While my thoughts on the Shin-Megami subseries may emit a questionable sense of bias, piercing through any form of clouded judgment was surprisingly trivial as Persona 5 is an absolute delight, regardless of my attachment to the series. As I’ve mentioned profusely, Persona 4 Golden is my favourite video game of all-time, and my biased standpoint stems from the sheer fact that this experience saved my life. With that rather audacious statement declared, expectations for its sequel were undoubtedly and unfairly monumental; Persona 4 was an enlightening experience that impeccably resonated with every beat of my contemporary life at that point in time. Persona 5 is not nearly as masterful as its predecessor, but one must understand that it was never going to be nor does it need to be. Persona 5 is an intricately designed experience that exudes an unparalleled aura of stylistic charm, with its immaculate presentation placed in a profound echelon of its own. While its pivotal narrative lacks the grave and brutal nature of its predecessor, it still manages to weave elements of moral intensity, corruption, unity and friendship, throwing in plenty of twists and turns that construct a sound and compelling narrative that is arguable the best in the series. While dozens of returning elements foster the core structure that we’ve come to expect, welcome new additions are added into the mix to create the most streamlined, accessible, and smooth Persona experience to date. Character development and gameplay are seamlessly entwined with each element inherently affecting the other, the simplistically complex battle-system is a refined work of art that bears an untouched stylistic aesthetic, and the excellent new Mementos system provides a refreshing approach to longevity and level grinding, justifying its questionable existence. While Persona 5’s characters aren’t nearly as endearing as the exquisite cast of Persona 4 and the typical sense of dread and impending doom is questionably absent for most of the journey, Persona 5 is undoubtedly the most polished entry in the series as its intricately designed gameplay systems and captivating narrative points are stellar examples of this genre’s iconic framework and impressive capability. It might not be the life-changing experience that its older brother delivered, but Persona 5 is an excellent standalone experience that is extraordinarily gratifying for all who wish to partake in this exquisite journey – it is a bona fide masterpiece.
I know, I’m supposed to go on and on about what a terrible, vile, evil thing Senran Kagura is. Because is this day and age, where political correctness is taken to practically fascist levels, the concept of animated characters with big boobs is considered more taboo than violence or sex. Yes, the Senran Kagura series is juvenile, but it knows it. This is a franchise all about bosomy ninjas all having friendly competitions with one another, with their clothes conveniently flying off during battle (with equally-convenient flashes of light knowing just where to censor). But it knows it’s all a giant piece of fan-service, and runs with the joke. Simply put, when we have actual issues going on in reality, I can’t find a game whose biggest crime is making one immature boob joke after another to be all that offensive. So sue me.
It also helps that Senran Kagura: Estival Versus actually shows some promise for the series as a worthwhile video game franchise, albeit it does have some glaring issues that hold it back.
Believe it or not, there actually is a story here: Four groups of female ninjas are in a constant rivalry against each other to become Kagura (which, as far as I’ve deduced, is like a ‘super ninja’ in the game’s mythology). These four groups are the Hanzo Academy, Homura Crimson Squad, Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy, and the Gessen Girls’ Academy.
One by one, these groups of series mainstays are teleported to another world which, conveniently for players, is primarily a tropical beach. The girls are brought here by an elderly woman named Sayuri, the grandmother of Asuka, the main girl from Hanzo Academy. The reason for Sayuri bringing the girls to this world is for them to take part in some Millennium Festival, which will make them more powerful for an eventual encounter with some kind of demon…or something.
It turns out this strange beach world also works as a medium between one life and the next, and the girls soon start finding some of their lost loved ones inhabiting this world, as they still have a lingering regret or two which is preventing them from passing on to a proper afterlife.
I have to admit, I actually found myself a little interested when it came to the stories between some of the characters. Whether they’re learning the importance of friendship with one another (oh, anime), or having an emotional crisis from facing their lost loved ones again, there actually is – much to my surprise – a little bit of character development amidst all the jiggle physics and blatant fan-service.
On the downside of things, however (and this may sound like a strange complaint here), there’s almost too much story. Look, the stuff between the girls can be funny, but the main plot, which already doesn’t have much to it, just drags on and on. In between each gameplay mission, you have to sit through one cinematic after another, with many of these cinematics quickly growing repetitious (if I had a nickel for every story segment where the girls discuss the “real” reason they were brought to the beach, I’d have a decent sum of money saved up).
These aren’t extravagant cutscenes either, but ones where character models stand in front of static backgrounds, and recycle a few select animations, while text boxes explain the finer details. In worst case scenarios, you only see the backgrounds, and merely see text on the screen to represent characters. The latter example happens in every situation involving the girls meeting one of their deceased relatives (sans for one of the playable characters, who is the ghostly sister of two other characters). This comes off as a cheap cop-out, as it prevents the artists from actually designing and animating these additional characters.
The worst part of it all is that these cutscenes go on and on and on and on. Even though I got a kick out of many of the characters, I eventually found myself skipping through many of the dialogue boxes. This is a beat-em-up game about bosomy ninja waifus, do we really need so much exposition?
Thankfully, the core gameplay is actually pretty fun. The game is more or less a combination of a beat-em-up and a 3D fighter, as you fight waves of enemies with outlandish combos, can transform into more powerful “Shinobi” forms, and ultimately face off with one to three of the other characters as a boss fight.
Square is your quicker, weaker attack. Triangle is your slower, stronger attack. The X button jumps, the Circle button dashes and allows you to run up walls.
By performing combos you can build up a meter that, when full, gives you a scroll. Press L1 to use a scroll to go into your Shinobi form. Once transformed, you can use special attacks with the use of additional scrolls (L1 + Square uses one scroll, L1 + Triangle uses two). Additionally, you’ll gain more experience points after a battle depending on your performance. And when you get enough to gain a level for a particular character, that character can hold more scrolls.
It’s simple enough stuff, but fighting through hundreds of ninjas before having grander showdowns with the other characters can be a lot of fun. And it’s made all the better by the differences between characters. Though the controls are the same around the board, each character has their own weapon (Asuka simply uses katanas, but her fellow Hanzo Academy student Katsuragi uses rocket shoes; and Yumi, the leader of Gessen Academy, uses fans for combat, while Haruka uses a pet robot in battle). Each character has their own distinct style of play, which really gives the game some good variety, considering the sheer number of characters there are.
