VIDEO GAME REVIEW
RPG Maker MV
Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~
Tennis World Tour 2
PlayStation 4 Pro
Vampire’s Fall: Origins
Xbox One, with cross-play function on the PC
Ancestors: the Humankind Odyssey
Personal Computer (via Steam)
RPG Maker should not be unfamiliar to anyone interested in game development. The handy software is, at its heart, a game-making system that allows interested parties to use premade assets in making their own titles. One only has to take a look at the Steam Store and see the plethora of RPG Maker games available.
RPG Maker MV is no different, and while it may look like just the latest release in a long series from Kadokawa Corp., it offers considerable variety and provides gamers with myriad choices on the Nintendo Switch.
Certainly, RPG Maker MV is a pretty robust piece of software. The tools it lets its players use, while relatively more limited in comparison to those found in the all-encompassing personal computer version, are actually quite flexible in nature. From editing map tiles to programming events to dialogue boxes and even to character sprites, the Switch release has more than enough to keep gamers immersed for hours on end. In the hands of those with talent, perseverance, and vision, it can, and should, serve as the perfect gateway to game development.
If there’s anything RPG Maker MV lacks, it’s a proper tutorial. There’s one at the start, but gamers won’t be able to go back to it in a pinch once it’s done. And considering the depth and breadth of programming variables at the disposal of would-be developers, what’s tackled doesn’t even come close to putting newbies in position to hit the ground running. It’s as if Kadokawa understands that commitment to the craft necessitates self-learning. The good news is that creations by other users of the title can be checked and played and, most importantly, serve as sources of knowledge and inspiration. The sense of community is underscored since acceptance of work done comes by positive feedback from others, who will also benefit from the process.
Not counting the lack of in-game guidance, RPG Maker MV has other very clear drawbacks. For instance, the available assets on hand are all stock assets, so multiple game creations will, at some point, need to reuse them between games, thus possibly leading to a “same, same,” “been there, done that” situation. RPG Maker likewise remains inherently clunky, so while the software is adept at manipulation, the process invariably gets complicated, especially when using the Switch’s controls. Past the learning curve, though, it provides ample rewards. Second nature comes with a little perseverance.
In sum, RPG Maker MV is a can’t-miss affair for those who want to dip their toes in game development. For aspiring video game developers, it’s pretty much a must-have, serving as the perfect testing ground to gauge commitment to turning endeavor into profession and committing to far more expensive software.
• Extremely flexible as a design tool, allowing would-be developers to create role-playing games as they please
• Tons of options on offer
• Games produced off it are actually playable and compelling
• Inherently clunky
• Switch controls a hurdle in getting used to the software
• Lack of an in-depth tutorial
• Relatively limited amount of stock assets to play with
POSTSCRIPT: A look at the history of Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ is all gamers need to know that it’s a labor of love. Not even a couple of failed Kickstarter campaigns managed to deter developer Mr. Tired Media from completing a project its founders, formerly of Nippon Ichi Software America, first conceived in a Sta. Ana, California, café eight years ago. For all the setbacks, Ry-guy and NickyD were propelled by self-belief and persevered, and, upon their transfer to Seattle, Washington, found others who shared in their goals. Full-scale development followed, and was rewarded by Valve’s support for a prospective release on the personal computer via Steam.
Considering the road Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ trekked, it’s not without irony that the Nintendo Switch version wound up being offered ahead of any other adaptation. That said, the good news is that Mr. Tired Media has proven true to its East-meets-West vision with an outstanding presentation that is in equal parts a visual novel, a dungeon crawler, and a role-playing game. It has gamers invested in the efforts of Reginald “Reggie” P. Happenstance to keep safe the cure for a zombie pandemic plaguing the world. As he tries to find a way to mass-produce the cure his scientist father concocted, he leans on the assistance of longtime friend Pearl and a handful of other undead women whose sense, sentience, and sensibilities likewise remain intact.
What follows is a delightful romp that mixes VN and RPG elements with style. Striking hand-drawn visuals complement the excellent writing in Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~. And amid the humor that pervades the narrative, gamers are tasked to invest in relationship-building while exploring dungeons and engaging in combat. They’re all intertwined, as the characters have unique attributes that shine and help maximize turns in battles. And, make no mistake, the formation of the right parties for the right occasions is crucial; enemies are hard to beat, even early on, so proper knowledge is essential to victory.
