Archive for the Reviews Category

Retro-Bit Super Retro Advance Adapter Review

Posted in Gameboy Advance, Retro Gaming, Reviews, SNES on November 25, 2013 by satoshimatrix

Super Retro Advance.Last year, Retro-Bit – a third party manufacturer of clone consoles, controllers, and accessories –  released two extremely interesting devices – the RetroPort Adapter, which connects to a SNES and allows original NES games to be played, and the RetroGen Adapter, which connects to an SNES and allows Sega Genesis/MegaDrive games to be played. Now Retro-Bit continues their voodoo magic with the Super Retro Advance Adapter, which promises to bring a certain beloved handheld to the SNES.

Since it was initially announced, fans speculated about how the GBA would change the future of portable gaming forever by bringing SNES-like game experiences to a handheld while also producing new franchises and perhaps even doing some things that wouldn’t be possible on Nintendo’s legendary 16-bit platform. Throughout it’s life, all of this was proven time and again as the GameBoy Advance became for all intents and purposes, the second coming of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

It is therefore with irony that Retro-Bit now has a product to bring GBA game experiences back to the SNES.

How good is this device? Read on.

Overview

IMG_5064The Super Retro Advance Adapter is a standalone GBA clone that plugs into the SNES as if it were an SNES game itself. Using only the power provided from the SNES cartridge slot, the Retro-Bit Super Retro Advance Adapter has a self contained GBAOAC (GBA On A Chip) and interfaces with the SNES for standard button input.

Just like the RetroPort and RetroGen, audio and video are not provided through the SNES, but instead an RCA to stereo 3.5mm headphone jack located in the side of the device. This is because unlike the Super GameBoy, RetroBit’s line of adapters do not run Super Nintendo software as a framework for the other platforms. In essence, while the console treats the Super GameBoy as a SNES game, the Retro-Bit Adapter line are not utilizing the SNES PPU at all, therefore there is no video feed to route internally.

It has been suggested that Retro-Bit could have solved this by writing a simple interface program, but that is easier said than done. SNES games were written in low level 65C816 assembly, a language so prone to errors it was abandoned in the mid ’90s and isn’t taught in programming classes anymore. There also aren’t any C or C++ compilers for the highly custom 5A22 cpu Nintendo chose for the SNES.

As is, the included cable is required when using an actual Super Nintendo or Super Famicom. However, this is only true of the original Nintendo hardware and older, non Retro-Bit clone consoles. Newer Retro-Bit clones such as the Retro Duo Portable and the upcoming Super Retro Trio will pass the video feed directly to it’s own video output jacks without the need of the additional cable.
It should also be noted that the Super Retro Advance Adapter, like other Retro-Bit products, is designed to universally fit with all SNES consoles worldwide, featuring the slim design of Super Famicom game shells while providing the slits for the North American SNES. This essentially means it is completely region free.

Video output

IMG_5051

Like the RetroGen, the video encoder inside the Super Retro Advance Adapter provides extremely clean, clear and vivid NTSC composite video that looks great on any CRT television. Despite the fact that the device only provides composite video output as opposed to something higher quality such as S-Video or even RGB, the video clarity surpasses what many classic consoles are capable of producing, including the SNES itself. Games are bright, vibrant and clear. Early titles well known for being especially dark such as Castlevania Circle of the Moon are completely playable, and regardless of the composite signal, there is minimal color bleeding – allowing easy reading of text and visibility of even the smallest sprites.

IMG_5058The original GameBoy Advance used an LCD with an aspect ratio of 3:2. When displayed on a 4:3 CRT television, the Super Retro Advance Adapter ever so slightly adjusts the image to display fullscreen. When using a 16:9 television, the slightly more widescreen nature of 3:2 is represented by nearly filling the entire widescreen display, but leaves a thin black border around the edges without any distortion. The device does not allow the user to adjust the aspect ratio, but I find it does a surprisingly decent job on its own. In fact, I prefer the full 4:3 display to the GameCube GameBoy Player’s windowed display.

Audio

IMG_5047The cable provided includes clean, interference-free stereo sound, and the Super Retro Advance Adapter reproduces the GBA’s sound format almost perfectly. Unlike some GBA clones, all of the musical ranges the GBA is capable of producing are reproduced exactly within the same octaves, allowing gamers to enjoy their favorite GBA tunes when using the Super Retro Advance.

