Released back in 1995 as one of the earliest hit games on the original PlayStation along with the likes of Destruction Derby, Wipeout, and Pandemonium, Twisted Metal is a vehicular combat game originally conceived by the designer and future God of War creator David Jaffe, who came up with the idea after being stuck in a traffic jam wishing there were weapons mounted onto the car he was in. Though not being the first vehicular combat title, it undoubtedly brought the genre into the attention of the mainstream as well as into the realm of 3D gaming at the time. I personally think that the best of the series was yet to come, but nevertheless, the first game is pretty enjoyable.
Graphics – 7/10
The graphics on a technical level did pretty well to demonstrate what the original PlayStation was capable of rendering in its early stages, and it was fairly well polished for the time too. The best thing about the game’s graphics are the conceptual design, in terms of both the range of different areas the player must fight within, and the design of the characters; most of which became staples of the series later on such as Roadkill, Spectre, and most notably Sweet Tooth. What was made to look like a relatively generic car game on the box art was actually one of the more conceptually interesting games of the early stages of the fifth generation.
Gameplay – 6/10
The concept of gameplay is simple; destroy the opponent’s cars with what weapons are made available before the opponents kill the player. The player must win several rounds before reaching the game’s end boss Minion and being proclaimed the champion of the Twisted Metal Tournament. As this was the first in what would later become a series, a lot of the gameplay ideas perpetuated with relatively primitive, and there wasn’t a great deal of incentive offered to play multiple times except for finding out what happens to each character at the end of their respective playthroughs. More game modes would also be added to later entries to keep things diverse, but the original game offers a minimalist amount beyond the single-player or multiplayer modes. The facility to at least unlock Minion as a playable character wouldn’t have been a bad idea, I don’t think.
Controls – 9/10
The game’s controls for the most part are fine, but how comfortable the player will feel will depend on what character they’re playing as. Someone like Sweet Tooth for example, who has a heavier vehicle than others will be much more difficult to steer and to react to danger as quickly as what the likes of Roadkill or Spectre can. The amount of lag this game suffers from also doesn’t help matters either. This would be addressed in later entries, but in the original game, it becomes a significant problem.
Lifespan – 7/10
Each playthrough can be made to last around an hour, so there’s a minimum of 12 hours of gameplay time available, as there are 12 characters in total, which in all fairness, was far higher than the average lifespan of a game during the previous generation, so though it may not seem like a lot now, it certainly would’ve felt like a big deal at the time; at least until the likes of the Final Fantasy games came into the mainstream and set the bar higher still. Though I think there was a lot more the developers could’ve added to make this game last even longer than it does, it’s still a fair amount of time for a game of this kind to last.
Storyline – 6/10
The story of Twisted Metal tells of the Twisted Metal Tournament; an elimination-based competition whereby vehicular combatants must face off against each other in fights to the death to be declared the Twisted Metal champion. The tournament is run by a demented, yet extremely wealthy, influential, and supernatural man named Calypso, who grants the winner of the Twisted Metal tournament any prize they request with no limit on the prize, size, or even reality. The concept sounds excellent on paper and would be built upon both positive and negative as the series progressed, but in the original game, the story is told pretty much through text, similar to how the endings of the first three Mortal Kombat games worked, which for a console that was known by developers at the time to be capable of rendering full-motion video (FMV) was pretty underwhelming. There was a series of live-action cutscenes filmed for inclusion in the game and to be played at the end of each character campaign, but they were unfortunately cut due to the development staff feeling collectively uncomfortable about putting them in ultimately. It’s a shame because after having watched these cutscenes myself (being available on YouTube), they would’ve definitely added to the game’s atmosphere in a way that few games did at that time, and indeed what many games for the original PlayStation would go on to do, such as Resident Evil. But it didn’t happen, and the original game feels all the more watered down as a result, especially when compared to later entries.
Originality – 7.5/10
Although in some respects, the game feels like it could’ve been more than what it was for a number of reasons, the fact is that this game helped to bring a whole genre to the attention of the mainstream, and would usher in other games made of the same ilk, such as Carmageddon, Cel Damage and ModNation Racers, and mechanics found in this game would go on to be included in a vast number of games afterward, such as Batman: Arkham Knight. It’s not the most influential game ever made, but it’s certainly one of the earliest games that made players see the appeal of the original PlayStation early on.
Overall, the original Twisted Metal is a fairly enjoyable game with a great plot premise and an outlandish cast of characters. It’s not the best entry in the series (by far, that honor would go to Twisted Metal II), but it set the standard in an acceptable manner.
The indie development scene has produced some of the best retroactive experiences seen in gaming in recent years, from Shovel Knight to Blasphemous to Axiom Verge; but throughout 2021 so far, the subject of this interview has been one of the most exciting to me. Savage Halloween is an 8-BIT side-scrolling shoot ’em up developed as a love letter to the likes of Contra and Gradius telling the story of a group of supernatural bounty hunters tasked with returning the spirits of the dead to the underworld after they resolve to party for all eternity. It’s as wonderfully outlandish as it is fun to play, and after having reviewed it myself, I highly recommend readers play it if they haven’t already.
However, after playing, I got in touch with one of the game’s lead developers Abdel de Oliveira to discuss more this game, and about the company involved in its development; 2ndBoss games based in Santa Catarina, Brazil. So this is what Abdel had to say about Savage Halloween and about what the future holds for 2ndBoss Games:
How has it been to experience such an influx of interest surrounding Savage Halloween and the fanbase it has already garnished?
It’s fantastic! We were surprised and happy with the number of people who got to know our work.
What were the most exciting aspects of developing Savage Halloween?
I think it was the Halloween theme. There are few games with this theme and some prefer to be more dramatic, we like the line of humor and I think that was a factor that motivated us.
