Should I Buy? – Super House of Dead Ninjas


Before Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure I was never a platforming fan, but I had to try that one out because, well, take a look for yourself:

So I gave Super House of Dead Ninjas a try on Steam when it was their Daily Deal and I am so very glad I did.

SHoDN is a retro throwback to 2d platformers full of fast paced ninj-ing where you die a lot A. Lot. It’s a quasi-sequel to the flash game House of Dead Ninjas, so if you liked that this is strictly an improvement.

The premise is simple. There’s a giant tower full of monsters which many people enter in hopes of finding great treasure, but never return from. You play as Ninjette, a female ninja not looking for fame or fortune but instead investigating the disappearance of the legendary One-Armed Ninja who previously entered the tower.

You progress down the 350 floors of the tower, fighting enemies and bosses, collecting powerups and trying not to die. Ninjette is certainly fleet of foot, and she needs to be as you’re on a timer that summons Death should you let it run out. This is where the principle difficulty of the game rears its head. Taken by themselves, the individual enemies and traps are really kinda easy and predictable. But you need to keep moving at high speed, meaning it’s your own damn fault if you forgot that enemy needs two hits, or you didn’t press the down attack in time, or you weren’t patient enough to wait that extra fraction of a second.

Luckily this isn’t a one-hit death sort of game. You get a large life bar and three continues, with no insta-deaths in the game. Though death is frequent, the fact that it stems from your own mistakes instead of some ridiculous challenge makes it that much less frustrating, and when you’re ‘in the zone’ and kicking ass, you’ll feel like an unstoppable badass.

But this alone isn’t enough to give SHoDN enough replay value to justify the purchase. That honour goes to the horde of unlockable weapons. Ninjette has a melee weapon, a ranged weapon, a bomb and a magic spell at her disposal. Each of these has a range of different weapons to unlock and experiment with.  Do you want to use the Katana of Miffed Barbarians for that extra attack power, or will the longer reach and speed of the Taming Whip of Many Nuns win you over?

Trying to unlock all the new toys to play with will give you a good few hours more play time. Some are easy, some very difficult. Combined with the other unlockables like greater ammo capacity and new powerups, SHoDN has a lot to find.

As for the graphics, they’re a kind of pseudo 8-bit that look pretty darn good. They are kinda completely cheating by doing things not possible with 8-bit hardware, but the game looks great and the soundtrack is atmospheric and enjoyable. A free copy of the soundtrack for download is also one of the unlockables, by the way.

The game isn’t really that long. The main tower can be completed in well under half an hour if you’re good at the game, and while there are two difficulty settings and a few bonus areas this game is all about the replay.

The hardware requirements for SHoDN are low enough that you won’t need a powerful machine to run it. Though if your machine is really low end, you may still get some lag. SHoDN is real cheap on Steam, and easily worth the low price for plans of platformers and of hard, retro games.

Should I Buy? – Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3


I don’t make any secret of the fact that I really like the Dynasty Warriors games and the associated spinoffs, something which is not common among a lot of professional reviewers due to how “formulaic” and “repetitive” the games are.

Usually I take umbridge with those words attached to a Dynasty Warriors game as I roll my eyes and go through the mental Rolodex of redesigned maps, new mechanics, tweaked movesets, overhauled weapon systems, brand new characters or gradual improvements in storytelling each iteration brings. But with Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3  those words really do feel applicable, at least to the game itself.

By the way, if you’re a Gundam fan looking to see if your favourite characters, Mobile Suits, musical tracks or whatever are recreated for you to play with I’m afraid I hadn’t seen a single episode before playing this game so I can’t help you there. Also, I haven’t played the two preceeding DWG games so I don’t know how much has changed for this third installment.  I’m sure it’s a big deal to some of you out there that Ribbons Alamark and Char Aznable can go Mobile Suit-to-Mobile Suit or have Setsuna and Amuro fighting hoardes of Zukos back to back.

Despite the same huge cast of loosely connected characters and frantic button-mashing combat being in place from the DW franchise, this game feels a lot different from the main series.

