Monday, 23 December 2013

Teslagrad Review (PC)


Teslagrad is a game we first came across at the recent Eurogamer expo in London. We were drawn to it by its unique look and the fact it seemed to be full of clever play mechanics and traps. It’s now finally with us and we can explore the mystery of a small boy with magnetic powers escaping into a castle after being chased by some Rasputin-esque looking pursuers.

The game has a style that though familiar we haven’t really seen before. The Soviet influence reminds us of steam punk animations and fairy tales from the Eastern Bloc and it works perfectly to set up a mysterious and unique atmosphere. There is also very little text with the story and controls explained via drawings and animated theatre puppets. The silence further intensifies the mystery (even if the lack of tutorial is a little confusing).

There is gamepad support but you’ll have to set it up manually. Again, this can be a little odd at the beginning of the game as you don’t really know what half of the commands are. Once you get it sorted out though it’s a much easier way to play as you’re going to need very quick reflexes to get through.

Teslagrad is a difficult game and it requires sustained amounts of quick thinking, jumping and precision placement to get through most sections. Most of the time you are trying to avoid dropping onto spikes or electricity but there are also some shadowy beasts and mechanical enemies to avoid from time to time. You don’t really have any offense so you’ll be darting past them and running away a lot.

Our little hero is far from powerless though and you’ll soon find the equipment that gives you the use of a unique set of powers. First off you’ll get the positive and negative magnetism glove. This allows you to change the charge of magnetic services and blocks. This means you can get blocks to move or fall, or use opposite charges to propel yourself up tunnels or across chasms. The next thing you’ll find is the ability to ‘blink’ or teleport a short distance. This is vital for passing barriers or dodging enemies and moving electrical fields. Before long you’re having to bounce around and blink all at once in sequences that require constant movement. It’s tough and challenging and certain sections will be repeated over and over and over.

Dying is perhaps where the biggest weakness in the game lies. The controls can feel a little twitchy at times and I don’t think we’ve ever been so frustrated by a character auto-climbing up a ledge they’ve grabbed onto. Death can also feel unfair with the blink ability very difficult to judge while in motion. What compounds the issue is that if you miss a jump or die, there are times you’ll have to repeat quite a large section to get back to where you were. Don’t even get us started on some of the bosses that just never seem to die either.

Frustration aside this is a very clever and well crafter game. You do get used to the controls and both the level and graphical design is of a standard that makes you want to persevere and get to the next section. The constant climb up the castle and gradual revelation of the mystery within it are engaging and will likely keep you striving until you reach the end. There will be some gamers who just won’t be able to cut it though and that’s a shame as this is a beautiful fairy tale that you really should try.

Overall 8/10

Friday, 20 December 2013

Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe Review (PC)


A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, a spaceman stumbled upon an intergalactic café filled with all sorts of aliens and robots. These inhabitants passed the time laying a modified version of air hockey known as shufflepuck. Shufflepuck Café it one of those games that remains iconic due to its quirky characters and the fact that there wasn’t anything else like it. Now a new version of the game has arrived a host of new and old faces to pit your wits against.

The plot is that you have crash landed on a planet and need to raise money to buy the parts to put your ship back together. You head towards the nearest building and inside discover a friendly robot, a musical homage to Mos Eisley and the game of Shufflepuck. The original game had you simply picking one of the café patrons to play against from the off but here things are a little bit more tiered.

The cantina is set out into a number of floors with a boss character at the very top. Each floor contains three people to play against and they all have their own traits, paddles, pucks and special moves. Your biggest barrier is money as it can be slow to accumulate and you need to pay large amounts to unlock new floors and equipment.

To break things up there are three ways of playing your opponent. You can undertake a simple one on one duel, bet on the match to try and increase your winnings or undertake the survival mode. In survival you are simply trying to score as many points without reply as possible in order to earn money multipliers. There are also missions of increasing difficulty to try and complete. Most these involve winning by a clear amount of points but it’s a good attempt at variety in a game where the premise is hitting a hockey puck up and down a table.

The modes may be similar but the characters you face are different enough to keep things fresh. Each has their own special moves which need to be learned and countered in order to have any success. Early specials consists of shots that snake up the table or curve but later on they are deviously fiendish to try and stop.  

As you progress you can buy new pucks and paddles and win characters equipment by collecting all their back story pages. This then allows you to bring your own special shots to the table and gives you a fighting chance. Shufflepuck Cantina is fairly tough to begin with but once you get the hang of the speed and the way the paddles move it becomes much easier. The biggest problem is that saving up for anything takes a long time and you’ll probably be playing the same opponents multiple times in order to reach the total to go up a floor or buy a new paddle to give you a chance.

The game started life as an iOS title and we can see where the in app purchases would have been. There’s none of that here but a lowering of the money required to get things would have been welcome as there are a ton of things to buy and not that many opponents to play against in order to get them. It would have also been nice to ahve the original game somewhere in there but then you can't have everything.

Issues with money aside, Shufflepuck Cantina is a loving homage to the original game. There’s a lot of attention to detail and the game plays well. Much like the original we would suggest it isn’t something you’re going to spend hour long sessions playing but it’s certainly great fun in small doses. It’s not the most complex game but what it does it does well and we’re glad to see someone taking a slightly obscure cult hit and creating something that actually deserves to be played. It should put a smile on old fans and people new to the series and it’s really much better than we could have hoped for.

Overall 7/10

Thursday, 19 December 2013

BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2: Legend of Rhythm Alien Review (PS Vita)


After his exploits in the previous BIT.TRIP games Commander Video is back to running in everyone’s favourite retro themed series. To try and describe the madness of the plot is somewhat pointless but we can say it’s something to do with our hero crashing his spaceship in a strange place and then deciding to run a lot.

Unlike previous entries into the BIT.TRIP series, Runner 2 is no longer 8 bit styled in terms of how it looks. The stages are now rendered in a glorious array of crystal clear colours and everything is also much bigger on screen. There are still retro looking levels to be unlocked but the majority of the time you will be screaming along at breakneck speed in a higher resolution friendly landscape.

