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Fighter

  • Samurai Shodown (PS4)

     

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    Game Info:

    Samurai Shodown
    Developed By: SNK Corporation
    Published By: Athlon Games
    Released: June 25th 2019 (PS4/Xbox), Q4 (Nintendo Switch/PC)
    Available On: Arcade, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Google Stadia, Xbox One
    Genre: Fighting
    ESRB Rating: M: Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Violence
    Number of Players: 1 - offline, 2 - online
    Price: $49.84 
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    My favorite genre in gaming has always been fighting. Playing hours of different fighting games with family has become some of my most cherished memories growing up. Over the years we’ve seen tons of different types of fighting games and it seems every year there is a new entry with its own unique features. Some games, like Mortal Kombat 11 and Street Fighter V, are more focused experiences that rely on combo mastery. Some games are more casual with simplified mechanics, like SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy. Then you have games that are just chaos and made to be played haphazardly with friends, like Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Samurai Shodown looks to separate itself from other entries by crafting a slower paced fighting game, one with no combos, and that plays much like a chess match.

    As mentioned, this isn’t a combo heavy or focused game. This is a game where every strike counts and can change the tide of a fight in an instant. The pace is deliberately slowed down because of this, causing you to strategize your attack and think of the different defensive decisions you may have to make if countered. You have a light attack, a medium attack, a heavy attack, a block, dodge, and parry at your disposal. With that, you’ll have to figure out the best way to take out the opponent, though it might not be easy. Heavy attacks are the easiest to punish, so you need to be cautious and execute them with precision. On the other side, you have to be careful when you block too because that could cost you half your health if you do it prematurely or mistime it. I found this to be a good thing because a lot of times, in other fighting games, you’ll have players turtle up and just block until they have an opening. In this game, that’s essentially null and void. The best way to block is to use your mobility, which causes players to always be in motion. Jumping out of the way, doing a quick light attack to stop from being grabbed, these will give you more success at blocking.

    Then there is the parry, which is quite possibly the game’s strongest and most deadly mechanic. If you successfully parry an attack, you’ll knock the opponent’s weapon from their hand and place them in a devastating disadvantage. They’ll lose access to a lot of their attacks and will now have to worry about getting that weapon back while fighting you off, though they can still block. This makes it extremely important to read your opponent and plan your course of actions cautiously. Whether you’re blocking or attacking, you have a meter at the bottom of the screen that’ll fill. The Rage Meter, once full, will enhance your attacks, help you do more damage, and knock the weapon out of your opponent’s hand. Correctly disarming the opposing player, via the Weapon Flipping technique, is an advantage that you still need to be cautious with, because a single blow can turn the tide of battle. Especially if they have a Rage Meter that can be consumed and grant them a Rage Explosion.

    Rage Explosion adds another boost in your attacks and opens the possibility for you to use your Lightning Blade Technique. This attack changes the game’s visuals, adding a cinematic flair to it, and can only be used once per match. Once you’ve used it, your Rage Meter is gone for the rest of the fight. Another ability at your disposal is the Super Special Attack. This attack is the typical finisher found in other fighting games once you’ve filled your meter up. The main difference being that it does 70% of damage and can only be used once per match, regardless if it lands or not. All of this adds another layer of strategy to an already unpredictable and dynamic chess match. All of these tools make it easy to drain your opponent's life bar, placing a bigger emphasis on it. Having more deliberate striking, as opposed to flurries of attacks, makes this fighting game more unique than others in many ways. This is even more so when you realize that the tide can turn instantly due to all attacks dealing a hefty amount of damage.

    Samurai Shodown
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful graphics built on strong art style; strong gameplay; characters are expressive and vibrant; unique play styles
    Weak Points: The ghost mechanic doesn’t work as advertised; Story Mode is a little weak; and other modes feel too easy; Long loading times
    Moral Warnings: Violent gameplay with blood; Characters are scantily clad; Female characters move in suggestive ways

    When it comes to performing all of this, you have a roster of 16 balanced and unique fighters to do so with. Fighters are unique and really feel different from others on screen. No two characters play the same, which is a crutch that plagues a lot of fighting games, and each will require time to master them. You’ll discover which character works best against which other one and there is a play style for pretty much every kind of gamer. The developers have really gone out of their way to add deep levels of detail to each character, making them expressive and showing off their personalities. They all have their own unique animations that add another layer to them and each character is voiced. The voice acting is all in Japanese, and is well done and full of emotion. No character sounds off and each one fits their respective personalities how you would expect.

    This is further shown through the game’s beautiful watercolor inspired graphics. The entire thing looks to be painted, but with 3D models and elements, with an inspiration from Japanese scrolls. Dark inky blacks, bright colors, and a variety of stages from everything from ice-capped mountains behind a blue ocean to a fall inspired forest with large autumn trees of various colors. Visually, this may be the best looking SNK fighting game to date and they should be commended for it. Great sound design follows beautiful particle effects and the game runs everything with ease. No stuttering, no frame rate issues, and I haven’t encountered any bugs or glitches on my end. Attacks in this game will cause characters to become crimson with blood but there is a setting in the options menu to disable it. You can also mess with the button configuration on your controller in the options too.

    With Samurai Shodown, there are different modes to test your skills or to develop them. The Practice section will allow you to jump into training and learn some attacks against the CPU, or you could enter the tutorial section and learn everything from basic actions, such as crouching and moving, to more advanced techniques, like advancing attacks and breaking guards. This is the best place to try out something you’ve seen someone do, to put theories to the test, and to take your skills to another level. In the Dojo section, you fight against your or another player’s ghost. Ghosts are the CPU mimicking your play style, or someone else’s, and is supposed to be used as a tool to help you find your weaknesses and become a better player. You can do this one on one or enter the game’s Ironman Challenge and fight a gauntlet of them at up to 100 concurrent battles. It’s all great in theory but I don’t think the ghosts accurately mimic anyone’s play style. There are definitely certain actions you do that you’ll be able to pick up on as being replicated but not enough to sell the description. They are also incredibly easy to defeat. Other side modes are Gauntlet, which is you fighting against the entire cast, Survival which is where you see how long you can last against as many CPU characters as your life bar allows, and seeing how many CPU fighters you can defeat within the time limit in Time Trials. I also found the opponents much easier than I would have liked.

    Samurai Shodown
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 81%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 8.5/10
    Sexual Content - 4.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Samurai Shodown does have a Story Mode, but it’s more of a glorified Arcade Mode. That’s disappointing when companies like NetherRealm Studios is pushing the narrative envelope in their fighting games and Capcom, for better or worse, is taking risks in theirs. SNK has chosen to take the easiest route possible, one without much risk and similar to how fighting games used to do it back in the day. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily, just a missed opportunity. Especially when the plot, or lack thereof, does very little in connecting the player to these characters. You’ll learn more about them based on their quirks and animations, their play style and their dialogue, than you will within the Story Mode. The art used at the start of a run is beautiful, like a manga come to life, and the game keeps track of how long it takes to complete for the leaderboards. You’ll complete each playthrough in half an hour but the unfair and overpowered final boss might extend that time. If you want to play with friends at home, there is a versus mode.

    Online fares better with Ranked and Casual matches, granting you global competition. Ranked will match you with players of similar skill, and the only way to become number one is to win. Causal works different in this game than other fighting games. Instead of matching you up with a random player, you either create a room to your specifications or join one. Specifications include limiting joining players based off of region and/or connection speed. The game will show you your last 10 outcomes from previous online encounters and a win/loss ratio after every fight. Leaderboards ranking every player globally is available. Online has been a positive experience for me with little to no lag. Matches that show a good connection are usually accurate and it’s the same with those that aren’t as good. Matches are usually quick and you're in and out of a fight pretty quickly.

    You have unlockables in the form of artwork, cutscenes, voice, and music tracks. There is a database that’ll show you your stats and a Live from PlayStation section that’ll take you to live Samurai Shodown games being played, regardless of streaming platform. Overall, Samurai Shodown is a good return for the series. Strong gameplay and mechanics, diverse and unique roster, and wonderful graphics make this game stand out from others. Most importantly, the game is a lot of fun. It’s a blast discovering all of the different characters and learning how they work. The game also suffers from long loading times, much longer than should be needed.

    There are some questionable aspects to morality in this game. You’ll find some sexualized characters with revealing clothing and one character who acts sensual as she attacks. Due to the nature of fighting games, there are elements of strong violence. Blood will spatter and coat fighters as matches progress. You can tone this down in the options menu but there is a reason why this game is rated M. It's a mature game that should only be played by those who are 18 or older.

  • SEGA AGES Shinobi (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    SEGA AGES Shinobi
    Developed By: M2
    Published By: Sega
    Released: January 23, 2020
    Available On: Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Action, Arcade
    ESRB Rating: E10+ (Fantasy Violence)
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $7.99

    First, thanks to Sega for the review key.

    Remaking and remastering classics is never a bad idea so old games can be enjoyed by newer generations, especially if the remake or remaster does the original justice. The SEGA AGES Shinobi remastering does a pretty decent job of this.

    The game itself is a port of the original arcade game Shinobi, starring ninja Joe Mushashi. The gameplay is a platforming side-scroller where Joe must rescue hostages, stop the bad guys, and save the day. Using throwing knives, ninjitsu, and a new melee attack added for this remake, you have to get Joe through each level within a certain time limit.

    As a remake, it comes with a classic mode and an AGES mode, where the game hands you several enhancements like increased health, more powerful weapons, and even a "rewind time" feature so you can re-do things if you are running out of time. Being a time-limited arcade game, this seems like cheating, but the rewind literally rewinds you back to where you were at a certain point on the clock during the level, so it's more like a "do-over" button.

    SEGA AGES Shinobi
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent arcade port
    Weak Points: Not much to offer besides original arcade game
    Moral Warnings: Violence against humans in an arcade setting with implied death; implied use of actual if fantastically depicted magic

    Graphics are the same as the original arcade game, with some aspect changes for the Switch depending on your screen size, and there are several ways to customize it. You can also add a smoothing filter, scan-lines, a combination of the two, or none of the above.

    The music is a classic chip-tune style score fit for a ninja-themed action game. None of it is particularly memorable, but it does the job of setting the mood. The sound effects are also nothing special, but also sound crisp and complement the music nicely.

