Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Massive Update: The Big Re-Design and Other New Stuff...

I've been writing this blog for well over a year now, and I must say I've enjoyed doing so quite a lot. Up until now I've written a rather large amount of posts, from reviews to features to updates and news circling around the gaming world. All the way from my first ever post - my review of Disgaea DS - right up to my more recent features and reviews, I've thoroughly enjoyed writing about one of my favourite hobbies over this past year and a half. Well, I recently decided that it's time I stopped publishing my work on this older, boring template and changed a few things. Well, a lot of things. That's right, after using this same layout for well over a year I think it's about time I made the blog look a little more professional with what I'm calling 'Noodle's Blog 2.0'. With the help of Blogger's template designer and other tools, I'll be able to make my blog look infinitely better than the same slightly boring template I've been using since I first started this blog. This new design will include a much wider section for posts so I can fit more stuff on a page, as well as larger banners not only on top of the blog, but running down the sides too. I've already begun work on these banners, and everything will be finished in about a week or two if all goes to plan. I've got everything pretty much planned out already so it shouldn't take long for this massive update to take place. On top of this however, I'll also be rethinking the way I write posts. Read on...

Skelter Helter features alongside 24 other assassins in the No More Heroes franchise. Check out my opinion on 'em all in my upcoming Top 25 No More Heroes Bosses Feature!
What with me overhauling the blogs design, I reckon now would be a good time to make some minor improvements to how I write my posts too. In the past I've considered writing Features involving music tracks and the like, such as a piece on my Top Ten Favourite Boss Themes (just an example, mind). Well, now I can do something like this thanks to the ability to post YouTube videos here on Blogger. It's just an idea I have spinning around my head at the moment, but I'll most definitely do something like this soon after I've finished the blog re-design. This would be a good excuse to get some views on my YouTube account anyway. It won't stop at video game music either, as I might just post videos involving cut-scenes and the like from games to accompany posts. I'm thinking of implementing these ideas into my upcoming Top 25 No More Heroes Bosses list, the first part of which will definitely be up not too long after the re-design is finished. On top of this, I'm also considering a new system for writing my reviews. In the past I've simply put the title of the game, its platform and developer at the top of the post, with a percentage at the bottom determining what score I think the game deserves, and of course the actual review sandwiched . I think that it's also time for me to re-work this system and think up something new and unique, but I haven't really got any ideas yet. None of this stuff is 100% confirmed, but you never know. Until I think of something nice, I'll still be sticking with my current system in my next few Reviews, already in progress.

Master of stealth Naked Snake stars in Metal Gear Solid 3, one of the best games of all time heading to 3DS. Check out my preview when it's up!
Speaking of upcoming posts, we reach the part in this update where I talk about... Well, upcoming posts. I've already mentioned that part 1 of my Top 25 No More Heroes Bosses Feature will be up some time after the re-design has taken place, which will tackle 25-11 before I move on to the top 10 in part 2. I recently decided on my final top 25, and I'm undeniably going to begin writing my biggest Feature ever within the next few days. Before that though, I've got a rather large amount of reviews planned, most of which I've mentioned in past updates. The next review I'll be posting is of Donkey Kong Country Returns, an excellent Retro Studios-developed platformer that is without a doubt one of 2010's best games. After that, I'll hopefully get around to working on that Professor Layton 3 Review I mentioned in a previous Update post. On top of this in terms of reviews, I'll also be posting a Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D Review soon after my Donkey Kong Country Returns Review is finished in a few days time. Continuing the Resident Evil theme, I'll also have a preview of the upcoming Resident Evil: Revelations up soon enough. Alongside that, I'll be posting a preview of Metal Gear Solid 3 for 3DS too. You can expect loads of other stuff up over the Summer, but for now enjoy what's up next!

