Released in 1991 late into the NES’s shelf life by Elder Scrolls developers Bethesda, Where’s Wally is a puzzle game based on the puzzle books written by Martin Handford whereby players must find or guide Wally across 8 different stages within varying time limits depending on the difficulty setting. Released to overwhelming critical vitriol, it’s most definitely one of the worst games on the system, as well as being one of the worst games I’ve played based on a pre-existing license.
Graphics – 1/10
For a development company that would later go on to set new standards in visual quality with games like Skyrim and Oblivion, it’s shocking to see how much this game lacks in graphical quality, both on the technical and conceptual level. Especially considering this game was released after the Super NES, and there were developers pushing the boundaries of what the original NES could do at the time, this game perpetuates many of the limitations of the consoles in a way that many classic games released before this overcame those limits. The lackluster use of the NES’s color palette is the most visible flaw this game has. The only nice-looking part of the game is the ending, whereby Wally lands on the Moon. The moon’s surface is actually quite well-detailed, but that is literally the only positive thing it has going for it. To think that players have to beat the game in order to see one good example of 8-BIT visuals will seem like an insult.
Gameplay – 1/10
Again, the game is a puzzle title that follows the mantra of the books; the player must find Wally on 6 different screens, which expand depending on difficulty. The time limit is 10 minutes on easy mode, 7 minutes on medium mode, and 5 minutes on hard mode. There are also 2 additional levels that mix up the gameplay a little,c but not to a great extent. But because of the poor graphical quality, it makes it almost impossible to identify Wally without the aid of a strategy guide. There have been worse games released throughout the years that have been inadvertently rendered unplayable due to either graphical errors or fatal glitches, but especially given how late into the console’s cycle this game came out, and how so many other developers were able to release classics on the system, there was no excuse for the developers at Bethesda to have screwed this up as much as they did.
Controls – 4/10
The control scheme in its basic premise is simple enough, but it comes with many different issues; those being most evident on hard mode. In order to increase the difficulty, the developers made the cursor the player uses to pick out Wally smaller, but the problem is that the control’s sensitivity is quite high, so it creates an unnecessary complication for when the player ends up finding Wally on hard mode.
Lifespan – 1/10
The game can be made to last a total of 10 minutes per playthrough; again depending on what difficulty setting it’s on. But to be honest, I’d be surprised if there would be many players willing to go through even one playthrough. There’s no further incentive for beating the game on the harder difficulty settings either, as the same thing happens at the end regardless of which. There would’ve been plenty of things the developers could’ve added to give players an incentive to do this, but because they offered players hardly anything, it certainly doesn’t warrant even one full playthrough, let alone three.
Storyline – 0/10
The game involves nothing but Wally being led across a series of areas in order to reach a launchpad to get to the Moon. The game’s story, as with many titles of that era, exists in its basic premise, but with many other classics, they at least offered whole mythologies for players to indulge in; but it’s even more surprising how little the developers paid attention to the source material, despite the fact that there was a fair bit of that at the point of this game’s development.
Originality – 5/10
The game is original to an extent, in that there weren’t many video games like it at the time, but it seems more bland than unique given how little the developers did with it compared to what they could’ve potentially done with what was one of the most beloved children’s book series of that era. It’s a bad example of how to develop a licensed game, since not only is it poorly designed and not fun to play at all, but because it doesn’t celebrate the license in the same meaningful ways that games like Batman: Arkham Asylum or even Rugrats: Search for Reptar did.
In summation, Where’s Wally is a game to be avoided at all costs. It’s a game with a number of flaws, is almost unplayable, and has since become a black mark on a development company that would later become one of the powerhouses of gaming. All I’ll say is that it just didn’t seem to get off to the greatest of starts at Bethesda with games like this.
There are few games that have had as much of an impact on the industry as The Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, who based the game on his childhood, whereby he would explore the countryside of Kyoto, Japan, traversing forests, glades, and caves. He created it to try and recapture the feeling of exploration he had when he was a kid. And the game has a heavy emphasis on exploration for a game of the time, as well as combat and puzzle-solving; things that would go on to become staples of the series. Although This game wasn’t the first to do a lot of the things it does, indeed the designers also took a great deal of inspiration from the Ys series by Nihon Falcom, The Legend of Zelda did all these things bigger, better and all at once, therefore going on to become more influential.
Graphics – 8/10
Though a fraction of the quality of a modern-day AAA mainstream in terms of the technical side of the graphics, back in the day, they were exemplary. The developers did an exceptional job with this game, especially taking into account the lack of outlines and the limited color palette of the NES console. Locations vary from the countryside to mountains to lakes to dungeons; again, all things which would go on to become series tropes, with the likes of Death Mountain and Lake Hylia. The conceptual design would also go on to be adapted bigger and better for future titles, with enemies such as iron knuckles, gohmas, and moblins going on to become iconic.
Gameplay – 8/10
The objective of the game is to explore the landscape of Hyrule to find the missing pieces of the triforce artifact in order to defeat the game’s final boss Ganon. Along the way, there are weapons and armor upgrades to find as well as new items used to traverse new areas and solve puzzles in the game’s dungeons and take on what have now become some of the most memorable boss fights of the NES era. Unless you have a strategy guide, however, there’s not much direction given. Even a lot of the elders that can be found throughout the game give hints that are actually translation errors. For example, the elder who says “10th enemy has the bomb” was supposed to have said “look for the lion key” But these days, that kind of thing only adds to the charm of the game, and with a strategy guide, it’s pretty enjoyable; players won’t have to waste hours of their time trying to bomb every piece of wall to see if it will reveal a secret opening like what kids back in the day found themselves doing. Outside the dungeons, there are a lot of additional items to discover, such as more powerful swords and health upgrades. When players acquire more weapons and items from dungeons, it only adds to the overall experience making it more enjoyable as time goes on.
