Game Impressions: The Walking Dead 400 Days DLC

Alright, now that I’m back functioning and well once again, let’s talk the latest DLC for Telltale’s The Walking Dead game. As some of you may remember, I quite enjoyed the main storyline for Telltale’s The Walking Dead and am actively looking forward to its second season. In the meantime, Telltale has released this DLC, 400 Days, to act as a brief bridge between the two seasons. While my friends I played it with seemed to have mixed feelings about it, I left with a general positive attitude towards it. It certainly isn’t the best content in the series, but it does a few interesting things to separate itself from the previous episodes.

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The first and most obvious thing 400 Days does to separate itself out from the previous episodes is to be completely uninvolved with any of the previous characters. While the game is still set in the south of United States during the events of the Walking Dead series, 400 Days is meant to tell the stories of other survivors during the zombie outbreak rather than focus on previous characters that, let’s be honest here, had their stories told. Which, I have no problem with! Lee and Clementine’s story was great, but to try and tie this to the previous story in any direct way would only work to undo the closure we got at the end of season 1.

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What is unique in this case however is that, rather than focus on one or two main characters, 400 Days actually tells select segments from the stories of 5 survivors who all only briefly connect to each other. It is simultaneously the DLC’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. On one hand, it is fun to get interesting different takes on what happened to people during the zombie outbreak and how various groups of people coped with the downfall of society. Additionally, there are plenty of callouts to the stories of the other survivors and that main cast from the season 1. I’d be lying to say it wasn’t satisfying to slowly piece various story bits together and have those moments of revelation where you realize how everything is connected. However, on the other hand, cramming 5 different survivors’ stories (and their conclusion) into one DLC doesn’t leave much time to explore the characters in any meaningful way. Things feel very fast paced and it sucks to really start warming up to a character just as their story ends. Oh well, the fact that I wanted to see more of certain survivors’ stories shows they at least made things compelling enough to pique my curiosity.

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I also enjoyed to a certain degree how, in true adventure game style, Telltale makes efforts to ensure that your decisions during each of the 5 survivor’s stories impact the game’s final conclusion. Choices are later referenced and used for justification regarding just how the finale plays itself out, something that I feel is always appreciated. Now, that said, this system could have been done implemented a bit better. Some of consequences to the player’s decisions feel strained at best and are often connected to a great narrative whose conclusion is only hinted at or never given.

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In the end though, I enjoyed 400 Days. It was brief and some of the animations could’ve used some work, but I enjoyed getting to see more of Telltale’s take on The Walking Dead and I didn’t massively dislike any of the 5 survivors. Nothing came across as too illogical and the decisions you make still have some of that weight players have come to expect from the series. It’s only 5 dollars and you’ll probably want to replay it at least once to see how some of the narratives alter depending on your decisions, so you’ll probably get at least 5-6 hours of entertainment out of minimum. Maybe more if you try and max out all the different ways you can play it. Definitely not a bad bargain and should tide over any fans of season 1 who are still patiently waiting what is to come in season 2.

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Game Retrospective: Warlords Battlecry series

Today I’d like to talk about a fairly obscure RTS game series called, Warlords Battlecry. Based off the turn based strategy series Warlords, Warlords Battlecry was released in 2000 by Strategic Studies Group as an attempt to spin the series off into the RTS genre. This shift of taking the series from a more traditional turn based strategy game with heavy RPG elements into an RTS series yielded some interesting results, especially since we’d see a similar blending of gameplay elements later in competitor Blizzard’s 2002 title: Warcraft III. 2 years prior to Blizzard popularizing the idea of Hero units in RTS games, something that would help give rise to Defense of the Ancients and the now popularized MOBA genre, Warlords Battlecry was already having you enter the fray with hero units that could level and learn new spells to aid their army. I remember a demo sold me on the original Warlords Battlecry and I ended up following the series all the way up to its final entry, Warlords Battlecry 3 in 2004. Even now I still go back and play that final entry thanks to Good Ol’ Games (http://www.gog.com) and think a nice public retrospective could do the game some good.

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Now, normally this would be where I’d go into the plot a bit, but since the Warlords Battlecry series was a spinoff from an older fantasy series, it came with quite a bit of story baggage. Now, that isn’t to say that the series doesn’t do a good job of immersing you into its past narrative quite a bit. It’s simply that there is lots of ground to cover. Suffice to say, Warlords Battlecry uses its lore nicely and allows for a great number of playable races. More so than any other RTS I can think of to be honest.

