Saturday, August 31, 2013

A short REVIEW - Dragon's Crown.

A full review can be found here.

Dragon's Crown is Vanillaware's take on the classic fantasy action-RPGs of old.  A 2D co-op fantasy RPG-brawler, it's Golden Axe for the modern age, and - while remarkably light on story, considering the developer - the best action game they've ever produced.

The game's Normal difficulty can be bested in a scant twenty hours as you wander through enchanted forests and haunted, vampire-infested castles - you'll battle goblins, orcs, zombies, pirates, owlbears and of course, dragons - but you can easily invest over 100 hours in a single character across the game's three progressively more-rewarding difficulty levels.

It is in Hard Mode and beyond that Dragon's Crown reveals its true intentions and true beauty. Unlike Vanillaware's previous efforts, which had good (Odin Sphere) or great action (Muramasa) while leaning heavily on an involving narrative, Dragon's Crown's pleasures lie entirely in the playing of it.  In grinding beautiful, familiar dungeons for an ever-expanding collection of sweet, sweet random loot and kitting out your hero.

Each of the six character classes play beautifully while being vastly different from each other - each requiring time and investment to truly master - not that you'll want to switch when you've found one that you really groove with.

My Amazon is level 99, but I don't feel close to finished with her.  I still love chaining twenty dungeons in a row (there are only nine total, unless you count the 99-floor randomly-generated Chaos Labyrinth) just for the sake of playing it.  Just for the beauty of it - just for the fun of wrecking goblin armies and slaying dragons.

It is visually stunning, has gorgeous music, a smart and satisfying difficulty curve, a ridiculous amount of replay value (I'm pushing 100 hours) and is always tons of fun.  At this point - two and a half weeks prior to the release of GTA V - I can only call Dragon's Crown the most valuable, bang-for-your-buck title to release in 2013.

Buy this game.

Dragon's Age Inquisition gameplay.

Now that... looks like a straight-up action-RPG.  And a relatively simple one, at that.

Starlight Inception Beta version 0.1 open for pre-purchasers.

Almost precisely a month since its last update, Starlight Inception announced yesterday that for all Kickstarter backers and those who've pre-ordered the game via PayPal, the game's Beta is open for business.  It's great to see this game is still coming along.

Also in awesome news - it's just gonna' be fifteen bucks when it comes to Vita and PS3!

This teaser trailer for Team Meat's next game is worth watching for the song along.

XCOM : Enemy Within - war machines trailer.


Dustforce coming to PS3, Vita and 360!

Finally.  Capcom announced today at PAX that it's bringing the beautiful platformer Dustforce to consoles - with cross-play on PS3 and Vita!  If you've forgotten (or never knew) what Dustforce was, check out this lovely trailer for its PC launch last year.

Awww yeah.  Pure platforming with sweet animation and a sense of style.  I can dig it.

Cosmic Star Heroine's first trailer.

(Coming to PS4 and Vita.)

-PlayStation Blog post!-
We here at the two-man development studio known as Zeboyd Games are pleased to announce that our next RPG, Cosmic Star Heroine, will be coming out on PS4 and PS Vita next year! And to go along with that announcement, here’s our Sega-CD inspired opening video for our game! Enjoy!

A very special thanks to Dean Dodrill (Dust: An Elysian Tail) who helped out with effects and animation, as well as Chris Geehan and Dan Byrne-McCullough over at Hyperduck (who did the music for our last RPG) for helping make that video go to 11! And of course, our own Bill Stiernberg, who handled the brunt of the work!

Cosmic Star Heroine is our latest attempt to recapture the feel of some of the classic RPGs of the 90s, while putting our own unique spin on the whole experience. Inspired by games like Chrono Trigger (visual style, on-map battles, combo techniques), the Phantasy Star series (overall feel of the worlds and characters), and the Suikoden series (political intrigue, expandable player headquarters), we can’t wait to share Cosmic Star Heroine with you!

So who is the titular Cosmic Star Heroine?

Alyssa L’Salle! She’s one of the galactic government’s top agents, and has saved the galaxy more than once! But when she accidentally uncovers a dark conspiracy, her own government outs her as a legendary spy and the people’s champion! Sure, now she has hordes of adoring fans, but every villainous organization she’s ever crossed in her career knows who she is and is out for her blood! Can she save the day once more while she faces her greatest challenge… everyone!?

But she won’t have to go it alone! No, she’ll be leading a bizarre group of “heroes” into battle.

We’ve made several RPGs in the past (Cthulhu Saves the World, Breath of Death VII, Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 & 4), but we’re really stepping up our ambition with Cosmic Star Heroine. A deeper story, meticulously balanced play, a brain-melting soundtrack from Hyperduck, glorious 16-bit-esque pixel art, and much more await you!

And that means we need your help! We’ll be running a Kickstarter to raise needed development funds to make Cosmic Star Heroine the best “Shoulda been released in the 90s” RPG ever! And thanks to the good people at Sony, we’ll be able to offer cross-buy (buy once, get both versions!) PS4/Vita PSN codes for Cosmic Star Heroine at the low reward tier of $10! And of course, there’ll be plenty of other cool rewards if you choose to donate more!

