Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Greenalink reviews Lumines Remastered





Developers: Resonair
Publisher: Enhance Games
Release Date: 25/06/2018
Average Price: US $15 (Switch) or £13.49 (Switch)  £9.99 (Steam)
Filesize: just over 830mb


A classic puzzle game from the mid-2000s for the PlayStation Portable makes a return in an HD remaster for modern platforms.

Features:
40 music skins,
44 Avatars icons,
Lots of beats
A variety of modes

What made it a classic?


Game designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi designed the game as an interactive walkman and a dream machine thanks to the headphone ports which made it possible to play with good sound from anywhere. Mizuguchi is pretty famous for previous audio heavy games including Space Channel 5 and Rez and decided to make it less daunting to casual players by making it a puzzle game. The game itself is definitely easy to play and understand and it's also hard to master, there are some unique game mechanics which made it stand out from many other puzzle franchises.

Graphics


Originally a PSP game, the visuals have been redone with native HD textures/sprites meaning you won't see jagged edges on your avatars, other than that it is mostly the same, visually elegant.



Sound


A key feature of this game, if you were expecting new tracks that are exclusive to remastered, prepare to be disappointed. On the flip side, this version has a higher quality bit-rate than the ones used in the previous versions and it's fantastic to listen today, especially for gamers trying this game out for the first time with a variety of excellent pieces of music, ranging from feudal Japan style, digital voices and even house beats.

One notable addition is trance vibration which allows any spare rumble supported controllers to feel the bass across your body. This mode is mostly useful for Nintendo Switch users as it can use up to 8 Joy con, 2 to play the game and 6 placed around your body including jumper pockets, trouser pockets (to USA readers this is pants).  and under your feet. PS4 is limited to 4 PS4 Dualshock 4 controllers and while Xbox One is up to 8 (big) controllers. PC Steam users vary depending on how many rumble supported controllers you have.



Gameplay


The core mechanic is simple, create a 2x2 block to clear it, however, the twist is that a vertical timeline needs to sweep over these blocks to erase them for good. If a timeline sweeps a 2x2 it counts as 1 square, if it sweeps a harder 4x4 square it counts as 9 squares. If the timeline sweeps at least 4 square per lap, it gains a score multipler bonus, repeat this process during the next laps to get a x8, x12 and a x16 bonus.

This is tough for BGM skins that have a fast tempo but you can still clear blocks quickly in general but the opposite can be said for slow tempo BGM skins simply because, while it does give the player more time to clear 4 squares per lap, the timeline moves more slowly meaning that it will take a little bit longer to sweep through the completed squares.  Every once in a while a chain block appears and depending on the colour, placing it next a block of the same colour will cause a chain connection of a single colour which will get erased by the timeline, a well placed chain block can change the momentum of the playfield significantly.

The game gets surprisingly tough at level 30 out of 100 where the blocks start to naturally fall a bit faster than usual, making it tough to plan moves ahead, this is a much bigger problem when there's a huge stack of blocks over the entire playfield.



Value


Besides the usual Challenge mode, there are other ways to play the game. Puzzle mode is a series of mini-levels where you have to make a shape within a certain time limit.  The puzzle count was increased to 100 by featuring puzzles from Lumines 2 and later games.

Time attack mode where you clear as many blocks as you can within a certain amount of time. The playstyle involves minimal movement and rotations to not only save time but also clear more blocks. time categories include 60, 180 and 300 seconds,  This mode used to have a 600 second category but it was removed in the Remastered release.

Vs CPU/Vs 2P modes involve clearing more squares than your opponent per timeline loop in a tug of war fashion, the more times you win each loop the winner gets a bigger playing field whilst the loser struggles with the smaller playing field. I have 2 complaints about this mode:

1) Both players don't even start off with the exact same block RNG sequence which can make a notable difference in the early game.

2) If you decide to quit part way through the vs CPU mode after completing a few stages, you have to start all the way back to the very beginning.

The second issue puts PC (and home consoles to a lesser extent) at a disadvantage if you want to have a break and save power on electricity whereas the Switch version can be done by putting to sleep and not use up any electricity (other than low on battery charge).

As a non-portable release, this mode features 2 players without needing a second console/second copy of the game, this is a huge plus over the original. The game is not planning to have online vs 2p mode other than online score leaderboards and I guess that is mainly because the background music and timeline are 2 majors factors that can cause a catastrophe if the game heavily desyncs due to a laggy online connection.

Mission mode never appeared in the original game but was featured in Lumines 2 makes another appearance to the Remastered game, it's essentially a visual training mode to teach players solutions during certain situations, it is a very important mode for new players to figure out how the flow of the game fully works.

Shuffle is an extra challenge mode where you play through the BGM skins in a random order which essentially makes no 2 playthroughs the same, this was added mainly because the original was pretty linear.



Overall:

A great puzzle game makes a decent remaster debut.
For a double dip purchase, you are getting the best quality audio this time along with gameplay content-wise that were introduced in later games.

The ideal platform to play it on is the Switch version for many reasons including a higher resolution in portable mode and HD rumble support for the fancy yet crazy trance vibration. It's practically the dream machine 2.0 simply because this version wouldn't exist without the Nintendo Switch's HD rumble and sales impact in the past 15 months.


LuYES

+ Highest quality audio as of this release.
+ Trance vibration.
+ Online leaderboards
+ Good variety of playstyles, each mode has a different set of both effective and ineffective strategies.

LuNO

- Not the easiest puzzle game to unlock everything which can put some lesser skilled gamers off.
- Some removed options such as the 600 second time attack mode and a reduction of avatars icon count from 48 to 44 (some are from later games) may anger diehard purists of the PSP original.

Overall: B+


Steam Review code provided by Enhance Games

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Greenalink reviews: Streets of Red: Devil's Dare DX

Streets of Red: Devil's Dare Deluxe



Developers: Secret Base Pte
Release Date: 12/04/2018
Average Price: $8.99
Filesize: Just over 600mb


Review note: I have played through the single player content of the game multiple of times. For multiplayer, I only had 1 good opportunity.

