March 2010 Archives

Yakuza 3 Review

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Kazuma Kiryu is back and badder than ever. Chuck Norris fucking bows to this guy. There will be spoilers below!

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Kazuma Kiryu is the former head of the Tokyo’s Tojo clan, one of the more powerful yakuza families. After spending some time in the slammer to take a fall for his friend, Kiryu came out to find things a little different. And then a whole bunch of stuff happens, with people dying, the Chinese triads, billions of yen, a gang war with the southern yakuza…

Sound complicated? Thankfully, like its predecessor, Yakuza 3 includes video summaries of the previous games on the disc to catch up anyone just joining. Don’t let the fact that you missed out on the first two stop you from picking this one up if you’re interested.

A few years after the last game, Kazuma Kiryu has brought his dream of starting an orphanage to fruition, leading an easy life working day-by-day with a group of children just off an Okinawa beach. It must be the only beach on the island not jam-packed with tourists. How have they not found it?! Only it’s Kazuma Kiryu we’re talking about here, so despite his best efforts things will not last. There are some big deals going on behind the scenes of Japanese politics and they happen to rest right on (and a mile around) the orphanage, planned as the site of a massive resort and military base. Yes, that sounds like a weird pairing to me, too. Worse yet, someone has shot Tojo chairman Dojima Daigo during attempts to acquire the land. Much to his chagrin, Kiryu is forced to get involved to protect his orphanage and save his friend. Not to mention discovering the identity of the man that shot Daigo.

Something worth addressing right away is the parts that have been removed from the game. I’m not happy about it, but I’m far from the so-called nerd rage that washes across the interwebs when something Japanese is even slightly modified during its transition to the US. “zomg teh cover art is 2mm off!” “I DISAPPROVE OF THIS ENGLISH VOICE ACTOR THAT THE JAPANESE DIRECTOR CHOSE BECAUSE THEY SPEAK ENGLISH!” You know the drill. So first, what’s missing? Mahjong, Shogi, some side-missions probably having to do with those, a trivia game, and the hostess clubs. Honestly, I don’t miss most of that. I do like mahjong and probably would’ve put a few hours into it as I did in Yakuza 2. And I feel like they could’ve just used the localization from Yakuza 2 to make it work. The hostess clubs and trivia show are both Japanese-specific enough that I can imagine they would’ve taken forever to translate and yet still difficult for American audiences to grasp. I would say, though, that if anyone over here would get that stuff, it’s exactly the audience that’s most likely to buy this game.

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I’ll profile the typical Yakuza player that I have in my head. I think the typical Yakuza player probably has some experience with Japanese language and culture. Some manga and anime, of course, but also Japanese film. They know exactly who Takashi Miike is, they probably own a few Beat Takeshi movies. They know that the Kamurocho district is based on Kabukicho and they know that going there in real life is probably a poor idea. They know what a hostess club is, and even more they might be familiar with the adult actress that plays one of the hostess’ voices. In short, they’re going to get all the stuff missing, know it’s missing, and be unhappy that it’s missing.

Yes, I mostly fit that profile.

That said, if I hadn’t been told it was missing, I would’ve hardly noticed had I not wandered into the mahjong parlor hoping to drop some PON and RON on some bitches. The game doesn’t suffer in the least for the among of stuff removed. A lot of it is just fat carved off.

Now onto what is in the game. In short, it’s exactly what Yakuza fans expect and it’s awesome. The story is intricate and fun to follow, the voice acting and cinematics are both top-notch. Sega still makes good games! They just waver between not releasing them or not marketing them here.

The cites of Kamurocho (Tokyo’s seedier district) and Ryukyu (downtown Okinawa) are both fun to wander around. If your niece Haruka is with you, she encourages you to slow down and spend some time with her. If you walk slowly enough, she’ll hold your hand as you walk, and it adds some more depth to Kiryu as well as giving you a chance to see how incredibly detailed the city really is. As you stroll around the city there are tons and tons of activities, almost all of them optional, to enjoy. You can gamble in a variety of Western and Japanese games of chance (I like Koi Koi), hone your skills, eat at any number of restaurants, search for locker keys, pick up women at Smile Burger. Really, Kiryu? You’re picking up women at the fast food joint?

ANYWAY.

