Thursday 28 May 2015

Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance Review (PS2)

Surprisingly, Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance has a plot revolving around a super tough warrior slave, his aim? - To destroy and execute as many people as possible. The reason for this is because he has been chosen by the gods to restore the glory of the empire. If ever a game stood on top of a mountain and screamed ‘I will to be the very definition of average’ this is it. So let us begin the investigation into how to create a perfectly middling title.

It all starts very nicely, with our hero going through a number of arenas chopping people up while the on-looking crowd cheers. Kill people move on, kill more people move on again, until finally you reach your goal and are taken off into a mystic field filled with long grass and ambient music. This area acts as a central hub from which to access the different lands.

Once you have picked your destination it’s off to wade through wave after wave of identikit skeletons and other such clich├ęd Jason and the arganaughts rip off’s. These come bounding towards you with their average animations and average attack repertoire. Our hero fights back with his own distinctly average set of moves. Pressing a combination of square and X produces slightly different combo variations but nothing to set the world alight. After the first few groups of enemies are defeated it all descends into a huge mass of button bashing intertwined with the odd push of the roll button and underpinned by a creeping sense of complete and utter boredom.

As if the responsive yet averagely realised control system was not enough to send the title down into the realms mediocrity, the camera pops up to make sure it cannot climb out of the hole it finds itself falling down at and ever increasing speed. Truly this game has the most pointless camera we have come across in a long while. Most of the time everything is static, like in Devil May Cry, this would not be a problem if you could actually see where you needed to go. Instead the camera seems to be placed at the most awkward angles possible, sometimes even obscuring your character.  Just to make it seem that little bit more pointless you can zoom the camera in and out with the right analogue stick. However, zooming in and out consists of simply moving the camera closer to your character, what is the point in that? If you cannot see from having the camera placed far out, then zooming right in only serves to show your characters boots in a nice close up is totally and utterly pointless.

Admittedly, attempts have been made to try and add some sort of invention. There are a few different weapons to choose from, each of which requires you to go about mashing buttons in a slightly different way and when using your sword, altering your attack pattern causes a combo meter to rise giving different effects depending how high you can get it. There is also a small amount of character levelling on offer. This occurs by finding challenges hidden amidst the average scenery. Upon discovering a challenge you are taken to an enclosed area where you must undertake an uninspired task, normally consisting of breaking barrels or killing a certain amount of people in a time limit. Although, your undertakings are so dull you do begin to wonder if you can get through he whole game without levelling up. 

The barrel breaking challenges are the biggest culprits as your character locks onto enemies meaning that if you are trying to hit an inanimate object, like said barrel, it can be near impossible to land a strike. The final trick the game pulls out is its array of fatalities. Any enemy who has a black energy bar can be finished off with a Mortal Kombat style finisher. The problem is that the variety of finishing moves for each enemy are limited, meaning you end up watching the same animation over and over, a nice idea but again one that is averagely realised.

On the whole the title is far from being terrible and in quick bursts of play can be fun. But there is nothing here to justify its existence really and you will find that after a few hours things begin to get very boring. The game has no major fault, it looks ok, it has some nice effects, the title is playable but it is all so dreadfully uninspired. Titles like this are the reason people get tired of gaming, overall it is merely a lacklustre hack and slash title. It makes us wonder who was more bored, us while playing it or the developers while creating it.

Overall 5/10

Wednesday 27 May 2015

3D Thunder Blade Review (3DS)

Sega’s 3D classic range continues at pace with its helicopter based arcade game the next to get the makeover treatment. Thunder Blade has always struggled for a decent home conversion and now we have yet another definitive version of the game. Whether that is enough is another matter entirely.

Thunder Blade is a mix of top down and into the screen 3D sections. Both look rather good with the 3D effect on but it can be very difficult to take everything in when you are being pummelled by incoming fire. 

There are only four levels which break down into three or four sections each. Each section requires the constant firing of guns and missiles to take out enemy tanks and jets and you’ll also need to keep your eyes open for scenery to avoid. The 3D effect does an excellent job in the top down sections of giving depth to the scenery so at least you can tell if you are about to fly into a building or not.

When flying into the screen it can all get a bit too much. You’ll need to weave in and out of obstacles and also avoid enemies crashing into you. These sections can be very frustrating as it’s difficult enough to move out of the way of gun fire without having to worry about a fighter jet you couldn’t even see flying straight into you. After this you move to take on a large boss which requires hovering over slowly while you blast away at its guns.

There are only four relatively short stages to get through and with a healthy amount of continues  and a level select it’s likely you’ll whizz through everything on sheer willpower alone. There isn’t that much replay value either as aside from a new arranged mode which adds a section and moves a few things around you’ll feel you have seen everything the game has to offer.

Thunder Blade’s biggest problem is that it was never up to the standard of many other of the games in the 3D classics range even when it was first released. It’s both short and frustrating, but then it always was. This is certainly the best version of the game out there (and it now plays as well as you probably remembering it doing in arcade), but it’s still not that great.

Overall, 3D Thunder Blade will likely be something that fans of the original will enjoy in short bursts. But there isn’t really much here in truth. It’s a good technical achievement but once you’ve run through the game you’ll likely have little impetus to do it again and that’ll take you all of ten minutes. It’s nice to see it get another hurrah (and we’ll certainly never be returning to the Amstrad version), but we’ll be sticking with 3D Outrun for our 3D classics fun.

Overall 5/10

Monday 25 May 2015

Toren Review (PS4/PC)

Toren is the debut effort from Brazilian studio Sword Tales and follows the story of a girl who must solve the mystery of the tower the game is named after. It’s a story about regrowth and regeneration and claims to be a fusion of poetry and videogames. We aren’t so sure about that but it certainly is interesting.

From the start it is clear the game is heavily inspired by Ico. The whole game is spent climbing the tower and solving puzzles much in the same way as Ico. You also get hold of a magic sword from time to time which acts to shield you from darkness much in the same way as Sony’s much lived game as well.

Toren has a distinctive visual style which is filled with vibrant colours and design. It’s not necessarily the most beautifully stunning game to look at, but it certainly is distinctive and sets up the dark and brooding world well. 

The game is only around two hours long and during that time you will mostly be moving around searching for block puzzles to solve, engaging in a bit of light platforming and entering the various dream sequences. These sequences are supposed to represent an awaking within the character of various things such as mercy. They each carry a strong sense of visual design and act as a good counterpoint to the main area of the tower.

The overall goal is to climb to the top of the Tower and defeat the horned dragon which sits atop it. As you progress your character grows in both age and stature and of course everything is all linked together with cryptic bits of story that are drip fed as you ascend.

It’s a great idea and for the most part if works well but there are a fair amount of rough edges that can become frustrating over the games short run time. The jumping and combat mechanic is somewhat basic but works most of the time. However, there are occasions when you fall off a ledge and the game can’t work out how to pull you back up without you dropping to your death.  

