Tag Archives: Metroidvania

Alwa’s Awakening (PC)

Developer(s) – Elden Pixels

Director – Mikael Forslind

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)

Q&A With Resonator

In my ongoing bid to cover and expose as many different independently developed games and indie studios as possible, I discovered a game currently up on Kickstarter entitled Anew: The Distant Light. An action adventure Metroidvania title, there is a heavy emphasis on combat and exploration, as well as a vibrant science fiction setting that contrasts between the beauty and devastation of an endangered futuristic world. Creating the game are two veteran AAA developers; game director and programmer Steve Copeland and art director and sound designer Jeff Spoonhower, collectively known as Resonator. Between then, Steve and Jeff and worked on a multitude of major gaming releases over the course of fifteen years, including BioShock 2, Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth, Borderlands 2, Command & Conquer and Uncharted: Golden Abyss to name but a few. After reaching out to Resonator, both Steve and Jeff agreed to answer some questions I had about their upcoming game, their Kickstarter program and their past and present developmental experiences. Here’s what they had to say:

What were the influences behind your game?

SC: For me, the classic Metroid games were a big inspiration.  After all, there is a reason our game’s genre is named after it.  You can probably also spot influences from Ori and the Blind Forest, Dark Souls, and Mario Galaxy.  We’re constantly looking for ways to fit fun game mechanics from other genres into Anew: The Distant Light.

JS: I am a big fan of platformers as well. I grew up playing the Mega Man, Mario, and Contra games, so in addition to the non-linear Metroid-style exploration elements, I am excited about including lots of fun platforming elements in Anew.

What has the developmental process been like?

JS: Steve and I have been working on the game, full time, for several years now. It’s been hugely challenging and rewarding. We spent a lot of time up front working on gameplay systems, player mechanics, development tools and pipelines, and we’ve also built a pretty big section of the game world itself. A lot of the struggles up front we the unknowns – “things we didn’t know we didn’t know about” situations. These were mainly technical in nature, so it was tough to anticipate how long it would take to solve them. We’re happy to say we’ve largely moved through that phase of production and are concentrating on creating content and filling out the game world.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

SC: A lot of that will depend on how funding goes.  We’re expecting to complete the PC version in about a year, but if we have to stop work to look for investors or a publisher, it will tend to slow things down quite a bit.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

JS: For me, several things. For one, overcoming difficult technical and artistic challenges, learning a lot, and growing as an artist and designer has been tremendously rewarding. I am also very proud of the world we are creating. We hope that players will find it not only fun to play in, but also visually interesting and enticing to explore and discover. It’s been awesome to be able to tell people that just two people have built the game from the ground up.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

SC: With just two people making the game, it can be exhausting to cover all of the needed roles in development and business.  If we could afford to, we’d hire some help.

JS: The number of “hats” Steve and I wear, as far as the roles we are playing in production, is pretty overwhelming. We are each doing the work of 5-10 employees in a traditional studio production! It’s been tiring, and often times stressful to have to rapidly switch between these roles on a daily or weekly basis.

How well has the game been received so far?

SC: Feedback has been very positive on all fronts and in all contexts, especially so when demoing in person at trade shows where players can feel the agility and depth built into Anew.  We’re proud to have received the Audience Choice Award at Comicon Phoenix and I think Jeff sleeps with the golden controller under his pillow.]

JS: Haha, yeah the golden sheen is starting to wear off. In all seriousness, we are thrilled with the response Anew has received so far. On a personal level, I am so happy that people have responded positively to the look and feel of the game. It’s been my goal to design a world that looks and sounds truly alien and unfamiliar. Those two words have come up repeatedly in press articles we’ve received, so I feel like I’m doing something right.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

SC: We’re leading with PC, including Steam and at least one non-DRM platform for PC.  If our Kickstarter succeeds, we’re also committing to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.  We also have a stretch goal that will fund research for porting to Nintendo Switch.

How have your past developmental experiences influenced Anew: The Distant Light?

JS: Our prior AAA studio experience has directly impacted the development of Anew. Steve and I learned a tremendous amount working on games over the past 15 plus years. That includes not only the nitty-gritty of the crafts we practice on a day-to-day basis (modelling, texturing, animating, lighting, programming, designing, tools development, marketing, etc) but how to set realistic goals and achieve them. We were both senior/lead developers on projects, so we know how important it is to properly schedule a project, and avoid common development pitfalls like feature creep and over-scoping. We try to bring everything we’ve learned on these big studio projects to the production of our indie game.

Outside of indie development, what would you say yours and Steve’s favourite projects to have worked on throughout the years?

SC: It was cool to get to work on games related to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.  I’m proud of having had a small influence on Command & Conquer: Generals Zero Hour, which RTS fans still talk about nostalgically.  Many of those projects required crushing amounts of hours worked in a week, so it’s hard to call one a favorite in light of that.

