Level Up Video Games
Level Up is an independent video game store located in Santa Cruz, CA.
  • The Games of July

    the-last-of-us-wallpaper

    Wow there is really isn’t a whole lot coming out in July is there. Yay for an even more HDier Last of Us…now back to Mario Kart 8.

    Week of July 7th

    271521aOne Piece – Unlimited World Red (PS3/Vita/3DS): Play as members of the Straw Hat crew and progress through an all-new, never before seen episodic storyline with encounters against famous bosses like Rob Lucci, Caesar Clown, and more. Master a large variation of flashy combos and enjoy the world of One Piece by exploring and taking on quests to gain more rewards and items.

    Week of July 13th

    No Games This Week Make Me A Sad Panda :(

    Week of July 20th

    102235aWii Sports Club (WiiU): Play your favorite Wii Sports games on the Wii U console! With Wii Sports Club, you can now take the competition online with tennis, bowling and golf – with even more coming soon! Join a club and compete against other clubs from around your region, or play online multiplayer with your friends.

    Week of July 27th

    150065arpThe Last of Us Remastered (PS4): Winner of over 200 Game of the Year awards, The Last of Us has been rebuilt for the PS4, now featuring full 1080p, higher resolution character models, improved shadows and lighting, in addition to several other gameplay improvements. The Last of Us Remastered includes the Abandoned Territories Map Pack, Reclaimed Territories Map Pack, and the critically acclaimed The Last of Us: Left Behind Single Player campaign that combines themes of survival, loyalty, and love with tense, survival-action gameplay.

  • Online “Pokemon Center” Store Opening August 6th

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    For years now the only way you could visit a Pokemon Center, filled with all of their wondrous Pokemonness, was to fly to Japan. Well American Poke-fans, your time has finally come!

    Nintendo announced that they will be opening up an online Pokemon Center on August 6th, and you can visit the site right now! In anticipation of the launch of the new online store, fans will be able to pre-order a limited number of select products each week. This week you can get yourself a “Mew Tumblr” or “Mini Pikachu Plush.”

    No word on wether or not the online store will feature the same regular and limited edition products featured in Japanese Pokemon Centers, but this sure beats the heck out of having to fly 10+ hours to Japan. Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

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  • My E3 Wishlist

    E3 2013

    Well folks, that time of year is almost here. No, it’s not Christmas or your birthday, it’s E3 and that means new video games are coming (which is kinda like Christmas and your birthday, actually). I figured I would put together a gaming wish-list for things I’d like to see unveiled/announced/talked about at this year’s E3. I know some of the things are completely pie-in-the-sky fantasies, but a man can dream can’t he?

    • The Last Guardian: Ever since this follow-up to Ico & Shadow of the Colossus was announced seven years ago, I have been waiting patiently, oh so patiently. But with rumblings that this game might finally be making an appearance at this year’s show, I am hopeful that my patience might finally be paying off.
    • More Mirrors Edge 2: After shockingly listening to its fans, EA unveiled a follow-up to the 2008 cult hit, Mirrors Edge. While what they showed us was amazingly cool, it was very light on details…like when can I actually play it. I’d like to know the answer to that question please.
    • Anything Shenmue: I don’t care if it is the long rumored Shenmue 3, or the more recently talked about Shenmue HD, I just need some more Shenmue in my life.
    • Legacy of Kain Sequel: It has been more than 10 years since Defiance was released, ending on a cliff hanger. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see this epic story finally finished.
    • New RPG From MistWalker Studios: While there are more JRPGs being released stateside then ever before, quantity does not equal quality. The only JRPGs that I have truly enjoyed in the past decade have been Lost Odyssey, Dragon Quest IX, Last Story, and Ni no Kuni; in case you were wondering half of those were made by MistWalker.
    • Fallout 4: The rumors about this game just keep going on and on. I think the time has come for us to wander the wastelands once again, because war…war never changes.
    • A Decent Wii U Game: Somebody, anybody, for the love of god please make something for this system. Just throw us a bone please.

    What’s on your E3 wishlist?