Look for more news, screenshots, and the Cosmic Star Heroine kickstarter in the coming weeks!

Road Not Taken coming to PS4 & Vita.

Cuuute!  -PlayStation Blog post!-

Roguelike Puzzle Game, Road Not Taken, Coming to PS4, PS Vita in 2014

Hi folks! It’s an honor to be posting here for the first time. I’m the co-founder of a studio called Spry Fox. We’ve made some well-known mobile and PC games such as Steambirds, Triple Town, and Realm of the Mad God. I’m super excited to announce that our next title — an original puzzle game called Road Not Taken — will be launching on PS4 and PS Vita in early 2014!

Road Not Taken is a game about life’s surprises, both positive and negative. In our take on Robert Frost’s poem of the same name, you wander through a mysterious forest in the aftermath of a large snowstorm. As you explore, you’ll come across wild animals, impassable barriers, and lost children. Road Not Taken explores the question: “What happens when life’s events throw you off the path you expected to take?” It’s been a lot of fun for us to try and stretch the ideas that games can tackle!

In terms of gameplay, you can think of Road Not Taken as a puzzle roguelike.

• You can play for dozens of hours, and no two sessions will ever be quite alike.
• Each game is full of unexpected surprises and dangers, and we’re not going to spell out how to play it. What does each creature do? Figure it out!
• You’re going to die many, many times.

But you won’t mind death in Road Not Taken, because each death teaches you something new about how the world works and how you might do better next time. The world unfolds and becomes more complex over time, as well; you’ll progressively unlock new things to encounter, and boosts that change the way you play the game.

There have been some really fantastic roguelikes that have been released in the past few years. Games like FTL and Don’t Starve, for example. We’re hoping that Road Not Taken appeals to the people who loved those games, but also to people who really enjoy thinking through a tricky puzzle without time pressure.

We’ve put together a little trailer to give you a taste of what Road Not Taken is all about, which you can find above. And if you want more information about us, you can visit our website!

Friday, August 30, 2013

An in-depth REVIEW - Dragon's Crown.

This is a very long review.  A very short review can be found here

Dragon's Crown is a co-op 2D fantasy brawler action-RPG.  From Vanillaware.

For the un-initiated, allow me a moment to explain what that means.

Remember playing Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Mario World and thinking "man, if this is how good graphics look now, imagine how much better they'll be next gen"?

Then the next gen happened, games went polygonal and things looked like crap until the PS2/oXbox gen - but there's one studio that kept plucking away at 2D sprites, and their name is Vanillaware.

No developer in the world - not Ubisoft Montpellier, not Klei Entertainment - can touch Vanillaware when it comes to 2D presentation.  They are masters of the form.

Dragon's Crown is the first purely HD game they've ever made, and the studio's most expensive to date (development came in at just over one million dollars US - a paltry sum by modern triple-A standards).

How is Dragon's Crown, you ask?

Most of the shots I'm going to show, here, will be cropped images from direct-feed Vita screens.

It's absolutely spectacular.

Presentation, gameplay, challenge, fun factor, replay value - this game is, in all ways, an exemplary showing.

The action-RPG has long been Vanillaware's genre of choice, beginning with Princess Crown for the Sega Saturn in '97 and further reinforced by the deep leveling and buffing mechanics of Odin Sphere in '07.  They cranked the combat to 11 in '09's Muramasa: The Demon Blade (which saw a glorious Vita port this year), and Dragon's Crown easily represents their most accomplished realization of their ever-mutating formula to date.

As if Muramasa were their trial-run for a fast-paced, open combat system, Dragon's Crown offers six vastly different heroes - an equal number of ladies and gentlemen, in classic Vanillaware style.  Unlike Muramasa, however, and unlike Odin Sphere, each of the six player-characters have totally different mechanics, abilities and balances.

Kayla's class of choice.

The Fighter is slower, but nearly impossible to kill with the appropriate skills selected, can deal excellent damage with the right tools and has a rather pleasant air game.  He's the natural tank, with optional talents designed to draw all enemy attention while his party wails away on the problem at hand.

A charged, airborne shot with the shockwave skill, delivering damage to multiple foes.

The Elf has low defense, but is extremely light on her feet, bouncing across the stage to deliver a perfectly-placed arrow to the eye of her target, cheerfully calling out "gotcha!" as she looses a powerful shot - her bow and unusual air game (which can keep her aloft for dozens of seconds at a time as she leaps, charges and fires a shot, air-evades, charges and fires a shot, et cetera) is totally different from any other class. The nature of her arrow shots - straight horizontal, diagonal or horizontal in the air, or a ground shot that arcs up before slamming down into an enemy in front of her - demands the Elf be far more conscious of her positioning than any other class.

Of course, if you prefer, you could specialize your Elf in daggers - which allows her to produce a limited-use dagger up to nine times and backstab the holy crap out of stuff.

The Rock Crusher spell (the large dark object on the left, which just came crashing in from the heavens) never gets old.

