Friday, December 30, 2022

River City Girls 2 Review

Developer: WayForward
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, XBO, XBSX, NS
Multiplayer: 2 Players Online, 4 Players Local
Price: $40
Version Played: PC

The River City Girls series stands out from the pack by doing something different. Like the River City Ransom games it's inspired by, River City Girls is basically a Beat 'em Up RPG. It has a big focus on characters and story, and it's full of classic RPG elements, like quests, stats, and even branching paths. I wouldn't say RCG2 is quite an Open World Beat 'em Up yet, but it's kind of leaning in that direction.

River City Girls 2 picks up right where the first game left off. Like, literally with Sabuko flying out the window. They go with the revised “happy” ending, by the way. What about River City Girls Zero? I guess it's not canon. The events of that game are never mentioned, and Misako and Kyoko don't seem to recognize anyone from it. I guess it's just there to give us a little backstory and introduce Sabuko's brother and father, Ken and Sabu, who are the main villains of RCG2. They're out to get revenge on Kyoko and Misako for throwing Sabuko out a window in the first game by taking over the city.
The game still takes place in River City, so you'll see a lot of the same places, but a lot has changed. There are new paths, new sections within old areas, and completely new environments. It's a huge map, too. I think it's maybe 50% bigger than the first game's. Don't quote me on that. Thankfully, there's plenty of bus stops, so you don't have to spend too much time going from one area to another on foot. The map is also really good at marking places where there are secrets and quest objectives, which really cuts down on aimless exploration. I love the new spooky forest area and how they've expanded on the old areas. For example, the neighborhood around the school now has a training dojo, new streets, and you can even go inside Kyoko's house, which acts as one of your bases in the game. I didn't know she lived so close to River City High. Why doesn't she go there then?
If you're a fan of Kunio and Double Dragon, you're in for a treat. This game is packed with references to those series and other Technos classics, like The Combatribes. There’s lots of WayForward game references in there, too. I never saw Shantae, though. Pretty much every NPC you meet is someone you might know. Of course, Abobo is here, Billy and Jimmy, Skullmageddon, and even the lowliest Double Dragon enemy, Williams. It's not just guest characters; though, you might see some familiar places, too. They even put a little dodgeball minigame in. Something I personally requested. I like to think the devs listened to me.
The combat in RCG2 feels very familiar, but at the same time, vastly improved. The controls are the same, and the animations look similar, but there's been a bunch of little changes that make everything faster, flashier, and much easier to control. The biggest being the changes to juggling. The timing is much more lenient, and the enemy hitboxes are bigger now, so it's much easier to keep enemies up in the air. There's also new moves that will scoop up downed enemies off the ground so you can continue your combo, like Kyoko's dive kick, along with a launcher and chaser combo you can do by pressing the jump button in the middle of a quick attack combo, and new mid-air quick attack combos. Combine all this stuff with assist characters, wall bounces, and maybe a co-op partner or 3, and you have a recipe for incredibly fun and spectacular combat. The one complaint I have about it is that it's still really hard to parry.
All 4 characters from the first game have gotten new moves and tweaks to their old ones, but Riki feels the most different. I never saw this come up in the game, since Misako and Kyoko still take up most of the screen time, but I think he's been practicing the "Dark Arts". Maybe it's time for an intervention. Many of his moves have a purple shadow effect, and he has a shadow ball projectile special, too. It's not exactly a Hadoken, it's more like Menat's traps from SF5. It hangs in the air and you can push it around and throw enemies onto it. It completely changes a large portion of his fighting style.
There's also 2 new characters in the game, Provie and Marian. They're both introduced during the story, so you don't start the game with them, but you can get them in the 2nd or 3rd chapter. Thankfully, all characters get XP from bosses and quests, so characters sitting on the bench never fall too far behind the characters you're playing. They also get their own money, so you'll always be able to buy moves and food for them when you switch.
Provie is a character from River City Ransom Underground, which was directed by Bannon Rudis, the director of RCG1 and 2. She's a break dancer with a lot of glowing acrobatic moves. Neon lights actually come off her as she fights. She's really fast and flashy, but takes a lot of damage. I really didn't get too into her because she feels like such a glass cannon.
Marian is Billy and/or Jimmy's girlfriend from the old Double Dragon games. She has a lot of strong MMA and Pro Wrestling inspired moves. She's kind of like a mix of Roman Reigns and Cesaro. She has the Superman Punch, Giant Swing, Meeting of the Minds, and a Piledriver. She's the slowest character in the game, but she's really powerful and fun to use. She also has a very funny intro cutscene. I just love her. She's definitely my favorite character after Misako and Kyoko.
The UI in the first game was pretty bad. Everything was on your phone, which didn't even cover the whole screen from top to bottom, so everything was confined to a small rectangle. Good thing it's gotten a big overhaul. Everything is still on your phone, but it's a little bigger now, so everything is easier to see. The phone's OS looks more like a real phone's OS now, too. The map also opens up to a full screen window now, and as I mentioned earlier, it's really good at highlighting objectives. The quest log is now a Twitter-like app called Honkr in which characters um… Honk quests and other story related stuff. It's a clever idea, but the text is way too small. I saw Honks pop up on screen, but I couldn't read them, so I always had to go to the app and get closer to the screen to read them. I guess this wouldn't be an issue while playing handheld on Switch or Steam Deck, but I was playing on PC sitting about 10 feet away from a 50 inch TV most of the time.
RCG2's soundtrack is even better than the first game's. Yeah, a lot of the music from the first game is also in this one, but the new tracks are really good, too. There's a lot of retro-inspired stuff, music from the old Kunio and Double Dragon games, and of course, awesome new tracks by Megan McDuffee. It wouldn't be RCG without her music. Her new tracks bring that same poppy electronic sound everyone loved in the first game.

