Intermission

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Getting tired of the semi-hiatus here at Retro(spective)? (All five of you, I mean). Me, too! I did warn everyone though, so I’m not losing too much sleep over it, but still, nothing worse than dead air. What can I say, school has been a beast lately, Nintendojo (which you all should be reading) always has something percolating, and well, I can’t write about games if I don’t play them! Summer approaches, though, so expect things to start getting livelier as we move deeper into June.

Mario Kart 8 will be getting the old review treatment, and expect the same for Tomodachi Life, too. Beyond that, E3 is going to be huge. What I don’t post for Nintendojo will be here, so look forward to hands-on time with whatever amazingness lies in wait for this year’s show. I’d also like to point out, Retro(spective)’s one year anniversary is also fast approaching! Maybe I’ll… give something away in celebration! Exciting times await, dear readers! I hope you’ll all be along for the ride.

Titanfall Shouldn’t Go Annual

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Call of Duty, love or hate it, is king of sales in the FPS market. Every year, fans lineup outside of GameStops and Walmarts across the country to get hold of the latest installment of the series. While the campaigns remain fairly engrossing from title to title, the real draw of CoD is its immersive online multiplayer. In the wake of CoD’s juggernaut momentum, many developers and publishers have done their best to enter the fray with a game to counter Activision’s darling. There have been a handful of games that can claim to compare, most notably EA’s Battlefield series, but overall CoD is in a league of its own. At least, it was, until Titanfall came out.

Another EA property, Titanfall is, for all intents and purposes, CoD with mechs. It’s a crude analogy, and recent converts are quick to point out the myriad of differences that separate the two games, but it’s the simplest way of summing up what makes Titanfall unique. Reaction to the game has been overwhelmingly positive, and there’s already quite a bit of rumbling about a sequel. I have no problem with seeing another Titanfall game make its way to the world, but if the title is truly primed to be a CoD contender, I don’t think it needs to follow the same sales model.

This is the first year that I haven’t gotten into the latest installment of a CoD game. Ghosts felt like a genuine step backwards compared to Black Ops II, so I’ve been sticking with the older game, instead. If Activision were still releasing map packs for the title, I’d be downloading them, but under CoD’s current structuring, each installment only gets a year’s worth of support, then it’s on to the next. I think Titanfall might benefit from adopting a sales plan different from CoD. People are having a lot of fun with this first installment of the series, and it also doesn’t have a single-player component, so I say put the next sequel out two years from now and in the interim support the current game with DLC.

I honestly think that fans would have no problem with CoD not being annual and just paying for new maps. I’m certainly tired of paying a minimum of $60 for the game followed by another $60 for map packs over a year. The value just isn’t there, at that price. Titanfall, though, is already luring people with its epic gameplay, so it would seem smart to ensnare them a little further with the proposition of not having to invest $120 a year just to play. Frankly, it would be refreshing to know that the $60 buy-in for the game will allow a player to stay current without as much expense over a two year period. It’s not like it doesn’t cost money to create a yearly installment of any game, either; this model would allow the devs to stretch their resources further.

It’s unlikely EA can resist the temptation of going toe-to-toe with CoD on a yearly basis, but it would be nice to see something different come from the industry. Titanfall is bringing something new to the FPS genre with its gameplay, so I don’t see why the same can’t be said for how its sold. I think there’s a great deal of discontent amongst CoD fans over having to adapt to a new multiplayer experience every single year at $60 a pop; Titanfall can be the change we’ve all been looking for.

 

E3 Anticipation

It’s only March, but I can’t help but think about E3 2014 and how very close it is. Soon, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft will be promoting their newest games (and maybe hardware!) for the world to see, but half the fun is guessing what those reveals might be! Here are five things I’m looking forward to seeing at E3 2014!

