Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chasing Shadows.

It's the beginning of the end, and I'm standing in front of the door that will change everything. The once clear sky is dark, having been torn with piercing shafts of light symbolic of my crime, and an unknown power is ravaging my body, having deteriorated my appearance to one more resembling a specter than a person.

I have physically and mentally endured radical changes to get here.

It's practically at the end of Shadow of the Colossus, and the temple I'm praying at to save is letting me know so. The path to the final colossi lies just at the end of a nearby gulf, and with an armageddon of my own machinations at hand, I can't stop thinking about the temple itself. There were many marking the land as far as I could recall, yet my map had only revealed five. Had my tunnel vison blinded me to the majority, dedicated as I was to my cause? Whatever the reason, the grip augmenting lizards and opportunities to save weren't a bad catch for finding one either, so with the end in sight and nothing to lose, off I went to find more.

With 15 down and one to go, I stared to explore.

In searching for more of these temples, I rediscovered just how rich the world was.

It amazed me once more that so much could be done with so little, and like the best details, that so much could be achieved in their subtlety.

Temples with a consistency of design suggesting one religion instead of several.

Ruins of castles far too large for any human, but too small for the gods that inhabit the land, bringing to question the physicality of the people and the role they played.

Underground networks and catacombs that reveal their enterances in mountainsides, a mixture of manmade and natural formations that perhaps suggest an evolution of sorts, giving the area centuries of prospective history.

But how much of this is true, or could be true? That's the brilliance.

The world itself is so without explanation, that as a player and active participant, your actions define the tale moving forward. But at the same time, there's a history to this land. A past that predates your existence. A lore that extends beyond what the developer refuses to tell you with finality, and instead has to exist in your imagination because of this stubborn fact.

In my opinion,this makes the land in Shadow one of the richest game worlds ever conceived. It's wholly minimalist,yet rich presentation contributes to this in a way that being as detailed as say, Grand Theft Auto 4 could never muster. Why? Unlike other games that tell you where there world begins and ends, here, it's only as vast as you can imagine. You can see how expansive the land is , but how much so is left to your sense of exploration. You get evidence of society having existed, but are given unspecific details towards this. This provides a template for conclusion that any player can come to no matter what their train of thought, and it means the unspecific details can flourish and be satisfying safely within the bubble of your own logic.

Reading the many conclusions players have come to regarding this more than speaks for itself.

We tend to define our game worlds by how well they carry off their sense of time and place, how when done just right it truly is like a living and breathing thing as much as the characters themselves. This usually translates in the number of NPCs you interact with, or how many towns and cities you can cram into one worldmap. A large number of sidequests, cutscenes and items to retrieve, each another breadcrumb towards a complete feeling world. These games are usually 30-40 hours long.

Shadow of the Colossus takes around 8.

I'd forgotten just how much this game had done with so little.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

6 resets later..

....Yeah. I'm not playing Infinity Blade 2 on my original iPad. Good god, man.
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Monday, November 28, 2011

Treading (Un)Charted Waters..

 It's funny, before Uncharted 3 released, I sat around listening to my friends yell and prophesize about the return of the greatest game ever. I can't exactly blame them. Starting with the first and coming together in an unprecedentedly brilliant way for the second game, Uncharted deserves all the acclaim it gets, and then some, both as a technical showpiece for the Playstation 3 architecture and as a benchmark for the modern action/adventure game. So when everyone sat around getting high off the fumes of the early expected 9 and 10 reviews, I sat very calmly, of course much to their dismay that I wasn't openly receiving the same kool-aid pearl necklace as other reviewers.

 It's because I know the third can't match the second one. You can only have an emergent genesis in one game, then it's up to the developer to keep the bar raised for the rest of the series. Its what defined Gears of War in the second, Splinter Cell in the third, the first Devil May Cry.. and so on. So with the comfortable realization that I wouldn't be blown away like the second, but instead pleasantly surprised at the refinement of tricks from the second, I eventually picked it up.


It is awesome, but something felt...off. The game is a massive spectacle filled with jaw dropping moments, but something nagged. Considering what I'm playing, it was easy enough to ignore however.


It wasn't until my girlfriend and I were joking around about ol' Nate's inability to brush his teeth without something going terribly awry (leading to the room collapsing) that I subtly acknowledged something, but kept it in my pocket. That something has been digging at me a bit, amazing as the game is.

I was going to write about this feeling. Someone beat me to it. Check it out, because word-for-word, it robbed me of an editorial. This is exactly how I feel about the game. It raises a very good point.

Fair warning: If you are halfway or less through the game or don't want to have your opinion muddled with before you can form one, I suggest you don't read.

Counterpoint: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (Destructoid)

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

2 Thanksgivings later..

Happy Thanksgiving!
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

(Black) Boxed In.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit redefined the franchise from the moment of its release. The action was fast, furious, and brought back the cat-and-mouse gameplay the series was originally known for, after having spent the past few years as a surrogate Fast and the Furious game. Being able to step behind the wheel of either a cop or racer was a great twist, and the sheer variety of events kept things interesting with nary a need for a cutscene. With series-new developer Criterion at the helm, the visuals and control had also never been tighter. It also introduced Autolog, a persistent leaderboard system that inspired replay value through competition, and was such a success that it became a series staple from that moment. Whether intentionally or no, it served to trim the fat that mainstay developer Black Box had acquired over the years, and made NFS exciting again.

With this new game, you can imagine the pressure was on. Essentially, Black Box has two things to prove: That they can create a next-gen NFS game from the ground up, and that they can keep up with where the series has been during their absence.

I'll start by saying what the screenshots already do--Need For Speed:The Run is a very nice looking game. Battlefield 3’s Frostbite 2 engine is pushing some very large, detailed courses here, and the strange choice in engine is made all the more obvious when they start to come apart at the seams. Taking a page from Motorstorm: Apocalypse, what was a tricky slalom run can quickly turn into a race against the elements as an avalanche threateningly obscures your vision and litters the road with chunks of debris mid-race. Volcanic eruptions rattle the screen without warning, and impromptu earthquakes split the ground, creating makeshift ramps and barriers to be dodged. Forcing players to adapt on the fly is one way to shake up the formula and keep things new, but this focus on mayhem serves an even better purpose. It adds a layer of tension unheard of in a NFSgame, where the uncertainty of what may happen around you is at odds with your ability to finish the race in good standing. It's a rush.

