Monthly Update: April 2015

Guacamelee

These monthly updates are a collection of extremely brief thoughts on the latest video games that I’m currently playing or have played in the past month. Explanation of the game’s story/gameplay are foregone in favor of quick impressions – these entries assume you have some knowledge of what the game is about, and if you want more info you can follow the included wiki link. Games are usually fairly recent although I throw a few retro games into the mix. I’ll also occasionally throw in games that I’m still playing but which I didn’t start during the month in question – for example, games like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. I’ll try to do that when something else new comes out for those games to maintain relevance.

These are meant to be quick general thoughts, and not a substitute for a review. I’ve started an “enjoyment meter” where I state how much I’m enjoying the game from 1 to 10 in intervals of 0.5 – again, this is not meant to be an indicator of game quality, but just how much I enjoyed it (which I ultimately feel is the most important part of any game). I also include the price that I paid (I often buy games on sale, or through Playstation Plus etc), for those who aren’t familiar with approximate prices for each title. Finally, I designate a “Game of the Month.”

Games covered this month:
Velocity 2x (PS4, Vita)
Valiant Hearts (PS4)
Rayman Legends (Xbox One)
IDARB (Xbox One)
Ryse: Son of Rome (Xbox One)
Guacamelee (PS4)
The Order: 1886 (PS4)

Game of the Month: Velocity 2x (PS4, Vita)

Velocity 2x ($15): 9.5

This game was so amazing I had to write its own review!

Valiant Hearts (free): 8.0

Valiant HeartsEveryone knows that war is a terrible thing. Yet somehow most of us are very distant from the effects of it, both on individuals and societies as a whole. Thanks to modern media, we have more actual footage from wartime efforts than ever before, but if anything that has desensitized many of us – if we’ve seen one gun battle, then we’ve seen them all.

Valiant Hearts doesn’t provide the front row seat popularized by mainstream media, yet it manages to elicit more of an emotional response than the vast majority of real-world coverage, at least to this reviewer – and this is spoken from someone who has had several family members in the army. This game manages to speak to the player like few have before it, and gives a whole different meaning to the typical gunplay and wartime strategies employed by some of today’s most popular first person shooters.

Yes, the gameplay is simple and in some ways repetitive, but it manages to keep things interesting by consistently offering up fairly engaging puzzles. They are never very challenging, and the game even provides a hint system if you’re stuck, something I wish more games did. There were a few really frustrating sections that proved annoying, but overall it worked pretty well.

But the game isn’t about the gameplay, oddly enough; it’s the carefully constructed intertwining stories that are at the center of the experience. In addition to the story of the game’s characters, it provides periodic updates about the actual experience of living through the first World War, which is a really cool feature that I found myself eagerly awaiting at each interval. I found myself often thinking to myself how messed up it is that our intellectual species engineers such machines of destruction to use against our fellow man. I’m not saying that I think diplomacy can always prevail and that the world is full of sunshine and rainbows, but the concept of war still baffles me.

This game is absolutely wonderful and I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t care for the gameplay and think this isn’t a game for you, give it a chance. It’s only about six hours long, and it’s a rare example of educational gaming not being an oxymoron. The story itself is worth the effort.

Rayman Legends (free): 6.0

Rayman LegendsAt its core, this is a fantastic platformer. I didn’t personally care for the slightly loose controls, but they are consistent and appropriate. The later stages bring some excellent challenges and puzzles that are just superbly constructed in interesting and unique environments. The game looks gorgeous.

So why the low score? Again, my number is merely an enjoyment rating, not an indicator of game quality, and I simply didn’t enjoy playing this game. This game would easily score a 9 or more based on quality alone, but the characters, enemies, sounds, environments, and overall feel just weren’t for me.

I can’t identify with Rayman. He is, after all, just a collection of hands, feet, and other body parts floating in one tight little package. But that shouldn’t be a limiting factor; I just played through Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze late last year, and I loved that game despite playing as a giant primate. It’s not just the physical form of the character, it’s his mannerisms, the kiddie way that he makes happy or frustrated sounds…it just feels empty, like the shell of a character that hasn’t yet been flushed out.

