Calling Time

I remember it well, how I found myself becoming a games critic, a reviewer, whatever you want to call it. As a member of rllmukforum, I saw another member mention on Twitter that he was playing a game, a game not yet released. I asked him how and he told me he wrote for Gamestyle.

I wanted a piece of that!!

The idea of writing about videogames isn’t something that had even entered my head. You see, I come from a creative background, I wanted to be a graphic designer and despite my training, it was something that, at the time wasn’t happening. I trained to be a print designer, but the web was the future.

At this time I was training myself to learn web design, whilst working in a call center, trying to make ends meet. I had a then 2 year old son and a partner out of work with severe medical conditions. Somehow surviving on £800 a month.

I have always loved games, but with that kind of monthly income, there was no way I could afford games, so the prospect of writing about games and getting the odd freebie sounded great. I had just bought a copy of DiRT 2 (I think I had gift cards or something to buy it) and was told to submit a review and if it was liked I may be able to do more.

I did that and my first review was published and I was part of the Gamestyle team. I did the odd review here and there, got the odd free game and all was good.

Then disaster struck for the site, a major hack, along with various members leaving meant the site was about to say goodbye to existence. So I made the decision to do what I could to save the place. There were some selfish reasons, I still wanted to play free games, but also I grew to love the site and felt that a long standing indie review site, with no advertising, no sponsorship and no pressure from publishers needed to be something that remained.

So I took on the role of handling the PR and running the site on a day to day basis. It was me and two other guys, just doing what we could to keep the ship barely afloat.

Between us, we added stability and all of a sudden we saw growth. I reached out for new writers many of whom would to the odd thing here and there, but couldn’t dedicate the time to offer more. Yet we had enough content to be able to get code from people and get more and more reviews written.

We owe a hell of a lot to Indie Developers, who provided most of our content, but also the likes of Activision, Ubisoft and at the time EA, who were happy to provide of with games such as FIFA, NHL, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, etc.

We added big name titles to our steady stream of Indie games and slowly but surely the site had risen from the grave. We took on more writers, some who stuck and some who didn’t, but we were still getting the content out.

Why am I telling you this? Well, by this time running Gamestyle became almost a full time job, as well as a huge passion project. I wanted to see it grow and become something else.

I am not a visionary by any stretch of the imagination, but it was clear to me, that video content was the future. Not in the sense of pure video reviews, but more like what you were seeing on GiantBomb, GameTrailers, IGN and the like. I wanted to get on that, maybe carve out a niche for Gamestyle to do similar things to those sites.

What I actually wanted was a career in gaming media, to be the UK equivalent to those sites. Along with Steve and Andrew, we started Gamestyle LIVE, a weekly show where we just chatted about games in a casual manner. But it worked, we got some good feedback and despite not having huge numbers, we were having fun.

This led to one of my highest moments for Gamestyle. We had Kyle Bosman on one of the episodes. The guy was and still is a bit of a hero of mine in this field and he agreed to join us for a one off episode, it was an amazing feeling.

Sadly, keeping up with weekly shows became more and more difficult and in the end we decided that none of us could offer the dedication as a group to maintain the schedule, so we put the show on the shelf. A sad time but, hey, it had to be done.

My plan was to somehow get the site making money, make it so I could run the site full time and pay the bills at the same time. We prided ourselves on not having ads or sponsorship, so that wasn’t an option.

Patreon or Kickstarter could be something we look at, allow me to get the right equipment, maybe a studio space and start to do professional output, again whilst being able to do this full time and pay the bills.

The problem was, I couldn’t just ask for the money, I didn’t feel the site was in the right place with the numbers to be able to ask fro donations or subscriptions. We weren’t putting out enough content yet. Also we weren’t names, I am not Jim Sterling, we didn’t have the pulling power of GiantBomb. Who would offer up payments for us. Truth be told, I was scared…

Why? Well as I have said in the past I suffer depression and the thought of taking a risk like that and being flat out rejected felt like it would be the end of me. I honestly don’t think I could have coped emotionally to a failed Kickstarter with ZERO support or a Pateon bringing in £0 a month.

