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!

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)

SG88 Grant Kirkhope Header

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:

Milky Tea Studios Header

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:

 

Milky Tea Studios 1

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.

 

Milky Tea Studios 2

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.

 

Milky Tea Studios 3

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

Flowstone Saga Header

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.

 

Flowstone Saga 2

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.

SG88 Five Nights at Freddy's Geader

Five Nights at Freddy’s (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One & Switch)

Developer(s) – Scott Cawthon

Publisher(s) – Scott Cawthon & Clickteam LCC USA

Designer(s) –  Scott Cawthon

PEGI – 12

 

Released in 2014 by indie developer Scott Cawthon, who at this point had released over 75 games since 1994, the idea behind Five Nights at Freddy’s was first conceived after one of the previous games, Chipper & Sons Lumber Co, had received comments from reviewers remarking that the characters looked and moved like animatronics. The critiques stuck with Cawthon, and he created Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, a Chuck-E Cheese-style restaurant whereby kids come for fun in the day, and where the animatronics come to life at night to terrorize a newly-hired security guard. It went on to become one of the most popular franchises throughout the eighth generation of gaming, and it all started with a small horror title with an insanely unique approach to gameplay. At the time when this game came out, I was pleasantly surprised by the end result, especially as I’m not the biggest fan of the survival horror genre anyway.

 

Graphics – 8/10

Set in the horrifying Freddy’s Fazbear’s Pizzeria in the early hours of the morning, the game is incredibly atmospheric, especially for a setting that would sound quite generic on paper compared to other games. It only gets even more intense the further the player progresses with new goings-on and situations to deal with throughout. Later games in the series would expand on this idea, as well as the series’ mythos, but the foundations of which were set up perfectly in this game. 

 

Gameplay – 7/10

The object of the game is to survive five 6-hour nights at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria by watching the cameras around the restaurant and making sure the doors are closed at the appropriate times so that player is not caught and killed by either one of the four animatronics mascots of the restaurant that come to life in the night. The challenge is to make sure the restaurant’s facilities are used to a sufficient extent that the player is kept alive but to not overuse them in order to conserve electricity as best as possible before it runs out. There is also a 6th night to unlock, and an additional custom night, whereby the player can set the difficulty to the max; something that was initially deemed impossible to complete by Scott Cawthon himself, though many have since succeeded. Again, as with the visuals, the gameplay only gets more intense as each night is completed, and there’s more to think about, like when Foxy starts to come out of Pirate Cove, or when Freddy finally starts coming out to stir things up in addition. 

 

Controls – 10/10

Although the gameplay mechanics are unlike any other game ever released up to this point, the control scheme poses no problems and is easy to come to terms with, It’s one of those games that’s easy to learn, but hard to master, and it’s handled in a very fluent manner. Again, more mechanics would be introduced later on throughout the series to keep things fresh, but the whole idea was fresh anyway. I’ve yet to see how this game works on controller-based consoles, and I imagine it’s far less bearable, but I can understand how it works with the Switch when playing it away from the TV. It was scary back when it was released to think about how it would function in VR, which unfortunately didn’t happen until many years later with Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help Wanted.

 

Lifespan – 4/10

The worst thing about the game is how criminally short it is; only clocking in at around 3 hours in total, depending on player skill. Again, this is something that later entries in the series would go on to address with the inclusion of things like mini-games and easter eggs to discover along the way in between nights, or even discoverable during night shifts, but I suppose for more intrepid players, the are many replays of this to be had. Though the following point was definitely easier for me to make with the benefit of hindsight, there was a fair bit of folklore, and it would’ve been nice to have the mini-games incorporated in the first game to explore that more. 

 

Storyline – 9/10

Besides the basic plot of what the player has to do each night to survive, there is a mythos to this series that has been perpetuated since the first game in a very low-key and obscure manner, but it is extremely satisfying to piece the early story together by discovering different things hidden throughout the game. Also, the message the player received from the previous security guard over the phone only adds to the intensity of each night, which all comes to a head come the fourth night. 

 

Originality – 10/10

As I’ve alluded to numerous times throughout this review, there simply wasn’t, or truly isn’t, any game like Five Nights at Freddy’s. It’s definitely one of the most unique survival horrors ever released, as well as being one of the most unique games ever released in general. It gives testament to how innovative a lot of indie developers proved themselves to be throughout the eighth generation with games like Blasphemous, The Witness, and Enemy Mind but this game is one of the most prominent examples of that; arguably the most prominent. 