JS: I’m really proud of all the games I’ve worked on. Making games is a huge struggle, so I feel like shipping each one has been quite an accomplishment. As a personal fan of the BioShock and Uncharted series, I really got a kick out of working on BioShock 2 and Uncharted: Golden: Abyss.

Has having creative freedom made working on Anew: The Distant Light feel like a better experience than any other?

SC: On the creative freedom front, yes it’s been the best game development experience I’ve had.

JS: Yes, the creative freedom of making our own game has been very liberating. That freedom comes at a high cost though. We have taken on a great deal of financial risk, and are pretty much working on the game all the time! It’s a big commitment and we have sacrificed a great deal in our personal and professional lives to make it a reality.

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

SC: I’d advise them to make and complete things with very small scope before getting super ambitious.

JS: Agreed. Try and find the one or two things you really enjoy doing (be it art or programming), and then really dive head-first into practicing those crafts. It requires a lot of patience and persistence to get good at this stuff. At the end of the day, if you want to get a job in games, you’ll need to show a potential employer that you work is of extremely high quality, and would fit into the type of games they are making.

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

JS: We are currently on Kickstarter through March 19th, 11:59pm

SC: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1799572177/anew-the-distant-light. Our official website is:www.anewthegame.com. We are also on Facebook and Twitter at @anewthegame.

Do you have anything else to add?

SC: Please check out our Kickstarter!  If you like games with action and exploration, mystery, and a high skill cap, you’ll find a lot to like about Anew: The Distant Light.  We’re making a game that will scratch the itch for Metroidvania fans, while also bringing some fresh gameplay to the genre with giant mechs and other vehicles that you can pilot, an upgradable home ship, and exotic environments that play quite differently from each other.

Lastly, I would like to thank both Steve and Jeff for agreeing to answer my questions, and to wish them best of luck with Anew: The Distant Light. I would highly recommend that any gamer who may be looking for an upcoming Metroidvania title to check out their Kickstarter page, and back the project. Looking at early footage of it, I myself am extremely excited for the game’s release, and cannot wait to play the finished game.

Xeodrifter (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, 3DS & Wii U)

Developer(s) – Renegade Kid

Publisher(s) – Renegade Kid, Gambitious Digital & Entertainment

Director(s) – Jools Watsham

Programmer – Matthew Gambrell

Developed as a love letter to the Metroid series, Xeodrifter is a Metroidvania game with emphasis on exploration and intense combat, as well as including a small RPG element in the facility to upgrade weapons and learn new abilities as the game progresses. For the small amount of time it takes to complete this game, I was impressed with how it plays out, but underwhelmed by just how fleeting an experience it is, with the game ultimately leaving wanting a lot more than what was on offer.

Graphics – 7/10

Making use of intricately detailed 8-BIT environments and a dark and gritty atmosphere, the game is set on four different planets with their own unique looks and surroundings, and does extremely well to perpetuate the feeling of isolation that is synonymous with games like this; Super Metroid and The Swapper to name but a few. The biggest gripe I have with it in terms of visual presentation is the lack of variety in boss designs, with the developers choosing to simply recycle the same character sprite, but colouring it differently, and giving it different abilities with each battle. But although there is a lack in variation in boss design, there certainly isn’t in general enemy design, as there is a wide range of different creatures to fight throughout the course of the game, keeping things fresh for the most part.

Gameplay – 8/10

More impressive than the visuals, however, is how the game plays out. The combat involved in the game is just as intense and enjoyable as in the original Metroid; if not, more so. There is a wide range of weapons for players to utilize, as well a satisfyingly strong puzzle element to the game, with players having to use different abilities in order to progress through different areas, giving scope for players to revisit previously explored planets in order to uncover secrets other inaccessible without the aid of specific abilities, thus expanding what longevity there is to be had. Whilst the bosses are largely repetitious, they are also legitimately challenging; especially the final boss.

Controls – 10/10

Though this gameplay formula had been popularised and developed upon for over thirty years until this game was released, the developers did well to not only program the game’s control scheme properly, but also to build upon the formula, implementing unique features such as shifting from the foreground to the background, and vehicular exploration and combat, as well as travelling and fighting on foot. Unlike in a lot of many 2D side scrollers to have been released in the past such as Mega Man and Castlevania, the controls are also adequately responsive, and don’t perpetuate any unnecessary frustrations in-game.

Lifespan – 1/10

The worst thing about this game, unfortunately, is how short a time it lasts, with it lasting an average of merely 2 hours. It may have been impressive back in 1986, when Metroid first came out, but against most other Metroidvania games released since, such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Dust: An Elysian Tail, there’s no way it would possibly be able to compare in a positive sense. Personally, I think that even the aforementioned games could have done with lasting a little longer than they ended up doing, making a 2-hour Metroidvania seem especially unacceptable.

