Monday 31 October 2022

Lego Brick Tales Review (Switch)

It seems strange that over the years very few Lego games have been focused on the core building aspect of the little plastic blocks. Lego Brick Tales is looking to change that without relinquishing the story aspect completely.

Here, we effectively have an original, non-licensed based, Lego adventure which is more heavily based around puzzle solving than any of the game in the franchise previously. You play a Lego Minifigure who is tasked with helping his grandfather rebuild a run-down amusement park. In order to do this, you have to go into different themed biomes and find magic crystals.

The biomes are themed around locations such as desserts, jungles and Medieval castles and you make your way through them by talking to other minifigures and solving their problems through building things. The first jungle biome isn’t the best, but things do pick up considerably once you move on from there with the game mostly staying on the right side of being fun. Just expect to be building a lot of bridges.

The building aspect can best be described as working functionally. When you must build something, you are moved to a self-contained space with all the shapes available to you set out on the floor and an allotted space set up for you to build within. Along with this you’ll get key instructions such as ‘place pot on top’ or ‘use three elements’, but for the most part you are free to use the pieces how you see fit. There are a couple of occasions where the instructions aren’t particularly clear but on the whole, nothing is too obscure and while bridges do pop up a little too often, you’ll also be building working machinery and other things to keep it interesting.

The biggest barrier to your building is the control scheme. No matter how many hours we put in, it never became anything other than a bit awkward. Though the team are continuing to look at this and further patches are incoming. A Switch control scheme is never going to match that of a human hand but again, we did get used to it and after getting through the first biome it rarely caused enough of an irritation to stop us completing the builds.

Like a lot of the Lego games there is also this relentless sense of fun and creativity that runs through it. It’s just wonderfully charming to the point that when you hit one of the bits that doesn’t quite work it’s easily overlooked because two seconds later, you’ll be talking to a Lego ghost or collecting Lego hermit crabs and it’s impossible to stay frustrated.

Overall, this is a good attempt at trying to merge the idea of free brick building with something story based that isn’t attached to a major license. It is a bit rough around the edges but the key elements such as the charm and feel of a Lego world are present and once you have got used to its quirks there is a lot of enjoyment to be had.


Monday 24 October 2022

Atari Mania Review (Switch)


With the 50th anniversary of Atari upon us the company is celebrating it’s back catalogue with a host of new versions of classic games, retro collections and this little oddity which aims to tap into the market in between Warioware releases. It’s certainly a creative thing to do and one we’ve seen surprisingly under utilised outside of Nintendo and Atari certainly has a large enough back catalogue to potentially pull it off.

The game starts in suitably quirky fashion with you taking control of the caretaker of the Atari Museum. You can explore the museum which acts as the games small overworld area. Here you collect items that help you solve puzzles and sweep up messes. As you progress through the puzzles, you’ll open more areas and it’s here where you engage with the various challenges as the dreaded dead pixels start appearing and mutating and warping the classic games held within.

The set up is very much the same as Warioware in that you must undertake a number of challenges within a strict time limit before facing off against a boss at the end. The challenges are all based around classic Atari games such as Millipede, Breakout and Haunted House, but they become intwined and mutated as you progress.

For instance, you might be playing as the paddle from Breakout in Millipede and trying to hit it with a ball or playing as the bad guy in Yar’s Revenge and trying to survive being blasted. It’s all very creative and the mix ups all work very well. That is, in terms of ideas at least as some of the games have loose controls that makes the experience much more difficult than it should be. Anything with the breakout paddle is especially susceptible to this as it moves in such a strange way it can be incredibly tough to pass even early challenges.

Most of the games work well, but it becomes frustrating when you are eleven of twelve games into a sequence to then be hit with a run of titles difficult to control which quickly sees you fail the sequence. As the game is fairly small it means players may find themselves stuck very quickly as they continually come up against a sequence of games they can’t get through. Practice does of course help but there is a big difference between a display of skill and fighting the games controls.

The controls really are the biggest issue with the game as everything else is excellently put together. There’s classic box art and manuals to find and unlock and the overworld puzzle aspect works well to keep everything connected. The plot is wonderfully crazy as well and adds another level of fun to everything going on.

Overall, this is a creative and inventive game that uses the back catalogue of one of gaming’s oldest companies in new and fun ways. It’s a certainly charming and people old enough to remember experiencing the titles it features will get a warm nostalgia buzz. But it really needs to have its controls refined for some of the games as too often what should be a fun distraction turns to frustration.