The Sorceress, while equally susceptible to physical attacks, is nearly impossible to kill with magic, and is a triple-threat as an area-of-effect damage-dealer, crowd-controller and support character - buffing her party with protective spells, freezing enemies in their tracks and conjuring snacks out of thin air.  While careful positioning is still important for her more powerful abilities (dropping fireballs while flying does major damage, but requires real precision), the Sorceress has a trick up her sleeve for any enemy type or formation that may approach.

The Wizard is a purely offensive spellcaster (with a few nice enemy debuffs), the Dwarf is a rough-and-tumble off-tank with cool crowd-control options (he can pick up and throw enemies), but my personal favorite - by far - is the Amazon.

The Amazon is the classic glass cannon, incapable of taking much damage but dishing it out at a rate that borders on lunacy - once you've mastered her abilities.  Incredibly mobile, she can quadruple-evade.  Between each evade, she has a beautifully controllable mid-air pinwheel attack she can break out, or a rising air attack, or a falling smash attack.  She can zip through the air across the screen in a half-second and crash down axe-first into an enemy spellcaster, obliterating him with one mighty whomp.

Swinging her (ridiculously) huge man-sized axe, her ground combos (which start at four strikes but can be extended to nine) begin slowly.  Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh - big, arcing swings of her giant weapon that do massive damage to enemies all around her.  The more she is able to attack without being knocked down, the faster she goes.

Within a few seconds, she is wrecking battalions of skeletal soldiers with lightning-fast combos of her massive weapon - shikshikshikshik goes the blade, while still dealing thousands of damage per wide, arcing strike.

She tears through enemy ranks like the Tasmanian devil.  Wind her up and set her loose on a boss.

She's an absolute monster.

That's jump, down and square.  She slams into the ground axe-first, producing a shockwave.
Big numbers are pretty numbers.

Once, during a boss fight, I was throwing down with two gigantic cyclopes.  On the far-right of the screen was a slowly-closing gate, and - occasionally - a massive cyclops hand would reach out to hold the gate up to prevent its closing (potentially allowing another beast into the fray).

On the left-hand side of the screen, the cyclops I was working on drew back its giant fist, preparing for a major attack that would toss me against the walls and spoil the vicious momentum I'd built up.  I held square and tapped the analog stick up, in a rising attack, and tapped R1 to air-evade off his shoulder to the left as he let loose with his swing.

At that point, I noticed the hand had appeared under the gate on the other side of the screen.  I air-jumped, tapped evade, tapped attack to pinwheel, air-evaded again and was then at the hand.  I tapped square and pinwheeled the hand, tapped up and square to perform a mid-air rising attack, pinwheeled again, jumped vertically one last time and hit down and attack to slam into the ground, through the hand with Neck Splitter - my single most powerful attack - destroying it.

I love you, Neck Splitter. 

It wasn't until after I'd done this crazy thing - evading on one side of the screen, zipping to the other side and destroying the hand without touching the ground - that I realized it had all been unconscious expression.

I hadn't bothered to think of how to do it - I only realized that it needed to be done - and so, I did.

The Gargoyle Gate boss fight requires the player to load and light a massive cannon to destroy the living door.
As an alternative, you could just fire an Amazon at it. 

In the same way Muramasa offered a simple but expressive combat system with a bare minimum of inputs, Dragon's Crown offers rich, lightning-fast action with a profoundly simple control scheme.  It's easy to pick-up and play (R1's evade, square is attack, X is jump, circle is your special), but each of the six classes - while all using the same basic controls - play and feel completely different.

Each character offers a unique pace, a unique weight, and unique strategies - a complete departure from the standards Vanillaware kept for Muramasa and (to a lesser extent) Odin Sphere, where each character played identically to the next.

In terms of fun factor and mechanics, Dragon's Crown is the most ambitious and successful action the company's ever offered.

It's also the sexiest.

The last thing a thousand goblins ever saw.
"She is a girl in a bikini, but I can't think of her as just a girl in a bikini. Having spent time with her, I can only think of her as a seething mass of muscle and iron will, with a seven-foot axe at the business end."
-On the women of Dragon's Crown-
Yes, the Sorceress is very top-heavy and yes, the Amazon has a battle bikini, rock-hard glutes and a penchant for showing them to the audience.  Moreso than any previous Vanillaware title, Dragon's Crown - perhaps simply due to how much of the game is inspired by or references classic western fantasy from throughout the ages - presents women only as sexy and powerful (in the case of the heroes) or sexy and damseled (in the case of almost everyone else). But always sexy.

If you'd like an in-depth look at the game's presentation of women, I've laid it all out right here.  It's so pronounced that my lady love wouldn't even watch the game if I was playing as the Sorceress (at first - now she tools around on her Fighter with a Sorceress or two for backup) - but while I can be conscious of it, I must admit it doesn't damage my enjoyment of the game.

I like beautiful things, I like sexy things, I like fun things, and I loved Golden Axe as a kid.  Dragon's Crown is beautiful, fun, sexy, and a wonderful modern-age Golden Axe.

