Category Archives: Quick Impressions

Quick Impressions: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) for 3DS

Last year I did a rather scathing review of Activision’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the Videogame released on the Xbox 360, Wii, and 3DS.  Sometime later, I concluded what may have actually occurred.  My assertion was that developer Magic Pockets were initially vetted to create a 3DS Ninja Turtle game, but during development the scope changed.  The game was then ported to the 360 and Wii, and had to be modified to accommodate the local multi-player functionality.  This lead a game which may have been passable on the 3DS to become a nightmare on all three consoles.  The emphasis on things flying at the screen, and the camera’s fascination with moving through tunnels, supports that this was intended for the 3DS at least originally.  Had the game been a single-player experience on the 3DS only, I likely would have been more forgiving of it’s other short falls.

Well, either someone was listening, or had a similar thought, because this year we saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) release for the 3DS.  Based off the movie license, this game was made exclusively for the 3DS by the same developer, Magic Pockets.  Do I smell a challenge?


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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Video Game – Part 1 – The Next Mutation

My original intent was to do an impressions article on the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game by Activision; however, I had to change that when I realized I had a few too many projects going on.  Since I’ve found Let’s Plays require a little less work on the back-end than other videos I’ve produced so far, I decided we’d just do a blind Let’s Play of it instead.  Between then and now, I’ve been reduced to talking about it in written form.

What happened?  Prepare yourself for the strange and unusual journey that Katsa and myself embarked on during the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Video Game.

To begin, I will admit that I should have known better when I saw the trailer for this game.  It’s almost as though someone saw my 4 issues with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadow‘s first trailer and answered some of those concerns with the new game’s trailer.  They were obviously using the Nickelodeon license and art style.  They also showed gameplay. Of course, the gameplay didn’t look terribly great, but that could be just an early build.  It did not answer the other two problems I had with Out of the Shadow‘s first trailer though — time table for release and developer choice — and in fact, I didn’t see the developer listed on the trailer initially.

I found only after receiving the game that the French developer Magic Pockets was behind this one.  After some brief research, I found that Magic Pockets were best known for mobile/portable games.  The only big series that they continuously produced was the My Petz series for the Nintendo DS — which I’ve never played because it looks like a Nintendogs rip-off.  I would know them for only one of their products, Harry Potter’s Quidditch World Cup for the Playstation 2.

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Quidditch World Cup, as the name implies, tried to recreate the sporting event in the popular Harry Potter book and movie series.  For the uninitiated, it’s like lacrosse or rugby on broomsticks.  I remember liking the game at first, but as it drug on, it became more of a chore than an exhilarating experience.  The fact that so much of the game was just recycled didn’t help either. This was a game I completely forgot I even played until I saw it on Magic Pockets’ wikipedia page.  I apparently didn’t think twice about trading that game out either, as it’s nowhere to be found in my collection now.

I had complaints at first about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows‘s pedigree also, but looking back, I realize those were mostly unfounded.  If ‘A’ string developers are teams like Blizzard, Bioware, Infinity Ward, or Valve, RedFly Studios sits comfortably on the ‘B’ string.  They have a few hits and misses, but aren’t a terrible developer choice overall.  Magic Pockets is not known for good games; they’re not known for laughably terrible games.  They’re not really known at all.  If they’re on a string at all, we’re talking the ‘D’ or ‘E’ at best.

I learned all this before even opening the box; my concern only mounted upon prying open the shell case.  I opened it up before we were fully setup to peek at the instruction booklet, just to see if there was any indication of what we were getting into.  Inside was a small insert advertising the IDW comics on one side, and the DVDs of the TV show on the other.  In addition, there was a small fold out, which was essentially a checklist of the various Ninja Turtles products you could buy.  In other words, besides the disc, there was nothing but advertisements inside.  No sign of an instruction manual at all.  On the inside of the box cover insert, it said you could download the instructions off of Activision’s manuals webpage — which turned out to be a lie, as there were no Ninja Turtles games listed.  So, it looked like our blind let’s play was going to be very blind indeed.

I had no idea what we were in for.

Stay tuned, as our adventure continues when we actually start playing the game.