..Or it would be more of one had Black Box not fouled up the controls.

(Quick history: When Criterion took the reins, they used their experience with Burnout and made a solid driving model that had the speed and precision of an arcade racer, but with the weight and inertia a longtime Need For Speed fan would recognize. The result was a control scheme that complimented the game’s sense of speed perfectly, and is apparently one of the most responsive games in existence as insinuated by DigitalFoundry during their tech analysis.)

Going back to NFS: The Run after Hot Pursuit almost feels like a time machine. The cars have a strange weight to them, feeling too light on straights and too heavy on turns. Turning feels like doing so with a rudder instead of a steering wheel, and handbrake is unreliable, as using it seems to do more harm than good. Even driving at a high speed felt twitchy and unwieldy, something that shouldn’t be in a game where your base vehicle is a low level supercar. I thought it had been because I hadn’t played in a while, but a quick return to Hot Pursuit confirmed it – they may have brought other aspects of the series up to par, but the driving feels like a step back. The many crushed guardrails and flattened vehicles I had to endure during races had me calling the game Need for Speed: The Boat Run under my breath. Suddenly, the new rewind feature seemed less like a caveat for the more questionably scripted hazards and more like an apology for the busted control.

Considering that it was Hot Pursuit’s superb control that brought this to light, I took another step, thought about the past year in terms of NFS, and came to another realization. I think Black Box needs as well if they haven't already. The series is evolving. Not just in providing better excuses to lead foot it arcade style, but in indulging both the realistic and over the top aspects of race culture, as evidenced by companion series like Shift and World. This increased scope means Need For Speed is a franchise with more than one active developer now, but that doesn't come without a catch. Critically, this means any new titles moving forward will be acknowledged not by sequel number, but by the pedigree of the team in charge of the latest installment and what they've brought to the table. It’s always the silent implication in situations like this, and how we as gamers treat any series with a split creator base.

This control issue wasn’t game breaking, but it was enough to cast Black Box's return in a negative light. I’m glad that they've taken all the appropriate visual cues from some of the more exciting racers this year. I’m all for the proliferation of Autolog, and I welcome the return to over-the-top theatrics, but it’s all for naught if they aren’t truly ready to keep the bar of quality as high as their contemporaries. We’ve been at this ascent for three games in a row. Slightly Mad Studios brought the in-car sensation of speed to new heights with Shift, Hot Pursuit brought Autolog, and Shift 2 Unleashed brought it all together in addition to pack racing and a broader career. While apocalyptic spectacle is the one feature I want to assign for this latest installment, It's a bit of a bitter pill if it feels like Black Box hasn't updated their racing model since Undercover.

No matter the innovations, it just takes one flaw to render them all irrelevant in memory, and open the floodgates for harsher scrutiny. Almost seamlessly, your game can go from having a sick narrow train escape, to a question as to why there’s a QTE in the middle of your race.

Then credibility falters as you begin to question what really was added to the experience.

Honestly, I’m already thinking of this title as the cool looking one where they improved everything but the driving.

Am I being mean? Perhaps not.

Black Box taking a vacation was for the good of the series and their team, but the home they've come back to is not the one they left. Colleagues have been improving their game while they weren’t looking, and expectations with each release are much higher. NFS: The Run doesn't meet them entirely, but it at least shows that while they have good intentions to keep NFS relevant on an intense level, they're still somewhat stuck in the past. Let’s hope they can keep up, lest a Treyarch/Infinity Ward style split of public design opinion happens at EA, and we start subconsciously marking their titles as the “inferior” ones.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stiff Competition

"No one can get immersed in a game standing up...except maybe the guards at Buckingham Palace."

I'm admittedly more enamored with my Kinect than I care to admit, but seeing the opinion of another who ISN'T viewing it through a rose tinted Dance Central lens is always fun. Who better than Yahtzee Croshaw?

There's also an extra blog from him calledExtra Punctuation. Do give it a click just to spice things up, and make you feel even more silly for your flailing, motion controlled ways.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to finish that Dance Central 2 review..

Source: Zero Punctuation

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Monday, November 7, 2011

20 years later...

....*record scratches*

"Now, Darkness, the tables have turned.."

Rick James themed playthroughs are (I'm certain.) one of the many ways fans of the original Infinity Blade are keeping occupied as they await another update to what may very well be one of the best iOS games of all time. After all, the game's blend of highly detailed graphics and addictive RPG-styled gameplay would've been something on a console. The fact that it's on a smartphone makes it all the more outstanding, and raises the bar considerably high for a second installment, said to be a flagship title for Apple's new device.

But with an announcement date so close to the release, details have been a bit slim.

Slide to Play has a great Q and A with Donald Mustard, the creative director of Chair Entertainment, talking about just that and more. Along with the trailer we all know and love, there is also some great insight to be had about the sequel, slated to release December 1st. Aside from being a compelling the best reason to upgrade to an iPhone 4s (no Siri, god rays. I'm just saying.) much of the game is still a mystery, but details involving persistent, evolving worlds, story details, and a range of other improvements are discussed in deliciously vague detail.

If you aren't a fan of Infinity Blade yet, here is a great place to start.

Get addicted :)

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Call of Battlefield: Modern Bore

With the release of Battlefield 3 already upon us and having time to settle, I am not filled with feelings of excitement, nor hatred. I cant really identify with any kind of feeling in particular aside from exasperation. Not at the fact that I've gotten military shooter this year as a part of this 2011 FPS gauntlet we've been running but at the fact that man, does it look a lot like Call of Duty campaign wise.

I'm not the only one who thinks so.

In fact, it's such a strange shift in focus for a game that has stuck to its guns as long as Battlefield, the reactions are almost unanimous: in stark contrast to the multiplayer portion, it doesn't feel or play anything like a Battlefield game.

Eurogamer reports that "EA has constructed a package that echoes its rival in so many ways it's downright eerie."

IGN describes the gulf in quality between the single and multiplayer modes as the game suffering an "identity crisis"

Destructoid says "If you're a fan of single-player games, there's nothing for you here."