    Controls are fairly simple and the game includes a manual to refresh you, though I found them very intuitive. Playing on a handheld can lead to some hand cramping, especially if you use the rewinding time feature a lot, but you can always take a break in between periods of play.

    SEGA AGES Shinobi
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    This port is very stable and has no frame-rate issues I could discern. Load times are also very fast.

    Morally, there are some very mild issues. First off, it's depicted bloodlessly and you are acting in self-defense, but you are having to kill actual people. It's free of gore and bodies will disappear immediately after death. Language and sexual content are basically nonexistent. There is implied use of actual magic with the ninjitsu key, but it's not based on anything that could be considered remotely realistic. From an ethical standpoint, you are resisting armed enemies who have kidnapped those whom you have to rescue and who are instigating violence against yourself and other people.

    Overall, if you liked the original Shinobi, this is likely going to tide you over nicely, especially if you play it hand-held on a road trip. From a moral standpoint, not too bad aside from the violence aspect, and for an arcade game, it's pretty sterile at that.

  • SENRAN KAGURA Burst Re:Newal (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    SENRAN KAGURA Burst Re:Newal
    Developed By: Tamsoft
    Published By: XSEED Games/Marvelous USA
    Release Date: January 22, 2019
    Available On: Windows, PS4
    Genre: Action Beat 'em Up
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: M for Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
    MSRP: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us this game to review!

    Games where sexual content is explored in the context of a relationship, or the various forms of relationships, have been exploding onto the gaming scene for the last several years. This is not one of those games. This one is more like 'I have pretty girls that beat stuff up, and their clothes come off in the process'. There is most definitely a solid action game in here, that is inexorably linked to large-breasted women whose clothes come off during battle.

    SENRAN KAGURA Burst Re:Newal is the story of high-school students who are secretly shinobi-in-training. There are two rival schools: the Hanzo National Academy, where their best train as good shinobi, or the Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy, where they train as evil shinobi. It seems almost all shinobi are girls, though there are male shinobi mentioned (the Hanzo instructor is one). This is a remake of the original 3DS game, along with extra content. It is made in the style of the latest entries in the series, using fully 3D environments and battles, rather than the 2.5D fights of the original.

    These shinobi-in-training are learning from their masters what it means to be a shinobi, and the risks involved in doing so. In order to use their strongest powers, they need to keep their secret ninja scrolls on their body at all times, which is used to humorous effect, as the girls tell each other (and the player) where they keep theirs. Some in the cleavage, others in the panties... you get the idea. Titillation of this kind, where various aspects of the female form are used as either a joke or by drawing attention to it, is a constant companion in SENRAN KAGURA.

    SENRAN KAGURA Burst Re:Newal
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Entertaining beat 'em up; nice music, graphics, and voices; a good amount of levels; serviceable story
    Weak Points: Each level is fairly short, and is somewhat repetitive; narrative sections progress too fast and change the page automatically before you are ready
    Moral Warnings: Animated violence, as you kick, punch, slash, and otherwise attack your opponents to defeat them in battle; most opponents are humans; foul language, including 'b*st*rd', 'b*tch', 'd*mn', 'h*ll', '*ss', 'p*ss*d off', 't*ts', 'sh*t', and 'f*ck'; the difference between good and evil is blurred; a few spirit enemies; sexual themes and nudity galore, with nudity being a clear and intended byproduct of the combat; each girl in the all-female cast is provocatively dressed in some fashion, including extremely large breasts, complete with jiggle physics; during combat, looking up the girl's skirts is easy, and clothes are often shredded and torn off, or optionally, you can just start the battle in a swimsuit/underwear for an offensive boost at the cost of defense; when you perform a Shinobi Transformation, each girl is undressed and redressed in a provocative way right before your eyes, with the camera lingering on the behind and breasts; several girls have at least a voyeuristic attraction to other girls, have conversations stating as much, and in some cases emotional attractions as well; the PC version includes an 'Intimacy Mode' that was censored from the PS4 version last minute, that allows you to push, slap, and rub the girls all over their bodies, and eliciting responses generally asking you to stop (but there is no in-game reason to do so)

    Through a combination of narratives on a backdrop and rendered cutscenes, you learn about the characters and their various struggles. Cutscenes are fully voiced in Japanese, which is nice. The strange thing I found is that while reading the narrative sections, often the text would scroll by quickly, and change the page long before all but the fastest readers could follow along. I had to force myself to read quickly rather than process each word as I normally do in order to have any hope of reading it all. (It's also really hard to take notes in situations like that.)

    The action itself is actually pretty fun, with each character having a weak and strong attack, jump and dash buttons, a guard, and some other actions which makes combat somewhat unique. There is a limit break, which can be used to throw enemies away from you, lock-on functionality, and two things somewhat unique to this game (or series). The first is Burst mode, where you can pummel enemies quickly until a meter runs out (you charge it by attacking enemies). At the end it does a powerful attack, which you can activate early by pressing the button again. The other main special button is the 'Shinobi Transformation' button.

    Shinobi Transformations is one of the headline features of this game series, I suppose. As your character takes damage, you can choose to activate the Shinobi Transformation, which fully restores your health, as well as unlocks some extra powerful attacks. You can't activate it right away, since you need at least a full shinobi meter first, but it doesn't take very long for it to unlock if you need it. Once activated, your character loses all of her clothes, and in a white light, has all new clothes, underwear and up, drawn on her right before your eyes, while making sure to swing the camera up to highlight her legs, bottom, and breasts in perhaps the most alluring way possible without actually showing anything that would exceed the 'M' rating. (There are no nipples, and no crotch shots.) The extra attacks, activated by pressing the Shinobi Transformation button along with the weak or strong attack buttons, are quite handy, though. There is also an optional Frantic mode, where you sacrifice defense for attack, but are wearing underwear the whole level. (This has to be chosen at the beginning of a level.)

    The action itself is very combo-heavy, and in many ways is kind of like a Dynasty Warriors-lite. You are typically surrounded by anywhere from a handful to dozens of enemies at a time, and it's your job to clear them out while taking as little damage as you can. Most levels end with a boss battle, which can actually be pretty challenging. It is here that you really need to learn how to guard/parry, as well as dodge, as some attacks can be quite debilitating. If you get stuck, you can change the difficulty before starting every level, and I found easy to be very simple, as most enemies rarely guarded or counterattacked, while on normal that happens regularly.

    Many levels hide secret scrolls somewhere, usually in breakable boxes. You also earn in-game money for each mission you play, even if you fail. You also gain experience for the character you used, and they do gain levels. It's not well explained what those levels get you, but I would imagine more health and/or damage. You can spend in-game money on accessories (clothing) of various kinds, unlockable artwork (often found via secret scrolls) and other similar things in the shop, accessible between levels. You can also save/load, manage settings, and things like that there. There is also a dressing room.

    The main purpose of the dressing room is presumably to try out the outfits you unlocked. On the PC version, there is also an 'Intimacy Mode', where you can rub your virtual hands on them, slap them, or pull on them in various ways. This includes fully operational breast physics. The girls clearly do not like what you are doing most of the time, but they can't do much other than complain about it. This mode was planned for the PS4 version, but was removed last minute due to a demand from Sony. Apparently previous games had a similar mode, and this was the first time Sony's new censorship policies impacted the series. In my opinion, it's not much of a loss.

    Outside of the obviously sexualized high-school girls, there are plenty of jokes that are sexual in nature as well. At least one girl has a thing for feeling up others, another seems to have feelings for one of the others, and so on. And, of course, every possible shot of a female naked, outside of 'showing it all' is done, including lights where the nipples and crotch would be if you defeat certain enemies. Even regular enemies shed their clothes before they are defeated.

    SENRAN KAGURA Burst Re:Newal
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    In other areas, there is animated violence, against mostly human opponents, where you punch, kick, slash, or otherwise attack them until they are defeated. They disappear with a poof. There is significant foul language, including 'b*st*rd', 'b*tch', 'd*mn', 'h*ll', '*ss', 'p*ss*d off', 't*ts', 'sh*t', and 'f*ck'. There is typical martial arts mysticism, as well as spirits, and a few references to oni/demons. The differences between good and evil are a bit blurred as well.

    The PC version runs great, and works on most PCs with a decent graphics card. It does work on my GPD Win 2 at around 20-30 frames per second, what I might consider barely playable. It should work fine on anything more powerful. The sound, music, and voice acting are all well done, and the graphics look nice, though not overly detailed. Certainly good enough.

    SENRAN KAGURA Burst Re:Newal is an entertaining beat 'em up that is unfortunately buried in inappropriate sexual exploitation and innuendo that is impossible to avoid. I do enjoy the beat 'em up action, and I'm sure I would enjoy a game that isn't so in-your-face with its fanservice. After all, it does have quite a bit of content, with over eighty levels (even if each one is pretty short) and a storyline and characters that I came to appreciate, and apparently are popular enough to spawn multiple other games, and even an anime series. While I certainly can't deny some positive aspects to this game, I would encourage beat 'em up fans to find other games more appropriate.

  • SNAILS (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    SNAILS
    Developed By: Tadpole Interactive
    Published By: Tadpole Interactive
    Released: Jan 3, 2019
    Available On: itch.io
    Genre: Beat 'Em Up
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $2.99

    Thanks to Tadpole Interactive for this game to review. I would love to see continued improvement!

    A seven year old girl must fight for her survival against an army of menacing mollusks that have already eaten everyone she knows and loves. Dora Ditze pushes back the snails the only way she knows how: kicking their collective faces.

    SNAILS is a 3D beat 'em up that gets it's inspiration from PS1 games. Unfortunately this game draws it's inspiration from the unpopular parts of PS1 games, too. This includes tank controls, ugly pre-rendered humans, and repetitive gameplay. While short render distance, unfiltered textures, low poly models, and the walls shifting at different camera angles would be acceptable for a PS1 game, this is for PC. In addition, there is no controller support for SNAILS. I wasn't even going to try memorizing all the keyboard controls, so I used Steam Big Picture mode and bound keyboard keys to my controller. SNAILS is no longer for sale on Steam, but is available on itch.io.

