Tag Archives: Adventure

Q&A With Haywire Studios Volume 2

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of playing and reviewing the game A Matter of Time created by Australian developers Haywire Game Studios. An action-oriented top-down 8-BIT RPG, tells the story of a 12th-century warrior named James, who after an intense battle, is transported by a mysterious organization 1100 years into the future in order to combat an evil entity known as the Dark Atomos, which is ravaging time and space. I’d been following this project closely since the success of its Kickstarter campaign back in 2018 and after having played the finished product, I was pretty impressed with how the game turned out, despite numerous different changes on the project throughout the course of its development.

After having previously interviewed the game’s principal designer, Cameron “CamCog” Coggins, I got in touch with him again ahead of the game’s full release on Steam later on this month to ask a few more questions about the game and how the developmental plans had changed dramatically since the launch of the Kickstarter campaign. Here’s what Cameron had to say about the developmental process behind creating A Matter of Time:

What other RPG series inspired the creation of this game besides Undertale?

Large inspirations for A Matter of Time were RPG games such as The Legend of Zelda, Hyper Light Drifter, and Fallout (apparent within the Wasteland setting).

How well has the game been received by the community ahead of its release?

The game is yet to be shared with the community on a large scale. However, the Kickstarter backers and those who have tested/reviewed it have seemed to receive it well.

Last time we spoke, there were a lot of things planned for this game in terms of the inclusion of more abilities for the paradox cape, such as hypnotizing enemies, which ultimately didn’t make it in. How did the developmental process change throughout the course of the game’s development cycle?

Due to time constraints, I decided not to implement these abilities within the game. I didn’t feel as if these mechanics were a priority and they would have been extremely time-consuming to create.

Which were the historic battles that inspired the creation of A Matter of Time?

The Battle of Hattin is the inspiration for the game’s initial setting.

How are you and the development team feeling ahead of the game’s release?

Mainly relieved that the game has finally reached completion. Furthermore, I am very much looking forward to sharing this three-year-long project with the world.

What’s next for Haywire Studios?

Nothing has been planned as of now. There may be a hiatus with developments due to other commitments but I’m sure Haywire Studios will eventually return!

What would you say about the game development scene in Australia right now?

I haven’t exactly noticed anything significant. However, there is certainly a lot more time for indie developers to code due to COVID. 

In my review, I mentioned that there is definitely scope for expansion on the game’s mythology. Are you looking to revisit this series in the future?

Depending on how this pilot game is received by the community, the AMOT series may be revisited. However, there aren’t currently any plans in place for a sequel.

If you and the team were given the opportunity to develop for a big-name video game series, which would you pick and why?

I believe it would be very enjoyable to develop for the Fallout series. It is a familiar genre (RPG) and there are so many elements, features, and storylines that I would like to see implemented within the series in future games.

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

When working on a long-term project, budgeting and time-managing correctly are paramount in keeping organized. If you fail to do both of these, you may end up either spending too much or falling far behind in development. 

Do you have anything else to add?

Thanks to ScouseGamer for the review and Q&A opportunity!

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank Cameron for allowing me to appraise the game before it’s release and for both Q&As conducted over the last few years ahead of the release of this game. You can download A Matter of time upon release via the link below:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/974310/A_Matter_of_Time/

It’s an enjoyable title with a variety of combat options and potentially extensive mythology behind it and I wish Cameron and Haywire studios the best of luck with this title.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

A Matter of time (PC)

Developer(s) – Haywire Studios

Publisher(s) – Haywire Studios

Programmer – Cameron Coggins

Developed by Australian indie outlet Haywire Studios following a successful Kickstarter campaign and due for release later on this month:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/974310/A_Matter_of_Time/

A Matter of Time is a top-down combat-focused RPG, telling the story of James; a hero sent to a different timeline to combat a great evil plaguing the land. Turning out massively different to what the game looked like in its early stages of development at the time when I first interviewed Cameron Coggins, the game turned out to be quite enjoyable with a fair bit to offer in terms of combat options and telling a pretty different story to anything else seen in gaming. 

Graphics – 8/10

The game makes use of traditional 8-BIT graphics to present a diversely designed world with each location being more wonderfully outlandish than the last. Taking place in lush forests, dark caves, otherworldly dimensions and even a post-apocalyptic city, the game’s visuals are the best aspect of the title; there is also a wide range of different enemies the player must contend with with the introduction of each new area; some reminiscent of classic video games enemies such as the slimes from Dragon Quest. 

Gameplay – 7/10

A top-down RPG with a linear progression, the game is very heavily combat-orientated with light RPG elements such as leveling up to increase health and enhance the magical abilities the player can take advantage to maintain an edge in combat, such as a dash ability and the ability to stop time temporarily to defeat multiple enemies simultaneously. The combat aspect is quite well put together and quite satisfying to undertake; though a lot of enemies use similar attack patterns, the difficulty is racked up considerably towards the end, requiring the player to strategize accordingly. 

Controls – 10/10

The game’s control scheme is not only easy to get to grips with, but it also does something rather unique; when the player uses the dash attack to take out multiple enemies, the player must use the mouse to indicate which enemies they need to attack. At first glance, this seemed to become more of a hindrance than a help, but ample time is given to players to make that decision; even when the ability hasn’t yet been upgraded. It reminded me somewhat of the original Metroid Prime; unique controls, it takes a little time to adjust, but once adjusted to, it’s no problem. 

Lifespan – 4/10

The game’s longevity is most definitely the worst thing about it. The game can be finished in less than 2 hours, which for an RPG even with light elements, is a pretty short time to last. That being said, if the game is played through, players will find that there is most definitely scope for expansion to this world’s mythology; be that through either a sequel or DLC. The series does potentially have a bright future ahead of it, but a game of this magnitude deserves to last far longer than what it does. 

Storyline – 6/10

The story of the game follows a 12th-century barbarian named James, who is taken to an alternative time by a mysterious organization that enlists his help to defeat an evil known as the Dark Atomos which is wreaking havoc across time and space. James is also in search of his daughter, whom he claims to be the last thing he has left. It’s an emotionally charged story with a few twists and turns before the end and it makes it stand out somewhat among the circle of indie RPGs released since the start of the eighth generation.  

