A Mediocre Combination

The Dragon Ball Z franchise has found a comfortable (and commercially successful) spot in the genre of fighting games. That makes sense, considering the source material is about a collection of visually distinct martial artists who are constantly trying to prove who can punch the hardest. For this reason, Fusions stands apart from the typical Dragon Ball game by being an RPG with an original story. It struggles with grinding and fusing, but finds enough success to earn a qualified recommendation to Dragon Ball fans.

This tale does not follow the mainline Dragon Ball story, which has been done ad nauseam in video games. Fusions begins with two original characters (one created by the player) using the Dragon Balls to wish for the greatest martial arts tournament of all time. This creates a world not bound by the restrictions of time or dimensions, where the best fighters ever – not just those currently alive – come together to train and fight. Everyone is strangely okay with this sudden universe-affecting change, and it creates opportunities for fun dialogue, like when Goten meets and fights alongside the child-version of his father, Goku. The story functions as a good excuse to bring literally all of Dragon Ball’s familiar characters together (even GT ones), but does not go beyond that to craft a worthwhile narrative.

Combat is turn-based, with periodic button-mashing action when using certain special attacks. Position is important give each a tactics feel. Pushing all your enemies together, for example, can open up the opportunity to use a powerful Kamehameha blast to ring out everyone at once for additional damage. You can even bounce enemies into one another for extra damage, or into your team so they can volley the bad guys back to you. Every match plays out like turn-based bumper cars, and bouncing an enemy around your team to eventually watch them fly out of the ring is rewarding.

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The battles are time-consuming, ramping up to five versus five as soon as you fill your party, which makes each fight last a long time. The fight structure is interesting and original, but the tactics you develop early carry you through the game. I enjoyed the moment-to-moment combat, especially the ping-pong nature of it all, but I checked my watch often during each fight.

Collecting and fusing characters is underwhelming. Seeing anything interesting takes too long; you encounter familiar fusions from the show early on, like Gotenks, and some new fun ones like Raditz and Nappa (Natz), but getting to the interesting stuff takes time. You can perform EX Fusions to create strange combinations with familiar characters late in the game, but meeting the requirements for these is time-consuming. Additionally, the original characters you can add to your party are all bland and not worth pursuing. Each one feels like the result of hitting the random button on the character creator. I enjoyed trying to add all the Dragon Ball staple characters to my party, but would have happily ignored the randoms if I hadn’t been required to collect a few of each race in order to move to the next area.

Fusions stands out in the library of Dragon Ball video games as an interesting entry in the otherwise fighting-game-heavy collection. It is charming in its willingness to innovate within Dragon Ball, but it never quite executes on any of its pillars.

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Less Than A Bang, More Than A Whimper

The Batman mythos has had countless interpretations and retellings across various mediums since the character’s inception in 1939. Telltale’s series feels unique stacked up against the myriad stories of Bruce Wayne and his crusade to save the city of Gotham, and that is an achievement by itself. This interpretation of the Bat has had its ups and downs, with new villains and unexpected twists making it easy to look past an all-too-familiar formula of quick-time events and binary choices. Unfortunately, the finale lacks the potent plot punches of previous episodes and feels slipshod in comparison to the best episodes.

City of Light finds Bruce continuing the upswing he was on in Episode 4. After taking down Two Face, he squares off against the Penguin and the deadly Lady Arkham, characters who have been Telltale’s trump cards with this series. The Penguin, while hardly a new character, is presented as a sympathetic and wounded man, and we finally get to see the catalyst of those wounds. Lady Arkham is a menacing force with a dark past who may be the Bats’ equal in wit and brawn.

The episode’s major problem is that every story beat is predictable, with Batman being ridiculously dumb during certain scenes for the sake of trying to build suspense that isn’t there. In one sequence, Bruce is trying to find a house where someone is being held hostage using scraps of data. After seeing literally any of the clues, the location is painfully clear – but players have to keep going for several minutes until the “world’s greatest detective” puts the pieces together. This happened multiple times during my playthrough, because it’s too clear from the get-go what everything is building toward.

