Toukiden Kiwami Review

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Toukiden Kiwami is Monster Hunter in everything but its name. The quest structure, level layouts, combat mechanics and weapon specializations are all identical to Capcom’s niche monster slaying phenomenon. Originally released on the Playstation Vita last year, Toukiden Kiwami has now made its way to next-gen hardware with improved visuals, twice as many demons, two new characters, an extended story mode and a plethora of new equipment. Players who enjoyed the recent Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the 3DS should pick up Toukiden Kiwami in a heartbeat. However, the same can’t be said for everyone else. Instead of improving upon Monster Hunter’s formula, Omega Force has decided to follow Capcom’s path too closely. I personally have never been much of a Monster Hunter fan, so to gamers like myself, Toukiden Kiwami does little to diversify the genre. 

To be fair, this isn’t necessarily a criticism. Like Omega Force’s Warriors franchise, the intended audience is going to cherish what Toukiden has to offer. Slaying gargantuan demons with an arsenal of spectacular weapons and special attacks is a joy. The combat is smooth, and most of the large enemies require strategy and skill. The differences between Monster Hunter and Toukiden Kiwami are subtle and probably only noticeable by eagle eyed genre aficionados, but its in those subtleties that Toukiden finds its individuality and uniqueness. 


"Players who enjoyed the recent Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the 3DS should pick up Toukiden Kiwami in a heartbeat. However, the same can’t be said for everyone else."

Toukiden doesn’t impress right away. After spending a few minutes (or rather seconds) with the game’s barren character creator, your hero is tasked with protecting his village from swarms of invading demons. As with all Monster Hunter titles, the plot in Toukiden is practically nonexistent. This makes it difficult to sit through the countless lines of mundane dialog. Considering Toukiden’s Japanese medieval setting, the narrative feels like a wasted opportunity. At least with Omega Force’s Warriors franchise, the characters, while cheesy, are genuinely interesting and diverse. Toukiden’s inhabitants are banal anime stereotypes, and your detached avatar doesn’t do the story any favors. 

Fortunately, Toukiden is about demon hunting and not about deep storytelling. It’s about exploring vast landscapes and honing your skills. Each weapon handles differently, and the key to success lies in finding the right tool that complements your playstyle. Where Omega Force’s Warriors franchise focuses on mowing down thousands of enemy soldiers, Toukiden’s pacing is more methodical. There are usually only a handful of foes onscreen at once, but they take more than just a few swings to take down. Once enemies are defeated, they need to be purified by holding R while standing still in order to cleanse the land. Players also have the ability to use The Eye of Truth, an X-Ray type of vision that reveals hidden treasures and exposes bosses’ vulnerable parts. After defeating demon bosses, players are granted with Mitamas (souls) that are equippable to weapons, granting slayers various bonus effects.


"Sadly, gameplay outside the boss battles can be a real chore. Revisiting the same areas over and over becomes monotonous, and the grind-oriented gameplay loses its appeal after a while."

You’re accompanied by AI allies when venturing out. You can order your teammates to attack, charge, assist or gather. This gives missions a sense of camaraderie, but it also helps with pacing when trying to clear areas quickly. AI slayers are surprisingly competent. During intense boss battles, they inform you when the Unity Gauge is full, allowing your team to perform a powerful group attack that destroys multiple demon parts in one strike. At least two slayers need to be adjacent to each other for the attack to work. Using the Eye of Truth, you can identify a demon’s weak spots and have to chip away at it until the creature's defenses are lowered. If you destroy a demon’s body part but fail to purify it, it regenerates during combat until proper purification is completed. The boss battles are Toukiden’s highlight. The demons are beautifully designed and relentlessly tough. Taking down a creature that’s twenty times the size of your hero is undeniably satisfying. 

Sadly, gameplay outside the boss battles can be a real chore. Revisiting the same areas over and over becomes monotonous, and the grind-oriented gameplay loses its appeal after a while. The maps are vast, but the individual areas are small and empty. It also doesn’t help that each section is interrupted by loading screens. Your hero’s home base, Utaka Village, is an unexciting place. You can feed and play around with your pet Tenko, talk to fellow villagers and inquire special quests, or you can watch selected NPCs bathe when entering the cleansing area. Toukiden suffers from the same sense of detachment as Monster Hunter. Playing with other gamers via multiplayer certainly makes the grinding more fun, but it’s hard to become invested in Toukiden’s universe, unless you’re solely enamored by the demon hunting.  