Storyline – 6/10

The game’s story can best be described as Metroid meets Pikmin. It follows an astronaut whose ship is damaged by an asteroid, and crash-lands on an uncharted world, and he must find each of the missing pieces to repair it. It’s very simple in scope, and it features next to nothing in the way of the usual tropes of a modern in-game narrative, but the majority of games released in the time that this game is reminiscent of didn’t either, and so I don’t think it should lose out on too many points as a result. Personally, I would much rather have a game include standout gameplay over a standout storyline.

Originality – 7/10

Though this game was clearly inspired by many classics of the genre, most notably the Metroid series of course, in terms of gameplay, it offers something fairly different to what other Metroidvania games do, and I believe there is indeed potential to make a franchise out of this title, and potential to build upon what is offered within it in a possible sequel. Though it may stand out as one of the shortest games of it’s kind ever developed, it stands out somewhat for the wrong reasons as a result.

Niiutral

Niiutral

Overall, Xeodrifter is an intensely enjoyable, yet criminally short game. I think that with a much larger in-game world to explore and even more to do, a sequel could be considered a classic; but if the developers plan to leave this series as it is, then they will have provided nowhere near enough of an experience to warrant any more than one playthrough.

Score

39/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

The Swapper (PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 & PlayStation Vita)

Developer(s) – Facepalm Games & Curve Studios

Publisher(s) – Facepalm Games

Writer – Tom Jubert

The Swapper combines elements of puzzle games and the 2D side scrolling open world aesthetics of a Metroidvania game. Me talking about this game in the same breath as the likes of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night may make the game sound exciting, but even with the inclusion of semi-open world, it doesn’t even come close to matching the quality of the aforementioned examples.

Graphics – 10/10

The most praise I can offer this game is in its visuals; they are more or less flawless. There are no graphical glitches, the design of the settings is wonderfully unique and the attention to detail on the developer’s part is staggering. There is also very effective use of textures such as lighting and shadows to add to the overall atmosphere of the game. Though it isn’t a survival horror, there is a heightened sense of urgency throughout that perhaps the player will feel in a much more different way than in the likes of Resident Evil 4 or Silent Hill. The game’s visual concept does draw similarities with Dead Space in it’s character designs, but there are plenty more differences to make it stand out in at least this sense.

Gameplay – 5/10

One way in which the game doesn’t stand out, however, and the one aspect it should have done to attain the most important points in my opinion, is in its gameplay. Players have to solve puzzles throughout by duplicating the player character and swapping in between the duplicates to perform multiple tasks at the same time. There is also one side quests, which involves finding a series of terminals giving details of the game’s back story, as well as ten additional hidden terminals throughout the game. Taking into account the size of the in-game world, and the amount of space available to include additional content, I don’t think there is anywhere near enough substance in gameplay compared to what could have potentially been added, and there is hardly any incentive for completing the game’s one side quests unless you happen to be playing it on a PlayStation console; in which case, there are PlayStation trophies to collect for each hidden terminal found.

Controls – 10/10

As a formula long-since perfected, there should have been no issues with the control scheme in any case, and so there aren’t. But it is also interesting to see how the developers have added some interesting gameplay mechanics to the 2D side-scrolling formula.

Lifespan – 1/10

Due to it’s lack of substance in gameplay, and it’s main focus being put on story (indeed, where there is normally a director and producer listed on most video game Wikipedia pages, there is only a writer on the Swapper’s page), this title can only be made to last two and a half hours tops, which, especially for an open-world game, is unacceptable. Since there was clearly room for so much more to be added, it seemed to me like that much more of an incredibly fleeting experience.

Storyline – 7/10

In a time when humanity’s natural resources on Earth have been exhausted, and they have resorted to deep space exploration to keep themselves alive, the story of the Swapper follows a person who lands on the planet Chori V and investigates a derelict ship called the Theseus. But in typical science fiction fashion, he/she ends up finding more than what they bargained for, and the unnamed person resolves to escape the ship with his/her life, and from the watchers; a murderous race of minerals with rudimentary intelligence, who had killed the initial crew of the Theseus. The story is interesting to follow from beginning to middle, but although I wont give away what happens at the end, I will say how I felt so jaded by it. There is a choice for the player to make at the end, but either way, it makes the story seem ultimately pointless. If the player makes one out of the two choices, another character even closes the game wit h the line “does it really matter anymore?” It makes me hope that there will be a sequel, albeit with major improvements to gameplay, that will elaborate on the game’s mythology. Otherwise, I think the developers may very well have ended up shooting themselves in the foot by making other gamers feel the same way.

Originality – 6/10

Despite the visuals of the game being top-notch in my eyes, and some standout modifications to the 2D side scrolling formula, in terms of overall gameplay, it seems neither evolutionary nor revolutionary. Great Metroidvania games have come and gone, such as Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow, and even some of the latest generations have yielded a few, such as the re-vamped Strider and Dust: An Elysian Tail. But It’s fair to me to say that this title doesn’t fall under that category.

