Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Platinum Games and Kojima Productions working together on a Metal Gear game? If you're the kind of person who digs anything and everything campy and crazy, this would pulsate your penis into a diamond carving machine. I mean holy shit, fun and exciting gameplay with some over the top set pieces to go along with an exposition heavy story full of crazy plot twists? Sign me up! Sure, it took a long time and the only reason Platinum Games was even involved was because Kojima had some issues and needed somebody to essentially redo it for him and Shinji Mikami was more than happy to help out, but it did eventually come and with everything at their disposal, I'm sure they've developed a fantastic game, especially since it's based on...

...Raiden? You mean the guy from Metal Gear Solid 2 that people hated because he wasn't Solid Snake? Who wound up becoming a cyborg ninja in Metal Gear Solid 4 and got people loving him and even wanting games based on him because he was doing some sick Matrix shit? Interesting – and really, that's a word I'd use to describe my experience with this game. Raiden is able to slice up robots, slow down time to cut them into tiny little pieces and harvest their spines for health (otherwise known as Zandatsu), and given that there are a good amount of enemies and bosses to take down, it makes for some frantic action. There are so many instances where the phrase “holy shit” is uttered to a point where my voice is hoarse and not just gravelly. 

This game's story is... pretty self aware of what the Metal Gear series generally does – introduce a basic concept relevant to the themes of war and morality, plop a bunch of characters into the mix with more exposition than necessary and keep things interesting via some crazy plot twists. Four years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4, Raiden and some operatives from PMC Maverick Securities are out on a mission in Africa and all is well until he and his team are attacked by Desperado, a rival PMC that basically amount to warmongers. After a swordsman known as Samuel Rodrigues reduces Raiden's cybernetic armor to pieces, he's given an upgrade by the Doktor. From there, Raiden has to take down Desperado, there's some shit about him and his past of being a child soldier that changes his character piece by piece as the game progresses, Desperado has a Metal Gear, Samuel Rodrigues is the rival character and a bunch of ethnic stereotypes communicate with Raiden occasionally via the codec – it's certainly not as self indulgent as the Metal Gear Solid games because, for the most part, the cutscene lengths range between two and five minutes as opposed to five and twenty minutes, but it's still as crazy as you'd expect, especially given Raiden's transformation into the psychopathic “Jack The Ripper”.

The codec's main use is to fill the player in on plot details while adding in some funny dialogue exchanges every now and again. But when it comes to the cutscenes, it's the same song and dance that we've had with the main series – there's a lot of dialogue, but for the most part, it just seems to drone on and on about war economics and the history and other details about boss characters. It's funny - Revengeance is a fast game when you play it, but it slows down to a crawl when cutscenes pop up. I'll give it to Platinum Games for inserting their blend of over the top goofiness by inserting a bunch of moments where Raiden fucks shit up in such a flashy manner that you can't help but stare in awe, ending with some kid going “go ninja, go ninja, go”. Really, the story works if you sit back and take it as actually thinking about it will only serve to give you brain haemorrhage; most of the plot twists are either flimsier than a PS3 controller or about as ridiculous as you'd expect from the boys and girls over at Platinum, only the dialogue feels more like narration than actual dialogue at times. Just sitting back and revelling in the absurdity of it all is the only way you'll enjoy this game's story, and even then, it doesn't make up for the fact that it basically interrupts your game for extended periods of time to deliver some sort of anti war message to you.

Revengeance is all about carving up robots in a way that makes Raiden look like a stark raving badass. You're given the usual light and heavy attacks as well as a sliding kick to launch enemies in the air so you can cut them up from below or aerial style. There are a fair amount of combos at your disposal using combinations of these commands and  While it has a fast and furious feel, surprisingly, the style of play that's recommended to ensure survival is more defensive than you'd expect it to be. Why? Well, there's a parry system where if you hit the light attack button just as you're about to get hit and push the left stick in the same direction as where the attacker is, you can send their attack back and then slice them up. There are two different timings to get down – either a fair bit before the attack hits, or just as the attack hits. If it's the latter, you'll have the option to slow down time by entering Blade Mode as the screen shows a blue overlay on its edges and then you'll seriously carve them up and then harvest their cores in order to heal yourself up. In other words, the idea is to soak in the flow of the enemies' attack patterns and use it against them. Like any good game, the enemies get harder to not only counter but to even fight as it progresses as they'll be faster, stronger and even trickier with their attack patterns, meaning that you'll really need to get the timing down as you'll sometimes find yourself stepping forward and attacking rather than parrying at times.