Controls – 8/10
The control scheme of this game isn’t perfect, however. After being introduced to the series at a later time with A Link to the Past, I could see how much the original game was sorely lacking the feature of being able to move Link diagonally. As he can only be moved up, down, left and right, it can cause unnecessary complications; especially at times when the player is surrounded by enemies in some of the later stages of the game. Besides which, however, the player interface was actually unlike most things are seen in gaming prior, and it’s impressive to think how many different items the player could equip with what was quite a limited control scheme by default.
Lifespan – 7/10
The game can be made to last there around 2 to 3 hours, which whilst meager by today’s standards was revolutionary at the time. It’s double that, even, taking into account the additional hard mode that was added to the game due to the excess amount of space left on the cartridge. I personally would’ve preferred a bigger world with more to do than to have had the hard mode added, but I’m nitpicking at this point; there were few games that were made to last longer at the time.
Storyline – 8/10
The original Legend of Zelda game is set in what Nintendo calls the era of the decline following the events of A Link Between Worlds. It introduces us to the game’s protagonist Link, who must assemble the triforce of courage in order to defeat Ganon and rescue Princess Zelda, thus saving Hyrule from Ganon’s tyranny. Future games in the series would go on to tell this story in increasingly inventive ways, but this is where it all began. Born partly from a few scrapped ideas that found themselves into later games in the series, the story is an epic odyssey that despite how many times it gets repeated, still holds up to this day.
Originality – 9/10
Though like any good game it had its share of influences, this game was revolutionary at the time and would go on to become a beloved classic and played by millions all over the world for 35 years now. It spawned an entire series of beloved games within that time, many considered by fans to be better than the original, but in many other fan’s minds, this remains to be one of the best; if not, the best. It birthed one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises and provided a gaming experience like never before.
Overall, while The Legend of Zelda isn’t my personal favorite in the franchise, (by some distance, that honor would go to Ocarina of Time), the fact of the matter remains that it is, and always will be a classic. Whilst presenting some issues in conjunction with the time this game came out, the enjoyment to be had and wonders to discover far outweigh any of those issues and remains a certified pleasure to play after all these years.
With Metroidvania titles being one of the most prominent genres developed for among the ever-growing indie development community, one series of games I’ve been following closely over the last three years is the Alwa series. Created by Swedish indie outfit Elden Pixels under principal designer and former developer at Zoink Games, Mikael Forslind, the series began with the release of Alwa’s Awakening in 2017, and most recently in 2020, Alwa’s Legacy. Both titles were initially launched on Steam with Awakening seeing releases on multiple platforms with Legacy set for a release on the Nintendo Switch. In three short years, the series has gained popularity among fans of the Metroidvania genre and among gamers in general, and with the sequel possibly set to make it on multiple platforms in addition, the series’ popularity is set to only increase further. Wanting to find out more about the conception of Alwa, as well as the future of this exciting new series of games, I posed a few questions to Mikael of Elden Pixels to find out more. Here’s what he had to say about Alwa and the future of Elden Pixels:
How has it been to experience such an influx of interest surrounding the Alwa series and the fanbase it has already garnished?
Amazing! Every time someone reaches out to us talking about how they enjoyed our games it feels great. We were proud over how well Alwa’s Awakening was received but we felt we could add more to the formula so the design for Alwa’s Legacy came to us quite easily and we were able to improve on everything that the first game offered and this, of course, led to more and more people discovering both games.
What were the influences behind the world of the Alwa series?
It was a mix between the fast gameplay of Battle Kid and the more puzzle-platforming style of Trine that was the main inspiration for the first game. After a long night of playing these two games, I blurted out to my friends – “Let’s make a game. How hard can it be?” And here we are a couple of years later.
What has been the most exciting aspect of developing Alwa’s Legacy?
To me, the best part of making games is actually looking back at a released game and thinking – “Damn, we made it. It’s out there.” I’m not one of those developers that spend years and years on one game. I think a maximum of two years is perfect for a game and I’m proud that both our games took about that time to finish. But seeing a game come together is always nice, and the way we built Alwa’s Legacy was that very early in the process we had all rooms in place but they were basically empty and stayed empty for the longest of time. But once all design was locked down, all art was done and all sprites were done we basically filled the entire world with content in a 3-4 month period. All of a sudden it went from looking empty to being shippable. That’s a great feeling.
What has been the most challenging aspect of developing Alwa’s Legacy?
Wow, where do I start? I actually wanted to delve into this subject for a long blog post sometime in the future but I’ll try to keep it short here but basically these things were the major headaches during our development – Cancer scare, anxiety, personal finances, IVF treatment, potential pr disaster using Kickstarter, political heatwave during launch and the constant scare of bankruptcy. I’m just happy we were able to overcome all obstacles with our sanity and health intact and we’re all still good friends. And we managed to release a game that everyone seems to really like! That’s a major accomplishment.
What’s next for Elden Pixels?
We’re not really sure. We’ve made enough money to breathe for a month or two but nowhere near enough money to fund the next game so right now we’re just exploring what and if we can start a new project. But we’d love to take a stab at porting our first game to NES 8-bit so we’re going to put out a job ad for that very shortly. We might have found some cash to fund this project so we’re very excited, especially since it was already made with the 8-bit restrictions in mind.
