Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why 3DS Owners Should Hate Japan

I just don't get it. The 3DS has sold quite well here in America and Europe too, but pretty much every developer you can think of in Japan refuses to localize their games! Why do you do this to us Japan?! Sure, this would be acceptable if the 3DS already had a solid game library but it doesn't and is in dire need of some good games, especially JRPGs, which as the acronym implies, COME FROM JAPAN!

No, the 3DS game library is not barren, actually it is far from it. Nintendo has supported the system very well with games like Mario Kart 7 and Paper Mario: Sticker Star but the system really lacks third-party support. Hm, seems like people are saying that about a lot of Nintendo systems these days, unfortunately. Still, a year and a half into the life of the 3DS and us English-speakers have only seen two true JRPGs, Tales of the Abyss and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. Tales of the Abyss is a great game, but it is a port of a PS2 game. Kingdom Hearts combines Disney with Final Fantasy and although the game is fun its two main components are getting increasingly stale and predictable every year.

This 7 year old game is the best RPG the 3DS has to offer to English-speaking gamers.

Instead of rocking back and forth in our own puddle of tears after learning about how bad the 3DS JRPG library is in the West, let's add insult to injury by taking a look at just a few of the great games that are not being localized any time soon. For starters, Nintendo themselves have just recently betrayed us by releasing a new Pokemon Mystery Dungeon game in Japan. They have not announced any plans of localizing the game, though we can assume we will get the game in around a year because Nintendo is pretty good with localizing games. However, Pokemon Black and White as well as their sequels released in the West only a couple months after they did in Japan and they have far more text than any Mystery Dungeon game. Another notable game, this one being a gorgeous RPG from SEGA, Namco, and Capcom, yes all three of them, is Project X Zone. This game was developed by a dream team and has been praised to no end in Japan. For some inexplicable reason though it has not made its way over-seas and there are still no plans for it to ever do so.

We don't even get a new Pokemon game!

There are plenty more great 3DS games exclusive to Japan as well but the two I went over should be enough to make you start hating Japan. There is always hope the games I talked about will be localized but after so many games not coming to the West such as Bravely Default: Flying Fairy from Square Enix, Unchained Blades, and Fantasy Life. Hey Nintendo, if you want to sell more 3DS systems in America and Europe try localizing some more games!

At least we're getting Fire Emblem: Awakening in 2013.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review: Mega Man and Bass

Considering I have never been a die-hard Mega Man fan like many people on the internet maybe I am not fit to review this game. On the other hand, maybe I am more fit than anyone else. Honestly, Mega Man has never won over my heart no matter how many of his series (and yes there are a ton) I play. The original games were solid platformers that offered a decent challenge but I failed to really get into them. The Mega Man X series I enjoyed, but then again I have only played the first one and doubt I will ever play another. Mega Man for me has always just been there. Yes it is a wonderful idea with some wonderful games I am sure, but again, the series just does not do much for me. I went into Mega Man and Bass with high hopes constantly re-assuring myself that this game would be the turning point for me. It was, but not in a good way.

Difficulty is always important to a game. Any good game will make you rage every once in a while. At the same time, finally beating the part you were stuck on for so long should feel rewarding. This is not true in Mega Man and Bass though and it is apparent right from the beginning. I will admit I had a smile on my face upon loading up the first level and seeing the awesome graphics and hearing the awesome music but after entering the very first area I was greeted by a randomly spawning onslaught of drills in a very narrow hallway. My smile had disappeared, in fact it had turned into to a rather large frown. Challenging gameplay has always been a staple for the Mega Man series because it has always been done right, with the exception of a few games. This game is one of those exceptions. Every death, worse, every time you are hit, it feels unfair. The character sprite is too big and has no duck ability so bullets are nearly impossible to dodge and throughout the entire game enemies will pop out of nowhere at complete random with total disregard of the fact that you may be mid-jump and that getting hit could lead to yet another unfair death. Difficulty in Mega Man and Bass feels tacked on and forced and as a result makes your deaths undeserved in many occasions.

Graphically the game looks outstanding. Large and colorful sprites make the game a sight to be seen but this becomes a problem from a gameplay perspective. Backgrounds are dull and stagnant but still passable. Animations are detailed, smooth, and look great overall. The music of the game stays true to music of past Mega Man games and that is generally awesome. Fast paced techno jams keep the game upbeat and immersive.

