Review: Castlevania

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When I was a kid, no other game had cooler monsters and a scarier atmosphere than Castlevania. It’s creepy, but just campy enough to keep you from getting scared. For those that are not familiar, here’s the set up: Transylvania, a place we all know and love. Filled with gypsies and creepy things. But, every 100 years the land is plagued by the ghostly return of the legendary vampire, Count Dracula. Throughout history, a family of warriors known as the Belmont Clan have always stepped forward to eliminate the threat.

The year is 1691 and Dracula has risen again, this time the hero is a young man named Simon Belmont. He must enter the fortress of Castlevania and make his way through the haunted castle, fighting armies of skeletons, zombies, and other monsters. His ultimate goal: hunt down and slay the evil Count Dracula.

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Simon Belmont is armed with an enchanted whip: The Vampire Killer. Throughout the game, this is main form of attack. Although, he will eventually find various other weapons to help him out. The first level begins in the courtyard of the haunted castle, and takes Simon into the lobby. As the game progresses, Simon continues to infiltrate deeper into the castle. Each level is guarded by a “boss monster”. These bosses start easy and get progressively harder. Below is a list of the areas and the bosses that protect them.

Castle Courtyard and Entrance: Giant Vampire Bat

Castle Tower: Medusa

Castle Roof and Turrets: Mummies

Castle Catacombs and Lab: Frankenstein’s Monster and Igor.

The Dungeons: The Grim Reaper (Death)

The Clock Tower and Dracula’s Chamber: Count Dracula

The game starts off fairly easy but get harder as it goes on. By the time you’re to the mid-way point, you’re ready to pull your hair out. The fight with Death, is so difficult its maddening. Very few casual players ever make it past the reaper… Compared to Death, Dracula (who is the final boss) is easy.

Once Dracula is defeated, you’re treated to scene of Castlevania crumbling into ash and there is a really corny credit scroll filled with various puns. In my opinion, it really ruins the actual “horror feel” of the game. Konami, the publisher of Castlevania, was infamous for inserting these terrible jokes into games during the localization process.

Overall the best thing about this game is the music. WOW. This is some good stuff, you’ll be humming it for hours afterwards. Not to mention, anytime you hear it, you’ll have whip flashbacks…

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Difficulty: Very Difficult –  For many players, Castlevania consists of only two or three levels. Because for most, that’s as far as they get before walking away from the game in disgust. After that point, the game is brutal. That being said, those willing invest a little time and patience should eventually manage to get through. The boss fights seems a bit out of balance. For me, the Grim Reaper was always the hardest boss in the game. Much harder than the final boss, Dracula.

Story: The story is a bit strange. Here, we have taken Dracula, an iconic figure, and inserted him into a game with a different hero. It seems a bit unusual, but it works. The game itself is basically a tour classic horror movie monsters, set within the confines of creepy castle walls.

Originality: Castlevania was unlike many of the platformers that were popular at the time. Giving the hero a whip seemed a bit refreshing for some reason. The idea of making a showcase for various horror movie icons is a campy, but very fun.

Soundtrack: While I’ve heard better 8bit soundtracks, the music of Castlevania is catchy and very well crafted. This game introduces some iconic themes that still last into today’s Castlevania releases. Great stuff here.

Fun: If you like cheesy horror movies, and creepy environments, this is a fun stroll. However, for younger players and those that get frustrated easily, your enjoyment will often be ruined by the intense difficulty some parts of the game have to offer.

Graphics: The NES version of the game lacks a bit compared to some of the arcade cabinets. But I tend to forgive this as this was one of Konami’s first big titles on the NES. Everything on the screen is pretty much discernible, and still manages to capture that “creepy castle” feel.

Playcontrol: Overall, no big complaints. The jumping in the game can be a little stiff at times, and some jumps require you to be pretty precise. What little quirks the game does have with the controls, are easy to get used to after a while.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Another 8bit classic. For many, this little is something once visited and remembered. However, it is notable for launching a truly iconic series. Opinions on this game are all over the spectrum. Personally, I can easily look past it’s faults and enjoy it for what it is.

Available now on: Wii/WiiU Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

October, Dracula, and Castlevania…

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Well, here we are: October. Probably my favorite month of the year. There’s just something about the change of the seasons that appeal to me. I enjoy the crisp bite in the autumn air, the sound of the breeze through the leaves, and something childlike in me really enjoys the creepy feeling that you get late at night that makes you want to turn off all the lights and put on a cheesy horror flick. Oh, and let’s not forget the great beer that comes along with Oktoberfest…

As a child, I was never really one for spooky or slasher movies. But I did enjoy Halloween quite a bit. For some reason, I always had a thing for Count Dracula. One of the earliest Halloween outings I can remember, I dressed in a black cape with a plastic pair of fangs stuffed into my mouth.

