Little Big Adventure Enhanced Review

Little Big Adventure is one of those games that we never quite got around to playing despite having bought it a few times. A cult classic, it has a loyal following and is fondly remembered by pretty much everyone who played it when it first came out. DotEmu have now released this enhanced and updated version of LBA but is it enough to make it work for newcomers?

Little Big Adventure follows the story of Twinsen who has been locked away by the tyrannical Dr FunFrock for having strange dreams about the end of the world. The evil doctor has taken over the planet and holds control through the use of clones which he uses to impose his rule. Twinsen’s first job is to escape from the prison and then set about finding out exactly what his dreams mean and what he can do to save the world.

The game is set out like a semi-isometric adventure where our hero enters and exits different areas via arrows around the edges of the scenes and everyone looks a bit like Weebles. You can talk to just about anyone and everything is voice acted which gives a solid feeling of a functioning world as the various inhabitants impart advice and general gossip to you. There are normally enemies roaming around as well which can be avoided by sneaking or punched and kicked. Shortly after the start you also get a magic ball thing you can chuck at them

The game plays out as an action adventure title where you have to go around and find clues about what to do and then collect objects and use them in order to progress. For instance – in one area you need to get the local people to trust you. They will then help you distract some guards which in turn allows you to get into a house. It’s the sort of game that doesn’t really exist anymore but one that was very prevalent around the time of the LBA’s original release on the PC. However, it was always a unique adventure game and that feeling still remains to this day.

A number of changes have now been made to the game in order to try and bring it up to modern standards. The most obvious of these is the new set of control systems. We started out with mouse control which turns LBA into a sort of point and click game. However, it’s dreadfully un-intuitive and awkward to use. We found simple getting around the screen difficult and numerous times interactions with the environment simply didn’t work. After a while we found ourselves descending into clicking all over the place near interest points in the vein hope something would register as the right place to click.

Not to be defeated we switched to the gamepad control and everything immediately became about one hundred times better. With movement now under direct control and things like running, jumping and sneaking mapped onto the buttons the whole thing becomes a much more joyful experience. The original keyboard ‘tank’ controls can no longer be used however, so you’ll either have to play the original version of the game that’s included or get used to one of the new schemes.

There is also a new status bar added which displays things like health and magic and if you are in sneak mode or not. You now zoom in and out as well, which certainly helps but could have been further improved by allowing you to pan around your environment in the same way as games such as Baldur’s Gate. Far too often you are left at the edge of the screen not able to see what is right in front of you as the camera doesn’t really keep Twinsen centred but normally scrolls along when he reaches certain points.

A welcome chance is improved saving as it’s all too easy to die or get captured. Although you can still only load them from the main menu screen. While this does stop constant cheap use of the system it’s still a bit annoying when you have to go out to the main menu just to load a game. A better system for working out where you are jumping or where exactly the magic ball is going to be thrown is also a very welcome addition.

The graphics haven’t been improved or filtered either so you get a sort of grainy jagged look to everything. That’s not a major issue on the face of it but it seems strange to release a new version of a game without giving it a bit of a facelift – especially when the original version of the game is also included. The map and objective screen could have really done with a facelift as well and we found it almost completely useless as everything just looked like pixelated blobs. A clear list of objectives and locations would have really helped.

It’s certainly not perfect but even as a relative newcomer to LBA once we got into it we really started to like it. The adventure itself is still very solid and there’s a unique humour and charm to everything. We also haven’t really played anything like it before which goes to show how original and unique the game really is. Ok, so more could have been done to make this a really special release but the gamepad controls at least make it playable for newcomers and the game underneath is certainly worth experiencing. With a bit of patience there’s still a lot of magic to be found here and we’d certainly recommend it to adventure game fans.

Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate Review

A few years ago PixelJunk Shooter first appeared on the PS3. Still one of the best games on the Playstation network it is finally now available on the PC. The first game had already been released but now the team have and combined Shooter 1 and 2 and spruced it up a bit to create Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate.

The plot, such as it is, has you sent in to rescue your crew mates after mysterious goings on while mining on the planet of Apoxus Prime. To do this you have to fly your craft around tight underground caverns while using water, lava and magnetic black liquids to your advantage. It’s reminiscent of Thrust with its inertia and gravity based gameplay but your craft will stay still if left alone. You also won’t die from hitting walls (which is a good thing or it would have been nigh on impossible).

The game is a 2D styled shooter where you manoeuvre your ship around a section of an enclosed map. Normally you will have to get water to turn lava to rock or lava to melt ice or some other combination of dropping one liquid onto another. You’re doing this because you need to get to and rescue all the lost crew members in each area. If too many of them die you have to start the level again. It’s wonderfully inventive and a whole lot of fun and there are hidden areas and diamonds to collect along the way as well.

The level design is nigh on perfect throughout the game and the difficulty curve is just about right. The huge boss monsters found at the end of each world may cause some frustration but they provide tense and heroic showdowns of David and Goliath proportions and once you work them out shouldn’t take too long to get past. The difficulty level ramps up considerably once you enter the second part of the game (Shooter 2), but it’s all still achievable.

Shooter Ultimate is now split into six main areas each consisting of five levels. There are the initial outer rocky areas, the ice caves and then the mine. After the mine something happens which we won’t spoil but you’ll be dealing with a host of new gases and liquids. Each individual level is split into sections which require everyone to be rescued before a bulk head opens to the next. Each has its own tricks and traps and will keep you on your toes throughout. If it gets too much you can always call a friend in for co-op action.