Originality – 7/10

All these elements combined within the game make it a fairly unique experience; one worth playing through at least once. There are these elements of it which show that the game was a labor of love undertaken over a period of many years and as there is a lot of room for expansion in most of every aspect, there is definitely scope for there being extensive mythology attached to this series; but overall, this game is a decent start to all that. 

 

Happii

 

In summation, A Matter of time, whilst having a couple of issues here and there, is a respectively good game worth at least one playthrough and a solid start for this up and coming development team. It has an emotionally charged story, decent gameplay, unique controls, and some extremely well-crafted visuals and it has a lot of potential to expand into a great series down the lines. 

Score

42/60

7/10 (Fair)

Cathedral (PC & Switch)

Developer(s) – Decemberborn Interactive

Publisher(s) – Decemberborn Interactive & Elden Pixels

Designers – Eric Lavesson & Mattias Andersen

 

Developed by Decemberborn Interactive based in Helsingborg and being the first publishing venture of Alwa creator Elden Pixels, Cathedral is a Metroidvania game featuring an extensive open world and offering players a level of challenge on the same scale as 8-bit classics such as Mega Man and Castlevania and taking inspiration from classic titles such as Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts and Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins, along with modern games made of the same ilk; most notably Shovel Knight. From beginning to end, I was engrossed in this game; there’s a great deal that it has to offer players who are looking for a game that is not designed to hold their hands throughout and looking for a solid nostalgic experience reminiscent of the NES days. 

 

Graphics – 8/10

Incorporating the aforementioned 8-bit visual style synonymous with the third generation of gaming, the best thing in terms of visuals is undoubtedly the environmental design. There is a large number of different locations to visit and backtrack across throughout the game ranging from underwater temples, dark forests, icy castles, and of course, the titular cathedral, which is to me, in many ways, is the star of the show; the game begins in the cathedral and without spoiling the story’s specifics, it’s also where things come full circle. In addition, the game’s soundtrack is phenomenal; for me, up there with the works of Manami Matsumae, Jake Kaufman, Robert Kreese, and others. In particular, the theme song for the cathedral itself is catchy, but with a subtle melancholy to accompany it. 

 

Gameplay – 9/10

Aesthetically, the game plays out like a typical Metroidvania title; it relies on players uncovering each new area by gaining specific abilities and backtracking across the world map to uncover every secret and hidden item there is to find. It’s also very heavy on combat; the aspect in which this game does not play out like a typical Metroidvania title. It offers players a heightened level of challenge compared to most other games; players need to adapt to each area, as many different types of enemies have different attack patterns that must be learned in order to survive. Weapons and armor upgrades are also for grabs as the game progresses, with enemies getting stronger with every new area. There are also a number of grueling boss fights to contend with throughout; each with their own very unique strategies required to beat them.

 

Controls – 10/10

I was relieved to learn that there are no issues with the control system in this game as I was playing it, as with a game like this, there can’t be any issues with the controls, otherwise, it becomes an unfair challenge. In my opinion, it was a problem throughout the NES days with games such as the original Mega Man and Castlevania games, but in Cathedral, the control scheme poses no issues; it’s a challenging game, but not to the point of it being inaccessible. 

 

Lifespan – 8/10

To complete the game to 100%, it would take around 25 hours, which is slightly longer than the standard Metroidvania game. In addition to the main story, there are also a number of side quests that can be obtained from the hub village, which involve collecting items scattered throughout the game’s world and finding additional weapons and armor upgrades. Whilst it’s certainly a concept that could be expanded upon if ever a sequel is made, it nevertheless offers gamers a satisfyingly long experience with plenty of reason to backtrack across the game’s vast open world. 

 

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story involves an unnamed knight, who must first find his way out of the titular cathedral. On his way, he joins up with a companion named Soul. Having escaped the cathedral, they intend to collect four orbs hidden throughout the land guarded by various monsters, with which they resolve to enter the cathedral’s inner sanctum to defeat the demonic Ardur the World Eater. Whilst the basic premise of the story is relatively typical for a fantasy game (sometimes to the point of self-parody, as Soul occasionally offers comedic advice), it’s the subtle details that add to the game’s atmosphere, which makes the story stand out. Most notably for me was during the boss fight in the sunken temple. As the player descends into the boss’s lair, 8-bit harmonies can be heard, which is the singing of the siren-like queens of the depths. It’s beautiful and eerie at the same time, which made that for me, the best boss fight in the game. There are plenty of other moments like it. Sometimes it may be a foreboding silence, other times, it may be something more detailed, but it all adds to the game’s atmosphere in an excellent way. 

 

Originality – 7/10

As I mentioned, this game does not entirely play out like a typical game of the genre. Ever since the beginning of the eighth generation of gaming, one of the genres I’ve delved in above many others is Metroidvania. There have been ups and downs for me whilst I’ve been going through as many as what I have done (thankfully, there have mostly been ups), but this game is definitely one of the more standout experiences I’ve come across within the genre. It’s a wonderfully exciting, atmospheric, and challenging experience that is deserving of at least one playthrough. 

 

Happii

Overall, Cathedral took me by surprise with just how good a game it is. On the surface, it seemed quite a typical 8-bit game like most others that have been developed since indie development became as popular as it has done over the last few years, but as I delved deeper into this game, there was a lot more to appreciate than I could’ve first imagined. It’s an excellent gaming experience, and I would highly recommend it to seasoned gamers looking for a legitimate challenge. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Q&A With Elden Pixels

With Metroidvania titles being one of the most prominent genres developed for among the ever-growing indie development community, one series of games I’ve been following closely over the last three years is the Alwa series. Created by Swedish indie outfit Elden Pixels under principal designer and former developer at Zoink Games, Mikael Forslind, the series began with the release of Alwa’s Awakening in 2017, and most recently in 2020, Alwa’s Legacy. Both titles were initially launched on Steam with Awakening seeing releases on multiple platforms with Legacy set for a release on the Nintendo Switch. In three short years, the series has gained popularity among fans of the Metroidvania genre and among gamers in general, and with the sequel possibly set to make it on multiple platforms in addition, the series’ popularity is set to only increase further. Wanting to find out more about the conception of Alwa, as well as the future of this exciting new series of games, I posed a few questions to Mikael of Elden Pixels to find out more. Here’s what he had to say about Alwa and the future of Elden Pixels:

 

How has it been to experience such an influx of interest surrounding the Alwa series and the fanbase it has already garnished?

