Tag Archives: Adventure

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 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 a labor of love and that it shows in every little detail, it just seemed to me 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 story 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, shadow 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 scenery, it’s 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 make 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. 

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 it’s 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 have 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 may be 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 it’s 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

 

Q&A With Peyton Burnham

Following another Kickstarter excursion, I came across yet another great-looking game boasting a massive amount to offer players in terms of gameplay, story and wonderful-looking scenery; Rose of Starcross. Inspired by classics such as Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Undertale and others, the game is a top-down turn-based RPG platformer making use of an intricate 8-BIT art style and conceptual design heavily inspired by Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe series, of which I am personally a big fan of.  Wanting to learn even more about this ambitious title, I got in touch with the game’s designer Peyton Burnham who had a lot to say about the game, as well as it’s development cycle and challenges to have been overcome. Here’s what Peyton had to say about Rose of Starcross:

What were the influences behind your game? 

Way too many to list, honestly! As far as games go, the most obvious ones at first glance would probably be Zelda, Mario, the Toby Fox games, the Mother series and the Souls series for sure but I would mostly just say “games” in general. I take plenty of cues from stuff like Bayonetta to Silent Hill and Resident Evil so really it’s just whatever I love, which is a lot! Same can be said for other media like music, film, and TV!

What has the developmental process been like?

Pretty weird! This is (arguably) my first game so learning EVERYTHING from the ground up has happened during the development process. For a very long time I was fighting my own limitations, getting rid of old systems that were broken, and getting exponentially better at everything so it’s been hectic and super frustrating! But I’ve gotten to a point where I feel confident in my abilities and the base systems I’ve set up for the game! Recently things have been going much more smoothly and I expect that to more or less remain throughout the development.

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

I would say 2-3 years. Like I said I’ve only just recently gotten a good flow and process so it’s hard to judge how long certain things should take. So between feeling like I’ll be getting into a good pace and the fact that the game will be pretty sizable, I think that 2-3 years is a solid prediction.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

Getting to write my music, choreographing cutscenes to it, and then seeing that actually happen in the game is pretty exciting! That’s mostly because I’ve been a musician longer than I’ve been anything else so it’s really cool to get to write music that gets to go with other things. Also, just getting to make a game that I really like is insanely exciting!

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?  

Aside from when I was basically learning how to program and always having to fix stupid and weird bugs, the most persistent challenge has been art 100%. And ESPECIALLY animation. It’s hard, man! Luckily I’ve found an animation method that works for me, but still. 

What has been the most frustrating aspect of development? 

See above! But here I’d also like to add in… marketing! Marketing is a lot of frustration for a ton of reasons. It’s not fun, I can’t work on the game while I’m focusing on it, I feel awful if I DON’T do it, and it’s SUPER IMPORTANT! So a perfect storm of frustration.

As a Steven Universe fan myself, I was chuffed to have confirmed my suspicions that this game drew influence from the show. Do you plan to implement gameplay features reminiscent of the abilities of the Crystal Gems?

I have TONS of gameplay ideas and a few major mechanics that I didn’t introduce or fully exploit in the Demo and it’s very likely some of that stuff might be similar to things you’d see in the show! I don’t normally directly go “oh hey that would be awesome to do in my game.” It’s normally a situation where I just put something in the game because it’s just in my head from watching stuff and playing other games. So short answer… maybe!

How well has the game been received so far? 

As for the few people who’ve actually played it or seen trailers/let’s plays, really well! The people who like it seem to care about it a good bit and want it to succeed which is incredibly flattering and cool.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Right now the plan is PC(Steam and DRM-Free) and the Nintendo Switch!

Will the final game have an even more varied colour palette than what’s been showcased so far?

Absolutely! The main first area is very purple indeed but every major area will similarly be based on different colors. Plus I’m doing a ton of mini-dungeons that’ll just let me do whatever I want color-wise so that’s exciting! Just don’t expect a huge amount of green.

Out of so many wonderful-looking locations, what has been your favourite area to have in the game so far?

