Review of Oxenfree

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It’s a good thing that I was an unpopular kid who never left the house during my teenage years. One thing that horror movies and Until Dawn have taught me is that going out to party is a recipe for disaster. Case in point Oxenfree, which is presently available to download off the PlayStation Store. In this indie-developed adventure, a group of five schoolyard chums catch a ferry bound for Edwards Island – an uninhabited isle where they plan to spend the night partaking in some unsupervised beachside drinking and potential hanky panky. Unfortunately for the aforementioned quintet, their decision to play a radio inside a creepy cavern awakens a sinister entity that is capable of possessing bodies and distorting the fabric of time.

OVERVIEW

Oxenfree is a walking simulator created by Night School Studio, whose development team includes staff that has previously worked at Disney and Telltale Games. The creators’ background should come as no surprise given that most of Oxenfree’s gameplay, much like a Telltale title, revolves around influencing the story through dialogue choices. Despite the script’s spooky premise the game is also relatively kid friendly, akin to a Disney product. Sure, some chilling moments do occur during Oxenfree’s five hour long running time, but thanks to the cartoony visuals things are nowhere near as terrifying as they could be had the programmers opted to use photo realistic FPS graphics instead. Just as well, because I am too much of a coward to play stuff like Slender.

Players assume the role of a high school girl named Alex, who is coming to terms with the recent divorce of her parents. Joining the pigtailed teen on her journey are Ren, Jonas, Nona and Clarissa. Ren is Alex’s childhood friend, the comic relief and a gluttonous devourer of hash brownies. He has a crush on Nona that may or may not develop into romance depending on what actions the player takes. Go on play matchmaker, it will make you feel warm and fuzzy… plus you’ll get a trophy as a reward. Jonas, who is Alex’s new stepbrother, accompanies his new sis for much of Oxenfree’s trials and tribulations. The least friendly of the bunch is Clarrisa who is constantly at loggerheads with the protagonist. There is hostility between the two, stemming back from the time when Clarissa dated Alex’s brother. Can the two patch things up or will Clarissa get what she deserves? It’s all in the hands of the person holding the controller.

VERDICT

My rating for Oxenfree is five stars. Despite the limited gameplay, which boils down to hiking across terrain and using a portable radio to overcome obstacles, I couldn’t help but get absorbed by the story. What exactly is stalking Alex’s group? Aliens? Spooks? Perhaps a military experiment that went awry? I became so invested in the mystery that I couldn’t resist going on a scavenger hunt for clues, which is surprising as I usually have no patience for optional collectibles (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed.) Thankfully the layout of Edwards Island ensures that unnecessary ambling is kept to a minimum and to be honest the treks are fun thanks to the constant chatter between characters. Writer Adam Hines (who has previously worked on the excellent Tales from the Borderlands) should be commended for penning such convincing adolescent banter.

Given that the conversations are so great it is somewhat annoying when they prematurely stop due to player input. Be forewarned that selecting a reply or walking ahead too quickly may cause an interesting discussion to cease. Thankfully that is my only gripe with what is an otherwise marvellous game. At the time of writing I have completed Oxenfree twice and I am planning a third run to snag a platinum trophy for my digital collection. Repeated playthroughs are encouraged, as there are multiple endings on offer, and I like how the new game plus mechanic is incorporated into Oxenfree’s timey wimey narrative. Let the cool kids go off on their life threatening shindigs I say. As long as quality video games like Oxenfree keep coming out I am content to be the shunned chap who stays indoors where it’s safe.

Gonna be the Twin-Tail!! Review

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What is your favourite type of hairstyle? Do you think Afros are awesome? Perhaps you believe that Bob Cuts are the bee’s knees? In the world of anime and manga Twin-tails (better known as Pigtails on this side of the pond) reign supreme. It’s the coiffure of choice for many famous cartoon ladies and the hairdo that makes high school student Sōji Mitsuka go weak at the knees. Unfortunately for the redheaded teenager an alien race that feeds on Twin-tail fetishism has just descended upon Earth. Said extra terrestrials shall not rest until everyone’s passion for Pigtails has been drained dry. Mankind’s only hope against the space invaders is a super powered heroine known as Tail Red.

