Tag Archives: Steam

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)

Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator (PC, Android & iOS)

Developer(s) – Vile Monarch

Publisher(s) – Gambitious Digital Entertainment

Developed by Austrian indie outfit Vile Monarch, Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator combines turn-based style combat with the layout of a fighting game to deliver a unique twist on both styles of play, and quirky humour to match. Whilst not having a great amount of replayability for a fighting game, it can make for hours of entertainment, and for the relatively short time it took me to unlock everything, I enjoyed this title.

Graphics – 7/10

Rendered using 8-bit graphics, the developers took influenced most notably from the Monty Python troupe in both it’s character and stage designs. As a fan of Monty Python myself, it was fun identifying where the references were placed; be that either the obvious ones, like the character of John P. Shufflebottom being an obvious caricature of John Cleese’s character from the world famous dead parrot sketch, or obscure ones like the trumpets being blown by rear end in the background of the afterlife stage, reminiscent of a scene from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. There are also references to other aspects of modern and classic thrown in for good measure, which enhance game’s level of visual variety in terms of conceptual design.

Gameplay – 6/10

The object of the game is to string together the longest insults possible by picking from a selection of phrases and conjunctions in the best order to deal as much damage as possible to the enemy, and deplete their health bar before they can deplete the player’s. There are additional characters to unlock, as well as an additional stage, and then there’s also a multiplayer mode whereby people can compete online. For a fighting game, it doesn’t have a great deal of content, and I’m hoping that’s where the games upcoming sequel will come in; Oh… Sir! The Hollywood Roast. It’s not the most plentiful experience available, but well worth the price posted on Steam of £1.59. Stringing elaborate insults together feels satisfying, and it’s also rewarding to be able to identify individual characters weaknesses to deal extra damage.

Controls – 10/10

Issues with the controls are non-existent unless gamers have a problem with their mouse. It’s a simply point and click game typical of a vast majority of PC games, and suffers from no problems in this respect.

Originality – 9/10

In terms of uniqueness, it stands out from any other fighting game ever made. It thrills me to see independent developers trying out new ideas never seen in gaming before, and making them work extremely well, like what has been accomplished with title. The developers have promised a more plentiful experience with the next game, as well as it being much more open to modding like Civilization 5 perhaps, but the first game is definitely a standout starting point worthy of more attention than is has received so far.

Happii

Overall, Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator, whilst having a fleeting single player experience, makes up for that in its quality. It’s an entertaining, reasonably priced and funny gaming experience, and I would recommend it to all fighting game fans out there.

Score

32/40

8/10 (Very Good)

Q&A With Huey Games

Following on from Play Manchester 2016, one game that has continued to impress gaming audiences since I first laid eyes on it is Hyper Sentinel; an arcade shoot ‘em up inspired by 2nd and 3rd generation classics such as Defender, Cybernoid and Uridium. Showcased at many expos, and being the subject of a recently successful Kickstarter campaign, the popularity of the game has been on the rise, and is set for full release later on this year on multiple platforms. Curious to find out more, I’ve conducted a Q&A with the game’s creative director and CEO of Huey Games, Robert Hewson, and the game’s principal developer, founder of Four5Six Pixel Jonathan Port. Here’s what they had to say about Hyper Sentinel:

 

What were the influences behind your game?

Jon: The most obvious visual influence is to Uridium, the twist and flip manouevre has never really been used since, so I thought it would be fun to have that in. In terms of gameplay, major influences are Defender for its frantic action and speed, Tornado Low Level (ZX Spectrum) which you could sweep back the plane wings to speed boost. I loved Cybernoid and its dramatic explosions, so there is definitely some influence there.  More recently Resogun, I like the way the enemies surround and suffocate you if you don’t keep on top.

What has the developmental process been like?

Jon: Development has gone very smoothly. I’ll often implement some features and then let Huey Games take a look. We’ll then go through a short iterative design cycle until the feature feels right. Using this process, some features make it in, and some get left out. It’s about making a game that feels consistent throughout.  To get such close design feedback from a publisher, but still have the freedom to create your own game has been an absolute pleasure.

