Contra – The Best Shoot ’em up on the NES?

Contra was one tough game!

Contra was one tough game!

Contra is a game packed full of nostalgia for me. I spent a lot of time playing this with a friend in his room.  Only it wasn't known as Contra in the UK..but more on that later.  This is the first run n gun game I remember playing.  It was finger blistering fun - especially in co-op, this was a hard game.  In my opinion this was even harder than the original Castlevania.  It was also an ambitious and satisfying shooter which evoked the era of 80's action films.  In an age where we all wanted to be Stallone or Arnie - Contra ruled.

The plot is fairly simple, two commandos - Mad Dog and Scorpion have to eliminate an enemy terrorist group known as Red Falcion.  Now, you didn't get any of this information through a carefully crafted cut scene.  These were the days when you had to flick through the game manual in order to get any sense of story.  The Red falcon has a variety of foot soldiers, machine guns and giant bosses to attempt to keep you at bay.

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It turns out that The Red Falcon are a cover for an alien invasion.  This allowed the developers to go absolutely crazy when it came to boss design.  Some of the highlights were the Giger Alien inspired boss battle and the battle at the end of the first level - who considered to laser turrets and a gigantic eye. 

A rip off of the Aliens franchise or inspired design? 

A rip off of the Aliens franchise or inspired design? 

As stated before, this is a classic Run and gun game, moving across the terrain from left to right blasting anything that moves. The key is collecting as many power ups as possible and being able to jump and dodge enemy fire at a moments notice.  There's also some platforming elements in each level, as at times you are required to make death defying leaps across chasms.  These at times can be frustrating but I guess the developers left them in to bring a little variety to the game structure.

There's a total of 8 levels to play through and like most legendary Nintendo games of this era, each one is more torturous than the last. There are some nice breaks in the traditional side scrolling levels to bring variety to the game.  Pseudo 3D levels are present at Base 1 and Base 2.  These change perspective and it feels like you are running into the screen in a maze like metal dungeon.  In these sections, you had to duck and roll and shoot out the switches controlling the bases security before you can progress.

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Modern reviewers of retro classics compare Contra to the Dark Souls games.  It's difficulty doesn't come from the length of the game.  But the fact that it is designed for you to learn as you die, memorising levels and enemy techniques. You will die a few times while trying to work out successful boss strategies or due to a hail or unexpected machine gun fire. As you die, you, unfortunately lose any powerups you have previously acquired.  This can immediately place you at a disadvantage.

Your weapon can be upgraded by six different power ups.  Including the Spread Gun, which causes your bullets to spread out in a wave or the flame thrower, which produced twirling flames of destruction.  The spread gun was limited to firing only a set number of bullets at one time, this was probably due to a technical limitation of the NES. The spread was definitely my favourite weapon as it could cover large distances and didn't have to be accurate.  The laser and flamethrower were more powerful, but needed greater precision to use.

The Spread Gun was pretty effective !

The Spread Gun was pretty effective !

Overall this game was an incredible amount of fun and fast paced.  It really holds up today and the bosses are well thought out and imaginative. I was glad I picked up this game for another play through?

Other Versions

So waaaay at the top of this retrospective.  I mentioned that I had played Contra, I just didn't know it as Contra.  That's because in the UK, Contra was known as Probotector for the NES.  They modified the two main characters to become robots. Known, respectively, as RD008 and RC011.  This may have been done due to some federal bodies in Europe (Germany I'm looking at you) banning the sales of media deemed to violent for children and content which glorifies war.

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There was yet another version of Contra released in Europe.  This was released on the 8 bit home computers as Gryzor (due to political tensions linked to the word Contra at the time).  The best port to 8 bit home computers was undoubtedly that on the Amstrad CPC machines.  These were as faithful to the arcade machines as the home computers could get and still kept the fast paced action of the original.

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Hopefully you enjoyed this look back on one of gaming's classic experiences.  As usual, if you enjoyed this, or think I missed something, please drop me a comment

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DRAGONBALL FIGHTERZ Review: Fight Inside An Actual Anime

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With one of the most popular anime's out there to still be getting more and more games made based on it, I have to say that this is among the top three Dragonball Z games ever made. Dragonball FighterZ by Bandai Namco brings a series of action packed moments, fan favorite easter egg moments, and epic combos with cool controls. There are of course the couple things I would suggest to be changed, but lets dive in to the specifics and see just why this game is an easy top tier DBZ title.

