Tag Archive: PS VITA


Day of the dead

The hardest part of reviewing Severed wasn’t adjusting to its unique touch screen combat, or the old-school room-by-room adventure game movements you have to make. It was finding my damn PS Vita in the first place, and then locating its charger because the battery had run out long ago. You see, Severed is the first game I’ve played for the Vita in 15 months. It’s a system that suffers from a lack of original, non-JRPG software. But the folks over at DrinkBox Studios—who also produced the last original game I played on the Vita, Guacamelee!—continue to impress, showing the potential the handheld always had if others had simply kept with it.

Severed is a dungeon crawler that sees players take on the role of Sasha, a girl whose life has been ruined by unexplained circumstances. Along with losing her family, she has lost her right arm, and is now drifting through a sort of Limbo-like world. A mysterious force, however, grants her a sword, a chance at escape, and possibly redemption—if she can unite her family in this mystical realm and conquer her demons made manifest.


Much like Guacamelee!, Severed touts a colorful, abstract art style that permeates the game world from its environments to its characters, but instead of seeing it from a side-scrolling perspective, this game is set in the first-person. The bright colors interestingly enough act in direct contrast to the game’s dark tones and macabre enemy design, giving off a vibe that should leave you just uncomfortable enough to always be on your toes—but not so much that you’ll ever want to stop playing as you hunt for Sasha’s family.

That said, the game really only scratches the surface of its deeper themes of life and death, leaving a lot open for interpretation about the beginning and end of Sasha’s story—and the various characters she meets—than some might like. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the game’s short length; it only took me five hours to complete the story’s three temples and find about 70% of the game’s hidden items/power-ups. Short as it may be, though, Sasha’s adventure through a pseudo-underworld should leave you wanting more, and that’s not really a terrible thing.

Even though Severed is played in the first-person, your control over Sasha’s movement is limited. You can spin Sasha in full 360 degrees when she enters a room to look for items and switches against the walls, but she always remains in the center of the room and can only truly move in the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) if there is an open door. While this limited control might not sound appealing, it actually makes it easier to remember where to backtrack to (along with the game’s map, of course), participate in combat, and allows you to better focus on the puzzles presented to you.


The puzzles have a Legend of Zelda feel to them, particularly in the game’s three temples, which make up the bulk of the game. In them, you’ll be required to find hidden switches, the missing pieces of broken keys, or alternate paths to get items past magical barriers that won’t allow you through with said item in your possession. This extra wrinkle to the exploration that comprises most of Severed’s gameplay helped keep me interested when outside of combat.

Combat is really where Severed tries something new, and it acts as both its shining star and its greatest hindrance at times. Players must swipe their finger vigorously across the Vita’s touchscreen to symbolize Sasha slashing her sword. Regular attacks are used in conjunction with special powers that freeze enemies, rage moves that increase Sasha’s offensive power, or charge attacks. You’ll also fill up a focus meter while in combat, which allows Sasha to perform brutal finishers that have her lop off enemy body parts before finishing them for good. Collecting these body parts is critical to the game’s upgrade system, which our heroine can use to strengthen the different powers she will come across during the game.


Besides trying to get more body parts for upgrades, fighting enemies is never a dull moment because you’ll face an ever-changing hodgepodge of characters with different strengths and weaknesses. This means your tactics will have to change as fluidly as the foes you face, keeping you moving and your strategy changing from battle to battle. As you progress through Severed, though, battles will become more frantic. As many as four enemies can attack at once, while Sasha can only attack one enemy at a time. Complicating things further, she can only parry—not block—incoming attacks, meaning timing and bouncing between enemies becomes critical to your strategy. While this provides an extremely involving and fun balancing metagame to combat, it can feel like things start to fall apart when the touchscreen itself fails you. There were many times where, in trying to keep up with the speed of what the game required from me to make it through each battle (especially late in the game), the touchscreen would often misinterpret my swipes, or my haste would lead to the inevitable human error more frequently.

This aspect only becomes more heightened in the game’s three major boss battles, each one larger and more epic than the last. You’ll be swiping so frantically you might burn a hole through your Vita if you’re not careful as you’ll be parrying attacks from every angle and using every new trick you come across in order to overcome the monstrous guardians found in Severed. Each one serves as a fitting culmination, however, to each of the story’s major acts.

