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.

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.

Lost Dimension Review

The world now faces total destruction… after being suddenly attacked from out of the blue with half of it being destroyed in an instant. An agent of the coming apocalypse appears issuing an ultimatum “kill me within 13 days or die”. The only ones who are capable of stopping this are the ‘gifted’ – a group of teens with special powers who swiftly have the fate of the world thrust into their hands. In all honesty it sounds like the typical anime ‘teens with super powers’ trope but it really does manage to transcend that stereotype as not one character is overpowered in any way – they are relatively normal humans that each have a gift. Their powers range from levitation, pyrokinesis, precognition, super strength and the ability to copy anyone else’s abilities.

You awake at the bottom of a tower, with no memories of how you got there… the only thing that you do know is that 11 other supposed comrades surround you and that you must climb to the top of the tower and stop the man otherwise known as ‘the end’ from firing his arsenal of nukes and destroying the rest of the world. Sounds simple, right? Wrong… the caveat is that there are traitors amongst your ranks.

Overall, this serves as the primary plot device and I have to admit that the traitor system is quite innovative and the way in which you have to sniff out the traitors is engaging but not impossible – the main character, Sho has the premonition ability and he can also hear other team member’s most private and deepest thoughts, by utilising this and diving into the inner depths of a character’s psyche. This means he can figure out who the traitor is and influence the rest of the team on who they should vote for in one of the many judgement rounds that you are besieged with at the end of each floor.

This involves the team voting for one of them to effectively be killed off where they will be erased from this world, dissolving into absolute nothingness, leaving behind only their ‘will’ – a usable item, so for example if your healer turns out to be the traitor and you vaporise them, then one of the other characters can equip their ‘will’ and use their abilities so you won’t be without healing for the rest of the game. Interspersed throughout the dungeon climbing, it is possible to bolster the trust of each team member by raising their camaraderie level as you talk with them and learn more about their situation, the way they feel about things and what they plan to do in the future (if they survive.. that is).

The plot had me hooked. Who is ‘the end’? Why is he doing this? And who is the traitor this round? I hurriedly played the game until its conclusion as I so desperately wanted to know… only to find out that it does require a couple of play-throughs to reveal the true ending. Second play-throughs are much easier however, as you carry across your already existing camaraderie and you are automatically given gift xp so you can start with some abilities.

Lost Dimension itself is half a visual novel and half a tactical RPG. From a visual novel standpoint, the animation is rendered in a way which makes it appear almost 3D, it is sublimely crisp and clear and the transitions between each character are smooth although the dialogue can be slightly jarring at times when you start losing characters.

The other main half of the game is the tactical battles, they are simple in appearance but are quite challenging as they have a tendency to occasionally throw you straight into the deep end. The battles are taken in turns between your team of 6 and however many enemies are present. Your team can each move within a set radius of their original starting point, if any enemies are in range they can then attack – but beware as the enemies will usually retaliate with a counter-attack if they can. The main tactic that you’ll need to both equally utilise and beware of in order to win is the assist mechanic where any characters that are within range of each other will assist their ally in their attack. For example: If Sho attacks an enemy and two other characters are nearby, not only will Sho attack the enemy – but his two allies will as well. This can lead to some incredibly powerful combos that will allow you to pound the enemy into oblivion.

Sound during the battles is superb and I thought that the song which played during the final boss battle was quite pleasing as well as being motivational – I’d definitely want to put it on my MP3 player. There is no Japanese voice over available, although the English voice acting is not too bad for once. There are a few slightly strange quirks with this though, for example one of the characters speaks with a fake English accent which is slightly odd as she can’t seem to work out if she’s pretending to be in the middle of a Victorian tea party or in the east end of London “Care for some tea, mate?”. She speaks like this because she thinks it sounds cute which is a bit hmm… I’ll just scratch my non-existent beard on that one.

Overall, this is an excellent tactical J-RPG let down only by a slightly anti-climactic ending. But it still has its charms and is well worth playing so go on… get lost in another dimension!

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation Review

This is the best Hyperdimenson Neptunia game out there so far  – there I’ve said it. If this is your particular poison then run out to the front lines and grab a copy and prepare to Nep your way into oblivion for what may seem like the 100th time this year.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation starts with a firm boot to the head where all of the Goddesses (CPU’s) are attempting to rid themselves of Neptune by beating her to a pulp so that they can take over Gamindustri once and for all. This inadvertently starts off a chain reaction which leads to Neptune being sucked into a portal and then falling hilariously face first into a 1980’s tinted version of Gamindustri.

After a dose of re-orientation to this new and seemingly outdated land (but not before helping Neptune acquire her transformational powers again), it is determined that in order to return Neptune to her own dimension, she must raise the shares of Neptunia sufficiently enough so that a portal can be opened and in any Neptunia game this can only mean one thing: an epic quest fest.

In the mean time, she plays along with the CPU’s of this alternate world and gradually re-discovers her old friends as well as making some new ones. Enter Plutia – a welcome addition to the cast who initially starts off as the only CPU for Planeptune. At the onset she comes across as being a complete and utter airhead. However, in her HDD form her personality does a complete switch and she turns into the sadomasochist otherwise known as ‘Sadie’ – this helps to create some of the most amusing scenes in the game.

The whole premise is to essentially get Neptune home and in one piece whilst traversing the console wars of the 80’s and 90’s, battling monsters and avoiding the evil machinations of the Seven Sages who will do almost anything to try and eliminate the CPU’s and control Gamindustri themselves. Along the way there are also a multitude of quests to complete, dungeons to explore, special monsters to smash, items to gather and plans to unveil.

Characters level up in the usual way, although they can also have their skills and stats enhanced by effectively upgrading themselves with plans that can be found. Plans apply not only to characters but to almost everything in the game, dungeons can be changed, weapons and items discovered and monsters strengthened or weakened. So it’s imperative that you utilise plans effectively.

The lily system also makes a return – characters who fight together will eventually find true love together. Maybe not quite… but they will both become stronger if they are coupled together, one in the front and one in the rear – seriously! The higher each character’s lily rank the more abilities they will each gain when in one another’s sweet embrace.

Most of the previous game mechanics are left intact or are very similar – Stella’s dungeon (a roguelike mini-game that consists of Stella endlessly climbing a huge tower in search of loot) also makes a return. Combo skills are the basic attacks that are utilised in battle and they can also be heavily customised to your specific tastes or elemental preference. Gradually you’ll unlock more slots which can result in some quite impressive combo moves. The usual ream of skills is also present along with a wide array of challenges that increase character stats and unlock various upgrades the more that are completed.

In order to combat the EXE drive abuse that was the optimum strategy for the last game, HDD mode is now tied to the amount of SP that you have. SP is restored by hitting monsters and whilst this is good in theory, the rush attacks give you a lot more SP than any other kind of attack so a lot of the time, you’ll simply be hammering rush attacks and then unleashing either your special moves or EXE drive. This means it has simply swapped one unbalanced tactic for another. Bosses or stronger mobs do at least require some more thought as you have to break their armour down first. The battle system, whilst good could easily have been a bit deeper and tactical.

The dungeons are typical Neptunia fare and I’ve no doubt that you’ll have seen a few of them already if you’ve played any game in this series before and this is where the game falls down slightly with re-used dungeons, monsters, textures and music all beginning to seem a bit too familiar with most of them having been almost copied and pasted from the 2nd game. Graphically, the colour palette is energetic and as vivid as usual and all of the models do look quite sharp on the PS Vita with absolutely no slowdown experienced.

Overall, the dialogue is quite interesting and the characters know how to poke fun at themselves and the game industry as a whole. However, they are in desperate need of an editor as the cut-scenes are overly long and often tend to have a bit too much pointless waffle included. There are indeed many subtle nods to the console wars throughout various eras and the differences between them.

The soundtrack has quite a light hearted upbeat tempo which suits the game quite well (as it is after all intended to be an adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously). For all intents and purposes, given that the characters are almost 100% clichés and the plot is filled with a ton of video game references and cultural in-jokes I shouldn’t have liked this… but as always and once again, it turned out to be quite a juicy guilty pleasure.

Steins;Gate Review

A visual novel, it’s hard to describe what you do in Steins;Gate as gameplay. There are moments where you get to reply to certain people through text messages, but other than that you’re along for the ride. And what a ride it is.

Playing as Rintaro Okabe, a self-proclaimed mad scientist, Okabe accidentally develops a way of sending text messages back in time. Sending these messages in turn means being able to change the past. And while the world changes around him, Okabe is the only one who remembers sending the messages and remembers the world before it changed.

Time travel is a tricky thing to get right. As I’ve recently come off Life is Strange, as enjoyable as I’m finding that game, it plays very loose with its time travel laws. Steins;Gate is the opposite. So much thought appears to have gone into the way time travel works that it’s a little mind melting.

Okay, if you showed the story to an actual scientist then it may fall apart quite spectacularly, but to the average Joe it feels believable. Conversations are filled with talks of various time travel methods, worm holes, paradoxes and the like. The excellent dialogue plays a huge part in this also, the translation team definitely did a fantastic job. Even SERN and the Large Hadron Collider play an integral part in the story.

And what a story it is. As already said, the only interaction the player has is with text messages. When Okabe receives a message he’s able to pull up his phone and select specifically highlighted words, these words acting as a trigger to send a reply. More than a throwaway thing, what you say in each message does play a part in the story, as it alters the course with six different endings. However, from what I’ve discovered it seems impossible to find your way to the True Ending without looking it up in a guide. Or being incredibly, incredibly lucky.

If there’s one complaint I have with the story is that it can sometimes have a few pacing issues. There are moments during the tech heavy discussion that you just want the main story to progress, but instead there’s a lot of standing around and discussing everything from time paradoxes to cosplay.