There are also a couple of dreams which are badly judged. One area where you have to walk around a pitch black level is teeth grindingly horrendous as most of times you fall off a ledge you don’t grab hold and just fall to your death. This is the next step on from a level with invisible walk ways and shows up a lack of creativity in the level design through these sections.

Overall, Toren is an imaginative debut from the Brazilian studio. It has both good and bad points but does create a unique and interesting tale once it gets going a bit. With a bit more polishing this could have been an excellent experience that would draw you back time after time. The stodgy mechanics and some poor design in some of dreams will put many people off though and that’s a real shame.

Overall 6/10

Friday 22 May 2015

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review (PC)

Written by Thomas GJ Sharpe

In revisiting the world of Hotline Miami, I assume Dennaton rubbed many chins and temples as they decided on where to take their viciously slick surprise hit. Design, presentation and gameplay choices will, and have, divided fans of the original. I sit fairly happily in the positive camp, believing the direction taken to be a deliberate departure, neither for better nor worse, simply differently enjoyable and differently flawed than the first title.

If this more langourous and slow, more intricate and obtuse game had appeared instead of the original, I honestly feel that it would not have had the same impact. The first Hotline was a pitch-perfect exercise in psychotic combo stacking, on-the-edge, twitch gun n' runnin', with a disturbing and oblique narrative, and spot-on soundtrack. It's success lay, for me, in the flippancy of the violence; once killed, you threw yourself back into the level as if each attempt was a feverish nightmare of your character, meaningless, with only the successful run being the reality. Married to infallible controls, Hotline Miami is one of my favourite titles.

Wrong Number handles differently for many reasons, but most notably, it is the overall scale of the thing. Tight levels are replaced by longer sequences and a singular protagonist is expanded to an ensemble cast. At first, these seem logical and positive things, but the risks associated are game breakers for some. Personally, I adore the expansion of the world through larger arenas and bigger character list, primarily for the story and atmosphere. From movie sets, nightmare-scapes, to Platoon-esque jungle scenarios, to open-road Lynchian cutscenes, Wrong Number delivers a more distinct, dramatic and thorough world.

Taking control of narrative sections will infuriate some, perhaps seeming like padding between the viscera, but taking an active role in the story generates a better understanding of the world. This is especially helpful as the storyline is delivered without hand-holding, through flashback and forward, dream-reality blends, drug-induced episodes and all without explicit exposition. To me, this is a fantastic prop to the action during the levels. It asks more investment, but not so much that it detracts from the missions.

On that note, the gameplay during the missions is, sadly, the weaker element. All of the vitals remain; door kickin', knife flingin', executions (more varied and vile, this time too) and frantic kill-sprees, so much dynamism in so few pixels. Due to larger areas, however, some of the original spark has been lost. On the whole, the action takes place in a convincing way, but the sequences of areas require more enemy pattern learning and more patience than before. Some levels feel less “natural” (if you could apply that word in this title), with conga lines of goons, ruining any sense of a real place. I always enjoyed surprising enemies on the toilet. There is something cold and unatmospheric about them marching around. A small gripe, but representative of the direction Wrong Number has taken.

It wouldn't be right to not give the music its own paragraph in this review. The music is incredible. Scaling itself against the content of the levels, each track is a joy. Nuff said.

In the end, Wrong Number has tried my patience more than the original Hotline Miami did. A couple of the levels in the last act are too long and too reliant on learning enemy patterns, which defuses the thrill of on-the-spot decisions and wild murder. Apart from this, sadly fairly large, design issue, Wrong Number delivers an evolution of the original. A bit bloated? Only in comparison to its ancestor. The essence of the game is bigger, bolder and more revealing than before.

Overall 7/10

Thursday 21 May 2015

Galarians: Ash Review (PS2)

Starting life on the first Playstation, Galerians is a survival horror game with a difference. The twist was that the character the player controls is a complete lunatic created through genetic manipulation by a master computer named Dorothy. Rion, would inject himself with mind enhancing drugs that allowed him to cause fires and hit enemies with a shock wave of energy (among other things). The big problem was that using the drugs too much would cause our hero to have a nervous breakdown and get very nasty - with anything within close proximity to him being blow away by psychic energy.

Now Rion has returned to save the world from the threat of the all-conquering Galerians and to finish the conflict once and for all. The plot for Ash is complicated; initially you are within the data banks of a computer as you try to escape from the gaze of Dorothy. After an initial showdown it is revealed that Dorothy has a backup memory, which constantly regenerates, and you are sent back to where you started. From here you set out again only to encounter a Galerian sent into the computer to erase your data. After this it only gets more confusing but it all helps to build up the unique world the title is set in.

Cyber punk is very much the order of the day in the Galerians world. A mixture of external apocalyptic areas seen through security cameras an internal sterile locations reminiscent of the buildings seen in films like Minority Report help to conjure up a juxtaposition between the rational thinking of the remaining people struggling to survive and the complete insanity and sick thinking of their enemies.

While the graphics succeed in setting up the world you cannot help but feel everything lacks a touch of detail. Long periods are spent wandering through locations that look similar. Furthermore, characters seem to lack any real identity due to a lack of definition, meaning after a while everything gets very monotonous as the action and enemies are not radically different throughout the game.

What really sets the game apart from other titles in the genre is the way in which combat is handled. Ash is not about finding ammunition for guns but using chemicals to enhance Rion's abilities and destroy your enemies in far more nasty ways. The problem comes in the way you have to charge Rion up before unleashing his powers.

By holding down the attack button the energy gage fills up and once it reaches maximum the chosen power can be unleashed. However, while doing this Rion must remain stationary and this does not lend itself to being a fast moving and flexible fighting system. As a result, battling multiple opponents and bosses is a tricky operation. This is not helped by a dodgy targeting system that often leaves you firing your powers into thin air. This coupled with boss battles that can seem like they take an eternity of repeating the same action to overcome really do sour the experience at times.

Rion himself moves very well, while focusing on enemies may be a little tricky at times at least you have the moves at your disposal to avoid the nasty creatures that try to get you. First of all your character can move faster than the standard monsters you come across with only the Galerians being able to keep up with you in terms of speed. You are also equipped with a diving roll move to get you away from tight situations quickly, something that really proves useful if a creatures lunges for you when you least expect it. Unusually for the survival horror genre at this time the in game camera is not fixed in one position and instead moves to face the direction the player is facing. However, you cannot move the camera around manually which means there are still numerous occasions where the action is being presented at an awkward angle, for instance- running away from an enemy means you have no idea where they are so you must stop and turn round, something that is not ideal as if they are right behind you there is no chance that Rion is going to charge up his powers before the thing gets you.

Overall, Galerians: Ash is only ever going to appeal to a niche market. The game mechanics have barely changed since the original game and the sequel loses a lot of the tension and genuinely disturbing feel as well. While the story is complicated and filled with sick creatures and twisted people it just does not have the impact it should. After a while things just become a bit dull and though the story is interesting it does not really make you want to push on until the end. Fans of the original may well want to continue the story but newcomers will find little to shout about. Our advice is to seek out the original Galerians on the Playstation for a truly memorable twisted and psychotic experience.