I do not own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Activision, or any property mentioned in this article.  I only own the opinions formed here, and the learning experience this product has granted me through this ordeal.  Opinions were formulated from the XBox360 version of this game.

Quick Impressions: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

I found myself in a bit of a conundrum with today’s game. As a turtle fan, I went into it hoping it was good.  However, having just come from the Ubisoft era of turtle games, I was a bit skeptical, as evidenced in a previous article.  So, is Out of the Shadows worthy of the Turtles’ pedigree, or does it languish much like their games have since the 2000’s?

Perhaps a little of both.

We’ll get the obvious out of the way first, the art design. The turtles new look seems odd at first, but I’ll admit, it grew on me after awhile.  It seems to try and blend the Nickelodeon look with the style of the Jim Henson creature shop from the original movie.

This doesn’t fully carry over to the supporting characters though — April looks older and more realistic than her cartoon counterpart, but only so much. Karai hasn’t changed much except for wearing a mask, and I don’t think anything was done to Shredder at all.

The story is still based on the Nickelodeon show, though where exactly I couldn’t tell.  The story takes the player through battles with most of the major enemies of the show, however, so even unfamiliar players won’t find the story too hard to follow.

The exposition is told mostly through comic style vignettes, which are both stylistically appropriate, and jarring at the same time.  They tend to pop up just when you’re getting into the vibrant setting they’ve placed you in, or just when you’ve started to lose yourself in the action — and you occasionally will.

Despite the set pieces lacking polish at times, and texture pop-in causing some issues here an there, the setting is very colorful and lively.  From a soaring construction tower, to the dank and dingy sewers, to the ramshackle junk yard you find Baxter Stockman hiding out in; the setting is as inviting as it’s cartoon counterpart.  This makes one want to break away and explore the brilliant labyrinth of the Turtles’ New York City.

Disappointingly, the player is kept in rather contained areas that have less life to them than the backgrounds do. The game play is mostly going from point A to B and beating up Foot Ninja and other varieties of grunts along the way. It’s hard to fault it for this, but the restrictiveness is nevertheless very noticeable.

One might expect then, the developers’ would be sure to keep the player’s attention with gameplay.  To be fair, the RedFly team definitely know their Turtles history, as many of the systems in the game are reminiscent of titles from the Turtles past.  For instance, in Story mode, there is no game over until all four turtles are down for the count, much like the original Ninja Turtles for the NES.  Also, each turtle can carry secondary and expendable weapons, such as grenades and shuriken, much like the NES game.  Similar to Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare from the Playstation 2 era, Turtles not directly under your control are controlled by the game’s AI.  And then of course there is arcade mode, made to simulate the original Ninja Turtles arcade game, and Turtles in Time.  In addition, RedFly also took inspiration from Batman Arkham Asylum, by introducing a combo and counter system very reminiscent of it.  Also, the ability to switch Turtles on the fly, and coordinate them is similar to the system present in the Dragon Age series.

However, all of this together doesn’t seem blend very well.  The combo system works great, and I would venture is even better than Arkam’s, as Turtle Power KO’s can only be performed upon reaching certain points in the combo — giving a strong reason to keep combos going.  The countering system, however, leaves something to be desired.  I can perform a counter just fine, if I concentrate solely on that, but trying to counter in the middle of combo seems practically impossible, if not extremely difficult.

Meanwhile, even though you can control your reptilian brethren, you cannot give them specific orders.  They will not use items or aid fallen allies of their own accord either.  The best you can do is taunt enemies toward your turtle and hope the enemy doesn’t focus fire a brother down first.

Also, since each turtle has their own independent inventory, the system will actively punish you for switching turtles too often.  Should you do so, and spread too many items about your turtles, chance are good that the turtle carrying the grenades you need to take down the Cerberus Mouser will be the first to get knocked out.

The punishment doesn’t stop there, but continues in the leveling system they have implemented as well.  Again taking pointers from Rocksteady’s Arkham games, the turtles can be upgraded with various moves, techniques, and weapons.  While ability points are given in sets of four, allowing every turtle to partake, weapon upgrades are given one at a time, forcing the player to choose to focus on one turtle early on.

