Thursday 31 October 2013

Day Of The Tentacle Review (PC)

A long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far, far away point and click adventure games used to be all the rage. Lucas Arts used to be well known for its skill in making graphic adventures and Day of Tentacle is one of its most famous titles. We thought we should see if the game still stands up today.

The sequel to Maniac Mansion, Day of The Tentacle starts with Purple Tentacle drinking some toxic sludge which causes him to develop super intelligence and the urge to take over the world. Enter our three heroes Bernard, Laverne, and Hoagie, fresh from receiving a note, delivered by hamster, from Green Tentacle asking for help.

Dr Fred, the man responsible for all the trouble attempts to send the three back in time to yesterday so they can turn off the machine polluting the water. However, something goes wrong and Hoagie, a fat rock loving stoner and Laverne, an insane spaced out drip, end up stuck in the past and future respectively. Players have to solve the puzzles in the different time frames to bring everyone home and then work out a way to stop Purple Tentacle.

The game has a unique graphical style which has really helped it to keep its place in many people's hearts. No other game out there looks quite as weird as Day of the Tentacle and the oddball graphics help portray the characters and complement the twisted humour really well.

The biggest plus about game, the crazy humour, can also be its biggest frustration. It's almost impossible to get through Day of the Tentacle without using some kind of guide as the puzzles often require you to think in the oddest and most obtuse ways possible. This would be a major problem if it wasn't for the fact that the game is so incredible hilarious. Every line is delivered perfectly and the three main characters all bring their own quirky nature to proceedings. The excellent voice cast also adds a whole new level of genius to the game.

The puzzles, although quite clearly programmed by the insane, also raise a smile. It's hard to describe any without giving the game away. Needless to say, Hoagie crashing the signing of the declaration of independence and Laverne being sent to a future where earth is run by tentacles and humans are kept as pets offer up a plethora of opportunities for madness. Throw in a hamster and a talking horse and you really can't go wrong.

It's good to see that after all these years that Day of the Tentacle is still worthy of all the praise that gets lavished upon it. There has never been a funnier game and if more titles had characters as well thought out as these then the industry would be a much brighter place. Even though the puzzles can drive you to madness it's all worth it to experience one of the most unique and original adventures out there.


Wednesday 30 October 2013

Muramasa Rebirth Review (PS Vita)

Originally launched on the Wii, the spiritual successor to the beautiful Odin Sphere is set in ancient Japan and follows the journey of two characters. You must pick from either Kisuke, a fugitive swordsman suffering from memory loss or Momohime, a princess possessed by an evil spirit and head out to find the many blades that will aid you to complete the characters respective quests.

The first thing that hits you about the game is that is looks and sounds stunningly beautiful. A 2D side scrolling fighter at heart the environments you explore are simply breath-taking. This is possibly the highest quality 2D art work we have ever seen and it looks magnificent on the Vita screen. From fields to waterfalls to cherry blossom groves the game will have players continually stopping to take screen shots to use as background wallpaper.

Complementing the visuals is a massively impressive soundtrack. Japanese strings and pipes swirl and play to build the atmosphere and create a truly magical environment for our two heroes to explore. In terms of presentation this is out of the top draw, which is a good thing as you're going to be seeing those environments repeatedly and for a fair amount of time.

Gameplay involves your character running through said lovely backdrops left and right and then being stopped by an enemy attack. When this happens a warning flashes up on screen and your character will draw their sword. What follows is normally a very swift and brutal fight against numerous attackers before a result screen is displayed and you move on. The swiftness of the combat manages to capture the samurai style atmosphere brilliantly. Your character never draws their sword unless a fight is about to happen and the swift nature of battles helps to keep momentum and the feeling you are a master swordsman going. As you progress thing get decidedly more difficult and bosses can easily crush players but it’s those fights out in the fields and roads that help build the atmosphere and feeling of ancient Japan perfectly.

