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