Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies Review

It’s been a while since Phoenix Wright last stepped into a courtroom. Trials And Tribulations being the last time back in 2008. Since then we’ve had Apollo Justice take charge for the fourth instalment before anti-hero prosecutor Miles Edgeworth got his own spin-off series. Now set eight years after his last court appearance, Phoenix Wright is back in what is best described as, quite literally, an explosive return.

What the Phoenix Wright series has always done best is tell a fascinating story, with twists and turns, which more often than not leaves the player unsure as to where the story goes next. Dual Destines carries on this tradition. Starting with a courtroom bombing, you’re thrown headlong back into the action with Phoenix Wright and his new addition to the team, Athena Cykes.

It’s a start that brought back memories of previous games, and Dual Destinies while sticking close to the formula does bring new elements to the table. Cross-examinations and presenting evidence are still the crux of each courtroom scene. And the return of psych-locks and Apollo’s bracelet do make a return from previous games. The newest gameplay addition comes in the form of Athena and her necklace Widget. Athena having the ability to read people’s emotions. During certain sections you’re able to activate Widget, this then showing four different emotions (joy, fear, shock and anger). By following the witness’ testimony you can figure out if any emotion they’re feeling contradicts what they’re saying. There really is no better feeling than finally finding a contradiction in someone’s statement and with one shout of “Objection!” you’ve finally gotten to the truth. Only now the finger pointing is in 3D.

This is not just due to the 3DS hardware, but also the characters. Gone are the paper like characters that adorned previous games and in place are fully 3D models. Not just that but all the best Phoenix Wright animations from games gone by are here, now with proper 3D movement and they look glorious. This new technological advance also plays a part in the investigation phase of each case. Now you have the ability to move around each investigation area. It’s not free moving as such, they’re still fixed on perspectives, but you’re able to now look at each scene from different angles.

A complaint with the previous Phoenix Wright games is the ability to miss a certain thing to help the story progress. Many times becoming stuck because you didn’t check a small corner of a room or failed to present the most inconsequential evidence to a character. Dual Destinies alleviates that by now explicitly telling you when everything has been checked and offering hints when a piece of evidence needs to be shown. Some would say this takes away part of the difficulty; our view is that takes away a lot of the unneeded frustration. Once in the courtroom however and it’s a different story. Characters will offer subtle hints, but other than that you’re on your own. And with a life bar in place, making too many mistakes and it’s over for the defendant.

What has always been a staple of the series is the excellent translation and characters. Dual Destinies doesn’t disappoint as the writing is as witty as ever, with a dash of risqué humour thrown in for good measure. Constant references to Trucy’s “magic panties” and prosecutors complementing witnesses on “their fine box” makes us think this was translated with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Or maybe it’s in part thanks to our childish sense of humour. Nevertheless, each of the five cases found in Dual Destinies are filled with a colourful cast and have stories that are suitably bonkers and outlandish, yet when it all comes together each story seems weirdly plausible. And none of which would anyone see coming. You may figure out the killer right off the bat, but their methods are always indecipherable till the very end.

While the third in the series Trials and Tribulations remains the high point in the Phoenix Wright saga, Dual Destinies comes up as a very close second. Managing to wash out the bad taste the Edgeworth spin-off left, this is an incredible return to form for the series. With each case being as intriguing as the last it’s a game that is hard to put down till you’ve reached the games dramatic conclusion.

Local Edinburgh Film Company DeepFried35 prepares to release Halloween Zomedy

Edinburgh, Scotland- October 29th 2013- New local ‘Zomedy’ from film producers DeepFried35 aims to propel Scotland into the online film scene.

Local Edinburgh film company ‘DeepFried35’ are launching their debut film in time for Halloween. The ‘zomedy’ based on the video game ZombiU for the WiiU, ‘The Real ZombieU’ is due to be released on 31st October 2013 and will be available to watch online. The plot follows main character, Ron Dee on his search for an essential mystery object through a Zombie infested city. It is the first major project from ‘DeepFried35’ and showcases some of Edinburgh’s finest local talent of actors and film producers. Also featuring innovative interactive QR code technology; ‘The Real ZombieU’ is certainty aiming to push the boundaries further than any other locally produced short film.

ZombiU the game was released in November 2012 as a launch game for the WiiU console and Greg McCraw and Shaun Paul Johnston, the creators of fan film ‘The Real ZombieU’ are both fans of the game. They wanted to create a film where they could combine the game with some of their favourite zombie films such as Shaun of the Dead. They said “We were inspired by the originality of films like Shaun of the Dead and obviously we are big fans of the ZombiU game so we thought, why not incorporate the two?”

The visual effects in the film carry a ‘game-like’ feel throughout with the main characters scanning device representing the WiiU console and the on screen EKG monitor giving the illusion that the audience are playing the game. QR codes will also pop up during the film which the viewer can scan with their mobile phone to receive extra content and information about the characters which may be a first for the indie film scene. The film is both creative and clever allowing the audience to interact with the film like they could a game.

