Pinball FX2 / Zen Pinball Tables

We have a trio of tables from Pinball FX 2 / Zen Pinball for you as Steve gives you a quick run down on which of these is worth your time.

 

Star Wars Rebels

When all is said and done, pinball is pinball. Ramps, bumpers, ball locks, flippers, being completely unable to judge where the hell you’re supposed to hit the bloody ball because you have all the hand-eye co-ordination of a meth addict with a head injury, all that good stuff. What Zen do with their seemingly endless stream of downloadable tables is try and make them thematically interesting. I mean, chances are you’re going to buy them all anyway, because why wouldn’t you when each is less than the price of a coffee, but not all themes necessarily appeal to all people.

This is the case with the Star Wars Rebels table. After rinsing the living hell out of every other aspect of the Star Wars franchise for table inspiration, it’s no surprise that Rebels got the treatment as well. The table itself is fine, if a little uninspired, but not being familiar with the source cartoon (and thusly not giving a rats bollock about it) most of the character references, voices and mode themes are lost on me. It’s probably aimed at younger gamers, although I’m not sure how many kids play pinball. Also, as a table taken on it’s own merits it’s just not interesting enough to recommend. It’s all a bit too simple and bland, especially when you could be playing the excellent Empire Strikes Back table.

VERDICT: NAY.


 

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

The second of the trio of tables reviewed today is the Avengers Age of Ultron table, which suffers from pretty much the opposite problems that Rebels had. It’s needlessly complex in its requirements for Wizard Mode, the table art is really busy and makes it difficult to see what’s going and generally has too much extra gubbins that seem to be tacked on for the sake of it.

Take the choice of difficulty level at the beginning of the game, for example. It changes the score and time available in modes and the pitch of the table, but it just seems to serve no real purpose other than to make it unnecessarily convoluted.

Also, as bizarre as this may sound, it takes itself far too seriously. It’s a pinball table, for God’s sake, but the way the incidental dialogue is delivered (by a mix of credible and completely awful soundalikes) you’d think they were in some broadway drama or something. As such, it’s just no fun. Zen are capable of very entertaining tables, and Marvel has no end of licenses to pillage (as has been seen already with the multitude of licensed tables already available) so it’s just disappointing.

VERDICT: NAY.


 

Portal

The final table is a bit off an odd one. When the Portal table was announced most people went “Buh? Wah?” and then put their tin foil hats on and tried to extrapolate some way of it meaning Half-Life 3 was about to be announced but I gave a little squee of excitement as more Portal in any form isn’t a bad thing. It’s a simple table, probably more simple than Rebels is, but it has the bonus of being fun to play. I know I keep prattling on about fun but why the hell would you play video games if they weren’t fun?

One thing I like about the table is that it’s a high scorer. It’s easy to trigger the (thematically wonderful) modes and rack up some decent scores from them and there aren’t too many of them that lead up to Wizard Mode. The table is relatively clutter free, has some lovely set dressing and uses samples from Portal 2 as its dialogue. As it should be. Getting a soundalike to do GlaDOS would be easy given the post processing on Ellen McLain’s voice, but also a borderline heretical notion.

Out of the 3 Portal feels most fun, simply because it  isn’t over blown and it isn’t boring. Being rewarded with a decent high score despite being a cack handed chimp is always going to get a thumbs up from me, so if the Portal theme doesn’t float your boat then you might as well give this table a miss too. Saying that, if you don’t get on with Portal we can’t be friends anyway.

VERDICT: YAY

 

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD

Another post / remaster to cover, but unlike some, we really don’t mind these happening. They bridge a gap between major releases and don’t actually stop progression. Anyway, I digress.

I reviewed the Vita release of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD and pretty much enjoyed the experience, it is always good to go back to a game you played in your younger days and find out it still holds up today. However, I am not going to talk about that today, this is more a story of why I am grateful for the option of another port. If you want to find out what I think of the game click this link!

I am still playing Final Fantasy X on my Vita, I don’t play it for huge chunks of time, but I do like an hour or so every now and again, it is a bit of a safety net of a game for me at the moment. The thing I have to put up with now, as a father of an 8 year old, is everything I get, he wants, or at least shows interest in and this is certainly the case here.

