2012 isn’t a very exciting year for gaming to me. In fact, it’s the least interesting to me in well over a decade. In January, I only played two new releases – Zen Pinball for the 3DS and Midnight Mysteries: Haunted Houdini Deluxe which unfortunately had a bug so severe the game wouldn’t proceed any further halfway through, so I stopped playing it altogether. February is probably the best month for me in 2012 as it has Kingdoms of Amalur, Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, PokePark 2: Wonders Beyond and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 all coming out. After that though, the year drops off almost entirely for me in terms of games I know I want to play on day one of their release. It’s not such a bad thing though, as this finally allows me to clear my backlog of games from 2011 (and older). So now instead of sitting on a shelf, taking up space, I can finally experience them and see if they’re worth keeping around or not. The point of this monthly column will be to cover these old releases, especially since many of them are games we never reviewed when they were first released. This means in addition to getting a new column here at Diehard GameFAN, you’re also getting introduced to new titles rather than me retracing steps another of my staff have already taken. This month we’ll look at the five games I spent my January with, and my overall thoughts on them.
Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll
Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll was a Playstation 3 exclusive title originally released in February of 2011 here in North America. It wasn’t a big seller, nor did it receive any critical acclaim, but I enjoyed the demo and knew I’d eventually pick it up. Back in August 2011, I found a used copy for $35 at a EBgames and used a 50% off a used game coupon they sent me for my birthday. That and my Edge card (or whatever it’s called these days), knocked the price down to $15.75. I decided to finally grab it. It now goes for $18 used and I definitely think the game is worth that. I had a lot more fun with Trinity than I expected and by the time I was done with the game, I had logged 75 hours on it, Platinum’d the game and found it to be a most satisfactory dungeon crawl.
Whether or not you would enjoy Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll comes down to one big question: Did you like Dragon Age II? Trinity came out around the same time and plays very similar to DA: II. You have a party of three in both games. While the characters in Trinity aren’t interchangeable, you do have control over all of their equipment . Tactics are more A.I. controlled in Dragon Age II, but you have a lot more options for powers in Trinity. You can also switch between characters on the fly easier in Trinity and there’s even a special attack chain that occurs if you master flipping between characters quickly. Quests generally involve you going to the same locations over and over again in both games, but Trinity had a lot more in the way of optional quests due to a never-ending supply of randomized quests you could do for fun. It also had more locations as well. So for me, Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll felt like a larger and longer Japanese version of Dragon Age II. I think I liked DAII better overall, but that’s because of the cast and characters, which is the one area well Trinity fell short.
Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll was a bit dull story wise, as it was the typical Japanese RPG angsty anti-hero needing to save the world from a generic big bad. It didn’t help that your main character was a dick to nearly everyone and that one of your allies (The female “not a vampire”) was almost as unlikeable. Your third playable character, Dagda, was pretty awesome though. He was a huge Zangief looking giant of a man with a heart of gold. The story ended terribly and I never really found myself caring about the cast or characters. The visuals were nice (especially the cut scenes) and the music was incredible, but the story just left me cold and bored. As an older gamer who is used to action heavy hack and slash dungeon crawls, that was fine with me. I love Wizardry games and those are pretty light on plot after all. For me this was fun for the same reasons I enjoyed Diablo back in the day. For a younger or more casual gamer who is used to RPGs that are more cut scenes than gameplay, I can definitely see Trinity rubbing them the wrong way.
Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll offers a lot of options outside of the main storyline. You literally have an unlimited number of random missions you can perform at the Adventurer’s Guild. You have side quests that you can do. There is a massive fifty floor dungeon, a Dragon God to do battle with and even an Arena where you can earn prizes for beating specific monsters in a limited amount of time. More than half my time spent with the game was doing all these optional things, including earning 90 of the 100 possible “titles” in the game. Titles basically net you a whopping amount of XP if you complete their conditions, but all the titles are secret until they are completed, so half of the fun is figuring out what there is to earn and how.
I really just wanted something mindless to start of my quasi-retirement from game reviewing and Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll was a fun little game for what it was. It’s not a game I’ll ever pick up again but I more than got my money’s worth out of it and my girlfriend enjoyed watched it from time to time. It probably wouldn’t have won any awards, but it was a decent time waster and I’m happy I played it. I knew going in it would be an old school hack and slash, and sometimes, that what you want out of a RPG more than anything else.
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: Enjoyable Game!
Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots
I picked up a Kindle Fire when it launched, but most of my time with it has been for reading RPG PDFs for review. I prefer the regular Kindle for book reading, but the Fire is nice for Internet and casual video game playing. Take Fruit Ninja: Puss In Boots which originally came out in late November 2011 for the Android market. It was the free app of the day on Amazon on December 27th and I snagged it as soon as I saw it. The girlfriend loves Puss in Boots (although I prefer the Christopher Walker version to the Antonio Banderas one) and it was compatible with my Fire and her tablet so there was no reason not to give it a try.
Now I had never played Fruit Ninja up to this point, but I have to admit, I was addicted almost instantly. I grew up with titles like Gradius, Life Force and River Raid so I love games that require hair trigger reflexes. I was shocked at how much fun I was having with a free game, although it is 99 cents if you purchase it now. Now only did it have constantly one-liners from Antonio/Puss, but it offered two distinct modes of play. The first, Desperation Mode, was basically the unlimited hack and slashing of fruit that Fruit Ninja has become known for. The other mode, Bandito Mode, is a whole new reimagining of the franchise and it is definitely my favorite version to play. Here you have to pass through four acts, each of which is not only more difficult than the last, but is made of four random mini games…all of which involve slash fruit or coconuts. It’s an amazing amount of fun and this mode alone makes Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots the definitive version of the game to pick up. There are so many different possible missions in Bandito Mode that you’ll keep coming back for more, even after you beat it.
Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots also offers new unlockable weapons, backgrounds and more. While these are just window dressings to the main game, it’s nice to see so much content for such a small price tag. Fruit Ninja Puss in Boots is proof that even though some people like to use the phrase “casual game” as if was somehow a derogatory term, that some of these 99 cent to three dollar apps are actually more addicting, and yes, better made than big budget 50-60 dollar releases. If you can download Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots for any system, I strongly beseech you to do so. It’s a great way to game for five to fifteen minutes and who knows, you may find yourself playing it for a lot longer than that. It’s tied for the best game on Kindle Fire I’ve played so far. The co-holder of that honor is the next game we’ll be looking at…
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Great
FINAL SCORE: Good Game!
Where’s My Water?
Where’s My Water? bears a few similarities to Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots. Both came out in late November 2011, both were released as “Free Amazon Apps of the Day” around Christmas, and both turned out to be amazingly fun. Where’s My Water is a physics based puzzle game however so it plays quite differently from something like Fruit Ninja. This 99 cent app is published by Disney and they’ve really marketed the hell out of this this. There are t-shirts, web sites, an animated web series and all sorts of merchandise for Swampy, the main character of the game. In fact the merchandise was ready to go before the app was even released. Disney felt strongly that this would be the next Angry Birds and to a degree, they were right. It’s been the number one Android app for some time now and it shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. It was number one in the Apple App store THE DAY AFTER it came out. The fact Disney keeps releases new updates for the game, all of which are free, is just icing on the cake and a wonderful example that DLC doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, like say, meaningless but pricey character skins for fighting games.
Where’s My Water has a very simple premise: get the water from the spout down to the plumping that leads to Swampy’s shower. Get enough water in and you beat the level. Now all this may sound easy, but it’s not. As the game goes on, you’ll have to deal with toxic sludge that instantly turns any water it touches into sludge, plants that grow as water hits it, tricky angles, and more. Even if you can get past the roadblocks in each puzzle, there are still several reasons to redo each puzzle. You can look for hidden collectibles, try for specific achievements, and even “tri-duck,” or collect all three rubber duckies on each stage. If you collect enough rubber ducks, you unlock a whole new set of levels to play through, each of which contains more rubber ducks. Rinse and repeat.
Where’s My Water? is a game I was definitely skeptical about going into it. After all, Disney had already tried to make “tri-ducking” a part of the gaming lexicon before the game was already released and it had more marketing behind it than any video game app for the iPhone or Android market that I’ve ever seen. It’s very rare when a title lives up to the hype a publisher makes for it, but Where’s My Water? is definitely one of those games. It’s easy to learn, hard to master, and even harder to put down. With only a 99 cent price tag, the only reason someone shouldn’t own this is because they don’t have the correct device to play this app on. It’s as adorable as it is addicting and it’ll be interesting to see just how much Disney can milk out of this game.
Control and Gameplay: Good
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Great
FINAL SCORE: Good Game!
Earthworm Jim HD
I owned the original Earthworm Jim for both the Sega Genesis and the Sega CD. I thought the game was cute but a bit overrated. In fact, I actually prefer the Earthworm Jimanimated series and I think it’s a travesty that it hasn’t been released on DVD outside of Australia. It was one of the best cartoons of the mid 90s. Earthworm Jim HD was released way back in August of 2010. Our own Aaron Sirois reviewed it and gave it a fairly positive review. Still, I didn’t bother picking it up until a few weeks ago when it was more than half off on PSN. I think I got it for three or four bucks. As Aaron did a pretty in-depth review (which you should read) on the remake, I’ll gloss over this game quickly.
