Soulcalibur IV (Review)

SoulCalibur IV. It’s been out for quite a while now, so why am I writing a review for it now? The first reason is because not everyone has played the game, and second? SoulCalibur IV is just flat out awesome.

I don’t have much experience with the Soul series. The only prior games I played in the series were both in the arcade and they were the first game, Soul Edge, and SoulCalibur II. What do I remember from them? Well, I have a distinct memory of being weirded out by Voldo in Soul Edge, and I recall playing with Yoshimitsu in SoulCalibur II, but beyond that? I remember nothing else.

Before release, SoulCalibur IV wasn’t even really on my radar. So what drew me in and made me purchase the game immediately after the street release date? I hate to admit it, but Vader and Yoda sucked me in. I wasn’t even a Star Wars fan at the time, I was just lured in by the premise of two sci-fi characters being thrust into a fantasy fighting game. It seemed completely insane to me and, after hearing about the character creation system as well, I was sold. To this day, I’ve played SoulCalibur IV for about 90 hours and love it immensely. It’s only fair that I talk about a game that I hold in such high regard, so here we go.

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When SoulCalibur IV was released in the summer of 2008, it had stunning visuals for a fighting game. I maintain my belief that it is still the best looking console fighting game available on the market, though that may change next month when Mortal Kombat hits store shelves. Character models look absolutely fantastic in SoulCalibur IV. Aside from having beautifully rendered faces, each character looks absolutely unique and all their own. Characters such as Siegfried will impress you for their incredibly detailed armor, while others such as Seong Mi-na will warm your heart with charming and realistic smiles. The stages are equally as detailed. The lighting is breathtaking in almost every arena and everything is modeled and textured brilliantly. My favourite stage is without a doubt the pirate ship stage that thrusts fighters onto the deck of a pirate vessel that has been snapped in two. The atmosphere is really wonderful, and it’s a joy to fight on that stage along with a few others. Unfortunately, there are one or two stages that lag behind the rest and aren’t particularly good.

SoulCalibur IV is also a huge treat for your ears. Every music track in the game is vibrant and full of energy, which assists the flow of combat brilliantly. Sound effects are also very pleasant to listen to, even though a lot of the sounds you’ll hear are typical clangs and smacking noises. The voices are worth mentioning, too. While the announcer for the fights may say some pretty unusual pre-fight lines (“Slashing through the shadows, she defeats the evils that lurk behind history!”), the actual characters on the roster all have pretty good actors behind them and they deliver great lines. Tira, voiced by the extremely talented Jennifer Hale, is an absolute treat to listen to as she shifts back and forth between her cheerful and dark personalities.

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The actual gameplay is very solid and enjoyable for just about anyone. Each of the game’s characters comes with a weapon and that is what they fight with. Characters such as Nightmare or Siegfried will attack with giant two handed blades while smaller characters, like Talim, will assault you with small elbow blades. Each character feels one hundred percent unique and unlike anyone else on the roster, though I felt that there were a few similarities between Cassandra and Sophitia, but this is understandable considering they have similar fighting styles and are sisters.

There are only three actual attack buttons in SoulCalibur IV, which may make the game sound shallow, but this is far from the truth. The attack buttons are horizontal attack, vertical attack, and kick. The fourth button serves as a block, while your shoulder buttons are used for combining attacks together, executing throws, and performing critical finishes. The critical finish is a new mechanic in SoulCalibur IV that, when the opponent’s guard has been crushed, you can finish them off with a single attack. This may sound overpowered, but the requirements required for executing a critical finish are archaic at best and are seldom reached in most fights. Critical finishes are extreme rarities and, in my honest opinion, are utilized so infrequently that they may as well not even be in the game as they just feel like a useless feature that Namco tacked on to make the fighting system feel a little deeper.

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And what of Darth Vader and Yoda? They’re both extremely cool to see in the game, though I find Yoda to be a bit of a pain to use since his movements are very awkward. Vader is a lot of fun however, so Star wars fans should have a blast using him. A third Star Wars character, The Apprentice, seems to be the most technical of the three and is possibly the hardest to master.

