Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Feature: My Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of 2012 [Part 2: 5-1]

Continuing on from part one, we've now reached the top five in this list of my most anticipated games to see release in the to-be great year for gaming that is 2012. Without further delay, let's get down to business, shall we?

5. Resident Evil: Revelations
If you read my massive preview of Resident Evil: Revelations last month, you'll most certainly be aware of the fact that I'm looking forward to the title with piqued interest. By now, of course, the game will have been released for quite a while and I'm probably blasting T-Abyss virus infected mutants as you read this. Damn these posts and how painstakingly long they take to write! Still, at the time of writing at least, the game is yet to be released and I'm still essentially still looking forward to it, and if you don't know why, you should probably read my aforementioned preview! I won't leave this section of this post at that, of course. Revelations, as I've mentioned time and time again, is set to be less of a spin-off and more of a rival to the rest of the main series instalments, despite the fact that it is to be released on the dinky little handheld we know as the 3DS, and not its beefier home console cousins. Baffling as the prospect of what is essentially the next big Resident Evil release being showcased on the 3DS only is, it still looks absolutely fantastic.

I'm not saying Resident Evil: Revelations rival Capcom's crowning achievement, that being the series' fourth main installment, or even the next big release after Revelations that will enter shop shelves in the form of Resident Evil 6 this November, but keeping an open mind this game looks to be one of the best to hit the 3DS yet. It's received many stellar reviews, more often than not over the 90/100 or 9/10 mark depending on the publication. A much less convoluted plot is said to be found in the title, making it a more engaging experience than past Resident Evil games. I'd note that this story-line has been conceived by none other than the creator of popular anime Bleach, which may have apparently gone down the gutter lately, but if reviews are anything to go by the man certainly hasn't messed Resident Evil lore up with this release. Obviously though, story isn't everything. The gameplay aspects of Revelations are also apparently great, building on last year's The Mercenaries 3D and refining it so the experience is much less... broken, let's say, than that title. Before I waffle on for too much longer, I'm going to wrap up this segment by saying once again that you should check out my preview of Resident Evil: Revelations, as there's not really anything to say about this release here that hasn't been said in that post. Call me lazy, but this is how I roll. Moving on, swiftly...

4. Kid Icarus: Uprising
As crazy as the prospect is, the spectacular 3D return of Pit, the angelic hero of Kid Icarus fame, was the first thing we ever saw related to the Nintendo 3DS. Not to mention the fact that, when it was first unveiled alongside the glorious new system back at E3 2010, it looked pretty far into the development process. Yet here we are, almost two years later, and the game still hasn't seen release. Thankfully, that fact will have changed soon, as Kid Icarus: Uprising will be available to buy here in the UK on the 23rd of March, and I can happily inform you readers that I'm pretty damn excited for it. So excited, in fact, that the game has risen up to number 4 spot on this list. It's clear that the head of Uprising's development, Masahiro Sakurai of Super Smash Bros. fame, has put a lot of time and effort into making the game that marks the return of an age-old Nintendo superstar (yet a rather young one in truth) the best it can possibly be, and we'll find out very soon if his efforts have been successful. After hiding in the shadows since the NES and Game Boy era, Kid Icarus himself, the childish albeit brash Pit, is set to make his return in the form of what has looked like Sin and Punishment with on-foot sections this past year and a half-or-so. Despite these initial impressions, however, Uprising looks to be much more than many of us will have expected. It's become clear over the past few weeks that this game is very Sakurai, and if you don't know what I mean by that, please allow me to explain further...

