Rock of Ages II: Bigger and Boulder Developer: ACE Team Publisher: Atlus, Atlus U.S.A. Available on: Playstation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Steam Price: $14.99 USD For fans of: Tower defense games, Monty Python
Hello, and welcome to the Not-Brad hour! I’m your host, Kayla, and I’ll be taking you on another review today.
Among all of the games I’ve played, I never thought I’d be playing one that involved rolling boulders with different special abilities down hills and through herds of cattle, dodging buffalos and catapults in a land straight from Monty Python illustrations. Yet, somehow I found myself here, and I actually really enjoyed it.
This week’s episode of the CA! Radio podcast is now available for your listening pleasure!
Chuck Zodl and I discuss Wrestlemania 33 for some reason, update our feelings on Breath of the Wild and Persona 5, dig in to a few Nindies like Has-Been Heroes and Blaster Master Zero, and fail to understand the reasoning behind Atlus’s latest Persona 5 content sharing SNAFU.
Oh, and the Nintendo Switch is apparently warping for some folks, so there’s that.
CA! Radio Episode 122: Wrestling with PR (04/09/2017) ♪This week the CA! duo talk Wrestlemania before tackling some Atlus drama and then grappling with even more Nintendo Switch issues.♪ Download & iTunes
After a handful of delays, Persona 5 is finally available here in North America. As a big fan of all things Shin Megami Tensei, naturally I gravitated toward the bulkier Take Your Heart Premium Edition with all of its delicious physical goodies.
SNK’s King of Fighters XIV isn’t coming stateside until August 23rd, but those of us that want an early taste can download a free demo starting tomorrow that packs quite the punch.
As a long-time fan of the series, I’ve been hesitant toward KOF XIV purely based on its ugly screenshots and seemingly half-hearted attempt at transitioning from a once beautiful 2D sprite fighter to the JRPG-style 3D realm. After watching Street Fighter V EVO 2016 pro LI Joe stream the demo earlier today though, I’m 100% sold. It’s smooth as silk and he had nothing but great things to say about it.
So what’s in the demo?
You’ll have 7 fighters (of the game’s massive roster of 50) to choose from:
King of Dinosaurs
You can brush up on your skills in the game’s tutorial training mode and battle against local friends or the CPU AI in 1v1 or traditional 3v3 versus matches. Yes, local friends. The game doesn’t come out for over another month, so I highly doubt there’s working netcode right now. We’ll just have to deal with old school local versus for now, but the demo should be more than enough to sway your opinion if you’re on the fence.
Oh, and there’s a free dynamic theme included with the demo. So yeah.
If you need to see more King of Fighters XIV prior to the demo’s launch, why not watch the EVO 2016 Top 8? It’s pretty nuts what these people were able to come up with on a single day’s practice.
The Deadly Tower of Monsters Developer:ACE Team (Zeno Clash, Abyss Odyssey, Rock of Ages) Publisher: Atlus USA Available on:PC, PS4 (reviewed) Price: $14.99 Exclusive features: 4-player co-op feature is exclusive to PC. PS4 version is apparently prettier to look at.
Forbidden Planet. Plan 9 From Outer Space. The Blob. Long before Mega Shark battled Giant Octopus, or willing viewers subjected themselves to another unnecessary Sharknado sequel and its irrelevant cast, humanity explored the universe from a string, battled paper mache monsters, and went to war with dudes in giant rubber lizard costumes. If you’ve ever purchased a cheap DVD compilation at Wal-Mart, you know the type. And while filmmakers like Lloyd Kaufman, Chris Seaver, and Roger Corman fight the good fight in keeping the tradition alive today, b-movies are rarely an inspiration in the realm of modern video games.
Enter ACE Team’s The Deadly Tower of Monsters.
Pulling from just about every so-bad-they’re-good sci-fi film from the 1930’s onward, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is an interactive love letter that suffers from many of the same issues as its source material–small budget, noticeably lower production value in comparison to larger AAA games, laughable effects–and it’s fucking awesome. It’s just a shame that it has all the makings of a game that’ll no doubt get swept under the rug or lost in an overcrowded e-shop by many a consumer.
The Deadly Tower of Monsters is getting a DVD release, and the framing here is the in-game film’s director recording audio commentary (acting as a form of meta narrative, a tutorial, and genuinely funny dialog source) while you play out the “film.” This largely consists of mashing the melee and shoot buttons, bludgeoning and blasting your way through stop-motion dinosaurs, walking brains, and invisible men, while you ascend the (wait for it) deadly tower of monsters.
