Monday, 16 September 2019

Trine 2: The Complete Story Review (Switch)


Trine follows the adventures of a mage, knight and thief bound together by a magical artefact known as the Trine. A 2D puzzle platform game, Trine 2 tries to do something new with a genre more typically found back in the 16-bit era. Indeed, we found our thoughts drifting to The Lost Vikings as we began utilising the three hero’s unique abilities.

The knight is best at fighting and can use his shield to reflect light beams and deflect objects. The thief shoots arrows and can use a grappling hook and the mage can conjure and move objects. Each character can be upgraded by seeking out experience points in the form of magic bubbles. This unlocks further abilities such as exploding arrows, stealth abilities and a number of other things which help fight off the many Goblins and giant spiders you'll encounter along the way.

With the different abilities on offer and different ways to play the developers have given the players multiple options in how to solve the puzzles. Playing single player has one character on screen which can be changed at any time, while multiplayer has all characters on screen at once. This means that certain puzzles would by default need a number of different ways to get through them.

The great thing is that the Trine world and physics are very tactile and effectively sets up a big toy box for you play around with to accomplish your task. Players who prefer the mage will be able to upgrade his abilities to summon large numbers of boxes and ramps to get around. While those using a mixture of the characters will find the need to use a combination of grappling hook swings, magical platforms and brute strength.

You could for instance spend time re-arranging pipes to get the water level right to reach a high ledge. Alternatively you could use an ice arrow to freeze the pool and then stack some mage created boxes on it, while in multiplayer there would be much more opportunity for cooperative lever pulling . The choice is yours. We found this flexible approach refreshing and it meant that progression was always steady as you weren’t left searching for the one way the developer intended you to get through an area.

The first thing that strikes you about the game is just how jaw droopingly gorgeous the whole thing is. The backdrops and landscapes are beyond stunning. We have never seen a 2D game that looks so good. Sunbeams shine through leaves, ice glistens and everything looks as magical and enchanting as seems humanly possible. The attention to detail is staggering and this combined with the physics engine creates a solid and immersive world that you never tire looking at.

The music is also suitably epic with bold fantasy themed tunes subtly underscoring your adventure. Even better news is that Trine 2 has an excellent script and group of voice actors. As the heroes adventure their comments and conversation can’t help to raise a smile. Everything seems to have been done with just the right amount of tongue in cheek humour.

Graphics and sound are all good but don’t mean anything if the game doesn’t play well. For the first hour or so we were a little worried that the controls wouldn’t gel. While we had a few issues when we first started to play this on the Wii U, the Switch version hits the ground running straight away.

The game itself is very smooth with everything acting as it should and combat working well. The only slight issues is that after years of playing games like Flashback and Prince of Persia we instinctively expect the edge of a platform to be in a certain part of the graphic. Trine 2’s is a little deeper and this left us missing jumps a number of times (especially in handheld mode). Again, once you get used to it there is very little here to complain about.

This is a good thing as the game is pretty sizeable with the normal quest taking around ten hours and the add-on content pushing that up by another five to eight depending how good you are. Searching out all the hidden chests to get paintings, poems and the maps pieces needed to access the extra area will also take a fair amount of time.

Every level is strong and there was never a time when we found ourselves wanting the game to be over. It’s one of those titles that eats up your free time without you really realising it. When it ends you just wish there was more of it and we can honestly say this is the most pure fun we've had with a video game for years.

Everything about Trine 2 just makes us smile and anyone slightly put off by the fact it’s been around a while really shouldn’t worry. The amount of value and enjoyment present here is to be commended and it’s clear the developers really have gone that extra effort to make something that deserves to be held up with the very best in the genre.

If you haven’t guessed by now we like this game a lot. It takes players on a magical and beautiful adventure while always remaining enjoyable and throwing in some absolutely stunning design. If you own a Switch this game is as essential as anything else you can buy. This is definitive version of one of the best games to come out in an absolute age and still holds up expertly. There really is no excuse not to own it.

9/10

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Trine: Enchanted Edition Review (Switch)


Regular readers will know that one of our first reviews was Trine 2 on the Wii U some time ago. We liked it a lot and gave it an impressive 9/10. Now, the whole trilogy is making its way to the Switch. We will be putting all three of the games through their paces to see if they still hold up and how suitable they are for play on the go.

