Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Comedy Anime Television Episode Review: Dropkick on My Devil!! - Season 1, Episode 1

I first found out about Dropkick on My Devil!!, also known as Jashin-chan Dropkick, while I was idly watching Hatsune Miku videos on YouTube. I watched all of Dropkick on my Devil!! X, or season three, as Miku appeared in each episode. I didn't like it at first, as the combination of comic gore and cute aesthetics is a bit off-putting. About three episodes into season three, I really started liking the show. Once I reached the end, I went back to season one and watched it from the beginning. Episode one takes place on Halloween, so it's the perfect time to review it. 

The episode opens with an exposition about the main premise of the show, in a similar fashion to the first page of the manga. If a human casts a spell to bring a demon to the human realm, the demon can not return to hell until the human casts the return spell or dies. A human witch named Yurine summoned a lamia, or a demon with the top half of a woman and the bottom half of a serpent, named Jashin-chan. The latter wants to return to hell, so she spends her time in the human realm trying to kill the former.

Yurine is extremely quick and strong for a human, so Jashin-chan never succeeds in killing her. Unfortunately for Jashin-chan, Yurine is also a sadist and takes pleasure in enacting brutal punishments with deadly weapons. Jashin-chan has a healing ability that restores her no matter if she is sliced, stabbed, or squished. Jashin-chan also isn't very intelligent, so she never learns her lesson.

After the opening with music alternating between sweet J-pop and heavy metal, which perfectly reflects its contrasting nature of the comic gore and cuteness, the episode throws the viewer right into an adaptation of chapter fifty-nine of the manga. It's weird that the first episode adapts a chapter from the fifth volume of the manga, but it is a scene that has all the main characters. All in all, it's a good introduction to everyone, as, by the end of the opening scene all of the characters are given their characterizations and main motivations.

Yurine has relatives who send her prime cuts of wagyu beef on rare occasions, and Jashin-chan has a real skill at cooking. Other devils join them in eating the meal Jashin-chan prepared. Medusa, a kind ancient Greek gorgon woman. Minos is a minotaur, in that she is part woman and part cow, but she has no problem with eating beef as long as her parents don't know she is doing so. 

Jashin-chan also invited Pekora, a fallen angel who lost her halo preventing her from going back to heaven resulting in her becoming destitute and homeless. She feels she is disrespecting her Lord by eating a meal with demons, but she does so anyway because she is so hungry. However, Jashin-chan forgets she invited Pekora and is angry at her for being an angel eating with devils. Yurine threatens Jashin-chan, telling her to be nice. Jashin-chan then makes a big show of being friendly to the fallen angel, however, she gives her no beef in her sukiyaki. This angers the group, leading Jashin-chan to eat all the beef, followed by a brutal slicing punishment on Jashin-chan from Yurine.

That's the whole premise of the show. The rest of the episode expands on that, with an adaptation of the fifth and sixth chapters of the manga, showing that Medusa wears a bag over her head to prevent turning people to stone by looking at them, but doesn't affect Yurine due to a bracelet she wears that prevents petrification. Medusa also spends a lot of money on Jashin-chan, further angering Yurine due to Jashin-chan's selfishness. The episode ends with an adaptation of chapter twelve of the manga, which showcases another failed murder attempt by Jashin-chan followed by a gory punishment by Yurine. 

The comedy is pretty funny, and they break the fourth wall in that they know they are in an anime. Even though it adapts the stories from the manga, the anime has fun with the animated medium, even going so far as playing around with mosaic blur over Jashin-chan's injuries. There are also funny interludes with exposition by a busty male demon and a dog-like hell beast.

One of the best parts of this anime is the voice acting. This is especially true of Aina Suzuki, who really gets to have fun with the over-the-top antics of Jashin-chan. She has a cute anime-style voice, complete with ending some sentences with desu-no. This can be compared to Valley girls ending their sentences with "right?". But she also turns on a dime to angriness, and her cutesy veneer is dropped.

Dropkick on My Devil!! definitely is a show that is not for anyone. If you are put off by violence and gore, it's best to give this one a pass. If you're willing to look past that, you just might enjoy the show. The characters are interesting, the voice acting is great, the art style is cute when it's not gory, and the translation into English through subtitles is top-notch. This episode's plot is pretty thin, but as the first episode, it gives a great look into this strange world of angels, demons, and humans.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Monday, July 31, 2023

Comedy Science Fiction Animated Web Series Episode Review: Futurama - The Impossible Stream

Futurama has returned from the dead yet again with the broadcast of the first episode of the eleventh broadcast season, or the eighth production season. Yes, the season numbering is weird, but blame the Cartoon Network executives for that because that channel's two seasons of Futurama were broken up into four parts.

I'll admit that I'm a huge Futurama fan. I briefly changed my screen name from Lopantu to Bender followed by Flexo, both in 2000, before settling with MetaFox the next year when I got my first arcade cabinet with a Seta game of the same name. I'm not the rose-tinted glasses type though, so I was cautiously optimistic about this episode but prepared for a possible letdown since the series has been off the air for 10 years. That's a long break, so I wasn't sure if the showrunners would be able to get back in the groove right off the bat. 

I didn't have to worry, as it managed to hit the mark with its usual dose of satire relating to today's world, as well as jabs at itself and the executives who cancelled it. The episode starts off right where the series ended in 2013 with "Meanwhile". The Planet Express crew learn that the time-stopping shenanigans of that episode messed with time itself, pulling the world ten years forward into 3023. Fry is distraught that he has been in the future for twenty-three years but has nothing to show for it. He decides to watch every television show ever made. This leads to some funny names of shows that are parodies of popular television and streaming shows, callbacks to previous shows-within a show such as their Twilight Zone parody The Scary Door, the Emeril Lagasse parody Elsar, and a surprisingly funny jab at Netflix's anti-trans comedy specials from Ricky Gervais and Dave Chapelle.

The episode truly kicks off when Fry decides to binge all of the episodes of All My Circuits, Futurama's parody of soap operas which is more like a telenovela parody today as those are the only variation of shows of that type that remain popular. The professor puts Fry into a binging suit, while the rest of the staff gets All My Circuits renewed so that Fry can keep watching episodes before he runs out of them.

I'm not going to say more, as it's definitely worth watching. So far Futurama has all of the humor and wit of its predecessor, reminding me a lot of the humor of the Comedy Central run of the show after the release of four films which ran for four years from 2009 to 2013. The voice actors step into their roles perfectly as well. This aspect of the show especially feels like it never went off the air in the first place. Time will tell if the series retains the heart of the show as well, but as Bender says about Futurama is definitely true. It's back, baby!

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Friday, July 28, 2023

Open World Action-Adventure DLC Review: Sea of Thieves - The Legend of Monkey Island: The Journey to Mêlée Island

The Journey to Mêlée Island, the first chapter of the free Legend of Monkey Island Tall Tale expansion for Sea of Thieves, is available now. It aims to blend the open-world action-adventure pirate swashbuckler with the inventory-based adventure mechanics of the Monkey Island series.

The story fits snugly in between Curse of Monkey Island and Escape from Monkey Island. The Pirate Lord invited Guybrush Threepwood and Elaine Marley Threepwood to honeymoon in the Sea of Thieves. However, there is a curse that makes Guybrush, and presumably Elaine in future chapters, relive memories of past adventures that create a skewed version of whatever island is being remembered.