He is mesmerised by the visuals in the cut scenes and wants to play along with me, however he doesn’t have his own Vita and I won’t let him touch mine, it is my precious! So having heard there was to be a PS4 port of the X/X-2 collection, we jumped at the chance to pick it up so we could share the experience properly on the big screen.

There is one thing I love about this port and it is the ability to import my Vita save data, which whilst only being a minor thing, means I can carry on where I left off and despite it not being a new thing, there is always that fear you need to jump through some hoops…I’m looking at you Borderlands: The Handsome Collection! But that isn’t the case here, the process is very user friendly.

Let me get back on point. As a family we rarely watch much TV, mainly because most of it is trash, so we get the stuff we want via Netflix and other such services, but also because we love playing games, so a game that can be very story heavy is a great way for us to sit as a family and enjoy some entertainment. Final Fantasy X/X-2 is a perfect game to allow us to do just that.

Despite firing up my save initially and playing a couple of hours, we decided instead we’d use the family profile on the PS4 and play it through together. Again an hour here, couple of hours there, fitting it in around our other activities (mostly down the ice rink for my son to do ice hockey training).

That’s the thing about the old style Final Fantasy games, you don’t need to dedicate 5-6 hours at a time, every single day to get the most from them, or to play them competently, it is easy to play, leave for a while then go back.

Despite an initial overload for this article, so we know enough had been played to write about it again, it will now be treated like a tradition weekly TV show, we’ll sit down one evening as a family, play for an hour (maybe two) and then move on until the next week. It is just great to be able to share these experiences with the ones that you love.

I am going to recommend this, but with a slight caveat. If you have played and are done with the Vita release, there isn’t really anything to push you to picking it up again, unless you are really sure you want to play it once more on another format. For everyone else, pick this up, enjoy and share the experience.

 

VERDICT: YAY

Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses

I have to admit I was slightly sceptical about what to expect when my husband sent me a link back in September advertising the third instalment of the Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses concert series for one night only at Wembley Arena on the 17th March – but I agreed to go along.

The time whizzed by and before I knew it we were at Wembley Arena on the second row surrounded by thousands of people all wearing similar Zelda t-shirts. The venue was set out with seating across the arena flooring as well as the fixed stands to provide quite an intimate setting for such a big space. The stage spanned the width of the arena and had a large screen setup behind the orchestra.

The concert lasted about two hours and was spectacular with each new song causing cheers and whoops from the crowd. Fans were treated to staples including the theme music from “A Link Between Worlds”, theme music from the remake of “Majora’s Mask” as well as symphonies recounting storylines from “Ocarina of Time”, “Wind Waker”, “Twilight Princess” and “A Link to the Past”.

The screen at the back of the stage showed a mixture of cut scenes from all of the Zelda games as well as some gameplay, with the occasional shots of the orchestra spliced in for good measure. Fans were particularly enamoured with the short videos some of the lead designers of the Zelda series, Shigeru Miyamoto and Elji Aonuma, as well as the Zelda franchise composer Koji Kondo thanking the fans for all of their support throughout the growth and development of the iconic series.

I have never been to an event with such a great crowd atmosphere and am looking forward to going to some more game related orchestral events in the future.

VERDICT: YAY

Bloodborne Guide Book

Guidebooks aren’t something I go for. The last one I bought was for Homeworld, way back at the turn of the century.  I mean, come on, we have this thing called the internet.  Stuck on a boss?  Just google it.  Unable to continue a quest? Just google the quest. But every once in a while a game comes along that is so captivating, oozing such quality that, even after finishing the game, you want to know more.  No, not more. Everything.

Bloodborne is one such game, if you give it the chance.  I’ve already reviewed the game itself, and now I have the pleasure of putting in a few words for the game’s official guidebook.  Let’s get the obvious out of the way: It’s massive! This isn’t some glorified softback magazine, it’s a hefty hardback volume. It’s not some mere walkthrough, it has in-depth information on almost every facet of Bloodborne.

Some may be upset at the book’s lack of detail on the actual lore of the game. It’s a fair complaint, but there is a rather insightful interview with Hidetaka Miyazaki at the back of the book that sheds some light onto perhaps why: Miyazaki-san really likes his games to be open to interpretation, so while this guidebook will confer upon the reader the knowledge to beat certain enemies, or traverse certain areas, it leaves the hows and whys to the reader’s imagination.

