Yggdra Union: We’ll Never Fight Alone (PSP) Review

Developer: Sting Entertainment | Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 4.0/10

Yggdra Union from Atlus has a seemingly awkward place in the PSP library. It’s practically a straightforward GBA-to-PSP port, so it’s quite obvious that it won’t be visually pleasing. Yggdra Union is essentially the GBA game with some voice-overs and possibly some other improvements that are harder to gauge.

Typically in tactical strategy games there are two teams fighting against each other on more-or-less even ground. One would expect there to be new challenges here and there, just as long as both sides followed the same basic rules of gameplay.

Not in Yggdra Union.

If there ever was a tactical strategy game that made me want to play on the enemy’s side, it’s Yggdra Union. It’s almost amazing to me how two different games are going on at the same time, with the advantage always (and I really mean it) going to the opposition.

Now, there’s lots of needless complication to Yggdra Union. Even after playing over 20 hours, I still have trouble knowing which button does what in the game. In light of the confusion, I’ll spare you a helping and get down to the basics. The basis of combat relies on cards. You get a certain amount of cards, which you use for moving and performing actions during battle. Once you use a card to move, or create a Union (the game’s term for a battle), the card becomes unusable for the rest of the current map you are on. The same does not hold true for your enemy, however. They have one card to use and they keep using it over and over. Okay, I’ll give them that. During battle, however, is where this difference becomes even more of a factor in the gameplay.

When creating a Union, you can enter into a battle with other units as long as they match the certain formation the initiator of the Union has. Why this matters, I’m not sure, but it adds some sort of strategy to the game in the long run. The map itself is also very restrictive as far as positioning units in strategic ways. There are no “extra” pieces of the grid to traverse and flank an enemy, as the current map you are on has a bare minimum of squares required to accomplish whatever the current goal happens to be.

During a battle, there is a gauge at the top of the screen that you can fill up by going Passive or drain by going Aggressive. The higher the bar is filled, the more likely it will be that you will win the battle. Of course, its not assured as other factors are taken into consideration. When you go Aggressive and drain your bar, the likelihood of you winning goes even higher, but only until the bar is drained before going to normal. Going Passive refills it, but your troops are then more susceptible to losing.

Here’s the kicker: Take everything I said in the last paragraph and throw it out. Your opposition doesn’t have to worry about that at all, since they have a “Rage” bar that constantly fills according to the amount of time you spend in battle. Not only that, any amount of Rage that is built up from the first fight in a battle is rolled over to the next fight to benefit the next unit. The gauge you build up does not roll over in the same fashion, as yours is seemingly random considering how well off you are against your enemy.

The only thing that your Passive/Aggressive bar and the Rage bar have in common is that it grants access to a special ability when full. Your opposition can use the card’s special abilities from the get go, while you have to wait until the seventh map of the game (about eight hours in for me) before even finding out why cards are named something. The inability to use special abilities until that point in the game is absurd, especially when the opposition is able to use their card’s special abilities from the beginning of the game.

Particular cards also have Ace Types, which means only a unit that matches the Ace Type can use the card’s special abilities (as long as all other conditions are met). There are three basic weapons – Sword, Spear, and Axe. Sword is better than Axe is better than Spear is better than Sword. Using that formula, you are able to sweep through your enemies, as long as you have the right units attacking against a weapon type that is weaker.

And then, to top it all off, three more types of weaponry are added in halfway through the game. Sword/Spear/Axe are all better than Bows (except when attacking, and you can’t counterattack against a Bow), Rods (better than Sword/Spear/Axe) and something that looks like a Rock that is just tossed in somewhere, which isn’t exactly explained plainly enough for anyone to understand.

Really, Yggdra Union ends up a Chess-style game in which the other guy can take any piece he wants whenever he wants and says “live with it.” There’s something random tossed in each level that completely messes you up without giving you any ability to counteract it. You are constantly put at a disadvantage, seemingly out of spite, with no real rewards for finally succeeding and beating the challenge. Not even the story’s progression rewards you with much of anything interesting or suspenseful.

There are lots of voice-overs, but voicing as a whole is conspicuously thin. The voice actors themselves aren’t bad, which is a boon to the already low production values of the title. Needless to say, the sound effects, graphics, and pretty much everything about the game look like a GBA game, but that’s because it is a GBA game. Watching battles unfold isn’t particularly interesting either, and even though there is a “HIGH” speed option available, its still not fast enough for me.

Yggdra Union will make you hate yourself for playing. It is a fairly unique game, but only in the sense that there are so many weird things about it that make you frustrated. Some friendly user interface additions would go a long way to at least making the game somewhat more pleasant. What it comes down to, however, is that Yggdra Union is a poor strategy game in its very bearings, with very little actual strategy to experience, and more fumbling around with cards and weapon types than necessary instead.

 

 

Jeanne D’Arc (PSP) Review

Developer: Level 5 / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 9.0/10

Traditional strategy RPG games were epitomized by the original Final Fantasy Tactics – it’s become my own personal bar for comparing against new games in the genre. Not every strategy game is totally comparable, but when a game comes along that can be, it has a lot to accomplish before it can be considered a worthy play. Jeanne D’Arc is one of those rare games that capture a piece of what made Final Fantasy Tactics such a great strategy RPG.

One of the most important parts of any RPG is, of course, the story. Jeanne D’Arc is a fantasy-based retelling of the old story of Joan of Arc. In case you don’t know who she is, Joan of Arc was the savior of the Hundred Years War between Great Britain and France. Joan of Arc was believed to be a divine messenger of God, fighting for the preservation of France. With some additional characters that have their own smaller stories, you’ll basically go around and battle against the British and the monsters they control. This may or may not rub you in the wrong way, however. Personally, I find it kind of hokey that you are fighting the British. Granted, it is within the context of the story they are trying to tell, I just find it sort of silly, since they’re not exactly the most evil antagonists ever constructed in a video game. There’s also the awkward placement of talking Furries (such as Lion-men) that add to the fantasy element of the game, but clashes with the apparent historical accuracy of the game.

Many of the story scenes are displayed through anime videos. The anime videos are high quality and have great production values. When compared to in-game moments, these cinemas make the story. They are interesting to watch and feel like an 80s cartoon, rather than a traditional anime you’d see on TV today. The videos will also be the only time you’ll hear voice acting. The lack of voice acting hurts the rest of the game, and effecting your immersion in the storyline.

Despite flaws in the story, the gameplay is solid. This is perhaps the most polished strategy game on the PSP. Jeanne D’Arc will be a pleasant game to moderate to casual strategy gamers, but gamers that play lots of strategy games may find less to be impressed with. However, as always, it depends on what you’re looking for. For those looking for a simpler strategy game, Jeanne D’Arc will be perfect; for someone who enjoys more options (read: lots of menus) and complexity in their strategy games, it will probably be underwhelming. Even so, almost any type of strategy gamer will be finding enjoyment at some level in this title since it’s so well designed.

The most unique element of the gameplay is the Transformations certain characters use to power-up. When a character attains a certain amount of Spirit Power (SP) charge they will be able to transform into a divine knight that has a great amount of power, at which point they’ll easily plow through your foes. Defeating an enemy when transformed allows you to take an extra turn. Theoretically, you could keep taking turns forever, as long as you are able to defeat an enemy during each turn. Characters will be transformed for a certain amount of turns, so you’ll have to plan accordingly. Also, you can only transform once per battle (per gem), so you’ll have to make sure you use that power strategically.

