Xenoblade Chronicles X Review – Revised & Updated

*Revised and Updated version after 78 hours of gameplay. You can view our previous review after 28 hours of gameplay here


Years in the making, Xenoblade Chronicles X finally lands on the Nintendo Wii U console. With a visually stunning backdrop and battle mechanics that permeate the surroundings so beautifully, the JRPG is simply made for franchise fans.

Developed by the renowned Japanese company Monolith Soft and directed by Tetsuya Takahashi, Xenoblade Chronicles X is an intensely enjoyable but highly complex action RPG. Pitched as the spiritual successor to Xenoblade Chronicles for Wii and New Nintendo 3DS, players will be placed in the year 2054 on planet Mira to discover and explore its six distinct locations. Following the battle between two alien races that caused Earth’s destruction, American civilians evacuated on to the interstellar ark known as the White Whale. Yet due to an intergalactic battle with the alien race, the White Whale’s doom is sealed and crashes, spreading debris far and wide over Mira. In the six months after, Earth’s evacuees establish New Los Angeles, living and breathing alongside the planet’s monsters – or indigens as they are more widely known – and other alien races.

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New Los Angeles (NLA) as it stands after crashing on Mira. It’s actually a large iced doughnut, masquerading as a city.

As a complete beginner to the franchise, Xenoblade Chronicles X is somewhat difficult to get to grips with. The JRPG feels similar to a beautiful blend of Capcom’s Monster Hunter series and James Cameron’s Academy award-winning Avatar, with its main focus on arts and skills for battle mechanics rather than traditional button-pressing play. The sheer size and scope of X’s gameplay is absolutely staggering, perhaps even intimidating, for newcomers and fans alike that it’s easy to lose all sense of time and your bearings when in Mira. While there are numerous moments to be lost for words when looking over at the highly detailed and huge monsters that roam the planet, Xenoblade Chronicles X is almost like wading through mud.

From running through Primordia, Noctilum and Oblivia in the beginning, clawing your way through the amount of customisation and upgrade menus available, to surveying the land through data probe placement, it’s more than a little daunting. Simply put, both new and veteran players will need to dip in to the game’s instruction manual repeatedly to learn its complexities and incredible depth. And that’s not to say X is off-putting for those new to the series, in fact, it’s far from it. It just requires patience, effort, and a willingness to face niggling frustrations due to its lack of comprehensive explanations.

First and foremost, Xenoblade Chronicles X focuses on your customisable avatar and two other main characters, Elma and Lin, alongside an adorable dancing Nopon named Tatsu. Aside from slight adjustments to the game’s avatar customisation, including the removal of a breast slider from the Western version, players will find plenty of opportunity to stylise a character to their liking. Though, pre-made avatar faces in a game so intrinsically detailed will no doubt be a sore spot to fans of the series. Once your avatar is complete, players will be launched into the storyline and follow commander Elma to NLA in a three-chapter jaunt in learning the game’s basics. Continue reading “Xenoblade Chronicles X Review – Revised & Updated”

The Collector’s Edition For Bitmap Books’ Super Famicom: The Box Art Collection Features Art By Wil Overton

British-based Bitmap Books has announced a special collector’s edition of its Super Famicom: The Box Art Collection. Featuring cover art by Wil Overton, most famous for his work in UK gaming magazines such as Super Play and N64 Magazine, as well as providing the artwork for Yooka-Laylee’s instruction manual, the hardback book showcases a compilation of approximately 250 Japanese games and their packaging – some of which have never been officially seen in print.

Presented in their life-size format, each game’s package will detail a critique of the artwork and interviews with other collectors, all sourced by “Super Famicom Guy” Stuart Brett. Not only will the special collector’s edition feature artwork by Wil Overton, but it will also arrive encased within a Super Famicom stylised game box, with the card sleeve and plastic tray included.

If you do wish to get your hands on this inspiring retro hardback, the collector’s edition will only be available via pre-orders on Bitmap Books’ official website and is priced at £49.99. The regular edition is priced at £24.99, while there are also signed posters from Wil Overton available as well. To see additional images of the hardback, make sure to visit their website.

Source / Via

Xenoblade Chronicles X Review

Years in the making, Xenoblade Chronicles X finally lands on the Nintendo Wii U console. With a visually stunning backdrop and battle mechanics that permeate the surroundings so beautifully, the JRPG is a timeless classic made for franchise fans.

