Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair Review

You awake to the sound of lapping waves. The last thing you remember is your first day at the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy. Alongside yourself, fifteen other students have become stranded on the tropical paradise, Jabberwock Island. None of the others are familiar to you, and your teacher appears to be a… stuffed rabbit?

The sequel to February 2014’s Trigger Happy Havoc, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is the latest entry into the Playstation Vita’s surprisingly-packed psychological horror/visual novel genre. As in the previous game, the entity linking everything together is Hope’s Peak Academy – an elite school where every student is considered the zenith of their respective field. Examples include Peko Pekoyama, the Ultimate Swordsman, and Sonia Nevermind, the, um, Ultimate Princess.

It soon transpires that your presence on Jabberwock Island is actually a school trip… or so you are told. Despite this, something is amiss – there are no other people to be found anywhere in the complex, the airport is defunct, and surveillance cameras are dotted around the island. Out of nowhere, control of the resort is forcibly seized by a sassy, maniacal stuffed bear, and he has news for you: There is only one way to leave Jabberwock Island… Kill one of your fellow students, and get away with the crime.

If you quite literally get away with murder, you will be allowed to leave the island; every other student will be punished. If you are caught, the punishment will instead fall upon your shoulders.

Danganronpa 2 sees you assume the role of Hajime Hinata, a straight-laced student who just happens to have no idea what his ultimate talent is. Together with the other students, the aim is to explore the island complex for a way to unravel the mysteries behind your Battle Royale-esque hell.

It doesn’t take long before things get grisly and someone is dispatched, ending any pretense of a peaceful exploration of the island. When the body is discovered, the game’s focus changes; away from the happy-go-lucky paradise exploration and getting to know new friends, to a murder investigation that will have you second-guessing every other character for the rest of the game.

Evidence is gathered by inspecting the crime scene and talking to the other students to obtain their accounts; justice is served in a class trial. Within a makeshift courtroom, the case is discussed as a group; you must pick holes in the arguments that are presented to you, which will draw you towards an understanding of the crime, and subsequently, the killer.

Danganronpa is a difficult series to pin down. On the one hand, it revolves around crime scene investigation and the solving of a grisly and complex murder. However, the main antagonist is a stuffed bear, and when you find a piece of evidence, it is presented to you in the form of a “truth bullet”. Objecting to an argument during the class trial involves firing the appropriate truth bullet at the text representation of the incorrect statement from a… justice gun of some sort? The analogy is incredibly laboured. Danganronpa 2 goes one step further than the previous entry in the series, and introduces an additional weapon of truth – TRUTH BLADES with which you CUT THROUGH CONTRADICTIONS.

The class trial also features a number of minigames, designed to help you figure out vital clues relating to the investigation. Sometimes you must overcome the Hangman’s Gambit – a game of Hangman with moving parts. Other times you will have to Logic Dive, which is a mixture of Murderous Trivial Pursuit and a bad snowboarding game; finally, the class trial ends with Panic Talk Action, a rhythm-action game, which suffers some serious button lag issues.

Assuming you are able to correctly identify the killer during this class trial sequence, they will be punished. You bear witness to their fate, and are then left to deal with the consequences as a group.

Much of your exploration in Danganronpa 2 is undertaken in a first-person view, though the controls take some getting used to. You would be forgiven for mistaking Hajime for a baby giraffe at first, given how difficult it can be to accurately point him in the right direction. Gathering of truth bullets is reminiscent of a classic adventure game – a scene unfolds in front of you, and there are certain hotspots that can be targeted for further investigation. Rather than resulting to pixel hunting, a press of the Triangle button will identify everything that can be interacted with, which keeps things moving at a decent pace. In addition, the class trial will never start until you have gathered all the necessary information, so there are no points where you can accidentally lose due to missing an important plot point.

The puzzles and investigations are on the whole really satisfying. Each trial will begin once all the evidence has been gathered, but often the true nature of the crime will not become apparent until part way through the trial thanks to clever exposition and usage of evidence. The trials aren’t perfectly-pitched at all times; occasionally I felt the evidence I was presenting was not relevant to the discussion going on, or the answer was a leap further than I had thought. On the whole though, it does a good job of gently nudging you in the right direction and making you feel smart.

The English dub is decent if a bit ropey in places. Some of this can be blamed on the script, which is on occasion a bit forced; repeated use of words that are not usually used colloquially makes even the most emotional moments sound super-cheesy, and characters have a tendency to monologue a bit too much at times. On the more positive side, Goodbye Despair is packed full of obscure (and occasionally brazen), blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pop culture references, along with more than a few darkly comic moments.

A visual novel, much like any kind of storytelling medium, lives and dies on its plot, storytelling and atmosphere. Despite the dub not being perfect, occasionally awkward writing, the controls you have to fight with and terrible minigames, Danganronpa 2 hooked me from start to finish. Rather than play everything straight and revolve solely around a murder investigation, the increasingly disturbing situation that the game depicts bounces off the goofy antagonists, upbeat soundtrack and island bliss to produce an atmosphere so creepy, unnerving and claustrophobic – that you’ll never quite know what’s waiting for you around the next corner.

Suspend your disbelief and look past the rough edges, and the constant feeling of unease will more than make up for it.

Velocity 2X Review

Futurlab have come a long way since releasing a little known game called Velocity as a PS Mini. Along with games such as Surge and Coconut Dodge, Velocity itself has also seen a remaster for the PS Vita and finally a proper sequel and for those in the know, one of the most anticipated games of the year.

Velocity 2X on the surface is more of the same, with what could seem some pretty needless additions just because it needed to have something new. However, the minor improvements to the UI, the controls and the more obvious new gameplay elements make for a sequel that improves on the original in every way, which in itself is impressive, when you consider how good Velocity Ultra was.

From the preview screenshots and videos you should be well aware that the biggest addition to the game is the new platforming levels, that see you control Kai on foot for the very first time. Initial fears that this could be a step too far for Velocity are soon calmed when you play these levels for the first time.

The precision that you need in the flying parts of the game are here in the platform levels and everything just feels like Velocity, despite literally bringing in a completely different genre and seamlessly weaving it into the original concept. This is where the team at Futurlab have really managed to show their talent.

It would have been easy enough to have the flying and platforming sections as independent levels and that would have still seen a fantastic experience. Yet, these two different elements make up single levels, mostly starting off with flying sections, before needing to enter a portal and go through a platforming section to unlock the next area of a level for flying.

Whilst this works great in critical urgency levels, where speed is the key element, they stand out as spectacular when it comes to playing the giant puzzle maps, that require you to work out a way through the map, often repeating visits to previous areas, before going back to others, gradually unlocking the gates to move further.

There are 50 levels overall each with a series of objectives that lead up to an eventual perfect run, which is completing all objectives to 100% in the specified time limit in a single run. The game teases you early on as getting a perfect in levels one to five is fairly easy, but then it becomes much more difficult, but never once feeling out of reach.

There are also various bonus levels to find and unlock which are very small mini games completely separate to the main game, so as not to interfere with the core experience. In fact, it is very hard to find fault with Velocity 2X, it is cross-buy, cross-save and on PS+ for the first month. Out complaint was going to be that we want more than the 50 levels on offer, but it seems that even then there may be more coming is the day one patch notes are true.

Velocity 2X works on so many levels, bosses are beatable, but the balance is spot on so that they are challenging without being unfair, but also they don’t come across as a minor inconvenience. Some become big levels in themselves, having you shoot from your ship, before entering the boss itself and doing some platforming.

Different powerups and skills are introduced at a perfect rate throughout the game and always keep it feeling fresh, even offering a lovely twist on the game (and maybe a hint as to what DLC may be?) very, very late on. You can also use the newly discovered weapons and skills to go back to earlier levels and access areas you couldn’t before, unlocking bonus content.

Even if you finish all the core game on offer, there are leaderboard which add some longevity as you try and get the best score possible. Early levels pretty much see most people grouped on the same points, but later levels have a massive spread, so you know there is always room for improvement.

The same cannot be said for Velocity 2X, it is hard to see where they could improve on what they have produced here. It is a game that us open to everyone, but rewards those who are willing to put in extra effort, it doesn’t exclude anyone and it a proper game, something retro for the modern era. We played on both the PS4 and PS Vita and if we are being honest, we couldn’t find a clear favourite way to play, it just works wonderfully well on both systems.

Futurlab made a bold claim that Velocity 2X is the game of the year 2014… They are not wrong.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 Review

First things first, we never played the original Hyperdimension Neptunia in which Re;Birth is a remake of, so we’re coming at this with a fresh perspective. And if this is said to improve elements from the original, it’s not a series we’re that keen to delve into. Of course, there’s some stuff to like, but much like Mugen Souls Z, another Compile Heart game we reviewed a few months back, it’s buried beneath layers and layers of awfulness.

A lot of the plot aims to poke fun, or maybe parody, the games industry. The world you inhabit is called Gameindustri and revolves around goddesses battling it out in The Console War. The game is full of nods and winks to various gaming terms, that with actual writers could’ve been funny, but instead they’re almost painful

The voice acting is like nails on a chalkboard. The game consisting of young, whiny girls that just ramble on incessantly about nothing. And that’s really what the plot is like, characters will go on and on about something that doesn’t even matter. Five minute cut scenes could be wrapped up in five seconds if they cut all the chaff. It could be said this is what the anime audience wants, but having watched an awful lot of high quality anime lately, this would do the medium a huge disservice.

But again, like Mugen Souls Z there’s a solid gameplay idea at the bottom of all this. The actual turn based combat is perfectly fine. A party of three, at the start of each turn you can move your character around the battlefield (within the moveable circle), getting into position to attack or in a defensive position if you choose to heal. It adds a nice positional tactic to proceedings. Standard attacks are combined into various types, for instance using the X button will initiate a guard break, whereas the square button is for strong physical attacks. Combining these making combos. Of course, the usual JRPG like skills are all present and accounted for. The combat is certainly not the problem with the gameplay, it’s the grinding.

In one of the early areas you find yourself in you will breeze past the enemies, only to come across a boss fight and bam, destroyed in one hit. The progression seems incredibly off with large sections of ease soon met with an enormous difficulty spike. Each big encounter feels like it needs a couple of hours grinding time, making the game incredibly repetitive. And why really bother when there’s no hook?

For people who are actually fans of the series, then Compile Heart deserve some credit for not just creating a quick cash grab and adding a number of elements that were introduced to the series later on. This includes the likes of music, battle system and even the plot which has been given an overhaul. The most interesting however being the remake system, which by collecting plans you’re able to alter the dungeons by adding harder enemies, changing the items and more.

Graphically the game is perfectly fine also. It looks nice on the Vita, worlds are bright and colourful, and the 2D characters pop out (and not just their breasts! Boom!) during the cut scenes. Musically it’s not bad either, in fact, technically it’s all rather impressive, making it even more infuriating as to how it’s all turned out.

The main issue then with Neptunia Re;Birth is not the underlying imagery of young anime girls showing their assets, it’s that it’s all so dull. The plot line is pointless, voice acting excruciating and features an unnecessary amount of grinding. The only saving grace coming in the form of the combat, which contains a number of neat ideas that hopefully one day will find its way into a better game.

Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited Review

There are two things that will hit you immediately if you are making your first foray into the Disgaea series with this entry. First the lighthearted overtones to the story and characters and second, the initially confusing mechanics. But with a little patience and some effort from yourself, you can find a very rewarding experience. 

You take on the role of Lord Valvatorez a demon who has been sent to the netherworld and given the role of training the Prinnies, in exchange for a supply of sardines, which he uses as a substitute for human blood. However, one of Valvatorez’ qualities is he always keeps a promise and when the Prinnies are abducted before graduating his class (which is a scenario for a glorified tutorial) he must set off to save them and thus keeping his promise and honor in tact.

Of course the story branches off somewhat from the opening setup, but what you will find is a well written game with characters who whilst not immediately lovable, do grow on you and do make sense in the world and setting they are placed in. Interactions between characters come across as though they are between two hammy actors on the stage in the West End, which adds to the comical tones of everything.

The initial mechanics can be awkward to get used to, despite the tutorials in the opening battles. But as you progress you soon find that you are able to use the various tactics introduced to you earlier. The battles you take part in are turn based, with you and your opponent taking turns in phases.

You will start by moving your character on a grid to get them in position to either attack, lift, defend, etc. Then you will set the actions before finally executing. Now at this point you phase isn’t over, unless you choose ‘End Turn’ so you can even set up an attack with some of the characters in play,  execute those moves, then even bring more into play before executing theirs. It allows you to really use some tactics to get the upper hand.

One example of this is moving a character to a certain square on the grid, then moving a second character behind them, using the second character to throw the first character to a higher point, executing that move-set, then using the first thrown character to attack the enemy that was previously unreachable. That whilst being a very simple use of the mechanics and the phases show off just how deep a battle can potentially go and is actually a lot less forgiving than something such as Demon Gaze or Persona in this respect.

There is lots more beyond just the story and the battle mechanics, as you use a hub world to buy and sell weapons, armour and more, as well as learning new skills, building your team, etc. Whilst a lot of this is just a variation on what you can expect in other RPG’s it takes a lot of time to figure it out properly here.

What you will get here is around 40+ hours of main game content alone, but if you really want to get through all the potential sub content, quests, collectibles, etc then there is easily over 100 hours on offer. Limits are pretty damn impressive too, with a level cap of 9999 and damage numbers that go to insane levels. Again this adds to the overall amusement of Disgaea 4.

This is a SRPG that isn’t for everyone and whilst it isn’t totally inaccessible for newcomers, it is clearly a game designed for fans of the genre and more specifically the series itself.  But that’s no bad thing as for anyone willing to put in the time and effort there is a very rewarding experience on offer.

Gravity Crash Ultra Review

Was you one of those that played Gravity Crash when it released on the PS3? You know, those days before Indies were mainstream. If so then you’ll hopefully remember a game that was rather challenging, yet awfully satisfying, maybe you even got the PSP port of the game. 

Well now Gravity Crash has been re-imagined, given a lick of paint and has been released for the Vita as Gravity Crash Ultra. There are a host of updates, but it essentially sticks to the same formula as the original, but just what is Gravity Crash?

Well, if you’ve played PixelJunk Shooter, you’ll get an idea of how this plays, but with a few differences that make it a worthwhile option compared to Shooter. You control a space craft and the idea is to fly around a level completing various tasks, such as saving humans, killing certain enemies, collecting a required number of gems, etc.

What Gravity Crash Ultra does really well, is instead of just focusing on the tasks in each level, it encourages you to better your score or time it has taken to beat said level. Even the very first level you play, you’ll find that once finished you are nowhere near the suggested par time. So back you go to try and do it faster, this time skipping elements such as killing the no threatening enemies that are spread across the level.

Instead you focus on collecting the gems and getting a fast time, however, your score is much lower, so you go back again, this time trying to get the highest score possible, looking for any hidden opportunities to get those few extra points. This is what Gravity Crash Ultra does exceptionally well.

You find that you will play the same level over and over as you attempt to get better and reach a ceiling of your own abilities, but still, those leaderboards are also there to tell you that it is possible to go better once more. But you’ve exhausted all possibilities right?

Well not quite, as there are options you can consider before entering a level, such as the type of ship you are using and how it controls, as well as the various special weapon types, that each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Other things that you need to be aware of are things such as an ever depleting fuel supply, which measn you can’t simply go through a level like a bull in a china shop, instead you need to be aware that if you run out of fuel, you have a dead ship on your hands and no way to progress through that particular level.

