Wednesday 30 November 2022

Orbital Bullet Review (Switch)


Another day and another Rogue-like arrives. But just when you think you’ve seen everything, something new appears to show there is still life in the genre. Orbital Bullet takes the action platformer approach to the live, die, repeat mantra and is far more frenetic and intense than your average Rogue title.

The concept is simple, you choose one of four classes and try and blast your way around an enclosed arena in the form of a ring. Once the ring is clear of enemies you hit the L button and zoom round and to the next one to repeat the process again. Occasionally, you get to stop and buy supplies and boost your skills or jump to a boss ring, but the gameplay loop remains the same pretty much throughout. Once the boss arena is completed you get the choice of moving to a new planet which brings a graphical change and a new set of enemies to blast.

And what a loop it is. Pounding music, a frantic pace and not a second to breath permeates the entire experience of an Orbital Bullet run through. It’s akin to someone taking Black Future 88 (what do you mean you haven’t played it?) and fusing it with some kind of side scrolling Tempest game. Add a sprinkling of Resogun and you’ve got it.

You’ll have access to a ton of weapons, with more continually unlocking and a grid of skills and buffs that you can unlock at the end of each run. This of course means that the next time you play you’ll likely get a little bit further through the rings and pick up some more points to feed into your unlockable skills, and thus the loop continues.

There are of course secrets to uncover as well. You’ll often stumble upon rifts in the levels which can be passed through by sacrificing health or using unlock keys. These rift rings are filled with tough enemies but offer up big rewards for skilled players, often giving weapon unlocks or quantities of keys and other bonus items.

Your skill unlocks cover every aspect of play from adding more jumping ability and increasing speed to upping the level of weapon you start with and the timer on your combo counter. They come in two forms as well with a long-term permanent unlock system before each run allowing players some control over what they get next. In game you find computer terminals which add layers of buffs such as higher heath or more bounce damage. These in turn take in game points to unlock but only last the length of your run.

Weapon unlocking is even more complicated with blueprints needing to be found Initially then points needing to be spent to have the weapon created. You can also play a much longer game here by putting your points into the minimum and maximum level of weapons available throughout.

Overall, Orbital Bullet is successful in taking an oversaturated genre and somehow managing to carve out its own original niche within it. There isn’t really anything out there quite like it and it provides a thrilling and highly satisfying blasting experience. Initially it doesn’t feel like it has much depth but don’t be fooled, this is a devious and deep game which will require reflexes of a Jedi in order to defeat.

Overall 8/10


Monday 28 November 2022

Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Volume 2 Review (Switch)

Like the first Neo Geo Pocket Collection, Volume 2 brings another ten games to the Switch (Eleven if you count both versions of SNK VS. Capcom Card Fighters’ Clash). It means that around a quarter of all the games available on the system are now on Nintendo’s hybrid and we can only hope this continues. It also helps that there’s some really good games on here.

Like the first volume this collection brings together the individually released Pocket games from the year, compiles them and adds a host of others as well. We’ve had fewer individual releases this time around so it’s an enticing prospect even if you’ve already broken cover and purchased some of the games already.

Included are three sports games. Neogeo Cup 98 is an easily forgettable football game but the other two fare far better. Pocket Tennis is great and evokes memories of Super Tennis back on the SNES. We found ourselves losing far more time than we intended, and it works great for quick goes. Baseball Stars is also a lot of fun with each of the teams having unique stats and each area of the game being represented well. Both may not have warranted individual releases, but they are far more than just filler here.

There are two quirky games on here as well with The King of Fighters Battle De Paradise providing a sort of weird board game version of the game and the notoriously quirky Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun also here. Unfortunately, both games are in Japanese (though the manuals have been translated). Both games are confusing enough without having to fight through a foreign language as well. Ganbare in particular has a fair amount of text so you’ll need to keep going back an forth to know what is going on. The game itself has a weird creature developing mini games which you can then play, and you have to effect his environment to keep him awake. Yes, it’s very strange.

