Monday 31 July 2023

Mr Run and Jump Review (Switch)

Atari has been going full throttle recently with both its back catalogue and trying to bring new IP to the market as well as merchandise and original cartridges for legacy systems. We’ve covered multiple releases so far with many more falling by the wayside as the sheer amount of them are seemingly near impossible to cover. Mr Run and Jump is an attempt to create something new in the retro style and possibly set up a new mascot for the company as well. It’s a good thing then that it’s actually pretty good fun.

Mr Run and Jump follows in the footsteps of the host of indie hardcore platformers out there. A sort of neon Super Meat Boy if you will. And it is pretty hardcore. The levels get difficult quickly and though the game is short, the individual levels are lengthier than you would expect from this sort of game. You don’t have to beat them in one go though. Each stage is built out of a number of different screens and when you move from one to the next it acts like a checkpoint. Of course, one touch and you will die but at least you are not sent back too far each time. For those that die often and want to progress there is the option to turn Mr Run and Jump rainbow which makes him much more durable.

The thing that sets it apart from many of them is its visual style. It has a clear vector design with objects and characters outlined with different neon colours. This perfectly captures the retro feel that the game is going for. The simple but striking design also makes it clearer for players to identify traps and obstacles meaning it’s easier to concentrate on racing through the levels. In terms of the look of the game it’s a resounding success.

Each level is filled to the brim with spikes, traps and enemies and you’ll need to be using your entire move set pretty early on in order to even have a chance of getting to the next area. Mr Run and Jump can double jump and wall slide, roll and sort of rocket along with the moves chainable in quick succession. A simple jump will quickly not do, so before you know it you’ll have to jump, slide down the wall before rocketing between a set of spikes or enemies. It’s helpful then that Mr Run and Jump is responsive and easy to control, which of course means everyone of the many deaths you will suffer are entirely down to you. There’s a host of collectables in each stage for the platforming sadists out there with both shards and orbs (retrieved from even more devious trap filled rooms) filling each stage and needed to access the later levels of the games.

Overall, this is a good step from Atari and trying to establish some new franchises, while also tapping into the nostalgia held by both the brand and in the minds of the many gamers that still recognise Atari with fondness from their youth. It must also be said that Atari hasn’t really put a step wrong so far in this mass marketing of their held IP. The many arcade revivals, collections, and it’s Warioware alike have all been fun, well presented, and worth playing. Mr Run and Jump is no different and is another easy recommendation from us.

Overall 8/10

Monday 24 July 2023

The Eternal Castle Remastered Review (Switch)

Before the recent cinematic platformer revival The Eternal Castle had already landed on the Switch and the story and mythology behind it is just as intriguing as the game itself. You see, the ‘remastered’ part of the title is a misdirect, there was no Eternal Castle to remake. The idea put forward is that the game is the completion of an uncompleted game from 1987 that developers remember from their youth. In truth, no such game exists and the story is just a legend developed to set the up the context of how the game plays and looks.

The first thing that hits you is the incredible unique style of the game. Initially it is a little eye melting but you’ll soon get used to the faux retro look and it works perfectly in getting across the feel and environment. It’s difficult to describe to those who don’t remember games from the time period the game is supposedly set in but it certainly conjures the memories of the more ambitious platformers of the time. If you can visualise Another World running on a BBC Micro with only a few colours being used at once you’ll be in the right area.

The game plays much in the way we have come to expect from cinematic platformers. Your character takes extra frames to do things, so you know you have to make a slight adjustment to jumps and combat but the whole thing moves in a much more cinematic way. The game is also responsive and sharp so there isn’t much need to panic if you’ve struggled with these sorts of titles before. The main causes of death are due to the games difficulty and traps being hidden in the graphics rather than due to elongated movement.  

Though difficult, Eternal Castle isn’t particularly long so when you hit difficulty spikes you’ll likely want to push through them. After an initial introduction stage you have the choice of facing the next three stages in any order. Each stage has a unique look and focuses on different skill sets. One is a haunted castle which requires sneaking, while another is focused on using guns for instance. Each contains a string of near-constant set pieces and impressive boss fights at the end. it certainly lives up to the cinematic moniker. Once these have been completed and the parts to your space craft collected you can then fly off to the final level and eventually take on the big bad at the end.

In the two-hour runtime the game certainly throws a lot of variety at you so you’ll always be doing something new. It’s a carefully crafted game where every minute of it has been considered and set out to provide a unique experience for the player. The short run time also makes it more likely that players will return for another run through. There’s certainly plenty of law and things you may miss the first time as well so it’s well worth diving back in.

