Monday, August 29, 2011

You Know What They Say, The 3rd Strike Is What Counts... The Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition Review

Capcom has had some successes and failures with downloadable games on this current generation of consoles, but their latest effort on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network is quite arguably their best game on the services. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike finally goes downloadable, but this is not just your average port. Capcom took their sweet time to make this version the one to get especially for hardcore fans and tournament players that have been playing for many years since its initial arcade release in 1999. They finally met players and fans' demands of what features have to be in this port. There are still some issues that might irritate certain crowds, but Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition is definitely the best fighting game out there to download.

Many people probably didn't remember 3rd Strike when it originally came out. The III series for the Street Fighter franchise was a pretty big departure from the II series and Alpha games. Other than Ryu, Ken, Akuma, and Chun-Li (3rd Strike is her only game in the series), the III series was pretty much a whole new cast of characters to fight as and a big change in core gameplay. Those changes turned many fans off until Street Fighter IV came out. What most people missed with 3rd Strike though that it is arguably the most technical game in the franchise. Players appreciated that it actually took more skill to win than just relying on projectiles and dragon punches. Spacing of normal moves and execution play a huge role when playing these specific games. The most noticeable mechanic the Street Fighter III games were known for is the concept of parrying. Parrying is one of those easy to learn, difficult to master mechanics as it is simple to execute, but on most match scenarios, it can be pretty tough to pull off. 3rd Strike was the pinnacle of the III series, which is why it is a no brainer for Capcom to release it as a download.

Online Edition contains an arcade perfect version of 3rd Strike along with additional features seen in previous Capcom games this generation. Being arcade perfect means the game is untouched balance and gltiches-wise with the same frame data for all characters in the original release. This also means you'll likely see a lot of players using Chun-Li and Yun online since they're arguably the best characters in the game along with your fair share of shotos (Ryu, Ken, Akuma, Sean) since they're second nature to anyone that has played a Street Fighter game before. There have been claims of input lag, meaning the inputs are delayed by little number of frames on the PSN version, but only serious tournament-level players would notice such a big issue like that. The big twist in this version is how in-game achievements are being tracked. If you're playing the game in its default 4:3 state, you'll notice a ticker of sorts on the borders of certain tasks being done for points. These range from doing multi-hit combos, win a round by a super, parry a certain number of moves, and so on. These points can be used to buy things from the vault containing such things as remixed music, character endings, fan-art that have been handpicked by Capcom. There's not really a special item to unlock like an episode of the Street Fighter cartoon from Final Fight: Double Impact, which makes the vault a bit disappointing. The achievement tracker can be distracting for some people even though it wasn't for me, but you can customize the screen size, and filters in the options menu. The various filters, especially the arcade cabinet view, are nice to have, but the default view seems fine personally.

Other than the standard arcade and training modes, the other big single player mode in this new release is the trials mode, as seen in Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3. If you played that mode in the games I previously mentioned, 3rd Strike is no different with the character trials, but some additional trials are added in for parrying and specific handicap challenges. The parrying trials are nice to have if you're new to the game as this is one way to learn how to parry effectively against certain moves and situations. For example, you can recreate the infamous Daigo parry video in this game, which is obviously titled Evo Moment #37. The character trials let you learn bread and butter combos high-level players usually use in a tournament along with trying out some difficult ones that are not impossible to do as well. Trial mode in 3rd Strike Online Edition is a nice feature for anyone to mess around with whether you're new or someone that wants to be challenged, but let's move on to how "online" this version really is.

Since this is called Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition, the online has to be pretty good right? That seems to be the case for the most part with some minor issues that could affect your experience with this release. First of all, the GGPO netcode finally gets put in a console fighting game, so you're pretty much getting lagless matches with no slowdown at all. Playing someone with a bad connection however can still be a problem, in which the game can get all skippy for a bit. An example would be hearing the K.O. sound even though you think you won a round, but you didn't as the fight goes on. Speaking of sound issues, the background music sometimes stops playing until the beginning of a new round during online matches as well, a similar issue found in Super Turbo HD Remix. Most of my online matches ran smoothly based on my time with the game, but there will be those moments where the issues I just mentioned can happen. Online matchmaking is also a problem with the game at its current state now. It can take a while to find ranked matches at times (a while meaning over a minute), which is pretty bad. Well the matchmaking in general is pretty weird in this version as there is no custom match setting in ranked, but is in player matches when making rooms with up to eight players (quarter match settings seen in past Capcom downloadable releases). In ranked matches, the game tends to match you up against a similarly ranked opponent, which they do a good job on that. There's also a bug where a person's disconnect rating goes beyond 100% when being matched up as that could be easily fixed in a future patch. Despite some little issues, 3rd Strike's online works functionally especially with having GGPO.

Other than standard player and ranked match options, 3rd Strike also has spectator mode, a must for online fighting games these days, online tournaments with up to sixteen players, and a robust replay feature. There is a huge database for your unsaved replays of all your matches played locally and online as of course you can save the ones you want to keep. In addition, they can uploaded to the game's match server for others to see and get rated. These match replays can also be upload to YouTube as the gameplay videos you see above are from my own YouTube account. The quality of these videos are not that good when uploaded there as they're in a way lower resolution than it should be. Unfortunately for 360 owners, uploading to YouTube means you're uploading to a master Capcom account compared to uploading to your own YouTube channel on PSN. Other than that, at least the feature works and it is nice to have even though it could of been so much better.

Graphically, 3rd Strike is the same 3rd Strike you have seen for over a decade. No HD remix was done to the graphics, which is a good thing because the 2D sprites still look great even on 360 and PS3 to this day. As mentioned earlier, there are various filters to mess around with and screen size to adjust especially if you're the widescreen type of person these days. The art has been redone for this new version as well as they are seen in the menus and the character select screen. The soundtrack is still one of the best fighting game soundtracks around even though this online edition defaults to the arranged versions of the tunes. There are remixed versions of the themes to buy on the vault, which are done by Simon Viklund (popularly known for the Bionic Commando Rearmed soundtrack). These remixes are basically hit and misses as the popular theme songs ended up being the most disappointing. The new menu rap song is tolerable, but you can change to the original menu music as well. Other than that, the in-game sounds are as arcade perfect as it gets.

Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition is definitely a great package for fifteen dollars driven by fan-service. Many wished features that previous fighting games didn't have such as GGPO netcode, arcade perfect gameplay, and YouTube uploads are finally in. The in-game achievement tracker is nice to have, but I can see it be distracting for some players. Other than functional online play, there is still tons of replay value from completing the vault and tearing through trials mode when playing offline. There are still some nagging issues that affect online play, but it is still a good time to return to one of the greatest fighting games of all-time with 3rd Strike. Newer players may have a tough time since it requires a different learning curve, but it is definitely worth sticking through if you want to get better. This is one downloadable release any fighting game fan should not miss.

