Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon (Steam/Switch)

 

Written by Thomas G.J Sharpe

The titular shovel-wielding warrior returns in a block-puzzle-rogue-lite hybrid that I found I fell in love with a bit In a tightly designed, densely artistic, and joyful puzzler, Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon manages to straddle casual and challenging game types which will cater for a broad range of tastes.

There is something ineffable, something contradictory about the fresh-vintage-ness of the Shovel Knight games. Pulling from a timeless past of games, I’d like to believe the Knight abandoned their post in Link to The Past (as a Hyrule soldier) and made their own weird way in the world. In this latest iteration, there’s the plinky tones of the track “Atropos” playing from Columns, harbinger of the opioid crisis Dr. Mario (not a real doctor), and harpoon propaganda Bust-A-Move. Shovel is stuck in a puzzle-centric kingdom beset by absurd amounts of cracking assets. There is such a bevy of characters, very few lazy blob types, that populate the world that it is genuinely impressive to witness. World-building in such contained venues is a true skill.

These little venues are block puzzles which hurl enemies, pickups, and obstacles onto a grid that Knight has to survive long enough in to reveal an exit. Moving onto an enemy will cause damage to be taken and delivered, forcing tactical movements between enemies and health potions. Chains of similar types will prompt bigger rewards, adding an organisational level to the puzzle. Shops and side routes reveal themselves, chests and additional skills can be accessed for currency and powers. Bosses with unique skill sets appear after a bunch of stages, and the defeated characters are added to a playable roster back at base camp. Each of these knights have a different feel, expanding game approaches and styles. I was reminded of Nuclear Throne, where the characters shape the feel of a repetitive game to something fresh almost every time. Much like Throne, these knights are full of character, from only a few sprite frames and lines of dialogue.

To further bust open this title for all to enjoy there are a bunch of mutators for the difficulty of the game. Set your puzzle handicap and jump in, and it has you hooked. Ordinarily, puzzlers of this ilk with their strategies and mastery summon strict ceilings for me. I resent mastery of systems as a requirement as (what I feel I am) a pragmatic and low-attention player. These game settings help me dial in, more specifically, a way in to enjoy a game that I would otherwise perhaps have bounced off of.

There is something to be said in the actual, and also the impression, of just-making-it. When in the shovelly block-boxes, feeling close to the edge of failure is a big part of the experience for me. And I don’t much care whether it is suited to my ability. Pocket Dungeon is invitational and accessible to me where other puzzle games are clumsier with their delivery, whatever their core loop.

Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon is a game that has managed to capture something special for me in the puzzle genre (much like my gushing adoration for the Kingdom Rush series in the tower defence world). There is scope for a casual experience, but also a more devilish time, in an energetic, exciting world that is seeped in a clever and engaging sensibility. And all in a block-puzzle game. A ‘lil piece of fantastic.

Overall 9/10

Monday, 20 December 2021

6Souls Review (Steam)

 

Review by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

 6Souls is one of the many, many, many products offered by publisher Ratalaika. Between their games, ports, emulations, and visual novels listed on their website, there is a baffling array of styles of art, game, story and heritage. 6Souls, developed by BUG Studio in Russia, is sprung from a solid bed of platformers, notably Celeste, and (a personal hidden gem of mine) Quora, yet sadly doesn’t stand as tall.

Jack, and his little mutt Butch, find themselves in a castle with a magical story. And that’s exposition over with. There is an attempt at jovial characterization, and the developer does rightly label it a “jaunt”. And a jaunt it is; light-hearted, a little silly, gentle adventuring. The characters are given non-linguistic voice to give some texture to the interactions, and most of the writing is functionally fun. As they delve deeper into the castle, they are on the search for the titular six souls. I restrain myself from outlining why or how, as it is largely forgettable.

Importantly, the souls you collect provide Jack with dash abilities to navigate the platforming puzzles. This makes the game succeed and fail on it’s scaled puzzle design. From the simplest, pre-dashing, jumping sections, to the multi-dashing elongated puzzles, the levels are solidly and entertainingly designed. There is the ability to switch to Butch to access places Jack cannot reach, but these provide no real imagination or creative puzzle-solving. These are purely one-route, linear puzzles. New items become available and there are collectibles and all that jazz.

None of this is done poorly, but 6Souls never quite draws itself up to a point that I’m thrilled, or amused, or exhilarated. Pathway and Dandara had unique mechanisms to interact with more intriguing worlds. Caveblazers had more thorough combat-platforming. Quora had a delicate, charming, odd story (seriously just get it, its lovely). Aesthetically, Jack and Butch traverse levels that look ok, but the colours don’t seem to pop and where atmosphere is at a minimum. Adversaries are generally ok, with only a couple quite thoughtless amorphic blob style creatures. The characters themselves are great, with good spirit to them.

Where 6Souls excels, however, is precisely where it matters for itself. The controls are solid, responsive, and worked well (even for a platforming dunce like me). Word to the wise, however; play with a controller. The default keyboard controls are simply awful, and despite my resistance to controllers, I did switch over and had a much better time. Despite being very few actions in the game (it’s the opposite of Il Sturmovik 2), they just sit better on a pad. Perhaps there was some ill design choices when even including a block combat action, as it expands your move set in what feels like a pointless direction. I feel they should have stuck to the platforming, rather than trying to blend in a block-attack system. That is a small gripe, and in the round, it is these small gripes that add up to a slight sense of un-remarkability.

If you get kicks from solid platformers, this is a challenging and charming title. There is nothing wrong with it. If you ask for anything to blow your cape off in 6Souls I would manage your expectations at the castle door, but at the price point currently (£4.99 on Steam), it’s not bad.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Beyond a Steel Sky Review (Switch)

When we first reviewed Beneath a Steel Sky way back in the nineties it never really occurred to us that a sequel would arrive more than twenty years later. There have of course been rumours and previews of a sequel for years, but they always seemed to come to nothing. Finally, we now have the second instalment of the comedy cyber punk adventure.

The game starts ten years after the events of the original with the same protagonist (Robert Foster), living with a tribe in the vast wastelands (known as the gap), outside of Union City. After a child is kidnapped by a strange spider-like machine you find yourself drawn back once again into the corporate run mega city looking for answers.

The general look of the game works well to keep the spirit of the original alive and well. The cartoon style graphics are reminiscent of some of the telltale games and follows many of the traditional point and click adventurer tropes. Instead of moving a cursor around a screen, players now take direct control of Foster. As he moves around the 3D environment points of interest will pop up that can be interacted with once you move close enough. It’s pretty much the system we have come to expect from the many 2D point and click games that have made the jump into 3D worlds, and it works competently enough.

As well as the general wandering and picking up items the main gimmick of BASS is a hacking element. Most of the things that block your progress need tampering with in order to get them to do what you want. This takes the form of moving shapes around on a virtual circuit board. For instance, some machines will have instruction such as ‘Refill’ or ‘Empty’ written inside a shape such as a circle or diamond. Swapping the same shape around can then change the behaviour of the machine. Much of the game is then spent trying to get the machines with the right instructions that you want to swap within range of each other.

