Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rollercoaster Tycoon 3D (3DS) Box Art and Screens

Do you remember the excellent Rollercoaster Tycoon games on the PC? They were some of my favorite simulation games this side of SimCity. Now Atari is bringing the franchise to the 3DS with Rollercoaster Tycoon 3D. The developer says the game is done, but the publisher is holding the game back. Is this some kind of strange sales strategy? I dunno, but here are some screens of the title. The game certainly doesn't push the 3DS hardware, but here's hoping it looks better in motion. Plus I'd love to be able to ride some of my creations in stereoscopic 3D!

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PSV) Advertisement

Sony has unveiled their ad for one of the larger PS Vita launch titles, Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Now you can take Nathan Drake outside, on the road, and all over. This commercial is quite good as it mixes the jungle theme of the game with the suburban world of the player. Very nice for once.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3, 360) Review

Time to end the work week with a brand-new review. This game came out on January 31st, and I've played quite a bit of the game to render my verdict. A lot of fans did not like Final Fantasy XIII, but as the game I'm reviewing shows, what's passed is past. It's Final Fantasy XIII-2 for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360.

If at first you don't succeed...

It was but two years ago and some change that the original Final Fantasy XIII released to both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Many criticized the lame, embarrassing story, little to no character customization, no towns, and lots of linearity. Overall, a huge representation of the Final Fantasy fan base were not pleased with the franchise's first entry in HD. While Square Enix cannot jump into a time gate like Serah and Noel of the game's sequel, they can try, try again at creating an in-depth RPG that doesn't make as many sacrifices as Final Fantasy XIII. Their answer to the many criticisms they received is Final Fantasy XIII-2, a time traveling epic that seeks to retain some of the series's lost fans. Is it "time" for forlorn fans to give Final Fantasy another shot?

Lightning was the heroine of the original Final Fantasy XIII. However, she has since gone missing from her sister Serah's world since the events of the game's ending. Now off Cocoon and with a new band of friends, Serah wakes up from a dream depicting her older sister duking it out with a purple-haired new foe. What she doesn't know is that this incident was not a dream, and a man named Noel Kreiss has come from Lightning's location and date to let Serah know that her older sister is indeed alive. While everyone else believes her to be dead, Serah does not give up hope and decides to team up with Noel through the annals of time to search for Lightning. While the story is above average for an anime-inspired tale, the factor of time travel isn't considered too well when compared to a movie like Back to the Future. Really, there is no consequence for changing the past and going back to the present. It's just poor storytelling, and sadly, that is something that is now common in mainline Final Fantasy games.

Lightning was supposedly dead, so
how is she alive and kicking in Valhalla?

One of the chief complaints about Final Fantasy XIII vanilla was the immense amount of linearity in the dungeon design and the lack of an overworld map. Most of the time you were just taking Lightning and her crew on a stroll through endless corridors, battling enemies, and then sauntering through featureless areas. I can report with pleasure that these linear dungeons are all gone in Final Fantasy XIII-2. There are wide open vistas with multiple pathways, secret areas that simply beg to be explored, and hidden alcoves where treasure rests. The places range from seaside plateaus to ancient ruins. For instance, the Bresha Ruins, the second area of the game, is absolutely massive and full of alternate roads and nooks and crannies to venture into. Serah and Noel can jump at any time, but area exploration isn't a full-fledged platformer like Mario as you might think. There's circular markings on the ground at sections where Serah can leap to a new platform. That notwithstanding, the lack of an overworld map is still present. Instead you choose from a menu screen of various years and areas and select which you wish to be transported to.

Colorful canyons, vibrant vistas, and fabulous forests are but
some of the exotic locations to be found in Final Fantasy XIII-2.

