Monday 18 December 2023

Visco Collection Review (Switch)

Retro collections are becoming more and more common on the Switch and it has now reached the point that more niche and obscure titles are getting their chance to shine. Pixelheart have previously acquired the license for a host of Visco products and have published sequels to a few of them such as Andro Dunos 2 and Ganryu 2 (which we have previously covered). This though is the first time they have selected original Neo-Geo titles and bundled them together.

There are seven games in total, and they range across genres. You get the original Andro Dunos and Ganryu games, Windjammers inspired Flipshot and its sequel Bang Bead, a vertical shooter called Captain Tomaday, Goal!, Goal! Goal! and rally game Neo Drift Out. It’s a varied bunch of somewhat lesser known and obscure Neo Geo titles. If we are honest, it’s also a little on the light side and a few more games to round out the package would have really pushed this to the next level. But what’s here shouldn’t be overlooked.

Neo Drift Out in particular is very welcome as it's the very rare, third game in the Drift Out franchise and means something that is going to cost you a small fortune is now easily available. It plays much the same as the others in that it’s a very arcade take on rally driving. The goal is to complete a course under a certain time limit and then move onto the next. It’s viewed from an isometric perspective and there are of course plenty of hazards and short cuts along the way to learn. It’s pretty difficult but also great fun and certainly one of the high points here.

More forgettable are Goal! Goal! Goal! and Captain Tomaday. There are a whole host of football games on the Neo-Geo and while Goal! Goal! Goal! Is good, arcade, fun in small bursts it doesn’t really do anything to stand out from the crowd. Captain Tomaday, certainly has the quirky element going for it as you are in control of a flying tomato taking on an evil eggplant who wants to take over the world. Its closet comparison would be something like Galaga as you scroll up then stop at arenas that fill with enemies. There’s a host power ups and some fun scoring mechanics but we struggled to stay with the game for too long.  

Flipshot and it’s follow up, Bang Bead, are two games based heavily around the Windjammers model. You must hit a ball back and forth to each other with the aim of breaking the wall behind your opponent. Precision deflections add power to the shots and once your opponents wall is down you can score. There’s a host of different characters each with their own strengths and weaknesses and it’s decent fun in small bursts. The games also have online play which helps their longevity massively. Bang Bead being super rare is yet another reason to be glad this collection exists as well as only a handful of physical copies are out there.

The two most high-profile games on the collection have already been mined for sequels. The first Andro Dunos is a great little game, even if it lacks some of the visual flair of other Neo-Geo shooters. It’s a horizontally scrolling shoot’em up where you start with all available weapons and power them up continually by collecting pods. Knowing what to use and when, along with the chargeable super attacks is the backbone of the title. It’s fast and clean looking and should keep you occupied for a fair while.

Ganryu, is the other high-profile game here and it’s quite different from its sequel. A ninja platformer sitting somewhere between Revenge of Shinobi and Legend of Kage it looks great, fusing a sort of feudal Japan setting with neo-industrial overtures. Its biggest problem is that it’s quite stiff to control and while players can leap around, throw out grappling hooks and use a host of weapons, you can’t dash which makes movement and avoiding certain attacks unnaturally difficult. It’s still fun, but you’ll be wishing it just controlled as good as it looked much of the time.

Overall, the Visco Collection does an excellent job of bringing some of the more obscure Neo-Geo titles to players attentions. The work that has gone into making pretty much all of them available to play online should also be applauded as it was always going to be somewhat of a niche release. It’s not perfect and it could do with a few more games but we are certainly glad it exists and it gives players a way of accessing some quite rare titles for very little money. We would be happy to see more of this in the future for sure.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Irem Collection Volume 1 Review (Switch)

Irem have been one of the most notable companies to not fully exploit its back catalogue yet when it comes to retro collections and the exploitation of its classic franchises. The approach they have now taken is to release a selection of small volumes starting with this three-game collection of shoot’em ups. Here you get Image fight 1 and 2 and X Multiply, perhaps not the most well-known games from the company’s history but all of them are well worth playing. The big question is if these three games are worth the pricey sum of £19.99 when you compare them to other collections available.

One thing in the collections favour is that multiple versions of each game (Where available), are included. X Multiply has both the ‘World’ and Japanese arcade variants and Image Fight has all the Arcade, NES, Famicom and PC Engine versions available. The PC Engine CD version of Image Fight 2 rounds out the package. This means that while the package may seem a bit mean in terms of content and price it also means that it is far cheaper than trying to track down the original versions of the game to play on the original hardware.

In terms of options, they are deceptively extensive. You get multiple difficulty settings and the usual ability to create save states. There’s also a host of things to do in the arcade games such as calibrating how the sticks feel and various video options. There is also a section where you can enable cheats as well, so you are well served no matter how you want to play the games.

Image Fight is the most well-known game here and one that was an early pioneer in the world of the vertically scrolling shooter. It’s also crushingly difficult. It’s a game you’ll really need to memorise in order to make it through with the smallest of mistakes often leading to death. It’s a good thing those cheats are there for the more casual player. Of course, when you die you are stripped of your well-earned power ups as well which makes things even harder. T

he powerup system itself is complex with a mixture of pods that can be launched briefly before returning, and force like add-ons which bolt on to provide secondary weapons. Just make sure to pick the right ones or you will die. Often.

Just when you thought Image Fight was hard the sequel comes along and is perhaps even more difficult. Bigger bosses and more intense action coupled with players needing to build their powerups back up at the start of each stage mean this is really one for the hardcore gamers out there.

X Multiply is a horizontal scrolling shooter that initially recalls R Type. It is, perhaps, even more organically grotesque in its design. The concept is that you are making your way through a human body and need to rid it from a microscopic alien invasion. It’s a lot faster and more action intense than R Type for sure and a game that many have likely not encountered before so it’s great to see it get a spotlight here.

Overall, it’s difficult to judge where the first Irem Volume lands. The three games here are great and the emulation is rock solid. But there’s a lack of general finesse in terms of the presentation and the asking price for a collection of three games is steep. When you consider Irem has more volumes already lined up it’s obvious there could have been something put out that would have appealed to a much wider audience. In the end it’ll come down to just how much you want to play three great shoot’em ups.

Overall 7/10

Monday 11 December 2023

Dave The Diver Review (Switch)

Originality is a lost art in the realm of video games. But just when you think you’ve seen it all someone will invent a game where you must evolve fruit into a watermelon. This has little to do with Dave the Diver, but if I told you this was a procedural generated rogue-like with a gear building and management element I bet you’d think you had seen it all before. But wonderfully, you haven’t. Even with all these tried and tested components Dave the Diver is actually original…enough.

Split between two main game types our hero, Dave, searches the depths of the nearby ‘Blue Hole’ by day and tends to the needs of customers at the local rundown sushi restaurant at night. The diving section see Dave catching fish for the restaurant and taking on fetch quests for items which have manged to find themselves in the deep. As the game progresses, you’ll need to continually upgrade your gear to reach lower depths, breath for longer and fight off larger and larger aquatic creatures.

At night any fish caught can be turned into treats to serve at the sushi restaurant. After setting a menu customers will come in and Dave is required to run around serving drinks and delivering food which is continually dispensed from the chef. As time progresses, you’ll get ever more tasks to attend to such as clearing away bowls and grating wasabi with the overall goal being to get the restaurant as popular as possible. It’s kind of like if someone mixed Root Beer Tapper with Theme Park.

You also have a mobile phone which continually updates with new apps providing you with more and more to manage. You’ll need to keep up the social media promotion for the restaurant, check emails for requests, answer scientific queries, develop weapons, and gear and hire staff. Life at a small restaurant was never going to be easy after all.

