Shadow Warrior Review

For every Oscar winning performance, you need a Adam Sandler movie. For every bit of Mozart, you need a Fast Food Song. And for every The Last Of Us, you need a Bulletstorm.

What we are saying is that not everything needs to be serious and have a message behind it, sometimes if is ok to blow of steam and shoot things in the face just for the fun of it and that is why it is great to see some updated version of those sorts of games that thrived in years gone by.

Whilst the most recent Duke Nukem was an awful example of this, you only need to look at the success of Wolfenstein: The New Order both critically and commercially to see there is a market for this sort of thing, if done right and in Shadow Warrior, you have another shining example of how to do it.

For those who don’t know, Shadow Warrior was a first person shooter of sorts that was made by 3D Realms and was the lesser known of their games when compared to Duke Nukem, but it still followed the same tongue in cheek approach to the genre as its more famous stablemate. This version however isn’t made by 3D Realms, with Flying Wild Hog taking over development duties and Devolver Digital publishing.

The lead character is know as Lo Wang…So that sets things up already and from the very start it is clear the game is designed to be over the top and will encourage you to just go on a path of destruction, destroying all that stand before you. Mixing it up with a little bit of colourful dialogue along the way and a bit of a nonsensical story to give your journey meaning!

You take a dash of ancient Japanese myth, add in a pinch of alternate worlds fueled by the tears of Ameona, which have dried up because of her incestuous relationship with her brother Hoji. A teaspoon of demons, gods and other things that make little sense and you have a one of the most bizarre settings you can hope to come across.

What makes it work so well though, is that the way everything is played out, shares a lot with a film such as Airplane or Naked Gun. Every knows it is stupid and odd, but it is played super straight which only adds to the laughs and there is plenty of laugh out loud moments within the game as you cannot help yourself despite knowing it is all very low brow and silly.

Gameplay is really well done here too as you mix up uses of swords, pistols and other weapons, along with various new powers you pick up along the way. The pacing of what you get and when works really well and keeps the game feeling fresh throughout, you get a nice warm fuzzy feeling when you discover something new and cannot wait to play with your new toy.

Much like a game such as Bulletstorm, Shadow Warrior wants you to get creative with your attacks and encourages you to mix it up. It doesn’t want you to stick with one weapon, as that is boring and Shadow Warrior doesn’t do boring. There are built in leaderboards and challenges which add to replayabilty and you will want to replay it, because it really is just so much fun. There are additional modes unlocked once you finish the game that are well worth checking out too.

There are 17 chapters contained within the main story mode, along with the addition of new play options once finished and a Survival mode to add to that too. There are many, many hours to be had and the lulls in the fun, where the game seems to drag a bit, are few and far between. Meaning for the most part it is you, your demon partner and your weapons tearing through the bad guys again and again.

What you have here is a game that isn’t big, nor is it clever, but it really is absolutely a joy to play. It looks good visually and just plays really well. Humour is well placed and doesn’t really ever start to get too much. Shadow Warrior is a game that you simply must own, because it represents a by gone era where videogames didn’t take themselves at all seriously. And we all need a bit of fun in our lives.

Lords of the Fallen Review

Lords of the Fallen is an action adventure RPG designed to test your abilities to learn and adapt, a game that uses difficulty as a selling point… Or a Soulslike as games like this will likely be known if they keep churning them out at the rate they are. 

It is no secret that Lords of the Fallen owes a lot to the existence of the Souls games, it opened the door for others to follow, which will generally mean you get a mix games that range from decent to absolutely god awful. Luckily Lords of the Fallen falls into the decent category, but not without the odd flaw here and there.

To start, the world of Lords of the Fallen is wonderfully designed, it feels as medieval as can be. It is dark and dank, eerie and atmospheric. It is a world that draws you in, but at the same time it does feel like you are moving through corridors to the next objective, knowing that when you hit an open area, that is likely a cue for some kind of battle. But that’s cool, it works well enough and even after initial worries that it will feel a bit too linear, you still have a sense of freedom.

Characters and story are stuck right in the middle of average, really, perfectly positioned, neither of which stands out for being good, or super bad. There are barely any moments that grab you, nor are so bad you can’t help but laugh, it is almost as though the story doesn’t need to be there at all. Which feels odd, as there is a lot of conversations to be had between characters in a Mass Effect / Fallout sort of way, yet there seems to be little impact based on your actions here.

Character models again are just average, they aren’t great, but at the same time they are passable enough for the game you are playing. The facial animations are probably the biggest distraction here, as lip movements are very generic and in a world where we have been spoiled by solid work going into audio syncing with animations, it just doesn’t feel right here. But again, not enough is wrong to put you off of take you out of the experience.

So there you have it, the presentation of the game is average…but what of the bit that really matters, the playing of the game?

Here things are on the right side of average, you have a user interface that is functional and easy to understand, especially if you have come to this off the back of Diablo III, as the main character interface shares a lot in common with Blizzard’s game and that is fair enough, the Diablo UI was ideal for sorting out you character on the fly and it works here in Lords of the Fallen just as well and to be honest, why try to do something different for the sake of it? It is clear the Diablo style way of upgrading and changing your characters weapons, armour, etc is one of the best out there, so just use a version of that. It would be pointless building a plane without wings, just to be different, when you know it is the ideal design.

Why is the UI here so important though? Well it comes down to how your character acts depending on a number of factors. The armour he is wearing has an effect on movement, so by wearing light armour, your character is a lot more agile, can use speed as a defence, but is then weaker when it comes to taking damage, compared to a setup that is heavier armour. That character can take more damage, but will likely have to as he won’t be running and rolling to avoid attacks.

But it isn’t just a case of this armour is heavy, so it does this and this is light so overall this happens. Each piece you wear has an effect, so you could have light armour on your legs and be able to move a bit better, but you could have heavy armour on the arms, which means you are slower with certain attacks. It is all about experimenting and getting the combination that best suits, either your play style, or the current situation.

It is the same with weapons too, as again there are many factors to take into consideration. What is impressive about all this though, is the visual feedback. You can see even the minor differences in how a certain item affects you and in what way, sometimes it is even very subtle, so much so that it does come across as very dynamic, rather than a set of pre-defined animations.

Like the Souls games, you will die a lot, but here it seems to be set up to have you find troubles with bosses alone, as enemies you meet out in the open so to speak are pretty easy to deal with and we can only recall dying in between boss battles a handful of times and was usually because we were rushing to a checkpoint to bank our collected XP.

But you know what? It works well again, you use the travelling between areas to gather XP, so you can get to a checkpoint and bank it before moving on or taking on a boss. And the way XP is handled here works too. You can only save and use it at certain points, so you are always risking losing it at some point, but a nice mechanic here, is that if you do die, you leave an aura and should you get back to it in time, you can recover your lost XP, or even sacrifice it to use it as some kind of buffer against the enemy that ended you.

This adds a nice amount of tactical thinking to how you approach certain scenarios and means you aren’t simply walking through killing all that stands before you. There are moments you may want to try and sneak past, other you want to engage in combat and so on.

You almost don’t want to describe Lords of the Fallen as a Souls Lite, but that is what it is. It follows the formula, but doesn’t quite reach the heights set by From Software’s titles. However that isn’t to say this is a bad knockoff, it is still a damned fine game and does a lot of nice things. If you are a fan of the genre, than it will entertain you and is certainly worthy of your time.

Evo Moment 37: Book Review

“The Daigo Parry”.

The most famous moment in competitive gaming history, equalling millions of views online, this one moment catapulted the fighting games scene and the Evolution tournament to another level. Evo Moment 37 captures every moment, the birth of Evo, the rise of Street Fighter III: Third Strike and of course, the moment that cemented Daigo Umehara as the fighting game scenes greatest player.

The Daigo Parry.

It’s probably worth explaining the parry system and how it works. Basically, as your opponent attacks, pressing forwards will parry it causing zero damage to your character. This is for a high parry. A low parry work the same way only you press down. It’s difficult to parry two attacks in succession. Parrying an entire super seemed impossible. It wasn’t.