  • The Games of June

    Murdered Soul Suspect

    Week of June 1st

    150049aMurdered – Soul Suspect (PS3,PS4/360,XB1): Most people think that death is the end, but for Ronan O’Connor, a Salem police detective with a chequered past, it is just the beginning. When Ronan is caught in a violent burglary, his life is brought to an untimely and brutal end. Shocked to find himself in the afterlife, his only escape from the limbo world of Dusk, is to hunt down his killer using his new-found supernatural abilities.

    160111aHyperdimension Neptunia PP (Vita): Get your training wheels on, because a new producer is in town and the fate of Gamindustri hangs in the balance! Will you be able to properly raise these Girls into pop idols, or will their fans be stolen away from them by the mega-idol group MOB-48!? Teach these girls to sing, dance, and properly promote themselves to the general populace. As the girls’ popularity rises, they will be able to join one another in singing duets, or maybe even come together for a full ensemble!

    100031aTomodachi Life (3DS): What happens when friends, family members and celebrities become Mii characters with their own personalities and live on an island where almost anything can happen? Tomodachi Life that’s what! Customize your Mii characters’ lives, and witness the unpredictable drama that unfolds as they rock out, eat donuts, and ride the ups and downs of romance.

    Week of June 8th

    201511aEnemy Front (360/PS): Play as American war correspondent Robert Hawkins, as he fights hand in hand with Resistance Fighters opposing the Nazi juggernaut in France, Germany, Norway, and during the Warsaw Uprising. Featuring open-ended levels and a richly interactive combat experience, giving the player full freedom to own their playing style. Intense Combat, Sniping, Stealth and Sabotage – all are viable approaches.

    100206aHow To Train Your Dragon 2 (Wii/WiiU/3DS/PS3/360): Take to the skies and return to the epic Viking Isle of Berk. Five years later Dragon Racing has become the hot new sport for the Vikings. Soar through clouds and discover unmapped territories. Discover a secret ice cavern that is home a mysterious Dragon Rider, and find yourself in an epic battle to protect their peaceful homeland.

    Week of a June 15th

    150028aUFC (PS4/XB1): Bring the action, emotion and intensity inside the Octagon to life in ways that were never before possible. The next-generation of True Player Motion not only showcases the diverse, powerful and fluid of attacks of elite mixed martial artists through Precision Movement, Dynamic Striking and Strategic Submission Battles, but also brings the combatants to life with a Full Body Deformer and Real-Time Exertion. The simulation of Human Intelligence takes leaps forward with the strategic and adaptive MMAi system and is expressed through the most realistic characters ever created in a sports game.

    101586aFarming Simulator 14 (3DS/Vita): The best-selling simulation series brings its new installment to the palm of your hands! With a new ergonomic interface developed exclusively for handheld consoles, Farming Simulator 14 boasts a huge selection of real-world farming vehicles and a complete career mode. Players will test their business management skills as they plant and harvest a variety of crops (wheat, canola, corn), breed cattle, control large and powerful farming machinery, tend to their fields, sell their products to the highest bidder, and more. The possibilities are endless in the largest farming simulation ever created!

    Week of June 22nd

    271506a1XBlaze – Code Embryo (PS/Vita): In this visual novel prequel to highly acclaimed fighting series BlazBlue, set 150 years before the events of Calamity Trigger, XBlaze Code: Embryo introduces Toya Kagari, a normal high school student who is introduced to the mysterious “Power of the Azure.”

    210072aTransformers – Rise of the Dark Spark (PS3/PS4/360/XB1/3DS/WiiU): Explore two unique worlds as your favorite characters from both the upcoming movie, Age of Extinction, and the Cybertron universe in a battle to secure an ancient and powerful relic, the Dark Spark!

    101259aAletier Rorono Plus (PS3): The popular alchemic RPG franchise from Gust carries on the tradition of the Atelier series, using alchemy as the main focal point. Atelier Rorona Plus focuses on the exploits of Rorolina Frixell, one the most beloved characters of the Arland trilogy, a young girl who is assigned to complete alchemy tasks over 3 years in order to keep her alchemy workshop and not be banished from the kingdom of Arland. Players can craft new items and also battle enemies using the power of alchemy. As all games in the Atelier series, this title is set against a stunning anime-like background with beautiful 3D graphics and is characterized by an elaborate crafting and synthesis system.

    100891arpGrid Autosport (360/PS3): GRID Autosport delivers the most amount of content in the series yet and a truly authentic motorsport feel, but does not lose sight of what makes a GRID game a GRID game – it’s all about the race.

