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Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One & Switch)

Developer(s) – Bombservice

Publisher(s) – Playism 

Developed by Brazilian indie outlet Bombservice Games and released on multiple platforms since 2016, Reverie Under the Moonlight is the fourth title in the relatively obscure Momodora series of Metroidvanias. Since the release of the third and fourth titles on Steam, the series began to gain much more momentum after being confined to the itch.io platform and it’s not hard to see why. I was taken aback by just how good this game is and it has made me want to try out the rest of the series; out of all the Metroidvania games I’ve played, this is one like no other. 

 

Graphics – 9/10

Making use of traditional 8-BIT graphics and inspired by the medium of Japanese anime, the game’s conceptual design is without a doubt it’s most wonderful and unique feature. It plays host to a number of unusual creatures scattered across the in-game world and takes place over a contrast of beautiful and horrifying locations, but it’s the latter that takes precedent. The amount of wonderfully dark and atmospheric locations in this game certainly makes it one of the grittiest Metroidvania games I’ve ever played; most definitely the scariest. Even scarier than any game in the Castlevania series by some distance. The game’s accompanying soundtrack also adds to the already wonderfully grim atmosphere of this title. Unlike most 8-BIT games, it makes no use of chiptune and relies heavily on traditional orchestral music and the extremely effective use of realistic background sound effects such as running water. 

 

Gameplay – 8/10

The game plays out like a standard Metroidvania experience, with players having to discover new abilities to access different areas throughout and uncover hidden secrets to enhance the strength of the player character Kaho. It’s also quite heavily combat-orientated through combat options are slightly more limited compared to other games in the genre. The difficulty of the boss fights also ranges from easy to hard throughout, but the basic structure of each boss fight is very well handled, and again, some make for very memorable moments within the entire genre. There are also two different endings to unlock depending on the actions of the player, similar to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It starts out as fairly challenging, but as the player gains new abilities, the difficulty decreases considerably; but better for it to play out like that than having it be too inaccessible. It’s an enjoyable gaming experience with a lot to uncover throughout.

 

Controls – 10/10

Especially as the developers had had extensive experience in developing for this series before the fourth installment, there are no issues with the controls whatsoever. There’s not a great deal you could call unique about the game’s control scheme since it plays out typical of a Metroidvania game, but again, better to do that than take unnecessary risks. The shape-shifting mechanic was quite enjoyable for me, as Kaho gains the ability to turn into a cat in order to reach narrow passageways; I love cats, so it worked for me on a personal level. 

 

Lifespan – 4/10

The aspect which didn’t work so well for me, however, was how short the game lasts. To complete it, even to 100%, can be done within 4 hours, and for a Metroidvania game, that’s criminally short. Although the developers would have inevitably been operating on a budget whilst making this game, I’ve played and reviewed longer Metroidvanias made by other indie developers with them having been their first title, and with graphics comparable to this on the technical level. A game as wonderfully unique as this one deserved to last considerably longer in my opinion. 

 

Storyline – 8/10

The story of the game involves a young priestess named Kaho hailing from the village of Lun, who has come to Karst City seeking out its a queen in order to request protection for her home village, But things take a dark turn for the worst as Kaho ventures across the world to discover what has happened to Karst City and it’s queen. Throughout the game, players will come across a number of tortured characters with much depth to them, which is another reason why this game deserved to last longer; if it did, there would’ve been far more time to further develop on these individual characters and elaborate on their stories and fates; even the boss characters have layers to them, which could’ve been explored more. Although the game’s end boss is obviously the last trial the player must undertake, to me, the last boss isn’t even the most compelling villain; by far, that honor would go to Lubella, the witch of decay. The concept art for the game doesn’t really do her character justice, as she’s portrayed as being a size proportionate to every other character. But in the game, she’s a giant with a lot of power, which makes her much more menacing; she most definitely steals the show as the game’s best villain. 

 

Originality – 9/10

As I said before, the game’s conceptual design makes this title much different from any other Metroidvania game I’ve played; even amongst the many other indie Metroidvanias, I’ve played such as the Ori games, the Alwa games, Dust: an Elysian Tail, and Cathedral. The series’ mythology has been expanded upon with the original trilogy before this, so this fourth title does make me want to explore the series in much more depth. But this is my first experience with this series, and I was taken aback by just how unique a game this was. 