A large portion of the book is from the viewpoint of Justin Wong, the player who found himself on the end of Daigo’s full parry and his is the most interesting tale. A story of essentially lying to his parents so he can go to all these gaming tournaments, he trained and trained in order to rise up the ranks. A true underdog story that almost feels like a Hollywood story.

Not just focusing on Justin, it also jumps between a number of individuals who were involved in the tournament scene at the time, including Seth Killian who recorded the infamous footage. For someone (like us) who only has a passing interest in the fighting game community, there’s a lot more here that some people would not know. For instance, the incredible unpopularity of Street Fighter III at the time and the troubles of changing Evo from a purely arcade cabinet tournament to the world of consoles. It sounds strange now, but something that at the time was hugely controversial.

Despite being a niche product, even for those who aren’t big fighting game nuts will be able to appreciate the time and dedication that each of these players puts in. And maybe it’ll be something that gets them swept up and actually look at more Evo Tournaments. Our one recommendation for you then would be to check out the BlazBlue finals at the 2014 Evo Tournament to see some truly high level play.

If there’s one downside of the book it’s that the writing when it comes to describing the matches is staggeringly poor. Admittedly there’s very little you could probably do when describing Street Fighter fights, but it just made us want to load up YouTube and try to find the matches in full rather than reading the rather mundane match reports. In defence though the writer does try and tone down the technicality of certain aspects, so there’s no talk of “frame traps” and the like. It’s all simple fireballs, sonic booms and kicks.

Is Evo Moment 37 worth owning? Probably, yes. If you’re a fighting game fan then you’ll already know the story, but the insights into people’s lives at the time and what was going through their heads makes it a worthwhile read. This is particularly evident during the Daigo Parry as this moment is relived three times from three different angles. If you’re not into fighters as much then it’s still worth a look. It’s simple in its terminology that you’ll be able to understand, and it’s interesting enough that maybe it’ll be the doorway into the world of Evo.

VERDICT: YAY!

Race The Sun Review

There are some games that just seem to grab you instantly and Race The Sun is one of those. From the moment we laid eyes on it, it has been on our radar and now it is finally here.

It is no surprise to learn that Gamestyle are big fans of Indie titles it is the one reason we are huge fans of the Vita and are getting plenty of value from the PS4 in its first year. Something really stood out about early footage of Race The Sun and we can tell you it has been very much worth the wait.

It is a game that is very much a one trick pony, you take your craft and you race into the screen for as long as you can, with your only timer being a setting sun. Objects are bad and if you hit them it is game over, shadows are bad as they slow you down, sunlit areas are good as they keep you going fast and flashy things are great as they help in some way or another.

It is actually not doing anything new that hasn’t been seen before, but at the same time it still feels very unique and that comes from some crisp stylized design and wonderfully realised controls.

What is unusual though is that unlike many games of this type, it isn’t one you can pick up for the first time and just know what to do. Instead it takes quite a while to get used to how the craft flows and how much inertia there is within the game and we’d say that for a good period early on, you’ll be crashing and failing rather often.

But, after that initial period, it clicks and you soon realise how things work, picking out little areas that can not only get you through each region, but also maximise your point scoring at the same time. You guide your craft though areas on instinct and you just know where you can take chances and where you need to play it safe.

As you play through you are given various objectives to meet, things like hit a certain score target, spend this amount of time airborn, don’t hit anything in one region, etc and by completing these objective you can level up your ship. With each new level comes a new reward, such as overall perks, like starting with a 2x multiplier, or ship attachment perks like magnets for picks up, or storing extra jumps. Choosing which ones to add can really change how you approach a level.

One example being adding extra stored jumps, which can see you spend most of a region airborne, missing all the dangerous obstacles and staying safe, the offset to that though, is you miss the pick ups for increasing your score, which doesn’t help for your leaderboard position. Each option has unique pros and cons and the fun comes trying to find the best for your play style.

The leaderboards and the world are reset every 24 hours and randomly generated again, but unlike the daily challenges in the likes of Spelunky or OlliOlli, this isn’t a secondary mode to the main game, this IS the main game. It is a game that is designed to be a daily challenge from the ground up and it is all the better for it.

There are other modes that can be unlocked like the special abilities can for your craft and one of these is created especially for Sony’s systems and that is called Labyrinthia. It is a mode that plays a lot slower than the main game and is set to a static world permanently, the camera is set to a higher angle and is more of a puzzle type mode than the main game as it asks you to really plan ahead to get as far as you can. It is a real departure from the main game, but it adds a nice bit of variety.

Race The Sun is a cross-buy and cross-save title for PS4, PS3 and PS Vita and the cross-save works flawlessly. You won’t be able to help just picking this up for a quick go, whether at home or on the road, then losing way too much time to its charms. The Indie revolution is still going strong and this is yet another wonderful example of that.

Don’t Die, Mr Robot! Review

One of life’s lessons is that we should never judge a book by its cover and in the case of Don’t Die, Mr Robot that is certainly a very apt saying. 

At first glance Don’t Die, Mr Robot looks like a student project, it looks like a game that will have poor controls, be clunky as hell and has little to no polish at all. You could almost be forgiven for turning a blind eye to its release. However in doing so, you will rob yourself of something very good indeed.

Let us start with the down side of the game before even getting to the gameplay and mechanics. Visually it is certainly lacking polish, but the art style itself looks like it done using the most basic of vector tools to try and create something, as though a stage was reached for the look and feel and then left untouched.

It feels like we are being harsh here, but the main character a square with eyes that you can dress up is neither inspiring, nor recognisable and even though there are customisation options, they don’t feel worth bothering with. It really feels it needed to do one of two things.

Either have someone come in to create something that really stands out, or follow the Thomas Was Alone school of character design. The squareness of the main character feels right within the game world, but the aesthetic is really lacking. A simple square with no character could have worked here.

It is the same with enemy design, it is lacking that certain something and again sets itself between needing to be more basic or having more effort put in. It just isn’t pulling you in from the start and again that follows through to the UI, which is again looking like it has been done with some basic CSS options and little else.

Now that being said. Gameplay is truly fantastic and from the very moment you start, you feel like you are playing a standalone version of Pacifist Mode from Geometry Wars 2. That mode where you had to pass through the gates to destroy the enemies that were within the blast radius.

Yes, that is what you have here, except the gates are replaced with pieces of fruit.

It works so well too, the character control is as smooth as butter and as responsive as you could hope. It is a game about precision control and that is exactly what you have here. It adds a few little touches of its own though, which really add to the mechanics.

You are rewarded for chaining together explosions, where the blast radius of one fruit touches another piece and so on, allowing you to get a multiplier. You are also rewarded for taking risks, as you get bonus points for brushing enemies without actually making contact. How you maximise your scoring is vital because at the end of the day this is a game all about getting high scores and making you climb those leaderboards.

There is variety too, aside from a main arcade mode, which is where you will spend the best part of your time, there is a remix mode, which is essentially a measured progress mode as well as a timed mode, that sees you get two and a half minutes to get the highest score possible, where you can die as much as you want.

Finally there is Chill Out mode, which is very deceptive in name, as it is anything but once it gets going. This is an endless mode that start of slow, but increases the intensity with every passing second, to the point you are going on instinct alone and it is bloody fantastic.

As we said, you cannot judge a book by its cover. Taking a look at Don’t Die, Mr Robot from afar you really would be forgiven for not giving it a second look, but trust us when we say, make sure you do. This is a fantastic game and one that we can easily recommend.

Styx: Master of Shadows Review

If you have played Of Orcs an Men, then there is a chance you may be aware of a character named Styx. Well it has been decided that he is deserving of his own game away from the decent if flawed title he made his first appearance in. 

Styx: Master of Shadows is a stealth game based around infiltration as you playing as Styx must retrieve the Heart of the World tree that is hidden with in the Tower of Akenash. As far as setup goes, the story is actually pretty bland and doesn’t do much to capture your imagination, but it does do enough to tie together the various scenarios you’ll find yourself in and to be completely honest, that is perfectly acceptable, as not every game needs to have Oscar worthy writing and performances.