From a content perspective, Kid Icarus' spectacular-looking reboot has been described as jam packed with things to do, much like the Smash Bros. games before it. It's not difficult to see that Nintendo's next big 3DS release has been curated by the head of development of the most content-stuffed game ever created thus far (Smash Bros. Brawl, in case you're wondering). In Uprising you'll find a single-player campaign mode which has you soaring through the skies in on-rails shooter meets third-person action segments and beating the pulp out of Medusa's army on-foot, more so than the time you'll be spending above-ground. With this in mind, no player should mistake Pit's modern debut for a Sin and Punishment game in a Kid Icarus shell, because the main bulk of the game is apparently anything but (I'm not having a go at Sin and Punishment, by the way). More exciting is the fact that the solo mode is apparently rather expansive, not only due to the welcome longevity of it (something many have had doubts about until this point) but also the clever Fiend's Cauldron, which has you increasing the 'intensity' of the game's difficulty on the fly when replaying sections of the game you've already conquered. The more intense you make your session, the more valuable the rewards you receive afterwards; and this is where Uprising's weapons system comes into play. Nine catagories of weapons house countless tools for use in both the game's single-player mode and multiplayer, each of which has a unique design and its own statistics. Throw in weapon fusion, achievements, the aforementioned multiplayer options which I haven't had the space to talk about alongside many other things, and we've certainly got a sky-high winner on our hands with Kid Icarus: Uprising. What could I possibly be more excited about?

3. Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle
I'll admit it here and now: Professor Layton and the Spectre's Call, the top-hatted gentleman's most recent release here in the UK, was a total disappointment after the awe-inspiring Lost Future. It's not to say it was a bad game by any means, but the lack of anything new, a slightly less clever story than past series instalments as well as the exclusion of the 100+ hour bonus mode that Japanese and American gamers got their hands on with their versions of the release, made for what was far from the best game in the series (although not the worst). However, the frustrating lack of anything new found in the fourth Layton release certainly isn't going to be what we'll be seeing with Mask of Miracle, the fifth instalment in the much-loved puzzling series of handheld adventures. The reason why this game will be undeniably fresh is rather obvious; This will be the first Layton game we'll ever see on a system other than the DS where the series began to grow its roots and up until this point has housed every game in the series. Improved graphics, more possibilities for puzzle solving thanks to the features of the hardware as well as many other things look to make Mask of Miracle anything but a disappointment.

Of course, one main factor none of us can be sure about that could either make or break a Layton title is the plot, which was the main setback for the fourth instalment in my opinion. As ever, Mask of Miracle has already been released in Japan, so gamers over in that region should already be familiar with what happens in the game story-wise, but here in English-speaking regions, that knowledge is once again absent for now. All we know is that the plot is based around a mysterious mask with the ability to turn others into stone, possibly among other powers. Naturally, there should be a perfectly logical reason behind everything, and it's up to the Professor to uncover the mystery with his two companions; a slightly more experienced Luke Triton than his first chronological appearance, as well as Emmy Altava who also gratefully returns from The Spectre's Call. Mask of Miracle will also feature flashbacks into the Professor's past, a-la Lost Future, albeit much earlier on than when the man met the love of his life. The game is set to explore Layton's college years, in which he explores an ancient cavern with his mate Lando (no, not the backstabbing guy from Star Wars). Surely, these flashbacks will be plot-relevant as they were in the current best game in the series, and it'll be nothing but enthralling to see even more character development for the gentlemanly Professor. Also, did I mention the younger Layton has an afro-esque cut? This will be perfection in the form of a cartridge, folks. Moving on to the penultimate game on this list...

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Feature: My Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of 2012 [Part 1: 10-6]

It's already been established that 2012 is going to be a massive year for gaming, at least from a Nintendo fan's point of view. After ranting on about last year rather ridiculously in a recent update post, you'll probably know that I thought of 2011 as a slight disappointment when it comes to the medium I write about. While my comments were of a slightly over-emphasised nature, I still stand by them despite a number of potentially celebratory gaming-related events such as the launch of the 3DS and the Electronic Entertainment Expo taking place in those twelve months, and we all know how well those went. In case you couldn't tell, that last sentence consisted mainly of sarcasm. Let's not dwell on the past, though, back to the present and the oh-so bright future. Well, after I reminisce a section of my blog's past at least. Back in 2010, the year I launched this so-called writing career or whatever you want to call it, one of the first posts I ever worked on as well as my first ever post under the label 'Feature' was unleashed from my pre-experienced journalistic mind. This feature took a look at the top ten games I was anticipating a fair bit set to be released sometime that year, hence the title of the post: My Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of 2010. Of course, that was two years ago. What made that post ever so special (aside from the factors I mentioned a few sentences back) was the fact that 2010 marked a new decade of gaming. The beginning 2012, while not the start of anything other than a new year, happens to be exactly what I established it to be at the start of this post: A massive year for gaming.

