Monday 27 February 2023

Akka Arrh Review (Switch)

Atari has been treating us to some great reworkings and collections based on its back catalogue for its 50th anniversary celebrations. The latest is this resurrected arcade game which has been revived and then handed over to the legendary Jeff Minter to give it a modern reworking. We love Jeff Minter, we love arcade games and we love the fact this has been given the usual weird Minter twist.

For those not aware of Minters work you are most likely to have come across it on modern platforms with the Tempest franchise. Tempest 4000 is out on various platforms and the recent Atari collection has Tempest 2000 on it as well. Minter always looks to merge surreal visuals, music and addictive gameplay to create games that could only have come from his mind. And so it proves yet again here.

There are certainly elements of Tempest in Akka Arrh. You are blasting shapes and racking up points while surreal visuals and sounds float around in their glory. Unlike Tempest, this is viewed from a top down perspective. You have a turret set up in the middle of any number of different shapes as enemies swarm towards you from all sides. The aim is to drop a bomb which then explodes any enemies that it touches. These enemies then explode as well causing continual chain reactions. The goal is to use as few bombs as possible to clear the level and rack up a huge score.

This is only the beginning though. As well as bombs you can also fire bullets. These are limited but don’t reset your score when fired. Certain enemies can also only be hit with bullets. If an enemy makes it to your turret they will drop down to your core and try to steal your pods which effectively act as your lives. You can dive down there though where a second turret awaits to blast any intruders.

It all starts out very simply but by the time you hit level eight and above the range of enemies to contend with expands to a point your brain will be trying to analyse how to deal with a whole host of different threats all at the same time. And just because you have ten or more pods going into a level doesn’t mean you have any chance of getting out alive without a serious amount of skill and sharp reflexes.

Overall, Akka Arrh is another example of the surreal fun that Minter can bring. It’s not quite as polished as Tempest but this is a remarkable update of the original arcade game and it holds up well on the Switch. It’s undoubtedly weird but there is a consistent logic and pattern recognition. When you get in the zone you’ll fly through a chunk of levels smashing your previous scores and there’s certainly nothing else out there like it.

Overall 8/10

Monday 20 February 2023

OlliOlli World Review (Switch)

The OlliOlli franchise is something we have been playing since back in 2014 when we first came across it on the Vita. There haven’t been too many versions of it since with a Sequel in 2015 and a few ports along the way. OlliOlli World though is the potential jewel in the crown of the franchise and certainly the game with the most ambition.

For those new to OlliOlli, it’s basically a 2D skating game with a simple to grasp yet difficult to master control scheme. The first two games were sort of akin to a side scrolling Tony Hawk but OlliOlli World blurs the lines between skating, platforming and runner style games far more and manages to stick the landing on all three counts.

The controls are simple. The left analogue stick is used to perform tricks and jump and the A button is used to land jumps successfully. Holding down the stick and then releasing it launches your skater into the air, doing this at different angles or with a half circle motion produces different spins and tricks. You can also use either shoulder button to spin you around for further combinations.

Once in the air the aim is to land on a grindable service or at least flat on the ground again. To grind you need to press down as you hit the surface. Doing this at the exact right moment gives a higher score and allows you to maintain your speed. Pressing the stick down at different angles also allows you to land in different types of grinds. The one stick trick system works well and allows for a surprising amount of trick variations.

There are also manuals to keep tricks going between grinds and switches to add variety. There’s a ton of other stuff as well which is drip fed to you as you progress around the different themed worlds all with the aim of getting you more point and tying your fingers in knots. By the end you’ll be holding both analogue sticks and several buttons with dexterity you never knew you had.

Maintaining speed is all important as you need to make it to the end of each level without bailing in order to move on to the next. A lack of speed is likely to see you not able to jump obstacles and pits or simple fall off the grind rail you are sailing along. If you are on the ground you can kick to speed up but you’ll have to master the perfect grinds as you won’t be spending much time on the ground in later levels as they become one huge grind fest.

The different worlds throw up a continual array of new obstacles to tackle as well so you’ll not just be using the grind rails for long. Soon, you’ll have crystals to smash through, rocks to jump and any number of collapsing surfaces to avoid. It’s helpful then that the graphics are very clear and it is easy to see what is an isn’t a grindable surface. In the previous two games this was one of our biggest complaints but happily no more.

Thea mix of tricky obstacles and opportunities for big scores will leave players with a choice of how to play. You can just survive and progress or go all Tony Hawk in 2D and try and hit the big scores. There are of course an absolute ton of additional challenges and local hero scores to beat as well and each level has at least two different routes through it so be prepared to lose a lot of hours.

Very quickly, the addiction to high scores and creating perfect runs becomes embedded in the players mind and it creates the same need to instantly restart and do better as well. The five worlds have a good amount of variety in look and challenge so you won’t get bored of the visuals and even the early stages have challenges that will make you wince. There’s a lot of stuff to do no matter how you want to play.

Overall, OlliOlli World is the best version of OlliOlli we have seen so far. It takes a creative and playful approach to high scores and is both accessible to newcomers and players who just want to make it through and also fiendishly deep for the combo score chasers. It’s one of those games that you could really just keep playing forever if it bites you. It also caters to the Switch well, and while a pad is certainly more comfortable we made it through the game with little problem in handheld mode. There’s nothing else out there quite like this and it comes highly recommended for just about everyone.