Much like my review of Bloodborne, I don’t want to go into specifics here in case I spoil things for anyone still playing the game for the first time.  In fact, this guidebook shouldn’t be for your first play of the game.  For successive runs through the game however, I’d say it’s essential.  The sheer wealth of knowledge it contains is invaluable, it’s the kind of extensive tome you would expect to find in Rupert Giles’ library. If you love Bloodborne, this guidebook is an excellent companion piece.

VERDICT: YAY

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse

Not being familiar with the Shantae series I had only rudimentary knowledge that I’d picked up from friends deep into the pixel-art-power-up-hunting-platformer genre. Sounds like something I made up to avoid saying ‘Metroidvania’ but I assure you, it’s a real thing. *Cough*

Look, in all honesty this is barely a review. Gareth reviewed it on the Wii U and gave it an astronomical 9 out of 10, so for me to go over it all again and blurt out my incredulity at how this game got a 9 is pointless. It looks great with fabulous animation and art direction (even if the abundance of jiggling pixelly boobs is a bit disconcerting) and the soundtrack is also rad as fuck, but it has all the problems this type of game has, like massive gaps without a save point so when you die you’re doing a large section again. Of course, one man’s problems are another man’s boons.

Basically if you like pixel-art-power-up-hunting-platformers with a strong aesthetic and a decent challenge, you’ll enjoy Shantae. If you’ve played the previous Shantae games, I’m assured you’ll enjoy this one. Personally, I wouldn’t pay £15 for it but I’m one of those heathen bastards that prefers enjoying games than being punched in the bollocks by them.

VERDICT: YAY…We Think

Sure, if you like this sort of thing. Whatever, man. I’m not your mum. It’s your money.

Ready, Player One

Set in the year 2044, the world is a pretty grim place where mass poverty rules. Our hero of the story, Wade, does what everyone else does and escapes his surroundings by logging onto the virtual reality world of the OASIS. There he is known as Parzival, he goes to school inside this virtual world and generally just hangs out with his friend Aech in his own virtual chat room.

The crux of the story revolves around the hunt for the Easter Egg. Upon the death of the OASIS’ creator James Halliday, he stipulated in his will that hidden within the OASIS is a special Easter egg that once obtained, will get the winner Halliday’s entire multi-billion dollar fortune. The stakes are high as the evil corporation IOI also want the Egg for themselves in order to take control of the OASIS, and as the story progresses it’s clear they will do anything to obtain it.

First of all, there’s one main issue I had with Ready, Player One that crept up almost constantly throughout the book. It’s Cline’s insistence on giving history lessons whenever a specific TV series, game or movie comes up. While it’s understandable that he wants to get across how much of a nerd the protagonist is, it also becomes slightly annoying when the story slows down as you’re told the history of some obscure Japanese television series.

The other slight issue I have is with certain interactions between characters. As well as Aech there’s also Art3mis, a fellow egg hunter and love interest for Wade, this is despite them never meeting in person. Indeed, the most interesting factor of the OASIS world is that you can be whoever you want to be. The problem is the dialogue can at times feel forced and unnatural. Certain parts were actually reminding me of the movie Hackers with our trio of nerds sounding incredibly unrealistic.

Still, despite my reservations I had a damn good time with this book. Is it a work of high art? No. Is it hugely enjoyable, escapist fun? Absolutely! And it doesn’t hide this at all. It’s a story of good vs evil with plenty of trials and tribulations ahead for Wade and his cohorts as they try to find the Easter Egg. You’re painted a wonderful picture of this bleak future that Wade finds himself living in that it’s understandable that people would want to escape into the OASIS.

It’s an enjoyable story, and it’s understandable why it was almost instantly courted for Hollywood but it may be a difficult adaptation. On top of the various games consoles and games that are constantly referenced and play huge parts in the plot (like Joust and Pac-Man), there are also movies and spaceships from across all media.

The OASIS being as vast as it is, travel between worlds can either be done with teleportation or using spaceships. These ships including various Star Wars vehicles, and even the Serenity from the Joss Whedon show Firefly. Oh, and the book also features Mechagodzilla and Ultraman. I’m not joking. In fact, what would be the best part of the book features these two giant behemoths, so omitting it due to license trouble (highly likely) would be a massive blow.