If you haven’t come across a Trine game before it’s basically a platform/puzzle game where you control three different characters. You have the Knight who can fight and use his shield to block and gains abilities to break down walls. The wizard can create blocks and shapes which can then be used as platforms and the thief uses a bow and can attach to wood with her grappling hook.

The characters can be cycled through as you play and the real genius is that most of the puzzles don’t have a set way of being completed so that any of characters can get through. This allows players to work things out in a way that best suits them and gives a wonderful range of flexibility to play. Co-op is also available for added chaos.

As characters progress they level up by killing monsters and collecting vials of experience from within the levels. This then allows them to unlock and upgrade their abilities allowing for more shapes to be summoned, fire arrows or charge attacks. Any essential skills are given to you so you can’t level up in the ‘wrong’ way.

The real stars of the show are the levels themselves as they are brilliantly designed. Perhaps not quite as flawless as the levels in Trine 2 - but of a stupidly high standard none the less. They also look absolutely gorgeous running in the Trine 2 engine. If ever you were waiting for a game to use that share button on the Switch then this is it.

It’s also worth saying that the game is different enough from Trine 2 to be worth looking at as well. The basic gameplay is the same but the levels are unique enough and the enemies moving from goblins to the undead also further separates it from the sequel. The plot is just as stupid but it all moves along at a quick pace and the whole thing never stops being enjoyable.

The game runs well in handheld mode as well. We didn’t notice anything that got in the way of the flow of the game and it still looks absolutely beautiful. The only real issue is the sheer amount of detail on screen. We found it difficult at times to identify objects and the separation between the backgrounds and foregrounds could be clearer. This could be a colour blind issue on our part or simply that the screen is too busy for handheld mode. It’s a tricky one as its lovely to see all the detail make the transition to a smaller screen but it is clear that Trine is meant to be viewed on something larger.

Overall, it would have been easy to dismiss the original Trine with a new game in the series on the horizon but it is still well worth getting into for newcomers of the series and fans looking for a mobile adventure. The mechanics still work as well as ever we found it to be an impressive and magical adventure throughout.

Overall 8/10

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Flashback Review (Switch)


Set in the year 2142, Flashback follows the story of Conrad Hart, member of the Galaxia bureau of investigation. After discovering that an alien race is infiltrating earth, Conrad is relentlessly hunted down and kidnapped by the non-human race. Awaking aboard their craft (without his memory), the only thing in his mind is to escape. After stealing a hover bike and making a break for freedom, Conrad is shot down and crash lands on a strange jungle-type planet. Conrad must now find his way back to earth, but first he has to remember what he is going back for.

Flashback presents itself as a sci-fi action adventure game with more than a passing influence from classic platformer Prince of Persia. Indeed, it does contain a great deal of gap jumping and hanging from ledges, though to say the game is just a Prince of Persia clone is way off the mark, as a heavy adventure aspect runs through the core of the experience. Upon its release (for a few months), Flashback was the only game anyone was playing, and even now the sci-fi storyline (bordering on Cyberpunk at times) remains a very interesting and engaging tale to discover.

Flashback introduced a definitive version of a graphical style that had been tried in games such as Prince of Persia and further developed with Another World. Due to this style the title’s main character appears to move much more realistically than any games character before. The characters in Flashback are (if anything), a little small, but this does not detract from the fact that each sprite is well animated and contains a considerable amount of detail. Furthermore, each area within the game is absolutely beautiful, high in detail and uses a wide colour palette to represent the future circa 2142.

This new version of the game has a new sound track, which unfortunately does not quite live up to original. Sound effects are crisp and the music still works to enhanced by the cinematic style of the game which often switches to a small cut scenes when something of interest is discovered. This acts to make Flashback feel more like an interactive movie, and keeps the plot moving along at a steady pace.

The unique graphical style allows Conrad to perform a wide variety of moves with ease, which is a good thing, as to get through the game you need to use every advantage available. Our hero can jump, grasp ledges, roll around and all manner of other things - even being able to decide whether after an action he will draw his gun ready to fire. For this type of game the control system is just about perfect. The Switch version of the game also runs much more smoothly than before meaning many of the frustrations surrounding positioning Conrad are eased considerably.

