Monday 28 June 2021

Cyber Shadow Review (Steam)


Written by Thomas G Sharpe

Shadow is a cyborg; thus cyber. Awoken from his cyberslumber to defeat a biomechanical menace that needs some cyberjustice. Shadow has some intense cyberglare going on, that even his cheeky robo-sidekick cannot dissuade him from. As Shadow, you slash and jump and dash and fling and slice across Mekacity (which I guess is a blend of mecha and mega, maybe?) in this brutal ninjavania romp.

The two-shot of limited 8-bit visual aesthetic and pitch perfect bleep-bloop music set a nostalgic cyberstage. Playing on keyboard I re-binded a couple of keys to make them make sense and it chucks you straight in. You will recognise the form of this immediately; enemy patterns, timing your jumps and attacks. ‘Nuff cybersaid. OR IS IT…

Cyber Shadow, in measured, slow and deliberate moves, reveals its hand as a progressive evolution of Ninja Gaiden (it’s more direct ancestor than weird uncle Castlevania), not just an imitator. Checkpoints, rather than lives, may irk some cyberpurists, but I found it a well-needed cybersupport. After weeping after an hour of playing Soulsvania Salt and Sanctuary, or never really completing Metroid 2: Return of Samus on my Gameboy as a kid, it was nice to get a bit further into something of this ilk (disclaimer: have not completed Cyber Shadow as I am trash).

Alongside the cybercheckpoint system, which to me only half the time was placed correctly for my patience level, there is an upgrade system. New power-ups and abilities are unlocked at consoles which you pay for using the little tokens defeated enemies cyberspew out. This gave a sense of meaning to defeating enemies for me. Health is obtained from chests, and there are moments of back-tracking into secrets. In short, there is new-ness couched in this old-ness, and it is that personalisation, that mutability that gives Cyber Shadow a kick into something more identifiable, more itself, and therefore more enjoyable.

The sprite work is admirable but sits firmly in the unadorned 8-bit era. Yes, it is cyberevocative and the biomech denizens of Mekacity reminded me of some of Gradius: Interstellar Assault’s enemies, all spikes and giblets in a couple of parts. Animations are stripped back, movements are telegraphed reasonably well, and Shadow controls well. Indecision is not your cyberfriend, and often my inexperience was held up to harsh criticism by my lack of familiarity with platforming. In this sense, Cyber Shadow has strong DNA of its predecessors.

Cyber Shadow’s central thrust, to me, is that it has sacrificed the sweaty-cyberpalmed tension of having one-life-left for the persistence and compulsion of the one-more-go. It may well give more uninitiated players greater access. And why not indeed! A careful, considered and, importantly, fun piece of work like this should be able to be enjoyed on several cyberlevels.

I’d fully recommend cracking on the CRT and jittery video effects, because, why not? And enjoy the mindless story depicted in belting animations, while resisting the urge to snap your cyberkeyboard in half. With a limited-life mode option, slightly more forgiving jumping, and the soundtrack available to stream or download, I may even bump the score higher.

Overall 8/10

Friday 25 June 2021

Atari Lynx Collection 1 Review (Evercade)


Atari’s handheld is getting a much deserved lease of life on the Evercade. While the second collection arguably contains the more high profile Lynx releases,  this one still contains a number of games that often pop up on the ‘must have’ lists for the console. Seventeen Lynx cartridges are included here and they cover a wide range of genres. For the most part they are also pretty strong which helps to cements the Evercade as a truly viable alternative to the original hardware.

The cart contains a mixture of sport, platform, puzzle and arcade games along with a few curios such as the Megapak which is really just some fancy filler containing a calculator and a game and watch game. The other game that doesn’t really fit the mould is point and click adventure Dracula the Undead. Remarkable the Lynx interface for the game works really well and allows for an enjoyable experience for players exploring the castle.

