Released originally on the Sega Dreamcast, and subsequently re-released on the PlayStation 2 as the Viggo’s Revenge edition, Fur Fighters is a third-person shooter 3D platformer hybrid brought to consoles by Liverpool-based developer Bizarre Creations, and whilst not performing particularly well financially, was universally praised by critics at the time of it’s released and has since gained somewhat of a cult following as one of the most overlooked games of the sixth generation. In my opinion, the praise was well-deserved. I remember watching video reviews of the game at the time, but I never got round to picking up a copy at the time of its release. But after finally getting my hands on it and finishing it in full, I wasn’t disappointed.
Graphics – 7.5/10
The game makes use of cel-shading, which was still in relevant infancy at the time with games such as Jet Set Radio, XIII, and the original Sly Cooper making waves in the early 2000s. The environments are quite varied and the character design is just as so to match. In terms of technical quality, it is about on par with most of what players can come to expect from a late fifth generation or early sixth generation game. Being cel-shaded, it didn’t stand out in terms of a technical marvel, but it comes with its own unique conceptual design, which brings a strong sense of charm to the title.
Gameplay – 8/10
A third-person shooting 3D platformer, the objective is to traverse through various different levels and hub worlds shooting enemies and procuring collectibles scattered throughout the game, including tokens and rescuable baby animals. It has an element of Donkey Kong 64 to it, in that the player can take control of several different playable characters, whose abilities must be utilized to progress through certain areas of the game; for example, the dragon character Tweek can glide to reach otherwise impassable ledges, and the penguin character Rico can swim through bodies of water to reach different areas. There is a fair amount of variety to be had in this game, and whilst it doesn’t quite measure up to some of the best 3D platformers ever released, such as Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, does relatively well to stand on its own two feet.
Controls – 10/10
The game’s control scheme is faultless, provided the player picks the right control scheme; particularly in the Viggo’s Revenge edition. The default control scheme almost makes the game unplayable, however, with the movement controls being nigh-on impossible to get to grips with. It made me thankful that there was mercifully an auto-aim system for when enemies attack. In my opinion, the best control scheme to go with is the Beginner 2 control scheme; it makes life ten times easier whilst playing. I found it confusing, however, that the developers chose to associate the control scheme with the game’s difficulty because to me, a bad control scheme shouldn’t exist for the sake of adding to the difficulty, simply because it doesn’t; it just adds to the game’s frustration.
Lifespan – 8/10
Lasting around 30 hours, more intrepid players looking to collect everything within the game will not be disappointed. There is plenty on offer for players who want to make the experience last as long as possible, and I was pleasantly surprised myself that there was more to play for in this game than meets the eye. I went in expecting this to be a much more generic gaming experience than what I eventually got, and the game’s surprisingly long lifespan is the main reason why.
Storyline – 6/10
What isn’t so great about this game is that the plot is pretty typical. The evil General Viggo has kidnapped the families of the Fur Fighters and the team resolves to defeat Viggo and get them back. Given that each of the Fur Fighters has his/her own personalities and traits, I would’ve thought the developers would’ve found a lot more room for characterization and plot than what was ultimately included, but I was unfortunately wrong. Luckily, the added voice acting in Viggo’s revenge edition and the fact in and of itself that the different characters do have outstanding personalities and traits keep the story from being overly terrible, but there was definitely room for elaboration in this respect.
Originality – 7/10
The game stands out to a fair enough extent, but the main reason why it doesn’t stand with the best of the best 3D platformers is that it doesn’t do enough to stand out; maybe this is the main thing that hurt sales of the game at the time since it’s easy to make the assumption that this game is a lot less than what it actually is. It’s unfortunate, but to play devil’s advocate, there are also reasons why this game remains a beloved diamond in the rough in the eyes of many other gamers. It’s not a completely generic game, but there are a fair few things that could’ve been worked on to give the extra push it needed at the time in my opinion.
However, that being said, Fur Fighters is still a very worthwhile title. It has great gameplay elements, it’s conceptual design is just about better than good, and I would recommend at least one playthrough of it.
Set during the event of the second film The Matrix Reloaded and directed by the film’s original directors, Enter The Matrix was released to mixed critical reception but performed very well commercially at the time. Personally, this is one of those games that to me is extremely enjoyable to play, yet gamers and critics seem to hate it for unjustified reasons. A lot of critics at the time commented that both the game and the film were devalued as a result of the release of the game, but I disagree; I enjoyed the film and the game in equal measure and I still do.
Graphics – 9/10
On a technical level, the visuals were cutting the edge at the time, and they more than adequately hold up this day in comparison with any other sixth-generation titles. There is the odd graphical glitch here and there to prevent it from receiving a perfect score for visuals, but they are few and far between; the best port in terms of this would be the Xbox version. In terms of conceptual design, it’s exactly what people who have watched the films can expect. It’s dark, gritty, and takes place in many locations that are in the film itself, as well as a few new locations added for good measure.
