3D Realms Anthology Review

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3D Realm’s unofficial closing in 2009 was detrimental to the industry. To see such a prestigious company fade due to a pesky lawsuit and lack of funding was tragic. But a developer responsible for defining 3D gaming doesn’t go down so easily. Nearly five years later, the team makes an epic comeback by offering gamers a 32-game collection of their greatest achievements for only $39.99. 3D Realms Anthology is a glorious reminder of just how much the developer contributed to the gaming world. 

All titles, many of which have added gamepad support, are repackaged into a custom-made launcher built to run on Windows. Additionally, they’ve included a soundtrack with nine remade tracks from classics like Duke Nukem and Shadow Warrior. The best part is...everything is DRM-free. The games have aged surprisingly well, some controlling and running better than when they originally released. If there’s one thing the 3D Realms Anthology proves, it’s that great gameplay never ages.


"3D Realms Anthology is a glorious reminder of just how much the developer contributed to the gaming world."

Booting up a favorite like Bio Menace for the first time in over two decades is immensely gratifying. Even the classic DOS boot-up screens are kept intact. Added gamepad support makes platforming in many of the side-scrollers significantly easier, although trying to perfect jumps in Commander Keen is still infuriating. Considering that many of today’s indie games are revitalizing the pixel-art aesthetic, the games’ visuals don’t feel as archaic as some might expect. Titles like Bio Menace or Alien Carnage could easily be mistaken for a contemporary indie release. Even the rougher looking 3D titles like Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold carry a nostalgic allure that’s impossible to dislike. 

Replaying many of the platformers with an Xbox 360 gamepad feels fantastic, but the same can’t be said for the FPS titles. Games like Shadow Warrior and Duke Nukem 3D require the use of directional arrow keys for movement and can’t be remapped to WASD keys. Since 3D Realms went through the trouble of modernizing most controls, it’s surprising they haven’t added simple key reconfiguration options for 3D shooters. 


"The tunes alone are worth the asking price and 3D Realms even included the option to purchase the album individually."

In a way, the old-fashioned scheme preserves the games’ integrity, but  younger gamers may be turned off by the awkward mapping. The lack of VSync is also disappointing. So much work went into rejuvenating the package for modern computers, yet a simple VSync option couldn’t be included? Trying to force VSync via the GPU’s control panel doesn’t work either, so players are stuck flickering images. Nonetheless, these are just small hiccups that honestly don’t take away from the Anthology’s overall quality and value.

The included soundtrack further highlights the company’s triumphant return. Interceptor Entertainment’s Andrew Hulshult lends his talent to reviving nine tracks across eight revered games. The soundtrack comes packaged in various playable formats, including mp3, wav and uncompressed flac. The tunes alone are worth the asking price and 3D Realms even included the option to purchase the album individually.


"The 3D Realms Anthology is one of the finest classic game compilations since the Sonic Ultimate Genesis Collection."

It’s amazing how well some of these oldies still play. Games like Terminal Velocity, an arcade-style flight combat simulator, controls as fluidly as its modern-day counterparts. Arctic Adventure’s sadistic level designs are reminiscent of the recent Super Meat Boy and Raptor: Call of the Shadows has undoubtedly inspired many of today’s Shoot em’ Ups. These games are a testament to 3D Realms’ unprecedented creativity and innovation.

The 3D Realms Anthology is one of the finest classic game compilations since the Sonic Ultimate Genesis Collection. Younger gamers raised on fancy graphic and complex gameplay mechanics may not fully appreciate what this collection has to offer, but those feeling nostalgic for some of the finest PC titles of the late 80’s and 90’s should pick this up in a heartbeat. 3D Realms is back! The industry is in desperate need of new ideas, and who better to bring something new to the table than the guys responsible for taking gaming into the third dimension. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

9
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Samurai Warriors 4 Review

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There’s never been a better time for Warriors fans. From last year’s fantastic Dynasty Warriors 8 to the recent Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate and the brilliant Hyrule Warriors, developer Omega Force has tackled the new console generation with great enthusiasm and creative vigor. Dynasty Warriors’ Three Kingdoms premise attracted a vast following after DW2 refined its predecessor’s mechanics back in 2000, and only a handful of Tecmo’s many spin-offs reached similar success. While Dynasty Warriors lingered in the spotlight over the years, their sister series, Samurai Warriors, struggled to attain equal recognition and gameplay finesse. But much like the recently revamped Orochi franchise, Samurai Warriors is finally stepping out of the shadows. With drastically improved visuals and tighter combat, Samurai Warriors 4 has earned the title as Tecmo’s best hack n’ slash to date.


"With drastically improved visuals and tighter combat, Samurai Warriors 4 has earned the title as Tecmo’s best hack n’ slash to date."

Like previous Samurai Warriors titles, the story takes place during feudal Japan where iconic warlords duke it out on the battlefield. The story mode is split into several small campaigns, each representing different viewpoints. Instead of choosing two weapon sets like in Dynasty Warriors, players choose two heroes to dominate the front lines. Both fighters are switchable during gameplay, making the scattered objectives easier to reach. Samurai Warriors 4 boasts a whopping 55 playable heroes, including a substantial character creator in Chronicle Mode, an RPG-like crusade where players take on missions with their custom avatar. All characters from previous releases return with twelve new warriors making their debut. No warrior plays the same, so it’s impossible to grow tired of a particular fighting style.

