Sunday, October 23, 2016

Plants vs. Zombies Heroes Review (iOS)

Everyone knows Plants vs. Zombies. The original app/game released in 2009 and since then just about every living person has tried their hand in defending their front lawn from incessant zombies. While the game was loads of fun and involved some strategic thinking, it got old after awhile. A second PvZ title involving time travel was launched 4 years later, but contained more of the same gameplay we had grown accustomed to.

With Plants vs. Zombies Heroes we’re given a fresh experience that dives into the Collectible Card Game (CCG) genre. Gone is the tower defense formula that PvZ made itself known for and instead comes a game similar to the likes of Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic: The Gathering, the Pokemon Trading Card Game and of course Hearthstone.

Like those games, the player is encouraged to put together their best 40 card deck in hopes of defeating their opponents in a duel. To start they pick their hero from either the plant side or the zombie side. The matches will always consist of a plant team going up against a zombie team and there are 10 Heroes that can be used on either side. While there’s only a couple of heroes available from the get-go, more can be unlocked as the game is played more.

Once a hero is chosen, the player will then construct their deck based on the cards that are available to them. One thing to note is that each hero has 2 different colors associated with them and they can only use cards that share a color with them in their decks. For example the zombie hero Super Brainz has the attributes of Brainy and Sneaky so he can only use cards that are pink and black in his deck. Making decks with each hero will allow players to use other cards that may not be available to them if they only play as a specific hero like Super Brainz.

As you continue to play, more cards with different abilities can be unlocked by purchasing in-game booster packs with either in-game currency or real money. The more you play, the more currency you’ll earn allowing you to buy more packs and have more cards at your disposal to make better decks. Real money can be dished out to speed up the process, but I haven’t put a single cent into the game yet and have still unlocked a ton of new cards.

That’s a major part of what makes PvZ Heroes so great. Your deck is constantly getting better by subbing out your old cards with the new rarer cards you earn. Opening a pack to find a card that would fit perfectly in your Solar Flare Sunflower deck is rewarding and provides a great incentive to keep playing especially if you want to beat the pants, or should I say plants, off of real players.

Here’s how the gameplay works. Each battle has the same goal, deplete your opponent’s 20 life points before they depletes yours. The layout of each battle shows a top-down view of the playing field with the Zombie hero on one side and the Plant hero on the other side and is played vertically. Just like the original PvZ, there are 5 lanes in which you can place your plants or zombies, 3 of which are normal ground level lanes and then 1 elevated and 1 water lane. Some plants and zombies receive attack bonuses or have abilities that are specific to the elevated lane while others are deemed as aquatic and are the only ones that can be placed in the water lane.

Each round always plays out the same way with the zombie team playing their zombie(creature) cards first, followed by the plant team playing their plants and other cards (power-up/damage/draw cards). After the plants team plays, the zombie team is then given an opportunity to play “trick” cards that can either weaken or destroy plants, power-up and move their zombies to a better spot on the board or even allow them to draw cards. At the end of each round, plants and zombies that are in the same lane will attack each other, so strategy must be used to calculate how plants and zombies will match up given their attack power and life totals. If a lane is vacant on one side while there is a plant or zombie on the other side that creature will do damage to the opposing player’s hero. 

It makes for good fun as you’ll never know exactly what cards are in each deck you’ll face, making planning a strategy all the more enticing. That along with the seemingly endless amount of different cards that can be found in booster packs (not sure if they’ll add more as time goes on) make this a game I’ll be playing for the foreseeable future.

While the single player mode is great for learning the basics and seeing how some cards work together, the online multiplayer is where the game truly shines. Outsmarting a real opponent that put together a deck just like you is so much more rewarding and fun than defeating a computer player. Some of the matches I had with online opponents were teeth-grittingly close and had me at the edge of my seat, especially one where I only had 1 life left on my hero that I won. Another opponent who I outplayed even rage-quitted on me before I could hit his hero with the final blow. Matchmaking was also problem free as I found an opponent pretty quickly each time. At the time of this writing though there seems to be a lot more Plant players than Zombie players, so I stick with my Electric Boogaloo Zombie deck most of the time to ensure I can always find an opponent.

Plants vs. Zombies Heroes is my new favorite addiction and I can’t wait to defeat even more difficult opponents online! I just wonder how much staying power it will have and if  (and how often) new cards will be released making its lasting appeal uncertain for now.

My Rating: 8.5/10

Monday, October 10, 2016

Sum 41 - 13 Voices Review

Since the 9th grade, I've been a Sum 41 fan. When their first album All Killer No Filler was released in 2001, it was hard not to fall in love with songs like "In Too Deep," "Fat Lip" and "Motivation." As a teenager in my first year of high school, this was one of the first albums I owned and a catchy one at that.

Through the 15 years from then to now I've bought every CD put out by the band and listened religiously to each one. I still even occasionally play songs from each album on my car rides. So where does Deryck and the rest of the Sums (including Dave Brownsound!) latest offering land in the spectrum of all that is Sum 41? Does it ride with the greats like Chuck and Does This Look Infected?, or does it fall flat like the atrocity that was Underclass Hero?

The short answer...somewhere in the middle.