You’ll also need to think quickly as the game has a wonderful way of getting you to forget what you’ve just learnt. For instance, for the first area you are trying to keep away from lava (overheating causes you to crash), but then in the ice caves you’ll come across an inversion suit which makes lava cool you down and water heat you up.

It’s a game that keeps throwing new ideas and things at you to keep you interested. The water suit and lava suit are just the start and you’ll soon be switching around and dealing with freezing lakes and clouds of gas as well as the usual lava and water. The key thing is that everything stays fun and creative throughout. Once you’ve completed the game you’ll probably want to dive back in to further explore the levels and find all the missing diamonds and any crew you missed along the way. There’s even a hidden level to try and unlock and online combat.

PixelJunk Shooter is a game we’re still playing on the PS3 to this day. The fact a whole new audience can now pick it up is great and this really is one of the best games of its type. Q-Games have crafted something special here and the years have done nothing to diminish its appeal. With PixelJunk Shooter 2 included as well it becomes an essential purchase for PC owners. We’ll be playing it through for yet another time and we would recommend everyone else do the same.

This was always going to be a certified hit with us as long as nothing had gone wrong in the conversion and from our experience this offers all the fun of the original. PC gamers really need to play this as it’s simply a masterfully executed, great little game packed with more invention and ideas than most massive AAA releases can even come close to.

Life is Strange: Episode 5 – Polarized Review

Every now and again a game comes around that despite having issues you cannot ignore, you can’t help but be in awe of what you have just experienced. A game that while not perfect you want to shout at as many people as will listen about how they must play this game. Life is Strange is one of those.

Now that the conclusion has been reached it’s time to look back on the game as a whole and while there were a few bumps in the road, it’s a game that has largely been excellent.

As a story about time travel you’d imagine it all breaks a little towards the end, like so many films and games that have come before, only it doesn’t. It’s quite amazing how neatly it all ends, no plot holes (from what I can tell) and some of the decisions I was forced to make left me reeling, playing an important part in the way the plot unfolded.

Though it’s not without its blemishes. The teen dialogue can at times feel forced, with Chloe’s constant use of the word “hella” being the main culprit. It’s an annoying trait that you do reel in slightly as each episode unfolds and despite her annoying moments you do like her character, despite the faults.

Then there are the breaks in the story where they needed filler. Remember the bottle collecting part from a previous episode? Well, that’s back again in episode 5 for some reason, albeit in an optional achievement capacity.

As episode 5 begins our hero Max is in a sticky situation. The true culprit has been revealed and only the use of her time travel powers can help her escape. It’s certainly a big opening and requires some thought on how to escape, often rewinding and trying different options in a trial and error fashion. Trial and error being something I usually hate, but here it weirdly works as you witness each outcome and figure out how you could’ve avoided it.

Be warned as well, there is also a stealth section. As soon as I saw what was to come I let out a massive sigh. Forcing stealth gameplay into something that isn’t of the stealth genre usually ends in utter misery. Here, it’s different. Thanks to the ability to rewind time, it’s never challenging or a problem. It’s just a little gameplay section on the way to furthering the story. As soon as you get caught just press the trigger and everything rewinds as Max stays still.

When it comes to gameplay moments, this is possibly the weakest episode. Aside from the two bits mentioned above there’s very little else other than talking and walking. The latter being used quite a bit as Max’s nosebleeds and abuse of time soon leads to some utter bizarre moments later in the story.  But then this is the finale. It’s clear the goal was to finish the tale and tie everything up into a neat little package. And they succeeded. Endings are hard as countless games have proven, often leaving loose ends or just leaving a sour aftertaste. Life is Strange manages to wrap everything up so neatly it’s actually a little surprising. It’s a story that despite a few hiccups had my utmost attention throughout.

It’s one of the most interesting games released in a while that I can’t recommend enough. It’s not just the surprise of the year, it’s possibly the game of the year.

Guitar Hero Live Review

I live in Colchester and round here everyone has a story about the band Blur. Mine is that my parents were friends with the drummer Dave and when I was a baby he knitted me a shawl. You’re impressed, I can tell. During the great Britpop war of the mid-nineties, being a contrary little bugger I fell on the side of Oasis. This was mostly down to some instinctual teenage reflex to dislike whatever everyone around me liked. But time has brought me round to the idea that I was probably wrong; that Blur actually were quite good and that maybe the most popular option isn’t automatically the worst after all.

This brings me tenuously onto Guitar Hero versus Rock Band. I’m a huge fan of Harmonix (to the extent where for large periods of my first year as a student I was playing Frequency like it was a full time job) and I’ve always had a bee in my bonnet about Activision sweeping in, swamping the shelves with releases and strolling away proudly satisfied with yet another cash cow well and truly milked. It always bugged me that ‘Guitar Hero’ was the name synonymous in the public consciousness; like ‘Fifa’ is with football or ‘Call of Duty’ is with everything. I’d be at pains to explain to people that ‘well, actually, the makers of Rock Band made the first two and you should really play their previous games which you’ve probably never heard of’ before adjusting my glasses, stroking my beard and noticing that the person I was talking to had fallen into a twat induced coma.

Well, perhaps I was wrong and Harmonix aren’t all sunshine, buttercups and pies cooling by the kitchen window. Rock Band 3 may be The Greatest Videogame of All Time but 4 has proven that they are just as capable of producing a cynical cash grab when the mood takes them. Guitar Hero Live on the other hand seems like an uncharacteristically brave resurrection; dropping drums, rearranging the guitar buttons, replacing the chunky graphical style with first-person live action video and completely changing the approach to DLC, making all your old tracks incompatible in the process. It’s a bold move; some might even say even stupid and far from the kind of thing you would expect from a company as risk adverse as the hulking, evil mega-corp that is Activision. But do you know what? They’ve only gone and pulled it off.

