Friday 30 January 2015

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga Review (Xbox 360)

The last few years have shown that the combination of Lego with the Star Wars license can be both enjoyable and highly lucrative. With the first title containing episode I through to III not coming out on the Xbox 360 this package gives anyone late to the party the complete experience.

The first impressions of the title are not the best. To start with players are placed into the Mos Eisley Cantina which acts as the main hub. From here you can choose doors which lead to Episodes I-VI, Two player arcade mode and various other extra content. Unfortunately there is very little to play around with here. Both previous titles have had fun hub worlds to explore but this one feels uninspired, empty and flat.

Luckily the same cannot be said for the rest of the game. All of the levels have been given a graphical face lift which makes them look a lot slicker and smooth. Furthermore the vehicle sections in Episodes I-III have been changed and improved so that they are not so frustrating and clunky. It means all six episodes now work to the same rules and have the same look which adds coherency.

Lego Star Wars games have always been fun, but the characters have been somewhat clunky and slow to control. The Complete Saga deals with this problem admirably. It is very noticeable how fluid the game now is, especially in Episodes I-III (which were the worst offenders). Character movement is much more dynamic and smooth and they now respond instantly to commands. This makes a huge difference and everything is now much more enjoyable.

Another of the irritations that persisted through the series to this point was that though the titles are aimed at younger gamers there are sections which can be stupidly frustrating. This was always most evident when trying to collect enough Lego studs to fill the Jedi bar at the top of the screen. This has partly been solved through the more responsive controls but also by putting more studs on each level.

Players may argue that these changes have reduced the challenge of the title and though this is true it is not a bad thing. The franchise has always been about having fun and collecting things. Though the game is easier it is also undoubtedly more fun than before as much of the difficulty came from frustrating issues. We even played through some sections of the title with the ‘invincibility’ power up on and the game still stood up as satisfying and fun.

The perceived lack of difficulty may put a few people off because they do not think the game will last long enough. This is also not an issue. Believe us when we tell you that there is always something left to do. We played through all the levels at least three times collecting various things and we could still go back to do the new challenges that have been added. As well as the main levels there are also twenty bounty hunter missions to try. Then you can go into the extras room and try out the new and old levels placed there such as Episodes I-III vehicle sections as they used to be, the hidden episode IV level, new Anakin level and two Lego cities. Even that is not everything, to finish this game one hundred percent will take a very long time.

The simple an easy to use drop in co-op play only adds to the enjoyment and longevity as well. Players can join at any point, play as long as they wish then disappear. It is uncomplicated and well executed and it is hard to see how it could have been improved upon.

Even the achievements keep the good fun tone of the title going. For example being rewarded for smashing Jar Jar Binx twenty times can only raise a smile. While the ‘Did I break your concentration’ achievement for breaking the Emperor with Mace Windu (played by Samuel L Jackson) shows the development team have a sense of humour. A sense of humour that also comes to the fore in many of the excellent cut scenes.

Overall, Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga achieves everything it sets out to do. Here we have a fun well constructed title that gamers of all ages will enjoy. If you already have both instalments separately you may want to hold off unless you can find it cheaply. Though the improvements are good this is still basically the same two games with shiny bits added. For anyone else looking for something that takes video games back to being fun rather than acting as a second job this should be top of your list.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Sonic Spinball Review (Mega Drive)

Tired of being constantly trounced on the head by our little blue friend, Robotnik takes a new approach in his ongoing struggle to cause mayhem and to generally immobilise all things cute and fluffy. The evil maestro's latest plan has seen the ovoid villain build a huge fortress in the style of a massive pinball machine - surely, Sonic should now succumb as he is bounced from pillar to post by huge flippers?

Each of the levels in Sonic Spinball is built around a pinball template. However, unlike conventionally-themed games of this nature, this perhaps became the first 'goal-based' pinball titles and also contains a few deft touches of platforming action. Specifically, the goal of each level remains in line with previous Sonic titles - that being to seize the Chaos Emeralds. Though players must now go about this in a far different way than before. 

