Wednesday 18 December 2019

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows Review (Switch)

The first major expansion released for Shovel Knight focuses on Plague Knight as the protagonist and runs in parallel to the main quest. It follows the same map as the original game and presents players with a remixed set of levels designed to accommodate Plague Knight's unique skill set.

Playing as Plague Knight requires you to get to grips with using explosives with three interchangeable parts. As the adventure progresses players will acquire different casings, fuses and explosive to create different bombs that do everything from heat seeking to sending walls of flame around the levels. Even basic functions like how long the bombs take to explode and weather they are thrown high or low can be customised as you progress.

Getting used to the bomb mechanic is tricky to start with and the initial levels can seem far more difficult when playing as Plague Knight. Once you have a few things unlocked and have more options the difficulty does drop but taking down Spectre Knight in particular was incredibly frustrating with just a basic load out.

The other key gimmick of the campaign is the how the health system works. Plague Knight is somewhat more fragile than Shovel Knight but he can boost his health with potions. The increased health bar stays in place until you die. At that point it reverts back to the original base level and players will need to find more potions to increase it again. This sets up a risk strategy where it can often be safer to travel through levels with low health so as not to waste the potion effects until you get to a major obstacle.

After a tough and somewhat frustrating start we found the Plague of Shadows campaign developed into a highly enjoyable and smartly written adventure. There’s a lot of humour in the interactions between Plague Knight and the other characters and small touches like the character having to take alternate ways into the villages and other areas where ‘good guys’ are often raise a smile. Size wise it rivals the original game as well which is impressive.

Overall, if you enjoyed Shovel Knight and are up for a challenge then you should enjoy this adventure as well. It requires a completely different rhythm and approach to the original game and offers up a greater understanding of the world and characters that fans should love. It can be frustrating but once the new mechanics click you’ll be just as addicted to it as before.


Friday 13 December 2019

Shovel Knight: Looking at all Five Amiibo

For an indie game Shovel Knight has impressively managed to have had five separate Amiibo figures created for it. Here we are going to look in more detail at what they do and how the figures hold up.

All five of the Amiibo act in pretty much the same way. Each one allows for the unlocking of exclusive challenges and fairy companions which accompany you through the game and mainly provide comic relief by doing little actions like riding on enemies or trying to pick up jewels. On top of this the Amiibo Knight three pack also unlocks an exclusive cosmetic set of armour for each character and knight related spirits in Super Smash Brothers Ultimate.

The Blue and Gold Shovel Knight both unlock the same Shovel Knight related content (aside from some gold looking armour). With these you get customisation options for the appearance of your Shovel Knight. It also unlocks the ability to play through as Custom Knight. Here you level up by collecting gold and unlock new abilities and relics as you go (some of which are exclusive to this mode and comically overpowered to boot). It offers a different way to play and is the most significant reason to track down either of the Shovel Knight figures.

All the Amiibo are impressively detailed with King Knight being our personal favourite. How essential they are depends on how much you love the game. The Shovel Knight figures are definitely worth tracking down as they add a genuinely new and unique way to play the game. The Three pack is more cosmetic so a lot will depend on how much you like the actual figures themselves. Look at our pictures below to see just how detailed these figures are.


Thursday 12 December 2019

Shovel Knight: The Shovel of Hope Review (Switch)

Shovel Knight has been around a long time now. We loved it when we tried the PC version out originally and found it had lost none of its magic on the PS4, Vita or Wii U, in fact it became only the third game to receive a 10/10. Another in the long line of retro styled platformers, it has always had something a little bit special about it.

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 that 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 5 December 2019

Transistor Review (Switch)

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 cityscape 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

Friday 8 November 2019

Disgaea 4 Complete + Review (Switch)

We are big fans of the Disgaea series at Retro 101 and have been more than happy to dive into the ‘complete’ versions of the games as they arrive on the Switch. Disgaea 4 always had a lot of personality so we were excited to have a reason to return to it once more.

This time around the plot revolves around a Prinny trainer by the name of Valvatorez, a once powerful tyrant who has renounced much of his power based on a promise he made many centuries ago. A noble demon, he never breaks a promise and when a group of Prinnies are taken away by the government for execution he leaps into action to save them. Why you ask? Because he promised them some sardines for tea and they were taken before they could eat them. Yes. Really.