Severed is a perfectly capable dungeon crawler. It’s gorgeous visuals will draw you to it like a moth to flame, but its combat—an idea perfect for touchscreens—is what will keep you going, even if it becomes occasionally frustrating. There may be few great reasons to dust off your PS Vita nowadays, but Severed definitely appears to be one of them.


Developer: DrinkBox Studios • Publisher: DrinkBox Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.26.16
DrinkBox Studios pushes the boundaries on the Vita’s unique hardware once again. Although from a technical perspective it occasionally lets them down, Severed’s unique combat system and beautiful art style carry the day on what is a fun, if not short-lived, dungeon crawler.
The Good Beautifully designed world filled with creative puzzles and fantastical creatures.
The Bad Swiping the touch screen can be inaccurate at times, especially in more frantic battles.
The Ugly Beatable on one decent length plane ride, and the people sitting next to you on said plane don’t take “I’m fighting a dragon” as a valid excuse as to why you keep accidentally elbowing them.
Severed is a PS Vita exclusive. Review code was provided by DrinkBox Studios for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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.

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.

The Bayou’s Lady Liberty

Up until this point, every game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise has followed the bloodline of Desmond Miles, with him acting as the supposed chosen one to save the world. Desmond has prepped for this monumental task by reliving the memories of his ancestors, who also fought in the never-ending Assassin-Templar War, by inserting himself into a device called The Animus. The Assassins aren’t the only ones with an Animus though, and so Liberation takes the unique approach of having you act as an unnamed trainee from Abstergo—the multinational company that serves as a front for the Templars—who’s placed into a Templar Animus in order to show the shades of gray of this ageless conflict.

It’s here that players are then introduced to the life of Aveline de Grandpre, the daughter of a wealthy French businessman and an African slave woman. Aveline grows up in the lap of luxury and so she may look the part of a noble when in her frilly dress or twirling her parasol while wandering around 18th-century New Orleans, but underneath her exterior lies the heart of a warrior, trained by an escaped slave and Assassin leader named Agate, who also happened to be a friend to Aveline’s mother. Aveline then uses this training to forward the movement to free the slaves while also protecting New Orleans from the ever-encroaching Templar influence.

Now, this sounds very much like a worthy Assassin’s Creed story. Unfortunately, due to the constraints of the Vita, Liberation feels like a game that gets cut off before it can really hit its stride in terms of the plot. Much like many of the other games in the franchise, there are twists and turns, but they are far more predictable in Liberation, because in order to make sure they all fit into this cramped little space, you get beaten over the head with the clues. At least the console versions attempted to be subtle.

This truncated story also lends itself to horrible character development. Aveline’s unique back-story gives her such a strong base as a protagonist that it’s a dirty shame when it unravels in just the span of a few short sequences. Worse still, many of the later plotlines (which I won’t get into here to avoid spoilers) are left entirely unresolved.

Speaking of resolving issues, Aveline at the very least can handle her problems as only an Assassin can, as the Assassin’s Creed combat and free running is one franchise staple that wasn’t completely lost in the transition to the Vita. Although the controls can feel a bit stiff at times, you chain together kills, counter attacks, and climb up buildings and trees just as if you were playing on the console. The Vita does offer a special chain attack that you can perform with the touch screen, but it is not necessary to make your way through battle.

And this is probably the best thing about Liberation as a Vita game: It rarely shoves the system’s touch screen capabilities down your throat. Almost everything is optional. There were only a few instances, like one gyroscope oriented mini game or pickpocketing, and as in most every other game franchise that starts on consoles and tries to expand and breakthrough on the Vita, these gimmicky mechanics failed miserably. The rarity of these instances, however, does make them a bit more forgivable than most other Vita titles.

Something not to be forgotten, though, is the one major new feature that Liberation introduces. Aveline has the ability to blend into a variety of situations by changing her garb to match the occasion. If she needs to eavesdrop during a ball, she wears her lady attire. If she needs to sneak onto a plantation, she can wear her slave costume. If you plan on facing a lot of resistance, Aveline can wear her Assassin gear. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses—the Assassin gear, for instance, allows for more weapons, but always has at least a level one notoriety. The lady costume, on the other hand, removes the ability to freerun, but allows you to charm or bribe soldiers to get out of your way.