Developed by the renowned Japanese company Monolith Soft and directed by Tetsuya Takahashi, Xenoblade Chronicles X is an intensely enjoyable but highly complex action RPG. Pitched as the spiritual successor to Xenoblade Chronicles for Wii and New Nintendo 3DS, players will be placed in the year 2054 on planet Mira to discover and explore its six distinct locations. Following the battle between two alien races that caused Earth’s destruction, American civilians evacuated on to the interstellar ark known as the White Whale. Yet due to an intergalactic battle with the alien race, the White Whale’s doom is sealed and crashes, spreading debris far and wide over Mira. In the six months after, Earth’s evacuees establish New Los Angeles, living and breathing alongside the planet’s monsters – or indigens as they are more widely known – and the Nopon race.

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New Los Angeles (NLA) as it stands after crashing on Mira. It’s actually a large iced doughnut, masquerading as a city.

As a complete beginner to the franchise, Xenoblade Chronicles X is somewhat difficult to get to grips with. The JRPG feels similar to a beautiful blend of Capcom’s Monster Hunter series and James Cameron’s Academy award-winning Avatar, with its focus on arts and skills for battle mechanics than traditional button-pressing play. The sheer size and scope of X’s gameplay is absolutely staggering, perhaps even intimidating, for newcomers and fans alike that it’s easy to lose all sense of time and your bearings when in Mira. While there are numerous moments to be lost for words when looking over at the highly detailed and huge monsters that roam the planet, Xenoblade Chronicles X is almost like wading through mud.

From running through Primordia, Noctilum and Oblivia in the beginning, clawing your way through the amount of customisation and upgrade menus available, to surveying the land through data probe placement, it’s more than a little daunting. Simply put, both new and veteran players will need to dip in to the game’s instruction manual repeatedly to learn its complexities and incredible depth. And that’s not to say X is off-putting for those new to the series, in fact, it’s far from it. It just requires patience, effort, and a willingness to face niggling frustrations due to its lack of comprehensive explanations.

First and foremost, Xenoblade Chronicles X focuses on your customisable avatar and two other main characters, Elma and Lin, alongside an adorable dancing Nopon named Tatsu. Aside from slight adjustments to the game’s avatar customisation, including the removal of a breast slider from the Western version, players will find plenty of opportunity to stylise a character to their liking. Though, pre-made avatar faces in a game so intrinsically detailed will no doubt be a sore spot to fans of the series. Once your avatar is complete, players will be launched into the wonderfully immersive storyline and follow commander Elma to NLA in a three-chapter jaunt in learning the game’s basics.

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The game’s stunning visuals are just astounding at times with perfect lighting and shade.

However, if you want to progress through X’s main storyline quickly, you’ll be in for a sharp surprise. All story chapters require players to hit certain levels, location survey rates and complete affinity quests before embarking on the next mission. While this is a fantastic way to explore Mira, as well as gain closer connections to the game’s well-voiced and three-dimensional characters, it’s also a little mundane. Tirelessly running through segments of the GamePad’s map to install the next data probe on a Frontier Nav site – primarily to increase the location’s survey rate and add to your miranium and revenue levels – can be a real chore.

After 28 hours of traversing the landscape on foot, seamless as it is with the map’s grateful fast travel mechanic, I’ve still yet to score my Skell, which is arguably the most intoxicating part of the game and one that I unfortunately cannot comment on. Those gigantic hulking masses of metal taunt players with every step you take in NLA, but it really is just a matter of time until we can get our hands on one and revel between the metallic sheets to take on bigger monsters and travel greater distances. For now, I can only imagine the satisfaction of controlling a skell will be akin to the smell of a home-cooked Sunday roast on a winter’s day; utterly to die for.

As expected in a traditional RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles X displays an extensive levelling and upgrade system to really get your teeth into. Once you’ve passed the game’s beginning chapters, you can then select a weapon class, ranging in various offensive and defensive strategies, and choose from up to eight divisions. These eight divisions play a specific part in X’s online gameplay as well, giving player’s the chance to work towards a common goal in squad missions and division spoils, alongside boosting daily rankings and providing other in-game rewards. There’s a strong sense of community in X with its online missions, yet it’s never intrusive, allowing players to experience the storyline at their own pace.

 

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Take the fight to indigens and increase your level, BLADE rank and upgrade your arts palette. Give them a good thwomping!

