Should I Buy? – Professor Layton And Pandora’s Box


Also known as Professor Layton and the Diabolic Box because apparently Americans will buy games based around logic and puzzles but Pandora’s Box is too obscure a reference. Then again, the box in the title is never called the Diabolical Box and very rarely as Pandora’s Box. I can understand how the Elysian Box (as in the Elysian Fields of the Greek Paganist afterlife) would be a tad too obscure though.

I really do admire Layton's hat

Mythology aside, this is the sequel to Professor Layton and the Curious Village. The differences between this game and the last are mostly in the areas of plot as you’re still wandering around solving puzzles on the slightest justification.

How British is Professor Layton (despite being a Japanese game)? Brewing tea is a gameplay mechanic. Yeah.

The ones on offer are all new and test the same wide variety of mental skills like spatial awareness, knowledge of mathematical formulae etc. So if that’s your kind of thing then so is Professor Layton.

The plot this time around concerns Luke and Layton investigating the mystery surrounding the titular box, which leads them onto a train with a destination not marked on any map. The art and music haven’t undergone any significant upgrade, everything’s just a vehicle for the puzzles. That doesn’t mean they aren’t still fantastic, just nothing has changed significantly between the first game and this.

The puzzles are all fine and rely less on tricky wordplay, but the story doesn’t pan out as well as the first one. It has the same big ending twist, but its fraught with logical problems and doesn’t have the same kind of foreshadowing that the first one did.

If you want puzzles wrapped in a charming package any entry in the series would do, personally I’d say start with the first game. Not as a matter of continuity, I’d just say it worked better.

Give this one a try

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Ace Attorney Movie Trailer


The actual video itself was given to me by a friend and is apparently an ‘unlisted’ video on Youtube. I guess this means I shouldn’t go handing the link out, but once it’s made official I’ll embed it here.

There’s more than a few things that caught my eye about it. The first and most obvious is that director Takeshi Miike has embraced the animesque visuals of Ace Attorney just like Kenneth Brannagh embraced Thor‘s camp elements. This really looks like Ace Attorney blown up onto the big screen.

Remember Lotta Hart’s ridiculous hair? It’s bigger than it was in the game. The costumes of characters like Edgeworth and Maya Fey? Even Phoenix’s spiky hair. They are all here. And it is glorious.

Not that it all looks like some campy parody. In its own way, it also looks like a slick courtroom drama. Sure, a hugely dramatic and stylised one, but that’s an integral part of the series and it looks like it’s being treated that way.

Another thing is the characters. Sure, Phoenix, Maya, von Karma and Edgeworth were prominent. I also caught glimpses of Larry Butz, Dee Vaquez, Gumshoe, Mia and the aformentioned Lotta Hart. I was really surprised by Vasquez’s appearance. She’s from the third case of the original game, the one that doesn’t actually fit into the overarching plot.

Presumably then, the film will cover the four cases that comprise the first ‘arc’. That seems like too much for one film. It would seem logical that some of the cases are only dealt with in cutaway, montage-esque sections or that the film will be in two parts.

Hopefully the film will get an international release (DVD only, I’m not deluded enough to think it’s get a theatrical run in Europe or the US). However, I am completely behind this project and I have a lot of faith in Miike’s vision.

Perhaps, and now this is heavily deluding myself, perhaps if this film and Wright’s appearance in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 are popular enough outside of Japan, we’ll see international releases for Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney and Ace Attorney Investigations II: Miles Edgeworth!

Should I Buy? – Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth


That’s right folks, it’s time for another Ace Attorney review. This time round I’ll be looking at the Gaiden game Investigations. It’s a change for the series, not only does it put you in the shoes of the eponymous Prosecutor, it also switches the focus of the action from the Courtroom to the crime scene.

And yeah, it’s great. It’s Ace Attorney, what did you expect? The new 3D environments make the investigation sections able to deliver a lot more than the previous 2D point-n-click backgrounds. The new system does a lot to keep things fresh, which is a good job because there isn’t quite the same momentum to this game that the first three games had.

Through a series of seemingly unrelated incidents, Edgeworth gets swept up in investigating a case concerning a smuggling ring. Along for the ride are his loveable sidekick Detective Gumshoe, Franziska von Karma, the confrontational Agent Lang and your new companion, the spunky young Kay Faraday. Returning players Gumshoe and Franziska are pretty much playing exaggerated versions of themselves, and new stars Lang and Kay pretty good, if a little hard to take seriously at times.

