Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes isn't the only game that Capybara Games is famous for. Last year Capybara teamed up with Superbrothers to create a game called Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery (not a typo) for the iOS (I should note that this game was ported to Steam a couple of weeks ago and this was the version I played). This was the first production from the Superbrothers and it went on to receive wide acclaim from critics, even leading to it winning the Independent Games Festival in Art (and unlike Fez, it actually deserved it).

The game is split into four episodes in the same model that TellTale games uses for their point-and-click adventure games. Unlike the formula that Telltale uses for Monkey Island and the later Sam & Max seasons, all four sessions are sold as one game which are more likely indicators of when to start and stop playing, and when the game is only about two hours long they make good stopping places. In fact the game directly refers to these as "sessions" where each chapters begins and concludes with a quaint analysis of the experience which can best be described as Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training mixed with fun gameplay.

The game can be described as a modern version of Another World. You control your character who is on an adventure in a mysterious world with no back-story and no reason to get to his destination. Like Another World, the character is a blank slate for the central character as the human mind clings to the most human like persona to relate to (this being said, in Another World, Lester was actually a human while in Superbrothers he isn't) and with that, the story begins.

Like Another World, the game focuses on exploration through the alien world however while Another World allows the use of the gun, Superbrothers lets you go into attack mode for individual scenes to progress. The majority of the game is puzzles in the non-intuitive sense that call back to the early Lucas Arts games and again, Another World. At the end of the first session you gain the titular "sworcery" power that allows you to enter another world... of vision and explore the area for tiny creatures that will give your character enough energy to enter the final zone in a way similar to how Ghost Trick works.

My biggest complaint with the game is its dialogue. Another World's (I feel bad comparing the game to it so much because there's a lot of new ideas in it but they're made even more clear in contrast) lack of text meant that the only way to communicate emotion to the player was through the visuals alone. The strange part is that Superbrothers also does this but the text contradicts what's going on. Examples of this include seemingly profound conversations with minor characters being replaced by quasi-colloquial jargon that doesn't need to be included in the game.

From my experiences with this and Might & Magic, I think the writing in Capybara's games could be improved (although I haven't played Critter Crunch and M&M & SS could be faulted from Ubisoft and the Superbrothers appropriately). As with Might & Magic, the text is easily skippable, and while it's a lot more prevalent in this game because of the shorter length, it doesn't ruin the experience and the game contains enough clever ideas to sustain two hours of game-time. If this review seems rather lackluster its because I'm trying not to give much of the game away. For such a short game a minor spoiler could constitute an entire session. The game is available on iOS and Steam for a cheap price so if you're are looking for a good way to spend an evening then I highly recommend it.

Buy it on iTunes | GooglePlay 

Developer: Capybara Games

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

With the uprise of 3D graphics that has persisted through the medium since the days of the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64, there has been a small demand for a return to the 2D sprite work that persisted through the medium because of the limitations of the hardware. This rise in technology meant that all 2D sprite games were created out of personal choice, which is something most people don't want to do. In this generation, 2D sprites are the go-to aesthetic of choice for indie games such as Cave Story, Fez, Crimson Clover to the point where 2D sprites and Indie games might as well be synonyms. 

If you were asked to name a Japanese developer that kept to this style then you could point to the large amount of JRPG's that continue to be released for the PSP to this very day. With western developers, the two major companies are Wayforward and Capybara games. In my eyes Wayforward have a very hit-and-miss gameography (Their most recent games have been better but Double Dragon will probably break that streak) However Capybara are best known for Critter Crunch and, most importantly, Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes.

Might & Magic is a series of PC role playing games that are about as famous as the Ultima series as PC WRPG's in terms of evolving the gaming medium. Clash of Heroes, on the other hand is a puzzle/RPG game that contains some of the most satisfying and simplistic gameplay on the DS. The game itself is rather odd in its creation. Might and Magic, like Ultima, was mostly irrelevant in this decade of gaming (the last installment was released in 2002) so some might say that a return to this style of game would be refreshing for true for the next wave of PC hardware. This makes the choice of Cabybara games all the weirder as Ubisoft hired them to make a new installment in the series.

