Monday 30 June 2014

Another World 20th Anniversary Review PS3/PS Vita

Back in 1991 Another World was released on a host of platforms including the Amiga, Super Nintendo and Mega Drive. It quickly drew plaudits for its unique look and more cinematic approach to storytelling. It’s this style that has kept it in gamer’s minds to this day as there is little else like it. The closest games to Another World are Flashback and Black Thorne but even they don’t have quite the same unique look about them.

The story follows Lester as he creates a portal to another world and is transported to a dangerous planet. As the plot unfolds through cinematics we see our intrepid explorer imprisoned and have to break his way out along with a new found alien companion. 

Another World was always difficult and there has been no change made in that respect. It’s kind of how Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace would play if there was traditional gameplay added into it. You will die often and in a multitude of ways, normally with a cut scene to add to the fun. Another World is all about trial and error and doing things slightly out of order normally results in death. Luckily, checkpoints are numerous and if you are sent back what seems like a long way it’s because you’ve not done something in that area properly.

For the uninitiated, Another World is really a cinematic, puzzle heavy, platformer. Lester can run and jump like a wimpy Prince of Persia and when he gets a gun can use that in a variety of ways.  The gun forms a key part of getting through the game as it has three functions. Aside from basic blasting you can also use it to set up force fields which stop enemy fire for a short time. Holding down the fire button for longer builds up a super blast which can be used to knock down enemy force fields and more importantly, blow holes in walls and doors. There are moments when Lester will initiate context sensitive actions as well, these can take you by surprise but are a welcome addition and add to the cinematic quality of the game no end.

Some people may well say the trial and error gameplay and the difficulty is a sign of the game showing its age. In truth, it was as frustrating and awkward when it first came out. It’s the sort of game people love despite how it plays because what you are doing on screen is having an amazing adventure. It’s not bad in terms of controls but it certainly is stodgy and miss timing things slightly is heavily punished. 

The graphical overhaul the game has been given makes it look fresh and vibrant again and some nice details have been subtly added. If you prefer the look of the original then pressing a button allows you to switch between the two styles at will. We’re not so keen on the new musical score as it doesn’t seem to fit quite as well but you have the option of a multitude of different and arranged soundtracks so can pick the one you are familiar with or like the most.

Once you work out what you have to do for each of the puzzle elements the game can be breezed through in a fairly quick time. However, what you have played will likely stay with you for a long time as it has for so many gamers already. It’s the sort of game you’ll run through every now and then, like watching a film you’ve seen a hundred times before.

Overall, Another World still holds a certain charm and unique quality that sets it aside from the identi-kit games around. It’s short, hard and frustrating but also inventive, dramatic and memorable and well worth re-visiting or discovering for the first time.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Battle Princess of Arcadias Review (PS3)

Towards the end of the life of the PS2 two very different games were released. Odin Sphere, a majestic 2D side scrolling fighter and GrimGrimoire, a beautiful looking, 2D side scrolling strategy game. Both incredibly niche and very Japanese they didn’t sell well but proved to be a couple of the best and most unique games on the system. Battle Princess of Arcadias attempts to merge the two different forms together with a mixed level of success.

Let’s get a major annoyance out the way right from the off. The game has an auto save but it’s turned off and nothing in the game will direct you towards it. Of course this means that it’s likely that you will lose hours of game if you aren’t careful as the game never saves unless you tell it to. It caught us out and it’s bound to catch some of you out as well. 

The game breaks itself down into a number of different sections and play styles. The central hub area allows you to stock up on items, buy new weapons and also enhance them. Forging isn’t new to this type of game and you can upgrade and build new weapons to your hearts content and you’ll need to because the game has an incredibly tough difficulty level that requires a serious grind at points.

Once out in the world you can undertake missions which split themselves into different types of formats. The most standard mission involves taking your party of three chosen characters to a level and simply clearing it of any monsters. It’s likely you’ll need to revisit levels to level up and gather money and items. It’s also likely you’ll need to do this because you’ve forgotten to put the auto save on. 

Aside from simply getting stronger you need to level all your characters up so that they can lead more powerful troops into the skirmish section of the game. These types of levels are like a simplified version of GrimGrimoire. Your character fights on the front screen with defeated enemies filling various morale and special move bars. The real battle in these sections goes on at the back of the screen. Your troops go charging forward and attack the enemy while you issue commands. You have a number of different soldiers to pick from and they act out an elaborate game of rock, papers scissors with you needing to keep swapping different types in and out.

