Sunday, January 24, 2010

Connect 4 - The Electronic Handheld!

Does anybody remember the days when handheld electronic games (like Tetris) were on sale everywhere you went? You know, before smart phones with myriad applications existed, and sophisticated handheld consoles by major first party companies did not have similar capabilities to home consoles? Well, I do, and I think they still sell them in many gifts shops, but back when I was a kid, I saw these electronic handhelds everywhere. I admit, I used to annoy my mom so she would buy them for me, and, well, she would cave in and do so. I don't know why I wanted them so badly considering I HATED most of them. Since I played many home console games, I was under the impression that every video game out there came to an end eventually, so I used to waste time playing these electronic handhelds and not getting anywhere. Little did I know that certain games never ended as long as you continued to increase your high score (yes, I was an idiot). But I digress.

A while ago, I found a little gem in my home: a Connect 4 electronic handheld. If you don't know what Connect 4 is, it is basically the same as Tic-Tac-Toe, only you have to connect four dots/disks in any direction to win instead of three circles or Xs. The game is also played using a seven-column, six-row vertically-suspended grid. I admit, I only played Connect 4 one day when I was in Middle School. I remember it being very fun and addicting. My friend, however, had a low attention span and was bored quickly. After he ditched me, I stayed sitting in the table staring at the game...alone. But, you see, now I don't need anyone in order to play this game because I have my beautiful electronic handheld!

This Connect 4 handheld is, without a doubt, the greatest portable electronic game I have ever played. It records your wins and losses, has a difficulty setting, and has two gameplay modes. You can either play the normal mode, which is a traditional game of Connect 4, or the invisible mode, which temporarily shows the grid during your turn before disappearing. The latter requires you to not only use strategy, but also your memorization skills. However, I prefer the normal mode. The best feature this portable Connect 4 has is its difficulty setting. At LV.3 (the highest level), your opponent plays like a pro. I don't think I've ever encountered an electronic handheld with such a great AI. Playing with an AI that plays just like a human makes this a very addicting experience.

With all that said, I tend to play this game everyday before going to sleep because, well, it's usually next to my bed. Oh, and if the friend that abandoned me that day in Middle School is reading this, I want you to know that you've been replaced, meanie!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bayonetta (360) Review

For years, the beat-em-up genre--now referred to as the Hack and Slash genre--has continuously evolved with titles such as Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, and God of War. To this day, the genre continues to advance with games utilizing more intricately nuanced battle systems. Bayonetta is no exception to this trend. Of course, this is no surprise considering it was designed by Hideki Kamiya, who directed the original Devil May Cry game.

At its core, Bayonetta tells a story of the balance between light and darkness. Many years before the start of the game, there existed two clans that maintained balance between these two forces: the Umbra and Lumen witches. The former controlled the powers of darkness, while the latter watched over the power of light. Both clans shared mutual reverence until an incident caused them to wage war against each other. In the present time, there is, apparently, only one Umbra witch left: Bayonetta. However, she's lost all memory of her past.

The story seems to be interesting enough to give the player incentives to progress in the game, right? Wrong. While the general story is good--in the video game sense of the word--the plot is all over the place. Many important elements to the story are not explained clearly, and the player is likely to be puzzled until the very end of the game, where everything becomes clearer. Even then, the backstory will not be elucidated until you collect in-game notes (or books) detailing the past and describing the random enemies/bosses you encounter. To further add to the confusion, the transitions between some stages don't make sense, and some settings are so surreal that the player will wonder what is going on. Perhaps if the main character did not have amnesia, had development in her character, and did not display constant "badassery" in virtually every cutscene (despite the situations), the player could relate a bit more, and a desultory plot would not exist. Of course, then the story would be too simplistic. Needless to say, if you want to play this game just for the story, look away. If you want to play it for the gameplay, look no further.

Bayonetta, like any other Hack and Slash game, emphasizes entirely on its battle system. That said, unlike many other games of the same genre, this is a battle system anyone--yes, even casuals--can enjoy because of the difficulty settings (Very Easy, Easy, and Normal by default), and fairly easy combos that can be executed. Now, don't get me wrong, the battle system itself isn't simplistic; it has an unbelievable amount of depth. While many basic combos are easy to pull off (like punch, kick, punch), there is so much variety that you'll be pulling off new moves each time.

As mentioned before, casual gamers, in particular, will be awestruck when they see themselves pulling off so many devastating attacks with so little experience. This is due to Bayonetta's "Wicked Weave" attacks, which utilize Bayonetta's shape-shifting hair and main weapon to inflict heavy damage on enemies after full combos. Bayonetta also, initially, sports guns on her hands and feet that do not require reloading, similarly to Dante from Devil May Cry. Later on, you can equip newer weapons, such as swords, gauntlets, and ice skates. Each one pertains to the same basic combos you can do at the start of the game, but come with their own unique animations, special attacks, and attack powers, giving the combos a fresh new look and feel. With experience, they can be used to perform greater combos. However, it is up to the player to come up with these advanced moves.