But anyway, that’s the movie, this feature is about the book. And while it may not set your world alight, I found Ready, Player One to be a hugely enjoyable romp that I found difficult to put down.

VERDICT: YAY

Bastion – Yay or Nay

I will make no secret of my love for Bastion, I have played and finished it on Xbox Live Arcade, iOS, PC and even on the Chrome store as a browser game. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it and I will return to it many times before I die.

So I am not here to tell you about the game, nor am I going to tell you what you should think about it. You can make your own mind up, try various demos, try it in your browser, wherever.

There are many issues people have with remasters; for some it feels like a pointless cash grab, others see them as harming the production of the next AAA game, others simply don’t like paying for content they already own on another system.

Yet, here is Bastion, a game that has been released on pretty much every system out there, bar the ones owned by Sony. There is no PS3 version of this game, that you’d likely already own, so in all fairness, you shouldn’t expect some kind of free upgrade. But hey, if it was on PS3, you can be sure there’d have been a cross-buy option, which is the case with the PS4 release. You’ll also get the Vita version when that too arrives.

As for the updates, there really are none, it is the exact same game you may have already played, so someone coming in fresh isn’t getting any special treatment and if you decide to leave this release alone, you’re not missing out on anything.

In actual fact, it is only a bump up in resolution that really shows, it looks nicer than on iOS and the Chrome store, but really only marginally better than on XBLA and barely any difference to the PC at all.

Much of that comes down to the art style, it is still just as wonderful and striking as the day it first graced us in 2011 during the XBLA Summer of Arcade. For me it was one of the first games that really showed just how amazing an Indie title can actually look and what can be done when a developer gets to control their own content.

So listen, Bastion isn’t for everyone, there isn’t much I can sell you on if you have finished the game already and I know everyone isn’t the same as me with their love for this great title. But to have it on another platform, where it can potentially find a new audience? That makes this verdict easy.

VERDICT: YAY

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection

Part of me wanted to do a full review for Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. However in terms of what the games actually are, there is no difference. If you’ve played any of the original releases you’ll know exactly what you think of the games. If you haven’t we have reviews on our very site.

So I decided this was a case of seeing if it was worthwhile buying this new version, Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. We’ve already looked at the slightly disappointing special collector’s edition (Clap Trap in a box) with the remote control Clap Trap, for the bewildering £290 pricetag. But not everyone has £300 to throw at such a thing…we’d like to, but we don’t.

The Handsome Collection on its own is a much more palatable £40 RRP and can often be found cheaper if you look around. With that you also get all the DLC that is available which truth be told adds a ton of value and whilst the box claims of ‘OVER £100 of Content’ should probably be taken with a pinch of salt considering the various sales since release, there is no denying that £40 for what is on offer is value for money.

I myself have never completed a Borderlands game to 100%  and I have never really jumped into the DLC, purely because I often don’t have the time, but every now and again I get tempted to jump in. My problem here? I have pretty much retired both my PS3 and 360, meaning I would have had to look at buying on PC for extended play time and needing to start all over again.

Well for me, that kind of is the case, as I have saves all over the place, on a lost 360 profile, PS Vita for one, PS3 for another… My furthest progress was on the 360, so that is now lost and starting over isn’t that big a deal. But there are plenty of people out there who have progressed pretty damned far and the idea of starting again just doesn’t appeal.

Luckily The Handsome Collection allows you to import previous saves, which needs a bit of farting around, but it is possible, also there is no cross-platform importing, which is even more of a pain for those who jumped from 360 to PS4 and vice versa. This is where Diablo III was very impressive, as was GTA V. So it really is a shame that this wasn’t possible here.

The other issue with The Handsome Collection is that the ports themselves aren’t all that great, there are various performance issues that stop them being the definitive versions at this moment in time. The Vita port got a public slaughtering, but it was still so impressive to get Borderlands 2 on to a handheld that performance issues can be forgiven.

But jumping from PS3 and 360 to PS4 and Xbox One should be as big a task, especially when there seems to be no plans to port to PC and it is easy to see why, as those versions are clearly the best still. Which then begs the question… why not port the PC versions? Wasn’t one of the big selling points of the new consoles how much closer to PC infrastructure they were?

