FEATURE: August 2013 Five-in-One Mega Gaming Review!

Catch up on some of the past month's highlights in gaming!

I am but a man. Y'see, I'm usually able to regularly review individual titles, but August has not been a kind month to me. Instead, I'm trying something new, and lumping a bunch of mini-reviews together in a single feature--this gives you a one-stop shop for CR game reviews!

 

Overall, August was a pretty busy month, with a ton of major titles spread across consoles, handhelds, and PC. Here are five that I was able to spend a lot of time with, my thoughts on them, and (when it's ready) a mini-review from Victoria for Tales of Xillia!

 

Pikmin 3 (Wii U)

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Pikmin franchise, this real-time strategy series started life on the GameCube and was inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto's love of gardening. As pint-sized spaceman Captain Olimar, you worked your way through a massive, hungry world teeming with life, aided by tiny plant-like creatures called Pikmin. Different-colored Pikmin were strong in different areas--red Pikmin were good at fighting and were immune to fire, while yellow Pikmin were better at digging up items and could be thrown higher and farther.

 

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Pikmin 3 brings the series into HD on the Wii U, with some cool new additions to the Pikmin family. Rock Pikmin are solid and heavy, and can smash through walls in addition to providing high-damage attacks, and pink Pikmin can fly, attack aerial enemies, and airlift items. The variety in the puzzles and the emphasis on think-on-your-feet tactics have you constantly weighing how many Pikmin you should bring, and how you should distribute the five different Pikmin types throughout your hundred-strong army. Also upgrading from Pikmin 2's two-commander scheme, you now control three leaders, letting you split your forces to solve puzzles, collect fruit, and fight enemies.

 

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The game looks unbelievable in HD, with a lush and vibrant world being brought to life like never before. The gameplay is balanced and intelligent, but controlling your Pikmin with the Wii U Gamepad takes quite a bit of getting used to--it's pretty clunky compared to just using the Wii Remote. Like previous games in the series, its story mode is pretty short, but the large assortment of missions and the constant drive for high scores will keep you playing for a long time to come.

 

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REVIEW ROUNDUP

+ Lush and beautiful visuals give a great sense of scale and wonder

+ Gameplay strikes a great balance between furiously intense and soak-in-your-surroundings mellow

+ Like all first-party Nintendo offerings, Pikmin 3 has one hell of a soundtrack

+/- Main game is pretty short, but a wealth of postgame missions makes up for it

- Clunky Gamepad controls sometimes make combat frustrating, at least until you get used to them

 

Dragon's Crown (PS3, Vita)

Years of hype have led to this very moment! While Project X Zone was a fun but somewhat forgettable experience, Dragon's Crown lives up to all the hooplah by providing Vanillaware's best title to date. Like an enhanced version of Capcom's Dungeons & Dragons brawlers, Dragon's Crown is a fierce, fast-paced beat-em-up with a heavy emphasis on building a strong, personalized character, working as a team, and beating progressively stronger enemies.

 

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A regularly-mentioned problem with brawlers is how repetitive they can get--you really just go from left to right, beat the living crap out of everything in your way, fight a boss, and then repeat the whole process all over again. Dragon's Crown avoids this issue by making each character an absolute blast to play, with a big variety of character-specific moves that allow them to respond to different situations. Controls are tight and responsive, and you'll always feel like you're going on new adventures during the 20-some-odd-hour campaign.

 

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Don't be turned off by that length, either--Vanillaware games are notorious for padding what should be 15-20-hours worth of content with 60-80 hours of pointless backtracking, grinding, and loot farming, but Dragon's Crown never overstays its welcome. The only immediate flaws I can see in this game are a lack of voice chat, a pretty forgettable story that keeps rearing its ugly head, and occasionally spotty online on the Vita--but otherwise, it's a great experience. With six different classes, a ton of customization options for each class, loads of gorgeous art to unlock, and ridiculously fun online and offline multiplayer, Dragon's Crown stands tall as one of the year's best games--a throwback to the days when games were challenging and rewarding, while still sporting the high-class presentation, playability, and accessibility of today's titles.

 

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REVIEW ROUNDUP

+ Mind-blowingly gorgeous visual presentation, evoking the feel of a Frank Frazetta painting come to life

+ Tight controls and fluid gameplay make each battle a chaotic joy to play through

+ Loads of character customization and build options, letting you design a warrior to your specs

+/- Fun online play, but no voice chat and sometimes-problematic connections when playing on the Vita

+/- Dynamic, hypersexualized character designs (both male and female) can be off-putting for some players

- When the gameplay is this good, you don't need a story... so why does it keep butting in? SHUT UP AND LET ME PLAY

 

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS)

I've mentioned before how I'm a huge fan of just about every Mario RPG, but I have a special place in my heart for the portable-only Mario & Luigi games. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is the first 3DS installment in the series, and brings Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toadsworth to Pi'illo Island. The always-lighthearted adventure has the Mario Bros fighting side-by-side in the usual timing-centric turn-based battles, but eventually you have to enter the Dream World, taking control of Mario and "Dreamy Luigi" (Luigi's sexier self that lives in his dreams) for insane, over-the-top attacks.

 

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If you've played one of these games before (like Superstar Saga, Partners in Time, or Bowser's Inside Story), not much has changed on the surface. Battles still require you to pay attention, have good reflexes and observation skills, and if you set up your EXP just right, you can break the game in half and end up with a pair of ridiculously overpowered plumbers who crit every other attack. However, like each of the previous titles in the series, Dream Team focuses on a unique mechanic for traversal and puzzle-solving--specifically, manipulating Luigi in the real world to affect objects in the Dream World, and using the crazy powers of Dreamy Luigi to get where you need to go.

