Category Archives: Reviews

Review: The Walking Dead: 400 Days DLC

WalkingDead400DaysReview

Click here for my review rubric.

 Difficulty: Normal
Time allotted: 2 hrs to complete the campaign
Console: Windows PC (Steam)
Release Date: July 3, 2013 (NA)
Other Notes: None

Introduction

WalkingDeadJailBusTelltale’s The Walking Dead series continues to impress with the addition of a brand new campaign known only as 400 Days. The content pack comes at a retail price of $4.99 USD and includes one full-fledged campaign that stretches approximately two hours long. The name of the DLC pack stems from the period of time in which the story takes place, beginning from day 1 of the outbreak and leaving off on the 400th. 

400 Days opens by presenting the player with a bulletin board featuring each of the protagonists of this particular story, there are five in total. Each character will have a tale to tell of an incident that has occurred sometime within the 400-day period. The bulletin board serves as a navigational tool, allowing you to decide on the order of which you play each individual story.

400 Days' Central Hub
400 Days’ Central Hub

The campaign serves as a means to bridge the gap between the first season of The Walking Dead and the second (slated for a Fall release). The choices made in both the initial season and 400 Days will carry over to the next season of episodes, so make your decisions carefully!

Technical

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Like Season 1, 400 Days maintains an extremely simplistic gameplay style. A few sequences will require you to move around using your joystick/WASD keys, but the majority of the plot will be largely dominated by the narrative and dialogue options.

400 Days comes and goes quickly, a complete play-through will only take approximately two hours, and there isn’t much else to do afterwards unless you intend to influence your Season 2 play-through by replaying particular stories and changing the outcomes.

The DLC suffers from glitches of a similar nature to those from Season 1. Issues with saving and loading seem to be the most frequent. I was not exposed to such issues whilst using the Steam version of the title aside from a minor cloud-storage bug that was fixed by resetting the game.

Presentation

Like its predecessor, 400 Days is an emotional roller coaster from start to finish. The writers have done an excellent job in portraying the event of a fictional zombie apocalypse in a humanistic and realistic fashion. There’s no real right-or-wrong answer to any situation when considering the scenario that the protagonists are placed in, and Telltale does wonders in solidifying this fact. Your choices will undoubtedly have consequences, and you must trudge through the game knowing that any decision you make can somehow come back to bite you later on.

WDVinceEach of the primary and secondary characters carry a unique personality, all of which that are captured extremely well in the DLC add-on. For example, Russel’s youth and naivety lands him into some terrible predicaments while Vince tends to be more decisive and blunt. A protagonist’s personality will remain steady throughout the campaign, regardless of the decisions that a player makes. To top it all off, the voice acting is superb.

Character development runs a little short given that you only spend an average of half an hour with each one, but it’s safe to say that I’ve seen much more character development in each 20-30 minute segment than I have seen in entire 20+ hour titles. The writers at Telltale have a fantastic means of engaging the audience and making the player care deeply for each member of the cast. You won’t see a relationship fully blossom like the Lee-Clementine duo of the first five episodes, but that’s only to be expected considering the length of 400 Days.

Heart

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‘Short but Sweet’ seems to be the key concept in the development cycle of The Walking Dead: 400 Days. Given the brevity of the DLC package, there was clearly a rigorous process of creating and choosing the best dialogue options and plot twists to bring forth an engaging and memorable experience within the short span of time allotted to each scenario.

400 Days was intended to be a fresh project that could stand independently from the series. The devs had made the decision to use the DLC to begin a new story entirely, rather than continuing from the end of Season 1 and extending  a conclusion that they consider to be perfect. The stand-alone nature of the DLC opened up new avenues of experimentation, such as an intertwining plot with multiple protagonists, or new quick-time events that such as those seen in the Bonnie chapter. It feels to me that 400 Days serves as essentially a practice run to grant the devs at Telltale a feel for the direction that they need to go for Season 2. The DLC can also potentially generate feedback and criticism from the fans, which can prove invaluable during the Season 2 development cycle.

