Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma (3DS) Review

Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma (3DS) Review

Seek a Way Out

The Zero Escape series began on the Nintendo DS with 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, a mystery thriller about nine characters trying to escape a ship. The game featured branching decisions, puzzling escape sequences, and huge twists that turned the story upside-down. Despite its commercial failure in Japan, the series was well-met with critics, leading to a sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward, on Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. The game built upon the intriguing plot of the original and brought new characters, more escape rooms, and a bigger emphasis on science fiction. Again, the game didn’t sell well, which led to series creator, Kotaro Uchikoshi, putting the series on hold indefinitely. Luckily, fan response and a desire to finish what he started led Uchikoshi to finally create the conclusive third game of the Zero Escape trilogy, Zero Time Dilemma.

Story

Zero Time Dilemma weaves a tale similar to previous Zero Escape games but puts its own creative twist into it. Again, a group of people find themselves trapped in a facility thanks to a mysterious character who goes by “Zero.” Everyone unwillingly participates a survival game in which six players’ deaths will allow the remaining three to escape. Meanwhile, Zero engages them in life-threatening decision games that often end in betrayal or self-destruction.

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Meet the masked mastermind, Zero.

Of course, that’s not all. The huge catch is that every 90 minutes, the characters are injected with a drug that causes them to fall asleep and lose their memories of that fragment in time. This unique concept manifests in the gameplay as well. You can experience nearly any 90 minute fragment in whatever order you choose. Since the characters don’t remember what happened beforehand, it’s almost like starting anew each time. Unfortunately, this makes development seem somewhat static. However, this unique style of storytelling sets up its own brand of intrigue. Each fragment is part of a large timeline, which you view as a massive flowchart. Certain sections of the timeline remain locked until you complete specific story elements. As you play more fragments, you can piece together the timeline and solve the mystery of this treacherous game.

Unlike previous titles, the characters are divided into three groups that rarely interact with each other. Although you get to appreciate each group’s rapport more, you miss out on individuals’ reactions to characters outside of their group. Regardless, the characters are entertaining and run the gamut of personalities. You play as the three team leaders: loyal and righteous fireman Carlos, kind but anxious Diana, and mysterious entity Q. Rounding out the rest of the cast are some new characters and some familiar faces from both 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. Fans of those games will be pleased to see more conclusive revelations to these characters’ fates.

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The characters of Zero Time Dilemma. Who lives and who dies?

Gameplay

ZTD is largely rooted in the visual novel genre, so storytelling is essentially half of the game. Experiencing the story is more cinematic than ever before, with fully-animated, voiced cutscenes replacing the lines of text from previous entries. After choosing a team and fragment from the menu, you watch that particular episode.

Within most fragments, you will encounter the second part of this game: escape sequences. This style of gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has ever participated in a real-life escape-the-room game or have played older adventure/point-and-click games. In these sequences, you must seek a way out of a locked room by searching the area, solving puzzles, and managing items. Each room features unique challenges, including spatial reasoning puzzles, codebreaking, math problems, logic riddles, and hidden-picture minigames. The game effectively utilizes the 3DS’ touchscreen for its challenges and point-and-click portions. Additionally, a memo function lets you take notes, which is almost required for certain puzzles. A room’s difficulty largely depends on a player’s ability to solve these logic puzzles, but they are all generally solvable without requiring outside assistance.

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One of many rooms where you must seek a way out.

The puzzle rooms are mostly enjoyable breaks from the story, but they share common pitfalls. First, most of the rooms follow a linear structure. Although you can technically access most puzzles from the get-go, there is typically one puzzle you are required to solve that will give you the solution to the next puzzle, and so-on. Some rooms are open-ended, but most only give the illusion of choice. Building upon this issue, some rooms require you to find certain items to complete a challenge. However, on some occasions, these items are too well-hidden, represented as only a sparkle or tiny item on the floor. These annoying pixel hunts serve as barriers for players who are just trying to solve the codes and escape.

Following most escape rooms, Zero tasks the characters with a decision game, usually tied to a complex scientific, statistical, or psychological principle, such as the anthropic principle, the Monty Hall Problem, and the prisoner’s dilemma. Each decision leads to a different branch point, further complicating the extensive timeline. Thankfully, you can return to any segment of the timeline at any time to redo a decision. You can even fast-forward through story elements to get to the branch point, making the experience user-friendly.

