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Review: Never Alone

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In 2014, Upper One Games and E-Line Media released Never Alone, a platformer based on the Iñupiat tale, “Kunuuksaayuka.” It is now playable on the PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC, as well as iOS and Android devices. I downloaded the game on the PlayStation 4, so that is the version that I will review.

In Never Alone, an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna leaves her village to find out why her people have been suffering from terrible blizzards every day. An arctic fox comes to her aid, giving players the option to either switch between the two characters in Single Play or work together with a friend in Co-Op.

During their journey, they face a hungry polar bear, gusts of freezing wind, spirits from the Northern Lights that try to capture them, and a terrible man who’s been destroying villages to find a bola…the same weapon that Nuna’s been using to clear obstacles. Uh-oh.

Never Alone is an important game because it was made in tandem with the Iñupiat people. As you progress through each level, you unlock short videos called “Cultural Insights,” and you can pause the game at any time to view them. They were made to teach players about the Iñupiat people’s culture and way of life. These mini-documentaries allow one to gain a better understanding of the characters and themes found in the game. It’s a fun way to learn more about an underrepresented group of people through their own voices. I hope they have the opportunity to make more games like Never Alone.

In the game itself, Nuna and Fox each have unique skills that make them essential to the adventure. You can’t simply use one and ignore the other. Fox can climb walls and call spirits to help Nuna. She uses her bola to break apart icicles and burning sticks that block their path. I did not try out the multiplayer mode with a friend, but I imagine this allows for fun cooperative play.

As it is, I found single player mode manageable, though it could become frustrating at times. When using friendly spirit helpers to bring Nuna safely from one point to the other, Fox needs to stay close or the spirit will fade away. This wasn’t a reoccurring issue throughout the game, yet there were a few instances where Fox drifted too far away and Nuna fell. If I’d had a friend controlling Fox, this wouldn’t have been an issue at all.

With that said, the game can get aggravating at times. Initially, I shrugged it off because I didn’t grow up playing the side-scrolling platformers on the NES, SNES, or Sega Genesis. I’m only just getting interested in those types of games now.  However, there were moments during my playthrough of Never Alone when I could’ve sworn I’d timed it right, and Nuna seemed to land a jump on to the back of a Spirit, only to hang in midair without catching hold and then falling to her death. I couldn’t tell you how I eventually succeeded and got her to stick the landing. I think it had to do with where Fox moved the Spirit, but there was so much delicate back-and-forth involved that I don’t know exactly.

You will always feel bad when either Nuna or Fox dies, because every time it happens, the camera focuses on the other one crying and falling to the ground in grief. But this also allows you to feel the strong bond between the two of them, given that neither character talks. Instead, narrator James Mumiġan Nageak tells the story in the Iñupiaq language as you play, with English subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

Never Alone looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous. Those are easily the best aspects of the game. I enjoyed the quiet, haunting main theme. With Nuna and Fox often exploring the harsh environment with no one else around to help them, a big, dramatic arrangement with a full orchestra would have felt out of place in this story. The music’s there just enough to enhance the experience without feeling intrusive.

And there’s such a beautiful world to explore, from floating ice on the ocean to the ruins of a village with the eerie spirits from the Northern Lights trying to catch Nuna. I would love it if Upper One Games could make something in the style of Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a wide-open, exploration adventure based on other legends from First Nation cultures, with more characters, side-quests, etc. Based on what I’ve seen in Never Alone, that would be amazing.

Never Alone is currently available to purchase on the PlayStation Network at a discounted price for $4.99 until January 16th.  Although it is a short game, it’s worth checking out to support the work of the Iñupiat people.

Review: Ace Attorney Trilogy

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Written by Iris the Keyblade Master

If you’re looking for a video game that’s not too difficult to play (at least not in the way that video games usually are), has an engrossing story, and phenomenal character development, you can’t find much better than the original Ace Attorney trilogy.  Originally released in America for the Nintendo DS, all three games can now be purchased as a collection from the Nintendo eStore for the 3DS.

