I know I promised the next entry in the Ken B. Ameritrash Hall of Fame this week, but truth is, the article for that simply isn't ready. I don't want to rush these at all, so the column will run next week. I do humbly and sincerely apologize.
Instead, I'll talk about Mortal Kombat on PS3, we've got two Sirlin Games expansions with the Puzzle Strike Upgrade Kit and the Yomi: Cursed mini-expansion, and last but not least, a review of the new game Eruption from Stratus Games. Hopefully, that will be enough to tide you over.
Sun-baked Pavement Encroaches on Us
So I'm three weeks into being a PS3 owner, and man, does it ROCK. I have been so far out of the video game loop these past few years, it's crazy.
I used to be the kind of guy that had to be knee deep in the current generation of systems. Going a year without finding a way to pinch some pennies (or beg Santa) in order to get a new console was...unthinkable.
Of course, the logic is that early console adoption is a young man's game--they can afford to take risks on new technology, and they have the disposable income to do it.
At any rate, I am in hog heaven because the PS3 is pretty freaking awesome. I've been wrangling my way into an instant game collection--through some shrewd trading, a couple of used game pickups, and an Amazon purchase, I've got 15 shiny games lining the cabinet. I've got a lot of catching up to do!
Which I'll get to them all, except...one of the games I picked up on my way back from vacation was Mortal Kombat.
I should try and explain how big of a Mortal Kombat mark I used to be. When the game first came out, I (along with every arcade junkie) was addicted to Street Fighter II. So many sorry clones had come out trying to ride that fighting game wave, so at first Mortal Kombat looked no different. I remember playing it a couple of times at first and writing it off, thinking the gameplay stiff and while the graphics were neat, they were also impractical.
Then I saw someone perform a Fatality. Suddenly, I was interested again. (Yep, that's shallow.) I was hooked. When the home ports came out and the Super Nintendo version was bloodless, I bought a Genesis to play the "real" version.
When Mortal Kombat II came out, the local arcade scene went beyond ga-ga for it. I remember strolling into the arcade and feeding $5 at a time into the quarter machines. In the days before the internet hit big, people would actively trade secret moves, fatalities, babalities, you name it.
The series sort of lost its way for me around Mortal Kombat 3. I enjoyed it okay, but the new character design was crappy, the story was getting ridiculous, and the dial-a-combo system was silly. The move into 3-D over the years didn't really do the series any favors either.
So when I got to play a demo of Mortal Kombat earlier this year, I was *floored* by how good it was. It played like a dream, looked like a million dollars, was new and fresh yet managing to feel like a comfortable old glove. Fluid combos, tight controls, a furious pace, and extremely visceral visuals...incredible is the best way to describe it.
I don't know how they did it, but Mortal Kombat is BACK, baby. And now, there's a new type of story mode that flawlessly integrates thestory with the fighting. Seriously, one second you're looking at a cutscene, the next the camera is panning around and Round 1 begins. I'm about three hours into the story mode and I'm addicted to it.
The new Mortal Kombat cribs a page from Abrams' Star Trek movie. It's the end of the world as we know it, and Shao Khan is beating Raiden to death as the bloody remains of the other Earth warriors lie disembodied everywhere.
Raiden uses his power to send a message back to his past self in an attempt to change the future. All he can manage though is "He must win..." before Shao Khan's hammer pulps his face for the final time.
Due to this, the game drops you into the story just prior to the first Mortal Kombat tournament. Raiden, confused by his visions, is now determined to change the future...if he can only figure out how.
The silliness aside of sending yourself a message that is so ridiculously ambiguous, the game does a great job of cinematically carrying you through those first three Mortal Kombat games. Only now, things can change, as Raiden meddles in an attempt to change the outcome and save the world.
I know it's been out for a few months now, but if you're at all a Mortal Kombat fan, you need to own this game. Thumbs way up.
The Sounds of a Switchblade and a Motorbike
I recently received two of the expansions for Yomi and Puzzle Strike. If you've been reading my columns for awhile, you know I'm a pretty big fan of the Fantasy Strike universe (the setting for all three of Sirlin Games' titles.)