It’s a good thing then that every aspect of the game works and remains fun throughout. The short but chaotic bursts of the restaurant are a perfect juxtaposition with the more tranquil and longer diving sections. While the continued upgrading of gear and unlocks move at a pace that means there is always something new to do or slightly further to explore without it seeming completely overwhelming or becoming stagnant.

It helps that the game looks joyfully lovely. The Blue Hole is a gorgeous place to explore and even though it’s procedurally generated for each dive it still conforms to a sort of logic that means it’s both memorable and mysterious at the same time. There’s a wide range of fish swimming around and various sizes of creatures to capture, kill or simply avoid with the biggest sharks acting as unofficial bosses and gear check points. The above water sections are as equally full of life in their own way with characters all having their quirky charms and the customisable restaurant fitting the setting and overall tone well.

Overall, Dave the Diver is a welcome addition to the Switch library. Everything it sets out to do it achieves pretty much perfectly. All the different aspects of it blend to produce a wonderfully quirky and fun adventure for players to undertake. In a year of strong indie releases for the Switch this is one of the very best.

 Overall 9/10

Monday 4 December 2023

Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur Review (Switch)


Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

 Combining so many pieces of the rogue-lite genre, a few too many design styles, and frankly too many bits of a title, makes Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur a messy but not wholly unsuccessful adventure. At its worst it’s a gaudy Hades clone and at its best, it’s a charming diversion, I didn’t find a great drive to dive in for one-more-run for much time, as this genre really requires. I bounced off of this one, as I have with others of its ilk, but some may find this hits some good marks.

The first thing that hits you (especially if you’re from the UK) is Brian Blessed’s cataclysmic voice. Yes, once again the shrinking violet Brian Blessed, man mountain who mans mountains, has hit the video game voice over scene. It is no surprise that Blessed ended up in this sphere with such a characterful and entertaining voice. His video game credits are now rather lengthy, from movie tie-ins to some real classics like the equally colon-stricken Kingdom Come: Deliverance. While not seal of quality, Blessed is a strong selling point, and his performance makes the expository dialogue sequence bearable. The story is that Camelot is flung into a void as a shattered landmass floating in a crack in reality (sort of like Loop Hero, I understood), which sets up King Arthur as our player character, aided by Merlin (played by Blessed) in a quest to bring the whole situation back to reality. This is an effective set up for the style of game chosen, given that the different “biomes” that one has to battle through can be visualised as separated islands or areas in this floating void. The “hub” of the destroyed Camelot is set up as a place to pick loadouts, spend found currency and aesthetically develop.

If you’re familiar with Cult of the Lamb, Hades, or Enter the Gungeon (to pick a few notable titles), you already have the measure of this. As Arthur picks his base abilities, representing the styles of the other knights of the Round Table, you battle through a series of areas and then a boss. Each time you fail, you gain more experience of how to fight mechanically, but also develop your power and tools at the hub. There is a little flexibility with play style, but it feels somewhat restrictive because of the awkward controls in combat. I never felt a sparky cohesion of responsive control and hitbox management. Things just never felt connected to me. Due to this, I favoured the direct, melee fighting styles rather than the ranged attacks (I recall similar issues with Cult of the Lamb, causing me to feel unsatisfied before too long). Adding into this problem is the animations of the player character and the mobs are all “marionette” style, that have always felt quite unnatural and give vague visual cues about movement and perspective.

To follow this line of weakness, there are a mixture of art styles across this game that became distracting. While not unattractive, there feels a lack of singular purpose to it aesthetically. This is not, however, and unfun world to be in. There are lashings of humour, a positive charm, a good deal of decent dialogue, with some of it quite well and spiritedly voiced. Please, do not go rabbiting for any interesting Arthurian interpretation. There is artistic licence being taken everywhere, and this is not a criticism unto itself, but just a warning if you were looking for a slick reinterpretation of the ol’ legends.

Where Knight vs Giant really succeeds is not necessarily in the “knight” bit, but the “giant” part (the Chibi style of the Arthur player model is particularly and irritatingly out of step with all the other characters). The hulking bosses are wonderfully realised and are consistently the best bit of the actual gameplay. They are a fun mash-up of garish Eldritch and Kingdom Rush cute, leaving most of the rest of the enemy design in the dust. These are great moments that do some of the heavy lifting to keep the game afloat after hitting the same, quickly tired, areas again and again.

If Hades was a bit mawkish and Cult of the Lamb a bit Hot Topic for you, you could do well with this. Getting in and out of runs was a bit laborious for me, the execution a little clumsy, but still has a decent bit of fun to be had. Flawed, but not forlorn.

Overall - 6/10

Monday 27 November 2023

Air Twister Review (Switch)


Of all the retro comebacks and genres out there, the Space Harrier clone is something that developers haven’t gone to that often in their quest tap into our nostalgia glands. We have had a classic arcade release of course, Sin and Punishment popped up on the Wii and the Switch N64 store and a Panzer Dragoon remake, but overall, it’s been quiet. It’s fitting then that Yu Suzuki, the original creator of Space Harrier, has taken it upon himself to add a new entry to the genre.

Air Twister, was originally released on Apple Arcade in 2022 and follows the Space Harrier mould very closely. You zoom around fantastical locations, led through the levels on rails and you can fly anywhere on the screen. The one big difference is that the heroine of the piece, Princess Arch, can use lock on lasers as well as just blasting in the same way as something like Panzer Dragoon. At the end of each level is a boss to take down and it’s about as pure an arcade experience as you can get. It also, sadly, never quite shakes of that feeling of it being a mobile game.

In its favour are the mass of unlocks available. These range from the cosmetic, such as new costumes or hairstyles to a whole host of buffs and upgrades. These cover just about everything that could be helpful to you from health and attack power to making certain obstacles unable to damage you. These are all unlocked by collecting stars as you progress through the stages as well as additions from bonuses produced at the end of rounds. It gives some incentive to keep playing as a run through from beginning to end will take about half an hour. As well as unlockable buffs and costumes though, there are also a host of additional modes, boss rushes and mini games so there is at least an attempt to keep the player with the game.

While impressive in bursts, the visuals of Air Twister can be a bit odd. There is no consistency from one world to the next and instead you are just sort of flying through a kaleidoscope of vaguely surrealist level design. One minute you might be flying through an abandoned desert, while the next you’ll be in amongst giants mushrooms and flowers. This does create an element of detachment and makes it all seem a bit random. Even some kind of world map would have been helpful here. The upscaling can be patchy as well.

The biggest flaw with the game though is that it’s just a bit basic and repetitive. When you think other games in this genre have added things like dodges or wider ranges of movement this just seems flat. It also lacks the urgency and pace of the original Space Harrier. It’s all ok but nothing really changes. There are a few levels where you must avoid obstacles or position yourself through gaps, but they are all too fleeting and blasting at lack lustre enemy formations isn’t enough to sustain it. The bosses are all similar as well which doesn’t help.

Overall, Air Twister is inoffensive in its design but it’s also not particular inspirational. It controls ok and looks ok, but nothing really makes it stand out. The truth is there are at least three other games like it on the Switch and all of them have more identify and personality. If you are the most hardcore of Yu Suzuki fans, then you’ll get something out of this but when Space Harrier and Panzer Dragoon are often available for pennies it’s unlikely to hold anyone’s attention for long.

Overall 5/10

Monday 20 November 2023

Pan-Dimensional Conga Combat Review (Switch)

Written by Dan Gill

A good game lives or dies by its hook. Geometry Wars had a simple multiplier system and could be picked up quickly, whereas Vampire Survivors offers a simple starting point then builds on it with each replay. Look at something like Hollow Knight or Blasphemous, each title rewards exploration and hard-won tussles with tricky bosses. You’ll probably notice I’ve selected indie titles, and with good reason. Each of the above games are cheap to pick up but offer rewarding gameplay, the pounds (or insert your regional currency here)-to-hours ratio is a fair one. Pan-Dimensional Conga Combat on the other hand, isn’t quite so generous.

