Tuesday, December 8, 2015

FAST Racing Neo - A Near Worthy Substitute for F-Zero

Genre: Racing - Platform: Wii U - Release: December 10, 2015
Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this game from Nintendo.
Opinions expressed in this review are my own.
Nintendo may have ignored your cries for a new F-Zero game, but you can still count on indie developer Shin'en to deliver a polished futuristic racing game to scratch that itch for you. Available from the Nintendo eShop on Wii U, FAST Racing Neo offers a high speed racing challenge that finds a happy middle between F-Zero and WipEout.
Note that the videos in this review are in 30fps while the game runs at 60fps. It'll look even better on your TV.

The gameplay is fairly simple: get energy spheres to fill your boost meter (usable at any time), and switch between blue and orange phases in order to pass over boost strips and jumps of the corresponding colors (getting it wrong will slow you down). Of course, skillfully taking turns, flying off jumps, and avoiding or boosting into other racers are all as important as ever. Don't let the apparent simplicity fool you though - at high speeds, managing the turns and phase shifts is no easy task, and with three speeds and a "Hero Mode", the game offers enough challenge for even experienced gamers. Thankfully, the controls are perfectly responsive and intuitive, so all of the challenge comes from good design and not from wrestling with controls. There's also an option for motion controls if that's your thing, and the game supports basically every controller you can connect to a Wii U (except GameCube controllers and the Wii Fit Balance Board).
There are sixteen tracks which are all beautiful, unique from each other, and well-designed. They're divided into four cups which you'll be playing through on each of the three speeds / difficulties. Clearing a cup will unlock the next one, and often a new vehicle as well (of which there are ten in all). Each vehicle handles a bit differently according to its weight, but mainly they differ in their top speed and acceleration stats. Beyond grand prix, you can also shoot for a fast time on each course (on each speed, no less) in Time Trials, and every course on every difficulty has a developer time for you to try to beat. Unfortunately though, you can't save ghosts or replays in Time Trials, so that's kind of a bummer. On the other hand, there is an online ranking system, even for your grand prix times, so you can see the world record time and your own ranking. (Update: It seems that there is only online ranking for Grand Prix times and not for Time Trials. Weird.) There's also "Hero Mode", which is unlocked for tracks you've cleared on the highest speed. In this mode, you must get first place to win, crashing will put you out of the race (normally you'd respawn, which is punishing but still recoverable), courses are mirrored, and you have a health meter / boost meter combo as in F-Zero. Unfortunately, from what I can tell, there isn't any incentive to beat the developer times in Time Trials or clear each track in Hero Mode beyond increasing your completion percentage. It would've been nice if there were unlockable skins or online badges or something.
The F-Zero-esque "Hero Mode".

As for multiplayer options, you can play offline in splitscreen with up to four players, or online in groups of eight (but with only one local player). Performance-wise, everything works very smoothly in multiplayer and I didn't have any issues with lag (although I was rarely close enough to other players to see if they were lagging). When playing online, courses are chosen from a random selection of three (like in Mario Kart), but the three that each player has to choose from may be different, so it's usually a surprise as to which course gets picked. There's also a scoring system through which you earn points according to how well you place in each race. Unlike in Mario Kart, it seems that you can't lose points, so it's more of a record of how long you've played rather than how well, since even an unskilled player can rack up a lot of points if they play enough. Oh, and yes, you can play with friends online, but only in a single lobby that any of your friends can join.
Now for the bad news... There are no options for online play. Even with friends, only a single speed is available and you can only choose from the random selection of three tracks each time. At this point, you can't play Hero Mode online either (and honestly, I couldn't even find a way to play it in offline multiplayer).

But back to the positive side, the graphics are very pretty and the game runs at a steady 60 frames per second. The soundtrack is good and sets the mood for fast-pace racing, though admittedly it's not very memorable either. Oh, and the GamePad mirrors the TV at all times, so playing without a TV is possible.
The Final Word:
FAST Racing Neo's core gameplay is fast, responsive, and delightfully skill-based, the courses are all well-designed, and the graphics and frame rate are fantastic. But the fact that it's so polished and so darn fun overall just makes its faults all the more regrettable: no options online, no incentive to do most of the modes, and no ability to save time trial ghosts. In spite of that, for the price, I can confidently recommend FAST Racing Neo to fans of the genre. It might not quite be enough to replace F-Zero, but it's surprisingly close.

Comparison to F-Zero and WipEout:
For readers who are familiar with F-Zero and WipEout games, here are some comparisons. Vehicles are few (10 racing at once) and large, making FAST Racing Neo more similar to WipEout in that regard. On the other hand, the sense of speed, track design, and item-less gameplay made it feel somewhat more similar to an F-Zero game, in my opinion. But the vehicle handling also isn't as sensitive as in F-Zero in that you won't be making any sharp U-Turns (the courses are designed with this in mind though). Like I said at the start of the review, I feel that FAST Racing Neo is a nice middle ground between WipEout and F-Zero, so fans of both series ought to enjoy it.

You might also be interested in this article I wrote a few years ago about my ideas for building the next F-Zero game.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival - Fun for kids of some ages!

Genre: Minigame collection / Board game - Platform: Wii U - Release: November 13, 2015

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this game from Nintendo.
Opinions expressed in this review are my own.
As a critic, I have to tell you that Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is lacking in depth and probably does not offer enough mental stimulation for older gamers. But there's a reason why I don't give review scores and that's because while a game may be below average from a critic's perspective, there still may be an audience who will enjoy the game. In this case, that audience is parents and their kids. Personally, I found the main board game mode and most of the minigames to be pretty dull and not worth playing when there are other, more complex games out there like Mario Party and especially Fortune Street. But Fortune Street is a bit too complex for younger kids and so there is indeed a place for amiibo Festival. I can even confirm that while streaming it, I had at least one viewer who already owned the game and absolutely loved it, so maybe you'll be like that.

There's another important clarification that I'd like to make and that's that Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is not as much of a cash grab as it appears to be with its amiibo gimmick. Yes, Animal Crossing series amiibo and/or Animal Crossing amiibo cards are required to play, but as of now, the game comes with two amiibo figures and three amiibo cards which is enough to play all of the game except for two minigames which each require an additional three cards. Although, I'll admit that having additional figures and cards does open up some variation in a few of the minigames which I feel really should have been available without an additional purchase. I'll go into that more when I explain each of the nine minigames.

