Category Archives: Gaming

The 2019 Play Manchester Special

May 2019 marked the return of the Replay Expo in Manchester following an absence from the city in 2018. Moving from the EventCity arena near the Trafford Centre to the Manchester Central Exhibition Complex, the show delivered on it’s usual plethora of exciting new indie games in development as well as guests from the world of gaming and it made for an extremely enjoyable two days with plenty to cover. Compared to many of the previous Play Expos I had attended, I was impressed, thought not surprised, with the amount of diversity of games that were on display at this year’s proceedings, mainly focusing on single player experiences as opposed to the multiplayer titles that seem to dominate most shows, but nevertheless, here’s a rundown of the games that were on display at this year’s Play Manchester.

Must Dash Amigos

Kicking off this article was pretty much the only primarily multiplayer orientated experience at Play Manchester entitled Must Dash Amigos developed by miniBeast Gaming studios based in Cambridge. Playing out like Mario Kart, but with a top-down view and a control scheme similar to the classic Micro Machines games, Must Dash Amigos is a racing game with conceptual design heavily influenced by Mexican culture, with tracks, characters and even power-ups reminiscent of this. The game includes multiple modes and a challenge offering a great deal of replayability to gamers and has since been released on Xbox One and Steam. With this game, despite its obvious influences, I was pleasantly surprised since I’ve encountered a very small amount of racing games on display at Play Expos with the exception of games like Coffin Dodgers and Nippon Marathon. But Must Dash Amigos, while sharing similarities with Nippon Marathon, was a unique experience in and of itself and I can’t wait to pick the game up soon and try it out.

https://www.minibeaststudios.com/

https://twitter.com/Minibeastgaming/media

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1049820/Must_Dash_Amigos/

 

Shroomio’s Adventure

The first game I tried among a plethora of single player experiences was Shroomio’s Adventure. Developed by indie college developers Slime Mouse, the game is a 2.5D adventure title reminiscent of the early PlayStation title Pandemonium. The game’s world and characters are designed with a contrast between nature and machinery; for example the game’s main character is a humanoid mushroom called Shroomio and many of the game’s enemies are robotic animals. What this portents for the story of the game is certainly very interesting to think about and will be intriguing to see how these elements develop the further along the game progresses. Whether or not this contrast between organic beings and machinery may also be reflected in the designs of later levels in the game also bears thinking about at this point.

https://twitter.com/SlimeMouse

Switch N’ Shoot

Switch N’ Shoot was the only 8 BIT style indie game that I found at this year’s Play Expo, which surprising to me, as I normally find a lot of games in either this style or 16 BIT at these conventions. But nevertheless, this was yet another fascinating experience to get my teeth into. Created my Matt Glanville and currently available for the Nintendo Switch, Switch N’ Shoot is an arcade shoot ‘em up similar to the likes of Galaga, Galaxian and Space Invaders. The challenge being to separate this title from the aforementioned, however, is the need to change the direction of the player’s ship. As the ship moves from side-to-side automatically; the player must switch the direction of the ship in accordance with where enemies are on-screen and must not accidentally veer in the wrong direction lest they die. It was unexpectedly challenging game and most definitely one of the standout experiences of this year’s show.

https://www.mattglanville.com/

 

Shinko

Besides games that were in their later stages of development, or those that had been previously released, there were also a number of games that were in some their earliest stages in development. A case in point was Shinko; a sandbox adventure game, whereby the player character must restore the order of nature and bring peace to the world. Currently under development by Suspension Games, Shinko had a very limited amount of offer in terms of gameplay, as these ideas are still being built upon. The only commands the character had was to chop down trees, run, walk and jump as the player can explore the world around them, which whilst beautifully designed, was still largely under developed from what I personally played. The game has a ton of potential with what gameplay ideas the development team outline to me, such as combat, building elements and side quests and it will be interesting to see how all these elements of gameplay are incorporated into the final product as development continues, which you will be able to follow at their blog site.

https://suspensionstudios.co.uk/

Adventure in Aellion

Another game in the preliminary stages of development was yet another adventure game called Adventure in Aellion. Being created by local developer, simply titled the Game Production Company, Adventure in Aellion acts like more of a dungeon crawler that Shinko, with a conceptual design extremely reminiscent of that of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. At this stage in development, although the gameplay elements seemed to be a lot defined than that of Shinko, the game’s controls and sprite animations seemed to be largely under developed at this point and there were glitches in the demo that need to be ironed out before the game is released. The developers also talked to me about how they are looking to expand upon the already vast-looking world that the game is set in and to address the issues that I and most other gamers had spotted. Again, like Shinko, this game has a great of potential to offer in it’s finished form; in my opinion, even more so than Shinko. The developers also seem to think the same way with the things they seem to be promising with this title. My hope is that they succeed in delivering on these promises. But with the direction that development is going in at this moment in time, I have every confidence that they will deliver an extremely impressive gaming experience.

https://twitter.com/GameProCo

Matthew Smith

Aside from the upcoming titles that were on display at this year’s show, there was also the usual series of guest speakers present at this year’s Play Expo. One such speaker was Matthew Smith; the man responsible for some of the most renowned ZX Spectrum titles ever developed; most notably Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy. He chiefly talked about the course of Jet Set Willy’s development, as well as his stories life outside the gaming industry, his departure from which and his subsequent return many years later. There was also the premier of Willy: 48k About a Legend; a short film shot entirely of footage of Jet Set Willy created by Italian film director and fan of the game, Paolo Santagostino, who was also present at the show.

