Playing: Clock Tower (SNES) (PS)

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Considered by many to be one of the earliest games of the survival horror genre, Clock Tower (Later subtitled The First Fear) is a little known gem in the history of gaming. Originally released in Japan and later into the US, this retro hit is a surprisingly suspenseful and jump-worthy game that will have most on the edge of their seats.

It’s September, 1995 when four orphans are led to a mansion known as the “Clock Tower” due to it being its most prominent feature. Being led by a Ms. Mary, Jennifer, Anne, Laura and Lotte arrive at the foyer of the luxurious mansion and are eager to meet their adoptive father, Simon Barrows. Fear begin to set in as Mary soon disappears and Jennifer finds the other gone, leaving her to wander about the dark hallways of the mysterious Clock Tower.

With horror games like Dead SpaceSlender and Outlast, I was sure that a simple, pixel SNES game wouldn’t even come close to scaring me. I had heard about it before – being credited as one of the inspirations for future instalments of the genre. But even with that in mind, I carelessly decided to play it in the darkness of my room, deciding that it would be one of those games that you could simply breeze by. I was wrong.

I was surprised by how “survival” this point-and-click game was. I had played the original Resident Evil and Silent Hill games and considered that formula to be survival horror. Yet Clock Tower takes it to an unbelievably base level – with no weapons or offensive items, the best Jennifer can do is hold off the dreaded Scissorman for a few seconds before her life depletes, forcing the player to find hiding places to avoid the maniac. Interestingly enough, her health depletes from running, and if you’re being chased by the game’s slasher, you’re prone to tripping onto the floor, something which I found annoying in films but suspenseful in this video game. The controls are, as you would expect, very basic: Jennifer can only run left and right and interact with objects you click on. It is through this that she collects key items and progresses the story. The introduction of a “panic button” is also important, as it allows Jennifer to escape or complete tasks that would otherwise damage her. The game itself incorporates puzzle elements, which is actually quite difficult in some segments. It also features slightly different plot points in different game plays, often changing room or item locations. The most attractive feature of all in my opinion though, are the multiple endings that players can achieve. Those familiar with Corpse Party would enjoy this aspect, yet some ending criteria can be missed or obscured by gameplay alone, making it difficult to achieve all endings.

Clock Tower’s tense atmosphere is close to flawless, providing players with a sense of anxiety and insecurity about what they inspect and what rooms they enter. Most of the mansion is portrayed with dull colours, diverting from this in the few rooms where there are light switches. Certain events, which are shown to players in a cinematic still, are sudden and grotesque, catching players off guard. The music doesn’t help players in this regard – it only manages to heighten the suspense and tension already instilled in players.

As a whole, I was surprised by how well Clock Tower fared as a suspenseful survival horror. Not only did it completely change my initial opinion, but it also genuinely kept me frightened until I finally completed the game. It’s difficult enough to warrant multiple playthroughs, especially with multiple endings, but keep in mind that some interactions can become tiresome after awhile. if you’re looking for a good thrill, are a major retro-junkie or want to experience some real gaming history – turn off the lights and give Clock Tower a run for its money.

Bry Rating: 3.5/5
Recommended? Basic, but a great cult classic.
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Human Entertainment

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Playing: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (PS3) (PSVITA)

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Unfairly compared to it’s Nintendo counterpart, Sony’s PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a platform fighter that manages to hold its own in the genre, despite Smash Bros.‘s immense popularity. Even so, while it can be considered it’s own game in it’s own right, many aspects of the game were less than stellar, which is a shame considering the positive points it has to offer.

All the playable characters have their own storyline and reasons for joining the tournament being hosted by a mysterious entity. The players soon find themselves in familiar and unfamiliar settings as their worlds are amalgamated into hybrids, creating areas that are lethal if they do not adapt.

I can understand why Nintendo-biased fans would attack PASBR – although they might be similar in their gameplay, idea and genre, this is wholly unjustified. The game provides a new take on the platform fighter, while retaining elements of the genre that are exciting and invite fans to play. This in itself gives it enough credibility to be considered it’s own game and not simply a Smash Bro. rip-off.

