Monday 14 December 2020

Pixeljunk Eden 2 (Nintendo Switch Review)

 There’s no hiding we are big fans of pretty much everything Pixeljunk at Retro 101. So the news that a new Eden game was coming had us excited from the start. The minimalist, overtly arty original developed a solid and dedicated following and now newcomers and series veterans alike can enjoy what the new title has to offer.

We’ll start this out straight away by saying that this could well be the perfect game to spend time with in a year like 2020. It’s a sort of loving, gentle hug of a game that inspires calm and relaxation and we could all probably do with a bit of that at the minute.

Eden is a place where visual and audio comes together to create a playground for exploration as you are tasked with getting your character to the glowing “spectra” placed somewhere within the stage. In order to do this you have to grow your own platforms by filling up seeds. This is done by swinging around in a circle on a little web and colliding with floating pollen spores which are then drawn in by them. The seeds then sprout into plants which can be traversed to get to higher locations.

It’s a simple concept and one that requires the understanding of only a few different techniques. Once you’ve mastered the swinging, double jumping and floating in mid-air you can happily bounce around knowing all that’s left is to just keep an eye on the clock and work your way around lumps of rock that block your way. The time limit this time around is more forgiving that the original as well and there are various checkpoints throughout the gardens to help your progress. Falling too far will also see you reset at your last solid position meaning no more painful ascensions back to the top are required.

As you progress more gardens unlock and more characters with different bonuses become usable but the basics of the game pretty much remain the same. The core concept is strong though and each area allows players to explore in ever increasingly challenging ways.

It’s also a game best enjoyed with headphones as the waves of techno slowly wash over you. The rhythm of the music, the gentle swinging from plant to plant and the striking visuals act to block out the stresses of the world and form a perfect space to unwind and engage with something purely artistic. There’s even a co-op mode added as well should you wish to take the journey with a friend.

Progression is a little odd though. After you clear each selection of gardens you are presented with three more. You can’t however go back to previous levels which is in contrast to the previous games more traditional map screen. It’s a slightly odd choice as it could potentially see you stuck with one level left to complete and without the ability to go off and try something else for a while. This is the only relatively minor issue present though and we found progress generally steady.

Overall, Pixeljunk Eden 2 is an easy recommendation. It’s not really like much else currently on the Switch and while the idea of the arty, abstract indie game has long been overdone this shows that there is considerable merit in making something designed to gently immerse players on both a visual and audio level. For those looking to zone out and forget the storms raging in the real world this is a perfect spot of tranquillity to take a holiday in.

Overall 8/10

Monday 7 December 2020

Atari Collection 2 (Evercade Review)

The second Atari collection continues on the legacy of the first by adding another 20 games from the 7800 and 2600. Five titles from the 7800 make the cut and fifteen from the 2600. The quality is a bit more balanced this time around and there are a number of interesting games to get into.

The 2600 selection remains inconsistent but there are a couple of absolute gems in there. Dark Chambers is an excellent adventure/gauntlet lite style game that has you moving from room to room clearing out monsters and making your way to the exit. The action is basic but satisfying and it is strangely compelling even after extended periods of play. The star of the show though is the technical masterpiece that is Solaris.

A massively ambitious space adventure the game has you plotting a location on a star chart before blasting off. Location depending, you could be thrown into a dog fight or skim across a planets service clearing it of enemies, rescuing missing crew or looking for resources. The game looks pretty good as well and the stylised graphics still hold up remarkably well in what has to be the best looking 2600 game of all time. It’s also excellent and will keep you busy for a long time.

These two highlights mixed with the solid showings of Millipede, Radar Lock, Sub Commander and Wizard give a much better impression of what the 2600 has to offer. The 7800 fairs much better this time around also.

While there’s nothing quite as unique as Ninja Golf here what we do have is two good arcade conversions in Asteroids and Centipede which are immensely enjoyable and more than enough to keep high score chasers happy. The excellent isometric shooter in Desert Falcon is included as well and is much better than the 2600 version featured on the first Atari collection. It’s a unique looking game that requires some thought to progress and offers up something different to get your head around. Planet Smashers is also solid but the less said about Basket Brawl the better.

Overall, the second Atari collection has more than enough to recommend it to Evercade owners. The combination of three very good 7800 games and a host of solid to excellent 2600 titles mean there is more than enough to discover and play. The fact Solaris is another gem that has been unearthed and made available to a new audience is further proof that the Evercade is a vital system for retro gaming fans. 

