First Impressions: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Uh oh. It’s hybrid-spinoff time in the Metal Gear universe. Add one cup Ninja Gaiden, one cup Metal Gear, stir, add loads of Raiden, and you’re left with Metal Gear Rising. And believe it or not, it tastes pretty damn good. Even if there are some empty calories.

Here’s the deal with Rising. If you come in hoping for Ninja Gaiden’s rewarding difficulty and fluid, meticulous combat, you’ll be disappointed. That’s not say the gameplay isn’t fun–I’m having a blast, thanks–but it’s much more button-mashy than what I’ve come to expect from action games. Combat mostly consists of weak and strong sword attacks (the button-mashy parts), but you also have “Blade Mode” which enables you to slow time and slice maniacally at an enemy once you’ve saved up enough “Electrolytes” from battle (bring some Gatorade, kids). Slice up a weakened enemy and you’ll garner his energy core, which will restore your health and set you up for another run through Blade Mode. Blade Mode felt a bit clumsy at first, but soon the gameplay quirk of slicing up enemies and chaining combos uplifted the combat experience above mere hack-n-slash.

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Ripping out enemy cores restores your health and lets you chain Blade Mode combos.

If you’re surrendering gameplay depth, at least you get a solid story in return. Rising’s storyline is intriguing from the moment you press Start and the pacing is downright relentless. Although the cast of villains isn’t as memorable or developed as previous terrorist gangs from the series, Rising carries the authentic feel of a Metal Gear game. Despite being of an entirely different genre, it stays true to the franchise. Codec calls, stealth kills, and cardboard boxes all exist on the intricate level we came to expect in MGS1-3. I’d even go as far as saying that Rising is more of a Metal Gear game than MGS4. Seriously.

As of now I’m roughly seven hours into MGR and loving Hard mode (if you happen to pick this one up, play it on Hard–the game is forgiving with it’s checkpoints). Though I can’t quite recommend it to the Ninja Gaiden crowd, if you’re a Metal Gear buff or a casual action game fan, go out and grab this one.

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Sakurai not aiming for complete balance in new Smash Bros.

Smash Bros creator Masahiro Sakurai is slugging through twelve-hour shifts and taking up residence within walking distance from Super Smash Bros. 4’s development studio. He’s playing four-player matches on his lunch and inputting damage rates and hit boxes all by his lonesome. If the latest Smash installment disappoints, it won’t be for lack of effort on its creator’s part.

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Sakurai is personally ensuring that all these hits, slashes, and headbutts register.

Polygon covered Sakurai’s most recent interview with Famitsu, in which Sakurai described everything from his daily schedule to the finer points of tweaking character motions. It’s a great read if you have time; if you don’t, consider this one nugget that stuck out:

[…] we have to work to keep things dynamic and not over-fine-tune the balance. If we aim for complete fairness, there won’t be any personality to it.

It’s an interesting take, as fighting game fans everywhere often lust over the idea of a perfectly balanced game. Back in Melee’s glory years, my friends and I itched for a Smash Bros. game where smack-dummies like Bowser could hang with Fox, Marth, and Sheik. Now it seems that not only is perfect balance unattainable, but the series creator himself wants nothing to do with it.

And you know what? I’m a-okay with it.

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How’s another five years of ass-kickings sound, Bowser?

Isn’t the whole point of fighting games to weed through the roster and find the three or four characters you’re most comfortable with? If those particular character happen to be technically better than others, so be it.

Now, Smash Bros. complicates the situation with dozens of gaming icons. And when you have icons, you have fans who get riled when their favorite character(s) end up on the low-tier. But there’s a huge difference between an unbalanced game and a broken one.

Final Fantasy spinoff Bravely Default scores US release date

If you’re craving an RPG that looks like Final Fantasy IX and plays like Final Fantasy V, then grab your 2014 calendar and circle February 7th. Bravely Default, a spiritual sequel to 2010’s Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, seeks to revive the days of crystal hunting and turn-based battling on the 3DS.

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Save up enough Brave Points and you can spray enemies with arrows.

