bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Final Fantasy X HD Remaster (Vita)

Before we go any further, I’ve decided to split our review of Fial Fantasy X\X-2 HD Remaster into two seperate articles, with this one covering Final Fantasy X and a later one covering Final Fantasy X-2, this is purely because of the size of the two titles that are included as this re-release of one of Square-Enix’s classic titles. This will, unfortunately, mean a sizeable gap between the two but the cirumstances behind this release, plus those of a personal nature, pretty much limit me to doing it in this manner. Plus its nice to take a look at them at the seperate entities that they originally were.

This Vita release of Final Fantasy X is the “International” release of the game, by that I mean it doesn’t have any drawbacks that we saw with the original PAL release back in 2002. This results in a nice full screen with no borders, 50hz refresh rate and a nice crisp frame rate whilst the animations are at the full speed that they were for the American and Japanese markets instead of the floaty, slow motion animations we got originally. These are arguably only small things but it really makes the difference (I recently revisited the opening couple of hours on PS2 to remind myself of the game before I got my hands on the Vita release).

For those that are new to Final Fantasy X, and without going into too much detail, the story focuses on Tidus, a boy from Zanarkand who’s also a star “Blitzball” player (a kind of water polo game). During a Blitzball game his homeland of Zanarkand is attacked by a giant creature known as Sin, an old acquaintance, Auron, comes to his aid. However Zanarkand is destroyed and the pair are transported to a land known as Spira. Upon his arrival, Auron is nowhere to be seen and Tidus begins to learn more about Spira, its fight against Sin and the journey of the lands Summoners. It’s that latter point that leads to the progression of the story which takes in quite alot of religious symbology and how the people of Spira and Al Bhed fight against the permanent threat of their towns, cities and world being destroyed by Sin. Obviously, this being Final Fantasy, more and more is revealed as time goes on and some of the reveals within this tale are pretty brave for a game of its time, not to mention the hype that surrounded it. Whilst the series has tried to handle topics such as love, religion and sacrifice in the past, it hasn’t previously been able to do so with quite as much confidence and flair as on display here and the entire production feels like Yoshinori Kitase, Kazuhige Nojima, Daisuke Watanabe and Motomu Toriyama are all at the top of their games.

It does have its set backs though, but they’re only really massively apparent now, after over a decade since the game was originally released. The voice acting was always a bit hammy, Wakka “…Yah” at the end of a sentence can really great and Tidus’ voice actor can often swing between deadly serious and incredibly whiny within the same sentence, its often hard to tell if Lulu sounds disinterested because of the performance of her voice actor or because thats how the character is supposed to be portrayed (even though she’s far from disinterested, in fact she’s probably the most measured personality out of the bunch, and most of your understanding of what is going on comes through her explaining things to Tidus), and this is all before we mention the infamous “HAHAHA! HAHAHA!” moment in the story, which whilst done on purpose, does make you grimace a little bit at the rather over the top nature of it. However, Final Fantasy X was the first Final Fantasy to feature voice acting, and whilst the series still doesn’t really have as high a standard as some of its competitors (such as Atlus’ Persona series), its not too bad and was a bit of a relief to those that had grown tired of reading the PlayStation era’s blue boxes.

My absolute favourite element of Final Fantasy X however is its battle system, its typically traditional in appearance, with three party members on your side against whatever opponents the game throws at you, and whilst battles are random (i.e. you cant avoid on screen enemies like in the Tales, Grandia or Persona series), thats never really been an issue for me personally. The thing I do like is its fluidity, it moves at breakneak speed (for the genre) and the ability to switch characters in and out at any point allows you to switch the focus of the battle depending upon your needs, be it a need to step back and dish out buffs and healing spells whilst one party member keeps the attacking element up, or going for an all out onslaught with other options available in between. Just swapping one character for another brings a whole new element to each battle and the game toys with this a little by twisting the old Jobs system a little. Like with Final Fantasy Ix, each character has a particular job type, however here they’re not designated as “Thief”, “Warrior” etc but they’re each assigned skills and traits that, initially at least, are exclusive to them. Yuna is your healer and Summoner, whilst Lulu is your sole Black Mage at the start of the game, as you progress round the Sphere Grid (a kind of game board that you insert spheres into in order to learn new skills and gain better attributes), characters can begin to take on multiple roles. Weapons also come into play here, for example enemies with strong armour require a weapon with a Piercing ability. Most of the time this kind of enemy is best dealt with by either Auron or Kimhari, but other characters also gain weapons with such an ability, so as the game progresses, your ability to customise and taylor your characters to your playing style evolves, and the game is always giving you different options for each scenario it throws at you.

