Review: Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment (Xbox Live Arcade)

So Vandal Hearts makes its long awaited return to the gaming scene after it first being introduced to us by Konami many years ago on Playstation and Microsoft Windows. The Vandal Hearts series had a small but hardcore fan base after the Psone title was released, its turn-based tactical direction got some gamers hooked for life. Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement is a prequel to the series and the next instalment for us gamers to enjoy, the question is has Konami and Hijinx Studios done enough to challenge and entertain gamers of this generation and past using the best parts of an old nostalgia filled title like Vandal Hearts but with enough evolution and direction to bring the gameplay up to today’s standards.

Vandal Hearts is a turn based so straight away it is only going to be for certain tastes as some gamers can find turned based games very slow and boring, often sometimes irritating. I do have a fondness for turn based games, I am a freak for planning and strategizing, nit-picking and general fussing over the smaller details, if this sounds familiar Vandal Hearts could be for you.

At the beginning of the game you’re introduced to a short cut scene to get you familiar with some of the games characters, after this you will be placed on one of the many small but attractive looking maps the game has to offer. The battle grounds are all miniaturised with tiny trees and chests, which is visually really effective for an arcade game and relates to the older maps in the past titles. The map space is used efficiently and is not too over crowded with objects, which is important as the grid is a big part of what you use in Vandal Hearts, the maps however still seem a tad too small and lacking detail in places.

The tutorial is worth paying attention to as it explains how your stats work, the more you use spells and attacks the more the bar rises for that particular core skill. This means characters can be trained in certain skill areas (like classes), that’s if you want to, you can just train all your skills to become a cutesy killing machine, I do like the fact that the choice is completely in your hands. Also in the tutorial you will get you first taste of turn based danger, attacking is easy: you get into range depending on the weapons you have, choose the attack command or spell and execute the command. The gameplay relies heavily on its command system and Vandal Hearts menu layout is easy enough to use, just press A on what you want to do, the title sadly does lack a variety of items and you will find the selection just short of enjoyable.

The game is based around stages but you will have some say in where you move to, when you can progress to another area like a camp, shop or even bonus stage the map will appear with the option/direction you can take. There’s not a lot of choice in direction all the time but it makes a refreshing change from gameplay and gives you a chance to change equipment at camps by pressing Y to check your status. As you make your way through the game you will pick up other various characters, though they look attractive and are visually well designed it doesn’t add much more enjoyment as most characters can be trained in the same way, in a sense they have little or no defining characteristics to make them stand out. The equipment menu is a little boring for my tastes and two item slots are only available for each person, which is irritating as to use items in battle like Herbs you must equip them first. Buying and selling items is easy but again a little lifeless with the lack of items, and when you’ve proceeded to the later stages of the game it just seems obligatory.

Though the game has a couple little drawbacks it offers the chance for some brilliant mini strategies, when you have acquired spells and some decent equipment the game does get a bit better. Some of the puzzle like scenarios you’re placed in make for some good turn based gaming and the odd Team Attacks helps to when characters are aligned a certain way.

It is a good turn based game with a couple of minor irritations and does have certain elements that relate to the older titles. Sadly I didn’t get much of that great nostalgia feel as it looks and plays just like most arcade games released on XBL and PSN, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the overall quality of arcade games is on the rise but I was expecting a little more originality from Konami and Hijinx Studios as this was such a rare game to get hold of back in the day.

Rating: 7.2

Developer: Hijinx Studios, LLC.

Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc.

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Review Xbox 360: Bayonetta

This is a dark and gothic tale of a paranormal fight between good and evil with an amazingly witty but yet sassy female lead, Bayonetta. The game is steeped in witch mythology, epic mythical creatures, beautiful and action filled environments which creates a flawless gaming experience. Compared to past projects such as Devil May Cry and Okami, Hideki Kamiya’s instantly recognizable anime style shines through in this game. Combined with many other elements’ Bayonetta look’s set to create a new benchmark for action titles this year.

The story of Bayonetta revolves around the two ancient clans who harness the power of light and dark, each clan has a mutual respect for one another but the two clans are lead into war by an unforeseen event. Bayonetta is an Umbran Witch, she harnesses the dark demonic powers of the netherworld but is not necessarily 100% evil herself. Alongside this there is the Lumen Sages who draw energy from the light and the same notion applies, there not necessarily 100% good, this makes for an interesting and smart storyline if a little complicated at times. Above this the bigger picture of the story revolves around a universal balance of good and evil. Because of this and the fact that Bayonetta is neither 100% good or evil adds a unique depth to her character. This produces an intriguing depth while watching her making choices but at times the game is insanely random, depending on what kind of person you are this can subtract or add value to the game.

