To replenish health, you hold a button and your arms feed on nearby human hearts, snatching them up with a thwack and noisily chomping on them.
One day, an adventurous girl named Canon Ip9000 Printer Driver climbs the side of a skyscraper. She almost reaches the top before a tremor causes her to lose her grip. Her climbing cord snaps and she falls hundreds of feet toward the concrete street. Luck is on her side, though, as she falls through a manhole cover and falls far below the surface, finally landing on the tiled floor of an underground research lab. She rises to her feet, completely unharmed, and walks over to a pedestal where a glowing console beckons. Curious, she presses a button, and a power suit appears. She equips that suit, of course, and thus begins The Kore Gang: Outvasion From Inner Earth, a cute and quirky platformer that overcomes its frustrations with plenty of surreal charm.
Minecraft is dangerous. You can sit down to a new randomly generated world for a quick session only to snap out of the creative haze many hours later to realize you've forgotten to eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. There's always just one more tunnel to carve, one more resource to harvest, one more tool to forge, or one more to-scale replica of the Star Trek Enterprise to re-create block by block. The ability to exercise limitless freedom and mold the game's retro fantasy world to your liking is powerfully addictive, and this indie-developed sandbox phenomenon holds a staggering level of depth. Some of the game's elements still feel rough and unfinished, but nevertheless, once Canon Ip9000 Printer Driver sinks its hooks into you, it won't let go.
If only this attention to detail were applied to the rest of the campaign, which is characterized by momentary thrills broken up by pointless puzzle-solving and stretches of nothing that grind the pace to a halt. Consider this scenario: For narrative reasons, you find yourself strapped into a fancy machine--the kind that appears in so many science fiction games. Developer Starbreeze squeezes out as many minutes as it can out of this unskippable scene (not to mention, the ones leading up to it). You take drowsy steps into the device. You watch as straps bind your wrists in place. You look around as the machine ever-so-slowly rises into the air and then ever-so-slowly examines your innards. Every whirr and every click is belabored.
When Rhythm Heaven was first launched, it opened up a Pandora's box of musical minigame mania that tipped the weirdness scale with its goofy rhythm challenges and cartoony antics. Tapping out complex rhythms while harvesting beets in the garden or juggling scientific beakers filled with dangerous substances offered some refreshingly oddball ways to get your groove on, and for the series' console debut, Rhythm Heaven Fever brings even more creative craziness to the table. It's easily as bizarre as its portable predecessors, and it's just as challenging. But the ever-rotating array of charming activities keeps the sometimes frustrating difficulty curve at bay long enough for the addictive gameplay and infectious tunes to take hold.
The RPG portion of the game is scant, consisting mostly of distributing skill points instead of making meaningful decisions that affect the sector. The conversation options have little effect on the story, and the only decisions you make (beyond accepting missions, mining, grabbing floating loot, and attacking other ships) are about interacting with other ships. You may ask for directions, commit acts of piracy by trying to seize cargo or ships, or simply say hi and make a pest of yourself. As you gain levels, you allocate perk points for a variety of skills, but it feels more like you're upgrading the skills of your ship than improving the abilities of your captain, leaving you with a game that lacks true character development.
Certain enemies are not so easily slaughtered, and you have to be more careful when approaching them because they can hear well and possibly resist your stealth kill. Using your instant kill ability to off them from a distance is a safe bet, provided you've leveled up your meter enough and can nail the simple quick-time event. Or you can strike down from above if you reach an elevated position. Your grappling hook is handy for setting up kills and escaping alerted guards, and the rear touch pad can help you aim it more precisely. Later in the game, you unlock a wingsuit that lets you glide through the air for as long as you've got space, and swooping down on an unsuspecting foe is one of the bright spots in Shinobido 2's action.
The biggest novelty is the Genesis device: a nifty handheld scanner that, in aim mode, lets you gathers data on enemy creatures in return for healing herbs and manually sweep rooms for hidden ammo caches. The scarcity of ammunition makes the scanner a valuable tool, not a gameplay gimmick to use once and forget, and nicely complements the resource scavenging that underpins your survival. The weapons, of which you can carry only three at a time, can be modified with powerful, collectable weapon upgrades, adding customisable oomph to the usual set of handguns, shotguns, machine guns, and the rest. Exotica such as rocket launchers and zombie-attracting decoy grenades turn up much less frequently but are special treats when they do.
