Should I Buy? – Super Paper Mario


Alright, it seems nobody was interested in hearing about how much I love Shu Takumi’s games so here I am, writing another entry on something more mainstream, as it were. And really, how can you get more mainstream than Mario? If gaming as a whole had an icon, it’d be the diminutive plumber. Being a Mario game this is a Wii exclusive, by the way.

The Paper Mario games, strangely enough, take place in an alternative Mushroom Kingdom where everybody’s paper thin. As if that wasn’t enough weirdness, the gameplay itself is a 2.5D platformer/RPG/adventure. Let me break down how it works. The game has you run across the screen, fighting enemies primarily by jumping on them like a platformer. As you defeat more enemies, you gain experience. When you get enough for a level up, your health and attack power increases. The adventure elements come from the puzzles in the game.

Yes, again with the puzzles, I know.These aren’t just based around pushing blocks, instead, you must learn how to use your abilities to traverse the environment. For example, as Mario you can flip your perspective within the area to bypass otherwise unsurmountable objects and find secret areas. To do this, each of the four playable characters has a unique ability and you recruit a variety of ‘Pixls’, strange creatures who each have, you guessed it, a unique ability.

The different worlds you travel to are each based around a different theme. The first is a retro setting reminiscent of the early Mario games, filled with Koopas and the like. The game then moves into outer space, a caveman world, a creepy mansion and even into the fortress of a giant lizard anime nerd and more as you jump and smash your way through the game. And, for a Mario game, there’s a surprising amount of it. Basically, Count Bleck is leading his evil minions in enacting the prophecies in a book that will bring about the end of all worlds. Though the constant text can easily get annoying, the characters are a great source of humour. The witless Bowser, bold and brave Peach and delightfully insane Count Bleck all  help to sell the game’s sometimes hamfisted narrative.

With all the different techniques you acquire to manipulate the game world, and the way that you can adapt some of these in combat, ensures that the gameplay is always varied enough that none of the worlds feel same-y. Also, if you remember playing Mario as a kid, there’s a few elements designed to evoke that old school nostalgia.

There are other systems in the game, like collectible cards and rudimentary item crafting. These are really nothing more than distractions though and pretty much the only ones from the game’s storyline. Not that the storyline isn’t entertaining with a minimum of frustrating sections, it’s just there’s next to no reprieve from it.

That said this isn’t a game to pass up. It looks great, the gameplay is smooth and fun and it’s difficulty is balanced so that both kids and adults can get a kick out of the challenge.

Price: £15 (CEX)

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Should I Buy? – Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective


OK, after saying in my last review that I should focus on console games for a while after a stream of hand held titles, I’ve decided to review a handheld title. Then again, you’re statistically more likely to own or have owned a DS than any other console of this generation (except a PC). The title in question is probably one nobody reading this has heard of, a semi-obscure Japanese puzzle solving game. Deary me, this blog is getting a lot of puzzle game reviews.

Anyway, the game in question comes from the mind of one Shu Takumi, a game director and writer responsible for the Ace Attorney series, my personal favourite. I’ve avoided reviewing any Ace Attorney games so far because of a very real fear that it’ll end up as a wedding proposal to Mr. Takumi. What can I say? Man writes good.

Ghost Trick is apparently set within the same world as Ace Attorney but seeing as it has an all new cast, design style, set of game mechanics and features none of the original locations, having prior Ace Attorney knowledge doesn’t matter or even make any sense. Still, the reason I bought this game is that it was the product of Mr. Takumi’s mind. His Ace Attorney games are text heavy, character driven games with logic puzzles, which are amazingly well written and localised (for a game, he’s no Neil Gaiman).

When playing Ghost Trick you see that writing ability come through. The major characters will all grow on you over the course of the game, and several of the minor ones will leave a lasting impression too. Special mention goes out to Missile, one loyal little dog that affected me emotionally more than any…well, thing in fiction since I saw Toy Story 3.