When I was around 11 or 12, still living in Okinawa, Japan, I found an old green, fabric-bound copy of Dracula and Frankenstein at the library on the Air Force base. I checked it out and read it. Now, at that age, I can admit that some of it did go over my head. After all, the book was almost 100 years old. But, I had pretty good vocabulary for my age, and I was able to understand it quite well. In fact, I fell in love with the book. To this day, Dracula, by Bram Stoker is my favorite novel of all time. I’ve read it probably a total of ten times in the last twenty years.

A couple of years ago, a distant descendant of Bram Stoker published an “official sequel”… and let’s just say, I personally feel that it is not very true to the original. But, in all honesty, it’s not a bad book in its own right. Regardless, I don’t considering it to be a true heir to the story of Dracula.

My love for this book, attracted me to a video game that many reader of this blog probably know and love: Castlevania. The Castlevania series is built off of the legend of Dracula, and again, in its own right, it’s a pretty interesting tale.

So far with this blog, I have largely spent time reviewing classic NES games from my youth. Of course, I’ve taken breaks to discuss some other titles, just to kind of change up the flow a bit. This month, I’m going to do something a bit different… October is going to be Castlevania month. While my original plan was to cover the NES games from my youth, and then the move on to SNES, and so on; I’m going to break the rules and provide extensive coverage of the Castlevania series as a whole. Then, starting in November, on the Samhain (traditional Pagan New Year), I will tackle the latest installment in the series, and also the series new reboot title: Castlevania – Lord of Shadow.

The Castlevania series has had it share of ups and downs over the years. Several titles in the series were retroactively removed, and then a handful of those were added back later on. So, the whole thing can be very confusing. For the sake of this playthrough, I’ll only be reviewing the games that are considered “canon”, with perhaps one exception.

The coverage starts tomorrow, so if this is your kind of thing, stay tuned.

Review: Zelda II – The Adventure of Link

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As one would suspect, after the smashing success of The Legend of Zelda, a sequel was not too far behind. For the follow-up, Nintendo made the bold move to creating an entirely different game. Unlike it’s predecessor, Zelda II is not presented entirely in a top-down, bird’s-eye view. Instead, this game consists of two different modes: travel mode and action mode. Travel mode resembles the familiar top-down view from the previous game. This is what you see as Link makes his way across the vast world map. However, when he encounters monsters, enters a town, or enters a palace, the game switches to a side scrolling action mode.

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Link earns experience points from enemy kills that allows him to get stronger as you progress through the game. Link can also learn magic spells and combat techniques from various NPCs hidden throughout the game.

Zelda II begins not long after the end of the first title. On Link’s 16th birthday a mysterious crest resembling the triforce appears on his hand. Link visits the royal palace to inquire about its meaning. It is there that he learns not long after his victory against Ganon, princess Zelda was cursed by a sleeping spell. The only cure is the recovery of the third Triforce artifact, the Triforce of Courage. It is kept locked away in a great palace. To gain entry, Link must venture to the six lesser palaces, defeat their guardians and place a magic crystal into a hidden statue.

Zelda II is a good game in its own right, but it suffers when compared to the original. It simply doesn’t retain the magic that made the first game special. The sidescrolling action just doesn’t feel like it belongs here and the overhead view features graphics that are actually a downgrade from those in the original game. That being said, some parts of the game are indeed memorable and it still manages to maintain its status as a classic NES title.

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Difficulty: Difficult –  In my opinion, this title is a bit harder than the original. The side scrolling battles can be a bit awkward and clunky. Some of the bosses are pretty tough without a specific strategy in mind.This game is extremely frustrating for my 8 year old son.

Story: I’m impressed by the fact that this is not simply a “Ganon has returned from the dead!” scenario. It seems that Nintendo put a lot of thought into creating something different. When considering the Zelda series as a whole, you can really see that a rich storyline is beginning to develop for the world of Hyrule.

Originality: Nintendo definitely gets marks for trying something new with this title. Unfortunately, I feel that their efforts fell a little flat. The sidescrolling play didn’t seem to fit in well, in my opinion. But despite missing the mark a bit, it is still pretty refreshing to see a game company not afraid to try some new things.

Soundtrack: The music is quirky and catchy, but it doesn’t hold the same aura of mystique and epicness that original game did.

Fun: This game has it’s moments but overall it’s definitely not a favorite of mine. Some of the last dungeons are pretty brutal and the game has a very repetitive feel after awhile. I feel that the game overall had a lot of potential, but I think it would have benefited with a little more time and tweaking before release. Despite these criticisms, playing the game today, I find it quite enjoyable mainly for nostalgic reasons. So, I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Graphics: This is weird one. The sidescrolling parts of the game a fairly well done, but still not as good as many other games that were released at the time. The overworld map, however, looks dismal. The graphics actually feel like a step backwards.

