Category Archives: REVIEWS

DRAGON’S CROWN REVIEW: AN ODE TO GYGAX

If you get your video game news either by word of mouth from your friends or through TV commercials, you likely haven’t heard of Dragon’s Crown.  However if you peruse the internet like the rest of us, chances are you’ve seen some facet of this game.  Whether it be the game’s incredibly gorgeous art style, the outrage about the game’s portrayal of women from tumblr users and feminists withing the gaming community, or perhaps you’ve seen one of the many adult comics of the female characters that, strangely, existed far before the game was announced.  If you’re uninformed about the game, then strap yourself in, because there is a lot to praise about this game.  Since we at NUReviews like to focus on the things that really make a game great or not, our insight and personal views on the controversy of this game will not be affecting our review score.

Let’s start with the presentation of the game, because when it comes to the presentation, there is nothing that I don’t love about this game.  All the art is classic Vanillaware style, which if you’ve played Muramasa or Odin Sphere, you know what I’m talking about.  Hand drawn, beautifully colored backdrops and characters that animate as fluidly as a flowing river.  On the Vita’s screen everything looks amazing, and once upscaled to your TV screen on the PS3, everything just pops that much more.  All the effects in the game look as good as the characters and backgrounds, though when you can have four playable characters on the screen with all those enemies, things get a little blinding.  The story is told in a fashion similar to a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons, and by similar, I mean exactly.  The story is told through cutscenes of barely static characters against backdrops, all voices and text are read by a singular Narrator entity like a Dungeon Master painting the scene for their players.  In Dragon’s Crown you play as a random adventurer who has come to a new land with their thief sidekick Ronnie in search of adventure and treasure.  You learn that the king of the land has gone missing searching for the Dragon’s Crown, a mystical crown that gives one the ability to control dragons, in hopes that it will help him defend his kingdom from encroaching war.  Meanwhile, an evil group of magicians have been attempting to revive the Ancient Dragon, a powerful creature who has supremacy over all magic, and threatens the life of the entire world.  Aside from the six playable classes and your rouge side kick, there is a cavalcade of NPCs that you will meet along your journey, some run shops or other places that aid you on your quest, others are simply mission based and provide you with information about your current mission or an alternate route after a certain point in the game.

The gameplay is a mix of simplistic beat em up gameplay with RPG mechanics, similar to the D&D beat em ups like Shadow Over Mystara.  You control your character’s movement with the left control stick, allowing your character to move both left and right, and into and out of the foreground, similar to Castle Crashers.  Pressing the Square button unleashes a normal attack, while the X button lets you jump and the Circle button triggers a special.  The special depends on your character, for instance the Wizard can use Circle and a direction with the control stick to unleash different magic spells based on their staff, while the Dwarf simply slams his hammers into the ground in a manly fashion.  Holding the Square button will also perform some form of character trait, in the Dwarfs case it hardens your defense, while the Sorceress and Wizard use it to recharge mana.  You can use any items in your inventory by scrolling to them with the left and right buttons on the d-pad, then using the down button to use the item, however this happens in real time, so be sure not to get hurt while you’re doing it.  You can access and change your equipment any time you’re in town, but you’re stuck with that set the second you enter a dungeon until you finish.  In town you can also buy items such as potions, which allows a limited use in each given dungeon, but will automatically refill themselves up to a certain point upon your return.  This however leads to my biggest problem with the game, the menu system.  By yourself, the menus are of no concern, however the more players you have the more of a hassle it becomes.  Only one player can access each menu at a given time, and every other player must wait for their turn to do what they need to do.  This becomes specifically troublesome when buying/repairing items (which uses gold from the same pool that every player uses, better hope your buddy doesn’t use the last of the gold to repair his weapons before you get a chance to), changing equipment, learning skills, and accepting quests, which each player in the party has to do individually else they won’t get the rewards.  This is easily the hugest problem the game has, for as a four player co-op beat em up, everything in the game should be fluid and match the flow of the action segments, not cause everyone to stop in their tracks for a few minutes while they wait on their friend to decide between repairing their belt or buying a defense up potion.