"Aside from a few exceptions, genre fans don’t have too many titles to choose from, and in that regard, Toukiden Kiwami succeeds."

Toukiden Kiwami boasts a gorgeous art direction, but its technical limitations don’t compliment the art style well. This may be an HD remake of a Vita title, but frankly, it looks no better than a last-gen release. Character and demon designs are impressive, even breathtaking at times, but the desolate and derivative environments underwhelm. As a result, Toukiden’s looks unpolished and incomplete. Like Omega Force’s disappointing Bladestorm: Nightmare, Toukiden barely taps into PS4’s hardware. 

Toukiden Kiwami isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s only geared toward Monster Hunter fans. There is nothing wrong with crafting games towards a niche audience, but if you’re hoping for something even remotely different or new, Toukiden isn’t the game for you. On the other hand, there aren’t too many games like Monster Hunter out there. Aside from a few exceptions, genre fans don’t have too many titles to choose from, and in that regard, Toukiden Kiwami succeeds. Toukiden finds itself in the exact same situation as every single Warriors release. It’s a love/hate kind of deal. For me personally, I still prefer Warriors’ absurd wuxia action and over the top characters.   

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

7

Etherium Review

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The real time strategy genre is no stranger to the PC community. In fact, it’s long-standing roots go all the way back to some of the most memorable games ever available on the platform. With such a rich history it was really just a matter of time before a developer came along and borrowed pieces from the most prominent releases in the genre and combined them into something that feels new and full of promise. 

Welcome to Etherium, the new RTS by developer Focus Home Interactive. By taking the tactical map control of Company of Heroes, the terrain strategy of Dawn of War, and the massive army scope of Starcraft, Focus has honed in on all the elements of what defined these stellar titles and managed to place them into one game that feels quite unique in spite of its borrowed parts.

Etherium is a futuristic sci-fi RTS that puts the player in control of one of three warring factions all spurred into conflict over resource called, you guessed it, etherium. This resource litters each and every map, but only exists in several important control points. This emphasis on controlling resource placement might seem standard at first but Focus has managed to take it even further by forcing users to control these strategic points, making expansions become some of the most important parts of your base. 


"Etherium is a futuristic sci-fi RTS that puts the player in control of one of three warring factions all spurred into conflict over resource called, you guessed it, etherium."

Through the game’s unique upgrade system there is one main hub that each player starts off with, these hubs can play host to a limited number of tiered research upgrades that will bolster your army, your resources, or your technology. Every time you expand one new building appears for each captured point and one for each etherium sphere, severely limiting the amount of produced buildings. Since each of these points are also necessary for upgrades, they can become incredibly valuable to your overall military presence. 

There’s not much in terms of story when it comes to Etherium’s campaign, but that doesn’t hold this title back in any way. Instead of a standard campaign Etherium offers up a Conquest mode that allows players to control one of the three factions in multiple battles. The mode offers up a thin layer of turn based strategy on top of the RTS elements and players can spend espionage points to learn their enemies plan of action rather than just resorting to overwhelming force on the battlefield.


"Etherium is a great game. It’s not much in terms of graphical prowess, but the simple unit models get the job done, and the terrain is a feast for the eyes."

Multiplayer is a fun way to spend time skirmishing against other opponents, but it seems to be relatively bland in terms of options. It’s definitely fun, but a more competitive atmosphere could have contributed a lot towards the game’s longevity. Weather and the elements matter in Etherium. Different maps feature different weather dynamics that directly impact the flow of battle. Some maps are molten worlds that feature massive earthquakes that release lava and brimstone upon certain choke points, and if you’re not careful you might find your units caught in the fire. Other maps are massive frozen worlds that feature blizzards that will freeze terrain, creating new paths to access. It’s a great concept that can totally change the tides of battle if players aren’t paying attention.

