Video Games

Year of the Brawler Part IV: God of War Ascension

There's a cold war going on in the arena of the modern brawler video game - East vs. West. While we could say that the Eastern hack and slash games could be represented by Team Ninja and Platinum - with their manic inclination toward speed, insanity, and difficulty levels bordering on impregnable, we could just as well say that the Western brawler has its formidable war-chieftain in Kratos. A deicidal Spartan soldier who came pretty much out of nowhere, sold billions of copies of Playstation discs, and has spawned entire legions of imitators.

Though I may prefer the intricacy and steep learning curve of the state-of-the-art Asian brawler, there's no denying God of War's impact on the gaming world. If imitation is the best form of flattery, then consider Santa Monica Studio's Spartan brute the most flattered creature in the digital realm. Kratos's game has certainly had his share of clones. Dante's Inferno. X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Too Human. The best of the copycats being Konami's outstanding Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series. (which we will get into further once Lords of Shadow 2 is released next winter) God of War has taken the brawling world by storm, both financially and by pure reputation alone.

What the God of War series has lacked in complexity it has more than made up for in attitude. Kratos's adventures are plodding, bloody forays into the extremities of pagan horror and warfare. Someday there may be a character more celestially constipated than Kratos - but for now he's the angriest demigod running in the brawler genre.

Kratos is a hammer - and almost everything else in ancient Greece is a nail.

The God of War experience has mostly been a defensive game. Kratos scourges his enemies with his chain blades as they press in from all sides, beating them mercilessly and slowing their advance until a prompt alerts the player that they can move in for a QTE or finishing move. He can roll out of the way of attacks with the left thumbstick, and block, and that was pretty much the entire fight menu for the original - and still my favorite of the series - game. What we didn't know at the time was that God of War pretty much ran out of useful additions to its combat formula by God of War II. The Golden Fleece's parry was a terrific addition to Dave Jaffe's original system, and advanced the range of damage that Kratos could do, as well as give the demigod a much needed counter to ranged attacks.

There's been plenty of flair combined with the combat system Jaffe originally built back in 2005, ranged attacks, a batch of new weapons for God of War III, but as for God of War Ascension...?

Say goodbye to almost everything that got this franchise to a sixth title. We're back to basics in this prequel. Kratos has the Blades of Chaos, and only the Blades of Chaos, to help him on his path to butchering man, beast, and godling. He can still counter moves, but because for the first time in the franchise the parry requires two button presses (L1 and X) it's a stingy feat to pull off correctly. What makes the new counter even worse is that Kratos takes a second to recover after a misfire - meaning that a blown parry will lead to a beatdown by every enemy in his vicinity. It's not so much risk versus reward as it is pure risk. Take it from a guy who finally tamed Metal Gear Rising's much maligned parry system - I couldn't nail a counter with any degree of success in Ascension, no matter how many times I tried it. And you'd be surprised by how many times when I managed to tag the timing correctly Kratos's counter-attack would completely miss his opponent, rendering it a neutered move entirely.

There's been some discussion about a certain section of God of War Ascension labeled "The Trial of Archimedes." It's a triple-tiered fight with Ascension's cheapest collection of heavy hitters, and no health restoration until completion. Kratos is given very little ground to stand on as wave after wave of enemies assault him with tactical strikes that can cover the entire area of the battle arena. Meaning: There is no safe ground during this difficult portion of the game. I took a run at the Trial of Archimedes at least thirty times before figuring out the secret of defeating it...

Spamming the magic will get you to the finish line.

Brawling purists usually avoid battering opponents with magic attacks - or at least this one does. There's not much fun in tapping the win button to get a player out of trouble. Usually mastery of a smart combat system is all a skilled player needs to defeat most obstacles a game might put in front of him - even something as indomitable as the Trial of Archimedes. But because the enemy variety by this point in the campaign cannot be grappled with, (and one of this game's cooler additions where Kratos can "leash" an enemy with one of his Blades and still beat back other unfriendlies with his second Blade is completely nullified by the second half of Ascension) and their attacks take up the entire breadth of the battleground, surviving without beating on the magic attack button is pretty much impossible. It's the cheapest section of the game, so players need to think cheap to win. Which means hammering the magic attack over and over again until the trial is conquered.