“This is the first major film we have created as ‘DeepFried35’ and wanted to make sure it was something that people would be interested in.”-Shaun and Greg. The film will contain elements of the game and the guys hope to engage the interests of both film and game aficionados, so far gaining a lot of attention from Nintendoenthusiasts.com and other gaming sites alike. DeepFried35 plan to break the barriers and put Edinburgh on the online film industry map and hope by releasing ‘The Real ZombieU’ might help bridge the gap between the film and game industries.

 

Background Information

DeepFried35 started earlier this year when graduated film student Greg McCraw and actorShaun Paul Johnston decided to create a film company to break into the Scottish independent film scene. They wanted to emulate the success of US Freddie Wong who has rose to fame with his online short film creations. Johnston says “There’s not much going on in Edinburgh or Scotland in terms of pushing the online film industry forward. Guys like Freddy Wong have seen success from their films on YouTube in the states but no one seems to be making it big here in the UK. We wanted to show people there is great talent here in Edinburgh and the in rest of Scotland.” The guys are currently planning their second film which will go into production later this year.

 

Additional Information

‘The Real ZombieU’ will be available to watch online on Wednesday 31st October from:

www.deepfried35.com and www.youtube.com/user/deepfried35
Facebook: www.facebook.com/deepfried35
Twitter: www.twitter.com/deepfried35
Google+: www.plus.google.com/117899185931211380981/posts
Amber Dryden: amber@deepfried35.com
Sam McCraw: sam@deepfried35.com

Proteus Review

Another Indie makes it way to the PS Vita, this time from Ed Key and his title, Proteus. An experience that must be played to really appreciate.

Proteus first came about on the PC, as did many Indies that have made their way to the Vita. It is a title that shares more in common with games such as Flower, Journey, etc. It isn’t a game as such, more an experience, a first person mood simulator…maybe?

There is no story, no objectives, no real goals or anything. It is just you and a procedural generated world to get lost in. You will start off in exactly the same position every time you embark on a new adventure. In the middle of the sea facing what looks like an island in the distance.

It starts the same, it starts without any instruction, or rules. You just know by instinct that you are to make your way to the small mass of land in the distance. It is a first person game, so you know what the basic controls must be, to you move forward and take to land. You look around and take in the world that is around.

You walk further, you spot a path, you decide to follow the path. There is something moving over there to the left, so you go and check it out, it is a few chickens, they run away as you approach, so you chase them and spot something else and go and investigate that. The next thing you know is that time has shifted in the real world. somehow it has got dark out and you started on your journey in the middle of the afternoon.

You have lost hours to this, with headphones on laying on the sofa you can totally lose yourself in this ever changing world. Honestly, people could have broken into my home, ransacked the place made themselves some lunch and walked out without me noticing. Such is the level of immersion in this game.

What surprises you though, is that unlike a Dear Esther, this isn’t a graphical powerhouse, you aren’t being taking around photo-realistic worlds. You have to look at this like you would a piece of art, it isn’t realistic, but it uses techniques that give each person that views it a different feeling.

That is also in no small part to the music. It is only after thinking back that you realise just how effective the music in Proteus is. It is completely ambient and it is that which draws you in and relaxes you until such a time your first journey is over.

Yes, Proteus is a short experience and is at it’s core a message about mortality. You don’t want it to be over though, you want to go back and rekindle that experience you have had. There are a couple of ways in which you can do this. Either by starting again, which drops you into the sea and off you go.

The other option is what is one of the best save systems you will encounter in a game. You are able to take snapshots as you go, these are saved as wonderful looking photos that you can view in a gallery. What you will find though, is that clicking one of these saved photos will take you right back into the world, allowing you to explore even further. You will find yourself come to a point where you are torn on which direction you want to go, so you take a snapshot, go in one direction, then when you dive back in another time, you can go the other direction.

Proteus isn’t a game in the usual sense of the word, it won’t appeal to every demographic, but it is an experience we would urge as many people as possible to take. There is something special about this that will leave a lasting effect.

Okami HD Review

There are few games out there that wow with beauty and imagination, the story of wolf Amaterasu and his fight against the forces of darkness, Okami is a story steeped in Japanese folklore, making it a rarity on these European shores. Originally released in 2006 for the PS2, it’s finally gotten the HD treatment on the PS3 and the results are simply wonderful.

First off it only seems right to talk about the graphics. A beautiful watercolour visual style, the whole game feels like a moving painting, each scene and environment making jaws drop. Everything having a paintbrush style with thick black outlines around everything, it’s no wonder this is considered one of the best looking games on the PS2. It’s incredible really that since Okami’s release many games are attempting the photo-realistic style to add an emotional connection to their characters, and yet the emotion felt playing Okami is stronger than most of these games.

Amaterasu’s facial features and mannerisms showing more emotion than most games you’ll find that favour a realistic style. And this is from a character that has not one spoken line of dialogue. The relationship the wolf shares with the miniscule artist Issun being a particular highlight. Issun, riding along on Amaterasu’s back and often being the comedic part of this double act. Issun joining the adventure in order to obtain all Celestial Brush techniques, something that forms the core gameplay of Okami.