 

Happii

Overall, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight is certainly worth at least one playthrough. I was disappointed with how short a time it lasts and I felt it could have easily been made to last far longer than what it does, but for the time it does last, it’s an enjoyable game with a  wonderfully morbid atmosphere and a lot of emotionally charged moments that players will not soon forget. 

Score

48/60

8/10 (Verdict)

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

Developer(s) – Thomas Happ Games

Publisher(s) – Thomas Happ Games

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

Graphics – 9/10

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

Gameplay – 9/10

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

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

Controls – 9.5/10

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

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

Lifespan – 7/10

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

Storyline – 8/10

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

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

Originality – 8/10

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

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

Happii

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

Score

50.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Mothergunship (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Grip Digital Games & Terrible Posture Games

Publisher(s) – Grip Digital Games

PEGI – 7

Jointly developed and released by Terrible Posture Games and Grip Digital and released at the midpoint of 2018, Mothergunship is a spiritual successor to the indie shooter Tower of Guns, featuring much of the same gameplay elements but offering a great deal more than the latter with an improved number of gameplay features whilst also boasting better graphics on a technical level and a slightly more immersing story complete with all the humour of Joe Mirabello’s previous game. When I first played and reviewed Tower of Guns, I was immediately taken aback by just how unexpectedly fantastic a game it is, but I also pointed out a number of flaws that, although marred the game down to a small extent, didn’t stop it from being the best indie game of the eighth generation that I had played up to that point. However, Mothergunship not only addresses these flaws, but offers players all the immersion that can be had with Tower of Guns and then some; I was again taken further aback by how this game hadn’t equaled the quality of it’s spiritual predecessor, but surpassed it to a monumental extent. 

Graphics – 9/10

The first thing I noticed whilst playing this game was the significant improvements made to the game’s visuals on a technical level. Abandoning the cel-shaded style synonymous with Tower of Guns, the developers went for a much more realistic-looking sci-fi setting with more varied environmental features as well as a wider range of enemy types. A vast majority of the enemies (as well as a few of the boss fights) were largely recycled from Tower of Guns, but to counteract that, more enemy types were added to not only make the game more diverse on a visual scale, but to add new types of challenge for players to contend with; among the most notable are the robotic dogs that run towards players in certain phases of the game. 

I was extremely impressed with visuals from the get-go; most impressive were the very realistic-looking vistas of open space towards the start of the game and those that can be seen during the sequences whereby players must jump between gravity pads to reach another ship. But as well as that, although each room is randomly generated and as such, the scenery can become very repetitive very quickly, it’s not as much of a problem in Mothergunship as it is in Tower of Guns as each room feels much more unique from the last. The dice rooms in particular offer more diversity in scenery design, as they present different challenges found in typical rooms. 

Gameplay – 10/10

Mothergunship keeps to the same basic premise as Tower of Guns for the most part; a first-person shooting Roguelike with randomly generated content. But as alluded to before, new gameplay features have been implemented with this title, such as an RPG aspet in that players can level up their character to gain new perks such as increased health, an increased number of jumps, increased melee power etc. It also has a much less linear progression than the latter, with players being able to undertake sidequests for better loot. But speaking of the loot, that’s where the game’s most impressive feature comes in. Players also have the facility to make weapons from the ground-up, using various parts that are collected throughout the game. A player can modify a single gun to have multiple barrels and multiple modifications for perks such as increased fire rate, attack power and abilities such as ricocheting bullets and stunning enemies. The level of customization the players can indulge in is actually ridiculous to the extent that the guns can look like they couldn’t possibly be handled by a human being in the real world. 

But regardless, it makes for one of the most enjoyable features I’ve seen in any FPS game. It feels incredibly satisfying to step into a room with an unreasonably big gun (or two for that matter, since dual wielding is also an option) and blast through everything in sight. It’s equally satisfying to try and get by on a minimal amount of equipment throughout the beginning of each mission and then rely on your ability to strategize in accordance with what loadout a player starts with and then subsequently buys in each shop.

