Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Men in Black: International



I miss Will Smith, but it was still okay in its own right, with a few narrative clichés.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Druid of Shannara




The second entry of author Terry Brooks’ Heritage of Shannara tetralogy opens with the Shadowen threatening the Four Lands, and the King of the Silver River suggesting that his daughter Quickening is unready to fulfill her duty. Meanwhile, Walker Boh is injured near the remnants of the Asphinx, although Cogline rescues him and takes him to Storlock. At the same time, Morgan Leah is traveling south to the dwarven community of Culhaven, wishing to warn Granny Elise and Auntie Jilt that they are in danger. Quickening visits the settlement as well, with Pe Ell, having orders to kill her, in pursuit.

Coil Ohmsford is the prisoner of Federation First Seeker Rimmer Dall, who insists that the Shadowen aren’t evil and that he’s trying to protect him from his brother Par. Quickening, joined by Pe Ell and Morgan Leah, rescue Walker from entrapment under rubble, with the new quest arising to retrieve the Black Elfstone from the Stone King Uhl Belk. The elderly Homer Dees eventually receives introduction, leading the company from Rampling Steep to the city of Eldwist. A poetic troubadour named Carisman too enters the fray, although he doesn’t have much influence on the plotline.

The river Rabb separates Morgan and Quickening from the rest of the party, the two falling in love whilst awaiting a storm’s end. Meanwhile, Walker Boh and Pe Ell find the newborn Maw Grint, scion of the Stone King, and the company reunites, quickly battling a Rake. The companions soon reach Eldwist, the supposed home of Uhl Belk, where the storyline climaxes and ends satisfactorily, still left open for continuation. Overall, the first Heritage of Shannara sequel is enjoyable like its predecessor, although one can find difficulty in knowing which races the characters are, and some of the name choices are a tad asinine.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Adventures of Mana




If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It


Square-Enix’s Seiken Densetsu (“Holy Sword Legend”) franchise, known as Mana outside Japan, began as a spinoff, albeit loosely-connected story-wise, of the Final Fantasy series, indicated by the first game’s Japanese subtitle Final Fantasy Gaiden (“side-story”) and its English name Final Fantasy Adventure. Though it would receive an enhanced remake called Sword of Mana in North America, one of the main criticisms of it was its vast deviation from the original game, given significant variations in the gameplay and plot. However, 2016 saw the worldwide release of a more faithful remake, Adventures of Mana, which retains the classic gameplay of the GameBoy version with some contemporary enhancements.

Players control Sumo, a gladiator forced to fight for the Vandole Emperor’s amusement, until he escapes and encounters the main heroine, Fuji, an on-and-off companion throughout the game, with other adversaries in the form of the enigmatic Dark Lord and Julius, alongside the eventual goal of preserving the power of Mana. The narrative has a few twists, some backstory revealed later on, and a few sad moments, although many characters lack development such as the Dark Lord, and there are no variations in the plot, with death, for instance, not indicating what exactly happens if the player dies; the poor direction at times on how to advance the story itself is another burden.

Adventures is mostly ably-translated, given its comprehensible disposition and lack of spelling or grammar errors, although some of the name choices are unusual and indicate the game’s Japanese origin, such as Sumo and Fuji. Furthermore, the name of the villain Dark Lord would have been better off as the Shadowknight, his original Japanese name. There are, moreover, some unusually-translated lines such as “You fell to the ground” whenever you lose all your life. Overall, the localization is by no means bad, but isn’t anything particularly special.

Like Final Fantasy Adventure, its second remake features top-down action-oriented gameplay, Sumo using various weapons, with many enemies throughout the game having invulnerability to certain arms and thus necessitating he change them sporadically. One improvement over the GameBoy version is that the player can choose up to three weapon, magic, or item shortcuts, in addition to whatever they have equipped to Sumo’s main extra slot alongside his current weapon, which somewhat lessens the need to navigate the menus. However, more shortcuts, possible given the PlayStation Vita’s touchscreen capabilities, would have been welcome, particularly a segregation of weapon, magic, and item shortcuts since there are many moments the player will need to traverse the menus to alter their setup.

