Thursday, January 21, 2021

Bloodstained Classic Mode Review

Developers: WayForward, Artplay
Platforms: PS4, XBO, NS, PC
Price: Free DLC for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night ($39.99)
Version Played: PC

If Ritual of the Night is the Symphony of the Night of Bloodstained, then Classic Mode is its Castlevania I. This is free DLC for Bloodstained RotN, but it is a full ClassicVania style game. It's actually longer than Castlevania I on NES. Don't the Curse of the Moon games have ClassicVania Bloodstained covered, though? Well, they're more like Castlevania III and Bloodlines. Classic Mode is much more like Castlevania I. Also, I’m not going to complain about having more ClassicVania goodness.

And when I say like Castlevania, I mean a lot like Castlevania. Classic Mode is structured almost exactly like Castlevania I on NES. Right down to the 6 levels split into blocks. There's even chicken (curry) hidden in the walls! The first level has you going through a courtyard into the castle entrance, then a sewer, and then back out to fight a giant bat boss. Later on you fall through the floor down into some caverns, go up a clocktower, and walk up a set of stairs in front of the full moon on your way to the final battle in a throne room. Yeah, it's that similar. This almost feels like a remake at times. And by at times I mean very often.

Unlike in the Curse of the Moon games, only Miriam is playable in Classic Mode. Her controls here feel like a mix of Simon Belmont, Richter Belmont, and her Ritual of the Night version, which is basically Alucard. Fans of Castlevania I, III, and Rondo will feel right at home with these controls. She has that slow Belmont walk, there’s knockback (except on Easy mode), she can only whip directly forwards, uses stairs like in the ClassicVanias, has no air control when jumping forwards, and has a Richter style backflip. Miriam’s backflip is much easier to use, though. The window to input a second button press to do a backflip is much more forgiving than Richter’s, and she can do it while jumping forwards. She can even turn around mid-air and backflip in the direction she’s jumping in. This makes it so you can use the backflip as a long jump. It looks cool and is very useful. Miriam also has her slide and backstep moves from RotN, which I barely used. WayForward has done a great job in making this feel like a modern ClassicVania.

Pretty much everything about Castlevania's gameplay is represented here in some way. All the subweapons, enemies, obstacles, and most bosses from Castlevania have a Bloodstained counterpart. The cross boomerang, holy water, and throwing axes are here. There’s enemies that behave just like the skeletons, bats, armor knights, and Medusa heads. There’s platforms that fall away beneath your feet, traps, and clock tower gear platforms just like in Castlevania. Most of the bosses are also very reminiscent of bosses from Castlevania. So reminiscent that Castlevania strategies will work on them. Even the last boss is basically the classic Dracula battle you see in Symphony of the Night’s intro. This really feels like a remake sometimes!

There are some new graphical elements in this mode, but it’s mostly reused models from RotN. They’ve done a really good job in making this mode look and feel like a ClassicVania, though.. The camera is pulled back a lot farther, the classic UI is placed on top, and there’s lots of new animations that will instantly remind people of Castlevania, like the door opening, subweapon, and jumping animations. This isn’t just RotN with new controls.

All the music in this mode is the chiptune music from Bloodstained RotN‘s soundtrack. It's great music, though. Valiant Stride, Brave Trigger, and Everblack are here, among others. It all sounds very Castlevania-ish and fits this mode perfectly.

I should mention that I ran into quite a few bugs. I saw enemies that became invincible, the monkey in the werewolf fight got stuck in the air and froze, graphical effects that stuck on screen even after I died, and the game crashed on me during the final battle and it didn’t autosave on the final level, so I had to do the previous level again. Hopefully this stuff is fixed soon.

