Monday 15 April 2024

Cybertrash STATYX Review (Switch)

 

Although it’s been having somewhat of a renaissance recently, the cyber punk sub-genre is still very much under used when it comes to video games. Therefore, anything which looks remotely like it fits into that category is something we often take an interest in. So, with just a screen shot of the title we were drawn to Cybertrash, an action platformer with light RPG elements.

The game deals with a world where ‘The Corporation’ controls the populace by kidnapping and implanting mod chips into troublemakers. Robots are used to keep people under control and the industrial and natural world have completely separated. You take control of Jenet, one of the people trying to escape from the clutches of the evil overseers.

You start out in a sort of reconditioning facility and are lead on various missions by your handler. These are all basically the same. You make your way through a level, blasting robots and finding the exit. As you destroy, you’ll level up and can then raise some of your base stats such as how high you jump and how accurate your weapons are. There are also crates that can be hacked to offer up new guns and credits that can be spent on ammo.

Unfortunately, each of the levels looks quite samey with the same tiles sets and boxes used. Enemies are also quite similar throughout, and while you get new robots to fight against, there’s no huge distinction in terms of tying certain foes to certain environments. This does mean that the game lacks a bit of personality and begins to look generic after a while. When you compare it to something like Huntdown, where every level is crafted to look at certain way, and you can really feel difference.

To get around the levels you have a basic move set of jumping and sliding. You also perform a high jump after a slide. This is an interesting idea but in practice we found it quite unreliable. There didn’t seem to be any particular logic to how the slide into a high jump worked. While this was fine on longer stretches of the level, there are times when you have to leap from quite small boxes and this often meant we fell down to lower parts of the stage repeatedly which soon became tiresome.

Something else which also quickly becomes dull is the incessant dialogue between levels. The story part of the game moves at a near snails’ pace and will often see you just hitting the button to skip through as quickly as possible. This isn’t helped by any story scene where you need to walk around the facility, as you move incredibly slowly and there’s no run button. This aspect of the game could really have done with streamlining.

The weapons you get are excellent though. There’s a decent variety of guns to try out and each one has a solid and appropriate feel to it. The shotgun in particular really feels like it packs a punch. The boss fights are also great fun. Sometimes they can be a little easy if you have certain weapons set ups, but they were a continual highlight throughout our playthrough.

Overall, Cyber Trash is an interesting but flawed game. Initially, the levels are really good fun and allow you to blast away at robots with some cool weapons. But nothing really changes as you progress in terms of action, look or enemies. The feeling of repetition started to set in way too early and while the game remains fun, when you add this to the frustrations from jumping and some scarce checkpoints it all becomes a bit of a struggle to stick with. Still, there are some nice ideas on display here and it’s certainly not a bad game, just a bit of an uninspired one.

Overall 5/10

Monday 8 April 2024

Top Racer Classic Collection Review (Switch)

We love QUByte Interactive at Retro 101. There are so many retro games out there that could be lost to history but QUByte have picked out some really interesting ones to release on the Switch. In the past we’ve had SNES games the First Samurai and Legend, and Risky Woods on the Megadrive, along with a host of others. These games might not be massively well known but they are solid and interesting titles that deserve to be kept alive. The Top Racer games also fall into this category.

When the games released on the SNES in Europe they were known as Top Gear but we can assume there’s probably a licensing issue with that name now, so they have reverted back to their original Japanese titles. The collection contains Top Racer 1 and 2, Top Racer 3000 and a sort of Rom hack crossover with Horizon Chase Turbo called Top Racer Crossroads which is the first game with different cars.

What really helps the collection is that the three main games are different enough from each other to feel unique. There are similarities of course, all of the game display in a sort of fake 3D POV with the camera positioned just behind the car and they all take in race locations from around the world (and galaxy in 3000’s case). Your stye of play also won’t need to alter dramatically between them, but there is enough in terms of look and details to give you a choice to make each time you come to the collection.

The first Top Gear uses a split screen display with your car at the top and either the computer or a second player on the bottom. There’s no way to set this so you only have the top screen so get used to looking at half the Switch screen when playing in handheld mode. Once you get used to it though it’s totally fine. Speaking of getting used to things, just remember the frame rate on the SNES is not perhaps what you remember it to be. There is a sense of speed throughout the games but sometimes it does get a bit jerky. Top Gear 2 and 3000 give you a full screen to race around and each ups the graphics considerably, although they also change style, so each game retains its own look and charm.

There are a few options that players can use with the usual filters here if you want to smooth out pixels and you can play around with the screen size and even stretch it wide screen if you want to. This of course simultaneously fills the Switch screen and creates one of the most distorted pictures ever. Remember, the SNES is not a wide screen machine after all. The games themselves have their own graphical flourishes at times with certain weather conditions like rain and snow and the tracks themselves are well designed and remarkably varied throughout.

There are a few other basic extras as well like achievements and an image gallery for the three games. You can also redeem codes which may suggest future skins for cars. Theres meant to be an online mode as well, but we couldn’t find any games on the server. Whether that’s down to it not working properly or not many people playing the game it’s difficult to tell. Either way we couldn’t get a game.