Fortunately, fights with the various enemies, including bosses, tend to be quick, and acquiring enough experience promotes Sumo a level, which will happen frequently, further fully restoring his health and magic points. In these cases, the player can choose one of four different “classes” that increase specific stats a certain amount. The hero can also use magic gained at fixed points throughout the game that players can assign to his main secondary slot and which consume magic points. Perhaps the most useful of his spells is standard healing magic, whose effectiveness increases with his levels.

Throughout the game, Sumo might occasionally receive an A.I.-controlled ally, although unlike in Sword of Mana, his allies are immortal, with no micromanagement necessary, and he can occasionally ask them for supplemental abilities like healing. Moreover, unlike in contemporary three-dimensional action RPGs, Adventures doesn’t suffer from the camera problems said titles tend to have, given its total retention of a top-down perspective. Pretty much the only other real issue aside from the limit of shortcuts is the inconsistent hit boxes, Sumo sometimes able to attack aerial foes and other times not, and his attacks sometimes affecting enemies but at other times being deflected by the same monsters.

The second remake occurs with an explorable overworld connecting towns and dungeons, true to Japanese RPG convention being toroidal (where, while going east or west off the edge of the map takes players to the opposite end, the same going for when they venture past the north or south side, something that doesn’t happen in real life). Some dungeons, furthermore, require that Sumo has consumable keys and early on, mattocks to break vulnerable walls, although in the latter case, the ball-and-chain weapon ultimately serves the same purpose and significantly frees up inventory space.

Players can record their progress anywhere 99% of the time, a supplemental quicksave feature allowing exit to the main menu, good since putting the Vita into sleep mode while in gameplay mode doesn’t pause the game clock. Some dungeons and occasionally the overworld have puzzles that necessitate certain magic and weapons, ice spells, for instance, able to freeze foes and allow their placement on switches to open doors, and the flail conveying Sumo to distant poles. In-game dungeon maps can also be useful and do a good job preventing the player from getting lost in them, and Sumo eventually obtains the Final Fantasy franchise’s avian horse substitute, the chocobo, for rapid conveyance.

However, warp magic would have also been welcome, since many parts necessitate the player revisit areas, and as mentioned, the remake sometimes does a poor job telling players how to advance, some characters that do give directions not repeating them when talked to again. Some of the puzzles are also a bit annoying, but mercifully solvable without a guide, and the player actually has to equip keys to use them rather than being able to use them automatically if they do have them in their overall inventory. Finally, inventory space is limited, which, while adding to the gameplay’s effectiveness by limiting Sumo’s item use, creates the issue of having to discard consumables to open chests enemies drop.

Perhaps the high point of Adventures is its aural presentation, composer Kenji Ito providing the bulk of the soundtrack and former Final Fantasy regular Nobuo Uematsu contributing his signature chocobo theme. Ito’s tracks, beginning with the central theme, are simply magnificent, made more poignant by the top-notch orchestrated quality. Notable tracks include those played in dungeons, the peaceful town themes, the energetic boss themes, the two overworld tunes, somber pieces that accompany sad moments, and the awesome endgame music. Pretty much the only real issue is the rare silent moments.

The game’s graphics are fully three-dimensional despite the top-down perspective. While the character models don’t show much emotion during story scenes where interacting luminaries occupy the screen, the animation is fluid, with no framerate drops. The environments also look nice, with believable colors and little blurry or pixilated texturing, but some dungeon scenery can get repetitive. However, there’s a deficit of palette-swapped foes, and the boss models are a far cry from those in the original version. The only real blights in an otherwise-pretty game are models sometimes lacking collision detection with environs and that different equipment doesn’t affect Sumo’s appearance.

Finally, the remake is short like the original, taking from six to twelve hours to complete, with Trophies adding some lasting appeal, although there is no New Game+ like in other Square-Enix RPGs.