What were the most challenging aspects of developing Savage Halloween?
We had no experience with multiplayer, so it was a challenge that took us most of the time.
What’s next for 2ndBoss?
We’re going to take a break from shooting games and launch a precision platformer. It is a game that we would like to release some time ago and I think the time has come.
What kind of game would you and the development team like to create that you haven’t attempted yet?
Who knows… a Metroidvania? We try to think about one project at a time… well, that’s a lie! We have hundreds of unfinished projects, haha! Whoever is a dev knows, this is our suffering.
How important was fan feedback throughout the development of Savage Halloween?
In the prototype stage, we showed some videos on our Twitter and had some feedback, which was cool and motivated us to continue! And then when we created the first type of shoot (the flying bats), people said “hey, what a crazy idea, I like that”, so we continue on that line. So it’s good to hear from people and see if they like the path you’re taking.
Could we see either a sequel to Savage Halloween or even a content update for the original game?
I love the theme, so it’s quite possible. We’re going to have to think about pretty crazy things.
What had been the biggest lessons taken from you and 2ndBoss’s prior developmental experience going into Savage Halloween?
Oh, that was a great journey. I mean, we’re just two guys and it’s a lot of work to do. Like Biolab Wars, we are collecting all the feedback, listening to the community, learning and studying what went wrong and what we got right.
Have you guys had much advice from other developers within the indie community?
Oh yes, that was fantastic. There is a lot of support on Twitter through the Indie World Order, which is a wonderful community. And not just devs, but enthusiasts in general, content creators, musicians, fans! We are all indies!
What is your opinion on the ever-growing development scene in Brazil with the likes of yourselves and Orube Studios?
There is an interesting scenario here, even the great financial difficulty we are going through (if I say what we have to pay in taxes and fees until a game profit reaches my pocket, you will tell us to give up), but there are a lot of people here creating good things. And this is great.
If you guys had the chance to develop for any mainstream development company or work on any gaming series, which one would it be?
Oh man, I wish I had a chance to relive Journey to Silius (Sunsoft).
In the spirit of the game, do you and the development team have any special plans to celebrate Halloween this year, or did you guys do that shortly after the was released in the lead-up to last year’s Halloween?
That’s it, the plan was to release last year. But due to Covid, the QA tests were delayed and so the schedule was hampered. If there is time, after our next release, we would like to prepare something, but it is not a promise.
Do you have any advice to give to any aspiring developers who may be reading this?
Start small but start ASAP! Focus on what you are good at, and leave the rest to someone else (friend or freelancer). Every day that you don’t do the job, it’s a day that you are most distant from your dream. It is a difficult path, but have fun, after all, you are making a game! 🙂
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to thank all the people who supported our game. Each sale helps the small developer to continue their next game. It is a dream, and you are helping us to live it. Thanks again and I wish you a happy (next) Halloween!
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Abdel for taking the time out to talk to me about Savage Haloween and 2ndBoss Games, and to wish them the best of luck with their upcoming precision platformer. If anyone would like to check out Savage Halloween, you can play it on Steam via the link below:
A while back, I came across another very promising title on Twitter that I wanted to bring to the attention of gamers for a multitude of different reasons. Aleya’s Ascent, under development at Ursa Minor Games based in New York, is a Metroidvania title making use of superbly rendered 8-BIT visuals with a heavy emphasis on exploration, combat, and precision platforming. The player assumes control of the main character Aleya, who is chosen by fate to tame a series of feral and long-forgotten deities, giving the plot a strong feel of the likes of Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian in my opinion. But seeking further clarification of what influenced the game, what bumps and scrapes there had been along the way in the developmental process and when the game will be released by, I reached out to the game’s lead developer William Henderson for more details about what’s been going on behind the scenes of this excellent-looking game. So here’s what William of Ursa Minor Games had to say about Aleya’s Ascent:
What were the influences behind your game?
Main influences at this stage in development include games like Celeste (big one), both Ori games, Hollow Knight, Castlevania SOTN, etc. The usual suspects as far as Metroidvania go. Also, the style/aesthetic/story is heavily inspired by Legend of Zelda.
What has the developmental process been like?
I carried game dev as a side project for about 3 years before deciding to try and push for a full-fledged commercial indie game as a solo developer, so the process has included a lot of learning the indie game landscape, reading articles, and watching youtube videos.
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
As a solo indie developer working his first game, it can be hard to tell. I hope to release a polished demo Q3/4 2021 and then reassess the timeline based on player feedback. There isn’t any real pressure to release ASAP, so I want to take the time to make Aleya’s Ascent exactly how I envision it without cutting any corners to meet a deadline.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
For me, the most motivating part has been sharing some of the art and gameplay that I worked hard on. It’s exciting getting positive feedback, whether it be through Twitter, Reddit, Discord, or with friends and family in person.
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
I think for Aleya’s Ascent, it has to be finding the time. Life gets in the way and I can’t spend as many nights or weekends as I’d like on development.
How well has the game been received so far?
I’ve been very happy with the response it’s received on the platforms I’ve presented on, but I know I still have a long way to go so I’m excited to share more in the future.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
PC is a definite, with the possibility of a Switch release down the line.
What were your prior programming experiences before developing Aleya’s Ascent?
I have an engineering degree so I was exposed to programming in college, but not object-oriented. I created a handful of game prototypes as practice while in Graduate school before I felt comfortable committing to a first commercial game.
Are there any preliminary plans to expand on the world of Aleya, either through a sequel or DLC?
It’s hard to say at this point. While I have an overarching story prepared, it’s unclear where Aleya 1 would end and Aleya 2 (or DLC) would begin. I certainly would love to continue Aleya’s story, but don’t want to force a sequel before the first is finished.
