Review: Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey Redux (Nintendo 3DS)

SMTSJ_boxI’ve been a big fan of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei games for a while now (okay, close to 25 years – yes, I’m old) but I’d say one of my favorite portable entries in the series was Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey, released back on the Nintendo DS in 2010. Like the other SMT games, the first person dungeon crawling (like some of Atlus’ early Persona games, was inspired by Sir-Tech’s classic Wizardry series), the mix of sci-fi, horror, and mature dialog all made for a pretty compelling experience. Remade and expanded for the 3DS, Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey Redux ($39.99) still manages to be an excellent game well worth a replay or even a first experience for those new to the long running series.

New to the game are a new character with her own side story, a new multi-floor dungeon and new side missions, a great new animated intro and optional DLC (which is one reason this review is a few days later than expected). Additionally, 20 save slots (the DS game had a mere two!) allow for a bit of experimentation with the game’s demon fusing mechanic as well as let you tackle certain tough sections and deal with the potential outcomes or just mess around trying to cause demon fusion accidents, some of which can be rewarding in the long run. Oh, and for those who’ve played the DS version, yes, some of those old demon passwords still work.

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Review: Conan Exiles (PS4)

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Survival games come in a few flavors these days and Funcom’s mostly solid Conan Exiles ($49.99) has that interestingly coppery taste of blood, a bit of crunch from a handful of insects and a grassy finish, all wrapped in a hide of some sort that’s been smoked thoroughly. Or something like that. The game is a rough and tumble chunk of violent fun, complex crafting (that *really* needs streamlining), endless exploration and thankfully, offline play when those too packed servers are busy.

As with ARK: Survival Evolved, the massive open world sandbox element tosses you into things nearly naked and needing to gather resources quickly or die trying. Conan pops up at the beginning to free your user-created crucified character and wish you well before you’re left to your own devices. The game prompts you onward with small to large milestones and some fast level gains for small to large accomplishments. Drinking water, finding space for and creating that first shelter, crafting your first basic armor, figuring out the ridiculously complex cooking system and more all help you get a feel for the game right away. Or at least, you’ll realize that this is a game where you’ll need to pay constant attention to even the smallest thing lest you want to punt that Dual Shock 4 through your TV.

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Review: Dragon’s Crown Pro (PS4)

DCP_PS4An instant classic on both artistic and pure gameplay levels, Dragon’s Crown Pro ($49.99) has finally arrived on PS4 with buffed up 4K visuals and cross-platform play/save compatibility with the PS3 and Vita versions. It’s a game that also hopefully going to be one of those true evergreens that new players will want to add to their libraries because it offers enough replay value to keep you dialed in each time you pick up that controller.

The game’s original notoriety to some for its mildly bawdy artwork for some of the female characters (but you get a half naked muscular dwarf as a counter to that) ends up being much ado about nothing. If you’ve a working brain in your skull, you’ll know the difference between gorgeous stylized artwork and solid animation and somehow deeming the game “controversial” because one doesn’t appreciate the very intentionally over-exaggerated art. That and hell, it’s a Vanillaware game, so assorted forms of pulchritude are a necessary non-evil.

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“Waiter, there’s a fly in m… oh, never mind (ogle!)

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Review: Fox n Forests (PS4)

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If Bonus Level Entertainment’s excellent Fox n Forests was released on a cartridge for the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis back in the mid-90’s before both consoles were phased out in favor of newer systems, it would probably be a Game of the Year contender. Hell, it would even be a fine enough essential 2D platformer/RPG hybrid on the Saturn or PlayStation. Well, it’s out today and it’s a total blast from the past with excellent visuals, music and sound effects, replay value galore, and the perfect length (for those who know, most platform games weren’t over five or six so hours). The crowdfunded game arrives today on PC (Windows, Linux, Mac) and consoles (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch) and yes, is a must buy if you’re big on the retrogaming stuff (or just want a game that’s going to make you work hard in order to see everything).

It’s not a speedrunner at all (thankfully for us old and slow players!), so forget about direct comparisons to Sonic, Mario or other swifter mascot characters. The game combines its platforming with exploration elements out of the Legend of Zelda or Castlevania, but fans of classics such as the Wonder Boy games, Super Ghouls and Ghosts and Actraiser 2 will also see a few influences here. The Fox (i)n those Forests is named Rick and he’s conned into helping out the wise old sentient tree by a partridge named Patty he was planning to eat. Of course, that batty bird just so happens to own all the shops in the game, so guess who needs to spend his hard-earned gold coins at them?

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Review: Devious Dungeon (PS4/Vita)

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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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Review: League of Evil (PS4/Vita)

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League of Evil PS4_VitaGood evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m here to inform you that Woblyware and Rataliaka Games’ excellent, tough as heck  League of Evil ($4.99, Cross-Buy) is not messing around at all. This high action speedrun focused action/platform/puzzle hybrid has one goal: to crush the weak players and reward the flawless and strong. Okay, well… it’s not that serious, but if you love a challenge, you’ll certainly get more game out of that measly five bucks this costs right from the start.