Rob: It has been a genuine pleasure to work with Jon on the iterative process of enhancing and polishing the game. We seem to be on the same wavelength the whole time, I don’t think we’ve disagreed on any of the feedback we’ve given and it is always a delight to get a new build and see all the little touches Jon has added.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

Rob: We are on track for an early summer release now that the Kickstarter has passed its funding goal. Of course, there is still a week left on the campaign so we are hoping to hit a few more stretch goals too! You can check out the campaign at www.hypersentinel.com.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

Rob: I think there was a moment after we’d been through a few rounds of iterative improvement when the boost and the dodge abilities came together, and the compelling loop of the gameplay was suddenly brought to life. After that, tweaking the way the enemies behave, the way the power-ups spawn and all those little details so that they work elegantly with those core mechanics, that is when we began to realise we’d found the fun, which is always the best moment!

 

Jon: Seeing people play your game at an expo and come away thrilled to have played it. When you are so close to the development of a game you never really know until you stand away and just let people play it on their own. It’s a scary moment as you take your game to its first public showing, but to see people really enjoying your own game is a special moment.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

Jon: Hyper Sentinel was originally developed on an Apple centric platform. In order to get the game out to a wider audience we needed to move the code base to an engine that could target multiple platforms. The move to the Unity engine was the greatest technical undertaking. Most of the code has been re-written entirely from scratch to get the best out of that environment. We could have gone down the route of a quick code port, but we decided early on that we should do this right to make the best game possible.

Has your father Andrew had any input into the game?

Rob: Not so much. He attended the first meeting with Jon and could instantly see the potential of the game, but he is taking more of a back seat these days. His wealth of experience is there to tap into when we need it, but that is mostly on the business side.

What impact has your father had on your career as a developer in general?

Rob: I don’t think he really pushed me to pursue a career in the games industry, if anything he was a sobering influence because he knew first hand just how difficult it could be. However, there is no doubt that being surrounded by games from an early age – climbing through the shelves in the Hewson warehouse, attending trade shows, collecting posters and stickers – it clearly left its mark. I remember drawing the Hewson logo and dreaming up game ideas with my friends, so I caught the bug early. By the time I actually got into the industry dad had already left, and although I probably talked to him about it on occasion he considered it a closed chapter in his life. Until I convinced him to write his book, that is.

How well has the game been received so far?

Rob: It has been exceptional. Everybody who plays the game seems to enjoy and appreciate it. One of the most exciting things to see is that it is not just older retro gaming fans who love it, we had loads of kids coming back time and again to play it at the shows we have attended, which is a pleasure to witness.

Jon: The greatest thrill is to see people genuinely excited to play the game. Hyper Sentinel is a hi-score game at its heart, and its great to see people putting in so much time to stay on top of the score leaderboard! 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Rob: So far we can confirm Steam, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android and Amazon platforms. Hopefully we can add even more to the list soon.

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

Rob: Figure out what the hook is for your game, the thing which makes it stand out from the crowd, and polish, polish, polish. Once you’ve finished polishing, polish some more. When you think you can’t polish any further, get some feedback, realise you were wrong and carry on polishing.

Jon: Did Rob say polish? If there is one thing I have learnt from Huey Games it is that a great game doesn’t happen instantly, it’s a process of building over and over from a simple core concept. For aspiring indie developers the most important thing is to finish your game, and that takes an awful lot of hard work and time. If you know you have a great game, just keep going until you get it into people’s hands. 

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

Rob: The game has its own website at www.hypersentinel.com (which currently goes directly to the Kickstarter while the campaign is live) and you can visit our company page at www.hueygames.com

Do you have anything else to add?

Rob: Thank you for having us and a massive thank you to everybody who has supported us along the way!

 

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank both Robert and Jonathan for agreeing to our Q&A session to say congratulations on the successful Kickstarter campaign Hyper Sentinel has had, and to wish them best luck with the game upon release. From what I played at Manchester, Hyper Sentinel seems like a particularly enthralling game, a compelling homage to the 80s classics the developers drew inspiration from, and I can’t wait to play the finished article.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, & iOS Android)

Developer(s) – Cornfox & Bros.

Publisher(s) – FDG Entertainment

Director – Heikki Repo

First released on iOS in 2013, subsequently brought to consoles last year and featuring music composed by Squaresoft veterans Kenji Ito, and my personal favourite video game composer Nobuo Uematsu, Oceanhorn borrows a great deal from some of the best franchises in gaming, such as Legend of Zelda and Baldur’s Gate, and brings them together in one very satisfying and critically acclaimed gaming experience. Even after playing a few hours of Oceanhorn, I could tell that this is most definitely one of the greatest indie games I would have ever played to date, and something I would recommend to any fan of adventure games or RPGs.

