Friday, 31 July 2015

Never Alone:Foxtales DLC (PC)

Never Alone was a beautiful game that told the story of a young girl and an Artic Fox as they explored the snow covered tundra around them. It also drew heavily on folk law and helped present a new set of stories from a different culture to the world.

Fox Tales is a three level addition to the main game and tells another story. This time the tale is one of the pair trying to rescue a small mouse that has been washed away by the spring currents. On their journey they encounter a huge monster mouse that is frightening people away from a lake and decide to defeat it so people will no longer be scared.

The game plays like the original but is more puzzle based and our two adventurers spend most of their time in the water or canoeing on top of it. The main role of the fox is now to move spirits around to cause fast currents to flow in different directions. The girl is mainly used to pick up rocks and then drop them so they bounce around to their destination aided by the movement of the spirits. It’s sort of a cultural marble run. 

It all works well and the story being told is both interesting and enjoyable. It’s not particularly difficult and certainly won’t last you more than an hour or so but it’s great to see the game taking on more folklore tales and putting them across in such a beautiful way. The new mechanics such as rowing the canoe and the new puzzles fit well also. If you liked the original it’s well worth picking up this new set of levels and we certainly hope for more in the future.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Legend of Kyrandia: The Hand of Fate Review (PC)

At the peak of point and click adventures fame there were numerous games of excellent quality to choose from. While Sierra and Lucas Arts took most of the lime light there were also other companies creating some great games. Westwood was one such company and the Kyrandia series is well worth visiting for fans of the genre.

On a personal note, this game in particular has taken me a very long time to get through. I first started playing The Hand of Fate in the mid-nineties one day while at a friend’s house. We spent a Saturday afternoon working out the first chapter before it was consigned back to the draw while we went off to do something else (probably involving clubs). 

I completely forgot the name of the game for ages and it was a few years ago that I managed to search it out on the internet. Upon finding it I only managed to get hold of the non-talkie version and quickly discarded it again. Then the series appeared on Good Old Games and after purchasing it and having it sit in my library for a while I have finally managed to complete a journey started a very long time ago.

Hand of Fate follows the story of a sorcerer named Zanthia who discovers that the kingdom of Kyrandia is beginning to vanish in front of her. Little by little trees and buildings begin to vanish and she sets out to save the day. On the way she’ll encounter a rather suspicious magical hand and a host of weird and wonderful fantasy inspired characters. Zanthia is seemingly the sanest of the residents of Kyrandia and the other, stranger, occupants add a dose of humour and character throughout.

The world of Kyrandia is wonderfully drawn with a lot of character and magical whimsy on show. It does look a little pixelated now but the range of locations keep things fresh and the story moving along. It can be difficult to see certain objects at times but then that’s something that many of the games of the time suffer from. The only real issue is that the cursor arrow doesn’t tell you when you are moving over something that can be looked at or picked up. This means you may be clicking around a few times to see what is about. It never really seemed to be an issue though as most things of interest are fairly obvious.

The game is quite unique in the realms of point and click with some interesting mechanics present. As well as the normal process of using objects to solve puzzles you also need to mix potions by collecting ingredients. This adds a nice build up to the payoff of finally using a potion to solve a problem. These rang e from needing to make a sandwich to distract guards to turning yourself into an abdominal snowman or creating a teddy bear. The puzzles are always creative and normally follow a kind of magical logic (though, the results may achieve your goal not quite in the way you might think a t the time).

It’s Important to save often as there are a few places you can die during the game. There aren’t any instant deaths and you’ll often be warned but it’s likely you’ll be caught out at least a couple of times. You won’t be able to stump yourself by misusing ingredients though as they regenerate once used allowing you to try and mix things again.

Overall, Hand of Fate is an excellent adventure that has some nice tricks of its own to help separate it from other games in the genre. The characters are strong with good voicing and the script and the story is entertaining throughout. Fans of point and click games should definitely try it and It was well worth finally finishing Zanthia’s story.

Overall 8/10

Monday, 27 July 2015

Tembo the Badass Elephant Review (PS4)

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 we 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 islands Sonic inspired amusement park. There are some chase sequences thrown in as well and some suitably impressive boss battles that pit you against thing 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 mid-air like a giant Sonic the Hedgehog. There’s also a much under-used 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 we were jumping or running from something and pulled off completely the wrong move - which usually means death.

