Review: Thomas was Alone

Thomas was Alone
alonebox
Cost
$9.99
Format
Digital
Size
465 MB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, PS3, Wii U, Windows, PS Vita, iOS, Android
Release Date
11/21/2014
Developer
Curve Studios
Publisher
Curve Digital
Modes
Single PLayer

Thomas was alone… what a strange title for a video game. When I first heard this name, I instantly assumed it was an indie game, which I often truly enjoy. And on top of that, I thought it was probably an exploration game. I thought of Journey. Or maybe a first-person exploration game like the upcoming “Everyone’s Gone to Rapture”. I certainly wasn’t thinking about a narrative side-scrolling platforming puzzle game with rectangles. But that’s exactly what Thomas was alone is. It’s a puzzle game with clever ideas, but not enough substance.

The basic explanation of the game is that there are multiple different rectangles that you can control. At first you just start out with one, and the goal is to get to the end of the level. About every five levels the game introduces another rectangle to the mix. Each rectangle is different in color and size. The player controls the rectangles like a platformer, pressing a button to switch between each rectangle on the fly. Each rectangle moves at different speeds and jumps at different heights. In the world the only pitfalls are things like water and spikes.

The first three rectangles don’t vary enough. They are just different sizes and height which makes for some very boring puzzles. Early on the answers to the puzzles were all far too similar. One rectangle can jump extremely high; the other can barely jump at all. So use the one rectangle as a stepping stool and the short rectangle jumps slowly up like a staircase. It’s boring and not creative at all. Eventually there are more rectangles that join the party and they switch things up much more. There’s a HUGE rectangle that can float and be like a boat for the others. And there’s another long flat rectangle that acts like a trampoline and launches the others in the air. The puzzles get slightly more interesting once these rectangles come into fruition.

Now strangely enough, each rectangle has a name and personality. This is where one of my major complaints comes into play. I love character driven games. I love a game that has personality. I love dialog between characters and character development. And Thomas is Alone tackles a lot of these ideas. However I believe they fall very short. The characters in this game are little rectangles. That’s right, the rectangles that you use to jump around and float and climb are actually characters in the game. Yet they have no faces, no expression, no voice, nothing that helps them stand out other than their size and color. Thomas is red, Chris is short and orange, John is tall and yellow, Claire is big and blue, and so on and so forth. These characters are developed and have personality, but for me, it was so hard to let these little rectangles effect me emotionally in any way. Think of the game “Threes”. It‘s a simple card puzzle game based on numbers. If Threes could have existed before video games, it would be similar to Sudoku, with just simple numbers. Numbers are just numbers; they have no life at all. But since Threes is a video game, it can do much more. In a simple yet brilliant design move, each of the numbers in Threes has a face, voice, expression, and character. It’s a small touch. But when you create the number 48 and it’s a little bucktoothed face that says, “Hey Guys!” it instantly make the game have so much more emotion and life. I laugh every time I can’t figure out my next move and I hear one of them sigh and say, “I’m booored”. Why couldn’t Thomas was Alone have this type of detail? Thomas is supposed to be a light-hearted rectangle who just wants friends. And Chris is kind of a jerk who doesn’t like anyone at first. So how about giving Thomas a happy go lucky grin and as he moves along why can’t Chris squint his eyes and look at him with disdain as he jumps over his head? I know we can use our imagination. But this is a video game. The possibilities are endless. Don’t restrict the game in such a way that it takes away from the experience. I know that the developer put time and effort into wanting to create characters that developed and grew on each other as time went by. And this could have been pulled off so much better if these little guys weren’t simply quadrilaterals without a face.

The way that the story told is through a narrator. The narrator talks for the characters themselves, knowing their feelings and thoughts. The characters never talk to one another. This I don’t have a problem with, I like this move. Let’s say in this world that these little rectangles can’t talk, but they still have motives, thoughts, ideas, and emotions. I would have liked it if we could just see these emotions. It’s hard to really care about anyone when they are just shapes with colors. Plus, the narrator in my opinion gets extremely irritating. He’s a British narrator, and when he just talks normally it sounds fine. But when he tries to be funny, by changing the complexion of his voice or talking fast or things like that, he sounds extremely annoying and not funny at all. I would have preferred if the game was entirely in text over hearing the narrator’s aggravating voice.

The puzzles themselves are far too easy in the early goings. Until “Claire” is introduced, the game is entirely about jumping and climbing only. And Claire manages to change that just slightly, as now the game is more jumping and climbing, just with Claire’s floating ability thrown in there. The puzzles’ difficulty does heighten to some degree with the trampoline rectangle, Laura. But the game just takes too long to get interesting in its puzzles. And still, the puzzles are unexciting and not creative. The goal is always to just get to the end. And the way to get there always involved jumping on each other, pressing buttons, and not falling in water. There are a few levels that really take advantage of the different rectangles abilities and make for a bit of fun, but those levels are much too rare.

The graphics in Thomas is Alone are as simple as can be. I mentioned earlier about how I feel the characters could have used more personality, emotion, etc. The game is far too bland and lifeless. It’s really just a game with a bunch of squares and rectangles; it looks like an unfinished prototype.

Overall Thomas is Alone is a game that disappoints me on multiple levels. It’s visually ugly, the narrator is obnoxious, and the level design is uninspired. I want to care about the story and the characters, but the way the story is presented and the fact that the main characters are emotionless rectangles makes it just so hard to stay invested. Thomas should have stayed alone, away from the consumer, until the game was much more polished and filled with more life, meaning, and personality.

PROS:
1) Interesting character dynamics

CONS:
1) Characters fleshed out in strange way
2) Uninteresting level design
3) Too easy difficulty
4) Ugly graphics
5) Annoying Narrator

4.4
Poor

 

Review: Slender: The Arrival

Slender: The Arrival
slenderman
Cost
$9.99
Format
Digital
Size
1.37 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date
March 26, 2013(PC)March 25, 2015(XboxOne)
Developer
Blue Isle Studios
Publisher
Blue Isle Studios
Modes
Single Player

In 2012 a little indie horror game called Slender took the internet by storm. The first person survival scare-fest was based on a folklore known as “The Slender Man”. Slender Man is a tall skinny faceless man who haunts the woods and has serious stalker issues. In the original, the goal was to find all eight pages without Slender Man finding you. As the player collects each page, the intensity revs up and the game gets harder. The design was simple, but it caught on and became a huge cult hit. Slender: The Arrival is the sequel to the 2012 hit. With a much bigger premise, story elements, more attention to detail, and a deeper experience, can The Arrival take the original’s small scale ideas and multiply them into a full-scale scare?

First off you must know that to play a game like Slender you have to go into it with the right mindset. In fact even right as the game starts the developer put in a little message that talks about this. Basically, if you go into The Arrival trying to be unimpressed and not scared, then you most likely won’t be scared at all. But if you go into the game really kind of putting yourself in the mind of the in game character and in that world, and if you pump yourself up in a way that you really do want to get creeped out and frightened, then Slender: The Arrival has all the tools to so. Is it a horrifying game? No. But if you turn the lights off and blast the speakers, then The Arrival can be downright eerie and creepy. It’s more about the tone and setting of a world that always puts you on edge, then being game that has gross jump scares and terrifying monsters.

Slender: The Arrival is split up into different levels that really diversify the game. And honestly this is a major strength. In the first level you just roam and investigate a large area, you get a few glimpses of Slender Man in the distance. This first level has notes and story elements hidden about, and without going over the top it just creates an uncanny and supernatural feel. The level culminates with a creepy burned down house and it starts to open up a number of mysteries that need to be resolved. The second level is classic Slender. You must find the eight pages hidden in a small wooded area and at every turn it seems like Slender Man is staring you down. It’s very fun and reminded me of how great the simple gameplay was from the original. The game continues on with some levels of traversal nature and other levels more like the original Eight Pages. There’s a level in a mine, where you must turn on generators to power an elevator to your escape, this level was the hardest for me, with Slender Man being more annoying than scary and these strange marathon running zombie like creatures in hoodies tackling me to the floor. Another level takes place on an old farm with the sun setting in the distance, again creating a very “on-edge” tone. Overall the levels each feel very distinct, and while they aren’t all home-runs, it keeps the game feeling fresh throughout the 3-5 hour campaign.

The game being in short length is one of the issues. In the world of video games, it’s known that horror games are better taken in smaller chunks. If the game is horrifying, it’s not fun to be scared for hours and hours straight, the player will want to quit. Meanwhile if the game is more eerie than scary, then the player will be desensitized and it just won’t be fun. So, a 20 hour campaign for a scary game is probably too long. But 8-10 hours might have been a bit better.

Some of the scares in Slender: The Arrival certainly fall flat. The crying child in the burning house definitely made my spine tingle. And the strange man in the cellar of the farm was heart-stopping at first glance. But the mine level wasn’t really frightening at all. And the man in the cellar that seriously scared me at first quickly became amusing instead, as I noticed he would just stand there awkwardly until I got a certain distance away from him before he would run off. There were a few game design decisions, or more like short-comings, which made the game feel less scary and more silly. In the end, Slender Man himself is beyond creepy and he far surpasses any other scares in the game.

Slender: The Arrival is a pretty game. Is it the best looking horror game out there? Certainly not. But for a small scale indie-scare, it certainly does the job. The lighting and colors are vibrant by day, and the shadows are eerie by night. The biggest problem is when the game was just too dark. Instead of being dark and hard to see, it felt more like there was just a cloud of dark in front of me, and the flash light I carried really didn’t do much. I know the game is supposed to be scariest when its pitch black, but I’ve seen much better attempts at this. Meanwhile when you look at characters and some textures up close the game is sometimes downright ugly. For an Xbox One or PS4 game, The Arrival definitely isn’t as good looking as it could be. Vistas, fields, trees in the wind, and sunlight are all appealing. But close ups and dark rooms are not.
Overall Slender: The Arrival is a fine game. It is by no means the scariest, prettiest, or deepest horror experience. But it’s a solid few hours of fun and the eerie tone is great. Some scares fall short and some game mechanics just feel off. But the classic Slender Man gameplay is still great and the paranormal mysteries and ominous atmosphere make for a solid game.

