Total War: Attila Review

A time to be remembered for turmoil, not least for the Saxons. A group of tribes loosely held together under a single banner until the birth of a leader. Surrounded by other disparate tribes banding together, their goal is to expand, financed by raids across the coast of Britain.

Whilst Total War is at heart an intimidating turn-based strategy game with battles that require the management of thousands of troops simultaneously, it’s a game that has put itself in the public consciousness more than most. How many other games have found their combat turned into a Richard Hammond-fronted historic television game show?

Cornwall, not raided but liberated, allows the British people to start to form together. The Saxons continue up the west coast of Wales and conquer Northern Wales and decide to stay there.

Graphically, Attila finds itself in an odd situation. If you were heading back to 1989 to blow minds with what games look like in 2015, this would be a game you’d take back. Impressive enough zoomed out, the simple process of zooming in would thoroughly explode their brains. Utterly useless for gameplay, it’s still impressive enough to occasionally swoop down and watch the slaughter first hand. Despite that, the graphics aren’t a notable improvement on Rome 2, which wasn’t really a notable improvement over Shogun 2. It’s still impressive compared to every other historical strategy game, but Total War is prettified to get a broader audience than other strategy titles, so it would be nice to see a distinct leap forward.

On the continent, things go better. A jab south is successful, until the Romans decide to fight back. Likewise, one small village of Gauls are obliterated, only for the Western Roman Empire to clumsily fight back. Both end in towns being razed.

Perhaps the lack of graphical leap causing a glance over Total War’s shoulder is reason for one of the bigger additions, a true family tree. Best pitched as Crusader Kings Lite, you’ve now got to allocate roles and keep an eye on the happiness of your relatives to make sure they don’t do anything silly like starting civil wars. It’s a good, if small, addition in terms of gameplay, but it does slightly alter the tone of the game from acting for the nation you represent to being more concerned about the individuals ruling that nation.

The Franks are obliterated, thrown from their ancestral home to roam Europe as a horde, sailing first to Denmark and allowing the Saxon empire to now include Belgium. In the distant East, a new leader is born.

The other major addition is hinted at in the title. Factions can now become hordes, able to eschew city maintenance entirely. The idea behind this addition is glorious, massive armies sweeping through leaving a trail of destruction behind them, but the implementation is more prosaic. With any faction except the Huns, it essentially becomes a Moving House Simulator, pack up and move to a nicer area with no real way of sustaining a self-created horde. The Huns have more chance, but still require a vast amount of time spent in encampments which simply slows things down too much to be fun.

To the north, an agreement with the Jutes sees the Angles brought into Saxon territory, whilst the Jutes focus on conquering Britain. That provokes the Danes into attacking with an expensive but poorly trained series of armies, but defeating them riles the Geats. A six thousand man army razes Belgium, the Geats capital in Sweden razed in response. This drives them south to territory on the Mediterranean, out of Saxon hair.

It’s probable that, personal preference for era aside, this is the best Total War game so far. Even the era itself is essentially a blurred middle-ground between Roman and Medieval times, allowing aspects of both. I found it essentially bug free (by Total War standards, at least) and it improves almost every aspect of previous games. The joy of making your own version of history is here, the ability to sink hours into the game without noticing is too. It’s a very good game…

Key territory razed, a strengthening Western Roman Empire to the South. Britain dominating the south of the British Isles, Jutes the north. Things are not going well.

…But that isn’t the whole story. The trouble is, lots of the problems are still there. Battle controls are essentially unchanged since the very first games meaning you still have to set up in the same fashion each time, siege defences still suffer from enemy AI happily walking uphill into unmoving spearmen. Campaign strategy still requires building to be focused on ill-defined multipliers and despite managing that, sudden actions by the AI feel like they could only be defended against properly with a crystal ball rather than reasonable strategy.

This leaves the Saxons with a strong army, but only two towns and a Welsh outpost. What happens next?

As one of the premiere strategy series, this feels like an almost budget expansion pack. Whilst there is plenty of game, you’ve got to wonder about the number of unplayable factions. The fact that post-launch DLC is already being released does make this feel quite a lot like a free to play game that isn’t free. Despite being a fundamentally good Total War game, it’s hard to leave Attila anything other than slightly disappointed at a missed opportunity to make a great Total War game. Where the series goes from here will define it.