Sum 41 original members Steve Jocz, Cone McCaslin, Deryck Whibley and Dave Baksh

Here's a brief history lesson in Sum 41: Originally consisting of these 4 guys, Baksh (aka Brownsound) left the band in 2006 to work with his new band and was replaced with Tom Thacker on guitars. Later Jocz (Stevo 32) left the band in 2013 and was replaced with Frank Zummo on drums in 2015. It was that same year that Baksh later rejoined the band to contribute his heavy ass-kicking guitar solos and riffs to Sum 41 once more.

With Dave Baksh once again as part of the lineup, the sound found in 13 Voices has undergone a significant overhaul when compared with the two albums that came out before it, Underclass Hero and Screaming Bloody Murder.

That being said let's get into the songs that comprise 13 Voices, which I will divide up into chunks:

Intro (First 3 songs on the album)
Consists of: "A Murder of Crows"/"Goddamn I'm Dead Again"/"Fake My Own Death"

Wow...just wow. Easily the best part of the album is the beginning. These 3 tracks made me fall in love with Sum 41 all over again. Starting with "A Murder of Crows," the subtle lead up into the heavy guitar riffs coupled with the powerfully mesmerizing drums and Deryck once again at the helm of his band is simply breathtaking. This leads right into "Goddamn I'm Dead Again," a perfect combination of Deryck's energized lyrics and Dave's quick fingers on the guitar, an absence that was sorely missed. From there we head into "Fake My Own Death," the first single off of 13 Voices, and a great one at that. The song takes everything we have loved about Sum 41 through the years and amplifies it, but more importantly Deryck, Cone and Dave are all jamming out together in full force. Easily my favorite song off the album. It also doesn't hurt that they poke fun at popular internet memes in the video.

A still from the "Fake My Own Death" music video 

Middle (Songs 4-7)
Consists of: "Breaking the Chain"/"There Will Be Blood"/"13 Voices"/"War"

This is where 13 Voices starts to lose some steam. While I like "Breaking the Chain," it sounds a little too much like a Linkin Park song to me, both in formula and execution. Don't get me wrong I like Linkin Park, it's just that Sum 41 never had this LP sort of sound to any of their songs so it threw me off. Not the worst song on the album by any stretch, inspirational even, just not my favorite. "There Will Be Blood" takes the prize of worst song on 13 Voices. I'm not sure what to make of it. It sounds like a mashing together of multiple Pop/Punk bands into one very messy song that doesn't really know its own identity. Even Dave Baksh's guitar playing can't save this one. Next we have "13 Voices," which starts out almost as an intermission song smack-dab in the middle of the album and then quickly turns into an adrenaline fueled guitar and drum pairing followed up by Deryck's vocals. I can't help but feel this one sounds a lot like some of their previously released songs, especially from Screaming Bloody Murder. Kind of a let down when you know they can come up with more original ideas for songs. Last, but not least in this block is "War," another inspirational piece telling of how Deryck overcame Alcoholism and became a stronger, better person with his sobriety and while the message of the song is a good one, it didn't provide me with much of a spark like some of the other songs did.

 While "War" provides some insight into Deryck's struggle with Alcoholism, it's kind of boring
End (Songs 8-10)
Consists of: "God Save Us All (Death to POP)"/"The Fall and the Rise"/"Twisted by Design"

The 8th track comes in the lackluster song of "God Save Us All (Death to POP)," another song that sounds like Sum 41 is trying to copy another band's style, almost as if they worked together with Green Day on this one. Nothing too memorable about it, although I would consider it a good song to get my blood pumping on the treadmill while at the gym. Next we have "The Fall and the Rise," a joint effort by all the guys contributing their vocals along with a catchy guitar riff and drums that compliment it all nicely. Unfortunately this one also reminds me of Linkin Park and a song that appeared on Sum's Underclass Hero album. As a result it doesn't feel original and kind of like we got the short end of the stick on this one. Last we have "Twisted by Design," another one of my favorite songs. Deryck's delivery is spot on and the band plays well together on this final hurrah of 13 Voices, easily one of the better songs off the album.

While 13 Voices only has 10 tracks, the version of it sold at Target has an additional 4 bonus tracks, which I'll talk about below.

Bonus (11-14)
Consists of: "Better Days"/"Black Eyes"/"War (Acoustic)"/"Breaking the Chain (Acoustic)"

"Better Days" offers another fast-paced Sum song and is catchy. Only about 2 minutes in length, but good nonetheless. "Black Eyes" sounds a lot like "Count Your Last Blessings" from Underclass Hero, not bad though. The acoustic versions of "War" and "Breaking the Chain" on the other hand are fantastic. I always felt acoustic versions of songs had more emotion within them and Deryck succeeds in performing two songs that I feel are both better than their originals with this added realness and peaceful guitar strums accompanying them.

So where would I put 13 Voices in the Sum 41 catalog? Here is my list of Sum 41 albums from most to least favorite:

1. Chuck
2. Does this Look Infected
3. All Killer No Filler
4. 13 Voices
5. Screaming Bloody Murder
6. Underclass Hero

There you have it. 13 Voices is simply a good Sum 41 album that fairs better than their last two album releases due to Dave (Brownsound) Baksh's return to the band in all his guitar playing glory. The absence of Stevo on drums is a bummer though as I would have loved to have the original band all back together again.

