Review of Death Mark

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Screenshots can be deceptive. Based on Death Mark’s promotional images, I expected this horror title from Aksys Games to be a first person dungeon crawler. In actuality it is a visual novel with point and click adventure segments. Over the course of five chapters, which took me around six hours to finish, players take control of an amnesiac whose wrist has been branded with the titular Death Mark. At first glance said marking looks like a cool tattoo. Early on in the story however it is revealed that the Death Mark is a curse placed on the protagonist by a vengeful spirit. Unless he is able to rid himself of it, our hero is fated to die within the next few days. Regrettably for him, erasing the Death Mark will prove to be more painful than enduring a session of laser tattoo removal.

OVERVIEW

Death Mark’s hub world is a mansion that once belonged to a paranormal expert. The player controlled character is based there, as he is searching the estate for clues on how to cure his condition. His investigation hasn’t uncovered much, but on the plus side he does find a cute talking doll that resembles a character right out of Rozen Maiden. At the start of each chapter more victims, who have been cursed, show up at the mansion’s doorstep. They seek help with escaping the fate that has befallen them. Unlike the main character, who has no memory of his past, the visitors have some idea of where they got marked. They take the protagonist to said location, hoping that he can defeat the spectre that roams there. In theory, exorcising the ghost should purge the hex it cast on them.

By using the d-pad players can navigate each area. The levels available to explore include a sewer, an abandoned school and a forest frequented by suicidal folk. Crikey, this game is starting to sound like a Logan Paul simulator! Via the use of the analogue stick players can aim a flashlight, which is used to examine objects and pick up items. The inventory procured is in turn used to solve puzzles. Pretty standard stuff. Open a locked door with a key, use bug spray to kill bees that block your path and um, repair an elevator with condoms. Wow, I don’t recall MacGyver ever doing anything like that. Items are also required to defeat the phantoms you encounter. Every now and then the player is placed in perilous Life or Death situations. These come in the form of timed events, were an action needs to be selected from a multiple choice list of options. Picking the wrong response will result in damage and potential death.

VERDICT

My rating for Death Mark is a four out of five. If you enjoyed Corpse Party: Book of Shadows I imagine you will like Death Mark, as they both have similar gameplay. Don’t expect much in the way of animation, as this is one of those titles that relies on text and still pictures to tell its story. The main campaign has two endings to unlock. How each chapter concludes is determined by the choices made during the end of level boss fight. Overall I liked the cast of characters you partner up with, over the course of the adventure, and the game’s plot. Aside from the main mystery, of who cursed the protagonist, each chapter serves as a stand alone ghost tale. It’s interesting to discover the tragic origins responsible for birthing the creatures you are pitted against.

Anyone who is left wanting more, after the end credits roll, can purchase the two-hour DLC for a bonus chapter. This applies to the Vita version only. For some reason the other console releases come complete with the extra chapter. That may seem harsh, for long suffering Vita fans, but it all evens out, as the edition on Sony’s handheld is the cheapest to buy. In terms of scares Death Mark isn’t too terrifying. The developers try to make things creepy with sound effects and the odd jump scare, but none of it phased me. I only had to change my underwear two times. All that said, I would only recommend Death Mark to gamers who are in their late teens or older. Apart from the occasional gruesome death the game includes a few kinky images. These include a bondage scene involving plant vines, a picture of a naked woman who is covered in serpents and a spirit possession that causes one of your female partners to strip. Maybe that’s what Ray Parker meant when he said (ghost) busting makes me feel good.

Review of Harvest Moon: Light of Hope

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Harvest Moon: Light of Hope is technically not a Harvest Moon game. The team responsible for producing the classic Harvest Moon games of yore is currently releasing titles under the Story of Seasons banner. Natsume, the publisher who holds the rights to the Harvest Moon name, has meanwhile decided to continue the franchise by hiring lesser skilled developers to make new sequels. The situation reminds me of the time when Eidos and Sports Interactive parted ways. After the split, developer Sports Interactive lost ownership of the Championship Manager brand. This forced them to release new games under the guise of Football Manager. Eidos went off to make Championship Manager games in house and ultimately run the series into the ground.

