Mass Effect 3

Already since the first game, I felt that the Mass Effect series was the grandest undertaking of the current console generation. And now, having finished the trilogy, I am absolutely certain of it. While none of the individual games are perfect, this is one of those cases where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. The vast, detailed universe (actually, that is just the Milky Way galaxy) BioWare have created, with all the different intelligent species, with hundreds of planets, with complex political relationships, is beautiful. Just beautiful. I can only think of a handful of cases in the history of gaming where comparable amounts of effort have been put into crafting a game/series’ universe. And Mass Effect may actually be THE most complex one of all.

Since I first played the game quite a few months after it came out, I couldn’t help expecting a mess of an ending, as that was the almost unanimous opinion among gamers on the internet. However, I can now safely say that those claims are incorrect. Mass Effect 3 provides a very fascinating conclusion, staying true to the principles of the series. It’s natural that there are people who don’t like it, but, given the size of the saga, there is no possible ending that couldn’t have ticked someone off. So fear not, BioWare did NOT mess up with Mass Effect’s ending. It’s a fitting conclusion to the saga.

Mass Effect 3 Cover

Game: Mass Effect 3
Developer: BioWare
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Wii U
Original release: 2012
Territories: All

The third game in the series is another solid entry. Like the second one, it improves on some things in the predecessor, but is then weaker in other aspects. The thrilling struggle against the Reapers and the brilliant finale have Mass Effect easily leapfrog the second game in terms of overall story. Sadly, it doesn’t hold up as far as conversations/development of your teammates goes (even though we are already familiar with a great part of them). Annoying gameplay features from the second game like streamlined stats distribution as opposed to precise, point-by-point growth, and thermal clips (ammo), sadly remain here. Neat things like hacking are completely gone. It was clearly important for BioWare to keep the game tuned for the average gamer and maximise its sales. But those issues still do not detract much from the overall excellence of Mass Effect 3.

Seeing as I played the game on PC, this is another review where I provide my own screenshots.

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Sonic the Hedgehog

The 16-bit era was incredible, to say the least. Maybe not the best one in terms of games (though quite close), but certainly the best in terms of rivalry. SEGA vs. Nintendo, Sonic vs. Mario. It was unforgettable. Already back then, despite having played quite a bit of Mario on the NES before I got my hands on a SEGA Mega Drive, I developed a strong preference for the Sonic games, due to their faster pace, better protagonist, and more fun setting. They also just looked so much cooler.

Yet, I hadn’t beaten the original Sonic the Hedgehog until just recently. I’d first played (and beaten) the second one, and I’ve also beaten the third one (though without Sonic & Knuckles attached). My efforts with the first one back in the day ended quite miserably, I don’t think I ever made it past the Marble Zone, maybe I reached Spring Yard once or twice. But it was just too hard for me to beat on a regular console. Thank goodness we’ve got emulators and save states nowadays. šŸ™‚

Sonic the Hedgehog Title Screen

Game: Sonic the Hedgehog
Developer: Sonic Team
Platforms: Mega Drive/Genesis; Saturn (as part of Sonic Jam),Ā  Dreamcast (as part of SEGA Smash Pack), PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, PC (Sonic Mega Collection/Plus), PSP (SEGA Mega Drive Collection), DS (Sonic Classic Collection), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (as part of the SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection), PlayStation Network, XBox Live Arcade, Wii Virtual Console, Steam, Mobile
Original release: 1991
Territories: All

Sonic is a great start for the series. If you’ve started with Sonic 2 or 3, some things will be sorely missing (especially the spin dash – you have to roll up yourself when you have enough speed to attack on the ground, you can’t do it from a static position). However, the game has laid a solid foundation that the later entries built upon. It’s just Sonic vs. Robotnik, the whole crew of friends of Sonic only appear later in the series. In a way, that’s not bad. The difficulty is indeed quite high, as I said, but also remarkably fair. Unlike Mega Man, a decent level of knowing the stage will be sufficient, and furthermore, bosses, even the final boss, can be defeated fairly once you understand their pattern. On the other hand, Sonic doesn’t offer infinite continues – actually, you start without any.

This is another review that provides screenshots captured by me.

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Mega Man

Despite my large backlog of more recent games, I still love to do some retro gaming on the side (and by “retro,” I mean 8-bit and 16-bit games, even if many would already put the PS1 era in that category). Recently, I decided to finally give some attention to a game I spent quite some time with as a kid, but could never beat – the original Mega Man (or Rockman, as I knew it back then). For old time’s sake, I got the Japanese version that I was familiar with. Playing on my PSP and willing to see it through to the end, I was no stranger to abusing save states… The game just requires considerable skill to be beaten, especially by a first-time player. But, even so, I thought Mega Man had kept its magic through the years.

