Category Archives: Video Game Reviews

I am Scouse Gamer 88; an amateur Liverpudlian game reviewer making his opinion heard about as many video games as possible. Scroll through and read all my video game reviews from A to Z. All my thoughts and opinions on some of the very best and very worst games released!

Throughout my career, I have reviewed a great of games; be that AAA mainstream titles or independently developed indie hits. In my 30+ years, I have had extensive experience playing every kind of game. Ranging from critically acclaimed beloved titles to forgotten flops.

I take great pride and put great care into what I do, and I hope you enjoy reading my reviews as much as I writing them!

SG88 Ender Lilies Header

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X & Switch)

Developer(s) – Live Wire & AdGlobe

Publisher(s) – Binary Haze Interactive

Director(s) – Keisuke Okabe

Producer(s) – Junichi Asame

PEGI – 12

 

Released last month to overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim, Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights is a Metroidvania title, unlike most others. Combining dark fantasy with Japanese anime, it presents players with challenging gameplay reminiscent of the Dark Souls series and incorporates beautifully twisted mythology that results in a roller coaster of emotion from beginning to end. Some time ago, I had written a first impressions article on this game:

https://scousegamer88.com/2021/02/01/ender-lilies-quietus-of-the-knights-first-impressions/

And I summarized my astonishment at just how good a game the developers seemed to be promising players. After finally finishing this game, I was anything but disappointed.

 

Graphics – 10/10

The game’s visuals make use of 2D sprites and environments similar to many modern-day Metroidvania classics such as the Ori games and Dust: An Elysian Tail. Albeit, Ender Lilies has a much darker atmosphere than either of the aforementioned games combined. Taking place in the sorrowful environments of Land’s End, the world had been ravaged by an evil entity known as the Blight, causing death and destruction throughout the world. Each location across the game is suitably scary and ominous, but at the same time, the game presents players with a feel of simultaneous beauty and melancholy in elements such as the soundtrack and certain other environmental designs. It’s rare that I’ve played a game that has such a stark contrast between eloquence and darkness as Ender Lilies does.

 

Gameplay – 8/10

The game is a 2D Metroidvania with RPG elements. Throughout the game, the player acquires more abilities to advance to otherwise impassable areas, in lieu of Metroidvania tradition, but new abilities in combat can also be learned throughout in the form of defeating both the main bosses and a series of sub-bosses that offer lesser, but strategically valuable abilities that can be used in accordance with either each situation in combat or for the purposes of exploration, and there’s certainly a lot of exploration to be had in this game. Backtracking is an important feature of this game, with players being able to discover many new and even secret areas within the game. But most prominent of all is the level of challenge that it presents players with. It’s not quite on the same level as Blasphemous in this respect, but it’s most definitely not a game for the faint of heart. Oftentimes, I found myself wondering whether or not I was in a more advanced area of the game than what I ought to have been, only to realize that I was completely on course to finishing it at almost all times. 

 

Controls – 10/10

As is needed in a game like this, the controls also pose no problems thankfully. If there had been any issues, it would’ve caused bigger problems than what it would in a game of reasonable difficulty, since Ender Lilies is a lot more demanding than the average Metroidvania. But any slip-ups where this game is concerned will be down to the player. It takes a great deal of skill and experience to advance through this game, but thankfully, the controls will not slow players down. 

 

Lifespan – 7/10

The game can be made to last a total of 22 hours, give or take, which for a Metroidvania is a reasonable amount of time to last. It’s nowhere near on the level as what Hollow Knight can be made to last, but this puts it on par with the average 2D open-world title at least. With any luck, the developers did leave scope for expansion in the form of either a sequel or DLC because this is a series that is most definitely worth continuing after one game, but only time will tell on that one, unfortunately. 

 

Storyline – 8/10

The story of Ender Lilies focuses on a young white priestess named Lily, who after waking up in a derelict church, discovers that the world has been ravaged by entities such as the evil Blighted creatures and the Rain of Death. Aided by numerous incorporeal allies, who are the last remaining remnants of individuals who were affected by the Rain of Death, Lily resolves to put an end to the curse and thus restore Land’s end to its former glory. As I commented in my first impressions article, I noticed similarities early on between this game and Shadow of the Colossus on the thematic level, as the game seemed to perpetuate the same feeling of bittersweetness throughout. Having played through it in its entirety, I stick by my initial assessment. The game takes the player through a whirlwind of emotion that will have them on the edge of their seats as they discover the backstory of each ally acquired throughout the game and ultimately discovering the fates of Lily and Land’s End

 

Originality – 7.5/10

Although the idea of a Metroidvania RPG had been perpetuated before on numerous occasions, the elements that make this game stand out among most other Metroidvanias, as well as other games in general, is in the atmosphere that it presents throughout, as well as it’s beautifully distorted mythology. Eldritch horrors litter Land’s End throughout, the game provides players with a wonderful contrast between beauty and horror, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a video game, making it truly an unforgettable experience that players will savor for a long time. 

 

Happii

Overall, Ender Lilies is most definitely one of the best games I’ve played of 2021; it’s a weird and elegant game that will give players a stern challenge and along with that an immense sense of satisfaction, but at the same time, leave them with a profound sense of wonder after experiencing the story. It’s exactly the game that those in the Momodora series should’ve been.

Score

50.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Mages Defence Header

Q&A With Happy Eagle Games

Whilst browsing social media platforms for new video game prospects, I was approached by yet another indie developer looking to bring their game to a wider audience. Mages Defense, under development at Happy Eagle Games based in Brazil, is an action-strategy game with tower defense elements set in a fantasy world reminiscent of the works of Tolkein. The main objective of the game is to protect a crystal from dark creatures bent on destroying the world. Enemies attack in waves and to defend the crystal, players must place traps in increasingly strategic ways and use the magic of the mages to beat each wave. 