Controls – 10/10

Although the game in terms of its controls functions like most other first-person shooter games, most fans of the genre will be able to pick up the controller and play through it fluently, success also relies on a certain extent of strategy. It’s just as important to move as it is to shoot with so many potential enemies on-screen at any one given moment. People who may have played Tower of Guns can go from that game to this without skipping a beat (especially if, like me, they’ve had the practice of playing the latter game to death), but for other fans of the genre who may not have played Tower of Guns before, they will be forced to modify their tactics somewhat to stand any chance of success. 

Lifespan – 10/10

To complete one playthrough to 100% with most likely take there around 20 hours. But the thing with this game is that like Tower of Guns before it, because everything is randomly generated from the rooms to the loot, each playthrough presents a completely different challenge every time, giving it a virtually infinite amount of replay value. It has a linear progression ultimately, but the possibilities for each playthrough are endless and will only last as long as player interest, which given the amount of things to do in this game, is a potentially long time. 

Storyline – 7/10

The basic premise of the game is simple; the player is a new recruit of Earth’s governing body tasked with repelling an impending invasion carried out by a robotic race known as the Archivists. The player character must stop this invasion by taking out the Archivist fleet and along with it, its flagship spacecraft, the Mothergunship. Though the game’s story is pretty basic and overall bears next to no thinking about for the most part, it’s kept somewhat fresh throughout with a steady supply of humour. The element of comedy with rife in Tower of Guns as well, but because there’s full voice acting in Mothergunship, it’s much easier to indulge in. In particular, Dave Pettitt puts in a hilarious performance as the Colonel; it’s quite reminiscent of Jim Ward’s performances as Captain Qwark in the Ratchet & Clank games. 

Originality – 9/10

In my review of Tower of Guns, I’d commented how hard it must be for developers to make a unique first-person shooter experience, given how saturated the industry has become the genre taking precedent throughout recent gaming generations. Despite that, Tower of Guns felt like a fairly unique game. However, with the sheer amount of new and exciting gameplay features implemented in Mothergunship, this games works even better to stand out in an over-saturated gaming genre, making it, to me, not only one of the most memorable FPS game in recent years, but also one of the most unique gaming experiences of the eighth generation. 

Deliirious

Overall, Mothergunship is one of the best first-person shooter games I have ever played. It’s an immersing gameplay experience offering pretty much endless replay value with exceptional graphics and an obscene level of customization that will háave players indulging in for hours upon hours. I loved Tower of Guns, but for lack of a better term, this game quite literally blows it’s spiritual predecessor out of the water. 

Score

53/60

8.5/10 (Great) 

The Witness (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Thekla Inc

Publisher(s) – Thekla Inc

Director – Jonathan Blow

Producer – Jonathan Blow

PEGI – 3

Created by Jonathan Blow, the man behind the classic indie Braid and released back in 2016 following an initially planned released on seventh generation hardware, The Witness is a first-person open-world puzzle game requiring the player to solve a plethora of puzzles throughout in order to progress to new areas across a variety of different themed locations throughout. At first glance, I actually thought that I would hate this game; like it would be another generic story-driven title with a minimalist amount of things to do, similar to Proteus or Gone Home. However, after playing it, I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would for various reasons.

Graphics – 8/10

First of all the visuals, though not quite cutting edge on a technical level, are wonderfully varied and well throughout out on a conceptual level. Each area of the world map focuses on a central theme; for example, there is one based on Japanese culture, one in Ancient Egyptian culture, etc. How each area is also additionally integrated into the gameplay is also unique on a level that I’ve rarely seen in gaming. Jonathan Blow used similar traits whilst developing Braid, but to see these traits implemented in a 3D open-world game as opposed to a 2D side scroller is particularly interesting.

Gameplay – 7/10

The Witness revolves around the player having to solve a base series of puzzles in order to progress through the game. In addition to a series of main set puzzles in each area, there is also a plethora of hidden puzzles players can encounter, which in many cases, the player must use surrounding areas of the world around them in order to solve. For example, simple things like tree branches can be angled in front of a puzzle in order to reveal a solution, and designs of buildings in a lot of cases are also the basis of entire puzzles within the game. Although the entire objective of the game can become repetitive after a while, the puzzles within are varied to the point that they will quite easily hold the player’s interest for the duration. Puzzles primarily center around interacting with computer screens throughout the in-game world and drawing lines through on-screen obstacles to get from the start point to the endpoint, but over time, different elements are introduced such as having to draw two lines at once and drawing them through and around different obstacles on each screen.