Campy cutscenes abound as you make your way up, with solid sound work and voice acting, courtesy of the game’s trio of heroes. The director’s commentary is often comedic and portrays what I imagine to be a social justice warrior’s worst nightmare. He’s blatantly sexist, snickers at his drastically unsafe working conditions and unpaid labor, and plays the part of an oblivious, self-righteous asshole that’s a sign of the times.
Games that typically rely on their comedic value tend to fall flat almost immediately, but The Deadly Tower of Monsters avoided this mess by keeping it interesting throughout. Whether it’s the director pointing out fingerprints on the screen, cracking on Zack Snyder’s penchant for lens flare, or explaining cliche video game things (why the hero is breaking boxes, collecting things, etc.), he holds it together quite well and really assists in driving the campy narrative home. There’s even a cool fourth-wall breaking moment in the latter portion of the game that I didn’t see coming, just when I thought I’d seen it all.
Like I touched on earlier, combat is pretty lax. Enemies pour out of doors a-la Gauntlet and you’ll either whale on them with rapid melee attacks or pew pew from afar with your raygun. Each of the three heroes have their own special abilities as well, like Robot’s ability to slow down time (which I used all of one time), Dick’s landminds, and Scarlet’s fast dash. You also get a basic dodge roll, which doubles as a parry button with a well-timed press. With so much going on, I usually found myself rolling around like a maniac over strategically parrying attacks. And when I actually tried to parry, I’d end up rolling anyway–sometimes off the side of the tower. While the combat itself isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, it’s fine for the game and, as the director explains, is due to the lack of formal training on behalf of the in-game movie stars. Clever.
One part of the action that I never enjoyed, however, is the reverse Space Invader moments when you’re forced to peer over a ledge and fire upon incoming monsters. This could have been a great way to break up the button mashing, but it just isn’t executed well. The crosshair is ridiculously small, making it near impossible to see where I was aiming. You’re also contending with monsters spawning and attacking you from behind while you aim down the tower, which is more frustrating (but not deal-breaking) than challenging. It definitely could have benefited from a bit more polish.
As you make your way up the tower, you’ll collect a variety of melee and ranged weapons, like a scimitar (Sinbad), a lightsaber (Star Wars), and a frog that spews a swarm of angry flies. Each can be upgraded by collecting gears scattered about the tower, or dropped by enemies, but I didn’t notice any sort of base stats to determine which did more damage. It just boiled down to personal preference. This is a campy sci-fi power trip, so I was fine without the micromanagement of stats. I picked up whatever I found, assigned an upgrade if I had the materials, and dove in headfirst; swinging madly at dogs wrapped in Christmas lights, “nukular” ants, and living plants, as if the fate of humanity depended on it.
For being a deadly tower of monsters though, I didn’t find it very challenging. Although you can die from impact damage, there’s plenty of ways to avoid that unfortunate fate and absolutely no penalty for plunging off the side. Your jetpack allows you to safely land from any height, and our heroes have the ability to teleport back to their last known location in mid-air using the L1 button. Should you find yourself on a lower floor, you can fast travel to any checkpoint you’ve unlocked with a simple press of the DualShock 4’s touchpad. This is handy if you’re the trophy hunting type, and it’s not as if I would have enjoyed the game any more if I had to make my way back up the hard way. To be honest, I’m not sure how they could have made the game any more challenging without making it unnecessarily frustrating.
Overall, The Deadly Tower of Monsters could have used a bit more time in the development chamber, but that’s part of what I enjoyed about it. The VHS film grain effect, the shockingly accurate soundtrack, the hokey (and well done) voice acting, all being carried along by the director’s ignorant commentary, delivers with gravitas. Watching it pull from classic films like The Fly, War of the Worlds, and King Kong scratched an itch that I didn’t even know I had, because I’ve learned to live without b-movie influence in video games. It exists, sure, but it’s rare. This is a business, after all, and just like the films it so proudly uses as an intergalactic road map, it only caters to a niche audience. That’s not how you make money. So I applaud ACE Team for taking a risk and turning their obvious passion of camp films in to something fun. Something memorable. Different. It’s a special game, and one that I hope becomes more than a simple cult classic.
*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 4 copy of The Deadly Tower of Monsters provided by the game’s developer, ACE Team. 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.
With the DJMax series behind them, former employees of Pentavision have formed the new development studio Nurijoy and last November saw the release of its spiritual successor, Superbeat Xonic, on the Playstation Vita. It’s an excellent (albeit insanely challenging at times) rhythm game that makes good use of the Vita’s front touchscreen, but there were a few hurdles I had to overcome in order to fully enjoy my experience.