I give 13 Voices 3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Scary Shows, Games & Movies (Day 1) - Salem (WGN)

October is finally upon us, meaning pumpkin spice flavored everything and cuddling up to a scary movie (or TV show) on our couches. There's also plenty of video games to play to get us in the spirit of Halloween. To get into the spookiness of the month, I decided to do a post every couple of days in October discussing the games I'm currently playing and the TV shows and movies that are filling up my Netflix queue this month, in celebration of the paranormal and nightmare inducing scenarios we've come to love over the years.

Today I finished up season 2 of the WGN series Salem. The show is entirely fictional and loosely based on the events of the Salem witch trials of the 17th century. It follows the story of Mary Walton, a young woman who is deeply in love with a man by the name of John Alden. Before they could leave Salem together and escape the grasp of the strict Puritan rule, John is sent to fight in the war against the Indians, separating the two from each other. Alone and pregnant with John's child, Mary ends up offering her unborn son to the Devil to avoid persecution and ridicule from the townspeople for having relations without being married. As a result her soul now belongs to the Devil and she is destined to become a witch.

She marries the head of the town George Sibley and becomes Mrs. Sibley, the most powerful woman in Salem. She then hexes her husband by putting her frog familiar down his throat, making him incapable of speech. In his silence she rules in his stead and influences the witch trials in the witches favor. Along the way she also has to deal with the other witches that live in Salem, including the ones that are trying to overthrow her as leader of the witches.

The show is all good fun and offers a unique take on the events that took place in Salem during that time. There's plenty of bloody and grotesque situations that arise as witches mercilessly use the Puritans to do their bidding, including killing one another. Salem is marvelously macabre and definitely not for those with weak stomachs or who get squeamish easily. Not to mention some of the great backstabbing situations that occur among the witches, including some magical duels that would put Harry Potter to shame.

If you like brutal violence and sex scenes then Salem may be the show for you. I would put it in the same category as Game of Thrones. Also if you're a fan of witches and exorcism type horror.

The first two seasons of Salem are available to stream on Netflix and contain 13 episodes each. Season 3 will premiere on Wednesday, November 2nd on WGN.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Link Between Worlds rekindles my love of portable Legend of Zelda titles

As I approach my 30th year on this planet, the time I set aside for gaming has rapidly declined. Long gone are the days where I would spend hours fully completing games and uncovering every possible secret within the highly imaginative game worlds I grew to love over the years. Growing up, the Legend of Zelda titles were among some of my favorite, particularly the portable ones. The first and only system that I could call my own at the time was a kiwi Game Boy Color. I knew what the Zelda game series was, but I had never completed any of the games, mostly because I didn’t own any of them, but that all changed when I got Oracle of Seasons one fateful summer. 

Seasons took Link and I to the land of Holodrum, which we explored every day that summer. We met a dancer in a red outfit by the name of Din and were told by the Maku Tree to find the 8 Essences of Nature. Link and I had many different experiences as we journeyed further into Holodrum, including riding in the pouch of a Kangaroo, finding new rings to equip that strengthened us and gave us new abilities, and even changing our environments at will with the Rod of Seasons. I loved this ability as it changed the landscapes significantly and opened new paths on the World Map. 

Shortly after completing Seasons, I linked my save file with my brother’s copy of Oracle of Ages (password system and all) and completed the game fully. It was then that I moved onto playing Link’s Awakening DX (also my brother’s game), and completing it, loving every minute of the game.

As I was finishing up High School and heading into college I didn’t have a Game Boy Advance so I didn’t experience another portable Zelda game for awhile. Fast forward to a few years ago and I received A Link Between Worlds as a Christmas gift for my brother. It wasn’t until recently that I had begun playing it again seriously. Am I glad I did!

A Link Between Worlds reminds me of why I loved Legend of Zelda games on the go. The top-down view of Link as he explores is classic Zelda action at its best and as I go further through the game each dungeon I encounter is more intuitive than the last. The wall merging gameplay as a hieroglyphic version of Link is great and opens up so many new possibilities for puzzle-solving, some that I have to do a little more thinking than usual to complete. The graphics of A Link Between Worlds are also superb and some of the best I’ve ever seen on a portable Zelda title (not including the remakes of Ocarina and Majora!). The music and sound effects also do a great job of engrossing me into the game and into the lands of Hyrule and Lorule. As I continue to play A Link Between Worlds, I can honestly say that I haven’t been this excited to get through a game in a looong time. I can’t wait to get to the end and see all of what the game has to offer. 

I only talk about a few of the portable Legend of Zelda titles in this post, but what is YOUR favorite portable Zelda game?? The main ones in the series I missed out on were The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. Which one should I play next and why? 

