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Game Reviews

Dodgeball Academia Review

(Dodgeball Academia is available for Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.)

Growing up, school constantly felt like a battleground. Many mornings were spent in preparation for the numerous attacks that were certain to catch me off-guard during my day. From the bathrooms with their soldiers of swirlies, to the walks home full of twists and turns in a labyrinthine neighborhood, nowhere was safe. On the flipside, there also wasn’t really any place that felt more dangerous either. Unless you found yourself on the dodgeball court.

That wasn’t a battleground, it was a fucking warzone. 

Now imagine how I reacted upon learning that there was a game all about the warm and fuzzy feeling that only a rubber ball to the face could provide. Enter: Dodgeball Academia!

Dodgeball Academia is what you get when you blend a sports game with the look of Gravity Falls, the “trainer” systems from Pokemon, the upgrades and customization of role-playing games, and the story-telling of a Saturday morning cartoon. Visually, it has an easily identifiable style, which is something that modern games are sorely lacking. The character designs especially pop against the 3D rendered background, while the vibrant and complimenting colors help to further bring everything together. These are characters and settings that I could easily see finding a home on a children’s cartoon network like…Cartoon Network.

So all is well and good in the land of initial appearances, but I think a lot of people know that first impressions aren’t always telling of what’s going on on a deeper level. Oftentimes it takes a moment or two for us to begin to understand a motive before we really get down to judgement. This reigns true, even in the world of video games. Case in point: once I began to actually play Dodgeball Academia, I realized that looks truly aren’t everything. The core content wasn’t something I could see myself staying with in the future.

The biggest reason for this was due to Dodgeball Academia’s story. I don’t personally think the plot of the game is bad, but I do think it was a story that didn’t quite mesh with me. The length of the story would wear on me from time to time, which led to many speed reads through the numerous lines of dialogue. The writing isn’t poorly done, but it is juvenile. You can tell that this story catered more toward fans of the shows that it pulled visual inspiration from, which admittedly let me down.

I did enjoy how Dodgeball Academia presented it’s story though. The narrative is portrayed in an episodic manner, with each chapter having its own plot while also carrying along the game’s main story. Each episode is only a couple of hours in length too, so being able to indulge in the dodgebally goodness in bite sized chunks was a breeze. There’s plenty of variety and creativity within these stories, which helps to prevent Dodgeball Academia from feeling too samey in it’s formula. I will say though that I do wish there was more time to breathe and explore between story beats. The game is fairly linear and doesn’t offer a huge variety of activities outside of some side quests and the occasional spot to grind some levels.

Speaking of levels, let’s take a moment to discuss the core gameplay here. I think Dodgeball Academia’s gameplay systems were my favorite thing about this experience (outside of taking in the visuals, of course). Once you spend a moment with the game, it’s easy to tell that Dodgeball Academia was built around the idea of being an homage to not just a PE class pastime, but to role-playing games as well. There are a plethora of systems here that are pulled from many classic RPGs which all come together to work in beautiful harmony. There’s your standard experience based leveling systems, items and gear to purchase, use and equip, enemies to run into if you’re looking to grind the day away, and more. To be honest, the core gameplay is a large reason why I nearly 100% completed Dodgeball Academia.

The game is also party based, with a large cast of characters that you can control through your journey. This helps with gameplay variety, by allowing you to access a plethora of differing playstyles. Granted they don’t differ in the way something like builds in Diablo do, but they still vary enough to offer the player a semblance of choice.

Everyone has super cool anime powers given to them by the power of a magical dodgeball as well, which further helps diversify the roster. For example, one character may harness the power of electricity which allows them to stun more opponents, while another may harness the power of fire, leading to many a crispy kiddo. I thoroughly enjoyed uncovering every character’s special power, from those that I played as, to those who you merely fight against on the court. It helped bring another level of personality to a game already bursting at the seams with charisma and allure.