This makes it possible for pirates from the Sea of Thieves to physically travel to Mêlée Island. Because of this, Kate Capsize and the Pirate Lord want to hire a pirate to free the honeymooners from their curse. The Pirate Lord wants to rescue them, while Kate wants revenge on Guybrush because he switched his face for hers on a wanted poster which caused her to be imprisoned on Phatt Island.

Most of the people on the island appear to be from Guybrush's memories because the SCUMM Bar patrons the chef, the lookout, the shady merchant, the shopkeeper, the ghost pirates, Otis the prisoner, and the three loitering pirates all appeared in Guybrush's first adventure. The presence of Murray could be from the skewed memories due to the curse. I'm glad the latter was included as I really loved Murray in this chapter, especially after he gets what he wants. The animators deserve a raise for Murray's animations.

One character that doesn't belong is a cursed skull from A Pirate's Life Tall Tale who is known as the Cursed Captain. He appears to have actually made it to Mêlée Island but got stuck up on the wall of the SCUMM Bar by the three important pirates. There's a lot of potential for story there and I hope Rare doesn't squander it in future chapters.

I thought the puzzles were fun. I liked how they integrated the Sea of Thieves mechanics into the puzzles too. The sword, tankard, and lantern all were used fantastically. The crane puzzle, especially, was great. It was a head-scratcher, especially when the crane wouldn't lift it. I was stuck for a while before I jumped into the water to see what was going on and saw the solution. That puzzle was something that felt like it could have been in the series proper.

The voices used the voice actors from The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition or Terrible Toybox's Return to Monkey Island for those that weren't in the LucasArts joint. They were just as excellent here as they were in the preceding games. The music was also used well, with the Monkey Island theme popping up as you approached Melee, the familiar SCUMM Bar music that faded out in volume as you got further away from the bar, and Walt the skeleton pirate playing the skeleton ship theme on his violin. Bonus points for the name Walt, too.

There were some aspects that didn't work as well, however. Hunting for pieces of eight was tedious and not fun at all. At the end of the chapter, I couldn't find all of the money needed for the optional content, so I just gave up and ended the chapter four pieces of eight short. The walk up and down the hill to get to the lookout and back also wasn't fun, and he didn't have enough pieces of eight for the trouble. I kept jumping off early on the path down and losing health. Getting hurt was worth it though, because it cut down on all the tedious walking.

The Journey to Mêlée Island was a good start to the Sea of Thieves Legend of Monkey Island expansion. The story, voice acting, music, and puzzles were great. I really hope the next chapter ditches the money collecting and long walks because it felt like artificially extending the time required to finish the chapter. If the issues with this chapter are sorted in future chapters, we could potentially be in for a great time.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Friday, July 21, 2023

Sea of Thieves: The Legend of Monkey Island - The Journey to Mêlée Island Is Available

Rare's open-world online multiplayer pirate action-adventure swashbuckler, Sea of Thieves, now has more pirate goodness with the addition of a Monkey Island campaign. All of the voice actors from the Monkey Island series have returned as well.

There will be three episodes. The first episode is The Journey to Mêlée Island, which is available right now!

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Television Series Episode Review: Star Trek - The Next Generation: Time's Arrow (Part 2)

The follow-up to the final episode in season five of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Time's Arrow: Part 2, takes the unusual route of not following directly after the cliffhanger. Instead, there is a time skip of at least a month.

Jean-Luc Picard, Geordi LeForge, and Deanna Troi have rented an apartment under the guise of a traveling theater troupe. Will Riker poses as a police officer and Dr. Beverly Crusher serves as a nurse at a nearby hospital. Meanwhile, Data still resides at the hotel still pretending to be a French inventor. Mark Twain has been following Guinan for weeks, trying to discover what she and the people from the future are doing in nineteenth-century San Francisco. Naturally, as the author of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, he assumes that their presence will cause havoc to his time period.

After Data's machine picks up time skips, the aliens are revealed and Data's fate comes to fruition. The away team of the USS Enterprise-D has to stop the aliens on Devidia II in the twenty-fourth century, while they also have to deal with the fact that Mark Twain knows more about the future than he should.

While I was disappointed that racism wasn't mentioned in the previous episode, I did appreciate Mark Twain mentioning the European colonialists that destroyed existing civilizations in the name of exploration. It did ring a bit hollow though, with the ultimate treatment of the aliens by the Enterprise. Picard offered an alternative to one alien, so it was a bit surprising that this wasn't offered to the remaining members of that species.

Ultimately, while it isn't quite up to the standards of the previous episode, it does remain a fun episode to close the two-parter. I grew up in Elmira, NY, where Mark Twain is buried, so I have had an affinity for the author since childhood. It was fun to see him interact with the crew and be so willing to adapt his perspective on things. The treatment of the aliens was a bit jarring, but the rest of the episode wrapped up nicely.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Television Series Episode Review: Star Trek - The Next Generation: Time's Arrow (Part 1)

While on my month-long trip through the Southern United States, I binged the third season of Star Trek: Picard. As it was a reunion of the main characters and their actors from Star Trek: The Next Generation, I wanted to go back and check out some of my favorite episodes from when I was young and see how they hold up today. 

Whoopi Goldberg's Guinan was always a special character to be. Whenever she was in an episode, I would always get excited as episodes that included her were almost always something special. Time's Arrow serves as an origin story, of sorts, for Guinan. The set-up for the first part of the two-part episode immediately draws you into the episode. Signs of extra-terrestrial life were discovered on Earth in the nineteenth century. Federation scientists call in the USS Enterprise-D to investigate because they had found the android Data's severed head among the old relics.

As fossil records indicated the presence of inhabitants of Devidia II, the Enterprise travels to the planet to investigate. Captain Jean-Luc Picard tries to keep Data from going on the away mission, but when the precise calculations of his positronic brain are needed, he reluctantly acquiesces. He shifts his body to be slightly out of sync with time, which causes him to become invisible to his crewmates. However, as Data has not shifted as far out of time as those on the planet, he is not visible to them.

However, things quickly get out of hand, and Data is sent hurtling back in time to the Earth's past. He arrives in San Francisco in 1893, gambles to win money, and sets himself up in a hotel where he tries to build a device with nineteenth-century materials meant to track the time shifts. Things don't go as planned when he discovers the presence of Guinan. He goes to see her and discovers that she is not from the future as he expected, but rather is from that time period as her species is very long-lived. She is entertaining high-society guests including the author, Mark Twain.

The first episode is every bit as fantastic as I remember it. However, I do wonder how a black woman managed to become so ingrained in high-society America in 1893. There are hints of a book written by her as well as the fact that her father sent her to Earth. It does manage to keep Guinan mysterious, which I like, but it would have been great to get more of a background on that, considering the intense racism present in America at that time. While more background would have been appreciated, the lack of it doesn't detract from the episode, as it works as it is presented.

The episode ends with a great cliffhanger, as the Enterprise crew travels through a portal back in time to discover the reason why aliens were on Earth and to try to rescue their missing shipmate and friend. This was a cliffhanger ending for season five, and it served its purpose well. At this point, Star Trek: The Next Generation was firing on all cylinders and it was an exciting preview of the fantastic adventures the crew would go through during the last two seasons of the show.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

I Am On Holiday

If you wondered why I haven't posted the last few days after doing one review a day this year, I'm currently on holiday, driving and tent camping in the Southern United States.

