

(Also, yes, some PS1 controllers come with control sticks, but the ones that I own did not work with Tomb Raider.  Lara only ever moved when I directed her with the control pad.)

Obviously, most games from the PS1-era have not stood the test of time in terms of how they look.  So it is with Tomb Raider. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the silliness of polygon characters bobbing their heads up and down as they “talked” in certain cutscenes, if only for nostalgic reasons. The cutscenes that take place in-between levels have a higher quality.  Although, again, that’s not saying much. It looks great for a PS1 game.

The visuals may look awkward, but Tomb Raider has good voice acting for its short cutscenes and Lara’s tutorial. It also has a different approach to its soundtrack compared to other video games that I’ve played in the past. You’ll hear musical themes throughout the game, but only at specific points, and not for very long. It usually starts up when you reach a significant area or come across a certain enemy. The rest of the time, you explore the tombs in silence. In this way, the soundtrack gives you a sense of where you are and how you’re progressing through the game. However, it’s no guarantee of anything. There are situations, such as the final fight in the Tomb of Qualopec, where the enemy attacks Lara with no musical warning whatsoever and you have to act fast.

Finally, there’s Lara Croft herself.  I like her character and how she prefers exploring tombs “for sport,” as she puts it, rather than for riches. Additionally, I think it’s really neat that while Lara does battle a couple of male antagonists, the main villain in the first Tomb Raider is another woman. I wasn’t expecting that at all.

Yes, Lara’s character design is problematic with her unrealistically large breasts shown on the cover.  But, for what it’s worth, the actual game doesn’t focus on her appearance as much as it focuses on her love of tomb raiding and action skills.  As Cracked.com put it in their article, “6 Glitches That Accidentally Invented Modern Gaming:” “Lara is strong, independently wealthy, beautiful, smart, and great at what she does.”  And I enjoyed have the opportunity to go on exciting adventures with a smart, capable, adventurous woman as the playable character.

Overall, I’ve had a mixed experience with Tomb Raider. I love the concept of exploring ancient tombs to find powerful artifacts before the Evil Organization gets there first. I like Lara’s character too. But it’s not a series that I’m dying to continue playing. There’s only so many times that I can miss a jump before I stop having fun and start feeling frustrated. Then again, that’s probably just me and my own lack of gaming skills. I’m still looking forward to the new movie, and I’ll probably try out the Square-Enix reboot on the PS4 someday.

Review: Luigi’s Mansion

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I’ve heard that gamers consider Luigi’s Mansion to be a classic from the Nintendo GameCube era. Personally, I’d given it a try once before and didn’t get very far before I lost interest. But that was years ago, so why not try again?

Well, I tried, and I did end up enjoying it. It’s just not a game that I’d want to play over and over again.

Here’s the premise: Luigi, the lovable brother of the famous Super Mario, has just won a mansion. That sounds great, except that Luigi doesn’t recall entering a contest in the first place. When he arrives, he discovers that it’s filled with ghosts and that Mario’s trapped somewhere inside! Luckily, there’s a quirky old ghost hunter named Professor E. Gadd (I love that name) who equips our hero with a Poltergust 3000 that will suck up any attacking ghosts.

As he clears each room of ghosts with his new vacuum-weapon, it’s up to Luigi to figure out what happened to Mario and who’s responsible for trapping them in the mansion.

First, I love the music that plays throughout Luigi’s Mansion. It’s spooky and playful, so it fits the game well. It’s cute how Luigi will hum or whistle along as he walks through each room. He’s a great character; while he doesn’t speak much, he’s very expressive. Plus, you have to admire him for fighting off ghosts single-handedly, even when he’s clearly scared out of his mind, because he loves his brother that much.

In theory, the gameplay is simple: Luigi uses his magic vacuum to suck up ghosts. As he goes through the house, he’ll also uncover elements medals that let him use fire, water, and ice on the environment and special ghosts.

That’s all fine and good, except this means that Luigi’s Mansion centers on aiming in the right direction with the Poltergust and I cannot aim to save my life. It’s one of the reasons why I usually don’t play shooters, and why my weapon of choice in Bioshock was the wrench. Every time an arrow challenge comes up in a Zelda dungeon, I waste countless arrows trying to hit the target while groaning in agony. So that made Luigi’s Mansion more frustrating for me than fun. But if that’s something you’re good at, you’ll have no problem conquering Luigi’s Mansion.

Still, the longer I played, the more I found myself enjoying the game. It’s fun to search the house for ghosts. Some are Boos, some look like blobs with faces, and then there’s a special type: the Portrait Ghosts. Professor E. Gadd once had them trapped in paintings, until they escaped right before the start of the game. They each have a unique design and personality, though most of them aren’t hard to capture compared to regular ghosts.

