Publisher(s) – Sony Interactive Entertainment, Infinite State Games & Digerati
Designer(s) – Charlie Scott-Skinner & Barry Island
PEGI – 3
Developed by small indie outfit Infinite State Games based in Bristol back in 2014, Dont Die Mr Robot is an arcade game similar to the classic titles of the late 70s and most of the 80s, which is straightforward to learn, but exceedingly difficult to master. I’ve sunk a ridiculous amount of hours in this game, and for good reason; it’s just as addicting and as fun to play like the arcade games of old that it was inspired by.
Graphics – 7/10
The game takes place in a world known as the electro-abyss, where flashing lights and darkness go hand-in-hand with one another. The settings are most reminiscent of Pac-Man complete with fruit and a yellow-colored main character. Where this game stands out, however, is in its surprisingly diverse variety of enemy designs. The variety gets a lot more apparent the more the player progresses as well, with different types of robots with different kinds of attack patterns designed to throw the player at every turn.
Gameplay – 9/10
The concept of Dont Die Mr Robot is simple, as is what is outlined at the beginning of every game by the announcer; get the fruit, avoid the enemies. Fruit blows up when collected, killing almost any type of enemy within the blast radius. Bonus points can be attained by collecting the coins that enemies drop when killed, or by merely brushing up lightly against enemies. There are several different game modes to perpetuate even more variety, including a time trial and even a mission mode. What a lot of indie developers have done whilst having made games of the same ilk as the classic arcade titles of old is to add more than what can be expected in order to keep things fresh and give players more to play for past the satisfaction of exceeding a high score, and Don’t Die, Mr. Robot is no different; that’s part of why I like this game so much.
Controls – 10/10
The control scheme is perfect, presenting no problems to players with its simplicity in basic design. But at the same time, it also leaves a great deal of scope for players to hone their abilities and become as proficient at the game as possible, as more time will be spent trying to master the game as opposed to learning how it’s played. The learning curve involves finding out how to approach each game type and trying to develop specific strategies in order to take each stage as it comes; it’s especially hard, as in arcade mode, everything is procedurally generated and each playthrough presents a new challenge each time.
Originality – 7/10
An arcade game with as much variety in gameplay as Dont Die Mr Robot cannot be overlooked in terms of originality. It does indeed have its influences where its basic premise is concerned, but it’s just as wonderfully varied as most of every other modern arcade game I’ve played over the last few years, including Titan Attacks, Ultratron, Curses N’ Chaos, Pix the Cat, and Resogun. It’s always refreshing to see developers keep the classic way of playing video games alive, whilst at the same time, giving old and new players a new challenge.
Overall, Dont Die Mr Robot is an innovative, addicting and exceedingly tense, and fun game to play. I highly recommend it to either old-school gamers looking for a new challenge, or to newer-generation players looking to get a glimpse into how we used to play games back in the day.
Released back in 2007 when the seventh generation of gaming had just started out, and with many critics describing it as the swan song of the PlayStation 2 era, God of War II built on its predecessor continuing the story and adding many new combat features and mechanics required to solve new and more puzzles to progress through the game. Most reviews I’ve read seem to point to this game being far superior to its predecessor, but in my opinion, it’s about on par with the original God of War for a multitude of reasons.
Graphics – 8.5/10
In terms of the technical aspect of the visuals, there isn’t a great deal of difference between this and the first game. In my opinion, there are no real improvements in the quality of the graphics, which in hindsight was to be expected to an extent, given the relatively short development cycle. That being said, however, in terms of conceptual design, there is a massive improvement in terms of diversity in scenery and level design, keeping the tableau of series fresh and distinguishable from the first God of War. The second game takes Kratos across an even bigger range of different landscapes than the first, which for the most part is confined to only a few different locations. There’s also a mixture of old and new enemies to fight, which also adds to the mythology of the series in a big way.
Gameplay – 8.5/10
The gameplay is so similar to that of the original God of War that it’s ostensibly like an extension to the original game. It’s heavy on combat and puzzle-solving, and has the additional elaborate boss fights to contend with; arguably even more elaborate than those of the first game. There are a number of new weapons and spells to cast to keep things diversified, but overall, it still offers the same amount of satisfaction to be had in upgrading weapons, learning new abilities, and of course, progressing through a new story.
Controls – 10/10
With the seamless introduction of a few new mechanics, the game’s control scheme is identical to that of the first game; there are no issues, combat is fluent as what needs to be (especially on harder difficulties), and three are no needless complications to frustrate players. The context-sensitive sequences had been fractionally refined, but players will be able to go from the first game to the second without skipping a beat.