Streets of Red is an enhanced release of 2014's Devil's Dare which was a PC exclusive at the time. Now back on Switch and PS4 with a lower price.

Features

4 playable characters
2 unlockable characters
13 boss battles
18 regular stages
100s of zombies to splatter

Graphics:

A mixture of Black, Grey and Green reminiscent of Game Boy's original graphics along with the colour Red to heavily emphasize the blood. The framerate is an odd one as scrolling updates at roughly 30 frames per second when running but character movement (not animations) is 60 frames. Character sprites all stand out and are pretty recognisable too as you can guess what special abilities they have when fighting against them. The Deluxe version revamped the graphic designs for some bosses that were previously references to movies from the 80s such as the Terminator and Ghost Busters to references based on retro style games including Turtles in Time and Final Fantasy VII

The original version was based on Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator.
That was changed to Youtube gaming critic Jim Sterling.


Sound:

A lot of recent retro style beat-em-ups focused on either 8-bit chiptune or modern music. This one used a 16-bit chiptune which is ideal to Yamaha YM2612 used for Sega 16-bit console. Every level has its own melody and the most memorable track for me is Train Station (Train-2) which starts off with certain notes which sounds very Streets of Rage worthy. Voice recordings are super clear and not crackly compressed, they do sound quite repetitive for playable characters, especially 1 of the 2 unlockable characters who have limited combat options outside of specials.

If the game's title told you something, expect a lot of video game references.


Gameplay:

Combat is pretty simple but surprisingly deep thanks to Dash cancelling and setting up multiple fatalities which in return rewards the player with free food and more cash.
Fatalities are essential for extra cash which can be used to purchase upgrades, revive from an unexpected death, or getting a super high score.

The initial 4 characters have notable strengths and weaknesses.

Kingston has the ability to grab and perform an atomic bomb but he is the slowest walker/runner in the game. The original PC release was visually based on Gilius Thunderhead but the Deluxe version was changed to be visually based on Shovel Knight. His defensive special: Mighty Thunder is very Golden Axe like despite the change.

Axel looks like the all-rounder judging from his running speed and attack properties, he has the tools for almost everything that he can grab enemies from a distance thanks to his hookshot.

Queenie stands out as her special moves have unique secondary effects ranging from freezing enemies to recovering HP. Her weakness is that she isn't super strong when comparing to Kingston for both normal attacks and specials.

Jackson is intended to be the fast but weak character by removing knockback properties from his running attack and a low damage output standard combo. However, from my experience, he is by far the best when he gets his hands on enhanced Dive Kick which costs only 1 bar, deals up 20 damage and recovers very quickly.

Players can purchase an upgrade at the end of each round, the available power-ups are random with an enhanced special taking up the first slot and 3 others taking up the rest, perks vary from level to level and even playthrough to playthrough. Some are very good and some are not too bad, an excellent perk, for example, is the Black Flag which has a small chance to instantly kill any non-boss enemy in the game after executing a move which has a knockback property dealing an appropriate 666 points of damage.

Streets of Red has 3 difficulties, the hardest option stands out as it has an extra layer of challenge by adding bets. You bet high to allow more bonus money for each fatality kill against an elite enemy/boss but losing a life means having to pay a lot more money to revive. Elite variant from enemies/sub-bosses have a small chance of happening but when it does happen, they appear much bigger and have more HP than their regular counterparts. Elite variant from bosses is 100% after selecting the max bet. The easiest option (casual) does not allow the player to playthrough the good ending stages because they were Casual gamers and should try harder next time.

One possible gripe I can say about this is that you are dealing roughly 3-4 enemies at once with a rare 6 in some cases. Some say it makes it too easy but if one player had to deal with 10 enemies at once, special attack spamming would be a valid strategy as extra soul point drops (they fill up special bar) from weakened enemies will allow the player to perform even more special moves and can take out the rest without any problem.  The player's attack collision is too forgiving that it can hit enemies from behind the player, this does, however, lead to easy setups for multi-fatality kills.



After clearing a stage, you get a option to select 1 out of the 4 random upgrades.

 
Value:

Now this is where it gets interesting, the structure encourages multiple playthroughs to experience every single area as early stages can only access 1 area whilst later stages can access all 4 areas. This requires at least 4 nearly completed playthroughs to discover all 16 areas. No 2 playthroughs are the same thanks to the random upgrades the player can get at the end of each level.


In 2018 standards, beat em ups are usually very short in length compared to big mainstream games but this interesting stage select structure does encourage multiple playthroughs.


Aside from Arcade mode, there is an endless survival mode which consists of killing enemies with a certain perk enabled such as more HP, damage or faster speed. There are 9 different set of enemy waves and it resets after every 9 waves with better average stats. I got up to wave 20 where the short enemies with blades had very powerful stabs dealing 21 damage which was fatal against the agile Jackson who has 55 HP max. I was disappointed that for the Switch version at least didn't have its own leaderboards, heck even an offline leaderboard for that mode would be a neat addition to track best scores from long survival attempts.

Multiplayer notes:

Secret Base said that more players = more enemies to kill. I think there weren't as many enemies to fight against in a 2 player playthrough when compared to a 1 player playthrough. Money is shared between both players meaning that we couldn't always pick the most expensive upgrade because we had to save some cash for the good ending chapters. One solution is to cross your fingers and get the pirate upgrade but play well at the same time afterwards due to 50% less HP penalty. Another solution is to add a small multiplier when having more players. Something like x2 cash for 2 players to x4 cash for 4 players. This should fix the money issue when it comes to buying upgrades. 

Playing the game solo does give me good opportunities to use a continue which costs money and the price rises after using a continue. This becomes risky in multiplayer because money is shared between 2 to 4 players, the only way for the lesser skilled player to not spend a dime on using a continue and carry on playing is to let the better player complete the stage.


