Monday, July 30, 2012

REVIEW: Kung Fu Strike - The Warrior's Rise

(PC [reviewed], Xbox 360)

Kung Fu Strike is an arcade beat ‘em up mixed with a fighting game, with some light RPG elements thrown in for good measure. The game itself is the Western version of a game called HurricaneX2, which was developed by an actual Kung Fu practitioner. The developer wanted to create a martial arts arcade game that focused on timing and countering, rather than mindless button mashing.

The game begins with the player as General Loh, insisting that he must talk to Master Mo at a temple in the mountains. Master Mo’s pupils don’t take kindly to Loh bossing them around and Loh soon finds himself fighting his way to Master Mo (at least for the first few stages, anyway).

Kung Fu Strike is split up into 28 stages and the story is told through comic panels at the loading screen for each stage.

The game starts out a little on the easy side, though there are three difficulty levels. In the first few stages the game will walk you through the basic gameplay, and due to this, it actually takes a few stages for the game to become interesting. The first stages will have you master striking, blocking, rolling, jumping, and doing special moves. Later you will also unlock the ability to call backup NPCs to help you in battle (for a price). Though the controls are simple, the difficulty soon ratchets up and you will find yourself dying quite a lot unless you master blocking and evading.

The way that the difficulty ratchets up in Kung Fu Strike reminds me a lot of classic arcade games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Metal Slug. In fact, I found that by the 16th stage I had to turn the difficulty down in order to even progress. Unfortunately, with the influence of great arcade games, some of their annoyances come along as well: Bosses will call for back up, some enemies will have regenerating health, and some enemies will one-shot kill you right at the end of a stage.

Kung Fu Strike doesn’t make battles completely unfair though: Blocking and evading will (for the most part) save you entirely from damage. If your health gets too low, a small amount of it will regenerate as long as you avoid damage. Defeating enemies also randomly drop health, chi (used for special moves), money, and horns (used to call backup). You will also unlock money at the end of each stage and occasionally new moves and equipment. You can then spend your money at the stage select screen to unlock new moves, equipment, and health/chi upgrades.

Graphically speaking, Kung Fu Strike is not the prettiest game. The graphics are at the level of something you probably would have seen five years ago. However, that’s mostly forgivable since the art style is similar to Okami or Street Fighter IV which helps create its own believable atmosphere. The colorful graphics help easily differentiate between different enemy types, letting you know which fighting style you should use. Enemies range from monks, bandits, monsters, and even an old man. New enemies pop up often enough to always keep things fresh and force you to change your fighting style. It’s also worth noting that the game runs incredibly well with no slow down, even with dozens of enemies and projectiles on the screen at the same time.
Sound in the game is ultimately forgettable. There’s no real voice work other than the grunts and groans of battle. The music is equally forgettable. I literally can’t remember any of it. Overall though, the sound works well enough, forgettable as it is. All of the sounds are appropriate and serve to enhance the sense of action.

The main story in Kung Fu Strike will probably take you 4 to 5 hours at most to complete. It will take you longer to unlock all of the different moves, backup troops, equipment, and upgrades. It will take longer still to get S ranks in every stage or if you decide to play through the campaign again in local co-op.

Kung Fu Strike is a great twist on the classic arcade beat ‘em up. The battles are awesome and satisfying, though sometimes extremely frustrating. Whether or not you enjoy the game will ultimately depend on how patient you are, but there’s a great game to be found if you can get past its frustrations.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

REVIEW: Warlock: Master of the Arcane


Warlock: Master of the Arcane is the latest sequel to the cult favorite Majesty series. However, other than sharing the world of Ardania and its lore, Warlock is very different from Majesty. Warlock looks like Civilization and that’s because the game borrows heavily from it in terms of basic gameplay. While it would be easy to quickly dismiss Warlock as “Civilization with magic” at a glance, you would be doing yourself a great injustice.
Starting the game for the first time, you will be confronted with a selection of options: defeat conditions, map size, difficulty, number of rival mages, etc. The defeat conditions range from defeating all rival mages, defeat an avatar (god), cast the unity spell (the ultimate spell), or capture 50% of holy grounds. You can toggle on or off whichever ones you want. You will then be tasked with choosing either a preset mage to represent yourself, or customizing a mage from his abilities, default unit type (human, monster, undead), etc. Once the game gets going, the story is pretty bare bones, but that helps you jump into the action. (There is plenty of lore to be read about on pretty much anything you can click though, so don’t worry if you wanted there to be an fantasy rich environment.) You will begin the gameplay at your capital, deciding what to focus on economically, and then begin to expand and explore. In a matter of turns, you will have likely developed one or two towns and possibly have discovered a rival mage. Your progress likely won’t be stopped by another mage at this point, however. You are more than likely going to be forced to strengthen your units and expand your towns economies, because there will be insanely strong neutral monsters roaming between you and your rivals (dragons, golems, krakens, etc).