One thing Styx does really well, is stealth, which is good considering it is a third person stealth game. But what did surprise most, is that it does stealth better than Thief. Let us clarify that a moment, it does stealth better than the new Thief, it seems to pay a better homage to the original Thief games than the official sequel managed to do.

Styx himself is small in stature, which immediately rules out the gung ho approach and ignoring stealth altogether. He is around half the size of a fully grown man and any toe to toe confrontation will likely see him on the losing end. This means you really do have to make the most of your surroundings, whilst planning ahead.

There is a nice mix of just avoiding being seen and stealthy takedowns as you play as is demonstrated early on during the tutorial phase of the game. By crouching down Styx can hide under tables, time his moves and maybe roll through a hole in the wall to avoid being seen, then in the next room you would need to get to higher ground and take out an unsuspecting guard.

Any kind of confrontation is usually done from behind and requires a well time press of a button, but this isn’t a game about combat, this is a game all about stealth and by having the combat parts done simple, it allows the player to focus on the games major strengths, which is exploration and infiltration.

Styx is able to get himself plenty of tools to aid his stealthy approach, as the game incorporates some minor RPG elements that allow him to upgrade his skills. The skills are used by using something called amber, which depletes as you use a skill, but can be regenerated over time. It adds a sense of needing to manage your resources and in fact is probably the weakest part of the game, as it kind of breaks the immersion of everything else.

You can see why it is used though, as some of the skills are very interesting, such as the ability to briefly turn invisible at the cost of using half of your amber. It is an ideal way to break line of sight with your enemies and get to relative safety, so having that ability without any cost, could break the game a bit, it feels like a game that doesn’t need the RPG elements though and could have naturally added upgrades as you progressed. Any way that feels little like us nitpicking so we’ll move on.

Generally throughout the game, you get the option of fight or flight, meaning you can choose to kill enemies, or simply try to avoid them and there is a really nice variation of enemy types, which really helps add to the tension. You will want to stick to the darkness as much as possible, by dousing torches, or finding higher ground, hiding in shadowed area, etc. It all adds up to an overall mechanic that works wonderfully well.

However, there are moments where you are forced into confrontation and whilst these appear to be set pieces to drive a story forward, introduce a new enemy, etc. It also feels very out of place and even though it may be teaching you a new way of killing an enemy, such as one that can only be killed using the environment, rather than your own weapons, it does again break the immersion a little.

That said again these are only minor little things, because over all the world of Styx: Master of Shadows is well realised, visually it is a damned good looking game, the score is well done, as is the use of sound in the stealth and the game mechanic work with you, rather than against.

If you are a fan of the likes of Thief and Hitman then Styx: Master of Shadows is well deserving of a play. Goblins may be foul, disgusting creatures, but you won’t help but like this one.

Gamestyle Live – 22nd October 2014

We did it! We hosted our very first live show and moved Gamestyle into the modern era. We’d like to thank those of you who watched live and hope that you enjoyed the ramblings. We enjoyed it and hope to be back next week as this becomes a regular thing.

If you missed the live show then fear not, as you can watch right below

We’d love to hear you feedback, so either leave them in the comments here, or one of our many social networks.

Thank you again.

Forza Horizon 2 Review

Forza Horizon 2, the offshoot of Microsoft’s flagship racing IP evolves and sets the bar for the new generation of racers.

Forza Horizon is one of the best racing games from the ‘last’ generation of consoles in anyway you want to slice it. Bright colours, satisfyingly chunky arcade-style car handling, a good sized open world, and that all important XP system for those that need to see the numbers as a quantification of their time and skill invested in a game. All married in perfect tandem to create a superlative racing experience. Or some such cobblers, basically it was ace. Well, once you got past the appalling DUDE BRO presentation of it all. That bit was rubbish. Oh and the slightly wonky online bit of the game, but the rest? Golden.

So it’s no real surprise that Forza Horizon 2 doesn’t deviate far from the template set up by the first, and instead builds on what was good and alters what was bad. Relocated from Colorado to Southern Europe, you’re given an approximation of the south of France and northern Italy to charge about in a variety of cars ranging from old school to the very peak of modern vehicular technology.

First though, you have to sit through a short-but-really-way-too-long intro of beautiful 20 something hipsters (or maybe that’s how all young people look these days, Christ only knows) having the time of their live at raves while careening about gorgeous countryside in ridiculous cars and looking gorgeous while a willowy voice over spouts some rubbish about the summer of your life. Or something. It has to be said, attention tended to wander as it went on because you couldn’t skip the bloody thing.

To be perfectly frank, this is almost the only thing wrong with Forza Horizon 2. This and Sean Maguire and the woman that fixes your car that calls you ‘dude’ all the time. Fortunately the DUDE BRO nature has been dialled right back, and the game is much better for it.

Forza Horizon 2 has a lot in common with classic Xbox racer Project Gotham Racing 2, not only in handling style, but also with the (now overhauled) skill system resembling that games Kudos system. XP earned from driving like a professional lunatic and performing skill chains, such as drifting, drafting, smashing objects, overtaking, clean racing and generally hooning around without breaking the chain is put towards levelling up. Attaining a level awards skill points to put into the Perk grid, unlocking online and offline benefits for you, as well as Wheelspins which award credits or even a car if you’re lucky.

The game does a good job of keeping the races varied, with the conceit being you’re on a road trip around southern Europe, and you partake in a Championship when you reach one of 6 hub locations. You can choose from a group of Championships at each location, such as Supercar, Offroad, Hot Hatch and Classic Muscle to name a few. Each of these groups has 2 to 4 sub categories which breaks the car classes down even further, providing easy variety. All 28 Championships can be completed individually at each hub, but you need much less to hit the Final.

One of the games biggest added features is the near complete free roam of the map. Best exhibited in the Cross Country races, you’re encouraged to stick your foot to the floor and drive just to see what’s over the hill and beyond. This could have been crippled had Playground Games been daft enough to to limit this to 4 wheel drive, high clearance cars but nope, you can go off road in a Countach just as easy as a Bowler.

Aside from the actual racing it’s also chock full of other brilliant distractions, such as Barn Finds (barns hold rare cars where you’re given an approximate location to search), XP and Fast Travel discount boards to smash, speed cameras to find and break the limit on, the Bucket List, where you’re usually given a super bonkers car to perform specific task in a certain time limit, and even a Pokemon Snap style side mission to photograph every car in the game. The photo mode needs a special mention, simply because it showcases the games ridiculous good looks. There’s a big hoo hah about 30 frames per second these days, and to be honest it’s not getting touched with a barge pole here, but if the 30 frames sacrifice was to keep it rock solid and looking this good it was worth it. Maybe Horzion 3 will be 60 frames and people can let it go. We can hope.

The Online portion of Forza Horizon 2 is substantial and incredibly well integrated, moving you seamlessly from single player to multiplayer with a couple of button pushes but it’s pretty incredible and sets a very high bar for games to follow. You can free roam with access to every course in the game, do co-op Bucket Lists and join Road Trips.

Road Trips are 4 event mini tournaments consisting of races and more offbeat events like Infected and King, where you have to be the last person to not be touched by an infected player and you have to hold the King title longest to win respectively. After each event you’re awarded XP, then you’re hareing off to the next one. Whoever has the most XP amassed at the end of the tournament wins. It’s also ace how the XP counts toward your single player total as well. It’s an incredible amount of fun, but comes with the usual caveats of level really is no indication of the skill of someone, and beware of people playing the game like it’s Destruction Derby.

The antisocial so and so’s.

The Xbox One has had a rough start, and in some ways deservedly so. It was created by a company who completely misunderstood their target audience with an emphasis on TV and multitasking with a peripheral almost no-one wanted. As such a lot of people plumped for the PS4, with it’s proven greater performance on multiformat titles and general ethos of “For The Gamer”. However, Driveclub has been dismally let down by PSN’s awful reliability and some seemingly terrible design decisions, and even though one game is not enough for many to fork out another £300+ for a second console, Forza Horizon 2 makes a very good case for those looking for an amazing racing experience to taking the plunge.

