htoL#NiQ Review

Well, there is a way to htoL#NiQ in normal words so repeat after me “Hotaru” “no”
“Nikki”… Got that? Good, because it is being referred to as game from here on in, because there is no way I am typing htoL#NiQ any more than this… it will get tedious very quickly.

So then what is htoL#NiQ?…. Damn it! I mean what is this game? It is a single player adventure game for the PS Vita that makes use of the systems unique front and rear touch areas. NO! WAIT! Please stay with me…there is no need to run away quite yet.

Remember Murasaki Baby, the Sony produced adventure time where you controlled a baby finding its Mummy using the screen and rear touch to make it follow a balloon? Well if you liked that, then you will get on just fine with htoL#…this game. If not, then to be honest, there is nothing I will say to change your mind or even tempt you into forking out for this. So goodbye and thanks for stopping by.

Those of you who are still with me will want to know what value there is in that game with the weirdly written title. “We understand that it is a game controlled with the screen and rear touch, but we are not put off by this, so tell us what we should expect.”

Let me take you forward to New Year’s Eve 9999, where the young Mion has awoken with amnesia in a dark, dank and seemingly lifeless world. She is joined immediately by a firefly who goes by the name of Hotaru who it seems has been tasked with guiding Mion through the world to her end game.

Now as you know, long time readers of Gamestyle, we don’t like to ruin any story aspects of games, so I will tell you that whilst the game does nothing amazing with the story telling, it is more than competent and you do start to get close to the characters as the game progresses.

Now by controlling Hotaru with the front screen, you will guide where Mion goes, hold the firefly to the right and she will walk right, up over a ladder, she will then climb, that sort of thing. But it isn’t just a simple case of navigating levels, there is a puzzle element to overcome too.

This is where the rear touch pad comes into play. There is another firefly who can exist in the World of Shadow. That firefly can manipulate objects that neither Mion nor Hotaru can reach or interact with in the normal realm. This adds a nice level of logic to the game and keeps it interesting for the most part.

There is some shock value to the world, with it mostly feeling like a ghost town, the art direction here nails the feeling of loneliness and utter despair, along with the deep rooted feeling that it isn’t going to be alright. Again some moments in particular are hard to accept, but I will leave that for you to discover.

Whilst initially I found the control scheme to be awkward and frustrating, wanting instead to be able to use the right stick to control the fireflies, it soon felt natural enough and makes sense with the way the mechanics work.

However it isn’t all positive, as it does at times feel like the game is dragging along, repeating puzzle types so as to extend the life of the game, rather than letting it naturally flow. There are also sections of the game that take you out of the main system and focus on memories. These are often little tasks that are easy to complete and explain things about Mion as her memories come back.

It’s not often I’ll say this, but in this case, it would have been better to have cut-scenes that give you a small break and allow you to soak it up. The change between styles and mechanics is just far too jarring and they aren’t long enough to feel like they warrant being part of the game itself.

That being said, they are the only bad things I can really say about this game, which I managed to play through in a very small number of sittings, because each and every time I went back, I was hooked for what seemed like hours.

htoL#NiQ (there! Last time) doesn’t do anything to define a genre, it isn’t the greatest game you will ever play, but it is competent and interesting for the most part and one you will be glad you played.

Scram Kitty DX Review

Well certainly not two, that’s for sure. As Scram Kitty DX doubles my kitty cat quota on my beloved Vita. Scram Kitty DX is a port of a game that once only had its home on the WiiU. Now Scram Kitty’s owner Lady Nintendo, loved her little kitten, but no longer could she give him the attention he needed on her own, so it was with a heavy heart that a new home had to be found.

Scram Kitty wasn’t in the adoption home for too long, as Mr and Mrs P Station came along and fell immediately in love, taking Scram Kitty to their home with wonderful play area to use and a comfortable setting for when he is taken out and about. They gave him the best food money can buy, they took him to a pet groomer every week and he looked healthier and happier than ever before. Scram Kitty was happy.

Okay, so what is Scram Kitty DX?

What we have here is a shooter / platformer. One that blends the genres really well, keeping some of the classical elements of each, but adding just a touch of something new to help make it stand out.

You control Scram Kitty’s buddy who can only move along the predefined rails and must save his pet cat, the aforementioned Scram Kitty, along with all the other cats in the world. It is a very simple concept but what really impresses is how the mechanics merge together to create a wonderful overall experience.

Levels tend to be a full 360 degree arena and are set up to test your platforming abilities, whilst at the same time throwing enemies at you to make your life a living hell. In doing this, at one point makes this become somewhat of a bullet-hell game too.

Having seen some videos before first playing I was worried that this could be something that may well be frustrating to get into, but the mix of pixel perfect controls and a gentle learning curve make for a wonderful introduction that eases you in just at the right level.

Often with games like this, it is that learning curve that can destroy any interest early on, meaning only the most dedicated will get any joy from it, but this is designed to make you a better player, not caring if you are a veteran or a newcomer and the balance is spot on.

That’s not to say that the game is easy, as after a few levels of easing you in, Dakko Dakko then decide to let you off the leash. It is the gaming equivalent of teaching you to ride a bicycle without stabilisers on the Monday, then by the Wednesday putting you on a Ducati 851 and forcing you onto the Autobahn in a real life Road Rash setting.

You know what you have to do, you understand the core concepts and even have a solid handle on them, but you are then out of your comfort zone. You know that there has been a ramp up in difficulty, but you also know that what you are doing is bloody exciting and joyful.

I did wonder if the difficultly ramp up didn’t bother me too much as I am a seasoned gamer, would someone else struggle? So I passed the game to both my son (8) and my partner who doesn’t really do games, both of them embraced the difficulty curve, which shows how well Dakko Dakko approached it.

Games which rely on a special mechanic as their selling point, can often get a bit tired before you reach the end, but Scram Kitty DX introduce new weapons, abilities and enemy types as you progress but at a pacing that means you aren’t overwhelmed, nor bored at any single point.

Scram Kitty getting a new home was the best thing that could have happened, because the world deserves to see this game and it deserves the exposure because this is a proper game that reminded me why I got into gaming in the first place.

Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a game with a clash of styles that works better than you may imagine.

 

At the outset I should acknowledge the comments I got from a workmate who, unaware of this game, saw the title on his friends list and thought I was engaging in something a little more, shall we say, ‘adult’. That was an interesting conversation to have on a Monday morning.

 

Anyway, I went into Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late (UNIEL for short) knowing very little about it. I recall chancing across a trailer many moons ago, probably after hearing the name or abbreviation on some form of fighting game website. So I was aware UNIEL (much quicker to type!) was from the people who made Melty Blood, a game I had played, and enjoyed, long enough ago to forget most of what I knew about it. I think seeing Arc System Works’ name pop up evoked expectations of games they had made, so was somewhat expecting a fast fighter with a wealth of movement options coupled with countless universal systems.

So upon diving in, the first thing to note was a lack of a tutorial mode. Whilst I would not suggest every fighting game should have a mode to teach the basics of the genre (although this would not necessarily be remiss but that’s a whole other discussion) an explanation of the key systems would certainly be welcomed. Whilst this is a criticism of Under Night it is certainly not the sole offender in this regard.

 

As such, mostly due to my bullheadedness to not look anything up before I had first played the game, my first run through of arcade mode was a mildly confusing affair. The presentation was pleasing, with lots of small sized flavour text (that you have zero chance of reading in one go) in different parts of the screen throughout the introductions. During the fight the information is clear and the combo counter features a quickly depleting bar to represent how long you have to hit your opponent again to continue your battering.  However there is a bar and timer at the bottom of the screen, in addition to the usual health and super meters, that is unique to the game and by the time the final boss lay defeated (SNK boss syndrome is thankfully not present here) I was none the wiser as to what it did. It definitely did something, and certain actions unquestionably had an effect upon it, but what it was actually for was still a mystery. More on this later.

 

The sprites and animation are beautiful, and whilst the backgrounds are a little dull I found this focused the attention to the bout at hand. The combos I was inventing seemed to be free flowing with plenty of room for experimentation, and by the end I had a crappy little bread and butter combo that was passable for the mode and difficulty. Arcade mode doubles as the story mode, which is told through static images and text. There is a lot of background to the story, but a lot goes unexplained and without outside reading I wasn’t completely certain as to what was going on. Although at the end of the day a fighting game story is an (often unnecessary) excuse for characters A and B to hit each other until one of them falls down too many times to get back up.

I was enjoying the game (spoiler) but perversely aware of depths I had yet to delve. Some quick research on the internet later and I was up to speed. As noted above there is the unique bar at the bottom of the screen and its manipulation is an important factor to consider in every round. The Grind Grid (GRD for short) system is a tug-of-war-esque indicator as to the current flow of the fight. Actions  such as approaching your opponent, doing damage, and successful blocking increase your portion while backing away from your foe, taking damage, and having throws escaped decrease it. The timer part of GRD goes round once every 17 seconds and whoever has the bigger bar when the timer is up enters a ‘Vorpal’ state meaning they receive a damage boost and a couple of extra options until the timer goes round again. The first is access to a move that can be used as a one-time animation cancel to continue combos that could not ordinarily be extended, grants a boost to the super gauge, and immediately ends the Vorpal state. Initial thoughts would conclude this seems unbalanced, however as GRD can be increased via blocking it can benefit someone who is being constantly pressured as well, given that the other option is free access to an alpha counter type move, which normally costs half of the super bar.

 

A couple of other universal systems flesh out the game, most of which are executed via a dedicated button, noted as D (the attack buttons being A, B, and C). Holding away from the opponent and pressing D brings up a shield which can be used to decrease the recovery from blocking attacks and further increase the GRD gain from blocking – however shielding incorrectly, i.e. using a high shield and getting his low, inflicts a severe penalty of not being able to use any abilities on the D button for a period of time. Pressing towards and D results in the ‘assault’, which is a low hop towards the opponent, with the distance changing depending on how far apart the combatants are. This gives swift access to air attacks, and can also be used mid-air to change jump arcs. Due to the speed of assault, the damage done is reduced and if your attack is blocked you lose a portion of your GRD bar. Holding D by itself performs a charging animation where you increase the GRD gauge at the cost of super meter and being vulnerable. It is worth noting that there are no air dashes (outside of assault), and ground attacks cannot be blocked whilst in the air, making being airborne a very offensive and risky manoeuvre.

The consequence of these systems gives a more grounded game, with footsies and pokes taking a greater importance leading to a slower, thoughtful approach to combat when not rushing down. A number of characters have a poke that reaches at least half the screen, with the rest having special moves or other ways of getting close to compensate. Whilst the action is considered, the combos are certainly influenced by anime fighters with a simple chain system providing pleasingly flashy combos. These can be achieved with little practice, and it is worth noting that the game is fairly light in terms of execution requirements meaning newcomers can jump straight in and look good doing so. However, there is the scale for anyone wanting to eke out every last point of damage to find combos that require more precise timing at the harder end of the scale.

 

The 16 characters are distinct from each other, if not all memorable, and include a couple of guests. The first being from Melty Blood with the other being Akatsuki from Akatsuki Blitzkampf, and I must admit to grinning stupidly when he turned up in the attract sequence. Within the roster are a couple of all-rounders, who naturally lack any standout strengths, and the rest of the cast having tools that gear towards their intended gameplan. As an example, UNIEL features probably the slowest character (outside of using assault) to ever grace a fighting game in the form of its grappler Waldstein. He is so big he takes up about a quarter of the screen and the claws at the end of his lengthy arms (he’d be about a foot taller if he put them straight down) are bigger than a couple of the other fighters. Unlike grapplers in most other fighting games, Waldstein has had no movement options taken away however the range of his forward dash can only be described as pathetic. This is counteracted by the range of his normals, with a few that result in a throw of some sort. Due to this Waldstein attempts to zone the opponent with his attacks and mix them up with throws if they get too close. A perfect example of this is one command normal that starts as a blockable close range throw, which if blocked or whiffed is followed by a powerful, yet very slow, overhead attack that reaches roughly three quarters of the screen.

A number of modes fill the package, although nothing is new: the aforementioned arcade mode, time and score attacks, a survival mode, local versus, and training, which deserves a mention for its reset options. Most fighting games will reset the fighters to the round starting position, but Under Night allows this to be changed to either corner, with either character placed in the corner.

 

The online side of things seems lacking, being limited to player or ranked match however in my experience UNIEL features excellent netcode, and I fought against people with a not perfect connection (that is, rated 2 or 3 on a scale of 0-4) with seemingly no detriment to the gameplay.

 

Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is a solid stylish fighting game, providing a feel to the action it can call its own. Whilst certainly one for fans of the genre, given the considered pace and simple execution the game is welcoming to newcomers. It is a shame that I can’t shake the feeling that Under Night will be largely forgotten or ignored in favour of more popular titles. I would like to be proven wrong.

 

 

Pillar Review

One of the things that I found with Pillar was how much the game grew on me. I won’t lie, after the first 30 minutes I was ready to trash it in this review, it felt hollow and drawn out for no reason whatsoever.

That was the first half an hour though, as soon after it was like I had an epiphany; the way the game blends the story is really engaging. The music plays a huge part in this as it draws you in and gives you laser focus on what is happening on the screen, whilst at the same time allowing a story to unravel in your head.

Essentially you play through the game by choosing levels from a number of personality types. Some of these, such as Distant have you finding ways to sneak past people to make it through to another part of the level. In the case of Distant you can freeze time to set up a series of switches and speakers to force the inhabitants to investigate whilst you sneak past; whilst Focused has a similar technique, but is based upon real time distraction, using shouts from your character.

Then there are others like Enduring and Renewing, which are designed to work in tandem to solve mazes and collect orbs. They each have a different strength and finding ways for them to work together is vital to success.

What is nice here is that there is a decent amount of variation. Some are excellent, whilst others might not feel as engaging as you’d hope. But the fact that this game is trying to add variation shouldn’t go unnoticed, even if it isn’t working perfectly the whole time.

As previously mentioned, the story isn’t spelled out for you at all, but it does become apparent that each character is heading towards the same goal and with a little deduction, you can piece together some important elements to tell the story yourself.

That is the biggest thing that will stick with me long term. I totally forgot in the end that there was no story being told to me directly and everything I was realising was from me, it was happening in my head. It is the anti-Bastion in this regards and it works really well.

The main issue that I have is that in trying to add variation to the game, there is a bit of point where it came across as running out of ideas, so let’s just tweak this a bit. It doesn’t ruin the experience as such, but it does make some parts feel a bit of a drag.

There isn’t much to say about Pillar, it cannot be recommended to everyone, because it clearly isn’t for everyone. But if you like to use your own imagination whilst being tested, then you will get a good experience here. I certainly enjoyed my time with it and am glad I got to experience a game that tried something different, despite some minor flaws.

Ironclad Tactics Review

I love collectible card games (CCGs, for you acronym lovers). I love the tactile nature of them, the artwork, the interlocking mechanics of a well designed system. I love the thrill of opening packs of cards and the crushing disappointment when you get no rare ones.
I want to love real time strategy games (or RTSs. I’m not writing ‘real time strategy’ every time it occurs in this review). I can see how deep and tactical they can be; ordering armies and gaining resources, thinking 3 steps ahead to try and curtail the enemies approach and attack, laying waste to your foes.

 

I’m awful at CCG and RTS games. If it doesn’t involve smashing shit in the face really hard with something blunt I’m left running around in little circles flapping my arms, screaming “I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!”. I can see what I’m supposed to do in both, but I inevitably fall back on throw all my guys at the enemy and hope for the best.

You might see where this review for Ironclad Tactics, a tactical real time strategy game with card based mechanics, might be going. And you might be right. But maybe not…

 

Set in an alternate steampunk version of the American Civil War, you control human infantry and steam-powered mechs, the titular Ironclads. The story is a bit thin and forgettable, but is nicely told through illustrated comic panels between battles.

 

Before entering a battle you can edit your deck of cards using a library unlocked by fulfilling certain criteria during missions, be it just finishing the mission, completing the puzzle mode for that mission, killing a certain enemy and so on. Some of these cards can be upgraded by fulfilling different criteria, which adds another level of tactical play. Each upgrade comes with it’s own benefits and detriment, for example increased health, but increased cost to play.