Biomotor Unitron adds a much-welcomed RPG to the collection though in truth it’s quite average. It’s a bit Pok√©mon like but instead of creatures you are collecting resources for your robot. It’s solid but we can’t see many people seeing it through to the end. The previously released Mega Man Battle and Fighters is also included, (and not translated from Japanese), which provides two games which are effectively a succession of boss battles in a kind of basic fighting game. It’s fun, but nothing amazing and without the license would likely be forgotten.

What is a wonderful surprise is Puzzle Link 2. On the surface it seems like a sort of Magical Drop or Puzzle Bobble clone but that is not the case. You do have to match colours, but you do this by connecting them with pipes that you throw up the screen. It’s a fresh and clever take on the genre and one you’ll lose a lot of time to. Who knew Pipemania crossed with Magical Drop was the game we all needed?

The remaining two games have both been released separately. Big Bang Pro Wrestling has proved to be a really nice surprise. We had never even heard of it but it’s now up there with SNK vs Capcom: Card Fighters Clash as our most played NGP game. It plays well, it’s inventive, the graphics and sound are satisfying, and it uses the control scheme the best you can possibly expect for the system. There’s also a wide range of characters and match types to pick from.

SNK Vs, Capcom Card Fighters’ Clash is of course the headline act here with both versions of the games included and the English and Japanese language versions of both those games as well. The card battles themselves are deceptively complex. Battles play on out on a table where players can lay a maximum of three cards down. When played, cards add whatever special points they have to the players total and also present a battle point value to attack and defend with. The special points then allow for things like dual attacking and launching special abilities. Once cards are down players can either attack with them or hold them back to defend. Once an action has been taken the card in question is then frozen. This is important as you must weigh up how likely you are to be able to defend against incoming attacks and if an all-out strike by your team is worth leaving yourself defenceless for.

The key here is that you aren’t trying to eliminate all your opponent’s cards but instead knock down their health bar. If they are unable to block an incoming attack with a card the battle points value of the card will be removed from their total. Once it reaches zero, they lose. The same goes for you of course, so the balance between attack and defence is key. The only frustrating thing here is of course that there is always a certain random element to how cards come out so some games can be lost very early on with little the player can do about it. Of course, when you get hold of a few better cards to add into your deck this also works the other way as you can destroy your opponent very quickly if they start with a bad hand.

Overall, this second volume of Neo Pocket games has been put together very well. There’s enough here to warrant buying the whole package if you’ve already bought one or two of the other games and there is a good mix of different styles and genres. It also shows the handheld was far more than just mini versions of 2D fighters. If haven’t bought Card Fighters’ separately already this is pretty essential, and even if you have the other games are well worth playing. Let’s hope more collections appear in the future.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 23 November 2022

Alwa's Awakening and Cathedral Cart Review (Evercade)

This is the second two cartridge game to come to the Evercade after the mix of Xenocrisis and Tanglewood. Considering that one worked out well it shows that with the right games the Evercade fan base are more than willing to buy in to carts with fewer games on. It certainly helps that both these games are published by Elden Pixels, purveyor of some of the finest retro themed fun out there.

The first title, 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. Turning Alwa’s Awakening into a NES game was the best thing that ever happened to it as it really seems to have found its home now and having it accessible via the Evercade is a perfect match.

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.

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.

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.

Cathedral has the honour of being the first native Evercade game. This is a real milestone as it opens the door for other indie games and even exclusives to make their way to the system. It’s a magically realised adventure game filled with a feeling of mystery, joy and the urge to push ever onward that many players may not have felt for a very long time. It encapsulates what made 8-bit adventure games so good while also ironing out many of the issues that they were often hindered with. There’s also no noticeable difference between this and other versions of the game that we could see.

We love a good romp through titles like Wizards and Warriors and Battle of Olympus but Cathedral does it better. There may be hundreds of Metroidvania games out there but hardly any of them can hope to be as accomplished as this. It’s a classic and the new indie standard in the genre. It also manages to rocket to the top of the Evercade best games list effortlessly.

You start the game inside the mysterious old Cathedral of the games title with little understanding of what’s going on or what your mission is. Shortly after this you will escape and head to a nearby town. The town’s folk will help to fill you in on the games law and from there you undertake a vast adventure to defeat a particularly big bad in the best traditions of magic and fantasy.

