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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

The Best Game Never Played

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Brawler / PC)

Introducing the Genre

This game is actually 2-in-1. For the purchase, you get a classic brawler and a separate new school brawler. God of War defined the new school of brawling and since then there have been many, clones, some better than others, like Dante’s Inferno or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. TMNT IV: Turtles in Time for the SNES is regularly in the top spot of the greatest brawlers of the older genre, alongside classics like Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, or Golden Axe.. In this game you get to see where the genre came from and where it is now. It does that better than most modern brawlers.

Introducing the Game

This game first came to my attention when I was looking for some information on another iteration of the franchise. At first, it didn’t look to have much potential. I thought it would wind up being the same generic franchise brawler that stains the industry like the Green Lantern game. As time went on, I occasionally looked into the game more and more. I saw some gameplay videos, some interviews, and it looked more and more appealing. By the time I bought it, about a week after release, I wasn’t surprised that it was the most inspired brawler I’ve ever played since TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, this is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows!

Gameplay

Amazing! This has one of the richest and deepest combat systems in an action or brawling game that I’ve ever seen. I’ll start with the biggest difference that I’ve seen, the combo system. In lots of brawlers, some which get 10/10 from IGN, you can easily rack up 30 hit combos by pressing the same button over and over. In this game, you might be able to do just that, but it would be a deliberate handicap challenge.

TMNT: OotS has a combo combat system, that if you reach 10 hits in a row without being hit, you can perform a finisher on your enemy of choice. Being able to master this system will make the whole game a lot easier. First, rack up some hits on the foot soldiers, then attack the stronger enemy with a finisher. Enemies spend a lot of time on the floor and can soak up repeated knockdowns early on, so finishing will speed up your progress. It can also easily eliminate the special attack enemies or ones who like to block often.

There are two main types of attacks, which is normal for brawlers, but I was amazed at the inspired choices. Instead of “light” and “heavy” attacks or “direct” and “area” attacks, there are “weapon” and “kick” attacks. Weapon attacks deal a lot of damage, assuming the enemy isn’t blocking. Kick attacks, if they connect with a blocking enemy, greatly decrease their block bar, a bar that decreases with every block. You could wear them down with weapon attacks, but that would be a needlessly long battle.

Unlike the previous Turtles brawlers, the AI isn’t as accommodating to let you finish with one enemy before attacking you. Go back and play them, you’ll see an oddly considerate pause before you turn your attention to them. The AI in this game will surround you and attack you all at once, not like the plucky ninjas of the past. To prevent being hit in the back and losing your combo streak, you have to get the counter system down. If you’re late with a counter, you block instead, decreasing your own block bar.

All of this applies to the “Arcade” mode, too. Arcade mode is a throwback to the simpler side-scrolling Turtles games of the past. So you get 2 games for the price of 1.

That’s just scratching the surface and I’ll leave the special attacks up to you to discover. You might be able to button mash your way through the game, but only with great frustration and needless irritation. Their version of combat improves upon any of the others of the genre’s past. I could go on for a few more pages but I should probably move on to other sections. It’s the gameplay that makes this game. Any other wrapping and it’s still solid, but being Turtles just makes it better.

Story

The story is a one-off, isolated, self-contained, and doesn’t do anything to shake up the series. It fits in nicely as just another side story, one of their many adventures. The game’s story is probably the weakest part, but it makes sense within it’s own continuity, so there’s nothing bad about it. It’s not bad storytelling. The most enjoyable parts of the story mode are watching the interactions of the turtles with each other, watching them do what they do best, and just being themselves.

It’s a rather short story. I could easily go for a serving of seconds.

Graphics

Here is usually where some of the most vocal criticisms come from, but not from me. The “look” of the turtles has changed with just about every iteration, so why complain now? I actually like this design. It’s a blend of the new Nickelodeon series(which is great, it’s great for old fans and a great jumping on point) and the first live action movie’s aesthetic. Donatello has that gap in his teeth, Raphael has that chip in his front upper left plate, Michelangelo is the shortest with big expressive blue eyes. It’s a great big blend, the way the rest of the game blends every other incarnation.