Besides all the normal aspects of a strategy game, Jeanne D’Arc has other quirks as well. Power-ups called Burning Auras will appear one square behind an enemy you strike with a non-ranged weapon. What this basically means, is if you gang up on one enemy, each character will be able to utilize the Burning Aura to inflict major pain on your enemy. Another is Unified Guard. Unified Guard is used automatically when you have more than one ally grouped near another ally, and ups the attacked ally’s defensive stats for that action. Supposedly Unified Guard is supposed to help you, but I have not found much of a difference between not having it used and having it used. Either way, you can’t turn it off. The number of units you can have on screen at one time ranges from 4 to 7 or so, depending on the situation. Enemies can appear up to 10 or so on screen at the same time, as well.

Equipment management is a simple process. Each character has their own class of armor or weapons that they can equip, and as long as you have enough money for them, you can buy it and equip them. Shields can be equipped to any character that doesn’t use a two-handed weapon. Skills can be equipped as long as a character has an empty slot for them. They can easily be switched out between battles, and you can have up to 8 slots for skills. If you equip skills in an effective way, you’ll be able to get yourself out of tight situations more often. Skill stones (the items which hold skills) require a character to be at a certain level before they can be equipped, however. Skill stones can be sold for money as well, which helps in buying other equipment you may need. Excess skill stones can also be combined to create new skill stones by “binding” them. Binding skill stones allows you to “create” skills using two skill stones, and once you’ve found the recipe to creating that skill, you’ll always know the outcome (if you’ve done it once already) of binding two skill stones.

The game looks about as good as a PS2 game should, which is quite a feat considering it’s on the PSP. The PSP’s screen allows for wide view of the battlefield, and the resolution helps in the presentation quality of the cel-shading. The audio is also top notch, but the lack of voice acting in anything except the anime movies is a disappointing omission, at least as far as I’m concerned.

With around 40 stages, you’ll probably sink quite a bit of time into this game –
you’ll get your money’s worth and then some. Most of the stages will be in unique areas, in addition to there being a few “free stages” for you to level up at during the course of the game.

Jeanne D’Arc is a great little strategy game. Although the real-world historical aspects of the game come out a little corny in the context of the game, it doesn’t stop it from being a solid strategy game experience that will satiate PSP strategy gamers. Jeanne D’Arc is a good PSP game to have if you’re trapped under the death grip of boredom, especially at the lower-than-usual price of $29.99.

 

Gunpey (PSP) Review

Developer: Q Entertainment / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall: 8.5/10

Q Entertainment kindled a puzzle-loving flame that was deep inside me. For some reason, combining puzzle action with electronic music made me a puzzle fan in short manner after years of being very impartial towards them. After getting my fill of Lumines and Lumines II, something new needed to fill up the large gaps in my life with no puzzle game to play. That’s where Gunpey stepped in. Based on Gunpei Yokoi’s original Gunpey on the WonderSwan, Q has taken the liberty of enhancing the formula to integrate its crazy backgrounds and electronic music that is seemingly trademark of the company’s puzzle games.

The basic concept of Gunpey is quite simple. The goal is to clear lines that appear on the grid by connecting them from the left side of the grid to the right side. Pieces at the bottom of the screen randomly appear at varying speeds and quantities that can and will throw kinks into your plans of obtaining all forty skins that are included in the game. You’re not restricted to just making lines, however. From the four different lines that make up the Gunpey puzzle, you can create shapes, long zig-zagging lines, and anything else that you can think of.

While the concept of Gunpey is simple enough, the actual difficulty can go from a breeze to a hurricane in a matter of minutes. The main game’s Challenge mode progresses by changing skins – a combination of background and music – and by digression, unlocking the skins you play through. The ever-present goal that is presented in Challenge mode is to unlock all the skins and beat your previous high scores. Skins in Challenge mode have a very untraditional progression as far as difficulty goes. The first three skins are very easy to complete, but after a predetermined amount of skins, you’ll always hit a really obscurely hard skin that will kick your ass if you don’t pay enough attention to what’s happening on the grid. After you get through a “hard” skin, the game will slow down again, as if it’s giving you a rest from what just happened. This pattern of progression is similar to what happens throughout the game, except the little “breaks” you might have are very relative according to which level you’re on. This game is merciless when it comes down to it. If you don’t keep on your toes, a line you didn’t see could pass into the top squares and before you know it, you lose all your progress. It is very disconcerting when you’re eighteen skins in, and all of a sudden lose, knowing that you’re barely even halfway through while questioning your ability.

While Challenge mode is the “main” game, Gunpey offers many different types of modes that will keep the game’s formula fresh and challenging for quite a while. There are modes to play with two skins at the same time, an oversized Gunpey grid, and Ad Hoc multiplayer. The selection of different spins on Gunpey is a very nice addition to break up the frustration of Challenge mode.

While Gunpey is a very well put together title, there are a few grievances that affect the overall sentiment. For one, skins take way too long to complete. Compared to Lumines and Lumines II, Gunpey’s skins take at least twice as long to complete, typically around five minutes. It can be quite nerve-racking if you’re trying to power through and experience all the skins, which I’m still not able to do. Another annoying aspect is the absence of any option of auto-saving. Being a major proponent of auto-saving, I found it quite unfortunate that a game like Gunpey does not have it. A somewhat interesting, and very annoying, design choice occurs after you complete a line. If you’re moving a piece just as a line disappears, the game will stop responding to any of your button pushes for a small increment of time. When it comes to a fast-thinking game like Gunpey, it is a big oversight and needless restriction. Unless that’s part of the game’s intentional difficulty, which it doesn’t feel like, it’s just plain annoying.

Gunpey is definitely not the most complex puzzle game I’ve experienced, but it is certainly a great addition to the PSP’s library when all is said and done. Gunpey is another example of how well the PSP plays puzzle games, especially ones that are audio and visual-intensive. I can only hope that Q Entertainment keeps rolling with more unique puzzlers like Gunpey.

 

Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 (PSP) Review

Developer: Omega Force / Publisher: Koei || Overall: 7.5/10

Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series has seen quite a few implementations since its conception in the late 90s. Based on Chinese history and the battles that surround its historical figures, the 3D action game has seen a second iteration on the PSP. While Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 will probably remind you of the same exact game seen on home consoles, there is something to be said for it being portable.

Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 is a sequel to Dynasty Warriors for PSP, which was released at launch. Vol. 2 is the first Dynasty Warriors game I’ve ever laid my hands on. While I wasn’t expecting much, I was satisfied with the experience that the game offers, and best of all it works pretty well for a portable.

The main mode of play is called the Musou Mode. In this mode, you select a character that is a part of one of the multiple Chinese kingdoms that existed at that time in history. Once selected, you will fight a series of five battles, unlocking different battles as you make your way through the game with your selected character. There are many characters to choose from, so this in itself will keep players busy for a long time to come if you want to increase each character’s stats.

Gameplay is exactly as seen before in the series – nothing should surprise you if you played a Dynasty Warriors game before. You go through the game and destroy all who stand in your way with your superhuman player character. While the gameplay basically stays the same between each of the different selectable characters, it differs ever so slightly by the special powers and weapons they have in their arsenal. You’ll be mowing through underlings but every once in a while you’ll fight a boss-like character. The boss characters are usually commanders of a particular group of soldiers, and once defeated, their army will retreat.

When you invade an area, you will enter a battle with the forces that occupy the area. Battles can change against and toward your favor if a new army invades the area you’re currently fighting in, which can change the outcome of the battle if you’re not fast enough. To win a battle, you’ll have to defeat all the enemy forces. To lose one, you’ll have to either retreat out of the battle, have your main character be defeated, or lose all your forces. There are other extraneous objectives that you’ll have to complete to actually defeat the whole stage you are on, but they vary from occupying a certain amount of areas to defeating an enemy general’s army.

Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 is a great title to waste time with, simply because it’s a fast game to play with almost no loading times. The only time you’ll see any noticeable loading is when you first start the game and when a stage is selected. Once you begin a stage, there is absolutely no loading between different areas. There is also a very solid frame rate that will not result in any ghosting on the PSP’s LCD screen, and one can enjoy the action as it happens with practically no slow down at all.

There are noticeable sacrifices to achieve the steady frame rate and excellent load time, however. Almost all the areas look exactly the same – very rarely will the map you’re fighting on actually change within the stage unless you’re on a special area like an enemy’s base, which obviously puts less strain on the game to have to load something new. To keep the frame rate steady, you’ll see that there will always be enemies popping in and out of nowhere. No doubt this is because there is a maximum amount of actual characters that will be shown on screen at the same time. Sometimes you’ll even kill an enemy you don’t even see, which means the game knows that there’s an enemy somewhere but they won’t actually show up until you kill another enemy.

The main control issue I have with the game is that there is no easy way to change your camera’s view. Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 begs for a right analog stick, as the chase camera that is almost always behind your character’s back does not do well against enemies that are hidden behind the camera itself. There is a quick way to turn the camera around, by using the L shoulder button it will refocus the camera to behind the character’s back again. So if you turn in the direction you want to look all the time, it will be fairly easy to manipulate the camera. Otherwise, the game is fairly solid in its 3D beat-em-up style, as the controls are very responsive, and you’ll have different special attacks to keep using throughout battles.

Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 is a recommendable PSP game if you want to take Dynasty Warriors out of the house with you. While the experience you’ll get isn’t exactly unique to the PSP, it is unique in the way that it is on the PSP. There is plenty of gameplay to be had if you want to put the time into it, which is important when looking for a game to waste time with on a portable.

 

Lumines II (PSP) Review

Developer: Q Entertainment / Publisher: Buena Vista Games || Overall: 8.5/10

Q Entertainment’s Lumines has become one of the PSP’s staple games. Even as a launch title, the first Lumines still holds up well, even in the wake of its sequel, Lumines II. Lumines II expands upon the great puzzle fun that was to be had with Lumines in the form of new challenges, and a ton of new skins. However, Lumines II delivers a completely different experience from the first Lumines, even though it includes “remixed” versions of songs that were included in the original.

The main distinguishing factor between Lumines and Lumines II is the streamlining of the menu system. Lumines II has a very slick menu system that makes cycling through the various modes offered easy. Not to mention, it is oddly fun in its own right. This time around there’s a lot more to do, and a lot more skins to acquire. In Challenge mode, you are able to take on three different “classes.” Class B, Class A, and Class S all include their own unique skins to play through. In reality, the different classes are actually just shortcuts to a certain point in a full Lumines II lap, as you will be able to play Class S skins if you start in Class B. That is, if you’re good enough to not lose before you get there. In fact, if you’re able to beat each class, a new class will be unlocked that let’s you play through a whole lap including all the skins of Lumines II.

A very important part of the Lumines formula is the music. Lumines fans might be surprised by the music selection in Lumines II because there is quite a bit of licensed popular music, which may or may not be to your fancy. Whether or not you like Fat Boy Slim, Beck, Gwen Stefani, or Missy Elliott, among others, may be a testament to your resolve for how much you like to play the game and unlock new skins through the challenge mode. There are still independent electronic tracks akin to the first Lumines, and a few that are actually very catchy. For most of the licensed tracks, the music video will play in the background as you’re deleting the magical squares. It’s a new level of distraction to see an actual music video playing behind the game, which is quite unlike most of the regular, less noticeable skins. A music video created by Q Entertainment, Genki Rockets’ “Heavenly Star,” is probably the only music video that really proves its worth to be in the game because of how it looks and sounds. Most of the other songs don’t really mend well with the overall electronic soundtrack. When it comes down to it, it really seems like they could have done a better job in the choice of music. For example, I don’t totally loathe Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” but they could have picked something by her that had a little more music to it. A delightful addition to the formula is the Skin Edit Mode, which allows you to build a custom playlist full of the songs you like and leave out the songs you don’t. The only bad thing about this is that it might be a little hard to remember which skin was which, since there is no way to preview skins as you’re selecting them.

All of the modes that were introduced in the first Lumines have been carried over to Lumines II. The modes include VS CPU, Time Attack Mode, and Puzzle Mode. All except Time Attack Mod have been beefed up in terms of content. Time Attack still offers the separate 60/180/300/600 second modes, which allows you to play for a distinct amount of time rather than the variable amount you may play in Challenge mode. VS CPU is no different from what’s found in the first game, which is unfortunate since it would have been nice if they balanced it out a little bit, or reworked the idea completely. Puzzle mode includes all of the puzzles from the first game, so if you blew a vein the first time around, get ready to lose another one since you’ll have to do them all again from the beginning. A new mode, called Mission Mode, gives you specific challenges to complete which are unlike puzzles. Missions usually include having to clear all the blocks in a certain amount of “steps.” Another kind of challenge presented is to fill up the entire game screen with blocks — which will be harder than you think it might be.

An ad hoc multiplayer and data exchange mode (for comparing scores) is included if you have a friend who has a copy of Lumines II. Game sharing allows you to share a demo of Lumines II with a friend. More avatar characters are available to choose from, replay files are able to be saved and loaded, a tutorial mode full of helpful tips, and a free trial of Every Extend Extra are all the different extras that come with Lumines II. A new Song Editor mode allows you to make your own songs with the in-game sequencer. It might be a little hard to get a good song going, but it’s technically possible to make some neat tunes. There are only four slots for custom songs, however. You can load songs from your memory stick, so it is possible to share songs, in some capacity, with others.

Unfortunately Lumines II isn’t the perfect sequel, which is surprising after one looks at how much it falls back on the “more Lumines” forumla. A curious exclusion is the auto-save, which is non-existent as an option. For some reason, Q Entertainment thought it would be better to let us choose when to save everything (which is basically at the end of every game we are playing). Another potential feature that was disappointingly left out is the ability to have individual scoreboards for each skin. It would have been nice to be able to try and beat your best score on a particular skin rather than the oddly non-specific “Skin Edit-Single Lap” score board, since you can add as many skins as you’d like in a single lap, and it doesn’t make any notation to how many skins were used in a “single lap.” A disheartening factor that really made getting into Lumines II feel stale was that there wasn’t much of a “theme song” to get you into the game for the first time. Similar to how “Shinin’” was the theme song for the first Lumines, the only “theme song” I could imagine for Lumines II was “Heavenly Star,” which is placed too far into the game to really meet theme song qualifications.

Even with its faults, Lumines II is a valuable puzzle experience because it offers many different things to do. You will probably get more mileage here when compared to the original, but since the first edition is cheaper it could be hard to recommend Lumines II over it at full price. What both games have going for them is that they deliver separate experiences while fundamentally being the same game, but if it came down to it, Lumines II would be the better long-term purchase due to its sheer amount of skins and content.

 

Platypus (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: MumboJumbo Games || Overall: 4.0/10

Shooters are usually a dime a dozen, especially since they’ve fallen out of favor in recent years. Not very many great games are in the genre nowadays, but once in a while a respectable game does come along that intrigues you to play it because of a style choice or just doing the genre justice in its own right. Platypus is one of these commendable games – well, the PC version is, at least. Unfortunately for the PSP port of the original PC game, it didn’t follow through.

No way around it – Platypus for PSP is borked. From the ground up, the game is a nearly unplayable mess of frustration that corrodes any interest you may have for its clay-animated graphic style. The biggest problem is the severely underpowered default weapon. There’s something wrong when you land consistent shots at a target, and as they leave the playing area (never to return) they’re still not dead. Furiously pounding on the X button doesn’t help either – it’s the simple problem of weapon balancing. The normal blaster should have been made twice as powerful. The regular weapon is such a game breaking aspect of the title that it makes experiencing the game a waste of time. It is to the point that if you genuinely wanted to try out the game with this in mind, I would shoo you away to an insane asylum. It’s that bad.

