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? – 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.

Why Tidus Saves Final Fantasy X


Whether you like it or not, there’s no denying that Final Fantasy X is a sombre, dark game. The peoples of Spira have spent 1000 years living to a strict religious code under the very real threat of wide scale death and destruction by Sin; a creature that can only be destroyed by a Summoner who has completed their Pilgrimage and will always come back when it is killed. There have been four such Summoners in the past 1000 years. Most die on their journey. And when you add into that an evil religion and a genocidal maniac, things don’t get any happier.

A lot of criticism has fallen on the game’s lead character, Tidus. His detractors call him whiny, stupid, vapid and all round inferior to Yuna or Auron, the game’s other main characters. I say no. Tidus may not be a great character like FFIX‘s Vivi, but he is absolutely necessary to allowing a player to experience the world and story of FFX and without him, the plot as is would suffer heavily.

If you don’t have Tidus in there, you need to completely rewrite the script.

First of all, the world of Spira contains a lot of key concepts like Summoners, Aeons, Yevon etc. that need explaining to us, the player. Yuna, Lulu, Wakka, Kinahri, Auron and Rikku already know this stuff ad verbatim and likely have done so since they were tiny children. Tidus serves as our viewpoint. The naive newcomer it’s justified to exposit to.

Imagine if, when setting out on her pilgrimage, Wakka said “So where we goin’, ya?” and Yuna followed up with “Well, you know how I’m a Summoner who is training to defeat that giant monster thingymabob Sin…”

Yeah. Wouldn’t work, would it? But Tidus does more than do the Luke Skywalker/Harry Potter uninformed newcomer role. He’s an important source of levity.

He has his moments of doubt and despair, relating to his personal story of being a stranger in an exotic land, his issues with Jecht and as reactions to Yuna’s Pilgrimage. But these are tempered by him being the only party member until Rikku to show enthusiasm and optimism as a rule rather than as an exceedingly rare exception.

Whether it’s cheering Yuna up with the oft-misunderstood and maligned laughing sequence (they’re meant to be laughing extremely forcedly, and at the end of the scene they break down into genuine laughter) or giving Aruon something to snark at, Tidus does a lot to offer a different emotional tone to a scene or plot point than weary resignation.

Also, without Tidus, how would we get anything out of Yuna? She does open up without Tidus instigating it a few times (notably in her “goodbye sphere” in which she leaves messages for her Guardians to find after her death) but for the most part the Guardians who aren’t Tidus or Rikku are just as resigned to Yuna’s upcoming sacrifice as she is.

Without Tidus they could have focused more on the emotional strain between old friends that this foreknowledge puts on her, but this would negate the emotional sucker punch of finding out about the fact that Yuna has to sacrifice herself earlier and would be a lot darker without as many of the light hearted moments the other, Tidus-oriented approach provides.

As Jim Sterling recently talked about on his web show The Jimquisition,  comedy is a very necessary element to tragedy. You need moments of levity and positivity in order to not become some dull depressing affair. He’s nowhere near as good a leading man as Zidane of FFIX, but he allows the tragedy to be stronger through his positive attitude.

Also consider this; Sin is a boring enemy. We don’t actually cares about the giant magic killer whale thingy blowing up towns, because it’s just a big whale monster. The investment comes from the characters, from Tidus’ relationship with Jecht and the corrupt church/crazy Seymour subplot. These are what keep our interest through the slog of going from temple to temple.

Seymour and the Yevon church are stories that operate entirely independent of Tidus, but they also both only engage for so long. The Seymour thread starts in Luca and is basically over by the time you leave Bevelle. Sure, he still turns up to be fought and kill off a shitload of Ronso, but he ceases to factor into the plot in any meaningful way.

This is a shame, as his “kill everybody” motivation could have been replaced by something deeper and he could have been a much more engaging villain with a greater longevity but alas, his potential does get rather squandered.

The other emotional journeys in the game are Tidus’ romantic attachment to Yuna and his relationship with his estranged father Jecht. The romance with Yuna is surprisingly out of focus, more a by-product of  his efforts to keep her spirits up than just him wanting to get his rocks off.

