Feed aggregator

Aegis Defenders Review

Game Spot Reviews - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 22:00

In combining a tower defense game with a platformer, Aegis Defenders carries an ingenious idea at its core. The problem is, that idea is never fully reallized: the game's surface-layer tower defense is serviceable but unbalanced, while the platformer underneath is unimaginative and frustrating, leaving very little to actually enjoy.

Each level is separated into two sections: you'll explore and puzzle-solve your way through a linear side-scrolling section for 10-20 minutes, before stumbling upon a MacGuffin that, for a number of contrived reasons, needs to be defended. You must then place various items around the enclosed area of the level to fight off enemies during a series of waves, each preceded by a preparation phase. Those enemies are varied enough in design and appearance to keep things interesting; importantly, they come in four colors, each corresponding to one of your squad.

Your team is comprised of main protagonist Clu, her grandfather Bart, a traveler named Kaiim, and his old flame Zula, and each character's attacks are most powerful against enemies of the same color. Placing one character's item on top of another's can create combination towers that have more powerful effects, and doing so makes the tower defense half of the game more active than the genre's standard. For example, place one of Clu's bombs in the same position as one of Bart's defense blocks, and you'll make a trishot turret that's powerful against both blue and yellow critters.

The idea is to create an extra layer of strategy--not only do you have to think about where you place your items, you must also consider which additional items you place in combination with your original. However, the discrepancy between damage dealt to an enemy by the corresponding color hero and an opposite-color hero is barely noticeable: Clu's bow is almost always the most effective weapon, so I ended up using her the majority of the time regardless of what color enemy I was faced with, rendering the color-matching and combination mechanic inconsequential. That said, combining items and seeing more powerful combinations taking down enemies quicker is satisfying--as is dealing damage with your active weapon--even if most waves just end as a scramble to deploy as many towers as possible, regardless of color.

Most frustrating is that playing by yourself, rather than using the game's local co-op option, becomes nigh-on impossible around the game's middle third; the number and strength of your opposition increases, and the teammate AI fails to keep pace, meaning you eventually find yourself doing all four fighters' jobs yourself. Bart is capable of repairing broken defenses, for example, but he'll only do so if positioned directly next to one. You can have him follow your active character, but then he won't attempt to fix or fight anything. So, inevitably, you must manually position every character in the exact spot you want at the start of a round before coming back and taking them out of harm's way when necessary. But doing so means you leave your other fighters in the incompetent hands of the AI, meaning they'll each deal far less damage than if you were controlling them. Micromanaging your squad becomes essential to progress, and regardless of whether this was the developer's intention, doing so is a frustrating experience, especially when I always felt disadvantaged by not having a human partner to help.

Most frustrating is that playing by yourself, rather than using the game's local co-op option, becomes nigh-on impossible around the game's middle third...

Exploration sections forego the tower defense in favor of basic platforming. There are switch-activated doors, warp panels, and yet more technicolor enemies. But the platforming within is trite: we've seen all this before, with more precise controls and more imaginative puzzles. There are a handful of standout puzzles in the late game--one memorable example sees all four characters spread out across the area, needing to cooperate in order to move a critter through some laser beams and utilize its own power to melt a barrier--but most are simplistic cases of merely unlocking a door or blowing up a cracked wall. More interesting mechanics, such as the warp panels and air bubbles you can use to move across gaps, are introduced far too late and rarely used in compelling ways, while even the basic concept of a moving platform doesn't crop up until halfway through. Worse still, while the sensation of jumping is fine, the art style makes it difficult to see exactly where a platform ends, resulting in far too many failed jumps that feel like they weren't your fault.

At least in these sections checkpoints are frequent enough that death isn't too much of a hindrance. However, this is not the case in the tower defense areas, where death rarely teaches you anything and always sends you back to the very first wave. Death will be frequent, too: enemies are powerful and plentiful, and many are bigger and possess greater agility than any playable character. The difficulty curve is all over the place, with the campaign remaining relatively easy before a sudden spike during a ridiculously tough third quarter, later tapering off again as it approaches its conclusion. Finishing the game took me around 20 hours, despite the in-game clock--which doesn't appear to track failed attempts--saying I only played for two and a half.