Wanting to know even more about this exciting and addictive-looking title, I proposed to the game’s project leader Felix Tedesco about the possibility of conducting a Q&A for the site to ask him some questions about the direction in which development has gone, and my go, and what players can come to expect with this game ahead of the launch of a Kickstarter campaign planned for October. Here’s what Felix Tedesco of Happy Eagle Games had to say about Mages Defense:

 

Mages Defence 1

What were the influences behind your game?

One of our first influences was that Orcs Must Die. Orcs Must Die is a 3rd person tower defense and we got a lot of elements from there and definitely this game shapes ours. The other game that inspired us was kingdom rush, another tower defense game that gave us a lot of new ideas…

 

What has the developmental process been like?

The process has been fun and positive. We committed so many mistakes, more than we can count, but all mistakes we made became part of us and we learned from them. Of course, we are going to commit a lot more, but we know that is part of the plan.

 

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

We intend to make a Kickstarter campaign in October to gather some money and finish our product. Depending on how the game goes on Kickstarter, we are planning to develop some new and unique levels and release the game early next year. Probably February or March…

 

Mages Defence 2

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

We think it was the fact that we are creating our own technique because it’s our first big game. We made a lot of mistakes in the process that made us much more ready for the next one. For the next game, we know how to avoid the mistakes we’ve made and that makes us stronger. We learn how to work as a team and to overcome problems.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

The mechanics were the most challenging part of development. At the beginning of the project, we had some trouble making it fun, simple, and functional and even after making a lot of the game, we still needed to adapt and change some parts of it.

 

There was limited information on the Internet about Happy Eagle. Can you give a rundown of the history of the company, where you’re based and what prior developmental experiences you have?

We were acting in some game jams, especially here in Brazil. We made some small games and prototypes to train our abilities and gain some experience. The name came because we are focused on creating happy, fun, and positive games especially because of the world’s problems we had. We think the main goal of life is being happy and that’s why we are focused on creating a fun and colorful game. The eagle means that we want to fly as high as possible and we are going to do everything in our control to make it happen.

 

Mages Defence 3

How well has the game been received so far?

We just showed the game to a local community at the moment… The feedback is being pretty cool and helped us to build a new perspective of the game. Because of the feedback, we think it has a lot of potential, and we are making the best product we can! We are working on a great Demo that will be ready in October for our Kickstarter campaign.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

We just have plans to bring it for PC right now. But we are open to new possibilities.

 

Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that have since been scrapped or reworked?

We are reworking on the Boss fights. We planned something that we were pretty cool with in the beginning but when we build it, it wasn’t good enough. So we are making the fight with the bosses again. The initial idea was that the bosses would fight against the player 1 x 1. but now we are bringing the boss along the waves of enemies.

 

Mages Defence 4

Are you planning to make Mages Defense into a series, or are you and the development team looking to try something new following the release of Mages Defense?

Probably. We are going to try something new. At least this is our thought at the moment. Of course, if the game reaches great success, we are going to make Mages Defense 2 and grow our team.

 

How instrumental has player feedback in terms of shaping the course of the project been?

It was the most important thing! Their feedback made us change a lot of aspects of the game, including some parts of the mechanics making it more simple and easy to master. I think one of our difficulties right now is balance the game and the maps and the players are the keys to that.

 

If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or for any franchise, which would it be, and why?

Rockstar is my favorite company by far. I just love the idea of an open-world game where you can do everything and if I had the opportunity, I’d make a partnership with them.

 

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

Follow your dreams. Work with whatever makes you happy… Of course, that is not a possibility for everybody but go for passion instead of just money. Money needs to be the consequence, not the goal. If you are really committed to something, the money will come. Be Hunger!

 

Where on the Internet can people find you?

We are working on our other media. You can find us right now on Twitter:

 

https://twitter.com/CreativeFelix

You also can WISHLIST Mages Defense now On STEAM!

 

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1528330/Mages_Defense/

Do you have anything else to add?

We just want to thank you for the opportunity to spread our game and thanks to everyone who is helping us to make the project more and more attractive! You are awesome!!!

 

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Felix for reaching out to me and bringing this game to my attention, as well as agreeing to our interview. Mages Defense looks like a game that can potentially make for ours of addicting gameplay, and as a fan of the conventional medieval fantasy genre myself, I’m very much looking forward to learning more about the mythology behind it. In recent months, I’ve interviewed a number of indie developers originating from Brazil, including 2ndBoss Studios, Statera Studios, and Orube Studios, and the indie scene in the country is looking very exciting at the moment, and Happy Eagle is set to be another prominent example of which. I hope you guys are looking forward to the game’s Kickstarter campaign in October, and hope that you’re looking forward to playing this game as much as I am

 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

SG88 The Addams Family Header

The Addams Family (Super NES & Mega Drive)

Developer(s) – Ocean Software

Publisher(s) – Ocean Software & Flying Edge

Designer(s) – Warren Lancashire

PEGI – N/A (Suitable for all ages)

 

Initially released in 1992 by Software for fourth-generation hardware, The Addams Family game, based on the 1991 movie starring Raul Julia, Angelica Huston, and Christopher Lloyd, received mixed reviews when it came out, (much like the film), is described as a boring Mario clone, or Mega Magazine even advising players to either “watch a tree, or grow something instead”. Versions for older consoles, such as the NES, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and even handheld consoles were also developed, but each of these versions is like their own games in and of themselves. 

With the original port, however, it’s interesting to me how the perception of an old game can potentially change over time. If I’d been reviewing back in the time of the Super NES, I may very well have had similar concerns to the likes of Mega Magazine, but even still, my overall opinion would have been very different, since not only do I enjoy this game a lot today, but I also played the hell out of it back when it was released. I enjoyed it thoroughly back then, and I still enjoy playing it now. 