But the relationship he has with Jecht, who has since become Sin (or at least the power source for Sin) runs from roughly Besaid up until the penultimate boss battle. Jecht is a constant shadow over Tidus who has helped inform his entire character. While it may mean that Yuna doesn’t get much of a look in in the end-game emotional stakes, it does ensure that somebody does.

I will admit, you could have replaced Jecht as Sin’s heart with Yuna’s father Braska in order to create a a stronger emotional connection for Yuna at the endgame, though seeing as she only has love and not animosity for her father, I  feel the Jecht choice is superior as it’s not so emotionally one-note. Tidus’ final conflict with Jecht shows how Jecht has matured, accepted his wrongdoings and that he does love the son he mistreated, as well as allowing Tidues to vent his issues and come to accept his father. And tell me his “I hate you dad” line isn’t also saying “I love you” in the subtext.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the corrupt church of Yevon in the emotional stakes for this game. It does have some emotional relevance for Yuna, Auron and Wakka but Yuna puts it behind her before they reach the Calm Lands and never speaks of it again and Auron’s is more of a “now they finally know” vibe he gives off. Wakka is the only character to be really affected by this and it does serve as a nice little sub-plot for him, but ultimately doesn’t affect the emotional stakes of the game as a whole.

And that’s my thesis. You cannot have the story they told without Tidus, and without his kind of influence, you wouldn’t have a story as good and emotionally complex. I may still have problems with some his characterisation, but I find Tidus to be overall a good character.

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.

UPDATED: Phoenix Wright’s Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 Costumes Now with DLC

Man I am so psyched to play as the most badass lawyer of them all in UMvC3. If only there was another layer of reference to his home series I could get uber-nerdy about. Oh wait, they announced his alternative outfits!

Here’s his Primary outfit. Nothing too exciting, it’s him and Maya in their everyday duds. Not terribly exciting, it was pretty much a given but…

Here Phoenix and Maya take on the colours of Miles Edgeworth, Phoenix’s prosecutor rival and Mia Fey, Maya’s older sister and Phoenix’s mentor, respectively. That’s cool, honouring two such important characters in that way. It’s cool, if a little predictable. It’d be fun if there was something quirky next.

Alright! Phoenix is now dressed up in duds designed to emulate the lovably incompetent Detective Dick Gumshoe and Maya’s dyed her hair blue to better look like Edgeworth’s adoptive sister Franziska von Karma. Y’know, I was hoping Ms. von Karma would show up in the flesh. Then again, maybe i just have a weakness for whip-wielding 19 year old German girls.

OK. I did not expect this. Phoenix is dressed up like his slacker, womanising friend Larry Butz while Maya is wearing something reminiscent of the Tres Bien restaurant uniform both she and perpetually unlucky Maggey Byrde wore. It’s weird, but heck, it embraces the strangeness that’s been integral to Wright’s design.

OK, glad as I am that these two are represented with these outfits, they’re a bit of an odd pairing. Phoenix is wearing the colours of the mysterious, coffee guzzling Godot from game three and Maya’s dressed as what is basically a copy of her (but a good one, so all’s forgiven) from game five, Kay Faraday. Whatever, the costumes don’t have to make sense. Ooh, wouldn’t it be great if Phoenix could get a special coffee mug evidence piece while dressed as Godot? Or throw a cup instead of documents? C’mon Capcom, you know you want to.


*ahem* Yes. These are costumes based on the appearances of Sissel and Detective Lynne from the game Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective from the studio that gave us Ace Attorney. It’s just a shame that Missile (that little doggy that helps out Phoenix in this game) doesn’t look like Missile from Ghost Trick.

Wright’s DLC costume is his young Phoenix outfit that he wore in college, as seen in Trials and Tribulations Case 1. Maya on the other hand, is dressed up like Iris from the same game. Which, if you’ve played the game, makes absolute perfect sense. And if you haven’t, well…go buy it.

Oh, if only there was different OBJECTION! music tracks that played for each different costume. There are a few more I’d like though, like an Apollo Justice and Trucy Wright set, or a Steel Samurai and Pink Princess combo. In fact, can we just have an Ace Attorney beat ’em up? Or how about Ace Attorney Investigations 2 and Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney?

Thought I’d let that go? Not a chance.