As Serah and Noel journey through the aforementioned dungeons and other areas, monsters will occasionally spawn around them. At this point a ring appears around Serah on the ground. You can choose to either attempt to attack an enemy, ensuring a preemptive strike, or you can try to run away. Serah's moogle guide acts as a clock. If the monster or monsters are still inside the ring by the time the clock runs out, you are forced to fight without the ability to retry the battle. This means if you're caught with your proverbial pants down and facing a truly strong monster, then you must either win or perish. Thankfully, dying just lets you start near the point of your death, so losing a lot of progress is unheard of in Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Battles are pretty simple to understand. Like other parts of the game there are tutorials for enemy encounters as well. You have multiple parts of your attack gauge. Say you have five portions on your gauge. You can assign five weak attacks like Fire, Blizzard, or Thunder or you can opt to do three weak attacks and one medium-strength spell or move like Cura which takes up two spaces of your gauge. In a fight you only control one character. However, you can switch at any time and will automatically take on the role of another party member if the character you currently control loses all of his or her hit points (HP).

Battles can get hectic, but at least your AI
teammates are smart enough to handle them.

An important factor in battle to understand is the Paradigm Shift. In Final Fantasy XIII-2 there are six roles you can take in a given encounter: Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Saboteur, Synergist, and Medic. Depending on which role you choose, your experience level, battle strategy, and set of abilities able to use will change. You can have six different paradigms set up at once, and you can shift between them at any time in battle with the press of a left front trigger on either the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 controller. Finding the perfect Paradigm Shift for the right occasion in a fight is paramount to winning each encounter you face.

Some Paradigm Shifts have one teammate goading the enemy
into attacking them and not their weaker partners.

Sometimes you will become fortunate and you'll persuade a monster to join your side through beating them. Any monster (besides bosses, of course) can be coaxed into joining up with your ranks. A monster like Cait Sith while weak in attack is perfect as a healer early in the game while a monster like a Behemoth while slow is perfect for exacting massive damage on foes. When the gauge of a given monster fills completely, you can perform a Feral Link with them. This is a quick time event where successfully pressing the right buttons and moving the analog stick in the correct direction (QTEs are an important part of boss battles too) will unleash a powerful attack on your foes. If you manage to get the final attack on a monster, you have a better chance of getting that monster to join your cause.

One of the problems with Final Fantasy XIII-2 comes from the difficulty curve of battle. One bout with beasts might be easy as pie while the next can have you feel like the odds are overwhelming. Even with the game's option of letting you play on Easy mode (you can switch between Normal and Easy at any time during your quest), the fights against certain bosses can have you grinding for CP, to lure new, more powerful monsters on your side, and to gain enough gil to buy better weapons just to have a fighting chance. This put me off of the game a little bit.

Some bosses go down easily while others
can give your fingers a serious workout.

When a battle ends you are ranked based on how you performed on a scale of zero to five stars. What is factored is how fast you vanquished all enemies compared to the target time created by the game. Getting five stars usually nets you with rarer drops and more Crystarium Points (or CP) than if you completed the encounter with a lesser amount of stars. The retry option allows you to restart a battle as long as a single enemy still stands. This is great for attempting to get a high star rank and trying out other strategies in battle.

Five stars? I'm hardcore like that.

You do not earn experience levels in the traditional sense in Final Fantasy XIII-2. That is, you do not get stronger by beating monsters alone. Instead you get CP or Crystarium Points from most bouts with opponents. You use CP in the Crystarium section of the menu screen to purchase new abilities, spells, and skills for each of the previously mentioned six roles (Medic, Commando, etc.). Each time you use CP your HP, strength, and level for that individual role increases. At specific levels (say, level 10 or level 25) you earn new abilities like Poison or Ruinga. At first the Crystarium menu is confusing. Why the developers of this system felt the need to create a complex interface for something that is quite simple is beyond me. Depending on which role you switch to in a Paradigm Shift, your experience level will change as will your strength and HP. This is because each of the six roles has its own unique levels, HP amounts, and strength.

Time travel is an important part of Final Fantasy XIII-2. In fact, it's the main selling point. If for some reason you desire to redo a specific section of the game, you have special items that allow you to go back in time and relive a part of the game, fighting bosses over again in an attempt to best them with a five star ranking. That's not the only reason to go back in time. You can only obtain one of a dozen or so Paradox Endings through pulling a Marty McFly.