Early Look: Beseige

You remember how it felt like they’d come up with a game and then forcefully rammed a bear and a pigeon into it? Besiege is that original game, but without the bear and pigeon ramming. If that sounds good, skip to the last paragraph.

 

If you didn’t play Nuts ‘n’ Bolts, it was essentially an early game in the crafting genre, Meccano in game form. Take various parts, fasten them together however you want and hopefully you’ll end up with a vehicle that can do whatever task is required of it. The only real difference here is that you’re creating siege machinery…but it’s a very subtle difference. You’ll burn cute little armies, fire cannons at sheep, inadvertently blow up your machine with a bomb that didn’t get catapulted properly…it’s great fun. The parts are basic, but can create enough combinations that realistically it’s only your imagination as the limiting factor.

And, to a lesser extent, the frame-rate. Optimisation is certainly something that needs to be on the to-do list and older processors, eg. mine, do get a little bit hot and bothered when lots of sheep are wandering around. Perhaps the building controls are a little counter-intuitive and the controls for navigating your machine are unnecessarily spread around the keyboard.

But really, 15 levels that require different machines to be made, loads of parts, the internet filling up with utterly amazing creations…this is a preview, so obviously no conclusions will be reached…but if it piques your interest at all, just buy it. Yes, obvious caveats about expectations from Early Access games, yes, blah, optimisation. But it’s a fiver, I’ve sunk hours into it already and I’ve not even finished the levels already there. Besiege is be-loody be-rilliant.

(Fingers crossed the review, due in 2016 sometime, ends on the same note.)

The Bunker Diaries: February 2015

In these dying days, Yann likes to pretend he is still living in the beforetimes, playing through the latest and greatest gaming has to offer… and sometimes the oldest and worst. These are his notes.

This month, with the cold refusing to shift, I found myself turning to the comforting delights of the past. A nice, hot cup of synthtea, a warm blanket and the soothing sensation of my nostalgia gland working full-time were just what I needed to weather the, er, weather.

Clearly, frantic action wasn’t quite what I was after. I turned instead to that rather more reserved genre; the strategy game. First up: Gearbox Software’s remastering of Relic’s venerable classic Homeworld.

Homeworld was a revelation at its original release. Not only did it feature unimaginably gorgeous graphics for an RTS at the time, it was – and remains – one of the only strategy games to really make use of three dimensions.

Where other space strategy games were happy to plonk you on a 2-dimensional playing field, Homeworld is a game where flanking manoeuvres utilising all 3 dimensions are the norm rather than the exception; where all 3 axes are crucial to keep track of if you don’t want an unexpected fighter squadron sweeping in on your ships from above.

Commanding the last vestiges of an alien race, you struggle to survive an exodus from your old planet, rendered defunct by way of surprise orbital strike craft. Your motley crew are faced with overwhelming enemy forces across an arduous campaign, a campaign where every battle counts.

Every ship that survives a mission is a ship that will be with you in the following, while every level has extremely finite resources with which to bolster your flotilla. This design breathes tension into every moment, knowing that scraping a victory in one level might condemn you to defeat in the following. You can’t just win, you have to win well.

All of this feeds into Homeworld’s plot; a simple space opera, filled with standard tropes of that genre, the tension and focus forced on you across the campaign transforms this humble framework into an epic tale of desperate survival.  Helped, it must be said, by the gorgeous static-image-based cut-scenes and clipped narration that accompany every major event.

And, happily, all of those qualities are retained by the remastered edition. The foundations laid out all those years ago remain as fresh as they were at release – the lack of any real competition to the throne of space opera strategy games rendering the game evergreen.

Gearbox have also done a fantastic job of keeping true to the art style that helped make Homeworld so appealing, while upgrading the assets to utilise modern hardware to the point where it can once again claim to be the most beautiful RTS around.

Not every alteration is for the better, mind: due to the remastered editions being based on the Homeworld 2 engine, a few of the original Homeworld’s elements are lost – most notably ship-level tactics, which allowed you to determine whether your ships focussed on annihilating the enemy or opted to take on harassing, evasive maneuvers in combat. What sounds like a small change makes a huge difference to the way strike craft can be used, reducing your tactical options in any given firefight, which is a real shame.