Gameplay – 7/10
Enter The Matrix is a third-person action-adventure that’s heavy on hand-to-hand combat as well as gunplay. If I would have to compare it to any other game, it would most like be Max Payne, as it plays out quite similar to the former. Again, it’s exactly the kind of game that people familiar with the films can come to expect in terms of gameplay as well. Players can instigate slow motion to their advantage similar to show the film is shot and they have a variety of different weapons and combat abilities at their disposal throughout. There are also car chasing sequences whereby players either have to control the car or shoot from the window to fend off enemies, depending on which character they are playing as. There are two-story arcs to experience within the game, which gives it a fair amount of replay value in addition.
Controls – 8/10
The biggest issue with the Controls in terms of the targeting system. It’s supposed to work in a similar fashion to Ocarina of Time, but as it’s meant to be instigated automatically, it can cause issues with things like hit detection. But otherwise, the control scheme is handled as well as what was needed. I certainly didn’t have as much of a hard time as many other gamers and critics seemed to have.
Lifespan – 5.5/10
Enter The Matrix can be made to last about 6 and a half hours, which for a linear action game isn’t too bad. If comparing to Max Payne in this respect, it falls short, as the former could be made to last around 20 hours, but for those looking to experience this game in full, there is plenty to do to keep things entertaining throughout. It didn’t perpetuate the standards that were met at the time in terms of Lifespan compared to many other games released back then, but it’s not as painfully short as many other games would in years to come either.
Storyline – 8/10
The story takes place during the events of The Matrix Reloaded but told from the perspective of the member of the ship The Logos, led by Captain Niobe. She, along with her partner Ghost and their operator Sparks, are tasked with various missions in order to help Neo fulfill his destiny and bring about the end of the war between man and machine. The story is well written to the point that it feels almost like one massive deleted scene from the Matrix Reloaded. Jada Pinkett-Smith gives a solid performance as Niobe and the plot fits in nicely with the events of the second film. It all ties in to make for what is a very cinematic experience without it feeling too cinematic, like in many other games.
Originality – 8/10
In terms of uniqueness, it’s exactly what fans of the film and come to expect in every respect, but the gameplay, despite the gripes that people may have with it, was enjoyable to a great enough extent and still remains so in my opinion. The combat system, though somewhat flawed, was unlike anything I’d seen prior to playing it. It stands out as a licensed game that was of a decent standard before the general standard of licensed games would be elevated with the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009, and in my opinion, very unfairly overlooked.
Overall, Enter The Matrix is a far better game than what people have given it credit for since its release. Though it has its problems, it’s an enjoyable game that ties in with the films flawlessly.
Released in 1998 has generated more revenue than most Hollywood movies at the time, Resident Evil 2 is a continuation of the story of the original with new characters, new setting, and new dangers to overcome besides the zombies littering the mansion on the borders of Raccoon City. For various different reasons, I found the second game, whilst suffering from a few of the same problems as the first, to be a decisive improvement on its predecessor in a number of respects.
Graphics – 9/10
The most notable improvement of which, in my opinion, is in terms of its visual quality, with the player no longer being confined to a single mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon City, but rather in the heart of Raccoon City itself. Locations range from the ruins of Raccoon City streets to the Raccoon Police Department to research facilities and it was a welcome change of scenery at the time that made the franchise a lot more diverse. The quality of the zombie sprites was also a lot more varied than in the original game with different outfits for zombies, zombie policemen, and even female zombies too. There were visible improvements in both the technical and conceptual aspects of the game, which were pleasant to see.
Gameplay – 8/10
In terms of gameplay, it plays out pretty much like an extension to the first game with a couple of added mechanics thrown in for good measure. Like in the first game, there are two scenarios to play through with two different characters, so it almost felt like two different games at the time, especially as it came on two discs. It also presents more of a challenge in the respect that it has new kinds of puzzles and new enemies to fight that require different strategies to take down, as well as a greater number of boss fights, which would later become a staple of the series.
Controls – 7/10
The game’s control scheme, as such, is also the same as it was in the first game, and therefore, it suffers from very much the same issues as it did in the first game, with movement feeling very stiff and clunky, seemingly needlessly when compared to other games on the system. There had been some minor adjustments made, but enough for the game to deviate away further enough from the problems that came with the first game. The whole formula would go on to be improved with games like Onimusha, but overall, it didn’t make the game unplayable.
Lifespan – 7/10
The game can be made to last the same amount of time as the first game; 15 hours give or take. That’s to play through both scenarios on both discs. There are a few more side quests in comparison to the original game, but overall, it lasts as long as Resident Evil. As a fan of the Onimusha series, I can’t help but think what the game would’ve been like if Capcom had implemented the same kind of ideas they with Onimusha 2 in comparison with the original Onimusha; how even more varied gameplay would’ve been and what different kinds of events could have been made to happen as a result.