Level design is great as well. Tons of hazards and enemies will keep you on your toes and there are plenty of collectibles to be found. Many of these collectibles require upgrades which you may not have yet in order to reach them which is a great incentive to revisit older levels. The game controls flawlessly and you really feel like you are in total control of your hero of choice. Giant sprites hold the core platforming back though despite how nice they look. Both characters are, simply-put, huge. They are often the largest sprites on screen and this makes precision platforming extremely difficult. Also despite its emphasis on patterns and memorization the game throws tons of random enemies and events at you. This makes it seem like Capcom was unsure of what they wanted this game to be.

Bass is a ton of fun and feels better optimized than Mega Man for the game. His burst-fire cannon and double jump abilities mean you have to worry less about precision and more about having fun. Boss battles stick to the tradition of being brutal and require memorization but the reward of getting a new power keeps you going despite how many times you die. Fans of the 16-bit and 32-bit Mega Man games are likely to enjoy Mega Man and Bass, but there are too many frustrating moments and questionable design choices to say this is a good game. It is an average platformer that aspires to evolve the series but ultimately fails. If you love Mega Man and can tolerate cheap deaths then maybe this game is for you.

Find Mega Man and Bass on ebay | Amazon

Released: 3/12/2003
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom

Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: Puyo Pop Fever

After the success of Tetris there were a slew of Tetris clones that followed. Some were good, some were bad (Columns anyone?) and most of them were downright bizarre (Bubble Bath Babes anyone?) This trend continued with what most western gamers know as Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine. While it's clear this was to cash in on the success of the Sonic cartoon what people might not realise that in hindsight this was a re-skin of the Puyo Pop games. Going into the history of the series would be enough to warrant its own article but we'll focus on the latest reiteration of the series. Would Puyo Pop Fever do enough to keep the series from going stale? No. Doesn't stop it from being a fun game though.

Puyo Pop marked the birth of competitive puzzle games. The idea of a competitive aspect in fighting games was popularised (not created) by Street Fighter II, and a slew of other competitive fighting games followed suit. SEGA decided to experiment whether this competitive nature could be applied to other genres and Puyo Pop was formed (Twinkle Star Sprites did this with the shooting genre). No similar experiments have been tried with other "arcade" genres.


The stars of Puyo Pop are the amorphous blobs that drop down from the screen. The goal of the game is to match Puyos of different colours together so they disappear from the screen. When you do, colourless Puyos are dropped onto the opponent's screen as a result. From this description it may seem beneficial to segregate the Puyos by colour and it's true that this has a good short term effect. The real trick in Puyo Pop is to position the Puyos in your field such that a chain effect triggers, getting rid of the multicoloured Puyos all at once. This makes the competitive edge of the series a mixture of the memorisation of chained patterns (like special moves in a fighting game) and learning to work with what you've been given, giving a level of adaptability that fighting games have been trying to achieve for decades.

Puyo Pop Fever's addition to the series along with a story mode that can only be described as repeating 'kawaii' ad nauseum is the titular fever system. As you string combos together a bar would fill up on the side of the screen. When it fills up you'd be launched into Fever mode where preset Puyo combinations will be created and you will have to demolish them as many as possible in the time limit to maximize the amount of damage done to your opponent (keep in kind this was also the first game in the series to have Puyo sets of more than two blobs). There's a good argument that this ruins the flow of the game as it takes the challenge out of being primarily a game where you are required to adapt as much as possible. This is true but it also changes the rules of the competitive side as the time element is now stressed so you can counter your opponent's fever combos with your own.

Puyo Pop contains the trademarks of a series that's respected but not learned from. Capcom tried to emulate Puyo Pop with Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, probably because its main series lacked the adaptability I mentioned before. The game itself has its charm but suffers from being slow in comparison, probably from trying to appeal to a casual audience. Going on with Steet Fighter, Puyo Pop Fever is to Puyo Pop what Street Fighter Alpha is to Street Fighter II. It keeps the standard gameplay the same but it's the execution that causes it to become a different beast altogether. Fever was succeeded by Fever 2, the 15th anniversary game, 7 and the 20th anniversary game with only the former being released in North America and if it's anything like this game then it's worth playing.

Find Puyo Pop Fever on ebay | Amazon

Released: 5/3/2005
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: SEGA

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pokemon Needs More Chrono Trigger

Yesterday I played Chrono Trigger, one of the greatest JRPGs of all time. Today I played Pokemon White 2, another one of the greatest JRPGs of all time. Both of these games put a heavy emphasis on using different elemental attacks against different enemies. In Chrono Trigger, some elemental attacks do 0 damage to major bosses!