Gameplay is based on a fairly simple concept. You start at one end of the course and run continuously to the other. Players have no control over Commander Video’s running and he continues on until you reach the end of the stage or crash into something.

As you run along different types of obstacles will appear which need to be negotiated. This starts out with players simply needing to jump over things but on an almost level by level basis the obstacle count increases and thus, so do the moves needed to get past them.  Soon you’ll be locked in a rhythm of jumping, sliding, kicking, spinning and dancing in order to reach the end of each course.

As well as avoiding obstacles you also need to pick up the gold bars that are in each course. There are normally between thirty to sixty gold bars in each level and collecting them all triggers the chance to get bonus points by Commander Video being fired, head first, into a target at the end of the course. If you think the course is too easy you can also jump over the mid-point checkpoint to put the game into challenge mode for even more points. Still not enough? Then you can spend your fleeting free moments making our hero dance to gain even more points. The score attack aspect of Runner 2 is here to stay for a very long time.

Once you master that even more moves are introduced and everything keeps getting more hectic to the point it all begins to blur into a state you aren’t quite sure the human brain should be able to deal with. It’s at moments like this that you realise where the ‘rhythm’ part of the title comes from. Perhaps deceptively, Runner 2 is not really in the same category as endless runners such as Canabalt. It should really be grouped with games like Frequency, Parappa the Rappa and is perhaps most similar to Vib-Ribbon.

Courses are also deceptively packed with things to find and navigate. Many of them have multiple routes with some leading to hidden objects such as new costumes, while others will take you to a different exit. This in turn will lead you to hidden levels or the much sought after ‘Key Vault’. Conquering the Key Vault will then open up even more routes and collectables in the courses found in that world. 

An array of map icons is present for each course to help keep track of your progress with the ultimate goal to have each level completed, with all collectables found, the bonus bull’s eye hit at the end of the course and the mid-point checkpoint jumped so the game goes into challenge mode. Levels get hectic very early on so it’s a relief to find that each course gives you infinite lives to get through it. When you hit something you will move back to the last checkpoint and lose any points or objects you have acquired. The unlockable retro levels remain hardcore and give you three lives with which to navigate them.

The game can still be maddeningly frustrating at times as once you lose your rhythm in a level it can be near impossible to get back. You will persevere though as everything is fair and each collision results in a lack of skill from the player or in the fact you haven’t reacted to something quickly enough. Learning each level does come into play but we rarely came up against the sort of ‘memory test’ gaming with objects you had no way of avoiding first time that games like Donkey Kong Country used to employ. 

Overall, it’s easy to recommend Runner 2 on any system. On the Vita it provides a perfect slice of pick up and play action (even if it can get a little confusing at times). The charm and fun present are not easily found elsewhere and it’s great to see something which sets itself out as a pure gaming experience without the pretentious overtures that many bigger budget games now have. It’s both something old and something new and you should stop reading now and go and buy it.

8/10

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Velocity Ultra Review (PC)


For a long time the PlayStation minis have represented bite sized chunks of cheap fun, ideally suited to the pick up and play mechanics offered by first the PSP and then the PlayStation Vita. However, though fun, many have been nothing more than attempts to replicate games often found on the iOS and Android systems. Velocity represented a departure from this and in doing so created a new standard for what can be achieved with a mini

With Velocity Ultra, FuturLab have taken the original game and upped the level of the presentation to try and make it a standout game in its own right. What they have managed to create is the greatest vertically scrolling shooter from yesteryear that you haven’t yet played. But to merely categorise it as a shooter is doing it a disservice. At its heart there are so many different mechanics going on that it’s something with much more depth than that.

Each of the fifty levels (plus Bonus stages), requires players to juggle with a number of different objectives. First of all, players must blast enemies and simply survive in classic shooter style. Secondly, there are pods spread around the level containing survivors which need to be rescued and last but not least each level is a deadly race to the finish as a clock continually counts down. As you progress the focus changes in each stage with, for example, a static comic book style screen popping up displaying a message to tell you if you can take your time or need to boost through until the end.

It is within the mix of these games mechanics that things become very interesting. Aside from the usual weapon power ups and bombs your ship can also teleport. The levels often descend into crazy scrolling mazes with dead ends, when this happens you need to teleport into a clear section of the level to continue. Holding the right trigger button also speeds up your craft as it moves up the level. This leads to many levels turning into more of a maze race than a shooter, especially when the time limits are set incredibly tightly.

This would be hectic enough but there are even more fiendish things afoot. At a certain point players gain the ability to drop teleport pods. Sometimes these are infinite and sometimes highly limited in use. This allows the player to teleport back to any one of the pods they have dropped and continue the level from there. The reason you need this is because at higher levels there are complex laser shield defence systems that need to be deactivated. This generally consist of anywhere between ten and thirty colour coded nodes that need to be destroyed in numerical order from lowest to highest. Hit one in the wrong order and the whole grid reactivates.

The nodes are of course spread out all over the levels requiring the playing to bounce back and forth around the map to hit them in the right order. There can also be numerous sets of nodes, all in different colours. Couple this with the continued threat of enemies, the time limit and the need to rescue survivors and everything gets incredibly, addictively hectic. Oh and of course hitting any of the laser shields results in instant destruction.

As well as this there are hidden areas spread around the levels that unlock trophies and further bonus missions. This, along with a tough medal grading system based on your performance means there is a staggering about of replay value in the game. Just in case that isn’t enough for you there is also a complete version of mine sweeper and a few takes on classic games such as thrust hidden away in the extras section.

Velocity Ultra has made the transition from Sony’s handheld remarkably well. The visuals spring to life on HD displays and the music has never sounded better. Velocity Ultra is a must have game but there isn’t anything here that wasn’t in the other versions, so some may well think twice before buying it again. But put up against the wealth of talent available on the PC this still shines incredibly brightly.