Dragon's Crown is nothing if not a love letter to the co-op side-scrolling action-RPGs of old, from Golden Axe to (director) George Kamitani's own Dungeons & Dragons: The Tower of Doom.  It's... almost moving in how beautifully it offers a modern take on the classics we adored as children.

Each of the game's nine main dungeons are drastically different from each other, and each has two routes which can be taken, leading to different exploration opportunities (hidden rooms, hidden chests, et cetera) and different bosses to face.

Within the game, (like those old gems) you'll find temporary-use weapons like daggers (let the Elf take those), crossbows, arbalests, cranequin and torches that allow non-magic using characters to take advantage of a wood golem, slime creature or ghost's extreme weakness to flame.  The game's roster of enemies is massive, from spritely little goblins to lumbering owlbears, to the creepily-laughing homunculi - soulless alchemically-created artificial people, they're semi-translucent, slightly-rubbery figures until they leap through the air and slam into a member of your party, and take their shape.

Then, in the middle of a brawl with some zombies and sabertooth tigers, you find yourself also fighting two Elves and an Amazon.  It's crazy.  And wonderful.

Like any Vanillaware game, little, beautiful touches abound - none more welcome than the inclusion of Tiki and Rannie. Rannie the rogue once happened upon you in a dungeon in a far-off land, and thought he could take advantage of your young hero's naïveté - but soon learned it would be much more profitable just to make himself a full partner.

As your adventurers clear a room (treasure, jewels and goblets erupting from the corpses of your foes), Rannie will busy himself picking up the loot so you don't have to.  When you come to a locked door or a treasure chest, you'll have to sweep the right analog stick up to it and tap L1 (or just a screen-tap on the Vita), and Rannie will dart forward to apply his lockpicks with a haughty "oh, I can do that."

Tiki, meanwhile, is an adorable little fairy and totally not a copyright infringement against Walt Disney.  After freeing her from a cage early in the game, she accompanies you on your journey and helpfully points out secrets.  When a treasure chest is in the room, she'll flutter in and recline across it like a jazz singer to bring your attention to it.

When a room is clear, there's no giant hand pointing the way forward - it's Tiki - positioned at the right side of the room, her arm shooting out in time with a gentle chime to let you know it's time to go.

What a lovely pair of touches.

Open The Sesame!

If that weren't enough, Dragon's Crown throws in an interesting degree of interaction with its environment.  Clicking the cursor (or tapping the screen) on hollow walls or strange statues reveals hidden rooms to bust in to, while shinies in the background will pour forth rich spoils when you draw the cursor over them.

Throughout the game, you'll find strange runes carved into the world - tapping on these allows you access to twenty hugely powerful spells, from room-clearing damage to an extra life point to an additional stock of one of your precious limited-use items.  It's a good idea (and a natural education) to memorize a few of the more potent ones - a nice touch, and a welcome addition of depth to the world.

It's worth noting, all of the cursor mechanics feel a bit more natural (and can be executed much faster) on the Vita's touchscreen than on the PS3 version.

The treasure you find, meanwhile, is... extensive.

This will set your heart a-flutter every time.

Taking a page from the book of Diablo, Dragon's Crown employs a random loot system.  Each treasure chest you open will always contain an item - E, D, C, B, A or the prized S-rank - which you won't be able to view until you return to town, and have it appraised.

After a good run - if you've made the right prayers to the goddesses (which is a real thing and provides any number of passive buffs) - your treasure screen will look like this:

I saw a review from one guy who said he'd only ever gotten two S-rank treasures.  No idea what his problem was.
Praying to the goddesses for higher-ranking treasure and chaining dungeons really helps.

Then you head on back to town, toss the crap, appraise the good stuff and potentially swap out your gear - comparing the old to the new and thoughtfully stroking your chin.

One day I may find an amulet that grants immunity to more than poison, burning and petrification,
but I haven't found it yet.

Their random nature ensures that you'll stumble across gear that compliments every conceivable build, and also ensures that you'll (almost) never find one object that's perfect in all ways.  I've got an axe right now with a damage range of 252-255 - the highest I've ever seen, with the thinnest range - but it doesn't have the potential to turn my enemies to stone...

No, there's gotta' be somethin' better out there.  I'd best keep looking.

And so I do.  The game ensures you may never stop looking, by way of its ever-expanding challenge and the fact that each character can possess nine different bags of gear - one tailored to each and every dungeon in the game, always swappable at the dungeon's branch point.

Or you could just try to put together nine perfect loadouts - the better for taking a trip through the Chaos Labyrinth.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  There is a potentially-infinite amount of gear to find, and you can hold up to 500 pieces in your bank (banked gear is shared across all characters on the same save file.  Find a sweet S-ranked staff?  Save it for your caster alt.)

It's deeply counter-intuitive that Dragon's Crown does not (initially) lend itself as well to couch co-op as it does online, given the game's spiritual predecessors.  Completing story missions while in co-op mode (while both players can participate and earn rewards) only counts for the player on port 1, though side-quests work normally.  [update] This issue has since been patched! [/update] This is, I suppose, why online co-op doesn't open up until after you've cleared the first half of Normal mode and completed the story.

