Tag Archive: handheld

A temple better left untapped

Last year, Hitman GO’s board game aesthetic and challenging puzzles provided a breath of fresh air for everyone’s favorite bald murder machine while still channeling the stealth and tactics the main series is known for. Not satisfied with just giving Agent 47 the tabletop treatment or continuing to build new boards for the burgeoning spin-off franchise, Square Enix Montreal decided Lara Croft could use her own GO-style makeover. Unfortunately, they should have stuck with the assassin.

Lara Croft GO sees the titular tomb-raiding heroine in search of an item called the “Atlas of Beyond”. While exploring a temple that supposedly houses the artifact, Croft accidentally awakens the Queen of Venom, a gargantuan snake so large that it could slurp Lara up whole with one snap of its massive jaws. She must now find the Atlas while dodging both the Queen and the temple’s many traps if she has any hope of telling the tale of her latest adventure.

Lara Croft GO is almost nothing like its predecessor, making it all the more curious that it carries the GO name brand. The change you’ll most likely notice immediately is the scrapping of the board game motif. Even though it is broken up into stages, the tomb that Lara is exploring is one world that tries—and often fails due to a lack of general explanation—to convey a continuous narrative. The characters are no longer simplistic tokens, but fully realized models that move like you’d expect from more traditional games. The stages themselves have lost all notion of being part of a tabletop setup besides the path lines drawn for Lara to follow as she and the enemies she’ll encounter move one spot one finger swipe at a time. This gives the game an art-style more reminiscent of a cheap Tomb Raider knockoff than something that has an entirely original look to it like Hitman GO did.

The only other gameplay aspect besides movement that carries over between the two GO games is that Lara can only kill enemies from the side or from behind. Giant spiders, snakes, and humanoid lizard people are some of the creatures Lara will encounter while searching for the Atlas. Confusingly, though, Lara carries her iconic dual pistols throughout the game. It makes little sense for her to be wielding them if she can only attack from the side or from behind. And if she finds a spear or a torch, then she can approach enemies from the front or from a distance. Since when are torches and spears more powerful than guns? I found it to be an odd choice to say the least that this was the one rule brought over.

Lara Croft GO also at no point feels like it tries to do justice to the Tomb Raider games. Hitman GO’s strategic requirement lined up perfectly with what Hitman is known for. My hope was that LC GO would find a way to incorporate some sense of exploration, or branching paths at least, to pay homage somehow to Tomb Raider. If Square Enix Montreal had kept pushing the board game feel of everything, maybe they could have gone with a Betrayal at House on the Hill style, with random tiles being added to the world mid-stage the more Lara explored instead of everything being laid out on a single path for you from the beginning. This also could have helped with replayability, but as is, Lara Croft GO is too linear an experience to be that enjoyable, and completely ignores what it means to be Lara Croft.

While on the subject of replayability, this is something that Lara Croft GO sorely lacks. Hitman GO offered up multiple objectives per stage, allowing players to continue forward if they wished after accomplishing the hit, but rewarded players who could master every stage, which often required multiple playthroughs. LC GO has rewards, too, with alternate costumes for Lara if you find the various hidden items on each stage. The problem is that all 120 of them are in plain sight as you advance, and only need a fourth-wall breaking tap—as in Lara doesn’t need to be anywhere near the collectible—to retrieve them, making them nigh-impossible to miss.

The one saving grace Lara Croft GO has is its puzzles. About 40 different stages will test your mental acuity as you navigate through winding temple paths, looking for the proper solution to the problem placed before you. Switches that control moving platforms, trap doors and crumbling pillars, even large boulders that roll after Lara and timed doors that threaten to cut you off from advancing will all need to be overcome if you hope to escape. The stages are broken up into five different sections of the temple and ramp up in difficulty at a steady pace that will push you, but should never break your will to keep going. All told, I was able to one hundred percent Lara Croft GO in just over four hours, so even the most complex puzzles weren’t the greatest of challenges.

Lara Croft GO is a decent puzzle game to kill a few hours with, but lacks all the finer things that made its predecessor in the GO series so much fun. It abandons the GO aesthetics, and at the same time, fails to channel anything about the Tomb Raider series beyond the setting—making me question why Square Enix thought Lara would adapt at all to this format to begin with. Even for the mobile price of $4.99, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend this to anyone but the most fervent of Lara loyalists.

