Thursday, August 22, 2019

Yakuza 3 Available Now In The Yakuza Remastered Collection

Japanese fans of Sega's Yakuza series received high definition versions of Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 throughout last year and early this year. Ryo Ga Gotaku Studio, the studio inside Sega C2 that created the Yakuza series, mentioned at the time that the remastered games were created for new overseas fans, with no word about when the games would release in the west.

The wait is nearly over, as the Yakuza Remastered Collection is now available to purchase digitally on the PlayStation Network for PlayStation 4. Yakuza 3 Remastered was released on August 20, 2019, Yakuza 4 Remastered will be released on October 29, 2019, and Yakuza 5 will be released on February 11, 2020. The collection is available for $60. If you purchase it,Yakuza 3 is playable now and the other games will be playable when they are released.

A retail version of the Yakuza Remastered Collection will be released after all of the games are out, which will be the first retail release of Yakuza 5 in the west, as the original PlayStation 3 western release of Yakuza 5 was only released digitally.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Non-Adventure Review: Middle Manager of Justice

The Middle Manager of Justice review was previously posted on The International House of Mojo on August 21, 2013.

There have been countless stories told of superheroes fighting villains. The story that has never been told is the story of the person who sets training schedules, budgets income earned on various necessities, and determines which crimes particular heroes should tackle. Kee Chi and Double Fine have rectified that with Middle Manager of Justice.

Middle Manager of Justice began as one of the amnesia fortnight prototypes, which was then was extended into a full game for iOS and Android thanks to Double Fine's angel investor, Dracogen. It's a departure from Double Fine's usual fare, as this is their first foray into the free to play market. But, fret not true believers. Middle Manager of Justice is one of the few games to do freemium right.

You begin with one hero, and can purchase more heroes as you progress. Your task as middle manager is to train each hero to increase their stats. They have four, strength, health, armor, and intelligence. Strength and health can be increased in the gym and intelligence can be increased in a meeting with the middle manager. Armor can be increased by purchasing items from the store. Each hero has a set level of training time, but this can be increased when the hero levels up. The heroes also have a set of power moves, which can be increased by training in a different gym in the office.

Only four heroes can be active at one time, and from one to four can fight battles at once. Battles are fought through the map in the office (although the map sometimes contains other heroic duties, such as stopping a school bus or saving people from burning buildings). The middle manager can choose to have the fights play out automatically, or to watch the fights, which will allow you to control the fights directly in RPG style battles. The more training and armor your heroes have, the better your chances of winning (the map will tell you a rough percentage of winning before you play, although it's possible to win even with a low percentage).

The writing shines in the battles, with a lot of Double Fine's trademark humor coming through. In battle, you can deploy your hero's usual attacks, use their super attacks (each super attack can only be used a set number of times, with a gauge telling you how many attacks are left for each hero), or even have your middle manager help out with his management powers. He can push the heroes to work harder, giving them more health and power (however, there's a time limit), reverse the team's health bars so that they can have near full health when before they were near exhaustion, give them pep talks to double the team's chance of making critical attacks, or make them work twice as hard (at the expense of some morale). Health and morale allow the heroes to keep fighting at their peak. Health can be replenished by sleeping at the office, morale can be replenished by watching TV.

There are also jokes in the office as well, found in the office's bulletin board. It's these little touches that make Double Fine's games stand out, and they can be found here in spades. The game's art style and animations also have a lot of charm, and the animations for the character's activities contain some subtle humor as well.

The game does use the standard freemium model of having two models of in-game currency. The standard currency, coins, are used to purchase things such as supplies and upgrades on training equipment. The game's premium currency, Superium, is used to purchase things such as new heroes and additional coins. However, even with the standard freemium model of currency, it's possible to enjoy Middle Manager of Justice completely, without ever having to use real-world money.

Coins are plentiful. You collect them from city districts, which pay based on how free of crime you keep them. You can also set tasks for your middle manager or your heroes to earn coins while in the office. You can earn more coins by upgrading the computers in your office, which like all of the office's equipment, are upgradable with coins.

