Video Game Review: Bloodrayne: Betrayal [XBLA, 2011]

Bloodrayne: Betrayal [XBLA, 2011]

Bloodrayne: Betrayal
System: Xbox 360 (also available on PS3)
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: WayForward
Release Date: September 7, 2011

It’s been a while since I have both equally loved and hated a video game like I do with Bloodrayne: Betrayal. I haven’t played either of the series’ first two games (both on PS2/Xbox) or seen Uwe Boll’s critically-despised movie adaptations, but this is not important since Betrayal represents a ‘reboot’ of sorts for the titular character.

First and foremost, Bloodrayne: Betrayal is a 2D side-scrolling beat ’em up with platforming elements, and its gameplay harkens back to gaming classics such as the early Castlevania titles. I also noticed similarities to the Contra series, both of which are personal favorites of mine. I am a sucker for old school throwbacks, and Betrayal almost feels like a modernized remake of a long lost title from that era, right down to its extreme difficulty.

Seriously, this is one of the most punishing games I have played in a while. There are some downright brutal spots in the game that made me want to smash my controller, a feeling that I have not had in ages. The beat ’em up gameplay is not so bad once you get the hang of it, but there are some insanely tricky platforming sections that cause a significant amount grief. Two chapters in particular are especially difficult due to having to time Rayne’s jumps perfectly while dodging enemies and buzzsaws at the same time. Chapter 13 alone is the stuff of nightmares. Needless to say, this game isn’t for the faint of heart.

I felt pretty damn proud of myself to complete some of the more challenging levels, but when I was finished the game gave me an “F” rating every time, calling me “worm food” in the process. Talk about demoralizing. Yet like a good little gamer, I kept coming back for more, and continued to get better as I went along. Finding hidden skulls in each level can provide increases in health and weapon supplies, and this helps out a little bit. I also noticed a significant improvement in my performance while revisiting earlier levels, which was certainly a good feeling.

The game has fifteen chapters in all, and it rewards playing through them multiple times in order to find the aforementioned skulls and to obtain a higher score, just like the good ol’ days. There are a decent variety of enemies, some simple and others disgusting, and Rayne has access to a good amount of combat moves/tricks.

Even if you can tolerate the game’s harder-than-usual difficulty like myself, Betrayal is not without flaws. For one, the in-game tutorials are not helpful at all. In one of the early chapters, I got stuck at a part where I had to jump on the heads of enemy flies in order to reach a higher point. Well, the tutorial never popped up for me so I had no clue how to actually land on them without falling back down. After some trial and error, I found a helpful moves list in the menu, but it would have been nice to see this pop up like it was supposed to.

Another issue I had was with the sometimes spotty controls. This was most noticeable while going through some of the platforming areas since they require extreme precision to complete. I cannot count how many times I died just because Rayne’s animation pushed her over a little farther than anticipated. Thankfully checkpoints are common, as every little bit helps here. Also, there were moments where it seemed the game was more difficult than it needed to be simply because Rayne’s animations would take too long and allow enemies to get in some cheap hits while she was down. If you are quick enough, you can find a way around this, but it takes some time to get the hang of it.

Bloodrayne: Betrayal [XBLA, 2011]

Still, even though Rayne’s animations can sometimes take a little long to complete, it must be said that the game is absolutely gorgeous. The visuals are done in a style similar to anime, and they are a definite highlight of the game. Animations are fluid, and combat can get obscenely violent at times; this makes for some joyous eye candy on screen. Blood flies out of enemies (and Rayne herself, if you are not careful), and occasionally spurts out Kill Bill-style. It’s a blast to look at, and it helps that the game is backed by an incredible soundtrack that sounds a hell of a lot like what was used in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s a good fit for this title, and aesthetically the game is hard to top.

How much you will like Bloodrayne: Betrayal comes down to how difficult you like your games. If you grew up on the Castlevania and Contra games of yore, you will feel right at home here. If you are instantly turned off to a game if you struggle to get through a level, then this likely isn’t for you. With some tweaks here and there, Bloodrayne: Betrayal could have been a more consistently great adventure, but it still worth looking into if you’re up for a good challenge.


Video Game Review: LittleBigPlanet [Playstation 3, 2008]

LittleBigPlanet [Playstation 3, 2008]

System: Playstation 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Media Molecule
Release Date: October 27, 2008

Never before have I played a game that provides so many customization options and thrives almost entirely because of user-generated content.

