Platforms: DSi (via DSiWare), 3DS (via eShop)
Clash of Elementalists is an interesting arena battle game where you select a fighter from four characters, each representing an elemental power. Released for the DSi via the DSiWare digital platform, we naturally expect it to be smaller scale than the average full retail game.
That being said, Clash of Elementalists falls short in many ways even for a DSiWare game. The game has good character design and actually looks pretty good for a 3D DSiWare game, but unfortunately it lacks any real arena variety with the arenas being generic square battlegrounds. Still, overall it looks decent, which is probably the only thing I can confidently praise about this game.
Let’s begin with the controls. You use the D-pad to strafe and to move forward and backward. The R button does one type of attack, the L button does another while pressing both in tandem does a special third attack. You can use the X button to jump and the B button to fall quickly. The Y button is used to dash and finally the A button is used to turn. The problem stems from the fact that there is no way to effectively follow the enemy. Since the D-pad only allows for strafing, there is no intuitive way to move and turn at the same time. Every time you want to turn you have to stop moving, hold the A button and then turn. To make matters worse, you only turn in 45 degree increments with a slight pause every time you turn, meaning it’s really slow and clunky to turn your character.
To try and help alleviate this, the character automatically shifts her view to the enemy every time you jump. This would work great, except that all the enemy needs to do is dash to the side and you immediately lose sight. This makes the controls extremely frustrating and mostly unserviceable. To make matters worse, the camera can oftentimes be wonky, not positioning in logical places when moving around and almost always making things more difficult to see. With the way the buttons are used, it’s understandable that control would be difficult to implement. The real problem is that they didn’t even think to utilize the touch screen to help create a better balance or perhaps include a lock-on feature. In fact, the touch screen isn’t used at all.
We’re not done yet though! To help complement the wonderfully atrocious controls comes an extremely barebones selection of gameplay options. The first mode is an arcade mode, which ends in an extremely vague text ending for your selected character. The problem with this is that there is no established story or lore elsewhere in the game, so it just comes off as being confusing to the player since it feels like the developers actually had an interesting story in mind, but never actually invested in it in any way. What’s worse is that with only 4 characters to select from, the Arcade mode is over within a few minutes. There’s a Free Battle mode where you can just fight against whoever you want in a single battle and a Training mode where you can practice your moves against an AI allowing you to dictate how they act. Finally, there is a Versus mode where you can play with another player locally.
It’s too bad that there is such a distinct lack of features and such a terrible control scheme, because at the core the game actually had a lot of potential to be extremely enjoyable. As it stands, I’d recommend you spend your money on something else. This game is frustrating and atrocious.
- Teepu (Bowser05)
Platforms: Virtual Console (Wii, 3DS, Wii U)
You may be looking at the title and be wondering why you aren’t seeing screenshots of Toad or Luigi running around a fantasy environment fighting against Shy Guys and Bob-ombs. Though here in the USA our version of Super Mario Bros. 2 would fit that description, that is not what the original version of the game was. Super Mario Bros. 2 (henceforth being shortened to SMB2 since I’m lazy), referred to as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels in the USA, was released a year after the original in Japan only (at first). It was later released on the SNES in the USA with the ‘The Lost Levels’ moniker, but with heavy modifications to make the game easier. Luckily, American players now have access to the original, unchanged version via various Virtual Console compatible platforms.
SMB2 is an odd game. Being a sequel, you naturally expect it to build on the predecessor while still being a standalone experience. This game does not follow that convention in the slightest. Rather, SMB2 feels more like an extension of the first game. It takes an extremely brutal approach to the mechanics that were established in the first game and throws you into the thick of things with little to no hand holding; unlike its predecessor which eases the player into the game through clever level progression. Don’t get me wrong, there still is clever level progression in this game, but it assumes you’re already familiar with the mechanics and design styles from the first games. In fact, it assumes you’ve played the original on normal and hard mode and have a reasonably intimate understanding of how the game works. Even with these tools under your belt, you’ll still likely be caught off guard. See, the first Super Mario Bros. game favors speed, control and reaction time. The second favors caution, precision and foresight. It is this that really makes the game feel like a proper sequel: the fact that it shakes things up a bit while still keeping things quite familiar.
The really clever part of SMB2 comes with the increasingly creative level design. The enemies are all the same, so the levels are the way the developers started to try new things. In order to help propagate this concept, some new environmental hazards were introduced. Of particular note is the addition of wind, Poison Mushrooms (which hurt rather than power-up) and Warp Pipes which send you backward rather than forward. To top it off, the ‘Luigi’ skin for player 2 in the first title actually is given a real identity in this game for the first time. Two-player mode was not included in this game, but instead, we get a second playable character in the form of Luigi. He can jump higher, at the cost of lower traction which ended up being a staple for his character and adds a whole new dynamic to the game.
