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 Pokémon Let’s Go

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I wasn’t always a big fan of Pokemon. Back when the original game came out in Europe I was close to twenty years of age. Based off clips I had seen, of the wholesome cartoon series, I dismissed Pokemon as being something that was just for kids. Twelve months later Final Fantasy IX awakened my passion for RPGs. Eager to try other titles in the genre, I decided to be less close-minded and give Pokemon Blue a chance. Turns out that the series, developed by Game Freak, can be enjoyed by youngsters and adults alike. At the time of writing I am fast approaching forty and have just beaten the twenty three hour story mode of Pokemon Let’s Go.

OVERVIEW

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this release is because it is set in the Kanto region – the same setting as the above mentioned Pokemon Blue. When it comes to Pokemon, just like Transformers, I am most familiar with generation one. It was a simpler time, when completing a Pokedex only required that you catch 151 critters. These days I hear that the species list of Pokemon surpasses over eight hundred! Some of the new Pokemon look cool, but others suffer from uninspired designs. When a developer starts to create Pokemon that resemble ice cream cones and key chains you know they are running low on ideas.

Technically speaking Let’s Go is a remake of Pokemon Yellow. Were the two differ is the manner in which you catch Pokemon. Yellow had players capturing Pokemon by weakening them first in combat. Let’s Go adopts a simpler approach, inspired by the mobile game it is named after. Catching a Pokemon is just like nabbing a woman. You throw your balls at them and hope they don’t run away. I personally liked the new system, as it spared me from suffering the frustration of accidentally killing Pokemon I was trying to recruit. My opinion would be different though, were I not someone who plays handheld mode exclusively. Switch owners who play docked on the TV will have to catch Pokemon with fiddly motion controls, rather than buttons. Nintendo thinks it is cute to simulate the action of hurling a Pokeball. If you prefer a traditional controller or are disabled tough luck.

GOT TO CATCH EM ALL

What makes capturing Pokemon in Let’s Go a blast is that you can see the buggers roaming through the bushes (like a creepy stalker). Gone are the days of random encounters. Yay! I no longer have the patience to battle Zubats every time I take a step forward. Should you spot a Pokemon that you want to add to your collection just walk up to them. If you have no desire to tangle with yet another Rattata, give them a wide berth. The option of targeting Pokemon by sight allows trainers to build up combos. Catching several Pokemon, of the same type, in a row rewards you with increased odds of finding rare Pokemon and Shinies (mutant Pokemon who have been born with a different pigmentation). Some Twitch channels make an income by streaming hunts for Shinies, which amounts to trapping the same Pokemon, over and over, for hours at a time. Man, I think I am in the wrong line of work.

For those of you worrying that Pokemon Let’s Go only involves throwing spheres at woodland creatures fear not. Turn based battles still exist in this game. In order to finish the story players need to defeat eight gym leaders, the Elite Four and any other trainers/children/fishermen who get in your way. Winning a Pokemon duel rewards you with cash and experience. When a Pokemon accumulates enough experience they level up, which may cause them to unlock new abilities or evolve into a new form. Another way of powering up your team is to exchange duplicate Pokemon for stat boosting candy. Yes, that is right. Candy makes you stronger. Those doctors who warned you that sweets will rot your teeth are liars. Devour confectionery and one day you too shall bulk up like The Rock.

VERDICT

My rating for Pokemon Let’s Go is a four out of five. Some hardcore fans won’t approve of how Let’s Go dumbs things down, by removing features found in other modern Pokemon titles. For a casual player, such as myself, the game is however fun. Many people have commented that Let’s Go is a tad easy, which I would have to agree. That said, I did lose a few matches during the course of my adventure. My losses were mostly due to my terrible sense of direction, rather than the opponents being tough. Somehow I ended up facing the Sixth Gym Leader, before beating the fourth and fifth one, as I took a detour leading to the wrong town. Oops! Perhaps I can also blame the losses on buying the Pikachu edition? I hear that the Eevee version is a bit easier, as the adorable pup has a better move set. As a superhero fan I couldn’t resist going on a journey with Pikachu though. He sounds a lot like Deadpool after all.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Red Metal’s extensive coverage of the Zelda series has convinced me to give Breath of the Wild another chance. It will be nice to go on another adventure with Link, after all these years. Back in the day I had a grand time completing Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker. In recent years however I have shunned the series due to its use of clunky stylus/motion controls.

Breath of the Wild is very different to the Zelda titles of yore. It’s a big open world with a big emphasis on survival. Gone are the days when money would literally grow on trees (um bushes.) Foraging is required to make an income and health restorative meals. Wish me luck guys. I don’t have a good track record of finishing open world games. Often I’ll neglect the story in favour of exploration… something I am sure Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim fans can relate to.

Extra Life

Introduction

Though Skyward Sword was released to a positive reception, certain players voiced their displeasure over the sheer amount of filler present and the hand-holding nature of the game. The latter aspect was especially ironic given the challenging nature of Skyward Sword. Series producer Eiji Aonuma, though mostly satisfied with what he and his team created, ended up agreeing with these reservations. The series’ next installment, A Link Between Worlds, seemed to openly defy the design choices behind Skyward Sword, featuring a terse narrative and a largely non-linear design. In an era when gaming placed a great emphasis on storytelling, A Link Between Worlds would have been a sleeper hit had not been part of a famous franchise. Emboldened by this installment’s success, he and his team sought to “rethink the conventions of Zelda” for the series’ next console installment. He made their intent known at…

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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.