LittleBigPlanet is a side-scrolling platformer that comes with eight themed worlds of pre-made levels, as well as a handful of unlockable mini-games. You control Sackboy (or Sackgirl/Sackperson, depending on your gender), a charming rag doll that can be decorated in any way imaginable. This is a common theme because nearly everything in the game can be edited. The ultimate goal in each level is to go from beginning to end, racking up points and finding sticker bubbles that can be used for further customization. All of the levels can be played with 1-4 players, both online and offline.

Although many of the game’s provided levels are imaginative and full of life, the platforming aspects aren’t really anything new. Sackboy only has three functions: running, jumping and using the action button (to grab onto objects, hit switches, etc.). The game uses three levels of depth on the 2D plane, meaning Sackboy can move from the foreground, middle and background while moving from left to right. While this is an interesting dynamic to basic platforming, the controls are a tad too touchy and therefore cause unnecessary problems with perception. There were many times when I would attempt to jump onto an object, only to have Sackboy go off to another plane and miss the jump altogether. I appreciate the depth provided by this feature, but it could have really been more polished.
LittleBigPlanet excels for one reason: its creative community. The game provides the option to create your own levels with a surprisingly in-depth yet easy-to-use system. Gamers have really taken this option and ran with it, as the online community has thousands of uploaded levels, many of which are absolutely brilliant. Some people have made truly innovative worlds of varying themes and difficulties. There are also countless fan-made homages and tributes to other games, everything from Super Mario to Dead Space to Fatal Frame. You name it, there is probably some sort of LittleBigPlanet version online. Seriously, this is where the game becomes worth its cost.

Don’t let LittleBigPlanet’s “cutesy” look deter you from giving it a shot. The “Play, Create, Share” idea works out very, very well here. Even though the platforming gameplay isn’t all that original, the sheer amount of customization and community output puts this on a whole ‘nother level. With more polished controls, I would be an even bigger fan of the game. I didn’t spend too much time creating levels simply because I prefer to play them instead, but if that’s your thing then feel free to bump up my rating even higher. I am eager to play LBP2 to see how much the sequel improved upon the original’s ideas.

LittleBigPlanet is very cheap these days, and if you have the option then make sure to pick up the Game of the Year Edition. This comes with additional levels (including an awesome series of Metal Gear Solid missions) and some clothing packs for Sackboy.


Video Game Review: Crash Bandicoot [Playstation, 1996]

Crash Bandicoot [Playstation, 1996]

Crash Bandicoot
System: Playstation
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: August 31, 1996

It is easy to see why Crash Bandicoot caught on as the Playstation’s mascot in 1996. Crash was charming, quirky and charismatic, and he fell in line with other popular offbeat animal mascots at the time (Sonic the Hedgehog, Tasmanian Devil, etc.). His first game, aptly titled Crash Bandicoot, is a platforming adventure that is a hybrid of both 3D and 2D styles. The graphics are strictly 3D and hold up surprisingly well today, but the game plays more like a 2D platformer than anything else.

Crash has 32 levels set on three islands, and there are a good mix of styles as the game progresses. Some levels are traditional horizontal side-scrolling fare, whereas others have Crash moving vertically instead. Every now and then a different spin on these levels will appear. For instance, an early level has Crash running frantically toward the bottom of the screen while avoiding obstacles in order to outrun a giant boulder. This variety keeps things fresh from beginning to end.

Crash Bandicoot [Playstation, 1996]

For the most part, the gameplay is fairly formulaic. Each level has enemies and crates scattered throughout. Enemies can kill Crash in one hit (unless he is powered by the popular Aku Aku character), although they can be taken care of either by performing a carefully timed spin attack or by simply jumping on them. The crates bear helpful items, including fruits (collect 100 for an extra life) and extra life tokens. Pretty basic stuff, but it works.

Crash Bandicoot has two glaring problems that hold it back from potential greatness. 1) The save system is royally fucked. In order to save your progress, you have to find three unique items in a level and then finish a brief bonus round, some of which can be tricky to complete. This is a very off-kilter system, and it is not very effective. Crash is not an easy game, and it is possible to complete 2-3 levels, die, and then have to start right back from square one because you missed out on the bonus round. It’s amazing that someone thought this was a good idea. 2) The controls are so finicky that they can cause cheap deaths, and this happens far too often. Since the game can only be played using the D-Pad, this setup is far from optimal. Thankfully this would be rectified in future games.

Even with these two weaknesses, Crash Bandicoot is definitely enjoyable. There may be times when you will want to smash your controller, but the game has such a fun atmosphere that it’s hard to stay mad at it for long. This is an admirable first effort for a once-great franchise.