Luckily, even the game's premium currency is earned at a steady rate. It's possible to earn 1 Superium randomly after a battle (along with other in-game items). However, the best way to win Superium is after boss fights. Each district has a boss fight, which will allow you to defend a new district once you have won.

Of course, since the game is freemium, it is possible to purchase currency with real-world money. You can purchase Superium in quantities ranging from 15 for $1 to 450 for $20. However, the best deals are the currency copier (which gives you two coins for each coin earned) and the Superium plant (which gives you one Superium every 15 minutes. These items are only $2 each, and if you do opt to send some money Double Fine's way, give you the most bang for your buck.

As is often the case with free to play games, the game has been extended since it has been released. There are now more districts than before, meaning more boss fights and more chances at winning Superium. There are also more heroes to buy than before, allowing you to use your earned Superium wisely. Additionally, the game has added a list of most wanted thugs. These thugs will pop up on the map randomly, adding 10 high-experience winning fights to the game. It is also now possible to collect meteorite shards, which can be combined by the middle manager in his office to create meteors which give the heroes more abilities (orange meteorites increase fire damage from attacks, dark blue reduces enemy power, yellow increases coins earned from fights, green causes enemies to take damage when they attack, and light blue increases experience earned from fights).

The game also has the ability for quests to be added for holidays. So far, the game has had a Valentine's Day quest this February, which added Valentine's themed boss fights and ended with the middle manager going out on a date. It's unknown if there will be more, but Double Fine has stated that more content will be added to the game soon, since they were previously investing time porting the game to additional platforms.

A huge part of a game is its music, and Double Fine never disappoints in that department. The game's theme song is a fitting tune that is inspired by super hero movies. The game's office tune has an uplifting melody with a catchy horn section. And, the battle theme is suitably upbeat, followed a nice superhero-inspired medley when you win the battle (or recieve a promotion). The sound effects are also done well, with attack sounds fitting well to each move, from lighting cracking to the usual amplified fist chop sounds. And, as with all unvoiced Double Fine games, the characters are mute except for a few noises, but what's there is fun. All of these elements fit the game well, and really add to the experience.

Double Fine's first foray into the free to play market truly excels as one of the best games of its kind. It's one of the few freemium games that doesn't feel like it is nickel and diming you in order to get the most out of the game. You can fully enjoy this game without ever paying a cent, but if you do choose to pay, there are options available that cost little and allow your money to go a long way. The dialog contains a lot of the trademark Double Fine humor, the art style and animations are wonderful and contain a lot of charm, and the music is catchy and fits the game well. If you own an iOS or Android device, download this game immediately. You won't regret it.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Non-Adventure Review: Happy Action Theater

The Double Fine Happy Action Theater Review was previously published at The International House of Mojo on February 21, 2012.

Double Fine has been making their latest games in easy to digest bite-sized chunks, but nothing they've made up to this point is as bite-sized or easily digestible as Double Fine Happy Action Theater.

The game is aptly named, as it plays out as separate set pieces setting you free to do whatever you want in each set. The default mode is a theater mode, where the game automatically starts after the mandatory logos and then automatically chooses a new mini-game after a few minutes. This title was clearly designed with young children in mind, and this automatic system makes it perfect for even the youngest of children. All of the other Kinect games out there require some degree of precision, even those aimed at children. So, ultimately the under 3 set is left out. Here, with everything automatic, you can just let your kids have at it and do whatever they want. You can also press start at any time to bring up a menu to choose any mini-game giving you all the time you want to play a particular stage. This makes it perfect if your child (or yourself) enjoys a particular mini-game and wants more time with it, or if you need some extra time to get an achievement on a particular mini-game.

Double Fine has made it so that the sensor tracks movement easier than most other Kinect games as well, since it is not absolutely necessary to have full-body tracking for the game. This makes Double Fine Happy Action Theater's best feature possible: Up to six players can play at a time. It also makes it possible for children (and impatient adults) to just hop into the game and play without having to worry if the sensor is tracking your body correctly.

Adults may also find the title fun, as my mother and myself did, since there is a lot to discover in the mini-games. There are references to Double Fine games, and even characters from other Double Fine games and the Action Comics to be found within. The games also have some unexpected things to be found, since the game uses every single feature of the Kinect at some point. My mom and I laughed out loud once we realized one of the things the microphone was used for.