The voice acting is just as witty and funny as in the first game, and I really enjoyed it, but I was disappointed to see that the characters don't have unique lines. You can pick the other character you talk to during dialogue sequences, but everyone just says the same thing Misako and Kyoko say. It gets especially silly when they start talking about themselves in third person.
The graphics are still awesome in RCG2. Sure, there's a lot of reused sprites from the first game, but there's a lot more detail in the environments, and the characters have more animations, too. There's even a day and night cycle, so we get to see some of the environments under different lighting. There's also a bunch of new Street Fighter-like special effects in the game now. Some of the accessories you can equip add effects like electric shock, fire, and poison to certain attacks. There's also a bunch of new store art and manga cutscenes, which also look great. I heard the console versions were running at 30 FPS when the game launched, and I don't know if that has been fixed . I've been playing on PC, and the game has been running at 60 on my TV and at 165 on my monitor the whole time.
I think this game is great. I think it's even better than the first game. I love the improved combat, the story is still witty and funny, it has great music and graphics, and I love playing as Marian. It hits different, though. It's just not going to have the same kind of impact as the first game when so much of the game feels so similar. It's still a lot of fun, though. I can't wait to see what's next for the series. I'd love to see Billy and Jimmy get in on the action. WayForward obviously has a lot of love for Double Dragon as well.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet Review

Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Price: $60
Version Played: Scarlet