I hope it's starting to sink in. The race for every military shooter to capture that Call of Duty "magic" is a fruitless one that continues to ensure that all our military FPS stories will have the same interchangeable, hollow campaigns lacking in substance.

Call of Duty hasn't been an action packed history lesson for years, but they wisely ditched the format when WW2 was thoroughly mined. Changing the scope of the series from that to one more loosely based in our current events was a wise move on a creative and gameplay front, and gave them legs for something new. That something new worked in the original Modern Warfare But their success has literally become a blueprint for the modern FPS. If they are the trailblazers, people will start following their cues for a taste of their success, and oh are they.

(If you can't tell which game this is at first glance, something's wrong)

Wait for NPC B to kick in door A, terrorists pop up like cardboard cutouts, shoot, repeat until set-piece activates. While I appreciate EA going for Infinity Ward's throat, they may have gone about it the wrong way by following what has become the lowest common denominator blueprint of FPS design. Since Modern Warfare 2, short, linear military rollercoaster rides with a heavy focus on multiplayer has been the consensus. The difference however between every other game adopting these bullet points and Call of Duty embracing them, is the fact that their multiplayer is so popular and nuanced that they can AFFORD to let the campaign deteriorate into this.

EVERYONE ELSE DOES NOT HAVE THAT CUSHION. While I don't mind CoD jumping a multiplayer shark, everyone is attempting similar leaps now, and unsuccessfully at that. This means we have a bevy of failed attempts at this same slanted, rigid campaign/multiplayer focus instead of memorable, lasting experiences from franchises old and new. It means new creative ideas are being ditched, or compromised, or outright rejected for what works, like their method. It means a loss of identity. It means becoming a statistic.

It also means being forgotten while the major players who did get it right burn the genre to shreds by trying to reproduce their apex until they no longer can. The ones getting it wrong drive the nails further into the coffin.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make is, I'd rather watch Call of Duty topple under its own weight, with it's own flaws, without dragging an entire genre down with it.

There's still an opportunity to craft a story in a military shooter that can resonate viscerally because unlike shooting candy colored aliens, the threat of what's presented here is more personally identifiable, if not always completely plausible. There's a chance to create an exciting, tactical gauntlet that can test more than a player's ability to aim down the sights. Elements like visuals, score, and an intensity of events that simply can't be matched anywhere but in first-person because without an avatar to view constantly, immersion increases exponentially. Imagine all of this paced with intent, having a clear start and finish. Having the ability to stir and evoke emotions in players, and knowing they have been challenged by development team clever enough to do so is a power they are forgetting they have. Regardless of the success of their individual approaches, at least that's exactly what they are, individual, and not yet another attempt to recreate another badass soldiering montage.

More Saving Private Ryan, less Pearl Harbor, moving forward please.

I'm speaking not just to DICE, but the rest of the developers on that one. If CoD has given up on campaign, that's the competition's space to make it better, and innovate. Not follow them mercilessly into the increasingly bleak and derivative popcorn hot-dog-on-a-string campaigns awash in brown hues, foreign countries and explosions. The time for distinction is now, while Battlefield 3 paints a by-the-numbers approach to this as a noticeable problem. I understand the nature of business first, but this is how you beat the competition.

Otherwise, soon you all won't have a genre to compete in.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dance Central 2 Demo + Full Tracklist Reveal!

Harmonix, the masters of all things rhythm action on this side of the pond (my words) has finally put out a demo for their highly anticipated title, Dance Central 2! This comes hot on the heels of their last announcement, which revealed the final tracks in the game's 44 song setlist (detailed below). Combine that number with the songs from the original game, and between the on disc and DLC content, prospective rump shakers will have over 100 tracks to dance to on October 25th.

The demo brings with it a few new features: The game's all-new simultaneous Dance Battle mode, which is exactly what it sounds, pitting two players in a simultaneous competition for points, and the revamped Break It Down tutorial, which gives players even greater control over learning the routines with new rewind/slow options. There are also subtle improvements brought to the core dancing mode, which an also be explored in a solo session.

“Club Can't Handle Me” by Flo Rida ft. David Guerra, and “Bulletproof” by La Roux are the two songs on the plate for this preview, and while at the time of writing I was only able to try out the former, I have to say, the body tracking and seamless way each move segues into each other to form a routine has been tightened up considerably, along with the more detailed and fantastic animations backing it all. I really didn't think Dance Central could look any better than the previous one, but they've really done it again, using their unique art style to the max via animation and subtleties in the most personable way I've seen since The Beatles Rock Band.

I've posted the full track list below for those interested in order of their difficulty tier, but I really have only one question: Who is going to join me for some Haddaway come Tuesday?

No seriously. Bring a suit.

Dance Central 2 Tracklist

Sandstorm – Darude
Mai Ai Hee (Dragostea Din Tea) – O-Zone
Reach – Atlantic Connection And Armanni Reign
Real Love – Mary J. Blige

Venus – Bananarama
Bulletproof – La Roux
Turn Me On – Kevin Lyttle
Last Night – P. Diddy feat. Keyshia Cole
The Humpty Dance – Digital Underground
Impacto (Remix) – Daddy Yankee feat. Fergie
This Is How We Do It – Montell Jordan
The Breaks – Kurtis Blow

Hot Stuff – Donna Summer
Body to Body – Electric Valentine
Fire Burning – Sean Kingston
You’re A Jerk – New Boyz
Oops (Oh My) – Tweet feat. Missy Elliot
Right Thurr – Chingy
Rude Boy – Rihanna
Nothin’ On You – B.O.B feat. Bruno Mars
Club Can’t Handle Me – Flo Rida feat. David Guetta
I Like It – Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull

Massive Attack – Nikki Minaj feat. Sean Garrett
My Prerogative – Bobby Brown
Grenade – Bruno Mars
I Wish For You – Exile
Meddle – Little Boots
Goodies – Ciara

Born This Way – Lady Gaga
Whip My Hair – Willow Smith
Conceited (There’s Something About Remy) – Remy Ma
What Is Love? – Haddaway
Like A G6 – Far East Movement
Yeah! – Usher feat. Lil’ Jon & Ludacris
Bad Romance – Lady Gaga
DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love – Usher feat. Pitbull

Run (Natural Disaster) – Gnarls Barkley
Baby Got Back (Mix Mix) – Sir Mix-A-Lot
Technologic – Daft Punk
Somebody To Love – Justin Bieber

Satellite – Lena
Get Ur Freak On – Missy Elliot
Toxic – As made famous by Britney Spears
Sexy Chick – David Guetta feat. Akon

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reverse Psychology

I think I hated this last year. Couldn't accept it for the world. Now, I'm seeing things.

