Rainbow Skies (PS3, PS4, PSVita)

Rainbow Skies takes everything ‘RPG’ stands for and has fun with it: weird in a good way, enjoyable in an even better way. Does the name of the game ring a bell? This tactical RPG marvel comes from the same makers as the fantasy role-playing game Rainbow Moon!

Rainbow Skies promises a colourful and vibrant world, filled to the brim with friends and foes, murky dungeons, turn-based battles, towns, shops and everything else your role-playing heart desires. And the game sure doesn’t underdeliver: characters can be leveled, equipped and customized as you see fit. With side-quests and achievements for the collectionist and for everyone who wants a lot – and we do mean a lot! – of bang for his buck.

The game starts out as almost every RPG does: a spiky-haired hero wakes up in bed. Enter Damion, recovering from one hell of a hangover. Not quite ready for his final exam as a monster tamer. The town he lives in, all up in the sky, is constantly threatened by monster attacks. Of course all hopes are on a new generation of monster tamers. However, Damion manages to botch his exam by accidentally destroying the compound the monsters are held in. While he tries to cover up his mistake with his examiner and friend Layne, things take a turn for the worse. And it doesn’t get any better as he gets tangled up between two rival super powers. His fault: he shouldn’t have gotten up since he knew that is was going to be ‘one of those days’.

This game won’t take you by the hand but isn’t one to abandon you either, as any info about the gameplay is given to you on a need-to-know basis. Which makes for a gentle learning curve with the freedom to get to know the game at your pace. Wether it’s for long gaming sessions or short gaming bursts.

As with almost all games in the genre, gameplay is divided between exploring safe towns, battling your way throughout enemy-ridden areas and tinkering with your characters. You’re probably not even surprised that battles start as soon as your character collides with a monster. Which is when the turn-based fun starts: you get to make your move, the enemy gets to make his move and once you’re close you’ll get singed by a fireball. Bummer. In retaliation you get a bit closer and make the baddie bleed. Of course, it’s only that simple during the first part of the game. Later on, you’ll need to pummel screenfilling crowds. Luckily, your sword-wielding hero is not alone in his quest. He’ll soon be joined by the archer Layne and later on by the spell slinging Ashly.

As a tactical RPG, Rainbow Skies heavily depends on your thinking cap. Heck, you’ll even see those caps during the short and sweet tutorials (which, by the way, can be consulted again afterwards). After the first few fights you won’t survive by just hacking, slashing and burning your way through hordes of enemies. Especially not during boss fights. You’ll need to plan ahead and make smart use of your skills and magic prowess. Not too much use, mind you, as they’ll drain some sort of magic meter. Which, of course, is much better than having your life meter drained. Once a skilled is learned, it can be leveled up by using it during battle. And, oh, did we say they are rather flashy and nifty to look at?

Battles never bore aseach enemy has its own tactic and you often see them in lots of combinations and formations. Stay on your toes lest the enemy tramples them! Speaking of which… The difficulty curve is rather gentle but can be easily adapted to the likings of the experienced gamer. Don’t feel like level grinding? Then don’t. Really! Just customize the game to your liking, whether you’re rushing through the story mission, getting your kicks out of the many side quests or burning through your health recovery potions on the highest difficulty setting.

Rainbow Skies gets big points on running gags. Especially the one on Damion’s spiky hairdo. But the game shows its true colours during hectic battles and even more so with its many side quests. Collectionists will be happy to know that progress and achievements are easily tracked. Heck, there are even awards depending on how many side quests and achievements you completed. The optional content won’t leave you asking for more. There even is a turn-based fishing game. Yes, you read it: turn-based fishing game! Really!

Thinking of upgrading from a PS3™ to a PS4™? Or would you rather play this game on the go? Your money isn’t wasted as the cross-save support has you playing on all systems. Even on PS Vita.

