Monday 29 April 2013

Full Throttle Review (PC)

This somewhat overlooked classic from Lucas Arts was one of their most ambitious projects. To add a more epic feel a band, the Gone Jackals, were brought in to supply the rock soundtrack and the cut scenes display a far more cinematic approach than ever before. Mark Hamill also adds his voice to the already impressive cast. Full Throttle follows the story of Ben, leader of the Polecats biker gang, as a chance encounter with Malcolm Corley, head of the last biker manufacturer in the country, ends up with him being framed for murder.

The world of Full Throttle is wonderfully original and it's like has not been seen since. The cast of back water hicks and bumpkins can't help but raise a smile as they spew out line after line of insanity. The script, as we have come to expect from Lucasarts, also never misses a beat and it helps to layer the game with an amazingly enjoyable atmosphere.

While most games of this type use a similar control style, the system was given a bit of an overhaul for Full Throttle. Instead of having a list of commands at the bottom of the screen you now bring up a menu in the shape of a burning skull between a fist and a boot by holding the left mouse button. This allows you to grab, look, speak and, erm, kick doors in. Clicking the right mouse button brings up your inventory. It works very well, with the only minor problem being that it doesn't actually display the name of what you are looking at unless you use the look icon. Instead your cursor will simply turn red to indicate something of interest is under it.

Graphically, the game really looks good. While it continues the cartoon aesthetic that other Lucas Arts titles have it retains its own, very distinct, personality. The artists have done a really fine job in portraying a dusty back road world and the game is all the better for it. Thanks to its use of music, cinematic shots and art design, Full Throttle is arguably the most distinctive title to ever be produced by the studio.

All this greatness does come at a price though. Full Throttle may be big on presentation but it is pretty short on length. Anyone used to this type of game should sail through it in under three hours. There is enough there to warrant visiting it again but every time you play you can't help but feel that the end comes around way too soon.

Puzzles, though requiring some thought, are nice and logical and there aren't any solutions that will seem completely bizarre. This may make it a little easy in places but we would much prefer that to having to try and solve something through constant trial and error. As well as the puzzles there are a couple of mini games such as fighting other gang members on your bike in a style similar to road rash. Even here you need to keep thinking as though it may seem like a simply action section there are still puzzles to overcome.

Overall, Full Throttle is an undoubted classic of the genre. Few over games have tried so much and succeeded so well. The game may be short but it is so enjoyable that you will want to come back to it again and again. It's a shame that the sequel was cancelled as there is certainly more that could have been done with the game world. The fact it stands out so well today is testament to the effort put in by the develop team and this really is something that every fan of point and click adventures should enjoy.


Wednesday 24 April 2013

Guacamelee! Review (PS3/Vita)

After having success with Mutant Blobs Attack, Drinkbox Studios is back with this Mexican wrestling themed Metroid style platform adventure. Those who lack imagination may not see the obvious potential of this mix of styles but it helps to create a unique take on a genre dominated by both Samus and the Castlevania games.

Starting out as a Mexican villager named Juan, players are soon caught up in a strange tale of the supernatural when a long dead Mexican wrestler tricks the devil into turning into a chicken. He then returns to merge the real and super natural worlds together. Killed while trying to save the girl he loves, Juan is resurrected thanks to a magical luchadore mask and heads off to rescue the girl and save the world.

Graphically, the game does a good job of putting across the Mexican theme with a heavy Cinco de Mayo influence giving it its own unique and macabre atmosphere. The villages look straight out of a western and are coloured to look sun scorched and dirty in the way they do in all the best Western movies. There are also numerous references for gamers to find with our favourite being the 'missing' poster on one building featuring a picture of Manny from Grim Fandango. As you explore the world an enthusiastic mariachi band plays over the adventure, though it might have been nice if they had learned a few more songs. It all ends up creating a world that feels vibrant and new and is likely to draw players in quickly.