Lifespan – 6/10
As with the first game, the second can take there around 6 to 7 hours to finish, which again in hindsight may have been expected in light of the development time, but still wasn’t any kind of decisive improvement over the first game. The best of the God of War series would be yet to come, and this game is good for the time it lasts, but I think a little more time needed to be spent on this game for it to be considered better than the first in every respect, including lifespan.
Storyline – 9.5/10
The most decisive improvement God of War II made over the first, however, was in its story. Having now fallen out of favor with the gods of Olympus, Kratos now seeks revenge with the help of the banished titans from the Titanomachy. In order to defeat Zeus, he is instructed to find the Sisters of Fate, who are reputed to have the ability to grant great power to those deemed worthy. Playing out somewhat similar to Homer’s Odyssey, it doesn’t exactly play out like as much of a traditional Greek tragedy as what the first game does. Contrarily, it does better to perpetuate a strong sense of hope for Kratos and even to set a precedent for where the rest of the franchise goes from hereon.
Originality – 8/10
The concept of Greek Mythology in gaming was a relatively new idea at the time of the release of the second game anyway, but the developers managed to keep the whole God of War formula fresh with the introduction of a whole load of new elements in every respect, which is all the more impressive, given the fact that first game ended on a very strong note of finality. I was surprised when I first heard there was to be a sequel to the original God War after having played the first game back when it was released; I was also impressed in the fact that it didn’t fail to impressed in and of itself for a sequel that I had absolutely no idea of where it could’ve possibly gone.
Overall, God of War II is every bit as great a game as its predecessor. The combat remains intense, the storyline has been kept fresh, and it paves the way nicely for the later games, which provided even further improvements that would later be made to this legendary franchise.
Released back in 2005 to universal acclaim, the original God of War game introduced gamers to the exploits of the Spartan warrior Kratos, and the series has since become one of Sony’s flagship franchises alongside the likes of Little Big Planet, Uncharted, The Last of Us and Ratchet & Clank. The first game in the series won several Game of the Year awards for 2005 and is considered one of the better games on the PlayStation 2, and since playing it the first time, I have become an avid fan of the series, but this title provided a ground-breaking starting point for the franchise.
Graphics – 8.5/10
The first game is primarily set in ancient Athens, but the game takes Kratos to a plethora of locations across the ancient Greek landscape like Pandora’s Temple and the depths of Hades; as such it is also littered with creatures, characters, and enemies that featured prominently throughout the medium, such as harpies, minotaurs, hydra, and gorgons. It presents players with a wonderfully dark and gritty take on the whole Greek mythos, which was quite a unique medium to take on at a time when a lot of games focused on other prominent mythological subjects like medieval fantasy, post-apocalyptic futures, or steampunk universes. On a technical level, it also did extremely well to showcase what the PlayStation 2 could do, as the sixth generation of gaming was a year or so away from drawing to a close; impressively, it play out at 60 frames per second, which for a game of its graphical quality, was outstanding at the time.
Gameplay – 8.5/10
According to David Jaffe, the creator of the original game, he designed it in mind for the player to let their inner beat free, and go nuts, and this game certainly affords the opportunity to do that. Playing God of War is a wonderfully brutal experience from start to finish; definitely not for the faint of heart, who dislike violence, but a whole lot of fun for those who don’t mind it. As a hack and slash game, the objective is to cut through wave after wave of enemies as the game progresses, and with the more enemies thrown at the player over time, and more the violence is ramped up. The combat is intense to an unfathomable degree, and it gets progressively more so; not to mention the sheer quality and clever handling of the boss fights. One thing players will notice about this game, as well as every other game in the entire series, is that they always strive to leave a lasting first impression on players; and this game does that better than others in the series, with the first boss being a towering Hydra at sea. But besides which, there are also instances in the game, particularly later on, where combat is swapped out for elaborate puzzle-solving, which gives the game a fair amount of variety; again, something that would go on to become a staple of the series.
Controls – 10/10
The God of War games has also become renowned throughout the industry for its clever implementation of game controls; most notably the context-sensitive sequences during puzzle-solving and boss fights. They would go on to become more elaborate with each installment, but even in the first game, they’re handled particularly well, leaving no room for unnecessary frustrations in a game designed to challenge players.
Lifespan – 6/10
The biggest problem with the original game, which would eventually be something the developers would go on to address over time, is the lifespan, with the original game only being made to last there sound 6 hours in total. Jaffe also said in an interview that the original idea was to make a game like Onimusha, just set in Greek mythology; although they succeeded in terms of gameplay, it’s a pity they couldn’t have even made it last as long as the former, which didn’t have an overly impressive lifespan itself. I think there was definitely room for expansion on the idea, which of course was demonstrated in the sequels, but it would’ve been nice to see it in the original game.