In terms of game modes, there isn’t a whole lot to do in the game. There’s your basic arcade and story mode, online versus, character creator, and Tower of Lost Souls. Arcade and story are pretty basic, with the former just being straight fights that are meant to simulate playing on an arcade machine, and story mode is just a few fights that tells you a barebones story (honestly, it’s even less than barebones) and awards you with ingame currency. The online versus is pretty decent, though I found that there were very few match options and the net code seemed inferior to pretty much every other fighter out there.

Tower of Lost Souls is a new mode introduced in SoulCalibur IV that pits players in a series of bizarre challenges that are often incredibly unfair if you are using stock characters. In the Tower of Lost Souls, each challenge pits the player against a series of AI characters who have, literally, unfair bonuses such as dealing ridiculous amounts. To defeat the enemies in these challenges players will have to unlock costume pieces to use in the character creator. Various costume pieces will give created characters all sorts of bonuses to their attacks or defenses. Setting up your character in the right way is essential in clearing the Tower of Lost Souls.

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As for the character creator, it’s one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever had the pleasure of using in a fighting game. The only one that was nearly as fun was the one in Mortal Kombat Armageddon. SoulCalibur IV’s character creator allows players to choose a character’s complete costume from head to toe while choosing any colour imaginable for each costume piece. Players can then choose their weapon style, voice, physique, and much more. There’s a lot to do in the character creator and, when everything has been unlocked in it, one can spend dozens of minutes coming up with a character.

SoulCalibur IV is without a doubt one of the best fighting games of this generation in terms of just being flat out fun. Any fan of the Soul series who hasn’t checked this game out should really do so, as should any fighting game fans in general who have avoided SoulCalibur IV all this time.

Final Score

8.9/10

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AVGN: The Angry Video Game

“A game that is probably just as frustrating as the ones that James plays.”

The header, of course, is only fitting. This is indeed a frustrating game, but that does not mean that it is a bad one!

The AVGN Angry Video Game is made by Eric Ruth, a guy who is awesome at making platformers and video game demakes of many varieties. Most of his games are indeed fangames and he seems to be able to replicate various characteristics of the games that his are based off of very well. This applies to the AVGN Angry Video Game as well, and I’ll explain how.

In the Angry Video Game, you play as James as he just… I don’t even know. In traditional 8-bit fashion, the protagonist (in this case, James Rolfe) is thrust into a series of levels that don’t seem to make a lot of sense or have any meaning – just like the games featured in the AVGN episodes!

Another similarity between the Angry Video Game and the games featured in AVGN episodes is a distinct lack of good controls. James moves just fine with the controls he has been assigned, but they are in very awkward and unconventional locations on the keyboard. Those who cannot adjust to strange control layouts or do not have any tools to use their own gamepads (Hint: Joy2Key) will definitely have problems adjusting to the controls in Angry Video Game. If James were to make an AVGN episode about this game, he’d probably call the controls ass.

The graphics are actually very good. Graphically, the game sits somewhere between NES and SNES visuals. Eric Ruth has shown that he is no slouch when it comes to spriting. Everything looks pretty good in this game, except for perhaps one or two animations. James looks amusing and the enemies are all easily identifiable.

The game likes to thrust a lot of tough enemies at you, however. They aren’t necessarily difficult to defeat, but so many enemies shoot projectiles and move erratically that it just makes it a little frustrating if you’re not doing well. Bosses in particular are pretty annoying, as there are usually several projectiles moving across the screen all the time.

The game’s biggest redeeming factor is, coincidentally, James Rolfe. You see, as soon as you begin the game you hear his voice, and he doesn’t go away – ever. To diehard AVGN fans, this is pretty great. It’s a lot of fun hearing him curse at the game when you die, and he comments on various things in the levels as you experience them. It sort of makes it feel like James is playing the game with you, which is pretty cool. I know that it was done to emulate an AVGN episode, but the feature accomplishes so much more. Definitely the best part of this game.

There’s little else to say, so I’ll wrap up the review! If you’re a fan of the Angry Video Game Nerd or like tough platformers, give this one a try. It’s up in my downloads section.