How important has fan feedback been throughout the development of Alwa’s Legacy?
Since Alwa’s Legacy is a standalone sequel to our first game Alwa’s Awakening we kind of knew what we were doing during the development. So we took more notes from what we didn’t like with the first game to build our second game. But community involvement is very important and we had a lot of feedback from our Kickstarter backers and we did a huge semi-open beta where we built this custom tool so any player could directly report feedback into our project management tool. I love building games with the community involved and it’s definitely something that I want to consider doing in the future.
Have any of the guys at Image & Form or Zoink had any input into the game, or any advice to offer you?
Yeah, I worked at those companies for about four years so I made a lot of friends and they’re all beautiful people. A few of them do consulting work so we actually ended up working with Pelle Cahndlerby with the script, Joel Bille did the sound effects and Julius Guldbog did our trailer, all of them are from those companies.
Every now and then I also get a chance to grab some lunch with Brjann Sigurgeirsson, who’s the head honcho at Thunderful, the owner of Image & Form and Zoink Games and I cherish those lunches because I get so much valuable information and tips from him. He’s such a nice guy. I also get free lunch!
If you had the chance to develop for any mainstream development company or work on any gaming series, which one would it be?
I don’t know how much it would be considered mainstream but our first game Alwa’s Awakening was heavily inspired by an NES game called Battle Kid and I would LOVE to develop a game in that series. I think in the hands of Elden Pixels and the original creator we’d be able to make a really cool and fun game. I can easily think of a bunch of cool and creative ideas for a potential sequel.
The progression of the series is obviously reminiscent of the transitions between past generations of gaming; i.e. 8-BIT to 16-BIT. Do you see the Alwa series making the transition from 2D to 3D in the future?
If someone asked me to design a 3D game I wouldn’t know how to even approach it. I’d probably have as much as luck as I would if I decided to take up opera singing. So I don’t see that happening in the near future. But who knows, if we find a talented 3D designer somewhere in the future it might happen. Right now we’re more exploring ideas that aren’t based in the Alwa universe.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
Right now the game is out on Steam and GOG and we’re releasing it on Switch soon. We want to take it to Microsoft and Sony as well and ask them for a release on their platforms but we haven’t yet. We’re such a small team so we got to think carefully about each decision making sure we don’t take on too much work and releasing on a new platform is a lot of work.
Do you have any advice to give to any aspiring developers who may be reading this?
Don’t go into indie development thinking you’ll make money. If you want to make money, get a job in the IT business or something. For me making indie games is like playing in a small rock band. You don’t get to play at the big arenas right away, you probably never will. And it can take years before anyone even notices you. Don’t expect to make that one indie game and make it Shovel Knight style. Sure, it can happen but most likely not. But if you’re dedicated, make cool stuff that people want to enjoy and stay at it, maybe in a few years, you’ll be able to make a living from it. I’m confident that Elden Pixels will eventually be something I can live off full-time, but we probably need a game or two more out before we can do that. But we’ll get there.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes, if you take 3 deciliters of water, add 2 deciliters of sugar, 1 deciliter of vinegar essence, 15 small peppercorns, and 2 bay leaves. Boil for a few minutes and then let cool off you’ll have an awesome brine for pickled herring. A Swedish classic!
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Mikael for sharing everything he had about the Alwa series and about Elden Pixels and to wish them the best of luck with what the next title they develop may be. Both Alwa’s Awakening and Alwa’s Legacy are available on Steam and I would highly recommend anyone reading who hasn’t played either title that they check them out; I’ve played and reviewed both games and they’re definitely worth playing through at least once. Thanks for reading this Q&A and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together.
Following on from the Success of Elden Pixels’ breakout indie game Alwa’s Awakening, Alwa’s Legacy continues the series, introducing a number of new gameplay mechanics and challenges, as well making use of graphics more reminiscent of the 16-BIT era, which was hinted at with the end of the original game. Having been impressed with the first game when I played through it, I was fully expecting yet another immersing gaming experience with the sequel, and to say the least, I was not disappointed.
Graphics – 9/10
The game makes use of a 16-BIT art style similar to that of Super NES classics such as Super Castlevania IV and Secret of Mana; there is a wide range of beautifully vibrant and eerily dark locations throughout the newly designed world of Alwa, which look far better than what even the small glimpse at the end of the first game seemed to touch upon. The environments are each wonderfully designed and despite there being a few locations being recycled from the original game, the areas that have been recycled have been drastically improved upon compared to Awakening. The game’s soundtrack, again composed by Robert Kreese, is also stellar; some of the tracks used for many of the dungeons specifically gave the game more of a Castlevania feel to it than the last game; atmospheric, foreboding and catchy as all hell.
Gameplay – 9/10
Keeping to the same principle formula of the first game, Alwa’s Legacy is a traditional Metroidvania game with light RPG elements, with players being able to learn new abilities and unlocking new areas with each new ability acquired. But it also has the very strong feeling of a dungeon crawler to it like a traditional Legend of Zelda game, with players having to traverse a stronghold by solving puzzles and going up against a boss.
Overall, there have been significant improvements made to gameplay as well as visuals, with the player having a lot more to play for and to discover than the previous game. The boss fights, in particular, are also a lot more creative than in Awakening in both appearances and in the required strategy to beat them. The additional abilities make it so that players can strategize in their own ways in accordance with what boss they’re up against, giving the game a pleasant amount of variety
Controls – 10/10
Even taking into account the introduction of new mechanics such as the shield boots and the ability to temporarily slow down time, Legacy plays out pretty much identically to Awakening and as such, the control scheme presents no issues. In addition, a few new control mechanics have been introduced to the formula; most notably the anti-gravity sequences whereby players have to walk on ceilings to solve puzzles, much like Mega Man 5’s Gravity Man stage. Although the visuals were clearly taken from 16-BIT classics, there are a lot of nods to the 8-BIT era, which served as the inspiration for the original game in the series.