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This reminds me of a puzzle.

Without spoiling anything, ZTD’s implementation of the timeline is extremely clever both from gameplay and story perspectives. The timeline is just as much a part of the game as any other element, and the culminations of these fragments is a thrill to play through. That said, there is one section that players may get stuck on once all the available story fragments are exhausted, and better communication on that particular progress prerequisite would have been appreciated.

No matter what order or which teams you play as, there are wonderful story sequences with clever twists throughout. There are multiple endings, with some being either graphically gruesome and others presenting juicy revelations for the entire series. Some end-game twists may come off as too convoluted (even by Zero Escape standards) and may disappoint some fans looking for more in the trilogy’s conclusion. However, ZTD answers many questions and ties up loose ends from all three games, which fans won’t want to miss out on.

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The timeline is so extensive that the game gives you two flowcharts.

Graphics and Sound

ZTD utilizes fully animated and voiced cutscenes, which is a huge step-up from text-heavy static screens. The characters don’t move that much, which is to be expected from a dialogue-heavy game, but the models look pretty good and resemble an anime-styled Telltale Games presentation. During action scenes, the framerate drops and the cutscenes devolve into PlayStation era FMV sequences. Regardless, having these extensive cutscenes helps this game feel more modern.

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This is quite the predicament.

The game has options for both English and Japanese voice tracks, which will appease players of either camp. The voices are good for the most part, although there are some volume issues with certain characters like Zero, whose voice is very hard to hear. The creepy music contributes to the game’s tone while mild techno tracks during escape sequences help get the brain running. Longtime fans will be all too familiar with the five discordant tones signaling death and madness, and the series wouldn’t be the same without it.

Playtime/Replayability

ZTD will take most players between 25-30 hours, making it shorter than the previous entry, Virtue’s Last Reward. Total playtime varies depending on how long players take during puzzle sequences. Although there are multiple endings and many fragments to complete, most playthroughs will go through each fragment and ending to get through the whole story, so there isn’t as much replayability as it may seem. It is very possible to replay it like rereading a good book, and playing fragments in a different order can make it interesting. For the most part, this game is only meant to be played once.

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Can you put an end to Zero’s wretched scheme? What is the truth behind this deadly game?

Conclusion

Zero Time Dilemma has a great story filled with the ridiculous twists that Uchikoshi has become known for. This game gets scary and gory, earning its M rating, so only those who can stomach it need apply. Otherwise, players can strap themselves in for a thrilling tale filled with science fiction and horror. Mystery aficionados and puzzle fans will love this enjoyable mix of visual novel intrigue and escape room sequences. Fans of previous Zero Escape games owe it to themselves to play through the exciting series conclusion. However, players without prior experience may be lost in the midst of references and convoluted time plot. If you haven’t played a Zero Escape game, it is recommended that you play the first two installments, especially Virtue’s Last Reward. Once you are familiar with what the style and characters of those games, you will fully appreciate the madness that is Uchikoshi’s Zero Time Dilemma.

Score: 8/10

What are your thoughts on Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma? Have you ever played the other games in the Zero Escape series and what did you think? What are your favorite story-based adventure games or visual novels? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!

Mutant Mudds Super Challenge (PS4) Review

Mutant Mudds Super Challenge (PS4) Review

Mud Max

The original Mutant Mudds was a challenging platformer that put players into the shoes of Max, a boy with a water cannon and a jetpack. It was a difficult game that took advantage of the Nintendo 3DS’ 3D function, allowing you to jump back and forth between layers of background and foreground. Mutant Mudds Super Challenge is a new entry that takes the assets and gameplay from the original and remixes them into tough-as-nails levels.

Gameplay

Like its predecessor, you play as Max, whose sole mission is to stop mud creatures by collecting a water sprite at the end of each level. Once again, you are armed with a water cannon that can shoot bubble bullets at foes. Pressing the jump button twice activates your jetpack, allowing you to hover over short distances. The hover is limited, but you can shoot enemies, turn around, or end the hover at any time while in midair. This leads to tight controls that give you opportunities to perform slick moves while avoiding danger. At certain launch points, you can jump between different layers of background and foreground. While this may work in the 3DS version, playing on a non-3D system makes this process a little frustrating. If you’re in the background, foreground obstacles will sometimes block your view. Conversely, being in the plane closest to the screen can be disorienting.