One of the most significant aspects of the game's battle system is the concept known as "Witch Time." After dodging an enemy's attack at the right second, time will freeze, allowing the player to beat up the frozen enemies any way they want to. This concept encourages players to play on the defensive, rather than the offensive. Bayonetta is also capable of using enemy weapons when they've been defeated this way, giving more variety to the combos that can be executed.

The battle system also has a Magic Gauge. When it is full, Bayonetta can perform "Torture Attacks." These can be used as instant-KO moves on the smaller enemies, or moves that inflict heavy damage on the larger enemies. Regardless, it's cool to see Bayonetta slicing up an enemy with a chainsaw or smashing them with a spiked wheel. Later on, the magic gauge can also be utilized to perform unique moves that can be used in conjunction with basic attacks for greater combos. They can be purchased in the game's only shop.

In Bayonetta, enemies drop Halos, which are the game's currency. They can be used to purchase items, techniques, accessories, weapons, or treasures in the Gates of Hell--Rodin's shop. If you do not wish to waste money, you can always go to the item menu and concoct your own items because, well, Bayonetta is a witch.

Aside from the battle system, there's not much else to say about the gameplay. The puzzles in the stages are so simplistic and scarce that they do not need mention. The stages themselves are terribly linear. In the end, Bayonetta is basically a 3D incarnation of a 2D Beat-Em-Up game; all you do is fight enemies, move forward, fight more enemies, move forward, etc. This might sound repetitive, and for many gamers, it will be. However, the battle system keeps each fight fresh, and players will probably be craving more enemies to kill. The only exceptions to these types of stages are two mini-game levels, and of course, the boss battles.

The bosses in Bayonetta are incredible. They're colossal, challenging, and fun. The setting do these bosses even more justice. You fight these enormous creatures in environments such as a Colosseum, inside a whirlpool, on top of flying debris, etc. One of the most enjoyable aspects of fighting the bosses is reaching the second phase of the battles. At this point, the music intensifies, the bosses change their attack patterns, the setting changes, and the player receives a sense of adrenaline, encouraging him/her to finish the boss once and for all. The only thing in the game that might draw people away from all the fighting is probably the ranking system.

A ranking system, in general, is not too bad. However, you are graded after every single battle in Bayonetta. If you have OCD or are a perfectionist, and receive a bad score, you are likely to restart until you grow sick of the game. This is even more true if you're seeking to acquire all the Pure Platinum medals/trophies (the highest ranks in the game). These medals/trophies are reserved to the most skilled gamers, and quite frankly, not everyone will want to go through the task of collecting them all, aggravating many gamers. If you don't care about completing the game 100%, then this is irrelevant. If you do care, you might or might not find the ranking system to your liking. That said, it is not the only thing implemented into the game to give players incentives to continue playing after finishing the story.

After completing the game, there are tons of secrets to unlock. It is apparent that replay value was the developers' highest aim when creating this game, so if you enjoy the general gameplay, there is a lot in store for you after beating the game, such as unlockable weapons, characters, accessories, treasures, and other goodies. It is also worth noting that cutscenes can be skipped at anytime, so they won't interfere with your chapter replays. Now, if you find the game repetitive, which is expected of people who do not like fighting enemies after enemies, then the game will certainly end for you after the credits.

Aside from the gameplay, Bayonetta also possesses really nice graphics. Nothing revolutionary by today's standards, but enough to keep newer gamers from finding anything ugly. Furthermore, the character and environment designs are incredibly well-done as well. The game's soundtrack is not a let-down either, and has some catchy tunes, such as the fighting themes. In terms of sound, some of the voice-acting is a bit laughable, mainly due to the stereotypical accents of many characters, but overall, it's okay.

Story - Even though the general story is decent, the plot is all over the place and confusing.

Gameplay - The battle system has an unbelievable amount of depth put into it, and the bosses are incredible. However, aside from fighting, there's not much else to do in the game. This might get either repetitive or addicting depending on how much you like the overall genre.

Graphics - Nothing you haven't seen in this generation of gaming, but still really good-looking, especially the character designs.

Sound/Music - The game has many catchy tunes, but the VAs, while not horrible, tend to be laughable at times.

Replay Value - There is a lot to do after completing the game, such as unlocking new weapons and characters, or simply replaying the stages for fun.

Overall - Bayonetta is a great game for anyone into this sort of genre, so if you've enjoyed action games such as Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, then this game is a must-have.

Score: 8.5/10