Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden (3DS) Review

Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden (3DS) Review

While I’ve only been an officially contracted videogame journalist for a short time, I’ve written about the industry in some capacity for about four years, give or take. I’ve reviewed a lot of games in that time. Some were a pure joy to experience, while others reminded me that this is a job. But then there’s Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden. While, it’s a strong title developed by Arc Systems Works, who at this point have pretty much perfected the 2D fighter, there’s something weird about this title. Maybe it’s the strange mix of classic and modern visuals, or maybe it’s the A.D.D style storytelling, but this is one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played. I am seriously having trouble wrapping my head around what I went through. It wasn’t bad, don’t get me wrong; it was actually very fun. But the whole experience felt like it wasn’t geared towards me.

dragonballbutodeninsert2I have a hard time figuring out why that is, though. It’s a classic fighter through and through, with 16-bit visuals and sounds, and it’s based on one of my favourite shows of all time. Every character looks like they’re dragged right out of a Sega Genesis game; even their voices sound straight out of 1994. Mix that with more traditional 3DS-style backgrounds, and there’s a very interesting presentation. I should have had a better experience overall. But I didn’t, and the biggest reason for that is a really weird story presentation. There are two storylines. One is an extremely streamlined version of the actual events of Dragon Ball Z, dropping you into iconic battles throughout the series. There are five Sagas to play through as different characters, and the premise for that is pretty cool. But it’s told in a very odd manner. Imagine a six-year-old child telling you a story; parts are overlooked, huge events are casually mentioned, and minor details are brought up, but serve no purpose for the game, and some issues actually resolve themselves without you. I legitimately laughed a handful of times throughout my playthrough because it was so all over the place. Mind you, this is a fighting game, so story isn’t the most important thing here, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dragon Ball Z told this way.

The second storyline doesn’t hold up any better, but at least it’s original. In this mode, Omega Shenron used minus energy to bring the past and future together, if you don’t follow the series that probably sounded like a bunch of made up words strung together, and you’re probably right, but this is a big deal.  Every villain is back, and probably pissed off about the whole getting killed thing, so Goku must assemble his friends to find the Ultimate Dragon Balls to stop this madness. This mode has an overworld map like Super Mario Bros. 3 where you can see where you’re going next and read your objective before each mission. It was pretty interesting; the story itself has promise, but suffers from the same frantic storytelling that hurt the other story mode.

dragonballbutodeninsert3The actual fighting was fun, but doesn’t introduce anything new. Considering this is the same studio that gave us the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear series’, I expected a little more. Everything controls as well as you’d expect. Combos are very easy, and everything feels fluid, and there are 20 playable characters and 100 support characters to choose from. In that regard, it was fun, but it’s not a very difficult game, and you can really mess up an opponent if you get him stuck at the edge of the map. I also didn’t like Super Saiyan Goku as a playable character, rather than an upgrade. He’s way too overpowered compared to anyone else, and it took away the satisfaction of turning Super Saiyan. I actually had some flashbacks of the 1994 classic Super Nintendo and Genesis title Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Both games are okay fighters that get by on the ridiculousness of the series they’re tied to. That’s what makes it fun. Whether it’s playing as the Dragonzord or Cell, they’re both enjoyable because they have a crazy backlog of content that lends itself well to this medium. And that’s not a bad thing in Dragon Ball Z’s case, but it does leave a little bit of a sour taste in your mouth when there is a legacy of really good fighting games already attached to the series. It just feels like a game I’ve played before. On top of that, the 3DS isn’t really the most comfortable device to play a fighter on.

Maybe my expectations were just too high for the game, but I feel it was warranted. For the most part, Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is fun and simple with creative visuals that is good in short playthroughs. But its weird style of storytelling and lack of innovation make it hard to really invest in anything. Despite that, I don’t think I’m going to forget this game any time soon. Its weird approach to almost everything left an impression on me. It’s definitely unique, and worth a try if you’re a fan.

RETRO VGS Kickstarter Date Announced

RETRO VGS Kickstarter Date Announced

Save the date classic gamers, RETRO announced they’re going to Kickstarter during the week of September 14 to fund the RETRO VGS.

The magazine publisher turned console manufacturer has teased its intention to go to the crowd-funding site with posts of different consoles series for backers, and tons of games ready for launch. In an email interview from last month, RETRO founder stated they intend to have 15 to 20 games announced for their campaign.

