Tuesday 27 May 2014

Transistor Review (PC)

Bastion was a massive success for Super Giant Games. Most people have played it and numerous gamers own it on at least two different machines. With that in mind it would have been easy for the studio to release a sequel or spiritual successor to it. We’d all have played it, loved it, and raved about it. Transistor is not like Bastion.

Starting in a beautifully depicted futuristic city scape you pull an electronic sword from a body and you’re on your way. No explanation is given and no background about the world or yourself is forthcoming. The player, like the character you control is thrown in, as if awakening from some strange dream and this gives a wonderful sense of mystery and discovery as you progress.

From the outside this may look to share some similarities with Bastion. The perspective is the same and there is also a narrator of sorts, although he is talking to the female protagonist as you go. Right at the start you begin to think this is going to be another hack and slash but then about five minutes in it asks you to hit the freeze button and everything changes.

Here, you suddenly realise you are actually in a real time/turn based cross over style RPG. You can execute attacks in real time (and even boost them to activate almost instantly), but the real trick is mastering the freeze system. Hitting the button stops everything and you then have an action bar you can use up before the enemy moves again. It’s kind of like the V.A.T.S system in Fallout 3 or the system at work in Vagrant Story.

During this time you can move around and stack up attacks. Pressing the button again sends you into action like a blur across the screen. The downside is that you then can’t use any attacks or special moves until the bar has regenerated in full. The more attacks you use, the longer the bar takes to recharge. This means you have to be extremely careful about what you are doing as you are often slower than the enemy robots sent to stop you. It’s essential to get in, attack and get back out to a place you can safely recharge as avoiding damage otherwise is almost impossible and you’ll be downed in no time.

If your health bar depletes while you have charge time you’ll get a chance to move away from danger. If not, one of your powers will be damaged and unusable until you make it to two save points. This severely limits your attacking options and often leads to a daisy chain effect of you losing all your powers and flat lining. On the off chance you are finding things too easy you can also add a number of handicaps as you go which increase difficulty and the amount of experience you gain.

The options you have to play around with are numerous and can be set up in a ton of different ways. This is one of Transistors strengths but we can see it easily overwhelming some players. When you gain a power you can do one of three things with it. Equipping it in an active slot will allow the player to use it via a button press. This could be a long range attack, a fast dodge, an area effect attack or something like summoning a creature to assist you. All attacks have different speeds in real time combat and few of them work fast enough to run through the game hacking away without the freeze system. 

Each active power can also be boosted by equipping powers as support. For instance, you could take the bouncing bomb power and add it to your long range attack, thus making the attack ricochet off enemies and into others.  You can add two boosters to each active attack which opens up all sorts of crazy possibilities. Finally, you can add powers to your passive support slots. This means they normally do things like boost player speed or increase resistance. Any power can be assigned to any slot on any other power so finding the perfect combination will require some thought and the possibilities are just about endless. The only limit on what you can do is that each power takes up a certain number of points and once that hits maximum nothing else can be equipped.

While you are getting used to the combat you’ll be experiencing some absolutely beautiful visuals. The Neo Noir tone of the game is offset by stunning, neon tinged environments full of small details and snippets of information about the world you’re exploring. It reminded us of an isometric Deus Ex or the SNES version of Shadowrun if the rundown world had been replaced with some kind of semi-utopian society. There are also a few pretty big nods to Final fantasy VII in there as well. It’s gorgeous and the musical score and sound effects also help to build a picture of a once perfect, now lonely world where something seems to have gone wrong very quickly.

Overall, Transistor is a triumph of both style and design. It takes some getting used to and you’ll need a PC running comfortably above the minimum specs to get a smooth experience but Super Giant Games have tried something a little different here and it works. There’s the odd pacing issue and players will need to spend some time getting used to how the combat works but it’s a rich and rewarding experience and something that you’ll likely return to long in the future.

Overall 9/10

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Demon Gaze Review (PS Vita)

The Vita is fast becoming the platform of choice for both developers and players who want a slice of JRP action in their lives. Demon Gaze continues this trend and also adds to the recent resurgence of games taking on the first person dungeon crawler genre. It’s bright and colourful, it’s got questionably drawn female characters and it’s absolutely hard as nails.

You awaken in a basement without knowledge of who you are. You are quickly thrown into a battle with a demon. After defeating it you find out you are a Demon Gazer with the ability to capture strong demons and harness their abilities. You then have to venture into the worlds many dungeons to find more foes to defeat and hopefully find out all those things you can’t remember. We’ve been here before with the story certainly but there are numerous twists and turns along the way to keep this one interesting.