Or do you like the Console Zelda titles better? If so which one of those is your favorite?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Mighty No. 9 Boss Strategies

Credit: Availation via Deviant Art

Mighty No. 9 is one of those games that a lot of people don't have the patience for. I dunno about you fellow gamer, but back when I was a kid in the 90s, we rarely complained about the games with glitches in them. As kids we were just happy to have a video game to play in the first place, so we sucked it up. There were obstacles that were placed between us and the completion of our game and we did whatever we could to get past them. The most noticeable of these during the NES era were hiccups in movement and other periods of slowdown when a game had too much going on, such as too many bullets or enemies on-screen. Unfortunately for the backers of Mighty No. 9 and anyone else willing to try the game out, these same problems exist in an era where every gamer expects every aspect of a game to be perfect and Mighty No. 9 is about as far from perfect as you can get. So to help with your enjoyment of the game I have comprised a list of tips on how you can better enjoy it, as well as boss strategies and an order in which to play them to minimize your death count and frustration with the game. Let's begin! Here are some things you can change in the options menu to already make Mighty No. 9 exponentially better. 

  1. Go to General Options, Audio and turn Retro BGM On.
    This instantly changes the in-game music from forgettable to an awesome 8-bit kickin tune!

  2. Go to General Options, Audio and change Voices to either Japanese or French.
    The English voice acting in this game is bad. Japanese provides a more authentic anime feel, while French provides for some audio that will make you laugh as you play.

  3. Go to General Options, Video and turn Bloom Off.
    Not sure how much this affects the slowdown, but it's advised especially for the Wii U version.
  4. Don't set your expectations too high!
    This is not the newest Mega Man with badass graphics and insanely tight gameplay. It is a decent Mega Man clone that I had some fun with.
Now onto the Boss order to maximize enjoyment! The first one to play is:

Mighty No. 7's stage, the Highway. It's a great intro level and provides some fun platforming to ease you into the game. Jumping from car to car is the perfect opportunity to learn how to use the dash jump effectively and to feel confident about the controls. Although some deaths might be had by mis-jumping and landing on the road, the stage is pretty easy to get through. Brandish is also one of the easiest boss fights in the game and can be taken out just fine with the standard blaster. 

The 2nd stage that should be played is Mighty No. 3's stage, the Power Plant.

Dynatron is one of the easier robot masters to face early on in the game. Her stage is one of the most straight-forward to take on despite the lights going off every few seconds in some parts. There's only one part of the stage that can be deemed annoying, which requires you to crouch dash (Dash while holding down) underneath two purple spinning wheels of death that will kill you instantly if you touch them. To get past this minor annoyance, inch up close enough to each wheel and you should be able to make the dash with no problem. The fight against Dyantron is pretty easy, especially if you have Mighty No. 7's power of Sword Slash, which makes her projectiles completely ineffective against you.

Next is Mighty No. 8's stage, the Capitol Building.

Mighty No. 8 has one of the worst stages of the bunch. Not overly difficult, just a pain to get through. This stage loops around from start to finish and you must “hunt” Countershade down by going in the direction of where his bullets are being shot from. Some annoying purple insta-death wires will be scattered throughout the stage, but besides that nothing else too pesky. After finding Countershade and shooting him 5 times he will transport the both of you to his boss room where you will fight. He can be taken down with little to no hassle as you avoid his shots, which he easily telegraphs (he will show you where they're going before he even fires!). Get behind him and blast away with the standard blaster. Halfway through the battle he'll create a clone of himself which is easy to distinguish from his real self. Easy boss, painful stage.

Fourth should be Mighty No. 5's stage, the Military Base. Battalion's stage is somewhere in the middle on the difficulty scale. There's nothing too crazy except for some crates that drop on conveyor belts and get in the way and some fire floor traps that will hurt you if you stand on them for too long. This stage can be made a lot easier with Mighty No. 2's ice power which lets you freeze enemies, including turrets that like to continuously fire upon you. The ice power-up can also be used to temporarily disable the fire traps. After reaching Battalion his fight isn't too difficult. Use your dash and effectively dodge him as you see which direction he's moving in. He does have a one hit kill bullet that he will shoot at you halfway through the fight, but it's easy to avoid. Using the ice power-up makes him laughably easy to defeat, but even without it Bat goes down easy.

Halfway through the Mighty Robot Masters and you've obtained the Battalion Blast power-up. This will make the remainder of the game a lot easier, as it's one of the most useful power-ups and can clear obstacles and defeat enemies quickly. Next is:

Mighty No. 4, Seismic 

The Mine is a difficult stage to navigate and it's even tougher without Mighty No. 5's Battalion Blast, I might even say impossible. By using the Battalion Blast Beck can destroy blocks of rubble that you normally couldn't clear with any other weapon. This makes the abundant purple death spike pits in this stage a little more tolerable by letting you avoid them easier. There's also a couple areas where a giant one hit kill drill (say that five times fast!) will be chasing you, making for some frantic escapes. This is one of the more difficult stages in the game, so be ready for multiple attempts as there's a lot of trial and error to successfully reach Seismic. With the Battalion Blast power-up this boss is a joke!

The sixth stage is none other than Mighty No. 1's Oil Platform.

The stage itself isn't too bad, but has oil slicked floors that can be set on fire, as well as falling towers that can one hit kill you. The worst part of the stage however is the boss fight against Pyrogen. The battle is extremely difficult if you can't read his tells. He also does an insane amount of damage if he hits you with one of his exploding attacks. The fire walls on either side of you as you battle also don't help. I suggest using the basic blaster against him and listening very closely to what he says if you want to know what type of attack he's doing. If you have the ice power-up from Mighty No. 2, his stage and the boss fight will be made a bit easier.