In classic Metroid style our hero starts out with only a handful of moves and then gradually acquires more as he progresses. These moves can then be used to access more areas and continue the quest. Most of these are given out by breaking statues placed around the world (which themselves reference Metroid). Most are standard things such as granting a double jump or the ability to break a certain colour block. The one which raised the biggest smile was when we were granted the power to turn into a chicken. In effect this grants the same power as the morph ball in Metroid, but that never allowed you to peck enemies to death.

You are also granted the ability to shift between the real and super natural realms at will. This becomes an intricate part to solving problems as pillars may exist in one realm but not the other. Things like water can also often turn to lava in one of the realms and the switching offers up some satisfyingly complex puzzles to negotiate.

Away from the platforming the other big focus of the game is the combat. Our hero being a wrestler means he has to grapple and punch his way through enemies. Some of the powers granted to reach new areas also act as new moves and a selection of throws and grapples can also be purchased with gold coins found around the world.

Moves can be strung together to create big combos and it feels tactile and satisfying throughout. Pummel on a monster enough and you can then press triangle to execute a throw which can be aimed at other enemies to continue the chain. As the game progresses enemies become covered in different colour shields which need specific moves used to break. It can be difficult to remember which move breaks what (and not the easiest if you are colour blind), but we rarely came up against anything that stopped us dead because of this.
The enemies may not be that tough but some of platforming certainly is. 

Even early on players not used to super quick button presses and timing may become stuck. Often you are required to link at least three special moves together to reach a platform and it only gets tougher. At one point we had to jump block through spikes, double jump, uppercut and then dash to reach a small platform with only tiny margins for error. We didn’t come up against anything insurmountable but more casual players may well struggle in places. 

Luckily there are plenty of save points so large areas don’t need to be repeated. The game asks players to pull off short bursts of skill and is very reminiscent of titles like indie darling Within a Deep Forest - in that once you have done the difficult bit it saves soon after to try and counteract frustration.

The game seems like a natural fit for the Vita and is a great example of just how good indie developers can be. The PS3 version allows for on screen co-op action as well which is a nice touch. With the cross save (and buy) functionality it just adds another reason to go and check this out. The difficulty may put some off but we would highly recommend you give it a go as it is undoubtedly one of the best games available on the Playstation Network. This is also a decent sized adventure clocking in at around five to six hours with further scope for finishing side quests and searching out hidden chests should you so wish. 

In summary, Guacamelee! Comes highly recommended by us. It manages to take elements that should be well worn by now but turns them into something that seems fresh and new. It’s a great example of the type of creative flair being shown by indie developers and can proudly stand next to the Metroids and Castlevanias of this world.


Monday 22 April 2013

BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2: Legend of Rhythm Alien Review (Wii U)

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 more HD 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 Wii U where there is a lack of decent games at the minute and it becomes a pretty essential purchase (and yes, it can be played on the pad). 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.


Wednesday 10 April 2013

Flashback Review (SNES)

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

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

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

Accompanying the lush graphical style are some very effective mood building sound effects and an excellent soundtrack. As Conrad digs deeper into the plot, music lays subtle but broodingly sinister tunes over proceedings - something that really helps to make the player engage with the story. This feeling is further enhanced by the cinematic style of the game which often switches to a small cut scenes when something of interest is discovered. This acts to make Flashback feel more like an interactive movie, and keeps the plot moving along at a steady pace.

The unique graphical style allows Conrad to perform a wide variety of moves with ease, which is a good thing, as to get through the game you need to use every advantage available. Our hero can jump, grasp ledges, roll around and all manner of other things - even being able to decide whether after an action he will draw his gun ready to fire. For this type of game the control system is just about perfect, the only problem is that sometimes it can be a little slow to do things due to the large amount of animation for each movement. This  rarely has a negative impact on the game however.

