Tag Archives: Side Scroller

Cuphead (PC & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Studio MDHR

Publisher(s) – Studio MDHR

Director(s) – Chad & Jared Moldenhauer

Producer(s) – Maria & Ryan Moldenhauer

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

Graphics – 10/10

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

Gameplay – 8/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 6/10

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

Storyline – 7.5/10

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

Originality – 8/10

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

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

Score

49.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

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.

Mighty No 9 (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS, PC & Android)

Developer(s) – Comcept & Inti Creates

Publisher(s) – Deep Silver & Spike Chunsoft

Director(s) – Koji Imaeda & Kinshi Ikegami

Producer – Nick Yu

Released following an immensely successful Kickstarter campaign and a series of delays, Mighty No 9 is the brainchild of Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune, as well as several personnel from the development team of the original game In the series. Highly anticipated by Mega Man fans, it was released in mid 2016 to mixed to negative reviews by critics and gamers alike, and dramatically failed to live to it’s budget and expectations. Having played it, I can under stand why many of the original Kickstarter backers were deeply disappointed with this title.

Graphics – 6/10

Although the game was an independently developed venture, the visual quality of the game does not match the budget the developers were given by backers of almost $4,000,000. Besides which, the game also suffers from a number of technical issues; especially concerning the Wii U version of the game. One of many insults to the backers is that the developers clearly didn’t send the time needed to polish the game before it was released to markets; especially coming as it did from a team of developers who experienced internal frustrations themselves from Capcom’s powers that were. From a conceptual standpoint, the game also fails to impress, with the developers seemingly taking basic elements and ideas from the Mega Man series, and building upon them in a very half-hearted manner.

Gameplay – 5/10

The game’s play also doesn’t live up to Mega Man standards, let alone those of the industry as a whole. Intended to present players with the traditional level of challenge the famed series was known for, this game at times can be even more unnecessarily unforgiving, as many casual players may struggle to get past even the first level. At least with Cut Man’s stage in the original Mega Man game, it was an appropriately fair introduction to the rest of the series, but with Mighty No 9, it seemed to have been designed with only veteran Mega Man players in mind, which for a lot of potential newcomers, causes needless problems.

Controls – 8/10

The original Mega Man game did suffer from minor issues with the controls in terms of unresponsiveness. But Mighty no 9 suffers with the same problem, but to a slightly greater extent, again, causing a lot of unnecessary frustration, potentially to both newcomers and veteran Mega Man players. Even throughout the fist level of the game, there are a great deal of platforming obstacles the player has to overcome in order to progress, during which unresponsive controls can cause a multitude of different issues at different points in the game; especially as it is based on a number of lives the player has, hearkening back to old-style gaming.

Lifespan – 5/10

Clocking in at around 6 hours, despite the fact that funding for the Kickstarter project was supposed to have been enough to reach stretch goals required to bring DLC to the game, Mighty No 9’s lifespan also criminally short; especially for a modern game. Most 2D platformers that are typically developed by Nintendo for example can be easily be made to last 15 to 20 hours given enough substance in gameplay; New Super Mario Bros U and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze are textbook examples of this. Six hours may have been impressive by 1987 standards, when the original Mega Man game was released, but in this day and age, especially against other kinds of games, it doesn’t hold up the same as it once may have done.

Storyline 3/10

Basically mirroring the plot and basic premise of Mega Man, the game’s story centres around a robot named Beck, the ninth in the Mighty Number android line-up, who has been tasked with eliminating his fellow Mighty Number robots after they have been infected with a computer virus; almost identical to how Mega Man must neutralize the robot masters. Almost every aspect of Mighty No 9 story was taken directly from that of Mega Man’s, as was the conceptual design, and has had not a great deal of real thought put into it. It’s especially underwhelming given the fact that the main appeals the developers wanted this game to have also failed to live up to thei respective expectations.

Originality – 3/10

Taking everything into account, the only hints of uniqueness this game has about it is in the conceptual design, which whilst may have been heavily borrowed from the Mega Man series, does minimally well do stand out among other games in general; but certainly not enough to make it do so to any great extent. Although this game certainly does not spell the end for challenging 2D side scrollers, since the likes of Rogue Legacy continue to impress gamers everywhere, it spells a particularly grim future for Comcept, as their latest project, Red Ash, failed to each it’s Kickstarter goals

Angrii

To sum Mighty No 9 up, I would describe it as a gaming travesty; a middle finger to Mega Man fans, as well as the Kickstarter backers. Though it may have been a once-promising game to players, especially those who played the beta, the end product is certainly something to be forgotten.

Score

30/60

5/10 (Far Below Average)

Yoshi’s Story (Nintendo 64)

Developer(s) – Nintendo EAD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Hideki Konno

Producer – Takashi Tezuka

Back in a time when the 2D side-scrolling genre was being phased out and the 3D platforming genre was coming into prominence, Nintendo attempted to revive the former by releasing a spiritual successor to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island; but with considerably less success on both a commercial and critical level.

