REVIEW: Grim Fandango Remastered – Una obra de amor.


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Developer: LucasArts (Original), Double Fine Productions (Remastered) 

Publisher:
LucasArts (Original), Double Fine Productions (Remastered) 

Formats:
PS4 (Reviewed), PS VITA, Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS
Released:
October 30, 1998 (Original)
, January 27, 2015 (Remastered)
Copy purchased on the PlayStation Network store.

REDUX

1998. That year has been argued by many fans as the ultimate year in video games. You got Fallout 2, StarCraft, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Xenogears, Suikoden II, Thief: The Dark Project, Metal Gear Solid, Balders Gate, Gran Turismo, Resident Evil II, Tekken III, 1080 Snowboarding, Banjo Kazooie, and so many many other classics that have 1998 a watershed year in gaming. But one game from 1998 stands out not for its greatness or innovation, but for marking the end of an era of gaming.

Back in the 90’s LucasArts Games had a monopoly on humorous, irreverent point-and-click adventure games with series like Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, & Sam and Max. But then there’s Grim Fandango, the last game created by visionary game developer/writer Tim Schafer. This 3D adventure game was critically and commercially successful when it launched on October 30th, 1998. The game sold well but LucasArts Games deemed it a disappointment and everyone else used that as evidence the point and click adventure game genre was commercially “dead”.

Soon after, Tim Schafer formed Double Fine Productions (Psychonauts, Brütal Legend, that Russian nesting doll game I liked but nobody else did) and several sacked LucasArts employees formed TellTale Games (a bunch of poorly optimized yet somehow financially successful licensed games). They and many other independent studios have brought back point-and-click adventure games from the dead proving there was and always will be an audience for adventure games with strong narratives and clever puzzles. It seemed fitting that Tim Schafer’s studio would have the honor of acquiring the license from Disney (who shut down LucasArts and owns the rights to their IP’s) to bring Grim Fandango back from the grave. With new controls, improved graphics, and a re-orchestrated soundtrack, does Grim Fandango still hold up or is it dead on revival?

REAPER

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You can trust this guy, right?

Inspired by Mexican folklore and set in a loose interpretation of the Aztec underworld, you play as Manuel “Manny” Calaveras. He’s a travel agent working for Department of Death (D.O.D.) and he serves the recently deceased in the hopes that one day, he can join them in eternal rest in the Ninth Underworld. Those who’ve lived a good life get an ticket to the Number Nine train that leads straight to the Ninth Underworld while those who’ve sinned are sent on a four year journey through the underworld. Many corrupt souls who lose faith in the journey end up making a living (so to speak) in the Land of the Dead. Manny’s job is to set up clients with travel accommodations but he’s sick & tired of getting clients who can’t afford anything. After his boss threatens to terminate his job if he can’t close a “Premium Client”, Manny decides to steal one. Enter Mercedes “Meche” Colomar, a seemingly innocent soul who Manny believes is a shoe-in for a Number Nine ticket but his computer tells him she doesn’t even qualify for a bicycle. After sending Meche on the four year journey to parts unknown, he discovers corruption within the D.O.D. as part of a scheme to swindle clients their hard owned tickets out of the underworld. With the humungous car mechanic demon Grottis by his side, Manny flees his job and sets out to find Meche in hopes of righting his wrongs and to find salvation among the damned.

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Grim Fandango is filled with unique characters such as the undead beatnik, Oliva.

The game is broken up into four acts with each act spanning a year from the previous day of the dead. It’s interesting to see where Manny, Meche, and Glottis end up & seeing their relationships with one another evolve over time is compelling. The narrative borrows many aspects from Noir films like the Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, and most notably Casablanca. Crime and sorrow fill the atmosphere, characters have morally ambiguities  and often betray one another for their own self interests. Hell, the second act takes place in a casino run by Manny who’s dressed as Humphrey Bogart (minus the skin).

Lots of Trophies/Achievements in this game are hidden and must be unlocked through exploring dialogue trees and investigating the items you collect.
Lots of Trophies/Achievements in this game are hidden and must be unlocked through exploring dialogue trees and investigating the items you collect.

Like many of LucasArts past adventure games, Grim Fandango’s charm comes from the humor and the whip smart writing. There’s all manner of wordplay and puns to be found but most of the laughs come from Manny’s observations of the world around him. This brings a feeling of warmth to this cold skeleton’s outlook on the afterlife. The plethora of macabre jokes that deal with characters being dead and even dying (so to speak) don’t make the game feel dour but work in tandem with the “anything goes” vibe. Top all of that with some memorable side characters with their own ludicrous motivations and you have the recipe for a great adventure game.

It’ll take you around 12 hours to complete but each in game year brings new interesting characters for you to meet, new sets for you to explore, and new puzzles to solve. The game by design doesn’t have any user interface and it doesn’t hold your hand like modern adventure games with their tutorials and hint systems. Manny’s head will track to things you can interact with and specific items can be pulled in and out of Manny’s coat to solve puzzles. Puzzles are incredibly silly and obtuse to figure out but the items used to solve them are literal. For instance, the metal detector in Year 2 is used to detect metal objects but how you acquire it and how you use it is clever and subversive. With the exception of one contrived instance in the fourth act of the game, you can’t combine items together to solve puzzles but for the most part, they’re all well designed and move the plot forward. You could look up the answers to puzzles online as there is no hint system for modern gamers with no patience but putting all the pieces together by your own wits will make you feel like the genius’ who made them.

RESTORATION

Grim Fandango: Remastered is somewhat misleading as it’s more of a restoration than a drastic overhaul of the existing game. The game runs on a cobbled together patchwork of game and video engines and it’s amazing that it all runs well on the PlayStation 4. The game runs at 60 frames per second but several background art assets are locked at lower frame rates due to Double Fines insistence on preserving the game. Character models and interactive objects have been given upgraded resolutions and a new dynamic lighting system compliments the noir aesthetic. You can switch between the original and remastered visuals with the press of a button and it’s amazing how everything has held up over the years. Video cutscenes look a bit choppy but they feature no color banding. By default, the game runs at the original 4:3 resolution with options to change the screen borders. There’s even an option to switch it to a 16:9 resolution but it looks awful stretched out to fit wide screens.