Overall, this makes the fighting experience feel awkward and at times very clunky, the occasional bug not helping matters.

But most of what I’ve described applies to the single player experience.  How about multiplayer?  While Story mode does allow for two players to run it together, the main multi-player mode is arcade mode.  This mode sets a fixed camera, and runs the turtles through environments already cleared in the story in a kind of throwback to the classic Konami arcades.  This mode suffers from similar issues, however.  Because the camera is fixed, the turtles can get a pretty far distance from it, obscuring your vision of the characters at times.  Also, dark corners can be too dark in this mode, keeping you from seeing that important mouser bomb that’s about to explode behind you.  Arcade mode’s difficulty is scaled to have all four turtles on screen, so it becomes rather challenging to run solo.  Although, this means the experience becomes more rewarding, and more manageable, with a few friends.

Despite it’s flaws, it’s hard to come down on the game too harshly, as love for franchise is evident throughout.  From the Turtles hanging out in their HQ on the menu, to the Mirage Comics homage on the title screen, to the use of ‘Turtle Power’ by Partners in Kryme, to the witty banter between the turtles mid-fight and in-between fights; while RedFly didn’t fully flesh out the details, RedFly definitely nailed what a modern Turtles’ game should be like.

That is why I have a hard time judging this one.  There’s a great Turtles’ game in this, but it’s muddied up with too many complex systems.  Perhaps if it was given more time or a bigger budget, the experience could have been smoothed out to offer the best the franchise has to offer.  That being said, there have been games far worse than this in the Turtles history.

Fans would do well to pick this one up, if only to support an incredibly ambitious Ninja Turtles title.  For everyone else, this may end up as a pass.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is published by Activision, and developed by RedFly Studios.  Xbox Live arcade version was used for this review, which was played for about 6 hours.  I own nothing but the opinions expressed in this article.

Quick Impressions: Dynasty Warriors 8

Finally after battling through hordes over enemies through the tiny gates, the landscape opened up, just so much as to feel we could breathe again. To the East, was a cliff-face, and the West another. Before us was the gentle slope of a small hill. We hurried up it; our adrenaline still pumping from the heat of battle. As we reached the crest of the hill though, we saw the silhouette cross the night sky. I looked as the hill sloped downward as the cliffs about us closed inward into the giant man-made structure. It was a structure I had seen interpreted five times before, but never had Hulao Gate stood so low, and yet felt so intimidating. I already knew what lay behind it, but I never thought how significant the gate itself could be.

This is only one of the many things Dynasty Warriors 8 did right when it came to reinterpreting the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel (along with other source materials) into the video game space. While it may have taken them seven games to do it, Omega Force has found a proper balance of tone, gameplay, and design to bring the Three Kingdoms era to life.

The environment of Hulao Gate illustrates one of many locales that have been drastically re-imagined for this installment. From the yellow deserts of Chang Ban, to the snowy hills of Xu Province, to the flames engulfing Chi Bi, battlefields feel much more dynamic, unique, and alive than ever before. While not every stage stirs up as strong emotions as these, it is a great change of pace from the dull greys, greens, and browns that plague the gaming world, and even plagued previous Dynasty Warriors titles.

However, player’s won’t have much time to enjoy the scenery, as battle has become more demanding than ever before. While the series has been characterized as simple button mashing, it has been making small steps throughout the games to move away from that. While mindless mashing can certainly still be employed in this iteration, it is not the most effective solution. This is accomplished through a new series of systems introduced in Dynasty Warriors 8.

First is the weapon system. While Dynasty Warriors 7 employed the idea of being able to carry two weapons and switch between them freely, Dynasty Warriors 8 actually gives the player a reason to do so. Every weapon one collects has an element assigned to it — Heaven, Earth, or Man. Each of these elements works as a counter for each other in a Rock, Paper, Scissors format (Heaven beats Earth, Earth beats Man, Man beats Heaven). Enemy officer’s weapons have these elements assigned to them as well, so that the player will inevitably have enemies where they are at an advantage, or the enemy is. When at an advantage, attacks break down spirit of the opponent. Once spirit is depleted, the attacker can perform a wind fury attack — a series of repeated blows that hit a wide area in front of them. When at a disadvantage, however, the player’s attacks will deal damage, but the enemy can still attack unfazed by the blows. The enemy can also perform wind fury attacks on the player if they score a combo chain. Thus it is ideal to switch to another weapon of a different type at all times.

