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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

The 2017 Play Blackpool Special

This month marked the seventh anniversary of Replay Event’s Play Expo at the Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool. Eager to see what Replay Events had in store, I made my way to Blackpool for the third time to see what indie games, guest talks and throwbacks to classic gaming were being showcased at the expo; and I wasn’t disappointed. Following on from last year’s proceedings, a lot of classic games were back, as well as one of last year’s guest speakers, and a few more gaming veterans, along with some more new up and coming developers showing off their latest video game projects; and here’s what Play Blackpool 2017 had to offer.

Bloody Zombies

The first indie game I encountered was a Streets of Rage style beat up set in a post-apocalyptic world entitled Bloody Zombies. Aside from up to four players having to hash it out with zombies along 2D side scrolling environments, one player also wears a VR headset in order to uncover secrets that may be hidden within each stage, and to help the accompanying three players to seek out hidden items for additional points and stronger weapons. A combo system is also incorporated similar to classic fighting games in order for players to compete among one another to see who can earn the highest score at the end of each stage.

The hand-drawn 2D visuals of the game mixed with cel-shaded graphics gives the game diversity in technical design, and although it is generally speaking quite difficult to make a story centred around zombies stand out from a conceptual point of view, the developers of Bloody Zombies, nDreams, have so far done a pretty decent job of it, with things like character and boss designs doing pretty well to stand out. The VR aspect of the game also makes it stand out further, giving it a level of diversity in gameplay never before seen in a 2D beat ‘em up.

 

Mao Mao Castle

Having first laid eyes on this game at Play Manchester last year, Asobi Tech were back to showcase further adjustments made to their on-rail 8-BIT obstacle game Mao Mao Castle. In it, the player controls a ginger cat, be that with a mouse or touchscreen, (or as was showcased at the expo, a motion sensor), the player must guide the cat through obstacles that come towards the player at increasingly high speeds and to survive the constant onslaught for as long as possible. Since the game was showed off in Manchester, new game mechanics have been added; most notably, the inclusion of a power-up that makes the cat temporarily increase in size and bypass ever obstacle effortlessly.

In my opinion, the new mechanics added to the game add a great deal of depth to it, and it also makes it a lot more accessible for entry-level players too, which is needed since it whilst it’s easy to get competitive playing it, speaking from experience, it could be seen as somewhat inaccessible before. But this issue has been fixed with the introduction of the newly implemented gaming features, and I can’t wait to see what the final product has to offer.

All Contact Lost

 

Speaking of challenging games, the next game I tried out at the event was an FPS called All Contact Lost. The object of the game is not too dissimilar to the Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot add-on for the original Borderlands game, whereby players must defend themselves against hoards of oncoming enemies in order to survive for as long as possible and attain the highest score possible. Players have limited time between each round to organise and heal themselves before the next wave is introduced, which get exponentially bigger and harder to deal with in turn.

Amidst a massive influx of FPS games to have hit the gaming industry within the last 20 years, it’s interesting to see how new developers are coming up with new ways to modify the formula and to make playing first-person shooters as enjoyable and as challenging as it ever has been. Where All Contact Lost is concerned, it’s developers, 1st Impact Games, have done a decent job showcasing what could be a potentially insanely addicting game. They told me that their next objective is to add more enemies into the game, which can potentially give it more cause for players to have to adapt to different situations within the game, but it will be interesting to see how 1st Impact implement that.

Medieval Steve

Next, I tried A 2.5D side scrolling game called Medieval Steve developed by jForth Designs. The game was in the early stages of development, but it centred around having to complete various different tasks throughout each level, including collecting hidden items throughout, and even time trials; similar to many features found in modern Super Mario games.

As the game is only in a very early stage of development, there is much more to be added in. But from what I played of the game, I really enjoyed. The time aspect of it was extremely unique compared to many other games to implement similar mechanics like New Super Mario Bros U and Super Smash Bros Melee’s story mode, and with the right amount of attention and further development, it could become a really enjoyable game when its released. If a decent story concept is also added, it could make for a very interesting franchise in years to come too in my opinion.

Space Toads Mayhem        

Space Toads Mayhem was the next game I tried, developed by programmer Lukasz Snopkiewicz. It’s an arcade style bullet hell top-down rail shooter that it insanely addictive, yet gruellingly challenging at the same time. Whilst progressing, players are periodically given a choice between to power-ups, which can either help or hinder the player accordingly dependent on choice the player makes.

In my opinion, this aspect gives the game Roguelike quality to it, which I’ve struggled to find in an arcade game amidst the influx of indie games out there. I’ve seen in other genres with the like of Rogue Legacy and Tower of Guns, but the only other arcade Roguelike I’ve played recently is Don’t Die, Mr Robot. Lukasz was quite surprised to me hear use the word Roguelike to describe his game, but he was intrigued at the same time. It could possibly provide him scope to develop the game later on dependent on when he plans to release it by.