Second to last is Mighty No. 2's stage, the Water Works Bureau.

Cryosphere's stage isn't too difficult to get through, especially with Pyrosphere's fiery explosion power-up. There are some slippery floors and an underwater section which take some getting used to, but nothing that you can't handle now! Once you reach Cryo, her fight can be difficult if you don't know how to approach the small and pesky girl robot. She can freeze you with her freeze gun and if she's successful she will turn into a giant spiky ice ball (see above) and land on you doing massive damage. Breaking out of your ice prison after getting frozen isn't exactly easy either and will take some skilled button mashing to do so. With Pyrogen's power this fight is a lot more tolerable as you can knock her off her ice block tower very easily and damage her quickly. Even with the fiery explosion power-up, Cyrosphere can take you out quickly and effectively if you're not careful enough.

Lastly is Mighty No. 6's Radio Tower stage.

Aviator has the most difficult stage out of the 8 Mighty Nos. Being on a Radio Tower, this stage takes place in the air with wind current and all. Depending which way Beck is facing, he will either be restricted by the wind (making dashes imperative to land on platforms) or pushed easily in the right direction. This creates plenty of situations where falling off and instantly dying are a distinct possibility. The best part of this stage is the cool and well-thought out mid-level boss that has 3 different parts of the fight. After (hopefully) reaching the end of the stage you'll be met with Avi, a helicopter reporter robot. During the fight, him and his news camera will be present as well as more of those air currents you've now grown accustomed to dying so much from. Mighty No. 8's weapon makes the fight all the more easier as you can shoot your Sniper Shot into his news camera which will then reflect directly into Avi. Even so, a simple jumping error can have you plummeting to your death. Avi's rapid fire style of attack can also be an annoyance. Watching where he flies and the direction of his shots is the key to beating this pain in the butt. This stage easily wins the most attempts award.

So there you have it, my complete and comprehensive strategy guide on what order to tackle the bosses in Mighty No. 9. I hope you find it extremely useful and that it boosts your enjoyment of the game significantly. There are also a few other stages that come after you have beaten the 8 bosses, which I won't spoil for you. Happy runnin' and gunnin'!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Mighty No. 9 Review (Wii U)

By now, if you have had any interest in the Mega Man spiritual successor Mighty No. 9, chances are that you’ve read the reviews from both critics and gamers. Upon launch MN9 was met with a slew of negative criticism and people crying fowl at the creators for not delivering the game that so many fans were expecting and waiting almost 3 years for. The game was funded through Kickstarter by 67,000+ backers and with over $4,000,000 donated. I could sit here and discuss all the negative aspects of a video game being funded on Kickstarter, but I won’t and I’ll simply say: If something is put on too high of pedestal, then how is it supposed to succeed when every part of it can be considered a shortcoming? 

That being said, I enjoyed my time with Mighty No. 9 on the Wii U. Is it a perfect game? No way. Does it take some getting used to and a few hours to fully appreciate. Yes.

As someone who did not back MN9, I didn’t know what to expect besides a Mega Man-like game. Having both owned the Mega Man Anniversary and Mega Man X Collection on Gamecube, I’ve been exposed to a good amount of Mega Man and have even beaten a few of these classic gems. I read little of what Mighty No. 9 was offering and barely followed the Kickstarter as the project developed into the game we now have in front of us.

MN9 is a cross between the classic Mega Man titles on the Nintendo and the Mega Man X series on the Super Nintendo. Movement is simple enough and involves a dashing mechanic that the X series was known for. As always, enemy robots can be shot until they’re destroyed, but a new mechanic involving absorbing enemies after they’re weakened, takes center stage this time around. When damaged enough, these enemies will glow either red, green, yellow or blue and offer temporary boosts to Mighty’s abilities after he dashes through them. Red will boost the power of his blaster and make shots travel through enemies, green will award a speed boost, yellow will decrease damage taken, while blue will slowly fill an energy tank-like item that can be used for filling the life bar at will.

After knowing this, there isn’t much to it. Navigate each stage successfully, reach the Mighty Robot Boss at the end, defeat him and move onto the next stage. The developers were going for a classic Mega Man feeling, which they both succeeded and failed in creating simultaneously.

Let me explain. The core aspects of what made Mega Man...Mega Man are here, with too much of an emphasis on some of the less desirable aspects of it. The biggest offender of this being objects that will instantly kill Mighty if he touches them. They come in the form of glowing, purple wires sometimes seemingly placed randomly throughout stages. There’s also falling towers in one level that will do the same, in addition to 2 Mighty Robot Bosses having an attack that will instantly end the fight if it hits you. As frustrating as it is to touch one of these objects and have to start over from the last checkpoint, they can be avoided easily with some practice. With the exception of these one-hit death traps, the level design for most levels is quite good. 

Too many of these purple spikes make for some frustrating times 

What I enjoyed the most out of MN9 was the platforming and run & gun gameplay. There was also enough variety from level to level where I never felt like I was doing the same monotonous tasks over and over again. The bosses of each level also require different strategies to overcome and some pattern memorization to boot. The powers you receive from them are also inventive and add some great new ideas to already existing Mega Man powers.

As much as I want to love Mighty No. 9, I simply cannot as it has too many faults.