Score = 8.5/10

  • Arcade perfect gameplay (Same 3rd Strike that has been around for over a decade)
  • GGPO netcode finally in a console fighting game and works well for the most part
  • Feature-heavy for a downloadable release from trials mode, the vault, and a robust replay system
  • YouTube uploads are nice to have
  • Looks great even in 2011
  • Still one of the best fighting games of all-time
  • Online matchmaking issues - can take a while to find matches at times
  • Even when facing someone on a bad connection, skippy moments can happen that can dramatically affect how a match goes.
  • Not as easy to pick up and play as you think (especially for first timers... it can be a tough learning curve especially if they skipped this one and recent games like Street Fighter IV "spoiled" them)
  • Input lag is a problem on the PSN version assuming the claims by tournament-level players are true (only an issue for that certain crowd)
  • YouTube quality of videos when using the game's upload feature to YT is not that good

Thursday, August 25, 2011

PSN Demo Showcase for 8/25/11

Some new demos came out on PSN this week and even though I rather play Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition (review on that soon), I did take some time to play through these demos as I will briefly mention my thoughts of them.

First off is a demo of Bodycount, published by Codemasters and made by the creators of Black (Criterion). In a nutshell this first person shooter is pretty much Black 2.0 with a different storyline and setting. The gameplay premise is still similar to Black in which there are lots of destructible environments and you shoot at explosive barrels to kill enemies. As a shooter, Bodycount has some unique ideas such as leaning while aiming with your ironsights at any spot. This mechanic feels a little of sluggish when you're shooting as it should of been something done while in cover, which you can do as well. As a shooter, the core is unoriginal from a pointless scoring system, guns lacking that umph when it comes to sound, and unpolished graphics (then again, its a demo so who knows if the final game improved that). At the end of the day, Bodycount is just another FPS trying to be competitive with the other juggernauts, but you rather play those than this one, which is indeed the case.

The other demo of note to talk about is for Warhammer 40K: Space Marine, which comes out next week. Space Marine is one of the most unoriginal titles for a game yet, but it is not as bad as you think title alone. This is a third person action game with shooting and melee elements as it was known as "Gears of War without cover." Hordes of Orcs will come and attack you as you can easily die if you're not careful. As heavily armored as these space marines are, going guns blazing is a bad idea in this game. There are conventional weapons to choose from a pistol with infinite ammo, machine gun, shotgun, etc. The demo sections are pretty linear, but some areas can be really dark as I had to turn up the brightness to the maximum at one point to keep progressing. Other than that, it is a pretty standard third person game with mechanics seen in similar games such as the ability to go berserk (they called it Fury here) for a limited time, rechargeable health, but you gain lost health by executing enemies Gears style. The jetpack level in the demo is a nice touch allowing the main guy to rock a jetpack to pound on enemies from the air. Space Marine is not really doing anything new, but it is not that bad of a game people think at first.

Other than those two, there's a NHL 12 demo out this week as well, but there's nothing to note other than its hockey and the it is still gonna be the hockey game to get this year (well the only one basically since 2K Sports doesn't make NHL2K anymore). I have the Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 demo as well, which I still need to try out. That demo is also self-explanatory because its soccer and those games tend to control the same as it comes down to you preferring that or FIFA 12, which is arguably EA's best sports franchise now (you can argue for NHL 12 as well, but we'll also see with the Madden reviews tomorrow). Since I don't have Playstation Plus anymore, I didn't play the Resistance 3 multiplayer beta even though I heard bad things about it.

Mega Music Roundup for 8/25/11

I got a lot of albums to talk about, so I'm going to try to keep it short what I think of them.

Lil Wayne - The Carter IV

Weezy's latest album is finally out after numerous delays and after the crazy success of The Carter III, did magic strike again? I think so from a mainstream perspective as you're getting successful singles with "6 Foot 7 Foot," "John" featuring Rick Ross, and his latest one being his ballad "How to Love." The current ballad single can be easily hated since it is Wayne getting all poppy and of course you rather hear him rap in hard beats, which there are some. "She Will" featuring Drake (likely the next single), "President Carter," and the "Outro" are among the current favorites among the masses. Weezy will probably never bring back his earlier days before his mainstream success, but The Carter IV is an okay album with some hits and misses.

David Guetta - Nothing But The Beat

This is Guetta's second major US album after taking the country by storm with One Love. That album was filled with bangers from "Sexy Chick" with Akon, "Memories" with Kid Cudi, and others that found mainstream success. His new one is no different, but this time Guetta racked up more of today's stars rather than unknowns making the album more feature-filled. However, some songs feel like I heard them before in a different form such as the first single "Where Them Girls At?" featuring Flo Rida and Nicki Minaj. That song pretty much is Sexy Chick 2.0 in a nutshell using similar sound effects. His current single "Little Bad Girl" featuring Taio Cruz and Ludacris is a little better than the unoriginal first one. Other high profile artists in the album are Usher, Snoop Dogg, Chris Brown, Lil' Wayne, Afrojack (for a Daft Punk-y track called "Lunar"), Akon, and more. Not every song is a hit though as Guetta's song with Timbaland is a real disappointment as I expected something more with the two together. If you want more mainstream clubby stuff, Nothing But The Beat is worth blasting at parties and other places that pop off loud music.

Natalia Kills - Perfectionist

You probably heard of Natalia Kills with her feature in LMFAO's "Champagne Showers," but she has her own solo album out with some good old pop music. There is a lot of catchy stuff from "Wonderland," "Zombie," and "Mirrors." This album is longer than I thought with more of a hour of decent pop. She is not really making a big splash in the mainstream scene as I thought she would as her songs are pretty radio-friendly. It probably goes to show how radio stations play the same popular songs over and over again to the point they get annoying. Hopefully Natalia doesn't get the one hit wonder treatment as with most female pop artists in recent years.

The Game - R.E.D. Album

Another album that had numerous delays was The Game's latest. Personally, I'm not really that much of a Game fan other than his debut album The Documentary being a classic hip-hop album at its time. I didn't had any expectations for this one and ended up not caring after listening to it. You'll probably find some songs here and there in this album, but out of the high profile rap releases this month (Watch The Throne and Carter IV), Game's new album falls a bit short compared to those two.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - I'm With You

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are back after a long hiatus and a new guitarist. Their signature sound is still intact in this album, which is not really a bad thing considering their age. The fact we have a new album by this band in 2011 is actually pretty crazy after delivering chart-topping singles for almost two decades.