What we have here then, for PAL players, is Final Fantasy X as it was intended to be, in a handheld format thats surprisingly adept at being left on standby and alowing you to pick it up and play as and when you want. The latter is mostly thanks to this particular stories rather linear progression from a story aspect as the world doesn’t really allow for much in the way of exploration and being sidetracked like the PlayStation instalments did. If you’ve never played the series before, X marks the end of the kind of traditional JRPG gameplay that attracted so many players to it during its blockbuster era (arguably VI through to X) before the series arguably begun to decline (aside from the amazing and seemingly under-appreciated by its creators, FFXII), if you want an epic story and a rather meaty game for your Vita then Final Fantasy X HD Remaster is certainly worth adding to your collection.

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bitparade: Luftrausers (Vita)

Theres some kind of romance attached to the dog fighting pilots of the Second World War, lines are drawn in sand, the British were brave, tea drinking sorts who piloted their Spitfires with great skill, the Americans were incredibly patriotic and gung-ho, the Germans evil calculating and incredibly accurate whilst the Japanese would do anything to win, even if it meant losing their life. Watch any World War II movie featuring aerial dogfights and those stereotypes will make an appearance. Luftrausers kind of ties itself into that entire world, a world where men would take to the skies to protect their lands in displays of aerial ballet, albeit with a lethal edge (and in the case of Luftrausers specifically, without most of those tropes mentioned above).

In fact the game feels like it places you as part of the German Luftwaffe as a kind of test pilot for a wide range of weird and wonderful death machines, and a big part of the gameplay is reigning death upon other craft including planes, battleships and even blimps, you’ll also find yourself exploding an awful lot yourself, which suggests this particular group of German military types have managed to clone a large number of test pilots (or at least have an endless supply of willing volunteers). Theres no motive attached to any of this, and the above is purely how it all works out in my mind.

The hugely surprising thing about Luftrausers is how quickly it throws you into the action, almost immediately after launching the game from your Vita’s home screen you’re encouraged to “Press Up to Raus”, from there you find yourself zipping around the skies in a plane that handles a little like the ship from Asteroids. However, its not as simple as unleashing a hellfire of bullets upon the skies, because by shooting at things you risk taking damage yourself, this can only be repaired by taking a break from firing your guns to accelerate around the screen until your health has been replenished. Rather than filling the screen with all kinds of bars and other HUD style displays though, Luftrausers uses audio cues to tell you when you’re in any kind of danger or even when you’re out of said danger.

This isn’t the only way that it uses sound in a rather intelligent way. The game focuses around constructing different planes, so as you progress you unlock more parts, with there being three catergories in total. So thats guns, body and propulsion, each has their own positives and negatives and its all about finding what works for you, just because you unlock something a bit later on, it doesnt always mean its a better option. In order to unlock more parts you have to meet different goals for the parts you are using, which can be hitting a certain high score or taking down a set number of a particular enemy. Each time you change a part or create a new combination, your new creation gains its own name and to fit with that it also has its own soundtrack. Thus the game encourages experimentation and generally toying around, and its this element, plus the aspect of it having that “just one more go” feeling thats great for any arcadey handheld game that will keep you coming back.

Coming back to that mention of Luftrausers being “arcadey” for a moment, this isn’t meant in the way you would describe an arcade racer, what I mean by this is that with a set of earphones in and the volume turned up, the game really drags the player into the mindset of being in an old Games Arcade, as mentioned it has that “Just one more go” feel, which, tied in with its visuals and the audio, really digs into a sense of nostalgia that quite often feels like is missing from modern gaming, and its all of this tied together that makes Luftrausers a brilliantly compelling little title.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Football Manager Classic 2014 (Vita)

Sports Interactive have tried on several occassions to shift their hugely popular and ridiculously addictive Football Manager titles to systems other than the PC. They’ve seen some success in adapting the system to iDevices in recent years and now its the turn of Sony’s PlayStation Vita. On the surface it really does seem like a great match, the system is respectably powered and features touch screen controls. The systems sizable screen should also lend itself well to the interactivity of the series, plus the ability to play where ever you want means addicts never have to leave their game ever again (especially if they also own Football Manager 2014 and play the Classic mode on that as you can switch your save file between the two almost seamlessly).