The game is split into two different sections. First of all you have the inn. Here you can talk to NPC characters, accept quests and stock up on gear and weapons. You can also revive fallen characters and just about everything else we have come to expect from this type of game. You rent a room and every time you return from the world you have to pay up. If you can’t afford it the mysterious girl running the place will let you off but you’ll lose out on bonuses and some facilities won’t be open to you. 

In order to venture into the world you have to build a party. Starting with just one member, each time you want to add someone you have to rent them a room. It’s expensive but worthwhile as you won’t be getting far without a full complement of heroes. The dungeons in Demon gaze are tough and you’ll be hammered early on if you don’t keep an eye on what you’re doing. Perhaps more than any other game in recent times you really need to keep on top of your skills and how different status effects work. Mastering the elemental strength and weaknesses of attacks is also key to survival.

Dungeons are grid based and the game will auto map for you as you progress. The aim is to find demon circles. Placing gems on the circles will someone monsters and once defeated you will take control of the circle. The circle can then be used to save and change equipped demons while placing gems with different properties will alter the items dropped by slain foes. You’re real aim is to control all the circles in a given area as this makes the lord demon of the realm appear. Defeating the lord demons binds them to you and also progresses the story.

You can only have one demon tied to you at any one time and they all have their own styles and advantages in the over world and combat. For instance, one demon will let you walk on lava, allowing you access to previously unreachable areas, while another makes hidden doors glow. Most are also tied to a particular element such as earth, fire or darkness and thus are best employed when dealing with a lord demon weak against that element. Be warned though, these demons are seriously tough. Battles can rage for a long time and if you die it’s straight back to the title screen.

Combat is turn based and happens randomly as well as when you walk into certain symbols in dungeons. It’s fairly standard stuff except for the inclusion of being able to unlock a demon to assist you. When summoned, the demon will act independently to help you while a timer ticks down each turn. If you don’t lock the demon back away before the timer runs out it will go into chaotic mode and start attacking the party as well. More turns are gained by defeating enemies and demons also level up and become more loyal as you progress.

Despite the difficulty the game is also incredibly rewarding. Every time you venture that bit further it feels like an achievement and your characters learn new skills every few levels or so. It may require a bit of grinding to break the back of the difficulty curve but it’s a game well worth sticking with.

Overall, Demon Gaze is another excellent addition to the dungeon crawling genre. It’s certainly not a game to cut your teeth with but for those versed in the ways of turn based combat and elements it’s a worthy and challenging adventure to undertake.

Overall 8/10

Monday 19 May 2014

Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails Review (Wii U)

After wooing us with the wonderfully named Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims and The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character the mad cap humour of Dakko Dakko studios returns with the Wii U exclusive and equally epically named Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails. 

The plot is mad and sends us back to the 16-bit days of lunatic ideas. Basically, your cat sends you a message from the international space station saying super intelligent mice have taken over and you need to get up there and rescue all the cats and take it back from them. What this amounts to is jumping on your spinner and blasting, leaping and spinning your way around some top down puzzle/platform levels.

The puzzle elements are based around shooting switches, finding different weapons to destroy obstacles and simply working out how to make jumps to different rails. It’s nothing massively complex but when combined with the past paced gameplay and onslaught of enemies it’s more than enough to deal with.

The game draws a lot of influence from Rotating Octopus but there are a ton of new ideas going on here. Working out the movement is key to success and your character controls in a fairly unique way. Your spinner is magnetic and attaches to any rail. You can move along the rails under your own steam but the only way you can reach another rail is to jump to it. What this means is that you need to use the rails carefully to get the right angles to jump and fire.

You will be attacked by various types of mice on your adventure and making sure you can actually hit them with your variety of weapons forms part of the crux of the game. Your character only fires directly in front of themselves so if you are on a side rail and they are coming at you from below you need to jump to a rail facing towards them in order to hit the pesky vermin. It starts out tricky but you soon get the hang of how it all works and it adds to the puzzle elements of certain levels. 

The goal of each level is to rescue four cats and reach the exit door. You can just find the exit if you want but you’ll need cats to unlock levels as you go so replaying earlier stages is vital to progression. The four cats each have their own characteristics to be found. The lazy cat just sits by the exit and the lucky cat requires all the lucky pennies to be found in a level before appearing. The black cat requires a super tough mouse to be destroyed before it will come out and finally the scaredy cat, when picked up, will run off to somewhere else on the station and requires chasing around and capturing in a strict time limit.

Scram Kitty is a tough game and you’ll need both patience and perseverance to get through. You have an energy bar but once it’s gone you’ll have to start the level again from scratch. This includes finding cats, coins and weapons again or taking down the big bad mouse commanders. The levels are fairly compact but the amount of skill required from the player means dying near the end of a stage can be exasperating. 

