Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Battlefield 4 Review

Will the latest entry in the Battlefield series be the best, or has it finally shriveled in quality?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review

At one time, you couldn’t get a better handheld series port than Zelda. Link’s Awakening, the Oracle games, and Minish Cap were masterpieces in their own right, distinctly different from their console brethren, but equally as challenging and entertaining. 

Then the DS came along and screwed it all up for everyone.

Phantom Hourglass is the second worst handheld Zelda ever created. Though it had the visual charm of Wind Waker, it captured none of the exploration and adventure, instead replacing a vast world with a central dungeon which needed to be beaten nigh-endlessly to get to its ending. This frustrating repetition on top of a less than stellar game made for an experience I care to not repeat. The only game worse than this was its successor Spirit Tracks, which decided if it made us go on set paths to get to areas to explore, it would somehow be better than a free roaming boat. Though the central dungeon idea was improved by removing its time limit and allowing you to skip previously played parts, the developers stuck to their guns of extending gameplay time at the expense of monotony.  Bleh. The age of handheld Zelda darkness was upon us.


But hark, like the sun peering through a dark cloud break, a new game was announced. One that featured top-down adventuring ala the previous handhelds and was a sequel to one of my personal favorites, A Link To The Past. A Link Between Worlds promised to take us back to a familiar Hyrule and bring the series back to its roots. As wary as I was, I bought it on the hopes that just maybe the developers realized that exploration is a crucial part of gameplay and it’s a bad idea to have half your game consist of playing the same level ad nauseam. I popped it in the 3DS and braced myself for disappointment.

I’ve never been so happy to have my fears unfounded.

Okay maybe I have, but you get the picture.

Link to the Past Nostalgia, But Better


First off, just to hear the classic Link to the Past tune to start off the game brought a stupid grin to my face. And it didn’t stop as I started the game. This version of Link is the blacksmith’s apprentice, which makes you wonder how far it is in the future if the fame and deeds of his ancestor didn’t keep him from working, but I digress. You start off in the same house from Link to the Past, you have an almost identical world map to Link to the Past, and all the music is revamped versions of, you guessed it, Link to the Past. This game just screams nostalgia in the absolute best way possible.

Another feature that struck me almost immediately was the smoothness of gameplay. Not only do you have full range of motion instead of just 8, you can break pots with your sword, and the complete pause of gameplay when going upstairs has been removed. The sword swings also seem to be faster and produce such a crisp sound and fast effect, it feels noticeably quicker and more satisfying to cut down a bush. I know that sounds stupid, but when you try it you’ll know and be like “Man, AristoGamer, you were right.” And I’ll pull down my aviators while I power up my helicopter to fly over the ocean and say “I know, kid.”

The story is also quite interesting. An evil entity named Yuga is turning sages into paintings and it’s up to Link, who suddenly gets the power to merge into walls, to foil his plot and save Hyrule and another place whose name is too hilarious to spoil. The second half of the game (there’s always a second half to a Zelda game) features a compelling plotline and one of the best endings to a handheld Zelda game in some time.

Breaking New Ground By Reexamining Old Ground


For the first time in franchise history, you can complete the dungeons in any order you want! When I first heard that, my mind was blown. “A non-linear Zelda should not be possible”, my psyche screamed. It was quickly silenced by the logical addition of Ravio, an item salesman who runs a store out of your house to rent you weapons. That’s right, from the beginning of the game you can rent every single quest-critical item for a price. The only catch is when you die, the items get returned and you must pay for them again. You also don’t need to worry about ammo or magic for specific items, as their use takes away from one unified bar that refills. Though it doesn’t make much sense for arrows to use the same system as the fire rod, it’s much simpler and more streamlined. I definitely don’t miss running out of ammo halfway through a dungeon and having to scrounge for more. This novel system singlehandedly loosened up a series which didn’t need loosening, but benefited from it greatly. The resulting game is radically fun, figuring out what items you need and want for each place and placing emphasis on gaining rupees.