PROS:
1) Slender Man is still creepy
2) Constant “on-edge” tone
3) Diverse level design
CONS:
1) Short campaign
2) Some scares fall flat
3) The mine level
6.1
Average

 

2014 Bam Game Awards (BGAs)

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Bam Rants

2014 was a good year for gaming. It was the first full year for the Xbox One and PS4; and with it came new exciting experiences but undeniable growing pains as well. The Wii U had it’s second full year in which they threw big-time punches with some big-time games. It’s usually the second or third year in a console’s cycle that we get the best games. And with some awesome stuff on the way, get excited for 2015. But before we do that, let’s look back at 2014. A year with some absolutely phenomenal games and equally bad ones. With great hype comes the possibility of great disappointment, that’s for sure. Some games reached that hype and exceeded it however. There are plenty of categories to cover in the Bam Game Awards (BGAs), so let’s get right to it. I’ll continue to add videos for categories like “Best Sports Game” or “Most Disappointing” or “Best Download Only Game”. I’ll end the 2014 BGAs with “Best Game of 2014”.
Remember these are my own opinions, and I haven’t played EVERYTHING from 2014 so some games may be left out for that reason. But overall I got to play a massive amount of games in 2014 and I have some very strong opinions, I’m looking forward to sharing them.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks, I hope you all enjoy the 2014 BGAs!
– Bam

Best Download Only Game of 2014

Most Disappointing Game of 2014

Best Nintendo Game of 2014

Best Sports/Racing Game of 2014

Review: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
15522904443_9caae0fe1e_z
Cost
$39.99
Format
Retail and Digital
Size
1.9 GB
Available On
Wii U
Release Date
12/5/2014
Developer
Nintendo EAD Tokyo Group#2, 1-Up Studio
Publisher
Nintendo
Modes
Single Player

Captain Toad is a character initially introduced in Mario Galaxy for the Wii. He’s the leader of the Toad Brigade, a group dedicated to helping Mario with his epic journey by giving him stars, 1-ups, and more. He carries a backpack and a headlamp and often gets in over his head. Along with helping in the Galaxy games, Captain Toad became a playable character in Super Mario 3D World in small bonus special levels. These levels were perhaps the most innovative and fun part about the entire game, and Nintendo saw something special in Captain Toad’s side adventures. Nintendo unveiled the game, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker for the Wii U in early 2014 and the game launched on December 5th in the same year. Treasure Tracker is a simple yet fun game that is bursting with life and charm. It’s a testament to Nintendo’s unparalleled ability of creating inventive and enjoyable games with its massive roster of characters. Nintendo needs to make more spin-offs, for more reasons than one. To allow itself to not flood the market with the same games, like the New Super Mario franchise or the Mario 3D Land/World franchise over and over. And instead make those games at a reasonable pace and appetizer the gamers with great side content like Toad’s escapades in Treasure Tracker.

Captain Toad’s movements are very constrained, especially when compared to the Mario’s acrobatics. He can move and run, he can climb ladders, and he can pluck and throw objects. On top of that there are level specific things he can do like ride a mine-cart or control a cannon. Overall the levels are designed to create fun gameplay within the games restrictions. Many games not today are all about giving the player the ability to run, jump, and shoot, any way he or she wants. Games like these are all the rage, just look at Sunset Overdrive or every online shooter as of late; everyone can run off walls and practically fly through the air. These games can be fun, but they can also lose focus. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a puzzle game. The goal is very simple, get to the star. But on the way there are three jewels that can be collected and a side mission as well. The levels are almost like floating puzzle boxes in the air; you can control Toad but also can control the camera to manipulate the angle of the world. Often there are hidden items or passage ways can only be seen once the world is rotated to the perfect spot. In this way the game really feels like a treasure hunt. There are hidden items all over, and even when the jewels or final star is right out in the open, it’s a puzzle to just find out how to get there. With each level only taking a few minutes, the replayablity is great. It’s a blast to find all the jewels and reach the finish. And after you complete the level, there will be an added side mission that becomes visible. Sometimes that mission was already completed without you even noticing. These side objectives are fun and can range from finding the hidden gold mushroom, to collecting at least 75 coins, to taking down every enemy.

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Speaking of enemies, Goombas and Boos have never been more dangerous. Since we don’t play as Mario or Luigi, the challenge of the game isn’t about simply demolishing each enemy you see, it’s more about trying to avoid them while trying to figure out how to destroy them. Just like every enemy of the Mushroom kingdom, simply landing on their head is their mortal weakness. Since Toad can’t jump, this has to be done in different ways. There are times when Toad can drop down on the enemies head from a higher position. Other times Toad can plug a turnip from the ground and chuck it at them. And other times still there can be level specific things like environmentally killing them or finding a super powered pick-axe to wipe them out. Again, the formula of limited the player actually creates a dynamic where it’s more fun to kill the enemies because it takes thought process and execution.

The level diversity is very good. Some levels take place under water, where movement is slowed and fish swim about. Other levels are in jungles with more secrets than normal and giant piranha plants. There’s a level on a train in the middle of a blizzard, levels in caves on mine carts, inside haunted houses with mischievous Boos, and more. The challenge of each level is usually varied as well. One level may be very puzzle heavy, with switches and secrets that make the player think. Then the very next level may be filled with enemies and Toad needs to take them all out. There’s a level where Toad rides a raft across poisonous waters, another where platforms are invisible and can only be seen when a button is pressed. The biggest complaint with diversity is with the bosses. Sadly, the game uses the same bosses multiple times with just small variations. I personally hate this trend in gaming. There’s nothing fun about playing the same boss over and over with small changes. Unless it’s a game like Mario 64 or Mario Galaxy, where meeting and fighting Bowser three times feels like an accomplishment and an epic journey. But when the boss is just a fat bird who hordes jewelry or a giant lizard in lava that Toad fights over and over it becomes repetitive and boring.

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The visuals in the game are very pretty; of course they won’t win any graphics of the year awards but they are nice nonetheless. There’s a lot of color, brightness, and flare in every level. The characters movements and the little touches in every aspect of the game are fantastic. Nintendo knows how to make a good looking game, that’s a fact. The music is sub-par when compared to Nintendo’s standards. There are some nice little tunes, but nothing that really jumps out and sticks in your head for months the way that Nintendo music so often does.

Nintendo has done a great job with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The game is pretty, replayable, and most importantly, fun. Nintendo just knows how to make fun games. Maybe they don’t have the hubge explosions or deep dramatic stories, but Nintendo games are straight up fun. The game gets a bit repetitive when it comes to the bosses, and this is no Mario Galaxy 3. But in my opinion it’s the most fun Mario game since Mario Galaxy 2. In the case of Super Mario 3D World, the game chooses to limit itself, with singular objectives and a boxed in world. It becomes the opposite of the grand beautiful ambitious efforts of the Galaxy series. And in many respects Captain Toad is the same as 3D World, with a small scale and simple mechanics. But that’s fine. We expect Mario to push the limits and be flying around and saving the world. Meanwhile Captain Toad is narrowly escaping a room with a couple Shyguys, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Nintendo please keep making spin-offs. Let Mario Galaxy be epic. Let the Zelda games blow our minds. Save the simplistic great fun for small scale games like Captain Toad or Hyrule Warriors.

PROS:
1) Fun simplistic gameplay
2) Nintendo feel

CONS:
1) Repetitive bosses

7.7
GOOD

 

Review: Super Smash Bros Wii U

Super Smash Bros Wii U
240274b
Cost
$59.99
Format
Retail and Digital
Size
15.6 GB
Available On
Wii U
Release Date
11/21/2014
Developer
Sora. LTD
Publisher
Nintendo
Modes
Single and Multi-player

While the PS4 and Xbox One continue to sell like diamond studded hot cakes, the Wii U has quietly been putting together a much more impressive array of first party software. Both the PS4 and Xbox One have been lacking in exclusive games, with only a few between themselves. The Xbox has games like Sunset Overdrive and Titanfall. The PS4 has games like Little Big Planet 3 and Infamous Second Sun. Each of the big three have also depended on remakes like The Last of Us on the PS4, Halo: Master Chief Collection on the Xbox One, and Zelda: The Wind Waker on the Wii U. But other than just a few small hits, the exclusive games on the PS4 and Xbox One have been lacking. They make up for this with a massive amount of third party content, something the Nintendo Wii U is weak with. However the first party games on the Wii U are above and beyond what the other two consoles have to offer. Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, Wonderful 101, and New Super Mario Bros Wii U highlight an impressive library of exclusive games that have been received very well. But anyone who’s a hardcore Nintendo gamer will tell you that they purchased the Wii U for two games.—the new Zelda and Super Smash Bros. In just three games for three different consoles, the Smash Bros franchise has sold nearly 13 million copies. Nintendo has doubled down on this franchise to boost the sales of their console and also remind us Nintendo fanboy freaks why we love the big N so much. And let me tell you, they didn’t just double down on Super Smash Bros for the Wii U, the centupled down! (That would be 100 times for those of us who don’t know)The sheer amount of things to do in this game could go toe-to-toe with any game I’ve ever seen and win. There is so much content, so much verity, so much FUN in this iteration of Nintendo’s competitive and party fighting masterpiece. Nearly flawless in every way, Nintendo, and more specifically Masahiro Sakurai, who is the developer of the game and franchise, has outdone itself and created one of the best games of the generation and the best game the series has seen.

There is just so much packed into this game it’s hard to even know how to cover it all. Let’s start with just the pure fighting, Smash mode. There are 49 playable characters in the game and the majority of them have their own unique feel. There are semi “clone” characters like Lucina, Toon Link and Dr. Mario. But everyone else really plays their own way and each of them is fun to master. Some characters like Captain Falcon and Kirby are easy to pick up and have some success with; meanwhile they still can be mastered to be able to crush the competition. Other characters like Olimar and Ness are hard to use at first, but extremely satisfying to play through the growing pains and come out a smash expert with. There are fast characters, strong characters, strategic characters, defensive characters, and more. Some characters use weapons like guns or swords but still play completely different. Marth and Shulk both use swords but they are about as similar as a porcupine and a doorknob. Samus and Fox both use guns but the fighting styles are night and day. It’s so much fun just to use these characters and pick favorites and master them. The roster is across dozens of Nintendo classics and even some very new games like Xenoblade. There are also characters from non-Nintendo games, with Sonic returning and Megaman and Pacman being wonderful additions. You can also now play as your Mii. You can create your character to be a gunner, swordman, or brawler. Then you can select the moveset accordingly. Many fighting games struggle with character diversity; not Smash Bros. Some characters feel unbalanced at first, but with time each character can be countered and outmatched. Every character looks, feels, sounds, jumps, moves, and plays differently—and THIS is the core reason for Smash Bros success.