Firstly, the new guitar. The traditional row of five coloured buttons has now been replaced with two rows of three; black at the top and white underneath. The theory behind this is that it will simultaneously easier for beginners, who now only have to deal with three buttons, and more complicated for experts who will have to twist their fingers into more chord-like positions. I found that getting used to the new placements was surprisingly easy, considering my brain was fighting against ten years of muscle memory, but once it started to introduce notes that covered both black and white buttons, it took a monumental amount of concentration to fight every instinct and get my fingers into the right positions. But once it clicked, the feeling was electric. I don’t play a real instrument so this is based entirely on my uneducated perception, but the new layout does feel fractionally more like playing the real thing. I can’t say with any degree of certainty that either button layout is definitively better than the other but this new method is refreshingly different and that’s surely to be applauded. It’s quite nice to be crap at the videogame guitar again and experience the progression from novice to not-so-novice. The only major downside to the new guitar is that the strum bar makes an awful lot of racket. I believe that this is intentional and some players prefer to rock to the sound of incessant clicking but for me it does verge on the distracting and could have done with being toned down a bit.

Next up, the way it looks. I’ll admit to nearly cringing myself inside out when I saw the initial reveal and expected the finished product to be endearingly rubbish at the very best. The danger in putting you directly behind the eyes of the lead guitarist is that most of the bands are populated by unlikeable dickheads and their cheesy thumbs-up, overly-earnest nodding and in the case of one bassist, outrageous flirting, can feel faintly ridiculous. The crowds, although convincingly large, seem to have taken a leaf out of the Pro Evolution Soccer guide to banner writing and litter the scenery with embarrassingly poor quotes and you’ll catch the occasional Hollyoaks reject desperately trying to mug their way into the centre of the shot. But somehow, despite all the naffness, it actually works.

It would be generous to say that the acting ever goes high above the passable but the live action sequences are directed by someone with an eye for the spectacular and the timing to produce moments of genuine magic. To give one example, early on you will play for a band called The Portland Cloud Orchestra at a mock Glastonbury festival called SoundDial. This band consists of the most punchable bunch of bare-footed, daisy chain wearing, faux folk rockers you could possibly imagine. Their care-free frolicking and beardy banjo-twiddling is irritating beyond all belief and I spent the first song desperately trying to avoid eye-contact lest I launched my guitar into the television. Weirdly, over the course of the next two songs, with the day gradually turning into night and the crowd being whipped into a sing along frenzy, I actually warmed to them. By the time we got to the tweed frivolity of Mumford and Sons ‘I Will Wait’, a song that usually brings me out in a severe case of the vomits, I was all ready to paint flowers on my face, jump in their organic cider bus and tootle off to their mountain retreat. It’s difficult to say much more for fear of spoilers, but often the timing between the live action and the music is so wonderfully perfect that it can pierce even the most cynical of black hearts. These games have always been brilliant at capturing the dank dinginess of a club or the brash excess of a stadium tour, but Live has managed to bottle the bliss of a festival where it never rains. You can almost smell the naughty cigarettes.

And this is playing for a band who are essentially my kryptonite. When you’re the guitarist for a band you might actually quite like to be in (in my case, despite their wonky musical inspirations, Quantum Freqs, whose name I can’t help but hope is an appreciative nod to Harmonix’s debut) the wish fulfilment is taken to previously untapped levels. There is a danger that in capturing 2015 music culture so effectively that the whole deal is going to age terribly. But for now, it works a treat.

Lastly and perhaps most controversially, is the T.V element. Live’s approach to downloadable content and providing the player with an extended music library is to give you a couple of constantly rolling music video channels that you can play along to. What this does is give you access to over 200 tracks for free, but not necessarily the ones you want, when you want to play them. If you do want to pick and choose you can either use ‘plays’ that are rewarded for high scores or, you guessed it, via microstransactions. Even then, you don’t get to keep access to that one song forever so you never actually ‘own’ any of the additional tracks. It does feel all a little bit icky, more so when you notice that the multiplier power up, surely essential to compete in the leaderboards, is restricted to high level or cash rich players.

This kind of behaviour would normally find me storming Activison headquarters with a placard where it not for the fact they seem to have got the rate at which you’re awarded free plays woefully unbalanced to the point where I’m currently sitting on thousands of coins and thirty-odd free song choices. You would expect this generosity to dry up rather quickly, but currently I see little evidence of it slowing down. It’s also quite a lot of fun to just play along to the streams, letting song after song just wash over you and not concentrating on one track for hours on end. Personally, I can actually see this model saving me money as I’m less likely to drunkenly purchase a song, play it once and then promptly forget about it. But there’s no doubt that this shift in ownership of your music library does have a faintly sinister air and there is the permanent danger that this whole chunk of the game is going to be switched off one day when the suits notice it’s not bringing the cash in. Again, it’s an interesting new direction, but one you suspect was inspired by balance sheets rather than any kind of artistic endeavour.

So I like the guitar, I like the live action and I quite like T.V; so why isn’t the score higher? Well in implementing all these radical changes Freestyle have somewhat thrown the baby out with the bathwater. The loss of drums is massive for me and the focus is now very much on the solo guitarist. There is a two player mode somewhere and you can plug in a microphone if you really want, but both seem like a bit of an afterthought. Rock Band and Guitar Hero have always been at their very best when played by a group of four and it is a little bit odd that this defining feature has been removed entirely. It is very, very good on your own (although not quite as good as Freestyle’s DJ Hero) but like most guitar solos, it’s just massively self-indulgent. Remember the Guns ‘N’ Roses November Rain video where Slash walks out in the middle of his mate’s wedding to play guitar in the middle of the desert? Playing Live can feel a bit like that; epic but selfish.

