Endless Legend Review

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"Amplitude Studios’ level of artistry helps transform the complexities of an often tedious genre into a surprisingly accessible product, without ever diluting conquest canon."

Endless Legend delivers a definitive 4X strategy experience, enhanced by impressive visuals, rich soundscapes, compelling narrative and solid information architecture. Amplitude Studios’ level of artistry helps transform the complexities of an often tedious genre into a surprisingly accessible product, without ever diluting conquest canon. Fully appreciating Endless Legend, like its contemporaries, requires time. But this vivid sci-fantasy, with its animated watercolor aesthetic, deserves every minute invested. I am not the target 4X audience. Turn-based hexagonal strategy does not denote any conceivable percentage of my gaming library. But I am now seriously reconsidering that stance. Thankfully, the full release now offers a brief but helpful tutorial, absent from early access. The fact that my inexperience with the genre did not hinder my enjoyment demonstrates how strong this release truly is. 

The story opens on planet Auriga, in the formative years of the Endless Space universe. The eight refreshingly distinct factions take full creative advantage of both the science fiction and fantasy realms. These differences also profoundly impact gameplay. The immaterial Broken Lords survive on dust (currency) not food, a core resource for other factions. The Roving Clans, a nomadic race characterized by a flare for commerce and negotiation, cannot declare war. Each faction has true handicaps and advantages, exemplifying an asynchronous nature more typically found in real-time strategy.


"This efficiency, carried through multiple aspects of the game, makes decisions feel substantial."

Endless Legend allows organic acclimation, through purposeful design. Convenient tooltips extend help in-game. The beautifully minimal interface presents content clearly and effectively. Simple iconography and clean type highlight information without distracting from the gorgeously rendered map. The pairing of modern design amidst an illustrative landscape echoes the divided tone of speculative fiction. For those struggling with the smaller UI on larger displays, a “big screen” option scales type generously. 

Legend uses Endless Space mechanics, standard to city management core. Empires subsist on five major resources; players must harvest crops, expand industry, accumulate wealth in dust, advance science through research and build influence to further diplomatic efforts with both major and minor factions. As cities evolve and goals change, players meaningfully distribute workers across these areas, concentrating efforts and accelerating growth. Luxury and strategic resources provide bonuses, uncovered while traversing the map. Technological advancement progresses through a tiered but ultimately non-linear skill tree. Unlocking upper level research only requires minimum fulfillment not completion. The flexible model frees players from wastefully powering through unnecessary objectives. This efficiency, carried through multiple aspects of the game, makes decisions feel substantial. 


"Heroes develop along their own skill tree, and sport extensively upgradeable armor."

The two-season climate lobbies another challenge at the player. Auriga enjoys resplendent summers, promoting growth universally across developmental sectors. Civilian spirits rise, crops flourish and production peaks, essentially yielding greater dust collection through taxes. Winter attacks unpredictably and instantaneously, blanketing the environment in treacherous frost. The unforgiving season cuts movement in half, and deeply hinders all growth. Worker placement may need to be further consolidated. Seasons subtly enrich the immersion and work alongside other small, but appreciable, features to forge a greater believability. Powerful heroes lead an empire’s growing army. Heroes develop along their own skill tree, and sport extensively upgradeable armor. They can also be sold and purchased through the marketplace. Custom class creation extends further control over combat. 


"It’s heavily inspired by the mechanics of Sid Meier's Civilization, while taking stylistic direction from grand fantasy mixed with a sampling of role-playing elements."

The detail of Endless Legend shines as players progress through the tenets of exploration and expansion. Like all strategy games, placement matters. The randomly generated terrain yields varying amount of resources. The combat system, more akin to RTS, best showcases a true innovation, tactical topography. Battles play out on the map instead of a removed setting, where natural barriers shield armies from oncoming attacks or obstruct a player’s offensive strategy. Stationing troops on higher ground provides a literal advantage. Players uninterested in combat can relinquish full control, and allow the AI to automatically compute and resolve battles based on statistics. Endless Legend integrates choice liberally; players dictate every aspect of the campaign. Citing this as overwhelming criticizes the genre more than the game itself. A certain level of micromanagement is expected with 4X titles. 

Endless Legend borrows from every major contender in its genre. It’s heavily inspired by the mechanics of Sid Meier's Civilization, while taking stylistic direction from grand fantasy mixed with a sampling of role-playing elements. Rather than reinvent, it seeks to perfect, fine tuning the details that elevate a good title to a great one. 

Review by: Ameenah Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

8.5
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Fenix Rage Review

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"I never say no to a challenge and I went into it with an open mind, and my skills waiting to be tested."

When I was asked to review Fenix Rage it was described to me as a “2-D hardcore platformer”, and that’s pretty much what I got. I wasn’t that familiar with the genre but I knew what to expect. I never say no to a challenge and I went into it with an open mind, and my skills waiting to be tested. My first impression of the game was positive yet quietly unimpressed. While I haven’t traversed the rage-inducing gameplay of too many other hardcore 2-D platformers, what I experienced between the opening cutscene and the end of the first world left me feeling somewhat empty. 

I played through each level waiting to encounter some kind of legitimate puzzle – something that made me believe I was playing a hardcore platformer. I can believe that Fenix Rage fits the genre but the gameplay, much like the game’s mechanics, was simplistic and straightforward – a little too much so for my liking. The gameplay was more trial-and-error than anything reminiscent of the level of challenge I had expected from a game calling itself ‘hardcore’. Maybe it was my lack of familiarity with other games in the hardcore 2-D genre that made my expectations so high; but maybe Fenix Rage could have actually tried a little harder to make me, you know, rage. 