Angrii

Angrii

To summarize, The Swapper is a much worse game than I previously thought whilst broadcasting it on Twitch earlier this week. Despite being impressed by its visuals and attention to detail, I hadn’t realized how short and lacking in substance it was, and I always begrudge video games like that being released in the first place.

Score

34/60

5.5/10 (Below Average)

Terraria (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation Network, Windows Phone, Wii U, Android & iOS)

Developer(s) – Re-Logic, Engine Software & Codeglue

Publisher(s) – Re-Logic, 505 Games & Spike Chunsoft

Programmer – Andrew “Redigit” Spinks

Producer – Jeremy Guerette

Terraria is a 2D platforming sandbox game, whereby the idea is to explore a huge open environment (including underground), build a house to accommodate non-playable characters such as a merchant, a demolitionist and a nurse, and to fend off waves of hostiles that try to attack either the player or their house. Whilst it is very addictive in gameplay and lasts only as long as player interest, there are other faults which hamper the game to an extent, but nowhere near the extent to make it unplayable; by any stretch of the imagination.

Graphics – 6/10

Visually, this game is a nice throwback to the era of both the SNES and the Mega Drive, as it’s rife with 16-bit sprites and environments. The main concern I have regarding the graphics is that whilst it may seem unique to a lot of younger gamers, as they may not have played games from the 16-bit era, older gamers may not be so smitten by the visuals, as there is not that much unique about it in a conceptual sense. Most of the enemies found in the game pretty generic and typical, including zombies, vampires, skeletons and even slimes, which have been a stable element in the Dragon Quest series for years. The most unique enemies in the game are without a doubt the demon eyes, which are floating eyeballs that attack people. Even the Wall of Flesh, the hardest enemy in the game, doesn’t seem overly original compared to other monsters of its kind that have been seen in video games prior, such as Melchiah from Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver or the Mother Brain from Metroid. For the most part, the enemies are pretty typical, but nevertheless, the 16-bit graphics are nicely rendered and to an extent, I could appreciate that the developers were trying to make the game stand out from a graphical point of view.

Gameplay – 8/10

The fact that the game’s conceptual design is pretty weak doesn’t at all change the fact that it is an absolute joy to play once players become immersed. I is extremely addictive, and it can obligate players to continue playing, whilst they may not be making progress in the conventional sense; a gameplay element very reminiscent of The Elder Scrolls series. However, it will take some getting into. A lot like Minecraft or Don’t Starve, it’s not strictly self-explanatory. I would recommend getting tips on how to play it effectively before trying it. At first, I saw little point in carrying on with this game, as from first impressions, it seemed like things were moving to slowly. I then watched a few videos of people playing it and a few tutorials, and I decided to give it another go. Before I knew it, it was half past 2 in the morning. Although at first I struggled to understand exactly what this game had going for it in terms of gameplay, it grew on me, and I came to be impressed with what there was on offer. I have played very few 2D side scrollers that offer this level of exploration and freedom, and whilst its not a very original idea in general, I enjoy playing it.

Controls – 9.5/10

Another thing that initially annoyed me was the mechanic of building and mining in this game. It took me a while to figure out how to do it as effectively as possible, and I was about to run out of patience when I accidentally discovered that the analogue stick can be used to switch between two ways of building and mining when it’s pushed down. But as I said, I found that out by chance and it wasn’t self-explanatory. I guess by that logic, however, it would be much easier to play this game on a PC. But anyone reading this who is thinking of trying the game will now know, and there aren’t any other problems to address at all.

Lifespan – 10/10

As I previously wrote, this game will only last as long as player’s interest, and given this game’s level of addiction and variety, that should indeed be a particularly long time. There is no obligation to complete the main objective at hand, and players will be encouraged to make other form of progress in order to pass the time, such as building a bigger and better house. I, for example, have dedicated time to simply making an underground network simply to be able to explore the depths of the in-game world more easily.

Storyline – N/A (10/10)

One thing I tend to keep in mind whilst critiquing a video game is that not every game has to have a story in order for it to be good. Therefore, if a game doesn’t have a story, but didn’t necessarily need one, It won’t lose any marks and will attain a perfect score in that axiom of judgement. There is no point criticizing a game for not having an element that it didn’t need; and Terraria is certainly one of these games. When I reviewed Don’t Starve some time ago, I thought that it didn’t have to have a story at all; but the fact of the matter is that it’s there, and it’s just not elaborated on very much; and so it lost marks. But with Terraria, there is no story; nor did it need one. Therefore there is no need for it to lose marks.

Originality – 4/10

This is the aspect in which the game was left wanting in my opinion. As I said, although it is addictive and fun to play, the developer’s desire to incorporate uniqueness in the visuals with the 16-bit style wasn’t fully realized the way I see it, as it was pretty weak in conceptual design with few standout enemies or visual elements. It’s because of this that I’m sceptical that it would’ve stood out if the game was actually released in the 16-bit era.