Story

Avoiding the typical style of letting players venture through and conquer the various Saga's from the anime series, they took a different approach. Creating a new story to fit the scenario of the game, you will go through three different versions of the same story and each will have their own unique characters to play as.

You are a "Link" which was created by the Red Ribbon Army in order to coincide with the many warriors from the DBZ series. This "Link" is the explanation of why you are in control of what characters, why you can only fight with one character at a time, and what is happening in the universe. All warriors have lost their powers and, in most cases, have been knocked out from their dramatic lose of energy. Although they can regain consciousness once saved, they will still be weak without the help of you - the Link.

You will be tasked with fighting as many cloned versions of the warriors we all know and love in order to power up your fighters so that you can successfully defeat Android 21. 21 is a mixture of all the enemies you know, featuring the tail and purple energy of Frieza, the absorption of power through the ability to eat the fallen warriors (and clones) after they have been defeated like Buu, and the massive regeneration ability partnered with the backstory of being developed in a lab to be the ultimate warrior like Cell.

Unfortunately, I found the story to be overall mediocre and the best arc was the last one; Android 21 Arc. The gameplay here is incredibly easy and you shouldn't expect much of a challenge until the very end of the last arc. It's great for getting to know majority of the characters and how they play, since the enemies are practically on easy mode with no way to change that. The best part in completing the story mode is unlocking Android 21 as a usable character, but I personally would of preferred to just play through the classic Saga's from the series.

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Gameplay

Getting to choose between three different characters to play as is the best part of this game. I always had trouble trying to decide who I wanted to use, since many characters have some awesome fighting styles, but now I don't have to. There is even multiple presets so that you can put together a few teams of choice to easily change between as you are in between fights.

The combinations that are able to be completed in the game look incredibly complicated, but in reality are rather simple. This game is button smasher approved, but that doesn't mean you will have the upper hand by doing so. It is a great balance between skill, strategy, and luck that make the action packed fights equal for all players.

Every character has their own specials and different strength attacks. The easy to find moves are the level 1 and level 3 super moves. The different in these two attacks is how much health is removed, but for certain characters they could lead to an even bigger attack. An example of this is Teen Gohan. His level 1 attack is a Kamehameha wave that is shot diagonally upwards and his level 3 attack is the iconic Kamehameha wave from the end of the Cell saga. However, if you have your ki gauge up to 5 bars and do a level 3 attack, continue to hold down the trigger button and he will do a secondary push (like he did in the anime to finish off Cell) to do a bit more damage while consuming more energy. I can't confirm that every character has a level 5 move, but I have found a few out for the characters I like to use and think that there is likely a way to do a level 5 attack with each character.

Being able to switch between characters is great for both health regeneration and strategy changing. Sometimes the opponent can figure out what you are going to do after fighting your for a short time, so you will need to change it up in order to get the upper hand. That's not all having the extra characters is good for though. If you do a level 1 attack with any of your characters and hold down the character switch button during the attack, it will switch to that character while they are joining you for another level 1 attack of their own. You can do this with the full squad and get a major attack going from the whole team in order to overpower and annihilate your foe.

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The best part of the gameplay is when you match up two characters in an iconic setting. The most obvious of the group of easter egg scenes that are in the game is Teen Gohan verse Cell in the Cell Games Arena. Starting the match with both Teen Gohan and Cell as the leads on the team will trigger the cut scene that shows the moment that Teen Gohan reached SSJ2, but only if in the correct arena. These easter eggs are hidden throughout the game and are a lot of fun to find, so test your DBZ knowledge and see what special cut scenes you can find.

Overall, you need to keep an eye on your health and how much can be regenerated from switching out, work on raising the energy in your ki gauge and using it moderately, and find the team that best suits your fighting style. You will likely need to at least try out all the characters before settling, but doing so is a great way to use up all your presets with useful teams.

Graphics and Sounds

Every part of the game looks like it is straight out of the anime. When there is a cutscene going on, the animations flow well and have proper pausing that doesn't disrupt from the art style regardless how long it takes you to click the button for the next scene. The fighting sections look amazing with all the different moves and fighting styles matching the style from the show. Easy to say, it is like fighting inside of the actual anime!

The music that played for each scene also was very reminiscent of the anime and very fitting for the game. When you are in the lobby, there is an upbeat eccentric rock music style playing that is fitting to get you pumped up while you wait to match up with somebody. The music for the fight scenes themselves can be changed based on player preference, but they all sounded like the same type of music that played during the countless epic fights from the show.