"The game is easy to learn but difficult to master. If you don’t mind dying 120 times trying to complete a level then maybe you’ll enjoy this game."

From a mechanics standpoint the game is easy to learn. It’s intuitive and simple which is in itself praiseworthy. When a new move/button is introduced, you’re greeted with a self-explanatory prompt at the start of a level. That’s awesome. There are some elements to the game that aren’t explicitly called out, however; and while not major, it’d be convenient if they told you that you could restart the level with the press of a button, for instance. Overall I would definitely say that Fenix Rage is good for those interested in delving into the world of hardcore 2-D platformers and getting their feet wet. 

The game is easy to learn but difficult to master. If you don’t mind dying 120 times trying to complete a level then maybe you’ll enjoy this game. Fenix Rage is a game in which you either succeed or you fail. If you die, you restart the level.  There is no health to keep track of, items to exploit or anything to really introduce an element of strategy to the game. It’s a lot of hovering and waiting, or learning the patterns of the enemy’s movements. Some might consider that strategy enough and that’s fair. Picking up on the objectives is simple – and I mean Angry Birds simple. You fly or dash around while trying to avoid touching the green ooze squares. You can try to get the bonus cookie before you reach the blue end square, but it’s not necessary to beat the level which means completionists will have something to do besides attempting the ‘fastest time’ on each level. The end level of a world features a boss, and that was a nice break from the monotony of floating between vibrating oozes and deciding if the cookie was really worth the risk.  


 "The bottom line: Fenix Rage is a good, likeable game ideal for long-time fans of hardcore 2-D platformers and those just looking to get started."
       
Fenix Rage is not a bad game by any means but its simplicity and ease of play only does so much for the game. I’m the kind of gamer that will struggle even through the worst of games if the characters and story are worth investing in. Despite this being a 2-D platformer there’s really no reason the game itself has to suffer in either story or character. I don’t really know why the protagonist has a beef with the strange, cloaked figure and his blue cube, nor do I get why the level’s objective involves getting a square cookie. It’s the small details that keep me coming back, especially when it comes to those games that rely on such simple, repetitive play. Yeah, I won’t lie: I love me some button-smashing, hack ‘n’ slash games – even those that skimp on good storylines and characters – but the lack of versatility in Fenix Rage’s straight-forward gameplay left me wanting more. 

The bottom line: Fenix Rage is a good, likeable game ideal for long-time fans of hardcore 2-D platformers and those just looking to get started. It offers intuitive mechanics and straightforward gameplay. There’s not much in the way of story to get distracted by, leaving you to flit about and dash for that cookie to your heart’s content. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table but the core of the game should satisfy anyone who’s looking to bide their time with a bit of 2-D action until something better comes along.

Review by: Robert Ortiz | Reviewed on: PC

7
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Dex Preview

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"While there wasn’t a main narrative as far as I could tell, developer Dreadlocks Ltd has created a surprisingly immersive cyberpunk adventure with a very unique aesthetic."

I wasn’t fortunate enough to grow up with the 90’s sci-fi video game classics like many of my fellow colleagues. In fact, my experience with the genre is very limited and recent. Usually it’s the RPG realm where I feel comfort and familiarity. However, Dex manages to transcend my initial expectations of the sci-fi adventure world. I had the pleasure of playing the Early Access version of this newly released indie gem as the Alpha #1 Build is currently out, and to my pleasure, Dex is quite remarkable. While there wasn’t a main narrative as far as I could tell, developer Dreadlocks Ltd has created a surprisingly immersive cyberpunk adventure with a very unique aesthetic.

Okay, let’s just straight to the basics, shall we? The gameplay is somewhat confusing at first. With no introduction or tutorial on how to play the game and no explanation as to why you’re there or what you’re doing, it takes a little while to make sense of things. This may be due to its early Alpha stage, but it’s certainly worth mentioning. Dex’s style and tone has an immediate impact. It’s set in a cyberpunk world where drugs, technology, theft and power are the only ways to get by. For a side-scroller, Dex does a fantastic job of separating itself from the crowd and drawing players in immediately. Just by running down the street you’re surrounded by a wide variety of quirky characters. From homeless men with slouched walks who look as if they’re contemplating their next hit to pigeons fleeing as soon as you make an appearance on the scene. There were times when I just stood there and admired the graffiti on the walls. No matter what environment you’re in, the colors are rich and vibrant. I even came across a dead man under a bridge, which led to an investigation of sorts once I reached downtown. The stylized 2-D visuals beautiful paint the backdrop of a rotting urban metropolis with neon lights surrounded by advanced technology. 


"From implementing viruses into vending machines to making a living by beating up men in a warehouse, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself."

Even though Dex is in its very early stages, I managed to complete several quests. From implementing viruses into vending machines to making a living by beating up men in a warehouse, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself. My main issue with Dex was the constantly unstable framerate. For example, there’s a part of the game where you’re asked to go through a chemical plant. While dodging toxic waste, the framerate fluctuated repeatedly and severely impacted the gameplay. This became frustrating since I was forced to “Retry” at least a dozen times, if not more, just from dying alone. Eventually I could not progress further because I couldn’t make a certain precise jump. It may be partially due to my lack of expert platforming skills, but after spending nearly an hour trying to get past that one part I decided to cut my losses. Still, Dex is Early Access (very early). So please take everything I say with a grain of salt since the developers have clearly put a lot of time and love in this game and continue to make constant improvements. 