It’s difficult to talk about gameplay in these games without sounding like a broken record. Fundamentally, they’re all similar with small variants differentiating each series. It ultimately boils down to mashing attack buttons and obliterating thousands of enemy soldiers. Missions consist of immense open maps with various objectives constantly popping up in every corner. Samurai Warriors 4 sets itself apart with fast-paced Hyper Attacks and powerful Rage Attacks. Hyper Attacks are useful for clearing large enemy hordes, but are usually ineffective against generals and bosses, and Rage Mode empowers Musou attacks by draining the spirit gauge. Musou attacks are unique over-the-top special moves highlighted by flashy cinematics that show the warrior annihilating everyone in sight. 


"Textures, lighting, character models, everything has been meticulously reworked and perfected."

Once the spirit gauge is full, players can enter an invulnerability state via R3, at which point they can perform Ultimate Musou, a chaotic special attack that can take down even the toughest bosses. Generals can be hard to beat as they oftentimes come in packs and have absurdly high health. But once weakened, players can perform finishing moves (similar to Warriors: Legends of Troy), which are quick-animations triggered by an on-screen prompt.

Instead of mid-game power-ups like in Dynasty Warriors, players choose collected items pre-battle to heal or bolster their hero. This makes fights more strategic, encouraging vigilant brawling and more cautious item management. Between battles, players can enter shops where weapons can be upgraded, as well as melted down for gems. Depending on the equipment, gems can add various attributes to each available weapon slot to aid warriors during combat. This spices up battles even further by giving combos impressive elemental powers.

SW 4 can be played solo or via two-player multiplayer. Being able to tackle different sections of the battlefield with a buddy makes missions more dynamic, allowing players to complete bonus objectives much easier. Couch co-op is a blast, but the archaic online structure makes finding teammates unnecessarily difficult. Players have to select a stage first, then wait and hope someone is playing the same area and seeking cooperative assistance. Instead, why not add a quick-match system so that players who don’t care about the field they’re playing on can quickly find matches.


"The audience tends to be split on these type of games...people either love them or hate them, but Samurai Warriors 4 may break that trend."

Samurai Warriors 4 is beautiful. That’s not a term commonly used to describe Warriors games. Sure, they always have a ton of on-screen chaos, but there’s never been this much attention paid to the details. Textures, lighting, character models, everything has been meticulously reworked and perfected. Characters move with fluidity and grace through environments filled beautiful architecture and lush vegetation. Even the throwaway enemy soldiers are more diverse compared to previous entries. 

The music is equally impressive, although it doesn’t have the same charm as Dynasty Warriors’ guitar riffs. The only downside is the exclusion of English voice-overs. While I typically prefer authentic dialogue in import titles, reading endless lines of text while fighting breaks the immersion, making it difficult to follow the narrative. Nevertheless, Samurai Warriors 4 looks and sounds fantastic and is undoubtedly the most technically impressive Warriors entry yet. 

Why choose Samurai Warriors 4 over other Tecmo hack n’ slash entries? Well, it’s a combination of accessibility and polish. The narrative is easier to follow, even for newcomers, and each gameplay mechanic has been tweaked to perfection. The frame rate remains a locked 60 fps, no matter how many enemies fill the screen and the fighting feels more fluid and precise. The audience tends to be split on these type of games...people either love them or hate them, but Samurai Warriors 4 may break that trend. It’s stupendously enjoyable and offers more value than most recent AAA releases. Longtime fan or not, Samurai Warriors 4 is a must buy for anyone craving classic beat em’ up action with a new coat of paint. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

9.5
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Nekro Preview

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Who doesn’t love a game where you get to play as the necromancer, raising people from the dead to do your bidding as you slaughter townsfolk to create an even bigger army. Spreading your plague has always been a wholesome past time. You know, fun for the whole family. The necromancer is almost always portrayed as the bad guy, an evil fiend with a taste for destruction. Despite the fun concept, there is a decided lack of necromancer themed titles because of the microscopic market. I haven’t played a necromancer themed game since Diablo 2. Going into Nekro was an adventure in itself.

A demon greets you at the start of the game. There is the standard fare of graphical options to tweak, and they can make the game look beautiful, even in beta. Bloom has always been my favorite effect. Now, I mentioned that there was a demon on the main screen, and there’s a reason for it–your necromancer can summon demons. A lot of them. Your entire necromancer army consists mostly of either twisted wildlife or summoned demons. The undead are actually few and far between. You will end up feasting on the corpses for the most valuable resource of the game, blood. That leaves few bodies that the necromancer can use to spawn monster bats that don’t fare well in battle. The necromancer inflicts the bulk of the damage on the enemy. Depending on your choice of necromancer and your load out, you are either wading in swinging or throwing potions safely behind your wall of minions.


"There is the standard fare of graphical options to tweak, and they can make the game look beautiful, even in beta."

And that’s the frustrating part. The feast command to gain blood is short ranged. Many times you will find yourself just a few inches short of a corpse, wondering why your necromancer is just standing there while you repeatedly mash the feast command. While there is an icon that appears above your head when you have the ability to feast, there’s usually too much going on the screen for you to see it clearly.

Your necromancer’s primary summons are demons and wildlife, which leaves a huge gap where there should be more undead. Skeletons can only be summoned by using demonic eels on a pile of bones. You cannot raise corpses. Instead, they are used as fuel or demolished to create two monster bats. I was disappointed in the lack of the ability to create an undead army, and had to console myself by summoning demons to rip the faces off of the farmers.


"Ripping apart humans with your own two hands is a lot more satisfying than watching your bats gnaw on their necks until the humans die from boredom."

