Thursday, June 27, 2013

Two New Games Have Me Playing My 3DS More Than Ever

In my opinion, the 3DS has been in sort of a minor software drought since Fire Emblem Awakening. There were a few months where I did not even touch my 3DS. Thanks to a first-party title and a third-party title, my 3DS might just overheat from me playing it so much. Most notably, for the first time ever, I'm carrying my 3DS around in my pocket earning play coins from the steps I take because everywhere I go I try to squeeze in some time playing on it.

So what are these two new games?! The first one is Nintendo's ingenious take on the life simulation genre: Animal Crossing. Easily one of the most personal experiences packed into a game, Animal Crossing keeps me playing daily to pick more fruit and get more bells. The frequent random events are a nice touch as well. Multiplayer is great because it is so simple, yet so fulfilling trading fruit to get even more bells. There is no point to Animal Crossing, but that is what makes it so great. The second game is Project X Zone, which literally just released this week. It had been out in Japan for months and received nothing but praise, making it worthy of localization. I am extremely thankful this game was localized too. It is a strategy-action-RPG, but take strategy with a grain of salt. There really is no strategy to be had in the game, but that is okay considering how fun the combat is. Chaining combos together with your favorite characters from Namco, Sega, and Capcom all in one game is just as fun as it sounds. I will be writing a review of Project X Zone next week, first I need to finish the game which I am 10 hours into and still have a lot to go.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: Gunman Clive

For a mobile game to go viral in the iOS and Android markets is a huge success in itself, but for that same game to then go on to sell even more copies on the 3DS, a device with a fraction of the install base, is unheard of. This is probably a result of the comparatively small selection of games on the eShop allowing good games to shine, the hype built up from the mobile releases, and the fact that this is a game deserving of proper buttons. Whatever the specific reasons for its success, Gunman Clive is clearly doing something right.

The game opens with a damsel in distress being carted away by horse, crying out for the stoic gunman, Clive, to save her. Anyone who's enjoyed the classic platformers will immediately feel comfortable with the game's tight controls and level design. A comparison to the Mega Man games can be made, as the enemies in Gunman Clive are placed in such a way to catch the player off guard, or to create scenarios requiring very specific and precise play in order to progress. Fortunately, this is pulled off without suffering from the broken difficulty of trial-and-error design found in many indie platformers.

Gunman Clive is a shooting platformer, and as in Mega Man, players can only shoot horizontally, with a limit of 3 shots on screen at any given time. Powerups include a spread shot, homing shot, and a piercing shot. These are reminiscent of Contra and serve to liven things up. Taking damage causes Clive to revert back to his standard pea-shooter, and taking 4 hits of damage will send the player back the beginning of the level if they haven't reached the midway point. As in real life, health can be restored by eating cake.

The game spans 20 stages in total, with each fifth stage dedicated entirely to a bossfight. Gameplay is varied, with standard platforming, a space-shootery segment, and even a mine-cart level. Difficulty increases gradually throughout, with no sudden spikes or drops along the way. Each boss has a unique attack pattern and nothing feels recycled. As mentioned before, the game isn't difficult in a broken way; it's just very tightly designed. This means that every death is a result of a clear mistake on the player's part, and creates a desire to master the game, making it easy to continue playing even after the twelfth consecutive death on the same section of a level.

The downside of being very tightly designed is that there's not much incentive to play through it time and time again like one would a Mario game with all it's freedoms and secrets. The developer seemingly realized this however, and included two unlockable characters: Ms. Johnson, the aforementioned damsel, and a duck. That's right, the goomba of the game is a playable character. Ms. Johnson, the aforementioned damsel, can hover short distances using her dress (think Super Mario Bros. 2's Peach with a gun. The duck is an entirely different experience, as it has no method of attack, turning it into a completely passive game. Able to fly for short periods of time, it offers the most freedom of play in the game's tightly designed levels. Needless to say, there are no boss fights as the duck. Further extending the game's content is the addition of a Hard Mode, which cuts the health bar in half, and increases the number of enemies throughout.

Gunman Clive keeps it short and sweet, coming in at a little under an hour for a single play-through. It does virtually nothing new, but it's hard to consider this a fault when everything it does is executed so well. It's an extremely solid platformer, and one continuous nod to the classics of gaming. At a mere $2, there is no reason not to play it. As mentioned in the beginning of this review, it's also available on iOS and Android, but the lack of additional characters, fewer levels, and, more importantly, the absence of tactile feedback make the 3DS version the definitive choice.

