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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Project Cars Release Date Gets Pushed

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If you’ve been looking forward to the crowd-funded racing game, Project CARS, by Slightly Mad Studios then you might just be slightly mad. It seems the studio has pushed back the release date of their game for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC to March 17, 2015. This delay will allow the developers some extra time to fine tune the game. Ian Bell, Head of Studio at Slightly Mad Studios, said “Whilst a tough decision to make, the change in release date allows the game the greatest chance of success and visibility, and the opportunity to polish the game even further to the high standards that both ourselves and our community demand and expect.” This delay also allows for the game to be released well after the holiday shopping season, which allows it to avoid the competition of major, more established titles.

News by: Mike Ackerman 
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SteelSeries Siberia Elite Prism Review

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The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I was in the midst of reviewing Alien: Isolation when the Siberia Elite Prism arrived at our office. What better way to test gaming headphones than with an atmospheric survival horror experience. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that a product’s packaging quality oftentimes reflects its performance quality. A manufacturer that cares enough about their work will deliver it in such a way that it makes an immediate statement. As expected, SteelSeries knows how to impress. When they named this set Elite, they certainly meant it. Unboxing the headphones is the equivalent to opening a treasure-filled chest. Kudos to the packaging designers. Why am I talking about the packaging? Because the beautiful presentation extends to the headphones’ design. These are the kind of headphones that draw everyone’s attention. They’re artfully crafted with beautiful illuminations around each ear cup and sleek lines accentuating the masterful construction. 

But good looks aren’t what counts when it comes to gaming headphones. It’s the auditory quality that matters. After a week of thorough testing, I’m happy to report that the Siberia Elite Prism lives up to its name. The audio is fantastic right out of the box, but a little tweaking is necessary to truly appreciate everything this set has to offer. In fact, playing through Alien: Isolation with Dolby 7.1 surround sound is indescribably immersive. Being able to hear the creature’s precise location when crawling through vents can significantly impact one's gameplay strategy. 


"These are the kind of headphones that draw everyone’s attention. They’re artfully crafted with beautiful illuminations around each ear cup and sleek lines accentuating the masterful construction."

The Siberia Elite Prism comes with its own USB sound card and a plethora of cables that connect to the PC, Mac, Playstation 4, mobile devices and more. As with most SteelSeries products, the SteelSeries Engine 3 software is needed to fully take advantage of the headphones’ special features. The setup takes only a few minutes, although activating proper 7.1 surround requires users to go into the Control Panel and change the headphones’ properties via advanced settings. It’s also important to note that none of the special features, like Dolby surround sound and equalizer settings, work without the USB sound card. We tested both 7.1 and 5.1 surround via Realtek’s HD Audio manager since our sound card already supports Dolby 7.1, but we couldn’t get the levels to perform as accurately as with Siberia’s included USB peripheral. On the down side, using the sound card muffles audio significantly. Music in particular becomes too muted, with Dolby making the volume particularly low. As a result, we ended up using the audio jack, which ironically delivered richer, deeper and more detailed sound across most media (7.1 content excluded). 


"Since most games require individual tweaking for best results, being able to save specific configuration profiles that activate every time a game launches is undeniably helpful."

The software equalizer boasts a number of helpful presets, but we found that none of them work particularly well for games or music except the performance setting. Using the FPS setting when playing FPS games doesn't necessarily always yield the best results. The weapons sound too sharp and echoey with background noise lacking depth and detail. Same goes for music and watching films. The music preset muffles singers’ voices even when Dolby is turned off, and both the movie and entertainment presets produce inconsistent results when watching blu-rays. As a matter of fact, switching to the custom setting and cranking each dial to its maximum provides the most balanced results. 

Whether you're playing games, watching movies, or listening to music, the sound quality is unrivaled. Rewatching my favorite films in Dolby 7.1 surround sound was an entirely new experience, allowing me to hear sounds I never knew existed. Explosion-heavy action games are even more impressive. When playing Battlefield, I could actually hear individual rocks crumbling around me as buildings collapsed in the distance. It's not just for show either. Being able to hear where gun shots and player movements are coming from is stupendously helpful when playing competitively.