But making this more forgivable is that the majority of characters are just so enjoyable to be around. Okabe’s sidekick Daru could be considered a loveable perv, then there’s fellow scientist Kurisu who refuses to put up with Okabe’s nonsense. This may seem blasphemous to people who’ve played the game, but the only character who started to grate was Mayuri. The rather dumb friend of Okabe, her incredible stupidity may seem like gleeful innocence to most, but it was a little too much for me to take. But maybe that’s just because I have a cold, dead heart.

As a game that is purely story it’s hard to go into too much detail, but oh boy, does it go some wonderful and, at times, dark places. It will have you hooked till its conclusion (and then you’ll play it again to get another ending!).

Steins;Gate then is yet another great game to arrive on the sadly unloved Vita. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but if you’re craving a deep story and interesting characters you won’t find much better.

Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy Review

You suddenly wake up in the middle of nowhere… your hand stained by someone else’s blood… swiftly accosted by gruesome ghoul-esque figures only to be suddenly rescued by an unknown saviour… to say that the game starts with a bang is a bit of an understatement.

You are thrown into the thick of it from the get-go with only a limited tutorial to start off with, everything else can be accessed via an in-game manual which is fine to a certain extent, however, it can be slightly laborious to access this and fully digest all of the information contained within when it could have been explained in a more obvious manner gradually throughout the game.

I’ll be frank and say that if you’re not into dungeon crawlers then you might as well quit reading now as this game probably won’t be for you. If you’ve never heard of this title before then you can be easily forgiven as it is actually a polished amalgamation of a Japanese language only DRPG trilogy which was originally released on the PC during 2008-2010.

The premise is fairly simple, you are found one day randomly having passed out in an abyss. Upon returning to your place of study, it appears that you have Code-Rise abilities… these abilities allow you to fight against the variants (monsters) that are appearing in the abysses (dungeons) that are popping up all over a near future Tokyo. These Code-Rise abilities essentially allow the user to summon up the power of an ancient hero, giving them super strength and allowing some more studious users to utilise magic spells.

You are quickly indoctrinated into a group otherwise known as the ‘Abyss Company’ whose mission is to seek out and boldly go head first into any abyss at the crack of a whip whenever the CPA (Code Physics Agency) commands. This organisation is seeking to research and to ultimately put an end to the variants once and for all.

Initially, you can choose from basic mode or advanced mode, they are exactly the same in terms of difficulty with advanced mode giving you direct control over the customisation (looks) of your characters. Once you have your characters, it’s time to start storming the abysses and completing all and any missions that are assigned to you. These come in two flavours: 1. missions that will advance the story – which to be honest, if you’re familiar with dungeon crawlers you may expect by default, no plot whatsoever and whilst Operation Abyss does have a good fair old go at constructing a storyline, it isn’t particularly spectacular and it’s not really until the 2nd half of the game that the plot really hits its stride. 2. Side quests which either involve exterminating a supremely powerful variant, finding something for someone or well… searching for someone who keeps getting lost.

Some of these missions are purely aggravating as you’ll repeat the same or very similar missions over and over – in particular there is one ‘find a lost person’ mission that went on for a bit too long… I mean, how much can one person get so lost that they seemingly never even seem to have a remote clue of where they are? I’m not one for overt realism in games but I did think that this was taking it a bit too far – questing just for the sake of quests!

Exploration of dungeons bounces between an addictive exciting excursion where you’ve no idea what lies round the corner to seemingly never ending drudgery as you traipse round an already explored dungeon looking for one specific square with no clue other than ‘it’s further deeper in!’. The dungeons themselves are fairly plain looking, somewhat reminiscent of what an HD version of Wolfenstein 3D or the original Doom would look like now. This could have been a really gritty and grimy game but instead most of the sections are quite bland and fairly neutral – some blood stained floors or dirty walls wouldn’t have gone amiss. Occasionally you’ll come across something out of the ordinary, spirits or a couple of dead corpses tucked away in an obscure corner of the map. In contrast to the dull dungeons, the sprites are really nicely done, as well as having interesting and unique designs – they definitely have utilised the whole colour pallette, it’s just a shame that there isn’t much in the way of attack animations.

During your tedious plod around each abyss, you’ll encounter a number of random battles which play out in a slightly strange manner, namely you cannot attack the variant that you want, instead you will attack one variant within a whole group – this detracts from the strategy of the game but actually makes it a bit more difficult and random. It is also imperative that you use magic to heal yourself and cure yourself of any ailments as these can and will get you killed if you don’t tend to them as soon as possible.

The dungeons themselves are laid out on a map in a similar vein to Etrian Odyssey which automatically becomes uncovered upon exploring it. There are various sections, dark areas where only the map is visible, water, shock panels, dispel panels and a number of other traps just waiting to trip you up. Figuring out the puzzles and routes in the dungeons can be fun sometimes but often you’ll find that you’ll figure out the route only to be stopped by a locked door and the game will give you absolutely no hint as to what key is required. Luckily there is a system similar to Dark Souls where players can write notes that are scattered around the dungeon.

There are a few caveats around levelling up as well. You can only level up when you go back to the medical centre to rest which can make exploring dungeons difficult when you’ve levelled up a few times and really could do with that extra power in order to vanquish the variants. Near the beginning of the game, you are also level capped to 15 until you progress with the story which seemed a bit pointless given the battle mechanics and that variants will become stronger and more aggressive the longer you fight them, until you choose to flee from battle which lowers the variant levels.

As for the voice acting, only the English audio and text is available, after a bit of research this is apparently due to the way the game was programmed. In general the sound isn’t fantastic, memorable or alluring and the only real sound of note that I found was the one where the characters bump into a wall (which will happen quite frequently if you start dozing off in the middle of a mission like I did on many occasions).

Customisation and crafting really is the game’s strong point, it takes a while to figure out at first but once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be well away with creating stronger weapons, breaking down older ones for parts, analysing armour and boosting the stats of your current gear. There is what feels like a metric ton of gear to carefully construct, boost, affix and break down if required. I really enjoyed analysing the junk gear that variants dropped along with creating exotic and rare items.

Overall, this was a frustrating and lukewarm experience that lacked cohesion and synergy. There are a lot of unusual and intriguing elements along with brilliant customisation. However, they are all quite loosely tied together and whilst it isn’t the worst game ever, it unfortunately doesn’t live up to the developer’s previous high standards that were set by Demon Gaze.

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed Review

This is the latest in a barrage of Hyperdimension Neptunia games that have all been released in a flurry this year.

Departing from the usual JRPG format of the previous games, this is a spin off which presents itself in the form of a Musou type action game. The general idea behind the Hyperdimenson games is quite pleasing, however the execution often lets them down. This spin off though is cut from an entirely different cloth, given that it’s not developed by the usual creator of these games and is instead developed by Tamsoft who have already established themselves in this genre.

Following suit, all of the main characters who have been available in the previous games are available to play here, including the CPU’s (Personified console goddesses) themselves (Neptune & Co) as well as their younger sisters; the CPU candidates (Nepgear & Co). Follow them around the parody filled world of Gamindustri as they embark on a raucous romp where they endeavour to complete all of the quests dealt to them and bash as many monsters on the head as is goddessly possible. They are joined on their adventures by two new playable characters – the journalists Dengekiko and Famitsu who will report on their every move.

Essentially this is a ‘Gotta smash ’em all’ type game akin to Dynasty Warriors. To progress in the game our heroines must complete quests – which in all fairness are quite linear. The methodology is as follows: 1. Pick a quest 2. Note the requirements for completion 3. Begin thrashing around like a fish on acid 4. Kick ass! 5. Rinse and repeat.

The repertoire of quests does not really change that much. There are a few ‘special’ quests that supposedly have different clear requirements but they aren’t really that hard to figure out or that different from the main quests themselves. More variety in the quests would definitely not go amiss.

Depending on your perspective you’ll either love or hate the damage feature of the game which involves half the characters clothes magically flying off and becoming tattered. The result of which is that they therefore expose themselves to the world – exactly the same as in Senran Kagura games. This franchise is no stranger to having slightly ecchi (pervy) tendencies and the dialogue even pokes fun at itself and points out this fact. Love it or hate it though, this fan service is there to stay until you manage to unlock an unbreakable costume later in the game.

There are a total of 10 characters to pick, each with their own unique weapons and fighting styles, each character has a normal attack and a strong attack which you can mix & match to create various combos with. There are also a couple of special attacks that require SP to use – these can be used to temporarily clear a large number of mobs. As you slaughter enemies, the EXE drive gauge will fill, once it is full enough, the characters have the option to transform into HDD mode which is essentially a stronger version of themselves that resembles the dragoon mode from the Legend of Dragoon (if anyone actually remembers that…). Whilst in this mode, there are a couple of special skills that can be executed which will pretty much mutilate everything in sight.

You can fight solo or play with two characters – the more two characters fight together the higher their lily rank will become, this will unlock special bonuses such as increased EXP gains and eventually a double team combo which is guaranteed to wash away anything that stands in their way – go nakama power!

The combat is fast and fluid with excellent optimisation for the PS Vita, the frame rate is top notch and the cel shaded style works really well along with all of the colours being astoundingly eye popping on the OLED screen. The characters and the art in general are incredibly well drawn and a pure pleasure to look at. The level design itself is fairly generic though, there’s a forest level, an ice level and the classic lava level as well as a few levels that pay homage to older games such as Mario Bros and Tetris.

Character stat increases, new weapons and accessories are handled in a slightly different way to normal; whilst characters do level up in the usual way, acquiring upgrades is done by accessing the medal collection. Upon defeating enemies, some of them drop medals. Once a certain amount of medals have been collected you can then unlock stat increases as well as gaining new equipment. This means that you have to keep fighting in order to unlock everything.

The plot is fairly thin and is more of a background distraction than anything else, it loosely manages to take the characters and general story forward and whilst at times, the banter between characters is interesting and slightly amusing there are other times where it totally misses the mark. The crux of this is that you don’t really care about the plot at all! Both characters Dengekiko and Famitsu are attempting to get the scoop on each of the girls’ antics and in order to get these stories, quests need to be completed… and written about, THAT.IS.IT!

