Little Big Adventure Enhanced Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance Review

It seems like a lifetime ago that Etna erupted onto the scene in the first Disgaea game. From that moment, massive number crunching became a way of life for many console gamers and there have been few games since that are so humorously twisted and crazy. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is the sixth console game in the series and the first for the PS4 and as you might expect it has more than enough packed into it to keep you occupied for hundreds of hours.

As usual, the plot revolves around an overlord trying to take power. This time it is Seraphina, who is the daughter of the king of the Gorgeous Underworld. Along with a host of other oddball overlords, she bands together with the mysterious Killia to try and destroy the evil demon emperor Void Dark who has decided to take over the entire universe. There are also Prinnies.

It’s another madcap adventure with Seraphina fascinated by the fact she can’t use her magic to charm Killia and the two jet around the universe on a giant space ship which is used as your hub between levels. Instead of different regions for each episode you are now going to different realms which adds a nice epic feel to the game as you try and repel Void Dark.

We could spend pages talking about all the systems in Disgaea by now and this version adds even more into the mix. All the previous systems such as the geo-panels and skill levelling return and work much in the same way as the last version of the game. There is a new revenge mechanic which raises damage given and reduces damage taken when a bar is filled by your team being attacked. Overlords also get special attacks when in the revenge state – these are wide ranging and include skills like turning into a giant or charming the enemy.

Later in the game there is also a squad system which allows your team to be split into different groups and differing effects then being added to the leaders of the group who take the battlefield. The item world is now more ridiculously packed with things than ever as well, with copious amounts of random events and encounters that you’ll need more than one lifetime to uncover. There are also side quests to complete and extra levels that stretch way off into the distance after the main campaign has ended. This game could last you forever and it’s highly unlikely you are going to see all it has to offer.

Despite all the systems we found this fairly friendly for newcomers. Each gameplay mechanic is explained well (and also quite quickly) when introduced and there is the option to skip tutorials for anyone who already knows how they work. It’ll certainly take a while to get to grips with things but there isn’t an assumption that gamers will have followed the series all the way to this point so if you’ve ever wondered about Disgaea this is as good a place as any to start.

One very good change is a slight adjustment to the geo-panels. As well as being slightly textured now they also display more information when highlighted. This information includes what colour the panel is which means colour blind gamers no longer have to see their best strategies scuppered by a light green block sitting in amongst the yellow ones.

If there is one slight criticism, it is that the dialogue doesn’t seem as on the mark as in the best of the previous games. The exchanges between Seraphina and Killia never really reach that of Etna and Laharl or Adell and Rozaline. It’s still very solid and entertaining but just lacking a bit of magic and chaos and nothing as bizarrely wonderful as Valvatorez and his continual battle cry of SARDINES!

Overall, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance keeps the series trademark high standard of quality going. This has to be among the deepest strategy games ever and if there’s anything with more content outside of an MMO we’ll be amazed. If you like Disgaea then this is a justification to own a PS4 and you can’t really give a game much higher praise than that.

Tembo the Badass Elephant Review

2D platformers are certainly back on the menu and Tembo is the next in line to make its way out into the world. There is certainly still room in the market for well executed spins on the genre and it’s been a while since I’ve played a game where you get to control a commando elephant sent to save the world from an invading alien menace on an island shaped like a peanut.

Tembo certainly looks the part with large and colourful levels filled with graphical flourishes and lots of personality. Our hero conveys lots of heroic emotion through his expressions and the enemies look suitable shocked when a giant elephant lands on them. Rescuing the many captives around the levels also sees them ride on top of our hero as the destructive elephant parade smashes through just about everything in its path.

There aren’t that many levels to get through but each of the three main areas offers something new for players to get used to and they are suitably distinctive from each other as well. You start out in the city before moving to the Donkey Kong Country inspired highlands and then finally to the island’s Sonic inspired amusement park. There are some chase sequences thrown in as well and some suitably impressive boss battles that pit you against things even bigger than yourself.

Tembo has a host of different moves he can use to get around and smash up the enemy. He can charge, stomp and spray water while also being able to spin around in mid­air like a giant Sonic the Hedgehog. There’s also a much under­used slide attack to get to grips with. In fact, there are so many moves that it can cause a problem in certain sections of the game. A number of times I was  jumping or running from something and pulled off completely the wrong move ­ which usually means death.

Sadly, our heroic elephant can be a bit of a pain to manoeuvre around. He does in fact control as you would imagine an elephant to which is fine when you are charging around but not so good when precision platforming or quick reflexes are required. It’s basically like trying to play the whole of Donkey Kong Country while riding the Rhino all the time. There’s nothing game breaking here but I lost count of the amount of needless deaths caused by the ungainly control system and with the game’s, somewhat pointless, lives system, this can mean restarting levels from scratch.

Aside from the obvious Donkey Kong influence there is also a touch of Sonic in the mix. A couple of levels turn our hero into a giant spinning pinball and can’t help but conjure memories of everyone’s favourite Sonic 2 level. It works for the most part as well, as do most of the different things that have been thrown into the mix. The boss fights are particularly satisfying as well with some giant creations ready to be smashed up by our rampaging elephant. We’ve never seen giant bowling balls used so creatively either.

This isn’t the longest game in the world and it’s likely you’ll get through it in a couple of hours. There are a few extra things you can do such as seek out all the captive humans or destroy all the aliens but we didn’t feel a great urge to replay levels. The game thrusts a mandatory number count of defeated aliens on you a few times too allow the unlocking of the next stage and this really wasn’t needed and only acts to try and artificially lengthen the game.

As with a number of games recently you are going to struggle here if you have any form of colour blindness. There aren’t any colour coded puzzles but laser beams and bullets all but disappear against some backgrounds and that’s a big issue in a game that requires precise timing.

Overall, Tembo the Badass Elephant may be short and a bit cumbersome but it is also a fair amount of fun and keeps players interested by introducing new things at regular intervals. There are certainly faults and frustrations but there is also a lot of imagination and good humour on show mixed in with a Donkey Kong and Sonic influence that makes the game a fun but brief ride.

Yatagarasu: Attack on Cataclysm Review

I’ll admit that I hadn’t been aware of this project by a team of ex SNK staff until very recently. There have been various builds and versions of the game around since as early as 2010 but we now have the final release.

Yatagarasu is a one on one fighting game claiming to be accessible to all but also contain depth for more hard­core gamers. It draws from a number of influences and the result is a pretty playable mash up of Street Fighter III, Fatal Fury and The Last Blade.

There are eleven characters to pick from and they all show strong design in terms of how they balance against each other and their styles of play. The one down point is that there isn’t really anyone here you haven’t played before and the game certainly lacks an iconic character to hang the franchise on.

There’s the usual Ryu and Ken variants, a big guy who is part Hugo and part Zangief and an assassin character clearly influenced by Ibuki. The rest of the cast fall into character templates from The Last Blade and various other SNK franchises. This isn’t a massive problem as they all play well but a bit more imagination would have helped raise the game up a level. The design of the characters themselves is also nothing to write home about. There’s a nice consistent pixel style to them but no one leaps out or is especially memorable in terms of how they look.

The backgrounds are strangely inconsistent in their design aesthetic and a bit dull to be painfully honest. A couple are great and fit the game perfectly. Others don’t gel with the character art style at all and the static nature of them creates a really odd feeling that your characters are merely drifting around in front of them instead of it all being an integrated location. It also makes bouts feel somewhat less intense than in other fighters. The same criticism cannot be aimed at the music which is consistently excellent throughout.

There can also be no criticism of how blows connect with other fighters. I’ve played a few games where it can be difficult to know if you are connecting at times but here everything comes with a solid sound effect which makes everything seem meaty and precise.

The key Street Fighter III influence is the parry. It works differently here with buttons assigned to high and low parries. Much like Capcom’s fighter, good timing will see you avoid damage from any incoming attack. Get the timing wrong and you are left open for extra hits during a counter attacking combo. The system works really well and has clearly had a lot of thought put into it.

In terms of modes you get a fairly basic training mode, an online mode (which has good net code from what I’ve experienced), some replay options and two arcade modes. The arcade modes play out the same but it’s nice to have two different stories to battle through and is certainly a unique feature.

The other key feature of the game is that you can have ongoing commentary from fighting experts to try and build up the same feel as tournament fighting. In practice this means cut out heads of the veterans popping up when key moves or combos are carried out saying a few different phrases. It’s a fun addition but I soon turned it off as it’s very distracting.

Overall, Yatagarasu: Attack on Cataclysm is a solid fighting game with some nice mechanics but it really has its work cut out to overthrow the current crop of fighters. The core mechanics are all here but it’s let down but some inconsistent presentation. I enjoyed my time with it but with Street Fighter, Blazblue and King of the Fighters having exceptional games in the market it’s hard to see me spending that much time with it in the future. Hopefully a sequel will arrive that really blows us away but at the minute this is good but not amazing.

3D Streets of Rage 2 Review

The Sega 3D classics range has offered us up some excellent revisions of games from the company’s golden era. So far the games that run ‘into’ the screen such as Outrun and Space Harrier have come out on top but there’s no denying that Streets of Rage 2 is a genre and generation highlight so even if the 3D effect didn’t add much then we were more than happy to dive into this.

Streets of Rage 2 is a classic scrolling beat’em up in the vein of Double Dragon or Final Fight. You can pick from four characters who differ in terms of speed, power, jumping ability and throws and then take on eight stages where colourful goons with silly names line up to be knocked out. It is a defining game for the 16 bit era and on the Mega Drive this is the pinnacle of the genre. It’s only real rival of the time was Final Fight but as the SNES version of the game lacked a character and the 2 player mode this is really as good as it gets on the home consoles of this time.

You get a fairly decent amount of moves to use with a punch/kick combination, several throws, a super move (which depletes some energy), and the odd hidden special attack. Lack of moves is what always leads to the feeling of repetition in games of this kind but there is enough variety in enemy type and location to ward off the feeling longer than in pretty much any other game of the time. The level design is particularly imaginative in places and certainly raises the game up a level past the Rival Turfs of this world.

In terms of what has been added someone has clearly tried to make this as definitive as it can be. You can play around with a host of different options such changing the lives and difficulty of the game. There are also options to change the version of the game from the international one to the Japanese ‘Bare Knuckle’ version, a casual mode and the ability to change the screen to mimic an old arcade machine. You can even change how the sound is emulated if you prefer the Mega Drive 2 to the Mega Drive 1.

Upon completion of the game you get a few new modes to play with as well. One lets you kill everything in one punch while the more interesting unlockable is a mode that gives you one life with each of the four characters to try and get through the game with.

It’s bursting at the seams with content and the 3D effect actually works as well (and you even get to choose if you want the effect to pop in or pop out). A big criticism of these types of game is that you can’t tell which level enemies are moving on. If you turn on the 3D effect this is no longer a problem and makes the game much fairer as you aren’t hitting air shots.

Overall, this is the best possible revision of Streets of Rage 2 we can imagine. There’s so much to play around with that fans of the original game will love it. There’s a lot of fun for newcomers as well with the only real criticism being that characters can be a little slow when walking around. It’s the definitive version of a generational classic and you’d be mad not to give it a look.

N++ Review

Ever since N++ was announced I’ve been eagerly anticipating returning to the inertia based platforming. The memories of hand cramps and worn out fingers are still fresh in the mind from the Xbox 360 version of N+ and a chance to head back into such a pure piece of skill based gaming is something this generation of consoles really needed.

N++ is the final game (or version of the game depending how you look at it), in the N series and comes packed with a ridiculous amount of content. You get pretty much all the levels from N and N+ and a whole host of new levels of well. In all there are a couple of thousand levels to test yourself against. If that isn’t enough there are also race and co-op levels to try out though you can no longer do this online. If that still isn’t enough there’s also a level editor to make and share levels online and there will be upcoming DLC also.

As well as levels there are a host of graphical options and music tracks to unlock. It’s hard to think how exactly any more could have been squeezed in here. The levels can also be tackled with up to three friends in local co-op. It’s certainly good to have lots of different things to play around with as you’ll certainly be dying a lot. Luckily, restarts are pretty much instantaneous now so you can set off to make exactly the same mistake again in a matter of seconds.

Presentation in N has always been minimalist and it remains the same here with a simple selection of colours for each scheme and clearly defined level design. It means everything is focused on getting your little ninja to zoom around the levels at break neck speed and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We really liked the retro graphic scheme (not a massive surprise perhaps?), which makes the game look Vectrex-esque with lots of neon outlines. There are also a host of colourblind options which are most welcome.


The goal of each level is to hit a switch that opens the exit door and then make your way to it. A timer bar continually ticks down throughout the set of levels you have picked and it can be topped up by picking up little gold squares. Hit the switch, grab the squares and avoid the mines and obstacles and then move on. That is essentially it, a simple concept but one that never gets old.

With the new levels come some new enemies to get your head around. The missile and gun turrets return along with all your most loathed contraptions from before but now you also have to deal with a host of new death machines such as the evil ninjas that follow your exact movement trail. Of course if they catch you it’s all over but then everything kills you in this game. Everything.


