Month: February 2015

Pixels & Ink #144 - Spider-Gwen - 2015-02-27 16:31:11

Pixels & Ink #144 – Spider-Gwen

On this week’s Pixels & Ink podcast, Guitar Hero might also be also be making a comeback, although it might be all Call of Duty style, which… yeah… Gwen Stacy makes a return to the Marvel Universe as Spider-Gwen. No, really. Finally, Phil has seen a satanic movie, but unfortunately, it doesn’t live up—or down—to the promise of all hell breaking loose.

Armikrog Shows how Important Style is in Gaming 4

Armikrog Shows how Important Style is in Gaming

It’s no secret that a lot goes into the process of making a game. This industry is built on the perfect mix of art, tech and business to get people excited and engaged and invested in intellectual properties. On Wednesday, Pencil Test and Versus Evil gave a bit of insight on the creation of their upcoming title Armikrog, a point and click adventure about an alien and his companion who crashed on an unknown island.  The trailer focused on the art style–claymation with stop motion effects—and the process of making it. Aside from showing the crazy amount of talent it takes to create something like that, it highlighted how insanely important art direction is to a game.

Armikrog
Armikrog

Style is the first thing a gamer notices. Before the game is even purchased, all a player really knows is what it looks like. That’s a huge selling point. The cover art, along with the few images on the back of a game case really show off what the title is about. If Batman: Arkham Knight was stylized like Kirby: And The Rainbow Curse, there would be a huge disconnect with the game and the core audience. Actually, the more I think of that the more it would probably be like Batman: The Brave and the Bold but with more colour and violence.

That doesn’t seem like the worst idea, the tone and the overall message would be a scattered mess.  While a lot of different factors that go into creating tone, art style is probably the most important. Sega’s 2009 cult classic Mad World is a good example here. The game really doesn’t have a variety in colour. Instead, the fine men and women at Platinum Games went with black, white and red. It’s designed to look like a cliché violent graphic novel, and the gameplay follows suit.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Which is one reason why it’s spiritual successor Anarchy Reigns isn’t anywhere near as memorable. The black and white was replaced with a more realistic take, which didn’t fit the game, and everything suffered. It’s about capturing something unique, and memorable. That isn’t to say every game needs to be like Mad World. More realistic visuals worked well in conveying tone in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. One of my most fond memories of that game was looking across Hyrule Field at the castle that is surrounded in a magic pyramid. It was a not-so-subtle reminder of why you are on your quest. The game would not have felt as epic if the franchise kept to the cell shaded Wind Waker design. The message would be lost, and the scale would be tarnished.

Armikrog Shows how Important Style is in Gaming 1
Armikrog Shows how Important Style is in Gaming 3

Which is why Pencil Test’s trailer revealed so much about the game.  It’s definitely unique with the use of stop motion and clay figures. Before Armikrog even launches, people know what to expect.  The idea was to make cartoony point and click adventure, and the style they chose will make it memorable.  And if the game isn’t that great, at least it will be unique.

Obviously, pretty graphics and unique art style aren’t the alpha and omega of any video game. But they are pretty important.  If anything Armikrog’s behind the scenes trailer shows how much work goes into creating that. From complimenting the game’s core concept to conveying a specific message, or even as a selling point, the art direction of a game is crucial to its success.

 

Mr. Spock Goes To Undiscovered Country 1

Mr. Spock Goes To Undiscovered Country

Even if you’re a die hard fan of Star Wars with no room in your heart for any other franchise, especially that other one, now is the time to do the decent thing, put geek preferences aside for just a minute, and pay respects. Leonard Nimoy, better known to the world as Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame, has died at the age of 83 from symptoms associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Nimoy was admitted to the hospital on February 19

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for chronic chest pains, a lingering effect of his heavy smoking earlier in his life, despite the fact that he’d quit over 20 years ago. On February 23

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, while still in treatment, he tweeted this

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP

LLAP is, of course, the annotated version of the iconic Vulcan phrase “Live long and prosper.”
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Nimoy was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1931. While he’s been an actor, a director and even a photographer, he is best known to the geek, nerd and entire world community as Mr. Spock, the half-human, half-vulcan science officer of the starship Enterprise. The Vulcans typified an ideal race where logic, not passion, ruled their decision making process, and it is this grounding in facts and common sense—not fear and prejudice—that made Mr. Spock one of the most beloved characters in all of science fiction history.

