Machinarium Review

Point and click adventure games used to be the big sellers on PC. These days there are very few around with only the episodic style Sam and Max games being of relative note. New innovations have been tried with various series turning 3D and the Walking Dead certainly did a good job of creating a compelling adventure. Now though, we have Machinarium which takes the genre back to its 2D roots.

To go into the delicate plot here would spoil much of the adventure for readers. Starting out in a scrap yard the story is revealed through short comic scenes portrayed as thought bubbles of the main character. Often amusing and touching the animations add a real atmosphere to the game and it’s always clear what our little robot hero is putting across to us. It just goes to show how simple telling a good story can be when it is done in a precise and thoughtful way.

Shunning the style of new adventure games the world of Machinarium is presented in 2D with stunningly beautiful hand drawn style backgrounds and characters. The level of detail is breath taking and we can only imagine the hours that must have gone into designing the environments. Many of them you could simply screen grab and use as pictures and we expect many a Vita owner will soon be sporting their favourite screen as their consoles wall paper.

The game plays out in classic point and click style. You move a cursor around the screen to highlight objects and then collect them up in order  to solve puzzles. There are a few new gimmicks in the mix as well which helps to carve out even more of an identity for the game. For instance, our robot hero can lower or heighten himself in order to reach high shelves or reach under tables.

There is also a hint of the Professor Layton about it as you will also have to solve a series of logic puzzles. None of these are impossible and include things like winning games of tick tack toe or getting coloured blocks into certain positions. Some of them could do with more of an explanation of what the goal of the game is though. There were also a couple of instances where colour blind players may have a bit of trouble. However, if you do hit a dead end there is a handy guide available to show you how to complete them.

The guide is accessed from the top of the screen and requires players to navigate a small maze before unlocking. You then get the solution portrayed in sketches. It’s a nice design choice which allows for the lack of speech and text within the rest of the game to be maintained throughout. For those that don’t want to use the guide there is a hint system which, when pressed, causes your little robot to think of what he is trying to do.

Machinarium isn’t the longest game but there is absolutely no filler here. It’s such a charming title that, like the classic point and click adventures of old, it’s a story you’ll likely not mind going through again. As soon as we finished it our minds were already drawn to the ‘new game’ option to see if we could pick up on any snippets of story we didn’t quite get first time around.

The translation to the Vita has been handled pretty much as well as could be expected. To try and compensate for objects being small on screen a zoom function has been added (which works well). You also have a choice of controlling the cursor with the front or rear touch pad, as well as the left analogue stick. Needless to say the whole thing looks amazing on the Vita screen as well.

There are a few issues though. The main one is that the Vita version could do with a ‘look’ option. Often it’s difficult to work out what you have just picked up due to the small nature of the graphics and high detail level. You also often need to be in the right part of the screen to have the ‘interact’ option come up. Not a massive issue as you are normally given the ‘walk to’ option if there is something of interest, but on occasion there was something tiny we couldn’t really see that wouldn’t show up until we raised or lowered the robot.

Even with the zoom function some things are still very small on screen and with the high level of detail displayed in each area objects can get lost. Aside from these relatively minor issues there is nothing else we could find to pick fault with.

We are being super picky because this game is a wonderful thing. It perfectly captures the magic of the classic point and click titles of the golden age of adventure gaming. The story is a wonderful thing to experience and so much of this game will have you smiling. It seems pretty clear to us that Machinarium is destined to end up being viewed as a timeless classic and added to all those lists and recaps of classic point and click games. It’s just so staggeringly lovely that we can only recommend you get it as soon as possible.

Kung Fu Rabbit Review

It’s an ordinary day in the Kung Fu Rabbit dojo when it’s suddenly invaded by Aliens who kidnap the rabbits to eat later. One brave rabbit remains and it is now up to you to rescue your friends. It’s a 2D platform game somewhere between Super Meat Boy and N+ with a toned down difficulty (compared to those two), and rabbits. If that’s got your interest then read on.

Starting life as an iOS game, Neko Entertainment has given Kung Fu Rabbit a few alterations to make it more suitable for the Wii U. The most obvious of these is that in app purchases have been replaced by in game collectible currency in the form of carrots. The carrots can then be used to buy upgrades and new equipment to help you in your quest. The resolution has also been upgraded and the controls changed to make everything that little bit better.