Controls – 10/10

The control scheme is that of any standard first-person video game centering on only a few basic functions and as such poses no unnecessary complications. Getting to grips with the controls is particularly straightforward; though there may not be as much innovation in this aspect of the game as there is in the core gameplay mechanics, it’s simply a reassurance that the developers were able to get the fundamentals right before developing the game into what it became.

Lifespan – 9/10

Another aspect of this game that I was particularly surprised with was how long it lasts. Normally, with games like this with no combat elements or other additional gameplay mechanics of well-known titles, they only tend to last less no more than a few hours given how little there is to do in them; games like Journey, Shape of the World and Contrast. But contrary to that, although there is only essentially one objective in this game, it can be made to last hours upon hours since, despite this one objective, it takes a great deal of time to accomplish to 100%. Even completing the main story mode can take up to 25 hours. I was impressed with this title, as well as surprised, because of this.

Storyline – 6/10

In the game, there isn’t actually a forward-going narrative and therefore, nothing exists to resolve itself. But rather, the game focuses more on back-story and is left quite open to interpretation in this respect, since the world that exists within it clearly has some kind history attached to it, given certain elements such as the natural formations and abundant evidence of man-made civilization based on numerous different cultures, but what that history is exactly isn’t really explained in a definitive way. But this in and of itself gives the game it’s own relatively exciting dimension; if the point of art is truly to create debate, then this game can potentially do a good job of that.

Originality – 8/10

In the circle of independent game development, in particular, The Witness stands out from many in a lot of different ways, on a technical, graphical, and fundamental scale. It provides the player with a very unique twist on puzzle-solving and lasts a great longer than many games of the same ilk. I was pleasantly surprised by this game in most of every aspect and it’s been a while since I’ve experienced an example of this. Particularly throughout the eighth generation of gaming, very few games have taken me by surprise as this one has.

Happii

In summation, The Witness is a vast, enjoyable, and refreshing gaming experience that I’m happy to say that I can recommend after watching prior footage of it. Jonathan Blow had already earned a well-deserved spot in the history of independent development with Braid, but this game is a clear further example of what innovation he is capable of presenting to players.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4)

Developer(s) – Guerrilla Games

Publisher(s) – Sony Interactive Entertainment

Director(s) – Mathis de Jonge

Producer(s) – Lambert Wolterbeek Muller

PEGI – 16

Developed by Guerrilla Games and being six years in the making, Horizon Zero Dawn is an open-world action-adventure game, which relies heavily on creativity in battle and presents a very stern challenge similar to games of the same ilk like Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Assassin’s Creed. Personally, I was blown away by how great this game is. I had high expectations of it in the first place, but it did exceptionally well to surpass those expectations and deliver one of the best gaming experiences of the eighth generation.

Graphics – 10/10

The game’s visuals are phenomenal from both a technical and conceptual perspective. The level of detail is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on even the PlayStation 4, which is saying a lot since I’ve played a great deal of technically marvelous games on the system like InFamous: Second Son and Killzone: Shadow Fall. But more impressive than this, the game’s universe is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic Earth whereby humanity has regressed to prehistoric culture, but the wild is infested with dangerous robotic animals made with technology that was widespread before the events of the game. The world in this title is extremely impressive to look at, and to me, it sets a new standard within the industry in terms of cutting edge graphics.

Gameplay – 8.5/10

Outside the main story and various side quests, The object of the game is to hunt animals around the world in order to develop the character and to discover new materials used to upgrade equipment, weapons, and storage capacity. There is great freedom to be had in terms of choice of how to approach combat; the player can choose to take a more stealthy approach and use environmental hazards to subdue enemies without being detected, or they may choose to take the less subtle route and go in all guns blazing. Upgrades provide the player with new abilities to assist them whilst taking all these different approaches towards combat. Morality mechanics also play a part in the game similar to Mass Effect whereby the decisions the player makes affect the outcome of the story and player’s influence over NPCs. Whilst it’s a little bare compared to some other open-world game, which is ultimately why I would have to place Breath of the Wild above it when comparing the two games, there is still a lot of things to do within the game that will keep players entertained for an extraordinary amount of time.

