Monday 27 June 2022

Pocky and Rocky Reshrined Review (Switch)

Pocky and Rocky have been chucking cards at demons for some time now but have still only managed four games, the last of which was on the GBA.  We are old enough to remember the first SNES game and loved it dearly. We’d never finished it due to how crushingly difficult it was but here’s a thing, after player Reshrined we went back to it and finally made it through to the end.

How did this happen? Well, one of your attack options is a close-range melee attack. Except, that isn’t all it does and we never realised before. Yes, that close range attack works as a deflect to many of the incoming projectiles. Who knew? Apparently, everyone except us but there you go.

For those new to the series, you basically make your way through ancient Japanese landscapes blasting demons. Despite its title, this isn’t actually a remake. It starts off looking very much like the first level of the first SNES game but soon branches out into levels full of little secret passages and new level designs. You also get to play as four characters over the course of the story mode. Once cleared a free mode unlocks which let’s you select who you want to play as to try and beat all the levels. This is slightly annoying as it effectively locks the two player mode away until you’ve beaten the game. You’ll have to beat it once again to unlock the final playable character as well.

That said, while the game is tough, it does have generous check points and you have unlimited continues with which to get through it. So, if you stick at it you will get through eventually and it’s not the longest of games either.  

The options available to the player follow the shooter mould with a few twists. You have the standard shoot attack which can be upgraded from cards (or other weapon depending on character), to fireballs and homing magic. You have the smart bomb attack and two ways to avoid incoming fire. The first of which is the dodge which launches your player across the screen, but takes a few seconds to get back up from and the previously mentioned deflect attack which knocks projectiles away and back at enemies.

Complementing how the game plays are some beautiful visuals. The ancient Japanese mythological style is captured perfectly as demons of various sizes come at you against the backdrops of bamboo fields, rivers and wooden flying machines. Anyone familiar with Spirited Away or other Studio Ghibli output will be seeing some familiar faces along the way as well. It perfectly merges the old pixel style with something more modern and comes out the other side still looking exactly how Pocky and Rocky should.

Overall, Pocky and Rocky Reshrined is a successful return for a much loved pairing. All the mechanics work and it looks both retro and beautifully modern at the same time. There are no issues with controls, and it also provides enough of a challenge for long term players while being accessible to newcomers. Locking the multiplayer option away is a strange decision but generally speaking everything here works and fans or the original and newcomers alike should both be very happy with it.

Overall 8/10

Physical copies of the special edition version of Pocky and Rocky can be found at -

Monday 20 June 2022

Alwa's Awakening Review (NES)

So here we are in 2022 and a new NES game has just been released. Truly it is a time of wonder. Alwa’s Awakening has been around for a fair while now and we’ve covered the Switch version of the sequel Alwa’s Legacy, which we really enjoyed. When it was announced that the first game was getting the NES ‘demake’ treatment it had us interested. What we weren’t expecting was the NES version of the game would actually be bigger than the original and end up being the definitive way to play it.

Alwa’s Awakening is basically a 2D Metroidvania adventure spread over a single interconnecting world. Our hero, Zoe, explores the region picking up spells and other magical objects which in turn then let’s her have access to more areas to explore. Zoe must enter dungeons, defeat boss monsters and then, of course, take on the big bad to save the land. You know how it goes.

It’s helpful then that the game is incredibly vibrant, imaginative and designed beautifully. We came away thinking we had never really had an adventure quite like this and if you go back to the NES days there would indeed be very little to compare it to. Battle for Olympus, Faxanda possibly or the 2D Zelda but this is undoubtedly better than both of those games.

Each region and area are easily identified and different looking and how the game has managed to be squeezed down into the limitations of a NES cartridge is absolutely astounding. Even walls of bricks or different woodland areas are distinctive from one another which really helps to keep the player engaged - and also works as a handy navigational aid.

All this would mean nothing though if the game didn’t handle well and we are happy to say that it plays like a dream. Zoe, is perfect to control. There’s no sluggishness or lose feeling that some NES games have. There is also a distinct lack of all those NES tropes such as slowdown and flickering, and Alwa can get pretty busy at times. It’s remarkable.

Zoe has a handful of things to help her along the way which act as puzzle solving tools and weapons. As well as her standard staff which she can use to just bash things with there are three spells available which can be upgraded as you go. The first one you will find is the magic block which you can conjure to use to activate switches or give yourself a boost for jumping. Later you can also make it waterproof so that it can be used to travel across rivers.

Next is the bubble which allows Zoe to float upwards for a while and can later be upgraded to last for much longer. Last is the lighting bolt which is a more offensive based spell but can also be used to open certain doors. There are other objects as well such as your handy map and upgrades to your magic but for the most part it’s using the three core spells that will progress you through the game and some of the puzzle rooms require all three to be used in quick succession.

We found progress to be fairly steady as well. There are plenty of save points and the general difficult is challenging without be completely hardcore. There were certainly a few bottle neck points where we kept dying repeatedly but overall there shouldn’t be much here that overly frustrates you – especially if you are used to NES games. Obviously, if you are playing digitally you also have the save state option and the game holds up well enough if you are playing this way to still be challenging and enjoyable.

Overall, Alwa’s Awakening is both a wonderful game and a wonderful achievement. It fits perfectly on the NES while also being modern and forward thinking in its design and play mechanics. There’s little doubt that if this had been released in the days of Nintendo’s flagship system then it would be sitting easily in the all the top 10 NES games lists across the internet. But it’s not just living off a nostalgic kick either as it can also go toe to toe with the many other Metroidvania titles out there and stand above most of them. It could turn out that turning Alwa’s Awakening into a NES game is the best thing that ever happened to it as it really seems to have found its home now. But no matter what format you can find it on you should be playing it as it’s pretty much flawless.