So, what’s the catch? A game this much fun has to have a catch, right? Not exactly. The game’s aesthetics may not exactly be on par with most games, but they are polished nonetheless. And although the humour is quirky and over the top, some jokes may be a bit farfetched or even get stretched out too much after a while. But none of this distracts from the core gaming experience of Rainbow Skies, which is solid, attractive and just plain fun. No level grinding required. The developers sure listened when gamers complained that Rainbow Moon, the predecessing game, was a bit more demanding in that department.

Rainbow Skies is a nice game to start out with if this is your first tactical RPG. Got some or a lot of experience? Ramp up the difficulty and knock yourself out. Even collectionists get their kicks out of this. This is not a question of to buy or not to buy. Rainbow Skies knows how to cater to a wide range of gamers.

Marco

The Last Ship Season 4

tlcs4cJust when you thought “They can’t possibly force another season out of this,” they do. Case in point: The Last Ship. I’ve actually enjoyed the past three-seasons-worth of exploits from Tom Chandler and his crew, fighting antagonists in a virus-ridden world. The plot was well-written and very precisely planned to have all the different plotlines and stories fall together in the last few episodes. Great action, great acting… Just great overall. Season four: not as much.

Having defeated the virus in season 3, the crew of the USS Nathan James now faces a new threat. The virus has mutated and now attacks all plantlife. Crops succumb to the so-called Red Rust, and worldwide famine comes knocking. The intrepid seamen have to save the world once more, this time by saving a container of jurassic seeds, which should be immune to Red Rust. Problem is: they’re not the only ones after the seeds, and Captain Chandler is AWOL.

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I eagerly popped in disc one of the three disc set, and was thrust in the action almost immediately. The crew is already in talks with a thief about getting the seeds, when they are ambushed. Various new crewmembers pop up and help save the day.
Seeds? What seeds? Why is Chandler in Greece? And why is he posing as a fisherman? I glanced over to mrs. NxG, and was relieved to see her looking almost as bewildered as me.
Clearly, we must have skipped over an episode!
I checked.
Thus was not the case.
The season really starts off this confusing. To be fair, the first episode is called “In Medias Res”, but this seems a bit much. Seems more like shoddy writing, really. I can imagine the head writer going: “Prologue? Don’t feel like writing one. Just start off with the action, call it in medias res and be done with it. No, no need to explain where the newcomers are from either. And put Tom Chandler in Greece. With his kids, yeah. And a new girlfriend. Then have him leave them on a whim somewhere in episode 2.”
Honestly, it all feels a bit rushed.

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Same goes for editing and pacing. I get you’d want some fast-paced editing for action sequences, but don’t overdo it. Action sequences are intercut with non-action sequences from Chandler’s superfluous subplot (He’s a gladiator now. Don’t ask.) It just feels messy.

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I’m still watching, though. I’ve invested some sweet time in the first three seasons and things haven’t gotten to a point where I don’t care about these characters anymore.
Yet.
Plus there’s guest star Peter Weller who makes everything enjoyable. So season 4 gets a pass, even though it’s not as good as the three previous seasons. Not even close.
Let’s just hope season 5 picks up again.
Because yes: they can force yet another season out of this.

Jan

The Adventures of Elena Temple (SWITCH)

etcovIt’s publicly known that in the NerdTimesGeek household there’s an undying love for the Game Boy. The brick-sized system was a staple of our youths and has carved itself a special little place in our hearts. So when news hit that developer GrimTalin was making a game that paid homage to said system, me and the spouse were immediately on edge. We simply had to try to play and review this!

Players assume the role of Elena Temple, archeologist/treasure hunter extraordinaire. The poor lass is stuck in a treasurefilled temple, that’s just crawling with creepy critters and deadly traps. She has to find a way to the exit, and in passing, pick up as much treasure as she can carry whilst evading and avoiding all things nasty for her health. Luckily for her, Elena carries a pistol. Which is pretty useless, considering it only carries two rounds. So blasting a way to the exit is not an option. No, Elena will have to call on her (the player’s) wits to reach that exit.

