Vapour Ware (Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. – 3DS)

Over a life time of gaming, I’ve reduced myself to sticking with my favourites. While the intention of the developers may have differed, when it comes to RPGs, I build a party and ride it to the end. This works for me, and when you factor in grinding, this way of playing never became an issue.

Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. doesn’t let me get away with that. It boasts a cast three dozen strong, and it’s best to take each member’s strengths and weaknesses into account before throwing them into a mission. STEAM‘s difficulty is brutal, a game that isn’t afraid to flood the player with enemy forces, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be butting against an endless stream of roadblocks. What Intelligent Systems’ latest taught me is the importance of understanding when the tide has turned.

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Pixelated Puzzle Perfection (Fairune – 3DS)

There exists a want for the Zelda series to go back to where it all began, to drop players into a world without a guiding hand in sight. Despite this, it’s impossible for the Nintendo we know today to go to these lengths. But before one believes their cries will go forever unheard, know that there was someone listening. And while it may not be as robust an experience as The Legend of Zelda was, Fairune is exactly the game you’ve been begging for.

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Best Western (Gunman Clive 2 – 3DS)

Having enjoyed Gunman Clive, there was no doubt that I would enjoy it’s recently released successor. The game’s creator, Bertil Hörberg, jokingly expressed the possible loss of his “indie” credentials for the announcement of this sequel, but whether joking or not he and those involved should be proud of their work on Gunman Clive 2. From a distance it may appear that this is more of the same, but there’s something to be said of the game’s restraint from adding features and nuances just for the sake of one-upping the first game.

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Instead, GC2 manages to best the original just by being a better experience. It became a greater game by continuing the work it laid previously. Sequels can lose sight of what made the original so great, either by trying to gain a wider audience, or merely tacking on meaningless additions. Due in to its intended brevity, Gunman Clive 2 doesn’t have the time to train players on a new set of mechanics. Its focus is on delivering another fun, challenging game, and it succeeds tremendously.

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Smash ‘N’ the Boys (Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo 3DS – Review – 3DS)

It’s funny what some new characters and stages can do to me.

While it would ignorant to believe that is all the latest Smash Bros. game has to offer, there no denying that it’s the rampant fan service that draws us in.

With that said, it isn’t the sight of Zero Suit Samus beating the tar out of Donkey Kong that keeps us playing. While these grand announcements leading up to Smash Bros.‘ release kept the hype train chugging along, it’s the content of the game that will keep me playing til the end of time.

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Murasak-it To Me (Murasaki Baby – Vita – Review)

Despite outward appearances, Murasaki Baby is a pleasant experience. Its cast and setting bring Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy to mind, but its story of a lost child looking for her mother isn’t as somber a tale. While the game seems to host a taste for the grotesque, in reality it’s one of the most welcoming puzzle platformers I’ve played.

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Murasaki Baby isn’t a hard game. Its decision to double down on Vita’s touch controls may cause some difficulty towards the end, but an abundance of check points prevents frustration from setting in should you fail. Players take hold of the female protagonist almost literally; by placing a finger close to the character, her hand reaches out and you pull her along. It’s nice, but as with any touch based game, your fingers can block what’s occurring on screen, which is unfortunate considering how terrific the game’s visuals are.

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The touch mechanic extends well beyond that of hand holding. The world’s background can be swapped by swiping two fingers across the back of the Vita. In doing so, the way you interact with the world changes. One background allows rain to fall from the heavens, while another litters the skyline with televisions. As you make your journey, you’ll be changing backgrounds frequently to solve the game’s puzzles. The impact this has on the game is both good and bad. On the positive side of things, Murasaki Baby rarely recycles background from stage to stage. This means that the puzzles are always fresh, and there’s a constant sense of discovery as you uncover just what each new background affects the world. On the flip side, there’s no difficulty curve. Without the game having you revisit similar concepts with added twists, there’s no exploration of older ideas. With every puzzle, there’s never a chance to test your proficiency as you proceed. Just as get used to a mechanic, it’s dropped in favour of another.

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While I argue against it, perhaps that constant want to keep things fresh was the goal of the developer. While the Vita is flush with games (contrary to what you may have heard), there isn’t as many that it can call its own. Ovosonico set out to make a Vita game, and by god did they ever. While other games fumble in their attempts to make use of the Vita’s features, Murasaki Baby succeeds just as Tearaway did last year. It transports you to an odd world and has you conform to its rules of interaction. I never felt as if anything was a gimmick, but instead an attempt to make a strong impression that this game belongs on the Vita. While the game was brisk, it’s one that will stick with me for a long time.

