Tag Archive: action-adventure


Slice and dice

Assassin’s Creed’s story-driven DLC packs have always tried to offer something different from their main story counterparts. From spiritual animal visions to freeing slaves, these post-release expansions have pushed the boundaries of what we expect from the series—especially gameplay-wise. In many ways, the newest addition to this lineage, the Jack the Ripper DLC for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, continues this trend.

Set in the fall of 1888—20 years after Syndicate and during the height of the Jack the Ripper murders—master assassin Jacob Frye has a dark secret that he’s hiding: he knows who the Ripper is. Jacob hopes to catch the madman before the police in an effort to rehabilitate Jack, but then suddenly ends up missing. A month later, Jacob’s twin sister Evie is forced to leave her home in India and return to London, in the hopes of finding her brother and putting a stop to Jack’s rampage permanently.

The most intriguing aspect of the Jack the Ripper DLC is that it tackles a subject with so many questions surrounding it. Considered the world’s first serial killer, Jack the Ripper was never caught nor his true identity revealed. Therefore, one might think it would give Ubisoft a wide berth in terms of how to work their narrative into this unsolved mystery. Unfortunately, it seemed to do the exact opposite.


Part of the fun that stems from Assassin’s Creed is how the story finds ways to seep into the nooks and crannies of history, spinning well-defined, real-life events in a way that fits their conspiracy theory driven plot. Ubisoft took a great risk crafting their own tale to explain where Jack came from, how his methods evolved, and finally why his murder spree stopped. But because so little is known about the real-life Jack, the development of the character felt stifled, as there weren’t many ways to add depth to such a primal, one note villain to begin with without knowing something concrete about the man. Maybe part of this stems from the brevity of the DLC; a side expansion simply wasn’t enough to both introduce Jack and also turn him into a nemesis we could love to hate. Of course, the DLC alludes to Jacob and Evie having met Jack during the events of the main game, and yet there is no connecting between the two, unlike previous Assassin’s Creed DLCs. No matter the case, the result was a story that left me unsatisfied, even with its definitive ending.

Gameplay, on the other hand, added some surprising new wrinkles to the series—the foremost of which was actually playing as Jack the Ripper in several instances. Symbolic of the cat and mouse game Jack played with the actual police 125 years ago, the DLC sees Jack do the same with Evie, and there are several sequences where players can act out the brutality of Jack the Ripper as he leaves a trail of clues for our heroine. While these moments could’ve been used to better show Jack’s motivations—we see what he does, but never really get a clear sense as to why—they did offer a unique sense of freedom to how you would normally play an Assassin’s Creed game, now given the chance to step into the shoes of the villain as well as the hero.

Playing as Jack also introduced two new mechanics to the game (which then become available to Evie in non-lethal adaptations). The primary addition is a fear factor that allows you to instill terror in your enemies, so much so that they’ll run away instead of facing you. Building off of this is an supplement to melee combat called the Brutal Takedown, which—when pulled off successfully—can add to your ominous presence.


The idea of using fear as a weapon is something that I didn’t realize had been lacking from Assassin’s Creed until now. Being able to double assassinate a couple of thugs, then do a Brutal Takedown on another that scares away a half-dozen other guards, is the most empowering tool in your repertoire yet. It also makes a lot of sense. If you were a lowly guard patrolling a manor, and just saw your buddy’s throat ripped out, would you stay and fight, or turn and run the other way? Of course, as you might expect, some enemies do stay and fight, but others quickly beat a hasty retreat. It also allows for more enemies per conflict, as you’re now not expecting to fight all of them. You can—and you can win—but it wouldn’t be very efficient nor Assassin-like.

The major issue with the fear system, however, is that it’s not limited to just Brutal Takedowns. Evie and Jack both carry tools such as fear grenades and spikes. While Evie uses her spikes to pin enemies to the ground, so that their screams inspire terror in fellow thugs, Jack impales them as grim examples of the carnage to come. Meanwhile, fear grenades allow you to strike terror from behind cover without being seen. While great for clearing an area, they also felt overpowered, as a fully-stocked assassin never even has to unsheathe their blade, as they simply had to chuck a couple of grenades into the crowd.

These new elements come courtesy of a foundation built on the main game of Syndicate, though. Jack the Ripper takes place entirely in the two most northern districts of the main game’s map—Whitechapel and City of London—which unfortunately gives you a much smaller piece of land to cover, expediting much of the experience. Thanksfully, there are some new side missions to complete from associates both new and old, and three new Black Box missions to partake in. All told, though, Jack the Ripper might feel a tad repetitive for anyone who immersed themselves in the main game when it comes down to helping Evie track down Jack.