Overall:

Streets of Red is one of the more accessible and better beat em ups for the Switch so this year, it might be a bit easy for veterans of the genre even when playing the highest difficulty but multiple characters and the stage progression structure increases replay value over many games from the 90s. Just like many other games of the genre, this one is best played in multiplayer where good teamwork requires creative special move combo setups and discussing what upgrades to purchase at the end of each level. For the Switch version, the lack of leaderboards for survival mode makes it hard to track records without pressing the screenshot button.



Grand Uppers:

+ Tutorial stage showing how to execute specials.
+ Simple but surprising combo depth.
+ References
+ Semi-linear level structure

Grand Downers

- References
- A bit on the easy side for veterans.
- No online 


Decent: B+

A review code was provided by Secret Base.


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Understanding the cycle of Core Pokémon Games.

The Pokémon cycle and how to predict new releases accurately.

The 1990s Pokémon cycle.


Generation 1: Red, Green, Blue and Yellow
Generation 2: Gold, Silver and Crystal

Generation 1 



Started in February 1996 and ended November 1999, that is around 45 months.
The Pokémon Anime made its broadcast debut on April 1st 1997 and is still airing new episodes today, even reaching its official 1000th episode milestone in late 2017.

The core game releases is an oddball depending on the region. In fact, Generation 1 had 3 set of sprites overall.
JP Red/Green used the first set of sprites,
JP Blue aka International Red/Blue used the second set
Yellow used the third set.
The most notable change in Pokémon Yellow was allowing Charizard to learn Fly.
Move tutors did not exist at all.


Generation 2



Started in November 1999 but the anime focusing on said generation started in October 1999. The special edition (Crystal) was out a year later in November 2000 and introduced Move tutors (NPCs teaching moves) which expanded Generation 2 Pokémon's movepool very slightly. This game was the first to introduce a Battle Tower and the ability to play as a female trainer.

This generation lasted for just over 3 years as it ended in November 2002


The 2000s Pokémon cycle.

Generation 3: Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Fire Red & Leaf Green
Generation 4: Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold & SoulSilver

Generation 3



Started in November 2002 and was the first to have 3 major releases and 2 semi-major releases. Due to connectivity problems linking up Game Boy games to Game Boy Advance games, this became a fresh start for building a (competitive) team. It ended up being a much longer generation than usual as it ended 2 months short of 4 years (September 2006)

5 games in order:
Ruby & Sapphire 
200 obtainable Pokémon (+2 Mythical Pokémon)

Colosseum
The first game in the fresh start era to get
*Early access to certain Generation 2 including:
* Starters, just get a female one so that it is breedable to a newborn.
* Legendary Beasts without the fixed IVs bug and
* Ho-oh without special events.
* US version can get a Jirachi by using a bonus disk
* Japanese version can get a Celebi by using a bonus disk
* PAL owners were lucked out and had to play a really crappy Pokémon Channel game to obtain Jirachi.

Fire Red & Leaf Green

The first game in the fresh start era to get:
* Kanto Starters, Kanto bird trio, Mewtwo, the breeding machine: Ditto
* Move tutors focusing on moves that were TMs in Generation 1 including Softboiled, Mega Punch, Mega Kick and Seismic Toss.
* First games to introduce the elemental Hyper Beam attacks which can only be taught by fully evolved Kanto starters, this got expanded to other fully evolved regional starters in Generation 4, onwards.

Emerald

The game's special edition.
Main selling points:
* Completing the Hoenn dex allowed players to get a Johto starter,
* A non-special event Latias or Latios can be obtained without bugged IVs.
* New move tutors, mainly focusing on moves that were TMs in Generation 2 including Rollout, Elemental Punches and Dynamic Punch.
* Expanded Battle Frontier
* Teaching Pichu family Volt Tackle

XD Gale of Darkness 

The last Generation 3 game to have new movepool updates, it's notable to feature Pokémon learning moves in a special way not normally possible including a Dragonite knowing Heal Bell and Pidgeotto knowing Refresh. There's also a special move tutor NPC who will teach Mew some extra moves including Hypnosis, Trick and Fake Out. Lastly, this is the only way to get a Lugia in Generation 3 without special events.


Generation 4



This was the first generation to support online play and also the last to release 3 different set of games. Started in late September 2006 and ended in September 2010 it was actually a few weeks short of hitting 4 years and is by far the longest generation ever, even the Pokémon anime setting which took place in Sinnoh lasted nearly 190 episodes.

Pokémon Diamond and Pearl 

The first set of games which introduced just 107 new Pokémon, and 29 of them are cross generation related which means they evolve to or from older Pokémon such as a Magneton evolving to Magnezone and a Happini evolving to Chansey.  The game was infamous for only featuring 5 obtainable Fire Type Pokémon before completing the game and obtaining the National Dex, 3 of them are related to a Fire Type regional starter and the other 2 are Ponyta and Rapidash.

Pokémon Platinum

The second entry of Generation 4, released in September 2008, this version introduced brand new formes for Rotom, Giratina and Shaymin. It also introduced the expanded Battle Frontier, early access to obtaining legendary Kanto birds and new move tutor attacks. The native Sinnoh Pokédex got expanded and featured even more Fire Type Pokémon.

Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver 

The third and final entry of Generation 4, released in September 2009, these versions were the first for many players to get a proper Johto experience in the post fresh start era. A new move through breeding was given to almost every breedable non-legendary Pokémon, most notably Feraligatr knowing Aqua Jet and Aggron knowing Head Smash.

This game introduced Flat battle where, all Pokémon that are above level 50 temporarily become level 50, regardless of their current level; however, Pokémon below level 50 will remain at their current level. 
This was the only way in a Generation 4 game to obtain
Kanto Starters, 
Mewtwo, 
Johto Starters, 
Johto Legendaries, 
Hoenn Starters and Hoenn Legendaries including Groudon and Kyogre.
More move tutors were introduced most notably Sucker Punch. These 2 games are the only versions where it's possible to transfer Pokémon with the move Defog to a Generation 5 game. This became a big deal when X & Y were released in 2013 as it provided a very useful improvement to the move.



