Tag Archives: Puzzle

Sheep (PC, PlayStation & Game Boy Advance)

Developer(s) – Mind’s Eye Productions

Publisher(s) – Empire Interactive

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

Graphics – 7/10

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

Gameplay – 7/10

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

Controls – 9/10

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

Lifespan – 4/10

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

Storyline – 5/10

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

Originality – 7/10

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


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



6.5/10 (Above Average)

Lego Alpha Team (PC & Game Boy Colour)

Developer(s) – Digital Domain & Climax Studios

Publisher(s) – Lego Media

Released at the turn of the century and going through several different name changes, as the game was in fact released before the toy line, Lego Alpha Team is a puzzle-oriented title with somewhat of an RPG element with players having to strategize in accordance with which different characters and abilities have to be used in order to traverse specific obstacles. Though it would probably seem horribly dated to many gamers these days, since it’s certainly not without its flaws, to me, it’s another one of those games that I’d spent a lot of time playing when I was a kid and came back to it recently thinking that it wouldn’t have aged well, when in actual fact, it still remains an immersive and challenging gaming experience. 

Graphics – 7.5/10

Developed using the NetImmerse engine, which would later operate as Gamebryo and go on to be the basis of some of the biggest games of seventh generation, Lego Alpha Team on a technical level was typical of early sixth generation titles; smoother edges and sharper images compared to the graphical quality of PlayStation 1 and Nintendo 64 games. But what makes this game stand out most out of anything is in the environmental design. Each stage of the game is very well put together, presenting players with a great deal of variety for a game that lasts little more than 4 hours. The game’s soundtrack is also wonderfully varied to suit each stage of the game, retaining a somewhat James Bond feel to it with heavy bass and Vic Flick style guitar solos. 

Gameplay – 8.5/10

The variety in gameplay is unprecedented to a degree that surprised me when I first started playing it. The player must traverse through challenging obstacles throughout by gaining new abilities and characters, while also contending with periodical new objects to place around each course in order to progress. I’d played Lego games prior to this, including Lego Racers and Lego Chess, but to me, this game stood out and still stands out as the best of the earlier games in the series. Sometimes a game may come along with a specific license attached to it that prior to playing, a player may not have any sentimental attachment to; but after playing, it becomes a different story. Lego Alpha Team to me, back in the day, was a shining example of that. 

Controls – 9/10

The one minor gripe I had with the game’s controls is that at times, it can be somewhat difficult to adjust the camera angles whilst playing and it does come across as a nuisance at times, since the game relies heavily on players being able to adjust the camera angles in order to observe every square inch of each course. But it’s a small complaint I have that doesn’t make the game unplayable by any stretch of the imagination. Besides which, the control scheme of the game is unique as I’ve seldom seen many other games that use a similar gameplay system. 

Lifespan – 4/10 

The biggest criticism that I have about this game, however, is that it could be made to last far longer than what it does. On average, players can be expected to make the game last there around 4 hours and for a game with this much variety, it’s a shame that it turned out to be as fleeting an experience as it is. It was most definitely worth a sequel and to me, it’s a surprise that one wasn’t developed since the Lego Alpha Team brand went to become relatively popular, spawning 36 Lego sets over a period of 4 years. 

Storyline – 5/10

The game follows the story of Dash, the leader of the Alpha Team, as he attempts to rescue the other team members from the series’ main antagonist Ogel, who must be stopped having also found a way of zombifying people into doing his bidding. The story of the game was pretty much something in the background to give players that little more emotional stock. It wasn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel, but it wasn’t terrible either. The dialogue throughout the game  is passable as well, which was somewhat a breath of fresh air at the time, since many games of the fifth generation had some pretty abysmal voice acting. 

Originality – 8/10

The game was made to stand out most in terms of both it’s conceptual design as well as it’s unique brand of gameplay. It surprised me at the time, and in truth, it still surprises me to this day that not many other developers since have since either tried to copy the formula or even modify it in any way, shape or form; similar to games like Dark Cloud or Okami. Whilst not being on par in terms of quality with either of the two aforementioned titles, it had and still has a level of uniqueness that makes it an impressive game in and of itself. 