Although a little light on the content side, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: Jack the Ripper is still a fun side excursion in the Assassin’s Creed universe. New mechanics and characters meshing with familiar ones from the main game make this DLC a fun experience overall—one that won’t disappoint most fans, all while filling in more gaps along the ever more convoluted timeline of Assassin’s Creed.


Developer: Ubisoft Quebec • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.17.15
Striking fear into Evie’s enemies may be a bit overpowered, and Jack may not be the formidable bad guy we hoped he would be, but this DLC is still a fun adventure that serves as a nice excuse to return to Assassin’s Creed’s take on Victorian-Era London.
The Good New fear mechanic provides a fresh take on familiar gameplay…
The Bad …that is also overpowered and too heavily relied on.
The Ugly Jack the Ripper would make the easiest Dickens Fair cosplay.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: Jack the Ripper is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.


Clipped wings

At this point, Yuji Naka’s place in video game history is secure. As one of the key figures behind all the early Sonic the Hedgehog titles, and later Nights into Dreams on Sega Saturn, Naka has brought gamers countless hours of high-speed fun. But many also lament what is most likely Naka’s greatest failing—the inability to recapture many of those feelings we had from his 2D Sonic games in his 3D ones. Sonic’s failed transition away from side-scrollers partly led to Naka’s departure from Sonic Team in 2006, driving him to create his own studio, Prope, which has seen moderate success in the mobile realm. Unfortunately, like a pro athlete who refuses to admit the best days of his career are behind him, it seems that Naka still wants to find a way to bring the mechanics that made him a success in the 90s to modern audiences. As Rodea the Sky Soldier proves, however, knowing when to move on is sometimes more noble than never letting go.

Rodea the Sky Soldier begins by explaining that, every millennium, a cross-rift between two dimensions opens. One dimension is driven more by organics and nature; the other, more mechanical and industrial. King Geardo, monarch of the industrial dimension, wants to use the cross-rift as an opportunity to rule over both. His daughter, however, is tired of her father’s dreams of conquest, so she programs her android bodyguard Rodea to stop the king and his robotic army at all costs. It sounds more like the plot of a JRPG than an action game, but it does its job in setting the stage as to why the organic world you fight in is overrun with mechanical enemies. Meanwhile, from a design standpoint, Rodea looks like a cross between a Sonic game and a Nights game. Item boxes, enemies, even world layout, although simple, has the feel of Naka’s later failed works at SEGA.

Before we continue any further, it needs to be said that Rodea the Sky Soldier was never intended as a Wii U game. In fact, it sat in development purgatory for four years, originally planned on being released on the Wii back in 2011. Why the game was delayed so long is beyond me, but it looks like nothing has been done with all that extra time—causing a lot of rust to collect on Rodea’s visuals and gameplay.


Graphically, the game is a mess—it would look bad even as a last-gen title. Barely populated worlds, wide stretches of land painted in the same bland color, and even large segments of a stage flickering in and out of existence as rendering fails to keep up when Rodea reaches a decent speed mar the the experience. All this makes Rodea easily one of the ugliest games I’ve played in a long time.

Rodea is also a joke in terms of gameplay, seemingly taking all the worst elements from Naka’s previous games and mashing them together. Rodea can fly around a level or run around the ground, moving his fastest when he’s in the air. He has only a limited meter once he takes flight, though, so Rodea will need to find a solid piece of land to settle on to let the meter quickly refill—sans grabbing certain items mid-flight that refresh his flight power. This actually provides a nice challenge in stages where lots of bottomless drops abound, forcing you to balance how you get to the end of each level.

The flying could have been so much more fluid and fun had the game’s controls not turned out completely unintuitive. Instead of allowing you to just fly around using the control stick, you have to aim at where you want Rodea to fly, then press a button to set a marker on a safe spot. Once you’ve done that, Rodea will move along the path toward the marker you’ve placed. If you want to course correct, attack an enemy, or deviate in any way from the original path, the entire concept falls apart. I could see where, if you had to use the original Wiimote, pointing at the screen constantly, this might not have been as bad as it is. But using the Wii U gamepad’s control stick to aim instead caused rerouting Rodea in mid-air to become a chore, especially with the overly sensitive camera swinging around trying to correct itself. Never before has flying in a game ever felt so restrictive.

The combat is also a sad state of affairs. When targeting an enemy, you can lock onto them like you would in one of the 3D Sonic games, with Rodea even spinning around to gear up for the attack. If enemies are grouped together, though, the inability to easily link attacks was a sad realization. I often had to individually target them—which, admittedly, was still easier than flying—but I lacked the speed or rush that even the worst 3D Sonic games were able to produce.