Playcontrol: The sidescrolling combat seems clunky and at times, inaccurate. As usual, it’s even worse on the virtual console. In my opinion, the game suffers in the category.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Make no mistake, this is a classic title and I recommend it for its historical value, but I feel that overall it’s a fairly mediocre game. Which is sad being that is the sequel to one of the Nintendo’s most legendary titles.

Other Reviews In This Series:

LoZ –  LoZ II – Link to the Past – Link’s Awakening – Ocarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild

Review: The Legend of Zelda

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It didn’t matter if you were a fan of “sword and sorcery” games or not. When you saw the shiny gold cartridge that contained The Legend of Zelda, you were intrigued. At least, this was true for me. Until Zelda came along, I never gave much thought to things like wizards and dragons. I was all about spaceships and robots. But the lure of that glittering gold cart enticed me. Yes, the game cartridges for The Legend of Zelda were not grey in color like most others, but instead,as mentioned above, they were golden.

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I may have been initially lured by the physical box the game has housed in, but I was hooked by the game itself as soon as I pressed the power button. Instantly, I was hypnotized by a haunting lovely melody and the slow pulse of a the glowing title screen. It was digital crack.

The Legend of Zelda takes place in the far away land of Hyrule.  Zelda, the princess of Hyrule has been kidnapped by the evil Ganon. Ganon came into possession of an ancient artifact known as the Triforce of Power. Using it, he has taken over the kingdom with his terrible monsters. Our hero is a young man named, Link. Link must explore the kingdom in search of a similar artifact called the Triforce of Wisdom. However, for protection it has been cut into the eight separate pieces. Once the artifact is assembled, Link will have the power he needs to challenge Ganon and free princess Zelda.

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Link begins the game with no weapons or items at his disposal. But almost immediately he is given a wooden sword. Other items drop from defeating enemies and conquering various dungeons found through the game. These dungeons also hold pieces of the Triforce Link needs to complete his quest. They are scattered across the kingdom and Link must find them and defeat the monsters that reside in each and collect the Triforce piece and progress further.

Eventually, link makes his way to the final dungeon at Spectacle Rock. However, be warned, only a hero with the right weapons will be able to deal that final blow to Ganon! Once the game is complete, you unlock the ability to play the “2nd Quest” – the same game, but with a newly designed set of challenges.

The Legend of Zelda was the first of its kind and it spawned many sequels. It stands as one of Nintendo’s greatest successes – right up there with Mario. These days, you’ll be hard pressed to find many people between the ages of 25-40 that are not familiar with Link and his epic search for the Triforce.

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Difficulty: Medium –  For the most part, things are pretty easy going. In the beginning there’s a bit of a challenge until Link gets some decent equipment. However, players who are willing to exercise a little patience, and take the time time to locate many of the hidden power ups won’t have much of a problem until the last few levels. At that point, things get a little tough again.

Story: Originally, the story seemed a bit shallow. However, this was largely due to very poor in-game translation and a thoughtless game manual. Being the first title in the series, this game lays the groundwork for what will eventually become a mythology all it’s own.

Originality: Good marks here. The formula for the game, in a small way, is a bit like Metroid. You have a whole world before you. You can explore it as you wish. However, there are many roadblocks along the way that will become passable as you progress. The overhead view is nice change in a a world that was typically dominated by sidescrolling games. This was one of the first games I remember with a stash of collectible equipment the player could swap out and select as needed.

Soundtrack: Haunting, ambient, and adventurous! Great stuff here. Timeless themes.

Fun: This is classic game with hours of fun. There’s no telling how many times I’ve played through this game from start to finish. It never gets old.

Graphics: The graphics in this game are a little hard to define. I get impression that the art direction in the game is supposed to have a “cartoonish” feel to them. Colorwise- it succeeds. The biggest problem is that with such a wide view, there’s not a lot of detail. Regardless, everything on the screen is clear. There’s really no question what various on-screen objects are supposed to be. For an overhead game, the graphics were good enough.

Playcontrol: No real issues here. This applies to both the original release as well as the modern-day ports available. The overhead view of the game, and simple controls lead to an all-around precise experience.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This is classic 8-bit Nintendo at it’s finest. For all the reasons listed above, this is one title that I have to recommend to every player regardless of age.

Available now on: Wii Viritual Console, Nintendo eShop

Other Reviews In This Series:

LoZ –  LoZ II – Link to the Past – Link’s Awakening – Ocarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild

Review: Metroid

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I love looking back at the these old games. When I think of classic NES titles, Metroid is one that immediately comes to mind. I received my first NES as a Christmas present and Metroid is one of the games I received along with it. It has captivated me ever since.