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While the new character models look great, the backgrounds have been left untouched.

The game works well with the PS4 controller but no matter what control scheme you choose, you’ll run into issues. Controlling Manny with the original tank controls is terrible (think the original Resident Evil) and switching between isometric areas is confusing. The default controls are much better but all bets are off when controlling vehicles. I got stuck on a forklift puzzle for 30 minutes due to the frustration of not being able to drive straight on a tilted isometric plane. Be sure to save often as the game does not have an auto save feature and several game ruining bugs still exist.

This is a really bad moment to encounter a game crashing glitch.
This is a really bad moment to encounter a game crashing glitch.

Easily the best special feature on this remastering is the developers commentary which is enabled in the options menu. It’s fascinating hearing Tim Schaffer and several artists and programmers talk about the games influences and the design choices that went into the game. However, once you activate a commentary blurb, you’ll need to stay in that area as leaving will cut the track off. The second best feature is the remastered sound design. The crazy cool mix of Big Band Jazz, sweeping orchestras, Mexican guitars, and Peruvian folk music on the remastered “live” soundtrack adds atmosphere to each of the games environments. The vocal tracks have also been restored with kudos to the cast on performances that have held up all these years. Lastly, serval pieces of never before seen concept art from illustrator Peter Chan can be unlocked through play. Looking at these stellar pieces of art, it’s no wonder why Tim Schafer insisted on preserving the games look and feel.

REST IN PEACE

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I was 8 Years Old when Grim Fandango came out and by the time I was old enough to own a PC, the game was unobtainable. Jewel cases for the game became scarce as LucasArts stopped producing them and pirating the game was never an option as the outdated game couldn’t run on my modern computer. What the folks at Double Fine have done with Grim Fandango Remastered is a miracle in archival retrieval and because of their efforts, the game holds up nicely. I hesitate to call this “the definitive edition” due to bugs and a lack of modern accoutrements but it’s still an incredible experience worth playing though from beginning to tear jerking end. The characters are memorable, the blend of comedy and fatality is brilliant, and the rich environments with the orchestral score feel grand. The puzzles require leaps of logic and will frustrate newer gamers but this is a game about talking skeletons leaps of logic is already a given. If you’re interested in video game history, point-and-click adventure games, or if you’ve never danced the Grim Fandango, grab a ticket and ride the express train to the underworld. Oh, and Happy Anniversary!

GREAT RATING

REVIEW: Rock Band 4- The Reunion Tour

Rock Band 4 Review - The Reunion Tour

Developer: Harmonix 

Publisher: Harmonix/MadCatz 

Format: PS4, Xbox One (Reviewed). 

Released: October 06, 2015

“Band in a Box Kit” purchased at retail outlet.



I’ve been playing Rock Band since 2007 and I’ve been waiting five years for a new installment of the best party game ever conceived. Ever since Activision inflated the music game industry by releasing 10 different Guitar Hero games, the music game genre has shifted towards dance games involving gimmicky motion controls. With Rock Band 4, Harmonix is seeking to revitalize the plastic peripherals style of rocking out in your living room by giving the series a “back to basics” treatment. With some new free style features, some small refinements, and a new focus on creating a music game hub for this generation of consoles, does Rock Band 4 have enough to reinvigorate the music game genre or is this just the same old song and dance?

1. Sound Check



Rock Band 4 is the most affordable and yet the most expensive music instrument game on the market depending on your point of view. You can purchase the $60 digital or physical editions and use your previously acquired instrument controllers instead of spending money on new ones. PlayStation 4 owners will need to have the USB dongles that came with their PlayStation 3 instruments while Xbox One owners will need to purchase a separate $25 adapter in order to make their old wireless Xbox 360 instruments compatible with the new hardware. There’s a list of compatible instruments here and getting that many controllers to work on next-gen consoles is quite the preservation effort on Harmonix’s part.

There are several Rock Band 4 Instrument Bundles available for purchase at launch including the very expensive $250 “Band in a Box” kit (which I’m using for this review). There’s no option to individually purchase the new instruments or the pro drum cymbals until 2016 but you might want to hold off on purchasing them. 

The build quality of the new instruments is decent but overall, it’s wildly inconsistent across the board. The wireless guitar feels cheaply made but it has quieter, more accurate fret buttons. The strum bar isn’t a “clicky” micro-switch model like the Guitar Hero guitars but it’s far more responsive than previous Rock Band guitars. As with previous iterations, there’s a built in camera and microphone inside the guitar for easy auto-calibration. The new drum kit is much sturdier than its predecessors and much quieter thanks to thicker drum pads . The new USB microphone features a lighter, sleeker design and is much better at recognizing vocal key shifts. The Xbox One instruments feature a Micro-USB port in the battery slot to download any firmware updates from Manufacturer MadCatz while the PlayStation 4 instruments must rely on Bluetooth enabled connection. Getting the instruments hooked up to a Windows PC to download firmware updates is a pain and while all of the instruments are covered under a manufacturers warranty, I have to question MadCatz quality control as their older instruments didn’t feature any of these problems.

2. Jam Session

If you’ve never played a Rock Band game, here’s a brief overview of the core gameplay: You and your bandmates hit notes/sing lyrics that scroll down the screen as you play a song. Flawlessly chaining together notes will multiply your score while activating the “Overdrive” power up will multiply it further. At the end of the song, your performance ranked by Stars based on your score but the synergy between four people working together to play a song is a unique experience that makes the journey more important than the destination. The core gameplay first introduced in 2007 hasn’t changed at all but Rock Band 4 runs well in 1080p and at 60 Frames per Second at all times. I didn’t notice any drops during gameplay and the input latency has improved from previous games.