Storyline – 7/10
The story takes place around 2 months after the events of the original Resident Evil. It follows the journeys of Leon Kennedy, a STARS officer on his day with the department, and Claire Redfield, the brother of the previous games’ main protagonist Chris Redfield, whom she has come to Raccoon City to try and track down. The two soon become embroiled in a zombie outbreak across Raccoon City and they set out on a journey to discover the source of the outbreak. The quality of the story is much better than in the original game, with a better script and even better voice acting to a certain extent. It still comes across as somewhat corny and cliche at times, but it was certainly an improvement on the quality of writing that the first game had to offer. I’ve yet to come across many bigger memes in gaming than the whole Jill Sandwich thing; thankfully there’s nothing quite as laughable in this game as that.
Originality – 7/10
A common problem I encounter with survival horror sequels is that when the same threat is included as in the original game, it seems far less scary when the player knows what they’re up against. But in Resident Evil 2, there is a new threat added to keep things diverse, which has become another staple within the series. The second game introduces players to the Lickers and other eldritch abominations that spawn from the new G-virus that acts as the main threat of the game, which at the time did relatively well to keep things fresh in comparison to the first game. The zombies didn’t seem as scary anymore, even at the time, but encountering a Licker for the first time most definitely instilled fear in me back in the day.
Overall, Resident Evil 2 made some very definitive improvements over the original game in almost every respect. I recommend it far more than I do than the first game as even taking the recent remaster into account, the original experience still holds up to this day.
Designer(s) – David Stiller, Scott Rodgers & William Anderson
Producer(s) – Mark Rodgers
ELSPA – 11+
Originally intended for release on the Nintendo 64 and eventually ported to the PlayStation 2 back in 2002, Maximo was released to huge critical acclaim, received well by not only the current generation at the time, but also by many old school gamers, as what the developers intended. Drawing inspiration from the Ghosts ‘N Goblins franchise, the aim was to bring the classic style of challenging gameplay to the sixth generation and provide players with a much more stern challenge than what they would’ve been used to at the time. Personally, though I have a few gripes with the game, especially as I don’t think it’s aged as well as other games on the system, I say as a prerequisite that I spent a lot of time playing this game when it was released and for good reason. Overall, it’s one of those Capcom franchises that has sadly been neglected in recent generations along with Breath of Fire and Viewtiful Joe.
Graphics – 7/10
The game takes place in a world partly inspired by Ghosts ‘N Goblins, but the inclusion of other more varied landscapes such as marshes, ice worlds, and even hell itself, makes it do well to stand out from its spiritual predecessor, as well as from many other games of the time. The biggest issue I have with it, however, is as the game was intended originally for release on fifth-generation hardware, it is quite evident that that was the case. Some of the textures in the game are inconsistent with what players would’ve been used to even at this relatively early period within the sixth generation, and it makes the game look even more outdated today as a result. The cutscenes throughout do relatively well to try and supplement that, however, and there were other games released on the PlayStation 2, later on, that looked even more outdated than this, including Malice.
Gameplay – 8/10
The aspect in which this game truly stands out, however, is in the gameplay. A linear 3D action-adventure platformer, it plays out very much like a 3D version of Ghosts ‘N Goblins with players having to rely on quick wits, revision of enemy attack patterns, and conservation of resources in order to stay alive and grow stronger over time. There is a multitude of abilities to acquire throughout the game as well as power-ups providing perks such as invisibility and elemental sword augmentations. For a game that emphasizes challenge so much, however, it’s remarkable how easy the boss fights are overall. The only exception to that being the game’s end boss, which can feel incredibly tense throughout.
Controls – 10/10
Mercifully, there are no issues with the controls in a game which relies on precise platforming and we’ll-timed attacks to get by. It’s actually quite impressive how well-handled they are for a game that perpetuated such a new idea at the time as if the developers understood what it meant to include the best of the sixth generation as well as the sense of challenge that came with the best games of the kind during the third and fourth generations.
Lifespan – 6/10
As a linear game, Maximo can be made to last about 5 hours, which is okay, but not great, even for a game of the time. In a generation where twenty-plus-hour platformers were being developed on the PlayStation 2 like Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank, this game pales in comparison in terms of lifespan. Though you can appreciate the developers were in a time crunch to get it out as soon as possible since It had been in development hell to an extent, I couldn’t help but think what kind of a game it would’ve been given more time spent on it.
Storyline – 7/10
The story of the game is quite basic, with a few distinct elements thrown in for good measure. It involves a knight named Maximo who resolves to free his love interest, Sophia, from the evil King Achille. At the start, Achille kills Maximo, who is in turn revived by the Grim Reaper, who delegates him the task of stopping Achille from raising the dead to build his army. The Grim Reaper is easily the best character in the game, as he provides the most personality out of any other character by a country mile; similar to how the Genie is the best character in Aladdin. There is a nice twist at the end, which will throw players for a loop, as it did to me, but the developers definitely put more stock in the gameplay, as developers should always do in my opinion.
Originality – 7/10
This game was like a breath of fresh air for many gamers at the time, old and new. It provides a stern challenge for third and fourth-generation veterans alike and still provides a stern challenge for the most part to this day. It’s certainly a must-have for fans of games made on the same ilk in recent years like Dark Souls, Cuphead, and others, but it provides a very different kind of challenge in another respect which, as at the time of its release, can be appreciated by gamers of all different generations.