I don’t know what it is about this guy, but every punk in the city just can’t help themselves when they see him. Every yakuza or gang member you pass just has to try to mug or blackmail you and always ends up getting punched in the face for it. It’s okay though, because the combat is a lot of fun. Yakuza’s mechanics land somewhere between hardcore brawler and Japanese-style RPG. You have items, weapons, leveling, armor, but all of that lies on top of a solid real-time fighting engine. Yakuza is sometimes referred to as a succesor to Shenmue, and the fighting system shows that heritage. A strong mix of strong and light attacks, combos, and weapons (both carried and found) keep combat fresh, and the occasional quick timer mixed in adds some visual flair to the whole thing. I will say that the combat on normal mode was VERY easy this time around. I was never hurting for money, health drinks, or weapons, and I never actually died in combat (something that happened fairly often in Yakuza 2, for comparison). The only continues I used were for some failed chase sequences that felt a little bit broken but were  ultimately fairly short.

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While I don’t feel that the game is missing much without the content Sega removed, I feel like there is something missing. That is, the ending. Sure, the end is fairly satisfying, but I feel like there were a few threads left hanging that should’ve been addressed. They don’t seem like they’ll be touched in Yakuza 4 either, based on what I know about the game. For example, there’s this huge deal about the guy who shot Daigo looking like Kiryu’s adoptive father. Well it turns out SPOILER that the guy is his dad’s brother who became a cop and then later a secret agent instead of a mobster. Yeah, it sounds like a soap opera, but it’s still badass. Once you start working with him he helps you figure out what’s going on and head toward the climax, a battle to save Daigo in the Tokyo hospital. Then you never see him again. You also meet with a powerful politician named Tamiya. Mr. Tamiya is a cool character, but he only appears once and despite his big role in the complex plot he’s only referenced, never shown. There’s really no epilogue for anyone except Kazuma Kiryu, and it just feels very abrupt.

I know Yakuza isn’t going to make any game of the year lists, but for me this is one of the big ones worth remembering and talking about. It’s great fun all the way through and it proves that Sega is still a game company even if their Sonic games suggest otherwise. Absolutely check this one out and spread the word. Sega sure didn’t bother.

Just Cause 2 Interview. Why? Just ‘cause.

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Aside from the same main character, is there a link between the stories of Just Cause and Just Cause 2? Will the tone be similar to the campier tone of the first, or will it be more serious this time around?

No, the stories are not really connected except for what you mention; it's the same characters that are seen in the first one. The tone is still campy, but with a deadly twist. Action bonanza-cum-satire if you will.

Check out the full interview!

KOMBO: New Review: The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

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digital_winterbottom There's a fabulous Xbox Live Arcade game with stellar art and music, compelling gameplay about time manipulation, and no, it's not Braid. Comparisons to 2008's Xbox Live darling Braidare inevitable, but The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is no simple copycat.

Taking on some of the tropes of silent films, Winterbottom plays more like a bizarre comedy than the sort of tale of forgetting and regretting of Braid. P.B. Winterbottom is pie-thief extraordinaire, and the best at what he does, not to mention the only. One day, though, P.B. Winterbottom happens upon the Chronoberry Pie, which unsticks him from time.

Fans of Penny Arcade's Catsby and Twisp or the silent film A Trip to the Moon (and the Smashing Pumpkins video it later inspired) will feel at home with the top hats and umbrellas, surrounded by machines of unknown function and jagged-handed clocks.

Check out the full review!

Review: PB Winterbottom

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There’s a fabulous Xbox Live Arcade game with stellar art and music, compelling gameplay about time manipulation, and no, it’s not Braid. Comparisons to 2008’s Xbox Live darling Braid are inevitable, but The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is no simple copycat.

Taking on some of the tropes of silent films, Winterbottom plays more like a bizarre comedy than the sort of tale of forgetting and regretting of Braid. P.B. Winterbottom is pie-thief extraordinaire, and the best at what he does—not to mention the only. One day, though, P.B. Winterbottom happens upon the Chronoberry Pie, which unsticks him from time.

Fans of Penny Arcade’s Catsby and Twisp or the silent film A Trip to the Moon (and the Smashing Pumpkins video it later inspired) will feel at home with the top hats and umbrellas, surrounded by machines of unknown function and jagged-handed clocks. Screenshots alone have had fans anticipating the game for some time. If there are top hats and umbrella-based violence, what else might there be? Shenanigans, fisticuffs, defenestration? Sadly, there is no defenestration. The world of P.B. Winterbottom is almost entirely black and white, with just a few dashes of color here and there to help the game along. About the only silent film conventions the game doesn’t pick up are exhausting parlor piano and women tied up on railroad tracks; the story is even told by text cards between levels.