Graphics – 8.5/10

The game’s visuals are vibrant, colourful, diverse, and though outdated compared to most mainstream releases, they are conceptually brilliant. Though in most aspects of this game, the most obvious influence had been The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, I found myself being able to identify a great of conceptual design deviating away from the latter in places such as house basements, which have a heavy steampunk feel to them reminiscent of the game’s main antagonist. Dungeons throughout the game, again much like the Legend of Zelda series, do extremely well to stand out amongst each other, and more than make up for the overworld areas, which can seem quite repetitious after a while.

Gameplay – 9/10

Oceanhorn is an isometric top-down adventure RPG, similar to Baldur’s Gate; Dark Alliance, but set in a much more open world than the latter. There is a heavy emphasis on exploration, combat, character development and dungeon crawling; like Wind Waker, it also features travel by sea along with combat elements thrown in during these sequences too. There is plenty to do in the game to keep player busy besides the main story, and the boss fights are challenging on quite a surprising level in my opinion; even the first boss was fairly difficult to contend with.

Controls – 10/10

I experienced no issues with the game’s controls whatsoever, as not only am I personally quite familiar with this in particular gameplay formula, but there have been countless isometric RPGs to have come and gone over the last 20 years, and it was to be expected that no issues would arise. The best thing about the controls, however is how well two different styles of adventure game, i.e Legend of Zelda and Baldur’s Gate, come together particularly well to form it’s own cohesive concept without presenting any issues with the controls.

Lifespan – 7.5/10

Overall, Oceanhorn can be made to last there about 16 to 20 hours, which for an indie adventure game is fairly impressive; especially considering that is started life as a smartphone game. I’ve found a lot of indie games to be short and sweet, such as Titan Souls and Xeodrifter, so a game like this to me, was a welcome breath of fresh air, and something that can have a great of time invested into it for those willing to explore it, which I personally always admire in any game at all.

Storyline – 7.5/10

The story follows a silent protagonist, whose father leaves the paternal home to traverse the Islands of the Uncharted Seas to seek and kill a giant sea monster known as Oceanhorn. The player character subsequently sets out to destroy Oceanhorn himself, and to discover what became of his father. It seems simple enough, but throughout, the character goes through an unprecedented amount of development, discovering things such as love and hardship throughout the way. It’s one of many ways that this game can be compared to the Legend of Zelda, and whilst I believe the character of Link has been further developed in a single game than what is present in this, it’s still a very solid effort in terms of overall story.

Originality – 6/10

Most players familiar with adventure video games will have very little difficulty pointing out what influenced this title, as they are blatantly obvious from start to finish in nigh on every aspect of it. However, all these ideas come together to form something, which I can find myself to describe as unforgettable to say the least. The elements of the games it borrows inspiration from are made to seem more like charms than rip-offs.

Happii

Overall, Ocean horn, whilst it clearly borrows influence from other games, is in my opinion, the best indie experience of 2016; it’s satisfying to play and beautiful to look at, with a stellar soundtrack, an enjoyable gameplay formula and a pleasantly surprising level of depth in it’s story. It’s certainly worth playing through at least once.

Score

48.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Ziggurat (PlayStation 4, Xbox One & PC)

Developer(s) – Milkstone Studios

Publisher(s) – Milkstone Studios

First released on Steam Early Access back in 2014, and going on to see both digital and physical releases on multiple platforms, Ziggurat is a Roguelike first-person shooting dungeon crawler, somewhat reminiscent of Tower of Guns, with a heavy emphasis on combat, player character development and above all, challenge. After having played Tower of Guns, I had fairly high expectations of how good this game would be, and how it would do the things is does; overall, I was not disappointed.

Graphics – 8/10

The game takes place in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world bearing resemblance to game series’ such as Warcraft or Baldur’s Gate. The graphical quality of the title is stunning, especially for a game developed independently, but more importantly, it also does extremely well to break away from games that were clearly taken as influence by incorporating a massive variety of unique creatures and boss characters, such as Sir Arthur and Lady Audrey. Cutting edge graphics can mean much less if there isn’t variety in conceptual design, but this game has both.