I referred to the mini-games earlier as set pieces, and that's really the best way to describe them, as none of them are really a game, with the possible exception of the Breakout-style mini-game which has a score, albeit arbitrary, that resets to zero once you lose your last ball. The rest of the mini-games have no set goal, leaving you free to experiment with the game to try to find out the hidden things the designers put in each mini-game, and to try to come up with weird things to do with the Kinect. The only real goal for gamers in the game is the achievements, which are actually helpful since most of them give hints towards fun hidden things that you might not have known were there otherwise. The achievements also gave me the inspiration to experiment with the Kinect sensor. In order to get the 6 pack achievement where you are supposed to have 6 friends, I used six chairs and myself. Since the game doesn't track full bodies for every player, I was able to duck down behind the chairs once I was recognized and sneak out to get another chair to try it again. I put a teddy bear in one chair, and was surprised to see the Kinect recognized it as a player, complete with a tiny skeleton. It's quite amusing to just put the game on the dance stage and watch the teddy bear dance. It's also amusing to sit while on the dance stage, as it makes you look like you are short with tiny little legs. It's these kinds of things that make you come back to Kinect again, just to see what else you can do with a little imagination.

There are 18 mini-games, plus a credits screen which is a combination of another mini-game (the previously mentioned dance stage) with developer credits, complete with the dancing images of (most of) the development and production team at Double Fine and Microsoft. The balloon mini-game is the first game that starts once you start the game, which is perfect for my 1-year-old nephew who loves balloons. My personal favorites are the image manipulation stage, the dance stage, and the monsters attack stage. In the image manipulation stage, images of people and objects in the room are captured and then frozen on the screen. You can then put yourself in front of or behind the objects captured on the screen, so you are in essence interacting with objects that are no longer there. It is quite fun to interact with yourself on screen. Five pictures are taken in total, and then the images reset. In the dance stage, you don't have to do anything, just sit there and watch yourself dance. This is where I did all of my experimentings with the chairs and bears with the kinect sensor. Not only can you watch yourself and random objects dance, this is also the stage where many of the Double Fine's characters can be found from previous games ranging from Psychonauts to Stacking, as well as the Double Fine Action Comics available on Double Fine's website. In the monsters attack stage, you crush buildings and swat at planes, helicopters, and zeppelins and periodically a picture will be taken showing you attacking the city on the front page of a newspaper.

I can actually play all of these all by myself, but the fun definitely comes in with multiple people. For me, the Breakout stage is the most fun to me with multiple people. This game is in the style of Atari's Breakout, where your body is the paddle and you have to bounce the ball up to hit the blocks above. If you bounce a ball that is the color of your paddle, the ball splits in two. As I mentioned above, this is the only stage where points matter, as the score resets after all the balls are lost. The score doesn't save, but it is fun to see how high of a score you can reach. The more players you have, the more balls you have to bounce off the paddles when it splits, making it pure chaos (and pure fun). There is also a Space Invaders stage, where you launch projectiles at incoming invaders using your arms. This one isn't as fun to me as an adult gamer, as there is no goal since the score keeps adding up.

The rest of the mini-games are fun to experience once or twice, but as an adult, I soon grew tired with them. I do have to say though that the disco music star stage is a bit of fun, even as an adult, since you control the speed of the music with the speed of your movements (although, sadly it's only possible to slow the music down. Wailing your arms around as fast as you can won't make the music change to hyper speed). The music in that mini-game, as well as the rest of the game, is excellent. Double Fine's games always have a fantastic score, and this game is no different. I found myself humming the music long after the game was over.

I can't conclude the review without mentioning what I'm sure is on everyone's mind. Ever since the game was announced, it has been stated that it's fun for kids or for a college frat party. There's definitely mini-games in here that are designed for the latter. The aforementioned disco music star stage is pretty trippy, since your body is shown in a star with neon colors all around it, and occasionally a shooting star with your picture on it shoots by. However, there are two stages in particular that are downright psychedelic. There is a stage where everyone is transplanted into a kaleidoscope, with their image bending, twisting, and blending into the colors of the kaleidoscope. But by far the most trippy mini-game is a stage where everyone in the room is shown in silhouette form and colors emanate out from them, slowly fading out with each movement.