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One-hit-kill spikes are a super challenge.

Anyone familiar with the original Mutant Mudds will have no trouble getting re-acquainted with the gameplay. This is done purposefully since developer Renegade Kid’s purpose is to challenge veteran players. The level is methodically designed to take advantage of your tight jetpack controls. One-hit-kill spikes, bottomless pits, and rounds of enemies constantly stand in your way, usually requiring you to use up the maximum length of your jetpack’s hover. Enemies return from the original game, including mud piles that shoot projectiles and flying mud balls that drop bombs. Ghost enemies that cannot be attacked without a special weapon also make a comeback. Further increasing the difficulty, enemies are placed in locations between spikes and pits, and you have to master shooting at targets while hovering to avoid death. Later levels throw in slippery ice, poisonous bubbles, and clouds that blow you into the foreground. Instant death aside, you only get three hits before having to start over. The game realizes how hard it is and keeps track of your death count, with a counter that goes into the millions. Even then, conquering each level is rewarding, and deaths never feel unfair. Generous mid-level checkpoints and unlimited continues encourage you in the face of adversity.

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Go between foreground and background to complete levels.

As fun as the challenge is, this is not a game for beginners. Even the first stage is brutal and will likely take a good toll on your death count. The learning curve is almost non-existent, and there is no tutorial. From the get-go, you are expected to know how to play and be really good at it. Players new to the series shouldn’t start with this entry but instead play the original Mutant Mudds first.

It can be a struggle for even the best players of Mutant Mudds, but the game thankfully provides three useful power-ups from the get-go. A stronger water cannon extends the reach of your bubble shots, a high-jump allows you to reach new heights and can be used as a form of double jump, and an extended hover doubles your air time. You can only have one power-up at a time, but each one is extremely useful. In addition, you usually need a particular power-up to unlock the hidden bonus level in each stage. They take you to V-Land and G-Land, with color palettes reminiscent of the Virtual Boy and Game Boy, respectively. These levels are almost as long and just as difficult as the ones they are hidden within. They also include their own end-of-level water sprites, effectively doubling the total level count.

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Ahh, that nostalgic Game Boy green in G-Land. V-Land comes in glorious red.

Each of the 20 levels and additional bonus levels houses 100 collectible coins. The coins provide added difficulty and finding them all will require some exploration, including locating secret entrances in walls. These entrances are sometimes hard to identify, and the game only vaguely hints at their locations by showing you a small slit at the wall. Thankfully, you only need to collect each coin once per playthrough, so you can focus on missed coins on your return trip. Unlike other platformers where the coins are extra collectibles, you must obtain all coins in each world’s level to fight the corresponding world’s boss.

Bosses are brand new to the series and are well-implemented. Each boss is unique and provides either a platforming challenge or a tricky puzzle. It’s a surprise that Renegade Kid hadn’t included boss fights in the original because its clever boss encounters work well with the Mega Man-like action.

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Bosses are new to the Mutant Mudds series, and they’re better late than never.

Graphics & Sound

The retro sprite-based graphics return in Super Challenge and look as wonderful as ever. The game sports an upgraded 8-bit artstyle that is more colorful and detailed than an NES game could ever handle. The goofy expressions on enemies and Max’s lovable idle animations bring the game to life. The music is just as lovingly made, with novel catchy chiptunes accompanying the new stages. Retro music fans can collect hidden CDs in each stage, awarding one of the background tunes in the sound test.

Conclusion

Mutant Mudds Super Challenge is a welcome return to Max’s sprite-based world of tight controls and inventive hover-based platforming. With 40 levels and 100 required collectible coins in each, the amount of playtime depends largely on players’ skills. Intentionally tough but fair, the level design tests even the most hardcore players, and cruel bosses may impede progress indefinitely. Regardless, the challenge is very fulfilling and will leave you wanting more after the credits roll. Beginners beware: play Mutant Mudds first to learn the ropes. Once you’ve mastered that, take on the Super Challenge if you dare.

Score: 8/10

Note: A PS4 review copy of this game was played for this article. This review was posted on Darkstation.