The one thing I’ve always liked about the SteelSeries Engine 3 software is the ability to save presets and change illumination colors. Since most games require individual tweaking for best results, being able to save specific configuration profiles that activate every time a game launches is undeniably helpful. However, it would have been nice if the equalizer settings were switchable externally like with the Turtle Beach Ear Force Z60. The 16.8 million illumination options are a nice touch too, even if users can’t see the lights while the headphones are in use. But hey, nothing wrong with a little bit of extra style.  


"The Siberia Elite Prism headphones come with an extension chord, a 3.5 mm audio jack and a dedicated USB sound card. Everything you need in one box."

The Siberia Elite Prism headphones aren’t exactly small, but they’re incredibly comfortable even after several hours of use. They fit snugly and adjust to any head size with ease. SteelSeries has also included a volume control knob on the right ear cup, allowing for easy amplification adjustments while gaming. This is particularly handy when using the headphones via Playstation 4, as accessing the volume control through the PS home menu is no longer necessary. Connecting the Siberia Elite Prism to a PS4 only works via the audio jack, however. While the USB sound card recognizes the headphones, the audio remains low and is only present in the right ear cup. But that’s not really an issue since the included audio jack delivers incredible quality, and connecting the headphones to Playstation’s controller directly is easier anyway. 


"The rich bass and environmental details when playing FPS titles like Crysis or Battlefield are difficult to translate into words and simply need to be experienced firsthand."

The Siberia Elite Prism comes with a rather impressive mic that performs beyond expectations. We tested the set by talking on the phone, via Skype and during intense FPS gaming sessions and the results were impressive. In fact, players on the other line could pick up my keystrokes and mouse clicks while playing Battlefield. The mic may be no professional studio-grade quality, but it’s better than pretty much every headphone mic we’ve used in the past. 

At $199, the Siberia Elite Prism is quite pricey, but it’s unquestionably worth every penny. The audio quality is exceptional and gives both PC and consoles games a new layer of depth and immersion. The rich bass and environmental details when playing FPS titles like Crysis or Battlefield are difficult to translate into words and simply need need to be experienced firsthand. SteelSeries has improved an already strong line of gaming headphones with better build quality, improved features and most importantly superior sound.  

Review by: Tin Salamunic

A
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Starpoint Gemini 2 Review

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Starpoint Gemini 2 makes a wonderful first impression. From the beautiful lens flare effects on the tile screen to the ship textures and planets spinning below in the inky darkness of oblivion. Space is usually rendered as an empty void, but developer Little Green Men Games has embellished their world with nebulous clouds, space debris, asteroids, and streams of colored lights, like an aurora borealis in space that takes your ship on an unexpected journey. The visuals, while pretty can be taxing on a lower-end system and if you aren't careful, you can easily lock up your system just by fiddling with the graphics options. This game is certainly aggressive when it comes to image quality for high end systems.

The game's tutorial starts out pretty well, but halfway through it forgets that some people are using game pads and does not let you know what corresponding keys do what. That leads to a great deal of trial and error and even that can be confusing. I played using the X-Box controller and I found that sometimes the X button allowed me to use abilities and sometimes it changed my target. Instead of Start or Back being my way to the map or menu, I still have to press escape on the keyboard for the menu and as for the map, I have to navigate a mini-menu with the D-pad and then select the map. Player skills are not explained when you level up. Menu items are icons instead of words and there are no tool-tips available. 


"Player skills are not explained when you level up. Menu items are icons instead of words and there are no tool-tips available."

That translates to a lot of people pushing a lot of random things to see what happens. I failed a mission because I couldn't take an outlaw alive (shot his ship so full of holes that cheese exporters started calling me for tips). I still don't know how to capture enemies alive because there doesn't seem to be an option for it, and if I stay still long enough to open the context menu and try to find the correct icon, I am just a sitting duck or they move out of range. The keyboard controls are really no different. It feels more natural to use a stick to fly the ship than a mouse. When using the controller, the mouse cursor is either stuck on the screen, obscuring your view, or down just above the bottom menu. There really is no need for a mouse cursor since the mouse is inactive during the game.


