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  1. Jason Clement

    Review: Sonic Lost World

    Developer: Sonic Team Publisher: SEGA Platform: Wii U Release Date: October 29, 2013 ESRB: E 10+ A retail copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review Note: A 3DS version also exists, though it contains slightly different variations on the levels. As such, this review only pertains to the Wii U version of the game. If you've followed Sonic's games over the past decade, chances are you've heard of the "Sonic Cycle." It's a certain process fans are subjected to each time a new game in the series is announced, where hope and excitement eventually unfold into utter disappointment when the title releases. Sadly, this has rung true for many of the hedgehog's games in the last 10 years, especially console-based titles. Fortunately, Sonic's last few have been relatively solid, and with Sonic Generations serving as a good jumping off point for what was next, Sonic Lost World looked set to take the hedgehog to the next level when it was revealed earlier this year. But is the Sonic Cycle alive and well here, or did the the blue blur escape its wrath once again? Lost World's plot has Sonic and Tails inadvertently ending up on a world in the sky known as Lost Hex after a chase with their nemesis, Eggman. Long story short, a group of the world's inhabitants known as The Deadly Six rise up against Eggman and attempt to turn the tables on him by using his own weapon of mass destruction on the world below, forcing Sonic and Eggman to work together to stop them. Upon starting the first level of the game, it's apparent that Lost World is a very different type of Sonic title. It doesn't play or control like traditional Sonic games or even the more recent ones. Instead, it's as if SEGA tried to marry the speedy Sonic formula with the gravitational platforming found in Super Mario Galaxy. And while that may sound great at first, the execution is a different story. Gone are the gradual speed and momentum that Sonic would gain upon holding down the analog stick; now he's relegated to moving around at a controlled speed unless you hold down ZR, which is used for running fast. The control layout seems almost overly complex and requires a good hour or two to get used to, but even after becoming comfortable with it, it doesn't really feel like the ideal way of playing. Levels are divided in part between 3D segments and more traditional 2D platforming segments. Surprisingly enough, I actually enjoyed the 3D levels a bit more, even though they're often a mixed bag when it comes to their level design. Many of the 3D levels often focus on the Mario Galaxy-esque spherical planetoids and such; however, in order to emphasize speed in the game, many of the planetoids are shaped long-wise (like a hot dog or noodle) and often have two or three different sides to traverse. This makes exploration and different paths through the level possible, and it does keep things fresh for when you replay the level to grab red star rings. Unfortunately, Lost World is often not very good at guiding you on what to do at certain points throughout the game, leaving you to figure out things for yourself that might not be too obvious at first. It doesn't even properly introduce its Wisp mechanic, instead relegating it to a helpful tip that you need to pull up on the Gamepad. The Wisp abilities give Sonic a temporary color power that can be anything from becoming a UFO that destroys anything in its path, to a drill that digs through the ground. Most of the wisp powers use the Gamepad in some way, either by using the touch screen to control a path or using the gyrometer to control direction, none of which are ideal ways of controlling them, so the whole idea feels forced on the experience for the sake of making sure the Gamepad was used. Beyond that, the game's flow is often interrupted by strange placements of enemies or obstacles in both the 2D and 3D stages. It's a bit frustrating at times because there are some very good levels that almost seem to marry the speed/gravity mechanic successfully, and others that are downright irritating to play through due to a frustrating design that hinders Sonic's movement quite a bit. Also strange is the fact that the last levels of each world employ an animal quota that you need to meet, meaning you have to go back and 'grind' by defeating enemies to free animals or by finding tanks around the level and freeing them that way, until you free enough of them to meet the quota. It's basically an artificial way to ensure that players go back and explore alternate paths through the different levels, and while I can appreciate that, it does break up the pacing a bit and feels a bit strange. For all of the game's shortcomings, the story itself isn't terrible, despite its Saturday morning cartoon plot and some juvenile humor that teens and adults are likely to facepalm at. Out of all the characters, Eggman is actually the most interesting, with a few moments that show him to be a more complex and two-dimensional than previously thought. The Deadly Six, however, are a more forgettable bunch, as each is based on a different cliche: there's your wild, zany one; the fat slob who only thinks about food; the wise old master; the posh female who only cares about her looks; the depressed, emo one; and of course, the evil mastermind. Aside from that, it's a shame that they're played out as one-dimensional villains and that you aren't given any reason to sympathize with their motives. One of the best things Lost World has going for itself is its music, which is often quite good and catchy, as is often the case with many Sonic games. Unfortunately, I can't quite say the same for the characters' voices; Eggman, Tails, and Sonic all have voices we've gotten used to by now, but some of the Deadly Six's voices are just downright irritating to listen to. Making things even worse is the fact that they'll heckle Sonic and say random things in the background in levels where you do battle with them. On the brighter side, the game is very visually attractive; each world is bright and colorful as you zoom around, and even the cutscenes are of a high quality. It's admirable that Sonic Team tried to change up the formula a bit and really give the gameplay a unique twist, but the execution is dodgy at best. There are many levels that are brought down by inconsistent design or inconvenient controls, and then there are other levels that absolutely nail what the team was probably going for. If Sonic Team gives this formula another go with Sonic's next game, hopefully they can work out the kinks by then, but as it stands, Sonic Lost World is only a decent game at best. Pros + Visuals are some of the best on Wii U at the moment + Great soundtrack + Some great levels with interesting features Cons - Inconsistent level design - Frustrating controls and mechanics at times - Wisp abilities feel tacked on and not needed Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent Sonic Lost World is a game that looks full of promise but falls short in execution. Still, Sonic fans may find the game to be worth playing, especially to check out the levels that do get it right.
  2. Harrison Lee