Game Ratings

Atari 7800

Asteroids                                             4/5

Basketbrawl                                        2/5

Centipede                                            4/5

Desert Falcon                                      4/5

Planet Smasher                                    3/5

Atari 2600

Air Sea Battle                                      2/5

Bowling                                               2/5

Dark Chambers                                    4/5

Demons to Diamonds                          2/5

Human Cannonball                              2/5

Haunted House                                     2/5

Millipede                                              3/5

Radar Lock                                           3/5

Real Sports Tennis                               2/5

Sub Commander                                  3/5

Sprint Master                                        3/5

Solaris                                                   5/5

Street Racer                                           2/5

Wizard                                                  3/5

Yars Revenge                                        2/5

Monday 30 November 2020

Tanglewood and Xenocrisis (Evercade Review)

While the main selling point of the Evercade has been emulated collections of software, this cartridge tries something different and has grouped together two new games made for the Sega Mega Drive. The two games could not be more different either with Tanglewood being an atmospheric platformer and Xenocrisis a top down shooter. Individually the games will set you back somewhere around £15 each so to get them together for the usual Evercade cartridge price is an attractive proposition and one that we can see the Evercade using more of in the future.

Xenocrisis is a game that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. Smash TV and the Chaos Engine are the clear inspiration for one of the most intense shooters we’ve played in years. Players have to clear all monsters in a room before moving onto the next. Eventually, a boss monster will be found resulting in all hell breaking lose as you frantically avoid a storm of projectiles and roll out of the way of their often huge forms. It takes a little while to click but when it does it's pure, adrenaline fuelled gaming from the 16-bit era and it’s glorious.

There’s a basic levelling system in play as well which allows you to increase life, ammo, strength of weapons and buy extra lives by picking up dog tags from defeated enemies and rescued soldiers. It gives a reason to try and find all the secrets on each level and put yourself in danger to get hard to reach rewards and in this respect it does the job really well. We should point out that the game seemed to improve massively with the 1.3 firmware update. Before this there seemed to be a lot of missed inputs which in this type of game is pretty much fatal. Once applied though everything really stepped up a gear in terms of how the game played and was much more enjoyable.

Tanglewood is a much slower and calmer game. A puzzle platformer at heart it invokes memories of Abe’s Oddyssey, kind of. The basic premise is that you need to get your fox-like creature Nym through each stage by moving rocks, avoiding the wild life and picking up special abilities. Abilities include being able to float on air streams, slowing down time and taking control of creatures in the forest – but they only last for a limited time and require activating by rolling a little glowing creature into the correct place.

There are some rough edges here though. We found the game world felt a bit empty and the screen really could have done with being pulled back a little as it is often difficult to tell where you are jumping. Leaps of faith is one thing from the 16-bit era that we would happily leave behind. It’s also very slow in the early going and that may put some players off. Stick with it though as it does begin to come to life more after the first few levels. The whole thing looks absolutely lovely as well.

Overall, though there are only two games on this particular cartridge, this still feels like good value for money. Both games are very much worth playing and the juxtaposition between their styles means players have two very different experiences ahead of them. Both games deserve to do well on the more traditional platforms but here they serve as great evidence as to how good carefully selected indie titles can be on the Evercade.

Game Ratings

Xenocrisis 4/5

Tanglewood 4/5

Monday 23 November 2020

The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy (Evercade Review)

The story goes that once upon a time the evil wizard Zaks kidnapped Dizzy’s girlfriend Daisy, and took her to his castle in the clouds. Dizzy must now find the castle and rescue her solving puzzles along the way and engaging in some all-round platform action. For the uninitiated, Dizzy is an egg who had a great deal of success on the 8-bit computers before facing his biggest adventure in this game on consoles. They simply don’t make games like Dizzy anymore, the action is basic, but brilliant, and to finish an entire adventure is a challenge.

The idea of the game is to solve puzzles by picking up items and taking them to a place where they can be used, thus allowing you to continue on. This may sound easy but Dizzy can only carry three items at once - meaning if you miss judge what you need to take, then progression will be extremely difficult. On top of this all manner of hazards and traps will need to avoided along the way.

Graphically, Dizzy is presented in a cartoon style, big and colourful with simple, charmingly drawn characters set against decent enough backgrounds. Everything is very clear on screen with slowdown and flickering rarely occurring, even when the screen is packed. The landscapes in the game vary from woods and towns to underground caves and sunken pirate ships - each represented in its own way and looking different from the last.

Gameplay, is both very simple and very difficult. Initially the game seems daunting, as puzzles can be obscure and it's easy to get lost if you're not careful. However, after a couple of tries you soon realise the necessary approach needed to solve puzzles and progress. Dizzy can be a difficult to control, but (like the puzzles), once you work out how far he can jump and what distance he can fall from, everything comes together. Producing a well-executed title that offers large doses of quirky platform fun.

As well as the basic platforming action there are several mini-games present such as going down a river in a barrel throwing apples at enemies. However, the most enjoyable section is where Dizzy is shooting people with a crossbow taken from a first person perspective and reminiscent of the arcade Shinobi bonus level.