However there is one thing Chrono Trigger has that Pokemon does not. In Chrono Trigger you can combine attacks of 2 or 3 characters to make one ultra powerful attack. An example would be one of my personal favorites, spire, where Frog stabs a sword into the enemy and Chrono uses his lightning powers to electrify the sword for massive damage.

Why can't we do this with our Pokemon?

So how would this fit into Pokemon? Double and triple battles is how. Multi-Pokemon battles, introduced in Gen 3, have always been interesting distractions from the core gameplay but they have never been fully fleshed out. Sure there are a couple moves only effective in double and triple battles such as helping hand and wide guard, but these are few and far between and often do not even help very much. Why can't we just combine our Pokemon's attacks to make stronger attacks, that would be awesome and add a lot of depth to double and triple battles? Obviously only certain attacks would be combinable, and if you combine attacks both or all three Pokemon involved in the combo would use a turn to ensure that is not over-powered. If Generation 6 wants to really step it up, this needs to be added.

Review: Konami Krazy Racers

"Mario Kart Clone" is a term used far too often. Calling games clones certainly spreads out of the kart-racing genre, but it seems to be especially prevalent in the realm of mascot characters slamming one another into lava. Many games are undeserving of such a title though. I fail to see the problem with simply being inspired by another game. Granted, some are clones and this game happens to be one of them. Here is a thought though: Would it be crazy to say Konami Krazy Racers is actually better than Mario Kart Super Circuit, its obvious competition?

Konami Krazy Racers is exactly what you would expect it to be. The best characters of Konami's history decide it is time to burn some rubber. Krazy Racers' roster of characters is not large but it is satisfying. Characters from series like Metal Gear, Goemon, and more are playable as soon as you turn on the game. There are a few unlockable characters as well. Like Mario Kart on the GBA, Krazy Racers uses a pseudo-3D perspective while you're racing and it works very well. Render distance and overall cleanness of character sprites are not as good as Mario Kart but scenes past the horizon are very nice looking and stay true to the game they are representing. The gameplay itself also feels very familiar and that is a good thing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it right? In reality, this game is basically just Mario Kart with Konami characters. There are so many similarities between the two games it is kind of ridiculous.

So, if you like Mario Kart you will like this game right? Well, not necessarily, but yes for most people. There are enough subtle differences between the two games for the average gamer to tell them apart. Most notable is the intense difficulty of Krazy Racers. Not only does the computer put up quite the fight, but there are also a ton of hazards on each course. Whether it be being pelted by baseballs or melted by fireballs there are plenty of times you will have to dodge objects hurdling towards you. A very nice feature was that your kart handles poorly in snow and on ice, so poorly that you may even rage quit once or twice. Krazy Racers is much harder than Mario Kart and it is proud of it. The game never lets up and will never allow you to get too far ahead. Harder difficulty means more intense races. Keep in mind I played on normal difficulty. Even though each of the four cups gets progressively harder you can also choose to play on easy, normal, or hard. Winning all four gold cups on normal difficulty took me around four hours. Nothing to marvel at, but certainly not bad for a kart racer that offers difficulty settings, unlockable characters, and mini-games.

Along with a much needed challenge Krazy Racers has automatic drifting. This can take a while to get used to especially after playing newer games like Mario Kart 7 and drift-boosting the entire race, but turning is very solid and forgiving. You almost never need to slow down at a turn and when you do it is only for a second. Be careful with your turns though because if you even slightly bump a wall you lose all acceleration and that can be brutal. Acceleration feels very natural and it will take a while to reach max speed. With plenty of speed boosts on each course though as well as items the game is super fast and engaging. There is a large selection of items but it is all standard fare. Homing rockets will cripple the racer in front of you and lightning stuns all racers but you for a short time. Of course nitro is available as well. One particularly interesting item/power-up was one that turns all racers into pigs. I literally laughed out loud when I first saw it in action and it greatly adds to the charm of this game.

With 16 courses in total, 12 of them needing to be unlocked, there is plenty of racing to be done in this super fun kart-racer. If the awesome gameplay is not enough to reel you in, the music is incredible, in fact it is some of the best on the GBA. Yes, that is a bold yet true statement. When you hear the remixed Metal Gear theme you will have an orgasm in your ear. If you ever get tired of endlessly racing  against the computer why not race against yourself for the best time in the trial mode? There is also a tag inspired mini-game and one that requires you to hit the breaks right before falling off the edge of the course resulting in the one closest to edge being victorious. These mini-games are fun excuses to stop playing the main game but they will not keep you hooked. You can also endure especially enduring time trials and races to increase the rank of your license which will make more content available to you.