This was yet another one of these talks, which gave me a great deal of insight into a period in gaming that I was largely absent from. Having being born in 1988, I grew up with the likes of the NES, then moved onto the Super NES, Mega Drive and eventually the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation consoles and my history with gaming has continued from there. Before the NES came out, my eldest sister used to own a ZX Spectrum and if I ever saw it or played on it, I only have vague memories of it, if any at all. It’s always interesting to get clear insights from the people who witnessed this era and have first-hand experience with it, including the likes of Jim Bagley, David Pleasance and Andrew Hewson. But Matthew Smith’s insights were from that of a man who had worked on some of the most prominent titles of the time, which contrasted to that of the likes of David Pleasance and Andrew Hewson, who had much different experiences of games development than him.

Jake Habgood

The second of these talks concerned an era of gaming that I was very much familiar with in contrast; and also concerned a game that I was very familiar with in particular at the time of it’s release. Jake Habgood, who spent many years working for Infogrames Entertainment before the company folded, was the chief programmer of the 3D turn-based strategy game Hogs of War. It was a game that I had spent a great deal of time playing back in the day and I was eager to learn as much as I can about it’s development, which I did. Habgood described the development of the game, what challenges they had in creating a 3D game of this genre before Team 17 could capitalize on Worms 3D, the origins of the game’s conceptual design and the involvement of the late great Rik Mayall, who had voiced a vast majority of the characters in the game. They even showed archival footage of Mayall recording his lines from inside the studio, which filled me with both awe and sadness as a massive fan of Mayall’s work, including Bottom and The New Statesman.

Sat next to me was an even bigger fan of the game, who had more questions to ask than me, which led to great deal of banter between the two guys regarding the reasons why it was decided not to let the players play as the legendary pigs and have then only as enemies. But the questions I asked Habgood was about how the development team would have done things differently and what they would have incorporated into the game’s planned sequel. From the sounds of the answers, It seems that the sequel would have been even better still than the first in my opinion and I thought it a shame that it never saw the light of day in the end. Part and parcel of these kids of talks are many reminiscences of what could have been if history had been different to how things turned out and this talk was no exception to that. But regardless, hearing about the developmental history of this game was unbelievable and gives me hope that someone else will pick up the franchise and re-vamp it somewhere down the lines; like many other franchises covered in these talks.

Dolly Mix Cosplay

Although I had a lot to talk about this year’s Play Expo, I didn’t go alone. I was accompanied by a friend of mine and Long-time of the blog Antonia “Dolly Belladonna” Fraser. I’ve known Antonia for a long time now and it was awesome to finally go to one of these expos with her, as we’d talked about for some time. But since then, Antonia has also begun to fully realize her aspirations of becoming a professional Cosplayer. She now has a Facebook group called Dolly Mixtures Cosplay, which anyone on Facebook can follow at:

https://www.facebook.com/DollymixCosplay/?eid=ARB82ECCAP4FrUT_D-KVq4TK_E55y7MYIYcgVzTB8MgbaH0tf_5IKRONefyoHnbSPoIThN2rA4VXDwtt&timeline_context_item_type=intro_card_work&timeline_context_item_source=743110415&fref=tag

Antonia has dressed up such characters as Grotbags from Emu’s World, Amethyst from Steven Universe and Alvida from One Piece. Antonia has got a few more Cosplay ideas lined up in the future and a lot more comic cons to attend, so be sure to follow her on Facebook to get the latest updates.

 

NQ64

During my time in Manchester, I also met up with my big sister Denise and we decided to spend a few hours a round the town before I left. However, we also stumbled on a hidden gem in the city ideal for any gamers out there; an arcade called NQ64. NQ64 is an arcade bar off Tib Street with a plethora of classic cabinets such as Pac-Man, Point Blank and Space Invaders serving video game themed cocktails including the Mario, the Luigi and the Princess Peach. Me and my sister spent around two hours indulging in hat this place had offer and then unfortunately I had to leave to catch my train, but if any gaming fans out there are heading into Manchester any time soon, I highly recommend you guys stop by at NQ64 for a cocktail and a good number of hours on the cabinets of your choice. You can also find them on their website, including Facebook and Instagram:

https://nq64.co.uk/#

 

That concludes this article, but as always, I hope you guys had as much fun reading as I did writing it.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Q&A With Hungry Pixel

In my continuing efforts to discover new gaming talent and bring it to the attention of the industry, I came across indie outfit Hungry Pixel based in Madrid. For some time, the studio has been hard at work on NetherWorld; an open world side scroller set in a hellish universe containing mysterious characters, a sinister plot and a plethora of hostile creatures to fight throughout. At first glance, it’s extremely reminiscent of games such as The Binding of Isaac and Castlevani: Symphony of the Night, but even a cursory scratch of the surface will reveal that this game has some particularly different to offer compared to the aforementioned titles. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the game is slated for release on both Steam and Nintendo Switch. Curious to learn more, I contacted the company and head programmer Dan Barreno kindly agreed to answer a few question I had about it. Here were his responses:

What were the influences behind the general design of your game’s play?

It all started playing Undertale, which I think is one of the best games I’ve ever played. After finishing it on 2016, I decided to create an original story with simple mechanics but with a strong narrative. I imagined how would the darkest and most decadent version of Undertale be, adding drugs, alcohol and realism to it. Stories like the indie game “To the moon” were also an inspiration.

We’ve used tons of references to build NetherWorld, most of them kind of creepy. Some of the characters of the NetherWolian Church were inspired by the Rammstein song Morgenstern, or the desert scenario by Sergio Leone’s films (“For a Few Dollars More”, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”…).

What has the developmental process been like?

Very well! It’s true we’ve passed through treacherous times that required us to go back and rethink some designs, concepts and ideas in the past. Luckily, now we’re progressing in a very good rate.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

We’re working nonstop to have the game ready as soon as possible, but there’s still a lot to do. Our intention is to finish NetherWorld between late 2019 and early 2020. As Miyamoto once said: “A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever”. It’s our first game, so we want it perfectly made!

