One of the things we’ve noticed with software like Colors! 3D is that there are some seriously talented artists using them to create amazing projects. Well, we too have a project going on at the moment at Digitally Downloaded – a book project, if you will – where we’re collecting the best art works that folks are making on games consoles.
For fans of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video game series created by GSC Gameworld, it's been a sad past month. With the still somewhat-recent announcement that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 is officially canned (along with GSC Gameworld) and that the remaining members have created their own studio (Vostok Games) and are now making a free-to-play MMO first-person shooter, many feel that the good days of looking forward to being a vulnerable badass in a post-apocalyptic world set out to kill the player are over. However, there appears to be rays of hope through the irradiated clouds.
So you might be playing Diablo III. Or you might be seeing the number 37 in your nightmares right now. But either way it’s hard to deny there’s a thrill to the hack-and-slash lootfests that the original Diablo made so popular, and has been imitated so many times since.
But perhaps you have an old PC, or you stick to playing games on consoles. Well, never fear, you can still be looting along with everyone else. There’s been some great Diablo clones released this generation, and, if you happen to not be able to play Diablo III right now, here’s five alternatives from this generation that might scratch that itch instead.
Boy, things can change a lot in a year and a half. When Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I in 2010, it was a middling effort that felt needlessly derivative and generally rough around the edges. With Episode II, Sega has taken that blueprint, cleansed its problems, and then made it genuinely fresh. Aside from a couple exceptionally confounding design choices, Episode II delivers gratifying action that feels a lot more like “Sonic 4” should.
Beware: as this is an episodic series, I’m going to reference the first game an awful lot.
Sonic’s classic gameplay returns, based off the previous numbered entries from the early 90s. It’s your job to race through various 2D stages at high speeds whilst collecting rings. Rings make Sonic immune to damage from foes and obstacles alike, but getting hit causes him to drop his entire collection. Episode II puts a larger emphasis on intelligent platforming rather than pure speed, however, which is a welcome change. Sonic still has his homing attack, but it’s less invasive and not required for progression in the same way (though it is handy).
Sonic’s physics have also been improved from Episode I significantly. Sonic gains momentum as he should and doesn’t draw as much speed in ball form or cling to walls. They aren’t quite like the original Genesis games, but Sonic Team seems to have struck a balance that should please fans of the old and new.
At first glance, Tails looks to be a fairly safe addition without a lot of merit beyond imitating his role in Sonic 2. However, he’s actually mandatory and the source of much gameplay ingenuity. Sonic and Tails have several team moves that are either required or simply useful for level progression. One move allows Sonic to be lifted by Tails and control the flight path for a brief amount of time. Another one causes the two pals to join hands and become a large wrecking ball of sorts, destroying any walls and obstacles in their path. Adding to the novelty is the game’s tendency to introduce new manoeuvres as you play through the stages. While other Sonic titles have thrown in dual character systems with varying degrees of effectiveness, Episode II is one that was built around this scheme successfully. Online play only augments this system further, since you can play through stages with one character as Sonic and the other as Tails.
In terms of stage design, Episode II improves upon its predecessor in the best of ways. Rather than reuse the same grass zones and casino zones that we’ve witnessed in innumerable Sonic titles over the years, Sega chose a blend of less used and genuinely new ideas. There’s a desert with sandstorms, a castle with watery sections, a frozen amusement park, a zone in the sky, and a robotic time-warping planet, all of which are largely untapped concepts in Sonic’s 2D adventures. Adding to the novelty are brand new enemies littered throughout each stage, such as robotic polar bears to fit with the arctic amusement park theme. There are only four “proper” zones again, but the quality of the stage design means you’re far more likely to return and play them. With a grand total of 13 levels and five bosses, you should get some considerable value from this package.
All of the boss battles are new as well, rather than being lazy rehashes “nostalgic throwbacks”. Unfortunately, they’re not always as fun as the amazing new mecha designs would have you believe. The Metal Sonic bouts in particular come off as amateurish, which is a shame considering the rivalry aspect. Still, they’re perfectly playable.