Graphics – 5/10

Whilst the scenery of the game is fairly diverse and the game itself is very well polished, the overall visual style made it feel far too much like a kid’s game; even for Nintendo. Everything from the storybook style to the pretty annoying sound bytes used for the Yoshi characters made me think very little of what was on offer, and severely lacks the kind of atmosphere that came with games such as Super Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time. This title for me, just didn’t seem to give that kind of prominent impression, which other Nintendo games had; even for the time.

Gameplay – 6/10

Though it’s somewhat satisfying to rack up the highest score (something that was lacking in prior Mario titles), I still felt the game’s play was wanting. As it was clearly developed with kids in mind, the game is consequently very easy. The bosses, in particular, stand out as being some of the easiest bosses I’ve ever encountered in video games. Yoshi’s Story also had attached to it the most pointless and least threatening Nintendo character in my opinion; Pak E. Derm, who is an elephant with a stop sign, who blocks the player’s path. The player must pound the ground in order to make Pak E. Derm fall to the ground, allowing the player to pass. That mechanic is one of the most senseless things I’ve ever seen in any video game.

Controls – 10/10

There are no problems with the controls, at least. The game plays out very similarly to Yoshi’s Island, except there is no Baby Mario to accompany Yoshi on the adventure. But by that token, I think the game becomes much less intense as a result, but that’s down to gameplay.

Lifespan – 2/10

As the late 90s was undoubtedly a pretty poor time to try and bring back the 2D side-scrolling genre, I was at that point used to playing games that would last in excess of 30 to 40 fours, such as Ocarina of Time or Final Fantasy VII. It took me inside a day to complete this game, which whilst that may have been acceptable prior to the release of the Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation, it certainly wasn’t them, and it definitely isn’t now. One fact about me is that I believe the longer a game can be made to last, the better. That opinion of mine was developed in me throughout the fifth generation of gaming, and since, I’ve never looked back. I’ve grown to think little of games, which seem like fleeting experience, unless they have other decent elements or substance in gameplay.

Storyline – 5.5/10

Yoshi’s Story involves Baby Bowser turning Yoshi’s world into a storybook and stealing the super happy tree, with the Yoshis resolving to reverse the damage. The game looks like a kid’s book; plays out like a kid’s book, and the story is very reminiscent of something someone would find in a kid’s book too. It’s as outlandish as anything else that Nintendo had come up with prior, but it’s just considerably more simplistic, and considerably less appealing and entertaining in my opinion.

Originality – 6/10

Nintendo can’t be faulted for attempting what they have succeeded at so many times; revolutionizing how video games are played out. But this time round, they failed in my opinion. Though they would eventually go on to revive the 2D side-scrolling genre with the New Super Mario Bros series, they didn’t get off to the best start with Yoshi’s Story.

Angrii

Angrii

To summarize, Yoshi’s Story is a forgettable title on an otherwise legendary console, in my opinion. Nintendo created some great experiences on the Nintendo 64 when 3D gaming started to find popularity, but they went back on themselves in a negative way with this game.

Score

34.5/60

5.5/10 (Below Average)

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)

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)

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)

Super Princess Peach (DS)

Developer(s) – TOSE

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director(s) – Akio Imai & Azusa Tajima

Producer(s) – Shigeru Miyamoto, Yasuhiro Minamimoto & Hitoshi Yamagami

Released in the early years of the shelf life of the original DS, Super Princess Peach was designed to be a unique take on the classic 2D side scrolling formula pioneered by Nintendo, whereby players take control of Princess Peach for the first time, as she assumes the role of the heroine as opposed to the damsel in distress. Though it does have some basis in uniqueness, I found the game to be particularly easy compared to most Mario games, and by proxy, nowhere near as good or interesting.

Graphics – 7/10

In lieu of Super Mario tradition, the atmosphere is happy-go-lucky, and the game has no shortage of vibrant and colourful environments and an array of different enemies and worlds. An interesting element of this game is Peach’s weapon; an anthropomorphic umbrella named Perry, which was actually a young man once, as revealed through various flashbacks throughout the game. Back when the original Super Mario game was relatively new, there was a cartoon film made of it in Japan, featuring a dog, which turns out to be Peach’s prince and it returned to normal at the end of the film. I can’t help but think that this in particular element of the film may have inspired this game in turn.

Gameplay – 6/10

As in most Mario games, the objective is simply to get from point A to point B. But in this title, there are 3 Toads to find in each level, as well as an array of different abilities for Peach to use in the form of different emotions. For example, crying projects water, which may be used to water beanstalks, growing them to advance. Though there is that small element of puzzle solving to it, it is still a particularly easy game, since Peach is at a great advantage with her umbrella, which can be used to attack enemies. To me, it highlights why it was such a bad idea that Nintendo originally wanted to give Mario a gun.

Controls – 10/10

As far as the control scheme goes, whilst there shouldn’t have been any problems with the basic layout (and so there isn’t any), at this point, it wouldn’t have been particularly hard to add other features to the mix along with them. I was pretty happy to see the touch screen being put to decent use, at least. Other than this, however, there isn’t much else to say about it unfortunately.

