Sunday, May 24, 2015

Alive and Kicking: More Vita Reviews

"Bring out yer dead!"
"Here's one."
"That'll be nine pence."
"I'm not dead!"
"'Ere, he says he's not dead."
"Yes he is!"
"I'm not."
"Well, he will be soon! He's very ill."
"I'm getting better!"
"I can't take him like that, it's against regulations."
"Well, can you hang around for a couple of minutes? He won't be long."
"I think I'll go for a walk..."
"You're not fooling anyone, you know!"

Contrary to what you may have heard, the Vita's not dead just yet. Read these reviews, then come back on Thursday. (Or just whack it now and put it on the cart. Whatever works.)


Not a game known for its good taste.
We've already established in a past blog entry that Borderlands 2 wasn't a good fit for the Vita, but I'll be dipped if the game isn't addictive anyway. It's more focused and story-driven than the original, with your heroes struggling to thwart the plans of the gleefully psychotic corporate kingpin Handsome Jack. However, the draw of leveling up your character and arming them with increasingly powerful weapons remains. It's just good clean fun to target distant enemies with a sniper rifle that sets them ablaze, or drop a grenade that splits into a half dozen pieces, turning the surrounding area into a deadly fireworks display. (Okay, maybe the clean part doesn't apply, but it's fun, dammit!)

The Vita struggles admirably to keep up with the chaos, but occasionally fails, resulting in crashes at the worst possible moments. If the Vita freezes halfway through a lengthy mission, congratulations! You get to do it all over again! [EDIT: It's not quite that severe. The game saves your progress periodically, but if there's a crash, you'll have to wait for the minute it takes to return to the title screen.] Even when the system can keep from messing its pants, it can't match the performance of the Playstation 3 version, with a lower frame rate and enemies that burst into a resource-friendly spray of blood after they've been killed. So the Vita isn't the ideal way to play Borderlands 2, but considering its high demands and the system's limitations, it's impressive that Iron Galaxy got the game running at all.



Why settle for an ordinary bonus?
Lumines was the crown jewel of the PSP launch library; the 21st century's sleeker, more urgent answer to the GameBoy pack-in Tetris. However, as time progressed, Lumines lost its grip on a fickle public. These days, the latest entry in the series can be found at used entertainment stores for as little as five dollars.

That's a shame, because Electronic Symphony is every bit as hypnotic as previous games in the series, with the added bonus of slick new special effects. Drumming the back of the Vita in time with the music will also reward you with power ups that can clear away dangerously high stacks of blocks. It's one of the rare uses of the system's back touch panel that won't make you resent the dreadful thing's existence!

The only issue with Electronic Symphony is an unfortunate constant in Lumines games. Some of the musical selections are more irritating than entrancing, particularly The Chemical Brothers' Hey Boy Hey Girl. (This is popular why, exactly?) The puzzle piece designs are also more distracting now that they're animated, but hey, there are worse things you can do with five bucks.



You can count on it.
Since the second game on the Dreamcast, a big draw to Dead or Alive has been its intricate multi-tiered level designs. In that respect, Dead or Alive 5+ doesn't measure up to its predecessors. Sure, you'll get to tear down the walls of a rundown Chinese house and take a raft down a raging river, but there are also a lot of drab, colorless areas, including a dimly lit oil rig and a grey apartment complex in a city slum. Even the more imaginative stages have a distinct aftertaste of desperation... it's doubtful that any of DOA's fans were hoping to duke it out in the middle of a circus.

Luckily, Dead or Alive 5+ gets everything else right, and is one of the better fighting games in a library packed to the gills with them. You want the smooth, graceful action that's been a trademark of the DOA series from the very beginning? It's here. You want amazing graphics that nearly rival what you'll find in the home versions? You've got it. You want access to Virtua Fighter stars Sara, Akira, and Pai? Of course you do, and Dead or Alive 5+ gives them to you without the hassle of unlocking them in the story mode first. The only things you won't be getting are the upgrades from Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate and Dead or Alive 5 Final Round, which is only bad news if you're eager to pay for more superfluous downloadable content. If you want swimsuits, buy a copy of Sports Illustrated.