Overall, Dizzy is a magical title, and while you cannot argue that it feels a little dated, it is a fine example of how great games used to be. Functional graphics, challenging puzzles and enjoyable mini-games mean that this a great slice of retro action and a strong addition to the Evercade line-up.

Overall 9/10

Monday 16 November 2020

The Oliver Twins Collection (Evercade Review)

It’s no secret that we love Dizzy here at Retro 101, so when a collection from the Oliver Twins was announced we got very excited indeed. The fact there are a selection of other games from the pairing here as well and that some of the Dizzy games are previously unreleased NES versions just helped to further our anticipation.

There are five classic Dizzy adventures on offer and they all more or less follow the same pattern of having to manoeuvre dizzy around platforms, avoid hazards and pick up objects. The objects then need to be taken to appropriate places to solve puzzles. The amount of lives you have and the amount of objects you can carry varies but at their core the five games follow the same template.

The good news is that each of the games is great fun to play. Treasure Island Dizzy is the crazily tough one, Wonderland Dizzy is the NES version of Magic Land with an Alice in Wonderland Influence. Dizzy the Adventurer is a good place for newcomers to start as a more forgiving version of Prince of the Yolk Folk and Mystery World Dizzy is the NES version of Fantasy Land Dizzy and is themed around fairy tales. The biggest and best of the games though is the Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy which takes influence from all the games in a sort of epic greatest hits adventure.

Dizzy also appears in two other titles on the collection. Panic Dizzy is unfortunately, a fairly poor puzzle (much like the home computer version), but Go Dizzy Go is an excellent maze type game. Very loosely influenced by Pacman and block pushing games it has Dizzy traversing a single screen maze avoiding enemies and picking up fruit. Once all the fruit is collected it’s on to the next level. It’s similar to Kwik Snax Dizzy on the home computers but this is by far the best version of it.

Four other Oliver Twins games also make the collection and show what they could do away from the iconic egg. Dreamworld Pogie is a spinoff featuring Dizzy’s pet mouse. This is a more traditional platform game with players traversing a linear level to reach an exit while collecting stars along the way. It’s colourful, fun and often crushingly difficult. Super Robin Hood is another platform game with players avoiding traps and taking out enemies with arrows. It’s not amazing but again, provides a solid and fun experience that will likely keep you interested long enough to finish it.

Fire Hawk and BMX Simulator round out the package. BMX Simulator is the only game here which is genuinely bad with a top down view used to display four bikes racing around a single screen track in the style of Super Off Road. It’s frustrating and not implemented in the best way and is destined to be played once before players quit out never to return.

Fire Hawk is pretty much what you would expect from an 8-bit version of Desert Strike. Here you fly a helicopter over enemy territory to complete a host missions such as rescuing POW’s or destroying buildings. It also has the added gimmick that when the helicopter goes into a descent to pick up a passenger the game switches to a first person view where you have to shoot down incoming enemies. It works well enough but is very difficult and playing it can be frustrating at times.

Overall, the Oliver Twins collection is the strongest reason to own an Evercade we have come across so far. It collates an often overlooked group of software from two industry legends and includes two games that may well have been lost to time otherwise. The main reason to own this is of course the high amount of Dizzy on show but the other games are mainly solid as well and it all adds up to a very nice cartridge that will likely stay in your Evercade for a long time. This is exactly the sort of thing we need for the console. Simply put – it’s Eggcellent.

Game Ratings

Treasure Island Dizzy                                         4/5

The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy                    5/5

Go! Dizzy Go!                                                    4/5

Dizzy The Adventurer                                        5/5

Panic Dizzy                                                        2/5

Wonderland Dizzy                                              4/5

Mystery World Dizzy                                         4/5

BMX Simulator                                                  2/5

FireHawk                                                            3/5

DreamWorld Pogie                                             4/5

 Super Robin Hood                                             3/5

Monday 9 November 2020

Interplay Collection 1 (Evercade Review)

Interplay are a company whose golden age came during the 16 bit era where innovative, fun and iconic games seemed to be spilling out of the company one after the other. The first Evercade collection from the company brings two of their most well-known characters together along with four other games in a small but interesting group.

The filler on this cartridge comes in the form of Titan and Battel Chess. Titan is a potentially interesting but slow and clunky puzzle game where you have to deflect a ball around room removing blocks. It’s a bit like Arkanoid with the twist that the reflector can be moved anywhere and the only way that you can lose a ball is if it hits one of the dangerous spots around the room. Battle Chess is a really poor rendition of chess. The whole thing moves so slowly that it becomes tiresome after only a few moves. The sequences are nothing special either and most players will leave it to gather dust very quickly.