Lifespan – 4/10

Though it does indeed last around the same time as most other conventional Mario games, clocking at about 3 to 4 hours, the game’s paltry difficulty level can make it seem as if it lasts a great deal shorter than even that. The side quest can keep more intrepid players busy for a short while longer, but not as long as its world layout would suggest. The map looks a lot like that of Super Mario RPG, so I was somewhat disappointed to learn that it lasts nowhere near as long.

Storyline – 3/10

Not differing to any great extent from the plot most typically associated with Super Mario, Princess Peach, along with her umbrella friend Perry, are on a quest to save Mario and Luigi from Bowser as opposed to it being the other way round. Though the game didn’t necessarily need a decent story at all, what I don’t like about it is how much it contradicts the entire premise of the series. If Peach has always had these different abilities, then it makes me suspicious of why she couldn’t use them against Bowser whenever she is kidnapped.

Originality – 6/10

The game does have at least some basis in uniqueness at least, with the different range of abilities Peach has throughout the course of game. Ultimately however, it plays out essentially like any other Mario game, and doesn’t stand out to any significant extent. I think the developers could build on what they achieved with this game if they ever decided to make a sequel, but the first game in this potential series was a question of trial and error.

Niiutral

Niiutral

Overall, Whilst Super Princess Peach isn’t one of the worst games I’ve ever played; it unfortunately doesn’t stand out as one of Nintendo’s better efforts. I cant help but think that with a bit more challenge, it could have been much more than what it turned out to be, but given the less-than-satisfactory sales figures this game has garnished, a sequel seems unlikely.

Score

36/60

6/10 (Average)

Super Mario Maker (Wii U)

Developer(s) – Nintendo EAD Group No 4

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Yosuke Oshino

Producer(s) – Tazashi Tezuka & Horiyuki Kimura

Partly inspired by the Super Nintendo classic Mario Paint, Super Mario Maker is a game in which players are given the facility to design their own Super Mario courses, and share them across the Internet with players from around the world. Personally, whilst I was mightily impressed with the practically infinite amount of replay value there is to be had with this title, I did have a few issues with it preventing me from being able to call it the ultimate Mario experience.

Graphics – 8/10

The templates available to players to create their own Super Mario levels consist of the conceptual and technological design of the original Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros U. By proxy, players will already know that they will eventually be in for a whirlwind of customisation options involving some of the most wonderfully outlandish conceptual design in video game history. If that weren’t enough, Nintendo have also added a few new elements into the mix that can be implemented, such as distorting scenery to add to a stage’s level of challenge, and a whole range of sound effects and scenery effects like fireworks, and funny noises activated whilst interacting with certain object in each stage. In some of the better level designs I’ve encountered so far, I’ve been impressed with how Nintendo have managed to keep the franchise relatively fresh and creative even after thirty years.

Gameplay – 7/10

As mentioned, what this entails is players designing, sharing and playing a multitude of different Super Mario courses based on four templates of four classic Mario games. Different elements can be unlocked through either playing other people’s courses, or through the nine-day unlocking cycle; but there is another way of getting round this for anyone who would prefer to have these features unlocked even sooner. All that the player must do is experiment with the creating mode for 5 minutes at a time, at which point they will receive a notification that new features will soon be available, After this, the player can then set the date forward by a day in the system settings, reload the game, and the new features will become available. This can be done multiple times until all the features are unlocked. However, one problem that I think will always apply to this game is that the levels present will always vary in quality from either masterful to exceedingly boring, since content is almost solely user-generated. I’ve already encountered this problem whilst playing, and I don’t think this at least is likely to ever change.

Controls – 10/10

There isn’t hardly anything to say about the game’s controls, since it consists of a control scheme, which has already been around for thirty years, and has been perfected all this time. Super Mario Bros set the standard of how a 2D side scrolling video game should be correctly developed, and by proxy, there was never going to be an issue with controls.

Originality – 6/10

Though the entire concept of user-generated content and modding is by no means anything new to the world of gaming, Nintendo have still managed to at least keep the Mario franchise relatively fresh by adding a gameplay concept new to it, whilst along the way, adding new elements never seen in Super Mario stages before. Ultimately, the majority of what uniqueness this game holds lies with the player’s ability to design as many rich and varied courses as possible, and from what I’ve seen so far the quality of that has ranged from captivatingly unique to courses that Nintendo themselves would despair at if they were to see them for themselves.

Happii

Happii

Overall Super Mario Maker is a very decent game. It also has the potential to be even better still if Nintendo decide to provide players with even more course templates and elements as the next few months or years go on. In my opinion, it could potentially pave the way for Nintendo to make even more of these kinds of games, which could be extremely interesting if they decide to do so. It would be just another example of how this franchise could possibly continue to establish new trends in the world of gaming.

Score

31/40

7.5/10 (Good)