The general puzzle design is good but perhaps lacks some of the magic of the original. The dialogue and characters though are excellent throughout and feel right at home. The humour works and the game moves between darker satire and comedy smoothly, meaning nothing is ever too serious or too dark for the story being told. It also performs very well with nothing strikingly problematic in either docked or handheld mode. We were a bit worried about how the game would run on the Switch but it seems we had nothing to fear.

Overall, Beyond a Steel Sky is a welcome return for one of the most iconic point and click franchises of all time. It is clear Revolution have taken this sequel seriously and worked hard to make sure it fits in with the style and world of the original. It isn’t likely to become as iconic as it’s forebear but there is more than enough here for adventure fans to enjoy. Maybe even more importantly though it takes nothing away from the original game and stands on its own as a well-rounded experience that fans both new and old will enjoy immensely.

Overall, 7/10


Monday, 13 December 2021

The Bitmap Brothers Collection 1 Review (Evercade)

 

The Bitmap Brothers are undoubtedly one of the most iconic British game developers ever. They created unique and iconic experiences that remain largely unmatched in terms of their originality and style. However, they were predominantly seen as an Amiga developer – A system not currently running on the Evercade. This means that the first collection we get for the system is drawn from the companies console ports of their classic games with mixed results.

You only get five games on this first collection thanks to a couple of licensing issues and the big fat file size of a PS1 game. On here we have Speedball (Master System), Speedball 2 (Megadrive), Speedball 2100 (PS1), Xenon 2 (Megadrive) and The Chaos Engine (SNES). It looks a little light on paper and if it had been possible to add Gods in or change Speedball 2100 for Z things would look much better all round. We suspect a second collection will be on the horizon though.

There’s no hiding the fact that two of these games are simply not very good. Speedball is a great game on the Amiga. The Master System version of it is not even comparable. It’s slow, it’s ugly and you will likely play it once. Speedball 2100 isn’t much better and has to be one of the ugliest PS1 games ever. It’s also incredibly slow and lacks the flair of the other Speedball games.

The bad and the ugly out of the way with, we are left with three games. Xenon 2 is a vertical shooter which is about as Amiga as it can get in terms of its core. Big, colourful graphics and quirky design are the order of the day and it is good fun. The Megadrive version is a touch slow but it is certainly a solid port of the game. The biggest issue is the music with the original Bomb the Bass track reduced to a terrible Megadrive sound chip rendition. The combination of the slower speed and loss of music means it’s simply ok rather than the thrill ride it once was.

Speedball 2 also suffers in terms of sound. The game is still as lively, colourful and stylish as ever but you certainly lose a ton of sound effects moving from the Amiga to the Megadrive. It’s not as noticeable as with Xenon 2 though and it is still excellent fun. The violent game of cyber handball still stands out as original and despite being copied many times it has never been bettered. There’s a ton of stuff to play through here as well with tournaments and a league. Those not familiar with the original version may well not notice but that missing ‘ice cream’ sound bite is a killer for some of us who have reached a certain age.

The Chaos Engine is the game that has suffered the least in its transition to console. The SNES version is pretty much identical to the original apart from a name change of one of the characters. We are also really glad they picked the SNES version as the Megadrive one chugs badly. For those yet to experience it be prepared for a tough as nails top down maze shooter. Players pick two from six characters who have to make their way through four worlds blasting all manner of mutated monsters. The iconic look and soundtrack of the game has stood the test of time excellently and this really is a big deal for the Evercade.

Overall, this is a bit of a strange one. What you have here is really a three game collection. Xenon 2 does suffer from the version chosen but even then the sheer greatness of Speedball 2 and The Chaos Engine make the cart worth picking up. We would love to see a proper Amiga collection in the future though because the Bitmap Brothers and the games deserve to really show off how great they are.

 

Game Ratings -

Speedball                         2/5

Speedball 2                      4/5

Speedball 2100                2/5

The Chaos Engine            5/5

Xenon 2                             3/5

Monday, 6 December 2021

Gynoug Review (Switch)

Days after Retro101 published its GleyLancer review – at the end of which was a request for a re-release of the Mega Drive’s Gynoug – Ratalaika went and announced they were porting it to modern consoles. So, is it a case of “ask and ye shall receive”, or “be careful what you wish for”?

Anyone familiar with Ratalaika’s recent reissues will know what to expect - a straight port with a few quality-of-life features - and Gynoug is no exception. Where their port of GleyLancer featured a full script translation for the game’s surprisingly decent story, Gynoug requires nothing. There is a story, but it exists in the original Mega Drive manual for the game, my copy of which is sadly long gone. It’s scant on details, and I could only find it via a PDF of the US version’s user guide. The short version is that the residents of the planet Iccus have been mutated into horrible monstrosities. As always, the answer is to destroy everything. It’d have been nice to have the manual included in the game’s options for completeness, but let’s be fair; you’re here to shoot stuff, not read.

It’s a fine shooter, too. Your winged avatar (named Wor, at least he is in the Genesis version), utilises various shot types and magics to take on scores of hideous enemies (and, er, seagulls). This is where the game really stands out. The boss designs (which appear midway through and at the end of levels), are truly bizarre and hideous. The end of the first level presents a massive steam train melded with a giant green bloke in some sort of steampunk-meets-body horror motif that continues throughout. As the game progresses, the difficulty builds well and doesn’t really spike. Levels are long and varied, and the bosses offer a stern challenge.

The power ups on offer change shot type, offer additional support (lightning bolts, guardian angels and the like), or increase your movement speed. The latter is initially helpful, but if you manage to avoid dying (or just spam the rewind feature), this can be more of a hindrance, as you will likely send Wor racing towards scenery or into the trajectory of enemy fire.

Gynoug is a snapshot of console gaming as it was at the time; arcade gaming brought home, testing reaction and reflexes, twitch responses and dogged determination to progress. Thankfully it still stands up as a solid example of the genre some 30 years later. While its 6 levels seem short, the length of them and the challenge of the game provide some length, and it will keep you coming back again and again to destroy its grotesque bosses. It’s a good port, and we can’t wait to see what Ratalaika will be bringing back next.

9/10

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Clockwork Acquario Review (Switch)

Written by Dan Gill

Many argue over what should be considered the golden age of gaming. Some would say the 80s since it spawned so many classics, while others may praise the pinnacle of the 16-bit era for its refinement of 2D gaming, others, the late 90s for the absorption of gaming by the mainstream, and the dawn of the Playstation. Each camp has its points, but then there are the gaps between generations, the transition period where some titles won’t quite fit the zeitgeist. That window narrows as each console generation moves on, but in the early 90s the shift from 2D to 3D left casualties.

Wonderboy developer Westone was working on Clockwork Acquario around the time people were being wowed by Virtua Racer and the like, and the game was never finished. By 2020 ININ games had managed to acquire the unfinished game from Sega, and managed to complete it with the help of some of the original development team, and in 2021 – almost 30 years later – it's finally being released.

CA is an arcade game, and it shows. It’s all about linear progression as opposed to Wonderboy’s backtracking, and it channels some aspects of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Mario and Alex Kidd, but it doesn’t feel like a tribute act. The chunky, colourful sprites look great, there’s a choice of three characters to pick from, and there’s the option for another player to join in for some co-op.