The player can essentially pause the game for a time, and then proceed to use the analogue stick to draw on the unpainted canvas. The brush techniques you learn on your journey range from simple power slashes (drawing a straight line across) to making the sun appear (drawing a circle in the sky). They work really well, and for the most part the game offers a great deal of leeway with your drawing skills. Being able to understand what you’re trying to draw even if your circles come off as a bit more egg shaped than you would’ve liked.

There’s a reason many people call Okami “the best non-Zelda game ever made”, because it is very much steeped in that genre of game. An overworld that opens up as you progress, a number of dungeons to conquer and new items and abilities that will help you progress in said dungeons. But despite this successful formula, the game brings enough different elements to the table. Each new area initially starting out as a cursed zone, where any time spent in the darkness drains energy. Finding each guardian sapling and restoring them using the celestial brush sends the area into a flurry of flowers and beauty. Each act of kindness or restoration results in praise, praise being used as a way to upgrade certain attributes.

If there’s one criticism to be levelled at Okami it’s the dungeons while fun, never tax the brain enough to be challenging. Puzzles seem obvious, and compared to the very best Zelda has to offer, dungeons are incredibly small with the final boss battles while at times being spectacular once again come across as being quite easy. Part of the problem could be the games inisistence on giving the player more items and money than they would ever need. Health restoration items and ones that increase your defence or attack are commonplace, found in many chests littering the land, and can be bought for a reasonable price at all of the nearby stores.

Seven years after its first appearance and Okami feels just as fresh now as it did back in 2006. One of the highlights of the PS2 and Wii libraries now in glorious HD is an offer too good to pass up. While dungeons may lack the complexity one would hope for, this is a minor complaint with an otherwise fantastic game. If only the sales figures had matched the quality.

Muramasa Rebirth Review

You know the drill. You wait ages for an eastern 2D side-scrolling brawler on the PS Vita, then two come along at once.

After Vanillaware released Dragons Crown on PS3 and Vita, they followed that straight up with Muramasa Rebirth. Whilst there are many similarities between the two games, there is no reason to choose one over the other.

Muramasa Rebirth is one of the best looking games you’ll find on the Vita, once again showing how 2D is going from strength to strength. At times it will feel like you are playing a painted canvas, rather than a videogame, such is the attention to detail in every visual aspect of the game. Unlike it’s stablemate Dragon’s Crown, the action feels better balanced on the screen, without you losing track of where your character is, due an overload of action.

Battles are all about your blade, it is your primary means of attack and defense. Only drawn when the enemy are on screen you basically attack in various ways with your blades. Press down along with the square button and you’ll attack low, press forward and you’ll dash attack, jump and attack, defend then attack. It is all pretty simple, which makes it great for newcomers to get used to the action.

Yet, should you spend the game mindlessly button bashing, you’ll soon find yourself coming unstuck and struggling. Early on you can get by without much of a strategy, but a few levels in and you will find yourself needing to really consider how you approach enemies, finding their weaknesses and strengths, let alone how you approach a boss battle.

You can equip up to three swords at a time and how you use these is important. You can switch between them, with each switch giving a quick special move, yet use a sword for too long and it breaks, leaving you unable to attack or defend properly. Each sword also has a special power, that can cause devastating damage, but this again has to be used properly, as there us a gauge that will determine if the move can be used. Empty gauge, then no move.

It is a very simple game to play, even taking into consideration the possible weapon upgrades through the crafting mechanism. You find a game that starts to become repetitive after a while, traversing various levels, defeating groups of bad guys, then making your way to a boss.

It is the boss battles that show off the game mechanics best and allow you to showcase your skills, the rest comes across as filler after going through a few levels. Which despite an increasing difficulty and need to learn self control and tactics, it doesn’t offer enough change to keep your attention for the long haul.

However, the pacing is just about right. The main campaign will take around 10 hours to complete, which you can do twice over, as the game features two different characters. Kisuke and Momohime do technically have different stories, but these essentially boil down to retreading the same areas in a different order. Any longer than 10 hours a piece would have been too much and having the game split into two stories means you can easily take a break between finishing one, before starting the other.

Muramasa Rebirth is a showcase for what visuals the PS Vita can produce. It does have solid gameplay, but lacks enough variation to be an absolute must have purchase. There is fun to be had for sure though and would be a solid introduction to the genre thanks to the simple to use mechanics that take plenty of mastering.

Atomic Ninjas Review

From developers Grip Games, makers of Foosball 2012 comes a new brawler for the PS Vita. It’s a genre that is new to the Vita, but is it worth your time?

Atomic Ninjas is a game about Ninjas that have to fight other Ninjas. Nothing more, nothing less. An event happens that basically causes the end of the world and that means that the Ninjas, who survived the terrible event, are now forced to fight each other for all eternity.

So yeah, that is all you’ll get plot wise, but hey it matters not, as what counts in a game like this, is how well it plays. With Atomic Ninjas you have a game that neither excels, nor fails at what it is aiming at.

Influences are clear, it has a bit of Super Smash Bros and Jump Ultimate Stars, mixed with a bit Rocket Riot. Yep, it is a single arena brawler where you must basically use all kinds of weapons and techniques to destroy all the other Ninjas for points. The battle system works like a real times Worms but with less choice.

