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Steve Schardein

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Steve Schardein

About Me

Basic Information

  • Gender

  • Birthday

    18/04/1982
  • Hometown

  • About me

    I like working endlessly and spending money on websites and getting nothing back for it.

Contact Information

Education

Extra Info

  • Web site

    <a href="http://www.digitalchumps.com" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.digitalchumps.com</a>
  • Occupation

  • Interests

Member since
Monday, 17 March 2008 20:00
Last online
1 week ago
  • Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
    The beta is over, and it was 15 million strong; now, we have the product of its revelations. With a thankfully redefined purpose and a much more enticing endgame, Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is probably the game you were hoping for years ago. It’s not about competition, but cooperation. It’s not about methodically stressing over your loot, it’s about the thrill of the hunt. It’s not about rushing to the top, it’s about the sheer enjoyment of the journey itself. It embraces its core competencies and brashly ignores all other complicating factors—and, with few exceptions, it’s a much better game for it.
    5 days ago
  • 1 week ago
  • Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
    The beta is over, and it was 15 million strong; now, we have the product of its revelations. With a thankfully redefined purpose and a much more enticing endgame, Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is probably the game you were hoping for years ago. It’s not about competition, but cooperation. It’s not about methodically stressing over your loot, it’s about the thrill of the hunt. It’s not about rushing to the top, it’s about the sheer enjoyment of the journey itself. It embraces its core competencies and brashly ignores all other complicating factors—and, with few exceptions, it’s a much better game for it.
    1 week ago
  • It is the brilliance of games like this one that makes my position as a humble critic seem worthwhile. No matter your age, interest, or skill level, Super Mario Galaxy is bound to captivate you.
    1 month ago
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
    You might be tempted to overlook Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, but if you did, you’d be missing out on an excellent platforming title with tons of style and polish. While it’s true that it doesn’t explore a lot of new territory, iteration within a genre is only bad to the extent which creativity and permutation are not applied. In other words, if it’s fun and feels fresh enough, it was worth the effort—and Tropical Freeze is every bit as enjoyable as its Wii predecessor.
    2 months ago
  • 2 months ago
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
    You might be tempted to overlook Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, but if you did, you’d be missing out on an excellent platforming title with tons of style and polish. While it’s true that it doesn’t explore a lot of new territory, iteration within a genre is only bad to the extent which creativity and permutation are not applied. In other words, if it’s fun, it was worth the effort—and Tropical Freeze is every bit as enjoyable as its Wii predecessor.
    2 months ago
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

    It’s on like… oh wait, I made that joke three and a half years ago, and it still wasn't funny then

    Hard to believe it’s been three and an half years since Donkey Kong Country Returns landed on the Wii. As gorgeous as DKCR’s 60 frames per second presentation was, it was screaming for a platform that could handle something north of 480p. And hence, in all its 720p glory, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was born, adhering closely to the very same principles that made DKC2 for the SNES a success in the wake of its classic predecessor.

    Things are slightly different from the start this time around. Retro Studios has teamed up with Monster Games (Excitebots: Trick Racing, Pilotwings Resort) for Tropical Freeze, though the game feels true enough to the Wii original that you wouldn’t have guessed it if it wasn’t pointed out to you. In fact, in many ways, it’s even closer in spirit to the 16-bit originals, as beloved composer David Wise (Aquatic Ambience, Stickerbush Symphony, and Fear Factory—to name a few favorites) has returned to collaborate with Kenji Yamamoto on the soundtrack too.

    WiiU DKCTF Jan 17
    The vehicular sequences are back, of course, this time with a twist

    The story is just as appropriately ludicrous, too: some evil feral Viking creatures piloting a fleet of ice ships decide to invade Kong’s world, and thus, the tropical paradise that was Donkey Kong Island becomes layered with thick ice and unfamiliar snowflakes. The frosty menace begins to spread as Kong and the gang work their way back toward the affected areas from islands in the distance.

    In case you’re worried that this means that a large portion of the game takes place in icy environments, let me be the first to dispel your concerns here: only roughly a sixth of the game relies on winter-like conditions. In fact, for the most part, in Tropical Freeze, the basic template remains the same: you still play as Donkey Kong (as opposed to any of his nimbler relatives), and the gameplay very closely parallels the critically-acclaimed design of DKC Returns—that is to say, it feels enough like the DKC SNES games did, but it permutes that design to a sufficient extent such that none of it feels merely iterative. There are still plenty of well-planned and vividly-decorated traditional platforming levels to traverse, decked out with secrets but challenging enough to simply make it through in the first place. Likewise, you’ll find even more mine cart levels along with the cursed barrel rocket courses, lined with enough peripheral cinematic chaos to keep your blood pumping as you race through to the end.

