Trials Fusion Review

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"The entire system can be learned in around two minutes, yet players will still be honing their skills several hours into the game's campaign, and the game's one-button checkpoint and level reset mechanics make it very easy to do so."

Having never played much of the previous entries in the Trials franchise, I came into this review with tempered expectations. How much mileage could you possibly get out of the game’s simple physics-based motorcycle racing? Well, several hours later and with tired eyes, I am here to tell you that Trials: Fusion is a fiendishly difficult and addictive puzzle/racing hybrid that promises hours upon hours of immensely satisfying gameplay.

Fusion’s core concept is very simple. Players must navigate through a series of 3D tracks on a 2D plane, using only their accelerator, brake, and the left analog stick to balance your rider. Most levels challenge you simply to get from point A to B in the fastest time—and with the fewest crashes—possible. The entire system can be learned in around two minutes, yet players will still be honing their skills several hours into the game's campaign, and the game's one-button checkpoint and level reset mechanics make it very easy to do so.

Going back to replay tracks is essential to the experience. Not only are there three medals to win for each track, but there are also three sub-challenges that can completely change how you play that particular level. You may complete one track in a decent time with no faults, but then the game challenges you to come back and do the same while completing 10 backflips, or keeping your front wheel off the ground for a large portion of the race. Some levels offer skill challenges to break up the experience, enticing players to compete in big air or trick events to add variety to the game.


"The courses themselves are varied and gorgeous. Levels are divided into eight events, and while each uses their own distinct palette of background and track features, no two individual courses felt overly similar."

As you earn medals, you will earn experience to add to your character’s level and money to earn unlocks to customize the appearance of your rider. And while these rewards are essential for many similar games, it never seemed to motivate me more than the simple satisfaction of completing a challenge. The courses themselves are varied and gorgeous. Levels are divided into eight events, and while each uses their own distinct palette of background and track features, no two individual courses felt overly similar. In the urban section, for example, one event sees you ride through the city’s marina bunny-hopping from one yacht to the next, while another track has you whipping double backflips off of the backs of blimps. Pyrotechnics, collapsing bridges, see-saw points, and launch pads add to the variety to both the visuals and the gameplay experience. Some of my favorite tracks includes moving floors, forcing players to be launched into the air to seemingly crash into the floor below before the track appears in front of you at a moment’s notice.


"A very impressive level editor promises that gamers will have plenty more to experience after the main campaign is over."

The game’s sense of humor is also present throughout. The game features two computerized announcers, a disinterested male voice and a female voice that is clearly inspired by GLaDOS from Portal, who routinely cajole or congratulate you for your accomplishments. These audio tracks are linked to every course, meaning you will hear the same line over and over again as you restart the level, but they can be turned off at any time and offer quite a few jokes that had me laughing out loud. There is also an overwhelming sense of doom for your little rider, as each and every course ends in seeing him cross the finish line only to be launched into a lake or a pile of crates or off of a skyscraper and into traffic 40 stories below. As difficult as some courses are to complete, that little moment of humor at the end can be a nice reminder that yes, you are having fun.

The game works well as a single-player experience, but it is meant to be shared. A very impressive level editor promises that gamers will have plenty more to experience after the main campaign is over, and I am eagerly looking forward to some of the challenges that users are sure to come up with. Four player races are another available, and you also have the option of racing through single-player races against your friends’ ghosts to compete for the top spot on the international leaderboards. Trials: Fusion is also one of the first games that really makes me want to use the video-sharing function of the current generation, as so many accomplishments you earn will have you looking around the room for someone to share a “did you see that?” moment. As more players pick up the game, I am sure the social features of the game will take more center stage than they have at this point in my experience.

There is little about Trials: Fusion that I would not recommend, and with the fairly limited number of titles available for next-gen adopters—as well as the fact that this will be the first title in the series available on a Sony platform—I suspect many gamers will jump on board for a ride. It serves as a great introduction to the franchise, contains hours of content, and provides a worthy challenge. Do not miss it.


Review by: Nick Walge | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

10
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Agarest: Generations of War Zero Review

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"That makes this something akin to flying to Japan and ordering at the first restaurant off the plane; the odds of getting something comfortable and familiar are low."

This is my first review for The Game Scouts and I must admit that I’m enormously stepping out of my area of expertise on this one. Speaking frankly, I’m most likely more than a bit ethno-centrist in my adamant resistance to anime and the JRPG genre; I am a big fan of Western storytelling and will always choose Batman over Dragonball Z. The only Final Fantasy game I actually played much was the lucky number seven, and even that wasn’t really my cup of tea. That makes this something akin to flying to Japan and ordering at the first restaurant off the plane; the odds of getting something comfortable and familiar are low, but it’s still best to keep an open mind and enjoy the new experience. As luck would have it, Agarest did nothing to turn my stomach. Serving as a prequel, Agarest puts ye mighty player in the shoes of Sieghart, a character so powerful that he immediately dies in the second fight he finds himself in; have no fears, for a mysterious woman will bring him back to life, imbuing him with extraordinarily more acceptable powers.

As can often be the case in such games, Agarest: Generations of War Zero is a veritable time sink. The first thing a player might notice is the strange pacing that the game decides to take. Story is generally just as vital as action in a role-playing game, and this one throws quite a bit at you. However, some of the dialogue becomes redundant, boring, and trite; you may find yourself wondering why you bother reading page after page of conversation that doesn’t propel the story forward.


"Combat in the game is repetitive, but enjoyable enough for those who enjoy turn-based RPG-style fisticuffs."

Funny enough, the introductory exposition flies by at an absurd pace, not allowing the player enough time to read it in full. When the character interaction begins, the pace comes to a screeching halt. Luckily the game-makers had the foresight to put in a fast-forwarding “skip” option, through which you will get to see the dialogue flash by at a lightning pace. You can toggle this time-saver on and off as you choose, because some of the story is absolutely intriguing. Enough time in, it’s possible that the characters may develop beyond their relatively simple starting points.