Are there any programmers or game creators you took influence from?
Definitely. The developers/programmers from the listed influences above would be a good place to start. It’d be impossible to list them all, but the Twitter indie game circles share so much information about neat tricks/tips/shaders, etc. that it really has been vital to my development process.
Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that have since been scrapped or reworked?
A whole lot. I’ve had levels and entire maps scrapped to allow for core gameplay changes. In one iteration Aleya was a robot. I’m not afraid to axe anything if I feel it isn’t good enough or doesn’t quite fit.
What would be next for Ursa Minor Games following the release of Aleya’s Ascent?
Another game for sure. What form or shape or genre that takes is up in the air. I’ll probably develop a couple of game prototypes on itch.io or something and see if any of them get really positive feedback.
If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or any franchise, which would it be, and why?
Nintendo for sure. I grew up playing/loving their games and it would be a dream come true to work with them.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Well, I hesitate to offer advice as I’m just a first-time game developer and a hobbyist at that but for other hobbyists/solo developers, I found success in chasing inspirations and following whims, I think my best/best-received work has been things that strike me when I’m not working on the game. And definitely take notes once an idea pops into your head, it’ll help you remember and flesh it out into a definitive game concept.
I’d like to thank you for taking the time and having the patience to reach out and ask questions about Aleya’s Ascent.
I also want to thank William for agreeing for sharing more information about Aleya’s Ascent, and to wish him and Ursa Minor Games the best of luck throughout the rest of the developmental process as well as luck with the eventual release of the game. Aleya’s Ascent was a game that immediately caught my eyes in terms of retroactive graphical quality, and I have hopes for the great gameplay to match. In the meantime, you can visit Ursa Minor Games’ social media pages and the Steam page, but for now, I hope you guys enjoyed learning more about this title.
Released back in 2006 to widespread critical acclaim from both gamers and reviewers alike, Gears of War went from a beloved third-person shooter to go on and spawn a huge system-selling franchise for Microsoft, with 5 main entries in the series and 2 spin-off titles thus far. Out of the original three games, to me, the original still remains the best, as it delivered the best in every aspect that the next two games would both fall short on and failed to expand on at the same time. The original game remains a seventh-generation classic and for good reason.
Graphics – 9.5/10
The first thing to notice is the visuals, which stood out as not only technically marvelous, doing incredibly to show off early on what the Xbox 360 was capable of graphics-wise, but out of the original three games, it also does best to perpetuate the inexplicably wonderful sense of dread that the series came to be known for, literally from the start of the game, as it begins in a dank prison cell with a history of violence. The settings are also incredibly diverse, and although it can be argued that the settings of the second game were possibly more so, in my opinion, the first still did better to set the tone of the entire series. It definitely does this better than the third game, and the settings are still more diverse than that of Gears 3.
Gameplay – 8/10
In its basic design, Gears of War, as well as every other main entry in the series, is a third-person shooter involving blasting through hordes of alien enemies, limited to just the Locusts in the first game, as well as finding strategic cover to become protected from enemy fire, and subsequently advancing through each phase of the story, as well as there being a very progressive online multiplayer mode. There’s not much to the series in general than that, and that’s why in my opinion, the following games in the series failed to impress me as such as what should come to be expected from sequels, but as this was the first, it seemed less disappointing, and it was a relatively new style of play at the time of when it came out. It was a breath of fresh back in 2006 to play a game structured like this after the market had become firmly oversaturated with FPS games throughout the sixth generation.
Controls – 10/10
The game’s movement controls and shooting mechanics were also very crisp and fluent, even for what was at that time a relatively new idea. Though it had borrowed from games like Resident Evil 4, Kill Switch and Second Sight, Gears of War, in my opinion, did a lot of the same things bigger, better, and all at once, and it made for a far superior game; not only in terms of controls but in terms of overall quality as well.
Lifespan – 6/10
Lasting around 5 to 6 hours, the lifespan of the game is not great, but at the time, it was just about tolerable since it seemed inevitable after playing that there would be a sequel or two. The lifespan of each game remained there about the same, and so later entries seemed much more disappointing than this because of that, but regarding the first game, the amount of time seems more acceptable; though not outstanding. There could have been a lot more added to the first game to make it last even longer outside of the small side quests of collecting the cog tags.
Storyline – 8/10
The story of Gears of War centers around Marcus Fenix, a soldier fighting an interplanetary war between humanity and an alien race known as the locusts for the human faction known as the Coalition of Ordered Governments, or COG. After recently being reinstated into COG following his prior court marshaling, he is joined by his best friend Dominic Santiago, as well as a contingency of other COG soldiers, to continue the fight against the locusts and one of their highest-ranking leaders General Raam. The first game contains a lot fewer emotionally charged scenes than what the next two games would bring, however, to me, it still has the best story, since it accommodates for the lack of the tragedy element with things such as horror, mystery, and build-ups of tension. For example, the sequence in which the team is being chased around by the berserker remains my favorite moment in the series to date.
Originality – 8/10
Though again, the series would seem far less unique as time went on, since the developers seemed far too reluctant to switch things up to any great extent (at least with Gears 2 and 3 anyway), the first game was far more unique at the time because it was an idea that had yet to be expanded upon with future games that played out similarly to it, such as Uncharted and Mass Effect. The first Gears of War set a trend throughout the seventh generation that was welcomed with open arms by gamers, and for a game that’s able to do that, you can’t help but consider it a unique experience.
Overall the first Gears of War is most definitely the best entry in the original trilogy. It’s fun to play with a decent story, and though it doesn’t last as long as what it had the potential to (along with the next 2 games), there is a fair amount of fun to be had for the short time it lasts.