Sadly, out 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 we lost count of the amount of needless deaths caused by the ungainly control system and with the games, 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 to 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.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation Review (PS Vita)

Written by Natalie Houghton

This is the best Hyperdimenson Neptunia game out there so far  - there I've said it. If this is your particular poison then run out to the front lines and grab a copy and prepare to Nep your way into oblivion for what may seem like the 100th time this year. 

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation starts with a firm boot to the head where all of the Goddesses (CPU's) are attempting to rid themselves of Neptune by beating her to a pulp so that they can take over Gamindustri once and for all. This inadvertently starts off a chain reaction which leads to Neptune being sucked into a portal and then falling hilariously face first into a 1980's tinted version of Gamindustri. 

After a dose of re-orientation to this new and seemingly outdated land (but not before helping Neptune acquire her transformational powers again), it is determined that in order to return Neptune to her own dimension, she must raise the shares of Neptunia sufficiently enough so that a portal can be opened and in any Neptunia game this can only mean one thing: an epic quest fest. 

In the mean time, she plays along with the CPU's of this alternate world and gradually re-discovers her old friends as well as making some new ones. Enter Plutia - a welcome addition to the cast who initially starts off as the only CPU for Planeptune. At the onset she comes across as being a complete and utter airhead. However, in her HDD form her personality does a complete switch and she turns into the sadomasochist otherwise known as 'Sadie' - this helps to create some of the most amusing scenes in the game. 

The whole premise is to essentially get Neptune home and in one piece whilst traversing the console wars of the 80's and 90's, battling monsters and avoiding the evil machinations of the Seven Sages who will do almost anything to try and eliminate the CPU's and control Gamindustri themselves. Along the way there is also a multitude of quests to complete, dungeons to explore, special monsters to smash, items to gather and plans to unveil.

Characters level up in the usual way, although they can also have their skills and stats enhanced by effectively upgrading themselves with plans that can be found. Plans apply not only to characters but to almost everything in the game, dungeons can be changed, weapons and items discovered and monsters strengthened or weakened. So it's imperative that you utilise plans effectively. 

The lily system also makes a return - characters who fight together will eventually find true love together. Maybe not quite... but they will both become stronger if they are coupled together, one in the front and one in the rear - seriously! The higher each character's lily rank the more abilities they will each gain when in one another's sweet embrace.  

Most of the previous game mechanics are left intact or are very similar - Stella's dungeon (a roguelike mini-game that consists of Stella endlessly climbing a huge tower in search of loot) also makes a return. Combo skills are the basic attacks that are utilised in battle and they can also be heavily customised to your specific tastes or elemental preference. Gradually you'll unlock more slots which can result in some quite impressive combo moves. The usual ream of skills is also present along with a wide array of challenges that increase character stats and unlock various upgrades the more that are completed. 

In order to combat the EXE drive abuse that was the optimum strategy for the last game, HDD mode is now tied to the amount of SP that you have. SP is restored by hitting monsters and whilst this is good in theory, the rush attacks give you a lot more SP than any other kind of attack so a lot of the time, you'll simply be hammering rush attacks and then unleashing either your special moves or EXE drive. This means it has simply swapped one unbalanced tactic for another. Bosses or stronger mobs do at least require some more thought as you have to break their armour down first. The battle system, whilst good could easily have been a bit deeper and tactical.

The dungeons are typical Neptunia fare and I've no doubt that you'll have seen a few of them already if you've played any game in this series before and this is where the game falls down slightly with re-used dungeons, monsters, textures and music all beginning to seem a bit too familiar with most of them having been almost copied and pasted from the 2nd game. Graphically, the colour palette is energetic and as vivid as usual and all of the models do look quite sharp on the PS Vita with absolutely no slowdown experienced. 

Overall, the dialogue is quite interesting and the characters know how to poke fun at themselves and the game industry as a whole. However, they are in desperate need of an editor as the cut-scenes are overly long and often tend to have a bit too much pointless waffle included. There are indeed many subtle nods to the console wars throughout various eras and the differences between them. 

The soundtrack has quite a light hearted upbeat tempo which suits the game quite well (as it is after all intended to be an adventure that doesn't take itself too seriously). For all intents and purposes, given that the characters are almost 100% clich├ęs and the plot is filled with a ton of video game references and cultural in-jokes I shouldn't have liked this... but as always and once again, it turned out to be quite a juicy guilty pleasure.  

Overall 7/10