In summation, Lego Alpha Team is an obscure gem of a game, which I would highly recommend. It’s cheap, immersive, unique and still looks and plays as good as it ever did.



7/10 (Fair)

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 is 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 end point, 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, 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 games 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.


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.



8/10 (Very Good)

Back to Bed (PC)

Developer – Bedtime Digital

Publisher – Bedtime Digital

PEGI – 3

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

Graphics – 8/10

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

Gameplay – 7/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 3/10

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

Storyline – 6/10

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

Originality – 7/10

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


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



6.5/10 (Above Average)

Paper Mario: Color Splash (Wii U)

Developer(s) – Intelligent Systems

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Directors(s) – Naohiko Aoyama & Taro Kudo

Producer – Kensuke Tanabe

PEGI – 3

As one of the last games internally developed by Nintendo for the Wii U, Paper Mario: Color Splash was released in later 2016, and ended up garnishing mixed to positive reviews upon release. Fans of the series, however, were not so lukewarm to the game upon pre-release, with many of them complaining about the departure from the formula of classic Mario RPGs such as the original Paper Mario and The Thousand Year Door for the GameCube. A Change.org petition was even started to have the game cancelled before release, which to me, is far too overly harsh. Personally, I think this was the best game released all that year, and the second best game on the Wii U for a number of reasons.

Graphics – 9/10

One common complaint out the game during pre-release was how much over-emphasis there was on the paper theme that has been re-occurring since the fifth generation of gaming, which to me, is one of the most ridiculous criticisms I’ve ever heard anyone make about any video game. There’s nothing wrong with the paper theme, as it is generally something different to the rest of the Mario series, as opposed to the 2D side scrolling or 3D platforming themes that came long before it. Color Splash is also set in a completely different place to what most Mario games are set in, which adds even more to the game’s unique look. Though the critics were right in saying that hardly any new characters are introduced, with everything else that has been undertaken with this game on a conceptual level, the series has been given a mostly fresh coat of paint, so to speak, with new locations, new items, a handful of new characters and a catchy new soundtrack thrown in for good measure.

Gameplay – 9/10

Following on from the rest of the Mario RPG series, Color Splash introduces the feature of having to use cards to determine what attacks are used, and in what abundance the attacks are carried out. Cards are also used to heal and call temporary allies to Mario’s side, whilst unique cards found throughout the game, such as the lemon card and fire extinguisher card, act similar to how summons work in the Final Fantasy series, or they are otherwise used to solve puzzles either inside or outside of combat, giving the gameplay a very exceptional twist to it compared to other RPGs. It’s actually quite reminiscent of Nintendo’s early history, as they started out in 1889 as a playing card company. The cards with flowers on them especially speak of this, since the playing cards they manufactured were for a game called Hanafuda, meaning Flower Cards. The only criticism I would have against the game’s style of play is that a lot of the time, it can seem quite easy to progress through with a lot of meagre battles throughout; however, the game’s bosses provide more than enough challenge when confronted.

Controls – 10/10

Though the game introduces new elements to the Mario RPG series, the game poses no problems in terms of controls, as in essence; it functions on the same basic gameplay structure as the likes of Super Mario RPG and the original Paper Mario. It also makes some of the best use of the Wii U’s GamePad I’ve ever seen, as players use the GamePad to cycle through and select from their list of cards in order to attack enemies. It’s also used to solve puzzles throughout the in-game world; mostly involving creating means of getting to otherwise unreachable areas.

Lifespan – 9/10

The game can easily be made to last 35-40 hours, which for both a Super Mario game, and a Wii U game, is exceptional. Whilst I doesn’t quite live up to the average lifespan of an RPG, as many can be last to last over 100 hours, it will still provide players with hours upon hours of gameplay, as in addition to the main quest, there is also a plethora of different side quests to complete, such as collecting every card in the game, completing the rock, paper, scissor challenges and fulfilling the criteria listed on the lampposts of the main plaza.