There are three types of attack, punch is used for close melee attacks, with shuriken for ranged attacks and force grab, for picking up objects from around the map to throw at your foes. Alongside the attacks there are different tools for traversing the arena. The grappling hook, rockets and claw each allow you to move around and gain an advantage over an opponent and can even be used as a weapon if you are clever enough.

The pieces are all there for a fine entry into the genre, yet after playing for a small while the game feel a little off, especially when compared to other titles such as the aforementioned Super Smash Bros. You aim with the right stick, while performing actions with the right shoulder button, whilst also moving with the left stick. Now this sounds like it should work fine, on the Vita anyway, but for some reason it feels quite cumbersome and un-natural. You never really feel like you are in full control.

That said, you do get used to the controls and they are manageable and pretty soon you will feel competitive, but it does feel it is in spite of the controls. You feel like you are battling not only your opponents, but also your own dexterity. This dampens the fun you feel you should be having.

It is a shame, as the mechanics of the game itself work well, there isn’t an overly complex battle system to master, which means that winning is down to your own skill, rather than being someone who has learned every inch of a huge catalogue of moves. You never feel like you are entering a round destined to lose from the offset, which is a testament to the the way the game has been thought about, it should see new comers be as competitive as long time veterans. No player will feel overwhelmed, which is vital for a game which is pretty much designed to be played online from the very beginning.

Visually Atomic Ninjas isn’t pushing any boundaries on the Vita, it looks polished enough but won’t be winning any awards for design. It does the job it needs to do though, arenas a well laid out and the characters are easy enough to follow as are the pickups for weapons and the like.

As said, the game is made for online play, but there is a single player option, although this counts mainly as a way for you to practice your skills, learn some of the layouts and basically get a feel for the game. After a while you will be relying completely on the online community, which at the time of writing was busy enough that getting games wasn’t an issue at all.

Credit must also be given to the net-code. The games run really smoothly and there was hardly any noticeable lag in any of the games we played. There were a couple of crashes, but they seemed to come in games that were consecutive, so benefit of the doubt that it was a connection issue, rather than anything in the game itself.

Atomic Ninjas is a completely average game and that is meant with the greatest respect. It is a mid-tier game, that will never be a long term favourite, but there is room for that, it is a game you are happy to pick up, play for a couple of weeks then move on.  At £7.99 it doesn’t break the bank and you will get value for your outlay for that small amount of time you spend with the game,

Beyond: Two Souls Review

Love him or loathe him, David Cage is certainly a unique personality. “Game overs are a failure of the game designer” being a stand-out quote from his, and yes, going through his latest offering Beyond: Two Souls he has eradicated the “Game Over” screen completely, but in doing so has created a game where challenge is non-existent. Beyond is certainly an odd beast, one after completing, is still difficult to put into words.

The last big console exclusive before the next generation arrives, Beyond: Two Souls continues David Cage and Quantic Dreams goal of creating a game that will emotionally engage the player with characters and choices that will have an impact. Quantic Dreams last game Heavy Rain attempted this, and while it may have missed the mark on a few occasions, it was not lacking in ambition. Problem is, since the release of Heavy Rain we’ve seen the release of The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. The latter especially fits in perfectly with what Cage has been attempting since his second game Fahrenheit. So it’s quite sad to see Beyond: Two Souls sacrifice the ambition that has always been prevalent in the previous Quantic Dream entries.

While the player is making choices and certain scenes can have different outcomes, they can feel quite inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. The player is essentially on rails, riding to a pre-determined location, at least until the last ten minutes where memories of Mass Effect 3 came flooding back. And with the lack of challenge you feel like a casual observer as opposed to an actual player. Really if it weren’t for the stand-out performances from the two leads it would be a very difficult game to persevere with.

Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are outstanding as the two main characters. Ellen Page playing Jodie, someone linked to an entity/spirit who she calls Aiden, with Dafoe playing the doctor Nathan Dawkins who wants to study the link they share. As the story progresses the game keeps jumping between different times, from child to adult, and back again. An interesting idea, but one that would have worked just as well if it just followed the story chronologically instead of randomly jumping to different moments of Jodie’s life without rhyme or reason. It almost feels like someone threw darts at a wall in order to select where the story goes next. Story wise it does start off slowly, but soon finds its feet a few hours in, and aside from a few crazy moments where memories of Fahrenheit’s hilarious Matrix fight scenes came flooding back, did keep us relatively engaged. So for acting and writing it’s certainly an improvement over Heavy Rain.

There are moments however where the old David Cage comes out and you’re treated to uncomfortable shower scenes, half naked ladies and a middle section of the game that is quite frankly so ludicrous it feels like you’ve jumped into another game entirely. It does make us wonder how much better these games would be if Cage actually hired a real writer as opposed to doing it all himself. On the plus side, at least Jodie is a competent female lead, can fight with the best of them, and isn’t just in the game to serve as eye candy for a male lead.