In truth, though it’s an interesting concept it doesn’t really work as well as it could. In practice, trying to issue commands on a spinning wheel while fighting on the front screen is awkward and the amount of grinding required to get your troops up to a decent level is annoying. Something that works a little better are the boss battle ‘siege’ levels. Here a big beastie like a dragon invades a village and you lead a militia against it. This section allows you to issue orders to your troops to assist you take it down.

These fights can drag as you have to get the monsters shield down before being able to do any damage to its already sizable health bar. Do enough damage and the monster will become stunned allowing you to dish out a super damaging special attack. You can set your troops to attack and defend and also to retreat if needed. You need to be careful as losing all your militia will result in instantly failing the level. It takes some time to get used to and even the tutorial levels are tough but it’s an interesting system.

Battle Princess of Arcadias is not a game for everyone. There’s very little learning curve and it can be incredibly obscure about what you need to do or even how to do things. That said, it’s beautiful to look at and there aren’t many games out there like it. If you can break through the walls it puts up for the player then there’s a rich and rewarding experience to be had. You’ll need to be ready to make the investment though but players ready to take the plunge shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s not as majestically beautiful as Odin Sphere (what is), or as in depth as GrimGrimoire but it offers something different and works the majority of the time.

Overall 7/10

Monday 23 June 2014

Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team Review (NES)

After the mighty Toads defeated the Dark Queen on Ragnarok's world she fled to the far reaches of the galaxy threatening revenge. A few months later a huge city sized space craft comes smashing out of the moon and heads directly towards earth. This time the Queen really means business and to ensure her evil plan bears fruit she has teamed up with the shady shadow boss to help with her evil schemes. 

Hugely outnumbered the Toads turn to brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee, known as the Double Dragons to even the score. Together, in the Battlecopter they set out to the ship to engage the troublesome evil villains. 

Containing a healthy mix of different playing styles, the game none the less is a beat’em up at heart and this is a very good thing. Selecting from five different characters you must make your way across the top of the battleship beating up just about everyone that gets in your way. Apart from general fighting there are the inventive touches associated with the Battletoads franchise such as the speeder bike and abseiling sections both making a return and being as excellently done as ever.

The game mechanics are closer to a Battletoads game than a Double Dragon one and in this instance it is a good thing they are. With the different styles of level in the game the Double Dragon fight system simply would not be flexible enough to allow you do what you have to.

Fighting is restricted to one button, producing a few hits followed by a big finishing shot and that is all that is needed as everything moves so quickly it would be hard to implement a huge array of different moves. With five characters to choose from you won't be hard pressed not to find your perfect fight partner. Though the characters are not massively different, there are enough differences to easily distinguish one characters strengths from another. 

Favoured combinations soon develop as Rash and Zitz are stronger than Billy and Jimmy, with Rash being slightly Faster and Zitz being a bit stronger. Billy and Jimmy are faster than all the toads, again with Billy being a touch stronger than Jimmy and Jimmy being a bit faster. Pimple on the other hand is very big, very strong and very slow. 

Graphically, things are a little plain and functional but still help to create the humorous and charming appeal started with the first Battletoads game. The first time you hammer someone through the floor like a nail or kick someone with a huge foot you will understand the attraction. There is a problem with flickering on the screen, but having the odd bit of flicker is better than having slowdown so with the limitations of the NES we should be grateful.

Something else that adds to the appeal is the sound, with both the music and FX being of a great quality. The sound in this title is the very definition of retro cool, everything being completely over the top and not taking its self seriously, a brilliant aspect that adds a lot of fun to the proceedings. 

Make your way past the third level and you jump into the little battleship and try and destroy the Queens craft from the outside in a sort of take on asteroids. After the initial homage to the game you have to destroy flying saucers before having a final showdown with the huge rat like space ship. The level excellently breaks up the unrelenting fighting of previous stages and comes as such a surprise that you cannot help but to smile. 

Overall, Battletoads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team is a great game with the emphasis set on fun throughout and it has a much better learning curve than the previous Battletoads game - you find yourself getting a little bit further every time you play. This acts as another example of what Rare can do if they want to, retro cool at its most glorious. 

