Omensight (PC & PlayStation 4)

Developer(s) – Spearhead Games

Developed by Spearhead Games, the same team behind the critically acclaimed indie title Stories: Path of Destinies, Omensight is a hack and slash adventure murder mystery game, which plays out unlike many other games of it’s kind, heavily relying on a combination of both combat to progress through hordes of enemies at a time, and lateral thinking to determine how best to proceed throughout the course of the story, and to figure what paths to take as events unfold. Though not without its flaws, I can safely say this is one of the best murder mystery games I’ve ever played, easily outclassing the likes of LA Noire and Heavy Rain, as the gameplay is a lot more engaging than either of the former titles.

Graphics – 7/10

Inspired by numerous comic strips and Japanese manga series’, the conceptual design reminded me a lot of the game Dust: An Elysian Tail; a universe populated by anthropomorphic animals with cartoon-style visuals. But in this case, in-game graphics are cel-shaded, which contribute to the game’s vibrancy in colour and variety in environmental design, as well as character design. Architectural and structural features are also varied in that they are designed by the different races of people throughout the game’s world, which adds even more to the game’s diversity in visual design.

Gameplay – 7/10

The game plays out very much like a combination of God of War, Majora’s Mask and Heavy Rain, with players having to fight their way through hordes of enemies, whilst all the while attempting to gather clues from characters to solve an intricate murder mystery by constantly reliving the last day before the world’s apocalypse through the perspectives of four different characters in order to influence their actions and gather information on each of them in order to piece together the events of what happened.

With so many different paths to go down through the perspectives of each of the four different characters, and having a lot of combat to deal with along the way, I really enjoyed this game. It’s a nice blend of action and drama, which come together to bring gamers something pretty exceptional; especially for an independently developed effort.

Controls – 9/10

The game’s controls are almost perfect, bar the fact that even when special abilities were fully charged, the game would sometimes take unusually long to respond to commands that I would try to register, and to execute the special abilities such as slowing time or dashing. Otherwise, the game’s controls and movement mechanics during battle sequences are completely fluent. The game itself also provides a stern challenge, and in games like this, acceptable controls are a must, and the controls are more than good enough in this respect.

Lifespan – 7/10

Dependent on the actions the player chooses to take, the game can take there are around 8 to 12 hours to complete, which for a game that has multiple paths, but is essentially non-linear, is fairly impressive; especially for a murder mystery game. It’s another reason to me why it is far better than Heavy Rain, since regardless of the different paths that can be taken in Heavy Rain, that game can only be made to last there around 6 hours with each playthrough. So for Spearhead Games to have made a longer lasting game on a lower budget is really quite remarkable.

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story follows an entity known as The Harbinger, who has been called upon after the final day of the war-torn world of Urralia to save it from the different battling factions, as well as solving the mystery of the murder of the priestess Vera, and therefore also saving the land from the impending doom being brought upon by an omnipotent beast named Voden. The game’s plot in and of itself is extremely well written, with each aspect of the characters stories in conjunction with the mystery at hand all falling into place like perfectly lines up dominoes. Each of the four sub-characters have heaps of back-story, and they all play their own important part in the grander scheme of things.

The only thing that stops this game from getting a higher rating in terms of story is the voice acting. Whilst it was easy to take the ploy seriously, I thought the voice actors involved could’ve done better. For example, the actor who plays the character of Ludomir seems to swap between a traditional English accent and a Cockney accent, and I found myself really frustrated by this given how well the story is written. Also, Patricia Summersett, who played Zelda in Breath of Wild, also has a bit part in the game playing the character if Vera, and essentially recycles the same voice she uses in the former game, which again seems to be a mix of British and North American accents, and it can be hard to take seriously. On the other hand, the voice actors who played the character of Indrik and Ratika did a pretty good job, so the voice acting isn’t completely terrible.

Originality – 8/10

Though this game may essentially be a collection of different pre-existing video game ideas, they all come together to make one of the best murder mystery games I’ve played in an extraordinarily long time. Though many murder mystery games have story before gameplay in an attempt to relay the mystique of the game better, the fact of the matter is that this game proves that the best way to do that is through the gameplay itself. The best way to convey mystery through story is with a film in my opinion, which I think the likes of Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit would’ve worked better as. But the developers hit the nail on the head with this game in it’s attempt to convey the mystery primarily through gameplay instead.

Happii

Overall, Omensight is a solid gaming experience in every aspect, and I would highly recommend any hack and slasher or murder mystery fan to try it. The action is intense and game’s story is almost masterful, with many different ways to play throughout, which keeps it fresh, and will have gamers on the edges of their seats.

Score

45.5/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Shape of the World (PC, PlayStation 4, Switch & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Hollow Tree Games

Developed by Hollow Tree Games, and inspired by the landscape and wilderness of the developer’s basis in Vancouver, Shape of the World is a procedurally generated first-person exploration game, whereby the object is for the player to walk around uncovering new facets of the world around them, and to lightly interact with environmental elements such as trees. After first previewing this game, I expected much more out of it than what was on offer, and after playing it for less an hour, I became quite bored of it.

Graphics – 6/10

The one aspect I can give this game some praise for at least is it’s conceptual design. The environments are made to look like something from a different world entirely, with vibrant uses of colour and outlandish scenery design. The soundtrack also does well to add to the sense of serenity, which the developers were trying to achieve. There are no graphical glitches to be found, but the problem with the visuals is that they can start to feel incredibly repetitive after a while, and unless players are solely in this game for the sense of calmness, it can get very old very fast.

Gameplay – 1/10

The objective of the game is to travel the world and uncover as many object hidden within the environment as possible and proceed in accordance with what paths are discovered. Short of that, there’s really nothing else to do, which to me, was incredibly disappointing. As a gamer, when I hear the terms “open-world” and “procedurally generated”, my first reactions are to assume that these elements are there for more reasons than simply setting out to make developers feel relaxed. I expect there to be things to do within the game beyond simple and bland environmental interactions. Frankly, I haven’t been this disappointed to play an open-world game since I played Proteus.

Controls – 9/10

With basic first-person mechanics, the game’s controls do what they are supposed to do, but my main gripe with the control scheme was that the movement was far too slow, which whilst may have been a desired effect to add to the game sense of peacefulness, to me, it was simply another frustration I had with it.

Lifespan – 3/10

Though the game may be procedurally generated, the game’s lifespan will only last as long as the gamer can hold their own interest in it, which if you’re a gamer looking for a traditional gaming experience, you will be extremely disappointed. Personally, as I said, I got bored after less than an hour of playing this game, and I commend anyone not looking for the developer’s desired intent who can manage to get further than that.

Storyline – 0/10

As there is no narrative, I suppose the only positive thing I could theoretically say about this aspect of the game is that it could possibly encourage a gamer’s imagination to think of their own story as they go; kind of a throwback to how video games used to be seen back in the days of the Atari. But otherwise, there is nothing in terms of a pre-written story, there is nothing, which again to me, was just another frustration to add to the long line of which when it came to playing this.

Originality – 0/10

Though a game may be able to argue the fact that the concept of this game being made for a purpose different to a traditional gaming experience is original in and of itself, it’s not the first time a game like this has been made; and a distinct fear of mine is that it won’t be the last either. To me, uniqueness in video games is how they look and play out differently to how other great games do so, and in this game, there is nothing unique as to how it plays out. With minimal mechanics and objectives, it is something far less than any other FPS game ever developed, and it’s simply not worth the asking price when there are bigger, better, and most like cheaper FPS games out there.

Angrii

Overall, Shape of the World will be a massively disappointing game to anyone who may be looking for an immersing video game experience. If there are gamers who are looking to waste a few hours wandering around a procedurally generated limbo for the purposes of relaxation, then this may be up your street, but to me, this was ironically one massive frustration of an experience.

Score

19/60

3/10 (Bad)

Q&A With Michael N. Briscoe

After being away from Kickstarter for a while I decided to explore the platform again for indie game creators looking for funding on their latest developmental ventures. One such project that stood out was a 3D platformer named Accessible Early. A throwback to the early days of 3D platforming, but boasting a much more stern challenge than many other games of its Kind, Accessible Early is a game conceptually influenced by a range of different world cultures similar to most modern Mario games, but most evidently to me, Mexican culture, most evidenced by it’s character design similar to Grim Fandango. Intrigued, I sent over a few questions to one of the game’s programmers, Michael N. Briscoe, who had some interesting things to say about Accessible Early. Here were his answers:

What were the influences behind your game?

Primary influences have been 3D platformers developed by the Rare of old. Games like Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, as well as Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. The humour in Accessible Early has also been inspired by the writing in Undertale.