Amazing! Every time someone reaches out to us talking about how they enjoyed our games it feels great. We were proud over how well Alwa’s Awakening was received but we felt we could add more to the formula so the design for Alwa’s Legacy came to us quite easily and we were able to improve on everything that the first game offered and this, of course, led to more and more people discovering both games.

 

What were the influences behind the world of the Alwa series?

It was a mix between the fast gameplay of Battle Kid and the more puzzle-platforming style of Trine that was the main inspiration for the first game. After a long night of playing these two games, I blurted out to my friends – “Let’s make a game. How hard can it be?” And here we are a couple of years later.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of developing Alwa’s Legacy?

To me, the best part of making games is actually looking back at a released game and thinking – “Damn, we made it. It’s out there.” I’m not one of those developers that spend years and years on one game. I think a maximum of two years is perfect for a game and I’m proud that both our games took about that time to finish. But seeing a game come together is always nice, and the way we built Alwa’s Legacy was that very early in the process we had all rooms in place but they were basically empty and stayed empty for the longest of time. But once all design was locked down, all art was done and all sprites were done we basically filled the entire world with content in a 3-4 month period. All of a sudden it went from looking empty to being shippable. That’s a great feeling.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of developing Alwa’s Legacy?

Wow, where do I start? I actually wanted to delve into this subject for a long blog post sometime in the future but I’ll try to keep it short here but basically these things were the major headaches during our development – Cancer scare, anxiety, personal finances, IVF treatment, potential pr disaster using Kickstarter, political heatwave during launch and the constant scare of bankruptcy. I’m just happy we were able to overcome all obstacles with our sanity and health intact and we’re all still good friends. And we managed to release a game that everyone seems to really like! That’s a major accomplishment.

 

What’s next for Elden Pixels?

We’re not really sure. We’ve made enough money to breathe for a month or two but nowhere near enough money to fund the next game so right now we’re just exploring what and if we can start a new project. But we’d love to take a stab at porting our first game to NES 8-bit so we’re going to put out a job ad for that very shortly. We might have found some cash to fund this project so we’re very excited, especially since it was already made with the 8-bit restrictions in mind.

 

How important has fan feedback been throughout the development of Alwa’s Legacy?

Since Alwa’s Legacy is a standalone sequel to our first game Alwa’s Awakening we kind of knew what we were doing during the development. So we took more notes from what we didn’t like with the first game to build our second game. But community involvement is very important and we had a lot of feedback from our Kickstarter backers and we did a huge semi-open beta where we built this custom tool so any player could directly report feedback into our project management tool. I love building games with the community involved and it’s definitely something that I want to consider doing in the future.

 

Have any of the guys at Image & Form or Zoink had any input into the game, or any advice to offer you?

Yeah, I worked at those companies for about four years so I made a lot of friends and they’re all beautiful people. A few of them do consulting work so we actually ended up working with Pelle Cahndlerby with the script, Joel Bille did the sound effects and Julius Guldbog did our trailer, all of them are from those companies.

Every now and then I also get a chance to grab some lunch with Brjann Sigurgeirsson, who’s the head honcho at Thunderful, the owner of Image & Form and Zoink Games and I cherish those lunches because I get so much valuable information and tips from him. He’s such a nice guy. I also get free lunch!

 

If you had the chance to develop for any mainstream development company or work on any gaming series, which one would it be?

I don’t know how much it would be considered mainstream but our first game Alwa’s Awakening was heavily inspired by an NES game called Battle Kid and I would LOVE to develop a game in that series. I think in the hands of Elden Pixels and the original creator we’d be able to make a really cool and fun game. I can easily think of a bunch of cool and creative ideas for a potential sequel.

 

The progression of the series is obviously reminiscent of the transitions between past generations of gaming; i.e. 8-BIT to 16-BIT. Do you see the Alwa series making the transition from 2D to 3D in the future?

If someone asked me to design a 3D game I wouldn’t know how to even approach it. I’d probably have as much as luck as I would if I decided to take up opera singing. So I don’t see that happening in the near future. But who knows, if we find a talented 3D designer somewhere in the future it might happen. Right now we’re more exploring ideas that aren’t based in the Alwa universe.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Right now the game is out on Steam and GOG and we’re releasing it on Switch soon. We want to take it to Microsoft and Sony as well and ask them for a release on their platforms but we haven’t yet. We’re such a small team so we got to think carefully about each decision making sure we don’t take on too much work and releasing on a new platform is a lot of work.

 

Do you have any advice to give to any aspiring developers who may be reading this?

Don’t go into indie development thinking you’ll make money. If you want to make money, get a job in the IT business or something. For me making indie games is like playing in a small rock band. You don’t get to play at the big arenas right away, you probably never will. And it can take years before anyone even notices you. Don’t expect to make that one indie game and make it Shovel Knight style. Sure, it can happen but most likely not. But if you’re dedicated, make cool stuff that people want to enjoy and stay at it, maybe in a few years, you’ll be able to make a living from it. I’m confident that Elden Pixels will eventually be something I can live off full-time, but we probably need a game or two more out before we can do that. But we’ll get there.

 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes, if you take 3 deciliters of water, add 2 deciliters of sugar, 1 deciliter of vinegar essence, 15 small peppercorns, and 2 bay leaves. Boil for a few minutes and then let cool off you’ll have an awesome brine for pickled herring. A Swedish classic!

