Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses (2016)

The_Legend_of_Zelda_Symphony_of_the_Goddesses_logo

Score = 3/5

(Live Orchestra/ Digital Arts/ G – **if there was a rating)

 

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

 Logline:  30 years of memories, resurfaced in 2 hours.

**may contain spoilers**

It’s hard to believe this series has been around for so long.  I still remember the first time I cracked open the box on the first Legend of Zelda game for the original NES and my eyes popped open to twice their size at that sweet golden cartridge inside.  Well, it was still plastic, but the coating was a spitting image of a shiny piece of gold.  And that game was on point the second you hit the power button and that opening theme song started playing.  Oooh man.  I was still a young’n at the time, but something about that start screen music told you this was about to be epic.  And it did NOT disappoint.

Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses is a unique orchestra experience.  As with any orchestra, the goal is to take your ears on an exciting journey.

master sword  link to past

A Link to the Past

This show strives to do more with our time spent in the theater by projecting gaming moments that span across the majority of the series up on a large screen in the center of the orchestra.  Remember when the old man gave you that wooden sword in the first game and told you it was ‘dangerous to go alone?’ Or how about when you first removed the Master Sword from the stone in a Link to the Past?

 

A handful of Zelda games were on display, each with their own orchestrated segment.  I particularly loved how they designed the music to flow along with the on-screen action. Most pieces started off with the over-world theme and hardcore Zelda fans knew exactly which game in the series we were about to be treated to within the first few notes.  The music blended quite nicely as they took us through key parts of each game by bringing the sound low at times to capture mood changes only to pick the energy back up when facing a boss or two on the screen until it’s climax.

There were also some standout moments in the second half of the show when the conductor put down her standard baton and reached over for one with a bit more… style to it.

twilight princess horse

Twilight Princess

One of my favorite moments was during the Twilight Princess set.  Maybe it was that theme song, or maybe the crisp hits on those harp strings, but man, they had my neck groovin’ during that piece.

Over the years many gamers have come to not only appreciate, but look forward to the music in games today.  Many of us are even audiophiles that associate sounds with a particular location in the gaming world in addition to the place they were when they were playing, clothes they were wearing at the time,  or even the brown wooden chair with the ugly pastel-green seat cushion we were sitting in when we first heard a particular sound from the game.  Pretty astounding really.

The music in the Zelda series has always been a wonderful addition to a solid gaming series over the years, but grew into it’s own persona when the Ocarina of Time released. All of those different songs deliberately used to do different things in the game seemed to have created a gift and a curse situation for Nintendo after that master piece of a game. They’ve tried to emulate the music as a character for the game for many of the iterations after it.  Majora’s mask worked to an extent, but some of the others after it felt a bit rehashed in terms of creativity music wise and game-play wise.  Hopefully with the new release coming in 2017, they’ll change the game again with more creativity in the music in addition to the Zelda formula.

I gave this show a 3 out of 5 for a couple of reasons.  While I do love the trip down memory lane, I also would have welcomed a bit more in the atmospheric tone happening throughout the show.  There were maybe about 2 or 3 sets where they captured that essence of mood building and impacting sounds while matching up with the screen action, but I feel they could have done more in this sense to really take the mind through reliving more moments.  For the most part, the over-world themes of each game with varying main music pieces were played.

Skyward sword

Skyward Sword

Sure the show is only 2 hours, but in that two hours, I think we could have switched up each piece to showcase maybe more subtle points in the games, rather than the same rinse and repeat formula.  This also could have been carried over into the screen action as well to match up with the different moods of the games. They definitely capitalized on things such as Wind Waker’s pirate themes and Twilight Princess’s darker vibes, and I believe this should have been captured across the entire spectrum of games on display during the show.

Overall the show was enjoyable.  I’d definitely recommend it if you are a Zelda fan.  And if you do attend, don’t make the mistake of leaving after the lights go out and the conductor walks off the stage the first time. *hint-hint*

 

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Overwatch (2016)

overwatch group

Score = 3/5

Game Type – Action, online first person shooter

Platform – PS4, Xbox One, PC

Developer – Blizzard Entertainment

Publisher– Blizzard Entertainment

ESRB – Teen

 

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline: – BLAM! BLAM! SLICE!, Ultimate, Give me my loot box!

