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 Valkyria Chronicles 4

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It’s been ages since the west was able to enjoy a proper Valkyria Chronicles game. The third instalment was never localized and the recently released Valkyria Revolution was an unpopular spin-off, which abandoned the franchise’s trademark tactical elements. Valkyria Chronicles 4 thankfully returns to its roots. Both the combat system and setting are identical to the first game. For those unacquainted with the series, Valkyria Chronicles takes place on a continent that suspiciously resembles World War II Europe. Players lead a squad of Federation soldiers who are battling against Empire invaders. The Empire started the conflict to secure stockpiles of Ragnite – a magical mineral that can power machinery, heal the sick and turn well-endowed babes into super humans.

CHARCTERS

Valkyria Chronicles 4 recounts the adventures of Squad E, throughout a 35-hour campaign that sees the battalion venture deep into Empire territory. The plot is both straightforward and well written. Players experience first hand the brutal tragedies of war. Balancing out the drama are moments of romance and comedy that wouldn’t look out of place in an anime. There’s even a hot springs episode and DLC that takes place at the beach. Claude Wallace is the game’s protagonist. He begins the story with a reputation of being a coward, but as events unfold he develops into a courageous commander. His subordinates include childhood sweetheart Riley, a reckless trooper named Raz and Deadeye Kai. The latter is a sniper who possesses an irresistible heinie. Did you know that German soldiers, who the Empire’s conscripts are modelled after, were once nicknamed heinie? Perhaps Kai’s ass is a reference to that. Nah, it’s just eye candy.

Apart from the main cast there are over fifty unique characters to command. Picking whom to take on a mission is akin to assembling an army in Fire Emblem. There’s even a private named Odin who acts like his Fire Emblem namesake! When selecting a team I suspect most players will choose soldiers based on looks/personalities they find appealing. The supporting cast don’t play a major part in story cut scenes, but they do at least feature in optional chapters that flesh out their origins

COMBAT

Gameplay wise Valkyria Chronicles is a hybrid of strategy and action. Each level has an objective to complete. The missions range from capturing a base, to defeating all the enemies or protecting a zone for a specified number of rounds. Levels are laid out on a map, where players spend command points to issue orders and move their troops. If this was a fantasy game orders would be magic. By issuing an order it’s possible to heal allies, apply buffs and replenish ammo. Hey rookie I command you to stop being poisoned and um… cease being dead. What distinguishes Valkyria Chronicles from other strategy games is that when repositioning a soldier the action switches to a third person view. From this vantage point players assume direct control of the soldier in real time. To keep things tactical, characters can only attack once during their movement phase.

A character’s stamina limits how much terrain they can cover during a turn. Different classes have varying amounts of stamina. A nimble scout can therefore take more steps than a heavily armoured Lancer. I love Valkyria Chronicles’ battles, as they are more interactive than simply moving pieces on a chessboard. Possessing a soldier means you have to dodge bullets yourself and watch where they go, due to the ever-present danger of landmines. Mercifully, the enemies will seize fire whenever you line up a shot. Great news for me, as I have terrible aim when under pressure. Maybe instead of the Federation I should be fighting for the Empire. I do after all hit targets less often than a Storm Trooper.

CONCLUSION

My rating for Valkyria Chronicles 4 is five stars. Easily one of the best games I have played in 2018. Valkyria Chronicles 4 might be too similar to the original, for some folks, but I personally didn’t mind. It’s been almost a decade since the west got a mainline VC title, so the combat system still feels fresh to me. One new addition to Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the introduction of grenadiers. These soldiers can blast foes from afar with a mortar. I thought the grenadiers were overpowered during the early missions, but used them less in the later chapters. Sega might have added the class to benefit the enemy AI forces, more than the player. Their inclusion, on certain maps, does somewhat discourage players from making a beeline for the objective. You have to plan out movements or else Squad E will get an unwelcome explosive surprise when navigating choke points. Stop pelting me with grenades – that’s “bang” out of order.

I highly recommend Valkyria Chronicles 4. The game is fun and very pretty to look at. I like how the cell shaded graphics have a watercolour tinge to them. Anyone who was frustrated by the original’s difficulty spikes will be pleased to learn that Valkyria Chronicles 4 is much less challenging. The only level that took me a while to clear was the final showdown. It wasn’t hard per say, but a bit ponderous due to the amount of damage the last boss could soak up. Then again that was due to my bad planning rather than poor level design. After besting Valkyria Chronicles 4 I looked online and found clips of people beating that mission quickly, via the creative use of orders. Man, I really suck at making orders. Perhaps that is why it takes me so long to pick a main course.

