Monday, 25 May 2015

Toren Review (PS4/PC)

Toren is the debut effort from Brazilian studio Sword Tales and follows the story of a girl who must solve the mystery of the tower the game is named after. It’s a story about regrowth and regeneration and claims to be a fusion of poetry and videogames. We aren’t so sure about that but it certainly is interesting.

From the start it is clear the game is heavily inspired by Ico. The whole game is spent climbing the tower and solving puzzles much in the same way as Ico. You also get hold of a magic sword from time to time which acts to shield you from darkness much in the same way as Sony’s much lived game as well.

Toren has a distinctive visual style which is filled with vibrant colours and design. It’s not necessarily the most beautifully stunning game to look at, but it certainly is distinctive and sets up the dark and brooding world well. 

The game is only around two hours long and during that time you will mostly be moving around searching for block puzzles to solve, engaging in a bit of light platforming and entering the various dream sequences. These sequences are supposed to represent an awaking within the character of various things such as mercy. They each carry a strong sense of visual design and act as a good counterpoint to the main area of the tower.

The overall goal is to climb to the top of the Tower and defeat the horned dragon which sits atop it. As you progress your character grows in both age and stature and of course everything is all linked together with cryptic bits of story that are drip fed as you ascend.

It’s a great idea and for the most part if works well but there are a fair amount of rough edges that can become frustrating over the games short run time. The jumping and combat mechanic is somewhat basic but works most of the time. However, there are occasions when you fall off a ledge and the game can’t work out how to pull you back up without you dropping to your death.  

There are also a couple of dreams which are badly judged. One area where you have to walk around a pitch black level is teeth grindingly horrendous as most of times you fall off a ledge you don’t grab hold and just fall to your death. This is the next step on from a level with invisible walk ways and shows up a lack of creativity in the level design through these sections.

Overall, Toren is an imaginative debut from the Brazilian studio. It has both good and bad points but does create a unique and interesting tale once it gets going a bit. With a bit more polishing this could have been an excellent experience that would draw you back time after time. The stodgy mechanics and some poor design in some of dreams will put many people off though and that’s a real shame.

Overall 6/10

Friday, 22 May 2015

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review (PC)

Written by Thomas GJ Sharpe

In revisiting the world of Hotline Miami, I assume Dennaton rubbed many chins and temples as they decided on where to take their viciously slick surprise hit. Design, presentation and gameplay choices will, and have, divided fans of the original. I sit fairly happily in the positive camp, believing the direction taken to be a deliberate departure, neither for better nor worse, simply differently enjoyable and differently flawed than the first title.

If this more langourous and slow, more intricate and obtuse game had appeared instead of the original, I honestly feel that it would not have had the same impact. The first Hotline was a pitch-perfect exercise in psychotic combo stacking, on-the-edge, twitch gun n' runnin', with a disturbing and oblique narrative, and spot-on soundtrack. It's success lay, for me, in the flippancy of the violence; once killed, you threw yourself back into the level as if each attempt was a feverish nightmare of your character, meaningless, with only the successful run being the reality. Married to infallible controls, Hotline Miami is one of my favourite titles.

Wrong Number handles differently for many reasons, but most notably, it is the overall scale of the thing. Tight levels are replaced by longer sequences and a singular protagonist is expanded to an ensemble cast. At first, these seem logical and positive things, but the risks associated are game breakers for some. Personally, I adore the expansion of the world through larger arenas and bigger character list, primarily for the story and atmosphere. From movie sets, nightmare-scapes, to Platoon-esque jungle scenarios, to open-road Lynchian cutscenes, Wrong Number delivers a more distinct, dramatic and thorough world.

Taking control of narrative sections will infuriate some, perhaps seeming like padding between the viscera, but taking an active role in the story generates a better understanding of the world. This is especially helpful as the storyline is delivered without hand-holding, through flashback and forward, dream-reality blends, drug-induced episodes and all without explicit exposition. To me, this is a fantastic prop to the action during the levels. It asks more investment, but not so much that it detracts from the missions.

On that note, the gameplay during the missions is, sadly, the weaker element. All of the vitals remain; door kickin', knife flingin', executions (more varied and vile, this time too) and frantic kill-sprees, so much dynamism in so few pixels. Due to larger areas, however, some of the original spark has been lost. On the whole, the action takes place in a convincing way, but the sequences of areas require more enemy pattern learning and more patience than before. Some levels feel less “natural” (if you could apply that word in this title), with conga lines of goons, ruining any sense of a real place. I always enjoyed surprising enemies on the toilet. There is something cold and unatmospheric about them marching around. A small gripe, but representative of the direction Wrong Number has taken.

It wouldn't be right to not give the music its own paragraph in this review. The music is incredible. Scaling itself against the content of the levels, each track is a joy. Nuff said.

In the end, Wrong Number has tried my patience more than the original Hotline Miami did. A couple of the levels in the last act are too long and too reliant on learning enemy patterns, which defuses the thrill of on-the-spot decisions and wild murder. Apart from this, sadly fairly large, design issue, Wrong Number delivers an evolution of the original. A bit bloated? Only in comparison to its ancestor. The essence of the game is bigger, bolder and more revealing than before.

Overall 7/10

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Galarians: Ash Review (PS2)

Starting life on the first Playstation, Galerians is a survival horror game with a difference. The twist was that the character the player controls is a complete lunatic created through genetic manipulation by a master computer named Dorothy. Rion, would inject himself with mind enhancing drugs that allowed him to cause fires and hit enemies with a shock wave of energy (among other things). The big problem was that using the drugs too much would cause our hero to have a nervous breakdown and get very nasty - with anything within close proximity to him being blow away by psychic energy.

Now Rion has returned to save the world from the threat of the all-conquering Galerians and to finish the conflict once and for all. The plot for Ash is complicated; initially you are within the data banks of a computer as you try to escape from the gaze of Dorothy. After an initial showdown it is revealed that Dorothy has a backup memory, which constantly regenerates, and you are sent back to where you started. From here you set out again only to encounter a Galerian sent into the computer to erase your data. After this it only gets more confusing but it all helps to build up the unique world the title is set in.

Cyber punk is very much the order of the day in the Galerians world. A mixture of external apocalyptic areas seen through security cameras an internal sterile locations reminiscent of the buildings seen in films like Minority Report help to conjure up a juxtaposition between the rational thinking of the remaining people struggling to survive and the complete insanity and sick thinking of their enemies.

While the graphics succeed in setting up the world you cannot help but feel everything lacks a touch of detail. Long periods are spent wandering through locations that look similar. Furthermore, characters seem to lack any real identity due to a lack of definition, meaning after a while everything gets very monotonous as the action and enemies are not radically different throughout the game.

What really sets the game apart from other titles in the genre is the way in which combat is handled. Ash is not about finding ammunition for guns but using chemicals to enhance Rion's abilities and destroy your enemies in far more nasty ways. The problem comes in the way you have to charge Rion up before unleashing his powers.

By holding down the attack button the energy gage fills up and once it reaches maximum the chosen power can be unleashed. However, while doing this Rion must remain stationary and this does not lend itself to being a fast moving and flexible fighting system. As a result, battling multiple opponents and bosses is a tricky operation. This is not helped by a dodgy targeting system that often leaves you firing your powers into thin air. This coupled with boss battles that can seem like they take an eternity of repeating the same action to overcome really do sour the experience at times.

Rion himself moves very well, while focusing on enemies may be a little tricky at times at least you have the moves at your disposal to avoid the nasty creatures that try to get you. First of all your character can move faster than the standard monsters you come across with only the Galerians being able to keep up with you in terms of speed. You are also equipped with a diving roll move to get you away from tight situations quickly, something that really proves useful if a creatures lunges for you when you least expect it. Unusually for the survival horror genre at this time the in game camera is not fixed in one position and instead moves to face the direction the player is facing. However, you cannot move the camera around manually which means there are still numerous occasions where the action is being presented at an awkward angle, for instance- running away from an enemy means you have no idea where they are so you must stop and turn round, something that is not ideal as if they are right behind you there is no chance that Rion is going to charge up his powers before the thing gets you.

Overall, Galerians: Ash is only ever going to appeal to a niche market. The game mechanics have barely changed since the original game and the sequel loses a lot of the tension and genuinely disturbing feel as well. While the story is complicated and filled with sick creatures and twisted people it just does not have the impact it should. After a while things just become a bit dull and though the story is interesting it does not really make you want to push on until the end. Fans of the original may well want to continue the story but newcomers will find little to shout about. Our advice is to seek out the original Galerians on the Playstation for a truly memorable twisted and psychotic experience.

Overall 6/10

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Nom Nom Galaxy Review (PS4)

A new game from Q-Games is a cause for celebration in the Retro 101 office. We have access to pretty much everything they have ever done and have reviewed most of it as well. All of their games have received warm reviews from us and we were even tempted to pick up most of their DSi output a few months ago. Invention is always key to their programming ethos and Nom Nom Galaxy is another original take on tried and tested formulas.

Nom Nom Galaxy is a game about soup. Intergalactic soup in fact. There has been a soup craze sweeping the galaxy so you must set off to different planets and cultivate the very best soup out there. In order to do this you will need to grow and gather ingredients, set up a factory and blast your soup into space in soup rockets.  It’s mad, it’s fun and it’s got a bit of just about everything in it.

You control a single robot worker who has to explore the planet and decide where and what to build. Outside of your base your oxygen constantly decreases so you need to be careful how far you go and you’ll also take damage from high falls and rampaging tomatoes. It’s a dangerous world out there but then galactic soup domination never was an easy road to take.

The first thing to do is build your factory which happens on a tile by tile basis. Starting with your office you can add corridors, soup making machines, rockets and robot workers. The aim is to get ingredients to the soup machines and then the soup to the rockets in the most automated way you can. Ingredients are found by exploring the planet and then bringing them back to grow yourself or simply add into the machines. Some of the ingredients fight back so you also have some handy weapons on hand to subdue them.

You have a host of robot workers which can be unlocked to help the process. From ones which simply wander from side to side picking things up, to gardeners and little dudes who chuck things up and down vertical corridors there is plenty to use. The factory you build acts like a self-contained puzzle to keep everything flowing properly. You also need to keep an eye on the power usage and will have to set out to find a new power core if you need more juice.

Of course, other corporations won’t just sit back and let you have all the glory and each planet will have you competing to get 100% of the market. Every now and then your rival will launch a raid on you to try and cripple your operation so you will also need to make sure you have some gun turrets on hand to dissuade them. There is an open ended mode also which allows you to build your dream factory without the threat of attack should you wish to just want to explore.

It is quite daunting to start with but you’ll soon get the hang of how things work and it’s very difficult to fail the first few levels anyway. There’s a lot to consider such as finding air pockets to grow plants quicker and using water for the rarer water native plants. How you regrow stuff on the ceilings is also something to work out. But it all works in a logical way and the exploration and discoveries keep you interested as you build and develop your ideas and structures.

Factory building is pretty free form with tiles of all shapes and sizes available to you. Each planet has certain characteristics such as heavy rock formations or dangerous fauna to deal with as well and certain levels have strict conditions such as certain soups being undesirable or outlawed. It’s basically a game that allows you test yourself to run a soup business against numerous different variables and it works very well. Aside from the corporate conquest mode there are set challenge scenarios to play and also co-op if you have another friend who wants to help you out or compete against you.

Overall, Nom Nom Galaxy is another excellent game from Q-Games and the Pixeljunk team. It’s a glorious time sink that brings in elements of strategy, puzzles, tower defence, platforming and terra forming and every level kept us engaged from start to finish. There isn’t really anything else like it and it comes highly recommended.

Overall 8/10