  • The Games of May

     Watch Dogs

    Week of 4/27

    170846aKirby Triple Deluxe (3DS): When a mysterious being kidnaps King Dedede atop a giant Dreamstalk, only Kirby can save the day! Jump from the foreground to the background in dynamic 3D side-scrolling environments while using new and returning copy abilities to defeat enemies. Duke it out in the new Kirby Fighters, a fierce 4-player battle mode.

    170847aMario Golf World Tour (3DS): Go clubbing around the world with Mario! Tee off as your favorite Mario or Mii character while challenging players online. Shoot into warp pipes and dodge piranha plants in Mushroom Kingdom areas or take a shot at the nature-themed courses.

    Week of 5/4

    271501aHakuouki – Stories of the Shinsengumi (PS3): The critical acclaimed otome novel tells the tale of Chizuru, a young woman who finds herself fighting alongside the infamous Shinsengumi as competing factions war for control of Japan. In the midst of all this bloodshed and chaos, will Chizuru love?

    160088aGod of War Collection (Vita): God of War Collection brings the nonstop action of God of War and God of War II to the PS Vita system for the first time ever! In God of War Collection, experience the brutal world of ancient Greece as the legendary Spartan Kratos seeks revenge on Ares, the God of War.

    201761aBound by Flame (PS3/PS4/360): From their castles of ice, the lord-sorcerers of Shadowcold now reign as masters on the continent and crush mercilessly the remnant resistance, of which you belong. When all hope appears to be lost, a demon of flames chooses you as its host…Create and customize a powerful warrior, develop your skills (combat, assassination and fire magic) and call upon the devastating powers of the demon within.

    Week of 5/11

    160104aBorderlands 2 (Vita): The critically acclaimed and bestselling role-playing-shooter hybrid, Borderlands 2, is now available for the PS Vita system! Stuffed with 6 Add On Packs, Borderlands 2 on PS Vita delivers hours upon hours of signature addictive Borderlands nonstop collaborative loot-shoot gameplay.

    Week of 5/18

    210027aWolfenstein – The New Order (PS3/PS4/360/XB1): Wolfenstein: The New Order reignites the series that created the first-person shooter genre. The year is 1960 and the Nazi’s have won World War II. War hero B.J. Blazkowicz must launch an impossible counter-offensive against the monstrous Nazi regime that has conquered the globe and somehow re-write history.

    271523aDrakengard 3 (PS3): A prequel to the original cult-hit Drakengard, transports players to a medieval world where six sisters wield special magical abilities as the “Intoners.” These sisters have brought peace to the earth with their power to manipulate magic through song. Harmony is disrupted, however, when the eldest sister, Zero, attempts to murder her younger sisters with the help of her dragon companion, Mikhail. As the story progresses, players find themselves in a battle to unravel the mystery of Zero and learn her true intentions.

    271518aMugen Souls Z (Vita): Taking place immediately after the first game, you take control of the goddess Sylma, who is out to stop an ancient threat to her world that has recently awakened. 9999 levels of maniacal mishaps and ethereal adventures await Sylma, her crew, and hordes of Shampurusas!

    Week of 5/25

    160098a1Mind Zero (Vita): From Aksys Games and Acquire, comes Mind Zero, an exciting dungeon-crawler RPG for the PlayStation Vita! Kei, a high school student is given the power of “Mind,” the ability to control a persona with powerful abilities. However, “Mind” is much more than it seems. With the government and others tracking them down, what will Kei and his friends discover about themselves, but more importantly, about this mysterious power?

    150010aWatch Dogs (PS3/PS4/360/XB1): In today’s hyper-connected world, Chicago has the country’s most advanced computer system – one which controls almost every piece of city technology and holds key information on all of the city’s residents. You play as Aiden Pearce, a brilliant hacker, whose criminal past lead to a violent family tragedy. Now on the hunt for those who hurt your family, you’ll be able to monitor and hack all who surround you while manipulating the city’s systems to stop traffic lights, turn off the electrical grid and more. Use the city of Chicago as your ultimate weapon and exact your own style of revenge.