Special stages are reminiscent of the 3D auto-scrolling bonus maps of yore. The bonus levels take place on a half-pipe littered with rings, springs, spikes, and other obstacles. Sonic and Tails need to meet a certain quota of rings at pre-determined intervals. Failing to reach the specified amount throws you out of the stage, but continually nabbing all the rings will reward you with a Chaos Emerald. It’s a fairly good incentive to keep you playing the old stages again, but...
In past outings, you would be treated to an alternate ending or some kind of surprise. This time around, however, there’s no sneak peek at the next episode or really any noticeable difference between the main ending. Granted, Super Sonic is still alive and kicking, but surely some kind of story prize should be available like the classics, especially considering the taunting “Try Again” message?
More disappointing than the Chaos Emeralds are the Red Star Rings. Several of them are hidden in each stage and some will be difficult to find, theoretically promoting replay value. Their existence in the game could be justified if they offered some sort of incentive, but with the emeralds already in the mix, why bother including them if they do nothing? It's just redundant.
The art direction is about the same as the last game (albeit more noticeable due to the unique stages). It diverts from Sonic’s Genesis days in favour of ol’ green eyes and some cell-shading, but this is still a very attractive game.
Where Sonic Team really blew it this time was the volume department. Sonic has maintained a tremendous discography throughout his career, even in the games that could have played better. Perhaps to outweigh the highlights of the gameplay, Sonic 4 has a truly confounding soundtrack that feels uninspired at best. The boss battle themes are no better, composed of very brief loops (we’re talking 10 seconds or less here) that can become grating during a longer fight or repeat visits. This could be Sonic's worst soundtrack to date.
For owners of both episodes on the same console, you’re in for a special treat. Sonic 4: Episode Metal will automatically be unlocked, allowing you to play through new levels as (you guessed it) Metal Sonic. It also serves to tie together the stories of Sonic CD and Sonic 4, in case you were wrapped up in the oh-so-important 2D Sonic continuity.
It’s abundantly clear that Sega wanted to make a sequel with Episode II, not a pseudo-remake or an uninspired mash-up, so in that respect it delivers. Unfortunately, some new niggles were added to the formula along the way. If Sonic Team and Dimps can get these kinks ironed, the theoretical Episode III should be up there with Sonic CD. In the meantime though, Episode II should be compelling enough.
One of the things about being a veteran gamer is that you've seen it all before. I'm an old-timer and I've seen it all before, although my memory isn't what it used to be so I could be wrong about that. Either way, there's a distinct feeling of deja-vu about Warlock: Master of the Arcane. Whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view.
Defender of the Crown has been around for a very, very long time, in plenty of different forms, right back to the Commodore Amiga. Though the initial developer, Cinemaware, went bankrupt, it was since acquired and the new company, Cinemaware Inc, went as far to modernise the game on PS2 and Xbox.
We like to support the indie developers wherever possible, and so we're going to bend our focus on Digitally Downloadable games for a moment to let everyone know that the amazing storytelling experience, To the Moon, is getting a retail release.
We’ll start seeing more information about Dragon Age III shortly, no doubt. Bioware’s fantasy RPG series has sold well in the past, and the original was a massive critical success to boot. Dragon Age II was brutalised, however, which might taint people’s expectations for the sequel.
What happens when you take God of War-style rage, a hyperkinetic camera that makes Ninja Gaiden 3 look positively pedestrian, and Skyrim’s pseudo- early European visual style? Well, you end up with Bloodforge. While on paper that should be a recipe for success somehow it’s nowhere near as awesome as it could have been from bringing those three games together.
A source of endless frustration for me is how often I hear or read the words “games are expensive.” It’s frustrating because frankly it’s a statement or phrase that is economically subjective – what is expensive to one person is a bargain to another. But to address my frustrations in an even more literal fashion, I’ve decided to throw a bunch of numbers out there to prove that games are actually quite cheap.
Of all Mario’s diversions when not saving Princess Peach, Karting around has been his favourite hobby. We’ve had seven Mario Karts now, and the series has changed dramatically over time.
Have all the changes been for the good though? I would argue no, as my ranking list of Mario Kart games below would show. Be sure to let us know what your personal Mario Kart preference is in the comments!