What has the developmental process been like?

Extremely laborious. As a solo indie developer, I have to do everything myself. This means working 60 hours a week on average, and working extremely efficiently at that.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, I estimate the final game to be released in 2020.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

How challenging it’s been. I enjoy all the different problems pop up in everything from coding to design. Creating a video game is very stimulating, both mentally and creatively.

In what respects will game differ from other 3D platformers?

Accessible Early will focus on platforming far more than any other 3D platformer, will have more impactful characters and storylines, and be more challenging than anything out there. Most video games these days seem to hold the player’s hand, and platformers are no exception. I’m not creating the Dark Souls of 3D platformers or anything, but I am developing a game that respects the player’s ability to learn and overcome challenges.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

Marketing. It’s the one thing that you can’t overcome by working hard and creating something of quality. People like to say that quality products float to the top, that if you make something good then it will become popular, but this sadly isn’t true. There’s a reason why the AAA industry pumps absurd amounts of money into marketing campaigns. Trying to get the word out about Accessible Early while on a shoestring indie budget has been more difficult than everything else combined, because it seems that successful marketing requires a lot of money or a lot of luck.

How well has the game been received so far?

Accessible Early has garnered a lot of positive feedback so far. Pretty much every person who’s touched the demo has loved it. In particular people seem to really enjoy the music, which is especially reassuring to me since I’m just an amateur composer!

What games did you play, and how did this impact the development of Accessible Early?

Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, and Yooka-Laylee have impacted general 3D platforming features, Super Mario 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy for platforming design (in particular for designs that offer the player learning experiences; Nintendo is very good at teaching people how to play their games), and Undertale and A Hat in Time have impacted the comical tone of Accessible Early.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Accessible Early will be available on PC initially, followed by a Mac release and then a push for a Nintendo Switch port.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?

If you’d like to be an independent developer, then you will have to work hard. Harder than you’ve ever had to work before. But if you’re excited about your project, then the work will be fun. And whatever you do, make sure to start marketing immediately. I’ve read that a lot of people start sharing their project too late. So I started early. It was still too late. Share as much as you can, as often as you can. Independent developers can’t rely on ad campaigns or brand recognition to sell their games, so they need to rely on fan communities that grow very, very slowly.

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

The Kickstarter campaign and myself can be found here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1105728559/accessible-early-a-new-3d-platformer-collectathon

For social media I’m more active on Twitter than anywhere else:

https://twitter.com/AccessibleEarly

People can send a message directly through the Accessible Early website:

https://www.accessibleearly.com/

And I welcome people to email me directly at the following address:

info@accessibleearly.com

Do you have anything else to add?

I’d encourage anyone who’d like to make a video game to give it a shot. All of my favourite titles these days have been made by independent developers, and I’m looking forward to seeing what people create in the coming years!

I’d like to thank Michael for taking the time out to answer my questions on Accessible Early, and to wish him the best of luck with the project. I’m certainly looking forward to the release of the game; I hope all my readers are too. For any fans of 3D platforming games, this title looks particularly promising.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Moonlighter (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Digital Sun Studios & 11 BIT Studios

A joint venture between Digital Sun Studios & 11-BIT Studios, Moonlighter is a top-down action RPG Rogue-lite with community simulation elements similar to games like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing. Picking this game up for the first few times, I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of depth and replayability this game has to offer, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Graphics – 8/10

Rendered in an 8-BIT visual style similar to classic adventure games such as the Legend of Zelda and Ys, the game takes place in the village of Rynoka with dangerous caves on it’s outskirts containing a plethora of intricately designed creatures each with their own unique individual looks and concepts. The variety in conceptual design is unprecedented, and the scenery is just as wonderful to look at throughout the entire game. There are also a series of cutscenes rendered in 8-BIT at the start of the game, which are fantastically well presented, and do extremely well to set the premise of the game.

Gameplay – 9/10

The game requires the player to delve into a series of dungeons battling against dangerous enemies to gather up as much loot as possible in every one venture, and then to sell what loot is acquired at a shop in Rynoka named Moonlighter for prices that can be adjusted by the player in accordance to what customers deem acceptable. Each dungeon is procedurally generated, so each venture in the dungeons offers a new challenge to the player and different loot with every playthrough, including weapons, enemy components and armour among many other things. The game has an overwhelming amount of replayability, and whilst it is a challenging game from the start, it does get exponentially harder as time goes on, whilst remaining thankfully accessible to players; much like Rogue Legacy, but on a much grander scale in terms of gameplay value.

Controls – 10/10

I say this many times with a lot of games I review, but as Moonlighter’s gameplay follows a formula that has been tried and tested many times, it’s reasonable to expect that there should be no problems with the controls, and so there aren’t. What makes this game stand out from the likes of The Legend of Zelda, however, are the additional mechanics such as rolling around to avoid enemy attacks. It’s similar to Titan Souls, but a lot less simplistic in basic design, as there is arguably more strategy required in Moonlighter to defeat the greater amount of enemies.

Lifespan – 9/10

The game’s replay value can make for hours upon hours of entertainment, which is always fantastic to experience; especially in an indie game. A lot of indie developers tend to make games, which are much shorter for various reasons, but games like this just go to show that limitations can only exist in the imagination, and that smaller budgets don’t necessarily mean indie games have to last only a few hours each. But with Moonlighter, it can be played for far, far longer, and whilst some gamers may think that lifespan isn’t as important, I’m firmly in the belief that the longer a game can be made to last, the better it is; and that’s certainly the case with this title.

Storyline – 6/10

The story primarily focuses on a basic premise as opposed to a progressive narrative. It follows a man named Will, who is the owner of a shop in the village of Rynoka named Moonlighter, who has aspirations to become a great adventurer in addition. There are hints of an ongoing narrative with the various clues that the player can find throughout each dungeon to progress through the game, but it can be quite difficult to present a story in that way and to keep it emotionally charged in a game; especially if it’s heavily text-based like Moonlighter is. If, however, players have the patience to discover the depth in story in this way, then the game’s story isn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination.

Originality – 8/10

Though this game is not without it’s influences, each element comes together to form something particularly special and unique. I said earlier that developer limitations can only exist in the imagination, but after playing this game, it became obvious to me that the developers of Moonlighter certainly have abundance in imagination in most of every aspect that players can hope to find evidence of it in. The way the game looks, the length that it last and the manner in which it plays out is makes it unlike many other games I’ve played, and its earned every bit of the popularity it has done through it’s community if players.

Happii

In summation, Moonlighter is a fantastic game that I would greatly recommend to any fan of either RPGs or simulator games that may also be looking for a stern challenge in gameplay. It looks great, plays great, and stands out more than many other indie titles I’ve played over the years.

Score

50/60

8.5/10 (Great)

Teslagrad (PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U & Switch)

Developer(s) – Rain Games

Publisher(s) – Rain Games

The debut title of Norwegian indie outfit Rain Games, Teslagrad is a Metroidvania game heavy with puzzle solving elements as well as elaborate boss fights from beginning to end. It was released to positive critical reception back in 2013, praised for it’s unique art style and brand of gameplay, but criticized for it’s supposed steep difficulty. After playing it, I also received it quite positively, but my concerns about the game were in places different to many other critics.

Graphics – 9/10

First of all, the artistic direction taken with this game is in my opinion nothing short of phenomenal. Combining medieval fantasy with steampunk culture, the character designs (particularly that of the player character), are also seemingly influenced by rubber hose animation; somewhat similar to Cuphead, but on nowhere near the same scale. Parallels with other games, however, are difficult to come across with this title in terms of visual representation. Simply because there are very few games I’ve seen like it. The only prior game to this that I could think had an impact on this title is Heart of Darkness, as the common enemies (the Grues) closely resemble the shadow creatures found in Eric Chahi’s puzzle side scroller. The Grues can also be killed in identical fashion towards end of Teslagrad to how the shadow creatures can be killed in Heart of Darkness. But I digress; Teslagrad is a visually compelling with a lot of diversity in scenery design and combining different cultures and periods in time to form it’s own cohesive concept.

Gameplay – 7/10

Though not having a great deal of depth in combat (at least not until the latter stages of the game), the player is kept busy throughout, having to solve puzzles with every step of the way, and most often than not, getting through boss fights using acquired gadgets as opposed to conventional weapons. There is also a collecting side quest the player can undertake in order to piece together the game’s tragic yet gripping back-story. Whilst playing, though I was challenged by the puzzles put before me, I found that the difficulty level was by no means too frustrating, as what many other outlets seem to think; certainly not difficult in the same sense as a traditional Castlevania or Mega Man game. I actually ended up enjoying it quite a bit. My favourite aspects of the gameplay by some distance were the boss fights, however. Each one was more elaborate than the last, and all having a certain sense of foreboding about them from beginning to end. The game’s soundtrack added great atmosphere to the game in general, but its in the boss fights where the music truly stands out.