The Retro VGS is a classic styled console with a modern twist. New indie games, along with classic titles and sequels to the games of yesteryear will have a new home with physical media. The intention for the console is to use a field programmable gate array (FPGA) and an advanced RISC Machines processor ARM to essentially play games in any style from 16-32 bits. There are four controller ports, two nine pin like the Sega Genesis and two USB so you don’t have to play alone. There won’t be any internet connectivity though, but that means there won’t be any updates.

We’ve kept track of this upcoming console, so it’s exciting to see an actual date confirmed from the company itself. If you dig classic games, this might be the best modern equivalent you can find.

Sega Steam Sale Will Leave You Broke

Sega Steam Sale Will Leave You Broke

Sega’s struggle has been widely reported for the past month. But for the first time in a while, there’s some good news coming from the publisher. Right now on Steam, you can pick up a bunch of Sega titles for up to 75 per cent off. Goodbye pay cheque.

Honestly, you can’t go wrong here. There are tons of classic games available including the Sonic the Hedgehog titles, Alex Kidd in The Enchanted Castle, Comix Zone, Typing of the Dead, and Jet Set Radio. You can even pick up newer games like Alien: Isolation for $13.74 CDN. Not too shabby if you’re looking for something to play.

There are bundles available, including a the Super Bundle for $99.99 (which has games up to 75 percent off), the Genesis Bundle for 16.49 (50 per cent off), and the Sonic Franchise for $64.99 (50 per cent off).

Honestly, if you haven’t played some of these games here is your chance. If you have, still get them because you know how awesome some of these games are. So go, spend all your money! This sale lasts until Monday.

New Sega and Game Freak Project Revealed

New Sega and Game Freak Project Revealed

Sega and Game Freak have finally revealed their collaboration- Tembo the Badass Elephant. That’s the actual name folks. It’s a 2D action adventure game staring a militarized elephant.

The game takes place in the fictional Shell City, an evil group known as PHANTOM begin to take over the peaceful city. The army is no match for them, so the send out the only one who can stop them—Tembo. This looks ridiculous, but totally Sega in every way. By that I mean, arcade style, fast paced, over-the-top insanity.

This isn’t the first time the two companies have joined forces either.  In 1992 they made Magical Taruruuto-Kun on the Mega Drive (or Genesis in North America), and in 1994 they made Pulseman on Sega’s 16 bit console.

There isn’t a hard release date yet, but keep an eye out to download this for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this summer.

A Game of Thrones: Genesis (PC) Review

A Game of Thrones: Genesis (PC) Review

Fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of books (or of the first novel’s recent HBO adaptation) are usually drawn into the author’s world through the appeal of political intrigue and feudal warfare. Half the fun of A Game of Thrones is in watching the intricate manoeuvrings that go into defining an invented history that says as much about our own world’s past as that of Martin’s fantastic creation. So, it follows that a videogame of thrones (ha!) should allow players to feel some of the thrill of its source’s rich layers of manipulatory diplomacy and large-scale combat. A Game of Thrones: Genesis developer Cyanide has certainly tried its best to incorporate these elements in the world’s first foray into videogames, succeeding in some cases while failing in others.

A Game of Thrones: Genesis, like its source material, is concerned more with the machinations behind the outbreak of war than the fighting itself. Though there is combat, players can expect to spend much more of their time in attempting to gain allies — either openly, with envoy units and the strength of blood-tying marriages, or covertly, through the secret agreements of spies (a covert arrangement wherein an ally pays tribute to you but appears neutral to others) and the seduction of enemy forces. All of this takes the form of hiring the appropriate units, sending them to other villages and castles and carrying out routine check-ups to ensure that none of your forces have been swayed by the enemy’s similarly underhanded strategies.

Pre-war preparations can also lead to open warfare. During peace time, a metre is displayed on the top of the screen that will fill up with red as aggressive actions accumulate from either side’s decisions. Hiring mercenaries to kill peasants and envoys — something that serves the purpose of cutting off an enemy’s access to food and money — will eventually cause peace to break down and open war to break out. Combatants hire army units (knights, bowmen, pikemen, men-at-arms, etc.) and duke it out through supply-line ambushes, open terrain combat or siege warfare. Battles are simplistic and decided through a kind of rock, paper, scissors mechanic where using the “correct” unit against another is more important than strategic planning.

In skirmish and multiplayer modes, a player’s progress in conquering their enemy is represented by prestige points, meaning that a game can be won without once inciting war. Prestige points are won by increasing allied territories, gaining money, winning over temples (or septs for those in the Ice and Fire know) or killing off some of an enemy population; grab up 100 prestige points to win.