However, occasional Z-80 based sounds using the original GameBoy’s sound hardware do not sound correct on the Super Retro Advance. Through rigorous testing, I so far have found this to only affect a small number of GBA titles in minor ways. For example, in the Pokemon games, the sound effect when you run into a solid object is far more subdued than on a real GBA. This is however such a minor issue that it may actually go unnoticed for those who aren’t specifically listening for it.

Controls

The controls mapped to the SNES controller are 1:1 with their GBA counterparts. In other words, the buttons displayed on the SNES controller exactly reflect the mapping of the GBA controls. For example, pressing the SNES controller A button will activate the GBA’s A button. For clarification, here is a chart of the mapping:

GBA adapterSome may be put off that the B and A buttons on the GBA are not instead mapped to the Y and B buttons on the SNES controller, but I understand why Retro-Bit chose to do this. There are many GBA games that include in-game button prompts such as “Press A repeatedly”. If the Y and B configuration was used, the GBA A button would be mapped to the SNES B button, creating some potentially confusing situations.

Compatibility

IMG_5042

Like many emulators, the Super Retro Advance Adapter works by circumventing the boot bios, providing almost instant access to your favorite GBA titles and a legal loophole in what could otherwise be an illegal device to sell.

I am pleased to report that to the best of my testing abilities, compatibility appears to be extremely strong and very well may be perfect across all GBA titles. I have tested dozens of GBA titles and each work flawlessly.

The only compatibility issues I’ve encountered are with the Play-Yan Micro mp3/video player and running certain games via my M3 Simply SD Flashcart. The Play-Yan will refuse to boot up whatsoever. The M3 Simply will work for the majority of games I’ve tried. So far, the only problematic games using the M3 Simply are pseudo 3D titles such as Iridion II, Asterix & Obelix XXL, and Stuntman. Each of these will glitch out at certain points rendering them unplayable after a certain point. However, when I tested these games using the original cartridges, all worked without any problems.

As neither the Play-Yan or M3 Perfect are true GBA games in of themselves, incompatibility is unsurprising and should not count towards any tally of actual GBA games that do not work, which I have not found any through my testing so far.

Unfortunately, the Super Retro Advance Adapter completely lacks original GameBoy and GameBoy Color support. No GameBoy games will work on the device whatsoever, as the device lacks the original GameBoy hardware, just like the GameBoy Micro. GameBoy and GameBoy Color games will physically fit into the cartridge slot, but there’s no point in even trying as they will do absolutely nothing.

However, I was able to get several GameBoy and GameBoy Color games working and PocketNES through my flashcart, although with sound and graphical issues.

IMG_5059Overall

Good

-Reasonably priced
-Extremely easy to step up
-Great video output that fills a 4:3 display
-The SNES controller fits GBA games like a glove

Bad

-Completely lacks GB and GBC support
-Certain GB sound effects are incorrect
-Composite video output only, which is a shame considering the GBA could be made to produce S-Video or even RGB.

Conclusion

Following on the footsteps of the excellent RetroGen adapter, the Super Retro Advance adapter from Retro-Bit doesn’t disappoint. It provides great software support with clean and clear video. Is it better than the GameBoy Player for GameCube? No. However, considering the costs of the GameBoy Player plus GameCube, and that the GameCube controller is hardly an ideal controller for GBA games, the Super Retro Advance is a great alternative for playing your GBA games on a tv, and makes for a great gift this holiday season.

If you’re interested in purchasing the Super Retro Advance, it can be found along with many other Retro-Bit products at thinkgeek.com, vintagestock.com, lukiegames.com and other retrogaming stores all across North America and worldwide.

For retailers or resellers who may be interested in carrying the product, contact http://www.innexinc.com or service@innexinc.com

RetroBit RetroGen Review

Posted in Hardware, Retro Gaming, Reviews, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, SNES with tags , , , on June 9, 2012 by satoshimatrix

As videogame consoles from the late 80’s and early 90’s continue to age, there seems to be a never-ending cascade of clone hardware that reproduces the original experiences and replaces old, large, clunky and sometimes temperamental hardware.

One of the leading clone manufacturers in recent years has been RetroBit, who have been steadily gaining a foothold and showing up competitors like Yobo and Hyperkin when it comes to quality and reliability – concepts not commonly associated with Asian born clone hardware.