Following on from my initial discovery of this game back in early 2020, I decided to write about my first impressions of this insanely unique-looking and promising title. Clodhoppers, under development at Claymatic Games and led by Platypus creator Anthony Flack, is a free–for all fighting game similar to Super Smash Bros whereby quirky and uncouth characters fight each other with fists, guns, bombs, and bails of hay (among other things) across traversable stages, with the game making use of the claymation visuals synonymous with Anthony Flack’s games. The spiritual successor to Flack’s canceled game Cletus Clay, the current build was recently added to Steam and is now free to play whilst the game remains under development. Eager to find out how this game now plays out after having briefly played the original prototype, I downloaded it and played a few rounds, and I was impressed, to say the least, with the title shaping up to be what Flack is promising fans.
Like Platypus, the game makes use of visuals made entirely of clay and set in rural countryside areas throughout. Each stage that has been designed so far has been very well executed, giving it the clear impression that this game is a labor of love, even at this early stage in development. What tracks compose the game’s soundtrack at this point also fit in perfectly well with the game’s tableau, and the game already has the sense of humor attached to it that any player can come to expect from the first glance.
Playing out very similarly to Super Smash Bros, the game revolves around being the last man standing by either depleting the health of the other players by attacking them or knocking them off the stage. It works differently to Smash in that players don’t become more liable to fly off the stage the more damage they take, and they instead have a certain amount of hit points to be depleted. In addition, there also weapon drops available for players to take advantage of, but at this point in development, there is only a certain amount of them, and the quantity of which would most likely have to be increased before the game goes out to keep it as wonderfully varied as possible.
It took a bit of control mapping on Steam to get the keyboard to correspond with the controller, but once this is sorted out, the game poses no problems; I certainly couldn’t cope with playing the game on a mouse and keyboard in any case, this is a game made for a controller. Maybe more elements can be added to the control scheme before release, such as activating additional moves, maybe reminiscent of final smash moves in the Smash Bros series, but for the most part, the control scheme is fine.
If executed correctly, and if perhaps more game modes are added before it goes out, then this game can potentially be made to last as long as the player’s interest is held; especially as the game is specifically marketed as an online game. I think the main thing is that the developers focus primarily on adding more variety in gameplay than what there already is; if that happens, I think this will end up becoming an insanely popular title.
There is certainly scope to add a story mode to Clodhoppers, with so many eccentric characters and its unique settings and premise.; It could function in a similar way to Super Smash Bros Brawl, whereby players will be forced to take different paths with different characters in the lead-up to the ending, and have everything come full circle by centering around a specific endgame enemy or location where things come to the fore. Whether or not there will be a story mode added remains to be seen, but the potential for which is quite exciting to think about.
Though this game is clearly influenced by a specific gaming series, everything about Anthony Flack’s games has always had uniqueness attached to them, and Clodhoppers looks to be no different. Before I played Platypus, there were very few games around that used this visuals style, except the likes of ClayFighter. But it will be a welcome addition to the indie community to once again see this graphical style once again perpetuated, and in a new type of game to match.
Overall, Clodhoppers does extremely well to show off what I think the game will eventually go on to become; a very enjoyable and addicting brawler with plenty of variety and plenty of potential to take the indie games community by surprise. If you like the look of Clodhoppers and would like to try the current build out for yourself, you can do so via the link below, and I highly recommend you do:
Released in 2010, among a plethora of other critically acclaimed mainstream titles, such as Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIII and Red Dead Redemption, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a third-person shooter that was received with mixed or average reviews upon its release, with many citing its lack of fun or substance; and in this case, I’m inclined to agree with the general consensus. There were far better games made of the same ilk at this time with much more substance to them, making it stand out like a sore thumb among the best of what the seventh generation had to offer.
Graphics – 6.5/10
The game’s settings are of modern-day China perpetuating one gritty and horrific atmosphere after another, with a film grain effect to compliment it. I understand that this was done to add to the game’s feel of dread, but overall, it just makes things needlessly complicated during gameplay; especially whilst trying to take out enemies from a distance. The way the game was designed visually was far more of a hindrance rather than being compelling to look at. For the most part, the game’s settings in general also seem far too generic. Even compared to other games like it that were out at the time, such as Grand Theft Auto IV and the games in the Saints Row series. It should’ve been expected from a development team that game artist Rasmus Poulsen once said that they were trying to make it look non-pleasing.
Gameplay – 6/10
The game is a third-person shooter, whereby the sole objective is to simply get from A to B, with no secondary objectives to keep things varied, or any further incentive to play other than simply advancing the story. There are a few instances of vehicular combat throughout, but not enough to maintain a decent level of variety; especially compared to most other games throughout the seventh generation in general, let alone 2010. This game certainly needed an extra push to make it better than what it turned out to be, but the lack of substance makes it come across as if the developers couldn’t be bothered trying.
Controls – 10/10
The only aspect in which there are no flaws in the game is in the control scheme. But scenes as they had a blueprint to follow at this point with the likes of Gears of War and Uncharted games having been released prior, there shouldn’t have been an excuse to get the controls wrong. But the fact that no unique control mechanics were added to make this game stand out didn’t do the developers any favors.
Lifespan – 4/10
Clocking in at around 5 hours, the game is also criminally short. Third-person shooters at the time seemed to be relatively short by nature anyway, with Uncharted and Gears of War games taking around the same time to complete, but the difference being is the two former examples offered far more in terms of gameplay than what Kane & Lynch 2 does, and therefore both warranting more than one playthrough, whereas depending on what way players may look at it, Kane & Lynch 2 may not even be good enough for even one playthrough.