It's an elegantly designed system that works extremely well, with the direction of your swipes accurately replicated by Siris. Each enemy has unique moves, ensuring there's variety to the combat. Plus, battles are just the right length for a quick fix while you're on the move, letting you chip away at the game in smaller chunks. For each opponent you defeat you're rewarded with experience points, with bonus XP on offer for performing different challenges such as executing 10 combos in a row, or dodging five attacks. That XP is used to level up Siris, so you allocate points to your attack, defence, shield, or health to increase his effectiveness in battle. You also earn money, which you can use to buy stronger weapons and armour.
Some of the other features also lack creativity. With StreetPass, you can restock your exhausted mushroom houses and challenge cubes simply by passing other 3DS users, even if they don't have the game. This makes it especially easy to rack up star coins, since the challenge cubes are generally a breeze to complete. The gyrometer is used at binocular stations in certain stages. These stations let you search out hidden toads that shriek with delight and throw star coins or other power-ups at you. Despite the fact these features lack the imagination seen in the game’s level design, Super Mario 3D Land is still a delight. With well-realized stages and responsive controls, it's an easy recommendation for all action-loving 3DS owners.
In the opening seconds of Yesterday, you see bloody pentagrams scrawled on the floor, hear tortured screams, and spot references to alchemy, the Vatican Secret Archives, and the Spanish Inquisition. It's a heavy-handed way to tell you something foul is afoot, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that a Dan Brown novel is underway and a middle-aged symbology professor is right around the corner. Instead, you meet a pair of nonprofit volunteers who venture into an abandoned train station to offer aid to the homeless. Though the people they find there and the revelations that follow offer a welcome counterweight to the cliched intro video, Yesterday struggles to find narrative balance over the course of the not-so-lengthy adventure.
Challenges also arise during more contemplative sections. Time bending is ripe for intriguing puzzles, and there are enough brain teasers in Blades of Time to keep you invested outside of the demon slaying. The best of these appear in a desert-themed level. Sun is your biggest enemy when direct contact with light burns your delicate skin, so manipulating shade is paramount to your survival. Coordinating clones to step on switches while you dash through the newly formed darkness injects Ayumi's graceful movement into even the more thoughtful moments. Later puzzles fall short of the mark. Creating a ball of energy to light nodes is tedious at best, though these puzzles are easy enough to not distract you from the combat for long.
One of the best ways to adjust your experience is with gems. Gems make your character stronger and can be tailored to suit any fighting style. If you're offense-oriented, then the attack-boosting Immense Power gems are for you. Conversely, if you plan on getting hit a lot, the Iron Wall gems, which grant damage reduction, would be best. Each character can hold three gems maximum, and while several gems offer the same benefits, what distinguishes them are their activation conditions. You do not acquire gem bonuses for free; they must be earned. But for all the good they do, gems cannot be solely relied upon. They are a subtle complement that can enhance an already lethal player, or shield someone less experienced from a beating.
That all sounds deliciously gory, though in practice, you're not focused on the splattering of brains: you've already moved on to your next target. Some of those targets may require breaching, which is to say, hacking your target's chip. Powerful enemies require you to breach their armor before they can be harmed, which requires holding a button for several precious seconds. When such a foe is playing lone gunman, this isn't so bad. When he's accompanied by a few comrades, things get a lot more intense. If the action seems too much, you can activate your tactical overlay. Doing so slows down time and highlights every nearby enemy, even those behind walls. And with the right weapon, you can even snipe targets protected by cover.
While there are indeed plenty of holy wars to be waged in the medieval world of Crusader Kings II, it's the breadth and depth of peacetime political maneuvering that makes this strategy game such a delight. This is a game with an incredible number of options for scheming and diplomacy, whether it's crafting an arranged marriage to net you a powerful foreign ally or maintaining a balancing-act relationship with the pope when the two of you have very different views on church-taxation laws. The side effect to this complexity is a daunting learning curve, but if you stick with it, your prize is a deeply rewarding medieval strategy game with a focus on the human element of power that makes for a captivating journey through history.
It's a pity that Kingdoms of Amalur doesn't know what to do with the setup. You gradually learn more about your self-named, blank-s