Working towards increasing your BLADE level – the game’s acronym for Builders of the Legacy After the Destruction of Earth – is one of your main goals in X. Depending on which division you choose, performing certain in-game actions will increase your BLADE level, which then unlocks new exploration abilities out in the field by improving your mechanical, archaeological and biological skills. With the game focusing heavily on exploration, you’ll find music is a key part of X’s feel. Luckily, the mix of rock, rap and ballad tones are rich and invigorating for play, though they may turn a little stale after 30 plus hours.

Keeping to X’s rhythm is the fantastic array of weapons, gear, art palettes and skill sets on offer. Battling against huge indigens is as wonderful as that delicious salty or sweet snack you’ve hidden in your desk drawer, forgotten about, and then found a week later. It’s an ultimate score, especially when there are so many varieties to battle. By using your art palette at the bottom of the game screen, you can unleash superb attacks that range from a flame whip to a lightning burst shot. With stat buff and debuffs to use, players can team up to slay an enemy with strategy in mind. And while skills can be equipped, upgraded, and take effect automatically, arts need a little more love. Reaching new class ranks will unlock new arts and are easily switched around in the upgrade menu. Complex, perhaps, but it’s a system RPG fans will adore.

With affinity missions and side quests seen as another strand to X’s core gameplay, there’s plenty of character development to witness. One of the many side mission highlights players will experience is the moment Tatsu – the friendly, jiggling Nopon – is reunited with his mother. It’s a touching and adorable sequence; one that is echoed throughout Mira and helps to keep the game electric and in motion, even through its level grinding parts. Other missions can be found in NLA’s administrative hub and are categorised into social, gathering and bounty quests – once accepted they will be listed under the missions tab on your start screen.

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The adorable Tatsu is just one of the many highlights in Xenoblade Chronicles X. Just, er, don’t put him in a stew.

Sadly, one of Xenoblade Chronicles X’s main flaws resides with its mission explanations. Gathering quests can be nigh on impossible if you’re not clued up on the game’s enemies, surroundings and item drops. Partaking in fruitless searching in an enormous map can be terribly frustrating, particularly if it’s part of an affinity quest and you’re locked into it – just like storyline mode. It’s in these moments, when you are running or swimming through barren wastelands with nothing but indigens and scenic plants at your side, that the game presents its difficulties. Couple that with storyline side quests that aren’t marked on your GamePad map screen and are only labelled with question marks within the on-screen mini map, it can really test your patience.

But we must give credit where credit is due as Monolith Soft has utilised the GamePad superbly. Using this as your in-game communication device, you can fast travel, change data probes, and switch fluidly from one map screen to another with a choice of segment or terrain view. However, X is enjoyed the most on a HD TV screen, a Wii U Pro Controller for longer play sessions and the GamePad by your side. Since the game relies heavily on exploration and map usage, off-TV play is a firm no-go zone. Besides, X’s stunning visuals were meant for HD screens.

Having merely scratched the surface of Xenoblade Chronicles X and its world, the sheer scale of gameplay is enough to satiate any franchise fans’ appetite. And while the game has sore spots, its visual and storytelling depth will keep you playing for days, weeks and months on end.

8 / 10

*Please bear in mind that this review and its score may change overtime due to the size of the game.

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. Review

Taking a leaf out of the adventurer’s book, Mario & Luigi return to Nintendo’s handheld with more than a few paper buddies in tow. Featuring a deeply engrossing storyline that’s both light-hearted and filled with emotion, the Paper Jam Bros. soar high rather than crumple under pressure.

From series’ developer AlphaDream, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. brings fans a heart-warming storyline with an intensely satisfying gameplay experience equal to its previous iteration on the 3DS. As the fifth title in the franchise, Paper Jam Bros. delivers a fresh take on the series with the arrival of a new character; and it’s one that slides seamlessly into battles. With more than 20 hours of gameplay and covering seven different areas, from the luscious Sunbeam Plains to the cold but beautiful Mount Brr, there are plenty of interesting puzzles to be solved, moves to be discovered and papercraft battles to enjoy.

Starting in Peach’s Castle, Luigi and Toad are trying to locate a strange disturbance in the library when our green-capped hero ends up tripping and knocking down a particularly special book. On its opening, the contents of the pages are ripped out causing many of Mushroom Kingdom’s paper residents to fall into Mario & Luigi’s world.

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Now, whatever you do, Luigi, don’t – under any circumstances – lose that book. Got it? Yes.