Overall, the Top Racer Collection is great for people like us. We have played the original games on original hardware and aren’t particularly bothered about upgrades in terms of how the games look and play. We also love the fact that games like this are being released on the Switch. If you are like us, you’ll probably love these games as much as you ever did as they do hold up. If you are a newcomer to the series, it may be better to go to the spiritual successor Horizon Chase Turbo.

Overall 7/10

Monday 1 April 2024

Star Wars: Dark Forces Review (Switch)

 

There was a time when Star Wars games were few and far between. Recently though, we’ve had a glut of them coming to the Switch. Jedi Knight two and three have already made their way onto the system and now the origin of the series has been given a new coat of paint and sent out into the world. What is most significant here is that aside from a poor PS1 conversion there hasn’t really been a way to play Dark Forces outside of the PC.

Dark Forces is very much in the vein of the first-person shooters of the time. That being it’s basically Doom with a Star Wars graphic set on it. Levels require a lot of searching for switches and key cards and work like mazes. There are of course a significant number of Storm Troopers to blast while you are searching around, and all the appropriate sound effects are in place to make it as Star Wars centric as possible.

Simply labelling Dark Forces as a Doom clone is not entirely accurate though. Doom very much kept everything on a level, while Dark Forces levels move up and down a lot and this adds a much welcomed sense of scale. You can also jump which occasionally results in some awkward and terrifying platform sections. These sections are made all the more nerve raking by the fact you can’t save inside of the levels. On the standard difficulty setting you are issued three lives. More can be picked up but if you lose them all then it’s right back to the start. That’s something you are going to want to avoid as well as some of these levels are huge.

It's interesting that with all the new additions, the graphical upgrade, the slick frame rate that you still can’t save. We understand why but what would have been very helpful would have been to at least put a quick save feature in. The levels are so large, complex and labyrinthine that some will likely take new players well over an hour to complete. With this in mind it seems a strange oversight.

The most helpful addition to the game is without doubt the gyro aiming. Unlike games like Doom, you do need to be fairly accurate when shooting. It isn’t just enemies but switches and traps that need blasting, so being able to move the target smoothly and in small measures is an absolute must that makes things much more enjoyable.

It’s difficult to know how newcomers will gel with Dark Forces. If you are a fan of first-person shooters and have blasted your way through Doom and Quake without much trouble then chances are that Dark Forces will be right up your street. It’s not as slick as the Quake games but there is certainly more here worth playing than just a chunk of Star Wars nostalgia.

Overall, Star Wars: Dark Forces is a solid first-person shooter that has been restored and brought up to date as best as it possibly could be. All the upgrades and additions are welcome and add to the experience in a positive way. The bones of the game remain very much entrenched in the era the game was released though. This is very much still a retro experience that you are going to need to be either a hardcore FPS fan or a pretty big Star Wars one to fully enjoy. We’re very glad to see games like this from the Star Wars back catalogue reappear with so much love taken to restore them and can only hope Jedi Knight and a few more are going to appear soon.

Overall 8/10

Monday 25 March 2024

qomp2 Review (Switch)

 

Atari’s recent decision to mine its back catalogue shows no signs of abating, but as the quality has been excellent it’s not exactly a bad thing. This week’s classic franchise given a twist, is of all things, Pong. This really does take the ‘spiritual successor’ tag and stretch is considerably but if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if the ball from Pong broke free from the confines of its two paddles, then this is the game for you.

The control system is remarkably simple. The ball bounces around the screen and you have the option of pressing A to change its direction by 90 degrees or holding the shoulder button to charge up a super boost that can break through certain blocks. That’s it, the ball bounces around under its own inertia continually and aside from being affected by various environmental situations, like water, its basically a case of keeping it from hitting hazards.

There are thirty levels spread across four worlds with each new world adding new elements into the mix. It’s starts out quite simply by just giving you spikes to avoid but you’ll soon encounter locked doors and breakable blocks, creatures that chase you around levels and of course good old fashioned lasers and electric hazards. Things escalate quickly here and in order to beat the game you’ll likely need to avoid throwing your switch against a wall more than once. The symbols that turn your ball into a game of snake are particularly brutal. 

To counteract the frustration, each of the levels is fairly compact and also have a decent number of checkpoints in them. This means its rare that defeating something challenging doesn’t bring you to the end or at least the safety of the next save. There are also some interesting boss fights here which are designed well and are a lot of fun to take on.

The look of the game mimics the minimalist style of its source material by keeping the black and white colour scheme of the original Pong for most of the game. It’s not all without colour though as various hazards and blocks add dashes of blue and red here and there. In a further nod to the past the screen normally presents itself in a sort of semi-fish eye viewpoint mimicking televisions of old.

Overall, qomp2 is another example of Atari finding yet more gold in its continual cycle of its back catalogue reworking. It is incredibly hard later on, but everything works well. The controls are simple and effective and as frustrating as it is, every death is the players fault. Some sections will have you really thinking about the inertia of the ball to get through but it always remains consistent to it's own rules. This is a clever and surprising twist on a basic formula and one that works excellently.