Value

Like Season 1, there isn’t much replayability following a finished campaign unless you’re interested in exploring the results of other dialogue options. Achievements/trophies can all be obtained on the initial run, but a couple in particular (e.g. One involves a game of rock, paper, scissors) can be missed on the first playthrough.

The add-on runs at a mere $4.99 USD, though it requires players to have at least Episode One of the Season 1 in order to play. That’s $5 for approximately two hours of game, which is about the average length of a box-office movie. Considering the quality of the story, and the face that the decisions made here can impact Season 2, I’d say that this is a pretty good deal.

Final Comments

Although it isn’t absolutely necessary to do so, I’d recommend playing the entirety of Season 1 prior to starting the DLC campaign as some decisions made during the first 5 episodes will affect the events of 400 Days. Completing the initial Lee/Clementine campaign will also give players a feel as to how much Telltale has improved in terms of storytelling and general gameplay.

In short, 400 Days tells an excellent, heart-gripping introductory story of five extremely unique characters and presents a promising prologue to the events to come in Season 2.

Some Pros: Fantastic plot, Realistic characters and dialogue choices

Some Cons: Short in length, Low replayability, Minimal character development

Mandatory Personal Rating: 7.5/10

Review: Fire Emblem Awakening

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Click here for my review rubric.

Difficulty: Hard (Classic)
Time allotted: 27 hrs to complete campaign. 1 hr on multiplayer.
Console: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 4, 2013 (NA)
Other Notes: Played mostly in 2D on a 3DS XL (I found the larger screen more pleasant for this title)

I know I’m late to the party in terms of reviewing this title, but finding a retail copy of the game had proven to be a quest of its own since shipments of the title arrived in extremely limited batches (3-4 per retail location at launch) in my city. I realize that I could have easily purchased the digital version from the 3DS’ eShop, but I’m a bit of a collector, so I decided to wait until I could get my hands on a physical copy.

Introduction

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Chrom giving you a hand

In Fire Emblem Awakening, you play as an individual (A character created by the player) found lying on the floor by Chrom (Prince of the nation of Ylisse) and his band of the realm’s protectors, known as the Shepherds. As it turns out, you are an amnesiac, and since you can’t recall your past, you have nothing better to do than to join the Shepherds and fight alongside them. It just so happens that you have an inert tactical mind and great fighting capabilities too, how fortunate! As you progress through the game, you’ll do battle with nations warring against Ylisse and an additional threat by the name of the ‘Risen’. You will develop ties with members of the Shepherd as your adventure persists, and you’ll also learn a great deal about your past and future alike.

The Fire Emblem series is widely known for merging turn-based strategic combat with a healthy amount of role-playing flair. Fire Emblem is an extremely popular franchise in Japan, but many of the titles never managed to make it across Japanese borders. The series’ first title was released in 1990 on the Family Computer, but international audiences didn’t get their hands on a localized FE title until 2003, with the release of the GBA’s Fire Emblem (which was awesome, by the way).

Byyear from left to right - 1990, 2003, 2005, 2012.
Byyear from left to right – 1990, 2003, 2005, 2012.

As you can see, the franchise’s formula has remained consistent since the initial release. The gameplay has kept a similar style for the past 23 years. Other common features that make the Fire Emblem series distinct include:

  • Permanent death when a character is downed in a battlefield
  • A setting based on the Western Medieval era (you can see this with the unit types, speech and environments)
  • A robust cast of unique and highly developed characters
  • Politics and disputes between kingdoms with a greater over-looming threat
Even the poses look kind of familiar.
Even the poses look kind of similar.
Left – Rebecca – Fire Emblem (GBA)
Right – Severa – Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

With each new iteration, the traditional elements of the FE games are met with new functions. Fire Emblem Awakening introduces various features to the series such as pairing units, marriage, a user-generated character, and extra DLC. With so much additional content, can Nintendo stay true to the franchise, or have they lost sight of the core makings of a Fire Emblem game?