I am soooo excited to work on ALL of the major areas that come after the demo. Since it’s my game I got to very selfishly pick all of my favorite types of places! But I will say, the first area after the demo really has my heart in it. It’s cold, cozy, and moody and I love working on it. That being said I seriously can’t wait to get to Demon City.

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

There’s tons of advice out there that’s much better than what I could give and also a lot of similar/repeated advice out there. So I’ll try something more practical and design related! While learning to make games it can be SUPER tempting to put everything you know how to do into your games. Try not to get caught up in showing off what you can do as a programmer or how many features your game has. Try to make decisions for your game that don’t just add to it but enhance it! Harmony is important! We’ve all played games that have stamina bars, crafting, and experience points that don’t need them, right?

Do you have anything else to add?

I could definitely say thanks to the people supporting me! Anyone just following me and my game on twitter, anyone supporting my game in any way, and my incredible parents who any of this would be totally impossible without! So thanks! Oh and if you feel like it, consider helping out my game on Kickstarter! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/roseofstarcross/rose-of-starcross

As well as the link to the Kickstarter page, you can also download a demo of the game via this link:

https://peytonburnham.itch.io/rose-of-starcross-demo

You can also follow the development of the game as it happens by following Peyton on Twitter:

@peydinburnham

I’ve briefly played the demo myself and I’ve been particularly impressed with what the game has to offer at even this preliminary stage of development; especially considering that we are still a fair distance away from seeing the finished article. I thoroughly recommend anyone reading this to try the demo out for yourself and to back the Kickstarter campaign, which as of this writing, is there about halfway towards reaching its goal. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Peyton for agreeing to answer my question and wish him the best of luck with the game as well as to thank everyone who took the time to read about Rose of Starcross.

 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Lego Alpha Team (PC & Game Boy Colour)

Developer(s) – Digital Domain & Climax Studios

Publisher(s) – Lego Media

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

Graphics – 7.5/10

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

Gameplay – 8.5/10

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

Controls – 9/10

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

Lifespan – 4/10 

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

Storyline – 5/10

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

Originality – 8/10

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

Happii

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

Score

42/60

7/10 (Fair)

Dig Dug Deeper (PC)

Developer(s) – Creature Labs

Publisher(s) – Infogrames

ELSPA – 3+

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

Graphics – 5/10

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

Gameplay 6/10

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

Controls – 8/10

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

Lifespan – 3/10

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

Storyline – 1/10

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

Originality – 4/10

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

Angrii

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

Score

27/60

4.5/10 (Mediocre)

The Witness (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Thekla Inc

Publisher(s) – Thekla Inc

Director – Jonathan Blow

Producer – Jonathan Blow

PEGI – 3

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

Graphics – 8/10

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

Gameplay – 7/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 9/10

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

Storyline – 6/10

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

Originality – 8/10

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

Happii

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

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Luigi’s Mansion 2 (3DS)

Developer(s) – Next Level Games & Nintendo SPD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Bryce Holliday

Producer – Shigeru Miyamoto

PEGI – 7

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

Graphics – 7/10

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

Gameplay – 8.5/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 8/10

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

Storyline – 7/10

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

Originality – 8/10

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

Happii

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

Score

48.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Back to Bed (PC)

Developer – Bedtime Digital

Publisher – Bedtime Digital

PEGI – 3

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

Graphics – 8/10

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

Gameplay – 7/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 3/10

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

Storyline – 6/10

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

Originality – 7/10

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

Niiutral

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

Score

41/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

Cuphead (PC & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Studio MDHR

Publisher(s) – Studio MDHR

Director(s) – Chad & Jared Moldenhauer

Producer(s) – Maria & Ryan Moldenhauer

PEGI – 7

One of the most highly anticipated games of 2017, following it’s initial showcasing at E3 four year prior, Cuphead is a traditional side scrolling run and gun game with an eye-catching and unique conceptual design and gameplay that is as challenging as it is satisfying. I first sampled this game at Play Manchester 2017 shortly after it’s release, and realized thought while it is indeed very challenging, it’s also a great deal of fun, and one of the better indie experiences of last year.