Controls – 10/10

Playing out like a traditional Metroidvania game, it functions on the basic principal of 2D side scrolling mechanics, with which there are no problems in Teslagrad. But more interesting than that are the unique mechanics that are employed with each gadget the player obtains throughout the game. I particularly liked the magnetism mechanics, which allow the player to attract themselves to platforms or objects to either solve puzzles or get around. They also play a significant role in one of the later boss fights.

Lifespan – 4/10

Lasting just shy of 6 hours, Teslagrad falls short on lifespan compared to a vast majority of Metroidvania games; even indie ones such as Dust: An Elysian Tail or Axiom Verge. It was the main gripe I had with this game. Whilst I was able to thoroughly enjoy everything the game had to offer, I felt it could have easily been made to last much longer than what it does; especially with the inclusion of a few more side quests here and there as opposed to just having the one. The level of combat that is introduced late on in the game would also have warranted even more lifespan than what it has, since it does change the feel of the game significantly, and I liked to have seen more done with it.

Storyline – 8/10

The game’s story follows a young boy growing up as an orphan in the city of Elektropia. One day, whilst on the run from the authorities that be, he comes across a huge tower called Teslagrad, where he learns of Elektropia’s violent and tyrannical history, and he seeks to solve the mysteries lying within the tower and eventually to overthrow the king. Particularly for a game with either no text or dialogue, I found the game’s story to be fantastic. There are strong elements of tragedy similar to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as well as that of totalitarianism reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. I wasn’t prepared for exactly how much depth in back-story there was to this game, and when I got to experience it, I was transfixed from beginning to end.

Originality – 7/10

In terms of gameplay, it’s the mechanics that make it stand out among many other Metroidvania titles; as I’ve alluded to many times already, the boss fights are more than noteworthy. The game’s story stands out as well, as I’ve very rarely seen games, which have as much depth in back-story as in main story, and one where the back-story plays as just as significant a role as the story going forward does. I had find all the scrolls given with the side quest, as I wanted to know as much about it as possible and I wanted to dissect for myself every ounce of it’s depth. There aren’t many games that are this story-driven as this that I generally believe warrant any more than a six out of ten, as they tend to undercut the gameplay. But with this title, there is a nice balance between the two.

Happii

Overall, Teslagrad, though for how short a time it unfortunately lasts, is a gripping game in terms of both story and gameplay. I enjoyed having to solve whatever puzzle was put towards me, and to defeat whatever boss I was put into contention with. And whilst it wasn’t an overly easy game, it wasn’t an overly difficult one either, as what many people seem to think. And whilst I found myself left wanting more (which is where their follow-up game World to the West comes in), I really liked what depth this game had to it despite its short lifespan.

Score

45/60

7.5/10 (Good)

The 2018 Play Blackpool Special

Last month saw an early return of the annual Play Expo at the Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool. As per normal, there were a vast array of new, up and coming developers showcasing new and exciting indie games, as well as a few returning developers displaying improvements made on previously showcased titles, and a thrilling lineup of guest speakers from the home computer era of UK gaming throughout the 80s, as well as some of the country’s most well-known YouTube personalities. There was a great deal on show at this year’s proceedings, so without further ado, here’s what was on at 2018’s Play Expo in Blackpool.

Mao Mao Castle

One of the returning developers present at the show was Quang Nguyen of Asobi Tech once again showcasing his arcade rail shooter Mao Mao Castle heavily incorporating old-school graphics as well as conceptual design inspired by the works of Studio Ghibli. It was to my great delight that this game returned, since I have become quite proficient at playing it, and as of this writing, I have now set the high score on it at Play Expos three times. The game is extremely fun and addictive, and will have players coming back time and again upon release on Android and iOS.

Major differences have been made since the last time the game was on display back at Play Manchester; the current build has been shortened down to a demo mode, and there are also now the new check mate challenge for players to have to contend with, which involves having to fly through chequered formations aside from the pre-existing challenges such as avoiding the trees and flying over and above walls. Though the new demo build was fantastic, I hope that endless mode is included in the final build of the game, and I’m very much looking forward to its release.

http://aso.bi/maomao/

 

The Mystery of Woolley Mountain

Robert Hewson of Huey Games also made a return to Play Blackpool to showcase a title co-developed by them and Lightfoot Bros Games entitled The Mystery of Woolley Mountain. Conceived by indie developer James Lightfoot, The game is a classic point & click style adventure game set in a semi-steampunk fantasy world in which five renegade scientists seek to rid Woolley Mountain of an evil witch. I discuss the influences behind the game with Robert Hewson, who explained classic games of the genre, such as Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango were among sources of inspiration behind the game’s story and gameplay aesthetics. Having played the demo, I could see the similarities in this game’s quirky sense of humour and hidden secrets throughout, of which there is set to be much more of.

Point & click is a genre that I have intermittently indulged in over the years I’ve spent playing games, but what I have experience in this particular style of play, I have thoroughly enjoyed; games like Broken Sword and Sanitarium spring to mind. But since Broken Age, there haven’t been a great of new games in the genre that I’ve seen. It was a breath of fresh air to see a new genre being integrated into the indie scene, and having seen early footage of The Mystery of Woolley Mountain, along with recent re-masters of classic point and click games, it all bodes well for the future of the genre.

http://www.woolleymountain.com/

 

Employee of the Month

Multiplayer games also maintained a strong presence at Play Expo in 2018 following the popularity of previously displayed games in 2017 such as Nippon Marathon and Bee Bee Q. One of many multiplayer games central to this year’s show in Blackpool was Employee of the Month; a game that has up to four players hashing it out to see how can clean up most of in the in-game stage than the other three, and having players combat each other by picking up items available that give players the ability to increase their speed or slow opponents down among others. Out of every multiplayer game at the show, Employee of the Month was my favourite to be showcased, since it reminded me of Mario Kart to a certain extent; not in the sense of gameplay, but in the sense that the course of a game can be turned around exponentially fast. One minute the player may be winning, then the next, they may be miles behind the opposition. It’s a deceptively competitive game, but a whole load of fun at the same time.

http://cupofchar.team/

 

Mechanic Panic

Another fun-filled multiplayer game at the show was Mechanic Panic, which is a co-operative multiplayer game developed by a team operating out of the University of Northampton centring around up to four mechanics who must put together as many cars as possible before the timer runs out. This is done by retrieving car parts from revolving conveyors, which match the patterns generated by the CPU to put each car together correctly. In its basic design, it’s not too dissimilar to Overcooked, which was at Play Blackpool back in 2015, but though it’s little more simplistic than the former, it still seems like a pretty fun game. It’s early in development, so there may be more added to it in order to intensify the challenge and introduce new possible elements, but from what I played of it, I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Mr. Grayscale

One of the more unusual games I saw on display was a puzzle platformer called Mr Grayscale. Extremely similar to a game called Glo, which was on display at Play Manchester last year, it involves navigating a small square character through mazes of elaborate platforms in order to reach the portal to the next level. Each puzzle is solved by either traditional platforming and/or rotating the obstacle itself in order to get around; similar to Fez, but much more simplistic in it’s design, and potentially harder.

The game seems to pull no punches in terms of challenging players and demanding a great deal of platforming skill, as well as encouraging players to improvise along the way. Though it’s linear in it’s core design, potential replayability could lie in a wide range of ways that players can solve each puzzle. I was both intrigued by the game’s visual design, as well as it level of stern, yet accessible difficulty. There is an early build of the game available to play on Newgrounds, but the full version will be coming to both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in the not too distant future, and I can’t wait to play the finished article.

https://mrgrayscale.com/

 

Tanglewood

One of three games to make a re-appearance at Play Expo, along with Mao Mao Castle and All Contact Lost, was Tanglewood; a retro-style 2D platformer being developed as an initial excusive for the Sega Mega Drive by Big Evil Corp. Seemingly inspired by the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog and the Lion King, it revolves around both traditional platforming and puzzle solving, as well as day-to-night transitions playing a central role in the game’s style of play, similar to Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. The story follows a fox-like creature name Nymm, who must find a way to survive and adapt to the world around him having been separated from his family.