The main game of Final Fantasy XIII-2 will last players anywhere from 30-50 hours. This depends on if you are willing to go for all of the 150+ fragments (40 are handed out over the course of the story alone) and attain all of the achievements/trophies. Though I must admit that when a game turns getting things to boost your Gamerscore turn to chores, something is not right.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a remarkable looking game as it is pretty much expected from Square Enix. They at least know how to push the hardware they place their games on even if their recent output in the category of quality of gameplay hasn't been the best. The handful of cinematics are glorious to gawk at while meanwhile the actual in-game graphics are gorgeous on their own. Textures are highly complicated, character animations are well done, and lighting is superb too. Serah and the other cast members of the game have great voice actors and actresses representing them even if they have a typical anime story to work with. On the music front, the intense battle themes, charming character themes, and dungeon area themes are all composed splendidly and sound supreme. This is a terrific looker of a game.

There are some particularly pretty scenes in Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Aside from some questionable difficulty spikes in the main game and a story that doesn't develop the idea of time traveling too well, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a capable and competent JRPG that fans of the franchise can look fondly on. It has fragments of error like the battle system that takes a little getting used to and the Crystarium system that is also hard to understand at first thanks to some boneheaded design decisions (I was stuck at level 2 for both characters and didn't know why for the longest), but all in all, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an intriguing title worthy of your time.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]

Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS) New Trailer

Do you know what I did last night? No, not that. You're gross. I pre-ordered Kid Icarus: Uprising at Best Buy, guaranteeing I get the download code for the 3D Classics version of the original Kid Icarus. Today Nintendo released yet another new trailer for their upcoming March 23rd Nintendo 3DS game, Kid Icarus: Uprising. It is all about the three sacred treasures as told in the original game. Check it out with the video below or the direct link.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tales of Graces F (PS3) New Screenshots

Are you excited for Tales of Graces F? It is a remade version of the Wii's Tales of Graces with updated visuals and content for the PS3. I'm finding myself more drawn to Tales than Final Fantasy which would have been unheard of a decade ago as you'll see with my review of Final Fantasy XIII-2 tomorrow. How the mighty have fallen indeed. For now, check out these pretty promising screens from Tales of Graces F as posted on Namco Bandai's Facebook page. The game is due out in North America in March.

Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire (Wii) Review

Are you interested in seeing a review from before I really got the hang of the whole "how to review games properly" thing? Perhaps this, one of my earliest reviews on GameFAQs, will shed some light into how if you have trouble with something, that you can become better at it if you work hard and keep at it. At least that was my mantra, and look at how my reviews are now.

I'd rather face the wrath of Khan.

Looking through wave after wave of quote/unquote "non-games" and mini-game collections such as WarioWare, Mario Party 8, Wii Sports, WiiPlay, Rayman Raving Rabbids, and many more, the Wii definitely has a reputation of steering more toward the casual gamer. However, the development team of D3 aims to buck this trend with its release of the more "hardcore"-- if you will-- Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire. The fire does burn, but it's more of a frail ember than a raging inferno.

You play as a young farmhand named Dal whose destiny is unclear, but when his village is burned to ashes by an evil crew of monsters and his fiancee killed, Dal takes hold of the fabled Dragon Blade whose steel exterior holds within it a dragon's soul to smite foes on his quest to get revenge. All of it is your standard, quite typical, cliche-driven context to the battles that follow.

Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire is very simple in nature. You go from level to level, area to area, going from point A to point B all the while slaughtering enemies left and right. Every swipe of your sword is used by waggling your Wii remote. Stab forward with the remote to stab forward in the game. Swipe downward to slash downward in game. Slice upward to... well, you get the idea hopefully. However, a problem with this title that many other Wii games that precede it is that not all the gestures are recognized by the game causing added frustration to the already lame and tired hack 'n slash gameplay. You'll come face to face with a swarm of enemies, and you'll simply need to wave the Wii remote around like an imbecile to take them all down. Seeing as each enemy has one or two attack animations it's easy to dodge when you know their patterns. Thankfully you can lock onto enemies to give the battles a little ease.

The developers are really pushing the Wii to its limits...