We talked a great deal about why the sense of personal accomplishment is essential in gaming in Year of the Brawler III. Frying whole packages of bad guys with the magic button adds little to a sense of achievement.

Santa Monica's given Kratos the ability this time around to decay and rebuild ancient structures using the Amulet of Uroborus. Like everything else in this game the use of the amulet is pretty much fashion over function - meaning that it looks fantastic, (and if Ascension gets points for anything it is her looks and amazing enemy design) but as a function grows needless and tiresome quickly.

It's in this game to enhance the puzzles the player is forced to solve along his route to the conclusion. Not only are the puzzles in Ascension too numerous, (it feels like this game is 65% combat, 35% riddle solving) they're too - for lack of a better term - puzzling. Coming fresh out of playing Square Enix's Tomb Raider, (an early contender for game of the year if I have a vote) where the puzzles are both complex and logical, I hit a wall in God of War Ascension every time I ran into an area that Santa Monica Studios forced a puzzle on me. I've never really liked puzzles dampening the fury and flow of my brawler gaming experience anyway, and I really don't like it when I feel like I'm at the mercy of a game developer who hasn't yet grasped the delicate art of enigmatology, causing me to waste hours better spent gutting centaurs moving blocks around and decaying rubble in the desperate hope that something I do will unlock the route to the next battleground.

And since I brought her up...

The God of War franchise has much in common with Tomb Raider. I believe we're at the point of critical mass with this series as we were about twelve years ago with the Tomb Raider series. God of War feels too old hat. Too glib. Too perfunctory at this point.  This series needs an overhaul much like Square Enix provided for Lara Croft this year. Just like Lara, Kratos is a great character, but you can't help but feel that with every game we're treated to the same dish Sony served us back in 2005 - but with different garnishes added to the plate to give us the illusion of progress.

We've had a bit of a brawling bubble in 2013, after DMC and Metal Gear Rising it was foolish to believe that every brawler released this year was going to knock the ball out of the park like those two games did. God Of War Ascension isn't a misstep as much as it is a reminder that even the most successful franchises can get stagnant if left complacent. It's too early to call the Brawler Cold War in favor of the Eastern gaming masters just yet, but with God Of War's limp addition to the year in brawling, this is the East's war to lose.

The Year of the Brawler Part III: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

In what might be the greatest written review of any video game - Hammish Todd's review of Clover Studio's God Hand - the clever author states that God Hand would never lie to you. What I think he means is that the current gaming trend is building bigger and prettier gaming worlds, (of which no person in their right mind would ever accuse God Hand of having) while robbing us of anything close to personal choice and freedom. And not just that, but robbing us of that rare commodity in contemporary gaming... accomplishment. Which, if you've played God Hand for any length of time you know that it's a game that doles out personal triumphs almost as much as it does snickers and punishment.

You can beat most of this new batch of console games - but did you really beat the game? Or was it all a terrible lie?

Game designers are supposed to design the system for players to beat. Or at least that used to be the paradigm. Now it seems like they want to control every nano bite of the action on our flat screen televisions. Action set pieces have gotten more grand - and in turn, less interactive. And QT events now comprise entire video games, (Heavy Rain and Walking Dead) and the hardcore video gamer can't help but feel a bit hoodwinked by it all.

Brawlers are an intolerant system, set up and set in place for gamers to sharpen themselves against, honing their reaction time and skills until they finally hit the apex of what the game requires of them to be defeated. You can't stroll through the latest Devil May Cry game. You can't stroll through Portal or Demon Souls. (neither being brawlers, but I'm hoping you get why I brought them up here) You certainly can't stroll through God Hand. (we'll discuss the mighty Hand a bit further when we finally get to Remember Me later on in June this year) Metal Gear Rising is built with the same digital prejudice. It doesn't like the player beating it very much. It might not even like the player come to think of it.

Revengeance is an untamed mustang - kicking and snorting and biting - and it is our duty as console cowboys to break it.

