3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3) Review

Game: 3D Dot Game Heroes
Developer: Sillicon Studio
Publisher: Atlus
Players: 1
Genre: Action/RPG
Rated E10+

What do you get when you mix Lego-style characters and environments with old-school Zelda gameplay? You get 3D Dot Game Heroes for the Playstation 3, one of the quirkiest, most amusing and fun games you will play this year. Atlus has ripped off everything that made the early Legend of Zelda titles (we are talking NES and SNES here), added a ton of humor and charm and thrown in some blocky aesthetics to create a game that will make old-school gamers feel right at home.

The premise of 3D Dot Game Heroes is as much homage as a parody. Back in the days of 2D a hero saved the Kingdom of Dotnia from great evil. So great was this hero and his story that Dotnia became a “tourist paradise”, so to speak. But soon the people stopped coming and the king had to come up with something to make Dotnia worth visiting again. So, unleashing his Kingly powers (“Because I am the mighty King of Dotnia, YEAH!”) he transformed the world and a new era of 3D began. But with 3D came evil and now a descendant of the legendary hero steps up to the plate with the goal of recovering some orbs that went missing, rescuing the missing princess (wow, everything is missing!) and stop ultimate evil.

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If you have played any of the old-school Zelda games, then you know the drill. You walk through an over world and inside multi-level dungeons killing enemies, solving simple puzzles, hacking grass to pieces and beating a big bad boss at the end. Instead of a life bar composed of hearts, we get apples. But most of the key “Zelda” items are here: Boomerang, Bow, Bombs and even the Hook shot, called the “Force Rod” in this game. The puzzles you will find are also very Zelda-like: moving statues, pressing switches, using the bow or the boomerang to hit far away objects, bombing walls to uncover secrets and of course, traversing from side to side with the hook shot as quickly as possible. Not to mention falling down broken tiles to reach new areas below. You will need candles to light dark places, find empty bottles that can be filled with potions and get access to several magic spells after you obtain the orbs.

However, 3D Dot Game Heroes stands out because of the aesthetic and the crazy giant swords. Yes, it is possible to upgrade your sword in such areas as Power, Length and Width and some of them can get special attacks like a spin attack and beams. If you have a full health bar the sword will stretch out all over the screen and if you add Pierce it will even go through objects. There are many swords to collect: some can be found in hidden places and others need to be acquired by trading Small Blocks to a specific character. Some of them are even gifts from people. Most of them look alike, but some of the more unique “swords” include a baseball bat and a huge fish!

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The graphics also set the game apart. Everything looks like it was made of Lego or “dots”, which is why the game is called 3D DOT Game Heroes in the first place. But why dots? Because in the days of 2D sprites if you zoomed in dramatically you will see everything in “pixels” that looked like dots. So in order to keep the “old-school” tradition, everything is made of dots. I have to say that it is both a blessing and a curse. Although the aesthetic is charming and looks good there is no doubt in my mind that the game would have looked much better with polygons. It is not an ugly game by any means, just different. The game even allows you to create your very own hero in a simple editor program that allows you to put dots together in a 3D plane. So you are not stuck with the dozens of pre-made heroes (raging from warriors to dwarfs to samurais) and you can easily play as a giant tree, a tank or a simple stick figure that looks like it came out of Game & Watch. Better yet, you can switch heroes every time you load the game up so you can always play with someone different.

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The sound is a solid collection of old-school, 2D-ish sound effects with music that seems like it was ripped out of Zelda. I swear that if I closed my eyes and just listened to the music I would picture myself walking in Hyrule. Keeping the old-school tradition also means zero voice acting….everything is in text.

The difficulty is a mixed bag. Sure, the game is easier than The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but it is also harder than most of today’s games. It can be pretty inconsistent as well. For example, traversing one area with full health and giant sword can be easy, but lose even half an apple (and thus, lose the giant sword) and that same area can be hell. The same applies to the bosses, since some of the earlier bosses can be quite hard and the second-to-last boss was a complete joke. Still, I found the game to be an adequate challenge: not as punishing as some of yesterday’s games, but not as easy as some of today’s games. Giant sword or not, 3D Dot Game Heroes does nothing to hold your hand: sure, there is always a flashing dot on the map that indicates where is the next dungeon you need to tackle, but how you get there (or even how to get there!) is all up to you to find out. Plus, there are so many side quests and hidden areas that it is easy to get sidetracked.

The game also has a bunch of funny references to other games, including Zelda, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Pokemon and even Demon’s Souls, which is also an Atlus game. I won’t spoil them here but there are so many of them that I guarantee that some of them will go over your heads and you will scramble to the internet to seek out what game they are referencing. The trophies are going to be hard to get since you need to beat the game 3 times to get 100%, including once on From Difficulty (harder) and one in Spelunker Mode (you die after one hit!) that are sure to frustrate players. You also need to ace each mini-game in order to get enough Small Blocks to get every sword and these mini-games are insanely hard. They range from a racing competition (using the dash boots) to a tower defense game, but the times you need to beat are sometimes absurd and only the most dedicated and hardcore players will endure the frustration.