Table design in Spinball is of an excellent standard with a great deal of imagination being poured into the different levels. Each specific area consists of multiple routes, which in turn lead to the scattered Chaos Emeralds. The tricky part is, after you lose a life all switches and levers are reset, meaning everything has to be reactivated in order to progress. This can prove frustrating, but is uniquely counterbalanced by a high level of fun, which soon wards off anxiety. Each map is a huge puzzle hybrid rather than just a simple pinball table. This helps to raise the standards of brilliance. 

Graphically, the game is not as memorable as you would like it to be, though this has more to do with limitations of the console and thus can be overlooked, especially when the game plays so well. Limited by its colour palette, the 16-bit graphics do the job well and you can clearly see everything that is meant to be seen - there is even a touch of background detail thrown in for good measure. Even more impressive is, that whilst Sonic is being thrown around the screen at a ridiculous pace, the image never blurs or slows down which means you are always in control of the little hedgehog as he remains more or less in the centre of the screen throughout. 

If there is something that does tarnish the finish a little it is the difficulty. Initially when starting a level, you will have no idea what you are meant to be doing. The player is simply expected to launch Sonic about until the direction finally clicks into place. Because of the speed you are moving at, it can sometimes be difficult to gauge what needs to be activated, while simultaneously keeping Sonic safe from harm. This coupled with the fact that when you lose a life you have to activate everything all over again (and when all your lives are expired you have to restart from level one),could lead to players giving up early on.

Overall, Sonic Spinball is an imaginative and ingenious use of the licence. It's clear the game is much more than just a cynical cash-in on the name and indeed is right up there with Sonic's more traditional adventures. Still fairly easy to acquire, anyone who is a fan of pinball games - or Sonic in general - should pick it up at the first opportunity. A timeless, playable release which speaks to the countless character-based iterations that followed (such as Kirby Pinball and Pokemon Pinball), this simply reinforces the indefatigable influence of Sonic. 

Overall 8/10

Monday 26 January 2015

Star Wars Review (NES)

A candidate for one of the best 8-bit Star Wars games, the title received warm reviews at the time of its release. The main drawback of the cartridge was its amazing retail price of fifty pounds, something that severely limited its appeal. A few years on now, we reflect and asks was it worth the money?

Licensed games were extremely popular and like so many releases of this period Star Wars was a platform-based title. However, it managed to avoid the shortcomings of rival releases by including a few tricks up its sleeve. Apart from platforming action Star Wars featured flying segments and speeder sections (from a top down perspective), that added some much needed variety. Furthermore, three characters were available for selection: Luke, Han Solo and the Princess. Also tagging along were Obi Wan and R2 D2, making the basis of the game sound.

Starting off you must search Luke's home planet for caves to explore, in doing so you will find shields for the Millennium Falcon, Extra lives, your Light Sabre, R2 D2 (who has been captured by the Jowas), and Obi Wan himself. Once all these things have been gathered it is off to find Han Solo and to head off into space. After a mild Asteroid storm the Death Star traps you. Here more platform sections come in where you can use R2 to download a map and generally shoot and jump around a lot. Once you eventually find your way out of the space station (rescuing the princess on the way), all that is left is the Death Star trench run and then it's all over.

Graphically, the game is small but almost perfectly formed and it is to the developers credit that characters are easily distinguishable as their film counterparts. Enemies are varied on the whole with Storm Troopers, Sand People, Jowas and even Bobo Fete making an appearance. Each area is lavishly coloured and the backgrounds harness a surprising level of detail at times. Furthermore, the twin curse of the NES (slowdown and flickering) never dare rear their ugly faces - making it all the more enjoyable.

As for gameplay this mainly platform title is polished and playable. As expected from the 8-bit era, precision jumping is high on the agenda and this is the only frustrating aspect of the game. Towards the end there is an unhealthy reliance on pixel perfect jumps in order to proceed. The three characters offer enough variety amongst them to make it each worthwhile. Luke is a good all-round character who has a decent gun and can call upon the light sabre to dish out large amounts of damage. Han carries a very powerful blaster and the lovely Princess can for some reason jump great distances.

Each character is well suited to exclusive sections of the game and if you do not utilise all three (on an ongoing basis) then you will not be able to progress through certain areas. Meanwhile the game itself plays exceptionally well, with characters able to turn in mid air and being highly responsive - allowing you to run, jump and twist in the air before landing in a ducking position to fire at the guy you just leaped over.