The Handsome Collection could have been one of the most impressive remasters so far, because content wise it does feel like the best value for money, but some odd decisions and what feels like second rate ports leave a bad taste in the mouth.

 

VERDICT: NAY

Borderlands Claptrap in a Box Edition

So normally I don’t buy into the whole “Oooo look at this awesome special edition” stuff but I have to say when I found out at the end of January about the Claptrap in a Box edition, which was being released with the Handsome Collection containing Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel, I was beyond excited.

No date was announced for pre-order, or where, or how much it was likely to bankrupt me so I was a little apprehensive whether we were likely to get one. After weeks of checking spam tweets from 2K Gaming I finally saw the announcement in mid-February that it was available for pre-order. I scurried over and my jaw nearly hit the floor: £289.99!

How desperate was I for a remote controlled Claptrap? After a 30 second internal debate of “Should I or shouldn’t I?” I decided to go for it (and ordered it using my husband’s credit card…).

Fast forward to the end of March when I received a huge box. I carefully unpackaged the outer packaging to reveal a shiny yellow and white box displaying my prize. I slowly opened the box breathing in the “new smell” (don’t mock me! I know it’s the first thing everyone does when they open a new game/DVD…honest…!) and removed the A4 lithographs of the Vault Hunters which were printed on high quality paper and held in their own folder. The images themselves aren’t too shabby and they wouldn’t look amiss framed and put up on the wall of a man-cave. There was also the limited edition tin which, let’s face it, have become so common these days that I tend not to see them as anything different from the norm.

So on to the Claptrap, who came in his own special Hyperion box. The details were exceptional, with the box looking like it had come straight out of the Borderlands. Even the polystyrene holding Claptrap in place was custom designed with Claptrap’s unit info “CL4P-TP” and more Hyperion branding.

Claptrap is made from a strong heavy duty plastic which I found a little disappointing as deep down I’d hoped, that for the cost, he would be metal. The arms are slotted into the holes under flaps in his sides and have no movement beyond being posed manually. The app needed to control him is downloadable from the app-store for iOS or Android – however if this is removed at a later date you will be unable to use your remote controlled buddy which is a little worrying. Using the app is hard on a small phone as you can’t see much of the view from his camera due to the function buttons. The control and view are not as responsive as I’d hoped (even though it had to be set-up on its own wi-fi network), however the different phrases are amusing whilst he’s whizzing around. There is also a stealth mode function which can be used whilst he’s sitting on your bookshelf to scare friends walking past by making him talk.

Overall it’s a nicely put together special edition with a lot of attention to detail in the packaging. However given the overall price tag for the plastic body, non-remote controlled arms and app that could eventually be unsupported, and with the limited other extras I have to go with…

VERDICT: NAY

Persona 3 The Movie: #1, Spring of Birth

The premise is off. Unlike feature adaptations such as Dragon Age: Dawn of the SeekerHalo Legends and Mass Effect: Paragon Lost that provide side stories to the main event, Anime International Company (AIC) attempts to take the full scale of Persona 3 and encapsulate it in a film. It’s a logic that’s not hard to support – Dawn of the SeekerLegends and Paragon Lost are notoriously weightless, little more than overproduced fanfiction. How better to bypass this problem than giving us the main event. But the obvious question remains: how to distil a 90+ hour RPG into a feature length anime?

AIC has a partial solution; turn it into three feature films. But the absence of parity between 90 and six is all too apparent, and is an ambition that goes unfulfilled in this first act.

Persona 3 The Movie: #1, Spring of Birth slowly tells the opening of P3, as orphan protagonist Makoto Yuki arrives at Gekkouhan High School, unwittingly experiencing the mysterious phenomenon of the Dark Hour – a midnight time period hidden from normal humans where shadows roam and the school transforms into Tartarus, a labyrinthine tower purported to contain the secrets to the Hour. Yuki is swiftly recruited into the afterschool club Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES) where he joins fellow Persona-wielding schoolmates Junpei, Akihiko, Yukari and Mitsuru in their investigation.

A tantalising synopsis, but dedication to the source’s plot and pace (elements that are both usually something to endorse and too often the first casualties in adaptations) mean that is everything audiences are getting with this first-of-three. Director Noriaki Akitaya chooses to focus on getting the band together and developing Makoto’s few characters tell from player-controlled avatar to independent personality. Unfortunately both fall short under the 91 minute runtime, with P3’s excellent and nuanced cast of characters reduced to tropes and Makoto’s own development protracted to the point of frustration.