    SNAILS
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Mildly interesting boss battle and unique ending
    Weak Points: Annoying gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Violence, Blood

    Each of the first six levels consists of snails scattered throughout the area, some items, and a goal. Combat consists of forward kick, backwards kick, sideways kicks, and dodging. Snails have a lot of health, but fortunately I didn't need to mash the kick buttons to fight. Holding down kick buttons will chain and alternate between the different directions of kicking. While this helps prevent sore fingers, it does hurt the gameplay. Holding two buttons for a minute to fight off two snails isn't my idea of fun.

    There are 3 types of snails to fight: regular, blue, and small. The regular ones slowly crawl towards the player to attack close range, the blue one with the shells spit from afar, and the small snails are a faster moving melee range snail. By the time I reached level 6, I was tired of fighting so many snails. I decided to run past as many as possible, fight the only the ones I must beat in order to escape certain trap areas, and head straight for the goal. Level 7 is the boss battle, which added a nice change of pace with his various attacks.

    After beating the boss, the game shows another pre-rendered scene, wraps up the game, and rolls the credits. While the ending was unique and somewhat interesting, it was far from worth beating the game to watch. The music is decent and fits the game surprisingly well. I would have liked it if the game was controller compatible, or at least set up to work with Steam Big Picture mode's default bindings. Tank controls are a nuisance to the point that I use dodging more often than regular movement.

    SNAILS
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 38%
    Gameplay - 4/20
    Graphics - 2/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 1/5

    Morality Score - 91%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Dodging can be done to the left, right, or backwards, but not forward. Items need to be picked up manually by pressing a button. Scenery is consistent and well done, considering the texture quality. I could easily tell what the level area is and what the next level might be like. Unfortunately, there is no explanation for why the girl took the path she did.

    Violence is throughout the entire game, with Dora fighting against being eaten by snails. Pixelated snail blood is shed when the snails get hit. If the player gets hit, pixelated human blood is shed and the 7 year old girl screams. Her cries are hard to miss and slightly disturbing. The girl's terror is made known throughout the game, especially in the last cutscene. In the end, flying saucers destroy the city she escapes.

    The few hours I played this game just weren't fun for me. Screaming and blood seems a bit overdone. The only reasons I tried getting farther than level 2 was hope that the game might get better and to complete the game before reviewing it. This title is better than shovelware and had a lot of work put into it, but unfortunately is tedious and falls short. More variety, a better control scheme, and fixing how the humans look could make this game a much better PS1 era game.

    -Sorrel

  • SNK HEROINES: Tag Team Frenzy (PS4)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    SNK HEROINES: Tag Team Frenzy
    Developed By: SNK Corporation
    Published By: NIS America, Inc.
    Release Date: September 7, 2018
    Available On: PS4, Switch
    Genre: Fighting
    Number of Players: 1-4 local, or 2 online
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence
    MSRP: $49.99

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game and the DLC to review!

    When I first saw that SNK was coming out with another fighting game and that NIS America was publishing it, I requested it without really researching what I was asking for - I know SNK has a great long history of wonderful fighting games, and I was looking forward to getting more familiar with their roster, outside of Samurai Shodown that I played a ton of as a teen and young adult. Well, I was in for a bit of a surprise.

    The cast is all female, which is fine, but clearly sex appeal was more important than making a game with a large roster and depth. (One of the characters, Terry Bogard, was a male in the games, and is gender-bent as a female here.) The fourteen characters (plus 2 DLC) isn't bad, but it's nothing special. I have played and enjoyed all-girl fighting game casts before, but the titillation on this one surprised me in how blatant it was. Some games play it mostly straight with a wink and a nod here and there - here, it's all out front. Or on the side, or the rear - wherever skin can be shown, it is. Each character has a default costume, and alternates that cost in-game credits to unlock. Everyone has at least one semi-skimpy costume, or at least one semi-modest one in some cases.

    Each character has three costumes, only one of which is unlocked by default. As you earn victories, you gain gold coins, which you can spend on costumes, accessories, and various other things like gallery items and soundtracks to listen to. It's a common mechanic, and works well enough. I played through the game with a couple of different character combinations, tried most of the others, and got through ten levels on survival mode, and got around 18,000 coins, which I could use to buy roughly half of the unlockable costumes and accessories, though the most expensive costumes are 3,000 each, and will take a while to grind for.

    This is a 2D side-by-side fighter, not unlike King of Fighters (or Street Fighter, to use an example from another developer). This one has you choose two girls, as each side can switch between them at the press of a button. You would normally play solo or with two players, but you can have up to four players, as each person can be one of the team members. When you are tagged in, you start fighting, and when you tag out, your partner does. For fighting, there are weak, strong, and special attack buttons, as well as block, throw, item, and Dream Finish.

    SNK HEROINES: Tag Team Frenzy
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique win condition; colorful, with smooth animation
    Weak Points: Not a lot of content; short; story mode does little to introduce you to the characters; basic features only
    Moral Warnings: All-female cast (including a male transplant) that wears ridiculous outfits; boob physics are common; main enemy is a pervert, who is collecting females for his 'fetishism explosion' in his 'occult mansion'; curse words like 'sh*t' and 'd*mn'; animated violence

    I'm sure you're thinking, 'Huh what? What are item and Dream Finish?' and that would be a reasonable question. They are unique, as I certainly haven't played a fighting game quite like this one in that way. Items pop up somewhat randomly in collection boxes around the level, and if you break them open, you get an item that you can activate with the appropriate button. It's kind of fun dropping a pan on their head, or setting a trap for them to trigger.

    The Dream Finish mechanic is more unique, and an interesting approach to finishing a battle. There are no rounds in this game - instead, you have the chance to recover when you are beaten to the point of stun. But it's best to avoid stun, as a good player will punish you for it pretty quickly. How it works is that if your opponent is stunned (and especially if the game shows 'Finish Chance' on the screen) you can activate your Dream Finish move, which, if it hits, you automatically win. Actually it's the only way to win - you win or lose based on who gets hit with a Dream Finish move.

    This means that you can recover at times, or the enemy can do the same. If your meter that allows you to activate the Dream move is not full yet, you can't use it. The nice thing is that often your tagged-out partner will have a full gauge, so if you can't pull it off, often they can. But if you miss, you will have to recharge, which can take what seems like forever if your opponent has their Dream Finish ready to go while you do not (if you even manage to survive that situation).

    It's an interesting mechanic, and games can end very, very quickly. Which is a plus and minus I suppose. Earning coins to unlock gallery items and such can be done fairly quickly as a result, which helps. Though I was able to breeze through the story mode, that last boss - the only "true" male, for what it's worth - took many more tries for me to finally get him. Of course, he's a pervert...

    The whole premise for the game is that the male enemy/boss, Kukri, has summoned all of the girls to his imagination-controlled mansion so that he can satisfy his fetishes. The scenes in between battles often include security cameras zooming in on inappropriate body parts or other lewd things. In order for him to get what he wants, he has trapped them, which usually happens when they lose a fight. It's not the best plot ever... or even the first time I've seen an all-girl fighting game use something similar.

    SNK HEROINES: Tag Team Frenzy
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 4/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The controls are great, and the battles do work well and feel lag-free. The mechanics are completely solid, as I would expect from a company with such fighting pedigree as SNK. The game modes are fairly bare-bones, with a pretty lame story mode, a survival mode where you keep fighting until you lose, and a versus and training mode. There are some tutorials and such, as well as online modes, though I was not able to find an opponent when I tried. Nothing groundbreaking, but nothing really important missing, either. I would have appreciated a better story mode that actually properly introduces you to the characters. As always, it's quite fun with a friend sitting next to you.

    There is obviously violence, as you beat each other up until your Dream Finish. There are a few cases of curse words, but they are relatively minor, including 'sh*t' and 'd*mn'. Obviously most of the issues are related to showing off the girls' many curves (including breast jiggle physics) and the pervy/creepy last boss guy.

    The graphics are pretty good, though nothing earth-shattering. They are 3D rendered, despite taking place on a 2D plane. You can see your tag-team partner standing in the background, which is a nice touch. The sound effects do the job, and the music fits - though much of it is super-sweet girly J-pop that so many games seem to have these days. Not terrible, but unremarkable.

    I attempted to review the DLC characters, but after redeeming the codes on my phone, the game absolutely refused to recognize my DLC purchase. I rebooted the PlayStation, uninstalled and reinstalled the game, and a whole lot more in an attempt to get the game to recognize my two additional characters. My advice is, if you want the DLC characters, buy them right on the PlayStation, from within the game. Don't do what I did and add them to your account from another device like a phone or PC. The characters are both cameos; one is Thief Arthur from Square Enix's Million Arthur series, and the other is a gender-bent version of Skullomania from Street Fighter EX.

    SNK HEROINES: Tag Team Frenzy is a pretty good fighting game that has a bit too much 'fan service' for my tastes to be worth the asking price. I could see many having some fun with a title such as this at a good discount, provided the massive mammaries and crazy outfits don't keep you away first.

  • SOULCALIBUR VI (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    SOULCALIBUR VI
    Developed By: Bandai Namco Studios
    Published By: Bandai Namco Entertainment
    Released: October 18, 2018
    Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows
    Genre: Fighting
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen – Blood, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Violence, In-Game Purchases, Users Interact
    Number of Players: 1-2
    Price: $59.99 with $29.99 season pass
    (Humble Store Link)

    In 2012, SOULCALIBUR V was released, the follow-up to a largely successful but undeniably flawed SOULCALIBUR IV. While its base gameplay was mostly improved, the game’s lack of budget and development time was obvious: a comparatively pitiful amount of single-player content and a roster on the small side was exacerbated by the removal of a number of fan-favorite characters, replaced by their mostly-unlikable children – or just flat-out gone. The series lay dormant until 2018, where Project Soul re-emerged with SOULCALIBUR VI; rather than try to salvage what V introduced, they backpedaled, going back to re-tell the first SOULCALIBUR with a few additions from the later games. Welcome to the stage of history, retold.