Technical

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The grid

Fire Emblem Awakening’s underlying architecture has been standardized over the years. You’ll be participating in battles that increase in scale as you progress through the story and recruit members. Awakening’s mechanics remain traditional to the tactical turn-based genre. Underlying each battlefield is a grid in which you must manoeuvre your characters within. The distance that each character can move is based on their unit type and the terrain (e.g. horses travel much farther on grass than sand.)

I like to think of the series as a dramatized game of Chess. Like Chess, the player takes the role of a tactician facing off against an opposing strategist. One by one, both parties take turns making their moves, and a victor emerges when the other side is unable to fight back. Each piece has specific strengths and weaknesses; in Awakening, Chrom and your personalized unit could be considered Kings since the game ends immediately if they fall. Character management is crucial when playing both Chess and the FE series, especially since your deceased allies can never return to the battlefield. 

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Checkmate!

Graphically, Awakening’s visuals are polished and the look is clean. I particularly like how characters in the battle portions are displayed in sprite form on a 3D backdrop, it works much better than I would have imagined. The combat animations are done in 3D, which is a first for a Fire Emblem game on a handheld. I was concerned about the new models since the old 2D sprites of the GBA generation were gorgeous, but Awakening definitely handled the 3D well; the battle scenes were highly enjoyable to watch. fireemblembattle

Levelling up and class promotion are both mainstay features of the FE series, you’ll find lots of both in Awakening. There are numerous classes to promote your characters to, as well as special units (often tied to race) that are restricted to specific characters. For example, Olivia is the only character in the game that can be a Dancer.

The Dark Flier is a secondary class.
The Dark Flier here is a secondary class.

Awakening introduces numerous new mechanics to the Fire Emblem franchise. Casual Mode enables players to have a relaxed playthrough where the characters do not die permanently if felled in battle, but instead return to the party after a mission is completed. I don’t recommend this mode as it changes the way you play. Although it’s annoying having to restart the game when a character dies, your strategy becomes much more defensive and cautious in Classic Mode. I personally find that the game becomes much more intense and engaging when there’s a character on the line.

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The character creation screen

The new title also introduces a character creation mode where you construct your own avatar to experience the story alongside Awakenings cast, which effectively adds a personal touch to the game. My only gripe is that the selection of the visual details are limited, I wasn’t fully satisfied with any of my Avatar creations.

Pairing up and physically fighting beside an ally in Awakening reaps substantial benefits. The pairs can boost one another’s statistics as well as defend and attack together in combat. Allies can build relationships, some may eventually get married and produce children. The offspring will maintain skills from their parents, and they’ll look like them aesthetically as well. The kids will also become playable characters, further increasing your roster. As you can probably tell, the support mechanic will lead to a lot of deep decision-making as you pick and choose which characters to pair up and the skills that they use (each unit can have up to 5 skills equipped at once). The pairing system, alongside individual character management (i.e. Class promotion) results in an extremely customizable experience.

A couple of allies fighting as a pair.

Presentation

The numerous elements of Awakening are coordinated extremely well. Transitions from the over-world to the battles sequences are linked seamlessly with unique story segments, there is plenty of deep dialogue between the cast, and progression occurs at a solid pace; not too fast nor too slow. A Japanese dub option is also present, which is great for players that wish to hear the original voice acting.

Awakening‘s localization is incredible. Its written work is some of the best I’ve ever seen in the industry. The English translation and editing work was done so well that I could hardly believe that it was initially created in Japanese.

I especially enjoy Virion's personality
I especially enjoy Virion’s personality

There are anime-style short films that function as cut-scenes. These theatrical videos are jaw-droppingly beautiful and the general choreography was spectacular. You’ll see some awesome facial expressions and action as you watch each segment. The animated scenes in Awakening are of even higher quality that most currently televised anime.

The game’s intro offers a taste of the overall quality of the animated shorts. Credits to GameXplain for the video.

Heart

Fire Emblem has always been a series heavily influenced by bonds and friendship, Awakening is no different. You will develop many ties to a number of different people as you play through the game. If a character dies, the player will likely mourn for them, especially if they choose not to reset the game as soon as an ally drops.