This was also the first Mario game to introduce the concept of a secret or extra world. Upon completion of every single stage of the game (meaning no skipping via Warp Pipes), you are transported to a 9th ‘Fantasy’ World which contains some cute tricks just for fun, and will continue in an infinite loop until you run out of lives. The final level even has a cute ‘アリガトウ！’ (Arigatou = Thank You) spelled out using in-game blocks.
Ultimately, due to the nature of the game making assumptions about the previous knowledge of the player, it’s difficult to recommend this game to anybody who has not already played through Super Mario Bros. Due to this, there are also little to no substantial differences between the games at the core, aside from the more advanced level design. Despite the somewhat brutal yet satisfying difficulty, extremely clever level design and tight controls, it’s difficult to recommend this game to somebody who has not played the first title in the franchise.
Super Mario Bros. 2 is a high recommendation to the player familiar with the first Super Mario Bros. game. Not so much otherwise, unless you’re patient and willing to deal with a really steep initial learning curve. Overall, SMB2 is definitely one of the most well-made Super Mario games in terms of level design, and should be played if possible.
Note: If you are searching for the game on modern Virtual Console compatible platforms, it will be labelled as ‘Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels’, as to not be confused with the American release of Super Mario Bros. 2. Also, keep in mind as a reminder that the version included in Super Mario All-Stars and Super Mario Bros. Deluxe is altered to be more accessible and easy.
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
With the core Bloodborne experience feeling complete and contained, many of us wondered how they would be able to provide a fulfilling expansion that didn't feel like a complete cash grab. The Old Hunters covers the time period of the hunters before the events of the main game. You are transported into a representation of the past within a Hunter's Nightmare. The biggest issue I have with this expansion is the way it's accessed. I fully appreciate that they integrated the experience into the game, so it feels more connected than a simple main menu selection would entail. The issue is that unless you look it up or are lucky, you will likely not know how to access the content since it's accessed in a very strange way. You need to acquire a specific item from a specific location, then you need to venture to a specific area and have a very specific thing happen. I know my descriptions are vague, but the point is that the game requires a really specific way of accessing the content which is not clearly presented to the player. For normal game content this would be perfectly fine, but for content we are paying a premium price for, they should not make it so difficult to find. On the bright side, you can see instructions on how to access the content on the Bloodborne content. Having to take that extra step may seem creative, but is really a hindrance.
With that complaint out of the way, you'll find that the 19.99 spent on this expansion will be well worth it. The environments are some of the best creations in the game thus far, along with some of the most fun creature designs. My favorite was the fishing hamlet, which is approximately the middle section of the expansion. It has a very different feel from the rest of the game and the creatures have this very barnacle sea-faring feel to them. There are also new sound effects for some of the creatures and they can be bone-chilling. The music is consistent with the main game.
So aesthetically the expansion is just as pleasing as the base game (arguably it's better), but how does the game actually play? Being in the past while there were more hunters, this means that rather than hunters being unique occurrences who don't respawn, they are normal enemies in the game. This helps to provide a much higher level of challenge than the main game. Too often I've played expansions that play like a sequel, in the sense that they don't assume you've played the original game and thus don't progress the difficulty in an appropriate fashion. In short: the expansion is hard as heck. You get thrown into situations where you have literally no room to breathe, which is only somewhat emulated in some of the nightmare sections in the main game where you have PvP turned on for you. There is one section where you'll have a wide open area with multiple enemies (ranged and melee), a giant beast that is hard to dodge and take down on top of a creature that launches high damaging player-seeking projectiles. This forces you to create a plan of action before entering the area then executing it flawlessly piece by piece. This sort of challenge really made the expansion really attractive to me, and I actually enjoyed it more than the base game as a whole.
Some of the most creative puzzles and level designs are found in the expansion as well. While the base game started to get repetitive to me after a while, with the only thing keeping me going was looking forward to boss battles, this expansion is fun throughout. Speaking of bosses, extremely fun and creative bosses can be found in The Old Hunters. There are only 5 bosses, but each of them is quite unique and extremely fun. In fact, the last boss was one of the most fun battles I've dealt with in gaming. It was extremely precise, difficult and satisfying. To help fuel the experience, the player is given access to a multitude of new weapons to play with. Most of these weapons are found through exploration, rather than purchase.