And to be fair, they’ve done a really great job of cramming the entire Football Manager experience onto the system, okay those of you who like to have dozens of leagues on the go and be able to scout the furthest reaches of the globe to gather talent for your teams may feel a tinge of disappointment at the number of leagues you can have running, but I’d say its a small sacrifice to pay for the portability of Football Manager Classic 2014.

Sports Interactive have built the entire game around the Classic Mode that they introduced with Football Manager 2013, here its titled Career Mode and is the core focus of the game, those of you who know the series will know what to expect, for those of you who haven’t played Football Manager before, well, you take over a team of your choice and try to lead them to glory by playing around with formations, buying or loaning players and generally operating as you’d kind of expect a football manager to do. It’s incredibly compulsive and I personally have been known to have notebooks and spreadsheet documents full of formations, squad line ups and all sorts of other things. Hell, at one point, with Football Manager 2009, I kept a blog of a rather topsy turvy career as manager of the French Ligue 1 team Bordeaux. It’s pretty much every football fans dream, after all, we all know better than the man who is actually hired to run the football elements of the clubs we watch week in and week out every season.

The amount of detail and the number of options available in this handheld version of the game are absolutely astounding, and its very very difficult to find any differences between this and its “bigger” PC relative. The differences do start to emerge though, and its most noticeable in the games user interface. You see, Football Manager has a bit of a reputation for having menu’s within menu’s within menu’s, its rather SRPG in its nature, you can change exactly where you want a player to start a game, but also give them tailored instructions for how much you want them to press, if you want them to play as (for example) a winger, inside forward, wide play maker or any number of different things, with additional inputs available for how much you want them to push forward, mark another player, the tempo of their passing the list goes on.

This all works great on PC, its ridiculously easy, even on the stripped back “Classic Mode” (the PC version full fat mode goes into further tactical depth), however, here, crammed onto the Vita’s screen and with Sports Interactive seemingly neglecting to include the option of using the face controls as well as the touch screen, literally limiting you to the latter, filling the screen with tiny icons, text links and buttons with sluggish response times, well it all feels like a let down and turns an incredibly compulsive and addictive experience.

The thing is, this is Football Manager, to watch the game being played it looks like it should and everything is in there to make it into the experience it should be, but purely because of the design of the games various screens and interactivity options, plus the way the developer has neglected to take proper advantage of the controls on offer (one suggestion being to make the left analogue stick into a controller for a mouse pointer like the PSP releases) makes Football Manager Classic 2014 into a rather frustrating (for all the wrong reasons) experience, even if it is still as addictive as ever.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: NASCAR ’14 (PlayStation 3)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start your engines! Or so says SEGA’s Arcade classic “Daytona USA”. However, whilst this isn’t the high adrenaline cabinet racer featuring the “Sonic Turn” our story does start at the infamous circuit in California. For this I decided to dig out my old “Beer Hat”, bought from the Gadget Shop over a decade ago, pick up some cans of a popular American beer and sit down for a few extended, arse numbing days of that past-time that was created by the countries Probation era bootleggers.

NASCAR 14 takes you through the career of being a NASCAR driver. No surprises there, upon starting the game your asked to input a few details, your name, country of birth (Great Britain, not England…) plus some other things like which manufacturer you favour (from Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota) to what number you’d like to be associated with during your career (my normal picks of 34, 27, 22 or 18 weren’t available as already established real-life drivers already had those), I went with 30. From there you head to Daytona for the first of two races, thats, of course, after a few practice and qualifying sessions. This obviously allows you to get to grips with the games handling. Thankfully, the Daytona International Speedway is a traditional Tri-Oval and isn’t too challenging as there are area’s of the games handling model that leave alot to be desired. This doesn’t become apparent until you head to Phoenix for the third race of the season and you’re suddenly in need of actually using the brakes. Now I’m no NASCAR expert, hell I’ve only ever actually watched a few laps of any given race at any time but the cars must have better brakes than are available here. I found it near impossible to slow the car down enough to get through the corners at the Phoenix circuit let alone bring the car to enough of a crawl to prevent me receiving penalties when trying to enter the pits during the Daytona races. The cars also wobble a fair bit under braking, which feels incredibly odd as there really isn’t any sensation of speed or inertia apparent in the game, which gives the overall experience a really odd feeling.