I’ve mentioned it already: Elena Temple looks and feels like a retro-game. Simple graphics, simple (yet catchy) soundtrack and supersimple controls. It really feels as if I’m back in the eighties, sprawled out on the living room floor with my best friend, taking turns playing. The only thing missing is his mom nagging about being holed up inside while the weather outside is great.
The game is filled with hilarious takes on systems of back in the day. Players can find information on all the failed (fictive) systems Elena was ported onto. An even greater addition is being able to play the game on each of these. Who doesn’t like playing on a Some Toy, or a Maple computer or even NS-Bos? We can switch to any of these versions, at any time in the game, without losing progress. it makes the whole experience that much more fun.

A nice little puzzler/platformer, this The Adventures of Elena Temple. The only minor gripe I have is its length. It only takes a few hours to reach the exit… Luckily, there still are tons of coins and diamonds to be found throughout the huge temple, so replay value is pretty high, especially counting the various versions one can switch between.

I’m a fan! It’s been a while since I’ve had this kind of nostalgic fun, made me feel like a spry young lad again. Not to be missed by retrofans!

Jan

Save The Ninja Clan (SWITCH)

stnclcovI should’ve written this review a while now. But it was so hard to get up from the floor, where I was curled up in fetal position. Crying over my failed trillionth attempt at a level. And when I ded get up, I had to look allover for the Switch, which I’d foolishly thrown away. And when I finally found it, I had to get help to dislodge it from the wall it was embedded in.
Yes. Save The Ninja Clan is that frustratingly difficult.
And no, apparently I can’t handle that.

I’m in control of a cute little ninja, and, in order to have his clan survive, I need to guide him through a plethora of levels, each bursting with deadly enemies and boobytraps. Piece of cake I can hear you think, but nothing is farther from the truth. Save the Ninja Clan is a platformer of the kind where every jump has to be extremely precise, and where every millisecond counts.

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Ninja-ing on one’s own is never fun, so players can switch between three types of cute ninjas. Each of these have their own special abilities, that should help overcome certain obstacles. But frankly, I didn’t see the use of them. Just keep trying over and over with one type of ninja works just as well.

Underneath all that frustratingly difficult leveldesign, there’s a nice layer of humor hidden. Ninja’s tend to venture into places where they shouldn’t come, and when they do, the game tries to dissuade them with a funny error message, warning them away. Should they continue and stumble into the obvious trap, the game is quick in laughing at them via the same error-popup.

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With it’s nice 8-bit look, cool soundtrack and extremely hard difficulty level, the game should be enticing enough forplayers to come back to and give it one more try. If not, there’s always collectibles to be found.

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Save The Ninja Clan is one heck of a nice little platformer. Its difficulty level means it’s not for the easily giving up type of gamer though.

Jan

Shantae Half Genie Hero Deluxe Edition (PS4)

shantae half genie heroShantae, half-genie half-human girl, is having a bad day. The calm coastal town she’s the assigned guardian of, is under attack from a menacing pirate fleet. Assigned guardians are not supposed to sit idly around when danger looms, so she jumps in her best skimpy outfit. Armed only with her hair and her best bellydancing moves, she marches into battle.

I’ve been a fan of Shantae for a while now. Not just because every game guarantees a great platforming experience, but also because developer WayForward always has a way of finding the perfect balance between humour, looks and playvalue. With this installment they’ve once again hit the mark.

‘Cause have a look for yourself: those graphics, that cartoonish drawing style… It’s as if I’m in control of an animated feature! I sometimes catch myself forgetting to play, staring at the wonderful backgrounds.

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And that script! Hilarious and well-written. The fine line between gags and the seriousness (if one can call it that) of platforming is never crossed. Not even when subtle references to other games are made, or when characters gently break the fourth wall.

Fans of platformers are in for a treat with Shantae: Half Genie Hero. The game is pure feast. Shantae fights through 5 levels and one endboss, using only her hair. She’s also a mean bellydancer, with new moves to be discovered throughout the levels.  Each move transforms her into some creature. As that creature, Shantae can explore more of the levels and find more secrets, upgrades and unlockables.