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet mark the beginning of the 9th generation of Pokemon. They introduce 107 new Pokemon and take place in the new region of Paldea, which is inspired by Spain. The game drops a lot of clues about Kalos, and, like Spain, it looks like Paldea is connected to something on the NE side, so I’d guess it’s somewhere near Kalos, the region Pokemon X and Y took place in, which was inspired by France. This game features a new online co-op mode for up to 4 players, 400 Pokemon with more on the way, a 3rd person camera in all the outdoor areas, and a new “open world” structure. It’s a very ambitious game, but feels like it could have used a few more months of development time, at least.
Let’s get this out of the way; this game is a technical mess. It’s not just blurry textures, N64 trees, or a framerate dips below 30 here and there. This game feels downright unfinished. The game crashes a lot, the online raids are so laggy, you might think your game has crashed, the LOD is so close to the camera, mountain sides look like they’re melting, Pokemon boxes take about 5 seconds to load all the icons, and the camera is constantly clipping through the floors and walls. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I have never seen a Nintendo published game release in such a sorry state. Game Freak needs to keep working on this game.
Pokemon SV's marketing says it's an open world game, but I think that’s a little misleading. SV gives you a lot more freedom than Pokemon Legends: Arceus, but this feels more like Pokemon catching up to what other RPGs have been doing for years to me. Sure, you can do the Gyms in any order, but there is no level scaling in the game at all, so good luck even getting to the Gyms farthest away from the starting area with your level 5 Sprigatito. You can’t just go straight to the Elite Four without getting the 8 badges either. This ain't BotW. This really isn’t much different from being able to choose from a few different towns to go to in a Dragon Quest game. Even if you can do 2 or 3 different things at any given moment, there is still a general path the game wants you to follow.
There are 3 different paths to play through in the game; Victory Road, The Path of Legends, and Starfall Street. You have to complete them all to beat the game, so it's not like you can just do one and ignore the rest. Victory Road is your usual quest to collect all the Gym badges, beat the Elite Four, and be the very best, like no one ever was. There’s nothing really special about it, but it's fun, and people seem to really like the rival character, Nemona. She’s the regional champion, but loses to you and your level 5 Pokemon at the beginning of the game. Her excuse is that she’s holding back until the Pokemon League, but I don’t buy it. My favorite Gym leader was Iono. She's the Electric type Gym leader and she's basically a V-Tuber come to life. She calls your battle a "collab", she gets donations from viewers, and she's constantly talking about likes and referencing internet culture. She's hilarious.
The Path of Legends is the story of the Herba Mysticas, or HMs. Don’t worry, HMs are not back. Herba Mysticas are just how you upgrade your legendary mount, Koraidon or Miraidon. You fight boss battles against powerful Pokemon and discover the locations of Herba Mysticas all over Paldea. There’s HMs for dashing, swimming, gliding, climbing, and a high jump. No flying. There are a few places where you need some of these abilities to get to a new Gym, so you can’t ignore this path while doing the Gyms. Weirdly enough, this path has a really emotional story and it’s by far the best story I’ve ever seen in a Pokemon game.
Starfall Street is sort of like a Team Rocket story. It has you going from camp to camp and auto battling 30 Pokemon and then battling a Team Star member. Completing these camps unlocks TMs at the Pokemon Centers, which can be crafted with materials that Pokemon drop after battles. The auto battling mechanic allows you to press R and send a Pokemon out to fight on its own. The battles end very quickly, but they don’t give you any EVs or much XP. Auto Battling is more for when you just want to clear an area and don’t care about that stuff. The Team Star story is kind of bad, if you ask me. Some of the Team Star bosses are cool, and I’m sure many people can relate to the subject of bullying in schools, but the story is very predictable and feels kind of drawn out.
