Monday, 21 July 2014

Ape Escape 3 Review (PS2)

Monkeys, there is just something about them that makes people laugh. If ordinary monkeys can entertain then adding a silly costume, a hat with a flashing light and using them to parody Hollywood can only be a recipe for success.

Ape Escape 3 works on the same premise as the first two titles in the series. Taking control of either a male or female character you must search around the levels catching a set amount of monkeys before being able to move on. This time around the levels are themed around various films ranging from Beauty and the Beast and Titanic to Howls Moving Castle and Star Wars. Only now monkeys play all the roles.

All the levels throughout the game are well designed and creative. There may not be strictly speaking anything truly ground breaking on show but what is here is highly enjoyable, with all the film set styled levels being well thought out. The difficulty is set fairly low, but even though you may not find yourself faced with death too often there are so many monkeys to catch and locations to get see that it hardly matters.

Playing through the title for the first time will probably take somewhere between six and eight hours depending on if you commit to catching all the monkeys from each stage. Once completed however more monkeys become available to catch along with the mini game ‘Mesal Gear’ which is more than enough to keep the players interest for a fair amount longer.

As the name suggests ‘Mesal gear’ is a parody of everyone’s favourite ageing stealth hero. Here we find that Snake has been captured and the only one who can save him is a highly trained monkey in a silly hat. What follows is a selection of sections taken from the regular Metal Gear titles re-made with monkeys. It sounds like the most stupid idea in the world but somehow it works.

Mountains of extras aside, the only major addition to the main gameplay comes in the form of the many themed personas that the player can take on. These allow your character to use special powers for a limited time such as wall running or firing pistols. Unfortunately, though it is a decent idea, in execution most places where the special powers need to be used are heavily signposted.

The main idea behind the Ape Escape series has always revolved around the use of the dual analogue sticks. The original playstation version of the game pioneered the approach and the gadgets on display here are still operated by using the sticks in a number of different ways (such as rotating through three-hundred and sixty degrees to hover for instance). However, the selection of gadgets available has hardly changed since the first title which is disappointing. This means that veterans of the series may find things a little too familiar for their liking.

Ape Escape 3 may not be about to set the platforming world alight but to dismiss the game (or indeed the series as a whole) would be incredibly short sighted. Although over familiar at times the title is always a highly enjoyable and imaginative affair. It may not be seen as an essential purchase by many but it certainly is a lot more fun than many other games. Ape Escape 3 is a good game filled with several tons of extras, three very good mini games and comes at a fairly cheap price. For those looking for some stress free monkey catching antics it is hard to think of a better place to turn to.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Dragon Fantasy: Book 1 Review (PS3/Vita)

Dragon Fantasy has taken a very long time to come to the EU Playstation store. Launching on iOS in 2011 and in the US around a year or so ago, we’d pretty much given up on it ever seeing the light of day over here until it suddenly appeared without warning. It’s a game based heavily in the 8-bit RPG genre and takes us back to the days of a more simple adventure. 

The game it split into three chapters, each of which follows the story of a different person. There’s Ogden, an aging knight looking to prove his worth and protect the kingdom, Prince Anders and the thieving pair of Jerald and Ramona. Any chapter can be played from the off but starting with Ogden is the best idea as they more or less run in chronological order.

The biggest influence on the game is very clearly the Dragon’s Quest series and this could easily be mistaken for one of the early games. The churches where you save are pretty much the same and some of the same mechanics are also in place. The general graphical style is also much closer to Dragon’s quest than other RPG’s.

The combat and systems are very basic compared to what we have come to expect. Combat is turn based and you can attack and cast spells but that is about it. You can change weapons and armour and explore a world map but there is nothing particularly fresh or innovative going on. That isn’t of course a bad thing as such as it allows for a stripped down game which is easily accessible and certainly fits mobile gaming fairly well.

The writing and story are also pretty decent. The characters are likable and there are some nice touches of humour going on. The problem comes when you hit a grinding wall. The system follows Dragon’s Quest in that when you die you are returned to the last church you saved at (losing half your gold). However, unlike most of Dragon’s Quest games we found ourselves getting bored very quickly when we couldn’t progress. 

The main reason for this is that you seem to move forward at a snail’s pace sometimes. It can take a while to level up and if you are saving up for armour or weapons and get beaten you have to start over again. Combat also takes a bit too long with far too many button presses required to move text forward. It all ends up becoming a bit tired and the urge to progress soon begins to disappear.

The other major problem the game has is that for the same price you can pick up a host of PS1 and PSP RPG’s which are deeper and generally a bit more spectacular to play. That isn’t to take away from the development team here- it’s not realistic to expect a small studio to be developing titles to rival Final Fantasy VII. But the fact remains you could be playing that for around the same price.

We did start out having fun with the game but sadly it didn’t really hold our attention for more than a few hours. It’s too samey and the design of dungeons and enemies just doesn’t quite cut it on the PS3 and Vita. On iOS we can certainly see why it’s had success but it’s going to take a lot more than this to draw gamers away from the likes of Persona 4 or one of the many PS1 games on offer.

Overall, Dragon Fantasy tries to recreate a nostalgic buzz around early RPG’s, the problem is can you think of any truly iconic ones in terms of how they played? The great games tended to come in the sixteen bit era when the likes of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire really found their feet. What that means is that Dragon Fantasy is an interesting look back at the history of the genre but not one you want to spend any great amount of time with.

Overall 5/10

Monday, 14 July 2014

Shovel Knight Review (PC)

Shovel Knight has been looking like a good game for a very long time. Another in the long line of retro styled platformers, it always seemed to have something a little bit special about it. It’s taken a while to get here and we are delighted to say that it seems to have been very much worth the wait. 

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 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.

Overall 10/10

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Putty Squad Review (PS Vita)

It’s certainly taken a while for Putty Squad to make its way onto multiple systems. Aside from the Super Nintendo the game never originally made the light of day – even on its main platform of the Amiga. Now, many years later, the Amiga version has been released for free and Putty has made his way onto the current generation of consoles. Even this version has certainly taken its time as it was originally planned for release on the PS3.

In truth, very little has changed from the original version. The graphics have been given a bit of an overhaul and a few minor changes have been added such as Putty auto-absorbing things, but on the whole the game is the same one you may or may not remember. This fact hasn’t seemed to play well with a number of PS4 reviewers but then we here at Retro 101 are probably closer to the core target audience.

In terms of how the game plays you have to move Putty around a level collecting all the other Putty creatures on the stage. Once this has been done a door will appear which allows you to exit to the next level. It screams Amiga and anyone familiar with the system will instantly remember how platformers used to be on it upon playing this.

Our little blue hero is remarkably flexible and has a host of things he can do. As well as jumping he can stretch up or along, inflate himself to float around and absorb enemies and objects. Absorbing objects gives Putty different weapons to use which take over from his standard punch attack. Putty can also despatch some enemies by jumping on them.

The game is full of little touches that games of the time were noted for. For instance - If you knock over one of the cats you can use their stomach as a trampoline, while jumping on the top of the cat soldiers with helmets squashes them and allows the hat to be punched at other enemies like a Mario-style turtle shell.

The main issue with the game are graphics. While it’s not ugly as such it certainly is bordering on the garish in places. It’s also very busy in levels which will certainly cause some confusion until you get used to it. It’s a situation not  helped by how the backgrounds are layered. It can be very difficult to tell if a ledge is a solid platform or simply a piece of background art. Some of the smaller enemies are also difficult to see and tend to blend in with things. It’s a shame as the Vita screen is about as good a display as you’re going to get, but it certainly isn’t anything that can’t be coped with.

The other issue is the price of the thing. There’s no way the game should be asking you for around £20 of your hard earned cash. We don’t normally look at price too much but it’s so off the mark here that it needs to be mentioned. The price will surely drop but you’d have to be a real die hard Putty fan to bite at the minute, even with cross-buy.

Issues aside we certainly feel Putty Squad still has something to offer. Yes, it is a certain type of platformer that certainly feels like it was made for the Amiga. But then that is kind of the point and because of this it’s actually quite different to most of the other games in the genre currently available. It’s good fun in small chunks and suits the Vita much better than thePS4 in terms of how it looks and plays. If you are looking for some retro platform fun then this could well be the game you want. Just hold out for a price drop first.