Yes, running from point A to point B is all this game amounts to. Occasionally you'll be closed in by a magical wall where you'll have to defeat all of the spawning enemies before being allowed the ability to pass. The simplicity and depth (or lack there of) of the levels are only further hindered and made aware of by the extreme linearity of the levels. There's virtually no side-paths to follow, elements of surprise to be had, or sense of wonder to discover. Invisible walls abound, and there's really no exploration to be found. Ooh. I think I had more fun rhyming that last sentence than exploring this game's bland worlds.

Boss battles break up the monotony, and by all stretches of the imagination they are the most intriguing part of Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire. Most of these are against one of six dragons each with their own design and battle "strategy". However, the battles seem so random that you'll elementarily be slashing wildly and will win the battle without even knowing what you did to actually survive. It's basically just luck and little skill. That being said, these battles do seem to be the highlight of Dragon Blade, but unfortunately that's like finding a good smelling turd within a sea of bad smelling ones. The fact of the matter is that it's still a turd (what is with my recent obsession with crap?). Regardless, there's little else in the form of depth outside of the many boss battles you'll encounter from misshapen monsters to colossal dragons.

Three-headed dragon. Well, that's new.

If you get tired of just using normal attacks to vanquish your foes, you can call upon the aid of your Dragon Blade's powers with the d-pad. The range from a flame whip which you swing over your head in-game to a fiery fist to demolish baddies. However, you can't just go willy-nilly with your powers. You have a magical gauge to contend with. These are great to clear out a horde of baddies in a lickety-split fashion, and add some variety to just utilizing normal attacks.

Speaking of things to contend with, you'll most likely be appalled by the horrible graphics this game features. It'd be okay for early Playstation 2 titles, but there is NO excuse for a game on the Wii to look this bad-- seriously. From the bland and embarrassing textures to the featureless character models, this game is quite unappealing to gaze at. The lack of any budget also turns this title into an even bigger presentational stinker. Sure, you get a nice cutscene with the dragon inside the blade narrating the events leading up to Dal's village burning to the ground, but that's all in the form of spoken dialogue. The rest is purely uninspired text.

The only replay value Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire has going for it is in the form of beating times, destroying all of the enemies and objects in a level, and collecting armor shards (one in each level). The former have no bonus for completing them while armor shards give you more health to work with as this game can be pretty challenging to complete. Then again, is it because of the near-broken motion controls or the crap gameplay? You be the judge.

Call your doctor if your hands are on fire like this lad.

Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire has a lot of potential, but the mediocre motion controls, lack of any form of depth, level linearity, atrocious graphics and gameplay, pitiful story, and $40 price tag makes this title a bargain bin game-- if even. Those looking for a deeper and more meaningful title should stick with Red Steel and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and wait for Super Mario Galaxy*. Some might find enjoyment from Dragon Blade, but most of us will simply want a lot more. There's way too little this game offers to recommend to anyone but the curious. There is just a plethora of better Wii titles instead of this God of War/Heavenly Sword wannabe.

*Note: This review was originally written in 2007 before Super Mario Galaxy's release.

[SuperPhillip Says: 4.0/10]

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Top Ten Brand-New IPs of This Generation

Yes, I know the generation isn't over, but I don't think I'm alone in thinking it has overstayed its welcome. And yes, I know there's still new IPs still being created like Dragon's Dogma and Asura's Wrath. That notwithstanding (some people will whine about anything, seriously), new IPs are so often just the same game we've seen before with a different name. Not so with these ten new franchises. They are the best of many series given birth in this seventh generation of game consoles.

10) Assassin's Creed

Play in the role of either Altair or Ezlo in this third-person open world series. Oftentimes focusing on stealth, Assassin's Creed uses a structure much like other sandbox games where you take on missions such as sneaking through a castle or accomplishing an assassination of a public figure. The city is yours to scale with virtually everything being able to be climbed. Being an assassin is hard work, and sneaking and killing is just a sample of the activities available in the city. You can make a leap of faith into a haystack, scan the city from atop a high perch, discover hidden treasure all around, manufacturing an abundance of fellow assassins to claim a brotherhood, and even invest in some real estate to rebuild ruined parts of the city. Following the company's long line of reputable franchises such as Rayman, Splinter Cell, and Ghost Recon, Ubisoft climbs high with the Assassin's Creed franchise. Here's hoping yearly sequels won't fatigue players.

