Tag Archives: Adventure

Luigi’s Mansion 2 (3DS)

Developer(s) – Next Level Games & Nintendo SPD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Bryce Holliday

Producer – Shigeru Miyamoto

PEGI – 7

Released in 2013 to worldwide critical acclaim, Luigi’s Mansion 2, or Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon as it’s known in the US, is the sequel to the much-loved GameCube launch title, Luigi’s Mansion. It takes the formula of the original game and expands upon it, as well as introducing gameplay elements that were ultimately cut from its predecessor. My verdict is that whilst I didn’t enjoy this game as much as I did the first, it’s still a particularly good game in it’s own right for a variety of different reasons.

Graphics – 7/10

On a technological level, the second game is about on par with the first, but what makes this game different from it’s predecessor is that the player is not just confined to one place to explore, but rather there is a much wider variety of locations in and around the mansion to explore in addition, such as a museum, a mining area and a botanical garden; all with their own unique look further adding to the lore of the series. The biggest problem I had with this game’s visuals in comparison to the first is that there is much less effective use of lighting to create the same kind of atmosphere that the first game had; mainly due to the fact that there is more light shone in each area even before ghosts are subdued. As a result, it doesn’t have the same sense of wonderful foreboding that the original game had. The soundtrack to this game is also much less imposing too, which to me further bogged down the experience.

Gameplay – 8.5/10

Luigi’s Mansion 2 provides players with a very different experience to the first game, structured as individual stages within each area of the map as opposed to letting the player come and go around the individual areas as they please. This is to encourage replay value, as previous stages require newly acquired items to explore in full. There are also much more side quests, with collectibles rife throughout, along with further incentive to collect coins, as this is now done to upgrade Luigi’s equipment, giving the game a small RPG feel to it. There is also the addition of boss fights located in each area of the game; boss fights being a element that Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to put particular emphasis on. The further scope provided for backtracking throughout the game was a good idea on Nintendo’s part; it made the overall experience far more interesting than what I thought it would be going into it. Although I miss being able to explore the given areas at will like in the first game, the new structure of gameplay nevertheless made this game an extremely enjoyable experience, and it made me glad that Nintendo decided to expand on the series further. The boss fights are just as creative as they were in the first game, if not more so, as some require more varied strategies to defeat.

Controls – 10/10

With the second game, there also came the refinement of the control scheme. In my reviews of the original Luigi’s Mansion, I mentioned that it could take some time to adjust to the control scheme, as there was simultaneous action required to direct Luigi whilst capturing ghost with both the C-stick and main control stick on the GameCube. But the second game doesn’t have these issues, with players having a choice between using the 3DS’s gyroscopic controls or using the X or B buttons to look up or down respectively. This play style makes it much easier to capture ghosts more easily than it was in the first game.

Lifespan – 8/10

The second game can also be made to last considerably longer than the first. To complete this game to 100%, players must invest at least 16 hours into it, as opposed to the mere 6 hours it can take to complete the last game. Since the original Luigi’s Mansion was an unjustifiably short game, the lifespan certainly needed to be extended on, and with the sequel, Nintendo have not failed to deliver; not only is there a longer game to enjoy, but there’s also many more things to do within it to keep players occupied.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of Luigi’s Mansion 2 takes place some time after the events of the original Luigi’s Mansion. Professor E.Gadd has found a way to pacify ghosts using a device called the dark moon. However, trouble soon starts as King Boo shatters the dark moon causing the ghosts to once again become hostile. Gadd immediately enlists Luigi’s help to re-capture King Boo and all of the other ghosts in and around the mansion and restore the dark moon to working order. Although the series is kept fresh with a new story to again further expand upon the lore of the series, and by proxy Luigi’s part in the Super Mario series in comparison to Mario, the problem I found with it was a problem I find with many other survival horror sequels; I knew what to expect going into it. If the threat remains the same, the sense of tension or horror doesn’t. The fact that the game is less atmospheric also contributed to the marring down of this game’s story. But nonetheless, it is a solid plot line that does also contain a small comedic element to balance the scales.