Of course as things progress it gets much more complex than that and before you know it you’re on a mission to overthrow the powers that be with a bunch of rag tag companions, failed demons and several Prinnies. It’s possibly the maddest plot yet and it’s beautifully written and funny throughout with a lot of fourth wall breaking, several of the characters believing they are the main hero and one thinking they are the end of game boss.

Imortanly, the game is easy to see on the Switch screen. Graphics are smooth and while that removes the pixel style of previous games it certainly helps out with knowing what is going on. You can also pan and zoom around the battlefield easily which gives you all the angles you need.

The standard systems are still in place so if you’ve played Disgaea before you’ll know what to expect. There were new systems introduced here as well such as tower combat given more flexibility and monsters being able to morph together to create bigger monsters or turn into special weapons for human characters. You can also place special buildings on a game board then place characters around them to gain special effects such as gaining experience from the head of that building. The more levels you complete the bigger the board gets and the more buildings you can place (after senate approval of course).

While it’s not too tricky to pick up for fans of the series it’s not massively newcomer friendly. With a fair few systems added to what was already there it means there is a huge wealth of stuff to take in. There is a very short tutorial section but you’ll have to do a lot of playing around to see how things work if you want to really get into the meat of the game.

The levels don’t exactly ease you in gently either. While enemies are generally of a manageable level the layout and design of stages is somewhat advanced. Very early on we were taking on intricate patterns of Geo Symbols which in previous games haven’t appeared until quite some way into the game. By world three we were already facing strings of snipers and archers placed out of reach on panels that allowed double shots and health recovery.

There are certainly very few levels where you just rock up with your squad and hit the enemy until they disappear. This isn’t of course a bad thing but we can certainly see how it might be too much for newcomers. While we’re on the subject there really needs to be a colour blind filter implemented in some way as well. Having so many different Geo Symbol colours is fine but it’s impossible to identify what panel is what when it gets so crowded with different colours and characters.

Small issues aside this is a highlight of the Disgaea series. It has the more flexible difficulty curve of Disgaea 2 while having a sense of humour and quality characters that rival the original game. If number crunching, levelling and bizarre characters are your thing then there isn’t anything out there better than this. It’s certainly going to last a very long time as well with all the additional content included. If you aren’t shouting SARDINES! Within a week of play we’ll be amazed.

Overall 9/10

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince Review (Switch)

Although we found Trine 3 to be a lot of fun it didn’t reach the heights of the first two games in the series. The 3D design allowed for some fun set pieces but nothing really held together as tightly as in the series 2.5D roots. With this in mind we were pleased to see Frozenbyte return Trine 4 to the 2.5D style and venture forth once more into a world of fiendish puzzle design and beautiful landscapes.

The plot of the Trine series have never really been the main highlight but it still helps to set up the fantasy world and characters that move within it. This time our three heroes are on the trail of a prince who is having nightmares that are taking form in reality and threatening to cast the world into shadow. Ok then.

In order to save the world, Amadeus the wizard, Pontius the knight and Zora the thief must solve puzzles, engage in some platforming and fight off some shadowy apparitions that seem to mainly take the form of big wolves. The puzzles are excellent throughout and will stretch both new and returning. As you progress each of the characters is granted new skills which are then filtered into the puzzle design. For instance, at one point Pontius gains the ability to set up a sort of magical second shield that can be used to deflect light beams and water. This technique is then heavily required for the following few levels. The adding of the new elements keeps things fresh and always keeps players on their toes.

The combat though fails to reach the same sort of heights. Most of time fighting comes down to being enclosed in an arena which fills with monsters. It’s then a mad scramble to get Pontius around to kill things quickly enough before he is taken out. The other two characters aren’t much use in the tight arena setting and it feels samey and repetitive quickly. This is something that was never an issue in previous games so it is somewhat disappointing to see such unimaginative action sections appear here. It’s also not helped by the fact that playing undocked makes everything so small that you can’t really tell what’s happening close up (something again not helped by the dreamy aura that surrounds enemies).