OVERVIEW

When I say that Harvest Moon is now in the hands of less talented developers I am not kidding. Just look at this game’s graphics. The characters may look cute, but there is no disputing that these visuals are below the standard one would expect from a PS4 release. In particular the low-res buildings look especially bad on a big screen. Gameplay wise things aren’t much better. The farming on offer hasn’t advanced much from the rather basic Harvest Moon GBA game I enjoyed many moons ago. In order to grow crops one simply needs to plant seeds and water the soil on a daily basis. Fertilizer is only required if you elect to grow something out of season. Seems easy enough. I wonder why Zimbabwe had so much trouble with farming when Mugabe kicked out all of the white farmers.

Still, who cares about farming? In this game I didn’t find agriculture to be particularly profitable. Rather than sell produce I just gifted my veggies to the local townsfolk or cooked them into stamina replenishing meals. If you seek riches I would recommend foraging for seashells at the beach. Those things sell for a surprisingly high price. I also hear that mining for ore can be lucrative, although that venture requires some investment. To crack open the rocks that house gems one needs to first upgrade their trusty hammer. Later in the game you can also trade eggs, wool and milk by populating your barn with livestock. I like how you can name the animals you buy. My cow, lamb and chicken were christened Mooris, Baary and Hen-Tai.

VERDICT

My rating for Harvest Moon: Light of Hope is a three out of five. The game is inferior to rivals Stardew Valley and Story of Seasons in terms of content. Without too much trouble I was able to complete the four-chapter story within a couple of in-game months. Despite its faults I must however say that I appreciate the relaxing experience it offers. Rather than start the morning with fifteen minutes of meditation, I can instead turn off my brain by doing chores for quarter of an hour on Harvest Moon’s virtual island. Even if I have already saved the land, by repairing the isle’s mystical lighthouse, I still intend to continue playing the game for the foreseeable future in short bursts. There are plenty of trophies yet to earn and a mailbox worth of villager requests to complete.

Other activities I can look forward to are the monthly festivals. These events allow the player to partake in various mini-games, which include fishing contests and dog races. Thus far my pooch has managed to scoop the top prize, but I have fared less well in the angling tournaments. Most important of all I cannot conclude my Harvest Moon adventure without first getting hitched. From the five available bachelorettes I have my eyes set on the bespectacled doctor. She may not be the most attractive of the bunch, but she won my heart during the tutorial by generously gifting me tons of free cabbage seeds. When it comes to romance the ladies don’t have to do much to make me swoon. I’ll settle for any girl, providing that she doesn’t carry much emotional cabbage… um baggage.

Review of The Lost Child

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I love the Persona role-playing games. Shame then that it takes so long for new instalments to come out. How I wish the franchise would release new stuff on an annual basis. Then again, I suppose that the series would feel far less special if it appeared in stores with the regularity of an Assassin’s Creed sequel. Rarity builds anticipation and shorter development cycles tend to harm a title’s quality. Some people have suggested that I play the other Shin Megami offerings, whilst I wait for a new Persona. The problem is that those RPGs are bloody hard. I’ll try The Lost Child instead. This game may be a shameless Megami clone, but at least it caters to my lack of skill by providing an easy mode.

OVERVIEW

Hayato Ibuki is a reporter for one of those trashy occult magazines. Not a glamorous career, but hey it could be worse. Writing for a tabloid publication is still more respectable than being a games journalist! When the story begins Hayato acquires a weapon that is capable of bending demons to his will. A big-breasted angel named Lua (who dresses like a witch for some reason) informs Hayato that he must use the gun to defeat Cthulhu, who is presently plotting to take over Heaven. A weird and somewhat blasphemous plot… although that should be expected given that the game is affiliated to the equally bizarre El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.

The Lost Child is broken up into eight chapters. Each level has you battling through puzzle filled dungeons that are made up of multiple floors. Players explore the stages through a first person view. Every step you take has the potential of triggering a random turn based battle. When in combat, Hayato and Lua are accompanied by a party made up of previously captured demons. Like in most RPGs the heroes grow stronger by accruing experience points. The demonic entities they recruit are meanwhile strengthened via karma. Killing creatures is the main source of karma, although it is also possible to acquire it by making dialogue choices during certain story events.