The game is set out into around sixty small levels, with further bonus levels unlocked as you progress. The aim of each stage is not only to reach the captured rabbit at the end, but also to collect the three normal and one giant carrot found in each area. This starts out simply enough but soon requires real skill to achieve.

When you die you have to restart the stage from scratch and any carrots collected will need to be picked up again. This creates a nice risk/reward scenario where you will be always weighing up if you really need that last carrot right at the end of the stage.

Dying is also fairly easy. Enemies patrol the levels and will kill you with one touch. They can be taken out by our fearless rabbit, but each enemy needs to be approached in the correct way to despatch them. Attacks are carried out automatically and mistiming your approach will often end with the bad guy coming out on top.

Aside from the enemies there are numerous pits, spikes and toxic substances around to stop you as well. All this means you need quick reflexes and strong platforming skills to win the day. The main ability (aside from jumping), that our hero has is the ability to stick to walls and then hop up them. Using this technique is vital when trying to time your leaps properly. It also gives players time to assess the situation and plot their journey through the multitude of moving traps. When you complete the three worlds, even harder remix versions of the levels are unlocked to further test your skill and sanity.

Levels get more difficult quickly so you will need all the skills you have available. New dangers and obstacles are introduced every few levels and precise timing becomes more and more important as you progress. If things do become tough then you can take a trip to the dojo in order to stock up on items to help you. Items such as claws, extra chances and even an easier difficulty are available. You can also get new costumes for your rabbit and items to help reveal hidden passages.

Aside from the instant deaths, Kung Fu Rabbit is a beautifully cheerful game. The music sets a nice oriental mood (although one or two of the tunes could do with not looping quite so quickly).  The look of the game is also striking in a minimalist way. Graphics are clear and colourful and create a pretty, oriental, look throughout most of the levels. The design is simple but highly effective and it creates a focused style that works well.

Overall, Kung Fu Rabbit is a bit of a surprise. We didn’t expect much from it at first glance but this is a really good effort from the development team. Controls are intuitive and slick, and the game world is bright and charming. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable platform game that really deserves attention from Wii U owners and it looks great on the gamepad as well.

Persona 4 Arena

Persona 4 Arena has taken a long journey to reach European shores. Initially expected at the start of the year it was then delayed indefinitely. Now we are finally getting the chance to see the characters of Persona 4 in a new environment, but can it hope to live up to the precedent set by its RPG forebear?

This is certainly one of the more unique collaborations to have happened. The game basically takes the story elements from the Persona team and adds in a fighting game developed by the makers of Blazblu. The music, art style and voice acting will be familiar to Persona fans and it certainly sets the scene very well.

The story is set a few months after the events of Persona 4 (and several years after Persona 3), and has our hero returning to Inaba to visit his friends. Upon arrival it soon transpires that something isn’t right, a feeling that’s confirmed when the midnight channel bursts into life once more to show all the main protagonists as targets for a strange new tournament.

From then on our team decide to dive into the world inside the television once more and soon become locked into a battle against each other. It’s fair to say that as plots go it’s completely crazy. It makes the plot of the original Persona 4 look positively normal and realistic in comparison. But it’s best not to think too much about it and just go along for the ride.

Along with the main playable cast from Persona 4 there are also a couple of the investigation team from Persona 3 and some new ones thrown in for good measure. The thematic choices in storyline and design of the boss character may ring a few bells with Blazblu fans and it has Arc Systems personality stamped all over it. That isn’t to say characters from Blazblu are copied over to here – far from it in fact, but there are certain times you can see the core of a Taokaka or Nu 13 spread across a couple of the characters move sets.

A fighting game lives and dies on its combat system and Persona 4 Arena has one unlike any we have come across before. Arc Systems have not created a Persona 4 version of Blazblu and have instead tried to produce something that fits the characters and game world more completely.

Along with the usual super and special moves there are a fair few unique things to look out for. Attacks are designed around the four face buttons with the square and X buttons making your character perform light and heavy attacks. The interesting part of the system comes with the triangle and circle buttons. These are used to summon your persona to attack. If carried out carefully and precisely it’s possible for both your character and their persona to hit at the same time. This opens up the possibilities for big combos if executed successfully.

It’s also possible to disable an opponent persona by striking them. Do this enough and they will need to recharge before being used again. This gives a major advantage to the attacking player as it effectively cuts your opponents move list in half.

The combat system is deep and will take a very long time to master. It is also not really comparable to other fighting game systems which means for hard core fight fans you are going to need to re-wire your brain to think in a new way in order to get the correct flow and timing. Luckily there is an extensive tutorial and challenge mode available to get you used to the new characters and the way the game works.