Even though he was just a character in television and film, Mr. Spock’s legacy will be felt throughout the world, and we’re a smaller, sadder place with his passing. Live long and prosper, Leonard Nimoy, you, and Mr. Spock, will be deeply missed.

Five Things Rock Band 4 Needs To Keep Fans Happy 5

Five Things Rock Band 4 Needs To Keep Fans Happy

While we still have no official confirmation from Harmonix itself, the surveys, the anonymous sources and the rather deliberate selection of songs arbitrarily made available on Xbox Live and PSN all lead to one likely conclusion; Rock Band 4 is coming. That’s great news for the fans, the younger players that somehow missed out on the craze a few years ago and, more importantly, anyone that still enjoys actual local co-op multi-player. However, with a new Rock Band title comes concerns, especially considering how the rhythm genre flared out in the last generation of consoles. So what can Harmonix do make sure that when RB4 makes a comeback, it’s here to stay? Here are five things—two of which are no-brainers—that would help RB4 to work its way into the hearts of fans and stay there.

Legacy DLC

This one, especially for the hardest of the hardcore Rock Band fans, is a must. There are nearly 1700 songs available over the life of the RB franchise at an average of $2. If you bought all of them (and I’m not judging if you did, but my GOD, man…) that amounts to $3400 worth of songs sunk into RB1-RB3. I myself went nowhere near that crazy, and I’ve still got a couple of hundred songs. Now, if this were music that you bought digitally, it wouldn’t matter what platform you listen to it on, it’s yours to listen any way you want, any how you want. But consoles tend to be a more finicky place when it comes to specific software on specific platforms. If Harmonix wants to keep fans happy, they won’t let that investment go to waste and say “Yes, we know you already bought the Tenacious D collection, but if you want to play it on RB4, you’ll have to buy it again.” That’s a guaranteed rage response right there. Especially for those people with $3400 worth of songs.
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Legacy Peripherals

This is another no-brainer, and is arguably interchangeable with the first in terms of importance to fans. Those old guitars, drums, microphones and even keyboards are taking up space in closets and basements all over the world. Some of them are major investments, like the Ion drum kit that actually doubled as a real synth drum set, or the RB3 Pro Guitar, which was an ACTUAL guitar. While it’s true that many people have cleared out instruments over the years as they abandoned the rhythm craze, many others have held onto their gear. I myself, for example, still have a Starpex “Peak” 3

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party guitar that’s an actual, full size wooden guitar that beats the standard plastic instruments by a country mile, I can’t play RB games anymore without my beloved Starpex. If Harmonix tells people “Yeah, we know you spent hundreds of dollars on this stuff before… but you’ll have to do it again,” that’s going to be a hurdle some fans might not be able to overcome.

Of course, Harmonix WILL have to sell new instruments to cater to those people that either got rid of their gear, or are new to the franchise and never owned plastic instruments. But there’s a reasonable compromise to be made here. Harmonix can offer an olive branch to the existing fans by saying “Yes, your old gear will work with RB4. BUT, we have these new features, like, say, a wah-wah pedal for guitars, that will only work with new gear.” That’s probably an arrangement existing fans can live with. That way, if they don’t care about the drums, but really, really want that wah wah pedal, they can keep their drum set but splurge on the new guitar. And honestly, telling people their old USB microphone is somehow NOT compatible with a PS4 or Xbox One is just plain heartless.

Five Things Rock Band 4 Needs To Keep Fans Happy 3
Five Things Rock Band 4 Needs To Keep Fans Happy 2

Rock Band As A Platform Not An Annual Release

The heart and soul of Rock Band is, unsurprisingly, the music. It’s not the peripherals, the graphics, or competitive multi-player that keep people coming back. For some it’s being a child of the 80s and finally getting play “We Are The Champions,” or being a millennial and singing “Poker Face.” As a result, the Ubisoft/Activision business model of an annual release isn’t necessary. Rock Band doesn’t have a new story to tell, or need Kevin Spacey to make a performance capture appearance.