    Review: Total War: Rome II

    Developer: Creative Assembly Publisher: SEGA Platforms: PC Release Date: 09/02/13 Rating: T for Teen A Steam code was provided by the publisher for this review. NOTE: As you might imagine, a lot of the issues addressed in the following review have been or are going to be fixed in patches. That said, it's my job to review the game in the state I received it. Please bear this in mind and enjoy. Ask any real-time strategy buff what the biggest, most ambitious RTS franchise is and they'll tell you it's Creative Assembly's Total War series. Each entry has showcased massive battles in various historical time-frames, offering gamers the chance to be the ultimate armchair general. With Total War: Rome II, the developers revisit the setting of one of their most popular releases. With a graphical update, expanded armies and more accessible mechanics, has Creative Assembly crafted the best Total War yet? I sincerely wish, but the reality is a bit different. Rome II's campaign, arguably the meat of the experience, drops players straight into the action. Taking on the role of a young Roman commander, you're tasked with saving a city and its commanders from an enemy siege. Right off the bat you'll notice the immense scale Rome II shoots for. It's impressive to see hundreds of detailed soldiers on the battlefield, chanting and generally making a show of things to frighten the enemy. It's a formidable and imposing sight, doubly so considering you command a tiny combat force of armored soldiers. The opening mission gives you a decent idea of missile units, siege weapons, flanking maneuvers and city defenses. Upon completion, you're then tasked with retaking a bunch of cities seized by the enemy (the Cimmerians or something). Like the Civilization series, Rome II's campaign gives you a large map filled with locations. You can move armies raised in your owned cities into enemy territory and lay siege to enemy fortifications. You can also hire mercenaries, construct city additions, hire spies, raise new armies and manage the economy. If that sounds complicated, it's not. The older Total War games were more complex and required deeper micro-management. Rome II strips away some of the difficulty in favor of welcoming in new players. While series vets may balk at the simplification, it's a decent move to expand the player base. The most exciting parts of the campaign stem from battles and sieges. Players are given the option to situate their forces before the battle begins. My general strategy was to place infantry at the front in a line, buffered by missile units behind them and cavalry in the rear. With a new line-of-sight system units out of view are hidden from the enemy, allowing you to sneak behind an army and unleash a rear ambush. I found this most effective with cavalry, especially when the opposing army is bigger and routing the enemy is the only option. Nothing scares infantry more than a rush of horsemen from their exposed rear flanks. Siege weapons, when properly placed and defended, are also infinitely useful in scattering formations. Trebuchets and other projectile launchers can use different rounds, from flaming to explosive. Each type has its use and can demoralize and/or devastate enemy ranks. I always loved the flaming rocks as they could eat through several lines of infantry without sacrificing much impact damage. As you'd expect, siege weapons are extremely vulnerable and have to be guarded with care. A single squad of cavalry can wipe out a whole division of artillery if you aren't careful. Rome II's crown jewel is the siege, where said siege weapons are most effective. Each city assault will take several days wherein you can build ladders and door-busters. Siege weapons can provide covering fire or destroy enemy structures to make access easier. Once inside the city walls, you can either slaughter the enemy or take over capture points to win. Upon victory, you can enslave, kill or set the enemy prisoners free. What you do with the prisoners will influence how aggressive the enemy is towards you. As fun as the battles and sieges are, Rome II is a technical mess, marring what is the most important part of the game. Enemy AI and soldier pathfinding can oftentimes be broken; it's incredibly aggravating when your troops seemingly lose their way to an important target and delay long enough for crucial allied soldiers to be crushed. The combat also feels somewhat easier than past Total War games. Whereas I had to carefully balance troop types in Empire and Shogun II, I tend to just mass troops and throw them at the enemy ranks in Rome II. Coupled with the brain-dead enemy AI, battles rarely end in defeat unless I'm vastly outnumbered. The visuals are a bit of a mixed bag as well. Units are very detailed and show off great graphical fidelity. The texture, shadowing and environments, however, seldom impress me that much. While previous Total War entries breezed on my machine on Ultra settings, Rome II struggles on Medium. You'd think the code would be far more optimized than this but, sadly, it isn't. Thankfully, the audio fares far better and showcases Creative Assembly's ability to drop you right in the thick of it. Voice-overs are well done and the ambient battle audio is gritty and well-realized. It's too bad the visuals don't hold up as well. What kills me about Rome II is that it has so much promise but squanders it with technical deficiencies that shouldn't be this numerous. Shogun II had a comparably smooth launch and was nowhere near this messy. Rome II clearly needed more time in the over before it was distributed to the masses. The blueprints for a great game are all there. It's now up to Creative Assembly to fix the bugs and get Rome II into true fighting form. I'll freely admit I've been a staunch advocate of the Total War series since the original Shogun. With Rome II, however, I've finally hit my saturation point. Shogun II was extremely polished and well put-together, perhaps one of Creative Assembly's best franchise entries. Rome II just isn't up to snuff and desperately needs some TLC before I can recommend a purchase. All of that said, Creative Assembly has taken the criticism and feedback to heart and has been doing a commendable job of trying to fix the game. If you're thinking about purchasing Rome II, I'd recommend waiting until it's fully patched and read what the updated thoughts are. Pros: + Ambitious scope and scale + Combat can be exciting + The most accessible entry in the series Cons: - Technically challenged - Sometimes oversimplified - Combat dragged down by bugs Overall Score: 5.5/10 Average Given a fair bit of polishing and fixing, Rome II could become a great RTS. But for now, hold off on this one.