Mind you, the freerunning aspect isn’t as important for Aveline as the other assassins in the franchise, because her world, much like the story, is much smaller than what we are used to. Although the fiction brings you across three different settings (New Orleans proper, the Bayou, and parts of Mexico), each one is a breeze to run across and perform whatever objectives are required for you to progress. I also found myself less willing to free-run in many instances, because the Vita’s small screen made it feel as if the camera was in too tight on Aveline and that my vision was more obscured compared to other Assassin’s Creed titles.

When all is said and done, though, Liberation is definitely one of the better titles out there for the Vita. Compared to what we have come to expect from something in the Assassin’s Creed family, however, it feels a little under par, especially in terms of the story. Still, if you can’t get enough of the Assassin-Templar war and plan on being on the go a lot, you could do a lot worse on than Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation.

SUMMARY: The strong core of the Assassin’s Creed franchise remains mostly intact here, but the truncated story makes Aveline’s character development feel rushed and the twists much more predictable here. Liberation is solid game if you’re on the go a lot, but it can’t hold a candle to Desmond and his ancestors.

  • THE GOOD: Combat and free-running that rivals that of the console versions,
  • THE BAD: Aveline’s development as a character feels rushed.
  • THE UGLY: Them crocs grow big down in the bayou!

SCORE: 7.5

Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is a PS Vita exclusive. 

They may be two of the most anticipated games of the year, but getting information or extended playing time with Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation has been like trying to get blood from a stone. Until now. Last week, I had a chance to get some quality hands-on time with AC III’s single player campaign and new multiplayer modes as well as AC:L’s campaign as Ubisoft transported me back to colonial Boston to help immerse us in this revolutionary experience.

AC III Single Player

We started with AC III’s single player campaign and were immediately thrown into a never before seen area of Connor’s world: the Homestead. Similar in many ways to Ezio and Monteriggioni from AC II and AC: Brotherhood, Homestead is Connor’s home base out in the wilderness. Acting as a bastion for Connor between missions where he can gather his thoughts, learn more about the Assassins, and also do favors for others in the wilderness, Homestead is a much deeper experience though than Monteriggioni ever was.

By doing side missions for friendly faces, NPCs will set up shop in and around the Homestead so Connor can trade goods, upgrade items, and perform many of the same functions that you did in Monteriggioni. Giving a little bit of back story to these side missions though allows you to build a deeper connection to these extra characters in AC III and even after just chasing some poachers out of the forest or collecting trinkets for a retired pirate, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the idea of directly influencing the start of a new community with Connor as the lead.

After making a few new friends in my little slice of the wilderness, I wanted to test out Connor’s ship skills and finally take a whack at the naval battles. Not only were there battles that could forward that aspect of the story, but it had its own set of side missions, or could just be used as a quick travel between port cities. But I wanted to blow some ships up and so I just jumped right on into the next mission in the naval story.

In the mission, I was tasked with escorting some merchant ships to port, and after disposing of some small British warships in my way and completing the primary objective of the mission, I found I had stumbled upon a larger Templar plot when a previously abandoned fort in Martha’s Vineyard was suddenly alive and bustling…and targeting my ship! As I switched from half mast to full, this after easily disposing of British mines in the churning waters of the cape, I began circling the fort, pummeling it with cannon fire until its three towers stopped trying to rain mortars and death onto my ship. The best part of this mission was just piloting the ship though as it didn’t feel like I was fighting the ship to maneuver it where I wanted and the cannon aiming mechanics were simple enough to quickly understand.

After docking my ship, I wanted to get into the main plot of the story. Walking around Boston, I was to meet with Samuel Adams and other Sons of Liberty. But I wanted to push Connor to his limits in a fight first. And the British weren’t exactly fans of me killing their soldiers in the middle of the street.