It’s also worth mentioning that Luigi’s Mansion is a short game that you can complete within a couple of days, depending on how much time you spend on it. It only has four “areas” to unlock, plus the room of the final boss. Since I wasn’t extremely invested in the game, I didn’t mind its length. Others may find that aspect disappointing.

If you have a GameCube and you love Luigi, Luigi’s Mansion is a game worth playing. It’s not my favorite video game, but I don’t regret trying it out.

Review: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

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All rise for the debut of Apollo Justice, the newest defense attorney in the Ace Attorney series!

The game has been remade recently for the Nintendo 3DS, but was originally released as a Nintendo DS game and it’s also available on iOS and Android devices. You don’t need to play the previous games to understand the story or characters, but I highly recommend doing so because they’re awesome.

Apollo Justice, the fourth entry, takes place seven years after the seemingly happy conclusion of Phoenix Wright’s story in Trials and Tribulations. Unfortunately, we discover that Phoenix has since lost his badge after being tricked into presenting forged evidence in court. Now he’s been accused of murder, and his only hope lies in newcomer Apollo Justice, who has idolized Phoenix for years.

These events kick off a new story with Apollo as the playable character, assisted by Phoenix’ teenage daughter, Trucy. The duo faces off against Klavier Gavin, a prosecutor who also happens to be a famous rock star. He likes to play air guitar after raising an objection. Because if these lawyers aren’t quirky to a fault, it’s not an Ace Attorney game.

Klavier ended up becoming my favorite character in this game. Granted, I’ve written before that the prosecutors are my favorite aspect of Ace Attorney, so that’s not much of a shock. It’s Klavier’s personality that surprised me. Previous prosecutors have helped Phoenix on certain occasions, but only after going through a good round of character development. Klavier is a nice guy from the get-go. He lets Apollo and Trucy have access to the crime scenes, gives them discount tickets to his concerts, and occasionally helps them out when he sees that Apollo’s on the right track but isn’t presenting the right evidence to the judge.

That’s not to say that he lets Apollo off easy. They’re still rivals in the courtroom. Nonetheless, he presents a change of pace that’s fun and refreshing.

I wish I could say the same for Apollo and Trucy. They’re nice characters and I like them well enough. But they’re basically Phoenix and Maya 2.0: a snarky, intelligent lawyer with a passion for justice and his cheerful, quirky assistant with a mysterious family past.

On the one hand, I do like them because this dynamic worked great in the Phoenix trilogy. If it’s not broken, why fix it? On the other hand, it would have been nice to see a more distinct difference between Phoenix and Apollo. Otherwise, why bother creating a new character? In the first AA game, we learn what inspired Phoenix and Miles Edgeworth to become lawyers. We never get that kind of insight about Apollo.  We get some backstory about him, but it’s revealed through other characters and we don’t get to see how it impacts Apollo.

Additionally, both Phoenix and Apollo lose their mentors early in the game, albeit under different circumstances. We see how the loss of Mia Fey affects Phoenix throughout his entire trilogy. And while Kristoph’s situation is a big deal to Apollo initially, and comes back into play later in the story, Apollo doesn’t reference him much in-between. There’s less of a connection between them. When his mentor does return, there’s more emphasis on how Kristoph impacted Phoenix’ life than Apollo’s.  As the new player character, Apollo deserved better.

Yes, Phoenix Wright returns as well, as an occasional mentor to Apollo. He’s a lot like Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, as the lovable hero who becomes disillusioned after losing everything. I didn’t mind his personality shift. Underneath it all, he still feels like the same character, just at a different stage of his life after suffering from a traumatic situation. (Then again, I felt the same way about Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi…)

So, having discussed the story and characters- which is necessary when it’s such a story-driven title- what about the game itself?

Apollo Justice plays out much like the previous entries in the series. You alternate between investigating a murder and proving your client’s innocence in court. There’s one new trick to the cross-examinations: Apollo can use an ability called “Perceive” on witnesses in court. You pick a statement in the testimony and zero in on the person’s face, hands, etc. to find whatever nervous tic they’re showing. Doing so helps you to see when the witness is lying.

Apollo Justice also has a couple of tweaks that make the game easier to play. For example, if you fail to present the right evidence too many times and lose all of your “health,” the game gives you the option to return to that last moment with a full health bar. That makes the courtroom sections much less frustrating.

Although none of the cases reached the level of “Farewell My Turnabout” or “Bridge to the Turnabout,” I thought they were all solid and fun to solve. They formed more of a cohesive arc this time around, with every case having some relevance to the overall plot.

If you enjoyed the original Phoenix Wright games, I recommend Apollo Justice. It doesn’t exceed expectations, but any time spent in Phoenix’ world is time well spent for me.