  3. Developer: SEGA Studios Australia Publisher: SEGA Platform: PS3 (PSN), XBLA Release Date: Out Now ESRB: E for Everyone This game was reviewed using a PSN digital code provided by the publisher It's a strange time for Mickey Mouse. The last decade has seen Disney's mascot step back from the limelight somewhat, with his role in games mostly limited to a supporting one in the ever popular Kingdom Hearts series. Epic Mickey, itself a critical mixed bag, its even more controversial sequel (its poor reception led to the closure of developer Junction Point), and a somewhat less-than-stellar 3DS sequel in the Illusion series were pretty much the only games where he appeared in a starring role. This is a stark contrast to the '90s, which saw some of Mickey's best games, and one above all was considered the very best by many - Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. SEGA was apparently aware of this as well and put SEGA Australia Studios to work on a remake of the game, complete with new bells and whistles. Not only has the game been recreated with entirely new HD visuals, but the in-game engine is all-new and certain aspects of the game have been expanded, altered, and modernized. What results from this is possibly one of the best remakes of a classic game in some time. Castle of Illusion begins with a cutscene in which Micky and Minnie are having a picnic, only for it to be interrupted when an evil witch named Mizrabel kidnaps Minnie in order to steal her beauty. Of course, Mickey won't stand for this and tracks Mizrabel to her Castle of Illusion, but it's soon made known that he'll have to explore the castle's illusions and areas in order to find 7 rainbow gems that will create a bridge to the tower where Minnie is being held captive. While the original game was strictly a 2D platformer, this remake is mostly 2.5D with some areas that feature full 3D gameplay. In fact, when you first start out in the castle, the main hub area is similar to Peach's Castle in Super Mario 64, where different rooms house different levels. In Castle of Illusion, each room houses a different illusion world consisting of three stages, with the third being a boss stage. The worlds you traverse range from a forest to a toy land to a library and more. Despite the move to a more dynamic camera that will shift around the level (much like Klonoa) and sometimes turn the playing field from 2D to 3D, this new remake retains the same spirit of gameplay as the original. You'll run, jump, bounce off of most enemies to defeat them, and also throw different items you come across such as marbles and other projectiles. For the most part, the game plays pretty spectacularly. It genuinely feels like an old-school '90s era platformer that was given modern visuals and gameplay conventions without sacrificing what made the original so special in the first place. Each of the different worlds and levels feel different enough in their layout and mechanics to where you don't feel as if you're just going from left to right with different backgrounds. Some levels are designed like a giant U, some have you traversing up or down, some have 3D elements to them, and yet others are designed like mazes. There are some great action sequences built in as well, including chase sequences where Mickey is running toward the screen away from a giant rolling apple, a jaunt through ruins with collapsing platforms and swinging ropes, and more. As far as visuals go, Castle of Illusion looks stunning for a remake. SEGA Studios Australia really gave the game a nice sheen to it, with attractive 3D character models and layered backgrounds as well as dynamic camera shifts that twist and pan as Mickey traverses each level. And of course, it's chock full of color and really stands out in certain levels such as the Candy Land-themed area in one of the worlds. As a remake, it really sets the standard for similar games in the future that look to recreate older, classic titles. Taking over the reins for the music in this remake is none other than the legendary Grant Kirkhope, who is famous for his work with Rare during the late '90s and early 2000's. Kirkhope's influence is immediately felt as soon as you enter the Castle of Illusion, with its whimsical overworld lobby music sounding like something straight out of Banjo Kazooie. It's classic Kirkhope through and through. Also of note is the fact that Richard McGonagle (voice of Sully in the Uncharted games) lends his soothing voice as narrator throughout the story, creating sort of a bedtime fairytale vibe. In all, Castle of Illusion is a great throwback to an era when Disney games were among the best out there. It's got enough action and platforming to it to satisfy kids as well as adults, and while it's not the most difficult game, it never comes across as too easy. However, the game's biggest fault is that it's way too short; you'll likely finish it in 2-3 hours in your first playthrough. And though it has a little bit of replayability in the way of some collectable items, it's a shame that such a great remake has to be cut short like that. Still, if you're pining for the old days when Mickey's games were great or you're looking for a good platformer to play, definitely check out Castle of Illusion; it's a short but sweet experience. Pros + Attractive visuals + Simple yet fun platforming + The switch from 2.5D to 3D areas adds more flavor to the gameplay Cons - Extremely short Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Castle of Illusion is a great remake that unfortunately is a bit hampered by its short completion time.
  4. Sega and Disney Interactive recently revived, remade, and released an HD version of the beloved Genesis classic Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC. Does it hold up to the fan-favorite game everyone knows and loves, or is greatness just an illusion for this high definition Mousecapade? Keep reading to find out! Developer: Sega Studios Australia Publisher: Sega/Disney Interactive Studios Platform(s): Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, PC (via Steam) Released: September 4, 2013 ESRB: E for Everyone This review is based on the PSN version Before I start this review, I need to be honest - I've never played the original Genesis version of Castle of Illusion. Or, more specifically, I have played it, but only the first few levels. There's certainly nothing wrong with the game, but something about it just never captivated me. Still, due to an unhealthy obsession with all things platformer, I knew I had to give the HD remake a shot. Surely, with the graphical prowess of current-gen consoles, they could capture the whimsy and wonder that the original version always should have had but couldn't process? The good news is, yes, they did, very much - this is, through and through, a vibrant, wonderful journey through Disney-inspired lands starring everyone's favorite mouse in red shorts. The journey starts with Mickey and Minnie, having a serene picnic, as one often does in the bright and happy Disney universe. Their picnic, however, is ruined when a witch named Mizrabel snags Minnie away with plans to drain Minnie of her beauty, which will then be transferred to Mizrabel to make her attractive, because apparently there are a lot of warlocks out there that need courting. Anyway, Mickey naturally responds by following Mizrabel to her Castle of Illusion, where he must traverse several distinct areas in and around the castle in search of the Rainbow Gems, which will form a bridge to Mizrabel's tower where his dear Minnie is being held. Mickey's quest takes him to a number of strange locales, aptly demonstrating the "Illusion" part of the castle name. Mickey runs, jumps, and bounces his way through forest trees, crumbling temples, and lands made of candy and sweets in his search for the Rainbow Gems. The mechanics work much like the original game, where enemies are dispatched by bouncing off of them - which has been tweaked to only require a regular jump rather than two button presses - or by throwing items collected through the levels at them. Thrown items are tied to the theme of the level, such as apples in the forest, which is a nice touch. Still, the bounce is the main method of dispatching enemies, mostly because bouncing off enemies is the only way to reach higher ground, resulting in simple level progression or even finding secret areas of the level. One place where the remake really deviates from the original are sections where the camera shifts to allow MIckey full 3D movement throughout a certain area. This is used to great effect in some boss fights, as well as the Castle itself and small sections of other levels. If you have any experience with platformers, none of this will be new or even particularly challenging, at least at first. Some of the secret areas do throw some curveballs at you, but failing to navigate these areas usually just results