Combat itself is flawlessly fluid. You have a mass of different moves available from the start and will need to get used to all of them, especially the blocks and parries, by the end of the game. You can create huge combos by air juggling and darting across the screen to the next foe and also switch between any of your three equipped swords on the fly to change momentum and style. 

Swords are what the game is all about and you can collect over a hundred of them, each with different characteristics. You have a sword gauge which when depleted will break the blade, so you need to be careful and quickly switch between them in battle. Swords will also flash and when this happens changing blade will unleash a special attack. A broken sword needs to be returned to their sheath to repair but will return to combat readiness over time.

The catch to this most beautiful looking and sounding game with precise and satisfying combat is repetition. This is a long game and you’re looking at getting into the thirty to forty hour mark to finish both quests properly with a decent amount of blades.  It’s not repetition of combat as such but the traveling from one side of the map to the other, often with little happening. This is offset somewhat by the beautiful backdrops but there isn’t much to find or that many people to talk to within the environments. As you wander through screen three or four of the same forest you’ll begin to want to just get on with it. It’s not a major issue as your characters move pretty swiftly but after a few hours you’ll want that quick travel option to open up as soon as possible.

It’s a fairly minor point in what is in the most part a stunning game. If you can look past the trudging back and forth you’ll find a game quite unlike any other with a unique look and style all of its own. It’s a game that looks like it was born to fit the Vita and the controls are far superior to those present in the Wii version. It’s a beautiful and dark Japanese folktale come to life and even though there are flaws we can’t help but love it for its fluid combat, magical sound and gorgeous visuals.

Overall 8/10

Monday 28 October 2013

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers Review (3DS)

Wrtitten by Adam Gulliver

Playing Soul Hackers is like taking a virtual reality trip back to the late 90’s. Not just the gameplay, but also the story. Memories of all those movies dealing with computers, hacking and virtual reality written by people who had no idea what they were talking about came flooding back as soon as the game begins. This is not so much a bad thing though, as there’s nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia when it’s this enjoyable.

Soul Hackers was originally released for the Saturn in 1997 which goes a long way in explaining the style and feel of the game. Graphically, aside from the addition of 3D (which adds nothing by the way) it feels very basic, with disappointingly no new graphical update that we can see. Travelling through the hi-tech Amami city is done with a dot on a map, the first person dungeons are very basic in design and the battle animations are almost non-existent. So in that sense it’s a shame more care wasn’t taken with bringing it to a new audience. That aside, play for long enough and there’s still something here that will suck you in.

This could possibly be the diverse cast of characters you’ll encounter or the dual worlds you’ll be exploring. Dual because not only is the reality of Amami City available to explore, but also the virtual reality world of Paradigm X. A sort of MMO which has become the new big thing. Of course, it turns out that all is not as it seems and Paradigm X becomes a central plot point as you progress through the story. The story, which while initially starting off slowly definitely hooked us, and made us put up with the experience of learning the many mechanics found within.

Soul Hackers definitely takes you back to a time before hand holding became the norm. Coming into this as your first Shin Megami Tensei can be a pretty daunting experience. Tutorials are nowhere to be found and it’s really up to the player to discover how to best approach the game. It isn’t long before you’re thrown straight into your first turn based battle and really it’s all down to experimentation, something we actually quite enjoyed. Letting the player figure things out for themselves is definitely something that’s been lost as games have evolved and Soul Hackers has shown that not telling the player exactly what to do can make the game a rewarding experience.

Those new to the SMT series may be a little baffled by the battle system as it is, at first, quite daunting with options layered on top of options that can overwhelm quite easily. With each turn based battle you have six spaces for humans and demons that you collect. At the start of each turn you make each characters selection, whether it be magic, attack, item etc. Then the battle commences until all turns are done, and repeat. What sets this game apart from other RPG’s is the use of the demons that you can have join your team. In order to convince them to join, you can use the Talk option at the start of each battle. Conversing with the demons will more often than not bring up multiple choice answers.