The gameplay itself is based around an inertia system. As your ninja runs, jumps and falls they pick up speed which can then be used to launch off surfaces or up the side of walls. Hit the ground from too high and you die, but hit the ground on a downward slope and your ninja will just keep running ready for the next set of acrobatics. It’s a simple system that works perfectly and you can only wonder how long it took to balance out in testing. Most importantly it makes you feel like a badass super ninja and when you get the flow of a level there a few better feelings. Luckily, the game allows you to watch replays of both your and everyone else’s best runs to show off and also see how to shave seconds off your time.

Overall, N++ is an outstanding game. The fact it contains the content from N+ as well is a massive bonus as some of those levels are simply amazing. It’s just so full of excellent content and imaginative ideas that platform fans have to check it out. It’ll also last you forever and even if you do get through everything then you can start designing your own levels. It’s the definitive version of one of the best indie games ever. Buy it, love it and get killed thousands of times in it.

Blazblu Chronophantasma Extend Review

Over the years Blazblu has taken up the position of the hardcore alternative to Capcom’s Street Fighter IV. Most of the characters require hours of dedication to get to grips with and the crazy plot that includes time travel, magic, science, civil wars and alternate worlds can baffle anyone. Now the series is back with it’s PS4 debut and the extended version of the third chapter of the story.

Chronophantasma takes place after the first two games and follows the characters as they move to the ruins of Ikaruga in search of the next magical McGuffin. We aren’t going to try and sum up what’s happened so far or what’s next as it’ll only confuse everyone. Just know that bad things are going to happen and some people want it to and others don’t. There is of course a puppet master behind the scenes as well trying to put everything into place.

This isn’t an easy game to get into for newcomers to the series. There’s a ton of things to take in and trying to tie up the story will take a serious investment. There’s a helpful ‘Teach Me Miss Litchi’ section which recaps the lore and events but the handy summation of the first two games from vampire Rachel Alucard will set you up nicely.

The game comes jam packed with different game modes and there’s almost limitless hours that can be put into it. Aside from the Arcade and survival modes there is Abyss mode which has your character working their way through ever increasingly difficult maps containing opponents set at different computer AI levels. There is also the BlazBlue version of score attack which pits you against some of the hardest encounters known to man for bragging rights and a host of other things. There’s even a manga to get through called Remix Heart which follows Mai Natsume at the military academy.

The story mode continues in the style of the vanilla version of Chronophantasma with three main branches that need to be completed with characters aligned to different factions in each. There are also sections featuring the new characters which came as DLC in the last version of the game. There is still too much talking and not enough fighting to start but once it gets going it’s a good tale and enjoyable, especially for fans of the series. The wealth of training modes also return with everything you need to teach you the basic mechanics and then take you into ridiculous depth with your chosen characters.

The original cast have been rebalanced and in some cases retooled with moves and special moves and this is still a bone of contention for some fans. Jin is the most notably different with the range and speed of certain moves changed and the removal of his mass-hitting spam everything quickly with the sword move (much to the relief of everyone who uses other characters). Things soon begin to click again but we got absolutely hammered just diving into arcade mode and then wondering why nothing was working.

The previously new characters are now joined by those available as downloadable content to give an impressive cast of fighters. The previous version of the game was hardly light on content and now it is bursting at the seams.

The game holds true with its previous changes such as the implementation of the ‘Overdrive’ meter which replaces the ‘Gold Burst’ move. When activated this allows for more damaging distortion drive techniques as well as stopping the match timer. The lower your health, the longer the effect lasts. Guards have also been changed but the drive is still the new big thing and players will have to drastically change their game plan in close matches.

The main thing is that after you get to grips with the changes everything flows as beautifully as before. This is still one of the most spectacularly intense fighting games on the market and this version of the game is a very strong showing in an ever increasingly crowded genre.

Overall, Blazblu Chronophantasma Extend is a must for anyone who is into their fighting games and this is right up there with anything on the PS4. Fans will be desperate to see the new additions to the story but anyone who’s up for a challenge will appreciate what the game has to offer as well. It may not be the easiest title to get into but once you do there is little else out there as rewarding or satisfying.

Making a Game by Yourself on Zero Budget

Early last year, I released Rocket Drop on all of the mobile stores (I’ve since removed it from the stores). It was a cheap-and-cheerful endless runner of a game. Not fantastic by anyone’s standards, but an entertaining distraction nonetheless. It cost precisely nothing to build, and was the result of less than a week of overall development. It did, however, give me a way into indie development; a low-risk, low-stakes development cycle to get an understanding of the production process and how the release system actually works. Plus, any sales from the first release were essentially a bonus (no development costs = 100% profit!). I also built it alone, which is a common practice for app developers these days. The low barrier to entry that the Unity engine provides makes this an option, but to someone attempting it for the first time, this can seem daunting, so here I’m going to talk about a list of resources and common practices that I’ve developed over time.


Congratulations! If you have the time and disposable income to read this, then you are in the top 39% of the world’s population! It also means you have a computer, so that’s your development hardware taken care of. Out of that 39 percent, you have a 63% chance of owning a smartphone already. If you’re in that 1.75 billion, you won’t have to pay for hardware.

I do advise that you should have more than one device to test with. Apple advise that you “test on many devices” before submitting any apps, but nobody does that because it’s expensive. In my experience, the minimum set to test with is one low-end and one medium-range device. There’s no point in testing on a high-spec mobile device, because of course your game will run at your target frame rate on a high-spec mobile device! Testing for lower end platforms helps to determine a minimum spec, and it “keeps you honest” in terms of content authoring (you’re less likely to create bloated game models if you need your app to run on a tablet from 2009).


Yeah, you need to learn how to do this if you haven’t already. No way around it. In terms of what to code with, I recommend Unity because it’s very intuitive for content authoring, it solves most of the problems inherent with releasing on multiple platforms, and it is extremely well-documented (you can type almost any error message from Unity into Google, and someone will have already solved it online). It’s also free to use and distribute with, but only if your annual sales are less than $100,000. Statistically, as an indie mobile developer, you only have a 25% chance of making more than $30,000 in your lifetime, so this is a good deal!

NOTE: If you’re developing Unity apps for iOS, be prepared to do a lot of reading! Compatibility between Xcode and Unity is always a bit of a shaky subject with each release of either program (when I authored Rocket Drop, the free version of Unity iOS didn’t work). Also, you’ll need to buy a Mac if you don’t already have one, because you can’t compile iOS apps on a PC.


If you intend to be a single-person studio, you need to be able to make art as well as code. It’s a rare skill set that can handle both. The standard workaround for this is to build an art-style on retro 2D graphics (this has an added benefit, in that nostalgia-bait is an effective marketing tool). However, this approach is starting to fall out of favour, as there are only so many 8-bit score-attack platformers that the market can take, so making the jump to 3D can be worth it! Having said that, there is still room for innovation in 2D art.

In either case, content authoring for 3D can get expensive (Maya and Photoshop are not cheap!). But there are free alternatives to literally everything a games artist would need to create great content. Anecdotally speaking, the user experience for free software is worse than that of their commercial counterparts, but their feature set is always competitive. Plus, they’re free!

  • 3D Graphics: Blender
  • 2D Graphics: GIMP
  • Normal Mapping: NormalMap-Online

When you get into trailer authoring for your app, Windows Movie Maker is a decent place to start (honestly, it’s not as bad as everyone says!). But when your trailers start to become more adventurous, I’d recommend a high-end video editor such as Lightworks or VSDC. Of the two, VSDC is easier to work with, but Lightworks has more features.


Having mastered both art and code by this point, you are now clearly some kind of unstoppable super-developer that can do anything. Good for you! Why not write your own music?

I recommend using LMMS for this. It’s free, it’s multi-platform, and it supports plug-ins for both general midi and VST. It also has a massive learning curve and minimal documentation, so you will need to set aside time to learn this tool! If you’re writing your own music, definitely spend some time downloading VSTs for your virtual instruments. I wrote the music for Rocket Drop using general midi, and in retrospect, the music sounds pretty awkward in that game.

Alternatively, you could use royalty-free music instead of writing your own. Royalty-free music is usually cheap. However, if a song is licensed under creative commons, it’s actually free to use, but not to sample (provided you credit the original musician!).

In terms of audio, there are plenty of sound effects available for download, either through public domain, or through the creative commons license. Alternatively, you could record your own sound effects. Some of the plugins that come with LMMS allow for plenty of “8-bit” style noises. For other effects, you can record from real life. For example, the engine noise in my game Chaos Ride is a sample of the noise my car made when one of its spark plugs broke!

Releasing the game:

Actually releasing the game is the only part of the development process where you will have to spend money. All of the various app stores have a one-off charge to submit apps; Apple charges $100, Google and Windows each charge $25 (though the Windows fee also lets you develop for Windows 8).

Scott is an industry veteran who has worked on a number of high profile games such as Burnout and Battlefield: Hard Lines. He also ran a start-up company by the name of sc0tt games for a brief time.

Age of Wonders III and Eternal Lords Review

since the last Age of Wonders game, so the franchise certainly hasn’t been milked to death. The newest version of the game is also already into its second major expansion after Golden Realms added a host of new features and the Halfling playable race. With all this in mind I don’t mind saying that it was somewhat intimidating jumping into the series as a relative newcomer.

Age of Wonders III is a big and imposing game and the sort of thing that requires several hundred hours of play to work out all the subtle nuances. I’m no stranger to the in-depth, life-consuming, strategy genre and have played far too much Civilisation, Football Manager and Sim City over the years. However, I can’t claim to have played Age of Wonders for a couple of hundred hours. I can say that what I have experienced so far may well certainly lead me to in the future.

The biggest problem new players will face is just how much of the game there is and the fact there is no tutorial or proper manual to help you out. The game is a hex based strategy title which can either be played in a traditional turn based sense or with simultaneous turns taking place. Your goal is to defeat the other leaders on the map in much the same way as games like Civilisation.

The lack of tutorial isn’t helped by the onscreen interface being incredibly awkward to navigate. Important icons and information are difficult to find (especially when you don’t know they exist), and onscreen text and descriptions are very small, despite the fact we played it on a 40 inch screen. There is also a lot of detail and terrain and the maps. This makes the world look alive but it’s not easy to find units you have set to camp and good luck if you’ve misplaced a fairy anywhere. If you’re colour blind you’ll just have to say a small prayer before going into battle.

There are other similarities to Civ as well as the basic premise. You build up cities in much the same way and add new types of buildings and units. Hexes containing resources are important to the growth and development of your cities and you can send out settlers to find new places. That said, Age of Wonders has a lot of other things going on as well.

For starters you can pick from a number of mythical races to play as such as Goblins, Orcs, Dragons and Elves. The Eternal Lords expansion also adds Frostlings and the catlike Tigran races. Each race has its own bonuses and penalties and also unique units with which to play. Once you have picked your chosen race you then need to pick your hero which can take the form of just about any class rolling around the fantasy spectrum. Warriors, thieves and wizards are all here with their own sets of unique traits and skills to consider. The Eternal Lords expansion adds the Necromancer class which allows you to create all sorts of havoc with various undead creatures as well.

Once you have raised your armies, combat can either be very in-depth or a more simple affair. Armies can be formed by stacking a combination of six units together. There is little restriction in how you do this so you can create balanced stacks or ones consisting of just archers or cavalry if you wish. When you encounter another army, combat can be handled in one of two ways. You can take the Civ approach and have the result auto-decided based on terrain, strength and modifiers or you can handle the combat manually.

If you choose the manual combat option you are moved to a contained map where the individual units from your army stack can be manoeuvred around. This gives far greater flexibility in combat as it allows for the use of tactical skills and magic and that may be enough for players to overcome larger odds. It’s a bit like having a world map from Civ where you enter a map battle from something like Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics and it’ll take you as much time and thought as that staggering combination suggests. The most important thing though is that either approach works.

On top of all this there are mysterious places to discover and Eternal Lords adds cosmic events which change the course of play as well. You can also find caves and tunnels and venture underground to find treasure. There’s roaming randoms to deal with like wild boars, bandits and dragon hatchlings and even the odd ruin to adventure into. There’s certainly not a lack of content and even without the expansion you’ll be busy for longer than is probably healthy.

There are three main ways to play the single player portion of the game. You can create a random map and battle against a set number of foes (the mode most closely resembling Civ), you can enter a scenario with set conditions or you can take on one of the massive campaigns. The first campaign you are given has an Elven princess betrayed and was where I was expecting the tutorial to be. It isn’t. There is also a more intermediate campaign and a downright difficult one added via the Eternal Lords expansion which unsurprisingly focuses in on the new class and races added. The fact we encountered a bug in the very first part of the Elven campaign which required a work around to finish the level didn’t help much, but by the end of it we felt we were beginning to get the hang of a few things.

Overall, Age of Wonders III provides something a bit different for strategy fans. The fantasy element sets it apart from other games like Civ and all the core mechanics work well. It’s the sort of game that once you get into it you’ll never really need much else. The biggest problem for newcomers is going to be breaking down than initial barrier so that you have enough of an idea about what is going on and what is at your disposal. It’s definitely worth digging into though and I love the variation of the different races and classes.  It’s epic, magical and ambitious with tons of content. The Eternal Lords expansion adds even more quality and if you’ve been thinking about getting into something big then you should really give this a look.