in getting booted back to the main area of the level. It's not really until the later levels that the challenge ramps up pretty considerably, which is a bit jarring, but admittedly a welcome change for those who found the early stages lacking. Of course, the reason that the change in difficulty is so jarring is because the game is so short - it can be beaten in as little as 2-3 hours, with only the challenging final levels and possibly the quest for secret collectibles (which unlock new costumes and statues depicting enemy characters) adding a little extra playtime. There is also the option of running each level in Time Attack mode with leaderboards, though this will really only appeal to a certain subset of players. But, while the adventure may not last long, it certainly provides a host of great visuals along the way. While the game is rendered in full 3D, it's done in such a way that most everything looks like it's out of a particularly detailed cartoon. Mickey himself appears like he was plucked straight out of a drawing, looking quite like the mouse we all know and love rather than the serviceable but slightly off-putting rendition from the Epic Mickey games. The soundtrack is also wonderfully whimsical as well, with newly re-arranged music by Grant Kirkhope (composer of numerous soundtracks for Rareware games) complementing the visual stimuli with some great tunes. Or, if that doesn't take your fancy, you can always revert back to the original Castle of Illusion soundtrack at any time, to give your adventure a more retro feel. All in all, the game comes together to form a package that is sure to appeal to not only fans of older Mickey Mouse games, but to anyone who has an itch for a light-hearted platformer that needs scratching. While the game is short and offers limited reasons for replayability, this is one of those games that players will want to come back to again and again, whether to challenge themselves to complete the game 100% or just to have another fun romp through the Castle. Where most developers are content to simply port an older game to new systems and call it a day, the developers at Sega Australia have done an amazing job crafting the game with love and reverence to the source material while updating it for a modern audience, and the end result is no mere illusion - it's bona-fide magic. Score: 8/10 TL;DR comments: If you're looking for a fun, whimsical platformer, look no further. The $15 price tag may be a little hard to stomach for such a short game, but it's highly unlikely you'll want to just play the game once and forget about it - you just might find yourself returning to the Castle of Illusion to deliver another bouncing beatdown on Mizrabel, just for the fun of it. The game looks great and plays great, and offers tribute to its past not only in the original Genesis game, but classic platformers in general.
  5. Update #2: Aaaaand it's done. SEGA Sammy has officially confirmed the purchase of Index. Not sure what the previous denial was about, but there you go. Update #1: Apparently SEGA Sammy is denying the acquisition, saying that no such thing has been announced. What exactly is going on? We're not entirely sure but expect to hear more about this over the next day or so. Original Story: Ever since Index (owners of Atlus) filed for bankruptcy, many have wondered what would become of the developer of the ever-popular Shin Megami Tensei series and publisher/localizer of many niche titles. Now, we finally seem to have the answer: According to sources, it seems as though SEGA has bought Index, and as such has ownership to the Atlus name. Many companies' names have been flying about for a while in regards to who might buy up the company, but it seems that SEGA decided to take the 19 billion yen plunge and actually acquire Index. Neither company has yet to comment on the developments, but we should expect to hear a confirmation of the acquisition soon. What do you think will come of this new partnership?
  6. Developer: Sega Crypton Future Media Publisher: Sega Platform: PS3 Release Date: August 27, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A download code was provided by the publisher for this review What the heck is a Vocaloid? Basically, they“re singing synthesizer applications with humanoid personas. You“ve probably heard of the most popular Vocaloid, Hatsune Miku, even if you didn“t know what one was before. Miku even has her own video games and concerts – the former of which has finally made an official appearance on western shores. Like the previous entries in the series, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F is a rhythm game where you press buttons in time to an array of Vocaloid songs. It may sound like another ordinary rhythm game, but Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F is different enough that it stands out among the rest. Each song is accompanied by a music video that plays in the background. While most songs will be sung by Miku and have her appear in the video, there are also other Vocaloids that are present in the game. Kagamine Rin, Kagamine Len, Megurine Luka, Kaito, and Meiko are among the “modules†you can have appear in songs you choose to play along with Miku. You can also dress up each character in their own various costumes and other accessories. These are purchased with Diva Points that you earn each time you finish playing through a song. Multitudes of things to purchase makes for a new experience each time you decide to replay a song, on top of playing dress-up! While the graphics and presentation of each video are absolutely gorgeous, it presents a major problem when it comes to actually playing the game. There“s so much going on in the background, and oftentimes it“s incredibly flashy and crazy, making it difficult to concentrate on the sequence of buttons you must press and more (as well as causing eye strain). Sure, you may become accustomed to it over time. But for newcomers to the Hatsune Miku games, it can definitely be off-putting. Despite that, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F is full of challenge that some rhythm game fanatics may be looking for. Even if you“re not a master, you can still build up your expertise from Easy to Normal mode, and from Hard to Extreme mode. When you need a break from all the fast-paced rhythm action, there are other modes that Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F offers to help you wind down. First, there“s the Edit Mode. As the name implies, you“re able to create your own music video in this mode from any song you own and generate your own chart. The possibilities are endless! Another mode, that“s actually rather cute and has some depth to it, is Miku Room. In this mode, you can customize a room for each character in the game with furniture and more. You can also buy them gifts, interact with them, and play with them. In short, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F is a great and solid rhythm game for the PS3. Even if there“s some getting used to in regards to how “crazy†the main game can get, I still highly recommend it to those that are interested in the genre. I“m quite glad Sega decided to finally take the chance to bring a Hatsune Miku game to North America! Pros: + Over 30 songs to play through, each with their own music videos + Edit Mode and Miku Room offer a fun break from the game“s main mode + Over 90 costumes and 100 accessories to dress up each character in Cons: - Videos playing in background tend to be overly flashy and crazy, making it difficult to concentrate - Loading times can be long Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Fans of the rhythm genre should welcome Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F with open arms. Let“s hope games in the series continue to come here!
  7. Harrison Lee