Hitting the square button continuously while your special bar is filled carries out an auto combo that leads into a super move. This may well be aimed at getting more casual players involved but it doesn’t really serve much of a purpose and can certainly end up being overused.

Something else that may need levelling out in an update is the ‘awakened’ mode that characters drop into when they fall below a certain amount of health. In our experience, both against the computer and other humans, this proved to be far too powerful. Opponents who simply weren’t in the contest suddenly managed to destroy our health bars, sometimes within seconds of awakening. We are all for leveling things up but we hate to think how this could be used by someone who had put hours into training.

The other thing that seemed to be slightly off was the games focus on trapping characters against walls. Again, whether playing against the computer or a human it seemed far too easy to be forced against the edge of the screen and simply be spammed over and over by the same cheap move (even the computer does this). The ability to attack as two separate characters often seemed to leave no way out.

We’re sure with training all these points can be counteracted but new comers to the genre may well be put off by the high entry level required to progress. That said, is Persona 4 Arena really the type of game that anyone other than a hard-core fan might buy? You could argue it isn’t. But then we can envisage a fair few RPG fans picking it up, maybe not that familiar with other fighting games, and being roundly ground into the dirt by it.

This frustration is also compounded by the fact the standard PS3 pad doesn’t seem to be up to the input requirement needed. An arcade stick works fine but this is certainly the most precise input we have come across in any console fighting game. When a Street Fighter veteran can’t pull off a double fireball input every time you know something is a little off. Again, this may well be worked out in a patch but for now perfect precision is key.

Negatives aside, there is much to like about this. The story mode in particular captures much the same feeling as that of the original Persona 4. The story itself is interesting and told in a dedicated story mode where players will take control of each of the characters as the mystery unfolds.

There has also clearly been a lot of care and attention into making this game feel a part of the Persona universe. All of the characters remain true to types and act in the way fans will expect. The presentation and art style is also of the highest of standards and ticks the boxes for both bringing up nostalgic memories of the original source material and excitement about seeing it used in a new way.

The game does throw up some truly spectacular battles as well. When you find a character you’re comfortable with and get to grips with the game system it really does open up into a veritable wealth of different attacking options. It certainly isn’t lacking in flashy special moves either and at times things can become a blur of sparks and colour as characters and personas smash around on screen.

This game will find fans with both Persona 4 players and gamers who spend their days mastering combos in Street Fighter, Blazblu and King of the Fighters. The fight engine is solid and the game is filled with charm. Be prepared to have to put the hours in though, this is a game that needs to be mastered in order to get the most out of it.

Nunn Attack Review

Nuns. The source of all that is good and holy apparently. In Nun Attack, they do a lot more than charity work and looking after orphans. These nuns are armed and dangerous.

The concept of Nun Attack is from your usual Sunday School Bible reading. Rougue Nun has a legion of demons and it is up to your own team of nuns to stop her and save the world. Well maybe not typical Sunday School stuff, but this is much better and much more likely to keep kids interested.

Nun Attack is essentially an action game that sees you battle various enemies on a series of single screen environments. You move between levels via a map that sees you navigate in a kind of reverse tower defense style, as you try and reach the portal for each new level, while fending off attacks from the sides.

The controls for the main battles are essentially a slide your finger to shoot mecahanic, making Nun Attack a game designed for the touch screen, which makes sense seeing as it was originally an Android game. The mechanics work really well and from the very opening level everything is fairly intuitive. Dragging you finger from a Nun to an area of the screen will see them move to the selected area. Drawing a line from Nun to enemy will see them unleash hell upon the selected baddie.

Each Nun has their own unique skills as part of the team. Eva is an all rounder who can create duplicates of herself to fool the enemy and gain an attacking advantage. Rosy is great for long range attacks, Olga is a big girl and can take a lot of damage, whilst also being effective at close range and Mandy, who is one of God’s healers, meaning she can heal the other Nuns, but the pay off is that she cannot deal much damage.

The skill is using the right combination of moves at the right time, balancing attacking and moving. Each Nun has a set of skills that benefits them, figuring out which to use and when seems easy at first, but as you progress you’ll find you need to really think about how you approach each level. It adds a lot of challenge to the game and keeps the repetitive nature from becoming too much to handle.

