Thursday, 31 May 2018

Fox N Forests Review (Nintendo Switch)

The indie landscape is filled with 2D platformers that are inspired by the 8 and 16 bit games of the past but very few them go to the lengths that Fox N Forest does to make you really feel like you are actually playing something from a bygone era. The game markets itself as being a 16-bit style action platformer and it certainly wouldn’t be out of place on a system like the Amiga.

The impressive pixel art style is the first thing to hit you when you first open up the game. A lot of faux retro games don’t really look the part but this certainly does with rich colours and character design that helps to create a beautifully unique game world while also firing off many a nostalgia rocket.

The plot is something lifted for gaming’s golden era with a breezy fable so slight it doesn’t even grace the pages in the various online shops the game is listed. It’s something about a magic fox having to restore seasons to a forest and break a spell. It matters little and serves as a good device for the games key season changing mechanic.

As the hero fox progresses through the levels you are able to change them to a predetermined second season. This affects the landscape considerably and is essential for progression and hunting out all the secrets that each area contains. For instance, you might need to change a season to winter in order to freeze a lake or autumn to make the tree branches free from foliage and thus climbable. It’s an integral part to the game and forms the core of your exploration - proving to be far more than a simple throw away gimmick.

Level design is mostly excellent with the varied stages designed to be visited multiple times in order for new routes to be sniffed out. This is a good thing, as in order to progress there is an arbitrary number of magic seeds you will need to find to unlock the next area. This was the one part of the game we felt a little let down by as though levels are generally a pleasure to experience over and over it did become frustrating when we couldn’t find the one seed we needed to open the next area.

The other slight issue is that the fox takes a bit of getting used to in terms of controls. A conscious decision has been made to not allow you to shoot arrows while jumping which is fine but our hero has a slightly strange weight to him which certainly took as a while to master. Some moves can also be a little tricky to pull off and in a game which can become stubbornly tough the last thing you need is to feel like the controls are against you as well. That said there are generous checkpoints throughout so progression is rarely halted for long.

At the end of each world you face off against a giant boss who requires thought and use of the season mechanic to vanquish. These are impressive showdowns with a memorably match up against an imposing wasp being particularly memorable.

Overall, Fox N Forests is an excellent take on the retro inspired action platformer. It has a unique world and it requires players to think about the game mechanics and how they and the character you control interact with the world. It also looks lovely and it’s clear that near endless thought and passion has been poured into it.  We would have liked some more levels and there are certainly a few things that could be refined but it still comes out head and shoulders above most other games of this type.

Overall 8/10

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Tori Toki Review (Nintendo Switch)

Toki Tori was one of the stand out titles on the original Wii eShop and now you can get hold of the HD version on the Switch for a decent price. However, things have moved on since the little yellow birdie first appeared on the scene so we thought we should take a look and see if the game still has what it takes to impress.

Toki Tori is somewhat different to its sequel. Where that game has you exploring a larger world and using song and some limited abilities, all the levels here are self-contained and introduce different items which you need to use carefully in order to collect eggs and thus complete the stage.

The game is split into different worlds which each have their own style, look and enemy types and this helps to add variety while your grey matter is tested. Stages include forests, spooky, ghost filled, castles and underwater stages to name a few. Each area introduces something new and it all works very well.

Items range from standard things like bridges to freeze rays and traps which cause ghosts to dissolve blocks. They are normally in limited supply so careful planning is always needed and even the early stages can catch you out if you aren’t paying attention. Frustration is kept at bay though by the ability to rewind time. If you’ve made a mistake then simply hit the button and rewind it back to the point when everything was still going fine. You can restart the level from scratch as well but we rarely found ourselves needing to do that.

While you could argue the second Toki Tori game is the more ambitious titles we found ourselves having much more fun with this one. The tight, focused, puzzles really are excellent and it seems to fit perfectly onto the Switch. The game also looks really good and is both a very colourful and fun world to play around in.

It’s the sort of game that will bring both smiles and frustration to your gaming life and there really is very little reason not to dive into the eshop and buy it. It’s the sort of thing you’ll put on for a few minutes and find yourself playing for a few hours. Yes, there will be stages that leave you frustrated, but then this is a puzzle game and the feeling of achievement you get upon suddenly seeing the solution will give a host of eureka moments.

Overall, this is a fun and charming platform puzzle game that does just about everything right. It looks lovely in HD and still offers a sizable amount of fun. If you haven’t picked it up already there really is little reason to hesitate. We much preferred it to the already decent sequel and it seems like a perfect fit for the portable nature of the Switch.

Overall 8/10

Tori Toki 2+ Review (Nintendo Switch)

Following on from the success of Toki Tori, the second game in the series is now available and takes a slightly different route. There is a plot of sorts but it’s left to the player to decipher. From what we can make out you must try and get your little yellow bird to meet up with his friends during some strange catastrophe which is afflicting the land where they live.

Toki Tori 2 is a brave departure from the first game in the series. Now there are no items to collect in order to solve puzzles and everything is dealt with via skills dished out during the game. That said, your basic skill set won’t evolve much from start to finish. Toki Tori has a whistle or tweet he can use and a ground stomp. These skills are generally used to move animals closer to you or further away from you. Players must think how to best use these skills within their environment in order to progress.

