Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: Demon Gaze

Aye, aye! This is more like it. Having played quite a few RPGs where I got hacked off or swamped by overloaded skill systems, ludicrous battle schema and inane cheeriness/insanity from characters, the old school saves the day in the form of Demon Gaze. Sure, Japan is loaded with quirky titles like this, but its rare for one to travel this far, Eliminage aside, and to make such a graceful conversion.

For anyone who has fond memories of an early jaunt through the realms of the Bards' Tale, Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder, this is for you. Quick, slick and fat-free (five races and eight skills) role playing: where you beat the crap out of monsters, level up fast and simple, get new gear and find more creatures to kill. Demon Gaze is so streamlined, its almost perfect for portable play; with secret areas that you can still figure out, grid navigation, auto-move fast-travel, plus a sizeable, but not daunting, number of skills and spells.

All of which puts the emphasis on going out into the wilds and having fun, picking up the liberal smattering of trophies along the way. Monsters turn up at random or in specific combat squares, triggering quick turn-based battles, with the odd uber-nasty demon in each smallish level to conquer. That might not sound too exciting, but in every realm are several gem circles. Offer up some weapon, armour or special gems and, once you've marmalised the demons that come through the portal, they'll drop useful items that you can equip, sell or convert into better ones.

Again, its all done in seconds, or perhaps minutes on the longer battles where you get stacks of experience, making most scraps worthwhile. There's the odd pause back at the Dragon Princess Inn for a spot of exposition and characterized silliness, even that's all over in a minute or so. You can rent new rooms to expand your party, find new quests at the bar, get a change of style from the bathhouse, improved gear from the undead loon in the basement or new kit from the nut-job store owners, then its back out into the wilds.

Outside, you can fight with a decent range of weapons, magical skills and special powers. It rarely takes long to find something that will do the job on a particular type of nasty, with the usual elemental weaknesses coming into play. And, if you do screw up and die, there are regular save points at each gem circle. For each level increase, you can boost one of the six strengths, which raises the core stats of health and magic points. There's probably a whole lot more stattage going on under the hood, but the game doesn't burden you with that information, just get on with it.

Key to the bigger battles are the deployment of your captured demons. You can summon them, but only for a certain time before they get all grumpy and go rogue. They'll randomly throw out buffs or melee attacks to spice things up and can easily turn the battle when there's rows of enemies and you're party's life is ebbing away. Should you forget about them, and its easy to do so with the pace of the game, they'll turn up randomly from time to time, to dole out a good kicking.

You can get stuck from the time to time, and if a clue from someone in the Inn isn't forthcoming, just head out into the wilds and you'll probably find a route you missed, or kick some walls down dead-end paths to find a hidden quest item you overlooked. In a nod to the Vita's connected-ness, players can also leave Gazer memos around the realms, providing clues or warnings. One key essential is to always go back with enough cash to pay the rent.

In a game of this pace, some issues seem a bit incongruous; your Level 12 hero panicking at the sight a lone frog, the demon you forgot to invoke appearing in the last throes of a major battle, and rather repetitive monster types. But, if it does start to lose you a little as a speed-run, you can always start diving deeper into the specializations, be it an Assassin with their specialist killing gear or crafting a hardcore wizard to deal death from the rear.

And if the Demon Gaze world isn't hip enough for you, then grab hold of some of the free DLC that offers the crew from Disgaea to join your party and get into the action, 'cause RPGing is always more fun with a penguin! If I had to pick holes in the game's limited offering, its very stingy in restoring magic through potions and at new levels, in the first half certainly.

Demon Gaze has just about enough of a plot to keep you rolling, and the battles are so fast and furious that grinding (a bit of which is needed to defeat the major denizens) never really feels like grinding, even with the super tough later bosses. Sure, the game is olde worlde in many senses and does little to push the boat out, but it is in essence a perfect, slick, portable RPG that is very easy to love.

Score: 7/10
More Reviews
Price: £29.99 (Amazon)
NIS America
File size 520MB
Progress: Glub, glub, glub

Friday, April 18, 2014

Hyperdimension Neptunia PP introduces its characters

Another NIS America game, another roster of characters to grow fond of. There's released a batch of character intro video trailers for Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert, which I'll put up over the weekend, here's the first, meet Neptune singing and dancing her way into our hearts.

Vita goes code red in America

With quoted NPD sales for March in the States of just 10,000 units, the Vita is in a death spiral over there, and probably in Europe, that not even the finest indie efforts and all the Japanese conversions in the world will help with.

While Sony might tout its Borderlands bundle as the future, that's a lot of weight on a years-old game. Which is put into even starker relief with this talk about Sony trying to partner with Respawn for a Vita version of Titanfall.