VERDICT

My rating for The Lost Child is a three out of five. The game is a decent, albeit unoriginal, dungeon crawler. I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the genre. The story may be forgettable but I didn’t mind, as the thrill of navigating labyrinths was enough to keep my interest for the forty hours it lasted. Compared to other RPGs, there isn’t much in the way of character customisation. You can however tweak Hayato and Lua’s attributes by distributing stat points upon levelling up. Ally demons meanwhile can be taught new skills and evolved, akin to a Pokémon. Just be aware that instead of cute critters, in this game, you evolve fallen angels and topless Succubi.

Overall I had fun with The Lost Child. I must however say that I have some grievances with the game. First up was a glitch that prevented me from earning one of the optional characters. Another complaint is that some of the puzzles can be annoying. Examples include invisible walls, sandy currents that drag you back to a dungeon’s entrance and pitfalls that drop you to a lower floor. The latter especially blows, as transferring to a new zone is preceded by lengthy load times. Not sure what causes the Vita to process for so long. The floors aren’t huge and the graphics comprise of still pictures. Oh well, no matter how slow the loading is the wait for them to finish is still shorter than waiting for a new Persona.

Omega Labyrinth Z Banned in the West

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Right now I am enjoying the Muv-Luv visual novels that recently got released on PlayStation Vita. The highly acclaimed trilogy came to the system courtesy of a successful 2015 Kickstarter campaign. Muv-Luv starts out as a high school harem rom-com, in the first title, before transitioning into a sci-fi mech adventure in the later sequels. If you are interested in downloading the games be sure to manually search for them in the PSN store. Sony’s inept European staff never bothered to list either VN on their New Release listings. Guess they really hate anything that publisher PQube brings out.

Case in point, earlier this week it was announced on PQube’s website that Omega Labyrinth Z won’t be getting a Western localization after all. A handful of prudish nations (including Australia the kings of censorship) refused to give the dungeon crawler an age rating, thus barring it from being sold in their retail outlets. The rest of the world was however expected to get the game at some point this year. Unfortunately for RPG fans Sony has scuppered those plans at the eleventh hour. A press release from PQube reveals that Sony has effectively banned the game in the US and EU…

“In the case of Omega Labyrinth Z, while PQube has worked with all relevant age rating bodies in their respective territories, PQube must respectfully comply with the wishes of the platform holder and have therefore withdrawn any future plans for Omega Labyrinth Z’s European and North American release.”

When I say Sony I mean their European and America branches, because the game came out last year in Japan without incident. Shame that said Asian version doesn’t carry English subtitles, because that would have allowed prospective buyers to import it. Thank you very much Sony Europe/America for policing what grown adults can buy. You are okay with profiting from games that revel in graphic murder (God of War) but heaven forbid that an eighteen year old gets to play something that features cute cartoon girls. Better not tell them that their Crunchyoll app already allows people to view ecchi content on their machine.

I feel bad for PQube because they must be out of pocket, after going through the expense of translating a game they can no longer sell. Meanwhile the folks at Sony have accelerated the death of their handheld with this decision. Banning games is not going to help the lifespan of a system that is starving for new releases. One thing that concerns me is the signal that Sony has sent out. Game publishers are hesitant to localize niche games because they aren’t big sellers. I suspect in future even fewer quirky titles from Japan will reach our shores. The risk is too great when the threat of a potential Sony ban hangs over their heads.

The Top Five Games I Reviewed in 2017

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The year 2017 was a great time for video games. It was a little too great in fact. The sheer quantity of excellent titles, which came out, was so vast that I only managed to play a small fraction of them. Many releases that other sites have named in their best of year lists remain in my backlog unopened. Still, who cares about my first world problems? Below are the finest games that I managed to complete and review in the past twelve months.