3D Fantasy Zone 2 Review

Fantasy Zone has always been one of the best series on Sega’s consoles and the Master System games are arguably the best of the bunch, so it was great when they were announced for the 3D Classics range. It’s a little odd to be getting the second game first but the fact it’s here at all is something to be celebrated.

A mixture of cute and surreal, the Fantasy Zone series has long been known for its very bright and colourful graphical style and the fact it’s also pretty damn tough. The move to the 3DS has allowed for the graphics to really come alive and the limitations presented by the Master System are obviously not now in place. This means we get the true vision of the game developers wanted and it’s never looked better.

The 3D effect is not particularly amazing and certainly not up to the standard of Outrun or Space Harrier (for obvious reasons). It does however provide a subtle extra spark to the game without making it mind blowing, but there is only so much you can do with a game set on a 2D plane anyway.

Players are tasked with flying their little ship left and right with the aim of blasting all the bases that produce monsters. Once the last base has been destroyed you are thrown into a battle with the end of level boss. It’s a bit like Defender without the rescuing mechanic. You can also move over to the ‘dark’ version of each level if you want an extra challenge.

Bosses are inventive and huge. They often have small weak spots which you need to blast and fast reactions will be needed to have any chance at all. For instance – the first boss is a giant tree who requires his Pinocchio-esque nose to be shot back into his head. While doing this you need to navigate a constantly moving maze of logs. It’s tough and it only gets more difficult the further you get.

Luckily, there are a few things to help players along the way. First of all a new level select has been added to allow players to start from any level they have previously reached. As you only have three lives to complete the game this is most welcome. You can also buy upgrades for your ship but most of them have a very limited timed use so don’t expect to be taking on the boss with some kind of super laser.

The main thing is that the game is still fun to play in short bursts. The bosses can present big sticking points but then this is a title that first came out in 1987. The core game is still very good and the subtle improvements and additions should make it just about palatable for gamers used to more modern fare.

Overall, it is great to see a game like Fantasy Zone II make it into the 3D Classics range. If you are a fan of the original then there is nothing here to put you off and you should check it out right away. Newcomers may find it tough, but it’s an inventive game that still stands out and if you are up for a challenge then there is a lot of fun to be had.

Tower of Guns Review

Tower of Guns came out on the PC some time ago and has generated a decent buzz. The project from Terrible Posture Games takes the now popular Rogue-like template and applies it to a first person shooter. It’s designed to give you a quick blast of fun when you have half an hour spare and it certainly gives you a few different things to play around with.

Though in the first person, it certainly does follow the randomness of many other Rogue-like titles. The enemies, level design and bosses are all randomly generated during each play through and you even get a little text story that assigns itself to you. Sometimes you are trying to save the president’s daughter; sometimes you are running from zombies (among other things). It’s a minor touch but something that adds a bit of humour.

As you carry out more runs in the tower you will unlock more weapons to use and more perks and bonuses that can be selected from the start screen. There’s a decent selection of both and they make enough difference to warrant some consideration before you go blasting.

During play you can pick up money to buy power ups and there is also a minor levelling system which increases the power of your gun by picking up blue dots and tokens. Aside from that you just point your gun at things and blast. While blasting things certainly is fun for a while it does quickly show up how little depth there is going on in the game and spending any real length of time with it is difficult.

The shooting itself feels a little lightweight with enemies looking a bit flimsy and a lack of punch from a number of weapons. This is a shame as something offering up bite sized chunks of Serious Sam intensity could have been a real winner. The random elements also don’t seem to create that many different things. Within our first five or six runs we noticed a large amount of repeated rooms and when a game is as short as this it becomes a bit of an issue for replayability.

It’s the lack of intensity that really holds the game back. You can be in a room with seemingly endless turrets and enemies charging at you but it still seems a bit dull. Maybe it’s the lacklustre sound but it just doesn’t thrill and that’s a bit of a problem for a game based on quick, adrenaline-fuelled lunch runs.

Though the game is designed to be blasted through in around twenty minutes, there could still have been a bit more going on. You do get a few surprises every five or so runs but after we finished the game once we didn’t feel that much like jumping in again. It’s certainly a nice and fun distraction but really little else.

Overall, Tower of Guns starts out showing some strong promise that it could be an excellent little blaster. However, the more time you spend with it the more the lack of depth and variety begins to become a problem. There is nothing bad or broken here but there is also little to keep players interested after their first handful of runs.

La Maluna EX Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


3D Out Run Review

For many a retro gamer mentioning Out Run conjured up memories of racing at high speed through a host of idyllic locations in a Ferrari. There have been numerous remakes over the years but only the Xbox version in 2004 really managed to capture that spirit of freedom and speed that the original had. That’s all about to change as this could well be the definitive version of Sega’s much loved classic.

For those not familiar with Out Run – the goal is to race through the stages against the clock while avoiding traffic and other obstacles. There are multiple routes that can be taken and up to five possible final roads to travel down should you reach the last stage. Hitting traffic slows you down, while hitting obstacles at speed can flip and roll the car causing the driver and his blond passenger to fall out and eat up much needed time.

Though fairly simplistic at heart – it can also be tough to complete at times. You have a high and low gear to help control your speed but sometimes those corners come out of nowhere and you’ll be flipping into the nearest corn field. Luckily for us the controls are wonderfully responsive so anytime you do find yourself viewing the brutal crash animations you know it’s your fault. It’s about speed and control and if things get too tough (or easy), you can alter the difficulty and your time allowance in the options menu.

This is a conversion of the arcade game so you are getting the original experience with some nice enhancements. The two most obvious of these are the framerate and new 3D effect. The framerate has been bumped up to 60FPS which makes everything zoom by at breakneck speed and certainly captures the thrill the original game had upon first release. The 3D effect is also impressive and really adds to the experience. These two additions, coupled with the classic graphical style, really help to elevate the game and it makes everything a whole lot of fun.

There are a few other things thrown in as well, such as some new songs and the ability to track your times and scores on each course. It all shows that a fair amount of care and attention has been put into this and someone clearly cared about the franchise during the process.

Overall, 3D Out Run is both a wonderful version of a classic game and something that is still fun and relevant today. It’s a game that always brings about a smile when playing and it comes from an era when the sheer joy of the experience was heralded above all else and there is no better game to illustrate the point than this.

Titan Attacks Review

Puppy Games has been making its neon-styled retro shooters for a while now and it always seemed only a matter of time before they took the step on to console. Titan Attacks was the first game to make the jump and serves up its own take on the Space Invaders theme.

Set across five worlds, the player controls their tank at the bottom of the screen as enemies approach from the top. It may remind you of Space Invaders but aside from the obvious nods there is much more going on here than simply trying to produce a clone. The first thing to take into account is the scoring mechanic. A multiplier continually increases through the levels and when you take a hit it returns to zero.

You can also gain points and money by achieving skill shots. This occurs when you shoot an enemy and instead of it exploding it begins to fall to the ground. Shooting the careering vehicle may also see an alien jump out in a parachute; collecting these little guys will give you a further bonus, while letting them drift off the bottom of the screen will result in a penalty.

Any money you gain during a round can be spent before the next one starts. You’ll start off buying extra shields and smart bombs but the power-ups are extensive and you can add bits to your tank to fire rockets and lasers as well as giving yourself multiple shots or reducing the recharge time between firing. In truth, it can make the game a little easy towards the end but it’s always a fun way to spend a few minutes. The game also seems to have been slightly rebalanced to present more of a challenge in this 3DS version.

The game is set across five worlds, starting on Earth, moving onto the Moon, through Mars and Saturn before finishing on the alien home world. Every few levels you get a chance to get gain bonus points and prizes by shooting down special flying saucers and the end of each world sees you square off against a mother ship. The enemy types and patterns continually change and the later levels are hectic which helps to keep everything fresh and moving. The lack of 3D though is a bit of an issue as it makes the port seem less polished than it otherwise could have been.

There’s no denying this is a fun game while it lasts but there are a few things which hold it back from being a classic. Though the bosses are a bit tougher now, the game is still a little on the easy side and you’ll likely blast through it in a couple of attempts. It’s certainly fun and you do get to start again on harder versions of the levels but we were expecting a bit more of a challenge.

The second problem is that the scoring mechanic isn’t really intricate enough to cause the massive adrenaline rushes you can get from other games. There’s very little you can do if you’ve been building a multiplier and get hit, other than slowly build it up again. That’s fine for anyone who wants an enjoyable arcade shooter but for those looking for a game to master this will let you down.

Slight issues aside, the question that matters is, are you going to enjoy playing the game? The answer to which is yes you will, it’s a blast, with a fun style that cleverly evokes just enough of Space Invaders to hit the nostalgia button while producing something fresh. It won’t last you forever or put up that much of a challenge but for a fun few minutes of blasting, it certainly ticks all the right boxes. It’s also especially suited to handhelds. Overall, this is a good if not great game that everyone will enjoy. It’s a promising start from Puppy Games and we look forward to their next project.


Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Review

But when pirates attack her home town, and her old nemesis Risky Boots appears to tell her about a mysterious Pirate Master, she has little choice but to try and save the day with nothing but her Kabuki Ninja-esque hair attack and ability to leap around.

This sets Shantae off on an adventure that takes her to a number of different islands looking for dens of evil, which much be purged to stop the evil Pirate Master from returning. Each island and environment is beautifully presented with some of the most colourful and vibrant 2D platform artwork seen in a very long time. They also contain different themed environments and enemies so there is always something new and varied to see.

Unlike previous games, instead of Shantae using her magic powers to transform into different forms, she now has to collect various pirate artefacts, which then grant her the ability to progress. It follows a template similar to Metroid in that you collect an object like a gun, which then allows you to operate a switch to open a door, which then allows you to move to a new section of the level. There is also a fair amount of wandering back and forth between the different islands and levels but as they are so much fun to explore and revisit, this isn’t an issue.

Level design remains strong throughout, with the islands and dungeons providing different challenges and puzzles to solve. The game is always challenging but never unfair or too harsh to stop progression for long. Finding heart squids will also increase your life and Shantae can buy upgrade shampoo and conditioner to level up her hair’s attack power and speed. The learning curve is set just about perfectly and players should feel like they are always prepared for what they come up against without it being a complete walkover.

One of the highlights of the game is the colourful collection of characters and ever-so-slightly twisted humour that runs through the game. Early on for instance, you’ll meet a former giant squid boss who is bemoaning the fact he feels he’ll only be used as a returning reference to the previous game so is planning to retire (naturally you’ll have to find him a travel brochure so he can start travelling the world for the just the right spot).

There are a host of well-known characters from the series to touch base with and it adds just the right amount of fan service for players of the series. The writing is also sharp and entertaining – if a little uncomfortable at times. Weirdly, there is a slight sexual undercurrent throughout. An early puzzle requires light to reflect off two untanned girls who won’t strip to their bikinis, while later Shantae acquires x-ray glasses from a disappointed character who has moved to a beach resort out of season so there are no girls to look at. It’s not overly dodgy, but something that parents of younger gamers will probably want to know about.

Some of the character design is also questionable. There are Mermaid characters that are topless (just without nipples), and what can only be described as a giant rolling ball orgy of naked women as a boss to contend with. While Shantae can be forgiven for her attire as she is both a genie and a dancer, both she and a few other characters seem to have ‘developed’ a little since last the last game as well.

Pixelated cleavage aside, the game is an absolute joy to play and an experience that will keep you smiling throughout. Shantae controls very well and always responds how she should. The different objects you pick up always add something new to mess around with and there are plenty of extra side quests and collectables to hunt around for. It all gives you an excuse to spend a bit more time with the game and when something is as joyful as this then it’s likely you’ll be happy to oblige it.

Overall, this is another top drawer entry in the Shantae series.  Shantae games are always more expensive than other digital games but they are also of a much more accomplished quality than almost everything else in the same genre. It’s a colourful, fun and inventive game and feels right at home on the Wii U. It would be great for the series to build up more of a fan base as they offer some of the best Metroidvania action out there. If you love your retro inspired platformers then you really need to own this.

Tengami Review

Tengami caught our eye well over a year ago at the Eurogamer Expo back in 2013. Amidst the throng of noise and colour around the Nintendo stand was an unassuming screen displaying a delicate looking game.  A very apt first impression, this is a very calm and thoughtful game that is much more about contemplation and the journey than it is about simply getting to the end.

There is no real plot to speak of as your journey follows a lone Japanese wanderer as he seeks to return four cherry blossoms to a bare cherry tree. It’s very similar in tone to something like Journey where it is the adventure that subtly writes the story into the minds of the player rather than having it explicitly stated.

The main draw of Tengami is its art style. The world and everything in it are created to look like a paper pop-up book. The game starts by opening the book and as you progress you literally turn the pages.  The environments are absolutely gorgeous and no other game has had us continually reaching for the Wii U screen shot button.  It is also underscored with some lovely sound to fully immerse you in the oriental world it is portraying.