The English voice acting is dubious at best and half of the characters virtually sound the same, the Japanese is a notch above and comes as the recommended choice. My only real gripe is that some of the characters’ dialogue is overly cutesy. The general soundtrack on the other hand blew me away, I really did want to listen to it as I fought my way through endless hordes of slimes, animated flowers and cubes. Like the looks of the game itself, the wide array of tunes on display here is nothing but a joy to listen to.

The two extra modes which are unlocked after beating Chapter 3 don’t really add any further depth to the game. The Gamindustri Gauntlet where you can create your own 10 fighter tournaments and battle it out until the end is much more dull than it sounds and the same goes for the Neptral Tower which involves climbing a long tower filled with randomly changing enemies.

Overall, this is an attractive and amusing game that is pleasing on the eye as well as the ear and that is great for a fun quick blast in the middle of the day, during your commute or simply whenever you feel like it. It would get repetitive quickly if it were on a console but it suits the nature of time-limited handheld gaming perfectly. If you are a fan of the genre and like crazy button bashing over the top combo-creating anime style games then it is definitely worth a go. It isn’t the best game ever but by no means is it the worst either.

La Maluna EX Review

The Wii was the first console to get a port but now we can pull our hair out wherever we are with this portable version on the Vita. It may seem a strange choice but La Mulana is a perfect candidate for on-the-go gaming, even if it is still incredibly difficult.

For those unfamiliar with the game, it follows an intrepid archaeologist as he drops into the legendary ruins of La Mulana. It’s a puzzle platform game in the purest sense, with block pushing and weight placing high on the agenda. There’s lots of whipping, pinpoint platforming and traps galore. There are also massive great boss monsters and lots of death.

There’s no getting away from just how difficult the game is. Especially when you first start, it can seem overwhelming and any hints at what to do are obscure to say the least. Once you break through the initial barriers things do get much better for players though. It took us about an hour and two wasted save files to really get going. The third time we started it all began to click and we would recommend any player to use a guide for the first couple of areas if you feel you aren’t getting anywhere.

Once we had gathered the warping Holy Grail, bought a symbol decoder from the shop and got past the first boss it became a much better adventure. It’s all about getting your head around what you need to do and once that happens it reveals itself to be an excellent platform adventure. By the time we reached the second proper area everything was fine and it felt we were really getting into it.

Level design is strong throughout with areas different enough from each other in terms of enemy type and design. There are fiendish puzzles and riddles to solve but the core dynamic is based around placing weights on pads to make things happen in the environment. Weights can be picked up on your adventure but it’s normally best to buy a hefty amount at the village shop before diving back into the depths.

Once you have the Holy Grail you can warp to any discovered Grail points which makes life a bit easier. We did have an issue with certain points disappearing from our warp list though – if this is a bug or something we haven’t worked out mechanics wise remains to be seen. There’s a host of different equipment and weapons to buy and you need to make sure you are well prepared to have any chance at all. What makes life even more difficult is that you don’t really know what order you should be attempting the areas (and you really do need to get through them in the right order to stand a chance).

Indeed, there is very little signposting at all. The first time we played we didn’t even work out that each area needed to be completed and subsequently dived down as deep into the ruins as far as we could go and had to restart our save file as we just couldn’t get back to where we wanted to be. It’s also slightly annoying that the game comes with borders either side of it. Making a Vita game and then not adjusting the port to the system’s native aspect ratio is somewhat bizarre to say the least.

Overall, there’s no denying that La Mulana is both an excellent platform game and a great addition to the Vita’s catalogue. However, it is very tough and obscure at times. It’ll certainly appeal to the Spelunky and Super Meat Boy crowd but requires a more patient and thought-out approach.  If you stick with it you’ll find a great adventure game. Many though may well be put off by all the barriers it throws up for players and that’s a real shame.

 

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters Review

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is a visual novel coupled with a take on strategy role playing, from Toybox Inc. It tells its tale across thirteen self-contained episodes, each lasting around 30 minutes to an hour, which makes it nice for a quick pick up as you know you won’t be committed for too long.

Each chapter follows a basic premise, whereby someone has a problem with a ghost and your crack team head to the location to put the ghoul to rest. The story is not complex, however each episode held my interest, and is well written. A modicum of interactivity is provided via the rare choice, and the expression wheel that occasionally appears. This allows you to express yourself by choosing an action, shown as a heart or a fist for example, and then one of five body parts. This had no real impact on the story however; no matter what choices I made my character appeared to be a massive pervert or douchebag. The wheel did not make it clear what action I was likely to be taking, thus following numerous failed attempts to do the right thing, such as comfort or handshake someone, which ended up trying to fondle them instead so I gave up and went for the kiss option every time for my own personal amusement.

After all the talking, the hunt to bust the ghost begins. The battle is primarily presented via a top down view of the location, and icons representing your team and ghosts (when you can see them). Each of your squad has a number of action points that are used to move, change facing, and perform actions, and once the orders have been given both your team and the ghosts enact their moves at the same time. This leads to combat being quite random as it is hard to predict where the enemies are going to move to; even though it gives you a predicted conal effect they don’t always move as far as you expect and you often find yourself attacking empty space. A turn limit also applied to each encounter, so missing with attacks is frustrating and I found myself running out of time on a few occasions. If one of the ghost hunters or a foe is successful with an attack, the camera switches to a first person view of the team member involved, and damage is dealt accordingly. It may be that the randomness of the combat is to add to the suspense however it was just annoying and it often felt like I was unnecessarily wasting time.

Upon vanquishing the ghost there’s some more talking, the client’s problems are conveniently resolved, and the credits for that episode roll. The monster of the week format works well here, and the TV style presentation did make me smile.

Between missions you can upgrade your team’s items and buy traps to make combat easier, but the interactivity of the game is lacking and there is little replay value once completed.

The presentation is good and lots of detail has gone into the character portraits during the visual novel sections, a personal favourite was the shopkeeper whose hair and apron were, inexplicably, blowing in the wind. The music is rocky and catchy, and I found myself humming along on a few occasions.

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters fills me with mixed emotions. I enjoyed the simple story, however the combat is too random to be enjoyable. Those looking for an easy to follow story will get something out of it, just don’t expect to do so twice.

TxK Review

When Jeff Minter announces a game for any console you take notice. The man has been a legend in gaming for a long time now. Whether you have liked all is output is another thing, but he sure knows how to make games and has a long history of doing so. So when he announced his latest game was for PS Vita, excitement grew, when it was known to be a sequel of sorts to Tempest, those levels went through the roof.

TxK is pure score attack, with simple mechanics that make the game easy to pick up, but with such depth that it becomes very difficult to master. It has that perfect blend of ideas that make it nigh on impossible to put down.

The basics of the game see you control a vessel and you must shoot the enemies that come towards you on the screen, with each level being set on a different geometric shape. You start a level, destroy all in front of you and move on to the next. You move left or right and shoot, shoot, shoot. It really is that simple.

However even after spending a few moments with the game, you realise it that much deeper and there are many nuances that make this an incredible experience. Clearing enemies produce powerups, collect these to get points bonuses or ability upgrades, such as being able to jump, or more effective bullets, even an AI Droid that will help you mop up your foes.

The power ups you get though will only be available for that level you collected them on, each new level resets your abilities to the beginning again. The same goes for a single use bomb. You have one of these for each level and unlike other games where you are almost punished for using an all clearing weapon, this rewards you by giving double points, so make sure it is used in each and every level, ideally when the action is at its most frantic.

Each of the enemies have a different ability and whereas some feel easy to get rid of, others can be harder to hit, some will attack back, that sort of thing. Again what really works here is how each level is different, you can move from one level where you feel under tons of pressure, to another where you are the one in control. it means that even if you get into a groove, you never really get into an auto-pilot mode.

There are bonuses to be had between levels also, where you move through rings to collect bonus points, however, should you collect enough triangles from in level powerups, you can enter a bonus level which is also just joyful to see and do. It adds to a game that is both relaxing and frantic at the same time.

Jeff Minter’s games tend to let the gameplay speak for itself and it is no exception here. The visuals are very basic looking, but it works for the mechanics and in it’s basic wireframe look, it manages to look beautiful, with colour taking over and infecting your eyes in the best way possible. If it had gone for some kind of amazing art style, it just wouldn’t work, the visuals along with a stunning soundtrack take you into gaming nirvana.

With a pair of headphones, you will lose yourself to this experience, as you go back time and time again to better yourself, yet in truth you have become hypnotized by the amazing blend of visual and audio wonder, mixed with gameplay that just teases you to keep going.

Being a score attack game first and foremost, there are leaderboards, both global and local, with a mix of overall and friend based boards, covering the various game options of Pure, Classic and Survival. The one issue there is here, isn’t to do with the game itself, but more a Sony wide problem, where the friend limit increase for PS4 seems to affect all other games. You will notice that friends you know have played, will not show on your friends leaderboard at all time, which can become frustrating, however as said, that isn’t a problem created by this game.

We usually write a paragraph to wrap things up, but we just want to go back and play more…

Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype Review

A classic styled scrolling shmup, Soldner-X2 feels very much like an also ran. A decent game, that unfortunately brings nothing new to the table, it’s like playing a long lost game from fifteen years ago – fancy visuals aside.

A little harsh maybe, because it’s still an enjoyable game (especially once the difficulty picked up). What starts off as a light challenge will soon turn into bullet hell towards the end, but once you reach that point the game ends. Well, kind of.

You see, throughout the levels by destroying enemies you’ll sometimes find keys, collecting these unlocks the latter levels. It’s a good way of adding longevity to what would otherwise be a short experience, but I would’ve personally preferred a greater variety of levels. There is some additional DLC that you can get if you buy the bundle on the PS Store, which is a little cheeky of them. They’re good levels mind, and do give the game’s story, (which is rather pointless to say the least), a conclusion.

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Additionally there are also leaderboards for the high score fanatics. This on top of challenges that get unlocked in the main game (such as completing specific levels without losing a ship).

