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Psychotic Reviews: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

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One of my favorite series on the original DS was Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Each game was serious and completely whimsical at the same time. The characters are over the top and blown out of proportion in some cases, which only serve to make the courtroom scenes incredibly memorable as all of these personalities clash. The mystery element meant that the full picture of what happened was never entirely clear to the player until the trial and the investigations leading up to the courtroom scenes slowly reveal the whole story, or could also go down the rabbit hole at times. Its really a perfect blend of point and click puzzle adventure games with the narrative style of a visual novel, making the series stand out as the sum of its parts.

In contrast I’ve only played the first game in the Professor Layton series. I enjoy the game but can never sit down and play it for too long in any one sitting. Its really a gauntlet of puzzles. There are some point and click elements involved in this game as well, but they mainly serve as a way to find hint coins and hidden puzzles. The game is more of a slow burner compared to the Ace Attorney series, which will mix in dramatic courtroom scenes with the slower investigation to mix the pacing up.

These two series in terms of gameplay actually make sense putting together, and when I first heard about the crossover I was rather excited since I knew of Layton at the time and am a massive Ace Attorney fan. Despite only playing the first Layton game I was impressed by this game! The Ace Attorney style investigations mixed well with Layton style exploration and puzzle solving. It never felt like the gauntlet of Layton’s puzzles was getting to be too much of a grind since there is plenty more to enjoy and move through in the game.

In terms of story the world and area feel much more inspired by Layton. There is a village filled with magic where witches are burned after being found guilty at a trial. Professor Layton, Luke, Phoenix Wright, and Maya Fey all find themselves brought to this village. As Phoenix you play through a witch trial and work to get the first exoneration of a witch in the village’s memory! This case introduces a unique twist to the system of cross examination that was standard throughout the Ace Attorney series. In the courtroom scenes the witness testimony is all done at once, the witnesses line up and Phoenix cross examines them one after the other. This does allow the witnesses to collaborate with their stories and add in information that fills in any holes on the fly. This style feels stacked against you. No wonder there were so many guilty verdicts in a row before Nick and Maya showed up here!

After the two pairs meet up the overall goal of the game becomes to uncover the secret of the village and keep working to get rid of this stigma against witches. After all, magic shouldn’t exist in our rational, modern world of science right? This games does a fantastic job of leading you along through the story, with twists and turns helping to guide you. The drama of the courtroom spills out into the streets and these strangers soon become well known for their alien idea of ‘logic’. That’s right, this village has not been enlightened to the basic Western ideas of Greek logic.

Once again Capcom shows that they are the complete master of the crossover, but they had plenty of help from Level-5. Both companies worked together to add the elements from their respective games, and then to polish it up and make it presentable for the player. As a result of this the game is incredibly strong. If you’re interested in either series you’ll be pleased with the results here since Layton is more of the same and Phoenix has a nice change to make this game feel like a unique entry to the Ace Attorney series. Despite their differences the characters work well, but I feel like Layton himself solves these major puzzles because of hazy and unexplained reasons. This difference could be a result of Phoenix taking details in one at a time since everything in his series is evidence based, and only one piece is usually relevant at any one time. If you have a 3DS and are looking for a story based adventure jam packed with fun and wit, check this game out!

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Psychotic Reviews: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

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Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is the fourth game in the series of cooperative RPGs starring Nintendo’s two main plumber brothers. It was released around the world in July and August of 2013. Dream Team was developed by longtime series developer AlphaDream, which has made every Mario & Luigi game. Now, I have not played any games in this series since Superstar Saga, the first one. I’ve heard about how good and great the two DS games are, but never got around to them. So when I picked up my 3DS I wanted to jump back into the series with its newest entry.

The story of Dream Team is about the team from the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toadsworth, and random Toads, all going on a vacation to Pi’illo Island, an island that was once inhabited by talking pillow people. Now it has become a wonderful tourist trap. It turns out that the Pi’illo people have really been trapped in the dream world by the evil Antasma. After freeing the Pi’illo Prince, Dreambert, Mario & Luigi go on an adventure around the island to help wake the Pi’illo and stop Antasma and his familiar allies.

Sadly, I may have been better off saving the money I spent on this game and using it for one of the older DS games that I missed out on. While I still have not played Partners in Time or Bowser’s Inside Story, those are well regarded, while Dream Team is a mixed bag. Dream Team is one of those games that can be chalked up as a disappointment, or perhaps why mainstream gaming critics can complain about Call of Duty’s static gameplay from year to year while still awarding it high marks for being a great game in its own right. Dream Team is a fantastic game, when it lets you play it.