As the title implies, the main character’s a defense attorney, named Phoenix Wright.  He’s driven by a need to defend innocent people, even and especially when nobody else believes in their innocence.

Each game gets broken down into a number of episodes.  The first episode is always a brief one-day trial that acts as the tutorial.  The others switch back and forth between Investigation modes and Trial modes.  Phoenix will learn about a person who’s been accused of murder and all of the circumstantial evidence stacked against said person.  Then you spend the first day gathering clues, questioning other characters, etc.  Once you’ve found everything that you can possibly find, the game moves on to the second day: the actual trial.  You must badger every witness that comes to the stand and use the clues to point out contradictions in their testimony.

But Phoenix will never have enough evidence to determine the real murderer, so that leads to another day of investigating.  Then it’s time for the second and final day of the trial!

The characters are what make these games so much fun.  Phoenix and his plucky assistant, Maya Fey, play off well with one another as you lead them to different areas to search for evidence.  They’ve always got to deal with Detective Gumshoe, who isn’t the smartest man on the police force, but means well.  The same could be said for the judge, who’s willing to swallow the weakest excuses from lying witnesses.  Each of the suspects has a quirk that can range from amusing to annoying.  Phoenix’ exasperated reactions to the antics of the rest of the cast are always funny.

And finally, there are the prosecutors.  They bring so much joy for all of the grief they heap on poor Phoenix.  The first game introduces Miles Edgeworth, Phoenix’s former best friend who turned into his biggest rival.  I couldn’t stand his ego at first.  He’s the first opponent to really get under the player’s skin with the way he just casually dismantles every argument you present.  However, his character development throughout each game turned out to be so good that he ended up becoming one of my favorite fictional characters ever. 

The second game presents Franziska von Karma, a female prosecuting prodigy who starts whipping anyone and everyone who gets in her way.  I’m not talking figuratively here.  She actually uses a bullwhip on everyone.  That includes Phoenix and the judge.  Somehow she gets away with it every single time.

Last but not least, the third game’s prosecutor, Godot, has a fearless attitude, a great backstory with ties to Phoenix’ past, and likes throwing his coffee mug at Phoenix when he gets annoyed.  Yeah, this game can get wacky.

I loved solving each of the cases.  Sometimes the developers really give your brain a workout as you try to find the lie in a witness’ testimony.  In the first game, you get five chances to make a mistake, and once you use them up, it’s game over.  The sequels replaced this system with a health bar.  It will decrease depending on how many mistakes you make and the gravity of those mistakes.  It’s a toss-up regarding which one I prefer.

Although the games tend to be silly, they do have serious moments- after all; the objective is to catch a murderer.  Each game’s final case is an emotional rollercoaster for Phoenix and his friends, and those last murderers are particularly ruthless.  I won’t say any more to avoid some very good spoilers.  I’ll just say that “Turnabout Goodbyes,” “Farewell, My Turnabout” and “Bridge to the Turnabout” are my favorite cases in the whole series.  The music theme that plays when Phoenix uncovers the killer in “Farewell, My Turnabout” gives me chills.

Finally, the series has some excellent female characters: heroes, villains, and everything in-between.  Besides Franziska von Karma and Maya Fey, there’s her older sister, Mia Fey, a defense attorney who mentored Phoenix and gives him advice on his cases.  They have an adorable little cousin named Pearl who tags along with Phoenix and Maya, and never falls into the “annoying child sidekick” trap.  Wendy Oldbag, Adrian Andrews, Dahlia Hawthorne, and Iris are all memorable suspects for different reasons.   Unfortunately, I can’t go into more detail because I’d have to spoil so much of the story.

Good stories and puzzles, well-written characters, a fun, catchy soundtrack, and constant courtroom shenanigans- what’s not to love?  The evidence clearly indicates that you should give Ace Attorney a try as soon as possible!

