Nier: Automata Review

Patience is a virtue…

Very few games manage to transcend its predictable structure into a peculiarly constructed being that constantly shape-shifts both narratively and gameplay-wise. Those that attempt to embody this bizarrely delicious concept tend to fail, with the story layering multiple convoluted pieces that simply don’t make sense or bleed pretention, and/or its genre hopping implementation is rendered to a “jack of all trades, master of none”. Nier: Automata is the beloved exception to the rule. It is a robust experience that executes an impeccable variance of the new game plus system, a well paced and mechanically sound example of the seamless transition between different game genres, and incorporates a gripping narrative that is equally provocative as it is convoluted. While a plethora of technical issues and its underdeveloped open-world hold Nier: Automata back from being the underrated masterpiece that everyone claims it to be, it is still an exuberant experience that has the foundation for a masterpiece, simply lacking the required polish and design to reach such meteoric heights. Nier: Automata is a peculiar experience to critique as it’s constantly changing and evolving, with each new playthrough providing a sliver of reflection; my impressions of trepidation upon viewing the ending of Route A were completely different compared to my unanimous praise of Route C and its subsequent endings. It’s a fluctuating experience to say the least, but one that constantly propels the importance of the ride as opposed to the destination. It’s an arduous journey, not in terms of mechanical difficulty, but in perseverance and tenacity; the hunt for truth is a riveting force of propulsion, one that emitted a rewarding sense of satisfaction, despite my personal qualms with Automata’s certain limitations and design choices.

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Star Fox Zero Review

Star Fox Zero

We’ve had to wait nearly twenty years for it, but Star Fox 64 finally has a proper follow-up in the form of Star Fox Zero on Wii U. The on-rail shooting, arcade-style gameplay the series is known for makes a long-awaited return. Zero brings the series back to its roots, dropping any and all baggage that came into the series in the post-N64 era. So in many ways, Star Fox Zero is something of a dream come true for longtime fans of the series. Unfortunately, not all is well in Star Fox Zero, and despite being a stellar effort in many ways, some technical problems do prevent it from becoming the Nintendo classic it might otherwise have been.

Star Fox ZeroThe core gameplay is exactly what we’ve been asking for for nearly two decades. That is to say it’s an expansion of what Star Fox 64 accomplished. Players take control of Fox McCloud, who pilots a variety of vehicles: The classic Arwing is the most common of such vehicles, and serves as the basis for the game’s shooting action. Though a twist from the unreleased Star Fox 2 has been integrated into the Arwing, as it can now transform into the Walker which, as its name implies, brings the action of the Arwing to the ground. Meanwhile, 64’s Landmaster Tank returns with a transformation of its own, and can in certain levels become the Gravmaster, which fittingly takes the Landmaster gameplay to the air. Finally, a new vehicle called the Gyrowing makes its debut, which has less emphasis on combat and more emphasis on deploying robots to hack into computers.

The vehicles, as well as their transformations, give the gameplay a nice sense of variety. Unfortunately, while the essence of the gameplay recaptures what Star Fox should be, the controls can often feel overcomplicated, and can hinder the otherwise entertaining experience.

Star Fox Zero utilizes both the screen on the television and the screen on the Wii U Gamepad to showcase the action, with the former giving a traditional Star Fox style viewpoint, while the Gamepad displays the action from Fox McCloud’s cockpit. The Gamepad’s motion controls are used to aim the targeting reticle, and that works well enough, so I kind of wish Nintendo and Platinum Games had kept the Gamepad features there.

Focusing on both screens can become distracting, especially during segments that take on an “all-range mode” and certain boss fights. What’s worse is that at times the game will require the player to switch their attention to the Gamepad screen exclusively, without really informing the player of such. It can be a bit jarring, especially in instances such as cinematics, which are displayed on the television screen while the player is still controlling the action through the Gamepad. Though some aspects of the controls feel more natural as you grow accustomed to them, other control elements are just too convoluted. I appreciate Nintendo for trying new things, but there are times when a more traditional route can be more beneficial (look no further than the Wii U’s own Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for proof of just that).

The often awkward controls are what ultimately prevent Star Fox Zero from becoming the definitive Star Fox experience. But on the plus side, the shift back to an on-rails shooter puts the series back in the right direction.

Much like Star Fox 64, Star Fox Zero’s adventure can be completed in a few short hours. But also like Star Fox 64, Zero presents players with multiple alternate routes to traverse the game, giving it some replay value, which is taken to another level here.

Star Fox ZeroStar Fox Zero manages to trump 64’s replay value by adding additional levels and routes after you beat the game. Alternate routes can similarly be unlocked by replaying a completed level at certain points. Additionally, each level contains hidden medals, which can be found tucked away within the level itself or achieved by performing certain requirements, as well as high scores that the player can shoot for. To top it all off, Star Fox Zero includes a “Training Mode” which, despite the name, is more akin to a challenge mode, giving player’s something else to shoot for.

