Monday 25 April 2022

Taito Milestones Review (Switch)

Retro collections and arcade releases are become more and more common on the Switch and each new one seems to try and push the bar higher in terms of what’s included. We’ve had Sega, various Konami collections, Capcom and SNK just to name a few giving us wide ranging collections of their back catalogues with a vary degree of options and museum elements. Now Taito are entering the market with a group of ten arcade games and it’s not really what we had hoped.

Taito has been releasing its games on the Switch for some time in the form of Arcade Archives branded stuff which generally come with regional variations and a few other options. By comparison what we get here is about as bare bones as possible. The title screen simply has the games displayed for players to pick and that’s it. No museum extras, no regional variants, nothing really which shows these games off or explains why they are so seminal to company. When you put that against efforts from the like of SNK it simply it’s up to the same standard. There are online leader boards at least.

While the ten games do cover a wide range of genres, they aren’t exactly the iconic titles you might be hoping for. Alpine Ski, Wild Western, Front Line and Space Seeker are really very early arcade representations of the teams work and just don’t have the hook that a lot of gamers will be hoping for as they handle very stiffly.  Halley’s Comet is an ok vertically scrolling shooter and the Ninja Warriors is a quite poor side scrolling brawler which is a million miles away from the quality of the SNES/Switch sequel already available on the system.

It's not all bad though as Elevator Action and The Fairyland Story remain as fun and addictive as ever (even if you can buy them separately already). Qix may well get a second lease of life because of this collection as well and remains an underrated puzzler where you must try and fill in blocks of colour before the baddie floating around in the middle of the screen catches you. Chack ‘N’ Pop is the last game on the collection and again proves to be a fun single screen platform/maze distraction.

Unfortunately, this is a collection burdened by what isn’t here. If you want Space Invaders, you’ll need to go and buy that collection separately. Darius? The same and there’s no sign of iconic games such as Phoenix, The New Zealand Story or Bubble Bobble. Even games already on the Switch from the correct time period are missing such as The Legend of Kage. Considering most of these games made it onto a bumper collection on the PS2 (, it really is baffling.

Overall, this is a highly disappointing effort. When so much care and attention is put into the individual releases of the games this just seems completely misjudged. So many other companies have now set the standard for what to expect for this kind of price that ten bare bones games just aren’t enough anymore. Yes, there are some high points here, but the fact Taito has so many other collections and retro releases available just makes this seem like a cynical attempt to push some titles together they didn’t really have a lot of faith in.

Overall 5/10

Monday 18 April 2022

Kombinera Review (Steam)


Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

This hardcore shape-concerned puzzler fits neatly into the return of Atari as a publisher. They’ve been pulling from classic IPs to make some remasters of late, and Kombinera is a clever modern descendant that brings enjoyment and enragement. Dependant on taste.

My first impression was the most serious looking epilepsy warning splash screen I’ve ever seen in a computer game. I sent a strongly worded letter of concern to my editor about my retinas. CDPR could have taken some tips on due diligence from Graphite Labs/Joystick on this aspect before triggering fits with Cyberpunk 2077. Kombinera’s visual aesthetic is striking, fun, neon, and flashing. A minimalist, abstract world of balls traversing puzzle-traps, where the player is trying to merge them all together. Each coloured ball has a differing interaction with the components of the levels, be it red spikes that the red ball is immune to or green balls that block green lasers, for instance. The hook is that all the balls move as one. You move the balls left and right and have a strong jump and a weak jump. These 300 levels of headscratchers will test your lateral thinking, with a mild part of platform-y deftness.

Created from a game jam, and through its popularity with various prototypes and the developers iterating it further, this has ended up a fully-fledged game. Game jams manage to generate incredible purity in gameplay loops, as the time constraints require design to be focussed to succeed. The collective movement of the balls is one such hook. Everything in Kombinera is built on this premise, and, as a proof of a good primary loop, it has extensive flexibility and staying power. The story and much of the art and music is in service to the singular purpose you have. These elements are effective in different amounts; the story of a world torn asunder, where the player is trying to reunite all the balls is (I feel) knowingly functionary. The music is more of an attempt to relax the player with its bleep-y electronic chill. The art and colours, stark backgrounds, aid the clarity of the puzzle. Notably the grid in the play area that while not out of place aesthetically, is a way to judge jumping.

While Kombinera shares some DNA with Thomas Was Alone, ibb and obb, or English Country Tune, it manages to be distinct like them rather than an imitator. It seems appropriate that this has been picked up or had some stickiness beyond the morass of puzzle-platformers. It has that thing, and speaking personally, I usually bounce right off stuff like this. The activity of joinin’ yer balls together is supported by a well-managed and creative level design. The building of puzzle complexity is considered carefully, as within each movement puzzle, further actions are slotted in, one at a time, to increase the internal steps to success. Each level develops you to see the solution that is just outside of instant comprehension. There is a fine balance between testing an idea and outright understanding of what the level wants. This element of the puzzle is crucial, because if this is out of balance the player may become frustrated. Get it straight away and you’re going to get bored. Thrashing about trying red herrings, you’re resenting the game. Kombinera is savvy and keenly designed, raising it above an arbitrarily “punishing” experience. This is especially pertinent as the traps are one-hit-killers.