While the game play is best explained as a puzzle/RPG, that sells the genius of the game rather short. At the start each player is given an assortment of units in a grid that's reminiscent of a Tetris grid. Each player is also given a life bar that allows them to sustain a fixed amount of damage. When three units are aligned vertically they form an attack formation that charges at the enemy and if there are no other units blocking their path then they inflict damage on the player. Alternatively, when three units align horizontally they form a defensive wall that protects from oncoming attacks. This gameplay evolves over time as new units with special abilities enter the fray along with their commanders who have special powers that can be exploited to gain the tactical upper hand (other options such as sacrificial fusions also keep things fresh).

From a graphical standpoint, the game looks stunning. The actual character portraits have a pseudo animé style that stands out from anything else on the DS to the point where it's worth going through the game just to see what creative designs Capybara have come up with. This also ranges to the incredible sprite design of the units, which almost makes it a shame to get rid of any of them to attack as they're all so well crafted. If anything, the worst part of this game is the Might & Magic brand it's attached to. The story is beyond generic, with decent characters put into the most bland interpretation of J.R.R Tolkien's work which I reckon was a Ubisoft mandate rather than anything to do with Capybara (Superbrothers illustrates that Capybara can write a good story if necessary). The linearity of the game might also be troublesome as all of the interactive parts are clearly checkpoints which adds the same problem of a closed world with no room to explore (The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a good example of this).

That being said, the negatives of this game are rather superficial and easily ignored as the gameplay more than makes up for it. For anyone interested, the game is available for the Nintendo DS and it also received an HD port for the Xbox 360 to make all of the beautiful graphics even more shinier (I still prefer the DS version due to portability and less loading times). Clash of Heroes is a literal clash of intuitive puzzle design (something that is almost lost in this generation of bland, derivative puzzle games) and a great presentation that makes it appealing to almost anyone for its accessibility and ease of use. Highly Recommended.

Find Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2009-12-01
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Capybara Games

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Game and Watch History

From a company standpoint, there was nothing about the Game and Watch that stood out from Nintendo's other products. They had been releasing hanafuda cards for over three-quarters of a century and Gunpei Yokoi had already experimented with electronic devices since being hired at Nintendo by Hiroshi Yamaguchi (Most notably, the Ultra Hand). The Game and Watch wasn't even the first console Nintendo had worked on, as they helped create the Mangavox Odyssey for it's release in Japan. The Game and Watch is famous for the complete opposite reason the Virtual Boy is famous: It was Nintendo's first ever successful video game system and it jump-started a long line of successful video game consoles (that being said, more on the Virtual Boy later).

The Game and Watch was, at the very least, the first handheld games console that Nintendo published outside of japan. The console had a dual screen clam-like structure that was the inspiration for the original architecture for the Nintendo DS that they showed at E3 in 2005. Gunpei Yokoi created the Game and Watch after seeing a bored businessman playing with an LCD calculator. He then thought of a watch that doubled as a game machine for killing time (like the modern day iPhone). This type of thinking wasn't exactly new to Yokoi (seeing a mechanical arm was his inspiration for the Ultra Hand) but it was part of this forward thinking that helped to accelerate development of the console.

One of the most interesting things about the system was that each system contained exactly one game. This added a sense of collection to the series that collectors are still trying to obtain to this day, helped by the existence of gold, silver and colour editions. There's a nice convenience about the literal pick up and play aspect of the Game and Watch without worrying about cartridges or discs (again, like the iPhone). These kind of games were a small breakthrough in the market that would later inspire other developers to make small, profitable games in the hope of making some quick money, regardless of the quality. Unlike other developers, Nintendo isn't known for wanting to make money the easy way at least until the Wii came along and within the span of just over a decade, they released 59 original games onto the market (with a sixtieth game available through a premium competition).

While there were 60 Game and Watch games overall, most games came with two different modes, called Game A and Game B. These two games were arguably the invention of difficulty levels in video games, as in most cases Game B was a more difficult, faster version of Game A to add a bit of variety to what were very simple games. Along with the nonconformist design, the series was noted for the system's mascot, Mr. Game and Watch. Modern gamers are likely to associate him with his rather bizzare appearances in Super Smash Bros Melee/Brawl. His first appearance was in the game Ball and later became more apparent than even Mario/Jumpman which lead to him being the mascot for the series (that being said, Nintendo never declared him as a mascot until the Melee appearance).