It’s probably about time I actually spoke about the gameplay. And it’s…a text heavy character driven game based on logic puzzles. But different from the umpteen ones I’ve spoken about before! Actually, I can’t think of any game to have used these mechanics before. I think this is actually a unique game. The game opens with you dying, becoming a ghost and losing all your memories. However, you soon learn that as a ghost you have certain powers with which to affect the living world. You can manipulate objects, jump between different ones, talk to dead spirits and whenever you find a corpse you can travel four minutes back in time to stop their death from taking place.

There are a few more mechanics but they’re not introduced until later into the game, at a point where it’s really too late for them to fundamentally change the experience. So you have spend the game investigating the mystery of your own identity by saving others. Doing so can be blindingly simple, or incredibly frustrating. Luckily, the game leans on the fun end more than the frustrating.

If you want a game that’ll set you thinking, then I can recommend Ghost Trick. There’s more player involvement Ace Attorney games, and the characters may not have the impact of Mr. Takumi’s other works but compared to most blockbuster games, they’re very strong. Get this if you want an intellectual challenge, or even just a unique experience.

Also, I really really wanna be able to talk about Missile with people.

Price: £16 (CEX)

Should I Buy? – Super Smash Bros. Brawl


After the last three reviews on this site being only for specific handheld formats, I thought I’d go out of my way to talk about a game for that machine near enough everybody seems to have, the Nintendo Wii. I own a Wii, though I haven’t gotten a lot of use out of it in over a year now. I imagine many other people are the same way. Well here’s a game that can fix that, if it’s not done it for you already.

The original Smash Bros. game for the N64 was a surprise hit, and so sequels were inevitable. The latest iteration, Brawl, is the biggest yet with more stages and characters than before. It’s a 2.5D (that is, 3D models and backgrounds with 2D controls) fighting game from Nintendo that mixes characters from their most popular franchises together. So Mario can go toe-to-toe with Samus Aran, Link can try to sword-fight Meta Knight and so on and so forth. In total, there are over 30 different characters to unlock and fight as.

Now, I’m going to use the phrase “fanservice” here, but I may not be talking about what you think I am. I imagine many of you know the term as meaning deliberately sexual characters or situations in order to titillate the audience. Well I mean the other kind. This is when you pander to a sense of nostalgia, which is very easy to do with nerds. And that form of fanservice is very strong here.

Not only can you fight as all these characters (including obscure nerd favourite Pit from Kid Icarus) but their stages, their music, all the trophies etc. pay homage to decades of Nintendo games.

The fighting itself can be fast and frantic for newcomers, but once you get a hold of it you’ll soon be having great fun. And that’s what this game is about, fun. Sure, there are saddos out there who insist that some characters have unfair advantages because their ‘side air-smash’ has a priority that stops projectiles; or items unbalance the game, or that stage has a hazard so it’s not fair etc. Ignore these people. They are terrible people.

Unfortunately you’ll have to play through the game’s story mode to unlock most of the characters in this. The story mode itself is a 2.5D platformer where you take control of different characters in a strange plot to stop some weird blue guy from stealing the world. This does let you get used to how a particular character plays before you go up against your friends, but if they haven’t had that same experience things can get unbalanced. Likewise, some of the stages have quite obtuse unlocking conditions.

Once you are playing with friends though, there’ll be much laughter as you use laser guns, pokeballs and a plethora of other items to duke it out across many colourful environments. This is a fun game that you can play with a bunch of friends for laughs. Saying that, it can be just as enthralling as a single player experience, especially if you enjoy “fighting for the sake of fighting” and unlocking collectibles.

Price: £12 (CEX)

Guest Review – Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep


This is a special guest review by user suzukiwillow of Square’s PSP exclusive, Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. You can see the original at: http://lemoncity.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/birthbysleepreview/

If anybody’s interested, I’ll do a counter-review that talks more about the gameplay and other such points that were kinda glossed over here. Hell, I might do that anyway.

The version shown here has been slightly edited for profanity, length and to keep it more in line with what I’m trying to do here.