While Dex offers no tutorials or instructions, it shouldn’t be as difficult to figure out. Well, it is. If you press “ESC” while in-game, a picture of what buttons make your character jump, punch, etc. pops up on the screen. This is where frustration with the controls came in. First, you have two options of moving. You can either use the WASD keys to move Dex around or you can use the arrow keys to move. Fine so far. Then you use the Ctrl and Alt keys to kick and punch your way through goons. Awkward. The melee combat is…well, it’s not entirely horrible but just make sure you’re not taking on more than one goon. I think the button placement choice is a bit odd and unconventional. Add this to fact you have to run and jump to escape getting tackled by your new friends and it can get pretty crazy. I wish there was an option to configure the controls to different keys in order to make the gameplay a little friendlier. 


"The framerate drops in the strangest areas. While running, especially in the chemical plant, Dex’s movement tends to become extremely choppy."

Dex is undeniably enjoyable. I like how you get the option of either doing the right or wrong thing depending on your moral standing. There’s one mission where you can either pay 500 credits for a new spleen transplant for a young man’s mom or you can encourage the kid to steal the spleen instead. I went with the option of paying, because it’s less hassle, but this is a good example Dex’s RPG elements shining through. 

As with most Early Access titles, problems are inevitable. There were a couple of glitches I came across while playing. For one, there was one area in the game called the Scrapyard where you have to double-jump in order to access a guard tower by climbing a ladder. Once I reached the guard tower, there’s a part where Dex has the option of climbing onto the roof of the guard tower itself. No matter what I did she would stop while in mid-pull of getting onto the roof. Forcing me to go back all the way out to the Main Menu and retry the area again. 


"The moral choices are fantastic and you really feel like you can choose your own path."

As mentioned earlier, the framerate drops in the strangest areas. While running, especially in the chemical plant, Dex’s movement tends to become extremely choppy. It almost looked as if she was having a seizure of some sort by jerking back and forth on the screen when I was just trying to time the drops of toxic waste to get past them. Another oddity is the pause screen. I do need to add that I played Dex on Windows 7 and a PC that is about two years old. This may be just my computer’s problem, but I want to point out the odd drop in framerate when leaving Dex on pause too long. I paused the game to use the bathroom and get a snack before coming back to play. When I un-paused, Dex was once again jerking around. Again, this just might be my computer freaking out from being on too long, but it seems it may be a deeper underlying technical issue.


"In fact, once it’s fully completed and comes out I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dex as one of the top best sellers in the genre."

While Dex has its problems, it’s enjoyable considering its early development stage. The moral choices are fantastic and you really feel like you can choose your own path. You can also rely on stealth by crouching and sneaking up on goons or go in guns blazing to take out an entire pack at once. I may have gone with the latter choice, since I had a difficult time figuring out the stealth part. Dex is pitched perfectly when it comes to the soundtrack, visuals, and the environments. I did manage to progress to the point where I even had the double-jump and respirator installed onto my character. Other than the glitches and what I am now convinced is an impossible jump at the chemical plant, I can honestly say I absolutely love this game. 

Dex is possibly one of the most original games I’ve played in a while. Despite not having a storyline at this point and having nutty controls, I believe Dex holds a lot of promise. In fact, once it’s fully completed and comes out I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dex as one of the top best sellers in the genre. Once all the bugs are ironed out, it will truly be an awesome adventure. I’m glad I got the chance to experience Dex in the early stages of its development. Now comes the hard part of waiting for the end product to finally come out. 

Preview by: Shezka Foxe | Previewed on: PC
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Crimes and Punishments Review

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Crimes and Punishments Concept Art

"Crimes and Punishments stays true to the franchise’s roots by offering exciting puzzles and a series of very intriguing cases."

Developer Frogwares’ infatuation with the eccentric and sociopathic detective is indisputable. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is the tenth installment in the long-running and award-winning adventure game series based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous work. Despite its PC roots, the series jumped across various platforms, including the Wii, Nintendo 3DS, PS3 and Xbox 360. Hoping to reach a wider audience, Frogwares is bringing Sherlock Holmes to the new generation by making significant graphical leaps with Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 and introducing considerable gameplay changes. While the end result is still a far cry from a true next-gen experience, Crimes and Punishments stays true to the franchise’s roots by offering exciting puzzles and a series of very intriguing cases. This is a gem for fans of traditional adventure mysteries, but the game does little to attract newcomers. Its leisurely pacing isn’t for everyone, but gamers who’ve enjoyed the recent Murdered: Soul Suspect are going to feel right at home.    

Crimes and Punishments murder scene

"Since each clue can be interpreted differently, the outcome of a case can vary drastically depending on what the player chooses."

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments consists of seven cases, each involving murders, disappearances and thefts. Each case is a separate story, but they all narratively flow into each other. The entire game feels like a long television season with each case/episode being re-playable. The cases consist of examining crime scenes, collecting clues and questioning potential witnesses and suspects. Collected clues are added to a “Deduction Board” where players can link pieces of information together in order to discover the truth. The Deduction Boards are Crimes and Punishments’ most interesting element. Since each clue can be interpreted differently, the outcome of a case can vary drastically depending on what the player chooses. This means it’s possible to condemn the wrong person. Unlike LA Noire where players can’t really lose regardless of their performance, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments penalizes poor detective work.

Crimes and Punishments investigation

"Similarly to the BBC Sherlock TV series, text will appear detailing his thoughts and revealing what might have happened at a crime scene."