Though the combat is disappointing, most of the time you will be trying to overcome traps and obstacles in creative ways. Most things you come up against have multiple solutions so it allows the player to deal with things in whichever way they see fit. For example, getting over spikes might be achievable by summoning blocks but you could also get across them by having Pontius dash or by Zora swinging.

The difficulty has also been knocked down a touch as characters that die can now be brought back to life more easily. In previous games players had to make it through a checkpoint to restore lost companions but now they will pop back up after a small amount of time has passed. If you want to play the game in the classic way you still can (and good luck to you if you try it).

The levels themselves are of an exceptional overall quality and look stunning throughout the five acts. They are also long but never outstay their welcome due to the ingenuity and variety present throughout. It’s also worth noting we didn’t hit any type of technical issue when playing undocked.

Overall, Trine 4 is a well-crafted, creative and fun addition to the Trine franchise. The puzzles are exceptional and the game is consistently jaw dropping in terms of visuals. It’s not quite up to the near perfection of Trine 2 but it’s a substantial and enjoyable adventure and shows that there is still life in both the franchise and the 2.5D format if Frozenbyte decide to keep the game going in this direction.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 2 October 2019

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening Review (Switch)

Released on the Game Boy two years after the Super Nintendo masterpiece that was ‘A Link to the past’, ‘Link's 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. The dungeon featured in the Gameboy Colour version of the game is also included for completeness and there is also a dungeon designer included for added longevity. The designer allows any rooms visited from the various dungeons to be collected and used to create custom maps. It’s a nice idea and a welcome addition.

Graphically the game has changed a lot from its routes. Now everything is bright and cartoony and the characters have an almost toy-like appearance. It’s something that we never really got used to when playing as it seems a bit out of place when looking back at the original design. A lot of the little touches and details seem to be glossed over with the new approach and as such it does lose some of the character that made the original such an impressive achievement. When you consider how good the Wind Waker remake was a keeping the original games style it’s a little surprising to see something so different in the transition from Gameboy to Switch.

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. This shows that while the game couldn’t hope to match the scale of its Super Nintendo counterpart there is still some progression and development in terms of gameplay.

If there was one problem apparent with the original it’s the difficulty of the game. This has been toned down dramatically in the remake. Save points are more generous and the fact many items are now assigned to specific buttons makes enemies at lot more straight forward to deal with. Some puzzles remain truly bizarre but at least there are helpful hints on hand in terms of phone rooms spread around the map. As a result the game becomes a much faster paced and breezy affair.

However, there are a few issues we can’t ignore. The game often drops its frame rate when the screen gets busy which is simply bizarre. We’re all for mimicking older systems but slowdown is really something we can do without and hopefully it’ll be patched out in the future. The focus effect on Link is also odd. Link moves as if under a magnifying class with the areas on the periphery of the screen blurry. This seems to us like a way to mimic the idea of having to move between screens (like with the original game), but it can be really annoying when you are trying to see what’s ahead of you. Also, not having an on screen map that’s easily accessible is an oversight.

When all is said and done though it’s clear to see ‘Link's Awakening’ can still stand up as an quest worth undertaking. There are some obscure puzzles but on the whole it’s an excellent and consistent adventure that makes clever use of a limited number of ‘screens’. It’s also a little bit of a shame that the Gameboy and Colour version of the game weren’t included to give a ‘complete’ feel to the package. That said, the dungeon design is strong throughout and it serves as a great introduction to new players, a nostalgia trip for long term fans and an example of how remakes can be done in creative ways to fit new systems.

Overall 8/10

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power Review (Switch)

It’s no secret that we are big fans of the Trine series at Retro 101. We’ve covered both the original games across numerous formats and rated them very highly. Indeed, there’s just something about them that fills the Lost Vikings sized hole in our lives. Frozenbyte promised to try something different with Trine 3 and now the 3D experiment has made its way to the Switch.

As always with the series, Trine 3 looks jaw-dropingly gorgeous. The environments leap into life with colour and flourishes of detail that you just don’t find in many games. If you have the ability to play the game in 3D then things get even more beautiful as well. It’s simply stunning how good this looks and playing anything else afterwards is a real comedown in the visual department.

The big change is that now the game is in 3D. You can run into and out of the screen and the levels now scroll into the play field as well as left and right. This allows for some nice sections with the three heroes floating and swinging along but also brings with it some changes that not everyone will be happy with.

