Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
Media Vision/Bandai Namco

Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: PS Vita (digital only)
Street: 02.05

Digimon is Bandai’s answer to the Pokemon craze, and back in the late ’90s, it was really the only rival. It started out as Tamagotchi-like virtual pets, morphed into an anime and then joined the world of video games. Unfortunately, they’re hit-or-miss, and without a proven track record like Pokemon, Digimon just couldn’t compete here in the states. There were several games released in Japan that just never made it to us. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth finally got its localization due to the high demand, and for good reason. It’s an intriguing story in which the Digimon are side characters and the stars at the same time.

Your story starts in an online chatroom—you and a few friends are just hanging out when a mysterious figure invites 4 to a shady place in the digital world. As rebellious teenagers, you all decide to go and then it gets real. The random person lured you to the unsafe part of the digital world to brand you as a hacker by giving you the ability to capture Digimon. Digimon are seen as hackers’ minions in society, but it’s still more of a blessing than a curse. You’re jumped by a ridiculously strong Digimon that puts your physical self into a coma, and you somehow exist as a digital copy of yourself in the real world.

It sounds–and looks–crazy. A detective takes a keen interest in your situation, and you begin to work together, earning yourself the title of cyber sleuth. You begin to investigate how the digital world is affecting the real world. The main story is pretty interesting, but occasionally, you have to wander someplace, looking for the right person to talk to, and then just report back. Those side missions get tedious, but at least it’s easy work. Throughout all of those real-world adventures, I was itching to get back to the digital world to play with my Digimon.

As a die hard Pokémon fan, I was a little skeptical of straying from my beloved franchise, but it was a worthwhile trip. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth has a very different take on capturing and training monsters—for starters, they only exist in a digital world, used by hackers in said world. It’s quite the deviation from the anime, where Digimon were paired with the Digidestined—a select group of kids that ended up in the digital world to save it by working with the native Digimon. The other big difference is that Digimon are technically programs—capturing them is more like scanning them until you receive all the data necessary to add them to your Digibank.

The best part is that their evolution isn’t a fixed route. You choose the path your Digimon takes. You can also de-evolve them to increase their max level or take a different path in their evolution. There’s also Digifarms, where you can leave your Digimon to train, find you cases and make you items. You can send quite a few Digimon to the farm to train while you’re sleuthing in the real world or training your main team.

The Digimon piece held the most appeal to me. There was only one small frustration. I trained my Digimon more than pushing the story forward and I ran out of space for Digimon real fast. Since they’re similar to computer programs, they take up a certain amount of memory—the stronger they are, the more memory they take, and you don’t start with much. Other than that, I loved training my monsters and enjoyed discovering all the different Digimon.

While the Digimon piece shines, the rest of Digimon Story doesn’t quite match the same level. The music is annoying, and the graphics aren’t top-notch. They’re not terrible by any means, but they’re more designed for the Vita than the PS4. The turn-based battles get a little repetitive, but that’s mitigated by the fact that you can always acquire more Digimon to grow. The characters are also a mixed bag–some are pretty cool, while others are just flat. That said, it’s worth a play-through for the digimon mechanics alone, but an interesting story and a long journey to collect all the Digimon will keep you interested for hours. – Ashley Lippert

Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition

Gung Ho Online Entertainment, Inc /Nintendo
Reviewed on: 3DS (Exclusive)
Street: 05.22

After playing the Mario version of Puzzles & Dragons, I’m dying to see more Nintendo-fied games. This is a fantastic deal for two great versions of the iPad game Puzzles & Dragons—one with Mario characters and an RPG, Puzzle & Dragons Z. Both versions have the same matching gameplay as the mobile game, but Puzzles & Dragons Z has a few differences to the mechanics outside of battle. Instead of monsters hatching immediately, you have to go to town to hatch them—which isn’t a big thing, but the fact that I can’t take extra monsters that I’ve hatched and apply their XP to my favorite monsters is just irritating. But, Puzzles & Dragons Z has some seriously badass monsters, making it immensely satisfying to take them down. Even with the sweet dragons, the Mario side was still my favorite. It’s more faithful to the mobile way of things—baddies “hatch” immediately, you can take unwanted baddies and give their XP to your faves, etc. It was also a bit more challenging. Both have that great graphic polish you expect from Nintendo—Z has some especially beautiful backgrounds: It’s definitely worth the $30 if you’re a puzzle fan. – Ashley Lippert