The battlefield is split into lanes with the enemy advancing from the right and the player from the left. The win condition is usually acquire x Victory Points, which is achieved by getting your mechs to the opposite side of the battlefield. Sometimes to unlock cards you’ll need to get the points by other means, such as using mortars to bombard the enemy.

 

Combat and movement is in real time, controlled by an unpausable timer which is split into 4 sections; Play, Act, Kill and Move which are worth explaining, no matter how obvious they may seem.

 

The Play phase is when any card you’ve chosen from the row of 5 cards in front of you is put into play and activated, such as putting a unit on the field, arming that unit, or healing that unit. The Act phase is where the unit activates any weapons or buffs that have been applied to it. Kill is where if fatal damage is dealt the unit dies and Move is, well, where the units move. You can pause units at any time to block the lane, though your units only move through enemies if they’re significantly smaller than your unit, such as infantry (which results in a pretty nasty squishing noise and a little pixelated gore).

 

It’s a simple sounding system, but an effective one as it makes you think on your feet and do your utmost to make the best use of the cards that you have. It’s a fast paced system that can feel a little fraught, but mainly in a good way.

The problem is Ironclad Tactics doesn’t really explain much to begin with. In a time when tutorials are bandied around like super-strength lager in the park at night between tramps, sometimes they’re necessary and while Ironclad does have tutorials, they’re not overly detailed on how the mechanics of the game work.

 

Still, persistence and practice mean that soon enough you’re arming your units and preparing the next one mentally to try and sway the battle in your favour, and when you do pull off a well-planned strategy to deal with the tide of mechanical death marching your way it can be very satisfying.

 

But it can also be incredibly frustrating. The resource for playing cards is Action Points (or AP). AP is generated at a rate of about 1.5 per Play phase, although some levels have points you can control to gain more AP per turn. These levels generally start with a lower AP generator, so getting cards out can be infuriatingly slow. It feels like you’re permanently urging the timer to advance quicker so you can get your Ironclads and Infantry out to stem the tide. It’s not helped by the controls, which while fine in general, lack the immediacy of the mouse that the PC version has. Sometimes you select a card because you finally have AP to play it, but you find it’s slid off the row of cards by the time you’ve moved the cursor to the unit you were going to apply it to, or the timer has moved beyond the allotted phase where you can play it.

Another frustration is that you’re at the mercy of the random nature of card draw, so not only are you screaming for more AP, you’re hoping to whichever deity of your preference that the card you desperately need comes out.

 

But that is the nature of CCGs. That’s part of the thrill. The deck limit in Ironclad Tactics is 20, so building a deck to reduce the variance is much simpler than, say, Magic: The Gathering or any other ‘proper’ CCG you could mention, but you can never truly eliminate it. It’s the luck of the draw.

 

Ironclad Tactics is a bit of an odd beast. It took me a good old while to get my head around it, to work out it’s little quirks and nuances and there is a good game in there, but not a great game. It’s packed with content as it includes the 2 extra DLC campaigns from the PC version, it’s charming and the mechanics are sound, but there’s something missing from it. It never elevates itself to the “one more mission” compulsiveness that games of a similar ilk have and, in all honesty, it rarely made me want to play it for any great length of time. It’s not a bad game by any means, it’s just…Fine.

 

Ultimately it’s a game that feels like some of the mechanics are a little bit too wonky to be truly great, but if you have a knack for real time strategy you’ll get a good deal of enjoyment out of it. For the rest of us who lack any kind of tactical planning ability, there’s always Shootymans XXIV round the corner.

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round Review

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is split between being a full release and a free to play fighting game (dubbed Core Fighters), the PSN store is full of tat for both, and finding which is for your specific version is almost impossible. I’m reviewing the full (and I use that term loosely) retail release, so as I went on the store I saw the sub-menu (“FOR FULL VERSION”). Okay I thought, so this must be for me. Nope, what I saw were characters I already had, so I guess what they meant was “Characters that will bump your game up to the full version”?

It’s so badly mismanaged it almost feels like a parody of what the future of DLC is going to be. Only it’s real, this is a real thing that has happened and it’s a little gross. Quite frankly if you buy any of the costumes on the store then you’re responsible for funding this dark future that we find ourselves hurtling toward. Once the rage subsided, I was finally able to play the game, which you’ll be pleased to know, is really, really good.

Dead or Alive has always got a bad rep for being the “fighting game with the boobies”, which might be accurate, but a little unfair. Okay, with an option in the menus for “Breast Motion” (the options either being “natural” or more hilariously, “DOA”) and the skimpy costumes, it doesn’t exactly help itself. But look past that and there is a solid, deep and rewarding fighter in Dead or Alive 5: Last Round

It’s a game where anyone can pick it up, hammer buttons and get some fun out of it, but putting in the time reaps the rewards. With an incredibly challenging counter system (almost demanding you memorise everyone’s combos) and some of the best designed (and interactive) stages, there’s more than just titillation when it comes to DOA. Going one on one with an opponent, each being down to a sliver of health, and countering that final blow giving yourself the victory is a proper fist pumping moment, especially when that person is sitting right next to you.

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Already hosting an impressive roster of characters from past DOA games, and even some Virtua Fighter alumni, Last Round also adds another new character to the mix, the schoolgirl Honoka. This as well as returning DOA1 boss character Raidou, who is now playable. This definitely feels like a celebration of all past games in the series and the final chapter (or Last Round!) is the fifth iteration.

It, as expected, also boosts the graphical performance slightly. It’s not pushing the PS4 exactly, but there are some nice stage effects and each character model getting covered in dirt and sweat (steady now) is a neat touch.

It’s really a shame that a few bugs have made it through. My first time playing I completed the Arcade Mode only to then be stuck on the Results screen with no way to escape other than resetting the console, this has a happened a few times, also becoming stuck when it was attempting to find a game online. This is on top of the numerous issues that Xbox One owners are finding, such as saves being deleted and the game not even showing up for download.

The online mode was a little shaky to begin with, which at the time of writing is finally starting to settle. Although finding a ranked game is nigh on impossible, lobbies do seem to be working and the “Throwdown” portion (allowing you to accept an incoming challenge when playing single player) is currently the best way of getting a ranked match. Once you do get into a game, providing it’s a solid connection, then it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Particularly if you get a group of friends together in a lobby for a classic “Winner Stays On” scenario.

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Last Round is certainly not shy of content. There’s a lot of single player modes to plough through with single fights, tags, survival mode and a number of different training modes. There’s also a Story Mode, which tries (and ultimately fails) to tell a convincing story out of this madness.

It’s a number of cut scenes interspersed with single round fights which feel like they’re over just as soon as they begin. Hilariously, the PS4 stream functionality is blocked when playing Story Mode, as if Tecmo Koei didn’t want anyone to spoil this award winning tale they’re telling. In a post Injustice/Mortal Kombat world, the excuse of “fighting games don’t do story modes” doesn’t quite fly anymore.

Despite being the most complete DOA package it’s a shame that so many bugs have crept through to the final product. There’s a great fighting game here, that with maybe a little care and attention would’ve been essential. As it stands though, this is simply a nice stop gap before Street Fighter’s imminent arrival.

GS Plays: Roundabout

One hit, two hit, limo will explode!

Roundabout is a game all about a revolving limo driven by the amazing and outstanding Georgio Manos. Sharing a lot in common with GBA classic Kuru Kuru Kururin, take a look at our latest Gamestyle Plays.

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Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart Review

Neptune steps aside from her main character role, with Noire stepping into the front. After an incident in Gamarket robbing all the CPU characters of their powers, all the characters must join forces in order to get to the bottom of it, unifying the land in the process. Unfortunately, it’s the plot and characters that put a serious dampener on the game’s quality.

As with the main series, Hyperdevotion parodies a lot of elements from video games. Whether it be in your face references to your standard video game tropes to people in your party that resemble other game characters. And while it amusing having a female spy go under a cardboard box as you active her special attack, with a better writer and dialogue maybe this could actually be more amusing than it is.

As this time around the game is an SRPG, then there’s no longer wandering the field, instead it’s all done through the main hub. The standard options are all here, with a lot of the elements from previous Neptunia games making a return. This being the ability to create items and discs with the materials obtained on the battlefield. Discs being the most interesting as combining idea chips, then equipping the resulting chips gives the chosen character a boost, whether it be increasing the odds of a critical hit or reducing damage from certain enemies.

Once you’re all set then it’s straight to the mission menu where you can either choose a side or story mission. With the story missions you’re first ‘treated’ to a cut scene which while nice looking, the 2D art is bright and vibrant with slight movement given to each character, the words coming out of their mouths are at times excruciating. Video game references about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face and whiny pre-teen sounding voices are quite painful to listen to. They may have been bearable if the story was actually interesting, only it isn’t, far from it. Going from one scene to the next barely feels connected, while the main mystery (which is supposed to be the hook) couldn’t muster any enthusiasm from me at all. Make it past these parts (or skip them if you can’t take it anymore) then you’re onto the actual fighting, which is where the game actually starts to impress.

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Standard SRPG rules apply, you move your characters around the battlefield followed by your opponents, watching out for hazards along the way. These hazards can be everything from electrified floors to conveyer belts that send your characters into another hazard. There’s a lot of tactical nuance needed to progress in the game, attacking enemies from behind does more damage, with the same rule applying to Noire and co, with elevated attacks also being harder hitting. Traversing the maps also comes with just as much of a challenge as beating enemies.

Some characters are able to jump up to ledges higher than others, but for those that can’t there are boxes that can be lifted and thrown into place. Sometimes it’s required, others it provides an alternate path to attack from.

Mission structure itself can also be varied, although the basic hit stuff till they all fall down is the crux, there are varied other objectives that need to be completed, such as collecting a number of items on the battlefield or completing the mission in a set number of moves. With a quick save state it also lends itself far more to pick up and play fun than the mainline RPG series.

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There’s a base core here that is great fun, with some really nice chibi looking graphics (including an excellent opening CG cut scene) and plenty of strategy, it’s just a shame that this core is buried deep below half naked anime girls and an awful story. Something I’m pretty sure I’ve said about every Idea Factory developed game I’ve ever reviewed. Maybe I’m not the right audience for it, but scenes of heads being buried into breasts and the Solid Snake-a-like character sneaking into the shower to peak aren’t my cup of tea. Maybe they would be if there was actual humour involved, or wit, or good writing/acting. None of these apply though, sadly.

That aside, from a gameplay perspective it’s a decent first foray into the world of SRPG’s, it’s just bogged down by poor characters and story.

The Order: 1886 Review

I have found it very difficult to work out how to approach this review for The Order: 1886. As much as I have tried to ignore any spoilers or stopped myself over analysing every new video or snippet of information, it has been nigh on impossible to avoid one thing… the length of the game.

 

What from the beginning looked like it would be a third person action game, sharing much in common with Gears of War in terms of mechanics, actually turned out to be a different beast entirely. After playing the opening level, I took a step back and went at this game in a completely new direction.

 

You see for me, this isn’t a cover based third person shooter with a story and fantastic visuals (which are fantastic by the way), this is a visual novel, a movie, that shares more in common with Telltale games, or a David Cage game. It just so happens to break up the story telling with some hands on action.

 

That is what it is, a full on interactive movie / visual novel. There is little you can do to change the outcome, it is even very difficult to reach any kind of fail state, namely because the game is generous with the hits you personally can take. That was clear very, very early in the game and the first time I had made my mind up about what I was actually playing.

I was essentially controlling the star of the show between important story scenes, taking on the action scenes and doing a bit of investigation work. Once you get over the hurdle that this isn’t a big expansive game in the vein of a Castlevania, GTA or Gears of War and the likes, it can be a very enjoyable experience…sort of.

 

Just because I found a way to experience the game that should see many of my early issues done away with, it doesn’t mean for one second that this is a game without any issues. For one, the fact I had to take that step back means there was somewhat of a marketing issue here, that maybe Sony had gotten it all wrong in the build up.

 

I haven’t gone into The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us or even Beyond Two Souls wondering where the gameplay was, because they were marketed correctly, whether you liked them or not is another matter, but you knew what they were trying to be. The Order: 1866 doesn’t have that, it takes time to realise what this game is trying to be and even then it isn’t perfectly clear.

 

Before carrying on with the ‘bad’, I do want to focus on one major positive; that being the visuals, especially the switch between cut-scene, QTE and real time action. This is seamless, everything is done in real time and is jaw droppingly impressive. It is clearly the most visually impressive title on this generation of consoles thus far, setting a new bar which all other games must now reach.

Voice acting too is rather impressive, it may not be at The Last of Us levels of professionalism, but it is up there with the best of the rest as all dialogue flows nicely, even during moments you are in control. Those black bars? That letterbox effect? It works! Because this is more movie than it is game, that effect means it does feel incredibly cinematic, so in all that, Ready at Dawn have done a stunning job and deserve some kudos.

 

So on to the negative then; by shoehorning action sequences into the story, it actually becomes rather a disjointed experience, despite the seamless transitions between them. Whilst they make sense as per their timing within the story, it becomes apparent that they are there as additional padding. Which really causes problems with the next major issue.

 

This is a game that has hit shelves at the £50 mark in most places, in a time when many games are finding their feet at around £40 on release and for £50 you expect much more game than you actually get. There is a weight of expectation as to the content you should be receiving for your money.

 

There have been a ton of figures thrown around as to the length of the game, so I decided to time what I played and it weighed in at just short of seven and a half hours, which included me doing a fair amount of searching about and taking screenshots of the wonderfully detailed areas. It is clear this can be clocked in less than six hours and that is without doing it as a ‘speed run.’

Again, the issue of marketing comes in here, because it felt like less than half the game was actually me taking part in playing, with around half spent watching, a decent amount wandering or doing QTE’s, with what felt like maybe just short of a third doing some shooting. Even then those shooting moments felt artificially extended.

 

Here is the main thing about The Order: 1886, it isn’t a terrible game, by any stretch of the imagination, there is a lot it does right. Especially in the presentation and dare I say it, even in the way it handles Quick Time Events, the shooting in itself is passable and it has the makings of something rather entertaining. But this isn’t the game I expected, this isn’t the full blown retail action/adventure title I was led to believe I was getting. This feels like it should have been released episodically on PSN.

 

That right there is what my big issue is. I have played something similar in DONTNOD’s Life is Strange, which for the most part follows the same rules as The Order, but actually feels a lot more interactive. I look forward to the next episode in that series and truth be told, had a section of this game been released as episode 1 of however many on PSN and marketed as an interactive story, then I would have been much, much happier and would have found myself wanting the next episode and eager to put my money down.

 

But here we are, I left The Order: 1886 expecting more, but also knowing more is to come, because the game ends in such a way that it is clear there will be a sequel, or at least plans to make a sequel. One that I will be very eager to play, especially now I kind of know what to expect. This is just a taster… but one that leaves things a bit sour on the whole.

Roundabout Review

Well, technically it still is, because this is more Crazy Limo! Actually, it is less like Crazy Taxi and more like GBA classic Kuru Kuru Kururin. Remember that? Hopefully some of you do, because it was and still is a fantastic game.

 

The idea behind the game (and I can’t believe I need to avoid spoilers here) is that you take on the role of Georgio Manos, the worlds first revolving limousine driver, who gets a job driving a limo in the town of Roundabout…yeah that is all you’re getting here, that is all you need, just go with it. The story is wonderfully stupid.

It’s not just the story itself, it is they way it is presented. Georgio Manos herself never talks and just communicates in a series of looks and facial expressions, whilst her passengers each have a wonderful amount of character themselves. Every interaction is done using full motion video. Imagine Wing Commander or C&C Red Alert but actually done well. There is a certain B-Movie element to the video which also fits in wonderfully with the tone of the game.

 

That alone is enough reason to have this game, because it is just spectacular and genuinely funny. It is however backed up by some really well made game mechanics.

 

The basics of the game are simple, you take your revolving limo throughout the world, looking for quests and then completing the quests. Most of these amount to going from checkpoint to checkpoint avoiding obstacles in the quickest time possible. You can repeat each quest as many times as you want, as each one has a series of requirements to beat it 100%. These include things like completing under a par time, taking no damage, etc.

