Review: Injection π23 ‘No name, no number’ (PS4)

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Kid: “Hey, mom What’s for lunch!” Mom: “Why, the corridors of the MIND, child…”

Injection PS4While it’s technically imperfect and a bit unpolished, Abramelin Games has a pretty frightening survival horror game for PS4 owners in Injection π23 ‘No name, no number’ ($9.99). That ten bucks gets you a pure passion project (made over the course of five years) in the form of a multimedia game experience featuring puzzles guaranteed to test your brain cells, unsettling monsters to avoid or fight (in that order) and plenty of horrific nightmare fuel imagery. It’s noted before you start to to wear headphones and play in the dark, but I opted out of the headphone use part after trying this for the first hour and needing to remove them because I was kind of freaking out a wee bit too much (the sound design is pretty damn intense).

You play as a rather troubled man living alone with his dog in Villanueva de Tapia (a village in Málaga, Spain). When his pet runs off, he’s seemingly struck by a truck while giving chase and regains consciousness only to find himself in a twisted variation of the village and yes, still needing to find that dog. In pure survival horror fashion, you get disturbing visuals, locked doors that require opening in one way or another, and as noted, the aforementioned monsters. You’ll also discover a mystery about missing townspeople, murders and torture rituals with a religious angle and more depravity. The mix of Unity engine assets, enhanced live action video clips and appropriately timed jump scares keep things tense throughout where when things do quiet down, there’s still the sense that something’s going to happen. Let’s just say Villanueva de Tapia’s tourism numbers will either rise or decline after this game gets more notice, although my take is it’ll increase if horror fans are curious enough to see how scary a spot it is in real life.

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A little walk in the woods to clear the head isn’t going to help much when you’re too scared to take another step.

Exploration will be the first key to your survival, as the game places all sorts of clues to what needs to be done but doesn’t highlight where you need to search. One of the great things the game does right off the bat is allow for four camera angles to choose from on the fly, similar to Riverhill Soft’s Doctor Hauzer and OverBlood games. This freedom lets you explore how you want from classic Resident Evil style, two different third-person mode and first-person, although you can expect that first-person mode to deliver those creep-tastically ugly monsters in your face as they try to eat your face off. Plan accordingly, but expect to do a bit of jumping in fear on occasion when you’re surprised.

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Review: CRYSTAR (PS4)

Crystar PS4“Brilliantly depressing” is how I’d describe CRYSTAR ($59.99), Gemdrops Inc. and FURYU Corporation’s new Action/RPG published by Spike Chunsoft, but let’s not get too far ahead of things.

Rei Hatada and her little sister Mirai are pulled by a strange being into an odd dimension called Purgatory where violent creatures soon appear to attack the two. Rei manages to unleash a hidden power that gives her a powerful weapon and fancy costume, but she accidentally kills her kid sister during one battle. As she cries at losing her sibling, two oddly garbed female demon twins appear and make her an offer she can’t refuse. Become an Executor for the twins and kill enough demons in Purgatory in order to gather enough Idea (tears) to save Mirai’s soul before it descends too deep and gets reborn as a completely different person. You get one guess as to Rei’s decision.

Thus, the downward spiral begins in a game that will hit home hard for some players thanks to its assorted mostly gloomy thematic elements and a story that has a few surprises tucked into its narrative. Thankfully, while a tad (okay, very) downbeat at times, the game is gorgeous to look at. Illustrator RIUICHI’s work was lovingly translated into 3D characters by Character Designer & Modeling Lead ntny and the game also features an outstanding score from composer Sakuzyo that’s worth a listen.

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Wake up, time to cry. And you thought you had issues. Rei’s literally surrounded by her and her slain foes mental status, even during dungeon diving.

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Review: Omega Labyrinth Life (Switch)

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Tagline time: Come for the boobs, stay for the rock hard dungeons! How does that grab you? Er, on second thought, don’t answer that.

Omega LLAs a longtime fan of turn-based rogue-like dungeon crawlers on consoles since 1990’s Dragon Crystal on the Sega Master System (which I still own), I knew Matrix Corporation’s sexy, supremely goofy and at times straight up hilarious Omega Labyrinth Life ($59.99) would be right up my alley. While I can heartily recommend the game to like-minded crawler fans, that Mature rating means puritan types and those easily rattled by sexual content and rampant fan service need not apply.  If you’re still interested and want to dive in head first to a new experience, you’re going to want to go on with an open mind to anime gals in saucy situations, a bit of gardening busywork in between dungeons and plenty of breast-related humor and optional mini-games definitely not for the kiddies.