Amongst the scattering of Paper Toads, many paper enemies float into view, alongside Paper Mario, Peach and Bowser. But with two powerful Bowsers on the loose, both princesses are kidnapped before they can scream “Mario” and are caged, utterly helpless. With the Kingdom overrun with Bowser’s minions as well as their paper forms, Mario & Luigi team up with Paper Mario in order to return all of the paper residents back to their rightful home and save the princesses once again.

For those who are less familiar with the Mario & Luigi series, Paper Jam Bros. is a turn-based RPG adventure game. By controlling Mario and Luigi’s in-game sprites with the A and B buttons, players can traverse the land and solve a number of puzzles, defeat enemies in battles and take down bosses with special movesets.

Yet unlike any other game in the series, players will also be able to control Paper Mario and will have access to his fantastic copy ability. Use a turn in combat to copy up to a maximum of six Paper Marios to increase the damage to enemies ratio, whilst also using each paper copy as a shield to bear the brunt of an attack if you fail to dodge in time. As an inventive addition to the game, it puts a whole new spin on your battle strategy and timing, giving series’ fans exactly what they wished for.

Not only does Paper Mario have the ability to use his own attacks as an individual character, he can also team up with Mario and Luigi to perform trio attacks. Working in a similar fashion to Bros. attacks, trio attacks can range from simple squash to an energetic whirlpool air attack. Though these special moves aren’t quite as alluring to use as Dreamy Luigi’s in Dream Team Bros, they are deliciously inventive and can be quite tricky to master. With a range of new and familiar Bros and Trio attacks, battles are always lively and button-based, meaning there’s no chance of touchscreen error.

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Paper Jam Bros works in much the same way as Dream Team Bros, albeit with the addition of Battle Cards, alongside additional cards that are unlocked through amiibo.

Using many of the same battle mechanics as Dream Team Bros, the game presents a few noticeable changes in its format. The addition of Paper Mario means players must press A, B and Y buttons to jump with all three characters, yet outside of battle you’ll be able to use X to jump with all three, removing the tedious platform climbing that bogged down previous iterations. Plus there’s a neat fast forward button which can be used freely in adventure mode – Starlow will even encourage you to use it when hearing an enemy’s pitiful story, oh the mockery of it all.

There are also new and refreshed trio movesets such as the hammer, trio grab, drill and glider to use when adventuring in order to keep gameplay invigorated. Of course, players can still purchase and equip gear and health items with the in-game coins found in question mark boxes, alongside levelling up all three characters with six rankings available and bonus stat boosting choices.

But in order to save the Kingdom from the shredder, players must find and recapture all of the missing Paper Toads. Head down to the Lakitu Info Centre – which also houses the mini-game arcade to rack up perfect scores in boss modes in exchange for special, unlockable gear – and take on Paper Toad missions. From finding them in hiding spots, battling enemies and recapturing them from bubbles with trio moves, the missions are yet another fun element to the deeply engrossing storyline. Even the Toad quizzes available in five of the game’s areas are another gem to add to Paper Jam’s glistening collection.

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Rock. Paper. Scissors. Or just capture those Paper Toads and crumple them in your back pocket, Mario. You know, whatever works best.

Though Paper Jam Bros. is absolutely adorable when it comes to representing its characters, the scene with Wiggler in particular had me in stitches and is arguably the best storytelling I’ve witnessed in the franchise to date, the game also has its blemishes.

Though minor nitpicks at best, the introduction of Battle Cards is hazy and doesn’t add any value to the gameplay – in fact it detracts from the animations entirely. Using them as ways to dish out enemy damage, give you health and boost your battle stats by way of star points is a neat idea, but it’s awkwardly implemented. Not only are building card sets unnecessarily lethargic, they are forced upon you in one boss battle to level the playing field. Perhaps if they didn’t rely so heavily on star points, they’d be in use much more. Though it’s an afterthought, if you do own a New Nintendo 3DS, certain compatible amiibo can be used to unlock additional character cards to be used in battle.

Another new feature in Paper Jam Bros. is the ability to take down gigantic paper models in Papercraft Battles. With an army of Toads at her disposal, Toadette will create huge papercraft models of Mario, Luigi and Peach for your use in an upcoming paper boss battle. Players can dash, knock enemies over and ground pound them until crumpled in these intriguing battles. And while they are fun at first, controlling the papercrafts are desperately slow, heavy and clunky. With a repetitive motion and not nearly as inventive as it should be, they fall flatter than a pancake.