So I struggled on, tried to do Quick Look videos, podcasts and more. All with varying degrees of success. Yet something stood out. I was the only one who was putting in the time needed to run the site.

That isn’t a complaint, far from it in fact. I couldn’t be more impressed by the support of Steve, Andrew, John, Adam, Gareth, Stacey, Jon and everyone else who chipped in. But they all had other commitments and there was no way they could do more than what they did. Hell without them the site wouldn’t exist.

We had a period where it looked like things may just take off for us. We were getting some amazing numbers, but unfortunately there was no way to sustain it. Maybe that was the time to do Kickstarter, maybe not. The fact is I didn’t try it and I will never know.

But it was after this, that I realized something had to give. My ‘actual’ job at the time was failing to pay me and I had barely any money coming in and debt was and still is piling up. Running the site to try and maintain numbers was taking more and more time and having a severe effect on me.

I was playing loads of games, but I found I wasn’t actually getting to enjoy them. Sure I could enjoy them from a critical point of view, but I wasn’t enjoying myself. It was the same with the Quick Looks and the Podcasts. I enjoyed doing them, but it was the editing and posting that took a toll.

But I love the site and I was doing what I could to keep content flowing and making sure the Gamestyle name could continue.

Still something wasn’t right in me. I wasn’t getting the enjoyment. I was happy enough to do Gamestyle without getting income from it, but when I was failing to get paid for my job at the same time, it just became harder and harder to cope with.

So about two months ago, the chance of paid work came about and I had a tough decision to make. Well the decision was actually easy, as I am a father and I have a family I love. Paid work had to become the priority, so Gamestyle had to become part time, I had no choice.

Emotionally it was hard, as I felt I would be letting down those who put their time and effort in. Not just those at present, but also those from the site’s past.

I have a major issue about myself. I honestly believe I have the reverse Midas touch, whereby everything I touch turns to failure. It may not be instant, but somehow because of me it will fail. That is the kind of person I am.

Gamestyle though, for some reason or another was a different story, it made me feel good. Especially when I took a chance and saved the site. But in doing so I felt like I was failing myself and my family. Sure I enjoyed doing what I did, but again the lack of income was taking its toll on my life around me.

So last month I had to decide…all or nothing.

I never wanted to do this, but I have to leave Gamestyle, I have no choice. If I put my all into it, financially I am screwed and my family suffer. If I do the odd bit for Gamestyle on the side, then the site suffers.

So it is with a heavy heart I need to call time on Gamestyle for myself and perhaps any thoughts I had of making it in the industry on the media side. My family comes first and they are the most important thing in the world to me.

I didn’t take the decision lightly, because I honestly believe with the right captain steering the ship, then Gamestyle could become bigger than what it is, but that captain isn’t me. I don’t have the talent, I am simply not good enough.

I don’t know what the future for the site is, but I know there will be someone out there who can keep it going and maybe even take it to the next level. That person isn’t me though. I have to prioritize and at the end of the day, head has to rule over heart.

I have written hundreds of reviews, many articles, recorded tons of videos and podcast and all in all had an amazing time. I have met wonderful people, many whom I can now call friends. I have done things that even a short year ago I never felt I could and Gamestyle was a major part in fighting my depression.

I won’t lie, I do have tears as I write this. Because after nearly seven years, it is hard not to think I am losing something important in my life. My family even know what it means to me, as my partner tried to think of ways we could still make it work.

I am seeing the year out, because I think I owe the site that much, but I will start 2016 without Gamestyle in my life.

Everyone who has been involved at any point, I thank you. I wish I could go on, but I simply cannot. I wish everyone who is still involved all the luck in the world moving forward and maybe, someday out paths will cross again.

Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void Review

Since getting a decent PC, I have tried to get into a much wider range of game genres. Many I have loved, others not so much. In years past I have looked upon Blizzard’s output with a mix of envy and relief.

I understood they were, in general, great games, but I had heard about the way they will take over your life. One of those is World of Warcraft, of which I am yet to peer into the rabbit hole. The other is Starcraft, a game that has scared me, one that to me felt impenetrable. However I was given the opportunity to review the Legacy of the Void standalone expansion, so what the hell.