To bring it back to my painfully strained Blur vs Oasis metaphor, while Liam and Noel have spent the last twenty years trying to recapture their glory years with ever less successful tribute acts, Damon Albarn has formed a cartoon hip-hop band and penned an opera about monkeys. Guitar Hero Live feels like one of these experiments. It’s unique, fresh and strangely life-affirming and not even the looming shadow of the record company suits can completely take that away. Maybe the most popular option isn’t automatically the worst after all.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night Review

It’s really amazed me to see what started off as this late PS2-era, niche JRPG turn into this unexpected success story with an anime, enhanced port on the Vita and a number of spin offs. The latest of which being Dancing All Night, a nice little rhythm game.

If you think about it, Persona 4 fits better into the rhythm game mould better than most, after all, a major facet of the rhythm genre is music. And Persona 4 has some of the best music you can find. But it also has the same issue that Arena (Persona’s fighting game spin off) had.

Most notably it’s with the Story Mode. If you’re heavily invested in the Persona 4 lore then this won’t really affect you, but like Arena it plays a lot like a visual novel with a few gameplay portions thrown in. The story takes a long while to get going with the opening part being quite boring, even for someone like me who’s digested everything from Arena to the anime it’s a bit of a slog to get to the actual meat of the story.

The mystery while obviously not as in depth as the JRPG does eventually go some more interesting places. Yu and his friends being asked by Rise to be her backing dancers in an upcoming concert/festival. Things go a bit wrong however and they soon find themselves dragged into another world where instead of hitting things, they have to dance to win. It actually makes more sense when you play the game, and it’s quite clever how they somehow managed to wrap a story around a game where you just press buttons in time to the music while your character does some crazy dance moves in the background.

Gameplay is quite simple. Notes coming flying in from the middle and you have to press one of six buttons as it passes. Soon though you’ll have to press two buttons at the same time, hold buttons or flick the right stick as things get more challenging. And it does get challenging, at least on the hard difficulty.

While easy is just there so people can see the story as quickly as possible, even Normal posed zero problems. Beating each song was a cakewalk and I never failed once. Hard is a completely different story as only a few misses and it takes a while to build your meter back. Your fail state depending on the little people characters at the top of the screen, going from red (you’re screwed) to flashing and jumping (you’re awesome).

It’s a shame that like every game of its type from Elite Beat Agents to Guitar Hero, you’re too busy focusing on not screwing up that you can’t take in the visual delights that’s playing out in the background. Dancing All Night is a lovely looking game, and the few moments I did take a glance it was quite a great sight. There is a replay mode though so you can just watch and enjoy if you so choose (and pick up a trophy for your trouble).

With a good amount of songs and not to mention future DLC in the pipeline, there’s certainly a decent amount of content here. Not to mention three difficulties, a ton of content to buy in the store (for in-game currency) and the potential to go back to past songs attempting to beat your old score.

However while this is a phrase that I really dislike using, this game really is only for existing fans of Persona. The story mode could come across as incomprehensible nonsense for those who aren’t familiar with the setting and characters, and while the inner monologue tries its hardest to get newcomers caught up, the Persona 4 lore is so deep that explaining it can be difficult.

If you love Persona though and can’t get enough of Yu, Kanji and Yosuke then you’ve probably already ordered your copy. And rightly so.

Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 23rd October 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 23rd October (Friday).

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It is a quick look at the charts which despite a break for a week doesn’t seem to have changed all that much.

Then it is a very look back at recent releases, including Transformers Devastation, Wasteland 2, The Talos Principle, Downwell, the amazing Rebel Galaxy, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes and a lot more.

Then it is a look ahead to Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Halo 5, Guitar Hero Live and Legend of Zelda: Tri-Force…well, not exactly, we end up chatting about the Co-Op.

Please give us any feedback or send questions to pr@gamestyle.com (this will change in coming weeks).

This Week’s Top 10

1 FIFA 16
2 UNCHARTED: THE NATHAN DRAKE COLLECTION
3 DESTINY: THE TAKEN KING
4 LEGO DIMENSIONS
5 GRAND THEFT AUTO V
6 FORZA MOTORSPORT 6
7 METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
8 TALES OF ZESTIRIA
9 LEGO JURASSIC WORLD
10 MINECRAFT: XBOX EDITION

Details below on how else to catch this week’s show.


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Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below Review

Oh how I am jealous for WiiU owners having had to part with my console. I loved playing Hyrule Warriors and despite having access to the likes of Dynasty Warrors on next gen consoles and the VIta nothing quite felt the same.

Yet here I am with Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below a game as far removed from what I understood a Dragon Quest game to be, as I can imagine. From the very first moment I picked up the Dragon Quest Heroes it felt familiar, more than it should have.

I will admit it is a game I paid little attention to once I heard of its reveal, not through ignorance, but just I knew I wanted to play a Dragon Quest game and was happy to avoid all media coverage and see what fell on my lap come release day.

Because it felt so similar to Hyrule Warrior and Dynasty Warriors I had to dig a little after my first moments with the game. Lo and behold, the reason I felt like I knew this game, was because the team working on it was Omega Force.

Y’know, the guys who developed Dynasty Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, Toukiden, Warriors Orochi and much more. This was one of theirs, using another new setting and basically a new skin. Want to know something? I couldn’t be happier.