The weakest element of combat, though, is easily something I thought I’d never see again in a game like this: guns. Channeling his inner Shadow the Hedgehog, Rodea has machine guns and other firearms that he can earn over time, allowing him to slowly aim and take pot shots at the enemies around each world. It was at this point that I nearly threw the Wii U controller out of sheer frustration because, while the gun mechanics work, they destroyed any semblance of pacing that the game was trying to achieve.

Rodea isn’t a complete letdown, though. Showing at least a semblance of evolution from the projects of a decade ago, the game features a fleshed-out upgrade system for the titular hero. Killing enemies rewards Rodea with spare parts that he can then use to upgrade his armor, attack, speed, and other attributes between stages. He can also unlock new moves and better weapons—should the whole machine gun mechanic not bother you as much as it did me.

Surprisingly, the game’s boss battles are also a fair amount of fun. Since most of them are mammoth in size, set in the game’s larger arenas, it’s easier to target their weak points and bring them to their knees—even if many fall into the classic “three hits and you’re dead” gaming trope. It’s such a shame that getting to the bosses is such a grind, leaving them feeling like a brief respite instead of the culmination of a well-designed level.

It’s sad that Rodea the Sky Soldier stayed buried for so long. Had it released in 2011 like originally intended for the Wii, this might’ve been a much better handling game to play, and wouldn’t have looked nearly as bad as it does next to the Wii U contemporaries it now has to contend with. The saddest part, though, is that Yuji Naka doesn’t seem willing to completely let go of his past—and, if anything, accidentally makes the case for why the beloved characters and gameplay he created in his early game design days no longer fit in the modern gaming realm.


Developer: Kadokawa Games/Prope • Publisher: NIS America • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 11.10.15
Horrid visuals and unintuitive gameplay make Rodea the Sky Soldier one of the worst action games I’ve played in a long time.
The Good Massive boss battles, deep character upgrade system.
The Bad Difficult to control Rodea in flight, last-gen graphics, lots of glitches.
The Ugly Didn’t we learn anything from the disaster that was Shadow the Hedgehog?
Rodea the Sky Soldier is available on Wii U, Wii, and 3DS. Primary version reviewed was for Wii U. Review code was provided by NIS America for the benefit of this review.


A jolly good time

Assassin’s Creed is one of gaming’s constants. Like a sports title or Call of Duty, the Assassin’s Creed series has maintained a high-level of quality on an annual basis for a long time now (since 2009) and has turned into a solid go-to for everyone who needs a regular action-adventure fix. Until last year.

Assassin’s Creed Unity dropped the ball in terms of what people expect from the series in terms of gameplay, narrative, and general design, putting an unusual amount of pressure on 2015’s annual entry to right the course—or risk potential ruin for Ubisoft’s crown jewel. Luckily, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate does indeed strike true with its hidden blade, plunging the series back into the conversation for favorite fall games after jettisoning multiplayer and focusing on trying to put together the best single-player experience possible.

Once again, players assume the role of an Initiate, using their hacked Helix—a home entertainment version of the Animus that allowed you to relive ancestral history in the franchise’s early games—to help the Assassin Brotherhood in their search for Pieces of Eden that can turn the tide of their struggle against the Templars back in their favor. This time, you are sent to Victorian Era London, and for the first time in the series, you can freely switch between two protagonists as you step into the boots of the young, brash, yet highly effective Jacob and Evie Frye.


If nothing else, this is one of the more memorable narratives the series has seen yet. Jacob and Evie not only have a great rapport with each other, but each has their own separate arcs that watch them grow and change in different and compelling ways. Jacob’s brashness and charm sometimes goes too far, and Evie’s single-minded approach to things costs her in ways she doesn’t necessarily realize in the moment. Each of their respective decisions has consequences on their lives—as well as the lives of those they’ve sworn to protect in London—and will keep you entertained throughout. The siblings even play differently, with Jacob being a plodding bruiser, and Evie the truer, stealthy assassin, with many side missions offering you a choice of who to play as.

Upon arriving in London, Evie and Jacob have a singular purpose: to bring down Templar Grandmaster Crawford Starrick. His crippling grip on London’s infrastructure has made the Templars strong, so the goal of breaking it makes playing the game far more interesting—especially when the Frye twins handle Starrick in their own one-of-a-kind ways. A strong, clear counterpoint to our respective heroes is something the series has lacked since the Borgias butted heads with Ezio and the narrative flows more smoothly from it.

The only point where the narrative stumbles at all is in the present day aspect of the series. Your Initiate character again remains chained to the Helix for the entirety of the game. While you do get a larger glimpse into the present day, meeting new assassins and seeing old friendly faces like Shaun and Rebecca from the Desmond days, things unfold as little more than long cutscenes.