Storyline – 9/10
The story of God of War centers around Kratos, a former Spartan warlord championed by the gods as a divine warrior. He is tasked by Olympus to kill the god of war Ares, who has laid waste to the city of Athens in defiance of Zeus and Athena on the promise that if he succeeds, the gods absolve Kratos of his past sins that have tormented him for ten years. Throughout the story, Kratos’s extensive backstory is gradually revealed and the player will get more of a sense of the kind of character that he is, which all fits in perfectly with the tableau of a classic Greek tragedy. The story is expertly written and the dialogue never comes off as forced or comedic as what a lot of video games before this were prone to doing. It presents players with a fantasy world grounded in realism, as the themes like human mortality and moral conflict play significant parts in not only the original story, but throughout the series as well.
Originality – 8.5/10
As I alluded to, the game presents players with a theme of Greek mythology; something that was uncommon in gaming at the time. It also helped to break the mold of there simply being plain good and evil, with no shades of grey to contend with. Nowadays, a lot of stories that are portrayed in fiction are gritty and morally ambiguous with no true sense of right and wrong; but this game was among a handful of others, such as those of the Legacy of Kain series, that tackled the subject before it became cool to do so; therefore it helped to make it stand out among many other titles of the sixth generation.
Overall, God of War is a triumph in its own right, which later spawned one of the most recognizable and successful series in all of gaming. The original game did the job to establish the wonderful staples that the series would later adapt for future installments, but still, it remains a certified pleasure to play through every time.
Originally developed as a Dreamcast exclusive back in 2000, Jet Set Radio is a skating game and was the first game in history to make use of cel-shaded visuals, which have since been popularized by developers all over the mainstream being used within the likes of the Legend of Zelda series and being the staple visual style of franchises like Borderlands and No More Heroes. Though I was able to appreciate the origins of this now iconic graphical style, I was, however, a lot more disappointed with how this game plays out than what I was expecting having seen just how highly regarded it is. For how much innovation there was in terms of visuals, it’s quite flawed in terms of its style of play; especially compared to other games of its kind.
Graphics – 8/10
In terms of visual style, this game was groundbreaking at the time and would go on to influence the visual style of countless other games to come, such as XIII, Sly Cooper & the Thievius Raccoonus, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The character design is also very diverse with inspiration from street culture and hip hop music; it’s like if the movie The Warriors was set in the early 2000s. There are flaws with the technical aspects of the cel-shaded visuals, but this was to have been expected from the first game to use them.
Gameplay – 6/10
The gameplay, however, is not very satisfactory in my opinion. The story mode involves progressing through a series of courses whereby the player must rewrite graffiti spots to mark the gang’s territory; the scenario is completed when all the graffiti points have been marked. It’s really as simple as that; there is a scoring system for completing stunts (the logistics of which I will cover later on in this review), but the scoring system is only about as significant as the scoring system found in any old-school adventure game like the original Super Mario Bros or even Sonic Adventure to draw a closer comparison, as both that game and Jet Set Radio were released on the Dreamcast originally. There are additional characters to unlock, which give the game a little bit of additional incentive to play, but to me at least, it wasn’t enough to hold my attention for the full lifespan of the game.
Controls – 6/10
The true dealbreaker for me where this game is concerned, however, was the control scheme. Games with similar mechanics have frustrated me throughout the years, such as Sunset Overdrive, but this game takes that disappointment to a whole new level. I’ve read reviews whereby people have said the controls weren’t enough to hamper their experience of the game to too great an extent, but to me, the controls make this game almost unplayable at times. The layout of each scenario seemed paramount for me to be able to draw any pleasure from playing this game; they can range from simplistic to overly complicated with each level, and if you’re enough of a stickler where the controls are concerned, it can become a very serious issue.
Lifespan – 6/10
For those who are able to get past this game’s many flaws, it can be made to last there around 18 hours in total, which for a game of its kind, isn’t too bad a lifespan. But to my way of thinking, I don’t understand how a vast majority of games, especially newcomers, will be able to bear with it for any more than one hour. Short of what I’ve already described, there’s not a great deal more to do in this game and more content and objectives could’ve been added to hold the gamer’s attention better.
Storyline – 5/10
Although in terms of conceptual style I compared this game to the movie The Warriors, the plot is considerably more simple than that. It centers around a street gang named the GGs, who battle for street territory and credibility against various other gang members of the same ilk, all the while trying to avoid the police, who go to increasingly unnecessary lengths to apprehend them; all whilst under the commentary of a quirky DJ named Professor K. And when I say the police to ridiculous measures, I mean it; throughout the first level, they try to shoot the player with guns and use tear gas against them. But later on, they then make use of attack dogs as well as missile-mounted helicopters, all to try and catch a few kids on skates. I realize the developers did this as either comic relief or the purposes of gameplay mechanics (I’m not so dense as to not realize that), but it just doesn’t lend a great deal of integrity to the plot.