You never get a large army, either. What you do get usually falls pretty quickly in combat, even against lowly farmers. So, it’s up to the necromancer to protect them. That is rather unconventional because in most necromancer games the army is created to protect you. In the context of the story it makes more sense because the necromancer is seeking vengeance. Ripping apart humans with your own two hands is a lot more satisfying than watching your bats gnaw on their necks until the humans die from boredom.

Throughout the missions, there’s a chance to explore the game world. While you are confined to do battle within the level itself, there are enough nooks and crannies to find upgrade points called “sins”. Once a sin is spent, it cannot be retrieved. The necromancer is forced to spend their upgrades wisely. Because I spent my sins for upgrades to my existing demons early on, I was unable to unlock the Bile Demon. The next mission was entirely too tough without it. It would make sense to let players decide whether to unlock demons, instead of creating a level where unlocked demons are a necessity. I was forced to restart the game from the beginning and save enough sins to unlock the Bile Demon. After that, I had no issues with the rest of the game.


"You will find yourself replaying the same levels with different necromancers just for fun because the levels pose different problems to different builds."

A game is designed primarily to entertain. While Nekro does have its faults—some issues with user control, camera and the upgrade path—the game is a lot of fun to play. I didn’t mind restarting levels after being defeated because I learned more about what I was supposed to do. The game is in development, so several necromancers and summons are not yet in the game. The levels are short, but have a puzzle-solving quality to them. You will find yourself replaying the same levels with different necromancers just for fun because the levels pose different problems to different builds. Even with its faults, the game shows a lot of potential. This is a game you will want to keep your eye on.

Preview by: Mark Brenner | Previewed on: PC
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The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 Preview

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The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 avoids the all-in-one anathema infecting today’s games. Crowdfunding and the Steam revolution empower indie studios to create, unburdened by typical limitations. Publisher Nordic Games already backed German developer, KING Art. KickStarter assistance enabled them to expand their boundaries, boosting production value without sacrificing storytelling or length. This latest Early Access release is a follow-up to the award-winning 2009 point-and-click adventure. KING Art honors the niche title by averting trendy features for nothing but the good stuff. 

Unwritten Tales sources everything from Batman to My Little Pony while remaining self-aware. Returning leads, Princess Ivodora, Wilbur Weathervane, Nate and his Critter wreck Avent├ísia’s fourth wall beyond recognition. Shared on a chapter-by-chapter schedule until its slated January 2015 release, it is shaping up to be everything fans of the former could want, without falling prey to the pitfalls of most sequels. Familiar faces appeal to fans through an established but enhanced formula with just enough fresh perspective. 


"Unwritten Tales sources everything from Batman to My Little Pony while remaining self-aware."

Without knowing The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 was an Early Access title, I would think it was adopting the episodic format, because it feels complete. Aside from a fleeting issue with the manual save function, I encountered no bugs during my playthrough of the first two chapters. That’s unlikely for the majority of published games. The team has been responding to player feedback with detailed progress journals and patch fixes. Consequently, the build I accessed benefits from these refinements. A recent update included the newly recorded orchestral score, product of a KickStarter reach goal, straight from Prague to the sound-waves saturating my headphones. The musical upgrade increased the cinematic factor tenfold.


"This new entry better incorporates multiple objectives, by taking its time introducing characters, interactive objects and side quests."

Rugged sky pirate Nate, who is more TaleSpin than steampunk, accompanies the player through a brief tutorial, although the controls are simple, standard and intuitive enough to pick up regardless. The minimal interface now incorporates a much needed menu icon next to the satchel summoning the inventory. Windowed mode has been added. Improved text rendering, helped in part by the increased resolution, makes subtitles easier to follow. The “peek” feature returns, saving players from pixel hunt woes by revealing clickable areas when hitting the spacebar. 

Less than halfway into the narrative, Unwritten Tales instills a sense of progression. This new entry better incorporates multiple objectives, by taking its time introducing characters, interactive objects and side quests. Player choice scales from a handful of options to staggering freedom. The sequences in the Silver Forest Realm meander, encouraging one to drink in the scenery as they acclimate. Ivo, now sporting less hair and more clothing, concerns herself with tamer troubles. Her Princess problems escalate from lamenting unwelcome weight gain to catching the mysterious force unhinging the kingdom. 


"Dynamic lighting produces theatrical presence with ease. Backdrops experiment with distorted perspective to utilize the fixed camera. Animated elements move through environments exposing depth."

This second entry captures the spirit of the original, enclosed in a few layers of cartoonish abstraction. The surreal preference reflects confidence in the game’s visual style. Brighter colors and amplified expressions better suit the comical tone. The artists have rendered every polygon with pictorial flare. Dynamic lighting produces theatrical presence with ease. Backdrops experiment with distorted perspective to utilize the fixed camera. Animated elements move through environments exposing depth. And these enhancements are crystal clear thanks to well crafted high-resolution textures.  


"Pop culture references spanning decades of source material assimilate into the game’s identity."

Unwritten Tales parodies everything under the umbrella of fantasy. Critics and fans praised the original title’s sense of humor, and the sequel entertains without disappointment. Though seasoned nerds will relish recognizing the obscure, blunt allusions manage to be self-contained. Pop culture references spanning decades of source material assimilate into the game’s identity. An entire character’s conflict is steeped in Harry Potter lore, with the same emphasis the first game had on Lord of the Rings. (The game still includes plenty of nods to Middle Earth.) Familiarity with the fandom sent me to the moon, but I imagine I would have enjoyed it otherwise. The characters made me laugh, whether or not I recognized a reference. 