It’s a shame then that the same kind of creativity isn’t seen in the actual detective work. Finding clues primarily consists of connecting the obvious dots. Go into a room, interact with anything that has a magnifying glass, solve an arbitrary and irrelevant mini-game and make a note of it. The “irrelevant” part refers to things like mixing multi-colored chemical to reveal secret writing or piecing together parts of a pump trolley just to discover the obvious…hey, someone used a pump trolley (duh). To make things even easier, Holmes has “Sherlock Vision.” With this ability, players can highlight evidence that would otherwise be missed. Similarly to the BBC Sherlock TV series, text will appear detailing his thoughts and revealing what might have happened at a crime scene. The mechanic itself is interesting, and to be fair it does become more challenging during later cases, but it feels like a wasted opportunity the first half of the game.

Analyzing witnesses and potential suspects, on the other hand, is far more interesting. Holmes has the ability to “profile” characters by scanning their faces and clothing and highlighting points of interest. These clues can be used to manipulate conversations and force suspicious individuals to reveal more answers. Misinterpreting clues makes investigations more difficult, which oftentimes makes Crimes and Punishments feel very dynamic and realistic. Dialogue is where Crimes and Punishments truly shines. All characters are complex with various agendas and secrets. While discovering certain clues may be easy, knowing who actually committed a crime is much trickier. One more than one occasion, I found myself torn between two possible answers and had to re-read all of my notes just make sure I’m convicting the right person.

Crimes and Punishments adventure game

"Being the tenth entry, players are expecting a bit more finesse and creativity from the developer."

While Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is a big graphical improvement over its predecessors, it still suffers from serious technical shortcomings. Having only 30 fps for an adventure game may seem ok, but the judder and lack of good quality motion blur makes the visuals feel archaic. The environments are well designed and varied, but they’re extremely small. Every time Holmes interacts with an object, there’s a brief loading screen, which makes the already slow pacing feel painfully sloppy. Nonetheless, Frogwares has done a solid job of capturing the Victorian authenticity. There are some impressive looking interiors, like Holmes’ very own study, and the overall misty atmosphere fits the tone perfectly. 

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments needs a lot more polish and innovation. Being the tenth entry, players are expecting a bit more finesse and creativity from the developer. It’s clear that their heart is in the right place, but maybe it’s time to take more chances. But even with its shortcoming, Crimes and Punishments is unquestionably entertaining. Considering the lack of adventure titles on the next-gen platforms, this may be the investment for fans of the genre. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

7
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Noriega VS Activision Lawsuit

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The former Dictator of Panama, Manuel Noriega, sued Activision in July over his portrayal as a minor antagonist in Call of Duty Black Ops 2. The lawsuit alleges that Activision has depicted and used Noriega’s name without his permission as well as depicting him committing several fictional crimes. In 1989 Noriega was removed from power in Panama by a United States military intervention. He was convicted of many heinous crimes including drug trafficking, and killing political opponents. Noriega is currently serving a prison sentence in Panama. 

In Call of Duty Black Ops 2 the player participates in the US invasion of Panama and interacts with a fictional Noriega. Noriega assists the game’s primary antagonist, Raul Menendez. On September 22 filed a motion to dismiss Noriega’s lawsuit. Former New York Major Rudy Giuliani is one of the lawyers assisting Activision in this case. Giuliani warns of a dangerous precedent being set if is victorious in this case because then other public figures that are portrayed in video games, books, or movies could potentially sue. Giuliani cites Osama Bin Laden’s heirs suing the filmmakers behind Zero Dark Thirty as an example of this dangerous precedent. 
The main point for Activision’s case however is that Activision’s use of Noriega as a character is protected as free speech. Giuliani claimed in an interview that because there has been transformative, or creative, use of Noriega as a character then the Black Ops 2 depiction of Noriega would be protected as free speech. A win for Noriega could open up the floodgates for other lawsuits as well as limit the creativity of game designers. In my opinion it is unlikely that Noriega will win this case. However the case is an important reminder of the importance of the freedom of speech to the gaming industry. 

Free Speech allows game designers to be free of attempts at content regulation. In the United States the mainstream media often criticizes and blames violent video games for crimes and other social problems. For now free speech continues to reign supreme but gamers should be aware of their favorite industry’s important champion. 

Article by: Mark Gordon
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Kill la Kill Series Review

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Kill la Kill Series Review

"The art direction is different than any other anime I have ever seen and it’s quite charming."

I’ll admit, when I started Kill la Kill, I really had no idea what the show was about; but I had been intrigued by some of the art I had seen on Tumblr. Of course we all know that we need to take everything on Tumblr with a grain of salt – you should see some of the stuff that linked back to Deviant Art! So, with the kids safely in bed and the volume turned down low enough not to wake the family, I started watching the subtitled version of the show. I have nothing against English dubbed anime, but I wanted the feel of the emotions behind what the characters were saying and sometimes that’s lost in an English translation.

I have to say this: the first few episodes confused the hell out of me. It was only when I realized that the show was about clothing that I fully understood the absurdities and little things that I had found confusing at first. The art direction is different than any other anime I have ever seen and it’s quite charming. I found myself re-watching a few episodes just for the quirkiness of the art direction. If the art was good, the music was fantastic. I found myself looking forward to the opening, closing and transformation scenes. By the end of everything I saw this series as a work of art, with all of the pieces fitting in so well together to create a cohesive story that’s actually a pleasure to watch.

