Tuesday 30 August 2022

Avenging Spirit Review (Switch)

This one came at us almost completely out of the blue. We are well aware of the Gameboy version of Avenging spirit (and the fact it’s being released again in physical form) but had no idea that originally the game started out as a coin guzzling arcade cabinet. Somehow though it has found its way to Switch.

Avenging Spirit comes with two modes available. There is a new mode which sort of optimises the experience for console players – pretty much pre-setting a lot of the arcade options to the middle ground. Or if you want to fiddle around with settings you can pick the original arcade version of the game which lets you change all the dip switches and other settings. You also get the standard save states and other features common to these arcade releases.

The game itself is a bright and colourful action platformer. The gimmick of course is that you are of a ghost. Players can possess most enemy types and then take on their skills for their own. Whenever you are not in possession of an enemy body your energy drains away so it’s important to protect your host at all times.

Enemies are varied with a host of different styles and skills to play around with and each level ends with a larger-than-life boss battle that fall into the difficult but fair category. Most of them are quite unique and creative in terms of design as well, meaning there is a distinct personality to each level and area.  

The game is bright and colourful with big sprites and certainly fits into that arcade style well. The only real issue we have with it is that the onscreen real estate is simply too small. The camera really needs to be zoomed out quite significantly as the game world feels cramp and you can never really see where you are going or what hazards you are about to walk into. Maybe this is a hangover from playing the much smaller Gameboy version but it’s something we never got used to.

Overall, there is fun to be had here but this is a game that only the most hardcore of arcade fans would consider essential. It’s a tricky one as there’s nothing really wrong with it and it is fun but given the choice there are numerous better arcade games out there and the Gameboy version is also better in general.

Overall 6/10

Monday 29 August 2022

Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition Review (Switch)

Initially arriving about twelve years after Blade Runner came out in cinemas this always seemed like somewhat of an odd project from Westwood studios. Perhaps, even more strangely, it’s now beenr resurrected again and ported to consoles. The story runs parallel to the movie and follows detective McCoy as he investigates as number of crimes that may be related to an as yet unknown group of replicants. McCoy must gather clues and interrogate suspects as he searches for the truth, whatever that may be.

Blade Runner always was a massively ambitious game with a lot of care and attention has spent on it to keep everything in synch with the world portrayed by Ridley Scott and written about by Philippe K Dick. Voice actors from the original film such as Sean Young, James Hong and Joe Turkel return to add presence to their characters that feature again here. Choice cuts from the original Blade Runner soundtrack are present as well.

The cinematic quality of the movie is also replicated with a number of sweeping shots similar to its on screen counterpart. Locations from the film, as well as small scenes, such as the bicycles riding through the rain, are further used to make players feel they are inside the real Blade Runner world. As far as authenticity goes this game really cannot be faulted.

The game itself is a little removed from what we consider to be a traditional point and click adventure. There are very few actual puzzles to solve and even a few shooting sequences thrown in. Players make their way through the story by collecting clues, using the ESPER photo analysis machine (just like in the film) and talking to suspects. The game has six different endings and your clues can draw you in a number of very different directions. Certain events happen in real though, which can leave players guessing as they were busy investigating a different location when something goes down.

Unfortunately, the titles ambition never wasn’t executed quite as well as it could have been. On quite a few occasions you can be staring at a pile of clues and not really knowing where you should be heading. It is also far too easy to stumble onto a certain path without really knowing, or agreeing, with what your character may end up doing. It can all be just a bit too confusing at times. It’s also fairly short and just when you feel you are stacking up a decent set of clues you suddenly and abruptly arrive at the end of the game anyway.

We would have liked to have seen a little bit more patience from the developers to let players fully develop their opinion about what is going on. Far too often events happen too quickly and you end up thrust into a situation that seems to force the narrative along rather than letting the player do it. Certain sections of the game are also very hard and frustrating.

Criticism aside, the investigation you undertake really is interesting. All the characters are well acted and intriguing to interrogate and McCoy is convincing as the confused detective. The control system also works very well and looking through your clues and piecing together bits of information is satisfying. The combat is reasonable as well and more than adequate for the amount of shooting you end up doing.

The big sticking point is a flawed but ambitious game has now been ported to a less than ideal platform and it hasn’t been done in a massively successful way. For starters there are very few instructions about how anything works – this game really needed a digital manual. You also have an interface which really is not a decent replacement for a mouse and also there are no real quality of life features either. Playing this on the Switch screen really needs some kind of highlight button to show up objects within the scenes.