You can also get scores, multipliers and other such things, by hitting cones, collecting stars and also mowing down pedestrians. It’s not gruesome at all and all fits in the with the comical styling of the overall tone of the game. As you progress there are also upgrades to your limo that are vital to your progression, as you’ll find out soon enough.

 

There are also various challenges that you can complete and tons to unlock, such as hats for your limo, new horns and new skins. Aside from that there are also various elements you can turn on and off in the options menu that will just change the way the game plays.

Most of these are just for fun, such as replacing the horn with fart noises, turning off blood, turning run down pedestrians to gold statues, or others that change the game, such as permadeath, which will boot you back to the title screen and one hit mode which sees you explode with your first mistake. It adds a small amount of longevity, but adds to the already wonderful fun. Although there so far seems to be one omission that I saw on the PC and that is the First Person mode, which is just as it says. You play Roundabout in first person from the eyes of Georgio Manos herself. It is stupid, it is hard and it makes you feel sick, but it is a shame it isn’t there.

 

What I found most impressive about Roundabout, is that despite the simple mechanics, I was never feeling short changed, nor was it a one trick pony that became dull too soon. The challenge does get harder, but your abilities also improve, meaning it strikes a perfect balance throughout.

 

There is so character running through this game, that it will stay with you long after you finish and it’ll also leave you longing for more as you cannot help but be charmed by everything on offer. It is big dumb, stupid fun and I love it.

 

It takes a lot of skill to beat Roundabout fully, but you’ll have tons of fun doing so, the world is silly, as are the videos which tie it all together and despite having no actual lines of dialogue Georgio Manos is already my shout for character of the year 2015.

Dex Preview

If there is one thing Early Access does well, it’s games that have become frankly, personal projects of love. The amount of pixel art on show here is ridiculous, it feels like more effort has gone into a background pigeon than goes into many completed games. If you like pixels you’re more than getting your money’s worth in Dex from that alone.

Dex itself is a 2D open world, thankfully with teleporting so you don’t need to constantly backtrack, and essentially a metroidvania with a very large a dose of RPG, levelling up unlocks skills, gaining quests by talking to characters etc. Apart from a heap of typos, there are whole words missing, everything there is done well.

The setting is pure cyberpunk, with all the good and bad things that brings. The world is breaking down, drugs, guns and sex being sold everywhere. The fact that an enemy is as likely to drop pornography as they are a t-shirt is fairly representative.

As it stands, combat is more of a chore than it should be. Ideally the game would offer a way to avoid combat entirely, but instead enemies appear on screen and attack, leaving your character rolling left and right and either kicking or shooting, then rolling again. There’s little more to it, and anything that can be done in the final stages of Early Access to improve it would be beneficial.

Due to release this quarter, it seems hard to imagine there will be significant changes before release and it doesn’t really need them. This isn’t a game that will appeal to everyone, but if the remainder of the time is spent well those that find the idea of the game appealing will be very happy with their purchase. Come back for the full review when the game exits Early Access!

(And it really is a well-drawn pigeon.)

Hand Of Fate Review

Until recently, as in the last 6-8 months, the idea of Card Collecting Games (CCG) or Deck Building Games hasn’t really appealed to me. The main reason is that they just appeared to be impenetrable to the casual fan, something you needed to be proper into, a complete hardcore. But all that changed after finally being taught how to actually play them.

 

I won’t bore you with a timeline, but needless to say, I am a huge fan now. This brings me onto the game I am reviewing now…Hand of Fate.

What you essentially have here is a Deck Building Game, mashed up with a roguelike experience and some real time fighting included for good effect. The first thing that stands out, is that it works really bloody well. It’s not just competent, it is utterly fantastic.

 

Starting with the main element of the game, the cards. Because this is a deck-building game, the cards have to play a major role. So at the very beginning you start off with quite a basic deck, with standard weapon cards, simple armour, shields, etc and even easier enemies. As you progress, you can earn cards that are permanently added to your overall deck, which you can take into later levels.

However, aside from your overall deck, you also get your hand and opening layouts for each level and this is where the roguelike element comes into it. You could finish one level with +50 max health, 125 Gold and 29 Food (which is vital), but when you beat the boss at the end, you will start the next time back to the defaults.

 

It works really well and stops you literally brute-forcing your way through the game but the rewards are plentiful at the same time. After each level, you are rewarded with tokens and can use the cards earned here to build your next deck for the next level. Help is also at hand should you struggle to build your own, thanks to the auto-build option. If you want to see this work better, check out the video below from our playthrough.

What really makes this standout though is the inclusion of real time battles. Now whilst this isn’t exactly authentic or new, the way is has been implemented needs lots of positive noise made. The best way to describe this, is as a scaled down Batman Arkham Asylum fighting system.

 

Yes, that is right, it lifts the fighting mechanics right out of Batman, but instead of feeling like a tacked on ‘unique selling point’ it actually works. The drawn cards will determine the enemies on screen and the cards you have will decide your weapons, shields, etc. It is then you vs the enemies in real time battles and they play out wonderfully well.

 

For the first time, this feels like an excellent mix of real life table top gaming mixed with solid video game mechanics. It would have been easier to take one of a number of different options, or taken many shortcuts, but that isn’t how developers Defiant Development have done it. Every element of the game feels like it belongs.

That comes right down to your host. Because not content with taking the best of Deckbuilding Games, the best bits from Batman and mashing them up, they have also added wonderful presentation, with a ‘dungeon master’ of sorts guiding you through and telling a story as you go. How the cards fall and how you react will then itself determine the outcome. It is very much taking the basics from Dungeons & Dragons and using it to wrap around their own title.

 

Sure there is lots of borrowing of elements here, but it works so well. So much so you never really want to turn the game off. For the first time, this appears to be a game based on the general TTG system, that can only work digitally, where a physical version would be lacking. Whereas it is often the other way round.

 

I went into Hand of Fate expecting very little, expecting a fun but flawed game. What I found though was something else, something I want to play again and again. I sit here writing this review hoping that Defiant Development are already working on expansions. Whether you are a CCG veteran or not, you need to play this game…right now!

Piles of Shame

As anyone who’s ever stood staring at a condom machine in a pub toilet knows, option paralysis is a real thing. It’s the same when you look at the pile of games you’ve accumulated and wonder what one to play. Do you go for the XL experience of a sprawling RPG, enjoy the featherlite touch that the bullet hell shooter requires, or go for that indie game that’s likely to burst forth with fresh ideas?

It’s an issue that some smart-arse always likes to refer to as a ‘first-world problem’, implying that to be so rich as to find yourself in the situation of not knowing what game to play suggests you have no real problems at all. These days, however, you don’t need lots of money to have lots of games. In recent years, games have regularly plummeted in price shortly after release and others, that not long ago would have been full price titles, are released as ‘indie games’ for around the £10 mark. Games have managed to defy inflation and stick to that £40-£50 price tag, making what was a prohibitive number in the 90s much more acceptable today. Without wanting to get into a huge discussion about pricing, I’ve always found games to offer good value for money and as time passes and the cost of living goes up, the price of a game buys you less and less in the real world. When I was 20 that £40 might have been two or three decent nights out. Now it might still be two or three nights out but that’s because I’m older, drink about a third of what I used to, go to cheaper places and usually leave before closing in disgust at the fact that things have changed without me being consulted.

My point, then, is that it’s not as hard as it used to be to find yourself with more games than you’ve realistically got time to play. Part of that is age and work and responsibility, all of which diminish your free time, or at least your perception of it. The solution would seem obvious – just buy a game you want to play when you want to play it, but we all know that’s ridiculous. It’s the kind of bullshit sense-making logic a non-gamer would come out with. We all know we have to buy the major release that got 10/10 on ‘day one’ so that we can join in the delivery status updates and walk up and down the hall ensuring we’re within audible range of the doorbell (perhaps even testing it a couple of times) before finally, the postman arrives. Usually he goes unnoticed, sometimes a figure of disdain, but on these days he’s a hero. You open the package and hold it in your hands, it looks momentarily unreal, that box art you first saw online six months ago and now here it is. You place it on top of the pile of games in the corner and make a coffee before browsing the internet for a few hours, perhaps reading about the game that’s just arrived, and decide you’ll play it later when you’re in the optimum frame of mind and have more time, despite having taken the day off work exclusively to play it. After procrastinating for the whole afternoon you finally put the game on but by now you’re a bit tired and not really in the mood. You give it a quick look, decide that it does seem pretty good and add it to the list of games that you must make an effort to get through at some point.

This is the point where the guilt starts to come in. Gamer’s guilt, I would guess, is an adults-only phenomenon. You’ve spent £40 of your grown-up adult money on what some part of you still thinks is a childish pursuit, a toy of sorts. Despite the 18-rated gore-fest of interactive sex and violence that awaits you, part of you knows it’s just another Mario game and that perhaps you should have outgrown all of this by now. This feeling is always fleeting and usually it’s easy to defend your choice of entertainment; gaming is for everyone these days and only the ignorant would think otherwise. What’s harder to defend is why you keep buying all these games and then never get round to playing them. Part of that, I believe, comes from a need to fulfil a debt to our younger selves. If you played games as a kid, as I suspect most of us did, then you can remember dreaming of being able to get the latest games and consoles whenever you wanted. Maybe you even planned it out – when I’m earning my own money I’ll buy this and that and have all the best stuff. Now you’re in that position and feel that you should try to realise that dream as all your others have been crushed. Owning the latest games and consoles isn’t that expensive compared to a lot of other things, it’s at least realistically obtainable if you’re suitably unrealistic about your priorities.

Here you are then, with your console/s of choice and an ever growing stack of games that you add to each month in a token gesture of hope: something to throw a bit of money at to make you feel like you’re doing all that life and work bullshit for a reason, to make it feel like you’re getting something out of it that’s just for you. Then it turns on you. It starts to stress you out. Actual, real, genuine stress. When are you going to find time to get good at Street Fighter? When will you get the chance to develop the reflexes needed to get a decent score in that shooter? When are you going to go back to that RPG and can you remember what the buttons do? You’ve only got so many years left to live and it suddenly becomes very apparent that you’re not going to be able to fit all of this stuff in. The thought takes you over as you sit there staring at the pile, not knowing what game to play first. You decide to leave it for now and make a coffee before looking at videos of that upcoming release on the internet.

None of this used to matter, not to me anyway. I hardly ever finished games as a kid and never really thought about it. I’d play them a lot but I was never very good and the lack of saves and checkpoints meant I normally just saw the first few levels hundreds of times before trading it in and doing the same again. I certainly didn’t feel any pressure to get my money’s worth in a time when games were hard to come by for me, so why do I now? It seems the wrong way round. Perhaps it’s the residual guilt of the child’s hobby again. Maybe getting your money’s worth makes it feel more grown up somehow. Like watching a film, you’re experiencing a form of entertainment and to not stay to the end makes it feel like a waste of time in a way that never used to matter when you were a kid and you could throw time up in the air and roll around in it on your bed, lighting the cigarettes you stole with huge wads of the stuff.

Have games just become work now? Are they a chore that must be ticked off? You get home from work, do the washing up, put the dinner on and get your stuff ready for the next day and, oh yeah, you’ve got that fucking princess to save. Better get to it. If games are work, they’re that mythical job you might enjoy, the one you might carry on doing even if you won the lottery. Not all of them though, some are very obviously tedious, dull repetitive jobs. Some are Ubisoft games. This feeling that I’m just completing chores when playing games has only occurred to me fairly recently and not in the way you might expect. I was playing Mario 3D World on the Wii U and as I progressed through the world map I found I was excited to see more levels pop up, two paths rather than one, more things to do. I realised that I wanted more of the game, I wanted it to last because I was enjoying playing it. It sounds ridiculous but so often in games I want to get things over with, there’s so much bullshit and padding and it’s often so obvious. Mario 3D World didn’t do this, it gave me a run and a jump button and loads and loads of incredible levels to throw myself into. So many times I’ve been sat there, thinking I was near the end of a game and then another huge area opens up and I get a sinking feeling as I realise I’ve still got loads more to get through. That cannot be right can it? It took 3D World to make me realise though, in that game I felt the opposite. As more of it opened up I felt relieved to know I still had more to go, more fun ahead of me. Those that know me will be sick of me banging on about this game but it really is the best game for over 20 years no matter what anyone says. More importantly, it made me realise why I’m here, it’s to have fun, not to worry about completion percentages and to tick things off from a list of chores.

What’s the solution then? What is the metaphorical haemorrhoid cream for these piles of shame? Well, it’s to stop worrying and just have fun first of all. I’ve started to just pick one game and stick at it until I’m satisfied that I’ve got what I want out of it. I’m not one for side quests and extras unless I really love a game but I’m currently trying to get all the coins in New Super Mario Bros U, having done everything there is to do in 3D World. I finished Fire Emblem recently and powered through Wind Waker HD, skipping all but the essential content as I’d already seen that on the GameCube. (Wind Waker is a game that’s full of tedious bullshit and padding, which becomes all the more apparent if you’ve played it before). I’ve still got a few on my pile to get through, but I’m enjoying it again. Part of that is down to getting rid of the games I wasn’t playing because I didn’t really like them. So often we buy stuff that we hear is good without really considering whether or not we’d like it ourselves. Now I just have a pile I genuinely like and I’m taking them on, one at a time. I’m almost enjoying it.

GS Plays: Hand Of Fate

You can be both if you so wish in Defiant Developments’ Hand of Fate for Xbox One, PS4 and PC. We have given you a run through of a single level in our latest Gamestyle Plays.

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Retrospective – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

I was a meager seven years of age when I was innocently and abruptly cast adrift on a turbulent alien ocean, bestraddling the deck of my modest vessel and bracing for inevitable calamity. As an almighty flash of fork lightning struck the mast, everything faded into white.

 

This inauspicious beginning was without doubt a pivotal moment in my young life. Virgin to the Zelda franchise, or any adventure game of tangible depth at this point, I found myself suddenly and completely invested in the fate of our marooned protagonist. In reality, the cinematics of these scenes were somewhat primitive, particularly by modern standards, but even with the classic Game Boy’s monochromatic green and blacks, it was no less than completely effective in kindling my imagination and budding sense of adventure.

Nintendo themselves have come over a bit misty-eyed with their treatment of The Legend of Zelda franchise lately. Most recently, the 3DS title A Link Between Worlds paid reverential homage to one of the series’ most enduring releases (A Link To The

 

Past) whilst simultaneously launching a fantastic new adventure in that same luxuriant world. However, I’m looking back to a time just after this Past, when the quirky after-hours experiment of some LTTP’s developers flourished into a uniquely left-field and conventionally defiant adventure in its own right.

 

Returning to this game some 20 years on, via its 1998 Game Boy Color re-release; Link’s Awakening DX, makes for a delightful exercise in nostalgia, all the more interesting with a further two decades’ worth of Zelda lore in mind and even an official timeline to contextualise its perpendicular position in the series’ chronology. Many of the elements that had been previously laid out in LTTP return, some, such as the graphics and audio, are tastefully stripped back in view of technical limitations, while others such as narrative, plot and its characters are tweaked and even enhanced.

The setting made for revolutionary fare. Wave goodbye to Hyrule Field, here we have the peculiar Koholint Island, speckled from coast to coast with enjoyably eccentric inhabitants. Gone too is the emblematic Tri Force and eponymous Princess Zelda, but in her place we meet small-town doppelganger Marin, who fortuitously discovers Link’s comatose form washed up on the beach. She bundles him home to her father, Tarin, who presents another highly familiar face, a dead ringer for a certain mustachioed hero. As the player progresses, they encounter yet more of these suspiciously reminiscent characters: the Goombas, Shy Guys, and Yoshis of the various Mario worlds, Sim City’s Mr Wright (disguised as letter enthusiast ‘Mr. Write’) and later even a nightmarish incarnation of Ganon. While their presence could be put down to a technical-limitations-versus-readily-available-sprites scenario, their inclusion in Link’s Awakening evokes that universal feeling of encountering a well-known place or person in a dream, their appearance familiar yet fundamentally altered, as with Alice’s fateful tumble down the rabbit-hole, to discover a familiar, but radically distorted reality.