The cartoonish art style is back and it looks great under the new “Forge” game engine. Characters are well animated and expressive when performing but there are a few random bugs that can break the rock concert immersion such as lip syncing or seeing the same character performing different instruments. While you can’t customize your characters body shape, there’s still plenty of options ensures you’ll be able to create a rocker as close to your liking as possible. The venues look dynamic with cheering crowds and dynamic lighting but the venues themselves don’t do a good job representing their respective cities. A club in Los Angeles might as well be a club in Moscow. The game menus are minimal and are easy to navigate. The mini menu that pops up from the menu button (I miss having a dedicated Start Button on my Xbox One) allows for easy access to characters, options, and switching between player profiles. Sound design is fantastic as usual with each individual section you play on coming off clear and distinct. Load times are shorter than previous games but instead of charming cinematic of your bandmates to mask the load times, there’s only a static image of your bandmates and some pro tips on the bottom of the screen.

While Rock Band 3 was all about learning how to play real guitars and keys, Rock Band 4 is all about self expression through your plastic controller. The new Freestyle Solos replace the usual predetermined track with colorful guidelines telling the guitarist to strum fret buttons mimicking licks, sustains, and other moves in order to create a unique solo. The audio feedback system ensures that your solos sound good when played alongside your bandmates respective instruments but if you’re just spamming buttons, it will sound wonky. This feature is amazingly fun as it feels like you’re actually making music and putting your own stamp on existing songs although some songs don’t accommodate freestyle solos well. Also, transitioning from doing crazy solos back into the main song often lead to me being thrown off and losing my combo streak. If you want to be a plastic guitar virtuoso without score consequences, there’s a dedicated practice mode for Freestyle Solos and an Endless Mode if you just want to jam out to any song.

Vocalists now have a Freestyle Feature that allows for improvisation within songs so long as they’re singing in the same key. Harmonies from The Beatles Rock Band and Rock Band 3 are back and thanks to the efforts of the The Rock Band: Harmonies Project, every legacy song now has harmonies at no additional charge. Harmonies are still fun to perform and with up to three singers rocking out on separate microphones, Rock Band 4 can become a six person party game. Drummers can now activate Overdrive with dynamic drum fills instead of the free formed drum fills from previous games. Free formed fills never really worked right with the previous game due to the lag between your drums and your TV so being able to properly activate Overdrive without messing up the flow of a song from spamming the green panel is a huge improvement. All of these features including the returning No Fail Mode, Neck Break Speed and even Left Handed modifications can be turned on/off from the options menu allowing Rock Band 4 to be as challenging or as freeing as your party wants it to be.

3. Shuffle Beat

Rock Band 4 is relatively no frills in comparison the previous entries in the series. There’s no online play, no Pro Guitar and no Keys (but you can still play Pro Drums if you have the Pro Cymbal attachments), no score attack mode, and there’s not even a practice mode where you can practice individual sections of the track. But a the top of the main menu is “Start a Show” and it is the central party mode for Rock Band 4. Playing a Show starts with a song of your choice and at the end, all players get to vote on the next song from a selection of choices. These choices can be obvious or range from a wide selection based on genre, year, artist, etc. but the party doesn’t stop until a majority decides to end the Show. The sheer randomness of it all and the ability to interact with the crowd feels refreshing and alleviates the frustration of scrolling through every song to decide on what to play next. If you just want to play a single song, you can  use the Quickplay mode but the ability to create playlists is gone.

The Career mode is the return of the Tour mode from Rock Band 2 but with the added wrinkles of the Show Mode functionality. Your band starts out by playing shows in small venues but you can earn more money/fans by playing encores and unlocking more tours by earning Stars. As you progress, the mode will offer you exclusive gigs that determines where your band is heading. Does your band want to sell out for more money by playing specific setlists or do they want to “keep it real” by making your own setlist to earn the respect of more fans? It’s up to your band to prioritize where their interests lie as making certain decisions impact what sets you’ll be playing, what gear you’ll unlock, and what tour locations you’ll end up next. It’s not an engrossing RPG but it’s a solid campaign mode for parties.

Rock Band 4 continues Harmonix’s tradition of having the main setlist span multiple genres and decades of music however, the sixty five songs included with the game don’t feature enough variety for the career/shows modes which thrive off of having a massive setlist. It’s a broad range of songs split between long requested acts (Van Halen, Elvis Presley, Imagine Dragons), deep dives from returning favorites (Foo Fighters, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rush), MEMES, (That Stu Pickles Chocolate pudding meme, That He-Man “HEYYEYAAEYAAAEYAEYAA” meme, the theme song of NBC’s Chuck), and obscure indie artists (Eddie Japan? Lucius? U2?…never heard of them). Still, these songs are fun to play and there’s a fair amount of tracks for both male and female singers but you’re going to need more songs.

Fortunately, Rock Band 4 has access to a back catalog of over 1700 downloadable songs that you can purchase in the games store to build up your library. Folks who’ve already downloaded tracks from their last generation console can pick them up for free on their new console but there’s some caveats. Songs can only be redownloaded if you’ve previously purchased them within the same console family so there’s no crossover between Xbox and PlayStation purchases. Songs that have expired licenses such as anything from Metallica cannot be downloaded until they’re put up on the marketplace. Due to first party issues, previously acquired songs cannot be purchased in bundles but must be individually downloaded from the in game Music Store or your consoles digital storefront. There’s no option to download songs from the Rock Band Network catalogue, songs exported from track packs, or even songs exported from previous Rock Band games at launch but Harmonix is working on making them available later.

Nagging issues aside, it’s good that Rock Band 4 has backwards compatibility with previously owned songs who’ve invested money and time on the series. The new search bar function makes it easy to find songs and with more songs coming down the pipeline, there’s no shortage of replay value across all of the game modes. Harmonix has gone on record stating that Rock Band 4 will be the only Rock Band game for this generation of consoles with promises to expanded the game with free and paid updates. The idea of owning a single Rock Band game and never having to buy another game or a different set of instruments for my console is an intriguing proposition considering Harmonix’s proven track record of supporting their games years after they’ve launched. But right now, Harmonix needs to fix the many problems at launch before they release the first Rock Band 4 content patch this December.