Following the last time I played this game, a lot seems to have been dramatically improved in terms of it’s mechanics. The puzzle element was a lot more prevalent this time round, and the design of the stages were a lot more honed than before. I had much more of an idea of how I was supposed to traverse obstacles as they came, and the puzzles were far more practical, without it being too obvious how to solve them. I was impressed with the improvements made to Tanglewood since Manchester, and I have even more confidence that this game may go on to impress a wide range of audiences everywhere, from people who wish to experience a sense of nostalgia to players who may wish to experience some of the early years of traditional platforming games.

http://tanglewoodgame.com/index.html

 

Guardians of the Past

Guardians of the Past was the last game at the event I tried that centred around multiplayer. In it’s design, it is somewhat similar to Bullion, which was on display at Play Manchester 2017, but in my opinion, it played out infinitely better than the former. A multiplayer brawler, it emphasizes the use of a wide range of weapons available in-game, as well as setting up traps and gadgets that players can place within the arena in order to catch out their opponents and gain as much of an edge as possible in battle, whilst the player must also ensure that they do not fall for the traps set by opposing players.

After having attended a number of video game expos events now, I have seen a lot of this type of game, and it’s been difficult to determine a definitive favourite, but Guardians of the Past is certainly among my favourites along with De Mambo and Porcunpine. I was particularly impressed with the amount of variety within the game, and the different ways in which players can strategize for each battle before and during. It was always going to be difficult for games of this play style to stand out among each other, as there have been so many displayed at these events that I’ve attended over the last four years. However, Guardians of the Past did particularly well to stand out, and it will be interesting to see where the developmental process takes this title.

http://squidpunch.com/

 

All Contact Lost

The last returning title that I have been continuously impressed by, and did not fail to impress this time round either, was All Contact Lost. Developed by 1st Impact Games, All Contact Lost is a competitive survival shooter in which the player must survive for as long as possible with a set amount of time against hordes of oncoming insect aliens by replenishing health and ammo regularly, as well as maintaining the defences of their base of operations. It present gamers with an extremely stern challenge on a level that I have rarely seen in an FPS, as well as stunningly high-quality graphics that I have rarely seen in indie games.

The improvements that were made for Play Blackpool was an increased variety in level design, with stages set in caves as well as space stations and wide open planet surfaces. Over the last two years, I have watched this game continuously improve in both graphics and gameplay, and every time I see it, I grow more and more confident in it’s quality. It still poses a challenge without being inaccessible and the increased variety in level design compliment it’s stunning visuals to a greater extent than ever before. The game is currently on Steam early access, but the finished article will truly be something to behold.

http://1stimpactgames.com/home.php

 

Lost Wing

 

In recent years, what I’ve notice in the indie gaming scene is an influx of on-rail games in the absence of mainstream series in the genre, like the likes of Star Fox and Sin and Punishment. I’ve seen games like Nerve and Race the Sun continue to impress audiences everywhere, and they all work well to keep the genre fresh and exciting. One such game at Blackpool this year was Lost Wing; an on-rails game whereby layers must manipulate speed in order to traverse oncoming obstacles and collect as many orbs as possible, and in turn, racking up as high a score as possible. In conceptual design, it reminded me a lot of the zone challenges in Wipeout HD, but in it’s gameplay, it’s extremely similar to Nerve.

Though it wasn’t as intense as Nerve (certainly as the game is not available for VR peripherals), it was still as challenging; if not more so. Though there has been a small resurgence of this genre in the mainstream with the return of Star Fox on the Wii U, it hasn’t been enough to rekindle its former popularity, and it still leaves a space to be filled. Games like this could do extremely well to contribute to a return of the popularity of rail shooters given the right amount of originality, and dependent on how development of Lost Wing progresses, it could possibly be an extremely strong contributor to that end.

https://boxfroggames.itch.io/lostwing

 

Positron

The last game I tried at the expo was an extremely unique title called Positron. Designed by Retroburn Games, and Seemingly taking visual influence from the classic sci-fi film Tron, as well as 80s culture in general, Positron involves players having to navigate a man on a bike through a series of elaborate mazes in order to progress to each level, whilst also being careful not to touch any of the walls or their previous path. If either is touched, it’s game over.

Out of every game that featured in this year’s proceedings, this one was the most unique in terms of gameplay by some distance. I always have a great deal of fun experiencing a new way to play games, and Positron was no exception.   I’m always thrilled when developers try their hand at the type of game that has never been created before. It can be a long and drawn out process to ensure that each element of it is handled correctly, but when it comes together at the end, it usually makes for something special; and Positron could certainly fall under that category dependent on how the rest of development progresses.

http://retroburngames.com/news

 

YouTube Panel

Play Blackpool 2018 also had a wide range of guest speakers from the world of gaming to offer their insights and experiences within the medium. One of which was a special panel comprised of various YouTubers from the UK. There was Daniel of Slopes Game Room, Peter Leigh AKA The Nostalgia Nerd, Kim Justice and Stuart Ashen, the author of Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard of, and it’s sequel Attack of the Flickering Skeletons.

Especially from a journalistic point of view, I knew that this talk was going to provide quite a deep insight into how the medium is portrayed through what is essentially televisual personality, but I wasn’t prepared for how deep that insight would be provided; particularly concerning the subject now and before.

Kim Justice made this point best I found. She discussed her opinion on the reason why TV programs about video games were never quite as popular as other shows at the time were back then, or as popular as YouTube is now. She argued the case that since video gaming has been seen as a rival to television by many production studios, they would never do as well as other programs, or they would be confined to their own networks even, and not be as prevalent throughout other mainstream TV networks such as BBC or ITV. Until then, I never actually thought about this in as much depth, since I suppose I was always quick to believe that the problem may have simply been down to viewing figures. However, the more I think about Kim’s point, the more sense it makes. Even back when I was a kid, I remember video game programs being confined to digital networks such as Game Network for example. And even today, GINX seems to be the only TV channel dedicated to gaming specifically. Even Dara O’Briain’s Go 8-BIT is confined to a regular spot on Dave despite the fact that Dara O’Briain has been a prominent figure on mainstream TV for a number of years.

Stuart Ashen also provided a rather unique insight of his own, elaborating on many of the things that he’d written in his two books about extremely obscure games that are of exceptionally low quality. As a reviewer, I have played a number of games that I consider to be of exceptionally poor quality, such as Bubsy 3D and Tunguska. But Stuart went through a lot of the presentation talking about games that had seen an official release but in even an unplayable state. I’d read Terrible Old Games That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of after my best friend bought it for me, but there seemed to be games described that were even too bad to mention in his book.

 

Paul Rose

Continuing the line of guests from the medium of video games journalism, Paul Rose, AKA Mr Biffo was also there to describe his history in the gaming industry. Back in the days of Teletext, Paul Rose created Digitiser; a Teletext page dedicated solely to gaming. I addition, he also wrote the script for a sixth generation game called Future Tactics released on PS2, GameCube and the original Xbox. Chronicling a long career of great ups and great downs, Paul has seen Digitiser grow from a niche interest into something that was adored by people all over the country, eventually leaving behind a cult legacy the UK gaming industry.

Since the show in Blackpool, Paul has also since announced a crowd funding project on Kickstarter to fund a full-fledged show of Digitiser, which has since received five times more than the initial £7000.00 goal. The show will be co-presented with Larry Bundy Jnr and Gameplay Jenny, with several potential guests already announced. Though it surprisingly wasn’t mentioned in the show, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish Paul and his co-presenters best of luck with the Digitiser show when it airs, and that his talk at the show was extremely intriguing, and boded well for the show’s hopefully successful future.

 

The Oliver Twins

 

Capping off a great weekend at Play Blackpool, The Oliver Twins, Phil and Andrew Oliver also returned to the Norbreck following their appearance back in 2015 presenting their MMO game SkySaga: Infinite Isles, to talk more about their biggest success as games developers; Dizzy. For my younger readers, Dizzy was a series of platform adventure games, which featured primarily on home computer consoles in the UK throughout the 80s, and went on to become one of the most beloved series of games on the likes of the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and the Amstrad CPC.

