Wednesday, 1 April 2020

La Mulana (Switch Review)


La Mulana has been around for a long time. The Wii was the first console to get a port but now we can pull our hair out wherever we are with this portable version on the Switch. It may seem a strange choice but La Mulana is a perfect candidate for on the go gaming – even if it is still incredibly difficult.

For those unfamiliar with the game it follows an intrepid archaeologist as he drops into the legendary ruins of La Mulana. It’s a puzzle platform game in the purest sense with block pushing and weight placing high on the agenda. There’s lots of whipping, pinpoint platforming and traps galore. There are also massive great boss monsters and lots of death.

There’s no getting away from just how difficult the game is. Especially when you first start it can seem overwhelming and any hints at what to do are obscure to say the least. Once you break through the initial barriers things do get much better for players though. It took us about an hour and two wasted save files to really get going. The third time we started it all began to click and we would recommend any player to use a guide for the first couple of areas if you feel you aren’t getting anywhere.

Once we had gathered the warping Holy Grail, bought a symbol decoder from the shop and got past the first boss it became a much better adventure. It’s all about getting your head around what you need to do and once that happens it reveals itself to be an excellent platform adventure. By the time we reached the second proper area everything was fine and it felt we were really getting into it.

Level design is strong throughout with areas different enough from each other in terms of enemy type and design. There are fiendish puzzles and riddles to solve but the core dynamic is based around placing weights on pads to make things happen in the environment. Weights can be picked up on your adventure but it’s normally best to buy a hefty amount at the village shop before diving back into the depths.

Once you have the Holy Grail you can warp to any discovered Grail points which makes life a bit easier. We did have an issue with certain points disappearing from our warp list though – if this is a bug or something we haven’t worked out mechanics wise remains to be seen. There’s a host of different equipment and weapons to buy and you need to make sure you are well prepared to have any chance at all. What makes life even more difficult is that you don’t really know what order you should be attempting the areas (and you really do need to get through them in the right order to stand a chance).

Indeed, There is very little signposting at all. The first time we played  we didn’t even work out that each area needed to be completed and subsequently dived down as deep into the ruins as far as we could go and had to restart our save file as we just couldn’t get back to where we wanted to be. It's also slightly annoying that the game comes with borders either side of it. Making a Switch game and then not adjusting the port to the systems native aspect ratio is somewhat bizarre to say the least.

Overall, there’s no denying that La Mulana is both an excellent platform game and a great addition to the Switch catalogue. However, it is very tough and obscure at times. It’ll certainly appeal to the Spelunky and Super Meat Boy crowd but requires a more patient and thought-out approach.  If you stick with it you’ll find a great adventure game. Many though may well be put off by all the barriers it throws up for players and that’s a real shame.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo Review (Switch)


Following on from the excellent Shooting Stars Alpha we now have another six shooters packaged together to offer further blasting fun on the go. Like before this can be purchased as a special edition but we will be focusing on the games here. The Bravo collection compiles two series with Samurai Aces 1-3 and GUNBIRD 1, 2 and oddity GUNBARICH included.

As you would expect, all six of the games are worth playing but there is perhaps less variety between them than in the previous collection. Gunbird 1 and 2 are fairly similar and allow players to pick from a selection of colourful characters who fly horizontally up the screen blasting away looking for tech bonuses. Characters range from a witch on a broom to a steampunk robot and each plays significantly different from one another to make repeated visits enjoyable. As you would expect, bosses are excellent and the look and design of the levels keeps energy up and makes them a delight to look at.

The first of the Samurai Aces games pretty much takes the 1945 template and changes out the planes and setting for that of flying ninjas and ancient Japan. It also turns the action up significantly and the game is pretty full on compared to the others in the two collections. Again, the interesting visual design helps to keep the interest and dedicated players up for a challenge will find much to draw them back in time after time.

Samurai Aces 2 and 3 change things up a bit and scroll horizontally instead of vertically. Characters have a few different attacks here aside from just the standard ‘shoot’ and ‘bomb’, such as a charge attack and it allows for a more flexible approach to the action. The games are still absolutely solid though so don’t expect to be sailing through the stages anytime soon. Clever use of the charge shots can also reap huge points as well for the expert players out there.

The oddity of the bunch is GUNBARICH which isn’t really a shooter at all but something much closer to ball and block games such as Arkanoid. Players still have control of a whimsical fantasy character but now instead of shooting you have to flip a ball back up the screen to destroy all the blocks. Your character can move around a fair amount of the screen with the aim being to remove every block on the stage before moving onto the next. It is a fun diversion but it’s certainly not up there with the likes of Arkanoid itself or other games that have put their spin on this genre such as Kirby’s Block Ball.

Like with the Alpha collection the biggest potential issue is that the games don’t really have much in the way of extras. There are a few display options (yes, you can play with the Switch vertical), but nothing in the way of museum extras of other interesting information. When you consider the detail that has gone into some of the other collections on the system then this is a noticeable omission. If you get hold of the physical release there is a ton of stuff to go through there but that does come at a premium price.

Overall, we are more than happy to dive back into another six of the best from Psikyo. This is a great way to give the games a higher profile on the Switch and the nature of them means they are perfect for playing on the go. The GUNBIRD games especially are long time favourites of ours and we would recommend this to anyone looking to scratch that blasting itch.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha Review (Switch)


A number of Psikyo shooters have found their way to the Switch eshop but now six of them have been collected together and released under the banner of ‘Shooting Stars Alpha’. A special physical edition is available with a number of extras but here we will be focusing on the games themselves. This collection contains three games from the Strikers 1945 series, Sol Divide, Dragon Blaze and Zero Gunner 2.