Review: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

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Written by Iris the Keyblade Master

The Theatrhythm Final Fantasy games celebrate one of the best aspects of the series: the music.  Both rhythm games are available for the Nintendo 3DS.  Although if you’re interested in giving Theatrhythm a try, don’t waste your money purchasing both of them.  The sequel, Curtain Call, has all of the same songs and lots more.

I debated with myself about whether to get the original Theatrhythm when it was first released on the Nintendo 3DS.   Having gotten booed out of levels of Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, and surviving the infamous Little Mermaid sidequest in Kingdom Hearts 2…my experiences with rhythm games weren’t very good ones.  But someone at GameStop encouraged me to give it a try, and that’s how I ended up losing countless hours of my life to this game.  I have no regrets.

The gameplay’s divided into three types of stages: Field, Battle, and Event.  Field songs consist of tracks like “Terra’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI, the main theme from VII, and “A Place to Call Home” from IX.  An adorable chibi Final Fantasy character of your choosing strolls along a path to the music, while you try to hit as many notes correctly as possible.  Although the notes can come across the screen quickly, depending on the song and the difficulty level, Field Stages are generally slower in pace than their Battle counterparts.

In Battle, you create a party of four chibi characters who fight different monsters and villains who have appeared throughout the Final Fantasy series.  When you hit the right notes, their attacks are successful.  If you miss a note, they lose health.  (This actually applies to the Field and Event stages too, except you’re not attacking anything. You’re just trying to keep the character’s health bar full.)  The songs you can choose from include the always classic “One-Winged Angel,” as well as “Dancing Mad,” “The Man With the Machine Gun,” and “Battle on the Big Bridge.”

Last, but not least, we have the Event stages.  These stages were more prevalent in the original game, because every entry from the series had one.  In Curtain Call, all of the songs that originally appeared as Event stages got turned into Field or Battle stages instead.  It’s a shame, because even if they’re difficult to play, they’re beautiful to watch.  Instead of battling enemies or walking through a field, you watch a video that highlights the most memorable moments from the featured Final Fantasy game.  The selected songs are popular themes from the game that people tend to think about when they think of that particular entry, i.e. “Sutaki da ne,” “Aerith’s Theme,” and “Answers” from Final Fantasy XIV.  The best, by far, appears in Curtain Call.  It’s a gorgeous medley of Final Fantasy themes played over highlights from the entire franchise.  If you’re a fan of any Final Fantasy games, I dare you not to cry while watching it.

It’s worth mentioning that the way you progress through the game changed in a few significant ways from the first Theatrhythm to Curtain Call.  In the original game, you could select any of the main musical stages for each of the games featured in Theatrhythm, from the original Final Fantasy to XIII.  However, once you committed yourself to one of the entries, i.e. Final Fantasy IX, you had to play through all three musical stages before being allowed to go back and play whichever one you wanted.

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Game Review: Randal’s Monday

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Game Review: Randal’s Monday

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Daedalic has a winner here with Randal’s Monday, a point-and-click adventure game currently available on Steam. The humor is crass, vulgar, and full of nostalgia.  Randal is a kleptomaniac douche who swipes his buddy’s wallet and the engagement ring within.

The bad news, for Randal, is the ring is cursed. What follows is a time-loop scenario with a slight twist: whatever Randal changes stays changed and alters the space-time continuum wreaking havoc on reality.

The dialogue is all spoken, sometimes though with a speed that left me frantically clicking to advance it. The artwork is decent with many hidden Easter-eggs to well known fandoms. There’s even a sci-fi convention, and a guest star (voiced by the actual actor, if my ears are correct) who has slightly more than a cameo in the tribulations of Randal.

8/10 paws

 

Review: Pokemon Snap

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By: Iris the Keyblade Master

Ah, Pokémon Snap, the only Pokémon-related video game that I ever got to play when I was a kid.  It was made for the Nintendo 64, but it’s also currently available on the Wii U Virtual Console.  I recently bought a copy for my N64 and found that it still held up for me as an adult.