This is an awesome game! I just love it! WayForward obviously knows their Castlevania. The controls feel right, the level design is challenging and fun, the music is perfect, and the way they reused RotN’s graphics looks great. I hope they make more of these. Maybe put Zangetsu in the next one? Or add him to this one? This is just too good not to make another. Fans of the NES Castlevanias are in for a treat.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Tetris Effect Connected Review

Publisher: Enhance Experience Inc.
Developers: Resonair, Monstars Inc. and Stage Games
Platforms: XBO, XBSX, Windows Game Store. PS4, Steam, and EGS in Summer 2021.
Price: $40, Free expansion for Tetris Effect in 2021.
Version Played: PC Game Pass

From the moment I first played Lumines, I thought they should make this game. Tetris Effect combines the trippy graphics of Lumines and Rez with the falling block puzzle game that started it all, Tetris. I've played everything from Mii and Nintendo themed Tetris to Tetris with Puyo Puyo characters, and I can safely say that this is the most amazing looking Tetris game I've ever seen.

The thing that really sets Tetris Effect apart from other Tetris games is how the music and visuals fit perfectly together with the gameplay. Every time you move a piece or clear a line, it makes a sound, and somehow, it goes along perfectly with the music. It's pretty amazing. But this isn't some kind of Tetris rhythm game. At its core, this is still just Tetris.

The only real new mechanic is the Zone system. Zone is a lot like a fighting game super move. You fill a meter as you clear lines and then press RT to use Zone and stop pieces from falling by themselves for a short period of time. It comes in handy when you're about to lose and need the extra time to place pieces. Zone powers are only available in a couple of modes, though; Zone Battle and Journey.

Journey is Tetris Effect's single player campaign. It’s a journey through all the game's level themes and songs. You play through groups of connected levels, usually between 3 and 5, and your goal is to clear a certain amount of lines so you can move on to the next level. The play fields are not cleared when you move to the next level, but they will start off empty if you lose and continue. I guess they just want you to stay in the zone. Another unique thing about this mode is that the speed of falling pieces changes along with the music. Levels don't always start slow and get faster towards the end.

There are also 13 other single player modes under Effect Modes. There’s the usual Marathon, playlists of stages with similar themes, Quick Play for single levels, time challenges, score attacks, and other mini games, like target clear modes. Some of these are pretty fun, but honestly, I’m just going to play endless Marathon 99% of the time.

Like the song says, we're all connected. Tetris Effect Connected's new modes are all about online and local multiplayer. You can play all these modes offline, and even by yourself with CPU controlled teammates. The main mode, Connected, is like nothing I've ever seen in a Tetris game. It's a 3 player co-op game in which you play as a team against a boss with special powers. The boss can take away your ability to hold or spin pieces, send huge pieces your way, and even shuffle the blocks on your play field around. It can get pretty nasty, but it's fun. What's really interesting about this mode, though, is the connected part. As you clears lines, a meter fills, and when it's full, all 3 of your team's boards are connected into one and you can freely place pieces anywhere for a short period of time. When the time runs out, you send tons of garbage blocks to the boss, and that's how you beat them. It’s almost like a Tetris raid. It's really good. I'd love to see something like this in Tetris 99.

Connected is a lot of fun, but if co-op Tetris isn't your thing, there's also some more traditional multiplayer modes. Zone Battle is basically regular VS Tetris with garbage blocks, but with Tetris Effect's Zone system. There's also score attack, which is like playing single player and comparing scores at the end, and Classic Score Attack, which is the same thing, but with 8-bit Tetris graphics and rules. No hold or hard drops allowed. I think these modes are pretty good, but why isn't there 4 player VS or 2P VS without Zone powers? Those seem like obvious things.

There are also weekend events for both Effect Modes and Multiplayer. In Effect Modes, certain modes will be marked as “Event” and they’ll contribute to a community goal for the event. Everyone who participates will unlock an avatar when the goal is reached. Under Multiplayer, the “Full Moon” will appear on Saturdays. The Full Moon allows you to play Connected VS, which is Connected mode, but with a real person playing as the boss. I played as the boss a few times and got destroyed by the garbage clocks sent my way every time, but it was a lot of fun.