    The SOULCALIBUR series sets itself apart from other fighting games in three main ways: its weapon-focused combat, the “8-way run” system, and its three attack types. Being at least somewhat based on realistic fighting styles means there are very few projectile attacks, so it’s easy to see at a glance what distance each character is most dangerous at: Kilik, with his rod, would obviously prefer medium and long ranges, while the nunchaku-wielding Maxi needs to get up close. Movement is a big portion of the game as well, and stepping or running in the eight cardinal and intermediate directions is vital. Rather than having light and heavy punches and kicks, attacks are separated by function: one button controls horizontal attacks, one vertical, and one kicks. These are further separated into high, middle, and low attacks; highs can be blocked or ducked, mids hit ducking opponents (even if they’re blocking), and lows damage those blocking while standing.

    What this combines into is a sort of rock-paper-scissors dynamic. Horizontal attacks tend to be quick and catch people who try to move around you, but usually hit high and can be ducked. Vertical attacks are where the majority of the cast’s most powerful attacks come from, but can be sidestepped for an easy punish. Kicks are usually fast but weak, used for interruptions or quick damage. It’s a rather simple system to grasp, but hard to master; add in the lack of long drawn-out combos and quick rounds (most best-of-five matches last only a few minutes), and SOULCALIBUR VI becomes inviting to a button-mashing newcomer, but carries enough depth to please more serious and/or experienced players. Once you factor in throws, break attacks, guard impacts, feints, tech jumps and crouches, oki setups, guard crushes, Soul Charge, and so on, you get a fast-flowing, engaging experience that, at its best, gives you all the tools you need to succeed, assuming you know when to use them. The controls are quite simple, and even fully customizable on both keyboard and controller. Since some moves are tied to pressing multiple buttons at once, you can instead bind a button to it: rather than awkwardly hitting both X and B on an Xbox controller, for instance, you can make hitting the left bumper count as it instead.

    SOULCALIBUR VI
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Plenty of single-player content; mechanics (mostly) flow together well; dual audio
    Weak Points: PC version has Denuvo, console versions have input lag; online modes are limited and poorly implemented; a few mechanics slow down the otherwise fast pace; absurdly anti-consumer business practices
    Moral Warnings: Weapon violence; some blood shown in a few story portraits; skimpy outfits and clothing damage; language (d**n, hell, b*****d, jack***, p*ssed, using (lowercase) God’s name in  vain); can choose to be (somewhat) evil in the RPG mode; alcohol use; the character creator can make facsimiles of genitalia and be shared online for all to see; the Greek pantheon is portrayed as real, with Hephaestus and Ares playing major roles; evil cults; wind worship; light magic use, mostly by non-player characters; a lot of talk of souls and stealing/consuming/empowering them; Voldo tracks people through their auras; undead and necromancy; demons and angels; some juvenile humor

    There are two mechanics that slow down the pace of the game, sometimes quite severely. The first is the Critical Edge, introduced in SOULCALIBUR V. It’s the bog-standard super attack – hit a button, burn a bar of meter, do a lot of damage. However, where they were rather snappy in V, they’re drawn-out and overly cinematic in VI. If you win a round with one, you also get a close-up of the victor as they make some comment. It’s all neat to see the first few times, but you’ll be sitting around looking at what’s essentially a mid-fight cutscene for 15-30 seconds every time. The second mechanic is new to VI: the Reversal Edge. By holding the vertical attack button and the guard button at the same time, your character will automatically dodge any blow (other than break attacks and unblockables), then unleash a vertical attack. If it connects, it shifts to a more literal rock-paper-scissors match where each contestant chooses an attack: verticals beat horizontals beat kicks beat verticals. If the same attack is chosen, a second round starts; if it happens again, the initiator of the clash wins. While it’s slow and easily beaten for the most part – either break the guard or sidestep the followup attack – it’s a timewaster in the same way a Critical Edge is – only Reversal Edge gains meter rather than uses it. If you’re up against someone who spams it, the fight can drag and suck the momentum out of the game.

    SOULCALIBUR has always had strong single-player content, and VI doesn’t disappoint. Along with the regular quick fight and arcade modes (the latter unfortunately more bare-bones than older SOULCALIBUR games, with no boss or character-specific endings), there are two story-driven modes: Soul Chronicle and Libra of Soul. Soul Chronicle contains the main story – Kilik, Xianghua, and Maxi questing to destroy Nightmare and the cursed sword Soul Edge – along with sub-stories fleshing out the entire cast. Each Chronicle is fully-voiced and done in a visual novel style, with detailed portraits of the cast against a background, interspersed with (rather easy) fights. Libra of Soul follows a player-created character, using the series’ renowned Create-a-Soul system, in an RPG-like experience, traversing a map of Europe, Africa, and Asia and fighting battles with various conditions – the stage may be slippery, opponents might do chip damage through your block, and so on. As you fight, you gain experience and weapons in random styles, steadily gaining strength while being pushed to explore each character’s fighting style – equipping a katana forces you to use Mitsurugi’s moveset, an axe Astaroth’s, and so on. Libra of Soul also has a few branching paths and two endings depending on your choices; while most of the mode remains the same no matter what, it does offer some replay value.

    As with most fighting games nowadays, online modes are where the longevity of the game lies, though in this case they are somewhat underdeveloped. Casual mode has you create or join a king-of-the-hill style room where you can set various battle options such as number of rounds and time limit, and allow you to awkwardly converse with the other people in the room with a list of predetermined phrases. Ranked mode keeps track of your wins with a point system, gaining and losing points as you win and lose; you start as a “sprout” before your first rank-up, then slowly rise from G5 up to S1 – five ranks per letter grade. Ranked mode is the fastest way to find a fight, but has some problems, mainly in the matchmaking system: even as a lowly G3 or so, you can (and usually will) be matched with someone in the C grades with ten times your point total, who proceeds to wipe the floor with you (and gain next to nothing by doing so). The developers have promised to patch it, but the problem persists at the time of writing. You also gain way more points than you lose, so higher grades aren’t necessarily a sign of skill, but rather of time commitment – though the two do tend to go hand-in-hand. The netcode is nothing special either, but does its job; it’ll obviously be different depending on your region and internet connection, but personally speaking, I’ve had more smooth battles than jittery ones.

    The game’s presentation is mostly unassuming, but with a few stand-out pieces. The hand-drawn portraits and backgrounds in Soul Chronicle are very well done, and the few in-engine cinematics are fantastically animated, but the art style and graphics themselves are nothing special. There are a lot of assets in all areas reused from previous games, from textures to animations. Early, pre-release versions of SOULCALIBUR VI had some rather extreme particle effects, but these have either been toned down or don’t distract from the action in the game proper. The music follows the SOULCALIBUR tradition of being somewhere between above-average and outstanding, and strikes a good balance between being nice to listen to and able to be tuned out when you’re in a match. The voice acting wavers at times, though it usually does its job, with a couple of praiseworthy performances – the newcomer Azwel’s voice is delightfully, overdramatically, scenery-chewingly amazing. There’s also the added bonus of dual audio; when you’re sick of Xianghua’s obnoxious screeching in English, you can change to her obnoxious Japanese screeching (that’s not a direct knock on the voice actresses; Xianghua’s just obnoxious).

    Perhaps the biggest flaws of the game, for better or worse, come from outside it. The PC version has Denuvo Anti-Tamper as DRM, with all the problems it brings – performance issues, file bloat, etc. – and was, as usual, cracked within a week or two of release, punishing only the paying customer once again. The console versions trade it for some input lag instead, around five frames or so, with random lag spikes as well. What’s worse, however, is the (now unfortunately fighting game standard) anti-consumer DLC practice. The fan-favorite character Tira was announced as the first DLC character before the full base game roster was revealed, and looked to be fully complete at the time, though Bandai Namco assured she was still in development. She was then included in the beta, even when two standard characters weren’t; the defense then changed to threatening the IP’s life if the game didn’t sell. Upon release, people reported seeing Tira pop up in arcade mode even without purchasing her, heavily suggesting that she was intended to be in the base game but was pulled to sell back to her fans. Create-a-Soul suffered a similar fate, with rather limited parts and many options from previous games missing – but there will be a few “CaS packs” going up for sale soon (to their credit, they will release some for free as well). There’s also the issue of selling a $30 season pass without revealing what’s in it aside from Tira (to save you the trouble: it’s Tira, the CaS packs, the guest character YoRHa No. 2 Type B from Nier: Automata, some music from the older games, Amy, and Cassandra). It’s extremely frustrating to have content gated off like this, but since upcoming fighting games make SOULCALIBUR VI’s issues look rather tame, it’s something we’ll have to live with barring a massive change in consumer mindset and spending.

    SOULCALIBUR VI
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 50%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Other than the above moral quandary, there’s a laundry list of issues to take note of. Weapon violence is the obvious one, though there’s no blood and fighters are only ever knocked out; there is some blood in a few Soul Chronicle portraits, but it’s barely more than some red splotches here and there. In addition, there are some descriptions of gruesome, gory scenes in Libra of Soul, but they’re never shown. Strong language is rather frequent, with “d**n” and “hell” common, but “b*****d,” “p*ssed,” and “jack***” are occasionally uttered, and very rarely God’s name is used in vain, with the subtitles keeping it lowercase. There is some alcohol use shown, with one character portrayed as a drunkard; you can use some in Libra of Soul, but it acts like all the other pre-fight boosts. Most of the characters show a lot of skin, and clothing damage has the potential to leave fighters in their underwear; Ivy and Voldo are the worst offenders here, both of them in little more than bondage gear (which, thanks to Create-a-Soul, you can put on any other character, including the fifteen-year-old Talim). The in-depth nature of Create-a-Soul also lends itself to abuse, and for every neat helicopter or Magikarp made with it, there’s a giant facsimile of genitalia to be found – which can also show up in your game, thanks to Libra of Soul taking random characters shared online to populate certain missions. Also in Libra of Soul, the two branching paths involve being good or evil – to an extent. The “evil” side isn’t particularly evil, with the worst being some theft or mercy killing; a character in an event only on the “evil” side actually remarks that she “senses no evil in you.” Still, in order to unlock one character’s final Soul Chronicle chapter, you have to pick to “evil” option to aid him, though it’s portrayed as coercion on his part.

