A good shared experience

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Game Time

River City Girls
Sony PlayStation 4

WHEN Nekketsu koha Kunio-kun (roughly translated as “Hot Blood Tough Guy Kunio”) made its way to arcades in 1986, not even its biggest fans thought it would have legs. Even as developer Technos Japan had high hopes for it (going so far as to name its principal protagonist after company president Kunio Taki), it seemed to carry a one-off vibe. After all, it was a side-scrolling beat-em-‘up that, for the first time, employed four-direction movement and required multiple hits to dispatch enemies. It turned out to be a commercial smash, prompting the release of a port to the Nintendo Family Computer the next year and serving as the kickoff point of an immensely popular franchise.

That the Kunio-kun series is still alive and kicking three decades and three years later despite one industry challenge after another speaks volumes of both the loyalty it has engendered and the quality for which it stands. Now owned by Arc System Works, titles in the intellectual property — which has branched out into seemingly disparate genres, including a variety of sports — boast of outstanding technical and artistic polish, uniquely quirky plots and premises, and engrossing gameplay designed to generate high replay value.

River City Girls is no exception. Featuring a lush color palette and rock music consistent with its retro sensibilities, it turns the hero narrative upside down by having familiar high-school characters Misako and Kyoko do the heavy lifting vice usual leads Kunio and Riki. After learning of their boyfriends’ kidnapping, they’re spurred to action — from detention, no less, in an obvious nod to their kickass predilections — out of Nekketsu High School, and deep within River City. The result is a rollicking ride that never feels fabricated or forced. To this end cutscenes and interactions laced with humor propel the narrative and help the presentation forge ahead.

Combat mechanics are excellent, in no small measure complemented by easy-to-master and lag-free controls. Difficulty ramps up over time, but never unfairly, and with an eye towards encouraging gamers to collect experience points and currency (earned from encounters) for use by Misako and Kyoko in raising stats, learning new moves, and purchasing battle-purpose gear and equipment. And while River City Girls has a clear end (Save Kunio and Riki!), it’s far from linear; side-quests abound, and the attainment of their objectives yields accessories that provide percentage boosts to abilities and skills. It even has collectibles by way of Sabu statues and cats; finding all will net more bonuses, not to mention unlock the real final boss fight.

For all the open-world options, River City Girls isn’t overly long. In single-player mode, it should be good for around 10 hours or so. That said, it earns its keep in cooperative mode. As with every other classic beat-em-‘up title, it finds itself reaching new heights when enjoyed by two gamers who band together in beating up all the bad guys on screen. The shared experience can likewise smoothen any rough edges produced by grinding, and by the occasionally uneven pace. In any case, it proves well worth its $20.99 price tag. Highly recommended.

THE GOOD:

• Outstanding audio-visual presentation reminiscent of classic beat-‘em-ups

• Deep and engrossing non-linear gameplay

• Superb cooperative mode

• Solid addition to the Kunio-kun franchise

THE BAD:

• Uneven pace

• Grinding required

• Side-quests can lead to time-consuming backtracking

RATING: 8.5/10

POSTSCRIPT: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint picks up from where Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands left off. In fact, it’s a lot like its predecessor — a tactical shooter in an open-world setting, but bigger. In its development, Ubisoft Paris clearly set out to make it a superior version. And the hard work shows in its presentation: As gamers explore Auroa, a fictional chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean, they are treated to an extremely vast and varied playing field that further underscores the importance of choice. The effort is especially significant in light of a sustained initiative to beef up the narrative; even side missions, and the conversations therein, serve to enrich the backdrop, thereby adding gravitas to the action.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint follows the exploits of Lieutenant Colonel Anthony “Nomad” Perryman. This time, he investigates military contractor Skell Technology on behalf of the United States Special Operation Forces. Soon enough, he gets to the bottom of the conflict: Disillusioned by the outcome of a mission in Bolivia, former Ghost operative Cole Walker has turned, and is bent on using cutting-edge drone technology to seek retribution for perceived sins. In his effort to set things right, he gains the assistance of former US Marine Mads Schulz, leader of the Homesteaders (island farmers forced to seek shelter in the Erehwon cave system), tech libertarian Jace Skell, Skell Tech Artificial Intelligence Program head Christina Cromwell, and mathematician Maurice Fox.

En route to meeting the ultimate objective, gamers are treated to edge-of-seat interplay. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint makes sure to stay fair while presenting a bevy of alternatives, whether in solo or multiplayer mode. Player-versus-player scenarios can be a technical challenge for online shooters; in this case, however, Ubisoft manages to rely on knowledge gained from Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands to make the experience run as smoothly as possible. Three months removed from the day it first reached store shelves, it’s a polished title that rewards patience and investment; to facilitate progress and ensure competitiveness, for instance, it imposes loot-level caps that normalize damage.

All told, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint figures to keep both loyalists and newbies to the series going back for more. Forget about the initial middling reviews and underwhelming sales figures. It runs extremely well on the PlayStation 4 Pro, and continual improvements have made it a release worthy of the Ubisoft name. (8/10)

THE LAST WORD: The Azur Lane: Crosswave microsite at ideafintl.com has been updated to include new character profiles. Initially downloadable as a mobile app in China and Japan, the three-dimensional action shooter proved to be a critical hit. It likewise met with success commercially, reaching five million players after four months in the market. Its PlayStation 4 and personal computer (via Steam) versions, developed using the Unreal engine, will be available next month.

Meanwhile, Disgaea 4 Complete+ has an update that introduces the Ranking Shop. The new patch allows gamers to connect online and complete challenges to earn points for items not available in the base game.





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