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May 4, 2011

Desktop Dungeons

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Free, Macintosh, WindowsTaylorLF @ 04:10

Desktop Dungeons is a rather simple game at first glance. Select your race, class, and dungeon map and let the game generate a small, top down 8 bit dungeon. Typically these dungeons are so small that they can be completed in 5-10 minutes, making it a perfect game that you can simply just quickly play and put down, and since it runs in a window that can be easily minimized it’s a perfect tool for wasting time at work (Note: I in no way encourage game playing on the clock, I am in no way responsible for you getting your butt fired by playing this at work.) Then it hits you, the level is randomly generated. Meaning you can get stuck between two higher level monsters with no chance except to just rush, die, and generate another dungeon.

You will die, a lot. It’s not a question of difficulty as it is of placement and luck so there’s really no getting better at the game then it is just lucking out on a good random generator. There are plenty of tricks and strategies built up that people have shared which are sort of helpful but in the end it really just comes down to “Do I have enough -blank- to make it through?” Blank could be space, low level monsters that you can level up on, item finds, etc. There are shrines to various deities you can worship which give you various perks depending on what kind of deity they are, but you’ll realize soon enough that only a handful are consistently helpful, some are situational at best, and others are to be avoided unless you want to make things harder on yourself. There are also scattered potions that restore either your health or mana, which you will need. There’s also gold to be had and you can luck out and find a decent store that will sell you something relevant, or a store that really doesn’t help much.

So what’s the whole point of this game? To throw yourself at it enough times to get a nice placement, bring your tiny guy up to level 10 and defeat the end boss of that level, hoping you have enough potions to survive. You manage to beat a level, you can unlock various things. There are new classes, levels, things like that. On the plus side exploring the black areas of the dungeon you haven’t seen yet restores part of your health and mana but of course that only lasts until you have nothing else to see.

There are spells to help you out. Basic stuff that damages an enemy, to others that blow up a part of a wall so you can pass, to spells that summon a monster of your level in case you need that bit of grind, but the problem is once again with placement. You might get nothing, you might find them all but since you can only hold 4 some are wasted. It shares what’s pretty much the problem with most of the game.

The graphics are a more detailed version of 8-bit sprites. Everything from the layout, monsters, hero, all screams of an old school dungeon feel. No real music to speak of, just sound bites for various actions.

Overall, the appeal of Desktop Dungeons is in its difficulty but also in its quick simplicity. Most of said difficulty comes from the random placement of objects. As I mentioned earlier, you will die a lot. The whole point is that the games are so short at times you can just load up another and try again and hope you get different results. The only thing keeping that from being the definition of insanity is the fact that the dungeons are randomized.

Note: At the time of this review, Desktop Dungeons is freeware. Whether the new version they’re working on will be for sale or continue to be free is not known.

Desktop Dungeons

 ★★★☆☆ 

Gameplay:★★★☆☆ 
Technical:★★☆☆☆ 
Keep going, you might luck out.

Game: Desktop Dungeons | Developer: QCF Design

April 28, 2011

Dynasty Warriors 7

Filed under: Action & Shooter, Adventure & RPG, Paid, Playstation, XBoxTaylorLF @ 05:21

I’ll be up front. I’ve played the series since number two, the first doesn’t count because that was a two player fighting game, not a hack-n-slash. Eventually you get tired of the same people, same game, same battles, same everything. So each game they try to add new aspects, which some work and some don’t. I’ve seen the series go through some changes and haven’t always liked them. The Empire series never grabbed me, Strikeforce was just….weird, Gundam isn’t even Dynasty Warriors (seriously guys Dynasty Warriors = Three Kingdoms not giant robots, get on that). Then they change the original formula and that doesn’t go over well, like Dynasty Warriors 6. However, I still picked up seven. I had to see what they did, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The game play is relatively the same. You’ll fight the same battles as you’d expect to fight with each kingdom, with a slight twist this time. One, there’s a fourth kingdom to play as. What? A fourth kingdom in my three kingdoms game you say!? Yes, you can play as Jin. In story mode, you don’t select the character and go through each battle with them, repeating this for every character, like in the past. Story mode is actually story mode, with each battle being played by a certain person who had relevance to that battle. Most missions begin with you in your camp, letting you walk around and talk to various people just to get some perspective on the current situation, or mindless banter. You talk to the one person who can start the fight, noticeable by the giant red exclamation point over their head, the gates open and you seamlessly get put into the battle. I said most missions because a couple of them you immediately start out fighting, but you can pause the game at any time to switch weapons out or put new seals on your weapons.

Seals are unlocked through using a certain weapon until you unlock that weapons seal. The seals are usually things like attack or defense boosts. Some other ones are: skill point boosts, increase your bonds with officers, walking speed increase, things like that.

Each character can equip two weapons at any time, with one weapon being their “preferred” weapon, with an Ex skill that you can do. However you don’t have to use that weapon if you don’t care about their special skill, and can see how well they can use certain weapons with a three star rating. Some weapons are blocked out for certain people while others only get a one or two star rating. With some weapons they’d have a blacked out star, meaning that character can eventually use that weapon at that level of efficiency. It’s not to say you can’t use a one star weapon, you just attack slower. Two stars means you use the weapon as-is with no penalties, with three stars letting you use the weapon’s special trick.

Throw some seals on those bad boys and go out swinging. It amuses me to see a giant, tough warrior using a harp or a flute or a tiny girl using a big hammer or axe. There are a ton of weapons to use though, and some of the later weapons you get have a mastery skill on it. For instance: Spear Master. Equipping that seal on a weapon will make you fight with the spear as if it was three stars, even if they only have a one. Options people, options!