Between levels there are a few comic panel cut-scenes. Most reviewers took this as a bad sign, quoting cheap and bad art. I saw it as a resourceful choice mad by a small, but incredibly passionate studio which reflects the source material’s roots. I can’t knock them for that.

Music

The first treat you’ll hear is the original T-U-R-T-L-E Power song that plays in the opening menu and end credits. That sets up the experience you’re about to have, one heavily influenced by the first movie. In other places, you can hear a re-recorded version that fixes the curious lyric, “…make up the team with one other fellow, Raphael. He’s the leader of the group…” That’s just more proof of all the care and effort put into this game. I just wish they could have licensed more music from the original soundtrack, like Shredder’s Theme, 9.95, and Turtle Rhapsody.

Maybe we can hope for them in a sequel. Those, or maybe some of the old Konami tracks from the NES and SNES eras. The old games definitely influenced this one in many ways, I hope a sequel draws from more of the older music.

The rest of the game’s music is very energetic to fit the pace of combat. It’s original, and it works, which is always risky when you’re dealing with a franchise game. What would LEGO Star Wars or Force Unleashed have been like if they decided to just forget John Williams’ score?

Sound

Excellent! A thwack of sword on sword combat, falls, but especially the dialogue. No familiar voices from the movies, which is a shame considering how vocal they are about the strange direction Michael Bay is taking the new film. No actors return from the TV series, which is understandable because they’re working hard on season 2. The new cast is undeniably excellent. Without reference, you’ll be able to tell who delivered which line. This is also a credit to the writer as much as to the voice actors.

Controls

I played the game on my PC, so I did not encounter any of the supposed problems that other reviewers complained about. That could just be me. When I played TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, I used all the moves with regular frequency, flips, slides, flying, forward, back, jump, and high kicks, charging, and specials.

Maybe it was because I spent 2 hours marveling at all the different animations, but the controls were never a problem. There is a rich system of combat, combos, blocks, counters, takedowns, evades, aerial attacks, finishers, team attacks, projectiles, and room clearing attacks that seemed to be very natural, at least to me. You can mix and match any attack with almost any other attack. Some work and chain better than others, some combos are faster than others, some combos are faster than others, but that’s not really the game. If you’re not aware of your environment, if you don’t evade or counter properly, you’ll be hit from behind and

Multiplayer

I haven’t played the game WITH anyone yet, but I imagine it will be wonderful, like the times I played LEGO anything, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Double Dragon, or the original TMNT games with good friends. There’s co-operative play in both story and arcade modes. Once my friend buys it for the PSN, I’ll probably get the chance.

Depth/Replayability

Even without the extensive list of purchasable combos in other brawlers, you start with most of the combat moves already unlocked. I said most. Each turtle has a set of trees to upgrade like fighting, defense, unique skills to them, and team assist skills. Some of these skills have to be purchased as one or another. The game asks if you want to improve your individual turtle or have him contribute more to the team? Personally, I turned Michelangelo into a powerhouse, forsaking everyone else. That’s very much representative of my style. How you customize the team will be up to you.

I’ve replayed level 1 of the arcade mode many times. If you were a fan of the other TMNT brawlers, and found those to be endlessly replayable, then you ought to feel the same about this, or even more. Very soon, I expect to see this game show up in speed runner communities. I spent many hours trying to refine my fighting style and finish enemies faster. I still can’t get enough.

Right when I finished the game, I was ready to go through all over again. I verbally pronounced, “I hope there’s a hard mode!” As if the game heard me, “True Ninja Unlocked.” “Cowabunga!” There are other surprising unlockables to search for but I’ll leave you to find them.

Personal

This is nine-tenths of the game that I wanted and previously wrote about in the Perfect 10 section. Compare this game to the speculative, “Perfect 10” review I wrote years ago.

https://thebestgameneverplayed.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles/

I spent 2 hours in the training room with Michelangelo. Not because it was complicated, but because it was fun!