Yes, there are weapon power-ups, but due to the game’s horrid level design they are rendered useless, since they rely on a timer rather than ammo count. There will be sections of a level (usually after you acquire a power-up) where there will be absolutely no enemies to kill, wasting any sort of advantage you may have had acquiring the precious power-up. Power-ups include a rapid blaster, an underpowered soundwave weapon, and “the most powerful” missiles (which are also underpowered for what they are). Perhaps the game wouldn’t have been so bad if you could infinitely use one of the power-ups you got, or if they were actually acquirable more often, alas they are not. No amount of searches has resulted in finding cheats for the game either.

The saving grace of the game lies in its graphics and music. It’s very unique in its own right – even so far as to say that it’s the only reason to play the game in the first place – to use claymation in a shooter. Everything from the little red specks to the explosions is made in this fashion, and is pulled off fairly well. Extra levels and bosses also do appear in the PSP version, but they are made from Frankenstein-ing (for lack of a better term) other graphics together to create them. Music will also be a source of nostalgia for those that remember where certain songs came from. Many are re-makes of music from old Commodore 64 games.

Amidst some actual background controversy about the PSP version’s history, it’s very hard to recommend this game to anyone except for the most die-hard shoot-em-up fan that is in desperate need for a title to rejuvenate their life energy. There is no point to the game other than creating frustration, and helping in the development of a brain aneurysm. The game is playable, albeit hardly, so it might not be so bad if you could get it for around a dollar.

 

Ultimate Ghosts’n Goblins (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: Capcom || Overall: 8.5/10

A famous side-scrolling series from Capcom has made its way to the PSP in the form of Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins. Infamous for its difficulty, Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins is presented in beautiful 2.5D (2D in a 3D world). You take control of Arthur, a knight that must save a princess from the clutches of evil by battling through five hellish stages, collecting hidden golden rings along the way. Using the tools and weapons available along the way, UGnG has a very simple objective and requires little understanding in terms of how to play. Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins earns its rank of being one of the most difficult games to come out recently, capturing a retro feeling at the same time.

For new players to the series, Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins is flexible, but stays true to its objectives. When starting a new game, you are presented with three difficulty modes: Novice, Standard, and Ultimate. The game is basically the same through all of the settings, but how the game treats you dictates the difficulty. In Novice mode, you’ll start out with many lives, and after you die your weapons will remain powered up upon re-spawning. In Standard, you only start with two lives and no post-mortem powered-up weapons. In Ultimate mode, your armor is weak, breaking in only one hit, and when you die, you’ll restart at the beginning of the level (and with regular weapons) rather than re-spawning close to where you had died.

The frantic side-scrolling action that comes with the game might be hard to get used to at first, but when you learn what to expect from the game in terms of enemies materializing from thin air, it becomes more manageable. Crybabies will find no solace here — the whole point of the game is to be difficult. Enemies will pop out of nowhere, infinitely respawn, and attack you from all sides. Capcom pulled out all the stops to make the game as difficult as it can be, but they still managed to make it fun. While there aren’t many stages to work your way through, the difficulty and the randomness of the enemies and obstacles will work toward extending the game’s life. Not to mention there are quite a few items to collect and earn that will help extend the life of the title.

In a game like UGnG, story is not important — a basic “save the princess” scenario is laid out in the beginning of the game, and off you go destroying enemies. Many weapons, types of magic, and shields are available for use. Each weapon has its own advantage or disadvantage depending on what you need to accomplish. Some weapons can be used quickly while others take longer between each shot. Weapons include daggers, whips, arrows, and many more. Magic spells can also be used to your advantage and usually pack the punch needed to get through a tight spot. Shields also help with defense, but one shield in particular, the Dragon Shield, is an important one — it can be used to help you fly for a limited amount of time, helping you reach places that would otherwise be impossible to get to. Different kinds of armor are also available.

Throughout levels, random treasure chests of either a blue or red color will appear. Well, they seem like they’re “random” but in all actuality their appearances occur when you touch predetermined objects or areas. Within these chests are weapons, power-ups, or even new magic spells that can help you complete your journey.

The gameplay mechanics are tight and responsive. The game depends a lot on jumping over hazards or getting through an obstacle in a certain amount of time, both requiring a lot of skill from the player. Most of the game is played through the use of three buttons — Square for using weapons, X for Jumping, with circle being used to activate magic. Stage design is the absolute strong point of the title, even though it can be merciless at times. Many of the hardest parts of the game depend on timing and only having a limited amount of chances to make your way through obstacles. Boss battles, like the rest of the game, are challenging yet fun, and occur at right times to break up the pacing of the game.

Other shining aspects include the graphics and sound. Through and through, Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins is visually a great game to experience. Practically all the levels have at least some sort of eye candy, as can be seen in the screenshots. Sound effects and music are also of top quality. The soundtrack is very good as well. The full audiovisual package is quite amazing for a handheld, especially considering that load times don’t last much longer than one to three seconds at a time, and no loading or slowdown is seen at all when playing through a full stage. The game runs at a solid frame count, which lends itself greatly to the high action that UGnG prides itself with.

A number of things keep the game from being perfect, however. The most annoying of the flaws is not being able to control your double-jump while in mid-air. When you need to jump onto an exact spot, it is very hard to be accurate. For example, if you’re next to a gravestone and need to jump on top of it to activate something, you can’t go right up to it and then jump up on it. You have to go back a few steps and then jump onto it. It’s simply impossible to change direction while you’re doing a double-jump, enforcing the fact that you’ll have to look before your leap. Another disconcerting aspect of the game is the fact that there are quite a few elements not explained well, or even at all. For example, there is no explanation of what a shaking grave stone means or what to do with circular portal-looking things. Little things like this pull the final product down from being as enjoyable as it could be, because all it does is create more frustration (as if the regular gameplay didn’t do that enough as it is).

Gamers looking for a true challenge will find Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins to be one of the most enthralling side-scrolling experiences to come out for quite some time. As a throwback to the retro days of when the side-scroller was king, Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins is a game that shouldn’t be passed over. It’s a perfect portable game to have, with especially fast load times and quick starting gameplay that can easily kill time.

 

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: Square Enix || Overall: 9.0/10

Being a fan of pretty much any SquareSoft RPG from the PSOne era, it has always pained my heart that I was never able to experience the uniqueness that was encapsulated in the Tri-Ace-developed Valkyrie Profile, published by its future bedmate Enix. Square Enix answered my prayers with the re-release of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, a couple of months before the prequel Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria. Being a self-proclaimed hardcore fan of Final Fantasy games, I found VP: Lenneth to be a very jostling experience compared to the other products Squaresoft pushed back in the day. While the game could end up not delivering what you would expect after a full playthrough, it is a very fun 16-bit RPG nonetheless.

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth’s setting is quite unique from what is usually seen for games based in mythology. It’s not uncommon to see Greek, Roman, or even medieval games, given that those are the most familiar mythologies American society has grown up with. Until VP: Lenneth, I had never heard of the lesser-known Norse Mythology, and that is what VP itself is based on. Without some background understanding about the words “Asgard,” “Valhalla,” and “Einherjar” I was simply perplexed by what any of the characters in the game were actually talking about, since it offers no explanation within itself (a theme in VP: Lenneth seems to be that it doesn’t explain itself on purpose).