It’s not all doom and gloom with this though, as there are various objects that can be shot, which will release fuel for you to stock up, but also, how you control your ship will also determine how much fuel you use. Always on the thrusters? Then your fuel will disappear very quickly, use them sparingly and the fuel will last longer.

However, as with everything in the game, there are pros and cons to either method. Using the thrusters a lot will see the fuel deplete quicker, but you’ll get things done quicker and maybe get a faster time, be gentle on them and you’ll save fuel, but be a lot slower through the level. Again though on the flip to that, you will find you are more accurate with shooting enemies and the like.

Although the general idea of each level is very similar, where you have to reach a target objective, the variation is such that it rarely becomes boring, or a chore that you would rather not bother with. Instead it is a game that wants you to get better with each new level you play and wants you to get the most out of it. To this end the development team have done a fantastic job.

But the visuals…Oh the visuals. The retro neon look works fantastically well on the Vita’s OLED and after popping on the PSP to have a look at the original (of sorts) we was mightily impressed by just how much sharper the game looked. Not only that, it felt more alive and less static than the original did also. Playing with some headphones on meant the world outside just slowly evaporated as the game sucked us in.

Gravity Crash Ultra is just another example of a game that has found a home on the Vita and it quite simply perfectly suited to Sony’s handheld. At just less than £6 on release this is also some fantastic value for money. Buy it instantly.

Metrico Review

Infographics! boring when it comes to business presentations, mildly more interesting when used to visually show stats such as what percentage of goals were scored by a sportsman from certain areas, with which foot and in which minute of the game. But did you know they can also be the base for a puzzle platforming game? Well the team at Digital Dreams hope you will find the concept an exciting one. 

In the most part they do, as Metrico is a a tough and challenging game that will test out your logical thinking. The concept is that you need to complete levels by navigating the world of ever changing infographics, where each action you take has a reaction of the world around you.

Early on, the game is fairly simple to get to grips with, with basic puzzles that are easy enough to work out and overcome. Doing things such as jumping will raise a graphic for you to walk underneath and on to the next. Others will teach you about timing, so doing that same jump to raise a graphic, will then need you to work out how high, as it will begin to fall with every step you take.

The structure of the levels works really well, each time requiring you to use the various tricks you have learned previously to overcome the next obstacles. That simplicity is soon a thing of the past though, as new techniques make themselves known and each upcoming obstacle requires a more convoluted solution to get past.

For the most part these are fine, as they use a combination of button presses and moves, but then the game introduces some move sets that take advantage of the Vita’s various abilities, such as using the front screen and rear touch pad. Again these are fine and make sense within the game, but it is when the game introduces the need to tilt and twist the Vita to affect parts of the level that a degree of frustration appears.

Now whilst the scenarios themselves during these parts may not be the most difficult, the need to at times turn the Vita upside down and away from yourself just feels like it is adding a degree of difficulty that is beyond what seems fair. Many of the other scenarios are difficult, the solutions aren’t sign posted and they do require you to take your time to work out how best to get through and that is perfectly acceptable, but the gyroscope based puzzles seem to push things a little too far.

However, the gyroscope technique isn’t the main focus of the game and later on it doesn’t feel like you are having to do over the top moves with the Vita to use them. These issues mainly seem to be in one main area when they are first introduced.

What Metrico does well and we applaud the developers for this, is it doesn’t ever try to hold your hand, it revels in its challenge and apart from some basic cues to introduce a new mechanic, it leaves everything up to your own skill levels and power of deduction. This does involve a fair amount of trial and error, due mainly to the fact that you are never aware of how your actions affect the world at any one point until you try them.

Thankfully though, you don’t seem to be punished for mistake and simply start again from your last checkpoint. Checkpoints that a logically placed at the start of each new scenario.

Visually Metrico is very impressive looking, using the inforgraphics to create a world that feels alive, whether that be the main areas that you interact with directly, of the subtle animations in the background. Despite using very similar assets all over the game, each new world has a very different feel and that mixed with some very good sound design makes for a very immersive  experience which is only amplified when played with some headphones in.

Metrico isn’t a game that sells itself based on a trailer, but once you get into the game and play it for yourself, it will hook you and reel you in. It is a fantastic exclusive for the Vita and one that every owner should definitely try out for themselves.

Table Top Racing Review

Micro Machines was a damned fine series of games, working brilliantly, both in  single player and local multiplayer  variations. It was the ideal party game. However it has been a long time since not only the games, but indeed the toys were popular, but there are some who still loved what was on offer and it is clear the is a little influence in Playrise Digital’s Table Top Racing.

The team behind Table Top Racing have a pretty good pedigree too with many coming from the now defunct Studio Liverpool and having worked on the likes of the under appreciated Bang Bang Racing, as well as PGR, Wipeout and Fur Fighters, among others. It kind of puts a bit of pressure on a game that started out as a Free 2 Play on mobile devices.

Table Top Racing is actually somewhat of a slow burner and takes a while to actually become enjoyable to play. Visually it is nice, with the miniature vehicles racing around various crafted tracks in locations around the home, but it isn’t anything to write home about.

The action isn’t exactly anything majorly game changing either, it essentially boils down to being a by the numbers combat racer, that feels more like it is influenced from games such as Crash Team Racing and Mario Kart than it is Micro Machines, which is a little disappointing when you first start the game. Especially as there is a distinct lack of speed to early races and events, it lacks the inertia you come to expect in games like this.

That said though, as you progress and unlock new vehicles, the speed does ramp up, as does the challenge and what you will find is that despite many of your early worries are all but gone and you are enjoying the game, the AI becomes more challenging and winning isn’t just a case of getting the lead and romping home. Which in a single player mode is essential.

There is a fair amount on offer offline, with a few Championships to compete in, as well as various drift events, special events and the standard quick races. It is possible to play online also, either by hooking up numerous Vita units on the same network, or globally online. It is here that the game is at its very best, as the racing is fun and intense, but the lack of options aside from a basic race is disappointing, but at least online is included which isn’t always the case with games like this.

Despite the number of Championships seeming like very little, the balance is well crafted. The mixture of event types in each championship stops the progress becoming monotonous. There are the standard combat races, where all weapons are available, as well as pure races with powerups disabled. Those are mixed with various time trial, hotlap and pursuit events.

Winning at these events will eventually unlock more events and championships, with each event having a star rating system. So win a race and get three stars, finish third get 1, or meet the various tine objectives. Getting three stars is far from easy too, as the AI can be quite brutal and will push you all the way, so learning the tracks and how best to use powerups will be vital to your progression.

Whilst the various vehicles are easy to control, it isn’t simply a case of hold down accelerate and go, you do need to use the brake button at points and work out the best path through each track to get the best possible times, or find the shortcuts to gain those all important positions.

Table Top Racing isn’t a game that will rock your world, but it isn’t a bad game either. What you have here is a fun racer that is nice to break out every now and again, something that can be enjoyed in small bursts when you have small window of time to kill. Unfortunately it isn’t deep enough to be a must have, must play title, because it is be pretty much finished in a few short hours and any longevity will only come if you can find online games, or get a few friends together for a session or two.

We must also mention that there are some In App Purchases for buying coins to use in the game, however, we never once felt that the progression was being held back in an attempt to make us spend extra money. The game costs £4.99 and that can pretty much be that. In fact we failed to see the need for the IAP option at all, because the game doesn’t feel long enough that you need to skip a grind, it feels more like something that was part of the Android / iOS versions and just not taken out.

Not a must own title, but for less than five pound, you get a fun casual game that will get rid of boredom for a little while. You’ll play a lot better, but you’ll certainly play a hell of a lot worse.

Rogue Legacy Review

Ports! Some see it as a derogatory term with regards to games that are coming to consoles. The idea that games that have been on PC for a while now, are finally coming to console owners is in some way negative. We at Gamestyle aren’t in that camp, we love that many great games, once only available for PC owners are coming to a wider audience. That window between a PC release and console release is also getting shorter.

Rogue Legacy is another Indie that has had success on the PC and is finally making its way to consoles and we are very happy to see it. What you have here is a Roguelike game, that revels in its diffculty. The game is also a platformer that sees you navigate a randomly generated castle trying to reach and defeat a boss in four different environments before tackling a final boss.

Now, you won’t reach any of the bosses for quite some time, as you will die and die often. The mechanic here is that each death is final and rather than lives, you children will carry on the battle for you. They inherit the gold and items you find along the way, which in turn can be used to make them better, as not only do they inherit your goods, but also the attributes and upgrades from their ancestors.

It is an excellent mechanic that is essentially a slight reskin on the usual Roguelike ideas, but one that works very well indeed. As you look back through your family tree, you will get a history of slain ancestors, which will chow you how many previous attempts you have made to make it through the castle.

The gold you find can be spent in various ways, such as upgrading already existing abilities, unlocking new ones, expanding you manor to get further upgrades, buying new armour, etc. One early unlock is the ability to lock down the castle, allowing you to return to it in the state your parent left it in. So if you found a run that was particularly beneficial to you, then you can take it on again. However this comes at a price, as you will only be allowed to keep 60% of the gold that you find.

That is the thing about Rogue Legacy, it works on a fantastic risk vs reward ideal. You can go into a new run completely blind and maybe get some better results, or maybe return to a previous setup but get less from that run. That mechanic is evident in levels too, there are chests dotted around, some require you simply to get to them to open, other have you completing on the spot tasks, such as not receiving any damage on that particular room before reaching the chest, or getting to it in a certain time. Achieve this mini objectives and the chest is yours, fail and it is locked forever (well, until your next death anyhow).

The thing that really impresses about Rogue Legacy is just how fair it feels, especially for a game that is designed around killing you multiple times. The controls are simple, as is the goal and you never once feel like you have been cheated by the game. Sure, you may come up against a run that seems incredibly difficult, but any death you have feels like something you could have done better, whether in that immediate instance, or the way you lost your HP getting to that scenario. Other Roguelikes have felt like they are cheating you to push home a mechanic, but that isn’t the case here at all and Cellar Door Games must be commended for that.

The game is available for PS4, PS3 and PS Vita and runs exceptionally well across all three systems. It has one of the best cross-save systems we have seen to date, based on the fact it is cross-save by default. You load the game up, it checks for a cross-save file update and loads it, without any additional checks needed by you as the user.

This worked well for the most part, such as time you left it maybe half an hour from turning off one version then loading the other. There were the odd occasions where we needed to sync the data from the platform we were leaving, which is done by pressing triangle on the title screen and choosing the option. This takes all of 5 seconds and you have peace of mind when switching instantly.

The other thing that works here, is that you can also load separate profiles in the game on a single PSN account. In this instance we was able to play on one profile, switch that game to the Vita, whilst someone else on the same PSN account loaded a second game profile so they could play on the PS4, at the same time as the original profile was being played on the Vita.

Another thing to note is that each version of the game looks just as good as the other, it meant that there was no minor adjustment needed when switching between each system to get used to the controls. A lot of though has gone in to the cross-platform parts, as it appears clear that the developers wanted people to play it across all three, thus making it as easy as possible.

Rogue Legacy is not a casual game, it is one that requires you to put a lot of time and effort in to get the most from it, accept that you will make little progress early on and need to learn how best to approach certain scenarios, but those who are willing to put the time in, you will be handsomely rewarded.

Mousecraft Review

Tetris was and still is a magnificent puzzler. Lemmings is up there as an all time classic. So what do you get when you send them both off to a hotel for a romantic weekend? Well nine months later you get Mousecraft a new puzzle game from developers Crunching Koalas.

The game itself is more Lemmings than Tetris, with the Tetrominos only coming into play to create paths and steps for you to get you lab mice to their cheese. In fact, it shares a lot in common with games like Chu Chu Rocket and Mario vs Donkey Kong. Adding in traps and enemies that will do their best to stop those mice.

Each level is a single screen affair, where you need to place your Tetrominos in the right places to allow the mice to navigate the level, as said, avoiding traps and potential enemies on the way, as well as collecting shards, which are needed access later levels.

Levels themselves start off fairly simple and are obvious on how they need to be completed. Getting 100% on the first 10 or so levels is easy, but the difficulty soon ramps up and soon enough you will really need to think about how you approach each new setup.

Some levels require you to just place blocks in the right place, others require timing based on where your mice are, or where enemies are at any given time. The timing based puzzles can get a little frustrating and take away slightly from what is a very clever game on the whole.

It is the levels that require pure logical thinking where Mousecraft is at its best, with you spending plenty of time looking at a level, going over your tools and then planning where they need to go so you can collect shards, bombs and get your mice to safety.

There are four ‘worlds’ overall with around 80 levels for you to take on. The game constantly tries to introduce new mechanics, even deep into the final default world, which works for keeping the game fresh and not not descending into monotony. But even when that is done, there is also a level creator for those who fancy themselves as a bit of a level designer.

Whilst the tools decent and like you’d expect in a Trials game, or Little Big Planet, it appears as though everything that was used to make the base game, is also included in the level editor. It is also very intuitive to use, which should allow anyone to come up with something.

The big shame here though is that it doesn’t appear as though you can share your levels, or download levels from friends. This is a big pet hate in games like this, as it rarely feels like there is a point to creating levels, if you cannot share them. Playing your own creations is all well and good, but does anyone really want to do that alone?

It is a sour note in what is otherwise a very good package. Mousecraft is cross-buy and cross-save for PS Vita, PS3 and PS4, with cloud saving working extremely well. Allowing you to jump between versions at will. If you have a Vita, you’ll likely play mostly on that, but to have the options must be commended.

Mousecraft is a really nice puzzle game, that walks the line just right between being too repetitive and easy, or going past the point of challenging to pure frustration. It found that middle ground and got the balance just right. However that lack of level sharing… Well, that really does disappoint.

Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate Review

One of the indie highlights of the PS3 catalogue, both Pixeljunk Shooter games have now been combined into one handheld package. And they’ve definitely not lost anything in the transfer.

Having “Shooter” in the name might be doing the game a disservice, as there’s a lot more to it than that. Yes, things need to be shot, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The aim of the game is to go through each level rescuing scientists who have become trapped, easier said than done with each level getting deeper and deeper into an increasingly unstable planet.

The fluid mechanics are what really set Pixeljunk Shooter apart. Through each level you encounter lava, water, oil and various other hazards. And the way each of these interact with one another is what really makes this such an enjoyable game. For instance, you may come across an impassable area full of molten lava, and above you might see some weak rock that has a layer of water trapped. Shooting said rock releasing the water cools the lava, turning it into rock which can be shot freeing the path to the trapped scientists. This is the most basic of puzzles, with levels getting increasingly harder as the game progresses. And as you get further into the game newer elements get brought in, ranging from new enemies to switches that open up other areas. Lava isn’t the only thing that needs cooling too, unless you’ve obtained a shield then getting too close to the lava also heats up your ship, get too hot and your ship shuts down crashing into the rocks below. The only way to cool it being a quick dip in any water you can find.

There are also additional suits for your ship that add a new element to the puzzles. Some reverse the effects of water and lava; others have a magnetic effect that pushes oil out of the way. All of these little things combined make some of the best, well designed levels you can find on the Vita.

It has to be said screenshots really don’t do the game justice. The way everything interacts with one another looks amazing. The fluid physics are just a delight to watch, drips going over walls, splashes as your ship flies through the water, all in a bright, colourful world. With each new area reached having its own distinct style and appearance.

If you fancy a break from the single player then there is also an online mode for you to try your hand at. An interesting concept, a one on one game where it’s split into rounds with you and your opponent taking turns at grabbing scientists and returning them to your “base”. It won’t hold your attention for that long, but it’s nice that it exists as a throwaway extra.