For fans of any shape based, jumping, pixel judging, just-one-more-try, neon-soaked puzzling, epilepsy responsible games this is a winner.

Overall 9/10

Monday 11 April 2022

Nintendo Switch Roundup 8: Run and Gun

The Switch is absolutely full to the brim with platformers and Metrodivania games but the humble pleasure of the run and gun genre is also very much present and correct. It’s not as in fashion as it once was but there are still some excellent games out there for players looking to get their blasting fix. Here, we highlight some of our favourites.

Blazing Chrome

Blazing Chrome is basically an unofficial Contra game. It tough and intense and has a number of different weapons to try out as you blast your way around levels that pay homage to a whole host of retro games. The levels are constant call backs to other games in the genre including Contra itself and Super Star Wars. There’s even a reference to Mortal Kombat 3 in there. Luckily, Blazing Chrome backs up its constant references by being one of the best action games available on the Switch and Contra fans in particular should check it out.

Bro Force

Available on pretty much everything, the homage to 80’s action movies is still a riotous good time on the Switch. Most things in a level can be destroyed (including the ground), which allows for some creative destruction and drip releasing of new characters means there’s always something new to unlock and play with. The key gimmick comes where you don’t actually have a choice as to which of the Bro’s you are playing so you have to adapt on the fly.

All the best 80’s and 90’s action heroes are here including characters based on numerous Arnold  Schwarzenegger films, Rambo, Blade, Men in Black and even Macgyver. Each character plays differently and the crazy over the top action is perfect for short sessions of unequalled chaotic blasting.


Would you like to play a Neo Geo version of Turrican? Well here it is. Gunlord is very much from the ‘Amiga’ style of action platform games. It is basically Turrican in all but name and that’s no bad thing. The pixel art is exceptional and the action is excellent. It’s also a game that is incredibly difficult to get hold of on the original hardware so we are very happy that the time has been taken to bring it to the Switch. If you are looking for old-school style and challenge then Gunlord is the perfect game for you. It’s tough, but also great fun and a great pickup for those looking for a real retro throwback.

Not a Hero

A psychopathic rabbit names Bunnylord is running for election and he has hired a motley crew to assist him. Que a shot-gunning Scot who doesn't own a kilt, screeching Swansea lass, and Mike who is definitely not drunk, charging around levels blasting away in the most vicious way possible. If you like your games with dark humour and serious amounts of violence this could be the perfect game for you. The game moves at a crazy pace and you’ll also need to get used to the cover system in order to succeed.

Caution is the name of the game as one death and you are back to the start of the level to do the whole thing again. This can be frustrating but for the most part you’ll be having such a good time that it won’t bother you. Not a Hero is certainly one of the most unique takes on the genre and still holds up despite having been around for a fair while now.

Contra Anniversary Collection

The undoubted king of the run and gun genre can’t be overlooked on the Switch. The collection is excellent and is a compressive selection of the 8 and 16-bit games in the series. We are slightly disappointed that the games don’t all feature the ‘Probotector’ versions of the games (the second NES game in particular plays quite differently), but it’s a minor issues. You’ve got the original arcade versions of the first two games, the stunning SNES and Genesis games and the solid outings on the NES and Gameboy. It’s a must have for fans of the series or the genre as a whole.


This loud, brash and adrenaline fuelled thrill ride through the gang infested streets of a mega city is the best action game you’ve probably not heard of. Mixing pop culture references with the best platform shooter action since contra this game is a fun filled joy of a game. It’s one of the craziest games we’ve ever played and it’s truly magnificent and crazy and probably better than whatever you are currently playing. Buy it, don’t wait for a sale, buy it now.

We have a detailed look at Huntdown here –


Of course, if retro run and gun games are your thing you could always pick up one of the Turrican collections. The widely available version has the first two Amiga games and both Super and Mega Turrican on it. It’s a fairly bare bones package but the games remain solid and fans of the originals will love them. There’s also the two more limited versions of Turrican available from Strictly Limited Games which contains Directors Cut and Score Attack versions of the games, as well as Turrican 3 and Super Turrican 2. Great for hard core fans but the version with less games on should suffice for those just looking for a selection of old school classics.

Monday 4 April 2022

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut Review (Switch)

Originality may be somewhat dead in the games industry but every now and then you get something that manages to stitch things together in a unique enough way for it to seem like there is at least still some hope left. Disco Elysium is unlike anything else on Switch and, unless you are a fan of a handful of specific early CRPG Dungeons and Dragons games, probably unlike anything else you have ever played.

If there is a comparison to be made, its closest mirror would probably be Planetscape: Torment. But instead of being set in a fantastical ethereal realm this is a much gritter affair which walks the dark alleys of nihilistic Noir and dystopian societies. It also walks the line between CRPG and point and click adventure and you’ll need to be ready to read a serious amount of text to truly engage with the madness.

