Prototype

Prototype answers the question of what happens when you make a sandbox game that not only has little punishment for causing destruction, but encourages it. Where other games would quickly spell game over if you caused havoc on the general population, this game gives you experience and skill points for doing so. But the game is far more than just some murder simulator, there is a point to all the madness you cause.

New York. Only slightly more violent than it's real life counterpart.
New York. Only slightly more violent than it's real life counterpart.

Prototype starts out in a chaotic battlefield in what remains of Manhattan, New York. You play as a fully powered Alex Mercer who is fighting both the army and infected citizens. The tutorial type level ends before you get totally overwhelmed by all the powers at your disposal and quickly rewinds to the beginning of the story. Through various flashbacks and flash-forwards, we learn that a virus is spreading throughout Manhattan that turns people into mindless monsters. Alex is also infected with it, but for some reason it has granted him superhuman and shape shifting abilities. Alex also has a nasty case of amnesia, so it’s a good thing he is able to absorb people and their memories which slowly restores his memory as you progress through the game.

You can easily travel to the top of any of the buildings.
You can easily travel to the top of any of the buildings.

Gameplay is broken up into a series of chapters. Each chapter has one main mission that must be completed before you can move on. However, you can spend as much time doing whatever you want before taking on these main missions. In the early parts of the game, it’ll usually be side-missions that involve killing enemies or running through a small part of the city within a certain amount of time. However, as the game progresses so do the number of things you can do in the open world. You can seek out and destroy infected hives or sneak into and infiltrate army bases. The variety does tend to die down about halfway through the game and you may find yourself skipping it to get to the main mission.

Movement is fluid and frustrating at the same time.
Movement is fluid and frustrating at the same time.

Alex controls fluidly to a fault. His main method of traveling is simply running and jumping. Like a parkour practitioner on speed, he is able to run up the sides of buildings, launch himself over another and glide across city blocks. This method of travel feels very smooth, but you can’t help but wish there was a speedier way to get from point A to point B sometimes. Also, running up buildings is twitchy at times, you’ll be running in a straight line and veering off even in the slightest direction can send you horribly off course. In addition to just running and gliding across the city, Alex can also hijack army tanks and helicopters as well. These tools of destruction add some variety to the basic hack and slash combat, and there is something satisfying about taking down army bases and infected hives with them.

Combat is a gruesome affair.
Combat is a gruesome affair.

Similarly, combat is also fluid to a fault. Alex can shape-shift his body into a number of melee weapons you might expect in any kind of action game, the balanced one, the fast but weak, and  the slow but powerful among others. Alex can perform simple 3 hit combos, but things get really interesting when you start powering up your abilities. Nothing is more satisfying than killing off thirty infected with one screen clearing move. Enemies range from one hit kill fodder, to larger beasts that will relentlessly follow you to army tanks and helicopters. Combat will frustrate you at many times during the missions. The problem is you are just one person against numerous waves of enemies. Even with Alex’s powers, he is still within a fragile body. One mission, for example, has you destroying waves of tanks. Normally fighting against one or two tanks is not much of an issue, but when you are trying to handle four tanks, plus infected who won’t let up attacking you, trying to avoid rocket launcher shots and fire from helicopters, you end up the victim of many cheap shots. Most of these frustrating moments are contained within the missions, so you can always get your destructive nature on outside of them and not feel like you’re constantly fighting against an overpowered AI.

Destruction from above in a hijacked helicopter.
Destruction from above in a hijacked helicopter.

Honestly, the most fun I had with this game was outside of missions. While Manhattan is nowhere near as large as say Liberty City, there’s still a decent amount of space to play around in. However, don’t expect any semblance of realism among its citizens. As you progress through the game, the island gets quarantined off and more and more of the populous come infected. Infected parts of the city are rampant with chaos as the few normal people run for their lives and the army tries to fight off the horde. However, on the flip side, the neighborhoods that remain uninfected always remain calm and collected. They go about their normal lives as if they aren’t trapped on an island with no way of escaping and death just a few blocks away. They also must have seen some amazing things in their days to not react at all to someone running up the side of a building and gliding halfway across the city.

There are worse ways to go in Prototype than getting your ribcage smashed in.
There are worse ways to go in Prototype than getting your ribcage smashed in.

