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 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.

Review of Metropolis: Lux Obscura

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Puzzle games sure can be raunchy. First there was the sex filled HuniePop and now we get Metropolis: Lux Obscura. This debut title from indie developer Ktulhu Solutions features images of topless women and comic book panels depicting intercourse. Isn’t it silly how some publishers feel obligated to censor swimsuits in their games? Seems like a gross overreaction to me, given that Ktulhu Solutions can sell their mature wares on consoles without causing any controversy. Perhaps the video game industry has finally grown up, sparing us from Mass Effect style lovemaking where participants do the horizontal mambo whilst fully clothed.

OVERVIEW

In Metropolis: Lux Obscura players follow the exploits of a baseball-wearing chap named Jon Lockhart. The protagonist of this tale has returned to his old stomping grounds, after serving a lengthy prison sentence. Said stomping grounds happen to be a city where crime rates are so high it would make Detroit blush. It’s a place where bikers harass the populace, a homicidal Elvis impersonator roams the streets and corrupt cops beat up the citizenry (even the Caucasian ones). To make ends meet Jon does odd jobs for a Mafioso named Falcone. Most of the earnings he makes end up going towards booze and strippers.

The story is told through stylish graphic novel cut scenes and how it all pans out will depend on the locations you choose to visit. Every now and then Jon gets mixed up in a brawl. Whether he emerges victorious from these altercations will depend on how the player fares in battle sequences that are reminiscent of Puzzle Quest. To avoid a Game Over players need to knock out their foe before their adversary manages to deplete Jon’s health points. Lining up three or more fist icons inflicts damage. Conversely, forming a row of first aid kits replenishes HP. Watch out for the police badges. If you inadvertently match three of those Jon will suffer pain. The Police hurt because Sting has a bad voice.

VERDICT

My rating for Metropolis: Lux Obscura is a three out of five. I enjoyed the game, but was disappointed by the lack of content. Even with four endings to unlock I managed to platinum it all after just a few hours. I wouldn’t describe the game as challenging; even if I lost the occasional fight due to misfortune with the randomly generated tiles. Yes, bad luck is to blame. I didn’t lose because my puny brain struggles with puzzles! What helps counter the potential difficulty are the abilities Jon earns after every encounter. These upgradable perks allow him to increase the effectiveness of health packs, force enemies to skip turns and can even replace the detrimental police badges with anger themed damage boosters.

Anyone who dislikes match three games can safely give Metropolis a miss, because the story by itself isn’t worth the price of admission. The script feels like a poor man’s Sin City. It’s heavy on cliché and grit, but deficient in substance. I think the top-notch graphics and competent voice acting deserved a better plot. Perhaps that’s why the developer resorted to boobs and fornication? Distract the punters with eye candy and they won’t notice the narrative’s weaknesses. Maybe I am being a tad harsh, as puzzle games aren’t renowned for their fiction. At the very least I can say that Metropolis has a better story than Tetris. The strippers are also much hotter than L-block.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Review

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The original Danganronpa trilogy concluded not too long ago, courtesy of an anime double bill. With the Hope’s Peak saga wrapped up, a new game has emerged and this time round it has been released both on PS4 and Vita simultaneously. I opted to purchase the game on Vita, as I find reading text heavy titles more comfortable on a handheld. That and I am also a cheapskate, so the Vita edition’s lower asking price helped to tip the scales in its favour. Like in past Danganronpas, Killing Harmony stars a group of sixteen talented youths who have been kidnapped and had their short-term memories erased. Trapped inside an Academy, they are forced to participate in a murder game. Is this latest release from Spike Chunsoft to die for? Read on and find out.

OVERVIEW

Escape from The Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles is only possible by committing homicide and not getting caught. When an assassination occurs players must investigate the crime scene and determine whom the culprit is, in the subsequent class trial. Deduce the killer’s identity correctly and you progress to the next chapter. Guess wrong and the evildoer is liberated, condemning you to a Game Over. The judge of the court cases is a mechanical teddy named Monokuma. He’s a beary bloodthirsty character. On this occasion, Monokuma is assisted by a quintet of offspring named the Monokubs, who are modelled off past Danganronpa characters. For the most part Killing Harmony plays like its predecessors. Scouring the environment for clues has been enhanced though, thanks to a new feature that allows budding sleuths to move onscreen objects.