Originality – 8/10

Whilst the overall concept of the series has remained relatively the same with the release of the second game, the elements within the series have been kept fresh with the introduction of new ideas and elements in most of every value that players can come to expect. It introduces new ideas in terms of gameplay, it introduces more scenery and more enemies to match and it also constitutes for a longer in-game experience; something that this series desperately needed if it were indeed to be expanded upon.

Happii

In summary, Luigi’s Mansion 2 is one of the best Nintendo-exclusive experiences on the 3DS. It delivers on everything that players can come to expect from a sequel and more. It’s not quite as good as the original game, but it’s close.

Score

48.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Back to Bed (PC)

Developer – Bedtime Digital

Publisher – Bedtime Digital

PEGI – 3

Released back in 2014 to relatively positive reviews, Back to Bed is a surreal isometric indie puzzle game sporting a unique approach to puzzle solving, and providing one stern challenge after another. My own opinion of the game was that although I have some issues to address, I did have a fair bit of fun with this title. It stays fresh throughout, and although it doesn’t last particularly long, what there is to enjoy can be enjoyed thoroughly.

Graphics – 8/10

The game takes place within the dreams of a man named Bob, and as players can come to expect, the design of the game’s scenery is wonderfully abnormal. Each stage of the game takes place within different times of the day and the player is surrounded by increasingly strange objects, enemies and obstacles. In terms of conceptual design, it actually reminded me a lot of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, very much like Bedtime Digital’s follow-up release Figment. Throughout, the game also creates a very interesting atmosphere not only in its scenery but also in the soundtrack too; the game can generate a sense of comedy one minute, and then a feeling of horror the next. The opening title screen, in particular, feels quite harrowing. In terms of fitting in with the premise of the game, it can feel like the contrast between dreams and nightmares.

Gameplay – 7/10

The concept of the game is to guide a sleepwalking man through each stage of the game until he reaches the bed so he can go back to sleep. This is primarily done by placing objects within each stage to make the man turn in the desired direction. The man always turns clockwise when into contact with an object or wall, so, therefore, the player must strategize accordingly. Throughout the game, new elements are added to heighten the challenge of each stage. There is even a small element of combat involved, as enemies eventually come into the frame, and the player must work to subdue them before leading the man to his bed. As the new elements are added to the game, it becomes even more enjoyable overtime to be challenged in so many ways. If asked to compare it to any other games, I’d describe it as a mash-up between Lemmings and Road Not Taken.

Controls – 10/10

Overall, the game’s control scheme is relatively simplistic, and therefore, there are no issues to be had with the controls. However, some of the additional mechanics the developers incorporated into this game also pretty impressive. For example, the player has the ability to traverse certain walls in order to reach otherwise unreachable areas or to collect objects.

Lifespan – 3/10

Disappointingly, the game can only take up to 4 hours to complete to 100%, which was a surprise to me, since given the amount of variety the game has throughout, I believe it could’ve easily been stretched to last twice as long. Though Figment would last around twice as long as Back to Bed, I thought the worst thing about this game was that it far too short-lived, and really needed to last longer.

Storyline – 6/10

The majority of the game’s narrative lies within the basic premise, which is that inside the subconscious of a man named Bob is a strange four-legged creature called Subob, who must guide a sleepwalking Bob throughout his dreams to the bed in each stage. The story is quite abstract in many respects and certain elements of which are potentially open to interpretation dependant on whichever way a player may look at it, which does give it an additional boost. Outside of gameplay, the narrative is portrayed quite well too, with seemingly hand-drawn images depicting where the story goes with each stage of the game. It’s not the strongest example of storytelling to be found within a game, but it is quite enjoyable in its own right.

Originality – 7/10

Certainly, for a puzzle game, it is also a unique title with unique elements to be found in every respect, ranging from its conceptual design to its gameplay mechanics to even its basic premise. Though I was able to do it eventually, I was relatively hard-pressed to compare it to even a few games that I have played over the years, but irrespective of that, it provides a type of gaming experience that’s not easy to come by.