The major downside to this package is that Pixeljunk Shooter 2 can be considered the weaker of the two games. It’s by no means bad, far from it. But when you go from the first game seamlessly through to the second the game appears to hit a peak when the first game ends, before quality starts to slightly decline as the second begins. The addition of the Hungry Suit is probably where it went a bit wrong. Turning your mobile ship into one that can only move in four directions is not the best of design choices. While the levels themselves are quite cleverly designed, having to ‘eat’ the rocks and push them out the way, controlling the ship is not a fun experience.

While if you’ve already played Pixeljunk Shooter 1 and 2 on PS3 there is very little here to bring you back, if you’ve never experienced them before then this really is the perfect time to jump in. The Vita managing to further cement itself as the indie platform of choice.

Monster Monpiece Review

Another in a long line of Japanese RPG style games comes to the West, this time with Idea Factories’ Monster Monpiece. A RPG with a card battle mechanic.

Before we get to the good stuff, there is an elephant in the room and it boils down to what is essentially a massive culture difference. Whilst most of these recent RPG games feature some choice artwork, usually in the form of very scantily clad females, designed in such a way to have sex appeal to a target audience. Monster Monpiece feels like it is trying to see how far over the line it can go.

There is an element of the game, where you can level up you cards, which are used in battle. To do this you take part in a mini game that involves you rubbing, poking, touching and pinching images of the female characters in provocative places. With the idea being that you essentially bring them to climax, thus resulting in an upgrade of skills.

We at Gamestyle must admit feeling very awkward having to do this, especially when it got to a point that meant you had to place your thumb on the touch screen and finger on the rear touch pad and start furiously rubbing, whilst the female character made very orgasmic noises.

We aren’t prudes by any stretch of the imagination, but for us, this was really taking things too far and in truth felt very out of place withing the game itself. Which despite being very risque, isn’t all that bad in terms of over sexualised content. The game is inhabited with nothing but women, whether it be the main characters themselves, or the monsters that they use to battle, however the story is fairly run of the mill, save the world type stuff.

So having this mini game that requires you to bring various women to orgasm, so you can level them up just feels wrong. That said, it isn’t a main part of the mechanic and is something you only have to do every now and again. We would have liked another option, but this was a choice of the developers and it is clearly something that made the original Japanese release a success.

Many of the cards used in the game have been pulled from the international release also and after a quick Google search it is easy to see why. Again it must be a cultural difference, because whilst these were happily part of the game in Japan, it is perhaps pushing too many boundaries in the West. It is close enough to look like pornography as it is, had the cards that have been removed been left in, then it may well have tipped it over the edge.

But anyway, enough about that, because if you can get past the visuals and the odd sexual fantasy leveling up mechanic, there is once again a fantastic game with some excellent mechanics behind it. So good infact, that it could have left out those boundary pushing elements and still been a fantastic game in its own right.

You move through the story in a fairly linear way, spending time in a lot of text driven cut-scenes that help the story unfold, before setting on a nigh on set path to help the story progress. There are the odd branches you can follow that allow you to earn extra money, cards and items, but these are optional. Though if you do decide to follow these, they take mere minutes to do.

The battle system itself is where the game shines, taking cues from traditional table top card games and mixing it with turn based combat as seen in most RPG games.

You build a deck of cards that have characters of various types and abilities, namely melee, ranged, healer and buffer. These work as you expect, with melee and ranged being your main focus or attack, healer and buffer types offering back up services. You need to build a deck of a maximum of 40 cards and try to get your balance right, based on how you approach battles. As you progress through the game you can buy new card packs, win new cards in battle, or find them on the map as your move through.

Whilst initially confusing, you soon find yourself able to build various types of decks, that you can take into battle, balanced as you need. Unlike table top card battle games, these four card types are all you really have to use, there are no special cards that can be used to boost, or have special affects on the game.

There is however, various items you can take into battle that add extra abilities, such as raising the attack stats for your in play cards and thus giving you an advantage in battle. Something that the opposition can also do, meaning you have to really work out how and when to use these.

The actually battles aren’t simply laying your cards down, as it also uses a type of chess-based system mixed with tower defense. You have a grid that is 3×7 with one end being your starting point and the other the opposition starting point, the middle line is neutral.

You lay down one card per turn and the idea is to advance your characters forward so they can attack the opposition base. Your opposition will be doing the same, so much of the game is spend with your characters, attacking opposition character and vice-versa. This is where tactics come into play.

How you lay down your cards has a massive effect on the battle. Keep laying down melee characters and you will soon find them destroyed by ranged attacks, so you need to mix things up a bit, making sure you also support them with healer and buffer types to keep them alive and increase their abilities.

What was really impressive was just how deep some of the battles became and how quickly they could turn. By laying two cards of the same type you can create a fusion, which increases the attributes of that inplay character, which when mixed with buffers would see them obliterate any opposing forces. Again you can mix fusions with buffer and even skills, as well as getting bonuses for laying down consecutive cards of the same colour.

In terms of fusing together core mechanics from different genres, this is one of the best examples around. It may take a simple approach to each, but by doing so it create something different that just works. As the game goes on, battles become more and more intense with each right in the balance until the end.

Early on, battles are in your favour so as to get you used to the system, having you need to attack the enemy base just the once to win, but the AI opposition needing to attack your three times. The deeper you get into the game though, this evens up and that is when the game comes into its own.

How good are the core mechanics? Well, as much as we wanted to cast the game aside due to the needless mini-games of rubbing and poking scantily clad girls, we just couldn’t, because we wanted to get back to those battles, we wanted to build up our decks, we wanted to get better. If the game was simply a case of collecting cards, playing battles and nothing else, it would have been special and we’d be raving about it as a must have title.

As it is, we advise you to purchase with caution. If you can get past the needless over sexualised nature of the game and are happy to gloss over the molesting of half naked women, there is a very good and rewarding game on offer, but getting past that is not the easiest thing and it certainly isn’t a game you can feel proud to promote to friends and family.

Monster Monpiece will be a divisive game, you may well get plenty of odd looks if you played it in public. Yet the core game mechanics just about win out over the shame factor.

Cel Damage HD Review

There have been plenty of calls for HD remakes of games from the PS1, PS2, XBOX, Gamecube era, with many having come to fruition. However the HD release of Cel Damage has come a little out of left field.

When originally released Cel Damage boasted some impressive visuals, with the cel shaded style giving the game an authentic cartoon look and feel. The gameplay however got a bit of a mixed reception and the game fell directly in the realms of middle tier. Something that was great to rent for a weekend when you had friends over.

It wasn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it had to battle other games of similar ideas. It was seen as more of a family friendly Twisted Metal or Carmageddon. However, looking back, it was played some fairly fond memories, so when the chance came to give it another spin, we couldn’t turn it down.

The thing with Cel Damage is that is was a game of its time. It was very barebones in terms of options, with just three real modes of which to speak. Flag Rally, Gate Relay and Smack Attack. Gate relay is a mode that is the closest to a Kart Racer in the game, with players completing laps by passing through checkpoints dotted around the track.

Flag rally had players racing to collect flags dotted throughout the level and essentially being the one at the end with the most and Smack Attack being the main course, where you pretty much drive around using power-ups to destroy the other players, the winner being the one to a certain score first.

Now whilst these are all decent modes in their own right, they also prove the fact that gaming has moved on a lot since its original release, there just isn’t enough content in there compared to most games that come out now, nor is there really enough variety. Had this been released as a full priced title it would have been a travesty, however for less that £10 it is still a game you can have plenty of fun with and feel as though you are getting value for your money.

Again, being a re-release from a 2001 game, it is best played in local multiplayer, where you can sit with others in the same room and mock each other as you beat them, or heckle them as they beat you. It does remind you of a time gaming was a lot more social and a time where games weren’t taking themselves as seriously. Yet you can’t help but feel that an online option would have been nice, because of the competitive nature of the game, it just won’t get the play time it could.

The HD upgrade is really well handled for the most part, with the cars, levels and graphics looking fantastic, which has a lot to do with the original game design, the cell shaded styling would have held up on its own, but the extra HD polish gives you a game that looks like you remember, rather than ruining your memories of said game.

The menus and everything away from the gameplay though really could have done with an overhaul. Menus are clunky and feel cheap, giving an initial poor impression of what is to come. As said though, the visuals where it counts are impressive though and must be praised.

There have been some minor changes under the hood, with the most noticeable being the removal of one hit kills, with characters now having an energy bar that must be worn down. It does add a little longevity to each individual event, but at the same time removes the risk vs reward nature of the original. You can now be a lot more aggressive all of the time and not have to worry as much about being hit. This for us meant some of the challenge is now missing, which is a shame.

Cel Damage HD feels a little like a missed opportunity, as it could have been a title that was ripe for a remake and not just a re-release. The visual style could have remained, but new modes, characters and a solid online presence would have been welcome and could have made the game relevant again, as it is, it becomes nothing more than a nice trip down memory lane for those who enjoyed the original.

There is value to be had though, as Cel Damage HD is Cross-Buy across PS4, PS4 and PS Vita and for once it doesn’t really matter which format you play on. Because of the game’s set up,  you don’t really feel like you lose anything by focusing on just one and to their credit, the developers have included Cross-Save, which is great to see and again, hopefully something that becomes standard.

Cel Damage HD is a decent game, but one for fans of the original only, it is unlikely to bring new fans, nor change the minds of those who may not have enjoyed it way back when. For a HD remake it is slap bang in the middle of a lazy upgrade and an excellent one and at the end of the day will always feel like a missed opportunity. But for fans there is fun to bed had.

Conception II Review

Thanks to the likes of Atlus and NIS, the west is being exposed to some of the staples of Japanese gaming, with gems such as Persona 4, Demon Gaze, Hyper Dimension Neptunia and so on. Yet it feels like you are never quite prepared for each new one you play and that is also true in the case of Conception II.

Upon first playing Conception II feels like it may be the more run of the mill stories, with characters who actually have more clothing than bare skin, yet it only takes a few minutes to work out that Conception II is just as…Well, different as all those other titles. The sort of game that tests your own embarrassment levels.

At its base level Conception II is another dungeon crawler JRPG, where you are tasked with saving the world, using a mixture of dungeon crawling, turn based battles and relationship building. It also has the idea of summoning star children, which are essentially this game’s version of Pokemon, or Personas. Additional party members with special abilities that help you in battle.

It is the way that you summon and create these Star Children that can make you feel a little awkward. You control the hero of the game, who is given the title of God’s Gift, which supposedly does wonders for the player’s ego, because what is better than being God’s Gift right? You are given this title as it turns out your character has an abnormally high ‘Ether Count’ which means he is 100% guaranteed to produce Star Children if he Classmates with an S-Rank female.

Sorry let’s back-track a second. When adolescents reach a certain age, they may find themselves given a mark, for which means they have to leave home and go to an island, where they become disciples and battle monsters. When they arrive they are graded and given ranks, with the best ranked among them having to take part in a ritual called Classmating, where they attempt to create Star Childen. Hence the title Conception.

You as the God’s Gift are the first of your kind and can enter areas known as Dark Circles to battle monsters on their own territory, whereas before monsters could only be battle once they had escaped one of these circles. Of course if you try to go alone, you’d be destroyed pretty quickly, so being able to conceive Star Children to aid you in battle is a must.

Anyway, the better the rank, the higher success rate of producing a Star Child and the better the Star Child will be, therefore you cannot possibly allow a C-Rank to Classmate with a S-Rank. Luckily though, you are God’s Gift, so you can Classmate with pretty much whomever you like.

That should be simple enough right? Wrong! You still need to build relationships with the female characters, because if you classmate with them and they are not in the right mood, then the quality of the Star Child produced may not be as good as if you were classmating with someone who was more willing.

So a few issues really. The innuendo alone is off the charts in Conception II and really feels like it is aimed at the young teenage boy rather than anyone else. It’s depiction of women is really walking a line also, as it treats many of them as pure objects, that are used as a tool and for you to have your way with, yet there are others that are very strong willed and almost dominant, really playing to a young boys fantasies.

The idea of forcing what are essentially still children to an island to battle monsters and produce children doesn’t really sit comfortably at times and really is awkward to play when other people are around. Yet play you will, because behind a pretty bland story with imagery and dialog that feel better placed in a adolescent males wet dream, is a well balanced game with some pretty solid mechanics behind it.

It doesn’t do anything new as such and the gameplay as you go through dungeons and enter battles shares many similarities with Persona, but that isn’t a bad thing. Dungeons are randomly generated which means you are forever feeling your way around, which in turn means you feel like you are always discovering something new.

Battles are turn based, but there are some nice little touches that do keep things fresh. You have the usual HP and MP and you level up as you go to unlock new abilities. You can edit your party, assign tactics move abilities around, assign new skills, that sort of thing. Then there are potential special moves that can be used, by combining you and your female partner to unleash a much stronger attack.

How you attack enemies has an effect too, you basically get to attack from one of four sides, some of which will trigger a weak point on the enemy, again dealing more damage. This is where a risk vs reward mechanic comes in, as there will be ‘Caution’ areas which are areas the monster is about to attack itself, but if you attack from these areas you can build up your chain faster, but also leave yourself exposed to an attack.

The further you go into the game, the more tactical battle will become and whilst early on these will last a few seconds to a couple of minutes, they soon become much more drawn out affairs, where you really need to consider what you are doing. However, the game does a fantastic job of building you up to these making sure you are ready.

Overall Conception II is a hard one to score. It really should be dismissed a game that should be avoided, due to the nature of the story, the way it is told and how characters are depicted. It is a game you feel you should only play when there is no other soul around to catch you, Yet when you do get going, it is very hard to put down and you will want to see it through to its conclusion, purely because of the games core mechanics.

Sparkle 2 Review

With it’s release of Sparkle on PS Vita, developer 10tons covered a genre that hasn’t had much exposure on Sony’s handheld. The match-3 puzzle game. The first title was very much in the same mould as Luxor and Zuma and the follow up is yet again a pretty much by the numbers game.

In terms of the core mechanics of the game, it is as you would expect. Various coloured orbs follow a specific track around a level and you shoot out matching orbs to try and destroy them. It has been done before and will be copied again down the line. There are a few nice touches here though that do make Sparkle 2 a game worth your attention.

Firstly the game as a bit of a story to follow, which isn’t overly deep or really worth taking note of, but it does allow for a structure to progress and receive various unlocks and bonuses which make sense along the story’s path. The different power-ups you get take on two forms.

First up are the regular power-ups you will get as you play a level, for every 3rd consecutive match you make, a power-up will appear which you can collect and then use to your advantage. These are the usual types, slowing down the orbs on the path, sending them backwards, wild orbs that can match any selection of orbs, whether their colours match or not and so on.

The other type are the permanent power-ups, which can be attached to your orb slinger to enchant it. These range from a power-up that gives you a special type of shot for every ten shots made, to others that will make getting the regular power-ups easier to get.

At the start of the game you have no slots and no permanent power-up available. But for every few levels you complete a new power-up is made available and sometimes a new slot so you can have multiple permanent power-ups at the same time. These prove to be very useful as the game progresses, because Sparkle 2 is a very challenging game, with later levels testing your skills and patience.

There is a fairly decent amount of content available too, with over 90 levels in the main story mode alone, which can then be completed in three different difficulty settings. Aside from that there are also a series of survival modes and challenge levels, which again will really test your abilities and add real value to the game.