The 2010s Pokémon cycle.


Generation 5: Black 1, White 1, Black 2 & White 2
Generation 6: X, Y, Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire
Generation 7: Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon

Generation 5



The first new Pokémon games released in the 2010s and also the first time since generation 2 to release 2 generations on the same platform. That's how strong the DS was. This generation was the first to have fully animated sprites during the entire battle. The loops are always the same and their eyes even close when falling asleep. 

Black and White

Released in September 2010.
The first entry of Generation 5 had a story mode that was pretty unique as it only featured nothing but brand new Pokémon at the time making it a pseudo-Generation 1 experience where you can't capture a classic Pokémon like Gyarados or Gengar due to good stats, typing, moves, etc to help you out.

It introduced the most new species out of any generation with a decent 156, this is more than new Pokémon species introduced in generations 6 and 7 combined when you exclude both Mega Evolutions and Regional Variants.

Rotom's Appliance formes lost their Ghost typing and got replaced with a different type depending on the extra move learnt from the appliance.

The Pokémon Video Game Championships was getting bigger and bigger.
The first year (2011 Metagame) only allowed 149 Pokémon as it did not allow Mascot Legendaries, 3rd counterpart legendary and Mythical Pokémon.

The second year (2012 Metagame) allowed any Pokémon in the National Pokédex excluding Mewtwo, Mascot Legendaries and Mythical Pokémon.

Black 2 and White 2

The second and final entry of Generation 5.
The first ever direct sequel to a core Pokémon game, new animation sprite loops were given to the starter Pokémon of Generation 5. Move tutors made a comeback but some from the previous generation were missing including Sucker Punch, they were mainly used to give Generation 5 Pokémon more moves to learn. The place called Hidden Grottoes allowed players to get Pokémon to get a useful hidden ability including an Amoonguss with Regenerator and Dragonite with Multiscale.

The third VGC year (2013 Metagame) had the same rules as 2012 but the main difference is that it was played on Black 2 & White 2 which allowed Therian Formes of Tornadus, Thundurus and Landorus and extra attacks/abilities from Move Tutors/Hidden Grottoes.


Generation 6



This Generation had a really big impact throughout 2013.
* The announcement showed full 3D graphics, a first for a core game series.
* The E3 trailer revealed a brand new type: Fairy which was introduced as a response to Dragon Type which was a great offensive type in past generations
* 2 Months before release introduced Mega Evolutions which changed how we know Pokémon forever!
This generation started in October 2013 and ended in November 2016

X & Y

Released in 2013, nearly all of the obtainable Kalos Pokémon had a hidden ability which was done by going through a friend safari. Breeding mechanics had an overhaul which allowed Male Pokémon to pass forward (hidden) abilities and female Pokémon to pass forward breeding moves. This gave Azumarill a huge buff as it was finally possible to learn both Belly Drum and Aqua Jet at the same time. The move Defog had a huge buff as it allowed the user to remove entry hazards from the player side.

A new mechanic was added to the Pokémon's stat page, an origin marking. This is a visual proof that the Pokémon was captured in a certain generation, a blue pentagon, in this case, meant that it was captured in X & Y and the later released Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire.

The first VGC year (2014 Metagame) only allowed Pokémon both old and new from the Kalos Pokédex which is roughly 453.

It's also the most famous year as a Korean player from the Masters division used a Pachirisu, an extremely non-viable Pokémon in theory yet managed to use its selling points to the fullest by paralysing his opponents with Nuzzle and using Super Fang to damage bulky Pokémon. It is part of a winning team to have the lowest base stat total. You can Youtube search "Pachirisu 2014" easily, there was a planned parade in Korea that got cancelled because it was that big of a deal.

Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire

The second and last entries of Generation 6, released in November 2014

Unlike the previous remakes, this one broke the mould by giving the cover legendaries (Kyogre and Groudon) brand new super forms. It was also the first time ever that new attacks and abilities were introduced that they were not programmed in X&Y. These moves were Origin Pulse, Dragon Ascent,  Precipice Blades and Hyperspace Fury. Another big selling point at the time was more Mega Evolutions, mainly focusing on Generation 3 Pokémon and Move Tutors for Generation 6 Pokémon to learn new moves. 

Lastly, it was possible to capture all Legendary Pokémon from Generation 1 to Generation 5 by using Mirage Spots, the main selling point of this feature was to use these Pokémon for both Online Battle Spot and Video Game Championships as they would have the blue pentagon. Strangely, Deoxys usually a Mythical Pokémon can be caught in-game right after Rayquaza without special events!

The second VGC year (2015 Metagame) allowed the national dex with exceptions to both Mascot Legendaries and Mythical Pokémon. Nearly every top player in each division had either a Landorus-T and/or a Mega Kangaskhan.

The third VGC year (2016 Metagame) allowed both the national dex and Mascot Legendaries (restricted), this caused many controversies as it puts a heavy limit on Team Building. To "balance" things out, players can only pick 2 from the Mascot Legendaries selection and the other 4 being pretty much legal in VGC 2015.

The most common combos were
Primal Groudon + Xerneas,
Primal Groudon + Primal Kyogre
Primal Kyogre + Mega Rayquaza

The other 4 were usually:
Smeargle - A speedy Smeargle can outrun most bulky mascot legendaries and shut them down with a Dark Void. This is huge against the best legendaries because their held item for 99% of the time isn't a berry which cures sleep status.

Talonflame - Gale Wings is a very good ability and combine that with base 120 Brave Bird, it has a very strong priority move. It can also use priority Tailwind to let its bulky invested teammates to outspeed offensive opponents.

Kangaskhan - One of the best Mega Pokémon from X & Y, a scary ability which has fantastic utility with the ability to hit twice. This can lead to +2 Attack boosts from Power-up Punch and can even deal damage against Substitute users.