With my new favorite weapons, the rope dart and the tomahawk, I had the Boston streets running red with British blood by the time I was done. I began by pulling a sentry off a roof with the rope dart, and his death  alerted countless other red coats who then swarmed the town square. With the tomahawk, which is the first time in an Assassin’s Creed game that I preferred using a weapon that wasn’t the traditional hidden blade, I began hacking away at red coat faces, kneecaps, and anything that was within range of my righteous rage. I started by countering two guys at once and had them run each other through with bayonets before throwing my rope dart at a heavy’s feet to trip him up and then strike the killing blow in his neck with the tomahawk. Then, I would spin and roll over the back of another red coat, only to quickly whip around while he was off-balance and stab him in the back, grab him as he was dying, and use him as a meat shield as two other soldiers were now lining up rifle shots. Next, with the dead soldier’s rifle, I would take aim at the folks who just perforated their buddy, and take one out with a rifle, toss it away, and then take the other out with my pistol.

This is quite simply the most fluid combat system we’ve seen from this franchise and the bevy of options available to you in any given combat situation will blow your mind into itty, bitty pieces. I could not get enough of it and even after several hours play time, I was still seeing new animations, take downs, and maneuvers from Connor.

After taking part in my own little Boston Massacre, I knew it was time to actually see a little of the story and so I met up with Sam Adams at a bar, a fitting setting if there was one, and found out that my mission was to assist in the infamous Boston Tea Party. But first, I had to help an ornery French-Canadian chef named Stephane who was ready to wreak a little havoc on his own.

After protecting our friend from the north as he set out on his own personal crusade, I was pleasantly surprised that another feature from previous AC games was returning in that Connor gets recruits, and Stephane was the first. What has changed now is that each recruit has a much larger and detailed back story, much like the folks around Homestead, and so in order to help these characters feel more personal to Connor, there are only six recruits.

Another change is that Arrow Storm has been removed in order to help keep the game situations a bit more balanced once you begin unlocking your recruits. In its place, each of the six recruits has a special move besides assassinate. Stephane for example has ‘Riot’, which does exactly as it says and can incite a riot in order to help Connor move more easily through large open spaces. Another recruit has ‘Guard Post’, where the recruit can dress up as a red coat and help escort/sneak you through heavily guarded forts. Unfortunately, we’ll likely have to wait till launch to see what the other four recruits may have up their sleeves.

After I destroyed a lot of tea and killed a lot of red coats, the Ubisoft folks told me my time with single player was done and I needed to move onto multiplayer. Reluctantly (they had to pry the controller from my hands as I kicked and screamed, it took four guys), I left single player and moved into the multiplayer aspects of AC III.

AC III Multiplayer

So, many of the modes in AC III’s multiplayer are returning favorites in how to get your personal stab on, and so this section of the hands-on preview will focus only on the two new modes we saw and played: Domination in Versus and Wolf Pack Co-op.

Now, Domination is pretty much like Domination in every other game out there. You have three markers scattered about a map with the objective being to control these markers for the majority of the match and you score points every few seconds based on how many markers are in control by your faction.  The difference is its done with an Assassin’s Creed flair in that a capturing team cannot kill players who control the section, they can only stun them, and it takes longer to capture a point then it does for someone to recover from stun. This presents the interesting dilemma of knowing when to expose oneself, if at all.

The big draw for multiplayer this go around though was the Wolf Pack Co-op. In this mode, you and three friends attempt to perform as many assassinations as possible and each assassination is scored. By hitting certain point thresholds, the assassinations start to get harder and harder as you move through 25 point thresholds.

The most interesting twist here though is that by coordinating your assassinations with teammates, you can earn larger and larger point bonuses so balancing both quality and quantity is the only effective way to progress through the higher levels. Not to mention communication becomes critical. There are also special side missions that can add to the score and your experience if you can accomplish them with the most impressive being the multi-sync kill. This is where all four members of the team must lock onto their targets and execute them at the same time, triggering an impressive cinematic and massive score bonuses.

After several multi-sync kills and floundering a few times around level 19, it was time for me to move on to the bane of my sausage fingers’ existence: the PS Vita in order to play Assassin’s Creed: Liberation.