 

And as our hero plumbs the catacombs of his own Wonderland, it soon becomes clear that this truly is a dream world, though not of his own creation. Koholint Island and everything in it exist within the hibernating psyche of an aquatic being known as the Wind Fish and, in order to escape, Link is going to have to wake it up. As you might have guessed this isn’t going be as straightforward as strolling up to the aforementioned giant egg where the slumbering deity resides, and rapping sharply on the shell. No, in true Zelda style, link must collect eight magical ‘Siren Instruments’ to play in symphony, each of these guarded by a ‘Nightmare’ creature at the end of their respective dungeons.

Beguiling details about the Wind Fish, the Island and the role Link has to play are delivered in tantalising snatches by the timely appearances of a mysterious owl. Whether this character bears any relation to The Ocarina of Time’s own feathered oracle, Kaepora Gaepora, is unclear – but it is a note for speculation to be sure.

 

As Link progresses, he loots an eventual arsenal of tools and weaponry, allowing the player to reach farther flung areas of the island, previously teased but just out of reach. Much of the usual gear including the Hookshot, bow, bombs and Pegasus boots return, in addition to some completely original innovations for the franchise, such as Roc’s feather; allowing Link to jump for the first time and thus opening up a range of gameplay possibilities.

 

Perhaps by virtue of its smaller world, Koholint Island is undoubtedly richer per square inch in quirky characters and off-the-beaten-path micro-games. One that kept me frustrated yet fixated for countless hours was the fishing game, another first for the series and a humble start for what would later become a Zelda mainstay. This simple game involved a cross-section view of a fishing pond, with Link casting his line out and reeling in his chosen quarry by furiously hammering the button. The ‘big lunker’ yielded the grand prize of a piece of heart.

 

The tongue-in-cheek tone of the game’s dialogue is another stellar attribute that sets it apart from its predecessors. A couple of kids poke fun at the game itself, almost breaking the fourth wall by telling Link, “When you want to save just push all the buttons at once.” Clarifying the strangeness of this advice with “Uh… What does that mean? Don’t ask me I’m just a kid!”. In Mabe Village, an enamoured pet-owner fondly declares “Oh my Bow-Wow is so proud of his fine fur coat” referring to the hairless metallic monstrosity that is (chain) chomping at the bit just outside. Animal village is a trove of such characters, watch out for a bear that is also a chef, a hippopotamus posing as an artist’s muse and a goat called Christine that claims to be the spitting image of Princess Peach in her correspondence with Mr Write.

 

As it was with LTTP, Link’s Awakening is a top-down affair for most of the game, with the notable exception of some side-scrolling underground segments. These areas opened up a whole new mechanic for the platform, not at all like the tribulations of the NES title The Adventure of Link, but more like a Mario/Zelda go-between, complete with squashable Goombas and Piranha plants. Though the Zora Slippers had featured before in LTTP, this side-scrolling perspective allowed the player to see, and so more thoroughly explore, the underwater world.

 

The difficulty level for this game is perfectly pitched. Slightly more forgiving than LTTP was; particularly in its Dark World areas, the puzzles and bosses of Link’s Awakening track a smoothly sloping curve, easing you in at the beginning but posing a real risk to Link’s survival in the latter stages, especially bothersome when trying to achieve a pure (no-deaths) completion.

 

Improvements from the original release to the DX version are worth mentioning. The newer edition enjoys a lavish full-colour world, bringing it closer in stylistic beauty to it’s SNES forerunner, something I once strove to achieve in the bygone days of the Super Game Boy console expansion. The best update however, comes in the form of an entirely fresh dungeon, replete with new enemies, colour-based conundrums and three new bosses. While not particularly difficult to complete, even at a relatively early stage of the game, it is a nice touch, adding fresh terrain to this classic title and the rewards, the powered-up Red or Blue Clothes, are very worthwhile.

 

It is difficult for me to find major fault with this game, but it has its fair share of minor gripes. Like the 4 or 5 words-per-page of slow scrolling, unskippable text, which might sound like a pernickety complaint but around the point of collecting your seventh or eighth compass, the incredibly long-winded description of how it essentially “shows you where chests and keys are” certainly begins to grate.

 

Perhaps the greatest thing about Link’s Awakening was how its narrative stepped boldly outside the box and flung itself bodily into a dream-world; a place existentially contingent on the sustained sleep of the very creature you are trying to wake. What will actually happen to Marin, Tarin and all of Koholint if I succeed? As a youth, this floated an unprecedented philosophical issue to me, challenging my ideas about the nature of thought, dream and reality. But equally, I had a bloody good romp slaying funny monsters and swinging a sword around the foliage to find bombs, arrows and untold wealth. Just as Super Mario Bros 2 was to Super Mario Bros 1 and later Majora’s Mask was to The Ocarina of Time, so too Link’s Awakening bucked the series’ trends and left the world we knew to invent something quietly groundbreaking and entirely wonderful.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D Review

Maybe it’s because I was expecting Ocarina of Time 2, but I never truly appreciated Majora’s Mask back in 2000. Despite repurposing a lot of the assets, it felt wildly different, mainly in tone.

Set in the new land of Termina, Link has three days to stop the Skull Kid from causing the moon to come crashing down. The three days are able to be restarted Groundhog Day style thanks to Link’s trusty Ocarina. Doing so though will lose certain items and even dungeon progress. And that’s really the aspect that can be a turnoff for some.

The time limit can be harsh, that is unless you know of the inverted Song of Time, a song that doesn’t actually have to be learnt at any point in the story. Just play the Song of Time backwards and you’re able to slow down the passage of time. And trust me when I say it’s pretty much required, unless you want an ungodly amount of stress.

On my initial N64 play through, I hadn’t learnt of this song till quite late in the story, now that I’m aware of it from the start the whole experience became much more manageable. It almost felt like cheating, but the Zelda series has been about exploration, and when you’re constantly looking at the clock, the ability to soak in the atmosphere almost gets lost. And boy do you want to get sucked into this crazy world.

Majora’s Mask is the most dark and weird world ever seen in the Zelda series. Right from the start you’re greeted to the moon with its evil face looking down on Termina, inching closer and closer as each day passes by, until the final day when the world is literally shaking. You witness characters over these three days going about their busy lives, seemingly oblivious (or in denial) that in three days they’ll all perish. Conversing with certain characters can trigger side quests that are handily recorded in your Bombers Notebook (a feature that wasn’t in the original). This is a living, breathing world that hasn’t been seen before or since in the Zelda universe.

It’s this constant sense of foreboding that is really Majora’s Mask’s greatest accomplishment. On the first day the soundtrack is lively and vibrant, and on the third it gets given a dark underlying score. “Dark” looks to be word of the day when it comes to this review, it’s not exactly survival horror dark, but for a series that has largely been in the realm of family entertainment, it’s a definite change of style and direction.

The world of Termina itself does feel smaller than the Hyrule of Ocarina of Time, unsurprising when you consider the game was developed in a year, compared to the three that OOT took. The size difference though is merely cosmetic. Hyrule Field in OOT was vast, and just riding Epona across from one end to the other was one of the highlights of that generation. In comparison, Majora’s Mask feels a lot tighter. The world may be smaller, but the amount of content crammed into this small space makes it feel massive.

The central area Clock Town is full of life and quests, then going through one of the exits places you onto Termina Field, again it may be smaller than its OOT equivalent, but graphically it looks so much sharper with plenty of detail and obstacles to overcome. Then there are the many areas that Termina Field connects, from the swamps to the high Goron mountains. It’s a glorious world to get lost in.

While the basics haven’t really evolved a great deal from Ocarina of Time (hit things with swords, explore dungeons, solve puzzles), the new mask mechanic adds its own flavour. There are a huge number of masks to be found, most are just obtained by completing sidequests and don’t really affect the gameplay as such, whereas a few of them allow Link to transform into a Zora, Goron or Deku Scrub. Each one comes with the unique traits specific to that species, such as the Goron’s roll attack and the Zora’s ability to swim underwater. Naturally with each transformation, certain characters treat you differently, apparently Clock Town not getting many Goron visitors, such was their shock at encountering one.

More than just a remake, it’s surprising how much care and attention to detail has gone into this 3D iteration. While other companies would just quickly throw it out as a quick cash grab, Nintendo and co-developers Grezzo have finely tuned it to the handheld format. Saving is now a lot more straightforward, the touch screen use for the inventory is brilliantly handled and it just looks so damn good.

Initially you may think to yourself that it looks just as good as on the N64, of course your mind can play tricks on you when you think back to the graphical power of yesteryears games. Only by going back and looking at the original N64 version can you see how much better it looks. The horrible, trademark N64 blur is eradicated and there’s even some new animations to gawp at. This is the sort of remaster that other companies should aspire to.

It may have taken fifteen years, but I’ve finally decided to embrace Majora’s Mask for what it is. A weird and wonderful game that tried to take the Zelda series in a brave and unusual direction. Hopefully others who were put off by the time mechanic all those years ago are willing to try it again and hopefully, much like myself, they too will finally learn to love it.

Gamestyle Live – 18th February 2015 | Kickstarter

Kickstarter has always been an interesting subject, because when it works, it works wonderfully well. But it isn’t all sunshine and roses and it can often go badly wrong for both those who have a project they need funding to those who have given their money to see nothing in return.

Bradly, Steve and Andrew talk about all of these things, before turning their attention to one Mr Molyneux and what has happened with him recently. Please enjoy.

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Apotheon Review

It’s a very specific art style that they’ve pulled off incredibly well. It looks entirely like a Grecian urn. What’s a Grecian urn? Hopefully more now a left-leaning government has taken power that is committed to ending austerity, but that is an ongoing situation.

Ba-dum-tisch.

 

It’s a vase. The game looks like a vase.

 

Volunteering to take on this review, due to an inability to remember the title, I was exclusively referring to Apotheon as “that amazing looking vase game” and whilst playing it when other Gamestyle staff asked how it was going it became “that fucking vase game” due to the sort of irritations that we don’t take kindly to here. Since then, it’s moved back to being called Apotheon.

That Amazing Looking Vase Game

 

Apotheon has picked an art style and knocked it out of the park. There are slight problems with the animation, things look and feel limp and vague with more than a hint of a Flash game to them, but the character design is flawless and the backgrounds even better. The amount of time the development team must have spent looking at 3000 year old pots is probably a lot higher than the average game developer does. It was worth it.

 

The story is utter gibberish, but being based on Greek mythology it has to be. They wrote a lot of gibberish. I mean, that bit with the swan? The basic story here is that Zeus, as he often is, is being a dick (see also, swan incident) and that means that humanity is going to die out. One person (yes, you) stands out as a champion and then does things to either impress the other gods or kill them to gain their powers…It’s very Greek. And it does its job. A thumbs up.

That Fucking Vase Game

 

Well, after that, things go downhill a bit. The problems with the animation affect the combat which feels slightly too vague to be enjoyable. Waft your weapon at the general area and hope. Attacks are selected by aiming with the right analogue stick, uppercuts by holding up, which makes the game play slightly like a twin stick shooter. Except those don’t also require you to jump. And heal. And block. And change weapons in an awkward inventory. With all that to keep in mind they’ve made melee attacks be the trigger and weapons you launch be R1. The end result of this is quite often throwing your sword at an enemy’s face and then standing there looking like an idiot as you realise what you’ve done.

 

And if the combat is flawed, the amount of it is sure to make you notice. This lovingly created world is made to be interacted with through your sword. Combat, sure. Although it is unreasonably constant. But you’re also rewarded for destroying everything. If it can be broken, it can drop inventory items. And that applies to civilians. Murder them all, they might drop some armour. The guards outside, so strict if they see you picking a lock, never notice that you’ve walked into a bathhouse and slaughtered every single bather.

 

A player faced with the imposing entrance to the fortress Zeus calls home should not turn their attention to smashing the table and chairs outside it. The fact Grecian urns exist for the developer to reference is proof enough that warriors in Ancient Greece did not smash every pot and piece of patio furniture they saw.

 

More crucially, this is not a well-programmed game. Whilst crashes can be patched out, completing this amateurish piece of junk has seen me lose whole Gods of progress, twenty minute stealth sections, boss battles. Two boss battles, including the final one, feature game breaking bugs. Apparently some achievements are impossible to unlock too. And it’s not just crashes, the physics are frankly bizarre, the problem behind some of the bugs and the frame rate drops to single figures when multiple enemies are after you. Both make the game much more awkward than it should be.

Apotheon

 

With it turned off, really it’s back to just being Apotheon, neither amazing nor awful. Ignore the technical and gameplay problems, quite impressive if you manage that, and there are some great moments. Each section brings new ideas and the rare puzzles are fun, although even one of those is spoiled by the game revealing the answer much, much too soon. There’s plenty hidden away, and they’re worth finding; rare weapons in particular are good fun.  It’s a good 10 hours plus to complete it properly, so it’s very difficult to criticise it for value. Plus the time restarting the game when it crashes. And there’s a local multiplayer, which is fine, if you didn’t actively dislike the combat.

 

And it does look great.

 

Ultimately, if you have any love for Ancient Greece, wait for the inevitable patch and there is fun to be had here. The attention to detail, the snippets of myth all add vastly to the game. If 3000 year old story fragments aren’t interesting to you then leave Apotheon well alone, as even without the enormous number of technical problems there are enough gameplay flaws in the experience to not recommend this. A genuine disappointment.

Carmageddon Reincarnation Preview

Nostalgia is a fickle mistress. Or master, whichever your preference. Especially when it comes to gaming. There’s plenty out there who hanker for a simpler time, and occasionally I do too. The trouble with the desire to throw yourself back to that nebulous grander age universally known as ‘the good old days’ is that it shifts as time marches inexorably on, and so the experience you hanker for is also eternally shifting. The other problem with gaming nostalgia is that sometimes you get exactly what you wished for.

Carmageddon Reincarnation, originally a Kickstarter which funded in June 2012 and aimed for a Feb 2013 release (which was hilariously optimistic in hindsight), has been kicking around in alpha form for a while. It didn’t have a structure as such, but after 3 years in development the recent release into public beta is the full game, ready for us all to hurl ourselves back to 1997 and get knee deep in knob gags, Carry On levels of innuendo and terrible puns. And, y’know, turning pedestrians into a red paste with outlandish vehicles.

Carmageddon Reincarnation (Car Promo Graphic)

Carmageddon Reincarnation is a conflicting beast. For those of you who never played Carmageddon 1 or 2 (we don’t talk about TDR), imagine Destruction Derby with weapons, developed by someone who watched too much Bottom, but completely misunderstood why the knob gags were funny (because Rik Mayall, obviously). The game was a bit one note and the AI incredibly stupid, but there was something fun about it all.

In its fundamentals, much of Carmageddon Reincarnation is almost exactly the same game as Carmageddon 2. The cars handle the same, the humour is the same, the mechanics and power ups are the same and, thanks to some horrific optimisation at this point, it almost looks the same. I had to run the game on the lowest settings to get a vaguely steady frame rate despite my PC being within recommended spec, and even then there were frequent frame lock-ups.

The gameplay has been tweaked so instead of just having to kill peds, destroy all the other players or somehow manage to complete X laps, there are different game types to mix it up, like Stampede where you have to be first to get through 10 randomly spawned checkpoints on a map, Ped Chase where you have to be the first to, er, kill 10 randomly designated pedestrians… OK, so far there’s not much variety. And the humour, while highly amusing in 1997, now seems incredibly crass.

A Carmageddon car splatters some cows.

Or maybe I just got old. A little from column A, a little from column B.

There’s also the issue that the AI is fantastically stupid, to the point of providing zero challenge in any way, shape or form. Turning the difficulty up (to ‘Harder Than Rimming a Rhino’, sigh) makes the AI more aggressive but not much more intelligent.

And yet… and yet there’s something about Carmageddon Reincarnation. Something that makes it fun, in the same way that 80s Schwarzenegger cheese-fest Commando is fun. It’s wonky as hell with a hideous frame rate and draw distance, but smashing up opponents is just as satisfying as it was 18 years ago. Running over pedestrians is more fun than any well-functioning member of the human race should enjoy. Having your car bounce around the level after you hit a bump when the Pinball power-up is activated is cackle-worthy even when it’s the 10th occurrence.