Attacking enemies consists of jumping on them, hitting them from below or smacking them. This leads to them being stunned which allows them to be picked up, and then thrown at other enemies, helping you to rack up a higher score (especially if you “bank-shot” multiple bad guys). Once the system clicks, you’ll find yourself looking for the best route to a high score. It’s a satisfying hook, and requires the player to understand it in order to take on the boss battles throughout.

Each of the three characters offer no noticeable difference in playstyle (or at least if they do, those differences are subtle). There’s plenty of personality in their sprites though, and the enemy design is shot through with anime cuteness. The graphics on the whole are nice, kind of like a Mega Drive game but beefed up, which is to be expected of a game originally designed for Sega arcade hardware.

Unfortunately, the level design is a bit lacklustre. While we have no problem with the linear level progression, the layout of each stage is pedestrian, but the backgrounds are nice enough. The focus here is on combat over platforming – which is fine – but more imaginative level layouts would’ve been nice.

Minor gripes aside, Clockwork Acquario is a charming game. It’s not the most ground-breaking and most likely won’t be as highly regarded as the big names of the genre, but it is an enjoyable game. The combat mechanic is thoroughly enjoyable and will entice you back for more, the boss battles are fun, and the co-op is a great way to have a friend join in with the retro arcade fun (scuffed pool table and stale cigarette smoke optional). It’s great to see Clockwork Acquario finished and released after all these years, and perhaps it could only feasibly be released in the time of digital downloads and an appreciative retro gaming audience. Maybe we’re in the golden age of gaming right now.

8/10

 


Monday, 29 November 2021

A Gremlin in the Work Review

Recently, we looked at The Secret History of Mac Gaming which was a passion project dedicated to an often overlooked section of gaming history. A Gremlin in the Works follows hot on its heels and again falls very much into the passion project category. This time Mark James Hardisty has untaken the mammoth task of compiling over five hundred pages on one of the corner stones of the British gaming scene – Gremlin Graphics.

As always with Bitmap productions great attention is always spent on the covers. This one comes with a bright green cover adorned with the Gremlin logo that will be familiar to gamers of a certain age. It’s another example of a well-judged design intended to fire up nostalgic memories.

The content of the book is almost exclusively interviews with the key figures of the company and games. As a result it can be a little hard to get into. We would have ideally liked more of a mix of commentary on the games, historical writing and interviews but at least you know everything you are reading is coming first hand from the source. Think of it as a massively extended section of the team interviews you used to get in gaming mags of the time. It is a bit of a shame though when it comes to the games themselves as we would have loved even more screenshots and more context with regards to how the games have aged and the influence they have had – outside of the interviews about them.

But there’s no arguing that the interviews here are extensive, insightful and entertaining. The book presents first-hand accounts right from the start of the company as a computer shop all the way up to the much later Sumo Digital days. All of the major game releases are also well covered with insightful and interesting input from developers and programmers who worked on them. If you’ve ever wanted the inside scoop on ‘Thing on a Spring’ or even ‘Actua Soccer’ then look no further.

The other thing that really stands out is the connection Gremlin had to other historical events that where happening at the time. As the shop and company where based in Sheffield there’s some interesting commentary on the environment around the place during touchstone moments such as the miners strikes and the fact that this turn of events led to Monty Mole becoming a miner himself and Scargill being set up as the last boss of the game.

Overall, A Gremlin in the Works is a well-researched and detailed account of one of the most iconic companies in the micro-computer era told by those who were there. While it may not be as instantly accessible as the visual compendiums and box art table books it will be of interest to those who want to dig into the fine detail of gaming history. It’s commendable that someone has put this much effort into recording such an important time in the industry and as such it should be respected and recognised as the important document it is.


*picture from Bitmap Books.

Friday, 26 November 2021

Cotton 100% (Switch Review)

 

Written by Dan Gill

Ratalaika is on a mission at the moment. It seems the publisher is determined to bring a load of 16-bit era shooters to modern platforms, and this can only be a good thing, even if some of the games themselves aren’t exactly classics, it’s nice to have some sense of preservation. Their recent releases of Cotton titles are appreciated, being the series never had a widespread release back in the 90s, and copies of the original carts fetch silly money these days.

Cotton 100% is the second game in the series about the eponymous witch. A side scrolling shooter with some light RPG elements, the game’s design is very much of the Parodius and Pop ‘n Twinbee camp, favouring bright, fantasy themed levels and cute character designs over the usual sci-fi fare that normally defines the genre. It looks good, too. The bright backgrounds and characters offer a refreshing change from the futuristic theme of most SCHMUPs, and even though things can get busy on screen, the backdrop never causes things in the fore to be missed. When things get really busy on screen, there is noticeable slowdown sadly, and it’s a shame this couldn’t have been fixed in the port.

The gameplay itself is pretty standard, but enjoyable enough. Cotton earns power ups (the type can be changed by shooting it repeatedly), and experience is earned through destroying enemies. If you manage to avoid losing lives, this ends up making Cotton death on broom. As such, the game can feel a little easy compared to other examples of the genre, and the power up system is a little simple when compared with Parodius’ Gradius-aping approach.

Along with the original game, there are some modern improvements as you’d expect of almost any reissue these days (screen filters, cheats, rewind and the like), but as with Panorama Cotton there’s no English script. Each level is preceded by a brief anime style intro relaying the story with Japanese text. It’s a shame an English translation is missing, as it would elevate the game from a decent port to something that feels more like a labour of love.

As it stands, with the removal of the usual barriers of the cost of an original copy of the game (or the moral dilemma of venturing down the emulation route), this is still a welcome release. The game - while different to most in the broader shoot ‘em up genre – isn't one that stands out than others in its niche field of cutesy shooters. It’s an enjoyable, pretty romp through what I’m sure is a fun story, and is worth a look, just expect to be charmed rather than challenged.

7/10

Monday, 22 November 2021

Arcade Tycoon Review (Steam)

 

Written by Thomas Sharpe

During a hot summer, somewhere in Normandy, and in a water park I was electrocuted by a pinball machine. Amidst rickety flumes and gravel pathways that pricked your feet, an attendant shrugged this off stating to my parents that I should have been wearing Wellington boots. Perhaps this was some sort of Napoleonic call-back; that I was vulnerable without the plastic namesakes, or perhaps the attendant honestly did not care about health and safety that much. Either way, I was brought back, like Proust, to this moment in a quiet corner of France, by Arcade Tycoon.

Nostalgia is the name of the game with this title. It is a kind-hearted reminiscence of arcades of pop-culture. I have no such memories of the sort of arcades this game is trying to engage. These are the arcades of America, with John Hughes and ‘80s stuff. Kids leaning against cabinets and Space Invaders and those sit-down two-person Pac-Man tables with their bleary glass. What we get in Arcade Tycoon is this, with the game structure probably widely received as Theme Hospital, but I was far more reminded of violent pizzeria simulator Pizza Tycoon.

The game looks good, and obvious love has been poured by the small team into the cheerful aesthetics that you can populate your arcade. In a well-structured tutorial, you can get to grips with the basics (placing cabinets, managing power, hiring staff, upgrades, amenities, and so on) and then you’re let out into other locations, each with their own challenges. There are few surprises in the fundamentals; buy some cabinets and manage how much they cost; place down some vending machines to keep people refreshed; hire some staff to fix stuff, and a Roomba cleaning robot thing to funnel up trash. Customers come in, hang out, drop litter, play games, and give you their cash and feedback on what sucks and what un-sucks. Paint the walls, place up decals that sort of look like things from famous games, but don’t because copyright probably. I recommend the skeleton decorations.