Keeping the success in mind, it's hard to call the Game and Watch more influential on gaming than some of Nintendo's other products such as the Famicom or Donkey Kong. It's probably fair to mark Game and Watch as the transition period of the golden age of video games from simplistic pieces of computer code to a wide medium of entertainment for almost anyone to enjoy. Nintendo took what they learned from the Game and Watch and used it to great effect. The original Game Boy in particular owes a lot to the Game and Watch due to the portability of the system and the multi-screen version would be known as the prototype to the Nintendo DS.

Whether the games themselves have held up is obviously a matter for debate, but for a product created over thirty years ago that ran on a phone battery they don't exactly command the ridiculous prices that some of the gold editions can conjure up out of thin air. That being said, for anyone who doesn't have thousands of pounds to spend of gaming memorabilia, the games have been compiled in collections for all of the portable successors (the DS version is the best bet as it's the only Game and Watch successor that actually has two screens) and Nintendo have tried to make the games readily available through devices such as the e-reader. In fact, Nintendo recently re-released Mr. Game and Watch's debut game, Ball, for only 1200 coins on their Club Nintendo website for North American consumers. In short, the Game and Watch may not be Nintendo's most well known creation, but it was a vital step the company had to make in order to become what it is today.

Find Game and Watch on ebay

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Win 3D Classics Kid Icarus by Feeding the Hungry [concluded]

FreeRice quizzes players on a range of subjects including vocabulary, foreign language, and math, and donates 10 grains of rice per correct answer through the World Food Programme to aid the hungry. Since the site's launch in 2007, over 90 billion grains of rice have been earned by players all over the world:
  • Year 2007: 12 255 121 230
  • Year 2008: 43 942 622 700
  • Year 2009: 16 773 400 950
  • Year 2010: 13 198 863 280
  • Year 2011: 8 218 094 800
  • Year 2012: 1 197 003 720
Annual totals have been on the decline. Let's change that! To motivate the misanthropes, I propose a simple contest:

Start: 8:00pm (GMT - 5:00), Apr 28 -Saturday
End:  8:00pm (GMT - 5:00), Apr 29 -Sunday

The top 3 earners within this time will each receive a Kid Icarus 3D Classics download code. To be eligible, you must earn your grains for the Portable Platypus Contest group so I can keep track. I will  match your grains 1:10. For this to be worth the money spent on prizes, I will only give away 3 codes if at least 10 people participate. Under 10, and I will give away 1 code. I will match grains regardless.

If you're a member of multiple groups, be sure to select "Play" for the contest group.

The contest has concluded.
TOTAL: 70600

Winner: LoganDalke with 17210 grains. Thanks everyone for participating. I'll begin working on my 7060 grains now.

Review: Sonic Pocket Adventure

A Sonic game... ON A NON-SEGA SYSTEM?!?! Ok, ok, so maybe that is not so unheard of nowadays, but back in the 90s, that meant something. In this case, it meant for whatever reason, Sega saw a lot of promise in the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Thus, Sonic Pocket Adventure was born. Of course, the biggest question is does the NGP have enough blast processing to handle Sonic's blazing speed?

Yes, actually. Sonic Pocket Adventure's most standout feature is that it actually plays how you would expect a Sonic game to play. The smoothness of the Genesis games returns in full blast. I encountered no slow down at all while playing this game. Even more impressive is that Sonic actually feels fast. To contradict myself though, his intense, "console-like" speed is a bit of a downfall. Of course it is technically impressive, but because of the small screen of the NGP, it is very hard to react to incoming enemies when you're running at the speed of sound. This is just a minor complaint, though, because overall the game plays almost identically to the Genesis games, and it also looks similar. The graphics are some of the best on the NGP, with vibrant colors, stylish sprites, and several different animations. The game's levels are also very intricate, with several paths to choose. Tons of different enemies appear, and bonus stages with a decent 3D effect return as well. Sonic Pocket Adventure feels more like a Genesis game than a handheld one, which is a good thing. Gameplay is fun, and what you would expect from a Sonic game. You will be running around loops, skyrocketing off springs, jumping on the heads of enemies, and more, all at crazy speeds. Not exactly the best platforming ever, but some of the best on the NGP.