 

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Overall, the original Five Nights at Freddy’s received overwhelming popularity upon release, and it’s simple to see why. It’s a unique concept that spawned a massive fanbase that cried out for more and has become one of the most prolific indie gaming series’ in recent memory, and it’s all started here, and it was an excellent start. 

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Space Invader Kreatures Header

Q&A with Ajal Game Studios

In yet another attempt to scout out more indie games with the potential to make waves upon release, I came across a science-fiction first-person shooter that definitely fit the bill. Space Invader Kreature, SIK for short, is an FPS boating top-of-the-line visuals and intense gun combat with some RPG elements including upgrading things like health, speed, shields, and more. Developed under Ajal Game Studios based in Sinaloa, Mexico,  A Kickstarter for the game is currently live, and judging by what I’ve seen so far of this game, deserves to gather momentum as it progresses in my opinion. Eager to find out more about what players can come to expect from the finished game, I contacted Brisia Aguirre of Ajal Game Studios to learn what sci-fi series’ went on to influence its conceptual design, where the developers expect to be following the Kickstarter campaign, and details of what the developmental process has been like so far. Herre’s what Ajal Game Studios had to say about Space Invader Kreature:

 

Space Invader Kreatures 1

What were the influences behind your game? 

We love to play multiplayer shooters, particularly the CoD franchise. Although this game is strongly influenced by this game. We also had influences from other classics such as counterstrike and of course DOOM the father of this genre. 

 

What has the developmental process been like?

It has been both a pleasure and a nightmare. We were academics and research is so different from game development. We had to learn more about marketing, testing, iterations, and different gaming concepts that we did not know in advance. Although time does help, we still struggle sometimes when there is a bug or something unexpected happens. 

 

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

Right now we are close to finishing an alpha version but for a complete product, there is still work to be done. A project like this requires updates because people are used to new maps, gameplay and characters so we will finish the core by the end of 2021 but the development will continue as we increase the number of players and the add ons.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

The teamwork. We have been working together since 2017 and it is a dream come true to be able to work with your close mates. It is a really diverse group because we come from different backgrounds and the fact that we are based in a rural place like La Cruz, Sinaloa, Mexico makes it more unique. Who would have thought that after our project manager studied video game development at UCL in London, she would find her tribe in such a random place? 

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?  

Money, it is hard to find funding for such a venture. We are so grateful for finding our main investor Ramón Campos, he has been so supportive and believes in this project that is Ajal Game Studio. 

 

How well has the game been received so far? 

The people who get to know the game love it, they like how they feel so immersed and love the graphics and the gameplay. The fact that we designed the enemies makes it more unique and engaging but also they like that it reminds them of games like CoD so it is easy for them to understand the game mechanics.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

We will start by launching for windows, in stores like Steam, Gamejolt, and itch.io, which last 2 are known for having a wide number of indie games and have been really supportive of this community. 

 

Were there any other particular facets of science fiction that influenced the conceptual design of SIK?

Yes, we watched a Russian movie called Coma. We were thinking about our main character and the worlds that are hidden in his dreams. When we saw this movie, it connected to what we wanted to do. Exploring the mind has always been a present topic of sci-fi, we wanted to explore this theme to make SIK different from the other shooters. 

 

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

Of course! You always start big! We started with a horror concept, making the nightmares and the story of Elizabeth and Steve but in those days our in-house illustrator left our team and it was really hard to continue so we focused on the shooter part and made it more active. We love the idea of a more frantic game and something that we could test as a team. 

 

As academics, have you found the development of this game harder than progressing through a university course?

Academia is hard! You need a lot of passion and time just like development but I think that there were also many activities in academia that were so time-consuming like politics and all that which is the place where the funding comes most of the time. So even though developing is hard we pretty much prefer it over academia but let’s be clear, we still love that part and would be glad to join academic projects. 

 

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

If we want to build something that is appealing, feedback is a MUST, we appreciate the time that testers have put into our game because they helped us so much by being honest on the spots that were not attractive and implementing some of those ideas to what we have done so far.

 

Have there been any other fellow indie developers who have reached out to you to offer advice?