 

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Mikael for sharing everything he had about the Alwa series and about Elden Pixels and to wish them the best of luck with what the next title they develop may be. Both Alwa’s Awakening and Alwa’s Legacy are available on Steam and I would highly recommend anyone reading who hasn’t played either title that they check them out; I’ve played and reviewed both games and they’re definitely worth playing through at least once. Thanks for reading this Q&A and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Alien Scumbags (PC)

Developer(s) – Monster Finger Games

Designer – James Ross

The first title from Southampton based studio Monster Finger games, Alien Scumbags is an 8-BIT sci-fi side-scrolling shoot ’em up survival horror game with light RPG elements, presenting a very balanced mixture of horror and comedy littered with references to classic games. I’d been following this title for some months before it’s release having drafted up first impressions article and interviewed the game’s principal designer James Ross:

https://scousegamer88.com/2020/05/09/alien-scumbags-first-impressions/

https://scousegamer88.com/2020/05/10/qa-with-monster-finger-games/

I’d been excited for the release of this game for quite some time and when it finally made the jump from its original platform on Game Jolt to Steam, I wasn’t disappointed.

 

Graphics – 8/10

The game is set on a spaceship gone dark named the Nostrami, which is infested with hostile alien lifeforms; the best way I can describe the overall feel of the game is it being an 8-bit version of Dead Space. Like the game Lone Survivor, it makes use of lighting despite its retro 8-BIT visual style. But in my opinion, this game makes better use of lighting than the former, as there is lighting from more sources, therefore making it look much more detailed and there much more atmospheric. 

The scenery design is also unprecedentedly varied for a game set in one location; there are not only references to other games scattered all over the place, but references to popular horror movies like Alien and It. The game’s soundtrack also accompanies the horrific atmosphere of the Nostrami particularly well in addition, making use of otherworldly synthesized tunes and sound effects designed to emulate human heartbeat present in the first level. 

 

Gameplay – 8/10

With a gameplay structure similar to Doom, players are tasked with blasting their way through hordes of alien enemies and uncovering secrets throughout each level, such as hidden areas, additional perks, and easter eggs. There are also multiple characters to unlock (again, modeled after iconic video game characters), with their own unique abilities, giving the game replay value since each character offers a new experience with every playthrough. It’s a survival horror with the vast majority of focus being on gameplay, which, unlike many in mainstream survival horror series’, does pretty well. 

 

Controls – 10/10

As the side-scrolling genre has been redefined and reinvented over many decades in gaming, the control scheme presents no issues in this title. It’s a very bread and butter style of play which both fans of retro gaming and newer generation players alike will be able to pick up and enjoy very easily without having to worry about the logistics of the controls. 

 

Lifespan – 8/10

The game’s lifespan consists of around 20 hours of gameplay, which goes above and beyond many classic side-scrolling titles that gained popularity throughout the NES era, but there is also new content being planned for the game in addition, as the game is still being tweaked and by the developers. In the future, depending on the game’s final lifespan when all content is released, then the game’s score may have to be updated, but even in its current state, 20 hours is an exceptional amount of time for a game of its ilk to last. 

 

Storyline – 7/10

The basic premise of the game is extremely simple; board the Nostrami and take the ship back from the horde of aliens that have killed the crew and invaded the ship. There’s a comedic intro at the beginning giving the player the rundown of the situation, but where the game’s story truly lies in is in it’s backstory that is discovered by the player as the game progresses, provided they can find the crew recordings scattered across each level. It adds a real layer of horror that players may not necessarily expect going into it, which provides that unique balance of scares and laughs that’s quite frankly unusual for a survival horror title. 

 

Originality – 7/10

Although the game is essentially one giant easter egg of references to gaming and to popular culture, it’s a unique balance of comedy and horror certainly helps it stand out among many survival horror series’ to have been released throughout the years; all the while keeping the emphasis on what truly matters, which is the gameplay. I’ve been frustrated by games like The Last of Us, Journey and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which have shown promise and not delivered on what was expected of them as games, but with this title, you know exactly what you’re getting from the get-go, and what it delivers on is what players want. 

Happii

Overall, Alien Scumbags is an extremely enjoyable title; a two and a half year labor of love that gamers old and new will not be disappointed with. It’s’ a scary, funny and intense experience throughout and I can’t recommend it enough 

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Alwa’s Legacy (PC)

Developer – Elden Pixels

Director – Mikael Forslind

 

Following on from the Success of Elden Pixels’ breakout indie game Alwa’s Awakening, Alwa’s Legacy continues the series, introducing a number of new gameplay mechanics and challenges, as well making use of graphics more reminiscent of the 16-BIT era, which was hinted at with the end of the original game. Having been impressed with the first game when I played through it, I was fully expecting yet another immersing gaming experience with the sequel, and to say the least, I was not disappointed. 

 

Graphics – 9/10

The games makes use of a 16-BIT art style similar to that of Super NES classics such as Super Castlevania IV and Secret of Mana; there is a wide range of beautifully vibrant and eerily dark locations throughout the newly designed world of Alwa, which look far better than what even the small glimpse at the end of the first game seemed to touch upon. The environments are each wonderfully designed and despite there being a few locations being recycled from the original game, the areas that have been recycled have been drastically improved upon compared to Awakening. The game’s soundtrack, again composed by Robert Kreese, is also stellar; some of the tracks used for many of the dungeons specifically gave the game more of a Castlevania feel to it than the last game; atmospheric, foreboding and catchy as all hell.

 

Gameplay – 9/10

Keeping to the same principle formula of the first game, Alwa’s Legacy is a traditional Metroidvania game with light RPG elements, with players being able to learn new abilities and unlocking new areas with each new ability acquired. But it also has the very strong feeling of a dungeon crawler to it like a traditional Legend of Zelda game, with players having to traverse a stronghold by solving puzzles and going up against a boss. 

Overall, there have been significant improvements made to gameplay as well as visuals, with the player having a lot more to play for and to discover than the previous game. The boss fights, in particular, are also a lot more creative than in Awakening in both appearance and in the required strategy to beat them. The additional abilities make it so that players can strategize in their own ways in accordance with what boss they’re up against, giving the game a pleasant amount of variety

 

Controls – 10/10

Even taking into account the introduction of new mechanics such as the shield boots and the ability to temporarily slow down time, Legacy plays out pretty much identically to Awakening and as such, the control scheme presents no issues. In addition, a few new control mechanics have been introduced to the formula; most notably the anti-gravity sequences whereby players have to walk on ceilings to solve puzzles, much like Mega Man 5’s Gravity Man stage. Although the visuals were clearly taken from 16-BIT classics, there are a lot of nods to the 8-BIT era, which served as the inspiration for the original game in the series. 