The game throws you early on in terms of how it plays. Initially, we were pretty convinced what we had unearthed was effectively Shovel Knight the Metroidvania. The art style is similar and our hero knight can even do the Duck Tales bounce with his sword. The longer we played though the more we realised the game was very much its own beast and one that seems more influenced by Rare’s Wizards and Warriors trilogy on the NES (but much smoother in terms of how it plays).

It’s also fair to say that it took a few hours to get into. To begin with we found it difficult to judge the edges of platforms and the general inertia of the knight which had us falling to our death over and over. There are also some pretty heavy colour blind issues surrounding health bars and some on screen objects. But after finding a few items and giving the game some time everything simply clicked into place and all our initial problems just faded away.

Overall, these two games are more than worthy of sharing a cart together. If the system can keep putting out quality titles like this and making them more accessible then it might have really found a niche it can mine for years to come.

Game Rankings - 

Alwa’s Awakening 5/5

Cathedral 5/5

Monday 21 November 2022

From Space Review (Steam)


Review by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

From Space is a rather enjoyable action game with some odd elements making it up. With a stylised visual presentation, a deeper-than-you’d-expect role-playing system, and a surprising linear nature, there are more hits than misses, but still definitely some rough edges and issues needing to be addressed. At this stage, however, From Space did keep me engaged and having fun.

It’s important that I really make clear how I couldn’t quite get what this game was until I was well on my way. The premise is a simple alien invasion story, there seemed to be some player roles that I could switch between on the fly, and the aliens were a blast to blast. So far, so good. Something just didn’t click into place for me in the first couple of hours of playing. You’re popped into this nicely presented world. Almost tilt-shift, diorama style overhead view, where you play a little bobble-headed “specialist”. You move through the areas in quite a linear way, clearing objectives that usually branch from a character you meet in a safe-zone, or hub area. I expected that I’d just sort of jog about, clear the aliens out of the ruined environments, and satisfy the needs of survivors.

The action is fun. A range of neon alien critters are poised to stop your objectives of saving people, finding objects, or getting access to important infrastructure to the survivors. That isn’t, however, all. There is a character perk system, an equipment upgrade system (paid for by little pink orbs you gain from dispatchin’ E.T.), inventory management, two different item slots to utilise, and four different specialists to choose from. Already I wondered the impact of choosing particular weapons to upgrade; would they carry on between specialists? Are there going to be enough uses for the environmental items like the barbed wire spools to justify taking up a space in my inventory? Why is there not a pause while I am single-player? I felt that as soon as I started a fun little action game, it had spread out into a buffet of different systems that I didn’t expect to keep track of, or maybe felt out of place in what seemed like an arcadey-blaster.

The missions often required me to clear an area, or deliver an NPC unharmed to the next safe-zone in the process. These layers provide an unexpected depth to the proceedings which on one hand really worked for me to make the combat more contemplative, but at the same time, sucked some of the fun out of it. Other issues, such as path-finding with NPCs (or them being equipped with suicide-inducing toxic-waste launching guns) made unwanted distractions. Simply, I could see there was a great alien shooter with some interesting role-playing mechanisms, but I was being asked to do things which compromised the action. Another example is the way that aliens sometimes spawn in at random as if air-dropped from the sky. While this sort of makes sense that aliens would “beam down” or some-such, it lost the infestation, Earth-occupation vibe.

The guns can sometimes feel really great. There are some superb feeling heavy weapons, a chunky gun turret deployable, some crazy spool-up lightning weapons, or (if you’re feeling dangerous) those toxic-goo launchers. Other weapons feel underwhelming, especially shotguns. There is a lack of effect in some areas, where the mobs feel like sponges that don’t react, or status effects such as shock seem not to matter. I guess I’m saying I felt I wasn’t getting enough information fed-back about the weapon choices. Throwables such as Molotov’s or grenades have an intuitive feel, and react nicely to the environment. Conversely, some vertical sections were troublesome for the projectile weapons as stairs would inhibit shots as height is awkwardly calculated into the shot.