Put simply - and frankly, put better than probably anyone will ever put it...

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance doesn't lie to you.

When you finally pull off your first successful parry, your first successful Zandatsu, (explained below) when you finally beat any one of its eight bosses, you've furthered your strengths as a Revengeance player. By the time you've begun to master the controls in this game - and for me it felt like it happened two hours into my second playthrough on "Hard" mode - you feel invincible. Like a cybernetic ballerina spitting dismemberment and death to anyone, or anything, self-destructive enough to ask you for a dance.

Of course if we can accuse anyone of sticking their big fat hands in and interrupting the natural flow of our gaming experiences we can obviously point to Hideo Kojima. His Metal Gear series is notoriously fussy. The breaks of gaming genius constantly invaded by epic cut scenes, needless advice, nagging codec chirps with fatuous observations on war, women, and geopolitical babble that doesn't mean anything to the people with the controllers cooling in their hands, but seems to mean absolutely everything to the guy telling the story. Thankfully Hideo's allowed another designer to play in his sandbox. Bayonetta studio, (and Anarchy Reigns studio...) Platinum is dealing the cards for this table game of cybernetic military contractors and super-powered sword combat.

Which means that shit gets crazy. Platinum crazy. The main story involves private military contractors stealing the brains out of Mexican orphans.... so yeah... we're in Platinum country here.

Not content with having an action lead that swings a sword using only his hands, Platinum's given Raiden the ability to lock the sword to his legs as well causing all kind of interesting looking combinations. If you've played Team Ninja's Ninja Gaiden games (which we will be discussing further when Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge is released in April) then the combat system in Metal Gear Rising should be easily approachable. You can build on your move sets through upgrade purchases, but the core system is perfectly lethal right out of the box.

It's the additions that this particular brawler bring to the table that make Revengeance something a bit more interesting than the average brawler. They've added the "Ninja Run" (the R1 trigger on your DualShock controller) which means that Raiden takes off running like a rocket ship, and will automatically duck and dive over terrain and deflect bullets with his sword. What this means is that open combat can build up some frenetic speed as players tear up the pavement, hacking and sliding past enemies - some of them as tall as buildings.

Things get even more interesting when you add the (should be...) patented "Blade Mode." Hit the L1 trigger during a slide or an aerial maneuver and time slows dramatically while your left thumb stick becomes the striking-angle of your katana blade. You're then free to slice anything in range, from any angle. The results can be spectacular, and totally devastating to any villain caught within arm's reach. The real beauty of Blade Mode comes when you weaken an enemy enough to pull off a Zandatsu.

The Zandatsu is the endorphin pellet feeder in Metal Gear Rising. It's the perfect Hell Yeah moment. The perfect reward for kicking ass. A miniature orgasm for the pleasure center of your brain if you will... and it never loses its wallop no matter how many times you manage to pull it off.

Using Blade Mode you can aim your strike toward a small hit-box on a weakened enemy stuck in temporal molasses. Hit the box directly and Raiden will snatch the glowing blue spinal column out of the cyborg's body and crush it, releasing blue electrolytes into Raiden's cybernetic fuel stores replenishing them and refilling his health bar. The Zandatsu is like a blast of pure Gatorade - it's always refreshing.

Blade Mode isn't so easy to grasp the first few times you try it. It's unwieldy and weird - like someone tossed a game of Milton Bradley's Operation into your hack and slash game. But put it into practice a couple thousand times as the campaign rolls on and you'll be snapping off Zandatsus at will.

As the game progresses and the difficulty ramps up, and health pick-ups run scarcer, Raiden will need to pull off the Zandatsu just to stay afloat. (I get the feeling that playing on the "Very Hard" setting this might be the only way to refuel) Which turns the ninja into a cannibal vampire - feeding off his cyber-brother's fuel stores just to maintain his own. It's a risk/reward wonderland.

Platinum's kept the stealth mechanic that made the Metal Gear franchise famous. There are some instances where you'll really want to use it - some of the cybernetic life-forms in Rising are extremely tough all on their own, add two or three of them to the mix and you'll be taking a beating there might not be any walking away from. So it's a good idea to cull the herd down to a more manageable number, and then pick a fight.

