Tag Archives: PC

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

Developer – Moon Studios

Publisher – Microsoft Studios

Director – Thomas Mahler

Producer – Gennadiy Korol

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

Graphics – 10/10

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

Gameplay – 8/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 5/10

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

Storyline – 8/10

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

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

Originality – 8/10

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

Happii

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

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Remnants of Isolation (PC)

Developer(s) – Team Isolation 

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

Graphics – 8/10

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

Gameplay – 6/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 0.5/10

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

Storyline – 7/10

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

Originality – 2/10

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

Niiutral

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

Score

33.5/60

5.5/10 (Below Average) 

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 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 one 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 analogue 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 dont 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 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)

Platypus (PC, PSP, iOS, Windows Mobile & Xbox 360)

Developer(s) – Squashy Software

Publisher(s) – Idigicon

Designer – Anthony Flack

First released back in 2002 and then later ported to a wide variety of different systems, Platypus is a scrolling bullet-hell shooter that makes use of digitized sprites and scenery to create a claymation effect, similar to games like ClayFighter and Skullmonkeys. When I first picked this game up some time ago, I first got the impression that it was a particularly unassuming title, as it was insanely cheap and the box art looked quite substandard. But when I started playing it, I was immediately enthralled with it and largely taken aback by just how good it is. When I subsequently did my research on it, I later found out that not only did it spawn several ports to different consoles and even mobile phones, but that it also got a sequel five years after the release of the original. Researching this game also made me understand what a labor of love it is for many different reasons. 

Graphics – 8/10

To reiterate, the game adopts visuals inspired by claymation, making it a particularly quirky-looking title. It’s vibrant, colorful and it also has a decent amount of variety in both level and enemy design. I was also ready to argue that the game’s first two levels look somewhat similar to each other but after finding out the process behind the making of this game, I knew that I would’ve been far too over-critical. The game’s designer, Anthony Flack, cited that at the time of the game’s development, there had been limited availability of plasticine in his home county of New Zealand. Therefore, he used one lump of it to create every scenery element and individual sprite within the game, photographed them one by one and used photo editing software to color them in various different colors. Personally, I’m amazed the visuals of this game were essentially the work of one man and how well it panned out given the outlandish creative process behind it. The soundtrack is also particularly impressive, comprising of remixes of tracks from old Commodore 64 games; it’s a pretty tokenistic thing for any Commodore fans playing the game who may spend time trying to figure out which game each individual track is taken from. 

Gameplay – 8/10

The game is also particularly fun to play; albeit challenging. It plays out very similar to the likes of Defender or Gradius, with players able to grab a variety of different power-ups throughout in order to gain a foothold against hordes of oncoming enemies. But what makes this game different to the aforementioned examples is that the power-ups, throughout certain instances within the game (especially the boss fights), become more or less a necessity, adding to the game’s sense of challenge. It’s difficult but not inaccessible, as although players may struggle at first, the general strategy is simple enough to exploit. The boss fights in each level are also pretty well throughout. For example, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not the first boss fight was inspired by the Forever Train from Star Fox 64. 

Controls – 10/10

As I always point out with games like this, what cannot be tolerated in a game that relies heavily on individual skills to get through are problems with the control scheme because, in a massive way, it negates the point of having a challenging title and makes it pretty much unplayable. I was very happy to discover in this game that there are no issues with the controls, which although was to be expected since the formula has been tried and tested for many years throughout various generations of gaming, it’s always reassuring when a player dies in-game, it will be down to awareness of their surroundings whilst playing. 

Originality – 8/10

Although this wasn’t the first game to use digitized sprites or even claymation, Platypus is one of the games that make players think that it’s far too distinctive to be unheard of on an unjustifiable scale. It blends classic side-scrolling shooting action with a quirky, colorful and unique art style, which certainly will have made it stand out within the circle of independent PC developers throughout the early 2000s and it’s still an experience that remains quite distinctive today. 

Happii

Overall, Platypus is a fun, great-looking game with a great deal to offer in terms of both and replayability. It’s a game that I thought would most likely be another write-off from the word go, but it ended up being something far more special than that and I whole-heartedly recommend it. 