Overall 8/10

 

 

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Geometry Survivor Review (Switch)

This is an odd one. A long time ago now there was an awesome twin stick shooter by the name of Geometry Wars. It started life as a mini game in Project Gotham Racing 2 and then found a bigger audience via Xbox Live Arcade. There have been several sequels across all platforms, but sadly none of these have reached the Switch yet. Despite the name and look of this game it is not part of that franchise but that doesn’t mean it should simply be ignored.

Geometry Survivor is the latest in an ever-growing sub-genre which mixes twin stick shooting and Rouge-lite elements, the auto shooter. The most famous of this current indie darling genre is Vampire Survivors but you can tell already several hundred more are about to burst through the Steam dam and flood the console marketplaces.

Despite not being part of the Geometry Wars franchise, it certainly looks the part. The same pulsing neon surges around the screen and squares, rectangles and just about every other shape emerges from the play field and charges at you. The sense of speed and chaos isn’t quite there but by the time the countdown is into the last five minutes or so the screen will be continually full of shapes flowing around.

The game works by giving you twenty minutes to survive a continual onslaught of shapes as you move around a rectangular playing field. As you move you will auto fire at the incoming enemies. Collecting exp from dead shapes levels you up which grants new weapons such as back holes that suck shapes in and a host of other creative offensive options. These can then be upgraded so they fire more often and further. There’s a host of different pick ups as well and you can only carry six in one run so getting a good balance is essential for success.

As well as experience you can also pick up credits which can be used to unlock permanent upgrades from the main menu or different ships which carry their own quirks and characteristics. We found collecting enough credits to do anything useful took a long time though so unless you are really planning to put the hours in, you’ll likely not see much of the benefits of this approach.

Overall, despite its seeming simplicity we did find ourselves drawn to the game due to the fact in handles well and the weapons and upgrades are logical and behave in a consistent way. However, there isn’t really anything here that’s going to really hook you and keep you coming back repeatedly. Runs are also hampered a bit by the fact the first ten minutes or so soon become dull. It’s certainly not a bad game, just one unlikely to drag people away from Vampire Survivors.

Overall 6/10

Monday 18 March 2024

Llmasoft: The Jeff Minter Story Review (Switch)

 

When Digital Eclipse first announced its plan to release interactive documentaries it seemed like an interesting prospect. The first release in the series looked at Karateka and one of the main issues we had was the lack of games included. We are glad to see that isn’t the case this time around and we can’t think of a better company to look at for this kind of release.

Jeff Minter already has a presence on the Switch due to Atari’s recent strategy of utilising its back catalogue to release new games. Tempest 4000 and Akka Arrh are both examples of Minters work, and we’d recommend both if you get with the psychedelic style on display here.

The documentary elements of this are exhaustive. Spanning from 1981 to 1994, there are numerous videos, spec documents, pictures, concept art and inputs from Minter himself. It’s all arranged into four separate timelines and easy to move through. The interviews with Minter are a particular highlight with him always coming across with great insight and in an entertaining way.

All these elements combined will give you an excellent understanding of how everything came together through this period. The few games not playable on the collection through these periods are also lightly touched upon but it would have been nice to have a bit more about some of them even if they aren’t available to play.

There are a lot of games here though, and they cross many classic systems from Atari 8-bit, C64, Vic-20 to the Atari St and Atari Jaguar. Multiple versions of each game are also present so in terms of what is here its exhaustive. A lot of the games are also great. If you are into retro games and if you’ve not played Grid Runner or Attack of the Mutant Camels, then you are in for a treat. It’s nice to have some of the games that weren’t as well received as well so you can get a full overview if Minter’s back catalogue. Just get ready for a lot of weirdness and Llamas.

There’s a visually enhanced exclusive version of Gridrunner  included as well which is based on the C64 version of the game. This will be one of the main reasons for fans to pick up the collection and plays as crazily as the original. This coupled with the fact Tempest 2000 is here gives you more than enough to play even if you can’t get on with some of the earlier games.

Tempest 2000 itself brings up a slight issue though. People who are likely to buy this will no doubt also be interested in the Atari 50 collection. Tempest 2000 is also on that and this potentially takes away one of the main reason to get this. Having the Gridrunner upgrade here along with some of Jeff’s over classics is awesome, but we felt it could have done with at least one more big exclusive. Something super obscure like Tempest 3000 would have made this utterly essential, no matter how difficult it may have been to get working properly.

It's difficult with collections like this not to look to omissions even when there is such a sizable chunk of Minters back catalogue here to play. The biggest omission is of course the fact that the documentary stops at 1994. This means all of Minters later games aren’t included which is a real shame. Adding a Space Giraffe or later releases of Grid Runner would have really rounded the collection off perfectly. There’s also a lack of certain licensed games such as Defender 2000 on the Jaguar. But there is a lot of stuff here, so we are being picky.

Overall, This collection does an excellent job of getting across the work of Minter and it’s a joy to dive into and explore. Omissions aside, you’ve got one of the best games ever in Tempest 2000, and a great upgrade to Gridrunner backed with some excellent retro classics. The archive materials are flawless, and we can’t think of anyone more worthy than Minter to have been given this sort of treatment. Essential for retro gaming fans, but it still could have been even more.

