Tag Archives: Metroidvania

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)

Axiom Verge (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, Nintendo Switch)

Developer(s) – Thomas Happ Games

Publisher(s) – Thomas Happ Games

Developed solely by former Petroglyph Game engineer Thomas Happ and five years in the making, Axiom Verge was released back in 2015 to overwhelming critical acclaim from critics, garnishing a plethora of favorable reviews and received a nomination for best indie game award for 2015 at The Game Awards. I felt no different about this game; it is most definitely one of the better Metroidvania games that I have had the pleasure of playing through delivering in every aspect.

Graphics – 9/10

The game is set on a planet called Sudra and in lieu of Metroidvania tradition features many varied and wonderfully designed environments with a lot of different enemies to contend with throughout. There is also a species of giant humanoid robots called the Rusalka, which are unlike most things I’ve ever seen in sci-fi. Most gamers will immediately be reminded of Super Metroid when looking at his game, as indeed I was. But there are elements of the conceptual design that reminded me of other games too. For example, the environments, which look almost alive with floors and walls moving and pulsating, reminded a lot of Abadox for the NES, although in the case of Axiom Verge, there’s even more attention to detail put in. The Rusalka also adds a certain eloquence to the conceptual design of this game, reminding me in particular of the film Ghost in the Shell. 

Gameplay – 9/10

The game plays out ostensibly like a traditional Metroidvania game, with the player having to navigate through a 2D open world and constantly backtracking to reveal new areas or secrets hidden within the game. But what makes Axiom Verge as exciting to play as it is is it’s combat, with the player being able to find a variety of different guns throughout and to strategize according to whatever enemies are in front of them. The world of Axiom Verge is reasonably big, so there is a lot of backtracking involved as players gain new abilities to access new areas. There is also a speedrun mode for more adept players who wish to complete the game in record time, which gives the game some additional replay value. 

But regardless of whether players may be veterans or entry-level, it’s a reasonable challenge I thought; not too hard to the point of being inaccessible but not too easy either. More important than that, however, the game is extremely satisfying to immerse in; backtracking to old locations is always fun as the opportunity to experiment with new weapons constantly presents itself and there’s a great deal of enjoyment to be had in this respect. The boss fights are also as intense as that of any Metroidvania game, again requiring players to strategize according to what weapons they may have as well as enemy attack patterns. 

Controls – 9.5/10

The game’s control scheme also presents no problems for the most part; it essentially uses the blueprint of Super Metroid in its general gameplay and weapons system, as well as how ammo and health works. The one minor gripe I had with the controls, however, concerns how the address disruptor works. 

The address disruptor is a gun that either corrupts or de-corrupts enemies or certain walls. This is a tool that needs to be used in order to bypass certain areas of the game. The problem is with it is if a player removes a certain section of wall and not another if the player fires again it can reverse the process for the section of the wall that’s already been removed, leaving the player having to slowly reverse the process again in order to traverse through walls. However, it’s something that’s easily rectified anyway and I can’t fault the developer for trying something new. More important than my concern is that this is a game mechanic unlike many others seen in the Metroidvania genre and it adds more to the game than what it takes away. 

Lifespan – 7/10

On average, the game can be made to last there around 15 to 20 hours, which for a Metroidvania game is fairly impressive. A sequel is currently in development and is scheduled for release in the autumn of 2020, so here’s hoping that the lifespan is increased with the new game. Without giving the end away, I think there will be a great deal of scope to expand the lifespan for the sequel, but the first game lasts more than an adequate amount of time

Storyline – 8/10

The story follows a scientist named Trace, who is running a lab experiment in New Mexico. Suddenly, something happens in the lab that causes an explosion; after which, Trace wakes up on the planet Sudra and finds himself embroiled in a one-man fight for survival, all while uncovering the wonders and mysteries behind the planet Sudra and to help the Rusalka defeat the entity known as Athetos. As the story progresses, it unfolds into something a lot deeper, which makes for a story, which like the visuals, is unlike a lot of things I’ve seen in sci-fi.