    There’s plenty of supernatural and occult content to find as well. The Greek pantheon is portrayed as real, with the gods Hephaestus and Ares at the forefront; the former even has multiple speaking roles. One of the main factions in the story is an evil cult that tortures and experiments on innocents, turning them into lizardmen. There’s an island of people that worship the wind, with the playable character Talim being a “priestess of the winds” and uses it in some attacks. Christianity, for better or worse, isn’t portrayed at all. Other types of magic, including necromancy, are shown, but used only by NPCs; the closest you get in-game are Geralt’s signs and Zasalamel’s time stop “curses,” though honorable mention goes to Ivy’s living weapon, created by binding a demon to a sword through alchemy. Souls, of course, play a huge role in the game, mostly being eaten or corrupted by Soul Edge. Voldo, being blind, is said to track people through the auras they leave behind. Skeletons, demons, and angels all show up, though semi-infrequently, and you can even create your own through Create-a-Soul. Finally, a few characters have attacks that are suggestive and/or juvenile; Ivy acts like a dominatrix, Voldo thrusts his pelvis a lot, Sophitia likes to stick her opponent’s head between her legs, Tira can suck life from her foe through a vampiric kiss, and a few characters have moves that target the nether regions – with a comical bell sound playing when they connect.

    SOULCALIBUR VI is undoubtedly a worthy addition to the franchise, and a return to form after its predecessor, even if it lacks some of the depth of the series’ heyday. With the content on offer for both newcomers and old timers, it should be a slam-dunk recommendation – if it wasn’t for the de facto endorsement of the anti-consumer practices. Even with all the moral issues in-game, the biggest is this: do you reward the hard-working Project Soul, who pumped out a solid game on a limited budget, even if it means buying into Bandai Namco’s schemes? The best compromise would be to wait for a sale if you plan on getting the season pass or the Denuvo-infested PC version. Transcending history and the world, a tale of developers and publishers, eternally retold.

    -Cadogan

  • Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection
    Developed by: Digital Eclipse
    Published by: Capcom
    Released: May 29, 2018
    Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows
    Genre: 2D Fighter
    ESRB rating: T for Teen (mild blood, mild language, suggestive themes, violence, alcohol use)
    Number of players: 1-8
    Price: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    The original Street Fighter came out in 1987. The game didn't really stand out at the time, aside from its difficulty. The player could use one of two karate fighters to defeat a variety of other enemies in order to become champion. It was certainly nothing that really stood out from other one-on-one brawlers, and had been done before (including another classic I remember called Karateka).

    But then, Capcom released Street Fighter II in 1991. In this game, players could choose one of eight different characters! With different martial arts styles and moves! At the time, it was an original approach, but it ended up launching a legendary franchise – and a huge host of imitators. Now, 30 years after the original Street Fighter hit the arcades, the game has a massive cast of nearly 100 playable characters, a dizzying array of sequels and spinoffs, and even a (poorly-received) live action movie. White Wolf even released a tabletop roleplaying game based on Street Fighter (I own most of the books, but sadly, have found few people to play it). Thirty years of Street Fighter... and Capcom doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

    The 30th Anniversary collection compiles 12 games as they appeared in the arcades, including the original Street Fighter, the many iterations of Street Fighter II, the three different Street Fighter Alpha games, and Street Fighter III and its two immediate sequels. Some may argue that this actually is four games and its “upgrades,” but some of the character movesets and attacks vary significantly between the different chapters (for example, Dhalsim didn't originally have his teleportation ability).

    Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice collection of games; lots of fun details about the history of Street Fighter; smooth online gameplay; great music and graphics; summons plenty of nostalgia
    Weak Points: Difficult; “widescreen” format leaves much to be desired
    Moral Warnings: Violence; some skimpy clothing on both male and female models; some blood; minor language issues

    For those that haven't played, gameplay consists of two characters facing off within a colorful, animated arena. Each character has a selection of three different punches and three different kicks (usually). Combining different controller movements with button presses can release special moves, which may include fireballs, flaming uppercuts, deadly body slams, and more. Pulling away from your opponent can make your character block attacks. Players can use the keyboard for these actions, but as with most fighting games, a game controller will be found as much more useful. The winner of the match is determined by a best two-out-of-three format, where the loser is determined either by knockout, or if the timer runs out, whoever has the most life at the end of each round. Each character has their strengths, weaknesses and strategies, and for those who get drawn into the games, there's bound to be a character that fits any player's desired play style. Experimentation will lead to the discovery of favorites, and with a detailed story and world, Capcom has created an entire genre that is almost addictive to study and enjoy.

    The collection goes into further detail than just those presented in the games. Also included is a timeline of the games, concept art, a sprite viewer, details about all the fighters, and a music player. The individual games can be customized to different difficulty levels, screen formats, and even filters to make the screen look similar to the resolution found in the original arcades. This collection does a great job in replicating the original games, and I got a huge feeling of nostalgia while playing them. The 30th Anniversary Collection captures the originals perfectly. The one issue I do have is with the “widescreen” format. Instead of opening up the edges to allow you to see more of the background as you fight, the game stretches the characters and the background, which makes all the characters look slightly squished. The music, as usual for a Capcom game, is excellent. The voice acting seems odd at times, but it stays true to the original games; it's interesting to hear how many of the voices change over the years based on expanding technology and the hiring of new voice actors.

    Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Co-op is an option, and for those with two game controllers, any of the games can be played against each other. For those who desire to battle online, only four games can be chosen: Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting; Super Street Fighter II Turbo; Street Fighter Alpha 3; and Street Fighter III: Third Strike. It isn't difficult to find opponents online, and private rooms can even be set up. I battled against one of my fellow editors, the handsome and talented IBJamon. Despite some initial hiccups due to a poor Internet connection and my laptop battery running out, we were able to connect, and the game ran smoothly. He managed to beat me in more matches – I said I liked the Street Fighter games, not that I was very good at them. But along those lines, even if you can lower the difficulty ratings on the games, they still can pose a significant, sometimes frustrating, challenge. The arcade versions are designed to munch quarters, after all. I have read that the Nintendo Switch expands the co-op challenge a bit further by allowing up to eight people to participate in a bracket tournament; I haven't had a chance to explore this option, though.

    The games are largely clean. Certainly violence is a factor, since the game does consist of fighters beating each other up, but there is very little blood involved. Some of the losing portraits feature bloody, bruised and battered martial artists, though. Some characters – both male and female – wear tight-fitting or revealing clothing. There is some swearing, but not much. Some of the characters do seem to be a bit over-the-top in terms of sexuality, but not to the point of pornography, at least. One of the characters has the unfortunate name of Sodom; fortunately, that is the only thing he has in common with the Biblical city destroyed by God for its sins.

    Altogether for fans of Street Fighter, this collection is a must-have. For those who enjoy the history of video games, this should be added to their library immediately. And for those who enjoy retro-style games... well, you can guess what I recommend. This is a must-have title for multiple reasons.

     

  • Street Fighter X Tekken (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Street Fighter X Tekken
    Developed by: Capcom U.S.A., Inc.
    Published by: Capcom U.S.A., Inc.
    Released: May 11, 2012
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: 2D fighter
    ESRB rating: T for Teen (alcohol references, crude humor, language and suggestive themes)
    Number of players: 1-4
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    I remember playing Street Fighter II in the arcades. My first encounter with the game was in a bowling alley, where I put in my two quarters and gave Dhalsim a try. With his stretchy limbs and bizarre appearance, I quickly fell in love with the game. I spent countless hours playing different variations of Street Fighter II and Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the Super Nintendo. I even shelled out money for the tabletop game published by White Wolf, but I seldom could find many people willing to play it.

    Years went by, and as it happened, I didn't have the machinery to continue with the franchise. Although I did play one of the Street Fighter III games at the local arcade a few times, they never ported the game to the Mac computers or the Nintendo platforms. Recent events have led me to use a Windows computer, so when the game Street Fighter X Tekken came up as part of a Humble Bundle, I leaped at the opportunity to get the game.

    Unfortunately, my efforts were initially thwarted. Trying to launch the game led to an error that caused the game to crash immediately. The game relies on Windows Live for the online portion, and with that service effectively defunct at the time of this writing, the game hangs up before it can even launch. From what I've read, this problem persists no matter which version of Windows you use, and Capcom has expressed no interest in trying to correct the error. After trying several solutions to no effect, I eventually found a patch made by a Steam user that removes the Windows Live components from the game. Street Fighter X Tekken could now launch, but I could not engage in any on-line multiplayer. Just as well – I had no interest in playing online anyway, so I viewed this as an acceptable loss.

    Playing the game felt like reuniting with old friends. All of my favorites are there – Ken, Dhalsim, Blanka, Elena – and there were so many other characters to try and learn about as well. I had never played Tekken, so half of the characters were brand new to me. But most of the moves were familiar, as they were identical from their earlier iterations. Ryu's fireball is performed the same way it was in the original Street Fighter II. Blanka can still electrocute those close to him simply by tapping rapidly on a punch button. All of the Street Fighter characters are nearly identical to their original playstyles, and this familiarity allows fans of the franchise to jump right in. I can presume that this is similar to the Tekken characters, but I admit that I don't have the frame of reference to confirm this.

    Street Fighter X Tekken
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots and LOTS of characters to choose from; great music; sharp controls
    Weak Points: Completely unplayable “out-of-the-box,” requiring fan-made patches to even run; graphic glitches; limited arenas; several bugs, including ones that caused the game to lock up my computer
    Moral Warnings: Characters pummel each other into unconsciousness; some characters (male and female) wear skimpy outfits; some language; one character is transgendered

    For those that are unfamiliar with the Street Fighter games, players choose two of several fighters to form a team, and then fight with a variety of punches, kicks and special maneuvers to defeat the opponent in a best of two out of three matchup. Movement is done with the control stick, and can punch or kick with three different levels of strength. The configuration can be a bit overwhelming with new players – especially with the huge array of special moves – but a bit of practice goes a long way.

    There are several choices in how to play. Tutorials are available, both for learning general moves and tactics, and for each specific character. There is the usual arcade mode, which includes a story. There is a “quick play” against a computer-controlled opponent. And, of course, there are several multiplayer options as well. The rounds can further be customized for the time of the match, the number of matches, and the difficulty of the A.I. Speaking of customization, you also can customize the various outfits of the characters with a huge array of colors and effects.