Complaints have been made about the parry system. It isn't a simple button press in Revengeance - it's an attack button and the direction of the attack you want to parry. It's extremely sensitive, and you're going to feel kind of hit and miss with it until, after hours of being the brunt of missed-parry-abuses, you'll finally start connecting with the flow of the move.

I personally liked how I wasn't able to tack down everything this game offered in the first few levels. That it took playtime and growth before I felt like I was blocking and redistributing strikes with ease. If you're not willing to go through that kind of frustration and torture Metal Gear Rising also features a Defense/Offense move you can buy as an upgrade - which makes it much easier to get out of the way of an enemies swing, but you'll be missing out on some of the more crazy Zandatsu acrobatics if you don't learn to stick your basic parries. Block at the last second and a Zandatsu prompt pops up on the screen leading to all kinds of sweet looking finishes. (and thus more miniature pleasure center orgasms)

If I were making any complaints about the game I'd add that the relationship between the lock-on and the camera is a stormy one. Sometimes - and it could be because of the mania, the speed and opponent variety, of the campaign - it's next to impossible to know where everyone is at any given time. This can lead to some cheap shots that the player couldn't possibly see coming. That being said, nothing drove me more crazy than how easy it was to knock Raiden out, leaving him a dizzy punching bag on the battlefield. If you get knocked out during a face-off with some of Rising's stronger opponents in the latter half of the game, expect to get pummeled, then knocked unconscious again, and again, and again, till you die.

Which is about as fun to play as it sounds.

The campaign's relatively short - it's a heavy five hours, but it's still only five hours long. I've been replaying it on tougher difficulties and haven't grown bored with it as of yet. In fact, I'm still discovering new things about this game every minute I spend tinkering around with it. Platinum's releasing two new DLC packs, allowing the player to play as Jetstream Sam (awesome) and Bladewolf, (really awesome) so Metal Gear Rising's still got some legs for the near future.

I can only hope that Platinum and Kojima have a sequel in the works for Metal Gear Revengeance. They've got the basic blue-print for what could be a terrific brawler series, maybe even one of the best.

This isn't going to replace the classic Metal Gear Stealth/Action formula that's brought the franchise limping into the 21st century, but it's a nice shot of adrenaline in the arm for the series, and a good reminder to Hideo Kojima that sometimes it's best to put your pen away... and pick up your super-charged power sword.

The Year of the Brawler Part II: Devil May Cry

We should define what we're talking about when we're discussing brawlers. I guess classically, Anarchy Reigns would be considered a "beat em' up," while something like Devil May Cry is referred to as a "hack and slash." The difference between the two could just as well be what the law would define as simple assault, and aggravated assault - did you use your hands or use a weapon? To complicate things even more the industry has decided that the God of War games are classified as "action/adventure," as are the two Darksiders games. (though I would allow that Darksiders is more of a brawl-crawl....) For the sake of clarity we're throwing a large blanket over the entire genre and defining these games as brawlers.

It's an elementary term - and for a game as meticulously complex as DMC is concerned, it's a primitive description at best - but what we're talking about is basically third person action games where the main focus is on armed, and unarmed, physical combat.

Beat em' with your hands, beat em' with a pole if you need to, but for all intents and purposes, be a brawler above all else. And baby, nobody brawls like the new Devil May Cry's Dante - the nephilim kid whose recent hair cut has caused more panty twists then back when Elvis joined the army.

I think the separation between player and character gets more blurred in a game like DMC. I can only describe Ninja Theory's Devil May Cry reboot as pure poetry, both in aesthetics and writing, so I think the removal of the player's investment in being Dante, and in turn, controlling Dante as if he were an automaton is still key. DMC is very much for players - not role-players.

That being said, Ninja Theory has created a seductive world to play around in. This game is drop dead gorgeous. That it handles every bit as good as it looks can only be described as a marvel of modern game engineering.

