Video Game Review: Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Spelunky
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC and Xbox 360)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Platformer
Developer: Derek Yu, Blitworks (PSN)
Publisher: Mossmouth
Price: $14.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: August 27, 2013

Spelunky is one of the most infuriating games I have played all year.

It’s also ridiculously fun and insanely addicting.

Originally a 2009 PC game, the 2D cave-exploring sensation known as Spelunky received an enhanced release on the Xbox 360 last summer. Last month this upgraded edition made its way back to PC while also hitting the Playstation Network for the first time. The PSN release happens to be a cross-buy title, meaning one purchase nets you both the PS3 and Vita versions. For the sake of this review, I focused on the Vita, and for good reason: Spelunky is especially efficient in bite-sized gaming sessions (and it’s only ~100 MB!).

The game’s general concept revolves around you, an unnamed adventurer, who must make his way from top-to-bottom in a series of randomized dungeons, all while collecting loot and upgrades along the way. Each level is full of a wide variety of dangers. The first world, the mines, is filled with snakes, spiders and spikes, just to name a few obstacles. Falling into the spikes results in instant death, forcing you to start all the way back from the beginning. Later worlds, such as the jungle and an ice cave, present even graver difficulties.

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Every new game starts you off with four hearts (touching an enemy = loss of one heart), four bombs and four ropes. The bombs are incredibly helpful for paving your own way through each area, and they can be used to wipe out enemies and find hidden treasure. The ropes are used to get to locations unreachable by jumping, or to descend lower without having to take a huge fall. More of these items can be found within each level, and occasionally a shopkeeper even shows up with new upgrades for sale. His items are random, and they range from machetes to jetpacks to cameras, all of which can be crucial survival tools.

Each level has its own little quirks and secrets, and because of its randomized nature, you never know what you’re going to get. There is one constant, however; hidden somewhere in each level is a damsel in distress (which can amusingly be turned into a pug in the game’s settings). Rescue her and you’ll get one extra heart added to your life — these are critical to your success, and it is almost always worth the effort to save her.

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Spelunky has so many secrets, such as hidden rooms and characters, that there is *always* something new to discover. I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled upon the black market — a new room where seemingly every item in the game can be purchased. Too bad I didn’t have much gold on me at the time.

Now, as this is a roguelike title, the permanent deaths and constant restarts can be an exercise in patience. The obscene difficulty can be a huge turn off at first, but if you stick with it, the game is immensely rewarding. I can’t say I have ever played a game that made me jump for joy just for being able to reach the second world! It takes time to learn the behavior of every enemy, as while as how to avoid booby traps, but with every game you will get better. The game never feels cheap, as everything acts as it is supposed to. Enemies can fall to their death onto a bed of spikes just like you. It’s because of these consistencies that Spelunky truly works — it doesn’t resort to cheap tactics to raise its difficulty.

Outside of the main adventure mode, there is an option to play deathmatches. This throws four characters into a cramped environment where they fight to the death by throwing bombs, using powerups, etc. It’s basically a throwaway addition to the game, but it can be a fun diversion with friends.

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

One nice perk about the PSN edition is that the game can be played LAN-style between the Vita and PS3. This means that two players can do a co-op campaign with one person using the Vita, and the other playing on the PS3. It’s an incredibly cool addition, and it’s something I would love to see other games do. There is no online multiplayer, unfortunately, but that’s not a huge loss given the game’s splendid local options.

In the end, Spelunky is a clever little title that works perfectly on the Vita. Its addictive exploration gameplay and randomized dungeons offer seemingly endless replay value, and its small download size means it will earn a permanent place on my memory card. There is a demo available so you can try this for yourself, but chances are you will get hooked just like I did.

9/10

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

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Video Game Review: Urban Trial Freestyle [PS Vita]

Urban Trial Freestyle [PS Vita]

Urban Trial Freestyle
System: PS Vita (also on PS3 and 3DS)
Genre: Platform/Racing
Publisher: Tate Multimedia
Developer: Tate Interactive
Price: $9.99 ($7.99 with PS+)
Release Date: February 19, 2013

When Urban Trial Freestyle was announced a few months ago, it was pretty clear that it was meant to be Sony’s answer to the Xbox-exclusive Trials series. The screenshots and later gameplay footage looked identical to Red Lynx’s popular downloadable games, and in case we weren’t sure, the word “Trial” was even included in its name. Now that it’s released, it’s official: Urban Trial Freestyle is essentially a poor man’s Trials HD/Evolution.