Please do not hate me for saying this, but the fact of the matter is Konami Krazy Racers is not just a better game than Mario Kart Super Circuit, it is a lot better. This is one of the few games I have ever reviewed that was simply hard to critique. Pointing out almost any flaws with this game would be nit-picking. I would only not recommend it if you for some reason hate Konami with a burning passion. Otherwise there is absolutely no excuse for this game to not be in your collection.

Released: 6/11/2001
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: Gitaroo Man Lives!

As mentioned in my previous reviews of rhythm games (most notably Rhythm Tengoku), most rhythm games can be segregated into categories. What I considered the most impressive were the games that already had a fully formed song but could be extended upon with extra beats added by the player. The aforementioned Rhythm Tengoku is part of this category as well as iNiS's Elite Beat Agents. Before EBA/Ouendan, iNiS worked with Koei on a game called Gitaroo Man Lives! which has an incomplete song playing in the game that requires you to fill in the blanks. This would be a point where I would deride the game for being little more than "Simon Says", but it succeeds in so many other areas that you can't help but admire it.

The most important part of any rhythm game is the music and it just so happens that Gitaroo Man Lives! doesn't slack in this department. In the context of the game each stage is treated as a boss battle, vanquishing enemies as the titular Gitaroo Man. The best part about this is that each boss represents a different genre of music so even if a given person doesn't like the game then they'll be at least one track that can cater to their taste in music. From Eurobeat, to jazz to metal, even a Spanish sonata!


The game play is split into four sections. Preparation, Offence, Defence and Final. You start each duel at zero life. Preparation sets up the game play which consists of following a path with the PSP's analog nub and hitting a button when prompted. This is how the game controls for Preparation, Offence and Final where you gather life (it starts at zero), decrease the opponent's life and go in for the final attack, respectively. The defence portion is arguably the most interesting as it has four lines converge to the center of the screen, each representing one of the four face buttons. When the prompts each button's representative line reaches the end you hit the button and your health doesn't decrease. It's rather amazing as it centralises the gameplay of DDR and Beat Mania and I'd like to see if a whole rhythm game could be based on this.

Using the classic framing device of a young boy trying to impress a woman with his electric guitar, the game goes through 10 stages (with two pseudo-stages, one energetic and one of the surprising, tender moments in video games) interspersed with cut-scenes to tell a story, which works well in the context of the game. The structure of the story and the ludicrous boss fights are complemented by the games fantastic art style that  expresses the eccentric absurdity of the game very well, as well as making the stages all the more wackier.

Without getting too wishy-washy about it, Gitaroo Man Lives! managed to become more than the sum of its parts to create more than just a great video game but a one of a kind experience. The game is available on the PS2 as well but the PSP has a two player mode where you can play two duet songs (both of which are also really great) so it's the definitive version, although some people have complained about the analog nub. Either way the game is the same in both versions so it's well worth getting if you have access to it, even though there won't be a sequel.

Find Gitaroo Man Lives! on ebay

Released: 2006-11-15
Publisher: KOEI
Developer: iNiS

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mario Hoops Needs to Return

This is the first of many editorials us writers here at Portable Platypus will be publishing. You can expect many editorials each month from myself and others. Reviews will continue to be our primary focus, but voicing our opinions is also important to keep our readers engaged.

With that introduction out of the way, who remembers Mario Hoops 3 on 3 for Nintendo DS? Probably not a lot of you as the game was not exactly a smash hit, but trust me I own it and love it. Aside from being your standard arcade basketball game with Mario and a couple Dragon Quest characters Mario Hoops had a really unique special shot that required you to draw a pattern on the touch screen in order for the shot to be successful. With the release of the 3DS and now of course the Wii U, it seems like Nintendo is just teasing us year after year with the potential of another awesome Mario basketball game. Honestly, how amazing would a new Mario Hoops game be on the 3DS and Wii U and the two would be compatible like the upcoming Monster Hunter and Super Smash Bros. games.

The bottom line is Mario Hoops 3 on 3 is a perfect use of the dual-screen controls that Nintendo is now known for and I need a new one running on their great new generation of hardware. A lot of people still do not understand why the Wii U is so awesome and a new Mario Hoops game would be a perfect demonstration as to why, just like it was with the DS. Of course, we also just flat-out need a new Mario basketball game, I mean we should not have to wait so long for a sequel to such an awesome and simple game!

I realize this first editorial was short and to the point but do not fear as I plan on pumping out a lot of these, many of which will be much longer.