How do we unlock more weapons to use? Partly through the story mode, sometimes there’s a weapon merchant in that camp you can purchase weapons from pre-battle. Most of the buying, though, takes place in the separate mode from Story mode, Conquest Mode. Conquest is where the free for all starts. You have a big map with hexagons –each representing a battle or a town. The town ones are fairly visible since they’re gold, but the battles can range anywhere from: increasing your fame, to new weapons, to new guardian animals you can equip (horses to ride or different animals that attack things for you), to unlocking new characters to play in conquest mode with. The only problem with this mode is that once it’s completed, like the story mode, that’s kind of it. You can play conquest mode with any character (assuming you unlocked them through their appropriate battle on conquest mode) but the progress is shared, so aside from playing each character to finish their skill tree, to unlock their voices in the gallery, or increasing your bond with officers to unlock more voices, there’s not much to go on.

Officers are unlocked after a couple bond increases to be sworn allies, meaning you can make them your lieutenant…kind of. You equip them in town at the teahouse, where you also equip your guardian animals. Afterwards, you just increase their bond fighting with them. There’s a seal that helps it increase faster but after it’s maxed, aside from different in-game dialogue to show the increased bond, there’s really no need to keep them unless you’ve done everyone.

Characters can be customized a bit. Aside from the weapon switching listed already, each person has a skill tree that you use points gotten from defeating officers to unlock things like: the fifth and sixth regular attacks/charge attacks, a skill point increase that stacks with the skill point weapon seal, a special skill related to that person, and a second musou bar and attack. Wait, a second bar and attack? Yes indeed. Gone are the days of one long bar that continuously drained as you did one attack, continually until it ran out, followed by a big boom. Now you use one bar that does a single, damaging attack. But now each character has two attacks. Variety makes me happy. There are currently only two outfits selectable for each character which really only change the color scheme of their original outfit, but word is that there is DLC coming down that adds a few of the pasts Dynasty Warrior games outfits.

The graphics are the best I’ve seen for the series so far, with the environments looking fairly crisp and clean. The slowdown that plagued the genre when too many things were on screen is gone in favor of the slow loading enemies. Which wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the archers weren’t more dangerous than the officers, at times, or the officer wouldn’t load, being right next to me. The music is typical Dynasty Warriors faire, not much to go on there. One of those if you enjoyed it in the past, you will now.

Overall, it’s another Dynasty Warriors game. Aside from the changed up story mode with the added kingdom and non-selectable characters, the conquest mode that serves as the “free roam” part of the game, the free for all with weapons, and the new characters they added add some flavor, it’s still the hack-n-slash we either love or hate. Long time fans probably already bought it, on the fence people who liked some but disliked others should rent it and people who dislike the genre for some reason won’t find a reason to like it. If you’ve never played, it’s not a bad time to try it out.

Dynasty Warriors 7

 ★★★★☆ 

Gameplay:★★★★☆ 
Technical:★★★★☆ 
Multiplayer:★★★★☆ 
A fun, enjoyable, mindless button masher once again.

Game:Dynasty Warriors 7| Developer: Tecmo Koei

April 23, 2011

Din’s Curse: Demon War

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Macintosh, Paid, WindowsTaylorLF @ 05:26

Din’s Curse: Demon War is the expansion brought out by Soldak Entertainment to add-on to their already unique action-RPG, Din’s Curse. Building upon the foundation they already had, they give the original game a small boost with a variety of things. New class, new monsters, new char options, new world options, and a few new monsters.

First, let’s look at the new character class. The Demon Hunter has 3 skill trees to work with, mostly melee focused with a few spells to use. The first tree being sort of a shadow knight type deal, the second being more of an arcane fighter, and the last being a caster who can end up controlling monsters for a limited time.  Adding his three trees brings the total customization up from 141 class combinations (through the regular class trees and the hybrid trees) to a whopping 196 customizations for characters. That’s a ton given the small choices we usually get to make in the genre.

One of the biggest changes is a whole slew of new creation options. More character options, like losing your mini-map, only letting yourself equip higher quality items, making food a necessity. It gets better with the new options to the world. Making enemies weaker but making a whole hoard of them, changing dungeon size, how much the NPCs interact. All this is added onto the already fairly customizable original game, there’s a lot to play around with.

There are a few new actual monsters, most just got a reskin or some extras, like tails or wings. Adding this with new environments to explore, it adds a bit of fresh life into a game that you might start re-seeing the same things occasionally since it creates the world each time you start a new one.

One of the best new modes put in when you don’t feel like dungeon crawling is an invasion mode. Waves of monsters attack the town immediately, so it provides you something to do when you just want to fight waves and waves of enemies.

In the end though, it adds a handful of things to an already fairly good game. Though to be honest if you don’t use any of the new character options or world editing options, the game is fairly the same. However what it does add shouldn’t be overlooked, and it’s worthy of a purchase just for all the new options.

The game is as enjoyable as it ever was, and I’m looking forward to further developments towards the game and future protects of the company.

Din’s Curse: Demon War

 ★★★★☆ 

Gameplay:★★★★☆ 
Technical:★★★★★ 
Multiplayer:★★★☆☆ 
An expansion that adds just enough to keep things interesting.