Previously I brought you guys a detailed look at the RetroBit RetroPort, an interesting self contained NOAC designed in a cartridge that can be fitted into an SNES and thus allow hundreds of additional titles to be played on that great console.

It seems RetroBit didn’t want to stop there, and recently also released another cartridge adapter that can be fitted into the SNES, a device they call the RetroGen – which allows Sega MegaDrive or Genesis games to played on a Nintendo SNES, Super Famicom or Super Famiclone.

If you grew up when these systems were fierce rivals, then prepare to have your mind blown by the very concept of this review. Continue reading

RetroBit RetroPort Review

Posted in Hardware, NES, Peripherals, Retro Gaming, Reviews, SNES on June 5, 2012 by satoshimatrix

We’ve been seeing a lot of NES clones on the market these days. Given the age of the NES hardware, many people have been turning to new clone hardware solutions to play their old favorites. There is certainly no shortage of choice – there are literally hundreds, if not thousands – of these devices that all play 8-bit Nintendo cartridges.

But what if you have an SNES or SNES clone and don’t have desire to buy a standalone clone unit to play NES games? It might seem strange but now, RetroBit has you covered with their standalone RetroPort for Super Famicom, Super NES or Super Famiclone systems that will allow you to do something never thought possible – play your NES games right on your SNES!

Continue reading

Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List: #2

Posted in Editorials, Retro Gaming, Retrospectives, Reviews with tags , , , on March 12, 2012 by satoshimatrix

Top 100 NES & Famicom Games

Arguably the most beloved console of all time, the Nintendo Entertainment System, commonly abbreviated as NES, is now well over 25 years old. With over two thousand games produced worldwide for the legendary hardware, the NES, despite it’s age, has an eternal staying power. As retro gaming continues to grow in popularity, more and more gamers flock to Nintendo’s first home console to get their gaming fix.

Welcome to the final top 10 countdown for my personal picks of the greatest games to grace the NES and Famicom. I will be posting one update per day on my march towards the number one position. This has been a long time coming, and I want to thank you, my readers, for all of your support.

Now then, as before, I am ranking every game on its overall difficulty using a simple scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is brain dead easy and 10 is….well,  Battletoads. A 5 on this scale means it’s average difficulty with perhaps some challenging elements, but nothing the average gamer should get stuck on for too long.

I’m also including many links to videos and other online information sources. Links are indicated by orange words. Please open these links in a new tab/window so you don’t have to navigate away from this article.

Previous entries:

part 1, #100-90
part 2, #89-80
part 3, #79-70
part 4, #69-60
part 5, #59-50
part 6, #49-40
part 7, #39-30
part 8, #29-20
part 9, #19-11
Final top 10: #10
Final top 10: #9
Final top 10: #8
Final top 10: #7
Final top 10: #6
Final top 10: #5
Final top 10: #4
Final top 10: #3

So without further ado, here is entry #2!

Continue reading

Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List: #3

Posted in Editorials, NES, Retrospectives, Reviews with tags , , on March 10, 2012 by satoshimatrix

NES & Famicom Games

Arguably the most beloved console of all time, the Nintendo Entertainment System, commonly abbreviated as NES, is now well over 25 years old. With over two thousand games produced worldwide for the legendary hardware, the NES, despite it’s age, has an eternal staying power. As retro gaming continues to grow in popularity, more and more gamers flock to Nintendo’s first home console to get their gaming fix.

Welcome to the final top 10 countdown for my personal picks of the greatest games to grace the NES and Famicom. I will be posting one update per day on my march towards the number one position. This has been a long time coming, and I want to thank you, my readers, for all of your support.

Now then, as before, I am ranking every game on its overall difficulty using a simple scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is brain dead easy and 10 is….well,  Battletoads. A 5 on this scale means it’s average difficulty with perhaps some challenging elements, but nothing the average gamer should get stuck on for too long.

I’m also including many links to videos and other online information sources. Links are indicated by orange words. Please open these links in a new tab/window so you don’t have to navigate away from this article.