Which I wish was the same for the music in Dodgeball Academia. Sadly, that’s not really the case based on my experience. While the game doesn’t have a particularly bad soundtrack, I can’t deny that it can get a bit grating on the ears after some time. In my opinion, the problem stems from a lack of variety in the music. Individually, these tracks almost all fit well with the overall look and feel of Dodgeball Academia. The issue lies within how often these tracks are used, and how rarely I was given a reprieve from them. The main hub of the game is accompanied by this tune where you have a guitar just going absolutely crazy in the background with it’s “wah-wahs” and “wee-woos”. I swear that song single-handedly led to me speeding through the game at a faster rate, which kinda saddened me. I was really looking forward to more variety in this one.

Look, Dodgeball Academia isn’t a perfect game. That’s completely fine, seeing as perfect video games don’t exist. But it is a well put together gaming experience that knows it’s influences and wears them proudly on it’s sleeve. There may not have been as much here to enjoy as initial impressions initially led me to believe, but not every game will fit every person. And again, I’ll reiterate this for the upteenth time: Dodgeball Academia isn’t a bad game. In fact, it’s a really good game. A really good game for a select few: younger gamers and sports fans mostly. 

Regardless of which demographic Dodgeball Academia best suits, I don’t at all regret my time with the game. It was a nice throwback to the days of old, where every day meant putting my life on the painted white line in gym class. Where my classmates and I became not only friends, but comrades in a war against enemies that threatened the composition of all of our faces. It was a time I will forever be nostalgic for, and at the end of the day, I think I actually owe it to Dodgeball Academia for reigniting my appreciation for those times. For that reason alone, I’d say that the game is well worth your time, even if it doesn’t end up being your next favorite game. 

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Game Reviews

Road 96 Review

(Road 96 is available now for Nintendo Switch and Windows)

Let’s face it: video games often pull from real life in order to fuel their narrative economy. Not only that, it’s also something that’s become increasingly common in newer releases. Maybe it’s because of my age, what with being in my mid-20’s now and constantly feeling like every action is one that could be judged politically. Maybe it’s thanks to our more-than-ever-before connected world where we’re able to share differing life experiences like never before.

Regardless of the underlying reason, I can freely admit that I find art imitating life in this scenario to be massively appealing. To see other’s interpretation of life events through the lens of an interactive work of art is something unique to gaming. There’s a sort of beauty to it all, and I think that’s why Road 96 appealed to me so much.

Get used to looking at that mountain. You’ll be seeing it often.

The premise in Road 96 is simple and to the point. You take on the role of a series of teens as they travel to the border of the oppressive, totalitarian country of Petria in an attempt to escape and find a better life elsewhere. What helps in diversifying this straightforward premise is an interesting cast of characters who you meet during your various attempts to flee the country. Building upon that further, Road 96 pushes forward an overarching narrative of an upcoming election waiting for the citizens of this oppressive regime. At first, the overall climactic event (or events) at the end of this roughly 8 hour adventure may not immediately seem apparent. However, it’s through the numerous encounters with the aforementioned cast of supporting characters that makes the entire story (and their roles in it) come together.

Now, there’s quite a noticeable (how should I say this) blemish on the entire story and how it’s given to the player to enjoy: that’s the visuals. This game has some of the most wildly inconsistent presentation I’ve been witness to in a while. I should mention that this game was made on a smaller budget and by an even smaller team of indie developers. It’s often not priority #1 of developers to make the highest quality looking game ever, which I understand.

I mean this in a purely critical sense and in an attempt to share my experience with you when I say this: this game often goes from great to not so great at a moment’s notice. So much so that I found it to be distracting at best and cringe inducing at worst. It’s unfortunate that so many emotional moments in Road 96 fall flat for this exact reason. On the flipside, if this is what a team can accomplish on a tight budget and as a first project, then my hope for future releases will remain bright.

At times, Road 96 looks great. Other times, not so much.

Unfortunately, the presentation’s inconsistency doesn’t stop at it’s visuals. Beyond hit or miss lip sync, stiff animation, and some goofy texture action, Road 96 is also guilty of sporting the occasional bout of poor voice acting. Thankfully, this isn’t something that stands out as much as the problems with the visuals do, but it was still distracting nonetheless.