Fans of the film and book should still definitely check this out though. Sections of the novel that didn't make it into the movie are worked into the story here and the fan service is really worth appreciating. The game may not be perfect but it never stops being interesting and those six endings are going to take a real amount of brain power to track down. Any adventure game fan up for a challenge and something a little different shouldn't be disappointed. But, you really should be playing it on PC if you can.

Overall 6/10

Monday 22 August 2022

Turrican Anthology Vol 1 and 2 Review (Switch)


“Retro gaming” has almost become a redundant title in recent years. The restoration and archiving of old titles have become common practice; with classic games being reissued, forgotten titles being treated to widespread release on new hardware, previously region-locked gems getting lovingly crafted remasters, and even canned titles finally get to see the light of day. The Turrican series falls into the much-loved at the time yet forgotten catagory, the series starting out as a showcase for the then-aging C64 as a technical marvel. Better versions followed, of course, but it’s odd that the original has been omitted from both volumes of the Turrican Anthology.

With the word “anthology” in the title I’d have expected a comprehensive selection of games, at the very least the original version of the first game should show its face, but not here. Each anthology includes three titles (four if you include one director’s cut in each) and what is effectively a demo version of a game from the other collection. The first volume has the Amiga Versions of Turrican and Turrican 2, and Super Turrican and its Director’s Cut from the SNES, and while volume two has Super Turrican 2, the Amiga’s Turrican 3 and its Mega Drive equivalent, Mega Turrican, also with a Director’s cut. While the games are the best the series has to offer, the price of admission (£29.99 each) feels a little steep, but with the rights to the series being spread over so many parties it’s understandable that costs need to be recovered.

The series has its roots in the platforming/shooting genre and may look like a Metroid homage on first glance. The levels – while large - are linear, so the similarities only go as deep as Turrican’s morph ball. The first game’s primary influence was obscure Data East title Psycho-Nics Oscar, and it really does fall into the run-and-gun genre; blast stuff, power ups aplenty, and big bosses. The games really throw enemies and hazards at you, but the use of a health bar rather than a one-hit kill gives the player a bit of breathing room compared to something like Contra. The pace is slower overall, but things can get frantic at times.

All the games stand up as well now as they did back in the 90s. The first two Turricans offer a decent 16-bit shooting through some cavernous levels. The SNES titles combine elements of the first two and slap more colours and some Mode 7 trickery over the top to offer a prettier experience. The real star of the show however is Mega Turrican. While it’s essentially the same game as the Amiga’s Turrican 3 in terms of graphics and levels, it plays much better. I often felt the two were inseparable, but having compared them side-by-side, the Mega Drive’s blast processor really allowed the game to run at a brisk pace, and the Amiga game seems to stutter in comparison.

The games themselves have been given a lot of attention, with perfect ports and a plethora of features to please the time starved and hardcore, through the ability to enable or disable features such as rewind, save states and the like. There’s also a lovely CRT filter if you really want to relive the halcyon days of playing on a 14-inch TV. Each title runs like a dream, and it’s a joy to be able to play Amiga games without faffing with emulation (Factor 5 host files for the Amiga game on their site for free legal download) or original hardware.

The price is the only real downer, as you’re still paying £60 for a handful of 16-bit games, but you could still justify it as a saving on buying the originals. As it stands, these anthologies offer the most reasonably priced way to play these titles (just check out the prices for Super Turrican 2 on eBay), and the emulation is top-notch as always. It’s nice to see Amiga titles making an appearance here (more of this, please), and the addition of modern conveniences is always appreciated, even though it’s pretty much a given these days.

Aside from the pricing, my other minor complaint is the omission of other versions of the first two games. While I’m sure even getting this many games together was a herculean feat of rights-wrangling and publisher schmoozing, it would have been great to have the option of playing the home computer or console ports of the first two games. Having the option of playing the reskinned Turrican 2 in the form of Universal Soldier would have been the cherry on the cake, but this would’ve been a big ask just to satisfy this old obsessive-compulsive collector.

If you’re only going to pick up one of these collections, I’d say Volume 2 is the one to go for, as Mega Turrican is the pinnacle of the series. Of course, you can also pick up the previously released Turrican Flashback, as this includes the first two games, Super Turrican and Mega Turrican. Whichever you choose will provide plenty of solid run-and-gun action, whether you’re a grizzled 90s gamer or a newcomer to the series. And if this is your first time playing, “welcome to Turrican. Hahahahahahaha!”.