4. Don’t call it a comeback!

Instead of wasting millions of dollars making a new six button instrument incompatible with previously purchased instruments/DLC tracks, filming hundreds of people simulating a rock concert in a vain attempt to add realism, or adding an always online freemium streaming service to lease (not own, lease) new songs, Harmonix has stripped Rock Band 4 to its bare essientials. The deceptively simple gameplay is still as fun as it’s ever been and the new features empower the player to play like a rock star. While the new instruments and on disc setlist are disappointing, the ability to play with your old instruments and previously acquired songs is a technological achievement that rewards players who’ve invested their money from the previous generation of consoles. New players won’t get much value since they’ll need to spend a lot of money to get the complete band package and buy enough songs to keep a party going strong. But whether you’ve thrown parties with your friends or if you’ve somehow missed the guitar game craze of the mid 2000’s, Rock Band 4 is a solid foundation for this generation of music games with plenty of room for improvement and additional content. So call up your buddies, grab some instruments, and wake the neighborhood. It’s time to get the old band back together.

GOOD RATING

Destiny: The Taken King Review – Questiny

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Developer: Bungie

Publisher: Activision
Format: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.

Released: September 15, 2015.
Copy purchased on the PlayStation Network

Bungie’s ambitious online first person shooter Destiny was the most popular and most polarizing game of this current console generation. It showed promise of a great game that was buried underneath loads of design failures and development struggles that occurred behind the scenes. The fun abilities and tight gunplay couldn’t cover up the lack of a focused story to provide context for what you’re doing. The beautiful graphics and lush sound design didn’t alleviate the boredom of replaying the same missions in empty areas. The game’s “Light” leveling system left many causal players out in the cold while the hardcore crowd (which yes, I’m a part of) were able to grind their way to Destiny’s incredible end game content. The two $20 expansion passes (The Dark Below & The House of Wolves) did a solid job expanding the core game with new spaces and events but they didn’t truly shake up the foundation set a year ago. The Taken King expansion is Bungie’s soft reboot of the core Destiny experience but is it enough for veterans and newbies to purchase?

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NPC’s are given a new lease on life with well written dialogue and fitting quest rewards.

1: Yes, there is a story…
The Taken King’s story focuses on Oryx, the father of Crota who “Year One” players killed in the Crota’s End raid. Following a failed attack by The Reef Queen’s troops on his warship “The Dreadnaught” and the emergence of Oryx’s dark army of “Taken” soliders, it’s up to the Vanguard and the Guardian (i.e. You) to mount a counter offensive against Oryx. It’s a simple revenge story and it’s well told through breathtaking cutscenes and sharp dialogue to keep the player invested.  Several non playable characters (NPC’s) who’ve spent all of Year One standing around the Tower now talk to each with each other which gives the story a sense of weight to what’s happening. Nathan Fillion’s wisecracking performance as Vanguard Hunter Cayde-6 steals and Moria Gorrondona’s creepy performance of Hive Expert Eris Morn are the notable standouts as both of their clashing personalities help make playing through the campaign feel brisk while keeping you engaged at all times. Nolan North replaces Peter Dinklage as Ghost in The Taken King and he does a better job of explaining things (and opening doors) for the player.  Ghost has a renewed sense of charm and intrigue in everything you do making him the ideal companion in your alien killing sprees. While The Taken King himself doesn’t have a lot to say to the Guardian, Oryx’s intimidating presence throughout the main campaign helps emphasize a sense of impending dread in your trek across the stars which ultimately, makes him the most interesting villain in Destiny.

2: Yes, people still play this game…

Several changes have already taken place from the massive 18 GB 2.0 update but the most notable change players will pick up on is that Light is no longer tied to your character’s experience level. In the previous year of Destiny, causal players hit a wall when they reached Level 20 as getting stronger raid armor in order to rank up took weeks and even months to acquire due to the frustrating random number generators governing loot drops. You now level up by gaining experience up to the new level cap of 40 while the level of Light on all ten of your gear slots is just a number representing the average of all your equipped attack and defense values. Legendary Marks, a new currency replacing Vanguard and Crucible Marks, is used to purchase Legendary Gear, buy upgraded versions of previous Year One Exotics from the new Tower Kiosks, or to infuse the values of lesser items into existing Year Two Legendary or Exotic equipment. The infusion system is an overall welcome improvement to the previous methods of upgrading your favorite items as it puts more emphasis on finding the best gear (trust me, there’s LOADS of gear in the random loot system) and makes it more accessible for everyone. Each of the new weapons feel unique as they fall under several gun manufactures. Hakke’s militaristic riffles are vastly different than Suros sleek set of guns in both style, sound, and overall performance. The new Exotic gear feels powerful without breaking the game (no more infinite ammo snipers or homing rockets for you) and come with their signature perk unlocked from the start.

They named an Exotic gun after an Episode of 30 Rock.
They named an Exotic gun after an Episode of 30 Rock.

The “quest-ification” of all of Destiny’s existing content is a welcome addition to The Taken King and all of Destiny’s Year One content. Quests operate like they do in a traditional MMO with players doing a set list of tasks from an NPC and completing them for rewards. There’s a seemingly endless amount of quests to do and the ability to track up to four of them (as well as bounties) via your Ghost keeps things from getting too out of hand. Several of the best weapons in the game are locked away behind these quests (including swords!) which makes earning these rewards feel satisfying instead of feeling lucky.

So many quests!
Eris Morn is still creepy but her quests led to one of the most unique weapons in the game.

The Taken hordes you’ll encounter in the game are not just mere redesigns of existing enemies. Each of the Taken has a unique function which throws a wrench into familiar strategies and need to be killed quickly or else they’ll multiply, teleport, and overwhelm the player. Fortunately, the three new subclasses that are unlocked after completing class specific quests are very useful against the Taken and are a blast to play with. The Hunter’s “Nightstalker” subclass is all about disappearing and using a void bow to shoot arrows to pin down enemies. The Warlock’s “Stormcaller” can summon storm clouds from grenades and shoot lightning from their hands. The Titan’s “Sunbreaker” subclass is all about range from tossing thermite grenades, to using the Hammer of Sol Super to fling flaming hammers across the screen.