    The game has a tremendous selection when it comes to characters. If fully unlocked, there are more than 50 characters to choose from – the most of any fighting game I've encountered so far! In contrast, there are only 11 fighting stages to choose from, counting the training stage that doesn't come up in the story mode. Although the background animations of these stages are neat to see, the lack of variety becomes dull before too long. Of course, that's not the main attraction to the game, but it would have been nicer to see a wider selection of fighting arenas.

    The animation of the characters is smooth, but there is some noticeable clipping at times, especially with some of the costume selections. And while you can hear the characters voiced in English or Japanese, it is obvious that the characters' mouths were modeled speaking Japanese, leading to the game looking like a dubbed movie. I wish that it would have been possible to hear each of the characters speak in their native languages, but that might be asking too much. The music is great, which is pretty much the standard with most Capcom games.

    Street Fighter X Tekken
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 1/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The patch that I used disabled the ability to play online, but local multiplayer is still an option, and quite fun. However, my daughter and I ran into another problem. After a few rounds, the ability to choose costumes broke, so we couldn't see what costumes or colors our characters were actually wearing until the match began. Eventually, the game froze during the character selection process, and I actually had to restart my computer. The game also showed occasional slowdowns to gameplay, both in multiplayer and single player, but these occurrences were rare.

    There is an issue with downloadable content, too. Some of the characters have to be purchased separately, as well as costumes and items called “gems,” which can be used to help characters execute combos with a simple command, rather than a timed series of moves (which actually sounds almost like “pay to win” to me, but maybe I'm old school in that regard).

    There are some moral issues to consider. First of all, since this is a fighting game, there is plenty of violence, generally in the form of people beating each other up. Some of the fighters wear very revealing clothing, and with the ability to do custom colors, it is possible to make some of the characters appear completely nude, albeit with “Barbie doll” anatomy. There are language issues, with h*ll and d**n used repeatedly throughout, and I have read that the s- word appears in a few character's storylines, but I haven't run into these occurrences yet. Some of Vega's attacks look like they could spray blood from his opponents, but since he also uses roses in quite a few of his poses, they could be flower petals, too – it is hard to tell. There also is the presence of Poison, who not only dresses like a cross between a dominatrix and one of the Village People, but has the dubious distinction of being one of the first transgender characters in video game history. This doesn't get addressed in the course of the game, but extensive details can be found online. Finally, it is possible for players to play evil characters.

    Street Fighter X Tekken is a great game, but with some significant problems. The clipping issues and limited selection of arenas is disappointing. The necessity of using fan-made patches just to get the game to work is inexcusable; even if it is an older game, Capcom should either update it so it will work out of the box on current systems, or remove it from sale. In its day, the game was likely fantastic. But as technology has evolved, this game has not evolved with it. Street Fighter X Tekken is a fun chapter in the Street Fighter franchise, but it's better to move on to more modern entries at this point.

  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)

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    Game Info:

    Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
    Developed By: Nintendo, BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, Sora Ltd.
    Published By: Nintendo
    Released: December 7, 2018
    Available On: Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Fighting
    ESRB Rating: E10+ Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief, Suggestive Themes
    Price: $59.90
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    The Super Smash Bros series has always been a celebration of all things gaming, but this latest incarnation has turned it up to eleven. If this truly is game director Masahiro Sakurai's swan song to Smash, then he will be remembered as a legend who went out on top. This is a game for all ages, all skill levels, and every one of us who has ever wondered what Kirby would look like if he ate a Piranha Plant.

    Super Smash Bros is a rare fusion of competitive fighting game and mad-cap party game. Despite the game's extensive single-player offerings, this is a game best played with friends, preferably in the same room, though the online features are much improved for this edition.

    Something special happens when you get a group together for Smash. Along with Mario Kart and Mario Party, it is known as a truly potent gaming catalyst. Even players of drastically different skill levels will soon be laughing and gloating thanks to the game's balancing features and game-changing items. And with the Switch's peerless portability, it has never been easier to take Smash to the people.

    The crux of a game of Smash is simple to understand and the quick, action-packed matches are as fun to watch as they are to play. The goal is to knock the other players off of the stage (or off-screen) by punching, kicking, shooting, throwing, stomping, and of course, smashing them. The more damage a character takes, the easier they are to launch. Don't be surprised if a particularly beat-up character is sent flying into the stratosphere.

    Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A supremely polished fighter that represents the best of Nintendo; Captures a pure sense of fun; Endless replayability.
    Weak Points: There isn’t much of a story here outside of a fancy cutscene. 
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence aplenty; The fighter Bayonetta checks all of the boxes when it comes to moral warnings (she is a gun-toting, hypersexualized witch who fights the forces of both Heaven and Hell.)

    The controls are simple enough for anyone to pick up and play, but to master the game's roster (69 base characters plus the downloadable fighters, each with their own array of special moves) will take skill and dedication. Unlike other fighting games, where moves might be tied to an arcane sequence of several button presses and analog stick movements, attacks in Smash Bros require only a single button press. All basic attacks, your close range kicks and punches, are mapped to the A button, while your special moves are mapped to the B button. While pressing one of these two buttons, you can tilt the left analog stick to unleash different attack moves. It's a simple, smooth, and intuitive control scheme that doesn't lack for depth.

    While the real meat of the game is in the multiplayer Smash mode, with a slew of customizable rule sets and modifiers you can tinker with to your heart's content, the fun doesn't have to end when your friends go home. The online play mode runs much more smoothly than previous iterations, which were nigh unplayable. Features like online match preferences, customizable lobbies, and background matchmaking prevent online multiplayer from feeling like a headache.

    On the single player side, returning challenges like Classic Mode and minigames like Multi-man Smash are fun as always, but Ultimate also boasts the most compelling single-player experience in series history with the addition of Spirits.

    Spirits, like the trophies from past games, are collectable characters from the wide world of video games. However, the key difference is that Spirits can be used to provide power-ups and special bonuses to your fighters.

    Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 100%
    Gameplay - 20/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 69%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    In the World of Light mode, you travel an overworld map and take on Spirit challengers. If you defeat them, they're yours to keep. The harder the battle, the stronger the Spirit will be. Not only can you collect them, you can also level up your Spirits by taking them into battle, unlock new abilities or fighting styles, and even merge them into more powerful Spirits. I was surprised at just how comprehensive the Spirit system was, which only adds to the simple joy of recruiting your favorite obscure character.

    The Spirit Board mode offers a rotating cast of powerful Spirit challengers that you can take on to unlock rare spirits not found in the World of Light.

    Smash Bros is a game I've been playing since childhood, and it's unfortunate to see that it has lost a bit of its family friendliness. The violence involved is as silly and unrealistic as ever; no one is ever seriously hurt. However, characters like Snake bring realistic military hardware into the ring, as does Bayonetta, in addition to her blasphemous, occult, and over-sexualized stylings. It is unfortunate that there is no way to disable characters like these or prevent them from appearing. While most of the roster are friendly, cartoonish characters like Mario or Yoshi, the notable exceptions will stick out like a sore thumb.

    If ever there was a perfect game, this is it. Super Smash Bros: Ultimate succeeds in everything it set out to do, increasing the quantity of characters, stages, and modes without sacrificing quality. This is a polished, heavy-hitter that will be seen as one of the Nintendo Switch's crown jewels for years to come.

  • Terrorhythm (PC) (Preview)

     

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    Game Info:

    Terrorhythm
    Developed by: EvilCoGames
    Published by: EvilCoGames
    Release date: April 6, 2018
    Available on: macOS, Windows
    Genre: Rhythm, Fighter
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you EvilCoGames for sending us this game to review!

    Terrorhythm takes place in a society that prohibits sound. As you blast your music in rebellion various security drones will attack you to restore the silence. Fighting them is easy enough with the press of a button, but can you do it to the beat of the background music?

    As of this preview there are eight levels that can be unlocked in the campaign or played in any order in the custom mode. The included songs are great, but if you really want to use your own music it’s possible in the custom mode. The attacks must be timed with the beats per minute of the music track, and the faster the beats per minute (BPM), the harder it gets. The campaign songs start at 130 BPM and go up from there. If you’re really good you can double the speed of the songs for a real challenge.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great music and you can fight to your own songs as well; fun and challenging gameplay; online leaderboards
    Weak Points: Pricey; not that many levels or game modes yet; Steam achievements are not tracking my weapon kills properly
    Moral Warnings: Violence; your character wears a demon mask

    For controls you can use a keyboard, gamepad, or even DDR pads if you have any laying around.  The up arrow will boost your attack which some enemies require while others are immune to it.  The down arrow will increase your attack radius.  The left and right arrows are used for attacking enemies in that direction.  

    There are four difficulty levels: relaxed, normal, hard, and terror. The relaxed mode lets you play through songs without taking any damage. If you want to compete on the leaderboards and increase your rank, you’ll need to play at a harder difficulty though. In the hard and terror difficulty levels the enemies are harder to hit and require more precision. In terror mode, you don’t start off with much health/signal and there are no opportunities to replenish it.

    I preferred playing on the normal difficulty level and appreciated the health and weapon drops from enemies. There’s a fair amount of weapon variety including discs, scythes, and katanas. There are fifty-seven Steam achievements and some of them are based off of weapon kills. Despite killing numerous foes with weapons, I haven’t been getting credit for it. The other Steam achievements seem to be working fine though.

    Terrorhythm
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The online leaderboards are a nice touch and I won’t be threatening too many people with my mediocre performance. I like how you get placed on the leaderboards even if you don’t finish the song before dying.

    I really enjoy the soundtrack for this game and hope that it becomes available for purchase soon. There’s a DLC placeholder for it on the Steam store page, but it’s not available yet. The price is not yet revealed either.

    The 2D art style is colorful and unique. I’m not a huge fan of the demon mask the main character is wearing, but there’s no option to customize or change it.

    So far, this game is fun, but there’s some room for improvement when it comes to optimization and variety. I look forward to watching the progress of this title and can’t wait for the finished product. If you enjoy rhythm and fighting games you should add Terrorhythm to your wish list and pick it up when it goes on sale.

  • The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors
    Developed By: NatsumeAtari
    Published By: Taito
    Release Date: October 15, 2019
    Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
    Genre: Action, Beat 'Em Up
    Number of Players: 1-2
    ESRB Rating: T- Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you very much, Taito, for sending us a game code for The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors for the Nintendo Switch!