The first talk they attended on the Saturday was their taking part in a panel of developers creating games for the upcoming ZX Spectrum Next along with the likes of Jim Bagley, Mike Dailly and Clive Townsend. The second of their talks, however, was a presentation chronicling the history of the Dizzy games, and how the Oliver Twins went from developing games on their original Dragon 32 system to creating one of the most prolific game series’ on home computer consoles. It was great to see the Oliver Twins back at Blackpool and to hear more about their quite illustrious place in UK gaming history, and it will be extremely interesting to see the result of what they will create for the ZX Spectrum Next along with the long list of developers creating games for it.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff and volunteers who helped Play Blackpool to be as enjoyable and as safe an events it could possibly have been, and I’m looking forward to attending another Play Expo later on this year; particularly the one-off retro special, which again will be held at the Norbreck later on this year in October. I hope you guys had as much reading this article as I did writing it.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Cuphead (PC & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Studio MDHR

Publisher(s) – Studio MDHR

Director(s) – Chad & Jared Moldenhauer

Producer(s) – Maria & Ryan Moldenhauer

One of the most highly anticipated games of 2017, following it’s initial showcasing at E3 four year prior, Cuphead is a traditional side scrolling run and gun game with an eye-catching and unique conceptual design and gameplay that is as challenging as it is satisfying. I first sampled this game at Play Manchester 2017 shortly after it’s release, and realized thought while it is indeed very challenging, it’s also a great deal of fun, and one of the better indie experiences of last year.

Graphics – 10/10

The game adopts the visuals style of the golden age of American animation of the early 1900s, having been influenced by classic cartoons such as Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop among many others. The games visual style was the most noteworthy aspect of it when it was first showcased, and arguably still is. Although the game’s play style is extremely enjoyable beyond it’s visuals, I believe it’s still the game’s finest point. Though plenty of games based on cartoon animation have since come and gone, few games have ever looked as compelling as Cuphead does.

Gameplay – 8/10

As stated, the game revolves around players running and gunning through a selection of side scrolling levels, but the most prevalent feature in the gameplay is the numerous boss fights throughout, which for the most part, are extremely well handled, and come with a fair amount of challenge to match. I had an extremely difficult time trying to pick a favourite boss fight in Cuphead because each one of them is memorable in it’s own right. But in the end, I decided to pick out Grim Matchstick as being my favourite, as for me, it provided the best blend of both challenge and individual conceptual design. Other outstanding boss fights in this in my opinion included Dr. Kahl’s Robot, Djimmi the Great, Ribby & Croaks and Cali Maria.

Controls – 10/10

With every intentionally difficult game I review, I always look at the controls with a greater sense of importance than other games, because control schemes in these kinds of games in my personal opinion are largely hit and miss, and can greatly affect the sense of challenge the game has to offer. For example, the original Mega Man was intentionally difficult, and as most players who have played it will testify, it is a particularly challenging game. But I personally found there to be some issues with the controls; especially in Guts Man’s stage where there is precision platforming required. Thankfully, however, Cuphead does not have these issues. If mistakes are made, it will be down to the player’s individual skill, which is the way it should be.

Lifespan – 6/10

The biggest gripe I have with the game is in its lifespan. The game, dependent on player skill of course, can take there around 6 hours to complete to 100%, which for the amount of time it took to finish, seemed somewhat uneven to me personally. I can’t deduct too many points from it in this aspect, however, for two reasons. It lasts longer than most classic games of it’s kind, and the development time was clearly put into getting every other aspect of the game right. It would have been nice to have a few more side scrolling levels added to balance out the amount of boss fights, but nevertheless, it’s a somewhat reasonably long game, and for the time players will spend playing it, they will thoroughly enjoy it for what it is.

Storyline – 7.5/10

The story follows the titular character Cuphead and is friend Mugman, who against the advice of their master, The Elder Kettle, wander off far from their home, and come across a casino. They find themselves on a winning streak at the craps table when they are suddenly interrupted by the Devil, who raises the stakes. If they win one more roll, the pair will get all the loot in his casino. But if they lose, they must forfeit their souls. Cuphead agreed, but rolls a snake eyes, and after pleading for their lives, the Devil makes Cuphead and Mugman a deal; if the pair can claim the souls of numerous runaway debtors for the Devil, he may consider pardoning them. The game’s story is simple in structure, but fairly unique in concept at the same time. It even has multiple endings, given the player’s choice. It’s the story, as well as it’s visual design, that make it clear that this game was quite simply a labour of love.

Originality – 8/10

The Moldenhauers created this game based on their own experiences of watching classics Disney and Fleischer cartoons in their youth, and in Chad Moldenhauer’s own words, sought to mimic the more subversive and surrealist elements of the classic cartoonists of the day. And subversive and surreal are some of the best words that I can possibly use to describe this game. It was enough to raise a great deal of eyebrows at E3 2014 with it’s own unique conceptual design, and it has since impressed a great deal of gamers since it’s release, including me.

Overall, Cuphead is a visually stunning and delightfully challenging game with a lot to offer both veteran gamers with an appreciation for their routes, and for newer generation gamers, who may be curious about experiencing some of the beginnings of video game design. Though it took an unusually long time to be released following it’s initial showcasing, it turned out to be more than worth the wait, and it comes highly recommended from me.

Score

49.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

Developer(s) – Nintendo EPD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Kenta Motokura

Producer(s) – Yoshiaki Koizumi & Koichi Hayashida

Released in the holiday season of 2017 for the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey presents players with a return to the open-ended 3D style of play of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, and invigorates the series with new abilities and environments, as well as incorporating elements of classic Super Mario gameplay, such as side scrolling. From start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this title, and whilst it didn’t become my favourite Super Mario game of all time, certainly goes above and beyond many other games in the series in recent years.

Graphics – 9/10

The first thing to say about the visuals is that on a technical level, this is the best that Super Mario has ever looked. Each character and level found throughout the game is wonderfully detailed, and the blending of 3D and 2D make for something particularly special in terms of graphics. Conceptually, the game does fairly well to stand out from the rest of series in addition, which is quite remarkable given the astounding amount of transition the series has gone through over the 32 years it’s been around. After having watched the trailers for the game before it’s release, I was sceptical as to how some of the environments that were shown would fit with a series like Super Mario Bros, but after playing, I was posthumously proven wrong. Each level especially the Metro Kingdom, which I was most sceptical about, adds a new dimension to the series that I hadn’t thought possible beforehand.

Gameplay – 9/10

Much like Super Mario Galaxy 2, the objective of the game is for the player to find power moons, instead of stars, to power up Mario’s newfound ship named The Odyssey to advance from one level to the other in order to reach Bowser and rescue Peach from him. The most standout feature in terms of gameplay is Mario using his new anthropomorphic hat named Cappy to possess certain enemies throughout the game, and thus use their abilities to the player’s advantage. Much like the new settings, it adds another unique twist to the series’ tableau, as well as a new approach to gameplay, which has scarcely been seen in games before. And in lieu of 3D Super Mario tradition, the game simply doesn’t end with Peach being saved from Bowser. After the main game has been completed, there is a plethora of additional power moons to find, as well as additional objectives given to players for completion on a scale never seen before in a Super Mario game.

Controls – 10/10

Since the 3D Mario formula has existed for over 20 years, it would be more than reasonable to think there would be no issues with the controls; and so there aren’t. Super Mario Odyssey plays out as seamlessly as any other 3D Mario game since Super Mario 64, and the way in which new combat abilities and enemy abilities that Mario can adopt are also seamlessly integrated into the rest of the formula.

Lifespan – 9/10

The base game will take players there around 10 hours to complete, but after which, that hardly even counts as scratching the surface. Each level has an amount of collectibles to pick up that is unfathomable compared to every other Super Mario game before it. It will easily make for 60-70 plus hours of gameplay, and an excellent addition to the collection of extremely long games on the Nintendo Switch along with Breath of the Wild, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Skyrim.

Storyline – 7.5/10

Following the usual Super Mario Bros formula, Super Mario Odyssey follows the story of Mario having to save Princess Peach from Bowser; only this time, Bowser plans to marry Peach after stealing various relics from each kingdom throughout the world. Mario is also joined by the aforementioned anthropomorphic hat named Cappy, who is also out to rescue a female anthropomorphic hat named Tiara, whom Bowser has Peach wear in preparation for the wedding. Though for the most part the story is largely unoriginal, especially for anything seen in a Super Mario game prior, what makes the way in which is story is told in Odyssey stand out fractionally more than other Mario games is the projection of emotion found throughout. Mario is portrayed as slightly less of an unstoppable superhero capable of beating anyone he comes across, and is shown to feel the difficulty and hardship of what it is he is setting out do. On several occasions, Mario comes painfully close to rescuing Peach from Bowser before the final battle, but he is shown to suffer setbacks, which visibly frustrate him, and though these are not things that haven’t been seen in games prior to this by any stretch of the imagination, it is something new to the series, which in terms of story, has needed for quite some time. But in terms of depth in plot, it still leaves players wanting much more in this respect. It’s certainly my biggest criticism that I have to levy against this game.

