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Skylanders Trap Team

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Another year has gone by and we are already at the annual Skylanders release. Time really does fly because it feels like we were playing Swap Force not too long ago. Again we were fortunate to get a review copy from Activision for the newest release — Skylanders Trap Team — and I’ve been checking it out ever since it got here. I wont bother going into too great of detail about what Skylanders are, but if you are curious we have several articles from the past games. Basically it’s light action RPG where you place figures on a tiny portal and see them come to life in the game. What I will go into detail about is all of the new stuff in Skylanders Trap Team.

skylanders-trap-team-fire-trapTrap Masters & Traps

The new hook this year are the traps and the whole concept of trapping villains and turning them to fight for you. The specialty figures in Trap Team are known as Trap Masters and they are each equipped with weapons made out of “Traptanium.” From what I can tell they don’t seem to be really any different than normal Skylanders and have the same amount of abilities and so on. The thing that makes them unique is their ability to destroy Traptanium deposits which usually lead to bonus side areas. Trap Masters are also the only Skylanders that can access the elemental doors that also lead to bonus areas. In past games you would be able to open these with any figure of the respective element, but in Trap Team the doors are made out of Traptanium and can only be opened by Trap Masters.

The traps are actually a pretty cool idea. Each element has its own trap and they can hold one villain from that element. There are around 50 villains that you can trap and initially I was concerned that you would need multiples of each trap in order to catch them all, but thankfully that is not the case. When you do encounter a trappable enemy and defeat him you are given the option of putting him in a trap our not. Regardless of whether or not you decline the trapping, or just don’t have that elemental trap, the villains will be locked away in a vault back at the Skylanders Academy. If you want to put a villain inside a trap, or switch it out with another, all you have to do is go to the vault. So this means you really only need one of each elemental trap rather than 40 traps. You could have multiple traps of an element if you wanted, for taking multiple villains of that element out with you, but it really isn’t necessary.

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Villains & The New Portal

Tskylanders-villainhe Villain characters are all very interesting and the whole concept of trapping them and using them is easily one of the best ideas added to the series. Some of the Villain characters are just specialty versions of normal monsters that you encounter but some are actually the bosses that you encounter in the game. In order to call out your villain all you need to do is press the left trigger and you “tag-out” with your current Skylander. The villain character can stay out and fight for short amount of time before having to recharge. The timer bar acts as its health as well so taking damage will decrease the amount of time they can be out. I was bothered at first by the time limit but it actually recharges fairly fast. Villains don’t level up or gain new abilities like Skylanders but each one has a special side quest where they can be redeemed. Some of them are fun little missions or minigames but there are a few that amount to just a short conversation. Once the side quest is done the villain turns into his evolved form which usually means some cosmetic changes and making his attacks stronger. Not only that but it seems to greatly slow down the trap timer and make them buffer. [Read more...]

Keen’s Game of the Year 2013

AC4 Edward Kenway and CrewAssassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag is my absolute favorite game of 2013.  I had never played a single Assassin’s Creed game until Black Flag launched, and I wasn’t even looking forward to its release.  I picked it up on a whim as one of the few launch titles for the Playstation 4 that looked interesting.  I’ve always had a predilection for pirates, the 18th century, open-world settings, and secret orders like the Templars and Assassins.  AC4 and I are a match made in heaven.

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A Link Between Worlds

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We haven’t had a traditional 2D Zelda in quite a while. I think the last one was Minish Cap. The DS Zelda games were fun, though many disagree with me on that, but they didn’t quite capture the same feeling that you got from games like Link’s Awakening and A Link to the Past. It’s actually kind of funny that the return of classic 2D overhead gameplay arrives via the 3DS. Interestingly enough, however, at the same time the series returns to its roots it also makes a rather large change to the whole dynamic of the game.

Gameplay

link-on-a-wallThe shake-up I’m referring to is renting items. From pretty near the beginning of the game you are able to rent out many of the series staples like the bow, boomerang, hookshot, etc. You no longer find these tools in each dungeon. At first I was really unsure how to feel about this; even now I’m going back and forth on the issue. On one hand it lets you utilize a lot of these cool items right from the get-go rather than looking it in dungeon #6 or whatever. The trade-of though is that you lose out on the excitement of finding your next piece of equipment.

Having access to all of the gear so early does let you tackle dungeons in more of a non-linear order. Some dungeons still require certain things before you can access them but other than that the order is largely left up to you. A few items actually need to be found outside dungeons as well, like the power bracelet and zora flippers. I was actually having a really fun time just exploring around and happening upon these things which ended up being required to get into certain dungeons anyway. Inside the dungeons you still get to find some good stuff even though most of it is for rent. It’s pretty much just passive stuff, though, like new tunics or power gloves or pieces of ore for upgrading your sword.