Storyline – 6/10
Taking place four years after the original game, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days reunites Kane & Lynch in Shanghai, China, where they become embroiled in a generic gangster plot where they must stick together in order to survive. Yes, it is honestly as forgettable as it sounds. I couldn’t even be bothered remembering the character’s names for the most part as I was not inclined at all to become emotionally invested in the story. The only reason I remembered the names of the two main characters is simply because the game is named after them.
Originality – 3/10
Simply put, there is next to nothing unique about Kane & Lynch 2; it perpetuated many of the same things that a lot of other seventh-generation games had done years before this but offers players nothing to make it stand out among the plethora of great games that had come prior. Somehow, there were talks emerging at one point of this game being adapted into a film, but due to the lack of interest in general, it never happened. But given how little there is to it in gameplay, it probably would’ve worked better as a film than it does as a game.
Overall, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is definitely one of the most unoriginal and tedious games of the seventh generation. A black mark on the developers of the Hitman series, nowhere near as much thought was put into this series as there was with either the former or their obscure gem, Mini Ninjas.
Publisher(s) – Number None & Microsoft Game Studios
Director(s) – Jonathan Blow
PEGI – 12
Released back in 2009, Braid was one of the games that truly Kickstarted the influx of independently developed games, which would be seen throughout the eighth generation and beyond, along with the likes of Minecraft, Fez, and Castle Crashers. It was received with universal acclaim upon release proving to be one of the most influential games of the 21st century, with many critics even citing it as one of the very games of all time. Although I found it to be game brimming with artistic merit and certainly having well earned its place within gaming history, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it one of the best of all time, but nevertheless, there was a lot to be enjoyed with this one
Graphics – 10/10
The first thing to notice and to truly be awe-inspired by is the visuals. Hand-drawn and taking place within environments are equally vibrant and colorful as well as dark and ominous, visually, the game was expertly put together to the extent that it makes players feel that this wasn’t programmed on a computer by a developer, but rather painted onto a blank canvas by a master artist. The game’s soundtrack is also expertly composed by three classically trained musicians, further perpetuating the contrasting feeling of calmness and ambiance with that of danger and dark portent.
Gameplay – 7/10
The game is a 2D side-scroller with puzzle-solving elements to it, similar to a lot of indie experiences to have seemingly been influenced by it, such as Chronology and The Swapper, but also featuring a lot of gameplay elements similar to that of the Super Mario series. The puzzle-solving element is not quite as intricate or subtle as what it is in Jonathan Blow’s future game, The Witness, but nevertheless, players will have to have their thinking caps on in order to progress through this game, as the puzzles can be particularly challenging at times.
Controls – 10/10
Aside from the jumping controls feeling somewhat stiff, the game’s control scheme poses no problems at all. All I would suggest is to get either the console or Steam version, since all these versions offer controller support, unlike the PC version on CD-ROM which forces players to use the keyboard, which is exactly how a game like this should never play out. At least with the Steam version, keyboard mapping becomes available.
Lifespan – 3/10
Braid can only be made to last around 2 hours, which for a game that came out in the middle of the seventh generation, is nothing; especially when since its release, there have been plenty of other games made in the same ilk that have been made to last considerably longer than this. This is the main reason why I’ve not been so hasty as to label it one of the best of all time, since whilst having as much artistic credibility as this game does, it should only be secondary to things like gameplay, and in this day and age, lifespan, and I didn’t find that it was in this case.
Storyline – 7/10
The story of Braid tells of a man named Tim who is searching for his princess that has been taken by an evil monster. Like Super Mario Bros, the game’s story sounds extremely simplistic in scope, and again, for a game that was released when it was, you may think that wouldn’t be enough since games were becoming more geared towards telling stories. But what makes this game hold up in that respect is in the details. Plot threads and backstory are accessible throughout the game, and it gives it more substance than players may think at first glance. There are also a few twists and turns before the end that players will not see coming at all.
Originality – 7/10
Whilst this game was by no means the first game to do the majority of things that it does do, the fact of the matter is that it went on to inspire a new generation of developers to come up with their own ideas and share them with the world, and props need to be given to both Jonathan Blow and the team of developers behind it. This game, along with many other released around at the same time, taught the new generation that they don’t need to be part of the mainstream to realize that they can become successful developers, and that with the know-how and the effort, that a great game can be developed on a budget.
Overall, Braid, whilst I can’t bring myself to consider it one of the best, is certainly one of the most influential, and still quite a lot of fun for the short time it lasts. Jonathan Blow went through an arduous process to bring this game to life, and in the end, he deserved his success.
Designer(s) – Abdel de Oliveira & Fernando Rodrigues
PEGI – 7
Developed as a love letter to a number of NES classics, most notably Castlevania and Contra, Savage Halloween is an 8-BIT side-scrolling shoot ‘em up set in a world based on several tableaus associated with Halloween and boasting a massive amount of variety in gameplay. I’d seen previews of this game prior to playing, and yet, I was still taken aback by just how good it is; it’s definitely one of the standout retroactive indie experiences of 2020.
Graphics – 8/10
Taking place in a world reminiscent of classic works and characters of horror, including Frankenstein and Dracula, there is as much variety in terms of visual design as there is in gameplay. With multiple characters and as well as its horror-styled setting, the game it reminded me of most in its graphical design is actually Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. But at the same time, the game also does well to differentiate itself from the former, as each level perpetuates a different subject of horror, such as circuses complete with clowns and circus monkeys along with a couple of elements that don’t necessarily do that, such as the mini gun-wielding Santa Clauses.