This creates strategy going into a battle that the series has lacked in it’s main run for some time. The player has no way of knowing what combination of elements will be encountered in the stage. The player is restricted to two weapons, so it can only ever have two possible elements to switch between. In addition, once the initial load-out is chosen, it cannot be changed once the battle has commenced. The user can tell if he is at an advantage or disadvantage from the icon above the enemy officer’s head; however, when more than one enemy officer is around (which tends to happen frequently), the player then has to weigh his options of what weapon to use, or which officer to take down first.

Secondly, the game expands the rules to include three Musou bars, and a new Musou Rage meter. The musou meters are filled by taking and dealing damage, while the Musou Rage meter is built up by performing combos. One musou meter is spent using one of three possible musou attacks, each set of three unique to each character. The fact that there are three bars now is significant, as a user can now choose to expend it to extend combos, to get enemies off of him, or to counter an enemy’s musou attack without having to worry about having no musou to use at other times. This plays directly into the Musou Rage system, however.

Once the Musou Rage meter is full, the player can activate the Rage mode, which slows down time around the player character, and gives them enhanced defense and attack power for a short period of time. They also have access to their Musou in this form, which will allow them to perform a Musou Rage attack — a devastating combo that can gather multiple opponents for repeated attacks. Little will remain standing follow a Musou Rage attack, however, it’s length depends on how many musou meters were left before going into rage.

Therefore, different tactics can be extrapolated from this system. Saving Musou for Musou Rage attacks when in tight situations would be a safe tactic, though unloading all barrels in one swoop like this could be detrimental if done too early. Using Musou freely to build combos and take down small skirmishes quickly is viable as well, though it may leave the player without access to a full Musou Rage attack later. These are choices the player will have to make on a consistent basis, especially in a scenario he’s not familiar with.

Following this theme, the new Ambition mode also is a great example of infusing more strategy into the game. In Ambition mode, the player is tasked with gathering materials, allies, and weapons, in order to build a city to attract and defend the emperor. These materials, allies, and weapons are gained from shorter battles a player can choose to participate in. Once the battle is complete, the player is given the option to take his rewards back to camp, or continue onward to collect more. As he continues, the difficulty of the stages increases, but the rewards will increase as well. What’s more, there are very few health recovery items in these stages, and your character does not heal from one battle to the next. Thus, the player must weigh the reward of greater bounty against his own skill and life bar.

Even the traditional story mode has been infused with more strategic aspects. While the basic idea of telling the story of the Three Kingdoms era, nearly every stage in the story has the potential to derail it from it’s fated course. Completing particular objectives in certain stages will affect the plot going forward. If enough changes are made, the entire destiny of the chosen force can derail into a completely different (and fictional) path. While most of these are very specific, they are easy to spot when you know what to look for. For instance, during the battle of Xu Province, once Liu Bei’s forces have started to gain a foothold in the battle, Guo Jia calls for an unexpected retreat when Cao Cao’s forces clearly still out number them. Managing to defeat all the retreating officers while still maintaining their forces position will have lasting effects later in his campaign.

However, the new changes to story mode do not completely remove the Story Mode from it’s original intent. It’s incredibly unlikely a player will be able to accomplish enough of these goals to avoid the historical account completely. Instead, it breathes new life into the story mode after a campaign is completed — offering greater replayability.

Lastly, the game is completed by rounding out the cast of the game, and the characters and weapons added to the game bring a variety of welcome additions. The specific characters added all seem to be chosen to add more to the variety of characters available at the force’s peak of strength. For instance, Guan Xing and Zhang Bao were two warriors that came to rise in Shu’s ranks following the deaths of their fathers, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei respectively. While Shu was hit hard after the deaths of two great warriors, Guan Xing and Zhang Bao prove that Shu was far from lacking in strength in this period. Also, many of Wu’s strongest warriors had been veteran officers, not the young upstarts that typically led them. Therefore a strong veteran warrior like Han Dang is more reflective of that.