A few other unwelcome changes are present too – primarily the loss of needing to keep strike craft fuelled, and the inability to choose which race’s ship design you wanted to use when playing through the single-player campaign. Which, as anybody with taste in ship design, and thus an eye for Taidan fighters will tell you, is a tragedy.

Still, even with these changes the game remains incredibly compelling, offering a single-player campaign of rare quality. I greatly enjoyed my return to Homeworld’s spacescapes, and would recommend the remake to anyone with a taste for strategy; particularly anybody who missed the originals on first release.

Of course, Homeworld is not the only classic strategy game I occupied myself with this month. For those moments where a big screen just wasn’t appropriate, I was pleased to find another just waiting to be installed upon my smartphone.

Slay was first released by designer Sean O’Connor in 1994, but the years hardly touch it: elegant yet complex, sizable without being overwhelming, it is the ideal design for portable gaming. It was perfect on pocket PC, and it remains perfect on smartphone.

But what is Slay? Slay is, despite the name, not a game of overt violence. Rather it is a game of cold, clinical malice, where you spread out from your village(s) in an attempt to cover the map with your citizens. Sometimes through direct conquest – dropping soldiers onto citizens, crushing guard-towers with knights – but more often through indirect means.

See, in the world of Slay, much like our own, people need to eat. Every tile you own (excepting those occupied by a damned nuisance tree, taking up precious potential farmland) generates enough food to a) produce citizens, and b) sustain them. But food generated is limited to the area in which it is produced – which is to say, any coherent collection of tiles under the control of a single player. Manage to cut an area in half and suddenly you have two areas producing small amounts of food each – and, potentially, a lot of starving citizens.

Combined with the way that your – and your opponents’ – little men can move anywhere within or adjacent to the area they are in, and you have a game of quick expansion and careful boundary protection, where a single miscalculation can see your population wiped out by a flash famine.

Add in multiple opponents, large levels and DEVIL TREES and you have a game offering a hefty challenge, as you try to keep your eye on not only the position of your men, but of every competing opponent. Working out just who is the biggest threat and keeping them under control is just as important as keeping your own boundaries safe, as is monitoring any encroaching forests – unchallenged, the trees will spread, sapping your potential for food generation at a terrifying speed.

With such issues to consider it’s often a good idea to leave a minor opponent alive to work as a thorn in another opponent’s side, or to work as a ‘gardener’ helping to keep the ENDLESS PLAGUE OF ARABLE-LAND-DESTROYING TREES under control. Until you have enough power, size and food supplies to crush everyone underfoot, of course. If you want a measured, intelligent game of strategy, look no further than Slay. Just don’t blame me if it leaves you with a lifelong dislike of trees.

(Trees are not allowed in the bunker. Especially not bonsais. You can’t trust a bonsai)

 

GS Plays: LA Cops

What ya gonna do, when they come for you!

LA Cops is set in the old days of 1970’s LA and shares a lot in common with the likes of Hotline Miami, Door Kickers, etc. but the setting and story is hoping to set it apart. All you need to know is that cop shows in the 70’s could take a lot more risks, which should allow LA Cops to pick up some cracking source material.

 

Bradley has a quick look in the latest Gamestyle Plays

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Gamestyle Live – 4th March 2015 – PC Gaming

PC Gaming! That’s a thing, it is both the best thing and the most daunting of things.

Bradley get confused by all the numbers and options and we find out his new PC actually scares him a little. Andrew remembers the good old days when PC’s were just chalk and slate, despite being the youngest on the team and Steve is very calm despite moving home.

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Aaru’s Awakening Review

This is somewhat of a first for me. I am reviewing my first official PC game. Now, it’s not the first PC game I have played, but it is the first that I need to write about. What’s more is that it is a game that also saw a day and date release with a console version. Aaru’s Awakening!

Now I am finding it pretty difficult on where to place Aaru’s Awakening, as it isn’t a bad game, but it isn’t one that immediately leaps from the screen and grabs my attention. But before I get into that, I want to take a moment to talk about all the good things the game does.

Most of that comes from the visuals! In recent years it has been the 2D games that have really blown us away in terms of visual style, with some lovely art that makes the most of the technology of today. Rayman, Transistor, Trine and the likes look beautiful and whilst Aaru doesn’t quite reach the heights of a Trine it does look stunning on a high res monitor.