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

Its evolution. Have you watched the first video of NetherWorld? You shouldn’t. If you compare it to what we’ve got now, it has changed and improved a lot.

However, there’s another one even more exciting and fulfilling: the community support. Since I started to post my progression alone and then after the Kickstarter campaign as a team with Hungry Pixel, we receive lots of messages every week encouraging us to continue working on it because they like what we do, and that’s simply amazing.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

I think one of the worst parts of it is not having the time you wish to develop the game, especially when you have to combine it with other jobs (yeah, devs need to eat too!). Sometimes it can be very frustrating.

Where did the inspiration come from for the design of the in-game world and its characters?

Well, as said before, we’ve taken inspiration from lots of games, music and films, but what really encouraged us to create NetherWorld is to make something unique, original and weird, a world with its own personality and aesthetic. You’re gonna find more than 10 scenarios based on basic climates/ locations (mountain town, big city, desert, forest, snow…) but all of them adapted to world peculiarities.

NetherWorld is kind of a dark and satirical land made of the worst things and taboos of human society: drugs, sex, alcohol, sectarianism… So we can say one of the main inspirations of the game is real life. It happens the same with characters: We wanted them to be quirky, a mix between humanoids, animals and irregular black simple creatures (all properly dressed –or undressed- depending on their location in NetherWorld). So yes, you’ll find prostitutes, cowboys, cokehead mages and tons of weird (and funny) people.

Besides Star Wars, are there any other figures in popular culture that will make an appearance in the game? And on the same subject, could the game be theoretically open to modding?

Yeah! You’ll see lots of references to pop culture and other games in NetherWorld, and not only visual things… You’ll have to discover it by playing and being clear-eyed 😉 Regarding to mods, I’d love to see NetherWorld mods, although I don’t know if it’ll be possible for me to give other people the necessary tools to create them (wish I finally could do it!).

How well has the game been received so far?

Since the Kickstarter finished, we’ve received lots of positive feedback (even people who missed the Kickstarter and wanted to back the project!). We released a demo for the backers to test most of the mechanics we wanted to use in the final game, and also developed an in-game feedback system where anyone who played the demo could not only score it from 0 to 10, but also writing their opinions about the game, bugs detection, etc. We’re so glad that the results of the first test were so positive, excepting some little bugs that will be fixed for the final game.

The support we received from our 505 Kickstarter backers was awesome, and we’ll be always grateful for it (thank you Netherholics!). Without them, NetherWorld wouldn’t have been possible. We also want to thank all the people who had some words for us through Twitter and Facebook before, during and after the campaign.

We also like to share our progress through social media, so this way people can see what we are working at every moment, and we can know their feedback constantly.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

For now we’re going to release NetherWorld on PC and Nintendo Switch, but we don’t discard considering other platforms in the future.

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

Maybe sounds a cliché, but don’t give up! You’re gonna find lots of people in your way telling you that’s impossible, but that’s not true. If you have a good idea, determination and you work a lot to get it, you’re gonna move forward for sure.

It’s also very important to build a community everywhere you can (Twitter, dev forums) where people can reach you and send their feedback to you. Sometimes we’re so focused in our beloved project that we miss important details… External people can help us detecting them!

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

In our website netherworldgame.com you’ll find all you need to know about NetherWorld: videos, music, Steam page, mailing list, Twitter, Facebook… Check it out!

Do you have anything else to add?

Yes. Thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to be in your blog, and hope y’all enjoy the interview as well as I’ve enjoyed doing it! 🙂

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Dan and Hungry Pixel for sharing what they have to ay about NetherWorld, and to wish them the best of luck with it upon release. If anyone would like to learn more about the game, there are links below to the game’s website as well as various links to social media pages.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

https://twitter.com/hungrypixlgames?lang=en

https://netherworldgame.com/

https://www.facebook.com/netherworldgame/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-2yzQrtEB0gHQ4DHEqAX1w

The Bridge (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Switch, Wii U, OUYA & Amazon Fire TV) 

Developer(s) – The Quantum Astrophysics Guild

Publisher(s) – The Quantum Astrophysics Guild

Designer(s) – Ty Taylor & Mario Castaneda

PEGI – 3

Programmed by Ty Taylor and inspired by both the artwork of MC Escher and the scientific legacy of Sir Isaac Newton, The Bridge is an intricate puzzle game combining black and white hand-drawn graphics with gameplay involving the manipulation and traversing of a series of stages to progress through. For many reason, I thoroughly enjoyed this game and was extremely impressed with what it to offer in almost every aspect.

Graphics – 8/10

Making use of a unique art style as opposed to cutting-edge graphics, The Bridge is presented entirely in black and white and illustrated in graphite pencil reminiscent of the works of MC Escher, who the main character bears a striking resemblance to. The visual style works wonderfully well to perpetuate the atmosphere of the game, which is intriguingly morbid and dark. There is also cleverly effective use of lighting throughout the game to further add to this atmosphere. The game’s soundtrack also compliments the game particularly well, as it is incredibly subtle as well as foreboding at times.

Gameplay – 7/10

The game involves the player having to solve a series of complex puzzles whereby they must both navigate through with the player character and manipulated the stage around him in order to either access different areas of the stage or collect keys in order to progress to the next puzzle. As the game progresses, new elements are periodically added to further add to the challenge and keep the game fresh throughout. At one point in particular, the player must begin to switch between two characters to access different areas and to collect different coloured keys corresponding to the different hue of both characters. The game’s mechanics make it a subtle, challenging and enjoyable experience for the duration. There’s a great deal of satisfaction to be had for solving each puzzle, as they require a great deal of outside the box thinking to solve.

Controls – 10/10

The game’s controls pose no problems despite of how greatly it differs from traditional 2D side scrolling titles. It’s particularly impressive how the developers have made the game work as well as it does. Over the last few years there’s been a great deal of innovation made with the 2D side scrolling genre with games such as The Swapper, Limbo, Super Meat Boy and Stick It To The Man and The Bridge is yet another excellent example of this.