Find Mario Hoops on ebay | Amazon

Review: Wolfenstein RPG

The first-person dungeon crawler is rarely done right, even by RPG experts. The genre is filled with dark, boring, soulless games that leave you drooling all over yourself. The problem is many developers fail to understand that the genre is just as much about the first person gameplay as it is about the RPG elements. Wolfenstein RPG for iOS does though, and the result is one of the only truly memorable experiences ever released for a mobile device.

Reminiscent of the original Id Software games such as Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, Wolfenstein RPG is a familiar game for a modern platform. Graphically, the game perfectly captures the look of classic FPS games. This goes for the shooting as well. The pacing is what is very different. To fit the genre, combat is now turn based. This is not to say the combat is slow though, as turns go by very fast and you often fight several enemies at once. Everything is pretty straight forward, either moving one space, attacking, or using an item will act as a single turn. While the combat has no heavy emphasis on strategy, you will die if you blindly run in to a fight. There is also plenty of loot scattered throughout the many lengthy levels of the game, some of which you really need to do some searching for. You can also collect rare items hidden throughout the level and upon completing a level the game will tally the items you have collected as well as other statistics such as how many enemy flags you destroyed. After moving on to the next level you can not back-track to previous levels, but there is so much to do in each level it does not matter.

Hours of dungeon crawling can become tedious though and Wolfenstein RPG tries to correct that. Unfortunately the game throws in random on-rails shooting moments featuring your player manning a turret on a moving truck. The entire game is on a grid, so you in the regular portions of the game you can only turn 90 degrees at a time. This same philosophy is carried over to the on rails shooter segments, as there are only three different positions in which you can angle the machine gun. Meanwhile the screen is moving up and down as the truck goes traverses hilly terrain. The combination of these elements makes aiming extremely difficult during these segments and the short time you must endure this is nauseating. Worst of all, there is no warning given for when these will occur meaning you are not given time to heal. You kill an enemy, open a door and, surprise, now you have to mount a turret. If your health is low, too bad. Death forces you to load your previous save. Luckily these moments are brief and rarely occur.

Still, the game's charm is undeniable. Kicking chickens to their death and destroying Hitler portraits has never been so much fun. There is even a hidden chicken kicking mini-game on one level. You can save at any time which makes the game very mobile despite its depth. Leveling up exists but is rare and actually makes you work for raising your stats. Ammo is also scarce, forcing you to sometimes rely on your bare fists, but health packs can be found at every turn. The touch interface works extraordinarily well as you can switch guns with a tap of a button or hold your finger down to open up a menu of all your guns. The buttons are nice and big so you will not mis-click and text is big in the menus. Wolfenstein RPG is clearly optimized for mobile devices and works very well.

Wolfenstein RPG is deserving of its name. It takes many things we love from Wolfenstein 3D and combines them with many things we love from the standard first-person dungeon crawler. The shooting is not overly complex and the RPG elements are not overly complex either, but for a mobile game that is exactly what you want. This is an easy game to pick up and play and saving at any time means you never have to be too afraid of dying. The look and feel is that of classic FPS games, so retro and modern fans alike will love this ten hour adventure.

Buy it on iTunes

Publisher: EA
Developer:  Id Software, Firemint

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review: Power Stone Collection

As most SEGAphiles like to boast, the Dreamcast had one of the best libraries for any game system ever. Part of the reason for this is at the time the console came out it has a wide variety of games that are considered niché by today's standards. The fighting game genre was the apex of this, with Marvel vs. Capcom 2 being the title people most fondly remember. While this genre brought many great game in this segment of the console wars (include my favourite: Garou: Mark of the Wolves) it was a genre that very rarely innovated. This isn't a bad thing, Street Fighter II is engaging as ever and so are all of the games that emulated it but there is wriggle room for innovation. To name a few games off the top of my head, Bushido Blade was one of s few games to try and stretch this idea forward (and one of even fewer games that succeeded at it's goal) and Super Smash Bros provided the Nintendo-fication of the standard genre model. SEGA would try their own hand at SEGA-fying the genre with the Power Stone series, now available on the PSP.

From the opening title to the closing credits the games reek of classic SEGA symbolism (SEGbolism as I like to call it). Motifs such as the presence of blue skies, everlasting summers and even more subtle touches such as the use of compasses (This was on the same console that gave the world Skies of Arcadia after all). This extends to more than just the visuals with character designs ranging from the patriotic bounty hunter (Captain Falcon), the arabic beauty (Shiek), to a knife wielding psychopath covered in bandages (Voldo?)