The hand drawn environments give the game a style that just works and works alongside a well constructed musical score to complement things. It also adds in some lovely variety with level design which genuinely makes you feel like you are progressing forward, with each new area feeling different, but still linked to areas you have been previously.

The gameplay feels like a mix of Guacamelee and some elements of Trine, you control Aaru using the mouse which acts as the aim to where he will leap and engage and in most areas it kind of works, but there are many moments, especially with dangerous traps, that using this technique just doesn’t feel right.

It is as though it needs to be pixel perfect movement to get through, which isn’t what the game actually feels set up for, which in turn leads to a lot of frustration. There are things that can be used to counter these moments, such as a charge ability to get a few extra feet out of a jump, or smashing through certain walls, but it still feels a bit disjointed.

There are enemies and the way you get rid of them is by firing your orb, then leaping in to said orb to finish the job, it is interesting and I liked the mechanic here, as you can also use the orb for teleporting yourself to get to other areas and such.

There seems to be a delight in making this game difficult to finish, as Aaru is quite frail and any minor mistakes will see you back to a checkpoint pretty damned fast. Thankfully though, the checkpoints themselves seem quite fair, so not it’s not as disheartening as it could have been.

But this also features in the levels themselves, because as lovely as the artwork is, it can be difficult to judge what is dangerous and what is just harmless scenery. It is something that could have been avoided with a little more care and consideration with blending the stunning art work with the vital bits of a level.

Now it does seem like I am giving the game a kicking, but here is the thing. I enjoyed it and didn’t come away with any of the frustrations that made themselves clear at times during the game. I overcame some of the issues with distinguishing vital parts of a level and pretty soon they became less of an issue. Now that isn’t to excuse this, because that shouldn’t be up to me as the consumer to have to do that.

What I did find after some time away, was that I could think of numerous games I have played that have done this sort of thing much better, which stops it becoming a vital purchase but there is value should you be able to get over some of the short comings.

Dying Light Review

Despite playing 20 hours of Dead Island, I still found it a pretty miserable experience. As such, I didn’t bother with Dead Island Riptide and Dying Light only passed over my radar in the most cursory way, looking like Dead Island feasting on Mirror’s Edge.

Close to release date though, something curious happened. Warner had (according to developers Techland) somehow managed to colossally fudge up the physical printing of the game and so the digital release had been out nearly a month before the physical one (hence this review being a tad late). The odd thing to come out of this was word of mouth was almost entirely positive. Surely not? From the opening 10 minutes, it didn’t seem like it.

The story is the usual utter bunkum you’d expect. You are generic sounding, shaved-head, male caucasian Kyle Crane; mercenary for hire. You are air-dropped by the Global Relief Effort (GRE) into the semi fictional city of Harran after a mysterious outbreak has turned everyone into zombies.

Your mission is to retrieve a super-duper Top Secret, hush hush file stolen by rogue operative Kadir Suleiman. Locate Suleiman, get the file, get out. However, what the GRE didn’t account for is that Crane is probably the most inept mercenary ever, and not 30 seconds after landing in Harran he’s accosted by bandits and then bitten in a subsequent zombie attack leaving him in need of Anitzin, a miraculous concoction which staves off the transformation into the hungry dead that the GRE are dropping Harran into to help the poor buggers trapped in the quarantine zone. The GRE then decide to stop dropping the Antizin in, leaving Suleiman (or Rais, as he’s calling himself for no apparent reason) to control the supplies in the zone.

Here begins a story of moral dilemma as Crane gets knee deep in the dead and finds himself conflicted between carrying out the bizarrely clandestine GREs wishes and helping the human survivors of the zombie outbreak.

It has to be said, though, that for all his incredibly generic traits the character of Crane is pretty well written and acted. Most of the characters in the game are cookie cutter stereotypes with hilarious accents, but there’s enough well rounded ones to make the conflict Crane feels to be more engaging than the generic story would imply. It’s not exactly The Last of Us, but it’s not awful by any means.

 

So that’s one thing Dying Light has up on Dead Island. If Dead Island is a maggot infested cadaver, slowly shuffling towards complete purification then Dying Light is a Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s built of various parts of other games all stitched haphazardly together but charged with lightning and somehow forming a cohesive, powerful whole.