Final Score

7.6/10


Audiosurf (Review)

“An entertaining rhythm game that makes you appreciate your music library in a whole new way.”

Audiosurf is an interesting game to review, mostly because essentially determine what your gameplay experience will be like. I’ve played Audiosurf for a few years now, and I think that it’s about time that I review it.

Audiosurf was released in near the start of 2008 on the Steam platform and was a colossal hit, inspiring many rip-offs over the following two years. Audiosurf was such an appealing game for indie developers to mimic because it was the first popular mainstream game that introduced gameplay which changed based upon the beat and tempo of the user-selected music tracks.

In Audiosurf, players control a small space ship that is confined to a course littered with coloured tiles. The goal is usually to pick up and match coloured tiles much like in puzzle games such as Puzzle Fighter. Matching coloured tiles would eliminate all adjacent tiles of the same colour that the player has queued up.

The arrangement of the coloured tiles, as well as the speed at which the player’s ship travels, is determined entirely by the music that the player selects. Audiosurf was among the first games that allowed our own personal MP3 libraries to affect gameplay, and I maintain that it is still the best game at incorporating this sort of feature. If you select a gentle or slow song, then the gameplay experience will reflect that as the player’s ship traverses rather slowly, making it easier for them to collect the appropriate tiles and avoid obstacles. However, if the player chooses a fast song (generally anything classified as “metal” works), they will find their ship to be speeding along rather quickly, and obstacles will come fast and often.

The objective is to amass the highest score possible with whatever song the player has chosen. There are many different ranges that the player’s score can fall under due to the number of game modes present in Audiosurf. In one mode called “ninja”, players do not collect tiles and must instead avoid them entirely. Picking up one of grey tile will immediately hurt the player’s score. Clear runs are essentially the goal of the ninja game mode. Other modes let you control two ships, shuffle the order of your tiles, and more. There are quite a few different ways to play Audiosurf thanks to the impressive number of game modes and difficulties, so there’s something for everyone.

It is hard to comment on the sound in Audiosurf since the majority of what you hear in the game will be music tracks that you manually select from your own MP3s. The game does have it’s own subdued techno-ish music tracks on the menus however, but they’re not very inspired and are actually a little bit on the dull and boring side. Sound effects aren’t much more impressive, but they can be easily modded and replaced with whatever you desire. Overall, the game’s own default sounds leave a lot to be desired, but it’s fairly easy to forgive Audiosurf for this since the game revolves around your own tunes.

The graphics in Audiosurf are pretty neat for a budget game. The graphics themselves aren’t very special at all, but the way in which the game presents them certainly is. As you speed along your Tron-like circuit in your little space ship collecting coloured tiles, you will see pretty nice explosions of colours in the background, as well as effects that look like they came right out of a Windows Media Player visualization. The game is quite pretty with all the colours on the screen at once. It’s sort of trippy, and I dare anyone who feels glum to play this game and say that they don’t feel any better afterwards. Audiosurf’s visual displays are quite nice to look at, and I would certainly classify them as extreme eye-candy.

In terms of replayability, there’s quite a substantial amount. Every single song plays in it’s own unique way, and given how many songs exist and are available to anyone with an internet connection, it’s not hard to see how the different circuit layouts are essentially infinite. Scores from the stages are also recorded and uploaded to Audiosurf’s servers, so there is a bit of a competitive side to the game. Have a favourite song that you play in Audiosurf? Well, you may find yourself feeling a little devoted to at least getting a top ten score for the song. Mainstream artists and bands have songs that have been played by thousands of people in Audiosurf, so breaking the top ten on some songs is actually quite an achievement.

Audiosurf is, overall, a very interesting experience. It’s a bit of a rhythm/puzzle game, though you could almost classify it as an action or platformer game considering how some of the game modes play. It’s a fun game that almost anybody could enjoy with the right music, and there’s plenty of replayability if you have a decent sized library of songs on your computer. The game is fairly cheap on Steam, roughly only $10 or so. For about 20% of the price of a commercial game, you really cannot go wrong here.

Final Score

8.5/10