Gameplay – 8/10

The basic premise of gameplay, along with the game’s story, is that an apprentice wizard must take on the challenge of the Ziggurat in order to graduate from his order. Players must undertake increasingly difficult tasks of ascending the floors of the Ziggurat, which are filled with dangerous monsters and challenging obstacles throughout. Players can take advantage of a massive choice of different weapons, spells and perks that can found across the game in order to survive for as long as possible, and to try and eventually graduate from the wizard’s order. Locations, enemies and bosses, in Roguelike tradition, are procedurally generated, an thus does each playthrough provide a new set of challenges every time, keeping the game insanely fresh, and giving it virtually infinite replay value, which can make for hours upon hours of fun.

Controls – 10/10

Belonging to a genre that has dominated the video gaming market since the sixth generation, Ziggurat’s controls are perfect, providing no unnecessary complications, straightforward control mechanics and incorporating all aspects of gameplay seamlessly. The fact that the player character moves faster than in most other first-person shooters also provides quite a lot of fluency for players who have mastered it after a while, as it can become quite satisfying to be able to effectively dodge a wide variety of simultaneous enemy attacks. By the same token, it can also provide an equal amount of challenge to newcomers, since it can be quite easy to rush through unexplored areas, and accidentally fall for a number of given obstacles such as lava pits.

Originality – 7/10

Though Ziggurat is not the first game of it’s kind to incorporate the basic premise of gameplay that it does, it stands out for a massive number of different reasons; the variety in gameplay combat options it provides, as well as it’s conceptual design and artistic direction in terms of visuals. Although it’s clearly not without it’s influences, it provides a marvellous gaming experience that greatly shines throughout the indie developer community, and it’s certainly worth playing again and again.

Happii

Happii

Overall, Ziggurat is a highly enjoyable game, filled with challenge, entertainment and a staggering amount of replayability. It looks great, it plays out wonderfully, and stands out as one of the better gaming experiences on eighth generation hardware.

Score

33/40

8/10 (Very Good)

Undertale (PC)

Developer(s) – Toby Fox

Developed by Toby Fox over a period spanning over 2 years following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Undertale was heavily inspired by the Super Mario RPG series, as it combines turn-based RPG mechanics with real-time combat, and having a narrative deeply reminiscent of many more surreal games including Anodyne and EarthBound. Though I have voiced my concerns about developers combining Turn-based combat with real-time combat in the past in reviews of games like Dragon Age: Origins and Final Fantasy XII, the way it’s handled in this game is much more adaptable and sensible than in most others, and it made for a very engaging experience.

Graphics – 7/10

At first glance, the visuals seem extremely basic in terms of graphical quality, but as the game progress, players will start to notice subtle details throughout that really make it stand out, such as reflections in pools of water, raindrops, snowflakes and surprisingly effective use of shadow and lighting. The conceptual design, however, is where this game truly differentiates itself from others, as it takes place in a wide variety of different locations, and has an insane amount of different character designs. My own personal experiences of witnessing many cosplayers dress up as characters from this game speak for themselves, and give testament to how much of a cult following this game has garnished since it’s release.

Gameplay – 8/10

The game focuses on a combat system highly resembling that of any classic Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest game, but it is in how players must evade enemy attacks where it becomes extremely enjoyable. The attack evasion system plays out like bullet hell games such as Galaxian or Gradius, with players having to evade an onslaught of objects on the screen. After being disappointed by a plethora of games that have tried and failed to combine turn-based and real-time combat, it was enormously refreshing to find a combat system that does this, and one that actually works well. It gives testament to Toby Fox’s ability as a games designer if he can succeed where many mainstream developers have failed spectacularly.

Controls – 10/10

Even with a very different control scheme from most other games of this kind to have been released over the last 25 years, the control scheme in Undertale presents players with no unnecessary complications or annoyances. Movement is straightforward, as are the combat mechanics, and like many RPGs before it, the developer didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken and the game is the best it could be in this respect for it.

Lifespan – 3/10

Lasting around 6 to 7 hours, Undertale falls way short of the standard lifespan of an average turn-based RPG, and this stands out as the worst thing about the game in my opinion. If it had much less of a linear progression as it does, then potentially it could have been made to last far longer. Arguably, it can be put down to the fact the developer worked on a budget, but there have been indie games made on a budget with virtually infinite replay value, thus even under the circumstances, the game still feels far too short than what it ought to have been.