The game plays much like Pacifist mode in Geometry Wars, but your ship has a tail which can take out enemies. Hitting certain enemies with the tail can also charge a laser attack. Once a certain number of enemies has been destroyed, a gateway opens to the next level. One hit and it’s game over, and that’s it.

Control is imprecise, mostly due to the inertia imposed on the player’s craft. The tail follows the path of the ship, dishing out damage on whatever it touches, and there’s a lot to contend with as enemies come in from all sides, helpfully forewarning the player via an arrow indicating which edge they’re joining the arena from. Some pre-planning is required in order to have the ship’s tail waiting for enemies, as one hit will end the game. Sometimes wormholes open to allow more enemies in, but they can be closed by circling with your ship. Occasionally you’ll gain the odd power-up, but it’s just more of the same over and over again, with no draw to pull you back in for one more go.

The pixel art is nice enough and the music is pretty decent, but the whole thing feels like it’s trying too hard to win you over with its style and difficulty. And this is its biggest failing; it just can’t back it up with the gameplay. The taunting triangle after every game over is more grating than playful, and the music is limited to a couple of tracks, so can wear over time.

And that’s basically it. The game feels like a mode within something larger rather than a game in its own right. It features a couple of modes and some multiplayer options, but the whole thing feels like an incomplete thought, and what is there fails to entice the player back for one more go. All in all, it plays like a half-baked attempt at an arcade score attack title, but sadly it has no sting in its tail. Perhaps One-Dimensional Conga Combat would have been more apt as a title.

 Overall 4/10

Monday 13 November 2023

Witch n' Wiz Review (NES)

For some the retro style simply isn’t enough and this has led to a resurgence in games coded for original systems. We’ve covered some of these before such as Micro Mages and Alwa’s Awakening, both of which proved to be excellent. They also both ended up heading to the Evercade system as well, something Witch and Wiz is also about to do.

The story is simple, a young boy has been kidnapped by a dark sorcerer and now his witch friend must try and rescue him. Once rescued, the boy wizard becomes part of the many dynamics the game plays around with. Your character handles really well and everything is responsive and free from the flicker and other such quirks of NES games so it may have been designed with 8-bit in mind, but it runs as well as modern ‘retro’ inspired games running on more powerful systems.

Witch and Wiz is a puzzle platform game that is built around single screen levels. Players complete each stage by collecting all the creatures that are within it. This is of course, trickier than it sounds as you can’t jump and need to get around by pushing blocks. It’s easy to lock yourself out of being able to complete the levels but you can reset or rewind your moves which makes it possible to quickly get back on track.

As well as the rewind a new gimmick is added in each new chapter. This could be something such as flipping gravity or adding a second character to control but it means each of worlds stays fresh and original while still focusing on the same core theme. It’s not the longest game either and will likely last you around an hour to complete. But then NES games never have been that lengthy and we would rather have a short, fun, and inventive game than one that outstays its welcome.

The main encouragement for replaying is beating the levels in the quickest time possible. The game keeps track of your best time as you progress so it’s certainly one for the speed runners out there. That said, the nature of the genre does restrict replayability a bit. Each puzzle only really seems to have one solution so once you’ve worked it out there isn’t that much else to do aside from enjoy the simple story.

Overall, Witch and Wiz is another excellent indie game developed for retro hardware. Often in these situations the limitations of the hardware mean developers must get creative and this is yet another example of it. It’s certainly easier than a lot of NES games and aside from speed runners there will be little for many to go back in for, but while it lasts it’s creative, fun and always throwing something new at you. It’ll certainly be perfect for handheld consoles such as the Evercade and Switch and well worth checking out.

Overall 8/10

Monday 6 November 2023

Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtuless Review (Switch)


Somewhere out there will be someone who has completed all the Disgaea games, and not just the seven mainline titles but the spinoffs and probably Phantom Brave and a host of the others NIS titles. We are happy to be honest and say that isn’t us and we also didn’t make it all the way to the end of this Disgaea entry. But unless we wanted our review to come out next year we had to stop playing at some point. And just in case you think we are tapping out early, the developers claim a 400-hour run time on this one so just go with us here.

We found Disgaea 6 solid, but it struggled to keep our interest in the long run, especially compared to other games in the series. The new look in particular didn’t settle well with us, but we are glad to say that Disgaea 7 is much more visually appealing and consistent in it’s style. This in part comes from the game taking inspiration for its look from the Edo period of Japanese history. This has allowed for a lot of the rough edges and visual clutter to be stripped back and give us something that looks modern, but also keeps the series looking good enough for current systems.

This time the story follows a rich and spoiled tourist girl called Pirilika who has arrived in the universe to take in the unique culture and understand more about their Bushido code. Unfortunately, she finds that the universe has been overrun by demons working for the big bad Shogun Demmodore Opener and has thus lost it. She’s soon joined by a grumpy samurai named Fuji who is drawn to the magical sword she happens to be carrying around in her bag. It turns out the sword is one of seven founding weapons and the two set off to find the rest and overthrow the evil Shogun.

In terms of mechanics, the core ones never really change when it comes to Disgaea. Levels take place across grided environments with characters having different movement, magic, and attack stats. Various obstacles and bits of the map add or take away various bonuses and most levels are completed by either defeating a boss or eliminating all opposition. This is a massive oversimplification of course as every stat of every character can be changed and manipulated in countless ways until you have the ultimate team of heroes ready to march through to the end.

As an added complication, levels often have the series tradition of geo panels present as well. These are coloured squares which are linked to a node which adds effects such as upping attack power or healing. If you destroy nodes in the right order and in the right places, it’s possible to clear all the coloured squares and gain a huge bonus.

Unlike some previous entries Disgaea 7 does a very good job of drip-feeding news systems to you. You’ll start out with very little to sort out aside from the basic battles but as you progress through the worlds more and more shops and buildings will unlock back at your base. There’s a hospital of course and weapon and items shops which are self-explanatory, but you’ll soon get the juice bar to allow bonus boosting of stats and the dark assembly where you can go and try and get new rules implemented, change upcoming levels or a host of crazy other things. There are bonus missions, cheat rooms, squads, and the meta game of the item world, it all seems sometimes like you’ll never get to the end of it all.

For those new to the series, the item world is a series of randomly generated levels which occur when players want to jump inside an item or weapon. For each level you beat the object will get stronger and you can find item world citizens as well which add more bonuses once completed. Considering you can do this with every single item in the game you could lose thousands and thousands of hours here if you really wanted to.

Most games in the series have a sort of gimmick added into them. In the past we’ve had monsters being able to be turned into weapons, tower battles (where characters stack on top of each other) and ridable giant creatures. Vows of the Virtueless brings ‘Jumbification’ into the mix. When a character fills its meter it’s able to grow to gigantic Kaiju proportions. Characters become so big that they don’t even fit on the battlefield anymore. Instead, they stand at the back or to the side and can unleash huge area effect attacks. Giant characters also add effects to the whole battlefield both positive and negative. Of course, this also makes them more vulnerable as multiple enemies can reach the edge of the battlefield and all attack at once.

Overall, Disgaea 7 is up there with the series best. It’s easy to access for newcomers while also being incredibly challenging as you progress to the depths of the game. Mechanics are complex but introduced slowly so that you are never overwhelmed, and the writing is top draw and encapsulates all the humour and quirks we have come to expect. Whether you are new to the series or a veteran this is one of the best games of its kind and it works extremely well on the Switch. Highly recommended.