This is where it gets weird. Demons seem to have as many problems as humans, with them asking questions ranging from the meaning of life to favourite foods. It’s all a bit surreal. Answer the question correctly from the multiple choices you’re given and it could very well lead the demon to join your party. Answer incorrectly and it could lead them to attacking you or just leaving in a huff.

Believe it or not that’s just the basics; from here you need to build up the trust of your demons. Lose trust and the demons could very well ignore your commands and just do what the hell they please. Then there’s fusing, a mechanic those who are familiar with the SMT series will understand, and others will initially be confused by. Fusing demons together making newer, more powerful ones, a crucial element in order to progress through the harder dungeons.

The dungeons being one of the real stars of Soul Hackers. As already mentioned, dungeons are played out in a first person manner, navigating the corridors and running into random battles. Dungeons each have a different style to them and can consist of tricky puzzles tiered across multiple floors. Disappointingly though these, like much in the game, are very old fashioned, only being able to move in four directions as opposed to full 3D movement.

The first appearance of Soul Hackers outside of Japan is a most welcome one. It may not have had the graphical update some would’ve hoped for, but the story and characters are interesting enough that it will grab you till the end.

Overall 7/10

Friday 25 October 2013

Toki Tori 2+ Review (Wii U)

Following on from the success of Toki Tori, the second game in the series is now available with a large update which fixes a number of bugs and other glitches. There is a plot of sorts but it’s left to the player to decipher. From what we can make out you must try and get your little yellow bird to meet up with his friends during some strange catastrophe which is afflicting the land where they live.

Toki Tori 2 is a brave departure from the first game in the series. Now there are no items to collect in order to solve puzzles and everything is dealt with via skills dished out during the game. That said, your basic skill set won’t evolve much from start to finish. Toki Tori has a whistle or tweet he can use and a ground stomp. These skills are generally used to move animals closer to you or further away from you. Players must think how to best use these skills within their environment in order to progress.

Whistling certain tunes also activate various skills but these don’t really affect the level based puzzles. Most of the time these amount to checking where you are on a map or returning to the last save point and resetting the puzzle. That isn’t to say that there is no variety. As you progress the two basic skills are utilised in a number of different ways. Sometimes the whistle is needed to get fire flies to follow you in order to illuminate dangerous paths, while at others it’s to get bubble blowing frogs to face the right way. The stomp also has different functions. Stomping in water for instance will send splashes out to short circuit electric bugs, while at other times it can be used to break floors or knock creatures off the ceiling.

There is certainly an inventive and playful use of the two core skills and it’s commendable that the team had the faith to build a game around them without feeling the need to continually add something else into the mix. While the game is certainly fairly sedately paced we certainly didn’t feel that puzzles were becoming repetitive and often found short goes turning into much longer sessions as we tried to push on to the next checkpoint.

There’s also a camera that can be used via the Wii U controller to take pictures of the various creatures in the game world. These then go into an album and collecting them all gives the player a reward. It’s a nice distraction but we rarely found ourselves drawn to it instead of the proper puzzling.

One of the biggest problems of the game is the lack of direction. There’s no real plot as such but where it can become frustrating is the lack of guidance given early on. Very little is explained to the player and while large parts of the game are common sense and easily identified via trial and error, we can see players getting stuck at points and having absolutely no idea what to do. That said there is certainly a charming game here and there isn’t really anything else like I around at the moment. It reminds us of a long lost Amiga puzzle platformer (which is a good thing).

Overall, Toki Tori 2+ offers a fun and colourful experience. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but if you are looking for something to test your brain against at a leisurely pace then this could well be the one for you. It was a brave move to head away from the formula of the first game and for the most part is works. It does take a little getting used to but once the game clicks it’s an enjoyable adventure that’s well worth a look.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Castles in the Sky Review (PC)

Castles in the Sky is the debut game from indie studio The Tall Trees. A sort of interactive picture book, the game follows a small boy as he makes his way up into the sky using a mixture of clouds and balloons.