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If you are an old-school gamer, someone itching for a challenge or someone looking for something that resembles Zelda on the PS3, 3D Dot Game Heroes is the game for you. The game can be challenging and sometimes frustrating, but there is no doubt that it is fun, charming and a great experience. 3D Dot Game Heroes is a prime example that you don’t need a budget in the dozens of millions of dollars to put together a great game.

PROS:

– Captures old-school Zelda to perfection

– Character editor is easy to use

– Plenty of replay value

– Tons of references to old-school games

– Challenging difficulty without being extreme

CONS:

– Dot-based graphics are not for everyone

– Inconsistent boss difficulty

– Difficulty can frustrate players that like games to hold your hand

– Absurdly hard mini-games

– No voice acting

 

 

Final Score: 8.1/10

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Comic Book Hero: The Greatest Cape (PC) Review

Game:Comic Book Hero: The Greatest Cape
Developer: Adam Ryland
Publisher: GreyDog Software
Genre: Text-Based RPG
Players: 1

Comic Book Hero: The Greatest Cape is the latest text-based video game from Adam Ryland and GreyDog Software, the masterminds behind the awesome Total Extreme Wrestling and World of Mixed Martial Arts series. While those two games deal with booking a wrestling or MMA company and becoming #1, Comic Book Hero is more of a text-based RPG of sorts in which you create a superhero (or take control of an existing one) and manage his everyday routine of battling crime. Is it another big hit or does it stumble along the way?

The world of Comic Book Hero is set in the INFINITY-verse, a fake universe populated with heroes, anti-heroes and villains. Even when the Universe is not based on any real life comic book property, expect to see characters whose looks, backstory and/or special skills match those of real life comic book heroes. Like all Adam Ryland-created universes, the world is fun to play in and the characters are interesting to play as. I have never played an Adam Ryland game whose universe isn’t fun and interesting. However, if you want to play in a big real-life universe from Marvel, DC or something else, be aware that like all Ryland games, CBH packs a powerful editor and a strong mod community who is already working on this type of stuff. As a matter of fact, the editor is my favorite aspect of the game and I think it is even better than the ones provided in TEW or WMMA. If you want to create any type of universe or character, it’s possible.

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But how does the game play? Well, in a way it is similar to Ryland’s old Wrestling Spirit series. You control a character, decide what he will do, who he will befriend and were to allocate the stat points you earn for performing actions. On the main screen you choose your mode of play, from Role Play (select an existing character, with his current popularity level, skills and existing relationships) to Clones (Clone an existing character, but drop all his popularity and skills to the lowest level so that you can challenge yourself), Custom (create a brand new character from scratch and customize all his skills) and Back Story (select a pre-existing backstory, fill in some basic details and the game randomly generates a character for you). All of them are fun to play and offer a different experience, especially with 3 selectable difficulty levels. So it doesn’t matter if you want to role-play an epic level hero like Mr. Infinity or a low level character like Doug the Ninja, or create a new character from scratch and fill in all the details. Back Story is cool as well, since you only pick the origin of your character and then the game generates powers for you. So for example, you can select something like Avenging Loved Ones or Martial Artist or even Found Mystical Object and the game will generate an appropriate skill set.

Once in the game proper you have a multitude of options, including training your skills, going out on patrol to stop random acts of crime (which sometimes leads to uncovering plots and longer story arcs, befriending other heroes who come to help and more), tracking down a specific villain or hero, trying to establish relationships with other characters (like friendships and even romantic relationships), doing civic work, moving to another location, visiting your Team HQ (if you are part of a team), recuperate (to heal yourself) and even going out in public under your civilian identity (if you have a secret identity to protect). All of these options (except recuperate, which is essentially taking a turn off to rest) can lead to something else. Being part of a team is a huge benefit since you can go out on missions, train with your partners (which grants more points than doing it by yourself) and build upon relationships. Heck, you can even become the team’s leader with time!

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Battles play out in turn-based fashion and takes into account your level, your skills, your powers and those of your opponent. Each character has specific strengths and weaknesses. A fire-based character might have a damage reduction rate from fire attacks dealt to him, but might be weak to water based attacks. Skeletons (yes, there are undead enemies and monsters) might have damage resistance against piercing weapons like swords and so on. There are also passive powers that can come into effect, like a supernatural character (ghost-like) being able to phase out and escape harm entirely and stuff like that. There are a ton of dice rolls running behind the scenes (although you can enable an option to see all the numerical results) that guide all the happenings in the game. So in a way, it’s like playing a superhero Dungeons and Dragons. Hell, with the editor tools you COULD make a D & D-like universe.

Your character’s popularity level is measured by units of comic books sold. No, you don’t get to produce comic books in the game. But this is a nice progression system. Every time a big event happens (like an encounter with a villain) an “issue” is created that details how much over or under target percentage of sales you hit. That percentage is your popularity level. Hit 100% and you move to another level.

The experience of the game varies from character to character. For example, some areas can only be accessed by characters that can travel across space and even across dimensions. Inactive or “retired” heroes and villains might make a comeback. Playing an anti-hero can be extremely challenging since they tend to alienate all other heroes and building relationships is next to impossible. Developing relationships is a trial and error process that requires you to approach different characters in different ways. The intensity of your approach, the personalities in question, all of that needs to be taken into account.