Overall 8/10

Monday 11 March 2024

Lords of Exile Review (Switch)

 

There have been a lot of indie games over the years that have used Castlevania for their inspiration. However, most of these have taken the Metroidvania route rather than the more linear level-based approach. Set over eight stages, Lords of Exile is very much in the platform hack and slash category and is clearly influenced by the 8-bit Castlevania games and other titles of the time such as Ninja Gaiden.

In terms of how the game looks everything is absolutely spot on. This could easily fit in with the NES Castlevania games in terms of style and even the music fits the part. Luckily it plays a bit more fluidly though with you character feeling a whole lot better than an 8-bit Belmont. The only issue with controls we had was the double jump which seemed a bit temperamental and inconsistent to get working at times which led to a few unexpected deaths.

Of course, when you are taking influence from some of the toughest games to have ever existed the game you make is also going to be on the difficult side. For the most part Lords of Exile walks the line between difficulty and frustration well. Levels are tough but they aren’t impossible. That is until you reach the final stage. Here things tip over too far into the impossible side of things. One section in particular with instant death spikes on the ceiling was simply not fun. Everything else though is pitched really well, with the checkpoint system keeping frustrations at a minimum.

Each of the eight stages is varied visually and you’ll take in all manner of swamps and cursed places on your quest. After each stage is completed, you’ll take on a new ability of some kind. Some of these are simply buffs such as adding more throwing objects or damage while overs offer new abilities like the double jump or adding in a shadow creature to summon. Adding in the new elements keeps things fresh as you know you’ll have something new to play around with when you get to the next stage. These abilities don’t open new areas though as progression through stages is completely linear.

Each stage also ends with a suitably epic boss fight. Initially daunting, once you work out the pattern these can normally be downed with some suitable button mashing and appropriate use of throwing objects. But they prove to be interesting obstacles to overcome and some of their design is quite clever.

Overall, Lords of Exile is a solid homage to the Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden games of old. As with all these sorts of games this is aimed at a particular niche audience, but it does everything it can to make sure that it hits the mark. Seven of the eight stages are excellent with only the final one being unbalanced in terms of the fairness to death ratio. With a little bit more polish this would be really excellent. As it is it’s still very good and well worth checking out if you are busy working your way through the better 8-bit inspired games out there.

Overall 8/10

Monday 4 March 2024

A Void Hope Review (Switch)

 

It’s been a while since we last had a game from Elden Pixels. Their previous output has been excellent, and we’ve covered all of it. They are most well known for the two Alwa games, while also publishing the excellent Cathedral and retro inspired Kraino Origins. Their latest game is a platform puzzle game with a heavy emphasis on narrative set in a collapsed city blighted by a strange plague.

The player takes control of a couple as they look for a cure and try to decipher between reality and distorted memories. You start out by playing the husband who has seemingly been infected by the mysterious plague. His part of the story is to search the city for memories as he tries to keep hold of his mind. Halfway through it switches to the wife who is searching for a cure. There isn’t any ability difference between the two but it’s a story beat that works well.

In terms of how the game plays this is very much on the narrative side of narrative puzzle games. It’s a 2D platform game but the challenge involved is minimal. Players move around self-contained levels looking for items, exits and computer terminals. Early on you also pick up a sort of phase gun thing which can be used to shoot switches and defend against infected creatures. But aside from box pushing and switch shooting there isn’t much else involved in the gameplay but it does the job well enough.

Speaking of the infected, they are there to present small obstacles and little else. As you traverse the world, people within the levels will sometimes phase into some kind of monster. These can be shambling shadow people, dog creatures that are much faster or a sort of flying bat thing. There is a random element here as people can change into any of the creatures and it’s not always the same people that turn. You never get more than one creature on a screen though. Of course, if they touch you its back to the last checkpoint.

The infected creatures form one of the biggest stylistic issues we had with the game. While the game looks beautiful with its pixel art style, there is a lack of reaction from inhabitants we found a bit jarring. Most screens have numerous citizens doing various things. Some are sick but others are just standing around eating sandwiches or reading papers. As such you would think when a creature appears they would react in some way, but they don’t, they just continue to stand there. Now, this could be part of the whole ‘is this a memory or dream’ thing but we really could have done with a little more immersion in this area.

As a game we did find A Void Hope didn’t really grab us in the way that we expected. There are just too many elements that need a bit more punch to them. Neither the platforming or puzzles are particularly engaging, and the combat is completely functional. There’s a snake like mini game as well which kicks in when you access a computer terminal but it’s awkward and not particularly fun. As a narrative experience though, it’s effective and tells a good story so if you know what you are getting into there’s a lot to be taken away from the game.

Overall, it’s nice to see Elden Pixels going in a slightly different direction with this project. As a story driven title it works quite effectively but as a game it’s not as accomplished as their other output. We are glad we played it and the story itself is excellent. If the studio can tie this sort of narrative to a stronger gameplay loop then they’ll really have something.

Overall 7/10

 

Monday 26 February 2024

Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore Review (Switch)

 

Games inspired by titles from the past is hardly a new thing, especially on the Switch. But It’s quite hard to recall a game which actively tries to play on the unique nostalgia created by the CD-i, and more specifically the two Legend of Zelda games that were notoriously released on the system. Needless to say, this is for a niche audience but then that niche audience is us so let’s not complain. It even starts with the same sort of CD Logo.