Lifespan – 7/10
Another aspect in which this game is an improvement on the original, albeit to a lesser extent than the graphics and gameplay, is in its longevity. On average, the game can take around 8 to 10 hours to complete to 100%. Although this amount of time is still relatively short for a Metroidvania, it certainly answers for the short amount of time it takes to complete Alwa’s Awakening and it’s a step in the direction of possibly making the third game in the series last even longer; if Elden decides to make a third game.
Storyline – 7/10
Essentially, the story of Alwa’s Legacy is pretty much a carbon copy to that of Awakening, whereby the main character Zoe awakes in the land of Alwa, and by traversing the land and honing her abilities as a powerful sorcerer, must save the land from the villain Vicar, who plots to invade Alwa. There are a couple of differences and certain plot threads which help to advance the story in a different way, so I can’t bash on it too much for being unoriginal; it’s an epic odyssey with plenty of twists and turns along the way and plenty of quirky characters to meet. It would be hypocritical of me as a fan of a lot of games that tell virtually the same story with each installment, such as Mario and Zelda, to criticize the Alwa games for doing the same thing.
Originality – 7/10
Taking into account the many similarities that this game has with not only its predecessor but many other Metroidvania games that served as the basis for it. It still has its own unique brand of gameplay, visual design, and story structure that makes it stand out among many Metroidvania titles, despite the greatly increased output of games in the genre in recent years, such as Ori & the Blind Forest, Dust: An Elysian Tail and Guacamelee. Legacy greatly expands on the ideas perpetuated by Awakening and delivers a challenging and satisfying gaming experience that ought not to be overlooked.
In summation, Alwa’s Legacy is certainly a must-have for Metroidvania fans. If you’re a fan of 2D exploration, dungeon crawling, 16-BIT graphics, and epic 8-BIT music, I can’t recommend this title enough.
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 quality 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 titles 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 gamers.
The beginning of October marked the fifth year of the Play Manchester gaming expo held at Event City venue. With it’s usual and varied blend of retro gaming cabinets, upcoming indie titles on display, and a wider array of new upcoming mainstream releases than last year’s proceedings, Play Manchester 2016 was even more exciting and diverse than in 2015, and just are star-studded in addition with a special panel present that I shall be covering further in the article. First, I perused the various indie games that were on show at the event, and I was impressed with the amount of range of different gameplay ideas and conceptual designs that the new up and coming developers had to showcase.
The first indie game I came across was a 3D platformer unlike any other. Developed by Sumo Digital, Snake Pass is a game in which the player controls a snake in order to slither around a series of levels and hunting collectible items throughout. Players must learn to take full advantage of the game’s insanely unique control mechanics to reach high places, overcome imposing obstacles and puzzles, and leave no stone unturned, as there are plenty of items to collect through each level, it seemed. What impressed me most about this game, in addition to it’s impressive-looking visuals, was the game’s style of play. With a completely different take on getting around levels and uncovering secrets, it plays out like no other 3D platformer I’ve ever come across. The developer also explained to me various ways that players could choose to play the game, ranging from emphasis on speed, elegance or thoroughness. I personally believe if the developers plan to integrate this idea into the game further, it would most probably add even more replayability to it, but in the state that it was in at the time, it still impressed me very much.
Having discovered a greater fondness for side scrolling shooters since I first started blogging, having played more games like Contra and Metal Slug, I was also particularly amazed by another indie game made largely in the same vein, but with a very interesting twist on conceptual design. Dragon Bros, developed by the aptly named Space Lizard Studios, the game is insanely action-packed, filled with breathtaking pixel art and seemed a lot more accessible than the like of Contra; especially the first three games in the series. For me, Dragon Bros was my pick for the best indie title on display at this year’s proceedings; it was the most fun and addictive game, as well as the most interesting in terms of conceptual design. Though comparisons can be drawn between it and Bubble Bobble, since the main characters are two dragons coloured both green and blue, it takes place in a much different kind of world reminiscent of science fiction rather than the cutesy fantasy settings of the former.
Another game on display I become insanely addicted to, and have been playing frequently ever since the show, is Mao Mao Castle. Created by Asobi Tech, the game is an on-rail free-to-play browser game requiring the player to take advantage of various different mechanics to rack up as many points as possible to attain the highest score possible. The story centres around a cat with supernatural abilities trying to find a way home to a levitating castle in the skies. Reminiscent of the 8-BIT era, it takes influence in terms of conceptual design largely from the varied works of Studio Ghibli; made even more obvious by the fact that the developers had a plushy of the Cat Bus from My Neighbour Totoro perched on top of the projector used to display the game. Usually the game is controlled using a PC mouse, but the version on display at the show used motion controls, and plushies were up for grabs for anyone who could rack up exceptionally high scores. I managed to win one of the three available plushies, and have been racking up higher scores ever since. I highly recommend this game, as it excels in gameplay above even many mainstream releases, as well as it stands out amongst indie games. The link to play is below:
Another 3D platformer with a difference came in form of Unbox developed by Prospect Games. The player must customize and control their own box-shaped character, and have a wide range of different gameplay modes to choose from, include four-way multiplayer competitive modes, challenge modes, an adventure mode, and even a kart-racing mode; all of which can played to unlock new outfits for their box character, and to attain a wide range of collectibles like in Snake Pass, or most 3D platformers meeting industry standards. Just as unique as the former, it provides an extremely different take on the genre compared to games such as Super Mario 64, Jak & Daxter and Banjo-Kazooie, but also coming with possibly an even greater amount of variety in gameplay and potentially more replayability. Though it may not be as revolutionary as any of the aforementioned titles were at the time of their respective releases, it’s certainly an evolutionary title, and did stand out os one of the better games on display at the event.
