Category Archives: Gaming

Gunpad (PC)

Gunpad (PC)

Developer(s) – Megaware Games

Whilst spending the last 4 to 5 years collecting old PC games at a ridiculously prolific rate, there was always bound to be a mixture of obscure gems, adored classics and immediate write-offs, as with any video games console. But with old PC games, the balance has been particularly interesting to behold. But I’ve found that not many PC developers perpetuate this balance quite like the developers in question in this review. Megaware games was an outfit based in the Netherlands, who made their business selling mostly games based on classic arcade titles, which in terms of quality were very much hit and miss. Eventually, they would break the mould and make a couple of unique titles of their own, such as Sleepwalker and Alien Logic until the company shut down as of 2007, but in this review, I’m going to be looking at one of their worst titles. Gunpad is ostensibly a 3D version of Pong, only players are also able to attack each other whilst knocking the ball back and forth. It sounds interesting in concept, but when I witnessed just how badly this game was programmed, it felt like a massive disappointment in the end.

Graphics – 4/10

It wasn’t only disappointing in terms of badly it was programmed, however; rather it was disappointing from the ground up. The game has only one stage to play in and because of that, as well as other aspects, it becomes very repetitive very quickly. There wasn’t even any music composed for it. Whilst I may be able to appreciate that Megaware may have been operating on a budget, I’ve met developers at Expos who sold games door-to-door back in the 80s when they were children that had better graphical quality than this. Whilst the visuals may be about average for the time on a technical level, the developers would’ve simply been better off making a 2D version of Pong with multiple levels than blowing all the budget on what we were given. 

Gameplay – 2/10

The game simply involves racking up more points than the opposition whilst avoiding their attacks. I couldn’t even be bothered to find out what buttons to press to attack back, since the developers even neglected to add a menu to show which buttons did what. After 3 games, I called it quits. The only thing that can be done to heighten the experience is to adjust the difficulty settings, but even on the lowest difficulty settings, the game is unreasonably punishing as very little time is given to react before the start of a round. Its baffling to me how developers can sometimes screw up making a game based on blueprints that have existed for decades. Pong was created by one guy and first released in arcades back in 1972, which makes this all the more embarrassing for the 5 people who worked on this game. 

Controls – 9/10

The control scheme works well enough, but the biggest problem is the camera angle that the game employs throughout. This is actually a 3D first-person version of Pong and as such, it becomes needlessly complicated to determine whether or not the player makes contact with the ball; especially when it veers towards corners. 

Originality – 3/10

The only thing that this game has going for it against the original Pong is that the player can attack their opponent, which whether or not this hinders the CPU’s ability to bat the ball back I don’t know, since again, I could truly be bothered to find out, since I was already jaded by how lacking this game truly is in all aspects. 

Angrii

Overall, players need to steer clear from Gunpad, which won’t be too hard, as I think this review may be the first legitimate review of this game on the internet. It was incredibly disappointing in terms of every aspect involved, but at least I can say that I’ve had some fun reviewing some dross. 

Score

17/40

4/10 (Poor)

Lego Alpha Team (PC & Game Boy Colour)

Developer(s) – Digital Domain & Climax Studios

Publisher(s) – Lego Media

Released at the turn of the century and going through several different name changes, as the game was in fact released before the toy line, Lego Alpha Team is a puzzle-oriented title with somewhat of an RPG element with players having to strategize in accordance with which different characters and abilities have to be used in order to traverse specific obstacles. Though it would probably seem horribly dated to many gamers these days, since it’s certainly not without its flaws, to me, it’s another one of those games that I’d spent a lot of time playing when I was a kid and came back to it recently thinking that it wouldn’t have aged well, when in actual fact, it still remains an immersive and challenging gaming experience. 

Graphics – 7.5/10

Developed using the NetImmerse engine, which would later operate as Gamebryo and go on to be the basis of some of the biggest games of seventh generation, Lego Alpha Team on a technical level was typical of early sixth generation titles; smoother edges and sharper images compared to the graphical quality of PlayStation 1 and Nintendo 64 games. But what makes this game stand out most out of anything is in the environmental design. Each stage of the game is very well put together, presenting players with a great deal of variety for a game that lasts little more than 4 hours. The game’s soundtrack is also wonderfully varied to suit each stage of the game, retaining a somewhat James Bond feel to it with heavy bass and Vic Flick style guitar solos. 

Gameplay – 8.5/10

The variety in gameplay is unprecedented to a degree that surprised me when I first started playing it. The player must traverse through challenging obstacles throughout by gaining new abilities and characters, while also contending with periodical new objects to place around each course in order to progress. I’d played Lego games prior to this, including Lego Racers and Lego Chess, but to me, this game stood out and still stands out as the best of the earlier games in the series. Sometimes a game may come along with a specific license attached to it that prior to playing, a player may not have any sentimental attachment to; but after playing, it becomes a different story. Lego Alpha Team to me, back in the day, was a shining example of that. 