There are 46 levels in Super Smash Bros Wii U. Some of them are not as strong as other but again the diversity is impressive. There are fewer levels than ever that end up feeling like throw-away levels. Most of them are fun and competitive. Sakurai made dozens of brilliant design decisions in the game. One of the best decisions was to create the ability to have a “Final Destination form” of every level in the game. Final Destination has been the long-standing favorite level for Smash Bros fans. It’s just a simple stage with no platforms and no nonsense, just mano y mano. So usually after messing around with every level, smash fans will simply play on Final Destination over and over and possibly have a few more they mess around with from time to time. So, instead of feeling forced to play just a few levels only over and over, you can select a level and play the Final Destination form of that level; this creates one simple platform to play on, the same size and shape of the one on Final Destination, but still keeps the look, sound, and background of whichever level you selected.

Another huge design decision that turns out to be amazing is adding 8 player smash to the game. The old limit was 4 characters at once, either humans or computer. However now you can play with up to 8. Not all of the levels are available for this mode, since they would be too small, but you can still play on a good amount of them and there is still a final destination form of nearly every level again for this. There are so many possibilities for pure fun with 8 players. You can play 4vs4 with all humans. You can go 4vs4 with humans vs. computers at level 9. It can be extremely hectic, but in the laugh-out-loud-what-the-heck-just-happened good way. There are an insane amount of items that do massively diverse amount of things. These items can be worthless or completely game changing. Yes, some of them feel over powered or unfair, but that is part of the fun of Smash Bros. And of course, you can go to the options section before a match and simply turn items to high, medium, low or off completely. You can also go into detail and select specific items you do or don’t want. So if you’re sick and tired of that god-forsaken Drill, then just turn it off. Many of the items are a whole lot of fun, and the new additions are great too like the Bullet Bill and Spiny Shell. All the items are from the massive catalog of Nintendo games throughout the years.

Almost everything you do in Smash Bros Wii U give you rewards. Trophies return, as the mainstay collectable in Smash and an awesome memorabilia of Nintendo history. Stickers are thankfully axed, there was no reason for them, trophies are much better. Music in the Smash series has been incredible throughout the years; you can collect more CDs for more songs. Equipment is a new addition. Each character can be edited in the character customization section. You can edit each characters special moves when you unlock new ones. For example imagine Link and his bow. You can have the standard bow OR you can switch to a quick fire bow that can fire through multiple opponents but doesn’t launch the enemy OR you can switch to a power bow that takes a long time to charge up but has immense power. You can also unlock equipment that can make your character quicker, stronger, or better on defense. Pikachu is a very fast character, maybe you want to give him a bit more defense and be okay with dropping the speed a bit. Some equipment gives special features, like starting with a beam sword at the beginning of each life or giving 1.15% more damage with in air attacks. But no matter what there’s always a fair trade off. The character customization addition is awesome and allows for editing your favorite characters to play exactly how you want them too. There are also coins that will be rewarded for various things, more on that in a second. Overall Smash Bros Wii U does a great job of keeping the action going by rewarding you for everything you do.

Brawling it up in Smash mode with friends presents endless hours of fun; even smashing it up alone with the computer is a blast and a great way to hone your skills. But Smash mode is just the start. There are so many other things to do in Smash Bros Wii U. Classic mode returns, but with a welcome twist, you can select between multiple different opponents that give different rewards. After six matches you play versus the multi-man Mii team and then a final showdown against the Master Hand. The great thing about that final battle is how much it varies depending on the difficulty. Master Hand is the only opponent at the easiest difficulty, and then it ramps up with Crazy Hand. It really does get crazy with the “master core”, a shadowy like creature that transforms into different forms and even climaxes by turning into an actual platforming level with enemies and pitfalls. If you’d like to play the tougher difficulties, you must gamble coins. The harder the challenge the more coins you gotta give up, but your rewards will be much larger. All-star mode returns. You fight your way through opponents from different eras in video game history and the damage you take carries over from round to round. There are also master orders and crazy orders. Master orders give you three random challenges at three different levels of difficulty. The harder the challenge the more coins you need to spend but the reward will be greater. The challenges could be anything from beating an enemy 1-on-1 when he has the metal powerup to hitting at least 1,000 feet in a homerun contest. It’s a lot of fun and a quick way to earn rewards as you can see the category and type of reward you will get if you complete the challenge. Crazy orders are similar but with more at stake. To join in you need either a pass, a reward sometimes given in the game, or 5,000 coins. High stakes yes, but the rewards can be great. Just like master orders you can select from three different challenges with an assortment of prizes. Each time you complete an order you can keep going and going for as long as you’d like, but if you die in a challenge you will lose some of your rewards. Meanwhile your damage carries over from challenge to challenge, but 25% of that is lowered. So if you ended with 100% you will start the next order with 75%. And when you want to finally finish and lock up all of your rewards, you have to do one final showdown with Crazy Hand himself.

Along with all the modes already mentioned there are quick pick up and play modes called Stadium games. Home run contest has been around a long time. To play you beat up a punching bag as much as you can, pick up the home run bat, and launch it as far as possible. Target blast is like angry birds but Smash style. Hit the bomb at the perfect spot and blow up as much as you can, you get two shots and the second bomb is larger than the first. Multi-man pits a massive amount of enemies against you; the enemies are extremely weak and can be launched with the slightest attack. There is 10-man smash, 3-minute smash, endless smash and more. All of these game modes are a blast. There is even Trophy Rush, a mini-game that has blocks falling from the sky that you must destroy. After demolishing a certain amount, coins and trophies and more fall down and can be collected. One of the big new game modes is Smash Run. Smash Run is a board game style competition in which players collect equipment, items, and characters to fight with. The game is very complex but fun. There’s a lot going on and at first it seems overwhelming, but once you get a handle for it, it can be a fun diversion from regular Smash. Events Mode makes a return from Melee and Brawl. There’s an “rpg tree” like mission structure that can be tackled level by level. Beat level one and a branch starts out in each direction, now you can continue with these events that always have fun miscellaneous challenges. For example on the Duck Hunt level you need to jump up and hit the ducks that fly by, just like the real game, all while fighting off enemies at the same time. Another event asks you to demolish the Wrecking Crew level’s building before the team of Warios takes you down.

Of all the game modes mentioned, almost every single one of them can be done in co-op. Smash, Smash Run, Home Run Contest and more are competitive. While modes like co-op events, classic, Smash and All-star mode can be played as a team.

Challenges bring all of these things together in one awesome screen. Basically the challenges are like a huge achievement section; except you are rewarded with new CDs/Music, trophies, coins, movesets, etc. The challenges ask you to play in all the different game-modes, use all the different characters, try to get high scores, and it shows you just how deep this game is. Some challenges ask you to play as Greninja and play at least 12 rounds in Crazy Orders. Or another challenge tasks you with killing 110 enemies or more in 3-minute smash while playing as Bowser. Some challenges are pretty easy like the one that asks you to just beat Classic mode once. But others like getting 8 kills in Cruel Smash are truly difficult. Challenges are a brilliant design decision and just a blast to play, especially for completionist like myself.

The online functionality is a giant step-up from Brawl, but still not where it needs to be. But I blame that less on Sakurai and Smash and more on the Wii U itself. If this game was on the Xbox One I could just jump in a party with friends, talk for a few minutes, decide what we want to do, and the entire game would be open for me and my buddies to play—whether that’s Target Blast or All-Star Mode or straight up Smash. But the Wii U just doesn’t have that functionality built in, so Smash Bros Wii U is limited in that aspect. What you can do in online play does work well. I only encountered lag a few times and that was based entirely on the opponent having bad connection. The online modes are simple, there’s for fun mode and for glory. For fun has items, all the levels, and total chaos. For glory mode has no items at all and only takes place on the final smash variations of the levels. For glory mode is also ranked and you can see all your stats and positioning on the leaderboards. All of this can be done with couch co-op or online co-op.

Speaking of stats, even the options and records section of Smash Bros Wii U goes beyond anything any other games have to offer. You can check everything in the stats section. Players can create their own nickname to use while playing the game, all of your stats will then be saved. You can see the characters or the players kill death ratios, launch distance, how much damage was given, how many times you idiotically self destructed, and so much more. It’s sometimes just a lot of fun to see all of these stats in one place and observe who the best player really is.

The graphics in Smash Bros Wii U are stunning. The amount of action on screen between all the fighers, items, and the level itself always looks crystal clear and never dips under a solid 60 frames per second. The attention to detail for the character animations and the effects are phenomenal and unmatched in any fighting game I’ve ever seen. Everything pops visually. Everything looks so fluid. And everything maintains the feel that those original characters and items had in their original games but still have a distinct “Smash Bros” feel. It’s obvious that so much care and love went into this game by the way it plays and looks alone, let alone everything else. And the music, oh my gosh the music! I’m a sucker for a great soundtrack in a game, and Smash Bros for the Wii U has perhaps the best soundtrack in video game history. Now it does sort of cheat, because it’s taking music from generations of Nintendo classics. But the selections chosen are amazing and the remixes brought back from Melee and Brawl are top notch and the brand new remixes are beautiful. I spent hours and hours just filing through the music section of the game. You can listen to any track you unlock and you can select how often you’d like that song to be played while fighting it up on those stages. If there are songs you don’t like, just tone down the dial so it doesn’t ever get played. If there are songs you love, make sure they get played as frequently as you’d like. This customization is amazing and just the pure amount of high quality beautiful powerful amazing songs from the Nintendo universe are enough to make a Nintendo fanboy’s heart melt with pure nostalgic joy.

