Columns, Video Games

ROBOTIC GAMING MONTHLY – The Idea Factory (Hopefully)

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Yes, this month in reviews, we finally get to take a look at last month’s hit RPG…Yo-Kai Watch!!

…What? It is a really damn big RPG. You know, at least in Japan.

But we also have a reveal of that triple-A game released on November 10th as well…yes, a little thing called Rise of the Tomb Raider!!

…Seriously, what? What were you all expecting? Ugh, let’s just get on with it already…

Broforce

First off, I’m sorry that the above trailer doesn’t show any of the actual gameplay, but Jesus hot sauce Christmas cake, how could I not use something so magnificent? Anyhow, one problem I do have with Broforce right off of the bat is that while it’s an absolute blast to play, it’s also a very simple game at its core. And as I’ve said in the past, the simpler games can be the hardest for me to write about. Mind you this is a game while “simple” means having Mr. T blow up the entire inside of a building, zipline down to destroy a giant mech so that he can rescue Ash, who then proceeds to chainsaw the devil in the face. Yes, there’s simple fun indeed to be had here…

You play as the titular Broforce, a Team America-style strike force consisting of expies of every famous action hero that ever lived, from Rambro and Brommando to The Boondock Bros and Cherry Broling (still no Imperator Furibrosa, though). As their adventures take the form of a 2D pixelated side-scroller that’s a throwback to classic arcade/NES titles, gameplay simply requires one to select the latest conflict zone from the world map, head in, and basically blow up everything you can on your way from Point A to Point B. No matter what Bro you are, you’re always a one-hit wonder with a gun, melee, and special attack, so basic combat is easy to understand. The twist is that you start each mission with one life, and new lives are gained by rescuing various Bros throughout the levels (unlocking more characters in the process). However, each time you perform a rescue or die, you switch to a new bro afterwards. This is a nifty little way to keep you on your toes and encouraging you to learn how to adapt to a new set of rules each time, although it also means there’s always a chance of getting stuck with a Bro that doesn’t exactly fit your current scenario (like winding up with the melee-only Brade in a heavy firefight).

The other trick Broforce has up its ripped, manly sleeve is that you can destroy close to every little bit of the environment around you, carving out your own path as you go and finding strategic ways to dispose of the various terrorists in your path, usually via the means of several convenient explosive devices left laying around. Of course, this also means that it’s quite easy to find yourself blown into chunks of meat in the process, although experimenting around is part of the fun. It kind of helps that even your own death looks fantastic in the game’s classic old-school style, oozing with charm at every corner and fueled by a soundtrack that constantly keeps you pumped for battle. A wicked sense of humor concerning the game’s over-the-top homages helps as well, even if it mainly shows up in between-level moments,

In retrospect, Broforce may take on the appearance of a gleefully dumb, meatheaded, simple arcade game. But there’s some real brains behind the game’s workings as well, not to mention a whole lot of heart for this particular era of games and pop culture in general. Indeed, it’s a muscular blast of awesomeness and freedom not to be missed out on.

Hard West

In more than a few ways, Hard West reminded me of another game that I reviewed earlier this year, Sunless Sea. Both are games that deal with Lovecraftian-style supernatural horrors and madness in a late nineteenth-century setting, both have immersive text-based sections where you explore several areas for rewards in between the more action-oriented sequences, and both are games that are notably longer than I expected. As such, while I feel like I may only scratched the surface of Hard West, what I have experienced so far is one of the year’s finest turn-based strategy games indeed.