All of the existing cooperative Strike Missions and competitive Crucible modes have been tweaked for the better. The new Vangaurd Heroic Playlist features 4 new Strike Missions (one of which is a PlayStation exclusive) and several remixed Strikes. These are all designed with veteran players in mind as they require coordination to take down bosses instead of just shooting at giant blowing bullet sponges. The Nightfall Strike no longer kicks player out for failure and instead uses the revive mechanics used in the Raids which makes playing them less frustrating but still challenging to undertake.

Eight new Crucible maps (one of which is a PlayStation exclusive) have been added to the games versus multiplayer suite with one new mode and several variants of existing modes. “Rift” is akin to Halo’s One Bomb Assault as two teams vie to take a Spark from the center of the map and score in into the other teams goal area. It’s very fun being the runner as the mode encourages movement and scores causes a huge explosion. But since the Spark can’t be picked up like the Bomb in Halo’s Assault mode, there’s very little incentive for teammates to defend the Spark Runner. “Mayhem” is a new Team Deathmatch variant that increases the recharge rate of Supers, abilities and Heavy Ammo spawns leading to utter chaos. “Zone Control” is a variant of Control that’s prioritizes capturing zones as opposing to killing opponents for points.

You may have won this round, former IGN Editor and current Communications Manager for Activision Scott Lowe but I had the higher score. Good game though.
You may have won this round, former IGN Editor and current Communications Manager for Activision Scott Lowe but I had the higher score. Good game though.

Oryx’s warship The Dreadnaught is the new playable patrol location in The Taken King and it’s home to some of Destiny’s hardest challenges. The “Court of Oryx” is a public event area in the center of the Dreadnaught where players use runes to summon powerful foes for more rewards. While the level one bosses are easier to kill and farm rare loot, the higher levels are much more difficult and require up to eight strangers to coordinate in order to get Legendary rewards. The “King’s Fall” Raid requires six friends with the recommended Light level of 290. Without spoiling any of it, I can say it’s the most diabolical Raid Bungie has ever crafted. It’s impossible to run this Raid solo as Bungie has designed every mechanic of this Raid with six players in mind. It’s a well crafted piece of game and level design but it may deter casual players due to time commitment, the difficulty and the lack of matchmaking for Raids.

This guy means business.
This guy means business.

3: Yes, there’s still problems…

Despite all the new additions to Destiny, the core gameplay is unchanged. With the exception of a couple of missions, the structure still relies on entering rooms, killing wave after wave of enemies, and killing the big boss at the end of the level. Unless you have friends and a headset to chat with them in parties, it can be a lonely experience as the game is still centered around playing with other people online. The Grimoire which features cards detailing the intricate backstory of the world of Destiny is still segregated to bungie.net and the companion app with no option to view them in game.

Still beautiful as it is barren
Still beautiful as it is barren

While the launch of The Taken King was smooth for me, several of my friends kept experiencing network issues and were frequently ejected out of the game. In particular, Xbox 360 owners are still having issues with downloading and accessing The Taken King weeks past the games launch. Raids like the Vault of Glass still suffer from bugs and connection issues that haven’t been addressed in the new update. While Bungie has implemented a Mercy Rule for one sided Crucible matches, there’s still no dedicated matchmaking for the Crucible to match players with those of equal skill and to prevent game crippling lag in matches. Arguably the biggest problem is that players who don’t have all of the expansions passes and an Xbox Live/PlayStation Plus Online Subscription service are locked out of nearly half of the endgame content. This is a standard for massively multiplayer games and while the $60 Legendary Edition features all of the content at a reasonable price for newcomers, the $140 total for folks playing since Year One makes Destiny a rapidly expensive experience.

That's not how you use a shotgun.
That’s not how you use a shotgun.

4: But yes, this expansion is worth it.
Destiny 2.0 still suffers from a lot of the same problems that plagued 1.0 but now it’s potential is finally being realized. The Taken King’s succinct six hour campaign and grand sweeping changes to the every single system help make Destiny feel more like a role playing game than victory through attrition. The vast amounts of maps, modes, missions, and events won’t shake off the feeling of deja-vu but they’re fun to play with friends and the quests are very addictive to sink time into. A lot of effort has been placed by Bungie to make the player care about what goes on in the world of Destiny but players who’ve played through all of the Year One content will really appreciate the callbacks to previous missions and events. New players won’t be able to experience the events in Year One but Year Two is far more accessible thanks to the $60 Legendary Edition and simplified mechanics. If you’ve dropped Destiny or didn’t buy it, nothing here is likely to change your mind. Destiny will never be finished as new content keeps getting added in and new secrets are being discovered by players. But The Taken King is how DLC can truly expand on a game and at $40, its value is completely justified by all of the new additions. If you’ve ever wanted to check out why millions of people still play Destiny, now’s the time to jump in.
GREAT RATING

Game Review: Rare Replay

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In the realm of video games, there are few developers that garner the kind of love that Rare does and the Rare Replay is a celebration of their 30 year (technically 33 years if you count their previous endeavors as Ultimate Play the Game) history of making video games.

Kicking off with a musical opening of all of Rare’s mascots singing a catchy tune, Rare Replay oozes with the companies signature charm and offers plenty more features than just 30 games for $30. There are some omissions (GOLDENEYE, DANKY KANG, etc.) from the line up to due licensing issues but what’s included here shows off Rare’s ability to take on any game genre, put its signature stamp on it, and charm millions of players across the world. Having sampled all thirty games, here are my thoughts on each game in the order they were originally released:

Jetpac (1983): Before there was Rare, there was Ultimate Play The Game and before there was Banjo, there was Jetman. The first of many Jetman games in the collection, you fly around horizontal wrap around space environment as you must rebuild and refuel his rocketship in order to explore different planets all while blasting aliens. It’s a very quint arcade-esque shooter and the first of many successes for the team who would form Rare.