The main meat of this monstrosity is blatantly dug from the Dead Island carcass with the crafting, the inventory, the upgrade system, even the combat are all pulled from that series, but one thing not cribbed is the analogue combat option (pretty much Dead Island’s only saving grace), which is sadly missing. It was probably lost due to the other major addition which is the Parkour navigation. Having the right stick as weapon swing would conflict with the need for the camera to be in use almost constantly as the game places greater emphasis on avoiding combat than engaging in it.

You’re told by one of the characters during the Parkour tutorial that you’re a natural at it, but despite being a super-fit mercenary you run out of breath quickly and take ages to climb up ledges. Of course, this is because there are three skill trees to level, although there’s never any need to grind as you level these up naturally in the course of your questing about and soon you’re unlocking hilariously pointless moves like a drop kick or more useful traits like instant escapes from zombies who grab you.

Thus begins a game which is made up of many wonky, contradictory systems that shouldn’t work, but bizarrely do. The combat starts off as an exasperating experience. You have a stamina bar which regulates how much you can swing a weapon but is oddly in no way tied to how long you can sprint for.

Weapons also degrade with each hit and  you only get a limited amount of repairs after it breaks. You hate to lose that rare, blue wrench early in the game but soon you’ve found so many blue and purple axes, baseball bats, machetes and God knows what else, you’re breaking down high-grade weapons to make space for the next one. Even if you somehow miss them all, or fail the hilariously indelicate mini-game of lockpicking a police van to see if some ludicrous cricket bat is lurking inside, after a few hours you have enough money to buy a $13,000 purple machete that does stupid amounts of damage.

It’s the same with scavenging to make upgrades, medikits and ‘potions’. You end up with so many bits and bobs you never feel like you’re going to be without enough parts to create the modification that gives your blue-grade hatchet poison and the ability to set zombies on fire. And they’re usually so powerful you’re lopping heads off with one hit that along with plentiful medikits the risk of death removes a lot of the risk of death.

The only real risk comes when the sun starts to set and night sets in, and the Volatile start roaming. There’s often a genuine sense of panic when you’re out in the world trying to do one of the few missions that require night-time whilst avoiding these buggers with their Metal Gear-esque cones of sight.

All Power and Agility gains are multiplied at night, so in theory there’s a benefit to doing missions then, but I never found I needed the boost. You can skip the night (or day if required) at one of the many safe houses around the city that you clear and secure, but as death only results in putting you back to one of these nearest where you died with a slight XP loss then you never feel like it’s a drastic decision.

In addition to all this, the missions are all the worst kind of fetch quests you’d expect from an RPG that was made 10 years ago, with no real impetus to do the side missions except for maybe a new blueprint to make another ridiculous modification or the ability to craft medikits from plants you can pluck from the ground while sprinting and bounding around.

Despite all those things, Dying Light is almost obscenely fun. It’s a very difficult thing to say why, because when you look at its individual pieces, the game doesn’t give you a clear indication of how all these mismatched parts form to make this compulsive, satisfying, enjoyable experience. It shouldn’t work at all. It should just be lumps of meat, sewn together to make the form of a game but not one that lives. But it does.

 

Episode 22

Episode 22 is here folks, this time we have the lovely @classicvgmusic’s Mark on the show talking about this year’s Classic FM Hall of Fame 2014. The boys will be back very shortly with another episode to fill your ears with joy!

 

 

TRACKLIST
========================
Final Fantasy 7 Music – Aerith’s Theme – nobuo uematsu

Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise – Grant Kirkhope

Journey Soundtrack (Austin Wintory) – I was Born for This

Final Fantasy VI – Terra’s Theme (Orchestrated) nobuo uematsu

Turrican II – Main Title – chris huelsbeck

Xenogears Creid – Balto – Yasunori Mitsuda’s

ScreamRide Review

Sorry for the Red Hot Chili Peppers lyrics to open, but it was that or B*Witched. So as you may have guessed, ScreamRide is a rollercoaster game, sort of. It is at it’s core a rollercoaster game, but it does try to go a little deeper than that.

The game is essential split into three main components; Ride, Destroy, Build and it is these that form the building blocks for the bulk of the career mode as you go through various levels across the world map taking on a number of challenges split into the parts mentioned above.