All the battles take place on a handful of small maps, made up of connected “Fields” that you battle for control for. Whenever one side loses a Field, their special gauge at the top of the screen drops by a certain amount. Once below 50%, an army’s Ace Pilots can no longer respawn and the powerful laser cannons at their Headquarters are powered down, making it that easier to move in for the kill.

In and of itself, this promotes moving fast from Field to Field, taking them from your enemies and claiming neutral ones in a furious, explosion filled tug of war. Thankfully, this isn’t all there is to it, as certain Fields are special bases that confer bonuses to the army that control them and provide incentive to pick a certain route through the battlefield and prioritise your target instead of just hitting everything you come across with laser swords.

Given that the special objectives in missions are both rare and seem to revolve entirely around which random Ace Pilots seem to be on the field (i.e. only Seabook ever gets ambushed by ‘Bugs’ that you have to save him from) this rinse and repeat formula of field claiming isn’t enough to sustain long missions. Which probably makes it a good thing that this game *has* no long missions. It’s always the same few small maps to scrap your way through.

I can’t really call that a problem though, the game doesn’t go all out on a story mode that would make such missions necessary and the fast pace of the game will probably ensure you don’t notice. Given that you’re into effortlessly slicing through hords of giant robots with laser swords on Easy, or mastering combo strings and block timing and emergency dash on Hard, that is.

Often Dynasty Warriors games bore me because their pace can be too slow depending on my mood, so pumping the action to a break-neck  pace is pretty much the perfect method of enrapturing me. Of course, everybody’s tolerance for repetitive missions and button-mashing is different so while it worked for me better than just about any previous DW titles, you know your own limits on the subject way better than I could.

I mentioned the story mode not being up to much above, and it’s really not. Each character (seemingly at random) is part of one of several groups who band together after finding themselves in some mysterious alternate dimension, and start battling over control of several self-replicating facilities. Each group goes through exactly the same motions, so only the characters spouting the lines are really any different. I’m sure all the people forced together by the whims of fate means something to a Gundam fan, but as I said before I don’t have that connection to the source material.

Aside from the story missions (which will probably take you a few days to get all the way through, just going by the sheer number of them), there’s an array of extra ones for specific purposes. History missions let you replay battles from the different shows, Collection missions let you fight themed collections of Mobile Suits to get the Plans for certain types, Relationship Missions let you get a huge boost to your Friendship with certain characters, etc.

Oh yes, Friendships.  You can forge one with each character in the game and levelling it up to certain levels confers bonuses, like being able to call on them for special attacks or unlocking them as either your mission control or a playable pilot. The system for levelling them up isn’t entirely explained and as such seems a bit random, but I can’t really think of a better way it could have been done that wouldn’t have made the production team cry for a week and go on crunch for an extra six months.

The music? The same high octane metal guitars DW games are famed for. The visual design? A cel-shaded approach which often comes off more as a really great 3d anime than it does a cel-shaded videogame. Seriously, it took me a long time to realise it even was cel-shaded.

Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 is no work of art, but it’s a fast, fun experience full of giant robots, laser swords and plentiful explosions. Except for the final boss. Seriously, even on Easy, that guy is some of if not *the* biggest bullshit, fake challenge I’ve ever come across in a videogame. Seriously, fuck that guy.

Should I Buy? – LEGO Lord Of The Rings


Who’d have thought that not only would the  gimmicky idea of mashing up LEGO and Star Wars into a videogame for kids not only work, but endure for nearly a decade without stagnating and branch out into some of the most beloved nerd culture franchises of all time? So far it’s taken on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, DC Comics, Harry Potter, Pirates Of The Carribean and now Lord Of The Rings. There was even that Rock Band spin-off that was actually better than Rock Band (not that that’s hard) .

Oh, and next for the franchise? Marvel Comics. No really, they’re making a LEGO Marvel game that will have over 100 characters including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Deadpool, Loki and Galactus. I know!