First, I told myself that I just wanted to test the game out to make sure it still worked.  About twenty minutes later, I had furiously headed back to the Beach level to prove to Professor Oak that the size in my pictures was NOT “so-so!”  It’s one of those games that is so simple and yet so addicting at times.

Unlike other Pokémon games, you don’t get to capture, train, or trade any of the wild Pokémon that you find in the different levels.  You take pictures and send them to Professor Oak, who then gives you points based on its size, position, how many of the same type appeared in the shot, etc.  (And boy, does he have high standards for “size!”)  However, to get to the next level, you must complete a variety of objectives.  Sometimes, it’s a matter of taking a certain number of pictures of unique Pokémon.  Other times, you need to trigger something special within a level to get to the next one.

Additionally, certain Pokémon won’t appear without the help of tools that Professor Oak gives you throughout the game.  And sometimes the ways to get new Pokémon aren’t so obvious.  For example, there’s a Charmeleon that walks around a lava pit towards the end of the Volcano course.  If you knock him into the pit with an apple treat, he’ll evolve into Charazard.  This interaction increases the replay value of the game, since it encourages you to go back and try new tricks to find hidden Pokémon.  (Side note: it’s also worth mentioning that because it’s an older game, you won’t find any Pokémon that came after Mew. Mew himself doesn’t even appear until after you’ve unlocked the final level.)

Technically, the player character has a name, Todd.  But like Link and the early Final Fantasy heroes, you get to pick what you want to call him.  He doesn’t have much of a personality in the game beyond, “Oh boy, let’s take a lot of pictures of Pokémon!” but it works.

Pokémon Snap is a fun, colorful game.  I love the different environments that you get to view through Todd’s safari vehicle.  Hopefully, some day, Nintendo will make a sequel.  They could really make it work by including the other generations of Pokémon, and maybe add new features, i.e. editing your pictures or getting to explore open world settings instead of following the same track.

If you like the Pokémon series, but never got around to trying this game, then I recommend checking it out if you still have your Nintendo 64 or access to the Virtual Console.  It’s a lot of fun!

Review: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

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By Iris the Keyblade Master

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is one of those games that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does.  The first game in the series was this big, epic adventure, involving Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy traveling all over the universe to stop Maleficent and meeting all kinds of Disney characters along the way.  Kingdom Hearts II was another a big, epic adventure that continued Sora’s quest.   He searched for his lost friends, befriended more popular characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Tron, and fought an evil organization.

Chain of Memories limits the adventure to one castle made of illusions.  Every floor that Sora visits is designed to look like a Disney world from his memories.  So almost all of the levels that you complete are areas that you’ve already explored from the first game.  (Little did we know that this would be a recurring problem in future games.)  It’s not necessarily what a person would have in mind if you told them to check out the sequel to Kingdom Hearts.

However, I love the story of Chain of Memories, so it’s probably the entry in the series that I replay the most apart from the first game.  It picks up where the first game left off, with Sora, Donald, and Goofy on the trail of their lost friends, Riku and Mickey.  They come across a castle inhabited by a mysterious organization that claims to have something- or someone- that Sora wants.  Sora takes the bait, only to find as he progresses through the castle that he’s losing his memories.

First, the story’s fantastic.  It’s one of two games in the series that involve a group of villains trying to trick Sora into working for them, and this one executes the idea much better.  The other game more or less saves the mind-bending shenanigans for the final level.  In Chain of Memories, it’s a steady progression of Sora forgetting his previous adventures and becoming increasingly obsessed with rescuing Naminé and Riku from the Organization.  Sora’s been previously established as somebody who cares deeply about his friends and the promises that he makes to them, so his change in personality makes complete sense.  The new characters are also well-written.  It’s the game that kicked off Axel’s popularity, and it’s easy to see why.  Naminé is wonderful too and a good example of a well-written “damsel in distress.”

