The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum Review

I have a predisposition to avoid games by NIS. This is not because they do anything wrong or I dislike the games they make. Rather I have lost a great number of hours to Disgaea and its sequels over the years, and I have much less free time than I used to. So seeing those three letters when loading up The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum filled me with a sense of dread mixed with a little anticipation of diving down a rabbit hole. Luckily, for me, the outcome was somewhat of a relief.

A visual novel cum dungeon crawler, The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum couples copious amounts of (mostly well voice acted) reading with some moral dilemmas and straightforward, yet potentially punishing, turn based exploration.

This is a sequel to The Guided Fate Paradox, which (full disclosure) I did not play. However having finished The Awakened Fate, outside of some characters from the previous game turning up in the post-game content, I did not notice any references and so there is no requirement to have played the former game. Which was good as the story was interesting enough to keep me playing until the end. Cast as Shin Kamikaze (no, really), he is killed by a team of devils and subsequently revived by angels to become their God and change the course of the ongoing war between the forces of Celestia and the Netherworld. This is all before the first bit of dungeon crawling. Shin is a bit of a loner but gains two companions in the form of an angel called Jupiel and a devil (working for the angels) called Ariael. The story, whilst fairly predictable, is well written and Shin believably develops as a character over the course of the game.

Presented as a series of chapters, each part also has a randomly generated dungeon to explore where the goal is to reach the lowest level and/or defeat the boss that waits there. Due to the circumstances of his revival Shin is able to ‘deitize’ at will to either an angel or devil form each of which gives an advantage against opposite enemy types. Each form also grants access to different abilities yet the majority of the time I found the standard attack to be sufficient. This system rarely adds an extra layer to proceedings as with some diligence you can usually limit battles to a one on one encounter and the biggest challenge I found, to begin with, was remembering to change back to human form after a fight.

However careful planning is the most important factor as mistakes can result in rapidly losing health. If this runs out then the dungeon is failed and you are booted back to the pre-dungeon menu sans all of the items Shin was carrying, including those which were equipped, but keeping all the experience earned. Due to an item upgrade system this can result in losing a powered up weapon that has had huge amounts of money poured into. While this could be extremely annoying there are items that can limit this (including a revival gem and an exit) but these take up valuable inventory space. There is also a factor of risk as you can easily get into a situation where the next hit will defeat an enemy but if you miss Shin will run out of health. This is a bigger issue the further you reach in a dungeon as if you leave you start from the first floor again. In the worst case scenario there is a shop available to purchase items, but these are not as good as the ones you find lying around when exploring.

Levelling up grants a point to spend on a huge grid, split into angel and devil sides, to use to increase an attribute or grant a new ability for the corresponding form. This also ties in with the ‘Ultimate Choices’ that appear throughout the game. These present some dilemmas and are not the typical black and white choices. An early decision sees you weighing up helping injured angels resulting in more being hurt, or abandoning the wounded to take the fight to the devils which will result in fewer casualties in the long run. The game is peppered with such choices however they do not appear to have much impact on the story. On trying both options on a couple of choices the exact same scenario unfolded after taking a slightly different path to get there. However while the game tries to present these as grey scenarios the options are presented as either favouring Jupiel or Ariael. Furthermore when you make a choice you get a level up point for the corresponding side. As I was aiming to put equal points in the angel and devil sides I tended to base my moral choices around which side I needed the point for rather than the potential outcome of my decision. I think that says more about me than the game.

Whilst I enjoyed the story I don’t have particularly strong feelings for The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum. Nothing stands out as bad and exploring dungeons presented the right level of challenge throughout, but at the same time it does nothing to get especially excited about. Yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not every game needs to be revolutionary or a blockbuster, and The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum was an overall pleasant experience.

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a game with a clash of styles that works better than you may imagine.

 

At the outset I should acknowledge the comments I got from a workmate who, unaware of this game, saw the title on his friends list and thought I was engaging in something a little more, shall we say, ‘adult’. That was an interesting conversation to have on a Monday morning.

 

Anyway, I went into Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late (UNIEL for short) knowing very little about it. I recall chancing across a trailer many moons ago, probably after hearing the name or abbreviation on some form of fighting game website. So I was aware UNIEL (much quicker to type!) was from the people who made Melty Blood, a game I had played, and enjoyed, long enough ago to forget most of what I knew about it. I think seeing Arc System Works’ name pop up evoked expectations of games they had made, so was somewhat expecting a fast fighter with a wealth of movement options coupled with countless universal systems.

So upon diving in, the first thing to note was a lack of a tutorial mode. Whilst I would not suggest every fighting game should have a mode to teach the basics of the genre (although this would not necessarily be remiss but that’s a whole other discussion) an explanation of the key systems would certainly be welcomed. Whilst this is a criticism of Under Night it is certainly not the sole offender in this regard.

 

As such, mostly due to my bullheadedness to not look anything up before I had first played the game, my first run through of arcade mode was a mildly confusing affair. The presentation was pleasing, with lots of small sized flavour text (that you have zero chance of reading in one go) in different parts of the screen throughout the introductions. During the fight the information is clear and the combo counter features a quickly depleting bar to represent how long you have to hit your opponent again to continue your battering.  However there is a bar and timer at the bottom of the screen, in addition to the usual health and super meters, that is unique to the game and by the time the final boss lay defeated (SNK boss syndrome is thankfully not present here) I was none the wiser as to what it did. It definitely did something, and certain actions unquestionably had an effect upon it, but what it was actually for was still a mystery. More on this later.

 

The sprites and animation are beautiful, and whilst the backgrounds are a little dull I found this focused the attention to the bout at hand. The combos I was inventing seemed to be free flowing with plenty of room for experimentation, and by the end I had a crappy little bread and butter combo that was passable for the mode and difficulty. Arcade mode doubles as the story mode, which is told through static images and text. There is a lot of background to the story, but a lot goes unexplained and without outside reading I wasn’t completely certain as to what was going on. Although at the end of the day a fighting game story is an (often unnecessary) excuse for characters A and B to hit each other until one of them falls down too many times to get back up.

I was enjoying the game (spoiler) but perversely aware of depths I had yet to delve. Some quick research on the internet later and I was up to speed. As noted above there is the unique bar at the bottom of the screen and its manipulation is an important factor to consider in every round. The Grind Grid (GRD for short) system is a tug-of-war-esque indicator as to the current flow of the fight. Actions  such as approaching your opponent, doing damage, and successful blocking increase your portion while backing away from your foe, taking damage, and having throws escaped decrease it. The timer part of GRD goes round once every 17 seconds and whoever has the bigger bar when the timer is up enters a ‘Vorpal’ state meaning they receive a damage boost and a couple of extra options until the timer goes round again. The first is access to a move that can be used as a one-time animation cancel to continue combos that could not ordinarily be extended, grants a boost to the super gauge, and immediately ends the Vorpal state. Initial thoughts would conclude this seems unbalanced, however as GRD can be increased via blocking it can benefit someone who is being constantly pressured as well, given that the other option is free access to an alpha counter type move, which normally costs half of the super bar.

 

A couple of other universal systems flesh out the game, most of which are executed via a dedicated button, noted as D (the attack buttons being A, B, and C). Holding away from the opponent and pressing D brings up a shield which can be used to decrease the recovery from blocking attacks and further increase the GRD gain from blocking – however shielding incorrectly, i.e. using a high shield and getting his low, inflicts a severe penalty of not being able to use any abilities on the D button for a period of time. Pressing towards and D results in the ‘assault’, which is a low hop towards the opponent, with the distance changing depending on how far apart the combatants are. This gives swift access to air attacks, and can also be used mid-air to change jump arcs. Due to the speed of assault, the damage done is reduced and if your attack is blocked you lose a portion of your GRD bar. Holding D by itself performs a charging animation where you increase the GRD gauge at the cost of super meter and being vulnerable. It is worth noting that there are no air dashes (outside of assault), and ground attacks cannot be blocked whilst in the air, making being airborne a very offensive and risky manoeuvre.

The consequence of these systems gives a more grounded game, with footsies and pokes taking a greater importance leading to a slower, thoughtful approach to combat when not rushing down. A number of characters have a poke that reaches at least half the screen, with the rest having special moves or other ways of getting close to compensate. Whilst the action is considered, the combos are certainly influenced by anime fighters with a simple chain system providing pleasingly flashy combos. These can be achieved with little practice, and it is worth noting that the game is fairly light in terms of execution requirements meaning newcomers can jump straight in and look good doing so. However, there is the scale for anyone wanting to eke out every last point of damage to find combos that require more precise timing at the harder end of the scale.

 

The 16 characters are distinct from each other, if not all memorable, and include a couple of guests. The first being from Melty Blood with the other being Akatsuki from Akatsuki Blitzkampf, and I must admit to grinning stupidly when he turned up in the attract sequence. Within the roster are a couple of all-rounders, who naturally lack any standout strengths, and the rest of the cast having tools that gear towards their intended gameplan. As an example, UNIEL features probably the slowest character (outside of using assault) to ever grace a fighting game in the form of its grappler Waldstein. He is so big he takes up about a quarter of the screen and the claws at the end of his lengthy arms (he’d be about a foot taller if he put them straight down) are bigger than a couple of the other fighters. Unlike grapplers in most other fighting games, Waldstein has had no movement options taken away however the range of his forward dash can only be described as pathetic. This is counteracted by the range of his normals, with a few that result in a throw of some sort. Due to this Waldstein attempts to zone the opponent with his attacks and mix them up with throws if they get too close. A perfect example of this is one command normal that starts as a blockable close range throw, which if blocked or whiffed is followed by a powerful, yet very slow, overhead attack that reaches roughly three quarters of the screen.

A number of modes fill the package, although nothing is new: the aforementioned arcade mode, time and score attacks, a survival mode, local versus, and training, which deserves a mention for its reset options. Most fighting games will reset the fighters to the round starting position, but Under Night allows this to be changed to either corner, with either character placed in the corner.

 

The online side of things seems lacking, being limited to player or ranked match however in my experience UNIEL features excellent netcode, and I fought against people with a not perfect connection (that is, rated 2 or 3 on a scale of 0-4) with seemingly no detriment to the gameplay.

 

Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is a solid stylish fighting game, providing a feel to the action it can call its own. Whilst certainly one for fans of the genre, given the considered pace and simple execution the game is welcoming to newcomers. It is a shame that I can’t shake the feeling that Under Night will be largely forgotten or ignored in favour of more popular titles. I would like to be proven wrong.

 

 

Battlefield Hardline Beta Preview

Saving Private Ryan? Inglorious Basterds? Platoon? Full Metal Jacket? Battlefield has always been a game about war, and the Dice invented “Battlefield Moments” have always reflected this. From taking out half an army with a well placed C4, to watching a crashing jet rip through a tank just as it’s about to blow up your tiny bike, it’s all the best moments from a million war films summed up in one tidy package. It’s always been a lot of military-based fun, essentially.

Until now.

What did I think of while I was playing the Battlefield Hardline beta? Heat. I thought of the Michael Mann film, Heat. And this can only be a good thing.