Hyper Sentinel

The last indie game I tried at Play Blackpool this year was a game I’ve grown particularly fond of since I first saw it; Hyper Sentinel created by Huey games under the supervision of Robert Hewson. Combining elements of arcade classics such as Uridium and Bosconian, it involves the player carrying out an assault on different spaceships and taking out it’s weapons and subsidiary ships before having to take on a boss fight at the end.

The game I tried in Blackpool was exactly as how I remember it from the first time I saw it; it was addicting without it being too inaccessible, and it provides a welcome combination of old 8-BIT style visuals with a few modern-day graphical effects thrown in for good measure, such as dynamic lighting. After an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign, the game is edging closer to release, and I personally cant wait to try out the finished product. To read my Q&A with Robert Hewson published during the Kickstarter campaign, follow the link below:

http://scousegamer88.com/2017/03/09/qa-with-huey-games/

David Pleasance

Guest speakers were also present at the event with stories of their time in industry, and what impact it had on them personally, and how their actions and successes changed gaming forever. One such speaker was the former marketing director of Commodore, David Pleasance, (Accompanied by Mark Cale of System 3 Software and Gary Bracey of Ocean Software), whose influence went on to make the Commodore 64 one of the highest selling home computer consoles of the 80s in Europe and beyond following the video game crash of 1983. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, David will be releasing a new book towards the end of the year detailing in greater depth his time with Commodore and the great highs and great lows of his career. Throughout the talk, he discussed his role in the overwhelming sales of the Batman pack for the Amiga 500, and the events that led to the success and downfall of Commodore through the company’s long and storied existence.

With most Play Expos I go to, most often at least one talk given by legends of the industry, and how their influence and actions helped the industry become what it is today, and I always found them to be fascinating as a gamer myself; and David’s talk was no exception. Though I was born towards the end of the third generation of gaming, it’s always enthralling to hear from industry veterans their inside stories and how they shaped the industry into what it is today.

Jim Bagley

As well as home computer consoles having a great impact on gamers during the earlier games of gaming, their influence still continues to impact the current market in a similar way; the subject of the next talk was a case in point. Jim Bagley, a Liverpudlian developer who was at Play Blackpool 2016 detailing his long career developing games for a wide variety of consoles from the ZX80 to the PlayStation 4, was back again this year to discuss another console he has had the pleasure of developing for over the last year; the new ZX Spectrum Next. Announced exclusively last year by the console’s creators at Play Blackpool 2016, Jim Bagley was at the same talk, and immediately asked the team where he could pick up a dev kit. Ever since, he has been programming a number of games intended for released on the system for when the console sees its full release. He also announced his plans to create a series of YouTube videos whereby he will educate viewers how to program video games, whether they have experience or not.

After seeing the ZX Spectrum Next unveiled at last year’s Play Blackpool, I was intrigued to see how after all years, people are still dedicated to developing new games for retro consoles, and how the legacy of the ZX Spectrum has carried on to the current generation of gaming. This year, I found out that many more big-name developers than I first realized have signed up to develop games for the ZX Spectrum next for when it releases, and at the moment, I’m extremely tempted to buy one when it comes out. I never got to play the Spectrum during the console’s heyday, but after having sampled it and other consoles of the same era at many Play expos over the last three years, I’m seriously thinking about starting once the Spectrum Next is released, and I was also very interested in the prospect of learning from Jim Bagley of how to create games at entry level.

Big Boy Barry

The final talk of the expo was with Alex Verrey, AKA Big Boy Barry of the Games World TV program that aired throughout the 90s. Alex gave an extensive account of his time within the gaming industry, his experiences as a presenter, and his thoughts of how the gaming industry has evolved since the fifth generation, as well as his plans for the future. As well as that, he was also hosting tournaments at the expo, as well as taking part in other activities on the main stage.

As a kid, I used to watch Games World a lot of the time, and to meet Big Boy Barry in person was an amazing experience. As an aspiring journalist myself, I took home a great deal of inspiration and advice from Alex’s own experiences of reviewing and discussing video games on a professional level, and that it also reaffirmed my opinion that it’s always about keeping ideas fresh, and to not focus on one thing for too long a time to the point where it becomes stale. The success of the industry and people like Alex has always revolved around introducing new things and keeping a great sense of originality. It’s the same with every successful video game franchise, and it’s also the same with every other success within the industry, just like Alex himself.