Talented voice actors backed by strong writing bring this world to life. KING Art, already known for the extensive amount of dialogue in their earlier efforts, has recorded a staggering number of lines for this upcoming release. I listened to Ivo seek her father’s eccentric wisdom ad nauseam without hearing a repeated phrase. Whenever possible, I exhausted dialogue options because I enjoyed listening to the characters. 


"If their completed sequel is on par with what I have sampled, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is sure to become a modern classic."

Playing The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 awakened a fervor to thumb through already dog-eared copies of Harry Potter while streaming Joss Whedon’s collective series. On a relevant note, I want to play adventure games again. Previous disinterest cultivated after consuming too many boring and identical experiences. Early Access titles have earned an unsavory reputation. Developers release broken games barely out of Alpha into the wild. KING Art has renewed my trust in both the point and click genre and the efficacy of Early Access. Here, the system rewards invested fans with a first look. It elicits their help by requesting feedback when it can be actively applied. KING Art already proved their merit with The Book of Unwritten Tales. If their completed sequel is on par with what I have sampled, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is sure to become a modern classic. 

Preview by: Ameenah Salamunic
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Project Spark Review

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Project Spark is an interesting creature. Though it does masquerade as a game with the inclusion of a rather lackluster campaign, I think most people will agree that the fun doesn’t lie in what comes in the box, but rather what you can create with the tools given. Because of this I’ll warn you now: people not interested in stewing for hours over how to improve their own designs need not apply. If you’re not looking to be a part of a community of game creators, and the passionate people that test them, then you’re probably better off avoiding this title completely. But, those that enjoy the challenge that comes from being handed the keys to a virtual world of endless possibility will find themselves totally enthralled.

Project Spark comes packaged with an episodic single-player campaign. It’s really just designed to be a way to show off the title’s creative possibilities, which is a tad ironic because of its bland presentation. It really doesn’t show off what the game is actually capable of. I quickly found myself bored with the campaign because of its loosely tied together story, uninspired characters, and horrible camera angles (I’m not one to get motion sickness from games, but Project Spark’s campaign had me pausing here and there to stop myself from feeling woozy). Furthermore, a lack of a targeting system in the campaign made ranged heroes a serious nuisance to play. It was rather disappointing. Good thing there’s a bunch of user-created content to dive into!


"Those that enjoy the challenge that comes from being handed the keys to a virtual world of endless possibility will find themselves totally enthralled."

I was surprised, when I booted this title up on day one there was already a rather large selection of user-created levels. Granted, most of them were targeted towards making it easy to earn certain achievements, but growing pains are expected with a title like this, and as time went on I was glad to see more and more compelling content coming to the stores. After day three or so there was so much stuff being uploaded that I can see how users that truly dive into the community experience Project Spark offers will remain satiated for months to come. That alone is a monumental achievement, especially for a title as ambitious as this one.


"Platformers, 2-D side-scrollers, deep RPGs, twin stick shooters… whatever you envision can be made with a few simple clicks and a lot of trial and error."

Project Spark is deep. It takes ideas and foundations created by other games like Little Big Planet and allows users even more customization.  At any point during your adventures you can pause the game, and open up options menus to begin editing and figuring out exactly what makes something tick. You can then take these new ideas and apply them to whatever it is you want to create. NPCs, level triggers, even quirky character designs can all be torn apart and analyzed through streamlined player menus that are easy to grasp, but feature tons of customizability. Platformers, 2-D side-scrollers, deep RPGs, twin stick shooters… whatever you envision can be made with a few simple clicks and a lot of trial and error. This is part of what makes Project Spark so much fun. The best part is that all of these creative tools are available for free! There is a $40 starter set, and a few expansions that users can download, but they’re not required to jump in and start building up your own compelling worlds.


"Project Spark is a special title, one that allows you to harness your creativity. It’s not setting out to tell anyone’s story but yours, assuming you have one to tell."

Project Spark’s tutorial system is a bit bare to be honest. I spent a significant amount of time going through tutorials only to eventually realize that there was no way for me to create my vision without a proper understanding of some basic game design concepts. I ended up spending a lot of time looking things up online, interacting with users on forums, and asking a lot of questions. It’s part of the learning process that comes with this game. Some users may find themselves turned off by this, but the most determined will be able to create worlds that mimic their wildest dreams. Co-op level design is a feature that I didn’t have much of an opportunity to play around with because of my relatively barren Xbox Live friends list, but it seems like a compelling idea that could only add to the fun.

I haven’t created anything I’m comfortable sharing. I doubt I ever will. But for those that have the courage to upload and interact I’m sure you’ll find a home that nurtures as much as it inspires. Project Spark is a special title, one that allows you to harness your creativity. It’s not setting out to tell anyone’s story but yours, assuming you have one to tell. That, my friends, is what makes it worth a try. Most people won’t see more than what’s offered on the surface, but those that truly explore its depths will emerge with one of the most rewarding experiences the Xbox One has to offer.

Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: Xbox One

8.5
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Turtle Beach Ear Force Z60 Review

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Trying to choose the right gaming headphones is like shopping for proper running sneakers. The options seem endless, but finding the right pair can make all the difference. At a fairly priced $119.95, the Turtle Beach Ear Force Z60 deliver superb audio performance, unprecedented comfort, durability and an explosive bass. The simplistic plug-and-play approach makes the Z60 easy to use across various platforms without needing downloadable software. Being able to enjoy FPS titles like Battlefield or Call of Duty in glorious 7.1 surround sound is incomparably immersive and can significantly impact one’s gameplay strategy. The Z60’s quality and value easily outclass other options in the same price range and their thunderous bass is something that has to be experienced firsthand.


"The Z60’s quality and value easily outclass other options in the same price range and their thunderous bass is something that has to be experienced firsthand."