OVERVIEW

In spite of its flimsy premise Gonna be the Twin-Tail is based on an ongoing light novel series, which to date has spawned a total of eleven volumes. The twelve-episode anime adaptation of Yume Mizusawa’s books sees Sōji battle against the nefarious Eremerians, whose intergalactic warriors are comprised of humanoid animals (that include an arachnid who loves transvestites and a kraken who detests huge knockers.) Sōji is able to fight against these perverted threats thanks to a high-tech bracelet that transforms him into the above-mentioned Tail Red. The gender-bending bangle bestows him with superhuman might plus an assortment of weapons in exchange for his meat and two veg.

Supporting Sōji in his quest to preserve Twin-tails is a trio of ladies named Twoerle, Aika and Erina. Twoerle is a busty beauty who hails from one of the planets the Eremerians have previously conquered. She has travelled to Earth hoping to spare the globe from a similar fate. Despite acting like a ditz Twoerle is responsible for fabricating Tail Red’s advanced gear, which suggests that the size of her brain rivals the size of her breasts. Aika Tsube (who later becomes the sidekick Tail Blue) is Sōji’s childhood friend. She is prone to bouts of violence, especially when someone mentions her deficiencies in the chest department. Erina Shindō is the student council president who eventually assumes the mantle of Tail Yellow. She comes across as meek and polite, although deep down she is a masochist. She especially likes being treated like a dog and in combat augments her strength by bashfully shedding off protective armour.

VERDICT

My rating for Gonna be the Twin-Tail is a three out of five. What we have here is a series which perpetuates the “all cartoons emanating from Japan are weird” stereotype, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The story is so ridiculous that I couldn’t resist chuckling through the dozen episodes contained in this Funimation licenced Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. Whether the content justifies the set’s hefty retail asking price is debatable, but when compared to other gender-bending anime it can at least claim to trump the likes of Kampfer. I personally had a good time watching the series thanks to its mix of harem hijinks and parody of the Super Sentai genre. For all intends and purposes Gonna be the Twin-Tail is a humorous take on Power Rangers, were the armoured martial artists have been replaced with Twin-tailed cuties.

Despite oozing charm I can’t award Gonna be the Twin-Tail a higher score, as it suffers from generic characterisation. Aika for example is a cliché tsundere that pounds anyone who flirts with the male lead. I also think the series would have benefitted from better villains. The Eremerians are mostly monster of the week fodder who inexplicably challenge Tail Red to 1v1 duels, when attacking multiple countries at the same time would be a far sounder strategy. Dark Grasper, a pop idol who wants to increase the worldwide popularity of spectacles, is the only antagonist of note. After a few episodes however she is relegated to being nothing more than another floozy in Sōji’s harem. Evidently women cannot resist the allure of a cross dresser sporting Twin-tails. Hmm. Perhaps the time has come for me to invest in a dress and a couple of hair bands?

VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

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Video games based on the bartending industry are nothing new. Way back in the eighties for example I remember playing an arcade port of Tapper on my humble Amstrad CPC 464. In that game players controlled a moustached chap who had to serve pints of Budweiser to his thirsty patrons. The clientele were an impatient lot who would hurl you across the bar it you kept them waiting for too long. VA-11 HALL-A (which is text speak for Valhalla) isn’t as action packed given that it is a visual novel. The settings differ too. From what I recall Tapper took place in the old West whilst VA-11 HALL-A is a cyberpunk adventure set in a futuristic pub. Customers can include anything from artificial beings to humans who have nanobots coursing through their veins.