Arriving hot on the heels of one of the most famous big budget catastrophes of recent years in Battlefield 4 (despite Master Chief’s best efforts to finish the fight), Hardline is the first Battlefield game by Dead Space veterans Visceral. This, coupled with a delay from last Christmas in order to incorporate fan feedback, leaves Hardline with more to prove than the bastard lovechild of Paul Hollywood and Oscar Pistorius’ lawyer. A lady one… I don’t know.

First impressions were mixed. For starters, it worked! Yes, while Battlefield 4 spent most of its lifespan being about as reliable as a Max Clifford train service, Hardline seems to be genuinely playable on a basic level. Solid work Visceral! I booted the game up with a mate (the only way to play Battlefield, after all) and we went straight into our first game of Heist; one of two new modes in the beta.

Heist involves the robbers having to steal and the cops having to stop them. Be it jewels or cold papery-soft cash, your aim is to get in, grab, and escape on a nearby chopper. It’s a bit like Battlefield stalwart Rush meets Antony Worrall Thompson basically, and once you get used to it, it’s a lot of fun. Those first few games are classic Battlefield in the worst way though, incredibly poorly explained and a real struggle to get to grips with even if you’re from a BF background. I notched up over 100 hours on Battlefield 3 and around the same trying to get into a single game of Battlefield 4, so the slower movement and a new game mode (with pretty poor explanation) were a bit of a shock to the system.

Things improved though and Heist slowly started to reveal itself to be a bit of a winner. Destruction on the whole has been dialled down for Hardline, at least for this beta, but being able to trigger specific areas in the levels to blow through was fun and gives a real Heat style cops and robbers feel to proceedings. New zip lines and climbable ropes add to this, and by the end I was thoroughly enjoying playing as both sides of the coin. A new system of “purchasing” weapons is also great, players earn cash as they play and can pick and choose to unlock items that suit their play style, rather than generically earning the same upgrades as everyone else as they go.

Then there’s Hotwire, which for me is a complete justification for Hardline’s price tag. Played on your own I’d imagine it would be a fun little slant on Conquest, which involves the capture points being driveable vehicles, but with a friend. It’s the world’s greatest Starsky and Hutch simulator and had me laughing like Jimmy Carr’s drain for the two evenings I spent playing it. Despite some issues with cars essentially stopping dead in their tracks if they graze a pebble, the driving feels much more natural than in previous Battlefields, and with 5 command points driving around and everyone else in cars trying to blow them up, it really is a hoot.

Conquest is still Conquest, and will probably be the mode that keeps me coming back to Hardline as it has done every Battlefield since 1942. The maps are great and once you get used to the feel of the controls they’re also fine, even if the default Assault (or Operator here) weapon is ever so slightly shit in every conceivable way. Other weapons are better though and as I’ve mentioned it wouldn’t be Battlefield without it being slightly shoddy at first.

One other niggle is that currently the game looks slightly below par, but we have to assume this is due to it still being in beta. The graphics are currently some way between Battlefield 3 and 4, which is pretty inexcusable for a game that’s had this long in development. They also need to calm the Xbox DVR side of things down, I can’t speak for PS4 but at the moment it seems to record 30 second clips every time an ant farts, and after two nights playing I’ve got more unwanted videos on my Bone than a Leslie Grantham laptop.

Overall a positive beta then, and one that leaves me eagerly awaiting 20th March for the UK release. Hopefully Visceral will iron out the last few kinks and could have a real winner on its hands. It feels like there’s a real possibility this could be the definitive cops and robbers game, at least until those rumours of Lego The Wire are confirmed…

Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix Review

We have to admit that we are huge fans of Kingdom Hearts at Gamestyle. The original release on the PS2 was something of a wonder. In the days before we were living on internet forums, the source for information came from magazines and it was very rare you knew everything about a game ahead of release. So Kingdom Hearts was a massive unexpected surprise and a game that has a crossover that shouldn’t work, but just does.

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD was a Kingdom Hearts dream, allowing them to play through the best versions of the games once again. It also meant there was rumours and leaks of Kingdom Hearts III, which were later confirmed.

Now we don’t really want to delve too much into what the games are individually, such as their story and characters, because either you are a returning player and know what to expect, or this is your first foray into the Kingdom Hearts world, thus you want nothing spoiled. But know this, for the most part the games play as they did upon their original releases.

Now we are lucky enough to still own original copies of Kingdom Hearts 2 and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep so are able to compare this Remix with the originals and instantly we can say that some work has gone into these and they are very, very competent updates. Playing the original Kingdom Hearts II on a HD TV doesn’t quite hold up and shows how far visuals have come in recent years.

However the ‘Final Mix’ HD version is clean and crisp, whilst still maintaining all the character you’d expect. It is purely on a visual side that work has gone, as all original gameplay options remain, for good or bad. Including an overly long introduction that seems to go on forever before letting loose on the game. But like Persona 4, don’t let that stop you, because it is a fine game once over that initial opening.

Birth By Sleep is also remastered for this release, but coming from an original PSP version see the HD upgrade not look quite a well done as you’ve seen in Kingdom Hearts 2. It isn’t bad, but it does appear it would have needed a full blown remake built from the ground up to make it work on a big TV.

So that is where we will do our only bit of port begging. Birth By Sleep would look stunning on the PS Vita’s OLED screen and is a wonderful handheld title, that just fits better for a handheld console than it does on a home console. It feels like a huge missed opportunity, especially for one of the better Kingdom Heart releases.

It is the tweaked gameplay elements that make Birth By Sleep standout, as it adds a more strategic element to battles, but one that feels easy to get a grasp of. We won’t lie, RPG titles tend to get played through once and once only here, but Birth By Sleep is a game that we are happy to go back to time and time again, especially on the battered old PSP we have laying around. it is just so satisfying to play.

Those aren’t the only two releases on this compilation, as just like 1.5 there is a release that has had all the gameplay removed, to leave you with nothing but a collection of cut-scenes to tell a story. Much like 358/2 it feels a shame that it has been stripped down, as there seems no real rhyme nor reason for it.

If you are fully into the Kingdom Hearts lore, then this is still a worthwhile addition as it helps you understand where certain aspects of the story are going and how things all link together, but again, it would have been nice to have a proper release of Re:Coded, despite the mobile origins.

If you weren’t a fan of the series though, there is nothing here that will change you mind. The story which starts off strong in Kingdom Hearts, becomes more and more convoluted and nonsensical as the various games split away from the main arc.

Overall Kingdom Hearts 2,5 HD Remix is a game that fans of the series will love, it compliments the release of 1.5 HD and sets up the anticipation for Kingdom Hearts III. It is also the perfect excuse to keep the PS3 plugged in and hooked up to the TV.

Tales to Tiara II Review

Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord is a name that I will grow tired of typing in record time. It doesn’t even make any sense! So Tales to Tiara II it is.

Making its series debut outside of Japan, Tears to Tiara II is a Strategy RPG-cum Visual Novel, and boasts a terrifying 80 hours of content. This review is based off a “meagre” 25 hours’ worth, which took me to the end of a major plot arc and felt like a good time to stop and reflect.

If you’ve ever played a Shining Force game, Tears to Tiara will feel like an old comfy jumper, such are its similarities with Sega’s classic series. Battles are structured almost like a boardgame – victory is achieved by moving individual pieces around the map into strategic locations and killing the opposing faction before they take you out. To begin with, your party consists of a small number of specialist units, but as time goes on additional characters will join your travelling troupe, each with their own unique skillset. One of them is an elephant. It is good at goring anything that doesn’t get out of its way.

Each skirmish allows the deployment of a fixed number of units, so selecting the most appropriate team for the trials that lay ahead is crucial. Skirmishes and opponents are varied in scale and size, and while not strictly difficult, the enemy AI will punish mistakes without prejudice. Magic-users are the most fragile of glass cannons, who if left in danger will almost certainly perish; Archers fare little better, and neither can defend themselves up close. Even the archetypal tank in plate armour can’t take too much of a beating, so ensuring they are well-supported is essential.

Fatalities are not permanent, mercifully. In most battles, appropriate elephant usage is integral to success – not only does your elephantine companion deploy in any battle large enough, he also tows a trailer that contains all unused party members. These can be used to fill the space of a fallen comrade or rejig your team mid-battle, but elephant warfare should be used sparingly – if felled in battle, the caravan is gone for the remainder of that instance.

The levelling system splits skills and stats down the middle and gives each its own experience bar. It’s an interesting separation that helps keep support characters up to speed for doing what you want them to do, rather than having to grind their stats in combat so they don’t become useless later on. It also unlocks chain stocks – bars that build up over the course of a skirmish that can be cashed in for additional melee strikes or a temporary boost to magic.

This system still won’t stop those characters from getting mauled if left in danger, but clever positioning of your team will take care of that. Enemies can’t just brush by your front-line to attack the easy prey at the back, as units exude a sphere of influence – spaces immediately surrounding a character are impassable without first stopping to engage, allowing for great tactical depth when positioning.

Another great mechanic involves rewinding time mid-fight. At any point during a battle, including after you have been defeated, you are able to rewind to the start of any previous turn. It’s a simple idea that bounces neatly off the game’s mercilessness. Tears to Tiara is a long game, so the measures to help avoid wasting time are vital. I just wish it knew when to shut up – in the 25 hours I’d invested before making a start on the review, a significant portion of that was spent trudging through a mixture of serious political and military discussions, mixed with bizarre love stories.

There are certainly moments of gold hidden in the dialogue, but having to trudge through vast swathes of clunky plot – like the twenty-minute childhood flashback that occurred after defeating a specific boss character – significantly lessen the impact of the odd witty line. Emotional moments come across as clumsy and overly verbose, and what could have been a whirlwind adventure following a political rebellion against a religious empire, instead comes across at times more like being read a mixture of teen romance and the shipping forecast.

The overabundance of story content might be the only black mark against Tears to Tiara (other than its absurd name that I have to keep typing out), but it could easily be off-putting enough to turn people away from what is otherwise a varied and innovative SRPG. If you’re on the fence, here are a few of the bullet points that I wrote down while planning this review:

  • Elephant warfare
  • You can buy a pig, and make it fight
  • You can cause animals to defect

If opportunities like that don’t make up for this game’s issues, I don’t know what will.

Digimon All-Star Rumble Review

We had a grand plan with Digimon All-Star Rumble. We aren’t huge fans of the show at Gamestyle and knew we were unlikely to get into the game all that much, however we still wanted to give it a fair review. So we handed it off to an eight year old. The idea was simple, let the boy play the game, then get a video review… Unfortunately that didn’t go quite so well, as he became camera shy. 

However this review is still based on the thoughts of this games target audience…kids.

From a parent’s point of view, especially a parent who is a gamer, it is clear to see that the mechanics within Digimon All-Star Rumble are sound, there is nothing that is over complicated, the general controls for moving around, taking actions, fighting and even camera controls are all solid. So that is the boring bit out of the way, it should be something your child can pick up and play.