The Ear Force Z60 are ready for use right out of the box. The Z60 switch between PC, Mac and console platforms without a hiccup, as long as they’re set as the default device and 7.1 is enabled via control panel (PC). Unlike SteelSeries’ Siberia line, there’s no need for additional software since all features and drivers are included within the powerful surround sound control unit. This makes controlling the volume and switching between different surround sound modes externally a breeze. However, the lack of a customizable equalizer means users are stuck with only three factory presets and a flat EQ. Fortunately, each mode is professionally calibrated and suits corresponding media extremely well. The gaming mode intricately balances fine details and heavy explosions while both the movie and music modes emphasize dialogue and singing clarity without distorting instrumental quality.

The roaring 60mm speakers are fantastic. The riveting deep bass makes first person shooters and racing games come to life and the 7.1 surround sound emulates dimensionality nearly flawlessly. Music and movies are equally impressive, although voices tend to have a slightly hollow, or rather metallic, quality to them. Regardless of the setting, there’s very subtle echoing when listening to characters conversing or singers performing. It’s not a major issue by any means, especially in films or cartoons where there’s always a lot of environmental noise, but it can be off-putting when listening to acapella. Then again, that’s not exactly what the Z60 is designed for. When it comes to metal, hip-hop and electronica, the Z60 is outstanding.


"The riveting deep bass makes first person shooters and racing games come to life and the 7.1 surround sound emulates dimensionality nearly flawlessly."

To fully test the Z60’s 7.1 channel accuracy, we used QSound Labs’ Virtual Barber Shop. It’s a five minute sound clip designed to showcase the ears’ ability in tracing sound to location, and it benefits from using proper surround channels for best results. The Turtle Beach Ear Force Z60 performed exceptionally well, although it couldn’t quite match the auditory efficiency of SteelSeries’ Siberia V3 Prism. Nearby sounds were crisp and clear with a distinct richness in detail that wonderfully demonstrated the Z60’s surround sound capabilities, but it’s the small distant sounds that muffled in comparison. Fortunately, the same issues don’t translate to gaming. The DTX Headphone:X surround sound technology delivers precise and realistic amplitude without sacrificing minuscule tones. When running around during frantic multiplayer matches, it’s easy to hear where enemy gunfire and approaching footsteps are coming from.

The Ear Force Z60 comes with a high-quality detachable microphone that performs surprisingly well. While not as crystal-clear as the Elite Prism mic, it’s perfect for chatting with fellow gamers and talking via Skype. The Z60 control unit also comes with a Dynamic Chat Boost, which is handy when in-game sounds become too overpowering. Voice reproduction is clear and the mic does a great job of cutting out background noise like keyboard strokes and mouse clicks. 


"The DTX Headphone:X surround sound technology delivers precise and realistic amplitude without sacrificing minuscule tones."

When it comes to gaming headphones, durability and comfort are just as important as the audio quality and the Z60 is built to last. The headband is rock solid and the breathable mesh ear cushions provide coziness during long gaming sessions. The over-the-ear design isolates external noise without generating any heat and the headphones are so light, it’s easy to forget they’re even there. Furthermore, the cable is nice and long, which is a godsend for gamers who have their couch further away from the entertainment center.

The Ear Force Z60 gaming headphones boast remarkable audio and unrivaled bass performance. The 7.1 surround sound makes games, music and movies unbelievably immersive and the external sound control unit allows effortless switching between different equalizer modes. While vocals tend to suffer from light hollowness when listening to certain music genres, the Z60 pack a real punch when playing video games...and that’s what they are ultimately designer for. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic

B+
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Rescue the Prince, Pixel Art Goodness

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It seems pixel art is everywhere nowadays, but good pixel art seems hard to come by. Luckily, there is a new project over on Kickstarter that looks like it will deliver some amazing pixel art. Triple Cherry Games is using the crowdsourcing site to help make their game, “Rescue the Prince,” a reality. Rescue the Prince follows the story of a princess named Selene who has set out to find and rescue princes who have mysteriously gone missing. Along the way, she will have to fight dragons and storm castles; while at the same time, will need to learn how to manage new magical abilities.

With art and music that mesh perfectly with the story, Triple Cherry Games also implements just the right amount of humor to not only keep the player interested but fully engaged. They are using what they call a “non-isometric 2.5D view” that allows the player to easily view and manipulate their environment, to achieve their goals. The game is a turn-based puzzle game that requires creativity to rescue all the princes and defeat the five evil dragons.


Like most Kickstarter campaigns, there are a number of tiers that you can back and the best part is not all of them require you to be a gamer. For instance, the first tier are wallpapers for your computer and mobile devices for only $1.60, while the second tier gets you a copy of their beautifully crafted soundtrack (and the wallpapers) for only $3.20.

So, if traversing a gorgeous pixel art landscape while saving the day is something you think that you can get behind, then head over to Triple Cherry Games’ Kickstarter page and take a look at all the hard work they’ve put into the game so far. The game—if it acquires the modest $15,000 they are asking for—will be released in March 2015 and will be available for Mac, Windows and Linux.

News by: Mike Ackerman



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Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus Review

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Like so many Japanese ports coming to the PlayStation Vita these days, Senran Kagura is only going to appeal to a very narrow audience. Luckily, the first sentence of the game’s description serves as a great litmus test to determine whether or not you fall into that audience or not. Ready? Here goes: “The buxom shinovi of the Senran Kagura universe return in a 3D brawler that’s as over-the-top with its fighting mechanics as it is with its gratuitous depictions of female ninja in various forms of undress, indicating dame through clothing destruction.