Overall 9/10


Monday 30 October 2023

A Boy and His Blob Retro Collection Review (Switch)


Of all the franchises floating around the retro sphere A Boy and His Blob is certainly among the more niche. There was a revival on the Wii, which later moved to over platforms, but this is the first time that the original two games have made their way out of the retro abyss.

This is a fairly simple package which contains the NES game ‘Trouble on Blobonia’ and the Gameboy sequel ‘The Rescue of Princess Blobette’. There’s a nice bonus in that the Western and Japanese versions of the games are included which have different graphics but there is little in the way of archive material or other extras outside of some fancy borders and a basic CRT filter.

The games themselves are a mixture of platforming and puzzles which players overcome by feeding Blob different flavoured jellybeans. Each flavour transforms the Blob into something different, Tangerine for instance turns him into a trampoline while Liquorice transforms Blob into a ladder. There’s a host of different transformations such as an umbrella, blow torch, rocket or even a bubble. Each of which can be used to overcome a range of different obstacles. None of the jellybeans turn Blob into any sort of weapon though, which means any enemies need to be avoided as a single touch will cause death. As a nice touch each game does have a couple of unique transformations as well.

Both games are set in different places. The NES game is split into two different sections and starts on earth. First, you need to search through caves under the city streets to find treasure then take it to the shop and buy packs of vitamins. You then blast off to the planet of Blobonia and use the vitamins to neutralise the marshmallows and other sweets that have invaded it. The Gameboy game is set in a castle with the overall goal being to find and rescue Princess Blobette who has been locked in a tower.

In terms of general controls, the game is ok, if not spectacular. Your character slips around a bit so it can be difficult to position him precisely. Blob is pretty rubbish at moving where you want him as well, but you have a jellybean which will teleport Blob to where it lands so you can move him around if he won’t get in a specific place. You don’t get an awful lot in the way of modernisation to help you either.

There is a very handy map of both games accessible from the menu screen but in terms of save states it is very basic. There is no rewind function and while you can save, there is only one slot and it exits you from the game when you do it. This is a really strange decision as it’s not a quick save so you’ll return to the spot if you die, but if you want to save often you’ll have to go through the process of booting up the game again each time from the menu.

Overall, the two games offer something different for retro fans. We enjoyed both games upon original release and while they are a bit rough around the edges neither are impossible to finish. If you are willing to look through the flaws and the lack of modern options, there’s some wholesome fun to be had at a pretty reasonable price. Fans of the newer game and NES games in general will find a lot to like and we are always happy to see more niche titles brought back for a wider audience.

Overall 7/10

Monday 23 October 2023

The Games That Weren't Book Review


Written by Dan Gill

Picture the scene: it’s 2006. A fresh-faced young(ish) writer with a full(ish) head of hair is on the staff forum of much missed website GameStyle. Staff are putting in requests for what they want to review, so I – being a fan of StarCraft (despite being rubbish at the game) - request to cover the upcoming StarCraft: Ghost. I get the thumbs-up, and eagerly await news from Blizzard. By this point, it had been about four years since the spin-off was announced, so surely, it’d be due soon. A few weeks (possibly even days) later, I see the news that it’s been cancelled. It was a bit of a blow as I had been looking forward to it, but that’s the games industry, I guess. There’ll always be something new around the corner. But still I wonder, what would it have been like? Frank Gasking asks that same question, but about a multitude of games spanning the past fifty years or so.

TGTW is divided into decades, so starts with games from Atari, Dave Nutting Associates and the like, then works its way through the evolution of the medium to its current high-stakes projects and massive studios. The early days of game development came with some wild ideas. The industry was new and testing the waters. Pitches were thrown out during lavish pool parties or by engineers messing about in the office. But even then, some ideas were too expensive to realise, up against similar competition, or just no fun to play. The book is presented cleanly, with full developer and publisher information, and a handy guide to whether the game can be played or not (some ROMS are out there if you know where to look). Through interviews, archives and vague descriptions, Gasking pieces together info on these phantom titles. Where there’s no pictorial evidence, artists reconstruct what things may have looked like if they’d materialised.

As one would expect, the insights vary in depth; some games or hardware may have a few words and a screenshot, while others have pages of information. There’s a wealth of information on the well-known Dreamcast port of Half-Life, multi-format drive-‘em-up Carmageddon TV, and even the 32X-bound Virtua Hamster. The book covers a lot of ground in its 600 or so pages and does well to highlight games the reader may never had heard of. It’s the lesser-known games that tend to have more information in some cases, supposedly because the bigger publishers are reluctant to discuss their misses, but the author still manages to present enough detail to pique the reader’s interest. I’d almost forgotten about the ambitious Game Boy Color remake of Resident Evil until its minimalist yet impressive graphics leapt from the page.

It’s quite a bold move by Bitmap Books – a publisher who presents lavish tomes chock-full of glorious gaming art – to release a book based around games that never saw the light of day and don’t always come with any solid visual evidence of their existence, but it’s a fascinating read. It’s a glimpse into an alternate reality where Super Mario’s Wacky Worlds may have become the CD-I's killer app, or where Flashback Legend took its place as the rightful sequel to Flashback. Sadly, StarCraft: Ghost is relegated to a special mention rather than a full feature, so the Dan of 2006 will just have to imagine how it would have looked or played. I guess you can’t always get what you want, but thanks to the author, you can at least have a glimpse into what could have been.

Store link -

*Picture from Bitmap Books. 

Monday 16 October 2023

Replikator Review (Switch)

In the world of the roguelike the Switch is particularly well stocked. However, most of these games in recent times have been of the platform/Metroidvania mould. Enter the Gungeon, is of course one of the yard sticks of the top down shooter variety of roguelike but there is still plenty of room for more entrants in the arena. One you may well have overlooked is Replikator, an indie blaster that is very much in the hardcore category of the genre.

Players take the role of one of a handful of galactic mercenaries who are tasked with boarding a huge scientific complex where a project has gone wild and taken over. The different characters come with their own stats in areas such as speed and health and all have unique special skills. There is of course a wealth of areas to continually upgrade and enhance ranging from ammo and energy to how often your onboard equipment and weapon tables produce new items. There’s so much in fact that we can only imagine how many runs you would have to complete to get everything to top level.

In order to upgrade you need to gather data cubes which can be picked up from secret rooms or after defeating tougher enemies. There’s also a more traditional coin type currency to collect which can used to operate things such as med stations and ammo dispensers. Batteries can also be picked up to operate machinery and access cards which open certain doors. What we’re saying is there’s a lot to collect.

Away from personal upgrades you can pick up blueprints for weapons and other enhancements. The mass of upgrades and unlocks will likely overwhelm new players or those not familiar with the genre and it took us a good few hours to even begin to understand what was going on and make any sort of progress past the first stage.

One issue is that with everything that the game has going on it really needed a better way of explaining how things work. There is a training section which goes over the controls but everything else is very much left up to you to discover for better or for worse and there’s a lot to think about. Replikator runs with a dual stick shooting mechanic with players able to move between two weapons at a time. You also have a shock attack which is a low damage melee strike mainly used for breaking boxes. From a defensive point of view you can dash which also allows you to move through some ground based traps and other gun fire. There’s a host of other gadgets and tricks going on as well which are simply too extensive to list here.

Enemies take the form of robots and androids and come at you in every form imaginable. Some fly, some roll, some shoot, some explode and some are really damn big. Even in the early stages enemy variety is good with each new stage adding more and more creations to dispatch. Despite the mechanical carnage the aim of each level is actually to find a key which opens the terminal allowing progression to the next stage. Each exit allows the player to move to one of three new stages, each offering a different bonus. There is then a boss battle every few stages. Another thing to be aware of is that stages can be huge, so this isn’t a speed running approach to the genre.