Playing around in the present day—last available to us in Black Flag—was beneficial in that it afforded a brief respite from the intense situations of the main game, with puzzles and conversations giving players the chance to catch their breath and let what just happened to them sink in more. It also aided the pacing of the game, allowing for drastic movement in time in a more cinematic way. Because we don’t have that here, we really see all of Syndicate play out in what feels like a few days, and at that point, why even bother with the idea of breaking up story beats into “sequences” besides as a cute reference to early titles in the series?

And since I mentioned puzzles, I do wish those would return to Assassin’s Creed. There is one puzzle in all of Syndicate, and another scavenger hunt for legendary armor. At the very least, in order to mix up the gameplay a bit, there is a special sequence that unlocks about halfway through the narrative that fast-forwards us in time to a World War I London about one-third the size of the Victorian Era one. It’s an extremely fun twist that doubles as a critical chance for moving the present-day story forward—unlike the weird, minigame-esque time jumps we saw in last year’s Unity.

And speaking of Unity again, I do have to mention there are some major, welcome differences between Syndicate and its predecessor that are clear indicators of the series being back on track. One of those is the setting, but I’m not just talking time or geography-wise. 1868 London feels more alive, more vibrant, and more like its own character than late-18th century Paris ever did. NPCs call out to Jacob and Evie with unique dialogue as the duo runs around town. Train stations are bristling with life as people rush to the platform to get on trains that actual speed around London. And, the addition of horse-drawn carriages mingling with pedestrians on city streets gives the illusion of authentic hustle and bustle that you’d expect from the heart of the civilized world.


The most impressive aspect of this digital London, however, is how each section of town feels truly inimitable. Whether slumming it near the asylum in Lambeth, or sipping tea at 10 Downing in Westminster, London’s districts give off a specific tone that makes it easier to navigate and, again, feels more authentic and alive.

Speaking of navigation, Syndicate adds a lot on this front. The previously talked about carriages are hijackable and everywhere in London. The map may be massive, but who knew two-horsepower could get you across it so quickly. The handling of the carriages does take some time to get used to due to their wobbly nature, but with enough practice, you’ll be racing down London’s streets in no time and covering distance faster than in any Assassin’s Creed game to date.

Not every situation, or space for that matter, is ideal for a horse drawn carriage. This means that the series’ traditional parkour returns, and feels as smooth as ever. The addition of tapping the left-bumper to hop in windows, combined with what feels like more intuitive transitions between last year’s up and down movements, means scaling buildings has never felt better.


The biggest upgrade to traversal, though, may be the much talked-about rope launcher. London’s most famous towers and buildings now can be scaled in a fraction of the time when you get close to their base, or you can swing across the city’s wide avenues when firing the rope launcher from rooftop to rooftop. Unlike the carriages and traditional parkour, I thought this new piece of equipment needed a bit more work, though.

For starters, the rope launcher has no aiming reticle, so you often lack the precision you’re looking for when using it, especially when moving horizontally. Also, there’s no clear definition of how far you can fire the rope launcher, or what edges you can latch onto with it and which ones you can’t. Just “eyeing it up” gets tiresome, especially if trying to make a quick escape—so the rope launcher definitely needed to either latch onto anything, or be something that should have offered clearer working parameters. The in-between ground the device found is okay, and when it works it works well, but you’ll be on top of a church asking yourself why you can’t just launch down to a building below way too often.

The rope launcher isn’t just for navigation, however. While it doesn’t come into play in direct combat, it’s great for creating stealth opportunities when looking to assassinate someone via the air. By creating a zipline between buildings or across a courtyard, Jacob and Evie can position themselves directly above their targets and drop, blades drawn, onto their unsuspecting victims. A new “kidnap” mechanic also helps players be stealthy. By slowly approaching an enemy from behind, our heroes can wrench their prey’s arm and guide them around guard patrols, using them to make it seem like they actually belong and not drawing the ire of nearby foes. If you wander too close to an enemy, however, the ruse is lost. These are just a couple of new ways you can infiltrate enemy spaces and minimize your risk of being detected, and more options are always a good thing when trying to be sneaky.


Combat has also seen a marked improvement in Syndicate. New offensive weapons like the “Voltaic” stun bombs and hallucinogenic darts—which make enemies temporarily fight on your side—allows you to whittle down enemy numbers before a full-blown fight erupts. Once melees do ensue, taking on a horde of guards at once can still prove difficult, but combat isn’t nearly as punishing as it was in Unity thanks to the return of the counter. Even better, a much clearer counter window allows Jacob and Evie to pull off some spectacular combinations that lead to supremely cinematic, bone-crushing multi-kills when several opponents are all near death.

Whether the gameplay is new or old, one thing Syndicate also does well is ease players into its mechanics. Side activities like fight clubs and carriage races are great opportunities to practice driving and fighting, while the Gang War missions—Jacob Frye’s one-man march towards unifying the underworld of London under his banner—freshens you up on old techniques, even if they have new twists or if your hidden blade happens to be a bit rusty.