Super Smash Bros for the Wii U is THE reason to own a Wii U. Not only is it the best game in the fantastic franchise, it’s pure solo and multiplayer fun and replayability make it one of the best games of the generation. If I was banished to an island for a year and I could take a generator, TV, and one game to play I would pick Smash Bros Wii U. And that’s WITHOUT all the added fun you get when you have at least one buddy sitting by your side, let alone a total of eight! The graphics and music make it the prettiest and most audibly erotic game of its genre and top notch when compared to anything the PS4 or Xbox One have to offer. The couch co-op and competitive fun is virtually endless. And the solo madness is unending and always rewarding. The online is good, but it would be nice if it could take all the couch co-op aspects of the game and carry that over for online play, as opposed to just plain Smash. But that one blemish aside, the game is flawless in every way and Sakurai should be applauded for creating such a masterpiece. Super Smash Bros for Wii U is a Nintendo museum come to life. It’s a time machine of Nintendo nostalgia and it’s packed with more fanfare than anyone can imagine. The industry should look at Smash Bros Wii U and be jealous. Jealous that a company can have so much rich history and so much wide-ranging success—and jealous that somehow all of that found its way into one phenomenal, beautiful, amazing, infinitely fun-filled game.

PROS:
1) Pure smooth amazing gameplay
2) Diverse characters
3) Endless game modes
4) Incredible music
5) Impressive graphics
6) Nintendo nostalgia

CONS:
1) Shallow online

9.9
PHENOMENAL

 

Review: Halo: Master Chief Collection

Halo: Master Chief Collection
HALO REVIEW PICCCC
Cost
$59.99
Format
Digital and Retail
Size
59.11 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed]
Release Date
11/11/2014
Developer
343 Studios
Publisher
Microsoft Sutdios
Modes
Single Player, Co-op, Multiplayer

In 2001 the world was introduced to what would become one of the most influential games and franchises in the industry. Halo Combat Evolved instantly was recognized as the definition of what console first person shooters could be. Beautiful graphics, intense sci-fi story, groundbreaking couch and lan-party co-op, and the best controls the genre had ever seen. Three years later Halo 2 took everything that made the original special and multiplied it by a thousand. The story revved up, the graphics were arguably the most impressive of the time, and the controls were better than ever. Most importantly however, the multiplayer exploded the collective minds of the gaming world—and to this day is one of the most memorable and powerful online multiplayer experiences the medium has ever seen. In 2007 the hype machine was at an all time high for Halo 3. And while the game may not have quite lived up to that hype, it’s probably more based on how ridiculously and unreasonably high the expectations were, because the game itself was nearly flawless. Halo 3 was the first HD Halo game, it launched on the Xbox 360 and was the must own game for any owner of the console. The biggest competition for Halo 3 was how perfect Halo 2 was in the eyes of the fans; and the new franchise that would overtake Halo as the biggest online FPS in the industry itself for next decade, Call of Duty. For the next few years the Halo franchise seemed to be trying to find itself. There were a few spinoffs here and there like a failed RTS and a lackluster top down shooter for tablets. There was also a pseudo-sequel to Halo 3 called ODST that was a solid game filled with controversy. Bungie was the developer for this incredible franchise for every major adaptation on the consoles, and they tried to have a nice going out party called Halo Reach. But overall the fans’ reactions were quite negative. Bungie left Microsoft and 343 Studios took over and created Halo 4. Underwhelming and seemingly unfocused, Halo 4 was not the inaugural 343 party that was hoped for. But before that even, 343 worked on the Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition in 2011. This was the tenth year anniversary of the game that started it all.

All of this Halo history is to prepare for one of the biggest remake bundles the gaming universe has ever seen; Halo: Master Chief Collection. 343 promises that Halo 1-4(all the Halo games starring the Chief himself) will be smashed together in one uber game with all the features from the originals plus some added features they didn’t have at first. Along with each game in its original form, Halo 3 and 4 have been up-ressed to 1080p and 60fps. Halo Anniversary is packed in and also has its multiplayer going online for the first time ever on a console. And Halo 2 gets the same treatment the original Halo got three years ago with it finally going HD, its multiplayer coming back online, and added features like brand new beautiful remade cut scenes. With four full campaigns, four full multiplayer games built into one, and endless hour of fun and nostalgia from one of gaming’s biggest franchises, 343 seems to have the perfect formula for a massive success for everyone and a perfect filler to play as the world waits for Halo 5. Oh, and speaking of which the Halo 5 Beta is packed in and will be available soon. Here are the big questions; does the entire Halo experience still hold up today or do aspects seem outdated? And if it does still hold up, can 343 possibly hold up their bargain and give us everything they promised?

If you go back and play classic 2D games from the NES and SNES type era, most of the games truly still hold up. You’re still going to have a whole lot of fun playing anything from Yoshi’s Island to Tecmo Super Bowl to Earth Bound and everything in-between. Of course some games are truly dated and almost unplayable now, but the majority of those 2D gems are still great fun to play today. This sadly is not the case with 3D games. The N64/Playstation era had so many amazing games, some are still fun today but a lot of them just can’t hold up compared to the gameplay in current games. The same can even be said for some games from the Xbox/PS2/Gamecube era. Although nowhere near as flawed as the N64/Playstation era, there are still games that we thought, “HOLY CRAP THIS GAME IS AMAZING!” but if we play it today the controls, camera, etc just fall flat. I thoroughly loved Halo Combat Evolved and its campaign when I first played it on a friend’s Xbox and again on the PC two years later. Today it sadly just isn’t the same. I could go back and play Super Metroid or Super Mario World a million times and never stop loving it. But Halo Combat Evolved just isn’t that kind of game. Compared to the advancements in the genre the controls feel slow and the levels are drawn out for much longer than they should be. It always felt like my next objective was the same as the last. Walk over there, press a button, clear out bad guys, walk over there, go to that thing, kill the guys in the way, etc, etc, etc… The health system was changed in the newer Halo games for the better. It’s hard for me to enjoy a game when I just fought my way through a massive horde of covenant bad guys and barely survived with ONE sliver of health left; only to get a checkpoint and have an even BIGGER gang waiting for me and now I’m out of health and low on ammo. The original Halo may be one of the more influential games of the past two decades but playing it now feels like eating a delicious bowl of Lucky Charms….that’s been sitting on the table soaking in milk all afternoon; used to be amazing, now it’s just gross.

Halo 2 and Halo 3 are quite different. The campaigns themselves still feel slightly longer and more repetitive than they should be—but the areas visited, the gameplay variety, and the controls themselves offer enough diversity to allow for a fun and satisfying experience. Meanwhile needed and helpful changes like a better health system and usable equipment help improve the gameplay from the first. The story throughout these three games is confusing to some fans and entertaining to others. There are four, no maybe five different species? All fighting for different things? Who are the flood? The prophets do what? HELP ME! I personally enjoy the story in the Halo Universe, including the first game(to me the only redeeming factor to still play the original). It’s easy to make a story for a book, movie, or game that puts two forces against each other in an all out war. But Bungie decided to make a complicating yet engaging story with betrayal, exile, unexpected alliances, and a slew of hidden motives and interesting twists that doesn’t disappoint. The Master Chief and Cortana have a very interesting relationship. I like the Gravemind, the Arbiter, and Guilty Spark. One of the biggest complaints for an unknown reason to me is the Flood. Some people hate them but I find their presence in the game to freshen up the gameplay with a zombie like feel as well as add an interesting dimension to the story. Even though I suffered through the original, after playing all three games I felt very satisfied with the gameplay and story as I finished the fight. And then there’s Halo 4…

Halo 4’s campaign is dull, repetitive, and does very little to advance on what Halo 2 and 3 had to offer. The gameplay is fine, it’s just that there isn’t enough new. The story focuses on the Master Chief and Cortana’s relationship; this is a smart decision and is the strength of the game. But the rest of the story seems pointless. The Flood are gone but a new species called Prometheans are involved instead. They are uninteresting. Both the covenant and the brutes, the main enemies you face in the original trilogy, are full of life, personality, and even humor. Prometheans kind of just exist for the sake of existing. And in an attempt to create a major villain for the Master Chief to face instead of facing a species alone, 343 created Ur-Didact, a forerunner and commander for the Promethean military. I understand what 343 was going for; they wanted their own Bowser, Ganandorf, Joker, GlaDOS. But instead they just overcomplicated an already fairly complex story and added a villain that has already been placed on the backburner, as Halo 5’s villain has been revealed to be a brand new character.

When it comes down to it, Halo’s multiplayer has been the biggest draw to fans and the most significant factor to its success. Halo 1-3 at the time of their respective releases had some of the best, deepest, and just plain fun multiplayer gameplay the fps genre had to offer. Halo 1-4’s multiplayer is all back, every single map, all in its original form but in HD beauty. Halo 2, being the favorite Halo child, even has some maps completely remade with new textures and lighting to look absolutely stunning, as opposed to just upping the resolution. So how do these great MP experiences hold up today? Sadly, as much fun as they were when we first played them, they just aren’t what they used to be.

Let’s start with Halo Combat Evolved. This game is now thirteen years old and boy oh boy does it show. Not only in the graphics but also in the gameplay. It’s clunky, confusing, and beyond hectic. It’s hard to tell what’s going on. Did I hit that guy? Is he dead? How’d I die? It’s fun to jump in for old time’s sake for just a few rounds, but other than that it has almost no replay value and is more annoying and confusing than any kind of fun. The original Halo’s mp just doesn’t feel good at all. And thankfully the series made massive improvements going forward because Halo CE is as barebones as it gets and not at all in the good way. It used to be fun, just like owning a pet rock used to be cool.

Halo 2 is almost everyone’s hands down favorite Halo mp game; and for good reason. The jump from the original is exponential. It feels better, it plays better, it looks better, it sounds better, everything is better. Still however, it’s not quite what it used to be. I’m afraid some of us will be disappointed with it. Think of it this way. Remember when you used to go to Chuck E Cheese as a kid? Remember how exciting the arcade was? Remember the massive cage of those weird ball things you jump in? Remember the maze of tubes and tunnels and slides to crawl through? Remember the awesome prizes you could get? Remember that amazing pizza? Remember those creepy yet strangely intriguing giant Chuck E and friends that would walk around and give high fives and hugs? Yeah that was just so awesome right? And yeah, as a kid it kind of was. But what happens when we look at it years later through our adult eyes? We see that the arcades games are outdated and boring. The big cage with balls is gross and full of germs. The tunnels really aren’t as big as we thought they were. The prizes are more worthless than toys you get at the dollar store. The pizza is cheap, nasty, two-dollar, thin-crust pizza you buy in the frozen isle. And those weird strange feelings we got with the giant Chuck E was for good reason because inside is some alcoholic forty-seven year old balding creep in a sweaty costume. While Halo 2 isn’t THAT bad, the analogy stands true. Halo 2 MP is fun and nostalgic, but it’s just not that great anymore. I don’t want to go to Chuck E Cheese. I want to go to amusement parks for my thrills, the bar for my food and fun, and my own couch for real video games.