This side of Arcade Tycoon is functional and mildly fun, but sadly, the surrounding management part (i.e., the Tycoon bit), I felt, was unbalanced and clunky. The user-interface is the first thing that got on my goat, as it looks the part, but is lacking in clarity and sense. From the way windows block others to symbols and organisation, it just felt a bit like an obstacle after a while. Further, there is a system of upgrading and unlocking new options for developing your arcade. You gain stars as a secondary currency by accepting and completing challenges that appear on a list, and these stars can be spent on upgrades. The upside of this is that the challenges can sometimes be fun and push you to do interesting things with your arcade. Other times, it requires you to undo your hard work and undermine your efforts. I can see the crazy appeal of this, and maybe I play far too much of much more po-faced serious management games, but I just didn’t want to work against myself to get much needed upgrades.

Despite there being a vast array of assets, the visual style is busy. Be prepared for your eyes to be bombarded with authentically jarring art. Personally, I liked it, but I do think there could be a few more types of customers. Feels like the clone farm sometimes.

I really wanted to like this more than I did, as I believe it is created from a fun and cheerful place, but the management aspects were all over the shop. The world, however much it is somewhere I’d like to spend more time in, reflects little sense back out to me, and so I got little from it to scratch a fun-casual management game itch.


Overall 5/10

Friday, 19 November 2021

The Secret History of Mac Gaming: Expanded Edition Review

Bitmap books has done a wonderful job of presenting some beautifully laid out books that show off the look and feel of gaming systems from years gone by and act as quick injections of nostalgia. The Secret History of Mac Gaming is different to the bulk of their output in that this is a much more in-depth and less picture heavy insight into a world that we dare say many gamers will have little to no knowledge of (including ourselves). It’s a good thing then that this hefty hardback can back up the promise of its premise with well researched and fascinating writing from author Richard Moss.

Before we get into that, we should stop to admire the stunning cover design of the book. In all its glory we have an early Apple Mac computer displayed in the same graphical style as the first Apple Mac OS screen displays. Despite never owning one (and rarely playing one), the computer that emerges from the dot based art conjures instant nostalgia and we just knew after seeing the care that has been taken with it that the rest of the book would meet a similar level of quality.

It’s worth noting though that this book really is more of a serious and in-depth look at a key company and time in video game history. It’s not the sort of book that can be just flicked through like so many other of the company’s releases. This really requires sitting and reading for a decent period of time in order to get the most out of it. That’s not particularly difficult though as the stories and interviews within are really well handled which means it remains consistently interesting throughout its four hundred and eighty plus pages.

For those wanting to dive into specific sections of the story there is a very clear layout and chapter separation so that is still very much possible. But most of the bulk of this book is text with only a few screenshots used to highlight certain games being spoken about so you’ll need to read a whole chapter at a time to make much sense of it.

The book is a treasure trove of information though. Our personal favourite of which is the chapter based around Apple’s attempt to break into the console market with Bandai after creating the Pippin. We’ll admit that we had never even heard of this and the story of the chaos and different approaches the two companies had to this is a great insight into the industry at the time. It’s something that is often overlooked in the wider retro gaming community so having a spotlight placed on it here is most welcome and will hopefully get readers looking into more obscure and forgotten systems out there which can only be a good thing.

Overall, Author Richard Moss has done a brilliant job in turning a real passion project, which he clearly holds dear, into something that is both informative and interesting to read. This book is perhaps aimed at a bit more of a niche audience than many of Bitmap Books releases but for anyone who remembers the Apple as a gaming machine or is interested in the history of video games and game development this is an absolutely essential read.

 

*picture from Bitmap Books website

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Panorama Cotton (Switch Review)

 

“Welcome to the fantasy zone. Get ready!” will elicit fond memories from many gamers from the mid to late 80s. Space Harrier was a refreshing take on the shoot-em-up genre back in 1985, and its port from arcade to home computer and console only bolstered its popularity. While the rail shooter enjoyed some popularity past the Yu Suzuki classic, it often felt like the genre was a bit gimmicky during the 16-bit era. The true sense of speeding towards the horizon was restricted by the hardware running the game - at least until the true 3D era of gaming came about. Panorama Cotton sits in this overlap of generations and suffers because of it.

The third game in the “cute-em-up" Cotton series, you control the eponymous Cotton, a witch on a broomstick whose aim is to get rid of all the burnt willow in the kingdom, as it’s believed this is causing Queen Velvet to behave erratically. Unfortunately, none of this comes across in Ratalaika’s port, as there’s no English translation of the script. This is most surprising, given their solid port of Gley Lancer.

The game itself is standard on rails fare, and hasn’t aged particularly well. To be fair to Panorama Cotton, not many rail shooters from the era do fare well, but being this was released a year after the SNES classic StarFox/Starwing, it was a step back, even then. It stands out from others by having branching paths throughout levels, which is a nice touch, and there are some really nice graphical flourishes here and there (in the first level Cotton heads over the cliff and through a waterfall, which is fairly effective for the then aging Mega Drive), but otherwise it’s much like Space Harrier or Afterburner II – a horizon and some rocks hurtling towards you.

Things get busy on screen throughout, and at some points there’s noticeable slowdown. Power ups can get lost among the chaos, and it’s often tough to see what you’re picking up. You can change what benefit a pick up provides by shooting it, so it’s often a case of blasting away and hoping for the best.

As with many ports, there are some tweaks here and there (rewind mode, save states, cheats) alongside the original game, which is always appreciated. This is also the cheapest way to buy the game too, as the original MD release apparently only had 4000 copies printed, so you’re saving at least £500 going by today’s eBay prices. The lack of an English script translation is a little disappointing, and the game is a product of its time, but if you like your curios this may be worth picking up. However, if you’re more interested in gameplay there are better rail shooters out there to spend your money on.

5/10

Monday, 15 November 2021

Mega Cat Studio Collection 2 Review (Evercade)

 

The first Mega Cat collection was excellent. A real surprise, the collection of new games developed for retro systems had a selection of the Evercade handhelds best games on it with the real standout being the Strider inspired Tanzer. As such, this second collection of eight games has a lot to live up to.

It doesn’t get off to the best start with the first thing you see when you open the box being a leaflet letting you know that Roniu’s Tale wasn’t finished in time for the collection and will be patched in later via a system update. This is annoying as it’s exactly the kind of thing that the Evercade is meant to be avoiding. It’s also a shame as the few levels of the game that are included here in an extended demo show signs of it being a pretty good puzzle/maze style game.

Puzzle games, mostly with platform elements, form the real basis for this second collection. There is one pure platformer here in Devwill Too though. It’s ok but somewhat uninspired. The between level comic scenes are nice but the game repeats assets too much and just feels average all round. Still, at least it’s quite short.

The trio of puzzle platformers fair a lot better. Alter Ego is an excellent game where you have to control two versions of a character at once with you movement being mirrored. The key is to swapping back and forth to the ‘active’ version of your character at the right time in order to avoid traps and monsters. Some creatures and traps will kill your active dude while others will kill your non-active one so it’s a constant test of reflexes throughout and certainly a game we’d like to see more of in the future.

