By spilledmilkfactory 6 Comments
Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Weekend Bender! This is my new weekly blog, where I'll cover every game released over the last week in short, digestible blurbs. Don't like short? Don't like digesting? I'll include links to full reviews of each of the games I deem worthy under their description. And trust me, when I say every game, I mean EVERY game. So won't you join me, dear reader, as I watch my precious sanity trickle through my fingers like so much sand in an hourglass, furiously attempting to bash my head through every game, on every platform, every week?
At first glance it woud seem September is finally slowing down, and after the deluge of amazing games, I'd certainly be glad for the break. But that doesn't mean that there are any less quality releases this week; rather, you'll just have to look harder to find them. Seems like all of the publishers out there chose this week in particular to release all of their obscure titles, from XSEED's Solatorobo to NIS America's Atelier Totori. Activision even released Xmen Destiny this week, a game which I didn't even realize was coming out this year until the Gamefly envelope arrived in my mailbox. It may be an obscure week, but that doesn't make it any less of a hectic one for the world of game releases. So let's get started with...
Solatorobo: Red the Hunter
Solatorobo is a game about a talking pirate dog who flies around on a giant robot taking on quests from other talking animals, who all speak French. Been there, done that, right? Anthropomorphic French pirate dogs are so 2008. In all seriousness, Solatorobo is a wildly imaginative little game, and one that manages to buck the expectations created by its bizarre concept and appeal to a surprisingly wide audience. Sometimes these obscure Japanese games can be so dense or oddly off-putting that they limit themselves to a very niche audience, but this is a game with such smooth gameplay and such great characters that most anyone willing to look past the absurdist talking animal vibes will find themselves having a good time.
The core of Solatorobo's gameplay revolves around mech combat. On the back of his faithful mech Dahak, Red the Hunter will battle enemies using a simple throwing/juggling mechanic. By getting behind an enemy, you can toss them up into the air, bounce them off the ground, and knock them up into the air again. It's sort of like juggling an enemy in God of War or Devil May Cry, although far less technical than those games. By destroying enemies on the battlefield, you'll gain new upgrades for Dahak, which you can slot into his Tetris-like inventory system. There are also plenty of side quests and puzzles to solve outside of the main quest, which itself is deceptively long. The side quests rarely devolve into typical RPG fetch quests (although many of those are certainly present, too,) rather often veering off into more interesting directions instead.
Solatorobo is a great game so far, and one that I would recommend to most RPG fans still rocking their DS. That doesn't come without caveats, though. The story starts getting a little ridiculous towards the end, even for my tastes. Keep in mind that this story begins with a French sky pirate dog riding around on his giant robot, so "a little ridiculous" in this case means totally fucking bonkers. Also, although the game sports a beautiful art style, I didn't enjoy how the game attempts to blend 2D with 3D. The DS just doesn't seem powerful enough to handle the transitions smoothly, and the juxtaposition of hand drawn 2D artwork against jagged 3D models was something that I struggled to get used to for the first few hours. Despite these complaints, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Solatorobo. It's fun, unique, and surprising, and that alone warrants a purchase in my book.
It's no wonder Activision didn't put any trailers out for this game; if I was involved with Xmen Destiny in any way, I'd want to keep it hush-hush too. This steaming pile of crap dropped Tuesday to little fanfare and even less critical acclaim. I don't pretend to have finished every game in this blog by the time I put my impressions up, but usually I've at least played a solid 5 or 6 hours. With this game, I got sick of the monotonous dungeon crawling and pathetic attempts to rip off Mass Effect's conversations in about half an hour, gave it another hour or so to see if it would become any less boring, and sent it straight back to Gamefly when it didn't. Straight up, this is a horrible game. The combat is repetitive, and mostly plays out like an arena-combat-based side mission in a normal game. X number of enemies walk through the door, you kill X number of enemies by mashing on the X/Square button, then you walk through the next door and repeat the process until the level's done. The fact that there are arena missions on the side, which play out almost exactly like a normal level, is just kind of insulting. The story can't redeem the game either. All the characters and situations are so bland it's mind-boggling. After my traumatizing hour and a half with the game I was wishing for the human/mutant war I was supposedly trying to prevent just so all of these tools could get wiped off the Earth.