So, what next for the Vita, given it is supposed to get an April rebound from FFX, then another in May from Borderlands. We can line up the usual suspects:
  • Another price cut - yet look on Amazon and the console is pretty damn cheap
  • Cheaper memory cards - mainly a concern to current owners
  • More big games - takes time and who would develop for a console no-one is buying?
  • Marketing - Sony has lots of neat multi-game bundles (In Europe anyway) but you never hear about them
With the PS4 rampant, 7 million and accelerating, developers will focus on that big number no matter how much cash Sony offers (and Sony has precious little of that), how about thinking outside the little blue box:

Adam Boyes' old-game-for-PlayStation project floated about last year could incubate a hit or two (Shenmue still carries weight), but there's enough nostalgia through the indie movement to leave it as a curio, especially as all these rereleases will hit the rampant PS4 too. 

Sony develops a "hero" game. Throws everything into a western-focused Vita super hit, the same way Freedom Wars has a multi-development team. Reinvent the Syphon Filter series for today's tastes and see what comes out? 

I also wonder where a lot of the PSP hits have gone, where's LocoRoco and Patapon? Games that gave the portable distinctive titles (although I guess that was before the mobile horde). I'm sure Sony would welcome your thoughts too, since despite all its efforts, they're not having any impact. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lost Dimension finding its way to the Vita

A modern-era Japanese RPG, Lost Dimension from Lancarse, published by Furyu, is headed to the Vita in Japan this summer. There's a teaser site up with most pages unpopulated, but replete with the usual looks of pure evil, terror, firm resolve and malevolence from the cast.

It sees a team of psychics sent into a mysterious tower to prevent the apocalypse, which all sounds rather Persona (with members of the Persona team on board). Hopefully, we can expect something a little more than the usual dungeon crawling and doing more than just ripping off the Persona vibe.

Update: Scans from Famitsu

Walking Dead season 2 arrives on Vita next week

Having wondered if this was ever going to happen, given the delays, both US and EU Vita owners can reacquaint themselves with Clementine and her on-going struggle with grown-ups and the undead from next week, with the first two episodes going online on PSN. Given that the first game offered one of the easiest Platinum trophies in gaming, along with some of the most heart-rending in-game decisions, this should be a winner.

Then again, with most having played it on larger screens, will there be much demand for the same experience, shrunk down? And with Telltale apparently not bothering to fix its engine, will the glitches start to put people off? A season pass will be the most effective way to enjoy the game, with 20% off for PS+ subs. Time for a quick update to the release schedule

Silent Hill Origins and Shattered Memories revived on Vita

The PSP entries in the Silent Hill canon are being dusted down and revived  by Konami for Vita owners to enjoy the silence once more. Silent Hill: Origins acts as a prequel to the series and follows Travis Grady, a truck driver, as he enters the mist-shrouded town to dig up information on a girl he rescued from a fire.

Shattered Memories ditches the combat and is regarded as the most innovative addition to the series, adapting its gameplay to the decisions the player makes. The games will cost £7.99/9,95 Euro each, adding to the quirky Book of Memories Vita original and the original Silent Hill PSOne game.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Welcome back Bust a Move 4 on PSN

From out of quite literally nowhere comes the classic Bust-a-Move 4 from Natsume. Playable on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita and PSP, it'll hit PSN soon “Bust-a-Move 4 was a very successful and popular title, and fans have been asking for a re-release for years,” said CEO Hiro Maekawa.

“We were very happy to bring this classic back to new systems as a digital download!” Bust-a Move 4 features eight playable modes, including Puzzle Mode, Versus Mode, and Edit Mode, where players can create up to 25 of their own personal stages! Bust-A-Move 4 was the first title to introduce both the pulley and chain reactions. Pulleys require players to play the entire field so that the weights on each side of the stage don’t rise or fall too low!

Featuring the iconic anthropomorphic dinosaurs, Bub and Bob, this dino duo must rescue the seven shattered rainbow bubbles alongside a cast of series favorites. With ten playable characters and four additional characters that can be unlocked, there’s plenty of ways to chase after Madame Luna!

Vektropolis returns via Kickstarter

Over a year ago, Vektropolis tugged at my arcadey heart strings with its lurid vectors and pure action. Then all went quiet, and Super Icon's Vektor Wars became the apple of my eye. What to do now though? As Vektropolis has exploded back into life on Kickstarter as a new campaign, looking for £50,000.

At this point there's no Vita version, but console options are being discussed. Prime formats are Steam and Oculus Rift, which would be cool to see. I'll chip in if a version is announced, but given some of the projects out there for Vita (see my list) there's an increasing number of titles to pick from.

Next week, Starlight Inception, the first Vita specific crowdfunded game will launch, and with this recent run of projects seeking funding, it looks like an increasingly viable source of games for Sony's portable.