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Battletoads Review (NES)

The story goes that one day while the biggest and toughest Battletoad (Pimple), was taking Princess Angelica out for a spin in the toadster the evil Dark Queen ambushes them and takes them to Ragnaroks world - the Queens home planet. 

The remaining toads, Rash and Zitz have to beat everything up that stands in their way and rescue their friends. Far from being the dull side scrolling fighter that this game could so easily have turned into, Rare and Tradewest have made sure that it is something different and fresh.

While the first level keeps the classic side scrolling fighter format, from then on each level offers something new. Level two has our heroic toads being lowered down a tunnel having to jump from side to side to avoid obstacles and enemies while Level three has you jumping chasms on speeder bikes, and the next level (if you make it), is a more standard platform affair, each level offering a different twist taking the game away from constant repetitive button bashing. 

Graphically superb, everything is well animated and presented extremely well. The toads themselves offer different facial expressions from time to time, for instance having their jaws drop to the floor and eyes pop out when a huge monster arrives on the scene. Enemies differ from level to level but are repetitive in their respective worlds with only a handful of different creatures per stage. But this slight lack of variety is more than made up for by the shear quality the game overall. 

The Game plays well, although there are areas in the game when the limitations of your toad become far too apparent. During fights you could not ask for better controls, and while they simply consist of hitting one button continuously the attacks vary from level to level - in one the toad may hit the enemy with a huge fist while another will see him knocking him into the ground before kicking the enemy away like a living football. What lets the game down is when you are required to perform precision jumps, with the game being set in a multi-levelled playing field it is hard to judge the depth of the field often meaning a fall to an untimely death. 

Another problem with the game is the insane difficulty level, unusual for Rare games the difficulty curve for Battletoads is extremely unforgiving and in fact if you manage to get past the third level without using a warp then I would be very surprised. But strangely, the difficulty of the game adds to the overall charm and though you will die over and over again you will find yourself returning for one more go. 

Battletoads is a charming and fun filled game, which for a moment in time kept the mighty toads at the top of the gaming pile. Alas, along with many other characters from the creative minds of Rare the Toads never made it past the sixteen bit generation. Although we doubt a new version would have the same sort of charm it would still make a unique experience for the modern gamer. Until the day the Toads rule again this serves as a good reminder that it was not all Mario and Sonic back in the good old days.

Overall 8/10 

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Mario Kart 8 Review (Wii U)

Written by Adam Gulliver

Driving into the final corner, you jump and drift giving you a much needed boost. Victory is within your grasp, but at that moment a red shell appears. You are hit, coins flying, you are inches away from the finish, but alas cannot gain enough speed to make it across. As you finally come to the realisation that your victory is ripped away, out of the corner of your eye you see Luigi. He looks, glares at you with pure evil behind those eyes, and drives across the finish. Welcome to Mario Kart 8. Where the Year of Luigi lives on. Forever.

Arriving on the Wii U to much fanfare, and incredibly solid sales for a struggling console, is Mario Kart 8. The granddaddy of the karting genre has returned and shows once again why it’s always been on top. On the surface it’s very much like any other MK game, but get deeper and you’ll find a number of key improvements that make it actually one of the best in the series. And not just because of the abundance of Luigi gifs that have appeared across the internet.

Tracks once again split between classics and new, however even the classics have had something of an overhaul. Less a copy and more of a remake, classic tracks are now adorned with a number of new features, none more so than the anti-gravity sections. Tracks like Toad’s Turnpike now come with added jumps and drivable walls to navigate. It adds a different layer to each track, and with the new graphical grunt of the Wii U they look simply magical. Despite being vastly more underpowered than the PS4 and Xbox One, Nintendo still manages to make their game look glorious, simply because they put art style before anything else. This can proudly stand alongside the likes of Infamous and Ryse and that is a testament to Nintendo’s ability at getting the very best out of their hardware.

MK8 really feels like it’s had pure joy injected straight into the veins. Even in 150cc where the difficulty really ramps up, and you’re left reeling from hit after hit, we very rarely stopped smiling. The difficulty being something that has definitely been raised since the last iteration. In 150cc this may be the most challenging Mario Kart game since the original. This is a good thing.