That's it for the music roundup for now. There is MTV's Video Music Awards this Sunday if you wanna see another Britney Spears love fest with the tribute they're planning for, Lady Gaga going crazy as she always does when she opens the show (hope she performs a song that is not yet a single in Born This Way), Bruno Mars doing the same ballad YouTube wannabes have doing for over a year, and more. It is probably going to be another crappy show and a reminder that it had its glory days (mainly the late 90s and early 00s).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kirby Returns to Dream Land on October 24

A double dose of Kirby is coming out this fall with Kirby Mass Attack on the regular DS next month (or as I like to call it - Kirby Massive Attack... shoutouts to Nicki Minaj) and Kirby's Return to Dream Land on October 24 for the Wii. After the critical success of Epic Yarn and also being one of the cutest games out there, Kirby returns to his roots at Dreamland sucking enemies into his mouth and absorbing special powers such as the signature sword power-up. This is pretty much as old-school as it gets along with four player co-op similar to New Super Mario Bros. Wii as other players can join in to play as Meta Knight, Waddle Dee, and King Dedede. Familiar bosses will return like Whispy Woods as well. It is nice to see Nintendo making good Kirby games as of late as if he stand up to the upper echelon of Nintendo's character hierarchy (Mario, Link, Samus, Donkey Kong, etc.). Return to Dreamland will be another reason to dust off that Wii unless you're still waiting for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword's November 20 release.

VF5 Final Showdown Finally Getting a US Release...

Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown has been out at Japanese arcades for at least two or three years already and it seemed like Sega never wanted to bring the latest version of their fighting game to the US until today's announcement. It is now coming to Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network next summer, which is ways off for a downloadable title. This is the first time a Virtua Fighter game has gone downloadable since Sega probably knew its not smart of them to release this on a retail price, so at least we are getting a 15 dollar VF game. Yeah, this franchise does have its audience, but it is not as mainstream as the Street Fighter series is today. It is still one of the most technical and deep fighting games around as I'm been playing them casually since the PS2 version of VF4 (I owned VF4, VF4 Evo, and VF5 360 at some point). It is also about time Sega does something with this franchise over here at the States to capitalize on the recent fighting game boom.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sonic Boom, Sonic Boom, Sonic Boom... coming to XBLA/PSN

If you're wandering why I'm posting the awesome intro of Sonic CD here with that "Sonic Boom" song, its because what is arguably still the best Sonic game ever, Sonic CD is finally getting a release on Xbox Live Arcade and likely Playstation Network as well. Like most people, I never owned a Sega CD when this originally came out, so this release will make me finally play it and see for myself why it is the best Sonic game.

A LTTP "Review" of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

Note - Spoilers will be mentioned, so you are warned if you still want to play this game and don't want the story ruined (Same goes for the Endor DLC too)

I played through Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II last weekend, but it is more like one afternoon with the main campaign since it was so short. This game came out last fall and it promised to fix the problems the first one had, but I didn't think they did and added along more issues that seemed like a rushed job on LucasArts' part. Then again, you probably can consider how the game ended up the way it was with the whole team being let go by LucasArts shortly after its retail release. At the end of the day, The Force Unleashed II is simply not a good game and even having the Star Wars name does not help either.

If you played through the first game, this sequel follows the light side ending from that which Starkiller, the protagonist of this series and apprentice of Darth Vader, sacrifices himself in attempts of defeating the Empire and forming the Rebel alliance that is in the good trilogy of movies. Vader comes up with a plan to clone Starkiller in the Force Unleashed II in which that is who you play as. This clone is supposed to have no memories of his personal connections with the Rebels, especially his love interest Juno, and able to follow Vader's orders . However, those visions and memories slowly come back to this Starkiller's mind and the game starts out with an escape from the Kamino cloning facility. The whole cloning business feels like a lazy way to have a story arc and let LucasArts to say let's have a sequel since the first game had successful sales. It makes you wonder if it is really that necessary for this whole idea of a Starkiller clone to make some sense. Even with that clumsy story arc, Starkiller has to regroup with the rebels (mainly General Kota) to forge a plan to get rid of Empire and reunite with Juno as well.

The way Force Unleashed II's story plays out until the end is filled with questionable and absurd decisions by LucasArts. Going to Dagobah just for Starkiller to rethink of the whole situation feels like a waste is and basically a filler moment for the sake of pacing (even Kota agrees about being rescued). Dagobah itself is a pointless level with no action and gives the developers a lazy reason to include Yoda in the game. There is also a lack of memorable moments throughout the game as I can only consider two or three of them worthwhile even for Star Wars fans. Even the good ending that continues the canon feels uninspired with no sense of closure to the game setting things up for another sequel that won't happen because the development team is already gone from LucasArts. The dark side ending is a little better based on how it looked alone. The storyline as a whole is a mess from beginning to end and pretty much ruins anything good the first game had on that department (I felt that the first game ended right and had closure to a degree).

While the story feels messy for the duration of the game, even the game design has its own set of lazy problems and numerous technical issues. I already mentioned earlier how short Force Unleashed II is, which is about five to six hours on normal difficulty. This is due to the lack of levels as you're only going to see four locales throughout the game with Kamino (you return there for the finale), Cato Neimoidia, Dagobah, and the Salvation ship. Speaking of the levels, the level design looks and feels uninspired with repetitive backgrounds and corridors as if you're playing a corridor-only first-person shooter (Doom, Quake days). Basically as in any recent action game, you're just playing through sets of kill rooms and going from point A to point B. The game is as linear as it gets even though there are hidden holocrons that can be found to gain more experience, increase your health/force meters, and saber crystals for various status effects. In addition to the boring level design, even the enemy design is unoriginal too from your normal Stormtroppers, sniper troopers that are annoying, enemies that also use force powers against you, various Star Wars-like mechs like the AT-STs, and so on. All of Force Unleashed II's design issues just makes it boring and repetitive to play through along with other frustrations I will talk about in a bit.

Controlling Starkiller is still fine for the most part especially having two lightsabers at your disposal throughout the game. It is still cool to decapitate enemies' body parts off with your lightsabers and use force powers to decimate the opposition by lightning, push, and force gripping them to bottomless pits. Even all of that gets tedious and tiresome after a while especially near the end of the game where kill rooms become more frustrating than fun. You can't really go nuts with the powers on the later enemy encounters as you think you can considering you are some Jedi badass as you can get killed quickly if you don't have some sort of plan of which enemies to tackle in a certain order. This is crucial on harder difficulties where the enemies deal more damage, so even someone as badass as Starkiller has to pick his spots to fight these battles right. Then there are the platforming elements, which is the only reason I hate about controlling Starkiller. Sure, he has a double jump and a dash, but the game's physics make the platforming more of a nuisance than enjoyable as there are times I feel like I made the jump, but turns out I don't (this gets really frustrating in the playable challenges). Since it is a modern action game, quicktime events are everywhere in Force Unleashed II, specifically in big time moments and the boss fights, which have their own problems. There are really only three boss fights in this game with the last one being one of the worst final boss encounters I played through in a while. The finale with Darth Vader is dragged out for too long as it supposes to be some epic battle transversing through numerous platforms, but it ends up being another lazy design decision by the developers.