Replayability

Thanks to the arcade mode, local matchmaking, and online game play, this game is full of reasons to come back and play. You will never be the best fighter, even after you win a tournament, so you will always have room for improvement. The story mode isn't really set up to be played through more than once, due to how easy it is, but literally every other part of the game will make you want to come back for more!

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What Could Be Better

I would of liked there to have been a difficulty option for the story mode. It felt like a chore going through the entire 8+ hour story line and spent more time just practicing how to use characters and creating combination attacks than even giving a glimpse of a worry that I might lose the fight.

There was also some connectivity issues within the online servers, but I believe that they are working on patching up some of the issues as I am writing this review. Although, it would of been nice to be able to select what lobby I join when I log on instead of it automatically loading me into a random one and then having to leave that lobby to get to the lobby menu. There should also be a party up system to match up with your friends that doesn't require you to be in the same lobby, but rather made it easier for you to instantly transmit yourself to their lobby and location.

Final Verdict

Dragonball FighterZ is a ton of fun and will offer hours of entertainment for both solo and party players. Whether you are looking to conquer the very difficult arcade made with an S rank or climb to the top of the charts on the online leader board, this is one of those games that will never have a true end. Enthralling gameplay, mediocre story, exciting combo's, and amazing graphics pull this game together to easily be a top choice in the Dragonball Z gaming collection.

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FINAL FANTASY XV POCKET EDITION Launch Date Announced For February 9th

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We saw the first trailer for the Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition for your mobile devices only months ago and now we have a definite launch date! Featuring the same story and adventure in the form of a group of chibi characters is the mobile FFXV that will allow players to venture through the games entirety while on-the-go.

Our original impression of FFXV was through a demo that was available over two years ago and the game is still an amazing title in the series. Featuring so many things from Chocobo races to Assassin's Creed themed DLC, it brings to question how much of the game will really be available from your phone or tablet? They obviously took the extra measure to lessen the graphical value of the game in order to get it playable on a mobile device, but what other corners needed to be cut?

There will obviously only be the base game elements, so don't be expecting DLC right off the bat, if at all. With a game that is 15+ hours of an adventure to get through, even just putting the base game on there, in full, seems like an impractical feat, but we have come a long way in mobile gaming. The thing I am concerned about though is the fact that there are other games that are "porting" over to be mobile, but really they are almost entirely different games with similarities.

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Either way, it is pretty exciting to see such a well received and phenomenal title getting the option to be available on your phones and tablets at all. I am looking forward to see how the game plays and just how much of the adventure we will truly get to experience. Not to mention, with all the characters in a chibi form the Chocobo's must have the same graphical change which I think is going to make them look cute.

Are you excited to see Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition coming in just over a week or are you too skeptical to give it a shot without reading a few reviews first?

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Retro Corner – Turtles In Time

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV - Turtles in Time is often described as the best beat em up on the 16 bit platforms.  It has a cult following, almost as large as the franchise which spawned it and has recently been remade for the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation.  I've been a fan of this game since I popped it into my SNES over 16 years ago and I want to explain why.

Growing up, the beat em genre featured highly in most of my favourite arcade memories.  At the local arcade, the two prime cabinets that always had hordes of kids pressing around them were the X-Men and The Turtles.  I spent most of my time at the Turtles arcade cabinet, enjoying the attract cries of Cowabunga and the visually appealing attract mode.  This was just like playing an episode of the cartoon, with appearances by Krang, Baxter Stockman and of course Shredder - I was in turtle heaven.

The amazing TMNT Arcade game in all it's glory!

The amazing TMNT Arcade game in all it's glory!

A short time later various conversions for the original arcade game appeared for the home systems, while good, these didn't quite capture the appeal of the arcade original.  Until in 1992 Konami released a Turtles beat em up which not only equalled by surpassed the arcade experience.

The side scrolling beat-em up genre is perfect for the Turtles franchise.  Enabling players to select their favourite turtle and kick some shell across the screen, with co-op action and battling through time and space.  This title was sure to be a success.  Turtles in Time was originally developed for the arcades but when it was ported to the SNES, the conversion featured additional levels and boss battles.

The Technodrome Level was an exclusive additional level for the SNES

The Technodrome Level was an exclusive additional level for the SNES

The story is a familiar affair for most turtles fans.  Krang steals the Statue of Liberty and the fantastic mutant foursome must rescue it. Through the initial levels, the Turtles battle the footclan across the streets of New York City, down into the home territory of the sewers and eventually to the Technodrome.  After defeating two bosses from the TMNT 2: Secret of the Ooze film (Tokka and Rahzar) you then tackle Shredder.  This boss fight is one of the most innovative in video game history.  Playing out as a enemy POV similar to the first boss in Battletoads, you must throw enemy foot solders towards Shredder - cracking his screen and avoiding his attacks.