After that? Almost definitely a Hobbit game. Another DC Comics game to capitalise on the planned Justice League film also really likely. Somebody gets these guys the rights to do Doctor Who and Star Trek. Not just the new revivals either, both new and classic versions of both shows should be made into LEGO games.

Anyway, the question you clicked on this link to have answered is “is LEGO LOTR any good?” Rest assured, it is. Maybe not the best, but certainly up there with titles like LEGO Batman 2 LEGO Star Wars 2.

Squeezing Peter Jackson’s three Lord Of The Rings films into one videogame took a fair amount of compression that really shows at times. Sure, all the key scenes and plot points are recreated but this is one of if not the first time a LEGO game has cut out parts of its source material that could have made great levels, rather than expand small action beats into full levels.

This is most readily apparent with the Return of the King section, where Denethor is completely absent, and there’s no night raid on Osgiliath, no attempt to reclaim it, no trying to take over the Black Fleet, no lighting of the Beacons and no battle in the streets of Minas Tirith.

While it is a shame that both these and sections that weren’t in the film like the Barrow Wight aren’t in the game, the levels that are there are fun, varied and of a good length. Unfortunately, not all the characters are as great. Oh sure, their designs are all spot on but some like Merry and Pippin don’t get that much to do while others like Legolas, Gimli and Sam are so incredibly useful you’ll spend most of your time as them.

While it is fantastic that they’ve recycled the audio from the films, with both Howard Shore’s music and the original actor’s voices, none of the voices were re-recorded to make them better match the heavily shortened cut-scenes. It’s not a huge problem, but the flow from one line to the next isn’t quite as natural as it was in the films in terms of emotion or emphasis.

They’ve made a fairly big deal out of how Middle-Earth is a completely free roaming experience, and you can literally walk from Bag End to the Crack of Doom on the world map, passing through all the key locations. It’s scaled down just enough so that it feels big enough to encompass all those locations and secret collectibles yet not so big that it’s a chore to navigate and even if you do feel that way, there’s also a fast travel system in place.

While there’s just about every character you can think of from the films and a few more like Radagast and Tom Bombadil thrown in, most of them don’t have any innate special skills that make them useful in Free Play, and there’s basically no enemy exclusive skills you’ll need to collect so it can often seem like you’re doing it for its own sake.

There is a way to remedy this, however, with the also much vaunted item forging system. By collecting Mythril bricks, which replace the traditional Gold Bricks, and the appropriate schematics you can craft a large variety of items that give your character access to abilities they don’t normally have. By the time you’ve forged a good chunk of these items, you can pretty much demolish the entire game as characters like Arwen, Eomer, Rosey Cotton, Faramir or Lurtz.

But even this throws up a new problem. That’s not an option until you’ve already completed a good chunk of the game and fun as it is to replay levels and the like, a major part of the fun in LEGO games is going back to find all the crazy secrets as characters you love and/or didn’t get to use the first time round. Sure, the inventory system means that almost every character is precisely as useful as every other, but it takes a damn long time for that to happen. Time you’ll spend playing primarily as Sam and Legolas.

To talk about the controls, there are some problems there too. In order to access the inventory, you have to hold down a button to bring it up, from which you scroll through the items which seem to have no real order to them and pick one out. This is often way slower than just quickly switching to an on-hand character.

Also, most Mithril items can only be wielded one at a time and can’t be placed in a character’s own inventory, so every time you want a new one it’s back into the confusing menu. The only items that do get placed in your inventory (other than ones you pick up from the world map in the levels) are the various cosmetic items like the Goggles, Shimmering Armour and Statue Hat.

Switching characters is something which should be perfected by now, but LEGO Lord Of The Rings contains the most infuriating problems yet. For starters, the ‘press button to open character wheel, hold to bring up big menu’ thing quite often doesn’t register that you’re actually holding the button and just plain switches you over to the other character (at least on the XBOX 360 version). This isn’t too bad in and of itself, but when you’re in the middle of a particularly long or difficult platforming section and when you accidentally switch to Samwise waiting at the bottom and the character you were playing as has jumped halfway back to you by the time it switches back, it is really annoying.