An amazing example of online and offline racing built around an engaging, satisfying handling model with the looks to match. Very, very nearly worth buying an Xbox One for alone.

Murasaki Baby Review

Being a baby must be terrifying. Walking is difficult, everything is massive, and while you don’t know it yet – everything is dangerous. My daughter managed to bump her head recently after an altercation with – of all things – a cushion. At that moment all hell breaks loose, but turning to mummy will resolve all problems, guaranteed – or your money back.

Now imagine mummy is nowhere to be found, your head is on upside down, and you’ve awoken in a surrealist nightmare where everything has eyes, things that should have eyes have other things instead of eyes, there are mouths in the scenery and it is gloomily, impossibly dark. Welcome to Murasaki Baby!

Baby is adventurous and confident, but needs a little reassurance to start her search for mummy. Your duty as temporary guardian is to lead her around by the hand using the touchscreen, which is surprisingly similar to attempting to steer a real toddler in the right direction. Go too fast and she’ll stumble and fall; go somewhere she is afraid of and she’ll stop dead until you do something about it.

In her other hand is a purple, heart-shaped balloon. It’s Baby’s most prized possession, and as such, must be kept away from spiky things, pesky things, and spiky pesky things – else she will get more than a little upset with you.

On Baby’s journey, she’ll meet other characters, many of whom carry their own, differently-coloured balloons. Popping those balloons unlocks a new background panorama, and is where the meat of Murasaki Baby’s puzzling occurs. Swiping the rear touchscreen will switch between these panoramas, and tapping the rear touchscreen will trigger a unique effect.

What the balloons do and how to utilise them is rarely explained, so figuring this out is a journey of discovery where you both learn how to get by in this unfamiliar world. Puzzles usually involve traversing inhospitable terrain or avoiding spiky, balloon-popping hazards, as well as meeting strange characters with their own personal obstacles to overcome. You’ll screw it up at times, as even virtual parenting isn’t easy; the first time is a lesson learned, but subsequent failures made me feel awful. Nobody likes upsetting babies!

While sometimes your failure as a parent is to blame, at times keeping on top of things can sometimes involve superhuman feats of dexterity – managing Baby and her balloon on the front touchscreen, switching and activating panoramas on the back touchpad, changing the orientation of your PS Vita… the developers also recommend that you use earphones while playing Murasaki Baby, and not yanking those out becomes an accidental part of the puzzle too.

Clocking in at a couple of hours in total, Murasaki Baby doesn’t hang around. New ideas are introduced, expanded on, and then discarded without a second thought; navigating through the nightmare is a constant journey of experimentation and discovery, not to mention stressful and manic when something goes wrong.

None of the stress matters in the end, though. All that you care about is getting Baby back to mummy, and the excited grinning and hopping she does after you navigate a tricky segment together is worth every moment of frustration along the journey.

Chariot Review

Chariot by Frima Studios is a physics based 2D platformer where you, a princess must carry, pull & push your dead dad, the king, through ancient caves to a suitable & worthy resting place for the king. Obviously this must be filled to capacity with gold as it cannot be any old tomb. While you and a ‘friend’ are doing this, the king loves nothing more than to moan & offer his opinion on things too.

The humour in the game is superb, with some superb voice acting for the king & the skeleton who acts as your guide of sorts throughout the game. The chariot itself has large wheels and you & your partner (should you play it on local coop) have ropes that you can tether to it to stop it getting out of your sight. You cannot leave its side for more than a few seconds either. You must jump &swing across large gaps with the chariot in tow all the while gathering gold & gems as you go through each level. All the while being chased by looters who want your gold!

In game the graphics are absolutely superb, beautifully drawn & realised levels rich in colour with the characters wonderfully animated. Beginning the game with little or no knowledge of what or how to do, chariot gently guides you through a tutorial allowing you to get used to the gameplay mechanics. Your character does not collect the gold as you go through the many and varied levels which are cleverly designed, but instead the king collects the loot as his chariot passes the gold and gems throughout each level.

Pulling & pushing the king soon becomes second nature with some interesting puzzles both in the single player & some for both players together. Many you will spend some time scratching your head(s) wondering just how you can get the king and yourselves to where you need & want to be. There is certainly fun to be had freewheeling down a steep ledge while almost surfing on the chariot.

As you progress, you can purchase upgrades at the end of each level from your skeleton guide who quips about all the items. You can purchase things like a lantern to see in the dark as the king is scared of the dark and remarks so the first time you hit some shadows. Although you must find blueprints in the levels before you can purchase said upgrades.

The minor niggles I have with the game are that there is no run button & the characters aren’t the fastest walkers either so that can be frustrating. Also, playing coop only works locally which is a massive shame. Niggles aside, Chariot is a wonderfully realised game with punchy colours used through and a real charm to it which will keep you coming back for more with so much content. You can go back in each level hovering up every little thing that you missed in your previous playthrough.

Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed Review

Akihabara is a unique place. Located in Tokyo’s Chiyoda prefecture, what was once nicknamed Electric Town after its prevalence of electronic goods shops is now a hive for otaku culture quite unlike anywhere else on Earth. It’s the place to get everything geeky that you ever wanted, as well as soaking up a unique atmosphere from another world not quite like ours.

Akiba’s Trip is an unabashed love letter to this fantastical district, giving you free reign to explore and take in the sights. Many of the popular venues in town have been recreated and are hugely evocative of the real thing – seeing the towering Club Sega arcade over the road really took me back to the last time I visited. Developers Acquire have pushed the boat out and licensed a number of Akihabara’s most famous shopping venues to appear in game – the aforementioned Club Sega, Yodobashi Camera, Sofmap, Trader… it’s reminiscent of that first glance at Crazy Taxi and how strange it was to see Tower Records or Pizza Hut, brands that provide a sense that this is actually a real place.

Many of the stores sell merchandise to outfit your character in, and while it takes a special kind of idiot to get excited by a Go! Go! Curry shirt, on this occasion I’m happy for that to be me. Even the load screens have something of interest as each one displays a flyer for a real Akihabara store, a recent anime release, other upcoming games from Acquire…

Speaking of which, there is also a game attached to Akiba’s trip.

You play as Nanashi, a teenager who learns of a plot to turn the citizens of Akihabara into vampires when he is himself turned undead. A mysterious girl comes to his aid and together they escape, and upon discovering Nanashi’s new-found superhuman strength they work on a plot to eradicate the new vampiric epidemic. The enemy’s weakness? Sunlight on their exposed skin.

Naturally the only way to exploit this weakness is by mauling them with whatever weaponry you can lay your hands on before tearing their clothes off with your bare hands. Clothes can only be torn off after that part of the body has taken enough damage; if you weaken the clothing of enough enemies at once, you can dash between them, stripping them one after the other like a proper dribbling pervert. If clothes are not ready to be removed, a button-mashing minigame replete with Nanashi tugging at someone’s clothing while gurning can get you the desired results. I get the impression that the stripping mechanic is supposed to be bizarre and comedic, but it comes across as cold and sinister as you methodically prowl the streets for bad guys to undress.

Combat revolves around dodging your opponents attacks and timing your counter appropriately. This can be a little difficult at times as enemies are often reticent to attack at all, leading to you squaring off against a mob of six enemies with all of you just stood there bobbing around and blocking for long periods. Weapons are usually goofy – I settled on a baseball bat but was often attacked with monitors, keyboards, rolled-up posters, leeks and in one instance a giant doner kebab, still on the spit.

Side missions are where things get the most alarming. While your main enemies have a paper-thin plot-related reason for requiring their disrobing, a lot of side missions deal with regular, non-vampiric people and their ridiculous problems. Man taking candid pictures? Rough him up and rend his clothes from his flesh! Two disagreeing families? Get sixteen of them together and disrobe the lot of them at once! Girl watching too much gay porn? Punch her in the face repeatedly until she is subdued, then forcibly undress her! While I’ve cherry-picked those three, many others involve choosing ridiculous options from a dialogue tree and, when it turns out you are not eloquent, clever or persuasive, instead resort to ripping someone’s clothes off to “teach them a lesson”.