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation

Admittedly, my experiences with the Vita have been less than stellar as gimmicks have polluted my favorite franchises left and right when they try adding chapters to their story via this handheld. But I was pleasantly surprised with my first time with Aveline. From assassinating Spanish lieutenants after scaling a massive ancient fort, to making costume changes faster than a Broadway lead, Liberation feels much like other beloved Assassin’s Creed adventures without forcing gimmicky controls on you. They are there, but they are options, not required, to advance through Aveline’s Louisiana.

Aveline’s combat and abilities also were a pleasant surprise as they rivaled that of Connor’s as she fluidly used her meat cleaver and various other tools to bring the pain to the Spanish who occupy and enslave much of her home. But the little bit of what we saw of Aveline’s story may have impressed me the most as she has an array of unusual allies and is torn between her sense of duty to the people, her own morals, and the Assassin’s order, which leads to a wide variety of missions for Aveline to perform. And watching how these all conflict with each other in the story is very intriguing.

There were some concerns though with certain aspects of Liberation. Possibly being spoiled from playing AC III first, I felt the AI of enemy troops was a little lacking in terms of reacting to Aveline and her actions, and her blow dart made her feel almost omnipotent as she could stealthily eliminate foes from a distance. She carries only a limited number of darts, of course, but when you only need one or two to carve a path through Spanish sentries, there was a lot less challenge it felt like.

I suppose part of the challenge as playing with Aveline though comes with her notoriety and the requiring of costume changes. Aveline’s Assassin garb has guards constantly on the lookout for her, whereas her slave garb has varying levels much like the other Assassin’s Creed games, and then her aristocratic garb has her always inconspicuous because no one suspects the lady in the flower dress. These costumes have their own unique positives and negatives, but if you’re like me, you welcome the challenge of constantly being under scrutiny from guards because the combat is so superb and so the Assassin garb was my primary choice.

When all was said and done after our trip up to Boston, the entire slate of everything we saw involving Assassin’s Creed blew me away. Liberation seems like it’ll be the first game for the PS Vita that I’ll thoroughly enjoy and AC III is quite simply a game changer for the franchise and possibly action/adventure games as a whole due to the most immersive and detailed story yet, plethora of side quests, and fluid combat system. After getting my first taste of these two games, I know I for one cannot wait to embody the spirit of revolution come October 30th and play as both Connor and Aveline in what are shaping up to possibly be the best AC games yet.

Sack it to ya!

Marking the fourth entry into the series (not counting its Karting counterparts), LittleBigPlanet PS Vita sees the franchise go portable for a second time, with this obviously being its first venture onto the PS Vita. Hoping that the Vita’s unique touch screen features could add a bit of freshness to the franchise, this is still a by the book LittleBigPlanet experience. From being introduced to a world of pure imagination by Stephen Fry’s dulcet tones, to the content creation engine that allows you to create your own levels and share them on PSN, the core of LittleBigPlanet remains perfectly in tact on the Vita.

The single player story this go around is that Sackboy (or Sackgirl) has been tasked with saving the world of Carnivalia from a once great puppeteer whose heart has turned black after being booed off the stage. Looking to exact revenge, he steals the souls of the creatures in this world and have their shells wander aimlessly around, except when he commands them to do his bidding, making everyone his puppet now.

In order to overcome this new foe, your Sackperson must traverse nearly 50 stages across several different, exotic locales with their own unique themes. And in each of these stages are never before seen puzzles, many of which take advantage of the Vita’s touch screens. These puzzles require you to push, pull, or tap objects in and out of perspective in the 2.5D world in order to progress, or pilot your Sackthing through various obstacle filled courses.

And along with these new puzzles are brand new mini-games and challenges that will require you to use the Vita’s special features even more, like turning the Vita on its side and playing a whack-a-mole like game with your fingers or placing blocks, like in Tetris, as you try to build the biggest tower possible. These games also take full of advantage of the ‘Pass ‘n’ Play’ feature incase you want to play these mini-games locally against friends.

Unfortunately, as fresh as the touch screen gimmick may make some aspects of the game play, it also takes directly away from some of the platforming that the single player is known for. When there are pure platforming sequences, they are just as spectacular as ever. But the touch screen required jumps become irritating very quickly as you try to hold blocks in place with your fingers on one hand while moving your Sackperson around with the other. This decimates any kind of pacing that tries to develop as you move through each stage. It also made the obstacle courses painfully difficult as your fingers often got in the way of the actual screen and you couldn’t see where you were going.