For those too young to remember, the CD-i was a machine developed by Phillips and was notorious for having a rubbish controller and an awful lot of FMV filled games. Quality wasn’t generally high through the catalogue, but the system certainly has its fans and some games, such as Burn Cycle remain high points. It also had four Nintendo games licensed to it. A weird Mario hybrid called Hotel Mario, (which is referenced here in mini games) and three Zelda games (2 side on and one top down). Arzette, is an attempt to recreate the two side on Zelda games.

The story follows a fairly generic path of an evil big bad by the name of Demon King, Daimur threatening the kingdom. The heroic princess Arzette then must go and light some magical beacons, reform a magical triangle and destroy the menace once and for all. There are objects to pick up along the way, which adds a very light Metroidvania element, and upgrades to your health and weapons as well. It’s basically the 2D Zelda games without the license. It’ll take around four hours to finish and you’ll need a good memory to avoid backtracking through levels when you acquire something to get through whatever the next barrier is. At least each individual level is short so even if you go through each one searching it won’t outstay its welcome.

Visually, the game looks gorgeous in exactly the way it’s meant to. The sprites and backdrops perfectly recreate the feel of the CD-i games (no one ever accused them of being ugly after all). It also recreates the terrible cartoon/FMV sequences to an absolute tee. Only this time the weird voicing and look of the characters is being done ironically. Perhaps the most impressive thing though is this even sounds like a CD-i game. There’s something about how the samples work that has obviously been really developed and has been nailed perfectly.

Though it looks and sounds the part we are happy to say that it plays much better than it would have done on the Phillips system. If you want to understand some of the torture you can actually go and buy a replica controller for this game but save yourself the morbid curiosity and just use the Switch options instead. It’s also a lot more stable than the titles it draws influence from. The two Zelda games were full of constantly spawning enemies and relentless awkward combat. Here enemies stay dead while you are on the screen and if you do die, you’ll respawn at a decently spaced checkpoint.

Arzette plays well though, with your character highly responsive in the way you would hope for from this sort of action platform game. There’s a good tempo to levels as well and a nice balance between difficulty and progression. You can set the game to easy mode as well which offers up more health drops and lessens damage, but we found the default setting was a good, sweet spot.

Overall, Arzettte: The Jewel of Faramore is the reminder of a very specific type of retro gaming that we never really knew we needed. On its own merit it’s a solid and well-meaning animated platform adventure. If you get into the unique nostalgia, it’ll elevate it even more. We found ourselves pretty obsessed with it for its moderate run time. It’s a fun and unique game that’s well worth playing through and now we really want the developers to somehow remake the original Zelda games.

Overall 8/10

Monday 19 February 2024

Lil' Guardsman Review (Switch)

 

A good few years ago we reviewed a game by the name of Papers Please, which put players in the role of a check point operator with an ever-increasing number of tools at their disposal to judge who to let through. Lil’ Guardsman follows the same sort of scenario; all be it in a much more light-hearted and fantasy-based way.

The story follows the daughter of a guardsman who is asked by her father to take over the position as he needs to go out and bet on a local goblin ball game. With each passing day Lil finds herself operating the post again for various reasons and making judgments about who should be allowed into the kingdom.

Throughout the day creatures arrive and you’ll need to use your various tools and judgment to decide what their intentions are. You have five main tools – an X-ray machine, a whip, truth spray, metal detector and a decoder ring. The tools are all powered by crystals though so choosing what to use and when is key to getting all the information you need. You can also confiscate items from people which can then be used later and a phone where you can ring up a number of the kingdoms important residents to get advice.

To add challenge, each day comes with a host of rules and edicts to adhere to. These may range from simple things such as saying ‘no goblins today’ to more complex warnings about people in disguise or revolutionaries trying to make their way through. It all works remarkably well, and you never feel too overwhelmed.

The slightly undercooked part of the game comes in the form of a time machine which you acquire early on. Its basic use is to allow you to rewind time if you get something fatally wrong. This does remove serious threat from the game, but it works as a story focused point and click adventure with each person acting as an individual puzzle to solve so it’s not going to hinder your enjoyment. You can also go back and start the game from the beginning of each day as well if you want to really hunt for the maximum rating for each level.

Speaking of the rating, it is a bit confusing to start with how you get the best score for each person. We assumed it was making the correct decision as quickly as possible by using the least tools but often that is not the case. Much of the time you get a higher score from finding out the most information. At the end of each day, you’ll then get a summary of how you did and what each person went on to do once they had made their way into the kingdom.

Occasionally you’ll also get to wander around when you have finished your shift and visit various other locations. There isn’t much to do at these apart from speak to people but it’s a welcome change of pace and allows you to catch up with a few of characters you have allowed in, as well as understanding what’s going on in the kingdom as the story continues to unfold.

Overall, Lil’ Guardsman is a fun, if slightly light weight, take on the point and click genre. There are still ideas left to explore for this sort of check point sub-genre and much of the game works very well. There are a few moments when it becomes a bit of a drag and a bit more guidance from the start about score would be welcome, but this is a well put together game that is full of charm and it’s hard to see anyone really disliking.