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 Pok√©mon. 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 Batman: The Enemy Within

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I am the son of a chemist and a mathematician. People call me iron fifty-nine. What is my name? Leave your answer in the comments section below. Why am I opening this review with a riddle? Well, it seemed appropriate given that the first villain Bruce Wayne faces in Batman: The Enemy Within is the Riddler. I have to say that the aforementioned Edward Nigma is more bloodthirsty than I remember. This version of the character likes to place victims in death traps one would expect to find in a Saw movie. Fail to answer the criminal’s puzzles and you will get zapped or have your fingers sawn off. Ouch! That would make typing out reviews most difficult.

OVERVIEW

Batman: The Enemy Within is the follow up to 2016’s excellent Batman: The Telltale Series. This five-part adventure sees the Caped Crusader take on a group known as The Pact. Apart from the abovementioned Riddler, the group’s members include Bane, Harley Quinn and Mr Freeze. To this day my favourite take on Mr Freeze has to be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rendition of the character (due to the delightful ice jokes.) Sadly I can’t think of any ice puns to insert into this post, as they have all “slipped” out of my mind. From the rogue’s gallery of baddies Harley Quinn is the one who gets the most screen time. Interestingly she is an established criminal who the Joker has a crush on, rather than vice versa.

Ah yes, how could I forget the Joker. This game chronicles how a former Arkham inmate named John Doe transformed into the Clown Prince of Crime. John made a brief appearance in the last title – helping Bruce escape from the asylum he had been imprisoned in. The pair formed a friendship during the breakout, which carries over into this instalment. How the relationship develops will depend on the decisions made throughout the game’s five episodes. Play nice with John and he may become a vigilante who aids Batman. Betray him however and you run the risk of turning John into a crazed psychopath. Tread carefully when answering John’s questions… just like when your girlfriend asks if she looks fat.

VERDICT

My rating for Batman: The Enemy Within is a four out of five. When compared to other Telltale superhero projects it is a huge improvement over Guardians of the Galaxy and a worthy successor to their last Batman release. Like with most Telltale offerings the game would best be described as an interactive movie. You influence the outcome of scenes by picking from a list of dialogue options. Battles are resolved via quick time events. Compared to its predecessor there are fewer puzzles to solve. Going off memory, the crime scene investigation segments have been scaled down in this sequel. On the plus side The Enemy Within suffers from fewer bugs and visual glitches. You won’t see a pair of flying eyeballs in this one!

If you enjoyed the first game or are a fan of the Dark Knight in general I can highly recommend Batman: The Enemy Within. Telltale once again delivers a great story that isn’t afraid of playing around with the Batman mythology. Character origins are tweaked and prominent figures get killed, leading to several surprises. My only gripe with the script is that for large portions of the game you play as Bruce Wayne, rather than his cooler masked alter ego. Sadly that can’t be avoided, as obese government agent Amanda Waller blackmails Bruce into going undercover. Grr, I hate her. Waller is so fat that when doctors diagnosed her with a flesh-eating virus they gave her 90 years to live.

Review of Mr Massagy

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How did you beautiful people spend Valentine’s Day? Did a secret admirer confess their feelings to you? Perhaps your significant other invited you to a romantic dinner. In my case, February fourteenth was a solitary experience spent at home. The only love I received came from the virtual women that dated me in Mr Massagy. Developed by Green Lava Studios, this comedic dating sim is currently available to buy on the PlayStation Network and on PC via Valve’s Steam service. Who needs a girlfriend when video games can fill the void in your heart for the price of some Valentine chocolate?

OVERVIEW

Mr Massagy sees players assume the role of a Casanova named Johnny. The aim of the game is to swoon the bachelorettes that you meet on an app named Linger. Getting dates on said Tinder knockoff isn’t too difficult. In most cases the babes will accept your advances, providing that you select a suitable profile pic and accrue enough stars (earned each time you go on a date.) The dates in Mr Massagy are quick affairs were you respond to questions pitched by your love interest. Make a good impression and your date will invite you back to her place for a sensual massage.