IGN gave this game a somewhat less favorable review than me, citing several problems they found with the game that I whole-heartedly found myself disagreeing with; one such criticism was that they thought the story was forgettable. But in my opinion, the story is anything but forgettable. The most prominent theme throughout the story involves moral ambiguity; the intentions and the character of the Rusalka most definitely comes into question more than once and will make the player think whether what Trace is doing is right, which once players play through it, will make them anticipate the sequel even more. 

Originality – 8/10

Again, the originality of this game has been brought into question by many other reviewers, due to it’s obvious similarities to the likes of Super Metroid and Xeodrifter; the game clearly has its influences and most fans of the genre will be able to identify them from the get-go. But outweighing its similarities to other games is its differences; the conceptual design of this game really makes it stand out from other titles in the genre and its soundtrack is exceptional, sound even more otherworldly than Super Metroid in my opinion. Its story, as I said before, is also not as straightforward as Samus Aran striving to defeat Ridley, but rather making the player question what happens at the end was for the greater good; not just for Trace, but for the planet Sudra. 

The fact of the matter is that this game comes into its own with potentially massive mythology to be spawned from it with the introduction with even more games and scope for an even bigger plot to unfold along with it and in my experience, with the exception of games like Dust: An Elysian Tail and Ato, there haven’t been many Metroidvania games that have made me feel like what I felt after having played this one through to the end. 

Happii

Overall, Axiom Verge is definitely a must-have for fans of the Metroidvania genre; it’s also a must-have for any fan of science fiction. It’s a very enjoyable game with variety in combat and conceptual design with an extremely memorable story and a lot of promise as a big gaming franchise for the future. 

Score

50.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Ato (PC)

Developer(s) – Tiny Warrior Games

Publisher(s) – Tiny Warrior Games

Designer – Brandon Song

Released on Steam following a successful IndieGoGo campaign, Ato is an atmospheric Metroidvania game set in Feudal Japan whereby players take on the role of an anthropomorphic samurai fox who sets out on an adventure to rescue his abducted child from a cult of deadly ninjas. Personally, I was pleasantly surprised by how solid a game this was compared to other indie Metroidvania games; it stands as a shining example of how a satisfying and immersive gaming experience can be developed on a budget.

Graphics – 8/10

The game makes use of 8-BIT style graphics with characters and settings inspired by Feudal Japan and the diversity in environmental design is quite staggering, ranging from cherry blossom forests to sunset mountainsides to snowy tundras. The game’s environmental design is most definitely the standout feature in this game from a visual standpoint; they also do exceptionally well to add to the game’s overall atmosphere in conjunction with what situation the player character is in at any one given time. The only minor issue I had with the visuals was that at one or two points there is a small amount of slow down, but overall, it does little to hamper the experience. 

Gameplay – 9/10

The title also incorporates the use of a wide range of gameplay elements. Like many other Metroidvania games, the objective is to explore as much of the world map as possible and uncover as many items as possible. Over time, there are new abilities introduced in order for players to explore other inaccessible areas throughout the game, as well as there being secret items to be found in order to either increase the player’s health or coins to progress further. But in my opinion, the most impressive gameplay element found in this title is the combat system. 

Players also gain different weapons and abilities to use in combat ranging from including a poisoned sword, dash attacks, a spiked shield, and later on in the game, even magic abilities; it’s quite similar to Dust: An Elysian Tail in its approach to combat. The wide range of boss fights is also quite impressive; there are a few starter boss fights in quick succession earlier on in the game to give players a feel for the combat system in general, but after that, they become even more varied in design. This amount of diversity in gameplay perpetuates the standard to be found in any great Metroidvania title; it’s satisfying to play and a genuine pleasure to explore through.  

Controls – 10/10

The control scheme of the game is also simple enough to get to grips with, which was impressive given the amount of variety there is in combat; it was yet another means for me to draw comparisons with Dust: An Elysian Tail. Though it may not have a combo system like the former, there would’ve been no need to include one as each battle, be that with bosses or general enemies, is still as satisfying as it is challenging; especially on the harder difficulty settings. 