Originality – 7/10
Although this game disappointed me overall, the fact of the matter is that its visual style has gone on to become one of the most popularly utilized throughout the industry since the turn of the century. Many games have come and gone that have not only made use of cel-shading but have built on the idea of it exponentially, making for some of the most visually stunning games of all time. But this game provided the original template by which all cel-shaded games have followed since. That being said, there have been more influential skating games to have come and gone, such as those in the Tony Hawk series, and it’s in that respect whereby this game failed to show as much innovation as it should’ve done.
Overall, Jet Set Radio, whilst having gone on to influence a plethora of games since its release, was not the great game that I was expecting it to be; the controls are sketchy at best and the gameplay left a lot to be desired in my personal opinion.
Developed solely by former Petroglyph Game engineer Thomas Happ and five years in the making, Axiom Verge was released back in 2015 to overwhelming critical acclaim from critics, garnishing a plethora of favorable reviews and received a nomination for best indie game award for 2015 at The Game Awards. I felt no different about this game; it is most definitely one of the better Metroidvania games that I have had the pleasure of playing through delivering in every aspect.
Graphics – 9/10
The game is set on a planet called Sudra and in lieu of Metroidvania tradition features many varied and wonderfully designed environments with a lot of different enemies to contend with throughout. There is also a species of giant humanoid robots called the Rusalka, which are unlike most things I’ve ever seen in sci-fi. Most gamers will immediately be reminded of Super Metroid when looking at his game, as indeed I was. But there are elements of the conceptual design that reminded me of other games too. For example, the environments, which look almost alive with floors and walls moving and pulsating, reminded a lot of Abadox for the NES, although in the case of Axiom Verge, there’s even more attention to detail put in. The Rusalka also adds a certain eloquence to the conceptual design of this game, reminding me in particular of the film Ghost in the Shell.
Gameplay – 9/10
The game plays out ostensibly like a traditional Metroidvania game, with the player having to navigate through a 2D open world and constantly backtracking to reveal new areas or secrets hidden within the game. But what makes Axiom Verge as exciting to play as it is is it’s combat, with the player being able to find a variety of different guns throughout and to strategize according to whatever enemies are in front of them. The world of Axiom Verge is reasonably big, so there is a lot of backtracking involved as players gain new abilities to access new areas. There is also a speedrun mode for more adept players who wish to complete the game in record time, which gives the game some additional replay value.
But regardless of whether players may be veterans or entry-level, it’s a reasonable challenge I thought; not too hard to the point of being inaccessible but not too easy either. More important than that, however, the game is extremely satisfying to immerse in; backtracking to old locations is always fun as the opportunity to experiment with new weapons constantly presents itself and there’s a great deal of enjoyment to be had in this respect. The boss fights are also as intense as that of any Metroidvania game, again requiring players to strategize according to what weapons they may have as well as enemy attack patterns.
Controls – 9.5/10
The game’s control scheme also presents no problems for the most part; it essentially uses the blueprint of Super Metroid in its general gameplay and weapons system, as well as how ammo and health works. The one minor gripe I had with the controls, however, concerns how the address disruptor works.
The address disruptor is a gun that either corrupts or de-corrupts enemies or certain walls. This is a tool that needs to be used in order to bypass certain areas of the game. The problem is with it is if a player removes a certain section of wall and not another if the player fires again it can reverse the process for the section of the wall that’s already been removed, leaving the player having to slowly reverse the process again in order to traverse through walls. However, it’s something that’s easily rectified anyway and I can’t fault the developer for trying something new. More important than my concern is that this is a game mechanic unlike many others seen in the Metroidvania genre and it adds more to the game than what it takes away.
Lifespan – 7/10
On average, the game can be made to last there around 15 to 20 hours, which for a Metroidvania game is fairly impressive. A sequel is currently in development and is scheduled for release in the autumn of 2020, so here’s hoping that the lifespan is increased with the new game. Without giving the end away, I think there will be a great deal of scope to expand the lifespan for the sequel, but the first game lasts more than an adequate amount of time
Storyline – 8/10
The story follows a scientist named Trace, who is running a lab experiment in New Mexico. Suddenly, something happens in the lab that causes an explosion; after which, Trace wakes up on the planet Sudra and finds himself embroiled in a one-man fight for survival, all while uncovering the wonders and mysteries behind the planet Sudra and helping the Rusalka defeat the entity known as Athetos. As the story progresses, it unfolds into something a lot deeper, which makes for a story, which like the visuals, is unlike a lot of things I’ve seen in sci-fi.