Niiutral

Overall, I was relatively impressed with Back to Bed. Though I felt it should have been made to last significantly longer than what it does, it kept me challenged and entertained throughout. The gameplay never becomes weary or overly repetitive, and it’s visuals add a level of charm comparable to many other visually stunning games before it.

Score

41/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

Cuphead (PC & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Studio MDHR

Publisher(s) – Studio MDHR

Director(s) – Chad & Jared Moldenhauer

Producer(s) – Maria & Ryan Moldenhauer

PEGI – 7

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

PEGI – 7

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

Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4)

Developer(s) – Guerrilla Games

Publisher(s) – Sony Interactive Entertainment

Director(s) – Mathis de Jonge

Producer(s) – Lambert Wolterbeek Muller

PEGI – 16

Developed by Guerrilla Games and being six years in the making, Horizon Zero Dawn is an open world action adventure game, which relies heavily on creativity in battle, and present a very stern challenge similar to games of the same ilk like Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Assassin’s Creed. Personally, I was blown away by how great this game is. I had high expectations of it in the first place, but it did exceptional well to surpass those expectations, and deliver one of the best gaming experiences of the eighth generation.

Graphics – 10/10

The game’s visuals are phenomenal from both a technical and conceptual perspective. The level of detail is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on even the PlayStation 4, which is saying a lot since I’ve played a great deal of technically marvellous games on the system like InFamous: Second Son and Killzone: Shadow Fall. But more impressive than this, the game’s universe is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic earth whereby humanity has regressed to prehistoric culture, but the wild is infested with dangerous robotic animals made with technology that was widespread before the events of the game. The world in this title is extremely impressive to look at, and to me, it sets a new standard within the industry in terms of cutting edge graphics.

Gameplay – 8.5/10

Outside the main story and various side quests, The object of the game is to hunt animals around the world in order to develop the character, and to discover new materials used to upgrade equipment, weapons and storage capacity. There is a great freedom to be had in terms of choice of how to approach combat; the player can choose to take a more stealthy approach and use environmental hazards to subdue enemies without being detected, or they may choose to take the less subtle route, and go in all guns blazing. Upgrades provide the player with new abilities to assist them whilst taking all these different approaches towards combat. Morality mechanics also play a part in the game similar to Mass Effect whereby the decisions the player makes effects the outcome of the story, and player’s influence over NPCs. Whilst it’s a little bare compared to some other open world game, which is ultimately why I would have to place Breath of the Wild above it when comparing the two games, there is still a great deal of things to do within the game that will keep players entertained for an extraordinary amount of time.

Controls – 10/10

In terms of controls, the game doesn’t exactly re-invent the wheel. However, there are no unnecessary frustrations to be experienced with the control scheme, so it is deserved of a perfect score in this aspect. It’s also quire clever how the developers were able to implement the mechanic of scanning enemies and environments in order to assist players in how they choose to approach the situation, despite the fact that it isn’t the first game of it’s kind to implement such a feature.

Lifespan – 9/10

With plenty to do throughout the game beyond the main story, it can be easily made to last at least 60 hours. It’s actually quite surprising to me that a game of this level of technical innovation can encompass an open world of this size. I was impressed with how Far Cry 4 was able to accomplish a similar feat to this, but this game goes far beyond what the latter was capable of.

Storyline – 9/10

The story of the games follows a young hunter named Aloy, who has been shunned her entire life as an outcast to every other tribe situated throughout her homelands. As she has grown up, she sets out to prove herself as a member of the Nora tribe. But she soon discovers that she is only part of a greater destiny, and so she sets out to uncover it, and to also uncover the history of her world. Horizon Zero Dawn is very much a coming of age story reminiscent of a lot of Studio Ghibli films, and goes beyond that of a typical story found in many open world games. It’s immersing, emotionally charged and deals with the wonders and complications of a young woman trying to find her way in the world. Watching the development of Aloy’s character, in particular was a pleasure from beginning to end.