I first played a Rayman game on iOS, and I thought it was amazing for what it was. I enjoyed it when I didn’t have any other gaming device available, but I didn’t play through the game past a few levels here and there. I wish I could say differently for the console version, but despite having a deeply rooted love of platformers, this one just didn’t do it for me.

#IDARB (free): 7.5

#IDARBThis game is fairly simple: throw the ball in your opponent’s goal, score points. How does it overcome being another bland sports game? Through organized chaos.

#IDARB is all over the place, but in a good way. It sets up a frantic pace with a straightforward control scheme that is easy to grasp but tough to master. In this way, it’s very accessible for people playing the game for the first time, but allows for strategic advanced play for those who want deep immersive play.

There is a single-player campaign, but the focus is certainly on a multi-player experience. Online functionality means that I was able to play with a bunch of strangers in a fairly seemless experience. One recommendation: Turn off the Twitter feed. Unless you’re prepared to see a barrage of juvenile potty mouth, it’s just annoying.

#IDARB is fun. It’s simple and engaging, but I did tire of it fairly quickly. The spirit of the game is to play with friends, so plan for that sort of experience if you want to get the most out of it.

Ryse: Son of Rome ($10): 7.0

Ryse: Son of RomeThe first game I played on my new Xbox One, Ryse is breaktaking and beautiful. It’s a fresh take on a not oft-used historical period. Unfortunately the combat is bland and repetitive.

It really is a shame. I enjoy immersing myself in historical periods like ancient Rome, and I was truly interested in where this game wanted to take me. The rich environments and character details put me right in the scene, and I felt invested in the campaign to stop intruders from taking over. Voice acting was decent, as was the sounds of the era.

Then there’s the combat. It starts out as a nice variation on the batman arkham games, but when you realize several hours later that it’s been the same throughout the entire campaign, it’s quite a disappointment. I kept waiting for there to be some variety, but apart from occasionally picking a different weapon and having to throw a spear or something of that nature, it just plodded forward with the same unimaginative combat. When you’re faced with as many combat scenes as you are in this game, you need more than that in order to make it work. You need variation. Ryse fails in this regard.

Which is a shame, because I really wanted to stay in that world. If they ever make a sequel, I’ll give a try, but it needs to come with promises of an evolved combat system.

Guacamelee ($15): 9.0

GuacameleeGuacamelee is a perfect example of why I tell people to give games a chance before you give up on them. When I first started it, I was not impressed. I didn’t find the humor funny; the art style, while pretty, wasn’t my thing; and the combat felt really clunky. Every time I’d try to do a combo, it just felt like the same thing rehashed over and over, and because there’s a slight pause before throwing an enemy, what was there didn’t even feel right.

But, some critics who I follow gave it incredibly high marks, calling it a must-play, so I decided to push forward. And boy am I glad that I did.

Once you get the hang of things and start learning more skills, Guacamelee starts really coming into its own. It evolves from a boring clunky platformer to a beautifully orchestrated arrangement. There were countless times where I got to an area, couldn’t figure out how to get past, but then figured it out through a combination of the special moves that I had learned up to that point. And I was always able to just barely make it, which is the sign of good game design.

That’s really the highlight here; this is a marvelously designed platformer. It leads you in the right direction but doesn’t hold your hand; it often presents you with a situation and says, here, you figure it out. AND most importantly, it gives you the tools to do it. There were no doubt some irritating enemy encounters, but the game always felt fair in what it expected from you. I would get frustrated, but for just the right amount of time before I figured out what to do or how to beat an enemy.

Guacamelee also boasts one of the most unique video game soundtracks of all time. Utilizing beats that are almost never heard in video games, the sounds perfectly match the atmosphere.

The humor wasn’t my cup of tea, but it was never bad. Well, not really bad at least. There’s a lot of pop-culture references here, and though I appreciated the effort, the jokes rarely connected for me. They did however serve as an appropriate complement to the rest of the game’s style, so their fitting nature allowed for some leniency.

This game is free in May on Playstation Plus – if you enjoy platformers, give it a shot. And don’t give up if the first hour doesn’t hook you; you’ll be glad you stuck with it.

The Order: 1886 ($30): 7.0

Read the full review.

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