I played level 1 of the arcade game many many times. Sure, I could have unlocked more, but the flow of fighting was so flawless, it became a tranquil experience.

Two complete games for $15? This could easily have been a $20 experience for either one.

Discovering every easter egg was a real treat! They’re not overt, you have to be a fan and no matter what your favorite incarnation is, you’ll find some kind of callback including the NES games, including the first one, SNES Tournament Fighters, Turtles in Time, original comics, current comics, the micro-series, even a gag about the voice actors.

Everyone needs a little Cowabunga now and then.

Boiling it Down

There’s no reason not to buy this. It’s the game that I’ve wanted for years. Don’t let any other low review score stop you.

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Chantelise – A Tale of Two Sisters

The Best Game Never Played

Chantelise – A Tale of Two Sisters (Action RPG/ PC)

Introducing the Genre

I found a great Action RPG on a Steam Summer Sale. I have to emphasize both parts of the genre, it’s not an action game, with RPG elements, it’s not a full RPG, it’s one of the great undiscovered gems that would have been at home with the likes of The Legend of Zelda, Beyond Good & Evil, or the Square and Enix renaissance of the 90s with Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Illusion of Gaia, and their kind.

Introducing the Game

I accidentally discovered this game while I was investigating another. I saw another one of Extra Credits’ “Games You Might Not Have Tried” videos where they mention Recetteer: An Item Shop’s Tale, a game where you run the item shop for adventurers. This game was part of a package sale for games from the same publisher and developer. I decided investigate. If this other game was as clever and original and surprising as Recetteer, it’ll be worth it. What I ended up with was actually not as original or as clever. It was actually a throwback to the difficult Action RPGs of the past, the like I haven’t seen or heard of in a long time. It was a welcome challenge trying to beat Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters.

Gameplay

The gameplay is simple to learn but difficult to master. Aren’t the best games like that? The best way I can describe this is, “what if The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time had come out much earlier, with the Super Nintendo’s limitations with an early 3D FX chip?” There is a town, roads to dungeons, dungeons, bosses, sword fighting, a little bit of magic, secret items to find, even a little bit of fishing just to finish the Zelda parallels.

Combat from the beginning of the game is not too different from combat at the end of the game. You don’t have to purchase your attacks in order to string together 20-hit combos. You have most of your abilities at the beginning of the game. As you progress, you may find items you can equip to give you one extra ability. You’re forced to choose between special abilities, only able to have a limited number of items equipped at any one time. You can swap out on the fly, sometimes. This forces you to have to come up with some kind of strategy for difficult encounters, and believe me, there will be many difficult encounters.

The first real boss almost made me quit the game entirely, but I gave it another chance. There is a sharp difficulty curve when you reach the first boss, at least there was for me. Don’t get discouraged, you just have to come up with a strategy. Hint: Use magic. You can’t just power attack your way through the game. Figuring out how to defeat each boss is a satisfying challenge. They’re not quite Shadow of the Colossus specific and tricky, but it reminded me of that first time playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I really need to stop comparing it to Zelda.

Once you beat the game, or if, there’s plenty more to keep you occupied. This is the type of game that should come with achievements and trophies, just to prove you’ve done the amazing. There’s in-game counters for secret items, special items to buy, super boss battles to take on, a fishing journal to fill out, even a crafting system if that’s your thing.

There’s an “old” amount of monsters throughout the game. By that, I mean there are few in variety, but there are plenty of pallete swapped versions that show up as you progress. You’ll end up seeing the same flying eyeballs, slimes, and floating wizard sprites again and again. This is actually a positive. The enemy placement is used to devious effectiveness, using what little they have in effective ways. Good old Mario has a limited number of pallete swapped enemies, but that never makes the games any easier. It’s how they’re used and placed that make things tricky. The developers of Chantelise definitely took some notes and implemented that design strategy. They’re not too punishing, but more than you’d expect considering the recent crop of Action RPGs to come out.