Terastallizing is the new battle mechanic in SV and it is as interesting as it is confusing. I don’t think most people really understand what it does. The Pokemon people pick in raids is evidence of that. Terastallizing is mechanically similar to Mega Evolutions and Gigantamaxing, but it isn’t a straightforward stat boost, it’s all about the STAB. No, there is no new backstab move in Pokemon. STAB stands for “same type attack bonus”. That means that when Pikachu uses Electric attacks, they do 50% more damage because it is an Electric Pokemon. Terastallizing changes a Pokemon’s typing, so say Pikachu Terastallizes into a Water type, its Surf will do 50% more damage. If Pikachu Terastallizes into Electric type; however, it gets a 50% attack bonus on top of its original STAB. Terastallizing doesn’t change your original typing’s attack bonus, but it does change your defensive attributes into the Tera type’s, so you could use this defensively, or you could Terastallize yourself into a 1 shot KO if you’re not careful.
Tera Raids are pretty much the same idea as raids in Sword and Shield except they have Terastallized Pokemon in them instead of Gigantamaxed Pokemon. There have been some pretty huge improvements to them, though. First of all, you don’t have to wait for other players to pick moves anymore. You and the Tera boss take turns just like in a regular battle, and everyone else is on their own timer based on their speed stat. The problem is that these online raids are in a rough state. They’re very laggy, desynced, and every time someone else does a move, your menu either freezes or disappears entirely. Sometimes the game just skips your turn. It really sucks. It works much better offline, though. The NPC trainers are actually halfway decent this time, too. The other big improvement is that Pokemon always have a 100% chance catch rate, so you can use whatever ball you want to catch them and it’ll always work. Tera raids are also available pretty much everywhere in the overworld. They’re not exclusive to a “Wild Area'' anymore. The whole world is the Wild Area.
Pokemon SV has also made some pretty big improvements over SwSh when it comes to training and customizing your Pokemon. For example, you don’t have to go to some NPC to forget and remember moves anymore, you can just do it from the menu. All the EV training bracelets are available in the same town your school is in, too, so you can get perfect EVs on your starter right away. Other useful items, like Nature Mints and Ability Capsules, also drop pretty frequently from raids and aren’t exclusive to the endgame. You can even buy all that stuff in shops.
Character customization; however, is a huge disappointment. There are still a bunch of clothing stores in which you can buy hats, gloves, shoes, and accessories, but you can never get out of your uniform. You get 4 styles of uniforms, but you’re still always wearing one with the same shirt and pants. I hate it. My character always looks like a total dork. I wore a uniform for the majority of my school years and I don’t want to relive those days in a game! I really hope they add more clothes in an update.
Picnics are Pokemon SV's version of SwSh's camps. You can talk to your Pokemon, play with them, and make sandwiches in them. Sandwiches are kind of like SwSh's curry, except they're actually useful. They don't just heal your Pokemon, they also give you a wide variety of buffs. You can make a sandwich to get more loot from raids, hatch Pokemon eggs faster, spawn more Pokemon of a certain type, and even increase your shiny encounter rate. I have over 150 recipes unlocked. You can also make your own. Most of the ingredients can be bought in stores, but the Herba Mysticas that give you the best buffs, like shiny encounters, are rare drops from endgame raids. Making sandwiches has its own minigame, too. You don't just pick ingredients from a menu, you have to make the sandwich by hand. This minigame has sandwich physics, so location matters. The whole thing could fall apart if you set your picnic on a slope or drop the top bun on top of a round ingredient. That's why Paldeans love open face sandwiches.
Breeding has also undergone some major changes. There are no Pokemon daycares anymore. All breeding is done in picnics. You just bring the 2 Pokemon you want to breed, make an egg power sandwich, wait, and check the picnic basket for eggs every few minutes. All the eggs automatically go to your boxes. You can't hatch them while picnicking. It's super boring. I usually do the breeding while doing something else, like cooking. Hatching works the same as always, though. It sucks that they've separated the two like this. It was much more efficient to ride your bike around while hatching as you waited for more eggs from the daycare.
I think the soundtrack in SV is fantastic. I usually like Pokemon soundtracks, but this one blows them all away. I just love the songs with acoustic guitars and tambourines. They remind me of the Gerudo Valley theme from Zelda OOT. It's not just traditional Spanish instruments, though. There's all kinds of stuff, including some really great remixes of classic Pokemon tunes and some stuff that reminds me of Advance Wars music.