Stealth kills and citizen saving add a bit more to the gameplay. There aren't heaps of citizens to save, but if you can perform just the right combinations to kill their captors, you will be handsomely rewarded. As for stealth kills, they'll earn you bigger rewards than straight up kills do. Whether you're in a box, slowly creeping up behind them or have the aerial advantage, giving them the shaft without them knowing feels pretty damn satisfying. Who says you couldn't integrate stealth into this game, Kojima? Someone's a bit out of touch. At the same time, presenting it as an option rather than forcing it upon the player is the better way to go in a game like this. So many times when you play a fun game and then you're slapped into a forced stealth situation that just isn't even that well designed or good even. At least the decision to make stealth optional with maybe a bigger reward makes sense. Yes, it's very tempting to want what would essentially be Mark Of The Ninja in 3D that's set into the future, but I don't know, not having the high velocity combat after a taste of it, especially after the scenes in Metal Gear Solid 4 involving Raiden, would just be lame.

Unfortunately, it gives rise to one of Revengeance's biggest issues – the camera. It has a tendency to either zoom in too closely because it's up against an object or a wall, or go all over the place. Either way, it'll get annoying during combat when you're trying to see what you're trying to do. It can drive you insane when you're fighting the fast enemies and faster bosses, and god forbid you lock onto enemies as once you change targets, there's a good chance that the camera will spaz out by spinning around and even changing angles altogether. Before you know it, the next enemy whoops your ass because you couldn't parry it – you pressed the left stick in a direction that wasn't quite where the attack was coming from because the camera swivelled elsewhere. Then you get knocked in the air, get caught in explosions, get knocked into corners, get out of corners and exit Blade Mode, and the camera just acts unruly for about a few seconds. Given that this game mixes in a weird blend of fast paced defensive play, a camera that spazzes out or has things obstruct Game Overthinker sized portions of the screen is the last thing you'd want.

But when the camera isn't dicking you over, the game is so fast and furious that you forget that there are other problems, like how most of the sub weapons like rocket launchers and grenades are slow and tend to be purely situational rather than a backup plan in combat; how you can't switch between main weapons on the fly; or how the second half seems to be rushed in comparison to the first half (for reference, the first half's chapters last between 35 and 60 minutes; you're lucky if any chapter in the second half lasts any longer than 20 minutes.. except the final boss). The only other big flaw that I could mention is that despite all of the foreshadowing and other such plot elements that'd say otherwise, the final boss comes the fuck out of nowhere and, cheapness aside (oh boy, one hit kill attacks, my favorite – oh, and it takes forever to beat? Sweet!), is such an underwhelming bore in comparison to everything else beforehand that when the credits roll, you're expecting the real final boss to appear and satisfy the deep, cavernous recesses of your no-no places, only to be disappointed by the fact that... well shit, that [i]was[/i] the final boss. I had no big issues with the second half being shorter than the first half as it still contained exactly what kicked ass about the first half – loads of enemies to fight, a robust combat engine and that sense of speed, that sense of excitement that comes from slicing and dicing enemies while harvesting their robotic organs for sustenance. The game was so much fun to play through that most of the flaws didn't do anything, but then the final boss comes, winds up being a lame fight and has you contemplating everything that this game does wrong. Fuck this shit!

It's a crying shame because the other bosses - ranging from fellow swordsmen to other mid sized cyborgs to giant war machines - are fantastic! Camera woes aside, these fights all have a higher sense of scale than enemy encounters. It's not just in the fact that you'll find yourself fighting bosses the size of skyscrapers, but also in the fact that bosses your size require sharper reflexes and cleverer usage of the features at your disposal. One thing that really stands out is the diversity of each boss – each one requires a different set of strategies. I mean, it could boil down to utilizing the parry and dodge abilities when necessary, using combo attacks when they're vulnerable, getting into a series of quick time events when prompted and then either weakening or finishing them off in Blade Mode, but not every boss utilizes quick time events and the timing for parrying and dodging varies between fights. Each use of Blade Mode also results in different things depending on the boss you're fighting – you'll either cut off parts of one boss, knock the katana out of another's hand and, during a set of quick time events, cut off the armor and eventually the entire boss. Really, each of these culminate into some damn good fights with plenty of over the top acrobatics and excellent usage of Blade Mode while keeping you on your toes.

