Wednesday 31 October 2012

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Review (DS)

1944, the world is filled with pain and lost souls caused by war. The agony created by this brings forth Dracula's demonic castle, which the vampire Brauner tries to utilise to destroy the human race. Step forward Jonathan Morris, who now carries the Belmont family's legendary whip and Charlotte Aulin, a tremendously powerful magician to destroy the evil menace.

What we have here is a streamlined amalgamation of all the best parts of previous Castlevania games, as well as a few highly effective new ideas. The most important of which is the ability to use two characters at the same time. Upon the press of a button, the second character can be called to aid you. Along with moving blocks and other minor tasks the duality can be used to produce one of a number of powerful combined attacks

Portrait of Ruin features an excellent compromise for fans looking for a more linear Castlevania. Dracula's castle is still there for exploration in the classic Symphony of the Night style. However the main location is somewhat smaller than before, as it contains a number of cursed portraits. Each portrait acts as an entrance to a new world, which houses the more linear elements of titles gone by.

Level design via the portraits is of an excellent standard with each of the four initial worlds following a different style. A highlight is a world set in a town turned upside down. The only small downside to the design is that you will come across four paintings near the end of the game that share the same basic structure as before, only with much tougher enemies and a slightly different graphical touch.

Boss encounters are yet another highlight in this Castlevania tour de force. They contain enough of a challenge to be approached cautiously, but none are overly harsh.  Each of the creatures are wonderfully satisfying to defeat, and require some real thought and lateral thinking in terms of magic and weapons (taking out the two evil sisters with one hit is a touch of genus, all be it a difficult one).

Main adventure aside there are a number of side quests that can be taken on which when completed give up new skills and weapons to the player. While not essential it is advisable, as certain skills such as being able to flail the whip (as seen in Castlevania IV) and the ability to attack diagonally down come in extremely handy. Everything about the game seems to have been set just right. The difficulty level is at a perfect level somewhere between Circle of the Moon and Aria of Sorrow, which means it is challenging but fair due to the support from the second character and there is a far fairer way of dealing out skills and weapons.

Overall, it is clear that only the most rose tinted gamer would fail to agree that Portrait of Ruin is the best Castlevania game in the series for a long time. The best bits of the best games have been stuck together in one wonderful Castlevania cake. It is highly recommended to anyone who likes adventure games, and absolutely essential to Castlevania fans.


Tuesday 30 October 2012

Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn) Video Review

A video review of the highly sought after Panzer Dragoon Saga on the Sega Saturn.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence Review (PS2)

If ever there was one game to show off a love hate relationship with its fans then this is it. For a large proportion of Castlevania players this 3D adventure is just a continuation of the flawed N64 titles. For the rest us more accepting gamers Lament of Innocence is a great, if short, action adventure game.

The game starts with Leon Belmont heading into a dark castle to rescue his fiance from a vampire lord (not Dracula yet). Not ground breaking by any means but this marks the start of the Belmont family's story in the fight against evil. Once inside the fortress you have to guide Leon through five dungeons containing all sorts of ghouls and monsters.

Enemies you come across range from tiny imps and weak skeletons to hulking golems and huge boss creatures. Fighting off the hordes with your whip is a joy as Leon leaps and rolls around easily which helps you forget that the camera sometimes isn't quite where you want it. As you progress and kill monsters you learn new moves, skills and gain a number of magical spells and weapons.

A high point of the game is the excellent tone set by the graphics and sound. Each area of the castle is moody and forbidding with it's own visual style. The music pumps away with a synthetic orchestral sound and enemies whale and shuffle as they march, float and limp towards you. The game may have detractors but no one could ever accuse it of not looking and sounding like a classic Castlevania title.
The game is short, lasting between five and six hours on a first play through.

There are however, secrets to be found and once completed you can play through again with a couple of over characters (one of which is especially nice). If you are feeling brave you might even feel like venturing down to the basement for one hell of a one on one.

It really is a struggle to see where all the bad feeling comes from. Castlevania in 3D may be a step too far for many but this title has the right feel and style. Anyone out there looking to see how the Belmont story started should have no fear of stepping out of the second dimension. Above everything else this is a fun adventure that has more than enough variety in terms of dungeons and enemies to see you through to the end.


Monday 29 October 2012

Castlevania Review (NES)

Set in 1691, the first NES Castlevania has Simon Belmont taking on the evil Dracula as he rises from the grave. Simon comes from a long line of vampire hunters who wield the magic whip ‘Vampire Killer’. He heads off into Dracula's huge castle armed with his trusty whip vowing to take down the master of Darkness once and for all.

The game is set over six incredibly difficult levels of platform slashing action. The levels do not differ a great deal and just become harder with enemies getting ridiculously tough and more precision being needed to make death defying jumps. By the time you reach the bosses later in the game expect your hair to be well and truly ripped out as Death, and then Dracula prove to be two of the hardest creatures ever seen.

Graphically the game is horrible. Looking back now all the extra detail just goes to make the screen seem cluttered and confusing, we really do not need seven different shades of brown displayed at once. The fascination with brown continues with Simon as well, giving him a very strange detached look. Animations are basic to say the least with characters consisting of two or three frames.

In terms of gameplay, Castlevania fairs better. The controls are slow and awkward but there is definitely a solid game engine behind it. The main problem is that you cannot change direction in mid air which leaves no room for error when jumping. Furthermore, the whip is not the most easily used weapon. Simon can only whip forward, no diagonal or upward strikes here, which adds even more difficulty to the boss fights.

Overall Castlevania is a solid start for the franchise, though not a game that anyone other than fans will stick with. The controls are too slow, and the difficulty level is extreme to the point of madness. Criticisms aside there is some fun to be had and it is interesting to see the story unfold. However, Castlevania IV on the Super Nintendo is more or less a re-make of this. Given the choice we would always recommend you play that instead.


Thursday 25 October 2012

Wipeout 64 Review (N64)

Now, this is an interesting game in the Wipeout franchise. As its title suggests, Wipeout 64 is an N64 exclusive, and marks the last time the series would appear on anything but a Sony console. It's also not really a sequel or a port, and it alters some things and adds others. So, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs behind us, let's venture down an unfamiliar path.

Set in 2098 (basic math shows us that's one year on from Wipeout 2097), on the surface, little has changed from the previous outing. The weapons remain (mostly) the same, pit lanes are still here and the general look and atmosphere returns. There are a few significant differences however. 64 marks the first use of analog control in a Wipeout game and dismisses digital control completely, there are team specific 'super' weapons such as the Energy Sphere (2097's Plasma Bolt), Cloak and Energy Drains (which would feature in later iterations).

The tracks in Wipeout 64 are modified versions of those in the previous two titles, be it a reversed version or one with other alterations. It makes the game feel like Frankenstein's monster, a chop 'n' swap mash up of the first two instalments, but with the look and feel of 2097. This is still a complete game, but some new circuits would have been nice (the only new track is Velocitar, which has to be unlocked).

The major upheavals here come in the form of challenges (such as destroying a set number of enemies), which expand the single player game significantly, and split screen multiplayer. The previous entries in the series only allowed for two player system link games, which proved unfeasible for many. Psygnosis has taken advantage of the N64's four controller ports, allowing four player split screen (this is the only game in the series to do so), which makes it stand out from its forebears. It's not bad, either. The major problem is with pop-up and a slow frame rate, but the gameplay itself still stands out. Get three like minded friends round and an entire afternoon can be lost.

In moving Wipeout from its natural home, Psygnosis has managed to retain much of the style and playability of the first two games. A few concessions have been made due to the storage media and the music takes one for the team. While the tunes are still great, hearing a couple of segments from Bang On! looped over and over again can grate. The graphics have the blurry filter of most N64 titles, but still look as good as before (bar some awful looking explosions), and provide a gritty alternative to Nintendo's own brightly coloured F-Zero X.

