Saturday, November 27, 2010

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations

I wasn’t planning to write another post about a Phoenix Wright game, because to be honest, very little changes between the games, outside of plot and characters. Trials and Tribulations is the third game in the series, and currently the final one featuring Phoenix as the starring character. You’re still a defense lawyer, with the gameplay segments broken up between court and investigation phases.

Someone accused of murder comes to you for help, to prove them innocent, and during the investigation phase you set out to learn more about the case, and gather clues and evidence that will help you in court. You’ll examine various locales and talk to various characters new and old. One new gameplay element introduced in Justice for All (the previous game) is the addition of Psyche-Locks. Frequently you’ll meet characters who aren’t giving you the full story. Maya’s Magatama will react to lies, and the person in possession of it (usually Phoenix) will see a varying number of locks around the lier in question, indicating they’re hiding something. With the number of locks representing how badly they want to keep the secret, Phoenix will have to blow away each lock by presenting evidence that contradicts their excuses, eventually forcing them to tell the truth. It’s just like finding contradictions in court.

What I came back to talk about was the story, by which I was thoroughly impressed. Even though each case throughout the series thus far has had its own, fully fleshed out story, there’s also been one overarching plot slowly developing since the first game, involving Phoenix and the entire Fey Clan. This plot comes to a finale during the 5th case, which is is epic. All the major characters come back for this case, including Franziska von Karma, Dahlia Hawthorne, Mia Fey, and even Edgeworth, who you even get to play as for a while!

The 5th case, and indeed, the entire game ends the entire trilogy on an amazing note, and left me wanting more, only to be saddened when I realized this was the last Ace Attorney game with Phoenix as a playable character. A 9/10.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

This past few days, I’ve had the Sly Collection, Enslaved, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood in my hands. I’ve been switching between the three at intervals. For the moment, I’m gonna talk about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.

Enslaved is a bit of oddity. It’s another one of those games where the story takes precedent above all else. As a result, while the graphical fidelity, voice acting, and overall production values are all very good, but the gameplay suffers a little for it.

This all-important story revolves around two characters (and later three): Trip and Monkey. Trip is a beautiful, curvaceous young woman with some impressive tech skills (you don’t see too many of those these days). She probably failed a couple PE classes when she was younger. Monkey is large, musclebound dude who’s as agile as he is strong. He doesn’t have any relatives, or even a name (Monkey is a just a nickname some people call him after seeing his climbing skills), and drifts through the land aimlessly.

The story is set 150 years in the future, long after a global war ravaged the planet, leaving nothing but ruins and wastelands. Now, mechs roam the surface, killing or capturing any remaining humans that they encounter and carting them off to some destination in the west using flying slave ships.

Monkey and Trip are held aboard one such slave ship. Trip manages to escape using her hacking skills, and when an explosion dislodges his container, Monkey follows suit. Whatever Trip did to escape did a number on the ship, because it crashes in the remains of New York. But not before Trip and Monkey can get away in an escape pod. Monkey’s menacing demeanor apparently gave Trip the wrong impression however, because she fits a hacked slave headband onto his head after they land while he’s unconscious.

With the headband on, Trip can make voice commands that cause Monkey immeasurable pain and eventually death if he fails to heed them. Her request is simple: her home is a few hundred miles to the west; if Monkey can get her there in one piece, she’ll take the headband off. If she dies, the headband is coded to kill Monkey as well, so he has no choice but to accept. And thus the duo’s journey to the West gets off to a shaky start.

Prince of Persia (the ‘08 game) had a cool dynamic where you had two characters, one player controlled and the other computer-controlled, who had to work closely together to accomplish a goal. Along the way, they eventually developed a bond. Enslaved features a similar mechanic. As you might expect, Monkey and Trip’s relationship starts off pretty uncertain. Trip retains a sunny disposition toward Monkey for the most part, but he is (understandably) unable to reciprocate her efforts. However, the land is littered with mechs and other hazards, so they’ll need each other’s skills to stay alive.