The various ‘Warriors’ games are wonderful to pick up and waste time on, just destroying endless waves of enemies and feeling like a general badass. The very moment you pick up a controller, whether you have experience of Omega Force games or not, you just know what to do. You hack & slash your way through arenas with a huge grin on your face just enjoying what is happening on the screen before you.

With Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below, this is no different and whilst there is a story to follow, you can easily ignore it, enter a level and murder everything that dare stand in your way.

Personally I’d like to say there is more to it than that. That there is a bit more depth and sophistication when you scratch below the surface, but the truth it, there simply isn’t and that is a good thing. As not every game needs to have this deep meaningful reason to exist. Sometimes you just want to enjoy a spectacle, pick something up and play it. This is one such game.

Of course there are the opportunities to level up your characters and make them better, but that is all fairly streamlined as the game pretty much just urges you to get into the action. But there are a few things that make it feel different to Omega Force’s usual affair.

Because it is based on the Dragon Quest series, it feels like there is much more emphasis on telling a story and giving substance to the characters. This is something I felt would hamper the game a little, but in actual fact it has made me want to try some of the mainline Dragon Quest games.

The presentation too seems to be up there with Hyrule Warriors, which felt like it finally showed Omega Force could actually add polish to their overall experience. Looking through videos and stills of other Dragon Quest games, there is no doubt whatsoever that this is part of that world.

Compared to other games from Omega Force there is a lack of extras, with the game focusing on the story driven campaign and being aimed more at the single player, rather than a co-op experience. This is pretty disappointing to start with, but the longer you play, there less you miss that option. Yet it wouild have been nice to have.

The one thing I did feel though, is unlike Hyrule Warriors, there is no need to go back and play it over and over, once the campaign is finished that really does feel like that is it. Whereas Hyrule Warriors felt wonderful repeating mission and using different characters, this just didn’t have that and is honestly a one and done game for me.

That isn’t to say that one isn’t a wonderful experience, because it truly is and having finished I am already looking forward to some kind of sequel, hopefully to include more of the options that make and Omega Force game the wonderful entities they are.

Blood Bowl II Review

I love sport, well not all sports, but a fair few, I love videogames, I love sports videogames. However, I am bored of just seeing the usual simulation only type games and what feels like the death of arcade sports and developers willing to try something different.

So this is where something like Blood Bowl steps in. It takes its cues from various different worlds, worlds that technically should never be able to mix. The world of sports, the world of fantasy and the world of table top gaming all mixed up to produce something that really works.

I will admit, I hadn’t really paid much attention to Blood Bowl before, yet I was aware of it, so before jumping in to Blood Bowl II it felt right to have a look at the original PC release so I could see what the sequel has improved on, or not in some cases.

The first thing that really stands out is the presentation. Because it has no real world base to follow Blood Bowl II can really push the boat out and at times parody real world sports expertly. The two presenters / commentators are an absolute joy to listen to as they really put their own take on the play by play and colour commentator roles you’ll find in most sports.

It’s not just the voice acting that works here, it is the depth of the script, where seemingly the developers have created a full blown history of the made up sports so previous events can be called upon when building up the coming matches and events.

The single player mode works well to and has a well rounded story to it that is pure sports fantasy, with an owner needing to rip a team apart and rebuild then from scratch, with you being the man to take them all the way. It’s not Any Given Sunday, but it certainly entertains throughout.

Aside from the presentation the mechanics, whilst initially looking as complicated as anything are actually really simple. The opening gambit does a great job of setting the scene and teaching new players the game. It breaks down the basics of gameplay and introduces the strategies at their core and by the time you take on the next game unaided you feel like you have the basics down and are ready.

Of course, try and play online, or against a better AI you soon realise how unprepared you are tactically, but still you have a solid base of which to begin your Blood Bowl career.

Each team has their own style of play, which utilizes different players types and will really affect how the game is played each time. Yet it’s not just the different styles that work, each team also has a genuine personality and players you grow to love or hate.

For those who have no clue about Blood Bowl, the easiest way to explain the game is that it is a modified version of American Football, set in a fantasy world, using turn-based table-top mechanics.

I really cannot stress enough how quickly you go from completely confused to getting a solid grasp of the the game. Literally within the space of a tutorial and a second game, yet it will take many, many hours to fully understand the depth Blood Bowl has to offer. Which from a personal point of view, I really like, as it means there is a reason to keep playing, as you continue to learn.

This version of Blood Bowl has been released on both PC and consoles and again my personal preference is that it has made it easier to control and play compared to the original, thanks to the need to use a controller to make it work on the consoles. This has simplified some things, which I suppose many may dislike, but for me it makes it much more accessible.

Outside of the main campaign the options are pretty limited, allowing you to play a standalone league season, or play friendly matches locally or online. A nice touch though it the Cabel TV mode, which allows you to view full replays of your matches, or saved community replays.

Yet there is one part that stands above, the ability to watch live games! Yep, you can choose to search for and watch live games as they are happening, jumping in at any moment to view the action. The presenters will introduce you to the game as you enter and then you can sit back and watch.

This is something I have wanted to see in sports games for years now. That ability to jump in and spectate. When we are in a world where communities have setup leagues for FIFA, NHL, Madden, NBA, etc this sort of thing allows the community events to be run at a much higher level.

Imagine being able to scout your next opponent by watching their current game, to get an idea of how to set your tactics against them, or watch the final of a cup competition, all without the need of relying on Twitch or YouTube.

As I type this review, I am watching a random game from an online Blood Bowl II matchup and am enjoying myself immensely. So far it is this and Rocket League that have nailed this idea and is putting down the foundations for this to become the norm over the next few years.

With Blood Bowl II, this has another use, as it allows new players to watch how others play and again get a solid grasp of certain mechanics to take back to their games. A wonderful addition and one that deserves immense amounts of praise.

