Monday, 18 January 2021

Super Meat Boy Forever Review (Nintendo Switch)

Super Meat Boy holds legendary status in the realms of indie games. A brutally brilliant twitch platformer it mixed trigger finger action with a dark humour and exceptional level design. Anticipation has been high for a follow up and now Super Meat Boy Forever has arrived…. And it’s an endless runner.

Super Meat Boy as an endless runner? Yes, apparently so. When we first sat down and booted the game up only to see Meat Boy zooming across the level unaided we had to check to make sure the controls were working properly. A quick jump to the settings came next to check if it was an optional mode but no, it seems Super Meat Boy Forever is indeed meant to be an endless runner and sadly it isn’t even the best one on the Switch.

Moving away from the controversial continual momentum for a moment, everything else we have come to associate with Meat Boy is here. The dark humour, the beautiful comic cut scenes and the addition of the revolving levels which means no two trips through the four areas are destined to be the same all stand out as both great ideas and evidence that things have had a lot of attention put into them. But the core of the game just doesn’t work very well.

To clarify, we aren’t against the genre – Bit Trip Runner is an absolutely brilliant take on the idea and a game that has shown that this type of game can make its way onto consoles and still feel creative and substantial. But Meat Boy Forever is not Bit Trip Runner. It lacks precision and flair and the general sense of fun that those games have. Indeed, after our first few plays the game was already beginning to feel tired and dated.

The problem is that the first Meat Boy was crushingly tough but also addictive and fun. Forever is neither of these things and is simply frustrating for the sake of it with many deaths being due to unseen hazards or poor control implementation. The days of memory test platformers are long gone and we have no desire to see them appear again. The levels are also much less creative and simply become a war of attrition as Meat Boy continually dies, restarts a few seconds before the event, then smashes back into the same thing again unless you’ve judged the exact point he becomes controllable and hit the jump button.

If there is one saving grace it’s the bosses. The giant constructions are the closest thing in the game that recalls the greatness of its predecessor. Here the design is much more creative and often involves manoeuvring your character around quite compact spaces to bring down the hulking machines of doom. If only this high standard of design had made it into all the other levels of the game.

Overall, it is hard to feel anything but disappointment at how Super Meat Boy Forever has turned out. There are some good ideas here and the presentation is great but the game just feels unpolished, repetitive and not up to the standard we would expect from the team. It seems pretty clear this was meant to be a mobile game that has ended up on consoles.  It doesn’t really work as a platformer or a quality endless runner. It pains us to say it but it’s simply not very good.

Overall 5/10

Monday, 11 January 2021

Hades Review (Nintendo Switch)

Supergiant Games are not ones to rush things. The company seems to take the approach that games are released when they are ready and as a result all three of the studios previous releases have hit an incredibly high benchmark. Bastion is perhaps the most iconic with its pitch perfect bashing but Transistors considered style and upgrade system and Pyre bringing its own twist on the RPG have carved put a loyal following. But what if all these elements could be combined? What sort of digital nirvana would that produce? Welcome to Hades everyone.

Based heavily in Greek mythology Hades has you playing as the lord of the underworlds son as he repeatedly tries to escape and reach the world above. Standing in his way are all manner of traps and monsters and some pretty full on boss fights as well. In order to succeed you’ll need to make it through from start to finish in one run as there are no shortcuts here. No one said the journey out of hell was easy after all.

Set over four areas, Hades is a Rogue style action game. Combat is in real time in the vein of Bastion. As you progress you’ll pick up enhancements from the many Gods and familiars that you meet. These last the length of your current run and reset upon death. Permanent unlocks are also available and allow you to expand your weapon set, health and a host of wide ranging other elements such as gold and resistance.

Each area of Hades is broken down into different enclosed rooms. Once all enemies are defeated you normally get an enhancement of some kind before progressing to the next. Sometimes these are health or gold but gifts from the Gods are also available and they stack. The key is to pick gifts that compliment the weapon you are carrying so that by the time you reach the upper levels you’ve got a fiend slaying device to rival any mythological sword. These can be very flexible as well with each God giving out gifts that range from simple speed buffs to things that weaken or poison enemies or create explosions or lightning strikes when moving. This is where the Transistor and Pyre influences come in.

While the game draws on the company’s previous work it certainly doesn’t feel like them in terms of how it plays. Hades is very much its own game and while you can see the influences everything has been altered so that the various systems focused on in previous titles begin to blend together and create a weird and wonderful hybrid of awesome possibilities.

Combat is solid and you have a basic attack and dodge button, magic and summons attacks and the ability to cast an object into enemies which makes them more vulnerable to attacks, acts as a grenade or does whatever else you’ve got it do with your many gifts of the gods. Once you find the right weapon for your style it works in a satisfying way and allows for a flexible approach to battling beasties. It’s has its moments when it’s not very colour blind friendly as well, especially in handheld mode where projectiles can be near invisible against the backdrops at times.

Hades doesn’t do anything wrong but with so many systems incorporated each one doesn’t quite have the focus of the games that influence them. The combat isn’t quite at Bastions level and the upgrade system in Transistor still feels a touch more dynamic and flexible for instance. It’s amazing to have everything merged together but we feel Bastion and Transistor may still be the ones that hold the most love for long term fans.