While the graphics in The Force Unleashed II look sharp in certain areas, especially the skyline at Cato Neimoidia, the game is a buggy mess at various times with lots of technical issues. The framerate does not stay consistent throughout the game dropping below 30 frames per second at times (its worse on the Endor DLC). Enemies get misplaced at certain times to their death right away. They even pop in and pop out appearing out of nowhere once you activate their presence in a combat section. In addition, my character gets stuck in the environment at certain times too and the frustration really kicks in when you get killed by something off-screen for no reason at all. The checkpoint system can be generous at times, but not as so in the later enemy encounters. The CG cutscenes look fine even though I didn't find any issues with the in-game ones. The sound production is on par for Star Wars standards, which is usually the only thing LucasArts does not screw up with these games. You're getting your expected theme songs when the game starts and whenever Dark side related action happens. The voice acting is okay as the script and dialogue is typical for a Star Wars product with some dumb, cheesy, and hokey moments.

I did play through the one dollar Endor DLC as well, which is not that bad being only a dollar. In this one hour what-if mission, you play as the evil Starkiller clone (if you remember the dark side ending of the main game) to prevent the Rebels from arming the charges to destroy the shield generator at Endor. In other words, you're basically reversing the events of Return of the Jedi assuming you already killed Luke in the first game's downloadable what-if Hoth scenario from Empire Strikes Back. Endor itself is a straightforward level like the campaign levels except with rebels to kill and ewoks to kick, which never gets old. Your Starkiller has different force power stats from the main campaign, but you're able to use any of the saber crystals you found. This mission does include encounters with Han Solo and Chewbacca in the captured AT-ST along with a surprising yet good boss fight with Princess Leia (you can probably guess why she is a formidable opponent at the end). That boss fight is better than the all of the boss fights in the main game because it felt like more a one-on-one duel than an ordinary boss fight with obstacles in your way. The Endor DLC does has its share of technical issues from not allowing to skip the intro, cutscenes, and credits at all along with an unstable framerate as well.

At the end of the day, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II felt rushed, lazy, unpolished, and the game is just flat out boring. That is something to say considering the Star Wars name, but I still stand by that statement. It is disappointing on so many levels from the short campaign, technical bugs everywhere, lazy game/level design, and more that has been mentioned already. The replay value isn't much other than some bonus challenges and harder difficulties to play through for achievements/trophies. It definitely is one of those unnecessary sequels that exists in today's world of entertainment, but since people still love Star Wars and they wanna have the chance to control someone as powerful as Starkiller, LucasArts basically made a cash-in game to feature all of that. There are still some redeeming qualities such as the core gameplay remaining intact and some cool Star Wars-like moments, but those qualities alone can't make Force Unleashed II a good game. Star Wars fans will probably still find some enjoyment out of it, but even I can not recommend getting this game back when it came out last year and even today.

Score I would give it = 6/10

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dance Central 2 = The "Rock Band 2" of Dance Games

Dance Central 2 is shaping up to be (pretty cliche statement coming up) what the first game should of been even though it was there to establish Harmonix's full-body dancing formula. Just on the formula alone, it became the Kinect's best game at its launch and still arguably the only reason to own a Kinect. What I mean of this sequel being the "Rock Band 2" of dance games is that you're getting a more complete game stacked with features that were missing from the original game. More modes, two player simultaneous dancing, and drop-in/drop-out multiplayer are just some of the things what's new with Dance Central 2. The Giant Bomb Quick Look EX above shows off an improved break it down mode, voice commands via Kinect especially when picking songs, and crew-on-crew dance battles. I'm liking some of the soundtrack that has been revealed so far with current songs such as Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," clubby stuff by David Guetta, some oldies that are goodies like Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It," Dance Dance Revolution classic "Sandstorm" by Darude, and more. However, some of the recently announced songs are weird like "Grenade" by Bruno Mars. Of course as expected with Harmonix games, downloadable songs will be coming out after the game's release and an export fee to include the original's soundtrack in the new one. Get ready to dust off that Kinect camera when Dance Central 2 releases on October 25.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hands-On with WWE '12 from Summerslam Axxess

I got a chance to play the latest build of WWE '12 over at their Summerslam Axxess fan event last Saturday. THQ and Yuke's have been pumping out yearly games for over a decade, but recent years have been somewhat disappointing for the franchise as WWE '12 is being advertised as a "reboot" to start things over from scratch. Simulation aspects took over simple and fun gameplay especially when meters are everywhere on the screen to watch out for. In addition, animations have been janky for quite a while even though the developer Yuke's have been slowly improving those. From what I seen and played so far, WWE '12 is shaping up to be a return to the good days of the Smackdown games in the early 2000s.

One thing the WWE games have gotten right lately (not counting All-Stars) is the presentation, or in other words overall feel as seen in a normal WWE broadcast. For WWE '12, you'll see no HUD displayed at all when you're playing. No more meters to worry about as inputs would be displayed for reversals and signature/finisher moves when the opportunity comes. The core controls have returned to the face buttons especially grappling just like the last generation Smackdown games (Here Comes the Pain is the primary example as the THQ guys show off the new features in the clip below), which is a good thing. Sure, the animations haven't been fully improved yet as I noticed wrestlers glitching up like crazy (preview build folks!), but hopefully they're polished up in the final game. Another interesting gameplay mechanic is their comeback factor where it is an quicktime event where superstars string together moves to set up their finisher. An example of that if watch WWE programming on a regular basis is Cena's "five moves of doom" where he does two diving shoulder blocks, his signature back suplex slam (I don't know what is actually called), the Five Knuckle Shuffle which then sets up his Attitude Adjustment finisher. Signatures and finishers can be stored again, so for instance you can have Alberto Del Rio (who I tried out in the only match I played) have three cross arm breakers ready to go for the submission victory. Speaking of submissions, there's also a breaking point meter in which you can mash out if you're locked in a submission maneuver. Taking things back to the glory days of the franchise controls-wise is a great decision on the developers' part making the game faster and more fun to play.

Will WWE '12 live up to truly being bigger, badder, and better? We'll see when it comes out this November when an accurate roster of over 60 WWE superstars, some legends, and divas. THQ and Yuke's haven't really shown off some of the other modes in the game yet such as if certain match types are improved, the "career mode," and the customization features (even though Create-A-Arena is debuting in this game), so expect more about those soon. I like what I seen and played from the game so far despite some technical issues which can be easily fixed in the retail version. The pre-order bonus is none other than The Rock (his latest incarnation since he is facing John Cena at Wrestlemania next year), which seems questionable since he has been in every game, but you know Gamestop wants something enticing as a pre-order bonus. Plus, you can vote on who gets on the collector's edition cover between Cena and The People's Champion (which should be no contest with The Rock getting that one) as well. If I would get this game, I would definitely get the People's Edition for sure.