    Review: Company of Heroes 2

    Developer: Relic Publisher: SEGA Platform: PC (Steam required) Rating: M for Mature Release Date: 6/25/2013 The most fearsome German tank of World War II, the Tiger, is creeping around a small, snowy village. Obscured by foliage and low-rise buildings, the tank is silently hunting my nine squads of Russian infantry. It circles ponderously, preparing to mow down every man I have at my disposal with its turreted MG-42s. The only hope I have left is to lure the Tiger onto a carefully placed det charge. All I need to do is sacrifice a squad of conscripts and we're in business. Of course, my plan goes horribly awry when I detonate the charge too early. The Tiger then happens upon my entire unit of infantry, killing every soldier in sight. Well, Company of Heroes 2 isn't getting any easier so it's back to the drawing boards for me! In fact, the mission I just described is the sort of desperation you'll experience throughout Company of Heroes 2. Set in the bloodiest battlefields of World War II, the Eastern Front, the embattled Russians are anything but a company of heroes. The numerous but devastatingly under-supplied Russian army is forced to resort to the worst of tactics to stay alive. Company of Heroes 2's campaign follows the depressing story of a young Russian commander and his attempts to protect his men and win the war. You may know how the war ends, but the journey there is as heart-wrenching and gut-punching as any war story you'll see. The campaign's story is a massive step up over Relic's previous effort in the original Company of Heroes. You'll come to know the flawed but human Russian commandants, as well as the blasted landscapes, extremely well. Relic has done an admirable job of trying to tell a more cohesive story, though the writing can seem a bit forced at times. The voice actors are convincing and the on-screen action perfectly conveys the drama and chaos of this bloody front. And while the story is a tad predictable, it's also a definite improvement for World War II real-time strategy games. However, the story isn't just for show; it has a visible impact on the campaign missions. When Order 227 is issued (infamous to history buffs), the game forces you to push your men on at the risk of being gunned down by Russian commanders if they retreat. While I didn't experience any intentional friendly fire, 227 definitely forces you to micromanage your troops and ensure they don't break under the stress. Missions also feature intense difficulty spikes, such as the Tiger hunt mission I mentioned earlier. When you're given such limited numbers of invaluable units, a single mistake can easily lead to mission failure. The feeling of relief when you finally defeat your German adversaries is immense. If I have any complaints about the campaign, it's the uneven difficulty. The game can border on nerve-breaking when all of Germany's mightiest units swarm small squads of infantry. It's a bit like Men of War, minus the aspects of realism. In an amusing but cheap move, fresh conscripts can be ordered at virtually no charge. Order 227 will be activated for a short time but it's incredibly easy to abuse this power to amass an overwhelming number of troops. True to Russia's style, you can throw your troops to the meatgrinder and hope for the best. It's a bit unfair but (unfortunately) useful when the odds are impossibly stacked against you. Other single-player content includes the great challenge maps, which multiply the difficulty and create incredible tactical scenarios. While they're much harder than the campaign, they offer a lot more replayability and enjoyment to the formula. If you get bored with the campaign, I must advise going to the challenge maps for insanity and rewarding stress. Visually, Company of Heroes 2 is fairly similar to its predecessor. New explosion and smoke effects have been added, in addition to better textures. The game isn't a huge step over the previous entries but still looks incredible for an RTS. The audio is what truly shines in Company of Heroes 2. Rifles will crackle in the distance and the muffled thumps of artillery instill panic when the rounds hit your troops. It's immersive stuff, showing Relic's expertise at crafting an intense and visceral experience. As you might expect, Company of Heroes 2's multiplayer is largely unchanged from the original. It still focuses on base-building, point capture and swarms of powerful tanks. The Russians, however, add a new wrinkle. You need to fully equip their infantry and micromanage their abilities to truly be effective. Russia's vehicle stable isn't as reliable as the Germans and needs to be supplemented by powerful anti-tank infantry. Master these tips and you'll be well on your way to victory. You can also play co-op against the AI, but Company of Heroes 2 is best with the competitive side. Adding a slightly new twist is the addition of commanders. While they function the same as the affinity trees from the original game, the commanders may also offer minor stat perks for troops. These perks have little impact as far as I can tell, which makes their inclusion a bit puzzling. This is still an incredibly balanced experience. During my playthrough I experienced very few bugs. That said, you will need a pretty impressive rig if you want to see the best of what Company of Heroes 2 has to offer. With anti-aliasing on and smoke clouds, my framerates dipped into the single digits. It ran much more smoothly off but I felt like I was missing some of the nicer visual touches. At least I didn't experience any CTDs ("crash to desktop" for the uninitiated). I won't tell you that Company of Heroes 2 is a massive departure from the original. Relic took the stance of maintaining the status quo while offering a few improvements. This is still the amazing, addictive, balanced formula the original was known for. The differences may be subtle in-game but the new campaign improvements and the ever-strong multiplayer make this a must-buy for strategy game enthusiasts. Pros: + Same great formula + Welcome changes to the campaign + Still as beautiful as ever + Fairly bug-free and stable Cons: - Not a revolutionary update - Somewhat useless perks Overall Score: 9.0 (out of 10) Fantastic Fans and newcomers alike will find a lot to love with Company of Heroes 2's violent, powerful take on World War II.
  8. Vocaloid fans probably already have the upcoming Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F game pre-ordered at their favorite retailers but may need to change their plans if they want to snag some exclusive DLC. Those who pre-order Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F from GameStop get a couple of digital goods. First, there is a custom PS3 theme which comes with 10 Hatsune Miku backgrounds. You also get two snow Miku 2013 outfits in game. Sure, these digital goods might not be a big deal to you, but there are definitely Miku fans out there dying to deck their system out with official themes. When should you order by? Well, just get a pre-order squared away some time before launch. Project Diva F will land on PS3 on October 27th. The game is also to be sold at a slight discount of $50 as opposed to the more standard $60 new game pricing.
  9. Marcus Estrada