The inclusion of Incantation is interesting as it was one of the last games released on the SNES and as such commands a crazy price to get hold of a legitimate cartridge. Unfortunately, the game itself is really quite poor with it being a very basic and simplistic platformer. That said, it’s still nice to experience something so highly sought after and offering these types of hard to get titles is a good route for the Evercade to go down in the future.

The highlight of the package is unquestionably Earthworm Jim. The character is so iconic that it spawned its own cartoon series and toy line and still remains firmly imbedded in every retro gamers mind. Apart from the severe difficult the action platformer remains a joy to play and the innovation and humour still shine through to show just why so many people fell in love with it in the first place. This is the Mega Drive version as well which means all the levels are included (as the SNES version strangely lost one).

Jim is backed up by another fairly well known oddity from the 16 bit age in Boogerman. Another game that is a touch pricey, it has our hero jumping through a snot and toilet inspired world taking out enemies by flicking boogers, belching and breaking wind. If that all sound disgusting, don’t worry it’s meant to be. The game handles a little loose compared to Earthworm Jim but there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had and like it’s slightly more iconic stable mate it just does things that little bit differently from your everyday platformer.

The package is rounded out with Clayfighter which is a 2d Street Fighter clone that takes the unusual approach of having the look of a clay made stop motion animation. At its core the action is quite generic but the look and characters help to add some charm and replay value which will probably see you dip into it every now and again.

Overall, the first Interplay collection is an easy recommendation. Earthworm Jim is a classic, Boogerman is very enjoyable and Clayfighter is a nice distraction. The novelty of Incantation is welcome as well and in terms of value you can’t get much better than this for £14.99. Getting the games on their original system would set you back an awful lot more than that. In our view it’s worth it for Earthworm Jim alone with everything else as a glorious bonus. A great collection.

Game Ratings

Earthworm Jim 5/5

Boogerman 4/5

Clay Fighter 3/5

Incantation 2/5

Titan 3/5

Battle Chess 2/5

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Hotline Miami Review (Switch)

Hotline Miami’s legacy has lasted long after initial release on the PC. A retro themed, neon trenched, blood bath, It has found favour with both gamers and critics alike. It now seems to be an ever present in the gaming world, moving from system to system as each new console releases. It has now arrived on the Nintendo Switch and is still as vibrant and frenetic to play as ever.

The game casts you in the role of Jacket. An unreliable narrator, we view the world through his eyes as he commits acts of horrific violence. Without giving too much away it’s clear from the start that something isn’t quite right and you will likely spend much of your play through trying to work out exactly what is real and what isn’t and what on earth is going on.

Our anti-hero is drawn to each new location via the answering machine in his apartment. Each night a new message is left detailing a location and time. This then leads into the next level where you must choose which mask to wear and go about causing chaos and mayhem.

Viewed from a top down perspective, the game has a highly unique visual aesthetic. It’s certainly retro styled and characters and levels are built to look like this in an old eight bit game. The colours used though are often vibrant and strong. This makes things like the constant flow of blood seem to stand out and highlights just how much damage you are doing. Indeed, we can’t recall when pixelated violence looked quite so painful and disturbing.

Along with the strong visuals comes an incredible soundtrack that keeps the adrenaline pumping throughout. The film ‘Drive’ is a heavy influence and the sound certainly seems to have taken inspiration from artists who had their music on the film. Kavinsky is the heaviest influence as the beats pump and pound away while the bullets fly and bones crack.

Indeed, if it ever came out that the game was based on the Drivers untold back story it wouldn’t really seem that surprising (minus the surrealism perhaps). Although it’s very hard to tell, it seems to us that the main character in Hotline Miami is also donning the iconic white scorpion jacket, but perhaps that’s just our imagination running away with us.

Of course, all the style in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the game doesn’t work. There’s no need to worry on that count as once you get used to how the control system works it becomes almost second nature. The ‘gimmick’ as such is to chain kills together for as long as possible. In order to do this you need to move quickly. Taking a single shot or hit will also kill you and require a restart of the current stage.

There are a vast array of weapons at your disposal to deal out the death and destruction. Guns are plentiful, but firing one will alert other enemies in the level to your presence and send them charging after you. It’s often better to use a bludgeoning weapon and sneak up on enemies before dispatching them. Simply punching also works but only stuns your opponent (see also - hitting with doors or throwing a weapon) and you will then need to spend a few seconds finishing your opponent off by smashing their head repeatedly against the ground.