Harmonix could make things much more cost efficient and fan friendly if they release Rock Band as an initial investment that simply keeps growing thanks to DLC. People will buy new songs of course, but Harmonix could also make new modes optional. If someone isn’t interested in competitive multi-player, they don’t need to buy that add-on. If a new graphics engine comes out that makes the custom band look even better, people can “opt in” to buy that, or ignore it if they don’t care about how the background performance looks. If a new plastic instrument becomes available, sell it as an add-on, not a brand new retail disc bundle. In other words, Rock Band 4 doesn’t have to lead to RB5 and RB6. It could simply become Rock Band and grow as its owner dictates.
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Rock Band Needs Better Calibration Tools

This one is a bit more technical, but for the hardcore fans, it’s an absolutely essential feature. Back in the day, when people played rhythm games on CRT TVs and the sound came out of the TV speakers, latency wasn’t an issue. But in a digital world with a signal running through an HDMI cable first into an amplifier, and then into a TV which is LCD, LED, OLED or plasma, significant amounts of audio and video latency are introduced. The end result? What you strum, sing, or beat on a drum isn’t necessarily synchronized with what you’re seeing or hearing on screen.

Rock Band had some calibration tools to handle this, but they weren’t very comprehensive. New instruments introduced a light and audio meter to try to automate the process, but even these were hit and miss. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing you hit a note in time to the music, but the game doesn’t realize it because the settings are off. It’s not so much of an issue with slower songs, but insane drum or guitar solos where notes are played by millisecond… it really matters then. The average player, just messing around for fun, isn’t going to worry about this breaking a streak on “Green Grass & High Tides” or “Freebird,” but for the people playing to score and compete on leaderboards… this stuff matters a lot. Now, more than ever, there are latency issues with modern TV home theater systems. Harmonix really needs to tackle this issue head on.
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Rock Band Meets Netflix

It’s worked for movies, music, and even games, so why not music games? This is simply giving your customers more choice, so no one can protest that they’re being “forced” into anything. Some gamers will simply buy whichever songs they like and be content with that. Others, however, are digital hoarders and want everything. Giving people a subscription option to play ALL Rock Band songs for an ongoing, monthly rate is simply one more way to enable fans to enjoy the game. Not everyone is going to go for this, of course, but for people that want to play 1700 songs without paying over $3000, here’s one way to do it.

 

The Lazarus Effect (Movie) Review 4

The Lazarus Effect (2015) Review

If horror history has taught us anything, it’s that scientists who attempt to cheat death get always get burned. The latest production from the good folks at Blumhouse takes that lesson extremely literally. Once again, a gang of scientists who have clearly never read Frankenstein decide that they’ll be the ones who finally figure out how to conquer death, only to end up bringing some hellfire back from the beyond the grave. It’s actually not a bad concept for a little horror movie and as the narrative engine revs up, The Lazarus Effect even feels loaded with potential. Unfortunately that potential disappears once the movie finally gets to the scare section. It’s rare to find a horror movie that’s better in set up than climax, but this is one of them. What a shame.
lazarusinsert1Awkward comedy specialist Mark Duplass and Tron sexpot Olivia Wilde star as the pair of scientists determined to beat death with a special serum. To complicate matters and set up Mary Shelley approved themes, they also have a philosophical split. He’s a hardcore rationalist scientist convinced that there’s no life after death so why not extend life? She’s a born again Christian following a traumatic childhood event worried about the spiritual implications of their work; just not enough to stop the experiment, of course. So along with a pair of 20-something assistants (Community’s Donald Glover and American Horror Story’s Evan Peters) and a plucky young documentary filmmaker (Sarah Bolger) they go ahead and bring a dog back to life. It’s a miracle with some creepy side effects, but ultimately a triumph. Unfortunately, that draws a bit too much attention from the powers financing the scientific shindig, so the dependably creeptacular Ray Wise shows up to shut things down. Undeterred, the gang decides to attempt one last experiment in the middle of the night (always a good idea). Wilde dies by accident, so they go ahead and bring her back to life. Unfortunately, she stopped off in hell before the return and comes back with blacked out pupils, a bunch of superpowers, and a handful of morally righteous speeches.