Overall 6/10

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Nom Nom Galaxy Review (PS4)

A new game from Q-Games is a cause for celebration in the Retro 101 office. We have access to pretty much everything they have ever done and have reviewed most of it as well. All of their games have received warm reviews from us and we were even tempted to pick up most of their DSi output a few months ago. Invention is always key to their programming ethos and Nom Nom Galaxy is another original take on tried and tested formulas and Double Eleven have done a great job developing it for the PS4.

Nom Nom Galaxy is a game about soup. Intergalactic soup in fact. There has been a soup craze sweeping the galaxy so you must set off to different planets and cultivate the very best soup out there. In order to do this you will need to grow and gather ingredients, set up a factory and blast your soup into space in soup rockets.  It’s mad, it’s fun and it’s got a bit of just about everything in it.

You control a single robot worker who has to explore the planet and decide where and what to build. Outside of your base your oxygen constantly decreases so you need to be careful how far you go and you’ll also take damage from high falls and rampaging tomatoes. It’s a dangerous world out there but then galactic soup domination never was an easy road to take.

The first thing to do is build your factory which happens on a tile by tile basis. Starting with your office you can add corridors, soup making machines, rockets and robot workers. The aim is to get ingredients to the soup machines and then the soup to the rockets in the most automated way you can. Ingredients are found by exploring the planet and then bringing them back to grow yourself or simply add into the machines. Some of the ingredients fight back so you also have some handy weapons on hand to subdue them.

You have a host of robot workers which can be unlocked to help the process. From ones which simply wander from side to side picking things up, to gardeners and little dudes who chuck things up and down vertical corridors there is plenty to use. The factory you build acts like a self-contained puzzle to keep everything flowing properly. You also need to keep an eye on the power usage and will have to set out to find a new power core if you need more juice.

Of course, other corporations won’t just sit back and let you have all the glory and each planet will have you competing to get 100% of the market. Every now and then your rival will launch a raid on you to try and cripple your operation so you will also need to make sure you have some gun turrets on hand to dissuade them. There is an open ended mode also which allows you to build your dream factory without the threat of attack should you wish to just want to explore.

It is quite daunting to start with but you’ll soon get the hang of how things work and it’s very difficult to fail the first few levels anyway. There’s a lot to consider such as finding air pockets to grow plants quicker and using water for the rarer water native plants. How you regrow stuff on the ceilings is also something to work out. But it all works in a logical way and the exploration and discoveries keep you interested as you build and develop your ideas and structures.

Factory building is pretty free form with tiles of all shapes and sizes available to you. Each planet has certain characteristics such as heavy rock formations or dangerous fauna to deal with as well and certain levels have strict conditions such as certain soups being undesirable or outlawed. It’s basically a game that allows you test yourself to run a soup business against numerous different variables and it works very well. Aside from the corporate conquest mode there are set challenge scenarios to play and also co-op if you have another friend who wants to help you out or compete against you.

Overall, Nom Nom Galaxy is another excellent game from Double Eleven and the Pixeljunk team. It’s a glorious time sink that brings in elements of strategy, puzzles, tower defence, platforming and terra forming and every level kept us engaged from start to finish. There isn’t really anything else like it and it comes highly recommended.

Overall 8/10

Monday 18 May 2015

Ultratron Review (PS4/Vita)

Hot off the back of Space Invaders inspired Titan Attacks comes Puppy Games’ take on the Robotron formula. We suspect that there other ‘inspired by’ games may not be far behind and this is no bad thing. 

Ultratron uses the graphical style that Puppy Games has become known for. The blocky robot like enemies, pixelated distortion and cyber voices are all in effect and the music is of a suitably high quality to build tension and complement the action.

With games which borrow so heavily from classics it’s all about the execution and Ultratron has a pretty good go at trying to recreate the Robotron feeling of blasting panic. It does take a while to get going but once you get towards the end of the second world it’s all very chaotic and there is never a shortage of things to blast.

The action is relentless and some suitable bosses are waiting at the end of each of the four sections which require destruction via blowing off various bits. There is a wide variety of enemy types from the standard drones to missile firing ones and robots that have shields or spread poison across the play area. Chances are you’ll just be blasting everything though in a desperate bid to survive.

You can collect money during each round and then use this to upgrade your little robot at the end. There are a whole host of upgrades ranging from more shields and bombs to little robot helper pets and tools like EMP blasts. It encourages a second play through to try and fully upgrade and the choices on offer certainly add to the core formula. 

For everything good the game does it sadly has a fair few bizarre design decisions that can really impact on the game. The first of these is that messages and information are displayed in the bottom left of the screen. This wouldn’t be an issue normally but sometimes they can take up around a quarter of the play area making it impossible to see what is going on - A crazy decision in a twitch blaster like this.

The colour scheme also causes numerous problems as enemies and bullets can simply blend into the background. This issue eased when we removed all the visual filters but it was still very difficult to see things at times. The screen is also far too cluttered with nonsense information and symbols. There is simply too much for most players to take in and distinguishing what is useful to you and what isn’t requires thought processing power of super hero like proportions.

 All the screen clutter and noise means feedback for things like when you get hit is also almost impossible to distinguish.  If you have all three helpers on the go with their different range arcs and messages popping up it is just chaos and not in a good way. There’s also a bit of a level up problem in that if you haven’t upped  your speed you’ll fight all the way to the last boss only to have it crush you in a few seconds because your robot is just too slow to move away from it.

Despite all this we actually quite enjoyed Ultratron. When it flows it’s really quite an enjoyable distraction and the style in quite endearing. There are some nice little touches like your robot helpers yelping when they get hit and there’s some good imagination on show.

Overall, Ultratron is a fun game but one with a few too many design floors to recommend it to everyone. If you are a fan of the style of Titan Attacks then you should enjoy this as well and it’s certainly the better game of the two. There may be numerous niggling irritations but there’s also an intense shooter here as well and very little else like it on PSN currently.

Overall 7/10

Sunday 17 May 2015

World Championship Rugby Review (PS2)

Over the years Rugby games have been few and far between as developers and publishers churn out more and more football titles. But with the success of the England team at the time the games industry changed its mind. However as proven in the past rugby games are very hard to get right, mainly because there are so many players acting at once, and also due to the more complicated style of the game when compared to something like football.

World Championship Rugby is the official game of the England team and comes with a fully licensed set of stadiums and players, so if nothing else the game is aiming to be as realistic as possible in terms of presentation. However, as many people know having the licenses does not necessarily mean the game is of any real quality.

The title contains a large number of different play modes; you can take on the world cup, do tours, play leagues and take on the challenge of a number of different historical matches from rugby’s past. Add a few ‘winner stays on’ style survival matches and it is clear there is plenty for fans to do and a certain amount of long-term appeal. At this point it all looks promising, maybe just maybe they have got right?