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Fly, my pretties, fly! Guaranteed fun with the button-based trio attacks.

If you’re a fan of boss battles in the Mario & Luigi series, you won’t be disappointed. As the usual crew turn up, alongside the Koopalings, these battles are perfectly varied, intense, and far from a walk in the park. But if you’re suffering from far too many “Game Overs”, you can also switch to easy mode at any point in the game – absolutely fantastic for beginners and younger players.

However, there are times in boss battles where it’s decidedly unfair with an inane difficulty spike. Avoiding boss moves, particularly when having to control all three characters at once is frustratingly difficult. Though there are tells as to which character a boss will direct their attack at, these are often too fast to register or come in quick succession. Shame they don’t serve food; the fast service is to die for.

With an incredibly charming and beautifully witty storyline twinned with some great musical numbers, Paper Jam Bros. is a delight to play. Though the game has some minor setbacks, its core mechanics feel refined while the addition of Paper Mario fits like a dream. It’s paper almost at its finest.

8 / 10

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash Review

Time to lace up your trainers and pop on those tennis whites as you follow the red-capped plumber and friends on a mega mushroom tour in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. But its supremely fun modes, character animations and courts are let down by odd development decisions that are far from ace.

As the latest instalment in the Mario sports spin-off series and developed by Camelot, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is a delightfully entertaining tennis game with a neat twist. Designed as a simple, pick up and play title, Ultra Smash contains four gameplay modes with Mega Battle, Knockout Challenge, Mega Ball Rally and Classic Tennis, alongside its online matchmaking mode. With 16 playable characters, four of which can be unlocked, tennis fans will be spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting their champion. And while there’s ample character choice, the game is also compatible with 22 amiibo that can be trained alongside your character in Knockout Challenge mode.

The major draw for Ultra Smash is in its spotlight gameplay mode: Mega Battle. Choosing either Singles or Doubles matches, players can verse others in local co-operative, online or via the game’s AI and select a length between one, three or five sets and two, four or six games. At the start, players will only be able to choose from the three standard courts available in hard, clay or grass, with another six unlockable courts available later. Once in play, mega mushrooms will be thrown onto the court after a series of points have been won, ramping up the excitement and hilarity with it.

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Eat a Mega Mushroom and turn the tables dramatically. More power. More stomping. More reason to play.

Stylised after Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, chomping down a mega mushroom will turn your character into a walking on-screen giant for a limited amount of time, enabling you to power up, stomp and jump shot your way to winning points in either Mega Battle and Knockout Challenge modes. The gorgeously fluid movements, the beautiful control and the range of shots on offer is a real testament to Ultra Smash’s overall game design. From the outrageous curveball that slides through the air with serious spin to the straight-shooting fireball, Camelot has nailed it – game, set and match.

As players will be pointed in the right direction for chance, power and smash shots with different coloured circles such as pink or blue, Ultra Smash is made seamless for beginners and younger players. But those shots don’t have to be followed either, giving professionals the chance to shine with some well-timed drop shots, directional high arcs and brilliantly executed serve and volleys.

Though the mega mushroom adds to the game’s diversity with a good change of pace, the ability to perform ultra smashes is the strawberries and cream to Wimbledon; we can’t have one without the other. Double tap the assigned controller button at just the right time while inside a pink circle and you’ll perform a surprisingly devilish ultra smash. With a great action cutscene, using an ultra smash is a guaranteed way to outsmart your opponent with skill and good timing.

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Ready for my Ultra Smash? You bet, Toadette.

While Mega Battle keeps you on your toes, Knockout Challenge and Mega Ball Rally provide different forms of play. The latter is quite simple; hit the ball across the court to your opponent as many times as you can. Unfortunately, it’s a rather forgettable and throwaway mode, with no achievements to gain from it. On the other hand, Knockout Challenge is where Ultra Smash gets serious. Designed as the only single-player campaign mode, it’s a real shame you can’t play this as a Championship or Cup in lengthier matches. Instead, players will have to fight tooth and nail and compete with a series of increasingly difficult AI players in tiebreak games.

Once defeated you can spend coins – which are awarded to players after every in-game match – to verse that particular opponent again, or you can give up and restart from the bottom of the ladder. Thankfully, Knockout Challenge is less of a chore when teaming up with one of the 22 compatible amiibo. Playing as a team against one opponent, your amiibo will be able to train with you and level up their individual statistics in power, accuracy, speed and so on. To max out your amiibo’s stats, you’ll have to play a total of 50 matches in Knockout. But the real kicker is your amiibo can only be used in Knockout and its online mode; another odd decision.

