Feb 192013
 

Revengeance Title

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, as all fans of tactical espionage action and their grandmothers know, is the exciting new almost-sequel-but-mostly-spinoff of Hideo Kojima’s exalted Metal Gear franchise. The crazy things about this entry, of course are A) the genre shift from a stealth/shooter hybrid to a balls to the wall hardcore action game and B) Platinum Games being behind development with Hideki Kamiya (The freaking creator of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta) spearheading the insanity. This is not a Metal Gear game in the traditional sense. Pack up everything you thought you knew about the franchise (except for nanomachines of course) and get ready for one of the wildest rides the genre has to offer. Forget buckling up; seatbelts are for nerds. Continue reading »

Jan 202013
 

Retro_City_Rampage_coverPeople come in a a variety of sizes, shapes, attitudes, colors, and smells, but despite our differences there are a few basic needs and desires that we all have in common with each other. Me, being a cold, hardened, and vicious Chicagoan, have an innate desire to commit massive crimes, run people over with assorted vehicles, and shoot things with a wide array of weapons. Until recently I had to keep these urges locked up deep down inside of me, hoping against all hope that the time would come when I would have an appropriate outlet for my violent and criminal tendencies. Not only does the newly released Retro City Rampage allow me to cover all of these bases, but it is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is something anyone can appreciate these days.

Gameplay
At its core, Retro City Rampage is an open-world sandbox game. This simply means you could probably spend a fair amount of time just engaging in sidequests and other optional aspects of the game without ever really touching the main quest. It also means things don’t necessarily need to be performed in a specific order, so you can play the game in a structure that best suits you.

While exploring the game world of Theftopolis, you will assume the role of the main character named PLAYER. Almost all tasks in this game will revolve around some sort of crime. Whether it’s burglary, assault, or grand theft auto – you name it and it has probably found its way into the game.

You can add grand theft TANK to your rap sheet!

You can add grand theft TANK to your rap sheet!

If you’re going to commit crimes, you obviously need weapons, which are definitely not in short supply in Theftopolis. Each weapon is uniquely designed so you will need to learn the best weapon for each situation in order to succeed. Most people’s first instinct is probably to “run and gun” through missions in this game, but that would be a mistake. If you want to keep PLAYER alive, you will need to make a plan before heading into a room guns blazing. Thankfully, there is a simple but ingenious targeting system in place to ensure you will be able to make every bullet, rocket, or squirt from your flame thrower count.
If you ever tire of the main game’s action, simply hop over to Nolan’s Arcade and play some of the mini-games. Some familiar indie game faces will make an appearance, such as CommanderVideo in “Bit.Trip: Retro City”, and Super Meat Boy in “Virtual Meat Boy”. When visiting the arcade, it was pleasantly surprising to see how easy it was to spend almost just as much time on the mini-games as the main game.

Presentation
Let’s start off by getting the obvious out of the way; Retro City Rampage is a current generation game designed to look like an 8-bit classic. To drive this old school feeling home, players can select different frames to put around the action, such as a UHF TV frame (if you have to ask what that is, you’re too young to comprehend). If all this is just TOO much of a throwback for you, there is the option to remove the frames. You can also toggle scanlines on or off. Despite all these tricks that were employed to give the game a retro feel, a well polished and fully HD game shines through. It would have been so easy to cut corners and say it’s for the sake of making the game look older, but thankfully that wasn’t the case here.

No 80s classic game is safe from the developer's humor.

No 80s classic game is safe from the developer’s humor.

While you’re ogling the sharp, HD 8bit goodness of Theftopolis you will notice another visual element of the game, and that is quite a few nicely done visual jokes. We won’t dive into all of them here, but make sure to read the signs on businesses as you are blazing through the streets plowing over pedestrians or evading the fuzz. You will be pleasantly surprised and the amount of laughs to be had.

To solidify Retro City Rampage‘s 8-bit feel, a killer chiptune soundtrack has been crafted to bleep and blop along with you as you terrorize the city. If you find there is one of these songs you just can’t get enough of while you’re playing, you can pick an in-game radio station to listen to. However, the game’s soundtrack is so awesome you would do better to leave it on the default setting so you can listen to the music as it was intended.

Video games often get a lot of heat in the media for being too violent, and therefore promoting violent tendencies in their players. However, it’s easy to see from the comical tone of Retro City Rampage that VBlank Entertainment Inc. had nothing but good intentions over the years it took to create this game. Not only is this a finely crafted parody of the 8-bit games we 30somthings cut our teeth on, but it also manages to poke a little fun at modern sandbox style games while throwing in heaps of other humor and nods to pop culture both old and new. We here at RoboAwesome recommend doing whatever you have to do to get your hands on this game, short of looting, plundering, or pillaging.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pros: This game will not only appeal to gamers who grew up in the 80s, but fans of games like Grand Theft Auto. It is the finest modern example of a parody video game.