I thought I would hate the battle system when I learned that it would be card-based.  Every attack that you make and magic spell that you cast is limited to the number of cards that Sora has in his deck.  However, I found that it was very manageable and does force you to strategize a little.  You can only carry so many cards in your deck, and the powerful ones are more expensive than the weaker ones.  You can also create special attacks called “sleights,” where you load three cards and use them together.  But the first card that you load for the sleight will not reappear for the rest of the battle.  So spamming sleight attacks will only take you so far.

Oh, and Donald gets to be just as useless in this game as he is in every Kingdom Hearts game.  Only this time, he doesn’t just fail to heal you.  If you don’t watch it, he can heal your enemies.  Yeah.  You read that right.  You’ll be desperately fighting Axel or Hades, who both use Fire spells, and he’ll happily hit them with Fire spells that bring their health back up.  Try to avoid using him in a fight with a magic-based enemy.

I also find it interesting how the difficulty level of the bosses and the usefulness of certain cards did change in the GameBoy Advanced version and the PlayStation 2 version.  See, the GBA obviously has a small screen, so big enemies aren’t hard to fight and Summon cards have a wider reach.  Cloud Strife was my favorite card in the GBA game.  All I had to do was summon him and he’d wipe out enemies with two slashes of the Buster Sword.  But the PlayStation 2 remake puts you in a bigger, three-dimensional area, so it’s a matter of getting close to an enemy, hoping that enemy stays put as you summon Cloud, and hope that Cloud moves in the right direction to slash said enemies.  If you’re in the wrong place or facing the wrong way, he’s completely useless.

All in all, I think this game was much better suited for the GameBoy Advanced over the PlayStation 2.  It has a smaller story and the levels are mostly the same as the first game.  In a way, it’s kind of impressive.  In terms of world design, it plays like a GBA remake of the first game.  Yet it has its own unique story, which supplies a reason for why you’re playing through the same locations again.  If you play the PlayStation 2 remake without that context, it comes off like a cheap, lazy sequel.

Nonetheless, I love playing the PS2 remake due to the improved graphics and voice acting.  Sora’s character arc and his relationships with his friends go to interesting places.  The series got two new fabulous female characters.  The soundtrack mostly rehashes the first game, but Yoko Shimomura composed some beautiful new tracks, i.e. “Naminé” and the final boss battle theme, “Lord of the Castle.”

Although it’s not an entry in the series that you absolutely must play to understand the rest of the plot, I highly recommend Chain of Memories.

Review: Grim Dawn

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Review: Grim Dawn (7/10)

I don’t know what it is about steampunk and muzzle loader guns that attract me so, but I do love them in an RPG. Grim Dawn (available on Steam) is just such a game.

In Grim Dawn you play one of the Taken, a victim of demonic possession in a world gone to hell. Freed from your servitude at the end of a hangman’s noose, you are left with a connection to those demonic energies. This connection allows you to use Rift Gates as shortcuts to jump to and from the hubs you’ll encounter along the way of the linear story progression.

You’ll also be able to wield magical energies, as well as martial, as you level. The combination of two classes (chosen from a variety pack of 6) each with its own multipath of trees to specialize in. The customizations available are vast, and that’s got to be one the things that draws me to this game time and time again.

To date, according to Steam, I’ve logged 97 hours in the game. I still haven’t gotten out of the second chapter, or progressed beyond the mid 20s in level. That’s my fault though, too many creation choices.

The graphics are gory, the sound squishy, and the color scheme of the first areas a tad depressing. It is an apocalyptic setting however, so I urge you to look past that. With only a single body type of each gender to start with, your gear is the sole way to make you YOU. Find a weapon that suits you in all the myriad of colored-fantasy-rpg-rarities, summon your pets, carry a few potions, and by all means loot the bodies. Iron bits don’t grow on trees.

The Aetherials won’t kill themselves. Go face the Grim Dawn.