Welcome to Overwatch.  The much anticipated online only multiplayer shooter from Blizzard Entertainment.  You may recognize the name from the long running World of Warcraft and  Starcraft series.  If you’ve played either of these games, then you know Blizzard does good work.  I’ve personally lost about a month of my life being engulfed in WoW when a school mate of mine put me onto it.  Had to force myself to go cold turkey and kill the game, or else, I might not have graduated.  It was addictive.  So if you’re like me, you have high expectations for this new app.  Overwatch has been in development for years, so the anticipation levels of everyone that has been following the makings of this game probably can’t be fathomed by those not in the know.  But as I spent hours with what I knew was going to be something epic, my excitement started to dwindle.

The good… scratch that, the GREAT part about Overwatch is the obvious part;  The characters.  Holy Winston, Widowmaker, and D.Va, my friend!!  There is a wonderfully diverse group of personalities here for the choosing.  Twenty one different characters and all of them possess a unique look and play style.  If you are going to be good at this game, you’ll want to master at least about four or five of them.  If not, you’ll be rage quitting in no time, as this game is about countering that one character that keeps handing you your ass because you’re too stubborn to switch out your favorite character for one that counters them back.  About  thirty minutes into the game will put a stamp on the fact that Blizzard spent a huge chunk of their time on this aspect alone.  Unfortunately, this is a double-bladed sword.

It seems that so much time was invested in these wonderful characters, that the rest of the game feels a tad like an afterthought.  The subtle hints at background information on each hero leaves me wanting so much more from these characters in game, but in the voice of Robin Leach… I can’t have it.  I’m forced to scour the web for lore if I really want it, which means, turning off the game to do so.  I’m sure Blizzard will bank on these heroes in the branding world, but it seriously does nothing for the game by not including any story info inside of the game.   No campaign, no power ups, no game-affecting  upgrades to the actual game-play what-so-ever.  It feels like Blizzard decided to put so much emphasis on the characters that our progression and rewards should be sated by voice lines, intro switch-ups, skins and sprays…SPRAYS! As in, to tag a wall.  I understand they wanted to keep everything cosmetic, but give me something that alters the actual play time.  Sure, the game-play is solid for the most part, so I suppose it can be forgiven… to an extent.  This just brings me to the most frustrating part about this game.

The randomly generated loot boxes!!  This is how you get all of the shiny new cosmetic items in the game.  And to get the loot boxes, you’ll need to either pay for them with real money via the convenient payment option of the respective system format you are playing on, or spend hours leveling up your player level to earn a good ol’ box of randomness upon leveling up.  You can see all of the wonderful wares and their in game coin costs as well.  Most games give you actions or paths you can take to earn items in addition to purchasing them with in game coin, so this game will probably be the same, right??  Wrong.  The only way to get anything is from, you guessed it, a loot box. Get a duplicate loot item?  Great!  Here’s a measly five coins to use toward whatever you want.  Will your loot boxes give you enough flat out coins to buy that 1000 credit Winston Rage smalllegendary skin you’ve got your eye on?…eventually.  But not every box contains coins and not every box contains duplicates.  Each character has fifty five items to unlock, so in essence, you could be spending hundreds of hours trying to get the stuff you actually want, versus the crap you do get.  Many will contain items for characters you may not even use much, in which case, you’re still plugging away at the game, eagerly awaiting that next loot box hoping for a large coin drop so you can just buy one of the items you DO want. You want that super fabulous Smurfette  blue deluxe skin(not in the game)for Mei?  Nope, but you can have this nice dookie brown pirate skin(also not in the game) for Junk Rat!  So what if you’ve never used that character a day in your life.  Deal with it!  The number generator does not care.  You get what you get.  Reminds me of the early days of Destiny when they were dropping random items for all three guardian classes and we went into a loud rage about getting crap we couldn’t use with the class of our avatar, until they wised up and corrected that little mishap.  Maybe if enough people blow up the chat boards it’ll be rectified here as well…maybe.