We’ve said before that if this had been made on the eight or sixteen bit consoles it would be lauded as an all-time classic. This is still about as essential as you can get and shows an imagination, design level and craft that many of the industries big hitters could learn from. For PC gamers who haven’t experienced the game before it’s an absolute must buy.

9/10

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Stick it to the Man Review (PC)



There have been a number of attempts to get the point and click genre to connect with both modern day gamers and to fit onto consoles in a more natural way. Stick it to the Man is the latest game to try and add a bit more adventure to our lives and does so with some platform elements, a bunch of stickers and a strange alien spaghetti hand.

The somewhat crazy story follows the character of safety helmet tester Ray. One day on his way home a strange canister drops out of the sky and hits him on the head. The canister contains a strange little alien named Ted (Who looks a bit like a cute Krang from the Turtles cartoon). Ted hides inside Ray’s brain and grants him the power to read people’s minds via a giant alien spaghetti arm he now has growing out of his head.

It sounds odd and it is, invoking more than a few memories of Psychonaughts in terms of style and tone. Ray must use his new powers to escape the people who are hunting him and find out what has happened to his girlfriend. This is done via a combination of light platforming sections and using the hand to read people’s minds, find out what they want and then slapping the appropriate sticker into their thought bubble.

The graphical style of the game represents the world in a pop-up book style. Characters are paper thin and everything comes across like a twisted comic book. It’s a style that works really well and it helps to add charm and humour to the already excellent script and characters. Stripping the outside of buildings off like paper to reveal what’s going on inside in a particularly nice touch.

The game is 2D and has Ray move around a set map. Around the map are agents looking to capture him and this is where the platforming comes in. You can use Ray’s alien hand to grab hold of drawing pins and pull him to different places. Using this ability and a combination of stickers that make agents fall asleep or become confused, you have to make your way undetected past the goons to the next area. Being caught results in restarting from a nearby checkpoint so though the controls can be a little bit loose it never caused us any frustration.

The puzzles for the most part are fairly logical (at least within the logic of the world), and we never came across anything that had us stumped or frustrated for a massive amount of time. The only slightly odd puzzles that are likely to stop you dead are when you need to get people to follow you. One in the mental asylum springs to mind where a character repeatedly said that an object would be perfect for her cat but actually needed to be led somewhere else.

Puzzles generally involve reading a characters mind which creates a thought bubble. From here it’s all about grabbing stickers from people’s thoughts and taking them to the appropriate place to use them. This is what you’ll be doing for the bulk of your time and it’s a testament to the design that it doesn’t feel like one giant fetch quest (which effectively all point and click adventures are). 

Stick it to the Man isn’t massively long but it offers up an inventive and fun adventure that you can’t help but like. It came as a nice surprise as we hadn’t really heard much about the game before. What we have here is a combination of a good script and some fun play mechanics which create a fairly unique title. If you’re looking for something a little different or want to test out your puzzle solving skills then this could be the game for you.

Overall 8/10

Monday, 16 December 2013

SteamWorld Dig Review (PC)


The notion of ‘digging’ has carved out a niche little sub-genre in recent times. We’ve had the indie juggernaut that is Minecraft, Super tough Spelunky and Terraria to name just a few. SteamWorld Dig  is, as the title suggests, another game that wants you to dig. However, it’s certainly doing it in its own way.

Playing as Rusty, a lone steamboat designed for digging, you find yourself exploring a post-apocalyptic world where humans seem to have disappeared. You arrive in the dustbowl town of Tumbleton after receiving the deed to your Uncle Joe’s mine. The town is home to a few remaining robotic inhabitants and it’s up to you to uncover the story of the mine and the towns folk.

Your initial forays into the mine will mainly be to find gold and gems which can then be traded and used to upgrade Rusty. All manner of items and upgrades are available and they continually expand as you find more money to spend. Along with this you will gradually uncover more abilities that Rusty can use to help traverse the depths. There’s an element of Metroid to the character advancement but we wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is a Metroidvania.

The game world sets itself out into three main sections. You have the town where you can talk and upgrade, the main part of the mine and self-contained rooms within it. For a large amount of the game you’ll be continually digging downward in the main mine area. The goal here is to find cash, avoid critters and find rooms as you uncover the truth of what happened to the humans and the world. The deeper you go, the thicker the rock gets and the tougher the enemies become. Unless you keep upgrading it can be a tiresome task to break through the bedrock so you’ll need to be heading back to the surface to upgrade your pickaxe and other mining gear often.

This is perhaps one of the few flaws with the game. While there are a number of short cuts back to the surface, there really aren’t enough of them for it to stop the game from dragging and getting repetitive on occasion. It’s not so bad when going down the mine as you can normally drop down tunnels you’ve dug, but going back up can be tiresome. It’s not enough to take away from the experience in the long term and there are teleporters that can be purchased, but a few more short cuts really wouldn’t have gone a miss.

The self-contain rooms within the mine provide a mixture of both platforming and puzzle solving to negotiate. Plot related rooms lead to power ups and boss fights while other hidden areas generally contain precious gems. SteamWorld Dig really is a platformer at heart and these rooms allow for the developers to show off how they have mastered the form. You’ll need quick reflexes and a good understanding of how your powers work to succeed and the difficulty level is pitches just about perfect throughout. Each room and boss is challenging but you’ll always feel you know how you should be beating it - it’s just a case of mustering the skill to do it.

There’s something really compelling about the game and as you dig deeper (both literally and into the mystery), you’ll really want to know what’s going on. It’s the sort of game you’ll start playing for a few minutes and end up sticking with for hours. 

Moving from the 3DS eshop to the PC digital services was always going to be a tough jump but it’s one that SteamWorld Dig has made easily and it shows a skill and understanding by the development team rarely seen elsewhere. SteamWorld Dig may well have gone unnoticed by a lot of you, but we would really recommend checking it out. It’s no longer just one of the best 3DS eshop titles but one of the best digital games available right now and it offers a fun, challenging and fresh experience for gamers to test themselves with no matter the platform.

