Video Game Review: Velocity 2X [PS Vita/PS4]

Velocity 2X [PS Vita/PS4]

Velocity 2X 
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS4
Genre: Shoot ’em up, platformer
Developer: FuturLab
Publisher: FuturLab
Price: $19.99 (cross buy, free for PS+ members)
Release Date: September 2, 2014

Velocity Ultra was a bit of a sleeper indie hit on the Playstation Network last year, and today sees the release of its much-anticipated sequel Velocity 2X.

Whereas Ultra innovated with its unique hybrid of shoot ’em up gameplay and puzzles involving teleportation, 2X expands upon this template by bringing in a brand new dynamic: side-scrolling platforming. The transition between shmup action and platforming is seamless, and it tactfully brings together two genres that you normally wouldn’t think of combining.

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Video Game Review: Mutant Mudds Deluxe [PS Vita/PS3]

Mutant Mudds Deluxe [PS Vita/PS3]

Mutant Mudds Deluxe
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC, Wii U and 3DS)
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Renegade Kid
Publisher: Renegade Kid
Price: $9.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: December 17, 2013

Everything about Mutant Mudds Deluxe, the latest game from Renegade Kid, screams “retro”. The delightfully pixelated graphics, the pitch-perfect chiptune soundtrack and the old school platforming gameplay all look, sound and feel familiar. Yet Mutant Mudds Deluxe is so well-refined that it can hold its own against some of the classics that it is so clearly inspired by.

Originally a Nintendo eShop release, this “12-bit” title stands out thanks to its unique three-plane approach. While the core of the game still revolves around the traditional 2D side-scrolling format, the main protagonist, a courageous young fellow named Max, can leap from one layer to the next. Through jump points scattered within each level, Max can maneuever between the foreground and background of the screen. Each layer has its own items and enemies, making this type of inter-dimensional traveling critical to maxing out each area.

Mutant Mudds Deluxe [PS Vita/PS3]

Since this is the deluxe edition, there are a whopping 80 levels included. Each level has exactly 100 objects to collect, as well as a four-minute time limit. The objects in turn are used as a form of currency in order to get new upgrades for Max. Originally armed with just a meager water gun and a short-burst jetpack, he can eventually acquire additions that allow for increased capacities for both. The best upgrade, however, is the ability to perform super jumps, which makes it a bit easier to maneuver past tricky enemies and/or spike deathtraps.

Each level requires strong dexterity and a bit of patience. Max doesn’t handle as fast as most platforming characters, so his jumping and floating need to be especially well-timed. There are a plethora of evil enemies out there, including some who cannot be wiped out by Max’s water gun. As the levels progress, so do their difficulties; many of the later ones pack quite the challenge. Thankfully, each level does contain a checkpoint, making the frequent deaths somewhat less painful. For all of the masochists out there, rest easy: there is an option to get rid of the checkpoints as well.

Mutant Mudds Deluxe [PS Vita/PS3]

The levels are all brilliantly designed, and each one has an alternate path that can only be found by using specific upgrades. There’s also a particularly challenging batch of ghost levels with unhittable enemies that can be unlocked over time. There is no shortage of content here — you’ll certainly get your money’s worth for $9.99.

Every now and then I get the itch to play an old school platformer, and Mutant Mudds Deluxe absolutely satisfied this desire. This version has the advantage of being a cross-buy and cross-save title, but I found it to work best in short bursts on the PS Vita. No matter which platform you prefer, this is a top-notch throwback to the challenging days of yore.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark
System: PS Vita/PS3 (crossbuy) [also on PC, Mac, Linux and Android as Stealth Bastard Deluxe]
Genre: Stealth puzzle platformer
Developer: Curve Studios
Distributor: Curve Studios
Release Date: July 23, 2013

Stealth Inc has the distinction of being a stealth game that doesn’t really play like one. Most stealth games move at a laborious pace that requires sneaking around, waiting for guards to turn their backs, and hiding until the coast is clear. In Stealth Inc, there is still a lot of lurking in the shadows, but the game moves at a much brisker rate than you might have come to expect.

It’s also one tough bastard.