Gluf, is also an excellent game which puts a twist on the ‘paint all the blocks’ genre. Here you have to charge yourself up on a battery block then move over tiles to change their colour. If you run out of charge you have to go back to the block and charge up again. This starts out simple enough but once you get platforms involved which can only be stepped on a certain number of times it makes you really stop and plan a route around the levels. Yazzie follows a similar style but here you are collecting gold bars and need to consider how to use pick axes to remove blocks. There is also a bug in one of the later levels which make sit impassable so you’ll need a code in order to complete the game. This aside though, it’s also great fun and something well worth playing through.

The puzzling continues with Romeow and Julicat which is a cross between Tetris and Pipemania. Here you have a board where Tetris shapes need to be placed. The idea is you need to complete a certain amount of placements in order to complete the level. On later levels these can reach into the hundreds so the challenge comes in placing shape so that they form lines and disappear. This then means there is room to put more down. If you run out of space it’s game over. We would have liked the levels to be a bit shorter as it can be quite a slow game but it works well enough and you can always use the save states to take a break.

Misplaced, is another inventive attempt at a puzzle game. Here you view a single screen level from above and have to kind of draw lines and shapes with your character. Once you have done this the idea is to match the line up so it then reaches another part of the floating levels. Your character can then walk along the line to the new location. While doing this you also need to collect gems and avoid enemies. Sometimes the floor falls away as well just for extra peril. Again, it’s not quite perfect but works well enough as a fun distraction.

The one game here that stands out as being different from the rest is Arkagis Revolution. This is a top down maze blaster where you control a ship sent out on missions to blast stuff. It’s probably the most high profile game on the cart and it’s pretty solid. The gimmick with it is you can rotate the ship through 360 degrees as you zoom around in a sort of mode 7 style way. We would suggest playing around with the control settings as much as you can because the thing plays a whole lot better if you can get as much of the rotating on the Evercade shoulder buttons as possible. It can get a bit samey and you feel like you can’t quite see enough of the screen but its solid blasting action and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Overall, the second Mega Cat Studio collection is pretty solid overall. It lacks a bit of the variety of the first cart and there’s nothing here as spectacular as Tanzer (but what is), but there is still more than enough here to justify the price tag. The lack of a complete Roniu’s Tale can’t be overlooked but we are hopeful that this will be addressed soon and the game itself seems decent. The three puzzle platformers and Arkagis Revolution are all great fun and the other games provide a good enough distraction. If Mega Cat Studios keeps up this level of quality we’ll be more than happy to have more carts from them in the future.

 

Alter Ego                                         4/5

Arkagis Revolution                        4/5

Devwill Too                                     2/5

Gluf                                                  4/5

Misplaced                                       3/5

Romeow and Julicat                      3/5

Roniu’s Tale                                    no score

Yazzie                                              4/5

Monday, 8 November 2021

Spelunky Review (Switch)

Spelunky has been around for quite a while in one form or another and it proved to be a decent move when it arrived on Xbox Live Arcade some time ago. It’s taken a while, but now the rock hard exploration game has made its way to the Switch
and shows it’s just as addictive now as it’s always been.

The game has a very simple premise. You need to guide your explorer deeper and deeper into a cave while collecting treasure. The twist comes when you realise that each time you enter the cave the levels generate randomly. This means you never know what obstacles you are going to come up against. Unlike most games with randomly generated levels, here it actually works.

Starting in the cave world, every four levels completed will see you move onto new areas with new hazards and enemies. These include jungles, ice caves, temples and a host of secret areas such as hell itself. Each area also has random events that can occur such as the dead rising from the grave or large areas of open water. This helps keep things varied and fresh as you continually die and have to re-negotiate the levels.

While moving from one area to the next you will also come across the tunnel man. Meeting him three times and giving up the equipment or money he asks for will see a short cut opened to that area of the cave. This helps to ease the frustration of having to make your way through levels you have already beaten but comes at the cost of having your run not admissible to the score board. 

To start with Spelunky can be a frustrating and unforgiving game but the more you play the more it will get its hooks into you. It takes time but eventually you will learn to take obstacles one at a time and become ever more cautious as you delve deeper and deeper. To help you in your quest you have a number of different items at your disposal. 

You start out with ropes which can be fired to create safe routes to climb up and down and bombs which to clear path ways. There are a whole host of other objects available as well. Things such as jetpacks, climbing gloves and freeze guns can be purchases from shop keepers in exchange for the gold and gems you’ve found. Placement is random so you’re never quite sure what you are going to get.

As you get more and more used to the way you have to approach the game you’ll soon find yourself racing through the levels but it never becomes easy. You are always only one slip away from death and even the most experienced of adventurers can be easily caught out with a miss timed jump or careless fall. Some of our attempts lasted only a few seconds before death while others became slow and careful pursuits as we tried to get the last item needed to the tunnel man to open a shortcut. It all adds to the fun and Spelunky is tactile enough to be played with whichever approach you wish.

Overall, while it’s fair to say that Spelunky isn’t for the feint hearted it is undeniably an excellent game. Gamers who are like the ‘Rogue-like’ format will be in exploration heaven here. The ability to play on the Vita is also a match made in heaven (though graphics can be a little small at times). If you’re up for a tough and rewarding platformer then Spelunky is the game for you. Even against tough competition it’s clear it’s a cut above other games of its type.

Overall 9/10

Monday, 1 November 2021

Gleylancer Review (Switch)

 

Written by Dan Gill

Shoot ‘em ups were ten-a-penny on Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse; Zero Wing, Steel Empire, Hellfire, Gynoug, Thunderforce, I could go on. Some are remembered as being the finest of their genre (Thunderforce IV, take a bow), while some live on as memes (I’m looking at you Zero Wing). Some titles slipped through the net, and never really received the recognition they deserved. This is where Gleylancer sits.

Gleylancer originally only released in Japan, but eventually made it to western audiences via the Wii’s Virtual Console service. When it was originally released in 1992 it was met with mixed reviews (and was even slated on its Wii release by some), but upon playing it it’s hard to see why. It looks similar to Thunderforce IV, has some lovely anime style cutscenes, and plays well. Perhaps it was a sign of the times where it was another shooter in a sea of many, but now with this Switch port it’s pitched at a tempting price point for fans of the genre.

The story – as told through the game’s lovely cutscenes – details teenage star fighter pilot Lucia’s quest to fight through an alien race’s defences in order to rescue her father, who happens to be a high-ranking admiral in the Federation navy.  While the story isn’t all that important in a game like this, the presentation is great, and it’s nice to have the action broken up with a bit of context. However, if you’re just looking to blow stuff up you can skip the story.

The basic gameplay of Gleylancer is much the same as in any other shooter; blast enemies, dodge bullets and objects. Upon starting a new game, you get to choose your “mover system” (think R-Type's “bits”). You can have the support craft shoot in the direction you’re moving, shoot in the reverse direction, lock on to enemies and so on. The configuration you choose remains with you throughout the game.

Once you start the first level you’re met with an assault of parallax scrolling asteroids in the background, something else that brings to mind TFIV, but it’s initially off-putting. Enemies and bullets can be hard to spot, and later in the level you’ll need to avoid debris that can’t be destroyed. The initial experience isn’t particularly pleasant, especially if you’re playing in handheld mode. However, once you get past level one, things are a lot clearer, and it’s easier to focus on the action.