Star Wars is still an enjoyable game and in its time it was one of the best video games based on a films in an era of mindless platform licensed rubbish. Decent graphics, excellent controls and a well-judged learning curve delivered a fun adventure with only the occasional hint of frustration. Even then, the difficult sections made you all the more determined to succeed. So in conclusion a rewarding title (for those who could afford it at the time) and a worthwhile addition to any retro collection, but a must have purchase for all Star Wars fans.

Overall 8/10

Friday 23 January 2015

Indianna Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb Review (Xbox)

Much like the Star Wars franchise the Indiana Jones games have a long history of being mostly awful. The Last Crusade was near unplayable, and while Indiana Jones and the fate of Atlantis showed itself to be a great game the franchise then fell back to its old ways with The Infernal Machine being more a case of the infernal camera and controls. So when Indianna Jones swung onto the Xbox we didn’t have the highest of hopes.

Taking you through a variety of different locations around such as Hong Kong and Istanbul, you are made to feel at home straight away. Everything is presented excellently. Between locations you get the red line moving from dot to dot on a world map just like in the films. Even the control manual is presented like Indiana’s personal journal, everything hand written and rough looking. An excellent touch and one that shows a lot of thought has gone into the game, on a superficial level at least.

Graphically the game is good for its time. Every character looks solid and moves smoothly. Each environment looks sufficiently different from the last to make you keep trekking through in search of lost treasure. Surprisingly there is a lot of variety in location, not as expected every level being set in a Tomb. You get Amazon forests, Gothic castles, Chinese fortresses, Hong Kong night clubs and of course the odd tomb. All splendidly displayed as huge interactive environments to explore.

Another great feature is the sound. Or it is when it works properly. The sound does have a tendency to become very jumpy. Also it means the Xbox goes crazy trying to sort it out leading to possible scratching on the game disk. However, when the sound decides to behave it adds so much to the game. It’s just like watching one of the films with the score in the background.

Luckily the game play lives up to the quality of the presentation. Running on the same fight engine used for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it allows Indi to attack people in all directions with a large variety of weapons and combat moves. Apart from the fighting aspect of the game there is a heavy dependence on simple lever puzzles and jumping from platform to platform. Most of this is easy to achieve as the games main focus tends to be towards fighting and action.

The biggest problem is the controls for moving Dr Jones around are not quite as successful as when fighting. It’s easy enough to swing from one place to the next with the trusty whip. But try jumping and unless you hit the next surface dead on you may find instead of grabbing the ledge you fall down, most of the time to your death. This can be very frustrating when you know what you have to do is simple but the controls won’t let you do it. However this does not occur too often and as the levels are split in to small auto-saving chunks you never have to go back too far after plummeting to an untimely death.

With enemies and death defying leaps beaten the next unpleasant thing is the ingenious traps left around. Not apparent much early on. Later on you can guarantee around almost ever corner will be a pressure pad or something waiting to fire a dart at you. All the traps are nicely incorporated into the game and are what you would expect from the Indiana Jones franchise. Unfortunately, running away from rolling boulders dose not seem to make it into The Emperors Tomb.

Most importantly in games of this genre is the camera. If it isn’t spot on it will either leave you looking at the nearest wall or end up making you feel sick. Most of the time the camera behaves itself. But on the odd occasion it does leave you feeling somewhat nauseous. It can also be frustrating to look directly below you, not a problem that arises often. But every now and then you really need to know where the small ledge you’re falling on to is.

It’s the little touches that make the game so much fun to play. For instance get knocked over in a fight a you may lose your hat. Want to see Nazi’s with accents that would make Colonel Clink jealous, they are here to. Big Crocodile? Spinning disk weapon from the Predator films? Amazon women? It’s all here, everything you could ask for from an Indiana Jones game. And its all the better for it.

Overall, Indiana Jones and the Emperors Tomb is just a really good fun game that does not take itself at all seriously. For fans of Dr Jones it’s still great. Aside from that though, it also represents a missed opportunity. With a little more care it could have been a classic and the occasional slowdown and jumping music should not really be apparent in this day an age. Great fun, but a little disappointing.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 21 January 2015

The Legend of Zelda: Links Awakening Review (Game Boy)

Released on the Game Boy two years after the Super Nintendo masterpiece that was ‘A Link to the past’, ‘Links Awakening’ was the first time our intrepid hero had dared to cross onto the handheld games scene. With the Game Boy not being able to able to handle anything the size of ‘A Link to Past’ Nintendo set Link in a whole new world, far away from Hyrule.