    160105aSly Cooper Collection (Vita): The Sly Collection features three PlayStation2 action-packed classic hits; Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racconus, Sly 2: Band of Thieves and Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves fully remastered in high definition, and optimized for the PlayStation Vita.

    240262aMario Kart 8 (WiiU): Feel the rush as your kart rockets across the ceiling! Race upside-down and along walls on anti-gravity tracks in the most action-fueled Mario Kart game yet! Take on racers across the globe and share videos of your greatest moments via Mario Kart TV.

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  • Japan’s Most Wanted Sequels and Remakes

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    The most recent issue of Famitsu, Japan’s biggest and most popular gaming magazine, featured a really cool article that asked readers what games they most wanted to see get a sequel/new entry, as well as what games they wanted to get an HD facelift. Because each of the two categories has lots of entries, I’ve decided to share the top 3 from each, along with a few highlights. How does Japan’s list of “Most Wanted” stack up against your own?

    Most Wanted Sequel/New Entry

    1. Final Fantasy Series
    2. Wild Arms Series
    3. Romancing Saga Series

    Honorable Mentions: Shenmue, MegaMan Legends, Legend of Mana, Suikoden, The Wold Ends With You, Resonance of Fate

    Most Wanted HD Remake

    1. Final Fantasy 7
    2. Final Fantasy 12
    3. Xenogears

    Honorable Mentions: Majora’s Mask, Shenmue, Final Fantasy 8-9, Shadow Hearts

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  • What We’ve (I’ve) Been Playing

    We’re baaaaaaack! You will have to excuse the long absence on my part but I have been back in the States, visiting family for the past few weeks. But, now that my vacation is finished and I am back in Japan, it’s time to get to the games.

    imageThe last time we talked I was playing Lords of Shadow 2 and really enjoying it (in fact, as I am writing this the Alucard Story-DLC is downloading). Well, right before I left I was able to finish the game along with all the collectible hunting as well. While I did end up enjoying every second of the game I have to admit that the sequel is not as strong as the other LoS games. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad or anything it’s just that I kept waiting for that great tragedy that both the first and 3DS game ended on, and it never came. I guess they wanted an “up” ending this time around. :p

    imageBeing on vacation, unfortunately, didn’t allow me to play any of the great games that have come out recently like inFamous: Second Son, Final Fantasy X/X2 HD, or MGS5: Ground Zero but it did let me get caught up on a bunch of portables. I finally managed to finish both Phoenix Wright 3 and Game Center CX 2, after sitting on the games for a very long time. I also just started playing Professor Layton & the Azran Legacy as well. So far, the newest Layton game is exactly what I have come to know and love from the series and I’m sure it will be a lot of fun. That being said, knowing that this will be the last Layton game does make playing it slightly bittersweet.

    See you next time.

  • The Games of April

    Lego Hobbit

    After the dearth of March’s release April is a little bit more calm.

    Week of 3/30

    271485a1MLB 14 (PS3/Vita): The highest rated sports franchise over the last 8 years is back with new ways to play, more realistic gameplay physics and the most authentic MLB gameplay experience ever. From the booth to the field, MLB 14 The Show captures the most exciting moments in baseball.

    Week of 4/6

    201744aLego The Hobbit (PS3/PS4/Vita/WiiU/3DS/360/XB1): LEGO The Hobbit allows gamers to play along with their favorite scenes from the films. Players will utilize and combine the Dwarves’ unique abilities – often with hilarious results – to solve the most diverse quests of any LEGO videogame to date.

    170843aDisney Magical World (3DS): A new life awaits you in the magical world of Disney! Meet and interact with over 60 favorite Disney characters while exploring the worlds of Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Aladdin, and Winnie the Pooh. When you can manage your own café filled with Disney magic and set off on ghost-hunting quests, your life becomes the adventure.

    210022a2Kinect Sports (XB1): Skill matters. Precision is rewarded. Small movements make big impacts. With online tournaments and head-to-head rivalries, sports are reimagined to ignite your competitive spirit. There’s a competitor in each of us just waiting to come alive.

    Week of 4/13

    170840aConception 2 (3DS/Vita): In the world called Aterra where the Star God is worshipped, monsters have begun to spawn from the mysterious labyrinth. However, the Star God has imbued certain young adults–Disciples–with the power to fight monsters, as well as create Star Children to aid in the battle. Only Disciples and Star Children can defeat the monsters, and you, as God’s Gift, have an additional weighty task: to bond with seven other Disciples and bear many Star Children to help your world survive!