The Lazarus Effect (Movie) Review 2
The Lazarus Effect (Movie) Review 1

In the early going, The Lazarus Effect is actually a pretty charming little B-movie. The cast is far better than the material (as is the Blumhouse way when their movies are cooking like Sinister or Oculus) and they make an age-old genre yarn feel like something vaguely fresh and naturalistic. Early experiments with the dog lend some subtle scares and a chilly atmosphere. In general, the movie feels far stronger than it has any right to. It’s enough to get you all excited for a fire n’ brimstone spook out finale, but when it finally comes the results are disappointing. While long-time documentary director David Gelb handles characterization and atmosphere with ease, he seems a little lost when the time comes to give his audiences the murder set pieces that they’ve been waiting for. Sure the bulk of the movie works and it flies by at a trim 83 minutes including credits, but unfortunately horror movies kind of depend on spooktacular pay offs, now don’t they?

When The Lazarus Effect finally delivers the goods it transforms from a Mary Shelley-style philosophical horror flick into one of those dreadful post-Elm Street supernatural slashers. Olivia Wilde turns into a killer with superpowers and no matter how hard the actress tries to deliver the goods, she just doesn’t have much of a monster to play. The movie devolves into a series of speeches, hallucinations, and tasteful slasher kills that were presumably designed to feel nostalgic for late 80s rubber fantasy horror, yet ultimately feel like a cop out. The filmmakers don’t have a particularly deft touch for staging set pieces and rather than offering a disturbing climax, The Lazarus Effect devolves into a check list of obvious genre cliches with very little in the way of ingenuity or visceral impact. That’s a problem. A big one.
lazarusinsert4The fact that the flick works reasonably well in the long wind up to its failed climax makes that dropped ball finale all the more frustrating. Creating a compelling set up and enjoyable characters in a horror yarn is the biggest challenge that filmmakers rarely pull off. To deliver that and then fail at all the spectacle that audiences paid to see is deeply frustrating. That’s especially true given that the “gates of hell” subgenre that The Lazarus Effect apes hasn’t been run into the ground as hard as most horror subgenres and it would have been nice to see another decent entry in the canon. Oddly, this is actually the second “gates of hell” movie in the last 12 months after years of being absent from screens. Last summer Platinum Dunes treated us all to As Above, So Below, a hellbound found footage lark that delivered a genuinely chilling and surreal climax after an almost unwatchable set up with indistinguishably dull characters. In a perfect world, we could have gotten one movie with a set up as good as The Lazarus Effect and a pay off as good as As Above, So Below. That could have been a minor classic. Didn’t happen though. So instead, we‘ve got two different mild failures that fell apart in the opposite ways. Sigh…maybe next time.

 

The Last Guardian: Should People Care Anymore?

The Last Guardian: Should People Care Anymore?

The recent news of Sony abandoning The Last Guardian trademark had left many incredulous, and wondering if the long-gestating Team ICO project was finally canceled. Of course, Sony quickly dispelled those rumors stating that the game, which has been in development since at least 2009, is still indeed being worked on. This further suggests that The Last Guardian as folks know it, thanks to the infamous 4 minute E3 trailer, no longer exists but is, what should be obvious to most, taking on a completely different form. But, after nearly six years of silence and false hope, should people even care anymore?
lastguardinert1Perhaps the easier question to answer is: Why have people cared so much about it in the first place? Well, the development team that’s behind The Last Guardian, the previously mentioned Team ICO, is something of a crown jewel within Sony’s Japanese first-party studios thanks to the developer’s impressive first two outings: ICO, and the much revered Shadow of the Colossus. Both titles took on a life grander than video games, they were the first evident examples of how games can be much more than just jumping on virtual enemies, and saving a princess that the player never really cared for from the start. Team ICO was able to deliver somber, quaint, and deliciously peculiar experiences that bravely avoided mundane, and cliché game design and narrative beats. They were, and still are the most effective pieces of art within the games medium.

In ICO, the player is solely tasked with looking after a princess, of whom you know nothing about, as a young boy with horns on his head. Apart from the opening cut scene, which subtlety implies that the young boy has been excommunicated by his people and locked up for, perhaps, his unusual physical appearance, there’s no other exposition, spoken dialogue, or cut scene for the rest of the game. ICO is eerily quiet, prides itself with its atmosphere, and devoid of any substantial combat or gameplay apart from solving platforming puzzles.