Lifespan – 4/10

Disappointingly, however, to complete the game to 100% can take there around 7 ½ hours, which for a game with this much innovation and enjoyment to be had is criminally short. Though lasting longer than other indie side-scrollers like the aforementioned Limbo and The Swapper, this game just needed that extra push in terms of longevity, in my opinion, to make it stand out more among the indie development community.

Storyline – 7/10

However, what does make this game stand out fairly well among the indie community is its story. The story follows an unnamed character navigating his way through each of the game’s puzzles in order to progress through. Elements of the story are revealed with each series of puzzles solved, and new story elements are introduced along with new elements of gameplay. With everything that comes with this game in terms of gameplay, controls, graphics, etc, they all work together in a very subtle way to contribute to the substance of the story on both conscious and subconscious levels in my opinion. But that, in and of itself, is where the quality of the story lies; that’s it’s particularly open to interpretation, much like the works of the people who inspired the creation of the game.

Originality – 8/10

The Bridge is a game that is unique in every respect, down to the graphics, gameplay, control scheme and of course, the story. There are games that have come and gone that have necessitated the mechanics of manipulating not only the character but the environment around them (Fez, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and The Witness to name but a few), but none of them have been handled in such a way as how it’s been handled in this title. It’s particularly impressive considering the general limitations that come with 2D side-scrolling compared to 3D open world games.

Happii

To summarize, The Bridge is a unique, subtle and deliberately paced game, which will make players feel challenged, satisfied and perhaps even inspired to create their own interpretive work of art. Though it doesn’t last as long as it really ought to do, what there is to enjoy can be done so thoroughly and it’s definitely worth playing through to feel the satisfaction of completing it.

Score

44/60

7/10 (Fair)

The Witness (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Thekla Inc

Publisher(s) – Thekla Inc

Director – Jonathan Blow

Producer – Jonathan Blow

PEGI – 3

Created by Jonathan Blow, the man behind the classic indie Braid and released back in 2016 following an initially planned released on seventh generation hardware, The Witness is a first-person open-world puzzle game requiring the player to solve a plethora of puzzles throughout in order to progress to new areas across a variety of different themed locations throughout. At first glance, I actually thought that I would hate this game; like it would be another generic story-driven title with a minimalist amount of things to do, similar to Proteus or Gone Home. However, after playing it, I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would for various reasons.

Graphics – 8/10

First of all the visuals, though not quite cutting edge on a technical level, are wonderfully varied and well throughout out on a conceptual level. Each area of the world map focuses on a central theme; for example, there is one based on Japanese culture, one in Ancient Egyptian culture, etc. How each area is also additionally integrated into the gameplay is also unique on a level that I’ve rarely seen in gaming. Jonathan Blow used similar traits whilst developing Braid, but to see these traits implemented in a 3D open-world game as opposed to a 2D side scroller is particularly interesting.

Gameplay – 7/10

The Witness revolves around the player having to solve a base series of puzzles in order to progress through the game. In addition to a series of main set puzzles in each area, there is also a plethora of hidden puzzles players can encounter, which is many cases, the player must use surrounding areas of the world around them in order to solve. For example, simple things like tree branches can be angled in front of a puzzle in order to reveal a solution, and designs of buildings in a lot of cases are also the basis of entire puzzles within the game. Although the entire objective of the game can become repetitive after a while, the puzzles within are varied to the point that they will quite easily hold the player’s interest for the duration. Puzzles primarily center around interacting with computer screens throughout the in-game world and drawing lines through on-screen obstacles to get from the start point to the end point, but over time, different elements are introduced such as having to draw two lines at once and drawing them through and around different obstacles on each screen.

Controls – 10/10

The control scheme is that of any standard first-person video game centering on only a few basic functions and as such poses no unnecessary complications. Getting to grips with the controls is particularly straightforward; though there may not be as much innovation in this aspect of the game as there is in the core gameplay mechanics, it’s simply a reassurance that the developers were able to get the fundamentals right before developing the game into what it became.

Lifespan – 9/10

Another aspect of this game that I was particularly surprised with was how long it lasts. Normally, with games like this with no combat elements or other additional gameplay mechanics of well-known titles, they only tend to last less no more than a few hours given how little there is to do in them; games like Journey, Shape of the World and Contrast. But contrary to that, although there is only essentially one objective in this game, it can be made to last hours upon hours since despite this one objective, takes a great deal of time to accomplish to 100%. Even completing the main story mode can take up to 25 hours. I was impressed with this title, as well as surprised, because of this.

Storyline – 6/10

In the game, there isn’t actually a forward-going narrative and therefore, nothing exists to resolve itself. But rather, the game focuses more on back-story and is left quite open to interpretation in this respect, since the world that exists within it clearly has some kind history attached to it, given certain elements such as the natural formations and abundant evidence of man-made civilization based on numerous different cultures, but what that history is exactly isn’t really explained in a definitive way. But this in and of itself gives the game it’s own relatively exciting dimension; if the point of art is truly to create debate, then this game can potentially do a good job of that.

Originality – 8/10

In the circle of independent games development, in particular, The Witness stands out from many in a lot of different ways, on a technical, graphical and fundamental scale. It provides the player with a very unique twist on puzzle solving and lasts a great longer than many games of the same ilk. I was pleasantly surprised by this game in most of every aspect and it’s been a while since I’ve experienced an example of this. Particularly throughout the eighth generation of gaming, very few games have taken me by surprise as this one has.