Unfortunately, even the gameplay takes something of a dip for two main reasons.
The first of those reasons is repetition. Though the core gameplay is fun and the characters have variety, the game does very little to add anything new to the experience as it goes on. You simply hack a few hordes of enemies, fight the boss character(s), and then proceed to the next overly long cinematic. The main story mode is actually decently long, so for it to just recycle the same formula throughout its entirety is a bit of a bummer.
The other downside is that the enemy AI is largely inconsistent. Granted, in a game like this you expect the mindless hordes of enemies to be just that, mindless. But sometimes, this occurs during the bosses as well. While the bosses oftentimes put up a decent fight, there were more than a few instances where the boss characters just stood there for me to bombard them with one special attack after another. There was even one instance in which all three boss enemies just kept running into walls, never even changing into their Shinobi forms (which instantly refills all health, I should add). To say this battle was easy is an understatement.
Speaking of easy, the main story mode isn’t all that difficult. Though some opponents put up a good fight, I never actually died once during the entirety of the story mode. I was going to mark the game down further due to the lack of difficulty, but an additional mode, which sees each character play through their own short stories, adds more of a challenge to the experience.
Despite the aforementioned limited animation in the cinematics, I did greatly enjoy the graphics of the game. The character models remind me of those of the Guilty Gear games, where they look like traditionally animated anime characters brought into 3D. And the game even features a few hand-drawn cinematics and images sprinkled throughout (though the few hand-drawn segments may expose more limitations in the main game. For example, Katsuragi and Haruka are a little more, should I say, “gifted” even compared to the other girls in the game. But the gameplay models for every character are pretty interchangeable in terms of body type, with only the, umm, “flatter” characters looking any different in-game). The music also adds to the aesthetic pleasures, with a soundtrack that’s appropriately fun and bubbly.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of Senran Kagura: Estival Versus (along with the core gameplay) is the sheer abundance of unlockables in the game. It seems like no matter what you do, you’re always unlocking an additional mission or a customizable option for the girls (you can change their outfits for their different forms and cinematics, and even pose them for pictures). You may find yourself replaying parts of the story mode or the character missions just to see what you can unlock next.
Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is obviously not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, especially in this day and age in which people actively seek to be offended by things. But behind all the bikinis and bosoms is a pretty fun- albeit flawed – title. The game itself may not share the beauty of its cast – with excessive cinematics, a repetitious structure and often-stupid AI muddling things a bit – but it does show that there may be a little something more to this series than fan-service alone. With a bit more time dedicated to refining the game, Senran Kagura could turn out to be a winning video game series.
These days, first-person shooters and other, more “mature” genres are the most prominent games. But back in the 1990s, it was all about cartoony platformers. Mario was the long-standing gaming icon, and Sonic the Hedgehog had risen to prominence in the early years of the decade. Sonic’s popularity lead to countless imitators, with many an “animal with attitude” failing to replicate what made the hedgehog Mario’s one-time rival. There was, however, one such would-be mascot who actually succeeded in being the third-party in this platforming mascot equation: Crash Bandicoot.
Crash Bandicoot was created by Naughty Dog, the developer who is now most famous for creating the Uncharted series and The Last of Us. Crash’s first three outings on the Sony Playstation proved to be so popular, that the anthropomorphized marsupial became the face of Sony’s initial gaming platform.
Crash’s popularity can mostly be attributed to the quality of his games, though it probably helped things a bit that the orange bandicoot had a tone of his own. While Mario was whimsical and Sonic was “cool,” Crash Bandicoot was downright silly. Taking as much inspiration from Loony Tunes as from the likes of Sonic and Mario, Naughty Dog created a worthy addition to the platforming family with an identity of its own. But one who sadly fell out of prominence after Naughty Dog surrendered the character to other developers after the PSOne era. From the PS2 era (which saw Sony’s former mascot become a multi-platform franchise) and the subsequent console generation, the once-mighty Crash Bandicoot fell from grace, with developers never quite knowing how to recreate the series’ magic. After an off-putting quasi-reboot which saw a complete overhaul in art direction (something that never serves as a good sign for long-standing series), Crash laid dormant for nine years.
Thanks to developer Vicarious Visions, Crash Bandicoot is back with his first (and most famous) three adventures being rebuilt from the ground up for the Playstation 4. Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy faithfully re-creates the beloved original trilogy of platformers for a new generation. Though this faithfulness means there’s a little bit of a “warts and all” quality about the N. Sane Trilogy, it also proves to be something of a labor of love and a beautiful re-introduction to the series.
Though Crash Bandicoot was one of the early 3D platformers, it plays a lot more like a 2D one than something like Super Mario 64 (released in 1996, the same year as the first Crash Bandicoot title). The camera is usually fixed behind Crash, with the bandicoot traveling forward through stages that felt like those of a 2D platformer, but with a 3D perspective.
Crash Bandicoot can jump on enemies, but also comes with a spin attack. He collects Wumpa Fruits which, like Mario’s coins or Sonic’s rings, grant an extra life for every one-hundred gained. In the game’s own unique twist on the genre, the stages are also littered with boxes. Once every box in a level is destroyed, Crash is rewarded with a magical gem, which are needed if the player wishes to obtain one-hundred percent completion, with special colored gems found in certain stages which create new paths in certain levels.
Crash seemed to have learned a thing or two from Donkey Kong Country, as the boxes are reminiscent of DK’s barrels, and come in different varieties: Some contain a single fruit, others contain multiples, Crash can bounce on some, while others contain TNT, and will explode within a few seconds after jumped on (or instantly if Crash spins them). The sequels also added Nitro boxes, which will explode instantaneously upon contact, and can only properly be destroyed by hitting a switch at the level’s end. Finally, there are boxes adorned with a tiki mask named Aku Aku. Grabbing one and two masks will give Crash that many more hits, while obtaining a third mask will grant temporary invincibility.