The Yomi: Cursed Cards is totally a fanservice mini-expansion containing hideously underpowered versions of all the main characters. There's a running joke here involving a Capcom character called Dan. Dan was purposefully designed to be terrible, as he was a jab by the designers at all the inferior fighting game clones that came out over the years. Basically, if you could beat someone with Dan, that was the ultimate insult to the person you were playing against.
These Cursed characters are all essentially "Dan" versions of all the main combatants in Yomi. To use this expansion, you simply use this new alternate version as their character card.
Most of these take the form of being inversions of their real powers. Normally, Grave has the ability to search his deck for one of his powerful Queen cards when he meets the right criteria. Now, if you meet that criteria, the opponent gets to search his or her deck instead.
Yes, you read that correctly--you have no power that benefits yourself, and instead have one that helps your opponent.
Jaina's usual ability is the power to buy back moves she's played for the turn, but at the cost of her own hit points. Her cursed version? Your opponent gets to force you to use this buyback ability, and even chooses what gets bought back.
Two cursed characters against each other probably balance each other out with their sheer awfulness. If you're helping your foe while he's helping you, then things should equal out. If you can school a player who's using a normal version, though? You are a Yomi master, bar none.
The mini-expansion is 5 bucks on www.sirlingames.com. It's definitely something for the hardcore Yomi fan. They'll be good for a laugh, or provide you new ways to play the game with severe handicaps. The cards are definitely funny (see Rook: Tiny Golem or Grave's new quote, "My skills are failing, how about yours?") but the are likely more of a novelty for fans.
The Puzzle Strike Upgrade Pack is another matter entirely. Consisting of three new sets of bank chips, a redone set of chips for all the characters in the game, four player screens, and four play mats, the kit retails for $25.
Why was this kit developed? Well, I've done a lot of playing on the online server (http://fantasystrike.com/dev) and while Sirlin did a good job at balancing a lot of the characters, the fact was that one character in particular had risen to dominance, mostly due to people using a chip in a way that seemed unintuitive, but ultimately proved to be abusive.
Once Sirlin had decided he wanted to address this, he also went back and tweaked several of the other characters too. Some for power levels; Valerie's problematic chip was changed to something else entirely, and two of Degrey's character chips received nerfs as well as he was set to be the next dominant guy once Val was dealt with.
Too, the upgrade kit boosts a couple of weaker characters who were lower tier, namely Midori and Geiger. Both now are much better than before.
The three new puzzle chips go a long way to help counter the "purple rush" strategy. One of them punishes the opponent who plays a lot of Combines by feeding you lots of chips in hand. Another is Dashing Strike, an attack that also allows you to slim your gem pile, the big weakness of the red attack chips in the base set. Last is Custom Combo, a crazy chip that grants 15 (!) actions. It's expensive, and the number of free actions is decidedly and intentionally overkill, but what it does is give Combo decks a power chip that lets them play as many actions as they need to.
All of these chips are very much appreciated, but the new shields and playmats are straight up extremely cool. The shields allow players to hide their hand chips rather than forcing them to clutch a fistful of them. These shields are thick and durable, and have awesome video-game inspired art with gameplay tips printed on the inside.
The playmats are essentially mousepads, also with great video-game inspired artwork. These playmats give you a place to put your Gem pile, your Ongoing effects, your discards, and also helpful reminders of turn phases and how many chips to draw based on the height of your Gem pile.
Fans had been designing their own play mats to help them keep things organized, so this is obviously something that they wanted. Now, they have an official version on a durable mat with good design and solid artwork.
The new character chips breathe some new life into several characters while powering down a couple of others. Three new chips don't seem like a lot, but the presence of any one of them in a match can radically change what strategies you can use.
Unlike the Yomi Cursed set, this new Upgrade Pack is a superb addition that takes a great game and makes it even better. At 25 bucks, you're getting a pretty solid deal; the shields and playmats are great, and these new chips really open up the gameplay.
Thumbs in the middle for the Yomi set (based on the level of your fandom), but a huge thumbs up for the Puzzle Strike Upgrade Pack. If you're even just a casual fan, you owe it to yourself to pick this up, pronto.
Seriously...how cool are these? Pretty freaking cool.
I Steal Your Thunder Then I Try to Bolt
(A big thank you to Gamesalute.com, who provided the copy of the game for the following review.)
I know that when I tell you that Eruption is a new tile-laying game, your first impulse is going to be to click that big red 'X' in the upper right-hand corner of your browser.
