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

Monday 20 September 2021

Spelunker HD Deluxe Review (Switch)

Written by Dan Gill

I’ve a long history of digging myself into a hole, and I suspect it’s this experience which led to a code for cave-diving platformer Spelunker HD Deluxe landing in my inbox. For those who aren’t as old as me, this is a remake of Spelunker, a game released for the Atari 400/800 in 1983. It was later ported to various platforms and is something of a cult hit.

The aim is to delve into the dankest caves, unearthing treasure, avoiding pitfalls and dodging enemies on your way to the next cave, just like in the original title. And that’s the thing; this is exactly like the original game in terms of gameplay, clunky jumping and all. The tiniest error will lose a life. Yes, this is Spelunker as those of a certain vintage will remember it, albeit with some updated graphics and audio (although you can go blocky if you wish, as the original game is included). It’s a game that’s a bit janky and archaic in game design terms, so it’s worth keeping that in mind if you’re going to play it.

While the aim is to make it to the next cave, it’s worth exploring levels to find treasure to boost your score, bombs to destroy blocks, and oxygen to keep you alive. The oxygen tank can also be used to get rid of ghosts. These spectres (whose arrival is announced with a spooky howl) will glide through walls to track the player down, and with the levels being so tightly designed there’s not always a way to escape. Other cave-dwelling beasties cause trouble, and their movement patterns need to be learned so a safe path can be found. There’s a fair amount of variety in each cave, and this pushes you on to see what awaits in the next room.

A variety of gameplay modes add to the original game’s one hundred or so levels, offering competitive multiplayer, a challenge mode (which offers another few dozen levels) and an endless mode with a procedurally generated endless dungeon. This may be the toughest mode, since the base game relies much on memory as it does quick reactions. Some of the pitfalls are tough to spot when playing with the updated visuals, so you’ll need to be eagle-eyed and nimble to spot these on the fly. However, all are a nice addition, and offer more challenge for those demanding more. Whether that justifies the price of the game on the eShop is something that depends on how much mileage you can get out of it. At north of £20 for what is essentially a 38-year-old game seems a little steep. I can’t help but feel it would have been better pitched at a slightly lower price for what it is.

All in all, Spelunker HD is a solid retro platformer. It makes no concessions to modern design, and the quality-of-life features are limited to the multiplayer and endless dungeon modes. At this point you may well have decided whether the game is for you or not. Those of us who cut our teeth on tough platformers in the 80s may carry a torch for these types of game, while others are happy to have moved on to games that take it a little easier on the player (ask most adults with a family how much time they have to play games, let alone how long they have to learn its ins and outs in order to get better). Personally, I like hopping back in time to play something like this, partly for nostalgia, but also to see how it fits in to gaming history (it feels like it’s not far off the original Mario Bros’ platforming). In terms of gameplay, it feels like something of an unearthed relic itself – a little dusty, perhaps, but it cleans up well.

Overall 7/10

Friday 17 September 2021

Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol 1 Review (Switch)

While Disgaea has gone from strength to strength in terms of releases, a number of other NIS releases have seemingly fallen by the way side. Phantom Brave for instance has remained fairly dormant aside from a PSP and Japanese only Wii release since it first arrived on the PS2 back in 2004. With Nippon Ichi now seemingly looking to revive some of these forgotten franchises through the ‘Classics’ series gamers are getting to experience them again. As well as Phantom Brave, this collection also contains the even more obscure Soul Nomad and the World Eaters and both are well worth looking at. 

Phantom Brave follows the story of a 13 year old girl named Marona who is protected by a phantom named Ash after losing both her parents to an evil spirit some years before. Marona is a young Chroma – a sort of sword for hire, and your initial goal is for her to earn enough money to buy the island she lives on. 

The humour and art style is very much in keeping with other Nippon Ichi games though it is perhaps a little less full on than when Etna appears in Disgaea. This is a PS2 game at heart and there is little chance of disguising that. The menus now look lovely and HD but level textures look decidedly muddy, sprites are pixelated and it is hardly a graphical tour de force. That said it looks a whole lot better in handheld mode. Soul Nomad is set up in much the same way.

There’s also a bit of a clunkyness to it but on the whole the Switch controls work well for both games. Once you have got used to the controls it’s clear that Phantom Brave remains a really good game and the depth of the thing begins to come to light quite early on. It shares a fair bit with Disgaea in terms of it being a turn based RPG and in terms of classes and skills levelling but there are key differences that the game is built around. The most obvious is the fact that you no longer have the grid system and instead everything is done with range circles. This really took us some time to get used to and to be honest it seems an odd design decision that doesn’t really add anything. 

A more significant and important difference is the summoning system which is the games whole ‘thing’. Instead of lining up characters to take into battle your game will revolve around Marona summoning phantoms to aid her. Marona confines phantoms to objects which then come to life for a set period of time. For instance, if you want a tough fighter then confine them to a rock to give them strength and defence bonuses. Mages are best confined to plants as that boosts their magic ability. The options are long, complex and incredibly deep. The catch is that after a set number of turns the phantom will turn back into the original object and not be summonable again. This means that if you aren’t careful you won’t be strong enough to down the enemies and complete the level.

The range of classes you can summon is huge and then you can give them all sorts of weapons and objects as well. You can also give phantoms bonuses by confining them to objects which are receiving environmental bonuses. There’s the whole being able to pick up and throw things off the map as well but we suspect your head is already spinning enough.

If Phantom Brave isn’t hard core enough then Soul Nomad will push you that little bit further. The game revolves around the idea that your hero is bonded with this crazy super powerful being. You can draw on this beings power to overcome enemies but if you sue it too much then ‘Gig’ will overpower your body and cause chaos again.