 

Graphics – 8/10

The visuals differ slightly between both the Super NES and the Mega Drive version, but both versions do exceptionally well to capture the feel of not only the 1991 film but the franchise in general. It’s one of those games based on a license that tries to celebrate the license as much as possible, and I always enjoy a licensed game for that reason. The game takes place in and around the Addams residence, which is plagued by creatures of the night that Gomez Addams must contend with. Each area of the house is uniquely designed and differentiated from one another, giving it a strong vibe of classic Castlevania games. In particular, the portraits on the walls of the portrait gallery are excellently detailed in terms of technical performance, with the characters bearing striking resemblances to the real-life actors; not only that of Raul Julia as Gomez, Angelica Huston as Morticia, and Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester but also of Christina Ricci as Wednesday and Jimmy Workman as Pugsley. 

 

Gameplay – 8.5/10

Not quite a traditional 2D side scroller, the player has the option to come and go as they please throughout the Addams residence, giving it far more of a Metroidvania feel. The objective is to navigate the Addams residence and rescue each of the other family members; Wednesday, Pugsley, Grandma Addams, Uncle Fester, and finally Morticia. Throughout the game, there are several secret areas to uncover along the way, as well as different power-ups to use in order to reach otherwise impassable areas or to give the player an edge in combat. There’s also a series of pretty challenging boss fights to contend with at the end of each area; and challenging is the right word for this game, as there are also many different platforming sequences that will test even the most hardened of platformer fans. 

 

Controls – 10/10

The game’s controls are also as fluent as any good platformer was at the time. Featuring other items to use throughout, it’s actually given more variety in terms of gameplay than the average side scroller, and therefore, more functionality in terms of controls than in other games of the same ilk. There’s so much in this game to differentiate it from others in terms of controls alone that it made me wonder how even reviewers at the time couldn’t recognize that back then. 

 

Lifespan – 8.5/10

The lifespan is even longer than the average platformer, clocking in at around an hour and a half to two hours, depending on whether or not the player decides to complete it to 100%. Of course, there would be other games in other genres that would blow this amount of time out of the water, and would only continue to do so going into the fifth generation of gaming, but there’s a lot to be said for a game like this that dared to defy convention, even if it went pretty much unnoticed at the time. 

 

Storyline – 7/10

The plot of the story follows the second half of the films quite closely, Tully Alford, the Addams Family lawyer, has taken over the Addams estate and captured the remaining Addams family members, and Gomez resolves to rescue them. The plot element of the film concerning Uncle Fester is also present, as he has amnesia and he is cured of it once Gomez releases him. The plot is presented nowhere near as well as what it is in the original film, but it does a good enough job setting up the premise of gameplay.

 

Originality – 8/10

It’s very easy to overlook how quietly innovative this game was back in its time. It perpetuated a lot of the same ideas that the likes of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night did birthing the entire Metroidvania genre a full two years before the release of Super Metroid. It was even quite easy for me to take it for granted back in the day since I was unfamiliar with the concepts of gaming history and even the differentiation of gaming genres at the time, but as I’ve grown older and learned far more than I knew about games since, It’s made me appreciate truly how innovative this title was. 

 

Happii

Overall The Addams Family remains every bit as much of a joy to play today as what it was back when it was released. I highly recommend this game to any side-scrolling fan who may be either looking for a challenge or looking to try a silently original game that unfortunately fell through the cracks at the time of its release. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

SG88 World of Illusion Header

World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck (Sega Genesis/Mega Drive)

Developer(s) – SEGA AM7

Publisher(s) – SEGA

Director(s) – Emiko Yamamoto

Producer(s) – Patrick Gilmore

PEGI – 3

 

Released as a Sega Genesis exclusive, unlike its predecessors Castle of Illusion and Land Illusion, World of Illusion is the third game in the series, which puts players in the shoes of not only Mickey Mouse but also his companion Donald Duck, offering two different experiences depending on which character the player chooses at the start. It was released to rave reviews back in 1992 with critics praising the graphics and multiplayer, but it also had one or two detractors in addition, which some labeled the single-player mode as dull or bland. 

Growing up, World of Illusion was the Illusion game I spent the most time on, and as a prerequisite, I enjoyed it very much back in the day. Nostalgia aside, I still enjoy playing it. In terms of quality, I put it in between the original two; it’s quite as good as Land of Illusion, but it’s slightly better than Castle of Illusion in my opinion.

 

Graphics – 8/10

The first thing to notice right off the bat compared to the other two Illusion games is that the graphics outstrip both of them on the technical side. Everything from the environments to the characters looks better than they ever had done before, showcasing in spectacular fashion what the Sega Mega Drive was capable of as the fourth generation was well and truly established. On the conceptual level, it still impresses, having been influenced by a number of Disney films such as Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, and Sleeping Beauty to name but a few; similar to how Castle of Illusion was put together, but on a greater scale.

 

Gameplay – 9/10

The gameplay also follows a very similar formula to that of Castle of Illusion, being a traditional 2D sidescroller offering two different adventures; one as Mickey Mouse and the other as Donald Duck. It’s nowhere near as open-ended as Land of Illusion is, but both playthroughs offer a very different experience to one another, as Donald Duck is forced to find alternative paths across each level due to him having different capabilities to Mickey Mouse. The multiplayer is also an outstanding experience to indulge in as it requires slightly more cooperation to progress through than in other side scrollers of the time. 

 

Controls – 9.5/10

The only minor fault I found with the controls, as I discussed in my review of Castle of Illusion, was the crawling mechanics. Whenever the player character crawls, it seems way too dragged on and nowhere near as fluent as a normal movement. But as I said, it’s only a nitpick; it doesn’t hinder gameplay to the point of it being unplayable, and regular movement is as fluent as it is in any of the best platformers released at the time. 

 

Lifespan – 7.5/10

Clocking in at around an hour, World of Illusion lasts about the same time as Land of Illusion despite its linearity, which for the time is pretty impressive in all fairness, especially compared to what is essentially a Metroidvania. It racks up around the average lifespan of a game back in its time, so it may seem like nothing compared to what gamers will be used to in this day and age, but for the time, it’s impossible to complain about too much. 