Another one of my favourite games on display at this year’s Play Manchester was Sub Level Zero; a lovingly crafted Roguelike shooter reminiscent of the classic game Descent developed some of it’s devout fans at Sigtrap Games. Procedurally generated, and with a map system heavily influenced by the Metroid Prime series, which I found to be particularly impressive, as well as surprisingly easy to interface with, Sub Level Zero also has a heavy influence on player character development, with upgrades for grabs, as well as a wide variety of different weapons to use during combat. In lieu of Roguelike tradition, it also offers a fair bit of legitimate challenge, like the likes of Rogue Legacy and Ziggurat. One of many games in display taking advantage of Virtual Reality Headset technology, this game also did extremely well to further alleviate what scepticisms I previously had with the idea back when I first tried the Oculus Rift last year at Play Blackpool. I found that it was a great deal of fun with the addition of VR technology, and made me believe to a greater extent that the concept will be able take off in time.
The last indie title I tried out was another space-based shooter reminiscent of the arcade classic Defender. Hyper Sentinel, developed by Ian Hewson, son of industry legend Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultants who appeared on a panel at last year’s Play Blackpool show, it centres on not only shooting down various enemies that appear on-screen, but also collecting power-ups and defeating a boss at each level; normally in the form of a giant spaceship, somewhat reminiscent of Bosconian. Though it may not have been the most unique title on display at the event, with it’s influences blatantly obvious, it does o well to stand out from the game of it’s inspiration in terms of conceptual design, and was also quite fun to play too. It certainly presents as much of a challenge as the arcade classic, and is a must-try for any fan of the arcade era.
One of many different upcoming AAA titles that were available to try out at Play Manchester this year was Tekken 7. After being sorely disappointed by the previous game, with it’s less than impressive conceptual design, many characters coming across as far too generic, and it’s almost impossible difficulty level at times, I was quite relieved to see how much the seventh game improved on the sixth in every aspect. I was also impressed to see how fluently it plays out in comparison to even the original trilogy of Tekken games, with moves being much easier and less frustrating to pull off. Also, like what Capcom have done with the advent of Street Fighter V, and what NetherRealm studios did with Mortal Kombat X, the developers have seemed to branch out conceptually in terms of character design, but in a way that still makes the game feel like it belongs to the series without them being too generic in design. Akuma from Street Fighter is also a welcome addition following relatively recent crossovers between the two series’. It also makes me excited for what additional characters Capcom may decide to add for when they will inevitably update Street Fighter V.
WWE 2K17: First Impressions
The main attraction on show in terms of AAA releases however, as officially announced by Paul Heyman of the WWE, was WWE 2K17. Boasting new wrestlers, a new submission system and the inclusion of Goldberg on pre-order, it marks the fourth WWE released since the publishing rights were acquired by 2K Games, and features all the usual gameplay modes synonymous with WWE games, such as the Triple Threat match, Fatal 4 Way, Royal Rumble and of course, the career mode; as well as the facility to create wrestlers. It is without a doubt the best looking WWE game ever developed, but in terms of gameplay, it did take me a little bit of getting used to; especially since I haven’t played a WWE game since the sixth generation, about the time when I grew out of it as a kid. Regardless, especially after getting used to the submission system, and being able to thoroughly enjoy the game for what it is, I was pretty satisfied with how the newer developers have managed gameplay in comparison to classic WWE games like War Zone, Attitude and Wrestlemania 2000. Though the Attitude era remains my favourite time of the company’s history, it was good to see how the WWE video game formula has been worked upon and handled in a way that works extremely well after so long.
The Tomb Raider Panel
In terms of guest speakers, however, the main attraction was the assembly of and talk with many of the developers of the original Tomb Raider from Core Design to commemorate the franchise’s 20-year anniversary; many of the panel not having seen each other in as many years. The panel consisted of Jeremy Heath-Smith, the game’s executive producer and co-founder of Core Design, Natalie Cook, who was the original character model for Lara Croft, Richard Morton, who was the lead game, level and environment designer for every game up to Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Gavin Rummery, who was the lead programmer for Angel of Darkness, Heather Gibson, another level designer for the first two games, Andy Sandham, who designed levels and wrote the scripts for the third game, as well as The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider: Chronicles, Murti Schofield, who wrote the story of Angel of Darkness, Nathan McCree, who composed the original soundtrack for the first two games, and finally Stuart Atkinson, who worked as an artist on the second game. The panel were also to be joined by former Eidos Interactive CEO and industry legend Ian Livingstone, but he unfortunately had to pull out due to ill health. Regardless, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr. Livingstone a full recovery.