The maps look good.  Nice sight lines and choke points.  The way the game plays, I think the maps would benefit from more architect hazards rather than just falling off the side.  Something like cog wheels, or background pieces lining up with the theme of each map that’ll get you if you camp too long in a spot (I’m looking at you, Bastion lovers).  Hopefully more maps are on the way, that can capitalize on this.

There’s two main game modes.  Payload and Control.  There’s combination variations of these, but they are pretty much it.  Being a multiplayer only game, you’d think more game modes would accompany it.  Maybe as a console gamer, I’m asking too much from a mostly PC game developer.  I don’t know.  How about give the payload itself some defenses, or even a health bar?  Where’s the Deathmatch?  Where’s the Capture the Flag, or a dozen other game modes that would set this game off.  Overwatch in a straight up Deathmatch would be chaotically amazing, and given the choice, I’d probably spend most of my time in that game mode.  And no, you have no choice in game modes.  That’s also in an RNG format unless you’re connecting with a closed set of friends in a custom match set up.  *sigh*

Overwatch, albeit supremely gorgeous as a sunrise, turned out to be equal parts great, as it is frustrating.  The characters along with the fast and frantic game-play is amazing.  The first time you suit up with D.Va in her cotton candy colored mech, you’ll quickly forget the fact that it looks like you’re riding around in a pink bubble.

DVa small

D.Va

Once the ultimate charges in whichever character you are controlling at the moment, you will bask in in the satisfaction of wiping out half of the opposing team in one shot.  Unfortunately continuous disappointments  in loot drops,  in addition to the absence of having a way to tailor your loot progression is highly frustrating.  The minimal amount of multiplayer modes, and lack of choice of which you want to spend your time in, is also something that carries the game into a sludge of staleness after one to two hours of consecutive game playing.  This simply succeeds in compounding the frustrating RNG system as a whole. Kind of makes you question your life choices when you’ve just wasted an hour for a useless loot box that contains none of the items you’d hoped it had.  The $60 price point for console gamers is more salt in the wound.  PC gamers get it for $40, which seems a fair price considering the game has about as much depth as the kiddie pool.  Better player control over mode selections could soften the blow of the loot situation, since we’d be selecting the game modes preferred rather than the ones we are forced to play like good little children.

Overwatch has an absurd amount of potential that it’s just not tapping into, and I only hope Blizzard doesn’t see this as a finished game, but builds upon it to make it as epic as it should be.

TOM CLANCY’S THE DIVISION (2016)

the division top

Score = 3/5

Game Type – Action, online third person shooter, RPG

Platform – PS4, Xbox One, PC

Developer – Ubisoft Massive

Publisher– Ubisoft

ESRB – Mature

 

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline:Grind…and when you’re done with that…grind some more

Tom Clancy’s The Division is a massive multiplayer online role playing third person shooter. Whew…  A mouthful indeed.  If you want to really get technical, you can also throw in real life simulator, but thanks to the perk and skill system, we’re saved from the simulator part.

When I first cracked this game open, my first impulse was: “Damn, this looks polished!” The presentation of this game is nothing short of exceptional.  Everything from the opening screen with the large beacon ticking on the load screen to the character select is done with precision and fluidity.  When you get into it, this screen will show your character decked out in the latest gear you’ve equipped him/her with on your last visit to Hell’s Kitchen, or Manhattan.  The menu grids and navigation are smooth like butter, and at no point do you feel lost in the magnitude of things to select within them.  Not once in my week of playing this game did I get bogged down with menu fatigue.

The presentation and visuals of the overall game follow this polished feel as the level of detail to the little things is outstanding.  Before even getting into the game, the orange beacon somehow gives you the feeling of embarking on a mission of importance and the game reminds you of this when it zooms out from the beacon on the strap of your backpack and you see your avatar planted in the center of the city, ready to put in work.The Division bridge 900

The buildings, weather changes, everything all the way down to those famous rats skittering around the place, it’s here in high definition.  Almost everything in the world is collision susceptible as well.  See that car?  Shoot out the windows or tires.  That tower in the distance you can’t reach?  Hit it with a sticky bomb and it blackens in the aftermath of the blast. That flat screen?  Give it a good whack!  It doesn’t get as deep as putting bullet holes in everything you shoot, (shooting the screens simply moves them) but still pretty impressive for an always online shooter.