The Gang War side content also acts as a great way for players to clearly follow their progression in the game. A bit like an RPG, Evie and Jacob level up as they unlock and learn new assassination abilities, weapons, and armor, including some specific to each character. As they grow, they can more easily handle enemies of higher difficulty. While it’s not impossible for a level five Evie to stealthily assassinate a level eight Templar, should the hit be botched, she’s more likely to walk away from that encounter if they are closer in level.


With that in mind, the sections of London are similarly labeled, usually housing enemies of a level equal to the location, ranging from Whitechapel’s two up to Westminster’s nine. By freeing London borough by borough from Crawford Starrick’s gangs, both characters level up. Jacob and Evie each max out at level 10, and thankfully, they’ll both earn points toward reaching that goal no matter who you’re playing as. This paves the way for an easier time in the story, while also providing that satisfying feeling of accomplishment that comes from freeing the entire city from Templar control and snagging a couple hundred collectibles along the way—and which Unity made nearly impossible with its cluttered map and unclear progression system.

As good as Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is, it does share one familiar trait with Unity, however: there are a fair amount of bugs in the game. Syndicate froze up on me several times, mission objectives would glitch (forcing me to reload checkpoints), and both Jacob and Evie fell through the world or got stuck in walls far too frequently. It makes one wonder if the yearly Assassins Creed cycle is just too much for Ubisoft to handle, because—while not nearly as bad as Unity—this is back to back years where my gameplay was noticeably hindered at times due to technical issues.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a return to form for the most part for Assassin’s Creed. Sure, the removal of all multiplayer might ding the replayability of the title, but I’d rather have an awesome 30-40 hour experience that I’ll one-hundred percent once and be done with—which is what Syndicate is—than the feeling of being forced into online play to try and squeeze a few more hours out of it. Syndicate features a compelling story with great protagonists, some terrific gameplay, and a beautiful new world and time period to explore, which remains Assassin’s Creed’s calling card. If Ubisoft can just work out those last few kinks, Assassin’s Creed would be ready to truly take new-gen by storm. As is, Syndicate is a strong addition to the series’ ever-expanding timeline that should reassure fans who were questioning its viability after last year.


Developer: Ubisoft Quebec • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.23.15

A fair amount of bugs and lack of a present-day scenario detract from what is otherwise a strong return to form for Assassin’s Creed. Syndicate touts not one, but two great protagonists, strong gameplay, and Victorian Era London is neck and neck with Renaissance Italy as the best place the series has been to.

The Good London may be the most impressive setting for the series yet. Strong narrative and gameplay.
The Bad Glitches galore. Lack of present-day scenario. Rope launcher could use some work.
The Ugly I wonder if PETA will come after Ubisoft for all the horses I killed during high-speed carriage chases.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is available on Xbox One and PS4 and is coming later to PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review.


Fashion faux pas

When a new Legend of Zelda game comes out, it’s damned near impossible for me to stop playing it until I see the end credits roll. Ever since that first golden cartridge hit my NES when I was a little kid, those initial playthroughs spurred marathons that likely contribute to my insomnia today. While most of them were worth it, there have been a couple of misses along the way—and it seems that The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes falls into that category. While I hate to see most Zelda titles end, I couldn’t wait until Tri Force Heroes was mercifully over.

Tri Force Heroes does not take place in Hyrule, but instead the world of Hytopia, a land where all the people are fixated on fashion. When this realm’s Princess Styla, the most fashionable person in Hytopia, is stricken with a witch’s curse that traps her in a black body stocking, the king sends out a decree searching for heroes to strike down the witch and bring peace (and high fashion) back to his kingdom. And, according to Hytopian legend, three fated heroes who look alarmingly alike will have to come together to break this curse—with you destined to be one of those heroes.

Since Hytopia is such a fashion-obsessed society, a big element of Tri Force Heroes is that what Link wears plays a large part of being a hero there. After grinding for different crafting materials by repeatedly beating dungeons, he can have the local seamstress put together new costumes that give him subtle benefits while out battling in the Drablands—Hytopia’s fashionless equivalent to Hyrule’s Dark World and where most of the action in the game takes place. For example, the Kokiri Suit allows Link to fire three arrows from his bow in a spread formation, while the Big Bomb Suit increases the size and strength of your bombs.

As ridiculous as it all may sound, it’s not the first time the Zelda franchise has made it so that Link wasn’t saving Zelda, doing work in a realm outside Hyrule, or even teaming up with duplicates of himself. It’s also not the first time we’ve seen unique gameplay elements added to the series, with games even as recent as 2013’s A Link Between Worlds immediately coming to mind. So, while I may have been hesitant upon first hearing the premise, I put my misgivings aside and tried to look at Tri Force Heroes as I would any other Legend of Zelda title.