There is one problem with Scram Kitty which can be a pain. Every now and then the proverbial Scram will appear on screen to give advice. When this happens he pretty much takes up the entire screen and this led to a number of deaths and missed jumps as we simply couldn’t see what was going on. You can move the advice to the game pad but then you miss what he is telling you as by the time you hear the voice and look down he’s already said what he was going to. It’s a minor issues but one that does become annoying at times.

Overall, Scram Kitty is one of the better Wii U exclusive games. There’s a lot of invention and originality on show in terms of the games mechanics and we certainly haven’t played anything like this for years. It’s a pretty essential purchase for anyone who wants an old school challenge mixed with some clever design. Dakko Dakko seems to go from strength to strength and they are producing games that stand out in a very crowded market. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Overall 8/10

Monday 12 May 2014

Titan Attacks Review (PS3/Vita)

Puppy Games has been making its neon-styled retro shooters for a while now and it always seemed only a matter of time before they took the step onto console. Titan Attacks is the first game to make the jump and serves up its own take on the Space Invaders theme.

Set across five worlds the player controls their tank at the bottom of the screen as enemies approach from the top. It may remind you of Space Invaders but aside from the obvious nods there is much more going on here than simply trying to produce a clone. The first thing to take into account is the scoring mechanic. A multiplier continually increases through the levels and when you take a hit it returns to zero.

You can also gain points and money by achieving skill shots. This occurs when you shoot an enemy and instead of it exploding it begins to fall to the ground. Shooting the careering vehicle may also see an alien jump out in a parachute, collecting these little guys will give you a further bonus, while letting them drift off the bottom of the screen will result in a penalty.

Any money you gain during a round can be spent before the next one starts. You’ll start off buying extra shields and smart bombs but the power-ups are extensive and you can add bits to your tank to fire rockets and lasers as well as giving yourself multiple shots or reducing the recharge time between firing. In truth, it can make the game a little easy towards the end but it’s always a fun way to spend a few minutes.

The game is set across five worlds, starting on Earth, moving onto the Moon, through Mars and Saturn before finishing on the alien home world. Every few levels you get a chance to get bonus points and prizes by shooting down special flying saucers and the end of each world sees you square off against a mother ship. The enemy types and patterns continually change and the later levels are hectic which helps to keep everything fresh and moving.

There’s no denying this is a fun game while it lasts but there are a few things which hold it back from being a classic. The first is that the game is simply too easy. We managed to blast all the way through it on our second attempt. It’s certainly fun and you do get to start again on harder versions of the levels but we were expecting a bit more of a challenge. 

The second problem is the scoring mechanic isn’t really intricate enough to cause the massive adrenaline rushes you can get from other games. There’s very little you can do if you’ve been building a multiplier and get hit other than slowly build it up again. That’s fine for anyone who wants an enjoyable arcade shooter but for those looking for a game to master this will let you down.

Slight issues aside, the question that matters is are you going to enjoy playing the game? The answer to which is yes you will, it’s a blast with a fun style that cleverly evokes just enough of Space Invaders to hit the nostalgia button while producing something fresh. It won’t last you forever or put up that much of a challenge but for a fun few minutes of blasting it certainly ticks all the right boxes. It’s also especially suited to the Vita. Overall, this is a good if not great game that everyone will enjoy. It’s a promising start from Puppy Games and we look forward to their next project. 

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Blazblue Chronophantasma Review (PS3)

Over the years Blazblue has taken up the position of the hardcore alternative to Capcom’s Street Fighter IV. Most of the characters require hours of dedication to get to grips with and the crazy plot that includes time travel, magic, science, civil wars and alternate worlds can baffle anyone. Now the series is back with the third chapter of its continuing story.

Chronophantasma takes place after the first two games and follows the characters as they move to the ruins of Ikaruga in search of the next magical McGuffin. We aren’t going to try and some up what’s happened so far or what's next as it’ll only confuse everyone. Just know that bad things are going to happen and some people want it to and others don’t. There is of course a puppet master behind the scenes as well trying to put everything into place.

This isn’t an easy game to get into for newcomers to the series. There’s a ton of things to take in and trying to tie up the story will take a serious investment. There’s a helpful ‘Teach Me Miss Litchi’ section which recaps the lore and events so far but still, if you want to get involved as a newcomer we would recommend picking up either of the earlier games first.

The game comes jam packed with different game modes as always and there’s almost limitless hours that can be put into it. Aside from the Arcade and survival modes there is Abyss mode which has your character working their way through ever increasingly difficult maps containing opponents set at different computer AI levels. There is also the BlazBlue version of score attack which pits you against some of the hardest encounters known to man for bragging rights.

