Monday 18 December 2023

Visco Collection Review (Switch)

Retro collections are becoming more and more common on the Switch and it has now reached the point that more niche and obscure titles are getting their chance to shine. Pixelheart have previously acquired the license for a host of Visco products and have published sequels to a few of them such as Andro Dunos 2 and Ganryu 2 (which we have previously covered). This though is the first time they have selected original Neo-Geo titles and bundled them together.

There are seven games in total, and they range across genres. You get the original Andro Dunos and Ganryu games, Windjammers inspired Flipshot and its sequel Bang Bead, a vertical shooter called Captain Tomaday, Goal!, Goal! Goal! and rally game Neo Drift Out. It’s a varied bunch of somewhat lesser known and obscure Neo Geo titles. If we are honest, it’s also a little on the light side and a few more games to round out the package would have really pushed this to the next level. But what’s here shouldn’t be overlooked.

Neo Drift Out in particular is very welcome as it's the very rare, third game in the Drift Out franchise and means something that is going to cost you a small fortune is now easily available. It plays much the same as the others in that it’s a very arcade take on rally driving. The goal is to complete a course under a certain time limit and then move onto the next. It’s viewed from an isometric perspective and there are of course plenty of hazards and short cuts along the way to learn. It’s pretty difficult but also great fun and certainly one of the high points here.

More forgettable are Goal! Goal! Goal! and Captain Tomaday. There are a whole host of football games on the Neo-Geo and while Goal! Goal! Goal! Is good, arcade, fun in small bursts it doesn’t really do anything to stand out from the crowd. Captain Tomaday, certainly has the quirky element going for it as you are in control of a flying tomato taking on an evil eggplant who wants to take over the world. Its closet comparison would be something like Galaga as you scroll up then stop at arenas that fill with enemies. There’s a host power ups and some fun scoring mechanics but we struggled to stay with the game for too long.  

Flipshot and it’s follow up, Bang Bead, are two games based heavily around the Windjammers model. You must hit a ball back and forth to each other with the aim of breaking the wall behind your opponent. Precision deflections add power to the shots and once your opponents wall is down you can score. There’s a host of different characters each with their own strengths and weaknesses and it’s decent fun in small bursts. The games also have online play which helps their longevity massively. Bang Bead being super rare is yet another reason to be glad this collection exists as well as only a handful of physical copies are out there.

The two most high-profile games on the collection have already been mined for sequels. The first Andro Dunos is a great little game, even if it lacks some of the visual flair of other Neo-Geo shooters. It’s a horizontally scrolling shoot’em up where you start with all available weapons and power them up continually by collecting pods. Knowing what to use and when, along with the chargeable super attacks is the backbone of the title. It’s fast and clean looking and should keep you occupied for a fair while.

Ganryu, is the other high-profile game here and it’s quite different from its sequel. A ninja platformer sitting somewhere between Revenge of Shinobi and Legend of Kage it looks great, fusing a sort of feudal Japan setting with neo-industrial overtures. Its biggest problem is that it’s quite stiff to control and while players can leap around, throw out grappling hooks and use a host of weapons, you can’t dash which makes movement and avoiding certain attacks unnaturally difficult. It’s still fun, but you’ll be wishing it just controlled as good as it looked much of the time.

Overall, the Visco Collection does an excellent job of bringing some of the more obscure Neo-Geo titles to players attentions. The work that has gone into making pretty much all of them available to play online should also be applauded as it was always going to be somewhat of a niche release. It’s not perfect and it could do with a few more games but we are certainly glad it exists and it gives players a way of accessing some quite rare titles for very little money. We would be happy to see more of this in the future for sure.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Irem Collection Volume 1 Review (Switch)

Irem have been one of the most notable companies to not fully exploit its back catalogue yet when it comes to retro collections and the exploitation of its classic franchises. The approach they have now taken is to release a selection of small volumes starting with this three-game collection of shoot’em ups. Here you get Image fight 1 and 2 and X Multiply, perhaps not the most well-known games from the company’s history but all of them are well worth playing. The big question is if these three games are worth the pricey sum of £19.99 when you compare them to other collections available.