The game is pretty much split up into two parts. First you wander about various levels, before arriving at a trigger point that sets up an arena battle between your Digimon and your opponent. Or as my son put it…”It’s Skylanders mixed with Super Smash Bros”

In all fairness, there isn’t a better description for the game. The wandering around bits are very much like Skylanders and maybe a bit of Knack with the linearity, before entering arena battles that share a fair view characteristics with Super Smash Bros.

Now that is not to say this is as good as Super Smash Bros, because it clearly isn’t and even my son said as much. But you can’t argue the influence was there and to be fair to the developers here, despite being a not quite as good version of Super Smash Bros, it was still entertaining to play and that is what counts.

The merging of the wandering sections and the arena battles works pretty well, as whilst you wander you still encounter enemies you fight and beat in real time, rather than switching to the arena sections and they are entertaining enough with various pick ups and secrets along the way. Again nothing spectacular, but it was able to keep the attention of a child.

The only confusing part, that needed some help from dear old Dad, was how the cards worked and why you used them. Cards can be found, won or bought within the game (no micro-transactions, so don’t worry about that) and then applied to the Digimon to give them extra powers, bonuses and what not. It works well and is simple enough in the end, but it may well go over a child’s head initially.

Away from the main story mode, which is pretty short and can be clocked in a few short hours, but is a good length for a child to feel they have accomplished something. There are the training and arena modes. Training is just that, a chance to practice various move-sets without any risk or reward. Arena Battles are where the fun can really be had.

It is the basic set up of jump in, select your Digimon and fight. The fights are the best part of the game and this is where you will spend most of your time. In fact, whilst initially the idea was to play a little to get a grip on certain mechanics for the review, it soon became clear that it was a great little game to play with a younger family member.

After the initial games for review purposes, it soon became a game that would add some competition to game night. All of us are playing and having games of winner stays on and do you know what? After initially having little interest in the game when it arrived, it became something we had more fun playing than anticipated.

Digimon All-Star Rumble is a top example of how broad games can be, that it is possible to make a good game that is aimed at a child or a non-gamer that is easily accessible. It clearly isn’t going to be for the Call of Duty, FIFA or World of Warcraft crowd, but it was never meant to be. I good kid’s game, that doesn’t insult their intelligence.

Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! Review

While far from an expert, I’ve been playing fighting games since Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. Street Fighter IV brought me back into the fold in 2008 when I found myself in Tokyo during the location tests, and since then I’ve spent more money than I care to admit on arcade sticks, yearly updates to my favourite fighters, costumes….

Despite all this, nothing could prepare me for Arcana Heart.

Love Max!!!!! (yes – five exclamation marks) is the first revision of 2011’s Arcana Heart 3, and also the first time I’ve had the pleasure of being part of this series. Along with its all-girl cast of 23 characters, the Arcana Heart series has a few unique selling points – the two most notable ones being the Arcanas, which enable some customisation of each individual character, and the movement system.

Each of the 23 characters carries their own unique moveset. Once a character has been selected, they can be equipped with an “Arcana” – a spiritual being of sorts that bestows an additional arsenal of moves as well as attack/defense buffs to your character. Each character has a default Arcana but changing this allows you to customise your character around your individual play style or character’s inherent weaknesses.

The other thing that sets Arcana Heart apart from other fighters is its Homing movement. As well as being able to jump, double-jump, dash and air-dash, you also have the option to home in on your opponent. If they are far away, pressing the homing button will cause you to move towards them, whether they are on the ground or in the air; you can also influence this by holding a direction on the stick before commencing your home – a dash forward or back can help you get out of a sticky situation before making your approach, and you have a certain degree of maneuverability in the air as well, which belies the outward appearance of two characters careering through the sky, seemingly out of control. Moves can also be “Homing Cancelled” – cutting the move short and letting you get out of trouble, or keep the pressure on your opponent, be they ground- or air-based at the time.

When playing fighting games, the learning process is peppered with miniature epiphanies. For instance, in Street Fighter IV – the first time you throw a fireball with Ryu, followed by the realisation that his crouching Medium Kick can be cancelled into that fireball for a small-but-reliable combo that is also safe when blocked. It’s a small, complete package that is over after two moves and is easy to understand. In Arcana Heart, similar things occur – the first time you combo a sweep into a quarter circle foward (QCF)+A  into a QCF+AB with Heart, followed by the time you pick Yoriko, go HCF,F+A then the follow-up attack of drawing a pentagram with the control pad… only to realise that it’s just a power-up and you still have to do an actual combo after that.

Arcana Heart is almost entirely incomprehensible at first glance, and after a few hours I didn’t feel much more comfortable. Everything I learned was derived from someone else’s wisdom. My very first session with the game was about an hour long. Deliberately clueless, I wished to see what the game could – and wanted to – teach me about how to play, and sadly that turned out to be almost nothing. For a game so complex and requiring so much learning to attain any illusion of competency, this was pretty disappointing. There are trials for you to work through, but they do not explain anything, merely requiring you to achieve a specific task that you are expected to know how to perform in advance.

Instead, Love Max contains an absurd amount of additional story content that – mercifully – is completely ignorable if you have no interest in it. The roster is diverse and interesting, but not so much that I wanted to wade through large amounts of Wacky Schoolgirl Adventures. From a fighting perspective though, you’ve a wide range of character types to choose between, such as Heart – your most straight-forward aggressive character; Kira, the grappler who permanently exists in her own personal glob… swimming pool… thing; sword-users like Kamui and Fiona, the latter of which clumsily wields a claymore that is easily as big as she is; and unique characters, such as Eko who rides a giant chalk drawing.

From its name onwards, Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! is a terrifying experience. Once you’ve accustomed yourself to the unrelenting yelps every time any move is performed (or turned the voices off altogether in the options); made sense of the enormous array of options given to you at any point during a match; learned a few combos and become familiar with the nuances of the Homing movement, you’ll find a hugely complex, satisfying and rewarding experience waiting for you.

For many, though, there’ll be a point where the learning process feels too much like work, the subject matter is off-putting, or the technical ceiling is just too high to warrant the effort. Find a friend who is at the same level of (in)competence as you though and you can at least have the most ridiculous scrap of your life.

 

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review

Borderlands: The Pre Sequel is an FPSRPG that is set before the events of Borderlands 2 and takes place on and around the Pandoran moon of Elpis.

You take the role of one of four playable characters, Athena “The Gladiator” who was previously in the Borderlands DLC The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, Nisha “The Lawbringer” who made her debut in Borderlands 2 as the Sheriff of Lynchwood, Wilhelm “The Enforcer” the first major boss in Borderlands 2 and lastly everyone’s favourite character Claptrap “The Fragtrap”.

As with Borderlands 2 each character has their own special power and skills tree. Athena has a shield that can absorb any incoming damage and once the timer runs out, Athena will then throw the shield at enemy to inflict damage, Nisha’s power increases her speed, gun damage and allows her to quickly switch between various enemies. Wilhelm being the cyborg that he is has two drones, Wolf and Saint; Saint will cover Wilhelm and provide shields and health regeneration while Wolf goes out to attack enemies. However Claptraps power is totally different, when his special power VaultHunter.exe is used, it assesses the situation around him and grants Claptrap a random special power, now these powers can either be very helpful, such as the funzerker where he will wield two weapons and his ammo and health will regenerate or not so helpful Rubber Ducky, this is where you find yourself bouncing up and down all over the area reflecting damage and dropping on enemies.

The story is an insight into how Jack became Handsome Jack, you play as one of four Vault Hunters drafted in to help a Hyperion Programmer called Jack find a vault on the Pandoran moon Elpis. However during your journey to find Jack your spaceship is attacked by the Dahl Corporation led by Colonel Zarpedon which sends you crashing in to the Hyperion Moon Base Helios, where you end up fighting your way through hallways and rooms trying to rescue Jack from the Dahl Corporation’s Lost Legion. Zarpedon is trying to stop Jack from opening the vault on Elpis by attacking and shutting down the moon base. When you finally catch up with Jack he attempts to get the base defences back online only to find out that there is a jamming signal coming from the moon and orders you to take it down, in order to do this you have to take a moon-shot cannon ride down to the moon’s surface.

When you finally land on the moon you meet up with a scrap dealer Janey Springs, and at this point you find out that there’s no atmosphere on the moon, this brings in to play one of the new changes to the Borderland Franchise the inclusion of another piece of equipment called an Ozkit, now this Ozkit will provided you with a certain amount of Oxygen that will enable you to survive without Oxygen. Each Ozkit is different and has different abilities, similar to the class mods from Borderlands 2 that are also present in this game, this brings me on to the ButtSlam attack, the moon has zero gravity which allows you jump higher and with the addition of an Ozkit you can boost your jump to get to higher places above the enemies, you can then come crashing down to the surface with tremendous power and deal damage to the enemies in that area, some Ozkits will provide elemental damage to your ButtSlam attach such as explosive and corrode damage.

When you land on the moon your primary objective is to track down the jamming signal and shut it off so that Jack can regain the moon base, and this is where you really start to see Jack transform into Handsome Jack, with each main story mission Jack becomes more bitter, twisted and angry at everything. Through the course of the main story you also get to see how the Hyperion technology came to be, one of the main story missions you have to build a robot army to help Jack regain the moon base, you get to witness first-hand the evolution of the Loaders seen in Borderlands 2, these machines were once robots moving crates around and as the game progresses you see them transform in the GUN Loaders, EXP loaders and the very first Constructor. As you fight your way across Elpis you get to visit a number of locations and meet a varied selection of people. You can clearly tell that the game was developed by 2K Australia, as a lot of the new characters now have an Australian accent. Quiet a few of the characters from Borderlands 2 make an appearance in this game, Roland, Lilith and Moxxi feature throughout the games main story line, and towards the end of the game you get to find out why Handsome Jack hated them so much in Borderlands 2.

There are a few new enemies in this game; there are new creatures such as the hulking Shugguraths that launch flying Rathyds at you and the annoying Torks. There are a few new human enemies such as the Dahl soldiers and Scavs, similar to the Hyperion soldiers and Bandits from the previous game. And with new enemies to kill, comes new weapons, as your in space there are now laser weapons at your disposal, these laser weapons come in all shapes and sizes with varying fire rates and elemental damage, there is also a new weapons manufacturer call Scav, which is similar to the Bandit manufacturer in Borderlands 2 with their high rate capacity magazines and fast fire rates.

This brings me onto a wondrous new inclusion in to the game series, The Grinder, in the previous games if you picked up a weapon you didn’t like, you would trade it in for the money, but in this game you can take three weapons, Ozkits, Grenades or shields of the same class and combine them in The Grinder, there is chance that you can get a higher powered item with special abilities.

In Borderlands: The Pre Sequel Eridium is replaced with Moonstones, these can be found from slain enemies, mainly from Badass enemies, Moonstones can be traded on the black market for ammo capacity upgrades and backpack upgrades and can also be used in conjunction with The Grinder to increase the chances of a higher powered weapon.

Graphically the game is the same as Borderlands 2 but there are noticeable changes in the dialogue, in Borderlands 2 the dialogue was very generic and didn’t really change with the character, in Borderlands: The Pre Sequel the dialogue is tailored to each character, so every time you speak to Moxxi or any of the other characters when accepting or turning in mission the dialogue will be tailored to the character in your current play through.