Previous entries:

part 1, #100-90
part 2, #89-80
part 3, #79-70
part 4, #69-60
part 5, #59-50
part 6, #49-40
part 7, #39-30
part 8, #29-20
part 9, #19-11
Final top 10: #10
Final top 10: #9
Final top 10: #8
Final top 10: #7
Final top 10: #6
Final top 10: #5
Final top 10: #4

So without further ado, here is entry #3!

Continue reading

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon Review (PS3/X360)

Posted in PS3, Reviews, Xbox 360 on July 25, 2011 by satoshimatrix

The Bugs Are Back

After years wondering if I’d ever get to see another game in the series, the long awaited Earth Defense Force 4 has finally arrived. With a developer change from Sandlot to Vicious Cycle, Insect Armageddon reimagines the look of the series, but make no mistake, this is still the classic EDF experience at its core.  How did Vicious Cycle fair in their efforts to carry forth the series Sandlot is best known for? Read on.

Building upon the niche foothold it’s predecessor managed to curve in the US, most reviews will undoubtedly focus and compare Insect Armageddon to the Xbox 360’s Earth Defense Force 2017.  However, this title should best be compared with the second game in the series, Global Defense Force  [released only in Europe and Japan], as it shares most in common with that entry.

Story

Sometime in the future, an alien invasion force made up of robots, insects, and well… robotic insects invades Earth. The Earth Defense Force alliance band together to stop them for either the first or fourth time, depending on your perspective. Join the EDF ranks and make your way for the city of New Detroit to rid it of the alien menace.

While the EDF games have never been big on story, Insect Armageddon seems to make no mention of anything that happened in EDF 2017. Parallel dimension or terrible memory? You decide. A minor gripe perhaps, but it could have been so easy for Vicious Cycle to place this game perhaps ten or twenty years after EDF 2017. It would explain the whole New Detroit thing (old Detroid presumably destroyed in 2017?) and also why there are now multiple classes of EDF troops.

Graphics

At least on par with EDF 2017 visually, Insect Armageddon manages to surpass its 360 predecessor in many aspects. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions seem identical without any major glitches in either. Urban environments look much better than in 2017, though sadly this is the only kind of environment present in the whole game. No more underground ant caves, valleys, beaches, ruined cityscapes, and there’s but a single stage that takes place at night. A real shame, but the focus on New Detroit exclusively does allow Vicious Cycle to make the city look far more impressive than was possible in the many environments of 2017.

Although the monster designs are completely different – again – they all look top notch. The Hectors in particular look great, though I honestly miss their 2017 shiny metal designs. Effects look spectacular. It’s clear a lot of care was put into making explosions look as good as possible.

Audio

The audio this time around is honestly a letdown compared to the voice work in the previous three games, especially Global Defense Force and 2017. The older EDF titles didn’t take anything seriously, and this was reflected in the choice of music. Insect Armageddon though seems to put as much emphasis on drama as possible. The game is too new to find any audio sources, but what I can do is pull out the amazing Ops music from Global Defense Force. It’s awesome and puts you in the mood to kill giant ants, spiders, UFOs and robots. Enjoy.

The voice acting is comprised of Steven Blum as Lightening, Cam Clarke as Intel guy, and Parminder Nagra as Ops chick. Even if their names don’t sound familiar, their voices should. If you watch any dubbed anime, tv shows or play almost any modern game, you’ll have heard their voices. All three of them are everybody ever in everything.

Having such quality voice actors in a Earth Defense Force game is a double edged sword: all of the talented voice actors deliver their lines perfectly and effectively, but a B-movie caliber game requires B-movie caliber actors; it’s a damn shame some of the voice actors from 2017 or hell, the PS1 original Resident Evil couldn’t be found to lend their voices.

Gameplay

In case you’re new to the Earth Defense Force games, Insect Armageddon is a third person twin stick shooter where you play as a heavily armed human soldier blasting away at ants, spiders, robots and UFOs. There are hundreds of weapons available, all with the benefit of unlimited ammo. The catch is that you can only carry two weapons into battle at a time. It’s usually a good idea to vary your weapons, but it’s also possible to carry two of the same weapons in battle if you need to quickly change without waiting to reload.

As always, defeated enemies drop random health packs which are used to restore lost HP. Expanding on that idea, you can now collect extra HP packs when you are in full health and convert them to extra armor.