Game: Din’s Curse: Demon War | Developer: Soldak Entertainment

April 22, 2011

Din’s Curse

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Macintosh, Paid, WindowsTaylorLF @ 05:21

I initially jumped into Din’s Curse with the same attitude I’ve done with its other action-RPG brethren, games like Diablo, Titan Quest, Torchlight, etc. So I start it up and look at my character creation options. 6 classes I see. “Not bad,” I say, “Not bad at all.” Then I glance over another class button below the rest. It says Hybrid. Intrigued, I hit it, and below that are two buttons telling me to select a skill. So I do and it gives me the menu for all 6 classes. Now, each class actually has three individual skill trees per class like Diablo did. However, Hybrid throws that out the window by letting you pick two from any class. Let’s say that again, any class.  A Necromancer, which can summon skeletons while also using ice magic? A two handed warrior with rogue talents?  Madness, I tell you, madness! So after I finish picking my class, there’s another menu that lets you add additional hardships to your person. Making deaths mean more, finding less magical items or money, getting stats cut, things like that. Moving onto the next part, it gives me other options. What levels do I want the monsters to start at compared to mine, how fast/slow do I want to gain exp, do I want stronger monsters but less of them?

Once I get past creating my hero and my world, I finally get into the game. Starting off in a town, you get the gist of the game. You are brought back to redeem your past life by Din, a god. You help the townsfolk with their quests and quests jobs for Din, and maybe redeem your existence. Up front, most of the quests range from kill # of mobs, kill specific mobs, or find/fetch quests. Aside from that, the story you get at the start is pretty much what you get. Not much furthers it. That’s fine though because the game isn’t story driven. It’s madness driven. The minute you get in, your chat box starts erupting with messages. You see that named, unique monsters are summoning minions. Other monsters are fighting each other and becoming stronger. So you do what all good dungeon crawler people do, dive into the dungeon and get to monster bashing. Smash things, collect loot, get blown up by a barrel you smashed for possible loot and turned out to be explosive. It’s all gravy. Until you see the message that the town is under attack. Yes, your town will come under attack. They can kill your vendors. When they give you a quest that tells you to hurry, they aren’t being overly dramatic like other games that you know you can complete 5 hours later. They mean do it or we’ll be overrun. If you don’t defend them, the entire town will die and that’s not good. They help you out with being able to get back to town quickly with warps on each floor of the dungeon that you have to find first, but after you do you can teleport back to town and back to that level instantly. That’s the unique thing about the game though, it’s dynamic. While you’re sitting in town, the dungeon is still being active. It’s not a freeze frame where the monsters are waiting for you like it’s a surprise party, letting you come into view first before doing anything. Then it dawned on me. You could make this all harder on yourself through the creation options. That’s not to dissuade people who prefer things easier. You can stop town invasions all together with a creation option with a 15% experience reduction, but also give yourself more experience to offset it.

The graphics leave a little to be desired, but given some indie games I’ve seen done, they’re good. It looks slightly dated, but not enough to turn you off completely. Plus it gives you that little bit of nostalgia playing older dungeon crawlers. The sound quality however is fairly good.

There is a multiplayer option but I could find no online games to play, however there is a local co-op that you and your buddies can play on.

I honestly sat down with the intent just to get a feel for the game first, and suddenly hours passed. Between questing, keeping the town safe, running back to town every few minutes because I’m obsessed with loot and needed to sell it to get more, I completely forgot about the time. It’s an indie game that never felt like it was an indie game, which is a major plus, and is worth a try at the very least. It gives a shot in the arm to a static genre that let us be comfortable in towns and content in thinking the monsters would still be there for us, waiting like idiots.

Din’s Curse

 ★★★★☆ 

Gameplay:★★★★☆ 
Technical:★★★★★ 
Multiplayer:★★★☆☆ 
An indie game that can easily compete with it’s bigger brethren.

Game: Din’s Curse | Developer: Soldak Entertainment

April 21, 2011

The Cool

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Arcade & Retro, Free, WindowsJosh @ 04:45

The Cool doesn't need weapons: he IS a weapon.

There is a guy called The Cool. He’s so hardcore that not even death can stop him from doing his thing. In fact, two shady characters called “The Streets” and “The Game” try to arrange this guy’s untimely demise, but he’s purely unstoppable. He may have been dead for a little bit, but it’s not too long before he rises from the grave and seeks vengeance against his killers. Quite frankly, you do not want The Cool for an enemy.

The story of this un-killable ex-hustler is told in a little Flash game called The Cool. Players take control of The Cool and guide him through a series of old-school street battles reminiscent of retro games like Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and Battletoads. But The Cool isn’t the only one to rise from the dead: there are plenty of zombies who would love nothing more than to send him straight back to the grave. And of course, The Cool must eventually engage in boss fights against “The Streets” and “The Game.”

The gameplay is fairly shallow: there are a few attacks, and a couple combo moves. Use the arrow keys on your computer keyboard to move, and A, S, and D for your attacks. You can press all three to unleash a super combo, but you are only able to do this a few times. I would recommend saving these for the boss fights.

But forget the gameplay. One of the things that makes The Cool stand out is its unique art style. The characters in this game look great, and are placed against a very stylized city backdrop. Even the game window is pimped out with cool little decorations that make this a tasty piece of eye candy.

And to top it all off, The Cool features a great hip-hop soundtrack by Lupe Fiasco. (In fact, this whole game is a concept piece based off Lupe Fiasco’s album, which is also titled The Cool.) These songs are a lot of fun to listen to, and contain plenty of lyrical references to video games and gothic literature. Yes, they definitely create the perfect vibe that brings a whole lot of energy to this little zombie brawler.