Developer: Square Enix Montreal • Publisher: Square Enix • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 08.27.15
Lara Croft remains a poor choice that never fit for the GO-style that was established with Hitman GO last year, even if you can find a bit of fun in the short, simple puzzles.
The Good Inventive puzzles that ramp up nicely in difficulty.
The Bad A lack of overall challenge. Fails to capture the essence of the Tomb Raider series or continue what was started with Hitman GO.
The Ugly It’s been so long since we’ve seen Lara made of so few polygons.
Lara Croft GO is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Primary version reviewed was on iOS using an iPad 2. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review.

Kirby and the Beanstalk

Someone at Nintendo sure loves Kirby. Ever since the Pink Puffball first debuted back in 1992 on the original Game Boy (he was white back then because of the system’s limited color palette), if we count collections and spin-offs, the most recognizable figure on Popstar has had 23 games starring him come out over the past 22 years. But what’s even more amazing is that people haven’t gotten tired of him. I believe a large part of this is because the Kirby series always finds a way to make the simple characters shine, and the core gameplay mechanics of sucking up enemies and stealing their powers feel fresh and new each time. Kirby: Triple Deluxe, his 3DS debut, is no different.

Triple Deluxe begins with Kirby resting peacefully at his Dream Land home, when all of a sudden a giant beanstalk (appropriately called the Dreamstalk) erupts from the ground, lifting Kirby’s home and Castle Dedede into the night sky. Assuming King Dedede is up to some new mischief, Kirby floats over to the castle. When he arrives, though, he is shocked by the sight of unconscious Waddle Dees scattered about the place and a new foe, a spider named Taranza, carting King Dedede away in a magical web. Putting past transgressions aside, Kirby knows he has to save King Dedede and stop Taranza.

On the surface, Kirby still has his same classic powers of sucking up enemies and copying some of their abilities. To help him quell this new threat, however, he has several new hats to wear as a result of his copying prowess. Archer allows Kirby to fire arrows in a 360-degree arc; Bell gives Kirby the ability to use a pair of bells as blunt objects as well as to stun enemies with soundwaves; Beetle sees Kirby impale and throw enemies around with a special rhinoceros beetle horn; And Circus has Kirby turn into a clown who can throw flaming bowling pins or balance on a ball to roll over enemies with. The new powers are a lot of fun—and very useful in several situations—but they don’t hold a candle to the single most powerful new skill Kirby can acquire: the Hypernova.

By eating a Miracle Seed, Kirby will gleam like a rainbow in Hypernova form, giving him the ability to eat massive objects in one swallow. From mini-bosses to obstacles like fallen trees, nothing is too big for Kirby to gulp down. The Hypernova form allows Kirby to literally change the terrain around him to fit his needs while continuing on his adventure. This new ability is so powerful, though, Kirby can only use it for the rest of the stage he is on and not carry it with him like his other copy abilities.

Along with these new powers, the 3DS affords Kirby some new gameplay mechanics, especially when it comes to puzzle solving. Taking advantage of the system’s gyroscope, you can manually aim rocket launchers and cannons to destroy enemies and blocked pathways, or slide specially marked blocks around to help Kirby get past traps and the like.

The 3D feature is also a huge boon for Triple Deluxe; Not only does the game look great, with bright pigments punctuating each landscape, but also the 3D is subtle enough most of the time as to not be a distraction. Meanwhile, several puzzles take advantage of the depth of field the 3D provides to create hurdles Kirby has never really had to deal with before. So, by utilizing some 3DS hardware features (and not shoving them down our throats to feel “gimmicky”) and combining them with the classic platforming action the Kirby franchise is known for, Triple Deluxe provides a huge variety of unique challenges for Kirby to tackle.

For all the new things that this game added, there are also a lot of nice little nods to Kirby’s history, scratching that nostalgia itch older fans of the series may have. Not only are there 20 old-school copy abilities this time around—like Wheel and Needle—but also a lot of the bosses are takes on some of Kirby’s most iconic foes. From the return of Kracko to Flowery Woods (a larger, more difficult take on Whispy Woods), many of the bosses, and even a couple of the stages, are nothing but direct nods to what’s come before in the series.