This game is a must play for any Borderlands fan, as it expand on the Borderland universe so much and answers a lot of questions raised in Borderlands 2, and is ideally for anyone wanting to make a start in the Borderlands games.

 

BlazeRush Review

Believe it or not, there are still games coming out for the PS3, games that aren’t either on the PS4, nor the Vita. Games like BlazeRush, which in itself is a throwback to a genre that has seemingly been forgotten over the years.

You see BlazeRush is survival, battle racing game. One that takes many influences from the likes of MicroMachines, Mashed and Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing. It doesn’t do much to hide those influences either, instead reveling in the fact. It aims to be complete balls to the wall fun from the very get go.

There is a choice of either a single player campaign, which has all the usual progression stuff, where you do a race, win points, cups, medals and the likes for winning and beating objectives, before moving on to the next event, doing the same again, wash, rinse and repeat. It’s perfectly adequate for what it is, but at the same time is fairly no frills.

This is fine though, because the bread and butter of the game is in the multiplayer. Much like the above mentioned games, where you would have the most fun with a bunch of friends and a few controllers, this follows the same idea. It adds various modes into the mix, such as battle type events, but the most fun is to be had with the eliminator mode, which has a slight variation on the theme you may be used to.

Instead of just getting the last place player to fall of the end of the screen, you have a giant steamroller chasing the pack and if anyone is caught…well they be killed. Whilst it is the same as we have seen before, just with a different skin, the addition of the visual element of the steamroller adds to the panic and in turn the laughs.

The controls are simple enough and again should be easy enough for anyone to pick up and the general setup is easy enough for nigh on everyone who has played a Kart game to understand. There are clearly marked pickups, that range from nitro boosts, to machine guns and circular saws.

It isn’t just a case of pick them up and you get an advantage, as it does take a small degree of skill to make use of the weapons, which means in turn, that the person you are aiming for, can also avoid your attacks and defend. The Nitro drops seem to always drop behind the leader, which is clearly an attempt to keep the action close and competitive, but rather than being annoying, it works a lot better than you’d initially imagine.

The tracks on offer are an odd bunch and many are well laid out and fun to play on, there is quite a lack of variation which does mean the game becomes fairly repetitive early on. This means BlazeRush becomes a game that is only ever going to be played on occasions, rather than something that you’d bust out on a regular basis.

That said, BlazeRush is a nice party game to play and can be a great asset to have during events like the Christmas holidays, as it is a game that everyone can get involved in and have a ton of fun with. There is no real barrier of entry which is something you can’t say too often these days and you will certainly get a good amount of entertainment value from the game.

 

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Review

The almost sudden surge of popularity the Persona series has seen the past few years is strange, yet sort of amazing. Toys, anime, spin-offs, there’s even a musical concert in its Japanese homeland. Not that we’re complaining as it’s quickly become one of our favourite series’. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is the latest spin-off and sequel to the 2012 fighting game. And it’s very, very good.

For the Persona faithful, the main attraction here will be to complete the story that was left on such a painful cliffhanger in the last game. And yes, it finally gets an ending, albeit one that could potentially open up other avenues for further sequels in the future. Whereas in Arena the story felt more sided towards the Persona 4 characters and plot events, in Ultimax it’s been flipped. There are a lot more references to the events in Persona 3, so words like Tartarus and The Dark Hour get bandied around quite a lot. The game does a good job however in keeping the players unfamiliar up to speed.

As expected, mechanically the game feels nigh on identical to the first game, though I’m sure there have probably been balance tweaks to certain characters as is always the case with fighting game iterations these days. Moves are the same, with regular and Persona attacks, bursts and many other words that will sound like gibberish to outsiders. It’s a system that is incredibly deep and rewarding, yet even complete novices will be able to get involved and have fun. You can chain supers and combos together, but if you want then just hammering square will result in an automatic combo ending that looks good, and on top of that, will make you feel like you’re playing better than you actually are.

The one move that will no doubt split opinions (much like in the original) is the one hit kills that can occur. On match point and with 100sp built up players can perform a move that if it works results in a one hit kill, usually involving some fancy/crazy animation. Amazing to watch if you’re performing it, not so much if you’re on the receiving end. But, if you don’t want it to happen, then be better!

Speaking of the fancy animation, everything in Ultimax consists of some lovely 2D animation. The developers Arc have a knack of creating some great looking 2D art and this game is no exception. At times though there’s so much going on that it can actually be difficult to see what’s happening on screen. It’s put simply, an explosion of colour, especially during the more intense fights. You might not understand what’s happening, but by god it looks beautiful.

On top of finishing the story, there’s plenty of other new content added making this more than a simple update. On the disc you get new characters Ken, Yukari, Junpei and Rise, as well as the extra DLC. Each feels completely different, Yukari is very much a ranged fighter equipped with bow and arrow, whereas Ken has the unique ability of fighting alongside the dog Koromaru. Then there’s also the new stages and music. Well, kind of new. The music has basically just been ripped from P3 and P4, not that we’re complaining as Shoji Meguro’s soundtrack is simply fantastic and has some epic battle music.

In addition to characters and music, there’s also a brand new mode called “Golden Arena”. This feels more routed to the original JRPG audience, as you fight each character, moving up floors, earning stats and skills. It’s a great new addition. Then there’s the new online lobbies. Selecting a character avatar you can walk through a physical area, sitting down at an arcade cabinet, waiting for a new opponent. It’s purely cosmetic mind and you can just do the traditional match search without the fanciness. Online works perfectly, if you can find someone with a decent connection, which can be quite difficult when the game has yet to be released in the European region. Hopefully it builds up a decent following, something which may be hard when it’s already a niche product on last generation hardware.

Altogether Ultimax is exactly what you would want and more. Those who are deep into the Persona story will be satisfied with the conclusion and those that just want a solid, challenging fighter will also be well catered for. A fantastic swansong for the previous generation.

Race The Sun Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairy Fencer F Review

Fairy Fencer F is the latest RPG out of Japan to feature an extraneous letter at the end of its name. It boasts an impressive staff roll, most notably Nobuo Uematsu (of Final Fantasy fame) who is responsible for much of the soundtrack, and character designers from the Hyperdimension Neptunia series.

But… what does that F stand for?

F is for Fang

Meet Fang. He’s the protagonist of Fairy Fencer F, and thoroughly dislikable – lazy, petulant and full of questionable ideas. While travelling the world he reaches the city of Zelwinds, and hears rumours of a sword stuck in the ground. A sword that will only be freed by someone the sword deems worthy.

A sword that is not a good judge of character, as this cretin is able to draw the sword from the ground without breaking a sweat.

Contained within the sword is Eryn – a Fairy. She explains to you that the sword is called a Fury, and as the wielder of this sword he is considered a Fencer – an elite magical swordsman. There are a hundred furies scattered across the land, which were created by the great Goddess and Vile God during a historical world-shearing. As a Fencer, it is now Fang’s duty to unify these Furies, resurrect the Goddess and bring peace to the land.

Fang does not understand, nor care. Fang wants to eat food.

F is for Fury

Your first task is to figure out where the rest of the Furies might be found. This attracts the attention of Lola, a local information dealer, who naturally is approximately eight years old. She immediately (and correctly) pegs Fang as a moron and proceeds to extort money from him in exchange for information on the location of a Fury, and will continue to do so throughout the course of the game for progressively more extravagant sums.

Field locations are filled with wandering monsters who can be fought or ignored as you wish. Combat is turn-based, and requires your team to strategically position themselves – or, more accurately, get in the enemy’s face and perform hitting; alternatively stand slightly further away and be a wizard. Positioning team members behind an enemy can lead to extra damage, but also results in one-on-one battles looking like something out of a Benny Hill sketch as the player and enemy take turns to run behind one another and have a quick swipe.

Sneaking up on an enemy in the field will bump the team up to the top of the turn order, and also gain you a little bit of extra Fairize meter.

F is for… Fairize?

Fencers are able to “Fairize” with the Fairy inside their Fury once enough meter has been built up. Doing so involves the Fencer skewering themselves with their Fury, which leads to them donning strange, Gundam-like armour and gaining a bunch of stat boosts. There is an unwanted side-effect to this, however – upon Fairizing, the battle theme switches to something that could easily pass as the theme tune to a Power Rangers show. Whilst amusing the first time, it is truly dreadful and the end of a battle is sweet relief.

Also notable is the lolloping trumpet music that plays during the majority of conversations between the cast. Usually reserved for backing goofy or stupid characters, the fact this is heard so often gives you a good idea of what delights the characters can offer you.

Boys are unreliable and eat lots of food! Some boys are very serious and handsome. Fang said something ridiculous again! Girls think boys are stupid! Trumpets.

Enemies yield the usual EXP and Gold when defeated, along with Weapon Points. When Fencers level up, they only gain stat bonuses. Weapon Points allow you to customise character movesets and magic, as well as stat boosts and passive abilities. One particular passive ability is inspired – simply called “Learning”, it enables any members of your party who are not active in battle to earn full battle rewards, reducing needless grind to a minimum. Sadly, bespoke customisation of your characters isn’t on the menu, as each team member is predisposed to a certain type of build – but you are afforded a little freedom.

The final stat that Weapon Points can be invested in is the combo meter. Each character starts with a standard physical attack of a single strike. Increasing the combo meter grants a follow-on strike each time it is increased, enabling characters to get a bit more creative with their attacks. This also vastly increases damage output to the extent that offensive magic is rendered pointless for the vast majority of the game. With the exception of the very top-end spells, magic is expensive and ineffective in comparison to physical combat.

Another inspired offering from Fairy Fencer F is the ability to skip combat animations. Holding L2 during a battle will enable you to rattle through combat in a matter of seconds. Once you’re comfortable with the battle system, utilising this feature really takes a lot of the grind out of proceedings, though at the expense of showing just how powerful melee attacks are as you mindlessly hammer X through each battle to do stabbings.

F is for Framerate

When in town, Fairy Fencer F looks pretty good. Character portraits are detailed, and subtly animated as if they were actually breathing. There is only so much that can be portrayed with still portraits, however, and one or two in-town cutscenes are unintentionally hilarious as a result of characters stiffly wobbling around on screen when trying to depict a fight.

Visuals in the field are less impressive. Environments carry little detail, character models look fuzzy as if vaseline has been smeared on your TV, and proceedings chug along at a miserable, juddery framerate.  Signposting within the game is also problematic – one tutorial asks you to equip an item that the next tutorial requires you to use, but doesn’t tell you that the item must be unequipped in order to do so. Other events require a specific set of criteria to fulfil, but provide absolutely no information as to what that might be.

During some boss battles, cutscenes will kick in partway through to illustrate just how strong your opponent is. These usually appear after you’ve mercilessly punched them half-to-death in a single turn, and as a result bear no relevance to the battle you’ve just had.

Fairy Fencer F just feels a little unpolished. Despite its innovations in reducing grind and the Weapon Point system’s initial promise, there’s too much that just doesn’t sit right. Battles quickly become very samey, the plot is derivative wish-fulfilment nonsense, and during battle you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a Wii game based on looks alone. All that said, at the time of review I am half way through a second playthrough, so it’s clearly doing something right!