However, a simple query online through one’s favorite search engine can answer the questions that may arise. Understanding the concepts of Norse Mythology might take a little more time, but you get my drift. Now, while saying that VP is “based” on Norse Mythology is true, it does not necessarily mean all of the concepts it introduces are exactly true to Norse Mythology itself. You’ll have to take the events that happen in the game as just that – events that happen in the game. It’s not a retelling of any particular story except the one that was fictionalized for the game, though it might be based on mythological figures.

The basis of the game’s actual story is that you are a Valkyrie named Lenneth. Valkyries are the female death servants of Lord Odin, ruler of the Æsir, who lives in a large palace named Valhalla. A Valkyrie’s purpose is to obtain human souls from Earth that exhibit a strong capability of helping fight the war in Asgard (Norse Heaven), which rages between the two rival groups of Gods known as the Æsir and the Vanir. Though in Norse Mythology Valkyries don’t exactly engage in combat directly as seen in the game, Lenneth is quite the badass when it comes down to her fighting skills. Lenneth also brings worthy human souls along with her into battle, who are called Einherjar. The term is used by the Gods to refer to the spirit of a warrior who died bravely in battle. For a religion thought up by Vikings who valued war, it’s not surprising that those who exhibit bravery in battle would be seen as special.

Lenneth, also referenced as just “Valkyrie,” must find enough Einherjar to help the Æsir before Ragnarok (the end of the world) comes about. You control Lenneth through all the different stories and dungeons that occur through the game’s progression in a Chapter/Period system. There are 24 periods in a “day,” known as a chapter, and eight days to go through before Ragnarok. So that means Valkyrie is on a tight schedule. Lucky enough for you, there is no traditional trekking through different parts of the world map before you get to the next event. Valkyrie can fly! So you can save lots of time by just flying to the next destination. You’ll also know exactly where to go, so there’s no guesswork involved in whether or not you should go to a certain town unless you feel the need to waste your allotted time. Even though the Chapter/Period system might seem a bit restrictive, when it comes down to it there just isn’t all that much extra stuff to do. Without intentionally wasting time visiting places you’ve already been to, you will be able to get through all the character’s mini-stories and dungeons within the confines of the given time. Still, you must transfer at least one (preferably two, since it’s the max) Einherjar to Asgard if you want to keep a good standing with Lord Odin.

Another unique aspect of the game is that it is almost exclusively in 2D. Save for the world map, there will be lots of platforming and running through doors on either side of a room. It is also multilayered – you can go to the “rear” or the “front” so there isn’t just one long string of rooms you progress through. The battle system is by far one of the most unique from the era and still is to this day. When in battle, each character is assigned to a face button, and when they are activated in a devastating-enough pattern, you are able to perform a special attack. Each character will have one unique special attack that they will use for the whole game, which can deal some very damaging blows that can make or break a battle in the desperate times. It is also important to note that special attacks can be strung together as long as a gauge in the bottom left of the screen fills up to 100 after any series of attacks.

Three kinds of items can pop out of an enemy as you fight them. There are purple orbs for using special attacks/magic more often, blue crystals giving 10% more experience each, and treasure chests symbolizing items you obtain after the battle is over. The way a battle progresses is in a combination of real-time and turn-based. When it is your turn, you can use all of your characters at the same time and get through your turn in a relatively short fashion if you choose to. It is a completely different system from the ATB system that was seen in FFVII/VIII/IX. The battle system is a very effective one, right up there with Xenogears’ implementation for non-ATB-based systems.

Another liberal idea that is executed in VP: Lenneth is the lack of any actual shops. That’s because Lenneth has the power to create items out of thin air by expending an amount of Materialize Points. As time goes on, stronger weapons and items will make themselves available for materialization. At the end of each chapter, you will be given another allotment of MP based on how well you did, which will have to go a long way considering that the next time you’ll get a significant amount of MP will be at the end of the next chapter. However, all is not lost, as you can convert items into MP if you’re just out of reach of a certain item’s price or simply don’t need a certain item. The whole item/weapon system is convenient, considering that you never have to hunt through a ton of different shops for a better weapon since you carry the shop with you. This Divine Item system, as it is known, can only be used on the world map or on save points.

Another interesting aspect of the game is that there are three different difficulty settings, as well as three different endings. The difficulty settings relate to how many dungeons you’ll be able to play and the level new characters start out with. Almost every help source I’ve seen suggests picking hard, for the fact that you can experience all of the dungeons that are in the game and see any of the three endings. The endings are referenced as “A,” “B,” and “C.” The “C” ending is the really bad ending, and is pretty easy to get. The “B” ending doesn’t explain anything that happened in the game, as you just get a pat on the back and off you go. The “A” ending is where the game should really be at, so do not play the game with the intention of getting any ending other than “A” if you don’t intend on playing this game more than once. Unfortunately for me, I knew nothing about which ending would be the most satisfying and ended up getting the “B” ending…resulting in a very underwhelming conclusion after pumping forty hours into the game. But I did have fun, and that’s the point, right?

When it comes to sound, it’s very cool to have a game from the PSOne era contain a decent amount of voiceovers in it. While it has become a de facto standard in my mind for most games I play now (especially dialogue-heavy games), I do have realistic expectations for games that were released nearly seven years ago. I found the voice work to be very satisfying, much like the graphics. Having a game that is entirely in animated 2D lends itself to having a sort of artistic beauty that is not hampered by a past generation’s typical look. There is nearly no frame rate slowdown in battles, as they play out with fluidity. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable slowdown in normal exploration as the camera scans left and right, not to mention the menu loading that is a bit longer than I would have liked, all of which can take away from the perceived quality of the emulation.

As for the portability of VP: Lenneth, I can say that it is the first and only portable RPG that I have sunk forty hours into. The record was previously held by Golden Sun, which I only spent around ten or fifteen hours with. Needless to say, VP: Lenneth works very well for portability, but if you’re looking for quick spurts of playing for five minutes, it might not be a great idea to play an RPG to begin with. If you’re away from a home console and have loads of time to kill, VP: Lenneth will be an excellent choice for RPG gamers. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to get through some of those long shifts at work without my PSP and VP: Lenneth.

VP: Lenneth is well worth the amount of money I spent to purchase the game the week it came out. I am glad that I am able to experience this game when it was nearly impossible to do such a thing for the past few years. For being one of the rarest PSOne games, it’s almost a steal to have it available at a normal price point.

 

WTF: Work Time Fun (PSP) Review

Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment / Publisher: D3 Publisher || Overall: 6.0/10

Jobs these days are too complex. Why can’t we be paid for simply adding numbers together, chopping wood or putting caps on septillion pens? Why aren’t there stupid jobs that would pay you in pennies rather than dollars? To that, I say WTF!!!! Not “what the fuck,” silly, I mean Work Time Fun, the game!

Known as “Byte Hell 2000” in Japan, WTF: Work Time Fun is a mini-game compilation published in North America by D3Publisher of America, and developed by Sony Computer Entertainment. It’s easy to tell how D3PA’s localization shapes the feel of the game, when it comes to what is being communicated to you through text or voice — however; those are the least important aspects of WTF. The real meat comes in the form of mini-games called jobs. The reason they’re called jobs is simple — many depict a form of labor or a task to be done rather than being an actual small game, so to speak.

Most of the jobs are very simple, requiring you to only use one or two buttons. Possibly the best thing about the game as a whole, is that it takes very little time to load each job, and you can get right into playing each game. Usually taking less than a few seconds to get from the top menu and right into it, you’ll only be inhibited by your patience at working any one particular job.

To start a game, you’ll have to go to the Job Placement Office. There, you’ll be able to select one of four jobs to get paid for at any given time. Meaning, even if you’re able to work at more than four jobs, you’ll only be able to choose one of the four that are available when you go into the Job Placement Office, which will force you to play games you don’t exactly want to play. As you complete jobs, you’ll earn money and earn rankings for how far you get within particular jobs; its not too complicated.