Originality – 8.5/10

With that one main qualm I have out of the way, the fact of the matter remains that this game is the most unique Mario experience released since Super Mario Galaxy 2 in terms of every other aspect aside from story. The settings are outstanding and the gameplay is even more so. In recent years, the originality of this series has been very much hit and miss in my opinion, with me contrasting the uniqueness of games such as Super Mario 3D World and Paper Mario: Colour Splash, but Odyssey could possibly pave the way for more unique Super Mario experiences in the future, introducing new elements to the series, which could potentially be either expanded upon or could be spun off into even more new elements depending on what direction Nintendo want to take it into.

Happii

Overall, despite lacking in story, Super Mario Odyssey delivers players, which is in my opinion, the best Super Mario game since Galaxy 2. And whilst it may not be anywhere near as good as the former, it certainly spells a bright future for the franchise, as well as giving players what is probably the longest Mario experience ever.

Score

53/60

8.5/10 (Great)

Q&A With Haywire Studios

During my recent hiatus from writing, I was contact by another independent game development studio I had approached some time ago about bring to the attention of my readers another upcoming indie game, which had successfully met it’s backing goals. Haywire studios, operating out of Adelaide, Australia are currently working on an open-world top-down RPG name A Matter of Time. Employing a classic 8-BIT visual style, and mixing aspects of medieval fantasy and science fiction, the game also incorporates the manipulation of time into it’s core gameplay, with the main character James being armed with a relic known as the Paradox Cape. Not a great deal is known about how exactly the Paradox Cape will affect the game’s mechanics, since it is still quite a ways away from being finished, but the main coder known as CamCog, agreed to answer some questions I sent over to him to get more of an insight into some of the game’s details. Here are their answers:

 

What were the influences behind your game?

The historical side of ‘A Matter of Time’ was very much influenced by my interest in historic battles and how they have shaped the way of warfare. Also, some of the gameplay was inspired by other indie RPG titles such as Hyper Light Drifter and Undertale.

What has the developmental process been like?

The developmental process of the game has definitely been a good experience overall. It has taught (and is still teaching) me much about how to create a great game and what to avoid when doing so. Unfortunately, given that this is my first time developing a big project, it’s been quite a new experience and there have been a lot of unexpected setbacks.  For example, it took way longer than planned to get a graphic designer which led to some of the game’s development being delayed. It’s also very time-consuming and tiring to code a whole game independently, even with the major help of a sound and graphic designer. Despite these setbacks, progress of the game’s development is beginning to go more smoothly and I am hopeful that the final product will be something that I can be proud of.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much work on the game previous to the Kickstarter so the finished product is still quite a long way away – winter 2019 to be exact. However, if all goes to plan, a demo for the game will be released in early 2018, which will at least be something for people to see.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

The most exciting aspect of development has definitely been the making of the ‘A Matter of Time’ universe along with the locations and characters that are included in it. Apart from that, the thought of seeing players’ immerse themselves in the universe that you created is something that inspires me to complete the game.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

The most challenging aspect of development is that the whole game is mainly being coded by me. While it is great to be able to take the wheel and code whatever you want with the only limitation being your skill, it is very difficult for only one person to take this massive workload. I sometimes am finding myself staying up until 2am just trying to figure out how to get a simple issue fixed, which I know could be solved in a matter of minutes by a small team of developers. However, as I stated earlier, the whole developmental process has been somewhat educational and learning to do so much work alone has definitely helped in teaching me so much about game development.


What other kinds of additional abilities will the Paradox Cape have
?

A lot of The Paradox Cape’s details are going to stay a secret until the game’s launch. However, I can give some small details to give you a ‘taste’ of its power. For example, the Paradox Cape will be able to act as a temporary ‘invisibility cloak’ when stealth is key. It will also, when the ability is unlocked, be able to pacify enemies up until a certain strength. Additionally, it can also act as a comfy blanket on a cold day!

 

How well has the game been received so far?

There have been some positive comments on the game’s Kickstarter which indicates that people are somewhat excited for the game’s development. There has also been some small discussion on the game’s Discord server which is good to see as well. Apart from that, however,  not much has been going on in terms of the game’s audience due to there not being much gameplay available for people to witness.

How big a part will time paradoxes play in the outcome of the story?

Time paradoxes aren’t too huge in terms of the game’s storyline, but they will definitely have a big part to play in the game’s mechanics. Unfortunately, due to this being a feature of the Paradox Cape, I am not willing to share the exact details of what will happen.

Was real-life history part of the influences behind this game?

It certainly was, with an obvious example being the place where James is first found, the Battle of Hattin. Groups that are famous in history are also influences for the game. In fact, they are a big part of the game. Some examples are the Templar Knights and the Ayyubid forces.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

The demo will be available for free on itch.io, and the finished game will be available on Steam for an estimated $5 (USD).

Will time travel be implemented into the gameplay?

Definitely. You will even see time travel in the game’s demo when James is transported from the Battle of Hattin to the future.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?

Given that I am a new developer, there is not much amazing feedback I can give. I suppose that the biggest piece of advice I can give based on my experience with this game is to PLAN AHEAD. You do not want to be going into a big project with a ‘just wing it’ attitude. This is one flaw in the way I’ve developed this game that even I have to admit. Not planning ahead caused me to run into a lot of obstacles that I am even now still having to overcome. I will say it again – before you start any big project, it is VITAL that you plan your storyline, mechanics, approach to marketing, budget, etc.

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

Website: http://haywiregamestudios.weebly.com/

Discord: https://discord.gg/pbjyb5B

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/haywiregamestudios/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GameHaywire

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEcnPRw3knE2OzBtfycc6jg

PayPal donation pool: https://www.paypal.com/pools/c/7Z7UNggAQc

 

Do you have anything else to add?

To everyone that has shown support to me throughout the creation of this game. You guys have been a massive inspiration for me. I would certainly not be creating this game if it wasn’t for you. Thanks 🙂

 

Though we may be a long way from experiencing this unique take on the action RPG genre, I have every confidence that this game will be worth the wait. I would like to take this opportunity to thank CamCog and for answering my questions, and to wish him and the rest of Haywire Studios the best of luck with A Matter of Time.

I hope you guys enjoyed my first article back, And there will be many more to come soon.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

The 2017 Play Manchester Special

Last week marked yet another eventful and successful Play Expo at the EventCity venue in Manchester. Back for it’s sixth year, the UK’s biggest retro gaming convention was pack with arcade games, retro consoles, up and coming indie developers, video game education academy booths and guest speakers from the world of gaming. Eager to see what the event had in store, I stayed over at Manchester to experience this year’s proceedings, and to see what more new and old games were being showcased, and once again, I was not left disappointed. Here is what was on at Play Manchester 2017.

Raging Justice

Having been in the works for over two years now, Makin Games, operating within the Midlands, were there to once again showcase their 2D beat ‘em up Raging Justice. Inspired by arcade classics such as Streets of Rage and Double Dragon, Raging Justice provides an updated take on the 2D-style fighting genre, following the exploits of maverick cops Nikki Rage and Rick Justice as they sweep the streets clean of crime and administer their own brand of vigilante justice. The last time I saw this game was at Play Manchester 2015, and it took me pleasantly by surprise when I first saw it, with it’s unique-looking visuals and unique take on gameplay, utilizing a morality mechanic whereby players can either kill criminals or arrest them, keeping bloodshed to a minimum. Since 2015, the developers have added more levels, and a heightened sense of challenge more akin to classic games that served as the inspiration. I was extremely impressed with the improvements made to this title and I can’t wait for it’s upcoming release.

 

All Contact Lost

Another one of many developers returning to Play Expo on the back of many previous shows were 1st Impact Games, as they once again showcased their sci-fi survival first-person shooter All Contact Lost. All Contact Lost relies on the player’s ability to stay alive and stand their ground for as long as possible against horde after horde of oncoming aliens. The player must learn to adapt to environments whilst conserving ammo and knowing when to flee and replenish supplies. The biggest improvement from when I first saw the play showcased at Play Blackpool this year was undoubtedly the visuals. The last time I saw the game, it looked like something that could easily have been made to run on a PlayStation 2. But after seeing it again, it looked like a game on par with many AAA PlayStation 4 games. Running on Unreal Engine 4, it was undoubtedly the best looking game at the expo on a technical level, and it baffled me how the developers were able to make such a significant leap in graphical quality in such a small span of time.