Stealth Inc scraps the idea of having a plot in favor of just throwing you — an unnamed “clone” — into action. This clone, with an appearance not unlike a South Park character, is forced to undergo a series of tests presented by an unknown overseer. This mysterious figure mocks the test subject when he dies by writing words of belittlement on the walls, but he also shares the occasional helpful tip to get through a tough area. These random blurbs help lighten the mood, a much-welcomed diversion from the difficult gameplay.

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita, 2013]

Split into eight chapters of ten levels each, the main campaign offers bite-sized puzzle-platforming action. In theory, each level can be completed in anywhere from 30 seconds to just a couple minutes. In reality, these can take much, much longer, as a lot of trial-and-error is required to solve the myriad of puzzles thrown in your direction.

In order to progress through an area, the clone must hack computers and push switches, all while dodging security cameras, lasers, patrolling enemies and other hellish contraptions. Each level is well-designed and offers generous checkpoints, but many of the puzzles are real head-scratchers. Certain areas can be incredibly frustrating — there were multiple times where I needed to step away just to clear my head — but there is a huge sense of accomplishment in solving some of the trickier bits. In other words, patience is required, but those elusive “Eureka!” moments make the grievances worth it.

In many ways, Stealth Inc reminds me of the highly-regarded indie title, Super Meat Boy. The fast-paced platforming action is very similar, right down to finding hard-to-reach optional items in clever locations. The stealth aspect adds a refreshing twist to this tried-and-true formula, and the brief levels make this an easy game to pick up and play.

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

One major plus is that there is a lot of potential for replay value here. For the extra-adventurous, each level can be replayed in hopes of getting the desired S-Rank high score. These in turn can unlock new levels and bonus suits, the latter of which can help shave off precious seconds in a time trial. There is also a nifty level editor, though unfortunately user-created levels cannot be shared at this time (the developers have stated that this feature will be patched in soon).

This game also has the benefit of being a Cross Buy title, meaning that one $9.99 purchase grants you access to both the PS3 and PS Vita versions. For this review, I focused entirely on the Vita experience, and this type of game is perfect for on-the-go action.

Stealth Inc offers plenty of bang for its buck, and its stealth-tinged gameplay is unique enough to make it stand out in the ever-expanding indie market. It helps to be a glutton for punishment with this one, but those who stick with it will find this to be a very gratifying experience.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Thomas Was Alone [PS Vita/PS3]

Thomas Was Alone [PS Vita/PS3]

Thomas Was Alone
System: PS Vita/PS3 (crossbuy) [also on PC and Mac]
Genre: Puzzle platformer
Publisher: Mike Bithell
Developer: Bossa Studios, Curve Studios (Vita/PS3), Mike Bithell (PC/Mac)
Release Date: April 23, 2013

At first glance, Thomas Was Alone doesn’t look like much. There’s a black background, a few blocks and some ledges. Hardly anything visually stimulating.

Yet here is a game that will have you hooked from the very first level.

It all starts with the narrator. British humorist Danny Wallace, who earned a BAFTA Award for his performance, is there to narrate every single one of the game’s 100 levels. Through his voice, he gives every block in the game a name and personality.

Thomas Was Alone [PS Vita/PS3]

There’s Thomas, the titular character, a red rectangle that is trying to make sense of the world around him. Soon he meets Chris, a short and stout orange square, and he is a particularly grouchy character. Later, Claire is introduced. She is a large blue square, one who is insecure but takes some great pride in helping others. A tall and thin yellow rectangle named John also enters the picture, and he loves to show off his high-jumping abilities.

These are only but a handful of the characters we are introduced to in Thomas Was Alone, and all of them are different-sized squares and rectangles. Sometimes a level will require you to use a few of them together in order to solve puzzles, while others only use one character.

Every level has the same basic end goal: to move the blocks to their appropriately-sized exit portals. Since each character has its own ability (i.e. Claire can float in water, John can jump really high), these specific traits must be taken advantage of in order to make progress. Most puzzles can be solved by using some variation of stacking blocks and using each other as a platform, and very few of the game’s levels actually present a real mind-bending challenge.