It’s weird that this far into the review and the word gameplay has yet to be uttered, probably because it feels like the story was written first and the gameplay then wrapped around it. If you’re familiar with Quantic Dreams previous work then you’ll be familiar with a lot of Beyond. Certain sections of the story having you control Jodie walking around the environment, talking to people and interacting with various items. The difference now is the on-screen prompts are a little different. Instead of having giant buttons there are just small dots. Pushing the right stick in the direction will allow you to interact with it. It’s clear they were going for a more filmic experience by not littering the environment with giant prompts. The right stick action also coming in to play with the many fights and chase sequences littered throughout Beyond. The action going into slow motion and pushing the right stick in the direction Jodie is moving to avoid getting hit or fighting your attackers. At times it works well, others it’s hard to tell which direction you’re supposed to be moving.

The most interesting gameplay aspect is Aiden.  Pressing Triangle and you can start to control spirit Aiden floating around the world. You can’t venture too far from Jodie though due to the link. From this spectral view it’s all about manipulation. Focusing on certain objects and using the right stick can movie objects, this can be used to distract people or as a way to attack or just frighten. With Aiden you can also use these powers to take control of people which does lead to some interesting sequences. Some where you have to move the possessed character around, others where you make him turn on his friends.

After completing Beyond: Two Souls it’s understandable why this is one of the most divisive games around. Even now it’s difficult to say whether we enjoyed it or not, it’s certainly an interesting game, and does have some nice ideas. So despite a story that feels disjointed, tonally uneven and a mid-section that feels completely out of place, it’s something that is different enough from the norm that maybe, just maybe it’s worth picking up.

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness

It’s been a long time since the first Disgaea game graced European shores and turned a large number of the population into obsessive number crunchers with an eye for multi-coloured squares. Since Hour of Darkness we’ve had three more entries into the mains series and countless spinoffs on the handheld platforms. Now, the original Demons are back in a direct sequel to Leharl, Etna and Flonne’s first adventure.

This time Leharl must fight to prove himself the true overlord of the demon realm whilst also working out what on earth is happening with all these celestial flowers springing up all over the place. Many a twist and turn ensues (which we won’t spoil here), and as usual it’s a crazy and unhinged plot but then this is Disgaea so what exactly were you expecting?

It’s fair to say that a direct sequel, to a hardcore game, in a niche genre that came out almost ten years ago is likely to have a fairly dedicated audience. As such you probably know if you’re going to buy this or not already. For those that haven’t come across a Disgaea game before we will try and explain how it works. At its heart is a turn based strategy game. Your characters emerge from a demon portal and move in squares across a gridded battle ground. You use menu commands to get them to attack, use items or activate special skills. However, there is so much depth to battle and so many systems at work that it simply boggles the mind.

Along with the Lifting and throwing mechanic, the partnering mechanic, combos and apprentices are the Geo Symbols.  Many of the levels have coloured squares adorning the floor. These relate to coloured triangles set somewhere around the level, each of which gives a different effect to the square. These can range from giving extra experience points to causing physical damage or even making you (or the enemy), invincible. Not good for anyone with colour blindness but it means you have to be careful what you are doing and plan ahead. The symbols sometimes move around as well which adds even more to deal with.

Destroying the geo symbols can set off a chain reaction that destroys all the squares and damages anything standing on them. If in the process you destroy another symbol then you can get a domino effect which zooms around every colour square and ends in a huge explosion of colour. This results in a massive bonus to your end of level score (Another system in play), and can give you extra treasure.

The amount of characters you can create is truly staggering. To do this you need to go to the dark assembly room (much like in other Disgaea games), and use mana won from battles to create a new character. These can be human or monsters and new options constantly open up based on creatures you are defeating or characters in certain classes continually levelling up. The dark assembly can also be used to alter the game in certain ways, such as making better weapons available or only allowing Prinnies onto maps. Some of these bills require you to go into the assembly room and bribe the court in order to get them passed on a vote. Certain options such as making the game harder can now be accessed via an in game cheat shop.

The other thing Disgaea is known for is the item world. Any item or weapon in the game can be entered and by clearing floors of monsters within it makes it stronger. There are also ‘innocents’ within the items that can be defeated. This allows for special powers and super stat boosts to be added. The item world could theoretically last forever and we can’t even imagine how long it would take to max out an entire teams gear and weapons. For the super obsessed it’s unlikely you’ll be playing much else for the next few years if you want to take on the task.

The major addition to the many systems since the first game is the ability to mount creatures. Now human characters can ride monsters on the battle field. This allows for the use of different skills while the ridden beast will take damage rather than the user. This allows for a weak character like a healer to ride around on a dragon with much less chance of them being killed. It also allows slow moving characters to ride speedy monsters around the battle field. It’s an addition that works well and offers even more options when taking on the hordes.

Disgaea D2 represents a game that fans will love. It’s a combination of great characters, a wild story and a number of small but beneficial refinements to the tried and tested formulae. Newcomers to the series may well be completely overwhelmed but for anyone who wants yet more Disgaea action this is about as fine-tuned as it gets right now and it shows there is still a lot of life left in the franchise.

Sparkle Review

From developer 10tons comes Sparkle, a marble shooter that shares a fair amount in common with a couple of already established titles.

If you have played Luxor or Zuma, then you’ll be aware of the type of game Sparkle is. Chances are you’ve played one of them on PC, iOS, XBLA, PSN and any other system known to man. The one system you won’t have played it on, is the PS Vita. Thankfully 10tons have seen a gap in the market and moved in to fill it.