Overall 8/10

Monday 12 February 2024

Door Kickers; Action Squad Review (Steam)

By Thomas G.J. Sharpe

Door Kickers: Action Squad is the arcade-y shoot-em-up sibling to Killhouse Games more serious Door Kickers. Lovingly fun, there is more depth than you might expect, but it is, in the end, a bit repetitive.

With vertical slices of apartments, bunkers, planes, trains, and offices, you play as one of a gang of action film stereotypes. There’s a brutal shotgun breacher, a Clarice Starling-esque Fed, wholesome hero assaulter, and on the far end of the silly scale, a boxer-shorted off-duty veteran. The parody is not as direct as Broforce but evokes a more general wash of bold 90’s and 00’s action movies.

As one might expect, you bust down doors and fulfil your against-the-odds missions which fall under a slim selection; hostage rescue, hostile elimination, arrest and bomb-defusal. Terrorists, kidnappers, bombers, bandana’d machete wielders, arsonists, and all manner of gunners stand in your way. The mode of play defined largely by your class and loadout selection.

You see, already, Action Squad is a bit more developed than other side-scrolling arcade shooters. Adding this mild range of customisation through gun choice, gear slots, “special ability”, and a simple skill tree, you have some degree of personalisation to the proceedings. The classes broadly represent difficulty, some are glass cannons, others rely on armour or gadgets to gain the upper hand. While there is only mild difference between the handling, the FBI agent who can roll, for example, was rendered unfun for me due to slightly clumsy animations and controls.

You get into a rhythm, perhaps taking the surprise-stealth approach with the Recon guy to surgically pick off targets around hostages. Take the Breacher and his chainsaw to indiscriminate elimination stages. Don’t expect too much by the way of AI. This plays very close to heist classic Bonanza Bros, wandering back and forth. This can lead to some frustrating moments, for example trying to bait thick hostiles that you must squish under elevators.

Despite the repetition, and rather short-lived character upgrade tree, there is something fantastically engaging about Action Squad. It’s quick to get you in and out if you fail, feedback from the visuals and sound is immediate and vivid. The ant-farm levels are cartoonish and simple, but evocative, the animations get a lot of mileage out of few frames and pixels. The design is tongue-in-cheek from top to bottom, and it makes up for the relative repetition, if it grabs you.

I found myself coming back to this for a couple of blasts at a level for a while. The music got caught in my head, which is always a sign that they need more tracks, and/or those tracks are cracking. I must note that I have not had the chance to sample the multi-player option. Further, despite there being some user-made levels on the Steam Workshop, nothing really grabbed my attention, but there is some legacy for the game there.

As a fan of Door Kickers (the serious, macho, CQT one), I am glad there is this lighter take on the SWAT subject. It doesn’t quite have the out-and-out hilarity of Not A Hero, but is arguably as competent as an arcade shooter.

8/10

Monday 5 February 2024

Goodboy Galaxy Review (GBA)

 

So called homebrew titles have come on leaps and bounds in the last few years. Now, we have reached a place where developers can create titles for older consoles and have them fit perfectly into the indie marketplace. Indeed, we think it’s only a matter of time before one of the big developers decides to dive into the world of retro consoles with a fully-fledged retro release.

We’ve covered an ever-growing number of these games including, Micro Mages, Alwa’s Awakening and Witch N’ Wiz, as well as some of the compilation which have made their way to Evercade, who could forget the excellent Tanzer after all? The latest of these to reach our door is Goodboy Galaxy, a platform exploration game for the GBA.

The plot is simple and follows a space dog called maxwell as he fly’s around various planets solving quests and making friends. It’s all one large collectathon, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Each character you meet along the way will require help in some way (normally finding things) and will then give you their friend card upon completion. Some also give you other items as well to further aid your exploration and allow you to get deeper into galaxy.

Goodboy Galaxy is not a Metroidvania game though, thanks to the well-placed gates around each planet. Maxwell can jump, has a shield which will absorb damage and has a blaster. However, when you pass through one of the gates on each level something will be disabled. This could mean losing your jump, meaning you must think creatively about switches or platforms, or losing you weapon or shield meaning you are much less protected. It’s a gimmick that lasts throughout the game and allows a series of short but interesting puzzle platform sections to be thrust on the player. There are of course ways of getting around these to reveal secrets as well.

It's good then that Maxwell handles excellently. You must get used to the game as it has its own mechanics such as the firing pace of the weapon and the jump working slightly different than how you would expect, but once you’ve played it for a while it all becomes second nature. It’s cleverly done and shows real thought has been put into how players are expected to traverse around the worlds.

The look of the game is classic Gameboy Advance platformer. Bold colours and large cartoon like sprites are the order of the day and you can’t help but smile at the heavy nostalgia and generally joyful vibe. It fits the style of game perfectly, as does the character design which effectively takes animals and objects and puts bigger eyes and jackets on them. Each planet also sticks with the bright feel, while also being distinctive from each other to keep the overall look from becoming too samey.

Overall, Goodboy Galaxy is a fun game that would have easily found an audience if released during the original GBA years of handheld dominance. It’s like finding a hidden gem for the system and hopefully it will find a much larger place when it releases on modern consoles (Goodboy Galaxy is also currently available on the Evercade). There’s a lot of fresh ideas here and if you are looking for something new that seems like something old then this is an excellent place to start.