The story goes that while Link is sailing back to Hyrule from a far off land his ship encounters a huge storm. During the storm Link is thrown overboard, awakening on the beach of Koholint island. He soon learns he must find the eight instruments of the ‘Sirens’ in order to wake up the legendary ‘Wind Fish’ in order to return to his homeland. Well, it was obvious wasn’t it!

Surprisingly enough these eight instruments are located around the island in eight dungeons, all of which must be searched and explored to succeed in your task. Then once the eight instruments have been collected they must be played in front of a big spotted egg on a hill where the ‘Wind Fish’ resides in order to wake it.

Graphically the game is excellent, especially considering the limitations of the Game Boy with great detail to found, such as small cracks in the floor and well-animated characters throughout. Though the game is not in colour everything is crystal clear and large on the screen meaning you never get hit by a monster you could not see, or fall down a hole you did not know was their until the last minute. Different areas of the game also succeed in looking different enough from other areas with mountains, woods, swamps and graveyards all meaning you never get bored with your surroundings

Like all Zelda games though the gameplay is where the game really shines. As always the dungeons are excellently laid out needing clever thinking and good swordsmanship to complete. Also two things have been added since ‘A Link to the Past’, the ‘Roc’s feather’ and a new way of using the shield in order to block attacks. Showing while the game cannot hope for the scale of its Super Nintendo counterpart there is some progression and development in terms of gameplay.

If there is one problem apparent it is with the difficulty of the game. While Zelda fans will no doubt not struggle very often with the enemies and puzzles they come across, any newcomer to the series may well find it well beyond their gaming skills. Some puzzles truly are bizarre and require lateral thinking to a ridiculous extreme. And while early dungeons are fairly balanced, by the time you reach the later ones even getting through the first few rooms requires heroic effort.

This however is only a minor gripe, as the game has clearly been thought about and developed by people who care about what they are doing. This coupled with the odd reference to other Nintendo games such as the Yoshi doll and the pet chomp on a chain all help to add just a little more magic each time you encounter something.

When all is said and done its clear to see ‘Links Awakening’ has quality coming out of all areas. It dose not live up to ‘A Link to the Past’ but a gold bar with a fly on it is still a gold bar at the end of the day. An excellent adventure for Link and one every Game Boy owner should be hunting around trying to find, just don’t expect it to be easy to finish.

Overall 9/10

Monday 19 January 2015

Trine 2: The Complete Story (PS4)

Trine follows the adventures of a mage, knight and thief bound together by a magical artefact known as the Trine. A 2D puzzle platform game, Trine 2 tries to do something new with a genre more typically found back in the 16-bit era. Indeed, we found our thoughts drifting to The Lost Vikings as we began utilising the three hero’s unique abilities.

The knight is best at fighting and can use his shield to reflect light beams and deflect objects. The thief shoots arrows and can use a grappling hook and the mage can conjure and move objects. Each character can be upgraded by seeking out experience points in the form of magic bubbles. This unlocks further abilities such as exploding arrows, stealth abilities and a number of other things which help fight off the many Goblins and giant spiders you'll encounter along the way.

With the different abilities on offer and different ways to play the developers have given the players multiple options in how to solve the puzzles. Playing single player has one character on screen which can be changed at any time, while multiplayer has all characters on screen at once. This means that certain puzzles would by default need a number of different ways to get through them.

The great thing is that the Trine world and physics are very tactile and effectively sets up a big toy box for you play around with to accomplish your task. Players who prefer the mage will be able to upgrade his abilities to summon large numbers of boxes and ramps to get around. While those using a mixture of the characters will find the need to use a combination of grappling hook swings, magical platforms and brute strength. 

You could for instance spend time re-arranging pipes to get the water level right to reach a high ledge. Alternatively you could use an ice arrow to freeze the pool and then stack some mage created boxes on it, while in multiplayer there would be much more opportunity for cooperative lever pulling . The choice is yours. We found this flexible approach refreshing and it meant that progression was always steady as you weren’t left searching for the one way the developer intended you to get through an area. 