From a gameplay perspective Soldner-x2 doesn’t do anything new, but what it does, it does rather well. With a good range of pick ups and weapons, an interesting combo mechanic and clever enemy design it’s a game I certainly found entertaining.

Enemies come in all shapes and size, a giant robot that bears a strong resemblance to one of the bosses from Starfox 64 is the first one you encounter, then it gets even crazier as you get deeper into the game. Bosses each have a weakness (usually indicated by something glowing), other than that there’s not much in the way of tactics. Just shoot till everything blows up, dodging all the bullets as you go. And sometimes dodging environmental hazards.

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The first level shoves you straight into an asteroid field forcing you to burrow your way through a seemingly endless amount of floating rocks, one of the later ones set on an ice planet has you dodging giant icicles. And there’s also the floating airship you have to navigate, because it’s a shmup, so obviously there’s a floating airship level. Graphically the backgrounds all look nice and sharp, though it’s the enemy ships and explosions that really showcase the game’s style.

The main tactical element will come in the variety of power ups and the combo metre. Rings that looked like they escaped from Sonic The Hedgehog will appear once enemies are destroyed, collecting them will keep your combo meter fully charged. Then there are the power ups, which collecting makes your currently selected weapon more powerful. The main issue with this is, despite having three weapons to cycle through, it’s the standard one that you’ll use most of the time. There’s another that almost acts like a shotgun and another that fires lasers in all directions, but really you’ll just concentrate on charging up the one and forgetting the others even exist.

There’s not a lot else to say really, Soldner-X 2 feels far more at home on the Vita than on a console and if you’re craving some shmup action then you could do a lot worse.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review

I have heard that on my landline so many times over the last year…so that’s the tenuous opening reference done. Now on to the review.

I liked Hotline Miami, nay I LOVED Hotline Miami, it had the right balance of clever puzzle solving, mixed with a tight control scheme and an ultraviolence setting that set the tone wonderfully well. So Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number should have had me drooling at the mere thought of playing and it did.

However, things weren’t quite as I was expecting but let me explain why. I am not against violence in videogames, nor any medium of entertainment, I indulge in it, I crave it at times. I have played games in the past, even as a much more naive teenager, that have seen me do some of the most atrocious things. I got great pleasure out of maiming body parts in Soldier of Fortune, I got a moody copy of Thrill Kill. Carmageddon? I took great pleasure in killing innocent bystanders. I know and have always known the difference between what is real and what is fake.

If it works in context, then that’s cool and it worked in Hotline Miami, but something in Hotline Miami 2 just felt off to me and I cannot quite put my finger on it. I wasn’t disgusted by anything I saw, but it felt like this was trying to find an edge, a way to cause some controversy maybe? Who knows, all I know is that the graphic scenes didn’t sit right with me.

I wanted to make sure something hadn’t broken in my head, maybe I had changed in the months since first playing the original, since playing other ultraviolent games, or watching some sick and twisted films from the 70’s and 80’s. Nope I still enjoyed those, I even had a prolonged session on Hotline Miami, such was the enjoyment I got.

But this, this sequel made me feel the total opposite and the more I tried to justify the game, put the blame squarely on me, the more it got to me. But I could skip story stuff, just play the game and ignore everything surrounding it, I’ve played many games before where the story is gubbins and has been completely ignored just to enjoy the gameplay, so I would do the same here. Right?

Well…again not quite. In the original Hotline Miami levels were laid out in such a way that is was a mixture of puzzle solving, trial and error and reaction times. You went in, learned the layout, where the enemies were, where they could appear from, what the smart moves were and how to do it all in a beastly fashion.

Completing a level was satisfying, but failure was all part of that too, you learned from your mistakes and tried new things, it was all put together in a rich tapestry of awesomeness. Here though as much as it has the same general concepts, it also loses some of magic that made the first such a fine game.

There are a lot more offscreen deaths, where you simply have no idea where the enemy has attacked from, meaning that you often go into some areas trying to figure out a route, but end up relying on blind luck and whilst you can clearly move the camera around, it still doesn’t account for how much better the enemy AI is at spotting you well away from the action.

Even the maps seem to be a tiny bit worse, as though all the best ideas were used in the original, the same with how levels start out. There was always an element of slight randomness with enemy starting positions, but you could always factor that in to your next approach, because it still seemed to follow a pattern, but here that randomness seems to be too much, positions change a lot more drastically from turn to turn that planning becomes secondary to hope.

So far, everything about Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is worse than Hotline Miami, the story seems off, the gameplay isn’t as tight as the original and it has made minor changes that really do alter the way you approach the game. So it is awful, correct?

That’s the thing, despite all of that, it is still a damn good game. Had it not been for the fact it is a sequel to Hotline Miami, if it has been a new IP or the original had never existed, then this would have been wonderful (bar the story, but I still cannot pinpoint why I hate it), but it does live in a world where this game has been done better by its own predecessor.

It’s like going to see Toy Story 3 after watching the first two. You know it is good and technically a brilliant piece of entertainment, but it just isn’t as good as the first two films, they nailed it first time around and probably won’t be bettered in their franchise. This is how Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number comes across. A technically competent game, but lacking that little something it’s original had that made it special.

FlameOver Review

No we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it.

Yeah! A Billy Joel reference right off the bat, which now means that song is stuck in my head and is also likely stuck in your head too. Sorry about that!

When I first heard of Flameover my thoughts were immediately turned to a game I remember enjoying plenty on the Playstation… Rosco McQueen. It was a flawed game, but the idea of fighting fires in a videogame is one I’d like to see explored further, because as yet I can’t think of many games that have handled it well.

Until now!

Flameover has been cleverly described as a Pyroguelike which is frankly brilliant. This is a Roguelike in every sense of the word, but one that tries to fool you with the intro and all the marketing beforehand.

It has cutesy graphics for a start, which wouldn’t look out of place as a casual game on a mobile device, so that adds a sense of believing this to be casual. It is a twin-stick shooter too, which whilst not all being easy, are very simple to understand and play and the first few moments are tame, slow and relatively easy.

Then you enter a door into a new area and all hell breaks loose, you are running out of water, fires you have put out are reigniting, there are people and cats to save, they are now dead, you are being burned alive yourself and you are now dead! DEAD!

What in the blue hell just happened there? Was that a tutorial? What was I meant to do? Was I meant to be that bad? That’s not cute, I just watched a cat and a person die in a terrible inferno…that’s…that’s not right.

On the surface Flameover is a simple game with a nice casual feel, but boy is it a wolf in sheep’s clothing, because it reveals itself to be one of the most brutal roguelikes I have ever played. It is right up there with the liked of Binding of Isaac, Spelunky and Rogue Legacy.

But at the same time it is different, in those games you go into the randomly generated levels without knowing what you will face, here the enemy is clear, fire and time.

You have to not only put out all the fires in each level you play, but you need to rescue people and animals, manage your water levels and keep an eye on the clock as it ticks down. You also lack some freedom, as you can’t just burst into a room and spray, because the heat will kill you, meaning you need to consider your approach to each new area. The problem is, the time keeps ticking down.

If the timer reaches zero, it isn’t game over as such, but you will be haunted by Death and if he catches up and touches you…well then you have failed and you’ll need to restart.

What Flameover has though is a permanent upgrade mechanic, which means you earn money as you fight fires, which you can then use to upgrade various elements and make the next run easier. You must though spend the money you earned in a previous run, as that will not carry over. Similar to how it works in Rogue Legacy.

So here is the thing with Flameover. It doesn’t do too much to set itself apart from the crowd, apart from trying to deceive you before you get into it. But then it doesn’t need to,  it plays to its strengths and plays to them well. It has easily become a game that goes on my regular rotation on the Vita, one I will try to spend a small amount of time with each day, or at least every couple of days. It can sit proudly with some of the best Roguelike games on the Vita.

OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

htoL#NiQ Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scram Kitty DX Review

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

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

Okay, so what is Scram Kitty DX?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criminal Girls: Invite Only Review

It was with a sense of dread that I took on the review of Criminal Girls: Invite Only and to be completely honest with you all. I did so blindly, it’s been a while since I was able to take on a proper Dungeon Crawler and that was enough to twist my head.

Only then when I did a bit of an internet search did the fears arrive, this was going to be worse than Monster Monpiece, a game that had amazing mechanics, wonderful gameplay but was all but ruined by pointless mini games aimed at immature teens and their fantasies. But it looked very tame compared to what I was seeing here in Criminal Girls.

So before I get into the main aspects of the game, let me first talk about ‘those parts’. Sometimes the girls will slack off and become unmotivated to fight for you, so it is up to you to find ways to motivate them. Which pretty much sees you needing to titillate each girl to bring her back to her best.

This is in the form of a poking, prodding and rubbing type mini-game very similar to that in the aforementioned Monster Monpiece. Your girls have a thick pink fog over them and if you follow the onscreen instructions correctly, you will make the fog disperse and reveal more of your girl on the screen, in a very provocative position and all of a sudden in not much clothing.

It doesn’t go as far as literally masturbating your Vita, as it does in that other game, but visually it is just as you’d expect. You are rewarded fully for your actions too, as your girls can earn bonuses to then use in battle.

Again, it really must be a culture thing, because I really cannot see the appeal in this part of the game, so I am not going to condemn it completely, but for how often it is needed throughout the game, it is clear that the developers didn’t think the game could sell without forcing these parts down our throats. It would have been much easier to swallow, had it been a bit less frequent. Because in the end it is taking away from a very, very solid game.

I won’t delve into the story, because at Gamestyle, we don’t like to ruin anybodies enjoyment with spoilers, but what I can say, is that the characters themselves and the general premise is rather entertaining and makes you want to carry on despite the oddity of the mini-game sections. But that is something these games always seem to be able to produce…Very good, if nonsensical stories and characters.

The mechanics too are pretty damned good, but don’t do much to deviate from the tried and tested formula. You have a party, with each character having their own strengths and weakness, you move around various dungeons engaging in battles with the enemy.