The Cool is a 2D street-fighter game that looks and sounds absolutely amazing. Even after the gameplay starts to get old, Lupe Fiasco’s tunes will tickle your ears and keep you coming back.

They call this chick "The Streets." She will mess you up.

The Cool

 ★★★★☆ 

Gameplay:★★★★☆ 
Technical:★★★★☆ 
Raise from the dead, beat up zombies, and get revenge on those who killed you.

Game: The Cool | Developer: Custom Logic

April 18, 2011

Gish

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Other, Paid, WindowsNina S. @ 04:56

Gish was one of those games that I picked up without even thinking about it. It looked like it may be funny and I really wanted something different and what is more different then playing a game as a glob of goo? Yes, you heard me. I bought this game because you basically play as a big ball of sludge that doesn’t make any sense but is still awesome.

Now, while playing I wasn’t really expecting much but I did like the art style. Both the opening scene, which is actually crudely drawn but still manages to work, and the actual gameplay are fun and shiny. I liked the levels as they are all based around this seemingly underground world of green water and questionable sources. There are pipes and pockets of gross that make you happy and disgusted all at once. The game is riddled with awesome music and sleek movement which can be weird when you’re playing as a ball of slime but still works wonders in the long run. My only real complaint for this game isn’t even really a complaint as a warning for new players. It’ll take a while to get used to playing as Gish. At least it took me a little while, the slippery movement is flawless in design, meaning the physics make sense and once you’re comfortable with the jumps and squishing, it works, but still it’s a little daunting to start with.

As a side note, I loved the story for Gish. It’s a funny platform game but at the heart of it all, it’s a romance. Your entire point for fighting is to save your girlfriend!

This isn’t really a big selling point for a lot of people but I just wanted to mention that Gish also has a collection mode. That’s basically you just running around with your awesome Gish guy and collecting coins or whatever for the fun of it. These coins can be used for many things but mostly it’s just good, blind fun. Gish has a lot of that.

All in all, I think this is probably one of the best games I’ve played all year. Yes, the year is just starting, but that doesn’t make the statement any less credible. It’s funny, sweet, and just plan great, which I feel is really what gaming is all about in the end. I had a great time and was genuinely disappointed when I was done. That really says something.

Gish

 ★★★★½ 

 
Gameplay:★★★★★ 
Technical:★★★★☆ 
A little bit of tar goes a long way.

Game: Gish | Developer: Chronic Logic

April 6, 2011

Cloning Clyde

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Paid, Puzzle & Casual, WindowsNina S. @ 05:13

The first thing I want to say about Cloning Clyde is that I wanted to play it the moment I saw that nice little backless hospital down. You know from the get-go that this is going to be a funny game and you’re not going to be disappointed when you start it up. This is definitely something to play while you’re trying to unwind and just find a good place to go after a long day.


Something that surprised me about the game was how challenging it was to play. It’s kind of like a frat boy you meet outside of a college party. He’s dressed like an idiot, reeking of booze, but then you find out he’s a Philosophy major and he actually knows his stuff. I wasn’t expecting Cloning Clyde to be anything more than kung fu fun, but there it was: beautiful graphics, a smooth rendering, and puzzle. Oh my goodness, the puzzles.


Now, this game is a platformer. You run around various stages, gathering items for achievements, as well as to further your game place, but in order to get the real points you have to not only save Clyde and his fellow clones, you have to utilize them to meet your goals. As you’re moving throughout a level you can make clones to do the standard clone-things. You use them to stand on buttons, climb on, and ultimately make it through the hoops that is platform life.

The challenges come when you have to get those clones out as well. When I first started playing I assumed that I would just have to back track and walk each clone up. It would have been entertaining but I wouldn’t have broken a sweat over it. Instead, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself trying to work it out so that your clones exit the building just as smoothly as your original. Which means you may have to spend some time plotting.

Add the pleasant surprise of challenge to short little humor quips, a half naked hero, and ninja skills and this was a game filled with funny action that kept me interested. The comic-esque opening really lets you know where the rest of your time is going to be spent and while some of the jokes fall a little short of hilarious, you can still appreciate the effort. I really enjoyed the vibrant world of Clyde and I think you will too.

Cloning Clyde

 ★★★¾☆ 

Gameplay:★★★★☆ 
Technical:★★★½☆ 
Ninja skills + backless hospital gown = Awesome Sauce.

Game: Cloning Clyde | Developer: Bacon Wrapped Games

March 30, 2011

Breath of Death VII: The Beginning

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Paid, XBoxTaylorLF @ 04:08

When I looked at the initial screenshots for Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, it made my insides all happy. An old-school RPG with both 8 and 16 bit influences, I was thrilled to say the least. I grew up with my NES/SNES and loving RPGs so it was a natural purchase. It did not disappoint. It poked fun at itself and the typical RPG models (the title itself was a big clue), a slew of references to various games (a town called Motherbound was my favorite), but it was also just a smooth game in general. You play DEM, a “silent” hero who communicates his thoughts to the player but not the group about various situations he gets placed in, while the party assumes what you’re thinking. You get three other party members who fill the other “niche” roles; the kind healer, the weird/quirky/inventor/crazy one, and of course the nobility guy. It’s not a RPG without someone being nobility. It sounds typical, and it is, but it’s satirical.