I ended up putting in about 15-20 hours into the expansion to acquire 100% completion. That's about a third of the time the main game took me. At a third of the price of the base game (at launch), I'd say this is a perfect value for the player that is itching for more Bloodborne. There are a lot of neat lore nods as well that will please fans who really enjoyed the lore in the main game. Keep in mind that the expansion does scale with your New Game + in the main game, so I'd recommend tackling it near the end of whatever play through of the main game you are on.
With stunning environs, satisfying challenges and exciting bosses, The Old Hunters is an extremely satisfying expansion for the avid Bloodborne fan that adds a good amount of content. If you own Bloodborne, you should own this expansion.
- Teepu (Bowser05)
Do you have a PS4, PS3, or PS Vita? Are you not playing Overwatch? Do you like gorgeous artwork, side scrolling combat reminiscent of old school beat-em-ups, smooth gameplay, and great music? Then Odin Sphere Leifdrasir might be for you!
The original Odin Sphere was a PS2 game by Vanillaware, well regarded for its art, story, and gameplay mechanics. Leifdrasir is a remake of the game for modern audiences. The remake not only allows for the original game to be played with nothing more changed than graphics, but also offers a refined mode that plays more similarly to Vanillaware’s PS3/PS Vita release Dragon Crown. The core of the game is the same regardless of what mode you play, so you’re welcome to relive the past or forge ahead for the first time.
The PS4 version had a special Storybook Edition, which I snagged because Atlus is always great when it comes to the contents of their special editions, and this was no exception.
After removing the slipcover from the oversized main box, I was treated to gorgeous front and back artwork, featuring the characters of the game on one side, and a map of Erion on the back.
Inside the box was a whole slew of goodies. First up was the game itself, secured in a beautiful steelcase with more art.
Next up was an art print (on decent paper even!) of Alice and Socrates from the game.
Then a cute shirt featuring the basics of potion making in-game.
And a larger-than-normal (for video game tie-ins) art book, filled with loads of illustrations for the game.
I have to say, Atlus always has been quite on-point when it comes to limited edition offerings, and this is no different.
If Odin Sphere Leifdrasir might sound like something you’re interested in, there’s a demo for PS4 and PS Vita available, and the game is out now through most major retailers. This Storybook edition is also still available online. Stay tuned for a more detailed review of the game itself as well as news about a giveaway for the shirt included in this edition!
-Janette G (anarchymarie)
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
I remember being super excited about Demon’s Souls after previewing it at an Anime Expo. Then it released, kicked me in the butt, and I never touched the franchise again. Recently, I decided to give Bloodborne a chance having heard it’s slightly more accessible than the Souls games. I was not left disappointed.
Bloodborne is a game that rewards vigilance and adaptability while punishing stagnation and unwillingness to learn. The game is notorious for being very challenging, and you learn this the hard way from the moment you start. After character customization and a short introduction scene, you are thrown into the game with no real direction or instructions. As you play around with the controls, you start to figure out how to play. Then, before you know it, you discover some kind of wolf creature hunched over a dead body. It notices you, and you desperately try to survive, punching it with your bare hands, dealing practically no damage. Finally, it gets a slash in on you and your lie on the ground, dead, with the words ‘You Are Dead’ displayed prominently on the screen. You wake up in a strange place. Upon some exploration, you discover a weapon and then are able to go back out into the world. You will go back and die more, and then come back after catching your breath in the Hunter’s Dream. After a while, you will start to learn the ropes of the game through trial and error, figuring out methods of dodging, attack patterns and most importantly, the intricate details of how your weapon works.
This is Bloodborne. It doesn’t play nice. It doesn’t hold your hand. It certainly doesn’t assume you’re an idiot. It’s a game that understands that death in a video game is inevitable, thus integrating it into the gameplay. Because of all this, it is also one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences you will have in a game. Most of the game is rather linear, but there are enough branching paths to reward the inquisitive player. To top it off, about half of the stuff in the game is optional (and quite challenging, I might add).
Speaking of exploration, I want to point out how beautiful the game is. The artistic theme is a sort of Gothic Victorian style with a surprise twist you discover about halfway through. There is a lot of detail in everything in the game, from the environment design to the creatures. In fact, the creature design is some of the most phenomenal work I’ve seen in the game. After playing for a while, I started to play for the sole reason of seeing what the next boss design would be and how it would look in motion. There are some truly horrific but mesmerizing creatures in this game. The downside is that the higher level of detail means that some textures won’t be presented in the best resolution, and if you walk around investigating the beautiful art work you will start to notice this problem here and there. It’s not a huge problem, but can sometimes pull you out of the experience for a brief moment. Still, that experience is so lovingly crafted that it’s ultimately irrelevant.