In summation, Maximo: Ghosts to Glory is a gaming experience that, whilst may not hold up in terms of visual quality, definitely holds up in terms of gameplay. I recommend it to any player who may be looking for a new kind of challenge that whilst stern, is still not entirely inaccessible.
Developed by Radical Entertainment and released for a number of sixth-generation consoles, The Simpsons: Road Rage is a driving game similar to Crazy Taxi; so similar in the fact that Sega ended up bringing a lawsuit to Fox Entertainment, which was settled before it went to court. The home console version received mixed reviews upon release, which the Game Boy Advance port was universally panned. I would put it in the category of it being a mixed bag as opposed to it being an overall negative experience; the game, while flawed, does have some redeeming quality to it and is a relatively enjoyable title to play.
Graphics – 7/10
The game is set across various locations throughout the town of Springfield, the Downtown district, and the Nuclear Power Plant to name but a few. The visuals were one aspect at the time that was heavily criticized upon release of this game, but I’ve never understood why other reviewers had such a gripe with them. They’re technically sound as they look just as well as any other early sixth generation game, and it’s among the first games to have cel-shaded visuals, which helped to make it stand out at the time. The graphics are also conceptually sound, as it has exactly what a player would expect playing a game based on The Simpsons; cartoonish graphics that aren’t necessarily cutting-edge. What’s more is that all the original voice actors are present, which again, only adds to the feel of what was to be expected.
Gameplay – 7/10
A driving game by genre, whilst it does borrow heavily from Crazy Taxi, there are also a number of distinct gameplay features as well, such as bonuses given for either careful or reckless driving, a cast of familiar Simpsons characters, and vehicles to unlock and a story mode. The similarities to Crazy Taxi never bothered me as much as it bothered other players. The way I see it, It’s a lot like comparing Mario Kart 64 to Diddy Kong Racing; Diddy Kong Racing had more distinct features to it that provided a lot more entertainment than Mario Kart 64 in my opinion, making it the better game. Likewise, I actually prefer The Simpsons: Road Rage to Crazy Taxi.
Controls – 8/10
The controls were another aspect that critics had problems with as well, and in this respect, I can empathize with their concerns to a certain extent. It can be very easy to unintentionally crash into things due to very sensitive collision mechanics and it can cause some issues that can’t necessarily be put down to how reckless players are driving at the time. There are shortcuts around each track to make for smoother driving, but I think the game would’ve benefitted from there being more of them to add to the game’s fluidity. That being said, cars are a lot easier to handle than what they are in many other racing games, so there are issues that other critics had with this game that I still disagree with in terms of controls.
Lifespan – 8/10
Thanks to the inclusion of a story mode and a high score system, the game can take an unprecedented amount of time to finish, which impressed me greatly. 20 hours is the average lifespan of this game; this is the time it takes to unlock every course, unlock every character, surpass all the high scores, and get through the story mode. I can’t help but think that if there were more of an incentive to collect as much money as possible as opposed to simply the high score, then there would be a little bit more to play for, but still, I was taken aback by just how long it took to beat this game when I beat it at the time it came out.
Storyline – 5/10
The story of the game involves the Simpsons, as well as several other familiar characters in the series, setting up their own taxi services in order to compete with, and eventually drive out, a dangerous radioactive bus service set up by Mr. Burns. There are a couple of jokes thrown into cutscenes that are somewhat reminiscent of the golden age of the Simpsons throughout the 90s, but depending on which character the player selects, there’s not the level of comedy you would expect from a Simpsons game. The best characters to pick for that are simply the funnier characters that exist within the show, like Homer, Moe, and Krusty the Clown.
Originality – 6/10
There’s no denying that Crazy Taxi was a major influence behind this game. However, as I stated earlier, this game was one of the first to make use of cel-shaded visuals, which would go on to be used in games of major franchises, such as The Legend of Zelda and Borderlands. Jet Set Radio was the very first, but it’s because of elements like that, as well as what gameplay differences there are compared to Crazy Taxi, which makes this game stand out more than what people may realize.
Overall, The Simpsons: Road Rage, whilst not being the game had the potential to be, is by no means a completely disappointing experience. It has plenty to do, great visuals, the quirky cast of Simpsons fan favorites, and all the best things about Crazy Taxi intact, which makes for the better game out of the two in my opinion.
Released in 2001 and going on to become the first PlayStation 2 game to reach sales of over one million units, Onimusha provided a very different take on game design with the Resident Evil engine. Set in the Sengoku period in 15th century Japan, the story involves a samurai named Samanosuke Akechi and his resolve to save his cousin princess Yuki from a demon invasion of the Inabayama castle. It’s highly regarded as one of the best titles on the PlayStation 2 to date by most critics and to me, although I think the best of the Onimusha series would be yet to come, it still remains a classic to me.
