Wednesday 28 August 2013

Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims HD Review (PS Vita)

First we had the rather lovely Adventures of 2D Octopus Character make the jump to become a native Vita title and now Dakko Dakko’s other much loved Playstation mini has joined it. One of the best of the mini crop, Floating Cloud God is a fun and fresh take on the side scrolling shooter and is another great example of indie games showing simple concepts are sometimes the best. 

 Floating Cloud God has players in control of said deity as he rides a cloud around shooting monsters and being worshipped by his followers. The pilgrims must be protected as if all of them die it’s game over. You start the game with ten pilgrims with the aim being to get them all to the gate at the end of the level. If they all reach the end alive a special pilgrim will join you wearing a different hat. You need to be very careful with the little guys as you only get one back per level if any die so losing a few in one area can be fatal later on.

As well as effectively acting as your lives, they also release hearts throughout their journey  which increase in size as you blast monsters. Collecting these powers you up and this becomes a continual process as you also lose power with every shot you fire. It’s an excellent play mechanic that works really well. If the Cloud God is hit by a monster he will completely power down, He won’t die however so this can be used tactically to block a stray incoming bullet from time to time.

There are seven worlds in total, each split in two stages and a boss fight. Every stage offers something new and they soon become incredibly difficult to get through with all your followers intact. There is a nice variety of enemies and obstacles to overcome and each area is significantly different from the last. It all looks rather lovely as well, with a clean cut oriental style that gets across all the humour and magic we have come to expect from the studio.

The bosses are a particular highlight with each one full of personality and requiring some thought by the player in order to take down. Once you have worked out their weakness the real challenge is to take them out without losing any of your Pilgrims. A monster with a giant flying nose springs to mind as a particular highlight.

In truth the game isn’t going to last you that long in terms of completion. However, this is clearly a score attack kind of title and getting through the levels without losing pilgrims or keeping your special pilgrims alive is going to take a lot more time and effort. It’s such an easy game to get drawn into and what starts out as replaying a single level will see you staying on to try and complete more and more stages.

Overall, if there was ever a game you could describe as delightful then this is it. It just has a lovely fun feel to it and a hint of nostalgia that brings to mind old television shows like Monkey. It’s a game you’ll play continually to beat your old scores, rescue pilgrims or just to have fun for a few minutes. It just goes to show how strong the original mini was that it only needed a graphical facelift to still feel like an excellent Vita game.


Monday 26 August 2013

BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2 Legend of Rhythm Alien Review (PC)

After his exploits in the previous BIT.TRIP games Commander Video is back to running in everyone’s favourite retro themed series and now available on the PC. 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. Just one thing though – do make sure you are playing with a gamepad as the keyboard controls are a bit tricky.

Overall, it’s easy to recommend Runner 2 on any system. It fits nicely onto Steam among the other high profile indie games and is the perfect game for PC gamers to take short blasts at on their lunch break. 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 21 August 2013

Castlevania: The New Generation Review (Mega Drive)

Set in the year 1897, this episode in the Castlevania timeline centres around the female vampire Elizabeth Bartley - executed in the 15th century for preying on around eight hundred girls in Romania. A witch named Drotia Tzuentes has now revived her, and Elizabeth's first thought is to resurrect the master of evil himself - Dracula. 

Enter John Morris, son of Kincy Morris from Bram Stoker’s story, and his good friend Eric Lecarde. Both must set out to assault Dracula’s castle and stop the world from falling into the hands of evil once more. Life is never easy in Castlevania.

Following the traditional Castlevania style, The New Generation (known as Bloodlines outside Europe), is a side-scrolling hack and slash platform adventure. John and Eric must make their way through six areas split into smaller sections while taking on the usual minions of Dracula. In the middle and end of each section our heroes must face off against a particularly nasty monster, and each seems particularly fond of filling up half of your game screen.

While John Morris dispatches the threats by utilising his trusty whip, Eric breaks with tradition of the Castlevania series to this point and wields a spear; each character and weapon playing slightly differently from each other, so the game is flexible enough to take into account players with different styles.