Kill la Kill Screenshot

"Everything in the show is meant to move the story forward instead of stopping the whole thing to reward the audience with a panty shot."
With all of the above stated here comes the caveat: you won’t like this show if you are offended by nudity. That, and strong overtones of incest; but we’ll get to that in a bit. The big pull for a lot of people is what they call “fan service,” wherein they make the characters overtly sexual or put them in sexual situations just for the explicit purpose of rustling the audience’s jimmies. I more than expected this show to have a lot of these, as they did in High School of the Dead. I was very surprised to discover that, despite the excessive nudity, there wasn’t any fan service except for when they included incest. I never thought I would ever write a sentence like that in my life. The naked female form is nothing to be ashamed of and, while there aren’t any nipples or genitalia, it’s presented all within context of the story. Everything in the show is meant to move the story forward instead of stopping the whole thing to reward the audience with a panty shot. There are male characters that get naked too, the funniest being the teacher Aikuro who slowly strips and makes moves on Ryuko when they are alone - so it’s not entirely T & A for the complete show. 

The story paces along at a good clip and speeds up considerably as they near the show’s finale. Near the end I was hooked and could not turn away. I watched the last third of the series in one sitting. Unlike most animes I have watched, every thread (pun intended) is wrapped up in the end. You will find the resolution satisfying and almost heartwarming. The plot is well written and weaved almost like an intricate tapestry (okay I’ll stop with the sewing analogies!), but it’s not something that’s going to tie your brain into knots. Some plot devices are so short that if you blink you’ll miss them.

Kill la Kill Wallpaper

"The story was well written, the art was just fantastic, the music is worth buying the OST, and the characters are well rounded."

The characters are what truly make or break an anime. Mako Mankanshoku is undoubtedly the strongest person in the show and is the voice for the audience. Ryuko Matoi is strong willed but needs to be pulled back at times when her drive for revenge would get her killed. As far as Ryuko’s foil, Satsuki Kiryuin grows as a character and as the audience becomes both familiar and sympathetic with her, the main antagonist switches and Satsuki’s role in the story is changed.

And now for the promised part: the implied or explicit incest scenes. There’s a scene with the mother and daughter that’s downright uncomfortable to watch. You don’t see these characters in the same light after that scene. While some agree that the scene is showing the mother purging the daughter’s chakras to heal her, not many people are that familiar with the Eastern chakra mythos and will see this scene as strictly pornographic/incestuous. Either way, it was made to make the audience uncomfortable and it does that very well. Again, do not watch if nudity or implied incest offend you. My final thoughts on the show are that the story was well written, the art was just fantastic, the music is worth buying the OST, and the characters are well rounded and develop throughout the series. I highly recommend this show to anyone without small children due to the sexual and violent content. 

Review by: Mark Brenner | Review Format: Streaming (Netflix)

A-
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Arcana Hearts 3: Love Max!!!!! Review

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"And that is a shame, because Arcana Hearts 3 is actually a strong, deep fighting title that likely won’t get the attention it might otherwise garner."

As I was playing Arcana Hearts 3 for review, my girlfriend casually asked me what sort of game that I was working on. When I told her it was a 2D Japanese fighting game where all of the main characters are women, she exclaimed, “Oh, that’s great!” And while I completely agree that it is great to see strong female characters explored in any medium, I had to wonder whether or not this sort of portrayal was exactly what she might have had in mind. All female casts in fighting games are nothing new. Love Max!!!!! is the third in its series, after all, and Skullgirls explored a similar concept on the Vita earlier this year. But something about the frequently scantily-clad characters, as well as the several very young, pre-preteen characters, makes the concept seem borderline exploitative, and might turn off some gamers to the title. And that is a shame, because Arcana Hearts 3 is actually a strong, deep fighting title that likely won’t get the attention it might otherwise garner. 

The story of the game is as contrived as any fighting game story; an evil, demon worshipping corporation known as the Drexler Institute has collected a series of stones in order to resurrect a massive being that will obliterate Japan, and for whatever reason, your character must beat a number of opponents into a bloody pulp in order to stop them. Each fight in the Story Mode includes a brief (and often benign) cut scene prior to the bout which provides a glimpse of background to your character.


"The Arcanas seem something like a cross between a true tag-team fighting game and the summons of the Final Fantasy series."

Arcana Hearts 3 will seem immediately familiar to 2D fighting enthusiasts. You have your charge characters, air recoveries, and holding back to block.  Each character also a series of special moves that deplete a bar at the bottom of the screen, all which cause the screen to go dark as your colorful sprite performs elaborate combos or sends walls of projectiles streaking across the screen. All of these mechanics are lynchpins of the genre, and thankfully Arcana Hearts adds in a few other little touches, including a homing button that causes your character to fly towards your opponent. It’s a useful touch that makes following your enemy into the sky for a midair combo, but just as frequently caused me to fall right in line for a brutal counter attack. 

The feature that sets this game apart the most is the Arcana system. After choosing one of the 23 characters, you also choose one of 23 Arcanas, something of an elemental guardian angel, which assists you during combat. The Arcanas seem something like a cross between a true tag-team fighting game and the summons of the Final Fantasy series. It effectively doubles the number of special moves your character has, and if used correctly, can unleash the most devastating special moves in the game, with a grainy, two-dimensional visage of your selected Arcana in the background.  


"One character pilots a mech that takes up half of the screen, another is a is a magician inspired by Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz and goes by the name Dorothy."

The Arcana system is a great way to round out your chosen character’s skill set. Having trouble pulling off your chosen heroin’s anti-air moves? Supplement her with Fenrir’s quick-to-pull-off machine gun. Taking a lot of damage? Use Kayatsuhime’s blossom shields to soak up damage for you during drawn out bouts. It’s an interesting mechanic that adds plenty of reasons to experiment with your set-up, and gives you excuses to use characters that you might not otherwise find as useful.