The game offers the usual fare; blast smaller ships, battle a boss at the end of each level. There are sections however which focus on dodging and manoeuvring through tight sections in levels, meaning you’ll release your grip on the fire button every now and then. This adds a bit of variety, and some tense moments as you squeeze the Gleylancer through the narrowest of gaps.

The game offers a decent challenge, but is still easier than some of its contemporaries, and would come with a recommendation even if it was just the ROM dumped onto the eShop. Thankfully, developer NCS has put in the effort you’d expect of M2. The original game is presented in all its 16-bit glory, with the features and original translation intact. On top of this they’ve added a version of the game with modern conveniences such as a rewind function, various display options, a new script translation, save states, and perhaps most importantly of all, the ability to switch between “movers” on the fly. These updates make the game far more accessible to the modern gamer, and there’s even a cheat mode available.

So, a triumph of a port, then. There’s enough here for genre fans to sink their teeth into, and the game is accessible enough for those wanting to dip their toe into the often-tough world of SCHMUPs. Hopefully there’ll be enough interest here to encourage Ratalaika to publish more shooters from the Mega Drive that haven’t already made their way to modern consoles. I for one would love to see Gynoug receive the same treatment that Gleylancer has, but for now I’m quite happy to jump back into the Gleylancer to rescue Lucia’s father again.

 

9/10

Monday, 25 October 2021

Metroid Dread Review (Switch)

 

It’s been a long road to Metroid Dread. It’s not as if Metroid games even come around every console generation, but the once cancelled Dread has been worth the wait. It’s something truly special.

First of all, it’s a good idea to point out that Mercury Steam where also responsible for the other most recent Metroid game – Samus Returns on the 3DS. Samus Returns really divided fans and critics alike and to be honest it’s too long, the controls are awkward and gimmicky and even the general room layouts don’t really work. So it’s both a massive relief and somewhat of a surprise to find that Dread has removed pretty much every criticism levelled at that game. As such you can dismiss any worries you may have had about the development team. This is not Samus Returns.

As soon as you start playing it’s incredibly clear that a lot of thought has gone into how Samus controls. This has to be one of the most satisfying movement mechanics we’ve seen in years. Samus moves like a dream with everything the player does being slick and solid. At its finest it recalls games like Bayonetta and Vanquish with everything that unfurls on the screen being part of some kind of eye popping ballet of death as one move seamlessly transitions into another. Speed runners should have an absolute ball with this. Again, Samus Returns this is not.

Complimenting the controls, the look and sound of the game set the scene perfectly. The lush opening cinematics are shortly followed by dropping the player into beautifully detailed landscapes to explore. Each area of Dread has its distinctive own personality with ice, lava and botanical areas filled with effects and small details such as the glowing emergency lights on Samus’ suite when she enters a powered down room. The thing looks incredible from start to finish with design of the highest order present throughout. Even the loading screens as you move between sections are gorgeous.

The soundscape is equally impressive. The game moves away from the series trademark of soaring scores and replaces them with more atmospheric tracks that add to the sinister and foreboding feeling that permeates throughout the game. This is highlighted during the EMMI sections which are absolutely chilling and really add to the feeling of erm… dread. If Metroid ever decides to go full survival horror this shows it could probably pull it off.

Speaking of the EMMI, the new gimmick of the game works well. There are seven in total and all are impervious to your attacks until you get hold of a one use upgrade for your arm cannon. They are restricted to patrolling specific areas of the map which are clearly marked with special doors. As interesting as it would have been to have one following you around the entire map like a Terminator, in practice it would have got old fast as the EMMI perform instant kills on you if you get caught. Your only defence is an incredibly short window in which to counter which leaves the machines stunned so you can slide through their legs and run away.

Luckily the game checkpoints well so when you do get caught you can start again from just outside the area. The only real way to get through these areas is to run like hell and hope the EMMI don’t find you. The game does a great job of making your bad ass bounty hunter feel helpless in these sections with the diegetic noise the robots make doing everything it can to make your skin crawl.

Other highlights include some absolutely epic boss fights with beasties that normally take up most of the screen. These can seem imposing at first but every boss has attack patterns which once learned will see you down them remarkably quickly. In general the bosses didn’t stop our progress too much and the only real spike we found was in the game’s final showdown. Keep at it and you’ll get through though and there isn’t anything here that long time Metroid fans will feel overwhelmed by.

In terms of the flow of the general game it should come as little surprise that it follows the general Metroid format of explore map, find skill and explore the bits of the map you couldn’t explore before. Where it does differ slightly is that at some points the game becomes more linear by funnelling you down certain sections by locking doors. The skills you acquire are both the usual Metroid set mixed with some new additions. There’s a slight issue here in that some of the skills, such as the cloaking device, are used only a handful of times throughout the game which is a shame.

Overall though, Metroid Dread is a resounding triumph. The sound, look, design and control of the game is absolutely spot on. The feeling of exhilaration you get when escaping an EMMI or downing one of the gigantic bosses is unparalleled and the plot is a series high with twists and turns all the way from start to finish. It’s an incredible achievement that in a series with such a high water mark and in a genre which is so oversaturated with solid entries that this stands at very top of the pile. Whether you think it’s better than Super Metroid will likely be based on when you first played the seminal SNES classic but Dread is a game that deserves to sell systems and is an undeniable, remarkable classic.

Overall 10/10

Monday, 18 October 2021

Unmetal Review (Steam)


Written by Thomas GJ Sharpe

It is surprising to me that there aren’t more send-ups of po-faced action games, and films for that matter. Indie darling Broforce was the last I can properly recall, but it was a through and through celebration of over-the-top action. Unmetal is Metal Gear done by Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, and is crass and clever, vintage and innovative, and most importantly, funny.

Jesse Fox is as absurd as Solid Snake. Exaggerated, hyperactive and farcical. Kojima’s weird family of mercenaries bickering about global espionage is as unbelievable as UnMetal’s world of pompous characters and bizarre situations. The developers, UnEpic, have skewered the tactical espionage action perfectly. Fox is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and we play out the actions of his adventure while it is being discussed in an interrogation. This framing allows the gameplay to bend to this more than unreliable narrator. In-between the stealthy knocking out of guards, crafting of items (in a point-and-click style) and boss fights, Fox tells his tale to a dubious intelligence investigator. Were there piranha-men born from a botched artificial insemination procedure, lurking in the sewers? Why not. The flicking between gameplay and narration is effortlessly handled, allowing for a compelling mixture of story and action.

The gameplay is pretty challenging, often switching modes. This means that the segments of any gameplay style don’t really reach any true depth. There is little to master here, but the sheer number of ideas, pace changes and reversals means UnMetal is agile. There is a more puzzle-style challenge, even to the action. There isn’t anything you would be surprised at, level-wise, but the areas are contained and well designed. I got stuck a few times just by missing a path to travel, but most sections don’t outstay their welcome. The boss fights (presented with Street Fighter-esque title cards) break up the chapters, giving the player a sense of progression. As does the simple upgrading system, providing a small amount of player choice. The aforementioned interrogation-gameplay duality, however, provides the most effective impact. The dialogue choices made in the interview impact the action, with little discernible hint at the effects of the different lines. Some make the game harder, some easier. All are amusing.