Tetris Effect's soundtrack isn't exactly something I'd listen to on its own, but I love it while I'm playing the game. The experience just isn't complete without the graphics and the gameplay. It's the way everything comes together that makes the soundtrack perfect for the game. There are a couple of tracks I love, even by themselves, though; City Lights, a fast-paced Jazz track, and Connected, the main theme of the game.

I love how this game looks. It's like the trippy graphics of Rez and Child of Eden taken to the next level. But like with the music, they're only part of the experience. There's a word for when hearing sounds makes you see colors, synesthesia. Tetris Effect is a game about synesthesia. You're not getting the full effect of the graphics by just looking at the game. You need to see and hear how the game responds to you playing it.

I love this game. I'm not saying it's perfect, I could come up with some more modes to throw in here, but it's definitely one of my favorite Tetris games of all time. It's a shame that it's been tied up in exclusivity deals since its original release because everyone should have a way to play it.

Friday, January 1, 2021

GOTY 2020

9. Panzer Dragoon Remake - I’m so happy to see Panzer Dragoon make a comeback! I love these on-rails shooters so much! Yeah, the Switch version’s graphics aren’t great, but it looks much better on PC, and it’s just such a great game. Fans of games like Star Fox, Sin & Punishment, and Rez should really check this out. I can’t wait to see Zwei!

8. Super Mario 3D All-Stars - This is a pretty barebones collection, but these games are just too good to pass up! Super Mario 64 and Galaxy especially are still a lot of fun, even with Mario 64’s wonky camera. They’ve also added some control options since I reviewed it. I think this is a must get for 3D Mario fans. Get it before it's gone!

7. Mega Man Zero/ZX Collection - This is one of the best collections I’ve seen in a while. It’s definitely higher quality than Konami’s Contra and Castlevania collections, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and the previous mega Man Legacy Collections. There’s lots of art and music, great control, saving, and viewing options, and the games are really good too! This is a must get for MMX fans. I know many skipped these because they were on GBA and DS.

6. Shantae and the Seven Sirens - I had some problems with this game’s drab color scheme and Metroid-like map, but I still think it’s the 2nd best Shantae game after Pirate’s Curse. It’s definitely a lot of fun and worth checking out for metroidvania fans. I just prefer the more Wonder Boy-like layout and brighter colors of the previous games.

5. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 - I liked the first one’s structure and modes better, but the sequel is still really good. Eight characters, super challenging, and lots of great Classicvania style action. If you’re a fan of Castlevania III and Bloodlines, definitely check out the Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon games.

4. Tetris Effect Connected - I’m playing this right now and I love it. I’ve seen a lot of themed Tetris games over the years, and this might be the coolest one! It’s trippy Tetris! But not just trippy Tetris. It’s Mizuguchi style Tetris. It has that same kind of look and vibe as Rez and Lumines. It has great single player, co-op and VS multiplayer modes, awesome music, and amazing graphics. I just love this.

3. Pokemon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass: The Crown Tundra - The Crown Tundra expansion is just about the perfect way to cap off Pokemon Sword and Shield. This Legendary Pokemon hunting content is just what the game needed. I loved the old-school flavor of this expansion, the new story is really good, and the new Max Lairs are a lot of fun too. The Crown Tundra is much better than Isle of Armor and well worth the price of the Expansion Pass.

2. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne (PC) - This game got off on the wrong foot, but Capcom’s support has more than made up for it. They took a lot of the emphasis away from the Guiding Lands and put the focus back on event quests. Real holidays, made up holidays, Capcom game and Milla Jovovich movie tie-ins. There’s always something cool going on in MHW.

1. Animal Crossing New Horizons - This is the way. There really is no other choice. ACNH is far and away my #1 pick for 2020. I played the hell out of Animal Crossing. I have over 775 hours on my Switch’s activity log. That’s like 300 more hours than any other Switch game I have. Nintendo has done a great job keeping the game updated with new activities and stuff to collect, so I’ll keep coming back to this in 2021. ACNH is the best AC ever!