Fortunately, Dragon's Crown's narrative is the thinnest, most insubstantial story Vanillaware has ever offered - perhaps a disappointment to fans of the developer, given how delightful and moving their narratives have been in the past - but the reasoning is clear.  The story is not in any way, shape or form the point of Dragon's Crown.  It is a game whose purpose is found entirely in the playing of it - particularly with friends - which is a grander accomplishment than any other Vanillaware title can lay claim to.

Dragon's Crown appreciates that it's the type of game one doesn't play just once - just as we didn't play Golden Axe just once as kids - and has designed itself for limitless replay.  Upon defeating Normal difficulty, Hard mode opens up - which lacks any and all story and is the exact same game you just played with harder enemies, a higher level cap (more skills to purchase!) and new side quests.  Once you defeat hard, Infernal becomes available (raising the level cap to 99) - which feels like the "correct" difficulty for the game, and what Hard and Normal mode had been preparing you for.

On Infernal difficulty, story progression is moot and enemies come in massive swarms, hard and fast.  You'll meet new versions of old foes like the Red Caps above - dark Goblins who love stunlocking you with viper-fast combos of their evil little blades.  You'll meet shadowy pirates with nasty teleportation and crowd-control skills, and Blue Caps - vicious Goblin spellcasters who'll turn you into a frog (!).

It is here, at the end of the path, that Dragon's Crown reveals and can truly showcase its real point and purpose - infinite co-operative play.

Wanna' fight a Cyclops outside the Mage's Tower?  Welcome to the Chaos Labyrinth.

Once you have defeated Infernal mode and vanquished the Ancient Dragon (again), the Chaos Labyrinth bears its teeth.  The Chaos Labyrinth is, simply, random everything.

You'll stroll through a few screens of the Lost Woods, fighting enemies that have no place there, dealing with environmental hazards from different areas of the game, stumbling across random treasure chests and random runes to exploit.  When you walk off the right-hand side of that screen, you may find yourself in a room from the haunted Castle of the Dead, fighting enemies from Bilbaron Fortress, and bosses will come out to play alongside normal enemies.  It's ninety-nine floors, each of which is about the size of three normal levels, with three main bosses to defeat - and once you're past the ninth floor (which is incredibly hard) it gets even harder.

A single dungeon can be defeated in ten minutes (making it great for a few stolen seconds on the Vita), but once you've seen all there is to see, the game revels in allowing and encouraging you to chain dungeons together, defeating them one after the other - which adds multipliers to your score, gold collected, experience earned and crucially the quality of treasure you find - and after certain dungeons, the cooking mini-game will pop up.

"Eat well, for you will need your strength for the day ahead," the narrator advises, and then you and four folks will desperately try to cram the best food into the pots and pans, jostling for the spices and wine and salt to really give your food some kick - which adds major buffs to hit points, defense and attack power - before you head back in to the dungeons for more fun.

And, fortunately for a game that relies on so much repetition, it is so much fun.  Normal mode with a single character can be bested in twenty hours, but I can say I've put nearly 100 hours into the game, and still don't feel done with it.

I want to keep plucking away at my Elf and Sorceress (I named her Jessica, after Mrs. Rabbit), I want to invest in the Fighter and Dwarf, and most telling of all, I still absolutely love hopping on to my level 99 Amazon and chaining dungeons, racking up a few dozen S-rank treasures and pouring over them back at the Dragon's Haven Inn.

I've invested more time in Dragon's Crown than I have in any game since Fallout 3 (probably more, now) - and it is perhaps the familiarity with its world, its enemies and its mechanics, and how fun they remain after all that time that continues to draw me in.  Yes, I've seen it all - but I've yet to feel like I've seen enough.

I kill dragons.

The Vita suffers a bit of slowdown during hectic encounters, but is more comfortable for pointer-clicks and rune activation with the touchscreen, allows Party Chat, and the colors really pop on the OLED screen.  The PS3 version never suffers slowdown, but using the right stick to guide the pointer takes some getting used to - and there's no voice chat for online.

Even taking the odd exclusion of voice chat from the PS3 version into account, this is probably the single most valuable, bang-for-your-buck game to release in 2013. 
  • Absolutely gorgeous 2D presentation from the masters of the form.  It's a living, breathing painting. 
  • Fast-paced, vicious, expressive combat that's hugely fun. 
  • Great netcode for online co-op.
  • Couch co-op is a ton of fun (shame about story mode in Normal). [update] Patched. [/update]
  • Swapping your save back and forth from the Vita to PS3 is, as always, a boon.
  • Six vastly different classes to master.
  • The spirit of Golden Axe.
  • The loot system of Diablo
  • A wealth of enemies.
  • Spectacular boss fights, nearly all of which employ a cool secondary mechanic.
  • Nice character customization through skills and gear.
  • Beautiful music. 
  • Purpose-built for replayability - after 100 hours, I'm nowhere near tired of it. 

Buy this game.

The Games of September 2013.