    Could Seaman Return on a Nintendo System?

    Stranger things have happened, but if there's one thing we weren't expecting it was the possibility of a Seaman resurgence. If you're not familiar with the name it was that of a game on the Dreamcast where your goal was to take care of a pet fish and speak to it using a microphone. Oh, and the fish had a face and could talk. The freaky fish was voiced by Leonard Nimoy. Although this game came to America, Seaman 2 on PS2 was relegated to Japan. However, it was a far different sort of adventure where you cared for a Peking Man rather than a fish. Years later, Nintendo has secured two trademarks which heavily imply they have a new Seaman game in the works. These two are: "Mysterious Pet: Legend of the Fish With A Human Face and Mysterious Partner: Legend of the Fish With A Human Face". Now, these recently registered trademarks could be for something other than Seaman, but it doesn't seem too likely. "Fish With A Human Face" just jumps out as seeming to explicitly point to it. In either case, they were filed by Nintendo of Japan. Did you ever play Seaman on Dreamcast?
  10. Note: The majority of the article (black text) was written by me, Leah. The blue text is written by Marcus Estrada, who added his own thoughts on the game's demo as well. In recent years, Sonic has been steadily regaining his former glory and effectively putting a stop to the infamous “Sonic Cycle.†Even though I still haven“t gotten my hands on the last few great titles, such as Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, I still wanted to try out the recently announced Sonic Lost World and see what it had to offer. So, Marcus and I made our way towards Sega“s E3 booth to get that started. In regards to Sonic, I'm even further out of the loop than Leah. I've focused my time with the Genesis games the most, of course, with attention paid to the Sonic Adventure games as well. Then I took up some of the more dubious titles - Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) and Shadow the Hedgehog - which really means any Sonic game I play next will be considered "good" by comparison. For this preview, I“ll be focusing on the Wii U version of Sonic Lost World. I decided to try out the Windy Hill Zone level, which is more 3D-focused versus the other playable Desert Ruins level, which felt akin to old 2D Sonic games. Immediately, I was greeted by bold, bright colors and fluid animation. After fiddling around with buttons and learning the controls, I was soon blasting through the level as the blue hedgehog. Like with any other Sonic game, the goal is to dash through the level while defeating any enemies that may get in your way. To improve your score, it“s advised to avoid damage and collect as many rings as possible. Leah actually had a really hard time with the controls because they were not logically placed, at least to both of us. A separate button for running meant that she actually waddled through most of the level instead of running which Sonic is so well known for. I was able to play with a great deal of speed and still found some segments to be impeding Sonic's dash through the world. As I progressed, Sonic Lost World felt more and more similar to the Wii“s Super Mario Galaxy. Floating land masses? Check. Bouncing between said land masses in an extravagant fashion? Check. Gravity not a problem as you run around each area? Check. Some people may think it“s blatant copying and that it will just be a Super Mario Galaxy clone. However, I have played and watched enough of Sonic Lost World to say that this is not the case. It“s different enough to be its own game, and a promising one at that. It's not like Super Mario Galaxy is the only game that features traveling across planets, but Sonic Lost World sure does make it seem a lot similar. However, I feel that Sonic works better with it than Mario ever did. Jumping from planet to planet flows better when you're the famous blue hedgehog and it doesn't seem out of place for a Sonic game. I say that Sonic Lost World is a game from Sega to look forward to. Not only that, but it“s a seemingly good game that the meager Wii U library needs. I know I“m definitely going to keep my eye on it as its release draws near!
  11. Leah