Lifespan – 5/10

The only real downside to this title is that it can only be made to last for a maximum of 4 hours, which whilst doesn’t do a game like this justice, I suppose such is the reality of the situation when a game is developed with a limited amount of funds like this was. It lasts considerably less time than an average Metroidvania game, but it lasts slightly longer than a lot of other independently developed titles in the genre, such as The Swapper and Xeodrifter. Compared to those two titles at the very least, this game blows the both of them out of the water as far as I’m concerned (in terms of both lifespan and general gameplay) so the average runtime of Ato was enough to justify a hard 5 as opposed to a soft 4. 

Storyline – 8/10

The story of Ato follows a father caring for his wife and infant child in a small house amidst a peaceful spec of land. But suddenly, the family is devastated when a group of masked ninja steal the infant child from its parents. The father then sets off on a quest to bring their child home. It sounds simple enough on the face of it, but without giving away anything that happens, the plot later unfolds into a lot darker and deeper than what the player will first imagine and things also escalate abnormally quickly. 

Although there’s either no spoken or written dialogue throughout the game, the characters’ emotions and hardships are wonderfully portrayed to convey the events of the story, which considering that this is an 8-BIT game, is even more impressive. Also, the game’s environmental design works exceedingly well to add the game’s atmosphere throughout with elements such as day-to-night transitions used to change the mood at specific times and rainstorms to add further tension to already exceedingly intense situations. 

Originality – 8/10

Between everything that this game does as well as it does, from the combat system to the environmental design to the manner in which the story is told, it also makes for a rather unique experience. In a gaming mainstream that relies heavily on cutting-edge graphics and motion capture to effectively tell an emotionally charged story, very few 8-BIT games I have played have portrayed themes and emotions, as well as this, does. Also, to at the same time keep the general focus on gameplay is welcome in a market saturated with games putting story ahead of gameplay such as The Last of Us and the Telltale games. 

Happii

In summation, Ato is a wonderful title that exceeds in almost every aspect and I can recommend it to any Metroidvania fan out there reading this review. It’s a well-crafted blend offering great gameplay and an enthralling story, which had me taken aback by just how good it is. 

Score

48/60

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)

Super House of Dead Ninjas (PC)

Developer(s) – MegaDev Games

Publisher(s) – Adult Swim Games

PEGI – 12

Developed as a browser game and later ported to Steam, Super House of Dead Ninjas is a 2D platforming roguelike with randomly generated elements making each playthrough a unique experience. Players must fight their way through hordes of enemies whilst descending a tall demonic tower to defeat the game’s end boss. Expecting a very casual experience, I was delightfully surprised to learn what an addictive game it truly is and ended up spending a lot of hours playing it. 

Graphics – 7.5/10

The game adopts 8-BIT graphics to create a dark fantasy world inspired by medieval England and feudal Japan. Although the game’s setting and scenery can become somewhat repetitive after a while, where this game’s conceptual design truly impresses is in the wide variety of monsters to fight. As the player progresses through the game, new enemies constantly appear for the player to have to contend with as well as differently designed versions of previous enemies to keep the variety in check. The game’s bosses are also superbly varied, which again makes each playthrough wonderfully tense as players must strategize on the spot. The game’s soundtrack, whilst I thought it was enjoyable to listen to, I also thought it was a little out of place. Personally, I think a soundtrack that was more akin to the game’s opening theme would’ve fitted better. 

Gameplay – 7.5/10

The objective of the game is to descend a huge tower whilst hacking and slashing a path through a plethora of enemies in order to reach the bottom where the game’s end boss is waiting. To do so is an insanely addicting experience and since the game is for the most part randomly generated, each playthrough offers a new challenge every time down to the positions of enemies, the layout of each floor, and the boss-type the player encounters at the end of each segment. The purpose of each playthrough is to collect each of the unlocked weapons and concept art so that gameplay varied is furthermore increased offering players the scope to either try new playthroughs using different kinds of weapons or to eventually mix and match weapons and abilities in order to find the best way of traversing the tower as quickly and as unharmed as possible. For such a simplistic concept, it’s staggering to discover just how much variety and how replay value there is to be had with this title. 