The core gameplay of Crash Bandicoot is a lot of fun. Most of the levels are well designed, and trying to obtain every gem adds a level of complexity to the equation. On the downside of things, the perspective can often be misleading, with the fixed camera leading to some tricky platforming. This is especially true in the first game of the trilogy (simply titled Crash Bandicoot), which can, at times, feel a bit trollish with the tricks it plays with perspective. Still, the core mechanics are so fun that they mostly overshadow the sometimes cumbersome perspectives.
Though the second and third titles of the series, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot: Warped still suffer from some of these troublesome camera issues, they remain two of the few 3D titles on the original Playstation that hold up pretty well in terms of gameplay. The original Crash Bandicoot, however, wasn’t quite so lucky. Despite the fun mechanics, some of the later levels feel almost unfairly difficult, which were made all the worse by a convoluted saving system (in the PSOne version, you could only save after acquiring a gem or completing a bonus stage).
Thankfully, part of that problem has been rectified here, as the N. Sane Trilogy features a streamlined saving feature throughout all three games. For the first Crash Bandicoot, this is something of a godsend with how difficult it could get at times. Those difficult levels still remain – sometimes with unfair traps that require trial-and-error – but at least now you don’t have to worry about replaying them if you missed out on a chance to save before getting a game over.
Cortex Strikes Back and Warped remain two of the best of the early 3D platformers, however, with even the original PSOne versions being enjoyable today. Crash 2 introduced a sliding move, a crouch that (like Mario) could result in a high jump, as well as overall better level design; and Warped added a wider variety of gameplay styles (jet ski levels, airplane levels, motorcycle levels, etc.) as well as Time Trials, which would award players with saphire, gold or platinum relics if you could finish a stage fast enough.
However, all three games are better than ever as part of the N. Sane Trilogy. The original Crash – though still flawed – is a much better game with the additional features (such as the aforementioned saving), while the sequels are a case of two great games being made all the better.
The obvious changes are the visuals and music. Though the level design is the same, everything has been rebuilt from the ground up. This isn’t simply the old Crash Bandicoot games in HD, but games that don’t look like remakes at all. If you didn’t have the knowledge of Crash’s past, you might be forgiven for thinking these are original PS4 games. And the cartoony aesthetics – whether it be the Australian inspired setting of the first game, the arctic or sewer-themed stages of the second, or the various time periods Crash visits in his time-traveling third outing – stand out all the more on current hardware. Video games look better than ever these days, yet most developers feel the need to make games look more “gritty” or “realistic” because of the technological power at play. But Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy serves as a good example of why such colorful and vibrant games should be explored more often on HD hardware.
Though Crash Bandicoot’s musical scores may not be among the most iconic in video game history, the tunes are infectiously catchy and – taking another cue from DK – can be incredibly atmospheric. Every track has been faithfully recreated, and these already great soundtracks sound better than ever.
Not every change in the N. Sane Trilogy is cosmetic, however, as there have been a few tweaks made to the games themselves. Most notably, Warped’s Time Trials have been inserted into the two earlier games, giving them even more challenge and replay value. Additionally, Crash’s sister Coco Bandicoot, who was originally only playable in select levels of Warped (and even then only in levels that saw her riding a vehicle or tiger) can be played in any platforming level of all three games. She plays identically to Crash, and playing as her is optional, so she doesn’t exactly change the game, but she keeps things faithful for purists while also making up for her somewhat disappointing playability in Warped’s original release.
Crash Bandicoot has had a long, shaky history, but I feel like the N. Sane Trilogy serves as something of a refreshing reboot for the series. The perspectives can still get tricky at times, and the first game can still feel cheap, but the N. Sane Trilogy resurrects the series in a gorgeous recreation of the beloved Naughty Dog games. Hopefully this leads to publisher Activision green-lighting a brand new Crash Bandicoot 4 (ignoring the post-Naughty Dog games and using these remakes as a blueprint would be the best course for the series’ future).
When most people think of Naughty Dog, they probably think of Uncharted, The Last of Us, or even Jak and Daxter. But for me, Crash Bandicoot has always been the synonymous name with the developer, and Vicarious Visions has done a wonderful job at turning these nostalgic favorites into worthwhile contemporary titles.
The bandicoot is back, and I hope he’s here to stay.
Imagine if the knights of medieval England, the samurai of ancient Japan, and the seafaring Norse vikings were all brought together by a massive Earthquake. That may sound like the build-up to a bad joke, but it’s also the foundation of For Honor, a team-based player vs. player title that is one of the more original and fun multiplayer games of recent years.
From the get-go, players assign their profile to one of the three factions, which enables them to contribute to the community of said faction, in hopes of reaping the benefits by securing victories for your team during For Honor’s gameplay seasons.
Thankfully, pledging allegiance to one faction places no restrictions on which characters you can play as. Players have one character from each group from the start, but you can unlock three additional characters for each team by purchasing them with in-game currency. Better still, during gameplay – which pits two teams of four against one another – players aren’t restricted to picking characters from a specific side. You can have any combination of samurai, knights and vikings you want, even repeat characters.
As you might expect, each character is unique with their own weapons and abilities. The knights’ Lawbringer wields a powerful halberd that can throw enemies around (in the most violent way possible), while the samurai’s Nobushi uses a long spear and poisons against enemies. On their own, the characters all have a great sense of variety, but what makes this class-based system deeper than most multiplayer games of its kind is the ability to level up each character class individually.
Not only does the player level up their standing with their chosen faction, but the more they play as specific characters, the more they can level up that character, resulting in learning new moves, combos and passive abilities. It definitely gives players more incentive to try out the different play styles, and to strengthen the ones they take to.
There’s yet another layer to this customization, as in-between matches, you have the opportunity to win additional weapons and armor, which aren’t simply cosmetic changes, but even alter a characters stats when equipped. Though the ability to alter the characters’ weapons and armor is a nice touch, it does come with a couple of caveats. Namely, the items you receive between matches are random (you often don’t get them at all). This wouldn’t be too bad, except that even repeat items don’t have the same stats, so you might have equipped a particular weapon that adds a good bonus to one stat, but doesn’t improve another, then you might find the same item that adds to the lacking stat, but greatly takes away from the previously-stronger stat. Granted, your stats are only as good as the weapons and armor you have equipped, but the randomness of receiving items does take something away from the experience.