Combat in the game is repetitive, but enjoyable enough for those who enjoy turn-based RPG-style fisticuffs. Fighting orcs, wolves, and wasps may be the unavoidable “task de jour” for the opening chapters, but the tutorial instruction on fighting mechanics is pretty good, and the difficulty level starts out forgivingly for those who learn slowly. The fights involve a good amount of strategy, but nothing unfamiliar; I yearned ever so slightly for something like South Park: The Stick of Truth, which I think had similar action but greater amusement value. The graphics are cute, although technically immature and a bit cherubic in the character design. Better are the dialogue-based character close-ups, which better translate the nature of the characters on screen. A nice modern touch, these close-ups are not stills, but speak with limited animation, making them less reminiscent of old 90’s games in the arcade (although they still may bring to mind good old days playing TMNT)


"Unfortunately, this fellowship is less compelling, and the female characters in particular are written to have a kind of angelic, maidenly helplessness."

One complaint that can be easily levied is the absolute linearity of the game map. In the first two hours of gameplay, there were no options, forks, or decisions outside of “on to the next one”. This is a map that didn’t even bother try to match the geographical complexity of a Super Nintendo Mario game, let alone the free-ranging whimsy of a Final Fantasy game. In a world of sandbox video games, an absolute absence of risk and choice is disappointing.
The banality of the early map is a shame too, because there seems to be a fair amount of imagination loaded into this fantasyland. There are some hints that the long-course story will be building towards an ultimate battle of “light vs dark” in true Tolkien style. Unfortunately, this fellowship is less compelling, and the female characters in particular are written to have a kind of angelic, maidenly helplessness. Playing long enough, there are definitely some hints of betrayal and character choices that may shape whom your ending party will be; that said, the time spent getting to that point may not be time worth spending.

The music is simple, but enjoyable; as with the graphics, the one word that I would use to describe the atmosphere, gameplay, and overall experience is a forgiving one: “quaint”. Without a doubt, that was the impression; this is a game that will suck you in for hours at a time, but in a quixotic quest that doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get you there. And there you have it: this game is a purgatory for those that do not zealously love the genre. Given no middle-option between rapid scene-skipping and egregiously-slow gabbing, those that are not fans of the JRPG may want to skip it altogether. For those who enjoy this sort of thing, you could do much worse.

Review by: Robert Roodhouse | Reviewed on: PC

6
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LEGO The Hobbit Review

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"The Hobbit is the best LEGO game to date and some of the most fun I’ve had with my PS4 since the system’s launch."

Since the 2005 Lego Star Wars: The Video Game on PC, I’ve been completely enamored by Traveller’s Tales’ digitization of my favorite childhood toys. Even all these years later, I feel a childlike excitement with every new release. Being able to venture through vast, virtual LEGO worlds has been consistently exciting despite little changes to the gameplay formula. On the other hand, presentation has evolved tremendously within the past few entries. The introduction of voice acting has given our plastic heroes a greater sense of personality and the environmental sandbox approach has made each LEGO world considerably more immersive. With Traveller’s Tales’ latest LEGO The Hobbit, the developers have outdone themselves once again. From improved visuals and refined gameplay mechanics to better level designs and wittier writing, The Hobbit is the best LEGO game to date and some of the most fun I’ve had with my PS4 since the system’s launch.

LEGO The Hobbit loosely follows the first two films in the trilogy. I’ve yet to see Peter Jackson’s big screen adaptation, but being able experience Tolkien’s finest work within a satirical LEGO landscape is all I need for the time being. Without delving into the familiar narrative too much, LEGO The Hobbit is best described as a Monty Python-esque retelling of Tolkien’s novel. The storyline follows the novel’s events fairly closely, but it’s been modified to fit within the game’s chapters. As a result, certain storyline bits feel choppy if you’re unfamiliar with the source material, but from a video game perspective it enhances LEGO’s action-oriented pacing.


"The lighting and textures are eye-popping and each level is crammed with movie inspired set pieces and breakable LEGO bricks."

From a technical standpoint, LEGO The Hobbit may not be a graphical behemoth like the recent Infamous: Second Son, but for a LEGO game it’s pretty damn close. The lighting and textures are eye-popping and each level is crammed with movie inspired set pieces and breakable LEGO bricks. A consistently smooth framerate ensures fluid action no matter how many chunks scatter across the screen, although the stubborn camera issues still haven’t been addressed. Impressively directed cinematics tie chapters masterfully and the signature LEGO humor provides constant laughs from the very first opening scene to the end.

While the majority of LEGO The Hobbit played without any freezes or crashes, I did experience a few button–prompt issues. Certain key chests couldn’t be opened because the necessary icon wasn’t showing up and I was forced to restart an entire level on two occasions. While this isn’t a serious game-breaking bug, it’s annoying if it happens after 30 minutes of collecting every single treasure within a level. It’s also somewhat disappointing that the save function hasn’t improved from previous entries. Checkpoints are still few and far between and while there are various statue save-points, it takes too long to reach them.


"The Hobbit is worth every penny and Tolkien fans will cherish the care and detail Traveller’s Tales put into their work."

The gameplay has been refined to feel smoother and more responsive but still remains conceptually unchanged. For anyone with OCD-like tendencies, the obsessive coin collecting can be traumatizing – and I mean this in the best way possible. Reaching that perfect score at the end of every level is what LEGO games have always been about and The Hobbit is no different. The semi-open world levels have an absurd amount of collectibles and each chapter is filled with plethora of side quests and hidden secrets. Puzzles still play a major role in LEGO The Hobbit and while they’re by no means brainteasers, it’s still fun trying to figure out what abilities are needed for overcoming obstacles. Mining and forging items also plays a big part in LEGO The Hobbit. In order to get past certain checkpoints, it’s necessary to craft keys, cranes and a bunch of other similar devices. Of course, in order to keep your inventory craft-ready you have to hunt down every breakable object in your path.