Amusingly enough, the Switch version is content-wise, superior to the more censored PlayStation 4 version (which is still somewhat racy). There’s a plot here, but all you need to know is Hinata Akatsuki, new transfer student to Belles Fleurs Academy, finds herself in deep after she arrives and the school’s famed 100-year old flower garden  suddenly dies. Initially, the blame is laid on her shoulders, but she sets off into the dungeons that have appeared under the property to figure out what’s going on and to prove her innocence. Hinata won’t go it alone, though. The Academy’s most promising students plus a few tiny but large-boobed fairies all end up as her co-adventurers during the game and for a few dozen hours it’s quite a bouncy ride on a few fronts.

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It’s a good thing that gals here grow bigger boobs as they level up, as that allows some forward protection from slipping on hardwood floors. Allegedly.

For all the breast-themed stuff, rampant innuendo and bawdy humor galore, this is a pretty lightweight (but enjoyable) game on the story front. That said, the dungeons can be brutally hard after the initial tutorial maps. This is a great thing, as the random nature means every run past that point will deliver assorted challenges, monsters and items guaranteed to keep you on your toes. Leveling up increases your selected party members cup sizes (up to a Z-cup!), which go back to normal once a dungeon is cleared. Dying in a dungeon means you lose all your currently collected items unless you take out a bit of costly insurance on gear you’d like to re-buy once you’re above ground. There’s a wealth of stuff to discover and uncover (ahem), but we’ll put that ball in your court and let you have at it as you please.

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Review: SEGA AGES Space Harrier (Switch)

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Welcome to the Fantasy Zone. GET READY!

Hell, even if I were to think I was born ready for it, back in 1985 seeing and playing Sega’s Space Harrier for the first time in an arcade was a total and unexpected blast. Granted, it wasn’t my first psuedo-3D sprite-based shooter (Willams’ still phenomenal BLASTER was an instant fave for me two years earlier), but Yu Suzuki’s even more instant classic made for a more lasting impression thanks to its more superbly detailed visuals, rock-solid 60fps gameplay and yes, a somewhat crushing difficulty level for beginners. Watching someone play any of the three cabinet version was thrilling enough. But as a player, if you lucked out and got one of the sit-down versions with that big flight stick and body-shaking tilt feature, it was pure gaming bliss that left you maybe a bit wobbly after a few too many replays. Ah, memories!

Still, Suzuki’s game was perhaps too well made, just like his other supremely reliable arcade hits some take for granted these days. This is a game that is flawless in execution, but might be seen by the more jaded gamers out there as “repetitive” because they don’t see the beauty past the lightning fast speed and brilliant use of color. Ever busy developer M2 has done another outstanding job in porting the game to Switch for the ongoing SEGA AGES project ($7.99 per title) in both its original form with a new stage select, optional visual filter and control additions and a new version of the game called KOMAINU Barrier Attack that adds infinite continues and two small stone lion statues to aid Harrier in his quest.

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Screenshots really don’t do this game any justice. Some heads will roll for that.

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Review: Archlion Saga (Switch)

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Well, you can’t get lost at all in this game, but you can turn the arrows off if you want a less guided tour of the maps.

archlion sagaShades of the initially underappreciated (and still disliked to this day by some) Final Fantasy Mystic Quest drift through Kemco and developer Hit-Point’s entry level JRPG Archlion Saga ($4.99) and yes indeed, the game will definitely ruffle some feathers among the noisy gamers with unshakeable opinions (too often presented as “facts”) who never seem to think that players new to any genre just might like a welcoming title they can complete without a video walkthrough or wanting to bust controller into pieces against a nearby wall.

That fiver you’re spending gets you a game that can be completed in a few short hours, auto saves whenever you do pretty much anything and is so simple that anyone of any skill level can play it.  It also offers a bit of replay value for those who want to run through it again (you can opt to keep your levels and earned currency). There’s no need to “git gud” here at all unless you overuse the auto-battle option that can actually wipe out your party if you get too careless in the 4th and 5th chapters when and the random battle system decides to slap you with the occasional strong enemy pack. Amusingly enough, if for some reason you feel the urge to grind levels, late in the game there’s a dragon who heals your party at no cost whenever you speak to it. Given that healing herbs drop frequently (you can stock 99 at a time) and you start off with an amulet that restores a few hundred HP in battle, this might not be necessary, but it’s here nevertheless.

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Hmmm… we kinda know how this is going to turn out, but okay, let’s pray along…

“So, it’s a kid’s game, then?” you ask? Sure, you can say that, but it’s one that while colorful and easy on the eyes and ears is a tad gloomy in tone what with the 1000 year return of the evil Serpent and his curse mark dooming the population and you, the Archlion King out to stop that threat with the aid of a few allies. Cue up the handy trailer so you can see what’s what:

One thing the game does that works well is streamlining the story so you meet up with your party members with no aimless wandering about. Your party’s hit points are accumulated into a shared pool with numbers based on equipped gear. Each of the four characters will learn and an use three powerful Skills (the game has no magic points), all with different cooldown times and a few that can only be activated under certain conditions (e.g., after guarding for one turn or after taking certain amounts of damage). Granted, the game is easy enough that you can beat it without any major strategy whatsoever.  That said, it’s just nice to have the option to play with each character’s skills, especially the one that lets you steal items from enemies (which can net you some nifty gear and free healing herbs) or the one that puts most enemies to sleep for a brief period.