Back at base, in between her devastating collection of “bro” puns, your sister will also give you the odd mission. The first one involved taking pictures of maids. I tried taking a photo of one, she kept walking off so I didn’t bother with the rest. The main story’s progression is no more inspiring, as you routinely visit a location, fight some dudes, go back to base, before doing the same thing again and again until the final curtain.

There are few consequences for your public disturbance. It appears to be possible to get arrested during the game, but I’ve seen plenty of police cars drive past with nary a worry while the Akiba Sex Pest Brigade have been doing their thing, so I’m not sure what it would take for them to get involved. Tellingly, the in-game social network picks up on your activities and treats them with the same bafflement you would expect if a group of vigilante teenagers were travelling your city and tearing people’s trousers off.

If you take away all the stripping, Akiba’s Trip could have been a goofy brawler that knew its audience. It’s already filled with gags and set-pieces specifically aimed at an otaku crowd, and the recreation of Akihabara is a decent facsimile that is clearly put together with a lot of love and care.

Sadly this is overshadowed by the fact that this is a game about subduing people with violence and then stripping them naked, which isn’t how you want any love letter to end.

Paid Downtime: Sony’s Online Woes

You’ve had a bad day at work. Things didn’t go according to plan and all you want to do is go home, sit back and play some video games. As you crash on the couch you turn on your PS4, throw in a copy of Destiny and want to release some rage in The Crucible. Only you can’t. Because PSN is down. Again. Welcome to the world of Playstation 4.

Sony has never been the best at online. Next to Microsoft they are a shocking ways behind. This is going back all the way to The Great Hack of 2011 where the service was down for weeks forcing Sony executives to bow and give away a bunch of free games. You’d think they’d have learned their lesson.

Over the past couple of months, PSN has been down longer than in a decade of Xbox Live. And this is no exaggeration. It seems like every week there’s either scheduled or unscheduled maintenance, almost always during peak European times. The most hilarious being on a Bank Holiday weekend. Yes, as people have said, “it’s always peak times somewhere”, but do they always have to be scheduled for 6pm here in the UK? After all, it is one of the biggest PS4 markets. But we have to ask. What is all this maintenance achieving?

It certainly didn’t stop the DDOS attacks as they became frequent and crippled the likes of Call of Duty and Destiny, and they didn’t seem to speed up the store or friends list which are glacial. So what did they do? Nobody knows because Sony isn’t particularly forward with this sort of information.

After the downtime earlier this week, a quick gander through social media and message boards showed us something, all the goodwill Sony accumulated is dissipating rapidly. During the console reveals Sony were saying everything right, and Microsoft the complete opposite. The power had shifted; Sony seemed to be once again on top. The PS3 launch arrogance was a distant memory and this was cemented when people bought PS4’s in their droves. Both consoles sold extremely well, but the PS4 was clearly the frontrunner. But the tide is shifting. People were starting to miss the solid as a rock Xbox Live and with Forza Horizon 2 earning critical accolades (and DriveClub having a shaky start to say the least); maybe it’s time to make the move. After all, the multiformat games may be 900p, but at least it’ll work online.

Earlier this week Sony released the news that Destiny had done wonders for PS4 sales and helped it achieve the highest selling console for September, its ninth month running in the States. Despite this, as a company overall Sony is struggling. So maybe all this money is being siphoned off to help the other ailing sides of Sony’s business? It’s the only explanation, after all, how can something so successful not be doing anything to fix what at its core is staggeringly broken.

Maybe the upcoming 2.00 update will fix all this, but then again, maybe not. In the list of what to expect, not one mention of anything stability related, and maybe you’d think if it was included, they’d want to advertise that fact. But don’t worry. You change the colours of the background! Yay!

We felt that this all needed to be said, as aside from a few “PSN is down” news stories, nobody appears to be critical of the online infrastructure. PSN is no longer free, that’s not something they can hide behind anymore. And you know what? We’d happily take less free games if it meant producing a more stable online network.

Hopefully as Microsoft build up more and more momentum Sony will take notice. They need too.

Alien: Isolation Review

Alien: Isolation is an important game. It is important for one main reason.  The Alien franchise has been through the mire of late, with mediocre films and awful games. Alien: Isolation is the Dr Sam Beckett of videogames right now, with the chance to put right, that once went wrong. 

Those who played the awful Alien: Colonial Marines would be forgiven for coming into Isolation with a negative attitude, after all, the aforementioned title was looking amazing right up until release, where it then turned out to be nothing like the previews had suggested and was even completely broken in places.

Alien: Isolation has also looked fantastic in the previews and has made a fair amount of promises, but it can be hard to go into a game knowing that there is a history of negativity. It also makes it harder for those who do play it to forgive mistakes and minor bugs. Thankfully though what you get here is more Alien, than Resurrection.

Players take on the role of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of one Ellen Ripley who, 15 years after the events of the first Alien film is searching for answers as to what happened to her mother and the Nostromo. It fits nicely between the events of Alien and Aliens allowing the story and the overall lore to be filled in.

Of course the plot sees Ripley abandoned upon a space-station during her investigation where she will find herself hunted by out friend from the films, as well as find a civilization that has fallen apart, with groups trying themselves to survive, many not caring what the cost is. Of course this all simply serves as a way to create tension to the game, so you aren’t just up against an Alien, but also the worst kind of hunter of all…Humans. Well not quite true, the Alien is the worst kind of hunter still.

Those of us who have seen Alien will know that it is not a Sci-Fi, that it is in fact a horror that just so happens to be set in space and whilst it lost more and more of that feel with following films the first remains a classic and holds up to day as something that can still terrify. Isolation itself does a fantastic job of fitting in with that ethos.

The game is first person, but it is a survival horror first and foremost, it does a better job of being a game than the likes of Outcast and Daylight, which are more interactive horror stories, good ones, but still stories first. Alien Isolation is a game with a well built story around it and it maintains a lot of core gaming mechanics to help it effectively draw the player in.

First off is the atmosphere. As expected it is dark and there are tons of flickering lights, dimly lit areas, sounds to unnerve you and a score that is designed to put there hairs on the back of your neck on end. It is a game that takes the best moments of Dead Space and turns it into a complete game and does it really well.

What follows is that for the most part, Alien Isolation is a massive game of cat and mouse. The Alien makes itself known fairly early on and makes it clear that you simply cannot engage it. You have an enemy that can kill you with ease, that you must avoid at all costs. Add that in with the fantastic art direction and score and you have something that grabs you and doesn’t let go. It is frightening but you cannot tear yourself away, it does what the best horror movies do and does it well.

There has been some excellent work put into the Alien itself and not just on the visual side. It has been programmed to appear as though it is learning through every single encounter, that whatever action you take will see it make an alternative action the next time an encounter happens, that it starts to learn your movement patterns, forcing you to take alternative routes to try to outsmart it. It really works too as at no point do you feel like you have things sussed out and even though you start to get the tools to fend it off, you still never feel safe and much prefer the option of hiding or scurrying away.

When you add this to the encounters you have with other humans surviving on the space station, it can become a really tense and complex affair. Knowing when to engage other survivors, when to sneak by or seeing if the Alien can be used to your advantage at certain points. Such as seeing the Alien brutally kill someone and using that moment to rush to the temporary safety on an elevator undetected.

The controls feel very natural and add to the overall experience, by removing the need to adopt a ‘special’ stance to stay hidden, or move quietly. You walk around using the usual first person controls, but it also feels natural as you take smaller, slower, quieter steps and creep around rooms to remain out of sight. The line of sight from enemies feels natural too and for the most part they will also stay alert once they are aware of your presence which can add to the tension.

The save system in Isolation is something that could divide opinion a little, but we really like it. There is no auto-save or checkpoints, aside from when you complete a mission or move to another level. Instead what you get is a key card that can be inserted into access points dotted around the space station, acting like a check-in type system. These points aren’t exactly the most generous in terms of spacing, which makes the need to survive all that more important, as whilst some could see you doing a five minute section over again, another can be thirty minutes plus. It could have been annoying, but instead it adds to the tension even further.