As seems to be the trend at the moment, Sparkle 2 is a Cross-Buy title for both PS4 and PS Vita and although the Vita version felt the most natural way to play, the PS4 version is still competent and tries to add some new ideas. The Touchpad on the Dual Shock 4 can be used like a mousepad on a laptop and is meant to offer better control and whilst it feels a bit alien to start with it did become more natural the more it was used.

Another neat addition is the use of the light bar on the Dual Shock 4, with it changing colour based on the coloured orb currently loaded into the orb slinger. It doesn’t have any real practical use, but it was fun to see for a brief moment and again good to see a developer trying to add that something different.

That said, the Vita version really did feel the ideal home for Sparkle 2 and it is where most of the time was spent playing. It would have been nice to chop and change between both versions, but again the lack of Cross-Save on a Cross-Buy title means you really need to choose a format and stick with it. Hopefully Cross-Save is something that will become standard down the line, but as it stands it is another title that feels like you get an option to choose at the start and then stick with.

When that is the only real complaint though, you know a game is doing something right and despite Sparkle 2 being very similar to the likes of Luxor, it does stand up in its own right and is a great little title to play. It ticks all the right boxes and leaves you feeling satisfied, which is what you want from a decent puzzle game.

Titan Attacks Review

Ah Curve, how you spoil us. With their recent output, Curve have been on somewhat of a hot streak. Producing games such as Lone Survivor, Stealth Inc, Proteus, Thomas Was Alone and more. Now granted, they haven’t developed them all and have been on the publishing side, but when you see the name Curve attached to a game, you do need to take notice.

So when Titan Attacks came on the radar, that is exactly what happened,  yet unlike some of their previous output, the immediate appeal wasn’t quite there. On the surface this is a game that looks like a bog standard Space Invaders clone, which doesn’t really seem all that appealing, in a world where we have Space Invader Extreme and Space Invaders Infinity Gene.

Even when you first start playing, it is a game that feels like it is lacking that certain something. The two updated Space Invaders games both brought something new to the table and update the original concept by throwing amazing visuals and music into the mix, with added speed, to test your gaming reflexes, so when you come to a game like Titan Attacks, it originally just feels slow and wrong.

However, after beating a few levels, you realise this is almost pure Space Invaders and is a hell of a lot more challenging than you expected. Sure the enemies move at a slower pace and early levels can be cleared with ease, but as you move on, the way the enemies move, the various types there are, start to make this a really tough game to beat.

That concern you had, that this is a cheap clone is all but gone, as your concentration levels are at their maximum. Sure your eyes aren’t bleeding through blinding visuals and immense speed, but you feel a real danger to your craft as you dodge bullets, try to take down clusters of enemies, get those bonus points and just complete the stage.  It grabs you and once it does, you are hooked.

There are some nice touches that do set it apart from a basic Space Invaders too. You earn money with every kill, get bonuses for taking down certain enemies and there are chances to collect aliens that may fall from some ships to again earn bonus points and money. This adds a risk vs reward element to proceedings, do you try and rescue that falling alien and risk being hit by enemy fire, or do you let him be and stay safe. By going for it, you may get extra money that will become useful for getting some all important upgrades.

You can upgrade various parts of your ship, such as buying extra shields which act as your lives, upgrading weapon power, smart bombs, etc. How you utilise these is important to your progression in the game, as spending everything on shields may keep you safer for longer, but it could mean that you need more hits on tougher enemies to take them down. Spending everything on weapon upgrades may see you take out enemies easier, but leaves you battling not to be hit.

In later levels getting this balance right is vital, as you can and will be bombarded by enemy fire and your reflexes need to be at their sharpest just to stay alive, whilst still trying to take down the enemies and finish the stage. The patterns they take in the game really have an effect too, as you see a mix of the usual left to right and back again types, the ships that move along the screen, others which bounce around the screen in a more random fashion and more. When these all start mixing it becomes a hell of a task to manage them, stay alive and win.

There are smart bombs which can be used to clear an entire level should things get too hectic or difficult and is useful for just moving on, however you won’t receive any bonuses or the like, which then means getting upgrades for the next level becomes harder and in turn makes the next level itself harder to beat. One such situation saw us with a single life left and a lot of enemies left, the smart bomb was used and the level cleared, but that left us with no money to upgrade and straight into the next stage with just that single life.

Titan Attacks is a re-imagining on a classic and whilst it doesn’t reach the height of Space Invaders, nor that game’s own modern updates, it does produce a wonderfully enjoyable game. It would be easy to dismiss it right from the off, but that would be doing it a disservice, because once it gets going, it is easy to lose hours to the game, as you test yourself time and time again to go further and get better.

It isn’t a classic must have title by any stretch, but for its price and the fact it is cross-buy on PS Vita, PS4 and PS3 means it does offer great value. It is best on the Vita though, as the gameplay and visual style works better on the smaller screen, but having the option there to play it on any of your Sony devices is great and hopefully something we’ll see a lot more of.

If you are hankering for some classic old school arcade fun, then you cannot go wrong with Titan Attacks, it isn’t perfect and it isn’t the best Space Invaders inspired game on the market, but it is more than worth your time and money.

The Walking Dead: Season 2 Review

Season One of The Walking Dead was somewhat of a surprise hit when it released in 2012, using the episodic mechanic to further the experience of the world created by Robert Kirkman. It has been released on pretty much every format ever eventually finding its way to the PS Vita. It was a long wait but more than worth, so it is great that the wait for Season 2 hasn’t been as long, finding itself on Sony’s handheld by the time Episode 2 released.

WARNING – SEASON ONE SPOILERS CONTAINED

Much of what made Season One such a wonderful experience remains in Season Two. The story is well written, with drama at every turn and unlike the TV version of the show, it never feels drawn out just to fill air time. After the death of Lee Everett, the main protagonist from Season One, young Clementine becomes the game’s main focus and from the very start, it appears her life hasn’t got any easier or better.

What makes the story work is that it doesn’t focus on any of the characters from the TV version, so there is no need for the writers to make sure they keep characters alive for the sake of continuity. In Season One, the only links to the TV version was the brief cameos from Hershel and Glenn. But because they were just cameos, it allowed the creative team to go all out and produce all the shocks and twists they wanted.

This all returns in Season Two and within a few minutes of playing, the team are right back to getting a strong grip on your attention, making it nigh on impossible to just play for a few minutes. You simply have to play on and see what happens next. Part of this is also down to just how well acted the game is, if you come from Season One into Season Two, you already have an emotional attachment and it continues right through the first two episodes.

If you played the game on the Vita exclusively, then there is a chance you had the season pass and therefore all episodes available from the start, which meant you missed out on one of the major draws of episodic content…The wait. By finishing of a cliffhanger, or a decent plot change meant you were hankering for more, but having to wait weeks for the next episode built up that anticipation. Thankfully, getting in at Episode Two this time around, means you get to experience the game exactly how it was intended.

Whilst the bulk of what made the original such a great experience remains, there have been a few minor changes. The user interface has received a bit of a facelift, which is designed to make it easier to see what actions need to be performed, or what is interactive during each scene. Oddly though, it can take a while to get used to this, especially with some of the QTE moments.

Early on there is a scene where Clem needs to battle her way to safety, using a mix of bashing the X button and pressing a direction. However, the feedback on screen for some of this isn’t as clear as you’d hope and it is difficult to tell initially if you got the timing right or not. One such moment saw us pressing right but still getting caught, a second time, a third time…yet we did nothing different the forth time, but were successful. It just wasn’t clear at all from previous moments where the success window was clearly wider, how our timing was.

Yet in terms of the UI, that is the only complaint, as the mixture of button and touch screen options work really well and is better implemented here than in Season One, thanks in part to allowing the user to use either, or both at their own leisure. One of the big issues though does remain.

On the Vita version, Season One seemed to struggle to run, with long load times and scenes often stuttering at crucial points. Now this didn’t affect the enjoyment of the game as a whole, it was an annoyance. The same issues are here again, but they do seem to be a little less prevalent, but whether this will be the case all the way through remains to be seen, as it was more noticeable in later episodes of Season One, than the first few.

A game like The Walking Dead lives and dies on its story and characters and the fact that Season Two is more of the same is nothing but a good thing. If you enjoyed Season One, or you enjoy the graphic novels and TV series, then you will love the game. Tell Tale Games have struck gold yet again.

PlusCast May 2014

After some issues with the April podcast, Barry and Bradley are back for the May edition of the PlusCast.

We look at the April releases on PS+, have a few discussions on Free 2 Play, a potential future for sports games using PS+ and more. Before looking forward to May’s releases.

Leaving PS Plus:

Entering PS Plus:

So without any further delay:

PlusCast: May 2014

No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either! Review

The Badman series of games may be one of the least known in the videogame world, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fine series. Starting with ‘What Did I Do To Deserves This My Lord’ and its direct sequel, it was soon followed up by the excellent No Heroes Allowed. If you haven’t played these, then stop reading and go play them. All three can be found on the PSN store and are fully compatible with the Vita.

NHA: No Puzzles Either! has all the same humour associated with the original games, with you helping the bad guy rather than the heroes (hence the title and the series theme) but moves to a F2P and Match Three puzzle mechanic…Hold on, come back! Don’t let F2P scare you off just yet.

Before getting into the F2P mechanics of the game, let’s explore the game itself. What you have here is a game that uses a nice mix of Match Three and RPG elements to create a very well crafted and engaging experience. You essentially need to stop a series of heroes from reaching your dark lord, by matching the blocks to unleash monsters, who will in turn battle the heroes to the death. The more matches you make, the more monsters are unleashed, the quicker you kill those pesky heroes.

Every level you pass allows you to capture heroes and use them as you see fit. You can either put them to work in your mine so they can find loot and new monsters types, or use them to mix with existing monsters to level them up so they become more and more powerful, to the point of evolving them to new even more powerful types.

That is the basics of it, a really simple game to understand and to play. The Match Three works really well and by getting combos, you will see huge numbers of monsters attack the heroes as they try to make their way to your Dark Lord. Some of the earlier levels are easily beaten, but as you progress you see the need for the RPG style upgrades, as some heroes become extremely difficult to take down.

The core game is simply outstanding and very, very addictive, you could easily spend hours upon hours playing, upgrading, evolving and completely forget about everything going on in the real world around you.

Yet it has the Free to Play moniker attached to it, something that wasn’t part of the previous three titles. It is fair to say that F2P doesn’t exactly have the best of reputations, especially after the debacle that was the re-make(?) of Dungeon Keeper from EA, which was sickening in its approach.

Here though you have F2P done right. The game is free and can be played in its entirety for free and yes there are micro-transactions  that allow you to buy various boosts and such. You see, you can pretty much only have three plays every 24 hours, with new lives unlocked around every seven hours, which does restrict the amount of time you can play the main part of thegame at any one time. This can become rather frustrating as you get to later levels and find you need several attempts at passing them, or even if you do pass them, you will need to improve a C rating, to an A or S rating to unlock extra heroes.

The game even mocks you a bit during the tutorial levels, mentioning the various restrictions in place and how you can bypass these using COLD HARD CASH!!! Initially this may seem to be EA levels of extortion, but here is the thing. You ‘could’ buy the 69p-99p boosts, or for £7.99 you can just unlock the whole game. Doing this instantly removes the restrictions on how many times a day you can play, or how many heroes you can have working for you in the mine.

And do you know what? £7.99 for a game of this quality is a pure bargain and within 48 hours of first playing, you will be more than happy to hand over your money. The developers have essentially said “We are that confident that you will like our game, that we are happy to offer it for free, but know you’ll pay up”

This is what F2P should be. It should be a system where instead of a demo where you can only get so far, you can finish it for free, with the right amount and right type of restrictions in place. Such as here, where it limits the amount of time you can play per day for free. This is better than a pure demo, as you can still earn trophies and even finish the game, but should you like what you are playing you get the full experience when you pay up.

But it doesn’t try and make you pay a ridiculous price for the pleasure either. It isn’t trying to find the ‘whales’ who will spend hundreds of pounds over the true value of the game, just because they have no self control. They want you to spend your money, they want to earn a profit and they want the game to sell and the approach taken here is one of the best examples we have seen.

At first we had issues with the smaller boost packs, but again it makes sense. It is aimed at those who don’t feel the need to pay full price, those who are happy to play three times every 24 hours, but may need that extra little boost from time to time. It isn’t a game designed around paying to win and eventually if you feel you are going to pay 69p more than once or twice, it makes sense to spend the £7.99 for the full unlock. It is clever from a business point of view, but most importantly it isn’t insulting to the people who matter most…the consumer.

NHA: No Puzzles Either! is perfect handheld fodder, with levels lasting between 30 seconds to 5 minutes as a rule, making it a great title to turn to when you have a small window to play, but can also be enjoyed for much longer periods. It retains all the humour of the previous titles and is rammed full of charm.

A game that has really come out to little or no fanfare, is one of the best puzzle games to hit the Vita and in fact sits alongside Treasures Of Montezuma Blitz as the best of its type on the system (itself another F2P title). Pick this up now and see for yourself just how good it is and then spend your COLD HARD CASH to unlock the full game. Just make sure you get the previous titles too.

Starlight Inception Review

Starlight Inception comes to Vita off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign, reaching its $150,000 target. Promoting itself as the ‘Rebellious step-child of Wing Commander’. Thus giving itself quite the standard to live up to. So where to start? 

There is plenty to complain about with Starlight Inception, but that won’t be the end of the story here. However, let’s start with the game’s issues.

Visually Starlight Inception is very rough around the edges and gone are the days where you can easily say “it’s an Indie game with a small team” because there have been some stunning looking games released by minuscule teams and even individuals. The problem with Starlight Inception in the visual department is that it appears the team have tried to be to adventurous and possibly stretched themselves too far.

It’s not just the main visuals that seem to be lacking either. The fonts used for menus, stats and subtitles are just very hard to read. Almost feeling like an after thought, which just should not be the case. Subtitles for example are very small and have a black background to them, but the padding around the background is almost non-existent with the text tight to the edges and even breaking out from the box, which just makes things look poor and amateurish. If this can be fixed with a patch, then it simply has to be.

In trying to create a world that is vast, they really needed to have models to match. Yet here you have ships, characters and locations that look low res and poorly designed. The cut-scenes look very poor and very budget indeed, to the point where you feel the game would have been better without them, or used a similar technique seen in games like Velocity Ultra, where they use an animated comic strip style, which allows them to get creative and bypass the issues that arise with creating 3D environments and filling those with 3D models.

Yet, Escape Hatch Entertainment has kind of made a rod for the their own back. In trying to create an immersive experience, they allow you to walk the halls of the ship you are on, which of course needs fully realised environments and then the experience needs to remain when you hit the cut scenes.

Being able to walk around a fully realised spaceship is a nice idea, but feels like a needless add-on to a game that doesn’t need it. It adds very little in actual fact and you soon want to be clear of these sections and getting into those space battles. Again by trying to push what they can do, the acted out cut-scenes are also lacking, the production values are just missing and not in a ‘so bad it is good’ way either. They just feel lackluster.

With that said though, the bread and butter of a game like this, will be in the combat and the action side of things and it does improve here to a degree. From the outset you will notice little nods to other space combat games of the past and you do get a feel of the sheer size of the environment, but again in trying to achieve something impressive things start to fall down a little again.

Because of the size of the combat environments, you never really feel part of the action. You often need to navigate to various checkpoints whilst engaging with enemy craft and what you find is that most of the combat isn’t reminiscent of dogfighting, as you’ll have taken down a target from quite a distance away.

In the earlier levels, we couldn’t even tell you what the enemy looked like, again because we were able to take them down from over a thousand feet away, just shooting at the markers on the screen. This meant that the action felt a bit cumbersome for the most part. Whereas we wanted fast and frantic, just like the scenes you’d see in Star Wars and the like. That is what you expect from a space combat sim, yet this felt more like a RTS without the actual RTS elements.