One last thing before I explain each game though - yes, this is kind of a minigame collection, but two of the games are less "mini" than the rest. In general, playing and winning the games doesn't really unlock anything apart from tickets, which are more of a participation bonus than anything, and these tickets can be used to unlock the rest of the minigames as well as new features for the board game. Since there aren't really any unlockables besides that, there isn't a whole lot of reason to replay most of the games, except, you know, if you enjoy them of course. The board game does offer a bit more reason to play it though, since any player who uses an Animal Crossing amiibo as their character can save their points to their amiibo and level it up to unlock emotions (cute animations you can do at the beginning of your turn) and clothing. So that's the game. Let's finally get into the games within the game.

Board Game  (Requires one Animal Crossing amiibo figure (up to four). Players without an amiibo play as a villager.)
This is the main game of amiibo Festival. The basic goal is to have the most happy points at the end of the month (each turn is a day). You get happy points by landing on certain spaces and triggering short little cutscenes showing your character doing something happy. Another way of getting happy points is to focus on collecting the stamps at the four corners of the board, each of which gives a happy bonus. Apart from happy points, you can also collect bells (that's the Animal Crossing currency) by landing on money-giving spaces. At the end of the game, you'll get one happy point per 1,000 bells, so you'll be wanting to go for any good space you can get. The best way of making it big though, is to buy turnips on the Sunday of each week and then hope you can land on a space with a higher turnip price during the week so that you can sell them for profit. It's a sort of "stalk" market. Any turnips not sold by the end of the week go bad though, so you're forced to sell on Saturday if you have any left. It's a bit of a gamble, but betting on the "stalk market" while going for each of the four stamps is the main way of winning.

Unfortunately for you, there are also negative spaces which cause you to lose either happy points or money or both, so you'll sometimes be faced with a choice of whether to land on a bad space in order to keep on track to your next stamp or avoid it and possibly miss the stamp. There's only one board to play on, but you're able to pick which month you play in to change the events that happen during the month. These events include special characters showing up who may give you cards (items usable at the beginning of your turn which give you a bit more control over the generally totally luck-dependent game) or contests rewarding you with happy points, which all typically come down to landing on a better space than your opponents. It's important to stress just how little control you have over your fate in the game; it's a step above Candy Land, but whether you win or lose will mostly come down to dice rolls and how lucky your spaces are, so more experienced gamers will probably be bored by it. There's even a "money tree" event which grants the player who lands on the unidentifiable space 90,000 bells - basically an instant win. That said, the lack of complexity means that the game is also accessible to younger players, making it the sort of game for parents and kids to gather around the GamePad like a physical board game for a fun family game night.

Oh, also, you can play this single player against three computer-controlled villagers if you want, but that's pretty boring.

Desert Island Escape (Requires three Animal Crossing amiibo cards. Additional cards allow you to use different characters which have different abilities.)

This is the second "main" minigame is Desert Island Escape, and this one actually does offer a bit of strategic fun that players of any age will probably enjoy. There are thirty levels (unless there are more after that which I don't know about) and in each you'll be stranded on a island which is divided up by a hexagonal grid. As a single player, you'll control each of your three characters in turn (whichever cards you scanned in) and use them to strategically explore the island in search of food, tool-building supplies, and ultimately the materials to build a raft to escape the island. Since food is limited and there's a turn limit as well, you have to plan carefully and use each character's special ability (for example, being able to catch fish without a rod or being able to identify items in adjacent spaces) to explore the island as efficiently as possible. And a little luck also helps since the things you need are semi-randomly distributed on the island and many events are determined by a roulette wheel. With careful planning and the right tools though, you can figure out the probabilities and put luck back on your side. It's a shame that you have to buy additional cards to try out more characters and abilities which really spice up the game, but if you have the cards for it, this game is probably the most fun of the bunch.

Acorn Chase (Requires three Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

From here on out, the minigames are more... mini. This one is still pretty fun and unique though. In Acorn Chase, you're tasked with navigating around a field of obstacles to collect all of the acorns with your team of three animals. The catch is that you must navigate by scanning in the appropriate amiibo card to choose your direction. And the second catch is that an evil lawnmower is chasing you, so you have to do it fast. There are only three levels, but the game does save your fastest time, if that gives you any incentive to replay it. It's a pretty unique and difficult to master control scheme, but I can't help but wonder how beat up the cards might get when kids try to play this frantic game.

Balloon Island (Requires one to three Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)
Basically, it's pachinko. By holding an amiibo card on the GamePad and then taking it off with good/lucky timing, you drop characters from above onto three different configurations of balloons. There's also an island in the middle which is essentially a target to land on with point multipliers, but if you miss the island entirely, you don't get any points. All you control is when you drop the character, so mostly you just have to watch and hope for the best. As always, your only reward is a high score and participation tickets.

Quiz Show (Requires one Animal Crossing amiibo card per player, up to four.)

It's an Animal Crossing trivia game and honestly the questions are pretty darn difficult, even though I've played every main Animal Crossing game including the Japan-exclusive Nintendo 64 version. Each question appears on the TV and the multiple choice answers are shown on the gamepad. When playing single player, you have to answer as many questions correctly as you can in a limited time. For multiplayer, players must scan in their card whenever the spotlight is on their character and shoot for the most correct answers out of the fifteen questions. This is another one that I could see kids wrecking their cards on, but it's decently fun even though it's pretty darn hard. Parents will be in trouble for this one, since you need a lot of Animal Crossing knowledge to win.

Fruit Path (Requires one or more Animal Crossing amiibo cards, but playing with one would be stupid.)

For this one, players take turns scanning in cards to move the number of spaces listed on the card. The goal is to collect fruit while stopping before potential pitfalls which cause you to drop fruit. There's also a basket of golden fruit at the end of the path that you'll want to get, so it's kind of a game of chicken to see who can end up with the golden fruit. It seems more random and unpredictable than that description sounds though.