Cons: The old school graphics and music are fantastic, but they may alienate younger gamers.

Value: At $10 this game is a steal, considering the amount of play time you are likely to get out of it.

Verdict: Retro City Rampage is definitely a game that needs to be played to be appreciated, but you won’t be sorry for giving it a shot.

Score: 9

Jan 122013
 

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Imagine waking up in your hotel room to find a dead body laying on the floor at the foot of your bed. Here in Chicago that can be a commonplace occurrence, but for those of you in fairer parts of the country and world this would likely cause you quite a shock. Especially if said dead corpse was wearing menacing black armor had an enormous sword stuck in the ground near it.

Naturally, your first instinct would be to call the police. However, the sword looks pretty badass and you’d like to take a few swings with it before your friends with the talking brooches arrive. As you place your hand on the hilt, the aforementioned black armor on the corpse magically transports itself onto your body and you are hurled into a string of adventures as a strange black knight with an enchanted sword.

Black Knight Sword is a strange fairy tale which has developer Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda 51′s hallmarks (such as buckets and buckets of blood, nightmarish monsters, and a very strange world) woven throughout it. Once players don the armor of the black knight, who is actually the hero in this story, they will embark on a quest to put an end to the reign of the tyrannical Evil White Princess. Basically, all tropes of this kind of story have been flip-flopped and twisted right from the get-go, so players will never really be able to predict just what happens next.

Presentation
The visual aspect of Black Knight Sword’s story is relayed with in a unique style based on Kamishibai story telling from 12th century Japan. Buddhist monks used paper scrolls to relay moral stories to a mostly illiterate audience. In the case of Black Knight Sword these “scrolls” have been given movement, and feature static characters on top of a moving background to give the illusion of the character moving. The look of these scrolls has been captured wonderfully by the art team at Grasshopper Manufacture, and it really gives the game the feel of an interactive storybook and can make it easy to forget that you are actually playing a very challenging video game.

alt

I’m really not sure what ancient Buddhists would say the moral of this story is.

It is nice to see that the developers didn’t spend all their attention on the looks of the game and then slack on the music. The soundtrack of Black Knight Sword is amazing orchestral (with hints of opera) fare that really furthers the sensation of being at some sort of wonderfully gory theater. This music is ambient, but very easily heightens the creepy and dramatic elements of the game.

Gameplay
Black Knight Sword is very much a Metroidvania type of game, meaning that it is a non-linear action-adventure game with heavy elements of platforming woven in. While exploring the Black Knight’s twisted world, you will find yourself backtracking, and quite possibly downtracking and uptracking, in order to find each branching path or each pot of Cat Head Grass (don’t ask). The platforming elements of this game range from simple to outright brutal, but there is a high degree of cleverness put into the design. One thing that makes the platforming unique is the utilization of Hellebore, the spirit that resides in the Black Sword. Players will often have to release Hellebore so she can turn on platforms and make them solid so the Black Knight may jump on them.

Combating the twisted enemies of this game is fairly simple and enjoyable hack-n-slash fare. When the game starts, the knight will often be stabbing his foes, but as the game progresses he will earn new attacks or powered up forms of old ones. Often it seemed that the key to success in a battle was knowing when it was okay to go in and just wail on a bad guy wildly, and when to take a moment to strategize and pick your timing properly to avoid the game over screen. Thankfully, the game has abundant checkpoints so when you do die, you won’t be replaying an awful amount.

alt

The Black Knight’s fairy friend has a sweet magic attack she can use.

To help you along your journey, there are floating eyeballs that serve as shopkeepers. They will sell you things like life meter refills, 1UPs, and also temporary upgrades to the Knight’s armor. You pay for these items with the piles of human hearts you collect from slain enemies and the microwaves that serve as item boxes in the game. If you’ve never played one of Suda 51′s games before, this will sound gross and weird. If you are a fan of his work, this will sound delightful and charming and really indicates just how much fun you are in for if you choose to pick up this game.

The knight’s armor may be black instead of shining, and he may be trying to defeat the princess instead of save her, but that’s just part of what makes Black Knight Sword a great game. It is a game that takes what could be a somewhat conventional and boring fairy tale, turns it on its head, and sets it all in a world that could easily be described as a schizophrenic person’s nightmare. All of this is wrapped up in a solidly built action platformer that has been rendered in a beautiful ancient Japanese art style and is sprinkled with some haunting music. You will never be bored, and you will constantly be grossed and/or stressed out while playing this game, which is to say you will be consistently entertained the entire time you play; even if you are a puny noob playing it on easy (like me).