Sparkle does exactly what you’d expect of this type of game. You must clear levels of waves of coloured marbles as they move along a path to reach their goal and lose you a life. Simple, seen before and offering nothing new. From the moment you start the game, you feel like you are looking at a cheap knockoff shovelware version of Zuma or Luxor and would be forgiven for dismissing the game early on.

To do so though would be denying yourself of a fantastic time-waster. Gamestyle started the game for the purposes of review, but suddenly found our clocks had jumped forward about 6 hours in what seemed no time at all. We had to check to make sure someone wasn’t playing a joke on us, no way had this game eaten this much of our time.

It had, it really nails the addictive nature of a PopCap game and because there is nothing like it on the Vita, we were more than happy to be playing. It shows that there is an opening for all those quick play puzzle games such as Peggle, Denki Blocks, Super Puzzle Fighter, Puyo Pop,etc. The system is made for it.

Sparkle is very competent in its own right, levels are challenging and the layouts are varied, as you move through the main game’s plot. Yes that’s right, there is a plot. The woods have been taken over by dark forces and you must destroy the orbs and follow the path to claim back the land… Yeah, it is just a plot device to make a reason for the visual style and driving forward to the next level. We are big believers that this isn’t needed in puzzle games, but it is fairly unobtrusive and can be ignored.

There is a lot of content for your money, aside from the main story mode, you can play a challenge mode, that see you needing to clear individual levels as quick as possible, or survival where you play continuously until you cannot keep the marbles from the black hole at the end of the path. Both add a lot of additional play time to the game as you try to better your previous attempt.

Overall Sparkle is a great value for money game, that offers up a decent challenge. It isn’t offering up anything new, it isn’t genre defining, it does exactly what you’d expect and does it well. A game we didn’t expect much from has really surprised us.

Worms Revolution Extreme Review

Worms has been around forever it seems, with countless versions of the turn based, non-arthropod invertebrate destroy-em-up. This time Sony’s PS Vita gets a chance to host the slimy little creatures.

The same formula remains as introduced in the very original 1995 release. Players are given control of a team of worms and tasked with basically ending the lives of the opposing team. To do this there are all manner of weapons, tools, objects and sheep (always sheep) in which to take out the opposing team.

This is a game that is designed for multiplayer action, it always has been, that is part of the charm, but as usual there is a single player campaign that is designed mainly to allow you time to practice and hone your skills. Here is start with various tutorial levels, that take away the turn based aspect and start to introduce you to the various weapon types and the types of strategy you can use.

There are also a few other modes that offer up a fair amount of ‘offline’ play to keep you going when you can’t find an online game to play. These all take the form of various puzzles or scenarios scenarios to be completed, some must be finished in a set way, others set against time limits, or completing missions. Again this is a great way to learn he various tactics on offer, before taking him online.

There core of the game is playing online and thanks to the turn-based mechanic, there is no issues with lag and that sort of usual hiccup. The Vita makes an ideal place for this sort of game also, as it is one that is best played alongside something else, maybe whilst listening to music, watching a bit of TV, that sort of game where you don’t need to give 100% of concentration, you can still have a conversation with others in the room whilst playing.

It’s not just online that you can play either, as the game includes pass and play options, where up to four players can take part on the same machine. What works here is the fun that can be had, playing with four human players, watching their reactions as they take their turn and not knowing quite what they have done until you get the Vita back. That feeling of wanting revenge when you see someone laughing at you and happily informing you they have just destroyed one of your team. Great stuff!

One game that has nailed how to do online turn based gaming on the Vita is Everybody’s Golf, allowing you to have many games on the go. Setting your own rules, including the time limit someone has to take their turn on a hole. It is the ideal way to play Worms Revolution on the go, which is a shame then, that you can only seemingly have one game on the go at a time and this has to be played in real time. It is still great fun to play, you can still get enjoyment from it and it does play very well, it just feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity and we can only hope this is patched in at a later date.

Worms Revolution Extreme is of course a port of Worms Revolution and comes to the Vita as a supposed definitive version, with all the content from the console release, plus DLC included. It suffers a bit of a graphical downgrade and is clearly not running at native res, which for the most part is fine, as it also means there is no slowdown and allows the game to run smoothly. However at time it can be a little difficult to see exactly what situation a worm is in, whether it is about to drown in water, or only partly submerged. It isn’t a deal breaker and you can quickly zoom in and out using the right and left triggers.

The game also makes good use of the Vita’s unique controls, allowing you to mix up physical and touch controls as you see fit. Menus can be accessed using the screen, or by more traditional means, as can weapon selections. Aiming can be done using the touch pad, or the sticks. We found that we were switching between methods multiple times, just doing what felt right at the time and credit as always is given to a developer for not forcing a particular method on us, when it isn’t needed.

At a shade over 400MB and £11.99, Worms Revolution Extreme is a great title to have just sat on the console, ready to play at your convenience. It isn’t a perfect port, but it is competent. It does Worms as it should be done and despite the online not being ideal, there is plenty of fun to found, with plenty of single player content to accompany the multiplayer.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Collection Dated

Konami Digital Entertainment BV has announced it will release its Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Collection on November 8th, for PlayStation®3 and Xbox360®.