So in its current beta state it needs a lot of work. I doubt the gameplay and structure is going to change very much, but as it stands it’s looking to be what all Carmageddon fans were hoping for. Whether Carmageddon Reincarnation will find an audience that isn’t wearing rose tinted spectacles, however, remains to be seen.

Qora Review

It’s idyllic up here in the mountains. In the distance the contractors are putting the finishing touches on your new home. There’s a festival about to start which is a perfect excuse to meet the neighbours who happily tell you they are richer than you. Or your new house is built on the site of a recent falling boulder tragedy. Or they just want to welcome you to the community by giving you an ugly sweater.

 

Everything is going well until, while admiring the ancient statues on the outskirts of town, you’re struck by a heavenly bolt of light granting you the ability to see into the distant past. Suddenly, exploring the crumbling, cyclopean ruins of the 3000 year old temple on the other side of the valley seems like the most important thing in the world, so you set off into the wilderness.

The world of Qora is a series of flick screen, low resolution, pixel art landscapes. At first glance they look scrappy and amateurish but as you pass from screen to screen it becomes apparent there’s a grand sense of scale under the rough surface. Incidental animations like herds of deer running before you and plumes of smoke rising from chimneys are surprisingly effective at breathing life into your surroundings. The soundtrack is also superb, switching from jaunty electronic folk to washes of delicate, reedy synths and ominous drones as you venture further from the village. Each tiny detail and sparse musical phrase contributes to an atmosphere balanced between tranquillity and unease but it’s the glimpses back in time that truly sell you on Qora’s reality.

 

At specific points, a prompt appears above your characters head and tapping the space bar fades the screen into black and white while ghostly visions of the locations history manifest themselves. The effect is like a digital pop-up book and I’d feel guilty spoiling even a single instance. The tension as you journey through the ruins builds and builds as the disquieting menace of the architecture plays off the strange and haunting revelations your new gift brings you.

There’s a solid Lovecraftian fantasy story to be teased out of Qora, one that finds both horror and wonder in the vast expanses of time, but the onus is very much on the player to piece it together from fragments of the past and present. In the best traditions of weird fiction there are big reveals at the end but enough is left for the player to puzzle out themselves, individual interpretations lingering on after the ending. It’s not perfect, there are jarringly tonal shifts, goofy dialogue and occasional descents into hipster surrealism. It’s a mixture that Capybara’s Super Brothers Sword and Sorcery EP pulled off with far more skill but the occasional joke still hits home and raises a smile.

 

If you hadn’t guessed already it’s important to stress that Qora has no game mechanics other than to continually push onwards. Very occasionally there are brief divergences from the main path but you can’t fail or die in any way and meaningful choices are few and far between. This is a largely ambient experience and it’s no surprise that the excellent soundtrack album is available to download as extra DLC.

Another potential red flag is Qora’s length. It won’t take longer than a couple of hours to reach the end, although there is some scope to play around in the world, teasing out alternate endings and revisiting favourite moments. However, players willing to sink themselves into the story, warts and all, might find it stays with them for far longer.

Interview with Pillar Creator: Michael Hicks

Gamestyle: Hello Michael, thank you for joining us. Can you give us a little bit of history about yourself and how you got into game development?

Michael Hicks: Thanks for having me! I’ve been making games since I was a kid, I grew up with video games so it started off with me trying to mimic games I was playing… in 2007 I made my first full game, a 2D space shooter… and eventually worked my way up to a 3D space shooter in 2011 for Xbox 360. After that I started to look at games more seriously as a career… I made a few other games for Xbox 360 and then have been working on Pillar since August 2012.

So is Pillar somewhat of a dream game for you? Something you had in your mind from an early age? Basically what was the inspiration for Pillar?

Looking back now, I’d say it’s the best thing I’ve done… but it wasn’t my dream game or anything like that. Around 2012 I started to get frustrated at a lot of video games, essentially I feel most video games are about escapism and hiding from reality to some degree, there’s a place for that in the world but I wanted to see more expressive games that tried to give people things they could take back and relate to in real life.

So after making this experimental game called Sententia for Xbox 360, I started subscribing to this idea that video games need to move away from traditional narrative story, and focus on the gameplay mechanics and what they teach/say to the player. I started to believe that you could essentially tell a story through the gameplay mechanics…

So with all that bubbling in my mind, I started thinking about real life relationships I had with people… one in particular was really important to me but I could never describe in words how it felt to be around this person, we had this really weird chemistry… so I started thinking I could express it through the gameplay mechanics, in a sense showing how I saw the world and how she saw the world, and how the characters worked together. Then I saw this movie called Magnolia where it’s made up of a bunch of characters that make up a bigger story… I started combining that idea with the theories from psychology stuff like the Myers-Briggs and slowly the idea came together.

So really, a ton of different things inspired this game… but hopefully that gives you an idea of my head space at the time I started it!

Wow, that has covered a number of questions we had planned…

Magnolia is an excellent film by the way so that really has piqued our interest.

You mention wanting to find another way to tell a story. One thing I like about many Indie titles, is that they can take risks in how they tell a story, do you find you have that freedom, or is there pressure to find a new angle? Especially moving forward.

Yeah Magnolia is one of my favorite films, PTA is my favorite director! Feel free to ask any of those questions if you feel I could go into more depth on a certain area.

I love creative freedom, it’s the main reason I’m indie. I love making things because of the excitement of arriving at ideas you feel no one has thought of before. The excitement of doing something new is what motivates me to make stuff, so I don’t really feel a pressure to find a new angle or anything like that… it’s what drives me at this point really.

Great, so with Magnolia, it is wonderful to hear someone mention it as an influence, because it is a special film. But aside from the way the character’s own experiences all conspire to link to one another, was there any other influence that came from that? Or even from Paul Thomas Anderson’s style?

Yeah I think Paul Thomas Anderson had a huge influence on me creatively, especially with this game. He has a way of writing characters in an honest way that isn’t judgemental, he just presents things and lets you take it in. I feel in some of my earlier games when I would write dialogue, I would try to stress really hard that this person is evil or you know… put my own opinion into the writing. Paul doesn’t really do that in any of his movies, and that’s interesting because so many of his films are essentially character studies about people with realistic flaws.

So like I said, there isn’t any dialogue in Pillar… but I consider this game to be very similar to his movies; in a way Pillar is also a character study about people with realistic flaws… but I don’t feel like I make a judgement call on who is “right” or “wrong”, I just present the ideas and how they relate to the bigger picture I’m trying to convey.

That sounds right up our alley. However, before this turns into a chat purely about Mr Anderson, we’ll move on.

How much do you think the new landscape of gaming has allowed your vision to come together? This surely wasn’t possible just a few short years ago.

I couldn’t be doing this in the 90s… I’m from the middle of nowhere, so the only reason I’m here talking to you now is because of the internet and the rise of tools like XNA. I learned how to program from the XNA Community and various free resources online, and then the rise of digital distribution let these smaller teams take more creative risks. There’s no way a studio would pick up what I’m doing if I pitched it to them… and if they did I feel like they’d screw it up by asking me to make changes to cater to what they think gamers want right now and all of that jazz.

So yeah, I think we’re in a really exciting time for video games!

Which brings me nicely onto my next question and the differences between the big AAA titles and Indie developed games.

Games like Driveclub, Master Chief Collection, Assassin’s Creed, etc have all come out to a bad reception for obvious reasons, do you think that Indie titles are in a way a reminder that bigger isn’t always better? That sometimes it is the smaller innovations that have the biggest impact?

I think the primary difference between AAA and indie is how they prioritise money… and honestly this isn’t a black and white thing, we tend to stereotype this stuff. Somewhere I read an interview with the main director behind Goldeneye 007 and he talked about how they rarely had anyone check in on them or ask to make changes, they had a lot of creative control. There’s also A LOT of indies right now that operate like larger studios… they come in and analyze the market and try to cater to what’s selling right now.

So when I say I’m all about indies and I hate AAA… really what I’m saying is that I don’t like the pure business approach that people have to making things, I’ve never seen it produce anything meaningful… meaningful as in, causing a change in the video game industry or being something that changes people’s lives in someway. What I see with the business approach is that it’s a short term investment, they tend to make a lot of money right now but over the course of time are totally forgotten and replaced.

How many people are going to recommend Morrowind in 20 years? There will just be some new Elder Scrolls with better graphics that we’ll recommend. But how many people will remember Braid? You know what I mean? That’s the difference between the two approaches I think.

Wonderful response, there are some games that will always leave a lasting impression. Before you get to give us a reason as to why Pillar could be that sort of title, we have one more question.

So PS4… Is that it? Or can we expect other platforms at some point? You know you’ll get hounded for a Vita version right?

I’ve already been hounded =-P Seriously, go look at the comments on the blogs I’ve posted ha-ha. The game is going to launch on PS4, Xbox 360 and PC. It will be available on the Humble store for PC, but we’re also on Steam Greenlight right now so we could potentially see it on Steam too.

If the game does ok we’d love to see it on Vita so we’ll see what happens!

Good to know.

Thank you so much for joining us, before we let you leave we want to give you a chance to sell us Pillar! What should our readers expect? Why should they go and buy it?

If you agreed with any of my above answers then there’s a high chance you’ll enjoy Pillar… if you enjoy a good puzzler and experencing games that are attempting to try new things then this game is for you! If you want a game that respects your time and doesn’t give you any filler, then this game is TOTALLY for you. Ha-ha, thanks a lot for having me!

Pillar is released on PS4 on 17th February 2015 in the US and the day after in the EU

Evolve Review

Well that was initially the case with Evolve. Coming from a graphic design background there was something almost perfect about the Evolve logo. The positioning of the V, the four small blocks on the left of the V and the large block on the right of it. It worked by showing exactly what the game is, what it is about and also giving you the fundamental idea without seeing anything but that logo. That was enough for me to have an interest.

But what of the game itself? The issue with these teamwork based models, is that unless you can get together with a regular group, it can often become a lesson in frustration and the same is true of Evolve unfortunately.

Sure, as the monster you can have a quick blast one evening on your own and get a lot of enjoyment from it, but try and do the same as one of the four hunters and your experience will vary wildly. This isn’t the fault of the game itself really, but at the same time it is, making it hard to pass proper judgement.

Let me expand on this a little, based on my own experiences. I played a few games with other random players and managed to find a mix of those with headsets who were willing to communicate, but also plenty either didn’t have the tools, or didn’t fancy talking. Which is what this game’s success boils down to. The need to communicate.

In games with players who were talking, one was able to stand out, give instruction and get everyone working as a team. Working almost as a commander making sure the medic did their job at the right time, that everyone knew their roles, when to attack, when to support, all of that jazz. These games were pretty damned fun to play, win or lose.

Then there were the games where no one would talk, everyone going off in their own direction, not sticking together, being picked off by wildlife, then destroyed by the monster. No support, no healing and four individuals just attacking to no avail. These were horrible games and the sort that made me want to switch the game off and never return.

However, when played with four other people you know, it becomes a joyous experience that is fun to play and offers plenty of laughs at the same time, as well as healthy competition. This was a throwback to the original days of online PC gaming and XBOX Live. Which in the end does make me sad, because those days are rarer than ever.

So anyway, onto the core mechanics. These are very finely tuned and work exceptionally well. The balance of any one game can shift many times depending on the approach taken by both the hunters or the monster.

The goal of the hunters is first and foremost to kill the monster, the earlier you can hunt it down and engage, the easier it can be to kill him, the longer you leave it, the more chance it has of evolving and being stronger than ever before attacking its final objective.

The monster itself has two ways of winning a round. One is to kill all the hunters or the other is to attack a designated point and destroy it, before the hunters destroy you. But to get to a point of being able to attack this point, you as the monster need to get there, whilst hunting wildlife to kill and feed on, so you can evolve.

The more time you spend hunting food, the quicker the hunters can track you and engage in combat using their various tools, including a trap that creates a dome type arena to keep you contained in battle. So basically it becomes a game of cat and mouse for the most part, which again, depending on who you play, with can either be tense or a bit dull.

One of the nice touches here, is that the monster can hide and prevent any hints showing up to the hunters by sneaking around, but it will take longer to evolve and it will move slower, or by going on the attack for wildlife and getting to stage 3 as quickly as possible you leave tracks, disturb birds, destroy surroundings and generally give the hunters clues as to your whereabouts.

The balance of the game is outstanding and really is fantastic to play in the right scenario, but just like I feel the new Rainbow Six will suffer the same fate, being able to have those fun and enjoyable moments on a regular basis will be difficult. Hopefully, as the casual crowd move onto the next big thing, you will be left with those who want to play Evolve in the way it was meant to be played, but for now it is pot luck as to what you will get, unless you can organise something yourself.

There is also a single player mode within Evolve and I must be honest here and say that I was very, very cynical when I became aware of this. It seemed pointless to have a single player option in a game that was clearly built for online capers only and would purely be just you and a few useless bots.

How wrong I was though. Well I say wrong, because technically it is the same as the online with a few bots, but it has had a few nice touches to make it worthwhile. That and the AI is surprisingly decent for the most part.

The idea here is that you play out a number of scenarios as either the hunters or the monster. Five scenarios set over ‘five days’ where the result of each day will affect the balance of power and the ease of the next scenario. Win a scenario and you will get a reward that will help you for the next, such as auto aiming turrets at a base, or locals who will join in with your fight; or as the monster extra armour, that sort of thing. Lose and the opposing AI will get the benefits instead.

I don’t know if it was because I went into this with a cynical frame of mind, but I found myself really liking the concept and even though it was essentially a repeat of the multiplayer aspects with a few minor adjustments, I found it to be a lot of fun and have found it a nice fall back when an online session has been doomed by players who don’t want to jump into the spirit of the game.

It is hard to grade Evolve, because based on some sessions it is a horrid experience that you never want to play again, but when it does click with the right people it is one of the best online team based games out right now. I have had more luck than not with online games in Evolve, so it is heartedly recommended.

Warlords of Draenor Review

Over the last few years Blizzard has begun to change the way it structures its expansions to make sure there is content for all of its players whether they are casual, hardcore raiders or PvP nuts.

 

The latest expansion for World of Warcraft called Warlords of Draenor launched in November 2014 and saw a great overhaul of the basics including numerous spells and abilities being removed from the game, allowing players to get to grips with their chosen class easier, as well as modernising and revamping some of the older character models. A new area, Draenor, appeared, which boasts beautiful, impressive sceneries, extremely linear quest lines to ensure you don’t miss any essential parts of the storyline, and the garrison, which is your new hub – providing professions buildings, daily quests, and followers who you can send off on missions to earn reputation and level up, and bring you gold and potential armour upgrades.

Now is a great time for new players, who previously may have been intimidated by such an established MMO, to jump right in with the gameplay fundamentals being simplified, and with this expansion players are granted a free boost to level 90 for one character – meaning that the new content can be seen straight away without having to work through 4 expansions worth of content first. Once the new level cap is hit, gearing up your character is easily achievable through a mix of the profession huts in your garrison allowing for crafted items, and the Looking For Raid (LFR) function, where 25 people take on bosses for armour and weapon upgrades. As well as the current content there is the back catalogue of previous expansions of colourful zones, dungeons and raids which at maximum level are a breeze and allow you to immerse yourself in the rich lore that World of Warcraft has to offer.

 

But what about the experienced player who has been burned by the long gaps between expansions and played all the “old content” as it was being released? Frankly there isn’t much to make it stand out – unlike previous expansions there are no new races or classes around and flying mounts aren’t allowed in Draenor, which not only is a huge step back from the previous expansions but has also devalued the effort gone into collecting this type of mount.

There is now only one daily quest (a massive reduction from about 25) which as a group takes only 5-10 minutes to complete, and gathering faction reputation now mainly comes from killing certain enemies which yield ridiculously low amounts of reputation per kill, resulting in days repeatedly killing the same things in the same area. LFR has been made so simplistic that no one bothers with tactics and each section can usually be completed in around 20 minutes – assuming no one does anything ridiculous like standing in the fire. On the other end of the raiding spectrum the invention of flexible heroic raiding (for 10-25 people) combined with mythic raiding (fixed at 20 people) has all but killed established 25 man raiding guilds, forcing hard decisions about the direction of the group. These fundamental changes mean that many now just log on briefly every 8 hours to complete follower missions or to log on for guild raids.