But here is the thing, despite all these issues, we found that we were still playing. In other games where the are a plethora of issues, you can’t wait to put it down, write it up and move on. Here though you can see a solid game trying to get out and despite most of the action taking place from distance, the mechanics are more than competent. On the odd occasion you do get up close and personal, you see just how fights are meant to take place. Having to lead the craft you are trying to take down, or making sure you lock on to fire a missile, which does work really well and does get exciting and frantic. It is just that this doesn’t happen often enough.

As you get further into the game, you do notice the action pick up a bit more and the missions are nice a varied, when you consider the setting and style of the game and there really are some nice touches. These are just outweighed at the moment by the negatives, making it harder to forgive the graphical issues or the problems with the bits inbetween the action.

Beyond the main campaign, there is a mode called Fly Patrol, which is a nice mix of pure space combat with tower defense elements, which is a little like an Orcs Must Die in space. This works well and again offers up some nice variation, but yet again is sandwiched between needless story elements.

There is also online multiplayer which puts you straight into pure combat in an online environment and is where the game shines the most, as you are given a nice mix of options, with a Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Protect The Flag and Capture The Flag variations. At the time of writing, it wasn’t easy to find games, but when we was able to jump in, it was great fun and felt more like how the main game should have been treated.

This should have been a game that showed what is possible on a Vita, bringing another genre to the system and hopefully opening the door for more games to follow. But it does fall short on doing that and it doesn’t feel like it is the fault of the system. What you have here is a game that was perhaps too ambitious for its own good and had it dialed back some of that ambition, it could have been a must have.

Controls too are fairly solid, with your craft easy to control and the attacking options making sense from the off. It would have been nice to have an option to invert the movement controls. but you soon get used to the defaults.

Yet, don’t be entirely dismissive of Starlight Inception, because as we mentioned, despite the issues, we were still more than happy to carry on playing and the relaxed nature of the combat here made this somewhat of a laid back game to unwind with. It just needed to be a lot tighter, doing away with a fair amount of the fluff that accompanies the main game.

If you are desperate for a space combat game, then Starlight Inception will just about scratch that itch, yet it is far from an essential purchase, which is a shame, because as we said, there is a very solid game held back by its own ambition.

Dead Nation Review

Housemarque’s twin stick zombie shooter has already graced the PS3 and PS4, now it’s the Vita’s turn to get a slice of the undead pie. And while there are plenty of games out there that have made the console to handheld transition with relative ease, Dead Nation goes to show that it doesn’t always go according to plan.

Let’s start by saying, while not setting our world alight, the PS3 Dead Nation was a pretty decent game. Taking control of one of the two lead characters, the game played out like an isometric Left 4 Dead, but our main issue was just how dark and small everything seemed. Now if everything appeared small on a big television screen, imagine what it’s like on the Vita.

Certain zombie types are incredibly hard to spot until they’re feasting on your flesh and while you’re given a torch on the end of your gun, it doesn’t really do a great job of lighting your surrounding area. This would probably be great with a traditional survival horror game, not one where action seems to be its main focus. On top of this there seems to be a slight issue with the audio that we cannot remember being present in the original version. At times, usually when there’s a lot of action on screen the gunshot sound wouldn’t play, which led to an awful lot of confusion as to whether the gun was actually firing or not.

You could say Dead Nation is not a twin sticks shooter in the traditional sense. While the left stick is indeed used for movement and the right for aim, you’re still using the R trigger to fire, which when you’re down to the default, unlimited ammo rifle, it’s enough to make your hands seize up in pain. Best played in short bursts then, it’s good that the game has a generous checkpoint system.

It may sound like we’re being really down on Dead Nation, but there are some neat ideas in there. Collecting money to buy upgrades and finding hidden armour pieces add some depth to what is usually a shallow genre, and it is mechanically very solid, but these aren’t enough to stave off the repetition that will soon set in. New zombie types are introduced, some of which also bring comparisons to Left 4 Dead, but they don’t exactly require any strategy that isn’t used for the standard undead horde. Just grab whatever weapon you have handy whether it’s a flamethrower or SMG and just blast away until they fall down. The environment can be used to your advantage though, with exploding canisters and even car alarms (something else that reminds us of Left 4 Dead) that can be utilised to attack zombies and then explode

One thing you can’t criticise is how well presented it all is. With some nice music and one of the best opening intro movies we’ve seen. And the ability to see where your country ranks on the zombie killing scale is a nice little feature. Of course, online co-op is also present and accounted for, but really playing it with another person still doesn’t do enough to stop the boredom that sets in after about half an hour.

If you have the choice between picking up Dead Nation on PS3, PS4 or Vita, then the Vita version should be the last one to consider. What was a decent if unspectacular game on consoles becomes a frustrating experience when shrunk onto the handheld. At least if you already own it on PS3 then it’s free on Vita, which is something.

Demon Gaze Review

The Vita is about to become the home of the JRPG, it started with the popularity of Persona 4 Golden in the West and the flood gates are about to open. Demon Gaze is a title that many have looked forward to, however it probably shouldn’t be your first foray into the genre.

Demon Gaze is a non-direct sequel of sorts to 2010’s Students of the Round. This game though is set thousands of years after its predecessor and has a completely new story with very little in common, bar the gameplay. You take on the role of a Demon Gazer named Oz, who, for various reasons has taken over the role from Lorna and needs to venture through the various dungeons to hunt and capture the demons, find loot and pay his rent to stay in his room given by Fran the bartender.

It takes a fair old while for the story to start to make sense, even after being introduced to the many odd characters within the game. Even with a fair amount of confusion early on, the characters themselves and the writing are rather endearing and likable, with plenty of humour thrown into the mix. Yet some caution is needed as to where and when you play Demon Gaze, as there is no shying away from the sexualising of the characters.

Women’s clothing is more than revealing and there are many scenes where you may feel more comfortable watching actual porn, than playing Demon Gaze, as there is plenty of flesh on display and characters, especially the female ones, seem quite keen to remove their clothes. That said, apart from some early inhibitions, it soon becomes part of the norm.

This really isn’t a game for showing off what the Vita can do. It isn’t going to sway casual crowd and become the killer app to make them want to own a Vita. But why should it? This is a game that knows exactly what it is and what crowd it is playing to. And the early shocks with the visual design, shouldn’t distract from what is actually a very competent and challenging title.

The game play is split between dungeon crawling and relationship building, but for those who enjoyed P4G, they will find this side of it is a bit lighter and less important. Away from dungeons it is usually a case of reporting back, speaking to various characters and getting new quests, all fairly standard stuff designed to drive the story forward. Which it does rather well, even if the opening hours can seem a little drawn out.

In the dungeons, the game is played in a first person view. You move around finding your way to your next quest. It is all pretty simple and has an auto-mapping feature, which comes in pretty handy as there are many alternate paths and secrets to be found, Many of which can only be accessed one you have leveled up, found certain equipment, or have the right demons captured.

Initially dungeons will feel quite small and thus make the game feel fairly small, but as you progress further, the sheer size of dungeons and the amount there is to map becomes evident. There will be a large amount of retracing steps, as you go from the inn to you next quest and back again. But this is fine, as there are always plenty of battles to be had en-route.

Battles are a mix of random and pre-placed with many becoming rather simple to get past after you have leveled up a few times, but the Demons you have to take on are fantastically hard, you really need to understand strengths and weaknesses to succeed, which you won’t first time out, nor second time and probably a bit beyond that.

It is a game that requires a fair amount of grinding, but again that is fine, because the battle system works. It is fairly simple, with an option to attack, defend, use skills or items, all as part of your strategy. You can equip weapons, armour and various other items to help your character be the best they can.

You aren’t going it alone though, as there is a party system that should help you along the way, but you do need to earn the extra party members. This is done by buying and renting rooms at the inn for your party to stay at. It is a nice little system and one that works well, allowing you to decide how best to raise the cash to afford the rooms and the rent.

Throughout the dungeons there are also various ‘Circles’, where you can use gems you have collected to summon monsters. Win the battle here and you are rewarded with new items, that can either be useful for battle, or sold back at the inn to raise more money. Again how you use the money is up to you, but you do need to be wise about it. The Circles you win battles at, also become controlled by you, controlling all the circles in an area allows you to then take on the main Demon. Luckily controlled circles also act as a save point, as you will find your self praising the developers for this minor touch, as you will return to them time and time again.

The main issue with Demon Gaze, is that despite each aspect of the game being fairly simple in nature, it can be a little daunting for newcomers to the genre. As from even an early stage, the game doesn’t shy away from the challenge, with battles designed not to be a walkover, this is true even if you put the game on the easiest setting.

That said, it is the challenging nature of the game that really makes it satisfying to play in the long run. There were a couple of early Demons in the game, that were retried more times than we can remember, however when they were finally overcome, there was a feeling of real achievement and in actual fact, despite the numerous retries, the game never once felt frustrating.

If you are a fan of the JRPG genre and enjoy dungeon crawling, then this is very much a great game, you’ll get stuck in and find yourself lost to the game’s quirky charms. However, if you are dabbling in the genre for the first time, it really isn’t the game for you, there are others out there better suited. That doesn’t stop this being a wonderful experience for those who do get it.

MLB 14: The Show Review

Baseball. It is America’s favourite game apparently and The Show has long been the best of the best for showcasing the sport on games consoles. Whilst the NBA 2K series has been the darling of gamers for how a sports game should be presented, it is the this series that has probably been the bench mark for a simulation of its chosen sport.

The thing with The Show, is that it just isn’t for casuals at all. In fact, if you have little to no knowledge of Baseball, then getting to grips with this game is extremely difficult. It throws statistics, sayings and more at you like you should already know what they mean and despite having various options of difficulty, unless you know how Baseball is played, you will become lost very easily indeed.

From the outside looking in, Baseball appears to be a very simple sport. A pitcher will throw a ball and the batter will try to hit it. They will either hit it well enough to get to a base, or hit it so well they get a home-run. Failing that they will get struck out, caught, thrown out, etc. Yet Baseball is a much deeper game than that, with a lot relying on understanding how you opponent will react to certain situations.

Will the pitcher you are facing deliberately throw a pitch out of the strike zone when ahead in the count? What pitch will they throw if they have thrown two balls and two strikes. Will the current batter try to drive runs home if there are guys on base? Will they bunt to advance a runner into a scoring position for the next batter to do the damage? Much of the game is played in the mind, or against the statistics, rather than hit and hope.

Whilst there have been other games that allow for this more simplistic idea, such as The Bigs or the now very retro RBI Baseball. The Show unashamedly recreates the game of Baseball to almost perfection. It doesn’t hide the fact it wants its players to have an understanding of the real game and if anything it basks its difficulty.

There have been attempts made to speed the game up, such as the quick count mode, which starts each at bat deep into the count. 3-1, 2-2, 2-1, etc, which then see you as the batter pretty much having to decide on a hit or taking a ball. It does away with a lot of the early pitch mind games usually involved with each at bat. This is a nice way to maybe get through some regular season games in quick time, but it does take away from some of the more in depth areas of the game. For newcomers too, it doesn’t really help them understand how to get to that point. But for playing on the Vita, maybe during a lunch break at work or on a small journey, it does allow for some on the go Baseball and does make it a nice addition to the series.

The Vita version is cut down from the PS3 and upcoming PS4 releases though, but does contain the more important modes. Road to the Show (RTTS) is included and feels a lot more rounded than in previous years. You start as a rookie and the idea is to become the best player in the majors, just like in NBA’s My Player, or NHL’s Be A Pro modes.

What is different and what we actually liked, was that the scenarios you would get from each at bat, or fielding moment have gone. Rather than getting specific tasks, you are simply rewarded on how your at-bat has gone. Get struck out in three pitches and you will have a bad at bat. Get struck out, but force the pitcher to throw plenty of pitches and you’ll get a better rating. Drive in a home-run with the bases loaded and you be rewarded even more.

Now whilst it may be argued that having individual tasks at set moments may be more realistic, having this freedom works. One of the biggest issues we found with previous versions was that you would be to work a full count, but the pitcher would then throw the sort of pitches that made this either very difficult, or nigh on impossible, resulting in a negative rating. So here, if you are walked in 4 pitches, you aren’t then punished for not being able to drive a run home at the request of a coach.

Other modes are all intact, such as the franchise and season modes, along with a Homer Run Derby mode. The HR Derby can be played either offline or online and is a nice distraction from the main modes, yet this is the only online mode on the Vita release which is a tad disappointing.

What is nice is that RTTS and both the season and franchise modes are cross-save, which is perfect for a game like this. Being able to play the bulk of your games on the home console versions, but then carry on a couple of games out of the house, or in bed works really well. Especially as there is so much content on offer in sports games like these and should really be the benchmark for all future releases of any sports game.

We felt great playing our pre-season games on the Vita whilst away for a weekend, before playing the opening day on the PS3, before playing the next couple of games back on the Vita whilst the main TV was taken up for other activities. The cross-save works really well too, with you saving the games as normal, then choosing to upload to the cloud to pick up on the console of choice.

Another thing that impresses here is the dynamic difficulty, which adjusts the game’s tendencies based on how you play. In previous released it was difficult to find a balance, especially for someone who kind of gets the sport, but isn’t exactly an expert. With dynamic difficulty the game works out across a number of games how you play and how well you perform and adjusts the sliders as needed. This meant that at no point was the game too difficult or even too easy. It felt like it was balanced right all the time, a slump was a slump and hot streak was a hot streak, with none of this being because we had adjusted the sliders ourselves to help.

MLB 14: The Show will not be for everyone, it isn’t a game for the casual gamer. It is a game for fans of the sport and for those it is the perfect game to have, especially with the cross-save features that mean you are never away from the action for any longer than you need to be. As good a sports simulation as you can get.

Fez Review

Alomst every gamer must know about Fez. A game that was originally released on XBLA around two years ago and was a bit of a focal point of the documentary Indie Game: The Movie. It has been through a bit of a development hell and release dates were pushed further and further back. It got to a point where there was even a little bit of a backlash from fans. It’s creator Phil Fish divided opinion and became somewhat of a controversial figure over the past few years.

That said, when Fez finally released it proved the wait was worth it and here at Gamestyle, we were massive fans. It is hard to think now, that this game was a big deal, an Indie game that had AAA following. Going back just a couple of years and the Indie movement on consoles was still new, they weren’t the industry darling, but here we had a game that was built from the ground up by a very small team and it was as well known as the latest Call Of Duty in many circles.

It really is a fantastic game too, with players taking on the role of Gomez, a 2D character who lives in a 2D world, before his life it turned upside down and he is shown that there is something beyond his realm. The world around him is actually 3D, thus setting him on a journey of discovery.

Whilst the mechanics in Fez aren’t completely unique, having seen similar in games such as Crush, it is how well the 2D and 3D work together that makes this stand out. Rather than just switching you between 2D and 3D, you actually only play in 2D, which keeps the game mechanics on the players end simple and understandable. The 3D element comes in by allowing the user to rotate the world and start to show areas of the world that would have been previously unseen. Thus allowing new elements to open up. Ladders to get to higher area, doors to hidden rooms, or even changing where a platform is reachable from.

Fez walks the line between puzzler and platformer remarkably well, and whilst there is a fair amount of traversal around levels, it is the puzzle elements that really stand out. Working out how to reach a certain area, or what what you may have missed whilst trying find those remaining cubes. To even finding hidden areas and secrets that open up the world of Fez even further.