Besides being able to get to many places Trip can’t using his expert climbing skills, Monkey uses his raw strength, an energy shield, and a staff for protection. He’s able to take the mechs head on, clearing the way for Trip. He has a good sense of survival, and is often the one to notice when there’s danger afoot. Trip is a tech wizard, able to hack just about anything to suit her needs. She’s a tad clumsy though, and frequently needs Monkey to help her cross gaps or throw her up to a ledge. Though at first Monkey sees her as little more than a burden, she shows her worth. Trip is able to upgrade Monkey’s equipment and abilities to increase his survivability (and, indeed her own in turn). She can also use a dragonfly camera to scout the area ahead for Monkey, letting him know of anything she spots, such as mechs and turrets. She can transmit relevant information directly into his headband, to better show Monkey where he needs to go, or what he needs to do, for them to progress. Trip can also distract the mechs with a holographic decoy, allowing Monkey to flank them.

These two will need each other’s skills to survive the journey, something that even Monkey realizes early on. And when he does, this is also when the two begin to develop something a bit more pleasant than animosity.

That’s enough about the story and background; let’s talk gameplay. Well, it really is just filler. The game is at its strongest when it’s either playing a cutscene or having the player work together closely with Trip. For example, you’ll often encounter areas that are under the watch of automated turrets. Monkey’s shield will withstand some punishment before he starts taking fire, but for him to get close enough to neutralize the turret, he’ll need Trip to distract the turret so he can get by safely. Likewise, sometimes Trip will need Monkey to distract turrets for her so that she can move safely. Cooperative movements such as these aren’t always that complex, either. For example, occasionally Monkey will toss Trip across a gap, only for her to not make it the whole way and grab onto the ledge, requiring the player to jump across and help her up before she falls.

Unfortunately, areas that require close coordination with Trip aren’t as common as I hoped they would be. More often than not, the two will have to momentarily part ways, with Trip either hanging behind on the computer, or taking the direct route, while Monkey either takes the scenic route or has to cover her by fending off assaulting mechs.

Which brings me to combat. Most of the game, the controls feel a bit sluggish to me, but during combat they’re more responsive. Though the game goes to some lengths to shake things up, the combat is mostly a simple affair. You have a light attack and a strong attack, and the ability to block. There are a few variations on the typical mooks that you’ll encounter, each requiring just a little bit more thought, but for the most part you can probably get by with just button mashing, to be honest. While I found the combat to be enjoyable, it still feels like filler content.

In terms of gameplay, the biggest problem I have with Enslaved is the same problem many other story-dominated games suffer from; hand-holding. When you’re climbing, each handhold is highlighted, telling you precisely where to go next. It’s often not even possible to fall to your death, whether you’re climbing up a wall or walking on your own two feet. Many interactions is explained with a giant bar across the screen, saying “press X to throw her up” or “press O to finish him/her off”. The gameplay doesn’t feel linear, per se, just shallow at times.

Back to the good stuff. The world of Enslaved is atypical of what you might have come to expect from the post-apocalyptic theme. With mankind near demolished, Mother Nature has retaken the planet. As a result, the world is a surprisingly bright place, saturated with color (most dominantly green). This came as a pleasant surprise, very refreshing. Unfortunately, the game almost never ran at a smooth framerate (save for cutscenes), with the visuals coasting right between smooth and jittery. I also noticed some visual glitches such as pop-in, slow-down, and objects (such as tech orbs) disappearing. During my playthrough the game never once froze, though. Furthermore, I wanted to give special mention to the animation, which is superb. The facial animation in particular is probably the best I’ve seen since Heavy Rain and Uncharted 2. There are often times in the game where characters are able to communicate believably just by contorting their faces; lesser games would have required spoken dialogue to get the same point across. The audio is also very good. The voice acting is a treat to listen to, and the BGMs serve their purpose well. As I said, the productions values are excellent.