The linear nature of the levels was a nice surprise as I could roam around and find all the hidden bits and scrounge all the alien gizzards for upgrading. There are optional side-quests, and even sort of fetch quests that take the form of that coke mission from Left 4 Dead 2. This is a strangely linear game, where you meet a lot of characters but get little sense of anything broadly important. I began also to question the “specialist” choice, as it felt worked at odds with a perk and upgrade system. Why not just let me find guns to work on the workbenches with and develop my own character? If I wanted a heavy gunner, let me pick stats, perks, and upgrade a heavy gun? So, I stuck with the heavy gunner and didn’t really try out the others after a while.

And after a while, I found I was having a good time! There is a good balance of the ammunition as I often found the aliens soaked up enough for me to run low, if not out and have to melee attack. The environments wind out in interesting and thoughtful ways; there are all manner of places decked out with loving detail. The aliens themselves are joyfully designed, boasting neon cartoony menace (this made up for a lot as I personally loathe the human character designs, especially the eyes). Moving into a slower, more considered action-RPG was the shift I needed to make to get into From Space.

There have been a lot of patches since I played it for review. These have addressed a great many things, and a great many things which are quite integral. With more work, more balance, From Space could be a fantastic group shooter, with an unexpected amount of depth. Despite a great number of issues left to address, it has charm and strong action in it’s current state. I hope the developers continue to improve and I’m sure they will find a loving audience for it.

Overall 6/10

Friday 18 November 2022

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration Review (Switch)

Atari are certainly trying to make an impact with their 50th anniversary celebrations. First, we had the WarioWare like Atari Mania and now they have released this collection of a significant portion of the companies back catalogue spanning the decades.

Right from the off you can tell care and attention has been put into this. There is an absolute ton of materials captured here. Flyers, adverts, videos, specifications, interviews. On and on it goes spanning game after game and decade after decade. It’s handy then that you can view everything in a sort of virtual timeline.

Broken in five sections, you can trace along the history of Atari and play the games that pop up as well as reading all the supporting materials. It helps make the wealth of information manageable to get through while also looking incredibly cool. Of course, if you want to dive straight into the games there’s the option to just have them listed by console.

The list of games and consoles is exhaustive, starting with Arcade games and the 2600, it runs all the way through to the ill-fated and underrated Jaguar and takes in the 5200, 7800, 800 and Lynx along the way. When it comes to the game selection though, despite there being so many titles here, there are still some disappointing omissions. This is most likely due to licensing but even then, away from Star Wars, Aliens and E.T there’s still some games which have appeared recently elsewhere that don’t make the list.

Most of the key arcade games are here so if you know what you are getting from Missile Command, Asteroids and Centipede you won’t be disappointed. The selection of arcade games is extensive and there’s even a completed prototype in Akka Arrh to try out. Many of the console games included are repeated versions of these games through the years so it’s nice to be able to trace them back to the source and see how they have been converted.

The 2600 will be a struggle for a lot of modern gamers to go back to as it’s very basic but you’ll certainly not be wanting for titles. The key games such as Adventure, Sword Quest and the massively impressive Solaris are here but some key prototypes such as Aqua Adventure are not, which is strange as it’s on the Atari Evercade cart. The 5200 fares better, but only has fives games included. Millipede, Missile Command and Super Breakout are games that appear multiple times across the collection but Bounty Bob Strikes Back and Star Raiders are a welcome addition.

The 7800 has seven games included but in terms of iconic non-arcade games the two key ones are here. Ninja Golf, a weird cross between golf and Kung Fu, and Dark Chambers, a sort of gauntlet clone, are both excellent and well worth spending some time with. Again, there’s a strange omission in the protype of Dessert Falcon. Five 800 games round off the numbered Atari machine offerings with a couple of fun platformers and more arcade conversions.