What makes the Danganronpa games such a joy to play are its quirky cast of characters. Their humorous interactions are funny, which helps endear the sixteen hostages to players – making the moments when a victim perishes all the more poignant. Some of the students that feature in V3 include an accomplished maid, a bashful magician who insists that her tricks are genuine magic, a martial artist who detests men, a cosplayer who often quotes anime, a kinky inventor, a muscle-bound gentleman who is fond of insects, a spikey haired android and a compulsive liar (who tells more fibs than Hilary Clinton). My favourite character is astronaut Kaito Momota. In the first chapter Kaito comes across as a buffoon, but as the story progresses he proves to be a true bro.

VERDICT

My rating for Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is a five out of five. The game was a blast to play from start to finish, with the narrative’s only blemish being that the final trial drags on for a bit longer than I would have liked. Speaking of finales, I suspect that the twist at the end will prove to be divisive. I personally thought that said reveal was cool, but some fans are likely to disagree as it makes the events of past games feel inconsequential. For readers who may be wondering how the Vita version performs – I experienced no crashes and for the most part things ran smoothly. I did however encounter a brief glitch that caused the background music to cease playing whenever someone spoke. Thankfully the bug remedied itself after a minute or two.

I highly recommend Danganronpa V3, especially to gamers who are fond of Phoenix Wright. Just like Capcom’s lawyer series, Danganronpa is packed with zany mysteries that will test your deductive skills. The trials feel more kinetic than Phoenix Wright, as they are peppered with mini-games that include block smashing and driving sequences where you cruise across the highway collecting letters. In terms of content, the story clocks in at a respectable forty hours. Once the end credits roll some bonus content unlocks too. Right now I am playing the RPG mode, which involves fighting through dungeons with a party that you level up via a Danganronpa themed board game. Murder and board games? Sounds like Cluedo, only with fewer candlesticks and more robotic ursine.

Review of Broken Sword 5

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A broken sword is ineffective at impaling enemies, but it does make for a fine point and click adventure. Yes, the folks at Revolution Software (whose previous work include the excellent Beneath a Steel Sky) are back for the fifth instalment of their best-known franchise. Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse sees the series awaken from a seven-year hibernation, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign and strong sales of the older titles on iOS devices. Split up into two episodes, this latest caper has Yankee lawyer George Stobbart reuniting with French reporter Nicole Collard in a case that shall push their puzzle solving wits to the limit.

OVERVIEW

Broken Sword 5 begins its tale at a Parisian gallery, which is presently displaying a piece of priceless artwork dubbed La Malediccio. When a pizza delivery guy arrives at the establishment it soon becomes apparent that something is wrong. Did the staff at Dominoes forget to add anchovies? Nope. It actually turns out that the cheesy snack is a Trojan Horse, which has allowed the chap carrying it to get through the front door. Once inside the bogus deliveryman pilfers La Malediccio right in front of George’s eyes. Given that the insurance company responsible for the painting employs George, our blonde protagonist now has the unenviable task of retrieving the stolen watercolour. Nico, sensing a scoop, decides to tag along for the ride. The pair’s journey will ultimately see them travel to London, Spain and even the Middle East.

Players expecting Day of the Tentacle‘s zaniness should brace themselves for a slow start, as Broken Sword 5 kicks things off with a slow paced whodunit grounded in reality. Much of the early game has you sifting for clues, making Serpent’s Curse feel like a handheld version of Hercule Poirot (the famous Belgian detective who balances a slug on his lip.) After a while the plot does liven up however, with the narrative transitioning from a crime investigation to an Indiana Jones like supernatural escapade. By the time episode two rolls along George and Nicole find themselves embroiled in a Gnostic conspiracy that could potentially culminate in Lucifer being crowned ruler of Earth. In case they fail let me hedge my bets by saying Hail Satan!