Thomas Was Alone [PS Vita/PS3]

However, it is this simplicity that only enhances the game’s ambiance. Combined with the glitchy, minimalist soundtrack, Thomas Was Alone is a laidback experience, perfect for when you just want to relax after a long day.

It’s rather amazing that a game so basic in concept can achieve so much thanks to good, quality writing. It’s hard not to be enchanted with Wallace’s witty quips about isolation, loneliness, companionship and artificial intelligence. If you had told me beforehand that I could get attached to a few blocks, I would have called you crazy. While sometimes I wish the game did have more of a challenge, the setting and overall charm makes this an easy one to recommend.

8/10

Video Game Review: Guacamelee! [PS Vita/PS3]

Guacamelee! [PS Vita/PS3]

Guacamelee!
System: PS Vita (crossbuy with PS3)
Genre: Action/Platforming (Metroidvania)
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Release Date: April 9, 2013

If there’s one video game genre I enjoy most, it’s what is commonly referred to as Metroidvania. These are typically 2D side-scrolling affairs that invite exploration of a large in-game world. As the game progresses, new abilities are unlocked that allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas.

Drinkbox Studios — creators of the brilliant (and criminally overlooked) Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack — have taken the Metroidvania genre and given it a fresh twist with their latest, Guacamelee!. Here is a game steeped in Mexican folklore with a beautiful artstyle. It is also an adventure that does not take itself seriously. At all. (This is not a bad thing)

You play as Juan Aguacate (translation: Juan Avocado), a downtrodden Mexican farmer who is trying to rescue El Presidente’s daughter from the evil Charro skeleton. Juan receives a huge boost to his efforts when he discovers a magical lucha libre mask. This grants Juan an impressive array of wrestling-related powers, as well as the ability to switch back-and-forth between the land of the living and the dead. Now rejuvenated, Juan hits the road to save the princess and restore order to his beloved hometown.

Of course, the world is not safe, and there are plenty of enemies that stand in the way of Juan’s goal. Poncho-wearing skeletons, large armadillos and bomb-throwing cacti are just a handful of those ready to annihilate our hero. Never fear, for Juan is combat-ready with a number of powerful attacks at his disposal. Defeating enemies earns him cash to purchase even more abilities, including options to suplex, slam and otherwise destroy his opponents.

Guacamelee! [PS Vita/PS3]

As the game progresses, Juan gains a whole slew of new ways to reach other areas. The genre staple of the “double jump” is soon added, as well as ways to rapidly dash across the screen (both vertically and horizontally) and turn into a completely different object (I won’t spoil it for you, but the secondary character is great). As you move throughout the world, you’ll notice areas that can only be accessed with certain abilities. Thankfully, these are pointed out on a map once you find them, so it’s easy to go back and explore with your newfound powers.

Combat is generally well-done. Certain enemies will be color-coded, meaning you can only damage them by using a specific type of attack. This adds some welcomed strategy to what at first seems to be a pretty basic combo-based system. Every now and then the game forces you to clear out an area of respawning enemies, but these moments are actually quite fun, and I grew to anticipate stumbling into them.

Guacamelee! [PS Vita/PS3]

While I love the general combat system, I did run into some issues during boss fights, especially the last two. Boss battles basically amount to remembering their attack patterns and fighting back when applicable, but their attacks often feel cheap. It’s not uncommon to get hit by a boss, fall backward and then get hit again while recovering. This led to some severely frustrating moments where I was just a hit or two away from finishing off a boss, only to lose thanks to these cheap shots.

As such, it should go without saying that Guacamelee! is a pretty challenging game. It takes some of the punishing old-school gameplay that worked so well in the 16-bit days, with the end result being a real sense of accomplishment for clearing out some of the harder areas.

Guacamelee! [PS Vita/PS3]

It’s not just combat that presents a challenge, however. Much of the game revolves around general platforming gameplay, and many areas have puzzles that can be tricky to solve. Oftentimes, finding a room with a treasure chest or other powerups will require some slick maneuvering that involves pressing different attacks at just the right time. A little bit of dexterity goes a long way here.

Guacamelee! is a relatively short game, and can be completed in anywhere from 4-8 hours (depending on how much you explore). Beating the game unlocks a hard mode, and the PS3 version offers co-op play, but that’s about it. For me, the overall experience was satisfying enough to justify its short length, but this could be disappointing for those expecting a long Castlevania-esque adventure.