The gameplay of Power Stone is likely to strike some chords with anyone whose played Super Smash Bros. Melee (even though that game was released after the Dreamcast originals). Continuing with the Smash Bros. analogy each stage takes place in a 3D arena. Each characters move list gives you a rather small array of moves to work with, about as many as your average beat em up. The key to success is embracing the games destructible environments and using them against the opponent. In short, anything that isn't nailed down to the floor (and a few objects that ARE nailed down to the floor) can be used as a weapon.

None of this mentions the titular Power Stones in question. During gameplay, gems will randomly spawn around the arena. Collecting all three of these gems will make that character go into their super mode which games the player a tactical advantage. If you've played Super Smash Bro.s Brawl then you'll know how this works as it's exactly the same mechanism for the Dragoon parts, except you're rewarded with a final smash state rather than an instant kill weapon.

Power Stone 2 added new characters and scrolling stages that made the game a bit too chaotic for its own good, although the fun core gameplay is still retained. The PSP port of this adds slightly better graphics and more features to the sequel but this adds severe loading times that are bad even by PSP standards. Looking at the prices for the original games (especially the sequel), it's still an amazing deal no matter which way you look at it. Its simplicity and focus on slapdash fun rather than complex mechanics does mean that the game can get boring after a while (no worse than Smash Bros.) but it brings two great games to the PSP at a low price and it worth waiting ten seconds for what most people have been waiting an entire lifetime to play.

Find Power Stone Collection on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2006-11-31
Publisher: Capcom
Developer:  Capcom

Review: Ty the Tasmanian Tiger: Boomerang Blast

Ty the Tasmanian Tiger is a series very special to me. As a child the series was my second most-played single player experience, only to be surpassed by Super Mario Sunshine. The three games had a great emphasis on Australian culture and the graphics looked straight out of a comic book. Over-the-top cheesy cinematics and voice acting was the icing on the cake. However, the first three Ty games were 3-D platformers; Boomerang Blast is not. In celebration of Ty's 10th birthday, Krome Studios comes back from the dead to bring us a beautiful on-rails shooter for iOS that perfectly captures the look and feel of the original games while bringing something totally new to the table.

Packed with hours of addictive gameplay, Ty the Tasmanian Tiger: Boomerang Blast is a great game that will give you your Ty fix in anticipation for whatever the future of the series may hold. The real question is, does the game offer enough content to compete with other endless score-based games like Jetpack Joyride, or will it grow stale overtime?

Played from a first-person view, Boomerang Blast boasts gorgeous hand drawn graphics optimized for the retina display. The result is one of the best looking games on iOS from an artistic standpoint. Steve Stamatiadis' signature cartoony style, most recently seen in Krome's Blade Kitten back in 2010, returns at its best. The game openly embraces every Australian stereotype, giving it a light-hearted feel that immediately puts a smile on your face. Sound effects that bring you back to the days of the arcade are bundled with these outstanding visuals and the series' catchy theme song returns upon boot-up.

So how's it play? The core experience is great. You throw your boomerangs with the flick of a finger and they can curve to your liking. The fancier the better as you are rewarded bonus points for pulling off curve shots and shots from behind. The game runs smoothly and is easily controlled with just one finger. Enemies come in the form of painted boards and targets that must be destroyed. Breaking a target earns you a certain amount of opals depending on the type of enemy. Opals can be spent to buy new boomerangs such as the flamerang, a veteran of the series, which can blows up on impact and destroys nearby enemies. Other levels, characters, and items can also be purchased with opals. Don't think opals are easy to come by though. While the average price for something in the shop is around 10,000 opals you generally only earn around 200 opals per game. The standard game lasts around 2-4 minutes with the difficulty increasing the longer you survive. Despite opals being hard to obtain, you will gradually collect them because this game pulls you in and never lets you go. Like any good mobile game, Boomerang Blast is extremely addicting. You have a health bar that depletes when you hit a friendly that pops on screen or when you let an enemy escape the screen. Not too hard at first but as things speed up you will be frantically swiping your finger all over the touchscreen.

Fast paced gameplay defines Boomerang Blast. The game is designed for short but very enjoyable play sessions. Each round you play starts off with plenty of action and gets more exciting from there. With plenty of opals to be earned and very fun arcade gameplay, it is hard to stop playing Boomerang Blast. That is not to say it is perfect though. You will get bored after a while because you will get a vague feeling of repetition. Yes, every time you play you are getting a new randomly generated experience but the game still does not offer quite enough. It would have been nice to include more things to actually shoot at. There were several times where the game really had my blood pumping as I killed the last enemy on screen, but then I would have to wait two or three seconds for the next enemy to show up. What could have fixed this would have been adding randomly appearing power ups like double points or slowing time. Another nice feature would have been a combo system. No matter how many hits you chain together there are no combos in this game at all. Missing a boomerang throw has no penalty other than having to wait for the rang to return to you. Small additions could infinitely expand the lifetime of this already great game. The items you can purchase do help add another factor to the gameplay but nothing too drastic. Clearing the screen of enemies is nice, as well as getting some extra time after depleting your life bar, but these items from the in-game shop do not do enough to shake the feeling that Bomerang Blast chooses style over substance.

