Tiny Barbarian DX (Switch) Review – Thrown Back to the 80s

Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)

Developer: Starquail Games

Publisher: Nicalis

Release: 10th October 2017

Price: 29.99

In the recent flooding of the Nintendo Switch eShop with great indie games, a tiny game about a tiny man seemingly perished from the charts. Does this throwback to the good old platformers of the 80s deserve your time nonetheless? Yes, it definitely does and you wouldn´t want to miss this almost perfect classic platformer!

Tiny Barbarian DX is a very obvious tribute to the old NES days where graphics were minimalistic, plots superficial and the difficulty high. Lacking any kind of coherent story or goal, the tiny barbarian slashes through the different episodes of the game while being interrupted by little in-game cutscenes from time to time showing off a boss or obstacle. Dialogues, voices, long cutscenes, all of those things are non-existent here to fully emulate the experience. For better or worse, most of the time I had no clue why I was in this environment, killed those enemies or about much else. Surely this game didn´t need a big plot or deep characters but at least a few line of dialogues for the big characters would´ve been nice.

The graphics on the other hand may have the same goal but execute it by blending modern elements with the characteristic old-school minimalistic pixel art. The barbarian doesn´t have a face, only a few details, a little white sword (I suppose) but still manages to convey a certain character. Be it through the superb animations, he flexes his muscles, smashes on the ground and behaves like the most stereotypical male barbarian you could imagine, cliché-y but brilliant executed at the same time.

Same with the enemies, their animations may be a bit more limited but every one of them has his own little quirk or move, attacks are hinted by their animations and it looks amazing. Especially mixed with the detailed environments which were always the highlight for me. Every episode features tons of amazing looking designs, just look at the screenshots. Together with the stunning retro soundtrack, able to breathe life into the scenery like I´ve rarely seen in indie games, Tiny Barbarian DX´s presentation is almost breath-taking at some points.

Since Tiny Barbarian DX can be fully enjoyed in coop with the single Joy-Con configuration, the controls and gameplay are pretty basic. There´s a three hit slash combo, a jump button, move buttons and that´s practically it. Imagine an old platformer from the 80s and you got Tiny Barbarian DX´s gameplay. Although it´s not advancing the formula in any way it still feels very tight and responsive, the jumps feel precise, the game reacts very quickly and it does a great job at simulating the retro feel. Sadly it doesn´t add anything to it.

Considering the high difficulty of the game a good movement is essential, yes, Tiny Barbarian DX is a damn hard game. The barbarian might take 6 hits before he dies and is invulnerable after being hit but due to the either hard level design or sheer amount of enemies, 6 hits are nothing and I´m sure I died more than just a few dozen times. Bats that are flying up and down, guards with rotating swords, far jumps from rope to rope, elevators, hard jumping sections, think of any hard level design, Tiny Barbarian DX has them all and is not afraid to mix them in any way. As a result especially the later levels and chapters can be pure hell and since the game resets us to the start of each section once we die, dying at the last enemy brought me to the brink of rage quitting more than one time. Typical for older NES games.

Unfortunately the pacing of the difficulty is probably Tiny Barbarian DX´s biggest flaw alongside the underwhelming bossfights. While I wouldn´t consider the difficulty itself as too hard or frustrating, the way the game pieces its levels together creates a rather strange experience. Pretty easy levels that are played on a mount, like a bee, are right before super hard levels where bats are flying through the map and the ground is clustered with spikes and moving platforms, before landing on a unchallenging boss fight. There isn´t a steady rise of the difficulty curve but more a vastly changing curve, going up and down in no time.

The fact boss fights are almost entirely made up of the most cliché-y concepts I could imagine doesn´t help the game to create memorable fights or level structures. Bosses that require me to punch their bombs back to them are overused and boring.

Conclusion

Tiny Barbarian DX isn´t a revolutionary game, by far. There´s nothing new here mechanic-wise. Nonetheless, the goal of delivering a lovely crafted throwback to the 80s platformers doesn´t suffer from it. The music, the pixelart, the tight controls or challenging difficulty, it all works damn well and is a lot of fun. Wouldn´t it have these weird difficulty spikes or unremarkable boss fights I would probably agree with the 30 dollar price tag to a certain degree. However, as of now, the high price tag makes it a hard sell, even for coop platformer enthusiasts.