What Ninja Theory accomplished in this reboot is what every reboot needs to set it sights on - fixing what was broken before. And if we're talking Devil May Cry 4...? Then we're talking about a very broken record. Anyone who suffered through DMC4's industrial/metal/crap song "Shall Never Surrender" (may God deafen us with this song in hell if we ever cross him) can only kneel before the industrial throne of Combichrist and thank them for finally changing the song on the one-track Devil May Cry playlist. The soundtrack in DMC inspires goosebumps, as it does fist pumps. The final battle stands out as some of the best use of music in the medium. Two demigods square off in a lightning storm to the sound of literal thunder, and the thunder of double bass drums and electric guitar. It's the most supreme, epic moment, in a game already bursting with epic moments.

One of my biggest gripes with the series is that, in the past, the enemies in Devil May Cry were hit-sponges. Much like Gears of Wars Locusts these guys couldn't be finished off until their reserves of hit-points were depleted. Sometimes a force of three enemies could take whole blocks of minutes to finally defeat. Coming from a game like Ninja Gaiden Sigma - where there almost always was a quick method of executing an enemy, it becomes a real drag to get mired down in a hit-point match where there is no quick finish. Thanks to a more powerful move spread, and that Ninja Theory finally allows the player to upgrade his equipment and move set much quicker this time around, there's plenty of ways to get rid of stubborn demons. In fact, the bad guys in Devil May Cry don't feel like time-consuming pests anymore. They feel like rides in an amusement park - you want to ride each and every last one till they're finished. Often spectacularly.

Ninja Theory kept the same basic premise of classic Devil May Cry's combat, they just cranked it up to 11 this time around. Dante doesn't have a defense game. He doesn't block or parry like Ryu Hayabusa or Kratos - everything's about being on offense. If that doesn't sound interesting then you need to see this cat in action. Fights can get as widespread, or as vertical as you're willing to take them. Depending on how sharp your game and your mind are, you can spend an entire skirmish off the ground, flying from demon to demon, whirling like a dervish - sometimes upside down - pulling yourself up higher, or pulling enemies up into the air with you. Some of my more thrilling moments in this game were when I took Dante out over the edge of the fighting arena, with nothing but the abyss below me, and kept the battle going, knowing that if my focus flickered for even a second I'd plunge to my doom.

There are five different hand weapons this time around. Dante's sword. Two demon weapons - which do all the heavy-hitting. And two angel weapons - which are quicker and more refined. Ninja Theory makes sure that every single hand weapon, or gun, is readily available during a skirmish. You're going to have to get athletic with your game controllers folks, plan on using every button, every trigger, and every directional pad, in every conceivable pattern, to harness the finesse and power of this fighting system. Once you do, however, prepare for the greatest performance of pure skill, hand-eye coordination, and aesthetic bliss of any game this generation.

It'll be interesting to see how far the better DMC players are going to take this combat system on Youtube in the coming years. The possibilities of strung-together attacks are only limited by a player's imagination and skill-set - they certainly seem endless.

28 Days Later and Sunshine scribe Alex Garland retools the tales of the brothers Sparda. The story's a definite highlight in video game writing. There's plenty of satire and social commentary - depending on your level of political fervency - in this story to keep things cheeky and light. Sure, DMC takes some shots at Fox News and the energy drink craze, but it's done in humor, and for the most part doesn't feel as preachy as it does creative. The Raptor News network (Ninja Theory went all out promoting DMC - check out the "official" Raptor News site, complete with Virility energy drink advertisements) portion of the game also sports one of the craziest, coolest boss battles in the series.

Who knew that The Factor and the classic Tron arcade game could be combined into one of the most memorable Boss encounters of the franchise? Maybe even the medium?

The really outstanding thing about DMC is the sheer amount of creative energy dedicated to every single facet of this video game. Not content with owning the patent on one of the best combat systems in the genre, Ninja Theory created a gorgeous, completely twisted, game environment. Installed enough exotic moments, (the upside-down battle in the subway station comes instantly to mind, where enemies can be batted UP into the passing trains overhead for a quick dispatch) to keep players constantly on their toes. Filled it with characters who's art direction rivals the work in Rocksteady's Arkham games. Scored the campaign with enough thumping metal and industrial cuts to have you rethinking the volume priorities of your home theater sound system. Lastly, they created a great story with plenty of narrative set pieces and a terrific conclusion.