Originality – 8/10

The game is definitely more evolutionary than revolutionary. It’s not the first game of it’s kind to do many of the things that it doesn’t, but it does do them bigger, and all at once, one-upping the likes of Shadow of Mordor in my opinion. Where it truly stands out is in aspects such as it’s conceptual design, and variety in combat, which makes me feel re-assured that innovation is not just happening within in the indie industry, but also the mainstream scene as well.

Deliirious

Overall Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the best games of 2017, and unanimously my favourite PlayStation 4 exclusive so far. I’ve been impressed with many others such as InFamous: Second Son, InFamous: First Light and The Last Guardian, but to me, this game surpasses them all, making for a better IP than Killzone ever was.

Score

54.5/60

9/10 (Excellent)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch & Wii U)

Developer(s) – Nintendo EPD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Hidemaro Fujibayashi

Producer – Eiji Aonuma

PEGI – 12

Our years in development, and released as a launch title for the Nintendo Switch, as well as being the last game to be produced by Nintendo for the Wii U, and met with an overwhelming amount of critical acclaim, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the wild retains some conventions of the Zelda series, but gives players a much more open-world and open-ended experience than ever before. It also incorporates elements new to the series, such as breakable weapons, cooking food and brewing elixirs, using a variety of different armour sets and a massive variety of things to do and quests to complete, which puts many open world games to shame. Whilst this isn’t my favourite Zelda title (that honour would go to Ocarina of Time), Breath of the Wild has unanimously cemented itself as, in my opinion, one of the greatest video games ever developed, and most certainly worth the amount of praise it has been given worldwide.

Graphics – 10/10

Incorporating cel-shaded visuals reminiscent of games in the Wind Waker series, as well as Skyward Sword, Breath of the Wild takes place in a post-apocalyptic Hyrule, which is mostly abandoned countryside with the exception of a few small settlements and towns, including Gerudo Town, Rito Village, Goron City, Zora’s Domain and both Kakariko and Hateno Village. Despite the devastation that ravaged Hyrule a century prior to the start of the story, the in-game world looks captivating to say the least. Hyrule still retains a staggering level of natural beauty, as well as curious ruins and additional places to explore.

It’s also interesting as a Zelda fan to be able to identify the many different buildings that have appeared throughout the series that now lie in ruins, such as Lon Lon Ranch, the Temple of Time and the Bridge of Hylia. The game’s soundtrack also does extremely well to add to the atmosphere o this new Hyrule, as well as fit in with each respective situation the player may find themselves in, be that either simply travelling throughout the land in peace, or when battling monsters or mini bosses. It’s also refreshing to see that the conceptual design of the series in general has undergone some dramatic changes, concerning elements like Link and Zelda’s conceptual design, as well as the elements of futuristic technology that existed in mass before the events of the game, such as the Guardians, the shrines and the watchtowers scattered throughout Hyrule.

Gameplay – 10/10

The gameplay has also been dramatically changed to give players a Zelda experience like no other since. The main objective is of course to defeat Ganon, but players may choose to either put this off for as long as possible and go off and do many other things there are to do in the game, or they can even choose to go straight ahead to the final boss from the get-go. Either way, players will not be at a loss for how best they wish to approach the game. Players will also not find themselves with a lack of things to do, since there are a wide range of different side quests and collectible items to find, such as building your own house, completing all 120 shrines, finding all 900 Korok seeds, finding Link’s lost memories, filling the Hyrule Compendium and conquering the four divine beasts to name but a few. As far as gameplay goes, it is unanimously the most extensive Zelda game in terms of things to do, and I was thoroughly impressed from start to finish.

Controls – 10/10

In terms of controls, I also didn’t come across any unnecessary complications. The climbing system is actually reminiscent of what a lot of people tend to do when playing games such as Skyrim and Oblivion; trying to find the best route to climb up mountains despite how steep they may be. In Skyrim and Oblivion for example, players do this without the game encouraging them to do so, but in Breath o the Wild, this is actually an integral part of the gameplay, and is widely encouraged. The combat system can also present a welcome level of challenge in my opinion; especially against multiple enemies.