I've been posting daily updates on my trip at my Mastodon, if you're interested.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Arcade Fighting Game Review: Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat was an influential arcade fighting video game by Midway Games that took elements of previous fighting games and put its own spin on things to create something uniquely its own.

Like most arcade fighting games, the plot of the game was simple. Many fighters compete to become the champion of the Mortal Kombat tournament. The playable characters included the sunglasses-wearing Johnny Cage, ninjas Scorpion and Sub-Zero, the cyborg Kano, the lightning god Raiden, the spandex-clad Sonya, and the Bruce Lee-inspired Liu Kang. Once all of these fighters are defeated, two boss fights await. Goro is a four-armed behemoth, and Shang Tsung can take on the form of any and all of the fighters in the tournament.

Mortal Kombat set itself apart from the competition by having realistically depicted backgrounds and characters for the time. The characters were created using live-action actors who performed the various fighting moves which were then digitized into the game. The one exception is Goro, who had a monster-like appearance that was accomplished via stop-motion animation. The game was also famous for its over-the-top gore, as hits would spill copious amounts of blood, some stages contained elements that would impale fighters, and special codes could be entered to finish fighters with a gory finishing move. This game, along with other games from the time such as Night Trap, were the subjects of congressional hearings in the United States that led to voluntary video game ratings which still appear, albeit from a different rating board, on video game boxes today.

The voices are iconic, from the deep tones of the announcer to the grunts and screams of the various fighters. They are a big part of what made the game memorable. The music is also fantastic, and the remixed dance-style track from the Sega CD version is still used today, especially as memes on streaming sites.

Mortal Kombat is a great game that is still fun to play today. While its small amount of characters makes it not as re-playable as Mortal Kombat II and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, it is still a blast to play. The voiceovers, music, and over-the-top violence that looks rather tame today are a big part of what shaped the culture of the 1990s in the United States. It's worth playing at least once, to see where many of today's fighters got their inspiration.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Platform Game Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog appeared on the Sega Master System and Game Gear in a pared-down 8-bit version of the 16-bit platform game classic.

The size of the sprites is smaller, the resolution is lower, and the colors are muted due to the differences in hardware. However, despite the necessary downgrades, Sega still managed to make Sonic the Hedgehog still look close to its bigger sibling.

Sega may have never advertised that the Sega Master System had blast processing, but the console still offers quite a bit of speed, especially compared to its mustached competition. All of the hallmarks of a Sonic game are here too, from Sonic rushing through levels to rescue animals from the mad roboticist Dr. Eggman Robotnik to collecting chaos emeralds. This time though, the emeralds are hidden within stages rather than sealed off in bonus rounds.

The music is vastly different than the 16-bit game, but it still remains fantastic. The Sonic the Hedgehog 3 music might have had its similarity to Michael Jackson's songs but the music in Sonic the Hedgehog for the Game Gear bears a similarity to the songs of his sister Janet. It's very 1990s, and very good.

Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Master System and Game Gear is well worth playing. It's quite different from the Sega Genesis game but is recognizable enough to feel like a Sonic game. The stages are designed well, the music is fantastic, and the graphics manage to do a great job of representing the 16-bit style of Sonic the Hedgehog on an 8-bit system. Sonic Origins Plus includes the 8-bit Sonic alongside its 16-bit brother, so it is now easy to get a hold of this game to give it a try.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Point-and-Click Adventure Fan Game Review: Broken Sword 2.5 - The Return of the Templars

Broken Sword 2.5 was a fan game based on the Broken Sword series with support from the original creators of the series, Revolution Software.

The game is in the traditional two-dimensional style of the first two Broken Sword games, as well as the fifth. It has voice acting by fans which works well and sounds similar to those in the series proper. George and Nico are the most important, and the voice actors in these roles hit all the right notes. George Stobbart's customary voice-over reciting the events in the past tense is here and is handled excellently.

The game uses a lot of the assets from the official games, with permission, so they look like the first two games in the series. The original assets are a bit of a mixed bag. They all contain great artwork, but some, especially that of the tramp, don't quite fit in with the high quality of the other assets. The game also has three-dimensional cutscenes, akin to those in Broken Sword 3, which is a shame. The hand-drawn quality of the first two games was a big draw for those titles, so it does take away somewhat from the classic feeling the rest of the game evokes.

The puzzles are pretty good. Thankfully there are no goat-on-a-tether puzzles here. The storyline mostly works as a story in-between the first and the third games, with the exception of the inexplicable addition of a character with a very final end in a previous title.

Broken Sword 2.5 is a well-made fan game that uses a mix of original artwork, with permission granted from Revolution Software, mixed with new fanmade artwork. The artwork new fits in with the original for the most part, with the exception of a character or two as well as three-dimensional cutscenes. It has a story that works for the most part as well, with the exception of a baffling inclusion of a character from the past. All in all, it's worth trying out if you're a fan of the Broken Sword series. It's available to download free from and to play through with ScummVM.

Final Verdict: 3½ out of 5

Monday, May 1, 2023

Open World Action-Adventure RPG Review: Lost Judgment

Takayuki Yagami returns as a private detective in Lost Judgment, Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio's sequel to its action-adventure RPG, Judgment.

The Yagami detective agency goes to Seiryo High School on a small case that opens up much wider when a former student accused of bullying is murdered. Takayuki Yagami becomes an advisor for the Mystery Research Club so that he can investigate while having a legitimate reason to be on school grounds. He is once again aided by his partner, ex-yakuza Masaharu Kaito, as well as tech master Makoto Tsukumo and former theif Fumiya Sugiura, who have set up their own agency in Isezaki Ijincho named Yokohama 99.

The game takes place immediately following Yakuza: Like a Dragon, so Lost Judgment includes the usual Kamurocho as well as the area created for the former, Isezaki Ijincho. Since Yakuza: Like a Dragon had such a huge impact on the future of the series, it is really interesting to see what the yakuza characters are up to now without their clans.

As the story progresses, Tak comes face to face with a formidable villain that is just as skilled at both fighting and investigating as him, if not more so. This aspect was the best part of the game, as the villain was one of the best that Ryo Ga Gotaku Studio has ever produced. It also gave Takayuki Yagami, the Sherlock Holmes of the Judgment series, his own Moriarty.

As opposed to the turn-based combat in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Lost Judgment features the direct-controlled brawler combat for which the Like a Dragon series became famous. Like in Judgment, Tak also uses his private investigator skills such as lock-picking, investigating scenes, and tailing suspects, to accomplish his tasks.

The school setting allows for a lot of minigames that Tak can participate in due to his role as a school advisor, including photography, dancing, competing in Virtua Fighter 5, robot fighting, and boxing. School missions will also unlock decidedly not school-friendly areas where Tak can date, race motorbikes, challenge gangs in skateboarding contests, and gamble.

As this is a Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio game, there are also a bunch of substories. Many include the wackiness for which the studio has become known. There are also more serious substories, especially regarding the Mystery Detective Club. It is well worth playing through that storyline, as the mystery of the identity of the Professor is one that is intriguing, has many unexpected twists and turns, and the payoff is well worth the effort put in to get to the finish line.

The Judgment series continues to be a worthy spin-off of the Like a Dragon series. Lost Judgment is better than the original game, with a more compelling villain, a memorable storyline, fun minigames, and fantastic substories. The morality of the ending is definitely up for debate, but the path to get there is well worth it. Lost Judgment is not just one of the best Ryu Ga Gotaku Studios games, but it is also one of the best games ever produced.