While that other XBLA time manipulation game was about rewinding, Winterbottom is about recording. At the Chronoberry Pie’s behest, the dastardly Mr. Winterbottom must collect all the past pies (not exactly the most painful task he can imagine). Only, the pies aren’t just sitting on windowsills, ripe for the taking. No, they’re in the most absurd places imaginable, reachable only through some mental and temporal gymnastics.

The puzzles presented range all the way from very easy to brain-numbingly difficult. Much of the difficulty comes just from the effort it takes to surmount some of the mental brick walls we put in place as we play. Upon solving—or searching online for the solution to—a particularly difficult puzzle, gamers won’t find themselves exasperated at the solution. They will instead, more often than not, apply their palms directly to their foreheads, asking themselves and anyone else with ears, “Why didn’t I think of that (sooner)?!” This is the best thing a puzzle game can be: difficult and frustrating, but never outside the bounds of logic.

With 75 time-bending levels—50-plus in the story and the rest challenges—there’s plenty of value for the $10US price. There’s no multiplayer, though the challenge levels do have leaderboards to add some additional value.

Now to wander briefly into spoiler territory; for those that have not yet finished Braid and intend to, skip this paragraph. One of the best things about Braid was the intertwining of the story and gameplay. As a jilted lover deep in denial, Braid’s main character was constantly rewinding time to avoid his past mistakes. As he followed the Princess, he thought he was saving her, but when time played forward it turned out quite the opposite, and the way the game mechanic itself hammered relentlessly on this theme made it a very memorable experience. Winterbottom’s time travel doesn’t play into openly interpretable themes as much as it makes way for wacky hijinks. It’s not a complaint by any means; more of a comparison.

The Rundown

P.B. Winterbottom steps forward, umbrella in hand and top hat on head, ready to boggle the minds of all who dare to step into his world. The only appropriate way to end this review is with a poem:

If you want a good puzzle, and need a good fix,
P.B. Winterbottom offers a mix.
If you like time travel, and platforms galore,
This game offers both, and quite a bit more.
Twisted art style and a humorous story,
Keep P.B’s adventure from ever getting boring.

Don't understand P.B.'s obsession with pie?
Check out this game, and you won't deny.

Wolverine is Dead

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wolverine variant Well it’s not so much that he’s dead as that he’s not living in my Xbox anymore. I liked the game mostly, but a particular boss fight made me put the controller down.

Now, DeadPool is a badass character, and I like that he’s in the game, but the boss battle is completely r-word.org. First off, you’re randomly teleported up onto this narrow walkway. That’s fine for the most part. But then you’re fighting this guy that can block and teleport around most of your attacks. The only really effective way to attack him is to do a timed block and counter attack, for which there’s only one animation. How many times can DeadPool stab Wolverine in the liver?

So after five minutes or so you make it past that section and now DeadPool apparently has laser eyes. I’ll admit I haven’t read the comic in a while, or seen the Wolverine movie, but since when does DeadPool have laser eyes?! Anyway, he starts blowing up sections of the narrow walkway. You get time to dodge off them usually, but each time I fought him, he’d catch me unawares or I’d get stuck on something and end up falling to my death. You die instantly, with no chance to grab on, and you have to do the entire battle over again. Each death costs at least a good five minutes of gameplay, making each failure more frustrating than the last.

And now, more interesting games are before me: Yakuza 3, God of War II & III, and who knows what else. I doubt I’ll be going back to Wolverine. Sorry, bub.

KOMBO: WKC: A Game Sent to Die

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When White Knight Chronicles was announced for the PS3, role-playing game fans went nuts. Understandably so, too. Sony's first two consoles were the place to go for RPGs, absolutely no question. WKC was playable all the way back at the Tokyo Game Show in September 2007, and back then the game looked spectacular. Everyone thought it was the continuation of Sony's utter RPG dominance.

Indeed, the game did well in Japan upon release with a fairly positive review from Famitsu and solid sales. Surely it would fill the gap left by the oft-delayed and long-awaited Final Fantasy XIII while RPG fans waited, right? Only, it never came. White Knight Chronicleslanguished in localization hell for over a year after its Japanese release, finally dropping out of the cargo plane earlier this month and hitting the ground to mostly middling reviews.

Check out the full article.

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