Salamence - One of the best Mega Pokémon from Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, the stat distribution is simply incredible with special defence being average at best. A good offensive speed tier along with a good offensive ability to convert Normal Type moves (Return, Double-Edge or Hyper Voice) into Flying Type moves and get a x1.3 boost from it and that's not factoring Same Type Attack Bonus.



Generation 7



Released in the year the franchise turned 20 and a few months after the unexpected phenomenon that is Pokémon GO. This generation started in November 2016 and is still currently going as of February 2018.

Sun & Moon

The first game to introduce Regional Variants, this focused on classic Pokémon getting new formes due to the environment of the Alola region. Only 81 Generation 7 Pokémon were introduced in the game. This entry was notable for downgrading certain mechanics in the game from abilities to status conditions.

It was also the second time ever since Pokémon Yellow that elements from the X&Y anime mainly Ash-Greninja and Zygarde's 10% & Complete formes were playable.

A new mechanic called Z-moves are one time super moves which can change the momentum of a battle, it used up a Pokémon's item slot and certain Pokémon can learn signature Z-moves.  

Pokémon obtained natively from a Generation 7 game would have a black cross aka the Alola symbol.

The first VGC year only allowed 295 out of 302 from the Alola Pokédex, the extra Pokémon found by using Island Scan and Mega Stones are not legal. The pacing ended up being surprisingly slower as moves including Toxic and Recover were actually ok to use. The most used Pokémon were Arcanine and a Tapu. Arcanine being one of the few bulky Fire Type Pokémon with Intimidate to lower the opponents' attack stat and a diverse movepool made it an unpredictable threat.

Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon

The second and last entry of Generation 7 and the final core Pokémon games for the 3DS. Everyone was surprised to get a special edition nearly 1 year after the original Sun and Moon duo but things got more surprising as a few weeks before launch, a new trailer from a Nintendo Direct revealed brand new species of Pokémon.

The main difference is that past games revealed new formes of already existing Pokémon, this one was not the case as they cannot be traded to the original Sun & Moon games at all. More formes for Necrozma were added to the game, more breeding moves were added to the game.

Move Tutors had a big impact this time as a move called Defog finally made a return after a long absence from Pokémon Platinum and it allowed monsters from Generation 5 to 7 to learn this vital move for competitive single battles.

Similar to Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, Ultra Wormholes can be used to access different dimensions and capture Legendary Pokémon from Generation 1 to 6. These obtainable Pokémon would have a black cross that makes them legal for Online Battle Spot and upcoming Video Game Championships.

As of 2018, Pokémon is starting their second VGC tournament and it allows the entire national dex with exceptions to both Mascot Legendaries and Mythical Pokémon. Mega Stones are no longer banned making it a completely different environment than 2017.


Generation 8 in 2018?

So everyone is talking about Pokémon Switch, I for one would doubt that it will hit late 2018 for a few good reasons.

1) Core Pokémon games tend to come out for the latest handheld system nearly 2 years+ after launch.

2) The upcoming movie has a high chance of focusing on Zenora as a downloadable Mythical Pokémon and I'm hoping that the Pokémon Movie 2019 project will focus on Floette-Eternal flower forme.


3) Video Game Championships has not done the 3rd year and there's a good chance that it would reintroduce restricted legendaries otherwise Alola Symbol marked Pokémon from Generations 1 to 6 are wasted.

4) The anime tends to start around the same time as the games. Ash has taken out 2 out of the 4 Island Kahunas (pretty much Gym Leaders in Alola for the anime) and a third one will eventually happen according to the upcoming Ultra Guardians arc poster. Ash rarely enters the Pokémon League until after at least 100 episodes into the series and it is currently on episode 60.

5) The big important one, after releasing the original pair of Generation 8 games, Game Freak could release remakes of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl 14 years after the original DS release and add the ability to travel through  time and space to encounter and capture legendary Pokémon from Generations 1 to 7 and make them legal for upcoming Online Battle Spot matches and Video Game Championships in 2020, can you get the hint?

Monday, 1 January 2018

6 Things Inti Creates can do to improve the Switch version of Azure Striker Gunvolt



It has been over 4 months since the release of the Switch version of Gunvolt. A lot of users are saying for the first game it was the definitive version. I only half agree as I have played this game on 3DS, PC Steam and Switch. This is not a traditional review post, I wanted to share my opinions on how to make this release even better.


1) GV1 Bring back content from the PC version.

One of my main criticisms about the Switch version is the near lack of extra content. The only content that is new from a pure Nintendo player perspective are the 2 extra difficulty modes, Easy and Hard. Gone are the full game speedrun modes and survival modes. Is it possible to use Gunvolt 2's speedrun mode as a baseline for this game, having an in-game timer that only runs during actual gameplay?  In other words, there is significantly less replay value for this game over GV2.


2) GV1 Add the classic right stick flick command for skills.

In the PC release of GV1, the skills were only set on a Keyboard from F1 to F4, a few quick updates later and it was implemented to the right stick. The execution was simple, hit Up for skill 1, Right for skill 2, Down for skill 3 and Left for skill 4. When playing the Switch version, you select a skill with the right stick and then PUSH the stick 'RS' to activate the skill. This feels very awkward to execute in tight situations and pushing the stick may sometimes hit one of the four directions leading to a chance that you can activate the wrong skill by accident.




3) GV1 Add the quick skill shortcut button (X)

The Switch version of Gunvolt 1 added Dash Speed Wall jumps, a mechanic that was first introduced in the sequel. I was surprised that this little neat feature wasn't added to the game. The X button in GV1 is used to disable real-time text. I would have preferred if that button was set to Minus like in GV2.


4) GV1 Add other translations to the Japanese dialogue text.

This one doesn't bother me personally because I'm English and so I get to understand the lore of Gunvolt 1. But as of the Switch release, the Japanese dialogue text has only been translated into English and nothing else, unlike its sequel where even the 3DS release had translations from Japanese dialogue text into other languages.