Graphics – 8/10
The game is set in a fictional take on the 15th century Japanese Sengoku period, which was something pretty unusual compared to what kind of settings Capcom was used to perpetuating in titles like Resident Evil, Street Fighter, or Mega Man. However, it works brilliantly, along with the conceptual designs of the various different demons the player will encounter along the way. It did a particularly good job showcasing what the PlayStation 2 was capable of doing early on in its shelf life, but more importantly than that, because the vast majority of the scenery is composed of detailed still imagery, it does even better to hold up even after 20 years.
Gameplay – 9/10
The game is a hack and slash adventure with the player alternating between two characters; Samanosuke and his kunoichi companion Kaede. Samanosuke’s sequences provide the vast majority of the gameplay as well as the entertainment since there are far more abilities to take advantage of in order to subdue enemies in an increasing variety of ways as the game progresses. They are also upgradable giving the player that more incentive to play through to the end. Onimusha is also heavy on puzzle-solving to access new areas and find new items; the puzzle-solving element is handled in an almost identical manner to that of Resident Evil in fact and requires players to think on their toes at times. With Kaede, there is an additional weapon to find giving her marginally greater attack power, but Kaede’s sequences are few and far between and it’s easy to understand why.
Controls – 9/10
Prior to playing Onimusha, I had had issues playing the Resident Evil games because of the somewhat clunky movement controls, but in Onimusha, it’s much less of a problem; somehow because the game seems much more fast-paced at 60 frames per second. Ever since the developers introduced the strafing ability and the facility to quickly turn 180 degrees, it sorted prior issues out massively. Apart from this, however, there are no issues with the control scheme of this game. Combat is as fluent as possible, allowing players to be as proficient as possible without having to worry about any silly mistakes on the part of the developers.
Lifespan – 6/10
The main gripe I had with this game, as well as everybody else who reviewed it at the time of its release was the lifespan. Clocking in at around 10 hours, most critics, including myself, felt as if it didn’t last anywhere near as long as it should have done, especially given the direction in which gaming was going at that time, and the standards that had been set during the previous generation. Thankfully, later installments of the series would go on to rectify this problem, but it is most definitely a problem where the first game in the series was concerned.
Storyline – 9/10
Set in the fictional take on the Sengoku period, it all begins when princess Yuki of the Saito clan is captured by demons. Samanosuke Akechi and Kaede arrive too late to save her initially and Samanosuke is subsequently subdued by a demon far more powerful than himself, who then stows away with Yuki. Samanosuke is then endowed with a gauntlet that has the power to absorb the demon’s souls, thus being able to destroy them permanently. With this newfound power, Samanosuke vows to destroy the demons and save Princess Yuki. Since Capcom started implementing full voice acting in their games, the dialogue has ranged from mixed to laughable at times; musically with the whole Jill sandwich thing in Resident Evil. But in Onimusha, there are some examples of mixed voice acting again, overall, the dialogue implemented is a decisive improvement on most of anything they had come up with at that point. The concept of the story was also particularly well thought out, as outside the Dynasty Warriors and Tenchu series, there weren’t a lot of games themed around the Feudal era of Japan, or like in Onimusha, just after which.
Originality – 9.5/10
It was interesting at the time when the game was released to see exactly what Capcom could do differently with the whole Resident Evil formula. In my opinion, the Onimusha series is far superior to the Resident Evil series, since there are more fun and enjoyment to be had in terms of gameplay, and the Resident Evil series has come with a lot of unnecessary complications throughout, such as the lack of movement during the shooting in Resident Evil 5 and the lackluster voice acting in the first 3 games. But the original Onimusha took the overall gameplay formula to new heights and it made for something that hadn’t been seen in gaming beforehand; it’s a shame to think that the Onimusha series faded into obscurity as it did since it makes me think about where the series could’ve possibly gone or worked on further.
Overall, Onimusha: Warlords remains a PlayStation 2 classic to this day in my opinion. It has intense combat, a great story, and though the second game would go on to blow the first out of the water, this definitely was not a bad starting point.
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.
Released in the 4th quarter of 2001 shortly following the fourth season of the program, Robot Wars: Arenas of destruction was to a tirade of criticism with reviewers citing issues with the controls as well as the difficulty, with critics thinking the game was too easy. In my opinion, however, possibly due in some part to the fact that I was a huge fan of the show growing up, I spent a lot of time playing this game when I was a kid, since I found it to be a very enjoyable experience, and the truth is told, I think it still holds up to this day. There are elements to this game that have largely gone unappreciated that make this a far better game than what most people seem to think.
Graphics – 8/10
The game is based on the hit UK series Robot Wars, popularised from the late 90s to the early 2000s. As such, it features some of the best robots to have ever competed in the program, such as Razor, Hypnodisc, Cassius, and Firestorm II, as well including the infamous House robots like Sgt Bash, Shunt, Matilda, Dead Metal, and Sir Killalot. But perhaps more impressive than this is the game’s level design; as well as having the traditional Robot Wars arena included, there are several other areas around the world where tournaments are held that are designed very differently, and more elaborately in some cases, than the original Robot Wars arena. It’s. Quite impressive to me that the developers were able to pull this off despite the clear lack of source material that becomes apparent if you ever watch the show.