OVERVIEW

In VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action players assume the role of a lesbian bartender named Jill. To pay the monthly bills our carpet munching protagonist works at a tavern situated in the dystopian metropolis known as Glitch City. Much of the game involves conversing with customers and mixing up the beverages they request. How much income you generate is dependent on flawlessly dispensing orders, although there is some wiggle room to keep things interesting. Adding optional alcohol to a drink could loosen up someone’s tongue for example. Dialogue is also influenced by correctly deducing what a customer truly desires. That closeted chap who asked for a macho beer may actually prefer a girly cocktail instead.

Unlike other visual novels VA-11 HALL-A doesn’t have an overarching plot. What you get instead is a collection of short stories. Every customer who enters through the bar’s doors will regale you with a tale about their love life, offer titbits of information about the technologically advanced world you inhabit and more often than not they will wax lyrical about what a lousy day they are having. Interrupting the steady stream of text boxes are sequences were you are asked to mix a drink. The process involves dragging ingredients into a shaker and then selecting whether you want to add ice or age your concoction. My, how I wish that whipping up a tasty Mojito were that simple! Even pouring a Shandy is too complex for me, so thank goodness that a menu is provided detailing what components comprise the fictional range of drinks you need to make.

VERDICT

My rating for VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action is a four out of five. It’s a charming game blessed with sixteen-bit pixel art and an excellent soundtrack. The writing is strong and the moments of mixology are strangely relaxing. Perhaps the act of turning recipes into proper drinks could have benefitted from extra depth, but for what it’s worth they serve the purpose of adding some interactivity into what is mostly a book reading experience. Strategy comes in maximising your profit at work so Jill can meet her rent and utility payment deadlines. Spare cash can be spent on trinkets to decorate her modest apartment and gifts that will ensure she doesn’t lose focus during the course of a shift.

Like a good slice of life anime, VA-11 HALL-A is enjoyable because you’ll have fun spending time with its colourful cast of characters. Over the nineteen-day story Jill gets to interact with a one-eyed cat girl, an adorable android prostitute, the African American version of J Jonah Jameson and even talking corgis. Based on what I read I have no idea how the queen puts up with those annoying mutts! The script is amusingly packed with funny memes and can be emotional in parts too. Given the quality of the narrative and the fact that there are numerous endings to unlock I can certainly see myself returning to Glitch City at some point in the future. Sukeban Games have made their PC debut with an excellent release. I would gladly buy them a beer, for a job well done, but I better not as VA-11 HALL-A’s price list indicates that liquor can cost in excess of $200.

Batman: The Killing Joke Review

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Batman: The Killing Joke once again sees the folks at Warner Bros Animation adapt a classic tale from the annals of DC Comics yore. Based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel, The Killing Joke is considered to be one of the finest Caped Crusader books of all time alongside The Dark Knight Returns (which has already been transformed into a two part cartoon starring the vocal talents of Peter “Robocop” Weller.) This exploration into the origins of the Joker has a number of disturbing moments earning it a fifteen classification in the UK and an R rating stateside. I remember the days when an R rating was considered to be a sales kiss of death, but that all changed when Deadpool exceeded box office expectations.

OVERVIEW

One hurdle Warner Bros had to surmount when bringing The Killing Joke over to DVD was the source material’s length. Usually when turning a book into a film content has to be exorcised. In this case however, given that Moore’s work barely surpasses sixty pages, a prologue was tacked onto the main event giving the feature a seventy-seven minute running time. The newly created intro, penned by Wonder Woman scribe Brian Azzarello, sees Batman and Batgirl tangle with a chauvinistic mobster named Paris Franz (hehe I love the pun.) It’s a solid story that wouldn’t look out of place within the episode list of Bruce Timm’s nineties Batman animated series. Your opinion may differ however, as the decision to turn Batman and Batgirl’s relationship from vigilante/sidekick to romantic partners has caused much controversy.

Whether you love or loathe the opening scenes, once The Killing Joke proper begins viewers can rest assured that they will be treated to an extremely faithful adaptation. On paper the storyline is fairly straightforward. Joker has once again absconded from Arkham and has decided to celebrate his freedom by abducting commissioner Gordon. In order to rescue the commish Batman travels to an abandoned amusement park in a case that will test his sanity and morals. Flashbacks are weaved into the narrative showing how a family tragedy and a chemical dip turned a once meek comedian into Batman’s greatest foe. One bad day is all it takes for a normal person to become a psychopath. I can certainly believe that – just look how gamers begin to post death threats whenever the press reveal that an upcoming title has been delayed.