5) Halo 5

Last year’s demo built hype, certainly, but it seems likely that we’ll finally get a true glimpse at Halo 5 this E3. Or Halo something-or-other, because Microsoft has been coy about committing to the traditional numbering from the Xbox and Xbox 360 days. Taking a cue from the comic book companies and trying to ditch “intimidating” high numbers on its boxes might be Microsoft’s goal (which sucks), but no matter what Halo 5 is ultimately called won’t mean a thing if the game can’t maintain the high quality the series is known for. Given how embraced Halo 4 was, I think it’s a safe bet that Halo 5 will be just fine. That being said… what comes next for Master Chief?! I’m torn whether I want to see something radically different or more of the same, awesome Halo gameplay we all know and love.

4) New Vita IP

I don’t care what anyone says, Tearaway was an amazing game that played to Vita’s strengths. It was as charming as LittleBigPlanet and a breath of fresh air regardless of platform. I’d love to see a sequel make its way to Vita (or even PS4), but I’d also like to see some more, original IPs head to the handheld, preferably straight from Sony itself. PSP brought the world the wonderful Patapon and Loco Roco series (which need Vita sequels, like, NOW), and I’m curious what other sorts of unique, fun handheld games Sony has up its sleeve.

3) Mega Man

It’s just sad that fans have been waiting years now for a true, new Mega Man game from Capcom, but that’s the world we live in, folks. With all the attention that Mighty No.9 has been (justly) receiving, it would be foolish of Capcom not to capitalize on the Blue Bomber. There’s room for both series in the world, and maybe now would be a good time to unveil a Mega Man title to create some friendly competition between Comcept and Capcom. Fans would be the winners, in the end, no matter what! Just to geek out a bit, here, but after the Worlds Collide crossover between the Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog comics by the folks at Archie, I’d love to play a video game with the two characters. The comic was fun and introduced some weapons concepts that would be awesome to see in action!

2) New Nintendo Hardware

I’m thinking that Nintendo will either reveal a new variation of the Wii U hardware or a redesigned 3DS. As far as Wii U goes, I don’t foresee a full-blown redesign, but I can picture Nintendo either doing something to make the system differentiate itself more from the original Wii, or offer models with way more memory or a slimmer GamePad. A redesigned 3DS is probably the safer bet here. The base model 3DS remains the weak link of the three versions of the handheld, with low battery life and some clunky design choices (I’m looking at you, Home/Pause/Select buttons!). As it stands now, the 3DS is the middle child and not all that appealing. I’d be pretty happy to see Nintendo put out a new model that’s reminiscent of the XL’s design, with rounded edges, better buttons, slightly bigger screens, and longer battery life. Make it ultra thin, and it would be pretty dang cool.

1) New Zelda

This is a foregone conclusion, as Nintendo has already confirmed we’ll be seeing the first glimpse of the next installment of Zelda, but no one knows what it’s going to be like. Realistic graphics? Toony? A middle ground like Skyward? Will the waggle be back? Where in the timeline is it going to fall? So many questions! Just talking about it gets me excited, and with the incredibly fun and gorgeous games that Wii U has already graced us with, I know that the next Zelda is going to be amazing. I just want to know more about it!

A handful of predictions/guesses, but here’s hoping that some of them come true! Until then, I should probably get to actually finishing a bit of the mountainous backlog of games I have piling up. Till next time!

REVIEW-Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

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Konami has given the world an answer to the question of whether or not a game can get away with only being a handful of hours and not be considered a demo. That answer is yes, but with reservations, as there’s no denying that the brevity of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is pushing it. I cleared my first rough playthrough in about an hour and a half, give or take fifteen minutes. In that time, I got to know a new voice for Snake, familiar yet different controls, and one of the grittiest bits of narrative I’ve yet seen in a Metal Gear Solid game. Despite Ground Zeroes‘ diminutive size, it signals a true evolution of the series that has made me genuinely excited for The Phantom Pain.

The entire campaign is confined to a small military facility where Paz and Chico, from PSP’s excellent Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, are being held hostage. Snake is on a mission to infiltrate the facility and rescue the duo without alerting their captors to his presence. It’s not unfamiliar territory for MGS, but there’s no denying that, tonally, Ground Zeroes is a different beast than normal. The opening cinema is typically vague, as Kojima is wont to be with the series, but there’s a sinister feeling to the proceedings that surprised me. Traditionally, MGS games are almost bombastically over the top, despite the series’ serious and intricate plots, but Ground Zeroes never felt very tongue in cheek. I thought it was a welcome change and integral to heralding this as a new approach to the franchise.