    WiiU DKCTF Jan 22
    Time to invent new curse words.

    In terms of what specific elements of the formula have changed, for starters, Diddy Kong is no longer the only available companion: now, you’ll see Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong equally often. Most of the time, they’re acquirable via DK barrels which rotate through three corresponding colors: pick up the barrel while it’s the right color to score the Kong of your choice. In single-player mode, the second Kong rides on DK’s back, which scores him additional maneuverability in ways specific to each buddy. Diddy Kong still brings his jetpack, whereas Dixie Kong can also flutter DK upward near the end of a jump, and Cranky Kong can pogo off of on hazardous surfaces (i.e. spikes) using his cane.

    Another area where each Kong companion features unique abilities is during underwater segments, which were missing in DKC Returns (some say for the better?). There are quite a few levels where you’ll find yourself mostly underwater, forced to sustain yourself through the use of bubbles scattered throughout the courses. These are still fun but could certainly be labelled the least enjoyable of the bunch—with a few exceptions, where the action is sufficiently hectic and the presentation impressive enough to overcome the cumbersome nature of underwater gameplay. At least swimming is less of a chore when you’re with a buddy in single-player: merely holding A will propel you through the water then, and Cranky Kong can even Judo-chop his way through enemies and obstacles.

    WiiU DKCTF Jan 01
    Water levels: everyone's favorite worst enemy

    There’s only six worlds in the main game this time around too, down from eight in DKCR. However, the number of levels in each world has risen slightly (spanning between seven and eleven—not counting boss stages), and the levels themselves certainly seem longer in Tropical Freeze. There’s also some unlockable content which we won’t mention here, but we will point out that the balance of content has been shifted notably from mainline content to hidden stages: in other words, the full adventure might seem shorter, but only if you don’t take the time to look for secret exits (leading to additional levels) and other goodies.

    And, most importantly, the quality of the levels hasn’t really wavered. One of DKCR’s most impressive accomplishments was the fusion of stunning cinematics and lush environments with fundamentally solid platforming gameplay. Tropical Freeze seems every bit as well-tuned, with meticulously-detailed backgrounds (complete with diverse and dynamic elements, such as barrels and leaves in the backdrop that react to DK’s ground-pounding) and an excessive assortment of ancillary animations, such as customized destructive sequences for when your barrel rocket inevitably explodes into a wooden tower or giant rock, bringing the obstacle down in flames with it.

    Progression through the levels is also ever more unpredictable, with barrels blasting DK every which way, and creative (never obstructive) camera angles accentuating the trip. It’s this sort of generous application of veteran polish in conjunction with the excellent gameplay that makes the overall experience feel so rich and valuable. It’s as dense as it is expansive—and Retro’s brilliance shines through once again, further solidifying their role as the 90s-era Rare of the 2000s.

    WiiU DKCTF Jan 19
    It's different enough, and it's fun. 'Nuff said.

    In terms of challenge, Tropical Freeze kicks it up a notch from DKCR—shockingly. There are now even more secrets lining every stage, with a larger number of secret exits and some really tricky puzzle pieces. Fortunately, you don’t have to find all of it to see all of the game’s stages—just some of it. Without getting specific, the hidden content is brutally difficult too: even tougher than that of DKCR. Less-experienced gamers will appreciate the return of purchasable perks and augmentations in Funky’s shop, ranging from an extra heart to an invincibility potion which kicks in after the first hit.

    In other words, yes, at its heart, this is more of a great thing—and, like nearly all great modern platformers, its brilliance lies less within its foundational design than in the permutation of the basic principles of the genre to produce a unique, fresh-feeling experience in each new level. Tropical Freeze is every bit as successful as DKC Returns when it comes to the overall impression and presentation of its stages, and it’s equally well-designed in the realm of mechanics, too.

    WiiU DKCTF Jan 02
    Funky has been relegated to shop duties. My, how things have changed.

    The six worlds manage a more varied assortment of themes and concepts, too, with such unconventional notions as braving a forest filled with fruit harvesting equipment or platforming (with Rambi the rhino, no less) through tornadic conditions. There’s even an African safari-themed area, complete with cheery chants, dancing trees, and rhythmically bouncing celebratory figures that you have to climb on. And though we love to hate them, the swimming levels feature such memorable sequences as being chased by a massive squid who wants nothing more than to kill you, whether by tentacle or floods of ink. Nearly every level has a scripted excuse of the sort for why you’re dealing with the challenges in front of you, and that’s part of what makes the effort worthwhile.