The game starts you off on the ‘Ride’ levels. Tasking you with taking on a series of challenges whilst racking up scores and beating a par time as you would in a time-trial. If anything it is a really odd concept and one that shouldn’t really work.

You control the speed of your coaster using the right trigger, lean into corners, hit buttons at the right time on certain parts of the track to store boost, then hit the A button to use said boost, whilst also trying to lean into corners and get up on two wheels to get more points.

For the most part this works rather well, the tracks are well designed and offer up a good challenge, but when more ideas get added and the tracks get faster and more twisty, the fun factor slowly starts to decrease, to the point where beating all the challenges doesn’t feel worth it. Which is a shame, because the first levels are wonderful fun.

The second option is the ‘Destroy’ levels, which if you have played Angry Birds, you’ll get to grips with almost instantly. The idea here is that you basically launch a cabin at some buildings to destroy them. You can unlock different cabins that have different abilities and will change how you approach any given level.

The good thing here, is that it borrows very heavily from Angry Birds and as an addition to part of the game it works very well. The issue though, is that in borrowing from Angry Birds, you do get to see after a short while how Rovio did it better. You get to use things like rockets, after-touch, adjust power and angle, etc and it does need some tactical thinking. As part of a larger game it just about works, which is good to see, as it would fall flat as a standalone option.

The third part of the career path are the ‘Build’ levels, which in this case take the concepts from ‘Ride’ and ‘Destroy’ and mix them together. This time you need to complete a section of track that will launch a coaster into a a designated area. The more damage you do, the better your overall score.

Now this for me, is what the bulk of the main career should be, building up tracks to destroy the level itself. This is so much fun and the challenges seem to work well too, such as trying to get you to build only a certain amount of track, whilst still getting a certain score, among other nice additions.

It is here you want to be in career, as the other two parts end up being a distraction whilst you wait to get to the bits you want. Essentially the peas and sprouts before getting to the gateau for dessert. You know why they are on the plate, but you don’t want to eat them and you can see the mouthwatering dessert right there.

That said, the best part of ScreamRide is the sandbox mode, where you can just let your creative juices run free and build the most insane and death defying rollercoaster you can think of. You can build them, then go ahead and ride them. There are so many tools at your disposal, that have to be unlocked via the career mode, but they allow you to go crazy with designs.

Almost anything you can think of, you can build, even replicating real life coasters. It’s not just the tracks you can build too, it’s the islands, the buildings and even your own versions of the other parts of career mode. This is just joyful and reason enough on its own to not only buy the game, but force your way through the career.

It’s not just building in the sandbox, you can also share your creations with the world and go and find other people’s creations too. Much like in games such as Little Big Planet and Trials Fusion, you can just pop into a menu and search for shared tracks and play to your heart’s content. The issue here though, is that leaderboards, which are available for the main career, are not available for user created tracks, which is a shame, because creating your own and setting a score or time attack competition seems like a no brainer.

Overall, ScreamRide is competent game, with some real standout parts offset by some confusing decision making and some distinctly average level structure. It doesn’t ruin the game, which is still fun on the whole, but it does dampen the enthusiasm at times.

OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood Review

I make no apologies for my review of OlliOlli at the start of 2014. I played it, I loved it and had none of the major crashing issues that others seemed to get. It wasn’t just a flash in the pan title either, as I can say I was still dipping in and out right up until a week before OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood landed a 360 Kick Flip into my lap.

So let me be brutally honest about OlliOlli before I go into my review. OlliOlli 2 isn’t going to change many minds. If you found enjoyment from the first game, then you’ll do so again here. If you just didn’t like it, then don’t expect this to suddenly open your eyes.

The first thing that struck me about OlliOlli 2 was that from the moment i picked it up, it fit like an old glove, it felt comfortable and safe. I knew this game, I could blast through the tutorial levels and jump straight back in almost where I left off. Early on it feels just like an expansion rather than a sequel.

But that feels harsh, like I am doing it an injustice though, because after being eased back in, there are a lot of subtle changes and whilst these mainly affect the level design, they do also seem to have a fundamental affect on how you play. There are minor changes to the locales and even a tweaked new mechanic that gives you a visual indicator as to the best point to leave the edge of a ramp, plus lots of nice new visual effects that bring the game even more to life. Some of the later levels are beautiful to see, but for me it still feels like an expansion.