To conclude, Adventures of Mana is an enjoyable remake that hits the right notes regarding its quick and tight combat, gorgeous aural direction, and nice visuals. However, some areas leave room for improvement like its control issues, the lackluster nature of the narrative itself, and lack of replayability. Those who consider Sword of Mana a superior remake to Final Fantasy Adventure probably won’t take joy at the second remake’s faithfulness to its source material, but players yearning for a nostalgic experience will appreciate the fact that Adventures doesn’t take many risks regarding its execution.

The Good:
Quick, tight combat; excellent sound; nice graphics.

The Bad:
Average story and translation; various control issues; not much replayability.

The Bottom Line:
A faithful remake that doesn’t take many risks.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 8.5/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 5/10
Localization: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 5/10
Difficulty: Easy to Medium
Playing Time: 6-12 Hours

Overall: 6.5/10

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Travelers



A supposedly-science-fiction show about contemporary time travelers, although they really don't go to periods that are actually interesting, and is far more human-interest. It's allegedly been cancelled, so good riddance.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Godzilla – King of the Monsters (2019) poster.png

Sort of lays on the environmental themes a bit thick, and Godzilla himself is a no-show for much of the film, but it was still enjoyable.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Nightfall



The idea for this novel is definitely an interesting one, with the initial exposition where in an alternate version of the Gregorian year 1884, Russian and English armies faced each other across America’s Great Plains, unready for the technology of extra-dimensional visitors known as the Nayarit. The main chapters open with one of the protagonists, Ivy Clemhorn, engaged in rock-climbing, and while she is reprimanded for pulling stunts in her command, she nonetheless earns the respect of her soldiers. The next chapter focuses on a minor character named Papanzin, whose father is Tlatcani and the head of Cempoala’s city council.

Another member of the Clemhorn family, Donald, boards a train in Detroit and encounters his sister Ivy in a compartment, with the mention of an Edict prohibiting any contact with a temporal line bearing advanced technology, somewhat similar to the Prime Directive in the Star Trek media franchise. The book repeatedly references the political conflicts between factions known as the Conservatives and the Progressives, with battles occasionally spawning among soldiers in the Mainline period and alternate timelines. A few twists abound late into the storyline, which ends with an obvious sequel hook.

All in all, while the premise of the book is promising, it falls flat in its execution, given the general afterthought of the interdimensional aspect, the story more bordering on human interest, its fantastical element quickly becoming secondary. After the main text, there are character and terminology glossaries, although these come too late and don’t ease the confusion throughout the plotline. However, the indicators at the beginning of each chapter about where and when they open somewhat help establish the various settings. Regardless, while I’ve enjoyed some other alternate history stories such as The Man in the High Castle, I’m definitely hesitant to recommend this particular narrative.


Book Details:

Book Title: Nightfall (Book 1 in the Clemhorn Trilogy) By Andrew J Harvey
Category: Adult Fiction, 250 pages
Genre: Science Fiction Military, Alternate History
Publisher: Zmok Books, an imprint of Pike and Powder Publishing Group LLC
Release date: February 2019
Tour dates: June 3 - 14, 2019
Content Rating: PG-13 (My book includes some violence and adult themes including one off-camera torture scene)

Book Description:

After eighty years of war the remnants of humanity on the Nayarit Line struggled to survive in sealed domes, surrounded by radioactive wasteland and genetically engineered viruses. It was in the last, desperate years of the war that the first trans-temporal portal was developed at Chiqu, a small research facility on the west coast of North America. As the domes finally failed and civilization collapsed around them, Iapura led fifty-three survivors to found a new empire on a parallel Earth; an Earth where, in 1884, Russian and English armies faced each other across America’s Great Plains, totally unprepared for the technology of the invading Nayarit. The Cross-Temporal Empire now encompasses fifty-four parallel Earths. But with its ruling Council riven by dissent the death of First Leader Manet, sets the Council into a slow and irrevocable slide into civil war.

A war that threatens not only the lives of the Clemhorn siblings: Conrad, Arnold, Donald, and Ivy; but the very future of the Empire.

To read reviews, please visit Andrew J. Harvey's page on iRead Book Tours.