In Metroid, you play the galactic bounty hunter, Samus Aran. Samus is sent on a mission to infiltrate a secret base of Space Pirates on the world of Zebes. The pirates have stolen a batch of organisms known as Metroids from a research lab, and are illegally breeding the creatures for warfare. Samus’s mission is to sneak into their stronghold, exterminate the Metroid, and destroy the pirate’s base.metroid_nes-5B1-5D

Samus begins the game equipped only with an upgrade-able suit of armor and an arm cannon for defense. As you explore the planet, new weapons and enhancements are added to the arsenal, thus unlocking new areas to explore. The planet is home to two “mini-bosses” known as Kraid and Ridley. But, the whole space pirate operation is actually controlled by a cybernetic organism known as “The Mother Brain”. After much exploring and problem-solving, Samus eventually defeats the Mother Brain only to a planetary self-destruct sequence. If Samus manages to escape, the game is won.

The challenge of Metroid lies in search and discovery the various items needed to progress further into the title. As you continue to dive deeper into the mysterious planet, you uncover various areas, each with their own unique atmosphere. As you continue play the game, you will constantly move back and forth between these various environments.

The game uses a password-based system to allow players to save their progress. This method seems antiquated by today’s standards, but worked very well at the time.

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If you manage to complete the game in a certain period of time, it will be revealed that Samus Aran is actually a female. These days, that may not seem like a very big deal, at the time of the game’s release a female bounty hunter was something that surprised many players.

Many games have since been released that have copied the Metroid formula for success. What makes Metroid truly stand out is the fact that it was the first and arguably, the best. The developers did an amazing job of creating a truly alien environment for the player to explore. Everything from the strange creatures, to the unearthly soundtrack make for a great experience. This is one title that I certainly recommend for any gamer. It’s makes for a great latenight play-a-thon.

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Difficulty: Medium –  In early parts of the game, before Samus is equipped with a decent arsenal of weapons and energy tanks, things can be dicey. Patience is key. If you take your time, and don’t rush headfirst into a room of aliens you will be ok. The players that takes the time to explore and uncover a good amount of loot won’t have too much of a problem. Most the minibosses have their own tips and tricks that make them easier to defeat. Weapon selection is key.

Story: At first, the story seems just a little bit shallow. It’s good backdrop to the game, but provides little else at first glance. However, as the series developed later, the story behind Metroid is expanded and becomes quite a complex tale.

Originality: At the time it was released, Metroid was hands down a new experience. Nothing like it had ever been seen. The formula behind the gameplay proved to be so popular that many titles in the future would imitate it.

Soundtrack: Weird, alien, fitting. Again, another first. The music in the game is so unlike anything I had encountered before. Very ambient, with strange reverberated notes and mechanical noises. The tunes are still catchy today. I love it.

Fun: By now it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the game. I never fail to have a good time when I put it in.

Graphics: This was a launch title for the NES and in a way, it shows. The graphics are clear and the characters are distinguishable. But there’s not much going on in the background of the levels. Most of the backdrop is just solid black. That is my only real complaint.

Playcontrol: Spot on with the original release. After a few hours with the game, you really get a feel for what Samus is capable of. The Virtual Console version suffers from minor imprecision, but this, as usual, is due to the difference in the controller and not the emulation. I have never experienced this on my 3DS version

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Metroid is a classic NES title and one that I feel everyone should experience. I introduced my son to it when he was about 6 years old and he’s loved it since day one. If you have never played it, you’re really missing out. It stands the test of time well.

Available now on: Wii Virtual Console, 3DS eShop

Other Reviews In This Series:

MetroidMetroid IISuper Metroid – Fusion – Zero Mission – Prime – Prime II – Prime III – Other M

Review: Diablo III

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*note: For those that wish to find me in-game, my BattleTag is BaconMage#1654
*** THIS REVIEW HAS BEEN SUPERSEDED BY THE RELEASE OF AN EXPANSION ***

After nearly 12 years of waiting, Blizzard finally released the next chapter in the Diablo series. Diablo III went on the market around the same time I started this blog. Naturally, everything else on Earth stopped for me as I dived into the pits of hell one more time.

This title resumes twenty years after the end of Diablo II, this time the player assumed the role of “The Nephalim” a hero who arrives in the town of Tristram to investigate recent reports of a strange meteor. In Diablo III players can choose to create a character from the following class options: Witch Doctor, Barbarian, Wizard, Monk and Demon Hunter. As the plot unfolds, the player explores environments such as dark dungeons, disease infested sewers, war torn strongholds and even heaven and hell itself.

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The play style is similar to the previous games. Crafting of new gear is done via NPC, and items can be purchased on a community-stocked auction house. Skills are handled much differently in this entry in the series. As players level up, new skill runes are unlocked which grant new abilities. This allows for quite a bit of customization. This enables players to experiment with different builds to find a fit that’s right for them.