The first thing that strikes you about the game is just how jaw droopingly gorgeous the whole thing is. The backdrops and landscapes are beyond stunning. We have never seen a 2D game that looks so good. Sunbeams shine through leaves, ice glistens and everything looks as magical and enchanting as seems humanly possible. The attention to detail is staggering and this combined with the physics engine creates a solid and immersive world that you never tire looking at.

The music is also suitably epic with bold fantasy themed tunes subtly underscoring your adventure. Even better news is that Trine 2 has an excellent script and group of voice actors. As the heroes adventure their comments and conversation can’t help to raise a smile. Everything seems to have been done with just the right amount of tongue in cheek humour. 

Graphics and sound are all good but don’t mean anything if the game doesn’t play well. For the first hour or so we were a little worried that the controls wouldn’t gel. While we had a few issues when we first started to play this on the Wii U, the PS4 version hits the ground running straight away.

The game itself is very smooth with everything acting as it should and combat working well. The only slight issues is that after years of playing games like Flashback and Prince of Persia we instinctively expect the edge of a platform to be in a certain part of the graphic. Trine 2’s is a little deeper and this left us missing jumps a number of times. Again, once you get used to it there is very little here to complain about.

This is a good thing as the game is pretty sizeable with the normal quest taking around ten hours and the add-on content pushing that up by another five to eight depending how good you are. Searching out all the hidden chests to get paintings, poems and the maps pieces needed to access the extra area will also take a fair amount of time.

Every level is strong and there was never a time when we found ourselves wanting the game to be over. It’s one of those titles that eats up your free time without you really realising it. When it ends you just wish there was more of it and we can honestly say this is the most pure fun we've had with a video game for years.

Everything about Trine 2 just makes us smile and anyone slightly put off by the fact it’s been around a while really shouldn’t worry. The amount of value and enjoyment present here is to be commended and it’s clear the developers really have gone that extra effort to make something that deserves to be held up with the very best in the genre. In fact, we are a little disappointed this hasn't been made a full retail release and the amount of content and quality on show certainly justifies it.

If you haven’t guessed by now we like this game a lot. It takes players on a magical and beautiful adventure while always remaining enjoyable and throwing in some absolutely stunning design. If you own a PS4 this game is as essential as anything else you can buy. This is definitive version of one of the best games to come out in an absolute age. There really is no excuse not to own it. 


Friday 16 January 2015

Yager Review (Xbox)

Welcome to the world of Yager: set on earth in the distant future, the planet is no longer divided with borders denoting different countries and regions. Due to mega companies all looking after their own interests, the earth has now been ‘terraformed’, triangulated and assigned ownership. On one side of the sphere is a small province under the control of Proteus – a company based upon old-earth or western philosophies. On the other side is the OST, a militaristic organisation who tend not to get on with their Proteus brothers.

In between these factions lies an area known as the Free Trade Zone; where inhabitants are laid-back and freedom-loving Han Solo-types. The game sees you as pilot Magnus Tide, trying to rebuild your career after an unfortunate incident that left a wing commander with a broken nose. Hooking up with Proteus again, you must undergo a number of training sessions before taking on whatever mission they deem you are capable of.
At its heart, Yager is a sort of Rogue Leader-styled game set on land, with missions requiring you to fly about shooting various hostile forces, as well as doing reconnaissance work and a spot of investigating.

Here is where the game comes into its own as the world of Yager is credible, well-constructed and enticing to explore. Each character you meet seems to have an individual history all of their own, even if they only say a few words to you. This is most notable when you reach the Free Trade Zone to investigate various goings-on. Whilst airborne, numerous pilots will chat to you about various things, such as how trade is going or even inviting you down to the local bar for a drink. It all comes across so well that you become completely immersed in the interaction.

The characters are equally personable and all are complete individuals – from the slightly mad mechanic brothers to the freighter pilots and bar owners – everyone seems to have their own story to tell. Though essentially guided by story parameters, the character involvement covers this up brilliantly, with apparent random meetings with old friends keeping things fresh and interesting all the way through. This is mainly achieved due to the fact that every character you meet does not necessarily have anything to do with the plot as a whole - there are just lots of friendly, hospitable folk about, all aiming to contribute to your sense of belonging.