Story

I don’t want to say this. I don’t want this to come off sounding derogatory. However, if this is the sort of thing that would turn you off from a game, you probably don’t deserve to play it. The story is very girly. The heroine is a young girl trying to save her sister and break a spell after she’s been turned into a fairy(another Zelda-themed similarity).

The tone of the story is very light and the main characters are very bubbly, which matches the anime shojo art style. Still, be ready to get your pride handed to you by the difficulty of the game. If I had a daughter, this game would serve as an excellent gateway into gaming as a whole.

Graphics

I briefly mentioned in the last section about how the game is anime-inspired. There are very pretty and handsome male characters with chibi and cute female characters. It matches the tone of the story. No one is over-sexualized, so it’s great for all ages.

Even earlier I mention it’s also 3d. Imagine a 3d environment, but all the characters that you see are 2d sprites. It has slightly more graphical demands than the original Doom. If you’re on a budget PC, you’ll be able to play it, and probably enjoy it more than some other more demanding games.

Music

It’s a shame the soundtrack didn’t come with the game like some other Steam sales. I hope this is the last Zelda comparison I make because the game really does stand on it’s own. The music reminds me of something Koji Kondo, of Zelda fame, would do. Imagine if someone else had scored Zelda, you’d end up with a soundtrack like this.

Sound

Voices are all in Japanese, which doesn’t make any real difference. The accompanying text in speech balloons and text windows are all translated into English. Sound effects are very classic game-y, the kind you might have heard on an SNES. If you’re a fan of challenging, but not impossible Action RPGs, it’ll sound just right. The sound helps establish and remind players of the pedigree of the game.

Controls

I had no problem with the keyboard for controls. They’re sharp and responsive. Camera control is better than most. Deaths were more due to lack of a strategy than by any hangups caused by the interface. If you have a controller, you can use that, too.

Multiplayer

Even though the game is about two sisters who are always together, there is no multiplayer. For most RPGs, action or otherwise, that’s usually for the best. RPGs have never been for the competitive players. It’s hard to tell your own story when there is another player involved. The only multiplayer I can imagine would be asymmetrical like Super Mario Galaxy’s star collecting with the Wii-mote. That might actually make it better for younger players.

Depth/Replayability

Start to finish, the game is very straightforward. There are plenty of perks for traveling off the beaten path, like winning challenge and time attack rooms. Besides bonus items, they help to train and refine your fighting style. If you saw a reward for beating a boss in 2 minutes where it took you 10, it plants the idea in your head that there is a trick you haven’t figured out yet.

I’ve put in 22+ hours into the game and beat the final boss. I’m pretty sure I can double that before completing everything extra. If you’re the kind of player that likes challenges, real challenges, not artificially inflated difficulty, you’ll love this. There’s just as many “easy” challenges to bait you into seriously upping your game and wanting to complete others.

If you can get a group of people to buy the game, this is the type of game you can really talk about and exchange strategies. It’s the kind of game you’d talk about at recess and pass rumors about before people just looked up information on the internet. Sure, I could just do that to find all the hidden treasures, but I’d just be cheating myself and cutting my enjoyment of this wonderful game short.

Some levels are just fun to replay, thankfully this game lets your replay any one of them at will, even the bosses. You can’t XP grind because there are no levels. So replaying levels helps further refine your skills as a player.

If I were to start again, now that I’ve mastered the combat/magic system, I wonder how quickly I can beat the game and cut down that 22 hour time.

Personal

I’m SO glad I bought this game. It’s been one of the most satisfying buys, in a long time.

The penultimate boss was harder than the final boss. Classic!

At one point, you fight your shadow, another Zelda-ism. You know, if you were to re-skin everything, this could very well be renamed, “The Adventure of Zelda.”

You can buy riddles to find hidden treasure. They’re not obvious, but just enough to spark a treasure hunting bug.

If you’ve played Recetteer, you will find something familiar about the town’s item shop and the item shopkeeper.