There’s also an odd problem where the game seems to want to keep you as having one Hobbit sized and one human sized character at all times, perhaps to further enforce that Samwise and Legolas are the Gods of LEGO Middle-Earth. See, if you’re playing as Legolas but want to switch over to say, Frodo for his Vial of Earendil, the game will switch you to playing as the Hobbit in the player 2 slot and then change *them* into Frodo whenver you’re in Free Play or wandering the world map after finishing the story. Again, this doesn’t really become a problem until you’re in the middle of a platforming section, but they make up a a fair portion of the levels and a huge chunk of the post-story collect everything stage of the game.

None of this is insurmountable or game-breaking, merely frustrating. Oh, and like all the other LEGO games, there’s a fair few mostly harmless bugs to be found in this game.

Again, I feel like I’ve been way too hard on a game I actually really like. LEGO Lord Of The Rings has all the charm and polished design the rest of the series has, and a greater reliance on sight gags has meant they can keep their trademark humour without compromising the serious tone of the story.

There’s a lot of content, most of the collectibles can either be plainly marked on your world map, or are hidden in easy-to-find places and behind puzzles with an obvious start point in the levels themselves, so you can work through it all at a sold and productive pace without getting it done in a few dedicated sessions.

The puzzles and boss fights have by and large been simplified, but giving that this is a series aimed at kids being more readily accessible to both children and people who don’t frequently play videogames is really a plus rather than a negative. Actually, it’s probably one of the most easily accessible LEGO games out there.

In a sense, it is to Peter Jackson’s film trilogy what the Jackson trilogy is to the books. After a long time, finally a truly great conversion to another medium that cuts, changes and compresses where it needs to in order to fit itself into a new medium.

If it being a fun, long-lasting and well designed game isn’t enough by itself, let it be known that what you see below is real in game footage of an item that actually exists.

Should I Buy? – Penny Arcade On The Rainslick Precipice Of Darkness Episode 3


Which, to save me from typing out that mammoth title every time, shall henceforth be referred to as Rainslick 3. The history of this series is a little troubled, the first two being fully 3D hughly linear riffs on JRPGs, Cthulhu mythos style apocalyptia and Penny Arcade’s trademark humour. Though the first one did reasonable business, the second game (despite being superior) only sold half as well and the series was shelved for several years until a deal was struck with Cthulhu Saves The World dev Zeboyd Games. Zeboyd signed on to complete the quadrilogy, their own irreverent humour and use of antiquated JRPG mechanics nicely  matching Rainslick’s.

So how’d it do? Well, for the most part. Obviously there’s been a severe graphical downgrade which unfortunately a lot of Penny Arcade’s signature art that made the first two episodes look so great is missing. Luckily though, Rainslick 3 trawls through the Penny Arcade backlog to deliver a host of familiar creatures like the Broodax and the Deep Crows.

The music, while also a departure from the previous episodes, is enjoyable though not exactly memorable stuff that’d sound right at home in any given 8 or 16 bit JRPG.

Character customisation is obviously gone, in its place is an entirely new combat system with four party members. See, each character has an innate Class, like Brute or Scholar, and characters can equip Class Pins to gain additional classes like Hobo or Tube Samurai which level up and learn new skills just like the innate ones, with the bonus of being switched between the team for different strategies.

I gotta say, some of the class pins are downright worthless. Whether its a lack of skills or just downright terrible skills some will simply not be useful whereas others like the Hobo and the Elemenstor are more useful than some innate Classes.

Items are also pretty useless, though only at lower difficulty levels. At high level play the additional stat boosts and other such effects become much more useful as battles become more protracted.

It also uses the full restore after every battle shtick to both streamline play and to promote the use of as much power as you can muster in each fight, fitting the surprisingly fast pace of the battle system. See, MP starts at zero and you get one point each turn, so you have to play strategic and think ahead. Luckily most techs fall between one or two MP, but anything beyond that won’t see frequent use.