The game is separated into chapters and verses, these are scored by how much time and damage you take while completing that verse, following this you are given the corresponding medal depending on how well you have achieved. Bayonetta is also set in some amazing environments which creates an array of beautiful levels to explore, these two important elements makes the title action packed and captivating all the way through to the end. Bayonetta at times is very creative especially  when it comes to the combat and the monsters you fight, the style, beauty and attention all create an epic atmosphere. Not only do you have your level based fighting but something very unusual happens, you will get odd random verse’s, for example riding a huge missile or riding along a motorway shooting and sliding underneath vehicles. Levels like these are actually quite good fun and help break up some of Bayonetta’s chaos, granted they don’t make much sense but this is a video game partly about  sexy witches…. it’s not going to make sense all the time.

Bayonetta’s combat system is balanced very well, the four slots on your arms and feet give you enough combo customization to be more than happy with, and along with the array of weapons this helps you create your own preferred style and helps keep things fresh when playing through multiple times. It also offers you the change to cross weapons, mixing certain weapons together can be devastating to enemies and helps keep you on your toes, it also gives you a huge amount of attacks to master. A lot of items can be bought using Halo’s (Currency) combos are the same, they can be bought from Rodin your arms dealer at The Gates of Hell, and though the attacks visually are varied the button combinations are all very similar which means using all of the attack moves can be tricky. You can also put off Torture Attacks with punch and kick (Y + B), these are beautifully animated special attacks that you use to inflict serious damage by tapping the right prompted button, some are astounding and all are incredibly entertaining. There is a rhythm to the combat in Bayonetta, you can dodge attacks and if done correctly can cause a slow down period (Witch Time) where you can get more hits onto your target, all these small details add up to an almost flawless combat system.

You are challenged often in Bayonetta by the likes of giant end of level boss’s that seem invincible or impenetrable, but Bayonetta has a way of seeming invincible herself and this can create some epic boss battles. The fact that a massive stone demonic “thing” doesn’t even startle Bayonetta portrays a warrior like attitude and most of the boss battles will feel like this, it’s an incredible feat to achieve and get across to your audience and improves the atmosphere of these fights as Bayonetta’s personality adds so much to certain aspects of the game.

The game has more secrets than Pandora’s Box and after you’ve played the easy modes and have some incredible weapons and combos at your disposal you can try normal mode and above. Normal mode offers more to you in the way of collecting items, like broken pieces of witch heart or broken pieces of moon pearl to increase health and power for Torture Attacks. There are bonus levels involving you completing a certain task called Alfhelm’s, most of these stages are incredibly difficult but only because they take some thought to accomplish. After your first play through you should have collected a good number of Halo’s to spend, accessories are important later on as they hold unique powers that can be used to further your progress, Selene’s Light accessory has the ability to trigger Witch Time when you sustain damage, these are very handy especially when you’re getting your ass handed to you by a group of demons, so purchasing these is a big help later on.

I should mention again the biggest part of this game is insanity, an unbelievable amount of random but uber cool scenes take place throughout the game and will have your jaw hitting the floor in shock at how crazy and unpredictable the title is. This is a very unique selling point to me as you don’t see this much chaos in games being released today or to the extent it has been taken to here. Video Games used to be a lot more farfetched and random back in the day, which just makes Bayonetta stand out even more (If it’s at all possible).

The graphics of the game are better than I expected, especially with the amount of strange “things” in the title like walking up walls, chaining up enemies till they pop, along with the incredible monsters you fight. It’s not just the overall amazing look of the game that’s impressed me but the creative way they have illustrated attacks and Bayonetta’s movements, there’s a lot of attention to detail in every part of the game not just the combat.

This game has entertained me, shocked me, confused me and thrilled me. I haven’t played such an incredible action game in a long time and this is the  same story for most people I’ve spoke to who’ve had the pleasure of playing Bayonetta. The only problem I can see is the story, it isn’t delivered in the best it could have in the first half of the game but when you play the latter half it starts to make more sense and is incredibly good. It has good longetivity too as it has an amazing amount of things and secrets to explore, along with really challenging difficulties will have you returning to play often.

This game is not to be missed out on, even for gamers who aren’t into Bayonetta’s apparent style and humor there’s alot of other things to keep you very happy.

Score: 9.3/10

Published by: SEGA
Developed by: PlatinumGames / SEGA

Review Xbox 360: Left 4 Dead 2

The zombie hordes return as Valve hand us their next instalment of the Left 4 Dead series.

Last year Left 4 Dead arrived on the gaming scene giving everyone a taste of the two sided fight for life and death that is Left 4 Dead, it was incredibly popular with great previews and reviews, also the aftermath of tournaments and competitions online kept everyone excited about it after its release, but will Valves much anticipated sequel quench that urge for brains again?

For those who are not familiar with Left 4 Dead campaign, the aim of the game is for you and your three other team mates to survive various challenges and hordes of zombies to get to the safe point at the end of the level, obviously there is more to the game than that but that basically is your goal. You start with four brand new characters, Coach, Ellis, Nick and Rochelle, there aren’t any differences between these characters so it doesn’t really matter who you pick, there aren’t many improvements to characters apart from some better dialogue shorts when you fight zombies, which isn’t a bad thing the formula of the game works very well but maybe a little customisation where the characters are concerned as it would be nice to add your own personalising touches to your chosen player as they do seem hollow.