Other than putting caps on pens, chopping wood, and counting in your head, there are jobs like sorting chickens, catching baseballs, collecting mushrooms while avoiding traffic, counting people as they pass by, cliff racing and others. One notable game is 4 Fingers, in which you smack a sharp object into the table in between your fingers, and as you pass your hands the sharp object will go faster and faster forcing you to change the rhythm of your button presses. My personal favorite game is Demonstration Round Up, a game that is similar to PC and cell phone favorite Snake, in which you’ll incite a riot by emptying colorized buildings full of people. Once you collect the people that come out of the buildings, they will be added on to your large chain of people. You have to be careful because riot police will break up your line, and make a large part of your effort be for nothing. If Demonstration Roundup were fleshed out into a larger game, it would be quite enjoyable, despite its lack of graphical impressiveness. Other original games are included, and some can be aligned to classical arcade games with a spin on them, or simply be seen as some of the worst “games” to ever be conceived. It’s really a mixed bag when it comes to the selection of games.

When you earn money, you can take it to the vending machines. With the vending machines, you can take your chances at getting new jobs, trinkets, and tools. Jobs are rather rare, as are tools. Tools are simple little programs that will help you do something rather meaningless. There are things like a multi-colored flashlight, easy bill splitter, and a ramen timer. The ramen timer is quite humorous. Depending on which version you choose and for how long, you can either see a buff Japanese guy saying “muscle muscle muscle” for three minutes, or a cute Japanese girl saying “goody goody” for five minutes; it’s certainly helpful when you want to make ramen, I suppose. The interesting thing about the ramen timer’s video is that it uses the PSP the long way, so their full bodies will take up most of the screen rather than being squished or only seeing part of their body in the normal way.

The graphics are mediocre at best. Practically all the games are in 2D, and look pretty bad to boot. WTF is not a game that tries to please the eyes, to say the least. The sound effects are quite annoying at times, and very little music is actually played through any of the games involved, usually letting you focus on the job at hand rather than anything else. The multiplayer options are quite nice. Game sharing can be a big part of the game if you let it be — any friend with a PSP can help you out with your jobs by having them “outsourced” and their earnings will be put into your pocket for use in the vending machines.

If you’re looking for a game to waste time with, WTF: Work Time Fun is not a bad choice. There is a sprinkling of humor, but as a game, it’s not that much fun. The main draw here is definitely the humor, but what you get out of it really depends on the amount of time you can sink into doing the monotonous tasks that are available; when there’s nothing to do at work, it probably can’t get any worse than this.

 

Gitaroo Man Lives! (PSP) Review

Note: I am unsure if I finished this review or not.  It now serves as a little blurb about just the port of the game from PS2 to PSP, and not that much of an analysis.  Generally, it was worth playing.

Developer/Publisher: Koei || Overall: 8.5/10

The transfer of Gitaroo Man from PlayStation 2 to PlayStation Portable is quite impressive.  The visuals have taken little noticeable hit in terms of actual quality and the visuals are akin to how they are expected to be on a home console. The only downside to this, however, is that it takes a good ten to fifteen seconds before each song to load, which is quite a wait by any standards. Fortunately, if you fail at a song, the song can reset without any loading whatsoever, so you can get right back into it.  I’d gladly take an initial hit in loading rather than it having to be done repeatedly through the course of new attempts. The controls on the PSP, as opposed to the PS2 version can be a little bit more challenging, especially since the buttons are smaller and the analog nub is simply not as forgiving as a Dual Shock’s analog stick would be.

Gitaroo Man Lives! is an enjoyable game, just like its PlayStation 2 counterpart. While you’ll definitely have to keep an open mind for the types of songs that you’ll be playing, fantastic sound quality and an interesting way to play a music/rhythm game allows for a unique package that can’t easily be found elsewhere. The availability of Gitaroo Man Lives! will make it a good buy if you want to see what Gitaroo Man is all about.

 

Metal Gear Solid Digital Graphic Novel (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: Konami || Overall: 9.0/10

Metal Gear Solid Digital Graphic Novel (MGS DGN) from Kojima Productions and Konami, is a very unique product for the PSP. Not exactly a game per se, the MGS DGN is a very interesting addition to the Metal Gear Solid library and for PSP owners, a unique way to experience Metal Gear Solid.

In the same vein of The Silent Hill Experience, the MGS DGN’s main feature is the comic adaptation of the Metal Gear Solid story. While there isn’t any voice acting, the comic captures the awesome feeling of Metal Gear Solid’s story perfectly. Practically every event and detail has been included in the adaptation, save the gameplay portions, which are improvised into semi-action scenes with sound effects and action being drawn. The story is changed ever so slightly so that the adapted parts of Metal Gear Solid’s gameplay make sense. The end of the story is also changed from the game, creating a combination of the two possible endings from the original.

The art is absolutely spectacular. It’s very stylistic, and is true to its graphic novel calling card. What’s different about the MGS DGN from The Silent Hill Experience is that it’s interactive. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly that easy to pause the action going on so that you have more time to read the speech bubbles, but an extra mode that is included makes use of the interactivity in the regular story mode. With a press of the Square button at any time, you can stop the comic from playing and “search” the pictures with a set of crosshairs. Once you find something that is highlighted, a “Memory Element” is added to your collection for later use. Memory Elements could be anything from a person to a gun to a scrap of paper in someone’s hand. Anything is fair game for being a Memory Element.

Memory Elements are used in the slightly more complicated “Memory Building Simulation Mode.” The purpose of this mode is to fully understand all the elements of the Metal Gear Solid story and all the connections between characters, events, and things of that sort through the whole series. If you want to get a full understanding of the story, this is the mode to spend most of your time with. To unlock all the connections, however, you’ll have to watch the story mode very closely and make sure you get all the different Memory Elements so that you can use them. Memory connections are made by directing a line coming out of a box towards another box floating in 3D space. It’s a little hard to direct the lines to the next connection, but the whole concept of the mode isn’t hard to make sense of.

The reason I personally liked this title so much is because of the way the graphic novel is presented. I appreciate the way the art looks and how the music and sound effects make me feel and remember the experiences I had when playing Metal Gear Solid. The collecting of Memory Elements allows for more player interaction and gives me a more thorough understanding of the series if I had missed something.

The Metal Gear Solid Digital Graphic Novel is a very cool item to have in the PSP’s library. It might not be a traditional Metal Gear Solid game, but Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops should help out in that department. I found the whole product to be very well worth it. The Metal Gear Solid story is a very enthralling experience in comic form, and it would be great to see the other games have the same treatment as the first did.

 

Field Commander (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment || Overall: 9.3/10

The PSP has proven to be my favorite way to play strategy games. With games like Metal Gear Acid, Metal Gear Acid 2, and now Field Commander, it’s shown me that playing turn-based strategy games on a handheld can be a lot more enjoyable than on a home console. What sets Field Commander apart from the other strategy games I’ve mentioned is that it’s more of a regular strategy game, which prides itself on its gameplay rather than its story. Containing a challenging campaign mode along with online multiplayer play and a random battle mode, Field Commander is the strategy game to have on the PSP.

Field Commander is a very full featured game with a roughly thirty-mission campaign mode that will train you from being a green CO (Commanding Officer) to the savior of the world. The campaign mode’s story starts out with a terrorist organization called Shadow Nation, and through the skirmishes you undertake against their multiple COs, you’ll slowly learn about their fanatical plan that they aim to put in place to destroy the world. The campaign is cleverly designed but overall is not that hard for seasoned strategy gamers. There are a couple of annoying missions sprinkled throughout the game, but they can easily be completed once you figure out what needs to be done.