 

Lifespan – 7/10

Another aspect in which this game is an improvement on the original, albeit to a lesser extent than the graphics and gameplay, is in its longevity. On average, the game can take around 8 to 10 hours to complete to 100%. Although this amount of time is still relatively short for a Metroidvania, it certainly answers for the short amount of time it takes to complete Alwa’s Awakening and it’s a step in the direction of possibly making a third game in the series last even longer; if Elden decides to make a third game.

 

Storyline – 7/10

Essentially, the story of Legacy is pretty much a carbon copy to that of Awakening, whereby the main character Zoe awakes in the land of Alwa, and by traversing the land and honing her abilities as a powerful sorcerer, must save the land from the villain Vicar, who plots to invade Alwa. There are a couple of differences and certain plot threads which help to advance the story in a different way, so I can’t bash on it too much for being unoriginal; it’s an epic odyssey with plenty of twists and turns along the way and plenty of quirky characters to meet. It would be hypocritical of me as a fan of a lot of games that tell virtually the same story with each installment, such as Mario and Zelda, to criticize the Alwa games for doing the same thing. 

 

Originality – 7/10

Taking into account the many similarities that this game has with not only it’s predecessor, but many other Metroidvania game that served as the basis for it. It still has its own unique brand of gameplay, visual design, and story structure that makes it stand out among many Metroidvania titles, despite the greatly increased output of games in the genre in recent years, such as Ori & the Blind Forest, Dust: An Elysian Tail and Guacamelee. Legacy greatly expands on the ideas perpetuated by Awakening and delivers a challenging and satisfying gaming experience that ought not to be overlooked.

 

Happii

In summation, Alwa’s Legacy is certainly a must-have for Metroidvania fans. If you’re a fan of 2D exploration, dungeon crawling, 16-BIT graphics, and epic 8-BIT music, I can’t recommend this title enough. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Ori & The Will of the Wisps (PC & Xbox One)

Developer – Moon Studios

Publisher – Xbox Game Studios

Director – Thomas Mahler

Producer – Blazej Zywicyriski

Following on from the success of Austrian developer Moon Studios debut title Ori & The Blind Forest, Ori & The Will of the Wisps is another expansive Metroidvania title making use of wonderfully crafted hand-drawn visuals and adding new gameplay elements building on the concept perpetuated by the first game. Personally, I was hooked on this game from start to finish, and whilst I have my nitpicks to address, I was far from disappointed with it. 

Graphics – 10/10

The visual style of the game once again makes use of a hand-drawn art style, taking place in new forests separate from that of the first game called Niwen. Like the last game, it has a variety of different land biomes. Including snowy mountains, barren deserts and dark spider-infested caves. It once again also makes use of a traditional orchestral soundtrack; albeit each individual track does better than Blind Forest to suit the tableau of each different area. 

The game in terms of visual style is certainly a lot more varied than the first, as Blind Forest’s individual areas were mainly different sections of forest with some exceptions, such as Mount Horu. But in Will Of The Wisps, there are areas like Luma Pool, Baur’s Reach, and Windswept Wastes that perpetuate far more of a sense of variety than in the original game.

Gameplay – 10/10

Another area where variety is a lot more prevalent than in the first game is in the gameplay. The combat system has been given a massive overhaul with Ori being given far more combat options than in Blind forest, including a sword for fast-paced combat and a hammer for players preferring power over speed. A lot of the older abilities acquired in the first game are also added for good measure, but they’re acquired earlier on to reacquaint players with classic mechanics in preparation for the introduction of new mechanics throughout the rest of the game. 

Another very welcome addition to the series with the second game is the inclusion of boss fights throughout; they present a level of challenge that wasn’t seen with Blind Forest and add even more depth to the gameplay that is more prevalent in and reminiscent of other Metroidvania titles such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Guacamelee. There are also various sidequests to be undertaken throughout, which is something else that was desperately needed for improvement over the first game. It all makes it even more enjoyable to play than Blind Forest and less of a criminally fleeting experience 

Controls – 10/10

Players will be able to move from the first game to the second without skipping a beat; the core mechanics are the same as what they were in Blind Forest, but even with the introduction of a plethora of new mechanics, the game’s control scheme presents no issues. In this game, it was even more vital for the developers to have gotten the control scheme right with the introduction of time trial sequences involving a lot of intricate platforming and the developers did a flawless job of getting the controls right. 

Lifespan – 6/10

To complete the game 100% takes slightly longer than its predecessor, clocking in at just over 15 hours of gameplay. Although there is the inclusion of so many new gameplay features, I think more of the same could#ve been added to pad out the game even further. But again, my biggest criticism of this game, as it was with Blind Forest, is that it doesn’t last anywhere near as long as what it had the potential to do. Although it’s less of a fleeting experience than the first game, it’s still not long enough of an experience in my opinion. 

Storyline – 7.5/10

Picking up where the last game left off, Ori, Naru, and Gumo are now caring for Ku; the baby owl that hatched from Kuro’s last egg at the end of Blind Forest. After repairing Ku’s damaged wing with one of Kuro’s stray feathers, Ku flies with Ori on her back and the pair crashland into the forest of Niwen. Ori then becomes embroiled in a quest to restore balance to the forest of Niwel by seeking out forest spirits called wisps, whilst also confronting new threats, including a deformed and hateful owl named Shriek.

The story of Will of the Wisps draws a great deal of comparison to that of its predecessor, with Ori Basically having to do the same thing as what she had to do in Blind Forest; just within another forest. Although the themes of loss and tragedy are present and are presented in different ways to the original, there are other elements that are a lot more straightforward than they are in the first game. There’s not much moral ambiguity involved in the second game like in Blind Forest; the player will know who the hero is and who the villain is; where Kuro was a much more sympathetic villain, Shriek, whilst having underlying reasons for being the way she is, is a lot harder to empathize with.

However, there are certain plot threads throughout the story, especially around the mid-way point, which contribute to the narrative in extremely positive ways, and whilst not being anywhere near as unique as the first, certainly makes for an enjoyable story overall. 