To aid your progress are the different masks which can be worn throughout. Some you get for completing stages while others will need to be found hidden away in the levels. These all have different properties and allow you do things such as kill with punches or kill people by bashing them with doors. Finding a mask to fit your style is all important as you will want to return to completed stages to better your time, score and overall grade. It’s incredible how much better you become at the game as you progress and stages that took ages will soon turn into a race for the biggest kill combo. Levels also never become repetitive with the layouts offering up different types of scenario to play around in. There are also more than a fair few surprises to keep you on your toes as you progress.

Each stage is set out to test not only your reactions but also your puzzle solving skills. Often gunmen overlook corridors safely from behind windows or an enemy may be sitting down and thus hiding the weapon they carry. Working out the order to take out enemies is as vital as actually trying to kill them as one wrong move and it is all over. There are variables as well and enemies don’t always patrol in the same way or carry the same weapons upon restarting after death. This means you also need to be able to think on the move in order to make it through.

The games controls do take a bit of getting used to and feel awkward to start when using handheld mode as the Switch buttons are just that little bit too spaced apart when using multiple inputs at once. As you progress things do become second nature though,

The lock on control can also be a bit fiddly. It would have perhaps been better to lock onto the enemy who is nearest to you as you can often be left firing a gun at a character two rooms away rather than the three gangsters bearing down on you. We also found the lock on cursor to be very hard to see on the handheld screen and colour blind gamers will struggle even more. A number of times we had to unlock, and lock over and again to try and work out exactly who we had targeted. These are very small flaws though and there was nothing here that prevented us from making our way through the game.

A few (mostly colour blind related), niggles aside it is no over exaggeration to say that this remains a master piece of game design. It’s hard but fair and it always leaves you wanting one more go. Aesthetically perfect it has managed to capture an ethos and moment in time and as such remains visually iconic. This remains one of the most essential games to come out on any format and is perfect for the handheld nature of the Switch.


Friday 30 October 2020

Atari Collection 1 (Evercade Review)

The first Atari collection for the Evercade contains twenty game split across the Atari 2600 and 7800 systems. These two systems aren’t ones that appear too often in terms of collections so it provides those interested in a slice of gaming history a different place to start. That said, whether having a collection 2600 arcade ports is something the gaming community wants or needs is something else entirely.

The 2600 games are a mixed bag in terms of quality and many of them simply don’t hold up well anymore. This isn’t a greatest hits collection by any means and many of these wouldn’t be troubling the tops spots on any Atari 2600 games list. Gravitar, Missile Command Centipede and Asteroids offer speedy, solid representations of their arcade counterparts but the two standout games are Adventure and Aquaventure.

Adventure does an excellent job of creating an engaging quest with minimal graphics and is rightly regarded as something of a land mark title. Aquaventure has you descending into the depths, avoiding enemies so that you can grab treasure and then trying to get back to the surface in one piece. It’s remarkably addictive and will have you returning long after the novelty of many of the other titles has worn off.

The standout among the 7800 games is Ninja Golf. A crazy mix between golf and a scrolling fighter, it has players running to where they have hit their ball while fighting off a wide variety of enemies such as ninja’s, snakes and sharks. The environment and enemies change depending on if you are in the water, rough or on the fairway and once the green is reached you face a showdown with a dragon from a first person perspective. It’s the sort of hidden gem we would like to see more of on the Evercade. Unfortunately the other 7800 games aren’t anything really to write home about.

Overall, the first Evercade Atari collection is a mixed bag. There are only three games here that we would whole heartedly recommend but they are real highlights. The cartridge is interesting and does showcase an often overlooked part of gaming history. The relatively low price does make it easier to recommend in order to get hold of Ninja Golf, but there’s no hiding the fact that there are far better examples of the 2600 and 7800 out there that could have been included. A cautious thumbs up for retro fans then.


Game Ratings:


Ninja Golf         5/5                                                  

Alien Brigade    2/5                                           

Food Fight         3/5                                                  

Motor Psycho    3/5                                            


Adventure         4/5   

Aquaventure     4/5

Asteroids          3/5

Double Dunk    1/5

Centipede         3/5

Crystal Castles 2/5

Canyon Bomber 2/5

Desert Falcon    3/5

Gravitar             3/5

Missile Command 3/5

Night Driver     1/5   

Steeple Chase   2/5

Swordquest      3/5

Tempest           2/5

Video Pinball   2/5

Yars Return      1/5                                  

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Nintendo Switch Roundup 3: Roguelikes

Dead Cells

An early contender for the systems ‘indie darling’ Dead Cells has continued to expand and develop since its release. There is certainly a lot of game here for players that click with its action platform groove. The different areas are varied and offer just the right amount of risk reward to entice players to explore for hidden treasures (and probably die in the process). The only major issue we had with it was that the games frame rate stutters at times which can lead to confusion and often death. The bosses are also particularly challenging and will see many hit a substantial wall that stops them progressing on to see all it has to offer.