Happii

In summation The Witness is a vast, enjoyable and refreshing gaming experience that I’m happy to say that I can recommend after watching prior footage of it. Jonathan Blow had already earned a well-deserved spot in the history of independent development with Braid, but this game is a clear further example of what innovation he is capable of presenting to players.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Luigi’s Mansion 2 (3DS)

Developer(s) – Next Level Games & Nintendo SPD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Bryce Holliday

Producer – Shigeru Miyamoto

PEGI – 7

Released in 2013 to worldwide critical acclaim, Luigi’s Mansion 2, or Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon as it’s known in the US, is the sequel to the much-loved GameCube launch title, Luigi’s Mansion. It takes the formula of the original game and expands upon it, as well as introducing gameplay elements that were ultimately cut from its predecessor. My verdict is that whilst I didn’t enjoy this game as much as I did the first, it’s still a particularly good game in it’s own right for a variety of different reasons.

Graphics – 7/10

On a technological level, the second game is about on par with the first, but what makes this game different from it’s predecessor is that the player is not just confined to one place to explore, but rather there is a much wider variety of locations in and around the mansion to explore in addition, such as a museum, a mining area and a botanical garden; all with their own unique look further adding to the lore of the series. The biggest problem I had with this game’s visuals in comparison to the first is that there is much less effective use of lighting to create the same kind of atmosphere that the first game had; mainly due to the fact that there is more light shone in each area even before ghosts are subdued. As a result, it doesn’t have the same sense of wonderful foreboding that the original game had. The soundtrack to this game is also much less imposing too, which to me further bogged down the experience.

Gameplay – 8.5/10

Luigi’s Mansion 2 provides players with a very different experience to the first game, structured as individual stages within each area of the map as opposed to letting the player come and go around the individual areas as they please. This is to encourage replay value, as previous stages require newly acquired items to explore in full. There are also much more side quests, with collectibles rife throughout, along with further incentive to collect coins, as this is now done to upgrade Luigi’s equipment, giving the game a small RPG feel to it. There is also the addition of boss fights located in each area of the game; boss fights being a element that Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to put particular emphasis on. The further scope provided for backtracking throughout the game was a good idea on Nintendo’s part; it made the overall experience far more interesting than what I thought it would be going into it. Although I miss being able to explore the given areas at will like in the first game, the new structure of gameplay nevertheless made this game an extremely enjoyable experience, and it made me glad that Nintendo decided to expand on the series further. The boss fights are just as creative as they were in the first game, if not more so, as some require more varied strategies to defeat.

Controls – 10/10

With the second game, there also came the refinement of the control scheme. In my reviews of the original Luigi’s Mansion, I mentioned that it could take some time to adjust to the control scheme, as there was simultaneous action required to direct Luigi whilst capturing ghost with both the C-stick and main control stick on the GameCube. But the second game doesn’t have these issues, with players having a choice between using the 3DS’s gyroscopic controls or using the X or B buttons to look up or down respectively. This play style makes it much easier to capture ghosts more easily than it was in the first game.

Lifespan – 8/10

The second game can also be made to last considerably longer than the first. To complete this game to 100%, players must invest at least 16 hours into it, as opposed to the mere 6 hours it can take to complete the last game. Since the original Luigi’s Mansion was an unjustifiably short game, the lifespan certainly needed to be extended on, and with the sequel, Nintendo have not failed to deliver; not only is there a longer game to enjoy, but there’s also many more things to do within it to keep players occupied.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of Luigi’s Mansion 2 takes place some time after the events of the original Luigi’s Mansion. Professor E.Gadd has found a way to pacify ghosts using a device called the dark moon. However, trouble soon starts as King Boo shatters the dark moon causing the ghosts to once again become hostile. Gadd immediately enlists Luigi’s help to re-capture King Boo and all of the other ghosts in and around the mansion and restore the dark moon to working order. Although the series is kept fresh with a new story to again further expand upon the lore of the series, and by proxy Luigi’s part in the Super Mario series in comparison to Mario, the problem I found with it was a problem I find with many other survival horror sequels; I knew what to expect going into it. If the threat remains the same, the sense of tension or horror doesn’t. The fact that the game is less atmospheric also contributed to the marring down of this game’s story. But nonetheless, it is a solid plot line that does also contain a small comedic element to balance the scales.

Originality – 8/10

Whilst the overall concept of the series has remained relatively the same with the release of the second game, the elements within the series have been kept fresh with the introduction of new ideas and elements in most of every value that players can come to expect. It introduces new ideas in terms of gameplay, it introduces more scenery and more enemies to match and it also constitutes for a longer in-game experience; something that this series desperately needed if it were indeed to be expanded upon.

Happii

In summary, Luigi’s Mansion 2 is one of the best Nintendo-exclusive experiences on the 3DS. It delivers on everything that players can come to expect from a sequel and more. It’s not quite as good as the original game, but it’s close.

Score

48.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

To Hell With Hell: First Impressions

Released on July 2018 on Steam Early Access, To Hell with Hell is a top-down Roguelike bullet hell game designed to challenge the sternest of players throughout a series of randomly generated demon-infested battlegrounds. To me, it sounded fantastic on paper and having seen the demo of it before it’s release, I was excited to become immersed. But after playing the Early Access version, whilst I saw potential in this title there was one aspect alone that made it test my patience above all else at this point in development.

 

Graphics

To point out one of the many more positive aspects of the game, however, the visuals are pretty impressive. Seemingly drawing inspiration from the original Doom, the game takes place in hellish environments with equally hellish creatures ready to jump out and attack players left, right and center. The soundtrack that accompanies the game is also very reminiscent of Doom, comprising of mostly heavy metal, which also works well for me as a fan of the genre. The one big gripe I have with the graphics is that the enemy’s movement animations seem less detailed compared to that of the playable characters, making the game seem somewhat rushed in this respect.