The biggest problem with this game is the fact that it really is not anything special. The Game Gear Sonic games were worth playing because they often starred tails or were not even platformers. Sonic Pocket Adventure is, for lack of a better word, boring. There really is nothing to make this game stand out, besides the fact that it is a Sonic game. However, if you have played any Sonic game on the Genesis, you have played Sonic Pocket Adventure. It is not an exact port, but it is close enough. If you are a hardcore fan of the series, obviously this game is an option for a car ride (in the daytime due to the NGP not having a backlight), but nothing more. No new enemies, no new boss-fights, all the levels are just recycled from the Genesis games, and not a single gameplay mechanic was added. It is a very basic, run of the mill Sonic game.

Sonic Pocket Adventure is still fun, but it is just too basic. Yes, it is a Sonic 2D platformer, and I realize it is hard to go wrong with that, but this is not Sonic Generations. It should have its own unique levels, but it does not. Instead, Sonic Team took a bunch of Genesis levels, threw them on a cartridge, and called it a whole new game. It is a good portable game, and performs quite well and does a good job matching Sonic's speed, but unless you badly need a Sonic fix, just play Sonic 1, 2, or 3 on the Genesis.

Find Sonic Pocket Adventure on ebay | Amazon

Released: 1999-12-05
Publisher: SNK, SEGA
Developer: SNK

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: Super Mario 3D Land

There's been a growing disdain for recent Nintendo titles by some of the more critical members of the gaming press. While they continue to get high scores by the modern gaming media, there's an air of concern about the recent direction the games have been taking. The Mario games up to and including World have had their level designs deconstructed thoroughly to an extent like the original Sonic games to the point where its 3D successors are treated with as much respect as Bubsy 3D (This is especially true for the first Super Mario Galaxy). When trailers of Super Mario 3D Land came out, it seemed to continue this presumptuous trend by demonstrating all of the trends that made these people abhor the later games. The question was, would this testament ring true for when the full game was available?

No. Super Mario 3D Land is a testament to the tightly designed levels of the SNES era and contains such delicate world construction that it's the gaming equivalent of a miracle. It's so well crafted that it's hard to find a good place to start explaining just what about this game is so satisfying. To start with the character, Mario is the perfect simulacrum for the player. He controls exactly the way you want him to without the sloppy controls from Galaxy or the excess baggage in Sunshine, in a world that feels like a progressive journey rather than a closed environment with an assortment of objects like in Super Mario 64 (although this could apply to World as well). This 'lack' of feeling like you are controlling Mario and more of the feeling that you ARE Mario is only extended by the game's amazing 3D effects.

Even before the 3DS was released the 3D was addressed as a gimmick. It isn't hard to see why considering that with the success of James Cameron's Avatar almost every movie under the sun was exploiting the trend for all it's worth, and Nintendo made out to capitalise on this by making a whole system revolving around this gimmick. This isn't the case here as the 3D adds a level of depth that handheld games usually aren't known for, allowing for an unconstrained experience marked by its utilisation of the third dimension (the tricks played with depth perception in the Bowser's Castle stages are especially noteworthy).

One of the major complaints about the series is Nintendo's increased hand holding and lack of experimentation in terms of maneuverability. In the NES games there was no mentioning of the controls whatsoever, meaning that the player has to figure out Mario's movements themselves through feel of the character alone. World went a step backwards and introduced text boxes spouting expository dialogue and some of the secrets of the game (the addition of Yoshi could be seen as a counterbalance to this). Mario 64 gave more leg room with this by using the castle exterior to explore, however when you have separate sections of the game to explore via the paintings, there's a gaping void in just how much freedom you really have to be creative with the movement of your character (Ironically, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin did this for entirely different reasons but turned out pretty well in my opinion). Sunshine had an actual tutorial level in the form of the airport fight (at least World was subtle with Yoshi and more importantly, optional) and Galaxy continued to tell you what your character should do over halfway through the entire game! 

Super Mario 3D Land is a lot like World in this regard. While the counterbalance of Yoshi isn't as necessary as he was in world, all the explanations are there if you really need them. And even then, in a world where all of our questions are solved by GameFAQ's, that's all we really need. This feeds into the claims of the game being too easy, which is a statement that I understand but also disagree with. Super Mario Bros. is taking influence from a harder set of levels similar to Super Meat Boy's dark world (SMB took influence from SMB which is now used in the latest SMB) so when you complete the game's set of 8 worlds (spoilers), you can unlock another set of 8 worlds that require all the skills that the game has 'naturally' taught you and to expand on them allowing for linear, yet free-form level design that has never been accomplished in any Mario platformer ever (or any platformer for that matter).