Once you have enough rupees you can actually buy the items, that way you wont lose access to them when you die. Owning an item is also required if you want to get upgraded versions, which is done through a side quest where you need to find 100 little octo dudes scattered around the world(s). For every 10 you find you can trade in an owned item for an upgraded version. The biggest complaint that I have with items in this game is that they all utilize a magic meter of sorts, which basically renders shops pretty much irrelevant. You no longer hold X amount of bombs and arrows, which I find a little annoying. The worst part is that even items which have no ammunition still require energy. Firing the hookshot, for example, drains the meter. Why the heck is this? I have no idea.

The big gimmick of this entry, which I don’t mean to use with a negative connotation, is the ability to turn into a painting and merge with a wall. It seems curious at first but there is actually a lot that can be done with this mechanic. You are forced to look at the gameworld a lot differently and think about all of the new areas you can possible reach now by simply merging into a wall and traversing a large gap or sliding between bars or a thin crevice. There are a lot of really neat puzzles and exploration elements that really take advantage of this new-found ability. Plus, slipping through special cracks is also how you gain access to the alternate kingdom of Lorule.

a link between worlds 3dVisuals & Presentation

The game has great style. Link looks more like his classic self rather than the pretty boy we mostly see today. The game’s perspective is the classic overhead view of the past games but everything is rendered in 3D. The 3D depth effect also adds a whole lot to the experience, especially with several parts of the game utilizing elements of ascending and descending. It’s one of only a few games where the 3D effect actually enhances the experience without any noticeable detractors.

The game world is set in the same area as A Link to the Past but I’m not entirely sure about the timeline. At first I assumed it was a direct sequel with the same Link, like OoT -> MM, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Through various conversations you can tell that Link has never met Zelda before, done any heroic stuff, etc. So it’s either some kind of retelling or just a straight up new game in the same game world. The whole Zelda timeline gives me a headache. Still, the overworld should obviously feel very familiar.

The story itself is actually pretty good and deals with an alternate world/kingdom of Lorule and its princess Hilda, who is basically just a dark-haired Zelda, and a bad guy name Yuga, who looks kinda like a female Gannondorf but apparently is a dude. It’s good stuff so I won’t spoil anything.

Wrap-up

A Link Between Worlds is a fantasic Zelda game that shakes up the classic formula while at the same time returning to its roots. Easily the best handheld Zelda game.

+ Classic 2D Gameplay
+ Fantastic visuals and art syle
+ Great 3D depth effect
+ Cool new portrait Link Mechanic
+ Fun Dungeons
+ Good items/equipment and upgrades
+ Cool story and new characters
+ Being able to complete dungeons in a non-linear order

+/- Item renting… I’m still torn. It’s fun but let’s not make it ‘a thing.’

- Magic meter for item use rather than ammo, which makes the item shop irellevant
– Non-ammo based items require Magic Meter? Dubya-Tee-Eff?
– Dungeons feel kind of short
– Some troll thought hanging Majora’s Mask in Links’s house would be funny and not infuriating since Nintendo won’t be firm on a 3DS remake happening or not

A Link Between Worlds easily earns a 9.5/10.

PS4 Day 2: Assassin’s Creed and DCUO

We’re two days into the launch of the PS4 with lots more to talk about.  These aren’t full reviews — just a quick synopsis of our experience with a smidgin of impressions.  The images used for these games were taken with the screenshot sharing feature.  The quality on them isn’t great, but it’s nice to finally be able to take pictures without having to use a third-party device.

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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

This might sound crazy, but this is the first Assassin’s Creed game I have ever played.  I’ve watched Graev play all of them, and I knew exactly what to expect, but I wasn’t quite ready for how awesome the free-run and acrobatic movement felt.  The high frames per second and gorgeous graphics made my first hands-on experience with AC really quite something.

I love pirates.  I live for this setting.  If there’s one setting I may love more than medieval fantasy it’s Pirates!  Black Flag captures everything I love about the setting and then some.  I talk all the time about being able to control my own ship, and Black Flag does not disappoint.  I love being able to sail around.