With that said, it still is possible to better an opponent who may have gotten luckier with their item pick-ups, should you master the parries and counters well enough, it’s just a lot more difficult.
The good news is that the core gameplay is incredibly entertaining. For Honor is a team-based competitive multiplayer title, akin to many first-person shooters. But it plays more like a cross between a hack-n-slash and a fighter. Each character has a list of combos, which are performed similarly to those from fighting games (each class even has their own finishing moves). The player characters work like captains, with each team also having armies of easily-disposed-of AI soldiers.
The gameplay itself is a lot of fun, and much like the characters, is given a good deal of variety through its differing modes. Standard games have the teams trying to claim the most points by eliminating members of the opposing team, and Dominion sees the teams trying to claim specific control points. Duels prove to be some of the most fun, eliminating the AI soldiers and simply pitting one player from each team against another from the start, with the players able to aide their teammates after eliminating their initial opponent (or by running away and hoping your opponent doesn’t catch up).
For Honor is an exceptional multiplayer experience, though some of its online features prevent it from reaching the same level as something like Overwatch. Notably, For Honor doesn’t use dedicated servers, and uses the more dated method of using players as hosts, resulting in many connection errors and slow-ups. The game also has questionable matchmaking, as you’ll frequently find yourself pitted against opponents far beyond (or below) your level.
As fun and original as the core gameplay is, the server issues and inconsistent matchmaking do show a lack of polish in the online features, which is a pretty big deal considering For Honor is predominantly an online multiplayer game. There is a single player campaign that can provide some fun, but it mainly serves as a tutorial for the game’s different classes.
For Honor is one of the more engaging multiplayer experiences of recent years. With a strong variety of characters, gameplay modes, and levels (each with their own hazards for players to take advantage of), and a strong amount of customization, For Honor is a multiplayer title that has no shortage of depth. But if the online functionality were smoother, the matchmaking more balanced, and you didn’t have to rely on luck to improve weapons and armor, and For Honor would have joined the likes of Overwatch, Mario Kart and Team Fortress 2 as one of the all-time greats in multiplayer.
Some games are timeless. Though the technology and the hardware keep moving forward, and the nature of gaming changes drastically in relatively short periods of time, some games just deny age and hold up as perennial classics no matter how much things change. Other games, however, age greatly over time. Whether through the refinements of game mechanics or simply a pioneering title slowly revealing its lack of anything other than its novelties, some games just age like milk.
Unfortunately for Resident Evil, it strongly evokes the latter category.
Resident Evil was a pioneer in the industry, setting a standard for survival-horror games, and launching one of gaming’s most popular franchises. But the sad reality is that the original Resident Evil is quite the product of its time. Though it was influential, Resident Evil now feels archaic and dated, with even the alterations made for the PS4 release doing little to cover its glaring blemishes.
To be fair, the game actually succeeds pretty darn well with its horror elements. It’s mutated zombies, undead dogs, and other monsters all evoking a good dose of terror. And the old mansion that serves as the game’s setting gives off an appropriately creepy atmosphere.
Resident Evil’s story sees the player take control of either Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield, two members of S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics And Rescue Service), who have been sent to an old mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon City to investigate a series of murders, after losing contact with the previous team of S.T.A.R.S. who set out for the mansion.
As you might expect, members of the previous team are soon found dead within the mansion, being devoured by zombies. It is then up to the player to uncover the mysteries behind the recent horrors of Raccoon City, and ultimately, escape the mansion with their life.
It’s an appropriate plot for the game, and would feel right at home in any horror/suspense flick (the game’s original voice cast was so infamously bad it gave the game a terrific B-movie appeal. The re-releases re-recorded the dialogue. It’s still bad, but no longer so bad it’s funny).
Another highlight of the game is how it thought of ways to make traditional gameplay mechanics work within the game’s narrative. Players have to find first-aid sprays to regain lost health, and saving is used via typewriter, for example. There’s never a sense that any element of the game’s world was compromised in translating it into the game itself.
Both playable characters have slight variations as well, with Jill having a larger inventory, more firepower and a lock-pick for easier access to certain areas and items (“the master of unlocking”), while Chris may not be able to carry as much, but is more durable and able to take more damage. There are even some narrative differences between the two characters, with certain members of the supporting cast being more prevalent in one character’s story arc than the other, and other small, appreciated changes.
Where Resident Evil ultimately stumbles, however, is in its controls. If you play the game with its original control scheme, pushing up always moves the character forward, while pressing left or right changes which direction they’re facing. It’s an example of the “tank controls” that started appearing during the PSOne era that just feel so awkward and cumbersome when playing today.
The re-release provides an updated control method, with the character moving more intuitively with the directional presses themselves, but they only help so much when the game’s camerawork leaves so much to be desired.
Resident Evil has a constantly fixed camera, with each room and chamber having its own camera angles. Oftentimes, moving from one side of a larger room to the other will result in a drastic change in camera angles. The bad part is, most of these angles are far from ideal, and even if manage to get a hang of the controls for the character, the constantly switching camera angles are just so jarring.
The game has a few other quirks, with the constant pausing to switch weapons and inventory slowing the pace of the game considerably, and simply trying to aim your weapon at targets is a convoluted ordeal. Resident Evil also purposefully reserves its extra ammunition, as to make the player feel more vulnerable to play into the game’s horror atmosphere. On its own, the shortage of ammo is a smart move, but combine it with the aforementioned abysmal aiming, and you’ll probably find that most of whatever ammo you can find is quickly wasted shooting at the air.
I can certainly respect a lot of what Resident Evil accomplished in its day. The way it builds its atmosphere is effective, the more puzzle-based elements bring out the better aspects of the game’s design, and for a remaster of a 1996 video game, the PS4 release looks pretty good. But actually controlling the game feels like an absolute mess when played today. Not only do the characters’ controls feel archaic, but the camerawork is downright dizzying, and other gameplay elements that might otherwise be novel are made frustrating due to the controls.