Naturally, after repeating the same feature one year later back in 2011, I've decided that it would be nothing but compulsary to write a 2012 edition of the games I'm most looking forward to that are scheduled for or are likely to be released within the next twelve months. Before I begin I should note that a number of rules apply to this list. First off, I've been thinking a lot about incorporating journalism based around gaming outside of Nintendo onto the blog, but that will not start here, meaning that this post is based solely around games found on Nintendo consoles (multiplatform titles still count, mind). The second rule is rather obvious, but I'll still point it out regardless; Games confirmed to be in the works such as No More Heroes 3 and Pikmin 3 that haven't had any footage or screenshots related to the game shown-off are excluded from this list, however much I am looking forward to Suda's next masterpiece and Nintendo's upcoming greats. Now that these two rules are out of the way, I can hardly wait to begin. Welcome to the 2012 edition of My Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of the year. Some sacrifices had to be made (Tekken 3D Prime Edition and MH3G in case you're wondering), but ultimately these are then ten games I'm most looking forward to that are set to be released in the next 12 months. Let's get started, shall we?

10. Luigi's Mansion 2
We begin this list with the 3DS follow-up to a Gamecube title that I'm to this day rather disappointed at myself for missing out on. Countless games, new and old, have left Luigi's Mansion in the shadows where it surely won't be purchased by yours truly for a while, which is a shame because it's a game that has mostly received a fair amount of praise from those who have played it. Based around the interesting gameplay quirk of Mario's less chubby brother Luigi being scared out of his dungarees (not literally, that would be disgusting), the Gamecube's undeniable ultimate launch title involved the scaredy-cat plumber setting out on a short but sweet mission to rescue his brother from a mansion with the help of a titular device known as the Poltergust 3000. Why would he need this ridiculous excuse for a modified vacuum cleaner, you ask? Quite simply, because the mansion is filled with dastardly ghosts and other such 'horrors' that Luigi had to face up to and engage in some professional ghost bustin'. The quirky gameplay mechanics were undeniably original and some of the most celebrated aspects of Luigi's Mansion, but despite the game being liked by many, praise isn't the only form of feedback the title received. Sub-par graphics and a disappointingly short story with next to no incentive to be replayed held the game back, and if you're not a fan of its gameplay you're undeniably not going to like the Luigi's Mansion at all.

Luckily, with the help of a small Canadian development team, Nintendo are set to impress with the totally unexpected and superior-sounding sequel to the title that kick-started the Gamecube with a mediocre bang, which we saw announced at last years E3 conference. We haven't seen much of Luigi's Mansion 2 since that event, but when Reggie Fils-Aime talked of a much-increased quantity of game time before the player will reach the end credits, after conquering not one, but several mansions, not forgetting apparently astounding 3D visuals that seem perfectly suited to the new 3DS sequel, Nintendo and their Canadian chums look to right the supposed wrongs that the original game set in stone. I may not have played Luigi's Mansion, but I'm definitely looking forward to Luigi's Mansion 2 with high levels of anticipation.