Etherium is a great game. It’s not much in terms of graphical prowess, but the simple unit models get the job done, and the terrain is a feast for the eyes. Focus Home Interactive has stumbled upon something special here, and while this game may be lacking the polish of many triple-A RTS releases, it lays a foundation for what could end up being the next great strategy series. Only time will tell, but color me impressed. 

Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: PC

8

Cities XXL Review

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Cities XXL is an expansion of sorts that attempts to masquerade as a full game. There are a number of touted differences that developer Focus Home Interactive proceeds to list as reasons to purchase this “new” version of the relatively well received Cities XL Platinum, none of them serve to justify the full cost of this re-release. As an avid player of the original Cities XL I can say that nothing added to this release is worth your time. In fact, you’re better off just purchasing the original and calling it a day. What’s even more startling is the fact that Cities XXL is riddled with performance issues, all made worse by the presence of a number of glitches. In spite of the potential laid out by its blank canvas of city-creating freedom, you’re much better off playing something else for your mayoral fix. 

It’s relatively simple to get your start in Cities XXL. Its tutorial system is well thought out and makes it easy for new players to adjust to their role as mayor. Once you’ve gotten used to the way the game is controlled it’s easy to build sprawling metropolises, the challenge lies in expanding and maintaining the overall moral of your citizens. This is no easy task, and though it remains fun, the approach taken by Cities XXL feels dated. Sure you don’t have to deal with the always online, small-minded approach taken with the release of the latest SimCity, but when Cities: Skylines exists I can’t see any justifiable reason to play XXL.


"The bottom line is this: Cities XXL just isn’t worth your time. It’s a sandbox style city simulation that presents no objectives aside from growth."

For better or for worse there’s really nothing new to see here. In fact, everything presented in Cities XXL is all stuff we’ve previously seen before. People that played Cities XL Platinum will find the exact same UI, many of the same buildings, and economy management fundamentals that made the first one such a hit. What is new is the inclusion of horrid performance issues and numerous glitches. I ran into everything from basic crashes to issues with trading data between cities. In addition I found that whenever my population exceeded a certain amount of people I ran into issues with slowdown resulting in nearly unplayable single-digit frame rates. 

The bottom line is this: Cities XXL just isn’t worth your time. It’s a sandbox style city simulation that presents no objectives aside from growth. It doesn’t improve, nor does it innovate upon the genre, or even it’s predecessor for that matter. When there are other titles that truly seize the very essence laid out by the original SimCity why waste time with this? Either re-install SimCity 4, play Cities XL Platinum, or go check out the newly released Cities: Skylines. Whatever you do avoid this, even if it’s on sale. 

Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: PC

3

Slender: The Arrival PS4 Review

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When Slender originally released on the PC, it was a welcoming reminder that classic horror still has its place in gaming. Completely dependent on atmosphere and sound, Slender embraced its simplicity much like the original Blair Witch Project. Slender relied on mystery and lore to carry its narrative and gameplay. The horrifying, albeit brief, journey beautifully orchestrated a sense of isolation and panic that insinuated vulnerability by giving players a single tool as means of survival, a flashlight. The sequel offered a similar venture, although the poor performance got in the way of the scares. 

Unfortunately, Slender: The Arrival on Playstation 4 is releasing a little too late. The horror genre has flourished over the past two years, and Slender now seems archaic and underwhelming. While the game has received a commendable technical overhaul and runs almost flawlessly, the scares don’t carry the same weight as they did a few years ago. As a result, Slender has lost its cult status allure. Slender: The Arrival has its moments of atmospheric brilliance and an intriguing lore, but the painfully brief journey is no longer worth the asking price.  


"The horror genre has flourished over the past two years, and Slender now seems archaic and underwhelming."

Slender’s narrative is revealed through collectibles and environmental clues. You’re visiting your friend Kate who recently lost her mother and is trying to sell her house. Upon arrival, you find the house in disarray and Kate missing. Soon you discover mysterious notes hinting at an eerie figure, and you begin tracking down clues to uncover the mystery behind Kate's disappearance. The game’s visual overhaul is immediately apparent and I applaud the developers for going the extra mile in polishing the PC’s horrendous performance. On the flip-side, the controls are terrible. Slender: The Arrival on PS4 plays like it's been lazily stitched together with poorly implemented Xpadder settings. The movement is unnatural and choppy. 