Graphically, things are functional, players look vaguely similar to real life counter parts and the ball looks the right shape, but in the midst of a match it can be hard to tell who is who and also to see what is going on. This really is not a good a thing as with so many bodies around it can be far too easy to simply lose sight of the ball and end up turning over possession to the opposition without even realising it. Sound wise the game is poor, there are some nice touches but the commentary is terrible, it lacks any passion and makes the game feel flat and lacklustre. Sound effects for tackles and other moves seem tacked on and the crowd can be deadly silent at times, even when a try is scored. Saying that there is one high spot, the England crowd sing ‘swing low sweet chariot’ if you are doing well.

However, the gameplay is really not up to world championship standard. At first it seems fine, you run along passing the ball left and right, thinking to yourself how to make creative moves and passes, then it hits you- you can’t really create that many different plays. Unlike real Rugby this game has you passing the ball all the way to one side of the pitch, where your man gets tackled. You then pass the ball all the way to the other side of the pitch, repeat until you reach the try line. It’s terrible and every game you play ends up exactly the same.

Not only this but there is a huge lack of skill involved in playing the game. Any scrum or maul you get into seems to be almost completely random as to the outcome. Something very noticeable when teams are even, playing against weaker teams simply means you win every single scrum, not the most realistic of things to see, and it all descends into a large amount of random button bashing in the hope something might happen in your favour.

When running with the ball you have so few options it is criminal, you can pass, kick or do some strange dodge move, but there is no variety in it, In a real game of Rugby you see countless different types of running and passing moves, overlapping plays, little chips through from a kicker, none of it is present here. You just run get tackled, bash buttons and run again.

Then after much random button bashing and playing five group games in the world cup that all played exactly the same, you think you’ve seen the worst of it, but no, World Championship Rugby has one final piece of sloppy workmanship to throw right in you face. Running with the ball and passing it left and right may have been ok to give an adequate feel for the sport, had it not been for the monumental amount of slow down that causes the play to move into a sort of unplanned bullet time. It truly is the worst case of slowdown since James Pond decided to become Robo Cod, what a mess.

Unfortunately, it seems all the time spent on this release has gone into making the first few menu screens you come across look nice. It seems that developers just do not have a clue how to make a decent Rugby game and this is so removed from watching or playing the real thing it hurts. Maybe one day there will be a title to rival Pro Evolution Soccer for a Rugby fan but until that day it is probable better to leave the gaming to football fans.

Overall 4/10

Friday 15 May 2015

Shovel Knight Review (PS4/PS Vita)

Shovel Knight has been recognised as a great game on both the PC and Nintendo formats so it’s great to see it finally come to PSN. Another in the long line of retro styled platformers, it has always had something a little bit special about it. It’s taken a while to get here from the PC and we are delighted to say that it’s still as excellent as ever.

The game follows the tale of Shovel Knight who used to act as one of the champions of the land, defending it from evil along with his companion Shield Knight. One day the two knights fall fowl of a cursed amulet in a magic tower. Shovel Knight awakens to find Shield Knight has been sealed in the tower and the entrance is now impassable. While Shovel Knight hides away from the world the evil forces of the enchantress take hold. In doing so she unseals the magic tower and Shovel Knight sets off to rescue Shield Knight and stop the evil.

Shovel Knight is a platform game that wears its influences very plainly on its sleeve.  There’s a  bit of Mega Man in there, (though you don’t take powers from fallen bosses), Some Duck Tales style bouncing, a bit of Castlevania 2 and 3 with the sub weapons and even a touch of Dark Souls. The thing that sets it all apart though is while all these elements are identifiable the game feels like something unique. It’s not just a trip down memory lane but a game that has taken key elements and forged its own identity with them.

The graphics and music are 8-bit themed and it certainly feels like the sort of thing you could be playing on a NES or Master System. Despite the potential limitations of the style each level is filled with detail and they each have their own clear identity. This is where the main Mega Man influence comes and it keeps things fresh as you never really know how an enemy boss knight’s stage is going to have to be approached until you get into it.

The adventure is set across a map screen with locks at the edge of it. Defeating the correct enemy boss knights releases the locks and allows you to move to the next section. As well as the enemy castles there are villages where you can get new gear and special levels which offer up gems or unique adventures for our hero to conquer (You can also go and speak to a big fish thing which fills up empty chalices with magic). You’ll need all the gems you can find as it acts as the in game currency and allows you to buy a whole host of secondary weapons and shovel and armour upgrades.

It should be pointed out that though the game is called Shovel Knight, this is not a title in the same vein as Steam World: Dig or Spelunky. It’s very much a platformer in the Mega Man or Castlevania style with skilful jumping and boss fights on the menu for intrepid explorers. The game is challenging but it has a very well balanced difficulty curve and we never felt completely out of our depth. Levels also have a large amount of checkpoints and there is no lives system in place so you can keep continuing. The main penalty for death is losing a chunk of your money. When this occurs it hangs around the area you died and must be reclaimed. If you die again then it’s gone, much like Dark Souls.

It’s a game wants you to keep playing it. The constant supply of gems and available upgrades, the gradual revealing of the map, the extra levels – it all just keeps you wanting to see what else is out there and what’s going to be next and there is always something more to see. You’ll get random monsters and bosses roaming the map like in Mario 3 or pick up a new weapon and be able to complete a level you couldn’t before. You’ll just keep going and going until the end and then there’s always new game +.

Overall, Shovel Knight is a brilliant game. Everything is does it does well and everything works. It’s balanced and challenging and constantly offers up new surprises. The controls work perfectly, the levels and enemies are well designed and there’s a nice chunk of humour in there as well. This probably is it for the 8-bit retro styled platformer as to beat this would really take something. We tried and tried but it simply cannot be faulted. It’s just a magnificent game.

Overall 10/10

Thursday 14 May 2015

Wallace and Gromit in Project Zoo Review (PS2)

Over the years we have seen countless tie in titles to numerous films and television programmes and it is fair to say that more often than not the same few things can be said about them, first of all they are nearly always platform games and secondly they are nearly always rushed out to cash in on hype and end up being worse than a collective bunch of army men games. So imagine the slight veil of dread that hung around us when a 3d platform title centred on the ever-popular Wallace and Gromit appeared.

However, the one thing which brought a slight feeling of hope was the fact that Wallace and Gromit did not really have anything to promote, the game coming years after the original films where created and would need to be able to stand on its own merits to keep fans interested and stop the market as a whole ignoring the title out of hand.

The story goes that the evil penguin that appeared in classic film ‘The Wrong Trousers’ has taken over the Zoo of Wallace and Gromit’s friend Monty and has all the animals doing his dirty work for him. It is up to Wallace, but more importantly Gromit to save the animals and stop the evil penguin once and for all. Players control the heroic dog of the pairing, but in a twist to the normal platform formula Wallace must be lead to certain areas in order to make or fix anything requiring a more mechanically minded person.