The game features 20 (not including DLC) unique characters to enjoy, each with their own skill sets, combos, stats, and finishers. This gives players a large sense of diversity, keeping the game from being too repetitive. To gain points, characters must fill their AP meter in order to gain finisher levels that can kill other characters. All characters have distinct Level 1, 2, and 3 finishers, the lowest of which being the easiest to reach and hardest to use while the latter of which is the hardest to reach, yet easiest to use. The playing field is set in platformer style and are dynamic, often changing at intervals and introducing hazards that can injure or affect a player in some way. Items in the game also range from Playstaion franchises, and can be used to either enhance player performance or damage enemies. It features the standard game modes that you would normally expect from a game like this – Arcade (which is one of the lowlights when compared to the overall game), Challenge, Versus and (most importantly) Online Multiplayer. I must say, while the overall gameplay is good, it would become boring very quickly if it weren’t for it’s Versus and Online Multiplayer mode.

The character models, backgrounds and fighting animations are really well done, and are in my opinion much better than any other platform fighter that has been made. The game is not entirely perfect though – it suffers in it’s poor menu execution (honestly, it seems very amateurish) and the story still-frames in Arcade mode. This is an important note to ANY game: If you include a storyline, do not oversimplify it. It needs to be engaging, and two still-frames just don’t cut it. Moving on, the music fares slightly better in it’s presentation. It can be said that Smash Bros. does this better due to it’s large variety of well known hits, and while PASBR does this to a lesser degree, players are only given a below average score that rely on sudden shifts, sound effects and voice overs to keep players engaged.

Overall, while it’s music and some visual aspects are subpar, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is an absolute delight to play against other people. It’s actually a shame that it didn’t receive more attention, as it costs fans from more DLC characters, but I suppose there may have been some reasons for that. If you enjoy platform fighters, or enjoy the cross-over aspect that is more commonly observed in Nintendo’s Smash Bro. franchise, be sure to check out PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale for a newer and different experience.

Bry Rating: 3/5
Recommended? Don’t bother playing by yourself – go online!
Country of Origin: America
Developer: Superbot Entertainment; SCE Santa Monica Studios; Bluepoint Games (Vita)

Playing: Zombies Ate My Neighbours (SNES) (SEGA Genesis) (VC)

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Saving your poor, defenceless neighbours as you fight your way through hordes of zombies, mummies, vampires, and even chainsaw wielding men is the aim of the cult classic, Zombies Ate My Neighbours. With a musical score and enemies that would make any B-Horror film lover squeal, this particular game was – and still is – a personal favourite.

I’ve never actually been able to finish ZAMN, causing me much frustration as grew up. I first played it at the age of 9, and until last year, I had no idea there actually was a story that (kind of) tied the game together. It stars Zeke and Julia as they save their neighbours from a wide array of monsters that have been unleashed on their suburbs by the deranged Dr. Tongue. Armed with only a water gun and a first aid kits, these teenage monsters hunters set out on their journey, traversing lakes, castles, pyramids, dungeons and even shopping malls to set things right.

This game is basically the embodiment of any respectable B horror movie – it’s very tongue in cheek, not only through it’s presentation, but it’s quirky gameplay dynamics, plot and characters. It has what any good homage to the genre has: film references, over the top music, loveable characters and a constant stream of humour. The game simply shines through it’s humour, especially through it’s monster cliches and level names (Such as ‘Forty Feet of Terror in: Level 8: Titanic Toddler‘, ‘Level 33: Fish and Crypts‘, and the special ‘Credit Level: Monsters Among Us‘).

It features an overhead view that allows the player to see the field with ease. It’s pretty useful, especially when you need to know how to access certain areas or avoid a horde of enemies waiting on the other side of a fence. The player starts with three lives and ten victims, the number of which carries over depending on how many you saved in the previous round. The loss of all neighbours results in a game over, as does the depletion of your life bar, which can sustain ten hits before you’re knocked out. A password system is also available, although inserting a password results in the player being only equipped with the standard water pistol and a single first aid kit. Although it’s not necessary, it’s highly recommended to play in cooperation with another player. It gets difficult saving your teachers, cheerleaders and whimpering soldiers when you’re fighting giant babies, evil dolls and beady eyed martians just by yourself, so having a trusty sidekick is preferable. Speaking of fighting, ZAMN has the most interesting weapon arsenal at your disposal – which includes silverware, soda grenades, weed whackers, and bazookas to name a few.

The graphics are, as you would expect of 1993, 16-Bit and work well with the chosen dark pallet of the game. Not only does it give the game visual appeal, but it causes it to reflect the dark, grainy and almost superficial tones that are indicative of B horror movies. The music does well to accompany it, utilising a quirky score that fits the game perfectly. It’s a sort of second rate “scary”, being both whimsical and spooky at the same time. They’re also highly memorable, especially for the first theme, and specific tracks are used for specific settings to essentially create miniature films for the player’s pleasure.