During each mission, the game's narrative is told through dialogue scenes--some of which you can choose responses within, though I never felt like my decisions affected anything of note--while cutscenes at each stage's opening serve you exposition pertaining to a disaster that struck humanity thousands of years ago. I struggled to stay invested in that exposition, however, since it remains irrelevant to what's happening in the present-day plot until the story's conclusion, so I simply got bored. You're bombarded with so many gobbledygook names and phrases--The Clarent, The Deathless, Manasa, Hozai, Shem, Sen, Ichor, Vaara, and Aegis itself, to name a few--that I was confused about who was who and what their motivations were from the very outset, and this robs the story of any emotional impact it attempts to have. Why would I care that Shreya has been captured when I'm not really sure who she is and why she matters?

It's marred by a plethora of tiny issues: repetitive voice samples, inaccurate hitboxes, inconsistent framerate, poor AI, and overuse of music, among others bugs and glitches. And these all amount to an experience that is not enjoyable.

It doesn't help that your camp--a base where you can buy upgrades and talk to other characters between levels--will suddenly be inhabited by never-before-seen characters at seemingly random points in the story. Why is there a strange man hanging out near my home, and why are none of the other characters acknowledging him? One character, named Nick, appears about one-third of the way in and is the subject of an intriguing romance subplot--but that subplot never amounts to anything before Nick disappears as suddenly as he turns up. Some interesting character interactions and story revelations happen towards the end, but by this point I'd long since given up caring about any of the characters involved.

Defenders does at least offer a comforting sense of rhythm: you go off and explore, defend a base, come back to camp to acquire upgrades, then go and do it all again. However, even at this surface level, the game has too many small issues to ever really enjoy. It's marred by a plethora of tiny issues: repetitive voice samples, inaccurate hitboxes, inconsistent framerate, poor AI, and overuse of music, among others bugs and glitches. And these all amount to an experience that is not enjoyable.

Aegis Defenders is disappointing because it had potential, and I still think that potential exists. There is satisfaction to be found in setting up its towers and combining them in interesting ways to make bigger and better turrets. And its loop of exploring, defending, and upgrading is alluring. But the game never meets your expectations. Whether it's the nonsensical narrative, the frustrating combat, the numerous bugs, or the simplistic platforming, Aegis Defenders stumbles more often than it excels.

Bayonetta 2 Review

Game Spot Reviews - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 14:00

Editor's note: Bayonetta 2 arrives on Switch with everything intact from the Wii U version, but with the added convenience of portability and a more consistent frame rate, making it the definitive version of the game. Thanks to the confident execution of seemingly unbridled creativity, Bayonetta 2 remains a game that shouldn’t be missed, just as it was when we first reviewed the game on Wii U. The original review has been updated to reflect the new version of the game. - Peter Brown, Feb. 14, 6:00 AM PT

Bayonetta 2 never strives to be anything less than the purest, rarest kind of action-game experience, one that values skill, reaction times, and sheer spectacle over all else--realism and storytelling be damned. Sure, you can feel the influence of the likes of Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden in Bayonetta 2's combat, and see it in its wonderfully outlandish visuals. But neither of those games, nor the many that followed in their footsteps, come close to the brilliance of Bayonetta 2. It is a masterclass in pure, unadulterated action-game design, where its insane eye-popping visuals meld effortlessly with some of the sharpest, most joyful combat to have ever graced a video game.

There's no delay in getting you to the good stuff either, no scene-setting preamble to keep you from the action; I can think of few games where the opening moments are as outrageously bombastic as the last. Within minutes you'll have travelled through space atop a crumbling building, sliced golden angels into gooey chunks of meat, and even hopped inside a machine-gun-mech to take on gargantuan holy beasts. Newcomers may well button bash their way though these opening moments, but the sheer spectacle of it all makes them no less fun or exciting.