Though I tend to be skeptical about gorgeous Square Enix games these days, Bravely Default won a lot of critical praise at the time of its Japanese release last year. The game’s battle system echoes that of classic RPGs: attack, magic, and building characters through a job system. However, it’s 2013–we need a twist, don’t we? Well, pay attention: Every action consumes a certain amount of “Brave Points,” which can be hoarded for the sake of combo barrages. How you manage your consumption of Brave Points determines the flow and success of battles, and you can even get excessive and final your point tally in the negatives. Check the second-half of the video below for some battle footage:

Bravely Default erupted over Japan’s sales charts last year, selling 140,000 copies in its first week. Our Asian friends are getting an updated version of the game on December 5th, which offers some gameplay tweaks and a significant cut-down on game length (a dip from fifty to thirty hours). In true class-RPG tradition, us English-speaking folk will receive this “easier” edition when the game hits the West in December (Europe/Australia) and February (US).

Marth returns to Smash Bros., stirs speculation on other potential Fire Emblem reps

Those of us who’ve built our Smash philosophy around speed and swords can breath a sigh of relief: Marth is back in all his blue-haired, head-banded glory. And judging from the early screenshots, so are his Dolphin Slash (Up + B), Shield Breaker (B), and Counter (Down + B) abilities. It remains to be seen if his Forward-Smash will remain the dominant move it once was, but I can’t imagine it any other way (then again, Sheik fought like a flu sufferer in Brawl, so I won’t get cocky).

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Nothing shakes up an intense match like Down + B.

The news comes following fan speculation about Fire Emblem: Awakening’s protagonist Chrom as a potential replacement for Marth. With that out of the way, the question now shifts toward Ike: is he safe? Will Ike remain the “power guy” among Fire Emblem reps?

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Though Chrom (right) is a swordsman by default, Nintendo would be foolish to ignore his game’s Class Change system.

To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marth, Ike, and Chrom all make it in. That makes for a forest of blue hair, but it’s not unreasonable to include a speedy swordsman, a powerhouse, and perhaps a variety-type character in Chrom. What do I mean by “variety-type”? Well, Fire Emblem: Awakening allows for each character to undergo numerous class changes. If we’re lucky, Chrom could serve as the Zelda/Sheik of the Wii U age.

Are you listening, Nintendo? A swordsman, mage, and archer all-in-one. Let’s do this.

Upcoming Ninja Gaiden spinoff looks slick, sounds ultra-cheesy

If you haven’t had your fill of ninjas, cyborgs, or zombies, then Keiji Inafune’s upcoming action title Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z should be written on your wishlist in blood. Gameplay videos depict over-the-top Ninja Gaiden action set in a comic-book world. Team Ninja is even involved with the project and Ryu Hayabusa of Ninja Gaiden fame will be the game’s primary villain.

The catch? You’ll have to stomach some dreadfully immature humor along the way. Watch the trailer on mute if you want to be impressed.

From what I’ve seen the gameplay looks like Ninja Gaiden on uppers: anti-hero Yaiba slashes hoards of zombies in half with one whirlwind slice, then streaks ahead to slice off legs and impale survivors from the scalp on down. Blood splatters, gushes, and erupts everywhere as Yaiba grabs, slashes, and dismembers everything in his path.

It remains to be seen just how challenging the game will be, and I feel the difficulty level will make or break this one. Yaiba looks like an unstoppable force in the videos, and his zombie foes hobble-wobble around like you’d expect. Whether Yaiba: NGZ proves worthy of bearing the Ninja Gaiden name depends entirely on how these enemies can adapt to Yaiba’s carnage. Since Team Ninja and Mega Man’s producer are involved with this one, there’s hope that this doesn’t turn into a button-masher or mindless hack-n-slash.

Square Enix: The Factory of Familiarity

Familiarity breeds contempt, as the old saying goes. While the cliche is better suited for rocky marriages than videogames, there’s some merit to the line, especially when it comes to Square Enix. Whether you love or hate what they’ve done since the merger in 2003, it’s hard to excuse the lack of fresh production from their neck of the gaming woods.

This week hit us with the first gameplay video of Kingdom Hearts III, which struck me as fun-looking but underwhelming. One particular part of the video looks riveting: a boss battle where Sora rides a flying train into a Hercules titan that’s oversized enough to have stumbled out of Shadow of the Colossus. But aside from that, everything about the clip left me with feelings of deja vu–AKA the “bad” nostalgia.