For starters, the soundtrack largely consists of unfamiliar tunes. Superbeat Xonic covers a wide range of genres, from expected offerings like electro and foreign pop music to weird metal, radio pop, and even obscure genres like gypsy jazz and whatever the hell lemonade funk is.
There’s a little something for everyone, but therein lies the problem. It’s just a little something.
I wasn’t a fan of the slow, mellow pop tracks that played on the newfound popularity of Idol music, or whatever this is, though I found myself coming back to the harder hitting dance beats of Flash Finger and Electronic Boutique. A lot. Superbeat Xonic has roughly 60 tracks to unlock, but as I began crossing the tracks I didn’t enjoy off of my playlist, I noticed the respectable number of 60 dwindle to about 10.
“Superbeat Xonic is meant for the touch screen, and it fits that layout perfectly.”
It’s safe to say that my personal taste in music got in the way of my enjoyment early on, but I was pretty thrilled with Xonic’s responsive, addictive, and engaging gameplay. Using the Vita’s front touchscreen, the objective is to press the left and right sides as notes coming in from the center pass through a designated touch area. Some notes require a simple tap at their location, while others have you holding your finger in place, flicking scratch notes up and down, or tracing lines with your fingertips.
After spending just shy of 10 hours with Superbeat Xonic, the only notes I continue to have issues with are the scratches — rather, landing them effectively in rapid succession. I actually just bombed a 900-hit combo with a scratch note while writing this review, which isn’t surprising. I’m not sure if this has to do with the Vita’s touch screen failing to register a slight sliding motion (more of a flick, really), or if I just need to research a more effective way of doing them.
Superbeat does support traditional d-pad/face button inputs as well, but I found them impossible to use. Notes can zoom by pretty fast, so remembering which button corresponds with which note was too much for my hands and eyes to comprehend in tandem–exacerbated by the fact that the Vita’s analog sticks are used to deal with scratch notes and tracing. If you’ve used a Vita before you know how closely the analog sticks sit in relation to the d-pad and face buttons, so it goes without saying that even my tiny thumbs had issues fumbling their way across the surface area.
Superbeat Xonic is meant for the touch screen, and it fits that layout perfectly. Tapping along with the track while feeling the beat under a pair of headphones is a rush, especially with the faster songs, and I just didn’t get the same enjoyment stumbling around the d-pad, face buttons, and analog sticks. If touch controls aren’t appealing to you, just know that you’re probably going to have a bad time suffering through the game’s traditional scheme (through no fault of its own).
Stage Mode is broken down in to 4-TRAX and 6-TRAX, where 4-TRAX is more suitable for beginners and acts as the game’s crash course in Superbeat Xonic-101. As the name implies, there are only 4 slices of the screen that feed you notes (rather than 6) which allows you to ease your way into the touch controls while familiarizing yourself with each of the songs. Bumping it up to 6-TRAX creates less room for error, generates more notes to tap, and adds the use of the Vita’s shoulder buttons once you’ve unlocked the more challenging 6-TRAX FX mode.
Stage Mode is where I spent most of my time, since the only other mode’s stages (World Tour) are locked behind your DJ level. Leveling is simple though, as you’ll earn XP and unlock new songs just by playing through Stage Mode repeatedly. If you’re having trouble with certain songs, you can equip unlockable DJ icons that increase your health pool, add shields to prevent combo drops, and regenerate more health with successful combos. There’s also an adjustable difficulty setting that provides a larger health pool at the cost of smaller XP gains, which makes Superbeat Xonic extremely accessible to newcomers.
“…the steep challenge is a hurdle worth considering if you’re merely a casual player of the rhythm genre.”
Nurijoy’s newest rhythm game is already challenging, requiring rapid fire precision taps at speeds I deemed unreachable by anyone outside of the hardcore fanbase, but World Tour mode stopped me dead in my tracks. Rather than simply playing the game, World Tour’s progression is determined by your ability to meet certain criteria–hitting thousands of notes without error, playing a track (or tracks) perfectly for high rankings, and other frustrating requirements that will no doubt prevent the casual player from reaching the mode’s finale.
Rhythm games already cater to a niche audience, and Xonic’s unfamiliar soundtrack will do little to draw in new fans, but as someone who sits well outside of their target market, I still found myself enjoying the game immensely. Parts of it will forever go untouched, as I don’t see my thumbs moving any faster than they already do, and I’m okay with that.
There’s a lot to unlock just by playing the songs I enjoy, be it DJ icons, sound effects, or new tracks, and that’s enough to keep me engaged for now. Whether or not that’s enough content to warrant the game’s $40 retail price tag is entirely up to you, though, and the steep challenge is a hurdle worth considering if you’re merely a casual player of the rhythm genre.