The basics are explained briefly--press Y to fire your guns, press X to punch things--but Bayonetta doesn't hold your hand via convoluted tutorials or training sequences. All it gives you are the absolute essentials you need to survive its early stages; it's up to you to learn more complex moves by experimenting or perusing the command list. Your proficiency with the titular Bayonetta's combat skills evolves at a natural pace. Nothing seems forced or faked, and--with a couple of minor exceptions--nor are you suddenly gifted some newfangled ability that results in a huge boost of power.

It's the design of the levels themselves, and the enemies that populate them, that encourage you to learn new combos and improve your skills. While there's not much in the way of exploration, levels like the beautiful, European-like Noatun, with its detailed stone pillar walls and glistening canals, hide secret battles and challenges for you to find. Most, however, funnel you as quickly as possibly from one hypersonic set piece to next. One moment you're happily chopping away at angelic guardians atop a fighter jet, and the next you're battling a giant golden snake that's guarding the glittering gates of heaven. Death comes quickly to those who fail to adapt to the timings and speeds of these wildly different encounters, but it's in this learning by doing that you're rewarded with a real sense of accomplishment, one that you don't get from simply being told what to do.

The mechanics of Bayonetta 2's combat don't differ that all that much from those of its predecessor. But when that predecessor is one of the greatest action games ever made, this is no bad thing. Everything from the way punches and kicks connect with your enemies, to the detailed, pixel-perfect animations that accompany them, showcases a stunning combat system that values skill and reaction times while looking gorgeous in the process. Even minor frame rate issues during the game's more complex scenes do little to detract from it. What is new in Bayonetta 2 is Umbran Climax, a powerful combat technique that lets you unleash powered-up punches and kicks, and a devastating demon summon. While you need a full magic gauge to perform an Umbran Climax--preventing you from using one of Bayonetta's gruesome torture attacks--the increased range of each hit, and the small amount of health you reclaim while using it, makes it a far more useful in combat.

But it would all be for nothing without Witch Time, a dodging mechanic that rewards last-second escapes by temporarily slowing down time, allowing you to unleash a barrage of attacks, or circumvent defences like shields and rotating spikes. It's a mechanic that's often mimicked, but never bettered; Witch Time transforms the already impressive combat into a sweeping ballet of guts and gunfire, culminating in the furious button mashing and blood-splattering of a dazzling Climax finish.

Timing, of course, is crucial to these moments, but even if you aren't that adept at unleashing a killer combo, the simplicity of Witch Time's single-button manoeuvring makes impressive displays of combat accessible to all. Bayonetta 2 ably strikes that balance between intuitiveness and depth, and does so without resorting to built-in handicaps or convoluted training missions. With just a few simple combos and well-timed flicks of the trigger to engage Witch Time, Bayonetta effortlessly twirls and kicks through the air, unleashing calamitous blows that are overwhelmingly satisfying to perform. Before long, you feel like a master of the form, even if, in reality, you've barely scratched the surface. The smooth, seamless flow of gratuitous gore and eye-popping visuals that follows the most dramatic of your encounters make for a wild ride almost impossible to put down.

It helps that Bayonetta 2 rarely lets the action drop. Unlike its predecessor, the game rarely allows the pace to dip as you explore larger towns, and it's not long before you're thrown back into another spectacular battle against the forces of heaven and hell (Paradiso and Inferno, in Bayonetta speak). Cutscenes are briefer this time around, which keeps the focus squarely on the combat, but they are just as tongue-in-cheek as before. You get your fair share of cheesy characters and sight gags, particularly in the humorous opening moments where bumbling Italian gangster Enzo is mercilessly teased by Bayonetta, and then has his more delicate parts almost run over by a motorbike-riding Jeanne. Things get a little more tense as the battle to save the earth rolls on, but the game never takes itself too seriously, punctuating its deeper moments with sarcastic quips from Bayonetta, who--despite suffering crotch shots and blatant innuendos--remains one of the most charismatic and powerful heroines in the medium. There are none of the sleazy moments that peppered the likes of Lollipop Chainsaw and Killer Is Dead; the sexualisation here serves to empower, not to belittle.