LEGO The Hobbit is an impressive evolution of a very long running franchise. While I still hope to see more gameplay variety from future offerings, the sheer scope and undeniable LEGO charm is what continues to keep me glued to the screen. If you’ve enjoyed previous LEGO entries, I’m happy to say that this is the most epic title to date. In terms of sheer value, The Hobbit is worth every penny and Tolkien fans will cherish the care and detail Traveller’s Tales put into their work. Yes, the LEGO series may be geared towards a very young audience, but I have no shame in admitting that I still enjoy each release as much as the big-boy AAA titles.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

8.5
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Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut Review

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"While it does bring some interesting ideas into the space shooter arena, it does come with a number of drawbacks that will likely fail to impress gamers outside of the diehard target audience."

The space shooter genre—once flush with quality franchises such as Colony Wars, Wing Commander, and the various Star Wars: Tie Fighter and Rogue Squadron games—has long since faded from most gaming store shelves. Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut, originally released for PCs last year by Born Ready Games and funded by a Kickstarter campaign, seeks to fill the void that joystick jockeys have felt for years now, and while it does bring some interesting ideas into the space shooter arena, it does come with a number of drawbacks that will likely fail to impress gamers outside of the diehard target audience.

Players take on the role of Adams, a mute fighter pilot serving alongside the last remaining forces of Earth in the year 2299 against a colonial force seeking to control an ancient alien technology. The story is told exclusively over radio chatter during the campaign, which means players are either too busy fighting off the hordes of enemy forces on the screen to follow the plot, or they are forced to drift quietly in space with nothing to do but hear an essential story beat. As a result, players never feel fully invested in the game’s tale, even though the voice acting and writing exhibited levels of nuance that may have been more captivating had it been delivered with a little more style.


"The game’s controls do not have the option to map your own controller, meaning that I had to get by with one of the three predetermined schemes."

Luckily, elements of style within the games visuals and audio do allow it to shine in other ways. Beautiful images of imploding planets make as exciting backdrops to your dogfights, and each opponent you take out explodes with a satisfying rumble. I find myself less inspired by the game’s soundtrack, as the dream-like ambient music and Japanese vocals seem so out-of-sync with the action onscreen that it can be distracting at times.

The game’s controls do not have the option to map your own controller, meaning that I had to get by with one of the three predetermined schemes. After some getting used to, I was able to navigate with some degree of proficiency, but I never felt as confident during tight strafing runs on enemy capital ships as I felt I might have been otherwise. Furthermore, there are no single-button presses for barrel rolls or 180 degree turns, forcing players to swing wide to track enemy movements or release an EMP blast to evade a missile lock. While not necessarily a drawback in and of itself, moments like these do feel like a missed opportunity to add some visual flair to the dogfights.

What the game does offer is an opportunity to transform your fighter into a bipedal mech during combat. Doing so increases your available firepower, but seriously limits your mobility. Nevertheless, switching into Strike Mode, locking on to several opponents on once and then unleashing a torrent of swarm misses is the game’s most satisfying moment. Watching the “Target Destroyed” message as opponents explode by the handful always brings a smile to my face.


"As you progress in the game, the dogfighting soon becomes stale, and there is little else to do."

Unfortunately, the game suffers from serious pacing issues. First, there are no power-ups or restocking stations during the campaign, meaning that players are forced to ration their ammunition from the start. This is very frustrating during the games many long (and often, quite difficult) levels, as having to rely on my cannons to destroy the last remaining opponents became tedious at best. And although the long missions do have many checkpoints allowing you to restart, once you cross one of those thresholds with no ammunition, you are fated to respawn in the same emaciated condition.

As you progress in the game, the dogfighting soon becomes stale, and there is little else to do. Most of the game’s campaign are escort missions where you are responsible for fighting off waves of fighters before they destroy your own capital ships. This structure wears thin very soon, and none of the other missions offer any sort of reprieve. At the Strike Suite Zero’s lowest points, I found myself tracking down incoming torpedoes for waves at a time, or even worse, operating a vessel that fired off slow-moving torpedoes of its own as I watched a distant target’s life bar slowly fall away in tiny chunks.   


"As a downloadable title, the 20 dollar price point should be enough to lure fans of the space shooter genre, and there is much for them to enjoy."

The game comes loaded on consoles with the Heroes of the Fleet DLC, which gives players the chance to reenact other famous battles from the game’s lore, and while it is nice to have an occasional reprieve from the blandly-delivered story, you will find yourself going through the same basic mission types there, as well. There are plenty of ship and weapon upgrades to unlock and an online Leaderboard to keep players busy after the credits roll, but due to monotonous gameplay, I doubt anyone beyond the most dedicated fans will give try to pad the journey available. As a downloadable title, the 20 dollar price point should be enough to lure fans of the space shooter genre, and there is much for them to enjoy. Overall, though, the game’s frustrating design choices make it a game that is not recommended for casual audiences.

Review by: Nick Walge | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

6.5
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Space Adventure Cobra Part 1 Review

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"As one of Weekly Shonen Jump’s best-selling Manga series of all time, Cobra has earned its place as one of Japan’s most notable classics."

Cobra’s Japanese origins aren’t immediately apparent. In fact, Cobra can easily pass as a traditional eighties American cartoon. Inspired by classic spaghetti westerns, James Bond, Disney and most notably Barbarella, Buichi Terasawa’s passion for American cinema is evident with every frame and line of dialogue. As one of Weekly Shonen Jump’s best-selling Manga series of all time, Cobra has earned its place as one of Japan’s most notable classics, spawning various sequels, a Sega CD video game by Hudson Soft, a feature-length film, and of course the fan-favorite 31-episode TV series originally released in 1982. Space Adventure Cobra is for serious animation lovers. It probably won’t appeal to your typical Anime fan, but animation aficionados with an affinity for niche cinema will fall in love with Buichi Terasawa’s quirky sci-fi saga. Combined with his profound love for Osamu Tezuka’s work, Buichi delivers a psychedelic science fiction adventure brimming with colorful characters, explosive action sequences and everything that made the eighties awesome.