I have loved this game ever since I discovered it at the very end of my brother’s emulator back in my childhood. Standing the test of time and the progression of technology, Zombies Ate My Neighbours is an addictive game that will frustrate you and just as equally satisfy you. Whether it’s raging at the tourists who transformed into werewolves or the pleasure of entering the end stage door at the last second, ZAMN is a game that should be – no, deserves to be considered in Gaming’s Hall of Fame.

Bry Rating: 5/5
Recommended? A Must-play Cult Classic
Country of Origin: America
Developer: LucasArts
 

Playing: Mario Kart Wii (Wii)

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Ah, Mario Kart Wii. Otherwise known as “the great destroyer of friendships”, this loveable classic holds many memories with our family and friends. And while we’d all like to forget the negative experiences (i.e. Getting hit with a blue shell) and remember the positive ones (i.e. Hitting someone with your blue shell), this Nintendo release of the Mario Kart franchise has a special place in all our hearts. While it has been a few years since its release, the upcoming release of Mario Kart 8 has me wanting to replay it once more.

There’s no real story for the Kart series, unless you count the ones created when playing with others. But just for the record, I strongly believe it’s ludicrous that anyone would even consider allowing Bowser and co. attend the races (what with all the kidnapping and the like), but hey, it doesn’t really matter. I’m sure we all still loved passing big old Bow’ right before passing the finish line.

MKWii is not only one of my favourite party games, but also one of the few racing games I tolerate. I’ve never been a fan of racing games, or most sporting-type games for that matter, but with memorable characters and hours worth of fun, how could you possibly hate it? Good or bad – no matter how you are with racing games, players cannot deny the fun in competing with each other and the sheer joy in unleashing the arsenal of traps at their disposal. How quickly do the eyes of the player coming first drain when they realise a red – or even better, a blue shell – is coming straight at them? Apparently very slow if you’re the one who sent it.

It’s without saying that Mario Kart Wii is a fresh new take on the Kart series whilst still providing the same formula that players love and enjoy. Its variety of characters, vehicles (which include motorbikes!) and mix of both nostalgic and brand-new tracks makes it an all out winner as a racing game and a staple for any Wii owner. The added multiplayer option, as well as the range of game types gives this game a worthy level of replay value, as well as making it perfect for a get together with players of all skill types. In all its cartoony, loveable glory – this game does not disappoint.

The visuals of it are just what you would expect of Nintendo’s Wii- the game is a treasure trove of polished tracks and picturesque characters that create an visually exciting world. Even the game’s vehicle are up to its visual standards, as are the traps that are obtainable and the effects that accompany them. Aside from that, any one who’s ever played a single game before sure could recognise the distinct sounds from playing. From the character cries to the sounds of wheels drifting, and from the crash of a blue shell to the three beeps before a race, Mario Kart Wii is ripe with cute sound effects that fit perfectly in its setting. Even better though, but also overlooked, is the soundtrack of the game. The music of the game just makes it for me, and I do admit I’m a sucker for great compositions. Racing tracks are equipped with wonderful tunes that make it all that more enjoyable – even if you don’t realise it.

Personally, I recall the tantrums, arguments and mind numbing screams that were part of playing this game. But even more so than that are the good times playing this along my friends. The first time I held the Wii Wheel is actually very memorable and while I no longer own my original one, I still think back to the first few rounds I played with it. Mario Kart Wii is sure to be a classic for many players worldwide so if you have it alongside the no longer used games, why not have one more round? See if you can escape that blue shell this time.

Bry Rating: 4.25/5
Recommended? Fun for everyone!
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 1

Playing: Nier (PS3) (XBOX 360)

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With the upcoming international release of Drakengard 3, I wanted to review the equally emotionally-confusing spin-off game of the Drakengard series, Nier. While Cavia (rest in peace) has been known for their strange and often complex games, Nier stands to be yet another quirky entry to their list. Sporting two different versions, wherein the titular protagonist is a teenage brother and a middle aged father in Replicant and Gestalt respectively, the game provides players with an intricate, if not captivating story.

Set on Earth in a distant future, Nier’s almost unrecognisable world is the product of the fifth hidden ending of Drankengard. Nier, whose sister/daughter Yonah is stricken with the “Black Scrawl”, dreams of finding a cure for her illness. Upon teaming up with the magical tome Grimoire Weiss, the foulmouthed Kainè and the ever mellow Emil during his search, Yonah is inexplicably kidnapped by the Shadowlord – the master of the enemies known only as Shades. With an army of these enemies in his path, Nier and his team must travel ruined landscapes and the remnants of lost civilisations to find the missing Yonah.