I really love this game. They've done so many good things here. We finally have a fully 3D mainline Pokemon RPG, the raids are greatly improved, there's co-op, EV training isn't treated like some dark secret, and most importantly, the game no longer feels like Dragon Quest on rails. The technical issues really hurt the game, though. Raids are a pain to play online, the framerate can get so bad, the game feels like it's in slow motion, and I'm constantly worried about the game crashing. These are things that affect the gameplay and they drag the game down.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Bayonetta 3 Review

Developer: Platinum
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Price: $60

Bayonetta 3 has been one of my most anticipated games since it was announced almost 5 years ago. I've played both of the previous games and all 4 Devil May Cry games in preparation. I've been ready. In short, my expectations were pretty high. I wanted something that would surpass Bayonetta 2 and Devil May Cry 5 in terms of gameplay. I was also hoping that the game could maintain a smooth 60 FPS after 5 years in development for a system that both Platinum and Nintendo have plenty of experience working on. I don't think any of those dreams came true, though.

The big new thing in Bayonetta 3 is the Demon Slave mechanic. Bayonetta has always been able to summon demons for special attacks, but now you can summon them at will and directly control them. While holding ZR (default controls), Bayonetta will do a little dance as you take control of a summoned demon. The demons are very slow, have long drawn out animations, and you can't control Bayonetta while they're out, so you'll be vulnerable to attacks, but they're very powerful and do a lot of damage. This mechanic is actually required to do damage sometimes, so you can't just ignore it if you don't like it. There is an accessory that lets you control Bayonetta while summoning a demon, but then the AI will control the demon and it won't do what you want. You'll also still have to hold down ZR, so you'll need 3 fingers on the shoulder buttons to also use the dodge and stance buttons while fighting as Bayonetta. Demons can also be used for some light puzzle solving a few times throughout the game. It's not quite Zelda, or even DMC, levels of puzzles, though. They don't slow the action down too much.
I'm not a big fan of the Demon Slaves. Sure, it's flashy, but controlling the demons isn't fun. They are slow, clunky, unresponsive, and come along with a number of camera issues, like blocking your view of the action with their huge bodies. This is one mechanic too many. I think it makes combat worse, especially during boss fights, which sometimes require you to do something specific with a demon. It takes the focus away from Bayonetta, who is actually fun to play. I also hate having to use my middle finger to hold the button down. Why isn't this a toggle? The whole thing feels like something they only did because it looks cool. It doesn't ruin the game, but it does make it less fun to play than the previous ones. Keeping it simple would've been better.
The actual combat in Bayonetta 3 might actually be the best in the series. There's so many ways to attack and zip around all over the place. It's very easy to do moves, and I always feel like I have an answer for every enemy. It's just too bad that often the answer is to just summon a demon.
A big part of what makes combat so fun is the wide variety of weapons. Every weapon you get in Bayonetta 3 is some crazy off the wall thing. There's a yoyo, a train, a microphone stand, a magician's top hat and wand, and all kinds of stuff. I don't like all of them, but there's something here for everyone. Sadly, the only returning weapons are the guns. I miss the swords from the other games. I was also kind of sad to see that you can't put different weapons on your hands and feet anymore. The new weapon's flair and creativity almost makeup for that, though.
Another thing I really like about this game is the freedom it gives you to customize your characters whenever you want. You can go into the menu and equip different weapons, accessories, and even learn new moves right in the middle of combat. You don't have to buy moves from Rodin anymore. He mostly sells cosmetics now. Every weapon has a talent tree now, so that's where you go to learn new moves. It's more like a mobile version of Rodin's store than an RPG talent tree. You can also change costumes and equip different demons from the menu.
The other major addition to the game is the new playable character, Viola, who you can play as in a handful of levels. This isn't like DMC5, where you're constantly switching characters. Viola is a young Umbra Witch, like Bayonetta and Jeanne, but with more of a Punk Rock Ninja style and nowhere near the elegance and grace. Her gameplay is a lot more grounded and realistic. She looks kind of clumsy compared to Bayonetta. She reminds me of a Devil May Cry character. Her gameplay even seems to be borrowing from DMC and Ninja Gaiden. Viola exclusively uses a 2-handed katana, she has a grappling hook for swinging around, and she activates Witch Time by blocking at the last second instead of dodging. She has a dodge, but it isn't very useful. Viola also has the demon slave ability, but she only has one demon, Cheshire, a huge Alice in Wonderland inspired cat. Unlike Bayonetta; however, Viola can't take direct control of Cheshire, so she can still attack during summons, but you still have to hold the shoulder button down.
Playing as Viola is a lot of fun. I wouldn't mind a whole game where you only play as her. This isn’t that game, though. She's a secondary character in Bayonetta's game and she plays very differently from her. That’s kind of an issue. Since her Witch Time is on block and not on dodge, her buttons feel like they’re flipped, even though they’re the same as Bayonetta’s. You can put block on ZR with one of the button presets, but then you’re putting your stance button on ZR because they’re both on the same button. The stance button is the same as the lock-on in Bayonetta 1 and 2, except it doesn't lock-on here, it just keeps you facing a certain way so you can do directional inputs. There is no button configuration that doesn’t make switching between Viola and Bayonetta not feel awkward every time. It’s not a game breaking issue, but it’s dumb that it even is an issue because this could have easily been fixed if the game allowed you to fully customize your controls.
One thing that really sticks out about this game is the size of the levels. They’re huge! They’re not just long, they’re also full of areas hidden behind buildings and down branching paths. I really wasn’t expecting so much exploration in a Bayonetta game. Rumors say the game was more Mario 64-like in structure at one point, which makes a lot of sense. There’s always some collectable or bonus area to find, so your exploration is rewarded. Levels aren’t just big for the sake of being big. They even put a waypoint button on L3, so you’re not going to get lost.
They really went all out with the minigames in this one. It’s not just a Space Harrier level. There’s Panzer Dragoon-like on-rails shooting, a 2D shoot ‘em up, Kaiju battles, and Jeanne’s levels, which are based on games like Elevator Action 2 and Rolling Thunder. There’s 4 Jeanne levels, which I feel is too many, but they’re not super hard or complicated, so I didn’t have too much of a problem with them. I just don’t think they needed to do 4 of them. There’s even more of them available after beating the game, along with a sort of Witch Trials survival mode in which you can play as all 3 characters.
If you said this looks like a PS360 era game, you wouldn’t be far off. There’s probably some textures and effects that couldn’t be done on Wii U, but aside from those, this game doesn’t look any better than Bayonetta 1 and 2. The framerate is just as inconsistent as in those games on Nintendo systems, too. The game aims for 60, but it’s usually hovering somewhere around 45-55 and sometimes drops into the 30s. It’s usually fine, but it does get visibly choppy in a few areas.

The soundtrack is absolutely amazing. It doesn't have a classy Frank Sinatra cover as its main theme, but it's still great. There's punk, disco, metal, opera, some Castlevania-ish classical, and there's some jazzy big band stuff in there, too. It's definitely the best part of the game's presentation.

Don't get me wrong, Bayonetta 3 is a good action game, and I had a good time with it, but I don’t think it’s as good as the first two, or DMC5 for that matter. The melee combat is better than ever, but there’s way too much focus on the demon slave mechanic, which just sucks in every way. I really like playing as Viola, but switching between her and Bayonetta never stops feeling awkward because they are so different and the lack of fully customizable controls. This game just feels like it was designed by a very stubborn person.