Rockman Title Screen

Game: Mega Man
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: NES, Mobile, Wii/3DS Virtual Console; Mega Drive/Genesis (part of Mega Man: The Wily Wars collection), PlayStation (enhanced remake), PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube (part of Mega Man Anniversary Collection), PlayStation Portable (as Mega Man: Powered Up – enhanced remake)
Original release: 1987
Territories: All

The first Mega Man game is often criticised and considered inferior to the sequels (especially Mega Man 2 and 3), but I’ve always felt that criticism was a bit unfair. It laid the foundations for what Mega Man would become – one of, if not THE signature series for the NES, later spawning countless other games (in several separate series) and even a couple of cartoons. Pick a stage, go through it, defeat the robot master at the end, collect his special power to use later against another robot master. A simple formula in hindsight, but, for its time, it was something very original. The game’s notorious difficulty doesn’t do it any favours (as a kid, I would manage to beat 5 robot masters, only to give up at the Guts Man stage because of those moving platforms in the beginning…), but at least there are unlimited continues (even if there were no passwords) and you don’t lose your progress. It’s also quite fulfilling to choose the right power (as long as you have it) and be able to defeat a robot master in 3-4 hits instead of like 20.

This review provides screenshots captured by me.

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Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth

Valkyrie Profile is one of the most nontraditional games I’ve played recently. As with most anticipated games on my backlog, I went in with almost no knowledge, I’d only heard it was an action-style RPG, like Tales or Star Ocean. Of course, I also knew that it had some Norse mythology references, that the main character was a goddess, and I’d actually watched the bizarre opening scene some 7 years ago. As gameplay started, I was quite surprised to find out that it was a kind of side-scrolling RPG with a very unique battle system that’s not quite action-style, but not a traditional turn-based one, either. Furthermore, Valkyrie’s mission is to gather the souls of dead humans, not before the player witnessing their respective ends… Making it also a quite depressing game, even if Valkyrie is giving them “a second chance” – in reality, that is simply using their skills in the war between Aesir and Vanir, the war of the gods.

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth Cover

Game: Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth
Developer: tri-Ace
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Release: 2006 (PSP remake)
Original release: 1999 (PlayStation)
Territories: All

Valkyrie Profile is a strange game, but with numerous merits. There is a good main storyline within it, but sadly it is a bit too well-hidden. Much as I hate needing to use a guide to beat a game I’m playing, I must thank Erunion from Backloggery who warned me that playing the game normally would merely earn me the “second best,” and non-canon ending. The particular sequence of actions required to get on the path to the best ending could only be discovered by a first-time player by pure chance, so I have to recommend that anyone starting this game consults a guide in order to see the best storyline. It is a story of gods, but not the almighty, flawless beings humans see, but rather ones who, much like humans themselves, would wage war between each other, not afraid to put even the whole world at risk in their quest for ultimate power. Aside from the story, Valkyrie Profile’s gameplay is also a great deal of fun, even if it takes some getting used to, as it’s so unlike any other RPG.

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Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain’s promise of “interactive drama” sure sounded interesting to a gamer like me, who appreciates great story and characters above anything else in a game. I knew that the gameplay would be comprised mostly of quick-time events, a much-hated feature of modern gaming, but I knew they could work well in such a setting. And they do. It’s not a conventional game and should not be expected to be such. It’s mostly about decision-making and quick reactions, but, at the end, the outcome depends fully on your actions, just like any other game. The many different endings available and the fact that any misstep from your part can change things drastically are the main draws of the game. It reminds of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book – or rather, movie.

Heavy Rain Cover

Game: Heavy Rain
Developer: Quantic Dream
Platform: PlayStation 3
Original release: 2010
Territories: All

Above all, Heavy Rain is a unique experience – even that fact alone sets it apart from most modern games that tend to borrow from and influence one another heavily. The whole setting and the way events unfold heavily remind of a blockbuster thriller movie, and that is an effect the developers have deliberately aimed for. Despite the fact that there are some details that don’t make much sense, most of the time the suspension of disbelief works fine, and the game often has you at the edge of your seat, anticipating what will happen next. The quick-time events, of course, also contribute to the feeling of pressure and anxiety, which all the more connects you to the characters you control on your screen, as they’re desperately trying to prevent another murder of the Origami Killer, but are running out of time.