Sadly, the iconic Lynx is the most badly served of the machines on the collection. Much of the back catalogue is owned by a third party which means the systems best games such as Chips Challenge and Blue Lightning are nowhere to be seen. Instead, we get a disappointing five games of which only Scrapyard Dog and the dual cart of Asteroids and Missile Command really stand out. Hopefully something could be sorted out with regards to this in future with some kind of DLC. If not, then get yourself an Evercade and dive into the two carts dedicated to the system on there.

Interestingly, someone has finally got the Jaguar emulator running properly and nine games are included here. Sadly, a lot of the systems best games where licensed FPS’ such as Alien Vs. Predator and Doom so don’t appear here. Fear not though because amid the mediocrity are two excellent games. Missile Command 3D is a great update on the classic formula and will cost you a small fortune to find the original. Tempest 2000 is one of the best games ever and there is an argument to be made that it’s worth buying the collection based on its inclusion alone. The trippy, psychedelic shooter is a work of genius from the mind of Jeff Minter and an update that eclipses the original arcade game in every single way. It’s utterly brilliant and an essential experience for everyone.

Along with the retro goodness there are also six reimagined versions of the games included. These aren’t the recent separate releases but seemingly exclusives to this collection. There’s a 3D version of Haunted House that works quite well and an update to Super Breakout. The long lost fourth game in the Swordquest series is also here along with a four-player tank game and a super neon version of Yars’ Revenge. VCTR-SCTR rounds out the games and is a fun mix of vector graphics-based games such as Tempest, Lunar Lander and Asteroids.

Overall, Atari 50 is a remarkable collection. There are some omissions, but it seems like everything that could be included has been and the fact the extra mile has been walked to get the Jaguar games up and running shows it’s a project that has been taken seriously. The museum content is excellent and the whole things acts as an interactive guide to one of gaming’s most iconic companies. There’s always going to be something missing for someone, but Tempest 2000 is here and that should be enough to make even the most disappointed of gamers happy.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 16 November 2022

80 Days/Overboard Review (Switch)

Inkle have been charming the gaming world now for a long time, but we are embarrassed to say that this is the first time we have come across their releases. You can now get two of their best games in one physical package, so it seemed like the perfect time to finally dive into their world of choose you own adventure like games.

We don’t normally get on well with virtual novel type games but there’s something different about these. It helps that both games are fairly short. Also, we found that there was a lot for the player to think about and do amidst the blocks of text. The two games are also remarkably different in how they play out which is something we weren’t expecting.

80 Days is the longer and more in depth of the two games and loosely follows the story of Jules Verne’s novel ‘Around the World in 80 Days’. Playing the role of Mr Fogg’s gentleman’s gentleman you are tasked with packing for and planning your trip around the globe. At each new destination you have the opportunity to buy and trade at the markets and explore to find new routes and events. It starts out fairly easy but when your funds are running low or you’ve hit a major hump in the road (such as being thrown off a train by an angry waiter), it starts to get tense as you scramble to get back on track as the continually ticking clock winds down in the background.

There is a lot of text to get through here though. It seems a bit of a missed opportunity to have an around the world adventure that takes in so many different locations and not have at least a few great visuals to go with them. The words are great of course, but there really should be a bit more to look at as well. If Pirates! Back in the 80’s could do it then we can certainly do it in the modern day.

To keep things interesting, there are around 120 different cities to visit and numerous ways to get around. There are also a few random elements which move around objects and events so each time you play the game shouldn’t be the same as the last. It’ll take you between two and three hours to complete your quest so this adds a good level of replayability.

Overboard, is quite a different prospect. Here you play a woman who at the start of the game kills her husband by throwing him off a cruise ship. You then have eight hours to get away with it before you dock in New York. One play through takes about thirty minutes but again, each time you play characters and events change and a continual list of tasks and mysteries get added to draw you back in.

There’s more to look at here and much less text. Most of the game playing out as brief conversations with the cast of colourful characters aboard the ship. It has less depth and scope than 80 Days but works to compliment it well as a quick adventure between treks around the globe.

Overall, we had a really good time with both these games. They sit somewhere between a point and click adventure and a visual novel and both games are well worth playing multiple times. We suspect this will start a bit of a love affair between ourselves and inkle’s titles and we can’t wait to see what other adventures await.