Final verdict:
5 out of 5

Yakuza: Like a Dragon ReviewLost Judgment: The Kaito Files Review Coming Soon

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Arcade Boxing Game Review: Punch-Out!!

Most gamers know Punch-Out!! as the story of a small boxer named Little Mac who rises up the ranks against boxers way out of his weight range in order to become the champion.

However, Punch-Out!! didn't begin on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It originated in the arcades with a third-person boxing game with an unnamed boxer. The goofy boxers from different countries originated here, However, it only has one circuit with only six boxers, most of whom returned in the NES classic. These boxers are Glass Joe, the French boxer who lives up to his name, Japan's Piston Hurricane, Turkey's Bald Bull, America's Kid Quick, Italy's Pizza Pasta, and the American champion, Mr. Sandman.

The original Famicom Punch-Out!! lacked the Mike Tyson, or Mr. Dream, fight just like the arcade original. It also began with Glass Joe and ended with Mr. Sandman. Piston Hurricane and Bald Bull also returned. However, Italy didn't get representation in the NES game and the United States of America had to settle with just Mr. Sandman.

The game is a bit hard to get into for fans of the NES game and the Wii game since the third-person view that looks through the body of the unnamed boxer is a very different gameplay representation. The boxer is also the same height as his opponents, making the boxing mechanics vastly different. Once you get used to the different gameplay styles, the goofiness of the game still shines through. There are no Doc Louis intermissions, however. He originated in the NES game and added some extra goofiness to the franchise.

Punch-Out!! for arcades is an important milestone as the start of the well-regarded Punch-Out!! series. However, it is very different from the more well-known NES game. So, if you began your Punch-Out!! gaming with that title, or the Wii sequel, then it will take a while to get used to the differences. When you do, however, it is a fun boxing game with the unique goofiness for which the Punch-Out!! series is known. The arcade version is now available through Hamster's Arcade Archives series on Nintendo Switch, so it has never been easier to play.

Final Verdict: 
3½ out of 5

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Turn-Based Role Playing Game Review: Steven Universe - Attack the Light

Steven Universe: Attack the Light is a mobile role-playing game adaptation of Cartoon Network's Steven Universe television series.

Even though it is a mobile game, it is a capable turn-based role-playing game in its own right. It has all the hallmarks of the genres, including leveling up, finding items in chests and purchasing them from stores, and tough boss battles. Steven Universe actually works perfectly as an RPG, as Steven himself points out in the game. The series, especially in the early seasons, is all about the Crystal Gems traveling to dungeons and defeating monsters.

The main Crystal Gems, including Steven Universe and his adoptive parents Garnet, Pearl, and Amythyst, are all playable. Steven is the assist character, which fans of the series will attest is perfect since Steven Universe is all about healing people and helping people with their problems.

The story finds the Crystal Gems traveling across the world to areas to familiar areas such as the strawberry battlefield as well as then-new areas such as the desert. They are chasing after a creature known as a light prism. Their search brings them face-to-face with a new Gem threat.

The music fits the game, but don't expect anything on the scale of the memorable music numbers seen in the series. The graphics are a departure from the series, with a unique water-painted look that somewhat resembles the later Dove shorts. It works well for this universe as the general spirit of the characters still shines through.

Steven Universe: Attack the Light is a great example of how to do a video game adaptation of a popular animated television series right. The gameplay is a lot of fun, and the music fits the game well. The story is just like those you would see on the show, which is helped by the fact that it was written by the series creator, Rebecca Sugar. 

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Friday, April 28, 2023

Action-Adventure Review: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time changed up the formula, successfully bringing The Legend of Zelda series into the 3D era.

The game followed a child Link, who has been raised by the ageless Kokiri. With an ocarina, he can play tunes that act as spells to control time and space around him. One song will send him forward and backward in time. Link resembled the ageless Kokiri he was raised with as a child, but as an adult, he towers over them. Adult Link can explore areas that have changed dramatically as a child, but he can also use the ocarina to go back in time to when he was a child to influence things in order to change them.  This aspect reminds me of Sonic CD, albeit with a lot more interaction between time periods due to the fact that Ocarina of Time is a story-rich action adventure.

The game mechanics have been translated well into the three-dimensional age. Like Super Mario 64 before it, the game is very different from its two-dimensional counterparts, but it retains enough of the formula that it fits perfectly within the universe. Link can now travel in complete three-hundred-sixty-degree directions. However, the basic gameplay is still there. Link has to buy equipment or acquire it from non-player characters. He travels to dungeons where he gains keys to unlock doors and chests. In some chests, he finds dungeon keys that will unlock large dungeon doors and some chests. He also can find equipment in chests that he needs to use to get through future dungeons.

The music has always been a strong point of the series, and that continues here. There is the obligatory updated theme song, but there is also a lot of music that is unique to this game. It's fantastic, taking advantage of the audio hardware of the Nintendo 64, and a lot of them will remain in your head long after playing the game. There are also the usual fun little musical motifs that play when certain actions are completed. The short chest opening music still acts as an earworm when thinking of the game, even decades after its release. The characters, including Link now have grunts and yells. This aspect is kind of charming, and it remains in The Legend of Zelda series to this day. The one drawback is the voice of Link's fairy companion, Navi, who will yell "hey" or "listen" whenever there is a new piece of information. It is cute the first few times, but it becomes grating after a while. There are only a couple of voice clips, which is a shame, as this could have been alleviated with multiple recordings of the lines or by using multiple words.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a great example of how to translate a two-dimensional game into three dimensions. It gives additional abilities that come with the new perspective but keeps the basic gameplay that made the original games so much fun. It also adds a fun mechanic with the titular ocarina which has musical spells that affect time and space. The graphics aren't as impressive as they once were, but the unique style still shines through the incredibly blocky characters and environments. The music is fantastic, and most of the grunting and yelling voice work is charming. Navi the fairy becomes annoying after a while, but she isn't enough to take away the enjoyment of this fantastic game.

Final Verdict:
4½  out of 5

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past ReviewThe Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask Review Soon

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Free Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Sfinx

LK Avalon, the Polish developer that had previously created Sołtys, released another adventure game two years later.

Sfinx, also known as UFOs, is thematically the opposite of LK Avalon's previous game. While Sołtys focused on adult humor with its theme of a father chasing the groom who left his daughter at the alter during their wedding, Sfinx focuses on two school kids. Because of this, it is a game that can be enjoyed by all ages.

Two friends, a girl named Andzia and a boy named Wacek, are friends from school. The impetus of the game is an old professor, akin to Doc Brown from Back to the Future, who tells the children that an unidentified flying object had crashed nearby. Intrigued, as children are wont to do, the two school kids go looking for the UFO.

While the theme of Sfinx is vastly different, the interface remains graphically and functionally the same as that seen in Sołtys. This is a good thing, as the interface was the one saving grace of the latter game. It has a graphical user interface at the bottom of the screen where actions can be selected as well as inventory items. The main difference between the two games is that both the girl and the boy are controlled by the player. The drawback is that the two characters can carry four items each, and some items can only be picked up by a specific character. There are still stereotypes here, as the girl won't touch dirty items, but it's nowhere near the level of those in Sołtys. Honestly, that stereotype is innocent enough that it's easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things.

The puzzles are pretty zany but can be figured out pretty easily if you put your mind into the mindset of a cartoon. The zany style doesn't just go for the story and the puzzles, but it is also shown in the art style as well. The characters have a pleasing cartoon-style look and the colorful backgrounds complement them perfectly. Although there are no earworms that will remain in your head after you play, the music also fits with the various scenes of the game.