Guacamelee! [PS Vita/PS3]

I would be remiss not to mention the game’s unique brand of humor. The constant Easter eggs, tongue-in-cheek billboards and wisecracking dialogue are all incredibly amusing, and discovering hidden secrets is a real treat. During my adventure, I even found an abandoned room with just a QR code inside. I won’t spoil what it said, but it made me laugh. And, of course, all of this is aided by a gorgeous artstyle and an infectious soundtrack.

Guacamelee! is an excellent new addition to the Metroidvania genre, and it represents yet another strong showing from Drinkbox Studios. While I had some issues with cheap boss tactics, and others may be disappointed by the short length, I did greatly enjoy my time playing through the game. These guys are on a roll, and I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves next.

8.5/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Knytt Underground [Vita/PS3]

Knytt Underground [Vita/PS3]

Knytt Underground
System: Vita/PS3 (also on PC and Mac)
Genre: Platforming/Metroidvania
Publisher: Ripstone
Developer: Nifflas
Release Date: December 18, 2012

Upon first glance, Knytt Underground looks small. The main character, Mi Sprocket, is very tiny, and she only takes up a miniscule part of the game screen.

The first couple chapters of this Metroidvania-esque 2D platformer do little to disavow this idea. The first chapter introduces Mi and her gameplay mechanics, but it can be finished in an hour. The second chapter is even quicker, as a new character, a bouncy ball, is used to speed through the playing area.

Then the third chapter appears.

Knytt Underground [Vita/PS3]

All of a sudden, this relatively pedestrian game world is opened up into a MASSIVE new environment. Over 1,800 rooms are now accessible, each one different than the last. No longer does the game feel small — now it’s nearly overwhelming.

With the game now completely unlocked, both Mi and the ball can be used at whim. It is imperative to take advantage of both characters, as some areas can only be reached with one of them. Mi is a gifted climber, whereas the ball can jump/bounce much higher.

The name of the game here is exploration. This is an enormous world full of little nooks and crannies, with plenty of secrets hiding in the dark. There’s always something new to discover, and it’s easy to get sucked into the digging experience. There were times that I would sit down to play a quick session but ended up playing for hours instead. There’s something to be said about wanting to keep pushing forward, just to see what the next room has in store (and then the next, and the one after that, etc.).

Knytt Underground [Vita/PS3]

Part of what makes the game’s exploration so addictive is that the atmosphere is so engaging. The often-dark visuals are simply gorgeous, aided by occasionally breathtaking backgrounds that sway back and forth. In the 1,800+ rooms, there are a number of locales to discover, meaning there is plenty of eye candy. I kept advancing simply to see what I would stumble upon next. Adding even more to the game’s alluring aesthetics is a beautiful ambient soundtrack that lends way to a zen-like, almost cathartic experience.

It’s unfortunate then, that these moments of zen are sometimes interrupted with a haphazard attempt at storyline progression. The game’s plot is nonsensical, full of sprites, fairies, pixies and other fantasy creatures. Not-so-veiled attempts at religious allegories are brought up, as there is an ongoing dispute between the Myrmidons and the Internet (atheists). Pieces of the narrative are put together via quirky dialogue that is stumbled upon while pursuing side quests, but even after putting in a good dozen or so hours into the game, I was just as confused as I was at the beginning.

The story and the ensuing head-scratching dialogue add little to the game, and I would actually have preferred if there were no narrative at all. There is a damn good exploration game underneath this, and improved writing would have really pushed this in the right direction.

Knytt Underground [Vita/PS3]

As it stands, there’s still a lot to love with Knytt Underground. The in-game world is so big that it’s easy to get your $15 worth just by casually exploring the area. I kept finding myself coming back to this game, simply because of its relaxing gameplay and visually stunning atmosphere. It should be noted that this is also one of the select few cross-play titles available, meaning that it can be played on both the PS Vita and PS3 with cloud saving capability. For those interested in Metroidvania games or platforming exploration in general, Knytt is certainly worth a look.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD [PS3]

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD [PS3]

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD
System: Playstation 3
Genre: Platform/Stealth
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Release Date: November 9, 2010 (original PS2 release: September 23, 2002)

Despite owning a Playstation 2 for most of the system’s lifespan, I missed out on a lot of its more popular titles. For one, I pretty much neglected the entire 3D platforming genre. Thankfully, Sony has been especially helpful in my quest to go back in time by releasing HD collections of all sorts of modern favorites. The first one to revisit: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus.

