Monday 26 June 2023

Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX Review (Switch)

The Raiden franchise is experiencing a sort of reverse revival at the minute. Raiden V was the first release followed by IV and now III has appeared (with the arcade original also hiding on the Eshop). No doubt Raiden 2 and some of its spin off games are also on the horizon. In our view the more Raiden games we get the better as it’s an often overlooked series that hasn’t ever really had a bad game.

In terms of mode there’s nothing particularly spectacular here but you get the normal arcade mode, score attack mode and once completed a boss rush mode. You can also change a few cosmetic things such as wallpaper for the side of the screen and various life and bomb options. There’s the ability to flip the screen as well if you want to play in TATE mode. Topping off the features are of course online and local leader boards.

The game itself plays fairly similarly to the other Raiden games in that it relies on more standard blasting and survival than the many of the modern bullet hell shooters. Maximising your score comes down to chaining kills and not getting hit so it’s a stripped back affair that is quite refreshing in a lot of ways.

You have three main weapons which you can use which are equipped by coloured power ups you pick up within the levels. Each of these can be levelled up to become more and more powerful as well so knowing what you want for a particular level is key to scoring and survival. One of these weapons fires bullets in every direction while the other is a straight powerful laser. The last is the super bendy beam laser the series is famous for. You also have a classic style smart bomb and secondary missiles that fire continually.

There are seven levels in total and while they are tough, Raiden is a fair game at heart. Your ship is a little slow but then you aren’t diving through the sea of bullets that a lot of these sorts of games inflict upon you. Bosses fall much into the same category with them making you manoeuvre carefully but never fully overwhelming you. That said, it’s funny how often you seem to die despite this so it can be deceptive. And we really do wish the ship moved around a bit quicker.

The graphics looks good in both docked and handheld mode and enemy fire is distinctive enough from the backgrounds to be seen clearly. Even being colourblind we didn’t have any issue with things blending into the background. The choice of sound options are all solid and add another element for players to customise. The game does slow down in places but there’s a whole different debate to be had about how slowdown in retro shooters effects the gameplay. Personally, we would like to see it ironed out but there will many happy that the game plays in the way it always has.

Overall, this revival of Raiden III is most welcome and will be essential for fans of the series. We do prefer both Raiden IV and V as they are a bit more polished and distinctive but then that’s to be expected as we are going back through the series in reverse. On its own merit it’s a fun and solid shooter that offers a lot to veterans while also being accessible enough to newcomers and more casual fans who just want to blast away for short bursts every now and then.

Overall 8/10

Monday 19 June 2023

Labyrinth of Zangetsu Review (Switch)


Of the many genres that have seen a revival in the last few years it is fair to say that the 3D dungeon crawler has been somewhat ignored. There have been a few of course, but aside from Etrian Odyssey and Legend of Grimrock there isn’t much that has managed to make an impact with a wider audience. Labyrinth of Zangetsu is certainly trying to standout though with its unique look, which is admittedly what first drew us to it.

When in doubt it’s normally a fairly safe bet to add a Japanese flavour to something. The developers here have bult their world to look like a precession of Japanese ink paintings. The bleak world of black and whites is uniquely and unmistakably set in a land of Japanese folk law with the various monsters and demons from the country making up the monsters to bash. As you move through the world clouds of ink spiral in front of you and serve as your warning that a battle is about to begin should you venture forward another step.

It all looks gorgeous in its grim way and the different environments and monsters are beautifully recreated out of the thick inky black lines and empty whites of the intentionally limited colour palette. It is perhaps a touch of style over content but then it kept us interested far longer because of it and made the dungeons seem so much more interesting than the usual brown blocks of games like Eye of the Beholder.

Away from the aesthetic, the game plays in much the same way as other dungeon crawlers. You move around in a first person view one square at a time disarming traps, searching for keys and encountering monsters. Combat is turn based and each of your team of six has various options depending on their class such as attack, using magic, items, stealing etc. You can decide if you want characters to be at the front or back of the group but generally your options are limited. It follows a standard template so if you’ve played one of these games before you’ll know what you are getting.

Should one of your team die you can try and resurrect them once you are back on safe ground but there is a chance they will turn to ash. When this happens, you’ll need to role another character before exploring again which can be frustrating if you’ve put a lot of time into a certain class. Another thing that makes your journey tricky is that characters only level up when they are back in a town or village. This means you could be out in the wilderness a long time and no matter how many beasts you slay you’ll remain the same level until you return home.

Overall, Labyrinth of Zangetsu is a beautifully atmospheric and wonderful looking game that has standard gameplay underneath it. If you are into dungeon crawlers there’s certainly something here to get into but it lacks the more general appeal of the Etrian Series with all its bells and whistles. We enjoyed our time with the game though and for some a refresh of the setting and a change of the art style will be enough to make the adventure worth undertaking.