It is clear right from the start that project zoo is far more than just another quick cash in rushed out to make some money. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the presentation with the developers making sure everything has the right look and feel to it, meaning fans of the series will quickly become lost in a whole world of creature comforts. Most impressive of these are the perfectly animated cut scenes that appear at numerous points in order to keep the story progressing in a very Wallace and Gromit tone. Not only is the animation spot on but both scripting and style are also of an excellent standard, so much so that the game seems more like a new film rather than a series spin off.

Set across twenty-three missions based around six worlds the platform action is a mixture of the slightly original and things that we have seen a fair few times before. Essentially, each level comes down to the same thing- Gromit must go around collecting cogs, bolts and tools, Wallace must then be called to a place where these things can be used to fix or make something, thus allowing Gromit to continue on. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff but none the less it helps the the game stand out a bit.

Gromit himself has a wide variety of moves with which to move himself around the levels. Reminiscent of the type of movement Jak was afforded in the first Jak and Daxter title Gromit can roll, crouch, high jump and a number of other things not a million miles away from other titles. Saying that however there are a few nice little moves in there as well. Gromit is able to do a Devil May Cry 2 style run up the wall type move, which is a touch amusing to watch considering Dante and Gromit are not exactly the same type of hero. Various weapons are also on offer such as banana cannons and while all the moves and ideas are not that original they all come together to form a decent enough package that feels a little different.

A small problem that shows its self from time to time is that Gromit is a touch slow and clumsy when executing moves, this is due to the fact one animation must be completed before allowing our hero to initiate the next. This means that doing long jumps can be a touch tiresome as Gromit must roll and then jump exactly at the end of the roll animation as pressing the jump button while in mid roll simply does not initiate the jump command. This problem shows itself is other places as well but on balance throughout the title the times where this occur are few and most of the time they do not lead to death or injury.

When looking at Wallace and Gromit project zoo it is difficult to see what could have been done (a few niggling problems aside) to improveit. The big question surrounding it is ‘will the fans like it?’ and the answer to that is a big yes, there is so much Wallace and Gromit charm on show that any self respective fan of the duo should really go out an purchase it as it acts as more or less as another film with all the cut scenes. Furthermore, there are a host of extras to be unlocked and to top it off the game is not bad either. Project Zoo acts to show how a license can be done if put in the right hands.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Axiom Verge Review (PC)

There was a time when ‘Metroidvania’ titles were flooding the market. Recent trends have a seen a move towards the super hard ‘Rogue-like’ game and with no new Castlevania or Metroid on the horizon gamers have been at a loss as to how to scratch their map filling itch. But fear not because Axiom Verge is here and it’s a little big special.

The brain child of one man studio Tom Happ, the game follows the long twisting story of a scientist who awakens in a strange world after he dies in an accident. It’s certainly closer to Metroid than Castlevania but there’s also enough of a difference to not make it seem like one of those carbon copy knock offs you used to get called things like Poc-Man or Space Invaded. Considering the lack of this type of game around at the minute and the fact the last proper 2D Metroid was back on the Gameboy Advance there’s certainly a gap in the market.

If you’re not familiar with this type of game then let us explain. In Axiom Verge you explore and leap around the various landscapes shooting monsters and looking for useful objects. Upgrades normally give you a new move of some kind. In this case the first few you find add a drill for destroying certain types of wall, a high jump and shift scrambler thing. These objects then allow bypassing of certain obstacles and exploring further. You basically keep going until you meet a boss or hit an area where you clearly need something to progress and it’s wonderfully addictive as your little map constantly updates and fills out the layout of the areas.

Of course, you have to want to explore and Axiom Verge does a good job of keeping you locked into it. The environments are beautifully realised in their old school pixel style and each area has a unique look and characteristic. Enemy types also vary widely from area to area and the accompanying musical score sets the scene perfectly. The game also does a good job of keeping interesting looking things just about out of sight so you are always intrigued to go back later and see what they are.

The bosses you come up against start off large and proceed to get bigger and badder as the game progresses. They all require decent dexterity and brain power to overcome and this is a throwback to the shoot the 'glowing weak spot’ of old days. We didn’t come across anything crushingly difficult but you do need to be your toes. The difficulty level in general is set just about right. There is the odd spike here and there but our exploration was never stopped for too long. It can be annoying to be sent back a long way to the last save point but you do keep your exploration progress.

The save points are spread around each area and see our hero entering a pod which regenerates their health. These aren’t exactly everywhere so you do have been careful when exploring as there can be a bit of distance between them. We did find this a little frustrating to begin with but once we found a few upgrades it became much less of an issue. The one thing we really would have liked to have seen is the ability to teleport between save points. It was the developer’s choice not to integrate this but it would have solved the frustration of realising you need to be all the way over on the other side of the map.

There isn’t much hand holding here either. Don’t expect map markers of flashing squares to guide you to where you need to go. We didn’t really have much issue with this as you nearly always have to go to the bit you haven’t been able to explore yet so it wasn’t exactly rocket science to work out what to do next most of the time. If you do find something that looks interesting the PC version now allows you to drop a little reminder marker there for you to come back to later.

Level design is strong throughout, which is good as there’s a serious chunk of game to get through here. It’s massively impressive to think this has been created by a one person team as it has the production values and feel of something made by a much bigger collection of people. It’s filled with moments that you’ll remember and it seems to have been so carefully created that you can’t help but marvel at what has been achieved at times.

Overall, Axiom Verge is a highly impressive game. It remains original enough while playing off core values of classic games to keep away feelings that you’ve seen it all before. It offers up surprises and fun new things to play with at regular intervals and gives players some big beasties to test themselves against. It’s a well thought-out game that has moments of genuine brilliance among a core of all round good design. It’s very easy to recommend this to fans of the genre as there hasn’t been a Metroidvania this good since Zero Mission.

Overall 8/10

Monday 11 May 2015

Titan Souls Review (PC/PS4/PS Vita)

Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

I give certain favour to games that start as Ludum Dare entries (a video-game creation time-challenge) as I know from first-hand experience the environment where they are fostered. Developers who get into LD are ones who at the core want to make games and know the power of simplicity and originality. Just having a browse over the mass of titles made in the competition over the years, you will find some true gems, most outstripping mainstream games by miles in the design stakes, however crunchy the execution. I cannot claim that my efforts as a part of an LD team have been anything more than music and art assets, but I see the value.

Titan Souls is one of these gems that glittered a little brighter than the rest in LD #28, winning overall, audio and mood catergories. I include this historical information not only to show off my thorough researching abilities (and constant strive for review style that reads more like a Victorian old-man-of-letters), but these accolades serve as a three word springboard.

Set in a charmingly realised 2D-top-down-pixel-art world, you play a lone archer who has a lone arrow to let loose at nineteen different titans. The mood is silent and still, but sadly never reaches a deeper level for me. Waterfalls, lava, forests, ancient ruins are all great, but for all of the great art work, charming is all it ever is. Not ever foreboding nor beautiful, just... nice. The titans take various forms and usually have one-hit deaths, like your own character. This is the central conceit; enter boss arena, work out weak point, make your shot.