*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 copy of Superbeat Xonic provided by the game’s publisher, PM Games. 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.
Once touted as King of the JRPG, the name Square Enix doesn’t carry as much clout as it used to. In terms of quality, the Final Fantasy series has been on the decline lately with XIII being a hand-holding linear affair and XIV being a complete failure in the MMO realm. Let’s not forget the most recent spin-offs with Crystal Chronicles, Dissidia & Chocobo’s Dungeon. While not completely terrible, non of them can be held in the same regard as the numbered entries to the series and without the Final Fantasy name they probably wouldn’t have sold nearly as well.
Outside of the Final Fantasy franchise, Square Enix is probably best known for collaborating with Disney to create the Kingdom Hearts series. Like Silent Hill, Kingdom Hearts has an extremely loyal fanbase that will eat up whatever is thrown their way and rain down thunder to anyone who opposes them. It’s been almost 10 years since an original Kingdom Hearts title appeared on a console and the latest entry for the 3DS, 3D: Dream Drop Distance, received mixed-to-positive reviews based on the new “drop system” and the overall plot. Still though, the future of Kingdom Hearts looks a bit brighter than Final Fantasy due to its proven record to be successful on portable systems.
Square Enix is definitely the “big dog” when it comes to the JRPG market, but with the declining appeal of the Final Fantasy franchise, is it time for another developer to swoop in and carry the torch? Who would that even be?
My number one choice would have to be Atlus. The Shin Megami Tensei series spans a large collective of games and even though it took a bit for the Persona series to take off here in North America, Persona 3 and 4 were touted as some of the best games for the PS2. Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga built a cult following and Devil Survivor is doing great in the portable market. The only SMT release that was greeted with mixed reviews is Strange Journey for the Nintendo DS in 2010 and even that has an 80/100 Metacritic score. Popularity for the Persona series has skyrocketed and Atlus took note to finally release the missing half of Persona 2, Innocent Sin, for the Sony PSP in 2011. They even worked hard with Arc System Works to cross over to the 2D fighting realm with Persona 4: Arena which not only completely embraces everything that a fighting fan would want in a game, but appeases the role-playing crowd as well with an in-depth storyline spanning multiple hours.
Next in line would have to be Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) and their developer partnership with Gust, although they cater to a niche crowd with their strategy RPG focus. They’re best known for the Disgaea series but have released their fair share of other titles in the Phantom Brave, Hyperdimension Neptunia & Atelier universe here in North America. They’ve even branched off in to the handheld market with additional releases for Disgaea, Phantom Brave and the side-scrolling Prinny titles. While some of their titles don’t always receive the highest review scores, SRPG fans depend on NIS & Gust to develop quality games year after year. Granted the SRPG market isn’t exactly the target audience of Square Enix, but you can’t deny the impact NIS & Gust have made on the JRPG genre in recent years.
There are a few other developers like tri-Ace, From Software and, most recently, Capcom, that are fighting the good fight to keep JRPGs from falling in to another state of mediocrity. From Software did an amazing job with Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls & 3D Dot Game Heroes while Capcom just released one of the best Japanese-developed RPGs in recent memory, Dragon’s Dogma. tri-Ace is the developer behind the Star Ocean franchise and a majority of their games are met with mixed reviews, such as Infinite Undiscovery, Final Fantasy XIII-2 & Resonance of Fate. Star Ocean is another series with a loyal fanbase but it never really picks up enough steam here in North America to really be a contender for the Final Fantasy slot.
Now this is all just personal opinion and I might have even overlooked some other JRPG developers like Natsume (the Harvest Moon, River King & Rune Factory series) and Namco Tales Studio (since their releases in NA are few and far between), but I’m really just hoping Square Enix gets their ducks in a row and keeps the Final Fantasy series afloat instead of plunging to the ground like the Ruby Weapon. There is a new generation of gamers out there that missed the glory days of Squaresoft and in this day and age, western developers are making a killing in the RPG market with The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Fallout & Borderlands because they know what the players want and understand that we’re not all anime fans that want to control an androgynous protagonist of questionable sex. We want freedom of choice and consequences for our actions, more interactive combat, a story geared toward adults and more say in how our characters develop as not only a wizard or a fighter, but as a human being. I miss the good ol’ days of JRPGs being great, but unfortunately without Square Enix to lead the way with the Final Fantasy series, it’s up to someone else to step forward and say “Hey, assholes! Check this out!” and turn the gaming world’s attention back to Japan. If it’s not Square Enix, then who?