Originality – 7.5/10

The game originality was probably the hardest aspect of it for me to cover. In certain areas, it does stand out from other Metroidvania titles, such as it’s combat system and inclusion of sidequests. But in other aspects, it fell short of other aspects in which the first game excelled in; most notably the story. Overall it was a fairly unique game, but I can’t help but feel that there is still a lot more untapped potential for this series overall. Without spoiling any details in regards to the ending, all the signs seem to point to there being a third game sometime in the future, and I think that there is still room for improvement in both the first and second games. 

 

Happii

In summation, however, regardless of the amount of criticism I’ve given Ori & The Will Of The Wisps, I still think that it is fractionally better than Ori & The Blind Forest. The one aspect that it excels in compared to its predecessor is the gameplay, which is, after all, the most important aspect of any game. Its story is unoriginal compared to Blind Forest and it’s relatively short lifespan can still leave players wanting more at the end of it, but that’s not to say that it isn’t worth playing through from beginning to end.; it certainly is. 

50/60

8/10

(Very Good)

Ori & The Blind Forest (PC, Xbox One & Switch)

Developer – Moon Studios

Publisher – Microsoft Studios

Director – Thomas Mahler

Producer – Gennadiy Korol

Created by a massive collaboration of developers worldwide over a period of four years, Ori & The Blind Forest is a Metroidvania game following the adventures of the game’s titular character Ori and companion Sein as they set out to restore the forest of Nibel, which has come under threat having lost the balance between three elements; waters, winds, and warmth. After having played this game almost 100%, I was enthralled with it from beginning to end. Everything from its art style and the soundtrack to it’s direction in terms of gameplay and story made for one of the most standout gaming experiences of the eighth generation. 

Graphics – 10/10

Similar to games like Cuphead and Child of Light, the game features entirely hand-drawn graphics, though in this case influenced largely by the works of Hiyao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Locations within the game range from a mixture of light-filled and dark forest settings to vibrant, sunny glades, icy chasms, and fiery volcanic formations. No matter the specific location, however, everywhere in this game has a level of eloquence to it in one way or another and it all highlights the meticulous dedication the development team showed to bringing the project to life. The accompanying soundtrack perfectly fits every location, as well as every situation the player finds themself within the game; be that whilst peacefully traversing through sunlit greenery or whilst having to dash away from a volcanic eruption. But even during moments of both absolute tranquility or absolute calamity, the game still maintains that same level of eloquence throughout; in my case, so much so that I didn’t care how many times I died in moments of urgency, which was a lot. I thought it was worth attempting that many times just to soak up the game’s wonderful atmosphere.

Gameplay – 8/10

As a Metroidvania, the game follows most of the typical tropes you would expect to find in a game of the genre; most notably having to gain all manner of different abilities to access each area as the play progresses. However, Ori & The Blind Forest offers players a very interesting spin on things with a unique combat system encouraging players to strategize in accordance with what enemies they’re up against. Combat can also even be a means to access new or hidden locations throughout the game. There is also an ability tree that players can use to upgrade pre-existing abilities or learn new ones by gaining experience in combat, giving the game an RPG feel to it. The combat isn’t as intense as what it is in other Metroidvania games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Dust: An Elysian Tail, but it demands almost as much from gamers as enemies become stronger over time and different abilities need to be used to overcome them. The game also demands a fair bit from players in the respect of exploration, as there are many challenging platformer obstacles to traverse and puzzles to be solved throughout. It challenges players, but not to the point of it becoming inaccessible. 

Controls – 10/10

As in many Metroidvania titles, the staggering variety in controls becomes more and more apparent as the player progresses through the game with the different abilities to learn and incorporate throughout. At first, I thought that it may become a problem, as the same buttons are used for different abilities in varying different respects, but all it is is a matter of getting used to strategizing in accordance with whatever situation the players may find themself in. It reminded me a lot of Metroid Prime in that respect because although that game was a first-person shooter, it doesn’t entirely feel like one in many respects and I found it to be the same case with Ori & The Blind Forest; it’s a Metroidvania game, but there are certain instances in which it doesn’t feel like one in the respect of its control scheme, further adding to the game’s sense of uniqueness. 

Lifespan – 5/10

To complete the game to 100% can take there around 12 hours, which to me, is undoubtedly this game’s biggest drawback. Although this game was undeniably labor of love and that it shows in every little detail, it just seemed to be a criminally short amount of time for a game of this quality to last. It’s in this aspect where I’m desperately hoping that this is where the sequel, Ori & The Will Of The Wisps comes in; similar to the transition between Onimusha and Onimusha 2. 

Storyline – 8/10

The game’s plot follows Ori, a guardian spirit that fell from the Spirit Tree of the forest of Nibel. Ori is later found by a forest inhabitant named Naru, who adopts Ori and raises her. Later, Naru dies of starvation, and Ori is left to fend for herself. She later becomes embroiled in a quest to restore the forest of Nibel, which has begun to deteriorate since the forest has lost balance between the elements of waters, winds, and warmth. Matters have also been worsened by the fact that the core of the Spirit Tree had been stolen by a demonic, shadowy owl named Kuro. Throughout, Ori has to traverse the forest to restore the three elements and the core of the Spirit Tree, whilst coming under the threat of the forest’s many dangerous creatures and natural obstacles whilst also avoiding the clutches of Kuro.

The game’s story, as well as it’s art direction, was also heavily inspired by the works of Hayao Miyazaki; it’s vivid, fantastical, and packed with emotional moments that will have players on the edges of their seats. But it also perpetuates a sense of moral ambiguity; especially towards the end. So much so that I found myself questioning who the real hero was and if the villain truly is a villain at heart. This works to separate it from the works of Studio Ghibli as moral ambiguity isn’t that prominent a theme in the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and others who worked for the company and it’s something new to compliment a story that was heavily inspired by the two aforementioned film directors. 

Originality – 8/10

Whilst critiquing the control scheme, I mentioned that there are certain instances in which the controls make it feel like more than a conventional Metroidvania game. But this can be said for every other aspect of Ori & The Blind Forest in addition. It’s largely unconventional in its gameplay, it’s the scenery, the soundtrack, and its story. Ahead of playing it, I knew that I was in for something special with this title, but I wasn’t quite prepared for exactly how special it would turn out to be. Everything from its combat system to it’s environmental design to its themes of loss, tragedy, and moral ambiguity makes it stand out from most of every other game I’ve ever played. 