That’s another cool thing, not only do start with a rupee limit of 9999, but because they’re so important, you find yourself caring about getting them far more. Gone was the exasperating feeling of needing to purchase something—anything—to lighten your coin purse. With this system, I don’t think I ever had over 4000 rupees. It seems so simple to place more importance on something so ubiquitous between games, but it’s a smart choice that made even cutting down bushes more rewarding.


In fact, the only negative thing I have to say about this game is I don’t really like the way Link looks from the top down view. Look at his front coif and tell me they couldn’t scale that back just a smidge so we could better see his face. Just compare Link to the Past and Link Between Worlds and tell me one doesn’t look more limiting.


Also, the art style reminds me of what they did with the new Donkey Kong, Kirby, and Mario Brothers games—they all look kind of similar and shiny. Though it’s not as pronounced a problem in this title and it harkens back to Link to the Past, it still has that same plasticky feel that the New Super Mario Brothers has where I feel like Nintendo got a bit lazy on the art. But again, it’s not nearly as noticeable in Link Between Worlds as it is in the aforementioned series.

Verdict:


Even if you’re not a Zelda fan or just haven’t played Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds is an excellent game that has one of the smoothest engines, best soundtracks, and most creative dungeons of the series. The nonlinearity of the game allows the player more freedom while smart design choices remove the small annoyances and increase fun just running around. If you have a 3DS and like Zelda games or adventure titles, this should absolutely be the next game you buy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ace Attorney 5: Dual Destinies Review

The story of the Ace Attorney series is one full of triumph, despair, turnabouts, and shocking twists, much like the narratives it contains. It originally began as a GBA series, having a 3 game, Japan-only run before sputtering to a halt. When the first game finally resurfaced as a Nintendo DS port with an extra case, diehard fans went nuts, but it was a limited North American release that sparked the series back to life. As more people heard about it, more Ace Attorney memes started showing up on the internet, from sites like Mr. Dictionary’s Objection creator to Ace Attorney parody movies. The game became a beloved cult classic and it wasn’t long before the rest of the games were released in the states. Soon after, Ace Attorney 4 was released bringing with it a bold spectrum of changes, including replacing the lead character Phoenix Wright with Apollo Justice, a red-vested shout monkey who could never capture fans’ hearts.

Until he did.

Afterward, a new game following the first game’s lead Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth called Ace Attorney Investigations was released. Following the same “collect evidence, try to prove they’re guilty, repeat until they admit it” formula, but in a sort of sidescroller mode without the familiar court setting. The response of these two games was lukewarm stateside, leading to the second Ace Attorney Investigations game to never be released in NA. Fans were distraught, doing everything from internet petitions to objection videos, but to no avail. Wind of a Layton x Wright crossover game came, bringing with it hope, but also the depressing defeat of a non-international release. Fans’ spirits were at an all-time low.


Then news of a new game hit. One that returned to the basics. To court. To Phoenix. Ace Attorney 5 would put our favorite blue-suited spiked-mane smug-mugged lawyer back in the driver’s seat. Fans clamored for a stateside release with such fervor, Capcom must have been able to justify a release. The game just barely got a digital-only release (one employee informed me that it was going to have a limited edition boxed release, but this was cancelled a few months before the game’s release). But finally, it was time. No more angsting, no more pirating subtitled movies, no more reading walkthroughs, just playing through the series the fans have come to love.

Prepare yourselves. This is Ace Attorney 5.


Story


Following Phoenix’s disbarment, it seems he’s back behind the bench. Joined by Apollo and a new lawyer named Athena Cykes, they’re battling for their clients’ lives at every turn. Using every trick they know and a few they don’t, they relentlessly pursue the truth against Simon Blackquill, a convicted murderer prosecutor who has a thing for the old samurai ways.

 So yes, a formerly disbarred lawyer and killer are now practicing law. Awesome.