Pros: Suda 51′s twisted mind has churned out what is sure to be deemed another classic game by his somewhat cultish following. Black Knight Sword is a great game for those looking for something old school with a demented new school twist.
Cons: The sheer and utter weirdness of the game’s environment may make it inaccessible for some people.
Verdict: If you are brave enough to take up the sword and assume the mantle of the Black Knight, you will be very glad you did.

alt

Dec 162012
 

dborn title

 

It is a sad but true fact that a Dovahkiin’s work is never done. First, you had to juggle my time between saving the world from Alduin the World Eater and choosing a side in a civil war. Then, you were faced with the tough decision of squashing a vampire uprising or subjugating the living citizens of Skyrim. After all that, you somehow managed to build an impressive lakefront home and start a family. Now, with the release of the newest add-on pack Dragonborn, a new and malicious force is threatening Tamriel, and it is up to you to stop it.


The Good
If you read my review of the previous DLC pack for Skyrim, Hearthfire, you may remember that it was plagued with problems from the beginning. Lack of any real direction from the game or its NPCs forced me to scour the Internet for answers as to how to even get started on the quest line this pack added to the game. Thankfully, this problem didn’t rear its ugly head again in Dragonborn. After the pack was downloaded and installed, I headed to a city and events of the main quest began to unfold immediately.

Skyrim-Dragonborn-DLC

Dragonborn will take you to places such as this, where wizards live in giant mushroom houses.

Dragonborn takes you to a whole new area of Solstheim, which is an island closer to Morrowind than Skyrim. This island is fairly substantial, so it takes a bit of time to traverse on foot. While this may seem daunting to a newer Skyrim player, it felt like a welcome addition because it made the game seem brand new again. Not only was the terrain new, but enemies were almost all new as well. The main quest pits you against a brand new foe, who could potentially be your deadliest enemy yet; the first Dragonborn. Finding out his motives and learning how to stop him was not only fun, but also involved traveling to some delightfully creepy and gross locales.

The newness didn’t stop with terrain and enemies. You can now tame and ride a dragon, there are two new materials available from which players can craft new weapons and armor, and there are also several new shouts with which to experiment.. Aside from the main quest, there are scads of side quests that will keep even the most focused player sidetracked and occupied for a few hours. Overall, 10-15 hours of playtime is included in the main quest with much more in side quests. That’s not too shabby, considering there are few other forms of entertainment you can do for less than $2.00 an hour.

The-Elder-Scrolls-V-Skyrim-Dragonborn-1

Confirmed: baddies like this will be all up in your grill while playing Dragonborn.

The Bad
Dragonborn was freezing quite frequently in the first couple hours of playing. This may have been a problem unique to my particular combination of game disc, DLC files and console (it’s not like Skyrim never froze on me before), but it’s worth noting. The only other real complaint is that something so amazing as dragon mounts was included, but the feature was hobbled severely. You can only tame a wild dragon and then fly to a fast travel location on your map. This is a fun new feature, but it would have been preferable to be able to summon a dragon at a whim, and then be able to fly it anywhere. Thankfully, the beauty of this generation of games is that features can be changed just as easily as they were added.

I was pretty hyped for Skyrim, but if you had told me a year ago that I’d still be playing it now, I probably would’ve released a substantial belly laugh in your face. However, if Bethesda keeps releasing great content like Dragonborn, then I could see my relationship with the game lasting at least another year. That’s because Dragonborn isn’t just a little DLC pack that adds a few new features; it is a full-fledged expansion just like in the old days of PC gaming. There is a whole new map to fill out with locations as you explore, new enemies, and oodles of new quests. If it’s been a while since your last adventure in Tamriel, I suggest you get a glass of salt water and gargle to prepare your th’um, because there is a whole new corner of the world out there for you waiting to hear you shout.

Pros: This is the first fully realized “expansion” for Skyrim, and it is sure to sink its hooks into you if you’re a fan of the game.
Cons: There seems to be a glitch that causes frequent game freezes in the beginning; there were some missed opportunities when designing the dragon riding mechanics.
Verdict: If you have been dying for some newness in the world of Skyrim, then you definitely need to pickup this expansion.

alt

Oct 222012
 

Picture it: your living room, Halloween night. You and three of your closest friends have gathered with the intent of having a fun Halloween party, but something just isn’t quite right. Although you have scooted your furniture against wall, stretched fake neon spider webbing everywhere, and your Killer Halloween Jams playlist is getting ready to start over again, yet still no one has started to dance. The Chex Mix is stale, the soda is flat, and everyone just dressed up as their Dungeons and Dragons characters for the fourth year in a row. ”What can I do to perk this shindig up?” you ask yourself desperately. It is then that you remember you have just the thing: Ubisoft’s newest release in the Just Dance series, Just Dance 4. Within minutes, the XBox 360 is fired up and so are your friends, because like the preceding games, this one is a load of fun.