If Star Fox Zero has any other drawbacks, it’s probably in its overfamiliarity to Star Fox 64. From locations, character banter and even some boss fights, the game teeters very closely to being more of a remake than a sequel. If video game remakes worked the same as movie remakes, with the same story being retold through a modernized vision, then Star Fox Zero would in fact be a remake. The story is a reboot of star Fox 64’s (and, as an extension, a reboot of the original SNES Star Fox), which is fine, but perhaps a few extra original beats may have helped Zero build more of its own identity.

Star Fox ZeroStill, I’m reminded that Donkey Kong Country Returns played very much like a modernized Donkey Kong Country, and it opened the door for the bountiful ideas of Tropical Freeze. If Star Fox Zero can relaunch the series as successfully as DK did, then we should look very forward to what the future has in store for Fox McCloud and company. Online multiplayer would definitely be a desired addition in a future installment (hint hint Nintendo).

Star Fox Zero also shines on the aesthetic front, with gorgeous, vibrant visuals and a great soundtrack that revives old tunes and introduces a few memorable ones of its own.

Despite the familiarity and cumbersome control issues, Star Fox Zero is a welcome return to form for the series in many ways. It provides a fun adventure with loads of content and some nice replay value. But perhaps its biggest achievement is that it remembers what it means to be a Star Fox game. Its issues may hold it back from being a Nintendo classic, but as it stands, it’s just kind of great to have Star Fox back and doing what it does best.

 

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Star Fox Zero Impressions

Star Fox Zero

So I’ve beat Star Fox Zero, but I’m going to wait to write a full review until after I play through it a couple more times. Much like Star Fox 64, Zero is an intentionally short rail-shooter that’s meant to be replayed multiple times and aiming for a higher score. And like Star Fox 64, Zero includes multiple paths throughout the game, and even expands on that concept for even more replayability.

I’m just going to say it. On the whole, I love Star Fox Zero. It really is the proper sequel to Star Fox 64 that I’ve waited close to twenty years for. The overall style is still so much fun that you really have to wonder why it took Nintendo so long to get back to the series’ basics.

Now there are two big issues that I should acknowledge before I sing Star Fox Zero’s praises too much: The first are the controls. While the control scheme is far from broken, and in most cases works well enough, switching focus between the television screen and the screen on the Wii U Gamepad can become cumbersome at times. The motion-controlled targeting reticule worked just fine for me, but having to shift your attention between the two screens can grow tedious in the game’s “all-range mode” levels and in certain boss fights. Again, it never feels broken, but I can’t help but feel the control scheme might have been better if the motion controls were as far as the Gamepad features went, and left everything else to a more traditional control scheme.

The other problem is that, at times, the game might be playing things a little too close to Star Fox 64. It should be said that, storywise, this game is in fact a reboot of Star Fox 64 and, by extension, a reboot of the original Star Fox as well. So Star Fox is becoming something of Nintendo’s Spider-Man, where they just hit a reset button on the whole thing when it makes a grave misstep. I actually don’t mind Zero’s nature as a reboot, since I really didn’t care for the directions the series went after 64, so I feel starting fresh was probably the way to go.

The problem with the similarities is when they feel so close that this might as well be an HD update, as opposed to a reboot. A number of character dialogues, environments, and even boss fights are re-used from Star Fox 64 (though at least from what I’ve seen with the recycled boss fights, they have added a new twist or two). It might come off as faithful at the expense of some originality.

Star Fox ZeroWith all that said, Star Fox Zero is ultimately proving to be a very fun game. As stated, it does feel like a proper follow-up to Star Fox 64. That alone is reason enough to celebrate. The level design is well done, the gameplay is kept fresh and varied between stages, the characters remain charming, and the game takes the branching paths concept of the series to new levels, with certain stages even requiring a second go in the same playthrough to unlock alternate routes. Not to mention it looks great and had a memorable soundtrack.

It may be a bit familiar, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not looking forward to my next few playthroughs.

 

Bayonetta 2 Review

Bayonetta 2

Very few games have the energy of Bayonetta 2. It’s a non-stop barrage of style, color and flair. Most games would be utterly exhausted by its enthusiasm.

Bayonetta 2’s greatest strength is its intuitive gameplay. Bayonetta is crafted from the same mold as the likes of Kratos and Dante, but the end result is a far more polished and smooth work than its contemporaries. Every combo, every move, is tight and precise. It controls like a dream.

The story is less focused, and to be honest I barely understand a lick of what’s going on. Bayonetta fights angels and demons (both of which are after her soul) and must save her friend Jeane once she is dragged to hell, and (in true video game fashion) Bayonetta must eventually save the world.