Yet the gameplay mechanics and the story that drive it are only part of the charm. The world of Fez is simply beautiful, it is a lesson that shows what can be done with old ideals with added power. Years ago 2D games were made out of necessity, 16bit consoles wouldn’t cope with full on 3D worlds. Then, they were forgotten, as more power meant this became possible. However not without its problems, games had more bugs, graphics looked a lot poorer and that beauty was lost.

In games like Fez though, there is an outstanding amount of attention to detail. Every little block seems to have been lovingly created, the colours burst from the screen and especially on the Vita’s OLED display, it just pops. In fact, it is the design of the levels and the attention to detail in that design that keeps you there, you never actually want to leave, you can happily lose yourself for hours on end.

Now as we said, this is a 2 year old game that is now seeing a release on PSN, but having it open to a wider audience who may have missed out first time around in no bad thing. It is cross-buy and cross-save here too. We recommend playing on the Vita for the most part, is we really cannot state enough, just how wonderful it looks on ‘Dat Screen’.

The Cross-Save deserves a mention too, as it is the best implementation so far. You have a choice of four save slots in the game. 1-3 which are local and a Cross-Save slot. We choose that, as we wanted to test the game across the three platforms. Starting on the Vita, we got to a point in the game and saved. Then booting up the PS4 version, that save was in the Cross-Save slot instantly and we could carry on. Played some more, then back to the Vita. There it was, updated and ready to carry on. Where other games have had Cross-Save which has been a bit cumbersome, this is just works. So kudos to the development team for that.

So what of Fez? Who is it for? The answer to that is everyone. If you haven’t played before, then you must pick it up instantly, hell even if you played and completed, it is the sort of game that you will be happy to play through again. If you get it on PSN, you don’t even need to settle on a single platform, what we can say is that the PSN release if the definitive version of Fez. Stop what you are doing and buy it now.

Plus Cast Episode 2

Recently I joined Barry from RLLMUK to take part in a new podcast focusing on Playstation Plus. Where we discuss the each month’s offerings and look ahead to what is coming up. As well as the benefits and effects of the service.

There was an issue with episode 1, which will be forever lost, but episode 2 was a success. We have decided to post each month’s podcast here at Gamestyle as we think it is a nice addition to the site. So please check back every month to find a new episode.

So without any further delay:

Plus Cast Episode 2: March 2014

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Review

For many, their first introduction into the world of Final Fantasy was Final Fantasy VII, it came at the right time, on the right system and elevated the series to a whole other level. There have been many requests for a HD update, but the team at Square decided on Final Fantasy X and its sequel, X-2 for a bit of spit and polish.

It’s not a bad choice by any means and beyond the many hours put into Final Fantasy VII, it was X that probably grabbed this writer the most.

For those who don’t know, Final Fantasy X sees you take on the role of Tidus, who is the star of popular sport ‘Blitzball’, an underwater take on football. During a game, the city is attacked by a creature known as Sin, destroying the city and threatening the world. So what is a sports star to do? Well, team up with his pals and takes down the evil that threatens everything.

It is Final Fantasy and the story is a bit convoluted, but holds together quite well across the hours you will spend in the game. There are some parts that drag on and the characters at times can become a tad annoying, Tidus especially, despite being the lead role. Overall though, you will come across much, much worse.

What you are essentially getting here is the original releases, with an upgraded look, no more, no less…Well, depending on where you lived when the original came out (or managed to import). There were difference between the International and Japanese versions of the game, so in this HD port, you care given the opportunity to play either of them, which in X comes down to choosing a standard or expert sphere grid.

For newcomers to the series, it is worth just sticking to the standard, as it can all get confusing enough as it is. Which is a bit of a downfall of the game itself. The first few hours feel largely like they are one giant tutorial, a tutorial that never seems to want to end. Action is broken up on a regular basis so that the game can explain another mechanic of some description. It is at its worst when it comes to partaking in a nice game of Blitzball.

Here you are given an obscene amount of tutorial lists, before you can even get into playing a game. However, the game of Blitzball itself is rather quite fun to play and a very nice addition to the standard RPG stuff. We would suggest trying to skip most of the tutorial here, but it really is needed.

One thing that many fans of the series didn’t like about X was that it was fairly constrained, compared to some of the other games, with the story often pushing you down a corridor, rather than giving you ultimate freedom, this is shown in the level designs too, with you barely able to go off and explore. That said, for many it shouldn’t be an issue, it works for this game, it makes it feel different to the likes of VII, it also makes it a bit more welcoming to those who may never have experienced a Final Fantasy before.

Battles are generally standard too, turn based fighting, using menus to select an action and then choosing a target. There are some nice nuances to this to discover, but this type of battle system has come a long way since X and some may find it a little bit archaic, especially along with the complex Sphere Grid.

X isn’t the only part to be given this treatment though, X-2 has itself a few bits of added content, that was missing on not quite done right in its own original release. Such as an additional mission only found in the Japanese version orginally, or some extra stuff that can be done with your party, a creature creator and more.

X-2 also plays differently and has a lot less slow marauding across lands between major sections of the story. It is also a lot more open than X, allowing you to visit anywhere on the map from the very start and being quite relaxed with how and when you choose to do side missions. It is a clever sequel to X in some ways, as it doesn’t just keep to the same formula, it tries to do something a bit different and is very much worth playing once you finish X.

The HD visual upgrade is really well done and on the Vita’s OLED screen (if you were lucky enough to pick one up before the Slim release) it just oozes quality. It is a perfect fit for the Vita also, especially compared to the console versions. Because of the way the save system works, you cannot just save as and when you needed it, often spending large chunks of time before finding another save spot. With the Vita’s sleep mode though, you can still play in small bursts, or push on for longer spells, thus negating the need to find the time to play.

Fans of the games are going to love coming back to experience them all over again, with lovely updated visuals and some tweaks that enhance the gameplay just the right amount. Newcomers will find this a lovely introduction into Final Fantasy and if this sells enough, you never know…we may get FFVII HD afterall. But even if we don’t, this is great in its own right.

Steamworld Dig Review

So it begins. Indie games are finding releases for both Vita and PS4 at the same time and with Steamworld Dig, you have the added bonus of Cross-Buy, meaning pay once, get both versions. This is the glorious future of Indie gaming on the Playstation ecosystem.

Steamworld Dig is a fascinating title, which is a cross between Spelunky and Mr Driller, but with some added resource management thrown in to the mix. For the most part this all blends together nicely, to offer a wonderful title that can be easily dipped in and out of at will.

You take on the role of Rusty, a robot who has been tasked with exploring his uncles mines, to discover more and uncover the secrets it holds. Rusty’s uncle couldn’t have been a great miner, seeing as pretty much none of it has been uncovered, but hey, it gives you a reason to dig.

The core gameplay involves you digging deeper and deeper into the mine, finding secret technology, ore and hidden caves along the way. You smash rocks, dirt and more with your pickaxe to make a route through, while at the same time collecting that precious ore that is hidden in the environment.

It isn’t just a case of going deeper and deeper at all times though, as there are a few constraints in place. Firstly, you can only carry a finite amount of items, meaning you need to return to the surface on a regular basis and trade it in for money. Secondly, you pickaxe can only affect certain types of environment, meaning you need to trade that ore for money, to upgrade for better tools, to dig new areas. You can also upgrade the amount you can carry, which allows you to do deeper and collect more before returning to the surface.

There are other constraints too, you have a health meter, which can take some pretty drastic hits from creatures that lurk below the surface, so pushing on and risking death or returning to purchase more health has to be taken into consideration. You also have a finite amount of light, so again, returning to the surface can replenish this meter also.

It isn’t just returning to the surface though, as you can decide to attack the monsters and collect what they drop, either a light bonus, or some extra health, but again it is a decision you need to make, as get it wrong and you die, losing everything you have collected.

The early game is a bit of a slow burner, as you are very limited in what you have and you also need to physically climb back to the surface. Later on though, with the various upgrades, new abilities and conveniently place teleporters, you can find shortcuts back to the surface, the deeper you go. It is then that the game really opens up and becomes a joy to play.

It’s not just managing the resources for yourself either, you also find you can upgrade the town, so again you need to balance what you do and when, as everything has the potential to help you. It is worth taking some time to decide on each new decent how best to work. The game teases you with new environments from time to time, before fully introducing them, giving you a clue that you may need a new upgrade before pushing on too much further, it is a very clever little hint system, as it never outright tells you hat is needed, but nudges you towards discovery.

All levels are procedurally generated  meaning that no two games are ever alike…And you will play more than once, as a single playthrough is generally around five hours long, yet you never feel you have discovered all the game has to offer. With the grading system at the end of playthrough, you are tempted back into to see if you can beat that. Again a nice little system to get more out of what could be considered a short game.

The biggest disappointment though comes from the lack of Cross-Save, as it almost renders the Cross-Buy pointless. It is a game that is perfect for Cross-Save, as you may start on the PS4, but want to carry on while out and about, before coming home and playing more on the big screen. As it is you are better off at this stage choosing a platform and sticking with it, hoping that at some point Cross-Save is patched in.

That said, it is easy to lose yourself to Steamworld Dig (Editors Note: I was almost late picking my son up, the first time I played it), the game is designed to keep you busy and push you towards your goal, you never feel like you are doing things for the sake of it and that there is always something to aim towards, it is a very well put together experience. It becomes very difficult to find a point at which you want to actually stop.

On the whole though, Steamworld Dig is a fascinating game and one that will bring plenty of joy. It is a game you can take your time with and enjoy. Taking some elements from other games in the genre and tailoring them to make a wonderful experience. It is just a shame about that Cross-Save

Luftrausers Review

It seems like an absolute age ago that Luftrausers was announced for the PS Vita and at the time it looked like the perfect fit, one of the titles that was part of the start of the Indie Revolution on Sony’s handheld. Since that time many, many Indie have come and gone and still no Luftrausers, to the point it was almost forgotten about. However, it is finally here and it has really been worth the wait.

Luftrausers is at its core a 2D shooter, that shares some characteristics of a twin stick shooter, but without those exact mechanics. Yet it is a lot deeper than other 2D shooters, adding in some very interesting customisation options, that really do set it apart.

When you first jump into the game, you are given a brief overview of the controls. Push up to boost, move with left stick, shoot with the X Button and that is pretty much it. Along with some core mechanic descriptions, such as stop shooting to fix your damage. What is interesting though, is that when you first start playing, the controls don’t feel natural, you don’t feel like you can just pick it up and become a master of the game. It is at odds with everything you’d expect with a game like this.

The idea is that controls should be easy to learn, so you can then master the game, finding ways to get better scores. Yet here, you spend much of your first time getting to grips with the control system. Unlike a twin stick shooter, or most shooters in actual fact, you don’t simply press the direction you want to go and then go that direction. To get forward momentum you have to press up on the analogue stick (or D-Pad) which provides a boost. Then you can use that momentum to turn and go in another direction, but if you aren’t boosting, you begin to free-fall, you can still turn, but you will do so heading toward the sea at the bottom of the level.

The sea won’t kill you if you hit it and is actually a good way to fend off enemies that are following you, before emerging to take them down. It really does take a while to fully understand the controls, but when you do it opens up in such a way that you soon forget how alien this felt at the beginning.

Soon you are finding ways to out maneuver your opposition, finding a way to group them together, before quickly turning the tide and unleashing hell. What you have here is a very good dogfight system, that works amazingly well in 2D. Boosting in one direction, then stalling your plane, allowing enemies to go past and then boosting again to fire the deadly shots and racking up the score. It feels so good once you get a firm grasp on the many little techniques within the game.

It’s not just your technique that improves though, as you complete challenges, you unlock various upgrades that can change your weapon, boost type and body. There are many interesting combinations available, such as a part that uses bullets to boost, meaning you fire bullets from the rear of your plane everytime you boost, which works out great for taking out ships, of enemies on your tail. Other parts may improve mobility, but wreck you strength, others may do the reverse, the variation here is stunning.

At one point we used a set up that stopped us taking damage when colliding with enemies, using the rear bullet shooting boost, which was allowing us to feel invincible. However it came at a cost, as mobility was lost and it was harder to evade enemy fire. So switching up to better mobility, meant that we had to actually shoot our enemy, this was fine, but strength was worse and it took less damage to end our run. What is great is that there is no ‘catch all’ set up, every single one (or which there are many) has pros and cons, it is just how you want to approach each run that will determine what you use.

You won’t ever really settle at one setup though, because for each part on offer to customise your plane, there are series of challenges. Completing these will also help you level up to unlock more part and more challenges. These range from getting a certain score, or getting a set number of kills in a single run, to something a bit more challenging, such as killing a certain type of enemy in a certain way.

The more difficult the challenge, the more XP you can earn to level up and unlock more. It works really well and you find that you want to experiment, you want to try new part and take on new challenges, to the point where at times, you forget this is a score attack game. Which again is what the main part is all about and to that effect there is a combo multiplier mechanic, every shot you hit with, your multiplier goes up, to a maximum of 20x and the better your multiplier, the bigger your banked score will be. It isn’t easy to get a maximum multiplier and keep it going, as take too long to hit another enemy and you lost it, banking that score at that time.

This means that you are soon trying to balance staying alive, completing challenges and getting the best score possible. It really does draw you in and you will become very, very focused, and what initially seemed like a slow burner of a game, becomes very intense and extremely challenging, especially as you always feel you can better your score, or that of a friend on the leaderboard.

Luftrausers has been a long time coming, but it doesn’t disappoint one little bit. The title is cross-buy, and whilst it is great on the PS3 and the big screen, it is yet another Indie title that has found a home on the Vita and it really is the perfect fit.

Ys: Memories of Celceta Review

The Ys series is one that’s been around for years, but admittedly one we know very little about. It’s better late than never, as Memories of Celceta has opened our eyes to the series. Celceta may be our first Ys game; it definitely won’t be our last

Chronicling the adventures of Adol Christin, Memories of Celceta is chronologically the fourth in the series (there are more than ten in total) and is the third game to be the fourth. Confused? Well, there are two previous games that have the “IV” prefix, but both made by different teams. Memories of Celceta is made by the original Ys team (Nihon Falcom) and is now considered the only canonical entry. Thus ends the history lesson.

The good news is you don’t need to have caught up on the series to enjoy Celceta. Adol Christin at the start finds himself struck with amnesia; so much like you Adol is newly discovering this world also. While it’s possible there are a number of nods to previous games (we wouldn’t know) it’s most certainly a self-contained story that can be enjoyed by everyone. And the story is definitely one that will get its hooks into you. The initial plot point having Adol sent on a quest to fill in a map, exploring the uncharted areas of the world, soon transforms into something else entirely. Along the way uncovering your lost memories and completing a variety of side quests.

One of the best things about the story is Adol coming across characters he previously met before losing his memory. It seems wherever poor Adol went misfortune followed and with each new city or town discovered a new problem arose just as Adol departed. So naturally it’s up to you to solve the problems that may or may not have been caused by our fearless adventurer. Once the problem has been solved then a number of side quests will open up in that area. These are promoted on boards and once read are automatically added to your quest list. These aren’t usually that interesting, mainly dealing with trades and killing things, but will be required if you want to get some much needed cash and equipment.

Mechanically Memories of Celceta has a number of layers that are introduced separately, and in doing so eases the player into the gameplay without overwhelming. While initially starting with Adol you’ll soon have a number of party members added to your roster as the game unfolds, swapping members out when needed. With all three of your characters visible, you’ll be controlling one of them while the AI takes care of the other two. What could’ve been a mess of constant babysitting is saved by the computer AI being more than capable. They will attack your enemies, dodge and generally keep out of harm’s way. And each character coming with their own unique ability, so your first addition to the team will be Duren who has the ability to pick locks, others that get added have skills ranging from cutting down rocks forming new paths to magically activating switches. Each character is useful, and better yet, they all gain experience points, levelling up no matter if they’re in the party or not.