The panel proceeded to provide an in-depth analysis of how and why Lara Croft was designed the way she was, and how the games themselves were designed the way they were and in what manner, and how both Lara Croft and Tomb Raider gradually went from a unique video gaming idea into a cultural phenomenon, and how it has managed to have such a profound effect on the industry as it has. Questioned were also raised by the audience concerning the reboot of the Tomb Raider series from Crystal Dynamics, and also about the degree of influence Naughty Dog took from Tomb Raider to develop their own Uncharted series. The team responded quite sternly in their answer to the Uncharted question in particular, commenting how many of the various gameplay features were heavily inspired by Tomb Raider, and the long-time Tomb Raider fans in the audience responded fittingly with an astonishing round of applause. Though I may personally prefer Uncharted to Tomb Raider, mostly due to the better start that Uncharted had in terms of controls, credit is due where it is due, and the team deserve props for helping to pioneer one of the most memorable video game series of all time, and so there response was justified in my opinion. Uncharted may have homed the great gameplay concept, but Tomb Raider established it, and has contributed a great deal to the popularity that gaming garnishes today. Especially with the recent release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PlayStation 4, the talk with the panel was an appropriate reflection on where Tomb Raider has gone, where it is going now, and where it could go in the future. It was extremely exciting to sit in on an extremely insightful presentation, and the made 2016’s Play Expo proceedings all the better for it.
Overall, Play Manchester 2016 was a thrilling experience, and would like to take the opportunity to thank the organisers at Replay Events for the making it the best event it could possibly be, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them next year.
Pierhead Arcade: First Impressions
As a bonus, before I headed out to Manchester, Mechabit Games, a Liverpool-based developer, also invited me to try out the latest game they have been working on. Mechabit, who developed the RTS game Kaiju Panic, which was on display at Play Manchester 2015, and won my personal choice for best indie game of that year (shameless plug is shameless), have been working on a virtual reality game called Pierhead Arcade; a collection of interactive fairground games based in a virtual reality amusement arcade. After only having limited experience with VR gaming beforehand, I saw as an excellent opportunity to finally get hands on with the technology involved, so to speak. I wasn’t disappointed.
As I outlined in my Play Blackpool 2015 article, ever since I first heard about plans from of the industry incorporating virtual reality into gaming, I had a great deal of scepticism following the ill-fated release of such platforms as the Nintendo Virtual Boy, and early examples of motion controls before the Wii, such as the Nintendo Power Glove. Since first trying it, and going on to briefly trying it again at different expos, my scepticisms were gradually becoming all the lesser, as I slowly learned to understand how it could work if problems I would encounter would be fixed, such as blurry screens etc, and if there was adequate developer support for these platforms. But now after having seen games such as Battle Zone, and then having seen how much indie developers are beginning to support the platform along with mainstream developers, I now believe this may very well could be a future of gaming that could establish itself as here to stay; provided that developer support will continue, as what is looking increasingly likely, since the technology was on display at other major gaming expos this year, such as E3, Gamescom and EGX.
Pierhead Arcade itself not only takes advantage of this potentially successful technology, but presents players with an astonishing amount of variety, with games like Whack-A-Mole, Shuffleboard, Binary Dash and Skeeball to name but a few. The objective is to earn as many tickets as possible that can be cashed in for prizes, much like in most amusement arcades. There are also a couple of extras in the game, such as a claw machine, and a reception desk with various toys that can be played with, such as building blocks. Overall, the variety is staggering, and the game will make for hours of fun. I may do a full review of this game in the future, I would recommend that VR gamers try it out. Following up Kaiju Panic was always going to be a challenge for Mechabit in my opinion, but with this title, I’d say they’ve done a particularly good job of doing so.
In summation, I would like to again thank the organisers at Replay Events for providing me, as well as countless gamers across the country, with truly memorable experiences at the various Play Expo events this year, and I hope that you guys enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Released the year after the original game, and to universal acclaim and sales eventually peaking at over 4 million units worldwide, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link made many radical departures from the first game. Whilst exploration and travel was handled using the top-down perspective synonymous with the first Legend of Zelda, combat was represented through a 2D side-scrolling perspective, and working very similarly to games such as Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, thus joining a class of NES sequels that were drastically different to their predecessors, alongside Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Godzilla 2: War of the Monsters and most famously, Super Mario Bros 2. Personally, I found that although this formula has never been able to quite match the same level of enjoyment with the classic top-down Zelda formula used in the likes of A Link to the Past or A Link Between Worlds, I still found the first game extremely entertaining, and a strong entry in the series that still holds up even after almost 30 years.
Graphics – 8/10
Making a significant departure from its predecessor, the second game in the Legend of Zelda series displayed many improvements in visual presentation from a technical standpoint. Sprites and scenery are much more detailed, and there is an abundance in enemy variety; some of which have gone on to become staples of the series, such as the Moblins, the Iron Knuckles, and perhaps most notably, Dark Link. In the timeline of the series, this game is the latest following the game over scenario in Ocarina of Time, which leads to the decline of the land of Hyrule, so like many of the games in the series, it has a level of conceptual design that has since continued to deviate away from many familiar elements like Hyrule Castle and Kakariko Village, and thus, it still continues to stand out in this respect. It’s also interesting to consider how the names of towns in this game were later reworked into other entries; most notably, Ocarina of time.
Gameplay – 7/10
The developers adopted a style of play for the second Zelda game that went against almost everything the original game was based on, and a style of play that has not really been seen in the series since. Instead of the game solely focusing on the bird’s eye view synonymous with 2D Zelda games, the developers instead opted to use 2D side-scrolling mechanics for the combat side and even incorporated a classic RPG style of play whereby Link would level up in order to become stronger over time. Whilst Nintendo has never chosen to focus on this style of play again (and most definitely for the better in my opinion), it still made for a particularly fun game; certainly one of the better titles on the NES. Combat is addictive, as well as challenging. Whilst it may not have been innovative for the time, since it was largely based on games such as Castlevania and Faxanadu, it still worked surprisingly well.