I’m not going to spoil anything, but the story in the previous AC games looked really crummy.  So much so that I almost didn’t pick this one up. Ubisoft takes the story in a much more believable, interesting direction.  Expect my full review to come when I’ve logged significantly more hours into the game.

dcuo-ps4

DC Universe Online

Years ago I played DC Universe Online for the PC, and along with Graev and several of our friends we reached the max level and completed everything there was to do in the game at that time.  When we stopped playing it was never because the game did anything wrong — We simply ran out of things to do.  Years later, the game is free to play with lots of microtransactions.  I can’t say for certain how the F2P model has improved or harmed the game, but I know I’ve been able to play everything I can remember without spending a dime.

The PS4 version is great.  I feel like the controls are perfect, and perhaps even better than the PC version.  I remember thinking that DCUO was always meant to be a console game with this inherent sense of combo button presses and beat’em up nature.  Using the new DualShock 4 controller, I never felt wanting for a keyboard or mouse.

I think they did a nice job upgrading the visuals.  Everything looks high-res, and load times are quick.  I haven’t experienced any slowdown or performance issues.

If you just got a PS4, or heck even if you’re still gaming on the PS4, it can’t hurt to give DCUO a try.  I think the potential for MMOs on consoles is quickly catching up the PCs.

PS4 Launch Day Game Roundup

We spent most of the morning setting up the system and working through general placement logistics. It’s a real mess up here and with the Xbox One due out soon it’s only getting worse. I’d show you a picture but I doubt Keen would ever own up to this cord jungle.

After the initial patching and mass downloading of free stuff we decided to check out some of the launch exclusives and share some quick impressions before we eventually get to reviewing.

Knack-PS4

Knack

This game is getting pretty badly panned across the board but Keen and I don’t quite share that sentiment. I mean, sure, it’s nothing mind blowing but it is enjoyable all the same. We put in several hours of the co-op and were enjoying ourselves the whole time.

It’s part platformer, though only lightly, but mostly action-brawler. You run around levels as the titular character and bash on bad guys while collecting various artifact pieces that increase your size. It’s actually pretty neat to see the character grow over time and completely decimate foes that earlier were giving you grief. So far it seems to be pretty linear but there are a few secret areas along the way for you to collect. In co-op mode the second player plays as a robot version of Knack and can fight alongside and even heal you. It’s all on one screen and the camera follows player 1 which means P2 has to keep pace or get left behind. It all works out pretty well, although Keen screamed at a few of his off-screen deaths.

Really my only complaint about the game is it’s take on difficulty. Being the typical fun-hater than I am, I put it on hard from the get-go. Unfortunately the game seems to go for the whole pseudo-difficulty of just making everything that hits you take all of your life. It can be a little frustrating, especially with no block, and having to re-do segments several times due to cheap deaths can make your co-op partner rage. Or maybe that’s just my experience.

Killzone-Shadow-Fall-PS4

Killzone: Shadowfall

I played the first two games and the PSP game but I haven’t touched the series since then. Having missed out on 3 and the vita game I have no idea what is currently going on story-wise in the game. Something about the Helghast’s planet getting made uninhabitable by the Vektans so now they have to share Vekta. I need to hit a wiki page or something.

Anyway,  this evening I played through the first few segments and I’m really enjoying it so far despite the confusing narrative. The game looks absolutely fantastic and runs very smooth. It definitely makes me excited to see what the system will be capable of down the road. There are a lot of really neat lighting and visual effects.

In the first main level you initially have to sneak in with just a knife and take out guys with stealth all while avoiding cameras, etc. You also get a handy little echo-location type device which can spot enemies through walls, but it will emit a large sound and alert enemies if you activate it for too long.  One cool thing you can do is jump onto a guy from above, stab him in the neck, and then throw your knife at another guy in your field of view. It’s very reminiscent of the kind of thing you could pull off in FarCry 3. The first gun I got was a really awesome combo weapons. The first configuration was some kind of automatic weapon that shoots little blue things and the second form turns it into a long range rifle that charges up and releases a powerful shot.

Probably the coolest thing I’ve seen so far is the little drone that follows you around. It can do basic stuff like hacking terminals for you but it can also order it to kill enemies, stun them, defend you, and create a zipline. The last one is actually pretty awesome. If you need to get access to an area below you then you can order it to shoot a zipline which you can slide down. The drone, which I think is actually called an OWL or something, can also revive you if you die. Provided you have adrenaline or something.

More To Come

We’re also going to be trying out CoD: Ghosts and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag this weekend and we will be sure to write up our impressions of them. Since the PS4 can stream straight out of the box we might even look into doing that as well, but so far our internet connection hasn’t been very cooperative. I think Keen also has plans to try out DC Universe and some other free-to-play titles as well.

It’s been a pretty smooth launch so far and we made it through the whole day without bricking our system. Take that .4% failure rate!