Friday, May 20, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 05/20/2016

I've got a slightly shorter #TeamHandheld Report this week, and as such I'm doing a deep shallow dive into my backlog to clear some of these games off. I own quite a few Vita games that I've not written about yet, so I'd like to touch on as many as possible here. That's going to mean some backtracking, but I'm good with that. I only received a couple of comments about me covering PSP stuff here, but it did give some ideas for others things to try in the future. Thanks for the input.

Before I get to the good stuff, I have two quick things to mention. For those of you who bought Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, you can fill out this form from Sega and mention how you've love to have Valkyria Chronicles 3 on Vita. Not sure how they know you bought the game, but I'll trust you to be honest.

Second, Mr. Tired is once again back on Kickstarter to try to get funding for its RPG/Visual Novel Undead Darlings. While initially for PS4 and PC, there is a stretch goal of $115,000 for a Vita version. It seems lofty, but if this sounds interesting to you then check it out here.

That's it for miscellaneous content, so let's get to playing. Oh, one more thing...keep an eye out for something special soon on the main site.

Now Playing

LittleBigPlanet Vita (Vita)

With a name as creatively bankrupt as LittleBigPlanet Vita, it's hard not to expect this to be an uninteresting experience. That's especially true for me, as I've been vocal about my lack of love for LittleBigPlanet over the years. I was surprised when I actually found this one to be enjoyable. Sure, the game's jump is still a little too floaty for my tastes, but the level design on this one was pretty solid. One issue I have here is something that too many Sony properties try to do on Vita, and that's to force touch screen functionality. This is rarely a smooth process to have players juggle between the touch screen and regular controsl (see Tearaway for a good example), but here you'll be moving around and have to use your finger to move a block or press down on a booster which means you have to move your hands off the real controls to do so. It's something that bothers me anytime a game does it, because it splits my focus in the least natural way possible just to show off the touch screen.

That complaint aside, I can see why people claim this to be the best LittleBigPlanet out there, as it's the first to not bore me within the first level. While still far from being on the same level as some of my favorite handheld platformers (like the awesome Super Mario 3D Land), this one is at least a solid entry. Tarsier Studios should have been given more to do on handhelds than just this, as they seem to be a very talented group with a decent eye for portable design.

-The best LittleBigPlanet I've played-

Superbeat: Xonic (Vita)

After playing DJMax Technika Tune last year, I was excited to see how its spiritual successor would do. When Superbeat: Xonic hit late in 2015, I played a little bit of it and didn't really get drawn in like I did with other rhythm games like DJMax or Persona 4 DAN. The music selection wasn't the problem; it was the gameplay that struggled to keep me engaged.

What I loved about DJMax was the videos that played during each song, as they were entertaining to watch and kept me wanting to replay stages to watch them again. Xonic relies solely on the music to keep you going, which while great, wasn't enough for me. Each stage lacks any videos or much interesting at all going on visually, so any sort of drawing power those other games had for me is lost here, as I could just listen to the music outside of the game for more enjoyment. I understand the budget was probably too small for the studio to get rights to music videos, but that's no excuse for lacking any sort of eye-catching content during the gameplay sections. It got boring fast, and I found myself returning to P4DAN and DJMax instead.

-Good music, but bland stages-

Bravely Second (3DS)

I figured I should briefly touch on what I've been playing the most over the last week, even if I've already talked about it once here. Bravely Second has been eating up most of my 3DS time of late, though I've got strange feelings about it. The story and characters are still charming and the real highlight of the game, but I have mixed feelings on this one's job system.

This is something I talked about on Twitter the other day, but here's some extra detail. I really love RPG job systems, though I often don't like how they are implemented in games. Many times you have very little time to find out if you like a job and want to keep using it until you've spent a lot of time with it to unlock the higher level skills, but then you get other jobs too quickly and are soon covered up.