The game is played with all types of units. Ground, sea, and air units allow for all kinds of strategy to take place. To give you an idea of what units there actually are, there are snipers, tanks, helicopters, stealth fighters, submarines, and battleships to name a few.

Each unit has a weakness and a strength that if you utilize effectively will make you a formidable force on the battlefield. Stealth units are also a major strategic advantage (and disadvantage if used against you). The units that can go into a “stealth mode” are the snipers, concealed tanks, stealth fighters, and submarines. For the snipers and concealed tanks, their range of fire is increased greatly, which allows for major damage of an enemy unit with no counterattack. For stealth fighters and submarines, they are able to creep up on enemy units that normally would be able to destroy them if they weren’t in stealth mode. The major disadvantage for stealth units are their movement speeds – they can only move one square at a time, which not only results in them moving slow but uses up a lot of their fuel.

Fuel and ammo are a very important part of a unit’s upkeep – if they run out of fuel, the unit literally blows up and dies. Without ammo, the unit becomes practically useless. Units can re-supply at towns or if supply trucks are nearby, they can get a more local servicing. Every unit in the game has a maximum of ten HP. If a unit is damaged, they must either go back to a town and heal for a few turns or join with another damaged unit of the same type so the HP can be added on top of whatever unit is being joined. Other times, it might be beneficial to destroy a unit and reacquire a percentage of the funds you spent on creating it and use it on building a new unit at a Factory, Airport, or Seaport.

As you play through missions, you will unlock new COs, divisions, maps, and units to use as you progress through the campaign as well as in the other modes the game has to offer. Which CO you choose doesn’t matter as much as which division you chose. There are a huge amount of unique divisions to choose through, and each have two of their own Division Powers. Division Powers vary but basically fall into three different kinds of categories: unit spawning, attack/defense increase, or damaging an enemy unit. Every time you activate a division’s special power a description will pop up allowing you to understand how to use it effectively.

The battle system for the game is almost perfect. Its fun to play, easy to get a hang of, and doesn’t have horrible load times either. The only bad parts about the game are the times when the enemy takes anywhere from ten to twenty seconds to think about what it should do. Though it doesn’t happen all that often, its still a problem since you’ll just be sitting there looking at a bar constantly fill up and empty to show that the computer is “thinking” about its next moves. Occasionally, you do hit a small load time when you put your cursor over a unit or even when you press the start button, but once it loads the first time, it doesn’t usually require another “loading” pause. Unfortunately the game does have some freezing issues as well. I encountered two freezes later on in the campaign mode, on the more advanced levels, which aren’t particularly that easy, especially when you have to do it again due to the game freezing. The game does offer the ability to save a battle (as long as it’s your turn) so that you can go back to it later, which not only allows you to (hopefully) circumvent any huge damage resulting from a possible freeze but allows you to come back later and play the game from where you left off without having to put the PSP in sleep mode.

The online capabilities for the game are enticing for those who want more after beating the campaign mode. You can check your leaderboard status and see how you compare to other people who play online, in single and multiplayer. Also, you can download a ton of custom missions made by other people on your PC and download them to your PSP. If you’re done with the campaign mode and want to play some more missions, hop onto the Field Commander site and check out all the extra content there is to play.

Field Commander is an awesome PSP game. Though the campaign is a bit short, the alternative modes allow for more game time to be put in. The game packs a lot of value for a portable game, and is well worth a look for any strategy game fan.

 

Silent Hill Experience, The (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: Konami || Overall: 8.5/10

If you’re looking to get into the Silent Hill series, why not start with an animated comic book? That’s exactly what the Silent Hill Experience is; two hours of digital comic books, music from the games, and a few extra videos. Even with the additional media, the main feature of the title itself is quite obviously the digital comic books, and with good reason.

In basically what can be described as a movie you read with an awesome soundtrack, the comics included on the UMD are very interesting. If you are new to the Silent Hill series, like I am, the comics can seem a little “out there” in terms of understanding what is going on story-wise. After a while, however, you can understand the world Silent Hill creates in itself and what happens to the people that interact with it. The art style is very unique, and if you appreciate that kind of thing, it’s worth the price tag in itself. The drawings hold nothing back in terms of graphicness – you’ll see lots of blood, gore, and everything in between. The colors really make the comics come to life and once you get into it, you feel like you’re actually immersed with what is happening. And obviously being all about horror, Silent Hill can be quite scary in terms of what’s happening rather than you being actually scared.

There are two comics included in The Silent Hill Experience. One was made specifically for this release, “The Hunger,” and the other is named “Silent Hill: Dying Inside.” “Dying Inside” is a comic translated into a digital comic by Konami, and separated into four parts. The way you would watch one of these comics, is simply by selecting which part you wanted to watch from the menu and letting it go from there. The comic panels will fade in, zoom in, zoom out, and fade away into the next panel for you to look at. There is no interactivity with the comics themselves, there’s a limited amount of time for you to read and watch each panel. Altogether, these comics are as long as a feature-length film.

The music that accompanies the comics as they play helps in the immersion of the story as it unfolds. The music changes at just the right moments to help in the immersion of the whole experience. What would have improved the whole thing, would have actually been a featuring of voice-overs to help with the immersion even more.

The comics can also move a bit faster than you might like if you’re not a fast reader – I usually have to Pause the video every time a new speech bubble comes along. As for the other stuff, it’s not too much to get excited about. There are music 20 music tracks from the series, a video interview, and other video content from the Silent Hill games.

The video interface can be a little confusing, as it’s presented in a way in which you’re flying through an abandoned and severely damaged school. Different rooms contain different pieces of content. How you move around almost simulates how a first person view board game would be; you press up and you go in a pre-determined direction. Sometimes you have to figure out exactly which way to go to get to certain pieces of content, sometimes resulting in you accidentally going back the way you came and losing track of where you were before.

The Silent Hill Experience uses the PSP in a unique way by exploiting its multimedia strengths. The Silent Hill Experience is a perfect example of how a UMD Video that is marketed and produced directly for PSP users can do something more than a DVD. Seeing more of this kind of product on the PSP would definitely be cool. All in all, $20 isn’t too shabby for what you get in this package, and fans are sure to enjoy it.

 

Metal Gear Acid 2 (PSP) Review

Developer: Kojima Productions / Publisher: Konami || Overall: 9.3/10

The strategy genre is one in which I’ve had the opportunity to delve into more as of late. Just the luck of the draw I suppose, but ever since finishing the first Metal Gear Acid, I’ve been excited for more action from the series, and little less than a year it has come with Metal Gear Acid 2 (MGA2). Metal Gear Acid 2 is a vast improvement over its predecessor; a more refined formula of what had been initially introduced with the series.

The gameplay mechanics of MGA2 are essentially the same as those in the original Metal Gear Acid, just with improvements, but these improvements don’t change the basic game. If you’ve played through the first, then MGA2 will feel very familiar. Movement on the map has changed just a little bit; instead of watching an arrow come out of the player to plan a move out thoroughly, the player’s character will actually move in a “real-time” fashion. Other enhancements make basic movements much more streamlined. One thing that might be annoying is that instead of immediately having you chose the direction to face after you move, you have to remember to press the triangle button and then press the X button (as opposed to the circle button, which is the confirm button). The visual interface has also been enhanced to show what moves are available when picking an action. The basic strategies you have to manipulate have stayed relatively the same and are generally in line with the usual strategy game. The speed in which a mission progresses is a major aspect, as it helps to keep the game interesting.