Music Video of the Day for 8/16/11

Lady Gaga - "You and I"

Since she decided to put it up herself after it got leaked earlier today, might as well post it here too. Mermaid Gaga is on the loose as she promised, but after coming a disappointing "Edge of Glory" video, this one is taking things back to normal Gaga standards with its mix of dancing and crazy.

Ulitmate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Sees STARS & Gets Strange...

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3's presence at Gamescom is showing off two more new characters in the game, which are Doctor Strange and Nemesis from the Resident Evil franchise. I'll talk about the two of them in a moment as the new overview trailer above does show some new moves for the existing characters, but you'll probably read or heard about them from the Comic-Con/Evo builds. Wolverine has his new Swiss Cheese move, which is a mash attack command, so Logan players better not mash so hard if they still want to do his bread and butter combo that is unchanged from vanilla. Crimson Viper gets an optic blast-like projectile which is basically Capcom saying here's your Cyclops in the game (more like a slap in the face of those who want Cyclops back in a versus game). Hulk gets a new chargeable Falcon Punch-like move, which reminds me of the charge moves from the Smash Bros. games (kind of weird to say Smash Bros. when I'm talking about Marvel lol). Also new in these trailers are more variations of existing games from vanilla such as a day version of the carrier stage and the Biotech lab all burned out.

Doctor Strange finally is a playable character in a Marvel game as he is shaping up to be a great character with a variety of tools at his disposal. His magical projectiles are pretty self-explanatory, has an OTG super, flight, a teleport, projectile counters (even a hyper projectile counter - he counters Akuma's air fireball hyper with his own beam), and a level 3 grab. As of now with his mobility and potential to zone characters out, Strange can hang with the best characters of the game (below average health might be a concern if you're not careful).

Nemesis is more of a character I would play in my main team as I usually like to have one character that can hit hard and has a lot of health. He seems to fit that slot for me with my Dorm and Akuma (assuming this combination is still viable in Ultimate) as point. Anyway, Nemesis is pretty much Capcom's "heavy" character (sorry, Tron doesn't count) that can easily kill opponents in one or two combos while taking a beating. He has attributes I like in a character: jump S ground bounces, good projectiles (rocket launcher/ Dorm dark hole assist for keep away for instance), good hypers (his combination one has super armor startup, his bazooka one OTGs, and a level 3 grab. All of this make it seem like he is scrub friendly like Hulk to a certain degree as tourney-level players will figure out ways to easily beat Nemesis. For now though, Nemesis is certainly on my list of new characters I would main.

Expect more UMvC3 stuff at this next weekend's New York City fight club event as hopefully these two characters will be there playable (Likely not) and of course next month's Tokyo Game Show for the next character reveal trailers. Here's more match footage of Doctor Strange and Nemesis in action below.

Clips from Gamescom for 8/16/11

Gamescom is off and popping over at Germany as conferences and new trailers keep showing up this morning. (I'm saving the UMvC3 and SFxT stuff for a separate post)

Borderlands 2 just got announced some weeks ago as Gearbox puts up a short teaser trailer. Expect more of this game at PAX at the end of the month or if you want to read up on what's new with this sequel, check out the Game Informer cover story.

Now with something up that is up my alley, SSX has also a presence at Gamescom. The new trailer reveals what to expect in the multiplayer department, which EA is doing big things. There is some ghost attack mode, social networking stuff seen in previous EA games, and global events with up to 100,000 players. That's cool and all, but as we see more of this game, the more its becoming like the SSX fans like me know and love. Its definitely a good start for 2012 when SSX comes out in January.

Even Capcom and Ninja Theory's DmC (Devil May Cry) reboot is at Gamescom and I'm still skeptical how this will turn out. At least I'm not as angry as the hardcore fans who still want more of the same Dante from the past four games, but I'm still giving it a chance. This is just gameplay footage of Dante slicing and shooting dudes, but it seems like Ninja Theory is getting closer and closer to getting the Dante they want right. DmC I think is coming out next year as we'll see more of it at the Tokyo Game Show next month.

The improved combat mehanics in Mass Effect 3 will make it a better shooter, but I'm still wandering about the "RPG elements" BioWare promised they'll bring back from the first game. They haven't shown or talked much of it recently, but I understand that you have to show a combat section to get casual fans excited. I probably should not question BioWare's approach of how to show off this game as I know it will be good when its out in March 2012.

As you probably know, I'm still on team Battlefield 3 as DICE shows off a different environment for a multiplayer map. As teased in previous trailers, airplanes are indeed in the game, which is obviously cool and expected for the franchise. Since I don't have a proper gaming PC, I didn't get to check out the alpha version of multiplayer some weeks back, but I can't wait to play the beta next month. According to the fact sheet, there are only nine maps in the final game, which is not that much, but the trade-off is their scale of how big they are. This also means downloadable map packs like no other too, so get ready to pony up a lot of spacebucks if you want more of those.

I'll have more from Gamescom throughout the week...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oh... Another new UFC Undisputed 3 Trailer

UFC Undisputed 3's new gameplay improvements are making me get excited for it now. First of all, there are obviously more fighters to choose from now that the new weight classes (Feather and Banterweight) are in, so you rock as Faber and Dominick Cruz for example. Second, fighters in the game are becoming more like themselves, or in other words, closer to how they fight in real life. We didn't see much of that in last year's game as we thought we would, but this time it looks like Yuke's is finally getting things right on that department. In addition, the trailer shows off leg kick knockouts (also rarely seen in real UFC bouts), ground sways, and more ways to submit your opponents. Even though the graphics engine still looks the same for the most part, the third time could be the charm for THQ and Yuke's with UFC Undisputed 3 to be their best game yet. We shall see when it comes in what's shaping up to be a crowded January 2012.

Today in the World of Games for 8/15/11

Gamescom is this week over at Germany, so expect some new announcements and reveals for the games that are out for the next few months.

First off is a new trailer for Street Fighter X Tekken as they explain the new controls like how tag combos work, double team supers, and the cross assault (controlling both players at the same time I think - sort of a similar mechanic seen in the first Marvel vs. Capcom) for those that haven't played previous builds at E3, SD Comic-Con, and Evo. Then they show off the latest character reveals in action, which feature those that have been teased in previous videos such as Hugo, Raven, Ibuki, and Kuma. Hugo is arguably the biggest character seen in the Street Fighter IV graphics engine (he's always bigger than Zangief and T. Hawk anyway) as its nice to see his SF3 skills translated in great form here. It will be interesting to see how Capcom handles Raven's unique style in this game as I barely saw any of his familiar Tekken moves here. Ibuki is pretty much the same from her SSF4/AE incarnations as I wander if her vortex style will still be a factor here unless her air kunais suck now. Kuma looks great especially seeing his facial expressions (something rarely seen in the Tekken games) as he is shaping to be one of those fun/not serious characters people would be use. Capcom is pretty much showing these new characters along with the ones confirmed already in their new Gamescom build as we have to wait till next month's Tokyo Game Show for more character reveals.

