Tagged: Vita

Win a Free Copy of SteamWorld Dig for PSN!

swdtitle When SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt launched on the 3DS eShop last year, it blew pretty much everyone away with its cyber/western/retro flavored mashup of Dig Dug and Metroidvania. Reviewers had a ton of fun with the game – IGN named it the Best 3DS platformer of 2013 (go read my review!) – but we also had fun working silly/obligatory puns into our reviews like “Dig It” and “Dig Deep.” Now SteamWorld Dig is about to launch on PSN, and to celebrate, we’re giving away 3 North American download codes courtesy of developer Image & Form Games!

To enter, all you have to do is reply to this post with your best attempt at a SteamWorld-related pun, then sign it with your Twitter handle (you have to be on Twitter!) and follow @nvsblgamer and @ImageForm. We’ll pick three of the punniest comments below and DM you a free copy of the game to play on your PS4/Vita (cross buy, baby!) once the  North American PSN update goes live later today, March 18th.

Check out our official contest rules… no cheating! The contest will be closed at 5PM EST, or once we’ve received three eligible responses. Winners will be contacted this evening via Twitter DM once we’ve made our selections!

Killzone: Mercenary Review

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When the PS Vita was first announced, minds raced and shooter fans rejoiced at the prospect of seeing their favorite FPS series finally play properly on a handheld device. Of course, games like Call of Duty: Roads to Victory and Resistance: Retribution were released to satiate the bullet-crazy appetite of hungry PSP owners, but the physical limitations of the device—both the lack of a second analog stick and its weaker processing power—drastically affected the way in which these games could be played on the go. Early on in the Vita’s young lifespan, we’ve seen a shooter released from both of the aforementioned series. Coincidentally, both Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified were developed by Nihilistic Software. Looking at that company’s track record (now under the name “NStigate Games”), it’s much less of a surprise that both of those games turned out to be underwhelming, with Black Ops Declassified universally considered to be one of the worst games on the entire platform.

Thus, gamers who had played either of those were wary when Sony announced that a third AAA shooter, Killzone: Mercenary, would be coming to the Vita, but early footage looked far more promising than any FPS on the system to date. In addition, the title’s development would be handled in house by Guerilla Cambridge, a sister studio to the creators of the console Killzone games. Perhaps it’s fitting that for a system struggling to climb out of a slump with shooters, Sony turned to what may just be the “most improved” series on the market today. Killzone: Mercenary continues that trend, as it’s one of the best-playing shooters to ever find its way onto a handheld.

As the name suggests, Killzone: Mercenary’s protagonist Arran Danner isn’t as overtly righteous as one might expect from a traditional soldier. After a horribly botched mission and the loss of a close friend, Danner’s work as a gun-for-hire quickly thrusts him into a massive war erupting between the ISA and the Helghast. Not only that, but after multiple hostage rescues end with complications, Danner’s morality and motivations are tested.

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This exposition sounds like it would lead to a deep, political thriller following Danner as he attempts to stop the loss of millions of lives, but Killzone: Mercenary’s roughly seven hour-long campaign barely taps into its true potential. The plot moves forward at such a rapid pace that it’s almost impossible to gauge why some events are happening. We may know that an event has happened, but to truly place it within the context of an ongoing narrative (both within the game and the entire series), it would require a greater amount of time focusing on events and the characters driving them, but perhaps it’s best that the latter was not the case; Killzone: Mercenary features some of the blandest characters I’ve encountered in years. In addition to the completely silent Arran Danner, the many villains and all but one of the game’s supporting characters feel like caricatures as opposed to real people. Attempting to make the sensitive plot work in harmony with the characters would have been a sight to see, but unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

However, as mentioned earlier, Killzone: Mercenary is one of the best playing shooters available on handheld. Even with a fairly boring plot to drive Danner’s actions, the game feels very close to what one would expect from a full console release. Aiming and firing Mercenary’s assault rifles, pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, rockets and sniper rifles feels excellent, with a reduction in recoil to compensate for the Vita’s smaller analog sticks. Hit detection is also impressive, although a few unusual scenarios (one involving a tank gunner) led to some minor frustration.

To utilize the PS Vita’s control scheme to its fullest—and to compensate for some of its shortcomings—Killzone: Mercenary remaps some traditional shooter functions to places that feel a little foreign to longtime fans of the genre. Triangle, for instance, does not switch weapons; instead, the right d-pad button handles this function, and triangle is used for both contextual actions and for instigating melee kills, which are finished with a swipe of the touch screen. Mercenary also avoids the common mistake of over-using the touch screen to validate the game’s existence on a portable platform. It’s only used for melee attacks and interrogations, hacking mini-games, and a few “VAN-guard” attacks, chosen in loadouts and occasionally available as drop-pod devices to deal extra damage. The game not only manages to translate all console functions to a handheld, but it simplifies actions that would otherwise be a chore on the Vita’s big brother. During the bulk of the campaign, these Vita-specific features aren’t especially important, but they help to establish Killzone: Mercenary as the first Vita shooter to perform two necessary functions: it’s instantly familiar to console gamers, but it could only exist on the Vita platform.

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Of course, with a name like “Mercenary,” it makes sense for the game to put a heavy emphasis on making the big bucks throughout each mission. Players receive money for shooting enemies, using stealth, or even the occasional combo explosion kill, but they’re also rewarded for replaying missions in the form of contracts. Much like the recently released Splinter Cell Blacklist (free of all colons!), Killzone: Mercenary utilizes a few different play-styles, each offering unique challenges and objectives over the course of a mission. However, unlike Splinter Cell Blacklist, Killzone: Mercenary is a very fast-paced game; stopping to complete very specific tasks just isn’t very fun.

While undoubtedly technically superior to both Black Ops Declassified and Burning Skies, Killzone: Mercenary is by no means a technical marvel. Draw distance is very impressive, especially considering the high number of long-distance shots present due to the game’s excellent level design, and cinematics smartly ditch the game’s engine for pre-rendered scenes to set up missions. However, Killzone: Mercenary also suffers from some problems that are both familiar and new to the PS Vita. Fire and explosions still look atrocious, almost as if they weren’t finished, and “brutal melee” kills that should look, well, brutal, are not very detailed. The frame rate can also take an occasional dip, but this problem is limited to just a few areas. That’s not to say that Killzone: Mercenary looks bad, but when stacked up against the breathtaking Uncharted: Golden Abyss, it leaves something to be desired.