Happii

Happii

In summation, aside from Terraria’s lack of visual uniqueness, and in terms of gameplay, whilst it does indeed borrow elements from Minecraft and the Metroidvania style of play, and therefore lacks the feel of a fully cohesive concept, it was still fun to play and one of the more addictive games I’ve played in recent times, and it’s definitely worth the very generous asking price attached to it.

Score

47.5/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Strider (Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Double Helix Games & Capcom Osaka Studios

Publisher(s) – Capcom

Director – Koji Oda

Producer(s) – Andrew Szymansky & James Vance

A re-vamp of the classic arcade series, Strider incorporates elements from the first two games, the Marvel Vs Capcom series, and the original manga, and delivers a pretty intense and enjoyable gaming experience worthy of the eighth generation. Though it has its flaws, Strider has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews and acclaim, and I also enjoyed it for a number of different reasons.

Graphics – 7/10

To me, the visuals have somewhat of a Street Fighter IV feel to them, in some of the characters exaggerated features and many of the futuristic settings. But for me, the elements that stood out the most were a lot of the boss fights, such as The Armoured Dragon and the Mutant Millipede. I think the bosses also give the game a Metroid feel to it, which is always a plus. The main issue I had with the visuals was that the scenery and style seemed to get a little bit repetitive; especially towards the end. But on the other hand, it’s also interesting to see how true the developers have stayed to the original source material and by the same token, true to fans of the original series.

Gameplay – 8/10

I can safely say that Strider is unlike any other side scroller I’ve played. The gameplay is exhilarating as well as being incredibly fast-paced. I never used to think that overwhelming speed could work in side scrollers after playing Sonic the Hedgehog (Which I will be talking extensively about next week), but after playing this, I think I’ve been proven thoroughly wrong. On top of that, I found that the game also provides a very legitimate level of challenge; on the level that I would perhaps liked to have seen the original Mega Man and Castlevania games provide, as opposed to them being so overly hard that it would deter people from playing them through word of mouth alone. Furthermore, unlike many other side scrolling games, there is also a fair bit of exploration involved in order to unlock such things as enemy info and concept art.

Controls – 10/10

Although it would have been expected that there wouldn’t be any problems with the game’s control scheme, the 2D side scrolling formula having been long since perfected, this game also had certain mechanics that I hadn’t ever seen in the genre, or mechanics I hadn’t seen in later-generation games in the genre prior to Strider, such as the ability to climb up walls or across ceilings. So in that respect at least, the game is also made to seem fairly unique too.

Lifespan – 7/10

At 6 hours, Strider does last much longer than the average side scroller and as I mentioned before, there are a fair few side quests to undertake whilst playing through it, but it did seem to me like somewhat of a fleeting experience just for how fast-paced the game is, and by that token, it did leave me wanting more at the end of it all. I would like to have seen more content, or perhaps more content in a sequel, which I think could happen given how much interest has been taken in this game.

Storyline – 5/10

In what is essentially a re-telling of the events of the first game, Strider Hiryu, the best assassins of the Strider organization, is dispatched to defeat the game’s villain, Grandmaster Meio in Kazakh City. To me, it’s all pretty bog standard and typical of a 2D side scrolling game, but the worst thing is that because gameplay is so fast and engrossing, not much time is given to gamers to actually think about whats happening; everything just seems to happen in the background. But of course, I’d rather a game have more focus on gameplay than story, which is why Strider doesn’t suffer too much because of it.

Originality – 6/10

For a game that stayed true to the source material as much as this, I’d also say that there is a fair bit in it to differentiate it from others. There is, as I said before, the unique side scrolling control mechanics as well as a lot of the boss designs. But what I approve of most is the fact that the developers have perpetuated the trend that gameplay should come before all else. Though the conceptual design is largely based on the original games and not much new has been brought to the table in that respect, it certainly stands out among many other games on the market today.

Happii

Happii

To summarize, Strider as fast, intense and enjoyable, and I would recommend it to anyone who owns any of the consoles the game is tailored for. With satisfying gameplay and very decent and challenging boss fights, it’s worth one playthrough at the very least.

Score

43/60

7/10 (Fair)

Guacamelee (PC, Xbox 260, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita & Wii U)

Developer(s) – DrinkBox Studios

Publisher(s) – DrinkBox Studios

Developed by a privately operated games developer, DrinkBox Studios, Guacamelee is a Metroidvania game, but with a different approach to combat; it being much more akin to a conventional fighting game, which admittedly, is what I was expecting it to be at first. I was pleasantly surprised to discover just what kind of a game it is; one that’s rich in conceptual design, and very pleasing to play.

Graphics – 8/10

The visual style of the game is heavily based on Mexican culture and mythology; similar to Grim Fandango. Both game revolve around Mexico’s variation of Halloween, or the Day of the Dead as they call it. But aside from that, the game is also rife with references to other video games. They are predominantly Mario references, but there are also references to The Legend of Zelda, Street Fighter and Super Meat Boy to name but a few. It can be quite fun to try and spot each of them as the game progresses.