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Like I said at the beginning, the editor is powerful and flexible, allowing you to create almost anything. Medieval swords and sorcery setting, a futuristic space setting, alternate dimensions, a typical city setting and even a combination of all of the above (and certainly much more) can be easily created, as long as you put in the time. I am sure dozens upon dozens of awesome mods will be available in the next few weeks.

However, the game is not perfect. There is no multiplayer, which would have given the game a whole new dimension. You can’t play as a villain. The biggest one to me has to be that the game eventually ends. I mean, it can go on forever, but eventually when you hit maximum popularity and have beaten everyone there is nothing left to do but start over with a new character or in a new mod. Games like TEW and WMMA would run forever (as a matter of fact, I have a WMMA game that has lasted me 25 in-game years) but that’s almost impossible to do with CBH. I guess that’s OK, since you have over 100 potential characters to play as in the default data and that number will likely be 10 times over when all the mods come out.

Comic Book Hero: The Greatest Cape is not for everyone, but fans of text-based games, comics, super heroes and RPG’s (and even tabletop games like D & D) will love it. The editor is incredibly powerful and flexible, the combat system feels satisfying and more importantly, it is easy to learn and fun to play. GreyDog and Adam Ryland have done it again: Comic Book Hero is a winner.

Pros:

-Fun combat

-Lots of characters to play as

-Incredible editor/mod tools

-Well-crafted universe

-Highly replayable

Cons:

-Can’t play as the villain

-No Multiplayer

Final Score: 8.5/10

 

World of Mixed Martial Arts 3 (PC) Review

Game: World of Mixed Martial Arts 3
Developer: Adam Ryland
Publisher: Grey Dog Software
Genre: Sports Simulation
# of Players: 1

World of Mixed Martial Arts 2 is one of my all-time favorite games, so I was very excited to get my hands on the sequel. After playing it non-stop for the past week and a half I have to say one thing: WMMA 3 blows its predecessors out of the water in every area and it’s a must buy for text-based game fans or MMA fans.

For starters, WMMA 3 is a text-based simulator developed by Adam Ryland, the creator of the Extreme Warfare, Total Extreme Wrestling and Wrestling Spirit series. The game’s default database is a fictional universe set in the Cornellverse (the same universe as the Total Extreme Wrestling games) that features fake fighters and companies that have some similarities to real life promotions. For example, Japan’s #1 promotion is ALPHA-1 and it is as close to PRIDE as possible, complete with one 10-minute and two 5-minute rounds for fights (extended to 6 rounds for title bouts), battles that take place in the ring and judges that evaluate the whole fight instead of a round to round basis. Their heavyweight champion is Hazzan Fezzik, the most dominant MMA fighter in the world who specializes in Sambo and thus, can be compared to Fedor Emelianenko. The Global Association of Mixed Martial Arts (or GAMMA) is a close approximation to the UFC, Xtreme Cage Combat (XCC) is a very close approximation to WEC and so on. If you don’t like the fake fighters and universe, the game is highly customizable with mods.

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If, like me, you are a fan of the fake universe, be prepared to see some major changes. The database is set in 1998, one year earlier than WMMA 2 and features one new promotion set in Brazil. There is a total of 1,100 fighters, around 300 more than in WMMA 2 and many of the returning characters have seen drastic changes, like former 0-0 prospect Spencer Rubenstein who is now an established fighter in GAMMA (their Light Heavyweight Champion as a matter of fact) while other veterans (like Chuck Dooley) are now prospects. All the changes have made the database better since it is better balanced and every fighter in it feels useful.

One of the major complaints about WMMA 2 was that it was too easy to separate the good fighters from the bad fighters and it was too easy to create a mega-star by putting him in the cage with tomato cans (bad fighters). That is not the case in the sequel. The introduction of Fog of War means that it is harder to get accurate scouting reports on young talents. The way it works is that the more fights a fighter has under his belt the better and more accurate the scouting report becomes. A guy might seem like a future star after 4 fights because he has absolutely dominated weak opposition, but 10 fights later you realize he is just a journeyman or gatekeeper who happened to have had a good streak of bouts. This simulates real life pretty well since the more you watch a guy fight the more you get to know about his style and skills. Add in the random “destiny” stat variable and you could (in theory) play this game forever and always find something different and unexpected.

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As I mentioned above, the database has been rebalanced and every fighter feels useful. In WMMA 2 a star would beat a tomato can 99% of the time. WMMA 3 does a better job of utilizing a fighter’s strengths and weaknesses, making upsets much more common and forcing you to make good booking choices. Fighters are also smarter and utilize tactics and gameplans during fights in a much more intuitive way than they did in WMMA 2. For example, if you put two natural strikers (let’s say kickboxers) against each other, but one of them has better takedowns and submissions than the other chances are that this fighter will try to take the fight to the ground and tap his opponent out, something he would not do against a high-level BJJ fighter. A boxer fighting a wrestler will try to use movement and quick strikes to stay away from the clinch and minimize takedown opportunities. A BJJ fighter will gladly accept a takedown from a mediocre wrestler if he feels he has an edge on the ground. The fight engine has been greatly enhanced, adding new positions (like North-South), new submissions, the ability for a fighter to refuse to tap, more varied takedowns (German suplexes, Judo throws), more submission escapes and a greater variety in the commentary. This makes for exciting fights, less repetitive commentary and a more enjoyable experience.