As is common with games of this type, you can level up and upgrade your team’s individual abilities, which is dependent on how well you complete the levels already played. Downed enemies will drop coins and you will need to tap the coins on the screen to collect them. Collected coins can then be spent in the upgrade menus. Basically, the better you do, the more you collect, the quicker you can upgrade, the easier the further levels become.

What really stands out is the game’s visual style. Graphics a wonderfully clear and crisp and the characters have been given a lot of life, with bright visuals with a cartoon styling. The game uses a lot of humour throughout and works well in tandem with the graphical style.

Nun Attack is available for a bargain price of £1.99 via the Playstation Store and for the price, you will be in for one hell of treat. A game that feels at home on smart phones has been perfectly ported to the PS Vita. Pick this up, enjoy it and confess your sins later.

Black Rock Shooter The Game Review

Black Rock Shooter: The Game is a direct spinoff from the Japanese series of the same name. Lesser known in the West and released in digital only via PSN as a two year old PSP game, it may fly a little under the radar for most.

Those who do happen to come across the his game though will be in for a bit of a treat, as Black Rock Shooter is a fun JRPG with plenty of action.

Whilst its influences come from an existing franchise there is nothing to worry about in terms of missing chunks of the story. Despite taking place in the same universe the various versions of Black Rock Shooter are all standalone stories, whether it be the Magna, Anime, or in this case the game.

The story for Black Rock Shooter: The Game is set in a post-apocalyptic world (we know, but keep with us), 19 years after an alien invasion has destroyed the world and humanity is all but defeated. The game’s heroine BSR is awoken from a slumber and thrust into the fight to save the human’s existence.

A lot of the story is told via communications between BSR and the various individuals who ally with her along the way. You may have seen the style this is done with before is you have played a certain Konami Stealth Em Up. It may be a direct influence, but it matters not as it does a job and drives the story forward. A story that whilst not amazing, does enough to keep your attention throughout, which is always a bonus.

Gameplay mixes traditional RPG elements with more section orientated battle sections. Enemies are encountered throughout the various levels, much in the way they are in a game like Persona, however once a battle is entered you lose the turn-based style of other games and instead find yourself in a real-time environment.

Armed initially with your gun, you will battle enemies with an analogue aiming system that has more in common with a third person shooter mixed with a touch of Ace Combat aiming. It is something that works really well from the moment you first go into battle, with the system being fairly intuitive. There are some moments of frustration with a lock on system, but you soon get used to it. As the game progresses BRS will unlock various new skills and find that she can level up areas of her arsenal. It is an RPG after all, so it is to be expected.

Rather than one long trek driven by a story, Black Rock Shooter is split into arena style levels that each have a bit of a briefing before each one. You’ll then navigate through and essentially take on and clear all the enemies. It nothing groundbreaking, but it does a good job of allowing gamers to play longer or shortened sessions, just as you would ideally want on a handheld game of this type.

This is of course a PSP game, so don’t expect huge;y impressing visuals native to the Vita. In saying that however, aside from a few low-res textures, Black Rock Shooter does look very nice scaled to the Vita screen and doesn’t suffer being a game designed originally for the PSP. Others do look better, but there a plenty that look a hell of a lot worse.

Black Rock Shooter’s main problem isn’t going to be with its graphics or gameplay. The main issues come from just what it is, a niche franchise, for a (now) dead system, released digitally only in a bit of a stealth manner. What you are looking at here is a game that should sell through word of mouth, picked up on the off chance, or by definite fans of the franchise.

There is a lot of fun to be had and it is a game that Gamestyle will happily pick up and play during those times between large Vita releases. It isn’t as long as some of the more established RPG titles out there, but in terms of value for money it does hit the spot. We urge you to take a chance on Black Rock Shooter.

Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon Review

Anyone who owned a Gamecube will have fond memories of the original Luigi’s Mansion. The humour and clever game design created a charming and unique game full of character. Now Luigi is back on the 3DS in what is one of most anticipated games on the console. Was it worth the wait? Venture forth, torch in hand to find out.

The game starts with our cowardly hero being summoned by Professor E.Gadd. The Dark Moon which keeps the ghosts under control have been shattered and they are now terrorising a number of old mansions and buildings. Along with your trusty converted vacuum cleaner it’s up to you to save the day.

Though similar looking, Luigi’s Mansion 2 has undergone quite a drastic change in terms of mechanics and level design. This is indeed a proper sequel rather than a rehash of the last game. The first thing you notice is the change in the enemies you come up against. The original game was mostly about finding a unique ghost in its room, then working out the puzzle of how to get it to reveal its heart with the torch so it could be captured.