Resetti Bop (Requires three Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

Resetti Bop is basically whack-a-mole, but you do the whacking by scanning in the appropriate amiibo cards. There's also an added twist in that each character has a particular sign from rock-paper-scissors and you have to only bop the Resettis that you can beat in rock-paper-scissors. It's another frantic card swiping game, but it's a little fun and clever at least. Also, this game features a totally rad remix of Resetti's theme music.

Mystery Campers (Requires six Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

The first of the two minigames which requires you to buy more cards to play it, Mystery Campers is a version of one of those tried and true logic puzzles. You get ten guesses to figure out which four of a set of six characters are in which tents. Each guess reveals how many you have exactly right and how many are close, but not which ones are right or close, so you have to use educated guesses and the process of elimination to figure it out. Once you know the method though, there's really no reason to play this game a second time.

amiibo Card Battle (Requires six Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

I'll be honest. I don't totally get how this game works, mostly because the game explains almost nothing about it and it's completely absent from the manual (and this isn't the only game that is either). Essentially, you take turns swiping in amiibo cards with a friend and try to beat their card without reusing any. But then seemingly random stuff happens that changes whether you want to get a high card or low card and I don't get it.

The Final Word:
Honestly, this review has gone on longer than the game deserves, but I do like to be thorough. The majority of the minigames are so simple that you probably won't want to play them more than once or twice, but then again, when I was a kid, I could be entertained for hours with a bed sheet and kitchen utensils, so don't underestimate how much a kid might enjoy it in spite of its simplicity. While it's not quite as much of a cash grab as it appears, it's still disappointing that some fairly significant features (like additional characters for the board game and Desert Island Escape) are unnecessarily locked behind the paywall of owning certain amiibo and cards. So, basically, the only audience that I can recommend this game to is parents who want a game to play with their kids and who don't mind potentially getting into amiibo figure and card collecting. For everyone else, you should probably pass on this one. It's not even compatible with the Animal Crossing e-Reader cards from 2003! (That's a joke. Those are totally different cards and nobody expected them to be compatible.)


Personally, I'd recommend this game a lot more.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Xenoblade Chronicles X Preview Coverage

I have a free review copy of Xenoblade Chronicles X from Nintendo.
All opinions in this article are my own and information is accurate to the best of my ability and knowledge.

This is going to be somewhat unorganized, but I'll keep this page updated with pre-release information that people seem to want to know including impressions, screenshots, and videos. Let's get to it!

General Gameplay

The world is massive and beautiful. You'll be spending a lot of time doing minor side missions, less minor affinity missions, and not at all minor story missions. These typically involve collecting items, exploring new areas, and fighting enemies. Collected items can also be used to craft new equipment and augments and upgrades for your equipment. Exploring will open up "landmarks" to fast travel to and in some places you can plant data probes which give various benefits such as mining valuable materials for quests or for investing in equipment manufacturers. Enemies vary in hostility just as they did in Xenoblade Chronicles and there are also certain stronger versions of normal enemies that are often tied to quests. There's an enemy log and collectopedia for keeping track of enemies and their drops, and all of the random items you find scattered across the world.

Completing affinity missions improves relationships between characters, unlocks new party members who can join you upon request, and may unlock new Arts as well.

While I haven't discovered difficulty options overall, I did find that I was offered to lower the difficulty for a single boss after dying to it a few times in a row.

Additional info here, compiled by Gessenkou (Possible spoiler warning)
Arts work similarly to how they did in Xenoblade Chronicles. They require a cooldown in most cases and often work better in a certain order (Topple enemy -> Move strong vs toppled enemies). Positioning relative to the enemy is also important. Depending on your class, you'll get different Arts and use different weapons. You'll also unlock skills which can be equipped and leveled up for passive bonuses.

There's an overwhelming amount of information and menus to keep track of in this game. That's good for complexity, but I honestly still feel like I'm missing out on certain things (multiplayer especially). The game does a good job of explaining everything a little at a time, but it still feels like a lot at once - but I prefer it that way over holding back too much of the game for too long.

It is possible to replay certain boss battles in a time attack challenge for rewards and for glory (the fastest time of the day is recorded on the server).

Minor peeve: Sometimes when fighting large enemies for a quest, a larger, ridiculously strong enemy will wander in and you won't even see it until it kills your entire party in one hit. Actually, on second thought, this is often probably my fault for using AOE attacks and hitting other creatures without accidentally.

Rumor buster: "There is no Japanese audio option or any audio options of any kind." CONFIRMED

Random note: For the most part, everything you need to know is explained in-game, but there's a whole lot of things that aren't well explained in-game. Thankfully, the digital manual is quite in depth and covers seemingly everything you'll want to know.

Skells
You don't get your first Skell until after Chapter 6 (fairly far into the game) and there's a long-ish quest required to get it, but it's definitely worth the trouble. It looks cool, goes fast, jumps high, and hits much harder than you would on your own. Skells have a whole bunch of equipment slots and each equipped item gives you an Art associated with it, so there are a whole lot of variations available. You can also name your Skell and customize its colors with nice Photoshop-esque color sliders. There are better and better Skells that you can get as the game goes on as well.

See also: My archived stream of the Skell License quest and Skell gameplay. (Part 1, Part 2)

Story

There seems to be less focus on the main story compared to Xenoblade Chronicles since you're required to do certain affinity missions and other arbitrary goals before moving on to the next story mission. That said, the story is still really epic so far although I have a long way to go.

By the way, the voice acting and writing is fantastic and often funny, especially when it comes to the other alien races. The characters' visual design however, at least for the humans, is kinda bad in my opinion.

(Spoiler warning)

Rumor Buster: "Lin's age has been changed from 13 to 15 in English releases." BUSTED (Lin is still 13.)

Character Customization

At the beginning of the game you can customize your character. There's a lot more depth to it than most games, but not as much depth as other games. Watch the video to see for yourself. Also, there are certain hair styles that are unique to a particular "base face".

Rumor buster: "The bust slider is removed in non-Japanese versions of the game, even for 'woman' character models." CONFIRMED.

Rumor buster: "Lin's skimpy bathing suit has been censored in non-Japanese versions of the game." CONFIRMED

Multiplayer
-Multiplayer is not yet fully functional in the review copy, so not all of these impressions are accurate.- 
If activated, other players' achievements will pop up in the top left corner when they're unlocked. It seems that achievements you've seen from other players will be visible in your own achievements list so that you can get hints of what you have to do to achieve them. For achievements that you have gotten, you can see the date on which you got them, which is pretty cool.