Put all this together and you have one of the best action games ever created.

Ninja Theory's DMC is gourmet gaming. It's an action game that reaffirms why the brawler is still one of my favorite genres in the medium. The best brawlers displays tons of talent. Not just on the design end, but they also give the player the opportunity to show off some of their own. DMC allows both.

The Year of the Brawler Part I: Anarchy Reigns

I'm a feeder bar gamer. Like a test rat I need buttons to smash to release endorphin pellets into my half-starved cortex. I get into games like Arkham City, Red Dead Redemption, and Hitman: Absolution - and when I'm playing titles like these I'm not just a guy with a controller in his hands, I'm completely invested, heart and soul, into these characters and their surroundings.

I'm careful playing these. I watch where I step when I play these.

On the other hand, when I'm playing a brawler like Anarchy Reigns I'm conscious of the controller in my hand, and I could care less. The separation between man and machine can be just as cardinal to gratifying gaming as the symbiotic connection between player and character. Anarchy Reigns certainly begs for players, and not anyone looking to role-play.I think the draw to this kind of game, at least for me, is the arcade culture I grew up in. Back then we called arcade games like Anarchy Reigns "quarter suckers." These machines ate your quarters most of all, but more than that, they consumed a lot of your waking thoughts outside of the arcade as well.

The heritage of the modern brawler/action comes from a long, scrappy lineage of titles beginning with Tecmo's Renegade arcade game and finding its stride during the era of Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Final Fight. Few games have the immediate reward - the feeder bar factor I mentioned earlier - of the action adventure brawler. These games can be as simple as smashing buttons to smash people. Or as complex as the combat system of Team Ninja's first two Ninja Gaiden Sigma entries. The ultimate pay-off is what you're willing to put into the title. Anarchy Reigns is the perfect mash-up of the button-masher and intricate brawler. It isn't as complex as Ninja Theory's new DMC game, nor is it nearly as uncomplicated as last year's Asura's Wrath.

If forced to describe Anarchy Reigns it feels like one of the bastard children of early millennium David Jaffe - Twisted Metal Black and War of the Monsters - bred with modern day boutique fighters like Super Smash Bros. and Playstation All-Stars.

Not that my experience with Anarchy Reigns was love at first sight. I reserved the game almost two years ago when it was first announced. (with a crisp twenty dollar bill - who knew that would almost cover the entire final price-tag once it was released?) Being that Madworld was, and still is, the only Wii title I own, I was more than excited that Platinum was giving Jack Cayman, (picture that bull-chimpanzee that ripped that poor woman's face off in Connecticut, but draped in chains and leather with a double-bladed chainsaw for an arm, and you get Jack Cayman) another game - this time in color.

Then the title kept getting bumped back to later dates. Then it got value priced at 30 dollars. Neither of these were encouraging omens.

Once I got the disc home I casually popped it in my Playstation 3, dorked-around with it for four minutes, then moved on to something else. The game looked alright, but it seemed basic. I was free to roam around the streets of Anarchy Reigns, beating up anything in sight. Not that there's anything wrong with that curriculum, but with Ninja Theory's new DMC game just a week away I could only hope the game would find a comfortable place in storage before entering the alcoves of my backlog vault for the rest of eternity. The next day, bored with my current gaming library, (sorry Darksiders II, but we need a break from each other) I gave Anarchy Reigns a second day in court. Mostly because I jumped in to the new God of War Ascension beta, and it not only reminded me how much fun it is to beat people up online, but also reminded me that a good brawler is something to appreciate and revere. Suddenly Anarchy Reigns didn't seem like a cheap diversion anymore, so I loaded it up again.

That was two weeks ago. I haven't stopped playing since.

I hesitate mentioning the thirty dollar price-tag in this write-up because this absolutely feels like a full value game title. Press a bit further into the interior of this game arena than the first thirty minutes of play-time and I promise you that there's one hell of a game waiting for you.