The broad selection of sprites on display here provides plenty of diversity. One character pilots a mech that takes up half of the screen, another is a is a magician inspired by Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz and goes by the name Dorothy, and yet another fights while being held the arms of a massive chalk drawing that she brings to life. Not all of the characters in the game are this instantly recognizable, but there is enough variation that most players should find someone that suits their style—especially considering the flexibility the Arcana system provides.


"It may not earn all five exclamation points in its title, but is a worthy fighting game that fans of the genre will be glad they looked into."

Arcana Hearts 3 is a port to the Vita, and there are times when it shows up ungracefully. The screen during combat is not optimized for the Vita’s wide ratio, and as a result, has two banners on the far right and left screen that portrays a portrait of your character; useless at best and distracting at worst. Another example is in the use of your Arcana special abilities, which frequently require the player to press the square, triangle, and circle buttons simultaneously—far from an easy maneuver with the Vita’s small buttons, and something that could have easily been mapped to a touch screen, which are not utilized at all.

While its odd premise is largely lost in translation, and some of the mechanics and presentation are skewed during its port to the Vita, I very much enjoyed my time with Arcana Hearts 3: Love Max!!!!! It may not earn all five exclamation points in its title, but is a worthy fighting game that fans of the genre will be glad they looked into.

Review by: Nick Walge | Reviewed on: Playstation Vita

7.5
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SteelSeries Rival Optical Mouse Review

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"It’s beautifully designed, takes seconds to install, it’s extremely comfortable and most importantly, it’s flawlessly responsive."

The two main features I want from a mouse are comfort and responsiveness. Most of my workdays consist of switching back and forth between gaming and writing, so the over-the-top 16+ button monsters don’t usually cut it. Right out of the box, the SteelSeries Rival is everything I ever wanted from a gaming mouse. It’s beautifully designed, takes seconds to install, it’s extremely comfortable and most importantly, it’s flawlessly responsive. Retailing at only $52,88 (at the time of this review), the SteelSeries Rival strikes the perfect balance between cost and performance. It may not have the aesthetic pizzazz or customizability of the Mad Catz M.M.O.7, but it outperforms most competitors in the same price range. As far as value and quality go, the SteelSeries Rival is unbeatable. 

The Rival takes mere seconds to install. Plug it in, download the software, make the desired adjustments and it’s ready to go. The SteelSeries Rival looks like it was designed for large hands. It’s nearly twice the size of my old Asus mouse. Considering how small my hands are, I assumed it’d be impossible to use. Quite the contrary-The Rival is incomparably comfortable. The injected rubber side grips prevent slipping and the soft-touch coating means there’s less palm sweating during gaming. 


"As someone who has a tendency to grip the mouse tightly while playing, I was surprised to find my hand more relaxed during long gaming sessions."

There’s a good reason for the bulkier design too as the larger surface results in less wrist tension. As someone who has a tendency to grip the mouse tightly while playing, I was surprised to find my hand more relaxed during long gaming sessions. Unfortunately, left-handed gamers are out of luck. The Rival’s oval design is clearly designed for right-handed users. The two thumb-buttons aren’t practical when using the left hand and the mouse doesn’t fit the left palm as comfortably. 

While simplistic in design, the SteelSeries Rival isn’t without style. With 2-zone illumination (each capable of 16.8 million colors) and a printable 3D nameplate for individuality, The Rival is quite the looker. Users can adjust brightness levels and choose from three different illumination effects: Steady, ColorShift and Breathe. Its nostalgic design is both iconic and classy. The sturdy build quality ensures longevity and resistance, and the ergonomic buttons make every click feel impactful. With a 1ms response rate, the Rival provides excellent precision when gaming. 


"From its elegant design to its impeccable functionality, the Rival is one of the best gaming mice of 2014."

Our tests included games like Bioshock Infinite, Crysis 2, Battlefield 4 and COD: Ghosts and improvement in accuracy and hit rate was immediately apparent. With a 6500 DPI (dots per inch), the tracking is remarkably smooth, which makes playing strategy games and everyday tasks feel effortless. Users that work with design programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop will be happy to know that the Rival makes laying out pages and creating vectors an absolute breeze.

Customizing the SteelSeries Rival is simple. The SteelSeries Engine 3 software allows users to swap button functionality, adjust the CP1 and CP2 sensitivity, change the polling rate and adjust illumination colors. The only minor frustration is the need to unplug and re-plug the mouse every time there is a major software update. Not a big issue, but a small annoyance for someone whose desktop backside is hard to reach. The SteelSeries Engine 3 also allows users to save game specific profiles via the library. And those who like varying speeds and sensitivity from program to program, there’s a switch right behind the wheel that allows on-the-fly adjustments. The SteelSeries Rival is a must for anyone looking for an affordable, high-quality gaming mouse. From its elegant design to its impeccable functionality, the Rival is one of the best gaming mice of 2014.

Review by: Tin Salamunic

A-
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Forza Horizon 2 Review

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Forza Horizon 2 Supercars racing

"Forza Horizon 2 not only recaptures everything that made previous entries so immersive and thrilling, it sets new standards for open-world racing."

Developers Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios have become well-respected collaborators among car connoisseurs. The developers' unprecedented attention never fails to impress, and while Forza 5 was somewhat of a step backwards for the series, Forza Horizon 2 not only recaptures everything that made previous entries so immersive and thrilling, it sets new standards for open-world racing. For anyone who’s been on the edge about getting an Xbox One, Turn 10’s latest arcade racer serves as the ultimate testament of the system’s capabilities. Forza Horizon 2 boasts a massive, beautiful Mediterranean setting that’s brimming with content and life, and is undoubtedly the best next-gen racer on the market today.