Your reward is typically a lot of BP that can be used to upgrade Raiden's health and defenses or a weapon's power (how much you get depends on how quickly and badly you beat the boss up while getting hit as little as possible), but a handful of bosses give you a weapon as a reward. Then it dawns onto you – while Revengeance is about 5 to 8 hours long, replaying the game is necessary in order to experience the full package. It's hard, if not downright impossible to fully upgrade Raiden, and I doubt you'll be getting S ranks your first time through. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that throughout each chapter, you're graded on your performance during each enemy group and boss encounter, as well as on the whole. To get an S rank, you'll need to kill every enemy that appears as quickly as possible without getting hurt while chaining together long combos, carving up enemies into as many little pieces as you can and utilizing Zandatsu as much as you can (whether you rip off individual or multiple spines at once), and to acquire an S rank for the entire chapter, you need to S rank every single combat section. The perfectionist in you will want to S rank the entire game, probably by playing the game on the unlockable Revengeance difficulty – which is hard as fuck but really fucking satisfying once you complete it – but if you're content with just beating the game once, well, no shit you'll complain it's too short and then wind up missing the point like every other person on the internet who either only played it once or hasn't actually played it. Sure, the second half could've stood to be a tad longer, but other than that, the game shouldn't need to be much if any longer than it currently is.

Topping it off is a solid framerate. Revengeance stays fast and furious not just because of its combat scenarios, but also because it almost never lags and the animations are smoother than a freshly sanded piece of wood. Those moments when you go into blade mode and time slows down around you also feels smooth, and yet it also feels like you're going at the speed of sound while you cut robots to pieces. It's touches like these that make you feel like you're the badass hero in an action movie, and that's what an action game ought to do. It's especially effective during the quick time event sequences found throughout the game. On the cosmetic front, the game looks fairly good. You have generic bloom flavored city, warehouses, big buildings and sewer environments that are at least very detailed, offset by the excellently designed character models. Understandably, it takes place in a future that was wrought with war four years prior, but at the same time, when the best part about the environment is being able to enter Blade Mode and cut parts of it up, that's not exactly a good sign. Could be the washed out colors doing me in, though. Who knows? What is known, however, is that the characters have plenty of detail to them and seem to be significantly more vibrant and better on the eyes.

The sound design is a mixed bag of sorts. The voice acting ranges from serviceable to kind of good to flat out comical, especially Raiden. He goes from sounding normal, to occasionally sounding like his old whiny self, and then to sounding like the offspring of Skeletor and Christian Bale's Batman. His normal voice is actually pretty good and allows you to believe that he's in control, but then he has that “gruff” voice – it's meant to symbolize his descent into madness or some shit, but it sounds so over the top that it actually works against itself. It's like when you drink too much beer and then wonder where your pants have gone and then wonder where you are right now. The others who ham it up actually do a fantastic job of having you believe that it's a sillier game than you'd expect from the Metal Gear series, so it's not that being silly with your voice is bad; it's just there are limits, that's all. If there's one thing that's give the game that extra oomph, it's the music. Ranging from techno to rock, the music manages to kick your ass until shit comes out of your ears. It manages to pump you up through some energetic beats and fast rhythms, and a nice touch is that each of the boss songs have lyrics that are relevant to them while having the vocal delivery to keep up with the music. No, not death metal growls or anything, they're still clean, but the point is, it fits the boss to a tee and the atmosphere to the pixels that make up the letter.

I'm at odds with Revengeance - on one hand, the game is fun as shit to play through thanks to some robust combat mechanics, rocking music and over the top cinematics, and there's a fair amount of replay value to be found with the unlockable harder difficulty levels on top of the ranking and upgrade systems. On the other hand, the story sucks, the final boss sucks and the second half feels rushed in comparison to the first half, as if Platinum wanted to finish development as quickly as possible and didn't want it to essentially turn it into Duke Nukem Forever or Final Fantasy XV. There's just too much working against Revengeance to consider it a great game, though for what it does right, it most certainly comes recommended.

7/10 (Good)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Super House Of Dead Ninjas

Super House Of Dead Ninjas is a fast and furious game, kids. No cutscenes, no interrupting tutorials and best of all, no bullshit. It gives you a quick run down of the controls, which you can reconfigure in the main menu anyway (especially helpful if you use a controller, which is recommended for better control... I mean, unless you've only ever played retro games on a keyboard and can't legally buy alcohol in Australia), and then you'll need to use what you learned in five seconds to cut up enemies on your way down the 350 floor tower. There is a story found in the comic book that can be accessed in the main menu... something about a legendary one armed ninja that descended down THE TOWER and found treasure beyond ones' wildest dreams, only to fall victim to the darkness within. That darkness is known as the demon Abarghus, and with whispers around it circulating around the village, the kunoichi Nintai Ryoko goes through the tower in search of answers. The comic itself also details the default control scheme and it looks pretty cool, making it worth a glance over, but the real meat is in the game itself.

