Monday 30 August 2021

Space Invaders Invincible Collection Review (Switch)

Following on from the recent Space Invaders collection that featured three titles, ININ games has decided to now release the Invincible Collection digitally. Previously the compilation was only available physically via Strictly Limited Games and hopefully this means more of the deluxe versions of their games heading to the download services in the future.

Space Invaders needs little introduction being one of the icons of the gaming world. But what many people may not be aware of is just how many games there have been in franchise and the fact that new releases are still twisting the formulae to this very day. A large number of these games are here, though there are some glaring omissions that really dent the appeal of the collection in the long term.

There are three major omissions which stop the collection really being able to label itself complete. First of all the most recent Space Invaders Extreme 2 is absent, though it was exclusively a DS game so there could be a solid argument for its omission. Return of the Invaders from 1985 is also missing, this isn’t a deal breaker but it seems an odd one as it leaves a considerable time stamp gap in the collection. The real hit though comes with the omission of Space Invaders 95. Previously included on the Taito Legends 2 collection it’s an awesome and crazy take on the Space Invaders game and it’s really a big miss from this collection. If this had been included then collection would be essential.

What is here are eleven games for you to get your alien blasting thrills with. In terms of going right back to the start of the series you get the black and white and colour versions of the original Space Invaders and Space Invaders Part 2 which adds a few things such as reinforcements and the mixing up of attack patterns. They are good for quick goes every now and then and the core Space Invaders gameplay stills holds up but it’s unlikely you’ll be spending hours of your time on them. Space Invaders DX follows much the same vein as these early offerings - but with the choice of a multiplayer and parody version of the game based on the SNES release.

Also included are Lunar Rescue and Space Cyclone which are two games which used the Space Invaders board. Both are fast paced, old school, arcade games and it’s really nice to have them included. Lunar rescue has you landing a spaceship on a planets service while avoiding enemies and then blasting off back up the screen to deliver your rescued person to a space station. Space Cyclone is an arcade rarity and requires players to blast insect like robots riding across the screen on clouds. Then every now and then a UFO turns up and blasts you with lightning. It’s a tough but fun game and both are welcome inclusions.

Space Invaders 91 and the Majestic Twelve version of the game are the first big steps forward for the franchise. Here the stage backgrounds and ship design vary from planet to planet and the enemies are far more diverse in terms of design and attack patterns. There’s even a bonus game where you have to defend cows from swooping UFO invaders. This is one of the main reasons to own the collection and will likely see you returning often to better your scores and move on to the next area.

The undoubted highlight of the games though is the wonderful Space Invaders Extreme. This moves the franchise into the modern era of shooters with stages to progress through, bosses and a wide range of enemies to blast. A Tron-esque techno vibe hangs over the design and music which takes its pixel heritage and presents it in a vibrant and fresh way. It’s a joyous game and one everyone should spare some time to play.

Rounding out the package are Space Invaders Gigamax and Arkanoid vs Space Invaders. Gigamax is a multiplayer focused offering which sets up to four tanks against a veritable horde of invaders across a huge screen. There are also massive bosses to overcome and teamwork is vital to progression. It’s a great fun game but one that really struggles in single player. Arkanoid vs Space Invaders is a conversion from a mobile game that’s only playable on handheld mode. It’s a gimmick game at best and won’t hold your attention for long.

Overall, The Invincible Collection does just about enough to warrant a place in your collection. It’s obviously great for fans of Space Invaders but falls down both as a historical collection and vital purchase for everyone due to the rather baffling omission of a few key titles. Throw Space Invaders 95 in here and it becomes impossible to ignore. As it is it’s a solid revival but in reality only two or three of the games present are likely to have you coming back for anything like long term fun.

Overall 7/10

Monday 23 August 2021

DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+ Review (Switch)

The side scrolling shoot’em up has had a mini revival on the Switch recently with R-Type Final 2 and Cotton Reboot making their way onto the system in recent months. While both those games were welcome additions neither of them were the stand out titles we were hoping for. DariusBurst however is something different entirely.