But back to the career. At this point its important to note that you dont get to pick to be in one of the top teams, you’re essentially creating a brand new team, so your car is pretty basic. For the first few races of said career you’re left with the choice of either using refurbished parts for each race or buying a stock part at a time to try and push you up the field. This does make it sound like you’ll be among the back-markers, but this is NASCAR and as much as horse power is important here, so is being able to use the circuit and your opponents to your advantage. In the first race, which I set to a full race distance of 60 laps, I managed to get as high as 8th and was catching 7th when the two cars I was battling with tangled, bringing out the safety car. Now anyone who’s watched Cars or Days of Thunder knows this usually results in a rush of pitlane activity, and this time things were no different. Once out of the pits it was time to follow the safety car for the final half of the lap and this is when things went wrong for me. I accidentally overtook when you’re not supposed to do so and was trying to yield the place I’d taken, but did so too cautiously, ultimately finding the rest of the field flying past me and leaving me dead last. A few unwise choices in positioning my car within the pack led to me and a few others dropping back and it took the remainder of the race (some 20 laps) to claw my way back up to my final position of 12th.

This was actually rather enjoyable, every position felt fought for and like it was a combination of my own skill and the work of my “team”. The latter is largely thanks to all the indicators you’re given, namely the HUD icon that tells you where cars are around you and who’s drafting you, plus the vocal communication of your race engineer telling you where you’re clear, how aggressive you should or shouldn’t be or where to take your car (high, low etc) in order to work your way through the pack. There’s also added strategy involved in fuel management, tyre wear and engine temperature, all with their own HUD indicators, and despite there being so many different things on the screen to watch, it never becomes confusing or cluttered.

As you progress you’ll gain sponsorship, which grants you more cash, which can ultimately be spent on R+D for your car, plus gives you a bunch of stickers to plaster all over your machine. The appearance of your machine isn’t limited to just putting corporate brands all over it though. Theres also a fairly weighty livery mode where you can create layers and decals to make your car your own. If you’ve played any of the Forza Motorsport titles then its pretty much the same as that but isn’t half as user friendly as Turn10’s package, but it does its job.

I’ve actually been taken aback by NASCAR 14, I was expecting it to feel a little lazy, look damned ugly and be mind numbingly dull, however Eutechnyx have managed to do a comendable job with the license, and whilst there’s no escaping the pins and needles I began to feel in my right hand after going for full race distance on a few of the races (although there was no way I was doing a full distance Daytona 500 event!) thats hardly the developers fault as they’ve given a fairly accurate (from my understanding of the sport) portrayal of NASCAR racing with a few neat ideas that could be built upon for future instalments.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: R-Type Dimensions (PlayStation 3)

I’ve got a bit of an odd relationship with scrolling shooters, be they horizontal or vertical, I genuinely enjoy playing them, but by and large I’m ridiculously rubbish at them and often find myself covering the same area over and over again with no progression and thus end up tossing them aside. This doesn’t stop me playing them however, over the years I’ve done this with a few different releases of R-Type, Ikaruga and a few releases of Tecmo Classics, plus others, and when the opportunity arises, I usually come back for more only to leave them discarded for the reasons mentioned above. Why do I do this? Its one of life’s little mysteries, and yet here I am, with a R-Type Dimensions on PlayStation 3, sat on pause whilst I type out these thoughts and opinions in order for me to stick a number on the bottom of the screen that I feel somehow matches my undoubtedly frustrated experience of ineptitude on my behalf.

If you aren’t aware then, R-Type Dimension is a “HD re-release” of the absolute stone cold classics: R-Type and R-Type II. The bundle was originally released way back in 2009 on the XBox 360 and has, for some reason, taken 5 years to head over to Sony’s equivalent console.

