Review: 428: Shibuya Scramble (PS4)

429_SS coverThis is probably one of the easiest reviews I’ve ever written and that’s thanks to Spike Chunsoft’s 428: Shibuya Scramble ($49.99, buy it!) being one of the best, most consistently enjoyable adventure game experiences I’ve had this year. Initially released in 2008 to acclaim in Japan, this visual/sound novel/mystery game hybrid manages to still be 100% relevant because the developer nailed everything right the first time and the snappy new English localization (courtesy of the fine folks at Absolution Games) does an excellent job at making everything click exactly where it needs to.

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Trust no one… well except for guys who aren’t anything but pesky sorts just trying to eke out a living. He’s okay (this is very early in the game, so nope, not a spoiler!)

On the other hand, it’s also one of the hardest reviews I’ve written because I don’t want to ruin a single thing about the game other than to say it’s gong to be best if you go in as cold as possible (avoid spoiler-laced video walkthroughs, please!) and enjoy the perfect blend of plot and puzzle elements this one brings to the table. trust me, your curiosity will be very well rewarded, especially if you love a good mystery laced with off-kilter humor, tense drama and some deep, dark secrets.

 

 

It’s pretty spectacular when a game zips from drama to comedy to fear-inducing without missing a beat while keeping your interest in its varied cast of characters and sub-characters. It’s even more special when it’s a game that uses live actors and mostly still images with limited animation and doesn’t come off as cheesy or half-baked. This is clearly due to Spike Chunsoft’s decades of expertise with visual and sound novels and even though it’s a ten-year old game, it feels like a blast of fresh cold air on a hot summer day. Five main characters’ (and a number of minor ones) lives cross paths during a fateful day in and around the busy Shibuya section of Tokyo and it’s up to you to choose how everything plays out. Pressure much? Good. That’s how this is supposed to work and wow, does it work.

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Onimisha: Warlords to Return in 2019

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He’s baaaaaack (finally!)

When I was working in an indie game shop many moons ago, I can recall Onimusha: Warlords being a constant seller for the PS2 and later, Xbox. The game eventually game spawned three sequels on Sony’s console and a few interesting spinoffs (a fighting game and a strategy/RPG). It took 17 years, but the first game is finally getting a nicely priced ($19.99) HD upgrade for consoles and PC with a January release date. Even better, North American gamers get a physical as well as digital release on consoles. Excellent.

Some details and more screens below the jump. check out the trailer (ah, memories!)

(Thanks, Capcom USA!)

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428: Shibuya Scramble Hands-On: Flawless Detection, On the Case

428 SS_smallA little game history goes a long way, folks. Chunsoft pioneered the visual novel game way back in 1983 with Yuji Hori’s The Portopia Serial Murder Incident and over the decades since, the company, now known as Spike Chunsoft has released a number of quality visual and sound novel titles primarily for Japanese audiences. Visual novel fans here in the west probably know them best for some solid titles that have managed to make the trip overseas such as the Danganronpa, and Zero Escape games on consoles and handhelds, along with the upcoming Steins;Gate, AI, YU-NO, and Zanki Zero games set to arrive soon on a few platforms. Yes, they’ve also done a bunch of other (and better known) non-adventure game classics. But as you’ve gone and clicked that link above, you can do that extra bit of homework yourself. Me, I’m here to chat up this spectacular new but old number you’ll absolutely want to check out.

 

(Thanks, Spike Chunsoft!)

 

Another game on the way is the stellar formerly Japan-only visual novel from 2008, 428: Shibuya Scramble, finally headed stateside for PS4 and PC on September 4. There’s a great demo out now on PSN that pulled me in right from its 70’s-sounding opening theme and had me playing through to both endings with a huge smile on my face. While it’s only a taste of what’s to come, the blend of text adventure, still photos and brief full-motion video clips makes this a quite impressive achievement even ten years after its release. It’s more or less a “choose your own adventure” game, but one where a failure state doesn’t necessarily end the game at all, but unlocks new story elements.

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Review: Mary Skelter: Nightmares (PC)

Mary Skelter Nightmares PC

GhostLight’s wonderful port of Mary Skelter: Nightmares brings the game to PC in a flawless translation of the Vita version and yes, it’s absolutely worth a buy.  Seeing and playing it on a larger screen reveals sharper enemy and background art, but you won’t be fiddling with anything other than resolution and window size settings if you really need to. In fact, the rather low system requirements makes this one of the more accessible modern dungeon crawlers out there. Even if you’re not into the anime art style and overall offbeat tone here, the game excels on the gameplay front in capturing the spirit of the classic Wizardry games.