Summer had a few sweet gems (most of which came from Vanillaware), but September is a lion of a month, with Rayman Origins' delicious sequel , the first Blizzard-developed game on consoles since the SNES, a true triple-A FPS for the Vita and, of course, the big daddy of them all.

Grand Theft Auto returns to rock our socks.  Oh yes.  Socks will be rocked.

September 3rd
Diablo IIIa loot-crazy action-RPG from Blizzard. 
PC, PS3, 360, PS4 (eventually)
Hype-O-Meter : I can stop myself.  I think.

Diablo III - a "controversial" game, if you're willing to listen to folks who claim it destroyed the Diablo formula - has been getting some very positive reviews for its console port, which includes all the updates the PC game has seen thus far and tosses the cash auction house.  It also works wonderfully for couch co-op - I'm just hoping I can resist until the PS4 version happens.

A pure 2D platformer.
September 3rd - PS3, 360, Wii U, Vita, PC - Hype-O-Meter : Day one, bar none.

Rayman Origins was one of the best things to happen in 2011 or 2012 if you waited to play it on the Vita (like me).  It was, without question, the most fun I'd had with a platformer - that most hallowed of genres - since Super Mario World back on the Super Nintendo.

When it launched on PS3 in 2011, I knew I wanted to check it out - it's so damned good-looking! - but my dance card was full, and I put it off until the next year.

What a profound error that was.  One I shall not repeat, in the fall of 2013.

September 10th
Amnesia : A Machine for Pigs - a survival horror game.
Hype-O-Meter : For Chamberlain?  Day one.

What is Amnesia?  It is a PC exclusive, and so I don't really know or care much about it - but Chamberlain does, and so I'll tip a hat to it here.  Amnesia : The Dark Descent was a critical darling - a rare trick, for a horror game (but more common on PC, I'll admit), and Chamberlain classified it as "terrifying for most of it and unsettling for the rest."

If you're a PC gamer (cough cough McKraken) with a yen for the scares, you may wanna' check this out.

A Vita FPS that looks not to suck.
September 10th - Vita - Hype-O-Meter : Day One, based on its beauty alone.

Aesthetic charms are not what one should consider, first and foremost, when selecting one's gaming - but it sure doesn't hurt.  A few games have tried and failed to be the go-to FPS experience on the Vita, the first game (after Uncharted) to succeed in capitalizing on the whole two-analog-stick thing.

There was a mediocre Resistance game and a crappy Call of Duty - but now one of Sony's own first-party studios has stepped up to bat.  The multiplayer code I tried out ran beautifully, the game played well - but I'll admit, what I'm really looking forward to is the campaign.  I want a gorgeous, atmospheric shooter on my Vita - and Killzone Mercenary may be it.

September 10th
The Puppeteer - an adorable platformer. 
Hype-O-Meter : I'd totally check this out if September weren't so packed.

The Puppeteer was inspired by a developer's child walking away from a game ostensibly designed for children because "you just do the same thing over and over."  In answer to that, The Puppeteer is essentially a (very beautiful) platformer that mixes up its mechanics every few minutes, as the lead character swaps heads to get different powers and the game's world swoops in and out like backdrops in a puppet show.

It could be a very interesting, very fun ride - and its lower price ($40) makes it easier to take a chance on.

September 15th
The Wonderful 101 - a zany, kid-friendly action game. 
Wii U
Hype-O-Meter : I'd day-one it.  If I had a Wii U.  But I don't.  So I won't.

Hideki Kamiya, the legendary director who gave us Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Okami and Bayonetta leverages his ridiculous talents on the Wii U-exclusive The Wonderful 101, which sees the player directing a small army of civilians who can morph into gigantic swords or fists or rockets made of people.

It's been getting great reviews, and if I had a Wii U I'd snap this up on release.

I'll be honest, though, I'm kind of considering buying it regardless. Or would, if I didn't have a PS4 and a launch lineup to save up for.

An open-world action opus.
September 17th - PS3, 360 - Hype-O-Meter : Day One.  Naturally.

Rockstar Games are the fathers and stewards of the open-world game, and - instead of spinning off a GTA : San Andreas/Vice City style update to the formula they fleshed out in IV - they're going full-bore into a numbered sequel with V.

There's nothing else you should need to know.  It's Rockstar.  It's Grand Theft Auto.  It'll be one of the best, most polished, considered and accomplished games of this (or any recent) year.

September - exact date unknown (was thought to be August).
Luftrausersa high-flyin' retro flight shooter.
PS3, Vita, PC, Mac, Linux
Hype-O-Meter : yet more indie deliciousness on the go.

Not to be confused with a shoot 'em up or bullet hell game (though you do shoot them up, and there is a helluva lot of bullets flying around), Luftrausers is the latest thing from Vlambeer, an indie darling studio responsible for Super Crate Box and the Apple Design Award-winning Ridiculous Fishing.

Your little custom-built plane (which has three interchangeable parts and a ton of possible combinations) swoops and loops around the game's 2D plane, taking out enemy fighters and laying waste to their ships.  Looks like a nice, twitchy little actioner.