I was initially ambivalent to check out the Sly Cooper series simply because of its cartoonish nature — I had written it off as a kid’s game, more or less. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While the Thievius Raccoonus can be enjoyed by all ages, there is a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay that will keep everyone coming back for more.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

In his quest to uncover his family’s “Thievius Raccoonus” book about stealing, the eponymous raccoon travels through five different areas, ranging from mountains in China to Haitian swamplands. He is aided by two trustworthy companions, the intelligent Bentley the Turtle (voiced with a poor man’s Harry Caray impression) and the dim-witted Murray the Hippo. There is also a love interest of sorts in the form of Carmelita Fox, a government agent who is actually trying to capture Sly.

Gameplay consists of a hybrid of platforming and stealth elements. Sly can be wiped out with just one hit from an enemy, so sneaking around can be crucial to level progression. Getting caught by a security camera will set off an alarm, causing any enemies nearby to swarm the area. There are ways around most security systems (helpfully shown by a dotted blue line), but it can be tricky to get by in some instances. For the most part, Sly Cooper is fairly easy, but there are occasionally frustrating moments that require expert jumping and dodging of obstacles to get anywhere. For me, there was just the right amount of challenge, but platforming pros may breeze through the campaign with minimal difficulty.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Each locale is comprised of several levels, all of which have several clue bottles and coins scattered throughout. The coins act just as they do in Mario games — collect 100 for an extra life — but getting all of the bottles will provide Sly with bonus power-ups and features. These become especially handy in later levels, as some aid in jumping and combat. Each game world also has a handful of mini-games to spice things up, including go-kart racing and third-person shooting.

On the whole, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus offers a well-balanced campaign with fluid gameplay. I never ran into any trouble with the in-game camera — a problem I often have with the genre — and the mix of stealth/platforming is perfect. If anything, the game’s only real problem is that it is relatively short. The single player campaign can be finished in less than eight hours, though getting 100% can extend its shelf life a bit.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

What makes Sly Cooper stand out from other like-minded platformers are its gorgeous cel-shaded graphics. The PS3’s upscaled HD rendition makes the colors even more vibrant, and the animations wouldn’t be out of place in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Adding to the attractive aesthetics are brilliant film noir-esque interludes that are perfectly in line with the game’s criminal roots.

As the first title in this highly-regarded series, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus has laid down some impressive groundwork. This bit of platforming fun was exactly what I needed to play recently, and for those looking for a diversion from today’s popular shoot ’em ups, you can’t go wrong with this. I can’t wait to play through the rest of the Sly Collection.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: Deadlight [XBLA]

Today we have a special guest video game review from Max @ Impassionedcinema!

Deadlight [XBLA]

Deadlight
System: Xbox Live Arcade
Genre: Cinematic platformer, survival horror, sidescroller
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Tequila Works
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15)
Release Date: August 1st, 2012

Microsoft has once again hosted a campaign entitled Summer of Arcade. In the dry gaming month of mid-July until mid-August, Microsoft signs exclusives for titles that show off what XBLA has to offer. Previous years included such classics as Braid, Limbo, and Castle Crashers. This year didn’t start out great with a re-mastered Tony Hawk game and a Kinect-only game. So does Deadlight buck that trend? Not really.

Deadlight is the first game from Tequila Works and was published by Microsoft, so this will be an exclusive Xbox game for sometime. It has elements of survival horror mixed with platforming and sidescrolling action. On paper it sounds like another classic XBLA entry, so where did they go wrong?

Deadlight [XBLA]

The storyline is one of most troublesome areas. Saying that the survival horror elements are overused would be an understatement. Our hero, Randall Wayne, is on a mission to find his wife and daughter in what appears to be a zombie apocalypse. Now they never refer to these mindless creators as zombies, they are just called shadows. Akin to Walking Dead, the shadows aren’t the only enemies here since the humans are out of control as well. Thankfully, all the story elements are skippable (including the ending), so if you just want platforming, skip past them all.