Overall 6/10

Monday 17 October 2022

Shovel Knight Dig Review (Steam)


Review by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

It seemed inevitable, prefigured, or maybe just good ol’, home-farmed, shruggy-shouldered bad luck, that my down cursor key on my Logitech G213 keyboard (the closest I ever want to get to any sort of “gamer” designed peripheral) decided to become 50% less responsive. Being someone that avoids controllers as much as possible, it had to be Yacht Club/Nitrome’s downward themed Shovel Knight that I was meant to be playing. Shovel Knight Dig joins a small, but compelling, coterie of games that plunge down ‘tward the core like in that film where a group of scientists go to the centre of the earth to restart it with nukes, but the name escapes me.

Dig is on one hand really familiar territory. Blue Knight is back with his sort of unflappable-yet-flailing charm. The moveset is pretty much the same, as it has been, since Shovel of Hope, but there’s an emphasis on the digging (deeply unsurprising). You’re urged downward, making the most of Blue’s Duck Tails-esque pogo-shovel jump attack. Enough is changed by this 90-degree clockwise spin rotate, to give a fun, if short, addition to the series. Unlike Downwell, for instance, you are not in free fall. And unlike Raising Hell, you’re not going up. There is still a “room” quality to the progression. You go down, dig, collect loot, traverse environmental traps, shovel enemies, and that’s about it. Occasionally there are bosses to cap off sections, where you get a choice of two paths. Also, shops to change your loadout and thus alter your stats, help to give some purpose to the greed.

It is important to stress that this has rogue-lite elements to it. A persistent hub area with a host of wonderfully realised characters (by far, to me, the crowning glory of the series is the character design, animation, and writing). You collect armour sets, trade in gems for relics, and therefore have some control over your gameplay feel. This is, admittedly, quite thin, as the level traversal is the real loop here. And by loop, yeah, you go back into the hole in the ground caused by the schemes of (checks notes) Drill Knight, to pursue him and your pilfered loot, over and over until you get to the end. I haven’t gotten to the end, but all reports I have read seem to suggest a reasonably short experience of around five hours if you slightly backseated a 100% completion of collectibles, and were any good at it. I, for one, am not enhanced in my ability to play platformers whichever way the action in the game is moving toward, be it down, up, or the traditional right.

I cannot comment on other versions or platforms, but the PC version (with a controller) was responsive, looked great, and sounded superb. Another highlight of this series is the music, and this is no exception. Shovel Knight has consistently managed to find that sweet spot of nostalgia and newness, evoking something at once familiar and yet not tired, or second-hand. With a toe dipped into the one-more-round paddling pool, there is a different motivation than a traditional level-beating goal. It puts a lot of the load onto the satisfaction of competency through iteration. If you must repeat sections (however differently randomised) you get a keen sense of your change as a player. Part of my love of Hades for instance, was the creeping skill wall. The risk is, perhaps, how this sense of progression is felt by the player, and those permanent upgrades do help, but sometimes short play time can do it too. I will see where the load shifts to, or whether the pursuit of collectibles rears its strange head.

All in all, Dig is as consistent, enjoyable, and effective as ever. I consider these games to be a part of the high-water mark of the new platforming set. With the exemplary visual design, they’re not afraid to try these twists, like Pocket Dungeon, to capture a whole new way to engage with their gorgeous world and loveable characters.

Overall 8/10

Monday 10 October 2022

Return to Monkey Island Review (Switch)

It still seems barely believable that this game actually exists. As long time Monkey island fans we have played through the original four games, the two remakes and even the episodic series, so to have another full entry arrive is as wonderful as it is surprising. Even when we were reviewing Thimbleweed Park and Broken Age it never really even crossed our minds that a new Monkey island would even be possible at some point in the future. But here we are. No pressure on the team then!

For those new to the series, the games follow Guybrush Threepwood, a wimpy aspiring pirate who continually clashes with the ghost pirate LeChuck as he searches for the Secret of Monkey Island. The opening menu will get you up to date as it gives you access to a scrap book where players can have the previous four main Monkey Island games explained to them through a host of amusing anecdotes told by Guybrush.

After choosing to play on hard or casual (which removes key chains in the puzzles that need to be solved), you’ll be thrown into the game seemingly at the end of the Monkey Island 2. After a genius resolution on how that game ends you’ll then embark on your new quest in what is about as traditional a point and click adventure as you can get these days.

In terms of the new graphics style it has a paper/card element to the design which is similar to something like Tearaway or a sort of digital pop up book. It works really well and adds to the feel of an old tale being told with players sort of moving through the pages. It also helps to make the environments looks absolutely stunning at times.

Presentation mimics much of the original games with it playing out over what essential amounts to a 2D set of screens. Each screen has point of interest for you to interact with and you can select these by pushing the analogue stick or have Guybrush walk close to them in order for them to highlight.