R-Type challenges you with the task of navigating a set of auto-scrolling levels, shooting at anything that gets in your way and dodging anything fired in return. By rights, its not a “Bullet Hell” shooter, which means that in theory its not difficult to avoid getting shot. I say in theory for a reason, because as you have probably guessed, I’m not particularly good at R-Type or R-Type II and thus I’ve been shot down a fair number of times, despite the levels being fairly short by the standards of other similar more contemporary titles. Thats not technically true, as whilst the levels don’t fill the screen with bostacles that you can only dodge (although there are always a fair number of enemies to take down), boss fights do like to throw projectiles at you, usually whilst you try and concentrate your attention on hitting a rather small weak spot, something that my ageing brain and fingers seem to be getting even worse at that they were before.

As this is a HD pack, the visuals have been updated to include non-pixelated artwork. This, in my personal opinion, is to the detriment of the gameplay experience. Now, R-Type has never been a quick shooter, but it feels much slower when being played with its updated visuals, I thought I was imagining it at first but after getting others to play it whilst I watched we were all in agreement. Its not hugely different, but it is noticeable. The sluggish-ness doesn’t display in a kind of “slowdown” manner where the frame rate chugs along, nor does it feel less responsive, and if you were coming to R-Type completely fresh then you probably wouldn’t notice it. However, when you switch to either titles “Classic Mode”, its becomes more noticeable and I found myself pretty much sticking with the old pixelated visuals for this very reason, which to me at least, kind of defies the point of such an update.

This is Dimensions’ only real issue, the core concept of the game remains in tact and everything feels incredibly faithful. The updated visuals do make things look more interesting and colourful and its nice to see a developer giving such loving attention to classics such as this, however, the drop in speed kind of hurts it and it does throw you off your game a little if you have experience of these titles from prior versions, which if its enough for me to complain about, must be more noticeable to someone who’s really into this series and wanted the exact same game they know and love just with a new lick of paint, which in theory is the kind of customer these games are marketed at. If thats you, then you’ll find dissappointment in R-Type Dimensions, however, if you want the old game, just on a platform that you can have sat under your TV in the lounge, the Classic Mode is a very faithful version of Irems classic shooter, I just find it difficult to say “yeah, go buy this” purely because, on a whole, the full title doesn’t quite meets its brief.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Deception IV: Blood Ties

Way, way back in 2007 we reviewed a game called TrapT. TrapT and Deception IV: Blood Ties just happen to be from the same franchise, although Blood Ties is the first of the numbered releases to make it to Europe. Thats something we dont see particularly often anymore (with the highest profile releases done in such a manner being the Final Fantasy games way back when), but then when the previous release is that 7 year old game that was met with a rather disinterested reception (it was also the last release in its native Japan), then its not really surprising that Deception IV: Blood Ties has only really been the focus of sites that pay attention to Japanese oddities.

And it really is an oddity. The entire premise of the game is that a group of heroes are trying to gain access to a variety of different locations to obtain a rare item that they feel has fallen into the wrong hands. When a group of these rare items are collected together, the devil can be released from hell. Stupidly, they carry the items that are currently within their possession into said locations with them, where you, the daughter of the devil, lie in wait with your minions and a bunch of traps that you lay down in order to bring about death and destruction and take possession of the sacred artifacts.

So Deception IV gives you the opportunity to actually play as the bad guy, couple this with some of the tools on offer and what we have here is a rather devilishly amusing little title that provides a wealth of experimentation and entertainment.

So, as the �heroes� invade your castle, manufacturing plant or any of the other locations you inhabit, you can lead them around from room to room, placing a variety of traps or trying to take advantage of the environmental elements such as trains entering stations or vats of molten steel. The beauty is that you can either lure them onto a single trap and chip at their health bit by bit or pause the action and spend time plotting out a twisted and delightful combination of devices, and as you progress through the game your options increase further.

The traps you can lay range from the humiliating (pumpkins being dropped onto heads, garden rakes on the floor) to the Sadistic wherein the idea is to inflict as much pain as possible in one go, through the Elaborate (which you can use to help bring the environmental traps into play). Thie general idea is that you try and combine all of these elements together to get as large a score for each of your victims as possible, the larger the score, the bigger your reward at the end of each chapter and the more new traps you can purchase to add to your arsenal.