Gameplay – 7/10

The game’s combat and additional abilities reminded me somewhat of Dust: An Elysian Tail, but whilst it isn’t quite as enjoyable to play as the former, it still has a decent amount of substance, with side quests and the traditional trope of having to unlock each area with new abilities. It also has variety in the many different moves that can be learnt to improve player’s chances of survival throughout the game. It can also be quite the challenging in that different tactics must be employed to accommodate for different kinds of enemies throughout the game.

Controls – 10/10

Since 2D side scrollers have been replicated time and again throughout gaming history, there should never have been a problem with this game’s control scheme. And so there aren’t any. However, it is interesting to see what modifications this game makes to the formula, and how it takes ideas from many other different kinds if games to form it’s own fully cohesive concept.

Lifespan – 6/10

Clocking in at around 10 to 15, it lasts only the average lifespan of a 2D open world side scroller, and whilst it isn’t terrible, it always makes me a little bit disappointed, since I’ve always believed that they can be made to last considerably longer; ever since the time I first played through Symphony of the Night. A game of its kind with enough side quests could theoretically be made to last as long as 3D adventure games, but I think the majority of that has to do with developer’s imagination.

Storyline – 7/10

Reminiscent of Super Mario Bros, the player is put in the shoes of a farmer named Juan Aguacate, who in love with El Presidente’s daughter, resolves to rescue her after she is taken by the evil charro skeleton, Carlos Calaca. Whilst the overall plot of the game is fairly straightforward, there is a bit more to it than the hero saving the damsel in distress. Each villain, for example, have their personalities and traits projected in much more abstract ways than they do in Mario games, and whilst the protagonist may be silent, his struggle to complete his objectives are much more apparent.

Originality – 7/10

Though most games of this kind play out extremely similarly to each other, this game stands out for a number of different reasons; but the most prominent thing by far is it’s sophisticated combat system. It took me completely by surprise that such a traditional video game could have so much variety packed into it, and would be able to exceed the quality of many decent 2D side scrollers to have come and gone over the years.

In summation, Guacamelee is one of the best indie games I’ve played throughout this generation of gaming so far. It’s a much different game than what I was originally expecting, and is a must-try for any fans of the genre.

Score

45/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Dust: An Elysian Tail (Xbox 360, PC & PlayStation 4)

Developer(s) – Humble Hearts

Publisher(s) – Microsoft Studios

Designer – Dean Dodrill

Dust: An Elysian Tail is a Metroidvania-styled game with elements of exploration, immersing combat and one of the best video game narratives I’ve seen in the eighth generation so far. Though it is officially classed as a beat ‘em up, it makes more sense to classify it as a hack and slash game, since combat heavily revolves around the use of a sword, which warrants a level of violence surprisingly high for a 7-rated title. But that’s not to say it isn’t bad, by any means.

Graphics – 9/10

The game takes place in a beautifully designed world called Falana. There are peaceful villages, gloomy meadows, icy and fiery mountains and frighteningly dark caves. The scenery and style of the game is amazing, providing a great deal of variety, and speaking of attention to detail. The artistic style of the game blends elements of Japanese animation with some of western animation too. For example, the deers in The Glade are very reminiscent of the classic Disney film Bambi, and most of the more pivotal characters are similar in design and personality to many of the works of Studio Ghibli. Some enemies are palette-swapped, but for the most part, there is also a great level of diversity in enemy design too, presenting different kinds of monsters suited to whichever environment they can be found in.

Gameplay – 8/10

To match the graphics, the gameplay is also extremely enjoyable and immersing. I lieu of Metroidvania tradition, there is also a very decent amount of side quests thrown in for good measure to keep players busy, and providing cause to revisit previous locations to uncover hidden secrets scattered throughout. Although there is a lot of button mashing involved, typical of most beat ‘em up or hack and slash games, there is also a fair bit of incentive on offer to players for hacking through enemies in the form of levelling up the player characters and finding blueprints for new weapons and armour to take to the blacksmith for forging. But what I like most about how this game has been developed is that there is a very even balance between gameplay and story. In an industry whereby most AAA titles incorporate more story than is perhaps needed in my opinion, it good that Humble Hearts haven’t followed suit.

Controls – 9.5/10

The only minor problem I have with the game’s control scheme is that it can sometime be awkward to traverse platforms upwards. Some protrusions in levels acting as platforms can be quite subtle, which give the game a certain charm, but sometimes it can be hard to determine where exactly on a platform the character needs to land to traverse it. But other than this one small issue, there are no others. It’s actually very impressive how the developers have managed the combat and special move mechanics.