If that description has you rolling your eyes and preparing to write a strongly-worded message board post, then nothing that the game accomplishes is going to convince you otherwise. If, on the other hand, your gaming library includes both Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball and Dynasty Warriors, then you might find yourself smack in the center of the title’s target demographic. Be very happy someone has made this game for you.  


"If, on the other hand, your gaming library includes both Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball and Dynasty Warriors, then you might find yourself smack in the center of the title’s target demographic."

The game’s story follows one of three ninja houses in modern-day Japan, with chapters divided among one of several busty brawlers, each one packing their own unique fighting styles and weapons. And while it’s impossible to ignore the massive chests and exposed lingerie present on all the characters’ models, it is also easy to admire the some of their more imaginative takes on the lethal art of the Shinovi. Yagyu, for instance, is an eye-patched warrior who wields an umbrella, and whose Special Ninja art involves summoning a giant squid and spinning its tentacles to wreak havoc on surrounding foes. Another ninja from a rival house, Minori, fights by throwing candy at her foes from a bucket and is capable of dropping a pancake the size of a Studebaker on her opponents. Yes, the game’s playable characters are little more superficial fantasy objects, but at least they are original superficial fantasy objects. 


"It’s like Super Ghouls ‘n’ Goblins starring the supporting cast of Leisure Suit Larry."

Combat plays out in a similar manner to the Dynasty and Samurai Warrior series. Hordes of opponents line up to be juggled in complex combos, the on-screen counter frequently clicking into the hundreds.  The game derives a lot of mileage out of its two attack buttons. Timing your combos and mastering how long to charge your attacks differs greatly between characters, and players are sure to find at least one that matches their personal preference. Lengthy combos can be extended with air dashes that follow your sky-flung foes above the fray, and once you activate your first ninja scroll, you are granted the use of your Special Ninja arts and a new range of moves. As promised, as your character (or the chosen mission’s boss) take damage, you begin to shed clothes—often leaving your avatar on the screen with nothing more than her underwear and some low-gravity jiggle physics to defend herself. 


"French maid outfits, leather collars, pacifiers, and even animal tails are all available, if that’s your kind of thing."

It’s like Super Ghouls ‘n’ Goblins starring the supporting cast of Leisure Suit Larry. In between missions, you can mingle with the other shinovi, watch the ludicrous story play out via Japanese-voiced visual novel sequences, or purchase items to customize your chosen character. The alternate outfits, as one might expect, leave little to the imagination (the naughtiest bits do remain censored throughout), and the available accessories to choose from leave nearly no fetish unturned. French maid outfits, leather collars, pacifiers, and even animal tails are all available, if that’s your kind of thing. 

The phrase “if that’s your kind of thing” hangs over the entire experience like an asterisk. No matter how much you might enjoy the frantic and often stunning combat or enjoy the greater challenge that some of the higher difficulties settings provide, if you are not prepared to spend a few hours ogling at barely-clothed young women, then Senran Kagura is an utter slog. Nevertheless, the gameplay here is sound. Hate it for the way it depicts women, or for the negative stereotype it perpetuates about male gamers. But don’t hate it because it isn’t any fun. That is just not the case. 

Review by: Nick Walge | Reviewed on: Playstation Vita

8
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Bundle Stars Goes Supernatural

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Looking to scratch that horror itch before Halloween? Well Bundle Stars has that scratch you’ve been looking for. Presenting 10 terrifying horrifying games for only $3.99. That’s a total savings of $110! The best part is that they’re all brought to you through Steam for easy download and and consumption. If buckets upon buckets of blood in your video games is your style, then this is the bundle for you.

The games rang from top-down-shooters with film-noir style art in Splatter: Blood Red Edition to the more mild seemingly playful but dark Zombie Solitaire. With games for Windows, Mac and Linux, there is something for nearly every horror fan. Offer expires on Halloween so you had better hurry.

News by: Mike Ackerman
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SteelSeries Siberia V3 Prism Review

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When it comes to lasting comfort and exceptional audio, SteelSeries’ Siberia line has little competition. Perfectly blending affordability and quality, the Siberia V2 earned their title as one of the best gaming headsets on the market when they launched in 2012. Two years later, SteelSeries demonstrates once again what it takes to dominate the industry. They’ve set out to refine an already amazing product with improved design and sound quality without making any sacrifices. While not as feature-rich as the recently reviewed Siberia Elite Prism, the V3 Prism offer remarkable auditory performance at a significantly lower asking price.

Electronics and shiny surfaces don’t match. While beautifully designed, the V2 were a fingerprints haven and impossible to keep clean. Luckily, that’s no longer an issue. The Siberia Elite V3 Prism are matte with only a thin glossy ring accenting the exterior ear cups. The overall design is beautiful. It’s an extension of V2’s sleek construction with small sophisticated refinements that make the set look far more expensive than it really is. The upgraded memory-foam ear cushions (which isolate external noise wonderfully) and the classic headband suspension system ensure comfort during long gaming sessions. Even after an entire day of non-stop use, the V3 doesn’t cause headaches nor generate much heat.


"Two years later, SteelSeries demonstrates once again what it takes to dominate the industry."

Unfortunately, the short USB cable is problematic when connecting to a console. Five feet may be a little too short for gamers who have their couch far from the entertainment center. Additionally, the V3 Prism’s lack of external volume control is a questionable design decision. This isn’t much of an issue when listening to music on the desktop, but it can be frustrating when gaming. But these minor concerns are a small price to pay for such superb sound quality. 