IGN gave this game a somewhat less favorable review than me, citing several problems they found with the game that I whole-heartedly found myself disagreeing with; one such criticism was that they thought the story was forgettable. But in my opinion, the story is anything but forgettable. The most prominent theme throughout the story involves moral ambiguity; the intentions and the character of the Rusalka most definitely come into question more than once and will make the player think whether what Trace is doing is right, which once players play through it, will make them anticipate the sequel even more.
Originality – 8/10
Again, the originality of this game has been brought into question by many other reviewers, due to its obvious similarities to the likes of Super Metroid and Xeodrifter; the game clearly has its influences and most fans of the genre will be able to identify them from the get-go. But outweighing its similarities to other games is its differences; the conceptual design of this game really makes it stand out from other titles in the genre and its soundtrack is exceptional, sound even more otherworldly than Super Metroid in my opinion. Its story, as I said before, is also not as straightforward as Samus Aran striving to defeat Ridley, but rather making the player question what happens at the end was for the greater good; not just for Trace, but for the planet Sudra.
The fact of the matter is that this game comes into its own with potentially massive mythology to be spawned from it with the introduction with even more games and scope for an even bigger plot to unfold along with it and in my experience, with the exception of games like Dust: An Elysian Tail and Ato, there haven’t been many Metroidvania games that have made me feel like what I felt after having played this one through to the end.
Overall, Axiom Verge is definitely a must-have for fans of the Metroidvania genre; it’s also a must-have for any fan of science fiction. It’s a very enjoyable game with variety in combat and conceptual design with an extremely memorable story and a lot of promise as a big gaming franchise for the future.
Drawing influence from some of the most critically acclaimed gaming franchises of all time such as Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls, and being met with critical acclaim itself following its release in 2015, Titan Souls is a top-down adventure game, similar in gameplay style to A Link to the Past, but with much of the same difficulty as Dark Souls. After playing this game for the first time at Play Manchester 2015, I was somewhat skeptical going back into it in an attempt to complete it, since I’d only played the first part prior, and was massively under the impression that things were only going to get insufferably harder after that point. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the game is nowhere near as inaccessible as I feared that it would be, and ended up enjoying it very much.
Graphics – 10/10
Rendered in 16-bit graphics reminiscent of the fourth generation of gaming, the game looks even better than some of the classic titles of that era. Aside from the in-game world looking vibrant, colorful, and extremely unique in terms of conceptual design, in both its setting and boss characters, the attention to detail regarding the environment, such as shadows in the forests, footprints in the snow,
and splashes in the water make it extremely enjoyable to take in whilst playing. In addition, due to elements put in such as overgrowing moss on buildings and snow mounts in the colder regions, very little about the in-game world looks replicated like what was typical of games of earlier gaming eras; it’s similar to how each cave in Skyrim was uniquely designed in comparison to how they were designed in Oblivion.
Gameplay – 7.5/10
The objective of the game is to seek out and kill a series of titans situated throughout the land, similar in many ways to Shadow of the Colossus. The player’s only weapon is a single arrow from a bow, which can be telepathically summoned back to the player upon firing, which is where the game’s intense level of the challenge comes in. Players need to be able to move and dodge enemy attacks efficiently as much as they to be accurate in placing their attacks. The game can be made to look intimidating in terms of challenge, but speaking as a gamer that considers games like Dark Souls and the original Mega Man and Castlevania titles to be overly inaccessible, I didn’t find it to be unforgiving. Players will need to persevere since death will happen more than once, especially as the player dies in one hit, but the satisfaction to be had after completing the game makes it more than worthwhile to play. Harder than completing the game is fulfilling the additional criteria during boss fights needed to unlock certain achievements within it; for example, knocking out all of the mountain titan’s teeth before killing it.
Controls – 10/10
Thankfully, there are no issues with the game’s control scheme whatsoever. It came as an especially big relief to me, as I’ve found that many challenging games, most notably in earlier eras of gaming like Castlevania and Mega Man, have suffered from having problems with the controls, which can be an unnecessary annoyance while playing. If a game demands that players need to be on top of their game to complete it, then the developers need to be on top of theirs while creating it, I feel. Otherwise, it can largely contradict the point of making a game that hard at all.
Lifespan – 7/10
One playthrough of Titan Souls, depending on how often the player gets themselves killed while playing, can be made to last roughly 5 to 6 hours. However, there is some replayability to be had if players want to truly master the game and do everything there is to do in it, making for an experience lasting around 15 to 20 hours overall. I think with the size of the world the developers incorporated, they could have added a few more side quests to contribute to the game’s longevity, but regardless, the game does last a respectable amount of time for those willing to put as much time in it as possible.
