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