Strike one: the visuals. Normally I’m not one to complain about graphics, but KH3 looks like a PS2 game. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying it should look super-realistic or anything like that–but at least lay some detail or overhaul the art style. Have a little self-respect. KH3 is slated to be a PS4/XBONE game and Square Enix should be embarrassed.

Strike two: the hack-n-whack gameplay. At one point we see Sora wielding dual-pistols that squirt fireballs all over the screen. If they work this in as a powerful limit-break technique, I’m excited. If it’s just another move in his arsenal, I couldn’t care less. My biggest gripe with the Kingdom Hearts series (other than Sora being a dreadful lead character) has been the button-mashy combat. Casting magic spells always ruined the flow of battle in my opinion, and unless Square can manage to smoothly incorporate magic and skills, I expect to tap X 83,256 times in a row.

Strike three: the settings and enemies. The Magic Kingdom-inspired level looks promising, but the first location appears to be a retread through the opening area of KH2. I’m fine with revisiting old haunts, but when they look the same as they did back in 2005, it’s inexcusable. And then you have the same old enemies populating the area–the rodent-like Heartless, the fatass, big-bellied Heartless, the same enemies that we’ve hit with a giant key since ’02.

I understand this is early development footage. I understand KH3 is most likely two or three years away from its release date. But what I can’t understand is the excitement expressed by fans all over the internet. They waited eight years and two console generations for a case of deja vu? And somehow they’re stoked?

Indie game “The Fall” jumpstarts the Metroid fan in me

I normally don’t pay much attention to the Indie game scene, but say the word “Metroid” around me and it’s like waving raw meat in front of a starved canine. And starvation only begins to describe the state of the Metroid franchise. Can you believe it’s been nearly ten years since the last 2D Metroid? Ten. And that decade of disappearance makes this gloomy upcoming project “The Fall” all the more appetizing.

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The Fall draws its design influences from Metroid.  Then it dyes its hair jet black.

The Fall is a one-man project set to strike a balance between the atmosphere, action, and gameplay of franchises like Metroid and Secret of Monkey Island. Instead of Metroid’s run-and-gun exploration, The Fall imposes a heavier influence on investigation and puzzle-solving.

And, wow… is it dark. The Fall reminds me of playing Super Metroid with sunglasses on. Locales include abandoned caves and robot-infested factories–most of which are soaked in shadows.

Not only do the dark visuals cook up a lonely, confining atmosphere, but they also give rise to flashlight-based searching, a la Silent Hill. In addition to illuminating the game’s locales, the flashlight scans objects and enables puzzle-solving. The light’s cone echoes the X-Ray visor from Super Metroid, and it provides readouts of various objects and environments. As far as I can tell, you can’t Power-Bomb the area, so expect plenty of detective work.

The Fall’s take on combat is classic yet modern. While the main character ARID blasts away at enemies, he must take cover when facing enemy fire. Survival depends on patience and timing moreso than mashing the shoot button. Check the video below to get a feel for it:

Finally, there’s a compelling storyline in the works:

“The Fall is a story about ARID, a virtual intelligence integrated into an armoured combat suit, who’s activated when the human pilot inside the suit is rendered unconscious.  ARID awakes in a half-initialized state, with very little control over the suit and its functions. Somehow however, it must find a way to help its human pilot, even though it can barely help its self.”

While I’m not expecting the game to go all-out in terms of presentation, the plotline has piqued my interest. I’m hoping the developer, John Warner, takes advantage of the story concept and explores either the dependency of humans on computers or the benefits of bridging humans and computers. We might have a thinking man’s sci-fi tale on our hands, here. Then again, maybe I’m just an English-Lit graduate hunting for deeper meaning. 

As it stands now, The Fall has raised $33,200 CAD and will appear on PC, Mac, Linux, and Wii U. Another $4,800 and the game will garner some serious upgrades including a larger world and improved combat. There are still two days left to help with funding, so check out The Fall’s Kickstarter page if you want to throw a few bones toward the project.