Mansion 2 pretty much does away with this style of play completely. Now the ghosts are more generic and not tied in with the puzzles you come up against. There are also more of them at any given time. The game often becomes a series of locked arenas –  as you walk in the door locks and the mischievous ghosts appear. Once all the ghosts in a room have been dealt with the doors will open and allow you to continue.

While the ghosts are no longer individual they still contain all the humour of before. You start out coming up against standard green ghosts with new types being introduced regularly as you progress. Some of these are strong or super smart, while other will fling goo or leap out and scare you – causing you to drop your capture beam. Even the basic green ghosts change, not in look but they get more intelligent as you go on. This starts off with them wearing sun glasses to avoid your torch glare. From then on they will try anything to avoid being captured such as using shovels to hide behind or wearing buckets on their head that can’t be vacuumed off.

The capturing of ghosts has also changed. It is now much more about quick reactions and quickly flashing multiple ghosts with the torch at once. This then allows them to be sucked up. In the first game this was achieved like a mini fishing game while here it is about keeping in line with the ghost long enough and pulling in the opposite direction to fill a meter. Once full, pressing A will give a strong tug on the ghost and hopefully drag it into the vacuum. The changes work for the better and it turns the game into a much more action and score focused affair with bonus coins and gold bars given out for multiple captures at once.

Puzzles have changed as well. The game is now full of secrets and small puzzles which need to be navigated. Most puzzles are used to hide entrances and exits with the more complex ones hiding hidden gems and the elusive BOO’s that lurk around each stage. You are also given a dark light torch which is used to reveal things the ghosts have hidden. This creates a strange ‘spot the difference’ feeling as areas can have different things hidden depending on which mission you are doing. It works well and keeps you on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.

Yet another change is the new mission structure. Instead of one big mansion to explore there are now five areas, each of which is set out in a number of missions. Once a mission is complete you are brought back to E.Gadd’s lab. This change in structure has both good and bad points. On the down side, it feels frustrating not to be allowed to fully explore a whole level at a time and even makes the idea somewhat redundant as objects can move around depending on the mission. It can also be frustrating not being allowed to save in a mission as though they are meant to be fairly short, if you get stuck on a puzzle you could be wandering around for a very long time.

There are positives to the approach though. When the mission structure works it feels perfect for mobile play as you are doing bite sized chunks of the game. The different mansions and buildings are also very unique and full of clever design choices and fun things to see.  It also allows the game to be replayed as a score attack game with any mission re-playable to find extra gold or ghosts to capture. Either way it certainly doesn’t ruin the game, but it can’t be ignored when it impacts negatively on the experience either.

Level design is excellent throughout with literally every room filled with something to tinker around with. You’ll be using the vacuum to roll rugs up, spin ceiling fans and drag objects which opens all sorts of secret passages and routes through the game. Another great touch is that almost every time you come to a window or spy hole you can peak through to what the ghost are up to on the other side. Sometimes this starts a small cut scene while others it just allows you to see what type of ghost is floating around causing trouble. They are always worth checking and genuinely funny.

Graphically, the game might not be quite as sharp as we were hoping but it looks good enough and every area is unique and overflowing with character. The title also offers another example of the 3D effect working incredibly well. This is one of the few 3DS games where you will want to play every second of it with the 3D turned on full. The sound is equally full of character with playful effects mixing with the spooky theme tune. You’ll soon notice Luigi nervously singing along as he walks around, which is a nice touch.

  Luigi’s Mansion 2 is a difficult game to nail down. It has faults relating to the structure of the game and ability to save and when they strike it can be very frustrating. But the feeling of frustration is uncommon and in the next minute something fun will have distracted you from it. When the games allowed to flow it shows itself as an undeniable classic, and it does flow well for very long periods.  The game also seems to improve as it goes on and it’s here the true magic at work comes into play. There’s also a multi-player challenge tower which allow for ghost busting pals to team up and try and take on a number of time and score attack style missions.

Overall, there are some very good and fun ideas that work very well here. It’s a great progression in many ways from the original and at times it’s a truly sublime experience.  It’s also different enough from the first game for fans to want to own and enjoy both. It’s not perfect, but when it works (Which it does most of the time), there are few other games that bring such a smile to your face and it’s hard to argue against that.