The main issue is that levels feel less focused than in the previous 2D outings. Puzzle solving is less complex and there is more emphasis on general combat and platforming. Using the wizard has become a bit of a pain as well as moving his objects around in the 3D landscape never really feels as natural as it should. There’s also an issue with depth and it can be hard to tell if you are going to land where you think you are. It’s kind of like an N64 platformer with the most beautiful graphics ever.

The characters have now lost the ability to upgrade their skills as well (though they are given selected skills to start). The Knight can stomp, charge, deflect and float with his shield while the thief can now tie her grappling hooks to things to hold them in place. The wizard is more limited with his abilities and now restricted to the summoning of a single box.

The new approach to skills is made use of well though and you will need everything to progress. The fact the heroes start with their skills also allows the game to throw things at you right from the off and get you thinking. It’s good the game does throw you in quickly because it is somewhat shorter than other games in the series. Starting out with a level to introduce each character you then get five main levels to fight through. Upon completion you are faced with a cliff hanger ending which hints at more to come. What form that will take will remain to be seen.

There are a host of shorter levels to unlock as well which focus on an individual character and as such effectively give you one life to complete them. These are tougher and designed to fit skill sets of the respective characters. Though brief they are fun to play and never out stay their welcome.

Both main story and side levels are unlocked by collecting glowing triangles. We don’t really like things like this as it can work as an artificial game lengthening device that forces players to go back to levels and hunt around for the missing twenty or thirty they need to progress. We didn’t have much trouble with getting the requisite amounts but it’s something we’d like to see removed in any future games.

Overall, while there has been a lot of a change in mechanics and progression the game never stops being fun. It’s certainly a more knock-about kind of fun than before but it remains humorous and throws up enough adventure to keep you interested until the end. When the 3D works in the games favour you can see exactly what the team were going for and there are some solid foundations here for future forays into it. It may not be up there with the near perfection of the 2D games but it has bucket load of potential if the team ever decide to revisit the idea.

Overall 7/10

Monday 16 September 2019

Trine 2: The Complete Story Review (Switch)

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 Switch 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 (especially in handheld mode). 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.

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 Switch 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 and still holds up expertly. There really is no excuse not to own it.


Tuesday 10 September 2019

Trine: Enchanted Edition Review (Switch)

Regular readers will know that one of our first reviews was Trine 2 on the Wii U some time ago. We liked it a lot and gave it an impressive 9/10. Now, the whole trilogy is making its way to the Switch. We will be putting all three of the games through their paces to see if they still hold up and how suitable they are for play on the go.

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 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 a 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. Co-op is also available for added chaos.

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 Switch 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 unique 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.

The game runs well in handheld mode as well. We didn’t notice anything that got in the way of the flow of the game and it still looks absolutely beautiful. The only real issue is the sheer amount of detail on screen. We found it difficult at times to identify objects and the separation between the backgrounds and foregrounds could be clearer. This could be a colour blind issue on our part or simply that the screen is too busy for handheld mode. It’s a tricky one as its lovely to see all the detail make the transition to a smaller screen but it is clear that Trine is meant to be viewed on something larger.

Overall, it would have been easy to dismiss the original Trine with a new game in the series on the horizon but it is still well worth getting into for newcomers of the series and fans looking for a mobile adventure. The mechanics still work as well as ever we found it to be an impressive and magical adventure throughout.

Overall 8/10

Thursday 20 June 2019

Flashback Review (Switch)

Set in the year 2142, Flashback follows the story of Conrad Hart, member of the Galaxia bureau of investigation. After discovering that an alien race is infiltrating earth, Conrad is relentlessly hunted down and kidnapped by the non-human race. Awaking aboard their craft (without his memory), the only thing in his mind is to escape. After stealing a hover bike and making a break for freedom, Conrad is shot down and crash lands on a strange jungle-type planet. Conrad must now find his way back to earth, but first he has to remember what he is going back for.