Aside from its strong gameplay, one of Ultra Smash’s strangest design flaws is its complete lack of a statistics page in any of the five modes. For core tennis players, knowing how many jump shots you’ve successfully hit, or how many returns you’ve made compared to the amount of Aces performed is a must for improving on your technique. There isn’t even an option to view in-game amiibo statistics.

Coupled with this, Camelot and Nintendo have given players the opportunity to unlock achievement badges if you’ve passed certain criteria. But what’s utterly bonkers is that you can actually just purchase these “unlockable” badges with the in-game coins you receive after every match. Having played the game for eight hours, I amassed over 60k in coins which enabled me to unlock all 25 badges, simply by buying 14 of them. Thanks for encouraging my laziness, can I have a double pepperoni Pizza with that too? Oh, throw in a nice butler if you get the chance as well.

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A panoramic view of the grass court stadium. Pass me the strawberries and cream, please!

Of course, as it’s beautiful to play, Ultra Smash is also fantastic in HD. Character animations are all uniquely adorable with sighs, tantrums and Boo’s hysterical giggles keeping the game light-hearted and a joy to watch. Once unlocked, tennis fans can also move around different courts such as Carpet, Bounce-Out, Sand, Mushroom and Ice, while Morph court combines elements of all 9 courts available. Taking core gameplay to new heights, ever-changing courts are a great way to keep the matches tense with interest and excitement. Just beware of the Mushroom court; the ball gets a little lost in those white blind spots.

While Mega Battle and Classic Tennis modes are arguably the best, Ultra Smash also has an online mode. A simple, matchmaking mode with no lobby and limited customisable options means it falls flat rather than arcing high. Though it doesn’t make the game any less fun, adding more options to the table such as a time restriction on matches would vary opponent tactics considerably.

Ideal for family fun and a bit of light-hearted entertainment on a rainy Sunday afternoon, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash stylishly reinvents classic tennis. But with the lack of a real Championship and a bare-bones online mode, there’s not much reason to return, mega mushrooms et al.

7/10

Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water Review

Aiming to revitalise classic horror with intuitive GamePad controls, Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water hits a perfect shot with the Camera Obscura. But sadly, the genuinely eerie atmosphere just falls flat with a bland storyline, repetitive mechanics and rigid gameplay.

From Koei Tecmo and Nintendo’s SPD team comes the fifth instalment in the Project Zero series – or Fatal Frame as it’s known more widely in the US. Having released for Japan in 2014, western audiences can now feel the shivers of dread coupled with spine-tingling excitement from the game’s co-creator Makoto Shibata and series’ producer Keisuke Kikuchi. Playing as both Yuri and Ren, Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water sets the scene for horror lovers on the fictional Mount. Hikami; infamous for its plethora of suicides and spiritual entities. In recent years, the once peaceful Shrine Maidens have become malevolent and attack those who try to unearth the mountain’s secrets, leading women and men to a gruesome death. Tasked with freeing one shrine maiden, players must guide Yuri through the misty black water and bring tranquillity back to Mount. Hikami.

Consisting of 13 chapters, Maiden of Black Water takes place in numerous locations such as a haunted house, the terrifying Shrine of Dolls, a cable car station and the mountain itself. Featuring both easy and normal modes, players can either be ranked on their overall performance in each episode – including items found, ghosts photographed and defeated – or choose to take the game at their own pace. Fans of the franchise will recognise the return of classic tropes and small references to previous titles scattered throughout the episodes – a neat touch from the developers.

Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is genuinely horrifying in its opening chapters and, unfortunately, seems to peak far too early. With no way of defending yourself against the Shrine Maidens in the prologue, you’ll have to outrun them down tight, claustrophobic corridors in dank, wet surroundings. But with such a strong opening and starting chapters, the game seems to lose its way rather quickly and begins a dire, repetitive cycle featuring the same clichés that become far too familiar to feel truly terrifying. In particular, the “find the friend and capture the ghost” story mechanic is used frequently, becoming a warped joke in itself, while you’ll find leftover notes and journals that give you the same background information but with a slight change of perspective. Beginning as a promising story, it only falls dismally back into the black water it emerged from, leaving fans more than a little short-changed.

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Feel completely immersed in Maiden of Black Water with intuitive GamePad Camera Obscura controls.