F is for Fixed…?

Last month, Compile Heart announced Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force, for PS4. Time will tell if it lives up to the promise that Fairy Fencer F couldn’t quite fulfil.

 

The Walking Dead: Season Two Episode 5 – No Going Back Review

As good as season 1 was throughout, it’s really the last episode that sticks with you. That final moment with Lee was heart wrenching, with two powerful performances from its lead actors; it showed how good storytelling in games could be. Because of that No Going Back, the final episode of Season 2, was always facing an uphill struggle. And you know what, they’ve only gone and pulled it off. Spoilers for the season up to this point will naturally follow.

We left our cast in a little trouble in the last episode. Two groups came together and bullets have begun to fly. Picking up here you’re thrown right into the thick of it with little chance to take a breath. Despite this hectic start the episode soon sets on a more steady pace and you realise you’re going to be delving deeper into each character unlike any episode that has come before.

The middle portion is very much about the characters, what has driven them to this point, and you start to really feel connected to each one. A complaint that can be levelled at previous episodes is that you never feel part of this group like you did in the first season, barely remembering their names half the time. Episode 5 goes some way to rectifying this. There’s a beautiful moment where you actually get time to unwind, share jokes, talk to people. It’s something that the season has lacked thus far, as the game pummels you with misery and despair. It’s nice to get some light relief.

That only lasts a short while though. Telltale obviously must’ve felt they needed to do something radically different to set it apart from last season’s final scenes. And boy, have they accomplished it. The choices young Clementine are given will stay with you long after the game is completed. Even now we feel a great wave of regret over our decisions. It is all brilliantly done. There are plenty of standout moments throughout this episode, but obviously we’re teetering on the edge of spoiler territory and this is really a game that must be experienced knowing as little as possible.

At a time when games are often criticised for tailoring too much to the male white demographic, it’s amazing that a game where you control a young girl gets made at all. And to have her be a believable character on top of that. Over two seasons you’ve seen her grow and change, and you feel like your choices have  made an impact on that. That’s really the greatest achievement in all this.  Remember Mass Effect 3? It was maligned by everyone because at the end of the day it felt like your choices didn’t matter. In a way, The Walking Dead is similar. Like Mass Effect 3 the game clearly has a beginning and end that is almost entirely set in stone, but it’s the events that occur in between that set it apart. You feel like your character is changing with each moment, whereas Shepard felt like a blank slate that the player projected onto, with very little in the way of character development. Telltale really are on top of their game at the minute.

Everything you loved about the first season has been expertly crafted into one episode. It’s wonderfully acted, brilliantly written and will have you thinking about it well after the credits roll.

Abyss Odyssey Review

Abyss Odyssey begins with our trio, Katrien, our nimble sword fighter, the elemental La Pincoya who wields a deadly spear and finally Ghost Monk, who duel wields so deals much more damage than the others although is much slower than his group. Our intrepid trio are charged with destroying the Warlock who is dreaming below ground, although unfortunately his dreams are infecting reality. Many have fallen attempting to reach him at the bottom of a giant labyrinth chasm that has opened up in the ground above. 

The game itself is from developers ACE Team, who previously developed Zeno Clash and could be described and a platform fighting game which evokes memories of games such as Guacamelee, Prince of Persia & Spelunky. Why I hear you ask? Lets see, the art style itself is very PoP, then you have the parts of the game when you get trapped in a screen fighting a set amount of enemies, unable to move on until either you, or they are dead which reminded me personally of Guacamelee. Finally, Spelunky as once you die its right back to the start…almost… when you die, you change to a human soldier who vows to avenge your death. You must control him until you can find an altar where you can be resurrected. The soldier is slower and less agile than your character generally and if he gets killed before reaching the altar, then it is back to the beginning again. If you do restart then the levels shift about meaning that as in Spelunky, no play through will be the same.

Controls in the game are relatively simple, with it simply using blocks, counters, cancels and attack to create combos. Along the way, you collect gold which you can use to buy weapons and items although they are on the pricey side so you best get saving!

As you play through the game, you unlock three different entrances to the abyss, each with its differing routes. One much longer yet easier to reach the Warlock, another shorter but much harder to reach him. This style of play offers many chances to replay Abyss Odyssey over 7 over should you so feel inclined.

The graphics for this game are somewhat of a mixed bag, I found the characters themselves to be slightly oddly drawn yet the backgrounds when exploring the abyss are quite something in places although some design glitches did annoy such as leaping to a platform and suddenly finding that you hit a ledge or ceiling that you thought you would quite easily miss.

One thing about Abyss Odyssey is that if you expect to have your hand held in the beginning, forgot it, the game throws you in at the deep end (literally) and you need to figure things out for yourself, such as the ability to capture enemies and use them as an alternative character. The enemies themselves are an interesting bunch, ranging from a bizarre bird like man who rushes at you with an enormous beak to a majestic bull (with a great sound effect) that rushes towards you. The enemy character designs are really quite cleaver here altogether.

All in all, Abyss Odyssey manages to be an interesting game that will reward those who spend time with it to really get to know it.

The Walking Dead: Season Two Episode 4 – Amid The Ruins Review

WARNING: THIS REVIEW OBVIOUSLY CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PREVIOUS EPISODES!

As the penultimate episode before the season finale, it goes without saying that Amid The Ruins is more of a stage setter, getting the player ready for the climactic end. But even in that sense, comparing it to Season 1 it struggles at getting you that excited for where Clementine’s quest will end. Aside from the last few scenes episode 4 manages to fall a little flat.

We last left our surviving cast of a characters right in the middle of a zombie horde as they escape from Carver. The game reminding you at the start of the horrible Michael Madsen voiced character, and what became of him. Dropping Clementine right in the thick of it, with a heart wrenching choice right from the off, this episode certainly starts with a bang. Unfortunately the only way to go from that opening was down.

Writing this a day after completion and it’s hard to actually think of that many stand out scenes from the middle hour. A lot of the time is spent wandering around environments, looking at things, trying to find a safe haven with the occasional zombie encounter thrown in. There is one moment during this section that should really be infused with ounces of tension, but it just isn’t. Maybe the realisation is setting in that Clementine is becoming a far more capable character that one zombie on their own isn’t really enough to get the heart racing anymore.

Yes, you could say previous episodes have always had the quiet moment to split up the action, but never before has it felt so pedestrian. For the large chunks you’re just going through the motions of examining everything before a new scene is triggered.

Memories of Season 1 are a little hazy, but we remember there actually being puzzles that needed to be solved per episode. That’s something that’s sorely missing here. The classic point and click formula seems almost completely eradicated for a straight up story that plays out like a choose your own adventure book. Admittedly this is an issue that has permeated throughout the entire season, but previous episodes have always countered that with great character beats and, at times, shocking action set-pieces.

Amid The Ruins does start to find its way by the end. An explosive last half an hour or so certainly provides an intriguing setup for the finale. Thinking back it’s amazing how much Clementine has changed since the beginning of season 1, and best of all, it doesn’t seem jarring. It’s a slow character progression that is written so perfectly that she feels like a real person. Of course it all depends on how you play her, does she still contain some of her innocence, or does she become colder as her friends slowly whittle down? And that’s really the strongest aspect of not just this episode, but the whole of season 2 up to this point.

On the whole this review may seem incredibly downbeat, but when you’ve set the bar so high it’s going to be hard to reach, and episode 4 is where the big stumble happens. It’s not a bad episode per se, just a disappointing one.

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.

Battle Princess of Arcadias Review

Towards the end of the life of the PS2 two very different games were released. Odin Sphere, a majestic 2D side scrolling fighter and GrimGrimoire, a beautiful looking, 2D side scrolling strategy game. Both incredibly niche and very Japanese they didn’t sell well but proved to be a couple of the best and most unique games on the system. Battle Princess of Arcadias attempts to merge the two different forms together with a mixed level of success.

Let’s get a major annoyance out the way right from the off. The game has an auto save but it’s turned off and nothing in the game will direct you towards it. Of course this means that it’s likely that you will lose hours of game if you aren’t careful as the game never saves unless you tell it to. It caught us out and it’s bound to catch some of you out as well.

The game breaks itself down into a number of different sections and play styles. The central hub area allows you to stock up on items, buy new weapons and also enhance them. Forging isn’t new to this type of game and you can upgrade and build new weapons to your hearts content and you’ll need to because the game has an incredibly tough difficulty level that requires a serious grind at points.

Once out in the world you can undertake missions which split themselves into different types of formats. The most standard mission involves taking your party of three chosen characters to a level and simply clearing it of any monsters. It’s likely you’ll need to revisit levels to level up and gather money and items. It’s also likely you’ll need to do this because you’ve forgotten to put the auto save on.

Aside from simply getting stronger you need to level all your characters up so that they can lead more powerful troops into the skirmish section of the game. These types of levels are like a simplified version of GrimGrimoire. Your character fights on the front screen with defeated enemies filling various morale and special move bars. The real battle in these sections goes on at the back of the screen. Your troops go charging forward and attack the enemy while you issue commands. You have a number of different soldiers to pick from and they act out an elaborate game of rock, papers scissors with you needing to keep swapping different types in and out.

In truth, though it’s an interesting concept it doesn’t really work as well as it could. In practice, trying to issue commands on a spinning wheel while fighting on the front screen is awkward and the amount of grinding required to get your troops up to a decent level is annoying. Something that works a little better are the boss battle ‘siege’ levels. Here a big beastie like a dragon invades a village and you lead a militia against it. This section allows you to issue orders to your troops to assist you take it down.

These fights can drag as you have to get the monsters shield down before being able to do any damage to its already sizable health bar. Do enough damage and the monster will become stunned allowing you to dish out a super damaging special attack. You can set your troops to attack and defend and also to retreat if needed. You need to be careful as losing all your militia will result in instantly failing the level. It takes some time to get used to and even the tutorial levels are tough but it’s an interesting system.

Battle Princess of Arcadias is not a game for everyone. There’s very little learning curve and it can be incredibly obscure about what you need to do or even how to do things. That said, it’s beautiful to look at and there aren’t many games out there like it. If you can break through the walls it puts up for the player then there’s a rich and rewarding experience to be had. You’ll need to be ready to make the investment though but players ready to take the plunge shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s not as majestically beautiful as Odin Sphere (what is), or as in depth as GrimGrimoire but it offers something different and works the majority of the time.

GRID Autosport Review

We at Gamestyle are huge fans of the TOCA series, we’ve made no bones about that. In fact one of our all time favourite racers still has to be TOCA Touring Car Championship. Through the Race Driver and then GRID versions of Codemasters’ famous series the structure has kind of been lost, but the games themselves were still a delight to play and delivered a racing ‘experience’ like no other. 

GRID 2 whilst technically a good game was a bit of a mis-step for the series, doing away with the famous in car views and having a story driven career mode, that whilst not new to the series, lacked the cohesion of the original Race Driver. However, they are back with GRID Autosport, which promises to be a return to form.