Gameplay

The game is designed to be challenging on an unprecedented level, and so it is. Playing out like a combination of Diablo and Cuphead, it relies on the player’s ability to subdue enemies, but at the same time avoiding the onslaught of enemy attacks that are inevitably returned to them. From the onset, the challenge posed to players is made clear, and it doesn’t let up from there. There is also variety in gameplay with players being able to find new and more powerful weapons and abilities as the game progresses, which as with most Roguelikes, could offer value for replayability.

Controls

However, the big issue this game has, which will very much discourage replayability, is the controls. Giving players the choice of using either a mouse or controller, the game’s control scheme works very similarly to that of Hotline Miami, using a similar targeting system for players to defeat enemies, but in this case, it’s even more questionable, The target can be brought all the way to the four corners of the screen, which regardless of mouse sensitivity settings, hamper the game to a ridiculous extent. It would work better with a targeting system identical to that of Hotline Miami, whereby the cursor is only restricted to a specific radius, or even better still, a control scheme identical to that of The Binding of Isaac, whereby the opposite analog stick is used to shoot while the other is used to move. But the way it has been handled in this game at this point in development is, be that playing with mouse or controller, is nothing short of abysmal, and it’s a crying shame if this issue isn’t addressed because the game has so much potential otherwise.

Lifespan

For those who may be able to get past how terrible the game’s control scheme is, the game can be made to last for however long the player wants. However, most players who pick this up won’t be able to at this point, and therefore will most likely struggle to get past 20 minutes. The frustration of having a control scheme that doesn’t work can deny players hours upon hours of time with this title.

Storyline

The story at this point is as unique as the visuals; if not more so. The game follows the struggles of Natasias; an agent of the ruler of Hell, who has been imprisoned and is charged with rescuing him from a usurper to his throne. Though drawing inspiration from Doom, much as it does in the way of its visuals, the potential extent of the mythology behind this game is nothing short of phenomenal and therefore may promise expansion of the series in the future.

Originality

The idea of combining work inspired by John Carmack and John Romero with a bullet hell game with bullet hell gameplay certainly sound extremely exciting, and could potentially make for a fairly unique PC experience. I can hope that as the game’s development progresses further, even more different types of environments and enemies are added to further enhance what is already promising; perhaps if different types of levels are included, they could following the theme of the seven circles of Hell similar to Dante’s Inferno.

In summary, To Hell with Hell is a promising game at this point, but the problems also need to be ironed out. As long as the control scheme is improved upon, and inputting controller commands is made easier, then it could make for something particularly entertaining.

Figment (PC)

Developer – Bedtime Digital

Publisher – Bedtime Digital

ESRB – T

Following on from their breakout indie games Chronology and Back to Bed, Bedtime Digital then released Figment; an isometric action-adventure puzzle game continuing the trope of taking place in worlds existing in the subconscious mind. After having played both Back to Bed and Figment, Figment definitely stands out as the better of which in every aspect in m opinion. For as good a game as Back to Bed was, Figment addresses what issues there were with the latter, and delivers a much better gaming experience.

Graphics – 9/10

The game’s visuals follow the same isometric layout as their previous game, but in terms of conceptual design, this game is even more varied, as it contains not just one theme, but a much greater range of themes with each world that must be traversed. In relation to it’s the atmosphere, it’s very similar to Back to Back, in  that it perpetuates a visible contrast between happiness and horror (being comparable to the contrast between dreams and nightmares), but in Figment, this theme is made a lot more apparent, with scenery and character design being used to a greater extent to portray this contrast.

Gameplay – 8.5/10

Another aspect where Figment is better compared to the developer’s previous game is in the gameplay; it’s far more varied with not only a strong emphasis on puzzle solving in order to progress but also a greater (albeit it less subtle) emphasis on combat. Players much fight their way through many enemies throughout the game in a style very similar to that of games in the Baldur’s Gate or Diablo series’. Although Figment’s puzzle element is not as innovative as that of Back to Bed, it still makes for something particularly entertaining. The combat in the game also offers an unprecedented amount of challenge that I had never come to expect going into it.

Controls – 10/10

There are no issues to be had with Figment’s control scheme. It almost plays out like a hybrid between action-adventure RPG and a point-and-click adventure game, and essentially bringing the two genres together into one experience, it makes for an interesting way the developers have blended the puzzle genre with that of a top-down adventure game.  

Lifespan – 4/10

Lasting twice as long as Back to Bed, Figment clocks in at around 8 hours for 100% completion, which whilst it is an improvement on the developer’s part, it’s still criminally short; especially for a game in this genre, which can typically be made to last far longer. It was expected to me for this to have lasted longer than Back to Bed since there is far more depth in the gameplay than the former, but like Back to Bed, it still left me wanting more.

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story follows a creature name Dusty and his companion Piper as they set out on a quest to end the nightmares that plague the subconscious world they inhabit. On the first inspection, it may seem that there’s no more to this game’s story than there was in Back to Bed, but when delved deeper into, there is much more to it than that. The story element in this game is far stronger than the former, with characters having much more personality and the plot playing a much greater role in the game. It’s also surprisingly mature for a game that looks like what it does on the surface, with the main character Dusty frequently expositing at other characters, and not following the tropes associated with the archetypical hero.

Originality – 7/10

Aside from standing out from Back to Back, Figment also works well to stand out among many other games in general; the scenery and visual style of the game is wonderfully unique, and gameplay is varied in a way that I hadn’t thought possible when I first played the demo at EGX Rezzed 2017. It was definitely one of the standout games at that show, and the final product clearly built upon what they had showcased for the better.

Happii

Overall, Figment is not only a far better gaming experience compared to Back to Bed, but it is one of the most unique action-adventure experiences I’ve played in recent years. It’s scenery and brand of combat and puzzle-solving make for something pretty enjoyable amongst the indie development scene.