It’s true that not much changes from game to game with the Just Dance franchise. Bright colored, bordering on retina-searing, cartoon visuals make a return as do the wacky dance routines. Both of these elements really help set the tone for a laid back game for people just looking to cut a rug by themselves or with some friends. The game is incredibly accessible and easy to learn, but difficult to master which makes it appeal to casual and seasoned gamers alike.

Unfortunately the game does not come with huge fake lobster claws.

What’s New
The core gameplay still revolves around players matching their sweet moves to the character on their screen, but there are some noteworthy improvements. First of all is the addition of the Dancer Card, which is a profile anyone playing the game can make. This will keep track of all kinds of statistics, from your average score to your favorite song. Also, the user interface has been overhauled quite a bit. In Just Dance 3, each song in it’s basic form was in one area, mashups were in another, and so on. In Just Dance 4, you simply select a song from the main screen and all routines you’ve unlocked associated with that song will be grouped together. This even includes the new alternate routines you can unlock as you play the game. Be careful how many “extreme” versions of songs you try out though; your surly friend in the dwarf costume could have a heat stroke due to all that prosthetic hair on her face.

The game’s fitness mode, “Just Sweat”, has been included before, but now it has a calorie counter and an intensity tracker to make it even easier for you to actually include in a fitness routine. What’s really interesting about “Just Sweat” this time around is that how well you do in one round affects how difficult the next round of aerobic dancing is. You can select songs a la carte from the main song listing, or you can choose one of the prefabricated routines that are centered around a theme like “Electro Body Combat” which offers a fighting style workout, or “Swinging 60′s Workout” which is kind of goofy, but in a fun way. This will be especially helpful if you, like me, gorged yourself into a diabetic coma on Reece’s Pumpkins and need to work off a few extra calories this fall!

Rick Astley is MY hero.

If deliberately exercising isn’t your thing, you have the new Battle Mode to look forward to, in which two players dance off over five rounds and is structured much like a fighting game. The moves are some of the most elaborate in the game, but if you go head-to-head with a friend you’re sure to have some good laughs. Your twin friends the elf warrior and the elf rogue can duel each other and leave their 20-sided dice at home! As if all that newness wasn’t enough, there is the Autodance with Kinect feature (exclusive to the XBox 360 version) which will capture all of your most awkward and embarrassing moments on video and automatically sync them with the music to create a video in which you look like a true dancing superstar. You can then easily share these videos with your friends via Just Dance TV.

The soundtrack for Just Dance 4 is one of the most robust to-date, featuring a wide range of songs with assorted styles like Motown, Pop, and Electronic.. There’s a little bit of everything; like corny mega hits like Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”, 80s jams like Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”, and the PERFECT track to perk up your Halloween party – “Time Warp” from Rocky Horror Picture Show. The game came out of the gate with DLC via a promotion with Cheetos, and its first full-fledged DLC is planned for November – “Gangnam Style” by Psy. The full track listing can be viewed here.

While it’s clear that Just Dance has become one of Ubisoft’s annualized titles, it’s nice to see they’re taking time to add new and interesting features as well as tweak the user interface for the player’s benefit. With the WiiU launch on the horizon, that version of Just Dance 4 promises even more new tricks and treats to set that version apart from the others. Whether you’re a beginning ghoul getting your groove on for the first time, or a veteran vampire who has expertly cut every rug in town, you will definitely find something to like with this game and maybe even work off some of the entire bag of Fun Sized Snickers you ate while waiting for your party guests to arrive. Once they’ve left, you are finally free to take off your wizard’s hat and beard, tighten the laces on your sneakers, roll up the sleeves of your robe, and practice One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” until you finally get the five-star rating you’ve been hoping for.

Just Dance 4

ProsUpdated user interface, great track list, and a handful of new features make this the best Just Dance game so far.
ConsIt may be hard for some people to get into this game without thinking it's just more of the same.
VerdictIf you have any interest in a game that asks you to shake your groove thang, then this is the one to get.
Rating
85%
Sep 172012
 

Initially, life as the only dovakin is fun and filled with adventure, but sadly there is a point where it plateaus. After you’ve vanquished Alduin, crushed the Stormcloak rebellion, ascended to the helm of the College of Winterhold, the Thieves Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood there is really little else to do. Unfortunately, you can’t yet tame a herd of dragons and ride them in the skies, raining fiery destruction down upon the masses of Tamriel, so what else is there for a battle-worn adventurer to do except hang up their sword and shield, and settle down? You may have the finest pre-fabricated mansion money can buy, but now with the new Hearthfire DLC pack, you can customize the home of your dreams and even fill it with a couple of adopted kids.