Score

30/40

8/10 (Very Good)

Sheep (PC, PlayStation & Game Boy Advance)

Developer(s) – Mind’s Eye Productions

Publisher(s) – Empire Interactive

Released back in 2000 and receiving mixed to positive reviews upon release (including a nomination back in 2005 from Computer Games Magazine for best classic game of 2000), with most reviewers drawing comparisons to Lemmings, Sheep is a puzzle game whereby players must herd sheep from the start of stages to the end. I went in not expecting much of this game, since on the face of it, it was cheap, primitive-looking upon first inspection and seemingly developed on a budget by a somewhat renowned company at the time. However, I wasn’t overly disappointed with the game since, though not without its faults, was fairly enjoyable to play and challenging to boot. 

Graphics – 7/10

As I mentioned previously, Sheep has drawn comparison mostly to games like Lemmings and Worms as in terms of gameplay, it seems to be a game within the same strata. In terms of visuals. However, I began drawing comparisons to the original Blood Omen with its top-down view and pseudo-3D graphics; so much so that I wonder whether or not both games were made on the same engine in fact. The cartoonish aspect also reminded me uniquely of the Toy Story game released on fourth-generation hardware. Where the visuals are concerned, it does have a certain charm to be enjoyed that is comparable to Worm, between in-game graphics and the various different cutscenes throughout the game. 

Gameplay – 7/10

The concept of gameplay is to try and herd sheep from one end of each level to the other within the time limit allocated, with additional bonus points up for grabs depending on the time each level is completed in as well as gaining bonus points for herding sheep through additional obstacles across each level. I’d seen herding mechanics in games prior to playing this, such as in the original Jak and Daxter for example, but nothing anywhere near to this extent or to this level of challenge. Overall I was pleasantly surprised to find out how well this game plays out and how unique it is compared to most PC games released at the time. 

Controls – 9/10

The mechanics of the game are pretty well thought out and there is a minimalist amount of issues with the controls in conjunction with this. The only problem that I had with the control scheme is that it is a little difficult to get to grips with at first; especially since it’s not specified at first which buttons do what throughout the tutorial. But once figured out, it’s easy enough to get to grips with. The programming is a little bit questionable since sheep can sometimes veer away regardless of what commands the player gives, but these things aren’t enough to cause too much of an issue throughout playing. 

Lifespan – 4/10

The game can be made to last 3 to 4 hours overall, which is definitely the most disappointing aspect of this game since with a concept as unique as it is, it needs to be made to last as long as possible and I think it could’ve easily been made to last at least twice as long. It’s surprising to me that the developers chose not to release a sequel as it’s also a formula that could’ve also been extensively modified in terms of gameplay as well. It vaguely reminds me of what Hogs of War 2 may have been if it had seen the light of day. 

Storyline – 5/10

The general gist of the plot seems to be that the sheep that are to be herded throughout the game are in fact aliens from another planet and they must be herded in order to stop a mad scientist named Mr. Pear, but it’s not an aspect that adds a great deal to the game, since throughout, it’s only vaguely touched upon and not ostensibly given any true clarify, so it’s much more difficult to get invested in than in other games. But ultimately it doesn’t mar down the overall experience too much as it’s not truly a game that played for it’s story. 

Originality – 7/10

As I said, Sheep was one of the more stand-out gaming experiences on PC at the time of its release, as what most of what was being released on PC at this time was RTS games or god games. Whilst I didn’t play it when it first came out, I can understand how many gamers who did so would’ve most likely seen it as a breath of fresh air compared to most other PC games whilst playing something more akin to what was being released on home consoles. Mind’s Eye Productions, throughout the company’s life cycle, would mostly develop games based on popular licenses such as Starsky & Hutch, Thomas the Tank Engine and Monopoly, so coming up with a unique concept like this would have felt like a breath of fresh air to them as well that they would have wanted to put as much effort in as possible and for the most part, that does show. 

Niiutral

To summarize, Sheep is a game that is enjoyable to play, especially those who are looking for a stern challenge among classic PC titles; though not without its flaws. It’s a fun game that the developers clearly had a lot of fun creating themselves and stands out as one of their better games before the company’s acquisition by Disney back in 2005. 