The action segments of the game are fairly linear, it’s essentially like any other beat em up where you have to move from point A to point B while scrolling to the right side of the screen.  Some rooms in dungeons will have secret passage ways that you can access by touching (or on the PS3 version, clicking using the right analog stick and the L2 button) something in the background or fulfilling certain requirements in the room.  When you come across a chest or locked door, simply touching/clicking it will command your rouge to go unlock it.  Doors will lead you to alternate rooms where some enemies or treasure will be waiting for you, while treasure chests will give you random amounts of gold and a treasure rank.  Each treasure rank (which ranges from E to S) turns into a single equip-able item at the end of the dungeon, which you have to appraise to learn the true abilities of, costing you a handful of gold to do so.  By picking up coins and other trinkets that fall on the ground, you increase your score, which gets turned into the group experience points once you finish.  At the end of each dungeon is a boss fight, and after a certain point in the game, each dungeon gets a harder, alternate path that you have to complete to further the story.  Along the way you’ll encounter piles of bones that you can pick up with the Triangle button (or if you’re a Sorceress and posses a certain skill, you can turn these bones into an undead minion).  If you take these bones to the church in town, you can resurrect them into AI controlled allies to accompany you into dungeons when playing solo (which, if you don’t have friends or are playing on the Vita, you’ll be doing until about 5 hours into the game).  The AI for these characters isn’t the best AI in town, but they get their job done…sometimes.

Now you may have been wondering what I meant when I mentioned the controversy around this game at the beginning of the review.  Well let me give you a quick run down, basically there was a huge upheaval about this game when it came out due to it’s portrayal of women.  There were claims that the game’s depictions were “sexist”, and reviewer for Polygon Danielle Riendau claimed it to be “distracting…It’s obvious, one-sided and gross”.   One of the writers from our “favorite” site Kotaku even called the Sorceress, who is depicted as a young woman with a slim figure and massive breasts, as a “lolicon fantasy”, because that’s what lolicon means all right.  With just as many arguments and claims that it is sexist, there have been just as many defending the game.  Many point out that it’s part of Vanillaware’s art style, in which large breasts are used as a symbol of fertility and life, and often associated to characters who dabble in Necromancy such as the Sorceress.  My personal opinion on the art style that most of it is within good taste, a lot of the character art used for cutscenes or unlockable art match a certain artistic theme similar to medieval paintings.  While the Sorceress and Amazon’s proportions might be to the extreme, I would never call this game sexist, as it treats men in an extremely similar fashion, drawing many men in unreasonable shapes or proportions (such as having a chest three times the size of their head).

And now we get down to brass taxes, the final summary and score of the game.  In the amount of time that I’ve had to play Dragon’s Crown I’ve had a blast.  It’s been great fun playing single player, and when I played local co-op with my friends we all had a good time (when we weren’t dealing with the menu system).  I’ve just gotten to when the game opens access to the rest of it’s goodies, such as online play and the expanded, harder dungeons, but I can tell I have much, much more in store for me in the coming hours.  Despite it’s couple of flaws, the game’s art style, story presentation, and gameplay are beautifully done and make for a game that exceeds many expectations.  However, I probably wouldn’t recommend this game to everyone, if you wouldn’t get committed to it you’ll likely get tired of it quickly.  With that in mind, I give Dragon’s Crown for the PS3 and PlayStation Vita an edited score of 4 out of 6 stars.

PROJECT X ZONE REVIEW: WHAT AM I FIGHTING FOR!? NO, REALLY…

Chances are if you own a Nintendo 3DS, you know of Project X Zone.  The big collaboration title got a massive following when it was announced for release in Japan, and similarly to Xenoblade Chronicles or Pandora’s Tower, hoards of fans begged for it to be brought over to the west.  Well their cries were heard and their wishes granted, for Project X Zone has breached our shores for about a month now, so the question on your mind may be: “Is it really worth it?”