Another popular Batman villain returns in Arkham City, which is none other than Mr. Freeze. His role in the core storyline is not yet been talked about, but he is going to be one those villains that you'll probably spend a hour or two dealing with him. I'm wandering if WB/Rocksteady have demo plans for this game since Arkham Asylum had a demo before its release, but considering how good Arkham City is going to be anyway, I don't expect them to put out a downloadable demo to prove something.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is finally out this week and my pick to get for those that to play a new game. This summer has been good for unique/original IPs from Shadows of the Damned, Child of Eden, Catherine, and now this as I hope this one succeeds sales wise. Yes, it is definitely another crazy game I would buy and gloat about how special it is (well look at the beautiful art style in the launch trailer above). There is a demo that came out some weeks ago on Xbox Live and Playstation Network to try out if you're on the fence. From what I played and read with early reviews, El Shaddai is worth your time if you're into original action games.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Today in the World of Games for 8/9/11

Yeah this is an old video, but Final Fantasy Versus XIII is in the news again as Nomura says it won't be at the Tokyo Game Show next month. This is pretty much not surprising since this game is still on development for a while (its about five years since its announcement by the way). This is just another reason why I don't know what in the world is going on with the Japanese side of Square-Enix. They have claimed in the past they're going to put out more big games not having a long development window, but Versus XIII continues to be in development hell with no release than likely the end of next year or even 2013 at this rate. Who knows if the game will be even worth the long wait considering Squenix's track record on this current generation of consoles (Final Fantasy XIII for instance and yet XIII-2 gets announced for an early 2012 release). I can see that they are focusing on XIII-2, Kingdom Hearts 3DS (also the other big franchise Squenix doesn't know what to do with besides put more side games), and other stuff for TGS, but the way Versus XIII is positioned as for the company, this better be their big money maker worldwide. Some would call it the Japanese "Duke Nukem Forever" and that could be the case, but generally, its definitely been a hard time for Final Fantasy fans these days. The franchise's 25th anniversary is coming up, but I can see Squenix screwing it up somehow.

Freddy Krueger is now out today to download in Mortal Kombat and it looks like he has easy bread and butter combos for good damage as expected. It is still early to tell how good he is on a tournament level since he's only out for a few hours, but from what I seen, he's at least better than the other guest character Kratos. As of this writing, I'm still waiting for him to come out on PSN, so you might expect something more later here.

A new trailer for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 hit the interwebs showcasing the Spec Ops Survival mode. I'm sure the fans will like this trailer from the new things they will see gameplay-wise, but cmon Activision, why are you trying to rip off that dumb sound Transformers-like effect from the Battlefield 3 trailers? Seriously, this BF3/MW3 face-off feels so childish at times in terms of talking trash how the opposing game sucks and trying to one up each other with reveals. Anyway, the Call of Duty XP convention will debut actual multiplayer footage, so stay tuned for that if you're still excited for MW3.

Dead Island is out next month and I'm wandering if people are still excited for it especially it is nothing like that emotional debut trailer earlier this year. As I seen more coverage on the game, it became just another co-op zombie game to me. I would be interested to try a downloadable demo before its release if it changes my mind, but it could of been something special and it probably still is if the developers get things right.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The 25th Anniversary of Metroid... yet ignored by Nintendo.

Last Saturday was the 25th anniversary of the original Metroid's release at Japan for the Famicom. The crazy thing is that Nintendo of Japan ignored it and yet put up the website for the Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary last night. The Metroid franchise has been pretty much third fiddle in the lineup of Nintendo franchises as Mario and Zelda are at the top of the ladder due to their popularity. Sure, Metroid doesn't get the same name recognition as the two I mentioned, but it is definitely one of the most beloved gaming franchises of all-time revolutionizing certain game mechanics that seem crazy at the time. More importantly, it achieved that was a first, a female protagonist that was strong and fearless named Samus Aran.

Metroid flipped the script on gaming back in 1986 where linearity is nonexistent and exploration was key to success. exploration was unique back then where danger was lurking at any moment and one wrong move being unprepared can mean a look at the game over screen. Samus was limited with her abilities at the start, but as she gains new tools such as the signature morph ball, missiles, and bombs, she is able to transverse through more of the world she's in and eventually become a wrecking machine at the end of the game. Later games in the franchise improved on the formula such as Super Metroid becoming one of the greatest games of all-time and the Metroid Prime franchise taking things under the first person perspective.

My personal experience with the Metroid franchise started with Super Metroid, but I didn't remember my time when I played it as a kid. However, I did play it over again four years ago when it came out on the Wii's Virtual Console and you can read my review on how it still holds up today somewhere in my blog. Even back then, it was still a franchise I respect a lot as I finally realized how beloved it was when Metroid Prime came out. That game is still among my top ten favorite games ever. The funny thing about the Metroid franchise is there wasn't really any bad main games throughout the years (unless you count Other M, which I think is not bad as most would say), which is saying something compared to other Nintendo franchises. You can probably argue that Metroid is Nintendo's best franchise from a critical perspective and yet its 25th anniversary get ignored by Nintendo themselves, which is truly a shame. Then again, Metroid is not that popular in Japan compared to here at America, which Nintendo fans can hope they decide to do something about the 25th anniversary of the US release, but who knows.

Anyway, happy belated 25th anniversary Metroid!!!

If you want a better and proper celebration of this, check out the great NeoGAF thread filled with fanart, videos, and more.

Music Roundup for 8/8/11 aka The "Watch the Throne" Edition

After all the delays and hype with surprisingly no leaks, which was pretty amazing considering how easily things can get leaked on the interwebs these days, Watch The Throne by Jay-Z & Kanye West is finally out and definitely something special from beginning to end. It is easily worth the wait considering these are two of the biggest artists today doing a project with such magnitude especially being released first digitally on iTunes and then retail stores days later.

From the first track, "No Church in the Wild," this album starts things right as Frank Ocean does the hook for the song (also in "Made in America" later on). This is one of the best starters for an album in a while (okay, since Kanye's "Dark Fantasy" on MBDTF). Arguably the most mainstream and "poppy" song in WTT is next with "Lift Off" featuring Beyonce. This is not meant as a bad thing as the song has a similar vibe to Kanye's "All of the Lights" and it is expected to be a single sooner or later. The rest of the album is pretty much Hov and Yeezy going off under crazy productions, which is fine by me since this is pretty much the opportunity for the two stars to make magic happen together. You're not really getting a centralized theme throughout Watch the Throne, but you're basically getting what I think the project is all about, which is just simply Kanye and Jay-Z rapping together for a full album. Sure, not all of the songs can be hits, but the good songs are really good such as "That's My B****," "Who Gon Stop Me," and "Murder to Excellence." Then there are the stinkers if I have to say there are some. "Otis" is probably not the best choice for a first official single off such an anticipated album like this, but it is something different I guess. "Welcome to the Jungle" is my other stinker from the album as it is a typical Swizz Beatz production, which says something since the production is top notch for the duration of the album with some autotune here and there, but not overblown as Yeezy has done in the past.