Turning to weapons, new weapon styles begin to shift focus from simple ground-based combat, to fighting enemies in the air as well. Guan Xing’s wingblades make for quick simple tricks on the ground, but provide deathly juggle combos once in the air. Jiang Wei’s new double-trident weapon, also has several moves that transition from ground to air to set up mid-air juggle combos as well. This brings a strange and new flair to combos that were not seen before.

Aside from these major changes, Omega Force has polished very many aspects of the game system, with small additions that seem infinitesimal, but mean a great deal. For instance, in addition to the ability to mid-air jump out of a juggle state with proper timing, a player can also force their character to their feet from a prone position faster with the guard button. Also, certain combo strings will now hit prone enemies as well, so that skilled players can learn how to extend combos in this state. Leveling up characters is now done automatically, and at particular levels, characters gain access to new skills and abilities, such as the abilities to air dash, or summon shadow clones temporarily. Also, I believe I failed to mention, every mode in the game allows for both online and offline cooperative play.

In conclusion, if Dynasty Warriors 7’s guiding principle was the story, Dynasty Warriors 8’s guiding principle is strategy. All the tweaks, additions, and changes involved in Dynasty Warriors 8 work toward building up the strategy elements in the game. Thankfully, the game did not have to be completely redesigned to do this, so that veterans of the previous installment will feel right at home. Furthermore, the game reintroduces old features like Free Mode and cooperative play, and makes them fun again.

The game’s one and only stumbling block, is that the story of the game has been sacrificed somewhat. While the changes to Story Mode has been improved in terms of gameplay and replayability, it unfortunately fails to tell a very compelling story. While each campaign has it’s moments, story elements are unfortunately broken up by gameplay that is far more frantic and intense than any of the emotions or ideas discussed in the cut-scenes. The question for the user then is whether a story well told is worth more than a game well designed?

Review was conducted with PS3 version of the game, with over 10+ hours of play (and not to completion). Nearly all of this was done in offline co-op as well. Also, I do not work for own any material, copyrights, or characters involved with Dynasty Warriors, TecmoKoei, Omega Force, or anything mentioned in this article.

< —————————– See how I felt about the other Dynasty Warriors games

Quick Impressions: Injustice: Gods Among Us (console)

Since I’ve been talking about this topic for the past couple of weeks, Quick Impressions seemed less appropriate this go around. While I still have had nowhere near the experience with it I feel necessary to give a full review, this is likely be the most in depth I have covered a game so far.

For those who haven’t been paying attention this past week, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a fighting game featuring DC Comics heroes and villains, and comes from Netherrealm Studios, the same team responsible for the recent Mortal Kombat reboot. A demo was released a few weeks ago, which I picked up for both PS3 and XBox for a look, which you can find here. Also, Netherealms developed an iOS version of the games, you can also find here. But now the full game is out, so it’s time to see if we have a final verdict on Injustice.

Most of what I said regarding the demo in terms of the fighting engine is the same. The system will feel slightly off to both Mortal Kombat veterans and Street Fighter fans, and will take some adjustment. Thankfully, however, the game provides a number of ways to alleviate that. The frame data on the move list in the demo is still present, so number crunching veterans can acclimate to what to use and how. The game also allows you to change up the button layout freely, making this perfect for someone using a fightstick, or a newbie with a sticky trigger finger. Additionally, you can change to an alternate control method, which changes the special attack motions from traditional Mortal Kombat style, to half-circle and quarter circle motions similar to Capcom fighters. I’ve found this helps if the player is restricted to a 360 stick for motions, though your mileage may vary (much like Max’s does here). The game will allow you to save up to 5 different presets, which is a nice feature to have.

Another feature worth mentioning is the variety of single player modes in the game. While it still has the ladder battles, similar to the one in the demo, it also includes ‘S.T.A.R. Labs’. ‘S.T.A.R. Labs’ is a quintessential mission mode which will teach some basics with the character, while also providing unique and varied objective-based matches as well. In some cases forgoing straight up fighting for quick-time based missions. Playing this mode grants stars, which will allow access to further missions as you go along.