 

Blizzard appear to have, in their attempt to make the game more accessible to new players, dumbed down the game in such a way that experienced players have lost their love for the game they once knew and trade chat is often filled with woeful comments of nostalgia of prior expansions.

Bloodborne – Hands On Preview

Indeed, I braved the perils of encountering Swansea’s finest social shut-ins with nothing better to do on a Friday evening, all for the grand prize of a few goes of From Software’s forthcoming action-RPG, Bloodborne.

I have to admit, I’m a little rusty when it comes to the Demon’s/Dark Souls games, and I never played Dark Souls 2. When I found out about the lock-in event at my local Game store, I dug out my old PS3, and fired up the PS+ edition of Demon’s Souls to reacquaint myself with the controls. Aside from it feeling like meeting up with an old friend, playing Demon’s Souls really did put me in good stead for playing Bloodborne.

When I finally got my hands on the controller, I was presented with four choices of characters. All looked somewhat similar except for the fourth.  The first three all had some combination of melee weapons (swords and axes etc.), and guns (pistols and shotguns). The final character was specced out for agility, wielding what appeared to be a dagger and a pistol, and wearing a ragged, bird-like cloak, with matching mask. Think Big Bird, but if Tim Burton kidnapped and tortured him to the point of madness.

My first go, however, wasn’t with emo Big Bird. I went for a guy that looked like a good all-rounder, and with his pistol and awesome outfit, looked like a Victorian era Saint of Killers (if you don’t get that reference, you should remedy that, right now!). So off I went, axe in one hand, pistol in the other, cautiously walking along cobbled streets so gothic in style I half expected a Danny Elfman score to kick in.

I don’t know about most other players, but my experience with Demon’s and Dark Souls involved religious use of a shield. I loved my shields. So when playing Bloodborne I was very conscious of not having one. I felt vulnerable. Thankfully, the controls and feel of this Bloodborne demo were very familiar to me, thanks to my recent play of Demon’s Souls.  The right stick is still your best friend, click it to lock on to the enemy in front of you, and move it to lock on to another.

Similarly, performing rolls is also the same, and will likely prove to be a key element of survival in this game. The enemies come at you at a staid pace, only sometimes quickly advancing. I actually found this more unnerving than them charging at me. They appeared more cautious, and somewhat bizarrely, more human as a result. Combined with their looks, and the fantastically realised gothic streets, this created an atmosphere that is pretty much unmatched.  It felt like Wes Craven and Tim Burton had spawned some kind of horrible demon offspring, and I was the central role in one of its nightmares.

Going back to the combat, I tried a few approaches depending on the character I was playing with. Emo Big Bird’s nimble style didn’t suit me at all, and I died very quickly.  My best experience was with a character that wielded a great big sword in one hand, and a blunderbuss in the other. You may not have shields, but some of the enemy characters do, so it felt immensely satisfying to knock a shielded enemy back with my sword, and follow up with a fatal blast from my blunderbuss.  It would appear the key to Bloodborne’s combat may lie in combining both weapons to get the best out of them.

Of course, you can switch to traditional two-handed weapons. Carving your way through enemies in Demon’s Souls was always fun, and felt just as good in this, especially as your character’s clothes slowly get drenched in the blood of everyone you’ve slain – it makes emo Big Bird look particularly ghoulish. The exploration and “perhaps I’ll come back here later… much later” aspects of Demon’s Souls appear to be present as well. I decided to take a different route on one of my goes, and happened upon what can only be described as a big fat motherfucker, with a big fat motherfucking meat cleaver. “YOU DIED”.

The demo itself felt a little stuttery; for the most part it appeared to run at a solid 30 frames per second, but I did encounter the odd dip here and there. I asked the Sony rep at the event how recent the build was, and was told it’s the same demo that was at the Eurogamer Expo in autumn last year. From Software has had plenty of time to to optimise the game to make the most of the PS4’s power, and what I played most certainly whetted my appetite. The controls and combat felt just as tight as in Demon’s Souls, and the combination of gunplay with traditional swordplay adds a great new twist.  The graphical style From Software has gone for here evokes true horror, eschewing the fantasy trappings of the Souls series. I can’t wait to get my hands on the full game next month.

Bloodborne, exclusive to Playstation 4, will be released 27th March in the UK.

MTG Shandalar Retrospective

Abstract: Indulgent

That abstract doesn’t simply refer to the decadent headline, for which there will be no apologies, but the absurd popularity of Magic: The Gathering. The format-defining Trading Card Game, still the kingpin since creating the genre in 1993. Even as the game approaches its 22nd anniversary, the core experience of play-land-cast-spells-win endures and thrives and its continual relevance in both tabletop and the wider gaming industries is testament to its addictive qualities. But this glorious anthem isn’t without its dark depths, and while the physical game goes from strength to strength, its digital cousins have consistently failed to earn the same accolades.

While Battlegrounds and Tactics are noteworthy nonstarters, Magic Online (MTGO) and Duels of the Planewalkers (DotP) are perhaps the most widely-known varieties of digital Magic, and both have earned their detractors. DotP, structured as a gateway drug for the wider world, has been criticised for locking cards and decks into pre-constructed entities, denying the understated enjoyment of crafting your own decks of flavour and power, as well as regularly dropping features found in each previous instalment including alternative modes of play and multiplayer functionality. Whereas MTGO’s crimes are too numerous to note, but chief among them seems to be: Hearthstone exists, and does everything better.

 

 

MTG computer games suck. But it wasn’t always like this. This calamity is a fresh taste. There was a time before the Eldrazi. Welcome to Shandalar.

 

 

Magic: The Gathering, developed in 1997 by MicroProse and famously the last game Sid Meier worked on with the turbulent developer before forming Firaxis, also colloquially known as Shandalar after the game’s unique setting. Featuring cards from Alpha to The Dark sets and wrapping the card battling in an RPG shell, players are tasked with subduing the five wizards, each representing a segment of the ‘Color Pie’ and defeating the evil planeswalker Arzakon. So far, so trope.

 

To this end, players traverse the randomly generated plane, visiting towns and villages, purchasing new cards from shops as well as acquiring them by defeating wandering minions in a reminder that MTG first had an ante system. While the graphics are rudimentary, there is clarity far beyond the flashy hollowness of DotP, and the game’s aural elements follow similar, appreciated cues.

 

Shandalar isn’t pristine; the AI is deeply flawed, the encounter rate is intrusively high and, perhaps most galling of all, there was no multiplayer until the release of expansion Manalink. Heralded under a wounded MicroProse, the development was besieged with issues even after 12 months, and with no clear direction, Meier was brought in to stem the bleeding. While developer Arnold Hendrick was keen to emphasis the multiplayer elements, it was Meier’s lack of faith in multiplayer that resulted in the RPG structure, and it is precisely this that grants Shandalar its copious, undeniable charm.

 

 

Slowly optimising your deck and expanding your life total (from an alien starting block of 10) stoke your level-up flames without feeling as arbitrary as a traditional +1 stat boost across the board and, unlike the modern DotP titles, Shandalar adheres to the phase structure of the game with fanatic faithfulness – at least, as it was in ‘97. With this in mind, Shandalar is not necessarily recommended to newcomers looking to get a glimpse into how the game is played in 2015; lacking a solidly trustworthy representation of the stack, Moxes and duels were ten-a-penny and being a time when elder statespersons Shivan Dragon and Serra Angel still ruled the roost. The creatures may now be overshadowed by your Emrakuls and Griselbrands, but nothing beats Shandalar on providing that perverse joy of playing with Power.

 

 

Shandalar has aged well. From Reddit subforums to Retro Gamer, many have opined on the game’s lasting appeal with a fervour you would be hard-pressed to see applied to Wizards of the Coasts’ current digital line-up. Nor is this lack of enthusiasm exclusive to their computer games, with the IDW comics line cancelled, focus on lacklustre novellas being downsized and the upcoming Magic: The Gathering Board Game so far failing to distance itself from tactical board game contemporaries Mage Wars and Summoner Wars among others. The horizon does not look clear. But while we may lament the hands being drawn now, we can take comfort in the fact that MicroProse got it right the first time.

Magic: The Gathering takes place across a variety of planes, and if you’re a fresh faced vorthos, you might be wondering when Shandalar will be featured alongside your Zendikars and Innistrads. What you might be surprised to learn is that Shandalar is the setting for the annual Core Sets, being a handy catch-all without overwhelming a set intended for new and returning players in a whelming wheel of lore. With the Core Sets now being discontinued, 2015’s Magic Origins being the last, is it finally time for Shandalar to take centre stage with its own two-set block?

Super Galaxy Squadron Review

So when the Steam store-front dutifully recommended Super Galaxy Squadron who was I to refuse? First impressions were promising. The chunky, plasticky pixel art enemies call to mind the 90s output of genre master-developers Cave, as well as childhood memories of playing with Transformers (or cheap knock-offs…). Vast, cosmic scenery scrolls by with aching slowness reminiscent of the venerable Star Soldier series and the trick of framing frantic action against such tranquil backdrops remains effective all these years on.  Then there’s the explosions – great, lurid bursts of orange and yellow accompanied by deliciously crunchy sound effects that border on white noise and punctuate a suitably catchy soundtrack of chip tunes and power metal guitar solos. Clearly Psyche Studios have done their shmup homework.

Controls are tight and the 14 selectable craft, each with their own firing patterns and unique special attacks, add a welcome dash of variety. Showers of bonus items jettisoned from destroyed enemies that require deft manoeuvring to hoover up and a rudimentary combo system bring a simplistic tactical layer to the chaos. It’s testament to the developers’ art chops that even at it’s most chaotic the swathes of firepower, enemy ships and bonus items never blur into each other. Most importantly it just feels good to blow stuff up.

Bullets everywhere

There’s considerable talent on display here which makes what I have to say next all the more frustrating and baffling. Super Galaxy Squadron suffers from game breaking balance issues at the most basic level. I’m no shmup ninja but armed with little more than a healthy appreciation of the genre I cleared normal mode without dying on my first play through. An overly generous damage gauge and plentiful health pickups completely rob the game of challenge. Switching to hardcore mode lurches to the opposite extreme, a single hit sending you back to the start of the level. It’s admittedly thrilling at first knowing the tiniest mistake will cost you everything but this soon wears off. The end result is painfully exacting rather than challenging, especially as enemy formations and bullet patterns remain identical to normal mode.

Action is fast and frantic

There is some consolation in the form of an “endless” mode, playable on both normal and hardcore difficulties, which throws wave after wave of ships at you with increasing frequency until the entire screen is permanently awash with enemy firepower. It’s ridiculous, broken and hugely entertaining.

[Edit: Updated after feedback showing author made mistake with regards to leaderboards]
Balance issues aside there’s also a general lack of polish – online leader boards hidden away in the Steam overlay, clunky menus and the fact that you can activate your special attack even after your ship has been destroyed all show a general lack of care. Again, confusing in a game that does so much right with such panache and I hope Psyche Studios make good on the promise shown here in future games.

As a snack between more refined shooters or an easy way into the genre for newcomers and rusty veterans, Super Galaxy Squadron is a lightweight, flawed but still enjoyable game. Players looking for something deeper should look elsewhere.

 

Gamestyle Live – 11th February 2015 – DLC

Bradley, Steve and Andrew talk about the latest in DLC fiascos and screw ups. What has been good, what has been bad and when will season passes stop being a thing. Well not even a thing, but the wrong name for a thing for the wrong genre.

They praise EA a bit…Yes, you heard that right. Nearly get to the end of the show without mention of the Vita and remember the good old days of having to go to the shop to buy an expansion on disc.

Check out the ways to listen below!

 

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Castle In The Darkness Review

Castle in the Darkness is another in a long line of 8-Bit styled bastard hard platformers that seem to grace Steam with increasing frequency. Taking its cues from Super Meat Boy, Shovel Knight, Megaman, Cave Story (you get the idea) it’s a bastard hard, nostalgia gland massaging piece of software that many love simply because they hanker for a time before 3 gigabyte day one patches and pads with more than 4 buttons.

And it certainly looks and sounds the part. The graphics are simple but lovely with a muted colour palette, and the soundtrack is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a game such as this. All bleepy bloopy awesomeness, albeit quite a repetitive, bleepy bloopy awesomeness.

castle1
Lovely visuals that throw back to the good old days

The gameplay certainly follows the tack set by the looks and the sound, with tight controls requiring perfect timing to make those jumps and hit those enemies with your oversized sword and navigate those falling, insta-death spikes. Or avoiding and hitting that boss that has no consistent triggers or pattern to learn. Or running into that enemy that drops from the sky each time and you know exactly where it is but the placement makes it difficult to avoid it as soon as you come on the screen. Ah.

You see, the problem with bastard hard retro-styled platformers is that they require a deft hand in development to stop them from being teeth grinding chores, and Castle in the Darkness unfortunately seems to fall on the side of being frustrating rather than fun.

Plenty of skill is required in Castle in the Darkness
Plenty of skill is required in Castle in the Darkness

The first clue that you’re in for some pain is the counter that records your death. It goes to 6 digits. But dying a lot isn’t a problem. Dying a lot is practically the first design choice on the list when it comes to bastard hard retro-styled platformers, but there’s dying a lot because you’re not playing the game correctly (or rather, you’re not learning how to play the game correctly) and there’s dying a lot because the game hates your guts and will do all in it’s power to make sure your dreams remain unfulfilled.

Another peculiarity is the placement of save points. You can save and change equipment at them, and when you pass through them you regain all your health. However, they’re placed inconsistently throughout the game. Sometimes you’ll reach a save point and have to fight through about 10 screens of enemies to get to a boss. And when you kill the boss, you have to fight another slew of enemies to get to the save point. During which, of course, you could die and have to do the boss again.

There’s nothing wrong with the game being difficult, but the inconsistency in the placement of save points just leaves an unpleasant taste. At the very least it makes the game tedious. Repetition through lack of your own skill is fine. Repetition because the game wants to punish you for no reason isn’t.

castle2
How you cope with the difficulty will determine your enjoyment.

There are many more elements that I could list, like the curious instadeath spike placements, or the regular enemies that seem a little too hard to kill without taking damage, but it’s at this point I wonder how much of my dislike for Castle in the Darkness is down to me or the game.

Take the Frog Prince boss, for example. Logically speaking I should be able to trigger when he falls down, but I couldn’t find any consistent way to make him trip over. There’s a long winded way to kill him (which may or may not be the right way), but it took me many deaths to figure that out as I was trying to do it the way that seemed a little more apparent.

So is it me or is it the game? Well, there’s a problem with these bastard hard retro-styled platformers, in that it’s often difficult to tell whether you’re just a cack-handed idiot with all the hand/eye co-ordination of a lobotomized sloth on morphine, or if they’re just not very good.

In all honesty, I think it’s a little of both. I thoroughly enjoyed Shovel Knight and Super Meat Boy, but they aren’t my usual go-to type of game. This game feels off in many ways, like it could have done with a couple of extra pairs of eyes and hands to point out some of the flaws and to tweak some of the gameplay elements; someone else to refine the game from unfair bastard hard to fair bastard hard. It’s kind of telling that of the nine Steam Achievements the game has, one is for dying 100 times and another is for dying 500 times.

It’s very easy to fall into that awful reviewing cliche of “if you’re a fan of the genre, then you’ll enjoy it.” That’s really no way to review games, but it’s the best I can come up with. I didn’t enjoy Castle in the Darkness. It felt mean spirited, harsh and unbalanced. However, if you’re into games that harken back to a time when fun went hand in hand with the notion of being kicked in the spuds by a large navvy wearing hobnails and game balancing was for softies, then please feel free to add an extra couple of points to the score. As it is, even at the undoubtedly bargain price it’s going for, I’d struggle to recommend it.

Riptide GP2 Review

Yep, Riptide GP2 is a game that immediately throws up a whole bunch of red flags as to why you should be avoiding this game like the plague. So let us have a quick look at them shall we?

1. Where is the original?

That’s a good question, a game is being released on the Xbox One without a known original? Well unless you are aware of the mobile release that is…Wait! What? Is that another red flag right away?