When it comes to the Rogue genre there is always a certain amount of bashing against a brick wall for a number of hours and Hades is as guilty of this as any other game. We did find ourselves thinking “just stick with it” in the early going and after a while things did begin to click. It did take a fair few initial hours though to get to grips with all the different systems and how to go about making progress. There’s a lot to look at and understand. It will click though and then everything becomes so much more rewarding.

Once you’ve passed that point progress is quite steady but you’ll also need a fair amount of skill to beat the game. No matter how much you level there will always be a challenge awaiting you and for those who just want to relax there is a God mode included which will strengthen your character with each failed attempt. The game keeps things fresh as well by altering end of area bosses and changing other small elements which means there is always something new to see and do with each run (and it also stops you breezing through early levels).

Overall, Hades is a massively ambitious and successful take on the Rogue genre. Everything here works well and will allows both hardcore and casual players to get something from the experience of playing. The setting is inspired, the story is deep for those that want to experience it and the presentation takes the game to new heights. It’s simply a great example of a game with triple AAA ambition and appeal from an always impressive indie studio.

Overall 8/10

Monday, 4 January 2021

Rad Gravity (Evercade Review)

Rad Gravity is a promising space cadet with Elvis hair and a chin the size of a small continent and he has to foil an evil guy stopping three planets communicating with each other. He has also buried some computers named Compuminds on planets around the galaxy, and it is up to you to go and find them and restore peace to the universe.

Set across a number of planets and other space orientated levels, ‘Rad Gravity’ is a sort of comic book style platform adventure game. You have to transport down to planets where Rad must explore and find clues and information on where the compuminds are being held. While most of this takes place in standard platform territory there are a number of nice touches. Occasionally gravity goes mad and you find the level turned upside down meaning you have to stand on your head or turn the television over to get to grips with what's going on. A section in the asteroid belt where you need to use your gun to propel you in different directions is also a lot of fun.

Graphically, the game is nothing special, areas look a little plain and enemies are not overly detailed or colourful. Rad on the other hand is presented as a guy with a small body and a huge head, which seems to suite him somehow. Though the graphics are not great they are good enough, meaning you don't lose enemies in the background or get confused where platforms are. Unfortunately, there is a lot of slowdown present and flickering is also a problem, meaning it can be a touch frustrating at times, though this has improved a touch on the Evercade.

In terms of gameplay, you get a lot of different gadgets to play around with and certain levels are a lot of fun, but Rad himself can be a bit awkward to control especially when jumping. Though the controls are a touch unpolished the game is in no way a bad one. The level design is great with each of the planets being distinctly different from one another and containing its own unique set of obstacles and enemies.

Overall, there is a lot to like about ‘Rad Gravity’, with the lead character being extremely charming and some clever level design apparent. If you can look past the faults, of which there are many, what remains is a charming, funny game that given a little bit more polish would have been an excellent one. As long as you are of a forgiving nature you should get along just fine with the large chinned Rad.

Overall 7/10

Monday, 14 December 2020

Pixeljunk Eden 2 (Nintendo Switch Review)

 There’s no hiding we are big fans of pretty much everything Pixeljunk at Retro 101. So the news that a new Eden game was coming had us excited from the start. The minimalist, overtly arty original developed a solid and dedicated following and now newcomers and series veterans alike can enjoy what the new title has to offer.

We’ll start this out straight away by saying that this could well be the perfect game to spend time with in a year like 2020. It’s a sort of loving, gentle hug of a game that inspires calm and relaxation and we could all probably do with a bit of that at the minute.

Eden is a place where visual and audio comes together to create a playground for exploration as you are tasked with getting your character to the glowing “spectra” placed somewhere within the stage. In order to do this you have to grow your own platforms by filling up seeds. This is done by swinging around in a circle on a little web and colliding with floating pollen spores which are then drawn in by them. The seeds then sprout into plants which can be traversed to get to higher locations.

It’s a simple concept and one that requires the understanding of only a few different techniques. Once you’ve mastered the swinging, double jumping and floating in mid-air you can happily bounce around knowing all that’s left is to just keep an eye on the clock and work your way around lumps of rock that block your way. The time limit this time around is more forgiving that the original as well and there are various checkpoints throughout the gardens to help your progress. Falling too far will also see you reset at your last solid position meaning no more painful ascensions back to the top are required.

As you progress more gardens unlock and more characters with different bonuses become usable but the basics of the game pretty much remain the same. The core concept is strong though and each area allows players to explore in ever increasingly challenging ways.

It’s also a game best enjoyed with headphones as the waves of techno slowly wash over you. The rhythm of the music, the gentle swinging from plant to plant and the striking visuals act to block out the stresses of the world and form a perfect space to unwind and engage with something purely artistic. There’s even a co-op mode added as well should you wish to take the journey with a friend.

Progression is a little odd though. After you clear each selection of gardens you are presented with three more. You can’t however go back to previous levels which is in contrast to the previous games more traditional map screen. It’s a slightly odd choice as it could potentially see you stuck with one level left to complete and without the ability to go off and try something else for a while. This is the only relatively minor issue present though and we found progress generally steady.

Overall, Pixeljunk Eden 2 is an easy recommendation. It’s not really like much else currently on the Switch and while the idea of the arty, abstract indie game has long been overdone this shows that there is considerable merit in making something designed to gently immerse players on both a visual and audio level. For those looking to zone out and forget the storms raging in the real world this is a perfect spot of tranquillity to take a holiday in.

Overall 8/10