The main issue with Blood Bowl II is who it can really appeal to. If you hate the idea of sports games, then this really isn’t going to be for you, same if you are not a fan of turn-based gameplay or even the world it is based in.

But for those who have even a passing interest in any of those, then this is something you must at least check out, because what it does, it does fantastically well.

Rock Band 4 Review

Crooning, beefcake pop sensation Thom Yorke once sang, “whatever makes you happy, whatever you want”. You get the impression that this was in the minds of Harmonix when they made Rock Band 3. An almost embarrassingly deep pool of riches, its breadth would have surely marked the end of the plastic instrument phenomenon if the genre wasn’t on its last legs already. You had harmonies, keyboards, cymbals, stringed guitars and thousands upon thousands of tracks. It seemed there was nowhere else to go; short of adding a saxophone or trumpet, whose inevitably salvia sodden mouthpiece doesn’t really bear thinking about. It was the utter pinnacle of the music genre; a game honed over iterations by a developer with an obvious passion and skill for what they were creating. It’s my desert island disc, my main stage headliner and my favourite game of all time. It’s as damn near perfect a videogame I can think of. Where the hell do you go after that?

The answer, unfortunately, is backwards. Rock Band 4 sees the next generation graced with the kind of version that would be crucified by the gaming community if it had Activision on the box rather than nice, cuddly Harmonix. Incomprehensibly lacking several major features and the distinct air of a ‘that’ll do’ attitude, what we have here is so obviously rushed to beat Guitar Hero onto the shelves that any goodwill you may have for the company quickly begins to fade away. It’s a quick fix, a hack job; and it’s utterly heart breaking to see the series treated in this fashion.

But first; let me bury the burning, black ball of disappointment in my stomach and sweep away the shards of my shattered hopes and dreams to assure you that the core experience is as magical and wondrous as ever. Despite making you look ridiculous and sound terrible in reality, Rock Band’s trick of convincing you of your musical expertise has not been dampened in the intervening years. To watch a group play is to see your favourite songs ruined by out-of-tune shrieks and the incessant clicking of toy instruments, but to actually play is to be transported instantly on stage in front of a crowd of adoring fans. It’s a captivating illusion and when everything falls into place; when all four of you are in the zone and the screen is alight with the yellow buzz of deployed star power; there is very little in gaming that can match it.

One of the other beauties of this series is the way it can nurture a love for a song or genre that you’d normally never touch with a bargepole. The presence of Rock Band 3’s Rammstein in my music library is about as appropriate as Damien Rice doing an acoustic set at Download. But in the actual playing of their particular brand of Germanic, industrial electro-metal, I found an appreciation of the raw power and intensity until I was uncontrollably head banging, legs stretched wide, doing that devil horn thing with my hands. I very nearly rushed out and bought a pair of leather trousers. Of course, you’re always likely to gravitate towards those songs that fall within your particular tastes, but by placing you within the creation of a song and making a game out of it, Rock Band has the potential to shatter your preconceptions and prejudices and even make shit like Alphabeat sound tolerable.

With that in mind, I approached the track listing in 4 with a receptive attitude. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Music taste is wildly subjective of course but there’s an awful lot of bland, Brit-award winning fodder and ‘I hate you Mum and Dad, I’m not going to tidy my room’, American teen angst. When the final two tracks on disc were revealed as U2 (one of which being from their most recent album – everyone wanted that, right?) I shrugged so hard I nearly dislocated my shoulder. ‘Uptown Funk’, one of the finest pop songs of the last ten years, joins the ranks of tracks that seem like they should be more fun to play than they actually are and Queens of the Stone Age, whose songs normally seem tailor-made for this game, are represented by the rather dreary and monotonous ‘My God is the Sun’.

But it’s not all bad news; St Vincent’s ‘Birth in Reverse’ is delightfully mental and ‘Fever’ by The Black Keys is excellent fun; particularly when the crowd sing along to the stabby, synth hook. And you can all thank me for White Denim’s ‘At Night, In Dreams’ which I submitted through the games website when they were taking requests. A ferocious four minutes of pure, adrenaline fuelled brilliance it looks certain to join the ranks of my go-to songs each and every time I fire up the game. Given the wildly varying quality of the rest of the tracks in the game, I’m taking full responsibility for its inclusion.

But for goodness sake, just make sure to take the freestyle solos off so you don’t ruin the end for yourself. The big, new, back-of-the-box feature for this entry, which replaces the games complicated and epic solos with a kind of structured improvisation, seems like brilliant fun the first time you do it but the novelty wears off very quickly. If I wanted to be generous, I can kind of see the appeal for playing with the family on Christmas Day and making the songs easier and more inclusive. But to be completely honest (and more than a little snobby) if you enjoy this feature then save yourself £40 and buy a Fisher Price Rock and Learn Guitar and just hammer the buttons on that for much the same experience.

Of the other new features, it now counts you in when your instrument has a bit of downtime which is handy. And voting for the next song will perhaps prevent minutes of scrolling through hundreds of songs and make sure you spend more time playing, so I guess that’s quite good. Oh, and the brightly coloured disco beaming from the lightbar on the PS4 pad is pretty nice. And if it sounds like I’m struggling for plus points here, it’s because I am.

One of the big draws of this game was supposed to be backwards compatibility with your previously owned tracks. Now, this might be the fault of the infamously inept Sony EU PSN team, but so far I have been unable to download any of my hundreds of downloadable tracks despite trying several times. And even if it was working, the process of actually getting hold of them is excruciating. Hopefully this will be streamlined later down the line (and it may be grossly unfair laying the blame for this at the feet of the game) but it’s a problem that exists and it desperately needs to be given some attention.