Aside from wandering around beautiful environments you will need to solve puzzles in order to progress.  This is done via the Wii U pad and generally involves sliding things around or making different parts of the environment pop-up. There are also musical puzzles (normally revolving around bells), and puzzle boxes that need to be unlocked by looking around the environments for symbols.

The puzzles range from being very simple to quite fiendish in design. The puzzle boxes which require looking around the environment can be very tricky – until you realise you may need to hold turning pages half open to see some of them. It certainly makes you think and there is nothing here that should stop you completely dead in your tracks for long.

Our only real gripe with the game is its length. We managed to get through it in a couple of hours and though there are Miiverse stamps to collect there isn’t really too much to come back into it for. Unlike journey where the thrill of the ride is enough to replay, here you already know the puzzles so unless you want to wander the beautiful world again there is very little to draw you back.

This certainly isn’t going to be for everyone, it moves at a fairly slow pace and there is a lot of wandering to be done between puzzles. That said, we feel that everything it sets out to do it has accomplished pretty much perfectly.

Overall, Tengami is unashamedly the game it wants to be and there is little compromise to players that might not get it. For those looking for something different this could be the perfect game. It merges the concepts of art and video games and has created something unique. Yes it’s short, but the fact we wanted more speaks volumes of the experience we had with it. There are things here that will make you smile and show you small moments of magic and for us that’s more than enough.

Shovel Knight Review

Shovel Knight has been looking like a good game for a very long time and we loved it when we tried the PC version out. Another in the long line of retro styled platformers, it has always had something a little bit special about it. It’s taken a while to get here from the PC and we are delighted to say that it’s still as excellent as ever.

The game follows the tale of Shovel Knight who used to act as one of the champions of the land, defending it from evil along with his companion Shield Knight. One day the two knights fall fowl of a cursed amulet in a magic tower. Shovel Knight awakens to find Shield Knight has been sealed in the tower and the entrance is now impassable. While Shovel Knight hides away from the world the evil forces of the enchantress take hold. In doing so she unseals the magic tower and Shovel Knight sets off to rescue Shield Knight and stop the evil.

Shovel Knight is a platform game that wears its influences very plainly on its sleeve. There’s a  bit of Mega Man in there, (though you don’t take powers from fallen bosses), Some Duck Tales style bouncing, a bit of Castlevania 2 and 3 with the sub weapons and even a touch of Dark Souls. The thing that sets it all apart though is while all these elements are identifiable the game feels like something unique. It’s not just a trip down memory lane but a game that has taken key elements and forged its own identity with them.

The graphics and music are 8-bit themed and it certainly feels like the sort of thing you could be playing on a NES or Master System. Despite the potential limitations of the style each level is filled with detail and they each have their own clear identity. This is where the main Mega Man influence comes and it keeps things fresh as you never really know how an enemy boss knight’s stage is going to have to be approached until you get into it.

The adventure is set across a map screen with locks at the edge of it. Defeating the correct enemy boss knights releases the locks and allows you to move to the next section. As well as the enemy castles there are villages where you can get new gear and special levels which offer up gems or unique adventures for our hero to conquer (You can also go and speak to a big fish thing which fills up empty chalices with magic). You’ll need all the gems you can find as it acts as the in game currency and allows you to buy a whole host of secondary weapons and shovel and armour upgrades.

It should be pointed out that though the game is called Shovel Knight, this is not a title in the same vein as Steam World: Dig or Spelunky. It’s very much a platformer in the Mega Man or Castlevania style with skilful jumping and boss fights on the menu for intrepid explorers. The game is challenging but it has a very well balanced difficulty curve and we never felt completely out of our depth. Levels also have a large amount of checkpoints and there is no lives system in place so you can keep continuing. The main penalty for death is losing a chunk of your money. When this occurs it hangs around the area you died and must be reclaimed. If you die again then it’s gone, much like Dark Souls.

It’s a game that wants you to keep playing it. The constant supply of gems and available upgrades, the gradual revealing of the map, the extra levels – it all just keeps you wanting to see what else is out there and what’s going to be next and there is always something more to see. You’ll get random monsters and bosses roaming the map like in Mario 3 or pick up a new weapon and be able to complete a level you couldn’t before. You’ll just keep going and going until the end and then there’s always new game +.

Overall, Shovel Knight is a brilliant game. Everything is does it does well and everything works. It’s balanced and challenging and constantly offers up new surprises. The controls work perfectly, the levels and enemies are well designed and there’s a nice chunk of humour in there as well. This probably is it for the 8-bit retro styled platformer as to beat this would really take something. We tried and tried but it simply cannot be faulted. It’s just a magnificent game.

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.

Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrun has been a massively underutilised franchise when it comes to the world of video games. There are countless Dungeons and Dragons titles but only four set in the murky shadows of mega corps and monsters.

Of the four games, one of them was a Japanese only Mega CD title and another is a team based shooter which doesn’t really keep the ethos. The ones fans will remember are the excellent SNES version which saw Jake Armitage taking on a Dragon and the Genesis title that never made it to European shores. To say gamers have been starved of Shadowrun fun is somewhat of an understatement but that could all be about to change.

Shadowrun Returns is a turn based strategy game set in an isometric viewpoint and is about as old school feeling as a new game gets. It’s very close in mood and graphical style to the SNES game and benefits immensely from it. The areas of the city are dank and polluted and neon tinged signs cast light over the many citizens that walk the streets in this imagining of a dystopian future. 

Conversations are carried out via dialogue trees with pictures of the characters face to the side of them. There is no voice acting or animation here but it doesn’t really detract from the game and if anything adds to the retro feel.

The story goes that your friend has been murdered and now it’s up to you find out who the killer is. At first it seems a fairly standard tale but there are a few decent twists to keep you on your toes and what starts out as a neo-noir thriller will soon go off into all sorts of strange and gruesome directions.

You can build your character from scratch from five races and a host of different class types which at least on the surface adds some depth and replay value to the game. In practice we found the classes that deal with robots or computers had their skill sets somewhat underused (especially in the beginning), with the combination of magic and guns often the best way to proceed. We’re hoping future instalments will flesh these classes out a bit more as the basic rule set is solid.

The game is split into three different sections. There’s the part where you run around the area talking to people and looking for clues, the turn based combat sections and parts where you enter the matrix. The first part plays out like a point and click adventure, all be it in a confined area.  Combat can occur quickly and it’s always nest to be prepared and ready. When combat does occur your characters are given a number of action points to move, shoot and cast spells. It’s not ground breaking but it works simply and effectively enough. You also have to keep an eye on characters strengths with Trolls and Orcs better at taking damage than Elves for instance.

Most of the time you’ll have a team of four and you’re missions will generally be to get into somewhere, retrieve a person or object and get out. Sometimes you just have to kill people but it becomes a step by step process of running to cover, concentrating fire and carefully moving forward. Mistakes can be costly and if you die you’ll start the whole sequence again. This is one of the flaws of the game as missions can be around an hour in length and you’ll often have to go through all the dialogue and adventure part of the game again if you die.

A quick save would have been pretty useful as well in case you need to step away from the PC, but as it is we only have the auto save which kicks in at the start of each new area. Just make sure you are sensible with your gear as being auto-saved into a difficult place means there may be no way to get out alive if you haven’t brought the right supplies or team. This can be somewhat frustrating considering you won’t know what you need until you get there. All auto saves are stored though and players can simply go back a few steps if thigns get too bad.

The matrix sections of the game are also a little dry. They play out in much the same way as normal combat with the Decker moving around a virtual system setting up combat programmes and fighting drones. It would have been nice to distinguish this more from the normal combat but it works.

The game also comes with a detailed level editor and this is what is going to keep it going in the long term. The rule set is solid and there are already a ton of levels available that users have created. There are dedicated projects to bring both the SNES and Genesis games into the game as well. The standard game is a round twelve hours long and it’s likely you’ll be left wanting more so it’s well worth digging into some of the mission packs out there.

Overall, Shadowrun Returns is a positive return to form for the series. It’s not perfect but everything is in place for a bright future. The game as it stands now is solid, well written and will provide a good few hours of gameplay. A few more side quests and a bit more variety wouldn’t have gone a miss but it’s an easy world to get drawn into and any fan shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s a streamlined turn based strategy game set in an interesting world and we can only see it getting better and better in the future.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD (XBLA) Review

We are massive Castlevania fans at Gamestyle so any release of a game, even an HD overhaul of a portable title is going to get us excited. We quite liked the 3DS version so ventured forth with some intrigue to see if this port holds up as well.

For those unfamiliar with the original, this is not a Metroidvania style Castlevania game. You do explore a castle but it’s in a much more linear fashion than the previous games on the DS and GBA. If you want that style of Castlevania there are currently seven games you can choose from to scratch that itch and looking back, if we’re honest about it, few of them are as perfect as Symphony of the Night.

Instead, Mirror of Fate takes us back to the style of the original games and is much closer to something like Dracula X or Super Castlevania IV. This is a bold move, but from our point of view we are delighted someone has taken a chance and tried to mix things up a bit. Bouncing around rooms is all well and good but sometimes you want to smack something in the face and swing around a bit, and this is something that Mirror of Fate offers up in abundance.

This was an utterly stunning looking game on the 3DS but the transition to the big screen hasn’t quite gone as well. Character models and animations seem a bit stilted at times and brutality seems to have lost some of its impact. The graphic novels tyle cut scenes seem somewhat odd in their new setting and losing the amazing 3D graphics is also a blow that the visuals never fully recover from.

The visuals are boosted by some stunning use of music and sound. Almost all the cut scenes are voice acted and the gruth Scottish accents mix with the forbidding visuals to create an imposingly bleak fairy tale. The grandeur and impact of the music is also of the highest standard. he strong sound is more effective on the big screen and the dramatic orchestral scores add a more serious and  sinister tone to the world.

The graphics and sound create a much more serious and hard edged tone – much like Castlevania: Lord of Shadow. This game looks and sounds brutal and every second of it feels like an epic and bleak life or death struggle. This is something we really like as it adds gravity and an almost Dark Souls like edge to the atmosphere.

Of course all the window dressing in the world can’t make up for a bad game. Mirror of Fate is much more combat orientated than other games in the series and the developers have taken care to instigate a robust and flexible system to fight off Dracula’s hordes. The developers said they were looking to take influence from Street Fighter for their system and it shows. There are numerous combos, dodges, blocks and launchers which can be unlocked as you progress.  This allows players some flexibility in how they fight. Admittedly limited, special powers and sub weapons are also on hand to help you through.

Once you get to grips with the system you’ll soon be despatching monsters with relative ease, and the system is more fluid than seen in previous Castelvania games that follow the hack and slash route. Combat is the emphasis of the game and you will often find yourself locked into arenas or needing to kill monster to progress around the castle. Players used to being able to duck and dodge their way through the metroidvania style games may well get a rude awakening here.

Boss fights are one aspect that lets the game down a little. They simply feel somewhat less inspired than before and often begin to become repetitive, a shame as this could have been addressed from the 3DS version. They can also be fairly merciless which is offset by the fact the game saves what seems like every two minutes. Indeed, the game even saves at checkpoints within boss fights – which may seem stupid until you actually come up against one of the tougher ones. At that point you’ll be glad of them as it stops players hitting bricks walls in their progression. Also, using quick time events really isn’t a good idea.

During your adventure you will play as three different characters but aside from small changes (such as Alucard being able to breath under water without a timer), there is little to distinguish them. In one way this is good as it means any unlocked moves remain throughout, but it would have been nice to see some variation in combat techniques and a more varied way of tackling the castle. Collectibles are also fairly standard with scrolls that expand on the games lore and chests which raise magic and health just about all you are going to find.

Negatives aside this is a bold and risky direction to take the franchise in and in the most part it’s successful. Ok, so the castle isn’t really there to be explored and there isn’t much point in searching out every last corner, but the more combat heavy approach is implemented well and the graphics and sound are incredible. It’s easy to forget that Dawn of Sorrow was merely solid and Order of Ecclesia took half the game to come to life. The Castlevania franchise needed to be shaken up and we are more than happy with the direction.

Overall, this is a game that will likely divide Castlevania fans. It’s still that a dark and forbidding fairy tale told that worked so well on the 3DS. It doesn’t quite fit as well here but it does manage to create some of the same atmospheric, dark and brutal adventure and if more people get a chance to experience it then that can only be a good thing. Its home is clearly on the 3DS though.

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness

It’s been a long time since the first Disgaea game graced European shores and turned a large number of the population into obsessive number crunchers with an eye for multi-coloured squares. Since Hour of Darkness we’ve had three more entries into the mains series and countless spinoffs on the handheld platforms. Now, the original Demons are back in a direct sequel to Leharl, Etna and Flonne’s first adventure.

This time Leharl must fight to prove himself the true overlord of the demon realm whilst also working out what on earth is happening with all these celestial flowers springing up all over the place. Many a twist and turn ensues (which we won’t spoil here), and as usual it’s a crazy and unhinged plot but then this is Disgaea so what exactly were you expecting?