The Last Guardian: Should People Care Anymore? 1
The Last Guardian: Should People Care Anymore? 3

Fast-forward a few years later, and Team ICO delivered arguably one of the finest video games ever made: Shadow of the Colossus. The game is quite similar to Ico with its design, as it is also atmospheric, touching, somber, and mechanically simplistic. But, the studio delivered a more refined, interesting, and focused experience in Shadow of the Colossus. The main premise is familiar: Save a princess from her never-ending slumber as her lover, but, the player has to kill 16 innocent Colossi in order to do so. The studio managed to make players care about the Colossi they’re tasked with killing, the main protagonist and his horse Argo, and the princess yet again without dialogue, or exposition.

Perhaps now it becomes clearer as to why everyone is dying for any news about Team ICO’s next outing, and why the industry was glued to its seat salivating once that initial E3 2009 trailer rolled out. But the truth of the matter is, the studio hasn’t delivered anything at all for nearly a decade. Most of the major players behind both of Team ICO’s titles, including producer Kenji Kaido, executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama, and more importantly creative director Fumito Ueda, have moved on to other projects. That magic has waned, and all people are left with are grand memories, and nostalgia that’s still keeping them going to this day, but that’s quickly waning as well.
lastguardinert4The Last Guardian looked to be like a continuation of greatness, a grand reminder of why video games truly are their own, exquisite art form; or at least people understandably just deemed it that. But other developers and games, such as Thatgamecompany’s Journey which retains that same simple, but effective design as Shadow of the Colossus, are filling this creative void that was once solely occupied by Team ICO. People are just not relying on The Last Guardian to meet their narrative demands. So, instead of watching that E3 trailer over and over again, everyone’s too busy playing games like LIMBO and Journey, and that’s quite fine.

Fable Goes Free-To-Play. Yay?...

Fable Goes Free-To-Play. Yay?…

There hasn’t been much news out of Lionhead about the latest addition to the Fable franchise, but there is today. Microsoft and Lionhead Studios have announced that Fable: Legends is going to be a free-to-play game.

They’ve released a video announcing the move, and in it, they make a few promises. The first is that the base game is going to be free, so no one will have to buy anything in order to see the ending. The second promise they make is that anything relating to player advancement can be earned. The final promise they make is that they’re going to strive to create a happy community.

This is a bit of a surprise for the brand, since past games have been traditional retail releases. The video is also noticeably absent in revealing how the micro-transaction model will work, which is going to be a big concern for most people, since the bane of most micro-transaction based games is the infamous “pay-to-win” model where people that shell out cash get an immediate, often unbalanced and unfair advantage over those that choose to keep their wallets shut. Lionhead has already said in the video that all character advancement can be earned, but they don’t mention whether someone with a credit card can leapfrog the paying players and dominate the field.

This is particularly important, since Fable: Legends is one of the new “asynchronous competitive multi-player” games emerging right now. Three players join together as a team to fight a fourth player that is the “villain,” basically a dungeon master that constructs the level, traps and monsters, and then uses all those resources against the players. Think an online version of Peter Molyneux’s original Dungeon Keeper with Bullfrog Productions, and you have some idea of how the game is supposed to work. Check out the video below to see the announcement for yourself.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3Ds) Review 9

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3Ds) Review

Monster Hunter is a franchise that always felt intimidating. With a massive world filled with giant monsters mixed with deep combat mechanics and tons of customization, it seemed very unwelcoming to newcomers like myself. The last few iterations started to change that way of thinking and Capcom’s Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate might be the best title to appease both long-time fans and newcomers alike. This entry combines everything hunters know and love with some direction and a story to ease in rookies to build a unique landscape filled with action and adventure. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is one of the most rewarding games in the massive 3DS library, but some technical setbacks cheapen that feeling.
monsterhunter4insert1Monster Hunter as a franchise is a strange beast. It’s a series of one of the best things in gaming—boss battles. You undertake a quest, go out and fight some monsters. They vary in size, type, strengths, weaknesses and such.  It’s very straightforward in how it presents itself, but the amount of customization is incredibly deep. Players can forge, or upgrade their equipment or weapon by skinning and deboning monsters, mining metals or picking plants. Every weapon plays differently (and there are two new classes) plus there are two sets of controls one for combat and one for exploration. The newest addition to the series is the ability to mount a monster and stab the hell out of it.