Lifespan – 6/10

The biggest problem I have with this game is how short a time it lasts for something so brilliant. On average, it can take about 12 hours to complete the game to 100%, and that left me wanting so much more at the end. I’ve had the same problem with a few games to have been released this year, such as South Park: The Stick of Truth and Child of Light, and it does dismay me that great gaming experience likes these were also made to be particularly fleeting compared to other great games made in the same vein. I’m hoping, however, that this is where the sequel comes in.

Storyline – 9/10

The game’s narrative involves the player character Dust who is awakened by an anthropomorphic sword called the Blade of Ahrah, and its protector, a small flying creature called Fidget. Unsure of who he is, and why he is where he is, Dust, along with Fidget and the sword, resolves to find answers, which takes him on a quest to stop a looming threat to the and of Falana. There are several prominent things that make the story of the game one of the best I’ve experienced for some time; among them being character development. Dust, in particular is portrayed in a very realistic manner irrespective of many other video game heroes, such as Mario and Link. Overtime, the character develops in such wonderful ways, as he is not always completely successful in his endeavours, and comes to accept that the fact that he is not perfect, and can only do his best, and nothing more. The audience will also be made to think for themselves about what kind of person Dust is, and whether or not he will have it in him in the end to do what he has set out to do.

Aside from presenting a strong level of violence, there are aspects and themes present in the story, which cover a lot of mature and morose subjects at times, such as corruption, personal morality, death and disillusionment, making me further question whether this game is actually 100% suitable for it’s appropriated audience. But on the other hand, this isn’t a bad thing, as it can potentially teach children a very valuable lesson. Of course, an integral part of growing up is learning that adults aren’t perfect, and I think this game handles that subject matter extremely well. Even Fidget, a character I found to be annoying at first, does develop into a lot more respectable character; even providing an element of comic relief at times.

Originality – 8/10

Although the gameplay mechanics do have strong influence from the likes of Super Metroid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and even Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, the game is insanely unique in terms of both visuals and story, and covers a lot of topics that few games do. Few games have also managed to impress me in the same way as this one has, and has artistic merit comparable to only the most imaginative video game titles out there, such as Shadow of the Colossus or Legacy of Kain.

Happii

Happii

Overall, Dust: An Elysian Tail is one of he best games I’ve played on the PlayStation 4 so far, and it comes highly recommended from me. It can easily immerse players in its enjoyable gameplay, stunning visual style and extremely deep and imaginative story. Dean Dodrill has highlighted that he has many ideas for how he would to develop a sequel to the series, but the first game has served as a very impressive starting point.

Score

49.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation & Sega Saturn)

Developer(s) – Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo & Konami Computer Entertainment Nagoya

Publisher(s) – Konami

Director – Toru Hagihara

Producer – Toru Hagihara

Symphony of the Night is often regarded as the commercial and artistic pinnacle of the entire Castlevania series. At the time of its release, 2D gaming was going out of fashion, and 3D gaming was considered the next best thing; the future of the industry. For a lot of people, Symphony of the Night served as a reminder that traditional 2D side scrolling video games can still be played and enjoyed regardless of what style might be the more popular, and it also left a lasting legacy behind, as the release of the game prompted the coinage of the term Metroidvania, for the style of play that involves 2D open-word exploration. After finally playing this game, I can say that I haven’t been disappointed, although it did leave me wanting more at the end.

Graphics – 9/10

Symphony of the Night also sent out a significant message to do with visuals in video games; that they should be judged not by their level of graphical advancement, but by their artistic merit. And this game certainly delivers on artistic merit. The environments in this game are wonderfully designed, and add to the atmosphere very effectively. A lot of gloomy and scary-looking locations such as the library, as well as the outlandish roster of enemies throughout, certainly make the game look original as well as excellent in terms of conceptual design. I think the most annoying enemies in the game are the flaming ghosts, that make particularly annoying sounds when they die, but that’s not down to visuals at all, but the sound. And the game certainly makes up for that in it’s stellar soundtrack.

Gameplay – 9/10

As this game coined an extremely popular gaming term, it was always going to have at least some depth to it; and I wasn’t disappointed. As I said, it’s rare that I’ve seen this level of freedom in a 2D side scrolling game, and it makes me regret that I didn’t try when it first came out. In terms of combat, the game is fairly challenging in lieu of the franchise’s tradition, but the true satisfaction to be had is from levelling up the character as the player progresses. It’s that RPG element that the makes the game evermore appealing to me. Although it can seem repetitive at times and that it does get somewhat easier later on, I’d rather have it that way than it be impossibly hard like the original trilogy was.

Controls – 10/10

In terms of controls, I’m happy to say that there are no problems with them. Players should not experience any difficulty with them as far as I’m concerned. This game was released at a time when countless 2D side scrolling games had been released prior, so it was to be expected that there would be no issues with the control scheme, and there aren’t any.

Lifespan – 6/10

In my opinion, Symphony of the Night doesn’t last anywhere near long enough, and like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it left me wanting a whole lot more. A first playthrough may take around 15 hours to complete, which to me, for the amount of depth there is in gameplay, is unacceptable. Although that is fairly long for a 2D side scroller, I’m confident that more could’ve been more added to it.