The story jumps around its own timeline, which can make things a bit confusing at times, but the chronology holds up. The side characters are pretty forgettable, though the last case does throw up a truly great villain. In the end, well crafted as the plot is it falls into the same problem that Apollo Justice does, in that the protagonist has this huge battle to struggle to a conclusion, but there’s no real emotional weight to it. Others have one, but they’re out of focus and it’s all down to Edgeworth, whose internal struggle is ideological.

It’s still better than Justice For All and Apollo Justice.

This game’s unique trick is Edgeworth’s Logic skill. That’s right, no magical powers for Edgeworth, just thinking things through. You gain loose nuggets of information and you can try to piece them together to form new information. Sometimes it’s annoying that you have to piece some very obvious stuff together, but for the most part it works well. It even gets a few dramatic uses that’re a great twist on it.

As great as all the new investigation stuff is, this does mean that the cross-examinations (now called arguements) suffer. Not that they’re objectively any worse, it’s just that with the focus drawn from them they’re no longer the area of big resolutions and revelations. It makes a more even pace, but loses the momentum these sections previously had.

As for the looks, script and music, it’s Ace Attorney. Ergo, it’s the best the DS has to offer. Slick, characterful design, the best localisation of any series and some amazing tracks like Speak Up Pup and Great Truth Burglar.

Luckily, playing this won’t spoil any other games and can be played independently of the others without being locked out by the existing continuity.

Price: (CEX) £15

Should I Buy? – Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice


As you may know, Ace Attorney is a series of DS crime-solving games played from the perspectives of lawyers, the first of which I already reviewed.

This game loves to make Justice puns

Apollo Justice is the fourth in the series, featuring the new eponymous protagonist in what was meant to be a fresh start. Unfortunately, it was decreed by The Powers That Be that Phoenix must be present. This doesn’t really work. He’s quite different here from his previous appearances, and has a tendency to hijack the show whenever he appears meaning Apollo doesn’t get those same moments of emotional and dramatic payoff he needs.

That being said, this game is still a great play. The basics are all the same, except for Apollo’s special ability to detect lies through non-verbal cues. It’s a shame this isn’t used more, because it makes a nice change when you get to do this in court.

Apollo Justice is sticking to formula though. You’ve got the sensible, rookie attorney aided by the wacky young female sidekick (here played by Phoenix’s adoptive daughter Trucy), the loveable yet not entirely competent Detective (with fan favourite Ema Skye filling the role), the rival prosecutor (now a devil may care rockstar) and the senile Judge. Played by the same Judge.

The mentor, the sidekick, the hero, the detective, the rival and the mystery

With this game wiping the slate almost completely clean of the series recurring characters, this means Apollo gets to collect his own assortment of weirdos. I don’t really feel they’re as memorable as the ones from the Phoenix games though. Still, Ema is brilliant in her role and Prosecutor Klavier Gavin is a refreshing change of pace from the previous hostile rivals.

The overarching plot of the game skips out the two middle cases and honestly, you can kind of tell that Phoenix was shoehorned in. When the finale comes, there’s definitely an emotional climax there but I can’t really decide if it’s meant to be for Phoenix or Apollo and as such, fails to land like the others did.

At least this game looks better than the others. It’s the first Ace Attorney to be made for the DS, and it looks sharper than the three previous games. The music and localisation both hold the series ridiculously high standard, but fail to produce any singularly spectacular moments Excpet maybe the track Guilty Love.

This one's just here because it looks pretty

There’s also a few forensics-style investigations sections the game always tries whenever Ema’s around, but because they’re not integrated more consistently they’re more distractions than true gameplay elements. It’s a real shame they don’t seem to be able to figure out how to use them, because the bonus case from the first game did them really well.

Overall, this game’s good and certainly better than a lot of the puzzle solving games that’ve been spat up over the past few years but doesn’t manage to have the same gravitas and quality as the first, third or fifth Ace Attorney games.

Price: £15 (CEX)

Gaming on a budget


Now the point of this site is to provide advice to those who’re, well, gaming on a budget. I have always tried to keep the games I review at under £20, and I don’t review more current games because well, I can’t afford them. I’d be no good at it, but I’ve been playing games since I was a child and I’ve never had much money. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from all that, it’s that gaming can be both cheap and rewarding.

Play Free Games
Too obvious? It goes without saying that nothing is cheaper than something with no cost, and James of Extra Credits once set himself the task of playing games with zero cost for a whole week. There are casual games like Farmtown, little Flash ones, social ones like Echo Bazaar and a wealth of demos on services like Steam and XBOX Live.

Just last night, I tried half a dozen demos from Steam, and its only by loving the demos for Tiny Bang Story and Bastion that I bought the full games.