If it sounds overwhelming, it is. Luckily, Capcom tried their hardest to make it as accessible as possible. Tacked on to the core game of Monster Hunter that veterans are used to is a loose storyline that eases newbies into the series. You play as “insert name here” a man or woman who comes to the town of Val Harbour to register as a hunter. On his way there a massive sand dragon attacks his ship and he has to jump into action to kill it. After doing that, he’s given a job for a traveling caravan as a hunter. What that means is essentially he helps the townsfolk with their monster troubles. There’s a bit of a tutorial to give you an idea of how some of the mechanics (like cooking, gathering, or general hunting 101) work, then players can work their way through progressively larger monsters.  And wow, it is satisfying. That feeling isn’t necessarily from the triumph over beast. Rather the reward is noticeable mid-fight as you notice how much you’ve improved.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3Ds) Review 6
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3Ds) Review 3

As you upgrade your armour or weapons, and you find yourself learning the nuances of the game, you feel stronger, and smarter. Slowly you become a better hunter. That’s when you can take to the interweb and play online with friends or strangers and the games biggest strength is shown. The online play. There are tons of different types of games ranging from basic hunts to arena quests where there is a set weapon type they give you to slay beasts. The thrill of the hunt with a team is a feeling unlike anything else in gaming.  As a unit, you track down, fight it, and if all goes well reap the rewards from its untimely demise.

This is all done in a pretty unique world. Everything is bright and colourful, the hub of Val Harbour feels like a bustling port with corky characters filling the streets and Monsters flooding the wastelands beyond its walls.  The pre-rendered cut scenes are some of the nicest on the system and feel epic and serious, while in game it’s more light hearted. Like when cooking food (which you can use to regain some health) random music that does not fit the situation plays. There are giant dinosaurs in the background and parlour music plays joyfully along with it. It’s random moments like this that make it feel like Monster Hunter 4 knows it’s a videogame and the game wears that as a badge of honour. It doesn’t try to be anything else than that.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3Ds) Review 2
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3Ds) Review 1

While it’s a honourable trait, for everything that feels great about the game, there’s just as much that doesn’t work. To start, it’s overwhelming. The amount of customization is bananas! But to a newcomer, it’s a lot to take in. The basics get covered throughout the campaign, but it’s an excessive amount of reading. There were points where I missed important notes because I skipped through a part of a conversation. Not because I wasn’t paying attention, I was just trying to work through the text box, you could probably fill a textbook with the amount of words thrown on the screen.  If you do a longer sitting, it’s a lot of information thrown at you and it’s easy to forget. For the most part, the more you play, the easier it becomes, but even then it feels like I didn’t quite understand some of the subtleties with some of the weapons I preferred to use, but I knew enough to get by.

On top of that, there are some really strange glitches that seem out of place in 2015. There were so many points throughout my playthrough where I saw monsters walk through things. In the introduction, a dragon’s arm actually clips through part of the ship! In the gallery I can easily walk through an arm wrestling table, and when on hunts monsters would walk through each other, I could walk through them or even through their carcases.  It doesn’t help that the hunting path is pretty ugly too. Everything looks messy, there are things that don’t look like you should climb on that are meant for that, and the epic monsters don’t look very detailed. It’s shocking when put up against the beautiful cinematics. Sometimes it feels like a game that was made 10 years ago. At times it plays like that too.  To start, this game features one of the least favourite target locks I’ve ever used. My camera would get stuck in weird angles during battle. I’d have to exit, readjust my character and try to lock on again. It was really annoying, and it made hunts frustrating. Mix that with repetitive gameplay, it is mostly enjoyable in really short bursts.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3Ds) Review 5
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3Ds) Review

That’s not to say the game isn’t worth your time. It is. The rewarding combat, thrill of the hunt, and deep customization, inside a truly unique world makes Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate a treat to fans of the series. For newcomers, this is the game to start with, but the franchise does still feel a little exclusive with the mountains of text you have to read to get a basic understanding of how the game works. Mix that in with an ugly terrain filled with glitchy characters, cameras and AI, this game just feels like a lot of good mixed with a bit of bad. If you can get past those issues, there’s an experience. It’s just hard to fully appreciate.