This will be an understandable pain for anyone familiar with Shin Megami Tensei games. The openings are often painfully protracted, following a silent protagonist that has yet to develop, surrounded by accomplices they have yet to connect with in an environment alien and seemingly impenetrable. This will be an understandable pain for anyone familiar with Persona 4: The Animation, the 25 part anime series based on P3’s successor, and of which the early episodes were also mired with a similarly sluggish pace. Put simply, it starts as work.

Where Spring of Birth does succeed is the style. A colour palette that eeks out the supernatural within the urban setting with delicate aplomb, drawn and animated to high standards, and while the significance of the Evokers – gun-like devices aimed at the head to draw out your Persona – never quite matches the striking imagery of watching schoolchildren kill themselves to fight monstrous beasts, some of the initial summon sequences are unsettlingly captivating to watch. Similarly, the music featuring remixed tracks from P3 remains compelling, and main battle theme ‘Mass Destruction’ will undoubtedly stick in your head.

P4A eventually develops into one of the finest computer game adaptations, with the all-too glorious payoff for your graft a fascinating and engrossing series, indulgently stylish and self-aware yet earnest and charming. Just as the games are. Much of this is accomplished without relinquishing that initial protracted pace – entire episodes are dedicated to side stories and character development the series is famed for, wilfully ignoring the prime murder mystery story.

Conversely, it is hard to imagine the P3 feature films being granted either the runtime to be necessarily generous to its characters or distilling the plot into something cohesive while keeping the languishing Persona charm. The second film, #2, Midsummer Knight’s Dream was released on 7 June 2014, with #3, Falling Down dated 4 April 2015 and despite these initial reservations, Gamestyle will certainly be checking them out.

VERDICT: YAY

Bayonetta: Bloody Fate

Before I put the disc in I thought to myself, “hang on, what exactly happened in Bayonetta?” I then blankly stared into space for a minute trying to remember and coming up blank. Because as amazing as Bayonetta was, the plot was absolute bobbins. And somehow, in trying to tell it in a coherent fashion, Bloody Fate comes off looking worse.

The movie does try to welcome you into this weird world with an opening monologue telling of the battle between angels and the umbra witches. The angels trying to obtain two eyes which in turn will resurrect Jubileus who is going to destroy the world, or something like that. Our hero Bayonetta is awakened after 500 years and is on a quest to regain her lost memories by killing everything with her magical hair powers. Like I said, it’s all a bit baffling, but like the game the movie is really a showcase for the action.

The Bayonetta: Bloody Fate trailer

The opening action scene from the movie is similar in tone to the game, only now it’s taking place in a church as opposed to a cemetery. Despite being an adaptation of the first game, there are a few slight differences like this scattered throughout, none of which affect much. It almost feels like they had to change something so they could add their own stamp to it, but did so little it almost becomes pointless.

What isn’t different though are the voices. All the games voice cast return to lend their talents and jumping straight to this shortly after completing Bayonetta 2 made it all feel official.

While the action sequences are spectacular and really hold the movie together, the problem is that’s really the only thing it has going for it. So much so that while watching all I wanted to do was turn the Wii U on and play the actual game and that’s a massive problem. As excellent as the fight scene between Bayonetta and Jeanne is, I remember it being just as fantastic when I had a controller in my hand.

What Bloody Fate does double down on is the rather gratuitous shots of Bayonetta in various stages of undress. As her hair acts as her weapon (and is also her outfit) it means with every use of it, it comes off, until it’s only covering the more intimate parts of her body. There’s also a bath scene (because it’s an anime), where the camera lingers for a little too long as the hapless Luka stands there gawping.

It’s hard to know who they’re aiming for with Bloody Fate. As it’s a straight up adaptation of the first game there’s very little here that people who’ve played the game wouldn’t have already seen. And if you’re just looking for a good anime action movie then you’ll be left confused by the indecipherable plot. I could only just about follow it because the game was still fresh in my memory.

With some thought the director/writers could’ve come up with a more unique and interesting story set apart from the games, but unfortunately what we get is a rather underwhelming re-tread of the first game.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play the real thing.