Resident Evil may be a revolutionary title, but it’s certainly not a timeless one. At least it paved the way for some more polished sequels. We can all be grateful for that.
It’s almost shocking to think that – seven years after it was first unveiled, and nine years after its development began – The Last Guardian has actually been released. This long-awaited third installment in Team Ico’s nameless, loosely-connected series was becoming the stuff of gaming legend. Despite the artistic pedigree of its predecessors Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, it seemed like The Last Guardian would never be finished. But here it is, finally a reality. So how well does The Last Guardian stack up against its lofty expectations and ridiculous wait?
The answer to that question is a bit of a mixed bag. Because when The Last Guardian works, it’s not only great, but a thing of utter beauty. But when it doesn’t, it can feel a bit on the archaic and unpolished side.
The Last Guardian is set in the same mythical world of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, though it bears no direct narrative connections to them. Players take control of a young boy, who awakens as a prisoner in a faraway fortress known as “The Nest,” with no recollection as to how he got there. As soon as he wakes up in this forsaken place, he encounters a strange, mythical creature, called a Trico, a kind of giant half-bird/half-dog that has been impaled with spears and its wings damaged.
In the game’s tutorial segment, the boy helps relieve the creature of its pains, and soon enough the boy and the Trico form a special bond as they both work together to try and find a way to escape from the seemingly inescapable fortress, all while avoiding the clutches of the ghostly suits of armor that haunt the many chambers of the Nest.
The narrative, while simple, is one of the game’s biggest highlights, as it often turns into something quite emotional. The friendship between the boy and the creature is one of the most beautifully realized in all of gaming, and will definitely tug at the heart at numerous instances. Plus, the setup gives a good means to combine gameplay elements of its two predecessors, with the co-operation between the player and an NPC from Ico being merged with the scaling of large creatures of Colossus, making for some truly clever puzzle and level design.
On the downside of things, some of these gameplay elements still feel like they’re suffering from the same shortcomings of its predecessors, which is all the more noticeable considering the game had plenty of development time to work out the kinks.
The biggest of these issues is the Trico’s AI itself. The Last Guardian has a huge emphasis on having the boy give commands to the Trico, telling it which way to go, and what objects to interact with. But actually getting the Trico to follow through with these commands can often be something of an ordeal. While some of the game’s segments work well enough, other times Trico seems to be doing whatever it wants to. You’ll be riding atop Trico’s back, telling him to jump to the platforms in front of you, only for him to just sit there for a minute before going backwards. Sadly, these moments of inconsistent AI only seem to increase as the game goes on, and too often I felt frustrated at the game, and even at Trico himself. And I’m sure frustration is just about the last emotion The Last Guardian was intended to elicit.
If The Last Guardian has another major issue, it’s the camera. Admittedly, camerawork has been a persistent issue with Team Ico’s games from the beginning, but it may be at its most prominent here in The Last Guardian. The camera on its own leaves a lot to be desired, but combine it with a focus on a large creature in often small spaces, and it becomes all the more of an issue. Again, this is an especially pressing problem considering the lengthy development gave Team Ico plenty of time to learn from past mistakes.
The sad thing is, these problems are big enough to hold the overall experience back. But on the plus side of things, what an experience it is. The world of Team Ico’s titles remains one of the most enchanting in all of gaming, and the stories they tell are among the most beautiful and sensitive in the entire medium. That trend continues here, as the world and story of The Last Guardian is as mystifying and emotional as anything Team Ico has made.
Trico himself is a stunning creation. His character design is reminiscent of the dragon from Spirited Away, and the emotion he conjures effectively echoes that which someone might have for their pet dog or cat. The setting and overall mood of the game is just as melancholy as Team Ico’s previous works, with the fairy tale trend of the studio still being prevalent (the characters still speak in a fictional language, and the story is narrated by the boy’s adult-self in the past tense). And the segments in which the boy and the Trico encounter the armors are genuinely frightening.
In terms of aesthetics, The Last Guardian is an absolute winner. The mystifying world that Team Ico has created has never looked more beautiful, with the graphics being some of the best on the Playstation 4. The music is similarly top notch, and at times even rivals the soundtrack of Shadow of the Colossus.
It’s nothing short of tragic that the technical issues that are present are frustrating and distracting enough to prevent The Last Guardian from reaching its full potential. The inconsistent AI and clunky camerawork are hindering, but this is still a beautiful gaming experience that kept me emotionally invested, and it left me wanting to see what Team Ico can dream up next (and praying that it doesn’t take nearly as long for them to complete). If Team Ico can create a title with as much polish in gameplay as there is beauty in their storytelling, they would rival the very best the industry has to offer. As it is, the flaws at hand are the price that needs to be paid for the unique experiences Team Ico brings to the table.
If the results are this rewarding, then in the end, I suppose that price is worth it.
*Review based on the PS3 release as part of the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus Collection*
Shadow of the Colossus is a gaming experience quite unlike any other. When it was first released on the Playstation 2 in 2005, it instantly became one of the most acclaimed titles on the platform due to its unique gameplay and artistic approach to game design, which has proven incredibly influential in the years since. Though its flaws have become more apparent with time, Shadow of the Colossus remains a highlight in video game history, and my personal favorite game to come out of the Playstation 2.
Shadow of the Colossus follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, Ico, in that it utilizes similar subtleties in its gameplay and storytelling. Players take control of a man called Wander, who has travelled to a forbidden land with his horse Agro. The purpose for Wander’s venture is that his beloved has passed away, and he has brought her lifeless body to the shrine of an ancient being called Dormin.
Dormin has the power to resurrect Wander’s fallen love, but Wander must first perform a profaned ritual, and slay the sixteen Colossi that inhabit this forbidden realm. Dormin promises that completion of the ritual will return Wander’s love to life, but that it may have severe consequences on Wander himself. And that’s if he’s even able to survive against the Colossi.
The story is told with a beautiful sense of minimalism, leaving many elements to interpretation. What at first seems like a selfless adventure of heroism and sacrifice quickly unravels into a selfish tragedy. Never once does the game make players feel too triumphant for downing a Colossus, with every one of the beasts being presented as an innocent creature tragically caught up in Wander’s mission. And every one of Wander’s “victories” comes with a sense of sorrow for the felled creatures, and will have players second guessing the nature of their quest.