It’s 3:15AM. Why am I awake, you ask? Well, I have just played two hours of Birth By Sleep (BBS) for the PSP. There are no spoilers in this.

Now, Let me first state before I go any further, I am not an avid Kingdom Hearts (KH) fan; but I have seriously been trying to like it for the past however many years. If you’re a fan, know this entry will end positively, if you’re not, enjoy my reasons for KH-hate.

I have tried to play KH1. I tried, honest to God, I tried; in fact, I’m still trying to play it. Every so often I’ll feel a bought of zeal like, ‘yeah let’s love this game!’ but omg. The battle system is horrid. The gummie-ship is a joke. The travelling-between-worlds-experience is the shittiest navigation system since Star Fox 64/Lylat Wars (except Star Fox was fun). The levels are stupidly, stupidly hard for simpletons like me who play RPGs for the, you know, role-playing and not constant hack and slash. And last but not least, I could not give a flying frack about any of the characters. Well, except Riku, but he’s not in it enough for me to want to keep playing.

Therein lies the biggest fault. Riku, Squall (his name is not Leon) and Cloud are the only ones I care about in KH1 – Cloud and Squall slightly redundant because I know and love them from Final Fantasy (FF) VII and VIII (here be the FF nerd). Also, Squall has hysterically dirty lines in KH if you read them wrong.

So moving on…

KH2, again, I’ve watched some gameplay because I thought: at least I personally won’t have to deal with the crappy battlesystem. Nah, I didn’t have a clue what was going on and I still didn’t care.

Which brings me to Birth By Sleep (cause let’s be honest. There’s no way I was going to, or ever will, touch Chain of Memories or 358/2 Days). I saw the trailers and thought, ‘well, it’s definitely pretty and the producers/animators have been watching gmvs for scene transitions, but there is no way I’m attempting to play it,’ when – hold on – ‘did I just see Zack Fair?’

Good. Heavens. Don’t get me started on how much I love Zack Fair, from Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. I would travel the world, steal the Enterprise, defeat the Cylons and heal all the Nobodies just meet Zack-freakin-Fair. My heart; it’s throbbing.

When I found out that not only is Zack Fair in BBS but that BBS is the prequel to the series (so I don’t have to know the KH plots) I bought it as soon as I could.

It’s amazing.

The scenes draw great parallels from the original games (mind-screw) and the artwork is super smooth. I guess this is even more enjoyable to die-hard fans because I can tell the game makes a lot of hints at Sora, Roxas and Riku, but I don’t know enough to appreciate these moments. Meh. Roxas: who? Ansem: never met the first one let alone the alleged others! But I digress.

As pointed out by my cousin (a die-hard fan), who watched me play the first 25 minutes over my shoulder, the music is slightly jazzed up but very nostalgic, which works well. My cousin left before the music got super good, but believe me, it has a bouncy, enrapturing quality. The boss battle music, so far, is hilariously J-Pop. J’adore.

The main characters themselves are, at first glance, an imitation of the original three; but! they are thankfully not the same after all. Sure, the same archetypes have been churned out and Terra is wanking on about the same tripe as Riku – but you know what, I care about him – and that’s all I’ve ever wanted from KH in the first place. I know there’s a good story to be told (somewhere) but who is Sora and why should I care? >_O

Aqua. Damn. Not only is she hot but she is A GREAT, NOT IRRITATING, FEMALE LEAD – OMGWHUT? Her voice actress, Willa Holland, is also fantastic. She has a real earthy, mature voice, which definitely helps.

Terra, on the other hand, geeeh… His voice actor, Jason Dohring, is not bad but I personally know amateur voice actors who could do a better job. Dohring has potential, that’s for sure. Ven, however…

Jesse McCartney voices Ventus. Well, I guess I got used to it. At first, I was concerned because his diction was so poor, but either I got used to it quick or McCartney improved between recording the prologue and the opening chapter. I’d like to think it was the latter.