Once in a battle you find yourself using a turn-based mechanic, with various basic attacks, heavy attacks, defensive moves, special moves with every calculated using the traditional HP and MP methods.

As much as this doesn’t do much to push the boundaries of the dungeon crawler, it does make it accessible to most players, experienced or not and also allows for players to enjoy the story and concentrate on progressing, rather than getting bogged down in overly complicated battles.

It really is a shame that the ‘motivation’ parts are so frequent, because aside from being overly sexual, they just aren’t very good. It could have been pushing bales of straw around a field and it would still be a bit rubbish, which again seems to back up my opinion that this is only here to create a little controversy and get certain crowds to buy the game, rather than selling it off its own strengths.

Which is a shame, because other games do this much better, looking at something like Demon Gaze, which again tries to play to male fantasies, but keeps that away from the gameplay itself and contains it within the story, making it much easier to cope with.

That being said, for the most part Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a really well crafted game that does all the basics right. It is just up to you as to whether you can get over certain aspects.

Pix the Cat Review

He was owned by some people who used to love Pac-Man, used to love Snake and even when he was very young used to let him watch as they played Chu Chu Rocket. At first playing Pix the Cat seemed to be a puzzle, simply trying to complete the task he had been set to collect and distribute the local ducks seemed a challenge. Soon that stopped being the challenge, with finding the most efficient route through the maze being the challenge, trying to complete as many screens as possible becoming more of a racing game. Playing with Pix was to challenge yourself to get the highest score possible in the set amount of time. For a good amount of time everything seems like it could be great.

10/10 Lives Remain.

But sadly, Pix is quite an accident prone cat. Sure, we shouldn’t expect to be able to herd his kind, but this is a game that needs the tightest and most immediate of controls. It simply doesn’t have them. Early levels give you enough space and you’re moving slowly enough for it to not be a problem, but as things speed up and mazes become more complex it becomes a serious problem. Good runs are often ruined by the lagging controls despite knowing the route you wanted to take.

Pix knew the bus was there, but then accidentally walked in front of it.

9/10 Lives Remaining

The only other problem with the main mode, possibly a side-effect of the fact it is genuinely compulsive, is that once you’ve realised this is a racing game there are only 3 courses, Starter, Main and Dessert. Whilst unlocking the latter does take plenty of practice on the Main course, it’s massively limiting and for no real reason.

One minute he was fine, but then…

8/10 Lives Remain

For a break from all that, Pix was sent to play in a laboratory. If you are familiar with cats and laboratories then you could carefully predict this won’t have a good conclusion. Laboratory mode here is sadly without any mayhem and simply repackages the puzzle levels of Chu Chu Rocket with the intelligence and charm removed. A trial and error puzzle to guide your cat around a level, essentially memorising a step, restarting, finding the next, restarting. New ideas come and go, but ultimately these are the sorts of puzzles anyone with enough time could complete, but few should want to.

Pix swallowed some nitroglycerin and accidentally walked into a wall

7/10 Lives Remain

Pix had a secret, he’d always wanted to be a snake, so Nostalgia mode is ideal for him. Whilst there are some gentle puzzle aspects incorporated, every trick you learned whilst playing Snake 15 years ago still applies. It’s not that it is bad, it just feels lazy and pointless. Whilst both Laboratory and Nostalgia mode have their own appealing art styles, the way they both throw in new ideas seemingly on a whim to distract from how tedious they are, it doesn’t work.

A Nokia 3310 fell on Pix from a reasonable height.

6/10 Lives Remain

Ultimately, there just isn’t enough here to make a full recommendation. Regular DLC of courses for the main mode would be welcome, but they were really needed from the start. Pasta Games, also responsible for the excellent mobile game Rayman Jungle Run, are in truth extremely close to having a great game here. It’s just not, quite, there.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2 Sisters Generation Review

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2 Sisters Generation is the most absurdly-monikered game I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. A portable remake-of-sorts of 2012’s PS3 release, Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2, Sisters Generation takes place in a blue-skied future populated by robot girls, talking mice and wilful misuse of acronyms. The game vomits sound and colour at you in such quantity that simply navigating the menus alone feels like being force-fed smarties whilst being pepper sprayed. The world is named “Gamindustri” and things just get worse from there.

Gamindustri is under threat from Arfoire, an evil deity (and sweet pun on the notorious R4 card) aiming to bring down the land from within using pirate software. To the rescue come our heroines – Nepgear, a magical robot schoolgirl with an inferiority complex; IF, who could probably have been replaced with a cardboard cutout, and Compa, a nurse with a potential recent head injury; “Super Win!”, she’ll declare after a victorious battle, fluffing a backflip and revealing her underwear in the process. Every time. Together they travel the world of Gamindustri, recruiting other paper-thin stereotypes to join their roving gang of cretins, and eventually to defeat Arfoire’s four guardians followed by the Deity of Sin herself.

The world consists of four cities, loosely based on past and present videogame hardware manufacturers and their products. Each city is home to a CPU, which inexplicably stands for “Console Patron Unit”. These CPUs take the shape of young women who can transform into HDD mode, which involves them taking on an android-like form, hovering, and wearing fewer clothes than in their default state.

Each city competes for “shares” – a dystopian opinion poll not unlike the Santa Belief System in Miracle on 34th Street, where mindshare for each CPU is measured in an absolute percentage. The populace is fickle, and can be swayed away from their existing allegiance if you complete fetchquests for them – often creepy, focusing on character breast size with an almost lecherous and unflattering obsession with the all-female cast.

Sisters Generation is crammed full of properly dreadful puns, and videogame references ranging from the iconic (Mario) to the exotic (Lucifel from El Shaddai!). These crop up on the character map from time to time, and will occasionally reward you with unique items for listening; however with no indication of who has goodies for you, there is a lot of irrelevant noise to sit through unless you recognise every single reference. There’s only so many times you want to listen to an upturned bucket called “Ten Buyer” telling you he is selling items of indeterminate origin if you have no idea what the joke is.

Dialogue between the cast is little better; a procession of vapid conversations backed up by a complete absence of character development turns moments of plot progression into a gruelling minigame. If you don’t fall asleep or turn off your Vita, you win – the prize is another trip into the field, where disappointment awaits in the form of Hyperdimension Neptunia’s bland combat.

The turn-based battle system feels complex at first. Team formation, combos and backup characters can all be tweaked pre-fight. Enemies boast two separate life bars – one for health and another representing armour. Despite this, cracks show almost immediately and it ultimately delivers very little. Attacks come in three distinct flavours – armour-breaking, damaging, and multi-hit; the latter builds your EXE drive (a super bar that can enable additional attacks and super moves) faster whilst the former deals with an enemy armour bar more efficiently. Rather than a strategic and positional battle, it ultimately boils down to a routine that never changes – sprint up to the enemy and hit it a lot.

Against bosses, there is only one strategy that will end a battle before the heat death of the universe. Ensure your EXE drive is full before starting the fight; break their armour (a process that will take a good 10-20 turns), then spend your entire EXE drive in a single turn to finish them off. If an enemy’s armour bar is empty at the beginning of their turn it refills by about a third, resulting in yet more tedious mashing. Holding the L button during combat will at least skip all combat animations, in a rare concession to user-friendliness.

What’s most disappointing about this game is how it knows it is wasting your time, yet proceeds to do so anyway. To begin with progress is simple, but early on boss encounters represent difficulty spikes so steep you’ll swear you’ve missed something really important. You haven’t. It’s not that they are tricky to beat; instead they will simply one-shot your team if you haven’t spent a while grinding first.

To the rescue come “plans” – effects that can be toggled to alter how the game plays. One of these drops the strength of opposing characters to a more balanced level, resulting in a diminished necessity to grind. For those so inclined, enemies can also be strengthened, but this seems to just make them hit harder rather than require any additional skill to defeat. Why it was felt necessary to put the player through this initial grind before they acquire the appropriate plan is beyond me.

Several other timesaving plans become available as you progress – one removes the necessity to constantly mash the Square button to discover hidden items whilst exploring; another makes your EXE drive bar fill faster. Obtaining items like these, which drastically improve how the game flows, is even more egregious – it’s window shopping where all the windows are blacked out, and the shopkeeper is trying to kill you. The next shop is three hours away and might be closed. Mystery items are required, and no information is provided on where to find them, whether a plan to toggle alternative drops for a specific area is necessary, or if it’s a rare drop from a specific enemy. The sheer amount of time the game expects you to spend aimlessly meandering through it is by far its biggest issue, and nothing short of staggering.

On the plus side, the credits roll is quite nice, and single-handedly does a better job of inserting the characters into a videogame world than the preceding eternity of pandering nonsense. There’s probably a small and dedicated market for this game – those who will understand most of the references and can stand the irritating cast – but if that doesn’t sound like you then there is little to recommend here.

I have invested over twenty hours of my life into this game and, as a result, am seriously questioning my life choices. On occasion, games contain design decisions of such ill judgement that it is difficult to imagine how they ever made it through testing. HNR;B2SG, on the other hand, is packed so full of them that it must have become sentient during the development process, pretended to pop out for a smoke before turning up in a basket on the doorstep of Sony HQ, complete with a note stating “Please look after this game”. For me, it was a disappointing experience and not one I’m keen to repeat.

 

Citizens of Earth Review

Yes, you heard that correct, Citizens of Earth is a love letter to the wonderful Earthbound and it is clear where the influence comes from. It is at this point where I’d tell you to just go ahead and buy this if you were a fan of Earthbound, but it isn’t quite as simple as that.

Citizens of Earth isn’t a bad game, far from it in actual fact. It is possible to have a fantastic time building up your followers and progressing through the game, leveling your party up and making them stronger and stronger.

There is also a well written story arc that pokes fun at various aspects of the world of politics and does a decent job of calling out a lot of the crap within it, not only just from politicians, but also media and general public. All this without also taking itself too seriously of trying to ram home a message. It is not a satire, it is a fun story that uses its backdrop well.