There is a lot to discover with Alien: Isolation and for fans of both the franchise and the genre you cannot go far wrong with this title. The story if well written and the game oozes atmosphere whilst wrapping it all up with game mechanics that work exceptionally well.

Persona 4: The Golden Animation Review

Last year we took a look at the Persona 4 Animation and pretty much loved it from beginning to end. It was a great adaptation of one of the best games ever made. Now, a year and a half later, we have the follow up.

The Golden is an odd one. On Animax (where it can be consumed) it’s actually listed as “Season 2”, which sort of makes sense. You see, it’s an adaptation of the Golden remake on Vita, but not the entire story, only the new scenes and characters that were added. It makes sense, as why would you watch another anime just over a year later that follows the same story beats? But it also makes the series unwatchable unless you’ve played the game. Even if you only watched the prior anime it can still be a little difficult to grasp.

So describing the plot as it appears in Golden can be hard. Overall it revolves around Yu Narukami, a teen who goes to live with his Uncle for a year in the quiet town of Inaba. Soon after his arrival murders occur and Yu finds that he has the power to summon Persona’s in the world inside the TV. Yes, there is a world inside the television where all sorts of craziness is happening. This setup is only really the basis for the first episode, after that it barely touches on any of this. Instead there are twelve episodes in total and largely they cover the Marie storyline. Marie being the new character they introduced in Golden. A blue hatted girl who resides in the Velvet Room, she has amnesia and her revelations about who she is forms the basis of the series.

Those familiar with the game will know that aside from Marie and a brand new dungeon, a lot of the new scenes were filled with comedy hijinks. And that’s really what you have a lot of here. In that regard, with the exception of the opener and penultimate episode, action is in short supply. There were the slow episodes in the first series, but they were always sandwiched between brilliant action set pieces, with rousing musical scores and people shouting “PERSONA!” as it all kicks off. Golden is on the other end of the spectrum with a large portion dedicated to the comedic, character building moments, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are many laugh out loud moments in the game and those are represented here faithfully and brilliantly. The trip to the beach resulting in some rather unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions, Yosuke’s motorcycle adventure and Yu’s Christmas disaster. All are here, and all are hilarious.

At times though  it can be best to make sure nobodies in the room when watching. It was strange, clicking on the “Play” button and being greeted by a “Rated 18” prompt. Yes, like the game, it’s a little more risqué. The bathhouse scene with Marie is just the tip of the iceberg; there are a number of moments with scantily clad teen girls that can get a little uncomfortable.

At the moment there is no English dub of the series. This may be blasphemous to some, but the English voice acting was great and is sadly missed. However, as a first taste of the Japanese voices, a lot of the time it’s actually like the English cast are speaking Japanese. There’s a definite sound to each character that translated over regions, such as Kanji’s deep vocals or Rise’s incessant whining (sorry Rise fans).

Compared to the original series this is definitely a hard one to review. In short, if you played the game and watched the prior series, then yes, this is a must watch full of memorable moments. If you did neither, then avoid as you won’t have the foggiest on what’s happening. Until of course you play the game. Because you should. As it’s brilliant.

Phoenix Wright Trilogy gets a European release date

The Phoenix Wright Trilogy has now been given a release date for Europe.

Consisting of the first three games in the series, the Trilogy is set to arrive on the 3DS on 9th December. Only available on the eShop, it comes priced at £24.99, which is quite reasonable considering they’re some of the best games you could find on the DS. The third game in particular managed to set the bar so high that it has yet to be topped by any of the sequels, spin off’s and crossovers that have come later.

Here’s a trailer:

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Review

Coming into Shadow of Mordor as someone who isn’t into the Middle Earth saga at all, felt a bit odd initially. Other games based around Middle Earth, such as the various Lord of the Rings titles have come across like they are for fans only, with the only exception being the LEGO games. However Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a totally different experience from the very start.

Even early on it is clear that this is a game built as a game, that leads with game mechanics rather than trying to shoehorn a game into a lore aimed at fans. In doing so you have something that is actually very approachable for anyone, whether they are Middle Earth experts, or just someone wanting a good game to play.

Even as just an open world game that mixes the best elements of Assassin’s Creed and Rocksteady’s Batman games, it ticks all the right boxes and would be an enjoyable experience with those alone. The combat in particular is very satisfying using a combination of attacks and counters to take on the various enemies that try to engulf you.

What really makes this a bit special though is the AI that is built using something the developers refer to as the Nemesis System. This architecture builds enemies of various levels that will roam the game world dynamically, partaking in their own missions. But they aren’t just randomly generated and just around, there is a proper hierarchy here.

There are War Orcs who then have several layers of captains beneath them and so on. It may be a case that you encounter one at a time, or find yourself in the disastrous position of having multiple captains after you at once. You can of course try to avoid them, but because they are also taking part in their own missions, they are too leveling up, improving their strengths and trying to fix their weaknesses.

So the longer it takes you to take them down, the harder they will be to defeat further down the line. And whilst we said that the enemies aren’t just random, their movements may as well be, they aren’t set on a select path and will then follow that until the game triggers and event. You could be taking on a mission of your own, and encounter one or more of these enemy types going about their own missions.

In fact, the game almost lives on the idea of creating moments that will take you back and even as the game moves forward it continues to add more and more moments of surprise. Especially when you discover how you can use the Nemesis System in your favour, finding ways around the hierarchy that is in place. Using enemies to your advantage.

You often hear a lot of marketing for games about how the world is ‘alive’. GTA, Watchdogs, Assassin’s Creed, Sleeping Dogs have all made this claim and to a degree it is true, but when you see how the world in Shadow of Mordor works and it takes it to the next level. It isn’t a case of other characters just going about their business, they really are a part of your game.

Exploring is really well implemented as you climb around the various locations, use the world to be stealthy to attack your enemy, or even to escape potential encounters. How you use the world doesn’t feel forced either, it is just there and it is up to you how you embrace it.

The story seems competent enough, but we cannot comment too much on how it fits in with the rest of the Middle Earth series, the books, films, other games, etc. There do seem to be some things that are forced almost to serve as a reminder that this game is part of this world, but it may be a case of us not quite understanding how it all fits together. What we can say though, is that at no point did we feel like we were being spoken down to, or left on the sidelines as the game panders to fans of the Tolkien world.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor isn’t an earth shattering, game changing title. But it does do enough to move the genre on a bit. The Nemesis System in particular should start to make other developers look at how they create enemies and other characters in their own game world. What you do have here is a game that is just great to play, that will soak up many of your hours and leave you wanting more when it has ended.

EA remaining quiet on a much needed FIFA 15 patch

Disappointing, but not surprising, despite being out for over a week now EA are still remaining quiet on a much needed FIFA 15 patch.

In our review we said, “a pretty decent football game that unfortunately has more bugs than Starship Troopers.” The most serious of which meant some people suffered game breaking lag (even when offline), which could only be fixed with some tinkering with router settings or multiple profiles.

It’s a very shoddy state of affairs with EA FIFA’s official twitter account more concerned with pushing Ultimate Team than answering the many legions of fans hoping for an answer on when a patch will become available. Even a simple “we’re aware of the issues and a patch is being worked on” would suffice.

But then with FIFA 15 being, not surprisingly, a huge hit. Do they even need to rush a patch? Probably not. And that’s the saddest fact of all.

Futuridium EP Deluxe Review

Futuridium is the latest in the long line of high score chasing shooters to arrive on Sony platforms. A super colourful, retro looking game, Futuridium is certainly striking in its appearance. Imagine if the original Starfox took place in an 80’s disco and that’s sort of what you have here.

The main aim of the game is to destroy cubes on each level, which in turn reveals the core which also needs to be shot. Simple concept, but like so many of its ilk, very difficult to master. Controlling a spaceship you’re travelling down a lane, with the square button used to do a 180 and travel back to destroy any cubes you may have missed. Levels start off simple with a few nimble manoeuvres required to get the last cubes, as you progress however the level layout becomes increasingly dastardly with hazards and even moving platforms. Get some friends on the leaderboards and you’ll have a great time battling it out.