 

Storyline – 7/10

The story of World of Illusion is almost identical to that of Land of Illusion. It involves Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck being swept away on yet another adventure, as they are taken by an evil magician in the form of Mickey’s long-standing arch-nemesis Pete. Again, like in the previous Illusion games, the cutscenes do as good a job as what could’ve been expected to tell the story as effectively as possible, but in the respect of the game’s story, it falls a little short in terms of uniqueness.

 

Originality – 7.5/10

The aspects in which this game doesn’t fall short of in terms of uniqueness, however, are in both the graphics and the gameplay. The conceptual design, despite the fact they were inspired by several different Disney films, still feels like it’s its own cohesive idea as opposed to it feeling like a mish-mash of different previously conceived elements. And although the game isn’t quite on par with Land of Illusion in terms of gameplay, it’s necessary to appreciate the fact that the developers tried something new instead of simply giving the players the same experience all over again.

 

Happii

In summation, World of Illusion holds a lot of nostalgic value to me personally, but in the grander scheme of things, it’s still a great game to play. The multiplayer is immersing, the graphics look great, and whilst the story isn’t very original, especially by Disney’s own lofty standards, there’s more than enough here on offer to make up for it.

Score

48.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

SG88 Land of Illusion Header

Land of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Master System & Game Gear)

Developer(s) – Sega

Publisher(s) –  Sega

Director(s) – Yoshio Yoshida

Producer(s) – Patrick Gilmore

PEGI – 3

Released on third-generation hardware well into the fourth generation, Land of Illusion was brought out following the immense success of the previous Mickey Mouse game developed by Sega, Castle of Illusion, and for the most part, received the same level of critical acclaim being considered an adored classic by most who played it. Out of the original Illusion trilogy, Land of Illusion was the one entry that I never got to play, as, at this time, I was firmly immersed in fourth-generation hardware, such as the Super NES and the Mega Drive; and it’s a shame that this game never saw a release on the Mega Drive, because a multitude of reasons, it is the best in the Illusion trilogy in my opinion; superior to both Castle of Illusion and World of Illusion.

 

Graphics – 8.5/10

Where the technical side of things is concerned, the game kind of looks like a mixture of both 8-BIT and 16-BIT visuals, seemingly going above and beyond what many gamers may have thought the Sega Master System was capable of. People who have never played this game would most probably take a cursory look at it and maybe too hasty to write it off immediately as a game that seemingly came to a generation too late. But the fact of the matter is Land of Illusion looks too good to be a third-generation title. The conceptual design is also even more of an improvement on what the developers did with Castle of Illusion to me, as it borrows elements from much darker Disney films than that of its predecessor; most notably The Black Cauldron, as the antagonist is The Horned King under the guise of a new villain, The Phantom. There are certain elements of certain levels that also look to be inspired by previous third-generation classics, such as Super Mario Bros 3 and Castlevania.

 

Gameplay – 9/10

Perpetuating many of the same gameplay elements as seen in Castle of Illusion, Land of Illusion is another 2D side scroller whereby the player must traverse, explore, defeat bosses and take on the game’s end boss. What separates this game from Castle of Illusion, however, is that there’s a small Metroidvania element to it, allowing for players to backtrack to an extent with newly acquired abilities to reach otherwise impassable areas. There’s even a sidequest whereby there are a number of stars to collect throughout, giving the game slightly more replay value than the average side scroller. The boss fights throughout also provide a nice balance of challenge for players. 

 

Controls – 9/10

The biggest problem I had with the game is only a minor one, which is that the jump mechanics can seem a little inconsistent, and as a result, gameplay can be hindered to a small extent unnecessarily. The same problem exists in the next game in the series, World of Illusion, but to a lesser extent. However, the jump mechanics are nowhere near as bad enough to be able to call the game unplayable by any means. Like the last game, the controls are as fluent as what is needed to be for the most part. 

 

Lifespan – 7.5/10

Land of Illusion can be made to last around an hour, which though was the average lifespan for a game in the fourth generation, is actually quite impressive compared to other third-generation titles. The amount of backtracking the game warrants makes it slightly longer than the average 2D side scroller that was a mainstay in the industry at this time, and it does fairly well to stand out on its own as a result. Of course, other games have been released by this time that lasted considerably longer like A Link to the Past and the Final Fantasy games, but for what is a very retroactive experience, it succeeds to deliver.

 

Storyline – 8/10

The plot of Land of Illusion is extremely similar to that of Super Mario Bros 2. Mickey is reading a book one day only to fall asleep and awake again in an unfamiliar and fantastical land whereby he must recover a stolen magic crystal in order to help the inhabitants of a small village protect themselves from an entity known as The Phantom. Along the way, the player encounters several classic Disney characters to rescue, and along the way providing a greater deal of substance in the story and more memorable moments than Castle of Illusion. 

 

Originality – 8/10

Although it was released arguably three years too late, the fact of the matter is the game stands out for all the right reasons regardless of its late arrival on the Sega Master System, and for a game that at first glance would seem completely outdated, is immensely impressive. It’s amazing what developers have been able to do with basing games off of a pre-existing license before and after Land of Illusion, but very few developers took that concept to the heights that Sega took many Disney franchises in the realm of games, and this game stands out as yet another shining example of that.

 

Happii

 

Overall, I was surprised to find out that I would end up enjoying Land of Illusion more than any of the other Illusion games. It’s got a great deal to play for, for its time, the story is much more involved than in previous game, and although it seems to be Castle of Illusion that seems to get the accolade of the classic Mickey Mouse game, the fact of the matter is that Land of Illusion is in many ways superior. 