The story stitching it all together is utter nonsense, but fittingly so, because its absurdity serves as way to push you into ever more outlandish battles. By the time you reach the latter half of the game, the action rapidly escalates into multiple "Whoa! Did that really just happen?!" moments--a rock 'em sock 'em battle between two giants of Paradiso and Inferno, and an underwater clash with a sword slicing mega-knight being particular highlights--before climaxing into some of the most absurdly weird and wonderful boss battles to have graced an action game. But making it to the end credits barely scratches the surface of Bayonetta 2. There are hidden battles to find in each chapter, different accessories and weapons to buy and pick up from fallen enemies that give you access to new combos and powers, and challenges that have you trying to defeat enemies without taking a single hit, or by only being able to deal damage in Witch Time.

Then there are the medals doled out after every battle (awarded to you depending on the length of your combos and how much damage you take) that encourage you to keep going back and trying to perfect your performance--and when you've done that, there are the harder difficulties to try and master too. You can spend hours hunting down Nintendo-based Easter eggs and costumes, and--judging by my own squeals of delight when I found them--it's well worth the effort.

If you manage to work your way through all that, there's Tag Climax's two-player online co-op to master too. Not only does Tag Climax let you do battle with enemies not in the main game, it's actually also one of the best ways to acquire halos (Bayonetta 2's in-game currency), if you've got the chops for it. You can wager halos against your online partner as to who will get the highest score, with larger wagers upping the difficulty as well as the potential reward. Then, at the end of six rounds of furious battling, a winner is declared. Shared abilities like Witch Time and Umbran Climax ensure that there's an element of teamwork to these cooperative battles, and on higher wagers, they can get incredibly challenging.

But it's a challenge you'll want to experience again as soon as you put down the controller. Bayonetta 2's combat is so expertly constructed, and its presentation so joyously insane, that you'd have to try so very hard to get bored of it all. In a year filled with the promise of ever more elaborate experiences on all the shiny new hardware, that Bayonetta 2--a homage to classic game design and escapism--should be the most fun I've had playing a game all year is unexpected. But maybe it shouldn't have been. After all, its predecessor still stands as one of the finest games of its genre. To have surpassed that with Bayonetta 2, and to have created a game that will be remembered as an absolute classic, is nothing short of astonishing.

Click here for more information about GameSpot reviews.

Owlboy Review: A Heartfelt Tale

Game Spot Reviews - Tue, 02/13/2018 - 17:00

By their very nature, retro-inspired games are fighting an uphill battle against the nostalgia they aim to invoke. How can they form their own identity when they're partly designed to make you remember other games? After finishing Owlboy, it seems D-Pad Studio might have the answer.

For almost a decade, Owlboy has lurked behind the curtain of mainstream releases with a small-but-devout following. Looking at screenshots and videos over the years, it was always apparent that Owlboy would look and sound great, but there's so much more to love about the final product: the humor, the varied cast, the disasters that befall its otherwise bright and uplifting world, and the incredible action set-pieces that punctuate the calm found elsewhere. It's not until you break through the surface that you're blinded by Owlboy's artistic brilliance and swayed by its heartfelt story.

It begins with Otus--our mute protagonist and the runt of his village--during a stressful dream where his professor and dark figments criticize his inadequacies and chastise his inability to speak. It's a powerful setup that endears our hero to you. Trouble brews shortly after he wakes up and concerns of pirate sightings explode into panic as a nearby metropolis comes under attack. Otus teams up with a military mechanic, Geddy, to put a stop to the pirates before their home is destroyed.