[A Review Code was provided by Nicalis]

The Evil Within 2 Review – A Way Into Greatness?

Platforms: PC, Xbox One (reviewed), PS4

Developer: Tango Gameworks

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Release: 13th October 2017

Price: 59.99

! Contains spoilers for The Evil Within 1/2 !

The first Evil Within was one of my most anticipated games of 2014, a survival shooter coming from the mastermind behind the Resident Evil series. Sadly, it suffered from many flaws, like a too frustrating difficulty curve and oversaturation of the same theme. While I enjoyed Sebastian´s journey through STEM it suffered a lot because of its mediocre gameplay. I was therefore more than glad to hear that Tango Gameworks got another chance to deliver their vision of a horror game. The Evil Within 2 surely improves a lot while simultaneously introducing new problems.

After the incidents at Beacon and escaping from both STEM and Mobius, Sebastian Castellanos spent three years searching for Mobius and a way to destroy them once and for all. Yet, it´s Mobius themselves who approach him again in need of someone to once again help them with their STEM machine. Using Sebastian’s daughter Lily, who he believed had died long ago, as a core for their machine, Mobius was able to create a new world within STEM. but when the world starts to collapse Sebastian is the only one able to save Lily, the core and Mobius research. In hope to reunite with his daughter and to find out more about Mobius´s plans, Sebastian delves into the terrifying world of the imaginary town Union.

In contrast to its predecessor, The Evil Within 2 doesn´t center on the mysteries surrounding STEM itself, but more around the human tale of a father who would do anything for his daughter. Whereas the first game had a really fascinating plot around STEM that offered a pretty surprising ending to the game, the second game doesn´t feature a nearly as unique one. A lot of time is spent characterising Sebastian’s relation to his family or the three main villains of the game. However, here lies its biggest problem, the plot and characters are mostly way too predictable.

On the one hand the story around Sebastian´s chase for Lily and Mobius could be predicted by simply putting together all known clichés. With the exception of one twist, the story is a sum of oversaturated clichés. On the other hand the psychopaths encountered in Union seem very fascinating at first glance but eventually develop into one big cliché enhanced with one tiny new detail. When I discovered their past and reasons I thought “is that it?”. Surely the characters can still carry most of the story because Sebastian or the psychopaths are written pretty great and embody this unique “Evil Within” feeling. I loved the photographer as a villain, his style, his writing, everything. Still, compared to the surprise twist of its predecessor The Evil Within 2 lacks this mysterious feeling or needed twists. Mobius´s goals are probably the most predictable things I’ve heard of in a long time.

In exchange the pacing of The Evil Within 2 is far better than the first, which was full of little climaxes that resulted in an unspectacular, weirdly paced experience. The game doesn´t throw new enemies around every corner, it instead relies on a few albeit cleverly used boss monsters to underline certain passages or enhance the climaxes. Overall the whole story can be divided into three acts each with their own introduction and climax, it feels so much better to play and understand, almost like a complete different game. I wished the story was more than average.

While the story is nothing too special carried by the cliché-y but working characters, the one thing Tango Gameworks nailed this time was the world, a little town called Union. The first game mostly played in the same dark, muddy forests or corridors of Beacon with its bland and boring although intimidating environments. This time around, it gets obvious how much they tried to deliver differentiating, captivating environments. From little house districts, to theaters, churches or even claustrophobic dark tunnels. The Evil Within 2 has it all and mixes them perfectly with its pacing, creating environments that go hand in hand with the plot. Throughout the game it embraces the freedom given by STEM, teleporting Sebastian to different dimension, ripping buildings apart or even the world itself.

What happens if this truly great world should be integrated into a Survival Horror game? Little open world passages, apparently, and they´re the best thing ever done to this genre. During the 17 chapters and the about 13 hours long campaign, The Evil Within 2 offers three fairly big open worlds where some of the missions take place. As suggested by the name, the game pretty much let´s the player of the hook, only providing a mission marker and sometimes one or two side missions. In these passages it´s entirely possible to just rush to the marker and ignore the world but I wouldn´t recommend it, exploring the open world is both creeping and deeply rewarding making it the best and biggest gameplay improvement.