Overall, Replikator is a bit rough around the edges but if you can stick with it then it becomes an incredibly deep and satisfying game. We certainly wouldn’t recommend it to someone as an entry point for this sort of game and you are going to need a solid amount of patience and determination to get the best out of it. Once you’ve broken through the initial barriers though this about as addictive and rewarding as they come. If you are a fan of the genre don’t overlook it.

Overall 8/10

Monday 9 October 2023

Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit Review (Switch)


Of all the retro revivals happening at the minute the beloved point and click game is still somewhat underutilised on consoles. There have been some highlights of course with Broken Sword 5, Monkey Island and Roki being particular favourites, but compared to Metroidvaias and Rogue-likes there isn’t the strength in depth you might have hoped for. This is changing though, as the original Broken Sword and a new sequel are coming. Speaking of Broken Sword, here we have Crowns and Pawns which is a game clearly inspired by it and a title that should keep you busy until the triumphant return of George Stobbart.

Crowns and Pawns follows Milda, a girl with Lithuanian heritage who inherits a house from her grandfather which sets in motion a chain of events that sees her exploring the lesser highlighted areas of Europe and European history. The setting is a nice change from the norm as countries such as Lithuania offer a rich cultural and historical heritage to explore which will likely be less familiar to players. It’s something more developers should think about when choosing the settings for their games.

Of course, as soon as Milda touches down it becomes obvious there is much more going on than simply sorting out her grandfather’s house and soon, you’ll be caught up with the KGB and looking to uncover a long-hidden secrets and mysteries. This does play out in a way similar to the Broken Sword games with a lot of historical researching and visiting of churches and other cultural sights. But Revolutions game certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on churches so while it feels familiar it never moves into full copying territory.

There are two main processes to solving puzzles. The first will be familiar to point and click fans in that you move around areas picking up objects, combining when needed and then using them to solve a location-based puzzle. An early example of this is needing to figure out how to get a key from between a crack in the floorboards which requires magnets and string.

The other thing the game has you doing is combining notes in Mildas phone. For instance, when reading a book, she will often mark down important things such as locations or dates. You may then need to combine these with a note which says something like “My grandad was looking for treasure at a church”. Matching the two things will then normally give Milda a revelation leading to a new line of enquiry or a new location to go to and explore. The system itself is not particularly complicated but we did find ourselves stopped in our tracks a bit too often with this and starring at notes in her phone is far less interesting than interacting with the world.

Being stopped in our tracks is a bigger issue with the game as well. You’ll always get those moments where you aren’t quite sure how to solve a puzzle in point and click games but the clue giving in Crowns and Pawns is slightly off and not quite good enough too often. A lot of the time we didn’t have any idea what our goal was even when we asked what we should be doing, or we felt we had already done it. When you have a clear thread of what to do the puzzles are very good but too often, we found ourselves wandering aimlessly.

Overall, Crowns and Pawns is a fun and worthwhile game for point and click fans. It may be a bit unrefined in terms of its dialogue, but the puzzles, locations and general story are interesting and engaging. If you can get over the stop start nature of the game, then it is well worth playing as there is a lot of charm here and it’s clear the developers had a lot of passion for the project.

Overall 7/10

Monday 2 October 2023

Full Void Review (Switch)

Indie games certainly go through trends, first everything was Metroidvania and then came the Roguelikes. Now it seems the Cinematic Platformer is the genre of choice. In recent times we’ve had Lunark, Eternal Castle, Library of Bable and remasters of Another World and Flashback to mention a few. Full Void is the next game to take on this approach and, for the most part, it does a pretty good job.

The story of Full Void is told entirely visually. There’s no voice or text so it’s left to the brief cutscenes and general environment to get across the near future world where some form of AI menace has started to enslave humanity and steel away it’s children. You start out running in a forest before heading back into the city as you simply try to survive and escape the ever-pursuing creatures.

The style of the Full Void fits perfectly with down beat colours and a pixel style graphical approach. It gets across the nostalgia of the genre and acts to portray the story and environment well. It also looks very much like its own game and doesn’t take too much from classics in the genre, meaning it is distinctive enough to standout in an ever more crowded market.

 Controls are simple with a two-button scheme which lets you jump or interact with objects. There are no guns or weapons, so you are always vulnerable to enemies and it is very much about keeping away from things. The game responds well so there are few frustrating deaths caused by controls and the checkpoint system is also sensible so when you do die you won’t be repeating huge sections of the game.

The other added bonus is that each death comes with a small cut scene to further emphasise your demise. The only slight blip here is that two or three times (and only two or three times), the story cutscenes turn interactive without warning, often leading to a quick death as you are not expecting it. In one of these you are required to duck, while another requires you to press the interact button to shut a door. These Dragon’s Lair like interaction come so out of the blue and are so inconsistent that you’ll have little chance of surviving them first time which is a shame.

Away from the running and leaping there are also puzzle sections to overcome. This starts out with some simple box moving scenarios and a basic hacking game where you must line up spinning tubes. Before long you’ll acquire a sort of robot thing than can be issued instructions at various control panels. The robot can be used to get through dangerous environments or sent to hard to reach places and then activate switches to make it safe for you to progress. We did find that there were a few too many of these sections and some of them are a bit obtuse but generally our progress was never halted for too long. We aren’t sure the game would lose much without them though.

Full Void is also fairly brief with general play time around an hour. That’s no big deal as such, as the story feels about the right length but there isn’t an awful lot to go back through the game for aside from a few secrets. Once completed the game does let you start from any chapter you like though so you can easily play your favourite sections or seek out a few easter eggs if you wish.

Overall, Full Void certainly works as a Cinematic Platfomer. The look and controls are spot on for this sort of game and the story is interesting and well thought out. The platforming sections work far better than the robot puzzles but there is nothing here that is going to stop you from enjoying the experience. It would have been nice to have more reasons to go back to it after finishing but what’s here is inventive and fun and easy to recommend - as long as you aren’t expecting an epic.

Overall 8/10

Monday 25 September 2023

The Making of Karateka Review (Switch)

Digital Eclipse are known for their numerous retro collections and reworkings of classics and have been called upon again with this unique approach to presenting video game history. While there are games to played here this is really an interactive documentary and as such the focus is very much on research and content around that idea. It’s an interesting concept and if it takes off could provide a wealth of digital archive information for those that are interested.

There’s no getting away from the fact that this sort of thing is only appealing to a niche audience. Collections of games are one thing, but focusing on a single game relies on gamers not only wanting a more documentary like experience but also being specifically interested in that title. In that regard Karateka is a bold choice. It’s certainly a well-known game but we would argue it doesn’t have as wide an appeal as say IK+ or some of the other games of the time. Still, if you are a Karateka fan this is going to be perfect for you.

While the focus is on archives and information there are also games present here. There’s an exhaustive collection of different versions of Karateka on home computer formats (also, thanks as we now have working C64 emulation on the Switch), as well as a perfectly judged remaster. The remaster keeps the basic look and feel of the original but smooths out the scrolling and adds more colour and visual flair meaning fans will probably spend a fair amount of time with it.

Karateka itself remains remarkably playable. It’s a scrolling fighting game where you walk along the level then engage in one-on-one combat with a guard. When you defeat the guard, you can keep walking. You must be quick as the guards keep coming from the right-hand side of the screen, sent by the boss of each stage. Once you reach the boss you have a tough fight on your hands then it’s onto the next area which will add more obstacles such as birds to avoid while fighting. You have a range of attacks to use as well with high, middle and low kicks and punches which need to be used to counter your opponent so there is a decent amount of strategy involved in each fight.

