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Archive for October, 2011

Review #442

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

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Monster High: Ghoul Spirit
Developer: ImaginEngine
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Third Person Action/Mini-Games
Release Date: 10/25/2011

Monster High is not a product you’d expect a thirty-four year old man to pick up. However my girlfriend was a big fan of the series and always said she wanted something like those dolls when she was a child. Then Amazon.com and Mattel offered me a free Dead Tired Lagoon Blue doll & Hydration Station as one of my monthly options to review for them (Yes, I’m an official reviewer for Amazon in addition to this). Knowing my significant other’s love of these toys I chose it and even let her write the review for me. The next thing I knew we were driving around to stores looking for specific dolls for her and I eventually used an Amazon gift certificate to get her a second doll – that of Spectra Vondergeist. I have a feeling the ball has just started rolling here folks.

Which leads us to Monster High: Ghoul Spirit This $39.99 video game by ImaginEngine and THQ would give her a chance to have fun with all the Monster High characters and it would cost as much as one or two of the dolls. So even though THQ wasn’t sending us a review copy of THIS game, I decided to review it as well as by it as most gaming websites tend to ignore video games for young gamers or that are geared specifically for girls. Shame on them.

My only problem was that the game was developed by ImaginEngine. Now 99% of you don’t know this company but if you are a super crazy Pokemon fan, just the name should fill you with dread as they are responsible for the hideous Pokemon Team Turbo which is not only legendary for its horribleness but why TPC and Game Freak pretty much abandoned the idea of letting a Pokemon game be developed for a platform other than Nintendo systems (Of course, the Square-Enix cell phone game helped with that too…). I mean, the thing even scarred our own Mark B. and his whole gimmick is based on playing terrible games.

The good news is that in the decade since Pokemon Team Turbo was published that ImaginEngine has greatly improved. Last year they released another Wii budget game, Haunted House, that I had a lot of fun with. So with that in my I went into Monster High with high spirits rather than getting a mob with pitchforks and torches together. So is Monster High: Ghoul Spirit a howling success, or should you drive a stake through its heart?

Review #441

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

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Batman: Arkham City Collector’s Edition
Developer: Rocksteady
Publisher: Warner Home Games
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up/Sandbox Action
Release Date: 10/18/2011

Well, it’s finally here – the much anticipated sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum. This game won our 2009 “Game of the Year” award, along with six other awards. You’ve probably already read our unboxing of the Collector’s Edition and our “Ten Thoughts” piece on Robin. Now it’s time to see if Arkham City lives up to the hype or if it falls short like Dead Island and Catherine before it.

Review #440

Monday, October 17th, 2011

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Pokemon Rumble Blast
Developer: Ambrella
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
Release Date: 10/24/2011

Pokemon Rumble was released in 2009 and was one of the more out there Pokemon titles released. Instead of being an RPG like most Pokemon titles, this was a beat ‘em up in the vein of River City Ransom and Double Dragon. You could collect all the Pokemon from the first and fourth generation of games and there was a surprising amount of strategy in addition to the mindless button mashing. I had a lot of fun with the game when I reviewed it and it would go on to win our award for “Best Downloadable Game of 2009, so it would appear I wasn’t alone there.

Now it’s the end of 2011 and Pokemon Rumble returns – this time for the Nintendo 3DS. Going from downloadable game to a 3DS cart has more than doubled the price (from $15 to $34.99-$39.99 depending where you get it from). Now I’ve always railed about Adventure games jumping from their usual PC price range of $6.99 - $9.99 to $19.99-$29.99 when they are ported to the DS, so I can’t deny that the price tag for Pokemon Rumble Blast However, instead of being a straight port, at least Pokemon Rumble Blast offers new features, levels, Pokemon and 3D visuals. As well, unlike PC adventure games, you can take a laptop with you in a similar fashion to the 3DS where the Wii doesn’t work that way. So is there enough of a difference here to pay twice what you paid for the original Pokemon Rumble, or are you better off just sticking with the $15 version?

Review #439

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

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Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 10/11/2011

Although Dragon Age II has been a very polarizing game, everyone here at Diehard GameFAN seems to enjoy it. Mark gave the game pretty high marks in his original review and I enjoyed the second expansion pack, Legacy, a lot. Now the third pack, Mark of the Assassin is out. MotA is a tie-in with the new Dragon Age webseries, Dragon Age: Redemption starring Felicia Day (writer/star of the web series The Guild). Both Redemption and Mark of the Assassin feature Day’s elven rogue, Tallis, prominently. For those interesting in watching Redemption, click here. For those interested in seeing if Mark of the Assassin is worth your $9.99, keep reading.