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Perhaps Killzone: Mercenary’s best feature is its online multiplayer mode. “Perhaps,” because during play-testing for this review, I encountered a grand total of zero people to play with. This is obviously not the game’s fault, but all multiplayer impressions I was able to take away were from the beta that began a few weeks earlier. It showcased a multi-leveled map called “Shoreline” and ran extremely smoothly. In fact, everything looked just as crisp as the game’s campaign, and “Warzone”, the beta’s showcased mode, offers a variety of objectives such as interrogating injured enemies, hacking terminals, or grabbing “valor cards,” a feature highly reminiscent of the “Kill Confirmed” mode in Call of Duty. It’s a shame that this couldn’t be tested further, as Mercenary’s multiplayer looks to be the star of the show. Should the final multiplayer drastically alter from what I experienced, the review score will be amended.

It isn’t as polished as its console counterparts, but Killzone: Mercenary is definitely worthy of a shooter-hungry Vita owner’s money. Even though it’s tough to get over some of the cheesy dialogue and cookie-cutter characterization, Guerilla Cambridge accomplished its goal: this is a solid first-person shooter on a portable system optimized and desperate for the genre.

B

Invisible Gamer’s Killzone: Mercenary review was based on final retail code provided to us by Sony.

Guacamelee Review

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Immediately upon finishing Guacamelee, I turned my Vita off and packed it away with all the other game systems I rarely use. It wasn’t that I’d hated the game, or been embarrassed by how much time I’d wasted on it; in fact, I was ready to dive back in as soon as the credits stopped rolling! No, the truth of the matter is, I’d been so overwhelmingly impressed with the game – a game I knew next to nothing about only a few days before it launched – that I wasn’t sure my initial feelings would hold up once I sat down to write about it. So, for a week, I thought long and hard about the game, and tried to determine objectively whether it was really as good as it seemed.

More than a week later, I’m still thinking about Guacamelee. About its enigmatic opening moments. About Chivo, the sassy man-goat-wizard that threatened to go out with my mom every time I committed one of gaming’s oldest, most accepted sins (smashing stuff!). About the citizens of Pueblucho and Santa Luchita, who reminded me of my funny in-laws, and about the game’s rural guitar medleys and upbeat trumpet anthems that transformed into dusty funeral dirges whenever I swapped dimensions between the world of the living and the world of the dead. But mostly, I haven’t stopped thinking about the experience of playing Guacamelee, which is such a dead ringer for my all-time favorite game, Super Metroid, that I relished every single moment it allowed me to indulge what I’m now convinced is my most long-repressed fantasy: pursuing supernatural justice as an undead luchador. Thanks, DrinkBox!

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As I’ve mentioned at least a few times this week, I’m of the opinion that Super Metroid is the greatest game ever made. And that’s not because I’m a Nintendo fanboy, nor because I’m blind to the many advances in game design that have developed over the past two decades. No, what makes Super Metroid so great is that it was the first game to strike a perfect balance between prescribed narrative and open exploration. In doing so, it paved the way for three generations of games that gave players the tools to tell their own stories. Grand Theft Auto III, Skyrim, Minecraft – none of these would exist without Super Metroid. It was both the pinnacle of 2D game design, and the precursor to everything that has come since.

Guacamelee takes everything great about Super Metroid, updates it with current production values, then sucks out all of the dreadful pretention to Hollywood that has come to define modern game design. The result is a superb, open-ended adventure wrapped in a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek celebration of gaming for gaming’s sake. On the surface, this means the game is crammed with little references to developer DrinkBox Studios’ many influences – references like Metroid’s Chozo statues, and Zelda’s chickens, and Minecraft’s pickaxes. On a deeper level, DrinkBox isn’t afraid to poke fun at players and the games they grew up loving, because it’s a love the developer clearly shares. Yes, there’s a silly narrative about a guy with a mustache rescuing a princess from an evil so-and-so with nefarious plans for something or other, and a fun cast of supporting characters to propel it all forward, but the entirety of the game’s delightful presentation would amount to nothing if the underlying gameplay wasn’t up to snuff. Luckily, DrinkBox knows how to make a good game. And with Guacamelee, they’ve made not only the best game available for PS3 or Vita, but quite possibly the best game ever released on a PlayStation platform.

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As farmer-turned-luchador Juan Aguacate, players are dropped into a vast, interconnected set of forests, caverns, mountains, and ruined temples, free to wander in search of hidden power-ups and enemies to wallop with the game’s highly versatile combo system. As you tread new ground, the map automatically fills in to reflect the places you’ve been, while still-dark areas tease tantalizing secrets you’ve yet to uncover. Exploration is tied organically to the abilities you discover as you maneuver the game’s various environments; for instance, you won’t be able to break through red blocks until you’ve unlocked the Rooster Uppercut. Some abilities and upgrades can be purchased with coins earned by defeating the various undead pistoleros, giant skeletons, midget demons and flying chupacabras you’ll encounter on your travels, but many others are tied to specific story beats or side quests, meaning you’ll have to be fully engaged with the game’s narrative and quirky cast of characters if you want to unlock Juan’s full potential.

While it’s totally worth taking the time to see everything Guacamelee has to offer, some of Juan’s abilities are optional, and if you’re clever enough to figure out how to get by without them (and willing to ignore most of what gives the game its color), you can access parts of the map much earlier than the narrative dictates. This so-called “sequence-breaking,” where players exploit weaknesses in a game’s programming to bypass huge chunks of gameplay, is the foundation upon which the speedrunning subculture of gaming was born, and though games aren’t typically programmed with speedrunners in mind, many modern developers will deliberately leave such exploits in a game’s final code as a way to extend replay value. The presence of an online leaderboard that tracks completion time and item collection percentage is pretty strong evidence Guacamelee caters to speedrunners, but for those hardcore players who aren’t convinced, there’s also this:

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There’s so much more to say about this game, but I’ve carried on quite enough already. Maybe the game flew under your radar because of an exceptionally strong first quarter of releases for 2013; maybe you forgot about it with all the hubbub surrounding the PlayStation 4. And maybe, like me, you had no idea the game even existed until recently. None of that matters. If you love video games, you simply cannot ignore Guacamelee. It just might be the best game you’ll ever play.

A-Plus

Sly Cooper Thieves in Time Review

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The day of the platformer has passed. During this console generation (albeit for a few exceptions), 3D, cartoonish platformer games have seemed to go the way of the dodo; there simply aren’t many being developed. Sony seemed to follow this trend, as they put two of their fan-favorite franchises, Jak and Sly, on the backburner for the greater portion of the PS3′s life-cycle. Thankfully, developer Sanzaru Games has stepped up to resurrect the Sly Cooper franchise after an eight year hibernation, and for the most part, they succeed with flying colors. Although the gameplay seems archaic and simplistic at times, Sly Cooper Thieves in Time provides a solid and enjoyable ride through the Cooper’s family history.