It also has a unique time mechanic that, while a little tricky to get used to, adds another layer of strategic depth to the title. See, when nobody’s doing anything all the icons representing characters and enemies move along the bar at the top of the screen and when they reach the ‘CMD’ section, you get to input the command which won’t come into play until it reaches the end of the bar. But if you use an attack with the Interrupt property on an enemy who’s between CMD and END, they’re sent waaaaaaay back along the bar. Newcomer Moira gets cheap techs that do just this and if effectively used, make boss battles laughably easy as they struggle to get a single turn in.

The secondary Classes are an eclectic mix. The Hobo is a hard hitting bruiser with a powerful poison type effect in the “Hoboism” disease that works so well when given to Gabe, but at the other end of the scale you have classes like the Masochist and the Diva which have weird, weak effects and undesirable side effects. You’re likely to find one good combination and stick with it the whole way.

All in all, combat works really well. It’s more forgiving and a little more laid back than Zeboyd’s previous games, and the difficulty that you can adjust on the fly will allow you to find the challenge sweetspot.

Which is great news, because this game basically is dungeon crawling. Sure, there’s a world map with some shops and such but dungeons are everywhere, to the point where one dungeon has two more inside it.

This is a shame in some ways, as we miss out on a lot of the dialogue the previous games revelled in. It’s still sharp and witty, but most of it is loaded onto the front of the game and the plot seems stretched pretty thin over the game’s many dungeons. Penny Arcade’s great writing is there, there’s just not enough of it.

Despite being plentiful, the dungeons are pretty small and bare. What Zeboyd can do with combat, they do not match in area design. It’s way more a series of rapid fire gags than a string of impressive set-pieces. Well, so long as you’re not in one of the dungeons with a plethora of damn durable monsters, in which case it’s a slow gag that you will just want to end.

I’m not entirely sure where it is that the narrative elements fail to come together. Perhaps its that the villain doesn’t get enough screen time? Or that the game doesn’t explain its plot as well as the previous entries? That the previous two were much more focused in design and location and subsequently much more narratively focused? Probably some combination of the above.

The expansion on the hinted at Brahe family history is interesting, if a little mishandled. Also Gabe, whose childlike enthusiasm and simple-mindedness are somehow even funnier than Tycho’s caustic wit and misanthropy in these games, gets a dramatically reduced line count as the game progressed. Tycho’s ex-wife Moira holds promise but her relatoinship with Tycho is never followed through and she fails to really leave an impression.

But the game is a blast to play for fans of old school JRPGs, easily eight hours long (the length of most single player campaigns in AAA titles these days) and great value for the ridiculously low price they’re asking for it. Seriously, you could buy this game with pocket change…If the pocket change were actually in your bank account cause you have to buy it digitally…

Anyway, I totally recommend this as a fun distraction to while away a couple of afternoons or one dedicated day.

Should I Buy? – LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes


Over the last nine years, the LEGO crossover games have slowly been refining their mechanics and it’s pretty obvious with LEGO Batman 2 that they’re still working on it. As fun as LEGO Batman 2 is, it’s pretty rough around the edges. In some places, it’s just a few niggling bugs that shouldn’t have made it through, in others its design choices that are confusing or questionable.

The LEGO Harry Potter and LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean  games experimented with a fairly limited sandbox as opposed to the traditional mission hubs that you can adventure through and explore to find secrets, and LEGO Batman 2 ups the ante by giving you all of Gotham when you’re not playing the story mode. There’s a wealth of content including villains to defeat, heroes to discover, citizens to save and more beside. It’s almost a shame that the weeks you could spend finding all this stuff can be muted to a couple of afternoons once you find the cheats that point out the locations of all these things.

Travelling around the map itself can be a bit of a headache. Of course running about is way too slow unless you’re The Flash, so you’ll want to rely on vehicles and the power of flight to get around. The actual unlockable vehicles like the Batmobile and Two-Face’s truck are really fast, to the point where trying to drive them in anything other than a straight line is a hassle. Flight itself works great for gross motor control, but when you try to make small movements to, say, land on a small roof, things get infuriatingly fiddly.