We are fortunate because we have a great network and other indies gave us so many insights particularly in terms of Unreal, which is the engine we are using and it was the first time we developed with this software and it was hard to understand some of the technical features.

 

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

It is such a hard question haha, I think we could go with Rockstar and GTA. this one because of the huge details and easter eggs and how real it is. Also Activision’s Call of Duty because of the quality of their visuals and how engaging their games mechanics are and how professional their level design is, or, lastly, Soma by Frictional Games, the gameplay was so different and interesting. We like bizarre games.

 

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

Please be patient and never stop studying. Game development evolves so fast and is good to keep informed about new assets or technology that can be helpful. Also, be sure to learn about business because after all, you will be selling what you do if you choose to do it as your main gig then you definitely need to learn your art but also how to market it. 

 

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

Please look for us on our Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AjalGamesOficial

https://www.facebook.com/spaceinvaderkreaturesik

 

Do you have anything else to add?

We are looking for people interested in testing our solo player mode. If you would like to receive the demo please send an email to ajalgamedevs@gmail.com. Thanks!!!

Thank you to Brisia and Ajal Game Studios for taking the time out of developing this game to answer my questions. If you think you’d like to back Space Invader Kreature, you can do so by clicking the link below:

Kickstarter Page

Space Invader Kreature looks like a very promising FPS indie game releasing within the ninth generation with a lot to offer players in terms of both gameplay and story, and I can’t wait to start playing the final product! In the meantime, I hope you guys enjoyed learning more about SIK as much as I did to bring this game to the attention of as many gamers as possible.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Momodora III (PC)

Developer(s) – rdein

Publisher(s) – rdein

PEGI – Not yet rated (some non-graphic violence)

 

Released on Steam back in 2014, three years after the release of Momodora II, Momodora III largely reverted back to the basic gameplay structure of the first Momodora; a semi-open world side scroller requiring a small amount of backtracking, but not to the same extent as a traditional Metroidvania game. There were a few new elements synonymous with the series introduced as well as some perpetuated from the first two games, and delivered a fair amount of variety in gameplay, garnishing generally favorable reviews from gamers and critics. In terms of quality, I would put it second out of the original trilogy; not quite as good as Momodra II, but much better than the first game.

 

Graphics – 7.5/10

The first thing to notice when comparing Momodora III to the previous two games is that in terms of concept, it does far better to come into its own and stand out among many other side scrollers. Gone is any trace of science fiction, or the recycled setting of the second game in favor of more varied landscapes from vibrant and colorful forest lands to snowy tundras and deep underground caves. The next game, Reverie Under the Moonlight would then go on to differentiate itself even more from other games in terms of conceptual design, but the third game is where the series truly started to take on a life of its own.  

 

Gameplay – 6.5/10

The gameplay compared to the first two games, however, seemed a lot more underwhelming, as there was simply less to do. Taken away were the facilities to discover new weapons from the first Momodora, and like the second game, it was replaced with finding new items that grant new abilities. But the reason why it works worse in this game than it does in Momodora II is simply that the additional abilities aren’t ostensibly needed to complete the game. It works better on hard mode, but on normal mode, it can simply be rushed through without having to make use of anything else other than the main attack, so the gameplay feature is made quite redundant. The linear gameplay structure also doesn’t help things either, as there is very little cause to backtrack through the game anyway. The third game felt like it needed much more of a boost in terms of gameplay, which unfortunately it didn’t get. 

 

Controls – 10/10

As it plays out more or less identical to both of the first two games, there are at least no problems with the control scheme. But at this point, it was to be expected if the developers were simply going to release a game that didn’t make any strong leaps away from its predecessors and added very few new features in terms of gameplay. 

 

Lifespan – 1/10

Clocking in at around an hour once again, the lifespan of Momodora III is very much below par compared to that of most sidescrollers released either at the time or even back in the fourth generation. For what is supposed to be an ultimately retroactive experience, it does very little to differentiate itself in terms of gameplay, and in turn, the game’s lifespan is abysmal even compared to what was acceptable in days gone by. The hard mode necessitates an additional playthrough for more intrepid players, but completing the game on hard mode offers no incentive, so there’s not much point. 