It’s fair to say that a direct sequel, to a hardcore game, in a niche genre that came out almost ten years ago is likely to have a fairly dedicated audience. As such you probably know if you’re going to buy this or not already. For those that haven’t come across a Disgaea game before we will try and explain how it works. At its heart is a turn based strategy game. Your characters emerge from a demon portal and move in squares across a gridded battle ground. You use menu commands to get them to attack, use items or activate special skills. However, there is so much depth to battle and so many systems at work that it simply boggles the mind.

Along with the Lifting and throwing mechanic, the partnering mechanic, combos and apprentices are the Geo Symbols.  Many of the levels have coloured squares adorning the floor. These relate to coloured triangles set somewhere around the level, each of which gives a different effect to the square. These can range from giving extra experience points to causing physical damage or even making you (or the enemy), invincible. Not good for anyone with colour blindness but it means you have to be careful what you are doing and plan ahead. The symbols sometimes move around as well which adds even more to deal with.

Destroying the geo symbols can set off a chain reaction that destroys all the squares and damages anything standing on them. If in the process you destroy another symbol then you can get a domino effect which zooms around every colour square and ends in a huge explosion of colour. This results in a massive bonus to your end of level score (Another system in play), and can give you extra treasure.

The amount of characters you can create is truly staggering. To do this you need to go to the dark assembly room (much like in other Disgaea games), and use mana won from battles to create a new character. These can be human or monsters and new options constantly open up based on creatures you are defeating or characters in certain classes continually levelling up. The dark assembly can also be used to alter the game in certain ways, such as making better weapons available or only allowing Prinnies onto maps. Some of these bills require you to go into the assembly room and bribe the court in order to get them passed on a vote. Certain options such as making the game harder can now be accessed via an in game cheat shop.

The other thing Disgaea is known for is the item world. Any item or weapon in the game can be entered and by clearing floors of monsters within it makes it stronger. There are also ‘innocents’ within the items that can be defeated. This allows for special powers and super stat boosts to be added. The item world could theoretically last forever and we can’t even imagine how long it would take to max out an entire teams gear and weapons. For the super obsessed it’s unlikely you’ll be playing much else for the next few years if you want to take on the task.

The major addition to the many systems since the first game is the ability to mount creatures. Now human characters can ride monsters on the battle field. This allows for the use of different skills while the ridden beast will take damage rather than the user. This allows for a weak character like a healer to ride around on a dragon with much less chance of them being killed. It also allows slow moving characters to ride speedy monsters around the battle field. It’s an addition that works well and offers even more options when taking on the hordes.

Disgaea D2 represents a game that fans will love. It’s a combination of great characters, a wild story and a number of small but beneficial refinements to the tried and tested formulae. Newcomers to the series may well be completely overwhelmed but for anyone who wants yet more Disgaea action this is about as fine-tuned as it gets right now and it shows there is still a lot of life left in the franchise.

Limbo Review

Limbo first burst onto the console scene around three years ago in the Xbox Live Summer of arcade event. It then took a while to make its way over to the PS3 and now we finally have a portable version to enjoy on the Vita. It’s been a long time coming but is Limbo still worth your attention?

For those who haven’t had the chance to experience Limbo yet, what awaits is a platformer with a style unlike any other. The game follows the journey of a small boy as he makes his way through a dark and nightmarish world. The colour palette is almost exclusively monochrome and you are going to die gruesomely over and over again.

The visual style and tone is the main thing that sets Limbo apart from other platform games. The somewhat abstract approach helps to build a stunning atmosphere which envelops the player in dread and gives a constant warning of dangers to come. As you progress you will see different types of environment given the nightmare treatment. What starts out as a forest will soon give way to gloomy industrial areas and platforms buzzing with sparks and spinning saws.

The visuals look incredible on the Vita screen and the sprite size and landscape has been scaled well. The only thing which doesn’t quite work as well is the flickering darkness around the edges of the play area when the game focuses you through a vignette. On the smaller Vita screen this can often be off putting and distracting, whereas before it was a subtle mood building effect.

The gameplay itself is fairly simple. Your character can jump a small distance, move objects and climb. Most of the gameplay is about creating make-shift bridges and things to stand on in order to reach the next area. There are also quote a few areas that require quick and precise timing in order to progress. Sometimes you may need to get two boxes to drop at the right moment and use them before a saw cuts through them while at others you’ll be out rising water. Everything is used well and Limbo never over uses any of its ideas, always moving the player onto something new in terms of level design and threat.

One of the more unique obstacles to overcome is the brain bugs. Every now and then a bug will drop on our hero and cause him to walk continuously in the direction he is facing. The only way to turn him around is to move into one of the rare patches of sunlight that pierces the gloom. This creates a new kind of threat as you have to move objects and overcome traps at the pace the game sets rather than on your own terms. The sections work well and the gimmick never becomes over used.

Speaking of threats, this is a game that takes great pleasure in killing you. Bear traps adorn forest flaws and electricity always seems to be coming right at you. Giant spiders and shadowy humans are on hand to chase you and if that isn’t enough there is always the risk of simply drowning or falling into a pit. Though you will die, the frustration is eased by the near constant auto saving. This means that you will always reappear near to were you die without the need to cover ground you have already been over.

Limbo always has been a special game and that certainly hasn’t changed in the years since its release. The main issue facing the Vita version is that many gamers may well have experienced it already. The lack of any new additions to draw people in may also be a problem. This aside, Limbo remains an essential title and its move to Vita has been realised well. If you haven’t played it yet then this is an essential purchase as it offers a unique experience not found anywhere else.

The HD Adventures of Rotating Octopus Review

Like Velocity, Rotating Octopus character has made the leap from being a Playstation Mini to a fully native Vita title. It’s a pretty straightforward conversion with very little changing apart from the look of the game. But for those that haven’t experience Dakko Dakko’s endearing character before there is much here to enjoy.

The game sets itself out as a number of single area arenas filled with different obstacles for the octopus to navigate. You start with three lives and must complete an entire worlds levels in one go in order to progress to the next. Losing all of your three lives will see you returned to the first level of the world to start again.

Rotating Octopus Character is in perpetual motion as it spins around the level sticking to whichever surface it comes into contact with. You can change direction and head off in the other way, but the real skill comes from leaping from place to place and completing levels without the need to alter your direction.

The goal of each stage is to collect the hidden octopus’ spread around the area. Some of these are visible from the start while others will drop in as you progress. On latter levels players are required to bounce balls and balloons out the way and move sandcastles in order to reveal any that are hidden away. As well as finding the octopus’ lost friends you can also pick up raindrops and acquiring enough of these will give you an extra life.

It sounds fairly simple and in principle it is. However, this can be one tough cookie of a game to crack at times. Each new world introduces new enemies and hazards and things get hectic very quickly. The stationary barking dogs of the first world are easy enough to get by, but the snakes and mad fez hats found only a few worlds latter are incredibly tricky at times. Couple this with level design thought out to make things as awkward for you navigate as possible and a tight time limit and you suddenly find yourself amidst a series of real twitch gameplay levels. You’ll need fast reactions and the ability to think up new strategies and approaches on the move in order to succeed.

The game is perfect for short bursts of play and each level will only take a few minutes to complete – that’s as long as you don’t keep dying and having to restart. The limited amount of lives does add tension to proceedings but it can also lead to a fair amount of frustration as you find yourself stuck on one of the later levels of a world and continually have to go through eight or nine others just to reach it again. That said, many of the super tough levels tend to have an abundance of raindrops in them to keep you stocked up with lives. On these occasions it’s just a case persevering until you eventually prevail.

The upgraded visuals really help to bring out the artistic charm of the game and it helps add a more defined humour to the graphics and level design. The sound is also joyful and good fun, though the noise of rotating octopus moving around continually can become a touch on the annoying side when you find yourself continually crashing into things.

In terms of size there is a substantial amount of content on show. Aside from the plentiful main worlds there are also a host of challenge levels which unlock one by one. The urge to try and finish stages without changing direction or in a quicker time is also continual draw.

Overall, this is another mini that is more than welcome on the Vita in a native form. Beneath the cute visuals is an excellent and tough piece of reaction based gaming and we can see many Vita owners drawn to it for far longer than they probably expect to be. It’s tough but fair and offers something a little different to what is currently on offer. We recommend you give it try and we’re sure we haven’t seen the last of the Rotating Octopus Character either.

Overall 8/10

Machinarium Review

Point and click adventure games used to be the big sellers on PC. These days there are very few around with only the episodic style Sam and Max games being of relative note. New innovations have been tried with various series turning 3D and the Walking Dead certainly did a good job of creating a compelling adventure. Now though, we have Machinarium which takes the genre back to its 2D roots.

To go into the delicate plot here would spoil much of the adventure for readers. Starting out in a scrap yard the story is revealed through short comic scenes portrayed as thought bubbles of the main character. Often amusing and touching the animations add a real atmosphere to the game and it’s always clear what our little robot hero is putting across to us. It just goes to show how simple telling a good story can be when it is done in a precise and thoughtful way.

Shunning the style of new adventure games the world of Machinarium is presented in 2D with stunningly beautiful hand drawn style backgrounds and characters. The level of detail is breath taking and we can only imagine the hours that must have gone into designing the environments. Many of them you could simply screen grab and use as pictures and we expect many a Vita owner will soon be sporting their favourite screen as their consoles wall paper.

The game plays out in classic point and click style. You move a cursor around the screen to highlight objects and then collect them up in order  to solve puzzles. There are a few new gimmicks in the mix as well which helps to carve out even more of an identity for the game. For instance, our robot hero can lower or heighten himself in order to reach high shelves or reach under tables.

There is also a hint of the Professor Layton about it as you will also have to solve a series of logic puzzles. None of these are impossible and include things like winning games of tick tack toe or getting coloured blocks into certain positions. Some of them could do with more of an explanation of what the goal of the game is though. There were also a couple of instances where colour blind players may have a bit of trouble. However, if you do hit a dead end there is a handy guide available to show you how to complete them.

The guide is accessed from the top of the screen and requires players to navigate a small maze before unlocking. You then get the solution portrayed in sketches. It’s a nice design choice which allows for the lack of speech and text within the rest of the game to be maintained throughout. For those that don’t want to use the guide there is a hint system which, when pressed, causes your little robot to think of what he is trying to do.

Machinarium isn’t the longest game but there is absolutely no filler here. It’s such a charming title that, like the classic point and click adventures of old, it’s a story you’ll likely not mind going through again. As soon as we finished it our minds were already drawn to the ‘new game’ option to see if we could pick up on any snippets of story we didn’t quite get first time around.

The translation to the Vita has been handled pretty much as well as could be expected. To try and compensate for objects being small on screen a zoom function has been added (which works well). You also have a choice of controlling the cursor with the front or rear touch pad, as well as the left analogue stick. Needless to say the whole thing looks amazing on the Vita screen as well.

There are a few issues though. The main one is that the Vita version could do with a ‘look’ option. Often it’s difficult to work out what you have just picked up due to the small nature of the graphics and high detail level. You also often need to be in the right part of the screen to have the ‘interact’ option come up. Not a massive issue as you are normally given the ‘walk to’ option if there is something of interest, but on occasion there was something tiny we couldn’t really see that wouldn’t show up until we raised or lowered the robot.

Even with the zoom function some things are still very small on screen and with the high level of detail displayed in each area objects can get lost. Aside from these relatively minor issues there is nothing else we could find to pick fault with.

We are being super picky because this game is a wonderful thing. It perfectly captures the magic of the classic point and click titles of the golden age of adventure gaming. The story is a wonderful thing to experience and so much of this game will have you smiling. It seems pretty clear to us that Machinarium is destined to end up being viewed as a timeless classic and added to all those lists and recaps of classic point and click games. It’s just so staggeringly lovely that we can only recommend you get it as soon as possible.

Kung Fu Rabbit Review

It’s an ordinary day in the Kung Fu Rabbit dojo when it’s suddenly invaded by Aliens who kidnap the rabbits to eat later. One brave rabbit remains and it is now up to you to rescue your friends. It’s a 2D platform game somewhere between Super Meat Boy and N+ with a toned down difficulty (compared to those two), and rabbits. If that’s got your interest then read on.

Starting life as an iOS game, Neko Entertainment has given Kung Fu Rabbit a few alterations to make it more suitable for the Wii U. The most obvious of these is that in app purchases have been replaced by in game collectible currency in the form of carrots. The carrots can then be used to buy upgrades and new equipment to help you in your quest. The resolution has also been upgraded and the controls changed to make everything that little bit better.

The game is set out into around sixty small levels, with further bonus levels unlocked as you progress. The aim of each stage is not only to reach the captured rabbit at the end, but also to collect the three normal and one giant carrot found in each area. This starts out simply enough but soon requires real skill to achieve.

When you die you have to restart the stage from scratch and any carrots collected will need to be picked up again. This creates a nice risk/reward scenario where you will be always weighing up if you really need that last carrot right at the end of the stage.

Dying is also fairly easy. Enemies patrol the levels and will kill you with one touch. They can be taken out by our fearless rabbit, but each enemy needs to be approached in the correct way to despatch them. Attacks are carried out automatically and mistiming your approach will often end with the bad guy coming out on top.