The amount of available cards to acquire has been more than doubled. Approximately 550 cards are in Acid 2’s library, up from the 200 to collect in the first. Obviously a number of new cards had been added, but the main bulk of new cards come from being able to upgrade cards – a new feature that remedies the deterioration of lower-leveled cards through the game’s progression. Having so many cards also makes it a challenge to complete the collection. The concept of “Interference” has also been carried over, and MGA2 puts more stress on using it correctly over than the original had. Interference is the concept of an equipped item influencing a certain stat that another equipped item has. Used effectively, it could make things a little easier. It can also make things a little harder. There are a couple of new types of cards, most significant of which being automatically triggering cards that can help quite a bit during a mission, such as a hit % increase or an attack increase.

The biggest improvement over the first MGA is the sheer amount of opportunities of extra missions to earn extra points and cards and more varied game design. Once you complete an area in Metal Gear Acid 2, you can replay the area in several different ways, including Eliminate, Sneaking, and Special Mission. In Eliminate, you basically just kill all the enemies on the map. Sneaking, you have to get through the level without being detected at all. Special Missions are a lot more like puzzles, making you devise a way to complete an objective within the constraints of the challenge, whether it is allowing only a limited amount of cost to complete the objective, using a pre-made deck of cards, or completing something in one turn. There are special clear bonuses if you get an S rank after completing any story mission or extra mission given in the form of cards, so it is definitely worth your while to do your best in everything you do.

As for the visuals and sound, MGA2 has definitely been enhanced over the first. The biggest being the visual style, the game looks more like a comic book with outlined characters, as well as being vibrantly colored. It’s a nice change from a “regularly” colored game, even if it is funky to see Snake wearing blue shin guards. Sound is used in a better way overall, with most guns sounding unique from each other. What could be seen as a lacking aspect in the sound, however, is the absence of any voice-overs. It’s unfortunate that another game in the series has a lack of a vital aspect to sound in games nowadays. The story is pretty interesting, and completely independent from the first. For much of the game, Snake is dealing with amnesia and not knowing who he is other than a mercenary. Not that the story that is included was a bad choice to use, but I had become personally interested in the way the story of the first MGA could have been continued, but alas, a new story is what is given, and its delivered (yet again) in drawn stills. The inclusion of quite a few more bosses through the game breaks up the monotony of killing regular guards, and definitely solves the biggest qualm I had with the first MGA.

A big extra part of the game is the ability to watch movies in actual 3D with the accompanied Solid Eye plastic-coated cardboard “glasses” that slide over the PSP. As you collect more cards, more movies are available to watch in 3D. The movies to watch are basically every movie from Metal Gear Solid 3. And some movies of extremely hot chicks not usually wearing all that much or getting squirted with water or something like that. The music that plays over those movies made me feel kind of weird, just because all you were basically doing was looking at this girl smiling in the camera seeming like she didn’t really know what to do. I wasn’t too crazy about the movies they put in there, but the 3D was quite effective. The only unfortunate thing is that you can see the pixels of the PSP pretty well, so it looks like you’re actually watching a “bricked” image, if you can understand that.

Metal Gear Acid 2 is an awesome sequel, definitely one of the games that define the PSP for its visual quality, capabilities, and possibility of having add-on things, like the Solid Eye, for specific games. A lot more excitement is to be had with the second Metal Gear Acid, and more bosses integrated into the overall gameplay stresses that point. If you liked the first Metal Gear Acid, you’ll find enjoyment with Metal Gear Acid 2.

 

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PSP) Review

Developer: Rockstar Leeds / Publisher: Rockstar Games || Overall: 9.5/10

Grand Theft Auto has finally made its way to a portable system in pure 3D. Only possible by taking advantage of the Playstation Portable’s technology, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is an amazing transition of this generation’s Grand Theft Auto games from console to handheld. Regarded as the first major release on the PSP, Liberty City Stories is a major reason for owning the pricey handheld.

Taking place in Liberty City, the same city as in Grand Theft Auto III, you take the role of Toni Cipriani. For Grand Theft Auto III patrons, you’ll remember Toni Cipriani from nearer to the beginning of the game that had the mom who’d yell through the window during the cutscenes where you would take missions from Toni. Being part of Salvatore Leone’s gang, Toni will visit many familiar places and will see familiar faces that you will instantly recognize from GTA III. But, since Liberty City Stories is a prequel to Grand Theft Auto III, all the events that had actually taken place in Liberty City during GTA III haven’t actually happened yet. As such, certain buildings will be under construction to reflect that Liberty City Stories is a prequel. Not to mention certain people still being alive. However, Liberty City is still intact just as it was played on the Playstation 2, but there are enough changes and shake-ups to the city that will make Liberty City Stories unique.

The most important thing to mention about the game is the controls. Unfortunately for the PSP, it just doesn’t have as many buttons or analog sticks as the Dual Shock controllers do. But the hardware limitations don’t stop the game from having good enough controls to make those limitations almost not be a factor. Almost. There are two pre-set configurations in the Controls menu which will change the functions of the shoulder buttons for car use. SETUP1 will make L the “Look” button, that when pressed you move the analog stick the direction you want to look at while driving, and the R button the hand brake. SETUP2 will give a closer feel to the controls of the console games, making the shoulder buttons look left, right, or behind when both are pressed. There are no differences between the setups for when you’re on foot. There is also the option to change how you control the character – either with the analog stick or the directional buttons. Whatever movement selection is not used for primary movement, it will become less important, yet necessary, controls such as honking the horn, starting a special mission, radio station cycle, weapon cycle, and target cycle. Since the analog stick on the PSP is just about at a perfect sensitivity for moving and driving around, it’s more beneficial to use the directional pad as the other functions. But any way you slice it, the only real problem you might have is when it comes to shooting and targeting with weapons. When you get into instances where there is a requirement for high-speed shooting and targeting action, the PSP’s controls are not as responsive as a Dual Shock controller’s and you may get frustrated having to try something over and over again.

Plenty of the aspects of the Grand Theft Auto games actually work well for the handheld arena. Mostly the Taxi, Ambulance, and Vigilante missions, as well as a few other special non-story missions can easily be initiated and completed within a very short amount of time. Even story missions are finer tuned and shorter to complete. Another big point to the formula is the loading times. The only time you’ll see noticeable loading times are when you first start up the game, move around to other parts of Liberty City (which are the same as Grand Theft Auto III), and right before missions. While it could get annoying when you constantly retry the same mission, the loading times are very acceptable in the end and typically don’t take out a chunk of your playing time. There is also a slight lag between switching radio stations as the audio loads, but nothing too out of the ordinary. As a consequence the UMD will be spinning most of the time, since the data will stream off, resulting in less actual playtime unless you’ve got an outlet nearby.

As for graphics and sound, they’re exactly what is to be expected from the series. Not only that, it is truly amazing how they could pack it all in into such a small package. Compared to GTA III, the game looks to be on the same level, if not better. The cars look realistic, as well as the damage to the cars. Buildings themselves also look exactly how they should be remembered. The most impressive thing about it all is that the actual distance that you can see is a whole lot better than what had been done in almost any other GTA game. You might also notice a little bit of ghosting and frame rate, which is very solid, can drop at points. Radio stations are just as diverse as they were in GTA III, not to mention a couple more were added, along with the ability to play custom tracks off your memory stick. To utilize the custom tracks, however, you have to download a free program to your computer that will convert CDs into a format that the game can read – MP3s can’t be directly used. Voice work is also nothing short of what is to be expected. All the voice actors that played reoccurring characters from the series have reprised their roles, and while it may sound a little tinny at times, there really isn’t anything to complain about in that regard.

Besides a little bit of a shake-up in the control scheme, everything about the game gives the same experience of its console brethren. There’s a great story in a huge city filled with tons of things to do for everyone, even veterans of the series that will spark enjoyment on some level, and you can take it anywhere you want. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is by far the best game you can spend your money on at this point in the PSP’s life.