Graphically, the title is stunning for the Xbox. Areas sprawl off into the distance for miles around, with rolling hills and some of the most astounding water effects ever seen on the system. If there is a weakness, it’s that a lot of the landscapes tend to look the same – being a mix of grass-covered hills, roads and the odd mountain – but this doesn’t really detract from the experience as you get the impression you are working within a fairly small area where the plot is concerned.

Between levels you are treated to some lovely cut-scenes where the story evolves further, and most of the time has Magnus relaxing with a drink in the local bar. Missions are varied, with some being a simple case of shooting things down, while others have you flying underneath the radar to pinpoint locations for missile strikes. Every now and then though, something irregular will pop up – like having to test out the new gun which the bar owner has installed.

This sees you shooting a range of flying targets, pool tables, chairs, and just about anything else they can find to launch as space-aged clay pigeons. Magnus’s ship has two different control styles: it can either hover, allowing you to raise the ship up and down more easily and stay in one place, allowing movement at a fairly slow pace. The second style puts the ship into jet mode, which means you move a lot faster, and is ideally suited for combat situations as it allows for more flexible movements, vital for avoiding incoming missiles and gunfire.

Combat is easy enough to perform, with the ship being as manoeuvrable as is needed in order to take out multiple targets at once. A wide range of weaponry and tools are also available, allowing for different approaches to each situation. The only problem really is that sometimes the combat seems to lack a touch of intensity – which ideally, in the midst of a huge gun battle, should be coming from all quarters.

Overall, Yager is a brilliant attempt at creating a completely engaging and interactive ‘living’ world. It is clear that an awful lot of care and attention has gone into the details. On this count it cannot be faulted, however the lukewarm nature of its combat makes it feel that something is missing. Everyone should experience Yager as it soon becomes one of the most enthralling locations you could uncover.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Transistor Review (PS4)

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 and 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

Monday 12 January 2015

Bells and Whistles Review (Arcade)

The land of Meru is under attack from the forces of Iva. A young girl Melora sends out a signal for help and Twinbee answers. Queue one of the most refreshingly colourful and quirky vertically scrolling shooters to have graced the cabinets of arcades in many a year.

Taking control of one of the brightly coloured craft players must pretty much shoot anything that moves if they have a hope of surviving the onslaught of the Iva forces. The title may not bring anything radically different to the table in terms of what a vertically scrolling shooter should be but its charm and presentation make it seem fresh.

Bells and Whistles, for the uninitiated bears a passing resemblance to (among other titles), Xevious in the fact that you must not only shoot the assortment of ships flying towards but also bomb targets on the ground. The fire button acts as both shoot and bomb at the same time with a semi auto-target system picking out targets on the ground. This leaves the player to concentrate that little bit more on avoiding the aerial threat.

Holding down the fire button charges your craft up with a power shot, but that is the extent of any special powers the player has at their disposal. There is a distinct lack of the smart bomb style weapon we have come to almost expect from shooters these days.

Power ups are made available by shooting any of the clouds that float down the screen. Upon being shot the clouds will release a bell. These bells can then be shoot in order to change their colour- each colour representing a different power up ranging from speed ups to differing styles of shot type.

Stages are well presented and come across in the style of an anime comic. To compliment the brightly coloured stages they are populated with a selection of oddball enemies. The screen can become very crowded and the cute graphical style does hide a somewhat steep learning curve. The screen can fill up with bullets very quickly and once you are pinned in a corner it takes near Jedi like skills in order to get out due to your ship normally being just that little bit too big to fit through the gap in the bullets.

Unfortunately the most disappointing aspect of the game is the end of level bosses. Bosses are a touch on the small side and go down all too easily. There is also little indication if they are taking damage or not. All this was sorted out in later instalments of the series but here they are a let down and seem dull and uninspired.

Though the bosses may be disappointing the levels that lead up to them are chaotic enough to make up for it. Enemies come from all sides of the screen as well as rising from the depths of the stage. Though the levels are clearly two-dimensional the way they are drawn does a decent job of portraying the illusion of different layers and depth.