    Returning once more to the topic of aesthetics, Tropical Freeze is predictably bolstered by its newfound HD chops. It’s one of the most gorgeous games on the Wii U yet, with vibrant, richly-animated sights and a still-fluid 60 fps frame rate underneath it all. But David Wise’s return to the audio team (along with Yamamoto) is equally significant; his contributions in Tropical Freeze feel right at home, almost as if it’s 1994 all over again. With a massive assortment of songs, too, the material never really wears out its welcome. You’ll find equal parts new and remixed, with series favorites like the three songs I mentioned at the beginning of this review receiving extra attention (and frequent interlacing throughout various other tunes in the game).

    WiiU DKCTF Jan 20
    The environment choices are unique and welcomed.

    Songs are highly atmospheric and dynamic as well, frequently shifting their instrumentation and intensity to match the current situation in the stage (i.e., underwater, chaotic, etc.). The only gripe, if any, is the fact that the game relies 100% on MIDI, and not always that of the highest quality. In an age where many games (including most of Nintendo’s flagship titles) are including live instruments and orchestras as parts of their soundtracks, it’s always a bit of a disappointment when we regress once more to merely simulating those things.

    There are a few additional extras, such as collectible artwork, music, and other items, and a Time Trial mode for each of the game’s stages. You’ll also find quick and easy access to leaderboards for each level. But the largest of these is the co-op multiplayer, which works fairly well as long as both players are good enough to progress through the levels (which, again, can get to be very difficult). The camera always follows the player in front in this mode, though it is always possible for the second player to leap onto DK’s back and ride along instead. On vehicular levels (mine carts, rocket barrels, etc), both players ride together—fortunately. The multiplayer doesn’t fare as well as any of the recent Mario titles, but it’s still a fun inclusion.

    WiiU DKCTF Jan 11
    Still gorgeous, but even better in HD.

    All in all, while it doesn’t break a lot of new ground, Tropical Freeze is an excellent HD follow-up to a fantastic Wii game. It’s just one more reason for platforming lovers to consider a Wii U.

    2 months ago
  • 3 months ago
  • Bravely Default: Where the Fairy Flies
    Bravely Default: Where the Fairy Flies is a bit of a return to form, albeit hopefully the rule rather than the exception when it comes to Square-Enix’s future. It is surprisingly adept at fusing classic RPG ingredients with novel refinements, and plus, it wields a story which at first appears traditional but eventually grows horns and attacks you. Its shameless implementation of 90s-era mechanics and design does mean that participants will need to have a love for conventional JRPGs—and perhaps a bit of patience to endure the homogeneity of the first part of the game—but beyond that, Bravely Default is a great experience.
    3 months ago
  • Bravely Default: Where the Fairy Flies

    When all else fails, bravely default.

    A return to form might be one way of phrasing it, albeit hopefully the rule rather than the exception. Square Enix’s 2012 Japanese release might have taken until now to reach American shores, but it feels no less welcomed in its newly-updated three-dimensional splendor, ripe with newness and yet familiarly classic nonetheless.

    I’m talking about a game with a bizarre title—Bravely Default: Where the Fairy Flies—which might very likely fly under your radar as just another ho-hum RPG attempt with pedestrian characters and predictable situations. And it starts out precisely that way, with an opening as conventional as they come by JRPG standards, and a story that really refuses to break the ice until the final half of the game.

    The characters seem to be generic by definition; you have your bull-headed teenage protagonist, Tiz Arrior, who in this case had his start as a lowly shepherd when his brother—along with the rest of his entire town—was swallowed up by a massive sinkhole without warning (miraculously, he was the only survivor). Accompanying him from the very start are three other equally-familiar roles: an innocent vestal of the crystals, Agnès, who soon learns the cruelty of reality outside of her temple; a defector of the Eternian Forces, Edea, whose father is the leader of the oppressive regime; and finally, an amnesiac swinger named Ringabel whose only source of memory is a fascinating journal filled with cryptic and prophetic writings about his life events to come.