5) GV1 Make Copen playable. (Azure Striker Gunvolt & Copen)

Ok, this one is a bit far-fetched and nearly impossible when you got to factor material, upgrades, memory expansions and EX weapons but you only need to amend Nova 2 by removing its barrier and use Shred Storm/Strike Saw to remove _FINALBOSS_ Voltaic Chain. 


Lower half of the screen is the EXP bar.

6) GV1 & 2 Show experience point bar without having to pause the game.

Usually, the exp bar gets shown in dual screen gameplay (3DS and PC when using certain layouts) but the Switch version is a pure single screen experience and the exp bar can only be seen when pausing the game. I wouldn't mind having it nearby the top left part where the HP bar is.


Bonus) GV2 Remove the kudos keeper style mechanic in GV2's speedrun mode.

The 2nd game's speedrun mode did get the in-game timer spot-on but what puts me off from running this game a lot is that it has Kudos Keeper on by default, this forces a more cautious play as it essentially becomes a no damage speedrun when done right. The extra high kudos does kill the difficulty when fighting against Zonda copy and true Zonda as they can be defeated in roughly under 10 seconds thanks to the 1000 Kudos bonus(es) from the previous bosses.  Some of the best speedruns tend to take damage on purpose to abuse damage invincibility and it leads to some creative route planning. That little mechanic should have been a separate speedrun mode similar to how it was treated in GV1's PC speedrun mode.


In conclusion, despite my 7 points on how to improve the game, they are the best version when it comes to performance thanks to the silky smooth 60fps and compared to the PC release, way less crashes.



Saturday, 30 September 2017

Greenalink reviews Steamworld Dig 2




Developer and Publisher: Image & Form
Release Date: 
Switch: 21/09/2017
PC Steam: 22/09/2017
PS4/PS Vita US: 26/09/2017
PS4/PS Vita EUR: 27/09/2017
 Price: $20/ Euros 19.99/£14.99
Filesize: under 300mb


Steamworld Dig 2 is Image and Form's first ever attempt at making a sequel as previous projects had different gameplay despite being set in the same universe including Steamworld Tower Defence (obviously a tower defence game) for DSiware and Steamworld Heist (a 2D strategy game) for many modern platforms. This is also the first Steamworld entry where the Nintendo release was made with only one screen in mind because for Nintendo gamers, it's only available for Switch, not the Wii U and 3DS.


Features:
4 Underground sections to dig,
43 Hidden collectables,
1 Robotic crab,
A lot of ore to collect and sell for money


Graphics:

There's a bit of Steamworld vibe when it comes to the motion but it has a notable change in art style, everything looks a lot more detailed than previous entries with extra shades, it is best compared to art style transition from Rayman Origins to Rayman Legends


Sound:

If you're familiar with the first game, most of the sounds are there in the second entry with a few new sound effects used for new tools. The music is a step-up to the original by focusing on a different style many thanks to El Huervo, a talented musician who is notable for creating tracks for Hotline Miami 1 & 2,   The background music New Heights in El Machino played when exploring El Machino is one of the many gems this soundtrack has to offer.  Yarrow starts off ambient and builds up partway through the track.

Trivia: Penny Kettlebottom was named by Andy K250 as part of the Name that Robot contest back in April 2017


Like the first game, each underground will have a certain theme.  Yarrow will have poison-related traps.

Gameplay:

The aim of the game is to find her friend, Rusty. Along the way, she will meet a new companion and some gear to start her digging adventure. You collect ore to sell for cash which can be used to buy upgrades including stronger pickaxes to breakthrough tiles faster, bag upgrades to have more ore to collect per journey, armour upgrades to increase hit points and much more. There's a variety of enemies to encounter and challenge caves to explore for bonus goodies.

Although the structure is a bit identical to its prequel, the progression system has been revamped. You can only earn experience points by defeating enemies and completing main story objectives, gone are the blue orbs which were used as an alternative currency and any consumable tools such as TNT and Teleporters have been removed too,

One of the biggest additions to the game is the upgrade cog system which enables modifications to Dorothy's current gear
Want to increase the light radius of your lamp? Yes.
Want to fill up your water meter faster? Sure

There are some special mods which will make the game harder and rewarding at the same time but it requires finding hidden blueprints which are not always easy to find. One mod enables enemies to explode after dying, another allows the drop rate of bloodstones to increase but in return, Dorothy's will take an extra 50% damage. You can turn these mods off which is great as some of them will become useless later on in the game and should be used for more expensive/higher level mods.

Not paid mods, just find some spinning upgrade cogs and use those instead to enhance Dorothy's tools. 


The level design has a lot more freedom thanks to better gear abilities including the hookshot and the jetpack. The hookshot is one of the more fun items to use in the game because it has a lot of uses to navigate through small sections quickly and can take out flying bugs, while the jetpack does reduce the difficulty in various ways it enables more freedom with the level design as there is a bigger emphasis on platforming outside of challenge caves.

The Jackhammer is like a Drill in the first game but it can no longer be used as a weapon to damage enemies other than pushing them. One thing to point out is that the ore tiles are randomised just like the previous game but the overall map layout is always the same.

There is that feeling that you want to play a few more minutes just in case there is a transport tube nearby. The warp system has been tweaked for the better as it can be used to fast travel to any unlocked tube in the game.

Dying as a punishment varies depending on the amount of collected ore that wasn't sold to Barnacle Jones at El Machino. If you had a lot of pricey gems, then it is very punishing if you lose them all thanks to an unintentional death.

There are a few more boss fights to deal with this time around and only the final boss is challenging if you are aiming for a low upgrade% playthrough with only a few hearts and weak digging tools that are slow to dig through.

Controls on the Switch are decent and responsive, ZL/ZR functions exactly the same as L/R so you can playthrough the game with a Pokken USB controller if you want to. The controls can be mapped to any button such as shooting a Pressure Bomb by pressing ZL or ZR which is a win for everyone.

Version 1.0 only had Normal difficulty which drops a Health, Water or Light orb after killing an enemy, Version 1.1 added multi-language support via options and Easy difficulty, the main difference is that killing an enemy now will drop 2 orbs of either Health, Water or Light, sometimes it is a rainbow orb which will recover all 3 elements and that is done by using the environment (water/falling rocks) or friendly fire from the enemies.