With the introduction of love, you will see the intangible ties between the characters becoming stronger as they fight alongside one another. Marriage is the ultimate bond in Awakening, and this is important since a unit’s strength increases drastically if they engage in combat with their marriage partner. The death of a character will obviously make their counterpart significantly weaker as you are no longer able to pair the lovers up in battle. Nintendo put forth an unbelievable amount of effort into this feature. There is a great amount of dialogue between the cast, and you can see relationships blooming through ‘support’ events. Your very own avatar may even fall in love with a party member and have a child; that’s how personalized and deep this experience is.

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Probably the best pick-up line ever.

The story and dialogue are well thought out, each character has their own distinct personality, and a lot of the interactions between members of the Shepherd are expertly written and witty.

The language in the game stays true to the era of which it takes place, the text’s format is similar to that of books and stories set in the same time period. The English and environments are based off of the Medieval era, and Awakening abides to the niches of the times very closely.

At the heart of Fire Emblem Awakening lies a story that emphasizes the triumphant power of the human bond. Alone, we may hit an obstacle seemingly impossible to overcome, but with the right friends by our sides, we could potentially alter fate itself. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s not that far from reality. I’m sure everyone has had an experience where having a close friend around turned out to be a life saver (I’d love to hear some stories).

Value

Awakening has plenty of DLC content featuring popular characters from the previous titles. The new maps, items and allies will definitely keep players busy after finishing the campaign. Astute fans can attempt the game on a different difficulty (Preferably on Classic mode this time, cheater.). Lunatic mode is the hardest difficulty out of the box, but when it is complete, an even harder Lunatic + mode will be unlocked for the masochists. Playing through the game again will allow you to selectively breed your party in a different manner, so you’ll have the chance to see different pairings between the members of the Shepherd. The offspring of married couples will always take after their mothers, but their hair colour and possibly other aesthetics will change according to the the father.

Spot Pass and Online/Offline multiplayer will also offer something else to do. You could also make a hobby of collecting your friends’ custom avatars if you so choose.

Final Comments

There’s a long-standing tradition in the FE series where you are granted a character that is more powerful than the rest of your roster. The single character has enough power to clean out entire armies with no help from the other team mates. In Awakening, this gleaming bundle of joy is Frederick, a commanding knight tasked to watch over the Prince and Princess of Ylisse. The character generally comes in handy when your party is being overpowered by enemy forces. You may be thinking that having an ultra strong character from the onset of the game is awesome, but using him can actually prove to be counter-productive. You see, your party gains experience from damaging blows and enemy kills, so if you allow Frederick to soak up all the experience, the rest of your army will probably be too weak to handle regular foes much later on. Many beginners tend to find the later stages of the Fire Emblem games daunting because they’ve pumped all their precious xp into a single unit that becomes less effective over time. There’s also experience scaling, so your characters will get less xp per kill as they level up. 

fefrederick

One of my favourite implementations presented in Awakening is the ability to create a character, I also love the custom protagonist’s involvement with the story. In other Fire Emblem titles, you are presented as the group’s strategist, but you plan behind-the-scene rather than joining the battlefield itself. It’s nice to have a personalized tactician, especially one with such a huge impact on the story, join the fray and fight alongside the cast.

In terms of difficulty, be prepared for a beating on anything higher than normal. I’d like to think I’m pretty well-versed in strategy games, but I still managed to face at least 8 deaths within the first two hours of gameplay. I haven’t even glanced at Lunatic mode due to fear of the impending struggle. The game can be extremely strict and difficult, so enter at your own risk.

Image from Giantbomb

I found the weapon triangle system a little lackluster this time around. For those that don’t know Swords beat out axes, axes beat lances, and lances outclass swords in rock-paper-scissors-like fashion. While playing the game, the function was almost negligible. Any weapon would suffice in combat, I could attack enemies head-on with a sword if they wielded a lance and still emerge victorious as if the weapon triangle didn’t exist.