There are also demos of prototypes included and another game from the development team, Deathbounce. Deathbounce, proves to be a bit of a hidden gem and something we found ourselves playing far more than Karateka itself weirdly. It’s a sort of asteroid clone but set in an enclosed arena. When each arena is cleared you move to the next with the gimmick being bullets bounce off walls and the need to ram the last boss in each stage to proceed. It’s really addictive and more people should play it.

This sort of concept was always going to live or die by its archive information, and we are happy to say you are getting just about everything you could possibly want to know about the game. There are interviews, concept drawings and documents galore and it is all presented in an easy-to-follow timeline format. As you look at each piece it ticks it off the timeline as well, so you’ll know what you have and haven’t look at. It is remarkable the number of hours that must have gone into putting all this together and it is a feat that should be commended. It is certainly something we’d love to see happen to more games as well.

Overall, how essential this is to you is really going to depend on your view of the game itself. If you are a fan or have a burning interest in retro gaming that this is pretty much essential as it’s difficult to see what else they could have done to improve things. But if the idea of multiple versions of Karateka doesn’t excite you then there isn’t going to be much here to change your mind.

Overall 8/10

Monday 18 September 2023

Trine 5: A Clockwork Conspiracy Review (Switch)

It’s no secret that we here at Retro 101 love Trine. We’ve covered the series on just about every format and the first two games provide some of the best platforming and puzzle action out there. The brief experiment in 3D that was the third game is fun enough but lightweight and the fourth game certainly had its moments but was dragged down by intrusive and restrictive combat based gauntlet sections. Trine 5 though, seems to be a real return to the core ideals of the series.

This time our three heroes are pitted against the treacherous Lady Sunny, who summons them for a celebration only to try and imprison them so she can take control of the land herself. The dastardly Sunny then starts spreading misinformation to discredit the heroes and make the people of the land believe they have turned rogue. Of course, it’s up to the good guys to stop all this and save the day.

Each Trine has always had its own unique set of enemies to battle and five is no different. With skeletons, goblins and magic wolves long vanquished, players now have the chance to bash clockwork knights who are under the control of Sunny. The mechanical menace is an interesting opponent and suitable imposing as most take several hits to down. It also allows for flying automatons and other quirky enemies to appear and harass the trio in a range of different ways.

The three heroes remain much the same. Zoya still fires arrows and swings around, Pontius is the Knight best suited for bashing things and the Wizard Amadeus fills the roll of object creator to solve the various puzzles. There’s the usual host of upgrades and additional skills that can be unlocked for each character as well with the process occurring through picking up magic potions within the levels and then turning them into experience points. It’s a system that always worked well so we are glad the developers haven’t tried to mess around with it too much.

The other thing that has remained the same is how absolutely gorgeous the game looks. Every Trine game is stunning but this one really seems to push the boundaries. Each area and stage are so full of colour and interesting design that it makes traversing through the various levels a real joy. Never will your Switch screenshot button be so overused than with this game.

It’s also very impressive that five games in the team are still finding creative puzzles to build. Trine 5 never feels over familiar and there are a few new additions, such as sections where only one character can be selected, that force the player to think in different and creative ways. You also must keep in mind that just because there is an intended way to complete a puzzle it doesn’t mean that creative players can’t figure out other solutions as well. There are also options which up the difficult of the puzzles and even change them if you are playing in co-op so that they require multiple characters working together to solve.

Overall, Trine 5 is as good a Trine game as there has been. It’s a remarkable testament to the series that is has barely changed but still manages to feel as fun and relevant as it ever did. It’s a game that will be equally liked by newcomers or those more familiar with the series. A few years ago, it seemed the Trine franchise was petering out, but this shows there is much more than can still be added into the mix. It seems inevitable now that we’ll get a Trine 6 and if it keeps up the quality it’ll be more than welcome when it arrives.

Overall 8/10

Monday 11 September 2023

Taito Milestones 2 Review (Switch)


Taito has one of the best catalogues of games in the industry, but the first Taito collection on the Switch was uncommonly stingy in terms of both content and its price point. Even though the days of the massive collections seen in the days of the PS2 are long gone there is still a balance that can be struck between offering players something decent and a company valuing its legacy. With that in mind we are pleased to say that Milestones 2 is much better in terms of the games selected.

Even in this collection of ten titles though there is some filler that will likely serve as little more than a curio to most. Dino Rex is a one-on-one fighting game in the mould of Primal Rage. That game itself isn’t the best and Dino Rex proves to be even more clunky. Solitary Fighter is another that falls into this category. A sort of better looking cross between Street Fighter and Pit Fighter, it’s not something that is strong enough to hold your attention for long.

Aside from these two games though the others all have some real merit. The NewZealand Story remains a classic arcade platformer that it’s worth playing through multiple times. The arcade version is tougher than the home releases, but the bright colours and responsive gameplay mean it’s easy to forgive its difficulty. It’s also full of iconic moments such as needing to be eaten by the whale boss to damage it – something many a gamer will remember fondly.

Metal Black is also on here and is an excellent side scrolling shoot’em up. It uses a unique dual beam power up system with players able to blast it out at set increments on an energy bar. It looks great and has all the mammoth bosses and waves of enemies you could want from the genre. At one point it was going to be an entry in the Darius series but was later turned into its own title.

Speaking of Darius, one of the big selling points of this collection is that the three screen Darius II is included here as an exclusive. It’s an amazing game and if you have access to a big screen, it will blow you away with the scale and the speed of the thing. Inevitably, three screens crammed onto the Switch in handheld mode does make things a bit small, but we still found it playable enough – especially on the OLED screen.

If you are still not convinced, you also get one of Taito’s best platform games on this collection in Liquid Kids. Like some of the others it is available separately but in our view it’s almost worth the asking price on its own. It will please many a Saturn owner who now doesn’t have to pay out the price of a small house to own a copy as well. In the game you control dog thing that chucks bubbles. These trap enemies which can then be bashed off screen. When enough bubbles build up it sends water surging around to clear away enemies and deal with basic puzzles. Imagine a sort of side scrolling Bubble Bobble.

Rounding out the package are four games that we would classify as ones you’ll likely dip into now and again. Kiki Kaikai is first in the Pocky & Rocky series and very tough but fun. In our view it’s probably the weakest of the series and Reshrined is also on the Switch so that would be the one to spend more time with. Gun Frontier is another Shoot’em up with the gimmick of needing to down the end of level boss with a single shot. Again, it’s fun but you’ll be too busy playing Darius II. The fairly well-known Legend of Kage is a platformer that works in short bursts but has no real lasting depth and Ben Nero Beh is a cool little single screen game where a fireman has to reach a damsel in distress avoiding fires and collapsing floors. You may well find yourself addicted to this for a while as once you get used to it there’s a lot of charm here.

Overall, Taito Milestones 2 is a much stronger and better value collection than the first one. There are at least three games here that are major selling points and the majority of the others are good fun and games you’ll likely return to multiple times. There is still room for improvement in terms of options and presentation but it’s all moving in the right direction. Retro fans should find more than enough here to keep them happy.

Overall 8/10

Monday 4 September 2023

Blasphemous II Review (switch)

 Written by Dan Gill

The Game Kitchen served up a gorgeous-yet-gruesome looking action-adventure in 2019’s original Blasphemous, a title with all the ingredients of a MetroidVania with the difficulty veering towards that of a Souls game. While it was a solid piece of work, it fell a little flat in some areas. The combat became a bit dull as the game went on, and the difficulty at times – especially during boss battles - felt cheap.

Blasphemous II picks up after the events of the first game’s Wounds of Eventide DLC, where the Penitent One is woken to prevent the rebirth of a curse called “The Miracle” which threatens Cvstodia. The introduction is beautifully animated and is the first indication that this is a step up from its predecessor. The game still takes its theme and visuals from Andalucian culture, Spanish architecture, the nation’s Holy Week and huge amounts of Roman Catholicism, and the creepy and surreal imagery from the original is built upon, but more on that later.