One of the more controversial aspects in Diablo III is the “always on” internet requirement. Having a constant connection makes teaming up with friends extremely simple. However, for those that wish to play solo, requiring a broadband internet connection seems a bit silly. In situations where internet connectivity may be an issue, the entire game is unplayable. This is the real pain point for many. During release, the game servers encountered massive congestion, thus leading to queued timers and frequent game crashes. Players that simply wanted to enjoy the game on their own were understandably frustrated. Further controversy erupted over the announcement of an optional real-money auction house. Simply put, players can sell items from the game to other players in exchange for real-world currency. The argument has been made that this provides wealthier players with a strategic advantage over others.

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Graphically, the game is beautiful. It’s without a doubt the most visually appealing entry in the series. The audio and score for the game is equally lovely. This is another example of a title best played on dreary, rainy days, or in a dimly-lit room in the dead of night. Content-wise, I have no complaints. The random levels, quests and encounters make for a unique experience each time you play. On a few occasions, I found the levels to be a bit longer than I’d like, and wished that the area was a bit smaller and less redundant. But this was not something I encountered enough to really be a problem. Overall, I found the environments and enemies in the game to exceed my expectations. Many of the boss fights are very well done and create a great feeling of suspense and awe.

In the age of Internet gaming, it’s easy to forget that this is primarily a single player title. The online connectivity makes for a very unusual hybrid type of experience. In a sense, it’s sad to log in now, four months later, and see my friends list filled with people who have not logged in in over 100 days. Once beating the game, many players have simply moved on. Which, for a single player title, is not at all unusual. Despite this, Blizzard is still planning new content for Diablo III such as PVP combat. So perhaps, in the coming months an update of this review will be in order. Overall, however, I have to proclaim to be Diablo III to be worthy of a purchase. Especially for fans of the series.

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Difficulty: Varies –  Again, several difficulty levels are unlockable as you progress through the game. A hardcore mode also exists as it did in Diablo II, giving you only one life. For those that like punishment, have fun trying to play the game on Inferno difficulty with a hardcore character. There will be tears.

Story: The best of all three games. Twelve years of development really gave Blizzard the time needed to create a storyline of epic proportions. Not to give anything away, but the character of Diablo does make a return, and the way this comes to pass will not disappoint. There’s a lot of nice throwbacks and easter eggs for those that are familiar with the older games.

Originality: There’s no mistaking this is a Diablo game. However, with the new skill and companion system, there’s enough fresh ideas in the game to keep things from getting stale.

Soundtrack: A beautiful score that is very fitting. In my opinion much better than the first two games. I actually have a copy of the soundtrack and find myself listening to it when writing or when I’m trying to get my creative juices flowing on some type of fantasy project.

Fun: The game can definitely be fun. At release a large number of issues caused a great deal of frustration. I was excited to the get the game home and play, only to find the servers down due to congestion. This, along with a few early bugs, really put a damper on things. Of course, now most of these issues are ironed out. Aside from the occasional gold farmer spamming the world chat window, there’s not too much to complain about. This title was designed with re-playability in mind, and if definitely succeeds.

Graphics: Absolutely lovely looking game. This one area where the game shines. Everything from the character sprites to the dynamic light looks stunning. This title is a huge improvement over the other entries in the series. Now…. if only they would redo those games on the new engine…

Playcontrol: Very similar to other titles in the series. Occasionally, during high energy battles and boss fights, I found it difficult to select the target. But aside from some occasional frustration, I found nothing to complain about.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Due to its troubled launch, and what I feel is a little overly-complex skill system, I cannot give this game a perfect score. It is a title that I certainly recommend, but I do feel that there was a bit more that could have been done to add some polish. I wish the game had an offline option, although I understand what Blizzard was trying to achieve with requiring connectivity. I’m not a fan of the real-money auction house, but it’s easy enough to ignore unless you live for online play. All that being said, Diablo III is an excellent title and well worth your dollars. It is a nice capstone to the series, and I hope to see an expansion of some sort in the future. At this point, I still feel that Diablo II offers the definitive Diablo experience. However, due to it’s age and inaccessibility it is hard for many new players to get started with it. I am looking forward to playing through Diablo III again with the release of the upcoming 1.05 patch.

 Available at retail and through Blizzards Online Store

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III :: Reaper of Souls

Review: Diablo II

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Four years after the original Diablo was unleashed upon the world, a sequel was produced. By this time, I was already living with my future wife and I appropriately warned her ,”You will not see me for about a week, once this game comes out.”