VERDICT: Nay

The Art of Dragon Age: Inquisition

Once upon a time obtaining ‘Art Of’ books was a nightmare, usually having to import them from Japan at ridiculous cost. Of course, this means a lot of Western games were overlooked and the reams of concept art were consigned to crappy, tiny A5 books that came with limited editions. If you were lucky.

These days that’s not the case, with book publishers snapping up game rights to put all that glorious behind-the-scenes processes for us to feast our eyes on, while we lament that we’ll never be a fifth as talented. One of the finest of these publishers is Dark Horse. Usually with a Dark Horse published book you’re in for a seriously high quality treat, and The Art of Dragon Age: Inquisition is no different.

It’s absolutely bloody lovely. I mean, most art books are lovely, but the detail and breadth of processes shown is gorgeous.

dragonart1

One of the great things it shows is the intricacy to detail that you can’t really appreciate when you’re playing the game. Sure, you look around the world and go “This is gorgeous. I like her armour. That looks cool.” but the processes behind the look of the armour aren’t apparent until you see them break it down into the layers that make it up. The variations of the armour for each faction and the characters is extensive as well. It’s always wonderful to see what could have been.

The explanations behind the design decisions sometimes leave you wishing there was a bit more text in the book to give you more insight into the influences and flow of process (especially into the characters), but the book is massive and packed with designs from tiny things like helmets and scabbards, to the stained glass in various buildings which you may not notice when tramping around the cities, to massive double page environmental studies.

There’s a ridiculous amount of work in here and it shows that the worlds Bioware build are born of an incredibly talented team with an abundance of imagination and attention to detail that many developers don’t (or can’t) match.

VERDICT: Absolutely YAY.

 

The Art of Destiny

Destiny might have its problems, and those problems might vary depending which side of the divide you sit on with the game, but I think most people would be hard pushed to say the art direction is nothing short of fantastic. If they do say otherwise, they’d be wrong. So there.

The Art of Destiny is a lovely hardback filled with the gorgeous kind of art you’d expect from a company like Bungie, being the size of company that has the money to bring on board super talented folks.

It’s always nice to see the processes that lead to the final in-game renderings, but here there’s also quite a bit of what didn’t make the cut, some of which makes you go “Aw. Shame.” like the giant robot hand poking out of the wastes of Mars. It’s also feels a little sad to see the kind of time and effort that’s gone into giving the various races, characters and factions of the game a history which is almost completely ignored by the awful story. It makes you wonder how much they actually cut out.

It's lovely, just look at those pages!
It’s lovely, just look at those pages!

Still, there’s a frankly glorious section on the iconography and graphic design for the various symbols, logos, banners and markers as well as some small insight as to why the 3 classes armours and aesthetic accoutrements are designed the way they are. Apparently the Hunters cloak varies in length depending on how high a level the item is. Huh.

It has the usual environment concepting and promotional paintings you expect, and overall it’s a gorgeous book. Definitely as an accompaniment to the game but also for anyone who just likes sitting and staring and lovely concept art.

VERDICT: YAY

South Park and Venom DLC – Zen Pinball 2 / Pinball FX 2

South Park

Pinball junkies rejoice! It’s time for more glorious flipper hammering action and bumper bashing insanity with Pinball FX2/Zen Pinball! Warm those fingers up and let’s get down to some righteous high score chasing chicanery and put our foot to the floor for a Wizard Mode activating extravaganza!

No, you can’t make Pinball table releases sound exciting. Ah well. Anyway, two releases to review, and a total of 3 tables. First up is the South Park pack. A little belated as the backlog got the better of me and it’s been languishing on the hard drive, but now I’ve put some time into it it’s an interesting pack, and pretty decent value.

For the frankly paltry sum of £3.99 you get the South Park Super Sweet Pinball table and Butters Very Own Pinball Game table, and what’s nice is they’re actually very different experiences. Well, as different as 2 pinball tables can be.

The Super Sweet table is, initially, off putting. The music is obnoxious and the entire table seems incredibly convoluted and complete sensory overload, with busy artwork and 9 separate triggers you have to complete to activate the Wizard mode. However, spend a bit of time with it and you find a deep and involved table which is actually a good slice of fun, especially if you’re a fan of the show. If you’re not, well, you can always turn the music off.