The game play is what I’d expect from an old RPG. Exploring the world, dungeon crawling, going to towns, leveling up, it’s all there. The leveling system is a bit different, giving you a choice which path you want to go down when you level up each time. Examples would be choosing between one of two spells during one level up and a big boost to a couple stats vs. an overall increase during another. It gives some customization, but not a whole lot. One of the things I loved though was how they did the battles and the battle system. For one, finishing a battle heals everyone to full. They have random battles which you can semi fast forward through after you pick your options, but what I liked was that there were a set number of battles you could get into, even on the world map. You go into a building with fifty battles in it, you random battle fifty people and you get no more encounters so you can explore without annoyance. The best part was you could also make a fight happen, which if you coupled that with a save point that sets both your health and magic to full plus the ability to go through battles quick, you could sit there and grind out the required number in no time at all. Cheating the system? Maybe, but one of the big reasons I don’t explore in most RPGs is because I’d rather not waste a lot of my time fighting battles against an endless stream of enemies and a loading screen. On the plus side though, if you need to grind still for a boss you can choose to fight and you’ll still get into a battle even if you have no more random battles left.

The graphics and sounds are to be expected from an older game. Nothing fancy or mind blowing, but nostalgic. They look, feel, and sound like something from the 8/16 bit era. If you enjoyed those games, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re a more modern gamer who scoffs at something that isn’t in a 3D space, then you won’t.

It’s a great game. It only costs a dollar, and it’s a dollar extremely well spent. That is, of course, if you enjoy old school RPG look and feel while playing one that pokes fun at itself and the genre itself. It’s meant to be a parody or satirical but also be an awesome game. If you’ve played any RPGs on the NES or SNES, you owe it to yourself to at least check it out. Only if you have an Xbox 360, though.

Breath of Death VII: The Beginning

 ★★★★★ 

Gameplay:★★★★☆ 
Technical:★★★★☆ 
A venture into the old-school.

Game: Breath of Death VII: The Beginning | Developer: Zeboyd Games

March 24, 2011

Dragon Age II

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Other, Paid, Playstation, Windows, XBoxTaylorLF @ 04:05

To be honest, Dragon Age II (DA2) took me by surprise. When I played Dragon Age: Origins (DA:O) back in 09, I was glad that we received another RPG in a gaming community that is more accustomed to fast paced, adrenaline filled action games. So naturally, to me, the sequel would improve on the first game. They did, and they didn’t. DA:O was built for the PC gaming crowd, while it’s console partners (Xbox 360 and Playstation 3) had to adjust to its’ more strategic combat, using a variety of camera angles and pausing to issue orders in order to get through more of the games challenging moments. DA2 was built towards the console gamers, a move that many PC gamers were not happy with. They stripped a lot of what made DA:O an RPG and turned it into an Action-RPG. For those who played Mass Effect 1 & 2, you’ll get the comparison. For those of you who have not played any of the games listed here, think of it like the old Star Wars trilogy compared with the new. Sure, everything “fits” in the same story sense, but you can’t just nudge past the feeling that something was traded away from what it was to make it more acceptable. It just feels wrong. If you have not played any of the games and did not watch any of the movies to get the comparison, then I just don’t know.

The game play is, for lack of a better word, streamlined. The world seems small, the giant city of Kirkwall seems sparse, and the locations you can visit become very familiar. Dungeon layouts re-use the same layouts, blocking off doors not in use that they would be in other quests. The same three classes are there for you to pick from; Warrior, Mage, and Rogue, with a variety of companions filling the gap. Combat has been simplified. There are barely any separate camera angles, just enough to get a very small overhead view, mostly you’ll be looking at your characters back. Unless you’re playing on a high difficulty, there’s very little need for strategy. The most strategic thing you can do with the combat at early points, and almost a need in higher difficulties is cross-class combos. Various skills cause one of three different effects based on your class, and other classes can use a skill that exploit that. For instance, a rogue uses a skill that disorients a target, a warrior can use another skill that causes 4 times the regular damage against the disoriented target but gets rid of it so it can’t be exploited continually. What this does though is makes the game feel more fluid during combat. It’s a trade off.

Customization takes a bit of a back seat as well. You can customize your main character however you wish, except you must be a human. Changing your style past the first few presets also changes how your family looks as well. The preset for both the male and female Hawke though are fairly well done if you aren’t the customizing type. You can change everything about your companion’s equipment except their armor, and to some lesser extent their weapons. Some do well with a new weapon, others never get replaced. Their appearance is what you get. The only exception here is when you finish a relationship with one of the companions you can romance, then their outfit changes to a separate one. It’s only for that one person though and if you don’t like the change, too bad. Instead of refitting your companions with new armor, you find upgrades in a variety of places; shops, crates and barrels, quests. The upgrades ranged anywhere from more armor, stats, or adding a rune slot where you can place an enchantment. The further blow to customization happens in the skill trees. You receive two companions who are warriors, three if you included yourself if you decided your main character will be a warrior. You can make any of them a tank by using a sword and shield. The problem is, only one of them is suited to be a tank since each companion has a personal skill tree. It -can- work with the other one or yourself since all three can pick up the sword & shield tree, but know one person can do it better since their personal tree is dedicated to making them a tank. The real bothersome thing is if you need a healer, you really only get one option since only one of your mages gets the tree to heal. If you dislike that person as a companion, or goes against what you’re playing as, then you either shelf them and go without a healer or be annoyed and deal with it.