In its day, Earthworm Jim was a breath of fresh air. It was a highly original and zany platformer and I enjoyed it, even though I tend to loathe platformers and all they stand for. Playing the HD re-release however…the game feels like it has lost something. It’s not as funny and in fact, at times the game’s audio bordered on annoying. The music was still wonderful, but the voice acting left me cold – especially Jim’s constant “GROOVY!” I guess I was more used to the Dan Castinella version of the character that I thought. The gameplay was fine, although it was sometimes hard to get Jim to go up or down stairs ala the old 8-bit Castlevania games. The submarine steering levels were as crappy as I remembered, but those are really the only negatives I have to say about the actual controls.
Earthworm Jim HD adds a new multiplayer mode to the game, but honestly, I didn’t care for it at all. It just felted tacked on and none of the levels were very fun. I like that you could unlock brand new bonus stages for the main game, but it wasn’t something I NEEDED, you know? They were cute to have, and if you never played the original 16 -bit version, you wouldn’t know what levels are the new ones. I was impressed by how well they fit in. Well, Keyboard Cat as a boss might be a giveaway that something is new…
Overall, Earthworm Jim HD was worth a few bucks. I wouldn’t have paid full price for it as I liked the original, but I didn’t love it. I feel the same way about the HD remake. I’m glad I tried it out. It gave me a little bit of giddy nostalgia, but I have no desire to play it again anytime soon. I really would like to watch the cartoon again though…
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: Above Average Game!
UDraw Studio: Instant Artist
Yes, that’s right. The UDraw. The little tablet that helped to send THQ into the shaky state (and rock bottom stock prices) that it is in today. I was offered a free one by Amazon.com and so I thought, “Why the hell not?” It would be good to see if the accessory deserved the infamy it has received and it would give me an excuse to get the new Marvel Super Hero Squad game for like ten bucks as it required a UDraw to play it. Studio Artist is a pack-in game that came with the UDraw and is a perfect example of what is both good and bad about the whole UDraw concept.
Instant Artist is technically two games in one. The first is a program that is meant to help you learn to draw better. The second are tablet based mini games. The drawing tutor is terrible – let’s get that out of the way right now. It doesn’t really teach the basics and the tablet simply isn’t capable of doing fine or detailed artwork. The cord attaching the “pen” to the tablet is far too short to be useful and it will end up aggravating anyone with any real artistic talent. The “Art School” as it is called in-game is just badly thought out from beginning to end. At the same time, there’s something oddly soothing about the paint-by-numbers, connect the dots and coloring book pieces that you can do. There are a lot of options and although it’s not a video game by any means, it’s still something that is surprisingly fun.
The min-games are the real reason to come back to Studio Artist as they too are a lot more fun that you would expect. You have “Alien Splat,” where you use the stylus as a quasi-light gun apparatus to kill aliens and avoid their return fire. There is “Tilt Painting” where you guide a ball in its quest to squish balls of paint while avoiding holes that you can fall into. Finally there is “Tilt Maze,” where you try to get a ball through forty mazes in forty minutes. The mazes can actually be quite challenging (especially the last. OMG it is evil!), but I managed to complete them all in under 26 minutes – a fact I am oddly proud of. Trust me when I say some of the Tilt Paintings and Mazes are pretty tough. Gamers of all skill level can expect to find some degree of challenge here.
I was actually happy with the time I spent with UDraw Studio: Instant Artist. Now to be honest, this was more than likely because it was FREE. Had I paid the original 80-90 bucks that THQ was trying to sell this for, I’d have been livid. You get a third rate art tutor and some fun mini games sure, but those mini games would basically be 99 cent to three dollar apps for an iPhone or real tablet. Even though the UDraw tablet currently sells for twenty to thirty dollars, I can’t recommend picking it up. There are only a few games available for and none of them are very good. Instant Artist has some good aspects -don’t get me wrong, but overall it’s not something I can see ANYONE being happy they paid money for.
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
FINAL SCORE: Below Average Game!
There we go. Five games cleared from my backlog. Now I’m down to two dozen or so older games I need to get through. For next month I’ll definitely be covering Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat and Sam and Max: Beyond Time and Space (The PS3 version that came out in late 2011). We’ll see what else I’ve played through next month when we do this again.