It would be fair to say that Wipeout 64 is the black sheep of the family – Nintendo exclusive, four player mode, remixed circuits – but it is distinctive. Being marketed to a Wipeout starved Nintendo audience it does its job very well. For existing fans of the series it offers multiplayer and challenge modes not found elsewhere and as is essential.


Written by Dan Gill

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Wipeout 2097 Review (Playstation)

There's no doubting the impact made by the original Wipeout on its release. The trendy design and cutting edge music (at the time) created a tempting package, but the gameplay itself just needed more refinement. Thankfully, Psygnosis realised this and created a truly amazing sequel. Ladies and gentlemen, we present Wipeout 2097.

Set some forty years after the original, Wipeout 2097 (or XL for our US readers) retains much from its predecessor. The same four teams compete (and are joined by a fifth, Pirahna), the Designer's Republic are still on board for graphical embellishments, the finest dance acts of the day are on musical duties (on the PlayStation version, anyway) and the weapons are back. However, it's the various tweaks – subtle but many – that strengthened the series, and led to the Wipeout we know today.

The use of weapons in the previous game resulted in a minor inconvenience to competitors, stalling their ship and costing them time. While that was a fine tactic, it all felt a little flat. 2097 ups the combat element considerably with the addition of health bars for each ship. Once depleted, the craft is destroyed and must leave the race. A 'pit stop' at the end of each lap now has to be considered to replenish lost health, but this will cost players precious seconds and possibly a position. The more combative edge simply makes the game more fun to play. The thrill of being in second place and unleashing a missile on the ship ahead, destroying it and securing a gold medal is hard to describe.

Since the focus here is more on combat, more power ups have been added. Some return from the first game (speed boosts, shields, rockets, missiles), but the new ones, such as quake, plasma and thunder bomb provide much satisfaction when unleashed. The quake causes a wave of destruction along the track, dealing out huge damage to opponents (and looking pretty good as it does it) while the plasma shot can destroy a craft instantly, but requires practice to use effectively. The weapons and their effects add much more excitement and a slightly darker tone to the game – something built upon by the game's general aesthetic.

The tracks and surroundings are similar in design to those of the original title but have, a grimier, more dystopian feel.  From Talon's Reach, a course set in a Canadian industrial complex, to Gare D’Europa, a track fashioned from the remains of a French Metro system, the circuits often feel oppressive, and add to the violent futuristic sports stylings seen in Speedball or F Zero. Combine this with music tracks like Future Sound of London's We Have Explosive and the Chemical Brothers' Loops of Fury and you have a game that's one of a kind (at least until everyone else started to imitate it.

There is no doubting this is a huge improvement on Wipeout. The design tweaks and gameplay additions make it a better game and other reforms such as allowing your craft to graze barriers instead of stopping you dead improve it further. It's the kind of sequel you would expect – take the good stuff from the first game, iron out the creases, add some new features and spread on a layer of gloss. Psygnosis didn't rest on their laurels, they new they had to innovate to keep the franchise going, and it paid off. The only real flaw here is the lack of a two player split screen option (system link makes a return in its place), but the single player offers a challenge with single races, time trials and tournaments. ThereĆ¢€™s plenty to unlock too, such as two extra tracks, animal ships (?) and an extra weapon (the minigun, if you're wondering). It's a game that still stands up today, even with the excellent Wipeout HD available, and hopefully it will see release on the PSN soon.


Written by Dan Gill

Wipeout Review (Playstation)

There are few pivotal moments in video games, but when they arrive it feels special to be a part of it. Space Invaders, Super Mario Brothers, Final Fantasy VII and GTAIII are among the titles I'd count as truly trailblazing, yet one of the more important titles in recent memory (and one to take some credit for the success of the last two on the list above) is Psygnosis' Wipeout. Seen as something of a poster boy for the PlayStation generation, it has introduced a new crowd to gaming, infiltrated nightclubs and birthed a massive Sony franchise which lives on to this day. But how does the original stand up to scrutiny so many years after its release?

Sadly, not well. As a PlayStation launch title in Europe (and the first non-Japanese game to be released on the format, fact fans), it suffers from the same problems of many games from that era – poor draw distances, ropey controls, and a lack of substance. While there's no doubting there is a game in here, what's on offer is limited. Being an amalgam of Super Mario Kart and F-Zero, Wipeout tends to focus on racing more than combat, so it would be expected that the racing is well honed and exciting.

What we actually have is oversensitive handling and a demanding challenge. This isn't a game you can just dive into and enjoy straight away and you have to play by its strict rules to get the most out of it. The learning curve for Wipeout is steep, but if you have the determination to succeed, you will reap the rewards.

Wipeout is harsh. Make that very harsh. The demands it puts on the player are high, it expects you to make few mistakes on the track. If you do, it will punish you. While replaying Wipeout for review, I found myself swerving all over the track, from barrier to barrier. Any time your craft clips the sides, you stop dead. Now I like to think of myself as a fairly decent Wipeout player, but finishing in seventh place humbled me somewhat. I realised it was merely a lack of refinement on the game's part, and that the sequels had improved on this foundation (but let's save that for another time).

However, it is a decent foundation. The basic principle of Wipeout is sound (race floating craft around futuristic tracks while shooting at other racers), it just needed a bit more playtesting. For instance, the weapons do little more than slow down your opponents, and lack any kind of excitement. It does feature a decent two player mode in the form of system link (if you can find a mate with their own PS, TV and copy of the game), the dance soundtrack and graphics fit the tone and the tracks themselves are pretty good. It just doesn't help that your craft handles with all the grace of a three-wheeled shopping trolley.

Despite all the complaints that run throughout this review, Wipeout still has its place in the annals of gaming history. It was a very important release for Sony, it ushered in a new era for gaming and it laid the groundwork for what was to come. Its problem is that it's a product of its time, and it has lost most of the magic it had upon release. Is it worth playing now? That depends on your patience.

If you have the time to dedicate yourself to a blurry, cumbersome PSOne title and can overlook its flaws, you'll get something out of it. I think it is worth owning for the completists among you, and perhaps even those who want to see where it all began. It's available to download on PlayStation Network for around £3.50, but it may be best to wait for 2097 to make its way to PSN and buy that instead.


Written by Dan Gill

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures Review (Game Cube)

A new Zelda title accompanies each new generation of Nintendo hardware as surely as the controller and connection cables in the packaging. Along with this event comes some form of gaming innovation to get both fans and critics bouncing around like the proverbial thing on a spring. Despite these high expectations the latest addition, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, offers  something very special. Gather three friends, have them bring along their Game Boy Advances and up to four players can work together to bring the light back to the land of Hyrule. More impressively, the charm and high levels of ingenuity still shine through as strong as ever when played solo. Ladies and gentleman this is how games were meant to be - original, charming and filled with small people wearing different coloured hats.

Unlike most Zelda titles the plot is truly lacklustre. All that we can recall about it is that Princess Zelda has been kidnapped and for some reason there are lots of evil shadow Links running around because of a nasty mirror. Apparently plot writing day happened to fall on the same date as the company picnic for the Nintendo team. Fear not intrepid gamers because where the story is normally a pivotal point in a Zelda title the same is not true in this case. Four Swords is all about bite sized chunks of action. In that respect it delivers.

Layout of the title poses another departure for the Zelda series. Instead of the usual idea of one huge landscape to explore, everything is split into a number of levels. Eight areas, each consisting of three parts, can be revisited at any point. After the initial unfamiliarity wears off this different approach brings a welcome sense of freedom for the player. No longer do thoughts that you may have left some important object on the other side of the world intrude on your enjoyment. In fact, once you reach the end of a level all objects are removed from your hero. Furthermore, the Links can only carry one object at a time so the hording and painstaking item searching of old is long gone.

The new level format works masterfully and allows for solo play that seamlessly becomes multiplayer. When friends wish to join they can immediately enter at any level meaning you never sit around waiting for people to get off their back sides and get playing. Cruise through a few levels then let them join in at the new point you just reached; or simply select a level you have previously played through. So simple, yet so effective.