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Meet the Author:

Andrew spent his high-school years in the school's library lost in the worlds of Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov.

His first novel to be accepted for publication was originally completed to be read to his two sons at night. Now his children have left home he lives in Perth, Western Australia, with his wife, one dog, and sixty-four goldfish.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

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Eragon

Head and neck of a dragon. She has spikes on her scaly curved neck and antler-like projections over her eyes.Also a light blue color.

The inspiration for the reviled movie of the same name, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon opens with the capture of an elven maiden by a Shade and his Urgals. The main story opens in an area of the world of Alagaësia known as the Spine, the titular protagonist among the few hunters who did not fear the location, finding a mysterious dark blue stone that he takes home, and tries to sell in want of food for himself and his Uncle Garrow. Eragon knows little of his lineage, with his long-departed mother Selena having come to the nearby village of Carvahall sixteen years before the story’s time, pregnant with him.

Eragon has mentor in the storyteller Brom, and hears of an insurgent group known as the Varden attempting to overthrow the tyrannical King Galbatorix. His life changes dramatically when the strange blue stone turns out to be an egg that hatches a female dragon he ultimately names Saphira, and which grows quickly and becomes progressively more difficult to hide. An Urgal attack on his home drives Eragon into an adventure with Brom, from whom he learns swordsmanship and even literacy, given that he never needed the art of reading in his life before, and even finds that he has magical capability.

Brom takes Eragon to meet an old friend named Jeod, with the titular hero eventually finding he needs to resolve things on his own, and goes to the Hadarac Desert, beyond which the Beor Mountains loom large. Eragon eventually meets a mysterious warrior named Murtagh that agrees to help him, with the two soon captured and tasked with rescuing the telepathic elven girl Arya, afterward going into the home of the Varden and fighting a battle that concludes the first entry. Paolini follows with a pronunciation guide, a look into the various languages of his work, and acknowledges friends and family with the creation of his story.

Overall, the first installment of the Inheritance Cycle is enjoyable, even if somewhat derivative of other works such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (the latter which the book, as opposed to the motion picture, bears lesser resemblance), but is overall a good straightforward fantasy novel. The common use of original names is sufficient to distinguish it from other titles within the fantasy genre. It’s actually good for a first novel written and published by an author before he turned twenty, and while the initial entry doesn’t leave any lingering cliffhangers, and I definitely look forward to rereading the remaining entries of the tetralogy.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix



A Prequel without Heart

Two entire console generations would elapse between the release of the second and third mainline Kingdom Hearts game, during which developer Square-Enix put out many rereleases, the latest compilation entitled The Story So Far. This collection encompassed the HD PlayStation 4 releases, HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX and HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, along with animated synopses of a few of the gaiden games. The chronologically-earliest and playable installment of the rereleases is Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix, more or less on par with other series entries.

BBS occurs a decade before the original KH, focusing on three playable protagonists: Terra, Ventus, and Aqua (and their recommended playing order according to franchise creator Tetsuya Nomura, with which I agree), the first and last taking their Keyblade Mark of Mastery examination whilst the second watches. Terra fails due to his inability to keep the darkness in his heart in check, while Aqua passes, after which the game’s Heartless stand-ins, the Unversed, appear in various Disney-film-themed worlds. The disappearance of Master Xehanort, a witness to the exam, accompanies this, with the protagonists heading out from the World of Departure with their own motivations.

Birth By Sleep is a decent prequel to the original game and its countless successors plot-wise, with many continuity nods, but fumbles regarding its execution. The mini-stories of the Disney-based worlds serve little narrative purpose aside from fan appeal, and the humor of the films that make them bearable for older audiences is virtually nonexistent. The storyline further falls victim to various clichés prevalent in Japanese roleplaying games such as the conflict between light and darkness, amnesia, the power of love and friendship, and so forth. There are also occasional chronological headscratchers regarding things such as Donald Duck’s nephews being the same ages as they are in the first game.