Overall 9/10

Monday 13 February 2023

Wonderboy Anniversary Collection Review (Switch)

Written by Dan Gill

When I received the Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection, I was initially a little confused. Hadn’t this come out a few months ago? Imagine my embarrassment when I realised, I was thinking of the Wonder Boy Collection which was released in the sweltering summer of 2022. I should have known really, as the selection on games on offer here is quite different from that collection. Well, OK, not so different. It seems that the difference between the Anniversary Collection and the plain old vanilla Collection is that the former contains a comprehensive selection of Wonder Boy titles, spread across several different versions each of 6 games from the Wonder Boy/Monster World series.

If you’ve purchased any kind of retro collection in the past few years, you’ll know the drill, classic games with modern conveniences. The WBAC has the usual bells and whistles we’ve come to expect including save states, concept art, promotional material from the time and various settings to emulate a CRT. The number of games on offer is generous, as the 6 different games have platform and region variations, bringing the game count to 21. Emulated systems range from the original arcade version through the Master System, Game Gear and Mega Drive/Genesis. It’s a package to cater for every Wonder Boy fan, as you’re likely to pick your favourite version. You want the Game Gear version of the original game? You’ve got it. You want to play Monster World IV as it was on the Japanese Mega Drive? Fill your boots. This is as comprehensive a package for Wonder Boy as you can get, at least without chucking all the Adventure Island games in there too.

The games themselves are great. The original Wonder Boy is showing its age now, but it’s the foundation on which the series is built and proves to be an interesting curio for those that want to see what platform games were like in the wake of Super Mario Brothers. Wonder Boy in Monster Land shook things up by introducing some RPG-lite elements, while Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair combines platforming with shoot-em-up sections. Probably the most revered title is Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, due to its Metroidvania style of gameplay. Monster World III and IV continue in a similar vein, playing out like an ARPG. Each game is still worth playing since their influence can be seen in so many other games.

However, here’s the problem. If you forked out for the previous collection, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little seen off. This is the definitive collection for these titles, and the old collection’s paltry collection of four games feels decidedly stingy in comparison. The release of the newer package so soon after the old one feels like a poke in the eye for early adopters, as they’re now left with just a few tasty scraps rather than a sumptuous banquet.

Is it worth your money? Based on what’s on offer here, yes. The games themselves are great, and the variety of ports is excellent. However, if you’ve already shelled out for the previous collection, you’d likely feel stung by having to hand over money twice over to complete the set of games. The price of the collection (£45 in the eShop) isn’t exactly small change, so you’d either need to be an avid fan or wait for a sale before picking this up and leaving yourself with a redundant collection that’s not even a year old. For everyone else, the package comes highly recommended. A bit more spit and polish in the presentation department would have been appreciated, but the amount of gameplay on offer here is generous and is pretty much essential for any Wonder Boy fan.


Monday 6 February 2023

Magic and Legend: Time Knights Review (Gameboy)


More and more indie developers are cutting their teeth by looking to make games for older systems. The Gameboy and NES seem to be among the most popular currently as budding creators look to get creative with the limitations of the 8-bit systems. There are also emerging markets for these releases with routes both physically for the original hardware and through compilation for the Evercade and also into digital store fronts.

Magic and Legend is a five level action platformer which sees players descending through a level and dispatching alien invaders across different time periods. If you kill all the invaders you move to the next level when you reach the portal at the bottom of the stage. If you don’t then you get sent back to the start of the level to deal with any that have evaded you.

You can play as either a melee or ranged weapon character and each stage comes with its own set of weapons appropriate to the time period. It plays pretty well with your character responsive and moving in a logical manner and the five levels are undoubtedly fun. There are also bonus levels on each stage that take inspiration from things such as Ghost Busters, Super Mario Land and other iconic films and games of the time to create entertaining diversions.

The game ends with a decent boss battle as well where you have to hit multiple points in order to win the day. Magic and Legend is fun enough for repeat playthroughs which is handy as you’ll likely make it through on your first attempt. In fact, we actually got through the five levels without losing a single life, so there is certainly some fine tuning that could be done to turn this from a fun distraction into a fully polished title that could sit along side the original library of Gameboy releases.

There are some things that do make this stand out as an indie title though. Collision detection is pretty much non existent with no feedback given when you strike an enemy and the simple deletion of one of your hearts all to show for it. There is also no real point in the collectables you can grab in both the bonus and main levels as there is no score board present. This is a real shame as high score chasing would certainly have given an extra impetus to your play. We also encountered a bug where the game would let us progress without clearing each level and simply making it to the bottom, although this only seemed to happen once.

Overall, Magic and Legend: Time Knights shows a lot of promise but also a fair few rough edges. The core of the game works well with good controls and a fun gameplay loop. But it’s the details that are missing that prove to be the big difference between this and original Gameboy releases. As a result it comes across as a fun prototype rather than a fully fledged and finished title. We hope that this proves to be a jumping off point for something truly great in the future as most of the core building blocks are in place for what is a short, yet fun, distraction.

Overall 6/10