Storyline – 6.5/10

Whilst the game does depart from many of the typical settings of a Mario game, and introduces a handful of new characters, the plot is not so unique overall unfortunately. Mario, Peach and Toad receive a letter of a paper Toad drained of colour sent to them from a region called Prism Island. They decide to investigate; only to find the main town deserted. They come across an anthropomorphic paint can called Huey, who explains that the fountain he was found in is powered by six stars called the Big Paint stars that provide Prism Island with colour. The party later discover that Bowser is draining the island of colour in order to enhance his own power. Mario and company resolve to restore the Big Pain stars, and thus put an end to Bowser’s plan. At first, the plot seemed like a breath of fresh air compared to other Mario games about 5 hours in, but then, they throw in the whole Peach gets kidnapped thing seemingly for the sake of it. As it happens, they also sneak in a fourth-wall joke about no one could have expected it to happen, which is part of the reason why I can bring myself to not punish the game too much for it. There are also references to older Mario games all over the place in some dialogue spoken by some of the more obscure characters, which keep thing relatively interesting. But overall, I found the story was about the only thing that I found to be wanting whilst playing this game.

Originality – 7.5/10

Aside from the plot of the game, the rest of it is quite unique compared to most other Super Mario games, and does fairly well to stand out from the rest of the Mario RPG series, which is why I’m thankful that the Change.org petition fell through. TechRadar’s Nick Pino described it is “a frightening example of how quickly, and harshly, we judge games we know next to nothing about”, and I agree with him fully on this. If we were so quick to pre-judge every game before its release, some of the best titles may not have hit shelves at all. The game stands out for it’s unique take on turn-based RPG combat, as well as its exceptional art style.


Overall, Paper Mario Color Splash was my favourite game of 2016. It’s enjoyable to play, very long with plenty of things to do in addition to the main game, and stands out in a style of play that to me, has not been explored enough in recent years, and for a game of this genre in this generation to feature the most iconic video game character of all time shows promise for the future of the genre.



Great (8.5/10)

Play Manchester 2016

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.

Snake Pass


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.



Dragon Bros


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.



Mao Mao Castle


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.



Sub Level Zero


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.



Hyper Sentinel


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.



Tekken 7: First Impressions


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.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

The Unfinished Swan (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 & PlayStation Vita)

Developer(s) – Giant Sparrow, SCE Santa Monica Studios & Armature Studios

Publisher(s) – Sony Computer Entertainment

Director – Ian Dallas

Producer – Max Geiger

PEGI – 7

First released in 2012, around the time when the idea of art in video games was perpetuated with other releases such as Journey, The Unfinished Swan went on to garnish critical acclaim as well as two BAFTA awards, for gaming innovation and best debut game. Unfortunately, I was less lukewarm to this title than many others were, and whilst it does have its unique aspects, I certainly don’t think it was enough to warrant a BAFTA award.

Graphics – 6/10

Many may argue that the visuals of the game are rather unique, and provide something that most gamers won’t have been used to at the time; but from my point of view, that couldn’t be far from the truth. Not only has the general art style been replicated many times since Frank Miller’s Sin City (indeed, it’s the same style I incorporate in many of my own paintings for Frame Over), but it wasn’t even the first time that this style had been used in video game development. There was Madworld before this title, which also continued the influx of cel-shaded visuals in gaming, which started out with Jet Set Radio. Nevertheless, they aren’t terrible graphics, and there are very few glitches to further mar them down.

Gameplay – 3/10

I couldn’t help but feel throughout playing that the developers decided to prioritise aspects such as visuals and story ahead of gameplay, since the core concept may be fairly unique, but in the long term, provide next to no entertainment value. The object of the game is to solve puzzles and bypass obstacles by shooting ink to reveal hidden locations, and to also collect balloons along the way to buy in-game items. It seemed like it could have developed into something bigger as it progressed, but by the third level, I found myself deeply bored by the entire experience.

Controls – 9/10

As it is essentially a first-person shooting game, the control scheme plays out fairly simply; even more so than the average shooter, since there less control mechanics to have to worry about. The only gripe I have with it is that the movement speed is somewhat slower than other FPS games, which can make the game drag on more than it most probably should have done.