The difficulty arises in the arrow mechanic. You can charge your shot to get more distance, but you must remain still when shooting. Further, you have to retrieve your arrow physically or use a “call-back” style spell, which again, renders you still. The only other skill you have is a roll-dodge and run, bound to the same key. This simplicity is what makes this game so appealing to me. In practice, however, I found the play to be more about pin-point accuracy, perfectly timed dodging and, most of all, a lot... far too much... excessive... walking. When you die in Titan Souls, you return to the most local hub, which varies in distance from the boss areas. I have not found one that is close enough for me not to get frustrated. Truly, the opposite of Hotline Miami and it's psychopathically flippant restart mashes; back in the game, back in the game, back in the game. No, in a game breaking choice (for me), the developers force you to walk back through the charming, yet empty, environments again and again. As for on the most part, the bosses are tough, although repetitive, in their attacks and require large amounts of poise.

A lot of titans require you to see a full couple of attack patterns before you figure it out. Of course, guess at an angle of attack wrong and you could waste ten minutes on two or three tries, walking included. This is not a case of “yeah, brutal gameplay!” or “you ain't good enough”, it is simply inaccessible for me, through no fault of my own. In Dark Souls (Titan Souls clearly doing a bit of a nod) where you plan your attacks, develop strategy and die a lot, you don't ever feel cheated. It was always your fault. Titan Souls shouts “think fast!” and hurls a basketball at your genitals. So, to even get to the point of figuring it out, let alone practicing executing a strategy, requires so much walking that I really, really struggled to keep on playing.

I very much enjoy this game, and it is perhaps my impatience, but I want to be fighting, dying, figuring it out much faster, then having a little explore through the great world. The music is fantastic, by the way, as are the grunts and growls of the bosses. At its centre, however, lurks this ugly design issue that leaves me out in the cold, when all I want to do is swallow boss spirits and enjoy the atmosphere.

Second opinion from Gareth

I agree with pretty much everything that Tom has said here. However, the walking issue was much less of a problem for me. It really would have been a useful addition to put a save point before the entrance to each guardian as they do have a tendency to kill you in seconds. That said, Most of them are set within a few screens of the save point. It is a strange design choice but not something that I would say brings the experience down that much.

It also has to be said that the Vita stick isn’t quite up to the job for the level of precision that is needed for a game like this. It gives it a good go but I would recommend sticking to the PS4 or PC version for taking out the super tricky beasties.

The design of the world and the individual Titans is strong and defeating one certainly brings about the same feeling of achievement as found in games like Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus - two games which have clearly influenced its design. I would certainly recommend this to anyone who likes a challenge as there’s some clever design at play and an interesting world to explore.

Tom’s Score 6/10
Gareth’s Score 7/10

Sunday 10 May 2015

Curious George Review (PS2)

Many months after the film Curious George received its cinema release the game of the film was released. We were expecting an average identikit three-dimensional platform game and apart from a few adventure elements that is what we have.

Let us make this clear from the start, Curious George, like the film is very much aimed at kids and very young kids at that. So it is a little surprising to see it has a PG certificate on it as it contains ‘potentially dangerous behaviour’ you couldn’t make it up.

The game itself has George the very cute and very curious monkey following the man with the yellow hat back from Africa and discovering all manner of things on the way. The main level design for the game has the little monkey running around very bland levels picking up bananas and swinging on ropes. Every now and then you get something a little different such as having to sneak around, jump across cars or dancing for sailors. It is all handled very by the numbers and the game really starts to get boring quite quickly.

Throughout the levels there are a number of things that George can interact with to get curious points. After each interaction a small animation takes place where what ever the object is does something- but it is all very bland and objects are heavily repeated throughout levels. The points you gain can be spent on unlocking mini games and clothes for George but there is nothing there really worth your time.

Where the game does stand up very well is the looks department. All the levels are very colourful and clearly defined in the same style as the movie so authenticity on that count has been handled very well. An average but colourful game could have been forgiven for the very young audience that this is obviously aimed at but for the slightly dodgy controls.

Unlike a lot of titles the camera actually works very well and is easily moved around to where you want it but the inconsistent jump button will cause a lot of frustration. It seems almost a matter of luck whether you can get little George to perform his double jump or not. A lot of the time he simply will not make the second jump and you find yourself thrown back to the last checkpoint to try again. This is a shame as the controls on the whole hold up well.

No doubt many young gamers could overlook this but what many will not is the length of the game. There are only twelve relatively short levels to get through which should take no more than a couple of hours at most. The game was on the shelves at a budget price but this is still stretching it a bit for such a paltry amount of game time. The levels themselves do not vary much in design either, they nearly all have crates in to climb up and some kind of rope that needs to be swung on and no amount of colour can disguise the fact that they have been adapted from the same template.

We can see the appeal that Curious George may have for very young gamers who are fans of the film or television series. But anyone else or children who have grown up with gaming will become bored very quickly. The levels may be colourful but are simply too bland and uninspiring to hold interest for any length of time. When there are so many excellent platform games out there on the PS2 we simply cannot recommend this to anyone.

Overall 4/10

Friday 8 May 2015

Space Hulk: Ascension Dark Angels DLC

After the sad news that Full Control is winding down its productions we have what could well be the last piece of downloadable content for the time-absorbing Space Hulk: Ascension. We always assumed some kind of rights issue stopped the Dark Angels from being included to begin with but whatever the truth they are here now in a campaign that will test player’s skills to the maximum with an additional twenty campaign missions and some sadistic flash ones.

Each new expansion has added some kind of new gear and this one is the same. In terms of equipment you can now play around with the heavey plasma cannon which causes splash damage from huge balls of exploding plasma. Players also have a new class to use in the Apothecary.  A support character, the Apothecary provides stat boosting bonuses to terminators within close proximity. However, he takes the place of either the Librarian or Sergeant so careful consideration of how you play is required.

This campaign is pretty full on from the start. The very first mission gives you command of two full squads and the remit of exterminating around sixty Genestealers. The aliens come fast and furious and it seems as though more of them can be present on the map at once now. It was a common occurrence for all our Terminators to be blasting away to the point of overheat during a single turn so be prepared for intense, inch by inch fighting.

The stuttering from the Salamanders DLC seems to not be present here and the expansion runs very smoothly in terms of graphics and speed. We did however hit a few bugs where Terminators couldn’t walk through certain areas which required a restart to clear. We had this problem once before with the flamer in the Imperial Fist DLC and it’s something that needs addressing because being stuck in a corner for no reason and having to plan a new route is near impossible under this amount of enemy pressure.