Outside of the moments here or there with the visuals being less than stellar and voice lines being delivered in less than convincing ways, there is a tremendous amount of beauty to be found in Road 96. The environments and the variety of places you visit along your journey are beautiful mosaics of cell-shaded goopy oil painting goodness. The lighting used often helps these locations pop even further, and the fantastic use of Road 96’s soundtrack being weaved in and out at key moments helped bring it all together.

Speaking of the original soundtrack, it’s with great pleasure that I can tell you Road 96 has some fantastic music to help you feel all of the feels while trekking thousands of miles across the country. You’ve got all of the basics covered, from Jack Johnson-type acoustic upbeat jams to synthwave pop goodness that wouldn’t be out of place in the glove compartment of The Weeknd’s car. There is a great mix of music, with some of the songs quickly ending up on one of my playlists over on Spotify. If there’s anything that you explore more of before purchasing a ticket explore Road 96, it should be the music. It’s some genuinely good shit.

Country road, take me anywhere else but here.

Outside of gawking at the scenery presented to you along the variety of roads you’ll travel, Road 96 presents a unique hybridization of both the ever popular choose your own adventure genre of games (aka Telltale Games, Life is Strange) and the never know what you’re going to get randomness of roguelites (aka Hades, Rogue Legacy).

At the start of each attempt to cross the border, you’re presented with a few choices for a no name teen who you’ll play as. Once you decide on a character template, you’re whisked away on your journey. The trip often opens with you in a car or walking up upon a location where you run into one of the supporting characters. They’re generally dealing with some issue that calls upon you to help them resolve. Resolutions boil down to a minigame most of the time, which there’s thankfully a large variety of. In my time with Road 96, I never ran into a repeat minigame, which was a great thing to experience.

You’re also presented with numerous interactions that take place between you and Road 96’s cast of colorful characters. These conversations aren’t as deep or as impactful as I’d have liked them to be, but they were still great at carrying the story along. Thankfully there’s also a new game plus mode once you complete the story, so the option to go back and redo interactions in a different way while still maintaining all of the information you gained in a previous playthrough is available.

Stan and Mitch, Bank Robbers (in training).

Road 96 also mentions that it’s a procedurally generated adventure. That merit is technically true, but there’s been plenty of confusion surrounding it, so I’ll attempt to clarify. Road 96 is procedural in the way it presents it’s events, not so much when it comes to the game’s overall content. What I mean by this is that almost everyone will experience similar or even the same events during a playthrough of Road 96. The locations (at least from what I’ve seen) don’t generally vary much, either. What does vary however, is the order in which these events play out for each player. One player may start out in a truck with the charismatic John, while another person may start out roadside with the upbeat wizkid, Alex. In the end though, both players will more than likely still experience both events.

Personally, I don’t find much frustration in the fact that Road 96 isn’t as varied or procedurally generated as I initially thought it would be. This is due to the fact that the journey Road 96 asks you to take to reach it’s conclusion is one of intrigue. The characters (voice acting aside) are well written and interesting people, who I found enjoyment in learning more about. The numerous little minigames you play, from simple past times like portable Connect 4 to throwing bags full of money at a police officer in hot pursuit of you, are always fun to play. Then there’s that absolutely awesome soundtrack to help bring all of this together even further.

There are smaller enjoyments to be had here as well. I especially enjoyed seeing the world react to my choices, no matter how tiny the change may be. Finding varying ways to cross the boarder as my options became more and more limited was also a nice touch. Talking to citizens and asking for their opinions on hotly debated topics within the game world helped flesh Petria out as a lived in place. Being able to call the numbers on display on billboards, learning abilities that help you interact with things in ways you couldn’t before, etc etc.

Welcome to Hotel Petria. (Best not to stay too long.)

There is a copious amount of pure, unfiltered storytelling goodness to be had here. Further backing that storytelling is a wonderfully varied mix of gameplay in Road 96 that keep things from feeling stale, even after numerous escape attempts have gone by. These high points are occasionally marred by less than stellar presentation in both the visual and audio departments, but it was never enough to stop me from wanting to see what would happen next. There was always something new just around the corner, waiting to be discovered.

In that way, I think Road 96 is akin to many adventures people have taken where they get to driving and don’t even so much as glance at a map. Who knows? It may be a secret ingredient that all good road trips need. If it is, then I’d argue that Road 96 is a trip well worth taking.