So what we have here is a series of stories in a Deadlands-esque Wild West where mad science, ritualistic horror, and deals with the devil are pretty much common. The main meat of the gameplay is the turn-based isometric combat, where you and a team of characters engage in gunfights against all sorts of ne’er-do-wells. The boys at Gambitious have been able to replicate these Spaghetti Western-style showdowns perfectly, with crisp, detailed visuals, appropriate music, a terrific use of cover and an impressive set of skills like being able to ricochet shots and fire with deadeye, never-miss aim. The usage of luck as way of being able to use these skills is inspired as well. The amount of luck you have determines your success rate of connecting shots, but it decreases every time an enemy misses you, and refills when they successfully blast you. And that’s not even mentioning the playing card-based perk system, where cards earned after each battle can be equipped for new moves, and award bonuses based on various poker hands you might have. It all adds up to a well-crafted, deep, and rather fun system that makes for some amazing shootouts.

In between all of that, you find yourself traveling around the land via a map and visiting various locations, purchasing new items and gathering new information via dialogue trees. It’s all very neat and does a great job of world-building, although the short length of each campaign means that you only get a short while to work with each unique scenario they give you. One minute I’m out mining for gold, and just as I’ve gathered all of the tools and skills needed to master it, whoops! Campaign over, now it’s time to start again with a new set of objectives, equipment, and skills. The exploration bits are still fun; I just wish you could do more of it consistently across the entire game.

So Hard West is definitely a strategy game with a unique flavor to it, and more importantly, one that’s definitely fun to play. An eccentric little Leone-and-Lovecraft-fueled sleeper hit you should definitely check out.

Jotun

Well, let’s just get the obvious out of the way: Jotun is friggin’ gorgeous. the animation is a joy to behold, and the landscapes and background are amazing, depicting Norse mythology in an absolutely stunning manner. I bring this up because compared to the visuals, the rest of the game is…just as amazing! Yay!!

Jotun is the tale of Thora, a Viking warrior who dies an inglorious death and must now prove that she’s worthy enough to enter Valhalla by battling the titular Jotun, massive elementals that can reduce Thora to a blip on the screen. Upon first glance, one may assume that we’re dealing with a Titan Souls-style boss rush game here, but in reality it’s a bit more like the Zelda games in that you have to traverse certain areas to find runes to unlock boss battles along the way, maneuvering around various unique enemies and obstacles throughout, be it fighting huge mobs of dwarves or surfing down the roots of Yggdrasil itself. the areas are nicely-sized, full of secrets, and as mentioned above, damn pretty, and are only hindered by the game’s rather awkward map (which highlights everything notable except where you are right now, which you’d think would be kind of important).

But yes, the Jotun are still very much the star attraction here, and they do make for some damn fine boss battles indeed, towering above you and imposing at every turn. Trying to defeat them is always challenging, but thankfully never impossible (the bonus powers you can unlock help as well), and combat is nice and easy. You may die several times while tackling each one, but the feeling that you get when you take one of these massive behemoths down is incredible indeed, where you’re then rewarded with some character development as Thora shares more about her backstory and personality, told quite beautifully.

Jotun can be beaten in about a few hours by a skilled player, but the overall experience is still a must-play. The sensation of beating the crap out of Valhalla’s finest is amazing, the presentation is astounding, and the gameplay is simple yet damn fun. If you want a game that can remind you just how well a boss battle can be (and just a great game in general), do not pass up Jotun.

Mushroom 11

You know, say what you will about the apocalypse, but at least it’s given us several creative scenarios for video games. The latest involves a giant fungal organism that you have to guide through various wrecked landscapes on the way to safety by constantly forcing it to re-grow. This means that the obvious dream press quote the makers would be shooting for is “Mushroom 11 really grows on you!,” and luckily for them, that’s a mostly accurate statement about the game and its levels of enjoyment.

The big twist in Mushroom 11 is that you don’t control the fungus, at least not directly. No, instead you take on the role of a sort of invisible force that destroys chunks of it like an eraser in a paint program, causing the organism to reproduce new bits of itself, making it lurch and move forward in the process. It is indeed a truly innovative concept, the kind that allows for for some terrific physics-based puzzles along the way…and it’s also the kind of concept that can work against it in some parts. Even when trying to be as precise as possible when reshaping your ‘shroom, where the whole thing decides to reconstruct itself is pretty random, so certain parts feel like a chore. One bit in particular is a recurring puzzle where you have to spread the fungus out to cover a set of lights all at once to open a door, which got a groan out of me every time it showed up again.