I see a very twisted, mcabre visual style. I see some inspired enemy design. I see dynamically morphing environments and an impressive sense of scale. I see a battle system that looks, surprisingly like DMC1, but with an added level of flourish. It looks cool, it looks sharp...it does look like Devil May Cry.

Honestly, it looks a lot like Devil May Cry 2 visually, but without the suck.

I'm inclined...to turn an eye to this. Not a blind eye, but one wide open, and accepting of change. I still don't like the way he looks, but it isn't nearly as distracting as it was last year.

I do like this video. It's making me smile.

Once again proving that really, gamers have no conviction, and that if it looks cool enough, eventually, despite our dissent, we will crack in the name of the game.

Cool artwork, too.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ninjas hiding from the truth.

Ninja Gaiden 3 is in development, and it's no secret to avid followers that this will be the first NG title to be an completely original development not based on a previous work. Though the action looked serviceable enough, and violent enough to satisfy, something seemed to be missing. Specifically, an over-the-top amount of violent payoff to match the on-screen action. When asked about whether they would be returning to the all too famous decapitations and dismemberment characteristic to the Ninja Gaiden series since its reboot back in 2004, This is what Team Ninja had to say about the matter:

"We don't think people want to see that anymore," they were reported as saying at Gamescom last week. "They've already seen it."

Yeah right.

More like "We aren't talented enough to have a full dismemberment system in place on both consoles."

I'm seeing a pattern here. To this writer, it seems like excuses wrapped not in good intent, but in their own shortcomings as a developer, especially with their notoriously abrasive, yet perfectionistic leader gone. Let me explain.

Tech savvy gamers know for a fact that the 360 has a higher fill rate than the PS3. In terms everyone can understand, this means it has an ability to display more polygons on screen at any given time. In terms of Ninja Gaiden, specifically it's sequel, it meant they were able to have a fantastic gore/dismemberment system in place that even occasionally compromised the game's otherwise rock solid framerate, slowing things down when there were simply too many bits and pieces flying about.

It's my theory that this system, one that bogged down the 360 at times, was just about impossible to port over to the PS3. While it's a trial indeed to port over (and in some cases, upgrade) the vast majority of the game's assets intact, that wasn't the difficult part. The most difficult part would be getting that gore under control on the PS3...and they couldn't. They dropped the ball, and gave an excuse.

“Each game has its own concept and with Ninja Gaiden 2, the focus was on extreme violence. But with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, we really questioned whether violence is a necessity for a game, so we decided to move away from that trend. So the violence ‘approach’ is not the way we approached the development of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. Being able to unlock higher levels of gore would be out of kilter with the concept of the game.”

Motion controlled breasts were not, however.

Remarkably similar, no? The quality of Team Ninja's games have been in decline ever since Itagaki left, and Yuusuke Hayashi keeps proving time and time again that he cannot uphold that standard since his departure, instead masking his shortcomings in tired excuses like this. I heard nothing of this in the original Ninja Gaiden port, which had the decapitations intact and took the time to improve visually...but the source material was from the last generation of hardware. The second game takes advantage of a specific next gen hardware advantage and has that specific feature cut. The third game is multiplatform out of the gate and has every aspect cut. That can't be coincidence.

The funny thing is, while he may be fooling anyone else blind enough to accept that tripe, this was all to familiar to the MGS2 debacle on the Xbox, one that is all too familiar.

Last generation, a perfect example of this was Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance on the original Xbox. Being a port of the original MGS2: Sons of Liberty on the PS2, the game was specifically designed to take advantage of the system's strengths, most notably the console's fill rate to create the still amazing to this day rainstorm in the tanker chapter. When this game was ported to the Xbox, the textures were better, the sound was better, and overall the game had a much cleaner look. However, the rainstorm was a bit too much for the system's architecture (particles, natch), and what was a perfectly smooth experience on the PS2 turned into a slow motion spectacle worthy of Zack Snyder on the Xbox, turning every scene outside the ship into a slideshow. Was it the Xbox's fault? No, it was more Kojima Productions' doing by not optimizing the game on different hardware, deciding that it would be easier to just dump it on the Xbox intact and let the chips fall where they may.

This is exactly what I feel is going on here, except instead of leaving the original game concept intact come hell or high water, they're instead omitting aspects of the game, leaving the fans to stare and shake their heads in bewilderment every time a new statement like that comes out. Yes, Ninja Gaiden is a great action game, but part of that enoyment comes from the visceral action, and yes, later on, the absurd amount of gore that came as a result. Omitting those aspects (using us as an excuse no less) is only going to hurt them in the long run, because as far as I can see, the God of War series is still going pretty strong, and Kratos has never run into an enemy face unworthy of evisceration. Imagine if Sony Santa Monica said they were cutting the gore from the PSP version of God of War, stating that it was time to tell a more "mature" tale for a different audience unfamiliar with Kratos. You'd think they were full of shit, right?


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Groove Coasting

Few games have inspired a state of wonder and excitement in me the way Groove Coaster has.

Reisuke Ishida, creator of Space Invaders: Infinity Gene is back. Already having reinvented the classic shooter for a new generation, he’s got his sights on a new genre—rhythm action. Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that resonate the most, and if a Tron-esque visual style, married with an uptempo soundtrack and evolutionary gameplay could work for the most basic of shooters, could the same treatment be used to revive the rarely changing rhythm landscape?

Groove Coaster
For: iOS 4.2 (iPhone, iPad, iPad 2, iPod Touch)
Publisher: Taito corp.
Price: $2.99
Release: 7/28/2011 (North America)

The premise is simple, your avatar follows a line from start to finish, and along the way, there are dots along the way that you have to tap in rhythm to the song being played. When you’re successful, the instrument in question rings out and the song sounds better, miss one, and the instrument sounds muted. However, to offer such a plain explanation would be selling the experience short, as the game expands from simple taps, to holds, to all out swiping gestures at higher difficulties, and the lines themselves change depending on the song played, veering off in strange angles and wrapping around itself in tune with the song. It’s surreal and exciting all at once.