Storyline – 6.5/10
The story of the game follows a nameless traveler armed with a bow and a single arrow, on a quest to defeat all the titans throughout the land, in order to harness the power of the titan souls and realize a great truth and power. What bugs me about the story more than anything is that there is too much left unexplained in my opinion. There’s nothing with a level of ambiguity when it comes to a story, for example, if it ends on an interesting cliff-hanger, or if there are certain aspects of characters or plot twists that are left open to debate. But since there does seem to be some kind of mythology attached to this game, I would have liked to find out a lot more about it. Shadow of the Colossus’s plot was somewhat similar, but there was more depth to it than there is in this game, making the players care more about what would be going on, or what would happen to the characters. But where Titan Souls is concerned, I was left wanting in this aspect; at least until a sequel may be developed.
Originality – 7/10
Though Titan Souls may not be the first game to do many of the things that it does by any stretch of the imagination, they are all done with their own unique twist which will make gamers, especially seasoned players of retro games, appreciate it to a great extent. It’s open to players both looking for a wondrous sense of nostalgia, as well as younger gamers looking to explore how gaming used to be, but at the same time, being in for a different kind of experience to what was typically available to gamers back in the days of the Super NES and Mega Drive.
In summation, Titan Souls is a gaming experience well worth delving into. It’s challenging without being accessible, its visuals are marvelous to behold, and though it may be lacking somewhat in the story, it provides an ample amount in what matters most; immersing gameplay.
The third game to be released in Image & Form’s SteamWorld universe following SteamWorld Tower Defence and SteamWorld Dig, SteamWorld Heist takes the series in yet another bold new direction in terms of gameplay, concept, and story. Like the other two SteamWorld games before it, I found this game to be wonderfully varied, excelling in conceptual design, and enjoyable to the last hour of gameplay. But due to the heightened longevity and replay value, this game has in comparison with SteamWorld Dig, It is most definitely the best game in the SteamWorld series to date.
Graphics – 9/10
Despite the fact that SteamWorld Heist still incorporates some elements from the first two games, that the franchise has been taken to outer space in this installment provides a new dimension in terms of visuals, so to speak. The steampunk influence found in the two previous games is much more prevalent, but at the same time, the overall conceptual design seems completely different in a way that works flawlessly. Character design is wonderfully diverse, and whilst it’s easy to come to the conclusion that individual levels seem like carbon copies of each other, it still does wonderfully well to deviate away from the deep caves and American west settings of the first two games. The soundtrack is also fantastic to listen to; the majority of which is composed by the band Steam Powered Giraffe and has since encouraged me to listen to more of their work, which I’ve found extremely enjoyable in itself.
Gameplay – 8/10
Providing a complete departure from any other gameplay formula found in the SteamWorld series, SteamWorld Heist is a 2D side-scrolling turn-based RPG that plays out unlike any other game made in any similar vein. It is insanely addictive, as well as having a great sense of satisfaction to experience whilst playing it in devising as many clever strategies as possible to suit every enemy in every given situation in combat. Over the last few years, I have found a lot of games that have incorporated both turn-based and real-time combat that I have been greatly let down by. But in this game, it works better than most others; if not, any other.
Controls – 10/10
Another problem that seems to crop up with many RPGs to incorporate both turn-based and real-time combat is that the controls tend to suffer drastically. But in this game, the controls are perfect; no unnecessary complications arise, and overcoming the challenge of aiming as accurately as possible with short-range weapons, and managing to land a hit, adds even more of a sense of satisfaction whilst playing.
Lifespan – 6/10
Despite the fact that I was ultimately left wanting more in terms of longevity out of this title. I was pleasantly surprised to see how long it can truly be made to last. When I’d collected all 45 stars in the first area, I was left thinking I’d completed the game at that point, only to find that there was another stage to follow it up, and more stages in addition. Overall, including the DLC package, the game can be made to last at least 20 hours, which whilst is much longer than many mainstream releases, falls short of the average lifespan of a turn-based RPG. It was still an improvement on the lifespan of SteamWorld Dig, and I can’t help but commend the developers for this.
Storyline – 7/10
A distant sequel to SteamWorld Dig, the cowbots are now living an existence of slavery and oppression following the destruction of the Earth, and civilization has become an eternal struggle for survival. The plot follows Captain Piper, who attempts to recruit a team of mercenaries for hire to embark on a space adventure throughout the universe. Whilst the main plot may sound simplistic in scope, the story is kept fresh throughout with the incorporation of character development in each of Piper’s mercenaries as the adventure goes on, and clever humor is thrown in for good measure.
Originality – 10/10
To put it simply, this game plays out not only like no other SteamWorld game before it, but unlike any other game in general. It incorporates a blend of turn-based and real-time combat that for once works flawlessly, and proves that indie developers can demonstrate as much initiative and excellence in gameplay innovation as any mainstream developer out there. I was extremely impressed with this title, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what direction Image and Form take in the next installment within this wonderful gaming mythos.