    Since video games have been around for nearly four decades, some common themes have appeared over and over again. One can hardly play a video game without coming face-to-face with a raging robot, a massive warrior, or a stealthy ninja at one point or another. In 1987, the game and toy development company, Taito, saw this trend and figured that they could just throw all of those concepts together to create a fantastic game. Thus the original Ninja Warriorsarcade game was born, and its massive three-screen cabinets were distributed the world over. As the game was ported across multiple platforms, the company decided to remake the title in 1994 with The Ninja Warriors for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This game became an instant classic and has continued to be considered one of the best SNES titles made.

    Well, 25 years after the remake, and 32 years after the original, Taito, along with the game developer NatsumeAtari, have brought the robo-ninjas back for more! Now called The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors, this new game is technically a remastering of a remake. It has brought all the beat ‘em up action from the SNES title to a new generation of players. This new Ninja Warriors game delivers polished pixel art and introduces two new unlockable fighters. As a reskinning of a great older title, there is much to enjoy as well as critique.

    Good games don’t necessarily need great storylines associated with them, but they do help. Even a generic storyline can add a little depth to a game, and that is indeed what you get in Ninja Saviors. The nation has come under the control of an evil dictator named Banglar. The revolutionary forces who are standing against this madman have developed ninja android technology and plan on using it to dispatch the leader. As one of those androids, it is your job to fight through the tyrant’s army of trained killers and assassinate him. It’s pretty straightforward, really.

    The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A great remaster of a legendary game; non-stop beat em’ up action; massive and unique move set for each character; an incredible soundtrack
    Weak Points: Tenuous and repetitive gameplay; slight balance issues with character strengths; generic and shallow storyline; no north/south movement on the playing field
    Moral Warnings: Theme of murder and assassination; some sprites have revealing clothing and moving busts

    Ninja Saviors is an action beat ‘em up game that flows from the same vein as the Streets of Rage and River City games. The main difference is that Ninja Saviorsis played on a single plane; there are no vertical north and south movements of the players. This makes the game feel more like a platformer than a fighter title, even though platforming does not take place. With this stark difference from other games in the genre, Ninja Saviors feels like the odd man out of the group. However, that doesn’t mean that the game lacks redeemable qualities.

    You can initially select the original three robo-ninjas from the SNES title. There is the swift female fighter, Kunoichi, the lanky yet powerful Kamaitachi, and the hulking robot simply called “Ninja.” These three fighters each have unique move sets that are mitigated by a rising power meter that slowly depletes after using special techniques. Some fighters specialize in sweeping area attacks while others simply shoot projectiles. Though many players may feel like the fighters are off-balance, I see each fighter taking a little more skill to use than the others. For example, Ninja is easy to use because of his dash and sweeping nun-chuck moves, but Kunoichi takes a little more skill to use even though she is much faster and specializes in ranged attacks. The two unlockable characters, the small Yaksha and the titanic Raiden, add even more nuance to the character lineup.

    Of all the aspects of Ninja Saviors, it is the soundtrack that sets this game apart from other beat ‘em up titles. The SNES version of the game had some of the best music on the system, and those songs are brought to this new title with added polish and pizazz. Each track matches the action that is taking place, from the extreme sound of the initial level to the Eastern symphony of flutes that sound off when you fight Martial Arts Master at the end of the 5th level. The same sound effects are used from the '94 game, and they still sound great!

    The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    Most beat 'em up games have a glaring flaw that has never been remedied: redundant gameplay. Ninja Saviors, unfortunately, shares this quality in spades, as the action doesn’t change from level to level. There are probably a dozen enemy models that are recycled over and over again in this game. Even though these enemies get stronger, they don’t change appearance, but rather just their clothing color. The only reprieve from this is found in the boss fights, which are all unique character models, but they are defeated the same way; beaten down until they die. The last boss is the only one that forces you to use a new mechanic to win, but that is the only deviation from the regular road to victory.

    The most major moral concern of Ninja Saviors lies in its theme. You play as a ninja murder-bot that has been tasked to assassinate a high-profile political leader, and you must kill anyone who gets in your way. This game is heavily inspired by the Terminator franchise, so you could consider yourself a shuriken-throwing T-800. Despite this dark theme, the violence within the game is actually quite benign. No blood flows from the soldiers when they are killed; they simply fall to the ground and disappear. A few of the female enemies wear slightly revealing clothing, but it is hardly suggestive. The unlockable female character, Yaksha, seems a little too “chesty” to be an effective killing machine, but aside from those details, there really isn’t any sexual content within this game.

    The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors is a faithful remastering of a great remake of a mediocre arcade game. The pixel art is well-defined and holds up well to other games that use similar animation in this day and age. Though the gameplay can get a little redundant, allowing for a friend to join in the fight will help break the monotony as you lay waste to Banglar’s army of knife-wielding soldiers. The 2-player mode comes right out of the SNES era of gameplay, and you will swear you and your buddy were back in your parents’ basement. This is a great introductory game for players who are new to the genre, and it is a testament to the fact that great games never die.

  • Them's Fightin' Herds (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Them's Fightin' Herds
    Developed By: Mane6, Inc.
    Published By: Humble Bundle
    Release Date: April 30, 2020
    Available On: Windows, macOS and Linux coming soon
    Genre: Fighting
    Number of Players: 1-2
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    MSRP: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Humble Bundle for sending us this game to review!

    Them’s Fightin’ Herds has such an interesting story – and I don’t mean just the game! The initial proposal by this development team was to make a tribute My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fighting game, called Fighting is Magic, using characters from the TV show. In the process of making the tribute title, they got a cease and desist letter from Hasbro, the owner of My Little Pony. Through it all, they got the support of the show’s producer and developer, Lauren Faust. When it was clear a licensed game wasn’t happening, they felt that they nevertheless had stumbled upon something truly special, and still wanted to see their dream happen. With Lauren’s incredible art skills behind them, they decided to launch an Indiegogo campaign to create an independent four-legged fighting game, called Them’s Fightin’ Herds, to gauge interest and help with their funding. The campaign was successful, and they were later picked up by Humble Bundle publishing who helped bring their dream to reality.

    Most fighting games (obviously) feature human or humanoid characters, with one character fighting against another in one-on-one combat. Each side has a health bar, and the survivor wins the round when their opponent’s life bar is whittled down to nothing. This game is very much like that, but rather than bipedal creatures duking it out, we have quadrupeds hooving their paws at each other’s throat. (I wool keep the baaad puns to a minimum!) The game features a main cast of six fighters, all female. A calf, a lamb, a reindeer, a dragon, an alpaca, and a unicorn round out the main cast. A goat is promised for later.

    Them's Fightin' Herds
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Wonderfully drawn art; fantastic voice acting; deep and interesting combat mechanics; story mode is a great feature; online is active enough to find people to fight against

    Weak Points: Horrible difficulty spike in story mode that prevented my progress; battle against the AI in general requires advanced fighting game skills even on the easiest difficulty level; the online battle I played had bad lag (but not always)

    Moral Warnings: Animated fighting violence; magic use by enemies and player, including one character who holds what appears to be a sentient spellbook; while I wasn't able to see the completed story mode, there is dialogue that implied existence of something sexual happening in a basement (perhaps a sex dungeon), and another character thought you might be the person he was waiting for to hook up with; I may have seen 'h*ll' but it also might have been heck instead (I accidentally skipped past the screen too quickly); you can steal a loaf of bread

    Like many other fighting games, each character has unique moves, all based on a common set of attacks. Here you have light, medium, heavy, and magic attacks, with the latter being quite different for each character and often requiring the use of a magic meter. Some help bring opponents closer, some bring powerful attacks, some summon puppies to help you, and so on – each character is different. Normal attacks can be strung together into combos, which is a critical part of the fighting system.

    The fighting system has incredible depth, with combos, dashes, runs, magic attacks, throws, chain combos, knockdowns, juggles, and more. Thankfully, there are in-depth tutorials to train you on how to pull off these moves. My problem with the tutorial mirrors my problem with the game overall – it’s extremely sensitive to even the slightest timing differences, which can make certain kinds of combos very difficult to pull off. And even if you get the result you want on-screen, sometimes the tutorial may not agree that you pulled off what it says it wants you to. (Honestly, this is a complaint against the fighting game genre overall – it’s extremely sensitive to input timing. In my experience this one seems particularly strict.)

    It’s not strict in just the input and combo timings – even on the easiest difficulty level available, the opponents are incredibly unforgiving. I do not expect I will ever see the ending of the story mode, or even arcade mode for that matter. Most fighting games have a super-easy difficulty for new players to get their feet wet with; while it claims to offer a very easy difficulty level, I found it to be anything but.

    Despite the exorbitant challenge, if you are a fighting game veteran, there is actually a lot to like. While the character roster is rather small at only six, each has a really interesting moveset along with some truly unique attacks, such as summoning puppies, throwing vegetables, slinging fire or ice, or even simply just using a lasso. The attack/block/combo system is quite intricate, and is very well done – just expect that your opponents will take advantage of them also.

    The art is simply exquisite. It is all hand-drawn (though perhaps computer aided), from the characters to the backgrounds, and so on. The characters look right out of a cartoon, and move perfectly smoothly in both their general movements and attacks. They are also very high resolution, as you won’t see pixels unless playing it up close on a large 4k screen. Motion, animations, and so on is a huge high point for this game.

    Outside of the actual combat itself, the menu is attractive enough. Another area of note is the story mode, along with the multiplayer lobby. These areas use top-down pixel art, not unlike a classic role=playing game. Each character is represented with pixel art, and you can walk around and talk to non-player characters, or fight opponents, which then brings you to the fighting screen described above. They also use this system for multiplayer matchmaking, where you can walk around town and challenge others to combat. It works pretty well and looks nice, though it is a bit incongruous considering how much higher resolution the in-battle (and menu screen) art is.

    Them's Fightin' Herds
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence – 7.5/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The music is high quality, but the voice acting is especially great. Hearing the silly comments with appropriate accents is a hoot. After looking it up there is a good reason for that – these are all IMDB-listed actors, and in some cases with extensive careers. They spared no expense on the voice talent it would seem, and it definitely paid off.

