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