Friday, May 14, 2010

Gallery: RAGE

I'll shut up and let id's super gorgeous screens speak for themselves. PFS action, car combat and all-new id tech? Sign me up! This one is going to be a MONSTER hit if it runs as well on consoles and PC as id says it's going to. Bethesda Softworks has made a splendid purchase. I won't be at E3 this year, but I definitely NEED to see and play this one.

Review: 3D Dot Game Heroes

Platform: PlayStation 3

Developer: Silicon Studio/From Software

Publisher: Atlus

# of Players: 1

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Official Site
Score: A

Without a doubt one of the best "retro" games to date that's not a homebrew creation, 3D Dot Game Heroes perfectly blends old-school gameplay elements and today's console technology with the end result being an instant classic no PS3 owner should miss. It's easy to look at screen shots or poke around on a message board and read about simplistic comparisons to The Legend of Zelda or other favorite 8-bit adventure RPGs, but the game is a lot more rewarding than a mere clone if you know your gaming history. Obvious plot and gameplay elements aside, 3DDGH is a pretty darn funny trip through the 8-bit era with a decidedly modern spin.

While the plot is packed with plenty of familiar genre cliches, the game's intentionally old-school aesthetics get the grins going from the get-go. You can play as a generic hero (or heroine)-type out to save the kingdom of Dotnia, rescue a missing princess and complete a ton of optional side quests. While you can choose to play as anyone you like using a wide host of pre-created avatars, the robust character editor is too tempting to ignore for very long.

Sure, you can whip up a mere boring Link clone, but it's a lot more fun to let your imagination run wild as you piece together a totally original creation or something inspired by your favorite piece of pop culture. The game allows you to swap out heroes when you load up a save, so it's entirely possible to play as dozens of characters (including some sweet surprises from a few From Software-developed titles). Want to play as Old Spock, Sam Jackson, a random Lego character or a favorite deity? Well, jump in and play around with the editor and it's all up to you...

As far as the main game goes, expect the usual huge map-traveling, monster-killing, treasure grabbing stuff of old with a cool twist. You'll be using a bunch of awesome swords throughout the game that are ridiculously HUGE and powerful... provided your health is at maximum. The game's main gimmick revolves around keeping your heart containers full for as long as possible to allow for your swords to have maximum power and reach. You'll also be able to enhance the swords you collect, making them stronger, longer wider and able to shoot a powerful beam in some cases. Yes, this sounds like a Cialis advertisement, but the game actually doesn't make much of a big deal about the overly obvious male enhancement jokes you're possibly thinking of.

The game mines some of its best moments out of things such as tricky boss battles, finding the many hidden secrets scattered throughout the land or tackling its challenging mini-games. If you're one of those younger players more used to games that walk you through the hard parts or games where you can finesse your way out of getting hit by enemies, you'll be occasionally annoyed by what seems like "cheap" areas in some dungeons. On the other hand, part of the retro appeal here is making sure you're just as cheap as the enemies you'll face. If you augment your sword so that it can pierce through walls, you'll have an edge (pun intended) on certain foes. Having a big, fast sword and some deft moves thanks to that dash move (and the time you spend mastering turning on a dime in the race mini-game) is not only supremely satisfying, it just looks so darn cool.

In fact, the game actually rewards you for taking no damage from bosses, but don't expect to blow through all of these big bad beasties on the first go. While some of the earlier boss battles can be won rather quickly, as the game progresses, both regular enemies as well as bosses get harder to beat, forcing you to make every swing or other attack count. Simply relying on your growing arsenal of swords to take down some enemies or traps is a bad idea, especially when you're dealing with flying foes out of range or hazards no sword can touch. Still, there's a great sense of victory and relief once you've cleared out a dungeon, that's for sure.

While you never need to return to a cleared dungeon unless you want to get into previously locked areas, the lure is definitely there. The chance to beat up on even tougher optional versions of defeated bosses (if you really want to challenge your skills) and the items waiting behind those formerly closed rooms help keep the game interesting. While the game isn't really linear (even following the dungeons one after another will have you backtracking at some point), you can stick to the story and miss out on a load of hidden goodies.

What you won't miss out on are the incredible graphics and a great retro soundtrack. The game's super high resolution block-based world manages to stylistically put games with more realistic visuals to shame. Sure, it's a gimmick, but the game explains Dotnia's existence well enough that the illusion is quite believable (well, in a fantasy world come to life sense). It's pretty funny that the dev team has managed to capture almost everything about 8-bit games perfectly, from the way your hero's body moves while walking to re-imagining how color usage would look in the transition from 2D to 3D.

In a great touch, You can also adjust the camera angles so the game can be played from a few angles. The classic top-down style is recommended as it gives you a better idea of what's waiting on each screen, but you can play from a few closer-in views as well. The ability to adjust the typeface size is a brilliant thing (more if not all games this generation absolutely need), especially if you still haven't made the move to HDTV yet or have trouble with the tiny text too many of today's games use. As for length, the game can be completed in around 12-15 hours if you're really good and don't die quite so much. Add at least 10+ hours to that time if you get wrapped up in finding all the secrets and completing every mini-game as perfectly as can be. Getting ALL the Trophies takes quite a bit of work, but this isn't quite as brutal as the spectacular Demon's Souls.

For my money (I always end up buying Atus games even if I get review copies because I like supporting the company), the game has no huge negatives at all. It's built like the classics and can be as tough as them when it wants to. Anyone who's played and loved games from the NES era onward absolutely needs to give 3DDGH a place in their game library. If you're rusty from too many of today's easier games, you might want to jump up and down on your PS3 controller once or twice. Nevertheless, that rush of sheer nostalgia will make you feel young (well, for at least for the time it takes you to complete the game).

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