This brings us to one of the biggest issues with Citizens of Earth though. As entertaining as the writing is, the characters themselves (bar yourself) lack enough personality for you to actually care about them and it ends up being a case of choosing the best party based on attributes alone.

Compare this to other games where you need to form a party, Persona 4 Golden for example, choosing the other characters to form a party for a particular run was difficult, because you grew to love and hate their many personalities, which had a bearing on who you wanted, it didn’t matter if Chie was possibly the wrong choice, you wanted her in your party.

But here, there is no extreme feeling, there is no love, no hate, there is only indifference, which is a crying shame really, because there was a lot of potential here to create a world and a set of characters to really bring it to life.

The battles that occur and occur way too often are a tad infuriating. It is not as sophisticated as a Final Fantasy, Demon Gaze or anything like that, but tries to take those formulas and simplify them in order to make the game more accessible to the casual user.

But that is where it falls down, there doesn’t seem to be any notion tactical nous and you can often beat most battles by spamming the same moves. Which then becomes monotonous after a while. You can increase and decrease the difficulty at will, by going to the school yard and changing it there, which is a nice touch, but it still doesn’t change the excitement levels.

What we can say though, is that the battle system does a great job of explaining how different things work in turn based battles and why you should be using a mix of defensive type move, buffs, attack down, etc. So it does make a good training exercise for anyone coming into the RPG format for the first time.

The battle system wouldn’t be so much of an issue, if it wasn’t for the sheer amount of enemies that litter the maps and force you into combat. That is the point of a game like this granted, but it feels in Citizens of Earth that this has been over done to the point where you want it to end, thus turning down the difficulty, not because it is hard, but because you want the battles over with quicker so you can move on.

You are given various tasks to help progress the game as well as for recruiting people, the people you recruit will help you in various ways, such as a car sales man who can help you get a car around town. Then there is a conspricy nut who can help you forge new elemental attack types and various others. This is a well thought out mechanic and makes taking on side quests worth the effort.

It is a shame that there are some real negative parts within Citizens of Earth, because despite all that, it is a game to have a good time with, one that you can play in nice short bursts and still make progression. However, despite the Earthbound influence, it never quite lives up to expectation and is one that is maybe better off waiting for a sale.

Flyhunter Origins Review

Steelwool Games have definitely designed this game for the slightly younger audience than myself, and no, I wont be telling you what age I am! If you happen to be from this audience, I think Flyhunter Origins is for you. In short, it is a platform game with 21 levels of running, jumping & collecting going on throughout.

Throughout each level you collect little blobs as you go, swatting enemies & jumping about the scenery. If you have played any platform games in the past, you will be instantly familiar with this game & how it controls. That is one of the great things about this game, its not holding your hand for several initial levels, you simply instinctively can pick it up & play which is perfect for the target audience here.

As the story progresses, you encounter various cutscenes, some Wipeout style flying levels chasing enemies, basically the level design is very much in style of the classics, Ghosts & Goblins, Zool, Earthworm Jim etc which start on the left and you work your way across the right to the end of the level running, jumping & collecting as you go yet without the difficulty of some of these games.

The look of Flyhunter Origins isn’t going to win any E3 awards, its all fairly simply ‘nice’, nothing too flash and nothing too bland either. I think this is the main crux of this game, it doesn’t want to insult or do anything wildly exciting or new, its happy just doing what it does.

This game is perfect for that rainy Sunday afternoon where you know you can download this and let your kids while away a few hours without having to worry about them too much. This certainly  isn’t Conker’s Bad Fur Day or some such.

Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition Review

Taking control once again of the mentally handicapped Duke, you will shoot your way through hordes of aliens, saving babes and reciting lines from every action movie ever made. He is a character from a different time and playing it these days it comes across as rather sad and tragic. Paying strippers to expose their pixelated breasts was probably cool back in the 90’s, but nowadays it’s a little weird, or maybe as Roger Murtaugh would say, “we’re getting too old for this ****”. Lethal Weapon funnily enough being probably the only action film that Duke doesn’t steal a line from.

That’s the bad, the good though does outweigh it somewhat. Remember the good old days when FPS games made you engage your brains just a little and you didn’t just go around traipsing after the AI that conveniently has a “Follow Me” icon above his head? Well, we do, and this is an FPS design choice we wouldn’t mind seeing a return of.

Making your way through each level requires a little thought. Levels are very open and will require you to scour every nook and cranny looking for keycards and the path to the exit. But much like that other 90’s FPS you may have heard of Doom, level design does get worse as you progress through the game. There’s really no surprise that it’s the first level people remember most fondly (and it’s not just because of the strip club and movie theatre portions). Levels do degenerate a little into cheap ways of getting you killed, with monsters coming from hidden rooms, sneakily placed laser trip wires and sections where stuff just explodes for no reason. So basically, you’ll need to save regularly if you don’t want to struggle through the latter sections of the game.

As the “Megaton” name suggests the game is certainly not short of content, containing the original set of levels as well as a number of expansions that were released along the years. This includes the Christmas themed Nuclear Winter and even a Caribbean themed one where Duke battles aliens on the beach, which naturally includes a lot of scantily clad (and pixelated) women. They’re all really good fun, if only the Vita port could do them justice.

Sadly bugs are fairly frequent, at least once per level the game would just freeze for a couple of seconds before you took control once again, which tends to happen randomly. The most annoying however (which thankfully only happened once) occurred when trying to reload from a previous point. A really nice thing about Duke 3D is how it handles death. Get killed and you’re taken to a replay of events that led up to that point, right from the beginning of the level. So it’s a lot like something you’d find in a racing game like Forza Horizon or Grid, where you’re able to select the point you’d like to resume from. Sadly this didn’t exactly work as intended, as at one point the game simply failed to load up the replay (complete with error message) and threw us back to the start of the level. And then there’s the problems with multiplayer.

Every online game played thus far has been unplayable. The maximum player count is only four, yet it has some utterly atrocious lag. Players jumping across the screen, guns firing five seconds after pressing the button, it’s dreadful. This isn’t even with a full room, just play a simple 1v1 game and it’s still a horrible mess. Perhaps the developers had to rush it out in order for it to hit January’s Playstation Plus date, because as it stands, it really could’ve used a couple more months development time.

There is a lot to like about this trip down memory lane, but really Duke Nukem 3D just feels like a relic from a bygone era. While we would welcome back some of the classic FPS design traits, the rest is best left in the past.

Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee HD Review

Let us look at the games from the Oddworld guys, which stands to reason seeing as this is a review for Munch’s Oddysee HD. Both Munch and Stranger’s Wrath were given the treatment first for the PS3 and were fine conversions of the original games, offering that lick of HD paint and not much else. Stranger’s Wrath was also released on the Vita and again little was different.

That was perfectly acceptable, as both of these games were great upon their original releases. But then in 2014 came Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty, which set a whole new standard, not only for the Oddworld games, but for HD remakes in general. It took the original game and rebuilt it from the ground up. We reviewed it here and loved it, as it was clear that the game had a lot of extra love and attention put into it.

So does that mean that every single HD remake needs that same sort of attention? Well, no, not at all. Munch’s Oddysee is just great to have and play on a Sony device, having completed the PS3 release in 2013, I was only more than happy to play again on the Vita. It is a different beast to both Abe and Stranger and one that I loved back in 2001 and still love today.

Also, playing on a Playstation feels right now, Abe was introduced to us on the PS1 but Munch could only be found on the Xbox and I remember lots of talk about how it wouldn’t run on the PS2 as it wasn’t powerful enough and other such gubbins. In any case, it became a launch exclusive on Microsoft’s new machine.

Munch really is a cracking game too, an excellent mix of platforming, puzzle solving, collecting and battling. It blends together exceptionally well and for me, it moved at a wonderful pace too. There were no difficulty spikes that became soul destroying, but it still needed you to engage your brain a little and think ahead. The mechanics work well and are always clear as to what you need for each section.

Going back to the Munch after 10 years was like putting on a glove and unlike some other older 3D platformers, the controls just felt natural as there was no fighting the camera too much and in general it came across as a game you could play for the first time today and not feel completely lost.

The Vita release is just a joy and despite having a few rougher edges than the PS3 releases, it still looks wonderful on the Vita’s OLED which is really helped by the art style of the Oddworld games, again something that also reflected in Stranger’s Wrath too. It does go to show that art style will always trump the pursuit for photorealism.

So this brings us back to the original point. HD remakes. It doesn’t matter if they are given a lick of paint, or rebuilt from scratch, as long as the final game is something that can be enjoyed and it is clear that Munch’s Oddysee has had less attention than Abe’s remaster, but it is still a game that I am happy to play again and am thankful for the opportunity.

Rock Boshers DX: Directors Cut Review

From the moment the game starts to  load, Rock Boshers DX: Directors Cut will make the old gamers will fondly remember the ZX Spectrum smile from ear to ear.

With a loading screen directly lifted from what must be the only computer that also doubled as a competent door stop, the memories will soon come flooding back and a warm glow will soon envelop you and that is even before you start the game.

The game itself is arcade adventure of sorts with elements of a 8-way directional shooter, that also has some rather crazy story behind it to give the game a narrative that at times can be quite funny.

You control a young Queen Victoria who has recently left Earth to look for adventure on the planet Mars.  The main game is split into three areas, which all contain eight levels that are just a single screen where you must find your way to the lift to move to the next one.  In each level you will encounter various enemies that are trying to kill you, including guards, zombies and some strange alien creatures.  There are also keys to collect, computer terminals to destroy both to aid your progress, and the best of all weapon upgrades.

Your basic weapon which you control by using the right stick, is a simple pistol, but as the game goes on you can acquire such weapons as machine guns and a rocket launcher, which become much needed as at times this can be a really tricky game.