For those that like their adventuring more from the top down point of view Moonlighter represents a charming time sink to get into. At night you explore one of four themed dungeons retrieving loot and slaying beasts and by day you put things on sale in your shop to raise gold. It creates a compelling loop that allows players to feel like they are progressing even when life in the dungeons isn’t going well. Even with upgrades to equipment there is still a good level of skill required to overcome the games gigantic bosses but the challenge is never overwhelming to the point that you are likely to give up and dedicated players will be onto new game+ before they know it. It’s a unique mix of styles that works well and should be sort out by the adventurous types out there.



A simple, yet effective, platformer of sorts, Downwell is a pure shot of adrenaline which works perfectly in small sessions. Players have to guide themselves down a well while using there gun boots to blast away at rocks and the many enemies they encounter. A host of new power ups and styles are available and the action is always intense and fast moving. It’s also unbelievably cheap to get hold of (around £1.99), and really there is no excuse not to give it a try.


Void Bastards

Just to prove that rogue elements will work in just about any genre here we have a FPS take on it heavily inspired by system shock. Players must guide their ramshackle ship along a galaxy map stopping at derelict vessels to scavenge for food, fuel and parts to continue on. The cartoon style of the graphics and sharp script create a game both funny and terrifying in equal measure and help to ease the pain of the many deaths you will encounter. Creatures and ships are varied and fun to explore, though we did find ourselves in later levels running onto a ship, grabbing whichever part we needed and legging it a little too often. The occasional frame rate glitch is also present but in this case rarely causes a problem. It’s not overly long either which means you’ll be diving into the challenges and other extras while you are still hungry for more.


Black Future 88

If you like your roguelike set in a dystopian future inspired by Blade Runner then Black Future 88 may well be the game you’ve always dreamed of. Glowing neon and pounding synths accompany players as they have minutes to make it up a procedurally generated tower and topple the evil Duncan. The action is insanely intense and unrelenting as you blast and slash your way through a crazy assortment of enemies and bosses. There a numerous weapons and buffs that can be unlocked along the way and countless different systems you will have to balance out to have a decent shot at getting to the top in one piece. The only down side is that there is so much going on that when played in handheld mode it can get difficult to see at times. This really is an overlooked gem that everyone should experience.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

La Mulana (Switch Review)

La Mulana has been around for a long time. The Wii was the first console to get a port but now we can pull our hair out wherever we are with this portable version on the Switch. It may seem a strange choice but La Mulana is a perfect candidate for on the go gaming – even if it is still incredibly difficult.

For those unfamiliar with the game it follows an intrepid archaeologist as he drops into the legendary ruins of La Mulana. It’s a puzzle platform game in the purest sense with block pushing and weight placing high on the agenda. There’s lots of whipping, pinpoint platforming and traps galore. There are also massive great boss monsters and lots of death.

There’s no getting away from just how difficult the game is. Especially when you first start it can seem overwhelming and any hints at what to do are obscure to say the least. Once you break through the initial barriers things do get much better for players though. It took us about an hour and two wasted save files to really get going. The third time we started it all began to click and we would recommend any player to use a guide for the first couple of areas if you feel you aren’t getting anywhere.

Once we had gathered the warping Holy Grail, bought a symbol decoder from the shop and got past the first boss it became a much better adventure. It’s all about getting your head around what you need to do and once that happens it reveals itself to be an excellent platform adventure. By the time we reached the second proper area everything was fine and it felt we were really getting into it.

Level design is strong throughout with areas different enough from each other in terms of enemy type and design. There are fiendish puzzles and riddles to solve but the core dynamic is based around placing weights on pads to make things happen in the environment. Weights can be picked up on your adventure but it’s normally best to buy a hefty amount at the village shop before diving back into the depths.

Once you have the Holy Grail you can warp to any discovered Grail points which makes life a bit easier. We did have an issue with certain points disappearing from our warp list though – if this is a bug or something we haven’t worked out mechanics wise remains to be seen. There’s a host of different equipment and weapons to buy and you need to make sure you are well prepared to have any chance at all. What makes life even more difficult is that you don’t really know what order you should be attempting the areas (and you really do need to get through them in the right order to stand a chance).

Indeed, There is very little signposting at all. The first time we played  we didn’t even work out that each area needed to be completed and subsequently dived down as deep into the ruins as far as we could go and had to restart our save file as we just couldn’t get back to where we wanted to be. It's also slightly annoying that the game comes with borders either side of it. Making a Switch game and then not adjusting the port to the systems native aspect ratio is somewhat bizarre to say the least.