September - exact date unknown.
Lone Survivor : Director's Cuta post-apocalyptic 2D retro psycho-survival horror.
PS3, Vita (already available on PC, Mac & Linux)
Hype-O-Meter : more indie deliciousness on the go.

Single-handedly produced by a fellow named Jasper Byrne, Lone Survivor is another original, award-winning indie brought to the Vita via maestro Shahid Ahmad.  Given that the platform is entirely devoid of survival horror (unless you count PS1 classics, which I don't), Lone Survivor is definitely worth checking out.

* * *

And that's September (that we know of, so far).  With GTA and Rayman alone, it's gonna' be a helluva month.  

Beyond : Two Souls - beautiful drama trailer.

Comin' October 8th.

Batman : Arkham Origins Blackgate - new management trailer. much will this thing cost?  'Cause it doesn't look like a game one should be paying more than fifteen bucks for.  (Checks Amazon.)

Forty bucks.  Hm.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Grand Theft Auto 5 : The Official Trailer.

Ahhh, sexy.  The song is The Chain Gang of 1974's Sleepwalking.

Battle Princess of Arcadias new trailer.

Which again suffers from the aversion Nippon Ichi seem to have to showing full-screen action of this gorgeous game.  I think there's a literal half-second of full-screen footage across this entire three minute trailer.

For shame!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Actual South Park: The Stick of Truth (cam) gameplay.

Get it while it's hot!

And here it is on YouTube, if you prefer.

[update] Annnd they're gone.  All Games Beta, of course, has been an absolute dear and thrown up downloads of it, if you're willing to go down that road. [/update]

The Rayman Legends launch trailer

is precisely as delightful and lively as the Rayman Legends launch trailer should be.  With a lot of nines floating around.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Chamberlain and Chance on Dragon's Crown.

This time, Chamberlain's gaming wanderlust denies him the desire to settle down with Dragon's Crown, while I find myself utterly enraptured.  Chamberlain, of course, writes the kickass blog Infinite Backlog, which you really should be reading.

We do discuss some bosses here that are best left a surprise - if you're cool with spoilers, read on brave hero!

CHAMBERLAIN : Just finished it with the elf. It was definitely good but I do not feel compelled to play it through again.

CHANCE : Do you feel compelled to keep going through Hard mode or Infernal and max out your Elf-chan?

I kept trying with the Elf but I found I preferred the decisive WHAM!s of the Amazon or the wide options of the Sorceress.  Amazon is definitely my #1 for fun factor - I found I spent too much time with my Elf positioning to kill things, and not enough time killing things.

CHAMBERLAIN : Not really. The same thing happened with Odin Sphere. Yes, it was beautiful, but the repetition of environments eventually wore me down. It’s like going to the art museum every day: eventually the old masters stop doing it for you and you need to slum it in the new age gallery.

Judging from the skill tree there are two very different builds for the elf: dagger and bow. Dagger looked to do a ton of damage but the number of times she could create a dagger were limited and you have to get up close to use it. Her hit points and defense just don’t back that up so I went with the bow skills. Once I had three dodges I could stay off of the ground for ten seconds at a time firing charged arrows.

I would not say that it made the final dragon easy but I did not have to worry about the skeletons on the ground during the second half of the battle because I was never touching the ground anyway.

Which boss was worse: Killer Rabbit with the one hit kills or the Wraith?

* * * 

The Wraith ain't so bad.  It's his undead army that mucks me up.

Dragon's Crown includes a fantastic set-up and boss experience.  On your first time through the Lost Woods, you meet a hermit called Thomas with great goat skull on his head, replete with curved horns and black cloak.  He advises you the safest way out of the forest is by boat, which leads you straight into the nest of the Gazer - an extra-dimensional demon who is by far the hardest boss you've faced up to that point.  

Upon defeating the Gazer, the narrator remarks that Thomas probably directed you down the most dangerous path, that jerk.  On subsequent visits to the Lost Woods, however, you may take the B path - and come across an even more dangerous creature.

It isn't until you take the B rout and meet this most heinous of foes that it occurs to you - yes, "Thomas" is very close to "Tim", and yes, he looks a lot like John Cleese's character in that classic scene from a thirty-eight year old movie.  The rabbit even has a move where it dashes through the air and one-shots you, complete with an image of a skull shattering.

It's absolutely wonderful.

If you take too long in trying to defeat the most foul, cruel and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on, a crew of holy knights show up and bomb the fuck out of it with holy hand grenades.  So I hear - I've never seen that scene myself ('cause I, y'know, kill the rabbit).  I've also never run from the Red Dragon or Medusa - but I hear you can!

Yet another reason to adore Dragon's Crown.  Now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

This rabbit will kick the fuck out of you.

* * *

CHANCE : I personally gave more deaths to the Wraith - if his summoned zombies are able to grab me, they kill my Berzerk rush and then he whacks me with his giant scythe.  By now, though, I've killed both of them fifty times - I know to bust out Iron Will (cannot get knocked down - helps with Berzerk) and get out of the way when the Rabbit's shadow rears up, and I know to not even bother with Berzerk on the Wraith, pop War Paint (essentially makes me do 3x damage) and use my air attack - a very-controllable pinwheel - to buzzsaw him to death.

