Quick look, Review

Review: Blaster Master Zero

Game: Blaster Master Zero

Developer: Inti Creates

Publisher: Inti Creates

Platforms: 3DS, Switch (reviewed)

Release Date: March 3rd, 2017 (Jap) March 9th, 2017 (US EU)

Price: $9.99

Blaster Master released for the NES back in 1988. As I wasn’t even a thought in the 80’s I didn’t pick up the Sunsoft title until sometime in the late 90’s. My number one memory of Blaster Master was its difficulty. I mean, maybe I’m overplaying it, I was a kid after all. I don’t recall getting past the third or fourth area in the original. So when Blaster Master Zero came out on the Nintendo Switch, I couldn’t wait to dive in, once I was done with Zelda of course.17362773_1482790535066635_1101775072318594247_n

Blaster Master Zero keeps the more absurd parts of the original titles setup. You play as a young man named Jason, who on some future mutant infested version of earth, stumbles upon a frog he names Fred. Fred jumps down a hole leading to a massive underground facility. In said facility, Jason locates Sophia III, a tank with some impressive firepower, along with a mysterious girl named Eve. With Eve and Sophia III, Jason begins his journey to find Fred, and inevitably stop the evil mutants.

Zero has that old Metroid feel, that I love. You’ll move across a 2D plane both in and out of your tank in search of mutants to fight and upgrades for both Jason and the tank. Upgrades and maps for each area are usually found in caves that can only be entered while on foot. Once you enter these zones, you’ll shift to a top-down perspective that is, unfortunately, Blaster Master Zero’s greatest weakness.17457383_1482790215066667_1579743541823612364_n

I never thought the top-down segments of the original Blaster Master were especially fun, and that remains true in Zero.  Don’t get me wrong, the sprite and environment designs are nice but the gameplay is unchallenging and sort of dull. You gain a vast amount of weapons throughout your journey and the way weapon use is tied to your current hit points forces you to fluctuate your weapon use, but the enemies aren’t very challenging. I’d much rather play more in tank mode, and unfortunately for me, only about two out of the nine bosses are fought in Sophia III.

The early parts of Zero are essentially an exact remake of the original game as far as I can tell. As I progressed through later areas with ease, I started to wonder if later areas had been dumbed down. After some research, It seems entire areas had, in fact, been retooled. Mostly beneficial improvements were made, the map is a bit more guiding about your next objective but you have access to no mini-map, so it doesn’t feel too coddling. Checkpoints are also more abundant, fall damage is still very punishing outside of the tank, so be careful.

For anyone with familiar with the Inti Creates Megaman inspired game Gunvolt, the inspiration in the art is clear as day.17362565_1482790915066597_3499186190672335031_n

Blaster Master Zero is a fun adventure in nostalgia. It gave me an opportunity to finish a game that has evaded completion since I was in elementary school. It doesn’t feel challenging in the way the original did but it is certainly a step up from that horrid Wii version Blaster Master. For $10.00, it’s a fun game to fool around with once you’re done with Zelda, but nothing phenomenal.  If the Switch had a larger library I probably would’ve abandoned Blaster Master Zero about two hours in, I’m glad I didn’t though, and if you have any love for the original it’s worth a look.

Score: 7 out of 10

 

 

 

 

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Review

Review: Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment

Game: Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment

Developer: Yacht Club Games

Publisher: Yacht Club Games

Platform(s): PC, Mac, 3DS, Wii U, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)

Release Date: Spring 2017

Price: Free! (kinda)

When the original Shovel Knight was released back in 2013, it garnered a whole lot of attention because of its style. For those unfamiliar with Shovel Knight, the “style” I’m referring to would be the similarities, both in look and gameplay mechanics that Shovel Knight has to platformers of the 8-bit era like Megaman, and Super Mario Brothers.

When Yacht Club first launched the Kickstarter campaign for Shovel Knight which it hit in no time, the many stretch goals promised various campaigns for the Knights that the protagonist would face on his adventure. The first of which was Plague Knight. That campaign, in particular, fell flat for me, the mechanics behind playing as the alchemist Knight were diffrent but not inherently good. I was hesitant to try Specter of Torment because of this, but it is without a doubt worth it. It’s no Shovel Knight 2, but it is pretty damn good.17352455_1479007362111619_5275987195738371040_n

The story of Specter of Torment takes place prior to the events of Shovel Knight. As Specter Knight, the player will travel to new variations of familiar levels to fight and gather together the members of The Order of No Quater. The evil alliance of knights that our shovel-wielding hero will one day defeat. At diffrent points in Specter Knight’s adventure flashback sequences recall how Specter Knight became the ghostly knight and fell into the service of the Enchantress.

