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.


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