Flashback presents itself as a sci-fi action adventure game with more than a passing influence from classic platformer Prince of Persia. Indeed, it does contain a great deal of gap jumping and hanging from ledges, though to say the game is just a Prince of Persia clone is way off the mark, as a heavy adventure aspect runs through the core of the experience. Upon its release (for a few months), Flashback was the only game anyone was playing, and even now the sci-fi storyline (bordering on Cyberpunk at times) remains a very interesting and engaging tale to discover.

Flashback introduced a definitive version of a graphical style that had been tried in games such as Prince of Persia and further developed with Another World. Due to this style the title’s main character appears to move much more realistically than any games character before. The characters in Flashback are (if anything), a little small, but this does not detract from the fact that each sprite is well animated and contains a considerable amount of detail. Furthermore, each area within the game is absolutely beautiful, high in detail and uses a wide colour palette to represent the future circa 2142.

This new version of the game has a new sound track, which unfortunately does not quite live up to original. Sound effects are crisp and the music still works to enhanced by the cinematic style of the game which often switches to a small cut scenes when something of interest is discovered. This acts to make Flashback feel more like an interactive movie, and keeps the plot moving along at a steady pace.

The unique graphical style allows Conrad to perform a wide variety of moves with ease, which is a good thing, as to get through the game you need to use every advantage available. Our hero can jump, grasp ledges, roll around and all manner of other things - even being able to decide whether after an action he will draw his gun ready to fire. For this type of game the control system is just about perfect. The Switch version of the game also runs much more smoothly than before meaning many of the frustrations surrounding positioning Conrad are eased considerably.

Despite the claims of the advertising blurb there are few new additions in this Switch re-release. As mentioned before the new soundtrack doesn’t quite work and the saving system should have been overhauled for a much better experience. The rewind feature is very useful (allowing you to wind back time if you make a mistake) and this will undoubtedly help players progress through the more frustrating moments but that is about it. The physical version of the game also comes with a very badly designed case that doesn’t fit the manual and also won’t hold the game card steady. This is ridiculous and just screams of poor design.

Overall, Flashback remains outstanding title, a highly interesting plot underpinned by decent graphics and a solid control system that means you are always wanting to push on to see what piece of information will reveal itself. This Switch re-release is pretty bare bones in terms of features though. Much more could and should have been done to give the game the love and respect it deserves. It’s still worth playing but returning fans won’t find much here that they couldn’t get by booting up the original and the physical edition is nothing short of pathetic.

Overall 7/10

Thursday 14 February 2019

Axiom Verge Review (Switch)

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 classic 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 has made it Switch and it’s a little bit 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 3DS 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 Switch version 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 9/10

Tuesday 15 January 2019

New Super Luigi U Deluxe Review (Switch)

Back in 2013 Nintendo announced that it would be the year of Luigi. That year had Luigi’s Mansion and a new Mario and Luigi game to push the green dude into the lime light. But then this rather unique add on for Super Mario Bros U was released and is one of the more creative ways that Nintendo has brought the other Mario brother to the forefront.

What the game effectively does it take all the stages from the original game and rethink them. Luigi handles differently to Mario and as well as slipping and sliding all over the place he also has a longer, floating jump. This means that many levels have bigger gaps to traverse and lots of platforms to teeter around on the edge of.

Without exception, all the stages are now much harder than before and later levels require precise timing and judgment of distance for you to have any hope of making it to the end. The levels are also shorter and as such do away with checkpoints and only give you one hundred seconds to complete them. There’s nothing quite so panic inducing as hearing the ‘hurry up’ siren go as soon as you start a level.

The time is not your only enemy as levels soon descend into endless gauntlets of spikes, swinging piranha plants, collapsing platforms and pits. It’s probably the closest a Mario game will ever get to Super Meat Boy, even if it can’t quite hit the same sweet spot. Adding to the difficulty and tension is the fact you still can’t save until you beat a castle and anyone trying to get all three gold coins in each level better head off for Jedi training right now.

The multiplayer modes are still here and for those wanting to play with the less skilled you have the option of the Nabbit. Nabbit is invincible and allows players to enjoy the platforming without the frustration of constant death. You can use Nabbit in single player as well but then where’s the fun in that?

In terms of course design there are a few that are more forgettable than the main games levels but on the whole they provide short bursts of intense platforming fun. Many courses are quite different from their Mario U versions and needless to say everything still looks gorgeous and moves along at a crazy pace.