Overall, The Eternal Castle Remastered has both an intriguing back story and is a great experience in its own right. There isn’t really anything out there like it, even other cinematic platformers aren’t really the same. Players will certainly need to take some time getting used to how the game looks and works but once you do you’ll experience an adventure like no other.

Overall 9/10

Monday 17 July 2023

Ray’z Arcade Chronology Review (Switch)

These retro collections are getting out of hand. As much as we are absolutely delighted that the Switch has become an Ark in console form for the great games of yester year, I’m not sure we need quite so many versions of each release. The Ray’z series has three different versions available for gamers to buy which is two too many. You can get just the HD versions of Raystorm and RayCrisis, a limited physical version which has the prototype R-Gear on it or this version which contains the original version of Rayforce and the original and HD remasters of Raystorm and RayCrisis.

Still, it is very nice to see the series making its way to modern machines as the games are certainly great fun to blast through. What we have here is five versions of three games ported wonderfully by M2 and presented beautifully. Raystorm and Raycrisis in particular utilise the layout of the Switch screen to the fullest so there’s no feeling of needing to tip everything around into a TATE mode as although the games scroll vertically, they are meant to be played wide screen. Indeed, the remasters are of a quality that the original version become pretty much redundant as anything other than a curio.

The main shoot’em up gimmick of the games is that they operate on two levels. You can blast away at flying enemies but also have a lock on laser which can pick up multiple targets on lower levels. When you release the lock on button your lasers will home in and hot anything you have tagged. This creates some interesting boss set pieces as well as they are normally attackable across both the higher and lower plane.

Unlike the later two game which utilise polygons, Rayforce is from the pixel art camp. The environments and enemies look awesome and the fact the levels work in a constant segway from one to the next create a feeling of constant adrenaline that doesn’t really let the player have any room to breathe. It helps to keep things intense and is a clever design decision. The other games don’t segway in the same way but all are filled with impressive set pieces and huge bosses.

In terms of fire power, you are a bit limited compared to many shooters but these games are more about learning to use what you have. Rayforce only gives you the standard lower level laser lock on and your main gun. This can be upgraded a bit but there’s no smart bombs to save you so you will have to get used to dodging bullets quickly in order to progress. Raystorm and RayCrisis give you a bit more to play with as you can pick from different craft and a super attack is brought in but on the whole, you will be taking on the enemies with the same weapons your craft started with throughout.

The third game is the series, Raycrisis does break the mould a bit when it comes to shooters as it’s first three levels come at you in a randomised order. It’s also the biggest of the games with 42 maps in total and a number of a different endings. Repeated plays allows the player to start sequencing the levels. It’s also the most manic of the three games. As a result things become almost too busy at times and it can be tricky to take everything in. Chances are though you’ll be having too much fun to really care.

Overall, this is another excellently put together compilation of classic games than more than deserves to be experienced by the vast audience that the Switch has. If you are into retro gaming, shoot’em ups or just trying to build a library of classic titles this is a must buy. It’s three excellent games exactly as you remember them, and possibly a little bit better in the cases of the HD remasters.

Overall 8/10

Monday 10 July 2023

Planet of Lana Review (Steam)


Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

 Thankfully, this is not a terrifying vision of an entire global sphere populated by Lana Del Ray clones that sing interminably, this is another cinematic platformer, and a darn good one at that! Much of the early coverage of Planet of Lana focussed on the visuals, drawing slightly basic comparisons to Studio Ghibli. While this comparison is correct in level of finish, the three-and-a-bit hours I spent with the game belie an interesting style of its own, no less beautiful, and a brilliant blend of puzzle, platform, and story.

This short, but well-formed, adventure starts in the titular Lana’s village. A coastal accretion of shacks and huts, with a population living out quiet lives. You learn the controls following your sister around and discover a sad family history. Then, in timely fashion, robo-aliens start piling through the atmosphere and do a kidnap job on everyone, which the nimble Lana is able to evade. These charmingly designed robots leave Lana alone, save for a small black cat-like creature called Mui. This is Limbo and Abe’s Oddysee for fans of Journey in a Wind-Waker colour palette. I dunno, the comparisons are still slightly non-functional. I was reminded of Brothers, obliquely, with the twin dynamics of tragic-adventure and co-operative puzzles. Lana and Mui work together to traverse the landscape, tame wildlife, and trash robot invader plans.