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Game Reviews

Speed Limit Review

(Speed Limit: Arcade Edition is available for Playstation 4/5, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One/X/S)

REVIEW KEY PROVIDED BY DEVS

When I hear the words “Speed Limit”, it becomes very difficult to not want to drop everything at that exact moment, book it to the nearest sources of movies in my vicinity, and request an immediate showing of the 1994 box-office hit, “Speed”. One could potentially think then, using the combined powers of deduction and assumption, that I would thoroughly enjoy a fast-paced, high-octane indie game with an ever-shifting set of genres working alongside one another.

That’s what one could potentially think, right? What if I told you that that theory was instead quickly thrown out the window shortly after my first experience with Speed Limit? Here’s my review.

The opening moments of Speed Limit reminded me of the classic flash games of yesteryear. Where you’re given minimal context to anything at all, feeling like a deer caught in the headlights of a plot-free semi-truck barreling right at you. Upon start-up, we’re greeted by a scene of a train ride, with our main character just being a train passenger, passengering about. Moments later, some disheveled, shady as heck looking dude makes their way onto the frame… before keeling over dead. They drop a gun into your lap as they slowly become “aliven’t”, and now you’re the most wanted criminal to ever exist. Better get to running.

What follows is an hour long journey through a variety of different gameplay styles, accompanied by a constant climb in both speed and difficulty. While the game starts you off on foot, pushing you through train-car after train-car at an infuriatingly slow pace (seriously, this guy moves at a snail’s pace), the speed picks up considerably every few minutes. You’ll go from running around in the comfort of your Shoe-baru’s (ha ha) to driving a convertible, to piloting a helicopter, to manning a fighter jet, etc etc. It only keeps going from there.

Now, I’ll be honest with you: On paper, all of this stuff sounds really, really cool. I can’t think of anyone who would argue otherwise. (Maybe an old person, but they’re old so their opinions don’t matter.) Upon execution however, I think a few major missteps were taken, and the end result suffers greatly because of it.

Speed Limit‘s first short-coming became apparent almost immediately after start-up. The second after we’re shown the plot set-up and assume control of the protagonist, it becomes rather obvious that our character moves at an infuriatingly slow speed. Now, maybe this is simply a design choice. It could feel painfully slow as a way to further drive home that feeling of the metaphorical speedometer constantly climbing during one’s playthrough. Sadly, I don’t think it actually works all too well within the confines of the game.

If that wasn’t enough to get me feeling like this wasn’t a good start to the experience, Speed Limit‘s controls in it’s opening moments certainly did the trick. Testing the game on both keyboard/mouse and an Xbox One controller, I found the controls to be pretty hit or miss. I struggled to clear the first area simply because my character would begin to look up while I pressed right for him to go forward. This is an issue because having the character look upward slows him down to an even slower pace than he was already going, making you a near effortless target to take out.

That frustration is taken to an even higher level upon reaching the second phase of the first area. After a short period of running from train-car to train-car, we’re moved to the top of the train where we now have to contend with killer platforms (in addition to the enemies who were already shooting at us). Navigating this area was a nightmare, as the game repeatedly refused to take my inputs into account, smashing me into walls or causing an untimely make-out session with a barrage of bullets.

To top off this cake of conundrums, we have my final gripe with Speed Limit: it’s cameras. Some of the camera positioning in this game is… fine, even great at times. But that’s only sometimes. Outside of those moments, the camera is the worst thing about this game. Having to redo sections of a game due to control issues is something I can tolerate, to an extent. I cannot, however, tolerate a camera that’s been set-up to make me fail.

The first time this becomes apparent is during a chase scene across a waterway, with arches you have to fly through to avoid colliding and, you know, dying. The space you have to clear is pretty small, and you have to be nearly pixel perfect with your movements in order to avoid scraping the walls of the arches. I love pixel perfect movements in games, but only when I can see them. If I can’t see what I’m doing, and have to rely solely on assumptions and luck, that’s a bad thing in my opinion.