When you start the game, you can choose between focusing on the main story, focusing on multiplayer, or focusing on doing stuff with friends. At this point, though, it's not very clear how this makes a difference since I have no friends to play with and I've yet to see how to even join a multiplayer session. It seems that multiplayer missions have to be unlocked. However, it is possible to see other player characters out in the field and they have customized greetings (you can type in whatever). These characters can be recruited to your party for a thirty minutes and behave as computer-controlled characters. Since the other player characters do have foreign language greetings,, but not in Japanese, and since the English version of XCX seems to use a separate Miiverse community, I'm led to believe that multiplayer is region locked, at least in regards to Japan playing with anyone else.

(Not written by me, but someone has compiled a detailed explanation of the multiplayer features here.)

Reader Questions
Can you play on the GamePad only? - Yes, but the menu and HUD font is super tiny. I wouldn't advise it. On the other hand, once you are familiar with the menus, you won't have to read the text as much anyway.

Does the game audio play on the GamePad when playing on the TV? - No, the GamePad only plays the "beep boops" of using FrontierNav on the GamePad, but if you switch the screen to have the gameplay on the GamePad, it will play all of the game audio.

Can we take a moment and appreciate how cool of a name "Full Metal Jaguar" is? - Yes, let's. 

Do separate NNID accounts have their own save file? - Yes. And by the way, you can only have one save per account.

Can you confirm that the fashion menu is available in the regular base game and not as DLC [as it was in the Japanese release]? - Yes, it's available from the start and allows you to have the appearance of any equipment you can have, while maintaining the stat benefits of any other equipment you want to equip. The DLC characters and affinity missions from the Japanese version are available in the base game for no extra charge as well.

Keep checking back to this page as the game's release approaches for more details and leave a comment with your questions. I'll do my best to answer them if possible!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water (Review)

Platform: Wii U - Genre: Survival Horror - Release: October, 2015 - Buy it on Amazon
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water from Nintendo.
Opinions in this review are my own.

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is the fifth main entry in the Fatal Frame series, but only the third fourth to make it outside of Japan. It doesn't matter if you've played the others though, since this is an independent story with the common theme of fighting ghosts with magic cameras (called Camera Obscura). So yeah, there are ghosts and it's a horror game, if you somehow weren't aware.

The game takes place over a series of chapters which switch your control between three of the handful of main characters as they investigate cases of disappearing persons and objects on the cursed Mt. Hikami. This mountain, by the way, happens to have a reputation as a suicide hot spot and also has a dark history which you discover through reading lots and lots of conveniently placed notes, books, and notebooks. It's worth noting twice just how much of the backstory is told through these documents, although there are certainly voiced cutscenes as well (in both English and Japanese with an option for subtitles), but as this seems to be the main method of storytelling in most horror games these days, I doubt many fans will mind.
Here, have a Camera Obscura.
The fact that the game is divided into chapters is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they offer good, clear places to save and quit after a long gaming session (though there is also auto-saving mid-chapter). Also, your stats for each chapter are kept track of, so it gives some motivation to revisit previous parts of the game to try for a higher score by photographing hidden ghosts, speedrunning it, playing on a higher difficulty, or just by being more efficient in battle in general. The chapters also help break up what might have been a monotony of exploring the same place for hours on end; in this case, characters typically go back home at the end of each chapter to regroup. On the other hand, the chapter breaks sometimes feel a bit forced and can break up the plot when you don't want them to. Part of the way through the game, I couldn't help but feel that my actions were a bit repetitive thanks to always going home between visits to Mt. Hikami, only to have another character lured away by ghosts five minutes later. Revisiting previous areas also contributed to this feeling of repetition a bit, but for the most part, previous areas are merely a means of getting to new areas (which are typically forests, old buildings, and shrines) and usually the chapters start you part of the way along the path so you don't have to backtrack the entire way.
(Click to enlarge)
Dolls aren't as cute when they're hanging from trees at night.
The plot itself is... alright. It certainly gets more complex than the basic premise that I mentioned, but it mostly just amounts to learning the history of Mt. Hikami while fighting off ghosts. Rarely does it feel like anything you do is actually working toward any kind of permanent goal; it's more just surviving and rescuing people and learning things. It's worth noting though, that there are multiple endings as well as an entirely separate bonus chapter.
Basic reading ability is required to fully enjoy this game.
As for the gameplay, it's a nice combination of exploration and combat. Your goal varies between chapters, but in most cases you'll be looking for a missing person or object. Sometimes you'll have a personal item which will allow you to trace a missing person and see a vision of which way they went, but in other cases you'll just have to explore. Along the way, there are scattered items which you can collect (healing stuff, extra film, backstory documents, etc.) and while your character slowly reaches out to pick them up, there's a chance of a ghost hand grabbing your arm. This can be dodged by releasing the "pick up item button" (ZR) as soon as you see the ghost hand, but in general it's more annoying than scary or fun. The camera obscura is also used in exploration by occasionally revealing hidden objects, giving hints on the location of a key for a particular keyhole, or by forcing you to go back and take a matching photo from one given to you. These additional uses for the camera are kind of neat, but it's always completely obvious when you need to use them, so they don't really add a whole lot either. In fact, in the few parts where you have to take matching photos, it kind of just feels like pointless filler. That said, it's a very minor complaint that rarely comes up, so don't let it dissuade you from giving the game a shot.
(Click to enlarge)
One of my favorite, creepiest ghosts. I like to imagine that she's looking in through dark windows at night. ;D
Combat is pretty enjoyable, perhaps because I'm into photography in real life anyway, but it really is unique from any other game I've played (except, maybe, Pokemon Snap). Since you're using a camera, rather than shooting at one target as in a first person shooter, your goal is to tilt the gamepad to contain as many targets as possible within the frame. Your basic film is unlimited, but stronger film has to be found or purchased with the points you get while playing, so you'll want to be strategic with the shots you take. Even if you don't care about wasting all your good film, it takes time to reload the film between shots, so it's very important to wait for a good moment. There are a variety of ghostly enemies which behave in different ways, but your main plan of attack will be trying to take a picture with at least five targets in the frame (as you fight, additional targets will float around the ghosts) and taking "fatal frame" pictures when the frame turns red just before you get attacked. Getting a "fatal frame" allows you to take multiple shots without the reloading cool down while having more targets in the frame knocks back the ghost and deals massive damage. The camera(s) can also be upgraded with spiffy lenses which are found throughout the game, granting special attacks that may slow ghosts down, heal you, do extra damage when your health is low, or other handy things. These lenses and the camera itself can be further upgraded by using the points you earn throughout the game from fighting and taking pictures of optional, non-hostile ghosts. As you may have heard in other reviews, character movement is a bit clunky and it's hard to turn quickly when in 3rd person view. This is a bit of an annoyance, but isn't too big of a deal since there is a dodge button when in combat which doesn't require you to wrestle with the controls at all. There's also an element to the gameplay relating to the titular black water - getting wet makes you more vulnerable to attack. There's also a more severe case of this which acts like poison and requires you to use an item to dry yourself off, but since you'll often be walking in the rain and getting knocked down by ghosts, you're probably going to settle for being wet most of the time.
Speaking of being wet, the graphics are pretty good when it comes to water effects and wet clothing (fan service is definitely a thing in this game, there are even unlockable costumes to dress up the girls). The characters and ghosts also look quite nice, but the graphics on the environments in general are hit and miss with a range of high and low quality textures. But my humble opinion is that the graphic quality is perfectly adequate. The audio is what you'd expect from a horror game - creepy sounds and moaning ghosts. The English voice acting is good enough, though the script is merely average, but there's always an option for Japanese audio if that's what you prefer. I did find that some of the dialogue was difficult to understand because of the audio balance, especially outside of major cutscenes, but as I mentioned before, there is an option for subtitles if you find that it's a problem.
The Final Word:
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water isn't the scariest thing I've ever seen, but it's definitely creepy and fun to play for the most part. I wouldn't call it a must-play thanks to the merely average story and somewhat repetitive gameplay, but if it sounds like something you'd like, it's definitely worth playing. With all the incentives to replay previous levels for higher scores, faster times, missed items and ghosts, and harder difficulties, there's quite a lot of content here to get fans to stick around and get their money's worth. It's a good game, but whether or not you'll enjoy it comes down to your personal tastes, as always. I recommend giving the lengthy demo a try, while keeping in mind that the story and combat does get more complex further in the game.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Super Mario Maker Glitch-ionary