The huge re-design will almost certainly be up in a few weeks time. Until then, it's another goodbye from me! Don't forget to keep it real.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

First Impressions: Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D

If you've been reading this blog regularly, you'll probably be aware that I've been highly anticipating Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D since it was first revealed last year. The game has received mixed praise since it was released at the start of this month, which slightly altered whether I thought I should buy the game or not. Regardless, I did, and I can honestly say it was completely worth it. Capcom's latest 3DS title has without a doubt exceeded my dumbed-down expectations, delivering a brilliantly addictive experience that will undeniably have me playing for ages and ages. Of course, some IGNorant reviewers (see what I did there?) seem to think that this game lacks content, which is in some ways true. However, considering how addictive the game is and potentially how many hours you can suck out of it, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is almost definitely worth the price tag it's been given, as long as you liked the Mercenaries modes from Resident Evils 4 and 5.

Beating up boss enemies is much easier in online co-op, another brilliant addition to The Mercenaries 3D.
The first thing you notice about The Mercenaries 3D is just how beautiful it looks. It's a very impressive feat that Capcom has manages to pull off, and their other upcoming Resident Evil title somehow manages to look even better. Unfortunately, some minor issues have been brought up to keep the visuals as crisp as they are, such as a reduced frame-rate for enemies in the background and some slightly low quality voices and gun sounds. While some of the sounds are quite poor however, this is made up by a full quality and very awesome soundtrack, consisting of re-hashed songs from past Resident Evil titles. There's even a bit of techno in there! Through the 3DS's speakers, The Mercenaries 3D's sounds and music are nowhere near as impressive as they are through earphones, so I recommend using that setup when playing this game. Anyway, back to the visuals. Character models are immensely detailed, more so than Resident Evil 4 in fact, and animations are impressive too. What with Mercenaries being so action-packed and fast paced, it's hardly surprising that they had to make a few sacrifices with the visuals. So far, this is without a doubt the best looking game on the system.

Also impressive about Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is how brilliant the use of 3D is. Initially, I thought that this game wouldn't make that good a use of the 3DS's stereoscopic visual effects, but it turns out I was very wrong in thinking that. The 3D in this game is by far some of the best I've seen on the system, making some excellent use of depth. What's more, the game's graphics and the frame-rate aren't affected in any way, shape or form with the 3D switched on. Quite ridiculous, as the visually less impressive Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition took a real dent with the effects on. Nothing well and truly jumps out at you in The Mercenaries, but the depth is truly awesome. Speaking of stuff jumping out at you, the game also includes a demo of the upcoming Resident Evil: Revelations, which is packed full of genuinely tense and rather frightening moments, especially with the 3D on. Of course, I won't spoil any of this 'Pilot Version' as it may take away the sheer horror when you play it yourself, preferably in a dark and claustrophobic room. Or not.

Jack Krauser returns, along with his signature knife and bow. If you're not too bothered about that, you can always change his weapons with another character's.
I mentioned the word '3D' a lot in the previous paragraph, but that's obviously not the point of Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D despite the distinctive '3D' shoved into the title of the game. I still stick by my point that the 3D well and truly isn't what makes the 3DS and its software great, and I could definitely live without it. In the end it's always the gameplay that matters in a game, and in The Mercenaries 3D that aspect is immensely addictive and very satisfying indeed. Choosing from a selection of eight Resident Evil greats, including the likes of Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Jack Krauser, HUNK, and let's not forget the legendary bearded man Barry Burton, you fight your way through massive waves of enemies infected by the Plaga virus (see my Resident Evil 4 review) and mutated beasts that can withstand explosives and crush your selected character in an instant. There's a wide variety of stages on offer, including extensive tutorials for those who aren't familiar with the game's rather complex controls. Speaking of which, this title happens to make so many improvements on past Resident Evil titles that used the newer engine, with the ability to strafe while aiming being a particularly great addition. Using the Circle Pad to move around also feels very fluid and satisfying, as is reloading while running away from chainsaw-wielding maniacs. With these new features, getting the game over screen now never comes down to the game being unfair, and 100% your fault for not doing something right. As weird as it sounds, this makes The Mercenaries 3D much more accessible and easier to play, despite slightly hard to understand controls at first.