Gameplay – 8/10
Though the game is primarily; a side-scrolling shoot ‘em up, there are also a number of gameplay sequences that challenge the player in a number of different ways reminiscent of other classic games, such as Battletoads and Gradius, including on-rail shooting sequences. Like in Contra, there is also a massive amount of variety in terms of weapon choice, with machine guns, burst weapons, and guns that fire ghosts and exploding chickens. There are three characters to choose from at the start, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, so the game is designed to be played 3 times at a minimum, and each of these three playthroughs offers a new experience and challenge; a challenge which also doesn’t seem too inaccessible like the likes of Mega Man.
Controls – 10/10
The game’s control scheme is also exceedingly simple to get to grips with, especially if you’re a fan of the third generation of gaming, and poses no problems whatsoever. The only distinction that I suppose can be made is whether players may prefer to use the analog stick or the D-pad; either one works fine. That being said, it is also quite impressive how the developers managed to cram as many different control mechanics into this game with the amount of gameplay variety there is compared to other titles of the era of influence.
Lifespan – 7/10
One playthrough of the game can be made to last about an hour and a half. But as I said, this was a game designed to be played multiple times, so it can be made to last as long as the player desired ostensibly. Especially with the included traditional incentive to trying to beat your high score. So the bare minimum that this game should be made to last is 4 and a half hours, but there is definitely scope for more playtime than that.
Storyline – 7/10
The story of Savage Haloweeeon is that a vampire hosting a 24-hour Halloween rave for creatures of the night has decided to close the portals leading back to Hell so they can continue to rave forever. The three main characters, James, Dominika, and Lulu have been called in to defeat the night creatures and stop the rave. It’s not exactly a story that reinvents the wheel, but it’s just wonderfully insane and outlandish as any story associated with gaming in the third generation. It’s a concept somewhat reminiscent of A Nightmare Before Christmas, in fact, which as that’s one of my personal favorite films, the story concept of this game works pretty well for me.
Originality – 8/10
Although Savage Halloween has been influenced by a great number of games that have come and gone before it, all the elements of which do come together to nicely form its own cohesive concept, and it stands out to a great extent as a result. It was also rare in the third generation to come across a platformer whereby the high score played as much of a role as it does in this one; something which only generally has meaning in arcade games such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man, so this game does quite well to go against that tradition as well.
Overall, Savage Halloween is a title I can’t recommend enough. It’s entertaining, challenging, wonderfully varied, and will provide players with hours of fun.
Whilst once again scouring Kickstarter for more new video game prospects. I came across a couple of games in a genre that generally speaking, I don’t spend enough time covering, but this game captured my attention in a way that few that others do. Lucy Dreaming is a point-and-click adventure game made as a love letter to the works of LucasArts, including Day of the Tentacle, the Monkey Island series, and Full Throttle. Developed by Tall Story Games based in the English West Midlands, it centers around a young girl named Lucy, who must travel between dreams and reality to discover a disturbing truth about Lucy’s sub-conscience. Eager to know more, I contacted the game’s lead developer Ton Hardwidge to pose some questions in regards to not only the game but also in regards to the point-and-click adventure genre itself, as I was curious to get an indie developer’s perspective in regards to how well the genre is represented compared to the likes of the 2D Sidescroller, Metroidvania or 3D platforming genres. So that being said, here’s what Tom Hardwidge of Tall Story games had to say about Lucy Dreaming:
What were the influences behind your game?
It’s fairly obvious to anyone looking at the pixel-artwork or user interface of Lucy Dreaming that the LucasArts adventure classics from the 1990s are a huge inspiration for the game. I’ve made no effort to hide this fact, and I am proud to call it a love letter to all of the titles that gave me so much joy growing up. Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle made a huge impression on me and I never, even in my wildest dreams, thought it would be possible to create my own point & click adventure games.
The initial concept for the game came from the fact that our house is littered with children’s books. We have a six-year-old son who loves reading and often dreams about characters and scenarios in his books. I was already trying to think of a concept that would provide flexibility in terms of scenes, characters, and artwork, and dreams were the perfect candidate. I won’t divulge too much about the mechanics of the full game, but books play an important part.
What has the developmental process been like?
This is our first full-length title, so we knew it was going to need a bit more planning than some of our previous, shorter games. That said, a lot of the puzzle development in the game is organic. I have a narrative plan mapped out which contains all of the important milestones and plot points along the way, but in terms of the puzzles themselves, a lot of them are created in situ. I will design a scene and start cramming it with random objects. I hate large areas of empty space, so I always want to put a picture on the wall, or stuff the shelves to help add interest to the scene and support the wider story of the game. Once I have filled up a scene with bits of random crap, I then look at the task in hand and think to myself “If I were in this scene, what would I do next?” or “I wonder what’s in that cupboard over there.” As I oversee the story, artwork, and development I can change anything on a whim if I think I can make it work better, or there’s an opportunity for a gag.
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
We’re aiming to have a finished game within 12 months of the Kickstarter campaign ends. I have a tendency to get carried away and over-deliver, so although we have proposed 8-10 hours of playtime, it may well be a bit over that. The version of the demo available to play on Steam and Itch.io is actually the second one that we’ve produced. The first one was finished at the end of 2020 but, when tested, had an average playtime of over two hours. We felt this gave away a bit too much of the full game’s mechanics and story, so made the decision to “bank” it as the first two hours of the full game instead and create an entirely new demo prequel that had unique puzzles not found in the full game.
For anyone backing the game on Kickstarter, we will be involving them in discussions about the game on our VIP Discord channel too, so they can help to shape the game they have supported.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
As I’m doing the whole lot, it’s very hard to separate them into different aspects. It’s all a single, intertwined process. If I had to pick one element, it would probably be the puzzle design itself as it involves a little bit of everything. Sometimes a puzzle will be purely visual,
sometimes it relies heavily on the dialogue and other little clues. Honing a puzzle so that it’s just the right level of difficulty is so much fun, I’ll watch testers and streamers play through a puzzle and try to spot where they get frustrated, bored, or delighted – I can then tweak the whole experience to make it as smooth as possible without handing them the answer on a plate.