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That may sound scary to some folks, but the number of playable races is actually something I’ve really enjoyed about the series. For how much of a balance nightmare it must be to properly balance that many races, each race tends to still feel relatively unique in what its strengths and weaknesses are. By the series end, they had the following races: Human Knights, Human Imperials, Wood Elves, High Elves, Dark Elves, Undead, Orcs, Minotaurs, Barbarians, Dwarves, Dark Dwarves, Lizardmen, Insectoids, Daemons, Diseased Cultists, and the Fey. Whew, that’s quite a mouthful. I can see how this may seem scary and overwhelming to new players, but each race thankfully has its own gimmick that helps centralize their theme quite nicely. For example, while all 3 elf races have a unique centralized gatherer mechanic, all 3 of them focus on different types of units. Dark elves focus on more critical hit / poison assassin type characters, wood elves focus more on ranged units and guerilla tactics, and High Elves strike a balance between those two by having a fairly strong cavalry. Meanwhile both Dwarves build fairly defensively strong buildings and slow units, but normal Dwarves focus humanoid armies while Dark Dwarves specialize almost entirely in siege weapons and explosives. Undead have a unique unit upgrade system where almost all units start as skeletons, Daemons have high cost units that eventually in late game allow for their units to summon other units for only the cost of magic, Insectoids focus on resource denial; the list goes on and on. No two races play completely the same and I love it!

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Now, I can see some of you RTS fans out there raise an eyebrow there at race specialization. While the rock/paper/scissors approach to balancing can be a dangerous game, Warlords Battlecry has two things going for it. First, no race really hard counters another with their specializations. There are some soft counters, such as Dark Dwarves and their area-of-effect units putting the pain on the Fey who specialize extremely heavily in mass amounts of cheap but weak units. But even in these cases, the game still tries and allows for armies to have about one or two units and/or upgrades that help dampen this weakness. Second, Hero units and their entourage really help customize and cover for certain armies’ weak spots.

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While the standard “select a race and build armies to conquer the land” gameplay is still the main focus of the game, it goes extremely in depth to ensure that Hero units are a strong secondary focus in the game. When playing the series, you make Hero units of any race to lead your armies into battle and choose a class for them. By Warlords Battlecry 3, there were about 28 classes to choose from and, truth be told, they cover lots of ground. You have a merchant class to help provide your army with income buffs, an assassin class that has an extremely small but present chance to instant kill enemy units and heroes, and even a necromancer class who can summon units from the Undead army to serve as free labor and warriors. In addition to their class, the race and basic general abilities of Hero units are also important. While any race of Hero can lead any army, Heroes and of the same race tend to have a morale bonus for being in combat together that allow units to be slightly tougher in combat. A Hero’s race also allows them a unit set of skills equal to that of their race. One example that comes to mind is that while being a Runemaster class allows Heroes to learn Rune magic, all Dwarves as a race also have the ability to put points into Rune magic, thus learning the same spells with the only penalty being that they may fail at casting the spells more often. As you may be able to tell, talk of points is also my way of letting you know that yes, there is a persistent leveling mechanic for your Heroes. For completing battles, quests, and just generally killing units, Heroes can slowly level up and grow stronger as you continue to play the game. Ugh, this isn’t even beginning to scratch the surface about how you can gather equipment for your Hero to increase their stats, how individual army units level up and may join you at the end of battle as unique named units that can join you in future battles, or the story campaigns.

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Which, ultimately, because of all of the above reasons; I can’t give this game a Game Recommendation article. Personally, I love this series, but as you can see, it has a lot of things going for it. That’s on top of already being a standard RTS which sometimes scares away people due to too much micro and macro managing. Still, Warlords Battlecry experiments a lot and successfully so in what it is trying to do. It’s crammed full of fun things that make incremental differences, allowing you to either ignore them or embrace them and not suffer too much for your play style. I’m a sucker for games that get messy and try new things and I adore the titles out there that somehow pull it off. If you’re like me, pick it up. Even if it isn’t your cup of tea, you might learn a thing or two from it.