Overall 10/10

We were lucky enough to play the game both on the original NES cartridge as well as digitally thanks to Elden Pixels and Retro Bit.  

Monday 13 June 2022

Wonder Boy Collection Review (Switch)

ININ games are well versed now in the release of retro compilations. We’ve had Space Invaders, Darius, Turrican and now Wonder Boy gets the treatment. As before, this collection comes in two forms. You can go the Strickly Limited physical route and get a pretty comprehensive collection which includes more games and multiple versions of each, or this one which is far stingier in its content.

The standard Wonder Boy Collection contains four games. You get the arcade versions of the original Wonder Boy and Wonder Boy in Monster Land and the Genesis versions of Wonder Boy in Monster World and Monster World IV. The biggest and most obvious omission is Wonder Boy III: The Dragons Trap, but it is available as a separate release. Monster World IV is also available elsewhere with a recent remake, the physical version for which also includes the Genesis version and of course you can get the two arcade games as arcade releases as well. Confused? We won’t mention Monster Boy in the Cursed Kingdom or the fact the two Genesis titles were originally going to be on the Switch Mega Drive collection then.

The four games come with the usual selection of extras now expected as standard with these types of collections. That means save states, display options and the ability to remap controls. There’s also a rewind function. There’s gallery content which is a bit weird as it’s full of box art and instructions for versions of games not included but it’s nice to have.

In terms of the games themselves they hold up well. The first Wonder Boy is very different to the rest of course. Here you simply run along a route trying to avoid obstacles and throwing things to hit enemies. It’s a classic arcade style game and lacks much depth. It’s unlikely you’ll spend much time with it as it was never a massively great game in the first place.

Wonder Boy in Monster Land is where the series starts to really take shape. Despite being an arcade game it’s an adventure platformer where you can pick up armour and spells as you make your way through linear platform levels with explorations elements. It’s a really strange choice for an arcade game and the timer element seems forced but it’s great fun. Sadly, if you want the home Master System version, you’ll need to buy the more deluxe collection.

Monster World and Monster World IV see the series move to fully fledged console game adventure platformers. Both are good and will keep you occupied for a fair while. The only real complaint is that the reach of your sword is so tiny that combat can be frustrating at times. But there’s a lot to explore and find and there is enough inventiveness on show to set them aside from the Metroid’s and 2D Zelda games of the world.  

The biggest issue is who will buy this. It’s considerably cheaper than the deluxe version of course but it relies on people not having bought the three already available games or just really wanting to get hold of Wonder Boy in Monster World. The fact Wonder Boy III isn’t here is also a big issue. That said, if you have avoided all the previous releases and don’t want to go for the deluxe version then what’s here is good and provides a shot of quality retro fun for a near budget price.

Overall 7/10

Monday 6 June 2022

Loot River Review (Steam)


Written by Thomas GJ Sharpe

Loot River is a pixelly, puzzley, roguey thing that, since launch, has swung between my good and bad graces. Many moving parts make this fascinating and bold, and yet concurrently cumbersome, and worse for the multitude of said parts. I believe that the issues highlighted by a lacklustre reception have, however, been acknowledged and are beginning to be responded to. For this reason, I have a pleasant, yet tentative, hope for Loot River.

There was a fair bit of visibility for this small title. I was grabbed by the visuals with a gameplay reveal. These little pixelated characters knocking around some gorgeous environments; pleasant lighting effects; water effects carefully balanced against the pixels; even the very bureaucratic type face used was intriguing. The movement of the little player character reminded me of my childhood nightmare-inducing playing of Ecstatica. Spindly and minimalistic, uncanny and unnerving.

You play a dead warrior in flooded underworld, resurrected by a woman who tasks you with retrieving a mystical gewgaw that will release you and some other trapped spirits. The world is traversed by floating platforms, controlled by the player. You battle monsters and bosses. You character build as you do a “run”, putting points into attributes. You collect buffs, world mutators, and unlock weapons on a weapon tree. You have a hub world that gives you a place to buy items, unlock new areas. So. Many. Moving. Parts. All at once it has an ARPG feel, a roguelite rhythm, an atmospheric experience, a puzzle game. Slipping between these gears is sometimes jarring, sometimes good, but mainly jarring.

For instance, the “puzzle” element of moving platforms around to make your way across the levels is a nice idea, but it amounts to very little. While the platforms are primarily transport, they can be weaponised to provide or withhold access to mobs. A slight ability to mould the environment is something energising, but a lot of the time it is unnecessary as the action element tends to end up on the top of the priority pile.

Using dodges and parries, a couple of varieties of attacks, the player inevitably has to get sufficiently good at making space and taking opportunities to strike. Unfortunately, the balance is not there with most enemies for me, with it being sometimes unexpectedly easy and then bafflingly hard. In general, having said that, the combat is fun enough to keep you going. Restarting runs is not a particularly satisfying thing, as the gameplay is generally clumsy and a tad labourious. There is, however, something compelling in this heap of things you do.

There is a charming misery to this, like Blasphemous, that smooths my opinion. While there isn’t the imaginative viscera, Loot River does provide a little atmospheric tingle. If the developer tightens more of the issues, such as character movement and busted AI, then this would be a solid and unique game. I hope they continue to refine Loot River. It’s like Dark Souls crossed with Cannon Fodder and I really, really like that, but this is just a 3 out of 5. A plucky underdog for those interested in floating platforms, parry timing, and definitely, definitely, definitely using a controller.

Overall 6/10