That's my current issue with Bravely Second. I'm in chapter two, have over ten jobs unlocked, and feel like so many of them are just wasted. I've just picked ones I think I'll like and have stuck with them, grabbing a new one here and there. I don't feel as if this is very efficient, like many of these jobs were pointless to even have. It's tough to be that upset over this, and I don't want to just call out Bravely Second for doing this, as it's often commonplace in games with job systems. Either give me tons of easily swapped jobs with a few well-defined skills or a limited set of jobs with tons of skills. Having both just seems like a waste. Rant over.

On the positive side, I really like being able to fight high level Ba'als that have been weakened, but still give lots of experience. This has helped me to level up as I feel like it and then just avoid all random battles in dungeons. It might not be how the developers want me to play this game, but they've given me this option and I love it. Time to go bust some more Ba'als.

-Some issues, but still going strong-

Upcoming Games

Downwell (Vita)

This downward dropping game hits Vita next week, so I hope to get a chance to check it out. Looks really sweet.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (Vita)

Nothing new on this front...still coming soon.

#TeamHandheld Updates

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SteamWorld Heist Breaking onto Vita

After receiving great praise on 3DS, SteamWorld Heist is now coming to Vita (and PS4) on May 31. This will be a cross buy title and will retail for $19.99, though there will be a 15% discount at launch. The game's DLC, The Outsider, will be available to purchase from the start. Image & Form is also holding a giveaway prior to release, so check out the trailer below for details on that.

Friday, May 13, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 05/13/2016

Welcome back to the #TeamHandheld Report. This one is an all Vita breakdown, so please enjoy.

I'd like to know if you all would be interested in PSP content every so often or if you'd prefer I stick to just the newer stuff. Let me know on Twitter.

Now Playing

Ray Gigant (Vita)

I'd likely never do an official review of a game like Ray Gigant, because it's completely outside my typical realm of interest. I've tried quite a few first-person dungeon RPGs and have yet to really find one that I felt like sticking with. Some of the resent Etrian Odyssey games have been as close as I've come, as those are really fun, but I just can't seem to get into the first-person dungeon formula enough to keep playing. After hearing RPGamer's news director Alex Fuller talk about Ray Gigant in his review I felt like I needed to check it out, especially after hearing how easy it was to get into. Alex was completely right about it being a good entry point, but this subgenre still appears to not be my thing.

The game does start off on a rough note, as it commits one of my cardinal RPG sins: too much exposition before letting you taste gameplay. Very few games can get away with nearly an hour of dialogue before getting into battle mechanics. This short list of exceptions includes Persona 3 and 4, and they only work well because they do a great job of introducing you to the characters, the setting, and give all of the characters you meet personality. You aren't just getting pointless backstory, those games are setting the stage for a great story. Ray Gigant doesn't do that. Instead you spend nearly an hour on meaningless chatter masquerading as story before you get to go into your first dungeon.

Once in dungeons, there are some interesting exploration and combat features found here. All enemies are seen on the map in normal, easy, or hard versions notated by their color. In battle, party members share action points allowing each character to make multiple attacks per round. Using these points sparingly means more will be available for the next encounter, as they aren't fully restored after battle. Health, however, is completely refilled after each battle, so players don't have to worry about that between fights. It's a simple system without much fuss, but it had very little staying power with me. Dungeons were mostly empty mazes with a few treasures hidden around, but I found myself exploring every inch I could, because I knew once I finished in there it would be back to the game's schoolhouse setting where I'd get another big chunk of exposition dumped on me. Those who are fans of text-heavy visual novels will likely dig this, especially since there are combat breaks, but even still I've played better VNs and better dungeon RPGs.

-Visual novel or RPG? It might be both-

Murasaki Mist: Akara's Journey (Vita)

I was very curious about Murasaki Mist when I first saw it hit PSN, but having played plenty of smaller budget, action RPGs before I was pretty sure I knew what to expect. I was not surprised. Created by a pair of Mexican game development teams who mostly focused on mobile games prior, Murasaki is a very ambitious first console offering. While I wouldn't call the game bad, it is lacking polish in many key areas.