For me, Dragon's Crown's yet to stop being fun.  My Amazon's level-capped, but when I get home at night I'm not interested in trying out The Bureau or seeing how The Walking Dead runs on my Vita - I want to go into the Chaos Labyrinth and keep grinding gear for my Amazon.  I think it's the most eminently playable game Vanillaware's ever done.

CHAMBERLAIN : I thought I could keep going. As soon as the credits were done I equipped my new bow and headed over to the chaos tower (I probably have that name wrong… [ed: Chaos Labyrinth]) My disinterest was immediate, though that says more about how I play games than the game itself. As soon as the game ran out of new things to show me I was done.

Gaming wanderlust, I suppose.

CHANCE : Aw :(

That's my whole paragraph.  That word.  Aw :(

Well, speaking of new things, Rayman Legends is out in like seven days and it's getting sa-weet reviews!

Although - it's worth pointing out - Dragon's Crown is a game that, by design, is meant to be played multiple times across multiple difficulty levels and multiple characters.

Also, if you've never fought a Dark Goblin or Dark Pirate, I can assure you you haven't seen all the game can offer because those little buggers are death incarnate.

CHAMBERLAIN : But it is just a pallet swap with more hit points, right?

There is about twenty hours of original content in the game and I loved every minute of it. As soon as I get the ‘been there, done that’ feeling I tune out. So much of my enjoyment of playing a game comes from discovery and surprise that repetition, even if what is repeated is excellent, kills it for me.

I never play a game more than once and having to replay sections because I lost save data is absolute torture. Dragon’s Crown almost makes it past this because of how good it looks and how much fun the combat is, but it still trips the disinterest switch in my head because after those twenty hours everything there is an arbitrary ‘the end’ moment and everything after takes place in the same environments as before.

My deficiency, not the games. For the record, there are very few movies that I will watch more than once and I do not enjoy reruns of television show that I love. I think living off of the GameFly queue has done this to me: there is always something waiting.

CHANCE : It's more than just a palette swap.  New moves, new abilities, et cetera.  The black goblin knights will get right up in your grill, stun you, and slicesliceslice you to death.  The black goblin mages will polymorph you, and then summon a dozen frog allies to frog-stomp you to death.  The black pirates will teleport in, hit you with webbing to freeze you - and if it gets someone in the webbing, it will butcher a stunned character in two seconds flat. They also have a screen-wide dash slice that does major damage - and if they don't hit anything, they'll disappear for a few seconds.  Like gone, off the screen.  And you're desperately jumping and dodging around hoping not to be hit and then he pops on screen and you tear down to the ground and WHAM! it with a shockwave attack that will hopefully proc petrification on him so you can run in and kill him before he breaks free.

A lot of the bosses have different behaviors on the harder difficulties, too - I swear on an Inferno Chaos Lab run this morning I saw the Archdemon bust out a move I've never seen him use before - he teleported and slammed into the ground so hard it buckled all the earth across the screen.  I've really had to change up my tactics for a lot of the mobs.

But anyway - I get what you're saying. There's no new art to see, no (really) new enemies to face - but I really appreciate that the game is so welcoming to players who would keep at it,

I see the same sort of value here that I found in Demon's Souls or XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  I wouldn't suggest that Dragon's Crown's design is quite up to that incredibly high-caliber level, but it is a game that I feel one could get so much joy out of and pleasurably invest so much time in.  Like Far Cry 3, this is a game to play and play and play for play's sake alone - which is very tasty and far too rare in a triple-A title.

If I was seventeen and this was the only title I could afford 'till Christmas, I would be very happy with it.  I can see myself investing hundreds of hours in this game.

* * * 

And lo, while Chamberlain and I both found Dragon's Crown to be an eminently enjoyable experience, I've been able to enjoy it for far longer than he (my save file is approaching ninety hours).  I've been kicking myself for the past week for not getting a review writ - but I still don't feel exhausted with the game, yet.

I'm still enjoying trundling along with my young Sorceress, crowd-controlling monsters and dropping house-sized rocks on bosses.  I still find going up against three zones of the ridiculously challenging Chaos Labyrinth in a row and unlocking a new floor (unlocked the 14th today!) fun, and nicely rewarding.

I've no idea when I'll be done with this game.  If you find pleasure in the simple playing of a game and don't mind the repetition that comes with replaying, you'll find much to love here.

If you're like Chamberlain, though, it's definitely worth noting that the game has about twenty hours' worth of art and material to show off - and after that, it's all re-mixes and a steadily escalating challenge (some reviewers have gone so far as to call normal mode a tutorial).

Monday, August 26, 2013

I'm sorry folks...

...but I am feelin' burnt right out, tonight.  In sort-of-interesting news, rumor has it the Xbox One may launch exactly one week prior to the PS4, and here's yet more proof that Respawn is working on Titanfall for Sony platforms (looks like a Dualshock 3 to me).