Overall 8/10

Friday, 13 December 2013

Baldur's Gate 2: Enhanced Edition Review (PC)


The Baldur’s Gate series has long held the position of being among the best RPG’s of all time. The depth of tactics and customisation of character are often considered unparalleled and the worlds which they allow players to explore are both breath-taking in scale and rich with detail and magic. But it’s been a long time since the game first released and we decided to take a look at the enhanced edition of the second game to see if it still holds the same wonder so many years on.

Following on directly from the events of the first game, you awaken in a cage with little memory of what has happened. You’re soon sprung by a party member and reunited with Minsc and Boo (the killer hamster) and a collection of other characters from the first game. From then on it’s time to escape and uncover your fate. We don’t want to give much away but your quest will take you to dark dungeons, have you deal with sly dragons and mages and clash with some of toughest monsters in the Dungeons and Dragons bestiary. It’s both a long and difficult journey, but always a rewarding and engaging one.

The first thing to say is that the rule set still holds strong. Dungeons and Dragons has a pretty solid system underpinning its world and everything works properly here. It can be frustrating to repeatedly fail something on the role of a dice but then that’s what quick saves are for. It’s also a system still used in many an RPG today and we don’t see that changing any time soon. Everything from detecting traps to combat and healing is dealt with via virtual dice rolls and once you get used to it you’ll be carefully balancing the strengths and weaknesses of your party with ease.

The game takes the traditional RPG approach of being viewed from a semi top down/isometric perspective. Nothing much has changed here, with the enhanced graphics adding a layer of extra clarity but little else. You can zoom in and out and rotate to get a better view of things and anyone familiar with games like Fallout will be right at home here. There’s a new wide screen option to make things better on modern displays as well.

Aside from a nominal graphical brush up there have been other additions made to the game. First of all you now get everything with the incredibly challenging expansion ‘Throne of Baal’ now packed in. There are also new companions to meet and use with new areas relating to them to explore. Throw the super challenging ‘Black Pits 2’ as well and you’ve got a big game complimented by a sizable amount of new content. This certainly isn’t something that’s only going to last a few days.

There are a few things with the game we would like to have seen dealt with though. The original game came with a manual the size of War and Peace and within it pretty much every spell and weapon was explained. The digital version doesn’t have this (Obviously), and you have to right click on things to see their full description. A simple overlay of text while you hold the mouse over items and icons and a quicker way of seeing the effects changing armour and weapons have would have been really useful and acted to streamline the experience. 

A better way of collecting gold and gear from fallen enemies could also have been implemented as individually clicking on fifteen goblins and clicking on fifteen lots of gold, weapons and whatever else they are carry does become irritating and modern day gamers really aren’t ready for this. When you compare this to something like Diablo 3 is shows just how far back some of the mechanics are. 

The last grumble is characters dying. It’s become a pretty much accepted concept now that unless the main hero dies then party members are simply knocked out until the end of the battle. Not here, when they die they turn to bones and drop all their gear. Not an issue if you have a rod of resurrection but they are hard to find and players can find themselves simply overwhelmed early on if they aren’t careful. Losing a character early removes chunks of the game as well so we would have at least liked the option to stop this.

However, any faults are minor irritations in the scheme of things. Once you get to grips with the pace and way you need to approach the game this is still one of the most rewarding adventures to undertake. There really is little else like it and nothing else we have come across is quite as epic or grand in both its ambition and the journey the player undertakes. For Dungeons and Dragons and PC RPG fans this is as good as it gets and you should dive in without hesitation.

Overall 9/10

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Papers Please Review (PC)


In a growing trend of games that set you as a worker in a highly unglamorous and monotonous job role, Papers Please places you as the winner of the labour lottery who has been assigned to tend the new border check office in made up country East Grestin. Your job is to monitor the paper work and make sure only the right people cross the border. While doing this you’ll have to juggle your family life and make sure you meet your daily quota.

The mixture of family and work sets up an uneasy moral compass which may see you denying access to the neediest people who lack the correct paper work. Every time someone slips through the net you are warned and fined and do this too much and you won’t be able to pay for food, rent and medicine for your family. Neglect them for too long and they will die. Fall into dept and the game ends with you being dragged off by officials.

The game has a grim and grey graphical style which perfectly fits the tone of a suspicious and paranoid eastern bloc country. Each morning you walk to work and enter your basic kiosk. A line of silhouetted figures stretches out of the kiosk as far as the eye can see in a never ending parade of people waiting to get across the border. Clicking on the loud speaker summons each person with a depressing sound and they trudge in to see you.

Each day there are new rules and regulations to adhere to. It starts fairly simply with citizens just needing a passport and soon ends up with all manner of paper work ranging from work visas to tickets and diplomatic passes. Each document needs to be checked for details such as dates, gender and validity and cross referenced. This all takes time and you still have that quota to meet each day. 

During your checking people will offer you bribes or other incentives to let them through and it’s here that much of the story of game develops. Many things remain untold and you are left to think what happened to the wife you didn’t let pass or the urgent medicine that didn’t have the right documentation. 

It won’t be long before body scanners are introduced to check for weapons and contraband and the occasional terrorist attack will also occur. This normally results in the day ending early and even less pay for you to take home to your family.

It’s fair to say that it does take some time for the magic of Papers Please to shine through. The idea of doing a repetitive and monotonous job for hours on end in your spare time may not appeal but it’s the dark and twisted humour that creeps its way into the game that will keep you hooked. It’s also amazing to see how quickly you begin to turn cold to the needs of others in order to save your own skin.

You may start out feeling guilty for turning people away but we found ourselves soon putting up an emotionless wall and quickly denying access to everyone without the correct paperwork. As if to illustrate the point your actions directly have there is a newspaper published at the start of each day which may contain the consequences of your decisions as stories.