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Game Recommendation: Earth Defense Force 2017

This week, Wednesday’s night update is now Thursday’s morning update! Why?! 4th of July, that’s why! In honor of the holiday off, I thought I’d focus on a game near and dear to my heart that’s all about fighting for independence: Earth Defense Force 2017. What folks out there that like EDF, like it to a fairly extreme degree. There’s something just undeniably simple and fun about the game. Folks that can’t handle too much action might want to stay away, but generally most gamers are accustomed to some action. EDF feels like it throws you into the middle of some 80s action cartoon or old Godzilla style movie. There is so much campy humor and dumb fun moments that it is overwhelming. It is yet another game that gets the dubious honor of being a game I went for 100% completion on and so how I can’t I not recommend it?

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At its core, EDF’s story is all about a fight for freedom and survival, one in and over the top and extravagant manner of course. Hey, I have to tie this to the 4th of July somehow. Basically in EDF, aliens invade earth and bring man to the cusp of defeat. It’s up to the rag tag remnants of the Earth Defense Force to push back the aliens and free Earth! See? I told you EDF makes you feel like you are in the middle of an old 80s action cartoon or Godzilla flick. Which, that remark about the Godzilla remark isn’t an exaggeration. The aliens pull out all the sci-fi stops with their weapons and you can expect to fight all manner of giant bugs, giant robots, flying saucers, star fighters, and, yes, even a Godzilla like monster or two.

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All this old corny sci-fi movie stuff actually has its origins. A brief fun history lesson about EDF’s makers: Sandlot. Originally composed of members of the even older Japanese gaming company, Human Entertainment, Sandlot was approached early on about creating an early 3D engine for a Japanese action show akin to Ultraman, a very cheesy sci fi show about fighting giant space monsters. While Sandlot created the engine, the show actually never took off and thus left Sandlot with full rights to the engine. So, they decided to make some games with it and see how well it could run. Since the system was originally developed to support a show about destructible buildings and giant monsters, the genres of games to explore seemed a natural fit for them. So, moving forward, Sandlot developed various games that were quite unique such as the earliest PS1 Earth Defense Force games that were Japan specifics and a few titles that came stateside like R.A.D. Radical Alchemic Drive, all games about small people in a city or town with giant robots and monsters rampaging about.

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I have to say, I give Sandlot a tremendous amount of credit for riding that early engine as long as they have. Almost all the games under the Sandlot brand have focused around the entire concept of felling gigantic enemies, up to even the most recent 4th sequel of Earth Defense Force that just came out in Japan this past week. To give you some perspective, the first game they developed with this engine was back in 1999. Suffice to say, despite the fact the engine has been constantly upgraded and updated for modern tech, Sandlot’s games due to tend to be very rough around the engines. Often enemies don’t animate that much when dying, giant buildings collapse onto players with little to no affect, and it is easy to knock around giant corpses of enemies that push the player every which way or block gunfire accidently. It really isn’t the most polished experience, far from it actually. But despite all of that, the game is still a huge amount of fun.

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In EDF, you play as a marine with a behind the shoulder point of view. Before battle, you can choose 2 weapons to toggle back and forth between during battle. These weapons have a huge amount of variety to them. From sniper rifles to shotguns, automated turrets to flamethrowers, EDF has a crap ton of weapons. Once thrown into battle, it’s your job to destroy huge hordes of alien invaders while rolling and dodging their various attacks. It can be quite awe inspiring just holding down the trigger and blasting away a horizon encompassing wave of giant black ants descending on your position. Furthermore, enemies have a chance of dropping new weapons for you to claim after the battle is over and armor that will permanently increase your health by 1. So, from there, you go from stage to stage fighting new and more powerful enemies until you eventually face off in an epic fight against the alien mothership herself.

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Gameplay is super simplistic, but the thematic visuals really help sell the whole experience. Explosions are satisfying to watch, both the giant cloud it creates and the dead enemy bodies it shoots into the heavens. Friendly NPCs cheer and holler when pushing back and advancing on the enemies while also screaming in over the top sci-fi horror when being killed by giant bugs. The entire experience is just something very childlike and pure dumb fun. It totally makes fun of itself, but brings you along for the ride while making battles feel epic. It’s the closest thing I can think of these days to watching an old movie where they obviously just took footage of an ant up close and then cut sharply to a man looking up at a camera and screaming in a manner that is just silly. Plus, it’s the only game experience to even ever do that at all. Sandlot has mastered that art and while EDF doesn’t get as creative as some of their other titles like R.A.D., the EDF series still stands as their masterpiece.