The sports games included contain the weak Basket Brawl, but also the excellent Awesome Golf – which certainly lives up to its name. There’s a whole host of courses and clubs to pick from and it works perfectly as pick up and play title that also contains a surprising amount of depth. Malibu Biki Volleyball is a solid representation of the sport certainly fun in small doses and Jimmy Connors Tennis, though tricky to start, has a wealth of opponents and techniques to play with. It’s remarkable how well most of these retro sports titles hold up and there are certainly hours to be lost here for many a gamer on the move.

Puzzles games are also well represented. Xump is an addictive little game where players collapse platforms and have to plot a route to eliminate all of them in order to win the level. The basic premise is played around with as you progress introducing platforms that need to be touched more than once along with a host of other things which keep the experience compelling throughout.

Loopz is a shape matching game where players have to create loops of pipe in an enclosed area against the clock. Once a pipe loop has been formed it disappears (much like Tetris), and the score hunting continues. Ishido: The Way of the Stones, is a Shanghai-like matching games that is stupidly addictive and likely to take up far more of your time than it should. All of these games are welcome additions to the collection.

Perhaps unexpectedly there are also two 3D style games included. Unfortunately, neither of them is the exceptional port of Battlezone. Remanant, is the space take on it and it’s a little basic but Cyber Virus is a much better candidate for your time with some decent graphics and far more varied missions structure. We just hope Battlezone makes its way to the console in the future.

The collection also has a host of good platform games included. Scrapyard Dog is a basic, but great fun, handheld platform game. Players need to avoid enemies and make their way to end of each level as you chase after your stolen dog. Levels are varied in design and once you get used to the difficulty it’s a rewarding experience, it has some Gameboy Mario-esque flying sections. Gordo 106, follows much in the same vein as you play as a monkey trying to escape from a lab by throwing apples at scientists and avoiding traps. It’s another highlight from an already packed collection.

A slightly different take on the genre comes in the form of Power Factor. It takes more of a run and gun approach and also allows your character to fly around. It could do with the camera being zoomed out a bit as it can be difficult to avoid obstacles and traps but it remains a solid overall experience that is still worth playing.

Crystal Mines II: Buried Treasure, is an excellent take on the Boulder Dash/ Repton style and also contains several hundred levels to get through. It’s always adding something to the mix to keep things fresh as well and is one of the games you are likely to return to again and again. Just remember to bring your patience with you as this game can be tough.

The Lynx always did arcade conversions well and the Super Asteroids/Missile Command double included on here out performs the previous versions we have had on the Evercade. We are confident to say that these will be the versions that fans will return to the most.

The final game here is Super Sqweek which tries to combine elements from a ton of different sources into one glorious mess. The basic idea is you have to change the colour of tiles by walking over them and then when enough have been changed you can reach the exit. There are traps and enemies to avoid and you can also shoot which adds a sort of top down blaster element. There’s tons of things to play around with here and it’s a wonderfully unique and inventive game and this is a very good version of it.

Overall, the first Lynx collection may not have the big names that the second one does but contains so much quality spread across so many different genres that it is an utterly essential purchase. It ticks all the boxes and brings together a strong line up from a console that is difficult to source. This is the sort of collection that we hope we see more of on the Evercade and it’s one of the strongest releases available.

Overall –

Scrapyard Dog                                                                   4/5

Basketbrawl                                                                       2/5

Super Asteroids/Missile Command®                               4/5

Awesome Golf                                                                  4/5

Crystal Mines II: Buried Treasure                                    4/5

CyberVirus                                                                        3/5

Dracula the Undead                                                          3/5

Gordo 106                                                                         4/5

Ishido: The Way of Stones                                               4/5

Jimmy Connors Tennis                                                     3/5

Loopz                                                                                3/5

Malibu Bikini Volleyball                                                  3/5

MegaPak                                                                           N/A

Power Factor                                                                     3/5

Remnant                                                                            2/5

Super Sqweek                                                                   4/5

Xump                                                                                 4/5

Monday 21 June 2021

Narita Boy Review (Nintendo Switch)


Another world, another time; the 1980s. For those of a certain age the decade is a pop culture wonderland, full of treasured films, music, TV shows and games. The team at Studio Koba clearly fall into this age bracket (and if not, at least feel as though they should be), as Narita Boy is a mash-up of so many things from the era of big hair, neon design and synth-led pop music (your memories of the 80s may vary).