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City of Light has moments that shine, particularly those that focus on Lady Arkham’s motivations and Bruce’s friendships with Harvey, Alfred, Gordon, and Selina. However, the episode is so concerned with speeding toward the ending that we don’t get much time to focus on the characters. Instead, you’re plaything through poorly devised “investigation” scenes where you’re clicking around an environment trying to help poor dumb Bruce reconstruct a crime scene. Or, even worse, you’re pressing buttons to dodge enemy gunshots and fists in what are effectively cutscenes with minor interactivity shoehorned in.

Predictable, often boring, and finishing off with an abrupt ending – this episode disappointed me in many ways. However, I was also drawn in by the tragic relationships that arise out of Bruce’s dual lives as a billionaire and the Caped Crusader. Even though City of Light doesn’t make that the focal point of the episode (as the best episodes in the series have done), it still gives those elements enough time to make the experience entertaining. I won’t spoil anything, but the ending is strong enough that I hope Telltale takes another shot at the Bat and builds something off this sturdy foundation.

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A Mediocre Combination

The Dragon Ball Z franchise has found a comfortable (and commercially successful) spot in the genre of fighting games. That makes sense, considering the source material is about a collection of visually distinct martial artists who are constantly trying to prove who can punch the hardest. For this reason, Fusions stands apart from the typical Dragon Ball game by being an RPG with an original story. It struggles with grinding and fusing, but finds enough success to earn a qualified recommendation to Dragon Ball fans.

This tale does not follow the mainline Dragon Ball story, which has been done ad nauseam in video games. Fusions begins with two original characters (one created by the player) using the Dragon Balls to wish for the greatest martial arts tournament of all time. This creates a world not bound by the restrictions of time or dimensions, where the best fighters ever – not just those currently alive – come together to train and fight. Everyone is strangely okay with this sudden universe-affecting change, and it creates opportunities for fun dialogue, like when Goten meets and fights alongside the child-version of his father, Goku. The story functions as a good excuse to bring literally all of Dragon Ball’s familiar characters together (even GT ones), but does not go beyond that to craft a worthwhile narrative.

Combat is turn-based, with periodic button-mashing action when using certain special attacks. Position is important give each a tactics feel. Pushing all your enemies together, for example, can open up the opportunity to use a powerful Kamehameha blast to ring out everyone at once for additional damage. You can even bounce enemies into one another for extra damage, or into your team so they can volley the bad guys back to you. Every match plays out like turn-based bumper cars, and bouncing an enemy around your team to eventually watch them fly out of the ring is rewarding.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

The battles are time-consuming, ramping up to five versus five as soon as you fill your party, which makes each fight last a long time. The fight structure is interesting and original, but the tactics you develop early carry you through the game. I enjoyed the moment-to-moment combat, especially the ping-pong nature of it all, but I checked my watch often during each fight.

Collecting and fusing characters is underwhelming. Seeing anything interesting takes too long; you encounter familiar fusions from the show early on, like Gotenks, and some new fun ones like Raditz and Nappa (Natz), but getting to the interesting stuff takes time. You can perform EX Fusions to create strange combinations with familiar characters late in the game, but meeting the requirements for these is time-consuming. Additionally, the original characters you can add to your party are all bland and not worth pursuing. Each one feels like the result of hitting the random button on the character creator. I enjoyed trying to add all the Dragon Ball staple characters to my party, but would have happily ignored the randoms if I hadn’t been required to collect a few of each race in order to move to the next area.

Fusions stands out in the library of Dragon Ball video games as an interesting entry in the otherwise fighting-game-heavy collection. It is charming in its willingness to innovate within Dragon Ball, but it never quite executes on any of its pillars.

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Wild Guns Reloaded Review

There’s a particular genre of arcade action game that has truly fallen off the radar in recent times–games where you control a character from a third-person view on a 2D plane, shooting objects and enemies in the background with a reticle while dodging shots and obstacles in the foreground.

I’ve heard this odd genre called many names: “shooting gallery,” “Cabal-like” (after the game that popularized it), but perhaps most commonly “crosshair shooter.” But while traditional platformers, run-and-guns, and even scrolling shooters have experienced something of a recent resurgence in popularity, the crosshair shooter has all but vanished from modern gaming–which is why the release of Wild Guns Reloaded is so exciting to retro-minded players.