Set to end with the release of the final chapter of the heroic Dracula trilogy in February 2014, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Collection immerses gamers in Lords of Shadow lore and boasts over 40 hours of award-winning gameplay.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Collection comprises:

  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Users guide Gabriel Belmont, a holy knight charged with protecting innocents from the malevolent Lords of Shadow, as his murdered wife’s spirit guides him to his ultimate destiny. Included with the first chapter are the ‘Reverie’ and ‘Resurrection’ DLC chapters.
  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD – The second chapter of the series continues the story 26 years after the events of the original Lords of Shadow, as Gabriel’s descendants confront their destiny.
  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Demo – Whetting appetites for February’s epic conclusion, players also have their first chance to play as Dracula in the epic Lords of Shadow finale, via this exclusive demo.

The compilation features the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and available via voucher code will be Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD and the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 demo, as well as both the Reverie and Resurrection DLC packs.

F1 2013 Review

The Formula One season is drawing to a close, the title is nearly sewn up and you have the chance to relive it all again with the latest F1 release from Codemasters Racing

Once again the game is trying to put you in the life of a top F1 driver, as you start from the bottom and work your way to F1 champion. Well not quite the bottom, you aren’t starting by racing Karts and then working through the various racing classes, you start at the young drivers test, which acts as a glorified tutorial and introduces the various controls and mechanics of the game.

For newcomers it is a great way to get used to the vital parts of the game, such as the control system and find out what DRS, KERS and the like is. However for regulars this has been done before and does become a little tedious. The development team have tried to make this engaging still, by having it performance based, by measuring how well you perform to give you a wider range of teams to join. Don’t perform all that well and be stuck at Marussia, yet put in a solid weekend and Team Lotus could be waiting.

As with most racing games, it is how the cars handle, how they feel, how much they make you feel like you are in control. F1 sits between arcade and simulation and makes sure you experience the thrill of being in a F1 racing car amazingly well, it has always done that since Codemasters took over the licence.

The game can be set up to be as arcade feeling as you want, or as simulation as you can handle, although some fans of the likes of rFactor and other PC sims may find that it isn’t as hardcore as they may like, but in all honesty, that is fine. Handling an F1 car isn’t easy, us mere mortals wouldn’t be able to handle the raw power, so having a game that is too hardcore would put most people off. So the balance here is just right, it can be challenging, but still accessible to those who do need a little bit of hand holding.

What still strikes as being a little unbalance though, is the AI, on lower levels the intelligence just seems to be missing, with cars breaking for corners way too early, and often causing accidents by being over cautious. It is only when you enter the harder difficulties that the AI really shines, changing racing tactics on the fly, being aggressive or defensive as needed. But you really need some skill to be able to keep pace. It’s not just a fault of this game, it is a fault of racing games throughout time.

Visually things are as impressive as ever. When you are in the cockpit the sense of speed is outstanding, you get so drawn in and focused on what you should be doing, looking at the road, finding reference points for braking, looking for that perfect moment to make a pass. For the times you are racing, when you are right on the edge, it feels real, you are Lewis Hamilton, you are Nico Rosberg, when you cross the line in first you are Sebastian Vettel, you might as well raise that finger.

It is the graphics, the little visual tricks used, the amazing sound, that make that feeling possible. F1 2013 has a better sense of speed, a much more immersive experience than a Forza Motorsport, or a Gran Turismo. Which, whilst being maybe a lot more realistic with handling and the like, they can sometimes feel a little stale. Not this though, this is a joy to play.

There is plenty of content also, from the usual career modes, single races, championships, etc. There is something to keep you going for months on end. Whether you like your races in short bursts, or staying the distance and having full length events, it can be set up however you wish. Again if you fancy just learning the tracks and cars, there are the time trial and time attack modes.

The scenario mode is where you can have a great time, split into four areas based around the point in a drivers career, you are given set takes that you need to perform, earn medals and points, before taking on the next. Ranging from taking part in your first race and beating your team mate, battling it out for a championship, right through to taking part in your final year. Some of the scenario events are easy enough, but some can prove difficult and won’t be beaten on a first attempt, but each of them is short enough that you are happy to go back again and again to beat it, or even to improve your best score.

What really makes 2013 a must buy, is the inclusion of classic cars and tracks. Which includes all the modes from the modern era including a few scenario levels of its own. Being able to race a Williams FW12 or Ferrari F1-87 will bring back some memories for some of the older F1 fans and also gives a taste of how it used to be for a younger generation. There are even some of the classic tracks available to race on.

What is a shame, is that a little more wasn’t done with the classics, it would have been nice to see more made of the history, having presentations on what made these particular cars and tracks classics, what was special about them. Learning a bit more about the drivers, their special moments, that sort of thing. That being said though, you cannot help but feel nostalgic when playing. We hope there are more and more of these cars and maybe tracks released as DLC, covering some further eras than the 80s and 90s.

