Monday, 27 April 2015

3D Fantasy Zone II Review (3DS)

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 always 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 the 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. New comers 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.

Overall 7/10

Sunday, 26 April 2015

World Championship Snooker 2003 Review (PS2)

‘Its only game so put up a real good fight, I’m gonna be snookering you tonight, Snookering you, Snookering you tonight, Big Brake’ If you recognise those immortal words then this game could definitely be one for you. A rare offering in the fast paced, full on extreme world of all action Snooker comes in the form of the inspirationally titled World Championship Snooker 2003. However whether the sight of John Virgo in a waste coat gets you all hot under the collar or not it is clear that this game is one for the fans of the sport, and really that is all anyone could have hoped for.

Indeed, the amount of different features, play modes and a total of seventy real players all help to make sure that any avid fan of the sport will spend more time on the PS2 than on the table. As well as standard Snooker, which can be played as a one off match, a tournament of varying length or in a career mode where players must work their way up the rankings, there are also some other well thought out extras included. For instance, the title lets you play games of pool in both the 8 ball and 9 ball style, this helps to keep things varied and adds more of a ‘pick up and play’ style, should you wish for a quick game.

Perhaps most welcome of all however is the inclusion of a number of different trick shots to be completed. Once each has been tackled in turn you are thrown into the new challenge of ‘John Virgo’s trick shot’ where all shots must be completed in a time limit, who said Snooker would never make a decent arcade game? Furthermore, a number of two player games are available and though not the most imaginative inclusion (having to protect certain pockets, and pot balls in certain other pockets) it all helps to build a nice title that has a certain amount of longevity and style about it.

In graphical terms the game is both functional and poor in different areas. Admittedly there is little you can do to make a snooker table look like a cultured landscape picked from one of the Final Fantasy games, so while the representation of the table, balls and cue are not exactly jaw dropping they represent what they are supposed to and being colour blind aside, you should be able to tell where all the different coloured balls are at any given time. The balls themselves glide around the table as they are supposed to and should you play a particularly nice shot you are treated to a more cinematic angle as your allotted colour rolls its way into the nearest pocket.

Where the graphics fall down is with the somewhat ridiculous representations of the fifty odd real life snooker players in the title. First of all, at least half of the players look nothing like their real life counter parts, indeed some are so bad you wonder if the programmers had been given pictures of completely different people to work from. Another area that causes concern is the somewhat pointless animations during a frame- when a player finishes their turn they walk round the table and sit down; the next player then stands up and takes his position. This animation seems to take about half an hour and even with the ‘speed up’ button you are still shown some of the most bizarre walking animations in the history of gaming.

Luckily for us though, a few ropey graphics aside everything else has been implemented to a highly competent degree. The game plays very well apart from the shot cursor being very sensitive at times meaning that when you are trying get your shot to go in one very particular exact spot it can be very frustrating. However, for the most part everything the game does in terms of controls is aimed at making your life easier. It is fare to say that we are not exactly veterans when it comes to snooker games, but right from the first match it was easy to pull off complex shots. Perhaps too easy for some, but it leaves players to polish up on learning how hard to hit the ball and other small elements that make the difference between good players and excellent ones.

Rest assured though, while the controls are excellent, so is the computer AI of your opponents and it is not uncommon for them to almost clear the table after you have mucked up a shot. Word Championship Snooker 2003 is a simulation of the sport and so players must expect to have to raise their game in order to beat the worlds best snooker players.

Indeed, the fact that World Snooker Championship 2003 is so heavily based in the ‘real’ makes us wonder if this review is even worth writing. Because surely if you are a mad snooker fan you will have already bought this, or will buy it regardless of any faults the game has (luckily that is very few). If you don’t like snooker there is little here that is going to make you play the game, this certainly is not ‘Mario Snooker’ by any stretch of the imagination. What is here is a very playable and concise, though a little ugly, snooker simulation. If you like Snooker then buy it.

Overall 7/10

Friday, 24 April 2015

Pro Evolution Soccer 3 Review (PS2)

 *this is an archive review from 2003 which first appeared on

The series that started way back on the Super Nintendo – under the guise of International Superstar Soccer  – has come a long way since the days of sixteen-bit gaming and has evolved into what is now commonly accepted as the most ‘complete’ game of football available on any console. Now into its third revision on Sony’s market-leading console, it appears kicking the air with promises of untold refinements and improvements that will bridge the ever-decreasing gap between reality and the world of gaming. So, it was clear that such a monumental release would split opinion; and with this in mind, Gamestyle needed to come up with something different in order to truly explore every inch of the title.