The gameplay is fairly simplistic. The boy can jump a fair distance and height and this is one of the main ways you will use to climb the screen. Mouse controls are a little twitchy but they do work once you get the hang of it and you’ll soon be flinging yourself around the screen and landing on the passing clouds with relative ease.

As well as jumping, our little hero can hang onto balloons which will further help in his ascent. There are a few moments which require fairly precision jumping but nothing that’s really going to halt your progress and you won’t die, simply falling down to a cloud below. There’s also a few ring like objects to collect that make a pleasant noise but don’t really add much else. You see, Castles in the Sky isn’t really about the challenge, it more about what you feel while playing.

Throughout your climb beautifully orchestrated and emotive music plays as lines from a story book style poem appear on the screen. As you reach each new section more lines appear and little graphical touches and flourishes will present themselves to further add to the atmosphere. We won’t give anything away but just rest assured that the content is handled with subtlety and a clear understanding of storytelling and feeling that will make even the most cynical person smile.

The game itself isn’t very long and you’ll likely finish it in ten to fifteen minutes. But what it does is provide a perfect little sanctuary of peace and serenity on your computer. It’s somewhere to hide for a few moments or during a lunch break. It’s hard to see anyone playing this and not feeling just a little bit better and more at peace after the experience. 

Castles in the Sky marks a skilled and interesting debut for The Tall Tress. They clearly have an eye for detail, atmosphere and storytelling and that’s something that we look forward to being further developed in future. For now we have bite sized chunk of serenity to enjoy and it is well worth making sure you give it a try.

Overall 7/10

Monday 21 October 2013

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness Review (PS3)

It’s been a long time since the first Disgaea game graced European shores and turned a large number of the population into obsessive number crunchers with an eye for multi-coloured squares. Since Hour of Darkness we’ve had three more entries into the mains series and countless spinoffs on the handheld platforms. Now, the original Demons are back in a direct sequel to Leharl, Etna and Flonne’s first adventure.

This time Leharl must fight to prove himself the true overlord of the demon realm whilst also working out what on earth is happening with all these celestial flowers springing up all over the place. Many a twist and turn ensues (which we won’t spoil here), and as usual it’s a crazy and unhinged plot but then this is Disgaea so what exactly were you expecting?

It’s fair to say that a direct sequel, to a hardcore game, in a niche genre that came out almost ten years ago is likely to have a fairly dedicated audience. As such you probably know if you’re going to buy this or not already. For those that haven’t come across a Disgaea game before we will try and explain how it works. At its heart is a turn based strategy game. Your characters emerge from a demon portal and move in squares across a gridded battle ground. You use menu commands to get them to attack, use items or activate special skills. However, there is so much depth to battle and so many systems at work that it simply boggles the mind.

Along with the Lifting and throwing mechanic, the partnering mechanic, combos and apprentices are the Geo Symbols.  Many of the levels have coloured squares adorning the floor. These relate to coloured triangles set somewhere around the level, each of which gives a different effect to the square. These can range from giving extra experience points to causing physical damage or even making you (or the enemy), invincible. Not good for anyone with colour blindness but it means you have to be careful what you are doing and plan ahead. The symbols sometimes move around as well which adds even more to deal with.

Destroying the geo symbols can set off a chain reaction that destroys all the squares and damages anything standing on them. If in the process you destroy another symbol then you can get a domino effect which zooms around every colour square and ends in a huge explosion of colour. This results in a massive bonus to your end of level score (Another system in play), and can give you extra treasure.

The amount of characters you can create is truly staggering. To do this you need to go to the dark assembly room (much like in other Disgaea games), and use mana won from battles to create a new character. These can be human or monsters and new options constantly open up based on creatures you are defeating or characters in certain classes continually levelling up. The dark assembly can also be used to alter the game in certain ways, such as making better weapons available or only allowing Prinnies onto maps. Some of these bills require you to go into the assembly room and bribe the court in order to get them passed on a vote. Certain options such as making the game harder can now be accessed via an in game cheat shop.