The story follows a cast of characters whose size would make the Game of Thrones cast look like as small dog, and that’s before R.R.Martin wakes up on the wrong side of the bed.  The cast is comprised of characters from across numerous series owned by Bandai Namco, Capcom, and Sega, some of which never even made it stateside.  As with many cross over games, the story REALLY follows a handful of original characters designed solely for the game, in this case it’s Kogoro Tenzai and Mii Koryuji.  Mii is a cheerleader and youngest member of a rich family, and Kogoro is her tutor/private detective/ninja…yeah, I couldn’t make that up if I tried.  A treasure of the Koryuji family, the Portalstone, has been stolen, and due to it worlds from across space and time, reality and virtual reality, are crashing together.  Allies and Villains alike clash in a battle for the stability of the multiverse.  Needless to say, the story isn’t the strong point of this game.  It’s hardly enticing and really only picks up in the later chapters of the game, I didn’t find myself caring until 10 chapters away from the end, and only then I was wondering what the non-original villains were up to.  And with a lackluster story comes similarly lackluster writing, while it’s still better than most of the fanfiction universe (a place where something like this would seem to fit right at home) and the entirety of the Twilight series, it still leaves much to be desired.  Gratefully all the established characters talk and act similarly to how they would in their own series, and there are a number of little nods to their respective games.  For example, when ever Frank West encounters a new, female character that is, how should we say, top heavy, he snaps a picture of her and the “Erotic!” label from the Dead Rising game will pop up over the female.

The battle system is really where the game shines.  Project X Zone is a Strategy RPG with a battle system that focuses heavily on combos and special attacks.  Each playable character is divided into pairs of two, such as X and Zero from Megaman X, Chris and Jill from Resident Evil, and Dante and Demitri Maximoff from Devil May Cry/DarkStalkers.  Along with these pairs are solo units which you can group up with your pair units, and while you can’t control these solo units directly, you can summon them to deal extra damage and extend your combos.  Examples of solo units include Tron Bonne from Megaman Legends, Ulala from Space Channel 5, and Totally-Not-Bruce-Willis Bruno Delinger (PS. It’s totally Bruce Willis).  Battles are separated into two “phases”, there’s the over-world and the battle screen.  In the over-world you have an isometric view of the whole battle field, where you’ll be able to see all enemy and ally placements.  Everyone moves on a grid based system within a pre-determined range, and can attack any unit within a pre-determined attack range.  When an enemy unit attacks one of your characters, you can expend some of their XP to either lessen the damage done to you, or counter your opponent with some attacks in exchange for taking full damage.  When you choose to attack an enemy, your current active unit and any solo unit paired with them are pulled into battle, also, if you’re standing next to another pair unit, you can summon them into battle as well to extend your combo and deal more damage.  The battle screen is set up on a 2D view similar to most fighting games, with the enemy on the left side of the screen and your controlled unit on the right.  By using any combination of a directional button and the a button, you can unleash one of 5 attacks against your enemy, building up XP as you do so.  If you use all of your available moves once, you’ll be granted an extra attack, so once your full array of attacks is available you can perform a maximum of 6 attacks.  By pressing L or R you can bring in the solo or extra pair unit to attack, and if you land an attack at the same time as them you’ll perform a X-Attack.  Once activated, your opponent freezes in place and you generate more XP than usual.  Once your XP is 100% or greater you may press the Y button to perform a unique special attack which will do massive damage to your opponent.  I absolutely love this battle system, it’s very similar to the system in a DS game by the name of Super Robot Taisen OG Saga Endless Frontier (in fact, some of the characters from that game make it into Project X Zone).  However, as much as I can praise the battle system, it still doesn’t shine as much as one would hope.

The game offers very little in terms of difficulty, and reaches more the realms of frustration.  Never was I really challenged by the difficulty of an enemy, since their all pretty much the same through out the game, just with scaled health and damage output.  Most normal enemies can be taken out easily single battle with proper  combo management (and some even improper combo management), while bosses are just a matter of ganging up on them with super attacks.  Often you’ll start a level feeling as if there’s a proper amount of challenge, then three turns in the field will be swarmed by new enemies and bosses, often surrounding your current units and putting your team at risk.  Even with that however I only ever lost a unit maybe three times, the cause of which being me just neglecting their health.  When a unit loses all it’s health, it’s simply out for the rest of level and will be back in fighting shape next level, so there’s no fear of perma-death like in some other strategy games.  Item management is also not a big issue, while I often felt as if I didn’t have enough of the items that heal greater amounts of my health/XP, I never found myself in a situation where I needed an item I didn’t have.  Combine this with the bad story and lack luster writing, it doesn’t lead to a very favorable start.  All in all the game is decent enough, in my eyes, but it’s not something I would recommend to everyone.  If you really like the characters, then you should probably wait till it’s on sale before you pick it up, at least 50% off.  If nothing really turns you on about the game, but you still might pick it up, wait until you can get it REALLY cheap, otherwise you’ll probably feel as if you wasted your money.  I give Project X Zone for the Nintendo 3DS, a NUReviews rating of 3 stars.