Graphically this  is simple yet sublime. What we have is and updated take on the SNES classic A link to the Past mixed with subtle and beautiful fire and explosion effects plucked from The Wind Waker. Zelda Four Swords is all about the little things being done right to come together in creating one excellent greater thing. The reasoning behind the use of 2D graphics becomes clear when your character enters a house or cave, and action switches to your Game Boy Advance screen. If the Cube version of the title had more complex 3D graphics (a la Wind Waker) then all continuity in the style would have been lost upon the move to the GBA.

For those concerned you need both a GBA and a Cube to play the game, don't worry too much. If you plan to go through the game in singleplayer, then any action that would move onto the GBA screen is brought up in an overlay window on the TV screen. However, multiplayer requires each player to have a GBA for independent movement in order to try and find treasure before anyone else gets their hands on it.

Whether in singleplayer or multiplayer Link (or the Links as it were) are never difficult to control. The friendly control system lets you organize the four Links into different formations at the touch of a button. Furthermore you can take control of individual Links as needed meaning there is nothing you cannot do in singleplayer that you can in multiplayer. When controlling a single Link the others fade slightly and become invulnerable. This classy touch removes any worries when you have to go far off to find a switch leaving the other Links behind.

Four Swords Adventure is the sort of game Cube and GBA owners have been waiting for ever since the Link cable existed. It's a joy in singleplayer and borderline heavenly in multiplayer; the challenge is set just right; the puzzles are set just right; everything from the box art, the feel and most importantly the playing is just right. This is what Crystal Chronicles should have been and finally shows how truly great connectivity can be. If there is a sour note it is that the Japanese Tetra Tracker mini game has been removed due to technical limitations; but it is questionable if you will miss it anyway. All we can say is go and buy it. Find friends or enjoy it alone, just get hold of it and see how much fun games can be.


Mario Vs Donkey Kong Review (GBA)

In 1981 Donkey Kong made his video game debut and then promptly ran off with Mario's (then Jump man's) girlfriend. To rescue the girl players had to negotiate four levels, climbing up Donkey Kong's tower before finally knocking his platform away. Ever since then the Mario vs Donkey Kong franchise has been rarely used, with both characters taking on many other roles. Indeed only the NES version of the arcade game (and an excellent title designed for the Super Gameboy in 1984) have seen the two Nintendo properties clashing head on.

Now on GBA the two giants of the Nintendo world clash again in a platform come puzzle game, which is a slight departure from the previous iterations in the highly enjoyable series. Anyone who has played the Super Gameboy version will be on familiar ground, though the impetus has now been placed heavily on the puzzle element of the title rather than the platforming fun of old. The manoeuvres that the mighty plumber can pull off are much the same as before. For the uninitiated Mario can jump, pick up enemies/other objects and do a hand stand-to-hand spring jump which gets him to high places. In a round about way what we have is Mario 64 moves plus a touch of Super Mario 2.

A new system brings with it a new graphical overhaul; everything is given the muddy, mock three-dimensional style that is beginning to creep into GBA games at an alarming rate. We have yet to see this technique pulled of completely successfully and again here it proves to be more of a hindrance than a help to the gameplay. The extra animations needed to pull off moves - mean that at times - Mario can seem to be slightly off the pace. It doesn't happen that often, but enough to make you consider throwing the cartridge at something.

The goal for the initial six worlds is to get Mario to a locked door with a key found somewhere on the screen. On the way you can pick up little present boxes, which if you collect them all give you a bonus. Luckily, (though the graphics can hinder the play some of the time) on the whole Mario is more than equipped to make it around the levels without the controls causing a problem which is good as players need to use all of Mario's abilities in order to do achieve the simplest of tasks. The game really does have some hidden depth in this respect.

In order to make it through safely you must be thinking right from the off, as solutions are rarely as straightforward as they first appear. Mario vs Donkey Kong is more about planning an effective route than the fast paced Mario action we have seen previously. However, though the levels are clever and the controls hold up the majority of the time, there is a distinct lack of an addictive quality in the title. Furthermore the game really is not that much fun to play, meaning what you are left with is a taxing puzzle game which you are not really driven to solve.

The title is not a bad game, it just lacks the little touch of Nintendo magic that make Mario titles such a compelling affair, something that the previous version of the Mario vs Donkey Kong franchise had in abundance. True there is some joy to be had during the boss battles, and when you solve a particularly tough puzzle the feeling of relief is a rare joy, but more often than not you will end up frustrated and worn down.

Mario vs Donkey Kong is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, and the franchise deserved to be revived and contains a lot of promise. But this title simply is not enough to launch the plumber and the big ape's feud into the Nintendo hall of fame. It tries to be Mario platforming crossed with all the goodness of lemmings but really it ends up showing only glimpses of the brilliance of each.


Kirby Squeak Squad (DS)

Kirby, Nintendos other character makes his second appearance on the DS. Unlike Power Paintbrush this Kirby title returns to the classic platform style games of the retro era with the second screen used as a display for Kirbys items. The story (and we use the term loosely) centres on a nice piece of strawberry shortcake. Kirby sits down enjoy this delight and before he can, it is snatched away by a group of thieving rodents named the Squeak Squad. There is only one thing to do and off Kirby goes across eight worlds to get his cake back.

Previous Kirby releases have never been the most challenging of titles and this one is no exception. As always the joy of a Kirby game comes from the inventive level design and the amount of different skills he can learn throughout the adventure. Through inhaling and then swallowing enemy creatures, Kirby can use different skills. When the enemy drops down to the bottom screen (Kirbys stomach), Kirby will extract whatever skill the enemy possessed. Thankfully any skills or food located throughout the levels (stored in bubbles) can be swallowed and stored for use later in the game. In order to activate the bubbles you have to hit them on the touch screen, which can be awkward amidst a tricky section or boss battle.

As well as the standard task of finding the exit to each level Kirby also has to collect the numerous treasure chests that are hidden throughout the lands. These chests harbour variety in the form of pieces of pictures, secret level keys and spray cans to change Kirbys colour. The chests come in two sizes; small ones just need to be swallowed and carried to the end of the level, while the larger chests initiate a chase sequence where one of the squeak squad will attempt to steal the chest before Kirby can make it to the exit. Should the rodents be successful, the chest is then placed in their hide out where our hero must infiltrate and overcome a mini boss encounter to get it back.

In total there are one hundred and twenty chests, with some of them requiring a fair amount of thought and use of various abilities to reach. The locating of the chests forms an entertaining part of the game, and if any are left after completion it is highly likely you will find yourself returning to find them. Upon collecting all the chests and completing the game two new modes are added. The boss rush mode has Kirby facing off against all eight bosses in a row on one life bar. The second mode is a timed mode that lets you play through the game again with the aim of collecting all the chests as quickly  as possible. Neither is a major addition but both are nice extras none the less.

The various worlds in the game look gorgeous, with each having a unique look. The style of the levels also ties in with the different skills you can use. For instance in the jungle, leaves can be cut down with the sword skill and in the levels filled with lava, platforms can be made by breathing ice onto it and thereby turning it into rock. It is these inventive touches that keep an otherwise familiar game fun and enjoyable from start to finish.

Overall Kirby Squeak Squad is undoubtedly a fun game. Anyone who has played a Kirby title before will not find anything particularly new here but everything is done in a very inventive and fun way. The main game will not put up too much of a challenge for most people but the sheer amount of things to find and skills to use, helps keep things fresh. It may not do anything overly ground breaking but it is hard to see anyone not having a good time with Kirby Squeak Squad and for that we can only commend it.


Jet Set Radio Review (GBA)

When Jet Set Radio appeared on the Dreamcast, it was a breath of fresh air in a market stagnating from lack of imagination and choking on the fumes of its own seriousness. Its distinctive mixture of cel-shaded rendering (one of the pioneering titles for the soon-to-be-overused technique) and Japanese cyberpunk-styling perfectly complimented the level design - and brought a unique touch to what could easily have been just another skating game.