Even more than that, there’s an increasing number of free-to-play MMO’s that you can choose to spend money on if you want, that will give you some nice extras features if you decide you want to splash out.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_free_massively_multiplayer_online_games

Team Fortress 2, one of if not the most popular online shooters, is now free-to-play and the excellent point-n-click classic Beneath A Steel Sky is available for free at gog.com And you strategy fans, try out Battle for Wesnoth, a free turn based strategy game with an open source code and strong modding community.

For that matter, are you aware of mods? People work to create custom campaigns, challenge maps or characters/factions for many PC games to increase the challenge or simply include a bunch of fun stuff. You’ll need to be a little tech-minded or willing to read a fair amount of FAQs to install one, but a good mod or two can really increase a game’s lifespan.

Own decent consoles
Not every console has a great range of games, and is it really worth buying one that’s only got half a dozen titles in its entire catalogue you care about? If you’re stuck between buying two consoles like say a PS3 and an XBOX 360, look at the exclusive titles and think about what you’re interested in and what genres you want to play.

Personally, I think the cream of the currently available crop is a decent laptop that’ll let you play stuff from Steam, a 360 (I prefer it over a PS3 because it, DVDS rather than Blu-Ray and the games are cheaper, and I prefer the 360 exclusives over the PS3 ones), a Nintendo DS and a PS2.

Between them they can cover pretty much any genre you care to mention, sometimes with the best stuff available in that genre. And hey, if you’ve got a smartphone that has access to gaming apps, there’s a cheap way to turn your phone into a console.

Buy good games
Again, this seems too obvious to be worth mentioning, but there is just so much junk out there. Whether its derivative, bland, repetitive, a multiplayer focused title disguised as a single player epic, a lazy cash grab or simply overpriced is something you can discover before you buy it.

Read reviews, ask your gamer friends, talk to the guys in the game store. And when you do these things, don’t just here what’s being said and take it at face value. If someone says they hated the timed platforming sections, don’t assume the game is bad, ask yourself whether you mind that.

Gamers might seem elitist because you’re not playing ‘classics’ or the hottest new thing, but don’t let that put you off. Some gamers will be like that, and if you’re having fun with Super Smash Bros Brawl, don’t let some insufferable jerk with no life tell you how it sucks because its more ‘casual friendly’.

Don’t get caught up in fads
The reason everybody and their dog and their dog’s grandma bought either a Wii or a DS is because it was a fad. Halo was a fad. Even my beloved Professor Layton was a fad. No matter how big these are, that doesn’t always mean they’re good or that they’re right for you. It doesn’t mean its something you should get into after the fact because its the only thing you know about.

The Wii does have some really fun games, but it suffered from poor third party support (translation: good games not made by Nintendo). And yes, fad titles like Halo or Professor Layton didn’t wholly undeserve their hype, but instead of Halo, why not try Bioshock or Fallout 3? And instead of Professor Layton, there’s always Monkey Island, Ace Attorney, Broken Sword and Ghost Trick that’re equally fun and readily available.

Look, if you want a game in a certain genre, you can buy it without breaking the bank. Don’t be afraid to take risks on strange or obscure titles if the price isn’t too high. Don’t jump to get Final Fantasy XIII, ask a few fans what they think. Consider Kingdom Hearts or Crono Trigger instead. Not because Final Fantasy XIII is a bad game, but because you should know your choices and put some thought into your purchases.

You’d be pretty pissed if you paid £15 for a terrible film or book, so don’t spend £15 on Grizzled Macho Brown Shooter 5: The Bloodening of Space Death.

Should I Buy? Hotel Dusk: Room 215


Seeing as my last review made that the highest viewed day I’ve had, I’m willing to take the self-esttem hit of reviewing a game I want to talk about but nobody else will really care about. Hotel Dusk is a Japanese visual novel for the Nintendo DS that was released way back in 2007. For those of you unfamiliar with the genre of visual novels, it’s where you read a lot and occasionally wheel the character round to another conversation, item collection or simple puzzle.

Hotel Dusk puts you in the well-worn shoes of misanthrope ex-Detective Kyle Hyde as he checks into the titular establishment to collect certain items for a client of his news boss under the guise of working as a travelling salesman. Some poking around reveals that the dark and troubled past of the hotel’s occupants is related to Hyde’s own dark and troubled past. And so you have on night to solve all the mysteries and gain some closure on just what made you leave the force.

Gameplay really does consist of a lot of talking, item collection and simple puzzles. This will probably put a lot of people off, especially seeing as it lacks the visual, auditory and story flair that Ace Attorney had. The writing is at least above par for most games, and the whole thing’s designed for drama and credibility rather than humour.