Diablo II is a worthy sequel to the original game. Everything that was right about the original Diablo is here, and just about everything that was wrong with it has been addressed. The game is familiar to anyone playing the original, but contains a slew of new features. Players are able to customize weapons using the new “gem” system and combine various pieces of gear in a magical “Horadric Cube”, there’s a community lockbox for players to place items so they will be accessible across various characters. The character classes are a bit different this time around, now featuring the following options: Amazon, Barbarian, Necromancer, Sorceress and Paladin.

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Gameplay between this and the original are very similar is many respects. However, instead of being confined to a dungeon players now find themselves battling in rocky highlands, vast deserts, and strange exotic jungles. Instead of constantly saving your progress like the original game, this game is separated by chapters. Quitting the game and resuming resets all of the monsters and explored areas. However, a new ability is available to warp to various checkpoints. This prevents a great deal or backtracking when loading a saved game.

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In this game, you find yourself in pursuit of the “Dark Wander”, the hero of the last game, who has become possessed by the spirit of Diablo. Eventually, your ultimate goal of defeating the Lord of Terror is once again made clear. Despite being a huge success, many players found themselves feeling a bit unfulfilled. Luckily, not long after the initial release of Diablo II,  the add-on: Lord of Destruction was unleashed for players to devour.

In the opinion of many, LoD really completes the original game. It integrates itself into Diablo II perfectly, adding two new character classes, the Druid and the Assassin, new items, as well adding a whole new final chapter to the original game. I am one of the many that tend to look at Diablo II: Lord of Destruction as inseparable from the basic game itself.

In this expansion, the lead character pursues Diablo’s stronger brother, Baal in hopes of defeating him for eternal peace.

As I mentioned before, Diablo II takes all of what was great with the original and expands on it in a masterful way. This is a fine example of a company that took their original creation and actually improved upon it rather than just slapping on a new coat of paint and hoping no-one notices.

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Difficulty: Varies –  Like the original, there are various difficulty settings for the game, ranging from normal to insanely difficult.

Story: Diablo II features a much richer story than the original. Cutscenes exist between each chapter. Also, banter with NPCs is more frequent and is often more integral to the story.

Originality: If you are familiar with the original Diablo, you will feel right at home here. However, Blizzard added enough new and original features to keep the game fresh.

Soundtrack: Very similar to the the original Diablo. Great songs that seem to fit in very well with the environments throughout the game.

Fun: Even better than the original! The scenery changes enough so as not to be repetitive. However, I did find myself wishing that the seemingly endless jungle levels would just hurry up and be over. My favorite part of these games is seeking out new shiny weapons and armor. There no disappointment for treasure hunters.

Graphics: Released at the dawn of 3D acceleration, this title boasted Glide and Direct3d acceleration. These days, no one has a Voodoo card so, you’re stuck with D3d. In my opinion, on a modern system, the 3D graphics are a bit muddy. In some respects, I feel the the original Diablo is actually a bit more polished visually.

Playcontrol: Excellent play control via mouse and keyboard. No real issues worthy of mention

Overall rating (out of four stars):  4 Stars – This is the essential Diablo experience. A classic game brought to perfection with the Lord of Destruction pack. You can’t go wrong with this title.

Available today through Blizzard’s online store.

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III – Reaper of Souls

Review: Diablo

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Today, I’ll be taking a change of course for a bit. One of the first PC games I ever purchased with my own money was Diablo. With the recent release of the long-awaited Diablo III, this is a franchise that really needs no introduction.

In the summer of 1997, as a highschool graduation present, my parents gave me the funds required to build my very own personal computer. Oh, I remember it well. It was a Pentium 166 MMX, with 16 megs of RAM. I loaded it with the OEM version of the OSR2 release for Windows 95 and it ran like a dream.

One of the first things I did after building my system was catch up on a lot of great PC games I had missed over the last few years. I gobbled them all up. Duke Nukem, Quake, Heretic & Hexen, to name a few. Then one day at Media Play I came across the Diablo box and I was enthralled. Here was a game I could actually play online for FREE. I snatched it up and brought it home.

Diablo appealed to me almost instantly. It was a modern take on the classic dungeon-crawl games I loved so much. Essentially, there is a giant dungeon under the town filled with hordes of evil monsters and demons. But among those dangers are riches and spoils beyond your wildest dreams.

When creating your hero in Diablo, you can choose between a Warrior, Rogue or Sorcerer. Each had their own advantages and disadvantages. I felt right at home.

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The game was unique in that when donning a new suit of armor, or equipping a new weapon, you could actually see it on your character. That was a new, but welcome concept for me. Also, in a way, you never played the same game twice. The levels were created at random every time you started over. There was a bank of quests or tasks that would be shuffled out when you created a new game, so no two games were exactly alike. It was revolutionary and I was amazed by it.

Eventually, your character ventures down to deepest levels of the dungeon and discovers the shocking truth behind the terror that has enshrouded the town above. The game ends with your character defeating Diablo, one of the very Lords of Hell.