Gameplay – 8/10
The objective of the game is to build a robot using a preset amount of money and to enter the robot into Robot Wars tournaments in order to compete and earn more money to build and better robots out of tougher materials and customizing it with better weapons. The amount of variety in gameplay is extremely impressive for a licensed game, which back then was much more of a niche interest than what it is now with the standard for licensed having increased dramatically following the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum. But even before then, there were more than a few diamonds in the rough beforehand, such as the Disney games developed by Capcom, the Mickey Mouse Illusion series, the earlier Lego games, and in my opinion, this too.
Controls – 8/10
As I alluded to before, one of the most common criticisms of this game was aimed at the control scheme; that movement is not as fluent as what it perhaps should’ve been. However, although it can be a bit of an unnecessary hindrance, the movement of a robot largely depends on what type of wheels it’s fitted with; which over time, becomes less and less of an issue as the player gets a feel for what axis are best to fit their robot with, and what type of tyre to use to give it better overall control. It poses somewhat of an issue because it can be annoying as the player just starts out, but to me, it is at least bearable to play until better wheels can be purchased. It’s not. It’s not the perfect control scheme, but one that does gradually get rectified.
Lifespan – 6/10
To complete the entire circuit of tournaments in the game can take up to a few hours, dependent of course on the quality of the robot the player can create, as well as much damage the robot sustains (players also have to spend money repairing their robot as it takes damage). But regardless of that, there is a fair bit of replay value to be had; especially since not only can players make different types of robots using different frames for a completely different playthrough each time, but can also compete as the classic robots, as well as the house robots.
Storyline – N/A (10/10)
The game will most definitely work better for people who watched the program and have come to like it, but this by no means doesn’t make the game any less enjoyable; another criticism I’ve read of this game is that it didn’t include the then-presenter of the program Craig Charles, with only commentator Jonathan Pierce featuring in the game, but to me, that’s far too much of a finite excuse to criticize the game.
Originality – 7/10
There had been games like this made before, and games made like it since, but not as many as there have been a majority of other genres. It’s certainly a fairly unique concept, which to me, does warrant the further development that it did end up getting, with the follow-up to this game, Robot Wars: Extreme Destruction, generally considered to be better. But to me, this game would’ve served as more than an adequate jumping on point despite the amount of flack it got at the time and still does extremely well to stand out among other games of its kind.
In summation, Robot Wars: Arenas of Destruction not only uses the license extremely well, but it adds to it greatly whilst appropriately celebrating it at the same time. I grew up with the show, with my dad even once taking me to a live show in Sheffield one time, but regardless of whether you may have been a fan of the show or not, this game is certainly worth playing through and totally undeserving of the negative response it received upon release.
The beginning of October marked the fifth year of the Play Manchester gaming expo held at Event City venue. With it’s usual and varied blend of retro gaming cabinets, upcoming indie titles on display, and a wider array of new upcoming mainstream releases than last year’s proceedings, Play Manchester 2016 was even more exciting and diverse than in 2015, and just are star-studded in addition with a special panel present that I shall be covering further in the article. First, I perused the various indie games that were on show at the event, and I was impressed with the amount of range of different gameplay ideas and conceptual designs that the new up and coming developers had to showcase.
The first indie game I came across was a 3D platformer unlike any other. Developed by Sumo Digital, Snake Pass is a game in which the player controls a snake in order to slither around a series of levels and hunting collectible items throughout. Players must learn to take full advantage of the game’s insanely unique control mechanics to reach high places, overcome imposing obstacles and puzzles, and leave no stone unturned, as there are plenty of items to collect through each level, it seemed. What impressed me most about this game, in addition to it’s impressive-looking visuals, was the game’s style of play. With a completely different take on getting around levels and uncovering secrets, it plays out like no other 3D platformer I’ve ever come across. The developer also explained to me various ways that players could choose to play the game, ranging from emphasis on speed, elegance or thoroughness. I personally believe if the developers plan to integrate this idea into the game further, it would most probably add even more replayability to it, but in the state that it was in at the time, it still impressed me very much.
Having discovered a greater fondness for side scrolling shooters since I first started blogging, having played more games like Contra and Metal Slug, I was also particularly amazed by another indie game made largely in the same vein, but with a very interesting twist on conceptual design. Dragon Bros, developed by the aptly named Space Lizard Studios, the game is insanely action-packed, filled with breathtaking pixel art and seemed a lot more accessible than the like of Contra; especially the first three games in the series. For me, Dragon Bros was my pick for the best indie title on display at this year’s proceedings; it was the most fun and addictive game, as well as the most interesting in terms of conceptual design. Though comparisons can be drawn between it and Bubble Bobble, since the main characters are two dragons coloured both green and blue, it takes place in a much different kind of world reminiscent of science fiction rather than the cutesy fantasy settings of the former.
