Tag Archives: Xbox One

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)

Reus (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Abbey Games

Publisher(s) – Abbey Games

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

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

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

Graphics – 7/10

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

Gameplay – 7/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Originality – 9/10

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

Happii

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

Score

33/10

8/10 (Very Good)

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

Developer(s) – Snowcastle Games

Publisher(s) – Snowcastle Games & Soedesco

Director(s) – Bendik Stang & Fritz Olsen

Producer(s) – Erik Hoftun

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

Graphics – 7.5/10

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

Gameplay – 8.5/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 7/10

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

Storyline – 7/10

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

Originality – 7/10

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

Happii

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

Score

47/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Overcooked (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Ghost Town Games

Publisher(s) – Team17

Released in late 2016, and published by Team17 after various expo tours to bring the game to the attention of wider audiences, Overcooked is a cooking simulator in which the objective is to raise as much money as possible in each respective level by preparing as many dishes as possible. I first became aware of Overcooked hen I went to my first expo, Play Blackpool 2015, and I had been following the progress of the game closely until it’s release. After playing the final product, I can say that I was not at all disappointed.

Graphics – 7/10

The game’s variety of conceptual design is heavily based on the layout of each level’s kitchen; many taking place in outdoor and indoor restaurants, whilst other levels take place in more varied locations, such as volcanoes and pirate ships. It also comes with quite an impressive soundtrack, but it’s the variety in scenery that truly makes the game stand out. It speaks of games with some of the most diverse settings conceived, including Super Mario Bros and Banjo-Kazooie to sight a few of many examples.

Gameplay – 8/10

The object of the game is to serve as many customers as possible in each level, and to finish with a possible total of three stars, similar to Angry Birds or 10 Second Ninja X. Interestingly, it alludes to the fact that 3 Michelin stars is the highest accolade a chef can attain in the cooking profession. It’s an extremely challenging game, but at the same time, it’s also extremely fun. It’s satisfying to be able to adapt to the layout of each kitchen, and plan your strategy in accordance with the food that is being ordered by the customers; much like being an executive chef, in fact. There are penalties for overcooking food, as well as sending the wrong orders, which is also an integral part of where game’s level of challenge lies. Whilst looking simplistic, beneath the surface, there is a system that is easy to learn, yet difficult to master.

Controls – 9/10

At times, the controls can be somewhat unresponsive, but not to the extent that it ruins the gameplay, like what has happened with many other challenging games that have been developed in the past. Most often than not if a player makes a mistake, it is down to how they perform in the game, which is how it should be. Apart from this one minor gripe I have, I was particularly impressed with how the developers had handled the controls scheme; it makes it unlike any other game I’ve played.

Lifespan – 7/10

The single player campaign mode has 28 different levels, as well as and end boss fight, which dependent on player skill, can take up to 4 or 5 hours to complete. However, the game was designed to be a primary multiplayer experience, whereby two players control two chefs at the same time, which can make for many hours of entertainment. There was also DLC released for the game in addition, but with or without it, it does have a great deal to offer in terms of longevity. The only thing it lacks is online multiplayer, which I think would go a long way to improving the experience even further, but that may be an idea to implement with a possible sequel. The idea of a second game would be particularly exciting to me, since there is potentially a lot the developers could do to expand upon the concept even further,

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story involves the chefs having to save the world from an entity known as the Ever Peckish by travelling the world and cooking. Although a story may not have been necessary, it is a nice extra detail the developers added to give the game that little more substance. The concept may sound ridiculous on paper, but some of the greatest games developed have had very outlandish stories attached to them, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing speaking from experience. For example, a plumber saving a princess from a dragon may sound strange, but it’s made for the most iconic gaming franchise ever created.

Originality – 8/10

As I pointed out, Overcooked is unlike any other game I’ve ever played; it’s gameplay layout and control scheme does extremely well to make it stand out from both mainstream and indie releases, which is why I had been excited about it ever since I first laid eyes on it. As I watched it develop, my excitement and expectations only increased as time went on, and in retrospect, I think it’s deserved of the accolades it’s received since it’s release.

To summarize, Overcooked is a charming; yet challenging gameplay experience that is certainly worth playing again and again. The developers had outlandish ideas ever since the game’s inception, and to see all these ideas come together so well in the final product made believe it was well worth the wait to see it fully released.