The multiplayer portion of the game never appealed much to me. I found it extremely difficult to play with friends using a modem connection, and attempts to play on Battle.net were fraught with lag. Not to mention that Battle.net was filled with cheating players. Ultimately, I enjoyed Diablo as a single player title. But for many, “online” was a favorite way to play.

Even today, I feel that there’s a lot to be offered by this now classic title. The game has a lot of atmosphere. The visuals mixed with the ambient soundtrack match the tone of the game perfectly. This is one you’ll want to play on a nice autumn night with the lights out, perhaps with only a candle burning on the desk. So, If you enjoyed Diablo III and want to see where it all began, or if you’re new to the series, I do recommend this title first. Not to mention the lore and myth that is the Diablo story, gets it start here.

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Difficulty: Varies –  This title has a fairly accurate difficulty setting. Occasionally, you may find yourself swarmed by monsters, but there’s never much you can’t overcome on the standard setting. But on some of those harder modes… God help you.

Story: The storyline is revealed as you progress through the dungeon. Those players that skip through most of the text are missing out on quite a bit. For those that are willing to take the time to read and listen, you will certainly be rewarded.

Originality: Diablo really set the stage for a new type of dungeon crawl. It redefined what a hack and slash game based in a fantasy world could be. When first playing it, I was reminded a bit of the classic arcade game Gauntlet. But the similarities soon faded.

Soundtrack: Amazing. Simple, yet elegant ambient music. It really sets the mood for the game. The soundtrack is a work of art.

Fun: This game provided me with many hours of fun over the years. It’s a title that I’ve often found myself turning to again and again. I recently played through it a few months in anticipation of D3‘s release and was surprised at how well it has stood the test of time. If you like dark scary dungeons and demonic monsters, this will be right up your alley.

Graphics: At the time it was released, the graphics were really top tier. There’s no 3D acceleration or dynamic lighting, so it certainly looks dated by today’s standards. However, it holds up quite well. Modern Vista, Win 7 and Win 8 systems experience a color issue when first booting the game, but there are work arounds  available to correct this.

Playcontrol: Point and click. It couldn’t be easier. I admittedly burned through a few mice over the years playing these games.

Overall rating (out of four stars):  3 Stars – Diablo is an excellent game. I do feel it had potential to be a bit more than it was. The network issues and online cheating became a large problem for many players. Many of “gaps” in the game were filled by the semi-official expansion known as Hellfire. But despite it’s few shortcomings, Diablo was a game changer in the PC world. Recommended.

Available today through Blizzard’s online store.

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III :: Reaper of Souls

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

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Taking a break from the retro reviews for a moment, I’m going to share my thoughts on a title a little more modern. Back in April, I purchased the long awaited RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles. And I am so glad I did. This game has been a breath of air.

For the last five or six years, I’ve really neglected my single-player console games and focused more on online multiplayer titles. It’s been a while since a single-player game has hooked me the way Xenoblade has. This is a classic JRPG is every sense of the word. The storyline is deep and filled with twists and turns. The characters are memorable, the locales are exotic and beautiful. The music is simply top notch. The soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time. This game has all the elements that a true RPG should strive for.

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The game takes place largely on a world known as Bionis. You see, Bionis is actually an enormous organic sleeping titan upon which people live out their daily lives. For eons, Bionis was engaged in an eternal struggle with another titanic entity, the mechanical Mechonis.

While the two titans themselves has long been dormant, the people of Bionis are constantly on defense from invasions by the robotic forces of Mechonis. It is in this world, that the game begins. The lead character, Shulk becomes entrusted with a legendary sword (The Monado). This blade is the only known weapon actually capable of harming the Mechon attackers. As the game progresses, Shulk and his friends learn more about the reason for the Mechon invasions and discover some real earth-shattering secrets behind the struggle between the two world-titans.

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This game features a vast world filled with what seems like endless content. Aside from the main storyline, there are more sidequests and optional storylines than you can shake a stick at. On top of that, your in-game actions have a real effect on the relationships between non-player characters. These “affinity levels” end up having a major impact on the game as time goes on.

I’ve never played this type of game on the Wii before. At first, I was a bit confused by the control scheme and by all the options that Xenoblade had to offer. However, after a while things started to click and when they did, I found myself in a world so immersive that I was truly impressed by the sheer masterpiece that the developers were able to put together. This is truly one of the greatest games I have ever played.

Xenoblade was one of the games responsible for the Operation Rainfall campaign. If it is any indicator of the types of games we are missing out on here in the west then for goodness sake, we have truly missed some exquisite gaming. In my opinion, part of the wonder of this title is discovering it for yourself. That being said, I shall say no more and leave this review with the following breakdown.