I’m really looking forward to playing as Wright. His design, both visually and in terms of gameplay looks to be a fair distance from perfect, but it does a great job of capturing the spirit of the character and his home series.

Mechanical Morality

I like video games, it’s why I have a blog dedicated to reviewing them. I also like the idea of having an impact on the plot of the game, rather than just hitting the preset criteria for the next cutscene to unfold.

But all too often, this isn’t done with moral choices. Regardless of whether you’re so evil Lucifer himself blushes at the amount of orphans you’ve made for no reason other than amusement, or so saintly you make Mother Theresa look like a baby eater, you’ll still kill the villain and your party will still follow you, because you’re the protagonist.

Fable is a prime example, being good or evil is almost purely aesthetic. There are a few differences to gameplay, but regardless of what you do, you still kill Jack of Blades at the end. Sure, you get a last minute choice to carry out his plan anyway or to avert it, but even if you’re playing the Lost Chapters where the game does continue after this choice, the only difference is in which sword you get.

This isn’t the right way to ask me to make a choice, because it’s only really a triviality, and while individual choices may not be irreversible, my overall evilness is. I’d often go between good and evil on a whim, not caring about the consequences my actions had.

The other system is typically to make morality a mechanic. It has more obvious benefits, and in order to gain the full benefits, you’ll need to fully commit to one over the other. That’s not right either, then I’m just strung into pre-determined responses of another choice, selecting options for the most points rather than roleplaying this character as I would respond, or my perception of this character I’ve created would respond. Maybe even locking myself out of choices I want to make, because then I can’t get something else later down the road.

So where have I seen the aspect of choice done right? Well first of all the above approaches aren’t always wrong. The whole ‘commit to one or the other’ works well if you’ve got two diametrically opposed ideologies of factions like The Force from Star Wars. It makes sense, a Jedi can have moments of weakness, or a Sith a moment of compassion. So breaking the trend every once in a while still allows you to roleplay, and the default good/evil all the time feels like it’s actually a role within itself, rather than a restriction.

Likewise, making good and evil a cosmetic choice isn’t wrong either, but it more suits a game that isn’t trying to make you the hero, like Overlord or Black and White.

But yes, better choice. Mass Effect didn’t have good and evil, it was Paragon (diplomatic, tolerant and calm) versus Renegade (ruthless, pragmatic and aggressive). In the first game, you increased your ability to use Paragon or Renegade conversation options was increased like any other stat. Sure, you’d miss out on some chances because you wanted to beef up your combat skills, but playing that character through a second time means you can pretty much fully upgrade those stats from the get-go, and choose to approach any situation you want any way you want. I loved being able to do this. In fact, it was my favourite part of the game.

But in number two, your ability to unlock these options was dependent on the number of Paragon or Renegade ‘points’ you had, which didn’t carry over when you replayed the character. And seeing as you needed full points in one or the other to prevent the death of your team members and there were finite points in the game, you pretty much had to have one bar full at the complete expense of the other if you cared about your characters (and this is a Bioware game, so you do).

That was the wrong direction. Nice Shepard can sound just as stupid and nasty Shepard, and sometimes I’d want to indulge in a bit of cold-hearted pragmatism or shout down some bastard, but if I did, maybe Mordin would die. And I love Mordin. And Tali. And Jack. And Garrus. And Thane. And Grunt. You get the idea. Sometimes, I’d have to disagree with things I do agree with, or upset characters I liked, so I could be stupid, thoughtless Shepard who wanted everything to be made of puppy dogs and roses. While the gameplay was mostly improved for the better since the first game, this was a huge step back.

I preferred how it was handled in Dragon Age: Origins, where there literally wasn’t a morality system. Instead, different characters would approve or disapprove of your actions, and as such it was your conscience and value of their opinions that would affect your judgement. Though I had my problems with the rest of the game, this was by far and away the best iteration of this I’d seen.

Sure, I was still the good guy more often than not, but that’s because I wanted to be good. And I was free to be horrible to people who disparaged me for being an elf, or to treat my enemies with scorn and malice if I felt like it. If Lelianna didn’t agree with my choice, I’d pick her a flower and we’d be back to a state of sickeningly loved up. And I’d occasionally pick things just to annoy Morrigan.