Okay, so maybe it's not fair to judge a game based on the first hour and a half, but when those first hours are so intolerable, that's typically a bad sign. Silicon Knights have proven themselves in the past to be creative and passionate developers, and I hate to see them on a downward spiral like this. Hell, even Activision usually craps out better licensed fare than this, with their recent Spider Man games actually being pretty tolerable. Even Singularity, which suffered from a similar lack of publicity from Activision, turned out to be pretty great (seriously, if you haven't checked that game out, go do it. It's like 10 bucks by now.) I guess what I'm trying to say is that standards have risen lately, even for no-name bargain bin games, and the fact that Xmen Destiny fails to meet even the lowest of standards for this generation's games is kind of sad.
Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland
I've paid virtually no attention to NIS's library of obscure JRPGs since the new generation of consoles came around (with the exception of the Disgaea games,) but I was actually a big fan of their games on the PS2. In the spirit of nostalgia I decided to check out Atelier Totori, since I remember the Atelier games on the PS2 quite fondly. Turns out they haven't changed too terribly much, at least from what I remember of the older games. You're still an alchemist, and the game still uses a thin wisp of a story to provoke you into improving your alchemy skills. You'll travel the world in search of new techniques and items to fuse with one another. It's a really mellow RPG, one that lacks any sense of urgency whatsoever, and as a result it feels pretty inessential. There's certainly a lot of depth to the systems in place, as is so often the case in NIS and Gust games, but again typically for the series, the goofy dialogue takes precedence over engaging gameplay or intriguing story. The Adventurer of Arland is far from a bad game; the item crafting can be amusing for a while and the world, while not up to snuff with most modern games, is still pretty to look at. It's just that the whole thing feels so inessential. Next to a game like Solatorobo, which is never afraid to take risks, this game seems a bit too content with going with what has worked in the past.
The Binding of Isaac
I don't like dying in video games. I hate it. It's the crutch that's kept me from checking out any rougelikes in the past, and it's the biggest hurdle I'm going to have to cross in keeping this blog up, what with Dark Souls coming out next week. So it was with a lot of trepidation that I started up The Binding of Isaac. Turns out, that reluctance was mostly unwarranted, as while you will die in The Binding of Isaac, the core gameplay is fun enough to warrant repeated playthroughs. My favorite thing about the game is the art style, which mimics that of the similarly brilliant Super Meat Boy. The art is pretty in a cartoonish sort of way, and the animation is very fluid. Overall, it's just a very pretty looking game, even though most of the time the screen will be drenched in splotches of blood and poo. I'm not exactly the biggest fan of excrement and bodily fluid jokes in video games, but after a while I learned to overlook it in favor of the gorgeous animations and fun but tough gameplay.
The big comparisons being made before the game's release were with The Legend of Zelda and Smash TV, and while those points of comparison may be tired by now, they're also apt. The game isn't quite as puzzle-laden as Zelda, favoring breezy find-the-key puzzles over full on mind-benders as featured in many of the later Zelda games, but the overall style still reeks of the pointy-eared hero's influence. You could certainly take inspiration from worse games, though, and overall the gameplay styles blend seamlessly together. It's just too bad that you can't play the game on a gamepad, because I'd feel much more comfortable playing this on an Xbox 360 controller than on a keyboard. As is, using the W/S/D/A keys to move and the arrow keys to shoot feels a little awkward. It's not the end of the world, but especially when the difficultly starts ramping up it feels like the controls could do with being a bit more precise. This is a rougelike, after all, and death is permanent. Although the stakes are high, and I was frustrated more than once during my playthroughs, this is still a worthwhile game, especially for five bucks.