Urban Trial Freestyle [PS Vita]

The same core gameplay is in place — you take control of a nameless dude on a motorcycle, with the goal being to make it to the end of a course as fast as possible. There are 20 tracks in total, making for 40 levels since each is played twice. Aside from the standard “trials” where the clock keeps ticking even after you crash your bike, some levels throw in a handful of mini-games. These include hitting a jump as high as possible, riding fast through a speed zone, and aiming precisely for the target of a bullseye. The better you do, the more points you get.

These mini-games are noted in advance by large billboards that show the current record (either worldwide or your personal one, depending on your preference) as well as a picture of the record-holder. These billboards add a new dimension to the competitive nature of the game, as it’s fun to see just who exactly you’re up against. Since the game is still brand new, I was able to set records with relative ease in the later levels. If you see an orange cat, that’s me.

Urban Trial Freestyle [PS Vita]

In an interesting twist, each level also includes $5000 worth of money scattered around. Some money bags are near unmissable, but others require some backtracking and/or slick maneuvering to acquire. This in-game cash can be used to upgrade your bike (of which there is only one), or to customize your character (again, only one). Since it’s not hard to accrue cash, it’s possible to have your ride decked out pretty early.

And that’s pretty much it as far as gameplay differences go. The in-game physics are finely tuned, though the lack of analog gas/brake triggers doesn’t allow for the most precise of movement. Courses are generally well-designed, if mostly bland in appearance. The same could be said for the graphics and sound departments — perfectly acceptable, but not particularly memorable.

Urban Trial Freestyle [PS Vita]

Urban Trial Freestyle is not a bad game by any means, but it could have been so much more. The difficulty is marginal at best, and the campaign can be completed in just a few hours. It will take longer to go through and acquire five stars on every track, as well as gain all of the cash bags, but I suspect most won’t have the motivation to do so. This is in direct contrast to the Trials games, which featured some truly challenging (and well-made) tracks near the end, while also including an impressive array of community-created content. UTF could just really use *more* content.

Still, for $9.99 (or $7.99 with Playstation Plus), this isn’t a bad deal. The short levels (all of which last less than two minutes) are perfect for portable gaming, and overall this is a decent substitute for the Trials experience.

6.5/10

 
Note: Although this is also on PS3, this is not a cross-buy title. If you want to play both, it will cost roughly $25. The PS3 version is said to have improved graphics and more detailed levels.

Video Game Review: Trials Evolution [XBLA]

Trials Evolution [XBLA]

Trials Evolution
System: Xbox Live Arcade
Genre: Platform, Racing
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: RedLynx
Release Date: April 18, 2012

Now THIS is how you make a sequel.

Trials Evolution takes everything that made its predecessor, Trials HD, so great but increases it tenfold. The same physics-based motorcycle platforming gameplay returns, but now it is sharper than ever with more refined controls and a larger variety in environments.

While Trials HD put you squarely in abandoned warehouses with little differences visually, Evolution gives you the great outdoors. The vast majority of the game’s levels take place outside, showing bright blue skies, vivid scenery and huge dirt hills (among other obstacles). The tracks are also much more spacious than before, as no longer do you feel contained to a single, tiny line. It’s quite the contrast from before, and the new environments really help give the game a brand new look. There are even levels where the camera rotates as you approach a twist in the track, something once unheard of. This doesn’t feel like a rehashed Trials HD; this feels like a brand new game.

Trials Evolution [XBLA]

A different campaign progression system is in place. This time around, tracks are unlocked after earning a certain amount of medals. Gold medals are worth three points, silver two, and bronze one. It takes 135 points to unlock the notoriously brutal ‘Extreme’ tracks, so perfecting some of the easier levels is a must. Technically, unlocking ‘Extreme’ is considered beating the game, but any Trials veteran knows this is hardly the case. This is a game that is infinitely replayable since there is always the ability to improve upon your race times, and also to attempt to beat your friends (or those on the leaderboard).