Needless to say, gamers will find most of their time spent traversing floor after floor in typical dungeon-crawling fashion. Thankfully, Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ features a healthy variety of locations, as well as of psychedelic enemies, so there’s no danger of ennui setting in. Meanwhile, the story progresses quite nicely, with Reggie learning more about, and getting closer to, his companions. In the process, he winds up coping with the challenges more efficiently, unlocking combo skills and making better use of the Exponential Exploitation mechanic in combat.
All told, Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ proves well worth its $29.99 price tag. Available as a digital download on the eShop, it comes in at 3.2 gigabytes, hefty by the standards of independent titles. The file size is put to excellent use, and replay value comes in the form of multiple endings and, for completists, of collectible items. It’s quirky and fun, and figures to provide hours upon hours of enjoyment that roundly show off Mr. Tired Media’s efforts.
• Well-written storyline and dialogue
• Visually appealing
• Colorful characters of substance
• Deep combat mechanics
• Uneven voice acting
• Battles already difficult from the outset
• Quality of Life issues
Big Ant Studios seemed to be aiming for authenticity when it developed Tennis World Tour 2, and, to its credit, the game does provide realistic gameplay. Groundstrokes, the meat and muscle of the sport, feel impactful, compelling gamers to make choices on the fly. Precision or power? Setting up the point or going for the kill? The depth of the decision-making gives the title the gravitas to overcome its missteps and do a remarkably good job at mimicking actual competition.
In Tennis World Tour 2, gamers are given the choice to pick their favorite player or create their own from scratch. They can either invest no small measure of time in the game’s career mode and become the most successful player alive or just go set up a one-and-done match offline or online using marquee names. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. It aims to live and breathe tennis, and the effort shows.
Admittedly, Tennis World Tour 2 is far from perfect. Graphics-wise, it doesn’t show its best. On the PlayStation 4 Pro, it looks serviceable, mostly propped up by its excellent lighting, atmosphere, and background design (which, while simplistic, shows a surprising amount of care). Meanwhile, the character models could be much, better; for gamers who put a premium on visuals, the effect can be a little jarring, especially when seen up close.
Thankfully, appearances aren’t the end-all and be-all of sports video games. So while Tennis World Tour 2 doesn’t look too hot, the gameplay props up its value considerably. Movement is slow and deliberate, albeit clunky; quick changes in direction make for jerky animations. On the plus side, gamers will find themselves amply rewarded when they serve and hit well, and then score points, whether through a well-constructed strategy or a fortuitous in-the-moment tactic. It captures the essence of tennis pretty well, and can pretty much hold attention until the matches are done.
Significantly, Tennis World Tour 2 boasts of a fairly substantial career mode, with variables such as training and preparation taken into account as gamers move to improve their character’s standing. There is also the option to purchase additional content to unlock official tournaments and stadia, as well as include the sport’s legends on the roster of available players, although at not inconsiderable cost.
On the whole, Tennis World Tour 2 does what it sets out to do. It’s bogged down by low resolution, but nonetheless provides compelling gameplay. And considering the dearth of titles catering to the sport, it proves to be a welcome addition for adrenaline junkies out for vicarious success.
• Compelling gameplay
• Fairly accessible and easy to play form the get-go
• Decent selection of marquee name
• Deep career mode
• Character models could be much, much better
• Low-resolution graphics
• Quick changes in direction make for jerky animation
Vampire’s Fall: Origins is technically the second offering in the Vampire’s Fall series, but it might as well have been a standalone title given its independent storyline and superior interface. In fact, it hews closer to Diablo II in look and feel, deliberately done as an ode to the computer role-playing games of old. The tone, art style, and handling should prove familiar to those steeped in Blizzard North’s seminal work at the turn of the century.
Developer Early Morning Studio does a great job of porting over the mobile game to the Nintendo Switch. Perhaps because Vampire’s Fall: Origins takes on an isometric view, it doesn’t push the hardware to present its dour, dark, decaying aesthetics. Meanwhile, it boasts of smooth and easy-to-understand mechanics. And coming from its original free-to-play release, it does well to eliminate the myriad microtransactions in the console version without sacrificing fairness.
Not unlike most multimedia online role-playing games, Vampire’s Fall: Origins’ plot is pretty much middle of the road. After going through typical character-creation choices at the start, gamers are treated to a backstory told through still images and text: The death of the kingdom’s ruler and absence of a successor has the Witchmaster, in command of dark magic and a horde of followers, planning a takeover. In Vamp’ire, one of the towns slated to be affected, lives the controllable character, who signs up to be part of the organized defense. Training sequences, which double as tutorials, follow, and set up what turns out to be an adventure-filled exploration of an open-world setup.