Resident Evil: Code: Veronica X
I've only recently jumped on the Resident Evil bandwagon. I was one of many converted by the buttery smooth shooting of Resident Evil 4, and despite the lack of any real scares I adored RE5 as well. With this re-release of Code: Veronica X, I figured now was as good a time as any to experience the roots or one of my favorite modern franchises. As it turns out, roots remain buried for a reason. Unfortunately, this game just doesn't stand the test of time. The CG cutscenes that permeate the game, which I'm sure were scary as hell back in the day, are now just cheesy and oddly blocky looking. The scares are often predictable. The sound is oddly crisp, while the rest of the game seems dated. And then there's the gameplay. Oh god, the gameplay. I've heard stories of classic RE's legendary tank controls, but never experienced them first hand. The way that Jill is controlled by rotating the analogue stick around to aim her before pressing forward to move is, well, let's call it... interesting. Or flawed. Or totally broken. This is not the way that games were meant to control, and while the lack of any precise control can certainly make situations more intense, it's not a genuine tension. It's more of an "oh my god this game is horribly broken and it's causing me to die over and over" kind of tension. Code: Veronica X may have pushed the envelope back in the day, but it's best to let those halcyon memories remain just that: memories. Trying to play this after going through RE4 and 5, it became clear that time has not been kind to this survival horror franchise.
Like a box hurdling through zero-g and smashing into a space pirate's face, Rochard came out of nowhere and was quite the surprise. This 2D Shadow Complex meets Portal puzzler was released earlier this week on the PSN and is easily worth the ten bucks for a download. Basically, as Rochard, it's up to you to navigate a 2.5D space station very much in the vein of Dead Space, searching for an alien artifact which has caused much commotion amongst the ship's denizens. You'll have to use a gravity gun to manipulate objects in a series of physics-based puzzles in order to get to new areas of the ship and solve the mystery of what, exactly, this artifact is. Along the way, Rochard will gain new powers, such as the ability to lower gravity, allowing for higher jumps and longer throws. Space pirates (tie-in with Solatorobo? We can only hope) soon board the ship and start causing all kinds of chaos, and Rochard eventually receives a gun with which to dispatch them. Before that, though, he'll have to rely on physics to murder his enemies. Tossing a crate through zero g only to have it land right on the head of an enemy remains satisfying every time. The only problem here is that the shooting is much less satisfying than the puzzling, and while it's possible in many scenarios to kill enemies through alternate, physics-based means, shooting them in the face is often the fastest and easiest way to dispatch of foes. There's also a lot of combat in the game, which is odd because the puzzling is the real star here. If the amount of puzzling vs shooting had been more properly balanced, and the story a little less cliched, developer Recoil Games could've had something really special on their hands. As is, Rochard is still a fun and often challenging little download, and one that's a great value at ten bucks.
Worms Ultimate Mayhem
There are enough Worms games on XBLA and PSN at this point that I feel like everyone should know exactly what they're getting themselves into when they buy one of these things. My expectations for what, exactly, Ultimate Mayhem would be were thoroughly shaken when I donwloaded the demo. Unlike most games in the series, which take place on a 2D plane, this game is actually 3D. It's still the same basic premise of eliminating the enemy worms without getting killed yourself, utilizing the same turn-based structure, but this time there's a whole new dimension to work with. As you might expect, this 3D adaption doesn't work nearly as well as the 2D entries in the series. There's a certain simplicity inherent to the 2D Worms games, an accessibility that makes them fun for anyone and a depth that keeps them entertaining for hours to come. This game technically still has the depth, with tons of weapons and unlockables encouraging numerous playthroughs, but the elegant simplicity is lost with the transition to the third dimension. This is more of a clusterfuck than a strategic game of cat and mouse, and while it's not exactly bad, it's not that great either. If you still care about Worms, you could do worse. Then again, if you still care about Worms, you already have several better alternatives installed on your hard drive.