The cases in this game are wildly reminiscent of previous ones. The high tension, red herrings, massive twists, and freak outs are all still here. Getting back behind the bench feels as exciting as you’d imagine it would. The overarching story deals with a serious subject rarely breached by the previous games –winning cases by any means necessary, from phony convictions to falsified evidence. Each of the cases ties into this theme somehow, forming a more cohesive narrative than I’ve seen in any previous Ace Attorney game.

Gameplay 

 

And what would Ace Attorney be without some strange new gimmick to get at the truth? For Phoenix it was Maya’s magatama which showed the locks on peoples’ hearts formed by their lies. Apollo had a bracelet that let him know when someone was lying, allowing him to perceive their tells. Now Athena has a computer system named Widget which can analyze audio patterns in a person’s voice for their emotions. When you see a strange reaction to a particular statement, you press on it and eventually clear up their testimony by reducing the discord in their heart. I like the system more than Apollo’s if only because it has more of a pseudoscience explanation behind it. It was kind of hard to swallow a magic bracelet that tightened when people lied. The magatama isn’t much more plausible, but at least it was given to Phoenix by a spirit medium; the bracelet is from Apollo’s mom who’s a decidedly non-magical <SPOILER>.

Other additions to the gameplay include being able to examine a room in 3 dimensions by examining each of the 4 walls that make up a space. That in and of itself may make your heart sink if you’ve played previous games, since you know how frustrating investigation can be. Constantly clicking squares and examine for half an hour tends to do that. But Ace Attorney 5 has solved that too with a nifty feature that puts a little check mark on your indicator if you’ve already investigated something, and a pulsating circle if you can investigate something, but haven’t yet. Absolutely genius (i.e. should have been added a long time ago).


The only complaint I have about the gameplay is that it almost seems too easy. At first, I thought it was because I was a truth-seeking, justicephile who has been in the courtroom one too many times to be bamboozled by Capcom, but upon talking to other fans, I’m finding the same thing. They all agree that it’s not as difficult. I suspect it may be due to things being easier, but it’s more than likely mostly caused by the reduction in frustration. Streamlining investigation alone makes cases take far less time and have much fewer headaches.  Also, though the game features cameos from some rather large characters, there aren’t enough to meet the usually high Ace Attorney quota. Though those calmed down in later games, I still miss catching random glimpses of old suspects once in a while. On the upside, it means less lore to look up for newcomers.


Aesthetics


The art in the new game is phenomenal in comparison to previous titles. Never before has there been an Ace Attorney game with 3D character models, but all the characters made the transition well. Everyone looks great static, but even better when animated since there’s actual movement and not just jumping pixels. The art style is about as close to the original pixelated style as they could get and it comes off great. And fully animated and voiced cutscenes are also spliced throughout the game to convey story when the character animations won’t cut it. The music is also impeccable, meeting a relatively high standard from fans of a soundtrack that fits the drama of the court. All Ace Attorney soundtracks can be measured by their take on Pursuit Cornered, the track that plays when you’ve got the crook on the ropes, and AA5 holds up well. Nothing beats Ace Attorney 2’s version, but 5 gets close. (Quick side note, I just checked a poll on GameFAQs and it turns out most people most people disagree with me are wrong.)


Verdict


I love Ace Attorney, maybe even more than Kingdom Hearts. It’s one of the few series I support in every form I can. From figures to shirts to imported movies to the musicals and beyond, I’m a fan to my core. Though that usually bodes well for a series, this case is a hard one. After being scorned for so long from Capcom, this game had to not only meet the standard, but exceed it just to get a passing mark. Luckily, they did just that with wonderfully updated graphics, a quirky new investigation system, overhauling the frustrating parts, and bringing back characters we love without destroying the wacky continuity we’ve also grown fond of. If you’re new to the series, you may want to go back and play the first few games before getting started on this one (or at least Ace Attorney 4), but if you’re a fan of the series wondering if it’s worth the hype – it is. It so is. Trust me, once you nail your first ne’er-do-well in a lie and this song comes on, you’ll agree.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs Review

J delves into the highly anticipated Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs. Will it live in the shadow of its predecessor or send J wee wee weeing all the way home?

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