Much like Plague Knight, Specter Knight plays in his own unique ways. He can use his scythe not only as a weapon but as a mean to traverse the environment, propelling himself forward by slashing throw certain objects in the environment like lanterns, as well as enemies. He can also run up most walls for shorter distances. This mechanic most reminded me of Ninja Gaiden for the SNES. Specter Knight is also confirmed as a cool dude based on his ability to grind on rails in multiple levels using his scythe.17342641_1479006895444999_8598406556186564440_n

For those that have played either Shovel Knight or its first Plague of Shadows DLC, the first big change you might notice is the lack of an overworld map. Specter of Torment does not feature the Mario 3 style map leading you to each Knights domain. Instead of this Specter Knight simply chooses which Knight he will face next and is transported via a magic mirror, the whole level select screen feels a lot more Megaman inspired in this regard. In between levels you’ll be transported back to the Enchantress’ tower where you can buy new armor, health or darkness upgrades you may have missed in a level. A special vendor will also sell you new trinkets which give abilities like ranged attacks and self-healing in exchange for red skulls rather than treasure. There are ten of these skulls to be found in each level.

Specter of Torment adds some new gameplay elements to an already great game. It’s available now for free to anyone who owns the base game. If you’ve just picked up a Nintendo Switch, Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is available for $25 and includes both Specter of Torment and Plague of Shadows. While Specter Knight’s adventure isn’t quite the sequel fans might be wanting it is well put together, fun experience. I’d recommend it to any fans of the 8-bit era, even if they haven’t played Shovel Knight before.

Score: 8 out of 10

 

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Quick look

Thoughts on my first few hours with the Nintendo Switch

I’ve had a full weekend with my new Nintendo Switch now and even between working and gearing up for PAX East I’ve found plenty of time to get aquatinted with the hardware. I’ve also become thoroughly familiar with a particular piece of software *cough* Zelda. The success of the Switch seems vital to Nintendo after the Wii U being generally regarded as a failure and I feel confident in saying that at the very least the Nintendo Switch is a competent piece of hardware with a small software line up.

The hardware looks nice; it’s sleek, and doesn’t look like a cheap toy, my biggest complaint about the Wii U tablet. It feels good in your hands when in tablet mode, and removing the Joy Cons are simple. It is worth noting that the Joy Con strap locks which attach when you’re using the controllers independently can sometimes be a real pain to remove, be sure to take it slow to avoid breaking them. The Switch also includes a grip to slide your Joy Cons into while playing in TV mode. While this is certainly serviceable, it is far from ideal. The Switch Pro Controller is pricey coming in at about $70.00. It’s expensive, I know, but if you can afford it, I would highly recommend it. I can’t imagine playing Zelda in TV mode without it.

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The Pro Controller

 

 

The Switch Dock serves a multitude of purposes. It’ll charge your Switch, connects your Switch to the TV via HDMI and also houses three USB ports, two on the side and one in the pack along with the power adapter plug and HDMI port. The Switch slides in and out of the dock super easily; but you run the risk of the dock itself scratching up the screen over time, so a screen protector is a must. The Switch kickstand is also flimsy at best, I just don’t trust that damn thing.

The Tablet screen is sharp as hell, and although I haven’t had much use of the touchscreen as of yet it, it’s been responsive. As far as general performance goes games look incredible both on the TV and tablet. Zelda did seem to occasionally drop a few frames in TV mode but nothing game breaking. Battery life appears to be somewhere around the three-hour mark when playing a demanding game like Zelda, so smaller games have nowhere to go but up.

The user interface or UI is the cleanest I’ve seen from Nintendo to date. A simple taskbar similar to the PS4’s UI is present over a plain white background from which you can easily access accounts’ installed games and the Eshop. The Eshop has no catchy music track R.I.P.

On the software end of the spectrum, it’s more quality over quantity at this point. Zelda is the flagship title and in the course of one weekend has drained about thirty hours of my life, and I’ve only completed one dungeon, the game is massive and beautiful. Super Bomberman R may seem a bit pricey but is a fun and challenging competitive game both locally and online. I’ve also played around with Snipperclips, an awesome co-op puzzle game exclusive to the Switch and Fast RMX a pretty damn fun stand in for that new F-Zero game we’ll probably never get.533265-nintendo-switch

Should you rush out to by a Switch? If you’re a Zelda fanatic, it might be worth it for that alone especially if you don’t have a Wii U. I always rush out for day one hardware, but it might be worth waiting to the average gamer. Holiday 2017 will surely see some bundles including one with Super Mario Odyssey. The Switch is a solid piece of hardware, and I love it but unless you’re clamoring to play Breath of the Wild on the preferred platform then waiting may be your best option.