Halo 3’s multiplayer holds up better than the rest. Halo 3 had such huge expectations after Halo 2, so in many eyes it’s just not as good. But if Halo 3 came right after the original Halo and Halo 2 didn’t’ even exist; I’m nearly positive it would be loved just as much as Halo 2. The multiplayer has buttery smooth controls and an extremely balanced approach. It took all that was good about Halo 2 and just made it prettier and better. Some think it’s hypocrisy to say these types of things, but Halo 3’s multiplayer is the best in the series and the Master Chief collection proves this. If Halo 3 came out today it wouldn’t seem that outdated and ancient. Halo 2’s glory days are long gone, even if those glory days were absolutely incredible. Halo 4’s multiplayer isn’t barely worth touching. It’s unbalanced, doesn’t feel like Halo, and just doesn’t hold a candle to Halo 2 and 3. For some, since it’s the newest, it might be good fun. But to most Halo purest they’d rather play real Halo or something else entirely.

Sadly the servers for the first couple weeks have been awful. Finding a game can take an extremely long time and if you’d like to party up with a friend and frag it up together, good luck. This is unacceptable and 343 and Microsoft need to fix this ASAP.

Graphically the Master Chief collection is an odd game to review. Of course it spans across almost a decade and a half of games so the visuals will be polarizing. Halo Anniversary get’s my worst dressed award. Not because the original game, no that’s allowed to look old and prehistoric, it actually has a charm to it. But the anniversary version falls flat on its face. With just a simple button you can at any time switch from the old school graphics to the new updated anniversary graphics. The anniversary graphics just don’t look that good. Of course compared to the classic game it is much better. However compared to recent games it has flaws. Even when compared to 2007’s Halo 3, the 2011 Anniversary Edition looks pretty much the same. This makes no sense to me, it’s nice that the original can look better, but wouldn’t you want to update it to today’s standards? There are also some very curious artistic decisions. For example there’s one moment in the game when I’m supposed to be in a dessert like area, Cortana even references it. However it looks green and filled with trees. When I switch back to the original game it sure enough looks dry and dessert like. Why did they change the actual layout of the land? Other places like the creepy hallways of the flood look dark and scary in the original. But on the new version, that eerie feel is replaced with bright blue and purple lighting that take the atmosphere right out of the game. I’d almost recommend playing it all in its truly original form. Halo 2 also has an anniversary edition, but it’s done much better. Halo 2 looks nice, the colors and lighting hold true to what they originally looked like, they just look better. There is more detail, more appealing visuals, but not at the cost of the original feel and atmosphere. Meanwhile the remade cut scenes by the CG company BLUR are absolutely astounding. It’s no hyperbole to say that the BLUR cut scenes made for Halo 2 are the best that gaming has ever seen; and even the movie industry should be jealous. I’m sure the internet has already done this, but you could easily just take all the cut scenes into one big video and it has the quality to be a full animated movie. Halo 3 holds up nicely, there are no visual changes, no anniversary edition, but now in 1080p and 60 frames it looks very good. Halo 4 may be the black sheep in every other department, but there’s no denying the game has beautiful art and stunning visuals. And can I just say, the art, graphics, sound design and most importantly music of the Halo series is perhaps one of the most impressive the industry has ever seen. Say what you will about the franchise, but the Halo feel is just oozing out of these games because of truly special direction and execution in all of the art aspects of the series. Bravo Bungie, and 343 too I suppose.

343 set out to make the ultimate Halo and Master Chief experience with: Halo Master Chief Collection. They promised to give the fans all four games wrapped up just like they were made to be with no changes. Then on top of that they promised to also give visual and optional touches. The multiplayer gaming has been the bread and butter of Halo since its start, and 343 promised everything to be there just like we remembered it. Did 343 deliver on that promise? Yes and no. The original campaigns are all there, untouched and perfect. Meanwhile the anniversary updated visuals for Halo 1 and 2 make the game more appealing to the eye if you so desire and the BLUR cut scenes draw the players in to that world like never before. The multiplayer however is broken and needs to be fixed. 343 can’t promise everything how we remembered it, but not even have things playable. Even with the multiplayer hiccup there are still some problems. And this is not really 343’s fault. Instead it’s time’s fault. Just like your favorite pair of shoes, your first car, and your beautiful thick hair; in time your shoes will be worn down, your car will break down, and your hair will turn gray and fall out. Halo just isn’t what I remembered it to be. But it’s okay. Even if when playing these games again I noticed more flaws than ever, it still brought back memories I can never erase. Halo is such an influential franchise to so many gamers. Even if it’s not as excellent playing it this time around, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth giving it a shot again for old time’s sake. The campaign is still good fun and the multiplayer still has epic moments and crazy laughs. Halo 1 does feel outdated in every aspect now sadly, campaign and multiplayer. But playing through the campaign one more time still has just enough fun in it to help carry you through to the REAL fun that is Halo 2 and 3. Halo 4 just doesn’t feel like a good fit in this package and shouldn’t have been included. The story is disconnected from the original trilogy and the multiplayer isn’t fun. It would be like if Lucas Arts packaged Star Wars episodes 4-6 AND 1 all in one package. It just doesn’t work. If for nothing else, Halo: Master Chief Collection is the original trilogy all in one disc, and that trilogy is one of the best in video game history. That alone would be worth it. Throw in the still fun Halo 2 and 3 multiplayer and we’ve got ourselves a really good bundle. The game is worth the admission price for Halo 2 and 3 alone.

PROS:
1) So much content
2) Beautiful art and music
3) Full trilogy in one game
4) Halo 2 and 3 multiplayer
5) Nostalgia

CONS:
1) Halo 4
2) Halo 1 doesn’t hold up
3) Halo 2 MP just isn’t as magical as it once was
4) Major multiplayer server issues

8.5
Excellent

 

Review: Volgarr the Viking

Volgarr the Viking
box_volgarr_w160
Cost
$9.99
Format
Digital
Size
432.07 MB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PC
Release Date
10/31/2014
Developer
Crazy Viking Studios
Publisher
Crazy Viking Studios
Modes
Single Player

Volgarr the Viking is an old-school action sidescrolling beat ‘em up that is built to be a reminder of what arcade games used to be. The gameplay, difficulty, and graphics make the game look and feel like it could have easily sucked up your hard earned quarters and sat right next to Golden Axe, The Simpsons, The Turtles and more in the early 90’s. Every aspect of the game is a tribute to those arcade classics—nothing more so than the difficulty. Volgarr the Viking was developed by Crazy Viking Studios. It’s a kickstarted game which was initially released on Steam. After success on the PC, Volgarr has moved to the home console and is ready to make you scream and cry. Are they screams of delight and tears of joy? Or is it more agony and suffering?

As mentioned before, the difficulty level of Volgarr the Viking is its foundation. The design of the enemies, levels, and gameplay all revolve making the game painstakingly difficult. You play as Volgarr. You wield a sword and a spear. The sword works well at close range and the spear is used for ranged attacks. The spear is also used as a platform. Volgarr can throw a spear into the wall and use it to jump up to higher places. Just a few hits can kill Volgarr. In each level there are treasure chests that give upgrades. A shield can block projectiles; a fire sword gives more range and more powerful hits. If Volgarr takes a hit, he loses an upgrade. Enemies are all designed in different ways. Spiders jump forward and are difficult to attack from close range, but they are too short for a spear at long range (as it goes flying over their head). Skeletons hold shields that block spears and high attacks, so the only effective attack is ducking down and hitting them low. Meanwhile zombies take one hit to kill them, but if you hit them down low the split in half and the top of the body falls forward and can damage Volgarr. Every enemy must be learned—which is another way of saying you will die a hundred times before you figure it all out.

At first this is extremely frustrating, welcome to old-school gaming. Each level took me anywhere from one to two hours to complete. However this is where the game nails the old-school feel and delivers on the mechanics it strove for. Because after exhausting so much time, effort, and skill into each level I can complete them in as little as five minutes. First I needed to learn all the ins and outs of each enemy and the levels itself and after the seemingly torturous discovering process I’m able to fly through with relative ease. Gameplay like this was a stable in classic gaming and really hasn’t snuck its way into modern gaming. In most games today, enemies have a health meter, levels are designed to help the player move through safely, and normally the real challenge comes with just the number of enemies on screen or maybe the strength of a boss battle. It’s entirely possible to play through whole levels of games today without dying at all. And checkpoints are thrown around like contraceptives at college orientation. In Volgarr the Viking you get one checkpoint in every level. There’s a beginning, a checkpoint at the halfway mark, and a boss battle. Even the boss rooms don’t have checkpoints. This is something I do have to complain about. In a game like Megaman, it’s a relief to make it to the boss room because if you die there you can try again if you still have lives. In Volgarr the Viking, you have to play through the entire second section of the level again, because you will come back right at the checkpoint again. The bosses are just like the levels, it takes some time to learn how to defeat it. So getting thrown all the way back to the checkpoint is very painful.
The graphics are impressive for what Crazy Viking Studios was going for. It looks very much like a game from the late 80’s early 90’s. The main problem is that there isn’t really anything that gives it its own unique feel. In other words, if Volgarr was a game from the arcades back in the day, it wouldn’t be remembered for its visual fidelity at all, as the characters and levels aren’t anything special. The levels vary and have their own style. The enemies look fine in each level. But the enemy originality is nothing special. The water level has frogs and oysters. The jungle level has lizards and snakes. The music is strange. At some points it sounds good, at other points it’s almost painful. The biggest problem is that it just doesn’t fit with the game’s art and design. The gameplay feels old-school. The graphics look old-school. The music just isn’t. I expected some sweet 16-bit goodness to pleasure my ears. Instead I got some weird pseudo-atmospheric generic songs that have no memorable values. If you’re going to make a game that beckons game to the classic days of arcade gaming, you need to go all out in every aspect.

One of the biggest frustrations to the game is the saves. After beating a level you are supposed to be able to skip that level in the future if you choose by walking backwards from the spawn point of every level. However this just doesn’t work for a large majority of the players who picked up the game. When the game was initially launched on the PC it didn’t even have this option. The only way to beat the game was to play all the way through nonstop. So maybe we shouldn’t complain so much because this option was a gift from the developer’s right? Wrong! Even though it’s something that they threw in to lighten the blow, it’s still something that is supposed to be in the game that just doesn’t work. Playing through every level straight-through is semi-ludicrous. Once you’ve beaten the level a dozen times, you shouldn’t have to much trouble beating it again. But there are six standard levels and six more secret levels, so beating them all the way through will take an extremely long time. After completing a level I felt exhausted and wanted to just save and come back later, but I couldn’t.

Volgarr the Viking is a good game. It’s extremely difficult, but in a fair way that is challenging instead of just unnecessarily cruel. If it takes an hour to beat a level the first time or two, but just a few minutes to beat it after that, then you’ve got a game that is tough in the right ways, just like the best brutal games of old. It teaches you how to defeat the game through the games difficulty itself. The gameplay and art would be right at home in the Penny Arcade in my local mall twenty years ago. Sadly the music can pull you out of that experience. However if Volgarr the Viking was in those arcades it might not be remembered today. I just don’t feel like it has its own unique place in that arcade world. A game like Shovel Knight, which was released earlier this year, manages to borrow from classic NES era games just like Volgarr borrows from classic arcade games. However Shovel Knight does two things that Volgarr does not. Firstly it never breaks from being a 100% NES old-school type game. From start to finish Shovel Knight is an old school game; gameplay, music, graphics, feel , everything. And secondly, more importantly perhaps, Shovel Knight borrows from the NES epoch but STILL manages to create its own special distinctive experience. If Shovel Knight was a game created in 1988 for the NES it would still be remembered today as one of the greats. Volgarr doesn’t have that distinctive feel, that thing that sets it apart and allows it to be its own extraordinary game. If you want a new game that delivers on the same exact hardcore experience that graced the screens of arcade monitors in the early 90’s then Volgarr the Viking will not disappoint. Just don’t expect a game that will blow your mind with new creative experiences in an old school skin and feel. But…. do purchase a few new controllers because you may break a few in anger at some point.

PROS:
1) Difficult and challenging in the right ways
2) Arcade feel

CONS:
1) Music
2) Nothing truly distinctive
3) Glitches to game saves

6.5
AVERAGE

 

Review: Chariot

Chariot
Chariot Pcitre
Cost
$19.95
Format
Digital
Size
2.69 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, and PC
Release Date
09/30/2014
Developer
Frima Studios
Publisher
Frima Studios
Modes
Single Player and Couch Co-Op

Chariot is a puzzle based platformer with couch co-op features and a humorous tone. Developed by Frima Studios, the game tasks you with pulling and pushing the king’s funeral wagon through caverns and caves to a place to bury the remains. Along the way the witty king’s ghost complains and barks out orders as he wants you to collect as much loot as possible and find the perfect place to rest. The game focuses on secrets, unlocks, and branching paths in level by level progression.

Chariot’s gameplay is extremely simple. Each level however is not. The player is tasked with basically moving the chariot through, over, under, around obstacles to the finish of the level while collecting gold. There’s a rope that can be attached to the chariot to pull it over tough objects and to the goal. There are branching paths and hidden items everywhere. Some trails lead to more gold and other may lead to blueprints that can unlock equipable items to help along the journey. Items like a light to travel in the dark or a pin to place the rope in one spot to let the chariot hang to help traverse to new spots. The gameplay is straightforward to a fault. Although this could be categorized as a puzzle game, it will almost never challenge the mind. Each “puzzle” moment was just another time-consuming obnoxious barrier in the way. Moving around is slow and monotonous, as it takes an extensive time to just move the casket on wheels anywhere. The gameplay isn’t demanding enough on the brain to make it feel like a puzzle and the movement isn’t fun enough to make the game feel like a platformer. The levels are massive. The first few are basic, but the deeper you get into the game the larger the maps become. The branching paths at first are nice, but quickly it becomes tedious to collect everything. In a game like Mario, as an example of a standard platformer, when you see a pipe to climb down or a secret path you can quickly run down at full speed, hop on some goombas on the way, get the secret Yoshi coin and be on your way. It’s fun to go find hidden things because just running and jumping is fun in it of itself. In Chariot it feels like such a chore to just get to the finish, why would I feel obligated to go off and explore in different areas?

The good thing about the hidden items in Chariot is that they do improve the overall experience. In many games the collectables are just for fun—in Chariot they actually allow for the unlocking of some helpful items. However with so many branching paths it became annoying to take the time to go down all of these paths and get gold nine times out of ten and only get that nice blueprint after every nook and cranny has been checked. Gold in it of itself is used to buy things after turning in blueprints at the store, but running out of gold is hard to do as it’s everywhere.

Chariot does a very nice job teaching the player about gameplay mechanics. In some games all you get is a picture of a controller with words mapped to each button (one of my personal biggest video game pet peeves). In other games there can be lengthy confusing tiresome tutorials. I think the bet games educate how to play the game by creating intuitive level design that naturally teaches what to do. This could be as simple as just having a sign that says, “Don’t fall down that pit man, there’s totally snakes and stuff down there and that’s just scary! Press A to jump over it kay?” Or it can be as helpful as seeing that first bullet bill in Mario sail way over your head, so you can clearly see how that enemy moves and attacks, so that the next time it actually does fly straight at Mario you can jump over it with ease. Chariot does this smart instruction of its game for the most part, except when it comes to attacking the bad guys…

One of the most annoying parts about Chariot is the enemies, or as the king calls them, looters. Rat like creatures and bat like creatures hide inside of holes in the wall and attack the king’s treasury to attempt to run off with the gold. The first few times this happened to me I had no idea that I could slice these little cretins by pressing ‘X’. Once that’s learned they become just obnoxious foes that get in the way. The way to avoid them completely is to move quietly and slowly passed the dark holes they live in. Simple enough right? WRONG! You have to move like a slug on sedatives to evade these snatching scalawags. Seriously just the slightest movement will make them all attack you, which again isn’t a big problem it just makes the game THAT much more boring. Even worse is that the majority of the spots where the looters are hidden are places that are impossible to avoid. For example I fell down a mandatory pit and at the bottom were three holes filled with bats that came swarming out as the king screamed out, “I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU TO BE QUIET!” I had literally no choice but to awake all of these loathsome thieves. Or on similar moments there are barriers to climb over and drop down on the other side and even though I see the looters waiting in their little hole and I know I can’t make a big noise, the only way to get down off the ledge is to drop down right on top of them. It’s like every single decision made in the game’s design was to force the player to move unnecessarily slow. To reiterate, the game’s movement and pace is already very slow. There are seemingly endless branching paths that give me things that only slightly push the game forward. The “puzzles” are more like exhausting time-consuming hills to climb up and over as opposed to creative brain-teasers. And now they throw in enemies that provide no physical challenge other than being MORE dreary obstacles in my way and if I want to try to avoid them completely I have to move even slower and quieter than ever? I’m not sure if I’ve ever played a game this anti-ADHD! I’m not at all opposed to slow paced methodicital games, in fact I love a lot of them. But because the puzzles aren’t really puzzles, the platforming really isn’t platforming, and the enemies aren’t really enemies there doesn’t seem to be a logical reason at all to make this game so deliberately sluggish.

There is couch co-op in Chariot but no online play at all. Each level can be completed a bit easier and faster with two players pushing and pulling the dead king to the goal. And there are also hidden areas in every level that can only be reached when two players combine forces and take on the task together. This actually helps the game, as the quicker pace negates some of the slow-paced flaws. But it’s not enough to save the game completely. And the decision to be couch co-op only is a bad one. I do love that couch co-op has made a small resurgence as of late, there’s nothing quite like competitively or cooperatively playing with a buddy right by your side. But many of us don’t have this opportunity. Why not be able to jump online with a friend and tackle the king’s demands as a team? It’s ashamed that this isn’t an option as it could have been one of the games saving graces.

There is a charm about Chariot that is nice. The art style is simple yet colorful and vibrant. In some levels plants and colors grow and shine as soon as you walk near them. The whole game takes place underground, so it can’t stretch its wings in very unique ways but the overall graphical design is still fine. The animations are cute and the characters are fun. However just the game itself, it’s probably too simple for its own good. How many indie style games look pretty much exactly like this? It’s wonderful to see games like Fez, Limbo, SuperTimeForce or Minecraft be limited in their overall graphical power but still manage to create their own unique artful style. Chariot is just another cartoonish sidescroller. The voice acting is one part perfect and one part appalling. The king does the majority of the speaking and his lines are often clever and amusing. He’s both demanding and needy, which is always a hilarious mix. His lines are quickly repeated however and this get’s old fast. Meanwhile there’s a skeleton that runs the shop above the caverns and the writing and execution of his character is awful. His voice completely doesn’t fit. The moment he started talking it pulled my out of the game’s experience and I for an instant didn’t even know who was talking. I thought the skeleton CLEARLY can’t sound like that, can he? His jokes fall flat every time. He’s like the poor stand-up comic who should probably just call it quits because tomatoes are about to start flying but he just keeps going.

Overall Chariot is a big disappointment. It has some things going for it. An interesting game mechanic, a silly slapstick story, charming visuals, and it’s October 2014’s free game of the month for Xbox Live Gold members! But the puzzles are to brainless, the platforming is to slow and uninteresting, and the visuals never go beyond the average indie art style stigma. Even the crazy king’s undead jokes and his journey for riches and the perfect resting place can’t save Chariot from itself. Honestly some games are broken, some games are flawed, some games are unfinished, some games are designed poorly, and some are executed poorly. But no matter what—games need to be fun. If a game is perfect in every way, but it’s not fun, then it has little to no purpose. Sometimes a game can be imperfect but still be a lot of fun. And In the end Chariot is just boring—to go along with its many other flaws—in the end Chariot is just not fun.