Overall 8/10


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Monday 14 November 2022

Go Straight: The Ultimate Guide To Side-Scrolling Beat-'Em-Ups

We’ve never had a Bitmap book come through the door we didn’t like. When this heavy tome arrived focused on side scrolling beat‘em ups we were immediately transported back to the arcades of old. Perhaps of all the books the team have released this has the potential to hit the nostalgia gland more than any other with the genre having many games that never made it to home releases.

Across the 456 pages it’s pretty much guaranteed you are going to find a ton of game you won’t have played, or perhaps even heard of, as the book covers games from all over the place. It’s set out into different decades running from 1980 all the way up to recent releases in 2021. The whole thing starts with a foreword from Renegade creator Yoshihisa Kishimoto followed by an informative and entertaining look at what makes a game fall into the genre. During this afterword section you also get the first of many double foldout pages.

In a visual representation of a side scroller, many of the articles about key games unfold to effectively create a four-page layout. This starts with Streets of Rage which is used to display a numbered scene from the game which acts as your guide to the key ingredients of the genre. The fold out pages are double sided as well so there’s no wasted space here.

Starting in the 1980’s with Kung Fu Master the amount of information you get on the games is massively impressive. For instance, Double Dragon has six pages dedicated to it covering development, gameplay, ports and classic moments. More obscure games get less or are reduced to split pages, but this certainly feels exhaustive in terms of the games featured and it’s hard to see what else could have been put in (even the notorious Bebe’s Kids is here). The big licenses are all in here as well, screenshots and all, so expect to see Turtles, Simpsons and even Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker.

There is a decent selection of screen shots and some full-page pictures but there is also a lot of text here so it’s certainly not just a coffee table book to flick through nonchalantly. The research and dedication required to get all this information together is impressive and everything is interesting and will likely send you off hunting for more than a few of the games. The fact each decade comes with a written introduction to the development of the games and market during that period is further proof that these books will likely end up on some kind of historical game development course in the future. There’s certainly enough to take you from knowing nothing to having a huge knowledge of both the titles and genre through the ages.

Overall, Go straight is an exceptional book. It’s perfect to dip into to look for your favourite game or read from front to back to get a detailed overview of pretty much every title in the genre. It’s logically organised which makes finding things easy and the intros to each decade are great encapsulations of the time they look at. Much like the Point and Click Adventure book before it, this is a real highlight in an already packed and impressive back catalogue from Bitmap books. Utterly essential for all retro fans.



Friday 11 November 2022

The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow Review (Steam)


It is warming to see point and clicks still burbling along, and even more heartening to see them being chucked around with some degree of excitement. The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow had a trailer that was almost specifically targeted for my tastes. Folk horror, period English setting, that look, sinister synth soundtrack. It looked great, and for the most part did not disappoint. Hob’s Barrow manages to capture something really special in its narrative, aesthetic, and pace, that makes up for sort of light puzzle experience.

You play as Thomasina Bateman, a barrow archaeologist whose skepticism drives much of the story forward. Much seems to be reminiscent of Lovecraft here; a protagonist who is steadfast in a no-nonsense scientific empiricism, slowly broken down by the relentless inexplicability of other-worldly horror. There is also something similar to Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space here; a subterranean mystery that has seeped up to the surface to ruin lives and challenge sense. To describe Thomasina in more relevant terms, she felt like a wonderful, charismatic mash-up of both Indiana Jones and Sophia Hapgood from The Fate of Atlantis. Through her, you interact with a bevy of Derbyshire (presumably) characters. A luddite local resistant to the new railway connection; a sad but well-meaning drunk somewhat lost in his own tangled memories; a chirpy, unconcerned barman; a stoic, restrained blacksmith. They’re all fully voiced superbly and uniquely, especially notable as it is largely a Yorkshire accent being used.