Narita Boy himself is a standard 80’s gamer kid that gets sucked into the Digital Kingdom of the game of the same name, one created by Lionel Pearl (also known as “The Creator” in game). Your aim is to stop the Stallions from corrupting the digital kingdom by restoring the creator’s memories. So far, so TRON, but the best part of the story is the glimpse you get into Lionel’s life when a memory is restored. These moments drive you to discover more about Lionel, a Steve Jobs/Shigeru Miyamoto style figure whose childhood experiences add a human face to the game. Without these quiet moments to cut through the techspeak it’s likely the story would have been mostly ignored.

As for the game itself, it feels like it wants to be a Metroidvania, but can’t quite bring itself to be. Often, you’ll reach a locked door and be told to locate a Techno Key to unlock it. Cue wandering around the area looking for the next NPC who will invariably tell you to speak to another NPC in order to locate the key, then backtrack to the locked door once you have it. As such, progression feels more DOOM than Symphony of the Night, and fells like a lazy design choice. It’s a shame, as you unlock plenty of abilities throughout which are on occasion used to reach previously inaccessible areas, but more often than not they’re used briefly then forgotten. Some may lead to a Battletoads-style surfing section (although nowhere near as frustrating), or changing into an animal form to progress through a forest, but are never used again. Thankfully, most will be used in combat, and this is the meat of the game.

Initially the combat consists of mashing the attack button, and feels flat. Over time, you gain a dodge move, then a charge attack, and so on. The enemies you encounter after each combat upgrade will make you use these abilities, and by the end of the game you’ve learned enemy attack patterns, when to dodge, when to recharge your health, when to switch fire forms to deal more damage, and when to attack. Mashing the attack button won’t see you through, so pattern recognition becomes essential in making progress. The combat is easily Narita Boy’s strongest point, as the platforming doesn’t quite feel right. Narita Boy feels more sluggish and weightier that his spindly frame suggests, yet thankfully there’s not too heavy a focus on pixel-perfect jumping.

The visual design throughout is firmly in TRON territory – a little neon lighting here and there, the setting as a whole – but it’s all been animated in a traditional 2D manner, frame by frame. This makes for great looking movement of characters and environments, much like The Game Kitchen’s Blasphemous or the rotoscoped classics Prince of Persia and Flashback. The backgrounds are mostly muted tones, bringing to mind games on the C64 (although I couldn’t help but think of the classic endless runner, Canabalt). The retro design even extends to the original Team 17 logo being used at the beginning of the game, something this old Commodore Amiga fan associates with his teenage years. It’s a nice-looking game, and everything is clear even during its more chaotic fights. The CRT filter over the top of the game (including video distortion on the edges of the screen) really adds to the atmosphere.

The music is a mixture of catchy synth and bit tunes (none catchier than the closing theme, something worth completing the game for), and the sound design overall is in keeping with those 80s vibes. However, hearing “Rest in FORCE!” each time you die may lead to frustration.

Narita Boy is a challenging title, but always feels as though it can be overcome. Enemies are varied, and most will need a different approach, be it shoulder charging to break a defence or goading them into attacking first, the fights are a memory game, and all the more rewarding when you’ve figured them out. The boss battles themselves are great fun - the final boss took me several attempts, but the feeling of accomplishment once it was defeated gave me that same feeling as beating a game back in the 8-bit days. The backtracking for keys leads to the game’s duller moments, but don’t diminish from the experience enough to spoil the enjoyment.

Narita Boy displays its 80s influence as boldly as a neon green shell suit. Some of its design choices harken back to a bygone age (key collecting, no world map), but this may well be by design - older games were often obscure – but I await the potential sequel with anticipation. Whether it decides to go down the Metroidvania route further or not (play it through to the end and you’ll see what I mean), I hope Studio Koba can at least match the quality and challenge of Narita Boy. After all, “we’re only gonna fail if we give up”.