In short, if Kid Icarus: Uprising was proof that Nintendo could still make an original game if they wanted to, Super Mario 3D Land is proof that Nintendo can make a masterpiece if they want to. In an edition of Iwata Asks, the team behind 3D Land talks about how most of them were new to game development and had ideas on how to expand on the series of games that they grew up with. This is confirmation that Super Mario 3D Land is the closest Nintendo has ever been to making an indie game, and we gamers are all the better for it.

Find Super Mario 3D Land on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2011-11-13
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: Dream Trigger 3D

One of the earlier 3DS releases, Dream Trigger 3D was likely passed over by many due to its relatively simplistic two-dimensional graphics when most were eager to see what the system's 3D capabilities were like. Initial reactions were polarized, with one end of the spectrum claiming it's simply too difficult a game. Far from a nightmare, Dream Trigger 3D is actually pretty fun after grasping the mechanics.

Title screen. New Game. Tutorial? Nah, I'm sure I can figure it out. Level 1, here we go. Dead. That was fast. Let's try that again... dead. After nearly ten iterations of this cycle, the mechanics suddenly “clicked.” The game instantly shifted from a nightmare to a daydream, and I say daydream because it felt a little too easy. I died nearly ten times between the first two levels, but after that, I can count the number of deaths among the next 30+ levels on a rat's four-fingered hand. I was beginning to feel a little disappointed. After all I'd heard about the game, I was looking forward to a more drawn out ass-kicking. Then I remembered the trailer, which highlighted the goal of turning chaos into art, referring to the level environments. I had been playing for at least a couple of hours and had not yet managed to accomplish this because my scores were too low. I was playing merely to survive each level, haphazardly placing sonar pings on the lower panel instead of going for precision.
Touching the grid on the bottom screen will place sonar pings. Once the rhythm bar sweeps across the grid (just like in Lumines), the pings burst and reveal any enemies caught within their radius. These enemies move along the top screen, fading in and out of vision as vague white orbs while appearing as a constant purple marker on the bottom screen's radar. They will shoot while invisible, but can only be destroyed once uncovered, so staying focused on the top screen is a necessity, which isn't very difficult as peripheral vision is more than enough to keep tabs on the bottom screen. The tricky part is predicting when the rhythm bar will activate the pings and placing them accordingly. Players can afford to be a little sloppy though, as there can be as many as sixteen pings on-screen at any time (unless fighting against a tracker, but I'll get to those bastards later). The circle pad controls the reticle on the top screen, which takes damage if hit by enemy fire, but not by enemies themselves. The L button will fire to the reticle, instantly killing all enemies and bullets that come into contact with the red glow of the blast radius. Alternatively, the very edge of the bottom screen can be touched to fire, which seems unnecessary. The circle pad is used to move, so there isn't any reason not to have the index sitting on the L button. Often times, I found myself accidentally firing while placing sonar pings, depleting the limited weapon gauge, which can be refilled by pinging enemies.
Common these days are the games that integrate music into the gameplay. Dream Trigger does this a little more subtly than most, with the music growing more intense as large amounts of points are scored in quick succession. Setting off pings also creates a melody that fits in nicely with the rest of the sounds. The only way to score large amounts of points is to ping large groups of enemies at once. Doing this while the weapon meter is close to full will cause it to become supercharged, briefly granting infinite firepower, meaning invincibility as long as the fire button is held down. This can also be accomplished by obtaining a red gem, which is one of the four powerups, and lasts significantly longer. The purple gem increases the blast radius of the weapon, and the yellow gems replenish one of the four orbs surrounding the reticle, indicating how many hits can be sustained before losing. Powerups appear at a rate of about one per second, with the majority being blue gems that award 100 points.
The end of each level throws a mini-boss at the player. These larger enemies ooze bullets and summon the smaller variety faced throughout the level as they move around. To defeat a mini-boss, its mask/shield must first be cracked by pinging the hell out of it. With the black abomination exposed, its movement becomes frantic. After twenty seconds or so, the shield returns and has to be broken again. Many of the earlier mini-bosses can be defeated before this happens.