If avoiding all hazards wasn’t hard enough, you also have a time limit to worry about. Energy will start to count down and once it depletes then unless you have a continue, it’s game over. Destroying cubes does fill it ever so slightly, but you need to be quick to complete later levels. Particularly as getting destroyed results in a hefty chunk being taken away. Speed also playing a part in medals that can unlocked after each level. Medals for speed, chain and, well, not dying can be awarded. Managing to chain cubes together proving the most difficult as you only get a short window before the chain is reset. This is also important for obtaining high scores. As you can see, those craving high score challenges are well catered for and that’s really what will keep bringing you back.

Futuridium as a whole is presented quite wonderfully, and we’re not just talking about the graphics. The soundtrack is quite exceptional, and makes this game perfect to play with headphones on. A weird techno beat; there are a good number of tracks that fit in perfectly with the style of the game. And with a quick press of the D pad you’re able to select your favourite songs.

There are a couple of issues with Futuridium, a minor one is that at times everything can almost be too colourful so it can be hard to actually pick out the cubes. But maybe that could be considered part of the challenge. One major problem we were having to begin with was the shooting. The ship seems to have a range on its shots, so there are many moments when you’ll be cursing at the TV after a shot you think should’ve connected, didn’t. It takes a while to get a grasp on things and understand the shooting mechanic. So people picking it up for the first time may find it a little unfair. But once you start to understand it, it becomes a treat and you’ll be flying up that leaderboard.

So where does it play best, PS4 or Vita? This is a difficult question really. On the one hand the PS4 version will allow you to see more and get a lock on those more covert cubes, but on the other hand this seems a better fit for quick handheld play (hardly surprising due to the games iOS routers). That being said, whichever platform you have, you’re bound to get plenty of enjoyment out of it.

Futuridium EP Deluxe may take a little longer to click than the likes of Resogun, but once it does it’s an absolute joy to play.

Castlestorm: Definitive Edition Review

After being released on most formats already in 2013, Castlestorm has arrived on Ps4 and Xbox One with the subtitle Definitive Edition, slightly upscaled visuals and DLC from the previous releases included as part and parcel.

Castlestorm follows the story of Sir Gareth, a noble (if slightly greedy) knight in his endeavours of commanding his troops and entering the battlefield to protect his king, kingdom and peoples formerly at peace for a century from the Viking menace that has turned up at the castle door hell bent on kicking it in and looting, pillaging and generally being unpleasant. To do this you must master seemingly disparate systems that, at first, seem completely incompatible.

The first is the ballista which is mounted on the front of your own castle. This is used to take down enemy troops (or your own if you’re not careful) and destroy the enemy’s base using a variety of projectile types. The second is sending the troops out themselves, such as footmen, archers, clerics <check this name?> and paladins who all perform various roles, such as healing, long range combat or just smashing things in the face. Third is using Sir Gareth himself to hack and slash through the enemy fray, usually to cull numbers when it gets a bit hairy, and also throwing some magic around.

The levels are won by fulfilling certain win conditions, such as destroy the enemy castle, or prevent the enemy from breaking through your defences. Secondary conditions aren’t essential but give you extra money which is spent upgrading your units or castle, which is totally customisable and can be arranged and altered to become your own personal impenetrable fortress.

The way the game throws you into the first level and tells you precisely nothign is bizarre. It’s only after you’ve done the first level that you’re given a series of tutorials explaining how the systems work and mesh, although it never really explains how the castle building and customisation works and how it affects your game, that’s only found out through trial and error.

Once into the game proper it starts to make sense, with you learning which troops to deploy and when best to get Sir Gareth out into the field, but while the systems do start to work in tandem there’s some clumsiness with the control methods that take some getting used to. The camera only pulls out so far and while this is a seemingly conscious decision to keep the sense of holding the battle together and instilling a sense of danger for your base and defense, in reality you just find yourself stringing curses together and frantically panning about the battlefield .

Also the ballista aiming is incredibly twitchy with no option to reduce the sensitivity. You can use the d-pad to tweak your aim, but with the game moving at the pace it does it’s an inadequate solution due to its glacial pace of movement.

This sounds overly negative, and maybe it is a little. There’s a lot to like about Castlestorm. The story is gentle hokum, and the game overall has a nice sense of humour which, while it’s not side splitting hilarity, is still worthy of a smile and chuckle. The art direction is reminiscent of Warcraft 3-era Blizzard with bold colours and chunky, distinct character design, and the variety given to you in the objectives, customisation, weapon, troop and spell loadout has to be commended. The castle customisation never feels forced but adds a depth to the strategy if you want to delve into it. There’s also a decent amount of replayability with each level having a 5 star rating to achieve based on difficulty, time, accuracy and objectives completed.

There are  decent amount of extra modes to grind money for the main game (such as a wve based Hero Survival mode), and multi-player is well represented.

Castlestorm is a decent enough game that’s a little unsure about what it wants to be. It’s not exceptional enough to demand your time or money above the billion other games vying for your attention, but nowhere near being awful as to want  to stomp into paste and fire into the sun, never to darken your door again. If you’d like Angry Birds married to a pseudo RTS with  healthy dollop of hack and slash then it’d be right up your street.

Fairy Fencer F Review

Fairy Fencer F is the latest RPG out of Japan to feature an extraneous letter at the end of its name. It boasts an impressive staff roll, most notably Nobuo Uematsu (of Final Fantasy fame) who is responsible for much of the soundtrack, and character designers from the Hyperdimension Neptunia series.

But… what does that F stand for?

F is for Fang

Meet Fang. He’s the protagonist of Fairy Fencer F, and thoroughly dislikable – lazy, petulant and full of questionable ideas. While travelling the world he reaches the city of Zelwinds, and hears rumours of a sword stuck in the ground. A sword that will only be freed by someone the sword deems worthy.

A sword that is not a good judge of character, as this cretin is able to draw the sword from the ground without breaking a sweat.

Contained within the sword is Eryn – a Fairy. She explains to you that the sword is called a Fury, and as the wielder of this sword he is considered a Fencer – an elite magical swordsman. There are a hundred furies scattered across the land, which were created by the great Goddess and Vile God during a historical world-shearing. As a Fencer, it is now Fang’s duty to unify these Furies, resurrect the Goddess and bring peace to the land.

Fang does not understand, nor care. Fang wants to eat food.

F is for Fury

Your first task is to figure out where the rest of the Furies might be found. This attracts the attention of Lola, a local information dealer, who naturally is approximately eight years old. She immediately (and correctly) pegs Fang as a moron and proceeds to extort money from him in exchange for information on the location of a Fury, and will continue to do so throughout the course of the game for progressively more extravagant sums.

Field locations are filled with wandering monsters who can be fought or ignored as you wish. Combat is turn-based, and requires your team to strategically position themselves – or, more accurately, get in the enemy’s face and perform hitting; alternatively stand slightly further away and be a wizard. Positioning team members behind an enemy can lead to extra damage, but also results in one-on-one battles looking like something out of a Benny Hill sketch as the player and enemy take turns to run behind one another and have a quick swipe.

Sneaking up on an enemy in the field will bump the team up to the top of the turn order, and also gain you a little bit of extra Fairize meter.

F is for… Fairize?

Fencers are able to “Fairize” with the Fairy inside their Fury once enough meter has been built up. Doing so involves the Fencer skewering themselves with their Fury, which leads to them donning strange, Gundam-like armour and gaining a bunch of stat boosts. There is an unwanted side-effect to this, however – upon Fairizing, the battle theme switches to something that could easily pass as the theme tune to a Power Rangers show. Whilst amusing the first time, it is truly dreadful and the end of a battle is sweet relief.

Also notable is the lolloping trumpet music that plays during the majority of conversations between the cast. Usually reserved for backing goofy or stupid characters, the fact this is heard so often gives you a good idea of what delights the characters can offer you.

Boys are unreliable and eat lots of food! Some boys are very serious and handsome. Fang said something ridiculous again! Girls think boys are stupid! Trumpets.