Not that Ground Zeroes is completely foreign. The mystery baddie leading the enigmatic XOF strike force goes by the name Skull Face, so there remains some of the absurdity that fans have come to love (and always seems to work). Kojima is now venturing into his second MGS game in a row focused on Big Boss, but with several titles already released detailing the character’s exploits, new players might be a bit lost going into Ground Zeroes. There is a recap to help get folks familiarized, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that you’re best off having played Big Boss’s games up to now. Of course, the buzz surrounding Ground Zeroes is centered squarely on the game’s ending, which I won’t spoil here. I will say that how gratuitous it is depends on your own sensibilities. I’ve certainly seen more controversial things in movies or TV shows, but it is gruesome and might be a bit much for some of you out there. I personally think that Kojima handled the ending well, and it has me completely on the edge of my seat for what comes next.

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Graphically, Ground Zeroes is easily one of the best looking games on PS3 and 360, despite some drops in framerate that I experienced. The lighting has to be seen to believed, movement animations are smooth, and the sound was crisp and clean. MGS games have always pushed the limits of whatever hardware they’ve graced, but like the plot itself, Ground Zeroes seems to be vying for something more realistic than before. Snake’s weathered face has never looked more expressive, and the facility felt like a living, breathing compound plucked right from reality. Kojima and company took their time crafting the new Fox Engine powering this game’s visuals, and we’re reaping the benefits.

Ground Zeroes maintains the series’ signature third-person gameplay, but its been evolved and fine-tuned beyond even Peace Walker‘s excellent control setup. Sneaking and shooting felt precise and fluid. Swapping weapons was also snappy and convenient, and despite some tweaks to what many fans are accustomed to, becomes familiar after just a few moments of playing. Creeping around the facility was a genuine test of patience and skill, and ramps up considerably when played on higher difficulty levels. I was especially impressed by the guard AI, as they felt more like observant foes than bots with a limited conical field of vision. There’s a decent amount of things to do unlocking new missions and scouring every inch of the facility, so those worried that the game will be over in the blink of an eye can rest easy. Understanding Ground Zeroes is simply a preview of what’s to come makes it a much better time, all around.

I haven’t forgotten that I said Konami succeeded with reservations, and for me they stemmed mainly from the new voice of Snake. For those not in the know, Keifer Sutherland has replaced David Hayter, and yes, it’s as jarring as one might expect. Snake just didn’t sound right without Hayter’s voice, and it honestly detached me from the experience, at times. I will say that there’s absolutely nothing funadmentally flawed with Sutherland’s performance; in fact, he really doesn’t speak a whole lot for the duration. What’s there is suitably gruff and weathered, though, and matches the spirit of Snake as longtime players know him. In the end, I have hope that the switch has the potential to benefit MGS, because if the series is going to be more serious and realistic, a new voice for Snake is a solid (heh) way of signaling that to fans. If anyone’s up to the task, Sutherland is the actor.

Beyond the voice acting, I was let down that the core campaign ended as quickly as it did, even with the extra missions to play. While well-crafted and compelling, I couldn’t help but think that maybe Kojima didn’t quite have his plan for Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain firmly in place before pulling the trigger on releasing them as separate experiences. What’s here is immensely playable and fun, though, so I have no problems recommending anyone interested in stealth games or MGS go out and pick up a copy. I have yet to snag a PS4 or One, so be aware that my review is based on the PS3 and 360 versions of the game. Anyone still rocking last gen owes it to themselves to try out Ground Zeroes!

Score: 8.5/10

+ New direction for the series has promise; grittier and more realistic than ever; graphics are excellent; gameplay refined and better than ever; enemy AI almost creepily human-like.

-Too short, even playing all the extra missions; Keifer Sutherland as Snake is going to take some getting used to; minor graphical stuttering; ending is well handled, but might upset some fans as being overkill.