As frustrating as it can get when on the final lap you’re hit by anything and everything, it never became controller smashingly annoying. Our loss was accepted and we simply retried until those final championships were conquered. And you’ll need to beat all the championships to unlock everything, and there is a ton to unlock. Hidden characters, new kart parts and Miiverse stamps are all waiting and will take a lot of time, skills and luck.

Where Mario Kart 8 really shines is, believe it or not, online. Nintendo are finally getting to grips with online play and it’s a joy to see. Okay, they may not be on the level of Sony and Microsoft, but they’re trying! Able to either race in Grand Prix’s, Tournaments or Battle Mode, joining games is incredibly seamless. Choose a room and you’re pretty much good to go. Battle Mode however is quite a disaster. Gone are the arenas that made the SNES and N64 versions so fun, instead you just get the standard tracks featured in the main grand prix. It’s an incredibly lazy cop-out, which is something you rarely ever see from Nintendo. The tracks are designed for racing and it shows.

Much like Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8 shows that nobody makes games quite like Nintendo. A master class in design that shows how tragic it is that the Wii U finds itself in such dire straits. A sure fire system seller that everyone who owns the console should buy, and if you don’t, now’s the perfect time to buy one.

Overall 9/10

Monday 9 June 2014

PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate Review (PS Vita)

A few years ago PixelJunk Shooter first appeared on the PS3. Still one of the best games on the Playstation network it is now available with cross-buy on the Vita and PS4. It always looked like a game that would fit the Vita and now the team have got the physics engine working and combined Shooter 1 and 2 together you can enjoy the madness on the go.

The plot, such as it is, has you sent in to rescue your crew mates after mysterious goings on while mining on the planet of Apoxus Prime. To do this you have to fly your craft around tight underground caverns while using water, lava and magnetic black liquids to your advantage. It’s reminiscent of Thrust with its inertia and gravity based gameplay but your craft will stay still if left alone. Your also won’t die from hitting walls (which is a good thing or it would have been nigh on impossible).

The game is a 2D styled shooter where you manoeuvre your ship around a section of an enclosed map. Normally you will have to get water to turn lava to rock or lava to melt ice or some other combination of dropping one liquid onto another. You’re doing this because you need to get to and rescue all the lost crew members in each area. If too many of them die you have to start the level again. It’s wonderfully inventive and a whole lot of fun and there are hidden areas and diamonds to collect along the way as well.

The level design is nigh on perfect throughout the game and the difficulty curve is just about right. The huge boss monsters found at the end of each world may cause some frustration but they provide tense and heroic showdowns of David and Goliath proportions and once you work them out shouldn’t take too long to get past. The difficulty level ramps up considerably once you enter the second part of the game (Shooter 2), but it’s all still achievable.

Shooter Ultimate is now split into six main areas each consisting of five levels. There are the initial outer rocky areas, the ice caves and then the mine. After the mine something happens which we won’t spoil but you’ll be dealing with a host of new gases and liquids.  Each individual level is split into sections which require everyone to be rescued before a bulk head opens to the next.  Each has its own tricks and traps and will keep you on your toes throughout. If it gets too much you can always call a friend in for co-op action.

You’ll also need to think quickly as the game has a wonderful way of getting you to forget what you’ve just learnt. For instance, for the first area you are trying to keep away from lava (overheating causes you to crash), but then in the ice caves you’ll come across an inversion suit which makes lava cool you down and water heat you up.

It’s a game that keeps throwing new ideas and things at you to keep you interested. The water suit and lava suit are just the start and you’ll soon be switching around and dealing with freezing lakes and clouds of gas as well as the usual lava and water. The key thing is that everything stays fun and creative throughout. Once you’ve completed the game you’ll probably want to dive back in to further explore the levels and find all the missing diamonds and any crew you missed along the way. There’s even a hidden level to try and unlock and online combat.

PixelJunk Shooter is a game we’re still playing on the PS3 to this day. The fact a whole new audience can now pick it up is great and this really is one of the best games of its type. Q-Games have crafted something special here and the years have done nothing to diminish its appeal. With PixelJunk Shooter 2 included as well it becomes an essential purchase for Vita owners. We’ll be playing it through for yet another time and we would recommend everyone else do the same.

This was always going to be a certified hit with us as long as nothing had gone wrong in the conversion and from our experience this offers all the fun of the original. Vita gamers really need to play this as it’s simply a masterfully executed, great little game packed with more invention and ideas than most massive AAA releases can even come close to.

Overall 10/10