Score

45.5/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Dragon Bros (PC & Xbox One)

Developer – Space Lizard Studio

Publisher – Space Lizard Studio

PEGI – 7

Developed by Liverpool-based indie outfit Space Lizard Studio, Dragon Bros is a run and gun side scroller drawing influence from many old-school NES classics such as Contra and Blaster Master, offering new generation gamers an insight into the tropes of the generation, whilst also offering older gamer’s with an appreciation for their routes a great sense of nostalgia; also catering to players of all skill levels with varying degrees of challenge. Though I had some issues with this title, I was pretty impressed with it, as it had a lot to offer that I could appreciate in terms of nostalgia value and the future of the indie scene.

Graphics – 9/10

Rendered in wonderfully detailed 8-BIT graphics, the game’s scenery and characters are overwhelmingly diverse without becoming too repetitive over the course of the game. There are four worlds each with their own themes, and new enemies introduced to keep things fresh on a conceptual level. The game’s soundtrack is also stellar. Composed by Gabriel Caruso, it blends 8-BIT music with rock and roll, complementing the feel of the game brilliantly; in particular, I was blown away by the game’s main theme, which is used in the first two boss fights.

Gameplay – 7.5/10

There are no unnecessary complications with the game’s control scheme, which was always going to be important in a game that can demand as much as it does of players in the higher difficulty settings. Some of the mechanics involved with controlling certain weapons also add to that challenge in an unprecedented way. The laser cannon is probably the best example of which, as it causes the enemy to gradually recoil over time, so they must, therefore, be careful to make sure not to fall off any platforms as a result of not paying attention.

Lifespan – 2/10

Where I had the biggest issue with this game is how criminally short the main story is; even taking into account the mini-games as well as the main levels. In total, the game can take there around 2 to 3 hours to complete to 100%. Whilst more intrepid players will get more than that out of it replaying it on the higher difficulty settings, many other players will most likely be left wanting more. But to me, even with bearing this in mind in addition, I was still left wanting more. That’s why I think a possible sequel would work well as a Metroidvania game, with elements like leveling up, or an even bigger arsenal of weapons to choose from.

Storyline – 5/10

The game’s story is also only vaguely touched upon, being portrayed through two cutscenes; one at the start, and the other after finishing it. It follows four infant dragons looking to save their home planet from the invading Mechaliches, whilst also trying to rescue their mother from their leader. While it may be reminiscent of the old way of telling stories within games, like what was done with NES games telling the story mostly through the game’s manual (the same effect of which perhaps intended by the developers), very little of that is actually told within the game, so if players want the details of the plot, they need to read the game’s Steam page. But regardless, the story does retain a slight feel of uniqueness about it, so I can appreciate it for that to an extent.

Originality – 6/10

By far the most unique thing about Dragon Bros is its conceptual design; very few indie games have stunned me in this respect as much as this game has, and it shows the vast amount of effort the developers put into making it. It also works well for me in particular because I’ve loved dragons ever since I was a kid, but bias aside, the 8-BIT renderings is as fantastically detailed as the likes of Rogue Legacy or Titan Souls. The one gripe I have in terms of uniqueness is that it arguably follows the tropes of its influences too much and that I think even more could’ve been added to make the gameplay to make it stand out among others.

Niiutral

However, criticisms aside, Dragon Bros is quite an enjoyable game, and it comes recommended from me for any fans of old-school games out there, and players looking to experience these styles of play for the first time. It’s entertaining throughout for how long it lasts, and players looking for a challenge will certainly not be disappointed.

Score

39.5/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

Anew: The Distant Light: First Impressions

Following on from my Q&A with Steve Copeland and Jeff Spoonhower of Resonator Games, I was recently invited to tried out a demo for their upcoming Metroidvania game Anew: The Distant Light. After my interview with the two veteran developers, who throughout their careers that worked on such games Uncharted: Golden Abyss, BioShock 2 and Borderlands 2, their Kickstarter goal was funded, and following on from numerous development updates on their social media platforms, the game even made an appearance at last year’s E3 conference in California. A much-anticipated game, I was eager to see what Resonator had been working on, and what I could expect to see from the final product. I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed. After playing the demo of this game, I have high hopes of this game being one of the greatest Metroidvania titles off all time; a potential must-have for any fan of the genre, and even any gamer.

Graphics

In terms of conceptual design, the early build of the game was just as amazing to look at as it was to play. The demo takes place on an alien planet inhabited by numerous and dangerous creatures, and the player is seemingly free to explore on land, in dark caves, and even deep underwater, with more locations to be revealed with the final build, as the developers have promised to immerse players in a vast open world. Though influenced by the Metroid series, elements of which many veteran fans of the series will be able to point out quite easily, the game’s environmental design, in particular, is extremely distinctive from anything I’ve ever seen sci-fi. It makes me wonder how much diversity there may be in level design given the demo only features one stage within the game.

Gameplay

The game follows many of the tropes made synonymous with the Metroidvania series, including combat, item collecting and the discovery of new abilities needed to gain access to new areas overtime. Aside from that, it also has vehicular mechanics with players being able to ride cars, spaceships, and even giant robots in order to get around. Though only having there around 20 or 30 minutes of gameplay to show off, I felt extremely satisfied to play this game even for that small amount of time, which again, makes me excited for how much the final product will have to offer. But aside from that, I also found it intensely challenging at times too, which likens it to many other great Metroidvania titles such as Dust: An Elysian Tail or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In particular, I’m looking forward to how the weapons arsenal will be expanded upon from the demo, as in this build, only two weapons are available.

Controls

Anew: The Distant Light has a control scheme extremely reminiscent of that of The Swapper, minus the puzzle mechanics. But regardless of that, this game is shaping up to be a lot more satisfying to play than the latter; even though the control scheme at this point seems to be more evolutionary than revolutionary. But for how innovative The Swapper’s puzzle mechanics were, the entire experience of that game fell disappointingly flat, which Anew: The Distant Light doesn’t seem set to do at all; indeed, one of my first thoughts playing this demo was that this is everything The Swapper should have been.