All six games are excellent action packed, adrenaline fuelled, shooters and there is also an unexpected amount of variety between them. The Strikers series are vertical scrolling shooters and the most straightforward of the games on offer. Each game has a selection of different planes (getting more modern as you progress through the series), for you to blast your way through hordes of enemies with. Each stage is wonderfully chaotic with gold bars acting as the collectibles needed to boost your score. The games follow the standard set up of being able to shoot and use a smart bomb and the key to achieving high scores is mainly about staying alive and chaining shots together.

The boss battles are suitable impressive as your little plane dives between waves of bullets from a massive foe. These tend to be in two stages with a robot often detaching to carry on the fight after the first part of the big boss has been downed. The third game offers the ability to take down a boss in one hit by waiting around for a particular spot to change from blue to red and then getting your plane close up for the killer shot and a massive points haul.

Dragon Blaze is another vertical shoot’em up but this time you are flying on the back of a dragon through a fantasy themed world. If anything, it’s even more chaotic than the 1945 games and as a result the difficulty is considerable higher. The big gimmick here is that you can separate the rider from the dragon. This gives you double the fire power and also allows you to put your dragon into sections of the screen filled with bullets and still do damage yourself. It’s an intense and rewarding game that seems fresh within a somewhat crowed market.

Zero Gunner 2 is among the more interesting shoot’em up games out there. It scrolls both vertically and horizontally and utilises a ‘lock-on’ system which is vital for moving and positioning your helicopter. When locked on players can manoeuvre their helicopter around the target to provide new angles for attack and evasion. It takes some getting used to as movement is different to most games of this type but once it clicks it is a highly enjoyable experience.

The only true horizontal scrolling game of the collection is Sol Divide. Like Dragon blaze, this is another fantasy themed game and players pick one of a handful of warriors to adventure with. This has the most complex of the combat systems in the collection with players being able to use a melee attack and a number of magic spells as well as the standard shot option. As you power up you can call on everything from fireballs to spells that slow down enemies or rain down thunder upon them. It is also crushingly hard as enemies are bullet sponges from the off. This means mastering of all the systems is vital to progression

The biggest potential issue for buyers is that the games don’t really have much in the way of extras. There are a few display options (yes, you can play with the Switch vertical), but nothing in the way of museum extras of other curio information. When you consider the detail that has gone into some of the other collections on the system then this is a noticeable omission. If you get hold of the physical release there is a ton of stuff to go through there but that does come at a premium price.

Overall, this collection is providing six excellent games together in one package. If shoot’em ups are your thing then this is really not to be missed. There is a nice mix of titles as well which showcase different elements from the genre and the games vary in base difficulty so players of all abilities will have somewhere to start. If you have enjoyed any of the games individually on the eshop then this is really a must buy.

Overall 8/10

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Nintendo Switch Retro Roundup 2: SNES Re-Releases


While the Switch has SNES games arriving via its online service it has also seen a number of physical releases that first found favour with audiences on Nintendo’s 16 bit machine. Here we will round up some of the most interesting.

Collection of Mana

Collecting three early games from the Mana series together, this collection offers good value for money. The Gameboy game being included is nice from a completion point of view but it is Secret and Trials of Mana that steal the show. Aside from a quick save option little has been changed within the games themselves (these aren’t the remade versions of either game), but both are strong enough action RPG’s to still hold up well and both quests are epic adventures to undertake. It also represents the first time that Trials has been localised for the West. Both games are very pricey to buy on the SNES so it is great to have them so accessible for the Switch audience.

Putty Squad

The most bare bones of the re-releases, Putty Squad hasn’t fared well in its transition to the Switch. The visuals have been updated but the colour palette and graphical style make levels seems cluttered and chaotic (and not in a good way). The platforming itself is ok but it just isn’t as good as the original release and it contains a number of sloppy issues. One such major issue is that while the game now auto saves as you go along it doesn’t restore lives or energy. This means if you have just scraped through the previous level you are likely to just get stuck in a loop of dying over and over again on the next. While we would recommend it as an essential find in its original form, Switch owners can miss this without worrying.

Wild Guns: Reloaded

Konami’s action shooter is a very welcome sight on the Switch. The original now goes for stupid money so giving the game another lease of life is very welcome. Again, not much has been changed and unless you are going to make it through the game on the higher difficulty settings you may never see any of the new levels which have been added. The steampunk/western mixed style still looks great and if you are looking for some classic shooting action then Wild Guns unique ‘shooting gallery’ style is well worth looking at.

The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors

Yet another very pricey SNES release given a second lease of life on the Switch, Ninja Saviours: Return of the Warriors has been remade to look as good as you remember it to be. Subtle graphical overhaul aside the side scrolling brawler has had little else changed apart from the addition of two extra characters which are unlocked by completing the game on different difficulties. Luckily, the game itself still holds up well and the single plane of movement helps it stand out from the other brawlers out there. Each character plays quite differently and once you understand how all the systems work it is a rewarding and fun game to dive back into.

Flashback

We have a detailed review of Flashback here - https://www.retro101.co.uk/2019/06/flashback-review-switch.html