Overall, Papers Please is an original and unique take on a kind of point and click adventure. It illustrates how seemingly small decisions can have wide reaching consequences and also acts as a social study on the player and what they are willing to do to make sure things stay in their own interest. It won’t be for everyone but it certainly should be tried by as many people as possible as there is some subtle and really quite clever writing and programming at work here. Once you get the paper stamping bug it’s hard to quit and you’ll always think you can press on further with your next go.

Overall 8/10

Monday, 9 December 2013

Space Hulk Review (PC)


Space Hulk started life as a table top board game where heavily armoured Terminator marines from the Warhammer 40,000 universe, pitted themselves against the multi-clawed Genestealers aboard massive drifting freighters known as ‘Hulks’. The tight corridors meant it turned into a battle of the strong and slow versus the quick and deadly. 

Space Hulk has been adapted in video game form before in two titles that tried to merge action with semi-turn based gameplay. Now we have a new version of the game which takes a different approach and tries to replicate the board game in a much more precise and faithful way.

At this point I feel it's fair to share with you all that we are pretty well acquainted with the board game and we like it a lot. It’s important to bring this up as it’s likely to have a fairly large bearing on if you are going to like this. It’s clear the developers had a specific target audience in mind and there are few concessions to people expecting something similar to the last couple of PC games.

Space Hulk is turn based and relies on dice rolls to carry out actions. At the start of each turn you can move your terminators and set them to guard or go into over watch to scan for enemy movement. At the end of the turn the Genestealers then do the same. Firing weapons and close combat is carried out on the role of dice which means that there is a certain random element to it. This can be frustrating when you are one dice roll away from the success or failure but sound strategy and careful planning does tend to weigh the odds in your favour.

You are going to have to plan you moves carefully as the terminators only have four action points and even turning to face a certain direction requires the use of them. The game is also pretty tough and on the normal setting it took a number of attempts to even get through the second tutorial level. A single mistake of movement can spell disaster in a mission stretching into an hour of more in length so it is advised to save often.

As such, the game plays out more like a slow and thoughtful game of chess than an all guns blazing space shooter, but it certainly draws you in. The presentation is basic and the first thing you’ll likely do is head to the menu to turn off the shoulder cameras and death animations. Your next step will be to set movement to the fastest setting or you’ll be playing this until the rapture. 

However, once you’ve got that simple top down/isometric view, the sound of the engines and the cries of victory or defeat coming from your marines it all starts to click and draw you in. It feels claustrophobic and dangerous and the fact a wrong move is so costly certainly adds buckets of tension and atmosphere. A cry of "Bolter Jammed" has never caused such terror.

The levels are mainly based on the original games maps and as such it brings a wonderful authenticity for anyone not wanting to pay the huge sum of money required to find a decent condition version of the table top game. There are a few weapons and tricks taken from the Deathwing and Genestealer expansions but we would have liked to see a bit more of this added to give some variety as the game progressed.

Multiplayer is also here and there is a hot seat option to allow players to take turns on the same device. It’s a little unwieldy for the Genestealer player but it does work once you get the hang of it. Weirdly, you have to play through the main campaign to unlock levels in multiplayer which is something the game could really have done without. It’s not as gratifying as it should be, which is a shame as this is one of the key features that should make the game a must have title.

What we have is an authentic Space Hulk table top experience with some rough presentation brought to life digitally. Many may be disappointed, but fans of the board game will find this really draws you in. Yes, there could be more options and it could look better but it’s solid and enjoyable and a highly competent strategy title. The rule set is also solid and if you want to recreate some table top fun or take on one tough turn based strategy then this is the game for you. Those looking for fast paced action should look to something else to get their kicks.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths Review (Wii U)


Gamers of a certain age will likely remember the adventures of Esteban and friends as they searched for the legendary city made of gold. Now the cartoon is being brought back for a new generation and Secret Paths aims to be the perfect companion piece. The plan is to release new levels as the series progresses which merge sections of the animation into the game. It’s an ambitious project, but for now we can only look at what we have here. 

The game is beautifully presented with clear and colourful cartoon style graphics which paint a rich world to look at and explore. The sound also sets the scene well and everything is tied together with cut scenes of a quality that look like they have been lifted directly from the show.

During your adventure you’ll play as the three children and need to switch between them to overcome puzzles and collect items. Each of the children has their own abilities which need to be used to get around. Esteban can summon the son, while Zia can squeeze through small gaps and Tao can interpret runes and send his pet parrot to steal keys from guards.

The game world is viewed from an isometric/top down perspective which allows players to see a decent amount of the level at once. This is useful as you’ll need to see where you need to go and also avoid the pirates and bandits in each level.

There is no death in the game but wandering into the line of sight of an enemy for too long will see the child captured and you’ll have to restart from the a short distance away from the section. Enemies aren’t massively challenging and follow a predetermined route made all the more predictable but footsteps appearing in the ground as they walk but it does keep you on your toes.

Puzzles generally involve moving the characters and objects onto pressure pads to open gates and doors. Sometimes you’ll have to work out some simple number puzzles or find rocks to drop into place, but there is nothing here that will stop you for long. Levels also contain scrolls and unlockable artwork for the obsessive collectors among you.

The game doesn’t pose much of a challenge but much of its charm comes from the semi-casual nature of the title. It’s certainly aimed at younger gamers as something to keep them occupied between TV episodes and it clearly has had a lot of care and attention put into it to create something that’s fun in small amounts.

Overall, this is a fun, if light weight adventure to undertake. Fans of the show and younger gamers will find enjoyment here but the repetition and lack of challenge does hurt its long term appeal. It’s a nice way to spend small chunks of free time but most gamers will probably look to seek out adventures to deeper and darker places.