It’s difficult to keep up with the endless revisions of the games but the Switch version contains the original game, the EX version of it (which is more difficult), Chronicle Mode which adds missions and objectives as you blast around different planets and Event Mode which contains missions from the arcade game as well as some new stuff. However, the mode it hasn’t got is Chronicle Saviours which is where the problems start.

Saviours was designed to work with handheld systems and unfortunately this isn’t. The original multi-screen display is simply crammed onto the screen with huge borders at the top and bottom. It makes the action very very small and there are no configuration options to change it. Unless you are playing on a large TV screen it makes the chaotic action pretty much impossible to deal with. It also means any text or instructions relating to ship load outs or how things work are also almost impossible to see meaning this can be a harsh game for newcomers as without some kind of guide you’ll have no idea about some of the options available.

For instance, being able to remove the burst laser and place it around the screen. We had no idea about this until we started looking into the game in more detail and it’s one of the key dynamics of the game. You can even use it to kind of dual with the bosses when they release their energy blasts. With the text this small the game really needed some kind of basic training option to show players how this all works.

On a big enough screen though this is incredible stuff. The visuals, the music and action all come together to provide one of the best and most intense blasting experiences we’ve played in recent times. The fish based enemies swirl around the screen in hypnotic manner and the vast array of bosses are both creative and challenging.

All the different modes also add a serious amount of content to get through and it’s likely to keep you playing for a significant amount of time. The stages are also strong enough to mean replaying them never becomes a problem and the quest for ever higher scores will keep you continually pushing forward. The wide array of ships available also helps to keep things fresh as most of them handle significantly differently and provide firepower to soothe the soul of even the most hard core of blasting fans.  

Overall, DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+ is a difficult game to nail down. It is a truly stunning shooter but it’s not been optimised and presented in a way that makes it the perfect match for the Switch. We did enjoy playing it in handheld mode but chances of chasing scores or making it through the tougher stages are minuscule when you can’t really see what is going on. We also can’t overlook the fact that the mode of the game optimised for handheld screens hasn’t been included despite the fact it’s in other versions of the game. That said, there are few games out there that provide such a blasting experience. With that in mind it’s hard not to recommend it to fans of the genre as the visuals, music and action are up there with the best in the genre.

Overall 8/10

Monday 16 August 2021

Nintendo Switch Roundup 7: Shantae


With the recent release of the Gameboy Colour game on the Switch you can now get hold of all five Shantae games on Nintendo’s console. Metroidvania’s at heart, the series has become something of a popular cult classic among fans and physical copies of the games can go for crazy money. The basic gimmick that runs through the series is Shantae being able to transform into different animals by dancing in order to overcome obstacles and barriers.  Here we look at how the five games in the series hold up.


The original GBC game is certainly the most difficult one to go back to now but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored outright. It’s a solid Metroidvania adventure for the time and has some clever morphing abilities and spells to liven things up. It is only really let down by poor check pointing and confusing sign posting. Though being a port rather than a remake, the Switch version allows for anytime saving along with a few other quality of life features that makes it more tolerable. It also includes the enhanced GBA version of the game which boosts the colour palette a bit. It’s not massively expensive either (especially compared to the actual cart), so fans of Shantae who have played the other games should get something out of this.

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge: Director’s Cut

Originally released as DSi Ware, Risky’s Revenge is a big step forward in terms of both look and general design. Again, this is a port rather than a remake so expect pixel work and borders rather than upgraded visuals and widescreen. It’s bigger and bolder than the first game as well but is slightly clunky compared to later games in the series. The biggest issue is that dungeons have no map at all and the world map is borderline useless but the game does remain fun and entertaining to play – just be prepared to spend some time trying to work out where that key is you need. It further develops the formulae of having a big, interconnected, world which require abilities to be gained in order to progress and the level design holds up remarkably well.

