Tag Archives: Puzzle

Paper Mario: Color Splash (Wii U)

Developer(s) – Intelligent Systems

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Directors(s) – Naohiko Aoyama & Taro Kudo

Producer – Kensuke Tanabe

As one of the last games internally developed by Nintendo for the Wii U, Paper Mario: Color Splash was released in later 2016, and ended up garnishing mixed to positive reviews upon release. Fans of the series, however, were not so lukewarm to the game upon pre-release, with many of them complaining about the departure from the formula of classic Mario RPGs such as the original Paper Mario and The Thousand Year Door for the GameCube. A Change.org petition was even started to have the game cancelled before release, which to me, is far too overly harsh. Personally, I think this was the best game released all that year, and the second best game on the Wii U for a number of reasons.

Graphics – 9/10

One common complaint out the game during pre-release was how much over-emphasis there was on the paper theme that has been re-occurring since the fifth generation of gaming, which to me, is one of the most ridiculous criticisms I’ve ever heard anyone make about any video game. There’s nothing wrong with the paper theme, as it is generally something different to the rest of the Mario series, as opposed to the 2D side scrolling or 3D platforming themes that came long before it. Color Splash is also set in a completely different place to what most Mario games are set in, which adds even more to the game’s unique look. Though the critics were right in saying that hardly any new characters are introduced, with everything else that has been undertaken with this game on a conceptual level, the series has been given a mostly fresh coat of paint, so to speak, with new locations, new items, a handful of new characters and a catchy new soundtrack thrown in for good measure.

Gameplay – 9/10

Following on from the rest of the Mario RPG series, Color Splash introduces the feature of having to use cards to determine what attacks are used, and in what abundance the attacks are carried out. Cards are also used to heal and call temporary allies to Mario’s side, whilst unique cards found throughout the game, such as the lemon card and fire extinguisher card, act similar to how summons work in the Final Fantasy series, or they are otherwise used to solve puzzles either inside or outside of combat, giving the gameplay a very exceptional twist to it compared to other RPGs. It’s actually quite reminiscent of Nintendo’s early history, as they started out in 1889 as a playing card company. The cards with flowers on them especially speak of this, since the playing cards they manufactured were for a game called Hanafuda, meaning Flower Cards. The only criticism I would have against the game’s style of play is that a lot of the time, it can seem quite easy to progress through with a lot of meagre battles throughout; however, the game’s bosses provide more than enough challenge when confronted.

Controls – 10/10

Though the game introduces new elements to the Mario RPG series, the game poses no problems in terms of controls, as in essence; it functions on the same basic gameplay structure as the likes of Super Mario RPG and the original Paper Mario. It also makes some of the best use of the Wii U’s GamePad I’ve ever seen, as players use the GamePad to cycle through and select from their list of cards in order to attack enemies. It’s also used to solve puzzles throughout the in-game world; mostly involving creating means of getting to otherwise unreachable areas.

Lifespan – 9/10

The game can easily be made to last 35-40 hours, which for both a Super Mario game, and a Wii U game, is exceptional. Whilst I doesn’t quite live up to the average lifespan of an RPG, as many can be last to last over 100 hours, it will still provide players with hours upon hours of gameplay, as in addition to the main quest, there is also a plethora of different side quests to complete, such as collecting every card in the game, completing the rock, paper, scissor challenges and fulfilling the criteria listed on the lampposts of the main plaza.

Storyline – 6.5/10

Whilst the game does depart from many of the typical settings of a Mario game, and introduces a handful of new characters, the plot is not so unique overall unfortunately. Mario, Peach and Toad receive a letter of a paper Toad drained of colour sent to them from a region called Prism Island. They decide to investigate; only to find the main town deserted. They come across an anthropomorphic paint can called Huey, who explains that the fountain he was found in is powered by six stars called the Big Paint stars that provide Prism Island with colour. The party later discover that Bowser is draining the island of colour in order to enhance his own power. Mario and company resolve to restore the Big Pain stars, and thus put an end to Bowser’s plan. At first, the plot seemed like a breath of fresh air compared to other Mario games about 5 hours in, but then, they throw in the whole Peach gets kidnapped thing seemingly for the sake of it. As it happens, they also sneak in a fourth-wall joke about no one could have expected it to happen, which is part of the reason why I can bring myself to not punish the game too much for it. There are also references to older Mario games all over the place in some dialogue spoken by some of the more obscure characters, which keep thing relatively interesting. But overall, I found the story was about the only thing that I found to be wanting whilst playing this game.

Originality – 7.5/10

Aside from the plot of the game, the rest of it is quite unique compared to most other Super Mario games, and does fairly well to stand out from the rest of the Mario RPG series, which is why I’m thankful that the Change.org petition fell through. TechRadar’s Nick Pino described it is “a frightening example of how quickly, and harshly, we judge games we know next to nothing about”, and I agree with him fully on this. If we were so quick to pre-judge every game before its release, some of the best titles may not have hit shelves at all. The game stands out for it’s unique take on turn-based RPG combat, as well as its exceptional art style.

Happii

Overall, Paper Mario Color Splash was my favourite game of 2016. It’s enjoyable to play, very long with plenty of things to do in addition to the main game, and stands out in a style of play that to me, has not been explored enough in recent years, and for a game of this genre in this generation to feature the most iconic video game character of all time shows promise for the future of the genre.

Score

51/60

Great (8.5/10)

Play Manchester 2016

The beginning of October marked the fifth year of the Play Manchester gaming expo held at Event City venue. With it’s usual and varied blend of retro gaming cabinets, upcoming indie titles on display, and a wider array of new upcoming mainstream releases than last year’s proceedings, Play Manchester 2016 was even more exciting and diverse than in 2015, and just are star-studded in addition with a special panel present that I shall be covering further in the article. First, I perused the various indie games that were on show at the event, and I was impressed with the amount of range of different gameplay ideas and conceptual designs that the new up and coming developers had to showcase.