Speaking of collision, there are some parts of the game that need a bit of work.  For starters, when shooting an enemy, there’s about a 1 to 2 second delay until the point of impact.  I found myself wasting a good number of bullets due to this little flaw since, just like any other shooter, you keep shooting until the target is down. (no, it’s not my connection, as this problem doesn’t happen with Destiny or any other online shooting games) With this game, it’s pretty easy to run out of bullets if a group of significantly higher level enemies is coming at you and you’re hiding in cover for extended time periods.  You don’t really want to waste those last few rounds in the mag if you don’t have to.

More collision issues were discovered when searching for ntel throughout the map.  There were times when I managed to get my character stuck behind a dump truck or wall while looking for that phone that’s been ringing, only to get myself stuck behind a group of trash cans and not being able to simply push them over or climb over them.  I can scale a ten foot fence, but can’t climb over a four foot tall trash can?? Had to martyr myself or reboot the software to get out.

The controls and gameplay are fluid as well.  The slightest press of a button causes the action to be executed on screen.  Switching weapons, diving out of the way, it all works as it should.  Moving while behind cover, however, still leaves a bit to be tweaked, as this is where the controls feel clunky and forced.  I found myself having to do more jiggling or reentering control stick movements to finally get my character either out of cover or simply in a more advantageous position while in cover.

The Division does a great job in creating an atmosphere.  A really cold one.  The bio outbreak that’s hit New York has caused riots, famine, desertion, etc.  While running through the campaign, there will be small moments when you feel like you are there.  Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately, depending on how you look at it) those moments are far and few between.  Your mode of transportation is limited to the shoes on your feet.  Yes, you will be running…and running…and running, all over Manhattan.  Sure, you can unlock safe houses and fast travel to the locations you’ve unlocked, but of course, this will also limit your already limited enemy encounters and make leveling up a more slow and tedious process then it already is.  Speaking of tedious…

videoimageThis game felt like a MASSIVE (see what I did there) chore when I got to about the third day into it.  Activate satellites, rescue hostage, kill big baddy.  The side missions are wash, rinse, repeat, and have little payoff other than grinding up your experience points and giving you less than pocket change for the efforts.  If you’ve spent ANY time creating or flat out buying your own weapons in the houses and hubs, most of the loot drops will be best used for more crafting.  The main story missions give you better loot and nice cut scenes back at the base when you complete them, but don’t do much in the way of making you feel accomplished after you’ve taken down that big boss baddy.

About five days into Tom Clancy’s The Division, the game felt stale.  Was it the slow progression in campaign mode? Maybe.  Repetitive tasks that felt like a scaled down version of GTA, without the fun parts?  Probably.  How about the multiplayer Dark Zone gameplay?  Meh.  Spent about eight hours in there and didn’t really get the pulse induced thrill I get from other multiplayer shooters.

Maybe I’m more of the “dodge and dexterity” kind of game player rather than the hide behind cover for hours type.  I need more action and liveliness in my shooter gameplay to get the heart pumping and hands sweaty.  The adrenaline.  Unfortunately, this game doesn’t deliver that for me.  If you like grinding, this game will be perfect for you, because that’s its most time consuming quality.  For others, this game will start out shiny and new with potential, but most certainly feel like more of a waste of time once you get past the gorgeous graphics, and quite frankly, there are at least two other major franchises that come to mind in which you should spend your hard earned coin on… or maybe three if Overwatch turns out to be half as fun as it looks when it finally drops.

Asura’s Wrath

 

Score = C-

ASura’s Wrath

Game Type – Action

Platform – Xbox 360

Developer – CyberConnect2

Publisher– Capcom

ESRB – Teen

 

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline – It’s movie time!  Wait…  This is supposed to be a video game…  Isn’t it?!?

Upon catching the first trailer for this game, (a year before its release) I felt a surge of excitement at the promise of great visuals, story and a luscious world to traverse through at my leisure.  At the very least, two out of three should prove entertaining, right?  I wish.