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I remember reaching this stage and thinking how cool it was to have fought bad guys from the films and I marvelled at the Shredder boss battle (once I worked out what I had to do to defeat him!).  But thinking that the game was a bit short, Shredder was obviously the final boss, defeat him and the game would end...wouldn't it?

No, in a twist of genius, just when you thought the game was over, you are caught in a time vortex and must fight your way through time to get to the final boss fight with Krang and Shredder.  I was genuinely shocked and pleased at this turn of events.  Konami had crafted unexpected longevity in a game where they could have created four levels and milked the money from the fans.  They chose not to, they chose to develop an absolute masterpiece of level design and a game which screamed FUN - all in capital letters at the players.

Similar to TMNT 3 on the NES, choosing your character dictated the style of gameplay you would experience.  Donatello has the largest reach, while Raphael has the highest attack speed but the lowest defence.  Leonardo is a good all-rounder but Michelangelo, with his fast as lightening nunchucks was my favourite.  Each Turtle possesses a unique combo attack, but unlike TMNT 3 - no energy is drained while using it.

Each Turtle had a different attack style and special move set

Each Turtle had a different attack style and special move set

Turtles in Time features a wide variety of attacks, including multiple jump kicks and grabs.  One grab enabled the player to throw a foot solider over their head and swing them back and forth, destroying any enemies in the way.  This expanded move set enabled the player to experience a variety of methods to attack in a way that previous games in the Turtles franchise didn't.

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The items in the levels were highly interactive, attacking the fire hydrants and traffic that then serve as handy, devastating projectiles.  Objects to avoid like the giant wrecking balls. open manhole covers and loose planks making for great hazards.  Interacting with those hazards, rather than being annoying, actually made me smile.  The animations of falling down a manhole cover, your character's body dropping, leaving two eyes which quickly followed the body, brought cartoon quality humour into the game.

Mikey was my favourite - with his super fast Nunchucks

Mikey was my favourite - with his super fast Nunchucks

The levels are incredibly varied, we start with the traditional streets and sewers, but in later levels, the developers bring us speeding trains, pirate ships and a fantastic F-Zero hoverboard style level.

Superb use of Mode 7 on display in this level!

Superb use of Mode 7 on display in this level!

The boss battles really stand out in my mind, the variety of the characters and stretching the source material, not just from the TV show, but also bringing them from the Films and comics.  The SNES version featured additional bosses such as The Rat King, Slash, Bebop and Rocksteady and the last boss was TMNT 2's Super Shredder.  These fights were never cheap and actually were pretty easy, but the inclusion of these characters made the game so very satisfying.  It was nice to see my favourite villain - Baxter Stockman in Fly form present here.  But it was the Pirate versions of Bebop and Rocksteady which captured my heart!

The Boss designs were imaginative and fun to play through.

The Boss designs were imaginative and fun to play through.

Turtles in Time is one of those titles that is always mentioned in a tone of excited awe amongst gamers.  This was a time when Konami was at the top of their game and took the effort to best their arcade original in the SNES version. Going back and playing this, brings back memories of how much fun these 90's beat em ups were - especially in co-op mode.  This is without a doubt one of the best games ever made.

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Step Aside Wii U, The Nintendo Switch Takes Home The Crown

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In the past few months, we saw how the Nintendo Switch, got closer and closer to outselling its predecessor, the Wii U. Although Nintendo has not released an updated figure for hardware sales of the Wii U, we can safely say that the Switch has finally outsold its older brother. 

During a nine month period ending in December 2017, the Switch has sold over 12.3 million units worldwide. Given that it already sold 2.73 million during its launch month, it gives us a total hardware sales of 14.87 million units sold. 

The Wii U on the other hand, which was first released 6 years ago, was only able to sell a low number of 13.56 million as of October of 2017. Even though the sales figures for the Wii U has not been updated yet, it is unlikely that it sold a significant number of units in November and December. This means that in a span of nine months, the Switch was able to surpass the Wii U’s lifetime sales. 

Given the Switch’s popularity, its sales are now not that far from its even older brother, the Gamecube, which sold 21.74 million in its lifetime. However, the Switch is still far off from surpassing the sales of the Wii, which reached around a whopping 101.63 million units sold globally. I guess a console that is reportedly owned by the Queen herself, gold plated and all of course, will be a tough act to follow. 