Surprisingly, I didn’t really have problems adjusting to life in Hytopia or the garb-centric gameplay. Instead, it was everything else involving gameplay that ended up preventing me from enjoying this experience.


The biggest disappointment with Tri Force Heroes is that there is no exploration in the game whatsoever. Hytopia acts as a small hub world before Link sets off in a linear adventure where he must beat four levels in each of eight different worlds, as Link looks to collect the parts of a dress that will allow him to break the princess’s curse. The levels are broken down into four mini-stages with each requiring you to solve a puzzle, usually oriented around the three heroes of the story working together.

In fact, the levels are so puzzle focused that Link doesn’t have an item inventory. After selecting your costume from your wardrobe, each area then starts you with the items you’ll need to beat each stage. For example, you never have to worry about finding the bow in a dungeon because it’s gifted to you in certain levels, but then taken away and replaced by the boomerang (or other classic Zelda item) in others, depending on the level design and puzzle parameters. It simplifies the gameplay to a point there is minimal challenge because there are so few variables when all you have is your sword and a single item. Plus, this removes the fun of discovery that most Legend of Zelda titles have, and only compounds the game’s linearity since there’s no opportunity to backtrack and unlock the secrets of an ever-expanding world. Unlike the magical garments that populate the game, what you see is what you get with Tri Force Heroes.

To try to replace some of this lost replayability, each level has three optional challenges that you can complete. Beating a level within a certain time limit or completing it without having used your sword are just a couple of the numerous challenge variations you’ll come across. This means that the 32 levels the game touts actually can turn into 128 if you are patient enough to try and beat each and every challenge. It works well, but it feels out of place being the sole focus for something in The Legend of Zelda series.

Another misstep for Tri Force Heroes comes in the form of the heavily touted co-op. As the title and plot imply, you can play with two friends and tackle the levels as a group, but the option to play with two people and with one AI is oddly missing outside of a tacked on versus mode. You can even play locally with only one cartridge per three 3DSs. And trust me, the local option is the preferred route. Although playing online with people over great distances is all well and good, the communication system in Tri Force Heroes is limited to eight emojis that translate to “Hello”, “Good Job”, “Go Over There” and other simple phrases that really handcuff your team when trying to solve the game’s puzzles—making the already limited core gameplay even more difficult to enjoy. Playing with people in the same room, whether with one or three cartridges, is really the only way to go because communication is key when working with others towards a common goal.


With so many of the puzzles revolving around three Links needing to solve them, the issue then arises of what do you do when playing by yourself. Luckily, much like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, players going it solo can control the trio of Links. Unfortunately, however, Tri Force Heroes’ system of control is far less efficient than that Gamecube classic.

Instead of allowing players to control all the Links at once and put them in formations like in Four Swords Adventures, you have to switch between each one manually. As the story goes, Link is actually traveling with two “doppels”— enchanted dolls that he can pass his soul between. This means that many times you’ll have to backtrack in order to drag the sometimes-left-behind doppels to the end of a stage after clearing the path, because you can only beat a stage when all three characters are on a Triforce symbol. (Which makes no sense, really, when you consider Hytopia is a world without Zelda, Ganon, the Triforce, etc.). This repetition only adds to the inherent grind the game already provides if you try to collect all the items necessary for the various outfits Link can wear.

All that being said, let me be clear, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes isn’t a horrible game. Hytopia and its people are as charming as those found in any other Zelda title, and the fashion gimmick is an interesting gameplay twist. If you like the idea of solving simple puzzles with a Legend of Zelda flair, and small, quick levels for short bursts of gameplay, then this game delivers.

For those of us who have grown up with Zelda, and who can’t help but be sucked into nearly each and every one of Link’s subsequent adventures, though, I can’t get past the sense that this could’ve been any other adventure game minus the Legend of Zelda coat of paint. Tri Force Heroes just comes off as too one-dimensional in its focus for diehards of the series to get into it—but it might make a decent time sink for more casual fans who can chip away at the levels and their challenge variations on their daily commute.


Developer: Grezzo, Nintendo • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone  • Release Date: 10.23.15
Tri Force Heroes is a Zelda game in name only. When you dig just past the surface, poor gameplay mechanics and key missing elements for a Zelda title tarnish what is otherwise a serviceable adventure game.
The Good Tons of content. Puzzles are good in short doses.
The Bad The grind for unnecessary gear. Difficult to complete without friends who are in the same room as you.
The Ugly Anyone who has wanted to see Link in a dress for an entire game can now get their wish.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes  is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Review copies were provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.