    Sonic Lost World - 2

    From the album: Leah's Editorial Images

    © Sega

  12. Leah

    Sonic Lost World - 1

    From the album: Leah's Editorial Images

    © Sega

  13. Well, this sure is proof that good things do happen if you let your voice be heard! Thanks to the overwhelming support to the possible Hatsune Miku: Project Dive F localization on Sega's Facebook page, the PS3 game will be making its way to North America and Europe. Sega says that "in less than 3 days, the post received over 25,000 likes and 15,000 shares." Aaron Webber, Associate Brand Manager for Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F, exclaims, "Your voices helped make this happen.†Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F will release in North America on PlayStation 3 and via digital download on PSN, and in Europe via digital download on PSN. Both regions will be getting it sometime this August. For those eager to get their Hatsune Miku on right now, a demo will be available on June 11th for the U.S. and June 12th for Europe.
  14. Marcus Estrada

    Three Sonic Games Coming to Ouya

    The Ouya is going to be available for purchase soon - June 25th (unless the date gets moved again). The massively successful Kickstarter project has already been out for pre-purchasers who can use it to play a host of free games as well as a pricey copy of Final Fantasy III provided by Square Enix. Sega is another big name company has decided to show support for the Ouya. They spoke with GamesIndustry International to announce the three games coming to the platform. Don't get excited thinking these are possibly new Sonic spin-offs, though. The games are Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I and II and Sonic CD. If you're a Sonic fan then this probably doesn't strike you as surprising considering each of these games were already available on the Android market. As the Ouya is running on Android as well it is likely very easy to port the games over with support for the Ouya controller and TV interface. Sega's three games will be added to the Ouya Marketplace on June 27th at the inflated cost of $7.
  15. Sonic: Lost World was initially revealed in the last Nintendo Direct as one of 3 exclusive Sonic games in development by SEGA for Nintendo platforms, but no footage of gameplay was shown until today when the first trailer was unveiled on IGN. From the footage, it appears that series mainstay Dr. Robotnik/Eggman is not the villain in this game; instead, a new group of multi-colored villains called the Deadly Six look to be the antagonists this time around. The gameplay shown is somewhat reminiscent of the Super Mario Galaxy games, making Sonic: Lost World appear to be a fusion of the world-bending platforming of the former and the speedy gameplay that Sonic fans are used to. In addition, the trailer makes mention of new moves for the hedgehog as well. No release date was given for Sonic: Lost World though it's slated to release sometime by the end of 2013 for Wii U and 3DS. You can check out the announcement trailer from IGN below.
  16. Part of the focus of this morning's Nintendo Direct was Nintendo's partnership with Sega, and that partnership resulted in the announcement of the next game in the iconic Sonic the Hedgehog series--Sonic: Lost World. Very little was revealed during this Nintendo Direct, but the game has been confirmed to be a Nintendo exclusive, coming to the Wii U and 3DS. More information will supposedly be revealed before E3, so you can expect everyone's favorite blue hedgehog to make an appearance in the next Nintendo Direct. Are you excited about this new Sonic game announcement?
  17. The console war is one war that will never be won. There will be victories and defeats, but there will never be a true winner to end all of this digital mayhem. And in this case, a never-ending war is the best thing gaming could ever hope for since competition fuels the need for innovation. Without an enemy to face, we would have never gotten some of the amazing things we've seen in our generation. Of course, we also wouldn't be able to laugh at the war torn history left behind by those many console giants from the past, present and future as well. And really, that's way more important than any amazing game changing innovations we might have seen in the last thirty years. So why don't you join me for an awkward look back at the world of video game rivalry? Pikachu Really Hates Sony I've mentioned Hey You, Pikachu! a number of times in a few of my past articles due to it's microphone capabilities; an extremely underused feature that I love seeing in games. The reason I'm mentioning this less-than-well-received Nintendo 64 title is thanks to an easter egg hidden in the game's long list of many phrases that Pikachu would react to. Back up, what did you just say to me? Among words such as Pikachu, apple, and lightning bolt was the extremely out of place "Sony." Now why would a rival's company be among the list of words that Pikachu responded to? Well, as we all know, Nintendo and Sony have been rivals since the very beginning of the Playstation's launch. As a way of taking a shot at Sony, Nintendo included the name of the company in Hey You, Pikachu! as an extremely negative word. If you so much as hinted to Pikachu that you were about to say the word Sony, your pokemon companion would absolutely flip out. He would stop listening to you, start electrocuting everything in his general area and drop whatever he was holding in his hands. The mere mention of Sony was enough to send him into a waking night terror with no escape. Microsoft Has A Naval Battle With Sony The Xbox 360 exploded out onto the market nearly a year ahead of its competition. Sony had finally released the Playstation 3 in America, and it was gearing up to release globally. Excited gamers in France began to stand in line as they eagerly awaited the release of the PS3... and then things got crazy. Does the X in the O stand for hugs and kisses? As the legions of French fans stood out in the cold waiting for the official launch of the PS3, a large boat adorned with Microsoft and Xbox symbols slowly came into view of the store's line of customers. In large white letters was the phrase "XBOX 360 YOU". Microsoft had pulled the proverbial boombox in the rain on this poor group of frozen gamers... and it was kind of funny. The only thing that would have made it better was if a Sony boat pulled into view and attacked the Xbox boat. It was a silly idea that did manage to get Microsoft some free advertising at Sony's expense, but I suggest they try using blimps to advertise during the PS4 launch. They're much harder to ignore because honestly, who can say no to looking at a blimp? Sonic Takes A Jab At Mario; Totally