This isn’t the only time the camera is an issue either. A later section in the game asks you to control a fighter jet, which I thought would be freaking awesome! It wasn’t. It was nausea-inducing. It’s use of a tunnel-like rotating camera set-up brought upon immediate motion sickness. Bad enough to get me to “nope” the heck out of the game and look away from my monitor. That rarely ever happens.

I went back to revisit Speed Limit a few days after my initial experience, to see if these issues still persisted or if I was being a bit overly-critical in my analysis of the game. The issues still persisted, and they were even harder to overlook on my second playthrough. Maybe it was because I had tried the “normal” difficulty instead of “easy” like I did the first time, but my patience for Speed Limit‘s short-comings was practically non-existent. Which sucks because I love the premise of the game, and was really hoping to enjoy the experience. The pixel art graphics are full of character and charm. The soundtrack had me tapping my foot along to it the entire time. So…

One could potentially think then, using the combined powers of deduction and assumption, that as a fan of both arcade games and genre bending works of programming, I would recommend Speed Limit as a product. However, contrary to potential belief, this is one I cannot suggest based off of my personal experience. As much as it pains me to do this (as it always does), I’ll be giving Speed Limit a verdict of DEFINITELY NOT WORTH ANY PRICE.

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Music

KK Vibe (KK Bubblegum Remix)

You can also stream this song over on Youtube by clicking here.

“In celebration of Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s one year anniversary, I decided to remix the best song from the one and only KK Slider. I hope you enjoy this cute little bubblepop tune! Be sure to like and subscribe so you don’t miss out on future releases.” -SleepYYhead

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Video Review: Hob

(Hob is available is for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Microsoft Windows.)

Oh boy, we’re back at it again with yet another 3D platformer. This week, we take a look at Hob. Why’re we taking a look at a game that came out in 2017? Because there has yet to be any interesting releases in 2018. But then again, it’s only the second week of the year, so I don’t really expect there to be much going on regarding game releases. Either way though, Hob was a fun game to play through and review, even if it did frustrate me more often than I would have liked. Is it worth full price? Here’s my Two Cents.

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Video Review: Hand of Fate 2

(Hand of Fate 2 is available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac, and Linux.)

Dungeons and Dragons. Magic the Gathering. Yugioh and his boi Dark Magician. What if all of these things were smooshed together into one game? What would that game look like? How would it fare? I set out to answer these questions today, as we take a look at Hand of Fate 2. This game is a mix of ideas pulled from various card, board and fighting games. But does it all work together, or is it all just a waste of time? Find out on this week’s episode of Two Cent Reviews.

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Video Review: Resident Evil 7 (Biohazard)

(Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Windows.)

While I was down in my basement looking for wires to connect my old timey radio to my modern day sound system, I stumbled upon this old review and thought it’d be nice to put it on display in the aarcadee arcade. So here it is. A look at one of the, in my opinion, best horror games of 2017. But though it may be good enough to contend for the title of best horror game of this year, is it good enough to buy at full price? Probably. Here’s my two cents.

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Video Review: Little Nightmares

(Little Nightmares is available for Windows, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, and Stadia.)

To start the spooky season off right, I thought I’d review only horror games for the rest of the month. The first game I looked was Little Nightmares. A game I was interested in based off of looks alone. It looked like a unique twist on the Limbo formula, with a little bit of horror and spooks mixed in. So how did it fare?

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Review: Cuphead

Video review can be found here.

(Cuphead is available for PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Windows & Mac.)

Imagine an alternate universe, where 1930’s Disney cartoons have access to a time machine. They take that time machine, climb aboard, and head for the 80′s. The 1980′s. Upon arrival, they meet this cool video game named Contra. Contra, Steamboat Willie and friends quickly become best pals and decide to do acid one day together. In their LSD soaked haze, they end up sleeping together and have such an odd looking baby by the end of this completely realistic scenario that everyone who sees it cant help but be intrigued. That baby would be Cuphead. A game about two anthropomorphic cups named Cuphead and Mugman. The two walking, talking, living, breathing ceramic coffee containers end up signing a contract with the devil (not like in a record contract sort of way, but more of like a “sell your soul” kind of way). In the contract, they agree that in exchange for keeping their souls, Cupdude and Mugman must collect the souls of others who have made a similar deal with the devil and didn’t pay up.