Lunar Jetman (1983): You once again play as Jetman who must ride in his indestructible lunar rover to destroy alien bases while stepping out on foot to build bridges, plant bombs in craters, and set up teleporters. At least, that’s what you’re supposed to do. I never got around to getting past the first section because the game (nor the sub-menu within Rare Replay) doesn’t do a good job explaining what I’m supposed to be doing. On top of that, the game is choppy and the screen is filled with too many enemies. I didn’t like this one.

Atic Atac (1983): Now this is a really cool Gauntlet style adventure game. You play as either a Serf, a Wizard, or a Knight and descend a dark castle in order to seek out the pieces of a Golden Key through unlocking doors, avoiding randomly spawning enemies, and keeping your health up to prevent starving to death. There’s a lot of vague instructions but this game is surprisingly deep if you keep digging around.

Sabre Wulf (1984): This is the worst game in the collection. You play as the Sabreman as he explores a jungle maze collecting treasure and fending off wildlife. You move way too fast which makes it really tough to traverse the maze and figure out what to do. Compounding this is that animals will spawn into you as you move really fast and your only defense is swinging your sword at them which is has an ineffective range. Rare Replay is chock full of disappointing games but least they’re playable which is more than I can say for Sabre Wulf.

Underwurlde (1984): This one’s another Sabreman game but this time, he’s trapped in the “Underwurlde” and must make his way past all kinds of evil creatures and descend further down down to face the ultimate evil and escape. This neat little platforming maze adventure side-scroller is plagued with weird game mechanics that don’t gel together. Jumping in this game is a pain as you can’t control the trajectory of your leap. On top of that, bumping into enemies doesn’t damage you but causes you bounce around with the attention of plummeting you to your doom. It’s fun to see Sabreman bounce around but this game is just so frustrating to play, that I couldn’t play more than a single session.

Knight Lore (1984): Yup, it’s another Sabreman adventure game but once again, there’s a twist. The whole game takes place on an isometric plane as player must explore a strange strange to brew a cure for Sabreman’s curse. When dawn becomes dusk (as depicted on an in game display), monsters appear and Sabreman changes to a werewolf. Sabreman turns back into a human in the day but he must find a cure within 40 in game days or else it’s game over. This and Atic Atac are my favorite 8-bit adventure games in Rare Replay.

Gunfright (1985): You play as Sheriff Quickdraw, a cowboy who must protect the old west town of Big Rock and shoot down outlaws then collect the bounty for them. The game starts out promising with the sub game of shooting vertically scrolling bags of money and all of that money is used to purchase things in the shop. Then the game opens up in an isometric view and it’s just not fun to walk around with no sense of direction and get killed from touching innocent ladies walking across the map. Another disappointing 8-bit adventure game to add to the pile.

Slalom (1986): Transitioning from Ultimate Play The Game to Rare, we come to Slalom. It’s a simple Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game where players ski down snowy slopes while avoiding all kinds of obstacles and making sick jumps. The game is simple to understand and it delivers that sense of speed of sliding down 100 MPH. There’s multiple courses with three levels of difficulties so there’s challenge for those seeking it. Overall this is a nice game AND an ice game. :B

R.C. Pro-Am (1987): This is a fun isometric racing game. You race an R.C. car on a multitude of colorful tracks, fire bombs and missiles at your computer controlled opponents, upgrade your car (a feature way ahead of its time) and listen to some of the best sounds to grace the NES. My one gripe with this game is that you have to memorize the tracks in order to avoid the road hazards that cause your car to stall. Other than that, racing games on the NES don’t get any better than this.

Cobra Triangle (1989): This NES game is simple in its design. All you do is ride around in a boat shooting things in several missions. The diversity of the missions is dizzying (racing, recusing, shooting giant sea dragons) but the handling of the boat is hard with the stiff controls and isometric view. 

Very fun in short bursts.

Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll (1990): A weird platform game where you play as two snakes (affectionately named Rattle and Roll) trying to gobble up enough stuff to make a weighing machine ring a bell in order to progress to the next level. There’s eleven levels but I had trouble getting past the first one due to the odd controls and isometric plane. But once you get a hang of it, it’s a quirky game that exudes that Rare humor and charm.

Solar Jetman (1990): This game bares the Jetman name and features the same style of hovering around planets shooting aliens but this game is a drag to play. The controls for both the ship and Jetman are stiff and confusing while the game isn’t clear about what you’re supposed to do. It’s so weird to me how Rare keeps messing up Jetman. The more complex the game, the more problems seem to arise.

Digger T. Rock (1990): Rare couldn’t get Goldeneye but they got Milton Bradley’s golden holy permission to acquire Digger T. Rock? Obviously, that was sarcasm. In all seriousness, this game sucks. This was Rare’s attempt to ape the then burgeoning dungeon crawler genre but it’s a mess to experience. The designs are uninspired, the puzzles are poor, and you’re constantly falling to your death because the controls are stiff. If you like digging through dirt, you may find some enjoyment in this game because I sure didn’t.

Battletoads (1990): This legendary beat-em-up is one of the hardest games ever made for the NES. You play as Rash (and Zitz if you’re Player 2) on a quest to save their fellow Battletoad Pimple along with Princess Angelica from the evil Dark Queen. You fight through hordes of minions, slide down caverns, and ride a hover bike down the infamous turbo tunnel. It’s loads of fun to play but it’s better if you play by yourself. I tried playing with a buddy and it didn’t end well.

R.C. Pro-Am II (1992): This followup to the isometric NES racing classic doesn’t outpace the original but it’s still fun to play. Gone is the in-game soundtrack and mini map to determine where to turn but it has four person multiplayer and better handling of your R.C. car. The gameplay is mostly unchanged but the difficulty is unfair at times with rubber-banding AI and no reaction time to deal with incoming hazards. If you get the chance, play this game with friends.

Battletoads Arcade (1994): This Battletoads game shares many qualities with its NES brethren but this is not the same game. This side scrolling beat-em-up was designed with coin operated arcade machines in mind with plenty of cheap deaths fighting through the Dark Queen’s horde but fortunately, the game’s in freeplay mode so death can be easily conquered with a press of the A button. All three Battletoads are playable and the game allows for up to three players to join in on the rat bashing. This may have been a flop in the arcades but it’s worthy of being alongside arcade beat-em-up greats like Turtles in Time and The Simpsons arcade game.