Suffice to say Shadow of the Colossus is quite an emotional game. It’s that sense of emotion and thematics that have helped Shadow of the Colossus become a classic that continues to influence game design today. Perhaps the best thing about Shadow of the Colossus is that it’s also a more than capable game.
It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to label Shadow of the Colossus as an extravagant boss rush, as there are no enemies for Wander to face aside from the titular beasts, and even the puzzle elements from Ico are largely relegated to the fights themselves. Wander is equipped with only a sword and a bow to do battle with the Colossi, with his horse Agro serving as a means to travel from one battle to the next.
Wander’s stats are comprised solely of a health bar and a stamina meter, with the latter serving as an indicator for how long Wander can hold onto a Colossus before being thrown from it. Wander’s stats improve after every battle, with his health also being increased by finding fruit throughout the game world, and stamina seeing additional increases by finding white-tailed lizards, and collecting said tails with a little help from your bow.
The real star of the show are the Colossi themselves. Each Colossus is a masterpiece in character design, and each one is just as creative in being a stage and puzzle in their own right. Each Colossus presents a unique challenge, with every creature being presented as its own platforming obstacle or puzzle that needs to be overcome in order to expose its weak point and bring it down. The variety of the Colossi keep the experience fresh, and also help make Shadow of the Colossus one of the very few games to evoke a genuine sense of majesty.
Unfortunately, as wonderful as the experience is, Shadow of the Colossus isn’t perfect. Age has revealed the camera controls to be far from ideal. Especially when a Colossus is trying to shake Wander from its shoulders, the camera can be particularly chaotic. Similarly, Wander himself can feel a little awkward to control when perched atop a Colossus, often fumbling even when a Colossus isn’t trying to remove him. The controls and camera can become a bit cumbersome, maybe even frustrating at times. Which is unfortunate given how, otherwise, Shadow of the Colossus only evokes deeper feelings than most games.
While it may not be mechanically perfect, Shadow of the Colossus can still easily be regarded as a classic. Its artistic approach, unique gameplay, and genuinely epic battles are entirely its own. And although the visuals may look dated (though the PS3 remaster gives a nice, updated sheen), the orchestrated score is one of the all-time greats in gaming, with the Colossi being given themes that equal their sense of grandeur and mystique.
The adventure is also an appropriately short one. Whereas many games may overstay their welcome with excessive amounts of padding, Shadow of the Colossus lets nothing get in the way of its story. But for those who may want a little something more out of the package, completion of the game unlocks both a Hard Mode and Time Attacks for each Colossus, with additional items being unlocked via the Time Attack battles (like a map that points out all the aforementioned fruit, or upgrades to Wander’s sword). So there are incentives to come back other than just to experience the adventure all over again (though that may be incentive enough for many).
Perhaps the greatest testament to Shadow of the Colossus’ brilliance is how it achieves so much by doing so little. Video games are continuously getting bigger and bigger, with developers seemingly cramming in as much content as possible in order to produce a classic. Shadow of the Colossus is defiant. It strips away the bells and whistles of the games of its day, and feels all the more rebellious today. It utilizes only the bare essentials, but it proves that with enough imagination and craftsmanship, those bare essentials can provide an adventure unlike any other.
Naughty Dog has come a long way over the years. The studio first gained widespread recognition with the Crash Bandicoot franchise, of which they developed the entries found on the original Sony Playstation. The Playstation 2 era saw Naughty Dog make a more serious platforming series with Jak & Daxter, while the Playstation 3 years saw them reach new critical heights with The Last of Us and the Uncharted series.
Naughty Dog has now broken their usual conventions by resurrecting one of their series for a new Playstation generation, as the Playstation 4 is now home to the fourth entry of the Uncharted series, which Naughty Dog has claimed will be its final installment before they head into new horizons. If Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End really is the last hoorah for Nathan Drake and co., they probably couldn’t ask for a better sendoff. Uncharted 4 is both a culmination of everything Uncharted has accomplished over the last nine years, and a loving tribute to Naughty Dog’s own history.
Uncharted 4 sees series hero Nathan Drake in a new light, as he’s put his adventuring life behind him, settled down, and married series heroine Elena Fisher. But when Nathan Drake’s older brother Sam – long believed to be dead – comes back into Nathan’s life, our hero is left with little choice but to resume his dangerous lifestyle.
It turns out that Sam Drake has been locked away in a South American prison for the last fifteen years. Though Sam hasn’t seen the same kinds of adventures as his younger brother, he does share a similar love for adventure, being most obsessed with the lost treasure of the legendary pirate Captain Henry Every (spelled “Avery” in the game). Sam has deduced where to begin searching for the treasure, but made the grave mistake of sharing this information with his cellmate, a notorious drug lord named Alcazar. After Alcazar enacts a prison break, he threatens Sam to find Avery’s treasure for him, giving Sam mere months to do so before Alcazar’s men come looking for him.
Sam, aware of his brother’s famous exploits, tracks down Nathan Drake, who reluctantly agrees to partake in the treasure hunt to save his brother’s life (after believing to have lost his brother once, Nate can’t bear the thought of losing him again). The brothers recruit Nathan Drake’s old friend Victor “Sully” Sullivan, and the three of them head out on their biggest adventure yet. But things won’t be so easy, as an old rival of the Drakes, Rafe Adler, and his army-for-hire, will stop at nothing to get the treasure first.
The premise is simple enough, but it serves as a perfect setup for Nathan Drake and company to visit the most exotic locations and partake in the most tremendous action set pieces in the series. The story also provides the series’ best character development, with Nathan, Sam, Sully and Elena all growing as characters, and Rafe proving to be the series’ best villain.
Where Uncharted 4 shines the brightest, however, is in its gameplay. Taking the best elements of its three predecessors – and a few cues from Naughty Dog’s other works – Uncharted 4 is the most polished and varied entry in the series.