Either guided by side missions around missing Mobius members or mysterious signals, curiosity or the need to find better equipment, there are plenty of reasons to explore the world Every new discovery is rewarded with ammunition, new weapon parts, new weapons or even sequences centering about Sebastian´s past. The mission design can be best compared to the Batman Arkham series, at least for me. Side missions often require to backtrack quite a bit or main missions begin in already explored areas but all of them manage to deliver neat stories or moments. Even the free roaming itself often managed to surprise me.

For example, I was on my way to a main mission but saw an illuminated house and just went ahead and entered it. Once I saw everything, I wanted to head out but just before the door a giant monster popped out of the ground and chased me through the house. It was amazing and illustrates the pure quality and thought put into this world to make it work in a horror game.

Moments like these are responsible for the creepy, thick atmosphere of The Evil Within 2, it´s a trip full of surprises and smart design, able to both scare with the already known, horrifying creature designs or simple lighting tricks. As a result the open world as well as the more linear chapters feel intimidating and never convey the feeling of being foreseeable. How the game avoids bigger walking sections is also remarkable, not much here is scripted or so linear that it could be called a walking simulator.

The basic gameplay didn´t change much though, The Evil Within 2 is still a very straight forward third person survival shooter. Unfortunately, due to the heavy and justified criticism concerning the frustrating first game, Tango Gameworks and the new director aimed for a more action oriented approach. Stealth or shooting playstyles are still in place along the ammunition shortage in Sebastian´s pockets and upgrade system but the available materials and bullets were highly increased. Because of the open world sections finding materials or bullets isn´t an issue anymore and even spending only a few minutes in them results in a huge oversaturation of them, over time making stealthy approaches less and less necessary. Usually I spent around ~1-2 hours in every open area, completed the side missions and moved on.

At the end of the game I had 400 gunpowder (around 200 pistol bullets) and went into the last boss with full ammunition and I never was much of a sneaky player. The game plays a lot faster, smoother and less frustrating but looses some of its fearsome identity. Even though I had way more fun with the second one, a well executed survival gameplay would´ve fit way better.

The presentation of The Evil Within 2 is as two-sided as the character focused story. Without a doubt it looks a lot better due to the STEM Engine based on Bethesda´s Id Tech 5 but the engine´s focus is clearly different from the predecessor. Instead of delivering dark, terrifying  environments enhanced with this slight touch of Resident Evil that symbolized such a unique atmosphere, the STEM Engine has a far better visual quality. At the same time it looses a lot of the initial magic. The world seems brighter, the blood looks a bit more comical, the whole world has this underlying brighter, whiter art direction. Maybe I´m the only one but The Evil Within 2 just looks a bit more like a streamlined version of Mikami´s original vision.

Especially the enemy variation suffered under this newly found identity in combination with the open world. The normal “Lost”-enemies are encountered way too often, nearly the whole game is filled with them while more powerful enemies make rare or late apperances. Even boss enemies are recycled, after they were beaten the first time clones of them tend to appear in the later chapters as patrolling enemies, taking away the horrifying nature of the first encounter. Along the mediocre mission design, consisting of either very classic missions or the obligatory cliché ones, like “stay under this dome”, “defend this door” or “follow this person”. The game doesn´t stop working because of such little flaws but it can leave a somewhat bitter taste in your mouth.

 

Conclusion

The Evil Within 2 feels like The Evil Within 1´s bigger brother. It has a clearer vision, knows the flaws of his little brother and makes smarter use of his abilities. The Evil Within 1 had these crazy ideas, unsure vision and didn´t quite know how to deliver its message, both in gameplay and writing. Its bigger brother may lack some of the craziness like an oldschool survival gameplay or a huge array of disturbing monsters, however, the way The Evil Within 2 presents itself, plays and improves on its flawed little brother, makes it a way better game.