9. Beyond the Labyrinth
At the number 9 spot on this list of piqued anticipation, we find what is most definitely the quirkiest and most obscure game of all ten of these titles, and you'll discover why in a moment. At its core, this game is a dungeon crawler. You know, those boring games in which you trawl around a generic, block-based dungeon and fight un-animated baddies for general RPG-style reward reaping? The DS had a fair few of these titles released for only a select few; those who are fans of randomly generated, albeit rather unexciting dungeon exploration. I seem to be wailing on dungeon crawlers a lot, despite my RPG loving roots, but there's no denying that most of the time these games aren't exactly masterpieces. The game that takes the numero nueve spot on this list, however, looks to change that sad but true fact. Some might say it even goes 'Beyond' what we've ever seen before in a dungeon-crawling game. Beyond the Labyrinth is a 3DS game in which you explore a floor-based dungeon doing the usual levelling-up, fighting enemies and discovering hidden treasure chests and other such standardised malarkey found in most other games of this ilk. However, this game has a fair few tricks up its sleeve - the first of which being the fact that, quite simply, it looks absolutely gorgeous. The locales you find yourself in while delving deeper into the labyrinth are far away from ordinary dungeon-crawler fare, and instead opt for some truly beautiful areas in both a graphical and artistic sense. And of course, there's no need to mention that the game is fully 3D, which can only make things even more immersive.

Also unique about Beyond the Labyrinth aside from its amazing visuals is the character that accompanies your seemingly invisible, and personality-lacking party of four: A young girl called, well, whatever you want to call her. Naming isn't the only element of customisation surrounding this character, either, as you can also fully customise her clothing to an incredible extent through drawing on the touch screen. The biggest push to make Beyond the Labyrinth more enjoyable than its predecessors, however, is the girl's personality. She accompanies your party with truly brilliant animations displaying her sheer amazement at the locations you find yourself in, as well as voice acting, another key thing your team lacks. This alone looks to inject oh-so much more human characterisation into the game, making it much more interesting than text-based RPGs of the past. There's no denying that Beyond the Labyrinth could change the dying face of dungeon-crawlers, and it'd be a real shame if the game wasn't released here in the UK.

8. Animal Crossing 3DS
Moving onwards, we find ourselves arriving at the number eight spot with a game that is undeniably going to see release in the UK, unlike the title you just read about. And, much like the game at the number ten spot on this list, I've never played any of its predecessors. It looks like Animal Crossing's 3DS debut will be the first game I buy from the acclaimed, yet boycotted life-sim series. Every time a new Animal Crossing game is released, people do little other than complain because apparently they tend to suffer from a lack of changes from past titles. The series' most recent instalment, Wii's Let's Go to the City, seemed to receive the most complaints as it was described as virtually identical to its predecessors, with the only new additions being the universally hated Animal Tracks mode and a minuscule city location. Luckily, the Animal Crossing title we'll see on 3DS later this year looks to actually make some drastic changes from previous releases, while still keeping the same core structure the series is known for.

For those who aren't aware, Animal Crossing is usually based around the idea of moving into a small village populated by numerous crazy personalities portrayed by cartoony humanoid animals. It sounds mad, but the main thing that sucks people into these games is just how plain addictive they are. If you don't check up on your town everyone once in a while, flowers will die out, your neighbours will get frustrated with you, you'll need to catch up on paying the rent, and so on and so forth. This basic concept is retained in Animal Crossing 3DS, but a bunch of new elements and refinements have been introduced in the process. This game was pretty much made for SpotPass and StreetPass, and it seems Nintendo have realised that fact and have implemented various features making use of these tools. Naturally, with SpotPass, downloadable content will be downloaded straight to your 3DS as long as you have your system connected to the Internet. On the StreetPass side of things, other 3DS users who play the game that you come across via the feature will appear in a number of special households in your game, so you can check out their fancy items and such, which is a neat addition. Throw in the standardised Nintendo-based items and easter eggs, life-stealing gameplay and righteous customisation options of past Animal Crossing games, and this release will surely be a bite-size winner - not to mention an opportunity for me to finally get into the series.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Preview: Tekken 3D Prime Edition - A Prime Example of Tekken the Mickey?

