Friday, October 17, 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I Can Dig It - Shovel Knight Review

Score: 9 / 10
Shovel Knight
Wii U - PC - 3DS
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Release Date: June 26th, 2014

  • Nolstagic feel of a classic NES title
  • Classic challenge and atmosphere
  • Simple, enjoyable platforming and combat
  • Grocery list of feats to accomplish and collectibles
  • New Game+ adds little variation
  • Powerups make take a big of the challenge away

In the age of high end renderings, stunning cinematics, and complex gameplay; I still find myself enjoying an 8-bit adventure. An escape to a simpler time when two buttons and a directional pad were all you had at your disposal. Shovel Knight is an obvious testament to this, a nostalgic trip to when games were a simple, challenging, and rewarding experience. With its stellar presentation and ease to pick up and play, Shovel Knight is a game that felt like an NES title that I missed out on in my childhood.

Shovel Knight is the noble, valiant, and chivalrous hero you would come to expect. His companion, Shield Knight disappears after a dark magic overtakes them in the Tower of Fate, and Shovel Knight awakens to find the tower shielded. Distraught from his loss, he isolates himself, allowing The Order of No Quarter to overtake the land, led by the evil Enchantress. While the game is self aware with its satirical jab in naming its places and organizations, the story that plays out has a surprising impact. Shovel Knight feels like this broken hero trying to regain his purpose, with interludes of vain attempts to catch his falling companion while fighting off enemies, each time awakening to a dwindling campfire as he pushes on to the next level. It is a game that comes full circle in the end, but keeps you hopeful for Shovel Knight's redemption.

The brilliance of Shovel Knight is its ability to borrow elements of all the great NES titles and mash them together into a single game. You have eight unique bosses akin to Mega Man, a slew of items to use akin to Castlevania, hidden items and collectables akin to Metroid, etc. The sound design, the visual appeal, the overall feel of Shovel Knight is a nostalgic trip through an 8-bit world. The chiptune soundtrack melds perfectly with the world, and the cheesy dialogue compliments the quirky nature of the game. You are, afterall, a knight fighting with a shovel. It is a game that never takes itself too seriously, and the charming presentation and cast of characters manages to keep that alive.

The actual brunt of the game combines platforming and combat through a series of levels, ultimately culminating in a boss encounter. Each world provides its own unique challenge, be it the silhouetted run through the graveyard or running along the spinning gears and cogs of a clockwork tower; each area has personality. A common element through all of them is the challenge, as Shovel Knight is a game you get better at as you play but the initial run through will be fraught with deaths. Much akin to Dark Souls, you learn from each death, and the well placed checkpoints will assist you in getting through each trial without making you start from the very beginning too often.

Completionists are rewarded for exploring every nook and cranny of a space, and despite the linear nature of the levels there are many hidden rewards that await those who persist in finding everything.Walls that are revealed through a subtle block placement or treasure chests that appear after defeating all the enemies in an area are a few of the methods used to hide away the many items and treasures featured in the game. The gems collected in each level can be used in the village to upgrade your shovel for new features, or purchase armor that has various effects from doubling magic to reducing incoming damage taken. This armor choice gives a slight level of customization to how you play, increasing magic usage if you are keen on using Relics. A few random encounters along the world map and extra levels focusing on certain Relic abilities will offer paths off the main quest to gain even more loot.

Just a shovel and the ability to jump can only get you so far, as such Shovel Knight can equip a multitude of different tools to help him along his way. Relics, or commonly known as sub-weapons, can be obtained by purchasing them from the village or finding them hidden away. Every time you use a relic it takes a chunk of magic depending on its use, and there are quite a few at your disposal. The war horn can hurt enemies in a large area, the Chaos Sphere bounces around and clears out a room, and Dust Knuckles help in punching through blocks to traverse large gaps. The most useful of all of these was the Phase Locket, which renders you invulnerable for a period of time. While this costs a decent amount, it did tend to make the game fairly simple in its ability to negate incoming damage.