Even though Comcept and Keiji Inafune surpassed every funding goal on their Kickstarter page for MN9, the game is unpolished and seems rushed. The graphical style is bland and looks as though it belongs in a PlayStation 2 game. The in-game explosions look horrendous (pepperoni pizzas!!) and the effects are all sup-par, while some of the bosses look extremely ugly close up.

 Did somebody

The music is forgettable at best, although there is an optional 8-bit soundtrack that can be turned on which makes it a lot better to sit though. The English voice acting is a disaster and in every way corny, with poorly thought out scripted dialogue. Luckily it can be turned off and instead replaced with Japanese voices (definitely a lot more authentic for this type of game) or even French if you’re in the mood for some more comical-sounding dialogue.

Another shortcoming is some basic in-game controls not being fully explained when you’re in situations where you need to use them. I think this was just an oversight and left out because they ran out of time to finish the game. Bosses can also be made laughably easy if you’ve acquired their weakness from another Mighty Robot boss. In past Mega Man games, even while using the weakness against them they still gave you a challenge.

 The boss fights make for some of the best moments in MN9

The Wii U version of the game also has significantly more slow-down in certain parts of levels especially when using the Battalion Blast power to blow up blocks in areas with multiple enemies around. The game will hiccup and result in some accidental death more than once.

There’s also a stage where you get to play as Call, Mighty’s sister, that has her floating around with a jetpack and ducking under enemy fire. It seems like they threw this into the game at the last minute for no possible good reason. Which brings me to my next point. A lot of the ideas they had for Mighty No. 9 seemed great in theory, but when it came to execution they just didn’t transfer well. The team at Comcept might have been a little too ambitious with the limited time they had. There's even an Online Race Mode and Co-op challenge mode, both of which I couldn't find a partner to connect with.

For $20, you could do far worse than Mighty No. 9. The game took me around 9 hours to complete, although I didn’t complete all the Challenge Mode levels (easily forgettable). What you’re given is an unpolished Mega Man/Mega Man X hybrid that could have benefited greatly from another year or so in the game development oven.

In the end I’m glad I played through Mighty No. 9. It gave me the Mega Man fix I haven’t had since Mega Man 10 came out in 2010. For anyone who likes the Mega Man games and isn’t expecting a mind-blowing brand new Mega Man experience then I can’t recommend Mighty No. 9 enough. For all others, I suggest waiting for a price drop (the $10-$15 mark is perfect!) before following Mighty into some dangerous ground filled with pizza explosions. Also avoid the Wii U version as it’s the worst one.

My Score 6.8/10

Monday, May 2, 2016

Miitomo: A Month Later

If you have been following my posts regularly then you know I have been religiously playing Nintendo's first mobile app Miitomo every day since its launch on March 31. I reviewed the app after a week of using it and posted my positive impressions and thoughts that it was a great social app, but not really a full fledged game. I gave Miitomo a 3.75/5 in my review, but was concerned with its staying power among apps that people use on a daily basis. It's been about a month since I started experiencing Miitomo, but has the fun I've had with the app remained after my increased exposure to it?

The short answer? Not really.
 The amount of friends you have left that are still playing Miitomo

Answering random questions each day can become very tedious even though the subject of these questions is usually different. Seeing friend's answers can be interesting, but only if they continue to use the app and answer the questions asked of them. I've already noticed a sharp decline in some of my friends participation in Miitomo based on the lack of new answers for me to read and comment on. What started as a wildly popular app that myself and others were curious about, has now become something that only the most die-hard Miitomo fans can care enough to open every day and devote time to.

It also doesn't help that the amount of reward given to players is far less than the amount of effort they'll have to put in to get these rewards. Coins that are available to purchase new clothing items from the shop are very limited unless you want to spend real life cash to get more. The interesting clothing items don't come cheap either. Some single pieces will cost close to 2,000 coins, while special costumes or full outfits will cost around 4,000 - 7,000 coins! That's an absurd amount, considering how few coins are awarded to the player. It may take weeks or maybe even months to accumulate such a fortune, by which point you probably won't be playing Miitomo anymore anyway.

 I'll have enough to get that Cowboy outfit when Autumn starts!

Today was the first day I can honestly say that I didn't care about clicking the Miitomo icon on my phone's home screen. The daily bonuses that kept me coming back for more just aren't as enticing as they used to be and my friends' presence in the app is all but nonexistent. I'm sorry Nintendo, but I don't think the popularity of Miitomo will last very long, even if you have reached 10 million users worldwide.

Nothing I can say or do will keep my friends playing Miitomo in the long run
That's not to say that Nintendo hasn't tried to keep us playing. They even recently began a Splatoon x Miitomo crossover that introduced new Splatoon themed shirts, shorts and other gear from the Wii U game that fans would love to get their hands on. In addition to that they also have new Miitomo Drop machines every few days with new clothing pieces.

When it all comes down to it, this gamer feels that Miitomo is on its way out, although it was a good first attempt at a mobile app for the Big N. Let's hope the Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem mobile games will turn out better!!