Looking ahead, Nintendo has already lined up some exciting releases for the Nintendo Switch this year. First up is the highly anticipated Bayonetta 2, which will launch this February. In the recent Nintendo Direct Mini a few weeks ago, Nintendo has also revealed the future releases of Kirby Star Allies coming this March, Hyrule Warriors Definitive Version, which will launch this spring, and Dark Souls Remastered, coming this May. You can check out the full line up of upcoming Switch games announced in the Direct Mini here. Lastly, don’t forget to check GameTyrant’s five best Switch games of 2017 here

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Octopath Traveler Makes Changes Based on Players Feedback

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If you haven’t looked at Octopath Traveler yet you may be missing out. The retro-style RPG recently released a demo on the Nintendo Switch and allowed players to experience the game first hand. After over 1 Million downloads and 45,500 responses to a survey players were asked to take about their experiences, Square Enix has decided to listen to player feedback and make changes.

Here is a list of some of the things that were changed to the game based on the player feedback:

  • Originally players had to press B to initiate your character to run, that is no longer the case. Now players can just use the analog stick and push it further to initiate running. On top of this they also increased the run speed of your character in general. To balance the game they increased the random encounter rate when you are running at full speed.

  • Fast travel which didn’t exists during the demo will now also be available in the game.

  • Darker areas, such as caves and dungeons have been adjusted so the player has more visibility. Wall and floor colors have been adjusted, and visible landmarks have been added.

  • Radar has been added to point players to important destinations on the mini-map.

  • Added the ability to adjust screen brightness to increase visibility.

  • The user interface is being adjusted to create a better feel for the players. This included changed font sizes, as well as including more save slots so you don’t accidentally overwrite your most recent save file.

  • Cutscenes that were previously unskippable can now be skipped.

  • Plans have been implemented to be able to replay cutscenes for those who want to catch up on story or re-immerse themselves.

  • Increased text display speed so player’s who want to read faster through the game’s dialogue will be able to.

  • Fights and random encounters are being balanced better to reduce the difficulty that the demo provided.

For a full list of things they are doing to the game as well as new information check out the trailer below:

I’m personally excited to hear about the updates, and can’t wait to get my hands on the game. Something about the retro-style pixel feel from the SNES era mixed with 3D just does a lot for me. I will definitely be picking this one up at launch.

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CALL OF DUTY WWII: ‘The Resistance’ Released Today

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Today Call of Duty has released its first DLC pack for the game. Titled ‘The Resistance’, the pack includes a slew of new things to the game including three new multiplayer maps and an all-new “War Mode”, a multiplayer experience aimed to reflect the spirit of the citizens and soldiers who fought for freedom during WWII.  Along with this the game will be releasing a new Zombies map called “The Darkest Shore”.

It just so happens that all of this is being released during the Resistance community event that last from January 23rd to February 27th. The community event is a five week celebration that new gear, new game modes, and Supply Drop content available to everyone.

In the DLC pack players will be able to play in new Iconic WWII locations all revolving around different uprisings that happened during the war

Valkyrie – Located in the Masurian Woods, East Prussia, this map was inspired by The Wolf’s Lair – The Fuhrers Eastern-front headquarters during Operation Barbarossa – the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.  This is a medium-sized map with multiple overwatch positions and mounted machine guns.
Anthropoid – Based in Prague, Czechoslovakia, this map is inspired by Operation Anthropoid – the famous assassination attempt on a high-ranking German officer during World War II.  This map is divided by a river, with long-flanking paths that can be used by snipers for ranged attacks.
Occupation – In this remake of a classic Call of Duty® map, players battle through the streets and shops of German-occupied Paris during WWII.  Nearby homes and storefronts lend defensive positions for ambush and recovery.
Operation Intercept – Outside of St Lo, France, the next War Mode experience, developed in partnership with Raven Software, leads you on an urban rescue mission to save Resistance fighters being transported by train.  The first objective on the Allied side is freeing the fighters, followed by the destruction of key communication equipment, and ends with stopping a train.

What I am personally most excited for, as well as most people who play CoD:WWII is the new Zombie map. The map is staged after the disaster of Mittelburg and seems to be an exciting location to add to the Zombie repertoire.

Only days after the horrific disaster of Mittelburg, the crew has received intel that suggests Doktor Straub is on an island just north of Germany. Blanketed in fog, this island is surrounded by enemy air and sea power – and crawling with the Undead.  Marie, Drostan, Olivia and Jefferson will need to battle all this and more to uncover the mysteries hidden within.