9) inFamous

Crafted by the fine folks behind the awesome Sly Cooper series, Sucker Punch lands a knockout with their inFamous IP. The three games (inFamous, inFamous 2, and inFamous: Festival of Blood) star superhero Cole MacGrath who holds the power of controlling electricity. Think Spider-man's Electro but without the tights. By performing feats of either heroics or villainy, Cole steps forward down a path that he cannot turn back from. Depending on your path your powers and appearance change, the citizens of the city react differently to you, and the game's ending alters. There's nothing like grinding on a power line, slowly floating down to the ground below while shooting off lightning bolts at unwitting foes. The PSN game, Festival of Blood, was the top-downloaded game of 2011, and it came out in October. That says something to the power of the inFamous franchise.

8) No More Heroes

Suda 51 may not be a household name, but he has dabbled in off-the-wall, zany games before with something you may or may not have heard before. It's a little game called Killer7. Regardless, Suda 51 moved on to a new series called No More Heroes. Starring an eccentric otaku with his own beam katana named Travis Touchdown, all Travis wants to do is make it to the number one spot on the UAA (United Assassins Association) rankings. How does he accomplish this? Simply by killing all ten of the assassins that rank above him. The original game featured a sandbox-style open world, a city called Santa Destroy. The Wii-exclusive sequel got rid of this and opted for a menu-like system of choosing destinations and automatically being transported to them. The process was streamlined. Suda 51 expressed an interest in continuing the series on Nintendo's next console, currently known as the Wii U. With as wacky and wild as the action of the original two games, I'm excited to see where Suda takes the franchise next.

7) ModNation Racers

Sony took a lot of chances this gen. Of course, five hundred and ninety nine dollars will always be the one that kicks them in the ass the most, but there's something to be said about creating the most new IPs out of the competition this generation. ModNation Racers is but one of many new Sony-published franchises. Everything was yours to build: tracks, karts, and yes, even your Mod or avatar. Unlike a popular kart racer starring a portly plumber, the item balance was even, offering a proper array of varied items without being overly cheap. The developer-made tracks gave players ideas to create their own masterpieces to share with friends and the world at large, the story mode was entertaining, and the leeway given to you to craft your own creations was immense. The only thing holding the game back was technical issues like long loading times and framerate problems. Regardless, this racing franchise has potential, and it is a shame that more people aren't taking notice.

6) Resistance

Resistance isn't futile in this case. For some, they might consider this franchise essential. Armed with incredibly creative weaponry, epic (I hate to write that overused word as the Internet made it meaningless) set pieces, big, sensational battles with the Chimera horde, and breathtaking graphics make this series a wonderful one. Many agree that the second installment is the weakest, but I found the large-scaled online encounters to be incredible, the co-op play with up to six friends or total strangers to be awesome, and the story mode to have many memorable moments. That notwithstanding, I'd go as far to say that there is no stinker in the bunch of four Resistance titles (Resistance 1-3 and Retribution). The upcoming May release of Burning Skies on Vita will most likely show developers how a true FPS is supposed to play on Sony's powerful portable.

5) Mass Effect

Set in the great unknown, outer space, Mass Effect is an ultra-popular, bestselling series that has appeared on Microsoft's Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the PC. Players take on the role of Commander Shepard as he strives to continue the galaxy's era of peace. However, a Reaper menace threatens to destroy this and Shepard is flung into a space-wide battle to restore law and order to the universe. BioWare might not have the best reputation as of late (here's to you, Dragon Age 2 and your massive amounts of glitches, bugs, and bad gameplay), but there's no denying that their influence put Mass Effect on the intergalactic map. With a compelling story (at least for video game standards), a massive galaxy to explore, and gorgeous visuals, Mass Effect continues to astound and amaze. The upcoming third installment is set to end the trilogy later in March. Here's hoping it's more like the first two Mass Effects and less like Dragon Age 2.

