Wednesday 31 July 2013

PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate Review (PS Vita)

Here at Retro 101 we are long-time fans of just about everything that the Pixel Junk team has produced. They just seems to have a way of taking a genre that has been done to death and then adding something new to make it fresh and vibrant again. We’ve been campaigning for the PixelJunk games to be brought to the Vita for some time so we were absolutely delighted when this version of Monsters was announced.

What we have here is effectively the original game and the extra content added through Monsters Encore and the PSP version. The game also has both online and Ad hoc multiplayer modes, a few new touch screen interface options and a lovely higher resolution graphical style. So if you’re a fan you can stop reading this review right here, log into the PlayStation store and purchase it.  For those that want a bit more detail then read on.

For those new to the series this is a tower defence style game where your little Tikiman must run around the screen upgrading trees into different types of defensive structures.  Wave upon wave of monsters then pour into the level from various points and head towards the village hut (normally located in the middle of the stage).  Around the hut are a number of baby Tiki’s and once the monsters have made off with all of them you lose.

It’s a concept we have seen many times before but it’s hard to remember when it has been accomplished with so much style and flair. You start off with three basic towers which covers attacking land monsters, air monsters and one that does both. The towers all have different damage outputs, speed of fire and targeting radius. Once a monster enters the targeting radius the towers will fire on them automatically. Killing monsters provides gold to upgrade more trees and gems which are stored in the village hut and can be used to upgrade the strength of towers or unlock new types to use.

The extra towers do all sorts of weird and wonderful things. You can get ice towers to slow monsters down, mortars to cause massive damage, lasers to knock flying enemies down and electricity pylons to hit creatures with area effect attacks and the list goes on. It’s with these towers that the game begins to come into its own as you will need to know the strengths and weaknesses of them all in order to succeed. You can’t just lay out your defences and hope for the best here, you have to continually move around the field and change the type of towers to win the day.

PixelJunk Monsters can be a bone crushingly tough game, especially for new comers to the genre. It takes time to learn that you really should be selling certain towers at certain times and changing from anti-air to ground and back again for certain waves of attack. It’s the sort of game where you may be stuck on a stage for ages but then have a breakthrough and clear three or four in one go. You have to constantly think about what you’re doing and constantly keep an eye on what the next wave of marauding nasty’s will be.

One memorable level ended with a frantic scramble around the stage to clear all the anti-air guns as the final boss stomped on and proceeded to be able to almost walk straight to the babies without taking a hit. Stress like that is what you’re going to have to deal with to come out on top and it’ll happen all the time.

Away from the main game there are a host of other options and things to do. You can play Co-op in both Ad Hoc and online modes and this allows two Tiki men to run around to defend the village. There are also tons of challenge levels which require you to complete stages under certain conditions. You start with two of these unlocked with more to come after you have beaten them. The criteria is always different and can range from anything from only using a certain type of tower to making sure you don’t let monsters cross certain parts of the level. As if the game wasn’t difficult enough this will test even the best strategy fans out there.

We’ve established the game is hard, but it always fair and the funny thing is it doesn’t really seem to matter. The sense of achievement from completing a level will always have you coming back for just one more go. You’ll find yourself thinking about levels in your everyday life and coming up with strategies while you should be doing other things. Then you’ll return and try it out and maybe it’ll work and bring you onto the next challenge. 

Overall, this is the definitive version of an already excellent game. The core mechanics are strong and work wonderfully when added to the flair and charm of it all. The Vita is also a perfect partner for it and you’ll soon find this one of your most played downloads. There is very little reason not to recommend it to fans of genre and gamers looking for something a little different. The difficulty may be too much for some but it’s a great version of a great game and it should really be in your collection.

Overall 8/10

Monday 29 July 2013

Bit.Trip Fate Review (PC)

Bit. Trip Fate was highly popular on the Wii’s download service and now, a few years on, the fifth game in the Bit. Trip series has made its way onto the PC via STEAM. Like the rest of the series the game takes a simple idea and enhances it with quirky, retro-style, visuals and music to create something vibrant and fun to play.

This time Commander Video is tasked with traveling along a set path and shooting his way through a set of weird and wonderful stages while dub step inspired 8-bit tunes blast away in the background. A shooter on the surface the game also has a number of similarities to games such as Vib-Ribbon as you are locked into your path and have to react to things as they fly and shoot at you.