Your character will have four item slots controlled using the D-pad, these slots are very important as they hold everything you will need to help fight the hordes. Your starting equipment will consist of a mêlée weapon and a flash light, weapons are cycled through using the Y button but you’re only allowed one mêlée/pistol and one primary weapon, so choose carefully. You can also pick up medic-packs to heal you or your buddies, you can pick up pain pills too which will give you a temporary health boost, items you can pick up will glow blue making them easier to see in the dark. There’s projectile weapons to be found scattered around the levels and these are great when things get very hectic and can help you create strategies to overcome challenges. The rest of the HUD is easily seen and understood so when things get chaotic you can still see health bars and equipment, Valve really have made a game that is accessible to a lot of people because of simple yet effective design.

The chapters are themed much better and levels are more interesting this time around, almost are like walking around on a zombie film set. The campaign Dark Carnival is one of my favourites, the dark damp look with vicious zombie clowns just adds so much suspense, and I have jumped once or twice unexpectedly. The objectives in levels however are a little disappointing, there too straight forward it’s just the zombies that make it hard, more of a stronger puzzle element would have been welcome. The campaigns are a little longer than before but they still don’t seem long enough, I did get through the Normal campaign rather quickly even though the game is tricky at Normal difficulty which is why the other modes are very welcome, there almost better than the campaign its-self.

This time around you’re given a good selection of modes to hack your way through from a hardcore campaign mode called Realism, to battling constant waves of enemies in the Survival mode which seems to be the in thing at the moment with some of the bigger developers.  There’s some cleverly thought out game modes aswell as the more familiar ones, Scavenge mode is an example of this creative but subtle thinking from Valve, it gets you to communicate and work better with the people you’re playing with in an exciting zombie killing manner. The aim of the Scavenge mode is for the four survivors to grab as many fuel canisters while the other four infected try to stop them, simple yes but different and very enjoyable to play with friends. The way you find games online is unique and effective on L4D2, the search results for lobby’s are set out differently to other online menu systems that I’ve seen, having the maps as the category’s means you can easily see the games being hosted on that particular map by selecting the map, no long lists of rooms to scroll through making it a lot easier to navigate online if you’re not playing with friends and especially for people who aren’t totally familiar with online multiplayer side of gaming.

The Survival mode offers a bit more customization in the way of group strategies and is a great way of getting to know the areas you fight in and utilizing it to the best you can, the point is to survive as long as you can, there will be no rescue. You must survive to the maximum allotted time if you want the gold medal and to do this you must really work hard as a group, if you let another team mate die their time stops there giving you a different incentive to help your friends more urgently when in trouble. If you and your friends are still looking for more of a challenge other than the Versus mode then the Realism mode is even more addictively anal, common infected are even harder to kill making headshots a must to save ammo, you must also proceed to the end of the chapter like in campaign but it takes a lot longer to inch your way through the levels and to conserve ammo and health giving you a more raw exciting experience.

These modes are hard, time consuming and challenging, there also thought out well and help direct play in unique and familiar ways for you and your friends. These modes are basically impossible on your own which is a big shame as not everyone plays online all the time and the choice should be there for you, but L4D2 is made for co-op and multiplayer and fails badly to give you the same feeling on your own, the game does depend on your input.

Versus mode can offer some great hours of play with a good variety of characters to pick including the infected. You can take control of an infected if you are on the right team and use their gruesome attacks yourself, this is a lot of fun as the infected ability’s are a great change from firing weapons. Most of the maps work well with Versus mode apart from the smaller maps, they seem to just create chaos especially with common infected running around, the survivors side is equally enjoyable with the array of weapons and equipment you can have, balancing the two teams.

Overall it’s not the best sequel I’ve played, it offers a lot of the same with some minor game-play changes and new modes and as I played the first L4D a lot L4D2 was harder for me to stay involved with as it’s exactly the same and the some excitement wore off prematurely. As games go its polished and unique making you work harder with friends to overcome the horde threats and improve your skills in a very enjoyable way, but I can’t help feel this is what the first title should have been like and with the second title we should have seen some great progression in the series which is a little disappointing, otherwise it’s still a game to adore if you love the zombie game genre.

Gamer Rating: 8.8

Published by: Valve
Developed by: Valve

Survival Day #13

As I write this Left 4 Dead 2 review I was inspired to write about my epic struggle for survival but out in the elements. As me and my younger sibling fight over the last tin of half decent food I took some pictures of the waste land that is my home. 

Snow is really deep, too deep to go out for food. The sheep are looking good for tea tonight.

Yeah there’s snow everywhere.

It is very beautiful here but actually quite dangerous. The annoying thing is that three weeks ago it looked like this.

By corporalkitty Posted in Uncategorized