The Slender experience is reminiscent of a haunted house ride. You’re more of an observer than an active participant. Most of the chapters are simple fetch quests. The once creepy Slender has become nothing but a nuisance, with constant jump scares creating moments of brief distress followed by frustration and anger. The second chapter is practically a direct re-imagining of the first game as you walk around the woods collecting 8 mysterious pages. Fortunately, the environments are more distinct and you don’t find yourself running in circles anymore.


"I enjoyed both Slender titles on the PC when they originally released, but the next-gen version isn’t as impactful anymore. It is no longer the cult phenomenon it once was."

Further tasks involve collecting parts to activate various devices, but it’s ultimately the same exercise over and over. More of the same is not necessarily better in the case of Slender, especially when such a large portion of content is filler material. The original Slender can be completed in less than twenty minutes, which is a suitable length for the type of gameplay, but the sequel is unnecessarily long (even though it only takes an hour to beat). Making matters worse are the cheap deaths that only serve as an illusion of challenge. Once a certain point is reached, a new antagonist is introduced who oftentimes teleports right in front of you and can claim your life in an instant. It’s lazy and takes away from what could have been an eerie experience. 

Where Slender truly deserves the utmost praise is in the audio department. To genuinely experience the terror of being stalked in the middle of nowhere, Slender has to be played with headphones (or a solid surround system). The echoing of your own footsteps conjures up paranoia as you frantically react to every crackle and whistle. One moment you’re listening to the grass crunching underneath your feet, the next you’re sprinting away from the onset of static as Slender inches closer. 

I enjoyed both Slender titles on the PC when they originally released, but the next-gen version (despite being a technical improvement) isn’t as impactful anymore. After playing titles like Outlast, Slender feels outright boring. It is no longer the cult phenomenon it once was. For anyone curious about the Slender series, you’re better off playing the aging original. It still carries a nostalgic charm that’s been tainted by the mediocre sequel. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

5.5

Creating Your Own Gamer Den

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Some people want more out of their games than just a casual way to relax. Whether you’re a PC or console gamer, having a dedicated gaming den can make it a much more immersive experience. From the perfect lighting that cuts down on glare to surround sound speakers and thoughtful seating arrangements, here are some tips to change an ordinary room into a gaming paradise.

1. Surround Sound
Convincing sound can really bring a game to life. Don’t let small speakers ruin what could otherwise be the ultimate gaming experience. With companies such as Crutchfield, Yamaha and Sony out there, you don’t have to settle for two-dimensional sound. Crutchfield has surround sound packages that include towers, raised speakers and some of the best subwoofers on the market. Yamaha has a large variety of surround sound setups, including more discrete single-wall hanging speakers for smaller spaces. 

Sony has affordable home theater surround sound systems as well as more pricey models that include six- and seven-piece setups. Sony's multiple options can accommodate any budget. Shop around for your best option. It’s important to remember to do some product research when it comes to surround sound. Many of the systems can be costly, and you want to make sure you’re getting exactly what you want when spending your hard-earned cash.

2. Lighting
Lighting is an important part of gaming. Too much light and glare can become your worst enemy while too little light can cause eyes strain and lead to severe discomfort. Whether you need to block out the light or just filter some away, shop online for your best window covering options. From rippled fold drapery that will cancel out the sunlight, to solar shades and wooden blinds, shops like The Shade Store have everything you’ll need to make sure glare doesn't ruin your gaming experience.

While glare can be a pain, it’s also important not to play your games in total darkness. Constantly changing light from the screen can put unnecessary stress on your eyes and cause them to dilate. This can create eye strain, which can be painful. Consider installing dimmer switches for the ultimate gaming experience.

3. Seating
While playing video games alone can be fun, it’s always better with friends. Look into comfortable seating for your guests. Section sofas are popular and comfortable and downright convenient. Being able to change the seating arrangement at any time while maintaining the comfort you want is important.