To simulate the abovementioned back rubbing players are advised to place the PS4 controller on their shoulders, relax and enjoy the soothing vibrations. Lesbian players may prefer to rest the controller elsewhere… if you catch my drift. What makes Mr Massagy stand out from other games in the genre is the unorthodox roster of ladies available to flirt with. Some of the more colourful characters include a werewolf, an extra-terrestrial, a bovine nudist and a phantom surfer. If you have a fetish for inanimate objects fear not, because it’s also possible to go out with a body pillow and a jar of mayonnaise!

VERDICT

My rating for Mr Massagy is a two out of five. It’s not a great game, but I must admit to having some fun with it. The manner that the romantic rendezvous play out made me chuckle on several occasions, as they are so weird. I also can’t say that I regret my purchase, because the software is available to download for less than a fiver. On the graphical side of things, I would have to say that the artwork lacks polish. I did however like the character designs and must commend the artist for imbuing each girl with tons of personality. They did an eggs-cellent job of showcasing how bashful the mayonnaise is for example.

If I had to recommend Mr Massagy to anyone it would be to achievement hunters, as it offers a platinum trophy that can be acquired in less than two hours. One interesting feature that Mr Massagy boasts is online leader boards. High score tables are not something you normally associate with dating sims. If you are so inclined its possible to compete for the honour of most three star dates or longest massage. At the time of writing there is someone who has clocked 12,679 minutes worth of massage time with the body pillow. Evidently, no matter how lonely I was during Valentines, there are people out there who are even more desperate for affection.

Review of Night in the Woods

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After funding several projects on Kickstarter, which never saw the light of day, I have given up on donating cash to that company. Crowd funding doesn’t always end in a disaster though. To their credit some people, who requested financial aid on that site, did make good on their promises – be it whipping up a batch of potato salad or developing quality software. One of the video game successes that spawned from Kickstarter is Night in the Woods from Infinite Fall. It’s a title that several of my readers have recommended to me in the past. My followers have great taste (they like my blog after all) so I heeded their words and decided to check the game out.

OVERVIEW

Mae Borowski, a twenty-year-old feline, is the protagonist of Night in the Woods. When the game begins Mae returns home in disgrace, after dropping out of college. In this narrative heavy adventure game players decide whom the young cat girl should hang out with on a daily basis. Mae’s chums include a gothic alligator, a homosexual teddy (I guess he is a “bear” in more ways than one) and a foxy delinquent. Just as Mae begins to reacclimatize to life in Possum Springs she comes across a severed arm. The gruesome discovery may be linked to a phantom kidnapper that she spots a few days later. Finding out who is responsible for these crimes will involve spending a night in the woods.

Anyone who watches Night in the Woods’ trailer may mistaken this game for a platformer, due to the footage of Mae leaping across power lines. Gameplay wise however I would liken this title to Oxenfree, as most of my playthrough involved conversing with NPCs. That’s actually more enjoyable than it sounds because the characters you interact with are written so well. Every now and then the chatter is interrupted by mini-games, which vary in quality. As someone who sucks at rhythm games I can’t say that the band practice segments, which play like Guitar Hero, appealed to me. On the flip side I liked the friendly knife fight and the sequence were you squirt mall shoppers with a fish-head fountain. Poor customers. Getting soaked by a fishy decoration must be a pain in the bass.

VERDICT

My rating for Night in the Woods is a three and a half out of five. I had a grand time playing through the eight-hour story and can see why so many critics showered the game with praise last year. Although I don’t share Mae’s passion for vandalism/shoplifting, she is a character I can relate to. Just like her, I have had to deal with the awkwardness of dealing with relatives after an unsuccessful stint in higher education. We both have also suffered the embarrassment of acting like fools, during social events, after consuming one too many brews. In my defence though, it takes more than three watered down beers to make me vomit up my tacos.

I can highly recommend Night in the Woods, unless you are one of those console owners who values gameplay over story. One complaint that can be levied against Night in the Woods is that traditional video game mechanics take a backseat to its witty banter, excellent soundtrack and stylish visuals. An argument could be made that Night in the Woods would work better as a cartoon series. It’s script, which should resonate with young adults and features weird dream sequences, reminds me of the animation MTV would put out back in the nineties. Ah, how I miss those days. Someone should build a time machine so I can journey back to that decade. If you are up to task start a Kickstarter and I will gladly pledge towards your DeLorean/Police Box construction efforts.