For the first (and possibly last) time, two vocal elements of Gamestyle (viz, Chris and Gareth) will tackle the game – while no doubt leaving everyone as confused as they’ve ever been. Let’s start with Chris: So, is it better than the first Pro Evolution?

Yes. It’s more of a complete package – there are more teams, more competitions and more to play for. A concept has been ‘borrowed’ from its brother franchise, ISS3, which means the more you play, the more points (known as PES) you accumulate. The gameplay seems more fluid, and players control the ball better. The replays are excellent; anything can be replayed and recorded. Even the commentary is better, though it still grates (they are now capable of making intelligent points especially at half-time). Master League has been restructured with an improved, customisable transfer system.

What about the second one, Gareth? Undoubtedly. Whilst the first title contained a lot of great ingredients that took the football genre by storm, when it first launched, the second title (while seemingly more refined) contained a number of bugs – such as being able to run right through the middle of the opposition from kick-off, and it being nigh-on impossible to score headers, free kicks or from outside the box. Pro Evolution 3 fixes all of these bugs, so is already far more enjoyable and less predictable than the second title. Football titles tend to sink or swim through how strong they are in two categories: presentation, and gameplay.

How does the title present itself this time around? Are there still unlicensed players, stadiums and club crests? Chris Yes, which is a shame. But as FIFA shows, having the licence doesn’t guarantee accuracy in the content. Players from the major nations are accurately represented, as are club players, though there are a couple of discrepancies. A deal has been struck with a half-dozen European clubs, including Lazio and Parma. The rest of the clubs have fake names; for instance, Man United are called ‘Trade Bricks’. You can edit the names yourself (there are lists available online) or shell out a tenner for a disc that’ll do it all for you, and unlock all teams and cups.

A slight improvement in that department then, but if the game offers a completely immersive experience these things will hardly matter, so is this the case? Gareth? Certainly. Everything about this third instalment of the series is an improvement; players pass the ball beautifully, allowing players to build up attacking moves with genuine flair and style.

However, this type of thing does not come easy, and even Pro Evolution hardcore players will need to sit down and spend some time working out how the game works. Once you have got it cracked though it is simply a matter of how good you are – do you want to chip the goalie, or score from forty yards? You can, but you need to be very good to do it. You can play the game any way you want; long ball, passing game or relying on wingers, but you have to have the right team to do it. Don’t try and play down the wing with someone like Argentina, as they do not have the strength to do it – a nice touch, and something that means you really have to think about how you are going to play.

Chris: However, for those of you who don’t want to invest that much time in the game (preferring pick up and play), this can be frustrating. What is brilliant about PES3 is the sheer amount of different things a player can do. The range of goals that you can score is incredibly diverse, and the same applies for passing. Standing in the middle of the field, there is so much you can do. All the ingredients are there. It’s down to your skill in the cooking that will create something edible.

Yes, yes enough praise, what about the problems? There must be some? Gareth: Well, not really. The only slight problem is when performing sliding tackles; far too often players are pulled up for what seem like perfectly-executed tackles. On closer inspection, you can see that often during the tackle the ball will bob up and hit the player’s hand, causing the ref to blow up for a free kick. Accurate yes, but how many times do you see that in a real game? And you definitely do not see it four or five times a match – that slight issue aside, this is about as perfect a game of football as you can get.

Chris: One of the new features is an ‘advantage’ system. It’s a good sign of improvement over previous versions, but occasionally you’d prefer a free kick instead. Which is realistic at least, no matter how bittersweet. The game engine is very intelligent, but the screen size is too restrictive. If players were able to see more of the pitch, we could use what the game allows us to do easier. Playing against a human opponent is much more preferable and enjoyable, as when they attack the defence will be more vulnerable; whereas the computer keeps the defensive unit much tighter.

Indeed, the disparity between the computer’s shape and a human’s is the biggest difference – which is why multiplayer is so thrilling. So, we’re nearing the end of the review. And as the chapped lips of authority touch the whistle of eternity, we need to award a score. There’s nothing inherently wrong with PES3; in fact there are very few problems at all. But the intense feeling of elation that we got from playing this at ECTS has yet to be rediscovered. There is still time – as Pro Evolution 3 is a brilliant football game, and it gets better the more it’s played.

Gamestyle Score: 9/10

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters Review (PS3)

Written by Natalie Houghton

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is a new IP released in Europe by NIS America which follows the story of a third year student who has just transferred in to Kurenai Academy. Things move very quickly as you are introduced to a number of classmates straight away, one of these is Masamune Shiga - a wheelchair bound ace student who as it turns out, provides you with support and intelligence during battle. You also meet Sayuri Mifune, the rather reserved and slightly stand-offish class president who immediately gives you a tour of the building where low and behold, you encounter your first ghost. At almost exactly the same time, Shiga and a mysterious woman turn up and you end up tagging along to exorcise the ghost. 