Snake Pass

snake-pass

The first indie game I came across was a 3D platformer unlike any other. Developed by Sumo Digital, Snake Pass is a game in which the player controls a snake in order to slither around a series of levels and hunting collectible items throughout. Players must learn to take full advantage of the game’s insanely unique control mechanics to reach high places, overcome imposing obstacles and puzzles, and leave no stone unturned, as there are plenty of items to collect through each level, it seemed. What impressed me most about this game, in addition to it’s impressive-looking visuals, was the game’s style of play. With a completely different take on getting around levels and uncovering secrets, it plays out like no other 3D platformer I’ve ever come across. The developer also explained to me various ways that players could choose to play the game, ranging from emphasis on speed, elegance or thoroughness. I personally believe if the developers plan to integrate this idea into the game further, it would most probably add even more replayability to it, but in the state that it was in at the time, it still impressed me very much.

http://www.sumo-digital.com/snakepass/#

@SumoDigitalLtd

Dragon Bros

dragon-bros

Having discovered a greater fondness for side scrolling shooters since I first started blogging, having played more games like Contra and Metal Slug, I was also particularly amazed by another indie game made largely in the same vein, but with a very interesting twist on conceptual design. Dragon Bros, developed by the aptly named Space Lizard Studios, the game is insanely action-packed, filled with breathtaking pixel art and seemed a lot more accessible than the like of Contra; especially the first three games in the series. For me, Dragon Bros was my pick for the best indie title on display at this year’s proceedings; it was the most fun and addictive game, as well as the most interesting in terms of conceptual design. Though comparisons can be drawn between it and Bubble Bobble, since the main characters are two dragons coloured both green and blue, it takes place in a much different kind of world reminiscent of science fiction rather than the cutesy fantasy settings of the former.

http://spacelizardstudio.com/work/dragon-bros/

@SpaceLizardSt

Mao Mao Castle

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Another game on display I become insanely addicted to, and have been playing frequently ever since the show, is Mao Mao Castle. Created by Asobi Tech, the game is an on-rail free-to-play browser game requiring the player to take advantage of various different mechanics to rack up as many points as possible to attain the highest score possible. The story centres around a cat with supernatural abilities trying to find a way home to a levitating castle in the skies. Reminiscent of the 8-BIT era, it takes influence in terms of conceptual design largely from the varied works of Studio Ghibli; made even more obvious by the fact that the developers had a plushy of the Cat Bus from My Neighbour Totoro perched on top of the projector used to display the game. Usually the game is controlled using a PC mouse, but the version on display at the show used motion controls, and plushies were up for grabs for anyone who could rack up exceptionally high scores. I managed to win one of the three available plushies, and have been racking up higher scores ever since. I highly recommend this game, as it excels in gameplay above even many mainstream releases, as well as it stands out amongst indie games. The link to play is below:

http://aso.bi/maomao/

Unbox

unbox

Another 3D platformer with a difference came in form of Unbox developed by Prospect Games. The player must customize and control their own box-shaped character, and have a wide range of different gameplay modes to choose from, include four-way multiplayer competitive modes, challenge modes, an adventure mode, and even a kart-racing mode; all of which can played to unlock new outfits for their box character, and to attain a wide range of collectibles like in Snake Pass, or most 3D platformers meeting industry standards. Just as unique as the former, it provides an extremely different take on the genre compared to games such as Super Mario 64, Jak & Daxter and Banjo-Kazooie, but also coming with possibly an even greater amount of variety in gameplay and potentially more replayability. Though it may not be as revolutionary as any of the aforementioned titles were at the time of their respective releases, it’s certainly an evolutionary title, and did stand out os one of the better games on display at the event.

http://www.unboxgame.com/

@ProspectGames

Sub Level Zero

sub-level-zero

Another one of my favourite games on display at this year’s Play Manchester was Sub Level Zero; a lovingly crafted Roguelike shooter reminiscent of the classic game Descent developed some of it’s devout fans at Sigtrap Games. Procedurally generated, and with a map system heavily influenced by the Metroid Prime series, which I found to be particularly impressive, as well as surprisingly easy to interface with, Sub Level Zero also has a heavy influence on player character development, with upgrades for grabs, as well as a wide variety of different weapons to use during combat. In lieu of Roguelike tradition, it also offers a fair bit of legitimate challenge, like the likes of Rogue Legacy and Ziggurat. One of many games in display taking advantage of Virtual Reality Headset technology, this game also did extremely well to further alleviate what scepticisms I previously had with the idea back when I first tried the Oculus Rift last year at Play Blackpool. I found that it was a great deal of fun with the addition of VR technology, and made me believe to a greater extent that the concept will be able take off in time.

http://www.sigtrapgames.com/sublevelzero/

@SIGTRAPgames

Hyper Sentinel

hyper-sentinel

The last indie title I tried out was another space-based shooter reminiscent of the arcade classic Defender. Hyper Sentinel, developed by Ian Hewson, son of industry legend Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultants who appeared on a panel at last year’s Play Blackpool show, it centres on not only shooting down various enemies that appear on-screen, but also collecting power-ups and defeating a boss at each level; normally in the form of a giant spaceship, somewhat reminiscent of Bosconian. Though it may not have been the most unique title on display at the event, with it’s influences blatantly obvious, it does o well to stand out from the game of it’s inspiration in terms of conceptual design, and was also quite fun to play too. It certainly presents as much of a challenge as the arcade classic, and is a must-try for any fan of the arcade era.

http://www.hypersentinel.com/

@HewsonJoystick

Tekken 7: First Impressions

tekken-7

One of many different upcoming AAA titles that were available to try out at Play Manchester this year was Tekken 7. After being sorely disappointed by the previous game, with it’s less than impressive conceptual design, many characters coming across as far too generic, and it’s almost impossible difficulty level at times, I was quite relieved to see how much the seventh game improved on the sixth in every aspect. I was also impressed to see how fluently it plays out in comparison to even the original trilogy of Tekken games, with moves being much easier and less frustrating to pull off. Also, like what Capcom have done with the advent of Street Fighter V, and what NetherRealm studios did with Mortal Kombat X, the developers have seemed to branch out conceptually in terms of character design, but in a way that still makes the game feel like it belongs to the series without them being too generic in design. Akuma from Street Fighter is also a welcome addition following relatively recent crossovers between the two series’. It also makes me excited for what additional characters Capcom may decide to add for when they will inevitably update Street Fighter V.