Overall, there’s no denying that La Mulana is both an excellent platform game and a great addition to the Switch catalogue. However, it is very tough and obscure at times. It’ll certainly appeal to the Spelunky and Super Meat Boy crowd but requires a more patient and thought-out approach.  If you stick with it you’ll find a great adventure game. Many though may well be put off by all the barriers it throws up for players and that’s a real shame.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo Review (Switch)

Following on from the excellent Shooting Stars Alpha we now have another six shooters packaged together to offer further blasting fun on the go. Like before this can be purchased as a special edition but we will be focusing on the games here. The Bravo collection compiles two series with Samurai Aces 1-3 and GUNBIRD 1, 2 and oddity GUNBARICH included.

As you would expect, all six of the games are worth playing but there is perhaps less variety between them than in the previous collection. Gunbird 1 and 2 are fairly similar and allow players to pick from a selection of colourful characters who fly horizontally up the screen blasting away looking for tech bonuses. Characters range from a witch on a broom to a steampunk robot and each plays significantly different from one another to make repeated visits enjoyable. As you would expect, bosses are excellent and the look and design of the levels keeps energy up and makes them a delight to look at.

The first of the Samurai Aces games pretty much takes the 1945 template and changes out the planes and setting for that of flying ninjas and ancient Japan. It also turns the action up significantly and the game is pretty full on compared to the others in the two collections. Again, the interesting visual design helps to keep the interest and dedicated players up for a challenge will find much to draw them back in time after time.

Samurai Aces 2 and 3 change things up a bit and scroll horizontally instead of vertically. Characters have a few different attacks here aside from just the standard ‘shoot’ and ‘bomb’, such as a charge attack and it allows for a more flexible approach to the action. The games are still absolutely solid though so don’t expect to be sailing through the stages anytime soon. Clever use of the charge shots can also reap huge points as well for the expert players out there.

The oddity of the bunch is GUNBARICH which isn’t really a shooter at all but something much closer to ball and block games such as Arkanoid. Players still have control of a whimsical fantasy character but now instead of shooting you have to flip a ball back up the screen to destroy all the blocks. Your character can move around a fair amount of the screen with the aim being to remove every block on the stage before moving onto the next. It is a fun diversion but it’s certainly not up there with the likes of Arkanoid itself or other games that have put their spin on this genre such as Kirby’s Block Ball.

Like with the Alpha collection the biggest potential issue is that the games don’t really have much in the way of extras. There are a few display options (yes, you can play with the Switch vertical), but nothing in the way of museum extras of other interesting information. When you consider the detail that has gone into some of the other collections on the system then this is a noticeable omission. If you get hold of the physical release there is a ton of stuff to go through there but that does come at a premium price.

Overall, we are more than happy to dive back into another six of the best from Psikyo. This is a great way to give the games a higher profile on the Switch and the nature of them means they are perfect for playing on the go. The GUNBIRD games especially are long time favourites of ours and we would recommend this to anyone looking to scratch that blasting itch.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha Review (Switch)

A number of Psikyo shooters have found their way to the Switch eshop but now six of them have been collected together and released under the banner of ‘Shooting Stars Alpha’. A special physical edition is available with a number of extras but here we will be focusing on the games themselves. This collection contains three games from the Strikers 1945 series, Sol Divide, Dragon Blaze and Zero Gunner 2.

All six games are excellent action packed, adrenaline fuelled, shooters and there is also an unexpected amount of variety between them. The Strikers series are vertical scrolling shooters and the most straightforward of the games on offer. Each game has a selection of different planes (getting more modern as you progress through the series), for you to blast your way through hordes of enemies with. Each stage is wonderfully chaotic with gold bars acting as the collectibles needed to boost your score. The games follow the standard set up of being able to shoot and use a smart bomb and the key to achieving high scores is mainly about staying alive and chaining shots together.

The boss battles are suitable impressive as your little plane dives between waves of bullets from a massive foe. These tend to be in two stages with a robot often detaching to carry on the fight after the first part of the big boss has been downed. The third game offers the ability to take down a boss in one hit by waiting around for a particular spot to change from blue to red and then getting your plane close up for the killer shot and a massive points haul.

Dragon Blaze is another vertical shoot’em up but this time you are flying on the back of a dragon through a fantasy themed world. If anything, it’s even more chaotic than the 1945 games and as a result the difficulty is considerable higher. The big gimmick here is that you can separate the rider from the dragon. This gives you double the fire power and also allows you to put your dragon into sections of the screen filled with bullets and still do damage yourself. It’s an intense and rewarding game that seems fresh within a somewhat crowed market.

Zero Gunner 2 is among the more interesting shoot’em up games out there. It scrolls both vertically and horizontally and utilises a ‘lock-on’ system which is vital for moving and positioning your helicopter. When locked on players can manoeuvre their helicopter around the target to provide new angles for attack and evasion. It takes some getting used to as movement is different to most games of this type but once it clicks it is a highly enjoyable experience.