Bells and Whistles certainly has its faults and lacks the sparkle and shine of many of the titles that followed it. However, it is hard to dislike, as there is just something amiable about the game that makes it a constantly enjoyable experience. Ok, so the bosses are somewhat of a let down but that is mainly due to what we now expect form the genre. Later instalments in he series introduced better end of level bosses and a more rounded experience but for newcomers this is a good place to start.

Overall 7/10

Friday 9 January 2015

Warhammer Quest Review (PC)

Many of you will remember Hero Quest – one of the most loved board games around and one denied a re-release by a cross ownership issue. What many of you may not be aware of is that many years later a re-imagining of the game along the same lines was produced called Warhammer Quest which moved it closer to the Dungeons and Dragons style of play. 

Warhammer Quest added a number of random elements such as tiles only being placed when characters moved through and exit and enemies being generated rather than already placed. There was also an attempt at single player building on the system tried out in Advanced Hero Quest.

The digital version of the game started life on iOS devices but has now made its way to PC where it sits alongside other Games Workshop properties that stick close to their board game routes such as Space Hulk, Talisman and Blood Bowl. Though the game may have humble beginnings its turn based, board game style is certainly a good fit for the PC so don’t let that put you off.

Players take control of a team of four heroes and enter dungeons on set quests. The dungeons generate randomly with monsters appearing as you move from one tile to the next. Explore enough and you’ll find you’re what you went searching for and normally have to kill a bigger, meaner beastie to win the day. In between missions you can travel to towns and buy new equipment, level up and generally do things that adventurers do via a menu system. As you move locations other random events and chance meetings with characters can also occur.

Combat is carried out by selecting an action and then clicking on the enemy. The chance to hit and damage done is then generated by the hidden dice roll. Enemies need to be approached with care as they normally outnumber you and will go for weak members of the party. It’s challenging enough to keep you on your toes but not unfairly difficult. Any party member that dies will also resurrect once the mission is over but they do lose any experience from kills they may have racked up.

Action is viewed from a top down perspective which gives you a clear view of the environment but can make it a little tricky to see what monsters are armed with. The information can be found by hovering over and enemy and even more detail can be gathered through a simple right click of the mouse though. We did get caught out a few times when the  Goblin next to us turned out to be a boss but on the whole you only have yourself to blame when things go wrong.

It all works remarkably well and proves to be compelling as you venture ever onwards in your hunt for loot. It certainly does get a little repetitive if playing for long periods but it’s only a minor issue. A far bigger issue is the amount of content locked away behind micro-transactions. Aside from the four main characters there are a whole host of adventures available to buy and we can’t help but feel a little short changed in that respect. They aren’t cheap either with them setting you back over a pound each. Campaign wise there is certainly enough here to keep you occupied without feeling the need to purchase add-ons so at least you shouldn’t feel cheated by the length of your adventure. The fact the game is single player only as well is a real oversight.

Overall, Warhammer Quest is a solid transition of the board game to a digital format. The mechanics work well and the feel of the game remains true to its source material. There’s some fun adventuring to be done as well. It’s just a bit of a shame players are so restricted in their choice of characters unless they commit to the micro-transactions. This could have been a rather lovely complete package for fans but it still remains an absorbing and competent dungeon crawler to keep you occupied for bite sized amounts of time.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Final Fantasy VIII Review (Playstation)

Square return after the not so much ground-breaking as ground-shattering master class of all things fantastic that was Final Fantasy VII. With this in mind Final Fantasy VIII had an awful lot to live up to. Although it has a fair go at it, it doesn’t get close to the true inspiration of its prequel.

Set in a futuristic high-tech world, Final Fantasy VIII focuses on the story of ‘Squall Leonhart’ as he becomes entangled in what turns out to be an epic story. This is basically how the story goes- starting as a member of an elite military team you proceed to make a bitter rival in a guy called Seifer. From here you undertake a few missions and exams, which then leads to a sniper attempt on an unsavoury character known as Edea the sorceress. That’s disk one.