The world of Castlevania is resurrected well on the Mega Drive: while not being as graphically ambitious as either of the Super Nintendo outings, different environments are easily distinguishable and enemies do not disappear into the detailed backgrounds. Characters and enemies, although a tad small, are well-animated and move convincingly without flickering or dropping frames. 

Unfortunately, there aren't a great choice of enemies to be slain, with most levels containing only one or more types of land-based and flying monsters, and little else between. Not a major issue as such, because good level design compensates with a variety of obstacles that unsettle the player. 

In terms of gameplay, things are solid without being fantastic. Characters are responsive and leap about while attacking, but there just seems to be something missing. It's less noticeable with Eric Lecarde, whose spear-based attacks lend a certain flair and enthusiasm to the game - and would be expected of someone trying to save the world. 

On the other hand, John seems much less inspired. His whip can only be used to slash to the left or right while standing. This seems underexploited after Super Castlevania IV and we would have loved to see a full three hundred and sixty degree field of attack back in play. Diagonal moves are possible when jumping but it still leaves a lack of flexibility at all other times.

Castlevania: The New Generation is a competent enough adventure. Although six levels of hacking and slashing will not exactly last you a lifetime, the game is undeniably good fun to play, and the maps and monsters have clearly been commissioned with purpose. It's hard then to really pinpoint any major shortcomings with the game, outside of those mentioned above. Solid Castlevania fare, but it does nothing spectacualr to single itself out from others in the series.


Monday 19 August 2013

Shadowrun Review (SNES)

Shadowrun represents the definitive example of a game in the cyberpunk genre. The plot follows amnesia sufferer of Jake who, after being killed by a gang at the very start of the game he is revived by a mysterious women. Jake awakes in the morgue unaware of who he is and why he was killed. Piece by piece you must uncover just what is going on and who it is that's after you.

A number of things set the tone perfectly in the Shadowrun world. First of all, the brooding soundtrack hangs in the air implying danger is only around the next corner- no over exaggeration as the title contains a number of random events and enemies that may or may not occur. Every street is littered with hiding places for snipers all too willing to pick you off as well.

Shadowrun’s story is set among the streets of a large city run by mega corporations, with different suburbs and areas creating the feel of a varied and diverse cityscape to explore. Something which helps to build the impression of a living city is the number of people who are just going about their everyday business. Market sales men, doorman, business men, bar patrons and just ordinary people moving around the streets are in enough of an abundance to make you feel that there is a lot going on outside of your own characters adventure.

The fact all the seemingly unimportant characters found in the game may be fearful of gangs or aware of magic creatures but still go on about their everyday lives as normal is a master stroke by the developers as without it the city would feelcold and dead. Instead it feels alive, and Gangs and creatures there are in abundance with everything from Orcs to vampires stalking the streets.

Shadowrun is a world where technology and fantasy collide to create a unique adventure where these things are excepted by the citizens as normal. Everyone knows that these creatures exist, indeed most of them work openly in the city, the threat comes from the corruption of the mega corporations rather than any pre-conceived fantasy rule set of how creatures should act.

Shadowrun proves that fantasy and sci-fi settings can sit side by side with spectacular effect. During the game you will be able to enhance yourself with technology to gain skills, as well as ‘jack’ into computers to steal money and information, but along side this sits the fact you can create magic spells and have a spirit guide to lead you through the game. 

Technology is technology and magic is magic, there is no attempt to explain away the fantastical in terms of some tacked on technological babble about viruses or mods. When you see a vampire or a dragon, no explanation is given as to why it should exist, as none is given as to why humans should exist, you just except it and because of this Shadowrun becomes a far more rich and rewarding experience without convoluted plot points placed to explain away every aspect of magic.