Nier is definitely one of the most interesting games I’ve ever played. Completely finishing the game is no easy task, and players will often find that the game is considerably more frustrating than it needs to be. This is most evident in the arduous task of finding materials for weapon upgrades, which sounds easy. But if you’ve ever played a Cavia game, you’d understand that the most simple task can take hours. Another interesting point is that completely finishing the game… also completely erases it. Upon taking the fourth ending route, the player’s save file is completely erased, along with other copies on the HDD (You have been warned). The game itself has also has a heap of extra missions to complete, so expect Nier to take quite awhile.

It’s primarily an action, hack and slash game that possesses role playing elements. It also, interestingly, has a variety of other game types interjected in sections of the story, such as platform, shooter and even text adventure. There are three weapon types (spears, one-handed swords and two-handed swords) that can be used and magic is also available, creating a solid, but average, combat experience. Both can have “words” attached to them, which augment and strengthen the power or abilities of equips. Defeating enemies results in gathering loot, words and experience, all of which are extremely useful towards the second half of the game. Nier also gains companions on his journey (typical of the JRPG genre) and attack on their own with competent attacks. Finally, finishing the game one opens of the New Game+ option, which allows players to experience the story again, but with twists and bigger revelations to the events of the story.

While Nier’s story is entertaining and sometimes actually touching, the graphics of the game weigh it down. While I praised the graphics of Bayonetta, I must say – Nier’s visuals are remarkably disappointing. It seems as though they would be rather suited to the graphic capabilities of the PS2. It does, though, have a few pleasant instances; such as the Resident Evil style graphics in Emil’s manor and the distant towers on the horizon of the port town in the game. Although the visuals of the game are about as mediocre as they can be, I cannot express just how much the soundtrack adds to the overall value of the game. I wrote about it before here, but briefly, it is beyond belief just how amazing the game’s music compels the audience to actually feel and pay attention. If Nier was ever to be completely forgotten, I guarantee  its OST would remain.

Even though Nier doesn’t shape up to be one of the better entries to the JRPG genre (or any genre for that matter), it’s overall cohesiveness,  story and soundtrack make it a worthwhile experience to enjoy. It is no way Nier (heh) the quality of other games released around the same time, but its effort in creating an emotional and captivating story redeems it (at least for me) from the more… displeasing aspects of the game. If you’d rather play a game more fixed on its story and appreciate a good soundtrack, give Nier a go – and just experience the mind-blowing story it has to offer.

Bry Rating: 3/5
Recommended? Definitely, for a compelling, and addictive story.
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Cavia

 

Playing: Resident Evil 6 (PS3) (XBOX 360) (PC)

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Every gamer throughout the world has at the very least heard of the Resident Evil franchise by Capcom. The latest instalment in the RE saga is Resident Evil 6, the first of its kind to feature 4 different story lines and story intersections. Although arguably the worst game of the series to date, the game still continues the storyline in a much wider scale than ever before, giving fans the world over another hit of one video game history’s greatest franchises.

The game’s storyline spans 7 months, starring familiar and newer faces. Leon and Helena, agents working with the president in the town of Tall Oaks, America are faced with a bio-terrorist attack that has turned the townsfolk into zombies. Chris and Piers, BSAA agents who worked in Edonia, are sent to China to rescue hostages amongst chaos and disorder. Finally Sherry, an agent chosen to escort Jake to safety in Edonia, works with her charge to find a cure for the newly developed C-Virus.

The game is by no means a traditional Resident Evil game. If anything, RE games haven’t being RE games recently. With times changing and video games with it, everything seems to be more action filled, more complex and more diverse. And RE6 is as diverse as they come. The storyline is non-linear which makes it harder then usual to understand the overall story of the game. Old characters are a welcome relief to the game which might as well no longer bear the RE tagline, yet the new characters are both refreshing and provide an exciting edge to the story. Yet amidst the heap of characters you’re given control over and the four full length stories available to play, fans quickly realise that this is no longer a survival horror… but an action horror. And that’s when all the magic disappears.

The game is a third-person shooter with rare hints to what RE games used to be. Although most prevalent in Leon and Ada’s campaigns, the good old puzzle solving aspect of the games is present, allowing players to experience the once shining lustre of the RE franchise. The A.I system is revamped for RE6, not only giving the player the option to command the actions of their partner, but allowing the A.I to be more competent and actually useful. Moreover, multiplayer is new feature added, sporting the unique Agent Hunt and the classical Mercenaries, both of which actually highly enjoyable. Another interesting point about the gameplay is that its four campaigns are distinct in their play style: Leon’s is primarily survival horror oriented, a nod to the original games; Chris’s is clearly action themed, forcing the player to keep their fingers on the trigger; Ada’s is heavily stealth based, especially considering it’s the only campaign that does not have an A.I. partner; and Jake’s is, essentially, a mix of all three.