LK Avalon has improved upon Sołtys greatly with Sfinx. The story, art, and music are fun. The interface is easy to use, although the limitation of inventory slots is a bit of a drawback. The ScummVM team translated the game into English for the first time and released it for free on their website. While I didn't care for Sołtys, Sfinx is a game I recommend that adventure game fans give it a try.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Beat 'Em Up Game Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was a beat 'em-up video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System based on the 1980s animated television series.

It has the craziest storyline of all the Konami games based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, since the 1987 series was so zany, it fits with the franchise perfectly. In the game, Shredder and Krang stole the entire island of Manhattan and it is up to the ninja turtles to get it back.

As it is for the Nintendo Entertainment System, it only has two action buttons. However, it makes great use of what is available. It manages to have most of the moves from the arcade games thanks to button combinations. It also pushes the Nintendo Entertainment System to its limits. It has the fun enemy animations and background object interactions from the arcade games that weren't present in the NES version of the original arcade game. It lacks the ability to have different kinds of enemies on screen at a time, but since the enemies have a ton of character, it's not that noticeable while playing through the game.

The game also has quite a nice soundtrack that evokes the feeling of the arcade games. It also has voice clips, but, of course, they are highly compressed due to the limitations in file size available on NES ROM cartridges. This was pretty standard practice at the time, and voice clips weren't common on the NES at all, so it's cool they're included. It really does help to evoke the feeling of the Konami arcade beat 'em ups.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project is a worthy member of Konami's 90s ninja turtle beat 'em up oeuvre. When I was a little girl, I avoided the NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games due to the small size of the sprites and backgrounds necessary for the games to fit in the small resolution of the console. This was a mistake on my part, as Konami managed to translate all of the gameplay, style, and charm from the arcades into Nintendo's little grey box. If you are going to play this, and you should, opt for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cowabunga Collection. That way you can reduce the flickering that was necessary to push the console to its limits. That's one of the great things with emulation, we have much stronger hardware now, so we don't have to live within those limits anymore and can experience games at levels the developers could only have dreamt of back in the 1990s.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Free-to-Play Fighting Game Review: MultiVersus: Season Two

The MultiVersus open beta is no longer available to download for new players and the server will be shut down for existing players on June 25, 2023. It will return out of beta in 2024, but for now, it's worth looking at the disastrous season 2 rollout.

After a fantastic season 1, fans, including me, were looking forward to season 2. Warner Bros. Discovery has a fantastic library of characters to choose from including the classic Warner Bros. characters from Looney Tunes, many classic characters from Cartoon Network, MGM cartoon characters, and HBO characters, to name just a few. Season 1 received characters from all of these properties, so hopes were high for season 2. However, only one character was added, Marvin the Martian, in November 2022. Throughout the four months of 2023 that the game was widely available, no new characters were added at all.

Another large expectation for season 2 was new maps. Each of the above properties has unique worlds that would be fantastic to translate into playable arenas. Each map in season 1 also came with remixes of music from those worlds, so they were aural treats as well as visual. They also came with their own interactive elements such as breakable walls and switches to activate platforms. These were all themed after the properties as well, making each map a pleasure to play. Season 2 received one map, the throne room from Game of Thrones. It was great to finally see Arya Stark get an arena to go with her universe, but there was almost half a year of time available for season 2.

The only element that really saw wide release in season 2 was premium content. There was new free content available through the battle pass including new banners, icons, stickers, and badges. However, most of the new content including a Marvin the Martian announcer pack, dozens of alternate costumes for the characters, and dozens of profile icons were all paid content. With only one new character and one new map, the fact that most of the new content was locked behind a paywall made season 2 extremely disappointing.

Season two of MultiVersus was a disaster by any definition. Only one new character and one new map were released. There were no new game modes and most of the new content that was available, such as an announcer pack and alternate costumes, was behind a paywall. The fact that the new content that was available for free, such as badges, stickers, and icons, were all vanity items stung for free users. The only thing that didn't hurt about season 2 was that the game itself was still fun to play. It's just a shame that very little went into making it even more fun to play this season.

Final Verdict:
2 out of 5

Monday, April 24, 2023

Virtual Reality Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin

Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is a Virtual Reality game with a story that takes place directly in the middle of Psychonauts and Psychonauts 2.

The game takes place directly after the end of Psychonauts on the mission to rescue Lili's father, the leader of the Psychonauts. The plane they are on goes down while flying over the Rhombus of Ruin due to an abundance of psylirium, a radioactive material that is mentally disorienting to most psychics.

Because Razputin Aquato is a powerful psychic, he is able to mostly overcome the effects of psyliryum, making him the only person who can uncover the plot behind the leader's disappearance as well as to save his fellow Psychonauts and his girlfriend Lili.

It is one of the best uses of virtual reality that I have played so far since it sticks to the strengths of the concept while avoiding the pitfalls of the current technology. To reduce the possibility of motion sickness, the game can be played while sitting. It plays like a point-and-click adventure game where the motion of your head acts like a cursor, while there are text prompts for objects with which you can interact. 

The story is also told in a fantastic way that makes complete sense why Raz would be seated as he serves as your eyes and ears. You can use many of his psychic powers to manipulate the environment as well, with many powers from the original Psychonauts making their return. There are many characters that make their return as well, including one that fleshed out a larger backstory than they were given in the original game.

The music and art style was a big part of what made the original Psychonauts so appealing, and Double Fine did a fantastic job capturing the spirit of the original in both respects. The opening has my favorite song in the franchise so far, as it is a James Bond-style spoof complete with over-the-top female vocals. You can also move your head around to view the credits in virtual reality which was a nice touch. The rest of the game retains that spirit as well.  There aren't as many areas to play around, so there isn't as much of a vast difference in art styles between the real world and the mental worlds, but they all adhere to the aesthetic set by the original game.

Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is a fun virtual reality point-and-click adventure take on the world of the Psychonauts. The voice acting, art style, and music are all great and adhere to the style of the previous game. The story is also fantastic and ties the virtual reality aspect into the story well. It's a shame Double Fine hasn't released a version of the game without the headset requirement, but if you have a PlayStation 4 and a PlayStation VR or a Windows computer with a VIVE or Oculus headset it is well worth playing.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Action Game Review: Super Bomberman

In 1993, Hudson Soft released a follow-up to its popular Bomberman action maze game with Super Bomberman for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Super Bomberman takes what was best about Bomberman, including the mechanics of using bombs to blow up bricks and enemies. powerups for extra bombs and longer blasts, and level exit doors that can only be entered after all enemies are defeated. It then takes it a step further, with more enemies, stages taking place in themed worlds, more powerups, and boss battles.

It also has a fun multiplayer mode where up to four players, using the multitap accessory, try to blow each other up in a last Bomberperson standing battle royale. Not all of the players had to be human either, as there were optional artificial intelligence-controlled opponents for which you could set the difficulty level. Of course, it is infinitely more fun with at least one human opponent.

The graphics are fantastic, as they make great use of the capability of the SNES with bigger and more detailed player and enemy sprites and blocks compared to the original game. Atmospheric effects like fog also appear in some stages. The new enemies are all expressive, and even the balloon enemies from the first game look better here. The bosses are the highlight, as they are very detailed and extremely large, dwarfing Bomberman. This makes the stakes feel higher and gets the adrenaline flowing. 