I've been tinkering with Ninja Theory's (absolutelygawdamn thrilling) DMC game, and as for comparing these two titles...? Think of DMC as a ballerina, and Anarchy Reigns as a ball peen hammer. One takes skill, grace, and  lots of practice to master - the other takes forward motion and brute force. This isn't the sophisticated choreography that Ninja Theory's game is, (and hopefully we'll discuss DMC more in an upcoming write-up - this new Dante game is a work of art) but it isn't anything to thumb your nose at either.

What Anarchy Reigns lacks in finesse, it makes up for in madness.

This is crunchy, crushing, instantly satisfying combat. Feel free to beat anything this game tosses at you - gas-mask wearing gang members, S&M soldiers wielding cattle prods, swarming robotic drones, helicopters, flame-spewing tanker trucks, reptilian executioners using entire cars as club ends, frenzied, ten-foot tall mutants of at least three different aggro levels - everything can be beaten into a puddle of offal given enough attention from your brawler's fists and feet. The attacks are relatively easy to program into your memory circuit board. You have strong, and weak/fast attacks. Juggles and grapples. Charged hits and individual weapon attacks. Feel free to play around with combos of each. The goal is to kill enough enemies to unlock challenges and boss battles in each of the four open world levels of the game as you play through the campaign on one of two sides. Black - Jack Cayman's missions. Or white - Leo's missions. Playing through both campaigns is the only way to unlock new characters for the multiplayer.

Not just content to throw coutless enemy encounters at the player, expect environmental hazards like vortexes and acid rain storms to weaken your killing resolve. The levels are also packed with hazards all their own, and it's a big miss that Platinum didn't include the ability to grab enemies - other then the ones blinking red, ready to explode - to hurl into level hazards like turbines and dust devils for quick disposal.

Anarchy Reigns features five returning characters from Madworld, eleven new characters, (my favorite are Sasha and Onkie) and two unlockable characters including Platinum's princess of pagan... Bayonetta.

There's a story behind everybody here. It's pure Asian gibberish, but it's generally well-spirited enough to keep the player plugged into Platinum's inhuman delineation of pain and sweet, sweet revenge.

The only encouraging thing about the online component of the game is that it's a total free-for-all. The frame rate can dip down to strobe light levels occasionally, and most of the time you're going to feel buffeted by nine different players as they each take a turn putting you in their individual hold animations. I haven't had a chance to play everything that Anarchy online has to offer yet - especially the lauded "Death Ball" game - but from what I've experienced this is just as pick-up-n-play as anything else in the game. The cage matches are a blast, and can get just as frenetic as any Street Fighter IV square-off.

2013 promises to be the year of the beatem' up. After Anarchy Reigns, Ninja Theory's DMC reboot, Metal Gear: Revengeance, God of War Ascension, Remember Me, and Castlevania Lords of Shadow II, it's going to be tough crowning a champion next December. With Platinum Games Anarchy Reigns we're already off to a great start.

Anarchy Reigns deserves its own arcade cabinet. The machine would snuggle up nicely with Double Dragon and Golden Axe, and would pick-pocket every last silver quarter from your pocket. This is a hell of a lot of fun, and a hell of a lot of game for thirty dollars. I'm hoping that we'll see more of Jack Cayman and his merry band of mercenaries and techno-assassins in the near future.

Sony's Head in the Clouds

Sony is set to acquire Gaikai, a cloud-based gaming provider, for what I consider to be a large sum of money. It's enough ($380 million) to signify Sony's investment in cloud-based gaming as a viable future option.

On-Live, among other cloud gaming services, is also rumored to be up for sale and with Sony's move, might happen sooner than later.

What does this mean for the future of console gaming? Well, we still have a ways to go with available bandwidth but from what I understand, cloud-based gaming has made steady improvements since it's inception. Biggest issue is latency and On-Live users (sorry, don't know any other cloud-based gaming users), tell me that button lag is often times noticeable.

That being said, bandwidth and internet offerings/price should only improve with time, so cloud-based gaming might be viable and maybe even fully comparable within a few short years.