Storyline – 10/10

The story of Undertale follows a player-named human child, who has fallen into a mysterious realm called the Underground, where resides monsters that were once equal to humans, but banished there following a war that broke out between them. The human sets out on a journey to find the king of the Underground, Asgore Dreemurr, and reach the barrier leading back to the surface world. The game’s story was heavily inspired by Internet culture, as well as the concept of motherhood, further taking influence from Nintendo’s Mother series; the character Toriel, in particular, being perhaps the most prominent example of this. The story has a unique blend of comedy, tragedy and moral ambiguity, as players are presented with choices of befriending, fleeing or killing enemies, which in turn influence the direction in which the story goes. It certainly stands out as one of the better and more subtle narratives told in an indie game, and is worth experiencing at least once.

Originality – 10/10

Though the game takes inspiration from a variety of different sources, such as Internet culture, other game series’, and even UK comedy shows such as Mr. Bean, it present players with a gaming experience largely unlike most others. I was overwhelmingly satisfied to witness how well combat was handled against many other RPGs released throughout the previous generation of gaming, and most other aspects of it also contributed to make this a truly unforgettable experience, like it’s story and subtle graphical details. It can be looked upon as one of the most remarkable achievements in gaming in general; made even more remarkable by the fact that it was all the work of one man with limited financial backing, but with unlimited imagination.

Happii

Happii

Overall, Undertale is an engaging, subtle and extraordinary video game that will have players amazed and immersed from beginning to end. Though my biggest concern stems from wishing that it could have been made to last a little longer, what there is in the way of story and gameplay makes for an experience unlike many others, and I recommend it to any fan of the RPG genre.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

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

Developer(s) – Puppy Games

Publisher(s) – Curve Digital

Released on the back of the success of three other arcade-style games, Revenge of the Titans, Droid Assault and Titan Attacks, Ultratron was released earlier this year to much positive critical acclaim, and being ported to a variety of different systems along the way. As far as I’m concerned, it is the best arcade-style game to have been released this year, exceeding the quality of Titan Attacks, and for that matter, every other game I’ve played published by Curve Digital.

Graphics – 8/10

Although the visual style of the game is largely reminiscent of the other three titles Puppy Games have developed, it also has its own specific charm to it in it’s enemy and boss designs as well as various different stage designs as well. There are also more subtle references and allusions to other games they have worked on within this title, such as the colour palettes of each level, as well as other classic 8-BIT games in addition to what games influenced the gameplay, such as Pac-Man and Berzerk.

Gameplay – 9/10

As well as Ultratron being much more addictive than Titan Attacks, it’s also a lot more legitimately challenging without it being to the point of inaccessibility. The bonus levels and the levels whereby enemies are shooting at the player constantly can seem all the more satisfying if they are either accomplished to 100%, or accomplished without the player taking a single hit. Like Titan Attacks and the other titles Puppy Games have developed, the upgrade system is also once again present to give players all the more to play for with each level and to either modify or refine what tactics they use, and how best to approach their own unique style of play.

Controls – 10/10

Though this kind of game had been developed many times before in the past, and as a result, there would have been no errors expected to have been present with the game’s control scheme, I like the different system of using the right analogue stick to shoot rather than a main button on the pad, just like Insomniac Games did with another very similar video game within Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in time called My Blaster Runs Hot. It just makes things far simpler, but without taking any unnecessary risks, and potentially ruining the control scheme altogether.

Originality – 6/10

Ultratron, as well as the other three titles Puppy Games have developed, can only largely be considered a modification of an existing invention, and therefore, it suffers somewhat in terms of uniqueness. Though it comes as much less obvious in it’s visuals than Titan Attacks, I would like to see Puppy Games come up with their very own cohesive concept for a new arcade-style games as opposed to simply attempting to refine something that has been done many times over the last thirty years. Although it has been refreshing to experience them again, they need something more unique to set them apart a bit better in my opinion.

Happii

Happii

In summation, despite it’s moderate lack of originality, Ultratron is certainly one of the better indie gaming experiences released this year, as well as the best game of its ilk to come out in 2015. It’s addictive and fun as well as being able to provide a fair challenging, and any fan of old-school gaming should certainly give it a try.

Score

32/40

8/10 (Very Good)

The Stanley Parable (PC)

Developer(s) – Davey Wreden & Galactic Café

The Stanley Parable was developed about three years ago, as an attempt by it’s creator, Davey Wreden to go against the kind of narratives typically found in video games of story; and my goodness, he accomplished that. It’s unlike any other interactive story I’ve ever experienced, in that it’s a lot interesting and open-ended. Though I wish a bit more could have been added in terms of gameplay to keep it a little bit more interesting.