Johnson is an office worker who leads an uneventful and dull life. His oversized robotic servant Ben suggests a visit to Trip Movie Corporation, an organization that lets customers experience lifelike dreams in order to escape everyday monotony. Within minutes of connecting to the dream server, Johnson finds himself venturing through galaxies and fighting off space-pirates with an attractive robot companion by his side. He is equipped with a super arm cannon, the Psychogun, that’s powerful enough to destroy entire ship fleets. The catch is that Johnson never signed up for this particular dream. All he wanted is to be surrounded by beautiful women and command a battlestar.


"The series quickly turns into a chaotic spectacle. Flashy explosions, bizarre space aliens, robotic space babes, a futuristic landscape soaked in neon and two incredible leads with great chemistry."

Writing off the dream as a probable (yet exciting) computer error, Johnson leaves Trip Movie Corporation with a renewed sense of excitement. After a sudden car crash, he finds himself face to face with a man who suspiciously resembles Captain Vaiken, one of the space-pirates from his dream. It is then that Johnson starts putting the pieces together. After being confronted by Vaiken, Johnson instinctively pulls out the Psychogun and starts blasting. Once back home, Johnson starts realizing that the dream was in fact a memory. After meddling in the Pirate Guild’s criminal enterprises, Cobra altered his face and erased his memory in order to have a fresh start in life. His robotic servant also turns out to be someone else, namely the attractive robot companion Lady Armaroid.

The series quickly turns into a chaotic spectacle. Flashy explosions, bizarre space aliens, robotic space babes, a futuristic landscape soaked in neon and two incredible leads with great chemistry. Star Wars and Blade Runner fans will relish in Cobra’s constant references to sci-fi classics. Despite its age, Cobra’s humor feels witty and sharp. The hilarious dialogue fits the satirical sci-fi setting perfectly and Cobra is a very likeable protagonist despite his occasionally snarky attitude. While an undoubtedly skilled fighter, his recklessness and ego tend to get him into trouble repeatedly. Luckily, Lady Armaroid (Cobra’s serious-half) is always at arm’s length during sticky situations. Their charming back and forth banter is absolutely delightful and Yoshiko Sakakibara does an impressive job of giving Armaroid a very human-like persona.


"Cobra is an Anime gold mine. It’s a stylistically rare blend of Western and Eastern craft and deserves a special place on any collector’s shelf."

The show’s episodic nature is perfect for sporadic viewing. Each adventure introduces new compelling villains and the frantic pacing never lets up, giving Cobra a sense of grandiose epicness. While the core narrative never escalates beyond rudimentary sci-fi clichés, it’s how the episodes are executed that makes the plot immersive. The artists have done a spectacular job of making every setting feel believable and alive, giving Cobra’s simplistic story a much-needed coat of authenticity. It may seem like Cobra is all about style over substance, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The quality is in the details. It’s a nerd-fest extravaganza, for lack of a better term, which offers genre fans a plate of delicious sci-fi bites wrapped in aesthetic delicacy.   

Cobra is an Anime gold mine. It’s a stylistically rare blend of Western and Eastern craft and deserves a special place on any collector’s shelf. The newly remastered DVD set is by far the best way to experience Cobra’s colorful space ventures and would be a crime to miss out on. My only issue with the set is that it’s been split into two volumes. Considering the show’s short running time, it would have been nicer to have every episode included in one giant combo release. But even with two separate releases, Space Adventure Cobra is a steal at only $37.49 per set. If you’re looking for something drastically different from current Anime offerings, Cobra is an enjoyable look back at the golden age of Japanese animation.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Review Format: DVD | Running Time: 375 Minutes

B+
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Ranma 1/2 Set 1 Series Review

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"Ranma 1/2 makes you laugh, question what the hell is going on, experience a massive range of emotions, laugh some more, and best of all— remember the roots of Japanese animation and why we love it so much."

Rumiko Takahashi, the creator of Ranma 1/2 has proven that stories are a wonderful thing to behold on paper, but an even better experience to watch on television. I say this mostly because of having grown up with her stories on my shelves (Can I get an InuYasha from the crowd, please???), most of which were my introduction to manga, and later, a great excuse to beg my mom to let me stay up late enough to watch the anime on Adult Swim and pout when she said no. All these years later, I must say, I'm still not disappointed in Takahashi’s art. While there may be earlier examples of gender-benders or crazy martial arts, or comedic romances, or even combinations of all three, Ranma 1/2 is one of the best of at least two of those genres. Ranma 1/2, simply put, makes you laugh, question what the hell is going on, experience a massive range of emotions, laugh some more, and best of all— remember the roots of Japanese animation and why we love it so much.

The story seems to begin like any other generic shounen romance. Soun Tendo owns a martial arts school but has only daughters. He therefore has made an agreement with his friend Genma Saotome, who has a son the same age as the youngest Tendo daughter and not that much younger than the oldest. Tendo neglected to tell the girls that one of them would have to marry the young Saotome until the day he receives a postcard telling of the Saotomes' imminent arrival. When he breaks the news, Kasumi, Nabiki, and Akane are understandably upset, none moreso than man-hating Akane, the youngest at sixteen. All of this soon seems negated when a large panda and a teenage girl arrive, the girl proclaiming to be Ranma Saotome. Nabiki's pretty upset, but Akane's utterly relieved... until it turns out that after a hot bath girl Ranma turns into boy Ranma! Talk about a buzz kill.


"However, the cast of characters will never fail to disappoint and that’s one of the things I love so much about old-school manga and anime like Ranma 1/2."