Score

50/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Sega Genesis, Master System, Game Gear & Saturn)

Developer(s) – SEGA (AM7)

Publisher(s) – SEGA

Director(s) – Emiko Yamamoto & Yoshio Yoshida

Producer(s) – Stephan L. Butler

PEGI – 7

Released in 1990 to overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim and later receiving a remake in 2013, Castle of Illusion was ported to several Sega consoles in both 8-bit and 16-bit and became one of the breakout exclusive games on Sega consoles before Sonic The Hedgehog was released in 1991. To me, it stands out as one of the earliest examples of how to do a licensed game along with the many other titles Disney throughout the fourth and fifth generations, including Chip N’ Dale, Duck Tales, Aladdin, and Toy Story, even spawning its own series of Illusion games before the release of Mickey Mania

 

Graphics – 8/10

The technical quality of the graphics depends of course on what system the game is being played on. For the best in this respect, the Mega Drive or Sega Saturn versions of the game are preferable, albeit the Saturn version stayed in Japan. However, all ports of the game perpetuate the same wonderful diversity in level design that even matches that of the classic Mickey Mouse cartoons that had come before it such as Steamboat Willie and The Mad Doctor, borrowing elements from the cartoon as well that of other Disney films on addition, such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White & The Seven Dwarves. Throughout, the game also presents a stark contrast of happy and serene settings at the beginning and dark and gritty settings towards the end.

 

Gameplay – 9/10

A traditional linear 2D side scroller, the player must traverse across five different levels and collect a series of gems by beating a number of bosses at the end of most levels. Once all the gems are collected, the player can then challenge the game’s end boss and rescue Minnie Mouse. There’s also a small combat element as players can collect project apples to attack with, similar to Aladdin, and the boss fights throughout become evermore creative; the final boss in particular somewhat reminding me of the final boss fight against Dracula in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.

 

Controls – 10/10

The controls, in addition, pose no problems as even in these days gone by when the game was first released, the 2D side scroller had long since been mastered by developers and have remained a staple within the industry. Future games in the series would pose a couple of minor problems in this respect, notably the crawling mechanics in World of Illusion, but the controls in the original game are as fluent and as easy to get to grips with as any good side scroller released at the time. 

 

Lifespan – 7/10

The game can be completed within around 30 minutes, which whilst being nothing by today’s standards, was at that time, about the standard lifespan of a traditional side scroller. Of course, the Metroidvania and RPG genres would spawn games lasting tens or even hundreds of hours throughout the late 90s, but this is the type of game that warrants multiple playthroughs.

 

Storyline – 6/10

The plot of the game is relatively straightforward; typical of plat threads in games at the time as a matter of fact. Mickey Mouse must save Minnie Mouse who is imprisoned in the Castle of Illusion by an evil sorceress named Mizrabel. There are a fair few cutscenes in the game, which were a somewhat new addition to platformers at the time following games like Chip N’ Dale and Mega Man 2, and they helped to keep things relatively fresh in the circle of side-scroller games being released at the time. 

 

Originality – 8/10

Though the story of the game may not be a particularly standout feature, everything else about this game makes it stand out to an unbelievable extent. Its contemporary settings and style of gameplay mixing side-scrolling and light combat elements make it an extremely memorable title still beloved by gamers of the old generation and among those who played the 2013 remaster. It’s highly regarded as one of the best titles on the Mega Drive, and it’s no wonder why.

 

Happii

Overall, Castle of Illusion is one of the best side-scrollers released in the early stages of the fourth generation and remains a fan favorite among gamers for good reason. It’s an insanely enjoyable game, and it comes highly recommended by me. 

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

SG88 Heavenly Sword Header

Heavenly Sword (PlayStation 3)

Developer(s) – Ninja Theory 

Publisher(s) – Sony Computer Entertainment

Director(s) – Nina Kristensen, Tameem Antoniades & Andy Serkis

Producer(s) – Matt Hart

PEGI – 16

Released in 2007 following a slew of questionable launch titles for the PlayStation 3, such as Lair and Genjo: Days of the Blade, Heavenly Sword was a game that helped to shed light on the appeal of the console early on and can be seen as an earlier example of how cinematic video games came to evolve into what they are today, excelling in the story and doing fairly well to impress in terms of gameplay at the same time. It received a mixed reaction from critics at the time, but in my opinion, whilst not being among the best titles on the system in the end, certainly does hold up well enough.

Graphics – 8.5/10

The game’s visuals, whilst not doing exceptionally well to stand out conceptually, certainly stood out technically at the time, and as such, it did an exceptional job of displaying what the PlayStation3 was capable of on the graphical level in the console’s infancy. Motion capture was used extensively on the project for each of the actors to interpret facial expressions as well as possible, including from the motion capture master Andy Serkis. For the number of enemies that also appear on the screen at any one given time, the developers took care to make sure the frame rate didn’t drop as dramatically as what players could’ve possibly come to expect. It doesn’t hinder gameplay too much.

Gameplay – 7/10

Speaking of gameplay, Heavenly Sword is a linear hack n’ slash game similar to games like God of War and Darksiders, complete with a variety in weapon types, special abilities, and quick-time events. Indeed, the game does require a certain degree of strategy to deal with different types of enemies, in that swift attacks must be used to best fight against agile enemies, and powerful attacks must be used to best fight slower and heavier enemies. The principle is prevalent throughout the entire game, especially in the boss fights. There are also instances in which the player controls an alternative character, who wields a bow, and they can use the PlayStation 3’s SixAxis controls to steer arrows toward enemies, which I particularly enjoyed. 

Controls – 10/10

Although the small drop in frame rate can hinder the game to a small extent, the game’s control scheme itself poses no problems. Again, it was quite impressive to me how the developers implemented the SixAxis controls as well as the conventional controls. Everything moves as fluently as needed and the controls pose no unnecessary complication either.