Shadowrun represents and original idea executed to perfection, unfortunately it sold terribly and as a result the ideas found in the title where not expanded upon. A great shame as anyone who has the pleasure of experiencing what the title offers will not be disappointed. The recent revivial of the franchise with 'Shadowrun Returns' shows the popularity of the franchise and we hope to see more titles in the future. They will all have to go some to beat this though.

Overall 8/10 

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Superfrog HD Review (PS3/PS Vita)

Superfrog first appeared on the Amiga back in the days when the platformer was king. It never made it to consoles to take on the Sonic’s and Mario’s of the world but was given a warm reception and to this day the little green frog prince holds a warm place in the heart of many a retro gamer. Team 17 have decided the time is now right for Superfrog to finally make the leap to consoles and we are more than happy that it has.

We’ll be honest, Superfrog is one of those games that we’ve always wanted to play but never managed to get hold of. This means we were of course happy to finally get to play it but also a little unsure if the gameplay would hold up without a rose-tinted view point to fall back on. We can get that fear out of way right away. There is much more to this than reliving memories of a golden game from years gone by. 

For those new to the game the story is a wonderful piece of hokum about a prince and princess who have a magic spell put on them which turns them into frogs. The princess is whisked away and it is up to the prince to bounce through six worlds to save her. Not an original plot by any means but then sometimes the old stories are the best.

The first thing returning fans will notice is the overhaul the graphics have been given. Everything is now much more colourful and bright. The sprites and backgrounds have been redesigned and upgraded and it all looks suitably comic and silly. The new look keeps the feel of the original while allowing it to look suitable for both the PS3 and Vita screens.

The levels themselves have also been remixed to better cater for a new generation of gamers. What this means isn’t just that they have been made easier. While that is the case in certain places, some have also been added to and made larger. For those that prefer things how they used to be you can unlock the original levels via a fruit machine mini game. The levels aren’t that difficult to unlock either and we had all of them available by around half way through the game.

Levels themselves are bright and bouncy, filled with collectible coins and fruit to add to your score and springs and secret passages to help you through the level. Villains take the form of worms, penguins and other assorted goofy animals with big eyes. There are disappearing platforms and spikes, falling blocks and ice levels. If you ever wondered about the heritage of the Amiga platform genre it’s all here to see. Superfrog is definitely still an Amiga platformer at heart as well. That pacey, slightly slippery, mad cap approach we associate with so many of the machines output is still heavily in force and for many new gamers will feel like something fun and new.

All of the levels are well designed and the learning curve is good with each world adding new dangers and providing a step up in challenge. Levels can be raced through to reach the end or taken more slowly to try and find all the coins and collectibles. Power ups come in the form of wings which let you float and potatoes with eyes that you can throw at enemies to despatch them.

There is always a clock ticking down but unless you’re going to search every tiny corner it won’t get near to running out on you.  At the end of each level you get a star rating and a rundown of your completion time, score, coins collected and secrets found, so there is plenty here for the completionists to do when revisiting levels.

If there is a criticism it’s that sometimes you’ll be careering around at such a speed that’s it difficult to see smaller enemies and spikes. This is more of an issue of the Vita’s smaller screen but even then you have enough flexibility in terms of energy and lives for it not to cause any major frustrations. The boss battles with the witch at the end of each world are also pretty poor, with little imagination or clever design in place. They don’t last long though so you can soon get back to racing around.

As well as the main game there are a host of other options available. These include an endless runner version of the game where you continually need to pick up clocks to keep you dwindling time ticking over. It proves a fun diversion but doesn’t promise to last as long as the level editor option. Here users can remix and set up their own levels from the assets in the game and share with over players. This could provide a string of excellent content should the community get behind it and it’s a great addition to have.

Overall, this is a great return for one of the genres much loved underdogs. It’s seems we’ve been waiting for the return of Superfrog for forever and now is definitely the right time. It’s a fun and knock about kind of game that relies on pace and the constant sound of collectibles being picked up to keep you going. It’s short and sweet with the draw to keep you coming back to completed levels strong and is a genuine breath of fresh air. We haven’t played a platformer like this for years and we’re so glad to finally have its type back again. 