Lifespan – 4/10

Completing each level, as well as collecting all the balloons within each level, will take under 10 hours; despite the fact that the game does have that small amount of replayability. However, I think it was just as well that the game lasted that little time, since the game’s total lifespan outlasted my own personal interested in the game itself. It was a sure sign that developers at any kind of level can end up prioritising all the wrong aspects ahead of the one that truly counts.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of the game takes influence of many different children’s books, and merges them into a fairly interesting and fully cohesive concept. It follows a boy called Monroe, who is pursuing an incomplete swan, which has escaped from a painting. The most interesting element of it is in the back-story, which can be discovered as the player progresses through the game. Though it does seem to play out like a children’s story for the most part, there are certain elements, which make the story take on a much darker tone, going against the seemingly calm and tranquil atmosphere of the game and the soundtrack accompanying it all.

Originality – 6/10

The gameplay mechanics of using ink as a projectile weapon to uncover hidden objects and areas are definitely the most unique thing about it. However, I was left thinking that they could have been put to so much better use in order to keep the entire game as interesting as possible. There could have been much more added to each level for players to do. The lack of enemies throughout alone is enough to keep avid gamers from playing this title for any extended amount of time in my opinion.



Overall, The Unfinished Swan, though with fairly unique gameplay mechanics, was not entertaining enough for me to be able to praise it as many other reviewers have done since its release. The influx of indie games to come throughout the next few years following this game would yield more and better titles, but along with Journey, it started out with too much emphasis on visuals and story as opposed to entertaining gameplay.



5.5/10 (Below Average)

Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Ubisoft Montpellier

Publisher(s) – Ubisoft

Designer(s) – Credic Barthez, Simon Choquet-Botanni, Jean-Francois Le Quere, Gregory Palvadeau, Yannick Patet & Antoine Tous

Producer – Bruno Galet

PEGI – 12

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a puzzle game developed by Ubisoft with the use of the same engine incorporated in the making of other games such as Rayman Legend and Child of Light, set in World War I, and told through a number of different perspectives, making for a ton of character development and a great story. However, whilst this may be the best thing about the game, it is also distinctively satisfying and enjoyable to progress through, unlike many different mainstream titles released in recent years.

Graphics – 7.5/10

The visuals are rendered in a cartoony style, somewhat reminiscent of Child of Light, though nowhere near as elegant or beautiful. Instead, they do an unexpectedly excellent job of portraying the horrors of war, and the squalid, horrific environments and conditions that soldiers and citizens alike had to contend with at the time, with documents even provided throughout each level of the game giving in-depth descriptions of such situations, as well as rundowns of what happened during the war at each stage of the game. Though I think the general art direction of the game does take a little of the seriousness out of the game at the same time, the game’s atmosphere and soundtrack outweigh this drawback well enough.

Gameplay – 7/10

The objective of the game is to simply get from point A to point B, all the while solving a multitude of puzzles and finding as many of the game’s numerous hidden collectibles as possible, using multiple playable characters, and even a German detection dog to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. To me, it’s much more unique and variable than most other conventional war games, which all seem to encompass the same objective; shoot everything in sight, capture and area, rinse and repeat.

Controls – 10/10

There are also no issues with the game’s control scheme, which whilst this was most probably to be expected as Ubisoft have worked with the same gaming engine on multiple occasions, the fact of the matter is this game’s control scheme works more differently than the other aforementioned games made with the same engine. It baffles me that so many different kinds of games with different art directions have been made on the same hardware to the point where I can’t wait to see what they possibly do next with it.

Lifespan – 5/10

The game can take around 5 to 6 hours to finish, which is fairly long for a linear game in this day and age, but not overly impressive. I think the developers could have encompassed a wider range of puzzles throughout each stage of the game, or maybe even another side quest along with the collection of hidden trinkets (for example, having the dossiers presented at the beginning of each level being collectible, but there isn’t such a feature, and consequently, the game is made to suffer to an extent because of it in my opinion.

Storyline – 9/10

After the declaration of World War I following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a German farmer named Karl is called up to fight and separated from his wife Marie and their baby boy Victor. Meanwhile, Marie’s elderly father Emile is called upon to fight for the French, when shortly after, he meets and befriends an American fighting for the French army named Freddie. Later on, a Belgian nurse named Anna joins Emile and Freddie along with a detector dog called Walt as they resolve to survive the war and find Karl to reunite him with his wife and child. The story focuses on such themes as love, friendship and the will to survive, and is portrayed in an extremely realistic manner, as well as in an elegant and emotionally charged one.

