Monday, July 21, 2014

REVIEW - Genroku Legends: A Spirited Seven Nights' Haunting.

Genroku Legends: A Spirited Seven Nights' Haunting is the third piece of single-player DLC for 2013's spectacular Muramasa Rebirth, following the excellent Fishy Tales of the Nekomata and the funny but less-involving A Cause to Daikon For.  An action RPG with an emphasis on the action, it's a moving stroll through a gorgeously-rendered 2D 1600s Japan.  In addition to the remarkable presentation of Muramasa proper, Haunting skirts Daikon's comedy bent and offers a (welcome) return to the soaring melodrama developer Vanillaware handle so well.

Haunting is a sombre and tragic yarn in the vein of Nekomata, and another enjoyable folk tale that bursts at the seams with distinctly Japanese flavor and sensibilities.

Once upon a time, there was a ninja named Arashimaru.

Betrayed by the clan that raised him, Arashimaru has gone rogue.

To escape his former allies, he utilizes one of his most secret arts in a trap explosion - but in doing so, he shatters the sacred mirror that rests in the decrepit and humble shrine of Shirohebi, a water goddess who takes the form of a gleaming white snake.

Shirohebi doesn't take kindly to the insult.

She wraps her scaly self around his neck - an ethereal weight that presses down on his shoulders but can't be touched - as a reminder of the curse.  Arashimaru isn't bothered - he has business to take care of, and seven days may prove just enough time to do the impossible, and bring down the ninja clan that manipulated him...

Your first taste of Haunting's combat comes in a spectacular duel between ninja apprentice and master across a mountaintop.  Unlike the ponderous Gonbe of Daikon, Arashimaru's speciality is ranged attacks - he can deliver a hail of throwing kunai with rapid taps of square, so quick and so fast that you can stand in the middle of the screen, keeping enemies in before and behind you at bay by zipping the analog stick back and forth.  For heavy hitting, he can unleash bombs that do major damage, but each bomb tossed reduces the ability's spirit gauge, and it cannot be used for long.

His bread-and-butter is a sickle with a weighted chain, useful for close and mid-range combat - and like the flashing claws of Okoi or the graceful swordplay of Momohime, one of the DLC's greatest pleasures is found in simply watching Arashimaru tear through ranks of foes with elegant, stylish twirls and spins as the sickle flips and arcs around him.

Its generous reach aside, his sickle is mechanically analogous to the blades of Muramasa's core campaign, making it instantly comfortable and expressive.  Even better, his sickle, kunai and bombs all behave identically for air-juggle and dashes - hold square, press up, and no matter what weapon he's holding he'll bash it into his foe and spring into the air with them.  Keep square held down and jam the analog stick towards your enemy, and he'll air-dash through them, back and forth up to three times, zig-zagging them into the sky before, for example, continuing the combo with a blinding machinegun fire of blades, hovering in the air as he keeps his enemies aloft with a never-ending stream of kunai.

It's super-sexy.

The water goddess's presence also comes in to play, here, as the vain spirit feels she'd lose face with the other gods if a mere mortal were to slay Arashimaru before her curse does its dark work.  With that in mind, she promises to protect the boy until the eighth morning - and her presence in combat (press circle while airborne) is meaningful, as she uncoils from around his neck into a gigantic serpent that breathes enemy-seeking magic across the battlefield.

Haunting also offers a rebalance of Genroku Legends' remarkable challenge.  Both previous DLCs offered boss battles that would press even the most experienced ninja assassin to their limits, to the point that it was advisable to spend more than a bit of extra time running back and forth across Japan, fighting enemies and earning levels and weapons before attempting their final bosses.  Not so, in Haunting.

True to Vanillaware's standards, the game's bosses are spectacular, imaginative and a ton of fun - and this time, they never really risk frustration.  You don't have to be perfect to beat them - you just have to have mastered Arashimaru, and his formidable skills.

Try to beat Nekomata's second boss at level 11.  I frickin' dare you.

After the less-than-stellar A Cause to Daikon For, A Seven Nights' Haunting is pure, excellent Vanillaware, again.  It's a comfortable size and offers another weird, touching and involving story.  If you want to spend more time with Arashimaru after the credits roll, dashing across a gorgeous rendition of Genroku-era Japan, the game welcomes it.