This game is firetruckin’, fingersuckin’, fistfuckin’ fantastic to look at. The A E S T H E T I C of it is so eye catching, so mystifying, you can’t help but look on in awe, and wonder “how does something like this exist? How have we not seen this sooner?”. The visuals invoked one of my favorite feelings a person who feels can feel: Nostalgia! It’s happy. It’s joyful. It’s warm and vibrant. It’s violent as hell and I didn’t realize until reviewing this game how graphic cartoons from that era actually were. Some of this shit is straight up nightmare fuel. Everything here is hand drawn, and you can tell that some serious TLC went into the art of this game. It certainly shows. Now lets talk about the music and sound for a second. Do you like brass? Huh? You like brass? You like jazz?! Well get ready for some bombastic brass blown by barotone boys. This game’s soundtrack is like a California hillside in the middle of August: Lit. Every track is bouncy, full of BRASS, energetic and fits the level associated it. Even going as far as to giving each individual boss it’s own epic showdown track. I like that shit. I love that shit! And I think you will as well. The sound here is somewhat harder to critique, however. I’m not sure if I like it all that much. I think I do, but the game weaves the sound effects in and out so well that sometimes they almost seem to disappear into the background music entirely. But I think that’s what they were going for, honestly. The game has this mono sound to it, remenicent of how games on the Gameboy sounded. It certainly fits the style of the game, and adds furthermore to the A E S T H E T I C that Cuphead practically oozes. All together the music and sound effects all come together quite nicely, and even though it may sound odd at times, it fits the game well. Therefore I’d have to say that the presentation here as a whole is pretty top notch. We’re talking about some hella primo stuff here. Careful: It’s Hot!

Cuphead is primarily a boss rush game, bit it has a few gun and run levels sprinkled throughout as well. There’s a central overworld you explore, which opens up more to the player as the stages presented are completed. This game is hard, too. Like Kakuna spamming Harden hard. We’re talking some grade A level diamonds hard. It took me upwards of an hour and a half to complete just one boss fight. Not all of them took me that long, but all of them did leave me with a feeling of tremendous accomplishment upon completion. And that, to me at least, is worth the patience and concentration that some of these levels require. You also have the option of playing with one or two players. I live alone in a hut far off the coast of Madagascar though, so I had nobody to co-op with. Therefore I won’t be commenting on that topic. The gameplay is smooth. It’s slick, and responsive. Some platformers perform like a rental car that’s been around more than your local corner prostitute. Others perform like a sweet, sexy new ride you just purchased off the lot. Cuphead falls into the latter here, most definitely. The controls are simple enough, although they’re layed out somewhat uncomfortably on the controller. You have a button to shoot, a button to dodge, a button for your super ability, and a button to jump. Both movement and aiming are bound to the left stick, which for me, took a bit of getting used to. Once I got it down though, the game played very well. I was able to react in time to most attacks, and the ones I couldn’t avoid were usually followed up by me realizing how easily that damage could have been prevented. The game allows for a bit of customization as well, which becomes practically essential once you reach the later stages. You can equip a primary attack, a secondary, as well as a charm that allows for things like instant parrying or momentary invincibility when dashing. This adds a nice layer of depth to the game that isn’t overly complex or gimmicky.

I love this game. Everything about it to me is what I never knew I wanted in a game. Since it was announced at E3 a few years ago, I’ve had my eye on it. And so have thousands of other people. Now that it’s finally out, I’m more than happy to say it was worth the wait. The guys, gals, and any fourth demensional beings that worked on this game should give themselves a pat on the back. What they have created is something quite close to a masterpiece. It’s rare that I play a game that makes me want to revisit it after completion. There’s something about the setting, the warm, nostalgic vibe it gives off, and the retro gameplay found in Cuphead that envokes the feeling of childhood in me. I’ve more than enjoyed my time with it, and I’m going to keep enjoying it after this review. There’s a good chuck of content to eat through, and it’s all more than reasonably priced at a mere $20. 

Would I recommend it? Would I recommend Cuphead? Oh most certainly. I’d even go so far as to say it’s: Definitely worth full price.