Review · Video Games · Xbox One

Ryse: Son of Rome Review

By James Daly

Developed by Crytek and Microsoft Studios, Ryse: Son of Rome has you play as Marius, a Roman General recounting the tale of his exemplary military career to Emperor Nero.

Ryse offers an average story that is clearly meant to take a backseat to the combat. The world of Ryse: Son of Rome is centred around violence, both as a conceptual demonstration of power, and a method of achieving goals. Another theme of the game is dealing with loss, as we watch Marius suffer against the immense power of his enemies. Poignant as this is, empathising with Marius, likeable as he is, does not save this game.

The game is relatively simple, with some variety in fighting commands and a a few different mechanics to spice up the gameplay. One thing the game does particularly well is create a sense of commanding your own army. The player lines up Marius and his legionaries, and then marching on the enemy, pausing to defend in an authentic Roman tortoise shield formation. This feature also includes an option to launch an offensive volley of pilas (spears) at enemies, making quick work of enemies en masse.

Helmet and Shield
Marius’s sword, helmet and shield

For the most part, Marius marauds around slaughtering barbarians like its going out of fashion in an apparent homage to Electronic Arts’ Dante’s Inferno (side note: Marius has a striking resemblance to Dante from that game). Marius hacks and slashes through hordes of enemies with flair and precision, but the violence feels hollow because the game can’t communicate the physical sensation through the controller. As a result, Ryse: Son of Rome can be dissatisfying at times.

The game looks good with realistic graphics and vivid cinematic sequences but this is dashed at times by on-screen hints and glowing interactive items and enemies. I know Ryse needs to educate the player in how to actually play, but it could have been done better with more subtle devices. This leads me to the biggest problem with the game: it doesn’t feel like a game.

Ryse: Son of Rome feels like a tech demo made to launch the Xbox One, and that is exactly what it is. Every scene shows off the capabilities of the console, and so they should, but this reliance on showing off what the hardware can do has been employed at the expense of clever game design and a truly memorable story. Ryse is good, but it is all wrong as a video game. It can be fun to play but there are not many people who would want to complete the campaign more than once.

Marius On The Wall
Marius preparing to defend against the enemy

The game feels shallow and that really is a shame. A game set in Ancient Rome like this could have been so much more. The story isn’t actually bad, it just feels sort of cheap and unimportant for the most part, like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. The good news is that if you persist with the game then you do eventually get a decent, enjoyable section with a solid ending, but you really have to motivate yourself to play until that point.

The thing that really annoyed me about Ryse is the best part of the game involves defending a wall from an attack by an endless horde of enemies equipped with siege towers and ladders. Firstly, the siege towers never actually hit the wall, making them nothing more than a visual backdrop, and, secondly, the whole sequence is a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. To make it even worse, I played Return of the King on Nintendo Gamecube and that game looked and handled when it was released back in 2003, a whole 10 years before Ryse: Son of Rome.

Overall, Ryse: Son of Rome is a moderately fun game with a very limited appeal. This isn’t one for everybody, but it is a fairly decent beat-em-up with some nice touches and a protagonist that you will warm to, eventually. The gameplay isn’t addictive like most games of this genre, and the story falls short despite the epic-like soundtrack.

Nintendo · Review · Video Games

Super Bomberman R is a Fun Game

By James Daly

After years of humble instalments that felt more like mini-games than full-fledged titles, the Bomberman series has finally attempted to deliver blockbuster again with the brand new Super Bomberman R for Nintendo Switch.

Bomberman has traditionally offered an arcade game experience where the player takes control of an adorable character and makes use of a variety of handheld explosives to win matches or progress the story of a game. In this regard, Super Bomberman R offers nothing new except for some cute, slightly-animated cutscenes that take place between levels and are more reminiscent of comic books or manga than cartoons or anime.

Characters range in colour and gender, but ultimately all serve the same purpose of marauding through different levels trying to blow enemies into tiny little pieces in order to save a world in turmoil, all the while revealing a plot that involves some sinister Bombermen-types trying to cause a generic brand of chaos. Super Bomberman R offers a completely new plot so no prior knowledge of the series is required to appreciate it. 

In short, the story is fine, but it is hardly the main selling point of this game.

Super Bomberman R Enemy
The main villain of the game
Bomberman games have almost always been about multiplayer battles, pitting friends against each other in arenas designed to house an endless amount of explosives and offer little in terms of shelter from the carnage. In this way, Super Bomberman R delivers exactly what it should, with customisable battle settings and plenty of items to add to the mayhem. 

The battles can feature up to eight players at once, either through local/wireless play or via online. This feature is what makes Super Bomberman R a brilliant party game, offering a simple concept that pleases audiences from novice players to hardcore gamers. It takes essentially no time to learn how to succeed, but mastering Super Bomberman R is almost impossible, meaning that everyone has a chance of winning.

The battle mode also offers the option of swapping out human-controlled characters for AI ones, allowing players to experience arguably the best mode of Super Bomberman R even when playing solo. The AI characters are by no means pushovers, making for challenging as well as exciting matches.

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Super Bomberman R has a great battle mode
Unfortunately, Super Bomberman R doesn’t really deliver on the blockbuster front, feeling more like a glorified mini-game at times. The story is short and generally disinteresting, despite the efforts to make it a tongue-in-cheek, cheesy but charming affair. Some may even wonder why Konami bothered to make a story for it at all, though the cynical point of view would say this was vital to Konami charging as much as they do for the game. The £44.99 price tag (about $59 in the USA) makes Super Bomberman R quite expensive for what really does feel like a small game, though free DLC has been announced so that will hopefully make the game more deserving of the price tag.