 For the uninitiated, Jet Set Radio takes place in the fictional city of Tokyo-To. The local law enforcement have been struggling with a number of skate gangs, adopting an 'anything goes' policy to stop them. Playing as Beat, a young skater in the scene, you must recruit new members to stake out your turf from rivals while evading the cops.  These gangs don't fight, instead they 'tag' Tokyo-To with graffiti in a contest to see who can spray the most. Success not only raises the profile of Beat's gang, forcing other skate factions to move elsewhere, it also really annoys the police chief.

Turning a graphically-stunning Dreamcast title into something credible on the Game Boy Advance would seem an impossible feat. The effort put into giving the handheld version some of the same style and atmosphere found in its more powerful Dreamcast brother clearly shows in terms of graphics and sound; adopting an isometric view, levels are filled with enough colour to mimic the trademark cel-shaded feel. Helping to complete the sensory package, a wide range of music tracks from the original have made the transition to cartridge (impressively, even including all their lyrics).

Unfortunately, a number of problems arise once the game begins. The first sign of trouble comes from the incredibly-difficult-to-master control system. Pressing up on the D-pad moves characters forward, with left and right rotating them. It sounds simple enough, but when grinding around the screen at all sorts of strange angles, it becomes nearly impossible to work out which direction to press for an accurate landing. More often than not the results are a nasty faceplant, made all the more frustrating by the fact that each level is timed. Given enough patience, the problems caused by the controls begin to fade as you get used to them - but they never become instinctive.

Cel-shading attempts to infuse a three-dimensional graphical style, but instead gives everything an almost two-dimensional feel. In the polygonal world of a truly 3D game (like the original Jet Set Radio) this works fine, but applied to an isometric landscape it does something very stupid: effectively, it makes everything look flat. In other words, the three-storey building on the corner appears to stand as tall as the traffic cone in the street beside it. This makes judging vertical height impossible - whereby you frequently hit walls, fall off ledges or cannot determine how high you should jump to reach something (which adds to the mounting frustration).

Though there are obvious flaws, there is also a lot of fun to be found. Just enough of that Jet Set Radio charm persists to help you shrug off each frustration and have another go. The difficulty will not pose too much of a problem for gamers familiar with skating games. Nor was Jet Set Radio ever considered a long-lasting title - a tradition this version continues, perhaps even taking a step backward by the significant drop in difficulty. Short and sweet? Maybe. Fun while it lasts? Definitely.

Jet Set Radio on the Gameboy Advance creates a strange quandary as a game. Someone who has never played the original might never come to grips with this miniature sibling. For fans of the series though, the chance to grind around Tokyo-To on the move far outweighs the frustration and general 'flatness' of the appearance. Likewise, the lack of difficulty will not matter to those who already know their way around the console version; making a race to the end come second place in terms of pure Jet Set appreciation. A title for the fans to be sure, but anyone else seeking that graffiti buzz should look to the Dreamcast, Xbox or the HD remakes to really understand, understand the concept of (Jet Set Radio) love.


Yoshi's Island 2 Review (DS)

One word describes Nintendos decision to outsource one of their most loved franchises to an unproven developer, though whether that word is brave or foolish is hard to say. Artoon has hardly excelled in its previous work which was the universally deried Yoshi's Universal Gravitation. So then this is another chance for the development team to try and prove they are up to the standard that we expect from a Nintendo licence.

Much like the original SNES game the title has Baby Mario being carried around levels by one of a number of different coloured Yoshis. When something hits Yoshi he drops the baby and unless he can pick him up before the timer runs out it will be whisked away to a dark and forbidding castle.The main difference this time around- aside from the two-screen layout- is the ability to choose from a number of different babies to carry around, each with their own unique abilities. Mario can hit M blocks and use invincibility stars, Princess Peach can float, Donkey Kong can climb ropes, Wario carries a magnet for moving metal and Bowser shoots fireballs. Each baby has different effects on the shells Yoshi throws as well.

As great as being able to choose from different characters is, it is often diluted by the fact you normally cannot tell which baby you need until you are long past the character changing post. This is a very poor and lazy piece of game design and unfortunately it's not the only place where it's apparent. Furthermore Wario and Bowser are only available for a very short period of time which seems like a real waste of the characters.

When it comes to looking at the level design there is a real divide between the worlds. Worlds One, Two and Three are great fun and show the flair and imagination that we have seen in many a Nintendo title, and just for a minute you think you might be playing another classic. That is of course until you reach World Four.

We have tried to think this through and all we can think of is that either the work experience people were left to finish the last two worlds or Artoon simply could not be bothered to design the thing properly as all of a sudden we are bombarded with poor level design on the most inept scale imaginable. It seems the developers idea of making a game more challenging is to simply throw more and more frustratingly unfair and badly designed sections together. The black book of video game cheap tricks is all here- Enemies appearing out of nowhere? Check, leaps of faith? You bet, and it goes on and on with one lazy piece of game design after another until after a while you just wished you had never played the game at all.

It is such a shame as the first three worlds are very enjoyable and all of the bosses in the game, although being extremely easy, are well thought out and fun to match up against. It really does defy belief that the last two worlds got through any form of playtesting and they seem like badly thought out beta code that an amateur would be embarrassed with. We have come across freeware titles (such as Within a Deep Forest) which have far better level design than this. Worlds four and five may seemingly be designed by blind monkeys but at least they can be finished fairly swiftly once you have memorised where everything is going to jump out at you. So players should be able to finish the game at least - if they can be bothered to, that is.

Another fault is the gap between the top and the bottom screen. Instead of things moving smoothly from top to bottom instantaneously there is an area of dead space between the screens. It may have seemed like a great idea to produce the illusion of one big screen but in reality enemies and vital platforms end up invisible behind the metal holding the two screens together. This is something else that should have never made it past the testing stage.

Overall, Yoshi's Island is neither as good nor as bad as it first appears. The first three worlds certainly are great fun and the boss design and different babies help add some invention. But as soon as you have seen the back of the third world it all becomes a frustrating mess of a game. Nintendo need to think more carefully about what and to whom they outsource. In the end Yoshi's Island DS just comes off as a pale imitation of the mighty original SNES game, which is disappointing in the extreme.


Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime Review (DS)

Whatever is a hero to do? Rocket the Slime was quietly gooing about his business when the evil Plob turned up and kidnapped all the residents of Boingburg. Now it's up to Rocket to return everyone and rebuild the town. Yes, this can mean only one thing... it is going to be a very silly game.

Rocket Slime is an adventure game set in the Dragon Quest world, but is not a classic Dragon Quest-style RPG. Apart from the name and the creatures present, there is hardly anything here recognisable from the franchise with not a turn-based battle or random encounter in sight. Rocket Slime is an adventure more in the Zelda mould, but even that comparison is somewhat misleading. Indeed, what we have here is something very rare: a collection of original ideas.

The game is split into three main parts. First, there is the town, which will gradually be rebuilt as Rocket rescues Slimes. Here you can talk to people and save the game along with the usual town-based activities of buying items and upgrading equipment. Then there is the actual adventuring part; after picking a location, you will go off to bounce around and see what you can find. Any Slimes or items found must be put on rafts or carts that run through each level and take things back to the town.

Last but not least are the tank battles. After a level or so, Rocket will find a huge slime-shaped tank which he will need in order to fight Plob's machines of destruction. The items you send back to the town invariably end up as some form of ammunition for the tank battle which occurs in real time. Here, Rocket and his crew of three (who can be given different orders) must run around the tank picking up the ammunition that comes out of various chutes, then throw it into one of two cannons.There are lots of different types of ammo, all of which behave differently, and you can even jump into the cannon yourself to try to get inside the opposition tank in order to sabotage it. Once the enemy's tank has lost its hit points, you have to run over and try and smash through the machine's metal heart to destroy it. It is a unique battle system and one that works very well.