You see, Ranma and his father, the panda, took a trip to a special training ground in China made up of many cursed springs. If you fall into, for example, Spring of Drowned Girl, you become a girl when doused with cold water. Hot water, obviously, will turn you back to your original self. Kasumi and Nabiki, upon learning this, quickly gang up on Akane and make her Ranma's fiancée, saying that it's perfect because he's half a girl. Thus begins a crazy epic of animal/gender swapping, insane martial arts, and an on-again/off-again romance.
Characters are plentiful, but at this point, Volume 1 of the anime, they are all very distinct. Ranma himself is the least formed character; at first he feels badly about his affliction at how it affects others, but soon, he starts to use this to his advantage, and really, it's hard to blame him there. He also clearly likes Akane far more than she likes him; however, her usual treatment at the hands of boys, she's regarded as a prize to be won, does inform her blanket dislike of her new fiancé. Nabiki, the middle Tendo sister, is in some ways the most interesting character, a self-serving strong-minded young woman who seems to enjoy manipulating others. Her interactions with Upperclassman Kuno are particularly entertaining, although it must be admitted that Kuno in general is pretty amusing in an annoying way. However, the cast of characters will never fail to disappoint and that’s one of the things I love so much about old-school manga and anime like Ranma 1/2. Back then, there was almost a blank slate when it came to defining anime tropes.


"To put it simply, Ranma 1/2 is just as enjoyable now in its unflipped, omnibus form as it was years ago when it was one of my first manga experiences."

Nowadays, it can seem like certain behaviors have become too common and c’mon— you know you’ve groaned when someone mentioned a genderswapped version of your favorite character. Ranma 1/2 truly set the stage for Japanese rom-coms. However, what is also cool is that it also has some differences that will seem refreshing to a modern readership. For example, girl Ranma objects to other girls grabbing her breasts, something that is somewhat plentiful in many stories today (Isn’t fan-service beautiful?). There is also a level of goofiness that has become a bit passé, and, of necessity, more fluidity in gender roles than we see as given rather than as something to gloat about.
Lastly, the audio and visuals of Ranma 1/2 for the most part are outstanding for their time period. Character designs are superb, and animation for the first seasons is incredible. The soundtrack also has great numbers for the opening and ending with terrific vocals and upbeat, catchy melodies. The remaining seasons don’t receive the same blessing. With so many talented artists bringing their expertise to this title, Ranma is definitely a must see for anime fans. Although the length does drag the series down, don’t let it turn you off from checking it out. To put it simply, Ranma 1/2 is just as enjoyable now in its unflipped, omnibus form as it was years ago when it was one of my first manga experiences. It has aged well, with the out-and-out lunacy of the story remaining fun and fairly fresh, the art still attractive and not too dated, and a generally entertaining atmosphere. If you've never read it or watched it, this is a good time to do so, because there's a reason people are enamored with this classic. And let’s be honest here— who can’t love a romantic comedy with a few punches thrown around? It’s got something for everyone, young or old, boy or girl (or both!); it is a timeless work of art that should always be remembered in today’s anime scene.

Review by: Sara Perfin | Review Format: DVD | Running Time: 530 Minutes

B-
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Top Ten Video Game Soundtracks

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It’s often argued whether or not video games are an art form. Personally, I’m in the camp that would suggest that they are, but that’s an argument that I’m sure will rage far beyond my years. While some may disagree that games are art there are things to be said for other factors within the games themselves. Take soundtracks, for instance. It’s true that music is widely considered an art form, yet music in games is usually ignored. Sure there are some great OSTs out there that defy this logic and are openly praised, but for the most part game soundtracks aren’t digested as something other than a piece of the final product we all play on our consoles or PCs.

I can’t fault people for this, it’s something all of us do in one form or another. Gamers can only take in so much, and sometimes, in the heat of the moment, when the pressure is on and the game has us white-knuckled and overwhelmed, soundtracks are the first thing drowned out. Why is that, do you think? I think it’s because music is passive experience, while gaming is inherently something that you must be invested in with our more tactile and immediate senses. That’s all a shot in the dark, and honestly it’s more thought than fact, so I could be wrong. But, it makes sense to me... at least it does as I write this out.

So, here we come to this list, this ode to the top ten soundtracks of all time. Some of them you might have overlooked, while others are well known and established cornerstones held in high esteem by most of the gaming community.  Either way, this list, compiled by me, features 10 of the most wonderful musical journies that have ever accompanied gameplay. These soundtracks, when listened to on their own, channel an entirely different experience… a musical experience that, in some cases, is as powerful as the game itself. So explore the list below, and, as always, feel free to chime off or challenge. I’d love to know your input. Enjoy!

10. Super Mario 64

While Super Mario 64 may not feature a soundtrack as elaborately composed as some of the other OSTs that appear on this list, it’s definitely one of the most memorable. Most people that grew up during the Nintendo 64 era received Mario 64 bundled in with their consoles, making it their first game back when the console debuted in 1996. Because of that reason alone, most gamers I know can hum bits and pieces of this soundtrack with no problem. It doesn’t help that it’s probably one of the catchiest OSTs ever written. Whether it’s the subtle percussive “Title Theme”, the playful synth of the “Super Mario 64 Main Theme” or the menacing “Ultimate Koopa” track, one thing is for sure: it’s infectious.

9. Dark Souls

Most people know Dark Souls for its brutal difficulty, amazing bosses and unforgiving odds, but how many people know it for its remarkable soundtrack? The brilliance of this OST lies in its use of subtlety. Music is varied and ambient, lulling about for minutes on end, milking the most it can out of each and every sustained note. Normal music wraps the player in false comforts while bosses are treated to crushing Timpani, zealous choruses and deep swooning low brass. All these pieces add up to a brilliant musical whole that increases the overall sense of dread, wonder and intrigue making the game feel as melancholy as it is dire.

8. Halo (Entire Series)

Back when the original Xbox launched in November of 2001 (can you believe it’s been that long?) it was a fledgling console that struggled to find a seat within the gaming community, especially one that was so entrenched in the success of the PlayStation 2. Enter Halo. This game was the definition of a console seller, and to fans of the series it still is. I remember playing the game for the first time, watching as that halo rotated across the menu screen and the chorus of ominous monk-like tones chimed in so subtly. It was amazing then, and it’s just as amazing now. As the series grew, so did its music. That iconic Halo theme has emblazoned itself in gamers minds all over the world and has been remixed, sampled, and used by hundreds of musicians, including the great Steve Vai. How cool is that?