The gameplay will more than make up for the poor story right? That’s a big no. In a mixture of two highly acclaimed XBLA games (Shadow Complex and Limbo) the games has difficult platforming, action, and a mostly black color scheme. There’s also puzzles mixed in for good measure, but they are so easy, I never once found myself stuck trying to figure something out. The only time I did get stuck was because of the platforming. Deadlight isn’t sure of what audience it is catering towards. On one hand, some of the jumps are easy to telegraph. On the other hand, if you don’t press jump at exactly the right time you’ll die and get sent back to annoying loading screens. Deadlight likes to promote the trial and error approach. Walk ten feet, die because something unexpected happened, go back and try again. Rinse and repeat. I didn’t expect to play Dragon’s Lair when I bought this game, but the repetition is ridiculous.

Deadlight [XBLA]

Many times throughout my playthrough of Deadlight, I questioned why I spent $15 on the game. It was probably the promise of high-quality games Xbox Summer of Arcade has been known for over the years. It could’ve also been the mixture of Shadow Complex and Limbo (two of the best downloadable games on the system). Needless to say, Deadlight was an incredible disappointment and I’d go as far as to say some of the game is broken. While I made my way through to the end, there were too many instances where I was honestly fed up with the game. Hopefully one of the other two Summer of Arcade titles impress because otherwise this summer will be a huge disappointment.

5.5/10

 
Written by Max Covill of Impassionedcinema.com

Retro Gaming Project #1: Castlevania [NES]

Castlevania [NES]

Castlevania
System: NES
Genre: Platforming
Publisher: Konami/Nintendo
Developer: Konami
Release Date: September 26, 1986

My first Castlevania game was the PS1’s Symphony of the Night. I bought it on a whim, not knowing what to expect despite seeing great review scores. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked on the game’s mashup of action, platforming and RPG styles, all while providing a massive castle to explore. Even the notoriously bad dialogue did nothing but enhance the experience.

Since then, I have played many of the handheld Castlevania titles, most of which are near the level of quality of Symphony of the Night. I have always been embarrassed to say, however, that I have never played anything before SOTN. Wanting to play through this series from the beginning was a BIG reason why I started this retro project.

Entering the gates of Castlevania. So...much...burnt...orange.

It seems unlikely that Konami knew what they had on their hands while making the very first Castlevania. Surely they couldn’t have expected a seemingly generic horror game to spawn more than a dozen sequels spanning over 25 years. But alas, that is what happened despite its humble roots.

Castlevania begins with our whip-carrying hero, Simon Belmont, approaching the castle’s massive entrance gate. He makes his way through the courtyard, cracking open lamps to obtain hearts and weapon power-ups, before entering the castle itself. The castle shows its age right off the bat, as its wallpaper has random tears, exposing the brick beneath. Simon is quickly greeted by zombies, moving much faster than you would expect, but they can be eradicated by a simple crack of the whip. Candles can be broken for more hearts and items, and the path is generally straightforward.

It doesn’t take long for shit to get real.

Whipping a large skeleton, one of the more easier enemies.

While the first few levels aren’t too difficult, the game sees a drastic spike in difficulty about halfway through the campaign. Medusa heads fly through the air, determined to knock you off the ground and into the deep, dark abyss below. Tiny flea men bounce around as if all hopped up on caffeine, sporadically moving about while constantly bumping into Simon. Getting hit by an enemy in the later levels takes up a significantly larger amount of his health, often causing cheap and frustrating deaths.

Don’t get me started about the bosses. The battles against Death (level five) and Dracula (the final boss) are among the hardest I have EVER played in a video game. It took me a hell of a long time to just get to Death, but no matter what I tried I could not beat the bastard through conventional means. Dracula was just as bad, although his second form doesn’t hold a candle compared to the first.

Frankenstein & Igor, the bosses of stage four

There are unlimited continues, thankfully, but they generally place you at the start of the stage upon going through the original batch of lives. So yeah, Simon has to make his way past all of the Medusa heads, Axe men, flea men and random other horror enemies before facing that son-of-a-bitch known as Death.