Lifespan – 5/10

Clocking at around 4 hours, the game’s lifespan falls short of even hack n’ slash games that had come and gone before it. The game excels in technical visuals, gameplay, and story, and these are the aspects in which the developers showed off the budget, but for me, it would’ve been better spent making sure the player had as much to do in the game possible for as long as possible as opposed to being left as what a linear and one-dimensional experience it turned out to be

Storyline – 8/10

The story of Heavenly Sword centers around Nariko, a young warrior of a small tribe fighting against the forces of a relentless ruler named King Bohan. Nariko’s weapon, the titular Heavenly Sword, is actually a divine relic and a form of sentient life which Nariko suffers from an inner conflict with that culminates as the game progresses, similar to how the ring of power works in Lord of the Rings. She makes it her resolve to master the sword and use it to liberate her clansmen and drive King Bohan back. The story blends together elements of comedy, tragedy, and drama, and makes for a particularly engrossing experience in this respect. Andy Serkis’s performance as King Bohan, in particular, is outstanding, with excellent acting and well-written dialogue to compliment him. Though his character is nowhere as conflicted as his portrayal as Monkey in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, the intentions of King Bohan are made clear from the start, and Andy Serkis flawlessly conveys it. 

Originality – 6.5/10

Though the game certainly stands out in terms of story, it fails to stand out to any great extent in the respect of either gameplay or conceptual design, and the experience suffers somewhat as a result. The main focus on a game should always be on the gameplay and making that stand out more than any other element of the game, and it’s evident that wasn’t the case with Heavenly Sword. It feels very much like the story was the primary concern of the developers, and although the gameplay is not terrible by any means, it could’ve been better given more of a focus.

However, for as many criticisms I have cited over the course of the review, Heavenly Sword is a game with a moderate amount of variety, and is still pretty enjoyable to play regardless. Its story is worth experiencing a single playthrough for, and it seemed to set the precedent for more games that were even more enthralling in terms of story on the PlayStation 3. 

Score

45/60

7.5/10 (Good)

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Q&A With Grant Kirkhope

Watch my interview with renowned video game composer Grant Kirkhope. Born in Edinburgh and later raised in Knaresborough in Yorkshire, music has always been a huge part of Grant’s life having learned how to play both the trumpet and the guitar from an early age and growing up listening to a wide range of artists and bands. Throughout his storied career, Grant Kirkhope has composed the soundtrack for some of the biggest video games in history during his time Rareware in the days of the fifth generation of games with games such as Donkey Kong 64, Goldeneye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and Perfect Dark. A freelance composer since 2008, he has also composed for a number of hit games, such as Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, A Hat in Time, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, and World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. Amidst his current ventures of composing for films such as The Wrong Rock, The King’s Daughter, and The Handler, I chat with Grant on his early career as a traditional musician after having toured with some of the biggest names in heavy metal, his time at Rareware composing for some Nintendo’s biggest games, the Microsoft buyout of Rare, his time as a freelance composer, his film composing career, and some of the fondest memories he has as a composer of video games:

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Q&A With Milky Tea Studios

Concerning the success garnished by the many independent video game scene over the eighth generation of gaming and beyond, this interview focuses on something even more significant to me on a personal level; an interview that had been a long time coming, and that I’d been particularly excited about conducting, The video game development scene in Liverpool has seen stability since the home computer era back in the early 80s, with programmers such as Matthew Smith and companies like Imagine Software taking center stage with ZX Spectrum games such as Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy and Stonkers. This momentum was carried on across generations of gaming with the likes of Psygnosis finding success throughout the fourth and fifth generations with Wipeout and Lemmings until unfortunately folding in 2012. But since, the indie development scene in Liverpool has thrived, with many studios having been founded within the city such as Mechabit Games, Space Lizard Studios, and the subject of this interview Milky Tea Studios.

Founded in 2005, Milky Tea began as a designer of advertisement campaigns for companies like Lloyds TSB, Sony, Toyota, and even the NFL at one point. But then in 2015, they released their first full game Coffin Dodgers, a kart racing game with a dark sense of humor. It saw release initially on Steam and was then later ported to eighth-generation consoles, such as the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. After releasing an Android exclusive game named Roller Rally, they have most recently put out a game very different from anything they’ve ever developed. HyperBrawl Tournament is a multiplayer game taking place across an interdimensional universe whereby play football using melee combat to attack the opposition and score as many goals as possible. It has since garnished critical acclaim having been subsequently released on multiple consoles.

A while ago, I contacted the head of player engagement at Milky Tea Studio Simon Whitham to ask him a few questions in regards to Milky Tea Studios, HyperBrawl Tournament, and the company’s opinion on the current development scene in Liverpool and what the future may hold for the many promising developers based around the city. Here’s what Simon Whitham had to say about Milky Tea Studios:

 

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What were the influences behind your latest game?

The three biggest inspirations behind HyperBrawl were Speedball, Mario Strikers, and Rocket League, for us we really wanted to build a casual sports brawler that kept players quick on their feet but also was easy to pick up but hard to master.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of developing HyperBrawl Tournament?

For us, one of the most exciting developments for HyperBrawl was our soundtrack and audio design, for the audio production and music composing of HyperBrawl Tournament we worked alongside legendary music composer Steve Levine and through our partnership we’re able to work with Sony/ATV and Sony Masterworks to get the official soundtrack released on Spotify and Apple Music which for indie developers is unheard of.

Throughout the development of the HyperBrawl Tournament, our team also worked alongside the team at Omnio and legendary music composer Steve Levine to become the first-ever video game in history to use this revolutionary music industry and nightlife technology within interactive media.

Using Omnio, we were able to take the audio design of HyperBrawl Tournament and enable players to feel audio and experience music the way it sounded when originally recorded in a way that has never been done in video game development before and displays what is possible with game audio in the modern era.

To convert the tracks of HyperBrawl Tournament our team and Steve Levine passed each of the games audio tracks through a black box provided by Steve containing a unique chipset that utilized a special algorithm to remaster the sound for our team and create audio that is both reactive to the players actions in the game world but also matches the audio to what is happening in the present moment.

 

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What has been the most challenging aspect of developing the HyperBrawl Tournament?

I’d say the most difficult aspect of development definitely was online multiplayer, multiplayer is always a challenge for any indie developer and there are a lot of different systems that require perfect balancing so the process of getting those right can be a lot of trial and error.