Some of the initial vision, gameplay and appeal may be lost, exchanged for a more streamlined, smoother experience but that doesn´t mean it’s worse. No, Tango Gameworks delivered a game expanding on Mikami´s initial vision, mixed it with western ideas and turned it into a damn good game, only held back by a too foreseeable story and other minor flaws.

[A Review Copy was provided by Bethesda Softworks]

 

Touhou Kobuto V Burst Battle (Switch) Review – Bullet Hell Arena

Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Vita

Developer: Cubetype

Publisher: NIS America

Release: 10th October 2017 (NA) / 13th October 2017 (EU)

Price: 29.99

Touhou started back in the 90s as a little bullet hell game made by one person. Quickly gathering a big fanbase and fame, Touhou evolved into one of the biggest and maybe most hidden franchises out there, featuring everything from a 16-part main game series, mangas or spin-offs. Another one of those spin-off is Touhou Kobuto V Burst Battle, a 3rd person bullet hell arena game or at least how I can describe it.

Similar to the original series Touhou Kobuto V Burst Battle is a bullet hell game at its core but with a “little” twist. Focusing on 1 vs 1 duels in a three-dimensional arena  from third person perspective, the goal is to unleash a true bullet hell onto the opponent and dodging enemy attacks. Therefore the game offers 4 basic modes, local versus, AI versus, an online mode and surprisingly even a little story.

Yet, to get this out-of-the-way, the story is nothing to be pumped about, being nothing more than a really barebones tale of some cute girls doing everyday things and battle each other. In fact, there are only a few lines of text before this so-called story throws us into another battle. Additionally the game also doesn´t save any progress made in this 1-2 hours long excursion into cute touhou girls talking and behaving in a cute manor. The few lines aren´t even written that well. Everything feels like a poor excuse rather than a fully fleshed out story with good characters. Honestly, it was more of a disappointment than a contribution to the overall game and I would´ve preferred it if it didn´t exist in the first place.

So, let´s thematise the heart of Touhou Kobuto V Burst Battle, the battle system, which is actually pretty extensive. Considering it´s the main and only focus of the game, it better be. Consisting of three basic attacks, a main- ,a sub- and a charge-attack, each with their own situational use cases and cooldowns. Where the main- and sub-attack unleash bullet hell typical rays of bullets in various formations depending on the character and serve as the main way to deal damage, the charge-attack is more of a tactical one. While it functions more of a shield for most characters and a way to defend, it charges up the “charge”-meter, basically a special attack indicator able to unleash a powerful single attack when filled. By combining these three attacks with the ability to double jump and dash, both on ground or in air, the fact bullets can cancel each other and the huge different between each character, already build a pretty fun base for little duels.

However, after a quick look in the manual, the true complexity of Touhou Kobuto V Burst Battle´s battle system dawned on me. Not only does it offer the above mentioned attacks but also iterations of them depending on the current position or move. Attacks performed during a dash or in the air are different to the normal ones, to put it simple. Combined with the melee attacks available at a close range, the game´s movement and attack options are pretty extensive and due to the cooldowns of each attack the whole experience gets somewhat of a tactical undertone.

Unfortunately, there are two big flaws about the gameplay: On the one hand the charge attack is simply too powerful, able to deplete 80% of the opponent´s health if landed correctly, removing nearly every brink strategy if someone solely focuses on getting the charge bar filled up. Yet, this isn´t case for every one of the 9 characters, some special attacks are more easily avoidable or deal way less damage than others, making certain duels somewhat unfair. Especially since the characters normally differentiate themselves in a really great manner, having different attacks but never seeming overpowered.

On the other hand the button layout on the Nintendo Switch isn´t the best. For example, the charge attack, that requires good timing and  no other input to be executed, so having to press A+X at the same exact time never worked as responsive as needed, resulting in off timing or losses. Otherwise the game looks and runs on the Switch as fluent as in the trailers while featuring built-in local 1v1 support with the Joy-Cons! I never had any stutters, lags, bugs or crashes and because of the quite minimalistic, cartoony graphics I don´t have anything to complain about the performance or memory usage of 1GB. Some more modes than just 1v1 duels in 3 different ways would´ve been nice, who didn’t want to play a 2v2 or 3v3 bullet hell mayhem on his Switch?