Controls – 9/10
Since both styles of play portrayed in the game were quite prominent at the time, especially 2D side-scrolling, there are no problems with this game for the most part. The mechanic of the player having to periodically switch between both was seamlessly handled, and combat was handled almost as well as most other games it was based on. The only bad thing I would say about it, as was indeed the case with a fair few side scrollers on the NES (most notably both Castlevania and Mega Man) is that the controls can at times be a little bit stiff and slow to register player commands, which adds an unnecessary degree of annoyance. Thankfully, since this game is much accessible than both the aforementioned examples, it doesn’t cause anywhere near as much of a problem.
Lifespan – 8/10
In all, Zelda II can take around 3 and a half hours to complete to 100%, which by today’s standards may seem like nothing, but it was exceptionally long for the time. Generally, games took little more than an hour or to complete, but there were exceptions made to this rule in titles such as the first two Zelda games, as well as Metroid, Dragon Warrior, and Final Fantasy. Though it may be understandable to wish for a longer lifespan, since the game is certainly addictive enough to warrant at least a few more hours of play, hardware limitations at that time should be taken into consideration.
Storyline – 8/10
The story of the second game takes place some years after the first game during the era of Hyrule’s decline. Princess Zelda has fallen under a sleeping spell, and it is up to Link to seek out Zelda’s caretaker Impa to find a way of breaking the curse, as well as stopping followers of the evil wizard Ganon, who plan to kill Link and use his blood to bring their master back to Hyrule. Interestingly, I found that Zelda II introduced many darker aspects of the series that would also be seen in later entries, such as mature themes and hints of ritualistic behavior reminiscent of the likes of Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess. It’s considered a black sheep of the series in terms of gameplay by most fans, but I believe it can also be considered as such in terms of the story too since it has a fairly prominent dark undertone to it. Although games at the time generally relied on players reading the manual, for the most part, it, of course, adds to the experience to look for things like this within the actual game.
Originality – 8/10
As I previously mentioned, Zelda II belongs to a group of sequels that were drastically different from their predecessors, and consequently, this game stands out much more than many others at the time; but in all, in a positive way. Though there would be many future games in the series released that would surpass the quality of this entry, it’s still an extremely pleasurable experience in its own right, which is owed largely to how much it stands out from the rest of the entire Zelda saga.
Overall, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a very strong entry, both despite and because of how different it is to any other Zelda game, and I would recommend it like I would recommend most others in the series. Exploration is rewarded greatly, combat is very addictive, and in my opinion, it is a game that is likely to hold up for another 30 years.
Released first on the NES and Game Boy in 1992, and then remarkable re-release on the Super NES the following year, and then on the Mega Drive the year after that, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle was one of many mediocre licensed games released on the system, along with Nightmare on Elm Street and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But out of these three games, the worst has to be Rock and Bullwinkle for a good number of reasons.
Graphics – 5/10
The first of which is the visuals. Though a number of more advanced graphics rendering techniques were incorporated during development, such as black outlines for characters and sprites, the overall conceptual design is nothing short of woeful. There have been many games to have come and gone that have made good use of cartoon-like visuals (most cel-shaded games spring to mind), but the scenery and style of this game make it seem that it was literally drawn by a four-year-old.
Gameplay – 2/10
A traditional 2D platformer, the game basically involves having to get from point A to point B, and not much of anything else. There is a small basis in combat, with being able to use grenades and some specialist attacks, and some basis in variety being able to switch from two characters at will, but that’s not to say that any of it is enjoyable. The game can simply be rushed without much difficulty, making combat largely unnecessary.
Controls – 4/10
Even after almost a decade since the release of the original Super Mario Bros, there were development companies that still couldn’t get the fundamentals of the genre right. Rocky and Bullwinkle is one of the most prominent examples of which. Not only are the stair climbing controls terrible inaccurate, but so is the hit detection, making combat unnecessarily hard and nigh on unbearable to cope with. There were other games in the genre that suffered from issues like this, but this game took it to a whole new level.
Lifespan – 0.5/10
For first time players, it will take about an hour to play through this game, but for veteran players (although there aren’t many of them since not a lot of people in the right mind should actually play this game for any extended amount of time), the game can take inside seven minutes to finish. It is a painfully short amount of time for a video game to last, but with a game of such undeniably bad quality, there isn’t much call for it to last any longer than that.
Storyline – 2/10
As in the cartoon, the story involves Rocky and Bullwinkle resolving to find and defeat their arch-nemesis, Fearless Leader. Personally, I was never a fan of the cartoon, and so making a video game from the source material was never going to work for me; certainly not as well as the likes of Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers. It’s a terrible license, which has somehow warranted the development of a terrible game, and by proxy, a terrible film (by some distance, the worst thing Robert De Niro has ever done with his career).
Originality – 0/10
There is no originality about this game since everything that is incorporated within had already been done before, and there’s absolutely nothing present in it to be able to differentiate it from other prominent names in the genre at the time, such as Castlevania and Mega Man. In fact, a lot of the many stables of the genre, such as bosses, are not present, which only makes matter worse.
In summation, Rocky and Bullwinkle is one of the worse video games I’ve ever played. Even if players may have played every single platform game, and still hunger for more of the same, I can’t recommend it at all.