Now maybe that is because I knew many of the levels from the original like the back of my hand, or maybe it was something else.

What do I mean by this though? Well, all of a sudden I was finding myself lacking the momentum to get past some grind rails, meaning I would fall off and that run would end, which was frustrating, but that good kind of frustrating, like you’d get in a game such as Trials HD. I knew it just HAD to be something I was doing wrong. Well sure enough, after many repeats of the same level, I had found the optimal route and beat it.

What’s that? Damn my ignorant bliss of the first game with the lack of leaderboards that reminded me that just being the best in my own home was no longer good enough, I was actually crap compared to another few thousand strangers. I got through, but at least 179 people so far had done it better than me.

That’s not fair, I was able to just run through the first game and beat the levels, that was it, they were the only thing standing between me and greatness. Now I am nothing but mediocre, getting the five stars in the level meant NOTHING….DO YOU HEAR ME…NOTHING!!!

WHY? Because RodneyMullenFAN2987 has done better than me. What’s the point, if this random faceless name is better than me? I see him there looking at the same leaderboard as me, all smug and happy, just wait until he looks up though and sees RogerRamjet1965 doing better than he is, then he’ll know how it feels!

I joke of course, having leaderboards in from the start shows that the team at Roll7 have been listening and have learned from one of the few mistakes they made with the first game. The leaderboard integration is well done and adds a hell of a lot of longevity to a game that already has a lot of content.

You have the main mode which follows the same sort of path as the original, getting stars unlocks new areas and new levels, as well as pro levels for each too. There is also the return of the spots and daily grinds from the original too, which does a great job of padding out the game and giving you a distraction should the main path get too hard or frustrating at any point.

But that’s it really, the tutorial stuff is in an area called Skate Park, but that’s your lot. There are new modes still to come, but I can’t review those yet, no matter how good they may end up being. So what you have here is a sequel that is in a tough position.

OlliOlli 2 doesn’t and can’t reinvent the wheel, it changes very little which means it is still the same game you love (or despise) from before, but at this moment you feel a little short changed, because the new locations and minor new mechanics don’t quite make this stand up above its predecessor but at the same time it clearly isn’t a massive fall from grace. It is simply more of the same and where you fall on that discussion is up to you.

Retrospective: Super Mario Galaxy 2

Around the time when it was the hottest thing around, the Wii was always considered a shovelware dumping ground. For every Legend of Zelda, there were a million instantly forgettable party collections. It’s sort of true, but just saying that would be doing the console a huge disservice. Yes, the Wii was home to an awful lot of tat, but by golly it didn’t half produce some classics.

One such game was Super Mario Galaxy 2. Due to the sheer impact it had on video games as a whole, Mario 64 to be frank will never be topped when it comes to 3D Mario games, Mario Galaxy 2 though has come the closest.

In a lot of ways, this game is a rarity. When it comes to the main series each follow up would always bring a new mechanic to the series, whether it be Yoshi (in Super Mario World) to Fludd (from Mario Sunshine), Galaxy 2 felt more like an update. A somewhat dirty word today where “update” can sometimes be misconstrued as “cheap cash grab”, but Nintendo doesn’t do that. Maybe “refinement” would be a better word.

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With new, more interesting, planets to explore, Galaxy 2 is a more interesting game than its predecessor. New power ups to use, the appearance of Yoshi and the ability to control Luigi on certain levels, the better Mario brother (yeah, I said it!). It’s jam packed with platforming goodness.

From the opening story section you’re thrust onto Starship Mario, a spaceship that looks like Mario’s head, it’s from this hub you can interact with other characters you’ve picked up on your adventure, who usually just spout useless tips that you would’ve figured out half an hour ago. Other than that it’s just a quick break between levels before going to the world map and travelling to whichever level you choose, most of which have multiple stars to collect. This on top of the medals, and at certain times, prankster comets will arrive at certain levels completely changing the rules of said stage.

Just thinking about how this game was designed makes my mind do somersaults. It’s not often I sit and stare at the screen and admire how much time, effort and skill went into creating each of these levels. The new powers ups are far from random, the levels were created around them.

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The bee suit, able to hover for a specific time creates some excellent platforming sections, where touching water automatically turns you back to regular Mario. The drill is able to burrow deep into each planet, one specific level having you figure out where to drill in order to reach the top of the tower. Then there’s Yoshi and all his special powers.