Overall, it’s fairly simple to work out if you’re going to like Super Luigi U . If you enjoyed the original Super Mario U and want a new challenge, then this fits the bill. There’s a lot of content here and it’s different enough to avoid simply being a tired re-tread of something you have already done. It may essentially be more of the same (and no longer come in the lovely green box), but that’s no bad thing at all and it is a great addition to the Switch package.


Friday 11 January 2019

New Super Mario U Deluxe Review (Switch)

Originally released at the launch of the Wii U we were initially sceptical about the ‘New Super Mario’ brand as it had been somewhat tired and generic too this point. Once we played it though are initial fears disappeared. Now, transitioning to the Switch, the game remains worthy of the Mario name. 

Right from the first level you can tell something is different. It just feels so much better than other games in the NSMB series. Everything seems to have had just that little bit more attention paid to it. The mechanics feel tighter, the music seems stronger and it still looks lovely.

It all starts with the world map which is now in the more traditional style of Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World instead of the line of levels running from left to right. It helps makes the multiple routes feel more like an exploration and the secret levels see paths winding off into unknown parts with islands popping up and rainbows forming. What is on display shows the imagination of classic Mario and this is also present in the level designs.

Many of the NSMB levels before this felt generic and tired. Here, levels are fast and devious and contain tricks and gimmicks that may only appear in a handful of places, or even just once. This means that players will come away with levels that they remember and love playing. Nothing is overdone and some of what is here is equals the very best of Super Mario Bros level design.
One level in particular is set out in a spooky illustration style, a graphical effect which is present nowhere else in the game. One water level might have you dodging a continually circling dragon, while the next will see you climbing up through a series of water bubbles trapped in the air. Everyone will have their own favourites.

The bosses are also much better than NSMB2. The Koopa kids return along with Bowser Jnr and a few others. But this time they take more than five seconds to defeat. Still not as difficult as some of the bosses of old but at least now you feel a sense of achievement for toppling them. 

In terms of power ups there are the usual suspects of the fire flower and invincibility star. The ice flower also returns (but is now much better implemented), and the mini mushroom makes very fleeting appearances.  Yoshi is also here in both adult and baby form, though he will leave you at the end of a level. The new addition is the flying squirrel suit. This allows you to float over large distances and gives you one extra jump while in the air. This subtle difference to the Racoon, Cape and Tanooki costumes of the past allows for some excellent and clever use through the levels – something you’ll have to make good use of to find all the hidden coins.

The game is likely to last you a while as well. You can race through the main levels in three or four days but there are many secret routes to find and getting all three star coins will take a long time. Once all the coins in a land have been found it unlocks a Star Road level which will put your reflexes and brain to an even tougher test. Even with all the levels finished and secrets found we find it hard to believe any gamer would put it away and never play it again. It manages to capture that retro ethos of running through the levels you already know just for the sheer fun of it.

Challenges are available such as time trials and the coin attack mode found in NSMB2. There are also specific special challenges such as dodging fireballs or staying in the air for as long as you can by bouncing off Goomba heads.

Multiplayer takes the form of Coin battle mode as players fight to gain the most coins. The four player story mode in the previous Wii game is also here and still proves as awkward and chaotic as ever. The levels of the main game certainly seem to have been designed with single players in mind and it’s fair to say there’s nothing amazing here but they prove fun additions and distractions from the single player story game.

There may not be anything as revolutionary here as Super Mario galaxy but New Super Mario Bros U shows that the old 2D Mario still has the magic when the property is treated with care and affection. In truth this is a fine successor to Super Mario World and could have held the title of something closer to Super Mario World 5 (if we don’t count Yoshi’s Island). That alone should be enough to convince you to own a copy if you haven’t bought it already for the Wii U. There isn’t much here in the way of extras for returning players but for the people new to it should provide hours of fun.

Overall 8/10

(There will be a separate Luigi U review to follow)

Tuesday 8 January 2019

N++ Ultimate Edition Review (Switch)

We’ve been playing the N series for a long time but the rather lovely limited physical release of the Ultimate Edition on Switch was too much to resist (yes, we actually bought a game to review with our own money!), and a chance to head back into such a pure piece of skill based gaming is something the Switch really needed. The fact the game has now almost doubled in size certainly helps as well.