Nippon Marathon

Another great looking game at the show, especially from a conceptual standpoint, was Nippon Marathon; an on-foot racing game developed by Onion Soup Interactive heavily inspired by Japanese culture. Primarily a multiplayer games, players must race against each other whilst also avoiding obstacles in their path, and finding the best way navigate round each course in order to build and maintain an advantage over other players. Weapons and power-ups are also available through each for players to take advantage of. I would best describe it as Mario Kart Meets Sonic R and Takeshi’s Castle; except that even in the early stages of development, the controls in this game are nowhere near as infuriating as in Sonic R. But alluding to my other two comparisons, the game is particularly fun, as well as downright hilarious.

 

Sigma Theory

As at EGX Rezzed last April, there was also a large amount of PC games on display at Play Manchester, old and new. One indie game at the show was a strategy game on PC called Sigma Theory developed by mi-clos Studio operating out of France. Though in essence it could possibly be describe as a 4X game, it plays out drastically different to traditional 4X games, such as Civilization or Stellaris. Players must pursue world domination, and to gather as many resources and recruit the best personnel possible in order to complete their objective. Negotiation skills play a massive part in the game with players having to use correct dialogue options in order to recruit people to their side and carry diplomatic missions. I found there to be intriguing level of depth to this game compared to many other PC strategy games I’ve played, and for someone who has played a great of games in the genre, that’s saying a lot. The game is available for pre-order via their website, and I can’t wait to try this one and explore the full game’s additional features. As with many 4X games like it, it could also theoretically be extremely open to modding in my opinion, which makes me even more excited for it.

 

Bee Bee Q

VR games also maintained a very strong presence at this year’s proceedings; a case in point being the game Bee Bee Q created by local developed from Manchester, Popup Asylum. Bee Bee Q was one of a few games I regrettably didn’t get to try out when I was at EGX Rezzed earlier this year, and so when I heard it was making an appearing at Play Manchester, I relished the opportunity to try it, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a 2-player game whereby the wearer of the VR headset takes on the role of a barbeque chef in his garden who must swat bees as many times as possible to rack up as many points as possible. The second player controls the bee, which must sting the barbeque chef as many times as possible, and to avoid getting swatted. In the long term, this game has helped significantly to realize my newfound perception of VR gaming. It’s shown me that not only can the peripheral itself be a viable idea in terms of video game development, but that new and outlandish ideas can be experimented with whilst developing for it, which lines up with some of the best ideas ever conceived for individual video game franchises. My biggest regret is not being able to try this game sooner; I had a great of fun playing it.

Fragmental

Fragmental is the type of game that I’ve seen at almost every single video games conference I’ve attended; it’s a top-down local multiplayer shooter for up to 4 players, but what sets this one apart from the other in a very positive way is its conceptual design and it’s variety in weapons choice. Players can either melee attack one another, or pick up various guns scattered across each arena. I also found it to be much more accessible than many other titles I’ve played at expos made in the same vein, such as Towerfall Ascension and Porcunpine, but with all the uniqueness as the two aforementioned examples.

Tanglewood

However, in terms of uniqueness, there was one indie title that caught my attention in this respect more than any other; a game called Tanglewood, developed by a studio named Big Evil Corporation. Being developed for the Sega Mega Drive following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it is a 2D side scroller with gameplay elements vaguely reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog, which follows the adventures of a fox named Nymm, who has been separated from his family and must find a way to survive. The game features day-to-night transitions similar to Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, which plays a massive part in gameplay, as it triggers the coming of enemies, which players must then defeat before the sun rises again. Despite the developer’s choice of platform, or perhaps because of it, Tanglewood is one of the most unique indie titles I’ve seen in a long time, and the prospects seem very good for an extremely enjoyable title in terms of gameplay despite the fact that it is only in an alpha build at the moment. It’s unclear whether the developers will bring it to other platforms in the future, but if demand is high enough, I don’t see any reason why people wouldn’t want it to happen.

 

The Otterman Empire

Another multiplayer indie title I particularly enjoyed playing at Play Manchester was a Splatoon-inspired shooter named The Otterman Empire. Featuring wonderfully unusual conceptual design, as well as similar gameplay to the former title, it’s an arena-based shooter whereby the objective is to attain as many kills as possible before the timer runs out. Similar to Splatoon, players recharge their ammo by submerging themselves into water. This tactic can also be used to hide from enemies. Whilst talking to the developer from Tri-Heart Interactive, he remarked that the shooter game genre is dominated by the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield, whereas none of these games fall under the category of being child-appropriate, and that Splatoon seems to him as being the only one. Having had time to ponder what he said, I realized that he was more or less right; at least in terms of mainstream gaming. The Otterman Empire certainly looks like a game that could possibly start a series of games made in the same vein that are indeed appropriate for children, along with Splatoon.

 

Balance of Kingdoms

Balance of Kingdoms was yet another multiplayer experience at the show that did extremely well to stand out among most other games on display. The concept of the game is to build a tower made from various medieval architectural buildings and structures, and to then ensure that it all stays in place without toppling. After which, the player must then buy various artillery weapons, such as cannons and trebuchets in order to destroy the opposing player’s tower, and vice versa. The best way I could possibly describe it is if Tricky Towers was infinitely more combat-orientated. It took me a while to adapt to the unique gameplay and to play it effectively, but one I got the hang of it, I ended up having a lot of fun with it. It had been well received by players throughout this year’s proceeding, and having sampled it myself, it was little wonder to me why that was.

Boom Boom Barbarian

A particular type of game that I saw when I was there, which I hadn’t ever seen among indie developers before, was a rhythm action RPG hybrid name Boom Boom Barbarian. Developed by Silo Black Games, players must choose from a selection of character classes and abilities, and use them to battle oncoming enemies to the rhythm of the background music. That I hadn’t seen a game like this before since I started going to these conferences, it made me think that in the absence of many other previously big name rhythm game series such as Rock Band, like with the Otterman Empire, there is most definitely a market to be had with games that can provide a unique twist on an otherwise largely dormant genre of games.

Bullion

Whilst a vast majority of the multiplayer games at the expo seems to be in later stages of development, one game that was in a much earlier stage was Bullion, a 4-player game whereby players must kill as many enemies as possible and collect as much treasure as possible before the timer runs out. Similar to many of the mini games in the Mario Party franchise, and developed by Plasma Beam Games based in Oxford, they remarked that before release, they plan to include more stages than what were present in the current build, and they are aiming for release relatively soon. Though that would of course help to enhance the overall gameplay experience, I myself found it to be delightfully challenging nonetheless. I’ve always liked playing the Mario Party games, especially when I was growing up laying with my friends from school, and this game, to my satisfaction, did extremely well to hearken bac k to those days for me, as well as provide it’s own unique twist on things.

Ersatz

A game that I enjoyed more than any of the others that were at Manchester this year, however, was a title called Ersatz. A game, which was not made by a studio, but rather by a single Manchester-born programmer named Paris Stalker, it is a 2D side scrolling rhythm game, which presents players with much more of a challenge than many games made in the same vein. I would best describe it as Titan Souls meets Mega Man. The player must rely on the rhythm of the soundtrack in order to best navigate their way through each level, as well as take on bosses at the end. The boss fight in particular were extremely well designed, as well as intensely challenging; but not to the point where like games made in the same vein, Castlevania for example, that they have can be considered to be inaccessible by some players. I’ve always been a sucker for great looking games with 8-BIT graphics, especially since the boom of indie games, and Ersatz certainly did not fail to impress in this respect either.

Glo

Another game that also did not fail to impress was yet another unique 2D side scroller called Glo. Glo is a game recently released on Steam by developers Chronik Spartan, and is a 2D platformer whereby players control a single square throughout a series of pitch-black stages; all the while using various different light sources through each stage to navigate through them. Players can take advantage of power-ups to either find their way to the end of each stage, or to deal with enemies hidden around them that players can inadvertently encounter, greatly adding to the game’s wonderful sense of tension. Whilst I was playing, however, the developer showing to me remarked that there were various areas of the game which he felt he would have to make more accessible in order for it to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, However, in the state I witnessed it in, I told him tat it didn’t seem too inaccessible at all, and with that perseverance, players would get the hang of it soon enough while playing. And I stand by my opinion; Glo did not make me feel that the challenge was either too big or too small.

Hyper Sentinel

For the second year running, Robert Hewson, son of Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultant, was back at Play Manchester showing off his heavily publicised and heavily anticipated arcade shooter Hyper Sentinel. Made in the same vein as arcade classics such as Defender and Bosconian, Hewson was mainly there to demonstrate the games newly added survival mode before it’s impending release in early 2018. Every time I’ve seen this game showcased, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing through it, and the new survival mode adds an even greater layer of depth to the gameplay, and is a major improvement on an already outstanding arcade gaming experience made for a modern audience. The Hewson family have an illustrious history in the world of gaming, and with the release of Hyper Sentinel, I’m confident that this can only add to that history in an extremely positive way.