Sadly, unlike in other JRPGs such as Grandia Xtreme, the writing isn’t bad in an enjoyable way; it’s lousy in a completely excruciating, infantile fashion that will undoubtedly alienate adults, and full of hackneyed dialogue about hearts, light, and dark. The translation is functional, given the absence of grammar errors, and the Disney characters have speech reflecting their cartoon equivalents. There exist other localization incongruities such as the decision to keep Terra’s name intact when there’s already a prominent Final Fantasy heroine with the name, but the likely-weak nature of the original Japanese script is perhaps far more responsible for the way the translation ultimately turned out.

Thus, BBS can only seek true salvation through its gameplay, which is actually fairly enjoyable, at least on the easiest difficulty. The different protagonists have divergent combat styles, with Terra specializing in physical prowess, Ventus in speed, and Aqua in magic. For each character, the player assembles a deck of commands consisting of physical/magical abilities and maybe consumable items if they can spare the space (with the maximum number of abilities sporadically increasing during each storyline). These accompany a standard attack command, players able to chain a combination of Keyblade strokes, with the execution of skills necessitating they recharge for some time before reusability.

As players execute attacks, the gauge above their deck gradually fills, and when full, lets them perform a finishing ability or “evolves” their current playstyle depending upon the commands performed, such as magical attacks. Consequentially, their standard attacks empower, and in some cases if they continue to use deck commands in their “evolved” style to fill their gauge, they may reach a more powerful mode with better normal assaults. In most instances, filling the command bar in an advanced disposition will result in a finishing command, after which the selected protagonist returns to their standard style.

When each protagonist “bonds” with a certain character they encounter throughout their quests, they receive a D-Link that gives them an alternate command deck with its own finishing move. While in these special modes, the player may randomly obtain a star powerup, up to two per D-Link, that unlocks more commands, with time in D-Links gradually depleting the chosen character’s Drive Gauge. Another combat ability easily overlooked is the shotlock that allows players to target multiple foes within a time limit and execute a barrage of blasts against them. Generally, Birth By Sleep follows other JRPG rules such as obtaining experience from slain enemies for occasional level-ups and increase in stats.

As players fight, the abilities in their command decks increase in level as well until they max out. Once a skill has advanced a few levels, the player can fuse two, including an extra ingredient if desired, to form a new command. Including said materials may give an additional innate ability that becomes a permanent part of the character’s skill inventory when the accompanying command is fully leveled. Some of these are actually useful, such as Leaf Bracer, which forbids enemies to interrupt the hero while executing healing magic; other notable skills include one reducing command recharge time.

The battle system mostly works well, at least on beginner mode, but as with other Kingdom Hearts titles, BBS features an irritating camera that can jerk uncontrollably and always remains close to the chosen protagonist. Furthermore, defeating a targeted enemy forces the player to target another manually, which they can only accomplish on an Unversed on the game screen. Moreover, players must memorize whether they can only execute a command on the ground, which can lead to wasted abilities. Finally, the selected hero constantly bounds about when attacking, with some platform-based fields and dungeons being terrible battlefields, although the gameplay is still more than functional.

The dungeon design is just one of many issues with control, others including the retained JRPG convention of fixed save points (although these fully restore the player except for Drive Points). Anal players will also take annoyance at the constant flashing of NEW indicators whenever they open the game interface. Additionally, while cutscenes are both pausable and completely skippable, players cannot skip the dialogue if they prefer to read it rather than listen to the entire accompanying voicework, sure to alienate hearing-impaired gamers. Still, there are more bright spots such as the general linearity and ease of navigating the menus, so interaction is by no means a total writeoff.

One of the strongest aspects of Birth By Sleep is its aural presentation, with series composer Yoko Shimomura providing plentiful original tracks, a few familiar tunes, and occasional music from the films the game references such as an instrumental version of “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Cinderella. The voice acting is equally solid, with prominent actors such as Mark Hamill as Master Eraqus and the late Leonard Nimoy as the villainous Xehanort, and Disney characters such as Mickey, Donald, and Goofy sounding as they should. The cartoony nature of said Disney luminaries’ voices creates a bit of tonal dissonance with the general serious nature of the storyline, but the sound is otherwise a boon.