As a disclaimer, this isn’t going to be an in depth review, fans of the series aren’t going to come here and get the best opinion. This is more a look from the outside, from a complete beginner, not only to the series, but still to the genre.

One thing that jumped out to me, was that Blizzard no how to do story, even if the writing is pretty bad on the whole. The cut-scenes and character interaction in said cut-scenes are played brilliantly and I was immediately sucked into the world.

Truth be told, I was taken aback by the single player content, as I always assumed that Starcraft was purely an online competitive game for the ultra dedicated (more on that later), but I was wrong and the single player is deep and plentiful.

Whilst the game does a good job of introducing you to the mechanics, it is clear that this is something that has been produced for fans of the recent series and those with a knowledge of the genre. Now that isn’t to say I was hit by an impenetrable shield, that would stop me playing in my tracks, but it did require me to stop and start a lot and look things up externally as I tried to get a grip on things.

This is far from a casual game, but once you get your head around the basic mechanic, you can start to play and complete missions. Sure you won’t be beasting anything or getting the top rewards, but it is surprisingly simple when you break it down.

The trick of course, is to take those basic mechanics and manipulate them in your favour to get the best out of any situation and that is where I really came unstuck. You can perform basic actions after a short introduction, but as soon as the complexity of tasks increases, you can find yourself feeling like a 2 year old tasked with understanding quantum fusion as the last hope to save the world.

I honestly felt lost, even very early on. The missions I did complete I literally staggered through, hoping for the best. Legacy of the Void isn’t kind to people like me, but nor should it be. I am sure there are games out there that act like baby’s first RTS, but this shouldn’t be one and nor is it.

I wanted to give the game a fair chance though and I did spend many hours persevering, trying to learn and improve, because any frustrations and faults were laid firmly and my feet. And guess what? When I went back to the start, I was then able to think a bit differently, try new solutions and improve on earlier results.

 

I actually got some enjoyment from knowing that I wasn’t just failing constantly for no reason and I was actually learning, albeit at a slow rate. I will go back even after this review and play some more, because I can see the hook and I can see why this is such a beloved franchise and I would love to get more from it.

Yet the single player isn’t what makes Starcraft one of the biggest E-Sports in the world,where prize money is at staggering levels. Where players can turn pro and earn a living from it. That is down to the online stuff.

So what the hell, I decided to jump in and see what it was all about…

Yeah! That didn’t last long. Before I even knew what I was doing, I had lost. I would try again and I would lose again. Again and again.

This is not a world for me, this is something for a very special breed. This was like the lovely 70 year old lady in the library, who loves her stories, deciding to make a run at the NHL. It just isn’t going to happen.

There is no way, that I, in my mid-thirties can even think of becoming competitive in this world. It is too late for me. I have other responsibilities and cannot dedicate the time needed to even think of winning games.

So that became a short lived experience. But thanks to Blizzard’s care and attention to making sure there is a solid single player option, I will still get a lot of enjoyment from this game and I may even go back through the series and pick up some of the earlier stuff.

It isn’t love at first sight, but I think myself and Starcraft could become good acquaintances over time!

Transformers Devastation Review

Oh Transformers, what a checkered history we have. When I was a child I loved you, the cartoon, the toys, anything I could get my hands on. Then later in life you were sullied by Micheal Bay. A man who just cannot make a film that has a decent story and is just full of explosions and set pieces. He ruined your name for me. That wasn’t helped too, by a series of poor to average videogame tie ins.

Anyway, when news came that Platinum were to make a Transformers game, I wanted to dare to dream, dream that a top quality Transformers game could be made. But I have been burnt before so my expectations were a little tempered, despite it being Platinum who have a fantastic track record.

My fears were totally misplaced though, as Transformers Devastation is an absolute joy to behold. It takes the Transformers universe, using the Generations line, which covers various different eras of the franchise. The visuals are based on the original cartoons, with writing from those behind the comics.

That all blends wonderfully with the traditional Platinum gameplay that makes the likes of Bayonetta and Vanquish such wonderful games. Platinum even showed they can work with existing IP, when they did Legend of Korra, which despite getting a luke warm reception was still great fun to play.