That said, flying is fun and fast and pretty widely available. Just in the course of playing through the story, you’ll unlock Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern as flying heroes so actual aircraft become rather pointless. Not quite as pointless as aquatic vehicles though, which have no use other than the Gold Brick containing driving courses. When you play one of the rare vehicle levels, you don’t even get the choice of your unlocked vehicles. It’s kind of a mystery why they bothered, and this is one of the areas where the game where things get questionable.

What about the story mode? Well, it’s the first fully voiced LEGO crossover game and the second to use an original story, so it’s a pretty big change from the standard format. The humour is much less slapstick this time around, but still has that same goofy, irreverent charm which is really helped by the healthy application of DCAU VAs reprising their roles and other experienced VAs  stepping into the empy slots. Christopher Corey Smith’s Joker is fine, but does lack the range and sheer insanity of Mark Hammil’s, Troy Baker makes for a good Batman, though I do miss Kevin Conroy. The real star of the show is Clancy Brown’s Lex Luthor, whose deep voice is equally adept at making Lex sinister and comedic.

The story itself is just as silly as you’d expect, with some pretty questionable logic on the villain’s part. Fifteen levels being pretty short as far as a LEGO crossover game goes and the story feels truncated and aguely unsatisfying for it. Any villain that isn’t the Joker or Luthor get the short end of the stick, basically being reduced to cameos. Still, the levels are fun and make good use of the character’s abilities.

Remember how in the original LEGO Batman the hero levels were the most boring because the limited number of abilities meant there were only so many ways you could be asked to solve a puzzle?  2 handles the situation a lot better, with the new Suits Batman and Robin wear each having two different abilities instead of just one and the design requiring a lot more cooperation than before. And when Superman comes on the scene, he’s just as powerful as you’d expect. He’s super strong, can fly, has heat vision, ice breath and is completely invulnerable to damage. However, he can’t demolish levels by himself and relies on Batman and Robin to fill in the gaps for him, meaning that the other two don’t turn into useless loads.

If nothing else, LEGO Batman 2 is a great representation of why Batman and Superman make such a good team. Unfortunately, there’s no villain levels this time around to counterbalance the hero ones which might leave you feeling short changed, given how the original game had twice the levels.

The much vaunted inclusion of characters from across the DCU doesn’t really make itself apparent until the end of the game. Apart from Cyborg, they’re not high on the versatility scale so you probably won’t be using them much unless you’re a real fan. Green Lantern and Flash do have unique abilities, but it’s pretty rare that you’ll need them. Actually, Aquaman is more useful than they are in the grand scheme of things. Aquaman! Among the Batman villains, there’s also a few from other heroes like General Zodd, Brainiac and Sinestro. Though this leads me to one of the design choices that annoys me most. Sinestro can’t build Green bricks like Green Lantern, but there are no Yellow bricks for him to use, and neither of them get a ranged attack, so Sinestro only gets to fly and Green Lantern’s one special trick is very situational.

But that’s a minor complaint. And those are all I can really muster. It looks great, it’s funny, the soundtrack mixes Superman and Batman music together well, there’s plenty of content for the explorers to find and hey, where else can you play as Huntress, Hawkgirl, Ra’s Al Ghul or Captain Boomerang? Also, whenever you take to the skies of Gotham as Superman, that music plays.

Should I Buy? – El Shaddai


OK, I have no idea what is happening most of the time in this game. All I know is that my eyes did not want it to stop. Just, just look at this trailer.

That doesn’t even do it proper justice. If nothing else, it’s worth checking out El Shaddai on a big telly just to marvel at the visuals. Though any one of the myriad styles this game adopts over the course of its story could hold a game, it never sticks with any one of them for too long.

I could relate a plot summary but 1) the trailer already does that and 2) going in completely ignorant and getting confused by this game is a  marvellous way to experience it. That and…beyond the basics, I spent most of the time not knowing what was going on. Of course, this isn’t indicative of an intricate and gripping story but it does mean that I get to endlessly reply “How the El Shaddai know?” when people ask me what’s happening.