VERDICT

My rating for Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse is three stars. Revolution Software has succeeded in reviving the franchise with a solid point and click adventure, which is sure to impress connoisseurs of the genre. The brainteasers on offer start simple enough, but get progressively harder. Early on simply using an item in the right place or interacting with an eccentric NPC is all you need to solve a conundrum. Later on you’ll be expected to decode ciphers, manipulate switches and have knowledge of musical notes. At times it got too challenging for my feeble brain, so thank goodness for the in-built hint system. Sussing things out is a lot of fun, although my enjoyment was somewhat hampered by the clunky touch screen controls. Rubbing your finger across the Vita display gets tiresome after a while… especially if you loathe smudging your hardware.

I imagine that veteran Broken Sword players will love this latest game far more than I did, as the levels contain a number of cool call backs. Characters from earlier titles drop by, to make cameo appearances, including a certain horned nemesis (who some may recognize from The Infamous Goat Puzzle.) Long time fans are also sure to approve of the game’s aesthetics, which mark the return of traditional 2D visuals. The cell-shaded graphics superimposed over beautiful hand drawn backgrounds look gorgeous and on the presentation front I also have to praise the strong voice acting. It really enhances the witty dialogue; so much so that I would often offer my entire inventory to complete strangers, just to see how they would react. In case you are wondering… no, people are not generally fond of strong cologne or icky pet roaches.

Day of the Tentacle Remastered Review

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Back when my family purchased their first ever PC (a bygone era, were music lovers listened to tunes on cassette tapes) my favourite genre of video game had to be point and click adventures. Puzzle solving was right up my alley, as I grew up playing the Dizzy series during the age of 8-bit home computers, and I especially loved the witty humour found in many a LucasArts title. Some of my favourite adventure games include Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Flight of the Amazon Queen and Day of the Tentacle… the latter which has recently been remastered, courtesy of DOTT co-creator Tim Schafer’s new studio Double Fine Productions. I seldom revisit completed games (I have a huge backlog of unfinished stuff to tackle after all) but I think we can make an exception for Day of the Tentacle. It’s been twenty years since I last played it and my floppy discs have long since been misplaced so cut me some slack.

OVERVIEW

Day of the Tentacle is the 1993 follow-up to the eighties classic Maniac Mansion. The game stars a trio of college students that have temporarily ceased their studies in order to pursue the titular purple tentacle, who harbours desires of world conquest after it feasted on some IQ boosting toxic sludge. To foil the genius appendage’s plans, our heroes decide to travel to the past on some time travelling porta potties (toilets are more original than the overdone phone boxes used by Dr Who, Bill and Ted.) Unfortunately the temporal trip goes awry, marooning chubby rocker Hoagie in 1700 AD and med student Laverne in a distant future where Purple Tentacle’s brethren have enslaved humanity. Due to the unexpected snafu, players will need to aid poindexter Bernard in returning his chums to the present before they can resume their tentacle-capturing escapades.

Rescuing the globe from invasion by slimy creatures will require that players use items, procured through exploration, to solve a multitude of conundrums. You’ll also be expected to converse with a quirky cast of characters that include a mad scientist, some goofy motel patrons and even America’s founding fathers. Originally designed for play on a computer, I was impressed by how well the Vita version’s controls work. Much to my surprise, the handheld’s analogue stick adequately replicates the functions of a PC mouse. The new user interface also helps, as it eliminates the need to constantly select commands from the SCUMM menu (SCUMM stands for Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion… I am not actually calling the menu a scumbag.) In this remastered edition, interacting with the environment simply requires that you click on an object and then pick the appropriate action from the handy icon wheel that appears.

VERDICT

My rating for Day of the Tentacle Remastered is four and a half stars. My opinion may be influenced by nostalgia, but as far as I am concerned DOTT remains one of the best point and click adventures money can buy. The comedy has stood the test of time (although rodent lovers may disapprove of the constant hamster abuse) and Double Fine has done a great job updating the visuals for a modern audience. Although the original graphics have a retro charm they do look rather blocky on a high definition screen, so the decision to redraw them is much appreciated. I also welcomed the inclusion of extra features such as a director’s commentary and the ability to highlight usable onscreen items by pressing up on the D-Pad. Highlighting vital objects with a translucent glow can really help in spotting items if you suffer from poor eyesight. Curse my poor vision – sitting too close to monitors and masturbating really does make you go blind.