Lifespan – 10/10

With a massive amount of activity to engage in, Breath of the Wild can easily be made to last over the 100-hour mark, which dwarfs the lifespan of every other major entry in the Zelda series, as well as a vast majority of video games in general. Zelda games would generally last a long time prior, but the sheer scale of this game puts every one of them to shame in this respect.

Storyline – 10/10

The place of Breath of the Wild in the Zelda timeline is uncertain, as Nintendo have not revealed that, but the game takes place in the land of Hyrule 10,000 years after Calamity Ganon had attempted to invade the land, but was thwarted by Link and Zelda, with the aid of four divine beasts and futuristic technology developed by the Sheikah race. A century prior to the start of the story, Princess Zelda conducted further research on Sheikah technology and chose four champions to pilot the divine beast in case Ganon were ever to return. Upon Ganon’s return, he turned the divine beasts and the Sheikah technology against Hyrule, using it to ravage the land, while he remained confined to Hyrule Castle. After fighting the menace, Zelda return to Hyrule Castle in order to ensure that Ganon is kept confined there, whilst link is taken to the Shrine of Resurrection to awake 100 years after Ganon’s return, when he is then tasked with freeing the divine beasts, and to finally defeat Ganon, and drive him out of Hyrule once again.

Being the first main entry in the Zelda series to include voice acting, the story is a lot more emotionally charged than ever before, and it offers a much newer perspective on each character, excluding Link, who is still the same silent protagonist. Although the voice acting is a little below par, the game’s story is a welcome departure from many conventions of past Zelda titles; the portrayal of Princess Zelda herself, for me, being the best feature. Players are sternly reminded of the reason why the series is named The Legend of Zelda, since she carries an aura of mystery and beauty, and to a much greater extent than before, a great depth to her character that Shigeru Miyamoto was inspired by in the first place when naming her after Zelda Fitzgerald; the wife of the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Originality – 9.5/10

Breath of the Wild is definitely much more evolutionary than it is revolutionary in my opinion, which is why I would personally place it beneath Ocarina of Time. Regardless, the game takes the concept of open world gameplay, and introduces a wide range of new ideas and gameplay elements, making it one of the most unique titles of the eighth generation. It seems Nintendo has looked at a lot of limitations in open world gaming, and developed on them, such a in the case of climbing mountains compared to The Elder Scrolls games. I’ve heard people complaining that there isn’t enough in Breath of the Wild to make it seem like a Zelda game, but to me, that’s a reason that makes the game stand out so much in a positive way, since Nintendo have become accused by critics of merely recycling the games, and giving them a new coat of paint; particularly where games for the Wii U are concerned. But to me personally, the departures that this game seem to have taken from the rest of the series are positive ones, and it makes for the best Nintendo gaming experience in a very long time.

Deliirious

Overall, Breath of the Wild is most certainly one of the best games Nintendo have ever developed, as well as being one of the best games ever developed in general. There is a great deal of things to do, the world of Hyrule has never looked so compelling, and layers will be engaged in the story on an entirely different level to anything seen in the series before.

Score

59.5/60

9.5/10 (Outstanding)

Alwa’s Awakening (PC)

Developer(s) – Elden Pixels

Director – Mikael Forslind

PEGI – 7

The debut title of Elden pixels, and developed under the supervision of Zoink Games’ Mikael Forslind, Alwa’s Awakening is a throwback to the classic games of the NES era, including Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Metroid and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. An 8-bit Metroidvania game, it focuses heavily on exploration, combat and acquiring a range of different abilities in order to progress from area to area. Playing this game felt like an absolute pleasure, as well as a fitting tribute to games of the late 80s, and I would recommend it to any fan of that era of gaming.

Graphics – 8/10

Conceptually, where this game stands out is the design of the enemies, as well as the boss battles. Though clearly influenced by many aspects of medieval mythology, including other fantasy franchises (elements of Dungeons & Dragons seemed most evident to me personally), the developers took these influences, and formed their own cohesive concepts in terms of visual design, which is quite difficult to do when dealing with medieval fantasy, making it seem all the more impressive. The soundtrack, recorded by Robert Kreese, is also nothing short of stellar, being on par with, if not better than, many classic NES games.