Written by Dan Gill

Monday 14 June 2021

Piko Interactive Collection 2 Review (Evercade)


The first Piko Interactive collection was an oddball pick and mix of titles covering a wide range of genres. As a result there was really something for everyone to discover and enjoy. The second collection takes a more focused approach and contains a host of sports based titles. Retro based sports games can be hit and miss though so we weren’t sure what to initially make of the fourteen game line up.

Though there are undoubtedly highlights here we’ll get through the filler first – and unfortunately there is a sizable chunk of it. Winter and Summer Challenge for instance were never that great on first release and now the cramped screen space, confusing controls and unresponsive inputs really have not improved. While it may offer some fun in multiplayer there is very little to draw you back past the initial curious nostalgia.

The two football games here are also disappointing. World Trophy Soccer is slow and cumbersome and just made us wish International Superstar Soccer was an option. Considering we have Sensible Soccer coming it is easily forgettable. Football Madness’ only real claim to fame here is that it’s the first Playstation game to make one of the collections. It’s ok in multiplayer but really it’s a painfully average game despite the power ups and more arcade style of play.

Speaking of painfully average the two Shut Up and Jam games are also included. Once again we found ourselves thinking about much better games set in the genre. NBA Jam this isn’t, and both games feel lose with players having little weight to them and the game seeming too random to really get players to invest the time to develop skills. Again, as a multiplayer option it works much better.

While we are in the realm of American sport it’s fair to say Power Football certainly isn’t up there with the John Madden games either with the whole thing lacking the pace and intensity of the best video game depictions of American Football.  Beast Ball however is a great fun take on the sport with vikings, lizards and other creatures battering each other senseless. It lacks in terms of depth but it’s great for quick sessions. The only real issue with it is that this Mega Drive version of the game isn’t quite as good as the original Amiga version but it does capture the feel of the game well and should keep players returning to it.

Another often overlooked game is Eliminator Boat Duel on the NES which really finds a new lease of life here. In the original game you only have single life with which to complete the championship meaning you have to win every race first time or start again from the beginning. Here though the save state option has made the experience a lot more enjoyable and now players can really take in the mad cap races as you switch from top down to 3D racing views while avoiding obstacles and edging ahead of your opponent. It’s not the only racing game included here either with the painfully average Full Throttle All-American Racing another game that just sort of makes up the numbers.

Of much higher quality is the first GBA game to make its way to the Evercade in Racing Fever. The view may be way too zoomed in but it’s a fun top down racer with a decent selection of cars to choose from and has you racing against three opponents over a decent array of tracks.

The star of the show in this genre though is undoubtedly Top Racer 2 (Top gear 2), which will be a reason for many to pick up the cart. Reasonably pricey to get hold of now it’s an excellent racing game which builds on the solid foundation of the original in the best ways. The campaign is lengthy, the handling is decent and there’s a host of upgrades and things to play around with as you make your way through the races. It comes highly recommended and makes a lot of the less spectacular games included more palatable.

The other main reason to pick up this collection is of course Soccer Kid. Yet another of the Amiga platformers that has jumped to console the little dude certainly has something of a cult following and it’s easy to see why. The faults of many an Amiga platformer are still here such as the loose feeling controls but the main gimmick helps to keep it above its peers. We are of course talking about the football that Soccer Kid uses as his main way of dispatching enemies. Control of it can be a little tricky to begin with but once you’ve worked out how the momentum of it works it’s a satisfying experience belting it at the many caricatured people that inhabit the levels. The level design is also decent throughout and though it does fall into the trap of many an Amiga platformer and descends into frustration in later levels the save states are always there if you need them to help you out.

Overall, the second collection of games from Piko Interactive is hit and miss. Some of these will work much better when the VS makes multiplayer a real option but on the whole there’s a lot of games here living off nostalgia and very little else. That said the cart is still worth picking up due to the inclusion of Soccer Kid and Top Racer 2. Racing Fever, Beast Ball and Eliminator Boat Duel also help to sweeten the package as all are fun and competent games. With this in mind we would still recommend it to Evercade owners – just don’t expect everything on here to be world beating once the nostalgia wears off.