I've gotta say, I love glitches, and when they're in a creation game like Super Mario Maker, they're even more fun since they can often be used as tools for cool level design. ...or they may be used for evil, troll-y level design. So whether you're looking for inspiration or giving yourself the tools to avoid being trolled, here's the place to look! I'm compiling a list of every known glitch in Super Mario Maker and organizing them all here. 

This post is no longer up to date. I'll remove this message when it is. But keep in mind that levels now retain the version that they were made in so in most cases, a glitch that is patched will still work in levels that were made before the patch.

Physics Glitches/Exploits
- Flying Cannons [Works as of v. 1.3]: Attach cannons to the undersides of conveyor belts in such a way that the one cannon falls onto another in mid-air. The cannons will stick together and continue moving through the air in the direction that the conveyor belts were carrying them. If a spring is used to launch a cannon during this, the cannons will freeze in mid-air after being launched. (Found by Luigisopa)


- Track Momentum Conservation (Launching objects off tracks vertically faster than normal) [Works as of v. 1.3 (But with physics changes when launching to the side. Momentum can no longer be maintained, at least with blue skulls... I think?)]: Objects moving on tracks seem to have a bit more speed when moving diagonally upward. This speed can be conserved if the object leaves the track and reconnects with another track in just the right way. By using multiple diagonal tracks above each other, the effect can be stacked in order to shoot objects, blocks, and enemies upward at a very high speed. (Additional juicy details(Found by Phantal)


- Super Spring Jump [Fixed in v. 1.20]: In a Super Mario World level, hold an object and jump on a spring while mashing left and right quickly. If done correctly, you'll jump way higher than normal. (Found by Sockfolder and zilchfox)


- Spring and Note Block Clipping: By placing a bunch of note blocks and/or springs next to each other and against a ceiling or other object in certain ways, it is possible to cause Mario or an enemy to clip through various barriers.

- Bill Blaster + Note Block Zip aka "Phaseporting" [Works as of v. 1.3]: (VideoPlace a Bullet Bill Blaster on a note block one tile above the ground so that it bounces and place another Bill Blaster adjacent to it. Position Mario under the note block so that he is pushed slightly into the other Bill Blaster whenever the bouncing one pushes down on the note block. Jump when the bouncing blaster is at its lowest point, and Mario will zip up between the two blasters and end up on top of the non-bouncing one. (Found by DJNfinity)

- Constantly falling Bowser [Fixed in v. 1.3]: If you put Bowser on top of a skull platform and place a ceiling two blocks above the skulls, he will become stuck in his falling/jumping animation whenever he tries to jump and will be unable to act except for moving his head. While in this state, Bowser is able to ride shells launched from a cannon(Found by ExplosiveSheep)


- Donut Thwomp Push [Fixed in v. 1.20 for thwomps only]: A thwomp with space below it will be pushed up a little bit when a falling donut block passes through from above. If repeated enough times, the thwomp can be pushed upward through one-way platforms. If used to push the thwomp through solid blocks, it will move only a few pixels and then stop. Nonexistinghero notes that the same effect can be achieved with wall-mounted cannons (still works in v. 1.3).


- Conveyor Mole Projectile Glitch [Fixed in v. 1.3 for any future levels]: Place a mole on a conveyor belt and then stack a large projectile throwing enemy (Bowser or fat Hammer Bro) on top of it. Over time, the enemy's projectile speed will increase to insane speeds. If you wait long enough, Bowser will clip through the wall. The same effect can be achieved without the conveyor belt if using a big Bowser. Also, after around 25 seconds, there is a chance that Bowser will die upon pressing a P-switch (or when the effect wears off) if the wall he is pressed against is blocks (as opposed to a one-way wall).