Truth be told the very archetypal and somewhat neglected narrative isn’t a real weakness. In its own way it’s actually a strange strength. It gives the game a feeling of bigness that nicely matches the visuals and general ethereal feel of the design and execution.

But OK, enough dilly-dallying with the artsy visuals and narrative, what’s El Shaddai like to play? Pretty fun. It’s not too long, 6-10 hours depending on how good you are and pretty bare bones. For the most part it switches between 2D & 3D platforming and third person combat that has more than a smidge of Devil May Cry about it.

The biggest barrier to success in platforming is that the visuals and camera angles can make distances and timing hard to judge, though the 2D sections mix it up with elements that appear to be part of the background actually being foreground elements that you need to interact with. It’s not Mario Bros., but it gets the job done.

The combat takes a while to really get the hang of. You, as Enoch, are able to wield three different weapons by taking them from the enemies you fight, and each one has its own properties, special moves, strengths, weaknesses and all that stuff. Even if you’re playing on Easy, you’ll still be challenged pretty much constantly and punished for your mistakes. The jeopardy isn’t too great however, as you get a free extra life in every fight. This’ll be pretty much necessary for when you reach El Shaddai‘s bosses.

They all hit like a demonic truck full of TNT, but it’s like a more complex form of the old platformer bosses where each attack had a specific tell and there was a counter to each of their techniques. Learning and mastering all this is pretty damn tricky, however. This is a game in which there is no shame in bumping down the difficulty.

All in all El Shaddai is an experience in the good sense of the phrase. It won’t change your life, but it will challenge you and enchant you with its beauty. If you’re the type of gamer that likes a challenge, you’ll probably get some life out of replaying on higher difficulties when you’re done. And if you’re a lover of great visuals, you might want to keep the game and occasionally replay it. But if none of these an hold a game for you, it’s probably just a rental rather than a full on purchase.

Either way, this is one of, if not the premier current gen Japanese action-platformer based on Biblical apocrypha you should play.

Should I Buy? – Catherine


For some people, just hearing that this game was made by Atlus is reason enough to buy this game. See, the developers have a certain reputation. They’re known for making very difficult JRPGs, specifically two series. Megami Tensei and Persona. Both are different flavours of weird and are known for different things, but this time around instead Atlus have switched genres to bring up Catherine, which in terms of narrative structure more closely follows the standard set by the Persona franchise.

But instead of JRPG this time around we have a puzzle platformer with sheep as its main motif. Yeah.

Also this is the first time I’ve noticed the constant reuse of voice actors between projects. Apparently it was quite deliberate this time around, as the actors were chosen because their previous roles suited these ones. Which is why it’s pretty easy to hear who’s who. There’s a galumphingly large couple of paragraph at the end about which game I found out these people are also from if you care to read that kind of thing.

OK, so Vincent Brooks is a 30 something slacker dating Katherine, his slightly bossy girlfriend of some years. He spends most of his nights drinking with his friends and tends to blow his excess cash on junk he doesn’t need, and hasn’t got round to making a commitment yet when the wild, flirty young Catherine walks into his life and he starts an affair in his drunken stupor.

In his everyday life, Vincent has to deal with multiple problems, like the guilt of his affair, whether or not he wants to commit to Katherine and the various other problems this all throws up, while at night he has this bizarre dream of having to climb a tower with a bunch of sheep or die. All while a mysterious affliction is killing off men who cheat.

The story takes place over a week in which you, as Vincent must decide the course his life will take. This is done not only by surviving the nightmares but also in the responses you give to the various things Vincent gets asked, which are tracked in a little bar on the screen.

Structurally, it’s about as linear as you can get. Each day plays out the same way, you have some cutscenes, you hang out at the bar, talking to the patrons, getting drunk and texting both C and K, then you go home and get to the real meat of the game. The nightmares.

Even on Easy Mode they’re tough. Using the unique physics of blocks comprising the towers and the various special properties you must ascend to the top. Each night has multiple towers to ascend, and each night ends with a Boss encounter, who will try to disrupt your climb with various hazards  and in the grand old Persona tradition represents various anxieties in Vincent’s life that he has to overcome in order to not only survive but grow as a person.