2. It’s a port of a mobile game?

Yes indeed, Riptide GP2 is a port of a fairly successful game that was created for mobile devices, such was this success, it was decided to bring it to current gen consoles for just £4.99.

3. Less than £5? Really? That doesn’t sound good.

Well, no I suppose it doesn’t really, as we have a sequel, which is a port of a mobile game, costing less than £5 and being released to no fanfare whatsoever. So you’re best off avoiding it right?

WRONG! To do so would be denying yourself a fantastic game that offers terrific value for money. A game that is pure arcade fun and has its focus in just that…fun! It is over the top in many ways and doesn’t care about perfect physics or simulation. In fact, when you play it, you might have a feeling you have played something very similar in the past.

Well that is because you have, because this is from Vector Unit, the team that brought you Hydro Thunder Hurricane on XBLA , the sequel to the amazing Hydro Thunder. This is quite simply the closest you are getting to those game on current gen consoles at this moment and you should be grateful for that.

It’s all there, stunning course, amazing visuals, challenging but satisfying gameplay and a sense of speed and inertia that just feels right. Vector Unit have a good pedigree behind them and it shows in Riptide GP2.

There isn’t loads of content here, you can pretty much burn through the single player in a few hours, but you can then play local splitscreen with up to 6 players, which is when things get interesting. You, five friends, snacks, drinks and a bloody good time. A real throwback to the 90’s and one that is more than welcome.

In the single player modes you have a basic career progression, where you take on various events that reward you stars (don’t forget this was a mobile game) that you can use to upgrade abilities and your ride. The better you do, the more you earn. The events are split between races, time trials and style events.

Style events are a great way to learn the various tricks you can do and unlock, as doing these in a race will earn you a boost, but repeating the same tricks over and over will also see your boost effects lessened.

It really cannot be underestimated just how much fun there is to be had in Riptide GP2, it is really the surprise early release of 2015 and we cannot recommend it enough.

All of a sudden that less than £5 red flag doesn’t matter, you can’t quite believe it ONLY cost £4.99 because you would have payed more than that, because it is worth much more than that. It feels like it has been made with a lot more care and attention than most big budget titles from last year and it has found a deserving home on current gen consoles.

Gamestyle isn’t dropping scores

First Joystiq, now Eurogamer. It seems that dropping review scores is the new fad in gaming media. A way for some sites to show they are serious and that they have integrity, that they ‘respect’ their readers, listeners, viewers, etc.

Well we at Gamestyle respect our followers, no matter how you get your content from us. We have been independent for 15 years and have never had anyone to answer to. We are keeping scores, because that is how we started, and it is how we are carrying on.

There are two things we should state though in this current climate.

1. We have no revenue or ad support

Why is this important? Well take a look at pretty much every other major outlet and you will notice something. They are full of ads, whether that be small banner ads, or full site sponsorship, there they are, getting in the way of your content. You then hear someone at some point telling you that using ad blockers makes you the scum of the earth, because how dare you want your content.

Well this is where we stand firm. We have no ads, it is you and your content, nothing more, nothing less. We actually generate no revenue, so there are no ads on our Youtube videos, or podcasts and certainly not on any written reviews or articles.

We may look at premium content and Patreon subscriptions one day, but that isn’t why we do this. We are here to provide you guys with content, just because we love what we do. There is no payment and no revenue coming into Gamestyle, which means we can be honest all the time. Whether you agree with our opinion is another debate altogether, but hey, it’d be dull if we all agreed right!

2. It’s about the individual

The one major change we have decided on, is that we are switching from third person reviews representing the site, to first person reviews, where what you get is the opinion of the writer themselves.

We did this because we don’t expect you to take in our opinions as a site wide thing, what one person thinks of a game, will differ from what another thinks. We don’t expect you to think this is just Gamestyle’s opinion. So we encourage you to look at who the author of a review is, build up a trust of one who may share your opinions of said games, rather than wondering, who had what opinion of a certain game.

We also encourage you to join in debate on our various social networks, which you can see linked at the very top of the site, but we will not tolerate abuse of an individual, because there is a difference between have a disagreement and outright abuse. Be decent to one another and remember we aren’t paid for this.

We are moving in various new directions that we hope are for the good of the site and will bring you even better content down the line. We hope that by remaining 100% independent, we can continue to offer honesty with whatever we write about.

Here’s to the next 15 years.

MTG Fate Reforged – A Father, Son Journey

You know the one, right? The one every parent dreads.

“Dad, I want to try a game like Magic the Gathering, can you teach me how please?”

That happened to me at the back end of 2014; after numerous visits to the local popular chain bookstore, I had hoped my eight year old son hadn’t noticed the display for Yu Gi Oh and Magic The Gathering, along with other CCG’s, but alas he had and so would begin a speedy ride into the pits of hell. Or so my wallet would think.

It started by asking a very helpful lady at the counter where we would be best off starting. I say helpful, as my initial thought was that it would be a lot more helpful if she had warned me off right there. But alas, she said that unless we were planning to enter tournaments and competitions, then we’d be best off with a duel pack, but they didn’t have any in stock, however they did have a discounted Khan’s of Takir Intro pack, thus selling me two of those.

What I liked about this helpful young lady was that she didn’t try and then sell us a load of Boosters, deck holders, folders, or anything else. She was quite clear that if it was just me and my son playing then we didn’t need too much and could even be a little bit relaxed about the rules.

This was great to hear, because when we sat down for the first time, it was a little bit difficult to understand to tell the truth. It is my biggest complaint with the Intro packs, in that they are not geared towards complete beginners, which would be where you want to aim these packs surely? It is the same in the Fate Reforged packs too and from what I can remember, also with past packs.

Luckily, there are resources out there, namely on Youtube where they start to explain the basic concepts of a round of Magic, there are also the digital versions of the game on PC, Mobile and Xbox (sadly not on the Vita), which help you understand things a little better.

What can also help is knowing someone who has experience of MTG and as we found, the community on the whole is more than willing to help new players and will happily answer any questions, be that on forums, Twitter, Facebook or even directly. So if you do decide to start out, do not be afraid of seeking out help.

Anyway, this is meant to be a bit more about the Fate Reforged release (the first in 2015, I believe?) So when we found out about the new set, we were eager to check it out and get into the new cards whilst they were new and not later down the line. We picked up a Clash pack and two Intro packs, which may seem a little excessive to an outsider, but I’ll explain why in a bit.

The two-player Clash Pack is essentially two Intro packs in one and contains pretty much the same stuff. You get two decks instead of one, strategy inserts and a rules card. You don’t get any Booster packs, but you do get a deck box for holding your decks in nicely. These are designed purely to allow you and your partner to open up and play with two decks that are well matched and should allow for some even competition. The other thing you get in these Clash packs are special premium cards that have alternative artwork on them. Whether these are worth any money, or hold any special value, we couldn’t tell you, but they do look lovely.

We got the Power & Profit pack and really enjoyed playing with these and as promised, it allowed us to have some really interesting matches with each other, knowing that neither was overpowered, nor had we had mismatching packs that may give one person an advantage over the other.

In fact, we were enjoying this pack alone so much, that we almost forgot about the Intro packs we also picked up. These were only opened very recently and it seems we got very lucky with the two packs as again, they were able to be used against each other and seemed quite balanced.

We have also opened up the Booster packs we have, but have set those aside for now, knowing they will be used very soon and again we will explain why, right after we mention the cards themselves.

One thing that has always stood out to me about the Magic cards, is the artwork. Unlike other games I have seen where the art on the cards is either uninspired or seemingly by a single artist, the Magic series has been a place for artists to really express themselves and the images that portray each card are actual works of art themselves.

Each card has the name of the artist at the bottom and there have been some very surprising guest artists that I’ve noticed, which is great to see and shows just how far reaching this series actually is.

Magic The Gathering is a game that can expand as much as you want it to. If you want to just have a few friendly home games, then it is set up for that without much outlay, maybe seeing you spend on a new set once your current one starts to feel a bit stale. Just like anything really.

But then there are events, tournaments, competitions and the like. These require you to have a much better understanding of not only your own deck, but also how it may work against various other deck types, which is where the Booster and Intro packs come into play as you then dive into the world of Deck Building…

…which I’ll cover in the next article, as my son and I hope to carry on this series with new entries every couple of weeks. Hopefully coming up, we’ll be going to a local Friday Night Magic to get a sense of what these nights are all about. But for now, we hope you enjoy this new foray into Table Top Gaming on Gamestyle.

 

The Escapists Review

That right there sums up the two main feelings I have about The Escapists from Mouldy Toof Studios. What on first inspection and during the game’s opening tutorial seems like a game where you simply plan an escape from prison, by crafting and finding the appropriate tools, soon becomes something very different… If you let it.

After completing the basic opening tutorial, where you carry out an executed plan to escape the minimum security prison, you are soon woken up to find out it was all a dream and that you are actually in day 1 of your prison stay. It is a clever way to introduce the basic game mechanics and steps away from the usual dull methods of explaining everything. Anyway, I digress.

After playing said tutorial, what the game does is throw a massive spanner in the works. As you expect to go around the prison, talk to people, gather resources and plan you escape and that is kind of how the escapes will work. However what happens is that you find yourself getting more and more involved with prison life as you go.

Just like in any prison (we assume) you have a structured day. You wake, go to roll call, eat, get exercise, shower, lunch, jobs, dinner, evening roll call, then bed. Within all that though there are sections of free time, where you can wander around the prison and get to know your fellow inmates, guards and even the area.

You can speak to most characters in the prison and all start of neutral towards you, but as you start doing favours for different people you start to see a change in attitude. One inmate tells you that something of theirs has been taken by another inmate and they want to you go and get it back.

This first time around at least, sees you following your target and beating on him to steal his items, This helps you carry favour with other inmates, but also have yet more turn on you, Piss any inmate off enough and you have a target on your back. Which is fine as the guards may well step in and protect you.

I say ‘may’ because it is very easy to annoy a guard to the point they will just stand and watch, or even jump in and beat you down alongside other inmates. At this point this is a Panorama investigation waiting to happen.

The more you play The Escapists, the more you start to appreciate the depth. You should follow the day’s schedule to the letter, but you can find moments to sneak off still. But miss something like a roll call and there will be trouble. Jobs are important and will have an effect on your plans at some point, so losing yours is never a good idea, but it does become possible to find ways to make others lose theirs, so you can then step in. That might even become a legitimate tactic at some point.

Items you find can be stored in your cell, but again you need to be careful if your cell is picked for a shakedown, because being caught with contraband will lead to yet more trouble for you. The items you find are then used to craft the tools you need to help escape and if you have played a game like Minecraft, then you will be used to the craft mechanics already, but even if not they are very simple to work out.

The thing with The Escapists, is that it really is two games in one and it is up to you how you play it. Sure you can plan an escape and more on to the next prison with higher security and tougher escapes. Or you can just live the prison life and go about your day to day business. Because there were certainly times I forgot about the main goal and just tried to keep my head down and survive prison.

There are some many little subtleties within The Escapists that it would be a massive checklist to go through them all now and to do so would rob you of that joy of discovery that I witness as I played after going in pretty much blind.

Characters are all identikit in appearance, yet manage to have a lot of personality and probably more than you’d find in some bigger AAA titles, all this without any voice acting at all. You learn who to trust, who is out to get you and in your own mind you start to play games with the other inmates. At one point I was even becoming paranoid that one guard in particular had a hit out on me, because everytime I got beaten up, he was always around the corner…it was him, I know it was, he is after me and there is nothing I can do. But he’ll get what’s coming!!

I mean, yeah, that’s not possible right? I shouldn’t find myself that drawn in to a simple looking Indie game that is about crafting and escape, should I? If that is all it is about, then kudos to Mouldy Toof for managing to create a believable would in the confines of a prison, but I do suspect that escaping is merely just a small part of what has been created here.

Whilst I was aware of The Escapists, it was never a game on my most wanted list, but having now played for a good number of hours and still only scratching the surface, I can wholeheartedly recommend picking this up and get involved with one of the first great indie titles of 2015.

My Sega – A Genesis Story.

My first ever console was a Master System, I received it for my 13th birthday in October 1992. By then, the Mega Drive was already out and I was behind the times, but it was the only option available to me. Technically, I did have a games machine before then. My mum had picked up some weird thing at a jumble sale for a couple of quid. It was a sort of Binatone rip-off that played a version of Pong for which you could change various settings using the switches on the machine. It had two controllers that were attached to the main unit by curly telephone wires and the joysticks were metal things that didn’t reset to the centre, they just flopped around and lay wherever you left them. I’d occasionally play this thing on the 10” black-and-white TV that was on the shelf above the fireplace in my mum and dad’s bedroom. This was the only other TV in the house besides the main one which was in use 24/7 for horse racing or antiques shows.

I was aware, even as a largely ignorant child, that this feudal-era gaming wasn’t really necessary; my family weren’t well-off but we weren’t as poor as the fake Binatone and black-and-white TV combination made it seem. It was 1992 after all. My school friends spoke of 16-bit gold hidden in far-off lands and I just ignored them, they were talking about exotic fruit that I could never taste. Never, that is, until I went round my friend’s house and played his Mega Drive. He brought me up to speed on the world of videogames and I soon learnt what was what. Around that time my niece got a Master System and I’d occasionally play that too. The fact that the games scrolled was enough to impress me and, after some research, I realised that it might be possible to get one for my birthday.

I should pause here and explain a little. I wasn’t completely ignorant of videogames up to this point. I live in a seaside town and as such had plenty of access to arcades and would often drop some 10ps into Pole Position or Hard Drivin’. For some reason I was always more drawn to the big sit-in cabinet driving games, perhaps because it was obvious what you had to do and you wouldn’t waste time and money figuring it out. In addition to this, my friend, the one with the Mega Drive, had owned a Master System in the 80s and his brother had an Amstrad. We’d occasionally play on both but I’d never really thought much about it.

Eventually the big day rolled around and I remember being annoyed to find my sister had set my Master System up for me while I was at school. She’d meant well but she didn’t understand the importance of unboxing, I was ahead of my time in that regard. By now, there was another colour TV in the house. It was an old second-hand thing with a dodgy RF input that you had to fiddle with to get a clear image. I was the only one that both knew how to do this and cared enough to bother. Finally, though, I was there, in the world of gaming, playing Alex Kidd in Miracle World on my own console. With a bit of birthday money I went up the road to the furniture shop (where else?) and bought Pro Wrestling. It was the only multiplayer game they had and I had friends over. This furniture shop, alongside a myriad of independent video rental places, would provide 99% of my games. I’d cobble together the cash to buy something and then trade it elsewhere in a two-for-one deal or add a bit of cash here and there. I wheeled and dealed my way through an extraordinary amount of Master System games, so much so that when talking about this with a friend recently it was hard to believe I only had the machine for a year. It felt like an entire generation, but such is the perception of time. Some of the classics I remember from my year with a Master System include Phantasy Star and Spellcaster, both attempts to ape my now SNES owning friend and his obsession with RPGs. I got Sonic 2 (I still think the MS version is the best) and managed to convince my mum to let me have it on release day instead of Christmas, distracted as she was by my sister giving birth the very same day (I suspect in an attempt to make up for the earlier unboxing incident). I got through, by which I mean played (rarely did I finish anything back then), more games than I can possibly remember and to this day if someone mentions a Master System game I’ll often recognise it and then realise I had it at some point.

After a year of gaming I’d become what we all are: obsessed. At first I’d been happy just to have something to play on but by summer I’d started making plans to acquire bigger and better technology – a Mega Drive. The SNES was like the uber-expensive Holy Grail and I knew it remained out of reach. Mega Drives, however, would sometimes appear amongst the classified ads in the local paper, sometimes with prices that might just be possible. I saved the ten pounds or so that I acquired during our relative-visiting summer holiday and a couple of months later my birthday was imminent. After much politicking I’d convinced my mum to let me combine my birthday and Christmas presents, resulting in enough cash to buy the £70 Mega Drive from two guys who needed the cash to pay the rent. “Happy Sega-ing,” they prophetically said as I left with their Japanese MD and Altered Beast. That’s right folks, Japanese. One of those ones that was switched to run in the UK, it could play everything and was the coolest looking console of all time. Black and purple with a blue reset button and giant ‘16-BIT’ lettering. It sat in the corner drinking, smoking and looking cool, laughing at the UK version if ever it saw one.