Overall 7/10

Monday 12 June 2023

Nuclear Blaze Review (Switch)


I’m not sure many had the follow up to the much loved, and continually expanding, Dead Cells to be a puzzle platformer based around putting out fires. But that’s just one of the many things that separates the creative minds of the folks at Deepnight Games from the rest of the world. There are a few tiny similarities to Dead Cells but on the whole this is a fresh and clever platformer that even has a kids mode containing lots of extra trucks and helicopters.

The plot is fairly light with you being called to a blaze and ending up stuck in a secret underground lab where there may be more going on than just the outbreak of a fire. The controls are straightforward with you being able to spray water, roll and jump and that’s all you need in order to get by. There are a few nuances to the system of course. You can create different arcs of water spray and pushing down makes a sort of water shield around you. This is particularly useful when opening doors as sometimes you’ll be hit by a back draft and burn up if you don’t protect yourself or get out the way.

The levels are set out as self-contained puzzles of burning death with you needing to extinguish the flames in a section before moving onto the next. You must be quick as well as flames will begin to spread again if left for too long. In order to help you can normally turn on sprinkler systems or collect wheels to allow you to turn on water pipes. This at least gives you a few safe areas from which to plan your next move. Your two main concerns are your water level which you need to keep refilled and the fact that taking a single hit means death and normally starting the puzzle again from the start.

Each section follows the same sort of rules and it’s more about the design in terms of how you travel around putting out fires that changes. There are a host of obstacles such as locked doors, falling debris, burst gas pipes and the occasional key card that needs collecting but it’s all really about working out how to get around without running out of water.

Should the game prove too difficult though there are a wide selection of sliders that can be used to balance it out to your hearts content. You can make minor tweaks or make yourself pretty much invincible. We got through the game without playing around with it but some of the puzzles did prove to be sticking points so it’s good to see players have a way to keep their progress going should they wish.

Overall, Nuclear Blaze is a brief but fun platform puzzle game. It’s both creative and challenging and while there are frustrating moments it was never enough to turn us away from it. Once completed there’s an extra ‘Hold My Beer’ mode which adds even more challenging content as well so there’s enough here to keep you coming back. It’s just something a bit different that works well and we would recommend it to anyone looking to live their best fireman hero life.

Overall 7/10

Monday 5 June 2023

Puzzle Bobble EveryBubble! Review (Switch)


It seems hard to believe that Puzzle Bobble (or Bust-a- Move as it’s otherwise known), has been around now since the days of the Super Nintendo and first released in 1994. Since then, we’ve had releases across various platforms including the Playstation and Saturn where it arguably fully established itself as a franchise to rival the Tetris’ and Magical Drops of the world.

Unfortunately, for many of those years most of the games have been somewhat inaccessible to us due to the colour coded nature of games. Admittedly, we aren’t sure when it started but Everybubble has addressed this by making sure that each colour also has a unique pattern attached to it. This means you can match up the bubbles easily even if you are colour blind and is a welcome addition that works excellently.

Accessibility aside, Everybubble comes packed with a host of different modes. There’s a multitude of multiplayer options both local and online where up to four people can either team up or compete against each other. There’s also a fun little diversion which effectively mixes Space Invaders into the puzzle fun with the invaders filling the bubbles.

Aside from multiplayer fun there is plenty for lone players to do as well. There’s a story mode which sets you up against numerous arrangements of bubbles and gradually drip feeds new features and skills to you throughout to keep things interesting. This can be played with up to four players as well and adjust the levels accordingly to keep it interesting. You can also play with bots but we found this be a frustrating experience as they caused more problems than it was worth most of the time. To top it off there is also the Baron’s Tower which is the games version of an endless mode where bubbles continually come at you until they eventually overwhelm and cause the game over.

In keeping with the Bubble Bobble ethos the visuals are clear, bright and cheerful throughout. The bright colours help to keep things easy to see during game as well as also providing a cartoon-like aesthetic to cheerfully guide you through the story cut scenes.

Aesthetic aside, a puzzle game is only ever as good as its gameplay loop so we are pleased to report that Puzzle Bobble judges this just about right. It’s a mix of slight panic and zen like relaxation that works well. A lot of the levels can seem pretty straight forward but you are never one hundred percent sure where your bubble is going to land or what it might stick to so there is always the nagging doubt that the next shot might cause complete disaster.

Overall, Puzzle Bobble Everybubble is a well judged and welcome return for the franchise. It’s packed full of content and things to do and the core gameplay remains as enticing as ever. The accessibility concessions mean even more people can enjoy the fun and if you are into cute dragons chucking balloons up a screen it’s hard to see how are going to go wrong with this.

Overall 8/10