The world map system in Dream Trigger uses an inter-connected web of nodes navigable by spending one DP or “Dream Point” per move, which are awarded at a rate of one per 10,000 points at the end of each level. Levels are worth replaying not only for a higher score, but to complete the game's many challenges, which range from defeating a certain amount of enemies to plugging in headphones to collecting every other point gem, and more. As more challenges are completed (marked as stars around the level nodes), more levels are revealed. There are heavy psychological overtones most noticeable in the level types and ranks. Infinity, Divinity, and Purity are a few of the types, and Lucidity, Tranquility, and Anxiety are examples of rank. 
FUCK YES. A tracker just appeared as I finished the previous paragraph and I beat it for the first time. They are merciless, limiting pings to just three and hit points to one. Losing against a tracker will strip the player of all DP, which is just plain not nice. These things have a mind of their own too; they don't move one space as the player does, but instead move as time passes. Alright, so I killed it and unlocked a few more challenges, which unlocked a couple more levels, expanding the web closer to the boss level nodes which are visible from the start. Boss type levels are just like any other, but with one of many giant faces shooting massive projectiles at the player safely from the background and occasionally surfacing to expose itself. They have multiple health bars and won't go down easily. In these levels, the usually relatively mellow trance music heard throughout the rest of the game turns frantic, and instills a sense of I'M SCREWED, which is what I think they were going for.

There are over fifty levels in the game, and after an estimated ten hours of play, I still haven't seen them all. The game is packed with single player content, but also features a multiplayer mode in which you fight directly with your opponents reticle. I haven't had the chance to try this out yet, but it seems like it would be a lot of fun, and I was glad to see a true versus mode instead of something like in Space Invaders Extreme where players indirectly battle with one another by sending over waves of invaders.
Launching with a thirty dollar price tag, Dream Trigger has since plummeted in price, and it feels like it will turn out to be one of the inexpensive gems in the 3DS library, but it's not a perfect game. Navigating the map can be a little tedious because it only allows the player to move one space at a time. How difficult can it be to program a function that calculates the shortest route from point A to B? In any case, this is minor and doesn't really detract from the enjoyment. Fans of arcade-style games will feel right at home here. The 3D effect is implemented beautifully too, especially when compared to something like BlazBlue on the 3DS, which just looks messy and strains the eyes.

Find Dream Trigger 3D on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2011-03-10
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: Art Co. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review: Kid Icarus: Uprising

Out of all the criticisms that have been directed at Nintendo this console generation, their lack of originality is one of the most prominent. This is in no small part due to their lack of new IPs this past decade (the last being Pikmin) and while there are compelling arguments that Nintendo doesn't need new IPs when they already have enough series to experiment with (which makes the lack of a new F-Zero game even MORE unforgivable). This experimentation times in well with the retro-revival that this season of consoles seems to excel at, as Nintendo take one of their oldest franchises and revitalises it for the 21st century. The result of this is Kid Icarus: Uprising, and if this game is anything to go by then Nintendo should try this more often (Ice Climbers anyone?)

This game takes place after the events of the original game, chronicling Medusa's return from the original Kid Icarus. In fact it's kind of surprising that Sakurai is referencing the original game at all as Nintendo games aren't exactly known for their continuity, Metroid aside (you could argue Zelda but the timeline is so convoluted that it might as well be dismissed). The original game isn't the only game that's referenced in Uprising as the game displays a level of self-referential humour to the point where it becomes the closest Nintendo's ever got to making The Secret of Monkey Island.

The humour isn't the only departure for Nintendo. When the first gameplay videos were shown, some critics noted the similarities between this and Treasure's Sin & Punishment. These parts are rather justified (especially with the release of Sin & Punishment 2) as there is the dual control of moving Pit/Airen around the area to avoid being hit as well as moving the reticle to stop the monsters from hitting you. However these sections only cover half of the game; the other half involves ground-based combat where the game becomes a hack and slash title with a nice variety of settings, puzzles and situations to traverse through.