Super Bomberman is a game that set the standard for the series, taking everything from the original game and adding lots more of its own elements that would become series staples. The larger roster of enemies, themed worlds, and bosses makes this game stand out from the originator. Plus, the multiplayer battles are loads of fun, making it a fun break from the usual story mode. If you enjoy Bomberman games, maze games, or just blowing things up, then make sure to give this one a try. It's a true classic.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Puzzle Game Mega Review: Wario's Woods

Wario's Woods was a puzzle video game developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994.

Despite Wario in the title role, he is actually the game's villain. The playable character is Toad, who is also known under the much-cuter name Kinopio in Japan. The story finds Wario using a spell to turn residents of the Peaceful Woods into monsters to act as his minions, renaming the forest Wario's Woods. Toad acts as the Mushroom Kingdom's hero to restore the woods to their previously peaceful form.

Monsters of multiple colors lay at the bottom of a tree. Bombs drop down from the top while Toad runs along the bottom picking up the monsters and stacking them on top of each other. Three colors have to be lined up in order to clear them, and one of those colors must be a bomb. Because monsters can be stacked on top of each other until a bomb is on top, it is possible to line up large amounts of colors.

Toad has some tricks up his sleeves to accomplish his goal besides picking up monsters, stacks of monsters, and bombs. He can also kick monsters and bombs across the ground and climb up stacks to pick up specific bombs or monsters.

Clearing all of the monsters ends a round, leading to the next round with even more monsters. If Toad takes too long to clear a round, the ceiling starts to come down in the form of a Thwomp. If the ceiling reaches the monsters, then the round ends.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System has a gradient background for the tree, whereas the Nintendo Entertainment System version is simply a single color. The sprites are also more detailed in the SNES version, but both games play and look great. The music isn't as memorable as many other Nintendo titles, especially spin-offs of the Super Mario series, but it works well for the game.

Wario's Woods is a lesser-known SNES and NES puzzle game that is one of the few games to feature Toad as the playable character. However, it has an art style befitting a Mario series spinoff, and music that fits the game. It is also a lot of fun if you enjoy puzzle games. It was available for Wii and Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, but those services are discontinued now. The easiest way to play the game now is with the emulator available to subscribers of the Nintendo Switch Online service or by unlocking it in Animal Crossing for GameCube.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Friday, April 21, 2023

Arcade Platform Driving Game Mega Review: City Connection

City Connection was a very unique 1985 arcade game by Jaleco that combined racing games with platform games in an easy to get into kind of experience.

The game follows a teenage girl named Clarice. She drives a small little orange car along platforms painting platform panels as it drives over them. The car keeps going along, but it is possible to push the opposite direction button to quickly turn in the opposite direction. There is also a jump button that allows the car to jump from platform to platform.

There are obstacles along the way that have to be avoided such as construction vehicles, police cars, and odd little flag-waving cats. Oil cans can be used to spin out vehicles, but not the cats. These cats don't need nine lives as they are completely invincible.

If Clarice manages to collect three red balloons, she is immediately brought to another stage. However, if she stays on a stage for too long, spikes rise from the platforms to immediately end her trek.

There are twelve stages to drive through, each themed after a well-known real-life location. The background art is incredibly detailed and brings each of these areas to life. The twelve stages and the associated backgrounds are, in order, skyscrapers in the Manhattan borough of New York City, the Tower Bridge and Big Ben in London, England, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, Tulips and windmills in the Netherlands, the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, Mount Fuji on the island of Honshū in Japan, Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, the Teotihuacan, Nazca Lines, and Moai in Mexico, Peru, and Rapa Nui, Chile, and finally, Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii or Monument Valley on the Colorado Plateau in the United States.

City Connection was ported to the MSX, ZX Spectrum, mobile phones, Nintendo Entertainment System, Windows, PlayStation 4, and Switch. The latter five were the most accurate to the arcade original, with the Hamster arcade emulation on PS4 and Switch being the best available home version of the game. The NES version is also available on Switch through the NES emulator for the Nintendo Switch Online service. 

City Connection is an enjoyable and one-of-a-kind game. The backgrounds are well done for the time and still look good today and the gameplay is easy to pick up and play as well as addictive. It is a fun, unique game that is well worth playing and is easily obtainable today.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Motion-Sensing Multi-Sports Game Compilation Review: Kinect Sports Ultimate Collection

In 2012, Microsoft played up the popularity of Rare's Kinect Sports series with the Kinect Sports Ultimate Collection.

This collection was a compilation of the two Kinect Sports titles which were available at the time, Kinect Sports and Kinect Sports: Season Two. Thus, it contained all of the sports available in each collection, including bowling, boxing, soccer, table tennis, track-and-field, and volleyball in Kinect Sports and gridiron football, skiing, darts, tennis, golf, and baseball in Season Two.

It simply contained the two discs from the respective games in a case with a Kinect Sports Ultimate Collection cover. It would have been nice to see an additional sport or two, or even extras such as the making of the game, but both games are here complete with all of the included sports, so it is exactly what it says on the tin.

Kinect Sports Ultimate Collection was a completely no-frills compilation of Kinect Sports and Kinect Sports: Season Two for Xbox 360. It contained no extras at all, simply the game discs in an Ultimate Collection case. However, as it was a bundle of two formerly regular-priced games, it was ultimately a good value worth picking up if you hadn't owned it already. If you are interested in the Kinect Sports games, this is easy to find for a good price, so it could still be worth getting this rather than purchasing the two games separately.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Open World Action-Adventure Mega Review: Shenmue II

Shenmue II was the sequel to the formerly Dreamcast-only Shenmue. It featured more locations than the previous game.

The original game took place in a single town, Yokosuka, Japan. In contrast, Shenmue II has three, including Hong Kong, Kowloon, based on the real-life Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, and Guilin, China.

The story picks up after Ryu Hazuki disembarks the ship that brought him from Japan to China at the port of Hong Kong. He almost immediately gets into trouble when a young boy steals his backpack. After managing to get it back with help from a young woman named Joy, he soon befriends the pickpocket, Xianweng "Wong" Ni, and makes a begrudging alliance with a gang member named Wuying Ren.

He will need all the help he can get to obtain more information about his father's killer, Lan Di, as well as to get more information about the mysterious mirror that his father left for him when he died. He'll find himself opposed by several people on his quest for information, including members of a gang known as Heavens, an extremely large and strong gang leader known as Dou Niu, and a transgender woman known as Yuan.

As is often the case with transgender characters in their localization from Japan to the West, especially in 2002, the character had a change of pronouns as well as voice actors. I appreciate that the translation lost the hurtful misgendering and was referred to properly as she, however, I am divided over the fact that she lost her deeper voice for a less ambiguous female voice. I wish that the character had remained obviously transgender in the translation, however, the character was portrayed with a stereotypical gay voice, so it really isn't really a loss to get rid of that voice acting in the long run.

Speaking of voice acting, like the original Shenmue, the best way to experience this game for native English speakers is with Japanese voice acting with English subtitles. The English voice acting remains wooden and not pleasant at all. The Japanese voice acting sounds more natural. This is likely not just due to the voice actors, but because of the text as the English translation is lacking nuance again and is really dry compared to the original Japanese text. It's alright reading the translation that way, but it doesn't translate well into the spoken word.

This game is a lot longer than the first and more action-packed. However, a few things let it down. Earning money through lifting and moving crates is not as fun as the forklift of the original game. Unfortunately, it is necessary to earn a lot of money, since Ryo needs to pay his way into three martial arts challenges in order to get the information he needs.