Overlooked Games of Last Gen

It’s easy to overlook that backlog of games many of us have with Wii U, PS4, and XBox One providing a whole new assortment of titles to play. Even easer, though, is to forget the games that weren’t spotlight stealers even when Wii, XBox 360, and PS3 were in their prime. Let’s look back on some great, overlooked titles that many people might have missed back in the day!

Spyborgs | Wii | 2009

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Brawlers can be a tricky nut to crack, and not everyone’s idea of the perfect slugfest is always going to mesh with other people, but I really had fun with Spyborgs. The graphics were polished and vibrant on Wii, and the controls were solid. Pummeling foes was smooth and satisfying, as the best beat ’em ups should be, and I had a soft spot for the over the top heroes Clandestine, Bouncer, and Stinger. It’s also a good co-op game for those wanting some buddy time on Wii!

Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman | PSP | 2010

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PSP might not have quite the library of games that Nintendo’s DS does, but that doesn’t mean the system is devoid of overlooked gems. Unlosing Ranger is one of them, a sort of cooky tactical RPG filled with character and excellent combat. A lot of common convention of the RTS subgenre of RPGs were thrown out of the window for this game, making it much more accessible to a wider variety of players. Plus, it’s pretty and funny! At the same time! Nice.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands | PS3/XBox 360 | 2010

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The aptly-named Forgotten Sands remains an under-sung highpoint of the franchise.  Excellent play mechanics complemented the game’s immersive, sweeping visuals, and, with its engaging story, made it a real can’t-miss experience. Except, quite a few people did, and the Prince has been MIA ever since. Don’t let this collect dust when you pass it in a GameStop; it’s easily worth your time if you enjoyed The Sands of Time.

Alice: Madness Returns | PS3/XBox 360 | 2011

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This is a title that was really failed by reviewers. The narrative was creepy, dark, and gripping, which isn’t easy for a lot of games. It didn’t hurt that combat was a blast and the psychedelic, intricate visuals were wonderful eye candy. This is a game that has to be played to be appreciated. Keep your eyes peeled for shout outs to other video game series while you play!

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective | Nintendo DS | 2011

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It’s absolute murder that this game didn’t sell better. Ghost Trick remains at the very least an equal to the Phoenix Wright series, with clever writing, beautiful visuals, and a nice twist ending. The play controls put a wonderful spin on the visual novel genre, while the character animations are something else. People who complain that the video game industry doesn’t experiment enough should slap themselves if they never picked this one up.

Honorable Mention- Klonoa: Door to Phantomile | Wii | 2009

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The Klonoa games in general don’t get enough love, but this Wii remake of the PlayStation original was a standout experience. Its 2.5D gameplay is as fun now as it was when it debuted, mixing 2D platforming with 3D environments. It’s cutesy, but that’s no crime, and shouldn’t be a deterrent to anyone who wants a solid platformer. Seek out the Game Boy Advance titles, too!

There are lost of overlooked games waiting to be played; go get your hands on some today!

Toy Box 9-de Blob 2 Figurine

I have a soft spot for THQ’s de Blob series. The characters are cute, the gameplay is fun, and both games have great soundtracks. There are a number of these de Blob figurines in a variety of colors, including ones of the bad guys! Some sell very cheap, and can even be found in the occasional Toys R Us. Once these things sell through, though, don’t expect to find more. With THQ defunct and de Blob’s future a giant question mark, these figurines are one of the last tangible connections to the series you’ll be able to find!

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Retro(spective) is back in action, folks. Catch you all next week with another installment of Toy Box. Hmm, number ten… perhaps something special is in the works? Bet on it!

Is The Sonic Cycle More Myth Than Fact?

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The Sonic Cycle, as illustrated above, is a circle of pain and anguish in which loyal Sonic fans anticipate a new game, get worrying glimpses of it in previews, then play it and are horribly disappointed. With IGN’s reviews of Sonic Lost World on Wii U ( which described the game as a “big blue speed bump”) and 3DS garnering scores of 5.8 and 6.8, it seemed that the Sonic Cycle was in full swing yet again. Or was it? There’s no denying that some low-quality Sonic games are out in the wild, but there have been more hits than misses in recent years than most videogame journalists care to acknowledge. It’s time to peel the curtain back and reveal some of Sonic’s best games in recent history!

