Sunday, 28 December 2014

Pokémon Omega Ruby [Review]

Pokémon might look the same to outsiders, but there are numerous changes, whether big or small, that affect the gameplay in some way. Generation 6 of the Pokémon games made one of the biggest changes to the series - with the transition to actual 3D models instead of sprites, as well as introducing the fairy type - and Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, the next set of games in Generation 6, offer even more to change up the game.
Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are remakes of the Generation 3 main games - Ruby and Sapphire - a generation that gave us many new additions to the formula. And since these are remakes, there are numerous retro nods to the games they are remade from. When you first start the game, you'll think you've gone back to 2003, as the introduction starts with the exact same sprites and words from those previous games. It then shows that this is 2014, this is a new game, by showing you the inside of the lorry you are in from a first person point of view. The game itself is still played in third person, so it is cool that they gave us that view to begin the game. Other retro nods include the map display being the exact same graphic as it was in the previous game, and all the graphics for the DexNav being in sprite form - exactly looking like the previous games.
Gameplay, then. We start the same way as any other game - starting at a small town before setting out to meet the professor and choosing your first Pokémon. Movement in the overworld is unlocked, and we don't have uber fast skates to fight for control with. Using the D-Pad reverts control back to a standard 8-way mode, and in buildings is locked at that - no matter whether using the circle pad or D-pad. Battles play out in much the same way as before, with choosing a move to whittle down the opponent's HP, and fighting until it reaches zero. Nothing seems to have changed.
But the battling and the moving aren't changed. Yeah, there's the new sneak move, which allows slow movement to creep up on Pokémon that reveal themselves, but apart from that, the features are more in how you move with Pokémon and how you capture them.
First off, as mentioned earlier, is the DexNav. At its most basic form, it shows you what Pokémon you have caught in an area. As you learn though [pretty early on, actually] it can also scan for Pokémon, and when you get close enough, tell you certain facts about them. The more you encounter of one particular Pokémon, the higher the scan level and the more you'll be able to find out about one of that species you scan. Level, first move, ability and more, and an exclaimation mark appears above any that is above average. This is a good system for telling if a Pokémon has any Egg Moves [moves it can only gain by breeding] or hidden abilities.
Next in line is flight. The ability to fly has always been in Pokémon, but you could only visit towns that you had previously visited. That has now been extended to all routes and places on the map. Also a part of flight is the Eon Flute. At a certain point in the story, you'll get a Latios or Latias with its Mega Stone, and with the Eon Flute you can summon one of them and actually fly on their back. Yes, just like surfing, you can now control a Pokémon in flight - even if it is just limited to two. While in the air, you'll be able to fight wild flying types [though thankfully the battles are only triggered by flying into a flock of generic flying shadows], and hunt down mystery islands. These islands have Pokémon rare for Hoenn found in them, as well as the chance to capture Legendaries. On some islands, there'll be a hoop with a portal. This is the gateway to challenging Legendaries, and they can be rematched if you defeat them.
I find the new features to add to the gameplay, and feel much more content using the new flying method, even if it is slower than the normal method. Not needing a flying type with you all the time really helps to build a better team, though some flying types do have a second typing and will help in gameplay - so it really depends on if you really want a flying type on your team. Battles haven't had anything new added to them, but after the flashier show of battles introduced this generation with X and Y, the only thing they could really have improved is the frame drops during battles. These haven't been improved, but as before, don't really affect the presentation that much.
The music has been much improved from the GBA, and the tunes are still intact. They are recognisable to long-time fans, and for the newer crowd are a treat for the ears. As well as being on top form, the tunes feel in the right places.
There isn't much more for me to say, other than online functionality is still present. Battling trainers or trading with them, even using the Global Trade Station to try and snag something good, or Wonder Trade in the hope of getting something good, the online works as needed. It's smooth. Local multiplayer is included for both battles and trades. Streetpassing people will get you their Secret Base, which you'll be able to visit and explore, as well as battle the owner.
Post game is good, and nets you two extra Legendaries [well, if you catch them], and explores the origin of Mega Evolution. Mega Evolution was introduced in X and Y with the feeling that it was recently discovered, but that ancients had been researching it. With Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, the story of how Mega Evolution came to be is told, as well as connects XY with ORAS, more so than any other generation of Pokémon game has been connected.