The Deluxe Edition adds four more great songs to the point it is a necessity to get that even though the normal edition is still good enough as a complete package. "Illest Motherf***er Alive" and "Primetime" outshine the okay songs easily as it is pretty much more of Jigga and Kanye going hard or in case "H.A.M" since that is also in the deluxe edition. In a nutshell, Watch the Throne was definitely worth the long wait as Yeezy and Hov were able to make something special from the beginning to end. As far as Kanye concerned, is this better than his last epic album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? The answer to that is probably early to tell since WTT has only been out for one day, but both are superb albums despite having some faults. Anyway, this is an album not to be missed by any mainstream hip-hop or rap fan this year as who knows when we will get another album of such magnitude as Watch the Throne for a long while.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

DX Magic Strikes Again?? The Galaga Legions DX Review

Galaga Legions was considered a solid modern take on a classic game, but it was not that memorable to be considered among the best downloadabale games out today. It is still nice to see enemies filling around the screen at once wave after wave as your ship blasts away at them. After the success of Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Namco Bandai decides to give Galaga another chance with Legions DX under their Namco Generations lineup hoping to make the game more crazy and fun. The improvements and changes did make it a better game, but still lacks that special memorable moment that makes you keep playing.

At its core, Legions DX is the same game as before with your ship mowing down numerous enemy Galaga formations in various wave patterns. The wave patterns still pop out for a second or two before enemies appear so you much think of a gameplan to dispose them quickly. Chain reactions also can be still be caused by destroying certain enemies to the point of destroying an entire wave if timed right. What makes the game have the DX treatment is similar to how Pac-Man CE did it, which is more emphasis on getting the higher score than survival. In the original Legions, your ship's firing controls were pretty limited only firing up even though you can plot satellites at strategic spots to take out enemy waves. This time around, the satellites are only on your ship and you can fire in any direction like a twin stick shooter, which is a significant improvement making the game more approachable to play. There are two firing styles that can be switched at any time too as one is the firing up standard while the other allows your satellites to fire diagonally. The other additional improvement to the gameplay is the slowmo from Pac-Man CE DX, which the game slows down for a bit if you're about to get hit by an enemy in which you can move out of harm's way. This is also why you're not going to die as often as in the original if you're in a tight situation as the game can be pretty generous in terms of the ship's hit box. Even though the gameplay improvements make Legions DX easier and more approachable for anyone to play, there is still no memorable moment like say eating a long ghost train in Pac-Man CE DX, that makes you want to come back and play again.

All of the game's modes are playable from the get go with nine areas, championship, and time attack. Championship mode is pretty self-explanatory as it is a mix of waves from the nine areas and the main competitive mode for high scores. Namco Bandai plans to hold score attack tournaments for this mode on a frequent basis for prizes, which is a nice touch as hopefully they will do host these for a good period of time. The nine areas follow a similar formula of five stages with the fourth one being a boss at the end and the fifth being a bonus stage as you attempt to build up your high score with captured Galagas getting through as many waves as you can in a limited time. Time attack is also self-explanatory trying to beat all the levels with a fast time. Galaga Legions DX does have difficulty options to choose from, but the only difference I noticed is how many lives you start with and considering you're going for score rather than survive all the levels, lives are not that much of a concern especially when you get extra ones easily after surpassing a certain score. The achievements and trophies are pretty easy to get, which is expected for Namco downloadable games as long as you're willing to grind it out in all of the game's modes.

The graphics are pretty much the same between the original Legions and this DX version, Enemies can fill up the whole screen at times and the explosion effects still look sharp as well especially after numerous chain reactions happening. The slowmo effect also happens when you're about to destroy an entire wave. The framerate still runs smoothly and consistently without any hitches too. Also seen in past Namco downloadable games are various visual styles to choose from the old school Galaga style from the arcades to other games in the franchise like Galaxian. Most of the game's audio is also recycled from the original using the same background music for most of the stages.

Galaga Legions DX is a much improved game as a whole, but still faces the same problem the original had, which is a lack of excitement. This is definitely a game meant to be played in short minute bursts than hourly sessions where you're probably bored after that given time. The gameplay improvements from better controls and firepower to the slowmo effect when you are near death make the game more easier and approachable to play. Since DX is in the title, emphasis on score than survival is great encouraging players to chase high scores in the game's online leaderboards where you can see replays of the higher ranked attempts. However, as mentioned earlier, the game does not feel as memorable as I hoped given the Galaga name. For ten dollars (or 800 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live Arcade), Galaga Legions DX is still worth it if you enjoyed the original and you want more of that, but if the original didn't grab your attention then, this DX version won't either.

Score = 7/10

  • Gameplay improvements such as better ship controls and slowmo make the game easier and approachable since the primary emphasis is on score than survival.
  • All modes are playable out of the gate
  • Still a sharp looking game that runs smoothly despite looking the same as the original especially with the amount of enemies the game can throw at you.
  • Still missing that memorable moment that makes you want to keep playing. (Mowing down enemy waves with captured Galagas is just not the same as eating a long ghost train in Pac-Man CE DX)
  • Becomes a grind if you're playing long stretches, so its best played in short minute bursts as they are intended to be.
  • If the original Legions didn't grab your attention then, Legions DX won't either.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Love Is Over? The Catherine Review

Catherine is definitely not your everyday video game. This is not a game that incorporates the conventional themes you'll see in most games today, but more about what themes that are rarely used in this medium of entertainment. You're not playing as a character that eventually becomes a hero. Instead, you're playing someone that struggles to deal with maturity, love, and freedom as he tries to figure out what is right for him now and his future. The Persona team at Atlus are able to tackle such issues in such an unique and fascinating way with Catherine, their first game on the current generation of consoles. It is definitely one of the most original games I played in a while.

The story of Catherine is about a man named Vincent Brooks, who is 32 years old and in a relationship with his girlfriend Katherine McBride. She tells Vincent that their relationship should be taken to the next step, which is a telling sign for engagement and marriage. Throughout the game, Vincent deals with his struggle whether or not he is ready to take that next step and accept the new responsibilities being thrown at him, but he randomly meets Catherine, who definitely has the looks of a young dream girl to most guys fulfilling their personal desires. This all leads to Vincent getting nightmares while sleeping as he has to climb up block puzzles as a man with sheep horns to stay alive in the real world. Players have to decide Vincent's future of handling the love triangle he is faced with of choosing to stay with Katherine or cheat to be with the younger Catherine while figuring out why he has weird nightmares as well.