Set after the events of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, Sly, Bentley, and Murray discover that pages of the Thievius Raccoonus are disappearing, and it’s up to them, with the aid of Bentley’s newly invented time machine, to fix history and restore the book to its former glory. It’s a silly and non-sensical plot that doesn’t quite take itself seriously, providing for some truly laugh worthy moments. It does venture into serious territory  but for the most part, they end up stumbling. What should be a heart-wrenching and painful moment is usually bypassed with a quick cliché or two. The series signature sense of humor runs rampant here, from Star Wars and Back to the Future references, to plays on famous movie scenes like the Rocky training montages. The dialoge and actions of the characters are sure to make you laugh, making the journey much more enjoyable.

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In addition to the lovable gang from the previous series, Sly encounters many of his ancestors: a quiet and stoic Ninja, a rootin-tootin’ cowboy, and a few others. These ancestors, along with their unique gameplay mechanics and moves, provide for some different gameplay mechanics and story perspective. It’s not at all shocking to be playing a stealth mission, followed by a third person shooter segment; it works seamlessly. Each character has their own strengths, weaknesses, abilities to upgrade, and environmental locations that only they can explore. Switching between characters becomes quite enjoyable, and keeps the game from getting stale too quickly.

The environments and time periods that Sly visits are extremely beautiful. The cel-shaded art style shines on the PS3, even if many other games in this generation are more technically advanced. It’s a solid looking game that runs smoothly on the PS3, but less so on the Vita. In order to comply with processing and storage limitations, the cel-shading effect is practically gone, draw distances are cut, and the game runs at only 30 FPs. These visual degredations are noticeable, but they don’t detract too far from the overall experience. If you have the option, play it on the PS3, but the Vita version is more than an adequate substitute for when you can’t sit in front of your television. Load times can be an issue though, as you can be waiting upwards of 30 seconds to load into different areas of the game.

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Thieves in Time is one of the pioneer examples of how a cross-play game works on Sony’s PS3 and Vita. Cloud saving and downloading works flawlessly and instantly. There were times where I would upload to the cloud and be playing on my Vita in under a minute (minus the load times). If you choose to buy the PS3 version, the Vita version is included (as a digital download) for free. Plus, at $40, it becomes a game that is an excellent value right away on launch day.

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The Sly Cooper series is well-known for its easy to understand stealth gameplay, and this game continues that tradition. Each team member has their specialty, and throughout the game, they’re used to their full potential. Sly’s an excellent climber and sneaker, Bentley’s technological skills are unmatched, and Murray’s brawn clears the way for the team. It’s a trifecta that provides for some unique gameplay moments and collaboration that is rarely seen in this genre. Each team member’s missions have their own feel to them, keeping the player interested and involved throughout the entire game.

In additions to Sly’s playable ancestors, Sly uses his own costumes, expanding his skill set and abilities. Whether it be shooting arrows with an archery costume, or pouncing on enemies with a sabertooth skin wrapped around him, Sly always has the right tools for the job. Clue bottles, Sly Masks, and hidden treasures are strewn about the games main over worlds enticing players to stick around and explore. The rewards, though not necessary to the plot advancement, are valuable enough to endure the exploration process.

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The developers seem to have a slight obsession with mini games. Arrow shooting contests, twin stick shooters, dance competitions, and much more seem to pop up every few missions, and for the most part, they are fun. Some of the forced motion controls falter a bit on the PS3 version, but they are slightly more tolerable on the Vita. It’s nice to have a break from the gameplay every once in a while, but they sometimes seem arbitrarily placed in order to disguise the lack of content or mission variety in a given section of the game.

Overall, Sly Cooper Thieves in Time is a perfect homage to the series. It retains the old school platforming and stealth gameplay of its predecessors, while adding enough new content and gameplay mechanics to keep the series fresh. The story is witty and charming, driving you to push past any issues in order to reach its conclusions. It’s an excellent and solid title, that maybe plays it a bit to safe. Honestly, I wouldn’t rather have it any other way. Revolutionary it is not, but no other game in the past 6 years has made me feel like a young gamer again. It’s nice to simply play for the joy of playing, and not because it’s a “AAA blockbuster experience”. Some gamers may not find a lot new or innovative here, but underneath that lies one of the most enjoyable, charming, and retro-infused platformers of this generation.

B-Plus

Invisible Gamer Reacts: PlayStation 4

Yesterday, a couple of Invisible Gamers had a tête-à-tête over Sony’s reveal of their new home gaming platform, the PlayStation 4. Today, we reveal the secret, shocking truths contained within that conversation…hold on to your butts!

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MICHAEL: Well, let’s get this started. What’d you think?

BRIEN: Between the interactivity options, the social experience, and the lineup of games they introduced, there’s a lot to look forward to! We still need to know about form factor, price, and online, but so far I’m very excited.

MICHAEL: Listen, we’re obviously in opposite corners here, but I wasn’t impressed. Not that what they showed wasn’t interesting from a conceptual standpoint – there just weren’t any games shown that had me more excited than what’s already available (or has been previously announced) for PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U.

Also, as a handheld guy, It was great to see they’re improving the Vita cross-play experience for PS4, but there was no mention of any new Vita games, no Vita price drop, and just just nothing to convince me they’re thinking of the platform as anything more than a Wii U Gamepad for PS4.

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BRIEN: I think Andrew House was smart to get out of the way early in the presentation that this was not a PlayStation 3 event, this was not a PlayStation Vita event, this was a PlayStation 4 event. I can understand your frustration, but this wasn’t the time or place to announce anything other than “here is PlayStation 4″ and “it’s coming this year.” For what was a two-hour presentation, adding a focus on Vita would have made it overly long and take attention away from what they were trying to unveil. I’d like to see a clear and concise vision for the handheld’s future, but they had a message to drive home in New York: the PS4 is the future of not just your living room, but your social life.

That’s obviously in contrast to what you see at a venue like E3 where the show is beholden to more than one platform. But the things they mentioned for both PS3 and Vita were intriguing; Diablo and Destiny coming to the former, and massive integration into PS4 for the latter.

MICHAEL: Actually, they billed this event as “The Future of PlayStation.” I assumed Vita was part of that future, not just as a footnote. Remember when they billed the Vita as the future of your social life, but then all of that fancy technology and confusing social integration just gave way to another (admittedly awesome) way to play games? At least the social functions for PS4 seemed interesting – as someone who checks Miiverse regularly even though there isn’t always a game to play in the system, I’m certainly glad they’ve chosen to focus on offering services that will augment the experience and joy of playing games, versus giving out esoteric “game goods”. I still have no idea what to do with those on my Vita, and they pop up all the time.

As for the length of the presentation: it was already overly long, even with the focus staying on PS4.  Maybe we follow a different group of people on Twitter, but my feed was full of people (figuratively) throwing their hands up in exasperation over the length of the game demos, recycled tech demos from last E3, and clever concepts that looked suspiciously like failed experiments from last-gen consoles (hello, Wii Music!). It was interesting to see some of the luminaries from my youth spitting out words like “teraflops” like it was 1999 again, but I think they needed to focus on games and why those games were inherently better than anything I can already play on existing platforms. And they failed to do that.