Shooting enemies fills up a bar which when full upgrades Commander Video to a more deadly state. This continues to grow until you hit ‘Giga’ and turn into a fully-fledged death dealing machine. Every time you take a hit you drop back to your last form. When you only have one hit left the screen loses its sound and everything begins to become entangled in static. Again, players of titles like Rez will be in familiar territory here and it’s a system that works well for this style of game.

Along the way Commander Video can pick up power ups which enlist the help of some his friends - such as Super Meat Boy or CommandGirl Video. For a limited time these characters then circle our hero and grant him extra powers such as changing his bullets to lasers or one giant blast. It all helps to add to the fun the keep the game ticking along. 

Controls are now handled with a combination of keyboard and mouse and they more than match the twin stick control options of the Wii version. The mouse is used to aim and fire while keys control movement left and right along the linear path. It’s simple but effective and allows players to concentrate on building up their high score and keeping Commander Video in his Giga state for as long as possible.

The game isn’t going to last you forever in terms of how long it takes to beat but it does get punishingly difficult as it goes along. When you die you return to the start of the stage and have to go through the whole thing again. This includes if you die while taking on the boss creature at the end of each level so you have to remain alert at all times. As with all the best score attack games though you will likely be drawn back to beat your score again and again.

This brings us onto the only minor issue we really found with the game. Some of the stages just seem to go on for a bit too long to be sent all the way back to the beginning. If there were a few more stages but shorter in length then that might have hit the sweet spot dead on. That said, it’s a minor issue for what is a charming and good natured game.

Bit. Trip Fate is going to provide bite sized chunks of fun for PC owners who need something to play when they have the odd half an hour free. It’s as great now as it was on the Wii when it came out a few years ago and is well worth your time. We can’t help but feel its natural home would be somewhere like the PS Vita but then we are more than happy to play it on any system really.

Overall, it’s a fun and colourful game with a quick witted personality and it will make you smile far more than many other games out there. It’s always fairly safe hands when getting any of the Bit. Trip series and so it remains with this. If you haven’t played it already then you really should be heading off to have a look at it right now.


Wednesday 17 July 2013

Flight of the Amazon Queen Review (PC)


Most of the best games in the point and click genre come from only a small number of studios. Lucas Arts, Sierra, Westwood and Revolution are the names most people think of when they want to go puzzle solving. However, this is somewhat unfair as many other developers have produced excellent point and click titles. Flight of the Amazon Queen, published by Warner Interactive in 1995, can now be picked up completely free from a number of totally legal sources (such as the ScummVM website). This being the case we thought it warranted taking a look at.

The game is set in the nineteen forties and follows the adventures of Joe King (yes, that joke is done), pilot for hire who crashes in the Amazon jungle early on. The Flight of the Amazon Queen's little world is a highly entertaining one and comes across in tone like a more humorous version of the Indiana Jones comic/serial adventure style. Story wise, the title mixes everything from the Lost Valley and Jules Verne's Mysterious Island to King Kong- there's even a crystal skull for good measure.

Things state brightly, with the dialogue being particularly sharp. Each of the characters also has wonderfully thick accents which cover everything from New York cab driver to unscrupulous Dutchman. The jokes are also very good and there is a genuine humour to almost everything. The puzzles, at least to start with, are quite inventive as well. The opening moments see Joe trying to escape from a hotel which requires the player to dress him up as a woman to slip by some goons at the front door.

On the whole, Flight of the Amazon Queen keeps to the logic it sets down early on. Puzzles tend not to be obscure but require you to think a little laterally. Using jungle vines instead of rope is one of the more simple examples, but there are much more inventive problems to overcome.

Unfortunately, as the game progresses the puzzles begin to lose some of their sparkle. You will come across a few sections which will only be solved by pure trial and error. The fact you often have to go back and forth over large areas to exchange one object with someone for another or get the final piece of something soon begins to grate and is completely unnecessary. Getting hold of objects is also a bit unbalanced with some coming far too easy and others being far too hard.

The dialogue can also be to over written as well. Simply clicking to try anobject out on something can bring up four or five lines or dialogue at a time. This isn't a problem to begin with but when you are trying to solve a problem through trial and error seeing the same message that takes so long to get through becomes really frustrating, something not helped by the fact that you can't speed the dialogue along.