Originality – 7/10

Ever Since I first played this game, I’ve been hoping that more war games continue to defy convention like this game clearly has, and help them to go beyond being something encompassed into one single genre of gaming, which had already been long since established and refined before the arrival of overrated and generic series’ such as Call of Duty. With the way the market is at the moment, it seems unlikely, but innovation is always happening within the indie gaming scene, which gives me hope for the future.



Overall, Valiant Hearts isn’t one of the most engaging games I’ve ever played, but it’s certainly one of the most interesting ones to portray the themes and settings it does. Perhaps one day there may be a different war game released to more effectively provide entertainment, but this game does that far better than most other war games I’ve ever played.



7.5/10 (Good)

Portal (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 & PC)

Developer(s) – Valve

Publisher(s) – Valve & Microsoft Game Studios

PEGI – 12

Developed by Valve, the creators of Half-Life and Team Fortress, Portal was released in 2007 as part is Valve Orange Box collection for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game is actually the spiritual successor to an independently developed titled called Narbacular Drop, which was created by a group of students at the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Washington. The students were then subsequently hired by Valve’s Gabe Newell, who was impressed with Narbacular Drop, and they helped to developed one of the most innovative titles of the seventh generation; Portal. Although I found it hard to get into during my first playthrough some years ago, I recently played through the entirety of the game, and I was fairly impressed with it.

Graphics – 7/10

The game takes place in the fictional setting of Aperture Sciences Enrichment Centre, which is a science-fiction setting reminiscent of what Valve are synonymous for. There are a few things to make it stand out from the other here and there; for example, it seems to be a lot more eerily cleaner and organized than the likes of Black Mesa. But from a visual standpoint, where this game truly shines, and by proxy it’s sequel Portal 2, is in the many different hidden Easter eggs throughout the entirety of the game; many of these being hidden dens reputed to belong to Doug Rattman, who is an unseen character, but pivotal to the game’s back story and overall plot. There is also an Easter egg towards the end of the game featuring a projector presentation outlining how Aperture Sciences compete with Black Mesa, bringing the worlds of both Half-Life and Portal together.

Gameplay – 8/10

Portal is a game blurring the lines between first-person shooting and puzzle games. The objective is to complete a series of tests, which involve creating two different portals in order to get around and to solve conundrums throughout the game. What I really like about this game, and something I don’t think is seen of enough in the medium, is that it challenges players to think outside the box; to consider that there may be more than one way of getting around particular problems, and different ways in which the portals can utilized to do so. And although there is only one boss fight throughout the course of the game, even that makes for one of the most creative boss fights I’ve ever experienced.

Controls – 10/10

Developed by a company perpetuating the first-person shooting genre, there was nothing to suggest that there would ever be a problem with Portal’s controls scheme, and so there isn’t. With the help of the DigiPen student contributing the game’s portal-shooting premise, the game has made for one of the most imaginative titles not only of the seventh generation, but also in terms of gaming in general. Puzzle games have come and gone like Kurushi, which has challenged the conventional methods of playing video games, but it’s no easy task, and Portal did this flawlessly.

Lifespan – 2/10

The game’s biggest downside, however, is how disapprovingly short-lived it is; especially in comparison to many of Valve’s previous efforts. Though it’s nowhere near as short as Narbacular Drop, which can only be made to last ten minutes, if that, portal can be made to last for just shy of 3 hours, which to me, was pretty disappointing. Thankfully, this is where the sequel would come in, but the first game was very much a question of trial and error; and no truer is that than in its lifespan, in my opinion.

Storyline – 9/10

One thing that I can always find myself saying of Valve is that they know how to create a very compelling narrative. The story of Portal follows a woman named Chell, who is subjected to undertake a series of puzzles in order to survive, based around the use of a portal gun, which generates two different kinds of portals for her to be able to solve them. The tests are conducted at the Aperture Sciences Enrichment centre by a maniacal AI called GlaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System), with the unusual and persistent promise of cake at the end of it. Although the basic premise sound very simplistic, as well as particularly weird, the character of GlaDOS makes for an interesting experience in terms of story, providing the audience with a pretty unique blend of both drama and comedy. There are a lot of suspenseful moments throughout the game, but they’re also balanced out by GlaDOS’ sadistic sense of humour. Though these elements are greatly expanded on in the second game, the first does provide a very strong starting point in establishing these elements, which hadn’t been found in a Valve game prior.