Conclusion

Despite the tiny almost inexcusable story mode and lack of much content except 1v1 duels in arenas, Touhou Kobuto V Burst Battle is a pretty alright game for some local or online competition. The diverse combat system which offers individual moves for each character and a surprising amount of attacks comes pretty near to a more tactical approach to the bullet hell genre. Thinking about dodging the next attack, paying attention to the cooldowns and firing dozens of bullets at the opponent can be fun for a few matches. After becoming familiar with the systems and having played it with a mate for a few hours we both had some fun and actually enjoyed it most of the time but that´s it, nothing memorable, nothing special, just an okay 1v1 game for a few hours, if you´re willing to pay 30 bucks.

[A Review Code was provided by NIS America]

Danganronpa V3 Killing Harmony Review – A Masterpiece

Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, PS Vita

Developer: Spike Chunsoft

Publisher: NIS America

Release: 26th September (NA) / 29th September (EU)

Price: 59.99 / 39.99 (Vita)

Danganronpa is a special series for me, symbolizing the reason why I bought a Vita before truly falling in love with japanese games and taking away many hours of sleep I wasted to unravel Hope´s Peak secrets. After a mediocre anime, a pretty alright Third Person Shooter spin-off and 2 main entries, Danganronpa finally returns for the last time, probably. Oh, wow, what a masterpiece Danganronpa V3 became.

Unlike Danganronpa 1+2, V3 promises to not play in the same universe as its predecessors, in order to give newcomers a chance to experience it as well. Still the basic premise didn´t change. 16 Ultimate students are trapped by Monokuma inside a school forced to participate in the so-called Killing game to free themself or stay trapped forever. Once a murder is committed the students have to unravel the identity of the murderer in a class trial or die trying. Nothing new for anyone who played Danganronpa before but especially for newcomers a very interesting concept.

As in every other previous game Danganronpa V3 is a very story focused visual novel revolving completely around the class trials and murder cases. Consisting of 6 chapters, which are divided into daily life, slice-of life style sections, and deadly life. Every chapter tells its own captivating murder story which needs ot be unraveled through collecting evidence and solving mini games.

Once a murder occurred an investigation starts where the needed evidence for the class trial needs to be found by talking to the others or simply investigating. Since it´s a very linear visual novel missing evidence is basically impossible, due to the various walls the game sets up to prevent any progression until every piece of evidence is found. After finding everything the class trial will start where the case will be solved. Sounds like a lot but it´s actually quite easy to understand and execute. The fact the cases are never clear before the trials and start to unfold themself during the various trials always made Danganronpa a great crime series.

In contrast to most visual novels Danganronpa V3´s class trials aren´t purely consisting of text but also of little mini games to spice things up a bit. Driving the psyche taxi, answering questions to clear some things regarding the case up, counter contradicting statements with truth bullets, all these things look and sound great and can offer some pretty good ways to involve the player. Unfortunately, all of mini games except the mass debates don´t depend much on the actual knowledge about the case nor present a big challenge. The psyche taxi for example is plain boring, easy and way too long. Surely they just exist to offer a change but nearly every mini game except the mass debates is worse than in previous ones. I hate psyche taxi. The mass debates on the other hand work perfectly, relying on logical thinking and knowledge of the case.

The cases themselves are as great plots as always, offering intriguing stories around characters and events full of twists. While I still think that Danganronpa 2 had the best murders from the series Danganronpa V3 manages to find a really great balance between easy to grasp and hard to solve cases. None is easy to get at the beginning but the moment it slowly unwrap itself is simply amazing. Especially the early 3 were probably the best due to the sheer surprises the game had in store where the last 2, excluding the final trial, seemed a bit easier. Nonetheless the quality of the plots didn´t suffer after all these years and even manages to play with the expectations by presenting seemingly reused scenarios but drives them in a whole new direction.