Review #438

Monday, October 10th, 2011

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Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D
Developer: Santa Entertainment
Published: Natsume
Genre: Rhythm
Release Date: 10/07/2011

Back in May I reviewed Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix and found it to be a lot of fun, especially for a five dollar Wii game. Then at E3, Mark was able to play a partially finished version of the 3DS game and he found it equally adorable. Of course, now that the final product is officially released, it could be a different story, especially with the forty dollar price tag for the 3DS version compared to the five bucks for the WiiWare one. Do Gabrielle and her groovy ghoulies make it two for two, or is the series better left on the Wii? It’s time to find out.

Let’s Review

1. Story

GGG: MM may have come out first but it takes place after Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D. This game sets up the origins for how Gabrielle met all of her friends in Monsterville. You don’t NEED to play them in order though, although there’s far more back story here.

Gabrielle’s a little middle school girl who sneezes so hard one day that she blows her soul right out of her body. Her body’s now in a coma and that leaves her in quite the quandary. Good thing ghosts can speak all languages though, as Gabrielle and her cat Lola can now understand each other. Lola guides Gabrielle to Monsterland where she meets just characters as Crystal the witch, Greta the seamstress, Vlad the vampire, Fang the Wolf, Frankie the flesh golem and Robert the Mummy –Bear. In Monsterland Gabrielle learns that she must collect the screams of humans in order to return to her fleshy form. The best way to do that? Through a series of dances known as the Ghostly Groove.

Okay, so it’s not the most gripping story ever told and it might seem a bit surreal or nonsensical, but the story does its job. The characters in Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove are adorable and even though I already grew to love them back in Monster Mix, they were just as enjoyable here. The cast has expanded from the WiiWare game, so there are some new faces to be found.

It took me a little less than three hours to get through story mode, which is comprised of twenty dance routines and four mini-games. I was disappointed in the length, especially as the WiiWare version was only five bucks for an hour of play. I guess I was hoping for something exponentially longer for the price tag. These three hours also included drawing tarot cards from Crystal’s house, buying new outfits at Gretas or playing around with the new hair styles and accessories I unlocked as I went through the game. It might not sound like there is a lot here, but you really do get to know all the characters in the game pretty well by the time you are done and it’s something little kids will especially enjoy playing with. Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove is quite charming and the story is whimsical enough that it can capture the hearts of the most jaded gamers out there. It’s not impressive, but it is very cute. It’ll keep you entertained while playing it and maybe even have you looking forward to the next game (or the WiiWare one if you don’t already own that), and that’s enough for me. Especially from a dance game.

Story Rating: 6.5/10

2. Graphics

Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D looks exactly like the Wiiware version when you have it in 2D. You have the same character models and animations. You have some new backdrops and the mini games are all new, so that’s something. The game may not be visually impressive or push the 3DS to its limits, but it’s cute enough for what it is. For a game filled with monsters, everything is bright and cheerful, even the cemeteries or vampire infested castles.

The problem is when you put the game in 3D mode. The fact of the matter is that the game looks awful in 3D. There is constant screen tearing as well as almost constant double imagery. Sometimes characters will stretch or warp instead of keeping the same visual ratios that they had in 2D. You’ll even get some characters or things going transparent instead of an actual 3D effect. The game really is quite terrible looking in 3D and I’d strongly advise you to leave it in 2D once you’ve satisfied your morbid curiosity regarding, “How bad could it really be?” Of course that means Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D could have (and should have) just been a DS title instead of a 3DS one.

Because of the 3D issues that plague this game, Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D can’t really be given a positive score in the visuals. It’s too bad too, as the character designs are quite unique and entertaining. The game’s definitely playable and looks just fine in 2D, but with the inordinate amount of issues with the 3D effect, I have to wonder why this was released as a 3DS game in the first place.

Graphics Rating: 4.5/10

3. Sound

There isn’t any voice acting in Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove, but there doesn’t need to be. It’s a dance game after all, and so the focus needs to be on the music. There aren’t a lot of sound effects either though -just different noises for the Miss, Poor, Good and Great ratings, or the occasional “ping” in a mini-game. Even when there is a sound effect, the music does overwhelm them, so you will have to strain to listen to most of them.

The music in the game is wonderful. Most of it are pieces of classical music sped up and/or remixed to give them a dance beat. You have some Vivaldi, some Bach and other timeless works to listen to as you try to keep the beat in each of the twenty mini games. Twenty songs is a pretty good for a cartridge based dance game and I think the overall selection was wonderful. There were also a few original dance tracks for the game, and they were just as fun to listen to as the classical pieces. I found myself humming along with the game and grinning like an idiot while doing so.

So Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D has awesome music but could have used a little more in the sound effects department. A good soundtrack is vital to a quality rhythm game and Santa Entertainment gave us just that.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Where the WiiWare version of Ghostly Groove required you to do dance moves and actually move in time with the beat, the 3DS version is all about tapping at the right time or tracing in time with the beat. The end result is a product that isn’t as fun to play as the Wii version, but is still quite entertaining in its own right.

The game consists of three basic movement options. The first involves a skull icon with an ever shrinking circle of dots encroaching it. The goal is to touch the skull right as the circle does to get a “Great” score. The second movement involves tracing a line after touching a skull icon. The third is a upward motion on a plant icon to mimic ripping it from the ground by the roots. The key is to do all of these movements in time with the beat. Early songs are pretty easy while later songs can get a bit frantic.

There are also three mini games that will occur within the songs to help you collect bonus screams. The first involves tapping the screen as quickly as you can. The second has you making little circles with the stylus as quickly as you can. The third has you flick the stylus on the screen in order to launch Lola, Gabrielle’s cat, into screams so she can collect them for her human. It’s all very simple and it can be quite fun, although just it’s just not as engaging as the WiiWare version. If you’re playing a game about dancing, a lot of gamers are actually going to want to move more than their wrists.

The game works pretty well for the most part, although the last dance in the game is exceptionally buggy and suffers from detection issues. About a fourth of the way into the dance, the game either stops recognizing your stylus inputs or is puts them in a completely different area of the screen. One example is with rubbing away a dust cloud. The cloud is in the middle of the screen, but each time it was acting as if I was brushing in the upper left hand corner. It was shockingly awful, as if this dance was programmed by a team completely different from the other nineteen in the game. I had to restart the dance five times. The first four times the bug hit but the fifth time it was thankfully absent and let me play it normally. This was horribly frustrating, especially as the rest of the game played well enough. If I was annoyed, I’d hate to see how little kids or casual gamers (the core demographic for this game) would react. It’s good that it only happens on one dance, but for it to be the last one? That’s going to drive some people batty.

So aside from one issue that pops up at the very end of the game, Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D plays pretty well. It’s not as engaging as I’d have liked and the Wii version was more fun to play through (while this had more story), but I was happy with what was here. Room for more variety, more dances and fine tuning some controls, sure? But aside from the last dance I received an “A” (highest score possible) on every dance but the last, but once the bug stopped hitting I got one there too.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 6.5/10

5. Replayability

Once you beat Story Mode, you unlock two new versions of each dance: hard and impossible. Both give people a reason to come back to the game, Since story mode takes a little under three hours to do all the dances, play all the mini games and unlock a bunch of extras in addition to the story scenes, these enhanced dances only add another hour or two at the most to the game. Still, there’s about two to three times the amount of content that we saw in Super Monkey Ball 3D. Doing dances on a higher difficulty can also unlock dresses for purchase.

You can also try to collect all the tarot cards, play all four mini-games again, or use your screams to purchase Monster Badges (which are randomly selected for you) and/or clothing for Gabrielle to wear. These things add a little bit of replay value, but honestly unless the only way you are coming back to this game, is if you absolutely love it. I had fun with Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove, but once I beat Story Mode I didn’t have the slightest inclination to collect all the knick-nacks. I just tried the higher level dances to confirm I preferred the WiiWare version, but that was about it.

The good thing is that there are reasons to come back to Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove of you are so inclined. The bad news is it’s just more of the stuff you already did in Story Mode – much of it exactly the same.

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance

Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove was a bit on the easy side for me, but then I play a lot of rhythm based games or old school shoot ‘em ups. That helped a lot with playing this game. Still, I had to replay a few dances in order to perfect them and the last dance five times due to the bug in them. Once you beat the game and unlock the other two difficulty settings, things do get noticeably harder and there’s a challenge there, but the challenge is just as much from holding the stylus long enough without your hand cramping as it is precision timing. I personally don’t have a sense of touch and so I’d regularly be collapsing the stylus (the 3DS stylus is an extendable one unlike the regular DS one) and so it would get uncomfortable to hold. This won’t happen to too many other gamers, so it’s hopefully not a big deal, but I bring it up just in case.

The game isn’t necessarily a challenging one in Story Mode, but for those craving something a bit harder, you’ll get not one but two options for just that, and after only three hours of work. That’s not bad.