Score

46/60

7.5/10 (Good)

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)

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)

Dishonored 2 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC)

Developer(s) – Arkane Studios

Publisher(s) – Bethesda

Director – Harvey Smith

Designer – Dinga Bakaba

Developed primarily at Arkane Studio’s Lyon branch, and released in late 2016, Dishonored 2 was released later last year to critical acclaim, with player and reviewers citing major improvements made over the first game; most of which concerning the game’s difficulty, as many players opinionated that the last game seemed too easy. Personally, I agree that the sequel is better than the original game in almost every respect, and whilst the gameplay wasn’t structured as well as I believe a Dishonored game has the potential to be, it was more than a worthy sequel.

Graphics – 9/10

Taking place in a new city away from Dunwall known as Karnaca, there are many new aspects of conceptual design added to expand upon the series’ mythology, as well as an overhaul of graphical quality, making the game just as compelling and wonderful too look at as the first game; if not, more so. There are new machines to have to contend with besides the tall boys, and a new set of city streets and buildings to navigate through and discover new secrets and vantage points. The second game also seems even darker than the original, giving it more of a gritty feel to it appropriate for the feel of the story. The setting of the Void is where this aspect of the game seems most prevalent as the Outsider is also portrayed as a much darker character in himself.

Gameplay – 9.5/10

This time round, the player is given the option to select from two characters from the start of the game, both with their own unique set of abilities; there’s Corvo Attano, the protagonist of the original game and the empresses royal protector, or Emily Kaldwin, the empress of Dunwall. The game itself is also structured very similarly to the last, taking place in a semi-open world and offering players the option to either take a stealthy approach or run rampant and kill every enemy standing in the way. The game also presents the option of going the duration of it without killing a single person. The best thing about this game is that the character choice not only offers a new dimension of gameplay with so many new powers and options to experiment with, but it also gives it even more replay value than the first, warranting at least four different playthroughs. So even though it didn’t offer a completely open world, which I think can be implemented very easily in a game like this, there is plenty of replayability to be had making for a fairly long gaming experience.

Controls – 10/10

As with the previous game, there are no issues with its control scheme, despite the fact that there are more options and abilities available. It’s actually quite impressive how the developers have managed to incorporate so many new features whilst at the same time keeping the fundamentals of the game to a perfect standard. Keeping a control scheme unique in a gameplay perspective that has also taken and maintained prominence throughout the industry for almost twenty years also makes it seem even more impressive in my opinion.

Lifespan – 7/10

Each individual playthrough lasts about as long as it did in the first game, clocking in at around 20-25 hours, which for me, was mildly disappointing, as a game like this can have a campaign that can be easily made to last longer. However, the game’s lifespan is in its potential replay value, of which there is a great deal of for those willing to delve deeper into the game. So whilst it may not have the lifespan that a Dishonored game could have, it still has a great of longevity attached to it, and will make for hours upon hours of entertainment.

Storyline – 7/10

The sequel to Dishonored takes place fifteen years following the events of the original game. Whilst Emily Kaldwin has long since been installed as the rightful empress of the city of Dunwall thanks to Corvo, the empire has prospered, but it has not been without challenge. A serial murderer knows as the Crown Killer is murdering enemies of the state left, right and centre, and has led many in Dunwall to believe the Crown Killer is Emily herself. Whilst Corvo and Emily are attending a remembrance ceremony for Emily’s mother Jessamine, a powerful witch named Delilah Copperspoon is introduced to Emily, and claims to be her older half-sister and rightful heir to the empire. Whichever character the player chooses at this point manages to escape Dunwall, whilst the other is subdued by Delilah, who usurps the throne, and the player character is tasked with putting an end to Delilah’s regime and rescuing either Corvo or Emily depending on the character’s choice. Whilst I thought the game’s story was not as suspenseful as the last, since there is not as much of a elaborate twist to it, it still has the same level of political intrigue, and just as much emotional charge; especially as this time round, Corvo is given a voice as opposed to being confined to the role of the silent protagonist.

Originality – 7.5/10

Though the structure of the game remains relatively the same as it’s predecessor, the formula is kept fresh enough with the introduction of so many new features and abilities added. It’s most definitely evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary, expanding on what was already good about the first game with the exception of the story. In my opinion, it does still leave room for both improvement and development in the event of a possible third game, but having played through both, I would welcome a third with open arms. The second game cemented the fact that both the concept and mythology behind the series is more than worth further expanding upon still.