The Good
After your Hearthfire download completes and you’ve loaded a save file, simply walking outside will set things into motion. After a few moments, a courier should approach you with a couple of letters. This first is from Constance Michael (or maybe from Gerlod the Kind if you didn’t kill her) at the Honorhall Orphanage of Riften, and it is preaching the virtues of adopting one of Skyrim’s many orphans. If you are anything like me, you will feel a slight pang of guilt upon reading this letter, because there is a good chance you have killed at least one of these poor ragamuffin’s parents during your adventures. The second letter you will receive from the steward of one of the cities you own property in, and it will let you know of the availability of a children’s bedroom set available for your city home. However, it is doubtful you paid five dollars for DLC only to adopt children, so you might as well build a fresh home to expand your family in.

I never saw a letter like this, but here’s proof it exists!

Once you’ve decided where you’d like to build your new home (you may build in Falkreath, The Pale, or Hjaalmarch) and plopped down the 5000 gold for the land and starting materials, simply head to your plot where you will find a chest of building materials, an anvil, a drafting table, and a carpenter’s work bench. First pick what aspect of the house you’d like to build on the drafting table, and then scoot over to the carpenter’s work bench to begin construction. Building the individual elements of your new dwelling happens much like any other crafting activity in the game, so it is a relatively quick and painless process.

You will have roughly enough materials to build the basic house, but to build the main hall you will need to do some searching. Some of the materials you need; such as clay, iron ore, and quarried stone; are readily available in seemingly infinite quantities at your plot. Other materials, like sawed logs, will be more difficult to obtain. Thankfully, if you are Thane of a city and have a house carl in your employ, you can ask them to follow you to your new homestead which will open up dialogue options for you to offer them a new job as steward of your plot. Once they’ve accepted, you may buy certain materials directly through them. Your steward will also tell you the nearest place to buy the things they can’t get for you. It was nice to have a use for the infamous Lydia, besides her usual role as a pack mule and chronic complainer. All in all, the process of gathering materials and building the complete shell of your home will take an hour or so, but that’s when you get to move inside and use the various workbenches to furnish and decorate your abode as you see fit. All of these interior elements require more gathering and purchasing, so expect to spend quite a bit of time tweaking things until they are to your liking.

The drafting table is where you’ll decide what to build next.

The Bad
It seems that there is absolutely no direction in-game as to how you should go about building your dream home. Where do you get the plot of land? How much does it cost? What about materials? Actually, there doesn’t seem to be any mention in the game of the fact that you can build your own home. A simple nudge from any NPC in the game would have been helpful, but in the end an Internet search was the only way to find an answer. As mentioned before, there are only three areas available for you to build within, and much like buying one of the pre-made homes, you need to be on the Jarl’s good side in order to open up the option to purchase land. If you don’t already have good standing with the Jarl of the area you’d like to reside in, just chat with him and complete any quests he offers. At this point in the game, most characters will be so highly leveled that these tasks will be simple and take only minutes to complete.

The quest tracker lacks any intelligence when it comes to directing you through the steps of building your home as well. Once I was out of lumber, I was directed to go to Half Moon Mill to purchase more. Unfortunately, I had already completed a quest to slay the vampire inhabitants of the mill, so with no one there I was unable to purchase any wood. I traveled to every other mill in Skyrim and was either unable to find the owner, or they wanted me to complete some awful and menial task to open up the option of buying lumber. Ultimately, Lydia was the only one able buy wood, so it is recommended to not even bother with the mills.

Adopting children offered similar frustrations in regards to lack of guidance. I spoke to Constance Michael at the orphanage in Riften, thinking my lovely lakeside manor was perfect for a child. I had several beds, tables, shelves, trunks, a garden, and a stable. However, Constance only kept telling me to come back when I had a house with a room suitable for children. I went back to the manor, looked through all the available furniture I could build again, and realized there was a specific “Child’s Bed”, so I built two of those. Back to the orphanage I went, only to find out my home was still unsuitable. Why was it still unsuitable? How could she even tell all the way from Riften? These were the questions that plagued me as I stared at the loading screens while fast traveling back and forth.

Finally, I relented and searched the Internet again. I found you your children need either a chest or a dresser to store their belongings in. Why couldn’t Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I built two children’s chests and the only dresser I could find in the main entryway. This seemed to make my sprawling manor finally suitable for Constance, so I grabbed two orphans to take home with me.

Home sweet home!