New Review Score for Miitomo: 2.5/5

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Witness Review

Jonathan Blow's "The Witness" was the first game on Steam I downloaded after getting a new PC/gaming rig. I was so taken by Blow's last game "Braid," that I didn't wait for any Steam sales, or humble bundles to pick up his most recent creation. When I first experienced Braid on my Xbox 360, I was treated to a beautifully drawn 2D world with an appropriately matching orchestral score that was pleasant on the ears. As I journeyed through the game I learned more and more about the story of the character I was controlling through passages that were left in between levels and it wasn't until the very end of the game that I truly knew what was going on. I was left with one of the most clever twists in any game that I had played and as a result Braid has stuck with me since as a gaming experience like no other.

The same can be said for Blow's latest offering "The Witness." Taking place on an uninhabited island, the game thrusts you into a land that is begging to be discovered. The main concept of The Witness revolves around drawing lines to solve puzzles as you explore the unknown terrain. Right from the get-go the environment of the island is something to marvel over and the peace and tranquility portrayed within it is like no other game I've played. (All you hear are your character's footsteps as he walks and the sound of the wind and water running through streams). The puzzles start off easy enough as you're introduced to the basic concepts of how to solve them. After leaving the first tutorial-like area you are given the freedom to explore and visit whichever part of the island you wish. Wandering never felt so good! The beauty of having this freedom, allows you to move on when met with an overly tough puzzle or one that you just don't understand how to solve at that particular moment.

Oftentimes I found myself not even caring about the puzzles that were waiting to be solved around me, but instead the colorful and majestic pieces of scenery that were presented to me with each footstep I took. Each new area offered a different feeling of awe from the last, as well as new puzzle types. After admiring my surroundings for longer than I'd like to admit, I dove face first into the new puzzle presented to me. Despite not having any in-game guides or support characters to assist along the way, The Witness does a pretty good job of teaching the player the new rules that are introduced within new areas, but not always. Drawing a line from point A to point B will no longer suffice when new ideas come into the mix and you'll have to use your noggin to its full potential. Without spoiling too much, some puzzles require separating different colored squares when solving them, as well as drawing specific shapes in your solution.

That being said, The Witness is in no way an easy game to complete. Some of the puzzles I encountered, especially later in the game, were mind numbingly difficult and frustrating to boot. Some felt unsolvable and made me feel extremely dumb as I haplessly tried drawing line after line with no success. Even when I was successful, I found myself running out of steam as I got to the end of an area and had to resort to looking up one final solution as my brain could no longer function. I did have a lot of Aha! moments when I finally figured out how to solve certain puzzles, but at the cost of feeling like my head had a Vacancy sign posted outside it.  Nevertheless I felt extremely accomplished when I did solve them on my own.

When first introduced to the orange explosion shapes I was dumbfounded

The Witness is a type of game that is mentally draining and will put your problem solving skills in overdrive. Taking breaks in between playing for an hour or two were necessary for me to get my wits back in order and progress further through the game. When returning a day later, I found that some solutions came to me a lot easier after I had some time to rest my mind. Sometimes all I needed was a different perspective, especially when it came to the environmentally-based puzzles, which there were plenty of.

The main draw for me to The Witness was the sense of wonderment it offered and the mystery of why this island exists and who was here before you. I had a continuous inclination to go further and solve puzzle after puzzle to find new areas and uncover more information. There are various structures that are on the island including a series of tree-houses, a pyramid and a quarry to name a few. Statues of humans also exist as well as audio recordings that can be found and offer quotes from historically famous individuals that may offer some insight to what the island holds.

I don't remember the last time I thought so hard to solve puzzles in a video game and The Witness made sure that my brain was put to the test. The journey I took as I explored some of the most aesthetically pleasing environments is one that I will never forget, not just in a video game, but any form of entertainment.

The Witness cannot be completed in one sitting (at least not the first time playing) and took me a whopping 25 hours to complete from start to finish. That's not including every puzzle that was available as some weren't mandatory to complete to get to the end. As confusing and frustrating as the puzzles found in The Witness were I enjoyed my time with the game and was glad I got to the end of it.

Blow and his team's latest release continues to encompass the same high quality standards that were set with Braid almost 8 years ago. That being said its not for everyone, especially those who don't like puzzles or lack the extreme amount of patience required to do the ones found in The Witness. For those who love beautiful looking games and a sense of mystery/exploration, The Witness will be right up your alley and is highly recommended by this game reviewer.

I give The Witness 4/5 Stars   

The Witness was developed by Jonathan Blow and his team at Thekla, Inc. It was released on January 28, 2016 on both Windows and the PlayStation 4. It is available to download for $39.99 USD.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Miitomo Review

Nintendo is a company that is known for its stellar games, memorable characters and intuitive new experiences that they offer to fans, both old and new. Those who have stuck with the company through the years have come to expect a sense of nostalgia with each release, as well as new and exciting ways to experience some of their favorite game series. Titles such as Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Pokemon are still relevant to this day thanks to Nintendo's constant dedication to immersive story-telling and fun and addicting gameplay mechanics.

2016 marks the year that Nintendo has journeyed into a territory they have never ventured into before: Mobile Games. Last year they partnered with mobile gaming giant DeNA, a company based in Japan and responsible for the Mobage platform, Japan's most popular cell phone gaming platform. Together Nintendo and DeNA hope to create and offer new and creative experiences for mobile devices (iOS and Android). Their first project together called "Miitomo," released worldwide a week ago. Me being the avid Nintendo fan that I am, I had to see what this new app was all about.