Possibly my biggest gripe about the Fire Emblem series as a whole is that you’re forced to pick and choose your main party members. There are so many great personalities and unique characters in the game that I wish I could bring them all with me into battle. Unfortunately, you are restricted to a set number of slots that vary for each fight, and you’ll have to select heroes that best fill the spot. Naturally, you will have an affinity towards certain unit types (like an archer to take out flying enemies), and you’ll be forced to neglect weaker characters in order to bolster your chances of completing a mission.

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Sorry Kellam, you’re just a little too… forgettable.

Awakening is undoubtedly one of the best 3DS titles to ever grace the console, the sheer amount of content alone is enough to make a fan of the series soil themselves. The gameplay, soundtrack, visuals and story elements intertwine gracefully to create an outstanding game. However, as much as I’d love to call it flawless, it’s not. The game does have its issues, but they’re all minor and none of them affect the overall experience that a player will take away from the game. Fire Emblem Awakening is a title that deserves a place in every 3DS owner’s library. 

Some Pros: Great story, localization and gameplay. Tons of content.

Some Cons: Weapon triangle is fairly pointless, limited aesthetic options in character creator.

Mandatory Personal Rating: 9.5/10.

Review: The Simpsons: Tapped Out

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If you don’t understand my review scheme, you may find an outline of it here.

Introduction

Tapped out is a mobile app created by EA and released on iOS devices back in March 2012. It was more recently made available to android users on February 6, 2013. I discovered this game four months ago, and not a day has gone by in which I haven’t opened the app at least once.

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Familiar characters are unlocked frequently.

Tapped out brings players into Matt Groening’s world of The Simpsons. The story begins with homer blowing up Springfield and wiping it clean of its residents and infrastructure. The player is then given control over Springfield’s development, your task is to help Homer rebuild the city from the ground up. You will gradually earn buildings and come across characters from the show as you progress.

The game is tailored so that each player can create their own custom Springfield. You are the architect, and you are granted a sandbox (well, more of a grassbox since the default tiles are fields of grass) to place each building as you desire.

Some Tasks
Some Tasks

The characters appear in the game to perform tasks that to gain income and experience for the user. These tasks will lock each character out for a chosen interval of time that can be anywhere from 6 seconds to 90 days, the money/exp gain is higher for the more time consuming duties. Quests also appear from time to time, giving bonus income and experience for placing a building or doing a specific task.

Technical

The mechanics of The Simpsons are not new by any means. Customizing your own city and watching it grow as you play is a concept that appears frequently in today’s casual game market (think Farmville). The game is instantly familiar and boasts a small learning curve like most games on the app market.

Look Familiar?
Hmm….

Tapped out doesn’t push the graphical capabilities of its platform. Similar to the television series, the game is very simple and clean. In terms of sound, all the characters are instantly recognizable and the voice acting sounds as if it were pulled straight from the show. The background music is very generic, which is expected from this type of game. There are a few cutscenes in which you see the animated characters interact, they’re a nice little addition to the game, but tend to be unnecessary and forgettable.

Mmm… Cutscenes…

The app requires an internet connection to play and encourages social interaction. Players may add friends and visit their cities, trashing or cleaning it as they see fit.Visiting other cities plays a big role during seasonal updates, for example, the Winter update allowed players to collect special tokens from others which were then used to purchase Christmas-related goodies.

Presentation

Tapped Out is extremely refined and polished, glitches are a rare occurrence and the touch interaction feels smooth and seamless. The game is gorgeous and fully captures the essence of the Simpsons Universe. The opening tutorial is fluid and adequately guides the player through the core concepts of the game. I was taken aback by the sheer amount of care and detail that was put into each character and building. The characters sound authentic, from Homer’s trademarked “D’oh!” to sarcastic remarks of The Comic Book Guy. The buildings replicate those from the show down to the smallest detail; the sign on Moe’s Tavern flickers on and off while El Barto decals decorate properties that have been vandalized.