Killer Instinct Gold (1996):  I love the Killer Instinct fighting game series. The Street Fighter II styled combos and button layout with the Mortal Kombat-esque tone and finishers all wrapped around performing/breaking ridiculous combos and listening to an over the top announcer screaming stuff like “C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!”. LOVE. IT. This port of the Nintendo 64 (N64) port of the arcade version of Killer Instinct 2 has everything in tact and running at a higher resolution. The sprites and backgrounds haven’t aged well but the core gameplay is still fun as Hell.

Blast Corps (1997): One of two N64 games made by Rare I’ve never played until now, Blast Corps is a fun puzzle game where you destroy more buildings than the climax of Man of Steel. It doesn’t make sense why you would level entire towns and cities to pave way for a runaway nuclear missile carrier but that’s part of the Rare charm. It’s satisfying to jump in a mech and stomp around like you’re Godzilla.

Banjo-Kazooie (1998): My first and personal favorite Rare game, Banjo-Kazooie perfected the open world 3-D platforming genre Super Mario 64 started on the N64. You play as Banjo, an anthropomorphic bear with an anthropomorphic bird named Kazooie who must travel across nine levels to rescue his sister Tootie from the evil witch hag Gruntilda before she uses an machine to steal her beauty. The game is self aware and exudes that Rare charm and humor with loads of cute characters you meet along the way as you solve puzzles to earn enough Jiggies, Notes, eggs, feathers, Mumbo Tokens, Jingos, and intimate knowledge of Gruntilda’s personal life to face Gruntilda in a trivia game show and a proper boss fight. This is the Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) port of the N64 classic and it works well on the Xbox One. The emulation of the Xbox 360 system is subpar and I ran into an issue where Stop ’N Swop didn’t work because the game didn’t recognize my game saves from Banjo-Twooie or Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. That being said, it’s amazing that this game has held up so well after all these years. It’s a testament to great game design.

Jet Force Gemini (1999): I’ve had fond memories of playing Jet Force Gemini when I was nine. The run and gun sci-fi gameplay, the crazy amounts of weapons, and the fun multiplayer made me want to play this game at my cousins house every time I’d visit. But once I booted up the game, all of that seems like a distant memory. While the games opening states the game is in widescreen, only the pre-rendered footage is in widescreen while the rest of the game is played in its default 4:3 aspect ratio. So already, my red-tinted glasses have been tarnished by constantly shifting screen resolutions. But what really bummed my nostalgia is the controls. The game is a third person run and gun styled game but both the default and newly patched in modern controls make this game really uncomfortable to play with. Suffice it to say, this game has not aged well.

Perfect Dark (2000): Another XBLA port of another N64 classic, Perfect Dark still holds up as not only the best first person shooter in this collection but arguably the best shooter on the N64. The year is 2023 and you play as Carrington Institute agent Joanna Dark and you’re on a mission to take down dataDyne and uncover a conspiracy across a series of missions. This game is so much fun with each optional objective adding challenge as you try to drive for a perfect (dark) run. The spilt-screen multiplayer still holds up with so many iconic weapons including the laptop gun and a sniper that can shoot through walls. Did Goldeneye have a gun that can shoot through walls? I DON’T THINK SO!

Banjo-Tooie (2000): This followup to Banjo-Kazooie is everything a sequel should be. It builds upon the foundation set by its predecessor with more moves to master, more things to collect, more (now interconnected) worlds to explore and even more meta humor. It even has a unique four player multiplayer mode that features all kinds of minigames. This is a port of the XBLA version and just like Banjo-Kazooie, the game benefits from an upscaled resolution and solid frame rate. It even has a hint system system for keeping track of all the hard to find Jiggies you haven’t earned yet. To truly understand why people loathed Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, you have to play both Banjo games.



Conkers Bad Fur Day (2001): WARNING- FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY!
The second of two Rare games I didn’t buy for the N64 which is a shame. I’ve heard so many great things about this game as a kid but couldn’t buy it due to the Mature game rating. Playing it now, I can see why people enjoyed this game. The games mechanics are solid (the game is upscaled to 1080p and runs at a smooth 30 FPS frame rate), some of the crude humor hasn’t aged well and the movie parodies are dated but this game still has Rare’s signature style of charm to it all. I haven’t touched the multiplayer but if it’s anything like Rare’s previous efforts in four player mutliplayer, it’ll hold up. I definitely need to sink more time into this game.

Grabbed by the Ghoulies (2003): The first game Rare made under the ownership of Microsoft, Grabbed by the Ghoulies is a massive disappointment on so many levels. While the games cel shaded look and spooky aesthetic is neat, the character designs and their motivations feel flat. The beat-em-up gameplay is hindered by the confusing decision to map fighting with the right analog stick and the camera with the left-and-right triggers. There’s jump scare which triggers quick time button prompts (doing 20 of them unlocks an Achievement called “The Future of Gaming”. Classy.) and an annoying comic book panel style cutscenes that you can’t skip. But the worst thing about this that game lacks any challenge. It’s not the worst game in the Rare Replay collection but when Rare themselves pokes fun at the massively poor reception Ghoulies received in their newer games, you know you’re in for a world of hurt. At least they upscaled the graphics to 1080p and the frame rate to 60 frames per second. hooray…

Kameo (2005): One of two Xbox 360 launch titles made by Rare, Kameo: Elements of Power is an overlooked action adventure game. The game is about the titular female elf protagonist who must harness the power to shape shift into ten different elemental warriors in order to restore her kingdom from the thrall of her sister Kalus and the troll king Thorn. The controls are wonky but the gameplay is fun in small bursts. The overall presentation looks great for what they could do at the time on the Xbox 360 and the music does a great job at making this fantasy world feel epic. It’s a shame a sequel was never made as this game had a lot of potential. If you’ve never played it, it’s worth checking out here on the collection. Just know that it’s really hard to earn all the achievements considering this game’s online multiplayer is deader than Elvis.