As well as this risk/ reward element the game also focuses more on a sort of squad system where when you engage in battles you fight as a team instead of one on one. It seems to be where some of the ‘room’ mechanics have stemmed from for later Disgaea releases with part of the research element of the game about setting up new rooms that allow different formations and bonuses depending who is in which slot. Perhaps even more so than Phantom Brave, Soul Nomad will take hours upon hours to truly understand the nuances of.

Overall, Phantom Brave and Soul Nomad are both showing a bit of age in their presentation and control scheme but put that aside and both are good games. Phantom brave in particular has got to be one of the deepest and most rewarding games out there. It’s a massive level grinding dream which is easy enough to get into but will take hundreds of hours to master. There is also a stupid amount of secrets in here and it would take the most dedicated of fans to see everything both games have to offer considering you get all the extra content included from the various releases over the years as well. Even if a lifetime of grinding doesn’t sound like you it’s well worth giving this if you are a Disgaea fan or someone who is into strategy games and wants to take on something a bit different.

Overall 8/10

Monday 13 September 2021

10 Second Ninja X Review (Switch)

One of the creative minds behind Castles in Sky is back once again with an upgraded frantic mixture of killer robots, spikes and ninjas. 10 Second Ninja may have been around for a while but the Switch may well be the perfect home for it.

A platform game mixed with a heavy puzzle element, the main gameplay gimmick is that you only have ten second with which to complete each stage. The timer only starts after you make your first move which means you can spend some time surveying the single screen style levels in an attempt to work out the best route to victory.

Your Ninja has a couple of skills to help along the way. You can use three shurikens in each level and also double jump. You’ll need to work out the best enemies to hit with throwing stars in advance as it can be the difference between victory and defeat if you use them in the wrong place. Shurikens can also be bounced off certain surfaces or used to trip switches which in turn can crush robots for you.

You’ll need to complete levels as quickly as possible as well as you're awarded between one to three stars upon completion. You’ll start out completely mystified as to how you get the two or three star ratings but as you progress it all becomes clearer. Getting three stars on levels does require almost Jedi like reflexes though.

The levels themselves are a mixture of floating platforms, spikes and collapsing stones. More obstacles and enemies are added as the game progresses and you also have to contend with some good old fashioned ice stages as well. Everything is there for a reason and that reason is for you to plan your assault and deal with the robots as quickly as possible.

The star system does create a problem however, as you are required to collect a certain amount before moving to the next area. In our view the requirement is set a touch too high and we can see players hitting a complete dead end at times. In a game all about speed and momentum the need to better a high score and get higher amounts of stars is high enough without the enforced star barrier at the end of each level. There is helpa t hand though with an easy mode and hin t system in place to help.

Overall, 10 Second Ninja X is a swell rounded and upgraded version of the core game. It’s also outlasted many of the similar games that were around at the time due to its own distinct personality. It’s a fast, slick and fun game and one that will provide bite sized chunks of twitch gameplay. It achieves pretty much everything it sets out to and is certainly a game that we’ll come back to again and again and it’s found it perfect home on the Switch.

Overall 8/10

Monday 6 September 2021

The Art of Point and Click Adventure Games Review

Bitmap Books have built up an excellent reputation now with a string of extensive and informative releases. As long-time fans of the point and click genre it seemed a perfect opportunity to dive into their hefty tome based on everything involving using obscure items and dialogue trees.

The first thing to say is that this is another release that certainly gives a good impression with it being the size of a small bus – both in general size and page count. This edition of the book now contains around 500 pages organised into chronological order spanning from 1984 all the way to 2020. An excellent opening laying out the history of the genre draws readers and also gives a great overview for those looking to know more or who may be unfamiliar with it.

If there is a criticism here it’s that there is no glossary to allow you to get straight to a particular game. Luckily the exhaustive interviews in the book are indexed alphabetically meaning it’s easy to find which legend you want to read about. The amount of people interviewed is unbelievable. Pretty much every icon and legend of the genre is here meaning you get insights into just about all of the major publishers and developers that made their name in this area. Multiple legends from Lucas Arts are here such as Tim Shafer and Ron Gilbert, Sierra games such as King’s Quest, Gabriel Knight and Police Quest are spoken about, Revolution and Westwood get a solid nod and even people behind Future Wars and the Discworld games are on hand.

In fact, the only real omission we found was that Ragnar Tomquist wasn’t interviewed about The Longest Journey series. That and the interview with Jane Jensen about Gabriel Knight had some strange questioning considering the game was remade in 2014. It would also have been nice to delve a little deeper into the issues regarding Discworld and what would be required to bring the games to a new audience. These are all minor point though as the amount of stuff in here is mind blowing.

The exhaustive collection of information also covers just about every major point and click game you can possibly think of. Being as pedantic as we are though we would have liked to see a 2004 mention for The Moment of Silence. Aside from that though we really couldn’t think of anything that was missing. There are hundreds of games here and it will likely send you racing to eBay to try and find adventures you’ve missed out on.

Mass of information aside the other big selling point of the book is of course the art work. As usual this have been handled expertly. Most of the titles are treated to at least a double page spread of an iconic image from the game. Key games are also given extra pages to show off more of the locations and key art work. All these pixels and screens and are presented beautifully.

Overall, The Art of Point and Click Adventure Games is an exceptionally high quality release from Bitmap Books. It works both as a casual coffee table book to be browsed through and looked at just for the art and also as a more thoughtful read containing all the information you would ever need for those looking to learn about an important and iconic genre. It’s easily worth the asking price and stands out even against Bitmap Books other excellent releases.

*picture from Bitmap Books website