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Nope, this isn’t your Granny’s version of Snow White or any of the other gals from those old fairy tales. These girls can take care of themselves pretty well.

That’s not to say at all that the game is an entry level experience. There’s a decent enough difficulty curve and a combination of expansive maps, deadly traps and powerful bosses that will keep you on your toes. The main story involves a living tower-like dungeon called Jail looming over a city in Tokyo it has buried underground and the attempts of a squad of lovely anime ladies and one guy tasked with climbing that tower with intent on defeating the Marchen (monsters) and Nightmares (bosses) that inhabit it. The team’s main purpose is to enter the Jail’s oddball dungeons and defeat the Nightmares, which will grow the tower and allow it to reach the planet’s surface, allowing the citizens of the underground Liberated Zone their true freedom. There’s a bit more (well, a good deal more) to the story, but letting it unfold while playing is the best means of experiencing it.

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The Missing to be Found on Consoles and PC Later This Year

(thanks, Arc System Works America!)

The-Missing_BoxHmmm, perhaps I should pay more attention to more stuff online, right? Hey, it’s kind of hard to do these days when you burn so much energy trying to avoid all the negativity out there, grrrr. Anyway, I actually missed out on that video above that noted Hidetaka (SWERY) Suerhiro and developer White Owls, Inc. were working on a brand new game for Arc System Works America set to be published later this year.

Well, that game is called The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories and it’s set to drop digitally onto PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch before the year is out. Excellent. I have no clue as to what sort of game it will be other than it’s an action/adventure… well, that and you get all of three screenshots below:

Yep, I’ll be picking this up as well. SWERY’s work is always intriguing and it’ll be a nice enough appetizer while we wait for more news about The Good Life as that game tiptoes along its development cycle.

-GW

Torchlight Frontiers: An Eyebrow is Raised – Hopefully, a Banner Will Follow

This one came as a surprise because I thought the Torchlight games were dead and gone. But it seems Perfect World Entertainment, Arc, developer Ectra Inc. (which includes some of the team behind a few classic ARPGs including the Torchlight and Diablo games) are going to be dropping an all-new online centered experience in 2019. Here’s the promo trailer for Torchlight Frontiers (which isn’t gameplay, sadly):

(Thanks, Play Torchlight!)

Here’s the official word so far:

Introducing the next iteration of the award-winning Torchlight series: Torchlight Frontiers!

Set in the same beloved universe as Torchlight I and II, this shared-world action-RPG brings back many of the franchise’s signature features and mechanics that captured the hearts of ARPG fans around the world. Led by former Runic Games and Blizzard North co-founder, Max Schaefer, the team developing Torchlight Frontiers is comprised of veteran developers who were responsible for the games that defined the ARPG genre, including the original Diablo and Torchlight franchises.

Torchlight Frontiers combines the heart of the beloved Torchlight series with a shared, persistent and dynamically generated world. In true Torchlight style, players will team up with friends and devoted pets to hack and slash their way through a vibrant world, discover ancient ruins of lost civilizations and brave dungeons filled with riches and dangerous creatures. Additional details about Torchlight Frontiers will be revealed at a later date.

The good news is the pedigree along with Perfect World’s generally solid track record in the MMO scene. The shared, persistent world business means this will likely be an online only game with solo play as an option similar to what’s found in Neverwinter (a game I’m currently playing and enjoying). I’ll gather this will also be free to play with paid content, but we’ll see where that all goes. I like the art style in the trailer, although I’m hoping the game goes for a look closer to Torchlight II and/or won’t require a super-powerful PC to run. The console plans mean it should look similar across the board, which is a good thing in my book.

Torchlight Frontiers will be available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at some point in 2019, but we’ll need to definitely get some hands-on time with a build at some point to see what’s what. Fingers crossed (and yes, cross-platform play would be keen, Sony).

-GW

Red Dead Redemption II Gameplay Trailer: The Wild Punch Lands in October

 

Ladies and gentlemen, I never do this because such speculation is inherently ridiculous especially when it comes to product that’s still not released, but I’ll take the risk and call Red Dead Redemption II my Game of the Year and it’ll be yours as well. Take a look:

 

(Thanks, Rockstar Games!)

 

Of course, as I’ve noted previously, it was clear as soon as the game was officially announced that Rockstar was going to be redefining the open world game once again, so it’s a bit redundant to be heaping praise when that bar was being raised was also one set in each of the large scale games they’ve created.  Anyway, I’ve got nothing left to say because this gameplay footage speaks very well enough for itself. Me? I’m going to watch this a few more times while trying to figure out a long list of excuses to not venture outside so I can spend way too much time playing this.

Worth buying a console over and pre-ordering? Absolutely, I say.