The theory behind all of this is excellent and incredibly appealing. However, its the manner in which its all realised thats ultimately frustrating. There are times when you are sat through overly long conversations between characters, a problem with alot of recent games on the system, and at the beginning of each Act you are introduced to each of your potential victims, thus allowing you to find out their strengths and weaknesses. However, if you die, you have to sit through all of this again, and its certainly possible to find yourself in a position where you will have to restart thanks to the games rather claustrophic camera angles and locations which make it difficult to avoid being attacked or indeed on occassion fall victim of your own traps in some manner. This is all made even worse by the frequency at which you can save, which isn’t particularly often, what with it being at the end of each chapter, most of which last about an hour in total. Some will argue it makes the incentive to be more cautious even more important but its easy to make a mistake and for that mistake to make things harder overall and even a save state kind of save system would allowed for the freedom to experiment even further and play about in the games setting to get the most out of it.

Thats pretty much Deception IV: Blood Ties biggest issue. As a whole, the game means well, it tries to encourage you to act out some pretty dark torture based fantasies, but ultimately, due to some of the developers design decisions you often find yourself playing it a little too safe and this leads the gameplay to ultimately become a little repetetive and boring. All told then, Deception IV has some nifty idea’s and deserves more attention than it will ever gain, but its far from perfect and its flaws become frustratingly noticeable far too easily.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Monster Monpiece (Vita)

Few games feel as confused about their identity as Monster Monpiece, a game that is, for the most part, fairly innocent. The core concept of the game that you actually play is an intriguing mish-mash of Card Collecting Game (think Magic or Pokemon…) and Tower Defence. However, and those of you who know anything about the title will already be aware of this, it does have a dark, seedy underbelly that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of what is present.

So then, throughout Monster Monpiece, you are placed in the position of May, a girl who attends an Academy where they learn to control “Monster Girls” (I’ll point out here that the entire cast is female), these Girls then used in battle and summoned via the use of cards, a series of events unfold that mean you have to travel from town to town collecting a special item that a hidden evil also wants to get its hands upon. This is all played out over text based dialogue sequences that go to alot of effort to flesh out each of the individual characters, and surprisingly for a game of its type, does try to make some element of groundwork on developing relationships between each of the key players that dont feel forced or out of place.

What does feel out of place, and I feel this is the perfect place to discuss the gameplay, is how you level up the Monster Girls. Now ordinarily, the artwork on the cards is fairly small and whilst it is pushing the boundaries of what is tasteful, the pictures are miniscule enough on the Vita’s screen that its easy to get away with. When summoned into battle they look nothing like they do on the cards, instead they take on the appearance of one of four types (Sword user, Archer, Healer and another type of magic using avatar). The more battles you win, the more “Rub P” you earn, this is then spent in the “First Crush Rub” area of the game in order to improve each card within your deck. From here you choose a card that you want to spend points on, the artwork is blown up to the width of the Vita’s screen which you have to turn around so the screen is in a portrait position. From here you have to fill a bar within a particular amount of time by rubbing hidden spots on each girl, which illicits various moans and groans of pleasure, until said bar is either full or you run out of time. Once the bar is full you then have to rub both the front and back screen simultaneously as quickly as possible to finish the whole process off and make that particular girl stronger.

The feels ridiculous out of context to how the rest of the game is presented. The discussion and artwork for the main cast of characters wouldn’t really look out of place in most JRPG’s (regardless of their content) and there’s no other reliance on any sexual overtones, and as for the card battles themselves, the above kind of damages what is an excellent and challengingly entertaining game.

Onto the positive. I’ve mentioned above that the battle system is rather good. What you have is a 7×3 grid split into the colours. 3×3 of Blue and Red with a 1×3 strip seperating them as a no-mans land. At each end of the grid is a building, the left side of the screen is yours, the right side your opponents. You then have different types of cards with characters that use different weapons (sword, bow, staff and wand). The sword users are close combat, archers ranged, staffs provide buffs and lastly the wands act as healers. Then there are different coloured cards and this is where the strategy comes into play. By placing down 3 cards, you gain an extra buff to your attack, Mana and health, the idea here is to keep doing this and allow the draw of your cards to stack as to allow you to take advantage of doing so. Each time you place a card on the grid, your drawn characters will auto attack and auto move until they’re either defeated by the opponent directly opposite them or you defeat them overall. Its the constant pushing forward that makes the battle system completely engaging and one false or intellgent move can easily result in the weight shifting in the opposite direction at any given time, and as the challenge increases the further you get through Monster Monpiece, the more entertaining the entire system becomes.