If that’s not enough for you, there is also a new “Keychain” system. In the single player game, you can collect keychains that represent special scenes or characters from Kirby’s entire 22-year history in games. They don’t do anything in particular, but they’re nice to have. If you don’t want to spend time searching for them in the campaign, you can also spend 3DS coins (three at a time) to receive a random pick, or trade unneeded keychains with other players via StreetPass (a great way to get rid of any duplicates).

Not everything is perfect in Dream Land, though. The Kirby games have never really been that difficult, and Triple Deluxe is no different. If it takes you more than eight hours to find every collectible (that isn’t a randomized keychain) and beat the story, I’d be shocked. Also, I never liked the resetting of your lives and powers every time you exit the game. I know, this is something that has gone on for a long time in the series, but it still bothers me as it makes star collecting and 1-ups completely pointless—simply by exiting the game, you’ll be back to having seven lives. I get that it’s one way to get around an issue many other Nintendo platformers run into—the stockpiling of lives—but why not make a game that’s a little harder then?

Of course, Triple Deluxe is named that for a reason: the single-player campaign is just one of three included modes. The first added game mode is Dedede’s Drum Dash, a music rhythm game that has you hit the A button in time with the music as you try to maneuver King Dedede across a bunch of giant bongos. Honestly, this was a bit of a throwaway experience, as neither the interface nor the music are all that good.

The second extra game, Kirby Fighters, is far better—and actually might serve as a nice warm-up to the Smash Bros. games coming later this year. Up to four players can battle it out in the arenas inspired by classic Kirby locales, using special attacks to whittle away opponent’s lifebars while trying to maintain their own by eating food. As a twist, you can select from all of the powers from the single-player campaign to customize your Kirby, opening up possible match-ups such as Ninja Kirby vs. Bell Kirby vs. Beam Kirby vs. Leaf Kirby. This mode is so deep, it even has a single-player arcade ladder system, where you can try to see how fast you can make your way through seven different matches.

In the end, Kirby: Triple Deluxe is another fine addition to the long line of stellar handheld games in the series. A couple of outdated practices and a forgettable mini-game were not enough to stop me from feeling immensely satisfied with my experience after polishing off the final boss. New powers and well-executed use of the 3DS’ peripheral features added just a bit of freshness to keep this old formula working well, giving the Pink Puffball yet another successful debut on another Nintendo console.

Developer: HAL Laboratory, Inc. • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 05.02.14
Kirby’s debut on the 3DS could not have been better as new powers and puzzles complement classic Kirby gameplay to provide an experience both fresh and familiar to longtime fans.
The Good Inventive puzzles and new powers complement classic Kirby gameplay.
The Bad The resetting of lives and powers each time you exit the game; Dedede’s Drum Dash mini-game.
The Ugly The fact that the main bad guy is based off a spider, but only has six legs, bothers me a lot.
Kirby Triple Deluxe is a 3DS exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.

A less perplexing puzzler than expected

With its bounty of conundrums complemented well by a cast of charming charactersall wrapped in narratives that have players guessing until the very endthe Professor Layton series has established itself as one of gaming’s premier puzzle franchises. But it seems that even the brainy Layton couldn’t figure out one last riddle: how to end a prequel.

That’s not to say that Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is a bad game. In fact, it still hits many of those aforementioned franchise staples. Azran Legacy features more puzzles than any previous game in the series, and while some definitely require a lower barrier for entry than others, a few challenges will likely have even the most experienced puzzle fiend cashing in hint coins.

The game also offers a bevy of enjoyable minigames that unlock as you progress through the story, including a fashion-themed one wherein you try to put together the best-looking outfits for eight different ladies. I almost felt like Eric (our executive editor), with his love of Style Savvy! I had a lot more fun than I ever would’ve expected playing dress-up. There’s easily more content here than in any previous Layton game, and even if you do the bare minimum, you’re still looking at a solid 15-hour experience.

The cast is also just as lovable as ever. Whether it’s innocent Luke trying his best to impress his mentor or new characters like Aurora, who you’ll meet early on in the adventure, it’ll be hard for gamers of any age not to fall head over heels with the Professor and his crew. A big reason? There’s just as much effort put into the dialogue and rapport between characters as the puzzles themselves.