7. Journey

Journey is one of the more recent entries on this list, but it’s no less deserving than any of the others. Those that have had the opportunity to play this PlayStation 3 exclusive know how much of an emotional experience this game is, and the music… my, god, the music… It does wonders to compliment the feel and elegance that the rest of this spectacular title radiates. The haunting strings and woodwinds that crescendo and decrescendo throughout the entirety of the soundtrack are coupled brilliantly with the delicate use of percussion resulting in a brilliant composition that evokes as much of an emotive response as the game itself. Spectacular!

6. Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption was a sure thing when Rockstar released it in May of 2010. The game was critically acclaimed and a smash hit with players. It’s wide, open world approach to the lawless west stepped into brave new territory that few games have managed to capture successfully. Its soundtrack is a flawless masterwork that depicts a perfect blend of spaghetti western charm and evocative instrumentation about as beautiful as the scenery found within the game itself. Most players will remember one standout moment though, and that’s Mexico. Jose Gonzales’ eerie and haunting song “Far Away” is a minimalist guitar masterpiece that must go down as one of the best pieces of music ever written for a video game.

5. Skyrim

It doesn’t take much to notice that Skyrim was a phenomenon. The game sold millions of copies, single-handedly sparked memes (insert arrow to the knee jokes here), and harbored a community of modders that have, and still are, creating spectacular content. But, the game’s soundtrack and iconic “Dragonborn” theme are instantly recognizable by most gamers familiar with this past generation. Some people I know would go so far as to argue that the entirety of the Elder Scrolls series deserves to be featured on this list, and I don’t necessarily disagree, but this game stands tall above the others in terms of composition and production making it a worthy entry.

4. God of War III

God of War III is a game that I became well acquainted with when it came out in March of 2010. I was big into trophy hunting at the time and I played through it about three times in pursuit of that precious platinum. It wasn’t until I was almost done with my second play through of the game that I noticed just how good the music was. Of course I had heard it in my previous journey through the title, but it wasn’t until my second clash with Zeus that it dawned on me just how epic it all was. To this day this remains one of my favorite OSTs because of the way it so perfectly captures the raw intensity of Kratos’ persona. Kratos isn’t the best character ever written, but the music in God of War III did an amazing job defining the anguish and inner turmoil that is so deeply embedded in his character.

3. Bastion

Bastion is a success story unlike any other. Take a indie developer like Supergiant Games, add in some brilliant design, memorable characters, and intriguing gameplay and you have a hit that has appeared on pretty much every available platform in this generation. One of the best parts about Bastion is its soundtrack and the way the music itself tells a story. Featuring bright acoustic guitar, crisp chimes, a touch of Middle Eastern flair, and a deep rooted country appeal and you have music that ends up being as remarkable as the game itself. Considering how recent it is, most of you already know how awesome the soundtrack is, so without further ado I’ll let the embed below speak for itself.

2. Final Fantasy (Entire Series)

Final Fantasy is one of the most revered series in all of gaming. The titles have fallen from grace a bit in more recent years, but the classics are still held in high regard. The music is something that has always been memorable though, even during the chips and chirps of the NES and SNES era. Of course, certain games contain more highlights, but overall the entirety of the series is a staple for what is possible in the world of gaming soundtracks. Highlights include, but are not limited to FFIII, FFV, FFVII, FFIX and FFX.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Well, we’ve reached the number one slot, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I know, I know, I’m getting into specifics with a franchise that has had a variety of impressive soundtracks, so why not include them all? Well, there’s a reason for this one particular entry, and that reason lies in its innovative incorporation of music. The game’s soundtrack isn’t just a passive experience, some of the most memorable tunes are actually tools at Link’s disposal. In fact, you can’t progress without learning, playing and performing these tracks, making the game’s music much more than something just lingering in the background. Musically, the songs featured in Ocarina of Time are all over the place, both playful and longing, some even genuinely menacing. Who doesn’t remember playing iconic melodies like “Serenade of Water” on that tiny blue Ocarina, or just racing through the valleys of Hyrule on Epona while listening to the “Hyrule Field Theme”? There are just some songs that are timeless, and the fact that this game has been updated and re-released on Gamecube, and 3DS since its original inception goes to show that its genius wasn’t just limited to a generation.

Honorable Mentions:
Below you’ll find a few entries that didn’t quite make the cut, but deserve mention nonetheless. There’s a variety to the games below seeing as they come from entirely different generations, but they’re all wonderful nonetheless. If you’re looking for classic fantasy, I suggest checking out Arcanum. If you want a bit more of a modern electronica feel then try out Mass Effect, Sanctum or Frozen Synapse. And, of course, if you want more tones from the classic SNES era then you can’t go wrong with Chrono Trigger or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

Article by: Palmer Sturman
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Mechanic Escape Review

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"The game is definitely tailored towards a hardcore audience, but it’s got a level of charm to it that ought to entice more casual gamers as well."

Late last month you might have caught my preview of Mechanic Escape, the upcoming indie platformer from Slak Games. In the preview I praised the game’s art style, animations and presentation, while challenging its controls and level trigger mechanics just a bit. Well, I’ve had an opportunity to play though the full game for review and I’m delighted to inform you that a lot of the problems I discussed in my preview have been alleviated. Mechanic Escape is pure fun, pitting players against a wide range of perilous obstacles that, when touched, will result in instant death. The game is definitely tailored towards a hardcore audience, but it’s got a level of charm to it that ought to entice more casual gamers as well.

Mechanic Escape features five worlds, each with 20 levels. Each world presents a different aesthetic and atmosphere in addition to ramping up the difficulty. Even seasoned platformers will run into their fair share of challenging segments. So, expect death. It’s bound to happen eventually, and it’s honestly a reality of games like this. Dying immediately ports the player back to the beginning of the level, and while this might sound unforgiving it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mechanic Escape is best when it’s played at a frantic pace, and each death offers a bit more level familiarity, allowing players to hop through the areas they’ve already explored and discover new territory with each and every try. For levels where death runs rampant (trust me, there are more than a few of those) I found myself out running my frustration and instead embracing the exhilaration of its speedy gameplay, feeling accomplished as I leapt through areas that had once confounded me with their difficulty. Of course, it’s easy to draw comparisons between Mechanic Escape and Super Meat Boy in this regard, but Mechanic Escape’s floaty jumping controls offered me a bit more time to correct my trajectory, making this a tad more forgiving… especially in the later stages.