Seriously, I haven't had this much fun with a retraux game in quite some time... well, okay, there was Cave Story+ that I played fairly recently, but other than that, these kinds of games tend to come off as lazy, boring and just really fucking lame. It's like “why play these hollow imitations when you can play the originals” - for every Mega Man 9 and Cave Story, there are lots of mediocre wannabe retro games that may bring you back to the past without actually providing any good fun gameplay. Super House Of Dead Ninjas, which came out in February of 2013, is a damn fun game that'll kick your ass until shit comes out of your ears, and like the stubborn mule you are, you'll keep coming back. Well actually, what'll keep you coming back are the various upgrades and different weapons that you'll acquire by doing various things like killing bosses or killing a boss with just the katana you start with, among plenty of other things. You'll either unlock more melee weapons, ranged weapons, explosives, spells, collectibles (x-ray specs to reveal the contents of boxes and enemies, smart bombs to destroy everything on screen, infinite ammo and a bunch of other helpful things) and stats (health, time, projectiles, explosives and spells) depending on what you do during each run through the tower.

The game itself revolves around you going through each floor, making sure to stay alive. You can either slice their heads off (and for good measure, keep slicing at the head) up close or from afar, blow them up using various explosives or use a variety of spells to make things easier on yourself if your other weapons can't do much. One cool thing you can do is, when you hold down while in the air, either perform a downward stab or a spinning slash to kill enemies easier. These attacks do double the damage but are risky because it's possible to undershoot your attack and get raped. In fact, getting raped is what will happen to you when you first play this. The first hundred floors won't seem too bad – enemies just bumbling about or running like they have propellers up their asses are what you have to contend with, maybe with some ranged attackers to keep you on your toes.

That much probably sounds easier than the middle school slut, but then you get to floor 250 and have to contend with your first boss. Now, the boss you fight depends on how much health you have. Having more than half of your health will have you fight a boss while having less will give you a different boss. Either way, getting a hold on these bosses can be a tad tricky as one will run across the floor, climb up a wall and either jump from wall to wall or just lunge onto the ground; or it'll jump around and occasionally fire a bomb at you that'll explode and damage you. This is also where you may want to make sure you have a grip on the controls as while Nintai can move fast, her jumping and even double jumping is fairly low and sometimes, the super jump won't even charge, which is a real bitch when you fight a certain boss that outright fucking requires it (oh, unless dying is what you enjoy doing). Oh, things get more interesting as you descend down the tower as there'll be more relentless enemies, some of which can only be destroyed via spells and explosives. The level design itself throws more spikes at you and bomb headed enemies, as well as enemies that throw small white bombs at you are a bit more common, meaning you'll probably get blown up...

...and then you fight the one armed ninja and find yourself in a handicap match against Vin Diesel and Brock Samson. What makes the fight hard isn't necessarily his attacking patterns, but when you can hit him. Hint – you can only hit him when he flashes orange, which is before he attacks and lasts about 2 seconds. Expect to die a number of times trying to get the timing down. Oh, and he has two phases. This one has a million hit points and a seemingly unavoidable attack until you learn how to make it avoidable and then learn how to hit him. You finally beat the boss and then get told “lol play on the hard difficulty to get the true ending”, because if you play this on normal, that's the end of the ride. Normal mode is essentially training wheels mode. Now, while I'd be quick to say that you're a pussy for playing on the easy mode, hard mode gets rid of continues so if you lose all of your health, that's an automatic game over – at least on normal, you're given 3 continues, but then you can't actually finish the game. The thing is however, you need to get the feel for it before you can be confident enough to get through the hard mode. From there, it dawns onto you that in order to truly beat the game, you need to unlock a combination of weapons that you can fuck about with and see what you get the best feel for. Maybe you'll be fine with the default weapons, maybe you need different weapons; either way, you need to play around with the different combinations that you have at your disposal, sometimes go out of your way to do some things to unlock other weapons (and on the select screen before you play the game, it'll tell you how to unlock extra stuff).