Controls – 10/10

In terms of controls, the game doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. However, there are no unnecessary frustrations to be experienced with the control scheme, so it is deserved a perfect score in this aspect. It’s also quite clever how the developers were able to implement the mechanic of scanning enemies and environments in order to assist players in how they choose to approach the situation, despite the fact that it isn’t the first game of it’s kind to implement such a feature.

Lifespan – 9/10

With plenty to do throughout the game beyond the main story, it can be easily made to last at least 60 hours. It’s actually quite surprising to me that a game of this level of technical innovation can encompass an open world of this size. I was impressed with how Far Cry 4 was able to accomplish a similar feat to this, but this game goes far beyond what the latter was capable of.

Storyline – 9/10

The story of the games follows a young hunter named Aloy, who has been shunned her entire life as an outcast to every other tribe situated throughout her homelands. As she has grown up, she sets out to prove herself as a member of the Nora tribe. But she soon discovers that she is only part of a greater destiny, and so she sets out to uncover it, and to also uncover the history of her world. Horizon Zero Dawn is very much a coming of age story reminiscent of a lot of Studio Ghibli films and goes beyond that of a typical story found in many open-world games. It’s immersing, emotionally charged, and deals with the wonders and complications of a young woman trying to find her way in the world. Watching the development of Aloy’s character, in particular, was a pleasure from beginning to end.

Originality – 8/10

The game is definitely more evolutionary than revolutionary. It’s not the first game of it’s kind to do many of the things that it doesn’t, but it does do them bigger, and all at once, one-upping the likes of Shadow of Mordor in my opinion. Where it truly stands out is in aspects such as it’s a conceptual design, and variety in combat, which makes me feel reassured that innovation is not just happening within in the indie industry, but also the mainstream scene as well.

Deliirious

Overall Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the best games of 2017, and unanimously my favorite PlayStation 4 exclusive so far. I’ve been impressed with many others such as InFamous: Second Son, Infamous: First Light, and The Last Guardian, but to me, this game surpasses them all, making for a better IP than Killzone ever was.

Score

54.5/60

9/10 (Excellent)

Reus (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Abbey Games

Publisher(s) – Abbey Games

Designer(s) – Adriaan Jansens, Dennis Pullens & Nick Witsel

Programmer(s) – Bas Zalmstra, Maarten Wiedenhof, Manuel Kerssemakers, Dennis Pullens, Tim de Jager & Jacco Krijnen

PEGI – 7

Developed and self-published by indie developers Abbey Games, Reus is a unique type of real-time strategy game, whereby the player must create a world and influence the populace to maintain as peaceful a civilization as possible. Overall, I was extremely impressed with how original this game is, and I would recommend it to any fan of the strategy genre who may be wanting a much different experience than what they may normally be used to.

Graphics – 7/10

Making use of hand-drawn 2D graphics, I really like the conceptual design of this game. It gives it a deceptively innocent look about it, when in fact, it can become a wonderfully hectic challenge to maintain civility among the world’s people, and provide resources as and when they’re needed, and to not overdo it in any way. The game’s soundtrack can also add to this depth in deception, as it sounds very peaceful against a potential foreground of problems that muse be solved.

Gameplay – 7/10

The game puts the player in control of four ancient gods, who must be used to create different forms of terrain across the planet to allow for the development of civilization, and it’s expansion. The more food and gold mines the people are able to utilize, the more prosperous it’ll be, but more prosperous societies may become greedy and complacent, and be the subject of envy amongst other civilizations that may exist across the world, thereby increasing the risk of conflict between them, and affecting the level of peace throughout the land. Though it may not be the first game to introduce mechanics of the same ilk, as it does draw inspiration from strategy games such as Empire Earth and Sid Meier’s Civilization, it does it in a very different way to either of the aforementioned and provides a challenge unlike any other.

Controls – 10/10

As a strategy game, it is inevitably best played on PC, as it can be quicker to issue commands to the gods and carry out tasks as and when required through the use of hotkeys. But on consoles, it’s not unplayable; it’s still quite easy to get to grips with the controls, and the overall gameplay system. In fact, it can arguably be seen as a greater challenge playing a game like this on consoles. I felt the same way when I played Tropico 5 on PlayStation 4, and Reus is no exception in my opinion.