Facing the hoards of Ravagers this time, EDF soldiers now come in four delicious flavors: standard Trooper,

For the first time since Global Defense Force, players can choose to play as a soldier with a jetpack, though unfortunietely the character model is now male, removing the awesome awesome PaleWing soldier class. This “Jet” class in its place has many of the same attributes as the old PaleWing; they are much faster, can fly for short periods via their jetpacks, use unique energy weapons and carry less armor than any other class. The only thing missing are the PaleWing short skirts, but given that the Jet units are now dudes, that’s probably a good thing.

Vicious Cycle can explain the other classes better than I can, so here’s their own words:

Trooper Armor: Trooper armor is the standard loadout for EDF soldiers. It has access to more weapons than any other class, and upgradable abilities that allow it to be a versatile, all-around unit. The Trooper Armor is also the only armor available in Survival Mode.

Tactical Armor: Tactical armor fulfills a wide ranging support role, and is the only class that can deploy turrets, mines, and radar dishes. Stronger equipment is unlocked as the story progresses.

Battle Armor: Battle armor transforms players into a veritable walking tank. Slow moving and hard-hitting, it comes equipped a portable energy shield and can equip some of the most powerful weapons in the game. Battle armor also can release its entire pool of energy in a massive electric blast, damaging everything unfortunate enough to be close by.

Replacing the tied and true +1 HP armor and random weapon pick up system from the Sandlot games, Insect Armageddon now employs an experience system in place where you gain EXP and currency for every insect you kill. Gain enough EXP and you’re character will level up, allowing them to use more powerful weapons once purchased from the shop using the currency gained from killing the bugs. Powerful enemies still drop random weapons, but by and large you’ll be buying from from the shop instead of picking them up on the battlefield as in older EDF titles.

You can switch character classes before each mission, though you’ll find yourself sticking mostly with a single class throughout the entire game until you beat it. It’s also worth mentioning deployable vehicles such as the Tank, the Mech and turrets return, and they’re all actually useful for the first time in the history of the series.

As always with the series, Insect Armageddon shines brightest when played in co-op. Split-screen is every bit as effective as in previous EDF games; both players are presented with a vertical screen  that allows them to see anything on the y axis, but limits their x axis view. Despite this, the game is great played in this manner – there’s no slowdown to be seen and the addition of the second, human player can really help when battles get heated.

A first for the series, Insect Armageddon also offers online co-op for up to four players. Typically not an online gamer, I had low expectations going in but was shockingly surprised how well the online is implemented, at least over Playstation Network. With the absence of a headset, I never once had to sit listening to  13 year old telling everyone how much better Halo is or listen to some racial slurs. There was also no slowdown, lag, or any other technical problem you might worry about when playing an online game. Matches feel exactly like the offline game, just with your AI teammates replaced with human players who can be dumber or much smarter the AI, depending on who you get to play with. Quickmatches are most excellent as they allow you to get into fry within seconds. You can even do splitscreen and online co-op at once for up to six players. It can get pretty crazy.

The soldiers are great, and the new vehicles are awesome, but these facts alone can’t make up for the fact that EDF: Insect Armageddon is insultingly short, especially compared to EDF: 2017. I have easily clocked in well over 200 hours in 2017’s 75+ missions whereas Insect Armageddon is a mere 15 missions, 2-3 hour romp per play. There are the multiple character classes and higher difficulties, but I can’t help but wish the game was much longer than it is.

On the other hand, the game will support DLC so it might be that Vicious Cycle/D3 intend to micro transact us the rest of the game. Bastards.

Control

An evolution of the older EDF games, Insect Armageddon has nearly identical controls to the previous games, though as it is slightly more complex game than the previous versions, the face buttons are used in tandem with the shoulder buttons. It doesn’t allow you totally customize the controls which I find greatly disappointing.

Here’s the basic controls:

Left Stick: Movement, scroll through menus
D-pad: Unused
Right Stick: Adjust Aim
L1: Hold and push Left Stick to run
R1: Barrel Roll/Dodge
L2: Secondary fire
R2: Fire
□: Change clip
Δ: Activate transponder, revive teammate
O: Change weapon
X: Jump
Start: Pause
Back: Unused
L3/R3: Activate/deactivate scope lens for sniper rifles and rocket launchers

Frustration

While the difficulty options have been reduced from five to only three, Inferno is still as hard as hell. To reduce the frustration of the previous games, Vicious Cycle added in a new revival system.