The majority of the gameplay in Catherine is the nightmare stages which consist of block puzzles as I mentioned earlier. Within a time limit of losing blocks, Vincent has to reach the top of the level by moving blocks to climb up to the goal. This sounds easy on paper, but out of the gate, these block puzzles can be challenging to solve especially in the later half of the game. Simple tactics can get you far in most stages such as making staircases, but as the game progresses, more advanced techniques are pretty much required to beat these levels. These advanced techniques can be learned in the landings, which appear in between levels talking with fellow sheep. Special items that appear in most levels are also useful in tight situations from clearing out enemies that are in your way to having an extra block help you climb more steps. The block puzzles are definitely harder later on once more special blocks such as trap blocks with spikes, ice blocks which can cause you to slide into death if you're not careful, and blocks that can't be moved at all. Additionally, the sketchy controls can be a problem for most players where moving the camera around does not really help at all and movement while hanging from a block can be an issue when the controls flip around at times. Then there is the boss battles at the end of each stage where an ugly creature that resembles Vincent's nightmare comes out attempting to deny Vincent of survival. These bosses have powers that can ruin Vincent's night such as changing normal blocks to dark blocks that are heavier to move and even switching your controls. Even on easy difficulty, playing Catherine for the first time is one of the most challenging games you'll play this year, but if you're willing to think outside the box to solve these puzzles and not get stumped, you'll be able to progress through the crazy story fine.

There is a scoring system among all that climbing which ranks you on how fast you reached the top, collecting extra money at random spots, and keeping a high chain of steps climbed. Gold, silver, and bronze prizes are handed out at the end of each stage pending how high your score was which can be compared in the game's online leaderboards. Even though most players would be happy with silver or bronze prizes so they can progress through the story, there are unlockable bonus stages as you collect gold prizes, which are not easy to get especially on normal and hard difficulties. Catherine does a pretty good job of making each difficulty drastically different to encourage multiple playthroughs as the harder the difficulty it is, the more blocks you have to deal with to climb your way to the top making levels longer to beat. There is also definitely a sense of satisfaction when you figured out the right solution to these puzzles and getting out of tight situations. However, these block puzzles will become a grind to the point repetition kicks in (especially at the end of the game) for most players if you're playing just for storyline purposes.

Every night, Vincent hangs out at the Stray Sheep bar, another focal point of the gameplay in this game, with his friends Jonny, Toby, Orlando, and Erica. He gets their opinion of the problems he is dealing with throughout the game. There are a variety of things to do when in Stray Sheep as he can help out other people having similar issues by encouraging them, drink more to have a better chance of succeeding in the nightmare stages, answer texts from the girls he is dating, and even play a 8-bit version of the block puzzles called Rapunzel. The texting in this game is pretty basic as Vincent types a general response to the girls, which influence the law/chaos meter (I'll talk about that in a bit). He can also leave at any time to start up the nightmare, but you'll likely miss out on some conversations that can be vital later on. The Stray Sheep sections are a good break from watching all the cutscenes and surviving the nightmare stages, but you are not really doing much in these parts unless you're willing to go for the various achievements/trophies.

The law/chaos meter is what decides Vincent's position in the love triangle he has to deal with. It is a different take on the whole morality aspect that recent games have been trying to implement. Vincent's decisions throughout the game influence this meter and dictate which one of the eight endings you'll get choosing to be with Katherine if you stick with the law side or Catherine if you choose the side of chaos . These decisions range from responding to texts, helping out other NPCs, and answering the confessional questions in between levels. The confessional questions can be either obvious in one direction or even 50/50 as these are questions you always real yourself in real life, which can hit home a lot of people currently in relationships. The results can be quite shocking when tallied up by online polls, similar to one of L.A. Noire's intuition points. Personally, I was surprised how people certain questions, which can be something like do you want to have more responsibility in your life? Then again, it is hard to tell whether or not players are answering honestly unless they are going to beat the game only once, or pick the chaos answer just because they want to get a bad ending. At times, it can be difficult to tell whether certain responses are right for which side you'll choose in some conversations as you might pick the one that sounds a lawful response, but ends up being the other way around. Despite some flaws with the mechanic, I still liked how the law/chaos system generally works in the game.

Graphically, Catherine looks great considering it is a Japanese game sticking to a slick graphical style. Atlus balanced out the ratio of in-game and anime-like cutscenes pretty well for the most part. The anime scenes done by Studio 4C do look like you're watching an actual anime show at some points. The Gamebryo engine looks fine in the current generation of consoles as the characters definitely have their distinctive looks. The bosses during block puzzles definitely look weird and ugly in a good way as they are intended to be. As for the sound, I was a little skeptical of the English voice cast for the game since there was no option for Japanese VOs with subtitles, but they turned out great. There is definitely a sense of attachment with some characters as you'll feel bad for Vincent at times for what he has to deal with. It is great to see how character progression is handled throughout the game with the English voices and the story as things do get tense and emotional in heated moments. The soundtrack is also beautifully done as well from the nice classical tunes in the nightmare stages, the rap song in the intro, and other chill tunes that can be played in the Stray Sheep's jukebox (which also includes songs from past Atlus games).

Even though it is flawed at times, Catherine is one of the more unique games out there due to how it tackles themes rarely seen in today's gaming market. It has been fascinating to be playing as a protagonist that struggles to find the right path for his future, whether he is ready to settle down becoming a mature adult, or just be another person fulfilling his own wants and desires not being tied down. The block puzzle gameplay can turn some people off especially when things get hard to the point you die more than a dozen times before finding the right solution, but the game hands out extra lives like candy if you're worried about that. For those that just want to see how the story pans out, it is recommended to start on easy and go on to a harder difficulty on a later playthrough. Speaking of later playthroughs, Catherine has a good amount of replay value after beating the main game with bonus babel stages to unlock, the Colosseum mode (local multiplayer with only two players), and getting the multiple endings. I am actually interested how various audiences will play this game whether if they are single or currently in a relationship with a significant other in terms of the decision making especially with the confessional questions. Catherine is surely not for everyone, but if you are willing to play a game that is refreshing while having that crazy Japanese flare, this is definitely worth picking up.

Score = 8.5/10

  • Very good and refreshing storyline that deals with such themes rarely seen in games such as love, maturity, and freedom.
  • Unique gameplay for a puzzle game
  • Solid implementation of the law/chaos system
  • Great graphics and sound (Anime cutscenes, soundtrack, and English voices as examples)
  • Good replay value with multiple endings and bonus modes
  • The difficulty curve can turn players off especially in the later half of the game where things can get extremely hard, but not impossible (even on easy)
  • Controls can get become problematic at times especially in tight situations
  • Some minor decisions that you make might not go the way you wanted at first