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Especially once you start using those Stars to power level, Bram.

While exploring the short maps, you’ll gain Stars needed to unlock doors and chests, but you’ll also earn them by playing the game for a certain period of time without taking a break. Those stars are also used to pull off powerful attacks and double experience gained after battles, so you can pretty much become too overpowered by the game’s final chapter if you like. Of course, NOT using any aids makes the game a bit more challenging. so feel free to experiment. The pixel art here is great overall, particularly the big, colorful monsters and bosses you’ll meet and beat. Sure, the assorted human foes have no facial features, but most of the more mystical beasties do and they’re all excellently rendered. The music is suitably 8-bit sounding bliss that feels just right, but don’t expect a wealth of tunes given the brevity of the experience.

The funniest thing about playing this was I was able to compete it once while waiting for a few downloads to complete (some larger games on PSN and a Windows 10 updates that had me offline for about 4-5 hours). Hit-Point has a few decent ideas here that I think need to be applied to a larger project at some point down the road, but for what it is, this isn’t a bad way to spend a few hours if you’ve got a Switch, five bucks to spend and don’t mind some hand holding in handheld or docked mode. While I won’t call this an “essential” game at all, it’s cheap enough and so user friendly that it feels as if it’s trying too hard to please. But that’s somewhat of a relief in this era of games where you’re forced into that “die, rinse and repeat until you don’t die” loop that can be frustrating for a select few.

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He may be a big scary cartoon jerk, but you can beat the devil out of this devil with relative ease.

Score: C (70%)

-GW

Phantom Gear Funded: Mega Cat’s Got The Magic Touch, Again

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Mega Cat, on a roll with mustard.

Phantom Gear is officially a physical and digital reality on the “it’s funded!” front and that’s a great thing. Excellent, in fact and yes, I dropped some coins into this particular fountain not long after finding out the game was going the crowdfund route. It’s always great to see, read about and eventually get the chance to play new retro games, especially from a company so devoted to producing some mighty fine ones. The game has indeed made its Kickstarter target, but you can still contribute to its success here.

Now, if only I had a few spare thousand bucks to drop on everything Mega Cat makes so I can add it all to the library, I’d be an even happier camper.

-GW

WRC 8: Rallying for A Chance at Besting DiRT Is a Good Thing For the Series

 

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Reflex check: “100, Easy right, care rocks inside – don’t cut” Or something like that. You’ll know what to do as that turn comes up.

As a longtime fan of the World Rally Championship series since the PlayStation 2 days when developer Evolution Studios created five of that system’s best rally games, it’s been a series of up and down yumps as the franchise has changed hands over the years. The team at KT Racing (aka Kylotonn ) has held the WRC game license since 2015 and have improved the overall quality with each release, offering rally fans on PC and consoles the opportunity to test their skills on a wide variety of courses with a wide range of world-class rally cars.  The upcoming WRC 8, published by Bigben Interactive certainly looks to be the best game in the series to date, as the dev team is looking to reach fans who crave even more realism to the virtual version of the sport.

As impressive as that trailer is, the game’s Career Mode is going the extra mile in terms of delivering the goods on a few fronts. Check out the details in the video below:

Want more? Okay, then – there are a few pre-order incentives below the yump (ha and ha, but yeah, go look at them).

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Review: Rise of Insanity (PS4)

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Oh, there’s a whole lot of wrong here and nope, Better Homes and Gardens isn’t making that phone call foe a feature, that’s for sure.

ROI_boxDespite an ending you can see coming a mile away and an English translation riddled with typos, Red Limb Studio has cooked up a pretty decent scare game with Rise of Insanity ($12.99). While it borrows heavily from a few sources (notably, Kubrick’s version of The Shining, bits of The Exorcist and Silent Hill), it’s got a few good unsettling moments and an overall creepy vibe that works well. That said, the game’s short play time works both for and against it in that you want to see and do more when things work, where on the other hand, horror game veterans who’ve seen it all may find the experience underwhelming if they go in with overly lofty expectations or expect some sort of “survival horror” experience with zombies, weapons and a huge body count.

Nope, this one’s another first-person “gather items and clues, read diary entries and such” deal (I despise the denigrating term “walking simulator”, by the way) where puzzles are fairly easy, the scary bits do exactly what they need to (provided you’re not too jaded) and unless you apply too much real-world logic to the experience, ends up being enjoyable at the end of the day. Well, “enjoyable” is a sort of suspect word for a game where your character can die from a few of the more frightening encounters, but I think you know what I mean.