One thing in the collections favour is that multiple versions of each game (Where available), are included. X Multiply has both the ‘World’ and Japanese arcade variants and Image Fight has all the Arcade, NES, Famicom and PC Engine versions available. The PC Engine CD version of Image Fight 2 rounds out the package. This means that while the package may seem a bit mean in terms of content and price it also means that it is far cheaper than trying to track down the original versions of the game to play on the original hardware.

In terms of options, they are deceptively extensive. You get multiple difficulty settings and the usual ability to create save states. There’s also a host of things to do in the arcade games such as calibrating how the sticks feel and various video options. There is also a section where you can enable cheats as well, so you are well served no matter how you want to play the games.

Image Fight is the most well-known game here and one that was an early pioneer in the world of the vertically scrolling shooter. It’s also crushingly difficult. It’s a game you’ll really need to memorise in order to make it through with the smallest of mistakes often leading to death. It’s a good thing those cheats are there for the more casual player. Of course, when you die you are stripped of your well-earned power ups as well which makes things even harder. T

he powerup system itself is complex with a mixture of pods that can be launched briefly before returning, and force like add-ons which bolt on to provide secondary weapons. Just make sure to pick the right ones or you will die. Often.

Just when you thought Image Fight was hard the sequel comes along and is perhaps even more difficult. Bigger bosses and more intense action coupled with players needing to build their powerups back up at the start of each stage mean this is really one for the hardcore gamers out there.

X Multiply is a horizontal scrolling shooter that initially recalls R Type. It is, perhaps, even more organically grotesque in its design. The concept is that you are making your way through a human body and need to rid it from a microscopic alien invasion. It’s a lot faster and more action intense than R Type for sure and a game that many have likely not encountered before so it’s great to see it get a spotlight here.

Overall, it’s difficult to judge where the first Irem Volume lands. The three games here are great and the emulation is rock solid. But there’s a lack of general finesse in terms of the presentation and the asking price for a collection of three games is steep. When you consider Irem has more volumes already lined up it’s obvious there could have been something put out that would have appealed to a much wider audience. In the end it’ll come down to just how much you want to play three great shoot’em ups.

Overall 7/10

Monday 11 December 2023

Dave The Diver Review (Switch)

Originality is a lost art in the realm of video games. But just when you think you’ve seen it all someone will invent a game where you must evolve fruit into a watermelon. This has little to do with Dave the Diver, but if I told you this was a procedural generated rogue-like with a gear building and management element I bet you’d think you had seen it all before. But wonderfully, you haven’t. Even with all these tried and tested components Dave the Diver is actually original…enough.

Split between two main game types our hero, Dave, searches the depths of the nearby ‘Blue Hole’ by day and tends to the needs of customers at the local rundown sushi restaurant at night. The diving section see Dave catching fish for the restaurant and taking on fetch quests for items which have manged to find themselves in the deep. As the game progresses, you’ll need to continually upgrade your gear to reach lower depths, breath for longer and fight off larger and larger aquatic creatures.

At night any fish caught can be turned into treats to serve at the sushi restaurant. After setting a menu customers will come in and Dave is required to run around serving drinks and delivering food which is continually dispensed from the chef. As time progresses, you’ll get ever more tasks to attend to such as clearing away bowls and grating wasabi with the overall goal being to get the restaurant as popular as possible. It’s kind of like if someone mixed Root Beer Tapper with Theme Park.

You also have a mobile phone which continually updates with new apps providing you with more and more to manage. You’ll need to keep up the social media promotion for the restaurant, check emails for requests, answer scientific queries, develop weapons, and gear and hire staff. Life at a small restaurant was never going to be easy after all.

It’s a good thing then that every aspect of the game works and remains fun throughout. The short but chaotic bursts of the restaurant are a perfect juxtaposition with the more tranquil and longer diving sections. While the continued upgrading of gear and unlocks move at a pace that means there is always something new to do or slightly further to explore without it seeming completely overwhelming or becoming stagnant.