Forza Horizon 2 once again revolves around the Horizon festival, a gathering place for car aficionados and badly dressed hipsters. The whole dance-party vibe can be irritating, but luckily the focus remains on the exotic rides and gorgeous vistas. The premise is simple: Earn new wristbands and become the ultimate Horizon championship. The stupendously large map is packed with diverse championships and collectibles. Much like its predecessor, Horizon 2 isn’t just about racing, but exploration. You can spend hours cruising through the breathtaking Mediterranean countryside without ever entering a single competition. Of course, the spectacular sensation of speed is too much of a tease for just cruising. 

Forza Horizon 2 muscle car race

"One of Forza 5’s biggest drawbacks was its lack of track variety and Horizon 2 remedies that problem tenfold."

Forza Horizon 2 is all about variety. There’s Street Racing, Rally Racing, SUV Racing…players can even compete against a speeding train and stunt airplanes. There’s never a dull moment. Before each championship, you’re asked to choose a discipline. Every discipline determines a specific series of races, but if you change your mind mid-championship you can easily switch to something else. One of Forza 5’s biggest drawbacks was its lack of track variety and Horizon 2 remedies that problem tenfold. No race is the same and each competition brings a sense of mystery and excitement. Players can once again join clubs (or make their own), which is a great way of establishing a personalized gaming community. Horizon’s seamless solo/online world allows players to quickly jump between team mode races and single player without having to wait in lobbies. Up to a thousand members can join a single club and it’s fun trying to compete for the highest score and catapult your team onto the leaderboards. 

forza horizon 2 dodging traffic

"Car handling is notably more precise, striking a perfect balance between arcade and simulation."

Horizon 2 is the first Forza game to feature weather effects. Much like the dynamic day and night cycles, the sudden onset of rain has a big impact on driving conditions. The slippery roads require careful maneuvering and it’s easy to spin out when taking turns at high speeds. The addition of weather gives races a sense of unpredictability and challenge (especially when driving via the cockpit-cam) but it’s a shame that the volume of rain never varies. Having to race through thick, heavy rain and wind would have been more interesting…but it’s still nice to see Forza finally adding more climatic diversity. 

Car handling is notably more precise, striking a perfect balance between arcade and simulation. Every vehicle controls differently and there’s a distinct difference between street and off-road racing. The original Horizon featured a vast open world environment, but there wasn’t as much off-track driving. Horizon 2, on the other hand, encourages and enforces taking shortcuts between checkpoints. Much like the popular Metropolis Street Racer series, stylish driving is awarded with XP points. Points are not only used for leveling, but acquiring driving perks. These can range from earning extra money to getting shop discounts and skill multipliers. This gives Horizon 2 an impressive sense of progression and growth. Forza 5’s Driveatars are back and they feel more sophisticated than ever. The enclosed circuits of Forza 5 didn’t give the AI much to play with, but the open-world structure of Horizon 2 allows AI drivers to race more intelligently. The whole idea of AI drivers behaving like their real life counterparts is finally fully realized and gives Horizon 2 a whole new level of realism.

Forza Horizon 2 close up

"Horizon 2 is beautiful, plays like a dream and offers more replayability an most racers in recent memory."

Forza has always set new standards for presentation and Horizon 2 once again reaffirms the developers' unparalleled skill. The Mediterranean landscape is absolutely stunning. Every area on the map is filled with dense vegetation and gorgeous architecture. Each one of the 200 vehicles is superbly crafted, although the interiors aren’t as detailed as Forza 5. There’s some noticeable pop in when driving at high speeds, but it doesn’t distract from the game in any way. A lot of gamers were concerned with the developers' decision to cap the game at 30 fps, but I’m happy to report that the lower framerate isn’t detrimental to the handling. The 30 fps stays solid no matter how much is happening on screen. While there’s the occasional 30 fps judder when the camera pans, it never truly interferes with the gameplay.

It’s no secret that the Xbox One had a rough launch…and an even tougher past few months. Despite some solid titles, there hasn’t really been a system seller, until now. Forza Horizon 2 is Microsoft’s finest exclusive yet. It’s a massive step up from the already strong predecessor and it proves that Microsoft’s struggling console still has what it takes to deliver quality content. Horizon 2 is beautiful, plays like a dream and offers more replayability an most racers in recent memory. Forza Horizon 2 is an absolute must for genre fans and anyone looking for a memorable thrill. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Xbox One

9.5
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GameLoading Releases FREE Content!

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Get an in-depth look at the indie game culture like never before thanks to the folks (StudioBento) behind the documentary, GameLoading: Rise of the Indies. The film that’s currently working its way through post-production via Kickstarter is offering a plethora of extra content, which is available on Youtube and the Members-Only section of their website

So in addition to the 23 videos featured on Youtube and the lengthier interviews posted in their Member’s Section, StudioBento is already planning to release more content over the next couple of months. If that’s not worth a couple of bucks thrown at their Kickstarter project, The Final Push, then maybe this will loosen the ole purse strings and get your attention: GameLoading is packed with interviews with developers like John Romero (Doom), Christine Love (Analogue) and Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone), and offers insight into what it takes to make it in the indie game business today, and where the industry is heading.

News by: Robert Ortiz
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Junjo Romantica: Season 1 Review

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"Junjo Romantica is heavy on suggestive themes, but never crosses the line."