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Someone forgot to bring a dime to have their fortune told, it seems…

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Review: Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets (Switch)

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Yeah, and here’s Rule #1: NEVER take a job as an intern for a scientist collecting cute and deadly as hell animals to sell to the highest bidder.

lupo switchBefore you fire up BeautiFun’s challenging and amusingly droll puzzle/adventure Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets ($14.99), do yourself a big favor and let the game run a few minutes on the title screen without touching any buttons. Why? Well, you’ll get a really cool bit of fun narrative text that adds to the game’s plot, a really nice touch you’ll miss out on if you just start the game when prompted.That text actually changes when you go to continue a game, so make sure to see those bits as well when you pop back in after quitting for the day. This is the sort of thing I really like where you see that little bit of extra care that goes into some games which makes them overall a lot more enjoyable.

That same care went into the control options although in my opinion, using the Switch’s touch screen is going to be the best way to play this, followed by a Pro Controller or similar wireless or wired pad. Using the Joy-Cons (particularly ones that aren’t exactly new) is a bit of tricky business what with their tendency to sometimes drift up or down sporadically, which will mean certain death in a game where precision is key to survival. That’s not BeautiFun’s fault at all, mind you  they just had to cater to every possible control scheme and for the most part, it works. I ended up switching between touchscreen and my Ematic controllers and he touchscreen, settling for the tap and move option because it made for less dying overall.

So does the story here, by the way. That Professor Lupo is holding an illegal auction aboard his space station where a number of deadly aliens are up for bid for potential use as biological weapons when the ship is attacked by a justice-minded organization who want to shut him down but good. Unfortunately, your character, simply named “Intern” gets caught up in the chaos and yep, needs to escape over 100 levels of increasing difficulty courtesy of some very excellently designed puzzles. There’s actually a lot of plot under the hood here and it’s in interesting journey our too-generically named hero takes, to say the least. Most assuredly, that Intern will expire quite a lot (in a splash of G-rated green goo) as you seek to survive and discover a few truths. Interestingly enough, with a few tweaks to the plot (and  a bit of M-rated gore), this could be a ALIEN game or that Jurassic Park sequel I only caught part of on cable where deadly dinos were up for bid and things went south once those creatures were set free.

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“It followed me home, can I keep it?” Well, NO. It’ll eat your face off as soon as you go to sleep, pal.

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Review: Red Faction Guerilla Re-Mars-tered (Switch)

Switch_RedFaction_boxIf you’re a Nintendo-only fan who missed out on Red Faction Guerilla in one of its previous competing console or PC incarnations, it’s finally arrived on the Switch in pretty solid form as Red Faction Guerilla Re-Mars-tered ($29.99)  If you’re also a huge fan of open world games packed with plenty of content and a ridiculous amount of destruction, you’ll be very pleased with this one despite a few technical hiccups.

Developer KAIKO has ported original developer Volition’s 2009 classic to Nintendo’s hybrid system with all the DLC and game modes intact and while things can get a wee bit iffy when the frame rate gets bumpy in the busiest moments, it’s an amazing port for what’s working perfectly right out of the gate. For starters, the game looks great despite the seemingly limited color palette. Characters are smoothly animated, there are some great visual flourishes and hell, even the rolling skies will make you stop and stare once in a while (well, provided you’re in a safe zone).  Hopping into your vehicle of choice or hoofing it to a destination whereupon you unleash all sorts of ordinance as you attempt to survive whatever the EDF troops throw back is just pure fun on a stick with the results being lots of leveled structures and a bunch less pesky pissed-off troops to deal with. The AI certainly puts up a decent fight, calling in support that can and will escalate things in a tearing hurry.

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“Damn, those alien bastards destroyed my ride!” Oops, wrong game.

The destruction, thanks to the Geo-Mod 2.0 engine, looks and feels darn near perfect as those assorted enemy bases and other structures crumble and tumble with a particular sense of weight that can be hazardous to your character’s health if he or she is too close to something exploding or collapsing. While both the Campaign and DLC content have stories to follow, you’re pretty much going to be rolling out with intent on doing as much damage to enemies and enemy buildings as you can while trying not to get space-dusted yourself. Even on the easiest difficulty it’s all too common here to barely survive some of the tougher missions. But persistence and perhaps a better loadout pay off big. As you get better at fending off the enemies, when you do buy the space farm, it’s likely going to be from going in too hot and not being prepared for EDF retaliation. Or: you may want to have an escape route planned or at least enough explosives to blast your way out of trouble when necessary.

(Thanks, EurogamerGermany!)

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