Along the way, you will discover new tools to mess around with.

Value:

The game is notably longer than the first as it took me over 8 hours to complete the game, and a few more hours to achieve both 100% on secrets and completing the ultimate trial.
The incentive to get all 4 gold stars in a single playthrough will encourage diehard players to master the game even more, increasing replay value.

The post-game dungeon is tough and the only real criticism is that a 100% completed file hasn't got much to do afterwards due to every ore being discovered, fewer enemies to deal with, it's better to start a new game instead. A New Game+ that has max upgrades from the start and/or some way to enable challenge mods at the very start of the game would have been great additions.



The game itself had the best opening week for the Steamworld franchise so far!

Is the Switch version hampered at all?:

The Switch version of Steamworld Dig 2 only lacks achievements due to Nintendo logic, that's how good the Switch release of the game is.


Overall:

Steamworld Dig 2 is a digging decent game and a worthy sequel to the series.
It is a very polished game with fun gameplay mechanics, a must have for your 2D platformer collection.

+ Revamped gameplay
+ No two playthroughs are the same
+ Hookshot
+ Mods to buff gear and/or increase difficulty
+ 4 gold star playthrough attempts will increase replay value.
+ Steam related puns
+ El Huervo, Shelby Cinca, Dennis Wedin, Pelle Cahndlerby, DDWIP and Cordayne (additional sounds) did a great job with the soundtrack.

- Post-game content after the ultimate trial is lacking.
- A small HUD alteration which removed the current total value of collected ore. Can only be viewed by pausing the game


Recommended: A


Version played: Nintendo Switch

Review copy was provided by Image and Form

Interesting links to look at:
The timeline of the Steamworld series

Monday, 21 August 2017

Greenalink reviews Sonic Mania




Developers: Christian Whitehead, Headcannon and PagodaWest Games
Switch port team: Tantalus Media
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 15/08/2017 Consoles,  29/08/2017 PC Steam
Average Price: $20 or roughly £14.99
Filesize: under 300mb for Xbox One and under 200mb for PS4 and Switch



After playing this game, all I can say is this, dreams do eventually come true, even after over 20 years!
Considered to be a love letter to many fans and one of the three games released to celebrate 25 years of Sonic (other two being Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice from last year and the upcoming Sonic Forces later this year), Sonic Mania goes back to its roots from its golden days literally and it turns out to be one of the best 2D revivals in recent years!


Features:
26 Stages,
3 Playable Characters,
7 Special Chao Emerald Stages,
Time Trial mode,
Classic competitive mode,
Lots of boss fights


It looks and plays like the classic games, so why was this game not called Sonic 4?

Well Sonic 4 was released back in 2010 as Episode 1 and 2012 as Episode 2, these 2 games were done by Dimps who did produce very good Sonic games in the early 2000s including Sonic Advance trilogy (next best set of games since golden era) and introduced Boost button Sonic gameplay with Sonic Rush, Sonic Rush Adventure and Sonic Colours for Nintendo DS. Sonic 4 was very different from the original trilogy as it ditched the classic 16-bit sprite design, used Modern Sonic- who can perform a homing attack and used a different physics engine that wasn't anywhere near as close to 16-bit games, as it used Sonic Rush engine which caused floatiness and severe oddities.

After the release of Sonic 4 Episode 1 and Episode 2, chances of a *new* great traditional 2D sprite-based platformer slowly faded after 2011 as the upcoming Sonic games were 3D based (Generations, Lost World, Boom) and all of them were released to consoles and/or PC along with handheld ports to the 3DS.



Hidden heroes rise.

During those years, the Taxman was getting some recognition after creating a fan game: "Retro Sonic" which was made by using his own game engine with the same capabilities as the engine built into Sonic 3 & Knuckles. A year after that fan game, he asked Stealth to aid in creating a pitch demo of Sonic CD running on an iPod Touch powered by Taxman's own engine known as the Retro Engine.

The Retro Engine aims to be very faithful to the 16-bit trilogy in terms of physics but with a lot of visual enhancements such as Mode 7 (smoother rotation effect), sprite scaling (changing the size of sprites easily) and Widescreen support.

He contacted Sega about his release plans and it eventually became a reality in late 2011, not only that release was to celebrate the franchise's 20th anniversary but was also billed it as a 'prequel' to Sonic 4 as the events of Episode 2 would rely heavily on what occurred in CD.

This enhanced 2011 release of Sonic CD is notable for supporting both US and Japanese soundtracks along with Tails being a playable character for the first time

After that release, both Taxman and Stealth (now registered to Headcannon) would eventually release enhanced versions of Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 with similar treatment, both of those games were released in 2013 but this time only on iOS/Android devices. 
Then the duo teamed up with PagodaWest Games (responsible for the unofficial HD Fan game of Sonic 2 in ~2010) to create Sonic Mania.

Praise helix lifts

Graphics:

Sonic's iconic art style has aged very well and the Retro Engine enhances it even further with smoother rotation effects when running through a loop-de-loop, more variety of colour tones thanks to a bigger RGB palette, more animated frames for smoother animation and new visual effects including simple 3D polygons for backgrounds used in certain stages with the quality of a Sega CD game and transparency effects.

Performance for 2D segments runs at a rock-solid 60fps throughout without any hint of lag.
Blue sphere runs at a higher framerate and runs more smoothly than its original incarnation from Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
Special Stages used simple 3D polygons in a style similar to Model 1 arcade games, it captures the 90s feel very well.

The most interesting part for Sonic and Tails is that they used Sonic 1/2/CD sprite set as a template instead of 3, probably because Sonic's attire from Sonic 3 & Knuckles never had a Strike Dash pose and his design was only used in that game. They did a good job creating new sprites that fit the same attire used in the earlier games.