Graphically it really does capture the look of the ZX Spectrum, using a limited palette of only fiveteen colours, and with some classic Spectrum attribute clash.  The developers Tikipod really have shown the Spectrum a lot of love and this shows in the sound as well, with some great title music and authentic 8-bit sound effects.

Overall, Rock Boshers DX is a just a lovely little game to play, of course fans of the Spectrum may get a little more out of it than other people.  But even younger gamers who don’t remember the time when it was home computers that ruled the gaming world and not consoles, will still get much enjoyment out of a game that looks pretty simple, but at times can be tricky, with more hidden depth that it’s looks may perceive.

 

Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defender Review

The are at times games that are difficult to review. This can be because the content is controversial and requires some considered thought, other times you may want to avoid any spoilers, or game is bad, so you need to be careful with how you critique said game. None of those are the case for Aqua Kitty though, the issue here is how to really sum up the game in more than a few words.

Well here we go.

Aqua Kitty is a competent shooter that takes a fair amount of influence from original arcade hit Defender…The clue is right there in the title, go on have a look. There it is. That is it really, the game in a nutshell. Eight out of ten.

Ok lets have a proper look. Aqua Kitty is a fantastic game to play and offers up ease of access whilst also giving players a well balanced challenge. It is split into three modes across the map with levels being either Easy, Normal or Arcade. Each level has the objective of defending a base whilst racking up the scores. Die and it is game over, let both bases get destroyed and it is game over. Simple, simple, simple.

That simplicity extends to the control scheme too, move around using the left stick, shoot with X and change the way you are facing with L or R. That once again is it. This is a game that you can play on a regular basis or just go back to when you have a gap in your schedule. It is extremely easy to get back into each and every time.

Yet that simplicity adds to an addictiveness that will see you gravitating to it every time you turn in your Vita. It has that certain something that sees it as more of a comfort game than anything else. You feel happy just knowing it is there and waiting for you whenever you need it.

Graphically it is also a throw back to the likes of Defender, but with a crispy 16bit underwater setting. It has a certain charm to it that works well with the music and general sounds too. A faint but recongnisable ‘meow’ will alert you to the fact a capture is about to happen, so you are able to get to the location quickly and be the hero.

If you are after a well crafted game for the Vita that you can just pick up and play whenever you feel like it, then Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defenders is a fantastic option and we wholeheartedly recommend it.

Minutes Review

Time has weird properties. Time spent at work can drag. Time spent waiting for something exciting to happen can feel like an eternity, and subsequently pass by in the blink of an eye. Throughout all this, time never lies – no matter how fast or slow it feels to you, its inexorable march forward is steady and consistent. A minute is always a minute.

Red Phantom Games’ Minutes has a simple premise – you are given one minute. During that one minute, you have two objectives:

  • Pick up as much coloured stuff as possible
  • Don’t die as a result of picking up too much black stuff

Utterly abstract in its presentation, Minutes has you controlling a resizable circle as you aim to collect beams and blobs of colour over sixty stages. Each stage is identical every time it is played, so what originally seems impossible rewards a patient approach along with trial and error. Stages start off tricky and don’t get any easier, and an on-screen timer reminds you that no – a minute has not passed yet, and yes – maybe now is a good time to start panicking.

The goal of Minutes is to score as highly as possible, and points are earned collecting the coloured stuff. The more your circle is expanded as you collect it, the higher the score multiplier is. Collecting the black stuff increases your damage gauge, and upon hitting a critical amount the level ends prematurely in failure. Four distinct powerups are also on offer, of which one can be used per stage. Quell slows time, but not your circle – enabling movement to previously-impossible areas; Fortify heals you; Shield keeps the bad stuff out for a set amount of time; and Blast destroys all black items near your circle.

Once you have got to grips with all that, it’s a journey through the sixty stages – where things start off simply and get very difficult very quickly. New types of obstacle and collectible objects are introduced frequently to keep things fresh along with a new aesthetic every five stages. From here the game wants two things from you – to get perfects, and get high scores. Easier said than done, as the sheer amount of stuff to collect and obstacles to avoid that are thrown around on screen is astronomical after the first few stages.

Perfects are achieved by completing a stage having taken no damage, collected all the coloured stuff, and achieved a certain score, as well as finding “Minuteman” – a smiley face that blends in to the background a little too well. High scores are achieved by collecting as much stuff as possible at the highest multiplier possible – and for me these two goals are a little contentious. Minutes encourages you to go for a “Perfect”, but significantly higher scores are available by sucking up a bit of damage in exchange for keeping your circle large and multiplier high. The two things the game expects you to achieve run at cross purposes with one another.

This wouldn’t be so problematic were it not for the amount of time it takes to get up to speed. Each stage gives you three score targets to achieve, each one rewarding you with a star; however, to begin with no powerups are available and the multiplier cannot be changed. This makes it impossible to achieve more than one star at first, and the powerups and ability to alter your multiplier are unlocked as a reward for hitting set star goals. Not only does this make it impossible to achieve a “Perfect” until you’ve bashed through a large number of levels at a reduced capacity, it also increases the number of times you have to retry each level without a complete toolset. What’s even worse is that once you’ve unlocked all the powerups, better versions of those powerups become available. It’s a cycle that leaves you feeling like you’ll never be able to do the one thing this game should truly excel at – chasing high scores.

Minutes is very challenging, and a successful navigation through the madness of the later stages is incredibly satisfying. Sadly the amount of babying and learning through failure results in an experience that gives you something to achieve – but won’t actually let you properly do that for far too long.

 

Nidhogg Review

Almost exhausted after battling for so long, I am now at the final area. I must be the one to be sacrificed. Momentum is with me, but my opponent stares at me without emotion. The arena music drowns out my thoughts, but I wonder if I can hear the cheering crowd in the adjoining area.

I am distracted, and suddenly my opponent thrusts their sword towards me. I feel as if it enters my chest, as if I may explode. But wait, no, that’s not how it happened. My opponent raised his sword, jabbing towards my face…No that’s not it. The ground is covered in something. Is that my blood? My opponent dashes away, thinking they are safe. I react, throw my sword and watch it drive into their back. They explode. I run. Someone appears suddenly in front of me, I skewer them without thinking and run on. The crowd roars. Come unto me, Flying Penis Monster and take me. I have earned this.

Nidhogg is a frantic 2D, one-on-one, sword-fighting game. If you’ve played the PC version, both PS4 and Vita versions are identical. If not, each player’s character is killed by a single successful sword attack, then explodes in a fountain of pixels and respawns ready to defend again. From the central starting screen, the aim is to progress three screens forwards. Kill your opponent to be able to move on, get killed and they can. The results are tense duels with the balance tipping towards and away from you until one player finally gets through the final screen to be consumed by the Flying Penis Monster.

[The Flying Penis Monster, one would assume, is the titular Nidhogg. Nidhogg is a dragon taken from Norse mythology who (possibly) heralds Ragnorak, so it’s entirely possible we may one day see it in a Thor movie. Chris Hemsworth riding a Flying Penis Monster would surely be a sight to behold.]

[So many people are going to arrive on this page through Google and be thoroughly bemused.]

Everything about the game is focused and well put together. The combat relies on positioning and reactions to tease precision from simple controls. One attack button and one jump button lead to three stances to attack high, medium or low, a roll, a jumping attack and, with good timing, a chance to disarm. There are no complicated special moves, and as important as the fighting is success usually depends on knowing when to simply run as fast as you can. Duels can last barely a minute or go on for ages, but the backwards and forwards pattern will always be the same. The driving, magnificent, soundtrack helps keep your mind on the violence too, as if it could ever wander.

Where the gameplay benefits from being so focused, the variety of modes on offer probably could be considered a little too limited. The single-player mode is simply a timed series of bot fights without even a hint of a story attached. Online play seems to have few players, but if/when an opponent is found the game seems relatively smooth and works as well as can be hoped.

Honestly, unless you’re playing locally it’s very difficult to recommend Nidhogg. Against someone on the same sofa the tension and the drama shine through. In the same way you soon forget you’re watching a black and white movie, the pixellated graphics suddenly disappear from your consciousness as you focus on exactly where the opponents swords is and when you can make a move. Best of three matches becomes best of five, best of five becomes a whole night. Few games of recent years can enter the legendary roster of all-time classic local multiplayer games populated by classics such as Micro Machines and Goldeneye, but Nidhogg does.

There is a feeling, engendered by mentioning it along with nineties classics as I just have, that games such as Nidhogg rely on nostalgia, that they’re playing to an audience who remember games “like this”. Certainly at a glance the game looks old fashioned, but it is harking back to an era that never actually existed. Games this well put together, this pure, this fun, have always been a rarity. Perhaps technical limits used to push creators towards this direction, but games back then stretched themselves too far just as often as they do now. When a perfectly crafted game like this does come along, regardless of the era or art style, just enjoy it. It’s a truly magnificent creation.

 

Tales of Hearts R Review

The Playstation Vita. Cast aside by so many, the unwanted Christmas pet left to wander the streets. Luckily there are those who look at the handheld’s big soppy eyes and fall in love and are happy to give the delightful package of wonder a loving home. It in turn rewards those who do, as it becomes home to ‘Indies’ and also the RPG.

Which brings us on to our review for Tales of Hearts R, a game that seems to be the perfect fit for the Vita and one that will start to consume a lot of your gaming time.

Tales of Hearts R is a remake of a Nintendo DS game and has been given the usual update treatment for the release on the Vita. Stuff you’d expect to see like improved visuals and some additions to the original story are all there to make it a worthwhile purchase even to returning players.

The story revolves around Kor Meteor, a young man who has just inherited a Soma from his Grandfather. One thing leads to another and eventually Kor finds himself needing to team up with other characters to go on important missions. It is a story of redemption for young Kor, it doesn’t set the world alight, but it is certainly interesting, though it does feel weaker than other RPG titles.

Kor himself doesn’t stand out as a lead character and the support cast, whilst entertaining and believable don’t do enough to take the focus away. It is a shame, because the mix of telling the story through in game moments and some beautiful Anime style cut-scenes is really well worked. But in the long run, you can simply switch off and concentrate on the game in hand.