VERDICT

My rating for Batman: The Killing Joke is a five out of five. After watching the movie I can certainly see why Alan Moore’s graphic novel has earned the critical acclaim that endures to this day. As someone who hasn’t read the source material I was un-phased by the extra content that opens the movie. If anything I think spending time with Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl) enhances the experience, as audiences will become attached to the character making what transpires later all the more impactful. With respect to the romance I don’t see what the big deal is, aside from the age gap causing some discomfort. In other media (such as Batman Beyond) it is implied that both characters were once an item, plus it’s not a stretch to believe that Batgirl would become attracted to a dashing billionaire who has saved her life on countless occasions.

Like with most DC animated movies the voice work is exceptional. Kevin Conroy is tremendous as Batman whilst Mark Hamill’s rendition of the One Bad Day speech sent chills down my spine. On the visual front, I have no complaints with the animation. The artwork doesn’t retain the look of the original comic, but during a few key scenes it does try to replicate Brian Bolland’s illustrations. In terms of script I am also satisfied with the end result. The DVD will be too distressing for viewers who like the jovial Batman of the sixties or The Brave and the Bold, but for anyone else I can highly recommend this film. I think we should all be appreciative that The Killing Joke can finally be enjoyed on our television sets. If bat sex bothers you just use your remote control to skip past the first few chapters.

Review of Overwatch

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Not content with dominating MMOs, digital card games and RTS Blizzard have now set their sights on first person shooters. The hype for Overwatch was so immense that even I, the hater of FPS titles, couldn’t resist giving it a go. Overwatch’s zany cast of playable characters (who look far more interesting than the generic soldiers associated with the genre) was the chief draw, plus I knew Blizzard would make the game accessible to everyone and not just the deadeye gunslingers who usually dominate the COD scene. Matches are 6v6 affairs requiring teamwork to succeed. The emphasis on coordination means that even those deficient in reflexes can contribute towards victory, although it can get infuriating when you get grouped up with idiots who charge off on their own. It seems that Leeroy Jenkins has relocated from WOW’s servers to Overwatch.

OVERVIEW

Overwatch matches begin with players picking an avatar from a roster of over twenty characters. Each of the heroes are classed as either damage dealing offence, tanks who can soak up a ton of bullets, support who for the most part heal the injured and defenders who specialise at fortifying a position. Regardless of their class everyone in Overwatch plays radically different. Bastion and Mei for example are both defence toons, but their skillsets are nothing alike. The aforementioned Bastion stands his ground by transforming into a turret whilst Mei stops foes in their tracks by freezing them with a glacial gas canister. Most players will naturally gravitate to a role/character that suits their play style, but if the situation requires that you swap over to a different hero fear not because they are all a hoot to control (well except for Symmetra… she sucks.)

I personally favour characters like Mercy and Reinhardt due to the fact that I possess the aim of a Storm Trooper. The angelic doctor Mercy isn’t expected to kill anyone, as she specializes in mending hurt allies whilst man mountain Reinhardt doesn’t need to hit targets with a gun – his weapon of choice is a massive close range mallet. All of Overwatch’s cast are distinct and blessed with some rather interesting backstories. Shame then that their histories are not explored in-game due to the focus on multiplayer skirmishes. There’s no single player story mode to partake in, which is a real pity. Even less popular titles like Battleborn make an effort to provide some single player levels and content for those who favour co-op missions free of human controlled opponents. Yes there is an option to duel AI bots, but after a while that game mode gets stale.