I've gone out of my way time and time again to make it clear that I'm a huge Tekken fan numerous times here on the blog, even in pieces of writing you wouldn't expect to feature references to a relatively obscure beat 'em up series (see the Skyward Sword preview I did a few months back). Even though I'm anything but a expert at the actual fighting system engraved into every installment in the long-running polygonal fighting saga that has followed countless characters and their epic duke-outs across numerous consoles and handhelds, I can without a shadow of a doubt admit the fact that I prefer Tekken over every other series of beat 'em ups, with no exceptions. Naturally, then, you'd be thinking upon discovery of my Tekken love that I'd be looking forward to Tekken 3D Prime Edition, the latest game in the series due out on 3DS in a few days here in the UK; and I am. A number of reviews of the game have already zoomed through the pipeline into the internet, describing the gameplay of this handheld title as pretty much identical to Tekken 6, not to mention that the visuals are nearly as impressive as the last major Tekken release, on top of this. So, with all this talk of lovely praise on the game's behalf, what's with the title of this post? I'll tell you, avid reader of atrociously bad puns; It's because while Tekken's 3DS debut may be heavy on the contact, it's ridiculously light on another thing beginning with the letter 'C' - content. And this frustrating case of absent features will be the core subject matter of the next few paragraphs...

What is clearly a near-perfect port of the astonishing Tekken 6's fighting could be oh-so much better, and anyone can tell that from reading up on what 3D Prime Edition has to offer. Quite simply, a miniscule amount on top of the core experience. With this game, we're left with a plate full of chicken (I'm referencing Tekken Force's health power-ups rather badly here) with nothing to compliment its deliciousness; The game can't be described as anything other than awesome, albeit surprisingly and disappointingly bare-bones. Had enough of my complaining and want to know what's wrong with this release? Fair enough, I'll list all the negatives right now. First off, the side-dishes in the form of extra game modes of past titles, such as Tekken Force, Bowl and Tag Team features, have been replaced by a rather rubbish-looking StreetPass feature in which you collect pieces of concept art for no particular reason but to gaze at them for a few seconds. The fruity customisation features found in every Tekken game since 5 are also frustratingly gone in Prime Edition, which is ridiculous considering the 3DS' predecessor's rival, the less beefy PSP, featured Tekken releases full of character personalisation. The biggest let-down in 3D Prime edition is the main offender - There isn't even an Arcade mode. Uh-huh, you read that right, and to make sure that you don't think I made a mistake, I'll say it again: the arcade mode found in every single Tekken game, complete with character plot-points and CGI endings ranging from comedic to epic, can not be found on the 3DS. Surely it wouldn't have taken much effort for the developers to simply port over the cutscenes and intro sequences of Tekken 6, seeing as they've gone as far as porting over the core gameplay of that release? If I could get Namco-Bandai on the phone, I'd undoubtedly be having words with them...

In the supposedly compulsory Arcade Mode's place is Quick Play, a simple set of bouts against ten opponents. No story, no bosses, just the core fighting. It's not to say that the mode itself is bad, it's the fact that this replaces what should have been included in 3D Prime Edition without a second thought. Alongside the simplistic Quick Play are Survival and Training modes, which are self-explanatory and definitely welcome, but it's not like they offer much different to the main option found on this bare-bones release's bare-bones menu. The main source of replay value to be found in the game is the online mode, which is basically the only reason I'll be getting my mitts around the game. Finally, the Prime Edition package also includes the 90 minute feature-length movie, Tekken: Blood Vengeance, in full 3D. While the inclusion of this film on the exact same cartridge as the actual game is wholly impressive, I can't help but feel that I would've preferred the developers to ditch this inclusion in favour of building upon the core game found in the package. The movie itself hasn't exactly been described as stellar, either - Apparently it's one of those 'watch it once then don't really bother with it again' deals. With Tekken 3D Prime Edition, it looks like the developers aren't even trying to compete with the likes of Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Dead or Alive: Dimensions, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift 2 and other such 3DS fighters, which can't be described as anything other than disgusting. However great the gameplay itself is, the lack of effort and lack of content put into this release can't be ignored. I'll most probably be purchasing it when the price drops down, so you can definitely expect a review, and if you don't have a PS3 or Xbox 360, I'd still recommend this game from what I've read about it. This post has been extremely negative, but have a read of reviews and the like and you'll find that, despite its disgraceful mishaps and let-downs, Tekken 3D Prime Edition is still a brilliant game.