Overall 8/10

Monday 29 January 2024

The Legend of Steel Empire Review (Switch)

The Megadrive was home to an awesome range of 16-bit shoot’em ups and it’s great to see some of them making their way over to the Switch. We’ve had less high-profile releases of games such as Gleylancer and Gynoug, as well as some of the Thunder Force series. Steel Empire is the first to get a proper reworking though. First released in 1992, we’ve seen the game pop up a couple of times. First on the Gameboy Advance and then later the Nintendo 3DS. Unbelievably, the last release was now ten years ago so we are more than happy to have its steam punk inspired madness appear again on the Switch.

The wonderfully stupid story revolves around two waring factions. The tyrannical Motorhead Empire are trying to take over the entire world with their huge steam powered mechanical monsters and all that is standing in their way is the small, rebellious Republic of Silverhead. Players take on the role of head of the Silverhead air force and are charged with single handedly blasting through seven stages to victory.

The first thing you notice is how amazing the game looks. The original sprites have been kept as pixels but everything in the backgrounds and in terms of explosions has been given much richer colours and had detail added. There’s a few new FX and bits of lighting as well which really helps to enhance the overall look of an already pretty game, without sacrificing the style of the original. The game still runs in the original aspect ratio with the side of the screen now used for much of the information and feedback which works well in this case.

The original control scheme remains and is now fully customisable. Here buttons are used to shoot to the left or right with the final one primed to deliver the games version of the smart bomb which not only causes massive damage but clears the screen of projectiles, allowing much needed escapes from the constant onslaught of enemy fire. There’s no noticeable input lag either which is excellent.

In terms of powers ups, there is a simple but effective system in place. There are the standard extra lives, increased speed, and points to collect but there’s also icons that level up your ships rank up to a maximum of 20. Each level provides extra fire power or assist vehicles to help you, and it can often be worth taking damage in order to collect them, so you’ll stand a fighting chance of being able to down the massive units you’ll come across. You can also pick between two ships at the start of each mission. There’s a plane which is quick and agile but takes less damage and the slow but heavily armoured blimp. Each craft is better suited to one of the levels, so you’ll have to think carefully about what you’ll need.

Overall, The Legend of Steel Empire is great re-working of the original game which was pretty great to begin with. It’s chaotic but isn’t the hardest of shooters to get through so It’s testament to how fun it is that you’ll likely be more than happy to go round for another loop. There’s a lot of these types of game on the Switch but the style of Steel Empire means it’s still well worth checking out and can hang in there with the best of them.

Overall 8/10

Monday 22 January 2024

Rock N' Roll Racing Review (Nintendo Switch)

For many, the highlight of the recent Blizzard collection is Rock N’ Roll Racing. It packages the original SNES version and the later released Mega Drive game together with the new ‘definitive’ edition and a version which allows four players. This shows fans right from the start that the franchise has been treated with great care.

The story goes that in 2833, intelligent life was found on the planet of Bogmire. The inhabitants of this strange world became addicted to the art of racing and started using souped-up cars to bomb around the planet. Something else that caught on quickly was Earth's rock music and thus from these strange beginnings the Rock N Roll Racing Commission was created. Set across six planets each with a whole host of tracks, Rock N Roll Racing is good over-the-top racing fun.

The definitive version has had the most significant upgrade work done on it. There are more tracks, environmental effects have been added to planets and amazingly the rock music soundtrack has been changed to include the original songs rather than chip tune representations. Unfortunately, we have lost Paranoid from the soundtrack but new tracks such as ‘Breaking the Law’ have been added.

The game has you racing around a host of crazy planets against three other racers trying to win as much money as possible to upgrade your vehicle and make it to the next season. Its great fun and you can move from first to last in the blink of an eye as you get buffeted and blasted around the track.

There’s also a host of cars such as tracked vehicles and hydrofoils to buy and each vehicle can have numerous things added to it in order to help you through - these include mines, missiles, nitros, better tyres, and thicker armour. But the real skill comes in being able to take on opponents with as little as possible, as when you reach a new planet one of the opponents will have a new car meaning you need to upgrade - and rest assured these contraptions do not come cheap.

The cars are a joy to drive and very easy to get to grips with. After your first race you should be able to grasp the controls enough to be able to fire well-aimed shots at your opponents while taking a ninety-degree corner. Indeed, after a few races - as well as fighting off the other racers - you will find yourself trying to grab all the extra money packages laid around the courses as well. While the action can become a touch samey due to the fact certain tracks must be raced upon more than once, nothing really takes away from the feeling that you are having a lot of fun.

The one downside to the definitive version of the game is that for some reason you are unable to save your progress. There are passwords but these don’t record all your information and will see you set back to the start of a race season when used. It’s a baffling oversight and one we can only assume will be patched at some point. You are also restricted with regards to display settings and other features.

Overall, it’s clear a lot of attention and care has been taken when bringing Rock N’ Roll Racing to a new audience. That said, there are some weird quirks in here that take some of the shine off such as not being able to use screens settings and other options in the definitive version. Not being able to save is also something that can’t be overlooked. That said, if you are a fan the game (and who isn’t?), this provides an excellent way of playing it for a reasonable price.