Rocket himself has little need to carry around items or weapons and most things he picks up are only useful as ammo for the tank. The only real exception is the slime knight who sits on Rocket's head and can be used to slash at enemies. Without one of these, Rocket must stretch himself out and then spring back like an elastic band to attack monsters. Pretty much anything can be picked up and stuck on a raft or cart; even the monsters themselves can be sent back to town where you can then go and talk to them as they run around. Once enough of one type of monster is caught, a statue of them will be built in the library.

The game is not particularly long, or difficult. Realistically, it will probably take no more than about ten hours to finish the main story and the few side quests that are available (which normally involve finding a certain amount of a particular object). Furthermore, Gamestyle did not actually die until the last level itself, and that was in a tank battle (though admittedly there where a few close calls along the way). This aside, the adventure itself is very enjoyable and each level has something unique and distinctive about it that makes them all fun to play.

What we have here is arguably the first real adventure game on the DS, and a very good one it is as well. You would expect Zelda to have a little more to it when it arrives, but everything Rocket Slime does, it does very well and is one of the most enjoyable titles to arrive for a fair few years. It comes highly recommended and everyone who wants an adventure title with some new ideas should not think twice about picking up a copy. We can only hope that later entries into the series will be as fun and original and also that the tank battle system makes its way into a full fledged Dragon Quest game at the next available opportunity.


Taito Legends Review (PS2)

Ah, the joys of the Arcade: sticky floors; shifty big kids ready to take your change; and (of course) the games. Oh the games we fondly remember shovelling piles of silver into those classics of yesteryear only to find out that the joystick or fire button didnt work properly, or the gun attached to the Operation Wolf cabinet was too sweaty to grip. Thank goodness that Taito, purveyors of some of the finest arcade games ever produced, have finally joined the retro bandwagon and released a compilation of their finest.

First off are the light-gun games Operation Wolf, Operation Thunderbolt, Space Gun and Battle Shark (which originally required the use of a periscope). Although these are not compatible with a PS2 light gun it does little to diminish the appeal as once the sensitivity of the on screen cursor has been dropped a few points it is highly effective. Operation Wolf survives the best of the four, still proving to be great fun. Battle Shark and Space Gun are a little dull and despite still being quite enjoyable, the forward scrolling levels of Operation Thunderbolt are very repetitive with the sheer amount of things you have to shoot meaning it is near impossible to avoid taking damage.

Many people will be pleased to see the inclusion of a number of Taitos classic platform games. Bubble Bobble shows that it has lost none of its charm as players guide their little dinosaur around a screen and try to capture enemies in bubbles. The levels get progressively more difficult so careful planning is needed on later stages. Our heroes can upgrade their bubbles to have a number of different effects by collecting power-ups, something that becomes vital in later stages and during boss battles. Great in two player and still a highly enjoyable solo game, Bubble Bobble is simply one of those titles you need to own in some shape or form and a game that seems to always feel fresh.

Another Taito classic, Rainbow Islands is the follow up to Bubble Bobble. Instead of using bubbles to trap monsters players must now make their way to the top of a tower by shooting out rainbows to walk across. More fiendish platform action awaits, as with all good games what initially seems fairly simple reveals hidden complexities needed to down bosses and monsters quickly for extra points. Just as timeless as its forbearer, Rainbow Islands is another classic everyone should experience.

The New Zealand Story completes what many would see as the classic platform contingent on this compilation. Here our heroic Kiwi must rescue his friends from the evil Walrus who has kidnapped them. Some ingenious level design and wonderfully clever bosses await players who under take the task. It is quite difficult in places but is undoubtedly one of the best games on the compilation and it can prove tricky to find home versions, with it now so easily available it would be a crime for everyone not to take advantage of the opportunity to play it.

Let us pause for a second as we digest the retro goodness we have already uncovered. Unfortunately there are a few games on the disc that few of us would care if we ever played again. The worst culprits are Great Swordsman (an awful fencing game) and Gladiator, one of the worst scrolling fighters in history. Thankfully these two titles are the only truly awful games to be included.

Ninja Kids is a fairly amusing scrolling fighter but after the initial charming exterior has worn off there is little here that will see you returning. Thunderfox suffers much the same fate with its mix of side scrolling fighting and shooting action becoming very stale after even a short burst of play.Tube It, Plotting and Electric Yo-Yo are fairly ordinary puzzle games and though allowing the player to create wonderful smashes Continental Circus feels terrible clunky in this day and age. Unless you remember any of these titles from your youth there seems little chance of them having much staying power.

As you may expect Space invaders gets its share of attention among the games included. Three titles in total- Space Invaders, Space Invaders part 2 and Return of the Invaders. While admittedly the original Space Invaders is a little slow going now it still manages to contain a fair amount of charm and it's easily playable in small bursts. Part 2 runs a little faster and adds some colour to the game. Return of the Invaders sees the black backdrop of the original replaced with a space aged theme and the bunkers used to protect the player altered to only break in one place. The whole thing is a lot more colourful and the invaders change formation as well as some having shields and others swooping down at you, this makes the game far more varied than before and a fair amount more challenging.

Volified and Super Qix are fairly similar in that the games require you to draw lines across a board in order to claim land. Volified has the added dimension of having an alien landscape backdrop but little else separates them. The titles are a nice addition and good to play for small amounts of time, though it is a little pointless that both were included.

Elevator Action, while not as highly sought after as it's sequel is still a highly enjoyable platform shooter. Starting at the top of a building our hero must make his way down to the car pack at the bottom. In order to get down you must plot a route with the stairs and elevators, careful planning can be needed as the levels enemies (who enter via doors along the walls of the building) use the elevators and stairs as well and all it takes it one bullet to dispatch you.

Phoenix is possibly one of the worst games sonically in the history of gaming. The bleeps and more bleeps are enough to drive you insane. That would be the case of course if it was not one of the best games on the compilation. It sounds horrible and the graphics are basic but the gameplay is solid gold. First of all you must take out a couple of waves of swooping space invader-style birds, then some larger birds that sway from side to side before dive bombing you. The final level has you against a flying saucer with the player needing to shoot a hole in the bottom of the ship in order to hit the pilot. Simplistic it may be but it is highly addictive and can eat up large amounts of time as you try to beat your high score.

Sticking with the shooter theme, both Exzisus and Tokio are worthy entries in the side scrolling and vertical scrolling shoot'em up genre. Exzisus is the far more quirky of the two as you control a space man trying to avoid the relentless waves of aliens and meteor storms. Tokio has you flying a small bi-plane over the streets of a large city. There is little in the way of power ups except for special enemy planes that can be shot down and stored. These can then be fired creating varying degrees of explosions depending on the amount that have been collected. Both games are responsive and fun and show a good amount of invention and imagination.

Jungle Hunt and Zoo Keeper are two titles that can be easily dismissed for looking basic, but again like much else on the compilation to do so is to overlook a couple of gems. Zoo Keeper has the player running around a square wall rebuilding it wherever he treads. You need to keep rebuilding the wall as the animals inside the square constantly bash against it in their attempt to get out. If you stay alive until the timer runs out then it is on to the next level. Every few levels the game switches to a side on view where you must reach the top of the screen by jumping on platforms in order to save your girlfriend. Jungle Hunt is a multi-stage adventure game. The game involves swinging on vines, swimming from crocodiles and negotiating a very dangerous cave in order to rescue your loved one. Controls are basic but do the job well and help make the game a lot more fun that it really ought to be.

Rastan will be one of the games that most gamers will have at least heard of if not played. Along with the more high profile titles it was converted to a number of home computer and console systems. The title has stood the test of time with the well drawn sprites and backdrops bringing alive a strange lands of beasts and monsters. The gameplay is fairly simplistic but what the game does it does well and having a few weapons to choose from to bash the living daylights out of monsters adds some variety. It can be incredibly unfair at times but then it was designed to eat up your ten pence pieces, that aside it is still a much loved game and rightly so.