All of these gameplay elements come together to make a strategic soup so thick you could stand a spoon in it. Genesis’ gameplay is built on a strong foundation and has a unique feel and pace that is more akin to a complex board game than a traditional computer strategy title. While it is refreshing to see Cyanide develop something innovative (rather than the blander result that would have come about from attempting to ape some of, say, the Total War series’ grand vision), the game’s overall presentation leaves a lot to be desired.

Both audio and visual design range from mediocre to downright bad. Genesis’ characters and environments are entirely forgettable, conjuring up none of the breathtaking locales of the novels or show. The units are poorly drawn and the rendering of the world is tasteless and uninspiring — every village, castle and mine is essentially the same, with only minor variations in climate appearance (desert with palms, forests with occasional mountain passes, snowy fields near a diminutive version of the Wall). Though these maps have been loosely drawn from Martin’s settings, Cyanide misses many opportunities to increase immersion by incorporating any of the fiction’s slavishly detailed geography and place names. Castles and towns are always just “Castles” and “Towns”, maps feature few distinctive features and there is never a sense of actually playing in the fictional world of Westeros — something that is probably the single most important goal of any game based on well-loved fiction.

Slow mouse movement (with no option for sensitivity adjustment) also hampers the experience. It isn’t bad enough to make the game unplayable but, coupled with minimal

hotkey support, the sluggish cursor makes basic command input a bit of a pain. Considering how easily these sort of problems could have been avoided, it’s unfortunate that they exist. Bland visuals and sloppy controls combine with frequent typos (including the odd occasion where French words have been left untranslated) and poor grammar to complete a sense of rushed development.

And, while fans of Martin’s books and/or the Game of Thrones TV show are more likely to appreciate Cyanide’s apparent reverence for the source material, the homage paid to the series is still not enough to excuse the game’s poor combat, user interface and aesthetics. The game takes place in the pre-established time before the opening of A Game of Thrones: Genesis, detailing the events that lead up to the beginning of the series. Because of this approach, the fiction is palatable for both newcomers and Game of Thrones vets — but the narrative remains far enough in the background (mostly being fleshed out through loading screen preambles and some level-opening and -closing character conversations) that it likely won’t win converts or impress existing fans.

This is made worse by an atrocious campaign mode that is by far the weakest style of play in Genesis. The single-player narrative, bafflingly, chooses to ignore some of the most interesting aspects of the game’s mechanics (prestige points, flexibility in conquering a map) and instead leads players through short, rigidly designed chapters that fail to take advantage of the best design decisions made in the multiplayer and skirmish modes. There are a number of incredibly irritating stealth sections, ridiculously out of place, that task players with precise objectives, such as waging guerrilla warfare on peasants while a much stronger force patrols an area (or avoiding troops with a single commandable character in one particularly ill-conceived stealth sequence) and lack any forgiveness. Coupled with painfully

slow loading times and the absence of quicksave or quickload options, these segments sap any momentum that the campaign mode is able to generate and quickly sink what should be exciting narrative points (like the impending conquest of an entire continent!) into tedium.

House vs. House, the (slightly gussied-up) skirmish mode, also fails to capitalize on the possibilities inherent in the game’s setting. Choosing from a fair-sized list of houses (like the Starks, Baratheons, Targaryens and others) does give bonuses to certain stats (the Lannisters, of course, practically defecate gold) but does not make a substantial difference in more substantial style of play — or castle/unit design, aside from the appearance of distinctive sigils and colours. Genesis’ multiplayer play works in much the same way as HvH but is more enjoyable simply because it involves facing off against human opponents who easily outstrip

the game’s often simplistic AI. The mechanics used in other areas of play become much more fun when they can be used as bluffing tools. A large-scale game can easily turn into an enjoyably paranoid experience that capitalizes on Genesis’ premise in the best way.

But limited successes, like the multiplayer, still add up to an ultimately frustrating experience. A Game of Thrones: Genesis isn’t a horrible game, but the fact that it’s so full of promise makes its numerous failings hard to swallow. More time in development — time that could have been spent in tightening up and enriching the overall presentation or rewriting the campaign — would have helped to make an ultimately average experience into an outstanding one.