Another game on display I become insanely addicted to, and have been playing frequently ever since the show, is Mao Mao Castle. Created by Asobi Tech, the game is an on-rail free-to-play browser game requiring the player to take advantage of various different mechanics to rack up as many points as possible to attain the highest score possible. The story centres around a cat with supernatural abilities trying to find a way home to a levitating castle in the skies. Reminiscent of the 8-BIT era, it takes influence in terms of conceptual design largely from the varied works of Studio Ghibli; made even more obvious by the fact that the developers had a plushy of the Cat Bus from My Neighbour Totoro perched on top of the projector used to display the game. Usually the game is controlled using a PC mouse, but the version on display at the show used motion controls, and plushies were up for grabs for anyone who could rack up exceptionally high scores. I managed to win one of the three available plushies, and have been racking up higher scores ever since. I highly recommend this game, as it excels in gameplay above even many mainstream releases, as well as it stands out amongst indie games. The link to play is below:
Another 3D platformer with a difference came in form of Unbox developed by Prospect Games. The player must customize and control their own box-shaped character, and have a wide range of different gameplay modes to choose from, include four-way multiplayer competitive modes, challenge modes, an adventure mode, and even a kart-racing mode; all of which can played to unlock new outfits for their box character, and to attain a wide range of collectibles like in Snake Pass, or most 3D platformers meeting industry standards. Just as unique as the former, it provides an extremely different take on the genre compared to games such as Super Mario 64, Jak & Daxter and Banjo-Kazooie, but also coming with possibly an even greater amount of variety in gameplay and potentially more replayability. Though it may not be as revolutionary as any of the aforementioned titles were at the time of their respective releases, it’s certainly an evolutionary title, and did stand out os one of the better games on display at the event.
Another one of my favourite games on display at this year’s Play Manchester was Sub Level Zero; a lovingly crafted Roguelike shooter reminiscent of the classic game Descent developed some of it’s devout fans at Sigtrap Games. Procedurally generated, and with a map system heavily influenced by the Metroid Prime series, which I found to be particularly impressive, as well as surprisingly easy to interface with, Sub Level Zero also has a heavy influence on player character development, with upgrades for grabs, as well as a wide variety of different weapons to use during combat. In lieu of Roguelike tradition, it also offers a fair bit of legitimate challenge, like the likes of Rogue Legacy and Ziggurat. One of many games in display taking advantage of Virtual Reality Headset technology, this game also did extremely well to further alleviate what scepticisms I previously had with the idea back when I first tried the Oculus Rift last year at Play Blackpool. I found that it was a great deal of fun with the addition of VR technology, and made me believe to a greater extent that the concept will be able take off in time.
The last indie title I tried out was another space-based shooter reminiscent of the arcade classic Defender. Hyper Sentinel, developed by Ian Hewson, son of industry legend Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultants who appeared on a panel at last year’s Play Blackpool show, it centres on not only shooting down various enemies that appear on-screen, but also collecting power-ups and defeating a boss at each level; normally in the form of a giant spaceship, somewhat reminiscent of Bosconian. Though it may not have been the most unique title on display at the event, with it’s influences blatantly obvious, it does o well to stand out from the game of it’s inspiration in terms of conceptual design, and was also quite fun to play too. It certainly presents as much of a challenge as the arcade classic, and is a must-try for any fan of the arcade era.
One of many different upcoming AAA titles that were available to try out at Play Manchester this year was Tekken 7. After being sorely disappointed by the previous game, with it’s less than impressive conceptual design, many characters coming across as far too generic, and it’s almost impossible difficulty level at times, I was quite relieved to see how much the seventh game improved on the sixth in every aspect. I was also impressed to see how fluently it plays out in comparison to even the original trilogy of Tekken games, with moves being much easier and less frustrating to pull off. Also, like what Capcom have done with the advent of Street Fighter V, and what NetherRealm studios did with Mortal Kombat X, the developers have seemed to branch out conceptually in terms of character design, but in a way that still makes the game feel like it belongs to the series without them being too generic in design. Akuma from Street Fighter is also a welcome addition following relatively recent crossovers between the two series’. It also makes me excited for what additional characters Capcom may decide to add for when they will inevitably update Street Fighter V.
WWE 2K17: First Impressions
The main attraction on show in terms of AAA releases however, as officially announced by Paul Heyman of the WWE, was WWE 2K17. Boasting new wrestlers, a new submission system and the inclusion of Goldberg on pre-order, it marks the fourth WWE released since the publishing rights were acquired by 2K Games, and features all the usual gameplay modes synonymous with WWE games, such as the Triple Threat match, Fatal 4 Way, Royal Rumble and of course, the career mode; as well as the facility to create wrestlers. It is without a doubt the best looking WWE game ever developed, but in terms of gameplay, it did take me a little bit of getting used to; especially since I haven’t played a WWE game since the sixth generation, about the time when I grew out of it as a kid. Regardless, especially after getting used to the submission system, and being able to thoroughly enjoy the game for what it is, I was pretty satisfied with how the newer developers have managed gameplay in comparison to classic WWE games like War Zone, Attitude and Wrestlemania 2000. Though the Attitude era remains my favourite time of the company’s history, it was good to see how the WWE video game formula has been worked upon and handled in a way that works extremely well after so long.