N++ Ultimate Edition is the final version of the game in the N series and comes packed with a ridiculous amount of content. You get pretty much all the levels from N and N+, N++ and a whole host of new levels of well. In all there are around 4000 thousand levels to test yourself against. If that isn’t enough there are also race and co-op levels to try out. If that still isn’t enough there’s also a level editor to make and share levels online.

As well as levels there are a host of graphical options and music tracks to unlock as well. It’s hard to think how exactly any more could have been squeezed in here. It’s certainly good to have lots of different things to play around with as you’ll be dying a lot. Luckily, restarts are pretty much instantaneous now so you can set off to make exactly the same mistake again in a matter of seconds.

Presentation in N has always been minimalist and it remains the same here with a simple selection of colours for each scheme and clearly defined level design. It means everything is focused on getting your little ninja to zoom around the levels at break neck speed and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We really liked the retro graphic scheme (not a massive surprise perhaps?), which makes the game look Vectrex-esque with lots of neon outlines.

The goal of each level is to hit a switch that opens the exit door and then make your way to it. A timer bar continually ticks down throughout the set of levels you have picked and it can be topped up by picking up little gold squares. Hit the switch, grab the squares and avoid the mines and obstacles and then move on. That is essentially it, a simple concept but one that never gets old.

With the new levels come some new enemies to get your head around. The missile and gun turrets return along with all your most loathed contraptions from before but now you also have to deal with a host of new death machines such as the evil ninjas that follow your exact movement trail. Of course if they catch you it’s all over but then everything kills you in this game. Everything.

The gameplay itself is based around an inertia system. As your ninja runs, jumps and falls they pick up speed which can then be used to launch off surfaces or up the side of walls. Hit the ground from too high and you die, but hit the ground on a downward slope and your ninja will just keep running ready for the next set of acrobatics. It’s a simple system that works perfectly and you can only wonder how long it took to balance out in testing. Most importantly it makes you feel like a badass super ninja and when you get the flow of a level there a few better feelings. Luckily, the game allows you to watch replays of both your and everyone else’s best runs to show off and also see how to shave seconds off your time.

Overall, N++ is an outstanding game. It’s just so full of excellent content and imaginative ideas that platform fans have to check it out. It’ll also last you forever and even if you do get through everything then you can start designing your own levels. It’s the definitive version of one of the best indie games ever. Buy it, love it and get killed thousands of times in it.

Overall 9/10

Thursday 3 January 2019

Nintendo Switch Retro Roundup 1


The hardcore shooter has remained pretty much the same as it ever was in its transition to Switch. There are some orientation modes but little else to distinguish it from other versions. Its colour swapping mechanic is still unique and it will always be a great game. Having it on the move is the real attraction here- just don’t smash your Switch in frustration.

Bloodstained Curse of the Moon

Preceding Ritual of the Night, Curse of the Moon is a rather brilliant homage to the classic 8-bit linear Castlevania games. Closest to Castlevania 3 in terms of mechanics it is a Castlevania game in all but name. Fans should love it and while challenging it’s not as completely unforgiving as the Konami NES games. It is Well worth a look for fans of the series.

Sonic Mania Plus

It finally took someone outside of Sega to make the Sonic game we have been wanting for years. The game is made up of remixed version of favourite stages as well as some brand new ones. The DLC is also included on the ‘Plus’ version which adds two new characters and a further remixed level mode. This is arguably the best Sonic game ever and rarely misses a beat in terms of level layout or design. Highly recommended.

Sega Megadrive Classics

The Sega Classics collection is a real mixed bag on the Switch. The biggest issue is that the Wonderboy games have been removed for no apparent reason. The Switch controls also seem very twitchy and awkward and having Sonic 3 and the Ecco the Dolphin games absent is annoying (along with a host of unlockable games from older versions of the collection). There are also a few games we can only describe charitably as ‘filler’.

The big highlight is that Treasures Mega Drive back catalogue is here with Gunstar Heroes, Alien Soldier, Light Crusader and Dynamite Headdy all present. Add in Landstalker, Ristar and many other Mega Drive classics and it still justifies purchasing – it could just have been so much more definitive and a whole lot better.