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Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

The first Uncharted was pretty cool, and the second one was even better. I expected the third game to be as good as its predecessor, but I also knew that there really wasn’t that much room for improvement for the series. Uncharted 2 had pretty much reached a peak, which would be a tremendous challenge for Uncharted 3 to overcome. But credit must go to Naughty Dog – they tried. The third game introduces some new and exciting details that make it seem more polished. It comes even closer to the blockbuster movie feel. But there were also several aspects where it couldn’t live up to the high standard set by Uncharted 2.

Uncharted 3 Cover

Game: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Developer: Naughty Dog
Platform: PlayStation 3
Original release: 2011
Territories: All

Uncharted 3 is a fun game, definitely a pleasure for the player. There is pretty much never a dull moment, even more so than in the first two. There are exciting new environments like a London pub, a shipyard, a cruise ship, a desert…, further showcasing Naughty Dog’s talent in the graphics department. The relationship between Drake and Sully is further developed, with some most curious episodes. The villain is, unfortunately, rather lame (like in the first game), but Drake’s group of friends gets a pretty cool new member in Charlie Cutter. The story, as a whole, is nothing special, and the lack of a strong villain presence makes it less impressive than the second game that at least had that. Overall, however, the game will impress you with its numerous breathtaking moments.

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Cherry Tree High Comedy Club

Recently, I got the opportunity to review a game for a bigger game site for the first time since I started “Between Life and Games”. The site is Unikgamer, an awesome gamer collaboration site where people rank their favourite games in many categories, and a total ranking is formed and regularly updated. The game is Cherry Tree High Comedy Club – a quirky Japanese indie adventure game, apparently created by the small team 773, consisting of just one full-time member and several contributors. Now, you know me, one of my principles about “Between Life and Games” has always been that the site would be built around my gaming activities, not vice versa (at least until I go professional, hehe :)). So I’d just play the games I want to play, and then write about them. And CTHCC does not contradict that – just looking at the screenshots and short YouTube video available, combined with its apparently modest length, already convinced me that it would be a blast to play it right away and then review it.

CTHCC Title

Game: Cherry Tree High Comedy Club
Developer: 773
Platform: PC
Original release: 2012
Territories: All

As a script-heavy game that is just so Japanese at its core, the localisation effort was what would make or break Cherry Tree High Comedy Club for Western players. Nyu Media and Tezuka Productions, famous for their fabulous work localising the Phoenix Wright games, have done a very good job in that regard, preserving jokes from the original script that would be recognised by non-Japanese, and replacing the ones that were just “too Japanese” with references to material we would be familiar with, like Star Wars. Dialogue is really a major part of CTHCC, and whether you enjoy the jokes and the tone will greatly determine if you’ll enjoy the game as a whole. Despite being (even) more light-hearted, the game does remind of Phoenix Wright’s overall feel, which can only be a plus.

The gameplay is quite simple – you’re the energetic senior student Miley Verisse, and your goal is to recruit at least three people for your club by the end of April (the game starts on March 22nd). To do so, you must first identify your targets and then befriend them enough so that they agree to join the comedy club. For that, you’ll need to gain expertise in subjects they enjoy, like Video Games, Sports, Politics, Fashion, History, Pets, etc. It’s all about stat-building, gaining money to increase your stats, and of course putting those stats to good use by talking to the people. All that in a rather limited time frame. It makes for a rather frantic adventure, spiced up nicely with the story and likable cast of characters, each of them with their own ambitions and problems to take care of, and Miley willing to help them. Last, but not least, there are multiple endings, depending on how well you do!

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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

After beating the first Uncharted, I immediately jumped on the second one. It’s the one widely considered the best in the series, with the highest scores from both fans and critics and all, so my expectations were higher than the ones I had from the first game. Suffice to say, Uncharted 2 delivered. It improves on the first game in many ways, the most obvious one being graphics, while keeping the tight adventure gameplay which, if a bit linear, keeps you on your toes pretty much constantly. Drake’s second adventure is a memorable experience, adding some much appreciated polish to what we saw in the first game.

Uncharted 2 Cover

Game: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Developer: Naughty Dog
Platform: PlayStation 3
Original release: 2009
Territories: All

Uncharted 2 is a marvellous game, and this is a case where this adjective is used in its full meaning, rather than just thrown in for good measure and in attempt to appear more literary. The PS3’s graphical capabilities are pushed to their limits (even though I’m yet to play Uncharted 3, so who knows…), Naughty Dog proving themselves to be masters in this department once again. There are some clear improvements over the first game, such as an increased amount of different environments and the introduction of stealth attacking. Of course, there are also some things from the first game that are not present in the second, such as aiming grenades or balancing with the Sixaxis, and the brutal combo, which was “replaced” by the dubious counterattacking. There are also no jet ski stages, quite likely a case of fans’ complaints getting through. šŸ™‚ But these are just details – at the end, the overall package is very satisfying.