 

Storyline – 6/10

The story follows either one of two priestesses depending on which difficulty the player selects; Momo or Dora, who are charged with investigating supernatural goings-on around the land of Koho. For me, the highlight of the game’s story was the encounter with the main character of Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight; Kaho. Apart from that, the game’s story has slightly less substance than that of the second game, but much more than the original Momodora, as there is a lot more text, and a lot more going on. It also has multiple endings, which would also be included in Reverie Under the Moonlight, but overall, the story is fairly generic. 

 

Originality – 5/10

Although the third game in the series does far better to stand out in terms of visuals, that’s about the only way it does stand out. Gameplay is very typical of a generic 2D sidescroller, and it needed a massive boost in terms of quality in this aspect compared to the first two games, and I don’t think it got it in my opinion. The series would later be taken to its apex with Reverie Under the Moonlight, but the original Momodora trilogy was overall a fairly disappointing experience, and the third game caps it all off in a very boring and dissatisfactory manner.

 

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Overall, Momodora III is a pretty standard 2D sidescroller, which for reasons beyond me, has been touted as one of the best side scrollers on PC. In my opinion, it’s tedious, lacking too much in substance, and only served as a precursor for better things to come; as did the original Momodora trilogy on the whole. 

Score

36/60

6/10 (Average)

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Momodora II (PC)

Developer(s) – rdein

Publisher(s) – rdein

PEGI – Not yet rated (Non-graphic violence and some strong language)

 

Released one year after the original game, Momodora II took a different approach to gameplay, playing out as a Metroidvania as opposed to a linear 2D platformer, and carried on the story almost directly after the events of the original Momodora. Although this game pales in comparison to other classic Metroidvanias, the second game is decisively the best out of the original trilogy that was developed before the release of Momodora: Reverie Under The Moonlight.

 

Graphics – 7/10

The graphical quality of the game is just as good as the first, and it seems a lot more cohesive somehow. Gone are the science fiction elements of the first game, such as guns and aliens in favor of a much more fantastical look, with the second game perpetuating a lot of the common elements found in later Momodora games, such as the save points and the variety of enemies found throughout. Gone also is the 8-BIT soundtrack in favor of a more orchestral brand of music, which in all honesty, fits the tableau of the series far better.

 

Gameplay – 7.5/10

Playing out like a traditional Metroidvania game, there is a variety of new abilities to collect in place of different kinds of weapons, and additional items can be found to give the player additional health. There are also a couple more boss fights thrown in as opposed to the one found in the first game, and although again, it falls way below par of what many other games in the genre have to offer, such as Blasphemous, the Ori games, and even Xeodrifter, it is still a pretty fun game to play a good few challenges and secrets to uncover along the way. 

 

Controls – 10/10

Again, like the first game, there are also no issues with the controls, since they practically play out identical to each other. The second game is almost like an extension to the first in respect to controls, but there are a couple of new mechanics introduced in the form of new types of abilities to wield compared to the previous game to at least keep things relatively fresh.

 

Lifespan – 1.5/10

Clocking in at around 50 minutes in total, the second game only lasts fractionally longer than the first, and especially as the second game is a lot more open-ended, it seems all the more underwhelming because of that. I can’t help but think that with a little more thought and time put into it that this game could’ve ended up being far more than what it ruined out to be; after all, Blasphemous had a particularly lengthy development cycled before finally seeing the light of day, and turns out to be one of the most critically acclaimed games of the eighth generation. But the developer seemed to prioritize getting the game out as fast as possible as opposed to putting in that little more effort than was needed, unfortunately.

 

Storyline – 6.5/10

The story of Momodora II, however, is a drastic improvement compared to that of the first game. It follows a young girl who has made a journey into a mysterious lair outside of Koho in order to find and defeat an entity known as the Underworld Queen, who has been terrorizing the land. There’s a lot more dialogue, and therefore, a lot more story and emotion conveyed throughout, and it has a particularly interesting outcome that again, makes it a much more interesting narrative to experience than that of the first Momodora.

 

Originality – 4/10

Momodora II does far better to stand out from other Metroidvanias in comparison to the first game, but still, there are a lot of familiar elements that make it seem quite typical of any game in the genre. Eventually, the series would go on to become something much more distinct than what it started out as, but it was a lengthy process that happened over the course of several years, and it was something that could’ve happened a lot sooner if the developers had tried a few new things like new gameplay mechanics or something newer in terms of conceptual design. Some small contribution to that was made here, but not enough in my opinion.