Controls – 9.5/10

As the game is built on a formula that has been around for almost half a century, it’s to be expected that there shouldn’t be any problems with the controls and for the most part, there isn’t; for as fast a paced game this is designed to be, everything is set up for players, particularly more seasoned ones, to make it flow as naturally and as fluently as possible. The only minor gripe I have with the control scheme is the duck mechanic. It took me a while to figure out how to duck and dash at the same time and to do so using a controller is slightly awkward, which did make me unnecessarily die a lot of the time before I finally discovered how to do it, by using both analog sticks at the same time. Even then it can mar the experience down somewhat, but thankfully, there are generally speaking very little instances within each playthrough that don’t call for the use of ducking and dashing so it’s by no means a problem to make the game unplayable. 

Lifespan – 10/10

Although seasoned players will be able to beat this game within ten minutes, the randomly generated content makes for an entirely new experience every time, giving it virtually unlimited replay value. Although some players may seem like all-purpose to playing the game is lost once all weapons and abilities are unlocked, this, however, is only the beginning as players can also choose to play through the game using these different weapons every time and effectively give themselves the new challenge that comes with this. 

Storyline – 6/10

As there is only the basic premise, which I’ve already covered, the game offers fairly little in terms of story. It’s very reminiscent of how the story in video games would typically be told in old 8-BIT games of the third generation; usually, players would have to rely on the manual to learn more about it, whereas, with this game, more details on the story can only be found on the game’s official website or on the Steam page. But with that, there comes the security of not knowing there are no ridiculous plot holes or bad voice acting at least. 

Originality – 7/10

Although the game copies a formula that has existed for a long time, few games provide this much simplicity in design and this much variety in the gameplay at the same time. The game’s enemy design also does well to keep the game fresh throughout without things getting too repetitive and the entire basic premise in and of itself is also fairly unique. There is certainly scope to expand on the game mythology if ever the developers were to make a sequel and the original game would’ve provided enough of a springboard to make that happen. 

Happii

In summation, Super House of Dead Ninjas is an immersive, addictive and insanely fun game to play. It can be played for countless hours thanks to the wonderful amount of variety in gameplay and it’s a title that I can’t recommend enough. 

Score

47.5/60

7/10 (Good)

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

Alwa’s Awakening (PC)

Developer(s) – Elden Pixels

Director – Mikael Forslind

PEGI – 7

The debut title of Elden pixels, and developed under the supervision of Zoink Games’ Mikael Forslind, Alwa’s Awakening is a throwback to the classic games of the NES era, including Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Metroid, and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. An 8-bit Metroidvania game, it focuses heavily on exploration, combat, and acquiring a range of different abilities in order to progress from area to area. Playing this game felt like an absolute pleasure, as well as a fitting tribute to games of the late 80s, and I would recommend it to any fan of that era of gaming.

Graphics – 8/10

Conceptually, where this game stands out is the design of the enemies, as well as the boss battles. Though clearly influenced by many aspects of medieval mythology, including other fantasy franchises (elements of Dungeons & Dragons seemed most evident to me personally), the developers took these influences and formed their own cohesive concepts in terms of visual design, which is quite difficult to do when dealing with medieval fantasy, making it seem all the more impressive. The soundtrack, recorded by Robert Kreese, is also nothing short of stellar, being on par with, if not better than, many classic NES games.

Gameplay – 8/10

Alwa’s Awakening is a Metroidvania game focusing on adventure and exploration, but the developers also boasted a heightened level of challenge compared to many other classic NES games during development, promising an unforgettable throwback experience to suit both the seasoned and casual classes of gamers of that time. When Elden Pixels first announced this, I did get nervous that they would develop a game that was nigh on inaccessible, as what I’ve found in many NES games, such as those in the original Mega Man series. However, while playing through it, I found it offer a level of challenge that is stern, yet reasonable; a level of challenge on par with Shovel Knight, for example. It came as a relief to me, and I was able to enjoy the game with minimal frustration because of it. There are secrets to uncover along the way and some of the most invigorating boss fights I’ve seen in a 2D game.

Controls – 10/10

Part of the reason why I found the game to be more accessible than many fully NES titles purposefully made to be hard was that the controls are also flawless. In many Mega Man games, I have experienced problems with the controls, and time and time again, it defeats the object of demanding skill from the player if the developers can’t program the game properly. In this game, however, no such issues exist; the controls are perfect, and any error made will be down to player performance.