As with all SteelSeries products, the installation is quick and effortless. The SteelSeries Engine 3 Software boasts a customizable illumination scheme and several useful equalizer presets. With 16.8 million colors and various lighting modes, the V3 Prism has something for any personality and mood. Similarly to the Elite Prism, the equalizer presets are beneficial for quick adjustments, but can’t replace proper manual tweaking. A racing game isn’t likely to benefit from the same settings specifically calibrated for first person shooters. The same goes for music. Switching from dubstep to acapella requires different level adjustments. Fortunately, manual settings can be saved so that each application launches its corresponding modifications. 


"The V3 Prism exhibits incredibly natural sound and powerful bass, while maintaining clarity during volumetric shifts."

Gaming headphones typically struggle in properly balancing sound channels. Either the bass is too high and the voices too echoey or vice versa. The V3 Prism exhibits incredibly natural sound and powerful bass, while maintaining clarity during volumetric shifts. Explosions in action games are deep without ever losing details, while singing voices (or simple conversations in films) are crisp and clean without the odd metallic side-effects heard in the Turtle Beach Ear Force Z60 and many other gaming specific sets. Racing games are particularly impressive, with deep roaring engine sounds perfectly emulating the sensation of sitting inside a monstrous race car. 


"Gamers can enjoy rich explosions and realistic-sounding gunfire as they dodge bullets from every direction in first person shooters, while music lovers can savor the instrumental and vocal details of their favorite artists without degradation in quality."

It’s somewhat unfair to label the V3 Prism as just gaming headphones as they handle music and movies equally well. An audiophile may argue that headphones specifically designed for music have clearer and more accurate sound production, while gaming headsets solely emphasize cool looks and audio positioning to emulate dimensionality. While this is true in many cases, the V3 Prism (much like the entire Siberia line) serve as an exception. Gamers can enjoy rich explosions and realistic-sounding gunfire as they dodge bullets from every direction in first person shooters, while music lovers can savor the instrumental and vocal details of their favorite artists without degradation in quality.


"Their balanced performance across all media combined with iconic looks and unrivaled comfort make them the definitive headset for gamers seeking both style and quality."

Of course, a good set of gaming headphones is nothing without a quality mic. The V3 Prism may not rival the pricier Elite Prism microphone, but it’s certainly better than anything we’ve tested in the same price range. Whether it’s used for professional podcasting or casual multiplayer chatting, the microphone delivers phenomenally clear sound without picking up too much background noise. The retractable neck is also a nice touch as it tucks away neatly when not in use. 

At a reasonably priced $139.99, SteelSeries’ Siberia V3 Prism are the best sub-$200 gaming headphones money can buy. Their balanced performance across all media combined with iconic looks and unrivaled comfort make them the definitive headset for gamers seeking both style and quality. Gamers who’ve enjoyed the superb V2 will appreciate SteelSeries’ immaculate audio refinements and new matte surface. While a longer USB cable and external volume control would have made the set even better, there are very few gaming headphones that can match the V3 Prism’s sound quality...and that’s ultimately all that matters. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic

A-
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Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2

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This year’s “sequel that no one asked for” award goes to Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2. Although the iconic, yellow, pellet-chomping hero has been a part of gamers’ lives for nearly 35 years, it might be time for him to retire. While there’s plenty of homage to the ever-hungry nibbler’s past, much of the gameplay seems broken or unfinished. When first powering up Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2, players are greeted with that familiar eighties eight-bit tune. The music quickly turns into a rock ballad and gets you pumped for Pac-Man’s adventure. Unfortunately, things quickly go downhill. 

The game’s biggest issue may be its lack of narrative. Even though Ghostly Adventures 2 is a sequel, new players should at least be introduced to supporting characters. The only real introduction of the bad guys is one with the main boss talking to his henchmen. The scene isn’t even really needed and the sloppy comedy is reminiscent of a Leslie Neilson movie. One of the henchmen is actually named “Buttocks.” While the game does carry an ESRB rating of E 10+ for “Cartoon Violence,” it could have done without its attempts at forced humor.


"The music quickly turns into a rock ballad and gets you pumped for Pac-Man’s adventure. Unfortunately, things quickly go downhill."

Gameplay is derivative and consists of Pac-Man just running around and chomping everything in his path. You name it. If it isn’t a wall then it’s probably edible. This is where it gets annoying. You can practically spam the chomp button and make your way through most levels without much challenge. What made the original Pac-Man great was its difficulty and necessity for quick reflexes. Ghosts were constantly in pursuit and nothing could be done until one of the large yellow orbs was eaten, which made the Ghosts temporarily vulnerable. In Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2, however, attacking enemies is really no different than consuming yellow orbs. That isn’t a challenge.

On a positive note, the game being separated into five worlds, each with their own play styles and challenges, is a nice touch. As someone who played Super Mario 64 and Donkey Kong 64 for countless hours back in the day, Ghostly Adventures 2 has its moments of pure nostalgia. While the game’s overall design has potential, the maps feel unfinished. There are large open areas where I can’t tell if I’m supposed to just run across blindly or if there are hidden ghosts that need chomping before moving on. There are also too many recycled elements that feel too repetitive and outright lazy. 


"Gameplay is derivative and consists of Pac-Man just running around and chomping everything in his path. You name it. If it isn’t a wall then it’s probably edible."

One particular level is very reminiscent of the old Pac-Mac games. The end of the level has maze-like pathways that are filled with little “Pac Pellets” for collecting. Jetting out of the walls is steam that turns on and off, requiring perfectly timed movements as Ghosts fill the maze. Yes, I can just chomp the ghosts once and they’re gone, but those jets of steam look pretty dangerous. Well, that is until I realized I could just jump up on the pipes that made up the walls and travel along them and jumping down when I needed to. Collecting the pellets is too simple and the attacking Ghosts are helpless against Pc-Man’s powerful chomp attack.