Whistling certain tunes also activate various skills but these don’t really affect the level based puzzles. Most of the time these amount to checking where you are on a map or returning to the last save point and resetting the puzzle. That isn’t to say that there is no variety. As you progress the two basic skills are utilised in a number of different ways. Sometimes the whistle is needed to get fire flies to follow you in order to illuminate dangerous paths, while at others it’s to get bubble blowing frogs to face the right way. The stomp also has different functions. Stomping in water for instance will send splashes out to short circuit electric bugs, while at other times it can be used to break floors or knock creatures off the ceiling.

There is certainly an inventive and playful use of the two core skills and it’s commendable that the team had the faith to build a game around them without feeling the need to continually add something else into the mix. While the game is certainly fairly sedately paced we certainly didn’t feel that puzzles were becoming repetitive and often found short goes turning into much longer sessions as we tried to push on to the next checkpoint.

One of the biggest problems of the game is the lack of direction. There’s no real plot as such but where it can become frustrating is the lack of guidance given early on. Very little is explained to the player and while large parts of the game are common sense and easily identified via trial and error, we can see players getting stuck at points and having absolutely no idea what to do. That said there is certainly a charming game here and there isn’t really anything else like I around at the moment. It reminds us of a long lost Amiga puzzle platformer (which is a good thing).

Overall, Toki Tori 2+ offers a fun and colourful experience. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but if you are looking for something to test your brain against at a leisurely pace then this could well be the one for you. It was a brave move to head away from the formula of the first game and for the most part is works. It does take a little getting used to but once the game clicks it’s an enjoyable adventure that’s well worth a look.

Overall 7/10

Friday, 3 November 2017

Thimbleweed Park Review (Nintendo Switch)

In recent years the classic point and click adventure has had a bit of a revival. We’ve had very welcome remasters of Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango and new properties such as Broken Age. This along with the rise of rise of the various Telltale Games series’, The Longest Journey’s long awaited third episode and Broken Sword 5 shows the genre is certainly back on the map.

Thimbleweed Park is perhaps the highest profile throwback to the idea of old school point and click games to appear in many a year. Whereas many of the other games have embraced new systems or at least worked on the systems from the later era Lucas Arts games, Thimbleweed harks way back to the early output of the aforementioned company with a system closer to that of Maniac Mansion - Only this time it’s designed to be far more user friendly.

The game initially follows two FBI agents who are drawn to the small town of Thimbleweed to investigate a murder. As the adventure progresses you are placed in control of a further three characters who are introduced via flashbacks. All five have their own motivations and goals as well as inevitably coming together as the plot thickens about the strange goings on in the town. The whole thing is presented in an older pixel style and carries a heavy Twin Peaks/X Files kind of vibe that works well with the odd-ball inhabitants and feeling of the town.

For the uninitiated, Thimbleweed follows the tried and test point and click adventure model. As you explore the town you will come across items which you collect. These items are then normally combined with other items or used in order to solve puzzles. For instance, at the very start of the game you need to find a stone to smash a light so you can move forward unseen. Moving your character is done by dragging a cursor around the screen and clicking or holding down one of the buttons to direct your character to wherever the cursor is moving. You also have a list of commands such as ‘Give’ or ‘Pick Up’ which can be accessed via button pushes or the cursor which need to be combined to complete certain actions. For instance, you would click ‘Pick up the rock’ then click ‘Use the rock on the light’ to smash it.

The puzzles themselves are fairly logical once you get your head around the way the game wants you to think. There’s certainly nothing here as bizarre and crazy as seen in many other games such as Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle. For those new to the genre there is also a casual mode which removes a lot of the puzzles (and even some locations), while still allowing you to experience the story. If you want the full experience but still get stuck there is an in game help line that can be called from the phones dotted around town that will keep you on track. It helps keep things moving but some may find the temptation too much when they find themselves facing a frustrating puzzle. If there is one major criticism, it’s that there is a little bit of overreliance on using the towns phonebook to solve problems by calling up specified numbers.

The characters are for the most part fairly standard fair but there are a few that leave a lasting impression such as the town Sheriff and the five main characters themselves. The plot holds up well for the most part providing an interesting tale and one that always hints at something more just beneath the surface. It’s hard to say much without giving it away but the whole thing goes a bit too meta for our personal taste towards the end and a few too many questions are left unanswered but it’s certainly a game we’ll return to in the future.

Overall, we found Thimbleweed park to be an enjoyable throwback to the days and style of early point and click adventures. We really like the fact it has gone down the Manic Mansion route as it sets itself apart both visually and in tone from the many other new games in the genre. The story kept us entertained (even if we were a bit disappointed by the conclusion), and the characters are fun to mess around with. There have also been just enough concessions made in terms of hints and moving around the place to keep things low on frustration. Thimbleweed succeeds at being both a love letter to games from the past and something relevant for gamers today and is certainly a game not likely to be forgotten by any who play it.

Overall 8/10