Lifespan – 6.5/10

The game can be made to last around 6 to 7 hours in total, taking everything to do within it into account, which by NES standards at the time may have been outstanding, but in the current era, especially for a Metroidvania, it does fall somewhat short in this respect. It is the game’s biggest issue in my opinion, and I think it could have been made to last at least 12 to 13 hours given more things to do within it. However, there is more than enough substance in gameplay for how long it does last, which does emphasize the quality of over quantity.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of Alwa’s Awakening follows a girl called Zoe, who is playing video games one night, and after dozing off, she finds herself in the land of Alwa, where her favorite video game is set, and she is thrust into a quest in order to save the land for real. The plot itself may be quite straightforward, but there are certain aspects of it that do well to foster an air of mystery about the game, as was customary among NES title in the console’s heyday. It’s a nice touch the developers added that makes the game more enjoyable to play through overall.

Originality – 7/10

Taking everything into account, I was impressed with how many unique aspects there were within this game compared to other classic 2D titles. As someone who first started out playing video games on the NES, my first ever video games being Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, it was refreshing to take a step back from AAA mainstream titles, and play a game that not only hearkens back to the days of gaming simplicity but also offers something different to any other NES title.

In summation, Alwa’s Awakening is a welcome addition to the ever-growing indie scene, and a definitive joy to play. There’s great gameplay, atmospheric visuals, an excellent soundtrack, and a level of challenge that will satisfy all classes of third-generation gamer.

Score

46.5/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Q&A With Resonator

In my ongoing bid to cover and expose as many different independently developed games and indie studios as possible, I discovered a game currently up on Kickstarter entitled Anew: The Distant Light. An action adventure Metroidvania title, there is a heavy emphasis on combat and exploration, as well as a vibrant science fiction setting that contrasts between the beauty and devastation of an endangered futuristic world. Creating the game are two veteran AAA developers; game director and programmer Steve Copeland and art director and sound designer Jeff Spoonhower, collectively known as Resonator. Between then, Steve and Jeff and worked on a multitude of major gaming releases over the course of fifteen years, including BioShock 2, Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth, Borderlands 2, Command & Conquer and Uncharted: Golden Abyss to name but a few. After reaching out to Resonator, both Steve and Jeff agreed to answer some questions I had about their upcoming game, their Kickstarter program and their past and present developmental experiences. Here’s what they had to say:

What were the influences behind your game?

SC: For me, the classic Metroid games were a big inspiration.  After all, there is a reason our game’s genre is named after it.  You can probably also spot influences from Ori and the Blind Forest, Dark Souls, and Mario Galaxy.  We’re constantly looking for ways to fit fun game mechanics from other genres into Anew: The Distant Light.

JS: I am a big fan of platformers as well. I grew up playing the Mega Man, Mario, and Contra games, so in addition to the non-linear Metroid-style exploration elements, I am excited about including lots of fun platforming elements in Anew.

What has the developmental process been like?

JS: Steve and I have been working on the game, full time, for several years now. It’s been hugely challenging and rewarding. We spent a lot of time up front working on gameplay systems, player mechanics, development tools and pipelines, and we’ve also built a pretty big section of the game world itself. A lot of the struggles up front we the unknowns – “things we didn’t know we didn’t know about” situations. These were mainly technical in nature, so it was tough to anticipate how long it would take to solve them. We’re happy to say we’ve largely moved through that phase of production and are concentrating on creating content and filling out the game world.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

SC: A lot of that will depend on how funding goes.  We’re expecting to complete the PC version in about a year, but if we have to stop work to look for investors or a publisher, it will tend to slow things down quite a bit.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

JS: For me, several things. For one, overcoming difficult technical and artistic challenges, learning a lot, and growing as an artist and designer has been tremendously rewarding. I am also very proud of the world we are creating. We hope that players will find it not only fun to play in, but also visually interesting and enticing to explore and discover. It’s been awesome to be able to tell people that just two people have built the game from the ground up.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

SC: With just two people making the game, it can be exhausting to cover all of the needed roles in development and business.  If we could afford to, we’d hire some help.