- Wall jumping in SMB1, 3, and World [Works as of v. 1.21]: Run and jump off of a moving platform (skulls) while ducking, then with perfect timing and positioning, jump upon hitting a vertical wall. If done correctly, you'll be able to jump.


- Light Speed Mario (Bounce momentum stacking) [Works as of v. 1.3]
Video demo
By stacking wigglers and cannons next to sideways trampolines, you can essentially create a slingshot of momentum and cause Mario to go flying at incredibly high speeds. (Reddit thread)

- Sticky Fly [Works as of v. 1.21]: In a Super Mario World themed level, fly with the cape up into a long row of invisible blocks and hold left. If done correctly, you'll slide along the row and activate all of the invisible blocks without dropping back down.

General Gameplay Glitches
- Phantom Munchers [Works as of v. 1.3]: If a muncher is hit in mid-air by a sideways spring, it can be put into a strange "phantom" state upon landing. In this state, Mario and enemies will be able to pass through the muncher, although Mario will still take damage, and it'll have some other interesting properties as well. (Found by /u/Mariomaster2015 and /u/Luigi86101)

- Clown Car + One-Way Block Ceiling Clip [Works as of v. 1.3]: By positioning a clown car on a one-way wall, you can jump slightly from the wall-side and stand on top of one of the one-way wall objects. Once in this position, it's possible to jump upward and clip into a ceiling above.

- SMB1 Vine Clip [Fixed in v. 1.3]: In any Super Mario Bros. themed level, place vines hanging from a solid ceiling and one or more blocks against a corner as shown in the video below. Then, climb up the vine next to the corner block and press toward the block once you are at the ceiling. If done correctly and with a compatible block, you will pop up into the ceiling above the corner block. You can run around at that level or jump to move up a tile further into the ceiling. (Submitted by god_of_masks)


- Door Glitch (Invincibility) [Fixed]: This glitch can be activated by going through a door located on spikes, just as you are about to lose your invincibility from losing any power-up higher than "Super" Mario (i.e. a flower, raccoon tail, propeller suit). Upon passing through the door, you will be invincible for the rest of the level. (Alternate method [Fixed in v. 1.20]: Slide as big Mario under a muncher overlapping with a door and enter the door without getting hit.)


- Wrong State POW Glitch [Works as of v. 1.3]: By catching a POW block that after it has fallen off a track, but before it has hit the ground, the POW block will remain in the falling state for a moment after you drop it, allowing it to pass through semi-solid platforms (clouds or other one-way platforms). (Found by MYCRAFTisbest)


- Yoshi Eating Blocks [Maybe fixed in v. 1.20?]: In the Super Mario World style, Yoshi can eat a solid block placed above a coin or sometimes duplicate the coin. It is possible to eat rotating blocks, question blocks, hidden blocks, hard blocks, clouds, ice, donut blocks, note blocks, and music blocks. (Found by stendec365 and others)


- Frozen Yoshi Glitch [Works as of v. 1.21]: While underwater, eat a cheep cheep with Yoshi, but take damage from spikes before the cheep cheep reaches Yoshi's mouth. With the right timing, Yoshi's body (apart from his legs and eyes) will be frozen, unable to turn around, and unable to spit out the cheep cheep or eat anything else. This can be done in New Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario World themes. (Found by luigisghost227)


- SMW Yoshi/Shell/Flower Crash: In a Super Mario World themed level, carry a shell as small Mario and jump between a Yoshi and fire flower which are next to each other. At the precise moment that you hit both, be turning in midair so that Mario is hidden by the shell. If all goes well (?) you'll crash the game. (Video, Video 2)

- 1.5 Height Mario [Fixed in v. 1.3]:
Via DOMOHEAD of Reddit
In a Super Mario World or New Super Mario Bros. themed level, place a spike block just outside of a pipe. Upon exiting the pipe while riding Yoshi, the spike will knock you off Yoshi and into a frozen, 1.5-block tall state.

Editor Glitches
- Rail-Glitching Blocks (Putting two blocks on the same tile) [Fixed in v 1.20 - Levels made using this glitch will be played as if only one block is in a tile and the glitch can no longer be performed]: This is the glitch that is used to make invisible platforms, fake platforms (which you fall through), and any other "weird block glitch" which combines the attributes of two blocks into one. Working with this glitch is complex, so I recommend checking out the guide on /r/MarioMaker for all the helpful details. I wouldn't be able to write it better than they already have. In general though, put a block on a track, drag the track on top of another block, then use the track tool to remove the track, leaving both blocks on the same tile. To see the basics of how to do it in the editor, check out this video by GameXplain. Mysterio64 has also made a reference chart to help you understand the results of each block combination. 


- Out of Bounds Underwater Softlock [Fixed in v. 1.3]: If you have an area or sub-area which is underwater and have no objects placed above the lower half, you can place a warp pipe one tile below the thick dividing line in the editor so that when Mario comes out of the pipe he will be going upward. Upon trying to get out of the pipe, Mario will be above the playable area and the timer will not resume, nor will you regain control of Mario, forcing you to reset the game. (Found by NOKAUBURE)


- Intangible Wall Glitch [Fixed in v. 1.20]: Before creating a sub area, adjust the length of your level so that you add one tile per "screen" of length. This is easiest if your level is only one screen long since you only need to move the flag one tile and don't need to measure screens. Then, drag Mario into a pipe to create a sub area. Without adjusting the sub-area's size, you'll find that the final column of tiles will be glitched. Enemies and pipes cannot be placed in it and blocks that are drawn in it will not be solid when the level is played. (Found by metalflygon08, detailed and submitted by Chris Fritz)

Borderline Glitches
- While collecting a powerup, you can pass upward through invisible blocks without activating them. [Fixed in v. 1.20?] (Found by Luigisopa)

- Cannon sliding [Works as of v. 1.3]Cannons placed on walls can be pushed up a little bit at a time by throwing objects up at them (easiest in Super Mario World style) or by using trampolines. It will keep going until it stops at a ceiling or, if there is no ceiling, it detaches and falls down. (Found by genotaru) Cannons can also be pushed up when a falling donut block passes through them from above.