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You have to go into this game expecting to have a fun time. I know it sounds silly to say that about a video game, but what I mean is that you aren’t going to get a deep moving story or AAA animations here. You’ll play EDF to be a kid again. To indulge in all the dumb fun there is to be had as kids pretending to be in an imaginary shootout. Which, man, how could I almost forget to mention this, but EDF is local multiplayer enabled to. Play this game with a friend. It’s still fun to play by itself, but it’s all the more fun to play with a friend and have their back while they run away from a giant angry red ant biting at their ass. The gameplay is very simple and straight on, so I don’t have any concerns about this being in a genre that most people “can’t get.” Plug in and play fun at some of its best. If you have a 360, do yourself and check out Earth Defense Force 2017. It’s awesome.

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Xbox 180°

Alright now, I’ll admit that I’m late to this particular party. In more ways than one if you include my lack of a Friday update. However, I still wanted to briefly talk about the relatively recent news of Microsoft reversing their DRM policy on the Xbox One. Now, any readers of this blog probably remember that I was both appalled by and heavily criticized Microsoft on how restrictive the Xbox One seemed at E3. Furthermore, I was quite shocked at just how unprepared Microsoft seemed to be in dealing with the invariable backlash that their announcement would have. It now stands to reason that I have quite a few thoughts on their announcement that the Xbox One will be no more restrictive than the Xbox 360 when it comes to software. So, let’s get into it!

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First off, as a few gaming pundits have already put it, this wasn’t some announcement based purely on the backlash from E3. Very few decisions this big with far reaching consequences are planned with so little time. What that means is that Microsoft had this bullet in the salvo ready to fire just in case things didn’t play out the way they probably hoped they would. Now, this isn’t meant to belittle the consumer base that helped push Microsoft into biting the bullet. It’s always a good thing to see a corporation be swift in addressing the concerns of its customers. To be honest, this is actually refreshing in general to now better know why exactly Microsoft kept their mouth shut for the rest of the E3 while Sony was ripping them a new one in the PR realm. More likely than not, they were most likely taking a reading on the general feedback to the announcement and weren’t sure if they were ready to initiate this backup plan of falling back on the same DRM system that the 360 uses. After much time, time used quite well by Sony, Microsoft made their decision and we find ourselves where we are now. Not to sound too cynical, but I do give kudos to Microsoft for not being as thick as they seemed to be during E3 and in still working with the customers to provide a console they actually want.

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Alright, what small accolades I have aside, I still take some issue with the announcement. Primarily, it does strike me as somewhat indecisive. I’m glad to see Microsoft try and remedy what bad blood they’ve made with the announcement, but I can’t help but feel like this is the equivalent of a dumb boyfriend saying something stupid that pisses off his girlfriend. He may apologize the next day for what he said and try and makes amends, but dollars to donuts he still probably actually believes what he says. It’s only he doesn’t want to get in trouble for publically thinking it. That’s the feeling I get from Microsoft. They maybe now working to implement a system similar to what customers expected from them in the first place, but you know that they are still thinking in the back of their heads that they were right all along and will make movements, albeit much more subtle, to usher in the future they believe is right.

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Which brings me to my next gripe about their backpedaling: what’s wrong with them believing in a future not universally agreed on? It’s like that often attributed quote of Henry Ford’s, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a better horse.” If Microsoft truly believes the future is one of always being connected to the internet with only digital media, they should embrace it. If they’re right, they’ll be on the ground floor, at least as far as home consoles go. Furthermore if they’re right, they’ll be fighting up stream. Consumers generally don’t like change, as they are usually quite content consuming what’s in front of them currently. If you want to make it big, you generally are going to be gambling big. Just look at what Nintendo did with the Wii. Among the more core audience that attends E3, it wasn’t received as warmly as it could have been. Although, in all fairness, that was more based on the absurdness of the console back then rather than how generally offensive it was to customers. But if Microsoft wants an always connected living room home entertainment system, I’d prefer them to be up front and honest about it rather than what I suspect is a slight of hand to still take credit for being there first while not assuming any of the risk if they’re wrong. I don’t want them sneaking behind my back trying to do what they said they’d try to do from the get go when they could’ve just had the balls to stick to their guns in the first place is what I’m getting at.