COMICS REVIEW: AGE OF ULTRON #1

Why can’t he hold all these Avengers?

Ultron is the mistake that Hank Pym should be remembered for. For the uninitiated, Hank Pym is the original Ant-Man. He was one of the founding Avengers, constantly deals with an inferiority complex since he works in the same universe as Mr. Fantastic (Doom has the same problem), and is known for a comic in which he smacked Wasp up; the actual writer stated decades later that Hank Pym was never a wife beater, but the idea has been cemented in Marvel canon. It’s also what people always bring up.

Ultron is the real menace though. Ultron is the AI based off of Hank Pym’s brain patterns that conveniently decided it hated organic life. The latest appearance of Ultron was during Abnett & Lanning’s cosmic Marvel run where it was very good at what it wanted to do (unless it has shown up in the mean time). This however appears to have no basis in the actual 616 universe, but rather it’s the Avengers’ version of Age of Apocalypse. It’s a dystopian society ran by Ultron; an Earth that’s his base to wreck havok on the rest of the galaxy. It’s also not perfect.

Brian Michael Bendis’ best work was his street level heroes and not his Avengers’ run. Spider-Man, Moon Knight, Daredevil, and especially Alias (AKA Jessica Jones) were all fantastic; his Avengers’ run suffered from having too slow of a development along with some of his other work. It’s just particularly obvious when he’s dealing with a wide variety of characters. Bendis is a big champion of story decompression; to him, a story should be as long as it needs to be and not necessarily be contained in a 26-page comic in any way. This makes it better to wait for a trade paperback over buying singles.

Age of Ultron seems to be suffering this; the start of it was interesting, riveting, and engaging, but it felt a bit hollow. Swamp Thing and Animal Man (the current Nu52 versions) have suffered recently from such developments, and Age of Ultron may be following suit. The art by Bryan Hitch resembles the Marvel in-house style; it’s standard cape comic fare without much variation, but it isn’t horrible either. It’s clear he was on a deadline, but it doesn’t completely distract from the script he was portraying.

Bendis’ story is very reminiscent of both Age of Apocalypse. Ultron has taken over, and he has the ability to infect people with nanotechnology (think more Prey from Michael Crichton than Deus Ex). It’s also including Bendis favorite Luke Cage in a role, but not exactly the primary one. Hawkeye and Spider-Man (Peter Parker) are the focus of this first issue. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic, especially Robot Apocalypse storylines, you’ll enjoy this. To me, this was a disappointment, but my judgement is reserved for the second issue.

Moon Knight, my favorite crazy hero, had his last run build up to this (also written by Bendis). It ended abruptly for Bendis to work on this. He doesn’t appear until that second issue, and from the build-up on that comic it was expected that this would be a universe event. It’s merely an alternate universe setting which may very well be better in the end.

Pick this up if you’re a fan of Bendis, Bendis’ Avengers’ cast, or apocalypse settings. Otherwise, wait until it’s finished and buy the trade paperback at the most. Or just stay away; there’s plenty comics and games that could use your patronage.

NUREVIEWS 2012 SUPERHERO MOVIES DISCUSSION

Join NUReviews as we discussion this year’s superhero movies: The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises.

NUREVIEWS OUYA DISCUSSION


A discussion on the OUYA game console. Will this console succeed? Who is their target audience? Did Sameer save you any pizza? Answers and more in the NUReviews OUYA discussion!

Tegra 3 Showcase: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBl-goBrWno
EUROgamer’s OUYA article: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-07-14-saturday-soapbox-the-trouble-with-ouya
Penny Arcade’s OUYA article: http://penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/the-reality-of-the-ouya-console-doesnt-match-the-hype-why-you-should-be-ske