Controls – 9/10

The one minor gripe I had with the game’s controls is that at times, it can be somewhat difficult to adjust the camera angles whilst playing and it does come across as a nuisance at times, since the game relies heavily on players being able to adjust the camera angles in order to observe every square inch of each course. But it’s a small complaint I have that doesn’t make the game unplayable by any stretch of the imagination. Besides which, the control scheme of the game is unique as I’ve seldom seen many other games that use a similar gameplay system. 

Lifespan – 4/10 

The biggest criticism that I have about this game, however, is that it could be made to last far longer than what it does. On average, players can be expected to make the game last there around 4 hours and for a game with this much variety, it’s a shame that it turned out to be as fleeting an experience as it is. It was most definitely worth a sequel and to me, it’s a surprise that one wasn’t developed since the Lego Alpha Team brand went to become relatively popular, spawning 36 Lego sets over a period of 4 years. 

Storyline – 5/10

The game follows the story of Dash, the leader of the Alpha Team, as he attempts to rescue the other team members from the series’ main antagonist Ogel, who must be stopped having also found a way of zombifying people into doing his bidding. The story of the game was pretty much something in the background to give players that little more emotional stock. It wasn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel, but it wasn’t terrible either. The dialogue throughout the game  is passable as well, which was somewhat a breath of fresh air at the time, since many games of the fifth generation had some pretty abysmal voice acting. 

Originality – 8/10

The game was made to stand out most in terms of both it’s conceptual design as well as it’s unique brand of gameplay. It surprised me at the time, and in truth, it still surprises me to this day that not many other developers since have since either tried to copy the formula or even modify it in any way, shape or form; similar to games like Dark Cloud or Okami. Whilst not being on par in terms of quality with either of the two aforementioned titles, it had and still has a level of uniqueness that makes it an impressive game in and of itself. 

Happii

In summation, Lego Alpha Team is an obscure gem of a game, which I would highly recommend. It’s cheap, immersive, unique and still looks and plays as good as it ever did.

Score

42/60

7/10 (Fair)

Space Invaders 99 (PC, PS1, Nintendo 64 & Game Boy Colour)

Developer(s) – Z-Axis & Activision

Publisher(s) – Taito

ELSPA – 3+

Paying homage to the original 1978 classic arcade title, the updated version of Space Invaders, released back in 1999, was far more than a simple remake; the developers rebuilt the game from the ground up, giving it a new lick of paint in terms of visuals and concept design and giving players much more to play for than a high score. Recently, I reviewed an example of how not to revive a classic arcade franchise in Dig Dug Deeper. But to counteract that, I thought I would write a review of an example whereby the developers got it right and Space Invaders 99 certainly got it right. Although I do have to say as a prerequisite that I did spend a lot of time playing this game when it was first released, it’s an experience that still holds up to this day. 

Graphics – 8/10

From a technical standpoint, Space Invaders 99 is more or less on par with most PC games released at the time, as well as what was being showcased on fifth-generation hardware; which makes it seem all the more disappointing to know that there was a canceled Dreamcast version. It makes me wonder how the graphics would’ve possibly been updated for early sixth-generation hardware. But nevertheless, it’s in the conceptual design where this game truly comes into its own. The developers redesigned everything from the player’s ship to the enemy ships and added new graphical features such as the selection of different levels to progress through, as well as a series of boss fights. The soundtrack that was composed for the game also fits the game’s atmosphere perfectly, sounding foreboding yet otherworldly at the same time. 

Gameplay – 8/10

Having the template of the original game to work with, the general formula is the same; players must destroy incoming alien ships before they reach the bottom of the screen. However, what makes this incarnation of the game stand out from the original version is the plethora of new gameplay features, including a variety of different weapons to use, boss fights at the end of each level and a surprising amount of unlockables, including a port of the original game thrown in for good measure. It also exemplifies how new gameplay features can coincide with new enemy designs, in that different weapons are accessible by killing four of one enemy type in a row. Players also have to strategize differently in accordance with each boss fought throughout the game. It’s a lot like Titan Attacks, only released over fifteen years earlier. 

Controls – 10/10

On console and PC and like the first game, the control scheme is easy to get to grips with, even for entry-level players, not coming with any unnecessary complications or the kind of silly oversights that came with the likes of Dig Dug Deeper. They’ve also been updated in accordance with the additional gameplay features available to be taken advantage of, which only makes this game all the more impressive. 

Lifespan – 10/10

Although the main game can take less than 2 hours to complete, depending on the difficulty settings, it’s a game like Star Fox 64, which although it can be rushed through, it can also be played and enjoyed on far more than one occasion and in a relatively short span of time. It is most definitely a game good enough for repeated playthroughs; add to that the fact that the original game can be unlocked, thus increasing the game’s longevity even further. Whilst most kids I knew at the time were playing Gran Turismo 2, I was hooked on this. 

Storyline – 6/10

The game’s story is simply a basic premise; Earth is under attack by alien invaders and a sole fighter pilot is tasked with repelling them. But what makes this game’s story excel beyond it being a simple basic premise is how it is portrayed. There’s a cutscene for both the start and the end of the game, which portray the player-characters struggles and triumphs, as well as a foreboding portent at the end. Of course, players ought not to be looking to play a game like this to immerse themselves in the story, it’s just a small tokenistic thing added to the game to give it that extra push over the line and it does make the experience all the more enjoyable for it. 