The most important, however, is the story-mode. The story takes place primarily between two timelines — one in which the Joker nuked Metropolis and drugged Superman so he would kill his wife, and one in which this is somehow prevented. Superman of the first timeline kills his timeline’s Joker and creates a military state ruled by him and the heroes and villains that side with him. His opposition is Batman among others. Elsewhile, in the second timeline, a handful of heroes and the Joker are sucked out of their timeline into the Regime’s timeline. The player follows the characters as they learn of this world’s past, fight for it’s future, and try to find a way back home in the process.

The story is a little cooky, but that’s not out of place for comic books or fighting games. However, it offers some interesting twists and turns, and some very creative scenarios. The plot is surprising detailed as well; for instance, the whole reason someone like the Joker can get blasted by bullets from Deathstroke’s rifle and shrug it off is thanks to a pill Superman developed for his goons to prevent them from physical harm.

The major flaw in the story so far is the pacing. The story is told in chapters highlighting certain characters, and for the most part it works well. However, parts of the story tend to drag where others fly by far faster than they should. The best example is Cyborg’s chapter, where he has to team-up with an alternate timeline Deathstroke. The dialog tries to convey Cyborg’s contempt for Deathstroke, but they simply don’t have enough time in their few scenes together to really savor the tension between them. Later, however, a scene where Cyborg is counter-hacking his else-world self tends to drag as you await the inevitable fight match between the two selves. It’s also worth mentioning that Lex Luthor’s chapter is basically a plot U-turn, retelling parts of the story that already happened to catch him up so the story can continue.

Bear in mind, I only made it halfway through the story so far, so I can’t be the best judge of this yet. Overall though, while flawed, it is still enjoyable.

“Flawed, but enjoyable” remains true for other aspects of the game unfortunately. As I stated in my impressions of the demo, character models are passable for the most part, except for some glaring issues — such as Wonder Woman’s collar bone jutting out unnaturally in her default skin. Batman’s magic grappling hook returns again from the demo; I have also found that Shazam’s lighting bolts go through Luthor’s head harmlessly if he crouches down. There are some more game effecting issues out there (such as this one), but these seem to be rare and the ones I found are really just odd graphical quirks.

The last major issue I found was one that I did not really think about until I saw Maxmilian dood’s review. The game doesn’t really have much in terms of background music. The effects sound good, and the voices are top notch, but there is so little music there may as well not be any. This isn’t really a game breaker per say, after all I didn’t even notice it until I saw Max’s review, but it’s worth noting in any case.

The biggest question for a fighting game though, is multiplayer, and particularly online multiplayer. While Mortal Kombat 9 had some issues in this regard, most of these have been ironed out for Injustice. While I have yet to play anyone outside of my region, the matches I did participate in felt smooth for the most part, with only the occasional issue with lag. Online multiplayer also offers a variety of play modes — traditional ranked and unranked matches, as well as King of the Hill and Survivor modes. Survivor mode is the most enjoyable, as it’s a basic King of the Hill type mode, but the winner retaining only the health from the previous match — this means that ‘the King’ tends not to stay on the throne for very long and mixes up the fight ticket more often.

Offline multiplayer is strictly one-on-one as you would expect, but it’s worth keeping your eyes pealed on the loading screens, as they occasionally offer challenges to earn more xp at the end of the match, putting an interesting spin on the standard versus modes. It’s worth noting as well, that the xp earned here, and in other modes stays on your record and effects your ranking in online multiplayer as well.

At the end of the day, Injustice is a love letter to fighting fans of every breed. The vast assortment of single player modes and the lower bar for execution is clearly made for more casual fighting fans and new players; meanwhile, there are plenty of modes, tools, and depth that fighting veterans can enjoy it as well. When you put it together with the iOS version, the game is a much more involved and engrossing experience than anything in the genre to date. Despite it’s few flaws, the grandeur of this game behooves any true fighting game fan to at least give it a try. And for anyone not already into fighting games or comic books, this title may just change your mind on both counts.

