Thursday 4 October 2018

Disgaea 1 Complete Review (Nintendo Switch)

It’s been a long time since the first Disgaea game graced European shores and turned a large number of the population into obsessive number crunchers with an eye for multi-coloured squares. Since Hour of Darkness we’ve had five more entries into the mains series and countless spinoffs on the handheld platforms. Now, the original Demons are back in ‘complete form’ and ready to remind us just how difficult the original was.

Disgaea complete essentially adds in all the content from the various versions of the games. So you get ‘Etna Mode’ (an alternate version of the game where Etna accidentally kills Laharl whilst trying to wake him up) and a few additional battles (We couldn’t quite work out if the DS content was in there though). It also looks very crisp and lovely in its new HD guise. It is a bit of a shame that the direct sequel D2: A brighter darkness was not included though.

Story mode is really only a small portion of the game and follows Laharl who awakens to find his father has died and his kingdom has been taken over. What follows is the demon lords quest to reclaim his crown. The bulk of the game though is found in the Item World (A dungeon world within items), with its randomly generated levels and the addiction of the seemingly never ending levelling process – you can level up anything, if it is counted as an item in the game, no matter how obscure or weak it starts off, you can level it up so that it becomes fantastically powerful and capable of trouncing all those who stand in its way. You will visit here often as even a few levels in you find characters woefully understrength.

The game does involve grinding but it really depends on how you play – if you are strategic about it then it won’t involve too to clear the main story. After that, it really is a mad loop of levelling up, gaining new skills and transmigrating characters – this is essentially a reincarnation process where they start at level 1 again but have better stats and keep some of their skills from their previous incarnations. 

Each stage allows you to deploy 10 units to conquer and berate the enemy with, the best tactic as always is to start throwing your units around the map (as well as monsters into one another – they level up as you throw them and the experience multiplies exponentially. This is also useful when attempting to persuade senators in the Dark Assembly… simply throw them into one senator whilst making sure they still agree with you). This can be awkward to line up correctly sometimes but when it pays off it really is a great feeling.

Mana is gained each time you slay an enemy on the battlefield, this can then be used to create even more powerful characters and to petition senators within the Dark Assembly to do things such as approving new classes, levelling up enemies along with the weapons and armour available to buy in the shops, extortion is even possible – although you’ll have to be quite strong in order to be able to pass that through as a law!

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

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

Overall, the first Disgaea game still has a lot to offer. The sequels have added more systems to add to the complexity but the characters and story are at their finest here. It serves as a great entry for newcomers as there are less mechanics to worry about while experienced players may well have forgotten how challenging it is and want to dive back in to prove themselves. The fact you now have it on the go rally helps as well. While it’s true more could have been done here (maybe add the option to remix systems from newer titles, add the sequel D2 or other Disgaea games, smooth out the difficulty curve etc.), you are getting a serious amount of content for your money with a shiny new look and we can’t really criticise that.

Overall 8/10

Thursday 31 May 2018

Fox N Forests Review (Nintendo Switch)

The indie landscape is filled with 2D platformers that are inspired by the 8 and 16 bit games of the past but very few them go to the lengths that Fox N Forest does to make you really feel like you are actually playing something from a bygone era. The game markets itself as being a 16-bit style action platformer and it certainly wouldn’t be out of place on a system like the Amiga.

The impressive pixel art style is the first thing to hit you when you first open up the game. A lot of faux retro games don’t really look the part but this certainly does with rich colours and character design that helps to create a beautifully unique game world while also firing off many a nostalgia rocket.

The plot is something lifted for gaming’s golden era with a breezy fable so slight it doesn’t even grace the pages in the various online shops the game is listed. It’s something about a magic fox having to restore seasons to a forest and break a spell. It matters little and serves as a good device for the games key season changing mechanic.

As the hero fox progresses through the levels you are able to change them to a predetermined second season. This affects the landscape considerably and is essential for progression and hunting out all the secrets that each area contains. For instance, you might need to change a season to winter in order to freeze a lake or autumn to make the tree branches free from foliage and thus climbable. It’s an integral part to the game and forms the core of your exploration - proving to be far more than a simple throw away gimmick.

Level design is mostly excellent with the varied stages designed to be visited multiple times in order for new routes to be sniffed out. This is a good thing, as in order to progress there is an arbitrary number of magic seeds you will need to find to unlock the next area. This was the one part of the game we felt a little let down by as though levels are generally a pleasure to experience over and over it did become frustrating when we couldn’t find the one seed we needed to open the next area.

The other slight issue is that the fox takes a bit of getting used to in terms of controls. A conscious decision has been made to not allow you to shoot arrows while jumping which is fine but our hero has a slightly strange weight to him which certainly took as a while to master. Some moves can also be a little tricky to pull off and in a game which can become stubbornly tough the last thing you need is to feel like the controls are against you as well. That said there are generous checkpoints throughout so progression is rarely halted for long.

At the end of each world you face off against a giant boss who requires thought and use of the season mechanic to vanquish. These are impressive showdowns with a memorably match up against an imposing wasp being particularly memorable.

Overall, Fox N Forests is an excellent take on the retro inspired action platformer. It has a unique world and it requires players to think about the game mechanics and how they and the character you control interact with the world. It also looks lovely and it’s clear that near endless thought and passion has been poured into it.  We would have liked some more levels and there are certainly a few things that could be refined but it still comes out head and shoulders above most other games of this type.

Overall 8/10

Thursday 29 March 2018

Tori Toki Review (Nintendo Switch)

Toki Tori was one of the stand out titles on the original Wii eShop and now you can get hold of the HD version on the Switch for a decent price. However, things have moved on since the little yellow birdie first appeared on the scene so we thought we should take a look and see if the game still has what it takes to impress.

Toki Tori is somewhat different to its sequel. Where that game has you exploring a larger world and using song and some limited abilities, all the levels here are self-contained and introduce different items which you need to use carefully in order to collect eggs and thus complete the stage.

The game is split into different worlds which each have their own style, look and enemy types and this helps to add variety while your grey matter is tested. Stages include forests, spooky, ghost filled, castles and underwater stages to name a few. Each area introduces something new and it all works very well.

Items range from standard things like bridges to freeze rays and traps which cause ghosts to dissolve blocks. They are normally in limited supply so careful planning is always needed and even the early stages can catch you out if you aren’t paying attention. Frustration is kept at bay though by the ability to rewind time. If you’ve made a mistake then simply hit the button and rewind it back to the point when everything was still going fine. You can restart the level from scratch as well but we rarely found ourselves needing to do that.

While you could argue the second Toki Tori game is the more ambitious titles we found ourselves having much more fun with this one. The tight, focused, puzzles really are excellent and it seems to fit perfectly onto the Switch. The game also looks really good and is both a very colourful and fun world to play around in.

It’s the sort of game that will bring both smiles and frustration to your gaming life and there really is very little reason not to dive into the eshop and buy it. It’s the sort of thing you’ll put on for a few minutes and find yourself playing for a few hours. Yes, there will be stages that leave you frustrated, but then this is a puzzle game and the feeling of achievement you get upon suddenly seeing the solution will give a host of eureka moments.

Overall, this is a fun and charming platform puzzle game that does just about everything right. It looks lovely in HD and still offers a sizable amount of fun. If you haven’t picked it up already there really is little reason to hesitate. We much preferred it to the already decent sequel and it seems like a perfect fit for the portable nature of the Switch.

Overall 8/10

Tori Toki 2+ Review (Nintendo Switch)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall 7/10