Thomasina’s arrival in the town, with this population of variously mysterious individuals, is spurred on by an invitation to excavate Hob’s Barrow. The farmer on who’s land it is situated, however, won’t grant you permission to dig it up. This, amongst many other obstacles, must be overcome to reveal the story. The locations are vivid, in a classic style. Especially noteworthy is the town square at night, which aches and creaks with atmosphere, with the fog fighting the glow from the pub’s window. Navigation across the locations is easy and accessible, as is all the user-interface. There’s even a fast-travel system, which is quite fortuitous as some progress is made really by checking out all the locations to see if something has changed. This is one of my few gripes with Hob’s Barrow, as I felt like I needed to run the list of places rather than solve anything. The developers do emphasise that this is a narrative-driven adventure, so I understand that the puzzlin’ might be a bit “lite” for some.

Much of the point and click puzzling is immediately quite straightforward. If you have the items, they are rational and fitting solutions which drive the plot forward. I never felt like I was doing something absurd (aside from the more supernatural settings, where it is understandably reality-bending). I had a couple of stumbling blocks, but it turned out I just hadn’t checked out an area.

Barrow is a short game but has enough time and space to do what it needs to. You may well spot the trajectory of some of the story beats if you’re familiar with folk horror, or creepy Victorian stuff, but despite its clear influences, the journey to the outcomes is really something special. The time spent in the dialogues is a joy, the music is eerie, the cutscenes are sublimely weird, and there are just enough puzzles to keep you engaged.

I have since found some more work by the developer that I can’t wait to play. While I would have loved to have had a deeper point and click experience, this just speaks to how much I loved being in the village of Bewlay with Thomasina. The attention given to some folklore is brilliant, and there is even a goat that felt like a nod to Broken Sword. At the close of the game, I was hoping that Cloak and Dagger Games make some sort of point and click version of Turn of the Screw or Hardy’s Desperate Remedies. They’ve got the eye for this sort of atmosphere, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Overall 8/10

Monday 7 November 2022

Warhammer 40,000: Shootas, Blood and Teeth Review (Switch)

There have been many games based on the Games Workshops dark vision of the future over the years, but as far as we can remember this is the first time we’ve had one in the form of a side scrolling shooter. It’s also one of the few times where the Space Marines aren’t the main focus of the game. Instead, this time you get to play as an Ork and unleash a much more visceral type of brutality on the Hive city of Luteus Prime.

The game has a fun and crazy tone to it which suits the Orks and a lovely hand drawn art style that puts across the 40K world in a way not really seen before. There are a few issues with the amounts of browns, reds and greens on display which make it a little difficult to see what’s happening when in handheld mode but overall, it works. The beautiful, animated cut scenes are also absolutely outstanding.

The action is full on and unrelenting and sits somewhere between Bro Force and Huntdown in terms of pace. There’s also a choice of different characters to pick from and a ton of different weapons to find and unlock in order to customise your Ork and commit the exact type of destruction you want. The weapons pack a real punch as well with some excellent sound work and visual feedback that makes them feel impactful and solid.

Initially we found the controls very mixed up in terms of layout but there is a customisation option so everyone should be able to find a set up that works for them. You can also play through the game in Co-op but this is unfortunately one of the areas that the Switch begins to struggle with. As you progress and it becomes more and more chaotic the frame rate really begins to take a dive.

Performance becomes very juddery and characters even teleport at times which is not great for a game based around fast paced blasting. We never got to the point where is completely stalled our progress, but the game did continually feel off and unstable to the point it stopped being fun in busy sections.

If you can put up with that though there are a ton of 40K main stays to blast and batter your way through. These include other Orks, Imperial Guard (including taking on both a Lemon Russ and a Baneblade), and if you delve deep enough into the Hive you’ll find a good old Genestealer cult awaiting you. All of which are drawn beautifully and behave differently enough to provide a good amount of variety.

Overall, Shootas, Blood and Teeth is a patch way from being an excellent side scrolling blaster. Everything about it works in terms of the feel and look but it is just continually stalled by poor performance. It seems the Switch version is the only one affected by these issues currently so unless you specifically want it handheld it may be worth looking to one of the other versions. That said, it’s never a complete disaster, so Switch gamers looking for a fun (if juddery), single player experience will find a lot to like here.

Overall 7/10

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