This kind of exploration through the Icarusian world allows Nintendo to be their most creative in decades. Flying through dark caves, soaring into open skies and diving straight to the heart of Hell itself are just a few of the locales explored over 25 levels of gameplay. However, navigating these levels would be pointless if you didn't have any weapons to defend yourself! Kid Icarus: Uprising has hundreds of weapons to choose from, all available through the "hearts" currency featured prominently throughout the game.

When you complete a level you gain an amount of hearts depending on how well you did. This amount is then amplified depending on what difficulty you played the game on. These hearts are then fed back into the game as currency to buy more weapons, adjusting the difficulty of the game accordingly and as sacrifices to Palutena with unknown consequences (And this doesn't even mention the idol toss and AR battles options). Also in the game are Nintendo's version of achievements which work like the system in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. These achievements are also rewarded with weapon and hearts that give a cyclic nature to all of the bonus features of the game which allows for a lot of content without feeling drawn out.

In short, Kid Icarus: Uprising isn't perfect; the controls take some getting use to, the plot becomes rather convoluted especially in the middle (although the dialogue more than makes up for it) and there are other flaws with the game. That being said, these flaws are proof that Uprising is one of the most creative titles that Nintendo has released in the last quarter of a century as well as being my personal favourite game on the 3DS.

Released: 2012-03-23
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Project Sora

Review: Phantom 2040

Phantom 2040 is a side-scrolling action adventure game based on the animated television series of the same name. It was released for the Game Gear back in 1995, and features an original storyline that is different from the one taken by the show.

Right off the bat, I'm going to admit that I didn't get past the first stage of Phantom 2040, so if you're just looking for a good game to play for the game gear, you should skip this review and just browse the other ones from Portable Platypus. But if you're curious as to what turned me off from playing, read on.

Basically, Phantom 2040 is one of the few "MetroidVanias" from the Game Gear's limited library. You control the 24th Phantom, who must go from point A of a level to point B, while fighting enemies and avoiding traps along the way. Like Metroid/Castlevania, there is an emphasis on exploration. Some areas of a level may be inaccessible until you find a switch/item or get
The 24th Phantom has a lot of moves at his disposable. He can roll, jump, punch, climb ledges, and if you have bullets, shoot projectiles. None of the moves are filler, as you will find the need to use each one to complete a level. Controlling the Phantom himself is a bit sluggish, but not laggy enough to break the game. The responsiveness of the controls will remind you more of the original Prince of Persia than Metroid. It's workable once you get the timing right.

As for the graphics, it's one of the major things that turned me off. Granted, it's a handheld game on a first generation portable, so I'm not going to expect much in the graphics department. Unfortunately, Phantom 2040's graphics look sub par even if you judge it while considering the Game Gear's limitations. Games like Asterix and the Great Escape and Sonic The Hedgehog prove that the Game Gear can do graphics that will put the NES to shame. Phantom 2040 looks more like an early Atari 2600 game.

Aside from the crude, pixelated graphics, the color scheme used by Phantom 2040 could have used some improvement. It's understandable that they'd have to use purple for the Phantom sprite, since that's his exact color, but peppering the rest of the screen with greens, blues, and gray makes the game look dull and uninspired.

As for the gameplay, it's the other major thing that turned me off, and prevented me from mustering the patience needed to get past the 2nd stage. Like most action adventure games with exploration, Phantom 2040 requires a certain amount of trial and error, where you will fail in some actions at first due to your lack of familiarity with the stage. Sadly, the game discourages retries because enemies respawn as soon as you leave the screen. It's not uncommon to kill a monster, fail a running leap, and run into the same monster you just killed while trying to get another running start.
What makes the infinite enemy respawns even worse is the fact that the health bar is very short and you have a limited amount of ammo. The melee attacks are inefficient and can't be relied on since they do so little damage, and the collision detection is poor.

I got as far as the first stage's boss (I think it's the boss, the sprite is larger), died and that was it. Maybe it gets better on the 2nd stage or something, but I'm not going to bother. As I have said a few paragraphs before, I'm judging the game within the context of a portable gaming device, and frankly, I use portables for quick short bursts of fun. If a game has good parts, I expect the devs to put some of it in the beginning. I mean, the food that my gaming purchases puts on the game devs' tables doesn't need an hour of chewing before it starts to taste good.

Find Phantom 2040 on ebay

Cee's Blog

Released: 1995
Publisher: Viacom
Developer: Hearst Entertainment