The plot takes a little while to kick in, and things don’t get properly interesting until a few hours in. To its credit once it picks up and starts to actually get into the history and motivations of the various characters the stories are fairly compelling, though never really affecting. The range of characters is nice too, given that the main character is a rugged ex-cop, you may be expecting a veritable Rogue’s Gallery of criminals, snitches and policemen but instead the hotel residents are a fairly ordinary bunch that have mostly tangential relations to the larger conspiracy.

The trouble is that the between sections tend to slow down the momentum that gets built up in these sections. And with the game being so linear, you can easily find yourself walking around for ages looking for the item you need to pickup or examine, or simply where the next conversation takes place. I hesitate to say the game has ‘puzzles’, because they’re very simple. The thing I had the most trouble with was lifting up a cabinet to get a piece of paper stuck underneath, because lifting it too far made it come crashing down.

The plot is worth it for those of you who’re looking for a storytelling experience, just don’t expect anything exceptional. If you want that, go play Ace Attorney.

The art style certainly has its charms, the music is nicely melodic if unspectacular and the whole holding the DS on its side like a book is a nice touch that allows the game to be more comfortable to play and allows the game to present itself much better than it would have otherwise.

Overall this is a C+/B- game but it’s difficult to find things in this genre outside of Japan. It’s serviceable if you really can’t get or have already played better titles like Ghost Trick, Ace Attorney and Broken Sword.

Price: (CEX) £10

Should I Buy? – Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars


Made by Revolution Software of Beneath A Steel Sky fame, Broken Sword is a series of point-n-click adventure games for the PC that first came along in the final days of the genre.

Now that games could be longer and have more powerful engines driving them, point-n-click was lost in the wave of new stuff like Tomb Raider and Wipeout. The shift from crazy weird stuff that both the genre and the medium had revelled in in its past to more serious stuff was also seen here. Templars lacks a lot of that overt, surreal humour of games like Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle. That’s not to say it isn’t funny, humour just takes a back seat in more plot heavy, character driven iteration of the genre.

The premise of Templarsis that you play as George Stobbart, an American tourist visiting Paris who is caught in an explosion at a cafe. Being understandably curious, you begin to poke around and begin to unravel a sinister plot that threatens the world. But you do so by using your brains, not brawn. The old marketing for the game and even the case itself proudly boasted that you saved the world without a single punch thrown or shot fired. George himself is never stupid, arrogant or patronising because he’s American. Instead he’s the perfect straight man to the eccentric cast.

The story will take you all over Europe, with some affectionately stereotypically accented people to encounter. Rather than play on the stereotypical behaviours of the country though, the people you meet are each given their own unique quirks that makes them strange and memorable. Well, except the other American tourists you encounter.

Unlike Sky this game foregoes big intellectual themes for historical intrigue in its plot and larger than life lunacy for subtle eccentricity in its characters. This works very well, the game’s humour is perfectly balanced against the seriousness of the plot.

The puzzles are more grounded in real world logic too. None of that “use wax lips of yak” stuff. This more cohesive logic to the game’s puzzles also cuts out a lot of the frustration of getting stuck, as ‘blind luck’ and ‘use everything on everything else’ are joined by ‘think it through’ in the stable of adventure game puzzle solving tools.

The game is simply gorgeous to look at, the character models aren’t particularly amazing, but the style in which they’re rendered means they’ve barely aged a day and the pre-rendered back drops are achingly pretty. The music feels like some kind of exquisite mix between game and film score styles, and work well with the rest of the game to make this feel like a huge, sprawling and progressing adventure.

The Director’s Cut is now available for multiple formats and adds new puzzles and a side-plot involving your eventual partner Nicole Colard, and French photojournalist with a sexy accent that helps tie her into the plot and develop her character. Though the new sections are visually very apparent, the puzzles blend well with the others in the game and it’s a nice addition.

There are some problems I have with the Director’s Cut though, a lot of the random, unimportant items you could click on for humorous lines or general atmosphere are gone and there’s a few changes to the art that aren’t a huge deal but bug me. If you’re that fussed, you can get the original and the Director’s Cut editions from gog.com with a few other nice bonuses.

This game is basically what you’d get if Dan Brown was a competent writer that checks his facts. This is a good length, enjoyable and challenging adventure. It’s so widely available these days there’s almost no reason not to check it out on some format.

Price: (CEX) £2 PC
£8 Wii Director’s Cut
£3.50 Broken Sword Trilogy PC
£5 DS Director’s Cut

(Steam) £4.99 Director’s Cut
£9.99 Broken Sword Trilogy

(gog.com) $5.99 Director’s Cut
(NOTE: This is the only digitally available way buy the original version legally, it’s bundled in with the Director’s Cut.)

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