So to come back to my original point, Monster Monpiece really does feel confused. On its own, the battle system and the characterisation makes this a fine game for a handheld system. However, I, personally, found the “First Crush Rub” aspect a little too uncomfortable and I’m not of the persuasion that its anything to do with differences between Japanese and European cultures. If anything, Monster Monpiece doesn’t feel sure of its own strengths and I kind of get the impression the “First Crush Rub” stuff was included for the Japanese market which is becoming increasingly littered with titles that pander to the Otaku sub-culture, and whilst I can happily consume certain elements of that type of culture, the elements of Monster Monpiece in question take things a little too far I feel, but overall, it really shouldnt detract from a really entertaining game and its unfortunate that there doesn’t seem to have been an alternative system that was considered.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: OlliOlli 2 (Vita)

It’s no secret that I was a huge fan of OlliOlli back when it was originally released on the Vita last year. It had a few problems, which by their own admission, took developers Roll7 far too long to address (a crashing glitch being the worst culprit and a lack of leaderboards was a killer for some, although I felt sharing screengrabs on Twitter or forums felt like a return to the “olden days”), but overall, the gameplay was sharp and highly addictive. My one major gripe with it was that I could never ever figure out how some people were getting the scores they were getting, but thats high scores in general as far as my ability is concerned.

Just over a year later and Roll7 have already released OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood, which aims to add a whole slew of new bits and bobs whilst having things like online leaderboards available from day one. I was never really against having Leaderboards in OlliOlli but found their eventual addition took away a kind of communal discussion on the game, with players prefering just to check out the scores that way rather than resort to other means and actually engross in an element of rivalry and, for want of a better word, banter. Their immeidate inclusion here does make sense, its a bit of a no-no not to include them in modern day high score game, but its still a pity that that communal discussion will not take place quite so much for OlliOlli 2.

The other additions to OlliOlli2 come in the forms of methods of navigating each level, previously the only way to link tricks was to hit a grind, but now you have the option of landing in a manual so that even being on the land allows you to keep a combo going. You can also perform reverts, grind switches and initiate stance changes before you begin your combo, allowing you to find and customise your combinations when taking on others via the leaderboards or entering the now traditional Daily Grinds (which are still an absolute bastard!). Thankfully, none of this requires mastering any of the other buttons on your Vita as everything is still done via the use of the left stick + X and shoulder buttons, but as with before, different results are achieved by differing your input combinations and perfecting the timing.

Theres very little to accuse OlliOlli 2 of in regards to faults, its still as punishing as ever and whilst its perfect for short bursts of play via the Vita I’m not wholy convinced that the systems small analogue sticks are perfect for it, unfortunately I don’t have the hardware required to try it on something with a bigger analogue stick. This often makes performing a variety of tricks, or indeed the tricks sometimes set out in a levels completion goals, rather inaccurate, which does take away from some of the enjoyment of OlliOlli2 but overall, its still an excellent title that, I feel at least, is as essential for Vita owners as the first one was!

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy (Vita)

Despite criticism of a lack of software, not to mention that Sony themselves seem to have abandoned the device, the PlayStation Vita has really carved a niche market for itself with its catalogue of Japanese oddities, dungeon crawlers and an impressive roster of indie titles. Operation Abyss: Neo Tokyo Legacy fits into that middle category and, having been developed by Experience inc, who were responsible for last years Demon Gaze, which we here at bitparade rather enjoyed, it comes with some pedigree.

Operation Abyss’ setting is fairly typical, if you can overlook Japanese culture’s obsession with having high-school students saving the country or the world then you’ll get by just fine. The plot involves said students investigating a rather nasty infected zombie type uprising, called Variants, that are abducting, dismembering and killing the local populace. This all takes place in the titular Neo Tokyo, a near future version of Japan’s most famous city.

Your squads investigation and search for said variants mostly takes place in a variety of abandoned locations, such as apartment buildings and warehouses. Which are a bit of a contrast to Demon Gaze’s forests and cave like locations. Exploring each location gradually builds up a map and you’ll soon discover one way door systems and areas that only accessible teleportation plates all of which is given viability by the games scientific occult like feeling.

Battles, the core of any JRPG regardless of subgenre, mostly happen at random. Obviously boss battles are pre-scripted but occasionally whilst exploring an icon will appear in a room or corridor you have entered advertising that there are Variants on that particular tile. Allowing you to void that particular confrontation if you wish to do so.