The plot can feel a bit cluttered, and with all the ridiculous goings-on around Bayonetta, it gets even more lost. But the personalities involved are memorable. Bayonetta is a more fleshed-out character than her design (and strategically-placed camera angles) might suggest. Sarcastic but genuinely caring, Bayonetta’s personality makes her sexiness seem only complimentary. The supporting characters – from streetwise amnesiac Loki to the foulmouthed, bumbling Enzo – are a little more tropish, but no less colorful.

But enough of the narrative. Bayonetta is first and foremost an action game, and as stated, that’s where it shines quite brightly. The aforementioned combat is a constantly-expanding affair. By collecting Halos (more than a little nod to Sonic the Hedgehog’s rings) Bayonetta can buy new moves and more weapons (which can be assigned to her hands, legs, or both), all of which give a great sense of “easy to learn, difficult to master.” Bayonetta 2

It’s all glued together through “Witch Mode,” a kind of slow-mo state that’s activated by dodging enemy attacks, and gives the player a primed opportunity to unleash Bayonetta’s best combos. And the ‘climax attacks’ are button-mashing at its most fun, and create a Mortal Kombat like combination of violence and utter ridiculousness. Bayonetta 2

This gameplay is made all the more its own for its sense of style. Appropriately enough for a game that stars a character as extravagant as Bayonetta, just about every moment of the game is an explosion of style and humor, and filled with some of the most bizarre enemy designs in gaming.

One minute Bayonetta is flying through a hurricane in the sky, then she’s sent 500 years in the past piloting her own mecha. It’s outlandish, over-the-top and campy, but its swimming in imagination, and makes its predecessor look mundane.

There’s a new co-operative mode, called ‘tag climax,’ which now means the chaotic fun of Bayonetta can be enjoyed in multiplayer. This is a score attack action game that already demands replayability, but with multiplayer added to the mix that’s doubly true. Bayonetta 2

Some may cry foul at the oversexualization of the game, and I certainly found myself rolling my eyes more than a few times. But again, I find the camera easier to blame than Bayonetta herself. It’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek, so its probably not worth getting too worked up over.

As an added treat provided by the game’s Wii U exclusivity, you can now unlock costumes, moves and weapons based on Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Starfox. The cute Nintendo aesthetics make for an entertaining juxtaposition, but the fact that they give the gameplay even more variety is the real treat.

In short, Bayonetta 2 is a game that plays like a dream. Its sense of control is up there with Nintendo’s own properties, and its so full of personality and style that there’s never a dull moment. It might be a little too chaotic or challenging for some, and the clunky narrative and forced sex appeal may be off-putting to others. But in terms of sheer gameplay, it’s as beautiful as Bayonetta herself.

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The Wonderful 101 Review

The Wonderful 101

With colorful character designs, bombastic action set pieces, and an explosion of style, The Wonderful 101 looks to have all the makings of another Platinum beat ’em up classic. Unfortunately, Wonderful 101 ends up being a case of good intentions being muddled by clunky controls and poor camerawork.

It’s far from a completely broken experience, the idea of controlling 100 different gimmicky heroes at once, and using the touch screen to draw different shapes, transforming these heroes into an assortment of weapons – from a simple fist to more extravagant shapes like whips, guns, swords and bombs- is both fun and creative. But if it sounds like a bit much, it probably is.

The Wonderful 101Too often does drawing a shape on the Wii U Gamepad produce something other than the desired weapon. When Okami provided a similar setup with a drawing mechanic back on the PS2 and Wii, it felt a lot more responsive. The GamePad’s touchscreen seems more ideal for the concept, but somehow it rarely works as effectively here. And too often do your heroes seem to be lost in some nook or cranny of a stage, and losing troops is more troubling here than in Nintendo’s own Pikmin 3, since losing more heroes means your transformations are that much less powerful. While players may actually feel compelled to go out and search for a missing Pikmin, in Wonderful 101 losing troops feels more irritating than anything.

Then there’s Wonderful 101’s biggest flaw: the camera. Keeping track of 100 different characters is a difficult enough task as it is. But combine that with a camera that feels sporadic and rarely seems to capture the perfect angle of the action, and it becomes a problem.

Wonderful 101 has its qualities: It’s got a sharp sense of humor (complete with a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards video game stereotyping), the battles can be fun when you actually get a grip on the situation, and the set pieces you find yourself in are thrilling and bursting with personality.

The problem though, is that The Wonderful 101 may just be more fun to watch than it is to actually play. It shares many of the traits of previous gems created by Platinum’s development teams. You may find traces of Viewtiful Joe, Okami and Bayonetta here and there, but Wonderful 101 doesn’t share the fluidity of those games. It’s ambitious and thrilling, and boasts a lot of promise. But it’s a hampered experience in its execution. Some Platinum diehards may find a more enjoyable game here than the uninitiated, but the Wonderful 101 lacks the precision in design that Platinum usually makes look so easy. It’s hardly Viewtiful.

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