For me, what makes Transformers Devastation work, is that there is no attempts to re-write the genre, both in terms of gameplay and the source material. Platinum have been incredibly respectful of the history of the franchise and built a game around that, rather than trying to shoehorn elements that could work against each other.

The influence from other Platinum titles is clear to see, with the main one being the use of Witch-Time from Bayonetta, where a well timed dodge will slow down time and allow you unleash hell on your foes. However this is a Transformers games, so it does need some characteristics of its own and boy do Platinum put this to good use.

As any self respecting kid from the 80s will know, Transformers are robots in disguise and this is well represented in combat. When in robot form, you can go at your enemy in traditional Platinum combat ways, yet you can also change to vehicle form and use that to attack too, adding a whole new level to the combat mechanics.

Being a Platinum game, means that the combat is actually very simple and allows you to string together combos and fight multiple enemies like a boss. You even get to use various weapons which can be integrated in the hand to hand combat, or used for taking down enemies specifically designed and placed to make use of you weapons.

The are less options in combat when compared to something like Bayonetta, which initially feels a little disappointing, but after a short time with the game, you find it works as you start to master the various attacks and combos and use those to your advantage. If anything having a smaller move set works well here.

I was worried that the game might overplay the transforming, just so it could show of what the Autobots can do, but I actually found the that balance was done just right. There are some enemies that require you to switch between forms, but they are strategically placed and not overdone. Everywhere else it it purely optional.

It could have been very tempting to make Devastation an overly easy IP cash-in, where you go through the motions and have the game look pretty, but the balance in difficulty is well implemented and the difficulty curve is well balanced from the opening level to the final battle.

You get the options to use all the various Autobots to fight and each one feel different to use and you’ll soon find your overall favourite. Again I was worried it may be just reskins over the the same move-sets, but this is far from the case. Optimus Prime will feel completely different to Bumblebee for example.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. There are some issues, such as some uninspiring level design, that can feel a bit limited from time to time, as well as the game being super short. The main story can be completed in 5-6 hours and whilst extra plays are encouraged it isn’t one that demands your attention.

That being said though, the overall package is decent and Platinum have made a solid Platinum game, yet they have made a truly fantastic Transformers game and I look forward to seeing if they can follow this up with a sequel in the future.

Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

It’s hard to imagine that Lara Croft has been part of my life for just about 20 years now. I remember her debut in 1996 and as a 15 year old boy, I was blown away by what I was seeing on screen and the talk in the playgrounds about this new character and her wonderful game.

I even remember the chatter about the various cheats that were possible, especially ones that could make Lara naked in the game. Due to having no internet or anything like that and being rather naive, I am not ashamed to admit that I tried the cheats I heard and even made some up myself for some playground cred.

The years however haven’t been kind on Lara, with the games gradually getting worse and even becoming a bit of a joke, yet Lara herself remained and still remains one of the greatest icons ever to emerge from videogames. Up there with the likes of Mario, she is one the few characters that even non gaming fans could name instantly.

The Tomb Raider reboot in 2013, which was technically the second official reboot, did a lot to restore the faith in a Tomb Raider game and despite some questionable claims by Crystal Dynamics around the characterization of Lara, especially how she would handle killing, the game on the whole was a real return to form and probably the best game overall in the franchise. I’ll touch on the characterization further into this review.

There were other issues in the 2013 release that felt off, such as the lack of actual tombs to raid, which is one of the first things that has been fixed in Rise of the Tomb Raider. There are still the big set-pieces, the stalking, stealth and murder, but those have been dialed back a fraction to allow for more exploration and basic puzzle solving, bring Lara back to what she was born to do…explore and discover.

Rather than trying to match the darling of the last few years in the Uncharted series, Crystal Dynamics have made the right decision to go back to the roots of Tomb Raider and the game feels all the better for it. Because, whilst there is a constant threat from the enemy, you feel like you have the time to explore what is around and discover new things.