 

 

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Review: Horizon Zero Dawn

Game: Horizon Zero Dawn1

Developer: Guerilla Games

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Platform(s): PlayStation 4

Release Date: February 28th, 2017

MSRP: $59.99

With the Nintendo Switch out now that this is posted I felt a particular urgency to play Horizon. It’s a game I knew I would like and one I was determined to spend as much time with as possible prior to Zelda and the Switch. Roughly three days later I’ve put over thirty hours into Guerilla Games PS4 exclusive, and I’m so glad I made time for it. 17097308_1464375290241493_8658031887260918580_o

Our protagonist is Aloy, a female outcast of the Nora tribe and a skilled hunter. Horizon is set in what I can only describe as the post-post-apocalypse. Maybe I’m just making excuses for a game I like but how far removed  ( by thousands of years) Horizon is from the end of the world makes it infinitely more interesting than your typical post-apocalyptic game. Your task is simple, win acceptance into the Nora tribe that shunned you as a “Motherless outcast” and discover the truth about your own heritage as well as the truth behind what happened to the “metal world” and the people that came before.

The world of Horizon is populated with lots of dangers including Raiders and cultists, but the biggest by far are the wild machines. The wilds of this earth are filled with rejects from Transformers Beast Wars. The smallest of the bunch are known as Watchers, they resemble raptors and are easy enough to take down. These typically appear as guardians for herds of other machines to alert them to your presence. Beyond Watchers, you’ll encounter a whole lot of cool looking animal-themed robots from the Bison looking Long Horns to the Sawtooth which is essentially a huge Sabertooth Tiger. The deeper into the game you get, the more you’ll encounter large-scale killers like the Thunderjaw a T-rex with twin missile launchers and an attitude.

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Hey big fella

 

Combat with these beasts is one of the deepest and most enjoyable gameplay aspects of Horizon. You don’t have the power to brute force these beasts so instead you’ll rely on Aloy’s Focus an ancient device that gives her a sort of eagle vision or detective mode that is all too common in open world games these days. You can use this to locate glowing weak points on enemies and pick away at them slowly in a very, Monster Hunter like fashion. Some of the larger enemies like the Thunderjaw can even have heavy weapons knocked off and used against them. If monster slaying is your game Horizon has a whole line of hunting lodge side quests to scratch that itch.

Aside from necessary large scale encounters Horizon has a large focused on stealth. Small human enemies and small robots like the Watchers can be killed with a single strike from stealth. Horizon took a page from Assassins Creed with a whistle mechanic that had me stacking bodies in the bushes pulling my enemies one at a time.

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Be very quiet

 

As you complete main story missions and side missions you’ll accumulate experience and be able to dump skill points into upgrades abilities like increased stealth or stronger melee strikes. In addition to these abilities, Aloy will gain some exceptional skills through completing side quests. Early on Aloy gets the ability to hack small machines to fight for her. Throughout the game you’ll find robot manufacturing plants called “Cauldrons” reaching the center of one of these and hacking its core will allow you to subsquently hack the machines produced there but don’t expect to do so without a fight.

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Now we wait

 

In addition to Aloys bow, you can purchase many weapons from traders on your journey including trip wires and a sort of repeater rifle. I never used much more than my trusty bow, and a weapon called the rope caster which allows you to tie down enemies temporarily. You can also buy new armor sets for Alloy which give certain benefits like damage reduction from specific elements. You can also find and craft upgrade modules to boost weapon and armor stats.

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A look at the weapon modding screen

 

The crafting system of Horizon is incredibly deep. One rule applies always be looting. Grab plants, machine scraps everything you can, you’ll always be crafting fresh ammo and health potions and most of these materials are also used in trading with merchants, however, the metal shards you loot are the primary currency in play.

Most importantly for me, Horizon fixes a lot of the problems I have with open world games. For starters it has towers to help reveal the map in the roaming Long Necks but only four in the entire game. You mean I don’t have to climb 400 watch towers? Thanks Guerilla. The map also doesn’t feel too populated, you have plenty of side activities, but they don’t feel overwhelming. You can also buy maps to reveal more icons if you like horrible messes. Combat doesn’t feel repetitive like it often does in games like Farcry and Assassins Creed fighting behemoths that are far stronger than you keeps you on your toes.

It seems funny to say that one of Horizons biggest strengths is that it delivers on story. I have no doubt we will see a Horizon trilogy, despite this Guerilla left no real dangling threads. Horizon answers all of the big questions it answers. A sequel is basically a sure thing, but it may be something very diffrent.

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View from the top

 

Horizon Zero Dawn is a really special game. It blends an enticing story with likable characters and gorgeous environments. It has challenging and rewarding combat that makes you want to challenge robotic death machine for hours on end. Horizon Zero Dawn is a perfect open world game and Sonys new IP to watch.

Score: 10 out of 10

 

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