 

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Overall, Momodora II goes leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor, but it is still a fairly generic Metroidvania title compared to others. It may be the best of the original Momodora trilogy, but unfortunately, it is the best of a bunch of below-par games in the lead-up to Reverie Under the Moonlight, which would blow them all out of the water. 

Score

36.5/60

6/10 (Average)

Momodora (PC)

Developer(s) – rdein

Publisher(s) – rdein

PEGI – Not yet rated (non-graphic violence)

 

Released back in 2010 in a very low-key and obscure manner, Momodora went on to develop somewhat of a cult following, spawning two sequels and a spin-off, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, which along with Momodora III, saw a full release on Steam. Though this game clearly has its fanbase and did lead the developers to go on and do even greater things, the series had a very slow start in my opinion. Releasing the original two games on Steam would only probably work as a bundle along with the other Momodora games with how short they are as well. 

 

Graphics – 7/10

The visuals are much different to the types of locations and the mythology that the Momodora series would later perpetuate, with the game having much more of a science-fiction look to it as opposed to high fantasy or gothic horror. The game bears a striking resemblance to the likes of Metroid, Xeodrifter, and Axiom Verge; especially as they’re 8-BIT rendered. The soundtrack is also in chiptune, which would change from Momodora II to a more orchestral soundtrack, but the tracks in the game are quite well composed. 

 

Gameplay – 7/10

The gameplay is also fairly entertaining in addition. It’s a linear 2D sidescroller, whereby the player must collect various different items throughout and discover new and better weapons to become more effective in combat with a boss fight thrown in at the end. Again, perpetuating a very different style of combat to the rest of the series, players are given guns to use as opposed to swords, bows, and magic spells. It’s obvious that this series was something extremely different at first, and was later envisioned as something else entirely. There are a couple of common elements linking each game, but how it later evolved is very interesting indeed. In terms of gameplay, later entries would also go on to become even more entertaining than the first, but what is here in the way of that is pretty good.

 

Controls – 10/10

There are also no issues with the controls as expected; it’s even bearable to play this game using a keyboard, and I don’t often think that of platformers exclusive to PC. If it was a more fast-paced platformer, then most likely the controls would’ve been a huge problem, but thankfully, that isn’t the case here. It’s a reasonably paced platformer with no additional complication in terms of its control scheme. 

 

Lifespan – 1/10

Lasting less than an hour, the game is criminally short; especially for 2010 when other indie games were being released that could be made too far infinitely longer. It may be easier for fans of the series to simply rate the series as a whole as opposed to rating each installment separately, especially as in all fairness, each game is relatively cheap, but looking at the first game on its own merits, 40 minutes is a pitiful amount of time to last; not since the mid-80s has less than an hour been the industry standard. 

 

Storyline – 5/10

The story of Momodora takes place in the land of Koho where a young orphan girl has entered a forbidden land after her mother had been sacrificed, as is customary in Koho. The orphan girl travels to this forbidden land in order to find a hidden power reputed to bring the dead back to life. The closest game I could draw comparisons with in terms of story is Shadow of the Colossus, albeit regarding concept as opposed to quality. The story sounds good in its basic premise, but there isn’t much, at least until the end, to get players particularly invested in the narrative. And even come to the end, the way the story is closed out is very questionable. It doesn’t challenge players to speculate about what the ending means, but rather it’ll make them question why this was the best ending the developers could come up with. 

 

Originality – 2/10

The game’s second-biggest problem (second to lifespan), is how unoriginal it is. As I said before, the series would go on to become something far more distinct than what it started out as with the first game, but in every way, it’s possible to draw comparisons with many other games that came before it; some for the right reason, but many for the wrong reasons as well. I can’t help but feel that this was largely a question of trial and error on the developer’s part; a learning curve before building on the series in a far more positive way. 

 

Angrii

Overall, while the first Momodora game has its merits here and there, it is ultimately a very flat and generic gaming experience that’s screaming out for improvement. It’s fairly fun to play and the graphics are good to look at as well, but there’s simply not enough of any of that to be had with lasting as short a time as it does, and there’s not much separating it from games made of the same ilk. 

Score

32/60

5/10 (Far Below Average)