    271504a1FIFA World Cup Brazil (PS3/360): Experience all the fun, excitement, and drama of soccer’s greatest event. Multiple improvements and innovations to the award-winning gameplay of FIFA 14, with hundreds of new animations and over 200 national teams.

    Week of 4/20

    160093aDemon Gaze (Vita): Oz awakens to find himself in Misred – a cursed land at the world’s western frontier – with a dark shroud covering certain memories of his past. Without knowing where else to go or what else to do, Oz decides to take up arms in order to hunt down artifacts and eke out a living in this world that feels so new to him. One day, he will have to face his past, but until then, he has no choice but to trust those around him, and in his newfound abilities as a “Demon Gazer”…

    Week of 4/27

    271500aHakuoki (PS3): The critically-acclaimed otome visual novel series is coming to the PlayStation 3 – Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi! The game tells the tale of Chizuru, a young woman who finds herself fighting alongside the infamous Shinsengumi as competing factions war for control of Japan. In the midst of all this bloodshed and chaos, will Chizuru find love?

    150030aAmazing Spider-Man 2 (PS3/PS4/360/XB1/WiiU/3DS): In a unique story complementing the events of the second film, Spider-Man discovers he’s not the only one tracking down Manhattan’s criminals. The underworld has been turned upside down with a one man campaign of violence and murder that has captured the city in an iron grip of fear. Villains from the film as well as fan-favorites and classic Marvel characters are woven together in a twisted web of adrenaline-fueled, free-roaming, web-slinging action that puts players on a collision course with an evil far beyond Spider-Man’s reckoning.

  • Review: Dark Souls 2 (PS3/360)

    imageDark Souls II is an action-RPG for the PS3, Xbox 360 (and, next month, the PC), and is the latest installment in FROM Software’s notoriously-difficult Souls series (previous games: Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls). It is not a game for everybody–if you have difficulty coping with frustration, stay far, far away. However, those who are able to endure the punishment that the game metes out for overconfidence will find a deeply rewarding, atmospheric experience.

    As the player, you take on the role of one of the cursed Undead who has traveled to the ruined kingdom of Drangleic in an attempt to find a way to break your curse. The curse prevents those who suffer from it from truly dying, but they gradually go “Hollow” with repeated deaths, eventually losing their sanity and becoming monsters that mindlessly attack the living. The rest of the plot and lore of the game is mostly obtained through reading item descriptions and speaking with NPCs repeatedly–there’s nothing terribly overt, so a lot of the backstory is open to player interpretation, which is a decided difference from the more novel-like presentation of most other RPGs.

    The game itself gives you very little in the way of direction on where you’re supposed to go and what you’re supposed to do–with the exception of keys obtained by defeating certain bosses, the world is wide open for you to explore as you see fit. The areas themselves are arranged almost like separate arms spreading out from the central hub of the ruined village of Majula–the paths may branch several times as you pass through successive areas, but by and large different branches do not subsequently intersect. This makes the world less interconnected than that of Dark Souls 1, but the sprawling nature is mitigated by being able to fast-travel between any bonfires (basically checkpoints) you have unlocked, which makes back-tracking a snap. The areas themselves are widely varied and well-executed; you have zones as diverse as a ghostly pirate cove and an iron castle slowly sinking into a lake of molten lava. The architecture also tends to be on the “grander-than-human” scale, which makes a lot of the structures quite imposing and visually impressive. Heide’s Tower of Flame, near the beginning of the game, is a perfect example of the kinds of stunning panoramas the game can hit you with–giant armored knights silently watching over a cathedral and flying-buttress adorned towers that are sinking into the ocean, with a sunset in the distance dyeing the west-facing walls a glowing orange.