If you are an adventurer who has sucked every last drop of goodness from Skyrim, then spending five bucks on Hearthfire may be a good idea for you. You are sure to get a few more hours of playtime out of the add-on, and if you are the type of gamer that likes sims, then you will go hog wild over the idea of building and customizing your own home. Adoption doesn’t really add too much to the game, but the little brats give you goodies like potions now and then so it’s worth the effort. If you aren’t above going outside the confines of the game for direction on how to complete the tasks needed to play Hearthfire to its fullest potential, then it’s time to dig out the tome of your dragonborn’s story and add in a chapter about him settling down in the (usually) peaceful countryside, with our without a family – at least until a cooler expansion comes out, like one allowing dragon mounts.

Skyrim: Hearthfire

ProsGood amount of added play time for the price, watching the house form as you craft its various elements is fun, sad orphan babies give you loot occasionally
ConsSome factors of this DLC pack seem a little glitchy, and there is little to no natural direction given in-game, causing gamers to look elsewhere for help.
VerdictIt's hard not to feel ripped off when something doesn't seem to work quite as it's supposed to, but it's also hard to get mad over five dollars spent to squeeze a little more fun out of a great game like Skyrim.
Rating
60%
Sep 022012
 


Picture it: it’s China, and the year is…..a very long time ago. You are in control of General Loh. I imagine that one day he was sipping on some tea in his hut and he decided it was time to pay a visit to your monk buddy at the monastery down the block. Upon your arrival at the monastery you realize your pal must not be in the best of moods, because he is sending scads of well-trained warriors to bust you up with their mad kung fu skills. However,you’re not going down without a fight; you must use your own killer karate to pulverize the monk’s minions as you fight your way through various courtyards and rooms of these supposedly quiet venue of religious reflection.

The Good
Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise features a really fun “free flowing” combat system, similar to that found in Batman: Arkham Asylum. With only two buttons for combat, and one for block/counterattack, you may start out thinking this game is going to be a cake walk, but the complexity lies in the timing of your attacks and blocks and learning what combinations of button presses will best lay waste to your enemies.

Thankfully, General Loh has more than his fists and feet to carry him through this adverse environment. Various power-ups will occasionally show up, most notably one that instantly fills your chi meter and allows you to instantly unleash a volley of devastating and more powerful attacks. Eventually, you will also gain access to a power-up that allows you to summon an army (he is a general after all) to assist you in your endeavors. This is especially helpful since the game gets exponentially more difficult as it progresses. There are also permanent and beneficial modifications you can buy for General Loh with the gold you pick up from enemies. This helps deepen the gameplay a bit, since it gives you a way to customize your character to your style of play.

Channeling all of General Loh’s chi into powerful attacks is a lot of fun, and it looks cool too!

The game plays a lot like an old school 2D brawler, like River City Ransom, or more recently, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game. General Loh will be confined to a room or area of the screen until he is able to clear all the enemies successfully. The big difference here is that the action happens in a 3D plane. It was refreshing to play a game in this vein that nodded to it’s retro roots while still successfully giving it a modern twist. All of this action takes place in a colorful environment, with bright, cell-shaded characters.

This game is loaded with abundant kicking and punching and jumping and flipping!

The Bad
The big negative point that Kung Fu Strike has going against it is the punishing difficulty. Even on the “easy” setting, the game becomes ridiculously challenging after just the third or fourth level. This may not be a bad thing to some players, but there will come a point for everyone where rage quitting and throwing your controller out the window will seem to be the only viable option. Other than that, the lack of online multiplayer is a little surprising. Kung Fu Strike does offer local multiplayer, but in an age of such avid online gamers it seems like an oversight to exclude that function from this title.

Don’t let this image fool you, because you can navigate basically anywhere in this environment.

With the 28 punishing levels, and the promise of more to come via DLC, Kung Fu Strike is a fun beat-em-up game that will keep you busy for quite some time, and charm the pants right of those with a fair amount of nostalgia for olde timey arcade brawlers. The free flow combat mechanic is easy to grasp, but difficult to master, but despite all this the game is pretty fun. I do feel bad for the monk waiting at the end of this monastery; because if General Loh feels even half the rage I feel while plaything this game that is going to be one monk on an express train of pain to his next incarnation.

Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior's Rise

ProsKung Fu Strike is styled nicely after old school brawlers, but with a nice modern twist. Gameplay works well with a simple combat control scheme.
ConsThis is the hardest game I've played in a long time, even on the “easy” setting.
VerdictThere is definitely a group of gamers that will eat this game up, but it's not for everyone.
Rating
70%
Aug 242012
 

It’s that time of year again when most of my friends judge me for liking sports games, because the new Madden is out. Hey, I just happen to be a nerd who enjoys sports too. Either way, the Madden franchise is pretty polarizing in the eyes of gamers. With a new one coming out every year, it can sometimes feel like you are paying 60 bucks for a roster update. The good thing is that the people at EA sports try to tweak the game to make it a better experience with each title. This year’s rendition features a completely new physics engine. Will Madden 13 take it in for the touchdown, or will they fumble the ball away?