Originality – 9/10

To put it simply, I’ve never seen or played a game like this before. It’s 2D graphic design and unique way of playing makes it stand out from every other strategy game ever developed. It gives testament to how willing and capable indie developers are of creating new concepts for games of pre-existing genres. There’s been Don’t Starve, Five Nights at Freddy’s and Super Meat Boy to name but a few, and Reus is as every bit as innovative as those examples in my opinion.

Happii

Overall, Reus is an enjoyable and insanely unique gaming experience that comes highly recommended by me. As a fan of strategy games, I had a lot of fun playing this title, and I’ve no doubt that other strategy game fans will feel a very similar way about it.

Score

33/10

8/10 (Very Good)

Earthlock: Festival of Magic (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One & Wii U)  

Developer(s) – Snowcastle Games

Publisher(s) – Snowcastle Games & Soedesco

Director(s) – Bendik Stang & Fritz Olsen

Producer(s) – Erik Hoftun

PEGI – 12

A turn-based RPG reminiscent of classic Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest games, Earthlock is a game developed by Norwegian outlet Snowcastle Games after securing $250,000 funding amidst a successful Kickstarter campaign, and later published by Soedesco Entertainment; currently one of the most prominent publishers of indie games in, having marketed games like Tower of Guns and Teslagrad to name but a few. Whilst not lasting anywhere near as long as games in the aforementioned tow major RPG series, it retains a lot of the addictive gameplay and satisfaction to be had for developing player characters, as well as a fairly intriguing story set in a wonderfully outlandish world.

Graphics – 7.5/10

The conceptual design of this game speaks to me as a combination of Final Fantasy IX and Star Wars, in that there is the element of futuristic steampunk technology, much like the classic Squaresoft game, and then there’s also the element of different alien species co-existing together, as the character Amon and his uncle Benjo scavenge together at the start of the story; reminiscent of how species exist together in the likes of Star Wars or Mass Effect. Specifically, the desert areas remind me of the planet Tatooine. Though it may not stand out greatly on a technical level, the conceptual design certainly makes up or that.

Gameplay – 8.5/10

Earthlock is a story-driven turn-based RPG; the objective of which is to recruit the main characters to the party, and engage in randomly prompted battles in order to level up each character to make them as strong as possible, in turn, advancing the main story. In addition, there are also side quests and causes to revisit previous areas, as there are places with stronger monsters, which players need to become stronger over time in order to go back to and explore. Though the gameplay formula has been replicated many times before, Earthlock still gives the player a lot to play for in the time that it lasts. It also always addicting to level up characters, and gain new abilities that can be used in combat to achieve more of an edge in battle.

Controls – 10/10

The controls for these games are always very straightforward, and Earthlock is no exception. Exploration and combat are extremely easy to get to grips with, and players will not experience any unnecessary complications while playing. Seeing games like this surfacing within the indie gaming community since the start of the eighth generation has been a breath of fresh air following the unnecessary and frustrating changes made to the combat system in the Final Fantasy games since Final Fantasy XII, and the controls are a massive part of this. Earthlock is a game that gets turn-based combat right in this respect.

Lifespan – 7/10

Earthlock can take on average around 20 hours to complete, but if players are more thorough, and want to do everything possible, it can be made to last around 30 hours, and although this falls short of the average lifespan of a typical turn-based RPG, it’s still more than a reasonably long time for a game to last; especially one that was initially developed on a lower budget than the average mainstream game. To compare it to another, although the game may not have the phenomenal conceptual design of Child of Light, it still lasts a lot longer than a game in the same genre developed by a mainstream company.

Storyline – 7/10

Taking place in the fictional setting of Umbra, the story follows a young man name Amon, a scavenging adventurer, who eventually gets caught up in a huge conflict involving the Suvian Empire. The game’s plot is also quite reminiscent of that of both Final Fantasy IX and Star Wars, as many different characters from a multitude of different backgrounds form an extremely unlikely alliance to save their world from an impending threat. It’s always interesting to see these kinds of stories come together, and Earthlock, albeit to a smaller extent, tells this kind of story well.