Happii

Overall, Dishonored 2, whilst not being exactly the sequel I had hoped it would be, still present massive improvement upon the first game. It’s enjoyable and lengthy with a decent story, and plenty of gameplay options to match; well worth one playthrough at the bare least.

Score

50/60

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)

Doom (2016) (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – id Software

Publisher(s) – Bethesda Softworks

Director(s) – Marty Stratton & Hugo Martin

Producer(s) – Timothy Bell

Twelve years in the making, and finally released to positive reviews in mid-2016, the re-vamp of id Software’s classic shooter Doom presents players with an experience more akin to Doom 1 and 2, deviating away from the survival horror approach taken with Doom 3, and given an overhaul in visuals as well as having numerous different features thrown in for good measure. I thought that whilst it was pretty light on story, again alluding to the first two games, it was overall a fairly decent gaming experience worth at least one playthrough, and was left relieved that it didn’t become another Duke Nukem Forever, as it easily could have been if history has gone another way.

Graphics – 10/10

The game runs on the id Tech engine; one of the most advanced gaming engines on the market. And as a result, it looks nigh on flawless in terms of technical performance. It’s certainly one of the best looking video games I’ve seen throughout the eighth generation so far; if not, the best. The conceptual design is also very well handled, as it looks even more akin to the classic box art than any other Doom game to date, with the red skies and terrains of mars, and the hordes of demons players must have to contend with. Although the game itself plays out much like the first two games in the series, I like that they also kept the scary atmosphere and limited lighting in UAC facilities, which were established in Doom 3.

Gameplay – 7/10

The game has a standard level-based campaign mode, whereby players must shoot their way through hordes of demonic creatures and complete a couple of collectible side quests along the way, but on top of that, there is online multiplayer included as standard. But the most interesting feature the game has to offer is undoubtedly the SnapMap system, which allows players to create their own arenas and stages, and hold their own online multiplayer battles and single player levels as well as other game modes; a direct response to the overwhelming legacy the original game created in terms of user-generated content. The SnapMap feature makes this game stand out among the many other generic FPS games that are released every year, and after completing the main story mode, will provide much more replay value for people left wanting more.

Controls – 10/10

Handled by the godfathers of the first-person shooting genre, id Software, it was expected that there would be no issues with the game’s controls; and so there aren’t any. Doom’s controls are handled just as well as any other modern FPS game, and present players with no unnecessary complications

Lifespan – 10/10

The campaign can typically last up to around 13 hours, which whilst isn’t exceptional is still much longer than the average FPS story mode. But on top of that, online multiplayer and the SnapMap feature will provide players with unlimited replay value, so the game will in essence last as long as player interest, which given what this game has to offer, should be a considerably long time; especially veteran fans of the series.

Storyline – 4/10

As I said, this game is light on story; even in the campaign mode. The plot is that an unnamed space marine is traversing through the planet Mars, and is on the way eliminating as much of the demon horde as possible. There are slight instances of character development and a couple of different plot threads, but not enough to make it stand out from other games in this respect. Arguably, there didn’t need to be a story for it to work, and that does apply to a certain extent, but given how id Software have previously demonstrated that they know how to tell at least an interesting story, as evidenced with both Rage and Wolfenstein: The New Order, I still can’t help but feel that this game fell short in this respect.

Originality – 6/10

Another aspect that the game falls short on slightly is in terms of uniqueness; partly in conjunction with the fact that this is simply a second re-telling of the events of the original game. It’s also due to the fact that Doom does essentially play out like a standard first-person shooter, and that there are no unique mechanics within the gameplay itself outside the SnapMap feature. It could be argued that id Software may have wanted to keep things simple for the sake of delaying the game any more than they already had done. If true, the game was made to suffer slightly in terms of originality.

Happii

Happii

In summation, however, Doom is a solid first person shooting experience, and I would recommend it to both veterans and newcomers. It’s longer than the average shooter, and while it does play out a lot like an average shooter, there are enough additional gameplay features to keep players busy vanquishing the demon horde for a long time.

Score

47/60

7.5/10 (Good)