It helps that the game looks joyfully lovely. The Blue Hole is a gorgeous place to explore and even though it’s procedurally generated for each dive it still conforms to a sort of logic that means it’s both memorable and mysterious at the same time. There’s a wide range of fish swimming around and various sizes of creatures to capture, kill or simply avoid with the biggest sharks acting as unofficial bosses and gear check points. The above water sections are as equally full of life in their own way with characters all having their quirky charms and the customisable restaurant fitting the setting and overall tone well.

Overall, Dave the Diver is a welcome addition to the Switch library. Everything it sets out to do it achieves pretty much perfectly. All the different aspects of it blend to produce a wonderfully quirky and fun adventure for players to undertake. In a year of strong indie releases for the Switch this is one of the very best.

 Overall 9/10

Monday 4 December 2023

Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur Review (Switch)


Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

 Combining so many pieces of the rogue-lite genre, a few too many design styles, and frankly too many bits of a title, makes Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur a messy but not wholly unsuccessful adventure. At its worst it’s a gaudy Hades clone and at its best, it’s a charming diversion, I didn’t find a great drive to dive in for one-more-run for much time, as this genre really requires. I bounced off of this one, as I have with others of its ilk, but some may find this hits some good marks.

The first thing that hits you (especially if you’re from the UK) is Brian Blessed’s cataclysmic voice. Yes, once again the shrinking violet Brian Blessed, man mountain who mans mountains, has hit the video game voice over scene. It is no surprise that Blessed ended up in this sphere with such a characterful and entertaining voice. His video game credits are now rather lengthy, from movie tie-ins to some real classics like the equally colon-stricken Kingdom Come: Deliverance. While not seal of quality, Blessed is a strong selling point, and his performance makes the expository dialogue sequence bearable. The story is that Camelot is flung into a void as a shattered landmass floating in a crack in reality (sort of like Loop Hero, I understood), which sets up King Arthur as our player character, aided by Merlin (played by Blessed) in a quest to bring the whole situation back to reality. This is an effective set up for the style of game chosen, given that the different “biomes” that one has to battle through can be visualised as separated islands or areas in this floating void. The “hub” of the destroyed Camelot is set up as a place to pick loadouts, spend found currency and aesthetically develop.

If you’re familiar with Cult of the Lamb, Hades, or Enter the Gungeon (to pick a few notable titles), you already have the measure of this. As Arthur picks his base abilities, representing the styles of the other knights of the Round Table, you battle through a series of areas and then a boss. Each time you fail, you gain more experience of how to fight mechanically, but also develop your power and tools at the hub. There is a little flexibility with play style, but it feels somewhat restrictive because of the awkward controls in combat. I never felt a sparky cohesion of responsive control and hitbox management. Things just never felt connected to me. Due to this, I favoured the direct, melee fighting styles rather than the ranged attacks (I recall similar issues with Cult of the Lamb, causing me to feel unsatisfied before too long). Adding into this problem is the animations of the player character and the mobs are all “marionette” style, that have always felt quite unnatural and give vague visual cues about movement and perspective.

To follow this line of weakness, there are a mixture of art styles across this game that became distracting. While not unattractive, there feels a lack of singular purpose to it aesthetically. This is not, however, and unfun world to be in. There are lashings of humour, a positive charm, a good deal of decent dialogue, with some of it quite well and spiritedly voiced. Please, do not go rabbiting for any interesting Arthurian interpretation. There is artistic licence being taken everywhere, and this is not a criticism unto itself, but just a warning if you were looking for a slick reinterpretation of the ol’ legends.

Where Knight vs Giant really succeeds is not necessarily in the “knight” bit, but the “giant” part (the Chibi style of the Arthur player model is particularly and irritatingly out of step with all the other characters). The hulking bosses are wonderfully realised and are consistently the best bit of the actual gameplay. They are a fun mash-up of garish Eldritch and Kingdom Rush cute, leaving most of the rest of the enemy design in the dust. These are great moments that do some of the heavy lifting to keep the game afloat after hitting the same, quickly tired, areas again and again.

If Hades was a bit mawkish and Cult of the Lamb a bit Hot Topic for you, you could do well with this. Getting in and out of runs was a bit laborious for me, the execution a little clumsy, but still has a decent bit of fun to be had. Flawed, but not forlorn.

Overall - 6/10