No school like the old school

When compared to some of the EGM Crew, I’m admittedly kind of slow on the Indie uptake. Something that helps motivate me to take notice of the latest Indie darling that’s burning up the popular forums, though, is when it’s dripping with nostalgia from my 2D-game upbringing. The latest offering that fits that bill is a result of the one-man development wrecking crew that is Thomas Happ and Axiom Verge.

The action-adventure shooter puts players in the lab coat of a scientist named Trace. When one of his experiments accidentally triggers an explosion in the lab, Trace is knocked unconscious. Upon waking up, he finds himself on an alien world that proves to be quite hostile—and he has no recollection of what happened after the blast. Trace must now explore this unfamiliar landscape in the hopes to not only piece together his fractured memory but also find a way back home.

Trace’s story isn’t the centerpiece of Axiom Verge, though. In fact, it’s far from it. I only ever got small nibbles of the carrot that is solving the issue of Trace’s mysterious appearance on this alien planet, and many questions remained unanswered in the process of my playthrough. Normally, this would have me pulling my hair out. I’d be ready to come up with any number of loose connections to fit together what little plot I came across, filling in the blanks and creating a coherent timeline in my mind as best I could. Instead, Axiom Verge reminded me time and again, through its novel twists on stereotypical gaming devices and old-fashioned design, that the story is never the focus here—it’s always on the gameplay.

Axiom Verge is like a love letter to the original Metroid. It’s exploration tempered by a healthy dose of shooting all kinds of alien life-forms with a pinch of platforming, a wide assortment of weapons, and just enough narrative hooks to keep pushing you forward. Collecting a cornucopia of items that would open up more of the ever-expanding map, lengthening Trace’s health bar, or beefing up the various bioweapon blasters he comes across was a thrill as I watched my completion percentage climb. Deducing the patterns of gargantuan bosses with pixel precision became more and more of an obsession as I played, flashing me back to my childhood and the great gun battles of my gaming glory days. This is as solid a gameplay base as it gets.

In some aspects, however, Axiom Verge tries too hard to stay true to its gaming roots, and it could’ve take a page from other modern games in the genre to deliver a more pleasant overall experience. A prime example? The map system. The game would’ve been well served to include some sort of marker feature that I could’ve used to remind me the location of items I missed or areas I wanted to explore so that I could more efficiently plan my paths—especially considering the sheer size of the world.

A fast-travel system would’ve been welcome as well, because once I reached the 12-hour mark and collected around 80 percent of the items, I got really tired of schlepping back and forth across a map that features more than 700 unique rooms, gunning down the same enemies over and over. In fact, I pushed forth with the endgame sequence before hitting that magical 100-percent mark to prevent what had been a wonderful adventure up to that point from starting to feel like too much of a grind.

To that end, I realized that Axiom Verge truly shines when it breaks away from the restraints of the past it emulates and instead builds on top of those gameplay foundations. For instance, one of the most powerful weapons you get early on in your adventure is best described as a “glitch gun.” Firing its waves of distinctive radiation at walls comprised entirely of blocks of retro texture glitches from games of yesteryear will reveal new paths or items. Lambasting enemies with this gun, though, can have a wide array of effects—they might turn friendly toward Trace or simply become easier to defeat. When under the influence of the glitch gun, some enemies even open up new pathways; unwitting foes barrel through obstacles that would be indestructible by any other means. Taking an unwelcome by-product of past hardware limitations and development issues and turning it into a critical game component only encouraged more experimentation with each new room I entered, and it was a welcome twist on traditional 2D exploration.

The gameplay twists don’t end with just the weapons, though. You can use many items to bypass barriers—years of gaming experience has ingrained in us the need to hit a switch or acquire a key to make areas accessible, but that’s not the case here. Axiom Verge goes out of its way to remind you of the multitude of tools that open up the paths before you.

While on the subject of all those tools, though, Happ may have gone a little overboard in regards to how many items he crammed into Axiom Verge. One of the other reasons I gave up on that 100-percent run was that it dawned on me about halfway through my playthrough that a lot of weapons and items are useless. I’d say three-quarters of the guns are style over substance and offer little to no value in terms of furthering your exploration or combat proficiency.

And if you get stuck at any point—like I did toward the end of the game before finally figuring out one particular obstacle—and start doing literal laps around the world trying to figure out where to go next, it’s pretty damn frustrating when you stumble upon a secret room that you think may finally push things forward. Instead, you get a completely useless gun. It makes the otherwise tight design come off a bit haphazard, whereas the best Metroid-like games have a laser focus and no real overabundance of anything, especially when it comes to the weapons.

Working in the shadow of something as massive as Metroid and other games of that ilk is no easy task, though, and Axiom Verge does more than enough to earn its place among them. It manages to work within its limitations and still innovate in subtle-but-effective ways. Even with its classic motif, a little modern polish would’ve gone a long way, but it’s hard for me to be anything but immensely satisfied and impressed with Axiom Verge as a whole.