Puzzles are solved by finding and combining objects and then taking them to where they need to be used. An early example of this is needing to get hold of a key to open a door. Here you’ll need to find a magnifying glass to read the lock serial number then take the number to a lock smith to have them make you a new key. Exactly how many steps each puzzle has depends on if you are playing on casual or hard.

The puzzles throughout are of an excellent standard and carry on the tradition of players needing to think outside the box but not descending into the trope of needing to try everything in your inventory on everything else in the hope that something works. There is a kind of strange logic that runs through the game (and the series), and it remains consistent throughout.

Much of the early part of the game will be familiar to long time fans as many of the locations from the first game are back with the initial section set exclusively on Melee island. It’s great to see the original screens recreated here and a fair few of the jokes play on what has or hasn’t changed. While the game is welcoming to new fans there is certainly a lot to be gained from being familiar with the other games as well as nostalgia plays a big part in much of the dialogue.

Overall, Return to Monkey Island is better than we could have ever hoped for. It can happily sit alongside the other games in the series and may have hopefully shown there is life to get another game or two going, or at least get the HD remakes on the Switch. It’s an essential experience for those who have grown up with the series, but it is also welcoming to newcomers and will likely create a lot of new fans as well. Maybe there isn’t anything here quit as genius as insult sword fighting but the writing is great, the puzzles are clever and the audio work is second to none.

Overall 8/10

Monday 3 October 2022

ScourgeBringer Review (Switch)

Review by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

We each have our own requirements for the one-more-try. Achievement hunting, mastery, speed, a desire to be in the game world just a bit more. ScourgeBringer scratches my particular itches. A beautifully drawn up world, with a characterful character, satisfying controls, and pacing that urges you on with thoughtful progression. ScourgeBringer has been added to my own personal faves of the genre, which admittedly is a bloated sac these days. HadesIsaacCaveblazers, FTL, Nuclear Throne and Risk of Rain refuse to be uninstalled from my library. ScourgeBringer is now inducted into this pantheon of effective and satisfying rogues.

A dotty story that centres around a planetary cataclysm caused by a portal-dimensional-hellmouth thing spurs our warrior protagonist to find the source. The prologue is lovingly depicted, and gives a compelling enough backstory skeleton to dangle world-flesh on. Within the crawlin’ thru’ rooms gameplay, a more Enter The Gungeon vibe appears with characters trapped in the interior portal world; shopkeepers bartering in life-blood, or the ersatz currency, with little relationships. Also, an old guide style character who sits in the hub area where you can access the bestiary and upgrade your passive abilities.

In the tried and tested way, when you are defeated you return to the hub and begin again to progress deeper into the mob infested world. Each area, with its own scenic flavour, has a grid of rooms (not very maze-like), with special rooms and regular “battle” rooms, leading to a boss room. As Kyhra, you wield a sword and a ranged weapon, the latter of which can be swapped out for other types. There is a simplicity in the set up that makes this game far more pick-up-and-play than, in particular, Nuclear Throne and Enter The Gungeon, which can baffle the player until you experiment at length. Perhaps, though we don’t have much variety on this end which can feel a touch dry, as this is not at the forefront of the primary loop.

The game, at its slicey-shooty heart, is slicin’ and shootin’. ScourgeBringer shines in its control response. It is succinct and direct, giving a great connection to Kyhra’s action for the player. Concurrently the player feels powerful, yet responsible. To summon the feeling of Doom (2016), would be one way to describe it. Continually, the combat feels that you’re just hanging in there, just about made that move. The immediacy is compelling and addictive. The dynamic music absolutely slaps as well (incidentally very reminiscent of Mick Gordon’s Doom masterwork), whirring up when with enemies, and slipping back to give some sensory respite. A lot is done with a little.

There is an ability tree that you slowly unlock by collecting the ominously labelled Judge Blood. This gives you access to new stat buffs, but also new combos. This blossoms into a modest, but easy to remember move set that feels intuitive. Your smash (essentially a stun in its unevolved form) adapts into a way to deflect back enemy fire, for instance. These small tweaks and additions as you play run after run keep you involved in the arms and progression race. There is also a neat feature where the difficulty is adaptive. Again, keeping you just on the side of challenging.

It is telling that negatives or gripes come down to non-deal-breakers. Some hit-boxes for projectiles felt unfair to me. Maybe there are some telegraphing issues with enemy attacks. Are there a couple too many rooms in this area or that? Could that be solved with a sprinkling of secret rooms I have to bust in to?

These are gripes with more in-common with musings on design choices. Simply put, ScourgeBringer is tight, defined, beautiful, satisfying, and exciting. A great step up from the already fantastic Neurovoider. Heartily recommend.

Overall 9/10