Lifespan

As per mentioned, Resonator Games is boasting a vast open world with Anew: The Distant Light, which of course, provides great scope for hours upon hours of gameplay. I’ve always personally preferred a longer lasting game, and the longer this game can be made to last, the better. Many Metroidvania games can be made to last an extraordinarily long time and having experienced this game for myself, I can’t understand why this title would be no different to games likes of Symphony of the Night or Dust.

Storyline

The basic premise of Anew: The Distant Light follows a young child on a quest to both save Earth and uncover what happened to his co-pilot in the process. But with the scope for intergalactic travel and hidden items and further mysteries to uncover, my brief descrip[tion of the story may not do the game’s story justice. If the story has taken influence from many Metroidvania classics gone by, again, there’s no reason why the game couldn’t excel in this aspect either. Though The Swapper frustratingly sacrificed gameplay for story-telling for the most part, Anew seems to be set to address that issue if the story-telling is compelling enough. There were even instances in the demo which portrayed build-ups of tension, adding substance to the story early on.

Originality

Aside from showing an unprecedented level of uniqueness in conceptual design, and potentially in it’s approach to story-telling, where this game really looks set to stand out is in the respect of gameplay. In particular, the vehicular mechanics made the demo an extremely intense experience, which I’m looking forward to indulging in on a grander scale with the final release of the game. With the introduction of new mechanics and new worlds to explore, there’s no reason to suggest why this game couldn’t stand out even more than what it already seems to do.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed playing the demo of Anew: The Distant Light, and I’m looking forward to playing the final now far more than I was when I first laid eyes on the game when it first appeared on Kickstarter. I have extremely high hopes for this game, and I have every confidence that it will not fail to deliver on what the developers have promised. If you guys would like to learn more about the game, you can follow Resonator Games via the links below:

https://anewthegame.com/

https://twitter.com/anewthegame

I hope you are looking forward to this awesome-looking Metroidvania as much as I am.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Back to Bed (PC)

Developer – Bedtime Digital

Publisher – Bedtime Digital

PEGI – 3

Released back in 2014 to relatively positive reviews, Back to Bed is a surreal isometric indie puzzle game sporting a unique approach to puzzle solving, and providing one stern challenge after another. My own opinion of the game was that although I have some issues to address, I did have a fair bit of fun with this title. It stays fresh throughout, and although it doesn’t last particularly long, what there is to enjoy can be enjoyed thoroughly.

Graphics – 8/10

The game takes place within the dreams of a man named Bob, and as players can come to expect, the design of the game’s scenery is wonderfully abnormal. Each stage of the game takes place within different times of the day and the player is surrounded by increasingly strange objects, enemies and obstacles. In terms of conceptual design, it actually reminded me a lot of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, very much like Bedtime Digital’s follow-up release Figment. Throughout, the game also creates a very interesting atmosphere not only in its scenery but also in the soundtrack too; the game can generate a sense of comedy one minute, and then a feeling of horror the next. The opening title screen, in particular, feels quite harrowing. In terms of fitting in with the premise of the game, it can feel like the contrast between dreams and nightmares.

Gameplay – 7/10

The concept of the game is to guide a sleepwalking man through each stage of the game until he reaches the bed so he can go back to sleep. This is primarily done by placing objects within each stage to make the man turn in the desired direction. The man always turns clockwise when into contact with an object or wall, so, therefore, the player must strategize accordingly. Throughout the game, new elements are added to heighten the challenge of each stage. There is even a small element of combat involved, as enemies eventually come into the frame, and the player must work to subdue them before leading the man to his bed. As the new elements are added to the game, it becomes even more enjoyable overtime to be challenged in so many ways. If asked to compare it to any other games, I’d describe it as a mash-up between Lemmings and Road Not Taken.

Controls – 10/10

Overall, the game’s control scheme is relatively simplistic, and therefore, there are no issues to be had with the controls. However, some of the additional mechanics the developers incorporated into this game also pretty impressive. For example, the player has the ability to traverse certain walls in order to reach otherwise unreachable areas or to collect objects.

Lifespan – 3/10

Disappointingly, the game can only take up to 4 hours to complete to 100%, which was a surprise to me, since given the amount of variety the game has throughout, I believe it could’ve easily been stretched to last twice as long. Though Figment would last around twice as long as Back to Bed, I thought the worst thing about this game was that it far too short-lived, and really needed to last longer.

Storyline – 6/10

The majority of the game’s narrative lies within the basic premise, which is that inside the subconscious of a man named Bob is a strange four-legged creature called Subob, who must guide a sleepwalking Bob throughout his dreams to the bed in each stage. The story is quite abstract in many respects and certain elements of which are potentially open to interpretation dependant on whichever way a player may look at it, which does give it an additional boost. Outside of gameplay, the narrative is portrayed quite well too, with seemingly hand-drawn images depicting where the story goes with each stage of the game. It’s not the strongest example of storytelling to be found within a game, but it is quite enjoyable in its own right.

Originality – 7/10

Certainly, for a puzzle game, it is also a unique title with unique elements to be found in every respect, ranging from its conceptual design to its gameplay mechanics to even its basic premise. Though I was able to do it eventually, I was relatively hard-pressed to compare it to even a few games that I have played over the years, but irrespective of that, it provides a type of gaming experience that’s not easy to come by.

Niiutral

Overall, I was relatively impressed with Back to Bed. Though I felt it should have been made to last significantly longer than what it does, it kept me challenged and entertained throughout. The gameplay never becomes weary or overly repetitive, and it’s visuals add a level of charm comparable to many other visually stunning games before it.

Score

41/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)