    82951 Fieldmap
    The world map is perfectly familiar to genre fans.

    The story gluing these characters together is all the more underwhelming, as the player quickly learns of the existence of four crystals (wind, water, fire, and earth) which are guarded by vestals such as Agnès. Naturally, the adventure consists of travelling the world in search of these crystals (each in its respective elemental temple), as Agnès must rise to the task of awakening them in an era of Crystalist persecution by the so-called Anti-Crystalists. This theme of ideological divide leading to worldwide warfare on the game world’s ancient religion is what underpins the all-too-predictable first half of the game’s narrative.

    The rest of the presentational formula is a throwback as well, whether for good or bad. You’ll find colorful, over-the-top, wicked, and humorous antagonists, who mostly are evil simply for the sake of being called such, and whose character depth typically doesn’t stretch beyond the necessary introductory elements. The environments are just as heavily-themed, and while there are certainly a handful of unique ones, they feel like they were conjured directly from the archives of RPG classics.

    As usual, you’ll start out on foot, roaming the expansive overworld in search of towns, caves, temples, forests, and other similar attractions, before soon enough stumbling across a ship that can both sail and fly to help with your travels. Other familiar staples unapologetically return, ranging from random turn-based battles to item, weapons/armor, and spell shops in towns, to FFV’s Job Class system. It’s a return to JRPG form, and one which immediately makes sense as the successor to 2010’s Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light.

    82950 Map2
    This stunning desert-locked town is home to some amazing 3D moments.

    In other words, more default than brave without a doubt. But the story doesn’t end there—figuratively or literally. Beyond the homogeneous foundation of Bravely Default’s construction lies a considerably more enticing gameplay design that is as intuitive as it is novel. The battles progress by way of a new risk/reward mechanic known as Brave and Default, which provides the player with the power to wager up to four consecutive actions per character even on the first turn of the battle. The way this works is through a tally of BP (or Brave Points), which begins at 0 for each character, increases by 1 with each turn, and decreases by 1 for each action performed—with the exception of defending, which is referred to as Default. If the BP count is negative, the player cannot act until it is once again 0 or higher. But as many as 3 BP can be accumulated at once through the use of consecutive Default actions.

    Essentially what this means is that the player is constantly faced with the question of whether to be proactive or reactive, offensive or defensive. Depending on the foe(s), this strategy will necessarily change. For instance, if you encounter an enemy weak enough to be defeated within four actions of each part member with relative certainty, it’s best to go all in with Braves at the start of the match and flurry him with attacks, spells, and whatever else it takes. On the other hand, if a foe is more formidable, it might be better to go across the board with Defaults until reactive healing or curative procedures are required. A grey area of uncertainty comes into play where the threat of adverse status effects or unclear chances of victory exist, and that’s what makes the approach enjoyable. There is the double benefit of being able to mow through weaker foes, too, without their so much as having a chance to act. Finally, executing Brave a particular number of times also unlocks the opportunity for Special attacks which can be customized by the player outside of the battles.

    82947 Battle06
    Memories of the 1990s dance in our heads.

    Such conveniences as those expedited victories against underpowered monsters are abundant in Bravely Default’s design. Don’t like the frequency of random battles? Turn it down 50 or even 100%, at the expense of gaining what are sure to be valuable levels (and job levels). Hate slow battles? Fast-forward the animations at double or even quadruple the speed by simply using left/right on the D-Pad. Not interested in long-winded character development? Ignore the regular dialogue prompts for Party Chat and stick to the story. Hate not knowing where to go next to advance the story? Be sure to have the map indicators turned on for both primary and side quests and simply follow the icons. Game too hard? Adjust the difficulty on the fly, and do so without fear of being chastised for your inability to cope or grind (the latter of which, fortunately, isn’t usually necessary).

    For all of its archaic sedition, Bravely Default is anything but thoughtless. It quite clearly cares about the player’s experience, and though it feigns loyalty to the RPGs of the 90s, it really does feel refined enough to justify its own place in the lineup. The return of the jobs system, for instance, is handled very well, with 24 classes to choose from, and a secondary class possible for each character with numerous selectable supporting abilities. The optional Auto-Save feature is appreciated too.

    There’s also a host of new ancillary activities which accompany the main adventure. The rebuilding of Tiz’s home town (Norende) is a bit like a real-world-time strategy game, where you must assign workers to build and upgrade particular structures (i.e., item shops and bridges) in pursuit of helpful items and the opportunity to purchase valuable weapons and armor. The workers helping to rebuild are actually folks you’ve StreetPassed or connected with via the internet, which is a neat twist. These same acquaintances can assist you in battle through the use of the Summon Friends command, and you can “send” attacks back their way as well for their own use. You’ll also unlock new elements with which to customize each character’s Special moves—yet another layer of complexity which fans of the classic RPG will surely enjoy.