Overall 8/10

Monday 15 January 2024

Astral Ascent Review (Switch)

 

There’s a couple of genres on the Switch that most people would agree probably have enough games already. The rogue-like would certainly be one of those and there seems to be a new one released every week. But as Hades proved, there’s always room for one more when they can be put together in a way that engages and draws you back in time after time.

In keeping with Hades, Astral Ascent is also a story about trying to escape from a celestial prison. In this case it’s a sort of Garden of Eden guarded by 12 zodiac gods. As you progress through the game, you’ll find memory fragments for the different characters which will slowly unfold the link between the gods and why the various prisoners are trapped there.

In terms of the structure this works like pretty much every other action rogue-like. In this case each of the environments you need to get through consists of twelve relatively short levels with a boss at the end. Levels are classified as exploration, where you can treat them like assault courses and just find the exit, or fight based which normally enclose you inside a locked arena until all enemies have been defeated. If you are lucky, you’ll come across rest rooms and shops to help you as well.

Along the way you’ll acquire more skills and buffs until you inevitably hit something too strong and get sent back to the start to try and do it all again. In this case there are also a host of permanent improvements that you can unlock slowly along the way which grant you more strength, hit points and things such as mana and magic.

In terms of when you are in a run you can pick up add-ons for your various spells known as gambits. There are an absolute ton of different gambits and range from simple attack increases to adding elemental statuses or poison. Coupling these with your ever-increasing spells list means you have will eventually end up with a huge arsenal at your disposal to customise your attacking options. On top of this you can also pick up auras which add further buffs to your character.

There are four characters in total with two being available from the start. All of them approach combat in almost completely different ways but all share the core move set of a standard attack that can be used to create combo’s, a jump, a dodge, four single spells that once used gradually recharge and a special attack. So, you are well equipped for what’s to come. All this means that when you are facing the multiple hordes that are trying to take you down that you always feel in control of your own destiny and death is always due to players not reacting rather than any innate unfairness. That said, it did take at least an hour of banging against a relative brick wall to start make small chunks of progress and to get out of the first area will likely take much longer than that.

The visuals are done in a glorious pixel visual style that captures the heavenly vibe particularly well. As lovely as they are though they are very small on the Switch when it’s in handheld mode. We didn’t find any other performance issues aside from this but when porting to the Switch, in an ideal world, more consideration should have been taken regarding this. Even if the text size could have been changed it would have made things a lot easier.

Overall, Astral Ascent doesn’t really do anything new or anything particularly innovative but the game plays so beautifully well that it won’t really bother you. It’s one of the more hardcore and complex rogue-likes as well so there’s something for veterans to challenge themselves with. If you’ve got room for one more of these games, then Astral Ascent is a good one to fill the gap with.

Overall 8/10

Monday 8 January 2024

ASTLIBRA Revision Review (Switch)

 

We cover mainly indie games here at Retro 101 and there can be little argument that ASTLIBRA is about as indie as you can get. The passion project of a single man developed over the course of 15 years you certainly can’t doubt the dedication behind it. It’s also with some relief that we can report that, though flawed, it’s also a playable and interesting take on the action rpg.

The plot is an intriguing one. It follows a nameless blond hero who loses a young girl to monster attack one night. When he awakens, he has amnesia and with the aid of a newly arrived talking crow they set off to nearby town, only to wander for eight years in the wilderness without meeting a single soul. Eventually you find a mysterious old traveller and things pick up.

As evidence to its long development the game has isolated chapters which often move you off to different locations each time. There is a sort of central hub city eventually and despite the patch work nature of the structure it does all just about hold together enough to remain enjoyable. Tying in with this jigsaw approach to design, a lot of the graphics are acquired assets but the way everything is put together does give the game a distinct personality of it’s own which is an impressive feat.

These sorts of games live and die on how they play and though a touch old fashioned, the combat is solid. You can jump, attack, cast magic and use a parry to get the upper hand against the wide range beasties on offer. You also get a host of satisfying sound effects and numbers feedback on each strike. If anything this can become difficult as when there are multiple enemies attacking the action can become obscured with all the data feeding back to the player.

Away from the satisfying combat there are a few old school problems that players will have to breath in and just accept. One of the most annoying is that quests can be locked behind conversation sequences that need to be gone through in pretty much an exact order. Early on we were stuck for ages looking for wood simply because we hadn’t spoken to the owner of the pub at the correct point during the quest set up. Along with this, finding quests in the first place takes the very old school approach of NPC’s giving out the vaguest hints and directions possible. We would suggest keeping a guide nearby for help.

The levelling system is an interesting one and based around collecting different materials to unlock buffs on a skill tree. You level up as well, but you’ll need a certain amount of grinding to gather the materials required to move substantially up the skill tree. There is also a nice concession in that if you don’t have the specifically required material needed you can still upgrade by using three times the amount of a different one.

Overall, ASTLIBRA Revision is an interesting and somewhat unique game that is well worth your time. It does require quite a large chunk of patience to get the most out of, however. For those that are willing to put in the time and can forgive some of the archaic throwbacks to action RPGS of the past there is a rich and rewarding game here.

Overall 7/10