Score

39/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

Gunpad (PC)

Gunpad (PC)

Developer(s) – Megaware Games

Whilst spending the last 4 to 5 years collecting old PC games at a ridiculously prolific rate, there was always bound to be a mixture of obscure gems, adored classics and immediate write-offs, as with any video games console. But with old PC games, the balance has been particularly interesting to behold. But I’ve found that not many PC developers perpetuate this balance quite like the developers in question in this review. Megaware games was an outfit based in the Netherlands, who made their business selling mostly games based on classic arcade titles, which in terms of quality were very much hit and miss. Eventually, they would break the mould and make a couple of unique titles of their own, such as Sleepwalker and Alien Logic until the company shut down as of 2007, but in this review, I’m going to be looking at one of their worst titles. Gunpad is ostensibly a 3D version of Pong, only players are also able to attack each other whilst knocking the ball back and forth. It sounds interesting in concept, but when I witnessed just how badly this game was programmed, it felt like a massive disappointment in the end.

Graphics – 4/10

It wasn’t only disappointing in terms of badly it was programmed, however; rather it was disappointing from the ground up. The game has only one stage to play in and because of that, as well as other aspects, it becomes very repetitive very quickly. There wasn’t even any music composed for it. Whilst I may be able to appreciate that Megaware may have been operating on a budget, I’ve met developers at Expos who sold games door-to-door back in the 80s when they were children that had better graphical quality than this. Whilst the visuals may be about average for the time on a technical level, the developers would’ve simply been better off making a 2D version of Pong with multiple levels than blowing all the budget on what we were given. 

Gameplay – 2/10

The game simply involves racking up more points than the opposition whilst avoiding their attacks. I couldn’t even be bothered to find out what buttons to press to attack back, since the developers even neglected to add a menu to show which buttons did what. After 3 games, I called it quits. The only thing that can be done to heighten the experience is to adjust the difficulty settings, but even on the lowest difficulty settings, the game is unreasonably punishing as very little time is given to react before the start of a round. Its baffling to me how developers can sometimes screw up making a game based on blueprints that have existed for decades. Pong was created by one guy and first released in arcades back in 1972, which makes this all the more embarrassing for the 5 people who worked on this game. 

Controls – 9/10

The control scheme works well enough, but the biggest problem is the camera angle that the game employs throughout. This is actually a 3D first-person version of Pong and as such, it becomes needlessly complicated to determine whether or not the player makes contact with the ball; especially when it veers towards corners. 

Originality – 3/10

The only thing that this game has going for it against the original Pong is that the player can attack their opponent, which whether or not this hinders the CPU’s ability to bat the ball back I don’t know, since again, I could truly be bothered to find out, since I was already jaded by how lacking this game truly is in all aspects. 

Angrii

Overall, players need to steer clear from Gunpad, which won’t be too hard, as I think this review may be the first legitimate review of this game on the internet. It was incredibly disappointing in terms of every aspect involved, but at least I can say that I’ve had some fun reviewing some dross. 

Score

17/40

4/10 (Poor)

Space Invaders 99 (PC, PS1, Nintendo 64 & Game Boy Colour)

Developer(s) – Z-Axis & Activision

Publisher(s) – Taito

ELSPA – 3+

Paying homage to the original 1978 classic arcade title, the updated version of Space Invaders, released back in 1999, was far more than a simple remake; the developers rebuilt the game from the ground up, giving it a new lick of paint in terms of visuals and concept design and giving players much more to play for than a high score. Recently, I reviewed an example of how not to revive a classic arcade franchise in Dig Dug Deeper. But to counteract that, I thought I would write a review of an example whereby the developers got it right and Space Invaders 99 certainly got it right. Although I do have to say as a prerequisite that I did spend a lot of time playing this game when it was first released, it’s an experience that still holds up to this day. 