Colony 7 is Missile Command taken to the next level. Here you have two gun turrets protecting a space station. The space station has a thin shield over it and alien ships swoop around shooting down making holes in the shield trying to destroy the buildings below. The player controls the cursor of the gun turrets as you try to destroy the ships. It may be a simple premise but it translates into a highly addictive and very fluid game.

Our last game on the compilation is the rather oddball Plump Pop. The game involves a cute creature being thrown around screen via a trampoline trying to clear it of (among other things) balloons, alien space ships, bones and bubbles. Every third stage you get a bonus game where you have to catch fruit and then a boss battle. The game can move at a ridiculously fast speed at times and because of this can prove to be very tricky. Once you get the hang of it though it proves to be a highly entertaining inclusion and a highly original one at that.

Overall the first collection of games from Taito proves to be a resounding success. There are only two truly bad titles on here and that just goes to show how much quality the company have produced over the years. The next instalment looks to be even more jam packed, but for now this release is completely unmissable and at the low price should be owned by everyone.


Lemmings Review (PS2)

It has been a long wait for fans but now the Lemmings are finally back in what amounts to a retro release with a fair few sparkly bits stuck on. Everyone should (hopefully) be aware of the lemmings concept by now surely? However for those out of touch, the aim is straightforward enough; simply guide your group of lemmings to the exit of the level (before the time runs out) whilst avoiding all manner of nasty traps and hazards along the way.

Anyone who has played Lemmings before will be at home here as this is pretty much a straight remake of the original game, with improved graphics, or to be more precise the PSP version of the game ported over to the Playstation 2. In doing so all the original levels are in place in this version; each with a graphical overhaul and the mouse control mapped onto the PS2 analogue sticks. Controls work well, except for the fact you have to use the shoulder buttons to cycle through the jobs for the little green creatures. It seems an oversight not to allow the game cursor down into the job list bar, but you soon get used to this novelty, and once this occurs it does not really stand in the way of the game.

What is a relief is completed levels are now saved, avoiding the previous issue of passwords. Now players can pick out what levels they wish and potentially see which ones have been finished. If you should get stuck on a stage it's therefore not such a problem either, as the original game levels are unlocked in blocks of ten so you can just move onto a different one.

Saying the game is just a remake of the original is a little unfair as there are a lot of other options on the disc. There are in excess of thirty new levels to try out, with the majority of these keeping up the excellent level design laid out before. There is also a level creation tool, allowing new levels to be dreamt up and put into effect, and then even uploaded to the internet where other players can download your vision. This means if you have the equipment you could be playing infinite numbers of Lemmings levels, created by numerous players with different approaches.

The most ambitious of the new options are the Eye Toy Lemmings. Here specially designed levels are put into action, that allow the player to use their body in order to save the lemmings by creating bridges with the hands or moving them across gaps. The idea is great but the execution of the Eye Toy is just too sensitive to fully take advantage. Unless you are going to get the unit facing a completely blank wall, chances are the lemmings will constantly walk into shelves or even shadows (that appear on the screen) making it impossible to direct them effectively. The idea shows promise and it is amusing to see a shower of lemmings bounce off you (on the title screen) but a few alterations need to be made for it to be a success in the future.

Whether this is an essential purchase or not comes down to how big a Lemmings fan you are. As the series has been made available on pretty much every single console and computer in history, many gamers will already own a copy of it somewhere. Of course this version does look especially good - and you do receive the new levels as well - but few will have access to the user levels from the internet. Add to this the fact it only includes the first Lemmings levels from the original release, rather than Lemmings 2: Tribes, and this could put many potential buyers off.

Overall the core dynamic of Lemmings still provides a challenging and addictive puzzle experience. The new graphical sparkle is welcome (but expected nowadays) and all the extra bits that have been included show that some thought and ambition has gone into trying to make a more rounded package than a simple rehash of an old game. If you don't own a Lemmings release already, then this is a very good place to start.


Capcom Classics Collection: Volume 1 (PS2)

Another week, another Retro collection hits the shelves. After the excellent Taito Legends, Capcom has seen fit to issue their own disc of delights. The titles on offer are mainly from the eight and sixteen-bit days of the company and unfortunately many have been released before on PSOne collections, but if this is to be the first in a series of compilations we hope that later editions will fill the gaps for fans waiting for games such as Sunset Riders, Strider and Knights of the Round.

So let us look at a selection of the better titles on offer in this compilation:Capcoms seminal fighting title, Street Fighter 2 is represented with three games on the compilation: Street Fighter 2, SF2 Championship Edition and SF2 Hyper Fighting. Unfortunately we dont get a version with Cammy, Dee-Jay and the later characters in the series, but the versions present are emulated well enough (bar a few sound issues). The basic template of the series may have been improved with Street Fighter Alpha 3 but the original titles still offer a great arcade experience.

Heroic Sir Arthur also gets three games on the disc; Ghosts n Goblins, Ghouls n Ghosts and surprisingly even the SNES title Super Ghouls n Ghosts. Each of the games retains their rock hard difficulty level and offer up some of the best platforming action gaming has to offer. The graphics remain clear and well drawn and with the three titles so full of personality it helps to ease the frustration of not being able to get off the first level without dying several thousand times.The 1940 series also make a welcome inclusion with 1942, 1943 and 1943 Kai in the collection for your playing pleasure. The 1940 series has always baffled us, simply because while 1943 and Kai are clearly superior games to 1942 with better graphics and more varied enemies, when it comes to actually picking a game to play 1942 is always the one. There is just something about its simple approach that endears it to us.

Final Fight, the sideways-scrolling Beat'em up, where you must rescue a damsel in distress from a street gang shows that apart from playing a little slow, it is still an absolute joy. The characters, Cody, Haggar and Guy, are large and colourful and there is a decent assortment of levels and enemies to get through. The three characters all play slightly differently and Haggar especially can pull off a variety of moves. Final Fights inclusion also means this is the first time on a home console that a complete version of the game has been available.

Bionic Commando, always a title overlooked when people think of Capcom, provides a nice touch of variety to the pack. A platform shooter, Bionic Commando equips our character with an extendable arm that can be used to swing from ledges and knock enemies back. The game itself may be a little short but it's enjoyable and still plays well, which shows that Capcom generally build games to last.

Forgotten Worlds is definitely one of Capcom's better side scrolling shooters, but was always the game that caused the most problems when it was converted, with most of the home computer versions being near unplayable. The PS2 Pad is not perfect for the game, but after a while you do get used to the controls, which allow the experience to be passed off adequately enough.

Section Z is also here (but the less said about that the better).Everything else on the compilation is of no real long-term interest and contains nothing that will make you go out and part with your cash. Mercs, Commando and Gun Smoke are entertaining in small bursts but have aged and feel clunky. Trojan is simply awful and Exed Exes, Legendary Wings, Pirate Ship Higemaru, Son Son and Vulgus do give the compilation a more complete look, but are unlikely to become mainstays for gamers.

The Compilation is presented well, and each game has various extras that can be unlocked. We truly hope that Capcom continues with the compilations in the future and gets to showcase more of their arcade titles along the way. Maybe this is not up to the high standards of Taitos eclectic first compilation but it still has more than enough to interest most gamers.


Shadowrun (Xbox 360)

Shadowrun, as many of you will know, started life as an excellent paper and dice role playing game. Over the years, it has remained in relative obscurity (a few exceptions to this rule exist, most notably the excellent Super Nintendo game and a more hardcore Megadrive title); now the license has been dusted off and used by Fasa Studio.

The Xbox 360 is a platform crying out for a decent RPG, so naturally Fasa have made a team-based first person shooter. Let's get this out of the way straight off: Shadowrun, the 360 game, bears only a passing resemblance to anything Shadowrun-related; even the art style is some way off what fans would really expect. The storyline is vaguely the same in that an ancient magic has reawakened and humans start mutating into and giving birth to magical creatures (remember we did say vaguely).