My Mega Drive era was perhaps my golden era. I devoured everything, enjoying the newfound power of being able to play the games others couldn’t (unless they had an easily obtainable converter that for some reason most people didn’t bother with. I think some had issues with certain games so they weren’t always reliable). I could pick up the Japanese games that the furniture shop sold much cheaper than the others, often meaning that I could afford to take risks. I think I got Hellfire for about £3 and would pick up other games for similar amounts without even knowing what they were. I’m sure at one time I ended up getting the Japanese version of something I already had and, upon realising, took my UK version back to the shop and sold it for more than I’d paid. Now I was ‘current gen’ everything opened up, so much more was readily available and I had friends to trade with too. I got through a lot and became someone who might even have the latest games early instead of being years behind. I was an excellent dealer and knew where to hunt, picking up Bare Knuckle 3 for £15 quite a while before the release of Streets of Rage 3. The furniture shop guys didn’t know what they had, due to the different name. I also got Virtua Racing an age before it ever came out here for about £12. I’m being a little self-indulgent here but it really was the age of the bargain. It was before gaming became mainstream and the kids knew way more than anyone else.

I got through a huge amount of games on the Mega Drive, maybe five times as much as for the Master System over a similar period of time. Some of my personal highlights include Landstalker, the isometric action-RPG from where I got the internet username I still use on some sites; Shinobi III, a game that showed the MD could do the same tricks as the SNES if you asked it nicely and James Pond 3 which I really thought a lot of at the time. I also got Super Street Fighter II and the 6 button pads which represented a real sense of arrival somehow. My friend had had SFII for his SNES for a long time by then and it was always the differentiating factor between the consoles. The MD CE version wasn’t very good but with Super everything was suddenly equal, or so it seemed. I think my fondest memories, though, are of all the Japanese games I had. The boxes and the shape of the cartridges evoked a romanticism for a place that still seemed far away and exotic in pre-internet times (just like this level of gaming had felt only a year or so earlier, out of reach and yet available).

I managed to get my hands on a SNES after another year or so and owning one was enough for me to finally accept, or openly admit, that it was the better console. The quality of the SNES games and the machine itself just shone through in a way that it never really did with the MD, which always felt like it was trying to compete like an underachieving but eager brother; it didn’t have the same confidence in itself. The anthropomorphising of consoles is a little ridiculous of course, but I got that sort of feeling. Others disagree as they’re entitled to do; the 16-bit consoles are perhaps the most evenly split as to which is the people’s favourite. I had another fantastic time with the SNES and games like Secret of Mana, but that’s another story. For now, it’s just important to know that my Sega years were temporarily behind me. New consoles, and the next-gen were on the horizon.

Sega’s intervening years weren’t particularly successful. I stayed away from the Mega CD, 32X and Saturn and instead had a brief fling with a 3DO before getting a PlayStation. As the turn of the millennium loomed though, so did Sega’s new machine. A sleek looking white thing that promised more power than ever before. Being what I think was the first console launch of my working life, and therefore relatively easily obtainable, I couldn’t resist. Me and my friend put down our deposits and waited for release day. I remember back in the 90s I was given a promotional VHS for the Mega CD which opened with the line “When you bought that Mega Drive you bought your ticket to ride”. Little did I know that the ticket I was about to buy would be for a bus that would break down shortly after departure and leave me waiting on the side of the road for one of the rival company’s buses to come along and pick me up. The Dreamcast’s time was short but it had some great games, my most fondly remembered being Power Stone. I don’t think I ever got into the Dreamcast enough to have the same kind of love for it as a lot of people do but I can understand it, it was hugely promising. My new found ability to earn money meant I soon moved onto the PS2, however, and I never really looked back.

Sega’s hardware history is one of the more romantic tales of always the bridesmaid, never the bride and I do love them for it, but I think time just moved on and left them behind. I can’t think of Sega without thinking of the 90s, or vice versa. Labyrinth Zone from Sonic is an early-90s Saturday morning. If you weren’t around at the time and want to know what it was like just stick that on. There is so much of myself invested in those years, which were shaped so much by those games. The mystique of imports and the weird things you could find on the Mega Drive still influences my tastes today. The first half of my childhood was Lego and Subbuteo but the second half, and my early teenage years, were massively shaped by the Master System and Mega Drive. A little piece of me will always be devoted to Sega and those great memories.

 

(Editor’s Note: John actually had a better title for this, but it wouldn’t fit…so we had to cut it. The original – Your Seedy Master’s Mega Behind Saturn My Sega and Crushed My Dreamcast! – A Genesis Story.)

Grim Fandango Remastered Review

But you more than likely have played Grim Fandango before, right?  The name conjuring up fond memories of corruption, conspiracies, shady gangsters, a dame to chase after, and a great lead character named Manny Calavera. Indeed, your very own noir tale, but in the land of the dead, with a pigeon-obsessed military leader, and a giant orange demon who turns out to be your best friend.

Grim Fandango was a truly great game back in the late twentieth century, arguably the pinnacle of a genre that at the time was struggling with the advent of three dimensional gaming landscapes.  Its control scheme back then could only be described as “awkward”. Thankfully, this remaster on PS4 introduces a new, direction-relative control scheme that, while sometimes still awkward when moving from one scene to another, is somewhat more intuitive than the original “tank” controls.

However, aside from the updated controls, and improved character models and lighting, there isn’t all that much this remaster offers over the 1998 PC original.  If you’ve played the recent special editions of the Monkey Island games, and are expecting the same treatment here, well, you may be disappointed. The game looks almost identical, even retaining the now ancient 4:3 aspect ratio.  There is an argument here that Double Fine has been too reverent to the original game. To call this a remaster is actually a bit a of stretch; it’s a restoration of a relic.

On PS4 however, it’s a restoration that could, and indeed should, be better. The PS4 version suffers quite a number of technical issues and bugs, from invisible inventory items and characters, to game breaking lock-ups and glitches.  The former will simply annoy on the rare occasion they occur; the latter will infuriate you if you have not saved your game for a while. During the course of this review two major glitches were encountered, one of which lost a fair bit of progress.

Mercifully, replaying this game is not a chore.  There’s a very good reason the love for this game has endured for so long: its wonderfully crafted story, complimented brilliantly by the accompanying voice acting and music. The tale Grim Fandango weaves is timeless, and as hinted at in this review’s opening paragraph, is at times completely bonkers. If you have played the original you will know how easy it is to wax lyrical about this game. The writing is sharp, nuanced, and full of humour with punch-lines so funny you will laugh no matter how many times you hear them.  The line delivery from the actors, particularly the lead, is near pitch-perfect, and the music, a wondrous mix of jazz and spanish guitar, sets the tone of every scene brilliantly.

If there’s one area here than can be criticised, it’s the actual sound mix.  Some of the dialogue is incomprehensible because of other characters talking at the same time.  It doesn’t happen often, but given the game has you hanging on its every word, it’s disappointing that efforts were not made to rectify this. Many of the actual gameplay elements also let this game down, sadly.  The PS4 remaster lacks the PC version’s brilliant new point and click interface.  So to interact with objects and areas, you’re still reliant on Manny moving his head to look at points of interest, which was never intuitive back in 1998, and is no more intuitive now in 2015.

Additionally, the static pre-rendered backgrounds, while nicely restored to a higher resolution, rarely highlight where Manny can traverse.  There is one particular area in the game, which is critical to progressing the story, that is outrageously easy to miss.  Then there’s the puzzles.  If you haven’t played this game before, or have simply forgotten most of it, you will likely struggle. Many of Grim Fandango’s puzzles have a certain wacky logic that you can work out; many others are so nonsensical that even Tim Schafer has gone on record and said he doesn’t know how people were supposed to work one of them out.

Short of resorting to walkthroughs, you’re forced in to trying to use everything in your inventory on everything in the environment, hoping that something works. It’s a very old and tedious gameplay mechanic, the constant reliance on which has no real business in games of today. Many of these problems are solved with the PC version’s point and click interface; its omission here on the PS4 is glaring, and somewhat shameful on Double Fine’s part.

There is however, one aspect of this remastered version that is fantastic: a Director’s Commentary. With the option turned on you can listen to commentary from Tim Schafer, and many of the original development team, by simply tapping L1 when the prompt occurs on-screen.  The commentary is interesting and very informative; the love the developers still have for the game is a joy to hear.  It’s also a great insight into what was going through Tim Schafer’s head for some of the puzzles and scenes. It really is a wonderful addition.

It’s difficult to recommend this PS4 version to anyone with access to a PC.  Even your average laptop will likely run the remastered version just fine, and you’ll have the advantage of the excellent point and click interface. That being said, Grim Fandango’s story, characters, and superb sense of style really do shine through for most of the game, so it’s with that in mind that you see the score below.  If you’re getting it on PC, you can probably add two points on. On PS4 however, be prepared for some needless frustration that sullies an otherwise excellent noir adventure in the land of the dead.

Battlefield Hardline Beta Preview

Saving Private Ryan? Inglorious Basterds? Platoon? Full Metal Jacket? Battlefield has always been a game about war, and the Dice invented “Battlefield Moments” have always reflected this. From taking out half an army with a well placed C4, to watching a crashing jet rip through a tank just as it’s about to blow up your tiny bike, it’s all the best moments from a million war films summed up in one tidy package. It’s always been a lot of military-based fun, essentially.

Until now.

What did I think of while I was playing the Battlefield Hardline beta? Heat. I thought of the Michael Mann film, Heat. And this can only be a good thing.

Arriving hot on the heels of one of the most famous big budget catastrophes of recent years in Battlefield 4 (despite Master Chief’s best efforts to finish the fight), Hardline is the first Battlefield game by Dead Space veterans Visceral. This, coupled with a delay from last Christmas in order to incorporate fan feedback, leaves Hardline with more to prove than the bastard lovechild of Paul Hollywood and Oscar Pistorius’ lawyer. A lady one… I don’t know.

First impressions were mixed. For starters, it worked! Yes, while Battlefield 4 spent most of its lifespan being about as reliable as a Max Clifford train service, Hardline seems to be genuinely playable on a basic level. Solid work Visceral! I booted the game up with a mate (the only way to play Battlefield, after all) and we went straight into our first game of Heist; one of two new modes in the beta.

Heist involves the robbers having to steal and the cops having to stop them. Be it jewels or cold papery-soft cash, your aim is to get in, grab, and escape on a nearby chopper. It’s a bit like Battlefield stalwart Rush meets Antony Worrall Thompson basically, and once you get used to it, it’s a lot of fun. Those first few games are classic Battlefield in the worst way though, incredibly poorly explained and a real struggle to get to grips with even if you’re from a BF background. I notched up over 100 hours on Battlefield 3 and around the same trying to get into a single game of Battlefield 4, so the slower movement and a new game mode (with pretty poor explanation) were a bit of a shock to the system.

Things improved though and Heist slowly started to reveal itself to be a bit of a winner. Destruction on the whole has been dialled down for Hardline, at least for this beta, but being able to trigger specific areas in the levels to blow through was fun and gives a real Heat style cops and robbers feel to proceedings. New zip lines and climbable ropes add to this, and by the end I was thoroughly enjoying playing as both sides of the coin. A new system of “purchasing” weapons is also great, players earn cash as they play and can pick and choose to unlock items that suit their play style, rather than generically earning the same upgrades as everyone else as they go.

Then there’s Hotwire, which for me is a complete justification for Hardline’s price tag. Played on your own I’d imagine it would be a fun little slant on Conquest, which involves the capture points being driveable vehicles, but with a friend. It’s the world’s greatest Starsky and Hutch simulator and had me laughing like Jimmy Carr’s drain for the two evenings I spent playing it. Despite some issues with cars essentially stopping dead in their tracks if they graze a pebble, the driving feels much more natural than in previous Battlefields, and with 5 command points driving around and everyone else in cars trying to blow them up, it really is a hoot.

Conquest is still Conquest, and will probably be the mode that keeps me coming back to Hardline as it has done every Battlefield since 1942. The maps are great and once you get used to the feel of the controls they’re also fine, even if the default Assault (or Operator here) weapon is ever so slightly shit in every conceivable way. Other weapons are better though and as I’ve mentioned it wouldn’t be Battlefield without it being slightly shoddy at first.

One other niggle is that currently the game looks slightly below par, but we have to assume this is due to it still being in beta. The graphics are currently some way between Battlefield 3 and 4, which is pretty inexcusable for a game that’s had this long in development. They also need to calm the Xbox DVR side of things down, I can’t speak for PS4 but at the moment it seems to record 30 second clips every time an ant farts, and after two nights playing I’ve got more unwanted videos on my Bone than a Leslie Grantham laptop.

Overall a positive beta then, and one that leaves me eagerly awaiting 20th March for the UK release. Hopefully Visceral will iron out the last few kinks and could have a real winner on its hands. It feels like there’s a real possibility this could be the definitive cops and robbers game, at least until those rumours of Lego The Wire are confirmed…

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Review

But when pirates attack her home town, and her old nemesis Risky Boots appears to tell her about a mysterious Pirate Master, she has little choice but to try and save the day with nothing but her Kabuki Ninja-esque hair attack and ability to leap around.

This sets Shantae off on an adventure that takes her to a number of different islands looking for dens of evil, which much be purged to stop the evil Pirate Master from returning. Each island and environment is beautifully presented with some of the most colourful and vibrant 2D platform artwork seen in a very long time. They also contain different themed environments and enemies so there is always something new and varied to see.

Unlike previous games, instead of Shantae using her magic powers to transform into different forms, she now has to collect various pirate artefacts, which then grant her the ability to progress. It follows a template similar to Metroid in that you collect an object like a gun, which then allows you to operate a switch to open a door, which then allows you to move to a new section of the level. There is also a fair amount of wandering back and forth between the different islands and levels but as they are so much fun to explore and revisit, this isn’t an issue.

Level design remains strong throughout, with the islands and dungeons providing different challenges and puzzles to solve. The game is always challenging but never unfair or too harsh to stop progression for long. Finding heart squids will also increase your life and Shantae can buy upgrade shampoo and conditioner to level up her hair’s attack power and speed. The learning curve is set just about perfectly and players should feel like they are always prepared for what they come up against without it being a complete walkover.

One of the highlights of the game is the colourful collection of characters and ever-so-slightly twisted humour that runs through the game. Early on for instance, you’ll meet a former giant squid boss who is bemoaning the fact he feels he’ll only be used as a returning reference to the previous game so is planning to retire (naturally you’ll have to find him a travel brochure so he can start travelling the world for the just the right spot).

There are a host of well-known characters from the series to touch base with and it adds just the right amount of fan service for players of the series. The writing is also sharp and entertaining – if a little uncomfortable at times. Weirdly, there is a slight sexual undercurrent throughout. An early puzzle requires light to reflect off two untanned girls who won’t strip to their bikinis, while later Shantae acquires x-ray glasses from a disappointed character who has moved to a beach resort out of season so there are no girls to look at. It’s not overly dodgy, but something that parents of younger gamers will probably want to know about.

Some of the character design is also questionable. There are Mermaid characters that are topless (just without nipples), and what can only be described as a giant rolling ball orgy of naked women as a boss to contend with. While Shantae can be forgiven for her attire as she is both a genie and a dancer, both she and a few other characters seem to have ‘developed’ a little since last the last game as well.

Pixelated cleavage aside, the game is an absolute joy to play and an experience that will keep you smiling throughout. Shantae controls very well and always responds how she should. The different objects you pick up always add something new to mess around with and there are plenty of extra side quests and collectables to hunt around for. It all gives you an excuse to spend a bit more time with the game and when something is as joyful as this then it’s likely you’ll be happy to oblige it.

Overall, this is another top drawer entry in the Shantae series.  Shantae games are always more expensive than other digital games but they are also of a much more accomplished quality than almost everything else in the same genre. It’s a colourful, fun and inventive game and feels right at home on the Wii U. It would be great for the series to build up more of a fan base as they offer some of the best Metroidvania action out there. If you love your retro inspired platformers then you really need to own this.