 

How satisfying has it been seeing both HyperBrawl Tournament and Coffin Dodgers garnish as much critical and commercial acclaim as they had done?

It’s always great seeing the gaming community loving your titles, with both HyperBrawl and Coffin Dodgers we’ve seen some of the biggest YouTube and Twitch stars within the gaming community play our titles and it’s always so rewarding to see the organic reactions of the community.

 

Have there been any ideas from either game that had been scrapped or reworked throughout development?

There are always features that sadly don’t make the cut when it comes to game development. We’ve had many great ideas that we would have loved to see in HyperBrawl but can’t comment on I’m afraid.

 

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Have the team considered bringing HyperBrawl Tournament to VR, as you did with Coffin Dodgers?

I would say we would never rule this out 😉

 

What are the developer’s characters of heroes of choice whilst playing HyperBrawl Tournament or Coffin Dodgers?

Our personal favorites are Tristan, Shade, Bazooki, and Rip Deadly.

 

What’s next for Milky Tea Studios?

All the exciting things, new games, new updates, and more 😉

 

Are there any particular genres of gaming that the collective studio would like to develop a game for in the future?

We’re already working on our next games and you could say one of the genres is one we’ve always wanted to work on….you’ll just have to wait and see now won’t you hehe.

 

What is your opinion on the indie game development scene in Liverpool?

The games industry in Liverpool is criminally underrated we have Sony, Lucid Games, Firesprite, and many more top players within the games industry all within a stone’s throw of each other, it’s so great to have so many of our peers all within the Baltic Quarter and surrounding area, there is a very strong level of community and collaboration between us all.

 

As developers based in Liverpool working on a game based heavily on football, is there an equilibrium of Liverpool and Everton supporters at Milky Tea, or is it more geared towards one of the two?

We are all Liverpool supporters anything else would be criminal 😛

 

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

Research is key, look at the market, what the demand is, and what audiences are asking for on Steam and other platforms, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making a game that you love but not what the community wants.

Remember research is everything, make sure to look at where the market is at and how you can improve upon the formula to make a truly great experience.

 

Do you have anything else to add?

Remember stay awesome 😀

 

Lastly, I’d like to thank Simon and Milky Tea Studios for taking the time out to answer my questions and to wish them the best of luck with HyperBrawl Tournament as well as what their next project may be, Milky Tea, along with the many other indie developers based in Liverpool, have shown a great deal of promise in the games they have developed and demonstrated an emphasis on variety in games design, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. If you wish to download either Coffin Dodgers or HyperBrawl Tournament, you can do so via the link below as well as the Nintendo eShop, the PlayStation Network, or Xbox Live:

https://store.steampowered.com/developer/MilkyTea

But regardless, I hope guys enjoyed this interview, and for any scousers out there reading this, I hope you guys feel as optimistic about the development scene in Merseyside as I do.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

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Q&A With Impact Gameworks

After having once again scoured social media for more indie game developers looking to raise their profile and get their game brought to the attention of a wider audience, I discovered another upcoming JRPG that shows all the promise that many of the other games in the genre I’ve covered this year show. Flowstone Saga is a JRPG that takes a drastically different approach to combat than many other classic games that it was inspired by. Combining RPG elements with that of traditional puzzle games such as Tetris, Players attack by clearing lines with tetromino shapes known as flowstones and gaining bonuses in battle such as enhanced attack power, interrupting enemy attacks, and boosting defense by clearing more lines at once. Players can also customize flowstones to gain strategic advantages in battle. The game also has a heavy emphasis on elements such as exploration, character building, and epic storytelling.

The story of Flowstone Saga takes place in the mysterious island landscape of Ocean’s End; it centers around a young lady named Mirai and her pet companion Sprig as they set out on a journey to discover the many hidden secrets of the long-forgotten ruins of Ocean’s End, meeting a massive cast of quirky characters along the way.

Eager to know about what players can come to expect from this game compared to other JRPGs amidst the game’s Kickstarter campaign, I contacted Impact Gameworks, the indie outfit developing the game based in Columbia, Maryland in the United States, to speak with lead designer and artist Andrew Aversa and producer Andrew Luers to discuss with them the influences behind their game, when players can expect to see it released following the Kickstarter campaign and to ask about the challenges and bumps along the road the developers have encountered thus far. So here’s what Andrew Aversa and Andrew Luers of Impact Gameworks had to say about Flowstone Saga:

 

Flowstone Saga 1

What were the influences behind your game?

AL: The most obvious influences are the old school Final Fantasy and falling block puzzle games like Dr. Mario or Tetris. Some that might not be as apparent would be the myriad of deck-building games, like Magic the Gathering or Hearthstone, and more character-driven RPGs like the Persona or Trails of Cold Steel series.

 

What has the developmental process been like?

AL: Challenging but a lot of fun too! The concepts and mechanics in Flowstone Saga are quite a bit different than our first game, Tangledeep, so in a lot of ways, we had to start from scratch before we really found something that worked for us. While some concepts (core gameplay loop, town-building, etc) have remained somewhat unchanged since the beginning, several have been iterated on multiple times, using player feedback to improve the fun and remove the frustration. The mining mini-game, for example, went through several changes until we landed on the time-attack version that we have today.

 

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

AA: We’re looking at a release in Summer 2022, but in terms of visuals, audio, and story in the demo so far, it’s pretty polished. The least polished elements in the demo are all UI. Gameplay is somewhere in the middle: a lot of systems are working really well, others we’re constantly iterating on, such as making the battle mechanics even more interesting and engaging.

AL: Content-wise, the demo is just a small piece of the overall story we are looking to tell. We have a ton of new areas to create, and custom animations for cutscenes that we are slowly putting together. We have a lot created, but we want each area to have something exciting to discover in it, and of course, that takes time and planning.