Overall 6/10

Monday, 2 December 2013

PixelJunk Shooter: The Depths of Disaster Review (PC)


A few years ago PixelJunk Shooter first appeared on the PS3. Still one of the best games on the Playstation network it has finally been made available to PC gamers. Now you can find out what all the fuss is about as you pilot your little ship through a host of physics and element based levels.

The plot, such as it is, has you sent in to rescue your crew mates after mysterious goings on while mining on the planet of Apoxus Prime. To do this you have to fly your craft around tight underground caverns while using water, lava and magnetic black liquids to your advantage. It’s reminiscent of Thrust with its inertia and gravity based gameplay but your craft will stay still if left alone. Your also won’t die from hitting walls (which is a good thing or it would have been nigh on impossible).

The game is a 2D styled shooter where you manoeuvre your ship around a section of an enclosed map. Normally you will have to get water to turn lava to rock or lava to melt ice or some other combination of dropping one liquid onto another. You’re doing this because you need to get to and rescue all the lost crew members in each area. If too many of them die you have to start the level again. It’s wonderfully inventive and a whole lot of fun and there are hidden areas and diamonds to collect along the way as well.

The level design is nigh on perfect throughout the game and the difficulty curve is just about right. The huge boss monsters found at the end of each world may cause some frustration but they provide tense and heroic showdowns of David and Goliath proportions and once you work them out shouldn’t take too long to get past.

Shooter is split into three main areas each consisting of five levels. There are the initial outer rocky areas, the ice caves and then the mine. Each individual level is split into sections which require everyone to be rescued before a bulk head opens to the next.  Each has its own tricks and traps and will keep you on your toes throughout. 

You will also need to think quickly as the game has a wonderful way of getting you to forget what you’ve just learnt. For instance, for the first area you are trying to keep away from lava (overheating causes you to crash), but then in the ice caves you’ll come across and inversion suite which makes lava cool you down and water heat you up.

It’s a game that keeps throwing new ideas and things at you to keep you interested. The water suit and lava suit are just the start and you’ll soon be switching around and dealing with freezing lakes and clouds of gas as well as the usual lava and water. The key thing is that everything stays fun and creative throughout. Once you’ve completed the game you’ll probably want to dive back in to further explore the levels and find all the missing diamonds and any crew you missed along the way.

PixelJunk Shooter is a game we’re still playing on the PS3 to this day. The fact a whole new audience can now pick it up is great and this really is one of the best games of its type. Q-Games have crafted something special here and the years have done nothing to diminish its appeal. It’s perhaps a shame that the PixelJunk Shooter 2 wasn’t included as well (as it is pretty much part 1 and 2 of the same game), but we’ll be first in line to get it when it arrives.

This was always going to be a certified hit with us as long as nothing had gone wrong in the conversion and from our experience this offers all the fun of the original. PC gamers really need to play this as it’s simply a masterfully executed, great little game packed with more invention and ideas than most massive AAA releases can even come close to.

Overall 9/10

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Toki Tori Review (Wii U)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall 8/10

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Super Mario Bros 2 Review (NES)


Once upon a time (like all good tales), Mario had a dream where he climbed to the top of a long stair case before opening a door. On the other side of this door was a world he had never seen before, where a voice was calling out for help. A few days later while Mario was climbing in the nearby hills, he and his friends came across a small cave, where upon entering he was shocked to see the world in his dream spreading out into the distance before him. 

Set in the dream world of Subcon, Mario, along with Luigi, Peach and Toad must lift the evil spell on the land by defeating the evil ‘Wart’. Massively different to the original Super Mario Brothers<, the game mechanics for this title have been completely reworked. Alas Mario 2 did not start out life as a Mario adventure and originally starred several other characters in a game named Doki Doki panic. This means that while the game is indeed very good, it lacks the Mario magic we have come to know and love. 

Enemies can no longer be jumped upon in order to kill them, jumping on various creatures sees one of our heroes balancing on top of the unfortunate enemy, which can then be picked up and thrown. Vegetables now play a huge part as well, with characters picking different varieties from the ground and using them as weapons against the minions of Wart. Furthermore, the power up system has been dramatically altered with the heroes taking up to four hits before they die and the fireball being removed altogether. The invincibility star is still present, requiring you to collect a certain amount of cherries to make it appear.

Players are now presented with a choice of four characters to play with, all of which have their own special characteristics. Mario for instance is a good all round character, while Luigi can jump very high but is weak. Peach can float and Toad although unable to jump too well is very strong. Certain levels are easier with certain characters so it pays to think about who you are going to use before automatically picking Mario every time. 

Graphically, the game is a big improvement from the prequel, with more detail and a distinct cartoon feel to the graphics giving a lot of character to the game, though backgrounds are still bland and uninspiring. Everything moves at a decent pace, with slowdown and flickering not a major issue. While levels look similar there is still enough difference between them to make you realise you are adventuring in different areas as you progress through the game. 

In truth though, this is not up there with other Mario adventures but still a fun game. Unfortunately, it's the game play side of things that lets the second installment down. While competent it never really creates the excitement a Mario game should. Sure, characters are controllable and the thing moves along at a nice pace with the odd bit of innovation here and there, but after a few levels you will find yourself getting a touch bored and wishing for some of the genius present in the original. 

Overall, Mario 2 is a fun platform game that has enough charm and nice touches to keep you amused, However when compared to either the first or third installments of the Mario series it becomes very apparent there is a definite lack. You will not be able to work out exactly what is missing but something definitely is - it's a good game, just not a great one.

Overall 7/10

Monday, 25 November 2013

Shadowrun Returns Review (PC)


Shadowrun has been a massively underutilised franchise when it comes to the world of video games. There are countless Dungeons and Dragons titles but only four set in the murky shadows of mega corps and monsters.

Of the four games, one of them was a Japanese only Mega CD title and another is a team based shooter which doesn’t really keep the ethos. The ones fans will remember are the excellent SNES version which saw Jake Armitage taking on a Dragon and the Genesis title that never made it to European shores. To say gamers have been starved of Shadowrun fun is somewhat of an understatement but that could all be about to change.