Earthworm Jim HD (XBOX 360) Review

Earthworm Jim HD (XBOX 360) Review

The Can Is Re-Opened

The Earthworm known as Jim started out as a product of that wonderful, demented time known as gaming in the 90s. He first hit the Genesis console in 1994 thanks to Shiny Entertainment and was the epitome of an era when the big thing in platformers was some kind of animal mascot With Attitude. In this case, the mascot was a humble worm that gained access to a cybernetic suit, and the attitude was one of defiance with a distinct hick flair and some of the most bizarre levels put to code. 15 years later, the worm is back, but, as with many games from yesteryear, it’s starting to show its age.

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Is It Absurdist Or Just Absurd?

The original Earthworm Jim, like many games of the 80s and 90s had just the barest thread of narrative to keep the proceedings moving. In this case, Psy-Crow, one of the villains featured in the game, happened to be chasing his next victim and, upon atomizing him, inadvertently let a super powered cybernetic suit crash to the Earth and come into the possession of a lowly Earthworm. This worm, now with limbs, muscles and the ability to jump, shoot and whip rip his own annelid body out of the suit to use as a whip, now fights Psy-Crow and other galactic evil… Just because.

And that’s it. There’s no rhyme or reason for why one level starts on junkyard while another takes place underwater in a sea-base that’s comprised of giant hamster tubes. There’s a randomness and surreal quality to Earthworm Jim that you either simply accept or else walk away from the game, unable to make peace with the frequently bizarre tangents it will shoot off on.

As with a lot of HD ports or remakes, this is the best that Jim and his world have ever looked. The jaggy sprites and primitive color gradients that first debuted on the Genesis have been cleaned up with sharp, colorful imagery that more closely evokes the intention of the creators. Had the processing power been available to Shiny Entertainment at the time, this really is what Earthworm Jim would have looked like.

The same holds true for the audio side. Better sampling has resulted in clear voices, and more accurate music. The race through various Andy Asteroids levels is now complemented by a more authentic banjo manically playing in the background. The Evil The Cat levels of hell now have a clearer distinction between the classic strains of Night on Bald Mountain and the sudden change to elevator muzak. And of course, Jim himself has never sounded quite as crystal clear redneck as he does here with his various “Yeehaws” and other exclamations with a southern US twang.

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Not All The Chaos Is Intentional

While Earthworm Jim HD has gotten numerous tweaks in the presentation department, and even in modes available, the essential gameplay is untouched. By the standards of today, that’s probably not a good thing. Like all games from the 80s and 90s, the platforming is a simple affair, largely handled by two or three buttons. It’s classic stuff here, with Jim going from left to right as any good animal mascot would, but the game is now going up against 15 years of evolution to the genre, and some of the mechanics, unlike games such as Nintendo’s Mario-centric titles, don’t hold up as well. While certain elements such as the lack of a double jump are noticeable but understandable, other areas clearly need some kind of re-think. The biggest detractor to this is the lack of consistency in navigating the environment. For example in the early levels, some areas require Jim to bounce on tires in order gain altitude to proceed. That in itself is not a problem, but tires that Jim CAN jump on look identical to piles of tires that are merely background and are either passed through completely, or act as invisible barriers.

This occurs regularly throughout the game, with environmental elements confusing the player as to whether they should be used as stepping stones, or whether they can’t be interacted with at all. The game also suffers from a lack of precision with jumps that perfectly often arbitrary difficulty old platformers had of some of the challenge of the game resting in the struggle to fight the controls. The game also suffers from the traditional problem of retro-titles of a dramatic difficulty spike in the final level. In a world of friendlier, easier to manage titles, Earthworm Jim HD is, understandably, an old school experience with little patience for inexperienced gamers.

On the flipside, there are a plethora of new difficulty modes, and, tellingly, the original difficulty of the game is the hardest of all. There are also new multi-player maps that can be played both online and off with a total of four players, although these largely consist of re-used art assets from previous levels now designed with some co-op elements such as players being required to hold doors open while other players proceed through the level. It extends the life of the game, and adds a feature not present in the original version, though some of the same issues with the single-player experience also carry over into this new mode.

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When all is said and done, Earthworm Jim HD is one of those titles that is really made for fans of the original. It looks good, sounds great, and still contains that same off-beat, often surreal humor that still stands out even today. The controls and general game design show off their age, and younger players, used to the more gentle experience of contemporary games will likely find the mercilessness of 20th century games to be off-putting and alienating. Earthworm Jim HD is an interesting snapshot of an era in gaming’s development, but lacks the timelessness of something like Tetris. This is a relic of the 90s and it shows.