Enslaved’s strength lies in its presentation and concept. The characters (what few of them there are) are all quite likable, and the overall plot is good. I was, however disappointed by the ending, but your mileage may vary. Not all of the developers ideas are as consistently well executed as I might have hoped, but when they do all come together, Enslaved shines very bright indeed. A 7.5/10.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Transformers: War for Cybertron

After spending a good deal of my summer playing Phoenix Wright games and Demon’s Souls, I was rearing for something a little more..exciting. More fast-paced, that is. Basically, I was looking for a new shooter to toy around with. I looked to War for Cybertron for this, hoping for basically Gears of War, with robots. Instead I got a fairly run of the mill run n’ gun game.

War for Cybertron takes place entirely on the titular characters’ home planet Cybertron, and robots exclusively make up the cast. No humans allowed here. As its subtitle suggests, there’s a war going on. A war between the Autobots, defenders of freedom and all that is right, and the Decepticons, a group bent on basically taking over the world (and beyond). Sometimes they try to justify their actions, but they really are just the bad guys. Each faction has its share of notable soldiers among its rank, from the cunning Starscream to the super-strong Ironhide. The Autobots are led by Optimus Prime, who’s probably what you would get if humility, wisdom, and a fierce sense of responsibility got together and took on a physical form. The Decepticons are led by Megatron, who’s what you’d get if cruelty, ambition and raw determination could do the same thing. But this is the most basic of information. You don’t have to be a fan of Transformers to know about the timeless rivalry between Optimus and Megatron.

The game’s story is split into two campaigns; one where you play as the Decepticons, and one where you play as the Autobots. Chronologically speaking, the Decepticon campaign comes first, portraying Megatron as he finally gains an advantage in the war using Dark Energon. The Autobot campaign starts after the fall of Omega Supreme, their greatest ally. Optimus (not yet elected to Prime status) is scrambling together what’s left of the Autobot forces and manages to organize an effective counter attack. All this while meanwhile, the war is taking a heavy toll on the planet itself.

Gameplay in War for Cybertron isn’t a particularly technical affair. Each mission features three characters who will carry out that chapter, and you’ll get to choose which of the three to play as, while the other two are AI-controlled (or human controlled if you’re playing online co-op). For example, most of missions in either campaign feature the factions’ respective leaders, Megatron or Optimus, taking part, along with two of their trusted allies.

All of the playable characters are separated into a set of classes, including Leaders, Soldiers, Scientists, and Scouts. A character’s class generally determines what it transforms into, and also characters in the same class tend to share similar abilities and weapons. Optimus, for example, is of the Leader class, transforms into a truck, and always has his powerful Ion Blaster (basically a giant gatling gun) with him. His secondary ability lets him set up an AoE that buffs nearby allies’ attack power. Bumblebee is a Scout; he transforms into a car, and has dash abilities.

You can transform just about anytime, anywhere with a click of the left stick. With this, every character has the capacity to carry 3-4 weapons; you can carry two weapons at a time in “bipedal” mode, and vehicles usually have two weapons. For example, Optimus’s truck form has built in rocket launchers, and can also slam into people as its secondary weapon. Since you’re usually faster and a bit more lithe in vehicle mode, this can also act as your “sprint” function.

The thing that perhaps surprised me most about War for Cybertron is the overall simplicity of its gameplay. The character classes throw some variety into the mix, but you’ll probably never feel that under-equipped, regardless of who you choose to play as for any given mission, since there’s usually weapons, ammo and health aplenty, just lying around. You also don’t really take cover; that is to say you can’t stick to walls or objects, or manually crouch or duck. The health system is the same one used in the first Resistance game: your health is split into four sections, and will regenerate up to one of those sections. Once you lose 25% of your health, it won’t regenerate beyond 75%, without the use of a health pickup.

Other than the slightly unique health system, and the fact that you can’t take cover, the game plays like any other 3rd person shooter. You shoot at bad guys, reload when you need to, switch weapons often, and occasionally toss a grenade or three. Since there’s no cover and you can transform on the dime though, you are moving around much more than in the average TPS.