The first thing you will notice is the menu layout. It’s pretty sleek and has everything you need to know right up front. Hitting play now, you are asked who your favorite team is. Unfortunately, mine happens to be the Jacksonville Jaguars. I start up the game and wait. The loading screens before and after games seem like they take FOREVER. It’s like Lost Odyssey bad. That game was notorious for long load screens. This isn’t a game breaking problem, though. When the game finally starts you get the overhead shot of the stadium and typical regalia of the beginning of a game of Madden. I know the typical Madden-er will want to just slap at the A button to get right to the coin toss. Please wait it out the first time you play.

Jim: So, I finally got my Warlock to level 85.
Phil: Don’t talk to me.

Thank you for waiting. Did you see that? Jim Nantz and Phil Simms look freaking incredible. I was really impressed. The faces looked pretty natural. The speaking animations are tight. It looks as close to real as I would want in a video game. Phil and Jim don’t suffer from EA zombie syndrome, either. (EA Zombie was a term used to describe how many faces in EA sports games have this empty soulless look to them which made for ultra creepy faces.) Now that the commentators are out of the way, how do the players and coaches look? Well, Aaron Rodgers looks like Aaron Rodgers. It’s pretty weird. Unfortunately the players still have a hint of EA Zombie, and the coaches are even worse. Again, not a huge issue but it needed to be addressed. Speaking of zombies, the crowd looks pretty good at a distance, but up close it can be pretty scary. All in all, the game looks fantastic. The new game experience is neat and clean and reminds me of CBS’s coverage of the NFL. During rainy games, the field doesn’t seem to muck up as easily as last years, so it feels more realistic.

All I care about are Touchdowns, cheese, and brains…

Madden 13 uses the Infinity Engine. The new physics engine is really interesting. It allows for better hit detection and gives the players more life. Previous Madden titles had pre-determined “hit zones” where if your player was in the right spot, you’d tackle the other player. This worked with all other aspects of the game too, as far as catching, throwing, blocking and such. How is it different this year? Well, basically the players have more mass and structure this time around. Players have balance too, so tackles will need to be spot on, or they could be brushed off with a quick stumble. Its great not seeing the same tackle animation over and over, and with the new physics engine, you ought to see a lot more diversity. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s without flaw. At times, especially after the play, the players will often jolt around or knock each other over like bowling pins. Sometimes the tackles look WAY too painful, with players being bent in all sorts of horrible positions. Luckily the physics engine gives them some weight so the bodies don’t go flying all over. It isn’t all that bad and hardly detracts from the game experience. It’s their first run with this engine, so obviously there will be kinks. For now, it is pretty awesome.

One thing that REALLY cooked my goose in the last version was the commentary. My lord, I wanted to throw Chris Collinsworth to the ground and punch him in the throat. This should be completely out of the question because I am a Gator fan and he had a great career at Florida. Anyway, the commentary last year was probably the worst in any game. This year it is pretty stellar. The voices are smooth and natural. The stuff they say doesn’t make them sound like hate filled pricks. They say more things about the individual players as well as talk about the different plays in greater detail. It really sounds like what you would hear on the television. There are very few miscues in what they say. One particular time, during a challenge, I skipped through it to get the game going again. Jim and Phil went on about whether the play would stand or not for at least four plays. This has only happened to me once so far. A smaller gripe, mainly due to my fandom of the Jacksonville Jaguars is the fact that Phil and Chris use the much hated pronunciation of Jaguars which sounds like “JagWires.” Really guys, you can’t say Jaguars the right way? I mean other than those things, the audio is fantastic. The music is the NFL film-style epics. I remember back in the day when they’d throw a bunch of pop rock and Hip Hop on the soundtrack. I think this approach is much better to be honest.

All the fun game modes are back, some with different names. Dynasty mode has been changed to Coach Career mode and such. You can play the career modes online with a league of friends or strangers, or you can play offline. In coach career you control the whole team and all the different aspects of their playing. Player career mode is what you think it is, either creating your own, or playing as a current player in the league. You can also play career mode as a legendary player, like Joe Montana or Barry Sanders. These players need to be unlocked. The HUD for career is neat. You have one big box with cycling “news stories” about what’s going on in the league. Then on the right side is a “twitter feed” with all the sports writers tweeting about what’s going on. Skip Bayless tweets about how your team is terrible all the time, so that’s fun. Then you can flip the menus to check out your stats. For coaches, you can work on strategy, free agents, trading, and depth chart stuff. Each week you are given a list of things to do before advancing. The first item up is always practice.