Interactions with townsfolk and other non-playable characters are standard, if occasionally humorous, fare, and lend to further appreciation of the overarching narrative. Where Vampire’s Fall: Origins distinguishes itself is in its randomized combat stages, where gamers need to strike a balance in the use of their character’s basic (“Weapons”) and special (“Control” and “Instinct”) skills. Side quests serve as level-up opportunities through the acquisition of either battle experience or actual gear. Note, however, that no small measure of grinding is required, as the game’s degree of difficulty rises, and steeply, without warning.
In sum, Vampire’s Fall: Origins proves well worth its $12.99 price tag. While no audio-visual marvel, it succeeds in presenting cues and effects consistent with its tenor. More importantly, it boasts of a complex but not complicated combat design that figures to keep gamers engaged. And because it plays without any technical glitches on the Nintendo Switch, it manages to meet its principal objective: The journey and not the destination is what matters most. Recommended.
• Well-done homage to RPGs of old
• Smooth interface and easy-to-understand controls
• Excellent turn-based combat design
• Compelling, humor-underpinned, side quests
• Grinding required
• Online options not ported over
• No audio-visual marvel
The Souls-like subset of the action role-playing game genre definitely has a lot of fans. While the borderline-insane levels of difficulty titles in this subset present aren’t for everybody, those who have the gumption to stick around for the payoffs experience a certain catharsis in imbibing their unique lore, exploring their labyrinthine environments, and ultimately overcoming their Sisyphean hurdles.
Bandai Namco’s Code Vein is one such release, pushing many of the buttons that any Dark Souls game does, albeit with an anime/rpg aesthetic. Players take on the role of an unnamed character of their making who suddenly wakes up in a devastated world. There, life exists as a hollow shell of itself, with surviving denizens exhibiting sudden vampiric urges to feast on human blood. Under this backdrop, the central figure is tasked with taking up arms to defend himself and his companions, unveil the mysteries behind the disaster, and ultimately fight off the darkness that has overcome the world.
Right off the bat, Code Vein starts off pretty strong. The art style, when combined with the serious tone of the story, does wonders to make the setting feel alive. Everything — from the characters to the monsters to the bleak, dilapidated environments players are forced to traverse — oozes with style. For all the challenges, exploration of the abandoned cities and mazes of underground caverns filled with mutated enemies never feels grating. Some paths may seem linear, with some dungeons leading off to narrow hallways or circular loops. That said, proper enemy placements keep combat fair for the most part.
Make no mistake, though. Code Vein is hard — or, to be more precise, very hard. Enemies are invariably smart and situated in ways that take unwary players off-guard. There’s a learning curve, and players just starting out will find themselves giving away a handful of lives before getting the hang of things. The good news is that death doesn’t lead to permanent loss of progress. It’s still a setback, but because checkpoints are fairly generous in number, its occurrence becomes a source more of irritation than of frustration.
Players delving a little deeper into Code Vein will likewise welcome the companion system. Unlike other Souls-like titles, the game allows friendly non-playable characters to be brought to battle. They’re able to take hits and deal out damage just as well as the principal character can, and they bring their own special sets of traits, equipment, and bonuses. Considering their pluses, they become essential to progress, bringing a lot of variety to an otherwise straightforward combat system.
The same can also be said for Code Vein’s myriad weapons, most of which have a particular playstyle that need some getting used to. While they’re nowhere near in number as those in, say, Monster Hunter, they do have more than enough types to allow for significant variety in dealing with enemies. Is waiting opponents out before striking up close the best option in the moment? Or is picking on them from moderate range with a rifle more prudent, There’s no right or wrong answer to combat, and players will want to master the possibilities before sticking to a favorite.
All in all, Code Vein proves fairly accessible for a Souls-like offering. The difficulty spikes within the typically dark atmosphere remain glaringly evident, but the introduction of mechanics that allow for accompaniment makes the journey less disheartening. Moreover, it boasts of excellent level designs that make the campaign worthwhile. It’s not perfect; for instance, minor annoyances courtesy of NPC glitches and errant hit boxes show up on occasion. That said, it delivers in the end, and how. Highly recommended.