Azran Legacy falters in two key areas for me, though. The first is a technical issue. I’m among the few who actually likes using the 3D feature on Nintendo’s current handheld. Typically, I use it on just about every 3DS game I play. Using it during Azran Legacy, however, gave me a horrendous headache within five minutes. It might have something to do with the anime-style backgrounds and cutscenes, but I couldn’t find a slider setting or a position for the 3DS itself that didn’t make my head start pounding or cause most of the scenes come across a little fuzzy. Turning off the 3D is a small sacrifice, and an easy solution to a minor problem. Plus, the game still looks great in 2D (and this option nullified the pain!).

But something I couldn’t fix with the flick of a slider was the actual story. The plot of this particular Layton adventure is the weakest in the series. Part of this comes from the fact that it’s a prequel forced to tie up particular storylines in order to maintain the continuity established in The Curious Village. This corner that Level-5 painted themselves intoa pitfall in pretty much all prequelsleft the adventure absurdly predictable. Even the first two entries weren’t as unsurprising as this one; there, the writers still had room to maneuver narratively. Here, certain things had to happen, and I knew 20 minutes in how everything would unravel. The twist that usually comes at the end of every Layton game, therefore, was nonexistent here. Sure, the story shoehorns in some soap-opera-quality drama, but it’s so forced and so unnecessary that I could only shake my head in disappointment and power through the last dozen or so puzzles.

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is a valiant effort to show that there’s hope to be had for prequels, but in the end, it succumbs to all the same traps as many franchises before it, leaving it a bit bland and predictableespecially when compared to the rest of the series. This shouldn’t deter Professor Layton fans from the game, though. If you can look past the low points of the story, it’s still an exceptionally well-designed puzzler. If you’re looking for a game to simply promote more critical thinking, Professor Layton still reigns supreme.

Developer: Level-5 • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 02.28.14
With the most puzzles in series history, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy will force players to rack their brains, and the Professor and his crew are as lovable as ever. Unfortunately, the prequel limitations really put a crimp on the overall narrative.
The Good Puzzle-solving is still a lot of fun.
The Bad The story’s even more predictable than expected from this series.
The Ugly Not even Professor Layton can escape underwhelming prequels.
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive that was reviewed using a retail code from Nintendo.

More than 16 million Nintendo 3DS games were sold in 2013, marking a 45-percent increase in sales over 2012, Nintendo announced today.

Nintendo also revealed that the 3DS, 3DS XL, and 2DS had a combined 11.5 million unit sales in the United States alone.

“Nintendo 3DS is a powerhouse with games and experiences that appeal to all kinds of players,” Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America executive vice president of sales and marketing, said in the press release. “We’re not slowing down in 2014. With more games featuring fan-favorite franchises on the way, the best days of Nintendo 3DS are still to come.”

Earlier today, Nintendo announced that Yoshi’s New Island—the sixth installment in the Yoshi‘s platformer series—will arrive at retailers and the 3DS eShop on March 14. Bravely Default, the first 3DS release for 2014, launches February 7. A free demo is currently available for download on the 3DS eShop.

A load of Killer Croc

Batman’s seen so many great representations in different mediums over the past couple of decades, whether it’s animation, movies, or videogames—so it absolutely boggles my mind when someone utterly fails to capture the essence of the Dark Knight. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is such an awful depiction of the Caped Crusader, however, that I had to wonder whether Armature had even heard of Batman before being tasked with making this game.

Set several months after the events of the console Arkham Origins, Blackgate sees Batman infiltrating Blackgate Prison—again—in order to quell a riot. Three of Batman’s most notorious foes are at the head of all the chaos, and they’ve divided the prison up into sections that their respective gangs control. Batman must defeat them all if he hopes to save the hostages kept in the prison’s Arkham wing.

Aiding Batman is Catwoman, whom he apprehended a couple of weeks prior to the riot. In exchange for her assistance, Batman will put in a good word for her to be moved to more “accommodating” quarters, since supposedly a fragile thief like her could be torn apart in a place like Blackgate. Batman must unlock new abilities and gadgets to help him traverse the different security systems and hazards of the now-dilapidated prison, often backtracking frequently to do so.

And sure—this sounds like the makings of a decent Batman game. The prologue level that revolves around catching Catwoman at an abandoned construction site gave me high hopes that this would be the Batman game we never knew we wanted on handhelds. But as soon as you set foot on the prison grounds, the game takes a serious nosedive. When I sat down to write this review, two words kept coming into my mind to best describe Blackgate: broken and boring.