PROS:
1) The King

CONS:
1) Slow repetitive boring gameplay
2) Looters
3) The skeleton

5.0
DULL

 

Review: Madden NFL 15

MADDEN NFL 15
YEA! JUST MADDEN COVA BRO
Cost
$59.99
Format
Digital and Retail
Size
14.96 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, Xbox 360, PS3
Release Date
8/26/2014
Developer
EA Tiburon
Publisher
EA
Modes
Singleplayer and Couch/Online Multiplayer


Each year Madden faces a challenge tougher than facing off against Cam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and that stout Seattle Defense; tougher even than the 12th man screaming on the legion of boom on 3rd and 12. What’s that challenge? Meeting and exceeding the expectations of Madden gamers—who want an experience that looks, feels, and plays better every single year. Often times the biggest hurdle for franchises with yearly adaptations are themselves. It’s incredibly daunting to successfully iterate on games every 12 months. This is even more the case with sports games. In a game like Call of Duty, each year the developer can change the setting, the story, the multiplayer format, the progression, the guns, the maps, and more. For a baseball or hockey or football game what can you do? Maybe a new game-mode, but 90% of the time, game-modes come and go and are forgotten. Madden successfully created an innovative game-mode with Ultimate Team, and that game-mode itself has pretty much become the biggest attraction. The expectations for sports games almost can’t be met. Many gamers want something that feels fresh and new and exciting and unlike what they played nonstop for 6 months straight only 6 months ago. The best way to review or enjoy Madden, and other games like this, is to ask this question; what was done right and what was done wrong in last year’s version? And has THIS year’s edition kept the good and fixed the bad?
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Madden’s gameplay has been tried and true for a long time. Each year the developer attempts to update the gameplay to be both more realistic as well as more in tune with the NFL, which is ever-changing with new fads and trends. Madden NFL 15’s biggest gameplay focus is the defense. Since the Seattle Seahwaks decimated the NFL’s best ever passing attack in the Super Bowl they wanted to strengthen that side of the ball. In the past it definitely seemed like on the offensive side of the ball you had control while the defensive side was a guessing game. That and the offense has been just more fun. The defensive changes are across multiple levels. On the defensive line is where the game is completely altered for the better. If you take control of a defensive end getting ready to rush the quarterback you’ve got more options than ever. For starters you can get a boost off of the snap by hitting the sprint button the moment the ball is hiked. This is huge and gives players with quick fingers an advantage. However the offense can fake snap it and draw the lineman offside. Once snapped, you can use power or rush moves by hitting the button at the precise timing to obliterate the blocker and hit the QB. There’s also a tackle cone for when you are approaching the ball carrier. There’s a small cone that stretches out from the front of the player you are controlling that you can use to face the ballcarier, line up the defender, and make the tackle. There’s also a new camera angle that flips around and has you facing the offense. Personally I’m not a big fan and I like the classic camera look. All of these changes not only help you attack the offense better, they actually help in confidence as well, you feel like you’ve got a real shot at slowing down these crazy fast paced offenses. On the offensive side there are few changes when it comes to post-snap gameplay. It’s still for the most part smooth and responsive.

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One of the best parts about Madden over the past few years is the gameplaning and play-calling. And with Madden 15 the advancements are better than ever. Before I go over this let’s talk about the brilliant additions in the Skills Trainer mode. As Madden vets would know, the Skills Trainer is a feature that trains the player on all aspects of the game—anything from second-to-second gameplay, how to pass, how to tackle, etc. The training sessions that teach the player how to do the absolute basics may be a laugh and may seem mostly pointless to long-time Madden masters, and to be honest it sort of is. In the past, these extremely basic tutoring features were all that Skills Trainer had to offer. But with Madden 15 they added an incredibly helpful and fun array of teachings sessions. There’s a very helpful training course for how to read defenses based on their pre-snap look. Looking for cover 2, man to man, cover 3, and more is one of the best ways to understand where to go with the ball once the ball is snapped. There’s also a training session that teaches how to slide the line to block the oncoming pass-rush. It’s very rewarding to see the defense overloading on the right side, audibleing to a run to the left, sliding the line to the right, and running down the field 15 yards before even being touched. And then there’s the new and brilliant concept training. Concept training teaches the player what different routes mean and how they are properly executed. Instead of just seeing a bunch of routes spread out across the field you are taught to understand how to read the defense and manipulate them. You are taught with each concept which player should be the first, second, and third read. This not only teaches the game of Madden, this teaches the game of football in an impressive way. You can suck up all this knowledge and instantly apply it to your very next game. I personally played some of it just screwing around when I first played the game and didn’t think anything of it. However when I came back to the Skills Trainer and focused on the concept training my game jumped up unbelievably. It’s one thing to understand routes and defensive coverages. It’s another thing to know concepts, your reads, how to watch for which routes the safety covers, and how to bounce through your progression to pass the ball to the wide open receiver flying across the middle of the field.

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The other amazing addition to Madden 15 is the features that Smartglass had last year developed straight into the game. For Madden 25 there was a Smartglass app for the game that would show you what play the opponent just used, what plays they often go to in different scenarios, what plays the community suggests on diverse downs and distances, and how effective various plays are that you’ve used so far. This was all nice but daunting and distracting to have to look down at your phone or tablet and jump back up to the game to find what plays you’re looking for and what to do. All of this is now directly in the game easy to see whenever you are ready to pick a play. You can instantly see what play was just used by your competitor and how effective it was. You can also see what selections of plays have worked well and not so well for yourself, and every other feature that Smartglass had last year. This is pivotal for progressing through the match and picking the right plays for each down. From the beginning I used these features and they helped me tremendously. As time went on it also helped me to rely on it less and allowed me to create my own ideas of how to stop different offensive and defensive attacks that I face.

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After some time in skills trainer along with just time on the game itself to get a good feel of how things work, it’s entirely possible to develop deep gameplans and impose your will on the opponent. With truly understanding how offenses and defenses work you can create an identity for yourself. One of the great parts about this is that sometimes that gameplan will work from start to finish and you’ll win the match 28-7. Other times the opponent’s style might be a perfect fit to slow you down and you can choose to abandon the gameplan, change things up, or keep grinding until it works. Personally I’ve become in love with a running attack on offense and a bend but don’t break approach for defense. Even if the opponent is slowing down my rushing attack I keep pushing it. If I get stuck on a 3rd and long I have a few go to plays to pick up that yardage. Maybe it’s a halfback screen or a flood concept play that allows for a wide receiver to come screaming through the cover two wide open. The fun part about this is to keep evolving throughout the match while still imposing your will. On defense I like to focus on stopping any big plays first, I don’t like getting beat deep. Try to go deep and it will be intercepted or incomplete. I let some small dink and dunk passes over the middle and I don’t care if the opponent picks up small yards here and there. My plan is to wait for the perfect timing to call blitzes and force errant throws, I like to let the opposing QB think he can finally take a shot deep down the middle and instead I’ve got a safety ready to pick it off. As long as the opponent is the one making big mistakes and not me, I’ve got a great chance of winning. In one match during the fourth quarter of a very tight online game I stopped my foe on fourth and goal on the two yard line as he tried to take the lead in the middle of the fourth quarter. The score at this point was 21-17. When I took over the ball I hit four runs right down the middle for fifteen yards and suddenly the opponent was crowding the line of scrimmage with a linebacker blitz. I still wanted to keep running, to both control the clock and let him know his blitz didn’t affect me. So I called a counter running play and slid the lineman to block the oncoming run stuffers. I’d been running nicely all day but hadn’t yet busted a deep one, until now. The blitz was picked up and I ran 35 yards down the field and was suddenly almost at midfield. On first down I ran again right down the middle for just a few yards, but it was enough to get my rival cursing me out for playing so conservatively. The next play I called a run again, but before the snap I could see he was about to send everyone on a biltz to finally put an end to my running attack that was controlling his entire clock. I audibled to a play-action, changed my line to max protection, and noticed my speedy receiver was going to be in single coverage. So I hot-routed him to do a go route down the field and snapped the ball with a few seconds on my play-clock. Most of the blitz was picked up and the rest took the bait thinking I handed it off to my running back for the 25th time; I took a step forward, heaved the ball to a wide open receiver in the end zone and took an eleven point lead with only three minutes left in the match. Two plays later I intercepted the ball while he was in desperation mode calling the same crossing pattern play he called four times already and I won the match 35-17. Never have I been able to play with such control in Madden before; using more knowledge then skill. Skill is very much needed, but playing smart and learning when to take those chances and how to control the game is exceptionally satisfying.

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So much already and I still haven’t gone over MUT! Madden Ultimate Team has become Madden’s go to gamemode. While franchise mode allows you to play through the career of a player or own a football team and make business decisions, MUT uses collectable cards to build your team just the way you like. Basically it takes the idea of collecting football cards when you were growing up and slaps that into Madden, where you collect your QB, HB, WR, CB, and more. Each player has their own stats, with each card being categorized as a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Elite card. There are also special cards like the Legends series which has great players from the past like Sterling Sharpe or Dave Casper. Or the Rising Stars series that focuses on young up and coming talent that is proving itself in the league. There’s even a series of cards from Football Outsiders, a website and program that digs deep into the stats and performances of NFL talent and evaluates them. These special cards can have even better stats and be worth more. All of these cards can be collected and used in your line-up. They can also be sold in the auction for anyone who needs the card and will trade them for coins, the games currency. Cards can also be added to sets, which have a pre-determined selection of cards that must be added to the set to give you a special reward. There are two main modes of gameplay here, single player and online multiplaer. The single player has various challenges that can give you rewards like packs with players in them or coins to buy more cards in the auction. The multiplayer is like going through a season and with more success you can get more rewards. There were a few big complaints in previous versions of MUT that were fixed perfectly. In previous years you could only have a select amount of cards in your “line-up”, like the roster of the real NFL. All the rest of you cards went to your binder. This is fine; however it used to be extremely annoying to find a card, select it for the roster, or add it to a set. Now it’s much more fluid. You can add players to the set right from the set itself for example. The binder is your roster now, you can do with them how you please and the limit for how many players you could have in your actual playing roster doesn’t exist anymore.