Aside from some slight iffiness with the controls, the level design is particularly solid (although who the heck thought that a game like this needed a mine cart level, of all things?), and particularly does its duty well in showcasing the game’s spectacular visuals. Even the familiar sights of bombed-out ruins look terrific here, containing a grand level of detail right down to each individual creature you encounter (and can absorb) along the way. And they get increasingly impressive as Mushroom 11 goes on, leading to bits of Soviet propaganda and mad science that help paint a bit of a picture as to what this world was. Points to the music as well, which perfectly fits the mood, and the refreshing (albeit sometimes annoying) boss battles that end each level.

So in the end, while Mushroom 11 never quite reaches the same levels as the greatest of hallucinogenic highs, it still winds up being highly enjoyable regardless. The end of the world gave birth to one truly unique and odd lifeform, and that gave birth to a truly unique and odd game as well.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

As I’ve mentioned earlier when talking about my favorite games of all time, I consider Mega Man 3 to be a prime example of what a sequel should be: One that improves upon every aspect of its predecessor, streamlines it, shaves off any flaws that may be there, and adds enough new features to keep things fresh. And by that definition, Rise of the Tomb Raider is more than a worthy successor to the 2013 reincarnation of the classic franchise, and indeed one the year’s finest games in general…although it’s no Mega Man 3 (but hey, what is?).

So having personally glimpsed the existence of supernatural phenomena at the end of the previous game, Lara Croft is now encouraged to track down and discover a possible immortality granting artifact her father had been searching for before his death called The Divine Source. Unfortunately, an evil organization named Trinity is bent on tracking it down as well, and so Lara has to head into the mountains of Siberia to find the lost city of Kitezh in order to beat them to the punch and restore her dad’s honor. To be honest, the story does have more than a few flaws in it, including some plot elements that draw much comparisons to The Last Crusade or Uncharted 2, incredibly obvious plot twists, and a character who only exists for the sole purpose of getting kidnapped. On the other hand, it does feature a more developed version of Lara than the last go-around, not to mention some particularly strong and even sympathetic villains, so it definitely still has its merits. Gameplay-wise, not much has changed. Like last time, the segments revolving around platforming and exploration remain a highlight, and Lara still controls quite gracefully and smoothly. There’s also a greater emphasis on stealth this time around, which works out well and is quite satisfying, although straight combat is still frenetic and fun. Scrambling around in the middle of firefight while crafting a shrapnel grenade out of a tin can and some explosive rocks is a thrill indeed, unsurprisingly enough, and makes for a nice change of pace after more than few run-straight-through-a-crumbling-structure sequences (seriously, things tend to break around Lara a lot).

I haven’t even gotten to the graphics yet, which are absolutely breathtaking. Even the little things such as the sheen on the ice and Lara’s wet hair are captured beautifully, and can be easy to miss when placed alongside the glory of the game’s grandiose landscapes. The hub areas this time around feel vastly improved, encouraging exploration around every corner, and leading to some incredibly creative tombs and miscellaneous challenges. As for what else these mountain valleys contain…well, you may have noticed around this point that I haven’t talked much about any particular new additions to the series. That’s because while there are a lot of good additions, I couldn’t help but feel that they were a tad underdeveloped. For example, you can have Lara examine murals and plaques encountered throughout the game to increase her language proficiency, which you’d think would open the door to some unique puzzles…but all you do with it is decode monoliths to highlight hidden coin caches on the map. You can use ancient coins to purchase new gear…but there’s only one shop in the entire game, with only about eight items to offer. You can accept side quests from NPCs…but there’s a grand total of about seven or eight quests, and they’re particularly easy. You can equip Lara with stat-boosting clothing…and the clothes unlocked in the main game all have the same effect of regenerating health faster. None of this takes away from the game at all, mind you, and a franchise like this experimenting with new ideas should be encouraged…I just wish they had experimented a little bit more.