Another problem addressed from WMMA 2 is that submission attempts where automatic deaths in that game. What I mean is that once a fighter managed to lock in a submission he would win the bout. That is not the case in WMMA 3: fighters can gas their arms while trying guillotines, fighters can escape submissions this time around and they can even refuse to tap or hold on until the round is over.

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Promotion customization is also greatly enhanced, especially in non-regulated areas that allow soccer kicks and stomps in the ground. I just fell in love with Fight League Brazil and their brutal Vale Tudo rule set. The judges are enhanced as well: Now you can choose whether judges evaluate every round (like in the UFC) or the whole fight (like in PRIDE) and they can even outright rob someone by making a terrible decision. There is even an achievement (named Cecil’s People) for witnessing a robbery!

The mod making tools have also been enhanced, allowing for the use of Eras that will greatly affect the comings and goings in the world. For example, setting the Era to the dawn of MMA will mean more one-dimensional fighters, while the modern era will feature more well-rounded “real” mixed martial artists. Mod makers can even program certain events to happen in the future (like economy booms or depressions) and the use of templates will help in the creation of fighters. The mod makers at the WMMA forums believe the game is worth the price of admission for the improved mod making tools alone and I agree with them.

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All in all, there are over 200 improvements and changes from WMMA 2 to WMMA 3, making it a real must buy for fans of MMA or fans of the entire series.

If you like text-based games and/or MMA, this would be the most fun you will have. It’s every arm-chair Booker’s fantasy come true, the ability to be Dana White (because no one wants to be Scott Coker….only joking Scott, we love you ) and book your own company, your own fights the way you want it to be.

World of Mixed Martial Arts 3 is a great improvement from WMMA 2 and will satisfy fans of the genre. Sure, there are some similarities between the two games, but it’s like going from a 1994 Corolla to a 2010 Corolla: it’s the same car, it’s the same brand but the new one is a billion times better will all its fancy bells and whistles. I have played all three games in the series and I can honestly say that I won’t be able to play the first two anymore. WMMA 3 is just too good.

Final Score: 9.0/10

 

FastBreak College Basketball 2010 (PC) Review

Fastbreak College Basketball 2010 Review

Game: Fast Break College Basketball 2010
Developer: Brian Nichols
Publisher: Grey Dog Software
Genre: Text-Based Basketball Simulation

If you have followed my game reviews since I joined 411mania you know that I am a sucker for text-based management games. Baseball Mogul, World of Mixed Martial Arts and Total Extreme Wrestling are some of the games I have reviewed and played for months at a time. A lot of people hate text-based games, but the reality is that you can find in them an experience that is sometimes more realistic and well developed than the “simulations” with graphics. Such is the case with Fast Break College Basketball from Grey Dog Software. In a year were popular college basketball series like NCAA Basketball and College Hoops have disappeared, Fast Break makes its return in glorious form with one of the best management games I have ever played.

Fast Break is not a new series. Back in the early 2000’s the developer Brian Nichols released both, a pro game and a college basketball game. The pro game actually made it to retail under the name Season Ticket Basketball. However, this new entry into the College game is the most polished yet. When you first boot up the game you will be asked to name your league, name the tournaments of your league (the primary and secondary tournaments) as well as set such options as allowing conference movement, which years can players turn pro, enabling or disabling the 3-point shot and choosing what method you want to use for stat ranges from three methods available: 1-100, 1-10 or letter grades. You can also choose a commissioner password, which is really useful for online leagues. Then you create your coach and assign points to your stats in such categories as Scouting and Recruiting as well as Coaching Offense and Defense. The game is pretty much a sandbox, so you can create a coach with max ratings and choose to coach the most prestigious basketball programs right away or choose a different approach and create a coach with low statistics and coach a team like Air Force. In other words, you can easily make the game as easy or as challenging as you want.

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Once you have chosen a school to coach, it is time for the real fun to begin. You are responsible for setting the depth chart and the gameplan, hire your assistant coach, scouting director and recruiting coordinator, use your scholarships and recruit talent, set your non-conference schedule and any pre-season tournament invites and deal with such things as the RPI, Prestige and Polls. Unused players will complain about their playing time during the season, injuries and academic suspensions can play havoc with your depth chart and of course, you have to meet the goals of your current school. Lowly programs will be happy with a conference championship or an NCAA (Or FBCA, the default league name) birth, while more prestigious schools will demand Sweet 16 or Elite 8 appearances. The off-season brings its own set of challenges, from replacing assistant coaches that leave for other schools, dealing with unexpected draft entries (nothing worse than losing your Sophomore All-American Center without warning) and entertaining offers from other schools. You can also follow your player’s progress and see if they were drafted to the pros.