There is a lot to discover too, with artifacts, scrolls and much, much more spread very generously across the various maps which Lara gets to play in. Now whilst I am not usually a fan of collectibles, usually because they are hidden so much, I can never be bother to look, here most you can come across with ease and the fun is working out how to get to them, but very rarely having to ignore your current path. It makes you want to check them out.

Rise of the Tomb Raider still contains one of my biggest pet hates in many modern AAA games. The need to add RPG elements to the progression. Doing certain things in the game, finding new areas, learning by discovery, etc will all earn Lara XP which she can use to level up her base skills. Now I get why this is a thing in some games, but for me it is not needed in a Tomb Raider, it just feels out of place. Lara should be Lara and that is that.

Now this is different to the upgrading of tools and weapons, which I actually do like, but the notion that Lara can become better skilled in a short space of time or learn whole new languages from looking at a few paintings, nah that isn’t for me. I don’t like it in Assassin’s Creed games and the like and I think it fits even worse here.

I can understand though why this has been done, as Rise of the Tomb Raider shares a lot in common with a Metroidvania, where you can see ways to access new areas, but won’t have the right tools and skills to get there until later. I like that, because I love Metroidvania games, but it is something that would have worked just as well by finding and upgrading tools, rather than learning new skills via XP.

The raiding of tomb are pretty much optional, but rather cleverly by going off mission and completing them, you will get very handsomely rewarded and will earn some rather nifty new kit to help you along the way, especially when trying to access the aforementioned cut off areas.

Each tomb will take anywhere between 15-45 minutes to complete and there are a good number of them dotted around. It allows the devs to strike a nice balance between keeping the story moving forward and going back to the franchise’s roots.

Lara, new modern Lara, is the best version of Lara yet. In the original games, despite the aim being to have a strong female lead role-model type character, she became anything but. She was more sex symbol than she was strong lead and looking back, it was almost embarrassing how much sexuality was used to push Lara to young adolescent males. It worked and it worked very well, so you cannot blame anyone for that, especially in the era it was.

But we are in a different world and whilst 2013 Lara looked the part and felt more like a real adventurer who dressed properly for he role, rather than trying to be sexy, her characterization was simply off. She was built up to have real emotions, that she was a survivor and would struggle with the need to kill to survive. It all sounded very promising, maybe giving you some moral choices to make along the way.

Yet the only time this happened was during her first kill, which was pretty much done via a cut-scene. Then it was off on a murdering spree without a care in the world. It was a noble aim, but the build up to the release and with this being a big selling point, it was very disappointing in the end.

Lara can still be a killing machine throughout Rise of the Tomb Raider, but this time there isn’t any claims of Lara having to toy with her own emotions about it, or any such nonsense and instead the writers have focused on other aspects of Lara and a much more interesting overall story arc.

One that not only pushes the story along at a solid pace, but introduces some nice back story about Lara and her relationships from childhood with her father. I would have been happy to have seen more of this with it being expanded on at some point. However, it does seem lessons were learned from the last game and this feels much better for it.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is, for me at least one of the surprises of the years. I was expecting a solid game, one that just gave me more of the same as a follow up to the 2013 release. Yet what we got was a game that improved on the good and cleared away much of the bad, to produce a title that deserves its place among the best Lara Croft games over the previous 20 years.

Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 6th November 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 6th November (Friday).

 Listen on Soundcloud

As usual we start with a quick look at the charts.

Then it is a very look back at recent releases, including Fallout 4, Call of Duty Black Ops III, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Binding of Isaac Afterbirth, Superbeat Xonic and Dovetail Games’ Euro Fishing.

We think Brad may like Fallout 4 by the way!

Then it is a look ahead to Starwars Battlefront, Sword Art Online, Rodea The Sky Soldier and Barbie and her Sisters: Puppy Rescue.

Please give us any feedback or send questions to [email protected] (this will change in coming weeks).