JS: The number of “hats” Steve and I wear, as far as the roles we are playing in production, is pretty overwhelming. We are each doing the work of 5-10 employees in a traditional studio production! It’s been tiring, and often times stressful to have to rapidly switch between these roles on a daily or weekly basis.

How well has the game been received so far?

SC: Feedback has been very positive on all fronts and in all contexts, especially so when demoing in person at trade shows where players can feel the agility and depth built into Anew.  We’re proud to have received the Audience Choice Award at Comicon Phoenix and I think Jeff sleeps with the golden controller under his pillow.]

JS: Haha, yeah the golden sheen is starting to wear off. In all seriousness, we are thrilled with the response Anew has received so far. On a personal level, I am so happy that people have responded positively to the look and feel of the game. It’s been my goal to design a world that looks and sounds truly alien and unfamiliar. Those two words have come up repeatedly in press articles we’ve received, so I feel like I’m doing something right.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

SC: We’re leading with PC, including Steam and at least one non-DRM platform for PC.  If our Kickstarter succeeds, we’re also committing to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.  We also have a stretch goal that will fund research for porting to Nintendo Switch.

How have your past developmental experiences influenced Anew: The Distant Light?

JS: Our prior AAA studio experience has directly impacted the development of Anew. Steve and I learned a tremendous amount working on games over the past 15 plus years. That includes not only the nitty-gritty of the crafts we practice on a day-to-day basis (modelling, texturing, animating, lighting, programming, designing, tools development, marketing, etc) but how to set realistic goals and achieve them. We were both senior/lead developers on projects, so we know how important it is to properly schedule a project, and avoid common development pitfalls like feature creep and over-scoping. We try to bring everything we’ve learned on these big studio projects to the production of our indie game.

Outside of indie development, what would you say yours and Steve’s favourite projects to have worked on throughout the years?

SC: It was cool to get to work on games related to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.  I’m proud of having had a small influence on Command & Conquer: Generals Zero Hour, which RTS fans still talk about nostalgically.  Many of those projects required crushing amounts of hours worked in a week, so it’s hard to call one a favorite in light of that.

JS: I’m really proud of all the games I’ve worked on. Making games is a huge struggle, so I feel like shipping each one has been quite an accomplishment. As a personal fan of the BioShock and Uncharted series, I really got a kick out of working on BioShock 2 and Uncharted: Golden: Abyss.

Has having creative freedom made working on Anew: The Distant Light feel like a better experience than any other?

SC: On the creative freedom front, yes it’s been the best game development experience I’ve had.

JS: Yes, the creative freedom of making our own game has been very liberating. That freedom comes at a high cost though. We have taken on a great deal of financial risk, and are pretty much working on the game all the time! It’s a big commitment and we have sacrificed a great deal in our personal and professional lives to make it a reality.

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

SC: I’d advise them to make and complete things with very small scope before getting super ambitious.

JS: Agreed. Try and find the one or two things you really enjoy doing (be it art or programming), and then really dive head-first into practicing those crafts. It requires a lot of patience and persistence to get good at this stuff. At the end of the day, if you want to get a job in games, you’ll need to show a potential employer that you work is of extremely high quality, and would fit into the type of games they are making.

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

JS: We are currently on Kickstarter through March 19th, 11:59pm

SC: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1799572177/anew-the-distant-light. Our official website is:www.anewthegame.com. We are also on Facebook and Twitter at @anewthegame.

Do you have anything else to add?

SC: Please check out our Kickstarter!  If you like games with action and exploration, mystery, and a high skill cap, you’ll find a lot to like about Anew: The Distant Light.  We’re making a game that will scratch the itch for Metroidvania fans, while also bringing some fresh gameplay to the genre with giant mechs and other vehicles that you can pilot, an upgradable home ship, and exotic environments that play quite differently from each other.

Lastly, I would like to thank both Steve and Jeff for agreeing to answer my questions, and to wish them best of luck with Anew: The Distant Light. I would highly recommend that any gamer who may be looking for an upcoming Metroidvania title to check out their Kickstarter page, and back the project. Looking at early footage of it, I myself am extremely excited for the game’s release, and cannot wait to play the finished game.