The touch screen also faltered when trying to place stickers or objects in the world or the content creator. Using your fingers to move pieces around, rotate them, or change their size, didn’t feel nearly as responsive or accurate as the experience you get with the buttons on LittleBigPlanet’s console versions.

Another aspect that had me grinding my teeth was the tutorials. At this point, nearly every gamer out there knows how to jump, run, and perform basic platforming actions. To waste 20% of the game’s stages on teaching me how to do core functions was a waste. When was the last time Mario had a tutorial? It only made sense with the content creator, as that is still a new and complicated enough feature to warrant refreshing players new and old.

At the end of the day, if you’re a LittleBigPlanet fan then this portable version is everything you’d expect from a game in this franchise and is easily one of the better Vita titles out there. It’s light humor and content creator is all still in tact and there is little lost from the last console version to this portable one. A few of the newer features, although they take advantage of the touch screen gimmick better than most Vita games, still can cause the game play to feel clunky at times though. A must have for fans of the franchise, but if you’re looking for this to sell you on the Vita itself, this isn’t that game.

SUMMARY: Although one of the better Vita games out there, the touch screen gimmicks still get in the way sometimes of the franchise’s core values.

  • THE GOOD: Same platforming and content creation that defines the franchise
  • THE BAD: Too much hand holding in the early levels
  • THE UGLY: Way too many soulless little dolls…creepy

SCORE: 7.5

LittleBigPlanet PS Vita is a PS VITA exclusive. 

Falling to pieces

The Harry Potter franchise is beloved by millions of people around the world. Movies, books, and, of course, video games have all seen the boy with the lightning bolt scar enter their medium and be met with success for the most part. And so with such a popular franchise, it was only a matter of time before our dear Harry joined the ranks of Batman, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars and was LEGO-ized. But does the conclusion to the boy wizard’s saga hold its own in this unique universe, especially when ported over to the new PS Vita handheld?

Quite frankly, this may be the worst game the LEGO series has put out there on the market to date. The only real positive that I saw with this game is that much of the LEGO inspired humor that is a staple for this series remains intact with its ample cartoonish embellishment in order to get points across without the use of voice acting and fans of the Harry Potter movies will surely pick up on all the key moments and giggle in delight no matter what your age. And speaking of the movies, much of the music from the films was licensed so at least you got a moderately authentic feel in that regard.

But after that, this game takes a nosedive like someone jumping off a ledge with the wrong broomstick between his/her legs. The first thing you really notice is the graphics do not really take advantage of the PS Vita’s processing power, much like every other port we’ve seen to the handheld console thus far, and this is especially evident in the cut scenes. It looks more like the 3DS version may have been the one directly ported over and if that’s the case, that’s a bad move for the Vita. This would make sense though if TT Games was cutting corners since the PS Vita version features touch controls, but again, like many games that also have console brethren and so also implement a full button layout control scheme for the Vita, the touch controls are tacked on and really offer no enhancement to the game play whatsoever.

And speaking of the game play, this is probably the weakest movie adaptation yet by the LEGO folks as unlike Batman, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, or Star Wars, there is a lot less action in this game as much of the story is advanced by solving puzzles and playing mini-games. This may tie more directly into the movie franchise, but as a gamer it can get tedious quickly in LEGO form as many of the puzzles continue to be focused on a demographic under the age of 12, even if the franchise may appeal to a wider audience.

The biggest mistake this game makes though may be removing the online multiplayer features from LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4. This is especially a death knell for the Vita version as the system’s highly touted connectivity is absolutely wasted here. So, at the end of the day, LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 is just another weak port of an already released game with limited scope to begin with and that maintains many of the problems of its console brothers, but they either become more evident on the Vita or forget to take many of the positive points of its console brothers along for the ride. If you’ve already bought this game for another system, there is really no point in buying it again and if you haven’t, this is not the system to experience it on.

SUMMARY: Nothing new in terms of game play when dealing with the basics of the LEGO series, LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 for the PS Vita is one of the more dull adventures set in a world crafted from the classic building blocks. Combine this with no multiplayer, tacked on touch controls, and the fact that the game has been available on consoles for months already, and this port is barely worth anyone’s time.