The isometric Diablo-style view this title offers doesn't blend as well with its button mashy combat. With no option to rotate the screen, it's easy to get caught up following the game's guide arrow until enemies appear. Once that happens, it's hack and slash time until they are all dead. One of the game's early bosses is a large bovine character that was destroying me until I got it locked in a gameplay loop where I could crush it up against a wall. I was still taking damage during this, but am not quiet sure why. Another odd note about this boss is that the first time I died fighting it, the creature preceded to stand over my body and do the Macarena a la the World of Warcraft dancing emote. It felt completely out of place with the tone the game was going for here.

While the story seemed to be at least somewhat interesting, the game's awkward dialogue was a big deterrent. That aside, I couldn't help but feel the sexual tension building between the main character Akara and her friend/adopted sister Ayuke, so I wanted to see if that went anywhere. Not sure if I can plow through much more, though. The load times are pretty rough at times and the UI was a bit of a mess. It just didn't feel complete, so I wish I'd gotten to play this after it had a little more time to get cleaned up.

-Awkward and...that loading...time-

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (Vita)

I've never really gotten into any creature collecting game over the years, despite starting a few different Pokemon titles. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth wasn't even on my radar as something I'd be interested in checking out, but all the praise it got won me over. I cracked open my import copy and dove in, and I'm finding this strangely compelling. There was never any one big reason why I didn't get sucked into Pokemon, but now I'm thinking it might be the starter creatures. Here in Digimon Story, the cute little critter didn't hold any appeal for me and neither did the plant guy, but as soon as I saw the odd looking gear creature, Hagurumon, I smiled. I knew he was for me. While I'm still early on, I still have my drive to keep playing. My little gear guy's awkward little smile just makes me want to help him get stronger. While I'm not sure if I care about the story yet, as long as I have Hagurumon I think I'm good.

-Might be a new addiction-

Upcoming Games

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (Vita)

Might be a while before I can talk about this, but it looks like I'll be checking out the Vita version before too long.

#TeamHandheld Updates

Friday, May 6, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 05/06/2016

Before I dive into this week's #TeamHandheld Report, I just wanted to share some good news. My latest cancer scans came back clean, so that's the best news I could have hoped for in this case. That said, now they want to cut me up and remove my esophagus (esophagectomy) next month. Looks like I might have a fun hospital stay with that, so it's a good thing I have a lot of handheld games to play!

Now Playing

Half-Minute Hero (PSP)

I decided to jump on the retro bandwagon this past week and replay a fantastic, favorite PSP title. Half-Minute Hero reportedly didn't sell very well on PSP, which is a true shame as it's a creative, brilliant title. This title eventually received two other versions, one for XBLA and another on PC, before its sequel was released on Steam. I really wish this would have received more love at retail, as it reviewed very well, so the sequel could have hit PSP in English as well.

If you've yet to play this one, you can get it on PSN right now for $10. No, go do it now; I'll wait. The Hero 30 campaign is the highlight of the game and the biggest section. During this part, you go through over thirty different RPG-like stages where you have only thirty seconds to level up via random encounters, gather money, buy new equipment, and beat the boss. The stages are very puzzle-like, so you'll need to find a trick to finish each stage before time runs out. Thankfully, the Time Goddess is available to reset the timer for you for a modest fee, so you really do have more than just thirty seconds to finish each area. Sometimes this reset is required, as there are events that happen in that change the landscape and need to be undone. There are also hidden paths and items throughout the different areas that can change the course of the game.