In other words, this game can be tricky dicky. Getting the timing down for the downward slash can be hard and the cost for failure is the loss of a bit of health. Enemies tend to be placed in ways that can dick you over if you rush your way through the tower and given that you generally kill enemies with one or two hits plus the short floors, you'll be quick to rush through. The time limit can also aid in you rushing through as you have at least half a minute before you need to find the nearest clock collectible, lest you lose health by getting hit by the reaper. But if you can take a couple of seconds to look at the next floor, you can plan and execute, or just use the downward slash and pray for the best as it, way more often than not, kills whatever enemy it touches. In other circumstances, the downward slash would be a game breaking kill fuck everything move, but given that only one or maybe two regular attacks are all that's necessary to kill an enemy, the downward slash requires you to cover a bit of distance and the ranged attacks and explosives have their own means of being balanced (ranged attacks are either slow or weak while explosives can take time to explode and require a lot of prediction), the downward slash is far from it. Oh and against bosses, unless it ensures a kill, it's basically suicide because you'll more than likely get hit either after it deals damage or before you even touch it. Another seemingly game breaking mechanic is the rage mode – you have a meter that'll fill up a bit after you kill an enemy, but it empties out unless you kill more enemies. If you kill a bunch of enemies in a small amount of time, you'll enter rage mode, which will make you invincible and stronger until the meter empties. Hey, that's another thing that makes this game fast paced! The reasons it doesn't break the game are that enemies die in so few hits anyway that the invincibility is the only real bonus you get, and you won't be using it against the bosses.

Speaking of bosses, while they have simplistic movements, they're good enough to give you hell if you don't beat them quickly enough or figure out how to beat them. Oh, you think the first boss is easy on paper? Cool – now let's talk about in execution. As I've already mentioned, you have a slash, a downward slash, a ranged weapon, an explosive and a magic attack at your disposal. You've been taught how to execute them in the first couple of floors. Now's definitely the time to put that to good use as-- oh you just got killed by the bomb toting jitterbug demon. Not so easy now, huh? Kind of. As per retro game design rules, experimentation is a necessity in figuring out the best way to kill a boss, but on the whole, most of the bosses aren't all that exciting and after a while, they generally come across as a distraction or a mild annoyance rather than a genuinely threatening guardian of the tower, unless the super jump doesn't fucking work (I make a point of mentioning this as often as I can because this can dick you over when you need it at times). Doubly so if you use the upgraded boomerang as it can travel a great distance and it comes back to you. Generally speaking, this game doesn't bullshit the player and that's what I love about it – I love the fast paced action, I love the different combinations of equipment and spells can either make things harder or easier, and I especially love how deceptively well designed everything is. Hell, despite my bitching, the bosses aren't terrible; it's just that the idea is to play this over and over again to unlock everything and the rest of the tower is semi-randomized, so fighting the bosses again and again gets pretty boring. Except the one armed ninja. He's quite the hardass.

It's funny that when the game loads up, it shows off a Super Nintendo box because if anything, it looks and sounds more like a Sega Genesis game. In terms of audio quality, it's not like it's a bad thing or anything, but with graphics, well, let's just say that somewhat washed out colors aren't everybody's thing. While Nintai and the bosses are brighter than the sun and some bosses coming out looking like a gay pride banner, everything else has a bit of dullness in their schemes. It at least helps Nintai and the bosses stand out, and really, besides the fluid animations, there actually isn't that much to the graphics. The explosions are a basic orange cloud looking thing, the enemies are either ninjas, guys wearing big bronze armor, guy in cloaks wearing crow masks or some sort of monster – the designs are good and like I said, the animations are fluid, but not much really stands out as great or anything. The graphics are good, no doubt about it, but that's about it.

When it comes to sound design, it's technically good, but it's not quite there. The music sounds suited more towards an espionage mission rather than a mission where heads must be rolled or reduced to ash. There are some beats in there, but overall, it's a bit too subdued for what it's trying to be. Besides, it gets drown out by the purposefully low quality sound effects anyway. The main menu theme inspires more heart pumping action than the stage themes anyway as it has a harsh drum beat, is moderately paced and doesn't sit comfortably in the background. The boss theme is fucking good – it, too, is moderately paced, but what sells the song is that it's got the feeling of tension in its composition. It's at a lower register and the rhythm has the same few chords playing again and again to motivate you to kick some ass and take some names.

Games like this don't come to us every day, folks. Super House Of Dead Ninjas might appear to be your typical retraux shitfest, like some hairy libertarians wanting to “pay tribute” to Slayer/Exodus/Kreator by trying way too hard to be them. But underneath the surface lies a game that's more fun than popping bubble wrap. It's not perfect by any means – not with those fucking bosses – but for the most part, it does everything it can to remain fresh with each and every playthrough via unlockables you can experiment with and a semi-randomized tower design. Whether you have a quick run before bed/going out or you go through multiple times because you're too stubborn to accept defeat, this game manages to accommodate towards your lifestyle as long as you have something resembling reflexes. So this is probably not for arthritic grandmas and slow witted people.

9/10 (Fucking Awesome)