Wild Guns Reloaded welcomes back Clint and Annie, the dynamic shooting duo from the 1994 original game, as they prepare to blast their way through several levels of gangsters and big, bad biomechanical bosses while collecting loot and dodging gunshots and the occasional creeper with an old-fashioned knife. This time around, they’re joined by a pair of surprising new heroes: Bullet, an adorable long-haired dachshund who fights foes with a special robot drone, and Doris, a large gal whose expertise with explosives ensures that she isn’t going to be taking any crap from anyone.

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Similarly to many games of its ilk, Wild Guns Reloaded has a control scheme built around aiming when you’re shooting and dodging when you’re not. Pressing the fire button once also lets you melee attack close-range enemies and pick up sticks of dynamite thrown at your feet (which you can then lob back for a sweet, sweet payback explosion). By shooting objects and power-ups that appear, you can change your weapon briefly and collect bonuses. You can move and jump (and double-jump) when you’re not shooting, but when you’re in the middle of firing, you can only roll. Knowing when to roll–and when to just put the gun away to get the hell out of enemy firing range–is crucial to survival, because in Wild Guns, a single hit means a life lost.

You’ll be using all your skills to battle a rogues’ gallery of weird and wacky enemies: lanky gunslinging robots, divers with rocket launchers, jetpack jockeys, and creepy-crawly monsters. The humorous atmosphere of the game gives Wild Guns Reloaded a distinct personality quite unlike anything else, and the new characters, Bullet and Doris, also add a lot both in terms of style and gameplay, since they control very differently from Clint and Annie.

New stages, like the Underground area, fit in perfectly with the rest of the game and even add interesting visual quirks like pixel “fog” that obscures visibility.

Bullet has the unique ability to move freely (rather than being limited to dodging) when attacking, though his range when holding down the fire button is extremely limited. He can also hover using his robot drone, which makes him the most maneuverable of the bunch. Doris lacks traditional rapid-fire shots; Instead, she charges up a grenade attack when the fire button is held down, with the attack’s power (and the score multiplier) increasing the longer the button is pressed. While she’s slower in normal movements, she has a very fast, multi-part dodge attack, as well as a special jumping melee strike. Both characters offer new, distinct, fun ways to play through the game.

Visually, Wild Guns Reloaded is every bit as beautiful as it was in 1994. There’s a tremendous amount of artistry and care poured into these hand-drawn pixel visuals, and little touches–like the fact that many objects in the background take visible damage from all the gunplay going on around them–give the game’s world an exciting, lively feel. Compared to the original SNES version, many of the game’s backgrounds and objects have been retouched while keeping true to the visual style and limitations of the 16-bit era. In some cases, this was done to accommodate the widescreen HD format, while in other cases, it feels like it was done just because the developers wanted to go the extra mile to really make things shine. New stages, like the Underground area, fit in perfectly with the rest of the game and even add interesting visual quirks like pixel “fog” that obscures visibility.

Being an old-school styled arcade game, Wild Guns doesn’t offer much in the way of tutorials or even warmups: You’re thrust straight into the action and expected to learn the ropes as you play more and more. Increasing difficulty levels offer new and different stage arrays, as well as limit your amount of lives and emergency smart bombs. Make no mistake: Even on Easy difficulty, Wild Guns Reloaded is one tough game. True to the genre’s arcade roots, if you’re going to try and clear the game in a single credit or go for high scores, you’re going to have to put in a lot of practice learning enemy patterns, movement timing, and locations of hidden goodies.

And that’s where the fun in this game lies: growing from a bumbling would-be marksman to an expert gunslinger as you invest the time and effort to learn the game’s intricacies. Given the amount of hidden secrets scattered in every environment, as well as the differences in play styles between the characters, there’s a lot to learn and uncover. Many of the unlockable rewards are behind skill walls, tool: For example, you can’t access the original SNES soundtrack unless you manage to beat the game without continues, which is no small feat.

Wild Guns is a fantastic representative of an underappreciated genre with an adorable pup riding a robot. What’s not to love?

But if you feel like you need a helping hand–or paw, as the case may be–you can bring along three friends for some four-player action. Things get awfully chaotic in this mode with four characters zipping around the screen, but working together with friends to take down waves of enemies is a rollicking good time. Unfortunately, there’s no online multiplayer option, so you’ll need to have your partners all on the same couch to enjoy the frenetic fun.