Here is the trailer for the Resistance DLC plack to get you excited for the release of the new content. 

Nixing most everything in the DLC I am personally excited more for the new zombie mode than anything else. Though the prop hunt themed community event has definitely tickled my fancy so to speak. What are you most excited for with the release of this new content?

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Video Game Titles with Great DLC Content

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The striking image above is exactly how some gamers see the overarching concept of DLC.  Game Publishers using DLC as an excuse to grab more and more money for a game title.  A prime example of this is EA's Battlefront series, which most recently has come under fire for this practice. But there are some great DLC packages which bring additional features which increase the potential of games which are already enjoyable.  Come with me on a journey, where we go in search of games which brought great DLC to gamers.

What Makes for Great DLC?

Great DLC enhances the ideas and the systems already explored in the parent game, bringing the potential to enrich the original game experience.  Perhaps by providing further insight into the game environment, filling in any narrative gaps, introducing new characters or new mechanics which offer more creativity in already established gameplay.

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

Hordes of the undead terrorize John Marston in this fantastic add on

Hordes of the undead terrorize John Marston in this fantastic add on

Zombies aren't an original concept for game additions, but in spite of this. The smash hit western title Red Dead Redemption's DLC  - Undead Nightmare is one of the most original in this list.  One of the best elements of this title comes from Rockstar's ability to just run with crazy, mad cap ideas.  Riding through the beautiful idealised American wilderness and encountering undead bears, wolves and even deer as well as encountering mythical beasts such as the Chupacabras and the mighty Sasquatch, adds immeasurably to the original game experience.

There's a fairly length additional narrative which is engaging and entertaining and it's always a positive experience to play as John Marston - a genuinely likeable and well written character.  One of the side missions I really enjoyed was finding (and riding) The Four Horses of the Apocalypse, which must be found on the game map.  

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There's also additional multiplayer characters with some fairly humorous references, Poe Boll (Uwe Boll and Edgar Allen Poe mashup), Magic Jackson (Magic Johnston and Michael Jackson) and Viper Craven (a reference to Wes Craven).  This is still available and really worthwhile playing through on the PS Now Network if you have subscribed to it.

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

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This is an expansion pack which actually makes you feel like you are playing a whole new game.  XCOM 2 was an incredible turn based strategy game, which sees the player attempt to take the fight to the alien invader on Earth.  The first and possibly only expansion pack for the game expresses the opinion that more.. is well... more.  More Maps. more enemies, more abilities, more weapons.  The biggest addition is the mini nemesis system (similar to The Shadow of Mordor games) which comes courtesy of the three titular Chosen characters.  These characters continually ambush you throughout missions and reference past battles.  They have different skills and have automatically generated name, strengths and weaknesses and they become stronger if the XCOM team doesn't act fast enough and destroy them. 

There's also an additional layering of the overall strategy in the game, there are three Earth factions - each with different characteristics and characters.  This Expansion also makes the XCOM experience even more story driven than it's parent title and this adds a narrative layer and makes each battle feel even more personal.

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This is a wide and deep expansion pack for XCOM 2 that improves, just about everything, greater variety in mission objectives, tactical options, threats and additional strategic map objectives.  The chosen are worthy enemies who don't feel tacked on or cheap and the extra squad classes give greater options for the player as he takes command of the battlefield.

Final Fantasy XIV : Stormblood

This is a tale of oppression and rebellion, find a lost prince, convince him to take up arms against the evil Garlean Empire.  It's not an original story, but it's a theme which the Final Fantasy series does exceedingly well.  Playing through this expansion pack, I felt a thrill of adventure, which I hadn't encountered in an MMO for a long time.  I genuinely cared for each of the characters I encountered and then I came to the conclusion, although this DLC starts where the previous expansion HeavenSward left off, this feels like a whole new adventure.

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Every dungeon and every boss feels intricately crafted and this expansion continues Final Fantasy XIV's reputation for being one of the most MMO's ever produced.  Undoubtedly the best element of this game are tackling the new Primal Boss fights, a explosive entanglement of visual effects and has the feel of some of the best moments of Platinum Games superb boss fights.  If you are a Final Fantasy fan, this is one expansion that is worth picking up.

Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City

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I was intensely disappointed with the previous DLC for Dark Souls 3, it had an emphasis on PVP, which wasn't what I was looking for.  The Ringed City made up for that, by introducing new lands to explore, giving the player new weapons, new armour and ominous new enemies to battle.  Dark Souls has always been a series known for it's stupendous boss fights and this expansion has two of the best and most difficult boss battles to date.