Overall the story is what is going to get you through mission mode, and not to spoil the end, but it will probably leave you more confused than anything. The carnage and destruction are really the highlights of this game and to its credit it does it well. However, this charm has diminishing returns and soon you’ll be wishing it had a little more substance. Still, the idea of Devil May Cry meets Grand Theft Auto is merit enough to play the game, just make sure to monitor your stress levels while playing. 

The World Ends With You

Square Enix is known for milking any series with the words Final and Fantasy, in the title. So imagine my surprise when they announced a new RPG for the Nintendo DS would be an original IP. The World Ends With You was developed by the same team who created the Kingdom Hearts series, but outside of some similar character designs it is quite a different departure. However there’s a reason why Square Enix tends to stick with time tested IP’s as original stuff sometimes misses the mark in a bad way. So is The World Ends With You another smash hit like Kingdom Hearts or do we have another The Bouncer on our hands?

Shibuya. Always the hip happening place to be.
Shibuya. Always the hip happening place.

The World Ends with You is not your typical group of teenage stereotypes saves the world from evil forces storyline. It refreshingly takes place in modern day Shibuya, Japan and immediately introduces you to main character, Neku Sakuraba. He wakes up in a busy crossroad of Shibuya, voices in his head, little memory of how he got there and a text message on his phone saying if he doesn’t get to a certain area within 60 minutes he will face erasure. Brushing it off as a joke, he soon realizes it is real as a timer displaying 60 minutes appears on his hand. You soon learn that Neku is part of a game in which he and the other players are fighting for their lives against a group of people who call themselves Reapers. As you progress through the game the mystery slowly and slowly unravels itself never fully explaining itself until literally the last boss.

This story is both simple at its core and incredibly deep and profound if you wish to explore it in depth. At its heart this game is a mystery novel that throws just enough questions at you to feel compelled to play more, but not so much that you get bogged down or confused. I can honestly say that I was surprised at the ending and even more surprised when I read the epilogue of sorts.

Neku and Shiki are shocked to find they are sent on another kill quest.
Neku and Shiki are shocked to find they are sent on another kill quest.

I found the characters to be really likeable. Each one has their reason for being part of the game and you really feel for them when you find out why it is. Neku in particular was a great example of how to make a Square Enix emo character. I felt he had great character development without feeling like they forced a personality change into him. I remember not being able to stand Neku at the beginning of the game and slowly over the course of the game found myself cheering for him. I also remember making a big fuss about how if the characters were older I could relate to them more, but eventually I realized that even though the characters are in their teens, they feel almost ageless so it really became a non-issue for me.

Trust me, leave the AI on auto attack.
Trust me, leave the AI on auto attack.

Gameplay wise, The World Ends With You uses unique ways to take advantage of the NDS. During battles you have both a top and bottom screen. The top screen shows your partner and the bottom screen is Neku. You control both players at the same time with the d-pad controlling the top and touch screen based actions controlling the bottom. This initially starts you off with a huge learning curve as paying attention to both screens is quite difficult. Luckily you have the option of having the top screen go on auto-attack and honestly you never really have to control them.

Utilizing different pins keeps a fresh spin on battling.
Utilizing different pins keeps a fresh spin on battling.

Neku must equip different pins in order to attack and that changes the way you interact with the touch screen. Some pins will make you slash with the stylus, some will make you tap the stylus and some even make use of the microphone. It’s great to see a game actually integrate the touch screen controls instead of feeling like they were tacked on. There are many other little gameplay touches that make the game feel unique, such as eating food to increase your stats, decreasing your levels and being weaker in order to get more pins to use, different clothing brands that reflect equipment and pins that get stronger or weaker depending on what style is hot in the area you are in, and even a built-in mini game that can be described as marbles on crack.

Nothing screams out fear more than a barrage of giant stuffed plushes!
Nothing screams out fear more than a barrage of giant stuffed plushes!

After you beat the game you can come back and replay the chapters in the game to access additional storyline content. In addition there’s one mode where you play through a day with the characters as they exist in an alternate universe which ends up being really humorous. These do add a bit of replay value, but if you really just want the story and don’t feel like playing through the same game again, just do what I did and check out spoilers online. You’ll see how deep the storyline can really be for this game.

Overall, I feel the Kingdom Hearts development team hit it out of the park with this one. It was refreshing that it broke many JRPG stereotypes and it goes to show that new IP can be a success if done right. I realize the game is over a year old by this point, but if you missed out on it the first time around I highly recommend you pick it up and add it to your DS collection.