The story mode has undergone a slight change for this version and you now no longer follow the individual paths of characters. Instead there are three main branches that need to be completed with characters aligned to different factions in each. We found a bit too much talking and not enough fighting this time around and at one point we actually stopped to check it wasn’t just a completely non-interactive section. Once it gets going though it’s a good tale and enjoyable, especially for fans of the series. The wealth of training modes also return with everything you need to teach you the basic mechanics and then take you into ridiculous depth with your chosen characters. 

What is likely to cause ripples with some fans is the changes made to the characters. All the original cast have been rebalanced and in some cases retooled with moves and special moves. Jin is the most notably different with the range and speed of certain moves changed and the removal of his mass-hitting spam everything quickly with the sword move (much to the relief of everyone who uses other characters). Things soon begin to click again but we got absolutely hammered just diving into arcade mode and then wondering why nothing was working.

There’s a host of new characters on display as well and the game has a pretty sizable cast of fighters now. Further characters are available as downloadable content at launch which is something else likely to rub fans up the wrong way. That said, there is more than enough here to justify the price of the game so don’t think you are getting a bare bones release, you aren’t.

The other major addition is the implementation of the 'Overdrive' meter which replaces the ‘Gold Burst’ move. When activated this it allows for more damaging distortion drive techniques as well as stopping the match timer. The lower your health, the longer the effect lasts. Guards have also been changed but the drive is the new big thing and players will have to drastically change their game plan in close matches.

The main thing is that after you get to grips with the changes everything flows as beautifully as before. This is still one of the most spectacularly intense fighting games on the market and this version of the game is a very strong showing in an ever increasingly crowded genre.

Overall, Blazblue Chronophantasma is a must for anyone who is into their fighting games. Fans will be desperate to continue the story but anyone who’s up for a challenge will appreciate what the game has to offer as well. It may not be the easiest title to get into but once you do there is little else out there as rewarding or satisfying.

Overall 8/10

Monday 5 May 2014

Sayonara Umihara Kawase Review (3DS)

It’s not often we get a game series at Retro 101 that we haven’t heard much about before, but the Umihara Kawase games certainly qualify. Starting life on the Super Famicom and appearing more recently in a DS compilation the games feature tranquil styled, fish filled, worlds and feature puzzles and platform filled stages navigated by swinging around on a fishing line.

The latest game arrives on EU shores via digital download and it finally allows us to see what all the fuss is about. The game follows female protagonist Yumi as she tries to reach the exit door in each self-contained stage. The game is equal part puzzle game and platformer and the first thing you’ll need to do is work out how the fishing line works.

Yumi can attach her fishing line to most surfaces and then use it to climb and swing around the levels as well as using it to stun and capture enemies. The skill comes from knowing how to build momentum when swinging and how to catapult yourself around the levels. It takes a fair while to get used to and when we first started playing it produced much frustration early on. Slowly though, you begin to get into the way of thinking you need to progress and then everything clicks and you’ll be working out in your head exactly how to reach those ledges that seemed impossible to get to.

The initial stages don’t offer up too much challenge and you may mistakenly think you’ve seen everything the game has to offer fairly quickly. We reached what we assumed was the first boss, a frustrating encounter with a large walking fish, expecting upon defeat for more levels to open up. Instead, the end credits rolled. A little dismayed we returned to the world map only to notice paths branching off from levels we had already beaten.

There are around fifty levels hidden away and the branching paths on the world map show which levels have hidden exits. Finding the exits on each stage is challenging enough but actually reaching them can be teeth-knashingly frustrating. This is perhaps one of the games main problems as players may find they hit a wall fairly quickly and then struggle to see the rest of what’s on offer. Once you do manage to get onto another set of levels it feels great but it takes a lot of skill to do and many may not have the patience for it.

The game allows for some stunning displays of skill and however good you think you are a quick search on YouTube will reveal some Jedi-like abilities of other players. There’s no hiding the fact that it does take some dedication though. This is not the sort of game that you can just pick up and play and get to grips with straight away. It will require time to be put in and you need to accept that you are going to see some stages over and over again while you hone and improve upon your line throwing.

There are hidden back packs in each level as well which add a small collectible element to the game. Picking these up unlocks art work and music and are a nice, if non-essential, addition to your antics. Aside from this it is the sheer time attack nature of the game that will keep you playing. Levels you initially beat in minutes can be completed in seconds upon mastery of the controls and it’s interesting to see how the fishing line can be manipulated to shave seconds off your best time.

Overall, Sayonara Umihara Kawase is something a little different for 3DS owners to get to grips with. It’s an excellent concept that is implemented well and for those willing to put in the time required to master it there is a good few hours of game here. If you get the time attack bug then it will last for an age as you try and shave yet more seconds of your best time. We’re glad to see the game series finally make it Europe and we look forward the next instalment.

Overall 8/10