These are some of what I believe are the most worthy DLC packages to spend your money on, expansions and changes to gameplay and additional narrative bring far more to a gameplay experience than skins and emojis!

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MONSTER HUNTER: WORLD Review: An Approachable Entry To A World Of Monsters

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World has been the initial descriptor of Capcom’s latest entry to the Monster Hunter franchise, which was recently released a few days ago. The game, as its subtitle describes it, contains a pretty massive environment, from the expansive areas to explore, the diverse flora and fauna surrounding it, and most importantly, the giant beasts that roam around it. World pretty much sums up what Capcom is trying to achieve with this new game. 

As someone who hasn’t played any of the previous installments in the franchise, I’d say that Monster Hunter: World offers a kinder approach to novices who are just trying out the game as I did. However, this does not mean that World is simpler than its predecessors, the game still retains the core elements of previous titles, that highlighted a gameplay loop that revolves around management of resources, crafting of items, upgrading of weapons and armor, looting materials, and of course, hunting down monsters. Although a story-driven narrative has not always been part of the franchise’s focus in this game and in the past (excluding Monster Hunter Stories of course), Capcom has attempted to create a balance between story and gameplay. 

Story

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Monster Hunter: World revolves around the mysterious phenomenon known as the Elder Crossing, where elder dragons migrate and navigate the seas in search for the land only known as the New World. In pursuit of further understanding the Elder Crossing, the guild has formed the Research Commission, where they send large fleets of hunters to the New World. 

The player’s character, a member of the elite Fifth Fleet, is in pursuit of the gigantic elder dragon known as Zorah Magdaros. The player will then be transported to Astera, the base of operations of the hunters, that also mimics the villages from previous titles. In Astera, the player will be able to explore several locations such as the departments that make up the Research Commission, a training area to test out the game’s several weapons available, a Canteen for the hunter to refuel, and the Smithy, where the player can bring in items and materials to upgrade weapons and craft equipment. 

Gameplay

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Just as with any RPG games, the first few minutes, or hours, if you’re that person, will be spent in the character customization menu. Monster Hunter: World offers a decent amount of customization with several facial presets, the ability to choose your hunter’s gender, hairstyle, clothing, and voice prompts. The one thing I loved about the character customization in this game is that, if sometime mid-game, you realized that you didn't like how your character's looks turned out, you can still change some features afterwards. Although mid-game alterations are limited, and won’t give you the full options as it did in the beginning, but at least it will lessen the chances of you restarting the game just to change you character’s aesthetics. 

For first time players and veterans alike, the first few hours of Monster Hunter: World will introduce you to a wealth of tutorials and information, which can be extremely overwhelming at first. However, instead of just bombarding the player with text-based tutorials, as it did in previous titles, Capcom introduced a Handler, who will be the player’s companion that gives out tons of helpful information and tips, to help you navigate a new area, and reach zones that will be more complex as you progress in the game. The first time I encountered the Handler, I found her a tad bit annoying, however, her vocal cues and the wealth of information she has with her, definitely made my first few quests and expeditions easier than remembering everything from the text tutorials. 

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However, when going on a quest or an expedition, the Handler will not accompany you as you explore the area, instead she will just be staying in the nearest camp grounds, tracking your progress, and giving out vocal instructions when needed. Traversing by yourself in the expansive environment in the game may seem daunting at first, but, Worlds also introduced a helpful new addition, in the form of scout flies. The scout flies are these green floating insect-things that will follow your hunter during exploration. They are extremely helpful as they will point you to any item that you’ll encounter along the way. Whether it be some wild honey, several herbs, or an assortment of monster bones, the scout flies has you covered. Besides taking you to the nearest loot, the scout flies are also helpful in pointing you to your next objective, or even track down monsters you are hunting. The introduction of the Handler and the scout flies is definitely a step from Capcom to make the game more appealing to a wider audience by making tutorials and navigation easier, without compromising the complex features of a gameplay loop that veteran players of the game love about the franchise. 

Among the many changes Capcom has implemented with Monster Hunter: World, the most noticeable one is the absence of the Hunter Arts, previously introduced with Monster Hunter: Generations. Instead, the game aims to focus on the player’s ability to use their respective weapon of choice’s combos, to inflict the greatest damage to a monster. Among the 14 weapon types available in the game, such as giant longswords and the familiar sword and shield among many others, the bowguns are probably the most appealing weapon for players who are more keen to a third person shooter playstyle. However, as powerful as some bowguns appear to be, players will still have to be strategic in using the correct weapon for a certain monster, as these beasts have different strengths and weaknesses. Making use of bombs, traps, and monster dung, will still be essential in effectively taking down a monster, which also makes hunting accessible and effective, no matter what weapon you use. 