Aside from the enemies there are numerous pits, spikes and toxic substances around to stop you as well. All this means you need quick reflexes and strong platforming skills to win the day. The main ability (aside from jumping), that our hero has is the ability to stick to walls and then hop up them. Using this technique is vital when trying to time your leaps properly. It also gives players time to assess the situation and plot their journey through the multitude of moving traps. When you complete the three worlds, even harder remix versions of the levels are unlocked to further test your skill and sanity.

Levels get more difficult quickly so you will need all the skills you have available. New dangers and obstacles are introduced every few levels and precise timing becomes more and more important as you progress. If things do become tough then you can take a trip to the dojo in order to stock up on items to help you. Items such as claws, extra chances and even an easier difficulty are available. You can also get new costumes for your rabbit and items to help reveal hidden passages.

Aside from the instant deaths, Kung Fu Rabbit is a beautifully cheerful game. The music sets a nice oriental mood (although one or two of the tunes could do with not looping quite so quickly).  The look of the game is also striking in a minimalist way. Graphics are clear and colourful and create a pretty, oriental, look throughout most of the levels. The design is simple but highly effective and it creates a focused style that works well.

Overall, Kung Fu Rabbit is a bit of a surprise. We didn’t expect much from it at first glance but this is a really good effort from the development team. Controls are intuitive and slick, and the game world is bright and charming. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable platform game that really deserves attention from Wii U owners and it looks great on the gamepad as well.

Persona 4 Arena

Persona 4 Arena has taken a long journey to reach European shores. Initially expected at the start of the year it was then delayed indefinitely. Now we are finally getting the chance to see the characters of Persona 4 in a new environment, but can it hope to live up to the precedent set by its RPG forebear?

This is certainly one of the more unique collaborations to have happened. The game basically takes the story elements from the Persona team and adds in a fighting game developed by the makers of Blazblu. The music, art style and voice acting will be familiar to Persona fans and it certainly sets the scene very well.

The story is set a few months after the events of Persona 4 (and several years after Persona 3), and has our hero returning to Inaba to visit his friends. Upon arrival it soon transpires that something isn’t right, a feeling that’s confirmed when the midnight channel bursts into life once more to show all the main protagonists as targets for a strange new tournament.

From then on our team decide to dive into the world inside the television once more and soon become locked into a battle against each other. It’s fair to say that as plots go it’s completely crazy. It makes the plot of the original Persona 4 look positively normal and realistic in comparison. But it’s best not to think too much about it and just go along for the ride.

Along with the main playable cast from Persona 4 there are also a couple of the investigation team from Persona 3 and some new ones thrown in for good measure. The thematic choices in storyline and design of the boss character may ring a few bells with Blazblu fans and it has Arc Systems personality stamped all over it. That isn’t to say characters from Blazblu are copied over to here – far from it in fact, but there are certain times you can see the core of a Taokaka or Nu 13 spread across a couple of the characters move sets.

A fighting game lives and dies on its combat system and Persona 4 Arena has one unlike any we have come across before. Arc Systems have not created a Persona 4 version of Blazblu and have instead tried to produce something that fits the characters and game world more completely.

Along with the usual super and special moves there are a fair few unique things to look out for. Attacks are designed around the four face buttons with the square and X buttons making your character perform light and heavy attacks. The interesting part of the system comes with the triangle and circle buttons. These are used to summon your persona to attack. If carried out carefully and precisely it’s possible for both your character and their persona to hit at the same time. This opens up the possibilities for big combos if executed successfully.

It’s also possible to disable an opponent persona by striking them. Do this enough and they will need to recharge before being used again. This gives a major advantage to the attacking player as it effectively cuts your opponents move list in half.

The combat system is deep and will take a very long time to master. It is also not really comparable to other fighting game systems which means for hard core fight fans you are going to need to re-wire your brain to think in a new way in order to get the correct flow and timing. Luckily there is an extensive tutorial and challenge mode available to get you used to the new characters and the way the game works.

Hitting the square button continuously while your special bar is filled carries out an auto combo that leads into a super move. This may well be aimed at getting more casual players involved but it doesn’t really serve much of a purpose and can certainly end up being overused.

Something else that may need levelling out in an update is the ‘awakened’ mode that characters drop into when they fall below a certain amount of health. In our experience, both against the computer and other humans, this proved to be far too powerful. Opponents who simply weren’t in the contest suddenly managed to destroy our health bars, sometimes within seconds of awakening. We are all for leveling things up but we hate to think how this could be used by someone who had put hours into training.

The other thing that seemed to be slightly off was the games focus on trapping characters against walls. Again, whether playing against the computer or a human it seemed far too easy to be forced against the edge of the screen and simply be spammed over and over by the same cheap move (even the computer does this). The ability to attack as two separate characters often seemed to leave no way out.

We’re sure with training all these points can be counteracted but new comers to the genre may well be put off by the high entry level required to progress. That said, is Persona 4 Arena really the type of game that anyone other than a hard-core fan might buy? You could argue it isn’t. But then we can envisage a fair few RPG fans picking it up, maybe not that familiar with other fighting games, and being roundly ground into the dirt by it.

This frustration is also compounded by the fact the standard PS3 pad doesn’t seem to be up to the input requirement needed. An arcade stick works fine but this is certainly the most precise input we have come across in any console fighting game. When a Street Fighter veteran can’t pull off a double fireball input every time you know something is a little off. Again, this may well be worked out in a patch but for now perfect precision is key.

Negatives aside, there is much to like about this. The story mode in particular captures much the same feeling as that of the original Persona 4. The story itself is interesting and told in a dedicated story mode where players will take control of each of the characters as the mystery unfolds.

There has also clearly been a lot of care and attention into making this game feel a part of the Persona universe. All of the characters remain true to types and act in the way fans will expect. The presentation and art style is also of the highest of standards and ticks the boxes for both bringing up nostalgic memories of the original source material and excitement about seeing it used in a new way.

The game does throw up some truly spectacular battles as well. When you find a character you’re comfortable with and get to grips with the game system it really does open up into a veritable wealth of different attacking options. It certainly isn’t lacking in flashy special moves either and at times things can become a blur of sparks and colour as characters and personas smash around on screen.

This game will find fans with both Persona 4 players and gamers who spend their days mastering combos in Street Fighter, Blazblu and King of the Fighters. The fight engine is solid and the game is filled with charm. Be prepared to have to put the hours in though, this is a game that needs to be mastered in order to get the most out of it.

Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon Review

Anyone who owned a Gamecube will have fond memories of the original Luigi’s Mansion. The humour and clever game design created a charming and unique game full of character. Now Luigi is back on the 3DS in what is one of most anticipated games on the console. Was it worth the wait? Venture forth, torch in hand to find out.

The game starts with our cowardly hero being summoned by Professor E.Gadd. The Dark Moon which keeps the ghosts under control have been shattered and they are now terrorising a number of old mansions and buildings. Along with your trusty converted vacuum cleaner it’s up to you to save the day.

Though similar looking, Luigi’s Mansion 2 has undergone quite a drastic change in terms of mechanics and level design. This is indeed a proper sequel rather than a rehash of the last game. The first thing you notice is the change in the enemies you come up against. The original game was mostly about finding a unique ghost in its room, then working out the puzzle of how to get it to reveal its heart with the torch so it could be captured.

Mansion 2 pretty much does away with this style of play completely. Now the ghosts are more generic and not tied in with the puzzles you come up against. There are also more of them at any given time. The game often becomes a series of locked arenas –  as you walk in the door locks and the mischievous ghosts appear. Once all the ghosts in a room have been dealt with the doors will open and allow you to continue.

While the ghosts are no longer individual they still contain all the humour of before. You start out coming up against standard green ghosts with new types being introduced regularly as you progress. Some of these are strong or super smart, while other will fling goo or leap out and scare you – causing you to drop your capture beam. Even the basic green ghosts change, not in look but they get more intelligent as you go on. This starts off with them wearing sun glasses to avoid your torch glare. From then on they will try anything to avoid being captured such as using shovels to hide behind or wearing buckets on their head that can’t be vacuumed off.

The capturing of ghosts has also changed. It is now much more about quick reactions and quickly flashing multiple ghosts with the torch at once. This then allows them to be sucked up. In the first game this was achieved like a mini fishing game while here it is about keeping in line with the ghost long enough and pulling in the opposite direction to fill a meter. Once full, pressing A will give a strong tug on the ghost and hopefully drag it into the vacuum. The changes work for the better and it turns the game into a much more action and score focused affair with bonus coins and gold bars given out for multiple captures at once.

Puzzles have changed as well. The game is now full of secrets and small puzzles which need to be navigated. Most puzzles are used to hide entrances and exits with the more complex ones hiding hidden gems and the elusive BOO’s that lurk around each stage. You are also given a dark light torch which is used to reveal things the ghosts have hidden. This creates a strange ‘spot the difference’ feeling as areas can have different things hidden depending on which mission you are doing. It works well and keeps you on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.

Yet another change is the new mission structure. Instead of one big mansion to explore there are now five areas, each of which is set out in a number of missions. Once a mission is complete you are brought back to E.Gadd’s lab. This change in structure has both good and bad points. On the down side, it feels frustrating not to be allowed to fully explore a whole level at a time and even makes the idea somewhat redundant as objects can move around depending on the mission. It can also be frustrating not being allowed to save in a mission as though they are meant to be fairly short, if you get stuck on a puzzle you could be wandering around for a very long time.

There are positives to the approach though. When the mission structure works it feels perfect for mobile play as you are doing bite sized chunks of the game. The different mansions and buildings are also very unique and full of clever design choices and fun things to see.  It also allows the game to be replayed as a score attack game with any mission re-playable to find extra gold or ghosts to capture. Either way it certainly doesn’t ruin the game, but it can’t be ignored when it impacts negatively on the experience either.

Level design is excellent throughout with literally every room filled with something to tinker around with. You’ll be using the vacuum to roll rugs up, spin ceiling fans and drag objects which opens all sorts of secret passages and routes through the game. Another great touch is that almost every time you come to a window or spy hole you can peak through to what the ghost are up to on the other side. Sometimes this starts a small cut scene while others it just allows you to see what type of ghost is floating around causing trouble. They are always worth checking and genuinely funny.

Graphically, the game might not be quite as sharp as we were hoping but it looks good enough and every area is unique and overflowing with character. The title also offers another example of the 3D effect working incredibly well. This is one of the few 3DS games where you will want to play every second of it with the 3D turned on full. The sound is equally full of character with playful effects mixing with the spooky theme tune. You’ll soon notice Luigi nervously singing along as he walks around, which is a nice touch.

  Luigi’s Mansion 2 is a difficult game to nail down. It has faults relating to the structure of the game and ability to save and when they strike it can be very frustrating. But the feeling of frustration is uncommon and in the next minute something fun will have distracted you from it. When the games allowed to flow it shows itself as an undeniable classic, and it does flow well for very long periods.  The game also seems to improve as it goes on and it’s here the true magic at work comes into play. There’s also a multi-player challenge tower which allow for ghost busting pals to team up and try and take on a number of time and score attack style missions.

Overall, there are some very good and fun ideas that work very well here. It’s a great progression in many ways from the original and at times it’s a truly sublime experience.  It’s also different enough from the first game for fans to want to own and enjoy both. It’s not perfect, but when it works (Which it does most of the time), there are few other games that bring such a smile to your face and it’s hard to argue against that.

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

After his exploits in the previous BIT.TRIP games Commander Video is back to running in everyone’s favourite retro themed series. To try and describe the madness of the plot is somewhat pointless but we can say it’s something to do with our hero crashing his spaceship in a strange place and then deciding to run a lot.

Unlike previous entries into the BIT.TRIP series, Runner 2 is no longer 8 bit styled in terms of how it looks. The stages are now rendered in a glorious array of crystal clear colours and everything is also much bigger on screen. There are still retro looking levels to be unlocked but the majority of the time you will be screaming along at breakneck speed in a more HD friendly landscape.

Gameplay is based on a fairly simple concept. You start at one end of the course and run continuously to the other. Players have no control over Commander Video’s running and he continues on until you reach the end of the stage or crash into something.

As you run along different types of obstacles will appear which need to be negotiated. This starts out with players simply needing to jump over things but on an almost level by level basis the obstacle count increases and thus, so do the moves needed to get past them.  Soon you’ll be locked in a rhythm of jumping, sliding, kicking, spinning and dancing in order to reach the end of each course.

As well as avoiding obstacles you also need to pick up the gold bars that are in each course. There are normally between thirty to sixty gold bars in each level and collecting them all triggers the chance to get bonus points by Commander Video being fired, head first, into a target at the end of the course. If you think the course is too easy you can also jump over the mid-point checkpoint to put the game into challenge mode for even more points. Still not enough? Then you can spend your fleeting free moments making our hero dance to gain even more points. The score attack aspect of Runner 2 is here to stay for a very long time.