If it sounds like I’m a bit harsh on Rise of the Tomb Raider, rest assured that my overall opinion of the game is anything but. The core gameplay is still magnificent, climbing all over tombs searching for numerous valuables and collectibles is still fun, and the action-filled moments that the story leads to are still exhilarating. Not to mention that it can be a particularly lengthy game, with so much to do at every turn (I think my playthrough clocked in at around sixteen hours, although that’s with several side areas explored as well). And yet somehow, it still left me wanting more…though I guess that isn’t really a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. So all in all, it’s another fantastic entry in the Tomb Raider series, and one to definitely check out. Here’s hoping we get better language-based puzzles next time, though…

The Room Three

Okay, there’s no beating around the bush here. You know what I’m talking about here. You’re all thinking about it. You want me to make the incredibly obvious joke about this game being connected to one of the infamous movies ever made. Well, fine, here you go. The Room Three…features an opening sequence involving our main character on an incredibly long ride through the country, much like in the opening to Manos: The Hands of Fate. Whew, thank gods we got that out of the way. Now we can spend more time talking about another incredible entry in a series of puzzling adventure games…

The Room Three indeed sets off with our main character investigating the mysterious happenings from the previous games, but thankfully, this is a sequel you can enjoy without any knowledge of the previous entries, much like Troll 2. There is indeed an intriguing story lying throughout various texts that suggests something larger behind the scenes, with some parts even going into borderline Lovecraft territory, but the main goal is to test your mental might by heading into each of the titular rooms and conquering the increasingly elaborate puzzle boxes within. The various conundrums and challenges you encounter are quite creative and well-designed indeed, and thankfully hit a sweet spot of difficulty that ends up being challenging while fun without getting on your nerves and frustrating you to the point of feeling torn apart, like your average Sharknado victim. There’s even a hub area with a larger, ever-growing bonus puzzle that allows for multiple endings, which is nice touch indeed (even if the part with the grandfather clock is a bit hair-pulling).

Visually, the game is quite a treat as well, with visuals and effects much better than the Birdemic-style levels one would expect from a mobile game attempting this. The intricate mechanisms are a delight to behold indeed, and the added touch of an ability to zoom inside of certain machines with a special lens shows off the superb Magitek-ish feel to it all. Each locale you visit has the appropriate sights and sounds to set up an atmosphere of mystery with a touch of dread, making each area feel perfectly like a twisted workshop, like one you would see in the likes of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. If I had to point out any notable flaws, it’s that navigation can feel a bit irksome at times, especially when you have to use the “pinch/stretch” method of zooming in and out via a touchscreen, but it doesn’t even come close to harming the overall experience.

The Room Three is an incredible hybrid of puzzle and first-person adventure games, and an absolutely terrific mobile game. now if you’ll excuse me, suddenly I feel like going out and throwing the ol’ ball around, much like that famous scene in…what was it? Oh right! Pumaman!

Typoman

Yes, we managed to wind up with another post-apocalyptic puzzle-platformer with a quirky gameplay twist this month. And much like Mushroom 11, Typoman has a unique gimmick that helps it stand out from the crowd…it’s just that the rest of the game has a bit more trouble accomplishing that feat as well.

Typoman casts you in the role of a designated hero, having been literally crafted out of the letters H-E-R-O. See, this is a world where structures and mechanisms are constructed out of various typography. It definitely goes towards creating a truly unique world that’s incredible to behold, even if some of it tends to get repetitive. Seeing a piece of scenery with word “trust” break and turn to “rust” as you cross is neat the first time around, less so around the ninth time it happens. The monster designs are quite nifty as well, the highlight for me being a machine trumpeting noise that blows you away built out of “propaganda.”