Star Fox 64 hit the 3DS not long ago, bringing with it some new voice actors, fancier visuals, and more splendour all around. However, the original on the Virtual Console is still a very competent package. It might not pack the same three dimensional “punch” but the core gameplay should more than suffice for the average player.
The game follows the story of the Star Fox team; a four man band of bounty hunters headed by Fox McCloud. It’s your mission to take down the evil scientist, Andross, who killed your father and is planning to unleash havoc on the Lylat System (the universe in which the game takes place). It’s simple stuff that works effectively as a backdrop.
The majority of the game is played in an on-rails fashion (essentially an auto-scroll often used in shooters). You’ll take control of Fox McCloud as you pilot your Arwing all around the screen. Your primary goal is simply to dodge enemy fire and return some of your own on your way to the big baddie. If you’re in a tight spot, you can whip out some Smart Bombs. These explosives deliver massive damage to multiple targets, but you can only carry a few at a time. You’ll also want to keep an eye on your health so you know when to fly through vitality-replenishing rings littered throughout the stage. Incidentally, collecting three gold rings expands your health bar for the remainder of the stage.
While all of this is occurring, your teammates will banter amongst themselves. Some conversations are informative and give you tips on how to pilot your ship, rendering the need to read up on the controls null. Other talks advance the plot or are merely comical in nature. The game is chock full of the cheesiest, most quotable dialog from the 90s era of gaming.
Occasionally, your ship will switch into “All-Range Mode”, which enables it to move around an area independently of the scrolling. This opens up all sorts of new manoeuvres for your ship; U-turns suddenly have meaning since they actually reverse the direction your ship is flying in. This mode is typically used for boss battles, as it gives you a superior amount of control required to deal with pesky bosses.
When all is said and done, the combination of continuous banter with engaging dogfights forms a rather cohesive package. Most of what you’re doing feels as if it has a purpose since your allies often request aid and compliment you for your work. In addition to offering praise and scolding, your team comes off as meaningful since thanks to its ability to take down enemies. They’ll even disappear for a few missions if they run out of health, so you need to watch over them.
If you get tired of the single player campaign, you can relax with some competitive multiplayer. Unlike the main game, however, you can pick between the Landmasters (a ground-bound tank), Arwings, or even explore outside of a vehicle on foot. There aren’t too many stages to pick from, but the variety between the three modes of play should make them sufficient.
Like with fellow N64 shooter Sin & Punishment, Star Fox 64 is a very short game. What makes it worth playing again is the multitude of different routes you can take to reach the end of the game. You only need to play through seven stages to reach the ultimatum, but there are around 16 stages in all. Your route is determined by your actions within each stage, which encourages you to change up your deeds in every subsequent play-through. Additionally, there’s a normal ending and a true ending, so you’ll have to figure out which route will take you to the true battle with Andross.
At the risk of sounding pretentious, Star Fox has less of a soundtrack and more of an auditory experience. Every character is voiced effectively and delivers the legendary lines in an amusing tone. It’s also packed with level-defining tunes that will send you crawling back to the game whenever you reminisce.
Time has been less kind to the visuals, but that’s not saying much considering the work put into them. The frame rate is very solid and rarely suffers from slowdown. Objects and the environments can look too polygonal for comfort in spots, but this is mostly just nitpicking. It’s not the prettiest game anymore, but the aesthetics still work perfectly.
Unless you seek optical grandeur or need your talking animals on the go, Star Fox 64 on the Virtual Console is more or less as outstanding as the 3DS remake. There’s more than enough content to justify the price tag for those willing to play beyond the end screen.
The Virtual Console has seen better days, it seems. Over the past few months, more games have been removed from the service than have been added in most regions. Case in point, we've seen titles like Sonic the Hedgehog, R-Type, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Bloody Wolf, Drop Off, and Legend of Hero Tonma all disappear since the beginning of 2012.
This month's casualties are Aleste and Eggy, which will be removed from the Japanese Virtual Console on May 22nd. If you've got a Japanese Wii, now's the time to get downloading. The games can still be downloaded in the future once you've made your purchase, but you'll never have the option if you don't buy now.
On the bright side, D4 (the company behind the removal of the aforementioned titles) still intends to release the Neo Geo title Shock Troopers to the service so this is not a sign of pulling out support.