The game is definitely worth a purchase, even if you're just a general fan of JRPG's. All of what makes a JRPG are present here, and everything [apart from the occasional frame dip in battles] is smooth and polished. The development team have kept a bit too closely to the original map design, meaning with the new 3D paint, the world looks a bit odd. Not disfunctional, but it has the feeling that everything is still on a 2D plane. In other words, they are layers that you traverse; not the feeling of actaully walking up or down a slope. Again, it's not too affecting on gameplay. And so, with battles being the main part of the game, as well as the exploration, and both of those parts working great, this game is worth a recommendation.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric [Review]

 The game that looked like a reinvention, but failed on all accounts. If you look up a list of all what was promised, you could probably count what was achieved on one hand. Though maybe that's an exaggeration. It certainly doesn't play like a Sonic game, doesn't have many of the elements you'd expect from a Sonic game, thus a reinvention. But in a worse state than better.
Let's just get to what all Sonic games are primarily about. The gameplay. Rather than sprawling levels filled with speed and exploration, we just have the exploration part. In the place of speed is combat, which is the most basic combat you can get. It works, sure, but isn't the greatest combat in existance. Not even close. We have a normal attack, a special attack, an air attack, and a bounce attack. Aside from a dodge and the Enerbeam mechanic, that's it. Launch an attack, either repeat the same attack or break the combo. Get into an attack, there is no chance to dodge mid-combo. And when enemies are many in both health and units, it can get annoying. But not that annoying. Rings act as a health bar, and when they hit zero and you get attacked again, you'll die and respawn in the near exact position you died. There are no lives. Some might say this is to make it easier - after all, the target audience is kids - but when combined with the real problems, it seems a moot point.
First, we have four characters - Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, and Amy. While not a problem themselves, they are the cause of them. The game is mainly focused on co-op, mostly with just two of the characters, and numerous puzzles require the use of swapping from one character to another. However, sometimes you'll have completed the section for one character, have to swap to another, and find they are still at the beginning. Sometimes you'll come to a part where two characters are needed to pull something into place to find that the other character hasn't caught up yet. That might not seem so bad, but when you add in another physical player, you can't go five meters apart without Player 2 teleporting to Player 1's position. And it happens all the time, every time. So why can't the same happen with just one player? Combat and exploration are playable though. Simple, frustrating at points, but serviceable enough. Thankfully, there is one other part to the gameplay which breaks up the combat and exploration. But is also the most broken part. Speed sections.
These are numerous. The game even opens on one. But they are just too short. The opening one is interspersed with small cutscenes, but even so, it doesn't go past ten minutes. And most of those minutes are the cutscenes. And the shortness of them is the least of your problems. For whatever reason, most of the lag, or framerate drops, are suffered within these sections. This can make it hard to gauge jumps or dodges. And it becomes noticable even more once environmental effects are added.
There are other problems away from the gameplay. While the plot of the game can shine at times, to put it bluntly - it feels basic. It also feels unfinished. Near the beginning of the story, main villain Lyric is set free by Sonic. Sonic uses a spin dash on the mechanism holding Lyric. Lyric says that after all these years, Sonic is still predictable. Sonic and Tails were sent back one thousand years in search of a map of the location of the Chaos Crystals, and encounter Lyric once. Yes. Once. The main point of the story is Sonic learning to work together with his friends, but that whole story element is so messed up it's as though pieces of the story are missing or they've been jumbled around. And let's not mention Shadow, who seems to be here just to be a mirror of Lyric [seriously, they both talk the 'your weakness is your friends' spiel, and almost word for word as well]. But while Lyric gets defeated for it, Shadow recognises that perhaps he is wrong. Eggman in the story is the backstabber. He takes control of Lyric's army of robots for his own ends, then when Lyric is set free teams up with him. Both don't trust the other, and when Eggman sets Metal Sonic on Lyric, the latter uses his controller device to turn Metal to obey him. So Eggman makes a robot completely under manual control to try and take Lyric down [and eventually does get the last laugh].
Aside from all this villains clash story though, the plot never escapes out of finding the Chaos Crystals. As I said before, basic. Which is also what NPC's of the hub worlds are. Aside from Cliff, and maybe Quincy, the NPC's hardly get any limelight and are only around to give one quest each. They just stand around, give you one quest, then just repeat their quest finished line whenever you try to talk to them again. By completing a side quest, you do get a Power Glyph. These are equipable and give an extra bonus, such as increasing damage of enemies thrown with the Enerbeam. There are also other upgrades that you use robot parts for. But you also need to have collected enough medals to be able to do so.