Dealing with players is one of the more entertaining aspects. They complain about playing time and those with low academic ratings can get suspended. Usually you have to devote training camp points on working with these player’s academics just to make sure they don’t miss half the season. Draft predictions are just like in real life: Hit and miss. As the new season begins you are warned about the draft prospects of some of your players. If you have a sophomore center that is predicted to go in the second round he might stay around another year, but if he is a lottery pick, make sure you recruit a replacement! Sometimes players enter the draft without warning, just like in real life. A player might not have been on anyone’s radar before the season began, but suddenly he puts up All-American numbers and decides to enter the draft after going from nobody to 1st round pick. Players also make mistakes: I had a Junior Center named Arthur Orlando that put up decent numbers with Cal: 15.0 PPG, 12.3 boards and 1.3 blocks. In spite of not being a projected draft pick he decided to leave me anyway (and with no warning until the end of the season) only to go undrafted. I am sure he regrets that decision and would have benefited from another solid year in college basketball. Unhappy players also transfer to other schools if you not appease their demands for more playing time. Sure, losing a walk-on PF to a lowly school is nothing to regret, but losing a projected All-American prospect that just needed a couple of years of work is a real blow.

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Recruiting, just like in real life, is a crapshoot. The game uses a colored system to identify player’s potential. For example, red means warm-body, just a player. Orange is better than red, but not by much and usually signifies a player that could be a starter in a low prestige school. Yellow means mid-major starter, green means a good starting player on a top school and blue means potential All-American. When you scout a player he usually shows two colors. Showing red and blue means that the player’s current level is low, but he has All-American potential and just needs some work. You can also see the player’s current ratings and his potential ratings in different basketball-related skills. For example, a player with C Jump Shooting and A+ potential in that area means that he is a decent shooter that can blossom into a fantastic one. However, a player with C jump shooting and F potential in that stat means that the player has reached his “peak” in that particular skill. You have to measure their skill levels, potentials and their interest in your school before you commit to offering them a scholarship. They also have star ratings that are the way they have been rated by independent scouting organizations, but these are somewhat wonky. Most of the time a 5-star player is really great when you scout him, but I have seen 4 and 5 star players that are really crappy and some 2 and 3 star players that turn out great. Juggling your school’s scouting budget, your team needs, independent scouting organizations, your own scouting evaluations and the player’s interest level is a real challenge. Sure, you like that 5-star SF with All-American potential, but how does he fit into your gameplan and the players you will have next year? With his interest level at Average, is it worth it to pursue him and risk wasting valuable time and money when you have a solid and dependable 3-Star SF with an interest level of Very High in your board? Those are the questions you need to ask yourself and even then, things are not 100% guaranteed. I once had such a bad year with Gonzaga that I ended up with 3 Walk-Ons and only one solid recruit because I pursued the wrong players and by the time they went off the board to other schools most of the talented guys were also gone.

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Up until now I have talked about personnel management and such, but what about the actual GAME of basketball? It is awesome. It is one of the most realistic engines I have ever seen and trust me, if it sounds like good basketball strategy in real life, it will work in the game. In one of my Elite 8 runs with Cal I noticed that most of my big guys were good rebounders and defenders, but their offensive stats sucked. So I surrounded them with a core of shooters, switched my offensive focus to outside and watched my team cruise. The 3 shooters all ended up shooting 38%+ from 3-point range and my inside guys went on to average double digits in rebounds, including one of them getting almost 6 offensive boards a game. I also averaged almost 14 threes made per game. On one of my challenge games, I was coaching Pennsylvania of the Ivy League and was seeded to play against the 4th best team in the nation, Kansas. I managed to pull off a six point upset over them simply by changing my strategy on the fly. My entire season I had relied on a pound –the-paint style offense, relying on my big men to score. However, Kansas had really good defenders and wrecked up my plans. Somehow my SG kept scoring and I was down only 6 points at the half. So for the second half I lowered my motion (thus, allowing more shooting freedom and creativity) and made my SG the focus of the offense. Why you ask? Because I realized his defender had low stamina and quickness and the guy Kansas brought off the bench to replace him had low perimeter D. So I made sure to increase the pace as well. My SG was able to outrun his defender and gas him out while scoring pretty much at will. The final score was 90-84 Penn, with my SG scoring 36 points. It is moments like this that really make you feel like a coach.

Sure, you are not really calling plays. What you do is adjust things like Motion, Pace, 3-PT Usage, Offensive Focus(Outside, Inside, Balanced), Defensive Strategies, the minutes your players are going to play, Defensive styles (man to man, 3-2, 2-3, 1-3-1 etc) as well as how much you are going to Press, Trap and use double teams outside and in. Most of these things are set by selecting a number between 1-10. Teams with highly creative shooters might benefit from low motion settings, while teams with poor inside D might benefit from doubling up on the paint. Once again, it comes down to player skill and a lot of trial and error to see what the better settings for your team are. I have spent hours just tweaking around numbers and seeing how they affect my team’s play. For those who find the prospect of managing so many numbers daunting, there is also a “Recommend” button that allows your CPU assistant coach to set the values according to your team’s skill and style and for the most part they are very competent, although human settings are obviously much better.