The graphics range from okay to good. Sometimes you’ll notice some nice motion blur and lighting effects, but bland textures, even blander environments, and some crude object models stick out more often. The Decepticon campaign in particular features one of the worst color palettes I’ve ever seen; most of the environments are a pasty blend of gray and purple. The Autobot campaign isn’t much better, but at least generally lighter environments make things feel a bit less..oppressive, maybe? I will say that transformation animations are a treat, though, and do contribute to the feel of the game in a good way.

Audio isn’t too bad either. I can’t remember single one of the BGMs from the game though, so if nothing else they must not have been anything more than serviceable. All of the characters are well-voiced though, and the dialogue is enjoyable, if incredibly cheesy at times. But what do you expect from a game based on a series that’s been around since the 80’s?

Is Transformers an amazing game? Nope. Is it fun to play? Sure. I had a fun time with it, regardless of any issues I may have mentioned above. As for replay value..well, there’s 3-player online co-op for the campaign, and competitive online multiplayer. I don’t really see it as a game I’d be coming back to again and again, though. I didn’t even touch the multiplayer, so I don’t think it’d be fair to give this game a rating.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


My game intake has gone down a bit lately, as I patiently wait for Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood to come out. I've been taking this small break to catch up on some slightly older games. I tried Super Mario Galaxy 2 but man was that game boring. Suddenly all those 9.5+ reviews, even as a 1st-party, flagship Mario game, seem like a whole lotta fluff. But that's me.

Anyway, I've had the demo for Bayonetta sitting on my PS3 since it first came up for download back in..January, was it? Why? Because I enjoyed it.

Do I still enjoy it now that I have the whole game..?
Eh. Not as much as I thought. But that's not to say it's bad.

First of all, Bayonetta is a very odd game. It is an action game in the same vein as Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry, but it's wrapped around a number of quirky design choices, unique game elements, and a story that's more trouble to follow than it's probably worth.

Let's start with the main character, depicted on the box art. Bayonetta is a witch. The last of her kind, in fact. The game takes place in a psuedo-real world setting. The background is this: a long, long time ago there were two factions: the Umbra Witches and the Lumen Sages (essentially witches and angels). These two factions warred with each other, and the Umbra Witches nearly won, if not for the interference of the humans, who worshipped the Lumen Sages. Thus began the notorious witch hunts, which ended with that faction being near-obliterated.

Back to Bayonetta. She's a pretty eccentric person. Her outfit, though modest under normal circumstances, is made up mostly of her hair, which she uses when casting powerful spells. Thus, the more Bayonetta fights, the more of her hair she uses, and the more..ah, revealing her outfit becomes. At full power she's pretty much nekkid, with convenient swirls blocking view of the delicates (sorta like Naruto's sexy jutsu). Nearly everything Bayonetta does tends have some sexual connotations, from her love for lollipops, to her posture and style of movement (hoo boy), even to her choice of words, both in and out of battle. "Do you want to touch me?" she says during one of her taunts.

Somehow, this doesn't really translate to awkward moments for the player; just amusement and sometimes downright hilarity. Like for example, when Bayonetta meets an enemy pretending to be her doppelganger, what's her first reaction? A dance-off, complete with minor pyrotechnics, and camera angles where they probably shouldn't be. Ohhh, yes. I have to say, Bayonetta's probably one of the funnest characters I've seen in a while. It's a little like playing as, say, Viewtiful Joe. But even Joe ain't got nothing on Bayonetta when it comes to pure style and personality.

Though you'll be able to pick up a handful of other weapons as you play through the game, Bayonetta's armaments of choice are a set of four pistols. One for each hand, and one strapped to each heel. Using her feet as weapons, you know her fighting style is going to have an acrobatic flair to it. That's not all, though. Her eccentricity translates into her attacks, such the move "Breakdance", which has her rolling into a Windmill dance move, while continuously firing her feet guns.