You can still die mid-battle, but your teammates can revive you. The only way you can fail a mission entirely is if you and all your teammates die simultaneously, which on the two higher difficulties is very well possible.

History

EDF IA is the only title in the series not developed by Sandlot. Sandlot is a small development house in Japan that geared up with D3 Publisher to release a series of budget titles towards the end of the Playstation 1’s life. The Simple 1500 series then moved onto the Playstation 2 where it flourished as the Simple 2000 series, which meant that each game in the series would cost 2000 yen, or around $20 US. Among this series was The Earth Defense Force and later, The Earth Defense Force 2. Both EDF titles and many others from the Simple 2000 series would be picked up by European budget title publishers and released there, but not in North America.

It wasn’t until 2007 when the Xbox 360 remake of the first game that the series made its way to US shores. Because of its obscure history, the game quickly became a cult classic and is somewhat difficult to find today.

Origianl Advertising

Here’s one of the many trailers for Insect Armageddon. This one shows off most of the major beats on why you should be excited to play the game.

Overall

Good

  • Vicious Cycle seems to have understood Sandlot’s vision and has duplicated most of what made their EDF games so great while fixing many technical issues.
  • New enemy designs look great
  • Tons of variety between the four character classes
  • Online co-op is lag free and a ton of fun
  • Split-screen co-op returns as good as it’s always been

Bad

  • An extremely short campaign that’s matched only by Monster Attack’s. What’s the deal? Does Vicious Cycle plan to micro-transaction me into getting a longer campaign?
  • Somewhat lengthy load times
  • The music isn’t anywhere near as good as the previous games
  • The voice acting is a double edged sword: its well produced by compliant voice actors, but EDF is suppose to be a B horror movie

Conclusion

Earth Defense Force Insect Armageddon was one of my most anticipated games of the year. Now that’s its here, it managed to live up to most of my expectations and in some cases exceed them. Not only does it proudly carry the name of the series, but it also manages to correct many of the flaws of the older versions, and hey, it’s playable online.

Earth Defense Force Insect Armageddon feels very much like Global Defense Force – and that’s a very good thing. I just wish the game was longer, but who knows, maybe they’ll offer more missions as DLC sometime in the future.

I recommend picking this one up if you’re a fan of the series, but if you’re new, play 2017 first.

Data
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Release Date: July 11, 2011
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Also from the developer: Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, last gen’s Robotech games
Also try: Earth Defense Force 2017, Global Defense Force
Game Length: ~2-3 hours per campaign
ESRB: T
Buy/Skip: Fans should buy it, newcomers should try EDF 2017 first

Dark Void Review (PS3/X360)

Posted in Hidden gems, PS3, Reviews, Xbox 360 on June 14, 2011 by satoshimatrix

I’m a Rocketman, baby

Again and again, I discover great gems that didn’t get a whole lot of hype upon release and for whatever reason seemed to just quickly fade into obscurity regardless of quality. Dark Void is such a game. The debut title of new developer Airtight Games, Dark Void promised to be a unique third person action game with a jetpack, alien robots and a sci-fi plot. Unfortunately,  the game seems to have been completely and utterly ignored by gamers at large. So now over a year after its initial release, is Dark Void worth a look or were the gaming public right to ignore it? Read on.

Story

Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, a cargo delivery pilot named Will Grey prepares to leave on a transatlantic flight from the Bahamas to Britain when he discovers an old flame named Ava will be joining him on the flight as a passenger. All seems fine until Will’s cargo plane flies over the Bermuda Triangle.

Soon a storm breaks out, a strange UFO is seen and the interments go haywire and the plane is ripped apart, killing Will’s co-pilot and leaving Will and Ava to crash land on a seemingly deserted, tropical island.

Will and Ada discover the native inhabitants of this island are slave to a race of biological robots called the Watchers, who look a lot cooler than they really are. Will decides to play hero and kill/destroy the Watchers and save the people. The villagers are displeased as they had seen the Watchers as gods to serve, not weird alien robot oppressors. Oh well.

Exiled from the village, Will and Ava come across fucking Nikola Tesla, who gives Will his newly invented hover jetpack and tells him and Ada to defeat the remaining Watchers. The rest of Dark Void involves Will finding a way into the Void, the realm of which the Watchers come from and stop them before they can invade Earth and cause far more devastation than even the current war in Europe.