WWE 2K17: First Impressions

wwe-2k17

The main attraction on show in terms of AAA releases however, as officially announced by Paul Heyman of the WWE, was WWE 2K17. Boasting new wrestlers, a new submission system and the inclusion of Goldberg on pre-order, it marks the fourth WWE released since the publishing rights were acquired by 2K Games, and features all the usual gameplay modes synonymous with WWE games, such as the Triple Threat match, Fatal 4 Way, Royal Rumble and of course, the career mode; as well as the facility to create wrestlers. It is without a doubt the best looking WWE game ever developed, but in terms of gameplay, it did take me a little bit of getting used to; especially since I haven’t played a WWE game since the sixth generation, about the time when I grew out of it as a kid. Regardless, especially after getting used to the submission system, and being able to thoroughly enjoy the game for what it is, I was pretty satisfied with how the newer developers have managed gameplay in comparison to classic WWE games like War Zone, Attitude and Wrestlemania 2000. Though the Attitude era remains my favourite time of the company’s history, it was good to see how the WWE video game formula has been worked upon and handled in a way that works extremely well after so long.

The Tomb Raider Panel

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In terms of guest speakers, however, the main attraction was the assembly of and talk with many of the developers of the original Tomb Raider from Core Design to commemorate the franchise’s 20-year anniversary; many of the panel not having seen each other in as many years. The panel consisted of Jeremy Heath-Smith, the game’s executive producer and co-founder of Core Design, Natalie Cook, who was the original character model for Lara Croft, Richard Morton, who was the lead game, level and environment designer for every game up to Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Gavin Rummery, who was the lead programmer for Angel of Darkness, Heather Gibson, another level designer for the first two games, Andy Sandham, who designed levels and wrote the scripts for the third game, as well as The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider: Chronicles, Murti Schofield, who wrote the story of Angel of Darkness, Nathan McCree, who composed the original soundtrack for the first two games, and finally Stuart Atkinson, who worked as an artist on the second game. The panel were also to be joined by former Eidos Interactive CEO and industry legend Ian Livingstone, but he unfortunately had to pull out due to ill health. Regardless, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr. Livingstone a full recovery.

The panel proceeded to provide an in-depth analysis of how and why Lara Croft was designed the way she was, and how the games themselves were designed the way they were and in what manner, and how both Lara Croft and Tomb Raider gradually went from a unique video gaming idea into a cultural phenomenon, and how it has managed to have such a profound effect on the industry as it has. Questioned were also raised by the audience concerning the reboot of the Tomb Raider series from Crystal Dynamics, and also about the degree of influence Naughty Dog took from Tomb Raider to develop their own Uncharted series. The team responded quite sternly in their answer to the Uncharted question in particular, commenting how many of the various gameplay features were heavily inspired by Tomb Raider, and the long-time Tomb Raider fans in the audience responded fittingly with an astonishing round of applause. Though I may personally prefer Uncharted to Tomb Raider, mostly due to the better start that Uncharted had in terms of controls, credit is due where it is due, and the team deserve props for helping to pioneer one of the most memorable video game series of all time, and so there response was justified in my opinion. Uncharted may have homed the great gameplay concept, but Tomb Raider established it, and has contributed a great deal to the popularity that gaming garnishes today. Especially with the recent release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PlayStation 4, the talk with the panel was an appropriate reflection on where Tomb Raider has gone, where it is going now, and where it could go in the future. It was extremely exciting to sit in on an extremely insightful presentation, and the made 2016’s Play Expo proceedings all the better for it.

Overall, Play Manchester 2016 was a thrilling experience, and would like to take the opportunity to thank the organisers at Replay Events for the making it the best event it could possibly be, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them next year.

 

Pierhead Arcade: First Impressions

pierhead-arcade

As a bonus, before I headed out to Manchester, Mechabit Games, a Liverpool-based developer, also invited me to try out the latest game they have been working on. Mechabit, who developed the RTS game Kaiju Panic, which was on display at Play Manchester 2015, and won my personal choice for best indie game of that year (shameless plug is shameless), have been working on a virtual reality game called Pierhead Arcade; a collection of interactive fairground games based in a virtual reality amusement arcade. After only having limited experience with VR gaming beforehand, I saw as an excellent opportunity to finally get hands on with the technology involved, so to speak. I wasn’t disappointed.

As I outlined in my Play Blackpool 2015 article, ever since I first heard about plans from of the industry incorporating virtual reality into gaming, I had a great deal of scepticism following the ill-fated release of such platforms as the Nintendo Virtual Boy, and early examples of motion controls before the Wii, such as the Nintendo Power Glove. Since first trying it, and going on to briefly trying it again at different expos, my scepticisms were gradually becoming all the lesser, as I slowly learned to understand how it could work if problems I would encounter would be fixed, such as blurry screens etc, and if there was adequate developer support for these platforms. But now after having seen games such as Battle Zone, and then having seen how much indie developers are beginning to support the platform along with mainstream developers, I now believe this may very well could be a future of gaming that could establish itself as here to stay; provided that developer support will continue, as what is looking increasingly likely, since the technology was on display at other major gaming expos this year, such as E3, Gamescom and EGX.