1) Sonic Colors (Wii/DS, 2010)

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This Nintendo-exclusive title is a true triumph of Sonic Team, with beautiful production values and intense gameplay. Unlike many of Sonic’s 3D outings, Colors eschewed an unnecessary play control gimmick in favor of unadulterated Sonic speed and action. While the development team did slip in color-themed powerups, they’re largely enjoyable to use and aren’t always required to proceed through a level.

For the DS version, SEGA opted to keep Colors a 2D adventure, which was a wise choice, as it played to the strengths of the handheld. Developer Dimps (who you’ll hear more about in a bit) was known for making excellent, traditional Sonic games and maintained that reputation with this fun, albeit short, take on Colors. The powerups carried over to this version, too, but like the Wii’s Colors, they’re generally fun to use and not always required to progress.

2) Sonic Generations (XBox 360/PS3/3DS, 2011)

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SEGA followed-up Colors with another gem for Microsoft and Sony’s consoles with Sonic Generations. Like Colors, Generations also abandoned a play control gimmick in favor of focusing on pure running/platforming, but rather then use powerups to spice things up, they split hero duties between modern and classic Sonic, instead. Half the game features 3D gameplay, with the other 2D, and is set in multiple stages based on Sonic’s classic outings from the Genesis all the way up to the present (well, then-present). It was a treat to see Green Hill Zone in blistering HD, and even modern classics like City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2 made an appearance.

For the 3DS iteration of Generations, SEGA again turned to Dimps but focused only on 2D gameplay, with a twist. The duo of modern and classic Sonic was maintained, but the former had his homing ability in tow while the latter speed dashed across the screen. Some of the joy of the console versions was lost in removing the 3D segments, but the handheld take on Generations is still a great Sonic game worth experiencing.

3) Sonic 4: Episode I (Wii/PS3/360/Mobile, 2010) & II (360/PS3/Mobile, 2012)

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SEGA’s revitalization of the original Genesis numbering was a smart move, as it declared quite clearly their intent to return classic, 2D Sonic platforming to home consoles (and even cellphones!). Both installments were a blast, with lush graphics and solid controls. Some complain that Sonic’s jumps don’t feel like they did on Genesis, but it’s not such a glaring difference that it detracts from an excellent experience. Oh, yeah, and Metal Sonic. He alone is worth the price of admission! Just to note, the mobile versions are good, but there’s no substitute for a physical controller, so make your purchases accordingly.

4) Sonic Rush (DS, 2005) & Sonic Rush Adventure (DS, 2007)

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Dimps has long been a stalwart Sonic developer for awhile now, and they’re crowning achievements remain the awesome DS 2D Sonic games. The Rush titles feature pure, classic Sonic gameplay, but the emphasis is on speed more than platforming. The resultant adrenaline rush (a pun!) from sending Sonic blazing across the two screens of the DS is a sight to behold. There’s also a new sense of verticality to the levels in the DS games, as both screens are utilized simultaneously. Rush Adventure is the weaker of the two titles as it, unfortunately, has some awkward 3D segments crammed in, but they’re brief and shouldn’t deter you from checking out both.

5) Sonic Dash (iOS, 2013)

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Temple Run might have been first, but Sonic’s turn as an endless-runner is as fun as it natural. The graphics are crisp, the controls are precise, and the genre is really just an excellent match for Sonic on mobile. That’s not to say 2D Sonic platforming can’t be done on a tablet or phone (see Episodes I & II above), but the lack of buttons makes Dash‘s control scheme much more tenable and enjoyable on the go. Definitely a nice way to pass some time on your commute, or just to blow off some steam at home.

Sonic Lost World might have disappointed some (and I’ll be letting you know how I feel about the 3DS and Wii U versions myself, soon), but there are plenty of good Sonic games out there if one knows where to look. Give these titles a try and see why Sonic has been such a beloved character for all these years. One last thing; they’re older and a little harder to come by, but the Sonic Advance series is also a wonderful take on classic, 2D Sonic platforming. If you have a DS Lite or Game Boy Advance, all three games are well worth your time!