Originality – 7/10

Though Earthlock draws a lot of inspiration from many different sources of fantasy and science fiction, as well as many classic series’ of RPGs, it still has a unique level of conceptual design that does well to make it stand out from a lot of games; most notably in its character and enemy designs. Or example, in most Final Fantasy games, most, if not all of the main party, is made of humans, but in this game, almost every playable character is a member to an entirely different species, and it makes the game seem extremely diverse in that respect.

Happii

Overall, Earthlock was a very enjoyable game to play, and I would recommend it to any fan of the turn-based RPG formula. It has a massive abundance in gameplay and diversity in conceptual design, in addition to an intriguing story that does well to keep players gripped from start to finish.

Score

47/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PC & PlayStation 4)

Developer(s) – The Chinese Room & SCE Santa Monica Studio

Publisher(s) – Sony Computer Entertainment

Director – Jessica Curry

Designer – Andrew Crawshaw

PEGI – 16

Developed as a spiritual successor to the game Dear Esther, and picked up by Sony after the developers failed to crowd-fund the game, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture turned out to be one of these games that are driven solely by the story, and is told through a first-person perspective with a fairly sizeable open world with nothing to do in it but walk around. After first seeing this game announced back in E3 2014, I was quite excited about what potential this game had; even going so far as to list as one of my top ten most highly anticipated games at that time. Upon playing it, however, I was glad I didn’t pay any additional amount for it on top of my PlayStation Plus subscription. I was bitterly disappointed by this title. Ben Croshaw of The Escapist described this game as a “walking simulator”, and that’s all, and exactly what it is.

Graphics – 8/10

The game is set in Shropshire in England in the early ’80s and features a lot of staples of English architecture, such as Victorian-style houses and local pubs. One positive thing I can say about this game is that the visuals were handled fairly well, being more impressive on the technical level as opposed to the conceptual level. The game’s soundtrack also does fairly well to add to the game’s deceptively calm atmosphere throughout.

Gameplay – 1/10

The game simply has the player walking around the town trying to piece together exactly what happened to the inhabitants who have mysteriously disappeared. There are no additional quest or combat elements, and the gameplay is almost non-existent. This is where it’s squandered potential comes into play, as there was definitely enough room to add more to it than simply walking around, making it feel like a very insulting gaming experience amounting to nothing more than a very long film.

Controls – 10/10

Mercifully, walking around is as easy as it is in most decent first-person games, as there are no problems with the controls. But in a game where the only objective is to walk around, it would probably have been easier to get it right than to mess it up.

Lifespan – 3/10

Clocking in at around 4 and half hours, this is another aspect in which the game’s wasted potential sticks out like a sore thumb. Given the addition of more things to do, it could have been made to last a great deal longer. But given the fact that going outside for a walk would be a much more preferable alternative to playing this game, it’s just as well that it lasts as short a time as it does. I myself could only manage 20 minutes of it.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of the game centers around the player character trying to deduce exactly what happened to the inhabitants of Shropshire, and why they have disappeared so abruptly. The plot does take a few unexpected twists and turns, which is good, but not exceptional in my opinion. Overall, it still doesn’t come close to making up for the severe lack of gameplay. At the same time, the fact that the story isn’t even overly good cheapens the experience further, as there have been countless that have told better stories, yet have had much more in the way of gameplay.

Originality – 4/10

The developers were clearly trying to create something different with this game, but to me, there is hardly anything unique to talk about. The premise is relatively original but short of that, there is, of course, no innovation in any other aspect, i.e graphics gameplay, etc, which again to me, further cheapens the experience, and defeats the object of what the developers were clearly trying to do in the first place. When I looked at the awards this game has garnished, I don’t believe it’s deserved of any of them since there were games in both 2015 and 2016 which had better stories; Batman: Arkham Knight, SteamWorld Heist and Undertale to name but a few. And it certainly didn’t deserve the award it got for creative gameplay in the UK from the TIGA Games Industry Awards; I had to laugh when I read that one.

Angrii

In summation, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture thoroughly deserves it’s designated title of the walking simulator; it’s a modern example of wasted potential in video gaming, and in my opinion, should be avoided at all costs.