BRIEN: Here’s what Sony needed to do yesterday: they needed to come out of the gate and say “we have a new console, it’s the PlayStation 4, and it’s coming this year.” And they did that. They needed to say “we know that developers didn’t like making games for PS3, so we’ve made it easier for them with PS4. And this is the system they want to be on.” And they did that. And they needed to get out in front of the competition and say “we’re here, now what do you have?” And they did that.

Anyone who’s working on a next-gen title can now say ‘yes, it’s for PlayStation 4′ (like we saw this morning with The Witcher 3), which gives Sony the brief, but powerful advantage of saying that their system is the only next gen-system (all due respect to Wii U) that these games have been announced for.

Also, don’t overlook the importance of Jonathan Blow and Bungie coming out on stage. These are developers who, whether through contract or circumstance, have been  essentially nonexistent on the PlayStation platform. And they were on stage and announcing timed exclusivity and exclusive content for the PS4. This kind of thing is normally in the realm of Microsoft, but Sony took a page from their competitor’s playbook, got out in front of things, and put themselves in a remarkably strong position.

MICHAEL: I agree with a lot of what you said, though I think it’s ludicrous to call PS4 the first next-gen system when so much of what makes the system “next-gen” has been lifted either in theory from the Wii U playbook or from hardware or services that have been available on PC for years. Also, having Jonathan Blow representing your brand isn’t a selling point, from my perspective. Braid was fun, sure, but far from deserving of the praise it received, and worse than that, this is a developer who publicly shits on practically every game everybody else has released in the past few years. Apparently if you’re not ripping off Myst, you’re not making a good game.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m far more likely to pick up a PS4 at this point than whatever Microsoft has up its sleeves. Vita integration is a key selling point for me – off-TV play has been a HUGE part of the Wii U experience for me – and Sony’s got a fantastic back catalog that I hope will be better represented through Gaikai than its current implementation on the PSN (though I’m really curious to see whether licensing and streaming issues have a negative effect on the new service.) But this presentation bored me. I wanted to see games, and there was nothing from Naughty Dog, thatgamecompany, or any other developer whose games I actually care about (except Watch Dogs, which I’ll be playing on Wii U.) I know that stuff will come. It just wasn’t there in New York.

BRIEN:  Yeah, it’s definitely important to show what Gaikai could be. While not every aspect of that service will be rolled out immediately (hello, TVii), the fact that they’re so hopeful on the future of that experience is important. Whether or not it ultimately succeeds, just being able to look at the future and say “this is what we want to do, and we think we can do it” is a good step to take.

MICHAEL: Okay, let’s wrap this up. Final thoughts on the PS4 reveal?

BRIEN: All in all, I was encouraged by it. Did they show everything that everyone wanted? Of course not. We’re a long way from Holiday 2013 – in the next four months we have GDC, PAX East, E3, Gamescom, SDCC, and TGS for Sony to hone the PS4′s image. But did they hit a “solid triple,” as Jeff Gertsmann said on Revision3′s post-show wrap? I think so. This was the reveal they needed to position themselves as the “first” next-gen console, all due respect to Nintendo. There’s a lot more to be said, and plenty of time to discern where this generation will eventually lead, but overall I was happy with the announcement, and I’m looking forward to the months to come. It’s exciting times.

MICHAEL: Definitely. Despite what you might think from my reactions so far, I’m really excited to see where Sony can go with the PS4. I don’t agree that anything the PS4 offers is any more next-gen than Wii U – it’s been years since we’ve been past the point of computational power and improved graphics processing adding anything inherently new to the gaming experience – but it’s definitely looking like the most viable platform for non-Nintendo gamers outside of PC. Time will tell if the platform or the console experience in general can continue to remain relevant in the face of things like Steam and the iPad, but if anyone can make this generation of gaming the best ever, it’s Sony with their stable of exclusive content.

Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable Review

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It’s not unusual for a console to receive ports of other games early in its life cycle. What makes Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable unique is which system it came from; what started off as 2007 Xbox 360 exclusive has migrated, in 2013, to Sony’s flagship handheld: the PlayStation Vita. Bringing with it a completely new character, new weapons, and ad-hoc multiplayer, EDF 2017 Portable is a mixed bag of content. This is by far one of the most unpolished, buggy, and poor looking games on the PlayStation Vita, yet at the same time, there’s no other experience like this on the market. Despite all of its bugs (pun most definitely intended), EDF 2017 Portable can be a fun, enjoyable experience. Sometimes.

As far as story goes, there’s a loose plot connected by intermittent cutscenes narrated by a cheesy and over-the-top narrator who details the impending outer space menace. Full of cheap lines, non-sensical plot twists, and abysmally annoying character voices, the narration makes you want to skip the cutscenes and get back to the gameplay as quickly as possible. Whether or not you find that gameplay enjoyable depends on how tolerant of the bugs you are. Both in story content and game design, bugs are a central part of EDF. Across its 60 levels, you’ll encounter numerous varieties of ants, spiders, mechs, spaceships, and giant dinosaur robots, and for the most part, it’ll feel like you’re shooting at paper maché models. Enemies crumple and die after only seconds, and their corpses litter the battlefield for far too long, preventing you from destroying the enemies behind them. At times like this, you’ll shake your head at what an unsatisfying mess the game is…and shake your head even harder when you realize you’re having fun, despite it.

This isn’t a great looking game. Environments feel barren and enemies look hobbled together and blocky. You’ll find yourself aimlessly running across each level for minutes at a time just to reach the next group of enemies, and it’s times like this where EDF becomes an exercise in monotony and tedium. Levels are unnecessarily large, and enemy spawns and groupings are ridiculously spread out. The pacing of the game fails in many places. Some missions will take as little as 1-2 minutes to complete, and others can take upwards of 20 as you spend 75% of your time running across the levels just to find an enemy.

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Animations and character models continually break in ways that can only be described as unnatural and amateur. The game feels low-budget and cheaply thrown together. The menu system is convoluted and unnecessarily complicated. As far as Vita specific features, the game adds some extra content to make this the better of the two packages, but the most intriguing part of the content, the new character, isn’t unlocked until you complete the game. It’s an unnecessary restriction designed to keep players playing for longer. EDF does offer a wide amount of content to the player, and fans of this game will be sure to stick around and play this for a while. With both local and online co-op, teaming up with friends makes this game more enjoyable than the lonesome and solitary experience of shooting all of these enemies on your own.

The controls are functional, but they can feel clumsy during hectic firefights. The lack of rumble on the handheld version is compensated through a screen shake when your player is hit, but this quickly becomes annoying and frustrating. There were plenty of times where the screen shaking made it impossible to aim. Many of the in-game cutscenes put your character in extreme danger by allowing enemies to still attack you while you are unable to defend yourself.

