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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Blu-Ray Review: Deep Red

Deep Red ArrowI clearly wasn’t ready for Dario Argento’s Deep Red way back when I saw it on a somewhat beat-up rented VHS tape back around 1990 or ’91. While the 1975 film had some primo scares (such as that freaky clockwork dummy scene and the genuinely gory brilliance in its stylized murders), the story seemed to be a bit chopped up to the point of distracting me a wee bit too much. Hey, I often tend to pay attention to the plot more than the violence in most horror films, so sue me. Flash forward to Arrow’s 2016 UK restoration (finally getting a North American release) which adds back in scenes that was cut and makes one of Argento’s best early films even better. Granted, it’s not going to be for everyone (yes, it’s quite violent), but as with many gialli, you more or less know what you’re getting and you’re going to get it but good (and in both eyes, at that).

David Hemmings plays Marcus Daly, a British jazz pianist who ends up being the target of a killer after he sees said killer killing the hell out of some hapless victim. During the initial police investigation, Daly’s photo is snapped by snippy, snoopy reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), who inadvertently puts Marcus in grave danger after posting his handsome mug in the newspaper. As in his earlier The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and The Cat O’ Nine Tails, you get leading men who get in well over their heads once they try to do a bit of extracurricular detective work and yes indeed, Daly gets put through the wringer but good. This is also another Argento film where a woman saves the lead from certain death, with Nicolodi’s Brezzi making a strong impression as a gal who’s no screaming wallflower at all.

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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: 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: 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

Earth Defense Force 5 US Trailer #1: A Bit of Wait Gain

(La la la, PlayStation!)

 

EDF_5 boxIt’s about time,  but there’s still no concrete release date for North America. To be fair, Sony has opened up pre-orders for the game’s standard digital and deluxe digital editions. But that 12/31/2018 release date is a bit questionable (games usually pop up on Tuesdays and I don’t think a New Year’s Day release date would be a thing). FYI, with no official launch date decided, pre-orders have to include a tentative date so potential buyers have a general idea of when a product will arrive as a download or at retail.  I hope this game rolls in before the end of the year, as it’s a bit crazy-cakes that a worldwide release wasn’t in the cards from day one.

That said, I’m also surprised I didn’t snap up the import version at this point, but that was a mix of finances not being where they needed to be and not wanting to go to the hassle of creating a Japanese PSN account to get DLC. Well, that and I thought the game would have been out already,  Ah well. I have plenty of games to wade through in the backlog, so at the end of the day, holding out for this one in English means I’m going to be going in totally cold and enjoying every minute.

EDF 5_04

-GW

Bud Spencer & Terence Hill – Slaps And Beans Now on Consoles

Slaps and Beans PS4

Whaaaaat? Color me totally surprised, ladies and germs!

Huh. Just when I thought this was never coming to consoles, here it is and I’m laughing myself silly because… well, just look:

(Thanks, Trinity Team!)

Hey, it took these guys a while to make and I’ll bet a penny that’s it’s worth a load of replays like any other fun arcade beat ’em up should be, so yeah, it’s worth that price point whether you grab the PS4, Xbox One or Nintendo Switch version. As for those of you who don’t get the fuss, I leave this as a parting gift:


(Thanks, Pump Monkey!)

-GW

Review: Shining Resonance Refrain (PS4)

SFRR_PS4 coverAs a longtime fan of Sega’s Shining series (the import version of Shining in the Darkness was the first JRPG I completed way back in 1992), it’s been quite interesting (to say the least) watching the series evolve over time. While the first game, the assorted Shining Force entries, Shining Wisdom, Shining the Holy Ark and the portable Shining Soul have been the most engaging, some of the games localized after that point fall into the hit or miss category.  The last three I played, Shining Tears, Shining Force Neo and Shining Force EXA traded in the first person dungeon crawling found in SitD and Shining The Holy Ark and the more strategic play in the Shining Force games with seemingly simpler hack and slash action against some very powerful enemies that made combat quite challenging. While there was some enjoyment to be found in these despite a few flaws, the bloom was definitely not on the Shining rose during the PS2 era.

Shining Resonance Refrain ($49.99) isn’t quite the return to glory the series needs, but this enhanced port of the 2014 PlayStation 3 import manages to be quite enjoyable overall. Developer O-Two took the Media Vision original PS3 game and added an all new “Refrain Mode” that allows players to experience the game with two of its main foes as playable characters along with what seems to be a nice load of included  (on disc or as part of the digital download) DLC content added at no cost across all platforms. Yes, it’s best to explore Refrain Mode after you’ve played the main game, as plenty of spoilers abound. But if that’s your thing, you do you, I say. It’s also the first time a new game in the Shining series has appeared on current-gen consoles and PC and hopefully, it will do well among JRPG fans on those platforms.

 

 

The game hits all the expected notes many JRPGs take these days from lengthy expository scenes, a cast filled with familiar likable to annoying characters, a decent combat system, and more than enough strangeness that might knock the wind out of the sails of those new to these types of games when they see some of the game’s kookier moments. When your party members or enemies break out into song as part of an attack, it’s more than clear you’re not in Kansas anymore. But if you surrender, Dorothy, it’s all in good fun at the end of the day.

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The Good Life: Holy Cats (and Dogs), We Need this Game!

The Good Life Demo

Click that banner and the demo is all yours!


If I had a few hundred thousand dollars lying around (I just checked under the mattress and sadly, I don’t), I’d be the first one to up my pledge to The Good Life, the new PC and PS4 game co-developed by SWERY (Deadly Premonition) and Yukio Futatsugi (Panzer Dragoon, Phantom Dust), along with their development teams at White Owls and G-rounding. The Kickstarter has less than three days to go and it’s about $122,000 short of its goal. There’s an excellent short Protptype Demo you can and should try if you’re curious, and while it’s merely an unfinished slice of a game still in the development, you’ll really get the sense that something unique and intriguing is shaping up over in Osaka.

 

 

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Review: Devious Dungeon (PS4/Vita)

Devious Dungeon 03

Devious Dungeon PS4_VitaSometimes a review writes itself before you even get a chance to take a single note. That can be both good and not so good, but let’s see where this automatic type-fest leads now, shall we? Devious Dungeon ($7.99, Cross-Buy) is great fun because of its solid combination of easy to grasp gameplay, crafty, challenging randomized levels, and single-minded enemies set on “kill”.  There’s a very reliable straightforwardness to the game in that, as a port of a mobile game from a few years ago, it’s not focusing on gimmicks and boxing you in with arcane rules and overly complex gameplay. This is more or less, side-scrolling dungeon 101 and because it works so well, that’s all it needs to be.

There’s no character creator here – you’re just a musclebound chap sent in to clear out an ever-changing dungeon other adventures have fallen prey to. You start out with an old sworn and crappy armor and yep, killing monsters nets you gold and experience. The gold is for buying better gear, the experience levels you up. You’ll also need to find a key to unlock the sealed doorway somewhere on a level. Sometimes you’ll find the door before you find the key, sometimes it’s the other way around. Either way, death lurks everywhere thanks to monsters, traps and other hazards. Combat is simple, but you’ll need to time your attacks carefully lest a foe or foes do you in with their own well-timed hits. Ranged weapons or spells are especially painful, by the way.

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