Elsewhere, Harmonix have said that Rock Band 4 is a return to the core of the series, presumably in an attempt to recreate the glory days of the late 00’s. What this has meant in reality is that they’ve cut off huge chunks of the game. Pro Guitars is perhaps understandable; only appealing to a tiny subset of the audience and presumably a lot of work to implement. But it’s a massive shame that keyboards didn’t make the cut, as along with harmonies and no fail mode, it was probably the best innovation since the series began.

Other areas in which the game is lacking are just bizarre. The character customisation options are virtually non-existent. I hardly have the most outlandish appearance (think of a significantly less trendy Mark Ronson and you’re halfway there) but have found it impossible to make anything that looks even remotely like me. Of course, this kind of window dressing doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it’s symptomatic of the lack of attention or care that has been given to the game in general. Hilariously, and I’m only putting this in because it made me chuckle in disbelief, but the character limit for your band name has been reduced too. The power of the next generation, ladies and gentlemen.

To be fair to Harmonix, they have said that they view this release as a ‘service’ and plan to build on it with free updates rather than release a 5 or a 6. But coupled with the supply issues that have plagued the games U.K release and you start to wonder if this half-hearted attempt to resurrect the series was worth the bother at all. No matter how much I may love prancing around my living room pretending to be Elvis Costello; I can’t help but think that like Wii Fit balance boards and Kinects, the general public has moved on from this phenomenon. The fact that despite my general cack-handedness on the guitar I’m still regularly getting into the top 100 on the leaderboards on the first time of asking, suggests I’m probably right. It’s more than a little worrying that Harmonix may have bet the house on this and it’s all about to blow up in their faces.

Rock Band 4 is bare bones sequel to a spectacular game and your mileage will depend on how desperate you are to play these games on the newer consoles. It’s still capable of producing moments of magic, and the solid foundations and framework are still present, but the rest has been trashed like Keith Moon’s hotel room. Notoriously well-groomed, social butterfly Thom Yorke once sang ‘no alarms and no surprises’. Sadly, what we’ve got here is far too many of the former and not nearly enough of the later.

Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 9th October 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 9th October (Friday).

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It is a quick look at the charts with a quicker than usual rundown and a short chat about Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer and a lot less football talk.

We apologise for a short show this week, as Brad was feeling rough, but we still find time to talk about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, Skyhill and Super Meat Boy.

Then it is the usual look ahead to Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Jackbox Party Pack 2, WRC5, Sublevel Zero and Minecraft Story Mode

Please give us any feedback or send questions to pr@gamestyle.com (this will change in coming weeks).

This Week’s Top 10

1 FIFA 16
2 LEGO DIMENSIONS
3 NBA 2K16
4 DESTINY: THE TAKEN KING
5 FORZA MOTORSPORT 6
6 ANIMAL CROSSING: HAPPY HOME DESIGNER
7 METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
8 SKYLANDERS SUPERCHARGERS
9 GRAND THEFT AUTO V
10 MAD MAX

Details below on how else to catch this week’s show.


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GS Quick Look: The Escapists’ The Walking Dead

Rick has gone cray cray, Daryl is the best character, Carl is annoying and did we mention Rick has gone cray cray? It’s time for some more The Walking Dead…This time from the team behind The Escapists

 

Brad and John take a look at The Escapists’ The Walking Dead a standalone expansion to the original prison break adventure, with added zombies?


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GS Quick Look: Pro Evolution Soccer 2016

Football, kick the football, shoot the football, pass the football, FOOTBALL. It’s that time of the year when sports take over and it is time to look at the better of the two football entries this year, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016.

 

Brad and John take a look at PES2016, a game about getting balls into a goal, but without any cars in sight…this is some kind of madness, humans instead of cars?


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Yoshi’s Woolly World Review

Coming after the likes of Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, two of the best platformers on the Wii U, Yoshi’s Woolly World already had an uphill struggle to try and stand proudly alongside them. And it’s been a bit of a fumble.

Unless you’re dead inside then once you’ve gotten past the “OMG IT LOOKS SOOOOOO CUTE” phase of playing Yoshi, then everything seems fine. Early levels are easy, getting you to grips with the egg mechanic. Working exactly the same as previous games, collecting eggs (or turning enemies into them) then throwing as the curser moves on its own from top to bottom. Sadly the game doesn’t really evolve much as you work your way through the six worlds.

Differences as you progress are only really visual. Yes, all the platformer trademarks are here from ice to fire and the wool visual style really brings them to life, it’s just not particularly interesting. Early levels are incredibly easy, and while the majority of the challenge comes from the amount of collectibles in each level it would be nice to find an additional challenge in reaching the label’s end. It doesn’t help that the levels themselves are far too long. Some are double the size you’d expect to find in other platformers and maybe I’m just impatient, but I’d much prefer a short, but memorable level than a long, padded out one.

As I write this I’m struggling to think of moments that really stood out and I only completed the game a couple of days ago. Aside from the final stage that brings a unique, exploration aspect to the game it’s all so forgettable.

That aside, have I mentioned how beautiful the game looks? More than just an artistic choice, it’s quite clever how it interacts with the environment. Using Yoshi’s tongue to unravel blocks and enemies, yarn eggs to reveal platforms and just the way Yoshi himself transforms his body, from running really fast (legs turning to wheels as he trundles on) to completely unravelling as he catapults himself to the next world. Quite frankly it’s one of the best looking games I’ve seen, not bad for a game on the least powerful console.