Every time you start to feel like you’re on a roll and you’re going to get some serious progress done then the game takes you on a detour, or introduces a new mechanic and spends five minutes explaining how to use it. This may be helpful for the first couple of skills, but when you’re 30 hours in and still being told to press A at the right timing to get this new ability of your’s to work, when the other 7 you’ve received in the game all have the same timing and same buttons, it gets annoying. The game treats you like you’re a 3 year old that’s never played a game before, which I find odd coming from Nintendo, the company that was the king of cryptic gameplay and secrets in the 8 and 16-bit days. They let you discover the game by playing it. Dream Team tells you how to play it. You never get a new ability and are allowed to play with it, you need to sit through an unskippable tutorial explaining the process you’ve already been through many times before.

The gameplay is varied, with three different battle systems at work here. In the real world it uses the classic system that goes back to the first game, with Mario and Luigi side by side in battle, working together to take down enemies. In the dream world Dreamy Luigi becomes a part of Mario during battles, which open up a different set of single group attacks. Dreamy Luigi also has a Godzilla option in the dream world where he grows to be about fifty feet tall and can start jumping and hammering massive bosses. Every attack in every battle mode has its own tutorial, and you don’t stop learning new skills through the game. So every awesome spectacle of Dreamy Luigi going Apache Chief is interrupted by Dreambert going on some tangent about how to use a hammer or how to get Mario to throw mushrooms in his giant brother’s mouth.

Free mustache rides!

 

Really the only major complaint about this game involves the volume of dialogue and copious use of in game tutorials. If you’ve played any of the previous Mario & Luigi games you know what you’re going to be doing most of the time. The game assumes you know nothing (Jon Snow) and uses dialogue in every major location you visit to teach you new things. Since every skill uses the same buttons it becomes a chore in tedium and monotony more than any real helpful advice. In the end there is too much dialogue because there are too many tutorials, which leads to too much dialogue. You see how it became a vicious circle that has lead to gamers complaining about this, and it can get bad enough to turn people off of the game before they beat it. I would not recommend this as a starting point to the series, and it may well be the low point of the Mario & Luigi series as a whole. I’ll play the others and get back to you on that, I have Partners in Time now.

Psychotic Reviews: Mario’s Time Machine

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Why does this exist? I understand educational games, but throwing in a huge, well-established character just seems like a lazy cash grab. A good educational game should be able to stand up on its own by mixing good teaching tools with fun. Mario’s Time Machine fails as a teaching tool.

Mario’s Time Machine was developed and published by The Software Toolworks for the Super Nintendo and MS-DOS. Radical Entertainment developed the NES port with Nintendo publishing this version themselves. When this game was released in the early 90s, it was not the first Mario themed educational game; it was preceded by Mario is Missing! (which had the same developer). As you might be able to discern from the title, Mario’s Time Machine is a game meant to teach history. However, I find that as a teaching tool the game fails. As an adult who understands and knows the basic historical content presented in this game, it is extremely easy to get through and beat quickly. The basic gameplay involves you having historical artifacts with an attached document with information on it; this document has blanks in it that you must fill. As an adult, you’ll likely know most, if not all, of the answers without thinking too much. However, if you’re a kid, you may have trouble filling in these blanks. Other than context clues in the document, the game does little to actually teach history beyond blind guesswork and memorization.

The historical content in the game involves major figures, most of them Western European. You’ll visit Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Isaac Newton, Marco Polo, Cleopatra VII, Thomas Jefferson, and Plato, among others. The only major Eastern figure you meet up with is Kublai Khan, and he’s not the main target of that trip back in time. Since this game is targeted at young children and is exclusive to North America, it can be forgiven for ignoring most of Eastern history. The intended market of kids are only going to be learning the basics at this age after all.

All of these random, historical figures across all periods of time, from Ancient Greece to Thomas Edison, are pulled together by a crazy narrative. Bowser has built a time machine and steals all of these critical artifacts to build a huge museum in his castle. I have never considered Bowser to appreciate any history other than one where he has the Princess and rules as supreme evil overlord. Apparently, Bowser was bored so he single-handedly did what our scientists insist is completely impossible. If he used this power for good, who knows what kind of damage he could help alleviate!

After finishing your homework assignment, Mario has to set the year and location he needs to go to give the item back to its rightful owner and help prevent too many space-time anomalies. Any date and location you pick will take Mario into a surfing mini game, which is by far the most fun aspect of this game. During this surfing section, Mario needs to collect aquatic mushrooms and then jump into a whirlpool. If you pick the right location and time, then you see an example of juxtaposed visual design.