The voice-acting is superb, sending up all the stereotypes of the genre. There is something joyful to me about people putting on gravely, gruff-man voices for this amount of time. There is dedication here. The music is tightly wound and evokes just the right feel to remind you of levels from oh-so-many titles. Aesthetically, the design just works, it falls into place to feel nostalgic, but without the drawbacks, limitations and frustrations that playing the inspiration material sometime bring.

The last time I had this much fun with a parody game was Darkside Detective, and much like that sublime title, the balance between homage and nostalgia with the subversion and innovation make this a rare gem. This is goofing off at its most elegant.

Overall 9/10

Monday, 11 October 2021

G-Darius HD Review (Switch)

We reviewed the excellent Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ recently which proved to be a stunning and very welcome addition to the wealth of side scrolling shooters out there. Now Switch gamers can take a look at something from a little further back in the long running franchise with this arcade version of G-Darius.

The most notable thing to begin with is that this game isn’t meant to be running on dual monitors like it’s more recent entry in the series so you don’t get the small screen size which proved a controversial choice for Dariusburst. The visuals are rough around the edges though, taking on the polygon heavy style of the era. There is an HD port here but in reality it barely looks any different. So, unless you are a fan of the look of the 32-bit age then this may be too much for you to bear – which is a shame as beneath the look of the thing there is one hell of a blaster here.

The core Darius mechanics are still in place with the colour orb power up system working much the same as always. The key gimmick is that players can trap enemies with a kind of electric lasso and draw them back to their ship. Depending on the enemy captured these then add things to your ship such as extra blasters or a shield. This technique can also be used to counter the boss’s energy discharges leading to big scores. It’s a simple system but one that adds options to the players arsenal while encouraging experimentation and flexibility.

General level design is of a consistently high quality and each area is varied and packed full of things to blast. At a point in each level you also get the chance to choose two different routes through the game as well meaning replay value is massively increased as it’ll take  a while to see all the different variations on offer. The bosses are of course insanely awesome as always but then this is a Darius game so what else would you expect?

Another thing of note is that the slowdown from the original game is still present here. This is somewhat controversial as on one hand you might have expected this to be removed (especially in the HD version of the game), but on the other hand this was tried in other recent versions of the game and it could certainly be argued that they suffered massively in terms of how they played because of it.

Overall, it’s always good to see classic games like this make their way to new systems and new audiences. On the other hand we can certainly see how people not familiar with the game the first time round might not get into it. It’s certainly one for fans of the series and the original as this is very much the game you remember but we wouldn’t recommend it as the place to start for those looking to get into side scrolling shooters. Especially not when Dariusburst is sitting right next to it on the eshop with its crazy array of options modes and general flash.

 

Overall 7/10


Friday, 8 October 2021

The Sega Master System Visual Compendium Review

While we have a pretty decent knowledge of all things retro there are always blind spots. Despite the fact we’ve gathered a modest Master System collection together it would be fair to say that we are far from experts when it comes to the console. This latest Bitmap Book seemed a perfect opportunity to remedy that. So with thoughts of Alex Kidd in our head it’s time to take a look back at the much underrated ‘other’ 8-bit console.

As is standard with the visual compendiums you get the usual high quality cover and slip case. This time the colour is black which means your book won’t visually match other compendiums you have but makes sense in the grander scheme of things. As usual, the cover features a host of characters from iconic games which hits the nostalgia button right from the start. The compendium also comes with a set of old style Red/Blue 3D glasses to view some of the pages with. It’s a nice touch that ties in with the Master Systems hit and miss attempts at playing with early 3D in some of its games. Sadly, we didn’t get much from the 3D effect when looking at the pages – but then this could be down to colour-blindness so your experience may differ.

The book follows the now proven route in terms of content. You get the usual excellent intro full of information to both make you an instant expert and also pique your interest into what’s to come and an excellent selection of interviews from developers and industry veterans of the time such as Mutsuhiro Fuji and Steve Hanawa. The games are mainly presented with a single, well chosen, screen shot spread over two pages with decent amount of text to give further information about the game. 

Where this book does differ from other visual compendiums we have seen is in that some games have extra sections attached to them which fold out. This normally takes the form of level maps showing a large area of the selected game. These also come with extra written content as well as an added bonus. It’s a really nice touch that makes the compendium stand out and offers up a great physical Easter egg of sorts.

Away from the individual games there is also a host of excellent pictures of Master System peripherals sprinkled throughout and some features which focus on certain parts of the catalogue such arcade games and a section dedicated to different parts of the hardware – the photographs of which are absolutely sublime. There is also a section dedicated to the box art from different regions which showcases some of the best designs of the time so get ready to look at a lot of white square covered boxes.

Perhaps most interesting though is the section dedicated to the Master System release in Brazil. This covers a lot of the regions exclusive game and gives a good insight into the history surrounding the whole operation. Just try and resist looking for those games on Ebay or you may have a small cardiac event.

Overall, The Master System Visual Compendium is up to the same high standards of Bitmap Books other releases. We felt that this book in particular gave us a real urge to go and find a lot of these games and add them to our collection. As we weren’t experts on the console in the first place we found it a great way to get a detailed overview of the interesting and diverse back catalogue and also the systems place in the market in term of historical context. We may not have known much about the life of the Master System before this but after reading through we certainly love it more than ever.


*picture taken from the Bitmap Books website.

Monday, 4 October 2021

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review (Steam)

Written by Thomas G.J Sharpe

Wise-crackin’ angels vaguely playing out a mangle of lesser-known Judeo-Christian texts? Sursum corda! You got it! And somehow, wherever I looked for information on El Shaddai, it was sprinkled in the risky words “cult classic”. Sadly, I simply do not see it.

This is pitched as a third-person action game (feat. Mild platforming) with some other bold claims than it’s cultish-classicism; “deeply artistic”, “outstanding aesthetics” and “exceptional setting”. Shaddai is proud of its design, and in a way, it probably still stands out after 10 years. It is “unique”, but I find it hard to apply “artistic” in the way I feel that the marketing wants me to feel about it. Stylistic might be better; it is an interesting blend of crisp, heavenly brightness with piercing colours that provide a jarring, otherworldliness, or even between-worldliness to it. In this way, Shaddai puts a lot of burden on the visual adornments to hook us in.

But it falls apart as soon as you squint past the divine rendering and play the game after a run of bargain-basement story-telling cinematics (these pop up constantly throughout the game, never once being interesting, tense, moving, funny or any such thing). You play as Enoch (quick search… ancestor of Noah… wrote a bunch of guff about demons and monsters to make ancient people (and the modern day credulous) terrified of everything) who is writing a bunch of stuff out in a bunch of books and is led by Lucifer (who has a cell-phone which he uses to smart-talk Yahweh on) to defeat seven fallen angels who have confused reality on Earth. Or something.

And I mean, or something. Because, despite the interest I personally have in the development of superstitious cults, like Christianity, this is not a compelling interpretation. Primarily, as the player never once cares about the fate of Enoch himself. He is devoid of sympathy and interest, there is no character arc to speak of. His struggles against amusingly designed enemies and bosses with his divine weapon-stick (looks like that awful company Tesla designed a Bat’Leth) are without risk. Not just in a narrative, conceptual sense either. The combat is, at best, functional. There is little to no development beyond a couple of mild combos. If you consider that Bayonetta was released two years prior to this, it really shows its weaknesses.