Storyline – 7.5/10

Whilst most entries in the series before focused solely on the Belmont family resolving to defeat Dracula, Symphony of the night follows Dracula’s son, Alucard, who is questing to stop Dracula’s resurrection and finds himself in various different situations throughout Dracula’s castle along the way. It’s a positive departure from what was typically found in previous entries in the series in that the story has a lot more depth to it. The one bad thing I would say about it is that the voice acting is pretty bad in some instances; even in the latest versions of the game, which were re-dubbed by different actors and actresses.

Originality – 8/10

A portion of this game’s staggering level of uniqueness can be found in its conceptual design, and in the multitude of different enemies to fight, but of course, the main reason why this game stands out well among other is in it’s gameplay. The reason why it has left behind such a legacy is that its considered its own genre by some; Metroidvania. Although Super Metroid, the other game that this term stems from, came first out of the two, Symphony of the Night in effect kept the 2D side scrolling genre alive, and helped to inspire the development of many future games of its kind after it had been abandoned for some time.

To summarize, whilst it doesn’t last anywhere ear as long as it should have done in my opinion, Symphony of the Night is most definitely worth playing through at least once or twice. It’s an important piece of gaming history as well as a particularly enjoyable title.

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Apotheon (PlayStation 4 & PC)

Developer(s) – Alientrap Games

Publisher(s) – Alientrap Games

Apotheon is an open world 2D side scrolling game set in the time of Ancient Greece, with a heavily emphasis on exploration, combat and item hoarding. Although I do have one or two issues with this game, it was pretty enjoyable overall, and I would recommend it to any fan of the genre, as well as anyone with a PlayStation 4.

Graphics – 8/10

The visuals of the game take on an art style very reminiscent of Ancient Greek artwork, resembling the many different patterns and artistic impressions typically found on Ancient Greek pottery, such as red and black figures, and incorporating prominent artistic practices of the time, such as the white ground technique. As far as gaming goes, I’ve only seen something resembling this visual style in both God of War III and God of War Ascension, but this game offers a much more different take on it, and it works remarkably well to set the tone for the overall game; as does the great soundtrack.

Gameplay – 8/10

Primarily incorporating intense combat and open world exploration, a game like this always suits well with me, and it will serve to keep many others highly entertained for it’s duration. There are secrets across the game to uncover as well as collectible items, improvements to weapons and armour, and a good few side quests thrown in for good measure. The game also has a small Elder Scrolls feel to it, in the sense that there are laws to break throughout Mount Olympus, and that acts of violence and theft will be met with force, with the players being given the choice of either paying a fine or resisting arrest, which for a Metroidvania game, is pretty unique.

Controls – 8/10

The only gripes I have with the games control scheme are to do with character movement. Sometimes, after the player has moved the player character, he can just keep on moving automatically, and it can become pretty annoying at times when trying to perform stealth kills etc. I can also be unnecessarily tricky to move up and down stairs at time too. Otherwise, there are no other issues. The combat scheme is actually pretty sophisticated, and it can take some lateral thinking to overcome.

Lifespan – 5/10

Unfortunately, in lieu of what seems to be the tradition of Metroidvania games, this title can only be made to last for about 6 hours; despite it’s heavy emphasis on exploration, which made me even more disappointed than normal. I’ve always though that a 2D open world game is more than capable of lasting just as long as a 3D open world game, if not more so, but there haven’t been very many developers to have agreed with that particular ideal over the years. One of the longest games in the same breath as Apotheon I’ve ever played is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and that only lasts around 20 to 25 hours.

Storyline – 7/10

Extremely reminiscent of God of War, but with a fairly unique twist on it, the plot follows a warrior named Nikandreos, who is summoned to Mount Olympus by the goddess Hera to overthrow the law of Zeus, who according to the other Olympians, has abandoned humanity, and disregarded the sacred contract between mortals and gods. There are a couple of twists and turns leading up to end, and the voice acting is pretty well done. But like many other video game protagonists to have come and gone, Nikandreos is silent, and therefore, not built upon a lot.

Originality – 7/10

Though it has obvious similarities with God of War, the art deco used in this game, as well as the unusually sophisticated combat system gives it enough originality about it for players to be able to effectively differentiate it from the many other games that have been release within this genre throughout the years. It isn’t revolutionary, but it’s certainly evolutionary to a certain extent. I cant help but feel that if the controls had been handled a bit better, then it would have felt even more like an evolutionary title than it ended up feeling like.

Happii

Happii

To summarize, Apotheon is a fairly good game, but I feel more could have been added, and certain aspects certainly could have been handled better than they were upon the game’s port to a console. Many of the titles added to the PlayStation Network in recent years have impressed me quite a bit, and this is no exception.

Score

43/60

7/10 (Fair)