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Tons of unlockables are waiting to be found, by the way. The deluxe edition already has more content and some DLC, but zealous players, wanting to complete Shantae 100 percent will have to put in some effort. Fortunately, the map screen shows where and how many extra’s are still to be found.

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Yep, Shantae is back! And because I’m overly enthousiastic, I’ve already had my hair dyed purple, and I’ve enrolled in a bellydancing class.
Damn my enthousiasm.

Jan

Super Daryl Deluxe (SWITCH)

super daryl deluxeDespite this game’s title, Daryl is far from super. Or deluxe. He’s an ordinary, somewhat nerdy teenager. The only things that make him stick out from the crowd are his bell bottom jeans, sweet cowboy boots, sweatband and that little bit of fuzz on his lip some might call a moustache. Other than that: average cakes. Daryl floats carelessly through life, and judging by the look on his face, also mostly thoughtlessly. He’s recently transferred to an interdimensionary high school where nothing is as it seems…

And we’re off! I’m left with Daryl, and it’s up to me to explore the school hallways and to try and make friends. The making-friends bit is harder than it seems, though, as everyone needs something done. It’s your standard “get me this and I’ll get you that” RPG routine, but weirder.

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Because everything in Super Daryl Deluxe is off the rails. I mentioned the interdimensionary school, right? Well, it looks like a regular place of learning, but behind classroom doors lurk portals to other dimensions and beings. The chemistry lab, for instance, is crowded with hostile antropomorphic beakers and flasks. And don’t even get me started on the Arts room. It’s rare enough to find Beethoven and Mozart in the same room, let alone having Andy Warhol and Frida Kahlo joining them. Deliciously absurd and funny!

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Daryl is left to his own devices for combat. He has a basic couple of moves that can be upgraded or expanded, and when he’s earned enough, new, more powerful moves can be bought. Every move can be mapped to a button of the player’s choice, leading to a very short learning curve. Battling is in the style of good old fashion beat-em-ups, but some moves have a bit of a lead-in, which makes combat cumbersome at times.

While the combatstyle would lead you to think that Super Daryl Deluxe is a mere beat-em-up, there’s so much more to the game. Often, players will find themselves exploring the hallways, looking for items much in the style of a point-and-click adventure. The upgrading of abilities, equipping of items and clothing and questing are very much like traditional RPG’s and the exploration sometimes handles like a platformer. To label Daryl with a single genre, would be like using mustard as ice cream topping: you just don’t.

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Next to the off the wall humour and overall odballness, the art is what made Super Daryl Deluxe stand out for me. It has this wonderful hand drawn style of animation I just can’t get enough of. And the amount of hours I’ve sunk into the game while I should’ve been reviewing it, just proves my point.

Jan

Death Road To canada (SWITCH)

drtccovHow long would you hold up against a horde of zombies? In Death Road to Canada you get the chance to prove yourself. All the way from Florida to -you guessed it- Canada, the only zombie proof place in the ’hood. On the road you get to deal with robbers, food shortage, wild mooses, heartbreaking choices, cranky allies… Oh, and zombies. Let’s not forget about the zombies!

Death Road to Canada is a randomly generated road trip action-RPG. Every time you play, everything’s randomized: the places you get to choose or are forced to visit, the people you meet on the road, events… The challenge is to try and get your hands on weapons, food and other stuff while keeping yourself and your allies alive. The only thing that all of those gaming sessions have in common? Canada is hard to reach. Very hard.

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After a short and sweet tutorial, you’re off on your own. Or not. That’s up to you after you have chosen your lead character: a randomly generated avatar or a custom built persona. Opting for the latter gives you a plethora of possibilities. From the usual suspects like name, eye colour and clothing to perks and (personality) traits. Only these perks and traits have any influence on how the game plays out. A character with medical skills doesn’t need that many medkits to heal others, while one with an athletic build is prone to deal more damage. Personality, on the other hand, influences group dynamics and how party members get along with one another.