Between the fine-tuned gameplay, the enhanced visuals and sound, the four-player fun, and the new gameplay-changing character additions, Wild Guns Reloaded is one of the best retro reissues we’ve yet seen on the PS4. It’s also fantastic representative of an underappreciated genre with an adorable pup riding a robot. What’s not to love?

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Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Review

Fans of old-school platformers have had plenty of choices lately, and WayForward’s Shantae: Half-Genie Hero–the latest in the series that debuted on the Game Boy Color–is yet another great addition to the list. The franchise has received two excellent, intentionally retro-styled adventures on modern platforms, but Half-Genie Hero mixes in modern 3D graphics with its traditional 2D gameplay, which makes for a game that straddles the line between new and old.

The Shantae series always had a distinct, engaging tongue-in-cheek quality to them, and that’s on full display here. Shantae herself is a self-aware caricature of 16-bit icons–she’s moody and snarky and giddy in equal measure and the side characters are all fun in their own way. The plot feels a little thrown together at times, quickly establishing characters and story elements with little explanation. Admittedly, depth of story usually isn’t the main element we look for in a classic side-scroller, but the overall story feels a bit weaker here than it did in Shantae’s previous outings.

In her latest adventure, Shantae is still the Guardian Genie of Scuttle Town, a place that’s constantly overrun with comically inept pirates, and regularly falls victim to crazy magical schemes. The town is once more attacked by the self-proclaimed Queen of the Seven Seas, Risky Boots. It seems Ms. Boots is after a set of Shantae’s uncle’s blueprints for a machine that has the power to protect the entire town–or cause immense destruction.

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The reason this otherwise straightforward story feels disjointed is the relatively non-linear structure of the game. Shantae picks up new abilities by completing numerous mini-missions that pop up around Scuttle Town, and these abilities–usually in the form of transformation dances–enable Shantae to reach new areas within various levels.

It quickly becomes clear that these side-quest-like missions are integral to finishing the main story objectives, creating occasional confusion about what you should focus on at any given moment. There’s no map or real way to keep track of multiple ongoing quests, only an NPC who provides general guidance. But even that doesn’t always help. Some active goals simply can’t be completed until you acquire a specific power by completing one of the aforementioned mini-missions, though it’s a guessing game to determine which one will give you the specific skill you need.

Levels expand beyond the town and into locations like deserts, factories, lush forests, waterfalls, and temples. Each world is chock-full of secrets to find, requiring multiple return trips to discover every last one. This process can get a bit repetitive, especially during the opening hour or two when you’re mostly going back and forth between the same few map areas, but the influx of new abilities helps build momentum over time. Thankfully, a couple quality-of-life options open up later that help expedite the process: you can buy a dance move that allows you to jump straight to the next part of a world, skipping superfluous sections altogether. Once you’ve acquired the target item or ability, you can then instantly warp back to town.

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Generally, Half-Genie Hero is an accessible game, although you will stumble across a few challenging platforming sections. A big part of the gameplay’s appeal comes from Shantae’s eight transformation dances. Turning into a monkey lets her jump much farther and climb walls, while a spider transformation gives her the ability to scurry across ceilings. As an elephant, Shantae can bash breakable blocks, and no item or enemy is safe underwater when she activates her mermaid or crab forms. Of course, Shantae still has her familiar hair-whip attack, and she can use magic to throw fireballs, create lightning, and form special shields.

The variety of powers at your disposal is one of Half-Genie Hero’s strong suits, allowing for a lot of fun experimentation during combat. Like many classic action-platformers, enemies mindlessly move back and forth and attack on sight, with little apparent AI. Similarly, boss battles are entirely pattern-based, but fighting cartoonishly massive enemies is riotously fun–a giant worm, huge mermaid, airships, and other absurd, screen-filling battles await.

So, while some minor structural squabbles hamper Half-Genie Hero’s pace, the overall game remains a delightful experience. The move to sharp graphics makes the game feel modern, yet the series’ old-school charm lives on in the vibrant colors and expressive character animations. And the soundtrack is surprisingly catchy–with hilariously passionate (if minimal) voice work and a great score. It’s easy to get wrapped up in fighting and platforming through Half-Genie Hero, which speaks to the pedigree of the series, and how well it translates to Shantae’s latest adventure.

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