The first major flaw? Armature tried to develop the game as a Metroidvania within the confines of the story. As we all know, Batman is never without his gadgets and his utility belt, and he goes to Blackgate of his own volition after being called by Commissioner Gordon. Yet, right from the get-go, all he has are Batarangs. No rhyme or reason—just to stay within the parameters of what defines Metroidvanias as a genre.

Someone who actually knows the character would’ve set up the story so to have Batman kidnapped and dragged to Blackgate against his will. Since we’re talking about a young Batman here, he wouldn’t have all the safeguards in his utility belt to prevent it from being forcibly removed. Batman shouldn’t randomly find a Batclaw in a container—like he does in Blackgate—just because he forgot his other one at home. Breaking the character’s basic traits to fit the genre you want your game to be is not forgivable.

Speaking of breaking character, Catwoman’s always played both sides of the fence in Batman lore, but she fills the role of Oracle/Alfred in this game—again, for no apparent reason. Catwoman doesn’t need Batman to break her out of prison, and she doesn’t really need to help Batman. After what happened in Origins, Batman should know Blackgate like the back of his hand. If he does need help, though, did Batman give Alfred the night off? Were his shows on again? Yes, I could definitely imagine Alfred curling up with a cup of Earl Grey and catching up on Downton Abbey instead of manning the Batcomputer!

The story isn’t the only element that’s broken, though. The game itself, from a technical standpoint, is as glitchy as it gets: items flickering in and out of existence, Batman getting caught on invisible walls, or falling through the floor to oblivion (or a checkpoint reload). At one point, I actually glitched through a wall and into a hidden compartment that had an armor upgrade I shouldn’t have been able to get to at that point. I was lucky I could backtrack with the gadgets I had—otherwise, I might’ve had to start over completely.

And if I had to start over, I might’ve just chalked this game up as a lost cause (more so than I already do). If I had to stare at another gray, bland, repeated prison wall, I’d have broken my Vita. The only good-looking aspect of the game is the comic-style cutscenes.

You can forgive the look of a game to an extent if it’s at least fun to play. But with Blackgate, the combat system that has made the Arkham games great is almost completely nonexistent. You can’t quickfire any gadgets, and you don’t even need to counter most of the time, since you’ll rarely encounter more than three of four guys in a room at once. Sometimes—almost like an early-’90s side-scrolling arcade game—a couple more will crawl out of the background when the first group’s been dispatched, but never will there be more than a few fightable enemies onscreen at any given moment.

Detective mode was also a pain in my cowl. I don’t mind having to tap the touchscreen to turn it on—it actually helped deter me from wanting to stay in Detective mode and served as a unique fix to a persistent problem with the series. But I did mind having to keep my finger on the screen to actually scan or look for things because it prevented me from freely interacting with the environment while I was in the mode. I had to move, enter Detective mode, scan, find I was out of range, turn the mode off, move to a better position, re-scan, turn the mode off, then interact. Just let me scan things automatically—no one wants their thumbs off the sticks for that long!

At least the boss fights provide much-needed variety. New characters to the Arkhamverse like Bronze Tiger actually make you work for your wins, since they’re more or less the only time you need to utilize multiple gadgets or techniques. And even though we’ve seen most of Batman’s gadgets before, the one new addition—an explosive-gel launcher—was something I’d like to see on consoles at some point. It reminded me a lot of a grenade launcher, and it could be used in a lot of ingenious ways in both combat and puzzle-solving.

Some decent boss fights aren’t enough to save this game, though. Never before have I been so disappointed in a Batman-inspired property. Plus, this is also one of the worst examples I’ve ever seen of a Metroidvania, since the backtracking and gadget-finding is kept to a bare minimum. Broken, boring, and just plain bad, everyone should steer clear of this as though you had chiroptophobia (fear of bats).

Developer: Armature Studio • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 10.25.13
A waste of potential, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a broken, boring game and a stain on the Metroidvania genre. Its positives are few and far between, buried under a mountain of glitches, tedious gameplay, and poor level design.
The Good Comic-style cutscenes look great.
The Bad One of the worst Metroidvanias you’ll ever play.
The Ugly All of Blackgate Prison—and its single shade of gray.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is available on Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita. Primary version reviewed was for PS Vita.

Originally Published: November 16, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Gormiti: Lords of Nature for the Nintendo DS from Konami.

Originally Published: October 15, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com and NationalLampoon.com

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Professor Layton and the Unwound Future for Nintendo DS.