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However, not everything is perfect. There are several bugs that pop from time to time,like run-time errors and such, but patches come out almost weekly to correct the mistakes. There is no way to see pre-season tournament brackets, only the conference tournament and the main NCAA (or FBCA) tournaments. The interface is well done, but can be daunting and unfriendly to newcomers. The first few days I played the game were focused on seeing how everything worked and were everything was located, so newcomers can expect a tough learning curve. The interface is nice to look at, but with so many numbers, names and stats it doesn’t feel as clean and polished as other Grey Dog Software games. Still, it is one of the best looking text-based basketball simulations out there.

In spite of a few minor bugs and a steep learning curve, Fast Break College Basketball 2010 is the best basketball management game I have ever played. Choices you make truly affect the games, which is something I felt other text-based basketball games lacked. The engine is very sound and grounded on reality, leading to very realistic results. In a year were college basketball games are getting scarce, Fast Break Basketball 2010 proves that the best games can come from the smallest developers and more fun and addictive than those made by the bigger companies. But I must warn you: If you buy FBCB 2010, prepare to say goodbye to your life and bore your girlfriend with ramblings about how you lost the championship game by 3 points because your All-American SG is not clutch. Or how excited you are about your recruiting class. Or how tweaking motion improved your team’s total point output. In other words, prepare to be addicted and waste hours of your life!

Pros:

– Excellent basketball engine grounded in reality.

– Decisions you make truly affect the games.

– Full of depth and things to do.

– Makes you feel like a real coach.

– Very addictive!

Cons:

– Very addictive!

– Steep learning curve for newcomers.

– Minor bugs and errors.

– Interface is not as clean as other Grey Dog Software games.

 

 

Final Score: 8.6/10

 

Batman: Arkham City (PS3) Review

Game: Batman: Arkham City
Developer: Rocksteady
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Players: 1
Genre: Action/Adventure
Rated T for Teen

 Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the biggest surprises in recent memory. It was a great game that offered a fine mix of engaging combat, exploration, puzzle solving and storytelling, neatly wrapped under a fantastic comic book plot and the best characterization of the Dark Knight ever captured in video game format. When the sequel was announced I felt mixed emotions; excitement of course, but also fear that the game wouldn’t live up to the hype or the standard set by the original. Well, Arkham City is here and not only does it live up to the hype, it shatters them and sets a higher bar for future titles.

While the original game felt more like a Metroid or Castlevania title (a confined space in which you opened up new areas by backtracking after acquiring certain gadgets and skills) the sequel is much more open. From the beginning pretty much every area is accessible and the size of it is tremendous. Flying around from rooftop to rooftop using your cape and batclaw is a breeze and there is always something around the next corner to catch your attention, whether that’s a group of thugs in need of a beating or a riddler trophy begging to be captured.

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Without going into lots of spoilers, the plot follows the events of the first game. Quincy Sharp is now the mayor and he decides to build a super prison in North Gotham to house all the inmates under deplorable conditions. Basically they are allowed to do as they please, food is scarce and none other than Hugo Strange is in charge. Strange knows Batman’s secret identity. Bruce Wayne is arrested after speaking against the prison and that’s how the adventure begins. Of course, there is a lot going on, some of it hinted at by trailers (such as the Joker being sick after his experience with Titan) and a lot more that will surprise fans. Major characters like Penguin and Two-Face show up for the first time while others like Bane and Poison Ivy return from the original. Oh yeah and Catwoman has her own (rather short) story and is a fully developed playable character, complete with unique moves and gadgets.

The combat is as satisfying as it was on the original, with several added wrinkles, including new quick fire gadgets, the ability to counter two or three enemies at once and several new takedowns. Just like in the first game, combat is both fast and beautiful, as you move from area to area delivering hits and escaping certain doom. It’s a violent ballet of movement and bone-crunching hits and mastering it makes you feel invincible. Nothing says “superhero” like flawlessly disposing of a dozen goons.

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The other “action” portion involves the “Predator” areas in which you need to stealthily dispose of armed thugs. Combining silent takedowns, glide kicks and gadgets to terrorize the armed goons and make THEM feel like they are the unarmed ones is satisfying, although later sections are challenging with thugs that can use a special gadget to jam your predator vision or see you even in darkened areas.

Talking about Predator-vision, it is as useful as it has always been, but thankfully not as necessary as it was in the first game, allowing you to truly enjoy the environments

Once you are done with the main story there is still plenty left to do. There are half a dozen side missions that feature apperances by classic villains and a whooping 400 “Riddler Challenges” that are a mix of trophies, combat/predator feats and destroying certain environmental objects. The trophies range from easy to challenging and they are mostly very clever, requiring puzzle solving skills, exploration and practice. Contrary to the first game’s trophies, the ones in Arkham City are fun to get and became a favorite part of mine. Besides these goals you also unlock a New Game+ that allows you to keep the gadgets and trophies you have already acquired over the course of the original playthrough. New Game+ ramps up the challenge and even makes some changes to the game’s ending, making it worth playing.

Then we have the challenge maps that come in both, combat and predator variants. They come accompanied by medals to unlock, usually by disposing of thugs in a certain way (predator maps) or meeting certain scores (combat maps). They are a nice diversion and can become addictive.