Despair Indeed (Danganronpa 2 – Vita – Review)

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair concludes with a photo finish, a spectacular ending that wraps the game up with one hell of a bow.

Unfortunately, the ending stands in stark contrast to the content that came before it. While enjoyable, the opening 20 hours of Danganronpa 2 are a far cry from its predecessor’s, and I found its early chapters disappointing upon comparison.

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Mechanically, the game’s structure remains the same. Each chapter opens with a new area to explore, a murders occurs followed by an investigation, and it all comes to an end with a trial. The efforts made to improve upon the first game come in the form of new and improved minigames. I only say improved as it’s a term the game itself makes use of, but that is a case of Spike Chunsoft putting the horse before the cart. Unlike the original Danganronpa, the trial’s minigames this time around are worse than a simple change of pace. Logic Drive, for example, is a boring tube slider that has players navigating a totally rad snow/skate boarder along a path, with answers to several questions represented as forks in your path. Another new mode has the player mash buttons to destroy an opponents phrases as they swoop past, only to be more reserved when the highlighted phrases that you can counter come into focus. All the minigames are long winded efforts to arrive at simple conclusions, and we would be better off if the game stuck to what it excels at. The same can be said of its predecessor, but in that case the minigames were less and obstacle than a bump in the road. The Improved Hangman’s Gambit (their words, not mine) is an exercise in frustration, with plenty of health being lost as the letters you collect to fill in the answer’s blank spaces collide into each other while your attention is placed elsewhere.

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With little else to fall back on, all focus is placed is placed on the story, which is hardly unexpected considering the genre. Danganronpa 2 boasts a wonderful cast, full of colourful characters the series has led us to expect. There’s some you love, some you hate, and others you can’t quite put your finger on. Nagito in particular is an interesting character, who early on appears to be more of a protagonist than your own avatar. The plot itself isn’t quite as strong, with plenty of blame owing to the environment. Taking place outside the harrowing school halls of the first game, Danganronpa 2 places its cast on an island getaway. As the “fun in the sun” atmosphere quickly gives way to a more foreboding one, so too does the game’s sense of mystery waste away. While the rooms and secrets of Hope’s Peak Academy unraveled slowly in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the sequel lacks that same drip feed. I never felt that there was some larger mystery to the islands, and the reasoning behind this setting seems to be an opportunity for the developers to craft a wider range of absurd attractions at each new island. While the story is good, it doesn’t manage to grab hold of me like the previous Danganronpa did. Instead of story that slowly reveals itself layer by layer, Goodbye Despair leaves all of its revelations for the very end. As terrific as the ending is because of this decision, it leaves a majority of the game without any means to keep the player motivated.
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I enjoyed playing Danganronpa 2, but I can’t help but walk away feeling disappointed. While it is just months that separate this release from its predecessor here in North America, years past in Japan before Danganronpa saw a sequel back in the PSP days. I’m surprised more couldn’t be done to craft a worthy successor, a game that raised the stakes despite the odds. I think back on Virtue’s Last Reward, a sequel to 999 that defied expectations without sacrificing what made the original so great. I recommend this game to you, despite its flaws, but I hope the series can make a stronger impression next time around.

It’s Azure Thing (Azure Striker Gunvolt – 3DS – Review)

It’s incredible to have your expectations destroyed, to think you know what’s coming only to face something entirely different. I thought I knew what to expect from an action game like Azure Striker Gunvolt. While Inti Creates work on the Mega Man series spanned across several unique franchises, the gameplay remained largely the same. What we have with Gunvolt is a studio showing what they can build from the ground up. While expectations led me to believe I was receiving another take on Mega Man, Gunvolt is instead the start of something completely new.

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The strategy on display here is what makes the strongest impression. Gunvolts handgun is useless as a weapon, but it isn’t window dressing either. Instead its function is to tag enemies, effectively locking-on to the enemies and setting them up for the real damage. With your targets set, Gunvolt unleashes the Flashfield, a circle of electricity that acts as a barrier and a method to attack enemies from afar. Lighting shoots out from the Flashfield, connecting with enemies and draining their health bars. The attack lasts for as long as the associated energy bar lasts. For as creative as this is, the foes you face are what makes Gunvolt so special.

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