    82962 Map1
    Hand-drawn plus three-dimensional equals beautiful.

    An aspect that might not be quite as welcomed by some is the addition of microtransactions, though admittedly they are sparse and totally ignorable if you choose. These come by way of SP drinks, which can be used to fast-track your way to victory if you get stuck at a particular battle. SP are actually naturally earned over time while the 3DS is sleeping with Bravely Default intact—eight hours’ time, in fact—but should you find yourself getting impatient and a bit thick in the wallet, Square-Enix wouldn’t mind taking a bit of your money. Each SP you use grants you an additional action for any of your four characters in a battle which does not count toward against your actual BP—basically, a free turn for the chosen character.

    Something else we haven’t yet mentioned is the audiovisual presentation. In short, it’s top-notch. Backgrounds are hand-drawn and painted and then extruded into gorgeous and engulfing three-dimensional life, making every visit to a new area an aesthetic treat. A handful of locations are truly beautiful, too, even if the art occasionally devolves to a more prosaic variety. It is a game that will be enjoyed in 3D, at least at the first visit to each major area.

    Meanwhile, the soundtrack—composed and performed by Japanese musical group Sound Horizon—is dynamic, energetic, occasionally beautiful, and in a few select instances, mind-blowing. Countless samples can be enjoyed on YouTube and elsewhere (where you’ll find live clips of the group playing the music in concert), but don’t spoil too much of it for yourself, as some of it needs to be heard in context with the game’s events to truly realize its full impact. More so than any other RPG to date, this is probably the closest example of a rock-opera-progressive-orchestral fusion in the vein of classic Uematsu as we’ve seen since Final Fantasy VI and VII. Many songs immediately remind of tunes from those games, and one of them is even comparable to Dancing Mad and One Winged Angel.

    82974 Battle09
    With 20-something jobs to choose from, the battles have plenty of depth.

    The game’s dialogue is voice-acted and rather heavy (even side-quests are fully voice-acted). This takes the place of formal FMV-style cut scenes—and for the most part, it’s fine. The voice is a bit of a mixed bag, with some performances frequently over-the-top (Agnès) and others simply generic-sounding (Zatz), but it can be skipped if you choose, and you can even opt for the original Japanese dialogue if you’d prefer it.

    And finally, back to that story we discussed earlier. While it starts predictably, it derails somewhere around the halfway mark and just really goes nuts. That is, around 40 hours in, as this game is long. Did we mention it’s really long? Later events may feel a bit repetitive, to be fair, but then again, they aren’t absolutely necessary unless you are going for completion. Of course, if you don’t, you’ll never see the true ending—so stick with it. It’s completely unexpected and certifiably insane, but then again, it’s just the final surprise to what would too easily otherwise be mistaken as yet another boring attempt at a conventional JRPG. Looks can be deceiving, it proves, and in this case, that’s a very lucky thing for those of us who still appreciate what Square’s past brought to gaming.

    Overall Comment

     

    Gameplay 8

     

    Presentation 9

     

    Value 10

     

    Fun Factor 8

     

    Tilt 10

    Overall: 9 

    3 months ago
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
    Beautiful, fluid, and tactfully modernized, The Wind Waker HD heavily preserves its base while adjusting the ingredients when absolutely necessary to correct the original’s most glaring imperfections. The result is a ten-year old game that feels new, especially if you’ve never played the original—in which case this would be a great time to consider it. Despite some missed opportunities to further improve upon the 2003 classic, this is still the definitive version of the game.
    6 months ago
  • A guest voted as helpful a review, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, written by {target}.
    Beautiful, fluid, and tactfully modernized, The Wind Waker HD heavily preserves its base while adjusting the ingredients when absolutely necessary to correct the original’s most glaring imperfections. The result is a ten-year old game that feels new, especially if you’ve never played the original—in which case this would be a great time to consider it. Despite some missed opportunities to further improve upon the 2003 classic, this is still the definitive version of the game....
    7 months ago
  • Nathaniel Stevens voted as helpful a review, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, written by {target}.
    Beautiful, fluid, and tactfully modernized, The Wind Waker HD heavily preserves its base while adjusting the ingredients when absolutely necessary to correct the original’s most glaring imperfections. The result is a ten-year old game that feels new, especially if you’ve never played the original—in which case this would be a great time to consider it. Despite some missed opportunities to further improve upon the 2003 classic, this is still the definitive version of the game....
    7 months ago

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