What are your thoughts on Mutant Mudds Super Challenge? Have you played the original Mutant Mudds on 3DS or another system? What are some of your favorite indie platformer games? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!

August 2016 Update: Blogger Recognition Award

August 2016 Update: Blogger Recognition Award

New Business

Thank you to everyone reading this. I am constantly moved by your encouragement and readership. It means a lot to me, especially as I pursue my dreams. I wanted to give a quick update before getting to the meat of this post. First of all, I wanted to extend my sincerest gratitude to Miketendo64 and Darkstation for allowing me to write for their sites. I love being able to write video game reviews and share them with others. Miketendo64 remains an excellent source of news, features, reviews, and interviews, and I recommend checking it out for great Nintendo content. I don’t always post the reviews I write for Darkstation here, but I wanted them and everyone to know that I love being an editor for their site. It has been a great opportunity to write professional reviews for a wide range of games. Anyone interested in seeing the reviews I’ve written for games like Downwell, Drawful 2, and God Eater Resurrection can find them here.

I am happy to announce that I’ve also been writing for an anime news site for some time now and will be for a while. I won’t say much more, but anime fans may be familiar with the site. Regardless, I am very excited about this special opportunity, especially with regards to my passions and dreams. Although this takes up quite a bit of the time I previously allotted to blogging, I will keep writing here. During the busier time, I will probably be writing with a little less frequency than my previous weekly schedule (most likely biweekly). This actually works out better since I prefer quality than quantity, and putting in the time to make great articles for you to read. That said, when I am less busy and can devote more time to gaming reviews, I will do my best to post them with more frequency. Also, I know that there are a number of you who have made specific review requests. I apologize but it will likely take more time than I originally intended because of these new developments. When I do return to requests, I will get to yours first!

The last few months have been nothing short of fantastic! I was able to cover the brand new The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for E3, meet one of childhood heroes Charles Martinet (voice of Super Mario), and write about one of my most unique and special gaming experiences, Pokémon GO. I am far from done and am excited to share more video game reviews starting next week!

Thank you for reading my update! If you would like to further support me, please “like” my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MrPanda2002/ and follow me on Twitter at @MrPanda2002. Any and all support is always appreciated!

Blogger Recognition Award

Blogger Recognition Award

I’d like to give a huge thank you to The Well-Red Mage, Retr0pia75, Luvva, and TheManCalledScott for nominating me for the Blogger Recognition Award. The Well-Red Mage (and the rest of the mage team) runs an excellent site full of quality gaming news and reviews. Most recently, the team took on the 31-Day Mage Challenge, in which the mages answered questions about video games, generating entertaining discussion. They’re great sources of knowledge, and The Well-Red Mage has been very supportive of me since I started, which means a lot and has gone a long way.

Retr0pia75 runs an excellent site featuring some of the best reviews of obscure games. It’s impressive to see so many forgotten games make a comeback through this site. Some great regular features include Retr0spectives, offering informative timelines of video game companies’ histories, and System Smack-Downs, in which Retr0pia75 compares a game or license among different console iterations. They’re quite entertaining reads!

Luvva of mrluvvaluvva has been an excellent support, promoting and helping me out when I was just starting. His video game-related musings are all honest and entertaining. He also supports those he believes, whether sharing videos of speedrunners or highlighting blog posts in his weekly MrLuvva’s Luv-In posts. Overall, he’s a great guy!

Finally, TheManCalledScott of The Wizard Dojo is an excellent reviewer, covering both the good and the bad of gaming history. It’s admirable how he seeks out some of these bad games, and the reviews always turn out great. Most recently, he has been covering Pixar movies for Pixar Month, including a review of Finding Dory!

Without further ado, here is how the Blogger Recognition Award works.

  • Thank the blogger that nominated you.
  • Attach the award to the post.
  • Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  • Give a piece of advice or two to new bloggers.
  • Select 5 other bloggers you want to give the award to.

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Blog Beginnings

I actually shared this in my June 2016 Update, but I’d love to share a brief version of it again here. As people who know me very well (and probably anyone who reads this) can attest, I am a huge fan of video games, especially Nintendo titles. The one thing I almost love more than video games is talking about them. I decided that I wanted to write about video games and set up a page to keep a collection of my writing that I could also share to others. Writing video game reviews has been a great way for me to compose my thoughts and inform others about the merits and demerits of games that I’ve been playing. Being able to share information about a game fills me with joy, and engaging in related discussion with you in the comments has been just as rewarding. I have dreams related to the games industry, and everyone’s support and encouragement have consistently made me feel like I am making meaningful steps towards achieving my dreams.