Enemies yield the usual EXP and Gold when defeated, along with Weapon Points. When Fencers level up, they only gain stat bonuses. Weapon Points allow you to customise character movesets and magic, as well as stat boosts and passive abilities. One particular passive ability is inspired – simply called “Learning”, it enables any members of your party who are not active in battle to earn full battle rewards, reducing needless grind to a minimum. Sadly, bespoke customisation of your characters isn’t on the menu, as each team member is predisposed to a certain type of build – but you are afforded a little freedom.

The final stat that Weapon Points can be invested in is the combo meter. Each character starts with a standard physical attack of a single strike. Increasing the combo meter grants a follow-on strike each time it is increased, enabling characters to get a bit more creative with their attacks. This also vastly increases damage output to the extent that offensive magic is rendered pointless for the vast majority of the game. With the exception of the very top-end spells, magic is expensive and ineffective in comparison to physical combat.

Another inspired offering from Fairy Fencer F is the ability to skip combat animations. Holding L2 during a battle will enable you to rattle through combat in a matter of seconds. Once you’re comfortable with the battle system, utilising this feature really takes a lot of the grind out of proceedings, though at the expense of showing just how powerful melee attacks are as you mindlessly hammer X through each battle to do stabbings.

F is for Framerate

When in town, Fairy Fencer F looks pretty good. Character portraits are detailed, and subtly animated as if they were actually breathing. There is only so much that can be portrayed with still portraits, however, and one or two in-town cutscenes are unintentionally hilarious as a result of characters stiffly wobbling around on screen when trying to depict a fight.

Visuals in the field are less impressive. Environments carry little detail, character models look fuzzy as if vaseline has been smeared on your TV, and proceedings chug along at a miserable, juddery framerate.  Signposting within the game is also problematic – one tutorial asks you to equip an item that the next tutorial requires you to use, but doesn’t tell you that the item must be unequipped in order to do so. Other events require a specific set of criteria to fulfil, but provide absolutely no information as to what that might be.

During some boss battles, cutscenes will kick in partway through to illustrate just how strong your opponent is. These usually appear after you’ve mercilessly punched them half-to-death in a single turn, and as a result bear no relevance to the battle you’ve just had.

Fairy Fencer F just feels a little unpolished. Despite its innovations in reducing grind and the Weapon Point system’s initial promise, there’s too much that just doesn’t sit right. Battles quickly become very samey, the plot is derivative wish-fulfilment nonsense, and during battle you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a Wii game based on looks alone. All that said, at the time of review I am half way through a second playthrough, so it’s clearly doing something right!

F is for Fixed…?

Last month, Compile Heart announced Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force, for PS4. Time will tell if it lives up to the promise that Fairy Fencer F couldn’t quite fulfil.

 

Steamworld Dig Review

Rusty is the name, he is our intrepid robot prospector in Steamworld Dig, this time released on the Wii U. Within minutes of starting the game, Rusty has procured a precious and incredibly useful pickaxe for it is with this that you will use to chip away further & further into the land below the town above, getting richer as you dig & with time uncovering the ancient threat lurking below…

The Wii U version is a definite upgrade graphically from the 3DS etc with high resolution 1080p graphics, some lovely dynamic lighting and best of all a clutter free UI with the map etc now displayed on the Wii U gamepad too.

The mines are randomly generated in Steamworld Dig, which means that no matter if you have played this on say PS4, 3DS or Vita it presents a new path each time, much like Spelunky in this respect. Not only are you armed with your now trusty pickaxe, but you also carry a solar powered light. Yes, you read that correctly, a light that slowly over time depletes so you need to continually make trips topside to recharge it. Sounds like a bind, where in actuality it brings some welcome relief and enable you to power up using the money that you have made from collecting the loot that you find below in your ongoing adventure. You can also upgrade a number of items, from your light & pickaxe to adding new items or abilities also.

Slowly but surely, you chip away through the mine, defeating enemies & minor puzzles as you go, every so often retreating to the cool bright & balmy world above to charge your light and boost your toolset allowing you to inch closer & closer to the bottom of the mine. The enemies in the game are quite varied throughout & as you progress some definitely pack quite the punch proving quite tricky in parts. The whole look & design of the game is simply spellbinding, colour is used to brilliant effect throughout os you aren’t simply seeing brown and red as you travel further & further towards your goal. Luckily, you don’t have to retrace your steps either when you do decide that it is time to head aboveground again, as you can use magic (and incredibly handy) portals to get you to & fro in a mere flash!

Throughout the game you will come across new upgrades, giving you an ability to progress through somewhere you could not previously, such as the speed boots which allow you to traverse disappearing platforms in a moment without dropping into the enemies or spikes below. Steamworld Dig will draw comparisons as it feels in a way a cross between Dig Dug (remember that!) & Metroid. Believe me this is not a bad thing. One more than one occasion I said to myself ‘I will play just for a little bit’ only to fin myself still playing much later than intended.

The core of Steamworld Dig is a simple one, yet with the charm & wit it possesses really hooks you in. Couple that with the insanely catchy mid western style score and you have a great game for all ages. If you haven’t played this yet, I couldn’t recommend it more & I for one cannot wait to play Steamworld Heist, newly announced by Image & Form, the creators.

Natural Doctrine Review

Natural Doctrine from developers Kadokawa Shoten will be a game you will absolutely love, or want to avoid completely. This will be based purely on your love for the RPG and interesting battle systems.

Immediately it is clear that this isn’t for the casual gamer, so if you are expecting a game to ease you into the genre, then you might as well stop reading now. There are plenty of other games out there for that, this is for fans of the genre and those who are happy to spend the time learning a new way to play.

The first thing you’ll notice is a story that means very little and isn’t exactly inspiring. In fact it is even a little dull… The lead character is called Geoff, not exactly your most traditional of RPG heroes. Geoff and his team must save their world from a bug invasion, but also find themselves at odds with the various other faction within the game’s world.

Whilst not a wonderful story, it isn’t bad, it is simply uninspiring. Which is a shame, as the characters themselves are pretty good and each has a distinct personality. Sure they aren’t all likable, but they don’t need to be, they just need to be interesting seeing as you will be spending many, many hours with them. So here is a big success.

You move through the story by entering a series of locations, which will open up as your progress, you’ll level up as you go, assign new skills, unlock new weapons and all the other things you can expect from a game like this. With the skill tree for each character you can add and remove skills at will without any penalty. This is something that works well, as you will start to learn how to set up your party and their skills for certain areas and gain an advantage.

Natural Doctrine takes many other known systems from other RPG titles, but then adds its own twist to them. Movement throughout each dungeon is limited by being able to move a set number of positions per turn, but unlike many games where this is a set square, you have an area and within the area you can then move around as much as you please.

This allows you to set up various tactics that can either help you defend better, attack harder, counter enemy attacks, etc. It pays to learn how to use positioning to get the best out of each scenario, because it really can mean the difference between dominating or being struck down.

This becomes vital because of how turns work. You will basically see a bar along the top of the screen that shows ally and enemy taking alternate turns, but because you can link turns, you can bring other team members into the fold and part of your turn. This is best used when targeting an enemy whose turn may be next. Taking that enemy out will see you get the next go thus making the enemy skip a turn.

All of this starts to add to how you plan a turn and it doesn’t always become about attacking, as you may find the next enemy to take a turn isn’t killable, or even reachable. So you may need to set up a defensive stance. Such as using a strong character to guard and allowing other members to hide behind, or even counter an enemy attack.

Initially it does feel very restrictive, but as you progress you find this opens up all kinds of possibilities and you can get as creative as you want. Early tutorials only cover some basics, as the game really wants you to discover what is has to offer and it is in these early hours that can see many put off, but those who push through will find a very rewarding experience.

That’s not to say Natural Doctrine is great, because it doesn’t naturally move you forward and at times it can be frustrating, with some areas being a bit too much trial and error with some poor check-pointing, making retries annoying. But at the same time those who become good enough to avoid death on a regular basis, will have a cracking time.