If you�re an old hat to the genre, then Operation Abyss is an enjoyable potential addition to your collection, if you�re seeking an entry point then I wouldn�t say that this one is for you. The games biggest problem is that whilst it likes to waffle, as do many titles within the genre, it�s just far too vague with some of its more simple concepts, not only that its really kind of forgettable and the studio�s previous Vita outing, Demon Gaze, is a far better, albeit crueller, example of what makes people flock to these types of games on handhelds.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Etrian Odyssey Mystery Dungeon (Nintendo 3DS)

t’s no secret that I’m a bit inexperienced when it comes to the Etrian Odyssey series, I’ve played many many similar games, but having not really spend much time with Nintendo’s handhelds over the years, the series has mostly past me by. The same also applies to the Mystery Dungeon series, although I had a brief relationship with the first European Pokemon entry and, again, have played a fair few similar titles, most memorably Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God (which I found to be quaint and humorous, if a little frustrating at times). Both genre’s appear, to me at least, to be rather punishing, or challenging (depending upon how you want to look at things), but really rather rewarding once you get around their mechanics. But what’s interesting here is that Spike Chunsoft (who mash out a huge number of games in both genres) have now made an attempt to combine the two with Etrian Mystery Dungeon.

This particular release takes more cues from the Mystery Dungeon series than the other half of the relationship, with the latter offering up the games character design, however the vast majority of the games graphical style, that being when you are in dungeons, is also taken from Mystery Dungeon and is definitely a case of function over form. This leaves the game looking uncluttered, which is definetly a good thing as there can be a lot to take in whilst exploring Etrian Mystery Dungeons… dungeons.

The �Rogue-like� nature of these sorts of games is what makes them challenging, which is what attracts most people to them. It’s far too easy to head into a dungeon unprepared and quickly find yourself overwhelmed and out of your depth. The games mechanics want you to explore but can just as easily punish you for doing so as your stamina slowly depletes and then chips away at your health. Being limited to the number of items you can carry means no trip back to town is wasted, although it will refresh your progress in any dungeon you are in. Speaking of the dungeons themselves, Etrian Mystery Dungeon has randomly generated dungeons for you to explore, thankfully though they don’t always remain that way, if you’re happy to spend the �En� (the games currency) you can place a Fort on any level that you have already explored, which will then prevent the dungeon from being randomly generated on further visits, making gathering resources and completing quests much easier.

Progression is split up in two manners, you can obtain Missions, these tend to be designed to further progression through the game itself, usually in advancing the story or unlocking somewhere new to explore, whilst Quests give you tasks to do in locations you have already visited, providing you with rewards of cash or items. It’s this element of segregation that encourages you to take the �baby steps� approach to advancing through the game that results in you feeling like you aren’t getting very far, but take a chance every now and then to push further and you’ll be rewarded with the sense that your party is actually stronger than you’d assumed they were.

Forts come in handy with character progression too. You can have a Guild featuring a number of members, however you can only take four characters in a party to go and explore, those left at your Guild HQ will gain some experience whilst you are away, but they’re progression will be incredibly slow, however by placing upto 4 members into a Fort, they will gain more XP by just being �out in the field� so to speak and level at a higher rate than those left at HQ, this all means its much much easier to juggle different combinations of parties allowing you to tailor your exploration group for each time you head into a dungeon rather than feeling like you are stuck with the initial four members that you create.

The game is constantly trying to throw new challenges at you, from random floors (usually on lower floors of a dungeon) containing monsters that have received a buff, to rooms that contain an inordinately larger number of enemies than others. Boss figthts too can be difficult and tend to thrown the games �just hit whatever enemies closest� mechanics on their head by requiring you to take control of each party member individually (something you can do at any other time too, if you so wish) and act in a strategic manner, providing buffs for your party, drawing attention to particular team members or areas of a room to take advantage of traps, that kind of thing. Things don’t tend to let up if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where a party member is defeated either, as the creature that deals the killer blow will receive a strengthening buff resulting in them being not only hitting you harder but being able to take more damage. Etrian Mystery Dungeon’s quaint appearance is certainly misleading, whereas Dark Souls (which shares many similarities with the dungeon crawler genre despite its playing perspective) looks foreboding, Etrian Mystery Dungeon looks cute, cuddly and easy. These things it is not, and some might say its all the better for it.