Overall, Super Bomberman R is a fun game for newcomers and a decent instalment in a long series recently plagued by inadequate instalments. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like the series is back to its former glory but that shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying this game. 

PC · PS4 · Review · Video Games · Xbox One

Strider is a Faithful Reimagining

By James Daly

Styled in the same vain as the original Strider that debuted throughout various video game arcades back in 1989, Capcom’s new Strider is a faithful reimagining that holds much of the nostalgic charm that keeps the appeal of traditional side-scrolling combat games alive today.

The Xbox One version of Strider is essentially a reboot of the franchise, so new gamers wont feel disadvantaged, whereas existing fans of the series will enjoy noting that this game is based on the aforementioned original arcade version of Strider. The game is also reminiscent of the NES version of the original game, as well as Strider 2. It even incorporates elements of the when the main character appeared in other games, along with some connections to the official manga.

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Strider at a rave

Cheesy Story

The story unfolds in a sort of dystopian future and you assume the role of Strider Hiryu, an elite assassin sent by the radically named Strider Corporation to Kazakh City in order to kill arch-nemesis and all-round meanie Grandmaster Meio. The game takes place in a Communist Russia-esque metropolis, made more apparent by the less than subtle accent used by one of the chief villains. The whole thing smells of a cheese so fine you’d think Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme star as Strider Hiryu’s sidekick, and that’s exactly what the game developers were aiming for so I have to say they’ve achieved it wonderfully.

The gameplay is simple with basic controller commands that make combat intuitive, which perfectly suits the genre that Strider happily subscribes to. As the story progresses, more functions and attacks are unlocked to deal with the increasing number, and difficulty, of hostiles that all add up to give the game a welcome depth. This game isn’t an IQ test, and it doesn’t really break any ground, but it’s not supposed to, and to look at Strider that way would detract from the aim of the game.

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Strider is adept at aerial combat

Thoroughly Enjoyable

Thanks to the vibrantly coloured backdrops expertly crafted for each level, and the host of assorted enemies waiting to be fought, the gameplay in Strider doesn’t ever get boring. The levels are fun to explore and retrace, often with a maze-like feel that encourages players to utilize the environments for effective combat. Even seeking out all of the collectibles doesn’t lose its sense of enjoyment, and collectibles have never really been my thing. I tend to feel as though games should replace collectibles with small insults to the player so developers can just admit they’re trying to upset people, but Strider is one of the few exceptions where the collectibles feel genuinely obtainable.

Overall, Strider is an enjoyably addictive “Metroidvania” type of game with a great pedigree. It offers user-friendly combat, rich visuals and hours of replayability. Combining HD graphics with classic retro gaming style, Strider successfully stands out as a great contemporary example of this genre, and I recommend you play it immediately.

Anime · Review

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club: A Sports Anime with a Difference

By James Daly

Something very sad happened yesterday. It was the first time in three months that Crunchyroll didn’t have a new episode of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club because the series ended last week. Having severely enjoyed this anime, I could not handle the series being over, but it is so I have no choice other than to get over it.

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club follows friends and former elementary school swimming champions Haru, Makoto, and Nagisa as they reunite and establish a high school swim team together. The three encounter Rin, the fourth member of their elementary championship relay team who has turned sour towards them. Rin has just returned from Australia where he attended a swimming school to pursue his dream of competing in the Olympics. Following a race between Rin and Haru, the newly-formed Iwatobi Swim Club decide to partake in official contests following a heated exchange between Haru and Rin where the fire of competition is reignited within them both.

Shortly after, Haru, Makoto and Nagisa are joined by Rei, a former member of the track team with a penchant for logic who teaches himself swimming by researching the theory behind it. With a full team of four, and a new coach and manager behind them, the series focusses on the bonds of friendship and the intensity of competition swimming, cut with plenty of humour and sentimentality for the viewer to form a healthy relationship with the characters.

Iwatobi Swim Club
The swim club arrive at their first meet

As far as sports anime go, Free! runs pretty much par for the course. There is less attention on the details of the sport then their is in an anime like Eyeshield 21, for example, but as their is only thirteen episodes in season one it is understandable that Free! takes a slightly more casual approach to the practice of swimming. Instead, Free! explores the concept of swimming.

It also means more screen time is devoted to the characters themselves, which serves to deepen the appeal of the characters. The affectionate way the main characters refer to each other with the suffix “chan” gives the viewer an understanding of the type of friendship the characters share. This feminine address is based on all of the characters possessing female names, which hints to the nature of characters all being based on the main characters from Sailor Moon. As a result, ‘Free!’ runs rampant with OTP potential and re-watchability.

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Haru’s love of water provides endless entertainment

It is easy to see why this anime is guaranteed a second series based on fan reactions alone, but the fact of the matter is that it is so well written. Episodes are well-paced and packed with enough content to satisfy yet tantalise audiences. Character development avoids over-encumbering viewers or tediously stagnating.

The animation style, it’s simply flawless. The character motions border on poetic, and the animated water is a sight to behold, all made better by the great use of 3D. The art style is wonderful too, sporting a creative blend of optimistic colours and casual realism, cleverly incorporating “real-world” clothing items into the character designs to add depth (as well as potentially boost some sales of Mizuno jammers).

Overall, though this anime is definitely not for everyone, it’s downright perfect for most anime fans.