Notice how the decorations on the Simpsons' household are scattered compared to Ned and the others?
Notice how the decorations on the Simpsons’ household are scattered compared to Ned’s and the others’?

Heart

I’d imagine that the developers at EA are huge fans of the show. Everything about the game is tuned to perfection with a loving hand. EA Mobile’s recreation of the cartoon is fantastic and any hardcore fan of the series will no doubt drool at the references and subtle hints alluding to the Simpsons episodes. Tapped Out is most definitely an attempt to give players a complete Simpsons experience in mobile game format, and it has successfully done so in what I believe to be the best way possible.

Value

The game is free on the app store, so it’s already off to an amazing start. The real cost comes in the form of Donuts. This is a type of special currency in the game that is difficult to come across, on average, you’ll get fewer than 100 on a given playthrough. Donuts are extremely rare, they are also required to purchase certain buildings and characters in the game. The fastest way to get Donuts is to pay real money.

Some Donut Prices
Some Donut Prices

With that said, you can complete the game without Donuts, most items purchased using them are aesthetic and not required to progress further into the game. The experience is not diminished if the player does not purchase the currency.

The game doesn’t have much to offer in terms of replayability, but it is updated fairly consistently. Each update adds something new for players to strive for, whether it’s another level (currently at level 25), more characters to obtain, or a seasonal treat for its players. The themed updates specifically are huge additions to the game, adding multiple buildings, characters, costumes, sidequests and decorations, but they are temporary and only last the span of the holiday itself, so players are often scrambling to get as much as they can before Springfield returns to normal. The patches will continue to appear in the coming months, rumors tease an Easter and Summer update to keep players busy.

Loading screen for the Valentines patch.
Loading screen for the Valentines patch.

Final Thoughts

Simply put, this is personally my favorite Simpsons game since the PS2 cult hits, Hit and Run and Road Rage. It feels like The Simpsons, sounds like The Simpsons, and would probably taste like The Simpsons given enough licking. The best part? You are given free reign to tailor Springfield in your own custom fashion!

Take a look at IGN editor Brian Altano’s Mario and Link done with some of the in-game dirty washing machines, newspaper stands and plants.

The game is updated frequently and appeals well to a casual audience, you can play as little as 10 minutes a day and still make some good ground in progression. Interacting with other players is also cleverly implemented, it’s really interesting to be able to observe how your friends have built their own Springfield.

Some Pros: Addictive, great take on the Simpsons universe, extremely polished, shallow learning curve.

Some Cons: Linear path of progression, rearranging props can be a pain as selecting objects is not precise, no function that cleans the map to redesign your Springfield.

Mandatory personal rating: 9/10.

Review Scheme

Review LogoWhat’s a video game blog without reviews? I will be writing up personal reviews on various games both new and old. Reviews will generally be posted upon my completion of a game or after I’ve put in a good amount of time (for instances like MMO’s). I’d like to emphasize that my game reviews are highly subjective and personal; I always recommend playing a game for yourself before judging it.

I’ve devised a set of criteria to assess each game with, these are brand new and subject to change as I see fit. I will update this post to reflect any changes that I make in the future.

Introduction – This is simply a quick overview of the game. I will be using this section to describe general details like game genre, available platforms, release date, etc. You will get a basic idea of the game whilst reading this section.

Technical – I will be using this portion to describe the guts of the game. Anything related to graphics, game mechanics, sound, and gameplay will be fleshed out in the Technical section.

Presentation – How do the elements of the game interact with each other? Is the game polished? Are there apparent glitches? How about the translations, subtitles, and voice acting?

Heart – Are the developers trying to say something? Were they trying to be original? Was there a hidden message or underlying notion to the game or story? I’ll be using this part of the review to dive into deeper concepts like developer intentions.

Value – Games can be pretty expensive, so this piece will be dedicated to detailing the worth of the game. I’ll be outlining aspects like replayability, average completion time, price (and possibly future discounts) of each given game.

Final Say – This is where I’ll be putting everything together. You’ll find the major pros/cons of each game here. There may be a scoring system, but I’ve not decided on one at this point in time.