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
Without a doubt, it’s been the publishing of the game to the various app platforms (namely Steam and the Google Play Store). As a first-timer to the process, I can honestly say that it’s been one of the most confusing and frustrating things I’ve had to deal with. It’s like a badly designed adventure game puzzle in itself. The clues poorly signposted and the dialogue is unhelpful but, as an adventure game puzzle, there is immense satisfaction in finally figuring it out on your own.
How well has the game been received so far?
So far it’s been received really well, and anything that has been picked up in terms of bugs or potential improvements to the puzzles has been sorted in subsequent releases. I’ve watched a lot of gamers playing the demo since it launched, and so far it seems to have been universally enjoyed. A few people apparently find a northern British accent inherently annoying, but they are vastly outweighed by the number of players who love Lucy and the voice actor’s sassy northern lilt (which is just as well, because it’s my wife and business partner, Emma!)
There’s nothing more satisfying than watching people laugh out loud at the jokes, and there are hundreds in there if you like exploring. The demo alone contains over 1,100 unique responses and dialogue, if you really want to suffer an onslaught of bad puns and “dad jokes” try talking to all the objects in each scene, you might discover a few hidden references and Easter eggs too.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
The game engine that I’m using is called Visionaire Studio, it’s purpose-built for point & click adventure games and supports a huge number of platforms. For the basic level of funding on Kickstarter, I am promising releases for Windows, macOS, and Linux, but there’s also a stretch goal for iOS and Android (the demo is already available to download from the Google Play Store). Point & click games with a traditional SCUMM-style interface really lend themselves to touchscreens. I would absolutely love to release Lucy Dreaming on Nintendo Switch too, but publishing a game for Nintendo is a bit of an unknown for me, even though the game engine supports it from a technical point of view.
Can you tell us anything about the pending stretch goals planned for the Kickstarter campaign?
Since the campaign launched, a lot of people have reached out to me to ask about support for different platforms and languages, so in the name of transparency, I have actually taken the decision to publish the initial plan for stretch goals. At the time of writing we haven’t fully funded, although we did manage to reach 50% of our goal in the first 11 hours of the campaign, and were handpicked as a Kickstarter “Project We Love”, so we’re hopeful!
Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that has since been scrapped or reworked?
Probably more than I think! If I got back and check my original notes there will undoubtedly be things that I’ve forgotten or moved away from since I started this project 12 months ago. The main thing that has changed is the name of the game itself. We originally called the game “Lucid Adventure”, which we subsequently had to scrap a couple of months into the project. I had failed to do my research properly and completely missed the fact that there was already a game with the same name. After a quick brainstorming session with other indie developers and game industry professionals, we settled on “Lucy Dreaming” which is a play on “Lucid Dreaming”, the key concept behind the full game.
Do you believe the point-and-click adventure genre has been adequately represented throughout the indie community?
Absolutely, the indie game community is keeping the genre alive, and there are some spectacular new titles being produced all the time.
How instrumental has player feedback in terms of shaping the course of the project been?
Feedback from players, other devs, publishers, friends, and everyone around me is a huge factor when producing a game like this. There’s no room for arrogance, if players falter and don’t have a smooth, enjoyable experience, it’s my fault.
At the beginning of the project I went back and forth for a long time just working out which verbs to include in my SCUMM UI, there are strong opinions in both the “I want all of Ron Gilbert’s original verbs” and “No verbs, just a left, and right-click!” camps and I wanted to strike a balance between the two. It seemed like a huge deal in the early stages of the development, but not that the demo has been honed and polished, no one playing the game has had any cause to complain or even mention the UI. That for me is the greatest compliment, as it means it is doing its job perfectly. I still welcome feedback on all platforms and on all subjects. I am new to this industry, and if I don’t listen to my peers and my audience, I’m going to fall at the first hurdle.
Do you find that taking such a self-reflective approach to make this game through your own blog posts has improved your personal developmental skills?
I think it’s helped me retain my humility. I don’t plan my blog posts, I just open up a blank screen and let my brain spew out all over it. It’s hugely cathartic and the blogging process has helped me to understand how I feel at each stage in the process. If I’m happy, frustrated, or confused, I let it all out and it somehow solidifies into something I can reflect on. I’ll read them back and think “Oh, so THAT’s why I’m so annoyed.” Or “Tom, you’re being a nob, just listen to your critics.” It’s also great to have a record of all my transient thoughts and feelings throughout the project. I’m sure if I read some of my early posts now I would have forgotten nearly everything I wrote at the time.
If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or for any franchise, which would it be, and why?
Ooh, that’s a tricky one. I’ve been running my own design agency for over a decade, and I’m not used to being told what to do. I’m also not very good at managing other people, so if I was going to develop something for another company, it would probably have to be a client/agency relationship as opposed to working within a larger games studio. Under these circumstances, I think I’d probably like to work on a point & click adventure for a book like Luke Pearson’s Hilda. The characters and settings are an absolute wonder, and if I had similar freedom to expand and build on the world he’s created – as Netflix has done – then that would be truly magical. Of course, it would need to be a pixel-art interpretation, which is probably sacrilege but, hey, this is my fantasy!
It’s also mentioned on the Kickstarter page that your young son Robin has made unintentional contributions to the game too. Do you see a lot of your own creative side in your son from his early age, and would you like him to possibly follow in your footsteps as a developer?