The plot in Dark Void is interesting and enjoyable, but it ultimately doesn’t amount to anyway and just sort of fizzles towards the end, which is a real shame. While I’m not going to spoil the ending, in many ways the later half of Dark Void’s plot seems like it was rushed and not nearly as fleshed out as it should have been. Sort of the modern day equilent to all the NES games out there that say something like “Thanks for playing! The End!” and that’s it.

Graphics

Dark Void is a good looking game all around. Almost all the games dozens of character models look great even up close and animate fluidly and realistically. Most locations, especially the crash landing site and setting for the first quarter of the game look simply stunning and the general design of the Watchers are awesome, being sort of reverse Borg in that they are more technological than biological.

Other effects such as weapon fire, explosions and the general design of the Watcher ships makes Dark Void a real winner in the visual department. Minor gripes about lip sync issues and the rare framerate drop are systematic of a game rushed towards the end of development, which is really the only negative things I can about the visuals.

Audio

While the visuals are fantastic, the audio is also surprisingly good. Composed by a guy named Bear (seriously) McCreary, [composer of Babylon Five] Dark Void’s music is orchestral, and very film-like in its approach. It isn’t on the level of some of the best out there like Heavy Rain, but Dark Void’s music does manage to pull on the heart strings ever now and then.

The voice acting is also fairly well done. Will’s voice is typical American hero voice #5,00000, but Ava has a destinctive British accent, which even though marks her as typical British heroine voice #5,00000 as well…I can’t help but like it. British female voices are sexy and they always will be. Just refer make to my review of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.

Here for your listening pleasure is the main theme for Dark Void, summed up in its closing credits.

Gameplay

Dark Void is a linear romp through exotic tropical locales, ancient ruins, alien ships and the desolate void itself. There’s gunplay, simple platforming, a cover system and headshots, but what really seperates Dark Void from other third person shooters is the jetpack Will eventually gets and can fly around with, turning the game from a third person shooter into a third person arcade flight sim, all the while maintaining decent controls.

On many levels where your jetpack is fully operational, you can even fly close to Watcher gunships, rip open the hatch, kill the pilot and preform grand theft UFO. Flying around in Watcher gunships is really cool as they are fast and carry a lot of firepower relative to their size. This seemingly nothing idea is yet another example of a nice touch that helps elevate Dark Void from being just another third person shooter.

While the jetpack is what sets Dark Void apart, the game is still primarily a third person shooter. Dark Void offers six varied guns ranging from the typical assault rifle and watcher sniper rifle to an anti-gravity rip-and-tear gun similar to Half Life 2’s Gravity Gun. Each of these guns can be upgraded with skill points gained from killing Watchers and hidden throughout levels. Guns can only be upgraded between levels, but upgrading is reason even to search each level for any hidden goodies.

Although Dark Void employs a standard third person shooter cover system first popularized with games such as Gears of War, Dark Void again manages to set itself apart from the pack by also incorporating vertical gunplay wherein Will will find himself shooting both directly up and directly down. This concept, missing in nearly every other third person shooter I can think of, is undeniably one of the coolest aspects of the whole game, jetpack or not.

That said, even though the gunplay is enjoyable and you’ll be doing a whole lot of it throughout the game, there is a bit of a flaw in the core mechanics of Will’s almighty melee attack.

Preformed by pressing O [or B on 360], the melee attack enters a special mini cinematic where you’ll see Will brutally punch the closest enemy with results Captain Falcon would be proud of.

See, even though Will is just a normal human man, he somehow manages to have superhuman strength and can often punch Watchers so hard their heads explode. While this is undeniably awesome to watch, it also means the melee attack in Dark Void is way, way overpowered. At many points you can simply use your jetpack to fly around and land near fortified Watcher positions, melee everyone to death, and then just move on without expending a single round of ammo or using the excellent cover system at all.

I suppose it could be argued that the melee attack doesn’t have to used at all and just as it can be used to ignore the gunplay, the gunplay can be used to ignore the melee attack. Regardless on how you choose to play Dark Void, just keep in mind the true power of Will’s fists. While Dark Void doesn’t really have bosses in the traditional sense, it does take some design cues from other popular third person games this generation, notably Star Wars The Force Unleashed. After you have significantly damaged some of the larger watchers, you will see a button prompt that begins a series of quick time events, where just like The Force Unleashed, you get to watch your character preform some fancy moves as they destroy big enemies with style and grace. Before you condemn Dark Void for being yet another quick time event laden game, keep in mind these QTEs are few and far between, and they’re all rather easy, requiring about six or seven button presses at most.