You’ll die a lot. I suggest finding an easy place to grind lives early on.  But as this is Atlus, the difficulty isn’t ever too high to deter you so long as you select the appropriate difficulty (which will probably be easy mode). Instead, it’s actually quite addicting and as you continue to play you’ll realise you continue to learn, devise and use more and more advanced ways of solving problems.

The difficulty isn’t so much a curve as a collection of jagged peaks and harsh drops. This generally depends on whether the level in question is meant to be a puzzle or a quick dash to the top, because the various hazards are pretty easy to learn to circumvent making dashes simple whereas the puzzles will always stump you.

Luckily, the game keeps the formula fresh with new hazards on pretty much every stage, even up to the very end.

There’s even a game within the game, an arcade cabinet called “Rapunzel” in the Stray Sheep (name of the pub) which has its own huge collection of tower climbing puzzles.

Apart from that, the other ‘sidequest’ as it were is trying to save the other men in the shared nightmare. Various sheep in the in-betweeny bits of the nightmare have distinguishing features like wearing a tie or a cop hat that helps you recognise who they are in the real world.

By speaking to them in the nightmares and when they enter the Stray Sheep, you can help talk them through their problems and give them the strength to overcome the nightmares too.  This is just an optional thing, and doesn’t affect the ending you receive.

So, with a game so focused on the story and characters, how well does it work? Pretty well, actually. Despite Vincent’s inability to say any of the things he needs to say to either woman, it’s nice to see him making his emotional journey and how it’s not just “things go from bad to great”. As a character arc it really lets us see him grow as a person and learn to appreciate him as a character.

The two -atherines don’t get as much growth or screen time, but both work as foils to each other and there are valid reasons why a person would want to pursue a relationship with both of them, as well as why a person wouldn’t want to.

Vincent’s friends are a fun bunch, each one have a particular viewpoint that means that whenever Vincent talks his troubles through with them, you get an array of advice. Luckily, they’re not just strawmen there to illustrate different viewpoints, they’re people with problems of their own going who’ve been shaped by their pasts. They’re not as complex or interesting as the main three, but they’re still pretty darned good.

The other characters that inhabit the Stray Sheep also have their own particular reasons for appearing in the nightmares built out of their own neuroses which come out of sympathetic backstories, but they’re a lot more expository about everything. I’d still put them slightly above average, but they’re really not great.

The story as a whole is a nice interplay of themes with some interesting characters and doesn’t artificially stretch itself to accommodate extra gameplay but as a game it’s pretty short. Depending on how fast you can go through the puzzles, there’s two to four days in the main story.

As for extra play value? Well, there’s a multiplayer mode that I didn’t play because multiplayer and a challenge mode called Babel with its own ending that requires high score to be attained in the Story Mode which I didn’t play because bugger going through Clock Tower on Normal mode.

While I would have had trouble justifying this purchase when it was at full price other than it being an Atlus game and we should buy every damn one of them so they keep releasing them outside of Japan, now that you can buy it cheaper I’d say it’s worth the investment if you like tough puzzles or good stories.

Vincent is Kanji Tatsumi of Persona 4 fame and Snow from Final Fantasy XIII, Catherine is Dissidia‘s Cloud of DarknessFinal Fantasy XIII’s Serah, Persona 4‘s Rise Kujikawa and Street Fighter‘s Chun Li. Katherine is Street Fighter‘s Crimson Viper (Chun Li’s rival, natch) and Dynasty Warrior‘s Sun Shang Xiang.

Orlando in Final Fantasy‘s Kain HighwindToby is Persona 4‘s Yosuke Hanamura (he’s even doing the exact same voice).   Johnny is Dynasty Warrior‘s Zhou Tai and Street Fighter‘s Guile,  Boss is Dynasty Warrior‘s Xiahou Dun and Erica will be the new VA for Chie Satonaka in Persona 4 The Arena (which is totally getting a Japanese and European release! Also why the hell are they changing Chie’s VA!?)

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: