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One of the Best Dreamcast Games is Now Playable on Xbox One via Backwards Compatibility

Along with MX vs. ATV Reflex and Texas Hold ‘Em, the Sega Dreamcast’s Jet Set Radio joins the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility list today.

Sega’s cel-shaded classic featured an incredible soundtrack, a vibrant world, and a rad cast of characters. As an inline skating vandal, you team up with the GGs and tag up walls to reclaim turf from rival gangs. Oh, and there’s a vinyl record that has the power to summon demons, so shit gets pretty crazy.

If you haven’t experienced Jet Set Radio before, I highly recommend giving it a shot. I’m not sure how well the game’s held up over the years, but at the time it was unlike anything I had ever played before and to this day it still remains my favorite Dreamcast game of all time.

Now if they’d just do an HD remaster of Jet Set Radio Future from the original Xbox…

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REVIEW: Azkend 2: The World Beneath

Azkend 2: The World Beneath
Developer: 10tons (Sparkle Unleashed, Crimsonland, the upcoming cyberpunk shooter Neon Chrome)
Available on: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, PlayStation Vita (reviewed)
Price: $7.99

This is going to make me sound like a crotchety old man, but I don’t own a good cell phone and rarely use my Kindle for anything other than a web browser or e-reader. That being said, mobile games are foreign territory. Clearly I know what they are, and I know my mom is obsessed with them, but I’ve just never had an interest in match-threes or card games. With a PlayStation Vita and a 3DS, why bother?

I’ve kept in touch with the fine folks at developer 10tons over the last year or so, having reviewed Sparkle Unleashed and Crimsonland for them, and when they approached me about checking out their fantasy matching game Azkend 2: The World Beneath, I wasn’t quite sure I’d be in to it.

Azkend 2 is a mobile game that’s been refined and ported over to the Xbox One, PS4, and PlayStation Vita. While that’s not much of a selling point, the term “mobile game” shouldn’t discourage you from playing something enjoyable. It’s not a shoddy cash-grab. There’s no microtransactions. It’s just a game that happened to originate on a mobile device.

You'll need to match three or more tiles by tracing them with your finger on the Vita's touch screen, or the old fashioned way via Xbox One and PS4 controller.

You’ll need to match three or more tiles by tracing them with your finger on the Vita’s touch screen, or the old fashioned way via Xbox One and PS4 controller.

If you’re familiar with mobile games, the point of Azkend is to match three or more similar tiles in order to complete a variety of objectives. For instance, frozen or locked blocks require you to match adjacent tiles in order to remove their hindrances, while some puzzles have you killing bugs or putting out fires in similar fashion.

It’s a formula that’s been used time and time again by many a developer. There’s no new ground to be broken here, and it’s that homogeneous design that’s kept me from playing more of these types of games. Every match three I see on a mobile device looks exactly the same, aside from a few different candy shapes or how they focus on taking money out of our wallets. At first glance Azkend 2 is just another mobile experience, and while it may share similar themes, there’s more here than meets the eye.

There’s a fully voice-acted story about a shipwreck that occurs between Liverpool and New York, in which your character gets sucked in to a cataclysmic maelstrom and ends up in a mysterious world. As she explores forests, ruins, and underground magma caves in search of a way back home, you’ll solve the aforementioned match three tile puzzles in order to unlock power-ups that play in to the story — collecting pieces to build binoculars or a compass, for instance. I also found the accompanying soundtrack by musician Jonathan Greer to be particularly imaginative, which is a term I never thought I’d use when describing a match three game.

Each chapter is separated by gorgeous hand-drawn backdrops and hidden object mini-games.

Each chapter is separated by gorgeous hand-drawn backdrops and hidden object mini-games.

There’s nearly 20 power-ups to choose from, like wild-card tiles and increased time limits, which are frequently awarded throughout the game’s 60 levels. It was a nice incentive, knowing I could replay older levels with new power-ups in an attempt to unlock Trophies or Achievements, but I mainly stuck with a few favorites throughout my play time.

With Azkend 2 transitioning from the mobile realm, the Vita version is easily the most enjoyable, thanks to its touch screen. Rather than using a controller to select tiles, you can simply trace your fingertip along the screen for a much more responsive and amusing experience. Azkend isn’t overly obtuse on the Xbox One or PS4, but I didn’t personally care for the analog controls in comparison to the Vita’s touch screen. There’s no contest between sliding my fingertip along the screen and holding A or X while maneuvering a cursor on the TV. To make up for the less intuitive controls, those two versions have more forgiving time limits during each of the game’s puzzles.

While Azkend 2: The World Beneath falls victim to many visually indistinguishable designs at times, it displayed enough depth that allowed it to stand on its own. The more I played with it, the more I said to myself “okay, yes, I’m actually having fun,” as if the terms “fun” and “mobile game” couldn’t co-exist in the same sentence. It wasn’t the best mindset to have, but I’m glad I gave it a chance. It began as my go-to game during homework breaks, before bed, or (TMI) trips to the bathroom for a twosie, but it eventually weaseled its way in to my regular gaming sessions. 10tons excels at crafting fun, accessible games that respect their player’s time, and Azkend 2: The World Beneath is no exception. But given the choice, I’d recommend the Vita version above all else. I’m not certain how long I’d stick with the game using a standard controller.

*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I did spend a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if it’s worth playing.

Full disclosure: This review was done using a Playstation Vita and Xbox One copy of Azkend 2: The World Beneath provided by the game’s developer, 10tons. I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers and constructive feedback to hard working developers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant. 

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This Week’s Xbox Live Sale is Up and it’s a Meaty Beast

Tuesday is sale day for the Xbox crowd, and this week should not disappoint. There’s over 60 discounts up for grabs, which I’ll highlight below, but for the full list I’ll direct you to Xbox Live’s Major Nelson.

With two discounts shown for most games, I’m assuming the highest percentage applies to Xbox Live Gold subscribers only.

Notable Xbox One deals include:

  • Battlefield Hardline – 50%, 75% off
  • D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die – 60%, 67% off
  • Forza Horizon 2 Ultimate: 10th Anniversary Edition – 20%, 30% off
  • Forza 5 Car Pass – 67%, 75% off
  • Gears of War: Ultimate Edition – Day One Version – 30%, 40% off (same discount applies to Day One & Deluxe Versions)
  • Halo 5: Guardians – 25%, 35% off
  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection – 40%, 50% off
  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection + Halo 5: Guardians bundle – 40%, 50% off
  • Rare Replay – 30%, 40% off
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider – 25%, 35% off
  • Ryse: Son of Rome – Legendary Edition (inc. all DLC) – 40%, 50% off
  • Ryse: Son of Rome season pass – 40%, 50% off
  • Star Wars: Battlefront – Deluxe Edition – 50% off
  • Star Wars: Battlefront – 50% off
  • State of Decay: Year-One Survival Edition – 40%, 50% off
  • Sunset Overdrive season pass – 50% off

With Sunset Overdrive being offered during last month’s Games With Gold promotion, now’s the time to grab the season pass if you’d like to add a little more to the game. I also highly recommend D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die if you’re in to bizarre story-driven games. Don’t be hesitant because of the Kinect controls — you can use a standard controller and enjoy this weird time traveling detective game without the frustration of waving your arms around like a drowning victim.

Notable Xbox 360 deals include:

  • Alan Wake – 40%, 50% off
  • Alan Wake: American Nightmare – 40%, 50% off
  • Castle Crashers – 40%, 50% off
  • Fable trilogy – 57%, 67% off
  • Fez – 40%, 50% off
  • Gears of War 1, 2, 3, and Judgment – 57%, 67% off each
  • Halo 4 – 40%, 50% off
  • Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 1 & 2 – 75% off each
  • Mass Effect – 40%, 50% off
  • Spelunky – 57%, 67% off
  • Super Meat Boy – 57%, 67% off
  • Trials Evolution – 40%, 50% off

If you’re still playing your Xbox 360, or looking for more games to add to your Xbox One backwards compatible library, there’s plenty to pick from. This list barely scratches the surface.

Picking anything up?

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Re:Review: No Time to Explain

*Re:Review brings to light a review written during my tenure at the now-defunct website, What’s Your Tag?, in order to avoid losing it to the abyss of the internet. It generally appears as it did back then (along with the video review, if available), with only minor formatting or grammatical changes. Although the review was written by me, Bradley Keene, the source is always What’s Your Tag? (whose domain is no longer available).

Original review date: August 10, 2015
Developer: tinyBuild (Party Hard, SpeedRunners, Punch Club)
Available on: PS4, Xbox One (reviewed), PC

An unfortunate burn by a Russian publisher lead to a bittersweet launch in 2011, but developer tinyBuild have returned to give No Time To Explain the remaster it deserves on the Xbox One. It’s a comedy platfomer where you forgo jumping in favor of propelling yourself with a jetpack gun, get fat by eating cake, and save the future from… well, you.

The game starts off with a visit from your future self who’s promptly mauled and dragged along by a massive space crab. Picking up their jetpack gun, you launch yourself across a ton of short-but-ferociously challenging levels that will no doubt cause more than a few rage inducing moments of precise platforming bliss. This mechanic is something you’ll either grow to love over time, or loathe with every fiber of your being.

“…successfully combines polished gameplay with pure insanity.”

I was in the latter camp for the first hour or so, as the game rapidly took me out of my comfort zone. I love platformers, and each level seemed so easy on paper if I could only jump like a normal person, but that damn jetpack gun is such a troll! All I have to do is make it across this hallway full of sharp parts and I’m home free, and I can’t because I suck at jetpacking and my future self won’t stop screaming or pretending to be a pterodactyl.

Using the right analog stick aims your hot piece of science and propels you in the opposite direction. As your only reliable method of transportation, this requires a bit of finesse when used for longer jumps, hovering over spikes, or slowing yourself before ramming face first in to other pointy objects that aren’t your friends. There’s also a fair amount of variety in the game, as the same mechanic is used while blasting around with a shotgun or slinging around walls like Spider-Man wearing a straight-jacket. Oh, and there’s also a dedicated “dance” button, so there’s that to look forward to.

Giant crab boss is giant.

Giant crab boss is giant.

The level designs are pretty fun, with standouts including a world made entirely of junk food and a futuristic space lab rife with opportunities to impale yourself on spikes or meet the wrong end of a gravity laser. Each zone also ends with a traditional boss fight, reminiscent of something you might find in Contra or Mega Man games. I fought an armored orb surrounded by magnets, forcing me to bend my laser while dodging falling debris and its massive butt slam. I took down a speedy mole who shot lasers and used its drill-hands to dig through walls and pepper me with rocks. There’s even a throwback to an old Dr. Robotnik fight, where I had to put on some major lbs. and roll down a hill in order to expose a weak point.

As I mentioned earlier, No Time To Explain is pretty challenging, but once I started to get a little better, I had no interest in putting the game down. It’s such a refreshing and punishing platformer with an absurd sense of humor that really hit all of the right notes without becoming stagnant. One minute I’m eating cake and getting fat, so I can roll down hills and break stuff like a morbidly obese Sonic the Hedgehog, and the next I’m in a 2D shoot-em-up blowing the head off a triceratops equipped with lasers and a grenade launcher.

“…what started out as something I immediately wanted to uninstall quickly became one of the most enjoyable platformers I’ve played thus far in 2015.”

If you’re the type who easily rage quits, you may want to look elsewhere, but there’s definitely a rewarding platformer here for those willing to take the plunge. Achievements actually require work to unlock, like beating an entire level while holding Y to dance–essentially you end up playing through the level and its accompanied boss fight without using the entire left side of the controller. There’s a lot of replay value, with tons of customization items to find scattered around each level, and even a 4-player local co-op mode for you and your friends to get fat and shoot shit together.

No Time To Explain isn’t the most accessible game, and the humor definitely isn’t for everyone, but what started out as something I immediately wanted to uninstall quickly became one of the most enjoyable platformers I’ve played thus far in 2015. Aside from its strict learning curve, I don’t really have any complaints about the game at all. It successfully combines polished gameplay with pure insanity, like Super Time Force, or Hotline Miami, and hopefully we’ll see more from tinyBuild on Xbox here in the future.

*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I did spend a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if it’s worth playing.

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Weekend Gaming: What are You Playing?

The weekend is here and I’ve finally finished my Spring semester of college. With only 3 short weeks before Summer classes start, I’m aiming to be as lazy as humanly possible. Challenge accepted!

Following up on last week’s post, I did, in fact, renew my subscription to World of Warcraft. Putting my adventures in Final Fantasy XIV on hold, I’ve recently started leveling my Troll Shaman with my girlfriend’s Orc Warrior. We’re blazing through Draenor and should be well on our way to 100 before the weekend is over.