Driving these cars is a totally different feel to the modern 2013 cars, no DRS, no KERS, no paddles for gear changes, less lights and buttons on the steering column, the steering column actually looks like a steering wheel. The sound is different, the handling feels different. Codemasters have done a fantastic job in recreating the nostalgia of the era, when F1 was at its very best.

If you have no interest in the classic cars, then there may be no real incentive to pick up F1 2013 over last year’s release, but you’d be missing out on something very special. It is probably the best release yet, there is plenty packed in and oh, those 80s cars are things of absolute beauty.

 

Dragon’s Crown Review

After what seems like an eternity of waiting and waiting. Action-Brawler RPG Dragon’s Crown has finally made its way over to Europe. It’s certainly eye catching, but is it style over substance?

Not a chance! Whilst the game’s visual style will be the biggest talking point for many seeing it for the first time, it is in the mechanics that Dragon’s Crown really shines. It brings together side-scrolling beat-em-up joy, with the looting goodness from the likes of Diablo. It is surprisingly deep and involved, which becomes apparent very quickly.

When you first start the game you are given a choice of adventurer to play as, each of the characters acts as a different class, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Sat around a table in the local tavern, you highlight each character before choosing which you want to take on your maiden adventure.

Note we say maiden adventure! This is because Dragon’s Crown is a game that invites you to play over and over, repeating it with the different classes, trying to better the scores on each level. The score you get is based off various things, such as loot collected, enemies killed, damage taken, time you are killed and more. You won’t go through the game perfectly in the first run with each character either, so expect multiple plays.

The story is quite deep, but it is very throw away and should it not interest you much, then you can easily skip the cinematic sections. As each level essentially consists of moving through, killing everything in sight, getting to a boss and killing them. It’s not a bad story, but it clearly there to be a means to an end and act as a basic plot point for the game to move forward.

The story does give you the main route through the game and your main objectives, however there are plenty of side-quests that can be undertaken from the Adventurer’s Guild, which are again designed to tempt you back into levels already cleared. The rewards are handsome though, so it doesn’t take much encouragement. Even a few hours in to the game, you don’t feel like you have really scratched the surface, as there seems to be a hell of a lot to do.

Looting does play a large part of the game, as you unlock treasure chests throughout levels, with treasure found being given a grade of A-E. A being rarer and more valuable items, E less so and everything in-between. At the end of the level you are given the chance to appraise your loot and decide whether you wish to keep your spoils, or sell them. Appraising costs gold though, so you need to decide if you really need to consider keeping that E ranked treasure, or just sell it blindly for less money.

Appraising is important though, as not doing so, means you cannot use the treasure found. Many of the treasure take the form of new weapons, or items that can be equipped to improve your character’s, defence, HP, etc. It isn’t really a choice of trying to get through without either, as each boss battle works out to be pretty difficult anyway, let alone without any upgrades.

You don’t only find treasure throughout the levels, there are also bones to be collected, which can either be taken to the chapel and resurrected, giving you a character to add to your party, or buried for the chance to get another item as a bonus. Extra tasks can also give extra rewards, such as finding trapped women and freeing them, they aren’t easy to save though.

There are some minor issues, the biggest being that when the action becomes frantic you can be playing almost blind, simply winging it. This is because there is to much going on, that you cannot see what is going on at all times, losing sight of your character. It can be frustrating and can descend into pure button mashing as you try to survive. That is the only real fault we could find with the game though, it is a major one, but you are able to see past it and enjoy the experience still.

What impresses about Dragon’s Crown is that despite looking from the outside as a niche title, that would be favoured by a certain crowd, you find it is actually a game that has broad appeal, that can be played by total newcomers, or experts alike. It is easy to jump in and play through the campaign, button mashing your way through, or playing with more skill and finesse. The class you pick essentially helps to decide the way in which the game is played.

The RPG elements are as good as you’d expect in any other game with a levelling system. As you score points, you gain XP and the more XP gained, the higher the level your character will become. Along with this, is the ability to gain skill points and unlock new skills to make your character better and better. These can be direct improvements to attributes, boosts to score and wealth, or new moves and boosts to damage done.

It is a game that can be as complex of simple as you want. Yet there is only the one difficulty setting, it is only after you beat the game, that you have the option to unlock different difficulties. This is a nice touch and shows just how well balanced the game is from the very start.

You cannot talk about Dragon’s Crown without mentioning the visuals. They do stand out, thanks to an illustrative style that appears to have been born from a teenager’s fantasy, but looking past that and you have a game that is dripping in beautiful artwork. The characters has a ton of details, as do the backgrounds and level design. It is yet another example of how 2D can really show off the capabilities of a machine.

Dragon’s Crown is far from being a single player experience, it actively encourages co-operative play, whether that be local (if you play the PS3 version) or Ad-Hoc on the Vita. Even if you can’t get people to join your adventure, the AI will play the other three members of your party and work surprisingly well as they help you take down the waves of enemies that litter each level.

Dragon’s Crown is an amazing experience and whilst it may be easy to turn your nose up at it, due to the visual style of the characters, to do so you would be denying yourself the chance of playing one the the best side-scrolling beat-em-ups of all time. A game with simplicity, that is also as deep as you want it to be. Open to newcomers and experienced players alike, you need this in your life.