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse

At the start of Pirate’s Curse Shantae has lost her genie powers so now has to find and use various magical Pirate items in order to add to her abilities. Instead of the dancing transformation Shantae can now also use her genie lamp in order to suck up magic and various different types of gas to further expand her repertoire of moves. It’s one of the tougher Shantae games but also one of the best with clever puzzles and dungeons to explore. The adventure aspect of the game is also different with players heading off to multiple islands in search of ‘dens of evil’ instead of the interconnected world layout of the previous games.

Pirates Curse is certainly a highlight of the series and also an essential purchase of platform fans. We looked at the game in more detail here -

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Shantae’s first foray into HD is a mixed bag. This is arguably the weakest of the five games though it does look great. It lacks some of the sparkle in its design that the other games have in abundance and is just a bit dull. It’s not the longest game either, though there are a host of other modes and characters that can either be purchased as DLC or that come included in the complete edition. It’s bright and colourful but ultimately easily forgettable when compared to the other games.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens

The most recent of the games has our half-genie visiting Paradise Island along with her genie friends. They are of course all captured and players have to explore under the island to rescue them. Each genie then grants Shantae a new ability which she can use to access further into the underground city. This is the game that most closely follows the format of Symphony of the Night with players exploring one big castle like level. It works really well with a colourful design and a light hearted script throughout. It may be a little easy for some but it’s also a decent length and some of the boss battles are challenging until you work them out so there’s plenty here to scratch your exploration itch with.

Monday 9 August 2021

Within The Blade Review (Switch)

Written by Dan Gill

As a games reviewer you may expect me to be knowledgeable, have an interest in multiple genres, and be a proficient gamer. You’d be mostly right, I’ve been playing games for well over thirty years (yeah, I’m old), and I dabble in all genres (I’m currently getting into driving and racing sims. Euro Truck Simulator is strangely mesmerising). While I will do my best to see a game through to the end (especially for review), my skills will sometimes leave me short. I’ve tried to get into SoulsBourne games, but spending my precious free time dying isn’t the most enjoyable experience. With this admission out of the way, I can move on to my Within the Blade review.

A throwback to the hardcore ninja platformers of the 8 and 16-bit eras, Within the Blade wears its influences on its sleeve. We’re firmly in Ninja Gaiden/Shinobi territory here, with your character fighting for his clan to restore order to a 16th century Japan destined to be ruled by a demonic warlord.

Rather than being a straight platformer, Within the Blade expands on its forbears by adding stealth, a crafting system, cutscenes and a progress wheel. This adds some meat to the bones, as the initial move set is limited to blocking and slashing. As you progress, you can unlock simple moves (assassinations, spinning blade), health buffs, and more complex moves. The micromanagement side of the game is generous, offering the ability to craft weapons and items from material found throughout, and various merchants in your clan’s village. There’s a lot here to sink your teeth into should you want to.

Progression throughout is linear, so there’s no Metroid style backtracking (you can return to the village to stock up on supplies between levels), and there are optional objectives that can be met to earn a better score on each level, which provides further rewards. As mentioned, initially you’ll be hacking your way through the basic enemies on offer, but it’s not long before you come up against foes who will block, dodge or parry your attacks, so often hiding in the grass and sneaking up on them is the preferred approach, but you can barge in, shurikens flying if you wish. Just don’t expect to last too long.

The game is a challenge, though not unfair. With planning the levels and bosses can be overcome. It’s not as tough as some titles - I remember some of the original NES Ninja Gaiden sections being particularly unfair to the player – but it has its moments. While some of my frustrations through certain sections were down to my own lack of skill, on more than one occasion I felt let down by the controls.

 By jumping at a wall and pressing up, your character will wall run, then bounce off in the opposite direction. More often than not I would inadvertently trigger this, sending myself flying into a pit of spikes. While I may have been able to avoid this by using the digital controls rather than the stick due to the Switch’s button layout (I can’t really get on with the d-pad substitute), it still felt clumsy.