    I was pleased to see the multiplayer community to be quite active – with around fifty active players when I signed in on a weekday evening. They even have a good old fashioned server browser if you’d rather not use quick play, which is a nice touch. A healthy online community is really imported, especially for a niche game like this – I was really glad to see one here. Of course, I didn’t do so well in combat, and had a bit more lag than I was comfortable with, but what can you do. It’s supposed to support GGPO online network optimization support, so I’m sure my experience is not the same for everyone. I didn’t have a microphone connected at the time, but I heard other players talking, so online voice chat appears to be supported as well. Of course, that does mean it’s impossible to find players online cursing up a storm; that’s an unfortunate side effect to online play in general.

    In the story, I can’t say for certain if there was anything worse than ‘heck’ from what I was able to play, though I could have sworn a saw a ‘h*ll’ once, but sadly I accidentally pressed the continue button before I was able to screen capture it. Overall the language is just fine from what I saw. What bothered me the most is that in one of the towns, there was some dialogue that seemed to hint at something more adult going on, but it never came right out and said it. One animal thought that you might be the person (I use that term loosely) that he was waiting for with what seemed like a hook up; in another case you went to a basement and were deeply disturbed by what you saw (but don’t describe it); my guess is she saw a sex dungeon. Thankfully, since the game doesn’t come right out and say it, these scenes would likely go over the heads of most kids playing the game.

    As expected there is animal on animal violence, and the main plot deals with predators vs prey in this mostly herbivore society. Actual combat uses a mix of punches (front paws/hooves), kicks (rear paws/hooves) and magical attacks. One character casts spells from her sentient, talking, spellbook. She’s a bit darker overall, with the rest of the cast being more positive and light-hearted. You can choose to take things laying around without asking, including a loaf of bread from a lady cow that asks you not to eat it now.

    Them’s Fightin’ Herds is a high-quality 2D fighting game that I’m honestly glad I got to play despite my skill level simply not being up to par. The art, voices, and overall polish (despite one bug – don’t use alt+enter to change to full screen or it’ll hang) is top-notch, and I really look forward to seeing how it continues to improve, since the developers have promised more chapters to the story mode and continued tweaks over time. I wish some of the subtle innuendo was left out of the story mode so I could recommend it as a kid-safe fighting game without reservation; even still, if you stick to the Local and Practice modes, I’d say it’s safe for almost everyone unless magical attacks or bovine battles are of particular concern for you. If you hope to do well against the computer, be sure to spend a lot of time perfecting your techniques; you’re going to need it.

  • Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle
    Developed By: Team Shanghai Alice/Mediascape Co., Ltd./CUBETYPE
    Published By: NIS America
    Release Date: October 10, 2017
    Available On: PS4 (PS VR included), PS Vita, Switch, Windows (Japan only, maybe coming to Steam someday?)
    Genre: 3D Shoot ‘em up Fighter
    Number of Players: 1-2, online or split screen
    ESRB Rating: T for Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes
    MSRP: $29.99

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    The Touhou universe is based on a long and storied series of shoot ‘em ups out of Japan since the 1990s. Team Shanghai Alice created the series, and has a rather unique way of serving their fans – by allowing them to create fan-created works derived from the main works, with the full blessing of the creator. There are some limitations, but he’s pretty open with it. As a result, it has become the “most prolific fan-made shooter series" according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

    Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle is a spinoff game in the arena battle style. There is some visual novel-esque conversation, and then the inevitable friendly spat that leads to violence. This violence takes the form of a one-on-one 3D arena battle, where you and your opponent shoot at each other, or run up and melee with them, until their life meter depletes. Like most fighters, it’s a best out of three contest.

    Each character has three attack buttons, a jump button, a dash button, and a guard button.  The attacks also have variations where you press the dash button, or even both the dash and guard buttons.  If you get close enough to your enemy, then the attacks automatically become melee, which can be helpful – or also hurtful, as it’s not always what you intended.

    Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Decent character selection and variety; good move variation between characters; more complex than it first appears
    Weak Points: Not a lot to it; Japanese voices only
    Weak Points: Not a lot to it; Japanese voices only
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence, as you beat up your friends for fun; a few conversations seem sexually suggestive, though it ends up innocent; one girl called another cute; Meiling is mercilessly called China and other stereotypes related to that; magic use, by the player and enemies; one character constantly shows off hexagrams

    Each attack, as well as dash, has a regeneration meter where too much usage can require a delay before using it again – or in the case of dash, an even more dangerous forced rest where you can’t move or fight back. Managing your stamina is an important part of any fight.

    Another important meter is the charge meter. When your opponent attacks, often they will be balls of energy or something, and these attacks can usually be avoided – but sometimes you can also shoot them out of the sky. When this happens, you earn energy for your charge meter. Once this maxes out, you can activate your spell – which is a very powerful attack that can drastically turn the tide in battle. Most fights take a few minutes, because individually, attacks take off a tiny chunk of health; spells take off half of the bar or even more depending on the character.

    There are nine characters (and one paid DLC character) to choose from. Each of them, from Reimu to Cirno to Patchouli all play very differently, with some like Meiling being fantastic melee characters, with others like Patchouli being amazing at ranged attacks. I find it kind of tacky that the tenth character is sitting there with a lock over her icon (and requiring a $2.99 purchase from the eShop) but it is what it is. The characters definitely have their own personalities through the combat and dialog, and it was mildly interesting to read. Each character’s story mode can be beaten in ten to twenty minutes, so it’s a pretty short game overall.

    Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Other than the story mode, there is arcade mode, which is an endless arena where you fight one character after another, trying to get the highest victory count. There is also the very similar score attack mode, which is an endless mode where you keep fighting one enemy after another, accumulating points until you finally die. Both give you a small amount of health back in between bouts, but not to full (unless you were close to full anyway). You can also play one-off fights against the computer, or human players either split-screen or online. I could not find players online when I checked.

    Morally, there is violence, as expected. There is no blood or gore, and no one actually dies. There is plenty of magic use. One of the characters is a fairy, another a vampire, with yet another a youkai (some kind of demon spirit). The main character is a shrine maiden, which is a common religious figure in Japan. All of them are very cute looking anime girls, and look rather young. Meiling is Chinese, and is constantly made fun of, by calling her names like ‘China’, and is lazy and sleeps while on duty as a guard. One of the girls called another cute, and there are a couple of lines that could be interpreted as being sexual in nature – but it is revealed later that nothing like that is actually going on. One mention of the word ‘boob’ is used, as a character is being pressed against them.

    Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle is... okay. That’s really the best way I can explain it. If you are a Touhou fan, or are looking for fighting games off the beaten path, then you could find some fun here if you take the time to figure out the not initially obvious fighting mechanics. The first time I played it, I thought this game was going to be completely terrible; by the time I figured everything out, I had determined it’s not terrible. Just not particularly great. It’s probably a fun diversion if the price is right on deep discount.

  • Utawarerumono: Zan (PS4)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Utawarerumono: Zan
    Developed by: AquaPlus
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: September 10, 2019
    Available on: PS4
    Genre: Action
    Number of players: Single-player, up to four online
    ESRB Rating: Teen for alcohol reference, language; mild suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    In 2017 I reviewed (and thoroughly enjoyed) Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth. To this day, I still don’t know how to pronounce this series' title. Utawarerumono: Zan has the same (but abbreviated) story, but with action battles instead of turn-based strategy ones. If you have not played the previous two games you’ll be exposed to some major spoilers and the “cliff notes” version of the story and characters instead of the fleshed out versions of the visual novel style games.

    The story and characters remain the same. The main character suffers from amnesia and is found and cared for by Kuon. She names him Haku. As they make their way to the imperial city, they assist others in need who usually join with them. Many of these newfound friends are female and Haku builds up quite the harem and hilarity often ensues as a result. Though there are some funny moments, the story is better told in the previous games.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun combat style
    Weak Points: Nobody to play with online; single-player campaign is only a few hours long with a good portion of it being grinding
    Moral Warnings: Violence with some blood shown; tobacco and alcohol consumption; blaspheming and cursing (d*mn, b*stard, *sshole); references to homoerotic romance literature; magic use

    The action battles are fun, but there are only eighteen chapters in the single-player campaign and some of the chapters are just story sequences without any player interaction or gameplay. The seventeenth chapter has a major difficulty spike and I had to level up my characters in the free play mode in order to survive the boss battles. Replaying story sequences is another way to level up the twelve playable characters too. Later in the game, a battle arena will become available where you can fight with and level up one party member at a time. One of the more challenging story mode missions only allows Kuon as the playable character. Other than that mission, you typically have four players in your party and can select a majority if not all of them for that particular chapter.

    Each of the levels has a primary and secondary objectives to complete. The objectives usually require you to eliminate a specified number of enemies. Only completing the primary objective is required to unlock the next level. The secondary objectives are still worth doing because they will bring in additional experience and money. When all of the objectives have been completed, the level will have an icon indicating as such. Any level can be replayed for more experience and money.

    Experience can be assigned to various attributes when leveling up characters. You can increase their health, attack, defense, spirit, and special abilities. Some attributes have a star by them and when they are leveled up to that point, a bonus for them will be unlocked. Attack moves and wardrobe changes can also be edited on an individual level.

    Utawarerumono: Zan
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 47%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 2.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Money can be spent on scrolls which can be assigned to any character without quantity limitations. Many of the scrolls can further boost the character's attack, defense, and other attributes. Scrolls can also be leveled up to make them even more effective.

    The single-player campaign only took me a few hours to complete. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be anyone to play with online. Other than replaying the campaign at a harder difficulty level, there’s not much replay value in this game.

    Many of the same moral issues from the previous games appear in this one. There is a lot of drinking and one of the characters always has a pipe in his mouth. There is some language (d*mn, b*stard, *sshole) and blaspheming. Violence is a given, but there is not much blood shown. Some of the female characters wear revealing outfits that either show off their bellies or chests. One of the funnier scenes is when a character’s homoerotic books are discovered and confiscated for “further evaluation”.

    While this game is fun, I can’t recommend paying $60 for it since there’s no new content other than the battle style, a short campaign, and nobody playing online. If it does go on sale, it may be worth picking up if you’re already familiar with the story line. If you’re looking to try the Utawarerumono series, start with the visual novel games if you don’t mind the moral warnings. You won’t be disappointed with those!

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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