Viewed from an isometric perspective, you wake up in a wrecked hotel room (after a long trawl through your subconscious), with no memory about who you are or what you are doing. Gradually, you need to piece together who you are and what is going on. It’s soon revealed you are a police officer investigating a murder and it’s then up to the player to decide how they proceed through the game with numerous morally ambiguous options available.

There isn’t any real time combat in the game with most of the challenge coming from either hitting skill checks or working out how to get around the issue if you haven’t got the required stats. Skill checks are carried out with a traditional dice roll which is affected by a whole host of different areas which range from the obvious such as reflexes and charisma to the more obscure such as being able to tap into the ‘vibe’ of the surroundings.

When you come up to a skill check you will be given a percentage change to see if it will be completable for you. Green checks can be attempted multiple times as you level up and gain more skill, but red checks are one attempt only so will need careful consideration. Your other actions in the game can also add modifiers to the checks. Backing down from a character may result in a minus modifier with them if you must pass an authority check point for instance, while further investigation of crime scenes can give you plus modifiers when talking to people who try and avoid your questions. It does take a while to get used to, but the system works once you get it.

There’s much more going on here than a simple police investigation as well. As well as NPC’s you will often talk to different aspects of your characters own personality. Again, based on your skillset, at certain points elements of your mind or body will engage with you. This takes the form of various reactions to things people say or you find while investigating. It gives the game a weird psychedelic and surreal element so prepare yourself for some pretty high concept experiences as you chat with your central nervous system about the events of the day.

Don’t think you’ll be able to get away with skipping through the text either. You have two health bars, one physical and one which deals with your morale. Picking the wrong choice or failing certain checks can see either of these damaged so you’ll really need to be aware of what’s happening. Letting either bar drop to zero will result in your death so it’s also a good idea to have a supply of healing items on hand as things can sometimes come out of nowhere.

For a game that really seems like it should be on the PC it’s remarkable how well it has transitioned to the Switch. Even on the handheld, the text is readable, and the colours used within the text didn’t give us any colour blind related issues. You have direct control over your characters movement, so the lack of a mouse isn’t an issue and you can press a button to highlight interactable objects. That said, some these objects are quite small so you may need to keep an eye out when playing on the handheld screen. There’s also a checklist of tasks to keep you on track of what to do, which is handy as the game can get a bit obscure about how to progress your objectives at times. It all works remarkably well and once you get the hang of how the levelling system works it’s incredibly engaging.

Overall, Disco Elysium won’t be for everyone, but for those who want to engage with a dark and meticulously structed mystery this is unlike anything else out there. There is a lot of text and a lot of puzzle solving and critical thinking will be asked of the player but immerse yourself here and you may well find this turns out to be one of your favourite games of all time.

Overall 9/10

Friday 1 April 2022

Royal Frontier Review (Steam)


Thomas G.J. Sharpe

 Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet? Neeeeeearly there? Yet? Royal Frontier is a close-to-casual roguelite RPG battler, that however fun and charming it is, manages to be a bit… too… laboured for me. Obviously, Darkest Dungeon isn’t for everyone. The bleak punishment blended with pitch-perfect aesthetic is not exactly accessible to all tastes. Royal Frontier, which works on a lot of the same lines, but is going for fun, light-hearted, and much more gentle adventure. And this is good. I can really see this working on the Switch as something to dip into for a bit of a relaxed challenge.

Frontier shares its DNA largely with Paper Mario; RPG-lite. Without the draw of the Mario world, there are stock characters, enemies, items, and settings. As an overview, a caravan is attempting to traverse the land, and you pick a route filled with encounters with enemies, loot, mysteries, and shops. You pick three characters from a roster that you expand through runs and equip blessings (the carry-over element to fuel the “next-run” loop). Classes have different abilities, but the blessings mutate the run.

As your caravan trundles into enemies, turn-based combat begins which see you juggling special abilities (that use power points), items to affect the battle, and little pop-up cues to enhance attacks or spells more effectively. The characters bob about in colourful, evocative, yet simple, animations and designs, with bold palettes and a nostalgic glow. After enemies or events have been overcome, your characters gain XP, you can juggle inventories, and choose from rewards.

So far, so good. The trigger mechanic is a nice way to keep the player engaged and paying attention, and there is just about enough happening on screen to give some nice visual feedback on hits, statuses, and atmosphere. The music is apt and not intrusive. The pace, however, I found to be too slow for me. As this is on the simpler side, there are fewer choices to make, and so even as you stack up runs, the enemies always felt like HP reservoirs. Myself, I would have preferred a little more of a lean into the twitch reaction mechanic to make crits more essential, as an idea.

After your heroes have all perished, and you start a new run, you earn new blessings and characters, yet it still felt sluggish to me, even as I became more powerful. The UI ticks over a little too lugubriously with its ornate boxes showing me rewards, battles went stale quicker without more dynamism. I began to resent going back to the start, rather than that crucial just-one-more feeling.

I am sure, however, that this will solidly scratch an itch for those looking for something more cheerful, more light-hearted to sink a few runs in. The price (on Steam £5.99, at time of writing) is also an absolute win. There is enough in the blender in this to be compelling, but for me, a dash of something to spice up the pace would’ve put me up a point on the score.

Overall 7/10