    imageRock-solid gameplay has always been a cornerstone of the Souls series, and Dark Souls II is no different. Although healing resources are more plentiful in this game than the previous installment, your best course of action is to get hit as little as possible–while you can probably kill most similarly-sized enemies in 2-5 hits, they can do the same to you. And they will. Kill you, I mean. That’s where the game’s famed difficulty comes from–a razor-thin margin of error. All attacks can be blocked or avoided, provided you have the knowledge and reflexes to do so, but that knowledge and skill is paid for in blood, sweat, and tears. Killing enemies nets you “souls” which serve dual-purpose as currency and experience points–you can use them to buy equipment and supplies from various NPC vendors, or spend them at another NPC to increase your stats. The number of souls it takes to increase a stat by 1 increases based on the total number of stat points you’ve purchased, so the order in which you raise things only matters insofar as you need particular stats before others. The level-up interface has help text that will tell you what each of the base statistics affects, and what each of the derived statistics means, so you can make relatively informed decisions without having to consult an FAQ or message board. The catch is that you drop all the unspent souls you currently have in your possession whenever you die–you leave behind a blood-stain and a glowing green orb, and if you can make it back to where you died, you can retrieve the souls you lost, but if you die again before that…well, you now have a new bloodstain, and the souls at the previous one are now gone forever. Resting at a bonfire recovers your health, equipment durability, spell uses, and recharges your healing Estus Flask item to whatever its current maximum capacity is, but also causes all non-special enemies in the game to respawn, so you have to balance the risks of moving forward against the need to advance, knowing that if you retreat to heal/level-up/re-arm, you’ll have to re-conquer the enemies you’ve defeated.

    imageThe game also has a novel approach to multiplayer/online interactions–you can occasionally see ghostly outlines of other players in the same area as you, and bloodstains left by other players’ deaths will also appear on your screen, assuming you are connected to the internet. Touching these bloodstains shows a ghostly apparition of the last ~5 seconds of that player’s life, potentially alerting you to hazards or hidden enemies. You are also able to leave behind messages (constructed from pre-made sentence fragments via a fill-in-the-blanks mechanic) for other players, warning them about enemies, traps, suggesting tactics, pointing out secret doors, etc. When another player “rates” (read: upvotes) a message you have left, you’ll recover some HP, so leaving useful messages and rating messages you found useful is encouraged. There are also systems where you can put down a sign to allow other players to summon you into their world to assist them, or invade the worlds of other players to engage in PvP and attempt to kill them for their delicious, delicious souls. There are also “covenants” that you can join that augment or alter these forms of online interaction (as an example, the “Heirs of the Sun” covenant is one centered around helping other people with boss fights, and it makes your summon sign glow bright gold instead of white, making it easy for other players to pick it out of a selection of signs). As a general matter, player interaction tends to be fairly net-positive: helping other people earns you souls, while being killed by other people doesn’t cost you anything but time, assuming you can make it back to your bloodstain, and the systems that govern invasion generally ensure that any invaders are not grossly more powerful than you.

    imageVisually, the game is quite attractive–the areas are colorful without being gaudy, light sources can be far-between in some places, giving them an oppressive and creepy atmosphere that really complements the game (you can light torches from bonfires, but then that ties up a hand that could be holding a weapon or a shield). The character animations are well-done, and the armor sets have some neat cloth physics with robes and capes in windy areas. Aside from when you teleport, or get summoned into another world, or die, everything is loaded on the fly, and you can run from one area to another without having to wait, which helps the world feel more seamless (when you aren’t using the fast-travel, at least). The music is nothing to write home about, but it complements the areas well and is mostly unobtrusive, so I can’t really complain about it either. By and large, the only problem that I have with the game is a nitpick–you have to return to the hub at Majula in order to level up, but since you can teleport there from any bonfire, why not just give you the ability to level up at any bonfire, rather than subject you to a 30-second loading screen from teleporting?

    Overall, I consider Dark Souls II to be a very good game, but, as I said at the beginning, it is not a game for everybody. The game will kill you, over and over again (there’s a tracker, and since release, the total player death count is almost 80 million at the time of this writing), but by and large, they won’t be “cheap” deaths–you’ll have messed up somehow, but now you’ll know what not to do the next time. The frustration gives way to a real sense of accomplishment when you finally *do* overcome that enemy, boss, or segment that’s been giving you so much trouble, and that’s a feeling that is much less present in many other games. I give the game 4 stars out of 5–it’s not perfect, but the flaws it has do not detract from the fundamentally rewarding gameplay that is its core, and I highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind getting their teeth kicked in by the difficulty.

    Submitted By: Peter Rovegno