Also, this game goes way too far, in my opinion, with the button-pressing quick-time events. This is especially the case in the last fight, where it is possible to lose the fight just by not getting the quick time event correct even after properly beating the snot out of him. It's frustrating to repeat scenes like this if, like me, your fingers and brain don't cooperate well since the amount of time given to complete the QTEs is woefully small.

Shenmue II is larger and has more action than the original game. However, it is let a bit down due to the lackluster way to earn money as well as the overabundance of quick-time events. It also has poor English voice acting, but the Japanese voice acting is much better. So, the best way to experience this game, if you choose to do so, would be to avoid the original Xbox version as it only has English voice acting. The Dreamcast game only has Japanese voice acting, and the high-definition version by d3t has selectable voice acting. In the end, the story is interesting, so it is worth experiencing if you want to continue Ryo's quest to find his father's killer.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Shenmue reviewShenmue I & II review coming soon

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Turn-Based RPG Review: Yakuza - Like a Dragon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon was a turning point for Sega's Yakuza series. It was the first to feature the new series protagonist Ichiban Kasuga, the first to be a turn-based role-playing game as opposed to an action RPG, as well as the first game to use the Japanese series title, Like a Dragon.

Ichiban Kasuga is a man who was raised in a Japanese soapland, an establishment where women wash men's bodies and usually allow prostitution. He became a punk on the streets of Kamurocho fighting other young men until he used the name of a yakuza patriarch to try to scare some yakuza. That backfires as the yakuza were rivals of the yakuza named and tried to use Ichiban to shame their rival. 

Expecting to be killed after it was revealed he wasn't a yakuza, the patriarch instead claimed Ichiban was one of his men and took responsibility for his actions. After this, Ichiban felt indebted and kept coming around the office of the yakuza patriarch until he let him join his family for real. In 1999, when the patriarch's son commits murder, Ichiban is told to take the blame for his crime. He is finally released twenty years later, in 2019. However, his yakuza family isn't waiting for him.

With a criminal record and no one to help him, he is moneyless in the Yokohama district of Isezaki Ijincho, which is based on the real-life Isezakichō district. Unlike the previous series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, who was a stoic man of few words, Ichiban is a passionate man who makes both allies and enemies quickly. 

After the sixth main series game broke from tradition by only having a single protagonist to focus on what was then meant to be the end of Kiryu's story, Yakuza: Like a Dragon once again featured the same amount of playable characters as the number of the game in relation to the series. As Yakuza: Like a Dragon was the seventh main series game, it featured seven playable characters. Six were added to Ichiban's party during the main story, while the seventh is an optional ally that can be added through a side story.

The main six playable characters include a homeless man named Yu Yanada, a former detective named Koichi Adachi, a hostess bar mama named Saeko Mukoda, a man named Joon-gi Han who is second-in-command of the Korean-Japanese criminal organization known as the Geomijil, and a man named Tianyou Zhao who is the leader of the Chinese-Japanese criminal organization known as the Yokohama Liomang. The optional playable character is a woman named Eri Kamataki who is the heir to a sweets-making company known as Ichiban Confections.

Each of the characters has unique skills that can be used during a battle that are common in turn-based roleplaying games such as combat, healing, and projectile use. These can be changed through jobs, which give the characters unique outfits as well as new skills to use. Weapons and armor can be purchased, many of which can only be used by people with a specified job set.

Ichiban is said to be a fan of the popular Square Enix RPG series Dragon Quest. He has a vivid imagination, which allows the game to go to even crazier places than usual. The enemies encountered are probably the weirdest ever encountered in a Like a Dragon series game, and that's saying something. This craziness also extends, naturally, to the side quests. These are always the craziest part of all of the games in the series, and they are equally crazy here. The main game has some really funny moments, but the zaniest still comes from the side missions.

I wasn't sure how I would feel about turn-based combat after being so used to the beat 'em-up style action of the other games in the series, but it actually works surprisingly well for the series. Fans can still get the usual action RPG gameplay through the Judgment series and Kiryu spin-offs, so I'm actually glad they changed things up in the main series. For as good as the games are, the gameplay is definitely repetitive from game to game. That's not the case here, since no series entry has used the turn-based style of combat, and the game is better for it.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a worthy successor to the Kazuma Kiryu saga. Ichiban Kasuga is a much different character than Kazuma Kiryu, but his quirkiness, friendliness, and earnestness endeared me to him very quickly. Ichiban's six companions, including the bonus character, are all very memorable with excellent backstories. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has finally managed to make all of the playable characters feel fleshed out and worthy of your time. It has also finally given two women characters, Saeko Mukoda and Eri Kamataki, fighting chops. These women are usually used as assistance characters, but they can still kick butt as well as anyone else. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is well worth playing, and is a harbinger for good things to come when the series returns to turn-based combat in Like a Dragon 8.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Monday, April 17, 2023

Body-Tracking Multi-Sports Video Game Review: Kinect Sports: Season Two

Kinect Sports brought the Xbox 360 its own take on the popular Wii Sports title for its competitor, the Wii. However, with a lack of the most popular games from that title, it didn't shine quite as brightly.

That changed when Microsoft tasked Rare with making a sequel for the body-tracking Kinect camera, this time with help from developer BigPark.

Kinect Sports: Season Two contains more sports including gridiron football, skiing, and darts. This time around, it finally features some of the most popular games from Microsoft's competitor Nintendo, including tennis, golf, and baseball.

The sequel manages to get around one of the main problems of the Kinect, which makes it need a lot of room to get full-body tracking. Season Two's use of upper body sports has more going for it for people, like me, who only have enough room to get partial body tracking. 

This game, by far, gets the use out of the two games by my family. Darts is a favorite of my mother's. She often asks to play it because it is fun, intuitive, and easy to use with the Kinect camera. I, personally, enjoy the baseball minigame. Like darts, it works great with the Kinect camera. All of these work much better than season one as the camera isn't as finicky due to the fact the entire camera body tracking isn't needed. You can toss around the pigskin, throw darts, and hit baseballs and tennis balls with ease. Even golf and skiing work with just half a body detected, although these two can be more finicky than the others, especially in the case of skiing.

This game still contains the major drawback of the Kinect, however, as that's purely a hardware issue. The Kinect camera has trouble detecting dark colors, so make sure you don't have on a dark outfit so that the sensor has the best chance to detect your body. Unfortunately, this trouble with dark colors also is seen with hair and even skin color. I have natural jet-black hair, and I have played many Kinect games with my hair completely cut off. People with dark skin tones have reported even worse issues, with Kinect not detecting them or cutting off entire body parts.

Kinect Sports: Season Two is a drastic improvement over the predecessor. It solves some of the problems the Kinect has with a small living room space by having games that need only partial body detection. Gridiron football, darts, and baseball work great. Even skiing and golf work with just partial body detection, although these might need more adjustment than the others. The hardware issues with problems detecting dark colors are still a problem for people with jet-black hair and even worse for people with dark skin tones. However, Kinect Sports: Season Two managed to better play to Kinect's strengths with a game that is very satisfying to play.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Action RPG Mega Review: Like a Dragon - Ishin!

Like a Dragon: Ishin! was originally released only in Japan for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in 2014. However, in February 2023, the game was finally released to worldwide audiences in a remake for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. The remake is simply titled Like a Dragon: Ishin! in the West, but it is known as Like a Dragon: Ishin! Kiwami (Ryu Ga Gotoku Ishin! Kiwami) in Asia.