Control

Left Stick: Movement, scroll through menus
D-pad: Scroll through available weapons
Right Stick: Adjust camera
L1: Throw grenade
R1: Unused
L2: Secondary fire
R2: Fire
□: Change clip
Δ: Press to change from standing, hovering and full on jetpack
O: Melee Attack
X: Jump
Start: Pause
Back: View Map
L3/R3: Crouch, Change directions mid-flight
Frustration

Dark Void has an initial control learning curve necessary to get used to the flight controls, which only show up about a third into the game. See, Will has three main movement options – standing and running on the ground, hovering with his jetpack, and outright flying with it. The difference between hovering and flying is that when flying, Will will travel much faster, but running into almost anything is near fatal on all but the easiest difficulty. The game allows players to approach situations however they please which is good, but flying in close quarters requires some skill and will more often than not be even more dangerous than the Watchers.

A larger flaw is with the many glitches you will encounter as you play. I’m not usually one to harp on reoccurring glitches, but Dark Void pushes my tolerance in some less than fun ways. I’ve experienced getting stuck inside objects and even parts of the levels not loading properly, forcing a complete reboot of my PS3. This might only be an isolated issue, but it is mighty annoying given as there is no reset button on these modern consoles.

Availability & Price

Dark Void was released for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 which virtually no difference between the two versions. It can be found fairly commonly at used game shops on both platforms for only $10 or less, or less than $20 brand new.

History

Hyped in the similarly underrated Bionic Commando [next gen], just like that game, Dark Void too saw minimal success on retail shelves, likely due to its proximity to the release of Mass Effect 2 and Bayonetta. Dark Void was further hampered by the fact that Dark Void was so universally slammed by major review publications.

Nevertheless, there are a series of interesting developer blogs for Dark Void watchable on youtube. Here’s a taste of what’s on offer.

After finishing Dark Void, Bear McCreary added a joke track at the end of Dark Void’s credits where he played the main theme song in 8-bit NES Megaman style. Capcom liked the idea so much that produced an April Fool’s joke, showing off a fictitious NES version that they had planned on releasing for the Nintendo Playchoice 10 Arcade Cabinet.

Soon though the idea seemed too good not to follow through with, and an 8-bit style 2D sidescrolling Dark Void “prequel” was released on the DSi shop. The trailer really fills you in on the rest from there.

Ah Capcom, when will you guys stop being such cockteases and actually give us new NES games for real?

Original Advertising

Overall

Good

  • Can be found on the cheap
  • Great concepts all around – virtual cover, jetpack gameplay
  • Players are free to choose how to tackle nearly any situation – by air, behind cover, or with the power of Will’s fists
  • Good controls that make the flight elements fun and enjoyable
  • Great looking graphics
  • Emotionally charged music
  • Some decent voice acting

Bad

  • Many glitches ranging from minor to severe
  • Story is disjointed
  • Some rather awful voice acting
  • The game feels at least an hour too short gameplay wise
  • The ending is abrupt and lame, at least an hour too short storyline wise.
  • There probably will never be a sequel

Conclusion

Despite the obvious problems Dark Void has, the concept is outstanding and the jetpack allows players to form their own solutions to battles. You can use the cover system and play it as a Gears of War style third person shooter, you can fly in and attack land targets as if you were playing a flight sim or any combination of the two at any time. For only $10, I urge anyone who thinks that the game sounds interesting pick it up. Dark Void gets enough right to allow all but the most jaded gamers to be able to overlook most of the flaws and see the unique experience the game offers.

Data

Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360

Genre: Third Person Shooter, Arcade style flight sim

Release Date: January 19, 2010

Developer: Airtight Games

Publisher: Capcom

Also from the developer: Dark Void seems to have been Airtight Game’s first major title

Also try: Gears of War, but only to see how lacking that game is to the verity that Dark Void has

Game Length: ~6 hours

ESRB: T, though I don’t get why. This isn’t exactly a graphic game.

Buy/Skip: Buy