The other thing Disgaea is known for is the item world. Any item or weapon in the game can be entered and by clearing floors of monsters within it makes it stronger. There are also ‘innocents’ within the items that can be defeated. This allows for special powers and super stat boosts to be added. The item world could theoretically last forever and we can’t even imagine how long it would take to max out an entire teams gear and weapons. For the super obsessed it’s unlikely you’ll be playing much else for the next few years if you want to take on the task.

The major addition to the many systems since the first game is the ability to mount creatures. Now human characters can ride monsters on the battle field. This allows for the use of different skills while the ridden beast will take damage rather than the user. This allows for a weak character like a healer to ride around on a dragon with much less chance of them being killed. It also allows slow moving characters to ride speedy monsters around the battle field. It’s an addition that works well and offers even more options when taking on the hordes.

Disgaea D2 represents a game that fans will love. It’s a combination of great characters, a wild story and a number of small but beneficial refinements to the tried and tested formulae. Newcomers to the series may well be completely overwhelmed but for anyone who wants yet more Disgaea action this is about as fine-tuned as it gets right now and it shows there is still a lot of life left in the franchise.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Worms Revolution Extreme Review (PS Vita)

When Worms first appeared on the Amiga and other home systems it managed to quickly become one of the most competitive multiplayer games ever. To this day the enduring image of a small worm chucking an exploding sheep at its adversaries can’t help but raise a smile and the series has now managed to move to just about every format going.

Worms Revolution Extreme marks the first time the little guys have made it to the Vita and it is effectively a port of the PS3 game with some minor tweaking and all the downloadable content. If you’ve never played any of the games before you have different teams of four worms who are placed on a landscape and your goal is to destroy the opposition using a massive amount of different weapons and gadgets. Actions are turn based with a worm from each team moving and acting before the next member of the same team. This means that you have to be wary of enemies who are close as they might get the jump on you before some of your team has had the chance to move. 

The main change to the Worms formula is the introduction of physics objects. Littered around the battle field are water bottles, lighters and other seemingly everyday items. However,  if attacked they explode and cover the field in water, fire or poison. Water itself is another addition and allows for players to submerge enemy worms. Doing this damages anyone underwater to the tune of five hits points per turn. You can also use it to wash enemies away to their doom.

Character classes also play a big part in your tactics as aside from your standard soldier you can pick from scouts (weak but fast), Brutes (strong, hard to move) and Scientists (Weak, but add health to the team each term). Many may stick with the original characters but it does add some depth for those looking to change things up.

Worms has always been about multiplayers battles and you are well served with options here. There are the usual online modes as well as Ad Hoc and ability to play a game using one Vita passed between players. What you can’t do though is a paused or ‘postal’ style match that games such as Everybody’s Golf have implemented. You need all the players playing at the same time for a match to happen.

Revolution Extreme also has a host of single player options to help you refine your skills. There’s a single player campaign which comes with a genuinely funny voice over by Matt Berry and some clever puzzles to solve. There are also scenarios set on Mars and back in time which further add value for people looking to fight against the computer.

The only real downside to the game comes with what has been sacrificed in terms of graphics in the transition to Vita. It’s not a major issue but there are a few frame rate problems and the visuals aren’t running at a native Vita resolution. As a result it can be hard to see exactly what your worm is standing near. This can be solved via a handy zoom feature but it would have been nice to get a better definition on the screen.

Overall, this is a great package for anyone who needs a portable version of Worms. There is a ton of content here and very few issues to stop you enjoying it in whatever way you want. Everyone should own at least one copy of a Worms game and this one has more packed into it than any of the others so far.

Overall 8/10

Monday 14 October 2013

SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt Review (3DS)

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 until your 3DS starts telling you it needs to be charged. 

We can’t think of another eshop game which has had that effect on us 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 probably the best 3DS eshop title available right now and it offers a fun, challenging and fresh experience for gamers to test themselves with.

Overall 8/10