The combat is one of the most pleasing aspects of Memories of Celceta. As previously mentioned there are many layers to the mechanics, particularly when it comes to the combat. Standard attacks are coupled with special skills, draining skill points, these attacks are more devastating than regular attacks with new ones being learned as you level up. On top of this there is the dodge and guard, doing either just before being hit results in the game entering slow motion for a short period allowing you to wail on the enemy. All of these abilities will be needed if you’re to overcome some of the tougher boss battles.

If there’s one downside with this otherwise fantastic package, it would be the graphical quality. It’s not the prettiest game, neither is it the worst. A lot of it could come down to the art style, which is a little bland and uninspiring, featuring your standard JRPG-style character designs and prerequisite environments, from mountains to forests.

This however never took away from the enjoyment. The music is the catchiest we’ve heard in quite some time, and the whole game feels made for handhelds, in the sense that you can save anywhere you wish. With travelling around the world done with magical stones that are scattered across the world (along with another, faster travel option revealed further through the game), it’s perfect for pick up and play action, a rarity with this sort of game. And with completion time around the sixteen hour mark, one that doesn’t outstay its welcome.

With the likes of OlliOlli, Surge Deluxe, tXk and now this, never before has a handheld or console gotten off to such a fantastic start to the year. A fantastic adventure from beginning to end, and one that everyone should play.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is like so many games you have played before, but also like nothing you have played before. This makes it a pretty unique game from the off. It does come with a bit of a warning though. You do need to like reading, as there is dialogue, lots and lots of dialogue.

Hope’s Peak Academy is a very private and exclusive school, with places reserved for the ultimate students in their respective fields, be it sports, music, fashion, programming, as long as they are the ultimate. That is with the exception of you! You take on the role of Makoto Naegi, who is average in every way, but still finds himself at this school for the ultimate.

What happens next is for you to discover, but it takes a turn for the dark and things do get very dark indeed, especially from the moment you first meet Monokuma, a sadistic and really quite disturbed bear, who has trapped you in the school, with very little hope of getting out. Very early on you are told that to get out of the school, you have to kill another student, but you must not be discovered…This leads into the main story, one which we will not spoil for you.

Monokuma really is something else, everything about him is unsettling, from his look, his general demeanor and especially his voice. It is a cleverly designed and scripted character, whose look along with his voice never make you feel comfortable around him, even though you know it is just a game character.

So what is Danganronpa then? Well, it is a little bit Persona 4, a helping of Virtue’s Last Reward, a splash of Phoenix Wright, but at the same time it is nothing like any of those games. You have elements of relationship building as you get to know the various character in the game, but you use that to then work out whether you can trust them, believe their stories and find out who the killer may be.

Conversations give you opportunities to delve a little deeper, ask questions and eventually try to place blame. It isn’t as simple as making this decision, you have to be right, if you are wrong, then things won’t go well for you, or the group. Trial and error won’t work here, this isn’t a short game where you can go and try out various things in the hope you can get the right outcome, the building of relationships, the dialogue between characters, all need to be respected, you have no choice but to take a methodical approach.

What impresses with the make up of the game, is that it isn’t afraid to push boundaries with the narrative, this isn’t a light hearted game at all. It can and does pull some emotional strings and you do form bonds with the characters, that despite their quirky designs, are actually very well rounded and believable with their own emotions and actions. In turn this also tests your own morals, as you try to work your way to an end game.

The mechanic for collecting evidence is well done also. You have truth bullets, which allow you point out area of text that can be contradicted of questioned, these are then collated as you use it to deduce your findings. Along with this there are various mini games that help you find yet more evidence, all leading to a point where you can make a clear accusation.

The main problem here, is that unlike a game such as Virtue’s Last Reward, there is only the single outcome, there aren’t any real branching paths, which does soon show that there is less choice than you’d initially expect based on the early setup. The game feels more like a visual novel, where you set the pacing yourself and learn parts of the story by your own actions.

Yet somehow it works, the writing and the gameplay balance out nicely and despite knowing you are heading down a single path, you are happy to do so. You want to know the outcome, how all the characters finish the story. It shouldn’t work, the illusion of choice whilst having large amounts of dialogue thrust upon you, shouldn’t be enjoyable as a game, but this does work, you can’t help but be drawn in, from the opening to the very end.

What Danganronpa does is show how games are evolving, that there is a space for dialogue heavy experiences and that with the right scripting, you can care about characters and care about what happens to them, much in the same way you can in a book, or a film. Yet by introducing even basic interactivity, you can feel even closer to them, making storytelling move from the passive activity is once was, to something a lot more active.

The digital age of gaming, has seen a steady influx of games like this come from their home in Japan, to the west. In days past, these would need to be imported, as the risk vs reward for publishers releasing on disc in a territory where these may not work, was too much. Now though, the translation work can be done and the games can be released digitally and the Vita becomes an ideal home for such games, as they can be taken and played for any length of time anywhere.

The themes of Danganronpa aren’t going to be for everyone, but for those who want an exceptional story that gets its hooks in, then you cannot go wrong here. Monokuma will leave his mark on you, one way or another. This is once again a fine edition to Vita’s ever impressive library.

Surge Deluxe Review

From the earlier days of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong to the modern era of Geometry Wars and Pinball FX, the allure of the high score has been a part of videogames for decades. And with the downfall of the arcades led to the rise of online, and in particular, online leaderboards. FuturLab’s Surge Deluxe is a game that thrives on the thrill of beating your friend’s score and there’s nothing better.

An update of a Playstation Mini game, Surge Deluxe is more than just a rehash brought onto the Vita. A lot of care and attention has been taken in the transfer, with a new puzzle mode, the aforementioned leaderboards and being more welcoming to the colour blind with each block having a specific shape as opposed to just different colours. Though being able to differentiate between different shapes in the heat of the action may still be a little more challenging when the action ramps up. And boy, does it ramp up.

The basic crux of Surge Deluxe is a simple as the best in the genre. You’re given a number of coloured blocks on both sides of the screen. Using the touch screen you must connect each block with the same colour, creating chains to gain more points, once each screen is cleared you’re onto the next. Simple premise that has different layers of difficulty stacked on top. You see, on top of matching colours you need to keep an eye on the timer at the bottom of the screen which resets once each screen is complete, connecting three or more blocks recharges it. Added difficulty comes from the two gauges at the left and right of the screen. If these reach the top of the screen then it’s game over.

To drain the gauges then you’ll need to create a space next to each gauge. Touching them drains them slightly, but connecting each one to the corresponding one on the other side (as long as there are no blocks blocking the way) drains it faster. Naturally as each screen gets cleared this gets faster and faster until you’re frantically trying to clear the way to reach each gauge. While there are instructions in the menus of Surge Deluxe, there is a handy tutorial that shows you the ropes the first time you play Surge Deluxe. Initially it seems a lot to take in with not only the gauges and the timer, but also the special blocks, it soon becomes second nature. And that’s when the addiction sets in.

You’ll soon become targeted on that next score in line, which is always handily placed in the top right corner. Boosting your score being aided from everything to multipliers, to bomb blocks, to even one that changes every block to a specific colour. Then there are those blocks that do their best to trip you up. The ones which change colour every couple of seconds led to a few nightmare moments, and it’s worth noting that connect one block to the wrong colour and it resets the line, costing valuable time. With each failed attempt you’ll be quick to jump back in, “one more go” you’ll say to yourself, and before you know it you’re suffering from hand cramp after hours of playtime.

The best part about Surge Deluxe is that there is a strategy to it. With time being more favourable during the earlier screens, it’s wise to maximise score as much as possible. Yet, as the game progresses and time becomes more of an issue, you’ll start to sacrifice the maximum points in order to just get the screen clear as fast as possible. That’s our strategy anyway, we’re sure there are plenty of other people out there who will adopt another, probably better one. And that’s what makes Surge Deluxe great.

If you fancy taking a breather after the more intense, standard game there is also the puzzle mode. A welcome addition that presents you a pattern of blocks that need to be destroyed. Each puzzle coming with a score that must be reached, so planning out how to destroy each block for maximum points is more prevalent than clearing the screen as fast as possible.

Puzzle games have always been a highlight on handhelds, and Surge Deluxe carries on this tradition. It’s amazing that despite largely lacking the AAA blockbuster titles, the Vita has become something of an indie paradise. Surge Deluxe is the latest, and one of the best.

Dragonball Z: Battle of Z

We’re not going to lie, at Gamestyle we know of Dragonball, but our knowledge is that is exists and that is about it. So jumping into Dragonball Z: Battle of Z was done pretty much blindly. Literally not knowing what to expect, we came out of it rather impressed to the point where we’re eager to find out more about the Anime itself.

However, back to the game, what you have here is an arena battle game, that has plenty of focus on the action. You control one of the characters from the popular anime series and battle your way through various missions.

There is a story behind this all, which may well make sense to fans of Dragonball Z, but to those coming in from outside, it may not be easy to follow, but essentially each mission has an intro and uses the basic outline of plots around Dragonball Z to allow missions to be set up. Honestly, we were left a little lost with what any of the plot really meant, but that doesn’t mean you cannot have a good time with the game.

Each mission is a decent sized arena, controlling one of four players from a party in the single player mode, you need to defeat all the enemies that appear, including a few different bosses, the further you progress, the more difficult the battle become. Playing is pretty simple too, with controls for flying and running, different types of attacks, modifiers for those attacks and various unique specials for each character.

Everything is fast and frantic and it can be a little overwhelming at first, but you will get used to the mechanics fairly quickly and feel you are more in control of things than when you first start. It is the little touches that you need to grasp, such as being able to command your party to perform in a certain way, such as going all out and attacking everything they see.

The issue is, that missions don’t really flow in a way that explain things properly. You will need to feel your way around a little as the hint boxes that do appear are filled with references to the world of Dragonball Z, which again for newcomers won’t make sense, but do for fans. It is an issue, but one that can be overcome a few missions down the line.

As you complete missions you are rewarded with XP and cards which can be used to upgrade your character. The cards you earn have various categories and will improve things like defences, attack, health, speed, specials and more. Some cards can 0nly be used once you reach a certain level and they can be split across your party. It requires a bit of thinking and planning to work out how to divide up your earned cards and on whom, as whilst possible to bulk up your own character, you can leave the other three members of the party weak, which can make missions all the more difficult.

This isn’t immediately obvious though and again it takes some feeling around before you get a decent grasp of how this best works. As you can also buy Premium cards from Premium Points earned through battle, which supposedly give you even greater benefits, over the card earned through the battle themselves. It again has a bit of an assumption that the player is familiar with the series and doesn’t exactly help the newcomer.

It isn’t just a single player experience though and outside the main missions, there are the options for a co-op mode, which allows you to team up with friends to take on missions and also a battle mode which is as it says, a way to just jump in and do battle. The battle mode is great fun and has various modes attached to it, with the kind of variation you’d expect from an established FPS.

You have standard 4v4 battles where you simply have to beat the opponents more than they beat you, score based 4v4 where you battle to reach a score count before the opposition a free for all mode, where teams are out the window and it is every man for himself and also Dragonball Grab, which see teams battle to get the 7 Dragonballs around the level, similar to a capture the flag type affair.

The netcode works really well on the Vita and is actually a hell of a lot of fun. Unlike online modes for other genres, you actually feel like you can compete, learning the controls and mechanics in the single player and using what you have learned for online. Even on the very first play you don’t feel too overwhelmed, or that you are wasting your time trying to compete, it is fantastically balanced.

One main criticism is that perhaps the game is a little too easy, at least early on. Of all the missions played we were able to pick up an SS rank, even on levels we weren’t particularly sure on what we were doing. However they do get a bit more challenging later on, where you will fail on occasions, but again it seemed to be fail or get a top rank, there didn’t seem to be anything in between.

What this game has done though as mentioned at the start, is peak our interest, we want to find out more about Dragonball Z, from previous games to the Anime itself. One thing we did pick up on, is how good the visuals for the game are when compared to the Anime, it is a faithful representation and feels like an extension of what exists, rather than a cheap cash-in based on the licence. Something that not every licensed game has been able to do.

What really impresses is the amount of content available, even after a good few hours of play, it doesn’t feel like you have scratched the surface, each level will take between ten and twenty minutes and never feels like you are grinding or repeating what you are doing too much. It provide a very well put together game which is very hard to put down once you start playing.

Dragonball Z: Battle of Z is a decent game, that anyone can dive into, but it is one aimed at fans first and foremost. Fans will lap it up, but there is room for the newcomer, as long as they are willing to take their time to buy into it and learn more about the Dragonball Z world.

OlliOlli Review

There are few games that you can both love and hate at the same time. Games such as Super Meat Boy and Trials do just that, add to that list OlliOlli a skateboarding game that is so much more. 

The to aforementioned games are ones that will test your patience and reaction skills to the limit. Forcing you to be at your limits the entire time you play. With Super Meat Boy it is about pixel perfect reactions, whereas Trials is all about taking perfect lines and judging your positioning to perfection. OlliOlli is somewhat of a mix of the two.

You basic goal is to get the best possible score at the end of each run, performing various well known tricks from the skateboarding world. Added to that are various goals that can be completed, such as collecting items, performing certain tricks, getting set score combos, no grinding an entire level, not hitting the ground in an entire level, not grinding at all while hitting a set score, plus much, much more besides.

Unlike other games the controls aren’t natural and easy to grasp from the start, instead it requires you to relearn everything you know about skateboarding games. Tricks are performed entirely on the left stick, but there isn’t a jump button as such, you ollie by initiating a trick on the left stick. You do use the x button however and that is for landing, hit it just right and you’ll get a bonus perfect score. Mis-time the landing and you can ruin an entire run, or at the very least blow a combo.

It can be very daunting to start with, it doesn’t feel right to hit a button to plan a landing, nor does it feel right to perform an entire trick list on the left stick alone. However this is a game about challenging your credentials as a gamer, to adapt and master something new and OlliOllu does this to absolute perfection.

Early levels are simple enough and whilst not easing you into the game, they do give you time to get used to the control system, even if you won’t master it until mush later on in the game. The first time you nail a proper combo feels uplifting, as you hit a flip trick followed by a grind and a perfect landing, you think you have the game in hand.

However, it isn’t as simple as that, as the further you progress, the more complex the levels become, the line between getting a solid score and failing becomes ever smaller. What you think you know already, you find you don’t know at all. All of a sudden levels require pixel perfect timing, making sure you start a trick at the perfect moment, to land that grind, before landing on a flat surface, That flat suface gives you but a fraction of a second to then perform the next trick. Don’t get that timing perfect and you will faceplant…and trust us, you will faceplant a lot. A Lot!

Play this in public and you will look like a crazy person, you may well find the men in white coats escorting you away. Why? Because the average person will find it more than a little odd, that you are screaming and swearing at a small bit of black plastic. They will find it even stranger when you start laughing uncontrollably like a maniac when something does go your way. But that is the effect the game will have, much like Trials and Super Meat Boy. Those games though could only be played in the relative privacy of your own home. On the Vita, you do risk being outside in public, on a bus, in a fast food establishment or in the loo at work… yeah, that might cause a bit of grief if the boss hears those noises coming from the restroom.