Throughout the game you also get to play as some of Pac’s pals. In a couple of levels, you get to pilot through the city similarly to classic shoot em’ ups. The problem is that you’re never actually told why the gameplay switches away from our hero. You simply fly through the sky collecting items and shooting at ghosts until you reach the end of the level. You need to be careful though as half of the collectibles are near the edge of the screen and sometimes when you get near the flight path, you hit an invisible wall that causes damage. Ultimately, the flying missions just aren’t needed.


"There are obvious attempts at paying tribute to classic Pac-Man titles while trying to keep relevance for a new generation of gamers, but that is all they are…attempts."

Two of the game’s most impressive features are also its most frustrating. Throughout the game you can find different power-ups in the form of berries, which grant our hero with unique powers. These powers include Pac turning into a ball that can bounce really high or come smashing down on buttons, or the ability to freeze enemies and water fountains in order to climb hard to reach places. While great in theory, running around in a 3D environment provides little to no accuracy. With no way of controlling the camera, you are stuck with whatever camera angle you’re given for the map. The directional pad is hardly used and controlling the camera angle would have been an ideal use for it. The second greatest and most frustrating element is the game’s attempt to go from a 3D to 2D. A power-up that is available in some levels lets Pac turn into a magnet and walk up walls and on the ceiling. I thought this is great! However, when doing this, you are locked into a 2D environment that typically has you walking across and under steel-like girders and if you fall, it’s game over. 

There are obvious attempts at paying tribute to classic Pac-Man titles while trying to keep relevance for a new generation of gamers, but that is all they are…attempts. So, if you are a franchise devotee looking for a 3DS adventure that’ll help you pass some time and you don’t mind its plethora of bugs, then you might get a kick out of Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2. For everyone else, there are far better nostalgic alternatives out there, even within the Pac-Man universe.

Review by: Mike Ackerman | Reviewed on: Nintendo 3DS

4.5
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Pier Solar and the Great Architects Review

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Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of playing a game that takes you right back to the nostalgic days of the original Gameboy and Super Nintendo. It’s fun, it’s simple and above all, it’s one of the best games I’ve played in a while. Pier Solar and the Great Architects is a game about three young friends, Hoston, Alina and Edessot, and their journey to save Hoston’s father from a mysterious illness. Hoston, a botanist, decides to venture the treacherous woods to retrieve a rare medicinal herb that may stabilize his father. His friends, Alina and Edessot, insist on accompanying him to help watch his back. This leads them on an epic journey where they learn the meaning of courage and the value of friendship. Pier Solar’s storyline keeps you engaged by explaining just enough to maintain curiosity.


"It’s fun, it’s simple and above all, it’s one of the best games I’ve played in a while."

Pier Solar embraces its original 16-bit aesthetic, setting classic sprites against newly rendered HD backgrounds. Pixel props juxtapose hand-drawn environments wherever you turn or travel. Completely repainted cutscenes beautifully display the increased resolution. The mixture of vintage and modern styles creates a striking harmony, that serves as a visual analogy for the very concept of remakes. Retro purists will appreciate the ability to enable a 16-bit mode. The visual gloss comes with little to no performance cost, as the game has been optimized to run smoothly on older PCs. 

Hoston lives in a small town, and the music accurately reflects that. The main score is a calming but unassuming upbeat melody that makes it difficult not to smile when you first hear it. I literally fought back a perma-grin for the first twenty minutes of gameplay. Key events trigger masterful tonal switches. As characters gear up to conquer evil pixelated foes, the seemingly innocent melody gradually transforms into a resounding anthem.


"NPCs add personality to the landscape, rather than function as throw-away characters robotically dispensing clues."

I thoroughly enjoyed exploration. Pier Solar wholeheartedly deserves the title of The Biggest 16-bit RPG Ever! As soon as an area becomes familiar, you’re transported to a new one. From wandering through dark caves to visiting a desert oasis, it’s hard to grow bored of the environments, and the 300 unique locations avoid redundancy. NPCs add personality to the landscape, rather than function as throw-away characters robotically dispensing clues. Their backstories feel individual. It’s easy to get caught up listening to an NPC recount the death of his people, only to realize you’ve been playing for four hours straight. 

Pier Solar has a pretty basic turn-based fighting system, including spell casting, gathering energy to increase attack potency and the ability defend your teammates. Battles require only elementary strategy and are easy once you get a good grasp of each character’s abilities. I had fun watching Edessot cast a Fireball spell to rain his wrath on these weird globs which look like hunks of snot. Take that, evil boogers of the dark forest! The game borrows its character advancement mechanics from Final Fantasy. Leveling up gear is a pretty straight forward affair. No second guessing, no double checking stats or even trying to figure out class restrictions.


"I thoroughly enjoyed exploration. Pier Solar wholeheartedly deserves the title of The Biggest 16-bit RPG Ever!"

Pier Solar is a modern throwback to the grand dynasty of JRPGs. And yet, despite this, Pier Solar has such a charming quality all its own. Engaging characters populate diverse surroundings. The composite approach to design feels original. Somehow, it’s more accessible. It’s an uncomplicated game aimed at delivering pure enjoyment. Pier Solar invites you to take a break from everyday chaos, and spend a little time in its world listening to a good story.

Review by: Shezka Foxe | Reviewed on: PC

8.5
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