Advice for Bloggers

Remember that the blogosphere is a huge place. As you write up your own wonderful blog posts, don’t forget to check out others’, especially those who are writing about similar topics! You can make new acquaintances, find good gaming buddies, and gain more followers. Reach out to other bloggers, whether old or new. You’d be surprised how many people just want to know that someone has read their posts. Support, encourage, and promote each other because we all go through tough times. We’re all in this together!

Finally, love what you’re doing. Life gets stressful, but if you find that blogging doesn’t help or is actually something you dread, take a break. Use that time to unwind, focus on your life duties, and remember why you write. Hopefully, you will be refreshed upon returning and have the will to keep blogging. Don’t worry. We’ll be here when you return!

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Nominations

The following are people who have previously nominated me for the Liebster Award. I responded to their questions but never got a chance to properly thank them on my site. Here is my opportunity to finally do that!

Thank you five for your Liebster Award Nominations! I appreciate it, and I hope you enjoy your newest award nomination!

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The Entertaining Blogger Award

I also wanted to offer a huge thank you to The Shameful Narcissist for nominating me for The Entertaining Blogger Award (I know it’s called The Entertainer Blogger Award, but that confuses me!). She is a terrific writer who recently penned an extensive Final Fantasy VII story entitled Northern Lights. She’s a wonderful person, so check out her writing!

I’ll try to keep the rest of this short, but here are the rules of this award:

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The Rules of The Entertainer Blogger Award:

  • Write a post including the award picture.
  • Nominate 12 other bloggers who are funny, inspiring, and most importantly ENTERTAINING!
  • Add these rules to the post.
  • Thank the person who nominated you and leave a link to their blog!
  • Also, answer the questions down below.

1. Why did you start to blog in the first place?

I answered this earlier, but please feel free to check out my June 2016 Update for a longer explanation.

2. What is your favorite book?

I enjoy the Harry Potter series.

3. What do you dislike the most?

There are things I dislike, and trying to pick something I most dislike would be difficult. At the moment, it makes me sad to see when things are not accessible to people for whatever reason. I won’t go into much detail, but I think that we should be aware of others’ needs.

4. What’s your favorite food item from the mall?

I like cinnamon foods, like Cinnabon or cinnamon pretzels!

5. What is your favorite past time activity?

This one is easy for me: video games and anime! It’s not a coincidence that those are the two subjects I write about!

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Nominations

I’ve nominated a bunch of people in this post already, so I’ll try to keep it brief to some bloggers I follow who I don’t think have gotten this award yet. Please feel free to do what you wish with the award nomination and know that I think you’re doing a great job!

  • pokeninja90 of Nice Job Breaking It, Hero  – Representing more of my anime fan’s side, pokeninja90 does an excellent job covering visual novel/otome games, as well as providing quality anime-related posts, including tackling the 30-Day Anime Challenge!
  • Kuribo of NintendoFigures – It should be no surprise that I love amiibo. Kuribo does a fantastic job providing regular reviews of amiibo, World of Nintendo figurines, and other fun Nintendo collectibles!
  • Matt of Nintendobound –  An excellent video game reviewer with a great rating system! He also writes great pieces on his favorite music albums from each month!
  • Kris P and Rachel of Double Jump – These sisters are spectacular writers who also regularly update their site with video game features including favorites lists, gaming conversations, and interesting game stories! They’re very entertaining!
  • Yvonne/YvoCaro of A Lady and Gaming Plus – I enjoy reading her take on a variety of games, some of which go missed by many gamers. She has quality reviews, features, and a great outlook on life!
  • The Gaming Bear of The Gaming Bear – He is not an actual bear, but he plays and writes about video games. He articles are on a wide range of game-related topics, and they’re all entertaining and well-informed! Check out his weekly bites!

Thank You!

Congratulations again to everyone, and a big thanks to everyone who has ever supported me! It means a lot to me, and I’m grateful for people like you!

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