This is exactly where Groove Coaster shines. One conundrum of rhythm games is that no matter how great the music is, most offer up the same interface and visual feedback no matter the song being played, leaving the difficulty to be the only distinction between tracks. Here, I can’t say the same thing. Each visualization here not only is unique to the song being played, but are also so distinct, each song feels like its own experience, and it’s one related to the song being played in a more intimate fashion. So where a techno song is filled with harsh lines and curves that veer off at ninety degree angles to the beat, a jazzier song is filled with softer curves and a slower pace that feels more akin to travelling on a wave of sound. The decision to use wireframe visuals was a wise one, and one that’s easy to appreciate especially as the game starts playing tricks with depth and other effects to obscure notes.

For the diehards or rhythm aficionados, there’s a leveling system in place that unlocks new skins, avatars and items, which serve as modifiers for each track affecting things like the visuals, just in case you need the visuals even more trippy than they already are, or how you accumulate score. Having Game Center, Leaderboards for each song are also a must, and there are plenty of reasons to return to each song, not that anyone would complain about the 16 already on display. All this and I haven’t even mentioned the in-game store with extra tracks, avatars and items to buy…

Groove Coaster is something special. Not just because of the visuals, or the excellent music, or the ingenious touch-screen gameplay, but rather, how all three manage to come together in a way that would make Tetsuya Mizuguchi lose sleep at night. It’s an innovative, engaging ride of sights and sounds that filled me with a feeling of excitement I haven’t felt since playing the original Rez on the PS2 nearly a decade ago. Long story short, if you have a pulse at all, you’ll find something to enjoy here. Is there a higher recommendation than that?

Rating: 9.5

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Friday, July 29, 2011

You don't say.

So the 3DS price drops....and it's a move I didn't see coming.

Cue a raised fist to the sky, scream of anguish..

$169.99, eh? I REALLY didn't see this happening.

Really, none of us did. It's not like the system launched with a paltry lineup (even for a standard issue dry launch), no online shop or internet functionality, and a console comparable price tag that (m)any a reasonable person would see as a barrier for entry. Yes, Nintendo magic (read:gimmickry) be damned,there were plenty of reasons not to take the plunge.

...Unless you're me.

The sting of being an early adopter is strong with this one.

Oh, what's that, Nintendo? You don't want us to feel betrayed? Well excuse me. Perhaps, instead of trolling us all by releasing a console that clearly wasn't ready, with no killer app in sight wasn't such a good idea. Perhaps promising the fans a hardcore resurgence in the form of this handheld wasn't the best idea.

Perhaps the price wasn't such a good idea. At $249.99, it's a console $50 more expensive than a 360, $100 more than a Wii, and with an extra $50, hell, you can get a PS3. Smartphones, iPod Touches, need I say anymore? Who in their heart of hearts thought it was a good idea to sell us a portable Gamecube for that much money? Someone clearly trying to cut a profit, that's who. I understand that after reselling us a Gamecube with motion control 5 years ago, bucking the trend of early hardware losses became a new motto for the company, but perhaps you should've planned better before you expected lightning to strike twice.

Then again, we would've perhaps settled into the price point of a portable Gamecube with 3D if the Playstation Vita hadn't quintupled its power, stole the functionality of your forthcoming console, and threatened its fighting chance by releasing at the exact same price point. Somehow, buying a console you know is coasting on old technology with a selectively usable gimmick is less appealing than a portable Playstation 3 when they're THE SAME PRICE...

So I can see the impetus. I can also see the logic

This is a much better price point. It's affordable. It's not much more than a regular DSi, and less than a Vita. It'll make cautious adopters take the leap, now that the console is getting some decent software in. It feels more like a complete system now, with the E-shop, Internet Browser, Netflix, and Nintendo Video in place. Now the 3DS is here.

But can you convince early adopters that they participated in nothing but a very costly beta?
Can you shake the insinuation that comes with the price drop? You know, the one that the system really wasn't ready after all, and that the price really was too high?

Doubtful. I know I feel a bit stupid, and a little betrayed that at 4 months, this is possibly the fastest markdown for a console I've ever seen, but I know Nintendo is scared. Possibly, a drop was planned for the holidays, but the Vita is too much of a looming threat for the same price. The DS is still outselling the 3DS, and that's something scary when you're trying to get consumers to move on before the technology gap becomes too great. So I understand.

Bugs the hell out of me..

But we'll forget soon enough. Gamers have no lasting conviction, especially Nintendo fans, and will eventually crack. It's just the way things are. Good move, Nintendo, but bad form.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I've taken a month off. Have I run out of things to say? Nay. It's rather slow this time of year..

Or that could be an excuse. Has my brain run out of steam? Perhaps not. I've just been gaming like you wouldn't believe. Dedicated a portion of my brain to Mortal Kombat, made my way through a 3D Zelda, watched my girlfriend get her 1947 on via L.A. Noire, saved the world (twice) in Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, hell, I even tied up loose ends Child of Eden and Shadows of the Damned, both of which performed terribly at retail..


It's been quite a June. But a very depressing month for the industry, this has been. So I went into exile for a bit and covered my tracks. Have to be ready for this fall. These fingertips are moving.

After all, Bobby Kotick did just say something not too long ago about the high price of innovation... *snicker*

Oh yeah. I'm not done yet.
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Monday, June 27, 2011

Blind Fury

There aren't too many words that can describe what's going on here aside from "SHEER MADNESS" or "VOODOO" (my fanboyish linguistic shortcomings, not yours), but the fact of the matter is, Netherrealm Studios is keeping good with their promises in a way that many studios wish they were (coughCapcomcough), and the next DLC character in the form of Kenshi is on his way next week, July 5th.

My friends are on notice.

So are you.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The 'Tude is....back?

See that? Depending on what Sonic fan you ask, THAT is the real Sonic. A huge head, a bit of pudge, and that know-it-all grin.