Monday 15 August 2022

Shantae and the Pirates Curse Review (Nintendo Switch)

The third game in the Shantae series has our half-genie hero starting out without her genie powers and living as a normal human after losing them at the end of the last game. But when pirates attack her home town and her old nemesis Risky Boots appears to tell her about a mysterious Pirate Master she has little choice but to try and save the day with nothing but her Kabuki Ninja-esque hair attack and ability to leap around.

This sets Shantae off on an adventure that takes her to a number of different islands looking for dens of evil which much be purged to stop the evil Pirate Master from returning. Each island and environment is beautifully presented with some of the most colourful and vibrant 2D platform artwork seen in a very long time. They also contain different themed environments and enemies so there is always something new and varied to see.

Unlike previous games, instead of Shantae using her magic powers to transform into different forms, she now has to collect various pirate artefacts which then grant her the ability to progress. It follows a template similar to Metroid in that you collect an object like a gun which then allows you to operate a switch to open a door to then allow you to move to a new section of the level. There is also a fair amount of wandering back and forth between the different islands and levels but as they are so much fun to explore and revisit this isn’t an issue. 

Level design remains strong throughout with the islands and dungeons giving different challenges and puzzles to solve. The game is always challenging but never unfair or too harsh to stop progression for long. Finding heart squids will also increase your life and Shantae can buy upgrade shampoo and conditioner to level up her hair’s attack power and speed. The learning curve is set just about perfectly and players should feel like they are always prepared for what they come up against without it being a complete walkover. 

One of the highlights of the game is the colourful collection of characters and ever-so-slightly twisted humour that runs through the game. Early on for instance you’ll meet a former giant squid boss who is bemoaning the fact he feels he’ll only be used as a returning reference to the previous game so is planning to retire (Naturally you’ll have to find him a travel brochure so he can start travelling the world looking for the just the right spot).

There are a host of well-known characters from the series to touch base with and it adds just the right amount of fan service for players of series. The writing is also sharp and entertaining – if a little uncomfortable at times. Weirdly, there is a slight sexual undercurrent throughout. An early puzzle requires light to reflect off two untanned girls who won’t strip to their bikinis, while later Shantae acquires x-ray glasses from a disappointed character that has moved to a beach resort out of season so there are no girls to look at. It’s not overly dodgy, but something that parents of younger gamers will probably want to know about.

Some of the character design is also questionably. There are Mermaid characters that are topless (just without nipples), and what can only be described as a giant rolling ball orgy of naked women as a boss to contend with. While Shantae can be forgiven for her attire as she is both a Genie and dancer, both she and a few other characters seem to have ‘developed’ a little since last the last game as well.

Pixelated cleavage aside, the game is an absolute joy to play and an experience that will keep you smiling throughout. Shantae controls very well and always responds how she should. The different objects you pick up always add something new to mess around with and there are plenty of extra side quests and collectables to hunt around for. It all gives you an excuse to spend a bit more time with the game and when something is as joyful as this then it’s likely you’ll be happy to oblige it.

Overall, this is another top draw entry in the Shantae series. This is an accomplished and quality title that rivals  almost everything else in the same genre. It’s a colourful, fun and inventive game and feels right at home on the Switch. It's great to see the series building up more of a fan base as they offer some of the best Metroidvania action out there. If you love your retro inspired platformers then you really need to own this.

Overall 9/10

Monday 8 August 2022

Long Live the Queen Review (Switch)

Visual novels have found a place on most of the modern consoles but relatively few of them have enough to do to warrant interest from the wider gaming community. Long Live the Queen is perhaps the exception to this as it’s much closer to the choose your own adventure books of old and has a decent amount of numbers moving around behind the scenes. The Switch is also a great fit for it as the style fits portability perfectly.

The game starts with a young princess training to take her place on the throne after the death of her mother. The not-so simple aim is to keep her alive until the forty days pass to her coronation. Doing this is of course a lot easier said than done as insurrection, assassins, war and simple accidents are all waiting to send her to an early grave.

There are two main things the player can do to stop this. The first is simply in the decisions you make throughout the game. These range from deciding which courtiers to keep or events to attend to more dramatic decisions on strategy for war or how to deal with prisoners. Each decision sets in motion a chain of events which will need to be dealt with as you progress and keeping on the right side of the kingdom politically is a delicate operation.