Once you master that even more moves are introduced and everything keeps getting more hectic to the point it all begins to blur into a state you aren’t quite sure the human brain should be able to deal with. It’s at moments like this that you realise where the ‘rhythm’ part of the title comes from. Perhaps deceptively, Runner 2 is not really in the same category as endless runners such as Canabalt. It should really be grouped with games like Rrequency, Parappa the Rappa and is perhaps most similar to Vib-Ribbon.

Courses are also deceptively packed with things to find and navigate. Many of them have multiple routes with some leading to hidden objects such as new costumes, while others will take you to a different exit. This in turn will lead you to hidden levels or the much sought after ‘Key Vault’. Conquering the Key Vault will then open up even more routes and collectables in the courses found in that world.

An array of map icons is present for each course to help keep track of your progress with the ultimate goal to have each level completed, with all collectables found, the bonus bull’s eye hit at the end of the course and the mid-point checkpoint jumped so the game goes into challenge mode. Levels get hectic very early on so it’s a relief to find that each course gives you infinite lives to get through it. When you hit something you will move back to the last checkpoint and lose any points or objects you have acquired. The unlockable retro levels remain hardcore and give you three lives with which to navigate them.

The game can still be maddeningly frustrating at times as once you lose your rhythm in a level it can be near impossible to get back. You will persevere though as everything is fair and each collision results in a lack of skill from the player or in the fact you haven’t reacted to something quickly enough. Learning each level does come into play but we rarely came up against the sort of ‘memory test’ gaming with objects you had no way of avoiding first time that games like Donkey Kong Country used to employ.

Overall, it’s easy to recommend Runner 2 on any system. On the Wii U where there is a lack of decent games at the minute and it becomes a pretty essential purchase (and yes, it can be played on the pad). The charm and fun present are not easily found elsewhere and it’s great to see something which sets itself out as a pure gaming experience without the pretentious overtures that many bigger budget games now have. It’s both something old and something new and you should stop reading now and go and buy it.


Castlevania: Mirror of Fate Review

We are massive Castlevania fans at Gamestyle so any release of a new game is treated with the excitement you would normally associate with some kind of red carpet premier. That said, we have been looking for something new in the franchise of late. We knew Mercury Steam’s take would be a little different but it was with hesitation that we ventured forth into Dracula’s castle once more.

Let’s get this out of the way from the off. This is not a Metroidvania style Castlevania game. You do explore a castle but it’s in a much more linear fashion than the previous games on the DS and GBA. If you want that style of Castlevania there are currently seven games you can choose from to scratch that itch and looking back, if we’re honest about it, few of them are as perfect as Symphony of the Night.

Instead, Mirror of Fate takes us back to the style of the original games and is much closer to something like Dracula X or Super Castlevania IV. This is a bold move, but from our point of view we are delighted someone has taken a chance and tried to mix things up a bit. Bouncing around rooms is all well and good but sometimes you want to smack something in the face and swing around a bit, and this is something that Mirror of Fate offers up in abundance.

The first thing that hits you about the game is how astoundingly incredible it looks. This has to be the best looking game on the 3DS to date. The 3D effect simply blew us away. If there was any doubt about the difference the 3D component of the console could make then this is the game to show it off. The layers of depth and character it adds is simple unbelievable. When used in conjunction with the gothic comic style during the cut scenes it brings the world to life in a way never seen before.

The visuals are boosted by some stunning use of music and sound. Almost all the cut scenes are voice acted and the gruth Scottish accents mix with the forbidding visuals to create an imposingly bleak fairy tale. The grandeur and impact of the music is also of the highest standard. We never believed sound like this could come out of the 3DS. They are much more dramatic orchestral scores than found in classic Castelvania games and add a more serious and dramatic tone to the world. The only slight issues we found with the sound is that you need to make sure your 3DS is turned up as sometimes the softer tones can completely disappear.

The graphics and sound create a much more serious and hard edged tone – much like Castlevania: Lord of Shadow. This game looks and sounds brutal and every second of it feels like an epic and bleak life or death struggle. This is something we really like as it adds gravity and an almost Dark Souls like edge to the atmosphere.

Of course all the window dressing in the world can’t make up for a bad game. Mirror of Fate is much more combat orientated than other games in the series and the developers have taken care to instigate a robust and flexible system to fight off Dracula’s hordes. The developers said they were looking to take influence from Street Fighter for their system and it shows. There are numerous combos, dodges, blocks and launchers which can be unlocked as you progress.  This allows players some flexibility in how they fight. Admittedly limited, special powers and sub weapons are also on hand to help you through.

Once you get to grips with the system you’ll soon be despatching monsters with relative ease, and the system is more fluid than seen in previous Castelvania games that follow the hack and slash route. Combat is the emphasis of the game and you will often find yourself locked into arenas or needing to kill monster to progress around the castle. Players used to being able to duck and dodge their way through the metroidvania style games may well get a rude awakening here.

Boss fights are one aspect that lets the game down a little. They simply feel somewhat less inspired than before and often begin to become repetitive. They can also be fairly merciless which is offset by the fact the game saves what seems like every two minutes. Indeed, the game even saves at checkpoints within boss fights – which may seem stupid until you actually come up against one of the tougher ones. At that point you’ll be glad of them as it stops players hitting bricks walls in their progression. Also, using quick time events really isn’t a good idea.

During your adventure you will play as three different characters but aside from small changes (such as Alucard being able to breath under water without a timer), there is little to distinguish them. In one way this is good as it means any unlocked moves remain throughout, but it would have been nice to see some variation in combat techniques and a more varied way of tackling the castle. Collectibles are also fairly standard with scrolls that expand on the games lore and chests which raise magic and health just about all you are going to find.

Negatives aside this is a bold and risky direction to take the franchise in and in the most part it’s successful. Ok, so the castle isn’t really there to be explored and there isn’t much point in searching out every last corner, but the more combat heavy approach is implemented well and the graphics and sound are incredible. It’s easy to forget that Dawn of Sorrow was merely solid and Order of Ecclesia took half the game to come to life. The Castlevania franchise needed to be shaken up and we are more than happy with the direction.

Overall, this is a game that will likely divide Castlevania fans. Taken on its own merit we can only recommend this to 3DS owners. It’s a dark and forbidding fairy tale told with skill and it conjures an atmospheric adventure which leads into the darker, more brutal side of the Castlevania universe.

Trine 2: Directors Cut Review

We’ll admit here at Gamestyle that we hadn’t really been paying much attention to the Trine series until it arrived on the Wii U eshop. As such, this review comes at you from a newcomer to the series point of view. This review also takes into account the recent update which improved graphical performance and added voice chat and pro controller support. As this the director’s cut you also get the expansion pack and an exclusive Wii U level as well.

Trine follows the adventures of a mage, knight and thief bound together by a magical artefact known as the Trine. A 2D puzzle platform game, Trine 2 tries to do something new with a genre more typically found back in the 16-bit era. Indeed, we found our thoughts drifting to The Lost Vikings as we began utilising the three hero’s unique abilities.

The knight is best at fighting and can use his shield to reflect light beams and deflect objects. The thief shoots arrows and can use a grappling hook and the mage can conjure and move objects. Each character can be upgraded by seeking out experience points in the form of magic bubbles. This unlocks further abilities such as exploding arrows, stealth abilities and a number of other things which help fight off the many Goblins and giant spiders you’ll encounter along the way.

With the different abilities on offer and different ways to play the developers have given the players multiple options in how to solve the puzzles. Playing single player has one character on screen which can be changed at any time, while multiplayer has all characters on screen at once. This means that certain puzzles would by default need a number of different ways to get through them.

The great thing is that the Trine world and physics are very tactile and effectively sets up a big toy box for you play around with to accomplish your task. Players who prefer the mage will be able to upgrade his abilities to summon large numbers of boxes and ramps to get around. While those using a mixture of the characters will find the need to use a combination of grappling hook swings, magical platforms and brute strength.

You could for instance spend time re-arranging pipes to get the water level right to reach a high ledge or alternatively use an ice arrow to freeze the pool and then stack some mage created boxes on it, while in multiplayer there would be much more opportunity for cooperative lever pulling . The choice is yours. We found this flexible approach refreshing and it meant that progression was always steady as you weren’t left searching for the one way the developer intended you to get through an area.

The first thing that strikes you about the game is just how jaw droopingly gorgeous the whole thing is. The backdrops and landscapes are beyond stunning. We have never seen a 2D game that looks so good. Sunbeams shine through leaves, ice glistens and everything looks as magical and enchanting as seems humanly possible. The attention to detail is staggering and this combined with the physics engine creates a solid and immersive world that you never tire looking at.

The music is also suitably epic with bold fantasy themed tunes subtly underscoring your adventure. Even better news is that Trine 2 has an excellent script and group of voice actors. As the heroes adventure their comments and conversation can’t help to raise a smile. Everything seems to have been done with just the right amount of tongue in cheek humour.

Graphics and sound are all good but don’t mean anything if the game doesn’t play well. For the first hour or so we were a little worried that the controls wouldn’t gel. But after that the gamepad controls feel like second nature. The only slight issue is having the action button just above the character change button. Initially we were swapping characters when we wanted to fight and this did cause a problem. However, you soon get used to it and after the first few levels it never posed an issue again. An option to configure controls would have been useful though.

The Wiimote and Nunchuck and Pro controller can be used but we found the gamepad the best. It’s worth noting that the old Wii classic controller is useless as the button used to change characters is miles away from anything else. You can play it solely on the gamepad as well.

The game itself is very smooth with everything acting as it should and combat working well. The only slight issues is that after years of playing games like Flashback and Prince of Persia we instinctively expect the edge of a platform to be in a certain part of the graphic. Trine 2’s is a little deeper and this left us missing jumps a number of times. Again, once you get used to it there is very little here to complain about, and if you get really stuck you can just head to the Miiverse and post a screenshot in the community area and await help.

This is a good thing as the game is pretty sizeable with the normal quest taking around ten hours and the add-on content pushing that up by another five to eight depending how good you are. Searching out all the hidden chests to get paintings, poems and the maps pieces needed to access the Wii U exclusive area will also take a fair amount of time.

Every level is strong and there was never a time when we found ourselves wanting the game to be over. It’s one of those titles that eats up your free time without you really realising it. When it ends you just wish there was more of it and we can honestly say this is the most pure fun we’ve had with a video game for years. Everything about Trine 2 just makes us smile and anyone slightly put off by the price tag really shouldn’t worry. The amount of value and enjoyment present here is to be commended and it’s clear the developers really have gone that extra effort to make something that deserves to be held up with the very best in the genre. In fact, we are a little disappointed this hasn’t been made a full retail release and the amount of content and quality on show certainly justifies it.

If you haven’t guessed by now we like this game a lot. It takes players on a magical and beautiful adventure while always remaining enjoyable and throwing in some absolutely stunning design. If you own a Wii U this game is as essential as anything else you can buy. This is definitive version of one of the best games to come out in an absolute age. There really is no excuse not to own it.

Retro City Rampage Review (PS3 / PS Vita)

Starting life a long, long time ago as Grand Theftendo, an 8 bit remake of Grand Theft Auto 3, Retro City Rampage has changed and developed into a parody of both gaming and popular culture from the eighties and nineties. Developed by an incredibly small team, the fact it exists at all is an example of the fighting spirit taken from the bedroom coders of old.

Retro City Rampage starts in a hail of references and fast paced action and very rarely let’s up through its fairly brief play time. Before completing the first mission you’ll have run over, or gunned down, many a group of crime fighters from years of television gone by and been reminded of a number of classic games as well. And that’s pretty much how the game continues.

Each mission normally involves you driving around the 8 bit style GTA city before heading off to a short mini game which is based on classics such as Gauntlet, Smash TV, Contra and many others. It all handles well and keeps the humour throughout. Driving around is fun, though it is perhaps a little too easy to get the cops chasing after you.

The mission games vary in quality from excellent through to tolerable with the ones focusing on shooting working out the best. Some mechanics simply don’t come off though. The ability to take cover is rendered almost useless by it being difficult to tell if you are crouched or not and hand to hand combat can be frustrating due to the small sprite size. This is especially noticeable when playing on the PS Vita’s smaller screen but at least you can cross-save onto the PS3 instead of getting out a magnifying glass.

Aside from the missions there is a ton of content here. There are different filters to apply and the main character can be customised with haircuts and clothes like in many a GTA game. There is also a section which drops into old style 3D (if you have the glasses). All the games missions can be selected individually to challenge for high scores and there are numerous side quests and arcade challenges to seek out.

There is even an old school arcade containing versions of Bit Trip Runner and a weird Virtual Meat Boy game designed to look in the style of Nintendo’s much maligned, head ache generating, Virtual Boy.

It’s difficult to give an overall impression of the levels as they change so much. What can be said is that they always retain their sense of humour and none of them are long enough to cause lasting frustration. This is also one of the problems the game has. There is, if anything, a lack of identity apparent due to so many different things thrown into the mix.  Almost every line of dialogue or encounter showers you with references. Some only last a line of speech or fly past on a billboard as you drive by.  Often there is so much going on that it’s just a bit hard to take in.