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In the end, whether they actually believe they were wrong or if they believe they’ll just wait us out, their decision to backpedal on their announced features at E3 is interesting to say the least. Despite my apprehension regarding this sudden change of heart, I am honestly interested to see how it plays out. Both conclusions have the potential to be interesting. It’s a win/win as far as I’m concerned. Now the only question that remains is if that is also the case for Microsoft.

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Game Impressions – Rogue Legacy Demo

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with the demo for the new indie title: Rogue Legacy. Currently being completed by new indie company, Cellar Door Games; Rogue Legacy is currently slated to launch tomorrow on the 27th. I have to say, the demo left me with a good enough impression that immediately afterwards I actually put a pre-order in for the game. So, with that little bit basically spoiling what my overall opinion of the game was, let’s talk Rogue Legacy!

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As always, first a basic plot synopsis. In Rogue Legacy you play as an entire family lineage in their quest to overthrow the evil lord of a castle. That’s really about it. Not the most complex of narratives, but it definitely has that old school charm of being straight forward. As you can also probably tell, the story itself gives you a nice idea of how the gameplay will pan out.

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With a title like Rogue Legacy, it should come to little surprise that this game is a Rogue-like. For those that aren’t familiar with the term, it generally means a game that contains a heavy amount of randomly generated content and is intended for multiple playthroughs on account of how easy it is to die.  While there is certainly some wiggle room in that definition, that’s the basic gist of it. For a more thorough understanding, check out the 1980 game Rogue of which the genre gets its name.

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What this all means for the game is that you should expect to die and the main focus on the game is about replayability. Thankfully, the game is given ample context for each playthrough and ways to make them different. Everytime you die in the game, you then start up the next game session as one of the three descendants of that previous character. Each character leaves behind three descendants that have all sorts of varying genetic traits to them. Some are giant, some are dwarves, some have explosive bowel movements, and others are simply color blind. You can really tell that designers had a lot of fun designing the various possible traits in this game. Choose whichever sounds the best and continue on the quest to conquer the evil castle! Just remember that years have passed by since your ancestor’s attempt at storming the place and the evil overlord has done some redecorating. What this means is that the castle itself will be different in each playthrough. However, if you really want to, it is possible to pay a fee and incur a small penalty to keep the castle layout the same between family members.

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Mechanically, the game actually differs from most Rogue-likes in that it is actually a 2D platforming game mainly. Jump around, swing your sword, cast magic abilities; overall it should really feel familiar to anyone who has ever played a Castlevania game. The gameplay feels quite responsive and thankfully the different traits open up various avenues of gameplay. For example, many rooms have special short cuts that only family members with the dwarf trait can access. Furthermore, you have the ability to come across special chests either cleverly hidden or accessible by completing a challenge that grants you the ability to purchase certain runes. Each rune unlocks different abilities such as an air dash or vampire drain, further allowing players more manual customization of their character. Runes persist from generation to generation, so as a player, you are always making forward progress in the game even if your characters are dying off quickly.

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Runes aren’t the only way to make permanent progress in the game either. Between sessions, all the gold you earned with a previous family member can be used to upgrade the player family’s house, which in and of itself unlocks more benefits like increased health or additional abilities to certain genetic traits. You can also use the gold to forge certain armors and weapons whose schematics you run across inside the castle itself. Just be warned though; any unspent gold is automatically consumed each time a family member starts another venture into the castle. So it is always in your benefit to spend as much as possible between family members since it is impossible to horde gold infinitely.

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In the end, I had a great time with Rogue Legacy. I love the 2D art style and sound design, all the controls feel very responsive and never frustrating, and the game itself feels like it successfully blends many of the elements of a Metroid-vania style exploration game with that of a Rogue-like. Just the stuff in the demo showed a great amount of promise and it seems that it only showed off about a ¼ of the game. I highly look forward to its release tomorrow and would recommend most folks to pick it up. Platforming games tend to be quite universal in their appeal, so I don’t feel the gameplay alienates too many players. Additionally, the presentation that each “life” is a different family member helps players both feel attached to their characters while never feeling too bad when they die, one of the weaknesses present in various Rogue-like games.