Gameplay – 8/10

Alwa’s Awakening is a Metroidvania game focusing on adventure and exploration, but the developers also boasted a heightened level of challenge compared to many other classic NES games during development, promising an unforgettable throwback experience to suit both the seasoned and casual classes of gamers of that time. When Elden Pixels first announced this, I did get nervous that they would develop a game that was nigh on inaccessible, as what I’ve found in many NES games, such as those in the original Mega Man series. However, wile playing through it, I found it offer a level of challenge that is stern, yet reasonable; a level of challenge on par with Shovel Knight, for example. It came as a relief to me, and I was able to enjoy the game with minimal frustration because of it. There are secrets to uncover along the way, and some of the most invigorating boss fights I’ve seen in a 2D game.

Controls – 10/10

Part of the reason why I found the game to be more accessible that many fully NES titles purposefully made to be hard was because the controls are also flawless. In many Mega Man games, I have experienced problems with the controls, and time and time again, it defeats the object of demanding skill from the player if the developers can’t program the game properly. In this game, however, no such issues exist; the controls are perfect, and any error made will be down to player performance.

Lifespan – 6.5/10

The game can be made to last around 6 to 7 hours in total, taking everything to do within it into account, which by NES standards at the time may have been outstanding, but in the current era, especially for a Metroidvania, it does fall somewhat short in this respect. It is the game’s biggest issue in my opinion, and I think it could have been made to last at least 12 to 13 hours given more things to do within it. However, there is more than enough substance in gameplay for how long it does last, which does emphasize quality of over quantity.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of Alwa’s Awakening follows a girl called Zoe, who is playing video games one night, and after dozing off, she finds herself in the land of Alwa, where her favourite video game is set, and she is thrust into a quest in order to save the land for real. The plot itself may be quite straightforward, but there are certain aspects of it that do well to foster an air of mystery about the game, as was customary among NES title in the console’s heyday. It’s a nice touch the developers added that makes the game more enjoyable to play through overall.

Originality – 7/10

Taking everything into account, I was impressed with how many unique aspects there were within this game compared to other classic 2D titles. As someone who first started out playing video games on the NES, my first ever video games being Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, it was refreshing to take a step back from AAA mainstream titles, and play a game that not only hearkens back to the days of gaming simplicity, but also offers something different to any other NES title.

In summation, Alwa’s Awakening is a welcome addition to ever-growing indie scene, and a definitive joy to play. There’s great gameplay, atmospheric visuals, an excellent soundtrack and a level of challenge that will satisfy all classes of third generation gamer.

Score

46.5/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Titan Souls (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita & Android)

Developer(s) – Acid Nerve

Publisher(s) – Devolver Digital

Designer(s) – Mark Foster & Andrew Gleeson

Programmer – Mark Foster

PEGI – 7

Drawing influence from some of the most critically acclaimed gaming franchises of all time such as Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls, and being met with critical acclaim itself following it’s release in 2015, Titan Souls is a top-down adventure game, similar in gameplay style to A Link to the Past, but with much of the same difficulty as Dark Souls. After playing this game for the first time at Play Manchester 2015, I was somewhat sceptical going back into it in an attempt to complete it, since I’d only played the first part prior, and was massively under the impression that things were only going to get insufferably harder after that point. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the game is nowhere near as inaccessible as I feared that it would be, and ended up enjoying it very much.

Graphics – 10/10

Rendered in 16-bit graphics reminiscent of the fourth generation of gaming, the game looks even better than some of the classic titles of that era. Aside from the in-game world looking vibrant, colourful and extremely unique in terms of conceptual design, in both it’s setting and boss characters, the attention to detail regarding the environment, such as shadows in the forests, footprints in the snow and splashes in the water make it extremely enjoyable to take in whilst playing. In addition, due to elements put in such as overgrowing moss on buildings and snow mounts in the colder regions, very little about the in-game world looks replicated like what was typical of games of earlier gaming eras; it’s similar to how each cave in Skyrim was uniquely designed in comparison to how they were designed in Oblivion.