5th) Miitopia: Nintendo has discontinued the Miiverse, but at least we can say that the franchise went out on a high note, courtesy of this casual RPG. Players assemble a party of real life friends and celebrities to battle the wicked Dark Lord, who is responsible for nabbing the faces of innocents. The game’s lack of interactivity (you only have direct control of one character) will put off some hardcore gamers, but I was able to overlook that fault thanks to the title’s charm and humour. Goodbye cute Miis. You shall be mii-ssed.

4th) Last Day of June: From a pure gameplay perspective, Last Day of June is arguably the weakest entry in this list. It compensates for its shortcomings however with an emotional, short but sweet, story. Players take control of wheelchair bound Carl, who attempts to save his fiancé from a fatal car crash by using mystical portraits that transport him to the past. The game boasts some clever third person puzzles, a beautiful soundtrack and graphics reminiscent of a Tim Burton stop-motion movie. Well worth the three hours it takes to complete.

3rd) Sonic Mania: After a number of recent flops, Sonic the Hedgehog returned to prominence in 2017 thanks to Sonic Mania. Indie programmer Christian Whitehead ended up overshadowing Sonic Forces with this effort. Mania delivers the look and feel of vintage Sonic that veteran fans have been demanding for years. It plays just like the classic Megadrive trilogy thanks to its excellent music, multi-path 2D stages and retro pixel graphics. Brilliant stuff, even if the dizzying sphere collecting mini-game still makes me nauseous.

2nd) Danganronpa V3: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Danganronpa V3 once again features sixteen trapped juveniles who are forced to compete in a death game by a beary demented teddy. Recycling the same plot for a third successive occasion should feel stale, but thanks to a quirky cast and some unexpected twists V3 remains just as captivating as its predecessors. This anime themed murder mystery is easily the best visual novel I read in 2017. Even if the big reveal at the end is a tad polarizing, don’t let that put you off. V3 is one of those experiences were the journey is more important than the destination.

1st) Persona 5: The phantom thieves steal the top spot. Even if the cast aren’t as likable as their Persona 4 counterparts, I still loved this stylish RPG. It’s ironic that in a year were I moan about lack of gaming time, I ended up getting immersed in a game were time management is of the utmost importance. Should I dungeon crawl to advance the story or socialize to unlock new abilities? Those decisions are what make Persona so enjoyable. Work may limit my gaming sessions these days, but when something this good comes out it’s amazing how one’s schedule can be rearranged to accommodate a 100-hour tour de force.

So there you have it, my favourite games of 2017. The top three pretty much picked themselves, but I had a tougher time filling in the final two slots. Chaos;Child, Fire Emblem Echoes and Monument Valley are honourable mentions that narrowly missed the cut. But enough about my selection, what were your best games of the year? Let me know in the comments section below. It will be a big help in helping me prioritize what to play next from my enormous backlog.

Review of Sonic Forces

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Eggman has “hatched” a diabolical new plan to take over the world, and for once his scheme has succeeded. Aided by a reality-warping ally named Infinite the genius, formerly known as Robotnik, has captured Sonic and conquered the globe. Players must now liberate the Blue Blur by designing their own anthropomorphic hero or heroine. I chose to fashion a bunny girl avatar. Sadly my creation resembled an adult Cream the Rabbit (from the Gameboy Advance trilogy) rather than a Playboy waitress. If you want eye candy in Sonic Forces you’ll have to make do with ogling the batgirl’s cleavage.

OVERVIEW

After completing the game (I defeated Eggman last Fry-Day) I am now in a position to jot down my opinions on Sonic’s latest adventure. For the most part Forces feels a lot like Generations. The levels feature third person stages where you control modern Sonic and a smattering of 2D missions featuring the classic Sonic, who has a spin dash instead of a homing attack. New to Forces are sections where players control their custom made character. Known simply as “the rookie” the player created toon comes equipped with a grappling hook and a projectile weapon. The rookie begins the story with only a flamethrower, but as the plot progresses they gain access to other cool armaments.

When I destroyed Egg-man’s final robot I was “shell” shocked to discover that Sonic Forces had only taken me five hours to complete. I should have known there was a catch, when the game’s retail price was revealed to be cheaper than your average triple A title. Although the campaign is made up of thirty levels, most of the stages can be cleared within a couple of minutes. The missions are short and not especially tough, as the enemies guarding them are ineffective. Most of my deaths were actually caused by me recklessly running off ledges, akin to a hyperactive lemming. Thankfully due to regular checkpoints and infinite lives I was never overly punished for my recklessness.