Sym screenshot

Sym

Atrax Games / Mastertronic
Reviewed on: PC (Exclusive)
Street: 05.07

The fear of interacting with people can be crippling for those with Social Anxiety Disorder—Sym is about Josh, a boy suffering with this disorder. The whole game feels like you’re walking through Josh’s sketchbook—the graphics look hand drawn, some things are constantly moving and there are words everywhere. You play as two different versions of Josh—a black, stick-like figure that runs around in the world, and a white, cocooned version of himself that delves into the ground, hidden from the world. It’s a great metaphor that happens to make this platformer one of the most interesting games I’ve played—and a little disconcerting at the same time. The gameplay is simple, but it’s far from easy. You have to be very precise to get through all of the levels—one wrong step, and you’re done. My computer is a little too expensive to throw against the wall, but believe me, swear words were yelled. Once you manage to beat the main game, there’s a level editor so you can create your own levels, share them with your steam peeps and play theirs. It’s a great platformer for $8 that may open your eyes to a different perspective. –Ashley Lippert

Random Breakfast

There’s plenty going on in the gaming industry right here in our backyard, and we need to start feeding those flames by supporting local game creators. Many of them get their start at the University of Utah, mostly in the Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE) program. One such group of students has started a small gaming studio called Random Breakfast, and their first game, StepPets, hit the app store on Dec. 1.

StepPets is a side-scroller that involves ador able little animals fighting against an evil asteroid named Jacques. The asteroids constantly get in your way as you run through your levels—you have to smash and jump your way around them. They’ve also integrated with your health app to track your steps, and builds the levels based on what you’ve walked for the day. E.g., if you walk up a lot of hills, that’s what you’re going to find in your levels. The game rewards you with coins every time you hit your step goals that you can use to buy new pets and themes.

(L–R) Random Breakfast team. Binoy Mohanty, Tim Cooley, Topher Nadauld, Eleora NelsonRandom Breakfast has four members: Tim Cooley (CEO), Binoy Mohanty (Engineer), Topher Nadauld (Producer) and SLUG illustrator Eleora Nelson (Creative Director). Cooley, Mohanty and Nadauld were on the project from the beginning, and Nelson joined just a few months later. It all started with Cooley and his passion for fitness and wanting to do something different with it. He went to his buddies Mohanty and Nadauld to hash out some ideas for a game that eventually evolved into the current incarnation.

When Random Breakfast first started on their game in July of 2014, the idea was to walk a virtual animal, similar to the Tamagotchi craze back in the day. The idea morphed to the side-scroller when they took the game to their advisor. He posed a very important question to the team, “Why would I do this?” The team came back together to figure out not just how to make someone come back, but how to make the game fun. Random Breakfast decided on a side-scroller with one touch mechanics.

Random BreakfastFirst things first with any venture—funding. Random Breakfast got a total of $15,000 from programs like Bench2Bedside, Get Seeded and Games4Health. In the Bench2Bedside competition in May of 2015, Random Breakfast caught the eye of Zions Bank, specifically Scott Anderson and Mike Winder. They loved StepPets so much, they gave the team a grant of $20,000, which became the main source of funding for the game. Nelson says, “It was more like the idea that they wanted to fund. At the time, we didn’t have health integration, and it was just a jumper.”

Most places don’t just give out money for nothing—Get Seeded wanted a plan; Bench2Bedside wanted to see what you could do with $500; and Games4Health was a competition that Random Breakfast took second in. Random Breakfast also competed in Bench2Bedside and won another $500 from there, but they didn’t win that competition. Zions Bank’s money was definitely their ship coming in, though. Nelson says, “When we got the 20,000 dollars from Zions, it was just straight-up money,” she says. “We still ended up winning.”