If every other feature of the game was to be forgotten, the few aspects that shines through are the graphics, styling and music. Graphics are absolutely breathtaking, with each scene taking place in a beautifully created setting that immerses the player into the world. Even dull, underground passageways are designed beautifully, as are the flaming debris and buildings encountered in a crumbling China. The characters and monsters of the game are, as always, uniquely styled and portrayed, acting as one of the highlights of the entire game. Their fluidity and high quality animation are also very deserving of praise. As expected of any RE instalment, the soundtrack of the game is a key feature, making players feel exactly what the producers wanted you to feel. Whether it be the suspense of a creepy mansion, or the adrenaline of high speed chases, Resident Evil 6 doesn’t let fans down with its music.

Although it’s not exactly the great addition fans were expecting, Resident Evil 6 is an average continuation of one of Capcom’s most successful franchises. In my opinion, it wasn’t too terrible, but that being said, it could have had a lot of improvements made story and gameplay wise. It is saddening to see though its great departure from survival horror that many have come to love, and hopefully one day, we’ll see the next instalment going back to its horror roots. All in all, RE6 makes a delightful game to play for simple enjoyment, allowing people to enjoy a mix of the goodness of the RE series and an action packed story.

Bry Rating: 3.5/5
Recommended? For RE and Action Enthusiasts Only
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Capcom

Playing: Record of Agarest War (PS3) (XBOX 360) (PC) (Android)

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The Japanese role playing game Record of Agarest War, also known as Agarest: Generations of War, has become a project for me for awhile. Although it sports amazing storyline visuals and the overall plot is interesting, the game (And mind you I’ve never quite said this) drags on for far too long.

The story spans five generations of heroes, starting with Leonhardt – a knight that is disgraced after he saves an elven girl. After sustaining a fatal blow from the mysterious Dark Knight, he manages to live through a pact that ties his destiny, and the destinies of his children, to the end of the darkness that plagues his world.

Before you keep reading, please understand – this is a hardcore strategic JRPG. For those familiar with games like these, play throughs typically last 50+ hours. For those less experienced, you’re looking at about 100+ hours worth of playtime. This would most likely be due to the level of customisation in the game as it quite literally depends on it.

The gameplay of the RoAW is an interesting mix of different games – it’s essentially a Final Fantasy Tactics – type strategy game with elements from dating simulators and choice-driven games. At first, it can be extremely overwhelming to deal with all the battle and story related game mechanics. These are, as always, quite useful though, but only later in the game. 

Battles are fought in a generated board with a 2D team the player can construct. Characters have distinct roles in their style of fighting, something the player must take into account when building playable characters. The player must also be aware of other things such as the concepts of AP costs, Combined attacks, Fields,  Extended fields and SP. These things, which are trivial at first, can mean instant defeat or victory near the end, especially if characters are under-leveled or the battle has taken more than an hour.

In the over-world, destinations are either towns, dungeons, battles or story points. The number of “turns” are taken into account and can affect certain the story in different ways. In towns, players can visit the shop to purchase items, the Blacksmith’s Guild to create and enhance items, the Adventurer’s Guild to earn titles and the Horoscope to see the compatibility between the hero and his love interests. The “Soul Breed” system is also of particular interest in the game: at the end of each generation, the player can choose to wed one of the three available girls. The catch? Depending on who you choose to marry, the stats and weapons of the future heroes are affected.

Although the battle visuals are disappointing and the story itself can be long, the storyboard art is excellent, as is the CG images that can be obtained if the player makes the right choices. The music for the game is also great, but the best part of the game must be the voice acting. It’s extremely well done and gives all characters distinct personalities and qualities.

Overall, RoAW is an average JRPG balanced by its pros and cons. With an interesting plot, high level of customisability and exceptional art and audio, it fails in its length, battle mechanics and nearly unfair “True End” path (Which must be followed to a tee to fully complete the game. It can be found here if needed). Although I mostly enjoyed it, it is virtually unplayable after one full play through. I only recommend it for those absolutely in love with JRPGs, but be warned – this is not a game one can simply complete on a weekend.

Bry Rating: 2.5/5
Recommended? Only for the Hardcore JRPG Gamer
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Idea Factory; Compile Heart; Red Entertainment