The story, for what it is, is good. It delves into the politics of a city, paranoia, group oppression, and betrayal. The story is actually being told through one of your companions over three acts, who is being interrogated as to the main character’s (your) location. Each act ends and starts with your companion telling his interrogators what happened during the time you left off. Explaining why you disappeared and why this particular group is looking for you delves into the late story and is spoiler filled so just know that things blow up in an important way. The only thing that bothered me is that for all the choices you seem to be given, little matters. You can import your old DA:O save to have some minor tie-ins, but it effects little overall. Only a few things actually happen, story wise. The rest is maybe passed by in a line of text.

The sound I can’t comment much on because it didn’t really stick out to me. The voice acting is well done. As far as the ambient soundtrack goes, I actually could not tell you off the top of my head because I honestly can’t remember if the city or the other areas even had music. It was that subdued. The battle music suits fighting fine, but unfortunately mine was bugged at the time of playing (as were others judging from their forum) where the battle music only cuts in for a second and the rest of the time is just a high pitched echo playing. I know what it sounds like though and it is nice, shame I didn’t get to hear it actually in my game though opposed to having to find it outside of it.

The graphics are fairly good, even on lower settings the game looks nice so that’s a plus for those who can’t run it very high. They aren’t mind blowing but they’re modern, so you wouldn’t feel like you’re playing a game a few years back.

Overall, Dragon age II is a great game. Despite my personal feelings about the switch in gameplay, I can see what they were going for and making it a bigger market on the consoles and that’s just business. I enjoyed the game, and currently running it through a second time. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys RPGs, action or traditional based. Just if you’re coming in from the first game keep an open mind and enjoy it for what it is, not what we might’ve expected/wanted. Change keeps the industry alive, and we have to roll with it.

Dragon Age II

 ★★★★☆ 

Gameplay:★★★★☆ 
Technical:★★★★☆ 
Dragon Age II changes the formula enough to cause a stir between PC gamers and console gamers, but pushes out a good game nonetheless.

Game: Dragon Age II | Developer: Bioware

March 22, 2011

Wizard’s Keep

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Paid, XBoxNina S. @ 05:30

I decided to pick up Wizard’s Keep based on the sole fact that it is made by the same people who made Miner Dig Deep. From what I understand of the developers, it’s just a couple of guys who have a real passion for games. Yes, I realize that that describes a bunch of Indie game developers, but I really like these guys, so leave me alone! Anyway, they put a lot of care and consideration into their games so when I saw this title I jumped on it. Because I’m smart!

Wizard’s Keep was a fantastic game! It wasn’t anything complicated. The art was straight-forward and simple. It was in 2D and it looked like a simple dungeon crawler. Okay, maybe I’m being a little too nice. The art work looks hand-drawn, and not in the good way. It’s very simple, but damnit, it was charming. It was a little dark at times, so if you went into a cave or into a particularly dark corner, you had a tough time figuring out how to get out. It  had awesome little puddles of red when you killed things. On the other hand, the music selection was lovely.


In addition, this game has the fact that you can play it with a friend on its side. True two-player gaming always gets me excited. Even though the game can be played and enjoyed solo it makes it ten thousand times better immediately, just by allowing me to tag a friend along through the adventure.

I wasn’t really expecting it to be, but this really is an RPG. You get stats when you level up and can build your character up however you’d like. It’s nothing intricate, there are four stats and they’re the standard you’d expect. Still, you go forth with your sword and shield and prepare to conquer the evil Wizard and set the world back into rights.

The game is cute. It’s cute blood puddles, barrels you can smash, and cute monsters that you can knock into spikes (though you get no experience for doing that, it’s still hilarious). It’s what I like to see in my Indie games, a solid concept done with clever little nuggets of gold. No, it’s not as pretty as some of the games I’ve played but that’s all right. It makes up for it with charm. I’m giving it the Nina seal of approval.

Wizard’s Keep

 ★★★★¼ 

Gameplay:★★★★¼ 
Technical:★★★★¼ 
Multiplayer:★★★★☆ 
Cute crawler!

Game: Wizard’s Keep | Developer: Robir

March 16, 2011

Clarence’s Big Chance

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Arcade & Retro, Free, WindowsJosh @ 06:22

An ugly old man hanging out in his attic in his whitey-tighties. This is just sad.

If you want some positive affirmation, this game is not the place to look for it.

Clarence has absolutely nothing going for him. He’s fat, ugly, smells bad, has a boring job, and has never had a girlfriend. This is all about to change. Well, not really. He’ll still be fat and ugly, and will still have the same old boring job. But he is about to embark on his first date ever, since he met a woman online and told her a bunch of lies in order to get her to go out with him. And this is where Clarence’s Big Chance begins.

Ok. I’m going to be honest. I read the description and expected this game to be one of those dating sims. I ended up playing it anyway, and what I discovered was an incredible retro gaming experience, slathered in awesome sauce and topped with a really snarky sense of humor.

Clarence’s Big Chance is a massive 2D side-scrolling platformer, in which Clarence’s daily routine is filled with jumping, dodging, and vintage gaming references. You must help him get dressed, which means old Clarence will spend the beginning portion of the game in his whitey-tighties. Ew.

Clarence also must eat breakfast, requiring him to get into a fridge (which is actually a portal to a gigantic frozen dimension) for cereal, and then get milk from the inside of a gigantic oven filled with flying rotisserie chicken.

Do not ever buy this brand of toothpaste. Seriously.

Yeah, this game is beyond weird. But those of us who grew up in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming remember a time when oddness was pretty much expected from our games. We had classics like ToeJam and Earl and Earthworm Jim. Ahh, those days were golden.