• Excellent core gameplay design
• Fairness in combat
• Immersive exploration sections
• Unique companion option
• Can prove exceedingly difficult, especially for newcomers to Souls-like offerings
• Can feel a little rough around the edges
• Errant hit boxes
• Feels biased towards companionship, leading to single-player imbalance
Ancestors: the Humankind Odyssey is as much an experiment as it is a game, and just a few minutes of playing confirms the contention. The open-world survival offering is ambitious, seeking to retell a dramatized version of the evolution of mankind spanning 10 million to two million years ago. Unfortunately, the things it gets right often blend with the things it gets wrong, ultimately compelling players to exercise not inconsiderable patience lest they be frustrated with its flawed interface.
At its core, Ancestors: the Humankind Odyssey wants players to wear the shoes of African forbears during the Neogene period and walk the path they once trod. It calls for survival in a cruel world, and doing so requires the examination of plant life, crafting of useful tools, and, at times, dodging or overcoming the many predators that roam the jungle. Scaling trees, hunting for food, jumping along vines and climbing branches, and even finding a mate and raising offspring – these become part and parcel of life within the game. Its core premise is clear: the main character, the leader of a clan, has to stay safe, stay secure, stay fed, stay with others, and keep others safe, secure, fed, and together as well. And, conceptually, it works pretty well, with progress involving a natural push towards more dangerous territory, wary of surroundings, but eager to learn more. If nothing else, it encapsulates the plight of early man — more like ape, really — and conveying the helplessness and fear he must have once felt.
However, while the premise of Ancestors: the Humankind Odyssey is sound, the game doesn’t do so well with the controls. Whether using a peripheral or a keyboard-and-mouse combination, players will occasionally find themselves struggling with and for control. The aim for a realistic approach to survival is admittedly laudable; sight, sound, and smell are requisites to scoping out large swaths of land. The character will be gathering items to use as tools, or ducking into tall brushes to hide — great in theory, but difficult in practice.
When the same command keys tend to lead to different things depending on the character’s stance and posture and on the context of the action, the inability to execute moves as desired allows frustration to set in. For example, the character will constantly be stopping to pick up items when players actually want him to use other senses. Thus, much of the first part of Ancestors: the Humankind Odyssey requires wrestling with the controls. Even after players get used to the interface, comfort and comfortability never set in; commands feel more like vague suggestions, thereby curtailing freedom and necessitating repetition. It’s a pain in a controlled environment, and an absolute nightmare in moments of stress. Again, patience is a must.
That said, Ancestors: the Humankind Odyssey can prove satisfying, and perhaps oddly so. Assuming players get past, or used to, the clunky, annoying controls, they’ll appreciate the effort of Panache Digital Games to present a feral world that Earth was once, and to show the determination of mankind to buck the odds, transfer knowledge to descendants, and keep plodding on. Its opening cinematic conveys the state of nature, uncaring and cruel, and close to impossible to survive. And in the moments the character does survive seemingly insurmountable challenges, players feel like champions. The moments are few and far between, but they’re there. When an elusive prey is struck down, or when a predator is outwitted, for instance, pride sets in; because elements of the game — and the game itself — put up fight after fight, triumph tastes doubly sweet.
Considering how Ancestors: the Humankind Odyssey unfolds, it’s fair to wonder if the developers meant it to run as it does. Was the hard-to-tame control scheme a deliberate attempt to parallel the uncertainty and fear progenitors might have once had, similar to how Resident Evil or Silent Hill used their tank control and awkward camera angles to evoke terror? Is the elicitation of sheer annoyance an attempt to immerse the player in the game even more? It’s anybody’s guess, although there can be no doubting the artistic choices they made to see their vision come to life.
At the end of the day, Ancestors: the Humankind Odyssey winds up as a conceptually interesting release. Vexation can set it, but perseverance does have its rewards. Which, in a nutshell, is life itself. People live, people suffer, and people triumph in spite of the odds. And then people start all over again.
• Visually pleasing, featuring outstanding environmental character design
• Near-realistic attention to detail with regards to actions, requiring good use of sound, sight, and touch for navigation
• Movement is fast and fluid
• Clunky general control scheme, with most of the things to do in-game having a layer of tedium
• Repetitive at times
• Unintuitive combat and game design
THE LAST WORD: Publisher 2K Sports has revealed a Next-Gen Courtside Report and trailer introducing The City, the new multiplayer setting for the next-gen version of NBA 2K21. The most ambitious execution of a virtual basketball community ever with a map much larger than previous Neighborhoods, The City is complete with towering skyscrapers, sprawling plazas, a city center, and distinct boroughs controlled by rival affiliations. The next-generation version of NBA 2K21 will be released today for the Microsoft Xbox Series X|S and on Nov. 12 for the Sony PlayStation 5.