You'd need a miracle to pull me away
from Dead or Alive 5+.
Long-time readers know that I really like fighting games. Having said that, I really don't like Arc System Works fighting games. The button layouts are jumbled and counter-intuitive, there's too much emphasis on aerial combat, and battles generally devolve into tedious poke fests. When each hit only takes a couple pixels off your opponent's life bar, it takes a whole lot of them to end the match, making each battle last for what seems like an eternity. Sure, the artwork is a cut above what you'll find in other 2D fighters, but it's hard to appreciate the presentation when the meat and potatoes of the gameplay are so unpalatable.

So it goes with the latest Guilty Gear installment. Despite the superfluous subtitle (you guys lost me at "Accent"), it doesn't seem like much has changed since the fourteen year old Dreamcast game. You've got the same cast, with a handful of newbies continuing the Guilty Gear tradition of extreme weirdness, the same screaming heavy metal riffs, and even the same aspect ratio, with dark bars covering the edges of the Vita's widescreen display. I guess I didn't need all those extra pixels anyway! The bottom line is that it's business as usual for the Guilty Gear series, with little that will turn off fans or inspire detractors to give it another chance.



They see me rollin'...
Fresh ideas in the video game industry are a rare commodity, and if they find an audience, they don't stay fresh long. Just look at Katamari Damacy, which quickly wore out its welcome after a half dozen unnecessary sequels. Touch My Katamari is the latest of these, and brings little to the experience aside from an animated King of all Cosmos and the ability to stretch your rolling ball of clutter into different shapes with the touch panel. There's not much reason to do this beyond covering more surface area, but they had to justify the title somehow!

It may just be more Katamari Damacy (and it's not even one of the better entries in the series), but there's a peculiar comfort in having this game wherever you go. It's not the first Katamari game on a handheld, but it's a more pleasant experience than Me and My Katamari thanks to the Vita's dual analog sticks and a significant reduction in load times. The PSP game would grind to a halt at certain points in your ball's growth, but on the Vita, you're free to scoop up everything from the tiniest crumbs to the tallest buildings without jarring pauses in the action. This makes annoyances like overly difficult level goals and, uh, the king's skintight gold lamé pants a little easier to swallow.



Few games capture that wild west feel
like Stranger's Wrath.
Equal parts platformer and first-person shooter, Stranger's Wrath was a concession to the gaming trends of 2005 which refused to compromise the social commentary and warped humor that defined the Oddworld series. It's hard to notice any major enhancements to the graphics in this HD remake, but it's still fun after all these years to track down hillbilly bandits and blast 'em with lightning bugs, obnoxious squirrels, and ravenous hairballs. As the Stranger, you're given a surprising amount of strategic options in taking down outlaws... you can draw your bounties out into the open and take them alive for a hefty cash bonus, or succumb to your sadistic impulses and drop them into spinning blades and other nasty hazards. Savor the freedom you're given, because it won't last...



Just one of many officious pricks you'll
meet in your adventure.
It's never a good sign when you return to a game out of a morbid sense of obligation rather than because you enjoy it, yet that's exactly what I found myself doing with Freedom Wars. Set in a distant future where resources are dangerously scarce (yet society can somehow build massive prisons and assign cybernetic parole officers to each inmate...), Freedom Wars forces you to repay your debt to society with a seemingly endless series of rescue missions. Step out of line, sometimes literally by taking too many steps, and your already lengthy prison sentence will be increased. The world of Freedom Wars is not a fun place to be, and generally speaking, it's not a fun game to play.

Get bent, you commie throw rug.
In all fairness- or as fair as I'm likely to be to a game that punishes you for excessive walking- Freedom Wars does offer crisp anime visuals along with a handful of promising ideas. You're armed with a thorny energy whip, and you can use it to climb walls and topple over the towering skeletal monsters holding your citizens hostage. However, there's absolutely nothing fun about gun fights with other soldiers, and Freedom Wars delights in making even the simplest tasks needlessly complicated. You'll find yourself battling with menus and the obtuse controls as often as the massive Abductors. Between the dreary fascist setting and gameplay that's challenging in all the wrong ways, just playing Freedom Wars feels like a million year prison sentence.


Hey king, have you ever considered a cup?
Just sayin'...

(special thanks to IMDB for the Monty Python quotes)


  1. The Vita may not be dead, and I'm certainly glad for that (given I finally have one, as ignored as it is at the moment), but I have to admit that the only one of the games mentioned here that interests me at all is Touch My Katamary. Oh, well, you can't have 'em all, right?

    1. Lately, Vita owners can't have very much. Heh. Oh well, it's still a great fighting game machine!