You get to choose a buddy from the start of your game. On the road you’ll meet other people (and dogs!) who would like to join your quest to Canada. It’s up to you to fool them into the lulling embrace of safety by numbers or to leave them to die as zombie bait. But, please: be picky! A good perk is hard to justify with a nasty trait. You’ll soon discover that the opposite holds truth too. If tough choices need to be made or if group morale declines to a point beyond salvation, then these are things to go by.

After you have chosen team members, you’ll hit the road. Driving around in your car, stopping to stock up on fuel, food, medkits, weapons and ammunition. Or not… The game is peculiarly unpredictable. Even though most of the choices are made by you. Opting to skip a place to scavenge? You’ll lose the fuel and food you would have consumed anyways, but save on medkits because there was no risk on getting bite marks. Did the car break down? Nothing a good mechanic can’t easily take care of. No such person or skills in your team? Then you need to continue on foot. Quite a hassle, but the game will soon throw you a car to use. Car keys? Sorry, you’ll need to find these by yourself.

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The fun part of this road trip is sitting behind the wheel. It’s up to you to choose where to go and how to solve problems. Even between two scavenger hunts. After all, your party often argues and looks up to you to decide on matters. Will you raise morale by singing songs by a camp fire (with the risk of luring zombies) or by throwing out a team member (so there’s more food for the rest of you)? Have you even thought about the toll-demanding robbers on the bridge? Or the wounded moose? Choices a plenty, but you will need to make the right ones. You’d almost forget there are zombies shambling about.

The game is so chock-full of humour, memes and pretty little details that you’d almost forget that there’s a zombie horde out there. Luckily, you’ve got quite an arsenal at your disposal: nearly anything you can get your hands on. Throw furniture at the undead, hit them with umbrella’s or behead them with an electric hedge trimmer. The possibilities are as surprising as they are endless. And funny without getting into the gore of most zombie games. This game is all about tongue in cheek comedy anyway and strays from the cheap scary tricks most other zombies games divulge on.

The pixels in this game are huge. It’s a retro-looking game after all, as are more games nowadays. But the animation is anything but old-looking. Count on fluent animation without being too graphic or gory. Rather funny. You wouldn’t say by the graphical choice of the developers, but the game sports rather contemporary tunes. Not the stuff that will stick in your ears for days. Just your good old non-intrusive background music.

 

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Let’s not mince meat, brains or words… The game ain’t easy. The difficulty curve peaks fast. To get through the game, you’ll need three things: skills, luck and upgrades. The latter one can be bought with so-called zombiepoints which can be earned in-game. No exaggerated luxury, even for veteran players.

Are we there yet? Death Road to Canada will make you think, say and repeat that question more than once. The game feels unfair and overwhelming at times. And still, it’s too good to give it a rest. Every death is just a reason to start over again. Because it’s different and surprising every time you play. Which brings lots of replay value. Did I mention the unlockables once you reach Canada safe and sound? What are you waiting for? Get in that car! Death Road to Canada is no doubt and hands down the only zombie-apocalyps game in history where zombies are the least of your troubles.

Marco

Octahedron (XBOXONE)

octahedron_logo_trailer_soft_edges (1)When platforming gets though, it turns neon. Brightly coloured neon.

No, I’m not stuck in a fancy discothèque, dancing my legs off on trippy rave music (perish the thought), I just played through a bunch of levels in Octahedron. This visually odd little platformer starts off with an equally bizarre plot. Our protagonist is sitting in a desolate cabin in the woods, a sound outside catches his attention. He steps outside and finds the sound emanating from a weird shape. Against better judgement he touches the shape and is instantly transformed into a neon man with an octagon for a head. He drops in another dimension and from there on it’s all us. Platforming our way through odd levels, without so much of a hint what’s going on.