Now let's talk more about the combat system. Whatever your thoughts may be regarding the story, characters, or presentation, this is where the meat of the game is. There's a tiny bit of puzzles and platforming, but in pretty much every new area you walk into, you can expect a fight. Enemies that used to be bosses become commonplace, often bringing their buddies with them, and often you'll find yourself wondering "where the heck did all the mooks go?". These guys are the mooks.

Though the combat elements are easy enough to understand, this is can be a pretty technical game if you want it to be. You have three attack buttons. Square is your guns. You can hold it down to shoot enemies from afar (this is a lot like how you could whip out your gun in DMC games to preserve combos). Triangle and Circle are your standard and slow attacks, respectively. I'll be the first to say I'm really not that great at this game, so often my attacks just devolve into random button mashing. But for the seasoned there's some options. You can finish out any combo with a hale of gunfire just by holding down the button you're attacking with at the moment, and of course there are a vast number of combo strings available to you. Otherwise, Bayonetta finishes most combos by summoning a giant limb from Madame Butterfly (her demon sponsor..?) to smack enemies around. Come to think of it, it's almost like having to memorize strings in a fighter! You can also buy more techniques from the ingame shop.

Bayonetta can't block attacks, but she can dodge them. R2 is your dodge button. If you dodge an attack right before it hits you, you can activate Witch Time for a few moments, which slows down your enemies. When you pull it off consecutively, it feels great. Unfortunately, as you progress in the game, you'll encounter enemies packing moves that won't grant you Witch Time even if dodged (though you'll still get a split-second of slow mo) correctly.

Like in any action game worth its salt, most enemies can also be finished off in a very cinematic fashion. For bosses this happens automatically once they reach a certain threshold. Usually it involves Bayonetta using her hair to summon demonic forces from the netherworld to beat the stuffing out of the weakened foe before dragging them to hell, or reducing them to chunks of meat. For everyone else, you have Torture Attacks, which can be executed with a full magic bar, gained from attacking enemies without getting hurt. Torture attacks are exactly what you might think they are. Bayonetta summons a medieval torture machine such as a guillotine or iron maiden, forces the enemy into the machine, and leaves it there for massive damage. One such attack is used on her afore-mentioned doppelganger. Bayonetta summons a giant wooden horse, and a whip, chains up the enemy in a rather..erotic fashion, plops her onto the horse, and slowly presses the poor gal into the horse with her heel before dealing the final blow. It's great.

Unfortunately, the game isn't very good looking, and suffers from laggy menus and frequent loading screens. I've heard this is pretty much exclusive to the PS3 version, and it was even worse before the patch which lets you install the game to ease the problem. Fortunately, at least the load screens are fully playable, letting you practice your moves.

Audio in this game is actually pretty good. The soundtrack is mostly composed of jazzy tunes you'd expect to maybe hear in a Sly Cooper game or something. The dialogue is amusing, to say the least, even when it doesn't appear to make much sense.

Furthermore, this is a hard game. I've been playing through on normal, and the point I'm at I tend to die pretty much at every other boss battle. For casuals (like myself), there's Easy and even Very Easy, both of which have varying amounts of automatic gameplay involved, and also supposedly some higher difficulties (I wouldn't know, I haven't beaten the game yet).

I'm not sure I explicitly mentioned it, but this game is over the top, and random at times. From the prologue, which begins with two women making a last stand against a hoard of angels, on top of a chunk of falling stone as it plummets to the bottom of a canyon, to such things as one character running from pursuing authorities, only to stop and flirt with a girl, fall over in the process, get up, continue flirting, and then run away, and another instance where Bayonetta escapes a raging wave of a lava by grabbing a nearby angel and surfing on top of it. And then there's the random biking segment. Like I said, this is a pretty odd game.

Replay value is probably off the charts if you're the sort who's patient enough to sit down and really get to know the game's combat system. This is a pretty long game, and you get a ranking not only at the end of each chapter, but at the end of nearly every fight. Plus there's multiple difficulties, and a lot of unlockables. Again, it's sorta like a fighting game, where the replay value is definitely there, but only for those who really enjoy this sort of thing.

Overall, a 7.5/10