The Kiwami subtitle should tell you the treat we're in for, as Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio produced a remake similar to Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza Kiwami 2 where the content from the original release is there, albeit remixed a bit, but new content has been added as well.

The story takes place right before the Restoration period of Japan, hence the Ishin in the title, as Ishin means Restoration in Japanese. The story follows a samurai named Ryōma Sakamoto who takes on the identity of Hajime Saitō and infiltrates the special army for the Shogunate, the Shinsengumi, to discover who murdered his foster father, Tōyō Yoshida.

Ryōma Sakamoto, Hajime Saitō, and Tōyō Yoshida are all historical samurai who had an influence on Japan, but in real life, Ryōma Sakamoto and Hajime Saitō were separate people. The story mixes the lives of both men, as it begins with the life of Ryōma Sakamoto, with his friend Takechi Hanpeita, the head of the Tosa Loyalist Party. It twists things a bit, with Tōyō Yoshida being Ryōma Sakamoto's foster father in the game. This is where it diverges with the life of Hajime Saitō as it details his joining of the Shinsengumi, although in the game it is to find the person who killed Tōyō.

It's a very dramatic story filled with betrayals and bittersweet triumphs mixed in with craziness, especially in the side stories. In other words, it is very much a Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio game.

The characters are portrayed by Like a Dragon series staples, as well as those characters who are lesser known. The likeness of Kazuma Kiryu, complete with the marvelous deep voice of Takaya Kuroda, plays Hajime Saitō, aka Ryōma Sakamoto. The likeness of the wonderfully crazy Goro Majima portrays Soji Okita. You'll be glad to know Hidenari Ugaki plays Okita with all of the passion of Majima, complete with taunts of Hajime-chan! Many of the likenesses and voice actors of other characters that were playable in previous games also appear here as historical and fictional characters including Haruka Sawamura, Shun Akiyama, Taiga Saejima, Ryuji Goda, Koichi Adachi, and Tianyou Zhao. Other series characters are also represented in supporting roles.

In the change from Like a Dragon: Ishin! to the Kiwami remake, some of the characters from games released after the original release of Ishin!, such as Koichi Adachi and Tianyou Zhao from Yakuza: Like a Dragon, were used for characters that had no counterparts as well as those from games that were recently released at the time of the original release but aren't as well remembered now, such as Shigeki Baba from Yakuza 5.

It is an action RPG as opposed to the turn-based RPG style of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. However, it does represent a change from the usual fare as swords and guns are available with unlimited use as fighting styles. Like Yakuza 0, Ryōma can use four styles of combat. These include brawler which uses fists, swords, guns, and a combination of guns and swords. These styles can be leveled up and new moves can be learned from masters of the various styles. Master Komaki even serves as the master of the brawler style.

Happily, minigames made it into the game despite the pre-Restoration era setting of Japan. Karaoke is available, including a mix of "Baka Mitai (I've Been a Fool)" with a backing track of traditional Japanese instruments. The usual Japanese gambling games are present, as is the Western gambling game of Texas hold 'em poker. The latter does make sense within the context of the game, as the era is set when the "black ships" from Britain came to Japan. As expected from a Like a Dragon series game, there are also odd yet fun minigames included such as cannonball slicing and cannonball skeet shooting. You can also fish, farm, cook, and then sell the results of your hard work with help from Haruka. 

Side stories are also here, and many are just as crazy as you'd expect. The creators also had fun with the time period with some side stories, as there are some here that just wouldn't work in modern Japan. Speaking of the time period, Atlus has once again gone far and above in localizing the game into English, as there is a glossary of terms for players unfamiliar with the setting of the game.

Like a Dragon: Ishin! is finally in English, and it was worth the wait. This is a fantastic game, with all of the series staples that you would expect from a Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio game. The voice actors, as usual, have brought their A-game, delivering fantastic voice performances. The plot is interesting as well, weaving together the stories of two famous historical samurai in a story with both historical and fictional elements. If you are a fan of the Like a Dragon series, or just interested in historical Japan, this game is one that is well worth playing.

Addendum April 17, 2023: I meant to mention how much Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise resembles Like a Dragon: Ishin! As the former was released before the latter, it is obvious where Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio got the inspiration to delve into the post-apocalyptic world of Fist of the North Star. As I was playing the Kiwami remake of Ishin!, I noticed the similarity right away due to the rustic feel of the in-game villages between the two games. However, once Haruka's villa was available, it became more apparent. Lin's expressions, comments, and movements are identical to Haruka's here. It works in both games, though, as it gives off a cute vibe that suits both characters.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Arcade Action Game Review: Elevator Action

Elevator Action is a classic arcade game that the Japanese developer Taito released into arcades worldwide in the 1980s.

The game follows a spy who slides into different apartment buildings, traveling up and down elevators as well as escalators in order to enter specially marked doors to collect the secrets contained within. There are enemy agents within the building. The spy has to avoid the enemies while shooting them before being shot. Light fixtures can also be shot to drop on the head of enemy agents. 

Once all the secrets have been collected, the spy heads to the underground garage to take an escape car. Then, the spy slides into another apartment building and the collecting begins again.

The music works well, and although simple, is very memorable. The graphics are also simple, due to the game's age, but they depict the apartment and spies well. The death animation and music are as memorable as that in Pac-Man even though the game isn't as well remembered.

Elevator Action is a simple, but fun arcade game from the 1980s. It is a true classic that has graphics, music, and gameplay that stand the test of time despite its age. It deserves to be played by every gamer at least once.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Friday, April 14, 2023

Free Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Dráscula: The Vampire Strikes Back

Dráscula: The Vampire Strikes Back is a point-and-click adventure game by the Spanish developer Alcachofa Soft.

The game follows a man named John Hacker who rescues a girl from the vampire Count Dráscula. It's a game with many humorous takes on the movie monster genre. Unfortunately, the English translation is let down by the sub-par voice acting and translation mistakes.

The version of the game with Spanish voices and subtitles, the version with English voices and subtitles, and versions with French, Italian, and German subtitles, are available for free download from ScummVM. Due to this, it is possible to have Spanish voices with Spanish, Italian, French, German, or English subtitles. This is the way to go as the voice work isn't as rough in the Spanish version.

The graphics are quite nice, with a pleasing cartoon style and detailed backgrounds that fit perfectly with the character sprites. The point-and-click interface is unusual, but it becomes second nature once you get used to it. There are a few puzzles that stretch logic a bit, but they are all solvable with a little out-of-the-box thinking.

If you play the free version from ScummVM, make sure to download the music add-on which is available in several different audio formats including FLAC, MP3, and OGG. It's well worth the download as the music is actually quite good. Together with the graphics, it is definitely the best part of the game.

Dráscula: The Vampire Strikes Back is a humorous adventure game that has a lot going for it. However, if you play it make sure to combine the data with the subtitles in the language of your choice with the Spanish voiceover. The English voice work is done by actors whose first language is not English, and it shows. The English subtitles have a few translation mistakes, but it is quite enjoyable with the Spanish voices in the background. The unusual but easy-to-learn interface and good puzzles round the game out well. The music is the best part of the game, as it fits the tone of the game perfectly. Dráscula: The Vampire Strikes Back is far from perfect, but it is free. With a little fiddling to get the Spanish voices working with subtitles from other languages, it is also pretty fun.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5