Random BreakfastTwenty thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money—and it is, to the average person. To a four-person company however, it’s barely enough. There are salaries to distribute, taxes to pay, rent on a space and all sorts of incidentals. Cooley managed to stretch that money for a respectable seven months, but he still looked into crowdfunding, although the company ultimately decided against that route. Cooley says, “It’s really challenging, especially in games. A lot of people don’t end up actually giving the money anyway. Some people we spoke to didn’t even get 50 percent of what people pledged.” Once Random Breakfast finally got that major chunk of funding from Zions Bank, it was time to really sit down and get the final version of the game built. Once everyone could sit down together and talk, it changed so fast,” Cooley says. “It was amazing.”

One of the big complaints about working for the gaming industry is the long hours and ridiculous time crunch that happens right before shipping. Just because Random Breakfast is small doesn’t mean it’s immune to those pressures. Random Breakfast felt like they had to ship by October so they would have enough funding, but they couldn’t get the game ready in time and pushed their soft release back a month. They experienced a time crunch right before the game’s soft release. It was a learning experience. “We actively tried to avoid it,” says Cooley. “It got to be in a place where the game suffered and we suffered. We’ve been pretty good since—it helped us manage time and expectations better. I hope we never have to do that again.” Nelson also added, “It’s not healthy for your body or your mindset about your game. Before that we thought our game was fun and we loved working on it. That night, everyone hated it. We didn’t think we should feel this way about our project.”

Random BreakfastIt all worked out in the end. Random Breakfast launched on the iOS on Dec. 1, and their numbers are slowly ticking up, for good reason. The game is fun and quirky, and the pets are adorable. Nelson did a great job with the animation and the art style. It’s a great game to pass the time, and it actually made me want to walk more to hit my goals to get coins to unlock new pets and levels.

Random Breakfast are working on their Android version and constantly improving on their current iOS version. These guys are a perfect example as to why Utah is becoming a breeding ground for game developers. Nelson says, “It’s cheaper to employ people cheaper to produce games, as well as just be in a space. We have a lot of successful gaming companies. We also have these UDEN (Utah digital entertainment network) meetings. I learn so much, and it’s really cool that they’re trying to promote the networking and the digital production and make it more of a valuable investment to hire out of Utah and make companies here. I think it’s on the way.”

Ripper Street: Season Three

BBC/Warner
Street: 06.23

I’ve always been a sucker for procedurals, especially when there’s an excellent cast with some chemistry. Ripper Street is a bit more old-school than other procedurals since it’s set in the time of Jack the Ripper in 1889, but it’s still entertaining. Matthew MacFadyen, from a recent Pride and Prejudice, along with Jerome Flynn, whom I adore from Game of Thrones, are the best part of the show as the main characters, Edmund Reid and Bennet Drake. They’re great together, and they have some great arcs in this season—I love the picture of them carrying the shotguns in their snazzy trench coats. The other main pair in the show is Adam Rothenberg and MyAnna Buring as the estranged married couple, Captain Homer Jackson and Long Susan. Buring has the best story of the season with a satisfying conclusion, and she has some great moments with Rothenberg and MacFadyen. My only complaint was a character only seemed to show up to further the season’s storyline instead of being developed. Season three is a great entry in the series with many “WTF” moments that will keep you watching until the end. –Ashley Lippert

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Pulverizer Power

Nickelodeon
Street: 06.09

Growing up, I watched all the geeky Saturday morning cartoons I could—X-Men, Batman, Spiderman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were my favorites. This new Nickelodeon version of the turtles is actually pretty awesome. I haven’t seen a whole ton, but what I have seen, I’ve loved. This set is only three episodes featuring an idiot version of a vigilante called the Pulverizer. As with most unprofessionals, he screws up way more than he helps and just gets in the way of the real heroes. He’s insufferable, which in turn makes most of the 70 minutes on the DVD just terrible and definitely not worth the $8. I would just get all of Season One, where two out of three episodes are from, and watch it all together so the moron isn’t center stage. Why the hell they felt he warranted his own DVD set is beyond me. – Ashley Lippert

Jurassic Park

LEGO Jurassic World
Traveller’s Tales / Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also on: PC, OS X, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Xbox 360
Street: 06.12