The original Resident Evil's Barry Burton is an excellent character in The Mercenaries. His melee attacks have weird names though. Barry Sandwich anyone?
When you finish the tutorials and get into the bulk of the game, Resident Evil: The mercenaries 3D well and truly gets started, and it's insanely addictive. If you were a fan of the mode from Resident Evils 4 and 5, I well and truly couldn't recommend this game enough. Expect the review up very soon, as well as a preview of Resident Evil: Revelations. Until then, I'm out!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Role-Playing Game Meets Guitar Hero in Theatrhythm Final Fantasy

As you probably know, I'm a big fan of portable Role Playing Games, or RPGs as most gamers know them as. Quite possibly my favourite handheld game of all time is The World Ends with You, an amazing stat-raker set in the streets of modern-day Shibuya, Tokyo. I absolutely love this game, which is to be expected. The guys who developed The World Ends with You also created the two Kingdom Hearts games on PS2, which, while not as polished as their DS RPG, were still excellent in their own right. Jupiter are clearly masters of the art involved in creating superb Role Players, and it seems that the developers of The World Ends with You and the Kingdom Hearts series might be working on a new title for the much shinier and newer 3DS. I say 'might be', as this is just a rumour at the time of writing. Anyway, if this game is actually being pieced together by Jupiter, it certainly isn't what we'd usually expect from the creators of some of the best RPGs around. Behold, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a rhythm action game in which you fight some of Square Enix's most popular series' greatest battles using music rather than selecting endless amounts of menu options. Like I said, not what we'd usually expect from Jupiter.

The likes of Cloud and Lightning can be seen in the first batch of screenshots, but in a more chibi form than the main games.
If you take a look at the first batch of screenshots for the latest spin-off in Square Enix's longest running series, you'd be easily fooled into thinking that this will be a rushed excuse to cash in on the Final Fantasy franchise yet again, since that's what Square tend to do with the series these days. The visuals clearly don't make use of the 3DS's astounding graphical power, and just the fact this this isn't a full on adventure back up initial concerns. However, with Jupiter potentially behind the wheel of the latest Final Fantasy spin-off, it could potentially be rather good. As I mentioned, Theatrhythm is a rhythm action game, much like the now canned Guitar Hero and DJ Hero franchises. You'll be playing each song not by pressing buttons, but by flicking and swaying the circle pad in various different motions to try and achieve perfect scores and earn the pleasure you usually get from these sort of games. On top of this, you won't be playing songs to impress a virtual crowd this time round, as animations of Final Fantasy's most breathtaking battles occur while you play each song, presumably with your performance determining the outcome of these clashes between good and evil. It's a clever idea, and while it may still seem like a bit of a cash-in, the game potentially has RPG elements too.

This screenshot looks slightly different from all the others we've seen so far. I assume it's a tutorial but I could be wrong...
Most Final Fantasy games including the various spin-offs have statistic elements that you'll find in standard RPGs, and it seems that Theatrhythm might not be an exception to this rule. As you can see from the screenshots, a level and health meter is displayed in the top-right corner of the screen. Whether this is just there as a display or if you'll actually be able to level up characters is unknown, but if we do have traditional RPG elements in this non-traditional rhythm-action game we've potentially got quite a clever title in the works. I'm certainly hoping that we'll have some sort of RPG element in this game, but we'll just have to wait and see. Traditional RPG elements or not, Theatrhythm is already set to have a super soundtrack made up of some of the best and most epic tunes from the Final Fantasy series. A number of tracks have been confirmed so far, including the seriously epic 'One Winged Angel' from Final Fantasy VII and of course, the franchise's main theme. Aside from the tracklist, some other details have been confirmed including SpotPass support, which might just mean free downloadable songs to add to the ones already built-into the cartridge. Theatrhythm clearly won't be anything along the lines of Dissidia, quite possibly the best Final Fanrasy spin-off of all time, but it still looks pretty enjoyable. Definitely a game to keep an eye out for over the next few months...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