Levels can become extremely frustrating if you choose to bring the wrong weapons. When you choose an assault rifle and a shotgun, it becomes almost impossible to hit the spaceships that fly overhead. You can waste dozens of minutes trying to complete a level with the wrong set of weapons. The way you acquire weapons implements a unique risk-reward system: you pick up new weapons from enemy drops, but in order to grab them, you’ll have to put yourself into danger. Weapon drops are randomized, making it hard to judge whether it’s worth risking your life in order to acquire whatever weapon might be waiting for you.

Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable is an interesting game. It’s one of the worst put-together games I have played in a long time, but there were plenty of times where I was genuinely enjoying the game despite all of its issues. It’s a bug-filled mess that often frustrates more than it pleases – but those moments of pleasure somehow make the game worth coming back to. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you’re looking for something unique, the game’s cheesy atmosphere and simple concept provide something that few other games do these days: mindless fun with little need for an explanation. Despite it’s frequently poor presentation, it still manages to deliver small bursts of enjoyment. For the right price, this might be something you want to check out – just be prepared to deal with bugs. Lots of bugs.

C-Plus

Jetpack Joyride (Vita) Review

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I love endless runners. On touch devices, there’s not a whole lot you can do wrong with the genre. Tilt, swipe, tap, it all works well when you’re not directly controlling the movement of the character – they just keep going, and it’s your job to keep them out of the way of anything that will stop them! One of my great hopes for the PlayStation Vita is that we’d see many of the successful iOS and Android games ported faithfully over to the device, at reasonable cost. So far, it’s been slim pickings (though the PlayStation Mobile service is aiming to alleviate that). But one of the more popular mobile runners has finally found its way to the Vita, and at the right price of free. Yep, you heard me right: Jetpack Joyride is free.

Developer Halfbrick released the original Jetpack Joyride for Apple mobile devices in late 2011. A side-scrolling runner, Joyride is a wonderful blend of solid controls, fun mechanics and upgrades, a great visual style, and a sly sense of humor. As Barry Steakfries, you’re a daring thrill-seeker who steals a jetpack from a laboratory to take it for a spin. By touching the screen (or the rear touchpad on the Vita) Barry ignites the jetpack, allowing you to maneuver around obstacles ranging from missiles to laser walls and more. You begin with a Machine Gun jetpack, an unusual choice for a levitation device, but can upgrade to any number of others including a Bubble Gum jetpack, Rainbow Jetpack, even a Deck the Halls jetpack that looks awfully similar to a Christmas tree. Upgrades can be purchased by collecting coins scattered throughout your runs, or through microtransactions you purchase in-game (iOS, Android, Windows 8) or via the PlayStation Store (Vita, PS3).

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The beauty of Jetpack Joyride is in the simplicity and the frivolity. This isn’t a game that you’ll schedule your day around, but it is one that you might find yourself picking up and playing whenever the mood hits. Halfbrick has made returning to the game enjoyable by not taking themselves too seriously. Joyride is chock full of silliness, making fun of the absurdity of the medium, taking playful shots at their competitors (just take a look at one of their vehicles, the Profit Bird), and generally creating a fun experience that keeps on delivering. With a one-touch control mechanic, learning the ins and outs of jetting around is easy while mastering it is still challenging.

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The PlayStation Vita version is feature-identical to its mobile cousins, but may actually be the best way to play it if you have the device. While phones and tablets require you to touch their screens, impeding your view of the game if you’re not careful, the Vita allows you to use the back touchpad, eliminating any distraction from your progress. Furthermore, the Vita and PlayStation 3 versions include leaderboards to compare to your friends and a set of Trophies that’s sure to occupy the Achievement Seekers out there for days at a time, in addition to many more in-game achievements.

Before you grab your Vita or boot up your PS3 to grab this, I will issue a quick warning: there are two versions of Jetpack Joyride available for PlayStation owners. In November, a version of the game was published by Beatshapers as a PlayStation mini, and costing players $3.99. This version does not come equipped with Trophies—as is the case with all PSminis—and may or may not feature touch controls when downloaded to your Vita. Invisible Gamer does not know if the version that has been reviewed will remain free for all users, or if this is a temporary deal, so we recommend picking this up via the PlayStation Store immediately if you are interested.

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Jetpack Joyride is a blast, and a great addition to the Vita’s library. With lots of upgrades, outfits, and achievements to unlock, and being available for free, this is a game that should be a no-brainer to pick up. If the Vita can maintain a balance between amazing console-quality experiences like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and awesome time-wasters like Jetpack Joyride, there’s no reason the device can’t be successful. Now I have to run, just a few more coins to collect before I call it a night.

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Jetpack Joyride is available for PlayStation Vita, PlayStation Network, Android, iOS and Windows 8 devices, and Facebook. The Invisible Gamer review was based on the PlayStation Vita version, and limited time with the Android version.

Best of 2012: The Honorable Mentions!

2012 has been an amazing year for great video game experiences – such an amazing year, in fact, that I’ve found it impossible to limit my year-end best-of list to the customary 10 titles. The list of games you now see before you makes up what I’m calling this year’s “Honorable Mentions,” but honestly, any one of them is good enough to warrant a purchase. So read on, because you never know – your own game of the year might be tucked away somewhere in the list below!

Assassin’s Creed III (PC/PS3/Wii U/Xbox 360)

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Given the franchise’s popularity, you might be surprised to learn that Assassin’s Creed III is the first title in the series I’ve spent any considerable amount of time with, but there you have it: I was an Assassin’s Creed virgin until I played Ubisoft Montreal’s latest stealth action game for Wii U. And right up until the experience began to unravel near the very end of Connor’s campaign, I was fully onboard and ready to dive in to the rest of the series. A vast, beautiful, open world with a plethora of activities to keep you engaged in the downtime between missions? Check! An engaging story full of historical figures and Hollywood style familial dischord? Check! And oh, those naval missions! But here’s the thing: at the end of the day, none of it really amounts to a whole hell of a lot. The story fizzles out once the most interesting characters disappear from the narrative (with the only explanation being “you thought they liked you? Just kidding! They didn’t!”) The final mission is one of the most glitch-ridden, poorly paced excuses for gameplay I’ve ever experienced, and all those untold hours I spent hunting and fetching trinkets so I could craft better equipment didn’t make a lick of difference to the way I engaged enemies – I either killed them in stealth like the expert assassin I was supposed to be, or fumbled awkwardly through head-on battles when I couldn’t manage the element of surprise. And don’t get me started on the ending, which I’ll admit might’ve been less stupid in my eyes had I actually been invested in the characters. No, Assassin’s Creed 3 wasn’t Game of the Year material for me – not even close. But if you’re looking for a fun, lengthy romp through the American frontier and you’re tired of Red Dead Redemption, you could do far, far worse (see Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation.)