Perfect Dark Zero (2005): Why this other Rare Xbox 360 launch game got rave reviews back in the day is beyond me. The story’s jovial at best and forgettable at worst. The shooting is boring and it’s made worse with a frame rate that’s choppy as Hell. The characters look like they have skin made out of potato chips and stealth sections feel irrelevant. It’s an embarrassment to the Perfect Dark franchise but by the grace of Sabre Wulf, it’s not the worst game in the collection.

Viva Piñata (2006): Now this is the kind of game Rare should have been making. Viva Piñata is a garden growing, piñata breeding life simulator that showcases the tenants of Rare’s trademark approach to gaming by approaching a genre they’ve never done and make it charming. Once you get past the really long tutorial section, the game opens up with all kinds of piñatas to collect. The art style is gorgeous and filled with vibrant colors with each piñata design being inventive. There’s a dark element to this game as piñata’s can eat other piñata’s down the food chain and there’s an adorable romance system with piñata sex depicted as dancing. There’s so much to do but I simply don’t have to time to burn on a life sim game.

Jetpac Refueled (2007): The last Jetman game in the collection, Jetpac Refueled is pretty much a revamped version of the orignal Jetpac game from 1983 but it lacks the quint charm of the original game. This XBLA game looks dated with graphics that remind me of Math Blaster and its new twists on the Jetpac gameplay (upgradable blaster, 124 levels to explore) doesn’t make the game feel any less bland in comparison to XBLA games like Geometry Wars. It’s a solid game but one that becomes very forgettable, very fast.



Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise (2007): A worthy sequel to the original piñata life sim. There’s more piñatas to collect and more time to burn doing challenges while building up and exploring new desert/tundra sections that compliments your regular garden. The game is a lot more streamlined in teaching people than its predecessor but it still feels like the same game as first one without any option to export your previous garden. I can appreciate this game series for its inventive take on the life sim genre but I don’t have the time to tend two different gardens on a last gen game series let alone one garden.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (2008): The last and most polarizing game in the Rare Replay collection, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts forgoes the series tried and true platforming in favor of completing missions with vehicle customization. On one hand the vehicle customization is robust and several missions are creative like using your car to get a strong internet connection by reaching a higher point inside a game console. And on the other hand, you have a game full of design failures (Why do I need to access a Jiggy bank to place a Jiggy in another bank?) from transition from platforming to using only vehicles. The music and art style evokes that Banjo-Kazooie aesthetic but removing your abilities like double jumping and the constant trolling by the so-called Lord of Games feels like a slap in the face to long time Rare fans. I admire the effort to experiment with gameplay ideas but shouldn’t have been made as a Banjo-Kazooie game. It’s definitely worth checking out as its a very solid game. Just prepare for disappointment.

The presentation of the Rare Replay is outstanding with a theatre motif that’s apparent from the moment you start the game. Each game in the gallery has their own individual menu complete with unique animations and music fitting of each respective game. Each of the games in the collection (sans the Xbox 360 ports) have gained noticeable resolution and frame rate upscaling. They’re presented in their original aspect ratios with unique screen borders you can turn on and off. The Xbox 360 ports have noticeable technical issues like stuttering frame rates and install issues. The older games up the N64 era stuff have built save states and several cheats in the sub menu, including the default ability to rewind gameplay. This feature is valuable when playing these older games but I wished this feature was available across other games. There are also Snapshot challenges where you can play remixed levels of the retro games to earn stamps to unlock videos in the Rare Revealed gallery. It feels punishing to grind through each and every game to earn stamps as these behind the scenes featurettes are the most fascinating thing about the collection. It’s interesting to watch several Rare employees of past and present (with the exception of Rare founders Tim and Chris Stamper who left the company in 2007) talk about the games they worked on and the stuff that never saw the light of day.

Won't you Press "A"?
Won’t you Press “A”?

Overall, Rare Replay is one of the best video game compilations ever made as it showcases the linage of 30 years of gaming history. They could’ve only released their hit games and released a “best of” collection but I appreciate the diversity of each game and the charming sense of play wrapped around the collection. There’s so many fun games to play here by yourself or with friends from that you won’t be totally bummed out from the crop of bad games. At $30 for thirty games, this game was already a steal for Xbox One owners but when you add up the Snapshot challenges, the behind the scenes videos, and the overall production values, this collection is a must own. I don’t know what will happen to Rare in the future but this compendium of games is a near perfect encapsulation of their past glories and stories.

GREAT RATING

At last, Josh Keaton made Spectacular Spider-Memes Vol. 3 (NSFW)

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You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for this. Josh Keaton, the titular voice of the The Spectacular Spider-Man, has just released Volume 3 of his Spectacular Spider-Memes video series onto YouTube. The videos feature the voice actor narrating 60’s Spider-Man image macros to the theme song of The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series. The resulting combination of these elements makes for the best kind of Spider-Fan service. Just don’t play this, Vol. 1, or Vol. 2 in public…or near kids.

Farewell Jon Stewart.

Well, I guess something’s gotta balance out the Spidey news…

To think that Jon Stewart would helm The Daily Show forever is inconceivable but I get why everyone’s so bummed out about him leaving the show. I’ve been watching The Daily Show for about 12 years and that show keeps me entertained and informed about the world around me. The thing I love about Jon Stewart is he’s the kind of guy who would call out anybody on the air, have the stones to back it up, and even be humble to admit when he’s wrong. His satire of the 24 hour cable news system has influenced so many lives and made careers for so many hilarious comedians like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, Samantha Bee
Jason Jones, Wyatt Cenac, Rob and Nate Corddry, Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, Mo Rocca, Larry Wilmore, and JOHN OLIVER. Put simply, The Daily Show simply won’t be the same without him but the show must go on.
So yeah, I’m sad that he’s leaving The Daily Show but I’m happy that Jon is leaving on his own terms. Who knows what the future has in store for Jon. Maybe he’ll run for President in 2016 or maybe he’ll make another documentary or maybe he’ll hang out with Seinfeld in cars getting coffee. All I know for certain is that my life was made better because of one fake news guy and the best fucking news team ever. THANK YOU, Jon.