Owlboy is old-school, not just in its presentation, but also in its storytelling--there’s no voice acting, and events are set in stone with nary a major decision-making opportunity in sight. The plot manages to avoid predictability, however, not only through a handful of twists, but by allowing characters to evolve throughout the course of the game. Sad moments aren't swept under the rug by unreasonable optimism--they stay with your squad and fundamentally alter their outlook on the mission and their own identity in surprising ways. There's great attention to detail in the cast's animations, which are often tailored for a specific scene, as opposed to falling back on routine reactions. Coupled with a script that's rife with emotion and nuance, Owlboy's characters feel real in your heart despite their cartoonish look.

Owlboy tackles multiple artistic themes and subjects with consistently impressive execution.

It may be a throwback of sorts, but Owlboy's visuals aren't tailored to specifically ape 8- or 16-bit graphics; it doesn't have a limited color palette, and its pixel resolution changes based on the scene at hand. When you enter wide-open spaces, the camera zooms out, chunky details shrink, and meticulously designed structures and environments take shape. In tight spaces, you're brought closer into the scene for more intimate inspection. From subterranean creatures to ancient structures, Owlboy tackles several artistic themes and subjects with consistently impressive execution. And if you have a soft spot for 2D games with multiple layers of parallax scrolling--where the background moves slower than the foreground to simulate depth--you're in for a treat.

When you first take control of Otus, darting around floating islands and chatting with other creatures makes for a pleasant experience, and while the open air and bright colors deserve some credit, it's the orchestrated soundtrack that solidifies Owlboy's shifting atmosphere and tone. Violas and flutes instill merriment at first, but this innocence is short lived; when the pirates invade, oboes drone and cellos growl to the slow beat of a heavy drum. When the dust settles and the second half of your journey kicks off, sprightly piano compositions provide a much-needed respite from the stress of a society under attack.

Your trek to the pirate's den takes you through expansive spaces and into the heart of sprawling cave systems where buccaneers and wildlife alike lie in wait. They typically bombard you with rocks and other projectiles, rarely engaging in close-quarters combat. On his own, Otus can only dash into enemies, stunning them at best. However, with the help of a handy teleportation device, he can summon one of three partners into his claws mid-flight to utilize their long-range blaster, shotgun, or webbing that can ensnare enemies and be used as a grappling hook to escape dangerous situations.

Otus is unfortunately a tad slow by default, which causes you to spam his dash move repeatedly to keep things moving along outside of combat. There’s a modest upgrade system driven by collecting and turning in coins found in chests, but you're upgrading health reserves--in the form of soup canisters--and your team's weapons, not physical traits. Still, a keen eye and fast reflexes are more critical to success than any upgrades purchased during your adventure. Knowing that success comes from a show of skill rather than your ability to collect upgrades is gratifying, but you walk away from Owlboy with the sinking feeling that the equipment and upgrades in the game have unrealized potential.

Owlboy is consistently charming and surprising, and when its final act doubles down on every front, it's bittersweet to see it end.

Standard combat isn't anything special, but it never wears out its welcome thanks to deft pacing. Owlboy steadily mixes combat and exploration with measured stealth challenges, fast-paced escape sequences, and entertaining exchanges between characters. The chase/escape sequences in particular are some of the most impressive moments in the game, throwing you into a harrowing race against time in the face of tightly choreographed hazards. These scenes are challenging and filled with visual effects that add to the sense of danger, and they're overwhelming at first, but should you die, not to worry: Owlboy never truly punishes you for failure, allowing you to restart from the last room you entered.

Owlboy is consistently charming and surprising, and when its final act doubles down on every front, it's bittersweet to see it end. As you relish the outcome of the final battle and watch the closing cutscene, you can't help but reflect on the beginning of your adventure and how far the world and its inhabitants have come. You'll never be able to play Owlboy for the first time again, but the memories of its magic moments stick with you. This is more than a treat for fans of old-school games; Owlboy is a heartfelt experience that will touch anyone with an affinity for great art and storytelling.