Xeodrifter (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, 3DS & Wii U)

Developer(s) – Renegade Kid

Publisher(s) – Renegade Kid, Gambitious Digital & Entertainment

Director(s) – Jools Watsham

Programmer – Matthew Gambrell

PEGI – 7

Developed as a love letter to the Metroid series, Xeodrifter is a Metroidvania game with an emphasis on exploration and intense combat, as well as including a small RPG element in the facility to upgrade weapons and learn new abilities as the game progresses. For the small amount of time it takes to complete this game, I was impressed with how it plays out but underwhelmed by just how fleeting an experience it is, with the game ultimately leaving wanting a lot more than what was on offer.

Graphics – 7/10

Making use of intricately detailed 8-BIT environments and a dark and gritty atmosphere, the game is set on four different planets with their own unique looks and surroundings, and does extremely well to perpetuate the feeling of isolation that is synonymous with games like this; Super Metroid and The Swapper to name but a few. The biggest gripe I have with it in terms of visual presentation is the lack of variety in boss designs, with the developers choosing to simply recycle the same character sprite, but coloring it differently, and giving it different abilities with each battle. But although there is a lack of variation in boss design, there certainly isn’t in general enemy design, as there is a wide range of different creatures to fight throughout the course of the game, keeping things fresh for the most part.

Gameplay – 8/10

More impressive than the visuals, however, is how the game plays out. The combat involved in the game is just as intense and enjoyable as in the original Metroid; if not, more so. There is a wide range of weapons for players to utilize, as well a satisfyingly strong puzzle element to the game, with players having to use different abilities in order to progress through different areas, giving scope for players to revisit previously explored planets in order to uncover secrets other inaccessible without the aid of specific abilities, thus expanding what longevity there is to be had. Whilst the bosses are largely repetitious, they are also legitimately challenging; especially the final boss.

Controls – 10/10

Though this gameplay formula had been popularised and developed upon for over thirty years until this game was released, the developers did well to not only program the game’s control scheme properly, but also to build upon the formula, implementing unique features such as shifting from the foreground to the background, and vehicular exploration and combat, as well as traveling and fighting on foot. Unlike in a lot of many 2D side scrollers to have been released in the past such as Mega Man and Castlevania, the controls are also adequately responsive and don’t perpetuate any unnecessary frustrations in-game.

Lifespan – 1/10

The worst thing about this game, unfortunately, is how short a time it lasts, with it lasting an average of merely 2 hours. It may have been impressive back in 1986 when Metroid first came out, but against most other Metroidvania games released since, such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Dust: An Elysian Tail, there’s no way it would possibly be able to compare in a positive sense. Personally, I think that even the aforementioned games could have done with lasting a little longer than they ended up doing, making a 2-hour Metroidvania seem especially unacceptable.

Storyline – 6/10

The game’s story can best be described as Metroid meets Pikmin. It follows an astronaut whose ship is damaged by an asteroid and crash-lands on an uncharted world, and he must find each of the missing pieces to repair it. It’s very simple in scope, and it features next to nothing in the way of the usual tropes of a modern in-game narrative, but the majority of games released in the time that this game is reminiscent of didn’t either, and so I don’t think it should lose out on too many points as a result. Personally, I would much rather have a game include standout gameplay over a standout storyline.

Originality – 7/10

Though this game was clearly inspired by many classics of the genre, most notably the Metroid series of course, in terms of gameplay, it offers something fairly different to what other Metroidvania games do, and I believe there is indeed potential to make a franchise out of this title, and potential to build upon what is offered within it in a possible sequel. Though it may stand out as one of the shortest games of it’s kind ever developed, it stands out somewhat for the wrong reasons as a result.

Niiutral

Niiutral

Overall, Xeodrifter is an intensely enjoyable, yet criminally short game. I think that with a much larger in-game world to explore and even more to do, a sequel could be considered a classic; but if the developers plan to leave this series as it is, then they will have provided nowhere near enough of an experience to warrant any more than one playthrough.