The other problem is that while it will give gamers a nostalgic memory or two there is nothing here doing anything better than before. So there’s a level based on Smash TV or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but they aren’t as strong as the source material and many retro gaming fans may well decide they would prefer to play the originals, while newcomers simply won’t get the reference.

That said it certainly is an enjoyable and chaotic ride from start to finish. It’s like a greatest hits album of nostalgia, only performed by a cover band. You can happily sing along for a while but after that you’ll likely want something a bit more substantial.

It’s very clear that the developers really do care about the project and all the sources which are parodied and that helps most of the games faults to be forgiven. Retro City Rampage is certainly a game that fans of retro gaming should play and you should have a great time – it’s just not likely you’ll return after finishing it.

New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)

A new Mario game released with the launch of a new Nintendo console is always something to look forward to. However, though solid and enjoyable, the ‘New Super Mario’ brand has seemed somewhat tired of late. Both New Super Mario Bros Wii and New Super Mario Bros 2 were largely forgettable and by the numbers in terms of the quality we have come to expect from the heroic plumber.

With this in mind we approached New Super Mario Bros U with hesitation. We are delighted to say that what we found was a game with all the charm and style of the best in the series. This really is a game worthy of the Mario name.

Right from the first level you can tell something is different. It just feels so much better than other games in the NSMB series. Everything seems to have had that little bit more attention paid to it. The mechanics feel tighter, the music seems stronger and it looks absolutely beautiful – all little things that add up to something which just feels so much better than before.

It all starts with the world map which is now in the more traditional style of Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World instead of the line of levels running from left to right. It helps makes the multiple routes feel more like an exploration and the secret levels see paths winding off into unknown parts with islands popping up and rainbows forming. What is on display shows the imagination of classic Mario and this is also present in the level designs.

Many of the NSMB levels before this felt generic and tired. Here, levels are fast and devious and contain tricks and gimmicks that may only appear in a handful of places, or even just once. This means that players will come away with levels that they remember and love playing. Nothing is overdone and some of what is here equals the very best of Super Mario Bros level design.

One level in particular is set out in a spooky illustration style, a graphical effect which is present nowhere else in the game. One water level might have you dodging a continually circling dragon, while the next will see you climbing up through a series of water bubbles trapped in the air. Everyone will have their own favourites.

The bosses are also much better than NSMB2. The Koopa kids return along with Bowser Jnr and a few others. But this time they take more than five seconds to defeat. Still not as difficult as some of the bosses of old but at least now you feel a sense of achievement for toppling them.

In terms of power ups there are the usual suspects of the fire flower and invincibility star. The ice flower also returns (but is now much better implemented), and the mini mushroom makes very fleeting appearances. Yoshi is also here in both adult and baby form, though he will leave you at the end of a level. The new addition is that of the flying squirrel suit. This allows you to float over large distances and gives you one extra jump while in the air. This subtle difference to the Racoon, Cape and Tanooki costumes of the past allows for some excellent and clever use through the levels – something you’ll have to make good use of to find all the hidden coins.

The game is likely to last you a while as well. You can race through the main levels in three or four days but there are many secret routes to find and getting all three star coins will take a long time. Once all the coins in a land have been found it unlocks a Star Road level which will put your reflexes and brain to an even tougher test. Even with all the levels finished and secrets found we find it hard to believe any gamer would put it away and never play it again. It manages to capture that retro ethos of running through the levels you already know just for the sheer fun of it.

The social and multiplayer aspects of the game also work well. Whenever you do something such as collect all three star coins or get through a level without taking damage, the game invites you to post a message. This message can then be read by your friends and other gamers on the world map. The game also invites you to post if you have found a level particularly tough. This allows for gamers to give hints to each other or post warning in a kind of friendly version of Dark Souls savage system.

Challenges are available such as time trials and the coin attack mode found in NSMB2. There are also specific special challenges such as dodging fireballs or staying in the air for as long as you can by bouncing off Goomba heads. There is also a special boost mode which allows one player to play while the other adds platforms to help them through the level.

Multiplayer takes the form of Coin battle mode as players fight to gain the most coins. The four player story mode in the previous Wii game is also here and still proves as awkward and chaotic as ever. A fifth player can also join in to add platforms via the Wii U pad. The levels of the main game certainly seem to have been designed with single players in mind. It’s fair to say there’s nothing amazing here but they prove fun additions and distractions from the single player story game.

There may not be anything as revolutionary here as Super Mario galaxy but New Super Mario Bros U shows that the old 2D Mario still has the magic when the property is treated with care and affection. In truth this is a fine successor to Super Mario World and could have held the title of something closer to Super Mario World 5 (if we don’t count Yoshi’s Island). That alone should be enough to convince you to own a copy. It’s close but not quite strong enough to warrant a purchase of a Wii U on its own. However, it certainly is a game that every Wii U owner needs to have and by far the most fun Wii U game we’ve played so far.

Knytt Underground Review

For many years Nifflas has been developing games on the PC. The two most notable of these titles are Within a Deep Forest and Knytt. Within a Deep Forest had players taking control of a sentient bouncing ball that had to save the world from a bomb. The game focused on the bouncing physics of different types of balls of different weights and materials. 

Knytt focused on a little hero of the same name needing to find parts to fix a crashed spaceship so that he could get back home. The mechanics here dealt with the notion of climbing and sticking to walls. Both of these games have now been combined to create Knytt Underground which marks Nifflas’ first move into the realm of console gaming.

Split into three chapters, Knytt Underground has players take on the role of the mute Mi Sprocket as she explores a huge environment. Her aim is to look for human artefacts and complete quests in a Metroidvania style. The first two chapters act as short tutorials to help players understand the mechanics of how Mi and then Bob the ball handle. By chapter three the two characters have magically been morphed together allowing players to change from Mi to Bob at will.

This allows for some situations requiring lightning reflexes as you change from Mi to the bouncing ball mid-air to cannon off the landscape at all sorts of weird and wonderful angles in order to reach new areas. As well as the bouncing and climbing there are different coloured plumes of smoke which give temporary abilities. These range from turning Mi invisible, making her jump higher or turning her into a set that can shoot horizontally or vertically.

Everything is designed as a means for you to get to another locations and this is where Knytt Underground really works well. Nifflas games before this have always focused on short bursts of quick reflexes and skill. When Knytt Underground asks players to do the same it comes to life in a flurry of ever changing physics and colourful plumes of smoke. (Note to developer – a colour-blind filter would really help with those plumes of smoke)

However, in Knytt Underground there are often long stretches of exploration through empty screens to reach these areas. Sometimes the beautiful graphics and sound create a haunting and ambient environment which you don’t mind trekking through. At other times it can all be a little dull as you wander through empty screen after empty screen.

When Knytt Underground works it works well but when it doesn’t it feels empty and lifeless. This isn’t helped by the seeming lack of progress you make. There are numerous quests and items to discover but on completing or collecting them it doesn’t seem to mean much. Of course it all adds up in the end but the game could do with tweaking its risk reward system to help players feel a greater sense of achievement after they have overcome some of the incredibly fiendish screens.

It is worth highlighting just how lovely the game looks and sounds. This game is beautiful and the music is of the highest standard. We expect no less from a Nifflas game and in that department Knytt Underground can never be faulted. When transferred to the Vita (Knytt is cross buy), it looks all the more beautiful.

The Vita seems to be the natural home of Knytt Undeground, which makes it all the more surprising that save points are often miles away from each other. There are a lot of them, but instead of putting them at the start of tricky sections (like in Within a Deep Forest ), they are often located away from the area requiring players to back track.

Back tracking is something that can begin to hinder the experience. We lost count of the amount of times we trekked along a tunnel for five or six screens only to reach a character telling us we needed to bring a certain item to them. This then meant trekking back through all the screens again. There really isn’t a need for this and you wonder if the game would have benefitted from a slightly smaller, more focused, map without many of the empty screens.

Overall, Knytt Underground is a promising start for Nifflas in the realm of console gaming. The look and sound of the game are gorgeous and easily rival the best Playstation Network games. The game itself gives players a huge world to play around but many may well feel that it lacks focus and a real sense of rewards for the skill you need to show in order to progress. Those looking for an adventure set at a slower pace will love it while others will be left wanting a bit more excitement.

Surge Review

FuturLab is a relatively new development company, but already they have a strong record in the realm of portable gaming. No matter what they produce it seems to raise the bar with regards to what we expect from our mobile devices. Our love for Velocity is well documented but since then The Brighton based studio has been developing a number of Playstation Mobile games, the latest of which is ‘SURGE’

SURGE is a puzzle game which utilises the touch screen. The aim is simply to connect blocks of the same colour to one another with an electrical current. Using your finger you need to drag from one block to the next to create as big a chain as possible. Like all good puzzle games the premise is simple but in practice it all becomes highly addictive.

The idea is to clear the screen before a pressure gauge explodes. In order to stop this happening you need to clear an entire horizontal row an open valves at both sides of the screen. This releases the pressure and adds a point bonus to the blocks of corresponding colour. On top of this ticking time bomb there is a normal time limit as well. When that expires more blocks fall into the screen. It starts out simply but by the end descends into panic stricken madness of the best kind.
Along with the standard coloured blocks are a number of special ones. These consist of things like bombs (which clear the screen of all blocks of that colour), wild card blocks (which can be used as any colour), and blocks which continually change. The best special block though is one which, for a short period of time, changes all the blocks to the same colour allowing you to rush for a quick clearance and chain bonus.

What really elevates the title is its presentation. The theme of electricity is constant through the design and the blocks glow with neon colour, the electrical lines drawn to connect them fizz satisfyingly and the sound track gives off an industrial electro vibe. This keeps the adrenaline pumping and the enjoyment high. When everything starts working together it creates a real state of flow that’s hard to match in many other puzzle games and gives a real gravity and impact to the game.
Adding to the competitive side of the title are online leader boards and in game trophies. When you start a new game the name of the person who has the score directly above you is plastered right in the middle of the screen for a few seconds. This adds to the ever growing reasons to keep coming back for just one more go.

There is one problem that could do with being addressed though. The game doesn’t contain any sort of colour blind filter or way of identifying blocks in any way other than the colour they are. This won’t be a problem for most of you but for some it means high scores will remain permanently out of reach. It only really comes into play with the yellow and green blocks – which are near indistinguishable to someone with partial colour-blindness. It isn’t enough to ruin the game but it does become incredibly annoying at higher levels when speed is everything. The addition of some kind of symbol for the colours would be most welcome if it could be implemented in the future.

Overall though, SURGE is another example of FuturLab making us expect more from our mobile games. This is a cut above almost all other mobile device games in terms of presentation and is another utterly essential game for those that want something they can play on the move. The studio seems to move effortlessly from strength to strength and we look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Geometry Wars: Galaxies review

Everyone’s favourite fake retro shooter Geometry Wars has come a long from its origins as a humble mini game in Project Gotham Racing 2. When it was released on Xbox Live Arcade is was met with a kind of excited dizziness not normally seen in this day and age. The following transformation to a retail title raised a few eyebrows, but though we here at Gamestyle were unsure, we never really believed it would be allowed to fall short in terms of quality.

For those that dont know, Geometry Wars sets you in an arena into which enemies of different shapes appear. You fly around and try and stay alive as long as you can. It may be simple but then most of the best ideas normally are. While the previous version of the game only had one arena Galaxies has many of all different shapes and sizes. To progress through the game you must play each arena or planet to earn points which are then used to unlock more levels.Helping you in your shape shooting quest is a drone. This is a small square which can be programmed to do a number of things. For instance you can get it to go and pick up score multipliers, defend your ship or aggressively go after and shoot targets. As you progress you gain experience points for your drone which raise its effectiveness.

There are a whole host of different planets to visit and, surprisingly, they all manage to add variety to the simplistic Geometry Wars gameplay. Some are merely a different shape, while others contain new enemies, different attack formations or extremes such as meteor showers and moving blocks. The developers really have done an admirable job of keeping the game interesting from start to finish. Also special congratulations must go to whoever designed the soundtrack, as is it excellent and matches the frenetic grove of the game.Control wise the game lets you use, pretty much, whatever you want. For those settling in for the long haul you may want to master the intricacies of the remote. For the rest of us the classic controllers twin stick set up will do just fine.

Of course the key to longevity in Geometry Wars on the Xbox 360 was always the live leader boards. Thankfully the Wii has its own set for each level. After each encounter players have the chance to upload their score and see where they stand against the rest of the world. Unfortunately you cannot check how you have done against your friends as you are restricted to looking at the top ten and scores around your own. This is a bit of an over sight as not many people will really care what score some random stranger has posted on level three. The real nature of competition exists only if you can see your friend is a couple of hundred points ahead of you.

Overall Geometry Wars Galaxies is a tight and fast paced shooter that is guaranteed to get the pulse flowing. The difficulty builds nicely over the different planets and there are so many good ideas that it adds variety that we really didn’t expect to see. Galaxies shows that the basic idea of the game is more than strong enough to stand as a retail title and every single Wii owner owes it to themselves to give it go. It truly is a game for all occasions, whether you play it for five minutes or a few hours at a time it will always leave you wanting more.