Editor's note: After further testing, GameSpot has updated the score to reflect the Nintendo Switch version of Owlboy. - Feb. 13, 2018, 9:00 AM PT

The Longest Five Minutes Review: The Power Of Memories

Game Spot Reviews - Tue, 02/13/2018 - 17:00

The premise of The Longest Five Minutes is one that immediately grabs your attention. You’re thrust into the climactic final battle of an old-school Japanese RPG, only you--playing as the main hero--have been afflicted by the sort of amnesia that usually hits at the beginning of those games. You’ve forgotten everything: your name, where you are, who your companions are, and why you’re currently being stared down by a fierce demon lord. As a five-minute climactic battle with the final boss ensues, you must pause time and dive deep into your subconscious, rediscovering and reliving your memories to rekindle your fighting spirit. Because of this, the proposed five minutes extends to hours of gameplay outside of your main objective.

It’s an interesting concept that turns the normal flow of RPG final battles on its head, and made me eager to piece together a story built from fragmented memories presented in classic turn-based RPG style. After seeing the lively character sprite animations and silly dialogue, I was eager for a sendup of RPG conventions in the vein of the excellent Half-Minute Hero games. Sadly, The Longest Five Minutes never realizes its full potential.

When our hero, Flash, has an elaborate flashback, scenes from his past play out as typical moments from 8- or 16-bit JRPGs: exploring towns and dungeons, conversing with NPCs and party members, and fighting parties of low-level enemies. These flashbacks are somewhat non-linear, letting you piece together a story from the disjointed bits that the hero remembers.

While you can blow through and recover each disjointed memory by completing its central objectives, there are usually a few side quests you can also embark on. Completing these quests and fleshing out the memories yields rewards in the form of “re-experience points” that increase your power in the ongoing fight against the Demon King. And depending on the choices you make both in the memory sections and during your climactic fight, the story can follow one of a few different branches, resulting in multiple endings.

It’s intriguing to go back to events like the hero's first-ever date with a would-be love interest or the time when everyone faces their fears and decides to risk their lives by vowing to confront an otherworldly threat. Most of the time, however, you’re going to be stuck revisiting dungeons and completing fetch quests. That wouldn’t be so bad if your objectives were more surprising, but they tend to be bog-standard quests with bland dungeon design and simplistic puzzles. The optional side quests aren’t much better, ranging from lost-and-found errands to mini-games like a slot machine that will have completionists cursing.

One interesting side effect of the game’s disjointed nature is that every memory is essentially a self-contained adventure, making it quite easy to digest in small chunks. Even your money and items revert to presets every time you enter a memory, so there’s no need for time-consuming grinding or item/equipment management. This makes the game feel very breezy, and it’s possible to complete a single playthrough within eight to 12 hours, making it less of a serious time commitment than your typical RPG.

However, with items, equipment, and EXP never carrying over from memory to memory, exploring and fighting beyond what you're required to do feels completely unnecessary. Even if you acquire cool stuff in a dungeon or get a lot of money off of enemies, it’s all going to vanish pretty quickly. This, in turn, makes meandering through uninspired mazes and quashing foes in extremely simplistic turn-based combat (which you’ll auto-battle through 99% of the time) a hassle rather than an enjoyable challenge. At least the towns are fun to romp through, and some cute NPC and party member dialogue adds a lot of charm to the game. Ultimately, though, it feels like a there’s a good amount of unnecessary, laborious fluff despite The Longest Five Minutes being quite lean.

The concept of The Longest Five Minutes is undeniably intriguing, and its retro-styled visuals, quirky personalities and dialogue, and moments of inspired, emotional storytelling give it a lot of inherent charm. But charm can only go so far to make up for a game’s flaws, and far too often, The Longest Five Minutes falls victim to stereotypical old-school JRPG drudgery like endless random encounters and annoying dungeons--the exact sort of thing it wants to deconstruct. Though its ambition is admirable, it ultimately doesn’t live up to the promise of its clever premise.

Pages

Subscribe to Arastos aggregator