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The environment in Monster Hunter: World, is the biggest and most diverse world in the history of the franchise. The transition from day to night is absolutely breathtaking that it distracted me when I saw the sunset in the Ancient Forest for the first time. Once you have been transported to a specific location, there will be no loading screens, unless you transfer to another area, which makes hunting seamless as you no longer have to wait just to explore. 

I also recommend that as you explore your way in several areas, it is best to pick up whatever items you can find, as these materials will be essential with the crafting system. Monster Hunter: World does not impose a traditional leveling system in the game. Instead, you strengthen your character by upgrading your armor and weapons, with items you find in the environment, especially materials that you can loot from monsters. The stronger the monster, the better the material you’ll get to upgrade your equipment. 

Crafting an armor or weapon can seem like a chore at some point since you will have to do quite a bit of research. When you are trying to piece together a certain equipment, the game allows you to put the materials you need that you don’t have on a wishlist. Afterwards, you may dig further by collecting and examining drops from certain monsters, which will tell you the information you’ll need to obtain the exact piece of material on your wishlist. 

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Playing the game alone, can be challenging but very doable. The satisfaction you get from singlehandedly slaying a tough monster, or completing a quest alone, will definitely make for an exciting play through. The multiplayer integration in this game is seamless as Monster Hunter: World blurs the line between single and multiplayer style of play. The game lets you start an online session where you can be alone at first, until other players join you to assist. The most interesting feature when it comes to multiplayer is when you start a quest alone, and you find yourself in need of help, you can send out an SOS signal to friends or nearby online players, where they can make some sort of a rescue party to assist you. 

However, if you want to start an online session with just your friends, it can be a bit tedious as you’ll have to set up a multiplayer session via the console dashboard, or by sharing a 12-digit code to your friends. Although this will only take you a few minutes to do, it can be annoying given the fact that playing with strangers is more easy and seamless than playing with your own friends. It is also important to note that when you’re playing with other players, (a maximum of four in a team), the difficulty will slightly increase compared to playing alone. This is understandable as the game will have to scale up depending on how many players are in the game. Besides, this definitely make hunting with friends more fun and challenging. 

Monster Hunter: World is definitely the best looking Monster Hunter game thus far. Although when compared to other games in the market, there are still older titles that will be a little more pretty than World, but only slightly as the vast ecosystems, combined with the rich detail of the monsters makes playing the game a visual treat. 

Verdict

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There is definitely a lot of changes in Monster Hunter: World. However, the game was still able to retain a lot of features that veteran players of the series will still be able to recognize and enjoy. World is still the complex game that is expected from a Monster Hunter title, just as its predecessors were known for. Although, the introduction of the Handler and the scout flies makes the game more approachable to beginners in the franchise. 

Although the continuous gameplay loop and lack of focus on the plot may not be for your cup of tea, World is still able to compensate for this by making the  hunting experience better with the vast open areas and the absence of multiple loading screens that makes exploration a fun experience. At some point the crafting system in the game can be a bit tedious, but fulfilling the items in that wishlist to create that powerful weapon or armor is a good enough incentive to hunt a specific monster or loot the area for the materials needed. Lastly the seamless multiplayer integration adds to the fun experience as the player can cooperate with friends or strangers to make quests and expeditions a little bit easier. 

In the end, Monster Hunter: World will not be for everyone. However, the several changes makes the game more approachable and appealing for beginners, but at the same time, keeping the complexity that its core fans loved in previous titles. You may love it or not, but it’s definitely worth giving it a chance to find out. 

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Japan’s Secret – Dark History

Dark Pixel Gaming released a new episode of Dark History on their YouTube channel. The video showcases the harsh work conditions that many workers in the video game industry have to endure on a daily basis. 

The entire concept of the video is centered around a word known as 'Karoshi' which basically means that (Japanese) people work so hard and so long that they fall ill and eventually die. It's a common practice in Japanese culture. The video also brings to light the super shady business practices of Konami, and they monitoring, and public humiliation the employees face on a day to day basis. 

If your interested in learning about the crazy working conditions at some of the worlds most popular gaming companies then this is definitely a video you want to check out! From being forced to work ridiculously long hours, to essentially being held captive until a certain aspect of the game has been completed. It's crazy the sacrifices that many people have made to create the games we all cherish and love. 

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