 

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While some may find the game's story and constant joking a little kiddy, I'm okay with that--Mario and Luigi aren't exactly the characters you look to for "adult" stories, and the game more often than not takes the tone of a Pixar movie--mostly family-friendly, with a few jokes that'll sail right over kids' heads. The real star of Dream Team is the gameplay, which only shines brighter with the game's beautiful watercolor visuals. This is video game comfort food--nothing new, but a solid 40 hours of bright and silly RPG fun.

 

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REVIEW ROUNDUP

+ Beautiful visual design feels like watercolor paintings in motion

+ Nice split between traversal and battle in both the real world and the Dream World, so it never feels repetitive

+ Timing-based combat requires skill, practice, and good observation skills, keeping players on their toes

+/- Story stays lighthearted and fun, so players expecting it to get darker (like Super Mario RPG) will be disappointed

 

DuckTales Remastered (PS3, Wii U, PC--Xbox Live version is due in October)

Nostalgia's kind of a dangerous thing, especially when it comes to a revamp of a beloved title like Capcom's DuckTales. Debuting on the NES in 1989, DuckTales was developed by the team responsible for the Mega Man games, giving us a fun-yet-ruthless platformer that saw Uncle Scrooge travelling all over the globe and even into space as he hunted for legendary treasures. Fast-forward to today, and WayForward, developers of Contra 4 and the Shantae games, have completely redone DuckTales from scratch with a shiny HD coat of paint, new music, and adjusted gameplay. Thankfully, my nostalgia wasn't too far off, and DuckTales Remastered lives up to the original, surpassing it in some ways by completely channelling the feel of the cartoon.

 

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Being a game of the NES era, DuckTales is pretty short overall, but even experienced gamers will be spending more time than its suggested three-hour story mode. You're gonna die--a lot--and you'll constantly be going back to stages on multiple difficulty levels to try and fill Scrooge's Money Bin, unlocking concept art and tracks from the game's still-excellent soundtrack. The slight adjustments to the gameplay have made DuckTales a little more precise--you're still able to inch up to the very edge of platforms for more accurate jumping, but the Pogo Jump has more stringent requirements. While this does make for a more balanced game and actually forces players to learn when to use normal jumps and when to Pogo, it can be frustrating for players who are more used to the original, especially in the game's taxing final stages.

 

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While the original game was a simple "go here, kill everything" platformer, a story mode has been added featuring the surviving members of the main voice cast from the DuckTales cartoon, including 94-year-old Alan Young reprising his role as Scrooge McDuck. It feels like a long episode of the show, which isn't a bad thing--I just forgot how much of an asshole Scrooge was to everybody. Another big problem I had with the game came with repeated crashes--I'd often make my way through a difficult area, stop to catch my breath, and the game would blink out. I'd then have to start the whole damn thing all over again, so here's hoping Capcom and WayForward patch it as soon as possible. DuckTales Remastered is a welcome look back at Capcom's Disney platformers, but for now, its technical flaws really kill the nostalgic mood.

 

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REVIEW ROUNDUP

+ Alan Young as Scrooge! Dive into the Money Bin! DuckTales Remastered goes out of its way to feel like the cartoon

+ While the soundtrack is remixed, it's still solid as hell and just as great as before

+/- Gameplay has been tightened up, making for better platforming, but it will throw off people used to the original

+/- The game is constantly interrupted by cutscenes, but thankfully it's easy to skip through these

- Buggy as hell--the game crashes regularly and without warning

 

Divekick (PS3, Vita, PC)

What would happen if you boiled fighting games down to their core components? Take out everything extraneous--comeback mechanics, projectiles, defensive mechanics like sidestepping or parrying, and super moves--and you're left with the most important part of fighting games: space control. Yes, what really determines mastery of a fighting game isn't who has memorized more frame data or who has practiced more combos (although those help), but who controls the arena better, and who can bait the other person into screwing up.

 

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Divekick is exactly that--a fighter that's simplified to a point where it looks like Easy Mode, but plays like Expert Mode. You only get two buttons--Dive and Kick--and a small roster of characters based on fighting game favorites with iconic divekicks of their own (like MvC's Wolverine or SFIII and IV's Yun and Yang), and a short time limit that encourages aggressive play. It only takes one hit to win, so you're on a razor's edge the entire time--you can't coast during a Divekick match.

 

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While it lacks the visual polish of other modern fighters, Divekick excels with its competitive gameplay and merciless mocking of the hardcore fighting game community. With nice callback jokes like Seth Killian S-Kill's "crosshand stance" to Alex Jebailey Jefailey's dangerous inflating ego, Divekick is a great parody and distillation of all the strengths and weaknesses of fighting games, while being a solid and fiercely competitive fighting game at the same time.

 

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REVIEW ROUNDUP

+ Much like boxing or fencing find depth in limitations, Divekick brings its own depth by focusing on core elements of fighters

+ Small but varied cast of characters each bring something new (and hilarious) to the table

+ Constant comedic shoutouts to famous fighting games and FGC personalities

+/- Visuals aren't as up-to-par as other fighters, but that's really part of the game's charm

- It's fun to play the game with only two buttons, but straight-up stupid to navigate menus that way

 

There are still plenty of great games from this month--I'm personally looking forward to The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and the latest Splinter Cell, and I'm currently working on a standalone review for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. What have you been playing this month? Do you prefer these roundups of mini-reviews, or would you rather read individual writeups? Sound off in the comments!

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