You then end up in jail, a military faction goes on a revolt and several mystical things happen. The twist comes when you realise that Edea is actually all the characters' long lost Nanny from when they were kids and if that’s not the most stupid thing we have ever come across in a role-play game then we don’t know what is. Anyway you go through the whole ‘is she really a good person being controlled’ bit, before realising there is a greater evil at work that you must stop. That’s about it for the story apart from the fact you flash back in time with another character and go through his entire life as well. Now I understand that is a very simplified version of events but it took us eighty-three hours to get through and I cannot remember all the details. Needless to say the story does keep you interested and though it makes the odd far-fetched claim, you may well be quite happy to go along with it as it unravels.

Story aside, Final Fantasy VIII changes the control system of VII with magic now being drawn from enemies in combat instead of coming from materia, and Guardian Forces (as they are now known) are summoned very differently. Instead of a one off hit from the huge beasts that drains magic, they now have hit points and can be damaged while being cast. This change to the system is where the big flaw in the game lies. The problem therefore, is that you find yourself constantly calling the Guardian Forces in every single battle. The removal of magic points means that as long as the huge beasts are not killed then you can call upon them as many times as you want. This acts to take a lot of the skill and fun out of the game as you end up sitting through the same animation over and over again.

Furthermore, the other major problem is the difficulty setting. When a game is in excess of eighty hours long it does not need to be completely unforgiving in every single battle that you find yourself in. It is so unbalanced sometimes that two or three random battles can be more deadly than the massive great boss creature at the end of the section. This is not helped by the way that creatures adjust to how powerful you are, meaning that if you are having trouble beating something you cannot go and fight some smaller monsters to make you go up a few experience levels. If you do this, then the returning monster will be even more deadly than before.

Another concern is the actual setting of the game. We can’t quite put my finger on it but it just seems wrong. FFVII, FFIX and X all had perfect settings. But the sterile, futurist world simply lacks the feel of an epic adventure. Its just too dull.

To sum up, then, it’s a shame that Final Fantasy VIII falls short in a few areas. If the control system had not been so drastically altered it might well have been another classic adventure. Unfortunately, while the game is graphically superior to FFVII, in terms of setting, story and controls it lags way behind. Whilst it does hold your attention, We can think of at least four other games in the same genre on Playstation that are much more fun to play (FFVII, FFIX, Breath of Fire 3 and Suikoden 2).

Overall 7/10

Monday 5 January 2015

Trine: Enchanted Edition Review (PS4)

Regular readers will know that we covered Trine 2 on the Wii U some time ago, indeed it was one of our first reviews of a new game with retro style. We also liked it a lot and gave it an impressive 9/10. Trine 2 was our first experience of the series and with that in mind we were often unsure about heading back to the first game. With the special or ‘Enchanted’ edition of Trine recently released and a new PS4 in the office it seemed a perfect time to experience the first part of the adventure.

If you haven’t come across a Trine game before it’s basically a platform/puzzle game where you control three different characters. You have the Knight who can fight and use his shield to block stuff and gains abilities to break down walls. The wizard can create blocks and shapes which can then be used as platforms and the thief uses and bow and can attach to wood with her grappling hook. 

The characters can be cycled through as you play and the real genius is that most of the puzzles don’t have a set way of being completed so that any of characters can get through. This allows players to work things out in a way that best suits them and gives a wonderful range of flexibility to play.

As characters progress they level up by killing monsters and collecting vials of experience from within the levels. This then allows them to unlock and upgrade their abilities allowing for more shapes to be summoned, fire arrows or charge attacks. Any essential skills are given to you so you can’t level up in the ‘wrong’ way.

The real stars of the show are the levels themselves as they are brilliantly designed. Perhaps not quite as flawless as the levels in Trine 2 - but of a stupidly high standard none the less. They also look absolutely gorgeous running in the Trine 2 engine. If ever you were waiting for a game to use that share button on the PS4 pad then this is it.

It’s also worth saying that the game is different enough from Trine 2 to be worth looking at as well. The basic gameplay is the same but the levels are different enough and the enemies moving from goblins to the undead also further separates it from the sequel. The plot is just as stupid but it all moves along at a quick pace and the whole thing never stops being enjoyable.

Overall, it would have been easy to dismiss Trine (especially as the sequel is already available on the PS4), but it is well worth getting into for newcomers of the series and fans of the second game. The mechanics still work as well as ever we found it to be an impressive and magical adventure throughout. Add in the lovely new graphics and it becomes something that should be looked at by any PS4 owner.

Overall 8/10