Crashmo (3DS)

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I’ve spent more time than is probably healthy solving and re-solving Crashmo’s sometimes maddeningly obtuse puzzles – somewhere to the tune of 40 hours. Why? Because I’m a nice guy and I want you to avoid a brain aneurysm. For Nintendo fans jonesin’ for some old-school puzzle action, it doesn’t get any better than Crashmo, and if you’ve got a 3DS, there’s absolutely no reason not to fork over the ten dollar entry fee into Crashmo’s candy-colored, block-rearranging world.

Dishonored (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)

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As I stated in my review, Dishonored is a great game: an original IP with interesting, highly repayable missions, a fun story and unique world that changes appropriately to reflect the way you play, and excellent visual and audio design crafted by some of the same folks responsible for Half-Life 2 and BioShock 2. It’s also a far more engaging example of stealth action than anything Ubisoft did with Assassin’s Creed 3. In fact, it’s one of my favorite games of the year! So what’s it doing wallowing down here in the Honorable Mentions? Simple: it crumbles under the weight of its own ambition. Dishonored was frequently touted in pre-release marketing as the game that would let you “play your own way,” and it’s true that it succeeds in this, for the most part. But boy, when the seams split open on Arkane’s game design, does that stuffing spill out! I can’t count the number of times I had to re-load an earlier save or start a mission over entirely because the game didn’t like the way I chose to approach a problem. Still, most of you never experienced the kind of problems I did within the game – characters who refused to acknowledge my presence, or wouldn’t die because they fell through the ground and continued falling indefinitely, and I’m willing to accept that I might’ve gotten the one retail disc that didn’t contain the best stealth game ever made. Dishonored is really, truly an amazing game, and if you go into it ready to accept its small but considerable shortcomings, you will find an experience unmatched by all but this generation’s best games.

Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)

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Has there ever been a more triumphant series reboot than Nintendo’s long-awaited Kid Icarus: Uprising? Probably not. With a cinematic flair not commonly seen among Nintendo’s first-party franchises and a sense of self-awareness that would make any Nintendo fanboy blush, Uprising is a rare treat that feels nothing like its forebears yet perfectly at home among Nintendo’s best titles. The rub, as you’ve probably heard, is the control scheme, which proves not that the 3DS needs a second circle pad (it doesn’t), but that the game would’ve been much better suited on the Wii or Wii U, where motion control is the standard. If you’ve got a 3DS, you shouldn’t think twice about picking this one up – there’s really nothing else like it.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS)

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It’s a platformer! It’s an RPG! It’s a PC-style adventure game! It’s none of these things! Paper Mario: Sticker Star, one of the funniest games ever localized by those clever scamps at Nintendo of America’s Treehouse division, proves yet again that the best Mario games are the ones that stray from the side-scrolling formula and allow the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom a chance to shine. This latest Paper Mario is a blast, and its sticker-based mechanic is more fun than it has any right to be, but the most unexpected surprise here just might be the game’s jazzy, infectious soundtrack that gives it a completely different feel from anything Nintendo’s ever done, Mario or otherwise. Seriously. I can’t stop listening.

Persona 4 Golden (PS Vita)

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If I hadn’t just started playing Persona 4 a few days ago, it probably would’ve landed somewhere in my top ten, regardless of the fact that it’s a re-release of a PS2 game; alas, we humble games writers have only so much time, and I wasn’t able to fit this one into my schedule until after Christmas. From what little I’ve played, I’m already comfortable saying it’s one of the best interactive experiences I’ve had all year, but I can’t yet articulate what makes it a good game because there’s just so much I haven’t seen yet. Suffice to say, if you’re into JRPGs, Japanese youth culture, romance, or a good mystery, you’ll eat this one up.

Professor Layton & The Miracle Mask (3DS)

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In a year overstuffed with ultraviolence, Professor Layton & The Miracle Mask is both a breath of fresh air, and a gentle reminder of Nintendo’s expert ability to iterate on the same game, year after year, and spit out a product that’s infinitely better than most everything else you can spend your gaming dollars on. Miracle Mask does very little that hasn’t been done by any of the previous games in the series, but its emotionally resonant story, quirky characters, and welcoming presentation make this latest Layton as fun as he’s ever been. Added bonus: he won’t teabag you (though he might offer you a cup of Earl Grey.)

Sine Mora (PC/PS3/PS Vita/Xbox 360)

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Another title I’ve only recently found time for thanks to its Sally-come-lately Vita port, Sine Mora is the perfect fusion of old-school shmup design and modern visual aesthetic. If you’ve always loved shoot ‘em ups but have never had much luck completing them, you’ll be pleased to know Sine Mora’s a bit more forgiving in its approach to the whole “bullet hell” thing. In the story mode, you can’t die as long as there’s still time on the clock (time you’ll lose the more you get hit, and gain the more enemies you kill), meaning you’ll be able to spend more time honing your skills and less time staring at a game over screen. Fret not, ye hardest-of-core shooter fans, there’s still the arcade mode, which comes only in two flavors: hardest and evenharder. Out of all the games on this list, Sine Mora is probably fated to be the most overlooked, which is really kind of bullshit considering the number of platforms it’s been released on. Stop making excuses and get it already.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PS Vita)

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What a great game! Uncharted: Golden Abyss took what worked best in the series’ PlayStation 3 incarnations, shoehorned in a bunch of pointless, mostly-optional touch-based interactions, and stuffed it down onto a little system you could fit in your largest jacket pocket. A PS Vita launch title, Golden Abyss is still the most technically impressive title on the platform nearly a year into its lifespan, proving you really could take a AAA, console-style adventure with you on your morning commute. But at the end of the day, is that really what you want from a handheld title? How much you appreciate Golden Abyss depends on your answer to that question. If you subscribe to the highbrow notion that portable games should offer experiences that can’t be replicated on a traditional TV-based console, well, maybe this isn’t the game for you. But for people like me who spend half their waking hours riding trains, Sony Bend’s take on one of PlayStation’s flagship franchises is a classic example of what Sony does best…and makes the time it takes to get home in the evening that much more bearable.

The Games of 2011 (Multiple Platforms)

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What’s that, you say? I’m cheating? Hear me out. The current console cycle has given us no shortage of unforgettable games, but no single year has given us so many titles we’ll still be playing for the next several years as 2011. Seriously, if you claimed to be a gamer and told me you haven’t clocked more time in Minecraft, Skyrim, Dark Souls, or Super Mario 3D Land than most of the games released in 2012, I’d call you a lying liar and know I was right. Why? Because you’d be lying!

Listen: there’s nothing shameful about getting your money’s worth out of your gaming purchases, so take a look at what you’ve got on your shelves and be honest with yourself: do you really need to buy any more games right now?

Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation Review

You are not Desmond Miles. The Animus is not a secret. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is the world according to Abstergo Industries, and you’re playing their game—and they’re playing for keeps.