It’s Sonic’s 20th Anniversary, and even though the years have not been kind to the blue blur, with Sonic Generations, something just feels different. There are no gimmicky characters, No terrible butt-rock. No nonsense plots, and for the duration of this demo featuring Classic Sonic, no terrible camera work or questionable 3D gameplay. Just you, Sonic, and what the Green Hill Zone would’ve looked like had the game released in this day and age, with the technology available, the demo seems to promise as it’s booting up.

It truly has never looked better.

It’s quite breathtaking, to be honest. Similar to the way Street Fighter IV brought its classic characters to life, The Green Hill Zone practically jumps from the screen with meticulous detail. Lush, volumetric grass sprouting from the ground, rolling waterfalls, and a background that’s filled with similar areas to the one you’re exploring. It’s literally like staring into a panorama of several Green Hill Zones, and it goes a long way into making the area feel more alive. Enemies have received a similar overhaul, being distinctive and well animated, though occasionally they can get lost in the hustle and bustle of the backgrounds.

Strangely yet not offensively so, everything has a larger-than-life effect similar to Sonic Adventure 2’s reimagining of the level, but it’s once again in the stage’s favor, as the drastically pulled back camera does much to showcase all the extra details on display as well as set the stage for some fun camera work. For example, even though the game remains fixed on a 2D plane, everything looks feels three dimensional, with platforms that feel like canopies as you run beneath them, or piranha who leap over bridges from the foreground to the background. There are even certain parts of the map that cause the camera to react dynamically, like an especially fun effect that sees the camera over his shoulder to add a rollercoaster-like effect for running down a hill! The music is something to write about as well, sounding just as anyone who has played the first would remember, but with all the instruments composer (insert name here) wishes he had when struggling with the Genesis’ sound chip way back when. Overall, the game accomplishes with gusto what Sonic 4 tried to do and failed: Making the old new again, while maintaining the same retro sensibilities.

Even the control accomplishes this. While they aren’t as smooth as I would’ve liked, with an odd stickiness that sort of tethers Sonic to flat surfaces, there’s no denying that it’s the closest approximation to classic Sonic that Sega’s been able to muster in over 15 years. I even took the time to fire up the original Sonic 1 to confirm my suspicions, and it was a smooth transition. The sense of inertia and speed you get from careening down a hill, or the gradual climb before a steep hill are present, and it makes the return to platforming all the more welcome. (Yes, platforming.) Even at this early stage, it seems that the “plaforming with speed rewards” type gameplay is back from the Genesis days, and everything from swings, to springs, to corkscrew loops are all here and well accounted for. This is another beautiful thing, as the stages are absolutely MASSIVE in scope, somewhere between Sonic 1 and 3 in terms of alternate paths and hidden areas accessible by only the finest of reflexes.

At one act, the demo is a bit short, and one can only wonder why the second act featuring Modern Sonic was excluded from the package (along with the 20-day expiry date), but I have little worry for the final product. The daytime stages in Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Colors have been some of the best translations into 3D the series has ever seen, and if they keep that spirit intact for the full game, I have little to worry about. What I do know however, is that the part I was most worried about turned out better than I’d hoped. I loved the classic stage, and given that I've played through the demo three times and found something different each time through experimenting, I'm confident that if all of the classic stages continue in this fashion, Sonic fans are going to be in for a real treat come this fall. I've never felt so nostalgic playing a modern Sonic before.

Bravo, guys.

Continue Reading..

Annoyances of the Mainstream - Trials and Tribulations

I generally don't pay attention to mainstream (IGN, Gamespot, et al) game reviews anymore, as I've noticed a disturbing trend in gaming; mainstream reviewers seem to be downscoring games based on increasingly frivolous things. I'm not even talking about a game having strange mechanics, something being off story wise, or something simultaneously loved and feared because of its insurmountable odds akin to a Ninja Gaiden, I'm just talking about complaints about things like challenge that seem to be getting worse as gaming moves into a more casual forum.

It's odd, as I notice reviews from back in the day heavily focused on an overall aura, a combination of graphics, sound, gameplay and overall value. Now, since graphics are at such a high as to be homogenous, it takes truly reprehensible (read: mostly last-gen) visuals to have some sort of visual discrepancy. Since every console practically defaults to multidirectional sound, a game has to have a really questionable score to be noticed outside of our increasingly orchestral norms. But gameplay is more heavily scrutinized than before, with what I feel is a misplaced focus.

Annoying Scrutiny #1 - "Trial-and-Error" in Games

One of the chief complaints of the mainstream reviewer is this, criticizing what is a fundamental aspect of design. Trial-and-error is an aspect of games that is much maligned, and in some cases, with good reason, but it's not something that needs to be eliminated.

Death in games comes often, and sometimes swiftly, but this was something we've always dealt with as gamers. The entire institution of even having "extra lives" was the notion that you would fail, and if you weren't completely up to snuff, there was always a secret code to help out in case of emergency.

These days, our games are littered with savefiles to record progress, checkpoints to cover what the savefiles don't get, and autosaves just in case you manually forgot to save. The challenging aspect has endured to a point, but now there's a ton of concessions to ensure you aren't taxed too hard. Why then does even a game like Limbo, which is literally littered with checkpoints and death spots, get criticized for its difficulty, being called a "trial and error" game with this as a negative aspect?

Trial-and-error in its purest form is a fudamental part of design. Gamers love to be punished (when we aren't, we complain MORE), and part of the discovery element of ANY game is figuring out the limits developers have assigned us. You can't find out if a bed of spikes is dangerous to your avatar without first propelling them onto it, and reacting accordingly, can you? When did this fall by the wayside? Short of putting massive signs everywhere that says "Don't try to do x, or you'll die", there will always be a bit of a trial-and-error aspect to games.

But what happens when a game (unintentionally) parodies a reviewer's desire to eliminate the frustrating aspects of trial-and-error?

You get the 2008 Prince of Persia, which was met with a massive negative backlash, due to its refusal to let a player stare at a "Game Over" screen.

I never saw the difference when people started to complain though. Elika physically pulling you from a ditch is no different to me than appearing a few feet in front of a trap that just killed you in Limbo, or mashing F5 before a particularly difficult part in Half-Life so your life is secure. It's no different than Gears of War constantly covering your ass with autosaves, and it's an amusing point of contention that when a game is lacking some sort of system similar to this, it gets pulled apart. So why complain at all? It sets in motion a needless effort by the developer to accomodate with easier modes that see no use, or a overly simplified design that, as criticisms would label it , "Suffer from a lack of challenge or sense of danger."