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Noticeable Releases 06/24/13

Well, this week is a bit odd regarding new releases. While there are plenty of releases this week, very few of them are actually brand new titles. So, I’ll bring up 2 of the new releases and then 3 of the older titles who are making a comeback this week.

–          Game & Wario (Wii U)

–          Project X Zone (3DS)

–          Joe Danger (PC) & Joe Danger 2: The Movie (PC)

–          Muramasa Rebirth (Vita)

–          Ecco the Dolphin (3DS)

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First up, we have Game & Wario on the Wii U! Now, I’ll admit that I’ve always been a fan of Nintendo’s various Wario Ware series. They strike a nice balance between actual games and tech demoes for various new concepts and input methods. Every time Nintendo seems to want to test the waters with some new concepts while not committing to actually making a game around them, they always seem to rely on a Wario Ware game. So, with the new Wii U hardware these days, we once again find ourselves with a new Wario Ware game showing off the various possible tablet games players may come across when playing on the console. However, this time around we find ourselves in a slightly different position than normal. While Game & Wario still has a number of small mini-games in it, it also has 12 longer mini-games in it to show off deeper gameplay. That said; reviewers seem to have mixed feelings on these 12 longer mini-games. Between it being a slightly different approach compared what’s been done historically with the series and sometimes having longer to spend with experimental gameplay shows its weaknesses, reviewers seem to find this part of the game to be the most distasteful. Overall it’s still getting good reviews though, just not as good as reviews as some folks want to give it. If you have a Wii U, I recommend picking it up. Wario Ware’s experiments can make for some fun times and the Wii U still needs all the games it can get this early in its lifetime.

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Next, we have Project X Zone for the 3DS. The nerdier among you may recognize this game as the follow up to the 2005 Japan only title: Namco x Capcom. I must say, I actually have mixed feelings on this title. Mechanically, it seems similar to the various Tales of _____ games released by Namco, which aren’t bad RPG games by any measure. What I find odd though is that this game even came to the West. It’s not a bad thing, but many of the various characters that appear in this title are extremely niche and/or still Japanese only. I can’t help but feel that limits the appeal of the game. Still, I’m not one to turn down fan service and this game is full of it. If you like the various IPs of Sega, Namco, and Capcom, pick up this game if you’re a fan of RPGs.

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Lastly, we have the various re-releases of older titles. We got the 2 Joe Danger titles finally making their way to the PC after quite a bit of time being console exclusive. Both games reviewed quite well and time has only lent itself to further polish in their mechanics thanks to patches and what not. They’re definitely 2 titles to pick up if you have a PC and missed getting them on consoles. Then there is Muramasa Rebirth on the Vita, remake of the 2009 Wii title: Muramasa: Demon Blade. I really enjoyed this game on the Wii and it is also by Vanillaware who does some fantastic art & animations. It can be a bit difficult at times, but I know the Vita re-release is seeing some translation and mechanical polish that may ease things up. You should really check out this title if you haven’t already. Rounding things up is Ecco the Dolphin on the 3DS, a slightly modified port of the classic Sega Genesis title by the same name. Ecco was a wonderful title in the 90s, albeit extremely difficult later in its late game. To balance this out, the re-release includes a new mode which basically makes the player invincible, allowing them to fully experience the game without all the frustrating deaths that come along with it. I know I may sound like a broken record here, but pick it up if you never got the chance to play Ecco back in the day. Even if you did, never hurts to relive certain games from yesteryear.

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Game Recommendation: Drill Dozer

I almost feel bad recommending today’s game, Drill Dozer, due to how difficult it can be to track down. Drill Dozer was given to us in 2006 on the GBA by Game Freak, the same makers as the legendary Pokemon series. You know, as much as I love Pokemon, it’s a shame to not see Game Freak branch out more. They tend to experiment just enough to make a game unique while being sure to not shy away from industry standards. Which, really when you think about it, that approach is at times similar to Nintendo’s own approach when it comes to game design. It’s no wonder the two companies ended up with a relationship so intimate that the Game Freak brand is practically synonymous with Nintendo these days. So without further ado, let’s dig in and see just how representative Drill Dozer is regarding Game Freak’s approach to designing video games!