Review of Battle Chef Brigade

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Match three isn’t just confined to puzzle games you know. Years ago, for example, we saw how HuniePop would simulate romantic dates via the mechanic of lining up like-coloured tiles. In a similar vein, cooking dishes in Battle Chef Brigade revolves around match three gameplay. The tastiness of the meals you prepare is dependent on how well one combos the various blue/green/red ingredients. Said ingredients are harvested in 2D fighting stages, where players need to slay beasts to procure their meat and yummy organs. How violent! The chefs in this game rival Gordon Ramsay when it comes to aggression.

OVERVIEW

In Battle Chef Brigade players assume the role of Mina Han, a teenage chef who has left her village in order to compete in a cooking tournament. Think Food Wars, set in a fantasy kingdom, minus the food orgasms. Mina’s participation in the contest is chronicled across six chapters, which will take the average person around ten hours to clear. The story shows how Mina ditched her family restaurant, fought against rivals and investigated a plague that is contaminating the local wildlife. Apart from the main campaign there are also daily challenges to tackle, where players can see how their culinary skills compare to others in the Switch online leader boards.

One of the reasons why I downloaded this title, for my Nintendo handheld, is because of the eye-catching visuals. Although the game’s animation would benefit from some extra frames, one cannot help but admire the gorgeous hand drawn graphics and character designs (that resemble The Legend of Korra.) Indie developer Trinket Studios has done a fine job of combining puzzle segments, which play like Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, with fun 2D combat. Mina hunts for food by using martial arts, casting magic and hurling daggers. I enjoyed the action, even if I cannot comprehend why Mina doesn’t forego bloodshed in favour of buying ingredients at the supermarket.

VERDICT

My rating for Battle Chef Brigade is four Michelin stars out of five. The game isn’t too difficult, but I can’t say that the simplicity ever got repetitive. Every match feels unique, as you can’t rely on churning out the exact same dishes all the time. Different judges oversee each encounter. If you wish to get maximum points, from them, Mina needs to tweak her menu to appeal to their distinct tastes. The game also keeps things fresh by introducing new mechanics on a regular basis, such as poisonous ingredients that explode when stirred. A toxic dinner, that detonates, sounds like something I would make in my kitchen. I suck at cooking, so when it comes to satiating hunger I stick to microwavable meals.

A gastronomic brawler sounds like a weird idea for a game, but somehow Trinket Studios have managed to make it work. My only grievance with Battle Chef Brigade is that the story is a bit short. Sadly there’s no multiplayer mode to extend the title’s shelf life or unlockable characters to encourage additional playthroughs. Perhaps that is something to consider for a potential future sequel? Either way, I can highly recommend Battle Chef Brigade to anyone who owns a Switch. The game is on the Steam store as well, so the PC master (chef) race can play it on their hardware too.

Review of Super Mario Odyssey

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Bowser has once again kidnapped Princess Peach. Despite the best efforts of Anita Sarkeesian, the video game trope of damsels in distress is very much alive and well. King Koopa plans to force the monarch into an unwilling marriage, which I don’t understand. Given the choice, I would rather be wed to the sexier Rosalina. Anyways, when royalty needs rescuing who do you call? If you answered Special Forces you would be mistaken. Time to hire a plumber me thinks. Mario sets off on a globe trotting adventure to save Peach and joining him for the ride is a sentient piece of headgear named Cappy.

OVERVIEW

Gone are the days when Mario would dress like a racoon and devour mushrooms to acquire special powers. Mario Odyssey sees Nintendo’s mascot steal Kirby’s talent of mimicking enemies, which he accomplishes by placing his hat on their noggin. There are tons of foes that Mario can possess with this new mechanic. Some examples that stood out during my play through include giant dinosaurs, yellow taxicabs, amphibians that ribbit and turtles armed with frying pans. Cappy can also be tossed to grab out of reach coins or to destroy objects from a distance. Wreck stuff by hurling a hat? Bond villain Oddjob would approve.

In terms of gameplay Odyssey reminds me most of Sunshine and Mario 64. Thankfully the abovementioned Cappy is a better companion than that detestable FLUDD. Levels are open world affairs where you hunt down Moons, which are the power source of the craft that transports you across kingdoms. As expected from a Mario title the platforming is solid thanks to the responsive controls. I was however a tad miffed that certain moves cannot be activated in handheld mode. Said advanced abilities require that you shake the Joycons. A decade since the Wii’s launch and Nintendo are still pressuring players to strain their wrists with unwanted motion interfaces.

VERDICT

My rating for Super Mario Odyssey is a five out of five. In a weird way the game reminds me of Bloodborne. Both titles are games that I had little interest in playing, only tried because they came bundled with the console and ended up loving anyway. That’s a surprise because I am no Nintendo fan boy. My dad bought me a Megadrive, during the height of the 16-bit wars, so I was conditioned at an early age to revile Mario. Not even adolescent brainwashing can make me dislike a game with such creative stages though. Adding to the charm are the colourful graphics, which prove that the Switch doesn’t have to be a technological powerhouse to rival its competitors in the visual department.

The soundtrack is top notch too, with my favourite tune being Jump Up Superstar sung by Kate Davis. I estimate that it took me around twelve hours to complete the main story. That may not sound like much content, but fear not because there are plenty of collectibles to discover in the post game. If exploration isn’t your thing don’t worry because Toad is willing to point you in the right direction in exchange for some gold. Super Mario Odyssey is a title that every Switch owner should add to his or her library. Good job Nintendo. I tip my hat (or should that be Cappy) to you.