Beefs It Have you ever heard of the Sonic title, Sonic X-Treme? I'm going to guess you haven't, seeing as it was cancelled after constant game delays and massive problems during production. Many programmers slaved over the game working 16 hour days only to see their troubled game get flushed down the toilet, never to be seen again by anyone ever. But not before they got this juicy little advertisement out. How could something like this fail? Mario and his apparent henchmen are unable to bring down that pesky hedgehog no matter how hard they try because he has made the jump to the 3D world and left them in their 2D dust to rot into obscurity. The ad itself is what makes this so funny. Shortly after the game was cancelled, Mario entered the 3D realm with Super Mario 64 and ended up leaving Sonic to rot in his 2D dust while his franchise became bigger than ever. Square Enix Attacks... Themselves? Alright Square Enix, I don't think you understand the point to all of this. It's supposed to make your enemies look bad. You aren't supposed to take shots at your customers. In the PSP game, Dissidia: Final Fantasy, Square Enix did just that. In the Battle Tips section of the game, you can see what Final Fantasy XII's Penelo has to say about each character. I bite the hand that feeds me, teehee! Most of them are just funny little things or observations about the characters. When you get to Cloud and Sephiroth, however, things take a turn. With Cloud, she says all he does is mope around and is therefore an uninteresting character. She then goes on to say Sephiroth is supposed to be pretty popular, but he really isn't that attractive. While these are more or less just funny little things they threw in the game to spice things up a bit, you have to remember the people who are constantly voting for Cloud and Sephiroth in character polls. They're called fangirls and fanboys, and they don't understand jokes in the slightest. Any attack on their husbandos is an attack on them, and they will write about it in their Livejournals for the whole world to not care about. Nintendo Is All Up In Sony's 3D Venture The Nintendo 3DS was a revolution in 3D technology. It was now no longer necessary to spend upwards of $60 just for a pair of glasses to see the 3D image being projected from a screen, and you didn't have to burn your eyes out like with Nintendo's first 3D venture, the Virtual Boy. Its a pretty neat gimmick for the system because when it works well, it works really well. But we're not here to discuss systems. We're hear to talk about wicked sick jabs at rival companies. "Just eat it." And this jab took place at the absolute greatest E3 ever, E3 2010. While a lot of disses and slams were being thrown around in each E3 presentation, the one that sticks out for me was Nintendo's 3DS conference. They constantly brought up the fact that expensive 3D glasses were going the way of the dinosaurs and anyone who used them were going to get left in the dust in the coming years. The very next day Sony held a conference that was almost entirely based around expensive 3D glasses. While I have no way of proving Nintendo set up their 3DS conference that way on purpose just to get Sony's goat, it seems pretty obvious that was what they were aiming for. How do you follow with your multimillion dollar project announcement right after your competition just thrashed you for a solid hour with their glasses free 3D? Well, I would say something along the lines of Sony's split screen 3D technology, but nobody uses that. The reason I love quips like these is because every time I see or hear one, I imagine someone being dunked on by a basketball player. Totally unrelated, I know. But its why I love them so much. Can you think of any other types of marketing slams that have happened over the years? Why not discuss them in the comments below? As always, thanks for reading.
  18. Grant Kirkhope has gotten himself back into the minds of many gamers lately by giving away his old soundtracks for free. Sure, not every game CD has been distributed, but it looks like he's probably going to release even more after he did so with Banjo-Kazooie and Perfect Dark. The man's love for composing lives on as he has continued to do the soundtracks for modern games. He scored the recent Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts as well as both Viva Pinatas. Now he's taken up the task of bringing music to the remake of Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. Apparently, he just finished the last track for the game last week. As Castle of Illusion is meant to be out this summer, it makes sense that the project is nearly concluded already. Although we can't know how the game itself will turn out, we can rest easy knowing that the soundtrack is in good hands.
  19. Project X Zone is one of those games that many thought would never leave Japan. Thanks to Namco Bandai taking care of publishing in North America, however, 3DS owners will get to play the Capcom/Sega/Namco Bandai SRPG collaboration this summer. On top of releasing a new trailer today, which you can view below, Namco Bandai also announced that all copies of Project X Zone will be upgraded to a "limited edition." This limited edition includes a mini-art book, poster, and music CD. Project X Zone releases exclusively for 3DS on June 25th in NA and July 5th in Europe (no word yet if Europeans will also be receiving this limited edition).
  20. Whether you like them or not, Microsoft definitely stumbled onto something quite interesting when they brought Achievements to the Xbox 360. These little things pop up for various accomplishments in games and have since been adopted by Sony and Steam. Some systems may not support Achievement-like goodies overall but do have in-game awards. Many opposed to Achievements are gamers who grew up without them. As such, there seems to not be much need for modern games to include them either. However, there are also fans of retro games who would have loved to see Achievements on their old systems. The latter group have come together to start RetroAchievements, which awards players Achievements for retro games. It's an incredibly odd, but interesting, turn of events. So far the site only works with Genesis (Mega Drive) games, but other consoles are intended to be added as well. Games such as Ecco the Dolphin, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Streets of Rage 2 all have a series of Achievements to grab. Things are a bit spotty in regards to legality though, as those wishing to net awards must play games through a specific emulator which uploads your winnings to the site. From there, players can gloat about their wealth of Genesis-based Achievements. What is your opinion on Achievements and Trophies in games?