There are signposts that are there to guide you through the game, but mostly they just poke fun of how hopeless poor Clarence is. My favorite lets you know you can gain extra height when jumping on beds. It puts it like this: “You can bounce on beds, you know! Hold SPACE while jumping on them to bounce higher into the sky, like some kind of extremely ugly eagle which is a virgin. And fat. So very fat.” So harsh, yet so hilarious!

Clarence’s Big Chance features inside jokes that long-time gamers will appreciate. For example, the plumbers have black mustaches (Mario, anyone?) Burglars even wear green helmets that they retreat inside of once you stomp on their heads (so much like the koopas from Super Mario Bros.)

To top it off, this game has a great soundtrack. It may get a little repetitive eventually, but these songs are extremely well-written homages that sound exactly like they were written in 1991 for the Sega Genesis. Perfect for a game like this.

And this game is seriously huge. It features at least as much gameplay as the original Super Mario Bros. And it’s absolutely free.

If you didn’t get to experience what gaming was like in the early 1990s, I feel a bit sorry for you. But Clarence’s Big Chance pretty much sums up the experience as well as any game could. Seriously. If you like retro games at all, do not miss this one.

Sure, Clarence is still making bad choices. But thank God he's finally wearing clothes!

Clarence’s Big Chance

 ★★★★¾ 

Gameplay:★★★★★ 
Technical:★★★★½ 
Help Clarence to not screw up his big date in this throwback to the gaming goodness of yesteryear.

Game: Clarence’s Big Chance | Developer: Psuedolonewolf

March 8, 2011

Uncharted Waters Online

I'm looking for a quest!

Uncharted Waters

If you are from East Asia, then you have probably heard of and lost your life to this game. If you are from the West, you have probably been waiting to dedicate your life to sailing around in a boat.

Gameplay

Uncharted Waters takes place during the Age of Exploration; when real men sewed jewels into their frocks, women were earthy and children had grease on their faces. In this game you can adventure, be a soldier or trade.

Although it’s boat based, there are sea-areas, land-areas and towns. You can also choose to be English, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese or Venician. You also get to choose whether they are adventurer, merchant or a soldier. These classes aren’t binding, but it’s going to be a hassle if you want to change them.

Like in Civilization, each nation has its own perks, I won’t go into them, but there is a fair amount of similarity between the real life versions and the on-line versions.

Better luck next time sucker!

You click where you want to move. Double clicking turns your ship in a certain direction. Like all good MMORPG’s there is an area where you can accept quests. Once you finish them, you report back and collect your reward. If you’re too far away, you can get a female to report back for you, which is suh-weeeeeet.

Technical

This game was first released in 1995 (the normal version) and has been On-line since 2005 in Asia. It is only this year that us stinking Americans had access to it. Honestly, you can’t tell that we’re half a decade behind. The arena is sprawling, and, although you can take quests and stuff, you’re on your own for most of it.

It’s smooth and the controls are super easy. Seriously, I am almost always stymied by basic controls, and I had no problem here. It’s not too bad to look at either.

Multiplayer

Yes, there is PVP. PVP is awesome. Seriously, it’s boat battles. You can outfit your boat to ram other people.

You can also trade, and there is a chat client that is pretty slick. You don’t really need to be on a team or be part of an alliance to make it in this game. Like a rake in the ages of yor, you can stake your claim in the open ocean, feel the wind in your hair and bask in the ethereal glow of pixelated piratical bliss.

Uncharted Waters Online

 ★★★★★ 

Gameplay:★★★★☆ 
Technical:★★★★★ 
Multiplayer:★★★★★ 
Boat MMORPG in the time of the Renaissance.

Game: Uncharted Waters Online | Developer: KOEI

March 1, 2011

Dungeons (Steam Exclusive Edition)

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Paid, Strategy, WindowsNina S. @ 08:40

I was really excited about playing Dungeons because of the promotional video. They really did it up and did it well. Naturally, I was hoping that the time and effort they seemed to put into the video would be well reflected in the game itself. I went in thinking that if it was even half as good as what they were promising me, I’d be absolutely set.

The basic premise of this game is to be on the other side of the gaming universe. Instead of playing a hero who is traveling through a dungeon and scooping up gold, you’re the demon guy who set up the dungeon and is trying to kill said hero. Only, it’s much more difficult to keep a dungeon in top running condition than you would have thought.

The opening for this game was beautiful. There’s no two ways about it. The rendering was lovely, the voice acting superb, and I love the little things, like the respect for the 4th wall. It really sucks you into the story and allows you to submerge yourself into game play, while still coming up with an easy to understand tutorial.

Now, I did say the tutorial was easy to understand, because it is, but don’t get me wrong. This is a fairly complex game and after two hours of playing I still hadn’t managed to get through the demo. It wasn’t monotony that dragged everything out, here. Instead it was the sheer wealth of “stuff” to do. If I wasn’t clearing walls, or chasing down heroes, I was protecting my dungeon heart, trying to figure out what everything did, and playing with spells. It’s one of those games where you can skate by without trying everything, but you really, really….really want to.

The game is a lot like civilization in the fact that you have to learn to balance everything you have with everything you need. You also need to manage your time well and keep an eye on all of the various points of entry to your dungeon. It’s not easy, trying to expand on one side of the game while figuring out how you’re supposed to guard against heroes and other annoying trespassers, but it’s definitely a good kind of frustration.