Overall, fans of the game should find more than enough to justify this as a purchase. It adds fun new things to play around with and offers a serious challenge. We still have gripes such as the vents being too hard to distinguish and the white Deathwing armour making the command wheels hard to see but there’s nothing game breaking here. It’s another solid expansion that fans should love.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Bastion Review (PS4)

For many gamers out there Bastion is a something that has planted itself firmly in their mind. We first came across it on the Xbox 360 and since then have completed it numerous times as well as bought it on the PC so this review comes from the point of view of a returning player which is why it’s somewhat of a surprise to see how fresh it still feels. 

Incase you haven’t experienced Bastion before- it follows the story of a boy who awakens after a massive calamity had befallen his world. The story unfolds via an atmospheric voice over that describes what is happening and adds detail and colour to the world as you explore.

Bastion is a hack and slash game at heart but a sophisticated one. Your character is always responsive and easy to control and you have a wealth of different weapons to play around with. Any combination of weapons can be set up on two different attack buttons which allows for flexibility in the way players can approach combat. Both melee and ranged weapons are on hand and each is different from the last meaning careful consideration is needed to match them up to the player’s style.

The colourful and charming art style is what still sets Bastion apart from many other indie games out there. It has always looked good and the PS4 version looks a little bit more gorgeous. Different areas are distinctive and full of character and the ‘hanging over the abyss’ layout harks back to the era of isometric games like Rasputin.

As well as the main story where you gradually rebuild the ‘Bastion’ there are also a host of self-contained challenged to get to grips with. These involve using a specific weapon and hitting a certain number of targets within a tight time frame. There is also a basic levelling and power up system to help you along the way. It’s nothing major but certainly adds another layer of interest.
Though no pushover, Bastion is not a game with a hard-core difficulty. There is a beautifully balanced learning curve which gradually increases as the game progresses. It’s a challenge but never one that a well-equipped player will be overcome by. Instead, it challenges you to think about combat and to use the weapons you have found in the best way.

There is certainly something special about Bastion that keeps you drawn to it. It’s hard to think of anyone who won’t want to dive back into the new game+ setting after completion and starting the game again now after a break we were instantly compelled to keep playing. There’s just something very satisfying about bashing things with a big hammer and picking up the shards that are left behind.

Overall, though it’s not the new kid on the block anymore, Bastion still has more of a draw than many newer games. It’s certainly a defining game in the indie movement (if there is such a thing), and one that is still as fun to play as ever. There’s little here to draw in players who already own the game but for Sony purists who finally have the chance it’s as essential a game now as it ever has been.

Overall 9/10

Tuesday 5 May 2015

The Simpsons Hit and Run Review (PS2)

In recent memory the Simpson’s licence has been tacked on to just about any old piece of tat going, from the ‘alleged’ ripping of the crazy taxi formula in road rage to rubbish wrestling games. In fact the last time the Simpson’s got a proper run out was way back in the days of eight bit gaming with platformer Bart vs. the Space Mutants.

One of the better attempts came in the form of this Grand Theft Auto based game. Now on the surface this may seem a strange choice and a fair few changes have had to be made to keep everything from getting too violent. So GTA without the violence in a Simpson’s world? Dear lord what have we let our selves in for?

Hit and Run may be a copy of yet another popular and commercially viable formula with a tacked on gimmick but it would be harsh to dismiss the title out of hand. In reality Hit and Run only borrows certain things from GTA and in fact bares little resemblance to Rock Star North’s classic title.

The game sets players a number of missions in a set area. Driving from one place to another and then driving somewhere else is generally all that is needed to complete these tasks. There is little in the way of the on foot sections found in GTA and even the driving missions are only recognisable in an abstract sense.

Each area of the game has players controlling one of the Simpson’s family as they go about their driving, once a set number of missions have been completed it’s onto the next area where a different member of the family does much the same. While there are things to do other than the main missions the freedom of other titles in this genre really show up Hit and Run, indeed apart from looking for collectible cards and the odd hidden gag event to trigger there really is not anything worth aimlessly wondering the streets of Springfield to find. This really effects the long term appeal as the missions will only take an experienced player a couple of days to get through.

However, what the game does, it does relatively well with the environment of Springfield well recreated with everything more or less where is should be and recognisable characters from the series all making themselves present at one point or another. The handling of the cars is very much in the realms of arcade, but the vehicles handle well and generally do what you want them to. At least the basics have been completed to a competent degree, something that cannot be said about almost every other Simpson’s title.

Unfortunately there just is not enough in the game to make it a worthwhile purchase as a game in its own right. After the first few areas, missions begin to feel repetitive and moments of humour are too far apart to keep players wanting to go on to see what happens next. This coupled with the fact that most missions seem to have nothing to do with the overall plot and the fact that said plot is so dull that you do not care anyway only pulls the title down further into the realms of the exceedingly average.

For fans of the series there is the odd bit of replay value, new costumes and vehicles can be purchased and there is always the hope that the next gag event that you find will actually amount to more than something simply falling over or blowing up. For the real diehard fan there is an unseen episode of the Itchy and Scratchy cartoon to be bought once all the collectible cards have been found. Apart from these odd bits there is really little else here apart from the samey main missions, even going on a wild spree of knocking down innocent people holds little reward as the cops simply come and fine you before letting you on your way again.

Overall, Hit and Run is both a surprise and a disappointment. It is nice to see a Simpson’s game that finally is worth playing. Unfortunately, it is only worth playing for a few hours because anything after that falls into the realms repetition. The basic gameplay dynamic has been implemented competently but that isn’t really enough.

Overall 5/10

Monday 4 May 2015

Broken Age Review (PS4/PS Vita)

Lucas Arts’ point and click adventures are undoubtedly some of the finest game you will ever have the pleasure of playing. Unfortunately, the adventure game has (or at least had) fallen out of favour for a long time. There’s been a slight resurgence in the genre recently with output like the Walking Dead and other episodic games.  But Broken Age is a return the classic point and click roots of 2D graphics and logic puzzles to solve.

We played the first part of Broken Age some time ago and it’s testament to it that starting from scratch in the now complete version didn’t bother us one bit. You follow the story of a young boy named Shay who is trapped on a space ship and a young girl named Vela who is set to be sacrificed to a big monster. You need take control of each of them as their fates become strangely intertwined.

The first thing to say is that the interface on both the PS4 and Vita works very well so moving from mouse to controller is certainly not the issue it used to be with games like Discworld on the PS1. You can use the analogue sticks to move the cursor or the touch pad/screen. Buttons are used as shortcuts and it all works very well. There are a few puzzles that require good timing but the windows are large enough for either controller to be perfectly up to the job.

The graphics are beautifully drawn 2D art that have a certain charm to them. Shay’s space ship and Vela’s island are wonderfully brought to life in a sort of illustrated kid’s fantasy story kind of way that looks gorgeous and sets the scene wonderfully. Environments are imaginative and unique and it’ll certainly be a change from most of the lands you’ve been adventuring through in video game form.

The dialogue and writing is also excellent throughout the game. Even minor characters have interesting things to say and the script is always sharp and often both touching and funny. There are a couple of puzzles that could do with a bit more of a pointer towards their solutions but on the whole the voicing and dialogue do a great job.