Now that I got that out of the way, I can safely wrap this review up. If you have a young child, an Xbox 360, and a Kinect, this game is a must buy. If you have an Xbox 360 with a Kinect and are looking for a trippy party game, this game is also a must buy. For everyone else who a Kinect-enabled Xbox 360, you should still be able to have fun with it. It's definitely one of the few games out there that make full use out of the Kinect hardware. It's also priced 1/3 cheaper than Double Fine's other console games, which in my opinion, makes Double Fine Happy Action Theater well worth the price of admission.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Non-Adventure Review: Zombies Ate My Neighbors

The Zombies Ate My Neighbors review was previously published at Jupiter Beagle on October 16, 2008, as part of a 20 Days of Halloween segment.

Allow me to switch gears for today’s 20 Days of Halloween review with a video game. I present for you the horror spoof developed by LucasArts and published by Konami, Zombies Ate My Neighbors.

The game stars either Zeke or Julie (or both if the game is played with two players), as they scramble to save their neighbors from certain doom. The animations of the characters and enemies are well done, and still, even today look good, as they were presented in a pleasing cartoon style. The music suits the game quite well, although it wasn’t overly memorable. The gameplay, however, is a lot of fun. The game is a top-down run and gun game, where the player has to navigate around the neighborhood and fight various B-movie monsters such as vampires, werewolves, and of course, zombies. Zeke and Julie can pick up potions that will turn them into monsters for a short period of time, giving them more strength.

There are 48 standard levels and several bonus levels. As was standard for LucasArts for the time, quite a few in-jokes that only fans of LucasArts would get were included in the game. One of the bonus levels was themed after a point and click adventure game that was released at the same time as this game. Another bonus level was themed after the LucasArts office building and featured LucasArts employees of the time.

The game is a great spoof of horror B-movies, and it does things well to feel like a B-movie itself. It’s a fun arcade-style run and gun with great humor and pleasing graphics. It would be great if this game did get re-released for a modern audience because it is definitely well worth playing.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Non-Adventure Review: Tasha's Game

The Tasha’s Game review was previously published at Jupiter Beagle on October 1, 2008.

Tasha’s Game is available to play for free on Double Fine’s website.


Double Fine is best known as the creator of the game inspired by covers of Metal music covers, Brütal Legend, as well as the underappreciated but excellent platformer Psychonauts. But, they have also released a free flash game on their site that is actually fun and well worth your time.

Tasha’s Game is a puzzle platformer starring former Double Fine animator Tasha, who is also the star of her own webcomic. In the game, you must rescue Tasha’s co-workers from a mysterious captor. In each level, you must collect various blocks with different abilities in order to reach your colleague. The blocks are placed by Tasha’s helpful cat, who is controlled by the mouse, while Tasha is controlled with the keyboard. The blocks are either static, move back and forth, up and down, or act as a trampoline. The trick is using the blocks at the right time in order to get to the next part of the level.

The art style is the same as Tasha’s webcomic, and the music is done in an 8-bit style which fit the graphics and tone of the game very well. The game is short, it will probably take you less than an hour to complete, but it is worth playing just for the final boss battle. It completely took me by surprise, as that battle was really rather epic for a free, short flash game.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Dreamfall Chapters Book Two Review

Dreamfall Chapters continues from a solid start in book one into an engaging and truly satisfying experience in book two.

In book two, Zoe's story continues to entertain and the new characters she meets are all strange and interesting. I wasn't sold on Kian's story in the first book, but he's given a chance to shine here, and we're introduced to fantastic characters in his book as well. Both characters find themselves in the middle of a class war, with the government and corporations controlling the lives of the citizens in Stark and the militaristic Azadi forcing the magical folk out of the villages and into prison camps in Arcadia. Things soon get even grimmer, as both Zoe and Kian find themselves in the middle of conspiracies in their respective worlds.