Despite the claims of the advertising blurb there are few new additions in this Switch re-release. As mentioned before the new soundtrack doesn’t quite work and the saving system should have been overhauled for a much better experience. The rewind feature is very useful (allowing you to wind back time if you make a mistake) and this will undoubtedly help players progress through the more frustrating moments but that is about it. The physical version of the game also comes with a very badly designed case that doesn’t fit the manual and also won’t hold the game card steady. This is ridiculous and just screams of poor design.

Overall, Flashback remains outstanding title, a highly interesting plot underpinned by decent graphics and a solid control system that means you are always wanting to push on to see what piece of information will reveal itself. This Switch re-release is pretty bare bones in terms of features though. Much more could and should have been done to give the game the love and respect it deserves. It’s still worth playing but returning fans won’t find much here that they couldn’t get by booting up the original and the physical edition is nothing short of pathetic.

Overall 7/10

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Axiom Verge Review (Switch)


There was a time when ‘Metroidvania’ titles were flooding the market. Recent trends have a seen a move towards the super hard ‘Rogue-like’ game and with no new Castlevania or classic Metroid on the horizon gamers have been at a loss as to how to scratch their map filling itch. But fear not because Axiom Verge has made it Switch and it’s a little bit special.

The brain child of one man studio Tom Happ, the game follows the long twisting story of a scientist who awakens in a strange world after he dies in an accident. It’s certainly closer to Metroid than Castlevania but there’s also enough of a difference to not make it seem like one of those carbon copy knock offs you used to get called things like Poc-Man or Space Invaded. Considering the lack of this type of game around at the minute and the fact the last proper 2D Metroid was back on the 3DS there’s certainly a gap in the market.

If you’re not familiar with this type of game then let us explain. In Axiom Verge you explore and leap around the various landscapes shooting monsters and looking for useful objects. Upgrades normally give you a new move of some kind. In this case the first few you find add a drill for destroying certain types of wall, a high jump and shift scrambler thing. These objects then allow bypassing of certain obstacles and exploring further. You basically keep going until you meet a boss or hit an area where you clearly need something to progress and it’s wonderfully addictive as your little map constantly updates and fills out the layout of the areas.

Of course, you have to want to explore and Axiom Verge does a good job of keeping you locked into it. The environments are beautifully realised in their old school pixel style and each area has a unique look and characteristic. Enemy types also vary widely from area to area and the accompanying musical score sets the scene perfectly. The game also does a good job of keeping interesting looking things just about out of sight so you are always intrigued to go back later and see what they are.

The bosses you come up against start off large and proceed to get bigger and badder as the game progresses. They all require decent dexterity and brain power to overcome and this is a throwback to the shoot the 'glowing weak spot’ of old days. We didn’t come across anything crushingly difficult but you do need to be your toes. The difficulty level in general is set just about right. There is the odd spike here and there but our exploration was never stopped for too long. It can be annoying to be sent back a long way to the last save point but you do keep your exploration progress.

The save points are spread around each area and see our hero entering a pod which regenerates their health. These aren’t exactly everywhere so you do have been careful when exploring as there can be a bit of distance between them. We did find this a little frustrating to begin with but once we found a few upgrades it became much less of an issue. The one thing we really would have liked to have seen is the ability to teleport between save points. It was the developer’s choice not to integrate this but it would have solved the frustration of realising you need to be all the way over on the other side of the map.

There isn’t much hand holding here either. Don’t expect map markers of flashing squares to guide you to where you need to go. We didn’t really have much issue with this as you nearly always have to go to the bit you haven’t been able to explore yet so it wasn’t exactly rocket science to work out what to do next most of the time. If you do find something that looks interesting the Switch version allows you to drop a little reminder marker there for you to come back to later.

Level design is strong throughout, which is good as there’s a serious chunk of game to get through here. It’s massively impressive to think this has been created by a one-person team as it has the production values and feel of something made by a much bigger collection of people. It’s filled with moments that you’ll remember and it seems to have been so carefully created that you can’t help but marvel at what has been achieved at times.

Overall, Axiom Verge is a highly impressive game. It remains original enough while playing off core values of classic games to keep away feelings that you’ve seen it all before. It offers up surprises and fun new things to play with at regular intervals and gives players some big beasties to test themselves against. It’s a well thought-out game that has moments of genuine brilliance among a core of all round good design. It’s very easy to recommend this to fans of the genre as there hasn’t been a Metroidvania this good since Zero Mission.

Overall 9/10