Once the player gains control, they’re presented with three weapon choices. This is the first major change to the original, where the only weapon available was the Mea Culpa. While the sword was able to be upgraded, the parry/dodge/attack routine remained throughout. This time combat is much more varied through the fast twin blades (Sarmiento and Cintella), the slow but heavy flail (Veridicto) and a balanced sword (Ruego Al Alba). The weapon you choose ultimately doesn’t matter, since you eventually claim all three during the game, but it will determine your initial progress, since each weapon’s abilities unlock certain areas. This makes progress feel more natural than in the original and feel more in line with other games in the genre. It also makes for more interesting combat. Each weapon has its own skill tree, giving the Penitent One more devastating attack combos and rewards for parrying. The variety offered goes a long way to showing how Blasphemous II betters the first game.

Other features return, such as the Fervour meter, which is depleted when using chants and prayers. Chants are lower cost powers, while prayers are more powerful and tend to deal out damage over a longer period. This can take the form of a trail of flames or a floating ball of miasma, but there are also prayers which offer other abilities, such as fast travel to the game’s hub. Alongside this you also have passive abilities which take the form of rosary beads. On top of that you now also have statues which can be equipped to offer additional buffs. These are found throughout Cvstodia or carved by the sculptor in the City of the Blessed Name (the game’s hub). There’s a lot to manage, but once you take the time to equip the Penitent One accordingly you can make the game a little easier for yourself.

Blasphemous II also retains the difficulty of the original, but the combination of items and weapons you can acquire provide some flexibility when tackling its grotesque enemies.  The Game Kitchen also seem to have adjusted encounters a little, especially regarding bosses. Blasphemous often felt unfair, with very little wriggle room during its bigger fights, but Blasphemous II somehow manages to keep the difficulty, but keeps everything fair. One boss took me multiple attempts to finish, and while initially seeming impossible, I could feel I did a little better on each attempt. The placing of Prie-Dieus (the game’s save points) is generous, and they’re normally close to boss battles meaning retrying isn’t quite the chore it could be (I’m looking at you Dark Souls). The battles range from screen-hogging monstrosities to bullet hell team-ups. They’re quite exhilarating, and there was much air punching and trash-talking (albeit to an empty room) during my playthrough.

It’s not all dishing out damage through. This is a MetroidVania, and exploration is key to progress. I found myself stumped at one point, but that was down to my man-looking at the map, leading me to miss a massive section. As mentioned, progress feels more natural than in the original, and it’s worth digging for secrets. NPCs are tucked away throughout Cvstodia which offer their own quests and/or items, and they add to the game’s lore. Blasphemous II is one of those games that you more you put in, the more you get back, and it’s grimdark world is a joy to explore. The game loop of uncovering those previously inaccessible nooks and crannies you’d expect of the genre is present here and keeps you coming back for more.

Everything looks as gorgeous as you’d expect. The silky-smooth animation, both in cut scenes and in game looks great, and the design of everything from the enemies to the backgrounds really captures that Catholic aesthetic. While nothing explicitly looks like the works of Heironymous Bosch, the design has that same feeling of his work; a surreal vision of hellish creatures and heavy religious imagery. Nothing else looks quite like it. It’s accompanied with a brilliant soundtrack filled with melancholic strings and classical guitars. The atmosphere is foreboding yet light enough as to not feel that it’s being laid on too thick.

There are a few minor gripes. The backtracking can become a little tiresome, especially as fast travel is initially restricted to specific portals, and resting at a Prie Deiu respawns any enemies you’ve defeated, leaving you trying to jump and slide your way past everything to get to where you want to go, but this is standard for the genre. There are also some sections where the camera misbehaves in the sense that it doesn’t know what it’s meant to focus on. These hiccups aren’t game breaking and seldom appear, but it’s noticeable.  This is something that’s likely to be addressed with a patch (and may even be fixed by the time you’re reading this), but really, I’m just nitpicking at this point.

The Game Kitchen stated that Blasphemous II was built from scratch without using any code from the first game, and it shows. They’ve crafted a MetroidVania with plenty of variety, a feasable challenge, a distinctive aesthetic and lots of depth. I came into the game expecting more of the same, and it seems they’ve kept the best bits and tightened up everything else, leaving something that stands among the genre’s finest. Why wait for Hollow Knight: Silksong when you can play possibly the best MetroidVania of the year right now?


Monday 28 August 2023

Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragon Review (Switch)

The Double Dragon franchise has certainly been trying to get back into the mainstream mindset of gamers during the last few years. We’ve had the awesome Double Dragon Neon and more traditional Double Dragon 4 as well as several Technos carts on the Evercade and a collection on the Switch. Double Dragon Gaiden is the first of these games to try and mix the up the formula though.

As a result, Gaiden has a more cartoon look to it, closer to the recent Teenage Ninja Turtles game or Scott Pilgrim than what you might normally associate with the franchise. Initially, it’s a bit off putting but soon settles into the madness of the game and fits the overall chaotic style well.

Along with the change in how the game looks extra elements have been added into the core gameplay. The first thing you’ll notice is that a tag team system is in play. You pick two from an initial four characters (more can be unlocked with collectable tokens), with each having their own styles and moves. During play your partner can be tagged in to extend combos or simply give your other character a rest from being pummelled. As well as this, each character also has three special moves which can be used when a meter is filled. Hitting enough enemies with these creates health drops and they prove key to getting through the game.

The next big change is the addition of a few rogue-like elements. You initially have four stages to pick from. Each area has a different theme and boss and can be tackled in any order. However, each level you complete adds another section to the next. So, the first area you take on will lead you straight to the boss, but the next will add another stage and mini boss in between, and then the next area will have two stages and two mini bosses etc. It’s an interesting approach and one that adds some variety to multiple play throughs as it’ll take a good few runs to see everything the game has to offer.

At the end of each area you can buy upgrades with the money collected from bashing the various goons along the way. These range from power ups to specific moves, new skills, tokens or simply taking the money. It’s important to consider what best fits your characters needs as the game gets rough late in the day. Any tokens you collect along the way can be sused to unlock extra features and the boss characters as playable as well, each of which dramatically alters your way of playing.

Overall, Double Dragon Gaiden is a departure from the normal format we have come to expect from the franchise but it’s one that works. If there are any small complaints, it’s that the game can become repetitive at times as it takes a while to get through each run. Over use of the special moves is also an issue as really the best way to get through each level is just to spam and recharge them via enemy take downs. That said this is a vibrant and fun take on Double Dragon and it’s certainly worth checking out for scrolling fighter fans or fans of the franchise in general.

Overall 8/10

Monday 21 August 2023

Testament: The Order of High Human Review (Steam)

Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

While I have a fondness for mid-market, smaller scale titles, Testament falls a little limp in too many places for me to be able to recommend it. As an action game, it feels light and low on impact. As a story, I was left a bit underwhelmed too often. The stealth elements are hard to engage with. The RPG systems a bit arbitrary. Yet, it does have some good, even great aspects to it. So, I am more sad than incredulous at Testament.

As I try to get my thoughts straight about what Testament is, it occurs to me that it’s a good demonstration why I feel it falls short. I should start with things I’m sure of, however, and say that it is a first-person, action-adventure in a dark fantasy setting. Looking at the developer, Fairyship Games, website, and the website for Testament itself, this seems to be an attempt to create a series of games about the land of Tessara with all these odd moving parts. There’re divine lords, orc-like humanoids, more recognisable animalia, and strange unnatural aberrations, as well as different spiritual powers and sects. It washed over me, but it’s spirited enough and done with some degree of enthusiasm and conviction. It very rarely, however, made too much sense. You play as Aran (a sort of gruff fallen angel-lord type; bit earnest, bit vague) who has lost his powers and has been captured by a talking tree. I felt there might be a creepy woodland vibe for the whole game, but it shifts about to different locales.