Pierhead Arcade itself not only takes advantage of this potentially successful technology, but presents players with an astonishing amount of variety, with games like Whack-A-Mole, Shuffleboard, Binary Dash and Skeeball to name but a few. The objective is to earn as many tickets as possible that can be cashed in for prizes, much like in most amusement arcades. There are also a couple of extras in the game, such as a claw machine, and a reception desk with various toys that can be played with, such as building blocks. Overall, the variety is staggering, and the game will make for hours of fun. I may do a full review of this game in the future, I would recommend that VR gamers try it out. Following up Kaiju Panic was always going to be a challenge for Mechabit in my opinion, but with this title, I’d say they’ve done a particularly good job of doing so.

In summation, I would like to again thank the organisers at Replay Events for providing me, as well as countless gamers across the country, with truly memorable experiences at the various Play Expo events this year, and I hope that you guys enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

The Unfinished Swan (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 & PlayStation Vita)

Developer(s) – Giant Sparrow, SCE Santa Monica Studios & Armature Studios

Publisher(s) – Sony Computer Entertainment

Director – Ian Dallas

Producer – Max Geiger

First released in 2012, around the time when the idea of art in video games was perpetuated with other releases such as Journey, The Unfinished Swan went on to garnish critical acclaim as well as two BAFTA awards, for gaming innovation and best debut game. Unfortunately, I was less lukewarm to this title than many others were, and whilst it does have its unique aspects, I certainly don’t think it was enough to warrant a BAFTA award.

Graphics – 6/10

Many may argue that the visuals of the game are rather unique, and provide something that most gamers won’t have been used to at the time; but from my point of view, that couldn’t be far from the truth. Not only has the general art style been replicated many times since Frank Miller’s Sin City (indeed, it’s the same style I incorporate in many of my own paintings for Frame Over), but it wasn’t even the first time that this style had been used in video game development. There was Madworld before this title, which also continued the influx of cel-shaded visuals in gaming, which started out with Jet Set Radio. Nevertheless, they aren’t terrible graphics, and there are very few glitches to further mar them down.

Gameplay – 3/10

I couldn’t help but feel throughout playing that the developers decided to prioritise aspects such as visuals and story ahead of gameplay, since the core concept may be fairly unique, but in the long term, provide next to no entertainment value. The object of the game is to solve puzzles and bypass obstacles by shooting ink to reveal hidden locations, and to also collect balloons along the way to buy in-game items. It seemed like it could have developed into something bigger as it progressed, but by the third level, I found myself deeply bored by the entire experience.

Controls – 9/10

As it is essentially a first-person shooting game, the control scheme plays out fairly simply; even more so than the average shooter, since there less control mechanics to have to worry about. The only gripe I have with it is that the movement speed is somewhat slower than other FPS games, which can make the game drag on more than it most probably should have done.

Lifespan – 4/10

Completing each level, as well as collecting all the balloons within each level, will take under 10 hours; despite the fact that the game does have that small amount of replayability. However, I think it was just as well that the game lasted that little time, since the game’s total lifespan outlasted my own personal interested in the game itself. It was a sure sign that developers at any kind of level can end up prioritising all the wrong aspects ahead of the one that truly counts.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of the game takes influence of many different children’s books, and merges them into a fairly interesting and fully cohesive concept. It follows a boy called Monroe, who is pursuing an incomplete swan, which has escaped from a painting. The most interesting element of it is in the back-story, which can be discovered as the player progresses through the game. Though it does seem to play out like a children’s story for the most part, there are certain elements, which make the story take on a much darker tone, going against the seemingly calm and tranquil atmosphere of the game and the soundtrack accompanying it all.

Originality – 6/10

The gameplay mechanics of using ink as a projectile weapon to uncover hidden objects and areas are definitely the most unique thing about it. However, I was left thinking that they could have been put to so much better use in order to keep the entire game as interesting as possible. There could have been much more added to each level for players to do. The lack of enemies throughout alone is enough to keep avid gamers from playing this title for any extended amount of time in my opinion.

Niiutral

Niiutral

Overall, The Unfinished Swan, though with fairly unique gameplay mechanics, was not entertaining enough for me to be able to praise it as many other reviewers have done since its release. The influx of indie games to come throughout the next few years following this game would yield more and better titles, but along with Journey, it started out with too much emphasis on visuals and story as opposed to entertaining gameplay.

Score

35/60

5.5/10 (Below Average)

Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Ubisoft Montpellier

Publisher(s) – Ubisoft

Designer(s) – Credic Barthez, Simon Choquet-Botanni, Jean-Francois Le Quere, Gregory Palvadeau, Yannick Patet & Antoine Tous

Producer – Bruno Galet

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a puzzle game developed by Ubisoft with the use of the same engine incorporated in the making of other games such as Rayman Legend and Child of Light, set in World War I, and told through a number of different perspectives, making for a ton of character development and a great story. However, whilst this may be the best thing about the game, it is also distinctively satisfying and enjoyable to progress through, unlike many different mainstream titles released in recent years.

Graphics – 7.5/10

The visuals are rendered in a cartoony style, somewhat reminiscent of Child of Light, though nowhere near as elegant or beautiful. Instead, they do an unexpectedly excellent job of portraying the horrors of war, and the squalid, horrific environments and conditions that soldiers and citizens alike had to contend with at the time, with documents even provided throughout each level of the game giving in-depth descriptions of such situations, as well as rundowns of what happened during the war at each stage of the game. Though I think the general art direction of the game does take a little of the seriousness out of the game at the same time, the game’s atmosphere and soundtrack outweigh this drawback well enough.