The only true horizontal scrolling game of the collection is Sol Divide. Like Dragon blaze, this is another fantasy themed game and players pick one of a handful of warriors to adventure with. This has the most complex of the combat systems in the collection with players being able to use a melee attack and a number of magic spells as well as the standard shot option. As you power up you can call on everything from fireballs to spells that slow down enemies or rain down thunder upon them. It is also crushingly hard as enemies are bullet sponges from the off. This means mastering of all the systems is vital to progression

The biggest potential issue for buyers is that the games don’t really have much in the way of extras. There are a few display options (yes, you can play with the Switch vertical), but nothing in the way of museum extras of other curio information. When you consider the detail that has gone into some of the other collections on the system then this is a noticeable omission. If you get hold of the physical release there is a ton of stuff to go through there but that does come at a premium price.

Overall, this collection is providing six excellent games together in one package. If shoot’em ups are your thing then this is really not to be missed. There is a nice mix of titles as well which showcase different elements from the genre and the games vary in base difficulty so players of all abilities will have somewhere to start. If you have enjoyed any of the games individually on the eshop then this is really a must buy.

Overall 8/10

Thursday 9 January 2020

Nintendo Switch Retro Roundup 2: SNES Re-Releases

While the Switch has SNES games arriving via its online service it has also seen a number of physical releases that first found favour with audiences on Nintendo’s 16 bit machine. Here we will round up some of the most interesting.

Collection of Mana

Collecting three early games from the Mana series together, this collection offers good value for money. The Gameboy game being included is nice from a completion point of view but it is Secret and Trials of Mana that steal the show. Aside from a quick save option little has been changed within the games themselves (these aren’t the remade versions of either game), but both are strong enough action RPG’s to still hold up well and both quests are epic adventures to undertake. It also represents the first time that Trials has been localised for the West. Both games are very pricey to buy on the SNES so it is great to have them so accessible for the Switch audience.

Putty Squad

The most bare bones of the re-releases, Putty Squad hasn’t fared well in its transition to the Switch. The visuals have been updated but the colour palette and graphical style make levels seems cluttered and chaotic (and not in a good way). The platforming itself is ok but it just isn’t as good as the original release and it contains a number of sloppy issues. One such major issue is that while the game now auto saves as you go along it doesn’t restore lives or energy. This means if you have just scraped through the previous level you are likely to just get stuck in a loop of dying over and over again on the next. While we would recommend it as an essential find in its original form, Switch owners can miss this without worrying.

Wild Guns: Reloaded

Konami’s action shooter is a very welcome sight on the Switch. The original now goes for stupid money so giving the game another lease of life is very welcome. Again, not much has been changed and unless you are going to make it through the game on the higher difficulty settings you may never see any of the new levels which have been added. The steampunk/western mixed style still looks great and if you are looking for some classic shooting action then Wild Guns unique ‘shooting gallery’ style is well worth looking at.

The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors

Yet another very pricey SNES release given a second lease of life on the Switch, Ninja Saviours: Return of the Warriors has been remade to look as good as you remember it to be. Subtle graphical overhaul aside the side scrolling brawler has had little else changed apart from the addition of two extra characters which are unlocked by completing the game on different difficulties. Luckily, the game itself still holds up well and the single plane of movement helps it stand out from the other brawlers out there. Each character plays quite differently and once you understand how all the systems work it is a rewarding and fun game to dive back into.


We have a detailed review of Flashback here -

Wednesday 8 January 2020

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment Review (Switch)

The second expansion campaign has players take on the role of Specter Knight and acts as an origin story for the events of the main game. Unlike Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment does not use a world map. Instead players enter the different levels from a portal in the cursed knight’s castle. This streamlines the experience and makes the game pick up the pace as you are getting directly into the action much more quickly.

The levels themselves follow the formulae of remixing those already visited in the original game for use with Specter Knight's skills set (much like with Plague of Shadows). There is some original content though as the game allows players to see and play through how Spectre Knight came into being through an interesting origin story that pops up after every few levels are completed.

The main gimmick now focuses around Spectre Knight's scythe. In order to progress around the levels players have to utilise the ability to cut though objects diagonally which causes the knight to go zooming up or down accordingly. As a result prepare to spend a lot of time in mid-air as you fly from object to object (normally over a big pit).  There are also a whole host of new sub weapons to get to grips with as well.

Overall, this is another excellent entry into the Shovel Knight franchise. Specter Knight's more aggressive style keeps the approach to the remixed levels fresh and this coupled with how you need to use the new skill set to get around makes it very different from the main game and previous expansion. It’s also somewhat easier than Plague of Shadows and much less frustrating as a result.

Overall 8/10