VERDICT

My rating for Sonic Forces is three stars. I think the game will appeal most to younger Sonic fans, as it isn’t too difficult. The story is also wholesome and kid friendly. Sonic veterans may be less impressed with Forces though. They may argue that this latest Eggman outing isn’t all it’s “cracked” up to be. With Sonic Mania still fresh in everyone’s mind, I couldn’t help but notice that the way Sonic moves/jumps doesn’t feel quite right. His leaps lack height and momentum. On the plus side I liked how the cut scenes feature many familiar faces from the Sonic universe. Best of all, Knuckles looks like his normal self again. Sega have seemingly abandoned his much-derided Sonic Boom makeover.

Overall I think Sonic Forces is a decent game. Not the best, but by no means the worst title Sonic Team has released. The graphics are flashy and aren’t plagued with the camera issues of past 3D titles. I liked the soundtrack too, even if the cheesy rock tunes don’t match the level of Crush 40’s Sonic Adventure efforts. The game is a tad short, but given that I have only unlocked a tiny percentage of the trophies on offer there is plenty of incentive to replay Forces multiple times. Okay, that’s it for this review. Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed the egg puns. If you didn’t, lighten up and learn how to appreciate a good yolk… um joke.

Review of Cat Quest

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Once again I played a video game were the objective is to save a damsel in distress. Thankfully what Cat Quest lacks in originality it makes up for in funny feline puns and awesome gameplay. Developed by Singapore outfit Gentlebros, Cat Quest is another example of a title making the successful leap from mobile devices to console. Players assume the role of a silent paw-tagonist who travels across an isle, inhabited by humanoid kitties, in search of his abducted sister. Over the course of this eight-hour adventure our hero will have to vanquish an evil knight named Drakoth and a trio of dragons who are terrorizing the land.

OVERVIEW

Drakoth has kidnapped an innocent girl. What a cat-astrophe! Oh well, fear not because the captured maiden has a sibling who won’t rest until his sis is saved. Playing through Cat Quest reminded me of classic Zelda. There aren’t any puzzles to test your brainpower, as a handy marker tells you exactly what to do, but the combat is pure 2D hack n slash. Another similarity the two titles share is that the game features a mute playable character, who is accompanied by a diminutive flying sidekick. Thankfully the fairy in Cat Quest is less annoying than Navi, although you may think otherwise if you dislike characters that spew out puns.

The combat in Cat Quest is fun, but far from purr-fect. Due to a lack of depth the battles get repetitive after a while, so I would recommend playing the game in short bursts. In most cases you’ll deal with foes by evading their initial attack, with a well-timed roll, which you can then follow up with a barrage of sword swipes. A handy red radius indicates exactly where and when an enemy is going to strike. Complimenting the physical damage you inflict are magic spells that can restore health, boost strength and burn anyone in the vicinity. Sorcery costs mana to activate, which you can easily replenish by landing melee hits.

VERDICT

My rating for Cat Quest is a three out of five. The game missed out on four stars by a “whisker.” Although the humour and cute graphics are nice I can’t award it a higher score due to the lack of variety. Both the main campaign and optional missions, which you procure from village bulletin boards, are nothing more than glorified fetch quests. Cat Quest also suffers from a lack of challenge. The hit and run strategy I outlined above works on everyone, be they lowly rodents or mighty bosses. Should you mess up and die it’s no big deal either. The only penalty for death is that you re-spawn at a nearby town.

On the plus side I liked how the loot you procure, from adventuring, can be used to customize the main character. Every piece of gear has its own modifiers that influence health, damage and defence. The way you go about purchasing new equipment feels like opening a loot box. Gold you earn can be spent at the smithy to open chests, which award random gear. Obtaining a duplicate is no biggie, because if you pick up a repeat said weapon/accessory will level up in power. Sweet! Okay, that’s enough typing for today. Thank you for reading the review. Until next time, I am meowt of here!