Injustice: Gods Among Us is available from Netherrealm Studios and WB Interactive, and characters and games are property of such. Impressions were taken from 2 hours of online multiplayer, 7 hours of single player, and 5 hours of offline multiplayer on the XBox 360 version. Also, the following articles were used for reference for this review:

Miles923’s Injustice review, and Tutorial

Quick Impressions: Injustice: Gods Among Us (iOS)

As a nice surprise last week, NetherRealms Studios released the Injustice iOS game two weeks before the console release (April 16th).  Is this just another blatant cash grab on the iOS?  Well, that’s a bit obvious isn’t it?  I suppose the question is then, does the game have any particular merit of it’s own?

Injustice: Gods Among Us for the iOS shares some traits of the regular console release — it’s a fighting game and it features DC Comics heroes and villains fighting each other.  Other than featuring character models and animations from the game, the similarities pretty much end there however.

The game is part fighting game, part collectible card game, with other elements thrown in.  The fights are one- on-one, but you create a team of three from the character cards you have available.  Tapping and sliding your finger performs combos on your opponent, and each version of each character has 3 special attacks they can use with the various levels of their super meter.  You can block by “holding two fingers” on the screen, though you will still take chip damage.  I found blocking the most peculiar of the controls; it won’t detect it unless the two fingers are spread, making your thumbs the best option here.  Characters will level up as they participate in fights, which increases their stats and opens up new special attacks to perform.

The first big elephant in the room is that this game is free-to-play, but has the option to purchase things as most free-to-play models do.  The game thankfully limits you to purchasing coins, the game’s in-game currency, which can also be obtained from battles.  You can also purchase the starter pack for $4.99, which gets you three uncommon character cards.  This is a very generous boost, but you can only purchase the starter pack once.

The shop also lets you use your coins to purchase booster packs, in common, uncommon, and rare varieties, as well as individual cards.  Buying booster packs is the better deal, since you get a character and two upgrade cards per pack, but they are randomized.  Individual character cards can cost as much, and most times more than the booster packs they can come in, but the trade is you get a character you want.  Coins are also spent on support cards, as well as upgrading your cards with stronger or more powerful abilities, and recharging energy when/if you run out of free recharges.

After level 10 or so, as enemies become more and more powerful, and can easily kill a character with limited or no upgrades with a single special attack, even if they block. This makes upgrades a must, so coins are important.  The player can earn coins through completing or replaying missions.  If playing without spending money is the goal, replaying the same missions over and over is the easiest, if not drollest option.

The alternative is to be incredibly clever with your team, and earn more coins by completing the newest available mission without copious amounts of grinding.  Different characters have particular strengths and weaknesses, and many difficult match-ups can be solved with a little quick thinking.  For instance, Lex Luthor has the ability to drain part of an enemy’s super gauge with only one bar of his own super gauge.  This can prevent a brute like Bane from ripping through his armor in one massive blow if he keeps ahead of him on meter.  However, this won’t work forever, as while Bane is on the field, his team on the sidelines is building meter as well, so you still have to watch for the inevitable tag out.  This is pretty tricky to keep ahead of, and so grinding or paying for coins is almost inevitable.

The other big elephant in the room is the cross-promotion with the console version.  Setting up a WB id will allow you to unlock content on the console version from the iOS version, and vice-versa.  Honestly, this is why I was interested in it in the first place, and I’m sure plenty of others were as well.  Most of the rewards are just icons and backgrounds for your multiplayer tile in the console version.  The only major exceptions being Batman’s Batman Beyond skin, Harlequinn’s Arkham City skin, and Bane’s Knightfall skin.  The creators were very crafty, however, as you can only purchase coins in $3, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 increments.  $10 is enough to buy the cheapest Joker card to unlock Harlequinn’s skin, and maybe a few other cheaper cards.  $20 is enough to buy Batman’s cheapest card, but not enough to buy the Joker too.  Bane’s requires obtaining 30 different character cards as well, making just buying the skins incredibly expensive.  This also sets up the biggest conundrum in the game, which is what to spend coins on.  Save up to buy the Joker, or take a chance on getting him or Batman in the cheaper booster pack?