Balance Rating: 7/10

7. Originality

Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D is the first rhythm based touch screen tapping dance game for the 3DS and I can’t think of too many games that resemble it in gameplay. With the skull icon timing, it’s a bit like Shadow Hearts for tiny tots, but I honestly can’t think of too many games like this. I’ve seen DDR style games for touch screen phones that are somewhat similar, but they lack the story aspects of GGG3D and are nowhere as charming. I also like that while this is the second Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove game in six months, both use the same characters while having completely different gameplay. While I definitely prefer the WiiWare version of GGG, the 3DS version has a leg up on originality, as there’s nothing to really compare this game to for either the DS or the 3DS.

Originality Rating: 7/10

8. Addictiveness

I beat Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D in three settings –each one lasting about an hour. In addition to the dances, I was trying the mini games, buying dresses, collecting tarot cards and Monster Badges. I was always shocked that I had only put an hour into the game each time, as it felt far longer. Then when I beat the game, I had no desire to play any of the post game stuff. I was kind of done with it. The game was adorable, charming, cute and all the other words I’ve used to describe it, yet three hours seemed to be just enough to get all there was out of the game without me getting bored by it. Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that after an hour straight of tapping fast and furiously the tendon between my index finger and thumb was hurting…

I honestly don’t know if this is a game I’ll go back to or not. I loved the WiiWare game and I loved the characters and story in this 3DS version, but I don’t know if I want to play it again. I’m honestly really torn right now on it. I had fun with the game and I like the characters enough that I know I’d play future installments in the franchise, but honestly? When I finished the game I was more interested in replaying the WiiWare game or hoping for another of those rather than wanting to do anything more with this version.

So yes, Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove was fun, but even know I can’t decide if it was because the game was so short I didn’t have time to get bored with it, if my love of the WiiWare one is was kept me playing this, or if the 3DS version is a keeper rather than being a one and done. Let’s call it a three-way push.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

I’m not really sure who the core demographic will be here. I know it’s supposed to be small children and casual gamers, but both Mark and I enjoyed the game and we’re neither. Mark likes games with wanton violence. He loves Mass Effect 2 and Resident Evil 4. Neither game is something you’d compare to Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D, but he still found this one adorable. I tend to like 2D fighting games, old school shooters like Ikargua or RPGs. Again, none of those genre preferences fit with Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D, but I still had fun with this. Hell, I listed the WiiWare version as one of my favorite games of Q2 2011. It’s that neat of a game.

The problem is that a lot of male gamers will see that this game involves a little girl as the protagonist and that part of it involves putting her in different outfits and dancing or getting a rare fashion show invitation where you have to style Gabrielle according to a specific theme and they will run screaming because they are either insecure in their masculinity or can’t fathom that a game without violence can be good. It’s like the people who passed on Mega Man I in the 80s because of the terrible box art. They missed out on a fun game back then because they didn’t want to give it a chance and the same thing will happen here with Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D. It also doesn’t help that the game is saddled with a $39.99 price tag either…

The gameplay is interesting enough that I can see a lot of people having fun with it if they give it a chance, but the art style and the all-ages story will unfortunately turn off the lowest common denominator before they even give it a chance.

Appeal Factor: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

I hate to have to end this on a downer, but that’s really the only way this review can go. As a bare bones game only lasting a few hours, there’s no way Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove should have a $39.99 price tag attached to it. $19.99 or $29.99 and this would be a definite recommendation, but at forty dollars, I just can’t do it. Especially when the WiiWare version is only FIVE and it offers up to four player co-op/competitive play and this 3DS version doesn’t have any multiplayer features whatsoever. You know how easy it would have been to do something with Spotpass for this game with all the different variations of Gabrielle you can make? Add in how utterly terrible the game looks when the 3D slider is used and I’m aghast at how a game can be so charming and yet such a turn off at the same time.

Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D would sell a lot better if there had been more content and/or a lower price tag. It also doesn’t help that the WiiWare version is cheaper and more fun to play. Hell, I’d be happy with paying for several Monster Mix sequels, but as much as I love the GGG cast, I can’t recommend the 3DS one (or any potential sequels) at its current price tag. This is definitely a game to pick up when it hits the budget bin, but unfortunately waiting that long may make Natsume think that there isn’t a real future for Gabrielle and friends as a franchise.

Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10

The Scores:
Story: 6.5
Graphics: 4.5
Sound: 7
Control and Gameplay: 6.5
Replayability: 5
Balance: 7
Originality: 7
Addictiveness: 5
Appeal Factor: 5
Miscellaneous: 3
Total Score: 56.5
FINAL SCORE: 5.5 (Decent Game!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove is a charming little rhythm game for the 3DS. Unfortunately it’s not forty dollars worth of charming. I loved the characters and the gameplay was charming, but the game is only about three hours long and it looks downright terrible in 3D. Add in that the game has a pretty bad bug in the last dance and that it’s a bit bare bones, making this something I just can’t recommend for the full MSRP – no matter how much I want to. It’ll be worth picking up once the price tag drops to $19.99 or so, but for now you can get a WiiWare version of the game for only five bucks with more involved gameplay and a multi-player option, so that’s definitely the way to go. I had fun with the 3DS version of Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove, but not as much as I did with the WiiWare version and certainly not enough to justify the forty dollar price tag currently attached to it.

Review #437

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 – Innocent Sin
Developer: Index Corporation
Publisher: Atlus USA
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 09/20/2011

Back in 2004, I did a countdown of the “thirty best RPGs of all time” – at least according to my own personal tastes and preferences. Tied at #2 were both Persona 2’s - Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment. They were tied because they were, in fact, one long story and you really do need both for the full effect. Although the second half of the story made it stateside in 2000, Innocent Sin never made received an English localization – until now, almost eleven years after Eternal Punishment.

I was a bit worried about the remake for two big reasons. The first is that the first three Persona games are wildly different from Persona 3 and 4, and so younger gamers, or those that missed the original Persona trilogy would probably have the same reaction to this as the original Persona generation did to P3. Namely, “This is to Persona as Phantasy Star 3 was to its series.” The second reason was that Atlus USA’s localization of the PSP Persona: Be Your True Mind remake was simply terrible. That English translation was truly deplorable and was almost universally hated by those that played the original. Considering the original PSX version, when brought to the states, was missing the Snow Queen Quest and took some liberties with the game’s dialog and graphics, that was an impressive and infamous feat indeed. The remake was a more literal translation of the Japanese version of the game, but also localized it in such a way that the actual meaning, mood, theme and point of the game was lost in atonal scripting, along with much of the “Carl Jung vs. H.P. Lovecraft” aspect. It was a beautiful example of how sometimes, doing a “Working Designs” style localization to a game is for the better as the team behind the US version of P1 obviously had no idea what they were doing. Factor in the remixed soundtrack which was also reviled and Atlus USA managed to piss offmost of the original Persona fan base. So putting this game at $39.95 after the P1 fiasco was a ballsy move by Atlus, to say the least.

The good news is, much like with the complaints Atlus of Japan received about Persona 3 (which gave way to the FES edition), both versions of Atlus (Atlusi?) listened. The original soundtrack was left in Innocent Sin, albeit it alongside another remixed set. As well, since Innocent Sin had only been translated by fans before so it couldn’t get the same visceral reaction except from the most hardcore of Persona fans. Unfortunately I wrote what was arguably the first translation guide for the game’s script back in the winter of 2001, so I’m one of those fans. It’s also why it’s taken me THIS LONG to write the review. Considering I was such a big part of the original Persona fanbase and I know some of the original designers of the Persona trilogy, it was a bit hard to separate the critic side of myself from the P2 fanboy side of me. In the end what matters is how the game fares eleven years after its original release and how it holds up by 2011 standards. Let’s take a look.

Review #436

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

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X-Men Destiny
Developer: Silicon Knights
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Third Person Action/Beat ‘Em Up
Release Date: 09/27/2011

Oh Silicon Knights, what’s happened to you? You gave us the awesome RTS D&D game Dark Legions. You gave us Blood Omen. You gave us one of the best survival horrors games of all time in Eternal Darkness. However, since we hit this console generation, you’ve gone from one of the most trusted developers out there to one of the most. Too Human was a terrible game in many respects and it appeared that you were unable to adapt to the new console generation. Now with X-Men Destiny, you’ve given us yet another really bad glitch bug filled messed that should have consumers demanding their money back. You’re also in a bit of hot water with the Canadian government for taking seven million dollars of taxpayer money since April 2010 in exchange for hiring 145 new people and to become a publisher as well as developer. Well, not only are you still a third party company, but you haven’t hired anyone. In fact, you’ve just laid off fifteen. Something isn’t right up there in Ontario, eh?

Now granted, X-Men Destiny is FAR from a good game, but it’s also neither the worst game I’ve played this year, nor even the worst game I’ve played in this quarter. So does that mean the game might be acceptable when you find it in a budget bin in a few months or is this something to just stay the hell away from? Let’s take a look.

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