Most disappointing is that unlockable characters are purely aesthetic. A nice aesthetic indeed, but again the feeling of style over substance is re-enforced. Buying anything within the game in general would be much better if the menu of the shop was more responsive. Almost every time I opened the menu of the shop I was treated to extreme lag. I never had the app crash on me, though it would take multiple taps of a button and several seconds of waiting to get anything to work. This issue was only encountered in the menu of the shops, but it was so bad that when I made an in-app purchase I almost accidentally made a second one. At the time of this review there has not been an update to remedy this problem. The app was running on a 4th generation iPod Touch with iOS 6 updated to the most recent version and the rest of the game functioned flawlessly.

Mobile games exist to be fast, addictive escapes from reality. Boomerang Blast excels in gameplay and visuals but lacks in content. Laggy menus further cripple this near-perfect game. Even with its flaws Boomerang Blast is very kind to the canon and will please not just fans of Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, but anyone looking for a highly addictive and ridiculously fun mobile app.

Buy it on iTunes

Developer: Krome Studios Inc.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Review: Birds and Beans

It's been a while since I've written a review so I figured I'd ease back into things with Birds and Beans, a straightforward arcade game.

The classics of the arcade era are characterized by their simplicity, straightforward controls, and difficulty that tends to rise exponentially. Birds and Beans is no exception, and is simple enough that it could have been made for the Atari 2600, albeit with slightly worse aesthetics. 
The game starts out slow, with beans infrequently floating down the screen. Players move the bird left and right to avoid these beans, and eat them by extending a freakishly long tongue that a chameleon would envy. Beans are worth ten to a thousand points depending on how quickly they are eaten. Uneaten beans will break away the ground as they land, gradually shrinking the amount of room the player has to work with. The difficulty ramps up fairly quickly, with it becoming impossible to eat every bean after only a few minutes into the game. The ground begins to crumble at an alarming rate, but it can be repaired by eating special white or flashing beans. White beans replace one block while flashing beans clear all other beans from the screen around a dozen blocks.
As the player's score increases, the background comes to life, and the music intensifies. It's a nice touch that is easy to overlook under the stress of a shrinking platform.A high score of ten thousand or more is what players will want to shoot for to unlock Birds and Beans 2, a version of the game that replaces the tongue used to eat beans with seeds used to shoot them. In this mode shooting multiple beans at once yields more points. Unlike the first, this mode is much easier and did not almost lead to a crushed 3DS. It might just be me, but it took close to a dozen attempts before I was able to reach a score of ten thousand or more, and on my first attempt at Birds and Beans 2 I more than tripled that score. It's hard to say one game is better than the other as they're more two versions of the same game instead of two distinct ones. I find the first to be more about precision and timing while the second allows spamming but is a faster-paced game overall.

Birds and Beans can be had for $2 on Dsi-Ware and the 3DS eShop.

Released: 2009-04-03
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer:  Nintendo

Review: Super Mario Bros. Deluxe


Super Mario Bros. for the original NES was a masterpiece that single-handedly brought the video game industry out of dark economic times. To this day few games have even come close to its brilliant level design, memorable music, and perfect difficulty. However, the NES version is not the definitive version, but instead the Gameboy Color version, Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, offers the truly greatest 8-bit Super Mario Bros. experience.

We all know how amazing Super Mario Bros. is, so I am not going to go into too much detail regarding  the core gameplay. You want to know how the game plays? It is incredible, there you go. I am focusing on how good of a remake this actually is, and why it is the definitive version of Super Mario Bros.

The moment you start up the game you will notice that it looks stunning. Super Mario Bros. Deluxe is easily one of the best looking GBC games ever made with clear, crisp, and colorful sprites and no graphical glitches. Super Mario Bros. on the NES often had lines flash on the screen in some sections, but Deluxe removes all of that. There is also a new world map that is shown in between levels. You can not actually travel around the map and you are forced to simply continue onward to the next level, but it is very nice eye candy to break up your koopa-stomping action. In case the enhanced graphics were not enough for you, there is also some beautiful artwork that can be unlocked.