Only a few technical niggles prevent me from awarding Day of the Tentacle full marks. The most noticeable quirk is that there are a few occasions when the audio doesn’t quite sync up with the lip movements of a character. Even more bothersome is how long it takes to manually save your progress, which is weird given the age of the game. DOTT’s duration also influenced my scoring, as you can complete the game from beginning to end within three hours (should you happen to remember all the puzzle solutions.) Overall however I think the download is worth purchasing, especially when you consider that you are getting two games for the price of one. Yes, I can confirm that DOTT’s predecessor Maniac Mansion is included in the package as a hidden in-game Easter egg. How awesome is that? Needless to say, just like a Japanese schoolgirl, playing around with this tentacle left me well and truly satisfied.

Review of Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax

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Cross over fighting games are a plentiful commodity these days. Capcom started the ball rolling with titles that pitted their Street Fighter brawlers against Marvel superheroes and in more recent times Nintendo mascots have pummelled each other in Smash Bros. Not to be outdone, the Vita has recently jumped onto the bandwagon with Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax – a one on one beat-em-up developed by Ecole Software and French Bread (I had no idea that baguettes were proficient at coding games.) Fighting Climax’s roster of warriors feature characters that appear in ASCII Media Works’ library of light novels. From my grammatically challenged reviews you may have ascertained that I am an illiterate dolt, who doesn’t read, but I was still looking forward to this title as I recognise many of the characters from the books’ anime adaptations.

OVERVIEW

Fighting games aren’t known for their stellar storylines and Dengeki Bunko is no exception to that rule. The solo arcade mode has players squaring off against a sinister entity named Zetsumu at the behest of Denshin, a pink haired girl who has a Dreamcast controller plastered to her forehead. To save the day players will need to vanquish a total of nine fighters, plucked from the Dengeki Bunko universe, who have been brainwashed into doing Zetsumu’s nefarious bidding. Much more interesting was the Dream Duel mode, which pits you against a series of six challengers. Prior to each bout the competitors partake in humorous banter, which is sure to amuse fans of the novels in question. If you have ever longed to see Taiga (Toradora) bicker with Shana (Shakugan no Shana) or Kirito (SAO) wax lyrical with Mikoto (Scientific Railgun) this is the game for you.

Combat is the usual fare you would find in something like Street Fighter, only that instead of featuring muscly men the battles are fought between effeminate chaps wielding swords and underage schoolgirls. Victory is achieved by smacking your opponent, with an array of standard attacks and special moves, until their life bar is depleted. Square, triangle and circle perform weak, medium and fierce strikes respectively whilst x allows you to momentarily summon a support character into the fray. The selection of non-playable allies you can call upon is impressive, but I was a little disappointed to discover that only a dozen fighters are controllable. Titles like Mortal Kombat have spoiled me into expecting a bigger roster (even if they cheat a bit by recoloring the same ninja and calling him a new character.)

VERDICT

My rating for Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is three stars. The combat system may not be robust enough to satisfy the hardcore Evo crowd, but casual players who like anime should have fun with it. Whacking the A.I controlled characters never gets old, which is a good thing given that there are plenty of unlockables and trophies to earn. For the purposes of this review I briefly dabbled with the multiplayer mode and am happy to report that I have no complaints. My online experience was a smooth lag free affair. Despite connecting at an unsociable hour (curse you insomnia) the match making servers did a good job of quickly hooking me up with an opponent of similar skill (i.e like myself he/she sucked.) The titanic duel that followed was all button bashing and no blocking – fighting game champion Yusuke Momochi would shake his head in disgust.

Graphically, Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is a fine looking game. The animations are fluid, the colour palette is vibrant and I dug the backgrounds that feature some Sega locales (such as Sonic’s Green Hill Zone and a Valkyria Chronicles battlefield.) If you squint enough however you will spot that the sprites are suffering from jagged edges – perhaps the result of shrinking a PS3 title down to a handheld. That blip in visual fidelity is a black mark on an otherwise enjoyable game. Is it worth buying at full price? That depends on your fondness for the Dengeki Bunko brand of characters. An enhanced version, boasting more content and additional playable waifus, is due out in Japan soon. My suggestion would be to wait and see if that edition gets localized.