Mastering the magic system, as a player, did wonders to my ability to progress through the game.

I can’t wait to see what else the duo of developer EasyGameStation and publisher Carpe Fulgur LLC come up with. They scored two major hits with this and Recetteer. Maybe I should check out their other collaboration, The Summoner.

Boiling it Down

If you like Zelda, classic difficulty, on a budget computer, for a budget price, this is for you.

Dear Esther

The Best Game Never Played

Dear Esther (Interactive Story / PC)

Introducing the Genre

The definition of what can be considered art is sometimes hard to define whenever a new style or genre is created. Gaming culture outsiders have been very adamant that video games can under no circumstances be considered art. Given how early games like Space War and Missile Command began, and how the games which make the news like the Grand Theft Auto series and the Call of Duty series are, it’s no wonder the outsiders can’t see what we see. As games are becoming more and more mainstream, there are more and more developers with more and more different ideas, ideas which will blur the line of what can be considered art.

I’m not sure what to call this genre yet, but there are more and more like it every year, very artistic games from new developers which concentrate on an immersive experience rather than racking up achievements in multiplayer. The objective isn’t as clear as reaching the end of the level or as predictable as anything I’ve seen before. These are games like The Stanly Parable, or the upcoming Gone Home.

These games most closely resemble interactive movies, like Star Trek: Klingon, from the early CD-ROM era. For the sake of differentiating the two, I’ll call these new games, interactive stories.

Introducing the Game

I don’t remember how I first heard about this game, if I read a review, if I saw it on one of the Extra Credits “Games You Might Not Have Tried,” if the description of the game during a Steam sale was interesting enough, or if reading the Wikipedia story of how this mod became a full game convinced me to finally try, Dear Esther.

Gameplay

I reiterate, it’s hard to classify this as a game, to there’s not any real gameplay to it. It’s more of an experience.

Story

I don’t want to be spoiling anything for anyone so I’ll just give a setup. You’re alone on an island, documenting, narrating about your life there to your dear Esther as if you were writing a letter. Before the end, you should be moved by it.

Graphics

The creatures rendered an extra detailed world with an atmosphere of bleakness I’ve never seen done better. It used the Steam engine which might be considered “dated” by now, but I’m continually and pleasantly surprised how much mileage everyone has squeezed from it. Only those without a sympathetic imagination would complain.

Music

Subtle and bleak, complementing the graphical aesthetic and completing the gloomy atmosphere. You can also buy the soundtrack through Steam. It’ll be worth it, if you like that kind of haunting ethereal style.

Sound

There is a wonderful narrator. The ambient noise and weather effects make the island come alive.

Controls

The controls should be accessable to anyone. WASD, mouse-look. They will not be a barrier to anyone playing the game. This is not an action-game or a real-time strategy, no one will be befuddled about how to use the controls. It is a bit frustrating having to walk at the character’s walking pace. It’s a bit slow, so you can’t quickly investigate everything. Then again, the main character isn’t the kind to run around mute, rutting through boxes for random items, so it fits. In my eyes, the slow pace of walking is part of what makes each experience unique. The point where I became frustrated and stopped exploring every little nook meant I focused on the story more, and I robbed myself of some storyline.

Multiplayer

No, not for this game. That would be like someone reading over your shoulder. It would take you out of this experience. Not that it couldn’t be done, just not for this game.

Depth/Replayability

I finished the game in about 2 hours even. I really don’t find myself yearning to repeat the game because of the slow walking speed. I might try it again and look in every corner, hoping to trigger some monologue I didn’t hear before. I’m sure there were some paths I hadn’t explored before I crossed a point of no return.

Personal

A $10(current price, not on sale) for a one-time, two-hour experience that I controlled, it was worth it. If this has sounded interesting so far, it’s worth it. If you’re still on the fence, wait for a sale and it’ll definitely be worth it.

The ending left me so exhausted and depressed that I’m not eager to replay it.

Boiling it Down

You’re buying an experience, not a game. It’s a new genre of entertainment.