That describes the conundrum of the game itself really?  Is it worth picking up, and if so worth spending money on?  Despite the issues with blocking controls, it controls pretty well, and I would recommend the iPad version for anyone with large thumbs though, for this very reason.  It can get redundant and repetitive at times though.  Also, unless the developers plan on updating the cross-promotion rewards as they go, I don’t think many will stick around after they’ve unlocked everything they set out to get.  Otherwise, if you need a fix before Injustice comes out next week, this will definitely keep you occupied. Since it’s free-to-play so there’s no real reason not to try it out if you’re interested.

Review based on iPhone and iPad version of the game, which was played for 7 hours in several separate play sessions.

Quick Impressions: Injustice: Gods Among Us (Demo)

Ironically, I had more issues with the style than the substance of Netherrealms last venture, Mortal Kombat.  Coming from a Capcom fighter background for the most part, I didn’t particularly care for the character models or how they moved.  The hyper-violence wasn’t a turn off per say  though that drove it from the house when the youngling was on the way.  Overall, I just didn’t care for the look or feel of the game very much.

In spite of that, I still respect it.  It had a large variety of characters and modes, integrated online play, and easily the best Story mode in a fighting if not ever, than in a very long time.  I would highly recommend it to any fighting game fan, it just didn’t fit my particular sensibilities.

So the question for me then, is Netherrealms’ newest game ‘Injustice’ going to assuage any of those concerns?

If the demo was any indication, maybe.

The game will be focusing on pitting the greatest DC Comics heroes and villains against each other.  This means the violence has been toned down to make a palatable Teen rating.  There will also be a story mode depicting why the heroes all are fighting, but that wasn’t available in the demo — I’ll reserve comment on that for later.

The demo only features Batman, Wonder Woman, and Lex Luthor as playable characters, and Doomsday as a single player boss.  The ‘Battles’ mode has you fight through the available characters in the Gotham City stage.  It doesn’t allow for much variety to be sure, but it was enough to give a decent impression of what to expect.

Right away it seems this game is catering to the growing fighting game community.  The move list on the pause menu lists not only every attack the character can perform, but also the damage the attacks do, as well as their various frame data.  This feature will serve to ease newer gamers into these concepts, while old-school gamers will have less number crunching to do on their own, and be able to determine ‘safe’ or ‘meaty’ attacks for each character that much faster.

The game takes a different approach than other fighters though by not sticking to the standard 4 or 6 button layout.  Instead, there are 3 main attack buttons, and a special button that activates and/or uses your character’s special ability (such as switching between whip and sword for Wonder Woman, or activating Lex Luthor’s energy shield).  The buttons on top of the standard controller (RB, LB, RT, LT, or L1, R1, L2, R2) are used to grab enemies, interact with the environment, or power up attacks, i.e. EX moves.  You can also perform these with some combinations of face buttons as well, though the triggers will likely be easier for those using a regular controller.

The characters themselves don’t look bad, and I dare say are an improvement over Mortal Kombat’s designs.  There are still some issues, however minor.  Battle damage does occur to the characters and some of it, particularly on Wonder Woman, looks a little cheap and tacked on.  There are some quirks as well with Lex Luthor’s head just looking too doll like when focused on (particularly during his super), and Doomsday’s braided ponytail always hanging over his shoulder, regardless of how is head is turned.  Another bit of strangeness is when Batman’s grappling hook magically moves upwards to grab a jumping opponent in the chest when he clearly would have hit them in the foot.

This is mostly water under the bridge however, as the gameplay is still exciting and engaging.  The AI on Medium and Hard difficulty really kept me on my toes in single player, while never feeling as though it was cheating.  The AI actually taught me a couple of combos and mechanics for Lex Luthor, which would have taken me a long time to discern on my own.

While I still withhold final judgement for how the rest of the game turns out, the appetizer presented to us this week keeps me optimistic about this game’s full release on the 16th.

Injustice: Gods Among Us is property of Warner Brothers.  Impressions based on two hours of single player on the PS3 demo.