The big surprise is that is only coming out on PS3, PC and 360 with no next-gen releases, which is a shame when PS4 espeically is crying out for a proper racer. That being said though, it is good to see continued support for last-gen systems.

Upon first loading the game, the first thing you’ll notice is that the fancy ‘living’ menus have gone. Replaced by stylish traditional menus that go for function over aesthetics. There is no glorified living area, or garage for you to navigate to customise your car, or find races or such. What we have here is a clear menu system that does exactly what it needs to and whilst not a selling point on a game, it is nice to see nonetheless.

Another area where the game has received an overhaul for the good is in the career structure. In GRID 2 you were thrown into and between various racing disciplines, meaning you had to take on events that likely weren’t your thing just to progress. In GROD Autosport, those various disciplines are still there, from Touring Cars and Endurance, to Street Racing and Drifting, but it is now up to you which of those you want to focus on.

There is a main goal that will reward you for participating in all the events across each discipline, but you are never forced to take part in any you don’t fancy. Not a fan of Drifting? Then put it on the back burner, it isn’t going to get in the way of your over all progression. This is more than welcome and hopefully something Codies stick with for any future releases.

It is on the track though where GRID (and previous racers from Codemasters) have really stood out. Whilst they walked a line between sim and arcade, favouring the arcade side more than anything, they were able to produce that feeling of being an actual racer better than most simulations could. Forza and Gran Turismo may have done better at recreating real world car physics, simulating perfect handling, etc, but if we are being honest, they felt like they lacked that something. You lacked the exhilaration of what it felt to be a real racer, or at the very least, what you believe it felt like to be a real racer.

Back in 1997 TOCA Touring Car Championship blew our minds. As fans of the real life championship, the game was the closest we could get to taking part for real and with the in-car views, the real championship structure, real teams and what felt like amazing AI, races were close and competitive each and every time. The AI were aggressive and seemed to react to your style in a realistic way.

Now that may be us looking through rose-tinted glasses, but that is how it felt and it continued through to Race Driver, with the story mode feeling like it worked because certain drivers had their own attributes and raced in a believable way. Now whilst GRID lost the characters, it still had that feeling of pure racing, with the ability to force no restarts, no flashbacks and locking the camera to in-car only. This produced some amazing races, knowing you had to battle through a field and that any single mistake could blow your race and your season, with no chance of retrying over and over.

GRID 2 to this effect was too focus-group tested and lost a lot of what made those previous racers the adrenaline filled experiences they were, but still kept up the over all quality. Autosport feels like a return to the days of the original TOCA games to a degree, with drivers having behaviour patterns, reacting properly to how you race, making mistakes if put under pressure, or trying to push too hard.

Each race again feels great to take part in, if you start towards the back of the grid, or find yourself in the middle of the pack, you can expect a totally different race to if you were leading from the front, but at no point does it ever feel like a simple progression from start to finish.

Start from the back and try to ovetake half the grid in the first corner, you will more often than not find your race to be over, or at least severely compromised. Take it too easy into the first corner whilst leading and you will see your lead swallowed up and find yourself going backwards as you drop down the order.

It is this balance of fun and pressure that made previous games stand out and it is back to its best in Autosport. There were races where we were at the back of the grid and needed to finish ahead of our main rival to maintain a championship lead, which meant we’d finish 6th to 10th, but those races were just as fun as those we won.

The biggest issue with GRID Autosport comes from the individual championship sizes during career mode. Whilst they have done a decent job of not making it a win at all costs type affair, it does feel like you if you don’t do well, then you may need to restart and by default the races are short, which promotes an overly aggressive style. This can be altered for race lengths, but it would be nice to see some attention to the championship structures here.

Also making a return to the series is the in-car view. This was taken out of GRID 2 after statistics showed it was used by very few players. Yet those very few were also the most vocal, therefore it is back for Autosport and it is more than welcome.  There is a bit of a compromise here though, as the visuals for the interiors aren’t wonderfully modeled, up to the level of those in a Forza or Gran Turismo. That being said though, Codemasters have used a nice blur technique here that pulls your focus to the road ahead and actually works really well in giving that driver’s eye experience without having to go overboard on the visuals. Again, it is grea to have this view back, it wasn’t the same without it.

If GRID Autosport is to be the last major racer on the PS3/360 then it is seriously going out in style. If you haven’t ditched your old systems yet, then make sure you pick this up, strap in and enjoy one of the best racers in years.

Mugen Souls Z Review

Where to start with Mugen Souls Z. Buried beneath its use of alarmingly young and busty characters, it’s borderline hentai imagery and woeful amount of crashes (did this even get tested?) there is a solid JRPG trying to escape. But by the end, we just gave up digging.

A direct continuation from the first Mugen Souls, after conquering the seven worlds the incredibly annoying Chou-Chou now sets her sights on another twelve worlds to make her “peons”. And that’s about all the set up you get really, and bear in mind, yes, this is the hero of the story you’re playing as. A hero who turns people into slaves and conquers worlds. Go team!

Mugen Souls Z appearing to deploy the kitchen sink approach to game design. Mechanics on top of mechanics, most of which we forgot for large portions of the game, resorting to the tried and tested method of hitting things with swords till they all fell down. If we were to explain all of the battle system intricacies to you then this would be the longest review in Gamestyle history, so let’s try and be brief.

Battles taking place in a 3D arena where characters in your party can be moved, albeit only in a circle dictated by various stats. Also on this field are floating crystals that when in range produce additional stats or skills or whatever. As at its core Mugen Souls Z is still a JRPG so the standard skills, attacks and items are all present and accounted for. But that’s really the only thing that can be called “traditional”.

A large portion of the plot revolves around gods that can be found on each world, and the first one you encounter Syrma has the ability in battle to change appearance mid-battle in what the game calls, wait for it, fetish poses. These are used by Syrma to seduce enemies, which brings various rewards. Then there are the G Castle battles, one on one turn based battles where your giant robot battles another. It sounds a lot more interesting than it is, as the fights basically just become rock, paper, scissors, albeit one that takes forever to end. Also during battles Damage Carnivals can be triggered (damage increases), there are chained special moves, blast offs that can send enemies flying into others, and so on. Confused by all this? So were we and we played the game. If only the developers took one of these ideas and developed it into something worthwhile instead of throwing in a bunch of half-baked ideas.

Now let’s talk about the rather creepy content of Mugen Souls Z. A lot, if not all, of the characters are rather child-like. And there are portions of the game where Syrma who needs to find all gods, throw them in her coffin that she awoke from in order to combine their powers, or something, it’s not quite clear. So with each character getting briefly thrown in the coffin an image pops on screen of said character getting groped by a white-ish slime that appears to be pulling their clothes off. Who says video games can’t be art? Each scene then followed by a trip to the bathhouse, cue more dodgy imagery. You honestly have no idea how hard it was to find an actual image from the game to use at the top of this review that wouldn’t get blocked by a porn filter.

But the creepy, half naked anime girls aren’t the game’s biggest problem, it’s that technically the game is incredibly poor. When exploring pretty much every environment the framerate is just shocking. It’s embarrassingly bad, particularly when it’s neither the prettiest or biggest game. Environments while colourful are a little bland, and the dialogue is mainly presented in 2D cut outs with zero animation. But the main issue came with the crashes. There’s one section of the game which is ridiculously buggy, that when the glass smashing animation before each battle occurs it becomes a flip of the coin as to whether the game will just die or not. It happened four times to us in a couple of hours. It’s a known issue (we checked the forums), but NIS don’t seem to be doing much about it. Very poor form.

With technical issues, an uninteresting world and a creepy aversion to young, half naked girls it makes us hard to recommend Mugen Souls Z to just about anyone. There’s an interesting battle system in here that with a little more focus could’ve shone, but as it stands, there are far, far better JRPG’s available.

The Gamestyle Archive

Long time readers may already know the story, but Gamestyle has been the victim of two hacking incidents. Both times causing a lot of content to go up in smoke. The fact that we were originally a Dreamcast only site should tell you how long we’ve been going, and how much content would’ve been lost. The hacking took a lot out of us, and in some ways, Gamestyle was never the same again. But this week something miraculous happened.

Like the E.T cartridges in the desert, former editor Mr Jason Julier unearthed something. Discs containing around 200 old reviews, previews and features. All of which are being uploaded and be viewed by CLICKING HERE. It’s amazing the amount of content that was lost, but even more amazing that a good chunk of them have been found.

Over the coming months these may start to appear on the main site, maybe in retro themed weekends, but for now why not head over and check out some of our older work.

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.

The Walking Dead: Season Two Episode 3 – In Harm’s Way Review

Chances are if you’re reading this then you’re already up to speed with the story so far. So it should go without saying that previous episodes will be spoiled. Right then now that’s out of the way, in the last episode we left Clementine and the group in a rather sticky situation. As is always the case things go from bad to worse, and by the end there’s a chance the girl you once knew in Season 1 is long gone.

Of course this might not be the case for your experience, but there are choices that feel like they’re going to shape the character Clem becomes. Episode 3 should really be subtitled Wrath of Michal Madsen, because as bad as people like Lilly were, nothing will prepare you for the sheer onslaught of madness that Michael Madsen’s character of Carver brings to the table. The menacing nature that he brought in episode 2 was just the tip of the iceberg.

In Harm’s Way puts story to the forefront, more so than in other episodes. And in that regard those expecting more solid, point and click style gameplay that the series is known for, could come away disappointed. There are very few moments where you’re left to your own devices with the majority of them requiring you to just examine stuff as opposed to actually solving any kind of puzzles. And it’s quite a way into the episode until any zombies actually become a threat. So it feels more like a narrow experience than you’d expect, or perhaps want. There are some QTE that keep you on your toes, but these are few and far between.

As en episode where story rules then, it’s good then that it’s quite fantastic. As already mentioned, Michael Madsen steals the show with Carver who is the most straight up villain the series has ever had, he’s almost Governor like in his brutality. A truly vicious character, with the viciousness prominent throughout. It is one of the most violent episodes of the series thus far, with the blood flowing at a regular pace. Don’t let the comic book aesthetic fool you, this can shock in the levels of violence, more than any ‘realistic’ game out there. Madsen may steal the show, but the supporting players also hold their own. As well as the surviving crew through episode 2, new characters are introduced, each playing a role in the hell Clementine finds herself in.

Technically season 2 continues to impress when compared to the troubles season 1 experienced. It’s not perfect, far from it, but it seems that Telltale are finally getting to grips with consoles. The only issue coming from saves. Despite easily clocking in at less than two hours we didn’t finish it in one sitting (we have busy lives!). So once the “Saving” disappeared from the bottom right we turned off the console. But upon returning we were transported back to the previous checkpoint, luckily they are fairly generously placed, so only took us a couple of minutes to return, but still it’s an annoying technical glitch. When Telltale finally make the transition to the PS4/Xbox One here’s hoping these issues will be left behind.

In Harm’s Way is an apt name for the most visceral episode thus far. While lacking in actual gameplay compared to previous instalments, episode 3 is held together by a story that will shock and surprise right through to its conclusion.

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.

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

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.