In summation, SteamWorld Heist is a wonderfully addictive and satisfying gaming experience that I highly recommend. Despite the fact that I believe it could have been made to last much longer, what there is to do throughout is enjoyable to the very last hour, and certainly stands out to me as the best indie title of 2016 so far.
First released in 2012, around the time when the idea of art in video games was perpetuated with other releases such as Journey, The Unfinished Swan went on to garnish critical acclaim as well as two BAFTA awards, for gaming innovation and best debut game. Unfortunately, I was less lukewarm to this title than many others were, and whilst it does have its unique aspects, I certainly don’t think it was enough to warrant a BAFTA award.
Graphics – 6/10
Many may argue that the visuals of the game are rather unique, and provide something that most gamers won’t have been used to at the time; but from my point of view, that couldn’t be far from the truth. Not only has the general art style been replicated many times since Frank Miller’s Sin City (indeed, it’s the same style I incorporate in many of my own paintings for Frame Over), but it wasn’t even the first time that this style had been used in video game development. There was Madworld before this title, which also continued the influx of cel-shaded visuals in gaming, which started out with Jet Set Radio. Nevertheless, they aren’t terrible graphics, and there are very few glitches to further mar them down.
Gameplay – 3/10
I couldn’t help but feel throughout playing that the developers decided to prioritize aspects such as visuals and story ahead of gameplay, since the core concept may be fairly unique, but in the long term, provide next to no entertainment value. The object of the game is to solve puzzles and bypass obstacles by shooting ink to reveal hidden locations, and to also collect balloons along the way to buy in-game items. It seemed like it could have developed into something bigger as it progressed, but by the third level, I found myself deeply bored by the entire experience.
Controls – 9/10
As it is essentially a first-person shooting game, the control scheme plays out fairly simply; even more so than the average shooter, since they’re fewer control mechanics to have to worry about. The only gripe I have with it is that the movement speed is somewhat slower than other FPS games, which can make the game drag on more than it most probably should have done.
Lifespan – 4/10
Completing each level, as well as collecting all the balloons within each level, will take under 10 hours; despite the fact that the game does have that small amount of replayability. However, I think it was just as well that the game lasted that little time since the game’s total lifespan outlasted my own personal interest in the game itself. It was a sure sign that developers at any kind of level can end up prioritizing all the wrong aspects ahead of the one that truly counts.
Storyline – 7/10
The story of the game takes the influence of many different children’s books and merges them into a fairly interesting and fully cohesive concept. It follows a boy called Monroe, who is pursuing an incomplete swan, which has escaped from a painting. The most interesting element of it is in the back-story, which can be discovered as the player progresses through the game. Though it does seem to play out like a children’s story, for the most part, there are certain elements, which make the story take on a much darker tone, going against the seemingly calm and tranquil atmosphere of the game and the soundtrack accompanying it all.
Originality – 6/10
The gameplay mechanics of using ink as a projectile weapon to uncover hidden objects and areas are definitely the most unique thing about it. However, I was left thinking that they could have been put to so much better use in order to keep the entire game as interesting as possible. There could have been much more added to each level for players to do. The lack of enemies throughout alone is enough to keep avid gamers from playing this title for any extended amount of time in my opinion.
Overall, The Unfinished Swan, though with fairly unique gameplay mechanics, was not entertaining enough for me to be able to praise it as many other reviewers have done since its release. The influx of indie games to come throughout the next few years following this game would yield more and better titles, but along with Journey, it started out with too much emphasis on visuals and story as opposed to entertaining gameplay.
Titan Attacks is an arcade shooter extremely similar to Space Invaders, which involves the simple concept of shooting down oncoming waves of aliens and advancing through the many stages of the game. Although it’s a fairly fun game to play, I thought there are many other aspects, which left me wanting. I couldn’t help but compare it to Space Invaders, as at times, I didn’t know if I was playing that or Titan Attacks.
Graphics – 5.5/10
Not only does it play out almost identically to Space Invaders, but it also looks almost identical to Space Invaders. The character sprites are very similar, and in a way, I think the ship the player controls throughout the game is very similar to the one found in the arcade classic too. I thought the most standout and stunning visual aspect of this game was the scenery and the pretty wide variety of color palettes used throughout each of the five stages. They can positively add to the feeling of nostalgia, but every other visual aspect in the game would suggest to me that there wasn’t a great deal of effort or thought put into the game’s overall visual concept.
Gameplay – 7/10
I’m happy to at least say that this game is a fairly fun one. It’s pretty enjoyable to play, and the most original aspect of this game also happens to be the most satisfying in my opinion. Players have the option to spend in-game currency accumulated in each level on upgrades to the ship, such as improved weapons and shield maintenance. That aspect at least adds something, which didn’t come with the original Space Invaders, and it makes for an overall moderately exciting gaming experience.