However, considering the game’s release on the PlayStation 4, the visuals could have used more polish. The character models contain believable proportions, as is expectant of any contemporary game, but the scenery often contains blurry and pixilated textures, characters commonly have mitten hands, and the framerate has a notable drop during voiced cutscenes compared to the standard gameplay graphics. The rare CG movies look superb, as always, but considering the capabilities of the videogame system to which Square-Enix ported the title, the general visuals could have certainly been far better.

Finally, each character’s story is beatable somewhere from six to eight hours, with an additional episode lasting for one to two after the player obtains all of Master Xehanort’s secret reports, gamers likely wishing to reference a guide to find these so they don’t have to repeat final boss fights to get them to register in clear game data. Other things exist to pad playtime such as completing the Trinity Archives and acquiring every trophy the game offers.

In the end, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix has many positives as its entertaining Keyblade battles, the great aurals, and lasting appeal, although the gameplay has issues regarding things such as the camera and targeting that can make it tedious to play on advanced difficulty settings, not to mention the infantile storyline and dated remastered visuals. Regardless, the general “kiddy” disposition of the prequel will most certainly appeal to younger gamers desiring a good diving board into Japanese RPGs, although older gamers will likely find a playthrough excruciating.

The Good:
+Enjoyable Keyblade combat.
+Great soundtrack.
+Solid voicework.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Camera/targeting issues make game unplayable on high difficulties.
-Unskippable cutscene text.
-Infantile plot and writing.
-Graphics haven’t aged well.

The Bottom Line:
A great JRPG for kids; for adults, not so much.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 3/10
Localization: 5/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 4/10
Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: ~1 Day

Overall: 6/10

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Scions of Shannara

Scions.jpg 

The first installment of Terry Brooks’ Heritage of Shannara tetralogy, a sequel series to his original Shannara trilogy, opens with a millennium-old man who wakes from Druid Sleep and converses with the shade of the supposedly-long-deceased Allanon. The action quickly moves to sibling protagonists Par and Coil Ohmsford, who find themselves on the run from Federation secret police known as the Seekers, with an outlaw ultimately rescuing them. They eventually chance a mysterious woodswoman and the antediluvian Cogline, who lived in the time of Brin Ohmsford and Kimber Boh, claiming to be Allanon’s messenger and nothing that the siblings’ cousin Wren Ohmsford and Walker Boh expect them.

The brothers find their way to Morgan Leah’s hunting lodge, aiming to reach Shady Vale, although Morgan cautions them against doing so due to a Seeker presence there, and himself wants to seek Walker Boh. Then they head to the dwarven city of Culhaven, where Teel and Steff join them on their quest for Walker. Steff and Teel sporadically go missing throughout the course of the novel, with the latter’s disappearance playing part in the narrative later on. A fight with Spider Gnomes erupts at one point, with Par becoming their captive temporarily. A meeting with Wren Ohmsford at Myrian Lake eventually occurs.

The quest to recover the long-believed-lost Sword of Shannara comes to fruition, with another significant character, Padishar Creel, introduced, believing he knows where the fabled blade is in a place known as the Pit. Someone of a love interest, Damson Rhee, soon enters the story, with a brief excursion through Parma Key by the party. One of the chief antagonists, the First Seeker Rimmer Dall (leader of the Federation’s order), makes himself known, and plays an especial role towards the end of the novel. A traitor is eventually suspected in the midst of the Ohmsford brothers and their allies, with the story concluding afterwards.