MXGP: The Official Motocross Videogame Review

Milestone are no stranger to the world of two wheeled racing, developers of Moto GP 13 and a number of SBK games, they certainly have experience in the field. And now their latest game MXGP has arrived, and despite us having next to no knowledge of the Motocross scene, we have to say, it’s quite exceptional.

The first thing that will hit you with MXGP is the painfully catchy theme. It’s not a great song by any means, but it will burrow its way into your soul until you’re unable to get it out of your mind. A guitar rock theme that pretty much repeats the same beat over and over again, there’s no escape as it encompasses almost every menu. Once in race though, all music is left at the door and you’re down to the drone of the engine.

There’s a variety of modes on offer, Instant Race, Grand Prix, Championship, Time Attack and Multiplayer. The variety of single player time however will be spent in the Career Mode. Creating your own custom rider (mostly) you’ll have to fight your way up through the MX2 before hitting the grand heights of MX1. The whole career (in fact the entire menus) are presented well, with Career mode taking place inside an office you’re able to customise your riding gear, check e-mails and social media feeds and check to see if you’ve made the cover of the MXGP Magazine. Sadly the presentation doesn’t last into the actual racing.

Admittedly there’s not a lot you can do with what is essentially a dirt track, but the real graphical faux pas are the riders themselves. They appear to not have a single bone in their body. Pre and post-race scene celebrations are bizarre with arm joints bending in strange ways, and when crashes occur riders will just flop about on the floor. Ragdoll physics in the very worst sense. That’s probably our biggest disappointment, maybe games like Trials have done something to our brains, but when there’s a crash, we want to feel the impact. There’s none of that in MXGP, just a little tumble followed by a quick track reset a couple of seconds later. Your body even turning into a ghost as while your bike remains solid and can be hit by other riders, they’ll just pass through your lifeless body. But what it loses in the looks department, it makes up for in the gameplay.

Bikes are controlled with both sticks, so the left is for standard turning and the right is for leaning the rider, allowing for tighter turns. Turning too much however and you’re likely to go head over heels. The best part about this control scheme is the variations on how truly realistic you want it. The “base” default as it is known is the simplest to use, where accidents can happen, but it is generally more difficult to fall. As you change to more advanced handling models then you’ll need real skill to stay with the pack. It makes the game easy to pick up for newcomers, but also adding some depth for those who want the most serious of motocross simulations. It makes each race a delight to play.

There is also a very noticeable difference when moving up from MX2 to the MX1 class. While MX2 was no walk in the park, we definitely held our own in the higher difficulties. When taking to the track for the first MX1 event, a quick acceleration and we found ourselves pulling a wheelie by accident before flying backwards. It was almost like we were playing Trials HD again. Even by yourself there’s a lot of fun to be had with MXGP.

A major concern you could have with racing of the two wheeled variety is with the computer AI. When all it takes is a clip of the back wheel to send you flying, super aggressive AI could sap all the enjoyment out of it, turning the game into Road Rash minus the weapons. Good news then, as while you will no doubt be on the other end of an opponent’s bike, they don’t go out of their way to knock you off. Chances are, if you come off, it’ll be your own fault.

Unfortunately due to us getting the game early we couldn’t populate a full game, but that didn’t become necessary as even with only two other players the game populates the rest of the places with AI riders. The menus like the rest of the game are well presented and the game was incredibly smooth online allowing you to take on single races or create multi-round championships. Hopefully MXGP can attract a large enough audience because this is definitely one we hope to still be playing months down the line.

MXGP manages to balance the line between welcoming novices and challenging veterans. It may not be the prettiest game, but look beneath the surface and there’s a great single player and online experience waiting to be had.

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

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.

The Witch and the Hundred Knight Review

NIS have made some excellent RPG titles in the past, both in Strategy and Action variations. The Witch and the Hundred Knight falls into the latter. It is a game that comes across as pretty standard fare, but isn’t without some issues.

You play as Hundred Knight and are tasked by the Witch to follow out various quests so that she can spread her swamp across the entire land. Metallia is the witch in question and therein lies the first issue with the game.

From the very start she speaks and barks out instructions, which you must follow. The problem is in the writing, as Metallia as a character is neither humourous, not particularly likable. If anything, she is rather annoying to the point of being plain nasty, so much so that it becomes difficult to want to do her bidding for her. Yet, you have to, as that is the point of the game.

The same goes with other characters spread across the game, they just seem to lack the personality you’d usually associate with titles from NIS, if it was a conscious decision to have the characters as flawed as they are, then it was a poor one. It may be that the game just hasn’t translated very well, but in any case, having characters you neither like, nor can identify with doesn’t help push you along.

Which is a shame, as the gameplay is pretty decent. A top down adventure of sorts, reminds you very much of games like Zelda, or a Diablo. Being an Action RPG means that combat is real time and pretty intuitive, pressing attack buttons to simply launch fury on those that are littered across the various stages.

It is a stage based world, where you are sent to follow a task, complete it, then report back to be given another to follow. On the whole it works well and allows you to get a good idea of progression. There is plenty to find across the stages too, so the ability to return to them later is very welcome, especially for those who like to uncover everything hidden within the game.

A nice take on something a little tired in the genre is the ability to raid houses in villages. Instead of letting you simply enter at will and steal whatever you would like, as you can in many other titles, you can raid them. Essentially take over a village forceably getting the items stored around. It does have a downside though, as you may get some nice items, but it can also turn a village against you, resulting in such things as higher prices in shops. However, whether you decide to raid or not, doesn’t really affect things too badly, to the point where you need to make a decision that could affect your progress, which is a shame, as the mechanic is an interesting one.

Your attacks have a mechanic attached to them, whereby you can chain together various abilities that are designed to be used in various scenarios and early on this works well and it is clear what you may need to change to get the right combos for taking on enemies. However a little later it does become apparent that there is a catch all option, that means you rarely need to change things up. Again it is an interesting idea that doesn’t quite feel like it is used to the best of its abilities.

You attacks also use up Gigacals, which limits how much you can attack, run, etc. This is the biggest issue with the combat, as it seems to be adding in a layer of challenge that is needless, masking other shortcomings the game has. Rather than harder enemies, or having to take on bigger groups, it adds a time limit type system. You can circumvent this by not taking any actions, or teleporting in and out of levels, but it becomes annoying, as you then have to wait on more loading screens, which whilst not being slow, do enough to break the immersion.

It is all a shame really as there is a good game there, but one that has flaws that outweigh its enjoyment factor. Visually it isn’t stunning as such either, it has some nice design, but just feels a little drab in places. Where some locations have some really impressive art, so lovely design, others are lacklustre and easily forgettable.

You do want to persevere with the game a little, as moving through the various stages is fun, the basic mechanics are enjoyable and enemies are challenging without being annoying, but the arbitrary additions to the basic mechanics, that don’t seem to fit with the overall game, the unlikable characters and occasional mundane locales turn this into a pretty ordinary game.

Ordinary. That is pretty much the best way to describe this, it isn’t a bad game, but neither is it one that will live with you, you will play it, have moments of enjoyment and moments of annoyance, then at the end of the day, you will forget about it. It could have been so much more, but it just isn’t going to make any new fans of the genre, that is for certain.

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 2 – A House Divided Review

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS EPISODE 1 SPOILERS

The first episode showed that Clementine was no longer the young, innocent girl that you had to protect whatever the cost. In the intervening years she had become a capable character in this post-apocalyptic nightmare, A House Divided further cements this fact. Episode 1 was just an appetiser, the real choices begin now.

We left Clementine in a difficult position at the end of episode 1. You could follow two characters in the last episodes final decision, although we only experienced one, we’re sure the other also came with ramifications. And that’s what this episode is really about, while there is an enemy threat from the “walkers”, much like the comic book it’s based on, the human element is still the most dangerous. You will meet new characters along the way, some friendly, others not so. And it’s how you deal with these interactions that reveal Episode 2’s strongest point.

A lot of the time violence or aggression may not be the best cause of action and the choices Clementine is given will provide a wide range of ways to approach each situation. Whether it makes much of a difference to how the overall story plays out is unknown as we only played it through once (the way you’re meant too!), but it feels like you’re having a massive impact on what happens, and that’s the important part.

One new character in particular is a menacing presence that you’re not sure whether to trust or not. It’s someone who has mystery, and being voiced by Michael Madsen means he has the voice to match his gruff nature. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the mystery in episode 2. The people you’ve met in episode 1 may not be who they seem and each newly introduced person has a fully fleshed out character that certainly puts the TV show to shame.

If there’s an issue we had having completed the previous episode, it was that the new group didn’t stick with you in the same way the original gang did, often forgetting characters names. Episode 2 doesn’t suffer from this, it spends more time with each and by the end of the season we’re expecting to feel a tinge of sadness when the inevitable happens and they become zombie food.

That’s not to say A House Divided is short of action, there are plenty of moments where the dead need to be dealt with. Clementine once again proving her more capable nature as she stealthily sneaks up on a walker before stabbing it in the head. Even these moments are given a dose of humour to accompany the visceral nature of the visuals. “I’ll take the big one” she says jokingly to her accomplice with a wry smile. It’s the human interaction that really makes this series something special. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to action, as you’d expect, thinks that you plan on happening and what does happen are rarely ever similar.

A House Divided manages to build on what the first episode started. It was a strong start, but episode 2 is where the season truly begins. With mystery and intrigue, it feels like no character is exactly who they seem. The coming episodes are going to be very interesting.

Dark Souls II Review

Remember when games were a challenge? Remember when they tested you? Games used to be hard, you used to have to figure them out. Dark Souls was a return to that and Dark Souls II follows on from that idea to near perfection.

Dark Souls II drops you into a world, after a little bit of set up and then lets you loose. There is a point to the game, there is an end game, but there is no real guidance of how to get there. This isn’t a linear story driven experience, there aren’t any real corridor mechanics, nothing like that. It starts you off and tells you to work it out for yourself.

It is the gaming equivalent of your parent giving birth, telling you what the world is and leaving you to fend for yourself. What works here though, is that despite very little guidance you still understand what it is you have to do, you move through the world taking baby steps, figuring things out on the fly. It is trial and error at points, but hey, it is the same in life, you learn from your mistakes.

You will make mistakes, lots of them, time and time again, but you realise what those mistakes are and you learn from them. Taking on an enemy that will simply overpower you? Then you look for an alternative route, try to improve yourself before going back. You learn how to attack other enemy types, how best to approach a situation, you die, you return, you die, you return.

It is a mechanic that should be frustrating and if it was in any other game, it likely would be. However, because the whole concept of Dark Souls is built around this trial and error system, you don’t feel like you are becoming frustrated, you feel like you are being given important lessons and the game is all the better for it.

Early on, we spent a good few hours without seemingly getting anywhere, you come to a village and there are quests to complete, but these aren’t clearly marked quests that you need to tick off, they don’t even really tell you if they need to be completed in order to move on. You won’t find a marker on how to get to a quest, or exactly what you need to do to complete it. It is almost refreshing, that you walk up to an NPC and they tell you they need a key, but they don’t tell you where or how, just that they need it. You can spend an age wandering about, looking for ways to find this key, or you can move on, it is up to you.