Okay wow, yaoi, am I right? No? Okay. For those unfamiliar with the genre, let me explain. Yaoi is basically a lot of guy loving thrown around with naughty bits being rubbed together. Not to be confused with shounen-ai, which is guy loving but with a more “hug bromance” angle. Everyone following so far? Okay, great! Let’s get to Junjo Romantica then! Since I used to watch quite a bit of yaoi as a teenager I like to think of myself as a bit of a genre connoisseur. Junjo Romantica starts off with your typical couple. The main protagonist is Misaki. He’s a young high school student aiming to conquer his college exams so he can enter a prestigious college. When he comes home he finds his brother, Takahiro, tackled with hugs from Usagi Usami. He’s a famous multi-millionaire novelist who’s close friends with the older brother of young Misaki. As time progresses Misaki has to get Usagi’s help to study for exams. When visiting the novelist’s house, Misaki confronts Usagi about “engaging” with his older brother. He suspects there’s something going on between his brother and this “suspicious” novelist character…at which point Usagi grabs Misaki, pins him to the bed, and proceeds to give him a hand job. Now you get the idea. 

After this lovely introduction, Misaki moves in with Usagi. His brother Takahiro was transferred to Osaka due to his job and marries the woman he loves soon after. Right from the start Misaki and Usagi begin to have a bit of a love and hate relationship going on. It’s Misaki’s job to clean Usagi’s massive apartment for his rent as he attends college. As the series progressed Usagi continually attacks Misaki throughout the day. Usually dragging him down to kiss him, hug him, cuddle him, and oftentimes proceed with sexual intercourse. 


"What I like best about Junjo is how it seems to take normal, everyday people from different walks of life and throws them together."

There are also two intriguing little side stories of two other couples set in the same universe. There is Nowaki and Hiro. Nowaki is a very tall student and constantly enjoys cuddling Hiro, who’s a college professor with a temper. Nowaki is extremely calm and mellow for his age, but often simply smiles at Hiro’s outbursts. Then there is Miyagi, a college professor who tends to mess with Hiro when he’s at work. A young man by the name of Shinobu, who is Miyagi’s ex-brother in law, comes around to confess his love for him. Shinobu is a young high school student looking to get into a decent college. He claims his love for Miyagi is fate. He points out odd coincidences involving both of them over the years. Refusing to back down even when Miyagi attempts to get the teen to see reason. I will say, with the exception of Usagi, none of the characters in Junjo Romantica are particularly memorable. But they’re not cardboard cutouts either. What I like best about Junjo is how it seems to take normal, everyday people from different walks of life and throws them together. There is a hint of slice of life genre lurking beneath the surface of and that helps to make the characters more interesting. 

Take Miyagi for example. He recently went through a divorce with his wife who cheated on him, despite his best attempts to remedy the relationship. He also suffered a huge loss when he was a teenager. He fell in love with his homeroom teacher who was terminally ill. He would spend his time trying to make her happy until she inevitably passed away. The back-stories aren’t particularly interesting, but at the same time you can’t help but care about the hardships they’ve been through. None of the characters are remarkable in their own right, but that’s where Junjo Romantica holds its charm. The anime is oftentimes self-aware. Such as Misaki running into the sunset and then questioning why he was doing such cliché thing in the middle of the street. I enjoyed how the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, but still manages to maintain a serious tone when describing when addressing some of the characters’ darker pasts. It’s easy to connect with the characters on a personal level. They feel human and relatable.


"The artwork and style are charming and the occasional satirical dialogue keeps the tone refreshing."

I believe Junjo Romantica is probably one of the better yaoi anime out there. The suggestive scenes are subtle enough without crossing the line. Nudity only ever comes down to a bare chest and maybe a bare leg or two. The anime makes it obvious what’s going on without shoving it in the viewer’s face. Also, in Japan the legal age to consent to sex is fourteen years old. This is why some of the characters like Misaki and Shinobu appear so young. Also, in this genre it’s common to see a pairing of a young, almost feminine male with a much older gentleman who in some cases is seventeen years older than their counterparts. 

Despite its suggestive themes the narrative in season one carries along rather well. It’s simple, straightforward, although sometimes a bit too predictable. Nevertheless, the show is quite fun to watch. While the show may only appeal to fans of the yaoi genre, Junjo Romantica is worth watching if you enjoy lighthearted boy on boy romance. The anime has quite a few years under its belt from being out so long, but it holds up surprisingly well. The artwork and style are charming and the occasional satirical dialogue keeps the tone refreshing.

Review by: Shezka Foxe | Review Format: DVD | Running Time: 300 Minutes

B-
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4 More Reasons to Love Tecmo!

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At this year’s Tokyo Game Show, Koei Tecmo Europe gave the gaming community four more reasons to continue loving them. While this TGS 2014 line-up was recently announced for Japan there’s no official word yet on when Western gamers will be seeing any of these titles. But don’t fret: here’s a sneak peek of what we can look forward to in 2015.

Bladestorm: Nightmare (PS3, PS4, XONE) is the follow-up sequel to Bladestorm: the Hundred Years War. The core of the game remains the same, so fans new and old alike can get their mercenary fix with a side of historical context. The last installment of DOA5 will make an appearance with Dead or Alive 5: Last Round (PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, XONE). Players will be introduced to a brand new stage called “The Danger Zone”, a blast from the past where fights will be taken to the next level – and it’ll all render in stunning 1080p HD. The long-running ‘Empires’ series returns with Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires (PS3, PS4, XONE) which will feature a stronger emphasis on player-created characters and strategic gameplay. And lastly, Toukiden Kiwami (PS Vita) rounded out the list with a promise of more slayers, Oni, storylines and chapters to provide an impressive expansion to its successful predecessor, Toukiden: The Age of Demons.

News by: Robert Ortiz
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