Graphics – 6/10

Though the visuals can indeed seem extremely generic and dull at first, as the game progresses, they become thoroughly more varied and engrossing; taking place in factories, lush fields and even Matrix-style computer rooms depending on which direction the player takes. The fact that there are so many places to go throughout the course of the game in itself makes for a fairly wide degree of visual diversity for a game that takes place mainly in an office building.

Gameplay – 4/10

The game takes on a first-person mode, but only containing a handful of thing to do in-game. There are no enemies to fight or puzzles to solve; only the facility to go off in multiple directions, thus effecting what ending the player is treated to. As I said, I wish the developer had added at least a little bit more to make the gameplay that bit more enjoyable, but ultimately, it feels more like watching a film unfortunately. It’s impossible for me to fully appreciate games that are made solely for the sake of art, and having next to no basis in viable gameplay.

Controls – 10/10

As a first-person with next to no other functions apart from walking, turning and interacting with certain objects and buttons, there was hardly anything the developer could have gotten wrong during the making, and so there aren’t any problems to address; so there is this positive to deduce, at least. If there had been any issues with the controls, then it would have inevitably led to me having major issues with this game.

Lifespan – 6/10

It will take roughly 10 hours for players to take each individual route and witness each individual ending, since there are a fair few to discover; the only basis in gameplay this title truly has in my opinion.

Storyline – 8/10

The story is most definitely the greatest aspect of this game; no matter how confusing it may be to people after a while. It follows an ordinary many called Stanley, who is guided by the player through a series of different paths leading to different places with a plethora of different events unfolding; all the while being narrated by British actor Kevin Brighting. Aside from the surrealist goings on that happen throughout the course of each playthrough, Brighting does provide an extremely good narration, and at times also even bring an element of dark humour, as well as breakings of the fourth wall.

Originality – 7/10

Though this game does have of the most unique stories ever told in a video game (indeed, one to go against other video game narratives by design), the gameplay remains largely unoriginal, and consequently, I can’t call it the overly unique game that many other critics have taken to calling it. It’s all very well and good to have such a strange story add to game’s charm, but for me, the most important aspect in any game is gameplay, and unfortunately, this title comes up short in that respect.

Niiutral

Niiutral

To summarize The Stanley Parable is indeed an extremely strange game with an interesting story. However, for all the room there is in the games environment, it seems criminal to me of the developers to not add any more basis in gameplay that what there ended up being.

Score

41/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

The Escapists (Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Team17

Different from anything Team17 have ever done before, I found myself fascinated with what The Escapists had to offer in terms of gameplay, but was disappointed to find how short a time one playthrough can be made to last. Set in a prison that the player must escape from with the aid of the other inmates, it also delivers an unusually light hearted and comedic portrayal of prison life.

Graphics – 7/10

The visuals are extremely reminiscent of games in the 16-bit era such as EarthBound or any of the original Pokémon games. Whilst it could be viewed as a step back from the more modernised visuals from Worms Revolution or even Flockers to a certain extent, they still work fairly well to portray the aforementioned light heartedness of the game’s overall atmosphere, and in turn, Team17’s subtly warped sense of humour.

Gameplay – 7/10

Overall, as well as being particularly different to most top-down 16-bit games of way back when, it’s also extremely satisfying to play for how short a time it can be completed in. There are quite a lot of side quests to do in between other missions allocated by other inmates. There is also quite a strong Minecraft influence throughout, as crafting items from collectibles is integral to the ultimate objective of the game, which is to escape the prison.

Controls – 10/10

As Team17 have worked with PC hardware since their founding, there is and never should have been no issues with the game’s control scheme; especially not with a game like this, since from what I can gather, must be one of the easiest control schemes to work on.

Lifespan – 4.5/10

As I mentioned earlier, for how much substance there is in gameplay, it is disappointing to think that one playthrough of this game can take an average of 7 hours to finish. I personally hate when a game’s lifespan outlasts it’s gameplay value. I encountered this many times throughout the seventh generation, with the release of such games as Batman: Arkham AsylumDeus Ex: Human Revolution; and South Park: The Stick of Truth. Considering that this game would also have taken considerably less time and effort to develop than any of the aforementioned examples, it just makes it that much more unforgivable.