PSN EU update sly zombies ahoy

Plenty to play this week with Sly Cooper trilogy leading the way, available all together or as single games. Everyone can play Badman for free while Dead Nation and Putty Squad finally make it out. Eufloria might be pricey for a PSM title, but could well be fun

Dead Nation (Cross-Buy PS3/PS Vita)
Price: £6.49/€7.99/$11.75

Dead Nation™ + Road of Devastation (Cross-Buy PS3/PS Vita)
Price: £7.99/€9.99/$14.45

Ethan: Meteor Hunter (Cross-Buy PS3/PS Vita)
Price: £7.99/€9.99/$14.45

No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either!
Price: Free

Putty Squad
Price: £19.99/€24.99/

The Sly Trilogy (Cross-Buy PS3/PS Vita)
Price: £19.99/€24.99/$32.95

PlayStation Mobile
Grand Sun R.Y.E.Z (£2.39/€2.99/$4.95)
THE PACKET QUEEN (£2.39/€2.99/$4.95)
Helicopter (£0.40/€0.49/$0.90)
Eufloria Adventures (£6.49/€7.99/$12.95)

Media Create sales see Vita beat 3DS in Japan

Despite the arrival of a new Super Robot Wars game, racing into to the top positions on PS3 and Vita, its been another slow week for Vita hardware. Even so, the Vita is now ahead of the 3DS in Japan, which Famitsu's sales managed a few weeks back. Not much of a trend, and only by 1,800 or so, but its a start. However one big 3DS release can send hardware sales soaring, something the Vita can't manage.

TTG makes a good impression at No. 6 for an all-new game, I'd be quite keen to see the latest Arc System mystery game come west. Between 125,000 and 150,000 seems to be the upper limit for Vita games, excluding digital sales. With only Toukiden, Hatsune Miku 1 and FFX HD notably above that, from memory.

01./00. [PS3] 3rd Super Robot Wars Z: Jigoku-Hen (Bandai Namco)  - 142.433 / NEW
02./00. [PSV] 3rd Super Robot Wars Z: Jigoku-Hen (Bandai Namco)  - 128.236 / NEW
06./00. [PSV] Mato Kurenai Yuugekitai: Tokyo Twilight Ghosthunters (Arc System Works) - 14.468 / NEW
14./06. [PSV] Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd (Sega) - 6.333 / 121.071 (-61%)
17./10. [PS3] Pro Baseball Spirits 2014 (Konami)  - 5.609 / 96.485 (-44%)
18./00. [PSV] Samurai Warriors 4 # (Koei Tecmo)  - 5.369 / 74.165
19./08. [PSV] J-Stars Victory Vs # (Bandai Namco)  - 5.353 / 139.875 (-55%)
20./11. [PS3] Dark Souls II (From Software)  - 5.286 / 325.463 (-47%)

I'll add the pretty sales chart soon, but for now, 
with Media Create's latest numbers showing Vita sales were down by 900 or so, still up 10,000 on this week last year. Here's last week's numbers for comparison.

Vita the most popular format for Flying Hamster II

Currently in the throes of its Kickstarter campaign (I added a page for all Vita KS projects), Game Atelier ran a poll to find which were the most important elements of its campaign. Among the platform debate there's a clear winner with the Vita beating everything else hands-down.

Give some backing to the project if you want to see the Monster Boy-inspired title hitting the Vita, its about 1/5 funded with over two weeks to go and brings classic platforming into the HD age.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Badman's back, and this time its puzzling

Having rather enjoyed the PSP's Badman games, its good to see the pixelly anti-hero back in action, but is a match-three puzzler really the best use of his time and resources? Well, he's going to do it anyway. And since its a free game, with some DLC in the offing, who not give it a go with its launch this week.

The Japanese game arrived late last year, with the fast-paced puzzler following on from the original's dungeon pummeling exploits. Even if you only try it for free, it should be worth a blast in ad-hoc multiplayer mode. More on the PSN blog.

Killzone welcomes the bots on Vita

Having trouble with your multiplayer connection for Killzone Mercenary? Fear not, today/tomorrow's update adds a bot mode so you can play the MP maps on your own with a herd of less-than-friendly bots to kill, or just practice for the real online battles.

Unlike the other previous updates, including the new MP maps, the “Botzone Soldier Training Pack” will cost a couple of quid/euros/dollars, still not bad for all the extra challenge. You can claim MP trophies using bot mode, if that's causing a sticking point for your run to Platinum. More info on the PSN blog.

Pixel Noir turns to the crowds

Fans of 16-bit adventures might want to take a look at Pixel Noir, somewhere between the Blade Runner adventure with some lighter role-playing elements. The developers, SWDtech are asking for $97K and its already over the 10K mark after a few days. With lots of exploring, mystery and the odd action sequence, it looks like a labour of love worth some cash.

Still in need of support on Kickstarter are Flying Hamster IIMechRunner and Cult County if you want to support more Vita games.

Terraria on Vita gets the 1.2 update this week

Terraria is an excellent build/explore game that everyone should own, especially as its in the Easter Sale right now. To make things even better, the 1.2 update is coming this week to add new features. On the list are lots of PC-only features, new recipes and over 1,000 new items, graphic tweaks, new NPCs and bosses, improved mechanics and gameplay tweaks.
See the very long list of details on the game's forum.