Q*Bert Rebooted (PS4) Review 7

Q*Bert Rebooted (PS4) Review

Most of the classic 80s coin-op icons have already been revamped at least once by now, with mixed results. Pac-man has made several fantastic modern turns and Space Invaders Infinity Gene is a modern treasure, but what about the quirky and quaint Q*Bert? Well, apparently someone felt the language-challenged hopper needed a second (well, third or so really, since he had a PS One outing) chance. The result is Q*Bert Rebooted and your $*#!ing enjoyment results may vary.

Q*Bert was something of a phenomena back in olden times. I vaguely recall he even had his own Saturday morning TV show at some point, but it was a quintessential coin-op game. With a design purely based on getting players to pour quarters into it, Q*Bert was hard, addictive, and colorful. Not much has changed really. That said, this isn’t a great game and really, it never was.
qbertinsert1The premise is simple: Q*Bert is a strange, armless thing that moves by hopping and apparently lives in some weird dimension made of blocky pyramids. Hopping on a block changes its color and to progress to the next level, Q (as I like to call him) must change the color of each block in the pyramid. That’s pretty much the whole game. Hopping snakes and other bad things will try to pursue Q*Bert in his color changing quest and one slip-up means death.

These baddies must be avoided and can be tricked into falling off the level if you’re quick and clever enough, but there’s no deep strategy here. The rebooted version adds randomly appearing collectable gems on each level. These gems can be used, in turn, to purchase new characters. Sadly, the new characters are just skins and don’t offer any actual differences in the game play.

The diagonal-based controls used to traverse the pyramid-shaped levels can be amazingly frustrating. This is especially the case on modern analog sticks, which have sensitivity levels vastly higher than old arcade sticks. Q*Bert always had unforgiving controls, but on the PS4, it’s frustratingly easy to accidently jump off the level or simply go in the wrong direction.

Q*Bert Rebooted (PS4) Review 4
Q*Bert Rebooted (PS4) Review 1

Such issues make the game feel more than a little sloppy, even if it’s perfectly in line with the original game. There’s almost no good way to translate diagonal-only controls to a modern control pad. Possibly because of slightly less-sensitive controls, the Vita version actually plays a bit better. Unlike the arcade original (which is also included) the reboot uses a straight world map to show progress and offers the now-ubiquitous three-star rating for each level (which include three stages).

In a bizarre twist, however, those three stars can only be earned one at a time. This means playing each set of levels at least three times. The first star is just for beating the levels, the next is for beating it under a set time, and the third for earning so many points. It’s a strange system meant to artificially increase replay value and seems rather unnecessary.
qbertinsert4The other major change from the original is the switch from cubes to hexagonal blocks. This enables Q*Bert to travel along rows instead of constantly moving up and down, but changes the game play rather substantially in direct comparison with the classic. Purists might hate it, but newcomers will likely barely notice much difference.

The visuals get the job done, updating the colorful and cartoonish graphics in a sensible, if not awe-inspiring manner. The audio work pays solid tribute to the original as well, though no aspect of the presentation is going to wow anyone. The original, which nostalgically seemed great looking, is hilariously primitive in comparison of course, and the ability to switch between both versions in the main menu is a nice touch.

Q*Bert Rebooted (PS4) Review
Q*Bert Rebooted (PS4) Review 3

That said, the menu is oddly unintuitive, making it harder than it should be to know which game you’re trying to select. Another strange complaint is the unnecessary four-second wait to start a level in the reboot, which really clashed with my ADD nature. Finally, for the color-blind among us, be warned that the game occasionally uses what appears to be green-on-green color schemes, which is painful.

Q*Bert Rebooted is a pretty quick and dirty revamp of the coin-op classic, but it’s also dirt cheap. So, as a budget revamp, this isn’t terrible. The game, despite its problems, can be fun in small doses and certainly provides plenty of old school challenge. Yet it might be proof that just because something is “classic”, it doesn’t mean it’s good.



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