"Only, there was no challenge. There weren't very many pirates that posed even the slightest threat to my ship and it all became routine."

Playing freelance I moved from system to picking up cheap items and selling them at inflated prices. Sounds like fun, right? Only, there was no challenge. There weren't very many pirates that posed even the slightest threat to my ship and it all became routine. Then I decided to try the freelance missions. They mostly involved killing things. The occasional "take object X to location Y" or a repair mission did help liven the game up a bit. The freelance missions were few and far between, however. The only ways I could get more missions was to dock with a space station or just randomly pick an unexplored spot in space and plot a course. Then I'd either get missions that were twenty levels above me or simply empty space or sometimes no missions at all.

The game feels dead because there's no activity around the player. There's no casual interaction with other ships and in fact you rarely see other ships flitting around. There is the occasional battle near a space station from stupid under armed pirates, but nothing substantial. You can read what's going on in the world around you in the news feeds, but nothing in the news directly affects the player. There's no com chatter, no hailing between ships; it’s just a static nothingness. Nothing happens unless you initiate it.


"The game feels dead because there's no activity around the player. There's no casual interaction with other ships and in fact you rarely see other ships flitting around."

The combat system is actually well done, but a little on the confusing side. The readouts around your ship (which you actually have to enable my clicking the right stick) don't really tell you much because you can't be sure what graphics mean something and which graphic is just window dressing eye candy. My ship did take a few hits and the shields and hull took damage, but apparently the ship self-heals and never requires repairs. The collision detection is spot on, which I found out when I smacked my ship into a fast moving cruiser that appeared out of nowhere on my right (I wasn't paying attention to the mini-map). I just bounced off. Now, these ships are supposed to be going so fast that they can circle an entire planet in minutes, but if they hit anything, they just bounce off of it. While I am grateful that my mistake didn't cost me my life, it takes the player out of the moment and reduces the suspension of disbelief.

You can carry a limited amount of cargo and to upgrade that, you have to purchase a new ship, which is often in the millions of credits range. There are upgrades and new weapons you can place on your ship, but there aren’t any readouts comparing what you have to the new item, or even what the item does. Your best bet is to save the game, buy and install the item, and then see what happens. For every item!

Trading is my favorite part of these kinds of games, but there isn’t a system of supply and demand in place. You can walk out of a space station, shoot a few asteroids two kicks away, load up your cargo bay, and then go back to the space station and unload. You can get some easy credits doing this, but why would they bother paying for this at all? The asteroids are practically at their front door and should have all been picked clean long before you come along. 


"Trading has its own ups and downs but nothing beats the feeling of buying low and selling high and watching your credit balance slowly rise."

When the game is taken as a whole you can see the potential of what the developers were trying to do. The graphics are simply amazing and the ship's movement is natural. Combat can be easily resolved through auto-aiming and firing your weapons (trying to aim your weapons manually is a nightmare). Trading has its own ups and downs but nothing beats the feeling of buying low and selling high and watching your credit balance slowly rise. The game plays well despite the confusing and unexplained controls and in general I found myself liking this game. The auto save feature is a lifesaver because you'll be loading a lot. Not from pirates or black holes shredding your ship, but from crashes. 

Leaving a space station can crash the game. Going into the menu can crash the game. Putting an item on your ship can crash the game. You end up playing with kid gloves because you aren't sure which of your actions might cause the next crash. I was hoping for a patch before I wrote this article and I was lucky enough to receive one just a day prior to this writing. While I haven’t been able to find all the differences and additions to the game, there were numerous bug fixes and crash resolutions. The tutorial, while an annoying information dump right when you start the game, is now spread out a little more evenly. There are still options that haven't been finished in the game such as certain upgrades or the ability to customize your ship, so you should expect regular updates with new content. The game is fun, but incomplete and frustrating at times. At the current price of $35.00 for an unfinished game, it’s hard to give Starpoint Gemini 2 anything higher than a five.

Review by: Mark Brenner | Reviewed on: PC

5
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