Gameplay – 7/10

The objective of the game is to simply get from point A to point B, all the while solving a multitude of puzzles and finding as many of the game’s numerous hidden collectibles as possible, using multiple playable characters, and even a German detection dog to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. To me, it’s much more unique and variable than most other conventional war games, which all seem to encompass the same objective; shoot everything in sight, capture and area, rinse and repeat.

Controls – 10/10

There are also no issues with the game’s control scheme, which whilst this was most probably to be expected as Ubisoft have worked with the same gaming engine on multiple occasions, the fact of the matter is this game’s control scheme works more differently than the other aforementioned games made with the same engine. It baffles me that so many different kinds of games with different art directions have been made on the same hardware to the point where I can’t wait to see what they possibly do next with it.

Lifespan – 5/10

The game can take around 5 to 6 hours to finish, which is fairly long for a linear game in this day and age, but not overly impressive. I think the developers could have encompassed a wider range of puzzles throughout each stage of the game, or maybe even another side quest along with the collection of hidden trinkets (for example, having the dossiers presented at the beginning of each level being collectible, but there isn’t such a feature, and consequently, the game is made to suffer to an extent because of it in my opinion.

Storyline – 9/10

After the declaration of World War I following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a German farmer named Karl is called up to fight and separated from his wife Marie and their baby boy Victor. Meanwhile, Marie’s elderly father Emile is called upon to fight for the French, when shortly after, he meets and befriends an American fighting for the French army named Freddie. Later on, a Belgian nurse named Anna joins Emile and Freddie along with a detector dog called Walt as they resolve to survive the war and find Karl to reunite him with his wife and child. The story focuses on such themes as love, friendship and the will to survive, and is portrayed in an extremely realistic manner, as well as in an elegant and emotionally charged one.

Originality – 7/10

Ever Since I first played this game, I’ve been hoping that more war games continue to defy convention like this game clearly has, and help them to go beyond being something encompassed into one single genre of gaming, which had already been long since established and refined before the arrival of overrated and generic series’ such as Call of Duty. With the way the market is at the moment, it seems unlikely, but innovation is always happening within the indie gaming scene, which gives me hope for the future.

Happii

Happii

Overall, Valiant Hearts isn’t one of the most engaging games I’ve ever played, but it’s certainly one of the most interesting ones to portray the themes and settings it does. Perhaps one day there may be a different war game released to more effectively provide entertainment, but this game does that far better than most other war games I’ve ever played.

Score

46.5/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Portal (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 & PC)

Developer(s) – Valve

Publisher(s) – Valve & Microsoft Game Studios

Developed by Valve, the creators of Half-Life and Team Fortress, Portal was released in 2007 as part is Valve Orange Box collection for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game is actually the spiritual successor to an independently developed titled called Narbacular Drop, which was created by a group of students at the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Washington. The students were then subsequently hired by Valve’s Gabe Newell, who was impressed with Narbacular Drop, and they helped to developed one of the most innovative titles of the seventh generation; Portal. Although I found it hard to get into during my first playthrough some years ago, I recently played through the entirety of the game, and I was fairly impressed with it.

Graphics – 7/10

The game takes place in the fictional setting of Aperture Sciences Enrichment Centre, which is a science-fiction setting reminiscent of what Valve are synonymous for. There are a few things to make it stand out from the other here and there; for example, it seems to be a lot more eerily cleaner and organized than the likes of Black Mesa. But from a visual standpoint, where this game truly shines, and by proxy it’s sequel Portal 2, is in the many different hidden Easter eggs throughout the entirety of the game; many of these being hidden dens reputed to belong to Doug Rattman, who is an unseen character, but pivotal to the game’s back story and overall plot. There is also an Easter egg towards the end of the game featuring a projector presentation outlining how Aperture Sciences compete with Black Mesa, bringing the worlds of both Half-Life and Portal together.

Gameplay – 8/10

Portal is a game blurring the lines between first-person shooting and puzzle games. The objective is to complete a series of tests, which involve creating two different portals in order to get around and to solve conundrums throughout the game. What I really like about this game, and something I don’t think is seen of enough in the medium, is that it challenges players to think outside the box; to consider that there may be more than one way of getting around particular problems, and different ways in which the portals can utilized to do so. And although there is only one boss fight throughout the course of the game, even that makes for one of the most creative boss fights I’ve ever experienced.

Controls – 10/10

Developed by a company perpetuating the first-person shooting genre, there was nothing to suggest that there would ever be a problem with Portal’s controls scheme, and so there isn’t. With the help of the DigiPen student contributing the game’s portal-shooting premise, the game has made for one of the most imaginative titles not only of the seventh generation, but also in terms of gaming in general. Puzzle games have come and gone like Kurushi, which has challenged the conventional methods of playing video games, but it’s no easy task, and Portal did this flawlessly.

Lifespan – 2/10

The game’s biggest downside, however, is how disapprovingly short-lived it is; especially in comparison to many of Valve’s previous efforts. Though it’s nowhere near as short as Narbacular Drop, which can only be made to last ten minutes, if that, portal can be made to last for just shy of 3 hours, which to me, was pretty disappointing. Thankfully, this is where the sequel would come in, but the first game was very much a question of trial and error; and no truer is that than in its lifespan, in my opinion.

Storyline – 9/10

One thing that I can always find myself saying of Valve is that they know how to create a very compelling narrative. The story of Portal follows a woman named Chell, who is subjected to undertake a series of puzzles in order to survive, based around the use of a portal gun, which generates two different kinds of portals for her to be able to solve them. The tests are conducted at the Aperture Sciences Enrichment centre by a maniacal AI called GlaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System), with the unusual and persistent promise of cake at the end of it. Although the basic premise sound very simplistic, as well as particularly weird, the character of GlaDOS makes for an interesting experience in terms of story, providing the audience with a pretty unique blend of both drama and comedy. There are a lot of suspenseful moments throughout the game, but they’re also balanced out by GlaDOS’ sadistic sense of humour. Though these elements are greatly expanded on in the second game, the first does provide a very strong starting point in establishing these elements, which hadn’t been found in a Valve game prior.