REVIEW: Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition

Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition
[Wii] [Capcom]
Today I'll be reviewing what will always be a classic game, no matter how much technological advancement occurs in the future. Quite possibly one of the greatest revamps in gaming history, Resident Evil 4 was originally released for the GameCube as part of the Capcom 5 (see my Viewtiful Joe review) but knowing how that project failed, Capcom developed an updated version for the PS2 and eventually ported it to the Wii with new pointer controls that completely defined the experience. Before Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition was released, one of the few gripes that journalists had with the game was the slightly cumbersome controls. Players had to hold a button to aim their gun and move a pointer in an enemy's direction with the analogue stick before shooting. It was a slow and inaccurate way of doing things, and the Wii Remote pointer controls greatly improve this system. How do I know this? Because I've played through the game on both PS2 and Wii, with my accuracy rating being around 60% when using a standard controller on the PS2 version, and over 95% on the Wii Edition. What with the controls being one of the biggest gripes with older Resident Evil titles, Wii Edition's pointer controls completely define what was already one of the greatest games ever made.

So, what exactly is it that makes Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition one of the best video games around? Is it the superb character design and the brilliant dialogue, paired with excellent voice acting and a distinctive plot? The action-packed yet severely frightening gameplay that always has the player on their toes? Could it be the beautiful visuals and textures found in the distinctively well-designed locales? Or perhaps it's the epic sense of scale that spreads across a gruesome village full of the infected, a deadly castle that is the home of an evil religious cult, and an island in the middle of nowhere that houses an army of insane zombified creatures? In fact, all of these things and more add up to create Resident Evil 4, a game that can only be defined as a true masterpiece in the world of gaming. It's funny then, that this title could have originally been a very different, not to mention nowhere near as enjoyable experience. When Resident Evil 4 was first revealed alongside the other Capcom 5 titles, it looked like a slightly shinier Resident Evil game that used the same engine as it's predecessors. Early footage showed Leon exploring a mansion and solving puzzles much like those in the first 3 games in the series, without a zombie in sight. During early development stages, the director of the game made a particularly wild decision to completely revamp the game they were creating into something out of the Resident Evil norm. As it turned out, this decision was one that changed the series forever and spawned one of the greatest games of all time. Just think, would the survival horror franchise be as popular as it is today had Resident Evil 4 never been revamped? Would The Mercenaries 3D, Resident Evil: Revelations and Resident Evil 5 even exist without this decision? Who cares, because this is a brilliant title that no gamer should miss out on. Read on...

Leon Scott Kennedy spots something in the distance - Let's just pray it isn't a massive sea creature bent on destruction that could potentially kill him. Oh, it is. Crap.
In the main story mode of the game the player takes control of Leon Scott Kennedy, Resident Evil 2 favourite and an all-around smart yet deadly protagonist. Leon stands tall as one of my favourite game characters ever created, and it's not difficult to see why - The dialogue this guy spurts out is genuinely hilarious and very memorable, not to mention rather fitting despite this being a horror game. Basically, this slick and suave dude has been given the task of rescuing the president of the United States' daughter - the annoying yet lovable Ashley Graham - who was apparently sighted in a mysterious village in Spain. Leon infiltrates the village and decides to ask around to see if any of the inhabitants have seen the girl, which gets him in big trouble. You see, these villagers have been infected by a deadly virus called the plagas, which turns them into mindless, almost zombie-like creatures that have an urge to kill any trespassers - And anyone who gets in the way of the thicker plot devised by their evil leaders. Of course, the plot thickens later on and becomes much more than a simple rescue mission from the hands of bio terrorists, with the introduction of an even deeper plan that only Leon and a few other familiar faces can stop. I won't spoil what happens, obviously, but I can say that it develops into a brilliant story that makes you want to keep playing and playing to see what happens next. It's a tale packed full of epic set-pieces, some very well written dialogue and interesting characters that will make you want to experience the game's story again and again before you eventually get bored, leave the game for a while and decide you want to play through it again.