The game does try to use its yarn aesthetic to really play around with each level. From enemies firing buttons at you to Yoshi transforming into a variety of vehicles during some rather fun mini levels. It feels like a game that was built around its graphical style. And while obviously graphics aren’t the most important factor in a game, if Woolly World didn’t have this style then it would really have nothing to fall back on.

A bit harsh maybe, as during the final levels it does pick up slightly with some good boss fights and a unique last stage where you’re left wondering where this challenge was earlier. And with five flowers, five pieces of yarn and stamps scattered across every level there is plenty here to keep you occupied but whether you actually want to go through the hassle is another thing entirely.

As it stands, unless you’re a die-hard Nintendo fanatic who will snap up anything put out for the system then you’re going to be left cold with Yoshi’s latest adventure.

Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1 Review

Everyone has their own personal bars for their best and worst games. My own personal worst game of all time was (and note the ‘was’) Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. A game that for me played like the developers had never actually played any of the original games.

Anyway, that has dropped a spot to my second worst game, after being replaced by the awful, nay, beyond awful Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1. A game so bad, I am surprised it even found its way into the wild.

I have played bad games before and usually if they are bad you can get some sense of what the developer was aiming for, you can tell they just couldn’t get it to work as intended and it will have one or two redeeming features.

That is just not the case for Afro Samurai 2, the sequel to the pretty decent if average Afro Samurai released in 2009. So I was pretty interested in playing a follow up. But within a few seconds, I could tell this was going to be bad.

Menus, UI, designs, everything before even the game started appeared second rate at best, as though design wasn’t even thought about and the work experience kid had been asked to cobble something together for homework. So bad that same kid wouldn’t even submit it for his GCSE Graphic Design coursework.

It’s not just the design of the UI that is horrible, they are even broken in a way that just shouldn’t happen in this day and age. Level selecting is a meta-game in itself as getting to the choice you want is a ballache of moving around a poorly designed map.

Then the game starts and it is as ugly as sin. Even if we were in the early 2000’s and playing on a PS2 it would still look ugly. Somehow, it looks worse than the original, which wasn’t pretty to begin with.

The gameplay itself is the worst part though, basic controls are awkward, the fight systems fail to work and despite trying to be influenced by the Arkham series fight mechanics, there is no smoothness to combat at all. There are meant to be combo moves, reversals, different styles and more, but it just feels disjointed.

The different fight styles are a requirement to beat certain characters, but aside from pressing a button to change them, there really feels like there is no connection and no need for this. It is so pointless and the differences so non-existent you can forget that you need to change styles.

The poor combat and movement in itself wouldn’t be so bad (well actually it would) if there was some flow to the game. But again there it falls flat on its face. It has more cut-scenes than all of Hideo Kojima’s games put together.

Yet those cut-scenes make little to no sense, you have a quick battle, move on, look like you are ready for another confrontation and bang! It is a cut-scene that plays out for you. It breaks up the game far too much and if anything tells me that the developers knew they had a bad product on their hands and wanted to be sure players weren’t subjected to too much of it.

Even then, the cut-scenes don’t feel natural and are even broken in places. I had one moment where the dialogue for a cut-scene started playing whilst I was still playing the game a good 30 seconds before the scene loaded.

That is just the tip of the broken iceberg, getting caught on scenery, NPCs not performing as they should, boss battles that just fail to work properly. Music is awful and voice acting is quite possibly the worst I have heard in many years.

Again the things that are broken and half-hearted in this game wouldn’t have been acceptable in a Net Yaroze demo on a Playstation Magazine cover-disk. There has been some awful stuff on Steam’s Greenlight that shouldn’t be allowed on Steam, but then this is released broken and feeling barely 10% into development.

Yet the developers are wanting people to part with £10.99 to play this absolute piece of crap. This for me is close to fraud, a game that had been sent out to be sold by crooks. The worst part is that it is part of a trilogy, that can be bought as a bundle. They want you, the consumer, to buy this and the extra volumes knowing how bad this game is.

I am not having it any other way, than they know just how bad Afro Samurai 2 is and are trying to cheat people out of their money, because at no point does any self respecting developer put crap like this on a marketplace and be proud of what they released.

As I said earlier, I can accept bad games, because at the end of the day bad means different things to different people. I also accept there are some chancers out there who will do asset flips and the like to make a quick buck via the Greenlight service, but when it is a known franchise like this, it is beyond criminal.

Luckily the public have voted with their wallets. Looking at Steam stats, there has been a peak total of just 18 people playing this and I can only hope that those who did part with their hard-earned have used the Steam refund policy to get back their money.

Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 2nd October 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 2nd October (Friday).

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It is a quick look at the charts with a comparison of FIFA and PES (we promise to dispense of the football talk next week) as well as another Konami rant.

It was a bumper week of releases covering LEGO Dimensions, NBA 2K16, Jotun, 80 Days, Albino Lullaby, Concrete Jungle, the worst game in years – Afro Samurai 2, The Escapists: The Walking Dead, Arcana Heart 3 LOVE MAX!!!! and Franchise Hockey Manager 2

Looking ahead we have Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, Rock Band 4, Skyhill and Transformers Devastation

Please give us any feedback or send questions to pr@gamestyle.com (this will change in coming weeks).

This Week’s Top 10

1 FIFA 16
2 DESTINY: THE TAKEN KING
3 FORZA MOTORSPORT 6
4 SKYLANDERS SUPERCHARGERS
5 METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
6 PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER 2016
7 MAD MAX
8 GRAND THEFT AUTO V
9 CALL OF DUTY: GHOSTS
10 LEGO JURASSIC WORLD

Details below on how else to catch this week’s show.


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