Shadowrun Returns is a turn based strategy game set in an isometric viewpoint and is about as old school feeling as a new game gets. It’s very close in mood and graphical style to the SNES game and benefits immensely from it. The areas of the city are dank and polluted and neon tinged signs cast light over the many citizens that walk the streets in this imagining of a dystopian future. 

Conversations are carried out via dialogue trees with pictures of the characters face to the side of them. There is no voice acting or animation here but it doesn’t really detract from the game and if anything adds to the retro feel.

The story goes that your friend has been murdered and now it’s up to you find out who the killer is. At first it seems a fairly standard tale but there are a few decent twists to keep you on your toes and what starts out as a neo-noir thriller will soon go off into all sorts of strange and gruesome directions.

You can build your character from scratch from five races and a host of different class types which at least on the surface adds some depth and replay value to the game. In practice we found the classes that deal with robots or computers had their skill sets somewhat underused (especially in the beginning), with the combination of magic and guns often the best way to proceed. We’re hoping future instalments will flesh these classes out a bit more as the basic rule set is solid.

The game is split into three different sections. There’s the part where you run around the area talking to people and looking for clues, the turn based combat sections and parts where you enter the matrix. The first part plays out like a point and click adventure, all be it in a confined area.  Combat can occur quickly and it’s always nest to be prepared and ready. When combat does occur your characters are given a number of action points to move, shoot and cast spells. It’s not ground breaking but it works simply and effectively enough. You also have to keep an eye on characters strengths with Trolls and Orcs better at taking damage than Elves for instance.

Most of the time you’ll have a team of four and you’re missions will generally be to get into somewhere, retrieve a person or object and get out. Sometimes you just have to kill people but it becomes a step by step process of running to cover, concentrating fire and carefully moving forward. Mistakes can be costly and if you die you’ll start the whole sequence again. This is one of the flaws of the game as missions can be around an hour in length and you’ll often have to go through all the dialogue and adventure part of the game again if you die.

A quick save would have been pretty useful as well in case you need to step away from the PC, but as it is we only have the auto save which kicks in at the start of each new area. Just make sure you are sensible with your gear as being auto-saved into a difficult place means there may be no way to get out alive if you haven’t brought the right supplies or team. This can be somewhat frustrating considering you won’t know what you need until you get there.

The matrix sections of the game are also a little dry. They play out in much the same way as normal combat with the Decker moving around a virtual system setting up combat programmes and fighting drones. It would have been nice to distinguish this more from the normal combat but it works.

The game also comes with a detailed level editor and this is what is going to keep it going in the long term. The rule set is solid and there are already a ton of levels available that users have created. There are dedicated projects to bring both the SNES and Genesis games into the game as well. The standard game is a round twelve hours long and it’s likely you’ll be left wanting more so it’s well worth digging into some of the mission packs out there.

Overall, Shadowrun Returns is a positive return to form for the series. It’s not perfect but everything is in place for a bright future. The game as it stands now is solid, well written and will provide a good few hours of gameplay. A few more side quests and a bit more variety wouldn’t have gone a miss but it’s an easy world to get drawn into and any fan shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s a streamlined turn based strategy game set in an interesting world and we can only see it getting better and better in the future.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past Review (SNES)


The only Zelda game to appear on the Super Nintendo outside of Japan, A Link to the Past improved and developed upon the ideas set down in the first two games, taking the best from each and forging them into a whole new masterpiece. As the story goes, Gannon has escaped from the world of darkness aided by an altogether nasty wizard named Agahnim. Agahnim kidnaps Zelda and dethrones the king, and its up to Link to restore order to the land. 

Taking the top down perspective of the first in preference over the more side on platform action presented in The Adventure of Link the game has you exploring the land of Hyrule locating dungeons and finding the necessary artifacts to banish evil from the land. What takes this adventure onto a different level though is the sheer depth of the quest. Throughout the land you will encounter countless little side quests and sub plots that will have you playing continually until you discover every single thing it has to offer. 

Graphically the game is excellent, with a rich colour palette being used to create your surroundings. Everything is bright and bold, working extremely well to create the right feeling and atmosphere. All the characters, locations and monsters you encounter all fit seamlessly into the landscape, one section leading into another never leaving you confused how you managed to appear in a certain area. 

Dungeon design is also of the highest standard, with the learning curve being set just right. Each Dungeon becomes a little trickier than the last, needing you to use all the items in your possession to progress to the next area. Puzzles are also excellent thought out, with most requiring logical solutions, meaning that you are never stuck in one point for too long working out why a door won't open. 

Overall though, the dungeons form only a small part of the quest you are undertaking. With areas on top of the ground being used to display just as many inspirational touches as those below it. For example, early on in the game you will come across a magic portal. Walk through it and you find yourself transported to the ‘Dark World’. This gives greater scope to the game as a whole needing you to swap from one world to another in order to progress in your quest, with the added incentive of being transformed into a white rabbit.

A Link to the Past is an absolutely exceptional title and one that every Super Nintendo owner should have. Everything about it is just perfect and it's a true gaming masterpiece . Inspired dungeons, brilliant magic items, huge boss monsters and the odd touch of Zelda humour all add up to what is arguably the most magical of all the Zelda titles. Absolutely essential.

Overall 10/10

Monday, 18 November 2013

Stick it to the Man Review (PS3)


There have been a number of attempts to get the point and click genre to connect with both modern day gamers and to fit onto consoles in a more natural way. Stick it to the Man is the latest game to try and add a bit more adventure to our lives and does so with some platform elements, a bunch of stickers and a strange alien spaghetti hand.

The somewhat crazy story follows the character of safety helmet tester Ray. One day on his way home a strange canister drops out of the sky and hits him on the head. The canister contains a strange little alien named Ted (Who looks a bit like a cute Krang from the Turtles cartoon). Ted hides inside Ray’s brain and grants him the power to read people’s minds via a giant alien spaghetti arm he now has growing out of his head.