Overall, this was another enjoyable Shannara book, with plenty of action and some occasional politicking by adversaries such as Rimmer Dall, although one might scoff at some of the characters’ name choices such as Par and Coil. Furthermore, while Brooks’ series supposedly occurs in a futuristic yet more-primitive Earth, very little evidence of the world’s notable evolutionary history emerges throughout the story, making this detail about the backstory something of an afterthought in hindsight. There is also a notable gap in the history between the original Shannara trilogy and its sequel series, particularly regarding the antagonistic Federation, but I definitely don’t regret reading the book.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Axiom Verge

Axiom Verge Title.png

In today’s gaming world, top-notch graphics are perpetually the trend, although there occasionally releases a game attempting to recapture the spirit of classical titles, the case with Capcom’s ninth and tenth main entries of its Rockman/Mega Man franchise. In 2015 came the release of the throwback title Axiom Verge for the PlayStation 4, its chief inspiration the 2-D sidescrolling Metroid games developed by Nintendo. The game would see a port to computers and other platforms such as the Nintendo Switch, and I managed to snag a digital PC copy for free when it was advertised as such. It’s definitely a great homage to classic videogames, but is this a good thing?

Players control a scientist named Trace who awakens in an ancient yet technologically-advanced world after a traumatic injury, and navigate him through a large interconnected world akin to the titles from which it derives, namely the RPG Castlevanias and classic Metroids. Trace can collect different ammunition to fire at enemies, which may or may not yield red recovery shards upon defeat, or later on when the player acquires the capability, data bombs helpful in clearing “glitchy” unpassable areas of the world. Players can further collect items that permanently increase Trace’s maximum health, weapon power, and ammo range.

Trace can also collect powerups that aid exploration, such as a hook to grapple ceilings and trench coat upgrades letting him teleport forward a few spaces, useful for passing through narrow walls or laser barriers unpassable by standard means. He ultimately acquires the capability to summon a small drone that can explore on its own, able to navigate passageways Trace cannot, the protagonist later capable to teleport to its location. The general game mechanics work for the most part, but players, even on the Normal difficulty, can expect to die often, although I actually beat the final boss battle my first try.

Death wouldn’t be too big an issue if players didn’t have to endure an annoying unskippable ten-second-long sequence where Trace revives at the last save room, visits to them restoring his health as well. Thankfully, death doesn’t mean Game Over, as players still retain their progress, and outside save points, the player can record their advancement and quit anytime. Perhaps the biggest issue with the game is the ease at points of getting lost in the massive dungeon, compounded by the lack of teleportation capability throughout the world. Interaction overall could have been better, but is by no means a total writeoff.

Games of its kind tend to have minimalist storytelling, and Axiom Verge is no exception, although it does have decent backstory and mythos. The shoddy direction at points on how to advance is perhaps the biggest issue with the narrative, although it definitely has its merits.

The audio, however, has a lot more, given the superb retro-style music and sound effects that create an awesome atmosphere, although there is slight overreliance on ambience at times.

Further aiding the game’s retro feel are the graphics, whose quality hovers somewhere between those of 8 and 16-bit titles of yore, with colorful, well-designed environments that well reflect the techno feel of the setting, and fluid animation of the sprites. There are occasional palette-swapped elements, but this is only a minor blemish in an otherwise superb-looking title.

Finally, the game is fairly short, less than half a day long (I beat it in around ten hours) straight through, although there’s plenty to boost playtime such as uncovering every corner of the world map, finding every item, and so forth, the difficulty selection enhancing lasting appeal, as well. The ending can also vary depending upon how much of the world the player has uncovered.

Overall, Axiom Verge is for the most part a superb homage to videogames of old, given its relatively enjoyable gameplay enhanced by retro aurals and visuals, not to mention the abundance of extra content. However, that doesn’t necessarily equate to it being a masterpiece, since it does bear issues regarding things such as the potentially high player death count, the ease at points of getting stuck in the massive world, the minimalistic plotline, and the reliance on ambience regarding certain areas of the sound presentation. Regardless, developer Thomas Happ did a good job with this game, and I hope it’s not for him a one-hit wonder.

The Good:
+Combat and exploration can be fun.
+Aurals have great retro feel.
+Excellent throwback visuals.
+Plenty side content.

The Bad:
-Expect to die often.
-Easy to get stuck/lost.
-Not enough plot.
-Sound a little too ambient at points.

The Bottom Line:
A good Metroid-type game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PC
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable, can be slightly hard on Normal mode.
Playing Time: < 12 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10