If a section sofa isn’t what you’re looking for, consider filling the room with brightly-colored bean bag chairs. They are easy to move and relaxing, and can give your gaming room a welcoming vibe. With surround sound, the perfect lighting, and seats for all your friends, your gaming den will be the new hangout spot. No more straining your eyes and sitting on the floor. No matter which set up you opt for, your gaming paradise is closer than you think.

Article by: Cherie Nelson

Cowboy Bebop Series Blu-ray Review

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Cowboy Bebop became a gateway series and a cult phenomenon when it was first introduced to western audiences in the early 2000’s. Its influence grew ubiquitous, even inspiring Hollywood greats Like Joss Whedon and Rian Johnson. It’s an action series on the surface, but it doesn’t shy away from exploring philosophical concepts and stirring satirical undertones. Some consider director Shinichiro Watanabe the Akira Kurosawa of anime. Very few Japanese animations have reached similar global success, and even fewer impacted the industry in such profound ways. Cowboy Bebop was, and still is, one of the greatest animated television shows of all time. 

The year is 2071. Earth has become uninhabitable and mankind has colonized across the Solar System. The Inter Solar System Police is established to fight the increased crime and violence, allowing registered bounty hunters to track down criminals in return for a reward. We are first introduced to Spike and Jet, an unlikely duo with conflicting backgrounds. Spike is an exiled crime syndicate hitman, and Jet is a former Inter Solar System Police officer. Even if their ideologies rarely end in concord, they make an excellent team. They’re accompanied by Ein, a genetically engineered dog with human-like intelligence. A few episodes in, Faye Valentine, a masterful con artist, and Edward Wong, a prodigious hacker, join the crew.


"It’s an action series on the surface, but it doesn’t shy away from exploring philosophical concepts and stirring satirical undertones."

Cowboy Bebop is relatively episodic in nature, but it carries an overarching plot that delves deeper into the protagonists’ backgrounds, particularly Spike. Cowboy Bebop’s characters never fall victim to typical anime tropes. They’re imperfect and complex. They’re not presented as heroic or idyllic, instead they’re portrayed as conflicted individuals with dark pasts just trying to make the best out of their broken world and unfortunate circumstances. 

Themes of existentialism and loneliness are regularly explored, although the series never leans too heavily on the drama. Watanabe calls Cowboy Bebop a blending of different genres, and that’s exactly how the series feels. Combining film noir, science fiction, comedy and spaghetti westerns, Cowboy Bebop carries a unique tone and aesthetic style that remains unmatched. Watanabe tackles filmmaking similarly to Quentin Tarantino. He pastiches bits and pieces of acclaimed classics, referencing greats like Bruce Lee, John Woo and Ridley Scott. The cyberpunk vibe borrows heavily from William Gibson’s Neuromancer. The result is a world rich in imagination and cultural diversity.        


"Funimation has done a remarkable job remastering the series, bringing viewers the most impressive iteration to date."

For the first time ever, the entire series is available in glorious HD. Funimation’s Blu-ray remaster is flawless. Aside from the 4:3 aspect ratio, Cowboy Bebop looks like it was animated only a few years ago. The image quality is sublime, boasting vibrant colors and expertly adjusted contrast levels. Special features include two audio commentaries: a session with Koichi Yamadera (Spike) and Unsho Ishizuka (Jet), and a second session with Wendee Lee (Faye) and ADR producer Yutaka Maseba. English and Japanese audio is presented in both Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD 2.0. Additional extras include: various music clips, an interview with Cartoon Network producer Sean Akins, Cowboy Bebop Session #0 and a whole lot more. Considering the low price of only $34.49, this may be one of the best anime Blu-ray sets money can buy. 

From its memorable characters to its sophisticated directorial style, Cowboy Bebop is unlike traditional anime. Funimation has done a remarkable job remastering the series, bringing viewers the most impressive iteration to date. This hallmark production showcases the best of what Japanese animation has to offer and deserves a spot in your collection. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Published by: Funimation | Review Format: Blu-ray

A+