I wasn’t too thrilled with how my Troll Death Knight turned out, but since he was already level 90 I was hesitant to delete him and start over. However, a fairly recent addition to WoW lets you resurrect a deleted character for free. That was all the motivation I needed to send him packing and begin leveling a brand new Blood Elf Death Knight instead. The girlfriend was kind enough to run me through a bunch of dungeons and I ended up hitting 90 last night, so it’s been pretty painless thus far.

Aside from WoW, I’m really hoping to finish up Severed this weekend so I can get started on its review. I just received copies of Azkend 2: The World Beneath, Stories, Stranger of Sword City, and Party Hard to review, and I’m really looking forward to spending time with each of them.

What about you folks? What’s on the agenda this weekend?

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PlayStation Plus May Lineup Revealed, and Yep, They’re Video Games

With Xbox recently revealing their Games With Gold lineup for the month of May, it was only a matter of time before Sony followed suit over at the official PlayStation blog. Let’s just say May isn’t going to excite fans on either console.

PlayStation 4 subscribers will receive city building sim Tropico 5, a brand new arcade racer in Table Top Racing: World Tour, and fast-paced arcade game Switch Galaxy Ultra (thanks to cross-buy).

Tropico 5 is a pretty big game, currently retailing for $35 over at Amazon, but the city building sim definitely caters to a small crowd on consoles. With Sony offering Housemarque’s Dead Nation and Resogun as PSN Plus games in the past, I was surprised when Alienation didn’t appear in next month’s line-up.

PSN subscribers on PlayStation 3 will receive 2007’s “interactive screensaver” game LocoRoco Cocoreccho!, along with Bionic Commando Rearmed 2.

And although we Vita fans are used to being snubbed, next month offers Switch Galaxy Ultra (which is cross-buy with PS4), along with PSP game God of War: Ghost of Sparda.

Now Ghost of Sparda is a fantastic game, it really is, but with a full library of digital titles, why would Sony offer a PSP game? You don’t see PS2 Classics on the PS3 list, or Xbox One counting 360 backwards compatible titles as one of their two (four, technically) Xbox One Games With Gold offerings, so why is this a thing?

My girlfriend loves the Tropico series, and while I know I’ll give the games a fair shot, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by May’s incentives on either console.

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Zelda U Delayed for Simultaneous NX Launch in 2017, Surprising No One

With tons of hype surrounding Link’s open-world reveal a few E3’s ago, it’s been mostly quiet on the Zelda U front, outside of talks of a possible delay. When rumors began spreading about Nintendo’s new NX console, however, most of us had flashbacks to Twilight Princess and its dual launch on the brand new Wii console, in order to redirect sails from the drowning Gamecube.

The Gamecube itself was a colossal failure, only managing to outsell the Dreamcast during that entire console generation. If that doesn’t paint a good enough picture for you, the Dreamcast was discontinued a year before the Gamecube even hit store shelves.

The sad part of this woeful tale is that Nintendo’s Wii U is well on its way to being their worst selling major home console to date, with only 12.8 million consoles sold as of the end of last month. The Gamecube was considered a failure at 22 million, so I’ll let you do the math.

To rub salt in the wound, the PlayStation 4 sold 17.7 million units in 2015 alone.

That being said, it came as no surprise when Nintendo confirmed yesterday that the upcoming title in the Zelda franchise would no longer make its projected 2016 release date. Rather, it’s being delayed until 2017 to coincide with the recently revealed March 2017 launch date of their new gaming console, code-named NX.

Now this doesn’t mean that the new Zelda title will release alongside the NX in March, but rather when it does launch it’ll be on both the NX and Wii U simultaneously, a la Twilight Princess.

What this does mean, however, is that the Wii U will go down in history as the only major Nintendo console to not receive a brand new exclusive entry in the beloved Zelda series, unless you consider the Dynasty Warriors spin-off Hyrule Warriors. It’s also the only major Nintendo console to not see the release of a brand new Metroid game, but that’s another post for another day.

The new Zelda title will be the only playable Wii U game at this year’s E3 presentation in June, which not only shows how irrelevant the once beloved expo is becoming, but suggests that Nintendo will most likely use their online Direct streams to show off the NX later in 2016.

Thoughts?