Some shots are just for show. The camera pulls out as you chase Mui down, wider and wider, until there’s a boulder crammed in a leafy canyon. There’s a tree sticking out of the top. It’s just for effect, played slow and careful. Lana trudges across a desert, despondent and defeated, everything lost (but a set up for an exhilarating reversal before the climax). Wishfully Studios have crafted something that has less vicious edge than its most obvious ancestors, Limbo and Inside. There was a longing, or hope against hope, that came to me from the sublime Spiritfarer. Lana is just capable enough, but there is a lonely and dangerous quality to the game. In this is my only real gripe, that many of the puzzles were a frustratingly tightly timed series of actions. If you failed to pull it off, there was a little long to get back into it, and often some setting up or pre-positioning that became real old, real fast if you’re stuck. This is certainly a personal problem, as I have such low patience, and such I am not docking too many points off Planet of Lana. Most puzzle or platform players will find this fine to accommodate.

Of particular note is the music. The score is so deftly handled that there is a real built sense from the small, yet bustling village, the peace of a forest gravesite, and quiet childhood games, to the soaring chase scenes, tense stealth sections, and eventual sci-fi battle grandeur. The compositions are linked with recurring motifs and themes, perfectly placed. There’s horns and bleeps and pads and all sorts. Just a real joy to experience.

Planet of Lana lasts around three to four hours (I was closer to four, but after looking playtime up, most did it around three, so I just suck) and is a taut experience that blends the best of this genre together. Between its presentation and its gameplay, there is huge value in a small package. Its core strength is this brevity, as the formula would not, in this reviewer’s opinion, have lasted to five hours. The push-me-pull-you, stelf-jump-stelf pattern is deployed for the right amount of time to engage us in a well-crafted adventure story, and no more. Knowing when to stop is a real virtue in games. Wishfully have made something special, intimate, yet grand, that seems to fit in your pocket.

Overall 8/10

Monday 3 July 2023

Evil Wizard Review (Steam)


Back in the realm of satire, Evil Wizard works hard to evoke some nostalgia for character pieces. Swimming around in this spirited but messy game there’s all sorts of things to enjoy for fans of retro games, ARPGs, metroidvanias and arcade slashers. Evil Wizard comes with a big ask, however, and if you don’t want an all-encompassing, ever-present satirical performance, you may struggle to maintain patience. I just about found enough, in balance, to enjoy a lot of this title, but the gameplay is playing a bit of second fiddle to the main orchestra of poking fun at games, media, pop culture, and the like.

I would say that you play as the titular wizard, but within bare seconds of the introduction the fourth wall is broken and the player is acknowledged directly. After being defeated by the hero, the wizard is looking to take back his castle and exact some oft cited “sweet sweet revenge”. There is, therefore, an odd sense of discovering what the wizard should already know about his castle as you break back in. This is the only sense in which this game is similar to the film The Rock.

There are three elements to the gameplay as you progress through the castle. General combat with enemies, boss fightin’, and environmental puzzles. Of the three, the most satisfying are the boss battles because they lean into the strength of Evil Wizard. Enjoyable characterisation kept the game afloat for me. Finding the different ways each boss was designed to mock or satirise was a lot of fun, and similarly some of the NPCs had some great dialogue and crass sensibility. The combat of boss encounters went on the rumble strip close to the verge of too-frustrating, but not fatally. The environmental puzzles, similarly, have a nearly-too-simple feel that strips back a lot of the gameplay experience to something a bit more passive than I’d like.

General hack-n-slashin’ in Evil Wizard lacks a depth, or maybe a heaviness. I felt the movement skatey, but functional. There is a lack of connection between the wizard and the world, in a “physical” sense, which causes a floaty feeling.

While some enemies are nicely conceived, there was a bit of a repetitive vibe, and you’ll see familiar faces a lot. Abilities and moves, items and weapons all are present but again are in service for the atmosphere rather than a great playing game. A lot of these elements feel like opportunities for gags than developing play experiences.

Where Evil Wizard works is in presentation. The artwork is charming as hell. It is bold, well executed, yet detailed and subtle. The animations are cracking, and the lighting effects set everything off. The utility animations for GUI and game signals are really solid too, with lots of dynamism and zing to help the screen stay active. Visually, this for me was somewhere between Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Dungeon Keeper. I like the blocky, yet nuanced pixel work so much that I resented it when the game zoomed out for sections. The other part that I cannot skip over is the music. This is pitch-perfect stuff that evokes some real old time Sierra games vibes.

The drop in rating for me is simply the uninspiring combat, as it drags the whole effect down. It is a tough game and can get tense when you’re trying to execute finishers as a way to bolster your health, but most of the time just lacks the punch I expect from something predominantly arcadey-fighty. Placed next to the clear creative zeal of the developer for the presentation of the game, it is a shame to mark it back. This sort of crass fun is very welcome in my world, and I think games that satirise games are a welcome relief, but I hope the developer ups the ante for a more robust gameplay experience to match a clear talent with artistry.

Overall 6/10