The locations and characters throughout Earth’s European-centric history are realistic in design. The backgrounds and sprites would be right at home in a Western PC RPG of the time, where each town would have its resident eccentric that would send you out on some fetch quest to find their astrolabe or sculptor’s pick in the bottom of some dungeon. Mario’s presence in these realistic areas just stands out and looks awkward. His sprite is ripped straight from Super Mario World, so there’s a huge contrast between his cartoony look and the realistic looks of all of the historical locations.

Overall, this game is best avoided for all but the most curious or the completionist collector. It lacks any real fun for an adult and lacks the tools to properly teach kids the dynamic nature of history. The gameplay is rigid and you will ultimately obtain the correct answers without understanding the why or the implications of the work of these influential people. For these reasons, I will likely stay away from any educational Mario games from now on, except perhaps Interplay’s Mario Teaches Typing, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for Interplay games!

Psychotic Reviews: Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

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Its finally time for a Zelda game to be reviewed! This is far from the first game I’ve played in the series, that honor goes to Oracle of Ages on the Game Boy Color. I played the Game Boy Advance port of the predecessor of this game, A Link to the Past on the next handheld I owned. I loved it and now own the original Super Nintendo release, and still have my original boxes for Oracle of Ages, GBA Link to the Past, and the Minish Cap. Since I went so long without a home Nintendo console its only recently in my collecting days that I’ve picked those up. A Link Between Worlds is the most recent original game in the long running series, releasing in 2013 for Nintendo’s 3DS. It uses the world design and map of Link to the Past as a base, and weaves a new tale in a familiar world.

The Zelda games always seem to have some identifying mechanic at their core to make each individual title stand out. Wind Waker’s sailing, Wolf Link in Twilight Princess, time jumps in Ocarina of Time, masks in Majora’s Mask, and so on. In Link Between Worlds you can turn into a painting on the wall and scoot along it, moving to floating platforms or through small cracks to get past certain rooms and into secret areas. There are some cracks on the overworld after a certain event that will be your method of travel between Hyrule and the replacement to the old Dark World, Lorule. High and Low, get it? Lorule is dark and its princess, Hilda, calls upon Link to help gather up the descendants of the Seven Sages to save both worlds. This is after you do the basic and familiar pendant gathering for fans of the first game.

This game really does feel like Nintendo’s version of fanservice. They take something familiar and dear to a lot of their old school fans, and modernized it. I feel like I’m playing A Link to the Past again, but the story’s different, and the wall running adds just enough to where it doesn’t feel like another Game Boy Advance port! The early dungeons and some of the bosses are quite familiar as well, but they may require different tactics to defeat than before since you have all kinds of fun new toys and abilities to play with.

Something that old school Zelda fans may miss is the way dungeons feel. You don’t unlock new items through doing the dungeons, you rent and later buy them. You can rent most of the items early on in the game, with any stragglers unlocked by getting through a certain area of the game. This style does open the game up, so it doesn’t feel like a completely linear run through the dungeons. The early part does, but once the world opens up and you can get to Lorule then there are few restrictions to which dungeon you go to. The sacrifice of finding items in dungeons actually opens the world up to different play and exploration styles!

There are not too many weaknesses about this game that I noticed. Any time I died or made a mistake it was entirely my fault and not one of the game’s by having a badly designed room or controls. Everything flows well. There are parts that may take a bit of trial and error or memorization, but its never enough to significantly alter the flow of the game. Since I have a 3DS XL I also tried out the game’s 3D capabilities. At first glance you may think that the feature is worthless in a top down Zelda. There were certain areas that felt easier and flowed better, and allowed for better timing while in 3D than 2D in my opinion.

What stood out the most to me was the game’s story. It felt like the darkest world with the most urgency since Majora’s Mask. It doesn’t go beyond that game of course but it delves deeper than one would expect into the purpose of the Sages and the Triforce’s impact and power on the worlds of Hyrule and Lorule. The ending was wrapped up neatly in traditional Zelda style. Everything is just peachy for Hyrule, Link, and Princess Zelda when all is said and done. The journey to the ending was one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I’ve had with a handheld game in a long time, and it comes highly recommended!