Gameplay – 7.5/10

The objective of the game is to seek out and kill a series of titans situated throughout the land, similar in many ways to Shadow of the Colossus. The player’s only weapon is a single arrow from a bow, which can be telepathically summoned back to the player upon firing, which is where the game’s intense level of challenge comes in. Players need to be able to move and dodge enemy attacks efficiently as much as they to be accurate in placing their attacks. The game can be made to look intimidating in terms of challenge, but speaking as a gamer that considers games like Dark Souls and the original Mega Man and Castlevania titles to be overly inaccessible, I didn’t find it to be unforgiving. Players will need to persevere, since death will happen more than once, especially as the player dies in one hit, but the satisfaction to be had after completing the game makes it more than worthwhile to play. Harder than completing the game is fulfilling the additional criteria during boss fights needed to unlock certain achievement within it; for example, knocking out all of the mountain titan’s teeth before killing it.

Controls – 10/10

Thankfully, there are no issues with the game’s control scheme whatsoever. It came as an especially big relief to me, as I’ve found that many challenging games, most notably in earlier eras of gaming like Castlevania and Mega Man, have suffered from having problems with the controls, which can be an unnecessary annoyance while playing. If a game demands that players need to be on top of their game to complete it, then the developers need to be on top theirs while creating it, I feel. Otherwise, it can largely contradict the point of making a game that hard at all.

Lifespan – 7/10

One playthrough of Titan Souls, depending how often the player gets themselves killed while playing, can be made to last roughly 5 to 6 hours. However, there is some replayability to be had if players want to truly master the game, and do everything there is to do in it, making for a experience lasting around 15 to 20 hours overall. I think with the size of the world the developers incorporated, they could have added a few more side quests to contribute to the game’s longevity, but regardless, the game does last a respectable amount of time for those willing to put as much time in it as possible.

Storyline – 6.5/10

The story of the game follows a nameless traveler armed with a bow and single arrow, on a quest to defeat all the titans throughout the land, in order to harness the power of the titan souls, and realize a great truth and power. What bugs me about the story more than anything is that there is too much left unexplained in my opinion. There’s nothing with a level of ambiguity when it comes to a story, for example if it ends on an interesting cliff-hanger, or if there are certain aspects of characters or plot twists that are left open to debate. But since there does seem to be some kind of mythology attached to this game, I would have liked to find out a lot more about it. Shadow of the Colossus’s plot was somewhat similar, but there was more depth to it than there is in this game, making the players care more about what would be going on, or what would happen to the characters. But where Titan Souls is concerned, I was left wanting in this aspect; at least until a sequel may be developed.

Originality – 7/10

Though Titan Souls may not be the first game to do many of the things that it does by any stretch of the imagination, they are all done with it’s own unique twist which will make gamers, especially seasoned players of retro games, appreciate it to a great extent. It’s open to players both looking for a wondrous sense of nostalgia, as well as younger gamers looking to explore into how gaming used to be, but at the same time, being in for a different kind of experience to what was typically available to gamers back in the days of the Super NES and Mega Drive.

Happii

In summation, Titan Souls is a gaming experience well worth delving into. It’s challenging without being accessible, it’s visuals are marvellous to behold, and though it may be lacking somewhat in story, it provides an ample amount in what matters most; immersing gameplay.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Q&A With Twirlbound

In my ongoing bid to cover more Independently developed games and indie developers, and ahead of my trip to London this weekend for EGX Rezzed, this week lead me to discover a  game on Kickstarter called Pine. Pine, being developed by Twirlbound games operating out of the Netherlands, is an open world survival adventure game made in the same vein as the likes of Don’t Starve, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Horizon Zero dawn. Incorporating many of the same gameplay elements from the aforementioned titled, albeit with it’s own unique graphical style and conceptual design, it also incorporates a combat system heavily influenced by Bloodborne, and from the looks of it, requiring a comparable level of skill and caution to master. This week, I had a Q&A session with the game’s creative director Matthijs van de Laar about what gamers can expect with Pine, and what influenced the game’s creation. Here were his answers:

What were the influences behind your game?