Again what you have for the most part follows traditional RPG rules. You wander around various levels of the world the game is set. Travelling from A to B to progress the story, whilst facing random battles along the way and then triggering pre-defined major battles. It is all standard fare, but at the same time is balanced well. The random battles are too much that they become an overbearing nuisance, but also aren’t too sparse that you feel you need to grind for hours to be ready for an important moment in the game.

Battles themselves are pretty interesting. Rather than taking the traditional turn-based route, they are free-roam withing in the battle arenas themselves. You and your AI controlled party will encounter the enemies and attack them. You have your basic attack moves as well as various special moves known as Artes.

Early on battles are fairly formulaic and can be breezed over, but has the game progresses and you unlock new abilities, level up Kor and you party improves, there are new mechanics that are introduced. This is something that works rather well as many RPG titles can often feel a grind because of the lack of variation in encounters, here though there is a nice balance and it is much appreciated.

Obviously being a RPG, there is a lot of leveling up, upgrading your character, deciding on weapons, upgrade paths, etc. In other games it can be difficult for some players to really understand the best path to take, especially if they are casual players, or may not be into the overall lore of the world the game is set in.

What Tales of Hearts R has is two options. Players can either choose how they upgrade each specific element on their own and have full control, or the other option is to select an auto-upgrade where you choose the sort of character you want to be, such as a fighter, someone who stands back and supports, etc. It works well and teaches the player how each option effects different stats.

After using the auto option a few times, it became clear how the upgrades were being distributed and eventually it became easier to tinker. Which is excellent, because the auto options won’t give you the very best upgrades and tend to keep things balanced, but by showing you how points are used, you start to get an idea and that something that is very welcome.

Aside from the opening couple of hours, where you really need to set the time aside to get through, Tales Of Hearts R is ideal for spending a little while with, before saving and dropping out. You will find that you want to push on further and further thanks to some well spaced out save points though and that is the sign of a solid game, that you aren’t looking for a moment to save just so you can stop, but instead knowing you can push on without worrying when you can next take a break.

Tales of Hearts R is an interesting game and whilst the story is pretty weak, the gameplay does enough to carry it. It is both open to newcomers but also has enough not to grate on fans of the lore of the ‘Tales Of’ games. In what is now becoming a crowded genre on the Vita, this is a title that should rise to the top.

Jet Car Stunts Review

Jet Car Stunts. A car with a jet strapped to it, in which stunts are performed. Reminiscent of other automotive platformers like Gripshift and Trackmania, this port of a hugely popular iOS title has been given a lick of paint and access to traditional controls on PlayStation3 and Vita.

Platforming mode is given top billing with a simple premise – navigate the mysterious floating track, pass each checkpoint and get to the end without succumbing to the track’s twists, turns, loops, jumps and inconveniently-placed random floating blocks. Your car is capable of a limited amount of boost using its jet, and passing a checkpoint is the only way to refill your boost gauge. Managing the boost meter carefully is vital, as often you’ll encounter a few large jumps in between each checkpoint. Too much boost early on will result in you falling short before the next chance to refill, though learning when to conserve boost on each stage can be a matter of trial and error.

Jet Car Stunts is also very difficult.

On the ground, the car handles great – tight turning circle, drifts with minimal effort, and it can be chucked around even the tightest corners at high speed. In the air it is a little less willing to listen – you have some control over altitude, but little over your direction. Air brakes let you make slight adjustments at the cost of a drop in speed, making it vital that your takeoff is in the right direction as veering even slightly off course is often difficult – and sometimes impossible – to rescue.

As you start progressing through the stages, the jumps get bigger and harder to successfully navigate. The in-air camera does little to help you land these, as the angle will often see your car blocking out the entirety of the platform you’re trying to land on, making it feel more like luck than skill when you do eventually land it. In addition, the game is not afraid to waste your time. It’s difficult from the start, which is great – but sees fit to impose a ten-retry limit on you before arbitrarily deciding that you are too much of a failure and must restart the level in its entirety. Retrying before the first checkpoint even counts as one of those ten retries, meaning plenty of time will be spent messing around in menus thanks to this archaic progression gating.

A practice mode is available for each level in which you can retry indefinitely, but bafflingly it gives you infinite boost and no indication of how much boost you’re actually using! Given the heavy emphasis on meter management during a proper run, having infinite boost renders practice mode largely useless. Its entire existence is questionable as allowing a sensible number of retries would remove any requirement for a practice mode. Achieving the higher ranks on each track is the real challenge – something that wouldn’t be compromised by allowing the player to fail a hundred times along the way.

Time Trial mode is straightforward and shows Jet Car Stunts in a much more positive light. Boost management is once again crucial in order to maintain momentum between checkpoints, and the on-track handling really shines as you throw the car into corners it has no right getting around. Restarting carries little penalty, as you are deposited back at the last checkpoint and given a small time refund – a great way of ensuring that one mistake won’t immediately ruin your entire run. Stages are probably a couple of laps too long for their own good but this is a minor quibble.

Collector mode baffled me completely. Each platforming stage has five stars littered about the area and they are seemingly impossible to collect – it’s unclear whether you’re supposed to gracefully land on the seemingly-inaccessible platforms they are located on, or whether the appropriate behaviour is to boost through the star and off into the abyss.

Jet Car Stunts shows a ton of promise, but much of the game is locked behind some pretty awful criteria for progression. With a camera that lets you see where you’re going and a sensible retry policy, it’d be transformed into a difficult game that rewards perseverance and skill. At present it is a frustrating experience that gives the impression that it wants you to stop playing as soon as possible, leave it alone and never come back.

Race The Sun Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Die, Mr Robot! Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murasaki Baby Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Futuridium EP Deluxe Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frozen Synapse Prime Review

Frozen Synapse is one of those games that you look at and think it would be great to have on the Vita. A game that appears from the off that it is ideal for your wonderful little handheld that could. Well the teams at Mode7 and Double Eleven agree and Frozen Synapse is on the Vita in the form of Frozen Synapse Prime.

But what is Frozen Synapse Prime I hear you ask? Well simply put it is a simultaneous turn-based tactical strategy game. Yes, yes, it is an over-crowded genre the STBTSG, full of yearly franchises that offer nothing new… No, that’s not what this is at all. What you have here is a totally new experience on the Vita and one that is well worth taking the time to get to know.

Frozen Synapse Prime is a game that won’t grab you instantly like a platformer or a shooter and is unashamedly difficult as it progresses, but that is purely based on it being something new and not just a new take on a popular genre. But that difficulty comes in just beating the game, as controls wise and mechanics wise, it really couldn’t be any simpler.

You are free to use a mix of touch and physical controls, without the game pushing you towards one or the other. This is also extended to the menus, which must be commended as again there are many games out there which don’t give you the choice or find themselves made to favour one over the other. Here though you will find yourself happily using both options in equal measure, this is mainly due to the touch controls making sense.

Let us expand further. Frozen Synapse already has a home on Android and iOS thus meaning the developers have some experience with how best to use touch controls. So things like pinching to zoom work perfectly and are something most of us will understand in today’s age of touch screen devices. Touch and drag to move the screen around the level, tap to select, etc. These could have been used exclusively and been more than acceptable, but the developers also understand that there are buttons on the Vita, therefore they have made sure that every action has a function on the physical controls also and truth be told it is amazing how much more approachable this makes a game, being able to change up what you use on the fly, or even use a mix of the two to best suit your own needs. Using the shoulder buttons and right stick to zoom and pan, but using the screen to select and move. Wonderful.

The game mechanics too have a simplicity to them which understanding that not everyone has the time to learn over convoluted systems that are designed for hardcore fans only. Maps are easy to read and understand, enemies are clearly defined along with your own units, support and targets. You goals are clearly explained before each round and early tutorials explain the basics of gameplay in such a way that you feel comfortable very early on.

Turn-based battle systems aren’t exactly new, they have of course been the staple of the RPG for a very long time, but it is the simultaneous nature of the turn-based gameplay that stands out here. You and the enemy are making your decisions at the same time each and every turn, meaning you need to decide on a few factors with each turn.

Which path you want you units to take. Are they going to directly engage the enemy, try to flank them, try to avoid them to get a better position to attack? Which aiming system will you as you move? Will you focus on an enemy, sweep the area as you move, or aim in a general direction. You may even decide to have a unit hold their current position. At the same time though the enemy will be making their own series of choices, going through the same motions as you.

This could render the time you spent in the planning phase totally worthless, because like chess you will be trying to plan many moves ahead. What happens if you try to go this way? Are you safe from being picked off by an enemy sniper? What if this unit moves this way? Well luckily you can test out numerous scenarios before priming you move for real. You can try and plan what the enemy might do and what the reaction will be. By testing you will be shown the likelihood of your units being killed, or maybe what advantages the enemy can get over you.

It is possible to obsess over all the possible outcomes for what seems like an absolute age and yet, once you have decided on the best strategy for that one turn, it could all go wrong as the enemy does something unexpected or gets the jump on one of your units and you confident offense minded plan, suddenly sees you going on the defensive. Again though, while you may find some rounds taking ages to get through, others will feel like you are speeding through them, with your choices seemingly obvious and everything going right. It really is simplistically brilliant.

So if everything is so simple to understand, why might it not appeal instantly? Well that is because if doesn’t try to be a game that gives instant reward it is one that tries to test your own powers of logic and deduction and has the same rewarding feeling as winning a game of chess. Whilst not looking as fun as other games, to those who pick it up, it will feel great. Trying to sell it to your friends is another thing altogether, it just doesn’t have the visual appeal for the broader audience, nor does it have the that immediate sell if you get them to have a quick go. As with a game like chess it really does need someone who is willing to buy into it fully.

For those that do though, you will be rewarded with a rather excellent game and one that will give you hours upon hours of entertainment and can be played fully at your own pace. It is a perfect fit for the Vita and one that we will be spending a lot more time with.