The game has a few other shortcomings in the form of the aforementioned crafting system. Menu navigation is cumbersome, and when attempting to purchase items from a particular merchant there was no indication as to which item I was currently hovering over. As you’ll need to use at least one of these methods to keep weapons in stock (your arsenal wears over time, vanishing from your inventory once its own “health” bar depletes), it really dampens the experience. There are some issues with dialogue too, and I still can’t decide whether this is down to a slightly ropey localisation, or if it’s a deliberate attempt to ape the broken English of games past. However, this isn’t a major issue, it just triggers the grammar policeman in me.

That said, Within the Blade offers its fair share of stylish violence and beefy combat that will satisfy Sengoku shinobis up for the challenge. The RPG-lite systems add some depth to a game that’s let down by a few minor design flaws and uninspired level design. As for me, I’ll be bumping the difficulty down to “Easy” and will continue to plug away at it. After all, it takes some of us longer to git gud than others.

 Overall 7/10

Monday 2 August 2021

The Falconeer Review (Steam)

Written by Thomas Sharpe

It’s hard not to be impressed by a solo developer who attempts to furnish the player with a multiple-perspective story, aerial combat, open-world, falcon straddlin’ experience. This is, however, thusly and therefore, a tall, tall order.

The story is introduced by a sort of shaman as a delving into the past, asking what memories will be discovered through your choice of falconeer, the titular role you play. You discover an ocean world that is charmingly and capably realised; outposts sit atop atolls, volcanic islands seep, lightning ripples among storms, and fluid dynamics are cleverly subverted in watery valleys. The world itself oozes atmosphere, sitting somewhere between Magic Carpet and Windwaker. The palette is undeniably reminiscent of Sea of Thieves (the previously joyful breath of salty sea air, but now full-blown wallet-centric pirating jaunt) with rich, vivid colours and stylised touches abound. The character portraits are not quite as impressive, but just about hold up. The world does feel special, but I couldn’t help but be a little underwhelmed by the rather generic lore that populates it.

The player is presented with a jostling miasma of factions that are quite familiar to us, but this is not enough to dull the experience alone. The player engagement with them was the mood-killer for me. The primary loop is exactly that. A loop. You have a briefing for a mission, travel across the wonderful world, pick-up an item/destroy a target/escort/meet a character (or a blend of one or two of these), and then return. You can often skip the travel to get to the key mission “beats”, but the aerial combat is only just compelling enough.

There are several elements to the combat, balancing stamina of your bird with positioning, evasion and aggression. This is an arcadey, fantasy experience, not Il-Sturmovik 2, or even the equally repetitive Star Wars: Squadrons, and so it has this Panzer Dragoon and Magic Carpet feeling to it. There is nothing really very wrong with it, but it is just shy of being exciting. Most weapons lack impact and guts, and there is little sense of tension during the falcon equivalent of dog-fighting. This sense of a lack of excitement can carry to general travel, as there is a distinct lack of speed. It favours this, admittedly nice, sense of soaring, wheeling and swooping. I was eager to feel speedy dives and screeching hard turns. It is nice being like that irritating kid from The Neverending Story on that weird dog-worm atrocity, calmly breezing through the air, but you also want to be Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon, screaming and flapping to victory.

There is so much heart in The Falconeer. The spirited voice acting is naive yet joyful, puncturing any sense of over-seriousness. This is fun, wide-eyed and wondrous stuff, but invested in the wrong areas to keep my interest. It is crass to suggest what the developer should have done, but to have this world uncoupled from a main mission as a sandbox with some quests to achieve, a-la Sunless Sea or even Mount & Blade, may well have served the strength of the world better than a rather unconvincing story-mode. I ached to be able to trade, swoop about, encounter pirates, discover fantastic scenery, but I could only really access any life in this wonderfully realised world through the main quest.

I played The Falconeer with a controller on a PC, and I feel it would also be an effective diversion on the Switch. This title is proof that developer Tomas Sala has real potential as a top-class indie developer, even if I wasn’t fully swept away. A studio to watch.

Overall 7/10