Overall -

Beast Ball                                                             3/5

Eliminator Boat Duel                                       4/5

Football Madness                                            2/5

Full Throttle All-American Racing               2/5

Hoops Shut Up And Jam                                2/5

Hoops Shut Up And Jam 2                             3/5

Power Football                                                  2/5

Racing Fever                                                      3/5

Soccer Kid                                                           4/5

Summer Challenge                                          2/5

Top Racer 2                                                         5/5

Winter Challenge                                             2/5

World Trophy Soccer                                      2/5

Monday 7 June 2021

Kaze and the Wild Masks Review (Nintendo Switch)

Kaze and the Wild Masks has been causing quite a stir among fans of retro styled games recently and it’s not even a Metroidvania. Heavily influenced by classic Rayman and Donkey Kong games it certainly wears its influences clearly on its sleeve but Kaze is more than just another imitator.

Indeed, when were first looking at it we wondered if instead we should just go back and play one of its main influences instead? As it turns out that would have been a mistake as Kaze has more than enough of its own personality to stand alone in the market.

As always with these things the plot is somewhat crazy. In this case you need to save your friend Hogo from a host of recently cursed and mutated evil vegetables. In order to do this you need to use magical masks that offers unique abilities as well as your standard running, jumping and floating skills. The masks in question are similar to Donkey Kong’s animal friends and allow Kaze to draw on the powers of a shark (for swimming), A Tiger (for climbing) an Eagle (for Flying) and a Lizard (for, erm, zipping around).

You can’t use the masks all the time and they are instead limited to specific levels designed around the particular skill set required. The abilities help to add variety and do lead to some fiendish and downright evil level design. Speaking of which, the games that most influence Kaze’s levels are clearly both the original Rayman and the Origins and Legends reboots. The rhythm of them is very similar and when you are placed into one of the ‘chase’ stages we couldn’t help thinking about the crushingly difficult auto-run stages featured heavily in Origins in particular.

This highlights another feature of Kaze, that being it’s tough even from the early going. This can be mitigated to some degree though the settings which allows players to pick a difficulty which adds extras checkpoints but be prepared to need a sizable chunk of patience in order to progress. You are also going to need to have a Jedi-like understanding of the controls as well. This isn’t one for the feint hearted.

It’s handy then that the controls work well. Away from the masks, Kaze has a number of standard abilities at the player’s disposal. The key ones are the spin (which acts much like Dixie Kong’s hair, Or a Tasmanian Devils spin for that matter), a downward dive and the good old head bounce. The head bounce is surprisingly the one that you’ll need to get the hang of due to the fact that you spin afterwards. This fine for when you need to continue forward momentum but you can’t jump out of the animation. This means if you miss time jumping on an enemy that you need to bounce off to reach a platform by a fraction you normally end up plummeting to your doom.

On the standard setting you only get one checkpoint per level as well so be prepared to repeat the same sections over and over again. This highlights one feature of Kaze and retro gaming that we really don’t want to be reminded of. Yes, the dreaded ‘memory test’ is very much present here.

There are numerous levels where players have no real chance of progressing without edging through each section following death after death. There simply isn’t enough time for players to react to things on the fly so remembering how enemies move and the sequence of obstacles becomes the only route to progression. The same fate befalls boss battles meaning you are effectively having to play each one at least three times to have any chance of success.

The level design in general though is excellent, so those that can cope with the throwback style will find little else to complain about. This goes for the game overall as well as the general presentation and feel is excellent. The fact it easily matches Rayman and Donkey Kong in terms of mechanics and style speaks volumes for the work that has been put into it.

Overall, Kaze and the Wild Masks is a perfect throwback to the days of the 16-bit platformer (or at least the homages to 16-bit platformers that came later). This is both a good and bad thing depending on how you look at it. We could have done with it being a little bit less faithful in a few aspects but there is so much here to love that anyone with that retro inkling should put it at the top of their platforming wish list.


Overall 8/10