 

In summation, Play Blackpool was a fantastic experience as always, and I’m very much looking forward to next year’s proceedings in light of it. The indie games I got to try and critique were outstanding this year, and as I said before, it’s always a pleasure to meet and mingle with so many industry veterans, and to expand my own knowledge of the history of the industry that I love. I will also be attending Play Manchester this year too, but in the meantime, there will be more articles and reviews to come in the preceding weeks.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Oh… Sir! The Hollywood Roast (PC)

Developer(s) – Vile Monarch

Publisher(s) – Gambitious Digital Entertainment

Rating – N/A (Discretion advised)

Following on from Vile Monarch’s previous indie title, Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator, The Holly Roast, takes the franchise into the Hollywood movie industry, and delivers the same level of quirky humour, and the same interesting twist on both turn-based and traditional fighting game combat, and builds on what the first game perpetuated to deliver a greater experience. I first saw this game at EGX Rezzed 2017, and was immediately smitten with it; it drove me to play the original game, but by comparison, the second is even better in my opinion,

Graphics – 7.5/10

The graphics in the series have undergone a significant overhaul compared to the original game, and the characters and setting look even better. There are more varied character and level designs than in The Insult Simulator, deviating away from the Monty Python themes of the first game, and it features a much greater level of detail. It also opens up possibilities in terms of future games in the series, and how they could be based on a wide variety of different subjects.

Gameplay – 7/10

The gameplay of the Hollywood Roast is almost identical to that of The Insult Simulator, but this time round, the developers have added a few new mechanics to the combat system; most notably the comeback ability. Player now have the options to add a comeback onto the end of their insults for bonus points. New comeback can also be unlocked for each character as the game progresses. But the biggest and best new addition to the series is the modding system. Players now have the ability to create new characters and stages within the game, which definitely gives the game an even greater level of variety what I personally thought to be possible after having played the demo.

Controls – 10/10

Just like the original game, there are no issues with the controls whatsoever, with it being a simple point and click game typical of most games that run best on PC.

Originality – 9/10

The Insult Simulator was an original game on it’s own, but The Hollywood Roast still maintains that same level of uniqueness; the difference being between the two of them is that there is far more to play for in the second game. The original demonstrated an entirely new way to play a fighting game, but this title has perfected this new style of play.

Happii

Overall, Oh… Sir! The Hollywood Roast is a more than welcome addition to one of the most unique indie gaming series I’ve ever come across. It’s fun to play, can last even longer than the original with modding possibilities, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Score

33.5/40

8/10 (Good)

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)

Reus (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Abbey Games

Publisher(s) – Abbey Games

Designer(s) – Adriaan Jansens, Dennis Pullens & Nick Witsel

Programmer(s) – Bas Zalmstra, Maarten Wiedenhof, Manuel Kerssemakers, Dennis Pullens, Tim de Jager & Jacco Krijnen

PEGI – 7

Developed and self-published by indie developers Abbey Games, Reus is a unique type of real-time strategy game, whereby the player must create a world and influence the populace to maintain as peaceful a civilization as possible. Overall, I was extremely impressed with how original this game is, and I would recommend it to any fan of the strategy genre who may be wanting a much different experience to what they may normally be used to.

Graphics – 7/10

Making use of hand-drawn 2D graphics, I really like the conceptual design of this game. It gives it a deceptively innocent look about it, when in fact, it can become a wonderfully hectic challenge to maintain civility among the world’s people, and provide resources as and when they’re needed, and to not overdo it in any way. The game’s soundtrack can also add to this depth in deception, as it sounds very peaceful against a potential foreground of problems that muse be solved.

Gameplay – 7/10

The game puts the player in control of four ancient gods, who must be used to create different form of terrain across the planet to allow for the development of civilization, and it’s expansion. The more food and gold mines the people are able to utilize, the more prosperous it’ll be, but more prosperous societies may become greedy and complacent, and be the subject of envy amongst other civilizations that may exist across the world, thereby increasing the risk of conflict between them, and effecting the level of peace throughout the land. Though it may not be the first game to introduce mechanics of the same ilk, as it does draw inspiration from strategy games such as Empire Earth and Sid Meier’s Civilization, it does it in a very different way to either of the aforementioned, and provides a challenge unlike any other.

Controls – 10/10

As a strategy game, it is inevitably best played on PC, as it can be quicker to issue commands to the gods and carry out tasks as and when required through the use of hot keys. But on console, it’s not unplayable; it’s still quite easy to get to grips with the controls, and the overall gameplay system. In fact, it can arguably be seen as a greater challenge playing games like this on console. I felt the same way when I played Tropico 5 on PlayStation 4, and Reus is no exception in my opinion.