Outside of the story department, Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition also includes some very addictive gameplay. In hindsight, this is your standard 3rd-person shooter that excludes that ability to strafe while aiming your weapons, but that's actually a very poor description. Resident Evil 4 is an almost perfect blend of action-packed segments and genuinely terrifying moments that will have you on your toes while you play. As you move through the game's gorgeous landscapes you'll have to blast ganados with your weapons and take them down with melee attacks, while solving some admittedly rather easy puzzles along the way. At many points in the game, Ashley accompanies Leon and things get more complex, with you giving the president's daughter commands to wait in safe places and stick by you, and protect her from being taken back or killed by the ganado. Of course, with all this going on Leon needs to arm himself. Luckily, help is at hand from the strange yet helpful cockney merchant we all know and love. This merchant sells a wide variety of weapons, from handguns and shotguns to sniper rifles and mine launchers, that can all be upgraded and used to fend off the deadly plaga-infected enemies and the plentiful, enormous David versus Goliath-esque bosses you'll encounter. While Resident Evil 4's gameplay sounds quite bland and dated - it really isn't. Somehow, the lack of an ability to strafe adds to the tension of fending of huge hordes of deadly ganado and the melee attacks and gun noises are very satisfying. It's very hard to stop playing Resident Evil 4 just because of how damn fun it is.

Of course, Resident Evil 4 saw the introduction of the infamous Dr. Salvador, who's roaring chainsaw brought fear through the ears of many gamers.
You'll have finished Resident Evil 4's story within about 15-20 hours, but don't think your first playthrough is where the game ends. Upon completion, you'll unlock a ton of extra content and modes, as well as harder difficulties, some crazy special weapons and ridiculous bonus costumes for future playthroughs of the story mode. The first of these extras, known as Separate Ways, is essentially the game's story from the point of view of Ada Wong, revealing quite a bit of stuff you won't have noticed in your first playthrough. This mode doesn't really take as long to beat as the main story, neither is it quite as addictive, but it's still good fun. Assignment Ada is another extra starring Miss Wong, a non-canon rush through the Island segment of the game in an attempt to locate a number of plaga samples while avoiding loads of enemies. This one is very short and it honestly seems quite rushed, but it's not terrible. The Movie Viewer is self-explanatory, allowing you to re-watch cutscenes from both the main story and Separate Ways. And last and most certainly not least, we have the infamous Mercenaries mode. What with me hyping up Mercenaries 3D so much, you can probably tell that this is the extra that takes the cake. Blasting ganado and building up combos and high scores with a number of classic Resident Evil characters is beyond brilliant, and it might just have you pouring even more hours into than the actual story mode of the game. Even if Mercenaries was the only unlockable extra in the game, I'd still be very happy with what Resident Evil 4 has to offer after you play through story mode.

Some of the extra modes allow you to play as the deadly Umbrella Corporation hired lass, Ada Wong. How does she not get any blood on that dress?!
It's very difficult to point out any flaws with Resident Evil 4. Yes, the visuals could be improved as Wii Edition is essentially a port of a PS2 game, but it honestly doesn't matter as this title packs a brilliant art style that really makes the game look stunning. Some people could also complain about the lack of an ability to strafe while aiming and the almost tank-like movements of your character, but these aspects only add to the tension of fending off hordes of deadly enemies and brutal bosses. The story is an epic tale that will have you playing for ages without stopping, the character design is brilliant and the soundtrack is very fitting and quite catchy at times. The voice actors do a brilliant job of taking each character's role and the dialogue they speak is very memorable and ocassionally very funny. The gameplay is extremely addictive, and the extra modes and unlockables on offer add to the replay value of this title a lot. Resident Evil 4 is without a doubt my second favourite game of all time (so far) and I'd recommend it to anyone who has a Wii or a PS2. Seriously, buy this game! You definitely won't regret doing so...