Overall, Flashback is an outstanding title, a highly interesting plot underpinned by decent graphics and a solid control system that means you are always wanting to push on to see what piece of information will reveal itself. If there is a criticism it would be that the game does rise in difficulty quickly, and finishing it will require reflexes that even the most hardcore player may not be able to produce after a diet of Playstation and Xbox games. In spite of this, players are likely to persevere simply because the quality of the title is so high. The game is still fairly easy to get hold of and well worth hunting down should the opportunity arise. Flashback is a classic game that for a while was the next big thing, and in such a competitive era this was not easily achieved.


Monday 8 April 2013

Probotector 2: Return of the Evil Forces Review (NES)

Set in the year 2634, ‘Return of the evil forces’ sees either the heroic commandos or robots (depending which version you are playing) battling against the evil alien menace once again. After a message is received stating "units out on manoeuvres are under attack", our heroes are sent to investigate. Upon arriving they find that aliens have taken control of friendly troops and built a robot army to destroy the earth. As usual it is up to you to save the day, and destroy all the evil creatures once and for all.

Spread across eight levels, the emphasis is very much on all out blasting action. Most of your time is spent in horizontally scrolling levels, moving from left to right blowing up whatever gets in your way, as wave after wave of troops come at you. There are instances however where the level changes to either a top down perspective or a vertically scrolling platform affair, this at least adds a little variety to proceedings, though the top down sections are underused.

Graphically, the game is good with backgrounds and environments are represented well and never too much, or too little detail being on screen at any one time, meaning you are always aware of the sea of bullets and lasers heading your way. Characters are well animated, and though the screen is always filled with enemies there is no slowdown or flickering present - a very impressive feat on the little grey box. Boss monsters are absolutely huge, often filling the entire screen and you really have to be on your guard to bring them down.

Gameplay wise, your characters are extremely controllable allowing you to change direction during jumping and allowing the player to fire through a 360 degree field, both being essential to your progression through the game. With the controls being so responsive it means that anytime you are gunned down the cause is your failure to react. This makes every death seem fair, an aspect vital to a game as difficult as this.

Difficulty is something that the Contra series excels at with it coming from the breakneck action and ‘Return of the evil forces’ is no exception. To progress through the levels will test even the most hard core of action fanatics, and a casual gamer is probably looking at around level four as the limit. What is great about the game though is that you will end up replaying levels over and over , but never becoming bored. This one more go factor, always wanting try one more time to reach the next level, is rarely seen today.

Overall, Probotector/Contra 2 is a superb slice of eight bit action, it's hard to find fault with the game in terms of play mechanics but to be honest we have doubts if it will appeal to the current generation of console players. You just want a little bit more than is on display, a touch of innovation is all that is needed to launch this game into the higher reaches of retro greatness, but as it stands this is a solid shooting game with excellent controls.



Wednesday 3 April 2013

Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy Review (NES)

Once upon a time the evil Zaks kidnapped Dizzy’s girlfriend Daisy, and took her to his castle in the clouds. Dizzy must find the castle and rescue the girl, solving puzzles along the way and engaging in some all round platform action. Dizzy is an egg who had a great deal of success on the 8-bit computers before facing his biggest adventure in this game on consoles. They simply do not make games like Dizzy anymore, the action is basic, but brilliant, and to finish an entire adventure is a challenge.

The idea of the game is to pick up items and take them to a place where they can be used, thus allowing you to continue on. This may sound easy but Dizzy can only carry three items at once - meaning if you miss judge what you need to take, then progression will be extremely difficult.

Graphically, Dizzy is presented in a cartoon style, big and colourful with simple, charmingly drawn characters set against decent enough backgrounds. Everything is very clear on screen with slowdown and flickering rarely occurring, which is remarkable in certain instances, as the screen can become packed. The landscapes in the game vary from woods and towns to underground caves and sunken pirate ships - each represented in its own way and looking different from the last.