VERDICT

My rating for Overwatch is four and a half stars. Thus far I have had a blast hopping online to join fellow gamers who endlessly toil in battles were you must secure an objective or escort payloads to an assigned destination. Like many competitive titles balance is an issue, but to date Blizzard have been quick to buff/nerf abilities when the need arises (shame that the same cannot be said for cards in Hearthstone.) I am also confident that the company will support the game for many years with additional content, which is necessary to keep things fresh. Since release a competitive league has been added, a new character has been introduced and to commemorate the Olympics a 3-a-side mode called Lucio Ball has been patched in. Its pretty much Rocket League with cars being replaced by dreadlocked chaps.

The icing on the cake is that Overwatch’s catalogue of well-designed levels includes my tiny homeland of Gibraltar (we are famous for our rock, apes and beating Celtic at football.) A stage modelled after your place of birth is almost as cool as the game’s line-up of gorgeous ladies. Overwatch lacks a RPG progression system, but levelling up does reward you with loot boxes containing cosmetic items. That alone will motivate me to keep on playing, as I will not rest until my Mercy is outfitted to look like a naughty devil. Evidently I am not the only one who approves of Overwatch’s aesthetics. Tracer’s victory pose was altered after complaints that it highlighted her hiney and I am reliably informed that adult sites are hosting clips starring Overwatch’s females. What’s the deal with video game porn? These days I can’t even do an image search on Pokémon Go without stumbling across some nightmarish pictures.

Batman: Assault on Arkham Review

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Batman is such a bankable name that Warner Bros cannot resist putting his moniker on a movie title, even when he isn’t the film’s protagonist. Sure the Caped Crusader has a decent amount of screen time in Assault on Arkham, but the flick’s limelight is squarely pointed at the Suicide Squad – a team of lesser-known villains who have been coerced to do the government’s dirty work. On this occasion a band of seven hoodlums have been ordered to infiltrate the titular high security asylum and locate some incriminating evidence that is being housed there. You’d think Amanda Waller could use her political connections to peacefully search through Arkham’s stores for the item in question, but if common sense prevailed we’d miss out on some top-notch action.

OVERVIEW

Assault on Arkham’s colourful cast of whackos includes the likes of Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, King Shark, Killer Frost, Black Spider and KGBeast. Waller has recruited the superhuman criminals under the promise that their cooperation will be rewarded with reduced jail time. If that isn’t motivation enough she also implants explosives inside their craniums. The core line up is similar to the recently released David Ayer live action film, although there are a few changes. King Shark for example replaces Killer Croc as the team’s muscle whilst El Diablo’s pyro-kinetic talents are substituted by Killer Frost’s freezing powers. If you loathe bad gags worry not because on the one occasion that Frost tries to deliver an Arnie like Mr Freeze pun she is promptly silenced by her companions.

Even if Batman plays second fiddle to the Suicide Squad he still has a prominent role in this seventy-five -minute feature. Bruce Wayne’s alter ego is patrolling the penitentiary in search of a dirty bomb that the Joker has planted. Despite possessing a numerical advantage, the Suicide Squad would be wise to avoid the master detective because a bunch of b-list crooks are no match for a guy who can go toe to toe with Superman. Rooting for the bad guys may sound weird, but somehow it works. It’s hard to dislike the hilariously twisted Harley Quinn and Deadshot is surprisingly honourable for someone who makes a living assassinating others. I dug his professionalism and hoped he would escape the mission unscathed, as early on it’s revealed that he is a single parent.

VERDICT

My rating for Batman: Assault on Arkham is a four out of five. It’s a fun heist caper featuring a plethora of stars from DC’s rogue’s gallery. If the mixed reviews I have read are to be believed you might be better off spending your cash on this DVD rather than paying for a Suicide Squad cinema ticket. The artwork is stellar (even if Batman looks weird with pupils) and the voice acting is also excellent. Kevin Conroy continues to prove that he is the definitive Batman whilst Troy Baker demonstrates that he is a capable Joker stand in whenever Luke Skywalker isn’t available. Hynden Walch also impressed me in the role of Harley Quinn. Aside from delivering comical lines with aplomb she also expertly handled the scenes dealing with the character’s complicated love life.