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As always, we start with the plot. It should come to no surprise to anyone who likes Pokemon, but Game Freak tends to keep their stories very child friendly and almost Saturday morning cartoon like. We play as Jill, daughter to the leader of a gang of criminals known as the Red Dozers. After her father is injured in an attack by a rival gang, Jill takes up the mantle of leadership for the Red Dozers and sets off to return a family jewel stolen in the assault. Along the way, she’s backed up by other members of the gang and her trusty riding mobile armor: the Drill Dozer.

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What I love about Drill Dozer is just how solid it is for a platformer. There really isn’t any moment in the game where I felt overly frustrated and all the various abilities have some really great feedback to them. They are quite consistent with their mechanics and the “rules” of each level don’t really change that much. Basically, each level is a semi-open world 2D platformer maze where certain areas are blocked off initially. As you scour the level, you’ll find 2 additional gears to add to the initial gear you tend to start levels off with. For each gear you have, Jill can unleash her drill for longer and thus destroy or activate certain barriers in order to progress further into the level until you eventually reach the stage’s boss.

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Which, speaking of Jill’s drill, I think you can figure out by the title of the game that the main method of interaction with the world is drilling. Her Drill Dozer mech comes equipped with a giant drill formed out of its 2 hands, providing a “handy” answer to any obstacle that stands in your way. You can drill through walls in most directions, use your drill to activate various turn crank machines, and even reflect most projectiles by drilling into them. It’s nice to see such a centralized ability to the point where everything revolves around it.

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Plus, I should add that using the drill itself can be very satisfying. Because Drill Dozer came out at the end of the GBA’s life span, the game had the luxury of being able to play around with some unique tools. One such tool was its Rumble Pack. Whenever you have the drill turned on, your cartridge and GBA will rumble to life and really add a nice visceral feel whenever you are drilling into something. Activate the drill with by pressing the L or R button and rev it for longer by holding it down. After you get the additional gears in the level, you can shift the drill speed up by pressing R at certain peaks while you rev it. In 3rd gear, you can rev the drill almost infinitely and just absolutely wreck anything in your way. Enemies, walls, projectiles; you name it. There’s something just pleasant and almost cathartic about just drilling through things.

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To be honest, that really about wraps things up for the game. The levels are well designed and properly herd you in the correct direction while still giving you the freedom to explore when needed. It’s nice to have to find gears in order to progress further into the level, especially since they are never hidden that much. The game has a healthy number of bosses that, while sometimes limiting how long you can use your drill on them, still provide some fun and interesting uses for your drill. And that brings me back to how I absolutely adore just how everything revolves around drilling. Drill Dozer is extremely focused around its mechanic and makes sure almost everything tries its best to support it.

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In the end, that’s why I can’t help but recommend and highly support Drill Dozer. It’s just so extremely smooth in everything it does. Each level slowly builds up your drilling power at a nice pace, the game has wonderful music and colorful visuals, and its hands down one of the best platforming experiences you can have on the GBA.

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Now, as always, I should mention what caveats there are that could potentially limit someone’s enjoyment of this title. First, this game is about drilling. If you don’t like the high pitched whirl of a drill and your GBA rumbling strongly in your hands as you drill through almost everything in this game, this game isn’t for you. Second, the game never really spikes you in the face with a “wow” moment. It makes for a solid and smooth experience, doing so by not really being too wild. Everything revolves around the drill and so that’s what you are going to be using. They do introduce some very interesting ways to use it, such as drilling into a propeller to fly while controlling your ascent with revving, but the game will never shock you by pulling something out of left field completely. I know that sounds weird to criticize a game for staying too much on target, but I don’t mean it as a bad thing. Simply some people like certain games because they offer something truly unique and completely random that it is rarely ever done. The only thing that Drill Dozer does is be extremely awesome and pleasant, which there are a number of games that do that. If there weren’t a number of great games out there, I wouldn’t have as many Game Recommendation articles as I have. Although I will say that the rumble pack really helps with feedback more than any other game that comes to mind, outside of the possible exception of Star Fox 64 with an N64 rumble pack. Which even then, Star Fox 64 only comes close to matching Drill Dozer, never actually outperform it. So, caveats aside; if you have a GBA, hunt down Drill Dozer. It’s a truly great game and you won’t regret having gotten it. Ironically, there’s no smoother ride than one in a constantly vibrating drilling machine.

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