This Week’s Top 10

1 CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS III
2 FIFA 16
3 NEED FOR SPEED
4 HALO 5: GUARDIANS
5 ASSASSIN’S CREED: SYNDICATE
6 MINECRAFT: STORY MODE
7 WWE 2K16
8 GRAND THEFT AUTO V
9 LEGO DIMENSIONS
10 CALL OF DUTY: GHOSTS

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


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Super Meat Boy Review

A few years ago I developed quite an obsession with the Nintendo puzzle game Digidrive. Every night I’d get home from work, fire up my gorgeous metallic green Gameboy Micro and get lost for hours in the tiny, crisp screen, blasting stark, minimalist graphics directly into my eyeballs. As much as I loved the game (hold onto your hotpants, but I think it’s a better puzzler than Tetris), it was the combination of hardware and software that really won my heart. They just worked together so perfectly; form, function, aesthetics and mechanics combining to make a match made in gaming heaven.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m hunched over a 360 pad, punching the air one minute and turning it blue the next, in an attempt to reunite a cube of flesh with a girl made out of bandages. Super Meat Boy was among the first of a new wave of indie games that now seem so ubiquitous it’s difficult to remember a time when they didn’t grace every release schedule. Using an (at the time) original, retro-inspired graphics style and marrying it to a brutally hard platformer with a dark, wicked sense of humour, I was utterly consumed and it dominated my playtime for weeks. It struck me as the kind of game that the naughty kids at Nintendo would make, if they weren’t cowering behind their screens terrified that Miyamoto would launch a chair at them for making something that didn’t feature magic triangles or moustaches. It was compulsive, vicious and funny; but stuck in the living room; tied to a pad and screen that somehow didn’t feel like the right fit.

And then we have the Vita; the good-looking, bastard son of the PlayStation family sent off to die alone and forgotten in the cold. Truly the Jon Snow of gaming. Big name releases dried up completely nearly two years ago but it has managed to carve itself a niche as the home of JRPGs, visual novels and indie titles. It’s a truly wonderful machine that’s a joy to hold, beautiful to look at and with a varied, unique library. It’s almost the portable Xbox Live Arcade machine I always dreamed of. But there has always been one game obviously missing from its roster. One game so obviously suited to that sexy screen. One game whose bite sized, platforming brilliance has been crying out for a portable version.

Well, not any longer! They’ve only gone and put bloody Meat Boy on it!

I’m probably in a minority of one here, but the Super Meat Boy on Vita announcement trumped Shenmue 3 and the Final Fantasy 7 Remake as my best gaming news of the year. Stop me if this sounds familiar, but it’s something I’ve wanted for years and all but completely given up hope on. So it’s with some trepidation that, hands shaking and heart in mouth, I fire it up for the first time. Please don’t fuck this up. Please don’t fuck this up. Please don’t fuck this up…

Hooray! They haven’t fucked it up! Meat Boy explodes onto Vita with all of the manic, high-speed action he’s famous for and he’s lost very little of its spark and charm in the intervening years. From the very first moment you launch the game and his cheeky little smashed-up face splashes across the Vita’s gorgeous screen it feels like this is home; that this is where he was always supposed to be. When held inches away from your face, the bold, bright cartoon visuals have never looked better and the bite-sized, quick-fire structure is well-suited to the portable format. It’s been obvious for years that they should get it on, and now that they’ve finally got together, they really do make a beautiful couple. They’re very nearly perfect for one another.

Yep, sadly, there are couple of caveats here. Firstly, it will become immediately obvious to any fans of the original that the soundtrack has been replaced. This is most jarring the first time you play and the title screen roars ‘SUUUUUPER MEEEEEAT BOOOOY!’ over the top of a rather pedestrian number which seems a bit like a dodgy cover version by someone who played the game once back in 2010. Personally, I think the main theme is the only major misstep; and the rest of the tracks are pretty good and occasionally even improve on what came before. It will bug some traditionalists; and following one of the finest original soundtracks in years was always going to be herculean task; but really it’s not that bad at all and deserves a chance to be appreciated on its own terms.

The only other major issue is that this game more than any other highlights the closeness of the right hand stick to the Vita’s face buttons. I can’t say this has really ever bothered me too much before (which in itself is odd as I must have played hundreds of hours of quick-reflex stuff on the machine) but something about having the jump on X and your thumb occasionally knocking the stick can make the game feel unfair frustrating rather than fun frustrating. Annoyingly you can’t map jump to any other button, as moving it to either circle or triangle would solve this problem almost instantly. I’ve hardly got huge trucker sausage fingers either so I suspect this is a far bigger problem for those who don’t have dainty digits like mine.