"The real test lies in Mechanic Escape’s metagame, which challenges players to return to previous stages in search of collectables and costume unlocks."

While the main game itself is a challenge, most players will be able make it through all of the levels with enough effort. The real test lies in Mechanic Escape’s metagame, which challenges players to return to previous stages in search of collectables and costume unlocks while pitting them up against an ever present level timer which defies you to beat your best logged score. This alone ought to be enough to have completionists foaming at the mouth, and I can say that it certainly rubbed me the right way. I haven’t been able to collect everything in the game yet, but even as I type this I feel the need to go back and try to gather up as much as I can. With all this talk of collectables and logged level times I must admit I was a bit disappointed to see that there wasn’t a leaderboard, which would definitely add a new level of competition and longevity to the game, but even without these additions Slak has released a solid experience that ought to keep platforming fans at bay for quite some time.


"Mechanic Escape does a good job easing you into the chase and offered me plenty of time to prepare before a boss began to hunt me throughout the level."

The game’s presentation has improved since the preview build I saw a couple of weeks ago. The levels featured in the full game feel more fleshed out and complete than some of the ones presented in the demo that I played last month. The problems that I had with non-responsive level triggers have also been fixed, which is a godsend. It’s now an absolute blast to rocket through the world in cannons, beam through wires and swing from ropes and poles. Things are responsive and fast, allowing for twitch reactions and comfortable control, especially with a gamepad. I played a bit with the keyboard layout as well, but the game does feel much better when paired with a wired Xbox 360 controller.

The game’s enemies are still as thrilling to avoid as they were in the demo. Mechanic Escape does a good job easing you into the chase and offered me plenty of time to prepare before a boss began to hunt me throughout the level. As you progress through the world these monsters become more difficult to avoid, firing a variety of lasers, missiles and various other projectiles at poor Mech adding to the difficulty and forcing the player to fly through the levels as quickly as possible. The game does a fantastic job at alerting players of dangers through its superb level design, art style and wonderful sound effects. I wish there was a bit more variety with the in game music as it does get a bit repetitive, but that’s a small point to nitpick when the game does so many other things right. The in-game tutorials are short and brilliant and can be looked at easily, even on the fly, allowing players to get necessary information at a glance without breaking the game’s swift pace.


"The game ends up being a cool combination of Super Meat Boy’s insane difficulty and Rayman’s vibrant art style and replayability."

Mechanic Escape is a worthy entry that will definitely stand out in the over-saturated platforming category. Its sharp graphics, great level design, and swift pace ensure that fans of the genre won’t be bored, while its slick approach to collectables and time trials will offer up a reason to keep coming back. The game ends up being a cool combination of Super Meat Boy’s insane difficulty and Rayman’s vibrant art style and replayability. In spite of limited online options and no leader board I still found myself coming back. It was easy for me to get lost in the world and its charm, and if you’re a fan of the genre I’m sure it will have a similar effect on you.

Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: PC

8
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Demon Gaze Review

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"My initial impressions were lukewarm and I fought hard not to treat this title like a discount-bin toss away, but after a while, the charismatic characters, the pacing and the game’s overall old school dungeon crawling feel kept me engrossed."

When I put Demon Gaze into my PS Vita for the first time a couple weeks ago I was just excited to have a reason to turn the darn thing on. It’s been a while since I’ve even touched it and it’s looked mighty sad sitting on my dresser gathering dust. What I didn’t expect was for this game to consume me. It took a few hours, but once Demon Gaze got going, the game sank its claws into me and would not let go. My initial impressions were lukewarm and I fought hard not to treat this title like a discount-bin toss away, but after a while, the charismatic characters, the pacing and the game’s overall old school dungeon crawling feel kept me engrossed.

Demon Gaze is simple in premise. You play the role of a Demon Gazer, a person that can capture demon souls and use them to your advantage. With this utility in hand you venture forth into numerous dungeons to gain levels and loot before returning to your town to heal, sell and ultimately start the whole process over again. The presentation is rooted in the point and click RPG’s of old – think more about the old Might & Magic games on PC, or Final Fantasy on the original Game Boy. The gameplay is relatively simplistic and any RPG veteran ought to be able to pick it up and immediately feel at home. Though the game doesn’t really bring any new elements to the table I still found that I was enjoying myself, almost reveling in the familiarity of it all. I guess nostalgia really is powerful.

The one thing that Demon Gaze does right is its incorporation of plot. Being a rather rabid fan of dungeon crawlers, albeit a tad more interested in the ARPG side of things, I’m used to not being exposed to much of a plot or just ignoring it outright in an effort to push forward into deeper uncharted territory. But Demon Gaze does a wonderful job of including a delightful cast of characters that really lend charm and a flamboyant aesthetic to the world in which the game takes place. The writing isn’t always perfect, but it’s interesting enough to contribute to the overall experience and that’s more than most dungeon crawling veterans can ask for.


"When the game finally sets you free upon the world it’s easy to feel confident in your actions, letting you focus on your ultimate goal, which is of course capturing demon souls."

As I’ve previously stated the gameplay is relatively simplistic. Party members are created, not found, allowing you to tailor your team as you see fit and menus and interactions are very easy to navigate. It doesn’t take much to grasp the core combat mechanics and Demon Gaze’s tutorial does a wonderful job of clearly explaining the more in-depth combat options. When the game finally sets you free upon the world it’s easy to feel confident in your actions, letting you focus on your ultimate goal, which is of course capturing demon souls. This leads me to the demon system, which is arguably Demon Gaze’s defining feature. The demon system allows you to link demons to your character offering special abilities for each one equipped. These abilities include, but are not limited to, a form of truesight (the ability to see hidden objects and passages) and the ability to increase your resistances to harmful environments. There is, of course, a limit to how much demons can use their abilities in combat, but it’s easily kept track of by a demon gauge which allows players to quickly note just how long it will be before a demon decides enough is enough. When a demon gauge expires, the demon grows violent and irritable, beating on both allies and enemies without regard. This makes demons a bit of a double edged sword, but with good management most players will find themselves running into this situation with hardly any regularity.