Controls – 10/10
As expected, there are no problems with this game’s control scheme. Just like the best arcade games of the ’70s and ’80s, player progression relies heavily on skill. I’m pleased to see that the developers of this game at least seemingly designed it with that rule firmly in mind.
Lifespan – N/A (10/10)
It will take less than an hour to progress through each of the game’s five different stages, but once this is complete, it then becomes a survival-endless scenario. Players must follow the simple and age-old video gaming objective of repeating the game at progressively harder difficulties in order to gain the highest score possible. This is the kind of game that can simply be played at player’s leisure without the worry of making in-game progress in the sense that most younger gamers are familiar with nowadays, and there’s nothing wrong with a game like that if it’s done right, and it has been done right in this case.
Storyline – N/A (10/10)
Again, as with every great arcade game back in the first and second generations of gaming, there is no highly developed story to Titan Attacks, but only a basic premise; to stop an alien invasion. There never needs to be a particularly deep story in an arcade game, as an attempt at which could possibly ruin it, since they’re solely about gameplay.
Originality – 3/10
The only things that make this title unique to Space Invaders are the diversity in set designs and the ship upgrade facilities, but there’s not much in this game to differentiate it from others past Space Invaders, unfortunately. Even adding that small RPG element has been a trope used in some other recent indie arcade games like Dead Nation and Mercenary Kings.
In summary, although Titan Attacks seems like nothing more than a heavy modification of an existing idea on the surface, it is still fun to play, and it doesn’t lose marks for getting some other aspects right too. Those things for me are enough to even save it from being considered an average game, in my opinion.
Somewhat similar to Terraria, SteamWorld Dig is a 2D platformer centering around the concept of mining and improving equipment. Though it isn’t quite as varied or as satisfying as the former, I still found it to be a fairly enjoyable game for how little time it unfortunately lasts.
Graphics – 7/10
In terms of both conceptual design and visual diversity, there is something fairly unique in this game. It’s set in an old Western town whereby it’s inhabitants are robots. It would have been interesting to see that concept explored a little bit more than it was, but that could be saved for a sequel potentially. As players delve deeper into the underground caves, there are also different setting present as well as different enemies and so on. My favorite aspect of this game in terms of visuals and sound, however, is the extremely effective use of lighting throughout, and how the game’s soundtrack adds to its atmosphere flawlessly.
Gameplay – 7/10
Throughout, this game is pretty satisfying to play. There is a fair amount of incentive on offer for those who are willing to complete it to 100% and attain every upgrade and ability. But I can’t help but feel that some kind of endless mode could have been added to it. One such idea I have that would make a possible sequel is that the player would have to use what minerals the mine from the underground to build and maintain a town or community.
Controls – 10/10
As a 2D side-scrolling game, there shouldn’t really have been any issues with the game’s controls, and so there are none, thankfully. It incorporates a very simple gameplay concept, and therefore, a very simple control scheme, and though it does little to innovate the genre, what it does do had been handled properly.
Lifespan – 5/10
SteamWorld Dig can be made to last about 6 and a half hours in all, and as I alluded to earlier, I don’t think it lasts anywhere near as long as a game of either its magnitude or potential would permit it to. Like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, I believe there are a plethora of ideas that the developers of this game could incorporate to make a possible sequel to top it; all of these ideas coming together to make for a bigger and better gaming experience.
Storyline – 6/10
The story revolves around a robot called Rusty, who has come to a small mining town named Tumbleton after receiving a mining deed from his long-lost uncle. How the story develops doesn’t make for a terrible narrative in my opinion, and it is interesting to see which way it goes. But my gripes with it is that it is pretty hard to relate or empathize with the character of Rusty, since he is a character of only a few words, and would most probably have worked better as either a silent protagonist or with much more dialogue than what it’s present. Though I won’t give away what happens at the end, how the story finishes would also suggest to me that a sequel should be merely set on some kind of basic premise, as opposed to having a story containing a beginning, middle, and end.
Originality – 6/10
I think despite how much it differs from other video games, both visually and conceptually, I still found myself thinking of a plethora of different ideas and elements that the developers could have incorporated to make this game as good as it had the potential to be. There were the ideas I had about it having an endless mode and a much different and meaningful in-game objective, but there could also be elements like a much bigger open world attached to it, and even more incentive and variety in gameplay to make it as entertaining as possible.
However, despite the various qualms I had with it, SteamWorld Dig was a good enough game to hold my interest for at least those few hours. It’s certainly one of the better indie games I’ve played, and there is indeed potential for the developers to take the series to new heights.