The voice work is once again exceptional here, with the voice actors for both Zoe and Kian performing their roles admirably. The newly introduced characters are excellently written, but their voice performances are what truly make them memorable. This is especially true of the energetic, excitable young rebel named Eno and the tough, scarred rebel named Likho, the latter of whom had a troubled history with Kian before he changed sides and joined the rebels. The voice actor for the former gives her character a fast-talking yet cute persona, which reminded me a bit of the character of Six from the classic 90s American television sitcom, Blossom. Meanwhile, the voice actor for the latter provides his character with a gravitas that is matched only by his baritone voice, both of which are quite fitting for the battle-hardened warrior.

The music is also excellent, helping to give levity or amusement to the fantastically written story and working to help elevate the wonderful voice acting to even loftier heights.

The puzzles in this book are fantastic, especially the underground hatch puzzles that Zoe undertakes when she is directed toward a street gang by an enigmatic merchant who lives on a houseboat in the city's Asian district. The choices here don't seem to change much of the main story, but they do affect the way the characters react to you, much like the games by Telltale from The Walking Dead forward. This actually works quite well, as the story of the game is so emotional, and the characters are so well-written and acted, you can't help but feeling gut-punched when you make a choice that results in a negative reaction.

The city on the technologically-advanced Stark side is just as beautiful and fun to walk around as ever. On the Arcadia side, as it is themed akin to a medieval village, it's not quite as beautiful and it does get repetitive at times. However, the magical market, while quite a small part of the overall village, is quite lively and wonderfully designed. The same can't be said for the character models though, They are as stony-eyed as ever, encroaching on uncanny valley territory, and emotional moments are hampered a bit when characters go in for kiss, and their character models don't touch each other.

Book two has an excellent story, fantastic voice acting and music, a gorgeous art style in Stark, and fun engaging characters. It is only let down by the somewhat-repetitive art-style of Arcadia and the stiff character models and animation. However, any shortcomings are small in the grand scheme and don't hamper the overall enjoyment provided. Book two continues the threads created by book one, and strings them even deeper into an even more fantastic plot, leaving you wanting more.

Final verdict:
44½ out of 5

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Judgment Review

Judgment is an action-adventure game that is a spin-off of developer Ryū ga Gotoku Studio's Yakuza series. It has the fighting and open-world exploring of Yakuza as well as investigation and detective mechanics similar to Ace Attorney Investigations. Although it leans in very close to its Yakuza heritage, the investigation mechanics give it a feeling of freshness that's been lacking in the franchise since the first Yakuza game came out almost fifteen years ago. 

The game follows Takayuki Yagami, a former attorney who lives in Kamurocho, Ryo ga Gotaku Studio's fictionalized version of Tokyo's Kabukichō district. He was formerly his firm's golden boy, getting to handle almost all of the firm's clients after he got a man acquitted of murder charges in a country that has a conviction rate of over 99 percent. However, when the man kills his girlfriend and sets fire to her apartment, Yagami leaves his firm and becomes a private investigator. 

One of the investigation techniques he uses as a private investigator is called active search mode, which is used for investigating crime scenes, searching for evidence, or verifying information such as eyewitness sketches with the facial features and clothing of a suspect. Yagami also employs the tried and true method of tailing a suspect. While doing so, he sometimes has to hide behind items or blend in with a crowd to avoid being seen. It has to be said that this isn't realistic in the least, as the suspects turn straight around and begin craning their head and turning sharply left and right looking for someone who is trailing them. With these exaggerated head movements, there would not be ample time to hide in reality. However, in a franchise that is known for, and thrives on, exaggeration this actually fits right into the atmosphere of the game once you get used to it.

The most novel, and topical, of these investigation techniques is a flying drone named the pigeon. It is used to spy on targets below and those that are inside of buildings by looking in through the window. There is also a drone race mini-game that can be played, and the drone can be upgraded to better compete in these races.

