Reviews by Phlakes

75

What It Says on the Tin

Phlakes | May 17, 2013 | Review of Raiden Legacy

Raiden Legacy is much more on the "rerelease" side of "updated rerelease." Outside of a few minor but harmless additions, it's little more than a package of these four games, but being the most convenient option to play them at home (possibly excluding Raiden Fighters Aces on the 360 and ports of the original game all over the place), the question is mostly just if they're worth $9.

The base games aren't touched, assuming the right options are chosen. Being emulated rather than recreated, the original sprites, sounds, and music are all carried over, but with a relatively small set of enhancements and extra features added cleanly on top.

Graphically, there are no changes. The game will play with the typical set of resolution options, including being stretched and filtered for bigger monitors or running at their original ratio, for the enthusiasts of cleaner pixels. Aside from infrequent and tolerable hiccups, the framerate is as smooth as simple 2D graphics are expected to be.

One of the only changes, rather than additions, is an "HD" remastered soundtrack for the Fighters games, which can be toggled from the main menu (but not in the middle of a game, in a disappointing but understandable omission). Otherwise the audio is similarly untouched.

The most significant addition is a menu that allows several options for exploring the games outside of their arcade setting. To counter removing the foundation of an arcade game's challenge (paying to continue after a loss), the game restricts players to one credit, corresponding to one chance to continue. After reaching the game over screen a second time it must be restarted. But to keep from being needlessly bound to arcade rules, it includes two more modes of play- Mission Mode, which allows the player to select and start from any stage that has been reached in the default Arcade Mode, and Training Mode, which does the same and gives a generous 99 credits, but prevents unlocking stages for selection. These make each game a much more accessible and home console-friendly experience- one could play through all of Raiden Fighters in Training Mode but would be giving up the ability to replay levels until they beat them with the credit limit.

Similarly, Legacy adds two difficulty options and arbitrary achievements, which make a small difference but add some amount of replay value. Playing with a gamepad is as smooth as it should be, although strangely won't control every menu function, and local co-op is thankfully supported, but the updates end here.

So again, the question is whether these four games, plus the few extra features, are worth $9. While Legacy adds little, by reducing the crushing arcade punishment but managing to balance its changes, it makes itself one of the best (or only) options to play these games in a simple and accessible context. If you enjoy fast-paced shooters or Raiden specifically, four classic games with incentives to be replayed make Legacy an easily justifiable investment, just not much more than you'd get from the arcade machine.

90

Going gracefully through puberty

Phlakes | May 4, 2013 | Review of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Nexway

In a lot of ways, Skyrim is a natural improvement over the rest of the series. It raises the amount of voice actors from 15 (including the exclusives like Patrick Stewart) to several times that much, makes the expected leap in visuals and sound, streamlines some of the more outdated RPG mechanics, makes combat much more visceral than Oblivion's styrofoam swords and watery magic, and develops a much more interesting world by putting a Nordic twist on the typical medieval fantasy.

But in other ways, most involving dungeons full of Draugr, it falls into its own traps that can be as detrimental as the floaty controls and disturbingly wooden characters of the previous game. A quest that would have any other game send you to an interesting location to have a small story play, you go to a dungeon full of Draugr and fight your way to the end, where the magical whatever lies in some coffin. A puzzling amount of crowns and swords find their way into deep tombs, serving only to give you an excuse to go through the Dungeon of the Week with the promise of loot at the end.

Some of the streamlining wears down necessary edges- any player can easily become the head of every major coalition in a few dozen hours. The usual RPG stats and health bars set an odd contrast with the more action-oriented combat system, with brutal, one-sided executions coming after you hack away at the enemy for a minute. It's closer to the action side of action RPG (but still closer to RPG universally), but too far away from any of the equilibrium points. Too actiony for an RPG but too reluctant to let itself sit in the middle. Considering how the series has progressed, the next installment might fix the latter, which obviously won't go over well for a lot of fans, but it's at an uncomfortable spot and either side would give it a much more solid foundation.

And of course, it's still on Gamebryo. There are huge improvements in character models and animations, and Skyrim itself is full of wallpaper-worthy views, but modern Bethesda still hasn't put out a polished and mechanically sound game.

Still, their expertise is world building, and anyone disappointed with the deciduous forests and generic-fantasy-novel aesthetic of Oblivion should be at least intrigued by the uniqueness of Skyrim, and the hundred or so hours that people like to spend in the world are more immersive than the individual parts would make you believe.

Also, dragons, there's that.