It does that rewarding frustration right, you know that when things go wrong, it may well be your fault and you know you can get it right next time, or the time after that, well maybe the time after that? Luckily, it has the instant restart ability, where you aren’t waiting for a loading screen, you fail, you start, you fail, you start, you fail…well you get the idea.

Each level has a set of standard goals and also pro goals. For those who can get through all of those will get hit with a set of Rad goals, which will test you abilities even further, pushing your skills all the way to the limit and beyond. If you don’t hit perfect grinds and landing, you fail. You literally need to be perfect all the way through and that is far from easy. We promise you that after a decent session, your hands will hurt, you know this, but still you will go back for more.

Aside from the main levels, you can also take on Spots. Where you must take on much smaller levels and grind to get the best possible score. Hit the ground and it is over. You can however go back again and again, taking your new found skills to try and get a better score. These are but a mere distraction, a fun distraction though.

What is brilliant though and something that appears to be coming more of a thing in gaming, is the daily challenge, or Daily Grind as it is known here. Each day a new level is produced and everyone in the world gets access to this same level for 24 hours. The idea is to go and get the best possible score and be at the top of the leaderboards.

What can often be the issue with leaderboards on score attack games, it that someone somewhere will find an exploit that means they will pretty much top it all the time. What OlliOlli does is pretty clever though, you can practice a level as many times as you want, learn the best line, find a way to get the best possible score. However, you get but one chance to post a score to the leaderboards. That’s it, one chance. Make a mistake after a few seconds, that’s it, game over, you have posted your score and that is it, no do overs. It’s brilliant, as it levels the playing field, you could get lucky and post a huge score one day, but the next time out mistime a landing and blow that days effort. Whilst initially sounding a bit frustrating, it works really well and if anything makes you more determined to go back day after day to do better.

By having simple graphics on a 2D plane means you can see clearly what you should be doing, you aren’t distracted by a camera needing to be in the right place at the right time, there is no chance of a run being ruined as you struggle to see where you are landing, or where you should be doing next. They aren’t bad graphics by any stretch of the imagination, the visuals are stunning as is the music, seemingly hitting your subconscious and aiding your focus.

The only issue with the game, and it is a minor gripe, is that the leaderboards aren’t all that intuitive. They do show you who is at number one, they also tell you where you sit in the world rankings, but there is no way to see how you compare to your friends. It really is missing that ability. Being able to get proper bragging rights would have just been the cherry on the icing on the cake.

You will be frustrated, you will swear more than you have at any point in your life before, but you will have one amazing sense of accomplishment when you complete goals and levels. OlliOlli is one amazing game, it is an instant classic. If you own a Vita, you need to pick this up right away.

King Oddball Review

King Oddball from 10tons developers of the competent Sparkle, comes to PS Vita. Another of their iOS games to make the jump.

Upon initial inspection, it appears to be another Angry Birds clone, but it does try to differentiate itself with a different approach to the tried and tested gameplay mechanics.

Unlike Angry Birds, King Oddball seems to rely less on luck and a lot more on planning and proper puzzle mechanics. With Angry Birds you can aim the same shot time and time again, only to achieve different results, the layout of the levels can mean it is difficult to know where your aim is going.

Here though it is different, the levels are single screen, no scrolling across to access the layout, it is all there on screen. You control King Oddball from the top center of the screen and by using his long tongue, you fling rocks at the ‘enemy’ which consist of tanks, choppers, soldiers, etc.

It uses a swinging mechanic to launch the rocks, with a simple tap of the screen. The rock must then hit the items on the screen with the objective being to clear the level of enemy targets. It is fairly standard stuff, but it does work, you do feel in control of what is happening. Fail a level and you can go back and take another approach. You know what actions will work and what won’t.

You start with three rocks, but you can earn bonus efforts in numerous ways, such as getting combos, or hitting King Oddball in the head. Working out a strategy to earn extra rocks becomes vital in later levels, as clearing with three becomes impossible, but that does add to the depth of the mechanics somewhat.

There a tons of levels to play, consisting of the basic levels, followed by specialist levels, that require you to complete levels with a single rock, or detonate all the grenades, collect the diamonds, etc. Whilst finishing the standard levels may only take a few hours, the extra content will really challenge you.

What is interesting is that the game does away with any type of scoring system, there is no star for completing levels, no value to how much of a level you clear. It is simply, pass or fail. Initially it seems a bit odd, but in all honesty it is kind of refreshing, you clear a level and move on, it is as simple as that. There is no real need to retread older levels, which is perfectly fine.

It isn’t a game that particularly stands out in terms of visuals either, it isn’t a bad looking game, but neither does the art style set it apart. It has a simplicity about it that works for what it needs to do.

It isn’t a game with much substance, it isn’t one that will eat all your time, but it is a fun little time waster for when you have a spare five minutes. It won’t take up much space on the memory card either, coming in at a very low 23MB, it can sit there on the card for as long as you have levels to complete. It’s not an essential purchase, but you could do a hell of a lot worse and you will have some good times with an interesting take on a tiered genre.

Backgammon Blitz Review

Backgammon is the oldest game in the world. Archaeologists found sets when they excavated the ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. Five thousand years old. That’s older than Jesus Christ… Their dice were made of bones. Two players, two sides. One is light, one is dark.

Yes we quoted John Locke from TV’s Lost. We love Backgammon though, it really is a fantastic game of strategy that utilizes the chaos of the dice into that strategy, rather than relying on it for luck. It feels though, that in the modern age, it has lost out more than some of the other classic games like Chess.

We don’t mean that in the “back in my day we had games like Backgammon, you had to interact with someone in a battle of the mind, you kids theses days just shoot each other” way. But there does seem to be a lack of focus on what are some of the greatest games, digital or otherwise there have ever been.

The main reason for this, is that classic board games need people who share the same interest to find time to be together in the same room. However, of late there have been ways to bring these games back, digitally. Pure Chess did a great job of just taking the game of Chess and allowing people to play as the game was intended. The same is true for the most part with Backgammon Blitz.

The game is split into two main versions, classic and Blitz. The classic mode is pure Backgammon, nothing more nothing less. If you like Backgammon, then you will love this, it is a perfect recreation of a classic game. It doesn’t want to be anything different at all.

Blitz mode tries to change things up a bit. Seemingly trying to make the game seem cool to a new crowd. The core game is the basically the same, the rules are the same, but it throws powerups into the mix. These will range from stopping the opponent taking one of your pieces, to swapping pieces on the board. This is supposedly meant to switch any particular battle on its head in an instance. It can be an interesting change for a bit, but it is something that really isn’t needed.

What this does is changes the strategic aspect of the game too far. The main reason for this, is the introduction of Blitz Bullion, which is an ingame currency that is needed to use the various powerups. Now this is less of an issue during offline play, but online it can be somewhat of a pain, as the player with the bigger bank can use the better powerups, which destroys the level playing field that is vital to a game like this.

Before getting further into online play, we must pick up a bit on the Blitz Bullion. There are micro-transactions and at first we were suspect that this would mean that you are forced into paying to play after a certain point. However this isn’t the case thankfully, the classic mode is completely free of any of the currency mechanic. It is something that only affects the Blitz mode.

Again, despite the bullion being something central to this mode, you earn this throughout each game, for making good moves, taking opponents pieces, getting your pieces home, any number of things. In one offline game we earned over 500 in bullion, which would allow you to use a number of powerups. The ability to purchase bullion though is what causes the imbalance online at times, but it is only a minimal effect and after a while you will have a decent balance with no extra money being paid.

Anyway, enough about that. Whilst playing Backgammon against the AI is fun and challenging, it is a game you really want to play against other human opponents. The PS4 and PS Vita versions aren’t cross-buy, but they are cross-play, which opens up the chances of finding an opponent online.

You can play against either friends, or find a random partner via the leaderboards. It uses a play-by-mail style format, where one person will take their go, send the data and wait for their opponent to take theirs. It works really well for the most part and allows you to have many games on the go at once.

Games can last days, but it is always nice to turn the game on, see you have a few moves to make, across a number of games. However it would be nice to have the ability to play live against someone, but it could be worse. Added to the online play is local multiplayer, which whilst seeming like a small addition, is something not to be overlooked.

On the PS4 you can use two controllers, but it hasn’t been forgotten on the Vita either, allowing you to play two player using the hot potato method. Added to all of that, you can play using remote play with one on the Vita whilst the other uses the PS4 controller. It makes the game accessible from all angles.

The only shame with regards to this though, is that it isn’t cross-save, meaning you can’t jump between each depending on your situation. You start a game on the PS4 and you are stuck playing that game on the PS4, no jumping to the Vita to carry on whilst on the move. It feels a missed opportunity, but not one that ruins everything.

Whilst Backgammon Blitz isn’t going to all of sudden bring the masses flooding to the game, it is a very faithful recreation and one that anyone with an interest in Backgammon will get plenty of joy from. If it can reach a new audience, then all the better.

BIT.TRIP Presents…Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien Review

Now that is a title! Runner 2 is the sequel to the fantastic BIT.TRIP.Runner that has seen releases for just about every format under the sun. We check out the PS Vita release.

If you’ve never played the original Runner, then it is a pretty simple affair. You take control of Commander Video and run from left to right avoiding obstacles. In a world of endless runners, this was pretty much a standout game, as it had a much better structure. Runner 2 takes the same premise and well…runs with it.

Runner wasn’t only simple to play, it had a very basic look to go with it. The game was lovely and colourful and a joy to look and and play. Runner 2 is very much the same, with near identical mechanics but it has been given a lovely makeover. The visuals appear as though they have had a lot more time on them, with backgrounds, level design and general feel, coming across as much more up to date game.

There are things going on in the background, that you will not initially pick up on, but just add to the overall immersion. You are concentrating on Commander Video and the obstacles that are there to ruin your run, so you simply soak up everything else that is going on, on an almost subconscious level. We only noticed properly when making a point of looking for it.

As said the mechanics are as you’d expect, if you had given the original your attention. Running from left to right, avoiding obstacles by jumping, sliding, blocking, dancing. Yes dancing! Instead of throwing all these mechanics at you from the very first level, the game introduces you to each aspect bit by bit, giving you a few levels to really get used to how they work.

Initially the game starts off fairly easy, you can complete runs with comparative ease and usually without death. However, as you progress through levels and then the various worlds, things become all that much more difficult. It becomes a case of trial and error, mixed with reaction times and good memory. The trial and error isn’t badly implemented though, it is designed around it, you play a level, you’ll die at a point, but then go back again and remember that section and how to take it on. Go further, maybe die again.

It is a system that works really well, but it isn’t just getting to the end  to complete the game. There is also a high score mechanic to go with it. Jump over an enemy, slide under an enemy, collect gold, crates, keys, etc and you are given points. These all rack up for a final total at the end of each level. When things like Dance are added to the mix, you can really boost that score. Dancing gives you points and you want to bust those moves as much as possible throughout each level.

Doing so is easier said than done though, as a dance move needs to get to a certain point before a jump or slide command can then be entered. We are only talking fractions of a second here, but when this is a game that tests your reactions, getting the balance right is vital.

As you are introduced to the new mechanics, you start to understand how those earlier unobtainable scores are possible and you go back to reach them. There are 100 levels in the game, plus 25 retro levels (which can be obtained by collecting secret cartridges in certain levels), each level has an easy, just right, or hard setting and any can be played at any time.

There is a lot of content here and great value for your money. There aren’t really any sections that are lacking and throughout your time with the game, you’ll have a blast. Well we say a blast, there will be moments or utter frustration, as you fail sections again and again. But much like something like Trials HD, the frustration never gets in the way of your overall enjoyment. It isn’t something easy to pull off, but the team at Gaijin have done just that.

Runner 2 is a wonderful game, one that will last you and age as you want nothing more but to rinse every last bit of enjoyment from a wonderfully crafted experience. Once you beat every level, complete every goal, you’ll be going after those top scores, the closer you get, the harder you want to try. Pick this up right now.

 

Terraria Review

A sandbox game of discovery and crafting. The long time PC darling Terraria makes its long awaited debut on Sony’s PS Vita.

Terraria has often been described as a 2D Minecraft, however that would be doing it a bit of a disservice. Whilst there are many similarities, Terraria offers more of a game than Mojang’s title.

The things that are similar to Minecraft work really well. There are the randomly built worlds, that can be played online or completely on your own. You have the day night cycle, crafting, wandering, resource management and it is a game that lets you run wild with your imagination.

However, unlike Minecraft there is more of an endgame, there are quests of sorts that give you a bit of direction, there is even an end boss should you choose to take it that far. But whether you choose to do any of that is completely up to you. That is the beauty of a game like this and how sandbox should be done.

Completing certain tasks will bring various NPC’s into your world, who can occupy the various buildings you may or may not have bothered building. Enemies seem to arrive frequently too and must be dealt with, which can become a bit of a pain, but usually can be fended off with ease. Destroying the enemies is worthwhile though, as they will drop loot that becomes vital to crafting, some of the bigger boss enemies will drop much rarer loot.

Should you choose to take a game as far as you possibly can,you can unlock hard mode, which is pretty much more of the same, but with harder enemies and bosses to deal with, but with that better rewards for crafting yet more items. Which is an interesting mechanic, because as said, it is sandbox, you can ignore all this, but by pushing forward, you can get so much more to play with.

Despite being totally 2D doesn’t hamper the creativity one bit. You will start by building a simple hut, purely because that is the best you can manage before it gets dark and the danger arrives, but soon after you gather more wood, ore, stone, etc and your creative juices start to flow.

Gamestyle started with a small hut for safety, but decided to dig deeper into the hill we were nestled against, and pretty soon that hut turned into a house, which then had extra levels added to it, before becoming something of a mansion. Rooms had lighting, some got given furniture but then something else was realised.

By digging down, it was possible to get to some rarer materials, so at the back of our newly built mansion, we built a special room that led into a series of mining tunnels, that took us deeper into the  map. This wasn’t something that happened in a quick play through though, this was hours, upon hours of gameplay. Going a bit further, gathering those resources, doing a bit more crafting, going back down the mines, further discovery and so on.

It became so easy to forget what you were meant to be doing and what initially set you on this journey you were on. A few days in (in real time) and barely was any of the game actually touched. At one point it became apparent that our mining tunnels had taken us back to the surface, right by a lake, the perfect place to build another structure… so that’ll be another few days lost then.

Whilst initially impressed by our own journey, it paled in significance when looking at the internet and seeing what others had accomplished, homes that made our own look like a mud hut were bad enough, but other people had just gone for broke with the creativity. There are literal works of art out there and can only serve to inspire.

That is what Terraria is all about though, allowing you to use this world how you want, there aren’t any real constraints in place, but at the same time, it sees itself as a game and should you choose to push through to a completion, then that is fine too and that end game is in place for those that seek it out.

This is a game that has been about a while on PC, 360 and PS3 but the Vita version offers up something of its own. The screen is smaller, which can be a pain with some aiming being a little clumsy, but the use of the touch screen to navigate section works really well and does away with some of the minor frustrations of navigation on other console versions.

Being on the Vita, means you can simply pick up the console, play for a bit, put it to sleep and return later. This is ideal for playing during quick work breaks, or on the bus, etc. There is also the ability to cross-play and cross-save, which means that you can spend time on the PS3 version when you have that spare time, then upload your save and maybe work on those smaller details whilst out and about, or whilst the TV is in use.

Terraria really is a joy to play, you can spend hours, upon hours doing things and seemingly get nowhere. But that works, it isn’t a stressful game, it is very relaxing and something that will become a permanent fixture in your gaming life. The possibilities are endless and the only barrier is your own imagination.