I will be delighted with whatever he decides to do as long as he’s happy. At the moment I am loving collaborating with him as we walk over a mile to school every morning. We play a game called “puzzles” where we take it in turns to make up a puzzle that needs solving, then look around us and solve it with whatever comes to hand. This has created some incredible ideas that I would have never thought of, and I write them all down. From a penny-farthing skateboard to a woodpecker-on-a-stick for digging holes. The little chap is a veritable goldmine!
He also draws, and writes, a lot! I have a whole stack of Lucy Dreaming “fan-art” on my desk created by Robin, and I hope that his delight in creativity stays with him.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Get involved in the indie dev community. Anything and everything can be learned from the best, and nicest people in the industry. Don’t be daunted by the prospect either, you’ll assume that everyone knows more than you do, but your thoughts and feelings are valid too. Have confidence in your own ability and don’t forget to have fun. I mean, that’s why you’re doing it, right? Getting involved in a wider community gives you a sounding board for ideas, collaborators for the future, constructive criticism when you don’t think you need it, and tremendous support when you do.
Where on the Internet can people find you?
I’m on Twitter mainly, but we also have spots in all the usual haunts. Facebook, Discord, Instagram, Steam, YouTube, Itch.io, our website … take your pick!
I love what I am doing and am always happy to talk (at length) about it, so if anyone has any questions, or just wants to say “hello” you know where to find me!
Oh, and back Lucy Dreaming on Kickstarter now!
I’d just lastly like to thank Tom for taking the time out of development to answer my questions in regards to this exciting title. It was quite interesting to get his take on this game, as well as the point-and-click- adventure game in general. It looks like the genre has a brighter future than what I’d realized and I’m looking forward to this title, as well as any more upcoming games within it that may be coming out soon in addition. If you like the look of Lucy Dreaming and want to see the project brought to life, you can back the Kickstarter campaign via this link:
Following on from one of my interviews I conducted this month, I thought I would finally write up a first impressions article about a game that has done exceptionally well to catch my attention in recent weeks. Down Ward, under development at Fisholith Studios based in Costa Mesa, California, is an 8-BIT 2D sidescroller with a heavy focus on combat, unique mechanics, and exploration. It follows the story of an owl named Gable, who must traverse the remnants of a forgotten civilization in order to rekindle its dormant relics. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the currently free-to-play game is set to be significantly improved upon by the developers with the backing it has received, which bodes extremely well for this already well-received title. You can play the current build from the game’s Steam, Page via the link below:
But in addition, I have also decided to write a first impressions article about what I think of the game in its current form and to get a better idea of what kind of a game it’ll be like when it does get further developed upon. So here’s what I thought about Down Ward in its present state:
The game makes use of 8-BIT monochromatic visuals similar to several Game Boy classics such as Duck Tales, Super Mario Land, Tetris, and Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. The color of the visuals is also interchangeable and can be modified by the player at any time, similar to how the Super Game Boy add-on worked for the Super Nintendo back in the day. But what is most striking about this game is its conceptual design. The use of pixelated art is outstanding and handled with great detail. This was to be expected, as the lead programmer Fi is an artist himself, but I’d only gotten half the idea prior to playing the demo. When looked at more closely, only then does the player get the true feeling of how excellent this game actually looks.
The gameplay is also very wonderfully varied, which to a certain extent, the visuals themselves assist with. The objective of the standard model is to collect feathers, combat enemies and accomplish one or two side quests within each stage by finding secrets hidden throughout. There is also a speedrun mode for the many aficionados of that particular game mode on Twitch and YouTube, similar to Axiom Verge. The developers have billed this game as challenging, and it’s not hard to see why. Although thankfully, the level of challenge is not to the point of the game being completely inaccessible. The challenge involved lies in being able to identify certain obstacles or traps the player can fall for, or watching out for enemies, as they blend in well with the scenery in most instances. But as well as it is challenging, it’s above all, a very fun game to play even in its current build, so it makes me quite excited about what kind of a game it will be following the modifications to be made.
The control scheme is also particularly unique for a 2D platformer with having to run and jump in order to fly across stages and explore higher areas. The game fully supports controller functionality at this point, which is preferable to playing a game like this with a keyboard and mouse. Curiously, the combat system reminded me somewhat of the Ori games, so it’d be interesting if the developers decide to build on that aspect of the game even further as well, and whether or not, a small RPG element could possibly be introduced in the form of a leveling up system or different means of attacking enemies, etc.
Potentially, this game could be made to last a significantly long time. It would depend on just how far the developer is willing to go in terms of modifying the game they already have, and what more could possibly be added in order for it to warrant lasting a considerable amount of time more than what it already does last. According to my interview with Fi, the team is looking to expand on the game mechanics vigorously. If true, this game can certainly be made to last many hours.
The story of the owl Gable is, in-game anyway, secondary to gameplay, as is the way it should be in my opinion. So even at this early stage, if the developers were to neglect the progression of the story in place of modifying the gameplay as much as possible, I don’t think I would feel particularly bothered by that. It would be nice to have a more in-depth narrative to complement the greater depth in gameplay (for example, there could be a story implemented similar to that of Ori & The Blind Forest or Dust: An Elysian Tail, but even if the level of depth in the story stays the way it is, then so be it; it will probably still turn out to be an exceptional game.
Out of all the retroactive gaming experiences I’ve indulged in since the start of the eighth generation, Down Ward is set to be one of the more standout of the lot of them. Again, it would all depend on what kind of modifications the developers are looking to bring in terms of gameplay, and whether or not they will be implemented well enough to make it as separate as possible from the plethora of games made of the same ilk to come before it. With the unique mechanics and gameplay premise, I wouldn’t see why they couldn’t do that, but time will tell in that regard.
Overall, playing the demo of Down Ward has made me further realize how much potential the game has to break new ground within the indie community. It’s set to be a standout title with an excellent implemented visual style and hopefully plenty to do throughout.