My reason for picking up LEGO Jurassic World was more or less the same reason I watched Jurassic World—trained velociraptors. They’ve always been my favorite dinosaur, and playing a LEGO velociraptor—any dinosaur really—was the highlight of the game for me. Running amok as one in Free Play was amazing. This is a combination of all four movies of the Jurassic Park series—Jurassic Park and Jurassic World are available immediately after working through the first little bit of Jurassic Park. Playing through LEGO versions of one my favorite series was as much fun as it was nostalgic—especially Jurassic Park. LEGO Ian Malcolm was my favorite, acting even crazier than his movie counterpart, which genuinely made me giggle. Some of it comes off as way too cheesy, but it’s to be expected. I also encountered a few glitches—I managed to make the gyrosphere vanish at one point, like magic! Since I still need it to complete the level, I was forced to restart. I also managed to get a character trapped in the air—physics engines are fun, kids! It’s not an amazing game by any means, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. –Ashley Lippert

Moonrise
Undead Labs

Reviewed on: PC
Also on: iOS/Android (TBA)
Street: 5.27

I’ve played Moonrise at a few PAXes, and I couldn’t wait for some uninterrupted gameplay. In Moonrise, you’re a warden that cleanses Lunari and converts them back to their friendly, Solari selves. Every so often, the moon rises and causes the Solari to turn vicious, and it’s your job to cure them by beating them to a pulp with your own Solari. You can “catch” Solari, just like any other monster collecting game, but herein lies the rub. You only get four keys to catch the Solari and, once you use one, it’s 30 minutes until it regenerates. Naturally, there’s gems you can use to assuage your impatience, but the fact that it’s there when the game is already $15 feels a bit money-hungry. You don’t need to spend real world money to win by any means—it’s a minor irritation, and I’m annoyed more on principle than anything. There’s no sense of adventure since you can’t really explore the world—you only tap places to do battle. The monsters are the prettiest part of the game, but it’s just not enough to offset the lack of a beautiful world to explore. It’s a decent distraction, but it’s not worth $15. –Ashley Lippert

Splatoon

Splatoon
Nintendo EAD Group No. 2/Nintendo

Reviewed on: Wii U (Exclusive)
Street: 05.29

Splatoon is Nintendo’s odd take on a shooter—instead of bullets, you’re shooting ink everywhere. You’re a humanoid that can transform into a squid and swim in said ink—you have to. It’s how you refill “ammo.” It’s so ridiculously weird, but it works. As of this review, there are only two ways to play online and both are 4 vs. 4 battles—Turf Wars and Ranked Battles. Turf Wars are centered around getting the most ink everywhere, while in Ranked Battles, you want to “own” certain spaces of the map. To get into the ranked battles, you need to work your way up to level 10 by beating the crap out of everyone in Turf Wars. Connectivity wasn’t a huge issue, but there were times I got kicked out in the middle of a game, or it wouldn’t connect at all. During peak hours, there was some lag that also frustrated the fuck out of me. Other than that, it’s goddamned beautiful, and the single-player campaign is a small, six-hour adventure—clearly not the focus—but the levels were excellent, and it’s worth a play-through. Splatoon is a game you need, but maybe not right now. –Ashley Lippert

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Return to NYC

Nickelodeon
Street: 07.14

The last DVD set I reviewed for the Ninja Turtles was pretty terrible—thankfully, this is a return to the great show that I love. The turtles spend one final episode wandering the woods, conquering their inner demons before coming up with a plan to get back into New York and take it back from the Krang. It was a great half of a season—all of the ol villains are back, some old frienemies show up to help save the day and it’s good ol’, action-packed fun. The turtles break through enemy lines and begin looking for Splinter and figuring out how to beat the baddies. Shredder is a bit overshadowed by the Krang, but at the end of the season, there’s a great setup for him as the main villain. It was full of appearances that got some great reactions from our heroes that I won’t spoil. This is definitely the better half of the season, and I loved it. It’s got the same “Mutation of a Scene” special features that the other season DVD sets. It’s a great set to pick up for the kids, and for yourself, if you’re an old-school fan. –Ashley Lippert