4) Saints Row

The original Saints Row was a competent GTA clone. By Saints Row 2, Volition doubled the quality of their series, adding interesting missions, an intriguing setting in Stilwater, and multiple missions that remember solely that games are supposed to be fun and not have realism be in the game for realism's sake. Yeah, that was a problem with the vanilla version of Grand Theft Auto IV. Then Saints Row: The Third released, and it took an already crazy world and made it even more insane. Bashing baddies with sex toys, surfing on corpses, free-falling from an airplane while inside a tank, streaking in front of Steelport's denizens for mad money, commandeering vehicles such as muscle cars, tanks, and futuristic VTOLs, getting purposefully ran over by cars and trucks for insurance fraud reasons, escorting call girls to a safe location, away from their abusive pimps, and entering a Tron-inspired virtual reality setting to defeat a gang leader were just some of the wacky things players could do in Saints Row: The Third. I'd claim that Saints Row has now out-GTA'd GTA. We'll see if Rockstar antes up and delivers like they used to in their Vice City and San Andreas with Grand Theft Auto V. Here's wishful thinking at the very least!

3) Wii ____

Some would argue that the Wii ____ franchise isn't a franchise. These people would do anything to argue that Nintendo never develops new IPs even though Rhythm Heaven, Nintendogs, Brain Age, Pushmo, Sakura Samurai, Electroplankton, and many more disagree with them. Apparently if it's not an AAA budget it doesn't count. Anyway... the Wii series is one of the most successful ones of the generation with over 190 millions units sold. This includes Wii Sports (to be fair, it was packaged with the Wii in North America and Europe), Wii Sports Resort (bundled with the Wii MotionPlus accessory) Wii Fit, Wii Party, and Wii Play (which was bundled with a Wii remote). Each game utilizes Nintendo's creation, Miis, in them. Wii Sports alone introduced millions of non-gamers to the industry, and some have even gone on to become full-fledged gamers as evident by the attach rate of the Wii. It's a mystery to everyone whether Nintendo can recapture that ever-fickle casual audience with the Wii U or if Microsoft has them ensnared via Kinect.

2) Uncharted

Naughty Dog created an Indiana Jones-esque character with the smart-mouthed Nathan Drake and crafted an intriguing series of adventures with the Uncharted brand. Taking players from steamy jungles to arctic wastelands, Uncharted is a globe-trotter's wet dream. Of course, most globe-trotters would probably want to actually visit these places for themselves, but if they're lacking the funds, these virtual tours are always nice too. Drake is your typical Caucasian lead-- good-looking, smart, well-read, able to kill armies of enemies with perfect precision via weapons like guns and grenades, and capable of climbing and leaping with death-defying jumps of faith. ...Okay, maybe he's not that typical after all. Regardless, Naughty Dog, for better or worse, is focusing more on making games that resemble interactive movies rather than having games just be games. Whatever side of the argument you are on, it's hard to deny just how amazing the Uncharted line of titles truly is.

1) LittleBigPlanet

Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet is cute, is charming, and is a joy to play. The aesthetics of having a world built of cardboard, foam, and other craft materials make for a visual sensation that other games could only hope to achieve. The mantra of the series is "Play, Create, and Share", and you can do all of that effortlessly. Every thing is yours to build. From customizing your Sackboy (or Sackgirl. Right, ladies?) with outfits found via prize bubbles in levels to making a veritable level of platforming peril, LittleBigPlanet is your personal playground. The only real limitation is your imagination. Some craw at the floaty physics. So they aren't tight like Mario. So what? I'd hate it if every platformer aimed to be Mario. Where would the variety be? Well, the answer currently is in the world and franchise of LittleBigPlanet. Even if you lack a creative bone in your body you can venture into the worlds of other creators and enjoy their takes on what good levels are. My favorite new franchise of this generation and my favorite series on the PlayStation 3, LittleBigPlanet is a terrific toolkit for players to jump in to.


Half of the entries on this list are from Sony-owned studios. Isn't that something? My time to shine is over, so now it's your turn! What new franchises of this generation do like the best? Hit me up with a comment below and join the conversation!