This is where Warlock begins to make its differences from Civilization clear. If you want to expand any further, you are going to have to become strong enough to defeat monsters and sometimes even gods (should you anger them in some way). The two best ways to go about this are by building new structures in your towns or by having your units fight battles they can win: Each town is based around a castle which can be defeated in order to take over the town. New structures can be built on hexes surrounding the castles, depending on the size of the population. Some structures require special resources on a hex to be built (water for a port, iron for a refinery, gold of a mine, etc). New structures will almost always lead to some kind of buff that can be purchased for your units (armor, health, experience, etc) or the ability to produce a new unit (vampires, eleven archers, minotaur, etc). The really nice thing is that that units produced in the town with the buff will automatically get them, units from other towns have to pay a small fee for the buff however. If you use your units regularly (and don’t get them killed), they will level up, adding new buffs. OH, AND DID I MENTION THAT ALL THE BUFFS STACK!? This means that there is a heavy emphasis on keeping units alive so that they become nearly invincible!

Now that you have your strong units it’s time to begin attacking other mages towns or ridding open areas of dangerous baddies. Many of the strong neutral monsters in the game either already exist on the map, spawn at random (you usually get a notice at the beginning of your turn: eg “Elementals are Invading”), or they come through a gateway that connects to a dangerous realm. This means that if you are going to begin developing towns in “dangerous” zones, you will usually have to dedicate strong units to protecting that area, even after the baddies have been dealt with. Not that your towns are incapable of protecting themselves: The castles at the center of each town can shoot arrows at enemy units and the capital can cast magic missiles. Additionally, you can build towers or magic towers to help defend your town.

If you decide to attack a rival’s town, you should be sure that you are attacking with units that won’t be wiped out in one shot. This means that if you are attacking a town surrounded by magic towers, your character better have a strong resistance to magic or high melee resistance if the town is protected by soldiers. Once you have captured a town, you gain access to its race, so if you are playing as undead and capture humans, you then have access to human buildings and units.

Battles play out somewhat like Fire Emblem, with an estimated damage indicator for each side before you decide to attack. This is especially helpful since identical unit’s strengths can vary greatly due to buffs.

If at some point you find yourself in a difficult battle or short on food, money, or mana (the three economies in the game), you can simply cast a spell that will help you since you are a mage! All spells require mana. Spells (besides your default ones) must be researched before they can be cast. You can also randomly receive spells by looting monster lairs or by completing certain favors that gods ask you to do (build an altar, defeat their enemies, etc). Spells vary from giant firestorms, plagues of locusts, summoning ghost wolves, to spells that weaken or buff units. Each spell takes a different amount of time to research, depending on how strong it is and how many buildings you have dedicated to research. The thing you are going to either hate or love about the game is that you can only research one spell at a time, and the spells you can research are completely at random (starting with weaker spells). At first this annoyed me, but I believe that it is there for balance so that you can’t choose the spell that will lead to a giant fire spell right at the beginning of the game.

It should be noted that Gods play a significant role in the game. They can greatly help you if you do their bidding. However, if you piss them off, they might just come down and start destroying all of your towns.

Another huge part of the game (and a nod to Majesty) is the inclusion of lords. They are essentially very strong mercenary units that have a high upkeep cost. These units can also equip special items to enhance their abilities, which normal units can't do. Winning a battle can often come down to whether or not one of your lords is participating.

There are also some light diplomacy elements which allow you to negotiate with rival mages. You can declare peace, war, non-aggression, or trade. The diplomacy isn’t very detailed, but it does affect how rival mages perceive you, if they will allow you cross their land, and if they will attack you.

Technically speaking, the game gets the job done well enough. Sounds are great and satisfying; the clash of metal when soldiers attack and the sound of arrows hitting are spot on. Each lord has their own voice actor that helps give them their own personalities. Some of the units are also voiced, with the human units generally having comically over-done heroic lines. Graphically, the game is pretty and has its own style, but ultimately isn’t anything that’s going to blow you away. It’s nice that you can zoom right up into the action though and get a semi-detailed look at your units. There are lots of varied landscapes (snowy mountains, deserts, swamps, etc) and each of the races has their own structures that make them easily identifiable.

My first game on normal difficulty on a medium sized map, took me 15 hours.With the amount of content and beta multiplayer just starting, the game is a steal at $20! If you enjoy sending units off into unknown lands behind the fog, building up your army, and conquering anybody that dares stand against you, this game is a must buy! It’s definitely a “Just one more turn...” game that will keep you up later into the morning than you probably want.