Like most direct to DVD cartoons based on DC properties I wish that the film was a little longer. An extra fifteen minutes could have gone a long way in giving underutilized characters like Black Spider something to do. For the most part the onus is on Harley’s zany antics, Deadshot feuding with Boomerang and the relationship that forms between Frost and Shark. Those character interactions and the visceral action are what drive the story forward. Be forewarned that Assault on Arkham features gruesome deaths and even an off camera moment of sex. Nothing graphic is shown, but it should go without saying that the movie is not suitable for younger audiences. Unlike Marvel, the folks at DC like to be dark and edgy. That strategy has worked for animated releases like Assault on Arkham… shame that the same cannot be said for their live action output.

A.W Phoenix Festa Review

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A.W Phoenix Festa is a PlayStation Vita release based on the animated series Asterisk War. Set sometime in the future, the game takes place in an academy where superhuman teens compete against each other in fighting tournaments known as Festas. Learning how to beat up fellow students sounds like a lousy curriculum to me, but then again when compared to other school lessons weapons combat is at least more practical than learning how to play the recorder. In this Bandai Namco title players assume the role of transfer student Ayato Amagiri who has set his sights on winning the upcoming Festa competition. In order to triumph he shall have to hone his fencing skills and coerce one of the institution’s eligible ladies to team up with him.

OVERVIEW

Despite not being acquainted with the Asterisk War anime/light novels I decided to download A.W Festa off the PSN Store because its mix of beat-em-up and dating sim sounded novel. Festa matches are 2v2 affairs so Ayato needs to find a partner before the contest’s preliminaries kick off. The teammates on offer include a timid loli, the student council president, Ayato’s dopey childhood friend and Lieseltania’s fiery princess. I hope your flirting techniques are up to snuff because the time limit for finding a Festa partner is a mere two weeks. Failure to meet the deadline will result in a premature game over. My first impressions of A.W Festa weren’t positive, as I spent that first fortnight asking the girls out only to get promptly rejected. Ouch, how painfully realistic.

Upon courting one of the bachelorettes preparations for the forthcoming tourney can commence. It’s a menu heavy experience with the occasional battle thrown in to break the tedium. Most of the story mode consists of picking what Ayato should do on any given day. Boosting his stats via training is a sound strategy, although you shouldn’t get carried away as fatigue can have a detrimental effect on his combat performance. Bah, why bother with so much exercise? It would just be easier to take performance-enhancing drugs, which is what most all-star athletes do. Ayato’s daily routine can also involve money making part time work. Cash is required to upgrade weapons, purchase medicine and buy gifts for those frigid cows that never want to go out on a date.

VERDICT

My rating for A.W Phoenix Festa is a three out of five. Unless you are a devout Asterisk War fan it’s probably not worth the full asking price, but I personally found the game to be mildly entertaining. Take that with a pinch of salt though because my standards are low, as a quick glance at my ex-girlfriends will attest to. For the most part the third person combat is fun and should appeal to players who enjoy button bashers. The gameplay is reminiscent to Senran Kagura, only that instead of smacking legions of foes you face off against a maximum of two opponents. Due to the reduced number of adversaries and somewhat dim enemy AI the fights rarely last for longer than thirty seconds, making all the time spent building up Ayato’s stats feel like a colossal waste of time.

It takes three hours to clear Ayato’s campaign and slightly longer if you elect to play as a custom made character. Due to a lack of content much of that time is spent watching the calendar wind down as you constantly select “training” from the options menu. In structure A.W Phoenix Festa is similar to Persona 4 but the latter is more enjoyable thanks to its rich story, fleshed out characters and more satisfying progression system. More frequent cut scenes could have helped alleviate the monotony, although I suppose the source material restricted what the developers could do. Harem shows are anaemic on plot so perhaps there just isn’t enough material to turn Asterisk War into a visual novel style game? If that’s the case Bandai Namco should have abandoned the dating sim elements and concentrated on making a narrative free brawler. At the very least that would have spared me from the blushes of being turned down by cute waifus.