The last points to mention. For one, graphics. They do the job well, but don't go beyond what is expected. As such, they look no better than Gamecube-PS2 era graphics. While the graphics and textures do look good for the most part, sometimes they don't look as good. Up close, they look flat and muddy, but thankfully the animation pulls through. Characters move fluidly, as do objects, characters and robots within the levels. The levels themselves are varied, but puzzles never get too ambitious. Hubs and levels can feel empty at points, and sometimes give no direction. Music within the game sets the tone well, expect for an occasional misstep, but isn't exactly memorable. There is honestly no tune from the game I have stuck in my mind, or would I listen to outside of the game itself. Character interaction within cutscenes are brillaint for the most part, and show the characters as you would expect them to be shown. Occasionally though, a misstep for the interactions will be made. Knuckles is a laid back character, sometimes slow on the uptake, but to make the joke that he doesn't know the difference between left and right takes that to the highest levels of exaggeration. Outside of cutscenes though, the interactions are nothing short of annoying. The characters interact with each other occasionally within levels, but is mostly basic, and annoying, repeating of what you can very plainly see. "Rings" "Boost Pad" "Bounce Pad" and the like are followed up with characters also commenting on themselves or others. Lines like "I'm awesome" "Nice one" and simple signs of excitement like "Yeah" "Wahoo".
Without mentioning the glitches [there are some, mostly brought on by player interaction] and comparisons to other Sonic games [though subtle hints lie within], I'd say the game is good. Nothing special, but good all the same. But it can never fully get itself away from the fact it still has the Sonic name on it and as such will be held up for it. The game can be enjoyable, and if you do get to the end of the story, it does get better. There are more long stretches of tediousness than proper enjoyment though. As such, the game is a good play, but not worth full price. £15, yes. £30, no. And I also couldn't fully recommend it at full price, either. Once it does hit £15 or less though, that is the time to strike.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Delightful December [Cyber Digital Services]

As I've always said, the UK holiday season begins on the first and runs to the first. December is when the decorations start to get put up, gifts sorted [although sometimes that'll be a month in advance], and the advent calenders start the countdown. And then we have that major event itself of the 25th. And then six days later the countdown to a new year begins, and the holiday season ends after the first of January. Why would I be saying this though? It's not like I have anything super special planned for you all. Well, in fact, I do. Or should I say did.
Over the month of November, I was thinking back on what I've achieved in animation so far. And roughly three years ago on that month, I was working on an animated Christmas card. That's all well and good, I thought, but my animation skills surely must have improved since then. So I decided to plan out a new one. And hopefully get it finished in time. I have an animatic of what it would look like ready, and I hope to make a start on it. But university deadlines call. I'm mostly sorted. I have less than half of the short animated piece left to finish, and everything else complete. If it does get fully completed this week, I can then move onto the Christmas animated card.
Now, onto other items. Last month, I said I'd upload footage of a fan game I enjoy. I kept putting it off, and am sort of glad I did. A new release came out for it, and I'll be rerecording to add some of the new stuff in. I also said I'd do a short animation that shows how bad my voice records. I've skipped that fully. I have other plans which I won't reveal this month. I also said I'd upload all that I did for the Principles of Animation last month as well. Well, I met the deadline, having uploaded it to Vimeo, but it's still not on Youtube yet. That should be soon.
The Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric review should be up in a few days, and the Pokemon Omega Ruby review should follow up soon after. Both should be a lot better than the Smash Bros one - in other words, a lot more organised.
I am seriously hoping I'll be able to add another Star Wars Battlefront match to my Youtube channel, but whether multiplayer or singleplayer, I have to figure out. And I suppose I had better mention I now have Battlefield 4, more in anticipation of the new Star Wars Battlefront than anything else. And it was over fifty percent off on Origin, so that wasn't something to pass up. Whether I'm really going to get any video footage of it up though, is something I'll have to see about. Probably not though.
And one last thing. Story uploads to the website will continue until the chapter of each respective story is finished. Uploads will continue again after the holiday season has finished.
Enjoy the month, stay tuned for uploads and content additions, and hopefully next year I'll have a lot more to say.