Psychotic Reviews: Suikoden Tierkreis

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Suikoden Tierkreis was the second game to be made by Konami for a non-Sony system, but it was the first of those games to be released outside of Japan. Suikoden Card Stories is basically a retelling of Suikoden II as a trading card game and was released on the Game Boy Advance exclusively in Japan. I have no idea what I’m doing in that game, but I do know what’s going on in Tierkreis for the Nintendo DS mostly because of the English language. Tierkreis was the first Suikoden game since the release of Suikoden V on the PS2, and was anxiously awaited by fans of the series since there was about a three year gap between releases.

Tierkreis is a complete and total spinoff of the series. It has absolutely nothing to do with the main numbered series. As a result of this it introduces its own world with its own set of rules, all new characters, and new political entities. There are some familiar elements from previous games, such as the headquarters and 108 Stars of Destiny to recruit. This game calls them Starbearers though.

Some of the most loved design choices from the main series are gone for this game. There are no tactical battles, there are no one-on-one duels. Well, technically there are some one-on-one fights, but these take place in the normal party based battle system. The familiar cinematic system of dialogue and counters is nowhere to be seen. The weapon sharpening system has been axed in favor of equippable weapons. What was a nice way for characters to have more defined personalities was replaced by the ultimate ‘throwaway character’ system.

Many of the plot elements are unfolded through the job board. A number of these end up with the recruitment of more Stars, but some are just there for money making purposes. Thankfully, not all recruitments involve this board, so you still have to explore towns and other areas to find out where people are hiding out. You make most of your money in this game by actually moving the plot forward, as you can turn in these missions at the job board to earn a big paycheck.

This game still focuses on political machinations and the various ambitions of the independent rulers of their respective areas. Unlike the main games there are many different nations, kingdoms, tribal areas, and cities all within the game world. There is a religious, militant, zealous imperial styled country, a magical kingdom, a city of porpoise people, a tribe of felines, a kingdom of swordsmen, as well as smaller villages.

Tierkreis’ world is described as being much larger than just the explorable area, as there are many worlds connected by gateways. There is another tribe that specializes in using these gateways to travel between worlds and use items they find to trade in other worlds. This also lets characters from other worlds visit your own, but sadly the reverse is not true. It would be awesome to have small areas to explore in other worlds while keeping the plot focused on the main world.

This is not completely unique to this game though. The idea of other parallel worlds existing has been blatantly mentioned in previous games, including the first two, Suikogaiden II, Suikoden IV and Tactics. Some stars of those games are theorized to be from other worlds, but this idea was never the focus of any of the stories from those games, just one piece of a massive puzzle. Tierkreis is completely focused on not only the fact that these parallel worlds exist, but how they are related to each other.

The lack of tactical battles really hurts the feeling of grandeur that previous games give. Going into a different screen where there are units to maneuver, tactics, and strategy to earn a victory is just much more satisfying. In Tierkreis you usually make one to three parties and each one gets a couple normal battles, maybe a boss battle, and then you’re on your way.

The music is a big step down from the main series. Short loops make their return from the first Suikoden, but each area gets its own unique tracks. The visuals are quite nice for a handheld of the time, and most characters have multiple pieces of art to represent different emotions and facial expressions. The game even has voice acting! I do not care much for the voice acting on the main characters. It sounds like somebody gave the VA for the main character an extra $20 to say all of his lines as fast as possible, so he is hard to understand since words fly out of his mouth. He also has a lame catchphrase: “We don’t know what’s going to happen until we try!” That might make some more sense after you play the game though. The others range from good to mediocre, but with the game’s budget this is probably better than one might expect.

Overall Tierkreis is a fine game for what is offered here. It works well, the story is a bit simpler than the main series entries, but it is worth a look even if you’re not a fan and are looking for a fun RPG to play on the go. If you’ve played the main games before this may feel underwhelming with all the changes and omissions, but the game is fine for what it tries to do and give the player. The story works well, but the localization is quite messy at times with punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes fairly consistent throughout the game.

Why Did I Play This? Episode 11: Capcom Fighter Power Stick

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When it comes to retro arcade sticks there are a few which everybody knows about, the NES Advantage, Super Advantage, Sega’s Genesis Stick & Saturn Stick, and then the Capcom Fighter Power Stick. But, it has been 20 years since this bulky controller has released so does it hold up?

You’ll just have to stay tuned and find out!

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Why Did I Play This? Episode 10: Stargate

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The series returns with a nice look at one of the many ignored movie licensed games of the 16 bit era. Stargate was made by Acclaim and released for the SNES and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive in 1995, but not all was well in this land of milk and honey.

What happens when your low class nametag goes away and you can’t use it anymore? Well it looks like you just have to use your own name and hope nobody notices and ignores such MEDIOCRITIES!

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