The set-up is divided into three chunks so far, but I’m guessing it will eventually be four. You play each character from the beginning of their story to the end, no swapping in between, and then figure out the plot holes by slotting all three storylines together; which I personally love the idea of and am keen to amalgamate. I’ve started with Terra’s story because I hate, well, no, dislikeVentus and adore Aqua, so I’m saving her for last. Despite the familiar Riku-characteristics, I am becoming quite fond of Terra in his own right.

Onto gameplay: super fun. Enough said. I enjoy it, and that’s a first. Also, save points restore all health – YES! One thing though, I’m still confused as to how you are meant to level up, equip and ‘meld’ abilities. I feel they looked at Final Fantasy X and thought, “we can do that; but sleeker!” Well, it’s definitely shiny but the simplicity of the design was lost somewhere… Maybe I’m just a moron.

Travelling between worlds: freaking bliss. I gasped with glee at how clean, simple, wooshy and fun space travel is in this instalment. Good God, it’s wonderful. You can whizz around space storms for as long or as little as you like, and not get lost.

So to wrap this up: the battle system, like any game, requires a little getting used to but certainly works. Space travel no longer makes me stressed. The new enemy designs are familiar but nicely redone. The voice acting is as balanced with good and bad actors/lines as it ever was. The music is wonderful and the plot actually progresses. But best of all, I love the new characters; Aqua still at the top.

It looks like I’m not just playing this for baby-Zack anymore. Well done, Squeenix. It’s now 4:30AM.

Come back next time to see Willow kick herself in the mouth for everything she said in this amateur review! *thumbs up*

So there you have it, my new editor’s grand entrance. It is, however up to me to finish this review off by answering the question, should I buy this? Yes. If you have a PSP this is one of the richest games available on the tragically under-served system. You don’t have to be a Kingdom Hearts fan to enjoy this game, but it certainly helps and its my personal favourite of the series. This is an action-RPG that’s a bit on the pricey side, but definitely worth it as the story is very replayable and caps out at anywhere from 30-40 hours. And considering the amount of people that’ll pay full price for a shooter with an 8 hour campaign, I’d say the price is definitely worth it.

Price: £15-£20 (multiple sources)

Should I Buy? – Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII


Now even a lot of non-gamers know of the mind-numbingly popular Final Fantasy series by reputation, and Final Fantasy VII has often been said to be the best of them. Personally I think IX & VI are better, but that’s not something to get into here. What I will say is the FFVII is a classic that was first released on the Playstation 1 and introduced a lot of westerners to the series, myself included.

Despite being such a beloved game, Square didn’t cash in on its popularity for a long time. Then, instead of the epic sequel or up-to-date remake that many of the fans had wanted Square introduced the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, a bunch of titles set in the Final Fantasy VII world, dedicated to teaching us more about the characters of the original.

This was received with some mixed opinions. Most people thought Dirge of Cerberus was terrible, Advent Children regularly divides fans on the novellas and game Before Crisis haven’t even been released outside of Japan. Often agreed to be the best thing to come out of the Compilation is Crisis Core, a prequel focused on the life of Zack Fair. Zack only showed up in a couple of flashbacks in the original game despite actually being quite integral to the game’s plot. By the way this is a PSP exclusive, I’d hate you to read this whole piece and get really excited only to find out you can’t play the game.

In this game we learn that Sephiroth wasn’t the only incredibly powerful member of SOLDIER, the evil megacorp ShinRa’s elite military division back in the day. He had two friends, and fellow SOLDIER 1st members Angeal Hewley, your mentor, and Genesis Rhapsodos.

After your first proper mission though Genesis goes evil and takes half of SOLDIER with him. You, as Zack then spend most of the game fighting Genesis’ army, slowly becoming more important as the other 1st Class members become less reliable until you’re just about as integral as you can get.

Unlike the original, you only play as Zack instead of with a group of characters and the battles are action-RPG style instead of a straight JRPG. This works by giving you a simple attack combo with one button, then selecting a spell or ability from a list with the shoulder buttons to cast. This is a perfectly functional system that lets you use some of the range of spells that were in the original but sometimes trying to cycle through to your cure spell while running to safety can be frustrating.

I would likewise describe the battles as functional. The system on hand does what it needs to do, but even in the most important or difficult of battles it never really gets exciting. Though I must point out that the AI opponents can work together in very clever ways like aiming an attack for where you’ll be when you avoid the attack of another enemy.

Another thing is that all your uber moves like Limits Breaks and summons and even your level ups are handled by a spinning roulette in the top corner. Apparently it’s actually an incredibly complicated mathematical system and not blind chance, but that doesn’t stop me feeling that I’m mercy to the whims of the Random Number God.

The story is always held to be one of the most important parts of a Final Fantasy game, often because they’re of such a high standard.  In this is the villain, Genesis, never feels threatening or even like he has an understandable motive, or at least one that’s properly in synch with his actions. But the story of Zack’s maturation and developing connections with characters from the original is a much better told and ultimately more important than that of the game’s ineffectual villain.

As a side to the story, we also get to see what Sephiroth, the original game’s famous villain, was before he went bad and he has some really sweet moments of warmth with Zack.

Other than the linear but enjoyable story the only thing this game offers is the optional missions. Despite whatever justification they give for them, they always boil down to running through one of the same six or so areas until you find the ‘boss’ encounter or, rarely, standing in the same area and fighting down a boss or waves of enemies. Some of them give great rewards, but after you surgically remove all the Summon materia and the like by looking up the rewards online the only reason left to do them are to get strong enough to challenge the other  missions. If you do them all you do get to challenge the game’s superboss, but that’s a lot of work for a challenge most gamers couldn’t and wouldn’t take.

Despite un-thrilling battles, repetitive side missions and a terrible antagonist this is definitely a game worth playing. It’s a must for all FFVII fans, and if you’re not it can be a good entry point. You can enjoy this as a stand alone story without too much bother and if it grips you hard enough you can now download FFVII from the PSN Store to your PS3.

Price: £8 (CEX)

Should I Buy? – Chrono Trigger


Chrono Trigger is often held to be one of the best Japanese RPG games of all time, and in fact is one of a four part ensemble of games releases on the SNES back in the 90’s to have a legitimate claim for that title. Those games, for any of you interested are Final Fantasy IV & VI and Earthbound.

Chrono Trigger itself was for a long time something of a cult icon. It had a very loyal following despite only ever receiving one sequel and never being released in Europe. A few years ago though, Nintendo seemed to remember that they had another potential goldmine to exploit with a re-release, and now the game’s had a world-wide release on both the Nintendo DS and the Wii’s Virtual Console.

And a damn good thing too, because even in the far flung future of 2011, this game holds its own as fun, engaging, well designed and has a simply gorgeous soundtrack (if you like 16 Bit videogame music, that is). The basic premise is that you play as Crono, a young boy with ridiculous hair and a katana that saves the world from an evil monster alongside a bunch of friends including a princess that he falls in love with. As a side note, if Crono looks like Goku, that’s because the guy who designed the characters for this game was the main designer for Dragonball.

So far so cliché, right? Well, yes. But Chrono Trigger adds a few twists into the bag and is simply so damn charming that I can ignore the straight-faced cliché of it all. For starters, the plot involves time travel between the present day, the Medieval era, the Prehistoric era, the far flung future and the Age of Magic. The characters are similarly varied too, including a genius teen inventor, an anthropomorphic frog knight and a cavewoman who rips apart enemies with her bare fists.

I could go on about the design and the soundtrack (go on youtube and search for Frog’s theme, it’s amazing!) but that’d make this entry overrun. Instead there’s a few things I want to say about the combat and general challenge curve of the game.

When you enter a battle, you and the enemy spread out over the surrounding area instead of whooshing off to some special screen to stand in lines. This isn’t just visual, special attacks have different properties. Some attack everything in a line, some a circle etc. It’s a nice feature that alleviates some of the monotony of JRPG combat and you can even use it to time your attack for when the enemy moves into just the right spot to deal huge damage to a group of them.