Razed

One of the last indie games at the show to have caught my attention was an excellent-looking game called Razed. Developed by Warpfish Games, Razed is a platforming racing game whereby players must race to the end of each stage in as little time as possible, and find unique ways to navigate around then in order the get the fastest times. There is also a surprisingly strong RPG element to it, as players in time gain more abilities for their character, thereby being able to interact with their surroundings in different ways, such as opening gates and lowering platforms. Finding my way through each level made me marvel at this game, as well as intermittently laugh whenever I died. It was another one of these games that provided a delightfully accessible challenge, and I can’t wait to try out the final product when it is released.

RetroStar

Following a successful Play Blackpool showcasing this year, Sinister Sot were back to promote their dungeon crawler entitled Dungeons, as well a new smartphone game named RetroStar. Having begun to code the game after the first day at Play Blackpool, RetroStar has since been released on Android, and has proved to be a very solid effort on the part of the developer. The objective of the game is to simply shoot down as many oncoming enemy spaceships as possible whilst using the speed of the player character’s ship to gain a tactical combat advantage. I would best describe it as Asteroids meets Defender in 3D. I was given a reviewer code to try it out, and I am very much looking forward to composing a review for it in the future.

Space Toads Mayhem

Yet another game returning to Play Expo on the back of a successful showcasing at Play Blackpool 2017 was Space Toads Mayhem, developed by programmer Lukasz Snopkiewicz. The game takes the form of a classic arcade style top-down rail shooter, which relies heavily on player skill, as well as perception, as items picked up throughout can either have invaluable benefits or disastrous consequences. The main difference I found whilst playing this game now, in comparison to how it played out when I was in Blackpool, is that it seemed a lot more accessible than it had been before, which to me is a massive improvement. Though I enjoyed playing the game the first time I did play it anyway, toning down the difficulty has certainly helped it to eel that much more enjoyable. But I can’t wait to see how Lukasz further develops the game before it’s release; if he does again decide to bring it to Play Expo in 2018.

The Tension

The last indie game I tried out when I was at play Manchester was a stealth sci-fi game called The Tension. Developed by Hope for Hopeless Studios on the back of a success Steam Greenlight campaign, the game plays out very much like classic Metal Gear Solid games, with players having to avoid enemies and find ways around their field of vision in order to solve puzzles and to advance to each new area in turn. Over the years, my feelings towards stealth games have been mixed. On one and, where the likes of classic Metal Gear games have been concerned, I have been impressed for the most part. But with first person stealth games, though they have been solid experiences, they do tend to drag on with how many times is required to start again at certain stages of the games in order to advance without being detected. With this game, however, it doesn’t come with such issues, and it made for a very enjoyable game. It had great conceptual design, especially for a game at relatively early stages of development, and I can’t wait to play the finished product when it is released.

 

Psygnosis

Finally, there were three guest talks at Play Manchester that I had the distinct pleasure of attending and listening on. It was also conducted in a far superior way this time, as they were held in a separate room as opposed to it being on the main floor, which made it much easier to hear over reduced background crowd noise, as well as it being a lot more atmospheric with the lighting. One of the talk I attended was with former Psygnosis developers Mike Clarke, Martin Linklater and Mike Kaisar were present to talk about the history of the Liverpool-based development company, their gaming library, and how they went from being a fairly successful local developer to enjoying global critical acclaim with gaming franchises such as Wipeout and Lemmings. The three outlined how the company started out operating from the South Harrington building in Brunswick to then going on to set up shop at Wavertree Technology Park, where they continued to develop for Sony later on as Studio Liverpool, and then being disbanded in 2012 after the release of Wipeout 2048 on the PlayStation Vita.

Watching this talk made me particularly proud as a gamer, to have seen the history of this studio outlined in such a way, and to listen in-depth about how a development company from my own neck of the woods were instrumental in popularising one of the highest selling video game consoles of all time, and later playing a pivotal role in establishing Sony’s dominance over the gaming market during the sixth generation of gaming in addition. Since I started going to these expos, I’ve met and listened to many people from Liverpool associated with gaming who have had their own unique stories to tell, but for me, this talk has so far been the most significant, as these guy were instrumental in hving the greatest impact on the industry overall.

 

Karl Hilton & Graeme Norgate

Early on during the first day of the expo, another talk was held with two of the nine core developers at Rare who worked on the critical and commercial marvel Goldeneye, released on the Nintendo 64 20 years ago. The developers there were Karl Hilton, who worked on the game’s level design, and Graeme Norgate, who supervised the game’s sound effects; the due worked on Goldeneye, as well as its spiritual successor, Perfect Dark. They both talked about their own respective experiences of working on the hugely successful game, along with their experiences of working with the rest of the team such as the soundtrack compose Grant Kirkhope, and the game’s principal programmer Martin Hollis. There was also a competition held after the talk, whereby two gamers were invited to compete against the two developers for a signed copy of the game; the main stipulation being that anyone who chose Oddjob as their character would be instantly disqualified. A gamer named Chris, who in the end recorded 30 kills against the other players, won the competition.

Where Play Manchester in general has been concerned, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the calibre of the guests that have attended the show to give various talks, such as the original development team for Tomb Raider, and Q*Bert creator Warren Davies. This year, given this impressive line-up, was no exception. Goldeneye was one of the most commercially successful games on the Nintendo 64, and it was incredible to gain an insight into the developmental process from the two gaming veterans.

Memoirs of a Spectrum Addict

The final talk that I attended at the show was a grand collective of faces synonymous with the popularity and the continued popularity of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum console of the 80s. They were Liverpool-born developer Jim Bagley, Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultants, Jon Hare of Sensible Software, Spectrum developers Steve Turner and Rich Stevenson, Vivid Image’s Mev Dinc and Mark R Jones of Ocean Software. Also joining them on the stage was Andy Remic and Simon Butler, who together had created a shot film entitled Memoirs of a Spectrum Addict; a dramatization and collection of developers interviews detailing the popularity of the ZX Spectrum throughout the 80s, and the various different memories that each respective developer had of the era of which the console was most popular, and how it has continued to remain so to this day.

Again, much like the Psygnosis talk, in respect of the many guest talk I have attended detailing how the ZX Spectrum has continued to remain popular following the console official discontinuity, this one was by far the most significant, since it clarified in the furthest detail of how instrumental the home computer console was in maintaining the popularity of video games following the video game crash of 1983 until Nintendo began to dominate the market, and of how much of an impact the console had on the lives of both gamers and developer alike. It makes me regret not having tried the console earlier than I did because I’ve always been intrigued by the history of gaming, especially since I started writing, and it’s always a pleasure to experience the origins of gaming and the history of development out of the UK. I sincerely hope that more of the types of talk will be held at future Play Expos throughout the country, and after attending this in particular talk, I can positively say that there doesn’t seem to be any sign of them ending any time soon.

Once again, I had a fantastic time attending Play Manchester, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers for allowing me to attend the event, and to thank the staff for their continuous efforts of making Replay Events the best expos that they can possibly be. I would also like to give a massive shout-out to each and every indie developer at the event, and to wish you all best of luck with your respective gaming endeavours.

But I would also like to take this opportunity to make quite a huge announcement in respect of the blog. As of this article, I will be going on hiatus until the start of 2018. Personally, I have not been happy with myself in terms of the amount and variety in content that I have provided throughout 2017, and quite frankly, I believe my audience deserve more. So over the course of the next few months, I will be planning ahead for 2018, and thinking up new ideas for content not only on the blog, but on other platforms, as well as my social media links. But I would also like to emphasize that this does not mean I have enjoyed that which I have experienced this year and have broadcast to my readers.

2017 has been a fantastic year for video gaming in general with the release of the Nintendo Switch, as well as games released on many other consoles and platforms, and I have had the distinct pleasure of attending a great number of expos and conferences in the process; EGX Rezzed in particular was a huge moment in my writing career. But I feel the time is right to take this amount of time to re-think what kind of content I would to deliver to my readers, and to better engage them. So although I’m somewhat upset to have to deliver this news to you all, I promise that it will serve a greater purpose, and I promise that I will be back in 2018 with more content than ever before, as well as a few surprises in store along the way.

In the meantime, I hope you all look forward to seeing what I’m going to be bringing to the table soon, and of course, all previous content will remain on the site for people to read at their own leisure. I’d also like to thank each and every one of you for taking the time out of your day to read my previous content, and I will be back to continue bringing you more.

Thank you all, and game on,

Scouse Gamer 88