Asura’s Wrath is a mythology story of the eastern kind, blended nicely with a shot of science fiction to keep things interesting.  However, if you’ve ever watched anime involving robots, Gods and betrayal then this story will seem very familiar.  Demigods are the order of the day in this cinematic experience.  Asura is one of eight guardians sworn to protect planet Gaea.  His daughter, Mithra, possesses the ability to enhance Mantra (souls).  The demigods spend their time fighting off hordes of Gohma–mutated animals considered to be the will of the planet–to take out their source, Vlitra.  After the most recent successful effort to subdue Vlitra, the commander of the demigods, Deus, decides to launch an unethical plan to kidnap Mithra and harness her ability in attempts to completely destroy Vlitra and save the planet.  The rest of the story consists of the obvious as Asura rages out, (hence the title)battles his former allies to save his daughter and eventually the planet, which all culminates into a twisty ending.

The visuals are right where they should be and represent the strongest faction of the game.  From the first few moments of the game you can see exactly where the bulk of the funding was spent during production.  The cinematic presentation is right on par with any modern-day anime and is definitely a delight to watch.  Even the interludes and still cuts are exquisitely drawn as they represent the story’s progress through narration.  The in-game graphics are also done well as the game flows smoothly through each flashy sequence without a hitch.  In the midst of battle where bullets, beams and large foes fill most of the screen, I only witnessed a fraction of frame rate stutter.

Game play is where this title fails…miserably.  Level ups…none.  Exploration…extremely minimal.  Progression relies solely on your ability to mash the correct button at the correct time, through quick time events, (and dodge attacks) to best the enemy in front of you.  Where’s the shock?  Where’s the awe?  Where’s the friggin’ fun!?!  It pains me to believe that the direction of Asura’s Wrath was to produce a half-decent interactive anime movie under the guise of being a true video game.  Frustration is in abundance as those looking to actually “play” a video game will have their desires shortened to five or so minutes of actual game play per episode, which mostly consists of repetitive fighting or even worse, the aged Space Harrier-esque segments that continuously find themselves in Capcom action titles.  Familiar note to Capcom:  revamp the space shooter formula or scrap it!

Asura’s Wrath is a title with great promise but unfortunately, falls short on the delivery of that promise.  The great visuals and presentation just aren’t enough to consider this title recommendable by gamer’s standards.  Fans of anime will undoubtedly be intrigued at the premise of what’s in store, but quickly realize they can better spend the $40 wasted here on straight up anime DVD’s or one of the thousands of free anime websites and multiply their entertainment value many times over.

HALO 4

Score = C+

Halo 4

Game Type – FPS/Action

Platform – Xbox 360

Developer – 343 Industries

Publisher– Microsoft

ESRB – Mature

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline – Master Chief gets the shaft…but not literally.

                When you think of an established franchise in any media, you can be sure there’s always some sort of correlation that exists throughout each chapter of said franchise.  In 007 movies, for example, it goes without saying that our protagonist will be in some sticky situation, use prototype technology and of course be the ultimate ladies man; all while getting things done in some exotic locale with a level of style that most only dream of.  In a Harry Potter book, you can most certainly expect our hero’s inquisitive nature to get him and his friends yelled at when he probably should be laying low from he who must not be named.  In the coveted Halo series, Master Chief is known as a one-man-wrecking-crew who kicks ass like a champ!  But, that’s where the similarities of Halo 4 and previous iterations end.

Halo is a unique series that has managed to do some amazing things, which may or may not be so obvious, and has thrived because of it.  A sci-fi, first person shooter without the over-dramatic sci-fi clichés.  An outstanding element throughout the years has been the unexpected music of Halo.  Martin O’Donnell managed to create arguably some of the best music in a video game…EVER!  Who knew that mixing a classical sound with sharp guitar riffs and heavy drums could make a gamer feel like they were about to blast a hole in someone, something, anything!  The music turned into a major “character” of the series and easily held its own ground, with or without the game.  And then there’s Halo 4.  A new composer to the series by the name of Neil Davidge took the reins in the most recent game.  One thought came to mind as I played through the campaign: “generic sci-fi movie nonsense.”  Where’s the drums?!  Where’s the gripping emotion?!  Where’s the…you get the point.  The more I played through this game, the more I had the tendency to pause the damn thing and look for the music volume selection, but I wanted to get through the length of the game to make sure nothing was missed.  It’s clear that Mr. Davidge was on his own agenda(or worse, was directed to this result by the new developers) and created music to what Halo “appeared” to be on the surface (sci-fi heavy), which is exactly what the music sounds like; trippy, slow trance, sci-fi garbage with obligatory chant thrown in for good measure.   At one point, it felt like I was smack in the middle of a Mass Effect game, which is not at all something you want while playing a core Halo title.

