All Posts by:

By Tom Farndon, September 30, 2013 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

With the new Kingdom Hearts HD revitalization rolling off the shelves, now’s the time to delve into one of the series’ lesser known spin-offs.

Since it was released solely on PSP, many people missed this polished gem in the Kingdom Hearts series. And before you ask: no, there are no decks of cards to deal with.

Birth By Sleep sticks with the tried and true formula of Kingdom Hearts II’s battle and navigation systems. An ability synthesis option allows you to create your own unique abilities out of your outdated and superfluous ones in order to create new and exciting techniques. This keeps the combat moving along without forcing level grinding, and adds a nice little twist of alchemy into the gameplay. What also keeps the gameplay varied is the choice between the three different characters, and ergo three different fighting styles. Terra, Aqua and Ventus all exemplify power, magic and speed respectively. This allows each player to get a wide variety of experiences while playing.

The plot is a little more serious  this time around, but the game manages to keep the levity with the ever-present Disney characters and scenarios, which add a bit of childish innocence to some rather heavy thematic issues.

The only disappointment is that it was for the PSP, a system that conveyed the world in a visually pleasing manner, but didn’t manage to reach a wide enough audience. Hopefully with all the HD love going around, this game will get some too.

By Tom Farndon, September 16, 2013 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

Upon plugging in this aged SNES cartridge of Wings 2: Aces High and listening to the inspiring introductory drum roll, I prepared to once again take to the skies in a nostalgic flight back to the 90s. Unfortunately, I was grounded pretty quickly when I realized how dated the game feels.

Wings 2: Aces High was supposed to be a more realistic simulation of World War I biplanes. This means that those fancy acrobatics and loop-de-loops are nowhere to be found, instead replaced with a strict adherence to slowly moving left and right. When I say slow, I mean I panned right for five minutes in order to try and catch an enemy fighter from behind. And barely three seconds after catching up, he would be gone, necessitating yet another five minutes of slow scrolling.

It does feel pretty cool going into dogfights and bombing missions in an old-fashioned plane, but the novelty wears off quickly. The brief but witty banter between the various pilots  missions can be uplifting with the humorously old-timey portraits of the pilots, but none of that can keep the game interesting long enough to warrant a lengthy playthrough.

The bottom line here: if you want to partake in a personal tribute to the Great War and go toe-toe with Baron Von Richthofen, plug this game in. If you just want to blow up enemy planes in the skies, then look elsewhere.

By Tom Farndon, September 9, 2013 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

My adolescent reaction to The Lion King was very typical: a gleeful tittering that one of my favorite movies had been turned into a videogame. My adult reaction? A definite appreciation for its nostalgic value, but with a much harsher judgment of its quality.

It may be because I was somehow better at this game when I was a child, but revisiting the game has left me with more gripes than compliments at this point. I played the Super Nintendo version, so while the backgrounds were lacking, the music was fantastic. In fact, I’d play the game just to hear the 16-bit tune of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King.” Unfortunately, campy tunes and colorful visuals weren’t quite enough to keep me going through this game.

As a platformer, this game does well with some creative and challenging levels. However, some of the challenges felt more like they stemmed from trouble seeing objects on the screen rather than by creative design. For example, instant death objects in certain levels would blend in with the background to the point of near perfect camouflage. That or the hit-box for activating certain ledge hanging would be incredibly and mysteriously tiny. This would amp up the difficulty to be sure, but not in a satisfying way.

The game is more than decent overall, with just a few minor mechanical blemishes that get in the way.

By Tom Farndon, August 26, 2013 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

Brain Age Concentration Training is certainly one of the most difficult games to quantify in a review, postcard size or not. While it retains the key elements of gaming: the accomplishment of a certain goal within certain parameters, it is not what one would call a traditional game.

Brain researcher Dr. Ryuta Kawashima has constructed an interactive medium in which to train your brain and (supposedly) keep it healthy. He does so by creating exercises that work out the parts of your brain that control your “working” memory, thereby improving your ability to concentrate. So, with all of these exercises, can Brain Age be considered a game, or is it more like homework?

In truth, it is a brilliant combination of the two. It draws out a natural urge to improve and to come out with the top score. By providing constant comparisons with your past attempts and the scores of other players, the game spurs you on to improve your ranking, and at the same time your concentration.

However, the style can be very hit or miss, with the intensity of some of the problem sets bordering on frustrating to seemingly impossible. Some will no doubt relish a good challenge, while others will find trying to concentrate while playing on their morning commute to be an insurmountable task.

If you like memory games, pick this one up. It certainly is a modern antidote to our information addiction and lack of focus, as Dr. Kawashima would no doubt say.

By Tom Farndon, August 12, 2013 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

If I had to tell you exactly why Dark Cloud 2 is one of my favorite PlayStation 2 titles, I could give you a whole list on how deep the weapon customization system is, or how fleshed out each character’s individual storyline is.

Instead, I’ll just have you know that DC2 is one of the few games, other than Resident Evil 4, that taught me the importance of organization. Making sure my Georama cities were in perfect alignment probably took up as much time as dungeon crawling or weapon modification.

Level 5 Studios has never been one to disappoint me when it comes to quality and Dark Cloud 2 is what started my love for the company’s unique art style and fresh take on gameplay mechanics.

Dungeon levels were randomly generated, and your beloved weapons can break into tiny pieces. The visuals might seem bright and cheerful, but it belies a darker story rife with tragedy and hardship.

What stands out the most to me is DC2’s concept of item creation. Players get a chance to bring out their inner photographer by taking pictures of objects strewn across the different worlds. By taking pictures of specific objects, you can combine them later in order to create a blueprint for a new piece of equipment. It’s a refreshing take on item creation which forces you to be a little more creative in your approach to finding the best equipment.