So which is it guys? Are the games supposed to be so straightforward that we coast through them without being challenged, or is it only acceptable if the game doesn't make it obvious that their hand is being held? I don't know if there is a right answer. I believe a game's accomodations should only reach as far as the developer allows, but to compromise their vision in some way by removing what has been a cornerstone of design is silly. A game in which you're unable to die is little more than an interactive movie (leading to complaints of unimagination and linearity), and without some sort of risk-reward system to propel a player forward, there's little reason to continue once you've started (or even revisit). My notion is, people looking for the former need to simply watch movies, people looking for the absence of the latter need to question why they're engaged in an interactive challenge in the first place if they aren't expecting to be challenged.

Some of my favorite experiences in gaming were earned after much repetition of seemingly insurmountable odds, and I can't see that changing as long as our minds continue to favor being told we can't accomplish something initially with a robust set of obstacles.

The wide world of the internet takes a reviewer's opinion as gospel at times like this, and while it's nice, I realize we have to be careful. It's easy to forget, but readers are always on top of what we say as soon as we say it. They also take what we say to heart, faux-quoting us like parrots in an effort to sound "professional". Developers pay close attention as well, and shape their next title's aspects in line with our criticisms. If reviewers like the ones I'm mentioning don't watch out, it'll be exactly the predestination paradox their complaints are trying to avoid, and a slew of linear, hand-holding games will be the future. I remember Call of Duty's campaigns being somewhat tactical and open before it became akin to a treadmill with an explosive-filled hot dog on the end.

With a slew of ill-informed criticism favoring easier, more straightforward games, they just may be undercutting the most fun aspect of our medium. Which leads to a better question for the next segment:

Why are they complaining about visuals too?

Continue Reading..

Monday, June 13, 2011

Gonna take a lot more coffee than this..

Master Chief can't get a break, can he? Always facing insurmountable odds, his trilogy came to a close in late 2007, and gamers were for the most part, satisfied. Why not? Despite some questionable narrative choices (and I maintain thatHalo had a great story, just bad execution), the Halo will always be remembered more for it's multiplayer strength and how it brought console gamers together with a sense of community to rival PC offerings. I remembered it for a different reason.

The original Halo will always have a place in my heart for that other reason it rivaled the PC. Like Unreal had for PC gamers circa 1998, Halo had shown me that we were able to move past the endless metal corridors, castle walls, and dungeons that had defined most FPS games up until that point. It provided a lush world with a tangible visual history, and a sense of discovery and wonder that gave me the impression that though I wasn't the first to traverse the land, my journey would be significant. From the mystery of the seemingly connected man-made structures littering the planet,to the threat of an alien menace trapped deep inside, and discovering the true purpose of Halo itself, it took me on a journey so compelling, the opening moments of the crash landing that started it all are still burned into my skull.

Then there were candy colored aliens spewing gobbeldygook who needed to be shot with a vast array of weaponry, and it satisfied on that front too.

I digress though, as I tend to do. My point was that even though the Halo series would eventually lose itself to repetitious, yet addictive multiplayer,the advent of the child internet scum movement, and an ultimately unsatisfying ending to close a surprise trilogy which ultimately choked the story's potential, (inhales), the original still stands as quite beloved. From series fans telling stories of the old, to newcomers wondering what the series was like before the internet took over, at the very least, a not-so-small demand for an Xbox Live Arcade version of the game has been one of the industry's pipe dreams. Even the excellent Halo: Reach, story driven and true to the original spirit as it was, only made the want greater for an actual Halo 1 remake. Could it really be so difficult to do?

...I guess not.

Consider me robbed for words. Which is nice, because this trailer says just about everything I could've, and then some. The only thing I can coherently state out of this stupor is that it'll be around November 15, 2011, which is right in time for the series 10th anniversary. While a new Halo announcement is always nice, it's almost refreshing that they're going back to when the series has seen better times than going with a full fledged -- oh wait.

They aren't kidding. Much like Solid Snake, reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated.

....but what am I surmise from this trailer? Well...aside from 343 Studios' Bungie-like approach to storytelling, which seems to tell everything while saying nothing, I have my suite of questions. What's attacking his ship? Why? What was that weapon he used to breach the hull? WHAT is that planet he's flying towards?

Looks like cryo-sleep isn't enough of an implicated death to bring this one down.

As part of a newly announced trilogy, I'm sure we'll find out MUCH more before 2012.

Continue Reading..

Monday, June 6, 2011

Guess I'm ineligible for that free 3D Excitebike..

Eh, Nintendo? I mean it's not like getting hacked by LulzSec would delay matters any, right?

Continue Reading..

Thursday, June 2, 2011

There will be blood!

Challenger Appears!

As if the announcement of the "Klassic Kostume Pack" for June 7th weren't enough (seeing classic versions of Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Kitana, Mileena, Jade, and Ermac plus fatalities), another reveal came yesterday in the form of Skarlet, a red kunoichi who looks one part Elektra, one part BloodRayne, and all badass.

Some trivia for ya: Similar to Ermac and the infamous "Error Macro" glitch that gave him his unique red color, Skarlet was originally a bug in MK2 which caused a red palette version of Kitana to appear, fueling rumors of yet another mysterious ninja character. Sparing no chance to once again give us fans what we want, after years of speculation, she's finally a reality, and as you can see in the video above, she has her own unique moves and fatalities. No pallette swaps here!

Currently, she doesn't have a date, but her formal in-game reveal is set for E3, which starts June 7th. Some hacking revealed a few of her normals, combos and X-Ray, ahead of the official reveal, so if you want a bit of an in depth preview ahead of time, hit the video below.

Hopefully the next reveal will be out of sight...

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

3Ds - Dead or Alive: Dimensions Review

I remember playing Mortal Kombat II on the Game Gear. Far from being the meaty, “realistic” arcade fighter my mother refused to buy me, this pocket sized version had the spirit, but not the heart. The realistic sprites had been reduced to cartoonish caricatures, the buckets of blood had seen their budget reduced to mere droplets, and the deep, heavy bass had been reduced to generic bleeps and bloops. This is a fact that I was more than willing to accept, because after all, how could a portable with two buttons ever hope to capture the glory of the mighty arcade cabinet across the street from my school? So I accepted the slighted controls, the reduction in fidelity, and the notion that while they would never reach their arcade counterparts, they were at least competent enough to enjoy, and –just-unintelligible enough for my mother to accept.