Originality – 7/10

Although this game largely copied a blueprint that had been around since 1978, this version of the classic arcade game didn’t simply copy the formula, but it reinvented it with the inclusion of the many new graphical and gameplay features it has. It was games like this that also would’ve been instrumental in setting the precedent for many indie developers to do the same, such as with Titan Attacks and Ultratron. It’s a shining example of how a team of developers don’t simply revamp a classic game for the sake of it, but also making the gameplay experience their own. 

Happii

Overall, Space Invaders 99 is a wonderfully crafted and highly recommended take on the original arcade version of the game. It’s a wonderfully innovative and a charming labor of love that shows the developers all put 100% into making it, evidenced in every detail. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Dig Dug Deeper (PC)

Developer(s) – Creature Labs

Publisher(s) – Infogrames

ELSPA – 3+

Released at the start of the century and 19 years after the original game, Dig Dug Deeper was an attempt to bring the popular arcade game into a new era of gaming, sporting 3D graphics and combining elements of both Dig Dug and Dig Dug II and adding one new gameplay feature along the way. But after playing 10 minutes of this game, it became very clear within that short span of time that the 3D take on Dig Dug fell well short of its immensely popular predecessors and that the inclusion of 3D graphics was much more of a gimmick than what it ought to have been for the time. 

Graphics – 5/10

The game’s visuals from a technical standpoint are comparable to that of early PlayStation 2 games such as Eternal Ring or the original Summoner, albeit with not as much variety as even either one of the aforementioned. The stronger point regarding the game’s conceptual design is the variety of levels there are. Each of the five planets the player must traverse throughout are themed differently, though the first two levels are suspiciously similar to one another. But the weaker points to make about the visuals are that the same enemies keep repeating throughout each world, which demonstrates a lack of imagination on the developer’s part. Ultimately, this makes the idea of having multiple themes worlds all the more redundant as a result since players would most likely expect different themed worlds to be much more attached to the gameplay than what they are and maybe even pose different kinds of challenges as a result for players to adapt to each level. But because the enemies repeat, all the different kinds of levels there remain simply something to look at and as a result will most likely leave players less invested in the game. 

Gameplay 6/10

I’ve scored the gameplay low for largely the same reasons I’ve already discussed. The game involves the player traversing from planet to planet and eliminating the monsters burrowed underground and in each planet’s overworld in addition, like Dig Dug II. This is done on each planet until the player reaches the end. It plays out much like the original two games, though ironically, it feels like there’s much less to play for since the high score in the original arcade game was put in place to be beaten by the next person who played the cabinet. However, because this game is fractionally more story-driven, it makes the high score system redundant as well, since whilst players are trying to immerse themselves in the story, the high score becomes secondary. The problem being is that this game falls painfully short on story as well as gameplay and thus all supposedly essential elements of the game are neglected making the experience feel much more finite. The one gameplay feature that was added was the inclusion of different power-ups for the player to take advantage of, but it’s pointless given the fact the enemies all behave the same throughout the game anyway. 

Controls – 8/10

Playing out in pretty much the same manner as the first two games, Dig Dug Deeper also follows the same control scheme of going from world to world burrowing underground and eliminating enemies before they escape from the tunnels. But whilst neither of the original games had any issues in regards to the controls, somehow, the developers messed this up as well, since the controls at times can be particularly unresponsive; most prevalent when trying to burrow in different directions underground. It may be argued that it was due to the developers having to make the transition from 2D to 3D, but even so, to program a game this badly after having supposedly followed a blueprint that had been around for 19 years at that point, it’s quite embarrassing to see that the developers had issues in regards to the controls. 

Lifespan – 3/10

Overall, the game takes around 25 minutes to complete depending on how much player adapts to difficulty as well as coping with the control issues. It may be made to last longer for the seven people who at point might still be worrying about their high score, but the original arcade game has retained its popularity for over 30 years for a reason; it’s far superior. 

Storyline – 1/10

The story of the game is basically the gameplay concept; traverse each planet and kill monsters. The only viable story element is that the character’s name is Taizo Hori and I had to look up the game on Wikipedia to find that out; the developers couldn’t even be bothered mentioning that. But because the game has this less than acceptable story attached to it, again, it devalues the rest of the game by not putting an acceptable amount of focus on elements that matter most. 

Originality – 4/10

The most original thing about this game is its variety in level design, which whilst on the face of it might seem like a step up from Dig Dug II since that game only had generic islands due to the graphical limitations of the time, it’s far too difficult to become invested in the fact that this game has variety in level design since it’s far more of a fleeting experience than the former in every other aspect.

Angrii

In summation, Dig Dug Deeper is a game to be avoided at all costs. I played it after having heard from word of mouth that it was a quirky attempt to bring Dig Dug into the realm of 3D gaming, but unfortunately, it turned out to be far too weak an attempt at such. 

Score

27/60

4.5/10 (Mediocre)

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.