Knock, knock. It's Knuckles

Sound:

The Sonic franchise has a very good track record when it comes to background music.
Tee Lopes: arranger and composer for the entire game could have done this through 2 different ways, the 16-bit Yamaha YM2612 style used for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive or Redbook audio used for Sonic CD. He went for the latter option and nailed the execution extremely well, The classic stages from Sonic 1 and 2 are notable for having Act 2 remixes that sounds very different to their Act 1 counterparts, the new stage Studiopolis is one of the new zones that stands out to be one of the very best of Sonic video game music.
The quality of the tracks is a huge step up to other 2D revivals including New Super Mario Bros series & Yoshi's New Island plus it's almost impossible to feel negative during the first few hours of playing the game, it's that good.

Sound effects are mostly the same with a few new ones added into the mix such as the phantom ruby space-time warp sound, windows/ice blocks getting smashed and a few directly taken from other games including Revenge of Shinobi and 8-Bit Sonic.

One unexpected addition is voice samples from Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, best known for writing the music and singing all vocals in Daytona USA. He gets to shouts out various words in both Time Trial and Competition modes (none in the main game mode: Mania), admittedly this does seem out of place at first but it fits in with the Sega 90s theme very well, if it was someone else then it wouldn't work as well.

 Hard Boiled Heavies are very memorable villains and feel like Sega's answer to Mario's Koopalings


Gameplay:

Now, this is a Sonic game done right, the controls are simple to play and execution is spot-on.
The new engine has added a few new mechanics to the game, including the ability to perform Co-op flying on a single controller by holding Up and then pressing a spin jump button to command Tails to use his flying technique. Sonic's technique is now a drop dash which is simply an air spin dash, it allows Sonic to get a boost as soon as he lands on the ground by pressing and holding the jump button whilst in mid-air, it fits Sonic style pretty well and finally has a movement based advantage over his 2 friends.

Knuckles does have a few alternative routes but isn't as significant as his previous adventure in Sonic 3, as there isn't an increase in difficulty when it comes to boss fights and only has 1 stage & 2 boss fights that are exclusive to him due to plot reasons.

Stage structure mimics the Sonic 3 & Knuckles approach by having a boss at the end of each act and all the zones have two acts.
Classic stages use two different formulas. One act mainly highlights memorable moments from the original games and the other act is essentially a brand new stage, using assets that did not exist in the original game. Some are classics such as platform-raising wheels from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, others are brand new such as bouncy gel pools and helix lifts.

Not everything is perfect but it does not mean it was terrible, just, it hasn't aged as well as the rest of the game including an auto-scrolling segment partway through the playthrough which only lasts for 90 seconds. The difficulty for the special stages isn't balanced as I had a hard time completing Stage 5 but had a much easier time completing Stage 7.

I also find it weird that bonus stages from the signpost only affect unlockable content from the main menu and not the main gameplay as it has zero use after obtaining all 32 gold medals. All it does is select a random course from the completed 32 to get the same medal again, no bonus points that can be counted towards an extra one up, it's that pointless.

Boss fights have a lot more variety, not as extreme as gimmick heavy Earthworm Jim 2 but some are fan service nods to the previous games with a little twist part-way through. Others are completely unexpected and original to a Sonic game, Chemical Plant Act 2 boss steals the show as the biggest surprise.

One of the more original elements in Mania, it has a small nod to Sonic CD's bonus game.


Value:

For a 2D Sonic game, it has nearly the same number of stages as Sonic 3 & Knuckles meaning it already has a lot more content than recent games without a doubt and has a competitive time trial mode that will get players replaying a lot to get good times. There are some unlockable options including the ability to add Knuckles as your NPC/2P partner or changing Sonic's move to enable Strike Dash (CD) or Insta-shield (3 & Knuckles) by obtaining a certain number of medals from the blue sphere mini-game, a hidden mini-game that can be played with 2 players max and sound test are unlockable too.

Classic stages will highlight memorable moments from the original games.

Versions:

Nintendo Switch:
Supports 1080p docked and 720p in portable/tabletop mode. Special Stage 1 does drop a few frames at a certain point but it is a very good version to play through otherwise. You do have to go to the Switch Home Menu and manually set the Joy-con to sideways mode to enable 2 player games with just a single Joy-con each.

PS4 regular/slim and Xbox One:
The other consoles are more powerful machines than the Switch as there are no frame drops in Special Stage 1 and the pixels are a tad sharper, it's an extremely small difference (like 1%) that it's only noticeable when you zoom in the image and compare it to the Switch.

PS4 Pro and probably Xbox One X:
PS4 Pro supports Native 2160p/4K making it the best console version to play on 4K TVs, Xbox One X should support this easily but it depends on whether the developer will add a 4K patch after release.

Currently, as of August 21st, the PC version has not been tested yet as it will be released later on August 29th.



 Another new stage, another decent track to listen to.

Overall:

So the message here is that unlike Nintendo's approach to DoctorM64's famous Metroid 2 fan game: AM2R from last year by sending a DMCA message, Sega hired these talented developers and the gamble has paid off big-time. If there is one Sonic game you have to play from this decade, this is the one to pick without hesitation.

Now Sega, go and send Bomberlink an apology for taking down Streets of Rage Remake 6 years ago and hire him for a potential new Streets of Rage project. 

+ Highest number of stages since Sonic 3 & Knuckles.      
+ No handicap options to help newer gamers, this is a very 90s game.
+ Top notch soundtrack.
+ Sega does what Nintendon't by hiring talented fans from the Sonic community.
+ Very cool new zones, most of them have a unique theme.
+ Classic stages are awesome too.

-  The classic stages do however take up 2/3rds of the entire game. I was hoping an even 50/50
-  Some special stages/blue sphere stages can be very hard to beat.
-  Online leaderboards do not always work according to some users.
-  Sometimes a bit too nostalgic by including the Tornado auto-scroller segment, a few deja vu bosses and an awkward screen ratio for competitive VS mode.

Recommended: A


Version played: Nintendo Switch

Review copy was provided by Sega