In regards to the length of the game, let’s dig into the campaign…all five hours of it, on Heroic.  That’s right, five hours!  This is by far the shortest campaign of the Halo series and we are not amused.    343 has taken our beloved Master Chief and reduced his presence to the shortest part of the Halo 4 experience?!  The main plot of the campaign is for Master Chief to get Cortana back to Dr. Catherine Halsey—the person’s brain Cortana is cloned from, and also her creator—to cure her of rampancy.  The sub plot turned main plot involves the return of the Promethean Forerunners, or more specifically, Didact, who believes the biggest threat to the forerunners are humans and is bent on destroying the human race.  I’d speak more on these plots, but as I mentioned, it’s too short and would involve too many spoilers. It’s evident that the gaming focus is being steered more toward the UNSC cadet development process, which is an interesting direction to take things.  It kind of feels like it should be more of a spin-off to Halo’s main hero adventure and I can’t help but wonder if they are spreading things too thin for one title.  It also makes sense now that so many “teaser” videos were a major focus of the marketing campaign for this game.  Create hype, reveal nothing, and when the game drops, surprise everyone.  It’s a good concept to build a buzz, however, why not give a little information about what was done well with the game.  Like the multiplayer.

Halo 4 has taken a page out of Call of Duty’s playbook and allowed more customization features to the actual game play mechanics in addition to the graphical overhaul.  Rather than being stuck with the preset load outs for multiplayer games, you can build your own load outs for a more personalized experience.  Main weapons, sub weapons, abilities, it’s all here.  A new ability enhancing feature to the game is the addition of specializations, which is basically a specialized “perk” in Call of Duty language.  Two are showing at game launch with more coming later.  Once you earn a specialization by leveling up your character, via various game play selections, you’ll be able to equip one.  Ninja up your character by way of the Wetworks mod and gain stealth abilities, which allow your Spartan to sneak up behind a foe without the sound of your hulking armored footsteps giving away your location.  Pioneer is the second specialization available at launch.   Pioneer allows you to gain extra experience points when activated during battle, ultimately allowing you to level up quicker than normal.  A number of others are slated for later release and all of them have unique armor skins to go with their respective ability. Another change noted is the addition of Spec Ops to the multiplayer roster.  (Firefight with a twist)  This was a good update which involved flipping the stale Firefight into mission based scenarios that ultimately take place six months after Halo 4’s campaign.  There’s even on-going cut scenes expected to accompany each mission that will be released on a regular basis, (reminiscent of television episodes) which is a nice touch.  Co-op play is still available for Spec Ops as well as the campaign.

343 have taken on their first full featured newHalo title with Halo 4.  While the bulk of their efforts are clearly in the direction of multiplayer– noted by not only the look and feel of it, but also the functionality and mission based game-play– they need to remember to cater to the expectations of a full gaming experience.  For some games, it’s perfectly fine to skimp out on campaign in favor of multiplayer.  For other games, it’s perfectly fine if the music doesn’t really add to the emotional aspects of the person playing the game; however, Halo is not the place to exercise these shortcomings.  Every Halo title released by Bungie has given us the “complete” package of what a gaming experience should be, and let’s face it; we gamers have been spoiled by this.  So it is not unreasonable for us to hold you, 343, to the same, if not, harsher, level of expectations when it comes to a damn good video game experience as far as Halo is concerned.  Halo 4 gets a C+ for a streamlined multiplayer experience, but falls short on the music and extremely short campaign experience.