This woman turns out to be Chizuru Fukurai - the CEO of an occult publishing company known as Gate Keepers. To the legitimate world, they publish an occult magazine every now and then, however their real job is to take on exorcisms and exorcise ghosts for a fee. You and Sayuri join Gate Keepers as you both have the ability to see ghosts - this concludes the first chapter of the game. 

In total there are 13 different chapters lasting approximately 30mins to 1hr each, each chapter is a standalone story in its own right, although they do all tie together at the end of the game. Each chapter has a slightly different theme - from murdering vengeful spirits to ghosts who simply want to hear a song performed before they rest in peace.

There is an incredibly wide cast of characters which ensures that the dialogue never gets stale with approximately one new character being introduced per chapter, there are Otaku, Yakuza, Magicians, Shrine Maidens, Bishounen, Gay twins and even taciturn Chess obsessives. Unfortunately, given the length of each chapter and the amount of development that each character gets, this can become slightly overwhelming and it makes it a bit difficult to remember who exactly is who.

From the get-go, it is quite clear that this is a very Japanese game (good luck fitting in your name... obviously this was made for Kanji/Kana!), your character stats include all of the usual things and a few extras, you have to choose your specific prefecture and there was even a visual stat which I had never seen before which as it turns out, is a very specific eye test that only seems to be performed in Japan. 

As each chapter plays out in the standard Visual Novel fare you sometimes receive the option to interact with the scene via the use of your 5 senses. This isn't explained at all, although depending on what combinations you use, you can get some quite strange results and reactions from other characters... at one point, I was licking a wall in an attempt to investigate a ghost found at a rehearsal studio but most of the time, the path forward is fairly obvious. At times, you will have a chance to activate your 6th sense by choosing the correct options on the sense wheel. 

The artwork presented throughout each chapter is very nice indeed, it is both presented in the standard anime style and yet also quite realistic at the same time. Character's move fairly fluidly, hair flows naturally in the breeze, eyes appear fairly natural and the overall actions and stances of characters is quite realistic.

After the bulk of the story has played out, you'll get the opportunity to return to Gate Keepers HQ which is beautifully rendered especially when all of the characters are present, every detail is intricately drawn and sublimely coloured. From the HQ you can save your game, load up on items from the local convenience store, create items and weapons, equip your characters, level up the skills of your comrades, talk to them in order to try and improve your relationships. You can also challenge a number of never ending randomly generated exorcisms which you'll definitely need to do from the mid-point of the game onwards.

Each story related exorcism must be completed in order to advance to the next chapter which are completed by subjugating the main plot-related ghost. The battle system is only explained in a basic fashion, in fact there is only a limited explanation of everything in the whole game which can be quite frustrating at times as you're simply left figuring it out for yourself. The exorcisms take place in areas that are divided up into grids, before the battles themselves you can prep the area and strategically place a wide variety of traps that will have some sort of an effect on the ghosts if they come into range of the trap. 

Once all of the traps (or not) have been set, you'll enter battle. You and the ghosts take turns to move around the grid. Initially you cannot see any of the ghosts, however your support character will provide hints as to where the ghosts are located. Attacking indiscriminately is ill advised as you'll incur a fee which will be deducted from your exorcism fee if you destroy any items which are in the way. Once you've detected or bumped into a ghost, it's up to you to take it down. You aren't able to tell where the ghost will move to, it will only show a predictive radius of where it may move so you've got to plan attacks strategically and attempt to make your attacks encompass the greatest radius possible so that you have the best chance of hitting the target ghost. It is akin to chess in the sense that you never know what your opponent may do - if you manage to successfully hit a ghost or vice versa, the camera will switch to a 3D view where you'll see the actual attack taking place. The designs of the ghosts are quite inventive themselves, have you ever seen a ghost crocodile or mobile phone?

The only option for dialogue is the Japanese soundtrack which is limited to a few fairly standard phrases and odd words placed here and there in the story section and a few reactions during the battle which can get repetitive quite quickly. Soundtrack wise, most of the tunes are performed by a rock band called The Key Project and there are enough songs to keep it interesting - I also quite liked a couple of the battle themes, I really felt like I wanted to kick some butt!
Overall, gorgeous artwork backed up by a solid plot and decent soundtrack along with an engaging tactical battle system that is only really let down by there being absolutely no semblance of a tutorial anywhere in the game. Once you've got the hang of it, everything will be fine but for a while, I'm sure you'll be spinning around in a daze of confusion especially as the battle system itself is unlike anything else out there.  

Overall 7/10