While many would agree that Super Mario Bros. on the NES had infinite re-playability, Deluxe has even more. Introducing a records system, you can now compete against the computer's score as well as your friends' scores that are registered on a leader board. You basically just play until you run out of lives, and when you get a game over you enter your initials and the game saves your score. Aside from playing the main game, you can also re-play any level in the game at any time with the added challenge of finding all of the hidden red coins on each level. Even after finding every treasure, you can still re-visit these levels at any time allowing you to play your favorite level over and over again.

When you get a game over, which you will, saving your score is only one addition. The other addition is that the game is now optimized for gaming on the go. In the original game running out of lives meant restarting the entire world, but now you have the option to continue and restart at the beginning of the level you just died on. You can also save in between levels. This makes the game much more portable as you can turn it on and off at essentially any time. You never have to worry about losing a lot of progress, and there is no major penalty if you lose your last life because the car hit a speed bump and dropped your Gameboy Color.

Super Mario Bros. Deluxe is not only the ultimate Super Mario Bros. experience, but it is the ultimate Gameboy Color experience as well. Tons of unlockables, multiple ways to play against your friends, new challenges, better graphics, and superb re-playability make this a must have title in your collection.

Find Super Mario Bros. Deluxe on ebay | Amazon

Released: 1999-05
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review: Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story

The biggest disappointment of iOS gaming for people like me is that it very rarely appeals to the core gamer, only the casual. Games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope are charming and addictive but often become very repetitive and shallow. Gamevil, developers of the Zenonia series, set out to change this. Promising a beautiful sprite-based action RPG, Zenonia 3 only teases us of what is to come.

Like its predecessors, Zenonia 3's combat is simple yet tight. You can pull off combos by tapping a single button as well as cast spells. Regular attacks can become quite tedious as it is a bit too simple, but as soon as you start leveling up and learning new spells combat will become much more interesting. The problem is, it took me about 4-5 hours to really start having various spells at my disposal. As a result, the beginning of Zenonia 3 is extremely slow and feels even slower due to far too many pointless cut-scenes filled with dialogue trying and failing to be funny.

After you finally get through the first couple main quests the game starts to get very interesting. You will level up a lot and raising your stats makes a noticeable difference in the abilities of your character. There are four different stats that can be raised with points you earn as you level up as well as a skill tree that can be filled out however you see fit. All spells have a purpose and are satisfying to use, such as cloning yourself or rushing towards a group of enemies like a bullet with a shining blue sword. The stronger you become the better loot you find and the better items you can buy, but your enemies do not become stronger. Enemies only increase in strength when you enter a new area, but each area of the game has its own level cap for enemies. In a grind-heavy RPG like this one, this is a good feature because it prevents you from leveling up too fast from just exploring the world. If you are an experienced gamer the game still will never prove to be that much of a challenge, but at least it prevents itself from being another super easy mobile game.

If you do get bored of hack n' slashing enemies you can go hack n' slash some more enemies in the colosseum, or maybe you can go hack n' slash more enemies for side quests. Ok, Zenonia 3 definitely lacks in variety and as a result you can never quite escape the feeling that you are playing a mobile game. As much as Zenonia 3 strives to be a real RPG with depth, it just falls short in almost every way. There are side quests in the game, but these are simply level boosting and time consuming excuses to kill another horde of enemies. Side quests are good for leveling up but nothing else. You will rarely be rewarded with anything unique or interesting and they never tie into the main story. Main quests can range from anywhere between five minutes long and two hours long with the latter often ending in a rather easy boss fight. There is a ton of loot and money to be earned throughout the game which keeps things addictive.

What it lacks in gameplay it makes up for in visuals though. Colorful, bright, and fully animated sprites are reminders of the 32-bit era that we all love. You will travel to many different areas throughout the game and they all have a unique look to them. However, because the game is composed of different areas, it can feel restrictive at times. You can not revisit old areas after you leave them and many paths in the areas are blocked off until certain points in the story. You are never confined to too small of a map though and you will often be willing to forget the old areas as each new area increases in excitement. Still, the lack of an open world continues to push Zenonia 3 further into the category of pure action rather than action RPG.

Questionable and restrictive decisions hold Zenonia 3 back from being a great action RPG, but it is still a good one. Especially considering its competition on iOS, Zenonia 3 is definitely aimed towards gamers wanting a little more game in their mobile games. Core gamers will appreciate it and casual gamers will still find it accessible, it is just a shame that Zenonia 3 did not abandon attempts to appeal to the casual market in favor of being a full RPG experience.

Developer: GAMEVIL Inc.