Hear me out, though. What if I told you that you're laying these tiles to direct the flow of lava into your opponent's villages in an attempt to scorch and cook them all? Does that make it any better?
Eruption is a game for up to six players where each player has a village alone one of the board's edges. On a player's turn, they'll assess how hot their village is getting, draw and place a tile, then opt to use action cards and build walls to help protect them.
During the game, the lava flow tiles shoot off in several different directions, and the only rule really is that you connect the new tile to the existing lava flow. Once players have lava flows touching their village, the temperature starts to rise. As a player's temperature rises, their token will move along the outer track.
When a player enters a new temperature section, if they're the first to do so they'll be granted two things--first, a new ability, second, the power to place a new eruption tile anywhere on the board, which also raises everyone else's temperature by 20 degrees.
The walls can be used to block lava flow touching your village, or built somewhere before that to help discourage other players from directing lava flow your way. The walls are of different strengths, with straw being the weakest and stone being the sturdiest. Any time that lava tries to burst through a wall, you'll dice off with the lava and the wall (a red and white die are both included.) Stronger walls get a bonus, and if the wall can roll higher than the lava, the wall holds. If it doesn't, the lava burns on through, and your villagers are in for a hot time tonight. (HAW!)
Once either the stack of tiles run out, or someone maxes out their temperature gauge, the game ends after another pass through, giving players one more round of cooking and a chance to play some action cards to help themselves out. The player with the lowest temperature at the end, wins. Pretty simple.
There's no denying that the roots of Eruption are Euro in nature, but the game really differs from a lot of other tile-laying games I've been exposed to. Sure, you're building routes and paths just like other games in the genre, but the big difference here is that you're using these tiles to actively attack your opponents. The action cards further keep things spicy by allowing you to rotate or remove certain lava tiles, get free walls, cool down your village, give you additional lava tile placements, and much more.
To me, in spirit the game felt a lot like the old Atari game Warlords, and has a lot in common with the popular "tower defense" games that are plentiful on smart phones and handhelds. Your village is sitting on the outer edge, and as the game progresses flows of lava are going to be headed your way. You'll be using walls, action cards, and creative tile placement to keep the heat off of your village and solidly on someone else's. There are rules to encourage aggression, as the first time a lava flow touches one of the sides of a player's village, the person placing the tile gets a bonus card draw. That means the pressure will usually be on as other players will be looking to score those bonus cards, and you can often entice other players to attack somewhere else just by leaving them some low-hanging fruit in the form of tiles place near other players' villages.
You want the best endorsement as to the game's screwage level? During our lunchtime game, we had a player get visiably angry as multiple players slammed his village with lava. We're talking steam (HAW!) coming out his ears. To really make someone that angry, it can't be that pseudo "I stole your spot" interaction of many hardcore Euros. This game is attack or be attacked, and the designer smartly rewards players for being jerks to each other.
If there are any issues with the game, I think that the Rain card that cools your village down by 30 degrees is a touch too good; essentially a player will horde these if possible and dump a handful of them in the game's final round. The only way to prevent that is to of course horde them when you get them so someone can't pull the same trick. Should someone get all three that are in the deck, they can plummet their temp by 90 degrees in that final turn, and that's an extremely difficult advantage to overcome.
Also, because the game encourages you to attack, you can find yourself ganged up on by the fickle hand of fate. The trade-off is that you'll be able to trigger Eruptions and get additional powers before everyone else, but it can be tough to come back from an early lava pile-on.
All in all, this is a fun game that can be enjoyed by both families and cutthroat gamers. It exists in that same family-style multiplayer "screw over everyone else" style that Survive: Escape From Atlantis has, and while it has much different gameplay, it sort of occupies that same design space. It's not quite as polished as Survive, but that whole tower defense gameplay is going to appeal more strongly to certain types of gamers. The central defense versus more spatial gameplay means that both can comfortably co-exist in the same collection if you're a fan of this type of game. It's not going to win GOTY honors, but it's more fun--and certainly much meaner--than the cartoonish art on the cover indicates. It's definitely worth a look. Thumbs up.
And so another edition of Next of Ken comes to a close. As always, feedback and comments are welcome. Next week--that vaunted second entry to Ken B.'s Ameritrash Hall of Fame. I'll see ya in seven.