Another thing to be aware of is that this review comes at quite a lengthy period after the initial release and as such we are in essence reviewing Shadowrun V 1.2. Due to the two very good patches that have been made available, the game is a very different place from that of a few months ago.The title itself is designed to be a completely multiplayer affair and, apart from bot matches, there is no single player mode available - something that never seemed to bother Quake 3 Arena too much. The result is a highly focused and highly skillful team-based combat game.

There are two main game types available: 'Attrition' has your team simply trying to wipe out the other team while 'Extraction' is the Shadowrun version of capture the flag, only this time with a magical artefact. A slight variation on Extraction is 'Raid', which has one side trying to remove the artefact while the other team defends the position. Each team has a choice of four different races to choose from: humans are good all-round characters with the added advantage of suffering no penalty to magic when they have tech equipped; trolls have high health and can take huge amounts of damage but little magic power; elves are quick but weak with a lot of magic power; and dwarves have the most magic, need two head shots to kill, are almost impossible to 'bleed out' (thanks to the patch) but are the second weakest race in terms of health.

Each race, when used properly, can be highly effective; on the other side of the coin, in the wrong hands, any race can die within about three seconds of a game starting. As well as the choice of race, players can equip their characters with both magic and tech items which must be bought between rounds. This is where the team responsibility comes into effect; if no one buys a tree of life to heal allies, or resurrection to bring people back to life, chances are you will not last long.The magic and tech can be combined in near limitless ways and can really help to customise a character that suits your playing style.

Already, people online have worked out combinations that may seem a little odd but, when used correctly, are nearly unstoppable. Magic ranges from summoning huge demons to attack your enemies to the very subtle 'Gust' magic used to push your enemy away from you. Tech is equally wide-ranging, spanning devices that let you see through walls, put laser sights on your weapons or use a glider to leap out of harm's way. All require mastery and any can be the difference between life and death.Weapons available are fairly standard items such as shotguns, SMGs, sniper rifles and rocket launchers. The most interesting are the katana which can be used to sneak behind opponents and, if caught unaware, 'bleed' them out. This causes their health to rapidly drain away unless they are resurrected by an ally.

The battle rifle is also worth a mention as not too many games have a highly effective mid-to-long range steady fire rifle. Shadowrun has a fairly small collection of maps, one of which is randomly selected each time a new match begins. It is lucky, then, that all of the maps are of a decent to excellent standard. Even now, ledges and hiding places in the multi-tiered maps are still being discovered. The need to select different weapons, magic and tech depending on the map also remains crucial.

Shadowrun has set aside its heritage and aimed to be a highly flexible, highly skilled team-based online shooter, and it achieves that very well. After the patches, servers are much more stable (though lag does occur a touch too often) and the races have really been levelled out against each other which makes a huge difference to the experience. The biggest problem with a game of this type is that, although the tools may be excellent, there are always going to be some absolute morons online spoiling it for everyone. Thankfully, there seem to be more decent players than annoying ones, but it only takes one idiot to ruin the fun.

The title may seem somewhat limited in terms of options and a general finesse, but what is there works almost perfectly and, in our mind, is one of the finest online multiplayer experiences available. If you look past the tenuous link to the license and the admittedly dodgy art design, you may just find a game that is quite unlike any other, and is excellent to boot.


Rayman 3 Review (Game Cube)

Another unoriginal platform game then? Well yes obviously its going to be unoriginal, but think what platform games these days make the impact of Mario 64 or the original sonic the hedgehog games. None, the problem is that its near impossible to create something fresh in this genre, (just look at Vexx for evidence of that) even Mario Sunshine struggled to do it. However, that doesn't stop developers being able to present some aging ideas in a fun filled and polished new way and that's what Rayman 3 achieves.

The Rayman series has always had a style of its own and that continues in this instalment. Graphically it looks like no other game, somewhere between being very cute and very twisted. The visuals are truly stunning, better looking than even Mario Sunshine due simply to the amount of colour on the screen. Its clear attention has been paid to even the tiniest details as you move from swamps to underground caverns, each area looking dramatically different to last.This means you never get stuck with staring at the same old background or textures. Everything is polished up to its shiny best, not a rough edge anywhere, though I suspect the Playstation 2 version may have a few.

Furthermore the cut scenes have to be seen to be believed truly gorgeous. What really compliments the graphics in creating the unique feel of the game is the wacky humour packed into almost every inch of it. Whether it be the characters shouting insults, or on one occasion Globox talking to flowers, this game is funny. It made me laugh on numerous occasions as one bizarre thing happens after another. Those crazy French. The humour is also personified in some of the extras. Under the bonus section is a list of unlockable lessons. What these amount to are about fifteen or so small sketches in the same sort of style asMonsters Inc, where by a black lump is shown how to attack Rayman. Hard to describe but hilarious to watch.

Happily the game play matches the fun set up by the graphical finesse. There is very little in this game that will frustrate you. The camera is just about perfect, and the controls are the most responsive that I have come across for a long time. You can hover around, swing about and punch to your hearts content happy in the knowledge Rayman is reacting as fast as you are. The only minor problem is sometimes the camera is just a touch too far away and you can end up misjudging the distance of where the next ledge that you need to grip onto is. However, this occurs about twice in the whole game so not a major issue.

Levels themselves are more or less your standard platform fare, move around the 3D environment, unlock doors, find hooks in the sky to swing on ect ect. But there are a few nice moments such as skating along inside a disco jukebox and racing about in a shoe, which apart from being just plain weird helps to brake up the more standard play. Unfortunately the problem with the game is simply that it's too easy. I managed to get through the whole thing and died about four times.

That said, you don't care because it's so genuinely great to play. But once finished there isnt a lot of replay value to be had except to unlock more extras such as the lessons and the mini-games. Really that isn't enough as the mini-games themselves aren't that good and consist of mainly dull things such as bouncing on balloons or driving a missile through an assault course.

There are a couple of exceptions however, the frog squashing game is genius and the link up shoe racing Tetris hybrid is one of the most brilliant things ever done in a video game. Basically this involves one player with the game cube driving Rayman down a road in a shoe towards a goal. The other player must build the road on the GameBoy Advance where blocks fall down the screen in the style of Tetris. Its totally addictive and you don't even need the Rayman 3 GameBoy Advance release to play it.

To sum up I loved playing Rayman 3, it's fun, colourful and very funny. Just dont be expecting either a major leap forward for the platform genre or a stiff challenge as it's lacking in both. What's here is polished and beautiful -there's just not enough of it. Saying that, if you have a GameBoy Advance as well its a must have game simply for the shoe racing.


The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Review (Wii)

After a long-winded journey where Twilight Princess was first set for the Nintendo Gamecube only then to be fostered onto the Wii, it came as a relief to see both versions on the shelves. While the Wii was guaranteed to be a sell out come launch, the need existed for a AAA standard bearer from day one, and a grand finale for its older sibling. Cross platform titles always carry the fear of simply being half-baked ports and failing to take advantage of their new surroundings. Normally we would be nervous about what the outcome might be, but with one of Nintendos main franchises on the line what could go possibly wrong?

This time we find ourselves in a small outback village. Link is a sort of elf cowboy looking after the livestock and doing local chores. The various tasks the villagers ask you to complete (although a little drawn out) act as a highly effective tutorial, which considering the new Wii remote control scheme is very welcome. The control dynamic is impeccably implemented and becomes second nature after about five minutes.

Zelda games always have a gimmick and this time it comes in the form of the theme of light and darkness with the land of Hyrule is under attack from the land of shadow. To begin with when Link enters areas cursed with darkness he is transformed in a majestic white wolf. As a wolf Link is granted new abilities as well as a  dark elf helper named Midna who rides around on you. As a wolf Link can dig and follow a scent trail, skills which are vital to finding new areas and missing people.