From the moment you enter the world of Liberation, it’s clear that this is not your typical Assassin’s Creed experience. Abstergo, the modern-day front for the Knights Templar, has brought their Animus technology into the world. Now everyone is their own Desmond, living the life of Aveline de Grandpré, experiencing history as Abstergo wants you to know it. The question you may ask yourself as you play Liberation, one that I am still asking: is this the history that I want to play?

For five years and through four (now five) full console iterations, Assassin’s Creed has been the story of the Assassin Brotherhood struggling throughout time against the Order of the Knights Templar. Even more specifically, Ubisoft Montreal has followed the life of reluctant assassin Desmond Miles and his ancestors Altair, Ezio, and Connor as they piece together the mystery behind the Templars, the First Civilization, and a prophecy of the end of the world. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation flips the script on us. No longer shackled to the present-day narrative of Desmond and his lineage, Liberation puts you in the shoes of Aveline—the series’ first female protagonist—in the streets and bayous of 1770’s New Orleans.

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The daughter of a French businessman and an African slave, the character of Aveline does stand out as one of the more interesting in Assassin’s Creed lore. While Assassin’s Creed III hero Connor Kenway shares dual parentage of British and native mix, he is still a man, and the unique worldview that Aveline possesses as a female assassin is one the series was lacking. Unfortunately, this opportunity to explore the ideas of race and gender in a video game is largely underdeveloped. It is a trend that occurs all too frequently in Liberation.

Aveline is a woman split between worlds, and the developers acknowledge this through an interesting persona system. As the Lady, Aveline can walk the streets of New Orleans as a woman of high standing, her petticoat and parasol speaking to her well-to-do means, though without the full resources of her assassin arsenal at her disposal. Donning her assassin garb gives her full access to the familiar weapons of the trade, with the drawback that she is always on guard; your Notoriety, a feature carried over from the console space, is permanently at level 1, drawing attention from guards even when you’re walking around at street level. Her Slave persona is useful for blending in and remaining unnoticed, but any hostile or unusual actions—like clambering around rooftops—will increase your notoriety quickly, and your weapons are limited to your Hidden Blade and a useful blow gun reminiscent of Ezio’s spring-mounted darts.

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One of the greatest benefits of the Assassin’s Creed games is the player’s freedom to attack challenges as they see fit. There have always been optional “correct” solutions to each puzzle or challenge presented, but you were still free to ignore those suggestions and play the way you wanted. Some of that freedom is lost in Liberation, especially with regard to these personas. While many missions allow the use of one or more personas to achieve your objective, often enough even those missions lean far more on one persona than the other. A good portion of the game’s opening hours take your choice away entirely, requiring you to play as one persona or the other. While not a game-breaking issue, it would have been nice to see how Ubisoft Sofia could have let us tackle a high-society mission as a Slave, or stroll into the Bayou dressed in your finest linens. But story constraints keep these options from being viable, and ultimately limit the replayability of the game—if a Trophy had been attached, I could easily have seen myself running through each mission three separate times to see how a different persona would affect the outcome.

Having finished the game’s narrative, and a few of the game’s sparse side missions, the saddest statement I can make about Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is that I have no motivation to come back to this world. The story is serviceable, but makes no great strides in narrative nor has any twist comparable to the discoveries at the end of the original Assassin’s Creed or Ezio’s first two adventures that left me scratching my head and wondering where they could go from here. In fact, the game’s big reveal in the third act was so telegraphed that I found myself waiting to see when Aveline would figure it out herself. This is not a criticism of the developer’s story, only an acknowledgement that such reveals have been done before, and with more of a lasting impact than Liberation left me with.

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The unique moments of the game are found in how the conceit of a ‘commercial Animus’ is turned on its’ head. The story presented is the one that Abstergo wants you to see; you will find few mentions of the Templars, and many of the conspirators are made to look sympathetic, even reasonable—nothing like the diabolical natures of Robert de Sablé or the Borgias of past adventures. But someone wants you to see the truth: a hacker by the name of Erudito. Throughout key events in the story, you’ll hear the disembodied voice of your truth-teller and have to locate and kill a civilian, one of the three tenants of the Assassin code expressly forbidden. Worry not, though, as these characters are code within the Animus that, once ‘deleted,’ show you the way events actually happened. This aspect of the game really spoke to what fun could be had with the narrative construct, I only wish that there had been more than a handful of instances where this was a possibility.

All of these issues are secondary to how the game feels when you pick up your Vita and play. Here, the team behind Liberation gets things mostly right. If you have played an Assassin’s Creed game, these controls should be instantly familiar. The game runs on Ubisoft’s Anvil Next engine, created for Liberation’s parent game, and it looks fantastic on Vita’s screen. The world feels alive, with people, animals, and scenery to spare, though the scope of such a feat does lead to some texture pop-in and some draw distance issues. Where the team stumbles is on the implementation of Vita-specific features. Taking more than a few notes from Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Liberation tries to make use of every feature the handheld provides, with varying degrees of success. Finding a bright light with the back camera to uncover secret messages, using the rear touchpad to paddle a canoe, and utilizing the Sixaxis tilt controls in one of the game’s few puzzle segments are novel (and in the case of canoe control, optional), but they’ve also been done before. The use of the touchscreen in menu selection for personas, weapons, and general navigation is probably my favorite Vita-centric component, but not one that’s innovative or special.

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There is a multiplayer component to Liberation that is quite unique compared to the console version. Rather than pitting you directly against opponents online, Liberation features an asynchronous multiplayer pitting Assassins against Templars for control of the world. Choosing either to play as an Assassin or Abstergo/Templar agent, you pit your various combatants against your opponents in order to take ‘control points’ across the globe. It’s a confusing mechanic to me, in all honesty, and my time with the game’s multiplayer suite has been limited. Sadly, even after more experience with the multiplayer, I’m just as confused as when I first started. There is fun to be had, it’s an interesting mechanic, and like most Vita games, the asynchronous nature makes it easier on the system’s resources than a standard console multiplayer experience, but it should have been fleshed out more. Which seems to be the case for many of the game’s mechanics, sad to say.

For owners of Assassin’s Creed III: If you purchase Assassin’s Creed III for the PlayStation 3, there is a nice way to connect your experience with Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. Before you reach Memory Sequence 8 in Liberation, connect your Vita to your PS3 with both games running on their respective systems. In the Main Menu of each game, there will be an option to connect your devices. Doing so will unlock AC3 protagonist Connor in one of your final missions, as well as making his signature Tomahawk available for purchase and use. Details on the link between this game and AC3 will be included in our review of the console game.

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[UPDATE: For those wondering how things from Assassin's Creed III: Liberation would cross over into it's console big brother, here's your answer: it doesn't. While there's benefit to having AC3 if you own Liberation, there's no benefit to having Liberation if you own AC3. None of Aveline's weapons or items, none of the unique features of Liberation, such as the persona system, make any appearance in Assassin's Creed III. Unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected.]