Happii

Overall, Ori & The Blind Forest is a must-have not only for Metroidvania fans but for gamers in general. It’s a title that has had every element handled with a degree of love and care that every standout game should have and whilst it didn’t last as long as what I thought it had the potential to, it’s certainly worth at least one playthrough at minimum. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Remnants of Isolation (PC)

Developer(s) – Team Isolation 

An indie turn-based RPG developed with the popular RPG Maker engine, the same engine used to develop other indie RPGs, such as Chronicles of a Dark Lord, Remnants of Isolation has a story and an artistic direction different to that of many other games of its kind. Unfortunately, the game does have its fair share of faults and drawbacks, unfortunately making it dwarf in quality compared with some of the great titles of the genre, such as Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. 

Graphics – 8/10

The most interesting thing about the game, in my opinion, is the visuals and the conceptual design. Taking place in a mysterious and enchanted prison, it features imagery and characters inspired by a multitude of different cultures and mythologies; most prominently, medieval fantasy. But aside from that, there are also quite a few uniquely designed monsters, such as the Twisted Sentry as well as many of the varied boss fights that take place throughout. 

Gameplay – 6/10

The game plays out very much like a traditional turn-based RPG, such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest; it’s addictive and satisfying to level up characters. Instead of using money as currency, however, the player must collect souls in order to make better equipment and buy items. The biggest problem with it, however, is the fact that unlike most other games of its kind, which have many different playable characters with different abilities, there are only two in this game, thus it doesn’t have anywhere near as much variety as many of the great games that inspired it. It’s especially underwhelming to me, as I have played RPGs, which make use of the same engine, but that has much more substance to them. 

Controls – 10/10

The game incorporates as simple a control scheme as can be found in a video game, and as such, I’m at least satisfied to report that there are no issues with playing the game to address. Many turn-based RPGs over the years have modified the overall formula with varying degrees of success, but over the years, it has been refreshing to see a resurgence of games to incorporate the basic structure of this formula; and this game is no exception. 

Lifespan – 0.5/10

The worst aspect of this game, however, is it’s cripplingly short lifespan. At a stretch, it can be made to last about 2 hours, which for a turn-based RPG is deplorable in my opinion. Normally, this kind of game can be made to last considerably longer; some of which surpassing the 100-hour mark, but due to this game’s lack of substance and variety, it lasts only an extremely small fraction of the time that a standout game of its genre can be made to last; even irrespective of the fact that this game was intended to be played multiple times.

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story is particularly well written and made even more immersing by the fact that there are multiple endings to be triggered. It follows two prisoners, Celesta and Melchior, as they resolve to find a way out of their prison together, in a somewhat similar fashion to Ico. They both need each other to stay alive as they encounter danger after danger throughout the prison. It’s engrossing to see how their relationship develops throughout the course of the game, and how it impacts the rest f the story. 

Originality – 2/10

The only vaguely original mechanic this game has going for it is that of using souls as currency to both buy items and upgrade equipment. Some may say the mechanic of fusing magic together maybe something new to the genre, but Final Fantasy IX incorporated a similar, and frankly more satisfying mechanic between the characters Vivi and Steiner, and overall, did little to add any real uniqueness to the game’s combat system. Other than souls as currency, the only way in which the game stands out is in both its artistic direction and how short it is. And the latter of the two makes it stand out for largely the wrong reasons. 

Niiutral

Overall, Remnants of Isolation does have elements of redeeming value, but as far as an immersing gameplay experience goes, there are far better turn-based RPGs out there. To make a game of its potential as short as they did was in my opinion criminal, and if the developers decide to make a sequel or another turn-based RPG, they need to make some dramatic improvements in my opinion. 

Score

33.5/60

5.5/10 (Below Average) 

Q&A With Blake Speers

Once again scouting Kickstarter for new and exciting-looking video game projects on the indie scene, I came across a wonderful-looking 2D side-scrolling platformer called Mira’s Brush developed by Canadian developer Blake Speer. The premise of which is that the game’s titular character Mira is tasked with restoring color to the world of Chromaland. The game boasts a number of very unusual and potentially ground-breaking gameplay features such as changing an enemy’s color and stealing their shape in order to gain new abilities; similar to Kirby when he swallows enemies. The developer has also outlined plans on his Kickstarter page to include alternative routes throughout levels, secrets to uncover, varying degrees of difficulty for both seasoned and entry-level gamers and an array of what could turn out to be some very intriguing boss fights.

I got in touch with Blake to see if he would answer a few questions I had about the game and this is what he had to say about Mira’s Brush:

What were the influences behind your game?

Short answer: Jumpman (C64), Kirby’s Adventure (GB), Epic Mickey, Mario Odyssey/Galaxy 2

Longer Answer:
I was one of the first generations of kids to grow up beside home video game systems. Back in 1982, when I was a toddler, this guy Randy Glover had the idea to make a “clone” of Donkey Kong but got carried away playing with the physics and game mechanics. The result was “Jumpman” a game with more unique mechanics from level to level than I’ve seen in a game since until maybe Mario Galaxy. Basically, every level had a new kind idea, including one where you shoot clones, an all-black level that appears as you clear through it, and one where you throw javelins at dragons that look kind of like somebody crushed the Pink Panther in a pixelated trash-compactor. I was obsessed with that game as a kid, and when I turned 16, a friend and I made my first big game, Flags of Doom, kind of an awkward Windows 3.1 clone of Jumpman, but with all new levels.

Flags of Doom came out back in the days of trading bootleg floppies, and if you search hard on the Internet you can find a tiny number of people that played it and liked it. It ended up on a couple of those free software CDs that come with magazines in Eastern Europe.