Originality – 10/10

In terms of both gameplay and story, to simply put it, there is no other game like Portal. It’s a prime example of why I think it’s excellent that more and more indie developers are being provided with a much bigger window of opportunity than ever before; because there have been a large number of them that have come up with some of the greatest titles to have ever been developed. Though Portal 2 would perfect the formula, and I will give it a proper review in the future once I’m finished playing it, the impact that the first game has had since its release is undeniable.

Happii

Happii

In summation, although it is far too short-lived a game for what it is, Portal is one of the most innovative titles in video game history, and remains a favourite of many gamers to this day. I enjoyed the game for how long it lasted, when I previously thought that I wouldn’t if I’d played through it in its entirety, and I would recommend the Orange Box collection to anyone who owns either and Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3.

Score

46/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Pokémon Snap (Nintendo 64)

Developer(s) – HAL Laboratory & Pax Softnica

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director(s) – Yoichi Yamamoto, Koji Inokuchi & Akira Takeshima

Producer(s) – Satoru Iwata, Kenji Miki & Shigeru Miyamoto

Pokémon Snap was one of many spin-offs to the Pokémon game series for the Game Boy developed during the fifth generation of gaming. The premise of the game revolves around taking pictures of wild pokémon, catching them all (and I use the term loosely) in a different manner to which gamers certainly would have been accustomed to at the time. This unique rail-shooter for me, made for a lot of entertainment growing up, and it’s still holds up fairly well to this day, I find.

Graphics – 7/10

Featuring some of the best visual quality the Nintendo 64 had to offer, there are some fairly diverse settings as well as minimal in-game glitches; something, which had been a problem for the console early on. Though the frame rate can drop at times, especially in the opening cinematic, it doesn’t become enough of a problem to warrant too many complaints or to hinder gameplay, most importantly. But what I like most about the visuals is how the pokémon are portrayed throughout the game. The settings speak of how each type of pokémon adapt to all the different environments present, which in turn, provides a much more realistic representation reminiscent of conventional animal behaviour. They portray the critters in a much more different manner than in any conservative game in the series that came before it.

Gameplay – 7/10

The game revolves around taking pictures of pokémon across the different stages of the game and unlocking each stage, whilst trying to rack up the high scores by taking the best quality pictures. It is very satisfying and fairly addictive to try and capture the perfect shot of each pokémon, and to rack up as high a score as possible. But a major problem I found with this title was that there are only 63 of the original 151 pokémon present, purely to coincide with the fact that it was released on the Nintendo 64. And as a result, the game is somewhat lacking in substance. I think if the developers had included all 151 pokémon, then there would have been a lot more for gamers to play for, and in turn, a lot more call for different level designs and for more substance in general.

Controls – 10/10

Although there are no problems with the control scheme, it is also fairly unique in a certain respect. It does blur the lines somewhat between first person shooters and simulation games, and combines elements of the two to make for something pretty exciting, also being comparable to such future games Dead Rising and Beyond Good & Evil.

Lifespan – 6/10

Although it can merely 2 hours to rush through each course and unlock all the extra items used to take pictures of certain pokémon, there is quite a bit of replay value to be had in re-visiting each course and trying to capture as many excellent pictures as possible. The Wii Virtual console version added even more with the inclusion of the facility to share pictures with friends. But after grinding through each course and collecting everything, it does become a case of racking up the highest score possible, but as I said earlier, I can’t help but feel there would have much more to it with the inclusion of all 151 pokémon.

Originality – 10/10

Pokémon Snap was and still is among some of the most unique games ever developed. The only games like this that have come along since are the likes of Fatal Frame. There was no concept like it at the time, and it’s a concept that has never truly been fully replicated since.

Happii

Happii

In summation, Pokémon Snap has been praised as a refreshingly unique game, and I couldn’t agree more. It comes highly recommended from me, and will make for a good few hours of fun gameplay.

Score

50/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Pokémon Shuffle (3DS)

Developer(s) – Genius Soronity

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Pokémon Shuffle is a free-to-pay game that I’ve heard many times over as being described as Pokémon meets Candy Crush, and it’s easy to see why. Though it is more enjoyable to play than the aforementioned Candy Crush, It’s a lot more restrictive in comparison to not only that, but most other app games as well.

Graphics – 6/10

Since this is essentially an arcade puzzle game, the only emphasis out on visuals is how each section of the game board looks as the game progresses. The idea of which is to give the illusion of it taking place in several different locations, but in a game like this, visuals shouldn’t really take precedent anyway, so I don’t think the game should lose out on too many marks because of this. There is also basis in visual diversity with the amount of pokémon there are in it from all over the franchise.

Gameplay – 7/10

The game plays out almost identically to the likes of Candy Crush and Bejewelled, but unlike any f these examples, there’s also a fairly strong RPG element to it, in that each pokémon fought can be captured and re-used in different battles, and can be levelled up overtime. There is also a lot more incentive to playing it than most other app games in this respect as well, since there is nothing much to be gained from getting all three stars on a stage other than bragging rights. The problem with this game however, is that it is indeed a lot more restrictive in the sense that each stage takes a life of player regardless of whether they win or lose a battle, whereas in games like Candy Crush, lives are kept if players win a stage. I think that if Nintendo do indeed plan to develop more games like this, they need to ease up on these kinds of restrictions; otherwise players will begin to lose patience and fast.