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The graphics are fantastic, with detail character models and well-designed environments. The animations (especially the bone crunching takedowns) are a treat. Sure, the game relies a lot on dark colors, but nobody in their right mind expects Batman to be colorful. The sound fits the mood perfectly with a lot of spoken dialogue (all of it good or great), the discharge of guns and the wails of pain of the “thugs” you manhandle. Important characters like Batman and Joker stand out over lesser ones, but they all sound great.

But no game is perfect and neither is this one. I have spotted graphical deficiencies like slow-down and jerky animations, but they are not frequent. The story also felt a little convoluted, with the appearance of certain characters nothing more than a cameo, but in a game filled with so many characters that was bound to happen.

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Despite a few mishaps, Batman is as close to perfect a game I have played in years. Even when other big hitters like Uncharted 3 and Battlefield 3 came out I have been unable to put the Dark Knight’s game down. If you are even remotely interested in the fiction, give this game a try and prepare to have your mind blown!

 

Final Score: 9.5/10

Shining Force (Sega Genesis) Review

Game: Shining Force

System: Sega Genesis

Developer: Climax Entertainment & Camelot Software Planning

Publisher: Sega

Genre: Strategy/RPG

Year of Release: 1992

Players: 1-player Game

 

Let’s get this out of the way: Shining Force is one of my favorite games of all time.  I first played it when I was 7 years old and I have finished it over 30 times with all possible combinations of characters imaginable.  The first time I defeated Dark Dragon I remember getting cold chills and then starting the game over immediately. When I finally discovered Musashi, a hidden samurai character (on my 7th play through back in the days when the internet didn’t exist) I called my Dad at work to tell him.  In other words, this game and I go way back. I have owned it on the Genesis, the Game Boy Advance, on PS3 (as part of the Genesis Collection) and again on PC (Genesis Collection as well) and I have beaten it at least 5 times on every system.

The story is simple fare and won’t win any awards, but it gets the job done. The Kingdoms of Guardiana and Runefaust are at war after King Ramladu turned evil.  Many believe him to be a puppet King for his adviser, Darksol, seems to be the one pulling the strings and controlling the King through the use of a mysterious mask.  You play as Max (default name, but you can rename him) who is a young swordsman from Guardiana assigned to lead the Shining Force, a group of young and inexperienced adventures who seek to stop Darksol from resurrecting the evil Dark Dragon. Over the course of the story you will travel all over the land defeating Darksol’s army and getting new warriors to join your cause.

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There are a staggering number of characters to find and since you can bring only 11 of them with you to battle you will need to replay the game several times in order to fully use everyone to their maximum potential. Each character comes from one of several classes which include typical fantasy tropes like warriors, knights and mages, as well as more exotic classes like birdmen, samurai and walking steam-suits (no kidding!).  Each class has strength and weaknesses and mixing and matching characters to come up with a balanced group is key to survive the toughest battles.  For example, warriors are your tanks: they deal high damage and can take a mean blow but have slow mobility and can’t cast magic spells. Archers can attack from range but have weak defense. Healers can heal(duh) and cure status ailments but are weak attackers and have low defense. Birdmen can fly which gives them tremendous mobility but are very weak especially against range attackers.

Battles are turn-based and similar to the Nintendo classic Fire Emblem.  The movement phase takes place from a top-down perspective. Each character can move a certain amount of squares and terrain affects mobility (it’s more difficult to move through forests and mountains than plains for example). Once you choose to attack or cast a spell the perspective changes to an animated cut-scene of the character performing the action, which was very unique at the time.  Enemies are just as varied as your characters with their own strengths and a weakness, which means you, need to think before moving and attacking. The A.I. is smart enough to attack your weakest and most useful characters if leaved exposed and some enemies can cast spells that target multiple characters at once.

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When characters reach Level 10 they can be promoted to a different, stronger class. This once again presents a dilemma since promoted characters go back to Level 1 and become weaker than they were at Level 10 in the previous class but with the potential to become stronger in their new class than they could ever become in their original class.  Promoted characters can also use equipment that the base classes can’t.

 

The graphics and sound are comparable to the best in the 16-bit RPG genre. Colorful and distinctive characters and a suitably heroic score are the strongest points. The only faults are repetitive tiles in the environments and that the game sometimes recycles character models with different colors (also known as palette-swapping) to indicate a stronger version of an enemy.

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Although the game is linear it does have notable replay value. Exploration is limited but there are hidden characters and treasure chests to find. Because the game has around 30 characters and you can only take 11 into battle with you (and because it requires a significant time investment to make those 11 strong enough to beat the game) the replay value comes from beating the game multiple times with different characters and seeing how they turn out. Some like Pelle and Gort will become instant favorites while others like Arthur and Anri will be a real challenge to turn into something useful.  Seeing one of your weakest characters evolve into one of the most powerful is deeply satisfying.

 

Shining Force is an all-time classic that fans of strategy and RPG games need to experience.  It’s the game that got me into RPG’s as is very accessible, especially compared to the less forgiving Fire Emblem series. Thumbs up.