Released: 2013-01-03
Developer: Bertil Hörberg

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Metroid II: Return of Samus and Link 'n' Launch are among this month's Club Nintendo rewards

As part of Club Nintendo's reward program this month, you can grab the Game Boy original Metroid II: Return of Samus and Link 'n' Launch, a puzzle game developed by Intelligent Systems, the creators of Fire Emblem, on the 3DS for 150 coins each. This isn't the first time Metroid II has been on offer, but it's a good opportunity for those who missed out the first time around to try out one of the more unique 2D Metroid games out there.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Review: Tales of Phantasia

There was a time when RPGs were synonymous with turn-based battle systems and you selected actions from a long list of abilities that varied only in power and type of damage. Today, however, players can hack through monsters in real time with action-based combat systems full of button mashing and frustrating ally AI. But long before this kind of title was commonplace, there was but one series that was devoted to putting action into the RPG. That series was Tales.

Tales of Phantasia for the GBA is a port of a 1995 Super Famicon game that was later ported to the PS1. Elements from both versions have been used in the making of this 2006 iteration. When it was first released, the side-scrolling battle system used during random encounters (Linear Motion Battle System) was still revolutionary, and it remains an innovative staple of the series today. Like most games from the SNES days, everything is simple, easy to follow and serves to push the game along at a steady pace.

The hero of the story is Cress, a protagonist not unlike others in the series. He's an adventurous young warrior who has a score to settle. When his entire family is wiped out by marauders, Cress tracks down the man responsible. Unfortunately, he does not find him in time to prevent the awakening of a great and evil sorcerer sealed away long ago. Though unable to stop him with his current strength, Cress and his companion Mint are sent back in time to learn the secrets of a lost and powerful art called Magic.

The plot moves along quickly with several characters joining your party right away. Actually, they seem to join the party a little too quickly, giving you little understanding of who they are or why they even want to help you. But I'm willing to overlook that since it's in the interest of moving the game along quickly. The plot really begins to pick up after a quarter of the way through. Often, you won't be instructed on exactly where to go next. You'll be given a broad goal such as, "find all of the elemental spirits." From then on you have to explore the world and find your own leads.

This leads you to taking on dungeons in an unset order. This is fun, since exploring the world like this leads to discovering many secrets and side missions that earn you rewards or simply teach you more about the world. It's also frustrating as there was always one place or clue I overlooked which left me lost in the game for hours.

Ultimately, how you like the battle system will determine whether you will enjoy this game or not. Like most of the game, I found battles occasionally frustrating but nevertheless fun. From the menu screen you can arrange how your four party members will line up in battle. Though you can only directly control Cress, you can give orders to other members such as "target that enemy" or "concentrate on healing." Thankfully, the AI for your allies is good enough to keep them from getting killed every minute, and they remember to heal and deal damage on their own.

You can move Cress left and right with the D-pad, and attack with various techniques by combining the attack and direction buttons. Techniques can make Cress jump, charge ahead, or even fire shots at the enemy. The only thing that holds this system back is the partial control the computer has over Cress. When attacking, Cress runs forward until the computer thinks he's at the best distance and then launches the move. This is frustrating because the computer doesn't always target the desired enemy and occasionally misses them entirely. Worse yet, it sometimes gets you stuck between enemies, unable to escape. After an attack, Cress will run back to the party unless you hold the forward button. This makes chaining moves together a bit more difficult and wearisome on the hands.

Being attacked on both sides can be catastrophic. Cress is the only warrior; therefore you can only protect one flank at a time. Once the enemy closes in on both sides of your party, you better hope you've saved in the last hour.
Magic is particularly important. Spells take a long time to cast, but are powerful. The key to beating tough enemies will be protecting your mages from interruptions while trying to bypass the enemy's defense to interrupt their spells. This makes for some interesting and fast-paced battles. Even boss battles, while challenging, are resolved quickly.

Lots of voice clips are used throughout the game, from battle cries to death howls. They do a good job of adding to the hectic feel of combat. The music is decent as well, though not particularly memorable. It has a classic sound that you won't find in some over budgeted games today.

It's impressive that the graphics are so up to par considering how long ago this was originally made. There is a wide variety of distinct character sprites and environments. When not in a cave or dungeon, most of the backgrounds are quite enjoyable to look at, though I felt that the enemies were lacking in comparison, with only one or two colors each and little animation. I also wish more of the spell animations didn't halt the flow of battle.

While not spectacular by today's standards, Tales of Phantasia still has charm and an uncommon style of gameplay. If you're a fan of old-school RPGs but not old-school battle systems, grab a copy today. Otherwise, there are plenty of flashier, more complicated games for you to try.

Guest post by KC of

Find Tales of Phantasia on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2006-03-06
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Namco