Controls – 10/10

These kinds of puzzle games have been in development for over 30 years now, and there would have been some serious problems if Nintendo hadn’t implemented a decent control scheme. The entire genre started to find it’s feet after it was ported to the original Game Boy, making for even further reason why Nintendo should never have had problems; and so, there aren’t any.

Originality – 4/10

The most original thing about this game is how well the RPG element of the Pokémon series has been implemented, and it gives me hope that Nintendo will continue to implement series staples from other franchises into their upcoming smart phone games to differentiate them from others as much as possible. Otherwise however, it essentially plays out like most other app games, and I think Nintendo need to do even more to be able to compete with some of the more established app game developers.

Niiutral

Niiutral

In summation, Pokémon Shuffle is not without it’s charms, but it is far too restrictive in terms of how often it can be played, and it doesn’t do quite enough to distinguish itself from other games of it’s kinds. Perhaps Nintendo will go on to make better games than this for smart devices, but there are far better games out there for the 3DS than this.

Score

27/40

6.5/10 (Above Average)

Papo & Yo (PC & PlayStation 3)

Developer(s) – Minority

Publisher(s) – Minority

Designer – Vander Caballero

Papo & Yo is an adventure game similar to how The Last Guardian will supposedly play out when, and if it is ever released. However, due to a great number of factors, and problems plaguing this title, I would hardly call this game a placeholder.

Graphics – 6/10

The best thing I can say about the game’s visuals is that the atmosphere varies greatly from place to place, keeping the overall feel of the game either intense or calm according to which areas the player is progressing through. Apart from that however, the game’s visual design is conceptually weak as well as graphically questionable, containing some noticeable glitches throughout as well as inconsistent textural design; particularly concerning the character Monster.

Gameplay – 5/10

The objective of the game is pretty straightforward; navigate through a linear progression solving puzzles and guiding a huge monster for the most part. The puzzle-solving element is fairly elaborate, but I was particularly disappointed to find how just how linear the game is. I thought that with the multiple paths there are to take to begin with, there would have been much more to find than there is. But the only thing to do aside from the story progression is to find each Easter egg of a teddy bear tied to a plank of wood. Some of them can be pretty hard to find, but the side quest offers extremely little in the way of replay value.

Controls – 8/10

Even though this gaming formula has been done many times before, and a lot more has been done in previous games in the genre than in this, the controls feel quite stiff, and sometimes, even platform detection can be inconsistent. Otherwise, there are no other problems, and it is quite clever how the tutorial system is handled, in the form of cardboard boxes that can be found throughout the course of the game explaining the control scheme to players.

Lifespan – 1/10

Clocking in at a merely 2 hours tops, a 3D platformer to have this short a lifespan is utterly unforgivable in my opinion; especially when there was so much room to add so much more depth in gameplay than what there turned out to be. This game to me, like Banjo-Kazooie may be a sign of the direction the industry is going. However, I think following a trend like this would have an extremely negative impact. The fact that this came from the indie movement, where many games have more depth in gameplay than even mainstream releases, is also a cause for concern.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of the game is by far the best aspect of it, which is why I believe it may prove to be a negative sign of the times. It follows a young boy named Quico, who whilst suffering the latest tirade from his dysfunctional father, suddenly finds himself in a strange world where he must guide a monster around in order to solve various puzzles throughout. The game’s director, Vander Caballero, based the story on his childhood, whereby he unfortunately suffered continuous abuse from his own father, and through the game’s story, players will be able to sense the full force of his conviction throughout, at least making the game memorable for it’s pretty immersing narrative.

Originality – 5/10

Taking into account how well the game’s story does to differentiate it from other game, it still leaves a great deal to be desired in terms of gameplay in my opinion, as well as visual presentation. There’s no reason to suggest why the game’s core concept couldn’t be built upon in the development of a spiritual successor, but the original game unfortunately does little to stand out among some of the better 3D platformers released throughout the years.

Angrii

Angrii

To summarize, Papo & Yo, despite it’s decent story, is a particularly flawed game, and could’ve done with a lot more added to make it much more of an immersing gaming experience. It may be argued that a smaller budget may result in a smaller game, but there have already been a plethora of indie developers who have proved that wrong, and that the only limits are within developer’s imagination.

Score

32/60

5/10 (Far Below Average)

Oddworld: New N’ Tasty! (PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Just Add Water

Publisher(s) – Oddworld Inhabitants

Director(s) – Stewart Gilray & Lorne Lanning

Back round when the original PlayStation was first release, and in competition with the likes of the Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn and the Atari Jaguar, the traditional 2D side scrolling style of gameplay was being fazed out fast to make way for 3D open-world games, which were taking precedent equally as fast. In spit of this, however, there were a handful of games released in the 2D side scrolling genre throughout the fifth generation, including Yoshi’s Story, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the first games in the Oddworld series; Abe’s Odyssey and Abe’s Exodus. Oddworld: New N’ Tasty basically takes Abe’s Odyssey, and gives it a fresh coat of paint as well as a slightly different perspective on gameplay, making the scenery seem less linear in turn. The gameplay stays completely true to the great amount of variety the original had to offer, and I would thoroughly recommend the remake.

Graphics – 8/10

As I said, aside from being given a complete makeover in terms of visuals, the game also seems a lot more visually diverse than the original incarnation of Abe’s Odyssey, with backdrops being a lot more visible than the latter, and with the inevitable inclusion of enhanced details in form of more in-depth textures (particularly on Abe and his race, the Mudokens), and more effective use of the contrasts between light and darkness, which in turn add even more to the game’s already dark and gritty atmosphere.

Gameplay – 8/10

Differing from the many different 2D side scrollers released both during the fifth generation, and of today, New N’ Tasty stayed true to not only the intense puzzle solving element, but also to the significance of the game’s one side quest; to rescue as many of the other Mudokens as possible, or kill as many as possible to unlock either one of multiple endings; one of the first games I ever played to have ever included multiple endings as well as elements of the 2.5D side scrolling genre.