The visuals are great. Not amazingly cohesive, but it has an atmosphere. There’s a tonne of slick wetness, bloom and brightness going on. Very flashy use of effects. I enjoyed the dingy caves and manky woods, more than the temples and mountains. Visually, the GUI and HUD are ugly, and break the gains of the nice art and design, sadly.

Similarly, the writing plays coy and vague, wasting any good ideas hiding in the world. Throwing around unestablished lore and world-building with no context. With little or no connection, sympathy, information, or motivation to be or help, at least, Aran move forward on his quest, I hoped to find fun in the gameplay and have the story be a bumbling side-dish. Your daily bread is first person action, mostly swords and arrows. These both feel damp and too light when executed and when they land. With little feedback, it did dirty on some good, fun villain designs. I rarely felt weight or result of action. Stealth can be employed to clear areas of enemies, but it becomes a bit of a guessing game with hard to ascertain distances of awareness and sloppy AI.

A real shock here, for me, was that one of the more enjoyable parts of Testament were platforming sections. What’s that? First-person platforming sections? No, I’m not a High Human (yuk yuk). There are some genuinely creative platforming sections with some interesting environmental puzzles. No, it doesn’t feel as good as Dying Light or Mirror’s Edge or something like that, but for a game that has so much spaghetti thrown at the wall, this one of the bits that has stuck.

Progression is blocked by bosses that what you might expect. A bigger, tougher version of a mob, or a big creature. These were mostly frustrating, exposing some of the lack of interaction between stamina, energy, health, and attack styles systems. The challenge is in the wrong place; rather than feeling as if I was losing a skill battle, I felt like I’d been given poorly optimised tools to do the job with.

As I trundled through Testament, I did lose interest I’m afraid and did fail to finish. A final criticism is the length, which is a co-morbidity of the pacing of the story. It struggled to move me to investment, as there was only so long I could be sort of into it. The world looks fun and there is something lurking back there, but too many dull systems amounted to a misfire here. I hope that the dev looks to tighten the focus of any future titles. Testament could have been a quite engaging action story if it were half the time and markedly less flabby.

Overall 5/10

Monday 14 August 2023

Garlic Review (Switch)

We’ve said this before, but the Switch is absolutely stocked full of hardcore platformers for people looking to speed run their way through hell. As such, it takes a lot to stand out. We hadn’t heard much about Garlic but after a few minutes we knew this was something special.

Garlic certainly is another of the hardcore platformer brigade, but it has a very different feel than pretty much all the others out there. Much of this comes from the games offbeat humour and it’s unique look. Away from the standard pixel art approach most of these games take, Garlic looks like something that should be running on the BBC Micro and as such has a completely different feel than pretty much everything else in the genre. The simple colour palette and clear visual style is excellent and works perfectly.

Happily, it may look like a BBC Micro game but it runs a hell of a lot smoother than most of the platformers on the system. Your garlic headed guy zips around flawlessly and at a tremendous pace, which is handy as the levels are tough to say the least. You only have a few moves at your disposal, but they allow you to overcome the many obstacles you’ll face. Your main skill set is tied into your super meter. This continually recharges and when full allows you to zoom forward or upwards and can be utilised while jumping or falling. This acts as your main device to get you around the many dangers you face and is also your way of damaging enemies. You can also cling to walls for a limited period.

Though Garlic may be tough it rarely asks you to do anything twice due to an excellent checkpoint system. These come in two forms depending on the level you are in. Some levels are longer scrolling sections and these often have the standard checkpoint flag situated somewhere within them. About ninety percent of the time this will be exactly where you want it to be after short but tough sections. On other levels Garlic takes another inspiration from its retro past and saves when you leave a screen. A lot of the levels take the single screen approach and don’t scroll. This helps frame single screen puzzles for players to overcome before moving onto the next with the confidence that you won’t need to repeat anything if you die. There’s some clever level design which utilises this single screen approach as well which shows real creative thought.

Aside from the main 2D platforming, Garlic also throws a number of mini games at you which brings out a lot of the games weird humour. For instance, the first mini game has you walking into the screen trying to avoid treading on dog poo while a later one has you queuing up waiting to play on an arcade machine while you get increasingly frustrated.

Overall, Garlic is a wonderful surprise. It’s one of the most creative, smooth and accomplished platformers of this type we have ever played. It seems destined to be overlooked as there's very little hype around it but this is crazy as it’s a genuine classic. We absolutely loved playing through Garlic from start to finish. Yes, it is tough but the fact the checkpoints work so well means you are always making small progress and it keeps unnecessary frustration as bay. It’s unique look perfectly hits the nostalgic vein and does so in a different way to pretty much everything else. We can’t recommend this enough, it’s a retro inspired indie classic.

Overall 10/10

Monday 7 August 2023

PixelJunk Scrappers Deluxe Review (Switch)

Everyone’s favourite innovative PS3 indie developer has finally released another game on the Switch. It may not be the collection of its first games we are all clambering for but anything from the PixelJunk team is more than welcome. We’ve covered the beautiful PixelJunk Eden 2 before and Monster 2 is also out on the Switch but Scrappers sees the team move into yet another genre – the scrolling beat’em up.

Scrappers has players take control of a robot who is tasked with collecting rubbish and fighting off electronic thugs in world where humans have long since become extinct. Up to four players can play at once and there is both local and online play available. The game scrolls left to right with players needing to pickup and stack trash in a big pile which they then carry to a rubbish truck that rolls along continually. The higher the stack the harder it is to keep the balance and the more you throw in the truck at once the higher your score is. While doing this, thugs will come out and try and beat you up. You of course need to hit them first with a host of weapons ranging from baseball bats to chainsaws.

Single players are helped by a little robot helper who zooms around picking up rubbish for you and throwing it to you. In truth there is little to substitute for a team of humans but it does make single player seem less lonely. Along with the scoring and fighting dynamic there are also level challenges to complete which give you medals. These start with your basic score attacks but branch out to finding hidden objects and defeating enemies in certain ways. Any challenges beaten unlock medals which are needed to progress. Unfortunately, this is one of the problems with the game as the medal requirements are quite challenging meaning it’s likely you’ll be playing the same levels over and over before you can progress to the next.

As you progress through the levels you can unlock more characters and weapons which can be permanently purchased between levels. You can also customise pretty much everything on your truck from the wheels to the number plate. These changes are cosmetic only but if your dream is to design your own rubbish truck then you need look no further.

As great as the idea of Scrappers is there are a few problems that get in the way of the fun. First of all, the game really is difficult if you are playing solo and it’s tricky to get near the higher end of the score challenges. It’s also the sort of game that would work best with you all zipping around the screen picking up trash and fending off enemies. But the pace of the game is fairly slow which makes it kind of plod along. This becomes even more noticeable when you are repeating stages for the fourth or fifth time in order to meet the requisite medal unlocks to reach the next area. Simply put, it's not manic enough for either a puzzle or beat’em up game and that is a real shame.

Overall, Scrappers has the classic PixelJunk DNA running through it but it’s not up there with the studios best. The mixing of the score attack, puzzle and beat’em up elements together is initially intriguing but it never really gels in the way you would hope. PixelJunk fans will be able to look past this and see the attempted innovation, but this may just be to far out there for a more general appeal. In multiplayer things improve immeasurably but this isn’t a game many will see through to the end on their own.

Overall 6/10