We’ve been mostly inspired by the great action adventure games like The Legend of Zelda and Fable – they tend to strike a chord with people that isn’t being struck enough, we think. Only once every few years a game like that comes by, and there’s still so much to explore within that genre. A very physical, natural feeling to the game was important to us – everything should feel grounded and real, with an easy-to-grasp groundwork of physics and interaction. We look at platformers and jolly action adventures for fun, but we look at more serious games for this grounded look and feel. Some of our team members have credits in cinema, and we all have a general interest in movies and TV – which has been a good influence for Pine’s storytelling, camerawork and rhythm.

What has the developmental process been like?

Starting out as a floating idea about 3 years ago, we’ve done an insane amount of research and prototyping. We wrote several theses on the subjects that are tackled by Pine (mainly about adaptation in game design, machine learning and natural environments), and all that knowledge was brought into a bigger game after graduating last year. It was only when we knew we had something that worked and after thoughtful consideration, that we decided to go at it full time. We worked really hard on the next step, which became Kickstarter – this included trailers, but also a lot of groundwork for the game and systems. Maybe cool to show is this 12-week video of that graduation phase:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhLdiLPQ2Ng

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

The idea process. There is such a wealth of ideas among team members that every meeting is a joy. We’re always bursting with inspiration, and seeing those ideas come to life in the form of environments or specifically the species, is really fun to witness. The alternative evolutionary course of Albamare has been a lot of fun to think about, and we’re not even remotely running out of ideas!

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

Being only with 6, we have to make really important decisions sometimes. It’s important to keep the game small enough, but make it feel like an adventure that can last. We have a very strong vision of what it should play like and what the focus should be, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up with that vision with only the few people we have. The open-world nature of the game has certainly been one of the tougher aspects (e.g. building the island, letting assets stream and simulating the ecology).

How well has the game been received so far?

We’ve always been blown away by the response, actually since the start! For example, we started out with sending out demos only five weeks into the process. We expected a few dozen testers, mainly from our school, but after about 6 weeks we had 3000 testers – people had been sharing it on Reddit and NeoGaf, and we got a lot of good data out of that. Things kept going like that. We went on the Square Enix Collective without any expectations, and became the highest rated project to date. We signed up for the Unity Awards, and in a completely surprising turn of events even won that one! We applied for a small grant and we got it – and now, on Kickstarter, we raced past 50% in 10 days. Like I said, we’re just pretty much blown away sometimes – the demand for a game like Pine seems to be real.

In respect of the game’s theme, do any of the team have any experience of outdoor survival?

Not really, to be honest – we all have been on camping trips before, but no real survival. It’s more about the theme of adaptation, change and evolution for us. We’ve always had an interest in evolution theory, for its beauty and undeniable systems behind it. When we realized these could be translated into a game, the theme took shape even more.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

We’re currently developing on PC, aiming to bring it to Mac, Windows and Linux. But consoles are definitely in the future vision – depending on publishers and the platform holders’ interest in Pine, we really hope we can take consoles into account early on in the process.

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

The only advice I always give to developers or those starting their own company: it’s all about the people you do it with. If I hadn’t met my co-founder Marc early on in high school already, finding out we worked together really well, nothing would have happened. If we hadn’t had such a good cooperation with my companions, Pine wouldn’t have existed. Like Pixar’s president Ed Catmull says: find people you’re intimidated by, professionally. Find those who are absolutely better at things than you are, that’s the only way you can make something truly great! It’s really about the people and what they bring to the table. Recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, be honest to each other!

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

Everywhere! More specifically, we’re on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and email:

http://twitter.com/Twirlbound

http://facebook.com/Twirlbound

http://reddit.com/r/pinegame

pine@twirlbound.com

Do you have anything else to add?

Kickstarter is scary, as you’re putting your whole game AND team online, but it’s so cool to see people engage that it’s all worth it!

Lastly, I would like to thank Matthijs for agreeing to our Q&A, and would like to take this opportunity to wish him the best of luck with the remainder of the Kickstarter campaign.