 

Final Score: 9.0/10

 

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational (PS Vita) Review

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational (PS Vita) Review

 

Game: Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational
Developer: Clap Hanz
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
# of Players: 1-4 (Ad-Hoc) 1-30 Online
Rated E for Everyone

Golf is one of those sports (like tennis!) that I hate to watch but for some reason love playing in video game format. That’s why I picked up Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational for my PS Vita at launch and although the game has some frustrating quirks, I am very satisfied with my purchase.

Let’s get this out of the way: Hot Shots Golf is not what it seems. Underneath all the accessibility of big-eyed characters, flashy graphics and tons of positivism (the game screams “Nice Shot!” while colorful letters appear on the screen) this is NOT an easy game. The game demands patience, planning, luck and plenty of skill. Things can and will get borderline frustrating sometimes and the game’s main single-player mode, the Challenge Mode, has an inherently flawed progression system.

You see, in challenge mode you progress through a series of tournaments that range from 9 to 18 holes and have their own set of rules. For example, you might be given thirty seconds to complete your shot and if you don’t you get penalized with a +1 stroke. Or you might get a +1 every time you hit a tree or land in a bunker. Not to mention the variety of environmental conditions that range from rain to snow to really strong winds. Successfully completing a tournament earns you a star and after a certain amount of stars you can compete in a one on one match-up against another golfer. Beating him unlocks him in the shop (so you can purchase him) and moves you up to the next tier of challenges. This makes for a long and meaty single player experience that will last you a long time. But why is it flawed? Well, because the only way to get stars is to finish 1st in every tournament. Since the game gets so hard, prepare to repeat challenges dozens of times. Since some challenges can last up to 45 minutes, well do the math. Nothing sucks like leading a tournament for 15-16 holes and then making a few critical mistakes in the last two holes that cost you the win. Does this happen in real golf? Yes. But sometimes I feel like the game cheats a little. How can I play so perfectly in the first 16 holes and suddenly EVERYTHING goes wrong in the end? The same can be said for the one on one match-ups since A.I. characters have a natural tendency to play the final holes perfectly even if they sucked before. Even the Easy Mode, which lowers your opponent’s scores, doesn’t really help much.

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Winning tournaments earns you points you can spend at the shop. There is a ton of stuff to purchase, from new characters, costumes and color sets to new balls, clubs, character artwork, course memberships (that allow you to “unlock” the courses for other modes), game music and avatar parts (more on that in a bit). This is also flawed. I mean, you spend such a long time to beat these characters and then you have to buy them too? And they are super expensive as well! In the end, chances are you will focus on buying all the balls and clubs first (since they boost your character’s stats and are pretty much required to win the higher level tournaments) and skip everything else until you have all the best gear.

Thankfully the game has a few extra modes to keep you entertained. You can practice or play single rounds, compete via ad hoc with other players (which works great) or go online were you can compete in daily tournaments or enter into a lobby, complete with bubble head-like avatars (which is where the avatar parts come into play). From the lobbies you can chat with other players and enter tournaments. The Daily Tournament challenges are also great, since you only get one chance to post your best score and then you get compared/ranked against the rest of online players. I have finished in the 400-ish range from about 1800 players, which surprises me since I am awful at this game.

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Don’t get me wrong, the game does it’s best to help you out. You get access to a wide variety of shot types (although all of them are a variant of “stop the line/ball/icon at X moment on the bar/line/meter and then stop it again in a different section”.) although most of them need to be purchased at the shop. Chances are you will find a shooting type you like. You also get access to a wide variety of cameras that allow you to study the course and plan your strategy and several more helpful indicators that include how strong the winds are, how deep is the ball and how much strength it will lose because of the surface type. For example, it might say “98-100%” in the fairway, but that can drop to 54-60% in deep sand and so on. In the end, it is still hard to determine where everything will go since you have to take your character’s stats into consideration and of course, that great equalizer we like to call luck.

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Vita specific controls are limited to switching the camera angles by touching the camera icon on the screen (although I found this is easier and faster with the buttons), touchscreen menu navigation (can also be done with buttons) and the silly ability of touching anything on the screen just to see what it does, like shaking a tree or sending an animal running. In other words, there is nothing here that couldn’t have been done in the PS3 or PSP. This feels like a missed opportunity: no cross system play with Hot Shots Golf Fore!?

Where the game shines is in the graphics department, showcasing the Vita’s muscle and making everything look on par with the PS3 games. Sure, you can see the odd polygon here or there, but everything looks great, there is no pop-up or slowdown and loading times are short. The sound is better than adequate, with cheery music that fits the game well, high-pitched Japanese voices that resemble the characters they are playing and crisp sound effects. Hitting a power shot really feels like blasting that ball!

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is a solid entry in the series. Great graphics, fun (if frustrating) gameplay, great online options and a ton of stuff to unlock make it a worthy purchase. Just be prepared to endure some frustrating moments!

Pros:

– Great presentation

– Tons of unlockables

– Long single player experience

– Excellent online integration

– Satisfying gameplay

Cons:

– Difficulty spikes make for a frustrating experience

– Can get repetitive

– Progression system in challenge mode is flawed

 

Final Score: 7.9/10