Watching him run is fun.  He has the classic ninja run.  It's awesome. 

You can, then, explore the entirety of Muramasa's world, from the stairway to Heaven to the very pits of Hell, defeating all of the core game's bosses and challenge rooms with Haunting's hero, if you really want to see the true ending - and Arashimaru is fun, stylish and cool enough that I find myself tempted to do just that, as I did with the Nekomata DLC - which opens it up from a four-hour game into a twenty-hour one.

Easily worth $4.99, Haunting is everything you love about Vanillaware in a tasty, compact package.  Case in point, hot springs:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Ratchet & Clank collection for Vita drops this Tuesday on PSN.


So, on my Vita, I've got Metal Gear Solid 1-3 (+ Peace Walker), Sly 1-4, God of War 1-2 (+Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta), and in two days I'll have the Ratchet trilogy.

All I need now is Okami and Odin Sphere, and my PS2-on-Vita wish list will be complete.  'Course those'll never happen...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

So much good stuff comin' to Vita.

Below is what you'll get when you cross-reference Ratchet & Clank with Vita on the ESRB website.  I wonder what the holdup is with getting the Collection released in North America?  Perhaps Sony are hoping to patch the first game, which I hear has some framerate problems on Vita. 

Also in good Vita news, we already know that Rogue Legacy is dropping on the handheld on July 29th - yay! - but yesterday word dropped that the 2D action-RPG/beat 'em up Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds will land on the handheld at the end of the month as well.  Between this, Rogue Legacy and The Last of Us Remastered, July 29th is gonna' be a busy day for gaming!

Here, have some screens.  Looks cool.

From what gameplay I've seen, Battlegrounds has an odd mechanic to it that confines heroes and enemies to single horizontal axis, and you (and they) have to manually switch from the path in the foreground to the path in the background - perhaps, essentially, eliminating those nasty Streets of Rage style moments where you're mashing the buttons and wiffing on an enemy standing just "below" you in a scene.

It's made by the folks behind the (little-known) Phantom Breaker fighting game and the Corpse Party series - so I'm hoping Battlegrounds will have some nicely deep mechanics to it.

The Season 2 finale of Bravest Warriors is everything I needed it to be.

For example, it contains the line, spoken by the tangible hologram of an immortal inter-dimensional chaos worm, "so much is possible with this many hamsters."

Great show.  If you don't know it, get to know it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A loved one died tonight.

After we watched Snowpiercer (I liked it, Kayla did not), she asked me to grab her cell phone off the night stand so she could change the time her alarm is set for.  I reached for it, and it banged on the floor.

"Eeee," I bit my finger.


"This is the noise I make when I'm scared 'cause I just dropped your cell phone."

She sighed.  "I make sure to be careful with your things," she told me.

"It was an accident," I pointed out, and reached over the side of the bed.

It wasn't her cell phone that fell.  It was my Vita.

My Vita's fallen before, but this time, when I turned it on, it was clearly fucked.  The pixels across the entire screen are a bit out of whack, and entirely out of whack across the right edge and top-right region of the screen.

My Vita.  My dear, cherished, most-played-of-all-gaming-things Vita... is dead.

Thank God I got the backup OLED.  And now to get to work transferring all my crap...

...I wonder if I'll be able to get a backup for my backup?

Here, now you don't have to watch Muppets Most Wanted.

Similar to that one decent song in Rio, the only really memorable part of Muppets Most Wanted was this ballad, sung by an evil frog to win Miss Piggy's affections.  Unfortunately, the only YouTube video of the song is the version sung by Bret McKenzie, and the one that's in the movie - with a villainous, heavily-accented amphibian under mood lighting, shot through a vaseline'd lens, wearing a romance-novel-cover shirt as fans billow it against him, is superior.  But that video doesn't exist - just the song itself - so content yourself with Bret's vocals and less-funny visuals.

My buddy Kris told me Most Wanted was pretty good.  I found it pretty meh - but Snowpiercer is finally on PSN, and tonight after some margherita pizzas, I'm gonna' be all up in that post-apocalyptic action-allegory.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

REVIEW - Genroku Legends: A Cause to Daikon For.