Flight of the Amazon Queen is well worth trying out and has many funny moments. However, the longer you play it the more obvious it becomes that this is really just an Indiana Jones want to be. It may be far easier to find than Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis but that is the much better, and more balanced, game. It's a shame that the games flaws begin to drag it down as there is some really good script here. As it's free there is no real reason not to at least give it a go, just don't expect something on a par with the classics of the point and click genre.


Monday 15 July 2013

Four Weeks in Animal Crossing

 It's been another busy couple of weeks in the Animal Crossing Town of Retro101uk!

 The Dream Suite opened! (address 6900-2343-3782)

 Club LOL finally was completed.

 I got yet another badge!

 KK Slider rocked the place.

 We built a nice yellow bench.

 The bamboo flooring started to be layed.

We finished off with a few live classics from KK.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Kung Fu Rabbit Review (PS Vita)

It’s an ordinary day in the Kung Fu Rabbit dojo when it’s suddenly invaded by Aliens who kidnap the rabbits to eat later. One brave rabbit remains and it is now up to you to rescue your friends. It’s a 2D platform game somewhere between Super Meat Boy and N+ with a toned down difficulty (compared to those two), and rabbits. If that’s got your interest then read on.

Starting life as an iOS game, Neko Entertainment has given Kung Fu Rabbit a few alterations to make it more suitable for the Playstation Vita. The most obvious of these is that in app purchases have been replaced by in game collectible currency in the form of carrots. The carrots can then be used to buy upgrades and new equipment to help you in your quest. The resolution has also been upgraded and the controls changed to make everything that little bit better. Some touch controls have also been implemented but you’ll likely just stick to the buttons.

The game is set out into around sixty small levels, with further bonus levels unlocked as you progress. The aim of each stage is not only to reach the captured rabbit at the end, but also to collect the three normal and one giant carrot found in each area. This starts out simply enough but soon requires real skill to achieve.
When you die you have to restart the stage from scratch and any carrots collected will need to be picked up again. This creates a nice risk/reward scenario where you will be always weighing up if you really need that last carrot right at the end of the stage.

Dying is also fairly easy. Enemies patrol the levels and will kill you with one touch. They can be taken out by our fearless rabbit, but each enemy needs to be approached in the correct way to do this. Attacks are carried out automatically and mistiming your approach will often end with the bad guy coming out on top.
Aside from the enemies there are numerous pits, spikes and toxic substances around to stop you as well. All this means you need quick reflexes and strong platforming skills to win the day. The main ability (aside from jumping), that our hero has is the ability to stick to walls and then hop up them. Using this technique is vital when trying to time your leaps properly. It also gives players time to assess the situation and plot their journey through the multitude of moving traps. When you complete the three worlds, even harder remix versions of the levels are unlocked to further test your skill and sanity.

Levels get more difficult quickly so you will need all the skills you have available. New dangers and obstacles are introduced every few levels and precise timing becomes more and more important as you progress. If things do become tough then you can take a trip to the dojo in order to stock up on items to help you. Items such as claws, extra chances and even an easier difficulty are available. You can also get new costumes for your rabbit and items to help reveal hidden passages.

Aside from the instant deaths, Kung Fu Rabbit is a beautifully cheerful game. The music sets a nice oriental mood (although one or two of the tunes could do with not looping quite so quickly).  The look of the game is also striking in a minimalist way. Graphics are clear and colourful and create a pretty, oriental, look throughout most of the levels. The design is simple but highly effective and it creates a focused style that works well.

Overall, Kung Fu Rabbit is a bit of a surprise. We didn’t expect much from it at first glance but this is a really good effort from the development team. Controls are intuitive and slick, and the game world is bright and charming. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable platform game that really deserves attention from Vita owners.


Monday 8 July 2013

Hotline Miami Review (PS3/PS Vita)

Hotline Miami has been causing a stir for quite some time now in the world of PC gaming. A retro themed, neon trenched, blood bath, It has found favour with both gamers and critics alike. Now, in what seems to be a clever move by Sony, It has made its way to the PS3 and Playstation Vita. We’ll save you the pretense of implying it’s all gone wrong, it hasn’t. This is a glorious game, read on to see why.

The game casts you in the role of Jacket. An unreliable narrator, we view the world through his eyes as he commits acts of horrific violence. Without giving too much away it’s clear from the start that something isn’t quite right and you will likely spend much of your play through trying to work out exactly what is real and what isn’t and what on earth is going on.