In short, this PS2 classic shines among its peers.

By Tom Farndon, July 15, 2013 1 Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

In an age where multiplayer modes are as common as Zubats, it’s easy to forget that being able to play your favorite RPGs with your friends was a luxury we didn’t always enjoy. Thankfully, in 1993 we had Secret of Mana.

Sure, one could play the game while the other watched but where was the fun in that? That’s why Secret of Mana will always be one of the best RPGs for the SNES, not only because of a cheerful aesthetic and its great battle system, but because it was one of the first RPGs I could actively play with friends and family.

Since the gameplay is more akin to an action RPGs than a turn based one, it gave it a constant feel of action and suspense. You choose your weapons and your spells on the fly using a ring system of commands. The ring system was intuitive and effective, and great for accessing the skills of other characters when your friends weren’t helping you out.

There are some things to gripe about, unfortunately. The hit box can be a little funky, ranging from attacks that hit you repeatedly when you’re down, to attacks just plain missing for no apparent reason.

Nevertheless, its pros overcome those pesky issues, with a haunting musical score and immense replay value adding to an already long list of reasons why this game is so good. It’s time for me to dust off the SNES and plug in that multitap: there are Rabites to hunt.

 

By Tom Farndon, July 8, 2013 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In the Postcard Review, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

What creates replay value? To me, “replayability” comes from a mix of varying difficulty, hidden bonus content, speed runs and pure fun factor. Sometimes it’s simply a pure addiction – a condition where playing the same levels for hours on end is immensely enjoyable.

That’s what playing Mega Man 2 is for me. An insatiable addiction to jumping and shooting.

The solid controls never fail to disappoint, and every move Mega Man makes is intentional. I know that any missteps, any poorly timed jumps, are solely my fault.

Sure, there are some tricky situations where there is no way for me to escape unscathed, but I happily chalk that up to challenging gameplay mechanics rather than an unfair and unpolished game.

Far and away the most memorable aspect of the game has to be its music. Each robot master’s tune is instantly recognizable and catchy. Whether you’re swimming melancholic with Bubble Man or getting hyped up to fight Metal Man, each stage is unique and challenging in its own way.

If you haven’t played this gem yet, dust off your NES and give it a whirl. You can be a super fighting robot too.

By Tom Farndon, July 3, 2013 0

There have been many games that traverse the idea of a role-playing game, from early JRPGs to modern first person shooters. Each has its own style and flavor, complete with both new techniques and overplayed clichés.

But rarely has there been the opportunity to play an emotional tour de force like Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. What’s piqued my interest is how the game ends up playing on my own perception of morality. In the end, that’s what The Last of Us boils down to: musing on what it means to survive while being wrapped up in the terror of a post-pandemic shooter.

People often say that first impressions are of paramount importance. The Last of Us doesn’t fail to stun you in the opening fifteen minutes of the game. It’s a near perfect introduction to some basic gameplay mechanics without the irritating in-game text tutorials. That’s not to say that gameplay hints don’t show up in other places, but rather that they don’t conflict with the immersion in this particular pivotal plot point. The forced slow movement and the eerie lighting reinforce the idea that this will be a game where tensions run high a good deal of the time.

(more…)

By Tom Farndon, June 24, 2013 1 Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In this feature, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

Most people have probably heard of the term “NES difficult,” a term often used to describe the punishing level of difficulty of early videogames in order to prolong their longevity.

If it’s difficult to beat, you can bet that it’ll be time consuming as well. I decided to test my skills on one: Salamander, or as it’s known stateside, Life Force. The game is harder than I’d like to admit.

As a port of an arcade classic, Life Force prioritizes challenge and perfection through repetition. Enemies follow the same patterns, but the skill needed to deal with each successive level increases at a fair, if somewhat exponential rate. Ship powerups are plentiful, and add a degree of strategy in deciding which one to settle with.

The levels are creative as well, ranging from bio-organic mazes to tubes of fire and brimstone. The bosses are equally unique, if not a little silly, with encounters ranging from a floating Tutankhamen head to a disembodied Andross-esque brain.

For all its fun, however, the game can be punishingly difficult. With no sustained checkpoints, if you get a game over, it is truly a game over and you have to start from the beginning. Never have I felt as spoiled with auto-saves as I do now. I suppose all that’s left to do is get good good at it or die trying. Or possibly break a controller.

By Tom Farndon, June 17, 2013 0 Features, Postcard Review

(Editor’s note: In this feature, members of the Pixelitis staff write small, easily digestible reviews big enough to ‘fit on a postcard’ – hence the title. It can be about the whole experience or just a small piece of the pie. No scores needed.)

For all the negativity heaped on the majority of the 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games prior to Sonic Colors, I am a staunch supporter of the Dreamcast’s Sonic Adventure 2. 

While certainly not a masterpiece, it manages to encapsulate a lot of what makes Sonic who he is, which is a lot of speed wrapped up in a positive attitude. The only change I would’ve really wanted was to see all of its treasure hunting sequences replaced with chili dog collecting.

That being said, each segment that involves Sonic or Shadow, Sonic’s moody mirror image, delivers in the sense that speed is paramount. There’s no time to gaze wistfully at the scenery – all you can focus on is keeping yourself from careening off the edge of the world.

Even so, Sonic Adventure 2 makes you feel as though you’re moving at the speed of a bullet train without causing any disorientation. As much as I love the original Sonic games for Sega Genesis, more often than not I found myself at the end of a level questioning how I got there in the first place.

What ultimate sold me on SA2 was the Chao mini-game. Infusing a popular brand with adorable, collectible and trainable little bundles of cuteness results in one of the most addicting games I’ve played outside of Pokémon. Sonic Adventure 2 is truly a good game, just ignore the parts that don’t have Sonic or Shadow in them. Or Chao’s.