Nathan Drake is still able to equip two guns at a time (a pistol and a larger weapon) for a bit of run-and-gun, third-person shooting, and there’s still plenty of platforming and climbing to be had. And yes, there are still Indiana Jones style puzzles to be solved from time to time. What makes Uncharted 4 feel refreshing, despite being the fourth entry in the series, is how well utilized these elements are.
The staging and level design in Uncharted 4 brings out the best of the series’ elements. The combat and platforming feel more fluid than ever, and the puzzles are easily the best in the series, with some of them requiring some serious thinking to solve.
Unfortunately, there are still a handful of shootout segments that are overly long (a complaint I had with previous entries that really seems like it should have been rectified by this point), but they are much less excessive than they were in the third entry. It’s never that these shootout segments are outright bad (a point I might argue was the case in Uncharted 3), but Uncharted is at its best when it’s utilizing all three of its gameplay components: shooting, platforming and puzzles. So when the shooting segments do become a bit excessive, it becomes really noticeable, and can take away from some of the game’s overall genius with their repetition.
That’s ultimately a small complaint, however, when you take into account how well the overall package is, especially the series’ famous set pieces, which reach new heights with their exhilarating pace and ridiculous setups. From taking part in a gunfight while dangling from a collapsed building over a cliff to the series’ best car chase sequence to booby-trap-filled pirate islands, Uncharted 4 keeps upping the ante with one action achievement after another.
A small gameplay twist has been added to the game’s narrative, as there are a number of instances in which players are given a series of choices for how Nathan Drake reacts to a situation and what he has to say. It’s nothing game-changing, and maybe even a bit under-utilized, but it does help give the game an added dose of personality (not that it had any shortage in that department).
Another of the game’s highlights is the presentation. Good heavens, is this game ever gorgeous! From a purely technical standpoint, Uncharted 4 might be the best looking game I’ve ever seen. Every environment is richly detailed, and a wonder to behold. The character models and animations are the most realistic I’ve seen in a game, made all the more believable by the great performances of the actors. The cinematic presentation is simply second to none.
The campaign alone would be more than enough, but Naughty Dog has gone the extra mile and included an incredibly fun and addicting multiplayer mode to go with it. Teams of players can face off against each other in a handful of play styles (from death matches to capture the flag, under the title of “Idols”).
The seemingly simple multiplayer setup turns into something great due in large part to how well it implements the core mechanics from the main game, and tweaks them appropriately for multiple players. Along with the usual platforming and shooting, players can gain upgrades and power-ups by collecting treasure (obtained via defeating enemies, helping downed allies, or finding trinkets throughout the stages). With enough treasure, players can purchase better weapons, AI controlled henchmen (like brutes, medics and snipers), and powerful items called “Mystics,” which pay homage to the supernatural twists of the series by unleashing curses on your foes or giving benefits to your team.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a wonderful gaming experience that exudes a strong sense of love and dedication on the part of its developers. That main adventure captures the feeling of an action-adventure flick better than any game out there, and the multiplayer is strong enough to hold its own. Take into account that the campaign’s hidden treasures, notes, and secret dialogues are more cleverly tucked away this time around and require some serious exploration to unearth, and that you can unlock customizable options for the multiplayer modes (from small costume changes to additional characters from the series’ history), and you have more than enough content to keep you coming back for more.
Some of the series’ flaws are still present, and the new mechanics that are added aren’t as present as they could have been, but Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is no doubt a milestone for Naughty Dog. In one segment of the game, Nathan Drake plays one of the stages from the original Crash Bandicoot on his Playstation. This moment doesn’t just play into our nostalgia, but also sums up what Uncharted 4 is all about. This isn’t just Nathan Drake’s last ride, it’s also a culmination of Naughty Dog’s accomplishments that started over two decades ago, on the shoulders of a bandicoot.
Video game to movie adaptations have a rocky track record, to put it lightly. Some of the earlier film adaptations of games – such as Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter – at least had something of an excuse for their less-than stellar quality, seeing as the idea of bringing the worlds of video games to life on the big screen was new territory back then. And it’s not like most games at the time were built around compelling narratives that could translate easily into the world of cinema. But as the years went by and video game-based movies continued to be… not good, even as games became more movie-like themselves, the sub-genre of video game movies grew to become something of a joke. It’s as if some curse simply prevents video game movies from being good.
The curse is alive and well, evidently. Because, despite some charm and humor, the Ratchet and Clank animated film isn’t that good. And this is a series that’s been begging for an animated film since its inception.
That’s not to say that Ratchet and Clank is as bad as many other video game movies that came before it, but taking into account the colorful worlds, characters and humor of the series, the end result of the movie is a shallow letdown.
Ratchet and Clank tells the story of, well, Ratchet and Clank. The former is a cat-like alien called a Lombox, who works at a vehicle repair shop on a desert planet, while the latter is a small and charming robot who serves as the brains of the duo.
An evil organization known as the Drek Corporation has been destroying uninhabited planets, under the leadership of its chairman and CEO, Drek. Drek is working with a mad scientist, Dr. Nefarious, and a musclebound robot named Victor. Together, they make up the film’s triumvirate of villains.
With the aforementioned planets getting destroyed, the galaxy is in a panic, worrying that an inhabited planet could be next. So the galaxy-protecting Galactic Rangers (lead by the hammy and dimwitted Captain Qwark) are looking for a new recruit to help them take on this new threat. Ratchet, being a big fan of the Rangers, seeks to be their new recruit, but is quickly rejected. This of course leads to the predictable “follow your dreams amid disappointment” bit that – while certainly a good message for young audiences – seems to be the go-to message in animated flicks when the filmmakers can’t think of anything else.
Eventually, Ratchet meets up with Clank, who has escaped Dr. Nefarious’ robot factory. The two become fast friends, and prove to be a good enough heroic duo that they end up getting recruited by the Galactic Rangers. That’s when the adventure to stop Drek gets going.
It’s not that the story is inherently bad, but it lacks any shred of surprise and innovation. The plot basically follows all the same, predictable beats you could imagine from both animated movies and the sci-fi genre. What’s worse is that the film basically only captures the most simplistic and on-the-surface qualities of its characters.