 

Besides these trials Danganronpa V3 is stuffed with 16 characters, an all surrounding mystery and dozens of hours of reading. Some may fear that 16 individual characters may be a bit much but Danganronpa can deliver well characterized, unique and simply well written persons here. Everyone may resemble a cliché at first glance, yet because of both the interactions between them and the occasional free time events where the background of chosen characters can be discovered, it´s too hard to not identify or bind to any of them. Surely it´s not possible to like them all but the fact I hated, liked and suffered with numerous of these persons through their misery, is a sign of truly great writing.

However, while all these things are well-known from previous installments of this series, Danganronpa V3´s ending is something I need to point out. It´s just like no other ending, not like anything before. Everything about this ending symbolizes Danganronpa and what makes it so special. The conclusion of one my dearest series is weird, special and brilliant just like the rest of it and it once again shows how this series can hide its secrets right in front of the player.

Conclusion

Danganronpa V3 is hard to describe without spoiling, it´s weird brilliance achieved by superb writing, great characters and a story full of mysteries and clever twists always were the reason why I loved this series. On the one hand I´m sad this may very well be the last Danganronpa game we´ll ever get, that such a series has to end. On the other hand I´m happy it concluded in such a fitting, amazing way. Everything clicks, everything works and everything truly feels like Danganronpa. At the end it´s nothing more than a masterpiece. Thank you Danganronpa.

[A Review Code was provided by NIS America]

The Coma: Recut Review – A Mix of Everything

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (reviewed)

Developer: Devespresso Games

Publisher: DIgerati Distribution

Release: 22nd September 2017

Price: 14.99

Horror games are great, especially asian ones tend to be more than just the casual jumpscare stuff. That´s why the recently The Coma: Recut has caught my attention. Indie games always tend to be a bit more experimental and the fact it got overhauled made me wonder, if it was worth all this work. So, after playing this short little game I´m still unsure about the actual quality of this damn game.

Focusing on Youngho, a normal korean student right before his final exams, who fell asleep during his exams and awakes in a horrifying version of his school, The Coma: Recut aims to tell a captivating story of a chased, helpless teenager. Trapped in a dark, brutal version of his school, with no clue of what´s going on, Youngho has to find a way to escape … alive.

During the 4 hours long campaign The Coma: Recut aims to not only tell a mysterious horror story but also show how cruel the pressure put on korean students can be. While it started off pretty interesting with a suicide of a student and some interesting set-ups, it ultimately falls short. After the initial first minutes its most interesting theme  of korean school pressure is quickly forgotten, only visible in a few scenes. The plot around Youngho´s school on the other hand is by far not able to carry 4 hours of playtime. The twists are way too forseeable and cliché and it feels like nothing unique. Dialogues are also pretty poorly written and consist of only the most basic interactions between cliché-y human beings.

The presentation itself though isn´t one of its problems. Surely the Manhwa style artstyle isn´t for everyone and is quite a difference to other games but that´s why I like it. I´m a huge fan of korean Manhwas, hence instantly fell in love with the hand drawn character portraits and environments. Everything looks very atmospheric and has this unique vibe to it I miss in a lot of games. Unfortunately, most of the 2D sprites and animations can´t cut the edge that good. Especially the sprites seem so undetailed and unnatural, I couldn´t quite look at them. Combined with the stiff animations the actual gameplay didn´t look nearly quite as appealing.

Mostly consisting of simple fetch quests The Coma: Recut sends Youngho through the same floors over and over again. Basically the flow is like this: Unlock a door, run through a little new area, encounter another door, forced to run back and get another key or item. Needless to say it gets repetitive and the procedure never changes. The 4 hours are way too long to be carried by fetch quests but that´s all there is. Even though a killer is chasing Youngho most of the time, it suffers from the same weakness as White Day, the killer gets boring as soon as it´s used too much. Honestly, there´s nothing unique, cool or interesting in the gameplay, just bland fetching and chasing I´ve seen in dozens of games before.

Conclusion

At the end The Coma: Recut is more of a disappointment than a good game. Starting out strong with interesting story set-ups, great art and tense atmosphere, it looses its grip over the 4 hours long campaign. The constant repetition of the same quest design, same enemy and same hallways can´t make the game interesting, one I´ve seen everything. Honestly, it´s better than most indie horror games but otherwise nothing more than a mediocre game.

[A Review Code was provided by Digerati Distribution]