What makes the game most difficult are its decidedly poor controls. Simon cannot control his direction once in the air, and he can only crack his whip straight ahead. When he is hit by an enemy, he goes flying several feet backward. This leads to some infuriatingly cheap deaths, particularly from those blasted Medusa heads or flying bats that show up at the most inopportune times.

Climbing the stairs to that son-of-a-bitch Dracula

Borderline extreme difficulty be damned, this is still Castlevania, and damn if it isn’t fun. The classic, sexy 8-bit tunes, the campy horror atmosphere, the random inclusion of cooked turkey hiding in the walls… this is what it’s all about. I haven’t been as pissed off at a video game as much as this in recent years, but I couldn’t stop playing it anyway. A great start to an impressive franchise.

8/10

Video Game Review: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception [PS3, 2011]

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception [PS3, 2011]

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
System: Playstation 3
Genre: Action/Adventure/Platform
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: November 1, 2011

Past adventures of Nathan Drake, star of the Playstation 3’s best-selling Uncharted series, have taken him all over the world. The Amazon Rainforest, Tibet, Istanbul, Borneo, Nepal. The dude has been everywhere. With Uncharted 3, Drake can now scratch even more locations off his list, including an extended run in the Middle East.

Uncharted 3 begins with a massive bar-room brawl. Drake and his long-time pal (and mentor) Victor Sullivan (“Sully”) get caught up in a deal that quickly turns sour, forcing them to fight their way through dozens of enemies, complete with broken whiskey bottles and snapped pool sticks. This works as a tutorial of sorts, as it demonstrates the slightly modified combat system while throwing our heroes directly into action.

This is the core of Uncharted 3 — moments of intense action interspersed with cutscenes to help flesh out the story. The opening bar-room brawl is only the tip of the iceberg. This time around, the big adventure set-pieces include a dashing escape out of a rapidly burning building, frantic manuevering out of a sinking cruise ship, and an elongated trip through the stifling Rub’ al Khali Desert with no water to speak of anywhere. These exaggerated sequences are the biggest reason why most gamers have fallen in love with the series, and they do not disappoint in the trilogy’s conclusion.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception [PS3, 2011]

For those looking for a bit of back-story about Drake and Sully, you are in luck. The mysterious relationship of our favorite treasure hunters is elaborated on in a series of flashbacks, even allowing gamers to play as a teenage Drake. The overall story arc is still relatively simple, but fans of the series will be pleased with this further insight.

The Uncharted series has always featured a seamless transition between its platforming and third person shooter gameplay. Naughty Dog are known for their excellent platform skills, and Drake’s jumping from ledges to chandeliers to poles or whatever else he can grab onto is flawless in execution. The gunplay, however, remains a bit of a burden on the series.

Simply put, little has changed with the game’s combat system, so the same annoyances remain in place. The shooting system feels dated and rough around the edges, and there are a few too many set-pieces that rely heavily on long gunfights. The new addition of being able to throw back tossed grenades is a welcome one, but it does not excise the occasionally awkward shooting controls. Thankfully, the campaign is spaced out with good variety for the most part, making these moments a minor annoyance more than a burst of frustration.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception [PS3, 2011]

Unfortunately, while Uncharted 3 boasts a beefy multiplayer mode, it requires an online pass ($9.99) to use it (unless you buy the game new). Outside of the co-op missions, I never really fell in love with the online features in this series, so I cannot justify spending an extra $9.99 on something I will not get maximum value for. If you are into the multiplayer aspects, you might be better off just buying this new.

Even though Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception still suffers from minor gameplay issues, the single player campaign is still a blast to play. This is as close as you’re going to get to a *good* Indiana Jones game, complete with outrageous action scenes that will make your heart race. This also may be the best-looking game I have seen yet in this current console generation, as the attention to graphical details is impeccable. If you have been following the series, you ought to do yourself a favor and finish the trilogy. I would consider it a toss-up between Drake’s Deception and Uncharted 2 as to which is the best, and both are absolutely worth playing.

8.5/10