Man, if I were a child of today, that wouldn’t have worked at all.

Dead or Alive: Dimensions
For: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Tecmo / Team Ninja
Price: $39.99
Release: 5/24/2011 (North America)

We’re in the middle of a fighting game boom, but arguably, that movement was already heralded by the arrival of the PSP five years ago. Far from aspiring to be a glorified portable Super Nintendo like many of the handhelds before it, developers saw it as a chance to offer up portable games with the same level of quality as a handheld, and for the most part, they all succeeded. The idea of what a portable fighter should be has been redefined since then, and although everything from Street Fighter to SoulCalibur has been faithfully reproduced in portable form, Dead or Alive has suspiciously never made the cut. Perhaps they were just waiting for the right technology, or perhaps creator Itagaki’s departure (who stated console type games have no place on portables), but no matter the reason, Dead or Alive: Dimensions is here, it’s handheld, and in typical Team Ninja fashion, is a showcase for just how capable the new 3DS hardware is at delivering an experience that (for the most part) matches it’s console counterpart.

Moments after booting the game up, you’re thrown right into the game’s Chronicle mode, and it’s exactly as it sounds, a retelling of the entire DOA saga that also serves as a tutorial mode. This is great for players new to the series, as it literally teaches the ins and outs of the fighting system in easy to understand portions between cutscenes. What it doesn’t do however, is make the conspiracy-laden drivel that is the DOA storyline any easier to understand. Ninjas are fighting corporate entities, Kung-Fu prodigies are at odds with capoiera practicing assassins, and the whole ordeal is just more enjoyable if you simply marvel at the 3D action scenes and soak in the brief fights punctuating it until its conclusion. Just one question, Team Ninja: Why the stop motion cutscenes with 3D models ala 2010’s Bayonetta? While I can understand maybe a lack of budget (or time) contributed to this, at least the latter game disguised the stylistic choice with a “film reel”look. Here it happens suddenly, randomly, and without warning. Newsflash: It was strange watching a full motion fight turn into a pantomime in its latter stages back in 2010, it still is now.

When you’re in control of the action however, are where the game really shows it’s teeth. DOA’s fast paced rock-paper-scissors gameplay has been translated fully intact to the 3DS, and it’s well-designed circle pad (or D-pad, depending on your preference) is a perfect fit with the game’s traditional 4 button setup. The common failing of most portable fighters is the explicit precision needed to pull off some of the more complex moves on a small controller, and its a problem not present here, as DOA has always been more about the moves thrown and keeping your opponent guessing than performing them. Taking a page from the SSF4: 3D handbook, the bottom screen plays host to a helpful movelist that changes dynamically with each button pressed, or if you’re more of an advanced player, you can set it to list attack properties and frame data(!!!). The counterbalance to this ease of offense is the counter system, and it’s back to the more intuitive (in my opinion) system of DOA3, eliminating the (unnecessary) kick hold for the better. Since it works with only three levels of attack this time around (high,mid,low), your reaction time while under attack can be much snappier, but of course, the same applies to your opponents.

Other modes include an Arcade mode that forgoes the usual structure for a number of bite sized “circuits” that can be played with any character, a perfect choice for a portable game. While you inexplicably can’t change the number of rounds, difficulty, or even damage dealt, each circuit offers up a different challenge, and a different boss fight at their conclusion. Survival mode is just as you’d expect, a gauntlet until you run out of life, and the new Tag Challenge mode offers the full on 2v2 tag experience, albeit one with a CPU controlled ally that performs better than expected (and tags in/out on cue), but isn’t truly a replacement for a human. Fortunately, the online mode is there to whet your appetite, and though it’s only limited to 1v1 battles, the connection holds up well via wi-fi, with only a hint of lag here and there. A ton (literally) of unlockable figurines are the centerpiece for a trio of modes where you can pose, photograph, and StreetPass battle them, but it’s a novelty at best, being unlikely to hold anyone’s attention for long.

----------------------------------The 3D Effect ------------------------------------------

Switching the game on, it’s almost impossible to ignore just how well done the 3D effect is. Hands and feet pop out of the screen, projectiles whiz dangerously close, and the camera somehow has a knack for playing up the added depth at every turn, highlighting players in the middle of combos and making the crash through a church window into the street below look that much more intense. However, it isn’t all paradise. Though it displays some of the best visuals on the 3DS thus far, the framerate has trouble holding with the slider up. While the fights themselves mimic Super Street Fighter 4 3D’s 30fps standard with the 3D turned on, intros and victory poses dip way below that, creating an odd visual disconnect that’s actually a bit distracting from the otherwise superb 3D presentation. Cutscenes in the game’s chronicle mode suffer this too, with dips marring the otherwise cool 3D action occurring on screen. All of this is remedied by turning the slider down, which locks the game’s visuals at a solid 60fps that looks too smooth to be true. Most people won’t mind, but visual sticklers will be at odds between having a smooth presentation or a “cool” one. At least it’s a decision you can make for yourself.

Far from a full fledged sequel but not quite a Dead or Alive 4: Turbo either, Dead or Alive:Dimensions may be the best entry the fighting series has seen yet. It features every character the franchise has ever seen, brings to the forefront an improved story mode that ties all of it together, and features a refined version of DOA4’s “ultimate” fighting engine. Best of all, it manages to do this on a portable system of all things, helping usher in the 3D era with a Team Ninja level of polish. It may not be the deepest experience you’ll have, but it’s one perfect for the system, and the sheer number of unlockables (in typical DOA fashion) ensure that if you are a fan of fighters, despite its flaws, there’s very little to hate here. Much like its predecessors, what we have here is a fast, flashy, yet accessible fighter that shows off the breakthrough hardware of the moment. After all, it’s what the Dead or Alive series is known for. Not a bad reputation to have, if you ask me.

Rating: 8.0

Oh, and I managed to go the whole review without the words “3D” and “boobs” in the same sentence.

..That didn’t count.

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