Genroku Legends: A Cause to Daikon For is the second of four planned pieces of five-dollar single-player DLC for the Vita's sublime Muramasa Rebirth.  A (gorgeous) 2D sidescrolling action-RPG with an emphasis on the action, Daikon follows the pathetic plight of a brave but foolish farmer named Gonbe, who sucks so bad at farming he couldn't afford medicine to save his dear wife Otae from the plague.

Since her death, things in his humble han have gone from bad to worse, as the area is being worked to death under the crushing yoke of impossibly-high taxation - and the only crops Gonbe doesn't have to pay in taxes are invariably eaten by the local crows, which make for effective target practice in the DLC's combat tutorial.

And Gonbe's had enough.

Rebellions were a whispered but rarely-executed option for the peasantry of Edo and Genroku-era Japan, as strict laws forbade the farmers, fishermen and craftsmen any variety of true weapons.  Swords, spears and the implements of war were the sole possession of the Samurai caste, and - hidden cashes of weapons kept beneath floorboards aside - if villagers wished to rise up, they had to do it with the tools of their trade, or what could be cobbled together.

I adore this sort of historical accuracy in A Cause to Daikon for, as Gonbe fights with hand sickles (used for harvesting rice) as a ranged option, a sharpened pole of bamboo (which can get wicked sharp) for graceful combos and air juggles and a simple farmer's hoe, which swings slow and hits like a truck.

Such uprisings were regularly crushed without mercy, and participating villagers could expect to find themselves and their families executed for their troubles - not an appealing proposition for any but those in the direst of straights - but Gonbe, with no family to lose, and a few like-minded villagers agree to risk their lives and those of their loved ones to win justice for their countrymen.

The night of that brave choice, which (spoiler) doesn't go well, his dead wife appears to him,

explains that she's found it terribly painful to watch him suffer in the years since her death, and she feels the best thing is just for her to kill him so he can go be dead with her.

Gonbe insists he needs to lead an uprising first, so Otae agrees to accompany him until he's kept his word.  Then she'll kill him.

And off they go across Japan!

This mix of historically-accurate cultural norms, supernatural folk tales and energetic storytelling is a big part of Muramasa and its Genroku Legends' minitales success - and it's the single most enjoyable aspect of Daikon.  It's not as arresting and involving as Muramasa's campaigns or January's uniformly-excellent Fishy Tales of Nekomata, but it remains a sweet plum.

The combat is less successful.  It works - it works just fine, but much of its pleasures are locked behind the three-branched skill tree Gonbe can work through (which upgrades the effectiveness of his weapons and adds additional skills and utilities to his combat mechanics).

It's not Muramasa without trips to the hot springs in your undies.

Until those skills are unlocked, Gonbe's combat style is slow-paced (some might suggest tactical) when compared to Okoi's claws or Kisuke's swords. Gonbe's dodge, for example, lasts three times longer than any other character as he comically stumbles back on one leg, pinwheeling his arms through eons of generous invincibility frames before falling on his ass and slowly gathering himself to his feet.  It looks funny, it works for the character, but one gets the sense that some of those choices were made in the name of style instead of substance.  He feels very different from any other hero Vanillaware have put forth, and thus is a bit uncomfortable to control.

Once you've invested deep enough, Gonbe's zipping back and forth across the screen like a farmer posessed as Otae's spectral fingers fling him to and fro, laying waste to haughty Samurai and demonkind, lifting them into the air for repeated juggling pokes of his bamboo and crushing them beneath his mighty hoe.

The final swing of Gonbe's ground combo with the hoe can be charged, and deals huge damage.

Gonbe himself, with his big round nose, balding head and patchwork clothes, fits in to the gorgeous Japan Vanillaware crafted for Muramasa, but he doesn't fit well in the foreground.  His character design and lumbering (almost awkward) animations aren't as beautiful and stylish as the game world he inhabits, and after an awesome samurai princess, a badass rogue ninja and a demonic shapeshifting cat, he's the least enjoyable character to watch and play as.

It's not fun watching Gonbe run.

His story, while painted with rich details and pleasant humor, doesn't offer some fascinating tragic and heroic character evolution - the no-nonsense, hard-working fellow we meet at the beginning of the game is unchanged by the DLC's amusing, comical ending - and there's less, here, between how he plays and who he is, that resonates with the player after flicking off their Vita.