While Clank is charming with his intellectual quips, and Captain Qwark is humorously cheesy, Ratchet, the film’s main character, can basically be summed up as “the main character.” The rest of the Galactic Rangers are so forgettable you may forget that they’re there, and the villains, while not without their funny moments, basically just fill the roles of villains.
Worse still is that, despite this being the Ratchet and Clank movie, it feels more like the Ratchet and Captain Qwark movie, since Ratchet and Clank don’t share a whole lot of screen time together, which makes the titular relationship feel squandered. Meanwhile, Qwark seems to hog the screen at the expense of Clank.
The movie’s sense of humor also feels a bit dumbed-down, with perhaps too many jokes built around texting and Twitter. There are a few jokes that land (including a few references to other Playstation franchises like Jak & Daxter and Sly Cooper, as well as some fun subtitles that go with the traditional on-screen names of locations during scene transitions), but most of the humor feels like it’s trying to be hip with the Twitter generation.
In terms of animation, the film looks capable, though not exactly impressive. It’s pleasing enough to look at the cartoony character designs and colorful environments, but it also doesn’t exactly look up-to-date when compared to a lot of other animated features of today.
Thankfully, the film has some great voice work, with many of the voice actors from the games reprising their roles, as well as a few celebrities thrown into the mix. Paul Giamatti voices Chairman Drek, while Slyvester Stallone fits as the lumbering Victor. Best of all, John Goodman has a small part as Ratchet’s boss and mentor at the repair shop, and John Goodman vocals are only ever a good thing.
Ratchet and Clank is ultimately an uneven movie that’s hard to recommend. Young children will probably have fun with it, and perhaps some diehard fans might simply enjoy the titular duo finally making it into a movie (though one can also imagine fan disappointment as well). But for everyone else, the story is too predictable, the humor too inconsistent, the characters too shallow, and the overall execution too uneventful to be anything more than another disappointing video game movie.
The Dark Souls series has quickly become one of gaming’s most revered franchises. But, according to series director Hidetaka Miyazaki, Dark Souls III is to be its final entry. If this should be the last in the Souls series, however, then the series can proudly claim to have gone out on a high note. Dark Souls III is another stellar installment, one that takes bits and pieces of its predecessors (including Demon Souls and Bloodborne) to create an adventure that plays like a greatest hits of the series.
In terms of gameplay, Dark Souls III is largely reminiscent of its predecessors. It remains a smartly constructed action RPG with a Metroidvania-style game world. Combat is tight and intricate, enemies are difficult and deadly, and defeating them earns the player “Souls,” which work as both experience points and currency in the game’s world. Player’s can find an assortment of different weapons – from swords and shields to bows and staffs – as well as armor to boost their character’s effectiveness.
Much like the past entries in the series, the game has a great sense of balance with its weapons, armor and magic, with the player’s preference in play style taking precedence over some items simply being superior to others, giving the game a nice sense of variety in gameplay. Though Dark Souls III also takes a page out of Bloodborne’s book, with the combat adopting some of said game’s quicker pace when compared to prior games donning the Dark Souls name. So those who may have found previous Souls games to be a little on the slow side may have an easier time getting into Dark Souls III.
As for the plot, Dark Souls III continues the series’ trademark subtleties in storytelling and lore. The player takes control of an undead known as the “Ashen One,” who is tasked with averting the destruction of the kingdom of Lothric by rekindling the “First Flame,” by means of destroying four renegade Lords of Cinder; previous kindlers of said flame whose duties have driven them mad. The game leaves most of the finer details of the plot in bits and pieces to be uncovered by those who want to know more about Lothric’s history and characters, but those who simply wish to run about the kingdom slaying monsters with as little plot as possible are free to do so as well.
Of course, Dark Souls III carries the Hidetaka Miyazaki tradition of intense difficulty. In many ways, Darks Souls III is the most difficult entry in the series, with often relentless enemies and brutally unapologetic level hazards. But the game never feels unfair, as it utilizes a trial-and-error approach rather brilliantly. Almost every encounter and situation asks players to think over their tactics, and to use any and all mechanics at their disposal. It rewards patience and those willing to think things through, and punishes those who would blindly run in to get the most kills.
Still though, this level of difficulty won’t be for everyone. And if the difficulty curve of past Souls games turned you away, chances are Dark Souls III won’t win you over. But for those who appreciate what the Souls titles have to offer – from trap-filled environments to memorable boss fights – Dark Souls III has the formula down pat.
Aesthetically, the game is a marvel. The series has never looked better, with polished graphics, great character and creature designs, and beautiful and dreary environments. The soundtrack is grand and perfectly captures the many moods of the game, and Dark Souls III continues the series’ tradition of having perfect sound effects. You get a sense of weight in the weapons and armor from the sounds alone.
If there are any downsides at all to Dark Souls III, it might just be that most of the optional areas in the game are a bit on the short side, at least when compared to the lengthy and often epic optional zones of Bloodborne. They still provide their share of memorable (and frustrating) moments as well as incredible boss fights, but they lack the grandness of the game’s mandatory zones which, again, is disappointing after how much detail went into Bloodborne’s optional content.
That’s ultimately a small complaint, however, when one takes into consideration everything Dark Souls III gets so right. It seems the further you delve into the adventure, the deeper the game becomes. There are covenants to join (each with their own special player vs. player gimmicks), sidequests to tackle, and even upgrading your equipment is made into an addicting game in its own right. And if things get too difficult for you, you can always summon other players to lend a hand. You may even have a great time simply being summoned by other players yourself, and reaping the benefits of Souls and covenant items that come with it.
For those willing to face Dark Souls III’s steep challenge, it provides a compelling gaming experience that seems to constantly introduce more layers of depth as the game progresses. It’s brilliantly paced, staged, and full of surprises. Dark Souls III takes many bits and pieces of the previous Dark Souls games, as well as blood relatives Demon Souls and Bloodborne, to create something of a Frankenstein’s monster of the franchise’s elements. It may not reinvent the series, but if this is truly to be its final installment, then Dark Souls III is a hell of a way to go out, solidifying the series as one of the most consistent, and richest, in gaming history.