The Butters Very Own Pinball Game table is also fun, but a much more sedate and open table, with modes based around Butters’ apparently over-active imagination. It’s actually quite charming, which is something I never thought I’d say in relation to South Park. It’s a good thing they decided to reign this one in, because if you had the same Volume-Turned-To-11 aesthetic as the Super Sweet table it might have driven some to throw their pad through the TV.

VERDICT: YAY

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Venom

The Venom table (Venom as in the Spider-man villain, not Venom the geordie black metallers. Although, thinking about it, I’d pay good money for that table) is a bit of a let down after the South Park pack, and also compared to the abundance of other Marvel tables available to download.

Thematically it’s fine if you’re a fan, with plenty of references to the various incarnations of the Venom Symbiote and its offspring, but as a table it feels cramped and disjointed. It’s difficult to explain, but the various sections feel very compartmentalised and not cohesive as a whole table and as such makes attaining Wizard Mode more convoluted and troublesome than the South Park Super Sweet Table.

Also the overuse of ramps is marred by some very strange physics that don’t plague other tables. Either the ramps are too steep or it’s an actual bug but they’re very ‘sticky’ and often the balls stop halfway or don’t make it the whole way around, say, the Carnage orbit despite you being sure you’ve timed it correctly.

It’s a shame because the Marvel license has brought some excellent tables to the game, but this one just seems cobbled together. It’s only £2.49, so chances are you’ll buy it and get that much out of it if you’re one of those compulsive buyer types (*cough*) but if you’re not bothered about a full pinball library there are other tables more deserving of your two hundred and forty nine pence.

VERDICT: NAY

 

Evo Moment 37: Book Review

“The Daigo Parry”.

The most famous moment in competitive gaming history, equalling millions of views online, this one moment catapulted the fighting games scene and the Evolution tournament to another level. Evo Moment 37 captures every moment, the birth of Evo, the rise of Street Fighter III: Third Strike and of course, the moment that cemented Daigo Umehara as the fighting game scenes greatest player.

The Daigo Parry.

It’s probably worth explaining the parry system and how it works. Basically, as your opponent attacks, pressing forwards will parry it causing zero damage to your character. This is for a high parry. A low parry work the same way only you press down. It’s difficult to parry two attacks in succession. Parrying an entire super seemed impossible. It wasn’t.

A large portion of the book is from the viewpoint of Justin Wong, the player who found himself on the end of Daigo’s full parry and his is the most interesting tale. A story of essentially lying to his parents so he can go to all these gaming tournaments, he trained and trained in order to rise up the ranks. A true underdog story that almost feels like a Hollywood story.

Not just focusing on Justin, it also jumps between a number of individuals who were involved in the tournament scene at the time, including Seth Killian who recorded the infamous footage. For someone (like us) who only has a passing interest in the fighting game community, there’s a lot more here that some people would not know. For instance, the incredible unpopularity of Street Fighter III at the time and the troubles of changing Evo from a purely arcade cabinet tournament to the world of consoles. It sounds strange now, but something that at the time was hugely controversial.

Despite being a niche product, even for those who aren’t big fighting game nuts will be able to appreciate the time and dedication that each of these players puts in. And maybe it’ll be something that gets them swept up and actually look at more Evo Tournaments. Our one recommendation for you then would be to check out the BlazBlue finals at the 2014 Evo Tournament to see some truly high level play.

If there’s one downside of the book it’s that the writing when it comes to describing the matches is staggeringly poor. Admittedly there’s very little you could probably do when describing Street Fighter fights, but it just made us want to load up YouTube and try to find the matches in full rather than reading the rather mundane match reports. In defence though the writer does try and tone down the technicality of certain aspects, so there’s no talk of “frame traps” and the like. It’s all simple fireballs, sonic booms and kicks.

Is Evo Moment 37 worth owning? Probably, yes. If you’re a fighting game fan then you’ll already know the story, but the insights into people’s lives at the time and what was going through their heads makes it a worthwhile read. This is particularly evident during the Daigo Parry as this moment is relived three times from three different angles. If you’re not into fighters as much then it’s still worth a look. It’s simple in its terminology that you’ll be able to understand, and it’s interesting enough that maybe it’ll be the doorway into the world of Evo.

VERDICT: YAY!