The name of Nintendo and DeNA's first mobile app is simple enough to pronounce and remember. I like to think of it as a combination of Nintendo's beloved Mii characters, which Wii owners were required to create in their likeness to play Wii Sports, and Tomo which was the prefix of Nintendo's popular offering on the 3DS, "Tomodachi Life."

Miitomo is a free download and is not so much a game, but rather an app which allows users to create a character in their likeness and interact with their friends who they are connected with via Twitter or Facebook and also have the app. This is done by answering questions about themselves and what's been going on in their life recently, as well as their opinions on various subjects. Their friends can then see the answers they gave and give them a like or even comment on those answers. In most cases these friends will then be asked the very same questions and their answers will be shared with the original person who answered.

The more you interact with your friends by hearing their answers and commenting the higher your popularity will go up, which will award various new clothing pieces that you can put on your Mii. In addition, there is a shop where more clothing items and props can be bought to give your Mii an outfit that you see fitting for them.

This creates many different possibilities for customization, as long as you have the coins for the items you want. Nintendo generously gives 2,500 coins to each new player of Miitomo to start. After that coins can be earned by interacting with friends and just by playing the game regularly as part of receiving daily rewards. Some of the more desired clothing pieces and accessories will cost a bundle, which means saving up is a must. Coins can also be purchased with real money, but most players won't have to resort to that as long as they're patient enough.

There's also a Miitomo Drop game that can be played using game tickets (also given to you by Nintendo when you start) or by paying 500 coins per try. In this mini-game you drop Mii characters and try to land them on spaces with new clothing items and accessories. It's a nice diversion from answering questions and commenting, which is what you'll be doing most of the time you're using the app.

Users are also given the ability to create Miifotos of their Miis. These custom photos allow the user to pick out one of the already available backgrounds (or use a picture that's on their device) and put together a scene using text and various expressions and poses. The possibilities are truly endless as you can see from the photo I have below. You can even share these Miifotos to your device or share them to Instagram or Facebook without exiting the app!

Overall, my first week spent with Miitomo was both entertaining and insightful. I learned a handful of facts and opinions that my friends had. I also took some silly Miifotos and acquired clothing pieces that made my Mii look both fashionable and completely and utterly ridiculous. So far I have played the game every day and have had fun with it. I always look forward to hearing more of my friends answers as well as seeing what new clothing items are available in the shop (there's always new items daily!) and seeing what new accessories and costumes pop up in the Miitomo Drop game (changes weekly).

Miitomo is more of a social app than anything and in that regard it succeeds in every way. If you're expecting a full fledged game with a lot to do then Miitomo isn't it. What little there is to do is fun, but may seem lackluster to some. It's staying power is also yet to be determined and will be gauged the further we get from its initial launch. 

As of this writing, I give Miitomo a 3.75/5 and can't wait to see what more it has to offer in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Intensity of The Binding of Isaac's Boss Rush

Unless you've been under a rock the past few months, or you just don't check out any of my updates (shame on you!) you should know about my obsession with The Binding of Isaac. Recently I got a powerful PC (Thanks Ryan!) and have been introduced to the wonderful world of PC gaming aka Steam! Up until this point I have been solely playing TBoI on my Wii U. I was only able to experience Rebirth and, as a result, was missing out on the new DLC Afterbirth that was PC only.

Let's just say I couldn't resist and downloaded both Rebirth and Afterbirth the first day I had my PC. It was also around this time that I discovered the hidden Boss Rush room that can be entered by reaching and defeating Mom's first form in under 20 minutes!

 Notice the clock icon? That means you still have time to get to the Boss Rush

This means you must clear the first 6 floors of the game (including bosses) pretty quickly. I've been playing Rebirth for months and I just discovered this was a thing. I always noticed the clock icon, but I had no idea what its purpose was. I got extremely lucky with the items I found during this particular run and managed to breeze through most of the floors with little to no hindrance. I was amazed to find a giant opening in the wall after defeating Mom, so I did what any Isaac fanatic would do and ran straight through the opening into a giant room. 

There were 4 special items all next to each other in a neat little square. Without much thinking I grabbed one and that's when all Hell broke loose!! Two bosses appeared out of thin air and started to mercilessly attack Lazarus(the character I was playing as). I though to myself, Oh shit what have I done? It was then that the gamer in me went into autopilot mode and started taking out each boss one by one. After I defeated both bosses, 2 more would appear, and then 2 after them, and then 2 more after them. The adrenaline took over.

Before I knew it I had defeated 30 bosses in a row...

What the blood and entrails of every Binding of Isaac boss looks like after being defeated

Damn did I feel like a badass! It's the secrets like this that keep myself and other gamers coming back for more when it comes to The Binding of Isaac. I felt so accomplished after clearing the Boss Rush room. They even awarded me a star after doing it. Now only if I completed the rest of the run after that...

A Gold(Black) Star for Me!

Other Isaac players, have you defeated the insanely challenging Boss Rush room? Did you even know it existed or were you a naive n00b like me? I want to hear about your experiences with Boss Rush so sound off in the comments section below!