It sounds odd and it is, invoking more than a few memories of Psychonaughts in terms of style and tone. Ray must use his new powers to escape the people who are hunting him and find out what has happened to his girlfriend. This is done via a combination of light platforming sections and using the hand to read people’s minds, find out what they want and then slapping the appropriate sticker into their thought bubble.

The graphical style of the game represents the world in a pop-up book style. Characters are paper thin and everything comes across like a twisted comic book. It’s a style that works really well and it helps to add charm and humour to the already excellent script and characters. Stripping the outside of buildings off like paper to reveal what’s going on inside in a particularly nice touch.

The game is 2D and has Ray move around a set map. Around the map are agents looking to capture him and this is where the platforming comes in. You can use Ray’s alien hand to grab hold of drawing pins and pull him to different places. Using this ability and a combination of stickers that make agents fall asleep or become confused, you have to make your way undetected past the goons to the next area. Being caught results in restarting from a nearby checkpoint so though the controls can be a little bit loose it never caused us any frustration.

The puzzles for the most part are fairly logical (at least within the logic of the world), and we never came across anything that had us stumped or frustrated for a massive amount of time. The only slightly odd puzzles that are likely to stop you dead are when you need to get people to follow you. One in the mental asylum springs to mind where a character repeatedly said that an object would be perfect for her cat but actually needed to be led somewhere else.

Puzzles generally involve reading a characters mind which creates a thought bubble. From here it’s all about grabbing stickers from people’s thoughts and taking them to the appropriate place to use them. This is what you’ll be doing for the bulk of your time and it’s a testament to the design that it doesn’t feel like one giant fetch quest (which effectively all point and click adventures are).  

Stick it to the Man isn’t massively long but it offers up an inventive and fun adventure that you can’t help but like. It came as a nice surprise as we hadn’t really heard much about the game before. What we have here is a combination of a good script and some fun play mechanics which create a fairly unique title. If you’re looking for something a little different or want to test out your puzzle solving skills then this could be the game for you.

Overall 8/10

Friday, 15 November 2013

Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories Review (PS2)


Nippon Ichi has unleashed some of the most obsessively addictive Playstation 2 titles the platform has ever seen. Tactical RPG’s of the highest standard and polished in every tiny detail seem to flow from the developer at will. Now the franchise that stated the European love affair with the team returns with what is possibly the most lavish title of them all, and yet it is also arguably the most accessible.

The wonderfully absurd story revolves around a curse placed on the realm ruled by the Overlord Zenon. Zenon has cursed all the inhabitants of the world and now they have all turned into monsters, except for our dashing hero Adell. Adell’s family (now monsters) try and summon the Demon lord to them but instead end up with his Daughter. From this point on the story goes completely insane as Adell sets off to find and kill the Overlord and lift the curse on the land.

On your journey you will encounter creatures and characters that only the wonderful scriptwriters at Nippon Ichi could possibly create. The story is absolutely ridiculous but in a truly wonderful way and there is so much personality in almost everyone you meet you can’t help but push forward to see what awaits. This game at times is hilarious; you have to wonder what sort of strange twisted genius came up with it.

The action follows pretty much the same flow as before with the player’s team being deployed on a map split into squares. The colour coded squares return- these can be used to create various effects by having different nodes dropped on them. Once destroyed these nodes then cause a chain reaction that will destroy all the coloured squares leading to massive combos.

Crucially and helpfully the way characters gain experience has slightly changed. Before characters gained experience by damaging and defeating enemies. This meant that healer characters and characters that use support magic had to be shoe horned into attacking positions and combo’s in order to stop them falling behind as the warriors in the party level up. Now as well as dealing damage characters gain experience from using skills, so support characters level up in a more natural way.

A number of other features have now been streamlined and improved. The Dark assembly where you must go to create new characters and pass new laws that allow new features is much easier to understand and use. Bonus awards from levels now contain more experience meaning there are far fewer level up walls in the title, which is one of the most welcome additions.

Entering the item world (where you battle through up to one hundred maps to level up items) is much the same as before. Only now it contains more features, such as space pirates, seedy bars, more item specialists and the demon court. The demon court is an interesting though not vital new addition. Here characters can go and be sentenced for crimes they have committed. With each crime the character builds up a criminal record and gains new items depending how bad they have been.

There are a number of new character classes and skills available allowing more customisation for players willing to dig into the near endless depths of the title. Players can create a large number of characters to use but as only a limited number can be placed on a map so it pays to keep groups small as anyone not used quickly falls behind in the levelling up stakes, meaning you have to replay levels to get them up to speed.

 The new option of killing and resurrecting your characters in a new class is interesting. The idea is that if you are lucky characters will keep some or all of their skills from their previous incarnation and now be able to gain the new abilities of the new character class. The game even tells you it is possible to create a character with every skill, should you have the time and the obsessive compulsive disorder to do so. However there is always the very real risk that character will forget some or all of their previous skills leaving you with a slightly stronger but unskilled reincarnation.

As far as tactical RPG’s go there is no company to rival the skill level and passion of Nippon Ichi. It is clear they really care about what they are producing and continually polish their titles to the smallest detail. Disgaea 2 is a little easier than the first game due to the welcome omission of so many frustrating level up walls but still contains stupid amounts of extra things to do which those with any kind of life outside of gaming will never see.

Though easier the game is still fairly long, probably setting in at around fifty hours. Putting a time estimate on how many hours you would need to put into the title to complete everything is both pointless and a little scary to imagine, but we dare say that someone out there in a very dimly lit room will be attempting it. Disgaea is a joy to behold, you can dip into it for a short time or lose several years of your life in a sessions and that is one of the many wonderful things about the title. It is both the most complex and most accessible title in the genre and a must for anyone who is looking for something a bit different, an epic adventure or a life long love.

Overall 9/10