It’s been used well in other places, like The Stanley Parable (again, I want to talk about that game all day but doing so would utterly ruin it). Or Bastion, where the choices do have an impact on the plot, but it’s so rare and only occurs at the end. In effect, you build everything to the tipping point and then decide its conclusion.

So what do I want in future? I want to be a Paragon or Renegade, not Saint or Devil. And I want my choices to be dictated by my conscience, by what I feel is right and what I want to happen. Bioware, you’ve got the two perfect halves of the whole from what I can see. Now put them in the same game.

Should I Buy? – Dynasty Warriors 5

Some days you don’t want to dine on fine cuisine, or even on on your regular culinary fare. You just want junk. It’s cheap, quick, tasty and satisying in its own way. And that’s pretty much how I view the Dynasty Warriors franchise. It’s my gaming junk food.

Despite this review being for number five, there’s no need to have ever played the previous entries as each game is set in the same conflict with the same characters, with each game adding in a new fighters and redesigning the maps. The conflict in question is the Three Kingdoms Era of Ancient China, both the actual history and the popular historical novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Basically, the previous Imperial Dynasty, the Han, fell out of power due to internal corruption and the lack of a strong successor to the line and China pretty much fell apart into a giant, bloody civil war.

And so the game places you in the shoes of one of 48 different fighters who you then lead through a series of historical battles. Exactly which ones is dedicated by the character you pick, with five for your average character and eight if the guy lead a kingdom. The intention was to give each character a storyline based on their historical actions but all too often a character’s actual goals are either so damn vague or gets completely forgotten that ‘uniting the land’ becomes their big ending.

A few characters avert this and almost forge credible storylines. Sun Ce’s story only goes as far as he historically lives, and then hints at the illness which killed him for example, and Zhang Fei’s stops after he rescues his sworn brother from what was historically his death. It’s ones like these that make for the better storylines, as they feel a lot more credible and almost manage something resembling a narrative arc.

Still, with characterisation so broad and voice acting so hammy plot was obviously not a major concern. Instead, this game is all about the battles. And yeah, these work. The maps are well refined and uncomplicated, each one will be teeming with enemies to fight and an effort is made to insert reasonably historically accurate events into each map like fire attacks, betrayals and ambushes.

A lot of these events require player intervention to turn out positively as the people necessary to accomplish them tend to die or fail to reach the required area in time if left to their own devices. While this can be annoying when playing the battle for the damn hundredth time, you’re pretty much doing all the work on every map anyway. If you go out of your way to activate the events that lower enemy morale your allies will start to eat through the enemy forces and kill the generals, but never while you’re onscreen and 99.9% of the time you’ll be the one killing the enemy commander.

The fighting itself is simple. Square is attack. You can mix this up with Charge attacks by pressing triangle. When your Musuo bar is full, press circle to do a really big attack. There are other things like archery and horseback riding that can mix things up, but not enough to ever be important.

The amount of attacks you can string together is determined by your weapon. The only way to acquire new ones is to pick them up from certain crates or defeated officers. Whether or not this weapon will be useful is random, you can get an awesome top tier weapon on your first battle or never encounter anything beyond your base weapon in your entire playthrough. This rarely happens, but it can be incredibly frustrating and really cripple your performance.

For the most part the characters are unique enough for the game to get away with its ridiculous roster size. A few like Xiahou Yuan and Huang Zhong are a bit too similar, and some like Diao Chan feel unbalanced or just plain bad. Their personalities are pretty much all one note as well. Ma Chao is ‘angry honour guy’, Cao Ren is ‘doesn’t like war guy’ and Sun Shang Xiang is ‘tomboy’ etc. Characterisation isn’t too much of a concern, but the game constantly tries to make you care throughout their storylines. At least you can laugh at the bad voice acting.

Despite the fact I’ve spent pretty much the whole review finding flaws with this game, I still recommend it. Like I said, it’s junk food. The gameplay is solid enough to play this for hours and even the battles you’ll see dozens of times like Chi Bi and Hu Lao Gate never get truly annoying. Plus, through playing these games and reading the in-game encyclopaedia I’ve learnt a lot about what is a really fascinating period of Chinese history and that’s always a plus.

Price: PS2 – £3.50 (CEX)
XBOX – £7 (CEX)

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