On the more positive side, yes, this is an interestingly designed game, and the mixture of 2D platforming into the 3rd person action is a nice idea. It never quite translates, however, going no deeper than mild changes of perspective and settings, thinking aesthetic abstraction is enough to win the day. It simply is not enough for me. For a game to not excite me that has as it’s primary game loop as hack-n-slash action, is shocking. Again, I just do not see the appeal. Neither fantastic enough, thrilling enough to inspire anything in me more than a resounding, Godly, meh.

Overall 5/10

Monday, 27 September 2021

Indie Heroes Collection 1 Review (Evercade)

While most of the Evercade carts have been collections of games from yester year the team has also dabbled with modern developers who make games for older consoles. The Mega Cats cartridge was pretty strong overall and the double cart of Xenocrisis and Tanglewood was also great. Now Blaze have gone one step further by collating a collection of games from indie and homebrew developers and it’s an interesting mixed bag.

The majority of the games on the collection are of the platform variety and range widely in quality. At the bottom end of the scale you have Ploid which is filled with reused assets, repeated rooms and slowdown. It actually plays ok but is basically an unfinished tech demo. Then we have the solid but flawed Doodle World and Foxy Land.

Doodle World has a great hand drawn visual style and gives off major Gameboy Mario land vibes. There’s a few bugs in it with some pickups not triggering and certain places can see you get stuck in a death loop until you all your lives diminish. Foxy Land starts off well but is let down by an inaccessible colour palette meaning objects like switches are difficult to see and whoever put that Monkey Boss in needs a serious word about level design.

Another in the ‘fun but flawed’ category is Debtor which is a sort of puzzle platformer. It’s great fun but there are serious issues with blind jumps that just show a lack of external testing. It’s still good but without those save states it would be a massively frustrating experience. There’s a couple of real winners on here as well though. Flea is basically the (even more), indie version of Super Meat Boy. Yet again it suffers from a strange colour palette at times but it’s consistently strong and fun throughout. Top of pile though and by far the most polished and well realised game here is Twin Dragons. This could have easily been a retail released NES game. It’s creative, fun and high quality in every aspect.

Away from the platformers there’s a host of other gems to discover. Kubo is incredibly short but it packs in a host of different game types and is a fun adventure game that you’ll likely return to from time to time. We just couldn’t help but like it. Angua, is a solid action RPG which basically involves you walking around dungeons hitting blobs and finding keys. We did get bored with it but it looks lovely and it’s a pretty accomplished experience. There’s also some filler here with Homebrew Wars a completely forgettable Smash Brothers alike and a special place in hell should be reserved for Uchusen which is the worst game we have ever played.

That’s right, Uchusen is the worst game ever. Worse than anything we played right from the Amstrad all the way up to present day. It’s a side scrolling shooter where you can’t move diagonally which has one repeated boss and about three enemies. You can complete it in under a minute. Which, to be honest, is still too long spent playing it.

Chain Break is an interesting Gameboy game where players have to run a side scrolling gauntlet avoiding obstacles and spikes. Aside from some strange scrolling it actually plays really well. It is great fun and a really inventive use of the Gameboy limitations. Deadeus, also does excellently with its Gameboy backbone producing a gripping adventure which you’ll want to continually return to as it has multiple endings. It’s dark and brooding and pretty horrific in subject matter in places but it tells an excellent story from start to finish.

The last two games are both cart highlights. Quest Arrest is a charming police based adventure running on what looks like the Pokemon engine. You get the colour version here exclusive to the cart which is nice and it sees you as a cop trying to clean up the mean streets of a town. The only down side is that combat is somewhat basic with no real change in tactics needed for the enemies. There’s a bug towards the end that resets your police points if you tackle a gang outside the bank as well but nothing that really derails the experience.

Alien Cat 2 is an awesome puzzle game where you have to make your way through a single screen maze picking up tokens before exiting through a door. It’s a well tried concept but it just works really here with a clever cloning gimmick. Again, there is a bug where one level has a missing bomb graphic but once you know where it is it’s easily avoided.

Overall, the first Indie Collection is a success. You can very much tell these are homebrew games as most of them needed better testing both in terms of how they play or in terms of bugs but that aside the majority of them are fun and creative ideas that are well realised. There’s also some real highlights here that show off serious talent. Twin Dragons and Alien Cat 2 especially are great and probably justify the purchase price alone and with a bit more refinement to combat system Quest Arrest could really be something special. There are a few duds but overall there’s a lot here to enjoy.

 

Overall -

Alien Cat 2                        4/5

Angua                                3/5

Chain Break                      4/5

Deadeus                           4/5

Debtor                              3/5

Doodle World                  3/5

Flea                                    4/5

Foxy Land                         3/5

Kubo                                  3/5

Ploid                                  2/5

Quest Arrest                    4/5

Homebrew war               2/5

Twin Dragons                  5/5

Uchusen                           1/5

Friday, 24 September 2021

Spelunky 2 Review (Switch)

So here we are. Almost ten years on from the first time that Spelunky made its way onto consoles and the sequel to one of the greatest indie games of all time is now here. Sequels to such high profile and iconic games often leave fans disappointed and you can’t get much more of a cult game than the first Spelunky. But somehow Spelunky 2 not only does not disappoint but also sparks all those glorious original Spelunky feelings once again.

For those that haven’t encountered the game before it’s a rogue-lite platformer where your progress is measured in tiny steps as you inch towards your adventuring goal. It’s possible to create a few permanent shortcuts to later levels but aside from that you are starting out with the same equipment on run one that you will be using on run one hundred.

In truth not an awful lot has changed with Spelunky 2. The aim is the same as you guide your character to the door at the bottom of each stage that sends them through to the next level while avoiding enemies and traps. The tunnel system remains pretty much the same and you are still equipped with the rope and bombs as before. The main change comes with the new environments and enemies that you encounter along with more bosses to survive.

The original mines, jungle, Ice caves and temple setup has now been replaced with more adventurous stages including lava filled volcanoes, Japanese inspired water levels and Egyptian inspired temples. There are also far more routes through the game with the final stage of each area leading to at least two different routes. There are of course the huge amount of secret areas and secrets still here that the original game was famous for as well. Stages are also far more varied in terms of enemies and look than in the original.

The game has also had a general visual upgrade. You may well not notice as it probably looks how you remember Spelunky did. But returning to the original reveals the increased use of colour, clarity and sprite size which shows the level of care and attention that has been put into it. One thing that hasn’t changed is the difficulty. Spelunky 2 is tough, perhaps even more difficult than the original and many players may well never see the later stages. If you are going in be prepared for a serious challenge.

Overall, Spelunky 2 is a welcome return for a much loved game. It’s more of the same but the levels and secrets are different enough that both games have their own identity and the sequel doesn’t simply feel like a re-tread. It’s also similar enough to the original to make hopping back and forth between them a fairly natural experience without needing to learn a load of different techniques or master a host of new skills. It’s a great achievement that Spelunky 2 still feels as special as the first and means players can happily buy both knowing a wealth of adventure options await them.

Overall 9/10