- Centering a large enemy on a tile [Works as of v. 1.3]: By stacking a 2x2-tile-sized enemy or other large enemy on top of a smaller enemy like a Goomba, the larger enemy will be centered over a single tile. The Goomba can then be replaced with a Podoboo (which can't be stacked on) and then the Podoboo deleted, leaving your large enemy centered in a way that it couldn't be otherwise. (Found by jonahhl)

- Checkpoint clip [Works as of v. 1.3]: Place a checkpoint flag so that the lower half is inside a block, but with a space below that. After triggering the checkpoint and dying, you'll respawn in the area below the flag. (Video by GameXplain(Found by Waverunner56)


If you know of any additional glitches that aren't on this list, let me know and I'll add them!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Voidspire Tactics - It's great and I don't even like tactics games

Genre: Tactics/Strategy RPG - Platform: PC - Website
I'll be honest, I haven't played many strategy RPGs and I've enjoyed even fewer; it just isn't my favorite genre. And yet, thanks to its focus on exploration, unique setting, and multitude of methods to success, I very much enjoyed Voidspire Tactics. So while I may not be able to compare it to other tactics games for you, I can tell you what the game is and let you make your own conclusions. And honestly, that's how I always try to review games anyway.

Voidspire Tactics starts out with you designing and naming your four voiceless (apart from what's said via dialogue options) heroes and choosing from four different races and a variety of appearances. Each race has a small advantage in some area, but you're probably better off with a variety on your first time playing. It's cool to note that each race is decidedly different from typical fantasy-style games (no elves or dwarves); instead there are feathered lamias, faceless people who wear masks, and cat-people. The world itself also doesn't follow many of the typical clich├ęs and reminds me of Cave Story in a lot of ways (probably because of the similarly whimsical writing style and the floating island bit).
I won't go too much into the game's story to avoid spoilers, but the gist is that early on, you and the chunk of land you're on get warped somewhere and you have to figure out why. Since you control largely voiceless protagonists, it's up to you to decide how you interact with other characters along the way, whether aggressively or with friendly curiosity. Honestly though, while you can avoid certain battles based on your choices (you often can choose to negotiate, fight, or bribe potential enemies), very few of the choices in cutscenes relevant to the story actually change anything. There isn't really that much twisting and turning in the story either and, though unique, it's pretty straightforward through most of the game. That said, there is a lot of optional backstory accessible through certain NPCs, books, and the fact that you can examine almost every object in the game to see a written journal entry about it. So while the actual plot isn't anything mindblowingly great, it's unique and well-written enough to be enjoyable. Honestly my biggest complaint about the plot was that the ending felt a bit short and unsatisfying, but then again, I don't know what else I would've asked for from it either.
Here, I recorded some gameplay footage for you.

Now onto what you really care about: the gameplay. Basically, it all comes down to exploration and combat. Exploration is kind of like Zelda, not so much in the "get items to get to new places" way, although there is some of that, but more like how you can pretty much go wherever you want from a top-down perspective and uncover a ton of optional secret items, areas, and challenging optional bosses. I can't emphasize enough how many secrets there are in this game and how they aren't as painfully obvious as most secrets in games these days. Since there are so many secrets, and because they are often hard to find, you're bound to find some of them and feel especially good about yourself while doing it. Even after playing through the game multiple times, I'm sure that there are secret areas that eluded me. What makes the exploration so compelling is that you can use all of your items, attacks, and magic outside of battle in the same way as during battles. This lets you interact with the world in a lot of interesting ways. For example: Use fire to burn bushes or bridges, use ice magic to freeze shallow water, use regen magic on vine seeds to make an impromptu ladder, or use a pickaxe to actually dig through nearly any wall, ropes to climb down any cliff, and shovels to dig up buried items. This freedom in exploration is probably my favorite thing about the game and I couldn't get enough of trying to get places in unintended ways, only to find that the game had been designed with my clever method in mind. Although it's difficult, with enough planning and clever maneuvering, it's probably possible to beat nearly all of the game without killing an enemy. And don't worry about missing out on XP for leveling up; there are hidden XP-granting items all over the place to reward your exploration, and even avoiding battles through negotiation grants XP.

As for the combat, this ain't no RPG Maker game. Voidspire Tactics was made on an original engine which was previously used in the developer's other (free) game, Depths of Boatmurdered. But though the game engine is technically the same, it's been updated a lot and is used in a totally different way to achieve that strategy RPG gameplay you know and love.
A mid-game battle. (Click to enlarge)
The battles take place right in the overworld, with no transition to a "battle screen". As such, you're able to buff yourself up and make a plan of attack when approaching potential enemies. Once spotted by enemies or whatever else triggers the battle, the game transitions to a turn-based combat mode where each character takes turns moving and acting (attacking/picking up weapons/using an item, etc.). Depending on your character's stats and equipment, you'll be able to move further, attack harder and more frequently, and defend better. The interesting stuff comes with character customization though, because you're able to assign a class and sub-class for each character, level each class up, and switch at any time. Experience earned while a certain class is in use can be distributed to unlock special attacks and other useful techniques or passive abilities, the latter of which can be in use even when that particular class isn't being used. In addition to the regular experience points, you'll also get stars for each class which can be used on permanent stat upgrades. To begin with, only three classes are available, but once you reach certain mastery levels with certain classes, more are unlocked. There's a whole lot of potential for cool character builds since you can use techniques from any two classes and three passive abilities from any combination of classes. Furthermore, there's a crafting system so that you can make weapons with cool effects by combining material items you find while exploring with crafting blueprints. You can't really customize and upgrade items too much, but there are a fair bit of cool weapons and armors that can be made and found.
Cool weapons like this Gurren Lagann reference I just noticed
The game's difficulty felt just right, with a few challenging - but not infuriating - battles here and there. There are also several hidden optional battles that are sure to offer a challenge to experienced players, along with spiffy rewards for clearing them. But don't worry, if you find the game too easy or too difficult, there are multiple difficulty options to adjust how smart the AI is and/or how much HP enemies have. There's even an unlockable super-hard difficulty after you beat the game. And, graciously, there's no grinding required to finish this game; you can do it if you want, but the battles and items are set up so that you'll be just where you need to be, when you need to be. Oh, also, there's an XP modifier unlocked after beating the game too, among other things. ;D
Here are the moves unique to the Brawler class.
Also, you can see what mastery levels you need to unlock the Spell Archon.
Another common element from tactics games that often put me off personally is permadeath of characters. Voidspire Tactics strikes a middle ground with permadeath by allowing a method of bringing back "lost" party members that can only really be done once you are outside of the current area. Most people probably won't even have to do that, however, because the saving system is extremely generous. You can't save during a battle, but you can easily save multiple files anywhere else and quickly reload if something goes wrong. Fans of permanent consequences might be bummed about this, but those who like to experiment without fear of screwing things up will probably love it. Admittedly, the ability to save anywhere is almost unfairly handy at points, since you can potentially save just before a battle and keep reloading until you get lucky with a low-accuracy, but powerful, pre-emptive strike.