The second thing you can do is decided what classes the princess takes each day. There are a huge range of things to study ranging from lore, politics or magic to horse riding, athletics or even singing. Each of these can be developed up to the level of 100 which will be needed to pass certain checks as the game progresses. But there is no way to train in everything of course so it’s important to think what might be around the corner.

How quickly you learn these skills is determined by your characters mood. For instance, if you are angry, you gain bonuses to military and fighting skills but suffer negatives to things like court etiquette, while depression will see you gaining bonuses to faith-based skills but lacking motivation for athletics. You can change the characters mood by deciding where the princess visits during the day and balancing everything together is vitally important or you will soon find yourself falling foul of one of the many ways to die.

Overall, Long Live the Queen is one of the better examples we’ve seen of visual novels on the Switch. Individual games roll by pretty fast which means it’s an easy one to go back to when you die (you can save as well but often you’ll be a long way down the wrong path by then). It also requires the player to be continually involved which makes it far less passive than a lot of similar games in the genre. It’s well worth a look if you are after something different or want to experience a new take on the choose your own adventure books of old. It also holds up remarkably well for a game that first game out way back in 2012.

Overall 7/10

Monday 1 August 2022

Shadowrun Returns Review (Switch)

Shadowrun has been a massively underutilised franchise when it comes to the world of video games. There are countless Dungeons and Dragons titles but only a handful set in the murky shadows of mega corps and monsters.

Of the four games before this revival, one of them was a Japanese only Mega CD title and another is a team based shooter which doesn’t really keep the ethos. The ones fans will remember are the excellent SNES version which saw Jake Armitage taking on a Dragon and the Genesis title that never made it to European shores. To say we've been starved of Shadowrun fun is somewhat of an understatement but now the three most recent PC title have made it to Switch all that is about to change.

Shadowrun Returns is a turn based strategy game set in an isometric viewpoint and is about as old school feeling as a new game gets. It’s very close in mood and graphical style to the SNES game and benefits immensely from it. The areas of the city are dank and polluted and neon tinged signs cast light over the many citizens that walk the streets in this imagining of a dystopian future. 

Conversations are carried out via dialogue trees with pictures of the characters face to the side of them. There is no voice acting or animation here but it doesn’t really detract from the game and if anything adds to the retro feel. Although, the text could be bigger fir handheld mode. 

The story goes that your friend has been murdered and now it’s up to you find out who the killer is. At first it seems a fairly standard tale but there are a few decent twists to keep you on your toes and what starts out as a neo-noir thriller will soon go off into all sorts of strange and gruesome directions.

You can build your character from scratch from five races and a host of different class types which at least on the surface adds some depth and replay value. In practice we found the classes that deal with robots or computers had their skill sets somewhat underused (especially in the beginning), with the combination of magic and guns often the best way to proceed. This is something future instalments amended.

The game is split into three different sections. There’s the part where you run around the area talking to people and looking for clues, the turn based combat sections and parts where you enter the matrix. The first part plays out like a point and click adventure, all be it in a confined area.  Combat can occur quickly and it’s always best to be prepared and ready. When combat does occur your characters are given a number of action points to move, shoot and cast spells. It’s not ground breaking but it works simply and effectively enough. You also have to keep an eye on characters strengths with Trolls and Orcs better at taking damage than Elves for instance.

Most of the time you’ll have a team of four and your missions will generally be to get into somewhere, retrieve a person or object and get out. Sometimes you just have to kill people but it becomes a step by step process of running to cover, concentrating fire and carefully moving forward. Mistakes in the original pc game could be costly and if you die you would start the whole sequence again. This is one of the flaws that has now been ironed out as you can now save during missions. 

There is still a slight issue with picking sensible gear as being auto-saved into a difficult place means there may be no way to get out alive if you haven’t brought the right supplies or team. This can be somewhat frustrating considering you won’t know what you need until you get there.

The matrix sections of the game are also a little dry. They play out in much the same way as normal combat with the Decker moving around a virtual system setting up combat programmes and fighting drones. It would have been nice to distinguish this more from the normal combat but it works.

Overall, Shadowrun Returns is a positive return to form for the series. It’s not perfect but everything is in place and built upon by the later releases. The game as it stands is solid, well written and will provide a good few hours of gameplay. A few more side quests and a bit more variety wouldn’t have gone a miss but it’s an easy world to get drawn into and any fan shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s a streamlined turn based strategy game set in an interesting world and is quite unique for the Switch.

Overall 6/10

* There is currently a game blocking bug late in the game. It is due to be patched. Keep this in mind when purchasing.