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Neon dude has one power though: he can summon levitating platforms for a brief time. He can use these to reach higher areas, or to bridge gaps surfing on them. There’s a catch though. The platforms last for a couple of seconds only, and only two can be summoned at the same time. Every step taken needs careful planning and thought, or neon dude will perish bumping into an even brighter neon obstacle or enemy.

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To call the levels ingenious and devious and slightly irritating would be an understatement. I could tell that each level took as much planning to make as it took to cross. And only after failing one for the umpteenth time does one know the true meaning of irritating.

But for all the brightness and the fun platforming and the novel concept scored with an ubercool synth soundtrack, there’s also a darker side. Octahedron might seem fun the first time, but the longer I played, the more bored I got. There’s just something about forever trying to get to an exit, only to be dropped in another level to find the exit again. Repetition is just as dull when it’s brightly lit by neon lights… And there’s no amount of collectibles and medals that’s going to convince me to do another playthrough.

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While the concept is novel and fun, underneath there’s a core of repetitiveness that puts a huge, red neon stop sign all over the game.

Jan

Spartan (SWITCH)

Spartan – Afbeelding 1This… is… Spartan! A platformer in the truest sense. 500 B.C. is where it’s at, in ye olde country of Greece. You are king Leo. Royally pissed because all weapons, armour and gold have mysteriously vanished. At the same time Greece is riddled with magical portals, which suddenly appeared. It’s up to you to find out who’s behind all of this and to get back the stolen goods. No one messes with a Spartan!

King Leo looks like a chibi God of War. Any further comparisons end here: they both are from Sparta and that’s about it. Spartan is a platformer after all. You’ll run, jump and climb your way through 24 levels spread over 4 worlds with some bosses added to the mix. Meanwhile you collect coins and use your sword to slice and dice enemies before they can make minced meat out of you. Attacks and obstacles can be blocked with your shield or by avoiding them altogether. You’ve got some fancy moves after all. Like the double jump which seems to be a given in platformers.

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You will wonder about the use of the life meter, though. Most close encounters with spears, circular saws and enemies will throw you back to the previous save point. Which will happen a lot. The difficulty curve gradually builds up during the first levels and then suddenly decides to stop holding your hands. You can change the difficulty (Wimp or Spartan) but there’s no reason to do so. Unless you’re keen on easily refilling your life energy. But since the meter immediately runs out once you stumble into a trap… Oh well.

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Bosses are what you can expect from a game like this. Yes, the cyclops and Medusa are both there. Boss encounters seem overwhelming at first but are quite manageable once you get to know their moves.

King Leo controls a bit floaty. You wouldn’t say, going by his bulking chibi build, but he is. Especially during (double) jumps and those often crucial wall jumps. It takes time to get used to. Even after an hour of intense gaming you find yourself wondering how you could have missed that jump or why that enemy got to you. Controls could have been a tad tighter.

Level design leaves a bit to be desired. Levels often look bland or overly complicated. It’s one or the other with nothing in between. Especially during later levels it’s quite noticeable that the difficulty curve doesn’t grow proportionally to your experience. You’ll find yourself dying on things you shouldn’t.

Graphics are rather plain. The game was built using the Unreal Engine, which guarantees a smooth framerate. Not an overly exaggerated advantage since the game depends on your flawless button input for avoiding those pixel perfect hit boxes.

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Spartan is not a bad game. It’s not a good game either. There are other titles on the Nintendo Switch with the same gameplay premise, executing things on a better level. But, the game does what it needs to do when it comes to returning to the roots of old platformers. Spartan promises AND delivers a hard game for die hard gamers.

Marco

Clarence New Season!

You all remember I love Clarence. (In case you don’t, that’s a super handy hyperlink right here…)

Anyway, Cartoon Networks fun-loving, overly enthousiastic kid is back! Starting next week, a new season will air. And leading up to it, there’s non-stop Clarency goodness being aired all month. All episodes are little tidbits of childlike glee. Like this one:

See? That made you smile, didn’t it? I knew it.
Clarence rules.

Jan