As for the technical details... Voidspire Tactics is not demanding on resources and should run on most computers. The graphics are certainly the game's weakest point and are pretty much in ye olde 32-bit style with some modern lighting effects thrown in. They're not bad, but they're not particularly unique or memorable either. I also had an issue with flickering seams between certain background tiles, but was able to fix this by changing the settings on my graphic card for the game. (Set Negative LOD Bias to "Clamp".) Both windowed (resizable) and full-screen modes are supported, as well as a color-adjusted color blind mode. The controls are remappable, but controllers aren't natively supported at this point. In general, the game uses a combination of mouse and keyboard, since you need the mouse to drag objects into your inventory or to another place. Because of that, it'd be pretty hard to map your own controller to use with this game unless you can emulate a mouse well. I also feel the need to note that, while uncommon, I did encounter a few seemingly random crashes, but since the game auto-saves whenever you enter a new area, it never cost me much progress at all.
The art direction might not be so great overall, but I thought this wormy area was pretty cool. They actually wiggle!
(Click to enlarge)
Oh yeah, the music! It's good. It's royalty-free music, but I hadn't heard any of it before and it really rocks. It's like a mix of retro and new, so, yeah, I liked it a lot.

Oh yeah (part 2)! The game takes about 10 to 12 hours to beat, depending on how much you explore and if you get stuck, but with the few post-game unlockables and potential for speedrunning, I could see people wanting to do multiple playthroughs.

The Final Word:
Even without being a fan of the genre, I really enjoyed Voidspire Tactics because of the variety of ways that you can explore the world and win each battle. There are rewards for exploring around every corner and perfectly challenging battles for both noobs and veterans. The graphics and art direction aren't really anything special, but if you can look past that, there's a gem of a game here that's absolutely worth playing.


Disclaimer: The author of this review was one of the beta testers for Voidspire Tactics and knows the developer personally, but is pretty sure this hasn't clouded his judgement or biased the review in any way. 

Perhaps you'd also be interested in checking out this other game by the same developer or something totally different.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Happy Feet - It's Like Three Mario Party Minigames Over and Over

Platform: PC, GCN, PS2, Wii -- Genre: Minigame Collection -- Release: November, 2006
Having never seen the movie, I figured it would be a great idea to pick up and review Happy Feet on GameCube from my local library. It turned out to be about as fun as you'd expect (not very).

Happy Feet, the game, retells the story of the movie - I assume anyway, I haven't actually watched the movie - via decently well-animated and fully voiced cutscenes which seem to even have the original voice actors from the movie. Without having seen the movie, I was able to get the gist of the story of how Mumble the penguin was an outcast because he couldn't sing and was more interested in dancing. Penguins hate dancing apparently. In the end, he ends up saving everyone in some way that wasn't quite clear and they finally accept him for the awkward nerd that he is. Yay. ...So what I'm saying is that while the cutscenes are about the only decent thing this game has going for it, it wasn't always clear how they connected to each other without having seen the movie.
I streamed and recorded my entire playthrough of the game here for your viewing displeasure.
Don't get the wrong idea though; it's not like the entire game is cutscenes! That'd be just silly. No, the cutscenes are accompanies by one of three types of stages, which all basically amount to a single Mario Party minigame stretched to a tedious length.

These stage variations are:

Dancing. It's exactly like DDR, but played with a controller. You can use a dance pad, but the other, non-dancing, minigames are virtually unplayable with a dance pad, so you're better off just sticking to a controller. All of the dance stages have three difficulties, but even on Hard, the difficulty is stupid easy. There also aren't any timing judgments for hitting the arrows, so it's either "hit" or "not hit". That's not a big deal, but I'm just saying that so you know that this DDR knock-off has absolutely no bells and whistles whatsoever.
Belly Sledding. These levels are the only ones to offer any sort of fun at all. They have you sliding down snowy mountains with curves, jumps, and boosts, and depending on the stage you'll have to race another penguin, collect a certain number of objects on the way, or race against the clock by getting time extensions and checkpoints. All the sledding levels have the same arctic aesthetic, but they do have different curves and jumps if you're paying attention. You can also do a trick in the air for a speed boost and for the swag. The gameplay is still very limited, but I could see it being sufficiently entertaining for young kids (but still, there are better games out there).

Swimming. In my opinion, these are the most boring stages of all. Here you're basically on-rails underwater and you have to move around the screen to collect items, hit speed boosts, collect air bubbles, or dodge attacks (on the few stages where you're fleeing a predator). It's incredibly dull.








These three level types repeat for the entire game with only slight variations in goals (do it fast or do it while collecting items). None of them are particularly difficult, but I imagine that it would be possible for younger players to fail on some of the time-based stages. Lucky for them, if you fail a stage twice you'll have the option to skip it. Not that I ever saw that menu; I read about it in the manual, alright?

Each level has medals you can earn according to how well you do, and getting gold medals unlocks some lame bonuses like music videos and solitaire.

The only other thing to note about this game is that it has multiplayer. Two players can do the dancing stages side by side. For belly sledding stages, one person sleds while the other inputs button combinations to break rock formations. Then the sledding player is supposed to slide through the newly made openings for points. And for swimming... well, you both just move around on the screen at the same time.

The Final Word:
Happy Feet is just a boring game; the worst kind of bad game. Young children who like the movie would probably enjoy it, but with a million other better games out there, there's really no reason to waste time on this one.

If you made it through this review, you'd probably be interested in seeing what I rated as the top five poopiest games. They're literally games with poop in them.
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