Shovel Knight is one of those arcade titles that is easy to pick up and play, and one you want to see through to the end. There are a ton of Feats to accomplish such as running through a level with no damage as well as a New Game Plus mode. While there are some new caveats the second time around, the new game plus does not add much to the experience; replacing food with bombs and making enemies deal more damage. Regardless, Shovel Knight is a solid downloadable title and worth digging out your wallet to purchase.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tomb Raider - Video Review

Tomb Raider Review - Birth of an Icon

Score: 9.0 / 10
Tomb Raider
PC - Xbox 360 - PS3
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: March 5th, 2013

  • Beautifully detailed environments and landscapes
  • Continual action that keeps you guessing
  • Dynamic camera adds excitement to the exploration
  • Simple, satisfying cover shooting
  • Hidden tombs are short and too easy to solve
  • Button prompts for QTEs take time to adapt to
  • Skill tree loses potential to customize Lara to a preferred play style
Lara Croft has always been the seasoned adventurer that looks danger in the face with two pistols at the ready. She was always confident, headstrong, and fearless; but in the latest reboot from Crystal Dynamics, this prequel shows a younger, less adept Lara. The unsteady hand when she first raises a weapon, the heavy breathing as she sneaks past guards, and the utter fear in her eyes as she narrowly escapes danger time and time again show a more human side to the classic hero we all know. Through it all, the game never paints her as a damsel in distress, but rather showcases the building of one of gaming's most iconic heroines.

One of these boats has to have a Band-Aid
Lara's struggle to survive the island is nothing easy, and there are subtleties to the game that really add the appropriate tension. Lara grabbing her side in pain and bracing against the wall as a player moves close to it, quieting herself when guards approach whilst cuing the player that an opportunity for stealth is ahead, or the sporadic breathing when moving carefully across a rusted ledge all bring that extra sense of peril. It is this attention to detail that not only makes Lara more sympathetic, but amplifies the overall thrilling atmosphere.

This attention to detail is not only applied to the mood, but assists in crafting a visual marvel. There is more than one instance where the game will let you look out over a cliff to your destination, and oftentimes I would forget that I could control my character with the misinterpretation that I was in a cut scene. Textures are finely detailed, and the lighting's play with shadows brings memorable moments in cave exploration where your only source of vision is the torch at your side. It is the blockbuster set pieces that bring everything together. Climbing a burning skyscraper while being fired upon by the enemy as debris and bullets fly past your head, all while backed by a fully original and very fitting soundtrack is a common occurrence that gets your heart pumping and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Where did they find a helicopter?

The campaign is an evolving adventure that plays on the unexpected. Alternating between cover shooting gunplay, scripted set pieces, and seamless platforming you never know what could be around the corner. A firefight could erupt and before you can finish everyone off, you find the platform you are on will shake and tip sideways turning into a timed platforming climb. There are consecutive upgrades and new enemy types also thrown your way, which keeps you trying new tactics and new gear in both terrain traversal and shootouts. The minor inconveniences of the campaign were the quick time events, in which the timing and display take a few attempts to adapt to. The unfortunate result of failing these is a surprisingly gruesome death sequence. I found myself striving to never miss a QTE due to this facet, as watching Lara thrash and and convulse is like transitioning from an action movie to a horror film.

The collector at heart will find that despite a linear path, Tomb Raider does not feel like a closed off string of rooms. Exploration of each area reveals plenty of collectibles, optional challenges, and even hidden tombs; assisted by the helpful "hunter vision" that highlights enemies in addition to objects of interest. These tombs offer a challenge room usually involving a physics puzzle to progress. Sadly these puzzles are fairly straight forward with only a few that actually take time to solve, and for being labeled a tomb they are awfully small. Regardless of your optional task, you are rewarded with scrap metal that can be used to upgrade weapons and unlock new secondary firing modes for most weapons. There is also a leveling system to specialize in certain skill trees, but you tend to fill out all three branches by the close of the game, missing an opportunity for the game to offer players a chance to outfit Lara to their preferred method of approach.
I must channel my inner Katniss

A competitive multiplayer is also available, featuring the expected four survivors vs four scavangers matchup. These includes deathmatch, king of the hill, and capture the flag inspired game modes. The interesting twist in each map is the ability to rig traps for your enemies, involving various rigs that can crush your opponents or set them on fire. Slight differences between the factions like the Scavengers ability to zip up rope lines will matter little as you swap after each round; giving even time with both allegiances. The mode comes complete with unlockable characters, weapon modifications, and player loadouts. It can be fun to play around with, but feels very cookie cutter to what you have seen before.

Crystal Dynamics took a risk in going back to the beginning, but it was a risk that paid off. Tomb Raider looks and feels like the adventure game its daring heroine deserves. I found myself asking what they could do to a top a particular sequence, only to turn the corner and find one just as thrilling. Lara's new voice and look is a perfect fit for this reboot, and the attention to detail in both gameplay and look give an incredible, seamless display. Daring shootouts, frantic scrambles across collapsing structures, and relentless foes push Lara in every chapter, and you find that as her resolve strengthens, so does your determination to see her through to the end.