These Hero 30 sections are just a delight, and I'm even willing to go back through the game's other modes just to get to the game's final challenge, Hero 300. It's just a longer, more complex version of the standard Hero 30 RPG mode. The other modes aren't bad, but I'm not as big a fan of those as I am the RPG. Evil Lord 30 is a real-time strategy game, Princess 30 is a simplistic shooter, and Knight 30 is an awkward action game. These were removed in the ports and in the sequel, so they were clearly seen as weaker points. They are worth finishing to get to Hero 300, though, so don't let them stop you.

It's a quirky little game, but I'm having such a blast replaying it. Even though this one didn't do well on PSP, it's a shame that the concept was given up on completely for handhelds. It is such a perfect portable experience as it's very addictive, I might have to even break out a laptop to play Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming on Steam, which would be a rarity for me. Or I might just play the PSP import I have instead and try to work my way through the Japanese. Either way, I really want more of this.

-One of the best PSP games-

Sega 3D Classics Collection (3DS)

When I was young, my experience with Sega games was mostly limited to games like Phantasy Star and Shining Force. I played a bit of Sonic and hated it, and my brief encounters with Altered Beast in the arcade were not enjoyable either. Clearly, I was playing the wrong non-RPGs from Sega, because those two are still not for me, but the other games in the Sega 3D Classics Collection are much more interesting. Power Drift, Puyo Puyo, and Fantasy Zone II held my attention more than the rest, but I couldn't help thinking this collection should have included some of the other better Sega 3D releases from 2015 instead.

This package was a nice look at what Sega had to offer back in the day, but for a real classic collection it would have been even better with 3D Out Run, 3D After Burner II, and 3D Streets of Rage at least. These titles were already released individually, but it would have been fantastic to have them all in one place, especially instead of multiple versions of Fantasy Zone II. That aside, I love what Sega's been doing in working with M2 on these and can only hope for more in the future if possible. 3D Shining Force II needs to be a thing and soon.

-Better Sega games than I played when younger-

Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution 2 Plus (Vita)

I know plenty of people who love the Civ simulation games, but I've yet to check one out as I'm just not a PC gamer. Thanks to 2K dropping this one out of nowhere, after months of it being indirectly teased, I was finally able to check out Civilization Revolution 2 Plus for Vita. While it took a while to really get a good idea of what to do and how to best progress, I had a lot of fun with this one. Having never played a Civ game before, the tutorials do a good job of pointing you toward what you should focus on without holding your hand too much. That said I still didn't win, if that's even a thing, but I was ready to go back for more. This port runs really well on Vita, better than 2K's other surprise release XCOM. Civ Rev 2 Plus just feels like a game right at home on a handheld.

-Small, world domination fun-

Upcoming Games

Super Punch-Out!! (3DS VC)

I super love all of these SNES games coming out on the New 3DS, and Super Punch-Out!! just hit out of nowhere. There's no way I can pass up on some of my favorite SNES games, so I've bought Super Metroid, A Link to the Past, and Super Punch-Out!! already and cannot wait for more. Fingers crossed for things like Super Mario RPG and maybe even some Square RPGs.

Murasaki Mist: Akara's Journey (Vita)

This indie action RPG seems to be trying things that I've been curious to see on Vita for a while, so let's see how it holds up.

#TeamHandheld Updates

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Downwell Falls onto Vita

After months of teasing it, Devolver Digital has confirmed that Downwell is coming to Vita (and PS4), with the porting being handled by Red Phantom Games. This downward-dropping action game will be hitting on May 24 and will be cross buy for $4.99. Each fall down the well is randomly generated, with different weapons, shops, and upgrades available each time. Check out some screens below and keep an eye out here for more coverage when Downwell hits.

Friday, April 29, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 04/29/2016

Welcome back to another #TeamHandheld Report. I hope everyone is doing well, as I sure am right now. I've been spending a lot of time looking through my older handheld games, looking for ways to better organize things. I'm wanting to replay a few GBA games, but I just can't seem to get motivated to play them without sleep mode. It's really spoiled me to the point where I can't play without it.