First published and brought to consoles in 1993 by Nintendo following the immense success of the 1989 classic designed by Dr. Alexei Pajitnov, Tetris 2 was met with an equal amount of acclaim by critics, with Electronic Gaming Monthly going on record to say that any fans of the first game will surely be satisfied with the sequel as well. Personally, I have a much more dim view of the second game than many others, which may seem like semantics when first thought about, since it’s easy to assume that the second would simply play out more or less identically to the first, but it doesn’t, and there are some key reasons why I think much less of this than the original game.
Graphics – 6/10
Whilst judging the game on its visuals, it highly depends on which port is being played. The Game Boy version consists of very little in terms of presentation and has a much less catchy soundtrack than its predecessor. Though games like this are not primarily played for their graphics, the original game did have a few different pieces of scenery reminiscent of the country that it came from, but there’s nothing like that in the second. The NES version of course has color to it, since the Game Boy is a monochromatic system, but there is, unfortunately, the same lack of additional conceptual design.
Gameplay – 6/10
Nintendo decided to not only port the game to their consoles, but re-invent it as well; in my opinion, resulting in a very underwhelming final product. The objective of the second game is to eliminate blocks pre-emptively fixed on the game board by matching them up with blocks of the same color or pattern using the falling tetromino shapes. I found it simply to be dull and unsatisfying compared to the first game, which was designed by a man who understood the very concept of addiction, having studied it for a long time.
Controls – 6/10
Because the tetromino shapes are structured much differently to those of the first game, yet with the game itself functioning on largely the same control scheme, to me, it doesn’t work anywhere near as well as in the first game. It simply highlights how overly hard the developers tried to fix something that wasn’t broken and complicated something that did not need to be complicated at all.
Originality – 6/10
Although I can commend Nintendo to a certain extent for trying something new with an overwhelmingly popular gameplay formula, something which by default would have been extremely difficult to even begin to undertake, let alone top, it tuned out to be the wrong decision, and it made for a game that fell well short of the quality of its predecessor in my opinion. The idea was passable when it was implemented in Dr. Mario since it was much more simplistic having the player use two colors at a time, but if Gunpei Yokoi was involved in any way, shape, or form with the second Tetris game, it wouldn’t stand out as being among his best works the way I see it.
To summarize, Tetris 2 is just about playable, but nowhere near as fun or as addictive as what the concept had been before that, or what it would be following it. The formula would be vastly improved on with the release of Tetris Plus, but the direct sequel to the biggest one-hit wonder in gaming history certainly failed to live up to the set standards in my opinion.
Released late into the shelf life of both the NES and the Famicom back in 1990, with the overseas released not happening until 1992, Sword Master was the sequel to Athena’s previous NES game Castle of Dragon and is today considered an extremely weak effort on their part, and thus has fallen into considerable obscurity compared to may other NES games. And I must say, after having examined this title and having come across a plethora of flaws, it’s very much deserved of its status.
Graphics – 2/10
Aside from bearing a striking resemblance to the original Castlevania, in terms of things like overworld map layout, color scheme, and character and enemy design, it also happens to be one of the most unpolished games I’ve ever played. A fair few NES games suffered from graphic glitches, but this game took it to new heights, with graphical errors appearing whenever a player attacks or is defeated. Just like in Castlevania, enemies are also engulfed in flames whenever they are defeated, which makes me question how much of this game can actually be attributed to its respective developers.
Gameplay – 4.5/10
The game is also extremely similar to the original Castlevania in many more ways than one; including the gameplay. The objective, as in many other video games at the time, is simply to get from point A to point B, fighting any or all enemies that stand in the way, and with the added challenge of a few boss fights thrown in for good measure. But the main reason why I believe this game should lose many marks is it’s extremely bland even compared to the many different games that followed these tropes. Though this happened, games like Castlevania, Mega Man, and Super Mario Bros had things going for them that no other game at the time did, such as heightened challenge, a heightened sense of non-linearity, or greater gameplay variety. Unfortunately, this game has none of these things associated with it.
Controls – 10/10
The one positive thing I can point out about this game, however, is that, unlike Castlevania, the controls don’t feel quite as stiff, and therefore, there is much less of a sense of unnecessary complication with the controls scheme. The movement speed may be more or less the same as the original Castlevania, but that doesn’t really too much to hinder what little gameplay there is.
Lifespan – 6/10
Though by today’s standards, 20 minutes will seem laughable to most gamers, it was about the average lifespan of a game for the time; indeed, even Super Mario Bros would take around that much time to complete given the right amount of experience. That being said, it’s hard to imagine that the developers wouldn’t have been able to add even a few more levels to make this game last a little bit longer. I guess they didn’t share Nintendo’s reservations about leaving empty space on a cartridge whilst developing their games.
Storyline – 3/10
The story is also practically non-existent, most likely confined to the game’s manual; a regular occurrence at this time, when the emphasis on story in video games was a rarity. It involves a knight called Sword Master out to slay the evil duo of a demon and a wizard, which he apparently summoned. So not only is it very half-hearted, but it’s also very typical of the kind of story most video games would utilize; only in this game, there isn’t a princess seemingly being taken from one castle to the next.
Originality – 0/10
As well as this game being very boring, it’s also very unimaginative too. Although console gaming was still in a primitive form and had yet to evolve into the highly standardized industry it is today, far better games than this had already been developed before on the NES or Famicom, and as I’ve thoroughly outlined, this title failed to deliver the same kind of classic gaming experience synonymous with other NES games.
To summarize, Sword Master is a classic example of developers creating a game haphazardly, and failing in almost every aspect imaginable. Activision has since gone on to publish much greater games than this, but things started out primitively upon their breakaway from Atari, and this game is a prominent example of this.