Mind you, this is hardly the game for those lacking dexterity. I think the reason I have always preferred this to genre stablemate Trials is that where the latter game rewards patience and a delicate touch, Meat Boy is a lot more about going hell-for-leather and making split second decisions. It can seem almost impossibly difficult, and for those less belligerent as I or without quite so many platforming hours under their belt, I expect the love affair will be short-lived. The dark and light world mechanic (where a tougher version of a previously completed level is unlocked if you get to Bandage Girl within a certain time) does provide a cleverly plotted difficulty curve and there are always plenty of options to get involved if you’re stuck. But you’ll also come up against levels like the notoriously difficult ‘The Kid’ warp zone which was surely designed by a sociopathic spike fetishist in a huff. If struggling with a single screen of platforming for two hours doesn’t sound like your idea of fun then there is the possibility that this isn’t the game for you.

Oddly for a game that’s only a few years old, Meat Boy does feel very much of his time. This isn’t a huge problem but the game does have the distinct flavour of the turn of the decade before we had the retro-themed Indie overload that we have today. The numerous titles that have appeared in the interim have dampened the impact somewhat and it’s no longer the trailblazer it once was. It’s like when every critically acclaimed T.V crime drama was suddenly created in Scandinavia. Yeah, they’re all good but sitting through a BBC4 repeat of The Killing isn’t very appealing either, no matter how snazzy the jumpers are. I feel like I’ve played so many rock-hard, frustrate-a-thons in the meantime can I really stomach going back through one of the originators again, no matter how much I love it?

Probably not, but then what the portability has done is changed the style of the play somewhat. I’m unlikely to spend weeks exclusively going through it again but whenever I pick up the Vita and see the chunky fella staring back at me I suspect I’ll be tempted to fire it up for a level or two. It’s now a tasty snack; a bite-sized sausage roll rather than an entire suckling pig; and it’s pretty neat how a simple switch of platform has changed my approach. The game has always been suited to this kind of play and I’ve found that despite its ridiculous difficulty, it’s not the kind of thing that you can really lose the knack for. Less than an hour of being reacquainted I was hurtling along, frantically slapping against the floor as if I’d never been away. But then the beauty of this game has always been in its exquisitely designed controls; the arc of the jump, the inertia, the slight stickiness against the walls and the soft decent. It’s the kind of thing that once it sinks into your head and fingers it will never really go away.

So, Super Meat Boy on Vita just about scrapes into the pantheon of games and machines that seem like a perfect fit. Like Tetris on the Gameboy, Frequency on the PS2 and Digidrive on the Micro (seriously, look it up, it’s called Intersect on the Nintendo eShop, I promise you won’t regret it) once you’ve had a go it’s difficult to imagine playing on anything else. The only slight danger of course is that in holding the game in your hands there’s a chance you’ll launch the machine through a window when things get a bit frisky. It’s an excellent game on a magnificent machine; a Kobe beef steak served on a silver platter. And although Meat Boy may not be as rare as he once was but there’s no doubting that his long-awaited arrival on a handheld is very well-done.

Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 6th November 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 6th November (Friday).

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It is a quick look at the charts which have had a bit of a mix up thanks to some of the new releases

Then it is a very look back at recent releases, including Halo 5: Guardians, Guitar Hero Live, WWE 2K16, Need For Speed, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and more.

Then it is a look ahead to Persona 4: Dancing All Night, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Star Wars Battlefront and a little game by the name of Fallout 4.

Please give us any feedback or send questions to [email protected] (this will change in coming weeks).

This Week’s Top 10

1 HALO 5: GUARDIANS
2 ASSASSIN’S CREED: SYNDICATE
3 FIFA 16
4 WWE 2K16
5 MINECRAFT: STORY MODE
6 GRAND THEFT AUTO V
7 UNCHARTED: THE NATHAN DRAKE COLLECTION
8 WATCH DOGS
9 LEGO DIMENSIONS
10 LEGO JURASSIC WORLD

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


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Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Review

Are we at a point with the Assassin’s Creed series where fatigue has well and truly set in? Well after the mess that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, it seemed that way. Being a yearly franchise just doesn’t feel like the right thing, as bugs were rife in the last game and it was an absolute average affair, even if you discount those bugs.