Also, if you're like me and are a collector, definitely check out Limited Run Games, as the Vita version of Futuridium EP Deluxe will be going on sale in just over a week on May 9. Cosmic Star Heroine, YIIK, and Volume are all getting physical releases as well, so keep an eye out for more info.

Enough of that, let's get to what I've been playing.

Now Playing

Bravely Second (3DS)

While I wasn't the biggest Bravely Default fan, I did enjoy my time with it. I wasn't really bothered by the repetitiveness of the last few chapters, at least not as much as others I've talked to about it. I liked old school feel and enjoyed everything related to Ringabel, though the rest of the story and such didn't stick with me long. That said, I wasn't super excited for Bravely Second. Not that I thought it would be bad, but I was just expecting more of the same. Guess what? That's just what it has to offer. But guess what else? More of the same is just what I've been needing.

Much like Default, Second offers a fun job system, charming characters, and lots of gameplay functionality that I'd love for other RPGs to steal. Adjustable difficulty works well here, as does once again having the option to crank the encounter rate way up or turn it off completely. This allows me to grind mindlessly while multitasking and then work my way through dungeons without being stopped constantly by trash enemies. This alone makes my experience so much better, because I can play the game at my own pace. Bravely Second isn't a simple copy and paste, as the new jobs are super creative this time around. When I say it's more of the same, I mean that it still follows much of the same formula, which I'm totally fine with.

On top of all this, Bravely Second also brings back the micromanagement base building mini-game which I find myself engaging in way too much. Thankfully, it all takes places without much hands-on work, so I just set all of my friends to work and let it run overnight. This alone was likely the reason I never turned BD off during the 50+ hours it took me to finish it, and it seems like Second will be the same. While Bravely Second is more of the same, it seems to still strike all the right cords for me and do it just as well (if not better) than the original. This seems like just what I've been craving, so I might just park on this one a while.

-More of the same isn't a bad thing-

Severed (Vita)

I've liked both other Vita games DrinkBox has released, especially Guacamelee, so I've been curious for a while to see how Severed turned out. Starting off, the first person exploration feels a little stiff, but I adjusted to it pretty quickly. I wasn't really sure how I'd take to the first person touch screen combat, but after a few practice battles I found my groove and really started to enjoy fighting. Next, I started getting into battles where I had to fight enemies attacking from different directions. I wasn't a fan at first, but like everything else so far, I adjusted and started having fun. Then I started running into these multi-enemy battles over and over and it just started becoming tedious. I went from enjoying exploring and fighting to dreading combat, because it was just happening too often and getting in the way of the fun parts.

The game concept works for me as the exploration is engaging, even if the areas have been dull, yet pretty, landscapes. Character progression is solid, too, using body parts found from enemies to upgrade attacks and such. It all works quite well, but combat, especially using the touch screen only to fight a swarm of foes, just got old quickly for me. I wanted less of that and more of everything else. Maybe I just hit a poorly paced section, but I got tired of having to swing around and time things just right. Maybe I just need to play this one at a slower pace, as it was a quick burnout once it hit.

-Touch screen madness-

The Sun and Moon (Vita)

At first I thought that The Sun and Moon was just going to be another challenging platformer, but it's something much different...something kinda confusing. Instead of the typical "make hard jumps" platformer, The Sun and Moon just decides to screw with you by messing with gravity instead. The point of each stage is to collect three dots and then jump into a black hole to warp out of the level. While that sounds easy, you can't always jump high enough on your own, so you often have to jump up and then as you're about to land phase into the ground. This causes you to sink into the ground and get pushed back up messing with gravity and allowing you to go higher. I'll be honest, I just couldn't wrap my head around this beyond some of the initial stages, but it is at least quirky and unique, so I'll take that over just another tough platformer.

-What's going on?!?-

Upcoming Games

Sega 3D Classics Collection (3DS)

I've only played a couple of the games in this collection, so I guess it's time to check out what I've been missing. Not sure how this will end, as my prior Sega experiences have mostly been with RPGs.