However, story aside, the game’s main mechanic relies solely on using the Wii U GamePad as the Camera Obscura – and it’s a complete breath of fresh air. Arguably the most enjoyable part of the game, players can defend against the malevolent ghosts by snapping photographs of them with their trusty camera. Using the left trigger to lock on and the gyroscope – or the dual analog sticks – to find ghosts, you can snap them with the right trigger at just the correct moment to bag a Fatal Frame or Shutter Chance shot. Not only does it feel authentic and breaks the fourth wall of horror gameplay, but it’s also easy to use for new players and gives you a real sense of the foreboding. Stripping away the ability to hide, it’s a fantastic use of the Wii U GamePad, leaving it as more than a secondary map option.

Playing as both Ren and Yuri, players will be able to upgrade the Camera Obscura based on what lenses they find and through points rewarded from ghost encounters. Pick up the best scores from Fatal Frame, Shutter Chance, and exploration shots of spectral entities and you’ll be able to upgrade the camera’s loader, sensor, and output fairly quickly. Plenty of film types can be found throughout the game’s episodes, though you’ll also have an unlimited stash of basic film if battles take a turn for the worse. Although defeating ghosts is your main aim, franchise fans will also be able to use the Camera Obscura to uncover phantom objects. Locking on to the target and rotating the GamePad until the red marker alerts you is yet another great use of the intuitive control scheme.

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Creepy Japanese dolls. Man, screw this, I’m outta here!

At times, Maiden of Black Water’s graphics are wonderfully creepy and fascinating to explore. Cutscenes are gritty and feel just as sordid as the Blair Witch Project, giving them a delightfully eerie feel with interesting music and sound effects. Aside from the Shrine of Dolls – which is a particular highlight of the game – and the beautiful black water, textures appear flat and lifeless. There are moments when it’s difficult to tell the difference between where a corridor ends and a door begins, while tree branches and leaves lie motionless as chunks of rotting texture. Dreary, dull graphics that are lacklustre to explore. Yet in stark comparison, character costumes are detailed, and fervently so when they are dripping head to toe from the black water.

Despite its eerie tone, character movement within Maiden of Black Water is clunky and awkward. Destroying most of the tension built, simply walking and running with your character is stiff and frustrating. If you’re one for exploration, most of your play time will be spent picking up medicine, film and journals with an excruciatingly slow cutscene and hand grabbing movements. And simply running feels like a limp jog rather than a good sprint. Even when the playable character opens a door, it’s horribly slow and leaves you with a sense of eye-rolling dread rather than terror. Unnecessarily drawn out sequences such as these lengthen the game considerably and, with no pay-off, it’s inexplicably futile.

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Meet Yomi. Her minions are powerful malevolent spirits sent to destroy and frustrate you, in equal measure.

In the early stages of the game, battles with Maiden of Black Water’s ghosts are likely to take you to the edge of your seat. But defeating the same ghosts repeatedly quickly becomes monotonous. As you progress through the game, players will come across the Shrine Maidens. Of course, it’s intensely fun battling five simultaneously in the first instance. Yet you’ll encounter these shrieking ghouls so consistently, especially in tight corridors with no hope of escaping without injury, it becomes utterly tedious. The sense of evil and frightening appeal the game once had is entirely snuffed out by constant battling and backtracking with the same spirits. There’s a real lack of variation here and it’s detrimental to gameplay.

Unless you’re a die-hard series fan, Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water isn’t likely to crack you into a cold sweat. The Wii U’s GamePad integration works beautifully with the Camera Obscura, but sadly the game drowns with a poor storyline, sluggish AI and monotonous chapters before it really has a chance to swim to the surface. Lacking focus and development, perhaps it’s best to blink and miss.

5.5 / 10

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash Review

The deliciously charming and adorable Chibi-Robo brings his electric moves to the 3DS in a new 2D platformer. But while his shiny exterior is as sweet as those snacks, Chibi’s adventure needs more than a lick of polish to brighten its dull gameplay.

As the fifth instalment in the Chibi-Robo! franchise, and developed by Skip alongside Vanpool, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash exudes the same cutesy appeal seen in its previous titles. Designed as a 2D action platformer, Chibi must save his world from a group of mischievous aliens and bring back peace to the ecosystem. But in order to do so, the 10-centimeter silver robot must traverse six areas across the world, battling metallic enemies with his handy zip lash and plug.