Graphics – 10/10

The game adopts the visuals style of the golden age of American animation of the early 1900s, having been influenced by classic cartoons such as Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop among many others. The games visual style was the most noteworthy aspect of it when it was first showcased, and arguably still is. Although the game’s play style is extremely enjoyable beyond it’s visuals, I believe it’s still the game’s finest point. Though plenty of games based on cartoon animation have since come and gone, few games have ever looked as compelling as Cuphead does.

Gameplay – 8/10

As stated, the game revolves around players running and gunning through a selection of side scrolling levels, but the most prevalent feature in the gameplay is the numerous boss fights throughout, which for the most part, are extremely well handled, and come with a fair amount of challenge to match. I had an extremely difficult time trying to pick a favourite boss fight in Cuphead because each one of them is memorable in it’s own right. But in the end, I decided to pick out Grim Matchstick as being my favourite, as for me, it provided the best blend of both challenge and individual conceptual design. Other outstanding boss fights in this in my opinion included Dr. Kahl’s Robot, Djimmi the Great, Ribby & Croaks and Cali Maria.

Controls – 10/10

With every intentionally difficult game I review, I always look at the controls with a greater sense of importance than other games, because control schemes in these kinds of games in my personal opinion are largely hit and miss, and can greatly affect the sense of challenge the game has to offer. For example, the original Mega Man was intentionally difficult, and as most players who have played it will testify, it is a particularly challenging game. But I personally found there to be some issues with the controls; especially in Guts Man’s stage where there is precision platforming required. Thankfully, however, Cuphead does not have these issues. If mistakes are made, it will be down to the player’s individual skill, which is the way it should be.

Lifespan – 6/10

The biggest gripe I have with the game is in its lifespan. The game, dependent on player skill of course, can take there around 6 hours to complete to 100%, which for the amount of time it took to finish, seemed somewhat uneven to me personally. I can’t deduct too many points from it in this aspect, however, for two reasons. It lasts longer than most classic games of it’s kind, and the development time was clearly put into getting every other aspect of the game right. It would have been nice to have a few more side scrolling levels added to balance out the amount of boss fights, but nevertheless, it’s a somewhat reasonably long game, and for the time players will spend playing it, they will thoroughly enjoy it for what it is.

Storyline – 7.5/10

The story follows the titular character Cuphead and is friend Mugman, who against the advice of their master, The Elder Kettle, wander off far from their home, and come across a casino. They find themselves on a winning streak at the craps table when they are suddenly interrupted by the Devil, who raises the stakes. If they win one more roll, the pair will get all the loot in his casino. But if they lose, they must forfeit their souls. Cuphead agreed, but rolls a snake eyes, and after pleading for their lives, the Devil makes Cuphead and Mugman a deal; if the pair can claim the souls of numerous runaway debtors for the Devil, he may consider pardoning them. The game’s story is simple in structure, but fairly unique in concept at the same time. It even has multiple endings, given the player’s choice. It’s the story, as well as it’s visual design, that make it clear that this game was quite simply a labour of love.

Originality – 8/10

The Moldenhauers created this game based on their own experiences of watching classics Disney and Fleischer cartoons in their youth, and in Chad Moldenhauer’s own words, sought to mimic the more subversive and surrealist elements of the classic cartoonists of the day. And subversive and surreal are some of the best words that I can possibly use to describe this game. It was enough to raise a great deal of eyebrows at E3 2014 with it’s own unique conceptual design, and it has since impressed a great deal of gamers since it’s release, including me.

Overall, Cuphead is a visually stunning and delightfully challenging game with a lot to offer both veteran gamers with an appreciation for their routes, and for newer generation gamers, who may be curious about experiencing some of the beginnings of video game design. Though it took an unusually long time to be released following it’s initial showcasing, it turned out to be more than worth the wait, and it comes highly recommended from me.

Score

49.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)