Here’s the deal: you’re a bionic super agent who needs to simply reach the evil scientist at the end of each level and dispatch him with a single punch from your big metal fist. Simple, no? Nope, it’s not. One shot kills from armed guards protecting him, one hit kills from spikes, lasers, swinging axes and other hazards will stop your progress countless times, forcing you to replay many of the sort, deadly stages. At least the retro visuals, excellent music and general sense of “don’t even try to take this seriously” all keep the game fun.

And yes, once again, I had to call in my ringer.

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Blu-Ray Review: Killer Klowns From Outer Space

Killer Klowns BRIf ever there was a film where the title tells you everything you need to know while also telling you it’s a film you kind of need to see out of sheer curiosity, it’s Killer Klowns From Outer Space. yeah, yeah, I know a lot of you hate clowns in real life and nope, this film probably won’t be the one to endear you to the red nose and greasepaint cause. That said, if you love great practical effects, practical jokes, bits of stop motion creativity, 80’s gore FX and one damn catchy main theme song, this one has all those and more.

Arrow Video has once again pulled out all the stops with this restoration, adding a ton of special features that add to the big top thrills and chills. If you’ve never seen this one before, it’s worth checking out because it’s great for a few laughs and still works as one of those films that didn’t need a sequel (although there have been a few rumblings about one over the years).

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Blu-Ray Review: Scalpel

Scalpel BRJohn Grissmer’s 1977 film Scalpel is a pretty neat psychological thriller that also works as an entry level ‘light’ horror flick for those skittish types not quite ready for gore galore, but who won’t mind a tiny bit of depravity in the plot.  Arrow Video has not only put out a stellar restoration, they also got respected cinematographer Edward Lachman to supervise am equally gorgeous second transfer that’s been color corrected back to his original theatrical version.

While there are some flaws in the storytelling, it’s a solid enough film to recommend thanks to the no-nonsense performances and relatively brief 95-minute running time.  Having the choice to see both versions on a single disc along with some very nice bonus features makes this yet another Arrow you’ll want to add to your quiver.

When plastic surgeon Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Richard Lansing) encounters a badly beaten stripper with a completely ruined face, he comes up with a plan to reconstruct her to look exactly like his missing daughter (Judith Chapman) in order to claim the $5,000,000 inheritance denied him, but given to her by her grandfather.  He’s also got more disgusting designs on his mind, but you’ll have to see how that plays out.  After the young woman is out of surgery and healing up, Reynolds takes her out of the hospital and to his home, eventually telling her his plan and offering to split half the money with her.  After some weeks of coaching, the girl is ready for her close up with Reynolds’ extended family.  While their ploy succeeds to some extent, things get a wee bit complicated when Reynolds real daughter (also played by Chapman) shows up shortly thereafter. Oops, and yep, the plot thickens.

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Review: Where Are My Friends? (PS4)

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WAMF_PS4Don’t let the childlike look of its hand-drawn visuals fool you one bit. Where Are My Friends?  ($5.99) is going to absolutely break those gamers out there who take it for a spin expecting an easy Trophy hunt. Between the wordless storytelling that requires paying full attention when exploring the game’s point/click adventure segments, to some insane platforming sections, this one’s a hardcore challenge well disguised as a more light, family friendly affair. Actually, it may take an entire family to complete some of the fiercely tough sequences here, so get everyone together and maybe even the family pet can even give this a shot after everyone else fails.

My own reflexes aren’t as sharp these days, so at one point after discovering the somewhat challenging (okay, brutal) platforming sections, I actually made a phone call, packed up my PS4 and hoofed it over to a friend’s place so his 11-year old kid could do what I couldn’t. Let’s just say that kid earned his free pizza after that, but he also wanted me to note (and I quote): “This is one of the most crazy games I’ve ever played in my life, and I’m only 11!  You should pay me more next time!”  Hey, kid? There won’t be a next time (until the next time I get a game like this), and you didn’t get paid, per se (don’t child labor laws prevent that sort of thing?) . You’re a ringer, pal – you’re supposed to do your thing, do it well and zip it. Well, I didn’t say that, but I’m thinking he’s now thinking he’s getting pressed into service whenever I need some game-related help.

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Review: Reverie (PS Vita)

 

With Reverie, New Zealand-based developer Rainbrite has cooked up a fantastic, fun and must-buy game for the supposedly ‘dead’ (but still defiantly breathing) PlayStation Vita. Everything here clicks from the Earthbound-inspired visuals to the gameplay that references The Legend of Zelda‘s puzzle, enemy and trapped-filled dungeons and overworld map. Adding to the perfection, you get an interesting take on the Māori myth Māui and the Giant Fish woven throughout the game that makes the adventure all the more interesting.

Sure, the main character is just a nondescript kid named Tai who just so happens to end up spending his summer vacation saving the tiny island he’s on visiting his grandparents from all sorts of evil during his stay. But Rainbrite has wisely made the kid quite the young man of action on his trip to this new Adventure Island. You’ll get a cricket bat, yo-yo, a sort of Nerf gun and other goodies as you take on the game’s six nicely-sized dungeons and a somewhat dangerous overworld packed with local wildlife out to gnaw or peck you to death. Spot-on controls help out here, but you’ll need to be constantly on your toes because some enemies (such as angry hopping statues) won’t react until you’re in whispering distance.

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