This same level of love is clearly noticeable in the music and sound design. The sound effects are very distinctive and amazing, to the point that you get used to certain audio queues from creatures to indicate their presence or certain attacks. The music is a lovely supplement to all this. It is subtle, but extremely atmospheric. It pops up at all the right times, and is scarce enough to assure a strong emotional response when it is there. I especially love how the music escalates as you get further into a boss battle. It’s a great touch that creates tension during the battles. The voice acting, on the other hand, is mediocre; it isn’t terrible and it isn’t great, but it does express enough to get the point across.
Which leads me to the next point: story. The story is practically non-existent. There is just enough narrative to give you a general purpose, but everything is left to innuendo, hints and inference. For a game that revolves around progression and challenging encounters, this type of approach actually complements the game quite nicely. If you take the time to read item descriptions, and pay attention to side conversations and environmental queues, you can actually gather some really fun lore within the game. That being said, this could be a turnoff to people who are looking for a game with a more enticing narrative.
While many players will learn to adapt as they play more, and the game will start to get easier as you learn the mechanics, there will be some encounters that will completely obliterate you. Everyone has their own challenge, but they are there. That’s one of the beauties of this game. Each encounter plays on a certain subtle battle theme. While the battles may all start to feel really similar, it isn’t until you run into that one extremely hard boss that you realize that the subtle differences play specifically to player nuance. It’s extremely clever how this is implemented and I really appreciate how creative the developers were in doing this.
For those challenging moments you can call on the help of other players. The multiplayer component is handled strangely, but it works. As you discover locations or defeat bosses, you gain a currency called ‘Insight’. This can be used to purchase special items or to call on the help of players. It’s nice because it forces the player to put a high value on cooperation, only using it when absolutely necessary. This may seem ridiculous, but there is enough Insight provided through normal gameplay to allow for a comfortable amount of co-op play without making you feel like you’re dipping into important reserves. The real problem comes in calling on specific players. It’s not hard, but it’s an extra step that can be irritating. You put a password on your game and the other player has to have the same password input on top of being in the same general vicinity. It works, but seems a bit roundabout. When you’re feeling particularly daring, you can actually invade another (random) player’s game and hunt them down to defeat them in battle. These battles can be fun or frustrating, depending on your mood and skill. In the game, there are two areas that actually force player vs player action (one optional and one required), which can be disconcerting. This can be solved by either playing the game in offline mode or finding a certain enemy (who doesn’t respawn when killed) who summons other players.
If you end up doing side quests, you can get a potentially unlimited number of Insight. The main way to do this would be through a part of the game called Chalice Dungeons. As you progress through the game, you will get an item that requires ritual materials to create an instanced dungeon. These dungeons are designed to be done cooperatively, but can be done solo with some wit and skill. The dungeons all follow the same pattern of traversing through a random set of pre-made rooms connected together. After you do 2 or 3 of these you pretty much know what to expect from all of them, and as a result they can get painfully repetitive, since you need to complete about 10 different ones to reach the final boss for the Chalice Dungeons. On the bright side, almost every type of dungeon only has 3 floors, so you can usually finish one or two in one sitting depending on your skill and how long your session is. The real fun, though, is in the bosses. Some of the most challenging and exciting bosses in the game are contained within these dungeons. Some of them are varied versions of main game bosses, others are beefed up versions of normal enemies and a few are completely new and original bosses. The amazingly varied and creative bosses are the main draw in this game when it really boils down to it, and there are tons to experience throughout the game. The only real issue with approaching all these bosses is the camera. The way it responds to collision can be bothersome, especially when facing large bosses. Losing to a boss because of my own error is fine, but losing because the camera is working against me is not. Luckily, these frustrating moments don’t happen too often.
Completing the game will result in a New Game + which allows the player to keep all collected items (except for story-related quest items), all upgrades and the character level and stats. The game will be more challenging every time you start an NG+ though, so be warned. Chalice Dungeons don’t scale with each NG+, so if you find a particular dungeon extremely challenging, coming back to it in a NG+ may prove fruitful. That being said, with about 85 hours of total gameplay time, I was able to get all trophies and attain level 160 (the limit being in the 500’s) on a single play through. So don’t feel pressured into completing the game and doing a NG+ to collect all items, it may be possible to do it in one go, if that’s what you’d prefer.
Bloodborne is not the kind of game that is designed for the casual gamer or the gamer who is looking for a more cinematic experience. It’s the type of action/RPG that tests your skill, patience and determination. The results of these tests are immense bouts of satisfaction. For that reason alone, I can easily recommend this game, despite its flaws. It reminds me of what gaming used to be like as a child: a satisfying challenge that doesn’t assume the player is dumb.