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Captain Tsubasa: New Kick Off

I’ve been a Captain Tsubasa fan ever since I first came across the anime on the Italia 1 channel when I was 10… It’s a manga and anime series about young Japanese football/soccer players, with the main character Tsubasa being a rising Japanese football star. I’m a big fan of the sport, and I like anime quite a bit – you can see why the combination captivated me easily. A great part of it is the matches themselves, with so much drama in the close ones, with special shots and acrobatic goalkeepers. But the relationships between the players on and off the pitch are also nicely depicted.

Needless to say, coming across my first Captain Tsubasa game – the second installment of Tecmo’s Captain Tsubasa series on the NES, brought me much delight. Especially considering it was not a mere football simulation game – it was a football RPG, one worthy of the flashiness and the emphasised importance of a team’s best player in the anime. The closest mainstream gaming has come to Tecmo’s Captain Tsubasa series’ unique style is the Blitzball mini-game in Final Fantasy X – and believe me, Blitzball is a really watered-down version of the Captain Tsubasa games. Anyway, Captain Tsubasa II is still my favourite game of all time, one I could play at any time and never get bored, despite having beaten it so many times I’ve lost count and having done all kinds of special runs. Unfortunately, the game I will review here is just not in the same league…

Captain Tsubasa New Kick Off Cover

Game: Captain Tsubasa: New Kick Off
Developer: Konami
Platform: DS
Original release: 2010
Territories: Japan, Europe

Captain Tsubasa: New Kick Off (Gekitou no Kiseki in Japan) is Konami’s first attempt at returning the Tsubasa games to the genre that proved to suit them best – RPG. The license over the franchise has changed hands multiple times – first it was Tecmo’s, then Bandai’s, now Konami’s. Only Tecmo did it right, the other two simply failed to match the quality of the Tecmo Tsubasa games. A big reason for that was that Tecmo’s games were RPGs with very particular gameplay – you hold the ball and move through the field, at any time you can stop and take your time to choose what to do next – shoot, pass, or go on forward. Similarly, in defence, you pick a player to chase the opponent with, if you get close, you choose whether to tackle, try to intercept a pass or block a shot. If you manage to predict the opponent’s action, you have a higher chance of taking the ball away. That just worked great for a franchise like Tsubasa because it’s all about the tactics, the special shots and conserving your energy to do them at the right time. Trying more action-y games just never worked out very well. And the RPG approach is the one Konami took here. When I learned that to be the case, I was overjoyed, I had waited a long time to play a new Tsubasa RPG…

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Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

When it comes to gaming, I’m usually behind the times a bit (as you may have already noticed). My backlog is just quite massive and there are few contemporary games that interest me as much as older gems I haven’t played yet. Nevertheless, I recently decided to finally play through Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series – the biggest franchise born on my favourite current-generation console, the PlayStation 3. I went in expecting a fun adventure game with a simple, movie-like story and entertaining gameplay. Something like Tomb Raider (a franchise where I’m actually yet to beat a single game, but that’s another story). The first game largely met my expectations.

Uncharted Cover

Game: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Developer: Naughty Dog
Platform: PlayStation 3
Original release: 2007
Territories: All

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was one of the early PS3 games, and a huge reason to get one already back then, at the startling launch or near-launch price. I can see why it made the purchase worth it for many people. The game is very cinematic and the graphics are really beautiful, which is particularly impressive, considering it came out so early in the console’s life cycle. Even though they are obviously surpassed by the latter two entries in the franchise, I am sure many people were captivated by them in 2007. Add to that the nice beginning, showing the protagonist Nathan Drake on a boat with the pretty Elena, and the action starting immediately, in the middle of a short conversation between them, and you’ll be able to see why Uncharted was a huge system seller.

The game’s premise is intriguing enough – you are (or at least claim to be) a descendant of Sir Francis Drake, and, after finding an important clue left by your ancestor himself, you set off in search for El Dorado, the legendary City of Gold. It’s really a lot like an adventure movie – those influences are easy to see and are spoken of by the developers themselves in the “Behind the Scenes” videos included on the disc (Tomb Raider is never mentioned, of course :)). The story never pretends to offer any more or less than uncovering the mystery of El Dorado. The gameplay follows suit – it doesn’t try anything complex (mostly 3D platforming and third-person shooting), but does quite well at what it strives to do. An interesting thing to note is that there are no boss fights. Overall, the game is entertaining, it’s standard length for the genre (12-15 hours), and it offers nice challenge without ever becoming too frustrating.

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