  • THE GOOD: Maintains classic LEGO games humor
  • THE BAD: No multiplayer, one of the duller adventures in the LEGO series
  • THE UGLY: Poor Harry’s scar is much more noticeable in LEGO form

SCORE: 3.5

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, 3DS, DS, PSP, PC, and PS Vita. This review was done for the PS Vita version of the game.

Get Over Here!!

Something that has littered much of the Vita’s launch has been ports of popular games from last year that could easily make the transition. And fighting and racing games are typically the easiest of the easy for the bunch. So, I admit, when I heard Mortal Kombat was coming to the Vita, I just shook my head and figured “here we go again”.

But Ed Boon didn’t want that. And seeing an opportunity to play around with some new technology, wanted to make sure that there was something that made this version of Mortal Kombat a little special and differentiated it from it’s console brethren from a year ago. So at GDC, we were able to go hands on with Mortal Kombat for the Vita and the handful of new features were just enough to actually make the short list of Vita titles I’ve been excited for.

A lot of what made last year’s console Mortal Kombat great in the first place remains like the tight combat and story mode. But now there are special Vita-centric challenge towers that utilize the touch screen, like a fight where blood splatters on the screen with each hit and you have to wipe it away to see, and special new mini-games modes to go along with classics like Test Your Might. We were also told of an expanded ‘Krypt’ to show off some behind the scenes of the development of the Vita version.

The challenge tower was the first thing we looked at and to go along with the blood splatter mission, there was also a mission where you had to catch falling ‘koins’ by tapping them before they hit the ground and a juggling contest where you would tap missile launchers to bounce a falling ‘kombatant’ around and keep them from hitting the ground. The promise of even more missions and another challenge tower promises a lot more longevity to this new game. Not to mention one mission where you can play as Shao Khan…

The next thing we looked at were the two new mini-games: Test Your Slice and Test Your Balance. Test Your Balance takes advantage of the Vita’s built-in gyroscope and has a character balancing over a pit filled with blades, acid, or some other instant kill trap. Not only must you balance your character for a certain amount of time, but random body parts from previous balancers who failed will be thrown at you, trying to knock you into the pit below and adding an interesting challenge to this game that was a lot of fun.

But what was most surprising was Test Your Slice, which is basically Fruit Ninja, but with a Mortal Kombat flair. Instead of cutting fruit, you’ll be slicing apart brains, hearts, and skulls just to name a few body parts. There are also a few characters’ heads with special abilities, like Sub-Zero’s freezes the stage, thrown in as well. Just make sure to avoid the bombs. This, too, was a lot of fun and made great use of the Vita’s touch screen.

The most impressive part of the game though may have been the local connection we ended up trying out. Not a hint of lag with the inputs impressed me more than any other multiplayer feature for a Vita game to date as I used my preferred Sub-Zero to best my opponent’s Noob Saibot in three rounds. And what was really phenomenal was I then pulled off Sub-Zero’s classic beheading/de-spining Fatality by using the touch screen. Yes, Fatalities are easier than ever now as with a quick simple rubbing of the screen back and forth over my opponent and his head was my latest trophy for my wall.

All in all, this was easily the most impressed I’ve been with a Vita title to date, as even though it’s a port, it offers enough new features to keep old fans happy and hopefully brings in even more newcomers with its portability. And we can’t forget that it also features PS3 exclusive roster character Kratos and all the DLC characters as part of the package so I can’t wait to really put this fully through its paces when it releases sometime this Spring.

And if you want, the reveal trailer is embedded below for your convenience. FIGHT!

Crawling Away From This Dungeon

Based on the PSN game of the same name that was inspired by the popular Dungeon Hunter iOS series, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance has you play as a wise and benevolent king who falls apart at the sudden death of his beloved queen. Not willing to accept this, he dabbles in the dark arts to resurrect his wife, but changing one’s fate can have consequences and the queen carries within her now a dark presence. Upon her reanimation she betrays her king and stabs him to death. Now 25 years have past and the king has been resurrected by fairy magic in order to free his kingdom that has suffered for long enough under the oppressive thumb of his former bride.

Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is done in the classic dungeon crawler style akin to games like Gauntlet Legends, but has a lot more side quests and a central hub that help the game from becoming as linear as those arcade action styled games of old. There is also the positive of being able to play with up to three of your friends as you choose from your typical classes of Warriors, Rogues, and Mages. The hack ‘n’ slash game play is everything you’ve come to expect from the genre and adding in the portability and multiplayer compatibility of the Vita are nice, but this game is far from perfect.

Although fun to play at first, the action does get repetitive quickly and the item system is sloppy at best as there is no easy way to organize the many items you pick up along the way in your adventure. The graphics also aren’t anything particularly special as even though the characters seem to have been done in great detail, they exist in a bland and generic world that will have you get turned more than once as every dungeon and town you visit look exactly the same as the last.

The biggest negative for the game though probably lies in the price point. The only difference you’re getting between this $40 game and the $15 PSN version that has had numerous sales and promotions for it since it became available last April is the fact that the game is now obviously portable. And if you played the $5 iOS games that are a part of this series, then you’ll know exactly what to expect as well as the formula hasn’t changed at all from there either. So although the game had a few bright spots, it’s hard to recommend a game in the already flooded list of launch titles for the Vita when you can get the same game for less than half the price via another means of distribution.

SUMMARY: Solid dungeon crawler action is held back by monotonous game play and a cluttered loot system, but most of all a price point at $40 that is more than double the PSN price for virtually the same game.

  • THE GOOD: Classic dungeon crawler action
  • THE BAD: Cluttered item system and generic game play
  • THE UGLY: Another example of a barely upgraded iOS game that is clearly overpriced on the Vita

SCORE: 5.0

Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is a PS Vita exclusive.

Burning Rubber

Based on the popular mobile Asphalt series, Asphalt: Injection looks to throw its hat into the ring of racing games at the launch of the PS Vita, but instead of having its competition eat its dust like hoped, it really has just been left behind at the starting line.

The game features your standard campaign mode where you attempt to beat computer controlled cars in various race types like your obligatory race for first, an elimination style race where the tail car is removed every so often until only one remains, and even a race where you’re simply trying to avoid police officers the entire time who are looking to take your street racing crew down. As you win and unlock tracks, you can also earn funds to purchase new cars and upgrade your existing garage. There is also the connectivity of a versus mode the Vita can utilize so you can take on your friends.

At the end of the day though, with fifteen different tracks loosely based on some iconic locations around the world and nearly four dozen licensed cars, Asphalt: Injection is really just a perfect example of an over-priced iOS port that seems to define a good chunk of the launch library of the Vita. It fails to satisfy your racing cravings and doesn’t even show the effort of trying to look good while doing it.

Considering that the Vita has enough power to produce PS3 worthy visuals, you’ll be so stunned by the horribly dull look of every level you play that you’ll do a double-take to make sure you’re not accidentally playing one of the Nintendo DS versions. But at least an iOS version of this franchise, like Asphalt 6: Adrenaline, will only cost you 99 cents whereas this cobbled together port will cost 30 times as much. So even with some solid controls, at the end of the day you’re really paying $30 for a game that should be a throwaway on your iPad as it shouldn’t last more than a few hours in your system as you easily blow through each race location. You can’t even say the portability of the Vita is a plus because last I checked you could carry around an iPad and Nintendo DS as well.

All in all, this is a complete waste of plastic game cases and software chips. Considering the high quality of some of the other games on the Vita at launch, even in the same genre, there is no need for you to waste your money on this ridiculously expensive and overpriced shovel ware.

SUMMARY: Although it handles well enough, the fact of the matter is this game has barely been tweaked over its 99 cent iOS brethren and is ridiculously overpriced for it as it sits amongst a field of a half-dozen better racing games for the Vita launch.

  • THE GOOD: Solid physics and car controls
  • THE BAD: Nearly direct port of an iOS game that doesn’t take advantage of Vita’s specs
  • THE UGLY: The idea of dropping $30 on a game that is 99 cents on iOS

SCORE: 3.0

Asphalt: Injection is a PS Vita exclusive.