So it was with some trepadation that I started Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Sure, it had new characters and a different setting, but it is still an Assassin’s Creed game and if I am being honest, I really wasn’t excited for the release.

Yet here I am writing a review for what I consider the best of the series to date, I’d like to sat that this is because this Assassin’s Creed feels different, that is has new mechanics that set it apart from all the other titles. However that isn’t the case.

Mechanically this is as Assassin’s Creed as you can get, to the point you can pick it up and if you have played any of the previous games, you will feel very much at home. Much like most Ubisoft titles, you have a well realised open-world that comprises of main story missions and a ton of side quests and discoveries to keep you occupied.

Combat is nicely done, mixing up close quarters combat and stealth assassinations. At the same time though, the options you have to approach each mission feel a lot more open, allowing you to go in and choose your own approach. Take things as carefully and stealthily as you want, or approach the situation head-on. Both ways have their pros and cons but they both work well if that is your decision.

One thing that does stand out is the AI feels a lot better this time around, far from perfect, but a definite improvement. You do need to be on your toes at all times and slip-ups can be costly.

I’ll come back to combat soon, but I must mention the real reason this is the best in the series to date. That comes down to the characters, especially the two leads, Evie and Jacob Frye. The twins are superbly written and wonderfully acted. The thing that stands out the most is Evie herself and the way she is portrayed.

Games have had a long history of misrepresenting women and their place in the medium and is something that has been discussed at length in various places and something I don’t wish to dwell on for too long. Yet a lot of credit deserves to go Ubisoft’s way, especially after the criticism they rightfully got for Unity.

Just looking at Evie, you can tell from the outset she has been given equal status to her brother. There is nothing sexual about her appearance, she is dressed in a way that is practical to her profession, rather than for titillation, she is also treated with respect by her peers, rather than being used as a plot point to make others seem more powerful.

The interactions between herself and Jacob are well handled and treated like they are any other brother and sister, often at each other’s throats, but with that overall respect and love for each other. Jacob is a lot more cock-sure and is always looking for a more in your face approach to things, whereas Evie is a lot more careful and has a different set of skills.

Yet this isn’t a case of Evie being pushed to the side and only being able to the the less hands on stuff, as she can fight and fight as well as anyone. It never feels like you are playing a role that is specific to a women and it just happens to be a women who is part of the game.

It’s not just in the main characters where respect is given, there are gay characters, obese characters, trans-gender characters and more. Many of which are vital to the game’s story. Yet attention isn’t ever drawn to those characters for those things. They are just characters in a story and they are really well written too.

I never though I would be championing an Assassin’s Creed game for taking a mature approach to how a game handles people of many different walks of life, that doesn’t try to pigeon-hole anyone and simply treats them as human, but here we are.

Such is it the case that Ubisoft has listened to critics, is the loss of the merging with prostitutes to evade capture, which considering this is 1880’s London feel a little bizarre, as if my history knowledge is correct, then this is the one game where their inclusion could make sense.

London is beautiful too. Well it is dark and grimy but there is no denying that the artists at Ubisoft have done a great job in fleshing out London of the 1800’s and making it just feel alive. Whilst it isn’t a perfect one to one vision of London, the recognizable areas feel like they are just that.

It feels wonderful at times just taking it all in, climbing buildings and looking at London from the rooftops and that moment when you reach the top of Big Ben is just magical and one of those awe inspiring moments that you may have had at the start of Fallout 3, or when crossing into Mexico in Red Dead Redemption.

There are still bugs, but they honestly feel like they are less apparent than they were in Unity and in my time with the game, there were none that were game-breaking, but obviously your mileage may vary. So I won’t claim this is a completely bug-free experience.

Overall though, after the disaster that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, this is a true return to form for the series and for me Syndicate stands alone as the best of the lot to date.