Our anti-hero is drawn to each new location via the answering machine in his apartment. Each night a new message is left detailing a location and time. This then leads into the next level where you must choose which mask to wear and go about causing chaos and mayhem.

Viewed from a top down perspective, the game has a highly unique visual aesthetic. It’s certainly retro styled and characters and levels are built to look like this in an old eight bit game. The colours used though are often vibrant and strong. This makes things like the constant flow of blood seem to stand out and highlights just how much damage you are doing. Indeed, we can’t recall when pixelated violence looked quite so painful and disturbing.

Along with the strong visuals comes an incredible soundtrack that keeps the adrenaline pumping throughout. The film ‘Drive’ is a heavy influence and the sound certainly seems to have taken inspiration from artists who had their music on the film. Kavinsky is the heaviest influence as the beats pump and pound away while the bullets fly and bones crack.

Indeed, if it ever came out that the game was based on the Drivers untold back story it wouldn’t really seem that surprising (minus the surrealism perhaps). Although it’s very hard to tell, it seems to us that the main character in Hotline Miami is also donning the iconic white scorpion jacket, but perhaps that’s just our imagination running away with us.

Of course, all the style in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the game doesn’t work. There’s no need to worry on that count as once you get used to how the control system works it becomes almost second nature. The ‘gimmick’ as such is to chain kills together for as long as possible. In order to do this you need to move quickly. Taking a single shot or hit will also kill you and require a restart of the current stage.

There are a vast array of weapons at your disposal to deal out the death and destruction. Guns are plentiful, but firing one will alert other enemies in the level to your presence and send them charging after you. It’s often better to use a bludgeoning weapon and sneak up on enemies before dispatching them. Simply punching also works but only stuns your opponent (see also - hitting with doors or throwing a weapon) and you will then need to spend a few seconds finishing your opponent off by smashing their head repeatedly against the ground.

To aid your progress are the different masks which can be worn throughout. Some you get for completing stages while others will need to be found hidden away in the levels. These all have different properties and allow you do things such as kill with punches or kill people by bashing them with doors. Finding a mask to fit your style is all important as you will want to return to completed stages to better your time, score and overall grade. It’s incredible how much better you become at the game as you progress and stages that took ages will soon turn into a race for the biggest kill combo. Levels also never become repetitive with the layouts offering up different types of scenario to play around in. There are also more than a fair few surprises to keep you on your toes as you progress.

Each stage is set out to test not only your reactions but also your puzzle solving skills. Often gunmen overlook corridors safely from behind windows or an enemy may be sitting down and thus hiding the weapon they carry. Working out the order to take out enemies is as vital as actually trying to kill them as one wrong move and it is all over. There are variables as well and enemies don’t always patrol in the same way or carry the same weapons upon restarting after death. This means you also need to be able to think on the move in order to make it through.

One minor point here is that on the Vita screen it can be very difficult to see the dogs when they move through dark coloured floor areas. There were a few occasions when we died without realising a dog was standing right next to us. It can also be difficult to spot the mask and secret message pick-ups due to the screens smaller size. This isn’t really a major problem though and once you have cleared out a level you are free to search around for things anyway.

The games controls do take a bit of getting used to and feel awkward to start. As you progress things do become second nature with a couple of minor exceptions. The drag to look control on the Vita can be difficult to implement unless you are certain you’re safe. It’s not easy to look a room ahead when the enemy are closing in and this can lead to a few leaps of faith. 

The lock on control can also be a bit fiddly. Pressing the square button locks onto the enemy  you are facing (you can also use touch on the Vita), but it would have perhaps been better to lock onto the enemy who is nearest to you as you can often be left firing a gun at a character two rooms away rather than the three gangsters bearing down on you. We also found the lock on cursor to be very hard to see on the Vita and colour blind gamers will struggle even more. A number of times we had to unlock, and lock over and again to try and work out exactly who we had targeted. These are very small flaws though and there was nothing here that prevented us from making our way through the game.

A few (mostly colour blind related), niggles aside it is no over exaggeration to say that this is a master piece of game design. It’s hard but fair and it always leaves you wanting one more go on a level. Aesthetically perfect it has managed to capture an ethos and moment in time and channel it into an exception game with an intriguing and disturbing story. This is one of the most essential games to come out on any format and should be owned by every PS3 and Vita owner.