 

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What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

AL: For me, it’s seeing the world come to life and the players enjoying the game. Watching the game improve through various iterations, and having the team be excited about building a fun experience for players has been so exciting.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

AA: From the programming perspective, while creating game systems and code foundations can be a lot of fun, it can be challenging to extend or revise those systems down the line. For example, we might decide to change a feature coded two years ago, or add something to it that wasn’t part of the original design. Not only does this usually produce the most bugs, but it also doesn’t feel as exciting to work on. Nobody wants to feel like they are doing the same work twice or paving over old work.

 

How well has the game been received so far?

AA: I’d say as of right now – during our Kickstarter – the reception has been really good. The KS numbers and Steam wishlists are doing well, and player feedback as of the latest versions has been very positive. The best part is that it’s really only going to get a lot better from here on out.

 

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What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

AA: We’re releasing for PC, Mac, Linux, and Nintendo Switch for sure. Everything else is on the table, but no definite plans yet. (It’s actually the kind of game that would work well for streaming services, such as Amazon Luna, where our first game Tangledeep is available!)

 

Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that have since been scrapped or reworked?

AA: Absolutely. We’ve done an incredible amount of iteration on this game. For one thing, the entire visual style of map/town exploration and cutscenes was scrapped toward the end of 2020. That style had more of a side-scrolling profile, but we decided the top-down look was better.

The battle system has been continuously improved and overhauled. We’ve added and removed mechanics. There have been several iterations of various UI elements. And while the core story hasn’t changed, the writing and presentation definitely have undergone several major changes. Even the name of the game changed from “Puzzle Explorers”. Ultimately, we think this is a healthy approach to game development. Like with Tangledeep, we think it’s vital to listen to player feedback, rather than sticking to a rigid and inflexible design document.

 

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The soundtrack promises to deliver the soul of 16 and 32 BIT JRPGs to Flowstone Saga. Who is composing the soundtrack, and what styles of music influenced it?

AL: I am the composer for this game’s soundtrack, and I’d describe the overall mood as a classic fantasy RPG soundtrack- An upbeat main theme, rocking battle themes, lots of different moods for various areas, and dungeons, and emotional cutscene moments. Good RPG soundtracks have a huge variety of styles and feelings, and the great ones do well with all of them.

I am going with the approach of making memorable and tuneful melodies that bring out the spirit of adventure of the game, and I hope that players enjoy it! Obviously, the biggest influence is classic game music, but there are a lot of rock and EDM flourishes. 95% of the songs feature live performers, and they are the real stars in bringing the music to life.

 

How instrumental has player feedback in terms of shaping the course of the project been?

AA: If it’s not clear from my above answers, player feedback has been essential! Developing games in a vacuum is dangerous. It’s easy to lose perspective. Something can seem fun to us that isn’t fun to anyone else. Or, there could be features or characters people love that we didn’t expect.

 

What have been the most significant lessons learned from the development of Tangledeep going into Flowstone Saga?

AA: On the programming side, there are tons of best practices I’ve learned and that I’m applying to the Flowstone Saga codebase to make it far easier to work with. The same goes for player-facing things like UI. There’s also the importance of things like paying for great art contractors, listening to player feedback (notice a theme here?), and being open with your community.

AL: from the creative side, improving the asset pipeline and knowing how to organize and schedule has definitely been an iterative process that I feel we’ve improved on. One thing that is very different with Flowstone from Tangledeep is that this time we wrote our narrative first, whereas the story for Tangledeep was written while we were building. Not only does the story-first approach allow us to have a good idea of what assets we will need ahead of time, we have the chance to add extra details that might foreshadow things as we are building them.

 

It’s mentioned on the Kickstarter page that your previous game Tangledeep ran into issues when ported to the Switch. Would the Switch be the second console you port Flowstone Saga to as well?

AA: Yes, definitely. I’m a huge fan of the Switch and portable gaming in general, so it’s a very high priority. Having gone through the process once, I have a vastly improved understanding of how to avoid some of the same time-consuming pitfalls we hit during the Tangledeep porting work.

 

If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or for any franchise, which would it be, and why?

AA: I would love to work with one of Square Enix’s franchises, to make a smaller scale game in an established world using well-known characters. Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, the Mana series… any of those would be incredible to work on. I have so much nostalgia for these series.

 

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

AA: Spend less time planning, researching, and learning (in the academic sense) and spend more time making your game. I can’t overstate how unprepared I was at the start of Tangledeep’s development. My early code was awful, I was using all placeholder graphics, and I had basically no design document. But every day I kept chipping away at it, and little by little, I absorbed more knowledge and created a full game.

Imagine climbing a tall mountain for the first time. That’s what making a game is like – a long, arduous task that seemingly goes on for ages. But rather than staring at the whole mountain and worrying, planning, or researching, you’d be surprised at how far you can go by taking it one step at a time. Another much shorter tip is to pay for good art, particularly cover (or capsule) art. Promoting and selling games is hard. When people browse for games you have literally only a few seconds to capture their attention. Amateur-looking art can blow up your first impression in an instant.

 

Where on the Internet can people find you?

The Flowstone Saga Kickstarter is live from June 9th:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/zircon/flowstone-saga-a-charming-jrpg-inspired-16-bit-adventure/

Our Steam store page is also up, where you can wishlist the game (which really helps us!) 

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1372000/Flowstone_Saga/

Our site, Twitter, and Twitch (where we do live dev streams) are:

https://impactgameworks.com/

https://twitter.com/ImpactGamew

https://twitch.tv/ImpactGameworks

 

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank both Andrew Aversa and Andrew Luers for taking the time out of development during the Kickstarter campaign to answer my questions about Flowstone Saga. To me, it looks like a very unique JRPG with a lot of potential, and with the capability of delivering on what is being promised by the developers, and I can’t wait to get started on this game when it finally releases. The planned release period is in the summer of 2022, but in the meantime, I hope you guys enjoyed learning more about this exciting-looking game, and hope you’re all looking forward to playing it as much as I am.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88.