Originality – 9/10

To put it simply, I’ve never seen or played a game like this before. It’s 2D graphic design and unique way of playing makes it stand out from every other strategy game ever developed. It gives testament to how willing and capable indie developers are of creating new concepts for games of pre-existing genres. There’s been Don’t Starve, Five Nights at Freddy’s and Super Meat Boy to name but a few, and Reus is as every bit as innovative as those examples in my opinion.

Happii

Overall, Reus is an enjoyable and insanely unique gaming experience that comes highly recommended from me. As a fan of strategy games, I had a lot of fun playing this title, and I’ve no doubt that other strategy game fans will feel a very similar way about it.

Score

33/10

8/10 (Very Good)

Earthlock: Festival of Magic (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One & Wii U)  

Developer(s) – Snowcastle Games

Publisher(s) – Snowcastle Games & Soedesco

Director(s) – Bendik Stang & Fritz Olsen

Producer(s) – Erik Hoftun

PEGI – 12

A turn-based RPG reminiscent of classic Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest games, Earthlock is a game developed by Norwegian outlet Snowcastle Games after securing $250,000 funding amidst a successful Kickstarter campaign, and later published by Soedesco Entertainment; currently one of the most prominent publishers of indie games in, having marketed games like Tower of Guns and Teslagrad to name but a few. Whilst not lasting anywhere near as long as games in the aforementioned tow major RPG series, it retains a lot of the addictive gameplay and satisfaction to be had for developing player characters, as well as a fairly intriguing story set in a wonderfully outlandish world.

Graphics – 7.5/10

The conceptual design of this game speaks to me as a combination of Final Fantasy IX and Star Wars, in that there is the element of futuristic steampunk technology, much like the classic Squaresoft game, and then there’s also the element of different alien species co-existing together, as the character Amon and his uncle Benjo scavenge together at the start of the story; reminiscent of how species exist together in the likes of Star Wars or Mass Effect. Specifically, the desert areas remind me a lot of the planet Tatooine. Though it may not stand out greatly on a technical level, the conceptual design certainly makes up or that.

Gameplay – 8.5/10

Earthlock is a story-driven turn-based RPG; the objective of which is to recruit the main characters to the party, and engage in randomly prompted battles in order to level up each characters to make them as strong as possible, in turn, advancing the main story. In addition, there are also side quests and causes to revisit previous areas, as there are places with stronger monsters, which players need to become stronger over time in order to go back to and explore. Though the gameplay formula has been replicated many times before, Earthlock still gives player a lot to play for in the time that it lasts. It also always addicting to level up characters, and gain new abilities that can be used in combat to achieve more of an edge in battle.

Controls – 10/10

The controls for these games are always very straightforward, and Earthlock is no exception. Exploration and combat are extremely easily to get to grips with, and players will not experience any unnecessary complications while playing. Seeing games like this surfacing within the indie gaming community since the start of the eighth generation has been a breath of fresh air following the unnecessary and frustrating changes made to the combat system in the Final Fantasy games since Final Fantasy XII, and the controls are a massive part of this. Earthlock is a game that gets turn-based combat right in this respect.

Lifespan – 7/10

Earthlock can take on average around 20 hours to complete, but if players are more thorough, and want to do everything possible, it can be made to last around 30 hours, and although this falls short of the average lifespan of a typical turn-based RPG, it’s still more than a reasonably long time for a game to last; especially one that was initially developed on a lower budget than the average mainstream game. To compare it to another, although the game may not have the phenomenal conceptual design of Child of Light, it still lasts a lot longer than a game in the same genre developed by a mainstream company.

Storyline – 7/10

Taking place in the fictional setting of Umbra, the story follows a young man name Amon, a scavenging adventurer, who eventually gets caught up in a huge conflict involving the Suvian Empire. The game’s plot is also quite reminiscent of that of both Final Fantasy IX and Star Wars, as many different characters from a multitude of different backgrounds form an extremely unlikely alliance to save their world from an impending threat. It’s always interesting to see these kinds of stories come together, and Earthlock, albeit to a smaller extent, tells this kind of story well.

Originality – 7/10

Though Earthlock draws a lot of inspiration from many different sources of fantasy and science fiction, as well as many classic series’ of RPGs, it still has a unique level of conceptual design that does well to make it stand out from a great deal of games; most notably in it’s character and enemy designs. Or example, in most Final Fantasy games, most, if not all of the main party, is made of humans, but in this game, almost every playable character is member to an entirely different species, and it makes the game seem extremely diverse in that respect.

Happii

Overall, Earthlock was a very enjoyable game to play, and I would recommend it to any fan of the turn-based RPG formula. It has massive abundance in gameplay and diversity in conceptual design, in addition to an intriguing story that does well to keep players gripped from start to finish.

Score

47/60

7.5/10 (Good)