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The overall set-up for MUT is brilliant. The execution however falls short in one major way. It’s just so extremely difficult and tedious to get good cards. You can slave away at many of the single player challenges and only end up with very weak cards. For example you can play a whole season in one of the challenges and get a gold player card, which sounds great until you realize that gold cards can be anything from 70 all the way to 90. And getting anything above an 82 is extremely rare. Usually you are rewarded with some 74 overall card that is pretty much an instant throw away. Meanwhile finishing a set can give you often amazing rewards, like a 90 overall captain card for each team. But the cards required to sacrifice into the set to get your reward are worth so much more. For example if you want the captain for the Bears, Matt Forte, you must first give up twenty cards that are from the Chicago Bears team. Some of these cards are pretty cheap in the auction, around just 3,000 coins. And maybe you already have a few of them from opening packs. But many of the cards go for 5,000 to 25,000 coins. One of the things you need to add to the set is an Elite Badge, which you can get from getting very very very lucky in a pack you open. But if you don’t have one, it costs around 55,000 in an auction. And the stupidest part is that one of the cards you need to place into this set is the 87 overall elite Matt Forte, who goes for about 35-40 thousand in the auction house. So I looked at the auction house for all of these cards and found out that they are worth over 170,000 coins! So if you have those cards, just sell them in the auction instead because guess what, the 90 overall captain card of Matt Forte that you will be rewarded from this set is worth only 74,000 coins. So it’s much smarter to just buy one from the auction. For some of the sets this is even worse. For example I got super lucky and received the Elite 88 overall LeSean Mccoy from a pack. He’s worth over 100,000 coins. If I wanted the captain card for the Eagles I would have to give him up, along with another 19 cards worth around 100,000 coins. OR I COULD BUY THE TRENT COLE EAGLES CAPTAIN CARD FOR JUST 90,000 COINS!!! The Mccoy card they want me to give up is worth more than the reward! There are a few of these sets that are actually worth it. For example if you slave away at the “Style Challenges” on solo mode for twenty hours you will be able to complete the set to get a 95 overall Peyton Manning and 95 overall Luke Kuechly. But even that you need to buy a bunch of cards from the auction too. No matter how you slice it, it’s both time consuming and often times not worth it at all to do many of the sets and challenges. Here’s the kicker, you can also spend REAL MONEY to buy packs that have cards in them. Pro tip, DON’T DO IT! The PRO cards have very weak cards in them, and it’s rare to get anything good. You can easily spend hundreds of dollars and just get a few good cards here and there. If you do want to put some money down every so often get the special addition packs. For example right now there is a Breast Cancer Awareness pack for about 5 dollars; these packs have a much better chance of getting some good players. So if you are tempted to spend a few bucks, wait for these special packs to go on sale. Overall the best way is just to grind through single player and multiplayer to get as many coins as you can so you can buy cards from the auction.

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Although many of the changes and additions to Madden 15 are some of the best the series has seen in years, there are still a few things that need to be addressed. The play-by-play commentary is absolutely awful. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz just don’t work well for Madden. Now this could be partly my own personal opinion, but I’ve never liked the commentary of Phil Simms anyway. His insight is often pointless and even arrogant. In any sports game you quickly start hearing the same phrases over and over and it can get annoying. But along with the repetition, much of the commentary is either completely worthless is just plain wrong. One of my favorite examples is a phrase that I hear once every few games. On third and long if you fail to pick up the first down you often here this: “This situation is tough, on third and long it’s tough to make a first down in these types of situations” Wow…. What brilliant commentary. A massive chunk of what you hear is just uninteresting mumbo jumbo. The best and most interesting information is usually just at the start of the match, when the QB comes running out onto the field and they have a few thoughts, or when a star like Le’Veon Bell makes a play so they talk about some of his special characteristics. But that type of commentary is few and far between. Sims also loves to talk about his own repeated thoughts, often saying, “It’s like I always say” or “Like I always say”. He even contradicts himself. One minute he’ll tell you that the QB needs to trust his arm and throw the ball down the field on 3rd down to pick up the first down. And then a few moments later he will say how it’s a good idea to throw the ball short on 3rd down and he hates when people say otherwise. The most obnoxious comments are the ones that are just false. He talks about a wide receiver just giving his everything to catch that ball but he just missed it. But in reality the ball was knocked down at the line and the receiver never even attempted to catch the ball because it wasn’t even close. Or if it’s cover 2 he will badger the QB for not throwing it deep down the middle, EVEN IF THAT’S EXACTLY WHERE THE BALL WAS JUST THROWN! Or he will talk about cover 2 when the play was just actually cover 3! On top of that Sims is just always right in his mind. In one game I was down by twelve points with two minutes left in the game. Before the snap he said that the decision to go for it on fourth down was the wrong one. And after I failed he said; I would have never gone for it, just kick a field goal and live to play another down. What are you talking about? Then I’d be down by nine points with less than two minutes to go! Why would that help me? There were plenty of times that Sims was on a tirade about something and the game is continuing with a big play down the field that they completely miss and act like didn’t exist. Also within the first match I played I already heard a dozen things I heard from last year’s Madden. Oh the list is endless; I can’t even begin to explain how repetitive, unbearable, and just plain erroneous the play by play calling is. Here’s the quick fix, get rid of Sims. Here’s the best choice, bring back Cris Collinsworth. I recently saw someone playing Madden 11 with Gus Johnson and Cris Collisworth. The duo is perfect for Madden. Collinsworth especially is a thousand times more insightful, polite, and non-arrogant. On top of that, although it would be time consuming, spend more time creating more phrases and dialog. And lastly develop the game to be more accurate with those comments. There’s nothing more annoying than to hear one guy say, “The quarterback is hoping to avoid being sacked for a THIRD TIME!” followed the very next statement being, “The quarterback has had all day to throw the football”.

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Sadly even though true game planning and realistic execution has been nearly perfected in Madden 15, there are still changes that need to be made. In one game I played, my online opponent on MUT had a stacked team, much better than mine, but I knew I still had a chance with solid gameplay and just being smart. On offense I was golden; I scored on every drive, all touchdowns and one field goal. However EVERY time he went back to pass he sprinted Peyton Manning directly in the wrong direction and while facing the wrong way he would launch the ball down the field 40 yards into triple coverage and make the catch. Literally no matter what I did it would work because he would just run towards my endzone and launch the ball while not even looking to a receiver and the ball would be perfect. It makes no sense. On top of that 5 or 6 balls were miss thrown and my defenders just dropped it. Yes it happens, defenders drop the ball, but some of these were such ducks that my 8 year old nephew could catch it. And on top of that he would scramble with Manning and I’d come screaming in with a safety or linebacker and hit Peyton Manning so hard that Archie and Eli should be able to feel it. I know Peyton is tough, but if on one single drive down the field I hit him four times so hard it looks like an eighteen wheeler hit a Prius and life goes on like nothing’s happened there’s a big problem. Madden prides itself on making sure the game is as realistic as possible, yet super strange ways to play the game like this sometimes work. My biggest complaint is the same it’s been for many years, and that’s controlling the player. There are different occasions while playing madden where you have absolutely no control over the runner with the football. For example you can throw a pass to a receiver who’s running an out-route, if you throw it just a yard or 2 before the out of bounds marker he will toe-tap his feet inbounds very realistically. If you throw the ball let’s say 10 yards from the line you can take control and cut up field as soon as the ball is caught. However almost every single time if you throw the ball with the receiver having about 5 yards to go before running out of bounds you have no control over the player and he will run out of bounds. Plenty of times on 3rd and short I’ll hit the wide open receiver on the flat who should just cut up field 3 yards for the 1st down but instead darts directly out of bounds as if the Gatorade table magically transformed into an all you can eat steak buffet. This is incredible frustrating. A similar problem occurs when running the ball. Each run play has a designed hole that is supposed to open so the running back can go bursting through. Sometimes that spot is not open and you’d like to cut back to a different lane. Sometimes it works just fine, other times for some odd reason you can feel the game not letting you move your player. The more you play the game the more you can feel this type of thing. In the open field you cannot really control a player as much as you’d like. Maybe I’ll throw a screen pass to Antonio Brown and I’ll see exactly what I want to do, I can see the players about to be blocked and the hole I need to squeeze through. But in game it just doesn’t let me fluidly move the way I know Brown can do with ease in the real world. These athletes can stop on a dime, react to a blocker, cut back inside, and explode down the field. In Madden they sacrificed total control for realistic movements. They want the game to look so real, but this has resulted in less control. My last gameplay related complaint is inconsistent blocking. As a player who loves to run the ball I see problems much more often than I’d like to. Sometimes I read the blockers and I’ll see my lead blocker about to demolish the linebacker trying to seal the cutback lane and I know I’m set for a huge gainer. But instead my full back just runs right through him like he’s Casper the friendly ghost wanting a loving hug and I get crushed for a three yard loss.

So let’s go back to my initial question. Did they keep the good from last year and fix the bad? For the most part, they absolutely did. The changes to MUT in handling the cards and fixing the overall presentation were much needed, sadly it’s still difficult to just get good cards without feeling pressured to waste real cash or grinding for hours and hours. The changes to skills trainer are amazing, if you want to advance your game exponentially then I definitely recommend. Not only does to educate on many aspects of the game, it also highlights how advanced and detailed the game has become. The best part about Madden has become the cerebral side of it, which is something I truly love. It’s one thing to be excited when you beast-mode over some poor cornerback with Marshawn Lynch for a long touchdown. It’s something entirely more gratifying to have a gameplan, execute the gameplan, adjust the play at the line of scrimmage fro when the defense adjusts, and consistently outwit the opponent. Madden 15 is as beautiful as any sports game ever. The lighting, effect, presentation are all top notch. And the facial animation is truly impressive. Although some players look hideous, most of the coaches and players look eerily similar to their real life gridiron selves. There are still issues with commentary, MUT can be overwhelming, and some gameplay changes still need to be improved on. But Madden 15 successfully revitalized the defensive side of the football, made proper adjustments to the presnap analytical aspect of the sport, and has created the best all around football game in the last decade.

PROS:
1) Graphically stunning
2) Skills Trainer
3) Defensive adjustments
4) Cerebral football at it’s best
CONS:
1) Good MUT cards WAY too hard to achieve
2) Sacrificed total control for realistic look
8.2
Excellent