"In the end Demon Gaze is far from triple-A game material, but if you push beyond initial impressions you’ll find something of a treasure, a diamond in the rough well worth your time."

The game’s graphics are arguably where it’s weakest. The dungeons are poorly rendered, the characters are crudely animated, and the combat windows feature some truly absurd enemy designs, but eventually this stopped bothering me. In fact, I found this to be more and more endearing as time went on because of the way it lends to the game’s overall sense of old school intrigue. It’s definitely going to be the hardest point of entry for people more used to triple-A blockbusters, but it’s something that can be overlooked. Character design is obviously geared towards a male audience, and features some truly revealing armor types painted on incredibly busty female characters that really makes me question how any of these designs would be practical in combat, but that’s neither here nor there. Sound is well captured and features a relatively decent cast of voice actors. I found the game’s music to be quite irritating, but there are options within the main menu that allows you to tweak every last aspect of sound to your liking. Controls are fluid and intuitive and menu navigation is a breeze. I found no problems with the game in either of these aspects.

In the end Demon Gaze is far from triple-A game material, but if you push beyond initial impressions you’ll find something of a treasure, a diamond in the rough well worth your time. So go on, pick up your lonely Vita and give it a go because in spite of my initial impressions this game more than won me over, and I’m sure it will do the same for you. If you’re a fan of dungeon crawling RPG’s, or you crave a nostalgic trip down memory lane then this title deserves your attention and will be well worth a purchase when it’s released on April 22nd.

Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: Playstation Vita

8.5
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What I want from the next Dead Space

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"With Visceral Games, the developers of the series, currently working on an unnamed Star Wars game I can only hope a new entry in the Dead Space saga will soon follow."

Everyone has that favorite franchise they want to see more of. For me, it’s Dead Space. With a new generation of consoles introducing better hardware and more opportunities, I really hope Dead Space 4 sees the light of day. There was a time when EA was regularly publishing new IPs such as the Tony Hawk Pro Skater rival Skate, the beautiful Mirror’s Edge, bro-op shooter Army of Two and of course the terrifying Dead Space. Even though now they’re faced with a ton of criticism for their business model, it was a bold move to release several new IPs in a two-year period and hope for the best.

With Visceral Games, the developers of the series, currently working on an unnamed Star Wars game I can only hope a new entry in the Dead Space saga will soon follow. If it does, there are a few things I’d like to see with a new entry. The first being the return to true survival horror roots, something that was neglected in Dead Space 3. In my eyes I see the titles in a slightly shifted thematic order: Dead Space 2, Dead Space, Dead Space 3 and then the spin-offs that most aren’t even aware of. The original Dead Space was a tense and atmospheric adventure with jump scares that made me pause and step outside to collect myself. Dead Space 2 did the same thing but with a little more action, whereas Dead Space 3 took nearly all survival aspects out and replaced them with typical third-person shooter action, much like Resident Evil 6.


"With Isaac Clarke, we have established a set of characters both friend and foe whose roles and personalities grow with each game."

Isaac Clarke is the main character throughout the trilogy and I want it to stay that way. In three games I have seen what he sees and felt the pain and anguish he’s felt. He was only a silent protagonist in the first game but gained a voice and a personality in the sequels. With Isaac Clarke, we have established a set of characters both friend and foe whose roles and personalities grow with each game. With Isaac as the main lead I want the story to continue as well. Dead Space 3’s ending (the one from the Awakened DLC) hinted at a potential setting and I hope Visceral Games follows through. I want the story to be more similar to Dead Space 1 and 2 and less on the melodramatic and streamlined like Dead Space 3. The next thing I want is for the setting to be in a confined area. Dead Space was set on a spaceship, the USG Ishimura, and there were endless dark corridors just waiting to be explored. Dead Space 2 was more open as it took place on a giant space station called the Sprawl. Locations in Dead Space 2 were impressively varied, ranging from a medical bay, a pre-school and a special area that I will leave out just in case someone hasn’t played the game yet. Dead Space 3 took the sandbox approach further, primarily taking place on the icy planet Tau Volantis. There were less corridors and more open areas with waves of Necromorphs lurking around every corner.


"I know Dead Space 3 did not sell very well but with the way the game ended, the idea of a sequel had to have been talked about at some point.

Dead Space 3 introduced new features such as weapon crafting, co-op and new enemies. I thought the weapon crafting was a cool idea that made sense because of Isaac’s engineering background. I spent a lot of time just tweaking weapons and crafting something most suitable to my playstyle and it was fun once I got the right combination. Now that a crafting system has been implemented, I wouldn’t mind the ability to make new suits for Isaac - similarly to how you can customize your Spartan in Halo’s multiplayer and how you can customize your helmet in Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel. It wouldn’t need to have an impact on gameplay or story, but it would be a nice cosmetic extra. Co-op in Dead Space 3 was hit or miss, some enjoyed it others didn’t. I didn’t play the co-op because none of my friends had the game. It was online co-op only and I also didn’t have a headset at the time. Some said the co-op added more action to the game which made it feel more like a generic third person shooter and some said it was a great addition me as you could share crafted weapons with each other. Dead Space 3 included new enemies, namely humans with guns. For Dead Space 4, there only need to be Necromorphs. Fighting the Unitologist soldiers made the game feel a lot like playing a regular shooter all the way down to the new cover and rolling mechanics. I know Dead Space 3 did not sell very well but with the way the game ended, the idea of a sequel had to have been talked about at some point. Visceral Games knows there is a fan base for Isaac and the Necromorphs, so hopefully we will see a sequel soon enough that is more akin to the first two entries. 

Article by: Symmion Moore
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