The Tomb Raider Panel
In terms of guest speakers, however, the main attraction was the assembly of and talk with many of the developers of the original Tomb Raider from Core Design to commemorate the franchise’s 20-year anniversary; many of the panel not having seen each other in as many years. The panel consisted of Jeremy Heath-Smith, the game’s executive producer and co-founder of Core Design, Natalie Cook, who was the original character model for Lara Croft, Richard Morton, who was the lead game, level and environment designer for every game up to Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Gavin Rummery, who was the lead programmer for Angel of Darkness, Heather Gibson, another level designer for the first two games, Andy Sandham, who designed levels and wrote the scripts for the third game, as well as The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider: Chronicles, Murti Schofield, who wrote the story of Angel of Darkness, Nathan McCree, who composed the original soundtrack for the first two games, and finally Stuart Atkinson, who worked as an artist on the second game. The panel were also to be joined by former Eidos Interactive CEO and industry legend Ian Livingstone, but he unfortunately had to pull out due to ill health. Regardless, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr. Livingstone a full recovery.
The panel proceeded to provide an in-depth analysis of how and why Lara Croft was designed the way she was, and how the games themselves were designed the way they were and in what manner, and how both Lara Croft and Tomb Raider gradually went from a unique video gaming idea into a cultural phenomenon, and how it has managed to have such a profound effect on the industry as it has. Questioned were also raised by the audience concerning the reboot of the Tomb Raider series from Crystal Dynamics, and also about the degree of influence Naughty Dog took from Tomb Raider to develop their own Uncharted series. The team responded quite sternly in their answer to the Uncharted question in particular, commenting how many of the various gameplay features were heavily inspired by Tomb Raider, and the long-time Tomb Raider fans in the audience responded fittingly with an astonishing round of applause. Though I may personally prefer Uncharted to Tomb Raider, mostly due to the better start that Uncharted had in terms of controls, credit is due where it is due, and the team deserve props for helping to pioneer one of the most memorable video game series of all time, and so there response was justified in my opinion. Uncharted may have homed the great gameplay concept, but Tomb Raider established it, and has contributed a great deal to the popularity that gaming garnishes today. Especially with the recent release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PlayStation 4, the talk with the panel was an appropriate reflection on where Tomb Raider has gone, where it is going now, and where it could go in the future. It was extremely exciting to sit in on an extremely insightful presentation, and the made 2016’s Play Expo proceedings all the better for it.
Overall, Play Manchester 2016 was a thrilling experience, and would like to take the opportunity to thank the organisers at Replay Events for the making it the best event it could possibly be, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them next year.
Pierhead Arcade: First Impressions
As a bonus, before I headed out to Manchester, Mechabit Games, a Liverpool-based developer, also invited me to try out the latest game they have been working on. Mechabit, who developed the RTS game Kaiju Panic, which was on display at Play Manchester 2015, and won my personal choice for best indie game of that year (shameless plug is shameless), have been working on a virtual reality game called Pierhead Arcade; a collection of interactive fairground games based in a virtual reality amusement arcade. After only having limited experience with VR gaming beforehand, I saw as an excellent opportunity to finally get hands on with the technology involved, so to speak. I wasn’t disappointed.
As I outlined in my Play Blackpool 2015 article, ever since I first heard about plans from of the industry incorporating virtual reality into gaming, I had a great deal of scepticism following the ill-fated release of such platforms as the Nintendo Virtual Boy, and early examples of motion controls before the Wii, such as the Nintendo Power Glove. Since first trying it, and going on to briefly trying it again at different expos, my scepticisms were gradually becoming all the lesser, as I slowly learned to understand how it could work if problems I would encounter would be fixed, such as blurry screens etc, and if there was adequate developer support for these platforms. But now after having seen games such as Battle Zone, and then having seen how much indie developers are beginning to support the platform along with mainstream developers, I now believe this may very well could be a future of gaming that could establish itself as here to stay; provided that developer support will continue, as what is looking increasingly likely, since the technology was on display at other major gaming expos this year, such as E3, Gamescom and EGX.
Pierhead Arcade itself not only takes advantage of this potentially successful technology, but presents players with an astonishing amount of variety, with games like Whack-A-Mole, Shuffleboard, Binary Dash and Skeeball to name but a few. The objective is to earn as many tickets as possible that can be cashed in for prizes, much like in most amusement arcades. There are also a couple of extras in the game, such as a claw machine, and a reception desk with various toys that can be played with, such as building blocks. Overall, the variety is staggering, and the game will make for hours of fun. I may do a full review of this game in the future, I would recommend that VR gamers try it out. Following up Kaiju Panic was always going to be a challenge for Mechabit in my opinion, but with this title, I’d say they’ve done a particularly good job of doing so.
In summation, I would like to again thank the organisers at Replay Events for providing me, as well as countless gamers across the country, with truly memorable experiences at the various Play Expo events this year, and I hope that you guys enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.