Originality – 10/10

In terms of both gameplay and story, to simply put it, there is no other game like Portal. It’s a prime example of why I think it’s excellent that more and more indie developers are being provided with a much bigger window of opportunity than ever before; because there have been a large number of them that have come up with some of the greatest titles to have ever been developed. Though Portal 2 would perfect the formula, and I will give it a proper review in the future once I’m finished playing it, the impact that the first game has had since its release is undeniable.



In summation, although it is far too short-lived a game for what it is, Portal is one of the most innovative titles in video game history, and remains a favourite of many gamers to this day. I enjoyed the game for how long it lasted, when I previously thought that I wouldn’t if I’d played through it in its entirety, and I would recommend the Orange Box collection to anyone who owns either and Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3.



7.5/10 (Good)

Pokémon Snap (Nintendo 64)

Developer(s) – HAL Laboratory & Pax Softnica

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director(s) – Yoichi Yamamoto, Koji Inokuchi & Akira Takeshima

Producer(s) – Satoru Iwata, Kenji Miki & Shigeru Miyamoto

PEGI – 3

Pokémon Snap was one of many spin-offs to the Pokémon game series for the Game Boy developed during the fifth generation of gaming. The premise of the game revolves around taking pictures of wild pokémon, catching them all (and I use the term loosely) in a different manner to which gamers certainly would have been accustomed to at the time. This unique rail-shooter for me, made for a lot of entertainment growing up, and it’s still holds up fairly well to this day, I find.

Graphics – 7/10

Featuring some of the best visual quality the Nintendo 64 had to offer, there are some fairly diverse settings as well as minimal in-game glitches; something, which had been a problem for the console early on. Though the frame rate can drop at times, especially in the opening cinematic, it doesn’t become enough of a problem to warrant too many complaints or to hinder gameplay, most importantly. But what I like most about the visuals is how the pokémon are portrayed throughout the game. The settings speak of how each type of pokémon adapt to all the different environments present, which in turn, provides a much more realistic representation reminiscent of conventional animal behaviour. They portray the critters in a much more different manner than in any conservative game in the series that came before it.

Gameplay – 7/10

The game revolves around taking pictures of pokémon across the different stages of the game and unlocking each stage, whilst trying to rack up the high scores by taking the best quality pictures. It is very satisfying and fairly addictive to try and capture the perfect shot of each pokémon, and to rack up as high a score as possible. But a major problem I found with this title was that there are only 63 of the original 151 pokémon present, purely to coincide with the fact that it was released on the Nintendo 64. And as a result, the game is somewhat lacking in substance. I think if the developers had included all 151 pokémon, then there would have been a lot more for gamers to play for, and in turn, a lot more call for different level designs and for more substance in general.

Controls – 10/10

Although there are no problems with the control scheme, it is also fairly unique in a certain respect. It does blur the lines somewhat between first person shooters and simulation games, and combines elements of the two to make for something pretty exciting, also being comparable to such future games Dead Rising and Beyond Good & Evil.

Lifespan – 6/10

Although it can merely 2 hours to rush through each course and unlock all the extra items used to take pictures of certain pokémon, there is quite a bit of replay value to be had in re-visiting each course and trying to capture as many excellent pictures as possible. The Wii Virtual console version added even more with the inclusion of the facility to share pictures with friends. But after grinding through each course and collecting everything, it does become a case of racking up the highest score possible, but as I said earlier, I can’t help but feel there would have much more to it with the inclusion of all 151 pokémon.

Originality – 10/10

Pokémon Snap was and still is among some of the most unique games ever developed. The only games like this that have come along since are the likes of Fatal Frame. There was no concept like it at the time, and it’s a concept that has never truly been fully replicated since.



In summation, Pokémon Snap has been praised as a refreshingly unique game, and I couldn’t agree more. It comes highly recommended from me, and will make for a good few hours of fun gameplay.



8/10 (Very Good)