You know what, I’m gonna talk about practice. Not the game I turn on and die for every time I power on my Xbox, I’m talking about practice. Practice is really neat this year. Typically you do it just to try out plays and refresh yourself with the controls and stuff. This year practice gives you all these scenarios and you have to beat them to get EXP. Scenarios can be like “It’s third quarter and you are winning by 4 points, finish the game on top to earn the EXP” or maybe “It’s the fourth quarter with 2 minutes left. You are down by six, are you a bad enough dude to come back and win?” The EXP you get for the coach can be used to get special perks, with stuff like making a certain position gain more EXP or making a certain position retire later rather than sooner.

In playing games, the players earn EXP through their actions. They each have weekly goals that get them bonus EXP. A quarterback might have “throw 250 yards,” and upon completing it, you get the bonus EXP. These are used in similar perks to increase the different stats of the players. It’s very RPG like, which is fun.

There is also scouting for the draft. It’s actually really fun and I normally don’t get into the meta game part of Madden. This year however it seems more fun. Each week you are given 1000 scout points. You find a player to scout and you use these points to find out stats in certain areas. For example, If I wanted to see the speed of a Corner Back, I’d have to spend 100 SP. Then a letter grade pops up. Like say, an A. Then for 500 more SP I can see the exact number. It’s kind of fun in a strange way. Career mode is great fun, except for the lack of local multiplayer.

This leads me into Ultimate mode. Ultimate mode is a pretty neat mode that’s been used in other EA sports titles, most notably NHL. Essentially it’s the mix of a collectable card game and Madden. You unwrap packs of digital cards to get players. These players are used to build a team and you then use them to play online or offline. With the games, you unlock coins that can be used to buy packs of cards. Of course you can also spend real money to get better packs and faster. This is where EA gets you. Again, Ultimate mode does not allow for local co-op at all. It’s a mystery to me really. NHL 11 and 12 both allow for co-op Ultimate mode. Nothing was more fun than my buddy and I sitting on the couch, getting players, forming our team, and then jumping out on the ice as a duo to take on other teams. I really wish this was possible in Madden, it would be great. It’s still a great mode, but only if you like playing by yourself or against your friends online.

The game play feels good and the controls are tight as ever. Passing can be tricky, but once you get a rhythm, it feels much better. Running is still great, though with the new physics engine, you can get tied up by your own teammates quickly. I suppose It’s really not much different than previous titles, but the new physics really give Madden a refreshed feel.

Madden 13

ProsLooks great! New Physics Engine is pretty great, Actually GOOD Commentary, Scouting is fun, Practice is presented in a more entertaining way.
ConsStill no Co-Op in Ultimate mode. Physics engine can cause some strange bloopers. “JAGWIRES” WTF?
VerdictIt almost feels like a different game compared to last year’s entry. I got pretty sick of Madden 12 after playing it nonstop. Madden 13, I still want to keep playing. Perhaps it’s the new physics engine, but I just want to play it more. It’s definitely more than a roster update.
Rating
90%
Aug 192012
 

Dust, the titular hero from Dust: An Elysian Tail starts off his first day in the game much like how I start the first day after a particularly eventful weekend: by waking up in the deep recesses of the forest with no recollection of how I got there or who I am. That’s really where our similarities end though, because Dust is there due to mysterious and epic events that we cannot spoil here, and I probably ended up in the woods due to too much Jameson or Rohypnol.. Dust gets awoken by a talking sword, the Blade of Ahrah, and its adorable guardian Fidget. I usually get jarred to consciousness by the police officer who was kind enough to find my pants for me. Lastly, Dust is whisked away to adventure by his newfound friends to save the world and uncover his lost identity – but I am usually whisked away to lockup to “sleep it off”. Luckily for your you, dear reader, it is Dust’s adventure you will be tagging along on instead of my own.
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Jul 262012
 

Tony Hawk’s Skater HD is a game that nobody asked for, but a few people are still pretty excited about. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. THPSHD (yikes) seems like a great idea at first. Robomodo has supposedly taken the best aspects of both the first and second games, promised content from part 3 as DLC (oh boy) messed with the roster a little, and even made up new game modes for something that promises to be more than just your typical HD re-release. But, well, it doesn’t work very well. Whatever Activision and Neversoft captured in the 90′s, Robomodo didn’t get it, and has instead offered up something that resembles a blast from the past, but is in reality a sterile, lifeless, robotic (heh) mimicry of the real thing. Sorry folks, the game may have “Superman” in it, but nostalgic exploitation doesn’t make a good game. Continue reading »