-GW

Review: Dead Cells (PS4)

Dead_Cells_PS4Bordeaux, France based developer Motion Twin’s absolutely superb Dead Cells ($24.99) is exactly the sort of game that belongs on a disc in a case with a manual you can whip out and peruse as you play. I’m tossing this out there because the game truly feels like one of those instant classics you want to come home from a long workday and unwind with. As in walking through your front door, kicking off your shoes, tossing your bag onto a chair and going through the whole ritual of opening a game case, popping that disc into your system (or game card if you’re a Switch owner) and settling in for a solid play session.  The game blends its influences marvelously and (as much as I despise the term) is indeed one of the finest “Metroidvania” style games to date. Actually, the developer calls it a “RogueVania” which is a bit better, but whatever – this one’s a must buy no matter what you prefer calling it.

(Thanks, PlayStation!)

In a nutshell, you’re playing a rather dead but reanimated (and excellently animated) immortal character who needs to survive a treacherous trip through a sprawling series of randomly laid out themed levels. Before you get all twisted out of shape thinking of games that get this randomization wrong, this is one case where the dev team nails it. When you die (and you will die early and often), the game sends you back to the beginning of the map you bought the farm on and upon restarting, you’ll notice the layout has changed but you’ll face off against the same enemies while retaining learned skills.  It’s a dash of what you’re expecting (Castlevania, Metroid, Demon’s Souls, assorted roguelikes and roguelites) with some nicely implemented dark comic touches that add some great humor to the game. No checkpoints means you’ll need to learn to survive by playing and replaying sections in order to die less (or not at all). But each death ends up meaningful for a few reasons you’ll eventually discover.

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Review: WALDEN, a game (PS4)

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No, it’s not some new-age hipster ready-made, silly. Here’s where you start off the game. Now, get to getting those walls up before dark, buddy.

Walden, a game PS4Wait, what? Yes, there’s actually a game based on Henry David Thoreau’s autobiographical slice of life book and it’s pretty neat as well as quite educational on a few fronts. Developed by Tracy Fullerton and the USC Game Innovation Lab over a 10-year period, Walden, a game ($18.99, also on PC) rolls out events from Thoreau’s time spent up at Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts in a tiny cabin he built and maintained. It’s an “open world” game with plenty to see and do, but it’s also an initially timed experience where you need to attempt to accomplish as much as possible during each day. That means you can choose to follow the flow of suggestions the letters Henry receives during the game or simply go off and explore at your leisure, discovering experiences as you go.

Actually, doing a combination of both is very highly recommended as this will maximize the overall experience while filling in chapters from the book as well as other events that affected Thoreau’s life.  While the game has a few performance quirks, if you’re a person who likes “walking simulators” (a term I dislike, mind you) or “survival” games (ditto on the dislike thing) without worrying about zombies or other creatures chomping at your heels, this is going to be right up your alley. Granted, I’m going to gather that market is slim among most of today’s gamers. Nevertheless, I’d still highly recommend this if you want something truly different and amusingly enough, something to show off to your kids (if you have them) as an honest to goodness learning experience. Yes, there’s also a great teaching aid for the game, as it’s meant to be used in schools as part of curriculum in tandem with the book.

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Your humble shopkeeper in the game. Basically, he’s Tom Nook with even more vintage stock. Or: you’ll pay through the nose for those much-needed goods.

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Review: Bud Spencer & Terence Hill: Slaps and Beans

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“Once upon a time in the west…” er, wrong movie, but you know what I mean…

Slaps & Beans - coverYep, it’s here and it’s great. As a fan of old-school arcade beat ’em ups, Trinity Team’s excellent Bud Spencer & Terence Hill: Slaps and Beans ($19.99) does exactly what its meant to do and does it with a ton of love (and many slaps and beans). I’ll give those of you scratching your heads a second to look up some of the duo’s films (here you go) and admit that for some of you, they may not be your to your taste (which means you need to watch a few and become a convert to their brand of international slapstick).

The game is an absurd amount of fun as a solo or co-op experience with a wacky story line, mini-games galore and some really great music that’s worth buying on a disc if you’re a fan of what’s here. While it’s not a terribly long game, it’s one where you’ll replay it either alone or with a buddy because it’s packed with laughs and challenge on the harder difficulties. Personally, I don’t grasp at all people who only play an otherwise solid game one or two times and shelve it away, but such is the current state of gaming where hours seem to mean more than overall quality to some “gamers” out there. It makes me wonder how the deal with heavier entertainment like non-fiction books or serious documentaries. But I digress – here’s some gameplay to ogle from yours truly:

 

(Thanks, Me!)

 

I heard you laughing all the way across the internet with me. This is good. Continue reading