Controls – 10/10

Unlike many other video games released early in the PlayStation’s shelf life, there were next to no issues with the control scheme, and there are even less in New N’ Tasty. Though it may not seem as impressive in comparison to the original game, I’m thankful that no new issues have arisen, and that the developers haven’t made any silly mistakes.

Lifespan – 6/10

Unfortunately, however, the lifespan remains around the same as the original game, clocking up at about 3 to 4 hours. Though this isn’t unforgivable, and fairly long for a game of it’s kind, I think it would have been a plus for the developers to have added a little bit more in terms of gameplay. In my opinion, the ideal solution would have been to bundle Abe’s Odyssey and Abe’s Exodus, complete with the same huge lick of paint, but nevertheless, it is an entertaining game for the time it lasts.

Storyline – 8/10

The majority of the original game’s surrealism stemmed from it’s different and unusual cast of characters, premise and story. In New N’ Tasty, it is retold with all of it’s wonderful weirdness kept intact. It follows the story of Abe, a member of a humanoid-amphibian race called the Mudoken, who is a slave alongside his fellow people at the biggest meat processing plant in all of Oddworld; Rupture Farms. One night, when Abe is working late, he stumbles upon a board meeting, highlighting how the company’s profits are plummeting, and executives pondering the solution. Abe is horrified to learn of Rupture Farms’ plan to use Mudoken meat in the production of their latest product; New N’ Tasty. Abe immediately resolves to escape Rupture Farms, while in the process, saving as many of his people as possible. With multiple endings, and plenty of twists and turns throughout, it is indeed one of the most unique stories ever told in a game, and stands out among a plethora of others.

Originality – 8/10

Although many 2D side scrollers had been developed, and the be-all and end-all of such is considered to this day to be Super Mario Bros (and rightfully so), the Oddworld series delivered a new perspective on the formula, so to speak, and New N’ Tasty expands on that new perspective. It gives me hope for the future, since I believe there is quite a lot that could be done with the characters and gameplay premise, but this game (then and now) is an excellent starting point in my opinion.

Happii

Happii

Overall, Oddworld: New N’ Tasty does an excellent job of bringing Abe’s Odyssey to a new audience, and is hopefully a sign that the series will continue past this point. It’s been languishing in video game obscurity for far too long in my opinion, and hopefully this formula cane improved on for a possible sequel and beyond.

Score

46/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Octodad: Dadliest Catch (PC & PlayStation 4)

Developer(s) – Young Horses

Director – Kevin Zuhn

Octodad is a quest-based linear adventure game, which has players controlling an octopus fitting in with human society and performing mundane tasks typical of the average family man. Whilst it is an extremely different experience from the norm, and one of the most outlandish ideas for a video game I’ve ever encountered, I unfortunately wasn’t overly impressed like I thought I would be, having played the demo of it earlier this year.

Graphics – 5/10

In terms of visuals, except for the main character Octodad, nothing really stood out from either a graphical or conceptual point of view in my opinion. The overall scenery and style of the game is particularly simplistic and bland, and dauntingly, there doesn’t seem to have been a great amount of effort put into it. Taking place in areas such as back gardens, supermarkets and generic-looking ships, its almost as if the scenery and style of the game speak of the mundane day-to-day life of the average man, that is being portrayed in the game.

Gameplay – 5/10

With a small array of boring tasks to do and criteria to fulfil, and with one side quest involving finding a number of differently styles ties in each chapter, the gameplay was just about as exciting as the visuals; not very much at all. There’s no real substance put into it in terms of gameplay, which to me, makes it a particularly fleeting and ultimately forgettable experience. It was extremely difficult for me to see the appeal that a lot of other people seemingly see in it.

Controls – 6/10

Though it’s by no means prefect, the game’s control scheme is it’s most noteworthy aspect, the way I see it. The player moves the character around and interacts with objects and items in the game by moving each individual limb with individual buttons. Whilst I can appreciate how different the game’s control scheme is compared with that of a typical game, what I can’t appreciate it for is how frustrating it can eventually become. To me, it’s a question of trial and error; a unique video game aspect that needs a lot of work done on it for it be fully perfected.

Lifespan – 1.5/10

Lasting just over 2 hours, taking in times when I struggled profusely with the games controls, I think it’s just as well that this game lasts this short a time, since there is nowhere near enough activity to have kept it interesting for any extended amount of time. There is no true replay value to be had, and in all honesty, I wouldn’t advocate anyone play it even for the first time.

Storyline – 5.5/10

The story of Octodad follows the titular octopus character integrating with modern-day human life, taking a wife and having two children, and performing day-to-day chores, whilst all the time avoiding an evil chef, who plans to cook him. Whilst its somewhat different, like the control scheme, it’s not exactly memorable the way I see it. The best things about the story are the clever cultural references found throughout along with some references to other video games, and the small comedic element when certain characters break the fourth wall. But other than that, it the game’s story isn’t overly immersing, in my opinion.

Originality – 6/10

Whilst the game is fairly unique in its controls scheme, and somewhat unique from a story point of view, there hasn’t been much creativity put into the main aspect; the gameplay. Also taking into account the games severe lack of conceptual design, I think there should have been much more added to this game to keep players wanting to play for as long as possible.

Angrii

Angrii

Overall, I think the developers of Octodad deviated away far too much from making gameplay as interesting as possible to focus on how unique the control scheme is, and seemed to think they could create a successful game solely on that premise. But it takes much more than a unique control scheme to make the most deep and meaningful gaming experiences, and this game, in my opinion, severely under qualifies.

Score

29/60

4.5/10 (Mediocre)