Unfortunately the first few wolf sections are rather drab. Later in the game things do improve, but much like the rest of the title it takes about four or five hours to really get going. Once you hit the third dungeon things start happening that will really make you sit up and notice. Indeed, for the first time in years we found ourselves thinking, "that is really clever" as each new puzzle and solution unfolded. The further you get into the game the more inspired the level design becomes and ends up being on par with, if not better than any other game in the series.

You really do need to get past the first five or so hours as anyone who is familiar with Zelda games may well feel they have seen it all before. But press on and you will be rewarded with a wonderfully inventive and fun Zelda game.

Although the main gimmick is the working of the light and dark scenario, there is something else that this title delivers and that is scale. To begin with dungeons are compact, but later on grow to huge proportions. Zelda dungeons have never appeared on such a grand scale, some of them are truly breathtaking as they seemingly scale up into the clouds and down in the depths, and that's before we get onto the bosses.

It's not only the dungeons but also the landscape that carries an epic (some would say Lord of the Rings) style about it. Bridges cover huge valleys and mountain ranges frame the countryside. Not something especially impressive you may think until you realise that now if you fall off a bridge you just keep going down until you hit the river below, or just like Oblivion that the glint on the horizon can actually be reached. Never before has a Zelda game had a landscape so rich for exploration.

The Twilight Princess experience is by no means perfect especially near the start of the game. Here there is far more outside influence than many would wish for, and it certainly takes a while for the Zelda theme to come through. Influences are drawn from Okami, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Princess Mononoke and other studio Ghibli films, as well as Lord of the Rings and are not so much subtly implemented as hammered into the Zelda framework. However, once the game gets all of these influences under control it all seems worthwhile. Lasting for more than forty hours, by the time you are swinging your sword through the later reaches of the game the uneven start seems like a distant memory.

Overall, Zelda The Twilight Princess is a triumph. Every dungeon reveals something new whether it is weapons, environments, brilliantly designed puzzles or bosses. Those just starting the title reading this review may well be thinking that Wind Waker is the better game and most of it has been seen before. Keep pushing on and you will find wonders you have never seen and a game that may well be looked upon in the future as one of the best adventure titles of all time. The final question can only be is this better than Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? Well it's certainly a closer call than anyone could have envisioned, just try and forgive those first few hours.


Friday 19 October 2012

Hyper Street Fighter 2 Anniversary Edition Review (PS2)

By now we all know the story of Street Fighter 2, Ryu and Sagat do not like each other after the last tournament, a strange group of characters enter and fight for whatever reason etc.This version of the game has all seventeen characters from the Street Fighter 2 universe. What makes the game a joy for fans is the fact that all versions of the characters are present. If you want to put the classic version of Ryu up against the Hyper version of Ken you can.

Needless to say the graphics do look a little dated but manage to hold up to the test of time. The game itself moves along at whichever pace you choose from the options menu, but again, if a fifteen year old game was slowing down on the PS2 there would be serious questions to answer.

Everything is as responsive and intuitive as you remember it being. However, after years of being spoilt by Super, Hyper and Turbo finishing moves in the Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter 3 series, these Super moves seem a bit flat. Ryu's triple fire ball is just not as impressive as his later whirl wind hurricane kick, but in the heat of battle you will be pleased to have anything at your disposal.

What is questionable is how long you are actually going to spend playing this game. When the Street Fighter series has moved on both in terms of arcade action (Street Fighter 3, Marvel vs Capcom) and tactically (Street Fighter Alpha) it is highly plausible that after a couple of goes the novelty value will wear off for most people. Yes it is a complete version of a classic game but by now that classic game has evolved into something better. While that misses the point of this package, in terms of long term appeal it is bound to have an impact.

There is no denying this is a good package however. Apart from the main game the dedication to cramming in all the Street Fighter 2 goodness is apparent throughout. The option screen lets you listen to the music of any stage, intro screen or credit sequence from any version of the game. This is not the most exciting addition in the world but is still a nice touch.

The Street Fighter 2 Anime is also included making the special edition even more of a complete article. Annoyingly however, it is slightly cut and not of the best picture quality. Nothing of major importance is taken out (a small section with Chun Li in the shower) but when you are presented with what seems like a complete and final version of a product, the fact it has a small section unnecessarily removed does grate. The film itself is of a pretty high standard and something every Street Fighter fan should have in their collection.

When looking at the Street Fighter Anniversary edition it is hard to come to a satisfactory conclusion as to how it should be judged. In terms of the gaming market now, the game, while still playing like a dream feels basic. Looking at it from the point of view of a fan however, apart from the issue with the editing in the movie, you could not ask for anything more. This is the definitive Street Fighter 2 experience, though it is definitely no longer the definitive fighting experience. If you're looking for a complete retro package of one of gaming histories greats then this is for you, anyone else would be better served finding a latter version of the Street Fighter Series.


Fatal Fury Battle Archives Vol 1 (PS2 Review)

Fatal Fury is to SNK what Street Fighter is Capcom. The series contains many of the company's most iconic characters, most notably Terry and Andy Bogard, and the game world is used in some of their other fighting franchises such as King of the Fighters and the Art of Fighting series. This first collection of Fatal Fury games contains the original Fatal Fury, Fatal Fury 2, Fatal Fury Special and Fatal Fury 3: Road to Victory.

The games follow the story of Terry and Andy as they fight their mortal enemy Geese Howard. Like all good bad guys he never stays dead for long and constantly returns to host more fighting tournaments. Fatal Fury 3 takes a slightly different approach by having everyone meeting up to scrap over an ancient scroll that will reveal a fighters true power.

Let's get the bad news out of the way right from the off. Anyone loading up the original Fatal Fury is in for a shock. Fatal Fury is not a good game and it has aged terribly. Characters only have one punch and kick and a limited amount of special moves. There are also only three playable characters. However, keep in mind that the original Street Fighter was awful as well.

Moving swiftly on to Fatal Fury 2 and Fatal Fury Special things improve immeasurably. Now you have a full compliment of characters to pick from and a decent range of moves and specials to use. The main gimmick of the games is that you can fight on two different planes. Players can either jump from one to the other at will or use certain moves to throw characters into the background. The idea is to add a more tactical edge to matches and in part it succeeds. Once you get to grips with it you can leap back and forth to dodge special moves and break up combos. However, it can be a little frustrating when you spend half the match just trying to get on the same plane as the opponent in order to land a hit.

The minor problem of occasionally getting stuck in a leaping between foreground and background match aside, both Fatal Fury 2 and Special are solid fighting games. The fighters are all remarkably different and each has their own style and personality. There is also a notable absence of characters that copy Street Fighter creations. This means you are going to have to play with everyone on offer to find out who fits your style and we, at Retro101, think this a very good thing.

Fatal Fury 2 and Fatal Fury Special may be decent enough, but the real star of the compilation is the excellent Fatal Fury 3: Road to the Final Victory. Every idea started in the previous games has been refined and improved upon no end here. The mechanic of moving between planes has been changed slightly and now works much better. Instead of leaping around, characters can only move in and out of the main fighting plane for a few seconds. This allows decent players to not only evade moves and break throws, but also to circle around their opponents looking for an opening. Master the skill and your enemies will be left punching air and be open to a counter attack.

The speed and graphical finesse has also been ramped up considerably. The game now plays out effortlessly in a blaze of rhythm and colour. The extra speed and smoothness of flow means moves can be linked together much more effortlessly than before. Fatal Fury 3 is now much more of a strategic game than any of the series before it. One wrong move can leave you open to an onslaught of attacks and no one is ever down and out until they have lost the last piece of their energy bar.

As you can probably tell we really like this compilation. The original game may be poor now, but adding the excellent Fatal Fury 3 to the package makes it essential for any fight fan out there. We can't wait for the Volume 2 and the Real Bout games to make their appearance. Hopefully, they will make it over to the UK and then we can dream of finally getting a Pal release for Garou: Mark of Wolves.