Brand new to Trials Evolution is the addition of a multiplayer mode. This adds even more replay value, as now you can race against others online, either visibly on the same track or against their “ghost” forms. Matchmaking is still a little rough at spots, but it is a blast when you get a good group of people playing. Just a heads up, though: there are A LOT of great players online, enough to potentially make you feel bad about your skills (even if you are really good as well).

Trials Evolution [XBLA]

Another killer improvement is the revamped user creation system. The level editor is loaded with features, and the sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to what you can do. Perhaps most welcome is the addition of a more useful sharing system. Now you don’t have to send created tracks from peer-to-peer — they can be downloaded via a main portal instead. It’s easier than ever to find/share new content.

The bottom line is that Trials Evolution is an improvement in every sense of the word, and it is one of the best sequels I have ever played. Fans of the original absolutely must play this, and anyone interested in racing, platforming and/or physics puzzlers should give this a shot. Don’t let the dirtbikes and godawful rap metal music throw you off — this is a very well-made game that is more than worth its $15 price tag.

9/10

 
 
For those curious about just how awesome the user community is for Trials Evolution, check out this amazing fanmade track with a kickass music theme:

Video Game Review: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune [Playstation 3, 2007]

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune [PS3, 2007]

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
System: Playstaton 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: November 16, 2007

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a hybrid action/platforming game that plays out as if it were a summer blockbuster movie. High production values, top-notch voice acting, over-the-top cinematics — its got it all. The game has a similar storyline to Indiana Jones movies and Dirk Pitt novels. You play as Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter who claims to be a descendant of English explorer Sir Francis Drake. Nathan is on a quest to find the famed artifact known as El Dorado, a giant golden idol hidden somewhere deep in the jungle. As any good fortune-hunting movie would have, Drake is accompanied at times by two supporting characters: Victor Sullivan, a grizzled cigar-chomping veteran who has a penchant for telling old travel stories, and Elena Fisher, a snarky reporter trying to land her next big news story. The plotline is hardly anything groundbreaking, but it is entertaining enough, especially since it is aided by some strong fleshed-out characters.

As mentioned earlier, Uncharted is a combination of an action/shooting game and a platformer. Since the game was created by Naughty Dog (Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter), the platforming sections are designed rather well. While some platforming games get beyond frustrating due to touchy controls and mistimed jumps, Uncharted really excels in that department. Nathan is able to make some pretty incredible jumps, and the game is more forgiving when you are off by just a little bit since it usually allows him to desperately cling to the edge and pull himself up. The platforming areas are genuinely fun, as Nate traverses some large rooms by jumping along the walls, using vines, ledges, chandeliers and whatever else he can land on.

The combat, however, is where the game could use some work. The main enemies are pirates who are racing to get the treasure first, and they are all over the freakin’ place. The enemies themselves are not the problem, although some more variety would have been nice. I was more disappointed with the actual shooting aspects. I couldn’t tell you how many times I emptied a dozen rounds of an AK-47 into a pirate just to see him stumble around like he was drunk. Really, it should not take more than a few shots to down an enemy. Not a huge problem, but an inconvenience nonetheless.

Where Uncharted really excels is in its presentation. It is no exaggeration when I say that this game truly feels like you are playing a movie, and it is helped greatly by its impressive visuals. Even for a relatively early PS3 title, Uncharted’s graphics are stunning. The jungle comes alive with lush green colors, the animations are virtually perfect, and the attention to detail is just remarkable. One neat aspect that stood out to me: if you end up in the water, Drake will emerge with his clothes soaking wet. Cutscenes are interchangeable from the regular graphics, as the same engine is used for both. Throw in a strong musical score and high-quality voice acting and you have a memorable experience.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is simply a blast from beginning to end, even with the occasional repetitive combat and agitating shooting mechanics. You are going to have to suspend disbelief with this one — which shouldn’t be a problem if you enjoy Indiana Jones at all — because Nathan Drake does a lot of things a normal guy couldn’t do. But hey, this is a video game, and playing games is all about having a good time. Uncharted is a fun ride and doesn’t require much thinking, just like a good summer blockbuster movie. I greatly enjoyed playing through the game, and I can’t wait to play its allegedly even better sequel.

8/10