Graphics – 8/10

From a technical standpoint, Space Invaders 99 is more or less on par with most PC games released at the time, as well as what was being showcased on fifth-generation hardware; which makes it seem all the more disappointing to know that there was a canceled Dreamcast version. It makes me wonder how the graphics would’ve possibly been updated for early sixth-generation hardware. But nevertheless, it’s in the conceptual design where this game truly comes into its own. The developers redesigned everything from the player’s ship to the enemy ships and added new graphical features such as the selection of different levels to progress through, as well as a series of boss fights. The soundtrack that was composed for the game also fits the game’s atmosphere perfectly, sounding foreboding yet otherworldly at the same time. 

Gameplay – 8/10

Having the template of the original game to work with, the general formula is the same; players must destroy incoming alien ships before they reach the bottom of the screen. However, what makes this incarnation of the game stand out from the original version is the plethora of new gameplay features, including a variety of different weapons to use, boss fights at the end of each level and a surprising amount of unlockables, including a port of the original game thrown in for good measure. It also exemplifies how new gameplay features can coincide with new enemy designs, in that different weapons are accessible by killing four of one enemy type in a row. Players also have to strategize differently in accordance with each boss fought throughout the game. It’s a lot like Titan Attacks, only released over fifteen years earlier. 

Controls – 10/10

On console and PC and like the first game, the control scheme is easy to get to grips with, even for entry-level players, not coming with any unnecessary complications or the kind of silly oversights that came with the likes of Dig Dug Deeper. They’ve also been updated in accordance with the additional gameplay features available to be taken advantage of, which only makes this game all the more impressive. 

Lifespan – 10/10

Although the main game can take less than 2 hours to complete, depending on the difficulty settings, it’s a game like Star Fox 64, which although it can be rushed through, it can also be played and enjoyed on far more than one occasion and in a relatively short span of time. It is most definitely a game good enough for repeated playthroughs; add to that the fact that the original game can be unlocked, thus increasing the game’s longevity even further. Whilst most kids I knew at the time were playing Gran Turismo 2, I was hooked on this. 

Storyline – 6/10

The game’s story is simply a basic premise; Earth is under attack by alien invaders and a sole fighter pilot is tasked with repelling them. But what makes this game’s story excel beyond it being a simple basic premise is how it is portrayed. There’s a cutscene for both the start and the end of the game, which portray the player-characters struggles and triumphs, as well as a foreboding portent at the end. Of course, players ought not to be looking to play a game like this to immerse themselves in the story, it’s just a small tokenistic thing added to the game to give it that extra push over the line and it does make the experience all the more enjoyable for it. 

Originality – 7/10

Although this game largely copied a blueprint that had been around since 1978, this version of the classic arcade game didn’t simply copy the formula, but it reinvented it with the inclusion of the many new graphical and gameplay features it has. It was games like this that also would’ve been instrumental in setting the precedent for many indie developers to do the same, such as with Titan Attacks and Ultratron. It’s a shining example of how a team of developers don’t simply revamp a classic game for the sake of it, but also making the gameplay experience their own. 

Happii

Overall, Space Invaders 99 is a wonderfully crafted and highly recommended take on the original arcade version of the game. It’s a wonderfully innovative and a charming labor of love that shows the developers all put 100% into making it, evidenced in every detail. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Dig Dug Deeper (PC)

Developer(s) – Creature Labs

Publisher(s) – Infogrames

ELSPA – 3+

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

Graphics – 5/10

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

Gameplay 6/10

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

Controls – 8/10

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

Lifespan – 3/10

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

Storyline – 1/10

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

Originality – 4/10

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

Angrii

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

Score

27/60

4.5/10 (Mediocre)

Back to Bed (PC)

Developer – Bedtime Digital

Publisher – Bedtime Digital

PEGI – 3

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

Graphics – 8/10

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

Gameplay – 7/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 3/10

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

Storyline – 6/10

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

Originality – 7/10

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

Niiutral

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

Score

41/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

Cuphead (PC & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Studio MDHR

Publisher(s) – Studio MDHR

Director(s) – Chad & Jared Moldenhauer

Producer(s) – Maria & Ryan Moldenhauer

PEGI – 7

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

Graphics – 10/10

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

Gameplay – 8/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 6/10

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

Storyline – 7.5/10

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

Originality – 8/10

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

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

Score

49.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)