This being the Yakuza universe, drone racing isn't the only way to pass the time. There are many other mini-games that can be played around Kamurocho. These include Sega arcade classics like Virtua Fighter 5, Fighting Vipers, and Puyo Puyo. There is also a unique Kamurocho-themed House of the Dead-style shooting game titled Kamurocho of the Dead. Throughout the city, there are also areas where you can play darts, western gambling games like poker and blackjack, and Japanese gambling games like koi-koi and oichu-kabu. Those who have played Yakuza 6 will find the layout of Kamurocho familiar, as it uses the same map, with some changes. The most obvious of these is that the bowling alley area now has a mini-game inside that is said to be a virtual reality board game of Kamurocho. Here, you roll dice and traverse around a game board. The spaces you land on could lead to several mini-games, from lockpicking or thumb turn bypass (using a thin wire to open a lock), fighting several enemies, or shooting using a drone. There are also spaces that add dice rolls or take them away, and spaces that simply give you a gift. Winning any of the minigames in these spaces will give you a prize, and they will be converted to cash upon successful completion of the board. Any extra dice at the end will also give you a cash prize. Because of this, it's one of the easiest ways to earn a lot of money, as long as you have enough game passes to play. These game passes can be found in gambling centers, or won from simply winning street fights when thugs around Kamurocho jump you.

The voice acting and motion capture in this game is excellent. The highlight is definitely Takuya Kimura as Takayuki Yagami. I enjoyed Yakuza's protagonist Kazama Kiryu as much as everyone else, but Kimura gave Yagami a much more emotional performance that was a nice change from the stoic performance of Takaya Kuroda as Kiryu. Another highlight was one of the game's main antagonists, Kyohei Hamura. There was a lot of press given to the fact that Pierre Taki was replaced in the role by Miou Tanaka after Taki was caught by police in possession of cocaine. Hamura's face was altered to no longer resemble Taki, but the motion performance is still there, and it is excellent. Throughout the story, Hamura almost becomes a sympathetic character, and a lot of that is down to the emotion given when the entire plot is revealed. That is a testament both to Tanaka's voice performance and Taki's motion-capture performance. In this game, unlike most games in the Yakuza universe, there is both a Japanese voice option and an English one. The excellent thing about this is that the English dub has an entirely new translation from the Japanese one. This makes it flow more naturally when spoken in English, preventing the game from having stilted dialogue as was the case with the Shenmue series or the original Yakuza on PlayStation 2. The English voice actors are equally as impressive, with the highlights once again being Yagami's voice actor Greg Chun and Fred Tatasciore as Hamura. Another standout in both English and Japanese versions is Yagami's best friend, former Yakuza Masaharu Kaito, performed by Shinshu Fuji in Japanese, and voiced by Crispin Freeman in English. I would love to see a game with Kaito as a playable character.

The game's art style is excellent, as is the case with all Yakuza titles. Kamurocho, the Yakuza universe's fictionalized version of the Kabukichō district of Tokyo, is almost a character all of its own. It is brimming with life, with recreations of famous Kabukichō landmarks and buildings as well as buildings unique to Kamurocho. The game pays tribute to Shenmue in many ways, more so than most Yakuza titles, with capsule toys that can be sold or displayed in Yagami's office, and quick-time event chase scenes. The quick-time events are never as punishing as Shenmue however, as you are given ample time to press the button, and failing to do so won't result in failure, just a reduction of the amount of time that Yagami has to catch the suspect. The latter is not a problem either, as Yagami is given ample time to catch up. Many of these scenes make the quick-time events worth it, as there are a lot of references to famous film action scenes, including everything from Jackie Chan films to Back to the Future.

The musical score is also top-notch, and while many themes should be familiar to fans of the Yakuza series, there are some standouts that are new to this game. There are also five vinyl records that can be collected throughout Kamurocho containing music that can be played in Yagami's office. These include everything from the traditional Irish tune "Londonderry Air" (commonly known with lyrics as "Danny Boy", although this game includes the song with no lyrics), to a song performed by one of Yagami's love interests in the game.

Judgment is an exceptional game. It has both Yakuza and Ace Attorney Investigations gameplay styles that work exceptionally well together, and the game's cast of characters are well voiced in both Japanese and English. The separate translation for the English dub is also a welcome change from previous efforts to translate games in the Yakuza franchise, resulting in dialogue that sounds natural when spoken in English. The game's fictionalized Tokyo district, Kamurocho, is bustling with life and energy, and there is much to do around the district as well. This game is one that I heartily recommend to anyone, whether you are a fan of the Yakuza series or not.

Final verdict:
5 out of 5