On the challenge front, the game’s difficulty curve has a few nasty spikes but unless you know the kind of tricks you learn from having played this game previously, you should find every boss that right kind of challenging that makes the game an intense but exhilarating challenge.

By the way, getting this on the Virtual Console will get you a straight port of the original SNES classic while the DS version has a new translation and some bonus content, including anime cutscenes, a bonus dungeon and a music archive.

Price: £20 (CEX)

900 Nintendo Points (Virtual Console)

Should I Buy? – Batman Arkham Asylum


Me reviewing Batman, this’ll be impartial. Let me start by saying that this is the best superhero game ever. That’s not hyperbolic. This really is. And it really shouldn’t be.

Most games based off of licensed properties from other franchises are mediocre at best, or only fulfill niche markets. Normally this is because the game is just a cheap cash-in, and if it’s being made to emulate the plot of a film or tv series it’s an even bigger problem because the developer has got a lot of restraints  placed on them and only a limited amount of time to make the game in.

This came out the the year after The Dark Knight, so Batman was all the hype. And for some reason, DC handed the license over to a company that had only made one forgettable PS2 game before, and that was released all the way back in 2006. So licensed game, inexperienced studio, big film to cash in on. The perfect recipe for disaster. Instead, we got a Game of the Year.

First of all, Arkham Asylum uses the ‘adaptation by spirit’ approach. It drew from many elements of the Batman mythos and media to create something new and unique. The plot (that Joker takes over Arkham Asylum and challenges Batman to survive the night) is based on Grant Morrison’s A Serious House on Serious Earth, the voice talent comes largely from Batman: The Animated Series, the level design draws from the Tim Burton’s use of German Expressionism in Batman and Batman Returns and so on. All that, added with all the little details in the character profiles and interview tapes shows Rocksteady did their work.

But that alone isn’t enough to make a great game. They did that by making this game do what no other superhero game has ever done as well. Hell, something most games don’t do period. Playing that game, you feel like Batman. Whether it’s fighting huge groups of thugs, silently picking them off one by one from the shadows or using your gadgets to traverse the environment in ways that just make you feel powerful.

I think they benefited by choosing a superhero who has no powers. Strange as that sounds, it allows them to create a character that’s powerful without having difficulties contriving excuses for challenge. Sure, you can take down hordes of guys without a scratch, but you might get sloppy and get hit by a lead pipe.

Gameplay can be divided into three sections. Runny-jumpy-climby, sneaky-sneaky stealth and biff-pow combat. Moving through the game world feels great, as you can zip around with your gadgets and use them with Batman’s natural athleticism to reach almost anywhere you can see.

When you’re stealthing it up, it’s because the hordes of burly henchmen in this area have got guns, which not even Batman can stand up to in a straight fight. The reason the developers refer to this as ‘Predator Mode’ is because that’s exactly what it feels like. These guys don’t stand a chance, and you’re picking them off one by one and making them fearful. In fact, if you do it particularly well they’ll start to believe that you can’t be human, that you’re some supernatural force. Listening to them get terrified (and therefore, sloppy) is great fun.

The combat is very simple. You press a button, you punch things. If an enemy has a sign flash over their head, you press another button and counter them. There are a few more advanced techniques, but the two button approach is the real core of combat. It sounds boring, but it works very well because it’s incredibly satisfying to see yourself in the middle of this tornado of punches and brutal attacks.

Arkham Asylum also boasts a range of Batman villains to serve as bosses. These fights…don’t match up to the rest of the game. Though Mark Hammil’s performance as the Joker easily rivals Heath ledger’s, and blows Jack Nicholson out of the water.

The Riddler has also left plenty of puzzles for Batman all over Arkham. Completing the completely optional Riddler Challenges give you extra experience (which will also recharge your health) and cement your position as the World’s Greatest Detective.

There’s a lot more that could be said about individual areas and design choices, but this isn’t the place for that. What I will say is that it’s a little short, but comes with combat and stealth challenge maps that can prolong that. But in terms of value for money, this is great. Buy it.

Price: £10 (Preowned average – CEX)

Steam: £14.99

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