Gameplay, is both very simple and very difficult. Initially the game seems daunting, as puzzles can be obscure and it's easy to get lost if you're not careful. However, after a couple of tries you soon realise the necessary approach needed to solve puzzles and progress. Dizzy can be a difficult to control, but (like the puzzles), once you work out how far he can jump and what distance he can fall from, everything comes together. Producing a well executed title than offers large doses of quirky platform fun.
As well as the basic platforming action there are several mini-games present such as going down a river in a barrel throwing apples at enemies. However, the most enjoyable section is where Dizzy is shooting people with a crossbow taken from a first person perspective and reminiscent of the arcade Shinobi bonus level.

Overall, Dizzy is a magical title, and while you cannot argue that it feels a little dated, it is a fine example of how great games used to be. Functional graphics, challenging puzzles and enjoyable mini-games mean that this a great slice of retro action. If only Codemasters would give Dizzy one last adventure, as he truly was a great character and deserves a new opportunity.


Monday 1 April 2013

Super Smash TV Review (SNES)

Smash T.V. is set in 1999 (at the time of release, the near future), and revolves around the idea that television has tapped into the violent aspect of human behaviour. It seems that only two things make for good ratings anymore; violence and game shows. Thus, Smash T.V. is born and contestants must enter into different arenas, and battle through whatever stands in their way in order to win. The prizes for success range from huge piles of cash to luxury vacations and quality luggage. So step up lucky contestants and enter the competition that makes the Running Man look like catch phrase.

The game sets itself out as a mix of classic retro shooter Robotron and an awful lot of adrenaline pumping action.  Viewed from a top down perspective, players move from room to room with each room needing to be cleared of monsters in order to proceed. During the shooting of enemies, money and prizes will appear offering bonus points. A huge range of death dealing weapons such as rocket launchers and giant spinning discs are also on hand. It all sounds fairly straightforward, but Smash T.V. is one of the hardest games ever.

Upon entering each room, monsters will enter from each of the four doors surrounding the area. The difficulty comes as creatures endlessly poor into the arena, literally hundreds of enemies could be heading your way. Other aspects to consider include mines laid all over the floor, wall mounted gunners and the fact your standard gun would do more damage if you threw it at them. Each room turns into a frantic race to keep your weapon powered up while weaving in and out of the mountains of monsters, and remember you are supposed to be picking up bonus points at the same time.

Graphically, things are as good as they need to be with each room looking more or less exactly the same and characters do not have a huge amount of animations. But Smash T.V. is about more than just graphics. A wide range of different enemies exist in three of the main levels - meaning that you are never shooting the same type of enemy from room to room. Furthermore, each room contains a good mix of each with six or seven different types of creature coming at you on numerous occasions.

The somewhat functional graphics allow the game to fill the screen with large amounts of potential targets without any noticeable slowdown or flickering. Controlling the death-dealing contestants in Smash T.V. is also a work of gaming brilliance. Using the Super Nintendo pad in the best way possible, the direction buttons unsurprisingly move you around while pressing any of the X, Y, A and the B button causes your character to fire in whichever direction that button is situated. For instance X causes you to fire up screen, Y, to the left and so on. This control method means you have a fighting chance as you can run in one direction while firing in another. It also allows you to circle enemies far more effectively than many other versions of the game found on retro consoles.

Difficulty though is what keeps this circulating around the gaming circuit even to this day. Renowned in the gaming community as nigh on impossible to get to the third level (let alone complete) Smash T.V. has built up a reputation that leads to only the bravest of gamers trying to take it on. However, just because the game is difficult, does not mean it's unfair. Every death is fair in the respect, that nothing kills you that you cannot see coming, though most of the time you would need some form of intergalactic nuclear strike to take it out - but hey, no one said is was going to be easy did they?

Overall Smash T.V. is a thing of legend, an adrenaline pumping, hardcore title that has yet to be matched. Anyone searching for a challenge will need look no further than this. If you think you're a skilled gamer, then Smash T.V. is waiting to tell you that you're very wrong. Smash T.V. is absolutely unmissable.