Until Mario Galaxy came out, I didn’t see another game with that kind of premise. Mario games have always been inventive, but something felt really fresh about the compendium of Galaxy 1 and 2. When I decided it was time to make a game that people might actually intentionally play, I went through my big book of ideas (I have a lot of ideas, most of which are totally unworkable) and found a concept for color stealing that was a bit like a Kirby game. I decided to take the same experimental approach I’d seen in Jumpman, Flags of Doom and Mario Galaxy, and jam it with the power stealing gameplay of Kirby games and the color mechanics of stuff like Epic Mickey and De Blob. 

Around that time I got into Mario Odyssey and I loved the open-ended sense of exploration, with so many options for beginner and more advanced players. That’s when I decided on a very open-ended option-heavy exploration style, where you can basically pop into any level and beat it OR just farm secrets for that completion line. Beating the whole game should be “easy” but finding some of the secrets will mean taking the harder path.

 

What has the developmental process been like? 

I’m a dad with a regular job in an office. I like my job, it’s interesting enough. I also have two kids, one in Kindergarten (Nursery in the UK) and one in Grade 3 (Year 2 in the UK). The development has been spotty, learning the Construct 2 engine (easier than pure coding, of course), playing with the edges of what is possible.

I’ve basically been working every morning until I have to leave and every night once the kids are asleep until I’m essentially asleep at the screen. It’s tough, but I love the challenge of it.

 

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

Based on my current level of progress and how much is still on my checklist, I should have a final version in late October and be ready for launch mid-December. I’ll have some demos to testers along the way.

 

How instrumental has the opengameart community been in terms of the game’s conceptual design? 

Fundamental. All my basic tilesets come from there originally. I’ve since done a bunch of edits for different terrain and to make them stand out a bit, but without those sets and a few key enemy sprites, I’d still just have a prototype. I am learning to push-pixels and slowly getting better but I still turn to the opengameart community often for inspiration or templates.

Part of my goal with this Kickstarter is to enlist more help to make the art stand-out a bit more, make it more unique to this game, and then give some of that art back to the community in the form of original tilesets.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

I absolutely love when an idea finally works. This isn’t one of those “mob and jump” platformers with a lot of repetition. Almost every level I’m learning something new about scripting, about game physics, and every level I bang my head against the screen until it finally works.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

The hardest part for me is all the fiddly bits, UI and physics. I love designing levels, but a lot of the coding and art is beyond my own abilities, which means a lot of research, practice, and reaching out for help.

 

Have you had much experience with art, and if so, did those experiences have an impact on the development of the game? 

I’m not a visual artist by any stretch of the imagination. Even my scribbles are outside the lines. I did take art-history in high school and my wife used to work in art galleries. She took me through the various galleries of Europe in our 20s (we were working and living in England at the time) and showed the history behind some of our favorite pieces.

Each world of Mira’s brush is “inspired” by art movements, but I wouldn’t say most gamers will notice, it’s not in-your-face, more just the theme of each world. For example, the first world is inspired by local indigenous art and local artists of renown like Emily Carr (who also acts as the jumping-off point for a boss in the game). The second world is a mash-up of “primitivism,” cave-art, and the neon aesthetic of the ’80s and ’90s, but again, you’d hardly notice while playing. It’s just a way of breaking up the worlds in a way that’s different from the “ice world,” “fire world,” “desert world,” “clouds.”

 

How well has the game been received so far? 

I would say all the response has been super positive, but we have a very small number of people that have seen it at all yet. The few that follow closely are exuberant, so hopefully, I can meet their expectations.

 

Was there a particular genre of music that I influenced the game’s soundtrack? 

The game was composed entirely with Beepbox, a web-based tool for writing 8-bit (and now 16-bit) choons, and I tried to keep it poppy and fun. The music is really classic “game-music” in style. I’m still learning, and only the best stuff I can make ends up in the game. All my stuff is heavily inspired by the great Chiptune artists from the midlands to the north half of England and from Ireland, people like Rob Hubbard, Marin Galway, Tim and Geoff Follin, Ben Daglish, David Whittaker, etc. I’m not at their level, but they inspired me to learn and try.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to? 

Right now the game is for PC only. If I make my stretch-goals, I’d love a Switch port, and maybe a PS4/5 store item as well. Nothing is off the table if I get the funding for it. For now, Steam.

 

What has been your favorite area of the game to have designed so far out of so many vibrant and colorful environments?

Hard to say. The urban/modern art world (Tagspire City) is just gorgeous, thanks to the help of a dude called GfxKid, but the best looking levels are in Trois Kingdoms, a world-spanning Egyptian, Greek and Medieval art history with rich purple castles and dark, orange temples. Also, I’m just starting the design of Abstraxis, the abstract world, and the gameplay in that world is going to be nuts.  

 

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

Listen. As of this year, I just turned 40. I have kids, a regular job and other hobbies, but I didn’t want to wait until I’m retired to start getting these games out of my head. Start now, and set yourself a weekly schedule so you get stuff DONE. My own family gets prizes (dinner out, or maybe doughnuts) when I hit a major milestone, and I don’t want to let them down. It pushes me to keep going.

Also, if you’re younger, don’t be afraid to take a regular boring job. I like my boring job, and it fires me up to get creative in the off-hours. Plus, it pays the bills which is how I’m able to focus on getting funds to improve the game rather than make rent. Every dollar of the Kickstarter will go directly toward development, which really makes the whole project more stable and achievable. I work slower than if I quit my job, but the game at least is safe, nobody’s going to come and repossess my computer.

 

Where about on the Internet can people find you? 

Mira’s brush does have a YouTube channel, and I do frequent Reddit, but the best place to follow progress is on Twitter, @MirasBrush – that’s where I’m most active, sharing everybody’s awesome projects and uploading new chiptunes daily.

 

Do you have anything else to add?

No, I really enjoyed this opportunity and hope people check out the game. My Kickstarter isn’t charity, I don’t want a cent for me, it’s all about making the best game I can so people want not just to play it, but complete it.

Thank you!

-Blake

 

 

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Blake for agreeing to speak about his game and to let you know that the Kickstarter project is live now and you can back it via this link to help bring this awesome-looking project to life:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mirasbrush/miras-brush-the-cute-colour-based-platform-game

I hope you guys had as much fun reading about Mira’s Brush as I did talking with Blake and discovering this potentially wonderful game and I wish Blake the best of luck with the campaign.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88