The meat of the game is spent grabbing letters around you and using them to craft words that cause new effects to happen, such as stopping crushing machinery or sorting platforms in a correct order. It’s a particularly innovative idea, one that lends itself to more than a few creative puzzles (and some groaners as well), even managing to squeeze in some nice Wii U functionality. Unfortunately, the actual platforming segments in this puzzle-platformer are what drag things down. There’s just something about the jumping in this game that feels awkward, like our hero has lead feet at times. Near-misses when it came to nearly plunging to my death were common, and on one occasion I died at least five times because I wasn’t jumping to a rope from the exact end of a ledge. Even grabbing and throwing the letters around feels clumsy at times, with throwing distances seemingly being random. Finally, there are the matters of some glitches, including a couple of notable times where I was stuck running against an object and had to restart entire sections. Not cool, guys.

If this review seems a tad short, it’s because the game itself can be beaten in about two hours, tops, so there sadly isn’t much time to explore the more creative bits behind Typoman’s concept. So while everything in the game is hoping to be another indie success and spell out “Limbo,” the end result sadly winds up as “average.”

Yo-Kai Watch

Well, here it is. The massive Japanese phenomenon, the franchise that is essentially the next Pokémon (well, save for the fact that Pokémon is still massive itself), Yo-Kai Watch, finally comes to America. So how does the first game in the series hold up? Is it as amazing as its reputation would suggest? Long story short, the initial game isn’t exactly a flawless gem, but still manages to be an incredibly compelling RPG that has definitely at least earned its chance to win a place in American hearts everywhere.

The setup for Yo-Kai Watch is that you are a kid who stumbles across an enchanted capsule machine-like structure in the forest one day, and winds up with both the titular watch – which allows him to see the yo-kai inhabiting his area that are the source of life’s everyday odd occurrences – and also releases Whisper, a ghost butler that serves as your source of info on both the device and the yo-kai. The real plot then takes a while to get going, mostly focusing on miscellaneous yo-kai-related adventures and mishaps for a while, but starts to kick in after about twelve hours or so. Or that was the case for me, anyway, if only because I got distracted by the game’s many, many, many sidequests and actually searching for and capturing yo-kai. The latter is largely thanks to the extremely well-designed critters that made me want to befriend them, which is definitely a good sign (there’s a reason that Jibanyan is essentially the new Pikachu). The aesthetics as a whole are terrific indeed, with colorful graphics and several cool details pasted around the city.

The actual combat is the heart of the game, though, and…well, it’s a bit tricky to describe. So you have six yo-kai on you, but you can only attack with three at a time, although you can alternate between whichever three you want out at the moment by rotating a dial. The yo-kai attack on their own in real-time, but you have to manage healing, reviving them, using items, and targeting for them as well, the latter two of which are done with various quick mini-games like in a Mario RPG. In can be quite a lot to take in (hell, I haven’t even mentioned factors such as type advantages and elemental attacks yet), and regular battles can get quite easy after a while, but it is incredibly fun indeed. Especially during the highly impressive boss battles, which essentially require you to pay careful attention as you manage your troops and wait for the right moment to attack the enemy’s weak spot. It’s during those moments that things really come alive. Befriending yo-kai in these battles by feeding them, however, can be rather annoying thanks to a trial-and-error system and trickiness in choosing who to feed.

Overall, Yo-Kai Watch can be a bit awkward in places for those who grew up on the more simpler aspects of the Pokémon series, but it is highly fun in the end, unbelievably cute, charming, and funny, and an absolute blast to play. So yes, I highly suggest getting in on the ground floor know in case the series does take off here as well…

…And that does it for reviews this month as well! And I finally got Transformers: Devastation working on my PC as well, so expect that next time (though what I have played so far has been one sweet action game)! But for now, time to kick back and mostly relax for December…right after a ton of trailers on the next page.

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