On the surface, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash appears as nothing more than a quick and easy game to pass the time on your lunch hour at work. And for the most part, Zip Lash is exactly that. But it does boast some interesting level designs and fairly tricky challenges, giving fans of the franchise, beginners and younger players a neatly balanced game. With six levels to each world; spanning from the cool Oceania, the vast plains of North Africa, the exotic Caribbean, historical Europe, modern North America and the icy South Pole, there is plenty to unearth and discover. And though the game can be completed in less than a dozen hours, finding Zip Lash’s collectables – such as the many Japanese snacks found in each level – will take much more dedication.

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Chibi’s Amiibo can be used in conjunction with the game. Simply talk to Telly in the spaceship to use him.

Playing as the adorable Chibi, players can use two different types of moves with his wired plug to travel up, down and across each level. By using the whip lash you’ll be able to latch onto orange pads a short distance away, though by collecting blue numbered balls you’ll be able to extend Chibi’s zip lash and target orange or blue pads at a much bigger distance. Of course, there are multiple enemies in each level ready to electrify, pummel and crush Chibi, which means you’ll have to outsmart them by using your zip lash as a weapon.

By moving the circle pad or the D-pad for precision, you can target moving enemies and coloured pads with Chibi’s wire, allowing his agile nature a chance to shine. While using the zip lash is fun, it can be awkward and frustrating, particularly when running from a large enemy or rising lava. As the circle pad is overly sensitive it can be difficult to aim, but using the slow-as-a-tortoise D-pad is no help either and leaves players with clunky, lethargic controls that are detrimental to gameplay.

Throughout the game’s 36 levels, Chibi will find different types of trash ranging from broken cups to tired tennis balls from the real world. Collecting these items means Chibi can pop them into his spaceship’s generator,  having compacted them Wall-E style, and will allow him to produce watts to fuel his adventures. If Chibi runs out of watts during a level, it’s game over. However, there are easily accessible upgrades that can be used, such as the battery upgrade after Chibi’s 999 watts deplete, or a boost upgrade saving him from pitfalls. Great for younger and less experienced players, they are handy to have when facing the game’s bosses or more difficult levels.

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Damn, Chibi can swing those hips, er, I mean steel framework casing.

While some of the game’s best levels feature in World 4, such as Bomball Ruins which gives a neat 3D perspective on the game’s standard 2D format, most feel far too repetitive. The monotonous jump, aim, defeat enemies, and repeat is thankfully broken up by Chibi-Robo ride levels. As such, players will have the chance to crest the waves on Chibi’s wakeboard, steer a balloon, a submarine and a skateboard.

Though it’s a great change of pace for Zip Lash, the levels are again let down by unpolished controls. Easily forgettable tutorial sections by Chibi’s sidekick the Telly, which only pop up when you fail a mission, coupled with terribly clunky and heavy movements by the submarine and balloon are not just painful to watch, they are excruciating to play. The submarine is even forced on players during a boss fight. Typically, I’d rather watch paint dry, it’s quicker and arguably less painful.

Most of Zip Lash’s boss fights, though, are great to play and are a big boost for the game’s challenge. Appearing at the end of each world, Chibi fans can face off with a golden African snake or Count Dracula and, coupled with superb music to keep battles full of energy and life, they are enjoyable to play.

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Try not to get *cough* mummified by this boss.

Unlike most regular 2D platformers, Zip Lash’s level selection isn’t linear but is determined by a numbered spin wheel. Giving you the freedom to choose which level you want is fantastic, however its restrictive nature means you’ll likely play levels repeatedly if you land on the wrong number, and there’s no option to skip them. You can purchase numbered panels from one to five in the shop with moolah – the in-game currency found throughout the six areas – and completely nullify the spin wheel, leaving it as little more than a bonkers, shoehorned feature.

Though if you do happen to play a level again, you’ll get an extra chance to find its collectables, such as the super cute chibi-tots, as well as help rescue a lost alien to gain neat outfits for Chibi. Though it’s an additional feature to the game, it’s purely aesthetic and – sadly –  irrelevant to gameplay. Luckily, once players clear a world, the numbered spin wheel disappears and you can freely select levels as and when you wish.

Similar to the robot’s wire, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash falls considerably short of its target. Lacking depth to its story, inane difficulty spikes due to the awkward controls in several stages and oddly shoehorned features, you’ll likely find frustration rather than fun. If it wasn’t for Chibi’s hilarious bust-a-moves and cute animations, players would most likely zip-lash straight past.

5 / 10