Yet even without any real kind of checklist to refer to, you still have them in the back of your mind, you come to other areas and progress through them, only to think back to what you may have not finished earlier, you aren’t told you need to go back, nor does the game really care if you do or don’t. But you find yourself wanting to do things.

The sense of discovery is outstanding, you will encounter many dead ends, time and time again, but for every one of those you encounter, you will also find a new path to tread. This will take you on another path, that may open up more of the world to you, or it may be another dead end. You may find a path that you struggle to get through, dying multiple times, only to find it leads to nothing. But you are content with that, you may not have achieved anything obvious, but somewhere you have learned something, what that is, may not be immediately obvious, but it will help you down the line.

The combat in Dark Souls II is very satisfying and whilst not being as fluid as some other games, it does make complete sense. Run in and start attacking everything in sight and soon you’ll be back at a bonfire having to re-trace those steps, be too defensive and you’ll be back at that bonfire having to re-trace those steps. You get the idea. It is all about balance and learning the best ways to take on different enemy types. However, it is possible to unleash hell on some enemies, which can really throw you off, you get into a routine and having to change your approach constantly will test your ability to adjust on the fly.

Bosses are challenging, but beating them is satisfying. You know you have been in a boss battle, you know you have been tested and either found wanting, or proved yourself. Bosses aren’t a one time thing either, as many will come back as regular enemies down the line, which can be rather intimidating at first, but you soon realise that your levelling up, means you can take them down with much more ease than that original battle with them.

Unlike Dark Souls, this sequel feels like it a little more open and welcoming. It is still a huge test and it still does away with hand-holding, but it does seem to allow newcomers to step in. There is an early build up that isn’t easier as such, but is a little more approachable it doesn’t thrown its difficulty in your face and make you want to run away screaming. It is still difficult, but it teases you into making progression, you feel even through failure you are making progress, something that didn’t seem was there in Dark Souls.

As you level up your character, you open more abilities, based on your chosen class. You actually feel like you are becoming better and becoming better equipped to deal with what awaits. With looting you gain many items, that should help you on your way, better armour, weapons, magic and more. Your attributes make sense also, you upgrade the right parts and it feels like that is where the improvements have been made, nothing really seems like an arbitrary value, which is great to see in an RPG.

Again though, upgrading weapons and the like isn’t thrust upon you. It is up to you to deal with this, you must remember to go to menus and look at what you have, what you can upgrade and what you can discard. It is the same with what you carry, you are limited, but you aren’t held back. Make use of the bonfires to store items you may not need all the time, making sure you have quick access to the ones you do. Again this is all about learning and understanding, going back after suffering another death, working out what will best aid you as you tackle that area again.

The locales are visually impressive too, there are some very dark areas, ruins, dungeons, etc but there also seems to be a lot more brighter areas to wander around too. Majula early on is a lovely setting for example, with a wonderful coast to look out upon, green areas that a full of wonderful colour and so much more. This though makes going into the darker areas all the more effective, the is a stark contrast and it just makes the world in Dark Souls II fell that much more alive.

Dark Souls was a fantastic game, that felt impenetrable to many, which meant it wasn’t enjoyed by as many as it should have bee. Dark Souls II is an ideal refinement, it maintains all of the original game’s qualities, but opens its doors a little to allow a whole new audience to experience it. It is the perfect sequel.

South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

Come on down to South Park and meet some friends of mine! That is exactly what we will do, in the 6th South Park game to date. Previous titles have been average to pretty bad since the first title in 1998, but this one has had a lot more hands on work by the show’s creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, meaning it should be the most faithful representation of the show yet.

What impresses most about Stick of Truth, is that at first glance, it is indistinguishable from the TV show, the visuals, the animations and the voice acting are a perfect match to the what you will see on TV. The show has a very distinct style and it is recreated here to an absolute tee. From the very first moment, you are drawn in to the game and the world around thanks to iconic look and feel.

In older games, developers have tried to make the game 3D, which doesn’t match up at all with what South Park is, or others have kept the 2D feel, but used a fair bit of creative license which has meant that, even though it is a South Park game, you can tell straight away, that it is a game, based on the show.

Here though, this feel like an extension of the show and much like South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, a natural progression to the the South Park world. When the movie was released, it felt like it was the right medium at the right time and despite potential for a second movie (just look at some of the 3 parters they have done over the years) Matt and Trey haven’t gone for that. Doing a game at this time just feels right and in the overall timeline of South Park, it is an ideal fit.

The game itself should be something fans of the show should pick up on, using themes based on the characters dressing up as mythical characters, that are influenced by the likes of Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and the like. The story here is that you play a new kid in town and are thrust into a battle between human and elves for the mystical Stick of Truth. You are introduced to Cartman very early on, who asks your name. It is here that the first bit of South Park humour comes to the surface, no matter what you enter, you will be known as Douchebag, it is both funny and takes a small swipe at usual RPG elements. You then set up your class from one of four options, including Jew and given some basic battle training.

It is from there you must set off on your journey, making your way around the vast map, as you complete a series of quests. We say vast map, but it in realist is a map of South Park itself, but again, using known elements of the show, the boy’s imaginations see it as more than the small mountain town and despite the relatively small size of the map, it never feels over used, nor boring. Early quests are design mainly to give you a tour of the town and teach you the various game mechanics, as well as introducing the various characters.

Gameplay itself is far from groundbreaking, battles are a traditional turn based affair, based primarily on games like Paper Mario. You chose an attack and hit a well timed button to deal maximum damage. Use the same timed button press to defend attacks and potentially counter an attack. There are various potions that can be used to heal or revive during battle, again nothing that you wouldn’t have seen before.

Battles aren’t exactly taxing either, save for the odd boss, but that really doesn’t matter, as much of this is about the story and the humour. So with that in mind, the battle segments are generally well paced, the only issue is that they do at times become a hindrance as you move round the map completing quests, because of their ease. However, that is a mild hindrance, rather than something that destroys the experience.

Getting around town on foot is more than worth it, for the well placed references to all things South Park, from characters, posters, hidden items and musical cues, such as Kyle’s Mum’s a B***h, to Blame Canada, the well known songs are all there and are a joy to listen to, bringing back memories from the show’s history. Even side-quests will reference known stories from the past and are cleverly intertwined within the game.

Despite the size of the map, you aren’t limited to walking everywhere, as there are some very generous quick travel options, as Timmy will come and take you from one part of the map to the other in double quick time. Again this is a great use of the South Park humour and a little swipe at traditions RPG mechanics, as really, you don’t need the quick travel to get anywhere and overall it saves little time at all.

For some reason, content in the PAL regions were cut from the game (you’re safe in the US), that adds up to a couple of minutes gameplay time in total. Whilst it is a shame that content aimed at adults has to be cut from a game that has been made for adults and given the relevant age rating, it allows Matt & Trey to use some of their creativeness to add in some censored screens, that actually may be more amusing than the content censored anyway. However it is 2014 and we are adults and content shouldn’t be cut from one region and not another, but that is a discussion for another day.

On consoles there are a couple of technical niggles, that should have been ironed out, considering the delays, however they are there. Again, it is nothing game breaking, but as you walk around the map the frame-rate will drop occasionally, especially when running, some animations during battles may get trapped in a loop, but again this is very rare. It is just a shame that they are there.

There are probably around 15-16 hours of game play just following the main story, which feels well balanced, as there is no way the humour here would work over a 40-50 hour campaign. The pacing is pretty much spot on, however, should you want to explore and do more the the side quests, find the little treats dotted around the game, then you can extend your time by a good few extra hours.

This isn’t a game for everyone, it is one that can be enjoyed by many, but it will be fans of the show itself, that will get most satisfaction from the game. Someone who hasn’t really watched may not get half the references, especially the recent ‘Black Friday Trilogy’ that acted as a bit of a setup for the game, but fans will lap up everything on offer and have a wonderful time during their stay in the quite mountain town.

The LEGO Movie Videogame Review

LEGO is amazing isn’t it? A toy that has stood the test of time and seems to be as popular today as it has ever been. When the LEGO Movie was announced there may have been a bit of worry that a film could be pulled of, but it seems pull it of they have, with the film being hailed as something of a modern classic in animated films. 

This leaves a bit of a conundrum, as we have a fantastic film, games tie ins with films are generally awful, but LEGO games are good. So where does this leave The LEGO Movie Videogame?

Whilst not developed by the main TT Games studio, it is still made by a team within, namely TT Fusion and the game does follow for the most part the basic structure of other LEGO games, such as LEGO Indiana Jones, Marvel Superheroes, Harry Potter, etc. You have your main hub and various levels for you to complete. However, it does standout on its own and has a slight different overall feel.

The aforementioned titles, as well as the others in the vast library have blending LEGO aspects, with more ‘realistic’ design. As you go through Hogwarts, there are areas that aren’t made of LEGO, but are more natural in the visual department. This isn’t the case here, everything in the game is made of LEGO, the floor is LEGO, buildings are all made of LEGO, everything! This really does set it apart from the other games.

It’s not just in the visuals that this happens also, as a rule, the existing LEGO games have characters that tend to move quite smoothly, but here the game follows the films style of having characters move around like the LEGO itself has been animated using stop motion. Now this isn’t as prominent in gameplay as it is in cutscenes, but it is noticeable compared to other games, as we really picked up moving from Marvel Superheroes to this. There are some clever techniques involved too, that again give the game a feeling of being a playset rather than a real world type setting, such as the tilt-shift style focusing on buildings in the background.

As said, gameplay tends to follow the tried and tested formula of LEGO games. Smash this, build that, do this to get that. It is still simple to play and ideal for families to get involved with. It introduces a few new elements though, such as the master builder, who can select elements from parts of the world to build something useful, as it is needed for a particular task, or the need to find instructions and select the right pieces to build a specific thing. The use of instructions is brilliant, if not just for a gameplay perspective, but just for the smile it will give you as is something synonymous with LEGO building, especially with the specific sets you can buy.

The humour from the film comes across brilliantly to the game and without a famous well known story or set of characters to use, the fact they have managed to get the humour to work without well known points of reference is a testament to the writing team. That said, if you haven’t seen the film, we would suggest going to see it before playing the game, so as not to ruin anything for when you do see it.

This is a shorter experience than previous LEGO titles, with a lot less to do outside of the main levels, the hub is nowhere near as vast as New York in Marvel Superheroes, or as fun to explore as Hogwarts in Harry Potter, but that really doesn’t matter. Being condensed works here, as this does follow the film, it would have been difficult to push beyond that at this stage and could have become tedious, thankfully though again the balance is right.

Once you complete a level it does open it up to Free Play, where like the other titles, you can go back with your pick of characters to unlock all the secrets and finish of those parts previously unobtainable on the first run through. This delivers a much more focused playthrough than you get in the previous titles and concentrates on the co-op play that TT Games excel in.

The LEGO Movie Videogame isn’t the best LEGO game on the market, but it is a fun title and one that you will get a good few hours of enjoyment from. What’s more, is that playing with the kids will bring you so much joy, especially as they grin and laugh their way through and pick out moments from the film as they play. As a tie in to a movie, it is one of the better efforts and for that should be commended.