Adventure games live and die by their puzzles and Broken Age is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to this. The first part of the game is quite straight forward with small logical leaps needed to get through. You also don’t need to switch characters to solve anything and so it acts as two separate adventures that become interlinked as you move into act 2. It should be noted as well that unless you start with Shay there could be some serious spoilers going on in Vela’s story.

Once you get into the second act it all ramps up a bit. The puzzles become tougher but are for the most part still the right side of lunacy. We also didn’t descend into trying every object we had on everything more than about twice throughout the game. Some kind of sign posting about needing to change characters for certain things would also have been greatly appreciated.

There are, however, some insane puzzles that need solving which could have done with a lot better explanation about how they are meant to be beaten. There are a couple of occasions that require you to rewire things which will have you throwing controllers across the room unless you stumble upon how to do it. This is a throwback to the past we really could have done without.

It’s difficult to talk about the story as almost any information will spoil the experience for players but we can say that by the end there are a series of serious payoffs that make the adventure well worth undertaking. There are a few big twists and turns along the way and we really enjoyed unravelling the mystery and seeing how it all fitted together once we had the big picture.

Overall, Broken Age is a strong return for the classic 2D point and click genre. It’s funny and heartfelt and the story is both original and interesting. There weren’t many moments that we found we were completely stuck and even then we were almost always enjoying it. It’s certainly getting up there with some of the best in the genre. Ok, so the start might be a bit easy and the end might be a bit hard but it’s just a big ball of invention with a dash of lunacy and there isn’t enough of that around. It’s an original title with imagination and fantastical story telling at its heart and any adventure fan should thoroughly enjoy it.

Overall 8/10

Sunday 3 May 2015

World Championship Snooker 2004 Review (PS2)

Snooker may not be as popular or create as much of a buzz in your average gamers mind as other titles, but World Championship Snooker 2003 proved that there was a lot that could be achieved when placing snooker into a gaming world. This latest instalment builds on last rather nicely title but as with all annual updates, we are keen to see if anything has really been improved upon, or if it is just a case of sending out the same title with some new polish.

As is par for the course a few extra play modes and features have been added to the 2004 version. As well as the usual trick shot and pool sections there are now added multiplayer games along with a host of other nice play modes such as a classic match option and online compatibility. Add in a few bits of video to unlock and at least at presentation level this is a snooker fans dream game.

The game of snooker comes in the form of either one off matches, tournaments or a more in-depth and highly engaging career mode. Here you create a player and work you’re way through the rankings from small tournaments to the major events. Not drastically different from last years effort but as with all good things sometimes all that is needed is a little piece of the puzzle to change to make the overall feel much more appealing.

Graphically, the game has improved massively, it may be hard to imagine but the snooker table and balls are much more realistic than last time, amazing what some subtle colour differences can do. Now when you look at the table, especially from certain camera angles you would be hard pushed to tell if it is a game or the real thing being shown all hours of the day on BBC 2. Gratefully, the look of the ‘real’ players has been improved as well. It’s still not perfect but at least now you can tell the difference between Ronnie O’Sullivan and ET.

Apart from the new cosmetics, there has been one of two tweaks to the gameplay which help solve some niggling bugs from last year. Due to the smoother graphics it is easier to judge where the ball is going to go, meaning that just clipping the edge of a pocket is normally the players fault rather than something you could not see properly. Furthermore, while the sensitivity of cursor is still a little to high, after a few matches it becomes second nature to line up impressive shots and the frustration of the 2003 game where you where always gently trying to move the impact point ever so slightly to one side- only to see the thing swing miles off target is long gone.

The inclusion of highly detailed real life snooker arenas also acts to improve the overall feel of the game. During a tense set being surrounded by a crowd in a 'real’ setting really helps to build atmosphere. Couple this with a rather superb commentary track from John Virgo and Dennis Taylor and it truly is the next best thing to being there playing the worlds best yourself.

There has not been a major overhaul of any aspect since 2003. What we have is a more highly polished and refined version of something that was a pretty fine Snooker title in the first place. All the little improvements mean that even if you bought the last version of the series this one is well worth your money. For snooker fans it is guaranteed to engage and be enjoyed like no other title on the market, highly recommended.

Overall 8/10

Friday 1 May 2015

Guns, Gore and Cannoli Review (PC)

Guns, Gore and Cannoli is a side-scrollin', guns blazin', zombie-em-up that struck me at first as being a rather throwaway affair. This, however, was a thin assessment of a rather more interesting and exciting title.

In a sentence, take Shank, whip in Goodfellas and Resident Evil, and you're about there. With tongue lodged firmly in the cheek, Guns manages to take a pretty simple formula and make a thrilling, rather than prosaic side-scroll-shooter, with only a couple of hiccups. The success is primarily down to a deeper level of combat than you'd expect and the presentation.

In the single player campaign (I shall not be covering the co-op play, as I lack the patience for friends), you jump in the shoes of Vinnie Cannoli who has all the vocal and visual you would expect from a mafia pastiche. The ludicrously named Thugtown is being overrun by the undead and you play out a fantastical gangster caper amidst the gore of a Romero flick. You're never too far away from some mafia slang, wiseguys and moody atomosphere.

A hearty selection of varied guns and projectiles are at your disposal, oddly, however, the developers have not gone for an Intrustion-esque mouse directed shooting system. At first, this to me was a gamebreaker, simply due to the level design requiring a lot of height variation. After some time, however, I found this very directed action worked well. The combat is a structured affair in well-designed levels that stretch in a very satisfying way, never outstaying their welcome and never being too short, with a decent pace and variety.

Vinnie splashes out mafioso colour with only slightly repetitive regularity, reminding you not to take it too seriously, but how could you? The enemy types are imaginatively designed, from sandwich-board armoured types, to Thompson weilding soldiers, burlesque dancers with whips and giant rats all lurching and grunting around. The story throws  rival human gangs in too, adding a level of madness to the scenario, gangsters vs gangsters vs zombies. Combined with the thoughtful combat, the variety within the levels is spot on, allowing a much more tactical experience to emerge than one would expect.

Couple this with truly brilliant art and music and the game delivers in spades. The backgrounds have had so much attention to detail and love poured over them, something so rare. The character animations feel fluid and spot on cartoon-esque, only occasionally exposing a little articulated-puppetness. The art is a constant joy, especially the burning zombies. It's almost worth the price for that alone.

I only really have minor grips with Guns. At times Vinnie feels a little slow on the uptake to turn, which can make escapes harder. The reload times are wonderfully tense, but to feel like you pulled a great dodge while reloading, then blow a horde away that is bare inches from Vinnie takes more effort than it should. I would wish for just a little extra tightness. Loading times are a little crunchy, but certainly not agony. Finally, I'd say that the enemy behaviours got me down a bit after some levels. It felt a bit predictable, even with the more complicated patterns of bosses.

I'd recommend this for any side-scroller-shooter fan, particularly those who have a penchant for presentation or silly organised crime.