There’s the blue fruit which allows Yoshi to float up into the air, then there’s the red hot chilli, eating which causes the green dinosaur to run at pace, in turn allowing him to run up walls, or even on water as one of the more open worlds demonstrates. Indeed, whereas latter day Marios negate exploration in favour of a more point A to B design. Super Mario Galaxy 2 has a good mixture of both.

There are planets where it’s a fairly straightforward path to the finish, others where you’re fairly free to explore, which usually involve collecting pieces of a star. Both are equally fantastic. The way Mario moves around the planets can be disorientating at first, particularly the more circular planetoids where running around upside down is commonplace, but soon you’ll get used to the inertia, jumping around and flying between planets with ease.

There’s no such thing as the perfect game, but it’s hard to come up with any issues with Mario Galaxy 2, aside from maybe the main hub. Starship Mario is perhaps lacking its own identity and character the way Peach’s Castle in Mario 64 did. There is a reason it’s largely considered as the game of the generation for many, and despite being in SD it looks great, once again showing that Nintendo’s art style can easily surpass hardware limitations. The way Mario blasts off from each planet, with the camera perfectly positioned to view the level looks stunning.

Mario Galaxy 2 is Nintendo on the top of their game; graphics, gameplay and audio all coming together to form a near perfect whole. And as good as Mario 3D World is, Mario Galaxy 2 is nigh on perfection. Who knows how Nintendo will be able to top this. But if anybody can do it, Nintendo can.

Titan Attacks Review

Puppy Games has been making its neon-styled retro shooters for a while now and it always seemed only a matter of time before they took the step on to console. Titan Attacks was the first game to make the jump and serves up its own take on the Space Invaders theme.

Set across five worlds, the player controls their tank at the bottom of the screen as enemies approach from the top. It may remind you of Space Invaders but aside from the obvious nods there is much more going on here than simply trying to produce a clone. The first thing to take into account is the scoring mechanic. A multiplier continually increases through the levels and when you take a hit it returns to zero.

You can also gain points and money by achieving skill shots. This occurs when you shoot an enemy and instead of it exploding it begins to fall to the ground. Shooting the careering vehicle may also see an alien jump out in a parachute; collecting these little guys will give you a further bonus, while letting them drift off the bottom of the screen will result in a penalty.

Any money you gain during a round can be spent before the next one starts. You’ll start off buying extra shields and smart bombs but the power-ups are extensive and you can add bits to your tank to fire rockets and lasers as well as giving yourself multiple shots or reducing the recharge time between firing. In truth, it can make the game a little easy towards the end but it’s always a fun way to spend a few minutes. The game also seems to have been slightly rebalanced to present more of a challenge in this 3DS version.

The game is set across five worlds, starting on Earth, moving onto the Moon, through Mars and Saturn before finishing on the alien home world. Every few levels you get a chance to get gain bonus points and prizes by shooting down special flying saucers and the end of each world sees you square off against a mother ship. The enemy types and patterns continually change and the later levels are hectic which helps to keep everything fresh and moving. The lack of 3D though is a bit of an issue as it makes the port seem less polished than it otherwise could have been.

There’s no denying this is a fun game while it lasts but there are a few things which hold it back from being a classic. Though the bosses are a bit tougher now, the game is still a little on the easy side and you’ll likely blast through it in a couple of attempts. It’s certainly fun and you do get to start again on harder versions of the levels but we were expecting a bit more of a challenge.

The second problem is that the scoring mechanic isn’t really intricate enough to cause the massive adrenaline rushes you can get from other games. There’s very little you can do if you’ve been building a multiplier and get hit, other than slowly build it up again. That’s fine for anyone who wants an enjoyable arcade shooter but for those looking for a game to master this will let you down.

Slight issues aside, the question that matters is, are you going to enjoy playing the game? The answer to which is yes you will, it’s a blast, with a fun style that cleverly evokes just enough of Space Invaders to hit the nostalgia button while producing something fresh. It won’t last you forever or put up that much of a challenge but for a fun few minutes of blasting, it certainly ticks all the right boxes. It’s also especially suited to handhelds. Overall, this is a good if not great game that everyone will enjoy. It’s a promising start from Puppy Games and we look forward to their next project.