Developer: Tom Happ • Publisher: Tom Happ • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.31.15
A wonderful throwback to a bygone era, Axiom Verge’s focus on classic gameplay provides a welcome change of pace, even if it could’ve benefitted from a hint of modern design.
The Good Old-school side-scrolling shooter action and exploration that could give Samus Aran a run for her money.
The Bad Too many useless weapons; the desperate need for a fast-travel system.
The Ugly Uruku, the giant, gun-toting slug boss.
Axiom Verge is available on PS4, with PS Vita and PC versions coming later. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review.

50 Shades of Shay

With so little information out there right now about Assassin’s Creed Rogue, I admit I was very worried about what I’d see when I finally got to play it. I was convinced that last-gen games couldn’t offer up as enjoyable an experience as their new-gen counterparts. But if Rogue proves to be the swan song for Assassin’s Creed on Xbox 360 and PS3, there seems to be no better title to possibly do it with.

Over the course of about four hours, I was able to play Sequences 3 and 5 in Rogue, where we first get to see Shay Cormac fall in with the Templars, who would tempt him away from the Assassin Brotherhood. They show him a different way of doing things—a possibly better way of doing things—and then we see his meteoric rise up through their ranks.

During these two sequences, what I found most interesting was watching how Shay reacted to how the Templars went about fighting the war, how he questioned his own motivations, and even second-guessed orders from Haytham Kenway, the Templar Grandmaster of North America at the time. This small cross-section of gameplay made me realize this was much more than a simple revenge story.

Shay has the potential to be one of the deepest, most complex protagonists we’ve seen from the series, because he’s constantly fighting a war within himself—as well as in, and around, colonial New York City. The underlying themes of “How far would you be willing to go to feel safe?” and “How much does freedom cost?” were also constantly on display each time Shay had one of those integral moments of doubt, making him highly relatable given the current temperature of world affairs.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the gameplay. When I first heard that the game was set in New York City again, there was definitely some trepidation that we’d see a lot of copied and pasted elements from Assassin’s Creed III. And, yes, the layout of the city’s roads seem to be similar to what we saw then, but because this game takes place 20 years before the bulk of Connor’s story, it’s a very different New York—one that’s not been touched yet by the Great Fire of 1776. This means new buildings to climb and new things to see, even if some will definitely serve as callbacks to previous games.

Speaking of the time period, though, I think the thing that excites me the most about Rogue is that, although you’re not playing as a Kenway, the game really seems to serve as the bridge for Assassin’s Creed III and IV, filling in key gaps in the story and tying up loose ends. Since it comes after those two games, though, it’s taking the best elements of both of them and mashing them together.

The sailing is just as good as ever, and the idea that you can now be boarded while traversing the high seas adds a brand-new dynamic to the North Atlantic and Hudson River Valley that Edward Kenway’s Caribbean in Black Flag didn’t have. Shay’s Fleet is also very different from Edward’s because while Shay is fighting the Assassin-Templar War, the Seven Years’ War is going on around him, and he can send his ships into the naval conflict of the war and actually have a more direct say in a huge historical event instead of just sailing for more coin.

Some old ideas also return in new ways in Rogue. A new economy system has been instituted so that as Shay liberates more districts from enemy control, he’ll see more money flow into his bank account. He can also spend money to fix up key buildings in and around New York to promote further development of his own wealth, all in the hopes of not only making his own life better, but hopefully better for the people he hopes to protect in the Colonies.

Rogue also brings new weapons. Besides iconic stuff like dual hidden blades and an assortment of swords from the time period, Shay will meet up with his old friend Ben Franklin, who’s working on a grenade prototype that Shay can attach and launch from his rifle. This is, surprisingly, historically accurate—Franklin did make a grenade prototype that never saw mass production. And maybe that’s because Shay was running around, using it for Templar plots instead!

We also see the return of the Stalker enemy type; they were prevalent in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and would dress in civilian garb and try to sneak up on and attack Ezio. Similarly here, Shay’s stalkers won’t just hide in plain sight but also in outhouses and bushes to try to get the drop on him when he least expects it.

Despite my early fears about Assassin’s Creed Rogue, this short preview demo allayed much of my worries. As soon as I picked up the controller and started running around New York and then sailed out on the high seas while listening to some classic sea shanties sung by my crew, it felt like I was coming home to an old friend. But while there’s more than enough here to make Assassin’s Creed Rogue feel extremely familiar, there’s also just enough new stuff to keep you on your toes. Couple that with Shay’s compelling story, and Rogue does more than enough to remind us that last-gen isn’t quite dead yet.