I also have quite a few older games I need to get around to, but just haven't had the time. Not sure what else is on deck right now, but I'll find something to check out for next week.

#TeamHandheld Updates

Friday, April 22, 2016

#TeamHandheld Report - 04/22/2016

After many months off, the #TeamHandheld Report is back. Things got busy towards the end of last year, and I've spent the past few months dealing with cancer treatments and doctor's visits, but I've decided to try to not let any of that get me down. Instead, I hope to channel all that handheld gaming excitement into more of these Reports. For this week, I've had a few rocky starts, but that happens sometimes.
Now Playing

Axiom Verge (Vita)

I've been excited to play Axiom Verge for some time now, but I fear I might have done the game a bit of injustice. Before I started it, I finished off a replay of Super Metroid on 3DS VC which reminded me of just want I love from games of this ilk. That said, Axiom Verge hasn't been giving me the same kind of feeling of progression forward that something like Super Metroid does. While I'm constantly receiving new weapons and abilities, I've yet to find anything new that makes me feel more powerful. Simply running across Power Nodes that increase damage doesn't give the same feeling that finding a whole new item like the Plasma Beam or Screw Attack do in Super Metroid.

Again, I understand this comparing these two is not the fairest of comparisons, but it's hard not to see where Axiom Verge could have tweaked a few pacing decisions or balanced progression a little differently. That aside, this game runs super smoothly on the Vita, so it's great to finally have it out on a handheld. I plan to give this one a little distance so that I can come at it with fewer comparisons and try to enjoy it as it is, not judge it by what it is not. Right now, I just can't get out of my head how much I love how Super Metroid is designed and how great it is to have that on a handheld as well. Sorry, Axiom Verge, I'll be back.

-Not a super comparison-

Fire Emblem Fates (3DS)

I knew it would be hard to top Awakening, despite trying the same style, but I think my first fears for Fire Emblem Fates came when it was revealed that there would be two versions and story DLC to tie them together. When I finally cracked it open, I was shocked how quickly, and without much fanfare, I was shoveled through the first few chapters to get to the "choice" between the two sides.

Once I finally picked a side (Birthright), things started to feel more like a Fire Emblem game, but something just hasn't set well with me the whole time. Fates feels like it was hurt by the decision to cut it into two pieces. Sure, each side is massive and the game(s?) isn't lacking for content, but the story, characters, and even the battles haven't felt special. It feels like Intelligent Systems was forced to make over twice the amount of game that Awakening was in even less time, because I've yet to get the same spark that the prior game shined with. It feels more like a shift backwards toward Shadow Dragon than a progressive step forward in game design.

After playing a few more chapters, I've decided to just put this one on hold, and I might return down the road, but not likely any time soon. There's a better chance I'll play the Game Gear Shining Force that's been sitting on my 3DS for a while now.

-Fated to disappoint?-

Assassin's Creed Chronicles (Vita)

After just a short period of time with Assassin's Creed Chronicles, I can easily say that this game works much better for the Vita than Liberation ever did. Where Liberation tried to cram the console experience onto a handheld, which simply drew comparisons as to how it didn't feel as good, Chronicles seems like the right kind of pace change that the series needed on Vita. I've only dug into the early parts of ACC: China so far, but other than checkpoints needing to be a little more frequent, I'm enjoying it. It's an interesting take on the series that I can really get behind.

-Better than Liberation-

Upcoming Games

Bravely Second (3DS)

It's in my 3DS and ready to go. I just need to make sure not to start up Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya instead. That might actually happen, but not if I actually answer the call of the Catmancer. I have been craving a good, classic RPG, so hopefully this will help with that.

Severed (Vita)

I'm a big fan of DrinkBox Studios, so I'm curious to see how they follow up Guacamelee with this unique twist on first-person dungeon combat.

#TeamHandheld Updates