Still, even with as much as I enjoyed the game, I didn’t buy it. I realize that the price tag isn’t all that steep for some games, but this is supposed to be an Indie game and I’m a bit wary of spending that much on one. Then again, it’s my understanding that these guys have quite a few popular games out, so maybe this tycoon-style game is a testament to all their glory. A good game, overall, and if I see a good sale I might pick it up.

Dungeons

 ★★★★¼ 

Gameplay:★★★★½ 
Technical:★★★★☆ 
The meat of a dungeon-crawler, without the bone.

Game: Dungeons | Developer: Realmforge Studios

February 21, 2011

Zombie Minesweeper

Filed under: Adventure & RPG, Free, Puzzle & Casual, WindowsJosh @ 06:10

These bunnies bite.

If you are anything like me and love a good puzzle game, then it’s probably fair to say you’ve played Minesweeper. And if you haven’t, you should definitely check it out. It’s a neat little game that comes pre-installed on most Windows systems and features an almost Tetris-like addictive style of gameplay.

So how could you possibly improve on this classic desktop game? You add zombies.

Zombie Minesweeper places a frightened girl smack dab in the middle of a minefield and then throws hordes of zombies at her. Players must steer her to safety. In the classic Minesweeper tradition, you are guided by numbers on the ground that let you know how many mines are nearby. In order to understand how the numbers work, you must think of the ground as a series of tiles. Each number tells you how many tiles touching the numbered tile contain mines. Confusing? Fire up your own Minesweeper game and play a few rounds. It will all make sense.

One strange thing I noticed about this game is that instead of human zombies, Zombie Minesweeper contains animal zombies. There are snails, rabbits, and even bears in zombie form, all trying to feast on this poor little girl’s brains. Even more random: zombie mushrooms.

Oh my gosh, this looks like the end.

There are powerups scattered about each field, each adding its own strategic twist on the game. Mine detectors let you expose large areas at once, and are best put to use in those situations where you aren’t exactly sure where the next mine is located. There are bombs and shotgun shells that allow you to fight back, but quantities are very limited. You must choose wisely when to shoot and when to run.

For those of you who like options, there are two different gameplay modes. Speed play is much heavier on zombies and powerups, with a few mines to mess things up for you. Puzzle play has a lot more mines, but fewer zombies and powerups.

Picking the music for this game must have been hard. Puzzle games tend to work the best with somewhat soothing tunes that help you think, while running from zombies generally calls for something more adrenaline-pumping. Zombie Minesweeper uses a track that is the perfect mix of the two worlds. This ditty has a slower tempo and some very puzzle-enhancing bells, while it is backed with a distorted electric guitar. I was very impressed with how absolutely perfect this music was for this game.

The only thing I didn’t like about this game was that it only contains eight levels: four in each mode. But the fact that the mine placement is randomly generated each round keeps these levels feeling fresh for a very long time.

Zombie Minesweeper is so addictive that it made me forget about the pizza I was cooking. Kitchen fire aside, I freakin’ love this game.

This glowing flower is pretty much the only thing on this field not trying to kill you.

Zombie Minesweeper

 ★★★★½ 

Gameplay:★★★★½ 
Technical:★★★★½ 
The addictive puzzle gameplay of Minesweeper… with zombies.

Game: Zombie Minesweeper | Developer: Frogtoss

February 19, 2011

Tommy Tronic

Filed under: Action & Shooter, Adventure & RPG, Other, Paid, WindowsNina S. @ 09:31

Tommy Tonic was a rather cute game. It was one of those that kind of screamed Indie Game, all the while charming you subtly with its simplicity. It was not fantastic but on the same note, it was not horrible either. It is listed as a Family game and I am not sure how much I agree with that but it did have more positive points than negative ones, so I guess all in all it was a good time. At least I do not feel like I wasted my money.

To begin with, the theme song for Tommy Tonic is…well, cute. I do not want to overuse that word but I feel like that is exactly what I am going to do for this review. The song was cute, the art style was cute, even the darn dog you are supposed to be looking for is cute. It is a cute game and that earns it at least a few points in my book.

The game is a platformer, which I will be the first to admit is not really my usual choice. They are games that are primarily built on the laws of physics and I am a bit of a rager when I have to watch my character repeatedly fail to hit a ledge. At any rate, this game did not help that rage in the least bit.

After a few minutes of rearranging my controls, I quickly found that Tommy Tonic is not terribly sensitive in the controls. I found myself subjected to a definitely slide factor and invisible moon boots. This would have been fine; I am more than willing to compromise with my buttons in order to stay on a ledge. However, when you add these problems to an overly responsive directional change it can get a little frustrating.

That complaint aside (I realize it is a rather big one, especially for this kind of game but go with me on this) this game was not terrible. The voice acting was hit and miss but when it did hit it was rather well done. I enjoyed listening to Tommy and for the most part was not annoyed by the various quests and requests standing in between my lost puppy and me.

Lastly, the story is all right. Nothing fancy but nothing awful here. Overall, this game was just rather…”eh.” It was not bad, it was not good; it was just there. I got it while it was on sale for five bucks, which seemed about right. Granted, it is usually ten and I do not know how pleased I would have been if I had paid all that but as is I am not complaining. It is in my pile of “games I’ll consider playing if I’m really, really bored”…but I probably will not bother.

Tommy Tronic

 ★★☆☆☆ 

 
Gameplay:★★☆☆☆ 
Technical:★★☆☆☆ 
So-so.

Game: Tommy Tronic | Developer: Oasis Games

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