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Difficulty: Hard Most of the base game is fairly straightforward. However, towards the end there are a handful of boss fights that can be extremely brutal unless you take some time to really think out your strategy. Many of these fights will require shuffling around your party members and making sure they are geared to match the situation at hand. A lot of the optional content in the game, requires A LOT of patience and the will to go above and beyond the normal grind.

Story: One of the greatest stories I have experienced through a video game. The basic set up is fascinating as it is, but just wait, you will be amazed at how the plot unfolds

Originality: This is not your standard RPG. Everything about this title seems to be re-imagined from the ground up. The combat system is designed specifically for the Wii, regardless of what controller you choose to use. The affinity system provides a new take on interactions between your characters and the “fluff” NPCs that typically populate a game world.

Soundtrack: This soundtrack is a must have. It rivals anything from the Final Fantasy series. The song selection seems appropriate for the various areas in the game. Often, the music will change depending on the time of day. Songs fade in and out as you switch zones, making everything seem to fit into place. Listening back to the theme from Makna Village on my iPod, triggers memories of the exotic little Nopon village. I can almost feel the warmth of the little city in the trees 🙂

Fun: This game is a great way to pass the time. The only drawbacks are that a few of the boss fights seem to be much more difficult than called for. This will lead to some frustration for some. Also, the game is EXTREMELY big. I fear that some players will grow impatient.

Graphics: By Wii standards, this is a work of visual art. Even when compared to other consoles with more graphical power, it’s not too shabby. Despite being a bit pixelated, the developers have managed to create some truly beautiful scenes.

Playcontrol: Overall, the playcontrol is pretty much spot on. There are some frustrations with the camera, so I can’t give it a perfect score, but overall this is not a really big problem.

Overall rating (out of four stars):  4 Stars – If you like RPGs and own a Wii, this title is a must have. This is probably one of the top three RPGs I’ve played in my lifetime. Definately the best in the last 10 years or so.

Available today on: Wii

Review: Super Mario Bros 3

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Oh, Super Mario Bros. 3. How I longed to get my hands on this game as a child… I remember my first encounter with this title. I was at an arcade machine in a Japanese shopping mall and immediately became re-obsessed (Is that even a word?). It was Mario as I’d never seen him before. This time instead of just stomping turtles and mushrooms, Mario could fly! He could throw hammers, swim like a frog, it was glorious for a young child like me. But alas, I did not get to spend the time I wanted with the machine before being torn away by my parents. The travesty!

A few months later, the game was officially unveiled to the western audience thanks two a 2 hour long Nintendo commercial – err… motion picture – called The Wizard. When the game was unveiled in that movie, there was an audible gasp heard across the theater. It sent kids into a fever pitch. Of course, I had encountered the game in the wilds of Japan, but I cannot described how excited I was to know I would finally get my hands on this game at home.

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Mario 3 was the game to have at the time. It represented Nintendo at their finest. Everything that was loved and cherished by Mario fans was cranked up a notch with this this title. Exotic locales, strange and quirky power ups. The new overhead map system, complete with secret areas was an innovative and welcome touch. It was, and still is, a magical title.

This time, Bowser and his children had turned the various rulers of the Mushroom World into animals and stolen the throne from under them. It is up to Mario to defeat them and transform the mushroom royalty back into their proper form!

Playing through this game again as part of  the Mario 25th Anniversary collection reminded what a classic title this was. This cartridge is a fine example of the what the original NES was capable of. Its hard to say this, because the first two entries in the series are classics in their own right, but if you had to choose one of the original 8-bit Mario titles as best representative of the original trilogy, I’d have to give this one the honor.

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Difficulty: Medium– Probably the most difficult of the original trilogy (not counting Lost Levels). Some of those floating ship levels can be a real pain. But nothing too difficult without a little practice.

Story: Same old basic plot, but with a few new twists. But hey, it’s Mario.

Originality: While it’s obvious to see the progression of the series, there’s enough original ideas here to really make the game shine on it’s own. The mini games, map system, and diverse levels really make this game a breath of fresh air for the series.

Soundtrack: More fun, silly tunes! A classic soundtrack. Nothing else to say.

Fun: This is a great buddy game. The two player system makes for a lot of fun more so than in SMB 1. The color level design and quirky enemies add a lot of fun to this game.

Graphics: This is pretty much the original 8 bit Nintendo at it’s best. Nothing was on par with this at the time it was released.

Playcontrol : By this stage in it’s development, Nintendo had perfected the control scheme. On the original hardware, it’s a nearly flawless execution. The Virtual Console versions suffers many of the same issues that often come up with VC games. You’re playing on a control not originally designed for the game. There are some minor quirks, but nothing too bad.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 Stars –  If somehow you’ve missed this title. You owe it to yourself to check it out. This is classic Mario at it’s prime.

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach