Thursday, 11 September 2014

Gravity Crash Ultra Review (PS Vita)

Gravity Crash started life on the PS3 before later receiving a PSP port. It’s built up a reputation for being crushingly difficult and remains one of the toughest tests of a gamer’s metal on Sony’s various consoles. This new version see’s the game given a Vita native make over. It may look prettier but it still packs as much of a punch as always.

Heavily inspired by the games Thrust and Solar Jet Man, Gravity Crash has players trying to weave their way through maze-like levels, dealing with gravity and completing objectives such as finding gems and destroying specific targets. You can also land and pick up stranded crew much like in Lunar Lander. All of this is carried out in levels made out of neon -tinged vector styled graphics. 

The game has three control systems and which one you pick will greatly change how difficult your experience with it is going got be. The first option allows you to utilise the dual stick control system often found in games like this. It also takes away the threat of gravity by holding you in place when you aren’t pressing a direction. The second scheme is similar and keeps the ability to move in one direction while shooting in another. However, it does bring gravity back into play and you will fall towards the earth when you aren’t pressing a direction button. 

By far the most difficult scheme is the classic control setup. This is the same as in Thrust and requires players to face the way they are shooting and constantly boost to stop being pulled to earth. It creates a very tense experience as you have to judge getting through the level in a very different way. All the while you’re exploring your fuel also decreases just to make it that bit more challenging.

Needless to say touching anything at all or getting shot destroys you instantly. You do have a shield which you can activate or set to auto to help out. You also have the choice of a number of different special weapons. These have limited usage and recharge via in game pickups. Using them wisely is often the difference between life and death but as they don’t recharge between levels you’ll start out reluctant to use them often.

Level design is consistently excellent and often simple seemingly environments develop into intricate tunnels and caves. Some levels take you under water and alter the gravity mechanic while others throw random meteor storms at you. One level has a massive volcano in the middle that continually throws out rocks and yes, you do have to pick something up from right next to it.

It’s all very positive except for one quite major issue and that’s how you progress through the game. The campaign mode gives you three lives with which to go out and explore the galaxy. The problem is that when you lose those lives you have to either start again from the very beginning or simple press continue and carry on. 

Continuing resets your score but that’s it and you can continue as many times as you wish. This means that much of the tension of the game is removed. It also becomes a bit of a slog because if you want to access the levels in other modes you need to complete them in the campaign first and you know you can just keep continuing until everything is finished. A better approach would have perhaps been to give players a limited number of lives to complete each individual level which then resets upon entering the next.

This progression structure really killed the game for us which is a real shame. Everything about the game in terms of design is packed with quality. The sound, the look, the way the game plays are really something quite special but the progression through it misses the sweet spot quite considerably. 

It puts us in a difficult position because this should be a very high scoring game and we absolutely love the concept and ideas at play here. Anyone who’s a fan of Thrust is also clearly alright in our book. However, we can’t overlook the issue with progression and as it pretty much stopped us from playing after a while it means what should be a classic simply hasn’t quite got there. We can only hope that a patch is put in at a later date as then there will be nothing stopping this from reaching true greatness.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Velocity 2X Review (PS Vita)

It seems like yesterday that a Playstation mini game by the name of Velocity caused a real stir on Sony’s machines. A Vita and PS3 native release followed and garnered even more wide spread praise. Now we have Velocity 2X to dive into with the promise of more intense action and the ability to control our hero Kai in platform levels. 

Remembering back to Urban Strike and the gimmick of being able to get out of the helicopter we initially were nervous about how this would all play out. Needless to say we shouldn’t have worried as Futurlab have certainly done a great job of merging two different genres together (even if they don’t perhaps fit one-hundred percent seamlessly).

For the uninitiated, the original Velocity is a vertically scrolling shooter with some puzzle elements thrown in. The sequel follows the same format and also has the same set of mission styles. Critical urgency missions need to be raced through as quickly as possible, rescue missions require stranded SOS pods to be picked up and combat missions are heavy on the blasting. 

The game has also had a bit of a redesign and visual upgrade. What this boils down to is everything looks much more detailed and colourful and there are lots of pretty neon effects and explosion particles to keep you visually stimulated. The music remains of an excellent quality as well and is the perfect accompaniment to the on screen action. Futurlab certainly does know how to present its games and it really helps to immerse players into the experience.

The ship also controls in pretty much the same way with new abilities being unlocked as you progress. Soon you’ll be flinging bombs with the analogue stick and teleporting all over the screen much like before and all at a thousand miles-per-hour. Most of the later levels require intricate placement of teleport pods which allow you to move back and forth around the map as different switches are often required to be destroyed in numerical order. This then removes force fields which would otherwise fry you to crisp.

The biggest change to the core formula is that you now need to dock your ship and go after certain switches on foot. During these sections you also need to collect energy crystals which are only found on the side scrolling platform levels. Kai handles much like her ship does with the ability to teleport and shoot much in the same way. You can also slide and sprint which turns it into quite a large homage to Amiga games like Zool. Later you’ll get the ability to throw teleport balls around which will be familiar to anyone who has played Flashback. 

It’s important to say that the platforming definitely has an Amiga feel to it. Despite what you might get from the screen shots this is not like a Metroid or Prince of Persia style of game. The levels are, like the outside sections, built for speed and you’ll soon get to grips with the nature of how to approach them.

Adding the on foot sections does make the levels somewhat longer than in the original Velocity. Although you’ll soon be bounding through near the three minute mark a couple of them held us up for over ten minutes. When this happens the magic does begin to wear off a little as the true appeal of the game is blitzing through everything at lightning speed. In short though, the sections do work. They aren’t quite as glorious as the vertical space action but they are an enjoyable and free flowing addition that manages to fit into the core game. 

There are also a few boss battles thrown in now for good measure. Every now and then at the end of a level you’ll have to engage with a big enemy ship filling the screen with bullets. It’s as close to bullet hell as Velocity has ever got and it adds another dimension to the game. The encounters are implemented well and are placed sparingly enough to never become tiresome.

The only real niggle we have is that you need to gain a certain amount of experience to unlock each level. This isn’t an issue until you get up into the forties but having to continually go back and improve scores and times on earlier levels can grind the game to halt. When you have to go and play five or six levels to unlock level 43 and then do it again for level 44 and so on, it can get a bit tiresome. For a game based on fluidity and speed it’s a rare oversight, especially when you consider that most gamers will likely go straight back into the game after finishing it to beat their scores anyway.

Overall, if you liked Velocity then you should like this as well. It does pretty much everything right and provides just as big a buzz as the original. It may not be as pure in terms of its focus but everything works very well and it stands as one of the best games on the network. The original was one of the greatest games of the modern era and this comes pretty damn close to it in just about every way.

Overall 8/10

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Last Ninja Review (C64)

Think back in time to when music was going through that New Romantic thing, people thought shell suits were the height of fashion and Ninjas were very cool. In the eighties there were many titles featuring everyone's favourite import from the East. Most of these titles were terrible but a few managed to capture the Ninja spirit, such as System 3's The Last Ninja series.

The story goes that during a secret ritual the evil 'Shogun' sprung a trap and killed all of the Ninjas except for one. The Shogun's aim was to steal a scroll that contained the secret of Ninjitsu. Now you must go into the warlords land and reclaim the scroll. Yes indeed, ladies and gentleman, welcome to a much simpler time where plots were made up on the bus to work.

The title is played from an isometric perspective. Everything on screen is clear thanks to a simple colour palette and clearly drawn graphics. This means that even going back to the game now it still looks passable. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sound. The C64 is not really up to the task and we are left with a combination of irritating high pitched noises trying to pass themselves of as a soundtrack. This is a shame but something you have to expect from many retro titles.

What is truly remarkable about The Last Ninja is the sheer amount of weapons and moves available. The Ninja can kick, punch and block as well as being able to somersault along a full three-hundred and sixty degree axis. You will need to use all the ninja's versatility as there are many tricky and unforgiving jumping sections ready to put your skills to the test. Just mentioning the swamp and river sections to many will see them start to shake uncontrollable with fear.

In terms of weapons there are (among other things), a Katana, Long Staff, Nunchucks, Shurikens and Smoke Bombs. Each weapon acts in a different way allowing players to change their style depending upon what their opponent is armed with. There are also numerous items to pick up to help aid puzzle solving. The best part of it is you get almost everything in the first section of the game, meaning you truly feel prepared for what may lie ahead.

Though level design is generally of a high standard they do get less enjoyable the further into the game you get. It never completely spoils the experience however. Each area is different from the last in both design and graphical representation and range from the outskirts of the Shogun lands to the dungeons and court yard of the highly fortified palace.

What raises the title up an extra level are the little touches that have been lavished upon it. The whole experience of finding the weapons and items is highly enjoyable. Getting certain objects really makes players think - taking a claw from a stone lion statue to help climbing for instance, or taking a large Bamboo cane to use as your staff are just a few moments of invention shown by the development team.

Overall, The Last Ninja achieves something very special. Due to the great control system and solid graphical style it still feels great and fresh today. If the control system was given a slight tweak to make it more flexible, and the graphics given an overhaul, the title could be released on a hand held system quite easily. It is very hard in places, but then that goes with the territory for the time of release. The Last Ninja is a classic game that deserves to be played by everyone

Overall  9/10

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