In that way, A Cause to Daikon For is a bit like the later core Ratchet & Clank games - it lacks a bit of the nuance that made its forebears so special, but it's still a game in which you stylishly brawl your way across Genroku-era Japan to the tune of a zany story.  It's a game in which you fight a giant, drunken sumo wrestler, a flock of hungry crows and a batallion of pink-uniformed ninja maidens.

It's a game in which, when you die, your departed wife's ghost intercepts your soul as it ascends and forcibly shoves it back into your corpse (if you mash buttons).

It's a game with character.  Even with its weaknesses, then, A Cause to Daikon For remains pure Vanillaware - and even an imperfect taste of good Vanillaware is still delicious.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Six smexy The Last of Us Remastered screens.

Click to enhugen.

Ahhh I'm going to enjoy this.  It'll be like watching Pulp Fiction again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I just made the best grilled cheese ever.

I took no pictures because (1) I think we're all a bit tired of that and (2) no photograph could capture the perfection.  After a successful attempt with your classic processed cheese grilled cheese sandwich, I suggested to Kayla we should try some crazy gourmet version with some cool cheeses, and she let me go for it.

The problem is, when you're using real cheese and not processed cheese, the bread will burn before the cheese has melted when making grilled cheese in the traditional fashion.  This, my friends, is how to make the perfect artisanal grilled cheese without going the Alton Brown rout.

You'll need...

  • 1/2 loaf of rosemary focaccia bread, thick enough that you can slice it into reasonably bread-y slices
  • a good non-stick pan
  • a good oven-safe pan
  • an oven
  • a stove top
  • provolone
  • smoked gouda
  • aged cheddar
  • Swiss cheese
  • Becel margarine (or use butter, if the above cheeses aren't enough indulgence for you)

(1) Preheat your oven to broil - 500 degrees.  Have a reasonably hot pan ready to go on the stove top.

(2) Cut the bread into reasonably bread-y slices.  You want to have clean sides, like a regular loaf of bread, that you can butter. 

(3) Prep your cheeses.  1/8 or 1/6th of an inch thickness.  I did two "sticks" of the cheddar, Swiss and gouda per sandwich, and two similarly thin rounds of the provolone.  No matter how you'll slice it, there's gonna' be a lot of cheese on there - but you don't want too much of any one thing!  (Kayla prefers it without the Swiss - I definitely prefer it with.)

(4) Prep your focaccia slices.  Apply the margarine gently to two slices of bread, one side each. 

(5) Apply one slice of the focaccia to the oven-safe pan, butter-side down.  Layer your cheese atop it, don't put the second piece of focaccia on top, and slip it into the oven.  Now simply wait until the cheese melts, or is reasonably close to it.  Once it's reasonably close, 

(6) pull it from the oven and transfer it into the non-stick pan on the stove top, apply the second piece of focaccia to the top of your sandwich (butter side up), and permit it to fry just long enough for the bread to turn perfectly golden-brown.  At that very precise moment, flip the sandwich and provide similar thermal affection to the other side.  Remove from heat, slice diagonally into a pleasant triangle shape and enjoy immediately. 

I dip mine in Heinz, Kayla prefers Campbell's tomato soup.  Bon app├ętit!  

Muramasa Rebirth Genroku Legends: A Spirited Seven Nights' Haunting is out!

It seems only Destructoid knew about this, and they didn't tell me.  Those jerks.

A Spirited Seven Nights' Haunting follows the adventures of a ninja trying to escape his former clan, who finds himself cursed by an evil spirit and given seven days to live.  That's it.  Forget Blazblue: Continuum Shift Extend, forget Sly, I'm finishing up the Cause to Daikon For DLC and diving into this!

Today also sees the release of One Piece: Unlimited World RED on Vita - which I'm terribly curious about - and... that's about it... oh, wait, there was something I wanted to check on.

Hold on a second...

Yeah, no, Snowpiercer's still not available on PSN or my cable provider's VOD.

Also, Sony's got this 2-for-1 deal going on with 11 different bundles, and there's some alright stuff on there, but there aren't any deals you really need to jump on.

Oh well.  More Muramasa!  Yay!