Score

39/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

The Swapper (PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 & PlayStation Vita)

Developer(s) – Facepalm Games & Curve Studios

Publisher(s) – Facepalm Games

Writer – Tom Jubert

PEGI – 7

The Swapper combines elements of puzzle games and the 2D side-scrolling open world aesthetics of a Metroidvania game. Me talking about this game in the same breath as the likes of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night may make the game sound exciting, but even with the inclusion of a semi-open world, it doesn’t even come close to matching the quality of the aforementioned examples.

Graphics – 10/10

The most praise I can offer this game is in its visuals; they are more or less flawless. There are no graphical glitches, the design of the settings is wonderfully unique and the attention to detail on the developer’s part is staggering. There is also very effective use of textures such as lighting and shadows to add to the overall atmosphere of the game. Though it isn’t survival horror, there is a heightened sense of urgency throughout that perhaps the player will feel in a much more different way than in the likes of Resident Evil 4 or Silent Hill. The game’s visual concept does draw similarities with Dead Space in its character designs, but there are plenty more differences to make it stand out in at least this sense.

Gameplay – 5/10

One way in which the game doesn’t stand out, however, and the one aspect it should have done to attain the most important points, in my opinion, is in its gameplay. Players have to solve puzzles throughout by duplicating the player character and swapping in between the duplicates to perform multiple tasks at the same time. There is also one side quests, which involves finding a series of terminals giving details of the game’s back story, as well as ten additional hidden terminals throughout the game. Taking into account the size of the in-game world, and the amount of space available to include additional content, I don’t think there is anywhere near enough substance in gameplay compared to what could have potentially been added, and there is hardly any incentive for completing the game’s one side quests unless you happen to be playing it on a PlayStation console; in which case, there are PlayStation trophies to collect for each hidden terminal found.

Controls – 10/10

As a formula long-since perfected, there should have been no issues with the control scheme in any case, and so there aren’t. But it is also interesting to see how the developers have added some interesting gameplay mechanics to the 2D side-scrolling formula.

Lifespan – 1/10

Due to its lack of substance in gameplay, and the main focus being put on the story (indeed, where there is normally a director and producer listed on most video game Wikipedia pages, there is only a writer on the Swapper’s page), this title can only be made to last two and a half hours tops, which, especially for an open-world game, is unacceptable. Since there was clearly room for so much more to be added, it seemed to me like that much more of an incredibly fleeting experience.

Storyline – 7/10

In a time when humanity’s natural resources on Earth have been exhausted, and they have resorted to deep space exploration to keep themselves alive, the story of the Swapper follows a person who lands on the planet Chori V and investigates a derelict ship called the Theseus. But in typical science fiction fashion, he/she ends up finding more than what they bargained for, and the unnamed person resolves to escape the ship with his/her life, and from the watchers; a murderous race of minerals with rudimentary intelligence, who had killed the initial crew of the Theseus. The story is interesting to follow from beginning to middle, but although I won’t give away what happens in the end, I will say how I felt so jaded by it. There is a choice for the player to make at the end, but either way, it makes the story seem ultimately pointless. If the player makes one out of the two choices, another character even closes the game with the line “does it really matter anymore?” It makes me hope that there will be a sequel, albeit, with major improvements to gameplay, that will elaborate on the game’s mythology. Otherwise, I think the developers may very well have ended up shooting themselves in the foot by making other gamers feel the same way.

Originality – 6/10

Despite the visuals of the game being top-notch in my eyes and some standout modifications to the 2D side-scrolling formula, in terms of overall gameplay, it seems neither evolutionary nor revolutionary. Great Metroidvania games have come and gone, such as Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow, and even some of the latest generations have yielded a few, such as the re-vamped Strider and Dust: An Elysian Tail. But It’s fair to me to say that this title doesn’t fall under that category.

Angrii

Angrii

To summarize, The Swapper is a much worse game than I previously thought whilst broadcasting it on Twitch earlier this week. Despite being impressed by its visuals and attention to detail, I hadn’t realized how short and lacking in substance it was, and I always begrudge video games like that being released in the first place.

Score

34/60

5.5/10 (Below Average)