Make no mistake: Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is not a bad game, just not a memorable one. Ubisoft Sofia’s ambitions with Liberation should not be overlooked. This is an Assassin’s Creed game, through and through, from the open city of New Orleans and bayou of Lake Ponchatrain to the free running and aerial assassinations that distinguish the series. Liberation feels like the Assassin’s Creed game you’ve always wanted on a handheld. But the little nags, mixed with a confusing narrative structure and story that doesn’t quite connect, prevent Liberation from standing right along her console brothers as a must-play experience.

 

 

 

Invisible Gamer’s review of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation was based on the PSN downloadable version of the game. Download codes were provided to us by the developer shortly before the game’s release. The review is based upon 80% Synchronization of the single-player story and 2-3 hours of time with the multiplayer suite.

Retro City Rampage Review

Back in 2002, nobody had any idea just how big the whole “retro gaming revival” thing would become once gamers stopped measuring their game machines by bits and megahertz. In those early days of the modern gaming era, the supercomputer-like PlayStation 2 loomed large, promising unrivaled realism and visions of the future to the rabid, unwashed masses, and all most players cared about was keeping up with the technology. Without steady incomes to support their hobby, they headed in droves to their local Funcolands and Babbages, foisting giant Rubbermaid bins and cardboard boxes full of cartridge-based treasures onto disgruntled sales associates. The classics, marked down and left to rot under the residue of yellowing price stickers, seemed all but forgotten.

But Brian Provinciano knew better. Brian Provinciano knew the experiences that defined gaming for a generation of players born in the mid-’70s to early ’80s – finding that first hidden 1up mushroom in Super Mario Bros., looping that first loop in Sonic the Hedgehog – these were worth more than all the Emotion Engines and Vertical Stands Sony could ever manufacture. Sure, Grand Theft Auto III was an awesome game like nothing anyone had ever seen before – a classic that would surely stand the test of time – but you didn’t really need such a powerful machine to host a game like that…right? Thus was born Grandtheftendo, Provinciano’s attempt to cram the GTA experience into an NES cartridge.

It’s been a long ten years since Provinciano began work on Grandtheftendo, but the game has, at long last, seen public release. Ditching the NES in favor of several modern digital distribution platforms, Grandtheftendo has evolved into Retro City Rampage, a top-down, mission-based, open-world action and driving game that plays pretty much like the first two GTA titles. But it’s also something else: an unabashed love letter to the 1980s and ’90s. If these were your formative years, listen up, because RCR might just be the game for you – as long as you can put up with its considerable shortcomings.

Retro City Rampage: The video game equivalent of Principal Belding’s stash of confiscated goods.

RCR is the game you and your friends fantasized about on the playground while passing around your older brother’s porn and eating Otter Pops: a shapeless mélange of Mario, Sonic, Contra, Skate or Die, Ninja Turtles and Mega Man, mixed with an equally gaseous helping of Back to the Future, Bill and Ted, Batman, ThunderCats, Ghost Busters and Saved By the Bell for that smelly kid who didn’t play games but you included him anyway because he came from a broken home and the least you could do was make him feel included. You want to stomp on some mushroom-hatted fun-guys? you got it. Run as fast as the world’s fastest hedgehog? Okay, sure. How about if you dressed up like Batman for awhile, then kicked Adam West out of the Bat-Mansion because Batman ain’t no goofy geezer, and after you get bored with that, you could beat up on Zack Morris and A.C. Slater for awhile and then take Kelly Kapowski home for some “iced tea”? Yeah, alright, that sounds pretty okay.

And it is. For awhile. But the longer you play, the more you suspect the game doesn’t have any ideas of its own. It’s not just that RCR is spiced liberally with references to everything you loved about your childhood – the game is the references. Between missions that recall more classic film, tv, and gaming tropes than you can probably remember, pedestrians that resemble your favorite cartoon characters, and shops and billboards that spoof yet more staples of ’80s and ’90s kid culture, you won’t find more than a handful of pixels in the game that weren’t lifted from somewhere else. Of course, there’s a huge difference between ripping something off and paying tribute to it, and Provinciano’s game is clearly the latter – it doesn’t take a genius to tell he loves and reveres this stuff. But with such a huge emphasis on nostalgia, the game suffers in several key ways that keep it from becoming a classic in its own right.

Outrunning cops in a shopping cart: good, old fashioned fun.

First, beyond striving to reach the next clever callback, there’s very little to keep you playing after you’ve finished the game’s 62 story missions, which took me around 5 hours. Sure, you can wander the city looking for hidden packages, rampage missions, arcade games and warp pipes, but finding many of the interesting locations in the game is a frustrating trial-and-error affair because most of the city looks the same and the in-game map lacks a useful legend (the PC version has been updated to display shop locations on the map…I assume the PSN and Wii versions will follow suit.) Second: Provinciano doesn’t seem to be able to differentiate between a clever reference or joke and a compelling gameplay idea. Sure, eight-year-old Michael Burns wanted to bone Kelly Kapowski as much as every other second-grader who didn’t know what that entailed, but I never fantasized about domestic abuse or avoiding the responsibilities of getting someone pregnant, which is Provinciano’s “funny” way of closing out RCR’s Saved By the Bell segment. Yeah, I get it, it’s a sitcom parody in a game already chock-full of social absurdities. That doesn’t make it funny. Third: the difficulty is all over the place. I’ll buy Provinciano’s claims that this is meant as a throwback to the days of yore – I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time indulging my inner masochist with games like Battletoads and Mr. Gimmick, and can certainly attest to the fact that the kids today have it way too easy – but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed dying 57 times because I wasn’t counting the pixels between my player character and a particularly frustrating boss near the end of the game. Games today aren’t easier because they’re made for babies, they’re easier because better controls and more sophisticated programming have made the task of navigating a game world more intuitive. At least the game is generous with checkpoints.

RCR is a great example both of the freedom that comes with independent development, and the perils of having nobody around to tell you no. It’s packed to the gills with all that good stuff you and I grew up with, and it’s a pretty good trip while it lasts; you’ll find a lot to love if you can forgive the game’s quirks and gloss over the uneven difficulty. Unfortunately, it also stands so heavily on the shoulders of its forebears that it never manages to rise above them, and ultimately provides little reason to come back once you’ve exhausted its Rolodex of ’80s references. It’s obvious Provinciano’s heart was in the right place with RCR. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another ten years to see what Canada’s premiere indie developer is up to next.

C-Plus

 

 

 

 

Invisible Gamer’s review of Retro City Rampage was based on the PSN downloadable version of the game, played primarily on a PS Vita. Download codes were provided to us by the developer shortly before the game’s release.