Score

33/60

5.5/10 (Below Average)

Overcooked (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Ghost Town Games

Publisher(s) – Team17

PEGI – 3

Released in late 2016, and published by Team17 after various expo tours to bring the game to the attention of wider audiences, Overcooked is a cooking simulator in which the objective is to raise as much money as possible in each respective level by preparing as many dishes as possible. I first became aware of Overcooked hen I went to my first expo, Play Blackpool 2015, and I had been following the progress of the game closely until it’s release. After playing the final product, I can say that I was not at all disappointed.

Graphics – 7/10

The game’s variety of conceptual design is heavily based on the layout of each level’s kitchen; many taking place in outdoor and indoor restaurants, whilst other levels take place in more varied locations, such as volcanoes and pirate ships. It also comes with quite an impressive soundtrack, but it’s the variety in scenery that truly makes the game stand out. It speaks of games with some of the most diverse settings conceived, including Super Mario Bros and Banjo-Kazooie to sight a few of many examples.

Gameplay – 8/10

The object of the game is to serve as many customers as possible in each level, and to finish with a possible total of three stars, similar to Angry Birds or 10 Second Ninja X. Interestingly, it alludes to the fact that 3 Michelin stars are the highest accolade a chef can attain in the cooking profession. It’s an extremely challenging game, but at the same time, it’s also extremely fun. It’s satisfying to be able to adapt to the layout of each kitchen, and plan your strategy in accordance with the food that is being ordered by the customers; much like being an executive chef, in fact. There are penalties for overcooking food, as well as sending the wrong orders, which is also an integral part of where the game’s level of the challenge lies. Whilst looking simplistic, beneath the surface, there is a system that is easy to learn, yet difficult to master.

Controls – 9/10

At times, the controls can be somewhat unresponsive, but not to the extent that it ruins the gameplay, like what has happened with many other challenging games that have been developed in the past. Most often than not if a player makes a mistake, it is down to how they perform in the game, which is how it should be. Apart from this one minor gripe I have, I was particularly impressed with how the developers had handled the controls scheme; it makes it, unlike any other game I’ve played.

Lifespan – 7/10

The single-player campaign mode has 28 different levels, as well as an end boss fight, which dependent on player skill, can take up to 4 or 5 hours to complete. However, the game was designed to be a primarily multiplayer experience, whereby two players control two chefs at the same time, which can make for many hours of entertainment. There was also DLC released for the game in addition, but with or without it, it does have a great deal to offer in terms of longevity. The only thing it lacks is an online multiplayer, which I think would go a long way to improving the experience even further, but that may be an idea to implement with a possible sequel. The idea of a second game would be particularly exciting to me since there is potentially a lot the developers could do to expand upon the concept even further,

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story involves the chefs having to save the world from an entity known as the Ever Peckish by traveling the world and cooking. Although a story may not have been necessary, it is a nice extra detail the developers added to give the game that little more substance. The concept may sound ridiculous on paper, but some of the greatest games developed have had very outlandish stories attached to them, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing speaking from experience. For example, a plumber saving a princess from a dragon may sound strange, but it’s made for the most iconic gaming franchise ever created.

Originality – 8/10

As I pointed out, Overcooked is unlike any other game I’ve ever played; it’s gameplay layout and control scheme does extremely well to make it stand out from both mainstream and indie releases, which is why I had been excited about it ever since I first laid eyes on it. As I watched it develop, my excitement and expectations only increased as time went on, and in retrospect, I think it’s deserved of the accolades it’s received since it’s release.

Happii

To summarize, Overcooked is a charming; yet challenging gameplay experience that is certainly worth playing again and again. The developers had outlandish ideas ever since the game’s inception, and to see all these ideas come together so well in the final product made believe it was well worth the wait to see it fully released.

Score

46/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Titan Souls (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita & Android)

Developer(s) – Acid Nerve

Publisher(s) – Devolver Digital

Designer(s) – Mark Foster & Andrew Gleeson

Programmer – Mark Foster

PEGI – 7

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 it’s 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 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 its 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 into 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.

Happii

In summation, Titan Souls is a gaming experience well worth delving into. It’s challenging without being accessible, it’s 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.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)