Monday 5 August 2013

Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark Review (PS3/Vita)

Written by Bradley Marsh

Originally called Stealth Bastard, the game was given the name change for the Playstation release, however it is still a bit of a bastard to play as it offers up one of the most challenging experiences on the system.

The idea of the game is to simply get to the exit. Well, we say simply, as it is anything but simple. All manner of deadly traps will be between you and the exit and generally there to make your task as difficult as possible. Yet like many stealth games, you have various tricks to make your way to the end.

Shadows are the order of the day, as cameras and the like won’t be able to see you, there is also a handy little visual indicator as your goggles light up green when hidden and red when visible. Using the shadows is just small part of it, as levels start off fairly simple, but soon become ultra complex as you try your hardest to move without being spotted.

The difficulty shares a lot in common with a game like Super Meat Boy, but the mechanics really do set it apart, as it becomes less of a pixel perfect platformer and relies more on your ability to think on the go as you plan your next move. In some levels, switches may need to be hit in order to open up other areas to get to a terminal to open the exit. All the time having the various traps, robots, cameras and more trying to spot and destroy your clone.

Each level is graded with a rank between D and S, with the rank you get depends on three main things. The time it takes to complete a level, how many times your clone dies and how many times he is spotted. Basically get through the the level in the quickest time possible, without dying or getting spotted and you get an S-Rank. Easy right? Well not at all, it will take multiple attempts to perfect a level, learning the layout and the movement of the enemies, trying to get the quickest and most efficient route to the end.

Completing levels and getting certain ranks unlocks the various enhancements to your clone, such as decoys, camouflage and more. Choosing the right equipment for the right level can make all the difference, especially in the later levels. Happy with that S-Rank? How about online leaderboards per level that will show up straight away how you compare to the rest of the world. Leaderboards are split too, for simply best time and best time with equipment attached.

Aside from all that, each level also has hidden treasure known as Helices, which add yet another level of difficulty. The Helices are not easy to collect, some may be easy to find, but reaching them is a whole other ball game and again, getting a perfect run whilst getting the Helice isn’t possible, so yet more runs are needed. At the end of each sector you are given a rundown of just how well you have performed, with an over view as to total time, deaths and times spotted.

Each sector also has a boss level, which even early on isn’t simple and requires you to use all the skills learned from previous levels to beat. The first levels act as something of a tutorial, with hints explaining the different mechanics, which become intuitive from the very moment you try each one.
What works with a game like this, as it did in a Super Meat Boy, is that no matter how difficult a level appears, you know what you have to do and how to do it. Each failure is down to something you did wrong, no blame on the controls or the game cheating you. Death is met with instant restart at the last checkpoint, again something that is vital for a game that requires you to try over and over.

You will try things again and again, it is how the game is designed. It wants to challenge you and challenge you it will. The complexity really grows as you progress with many levels including backtracking that you’d expect in a game more akin to Treasure Island Dizzy. Hit a switch to activate a door, then go somewhere else to hack a terminal before going to another switch. Using all those technique to both avoid robots, or use them to your advantage.

Levels that initially seem impossible just start to make sense as you feel your way through, learning how one thing affects another. You will not breeze through Stealth Inc, even levels that look easy on first inspection can be difficult to work through. Then working out how to get through that same level without being spotted, killed and in the quickest time will test you to the limit.

There is a built in level editor which brings you all the assets used by the developers for the main game. It is possible to lose hours to the editor, however levels are local only and being unable to share them seems like somewhat of a missed opportunity. There are so many possibilities as to what can be created in an editor that can match that of Trials Evolution. It is really the only down side to a wonderful game.

Stealth Inc: A Clone In The Dark is a special game and one that shows off the sort of thing the Vita was made for. A game that is simple to play, both in quick bursts or for hours on end, that offers up a challenge and doesn’t hold back just because it is on a handheld, At just £7.99 you will struggle to find another game that offers as much content for the price. This is one game that won’t be hiding in the shadows for long.