Storyline – N/A (10/10)

Again, in lieu of the tradition set by the developers, The Escapists doesn’t have a fixed story, but only a basic premise, whereby the player character, pre-selected by the player before the start of the game, must find a way to escape the prison in which the game is set in. Though I think it would have at least been interesting to have some kind of back story added to it to again possibly add even more to the game’s comedic element, I was happy to see that the game wasn’t at least marred down by any attempt to create any kind of singular narrative.

Originality – 7/10

Though there have been countless top-down RPGs over the years, from Pokémon to EarthBound to Final Fantasy to Chronicles of a Dark Lord, there is something about The Escapists that does set it apart from the rest. It differs in a negative way, in how short a time it lasts compared to most others, but in a positive way in that the gameplay and the objectives involved are drastically different, and doesn’t feel quite as repetitive without not being addictive at the same time.

Happii

Happii

To summarize, The Escapists is a pretty good game, but could have done with lasting so much longer than it did. I feel that out of all the games that Team17 have made, whereby lifespan is largely non-applicable, I can’t help but feel that if the same had been applied to this title, in the form of some kind of endless mode perhaps, then it could have ended up being something particularly special.

Score

45.5/60

7.5/10 (Good)

The Binding of Isaac (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS & Xbox One)

Designer(s) – Edmund McMillan & Florian Himsl

Created by Edmund McMillan, the same mind behind the infamously difficult Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac is a Roguelike that can be seen as a love letter to the original Legend of Zelda game, but with its own very unique twists. Regardless of how morbid this game can seem to many people, it’s also a particularly enjoyable one to play. But be warned: it isn’t for those who are easily offended.

Graphics – 7/10

The visuals, rendered in the same artistic style as Super Meat Boy, contain a lot of unique, yet taboo elements in things like the various power-ups that can be found in the game, and especially in it’s creature roster, with it being capped off by some of the most compellingly disturbing bosses I’ve ever seen in video games. The only gripe I have with it is that the settings can get a little repetitious at times, but the various DLC packages and re-releases fixed that problem to a certain extent.

Gameplay – 8/10

Playing out with mainly the dungeon crawling aspects of The Legend of Zelda series, it involves simply killing all enemies, and the boss at the end of each stage, then rinse and repeat. But each playthrough is different, as ever section of every stage is randomly generated, presenting players with new power-ups and a new challenge every time. It’s quite testing, but not to the point of being unforgiving, which after playing Super Meat Boy, was like a breath of fresh air to me.

Controls – 10/10

There are also no issues with the controls. There are obstacles present in certain areas of each stage, such as floor spikes and bombs that could detonate unexpectedly, but whether or not the player survives is entirely dependant on their own level of skill, which is how I think games like this should be. At times, players are required to think on their toes in order to accommodate for what abilities and perks they may or may not have; especially during boss fights.

Lifespan – 10/10

As each playthrough presents a new challenge and experience every time, the game quite literally has infinite replay value. I love to see this in any game, but it’s particularly noteworthy when an indie developer manages to accomplish this, since I hear many developers and critics citing that the budget may have been a factor in a game’s development cycle. But especially considering that this started out as a mere Flash game, and would have cost next to nothing to create, it says to me that the limitations stem from the developer’s imaginations.

Storyline – 8/10

The story is extremely reminiscent of the Bible story of the same name. It follows a young boy named Isaac, who once lived peacefully with his mother, until the voice of God called out to her to “cut her son off from the world’s evils”, and lock him in his room. God finally calls out to Isaac’s mother, demanding that she sacrifice her son to him as proof that she loves God above all. But before his mother can burst to kill him, Isaac jumps down a trap door in his bedroom to plunge into the dangerous depths below, and into a world of danger. The story is extremely controversial, containing a number of mature themes and taboos, including, suicide, child neglect, religious hypocrisy, infanticide; the list goes on. But above all, it’s very enjoyable for those willing to take heed to the lessons conveyed within it.

Originality – 7/10

Though there have been many Roguelike games to have come and gone, this is a game that stands out among most others. It goes where other games and developers are generally afraid to go. After Super Meat Boy, I resented the development of such a game. But The Binding of Isaac has made me respect Edmund McMillan a great deal more than I did as a developer; especially since this was also a very personal game for him, as many of the game’s events were in fact based on his own childhood experiences.

Happii

Happii

Overall, The Binding of Isaac, whilst being the most controversial game I’ve ever played, is also one of the more enjoyable. It has everlasting replay value, as well as a story and premise that has rightfully propelled Edmund McMillan into a very special place in gaming history.

Score

50/60

8/20 (Very Good)