Tag Archives: Scouse Gamer 88

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. 

Happii

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.

Score

42/60

7/10 (Fair)

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

Developer(s) – Z-Axis & Activision

Publisher(s) – Taito

ELSPA – 3+

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

Graphics – 8/10

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

Gameplay – 8/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 10/10

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

Storyline – 6/10

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

Originality – 7/10

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

Happii

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

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Dig Dug Deeper (PC)

Developer(s) – Creature Labs

Publisher(s) – Infogrames

ELSPA – 3+

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

Graphics – 5/10

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

Gameplay 6/10

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

Controls – 8/10

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

Lifespan – 3/10

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

Storyline – 1/10

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

Originality – 4/10

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

Angrii

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

Score

27/60

4.5/10 (Mediocre)

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.

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)

Luigi’s Mansion 2 (3DS)

Developer(s) – Next Level Games & Nintendo SPD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Bryce Holliday

Producer – Shigeru Miyamoto

PEGI – 7

Released in 2013 to worldwide critical acclaim, Luigi’s Mansion 2, or Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon as it’s known in the US, is the sequel to the much-loved GameCube launch title, Luigi’s Mansion. It takes the formula of the original game and expands upon it, as well as introducing gameplay elements that were ultimately cut from its predecessor. My verdict is that whilst I didn’t enjoy this game as much as I did the first, it’s still a particularly good game in it’s own right for a variety of different reasons.

Graphics – 7/10

On a technological level, the second game is about on par with the first, but what makes this game different from it’s predecessor is that the player is not just confined to one place to explore, but rather there is a much wider variety of locations in and around the mansion to explore in addition, such as a museum, a mining area and a botanical garden; all with their own unique look further adding to the lore of the series. The biggest problem I had with this game’s visuals in comparison to the first is that there is much less effective use of lighting to create the same kind of atmosphere that the first game had; mainly due to the fact that there is more light shone in each area even before ghosts are subdued. As a result, it doesn’t have the same sense of wonderful foreboding that the original game had. The soundtrack to this game is also much less imposing too, which to me further bogged down the experience.

Gameplay – 8.5/10

Luigi’s Mansion 2 provides players with a very different experience to the first game, structured as individual stages within each area of the map as opposed to letting the player come and go around the individual areas as they please. This is to encourage replay value, as previous stages require newly acquired items to explore in full. There are also much more side quests, with collectibles rife throughout, along with further incentive to collect coins, as this is now done to upgrade Luigi’s equipment, giving the game a small RPG feel to it. There is also the addition of boss fights located in each area of the game; boss fights being a element that Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to put particular emphasis on. The further scope provided for backtracking throughout the game was a good idea on Nintendo’s part; it made the overall experience far more interesting than what I thought it would be going into it. Although I miss being able to explore the given areas at will like in the first game, the new structure of gameplay nevertheless made this game an extremely enjoyable experience, and it made me glad that Nintendo decided to expand on the series further. The boss fights are just as creative as they were in the first game, if not more so, as some require more varied strategies to defeat.

Controls – 10/10

With the second game, there also came the refinement of the control scheme. In my reviews of the original Luigi’s Mansion, I mentioned that it could take some time to adjust to the control scheme, as there was simultaneous action required to direct Luigi whilst capturing ghost with both the C-stick and main control stick on the GameCube. But the second game doesn’t have these issues, with players having a choice between using the 3DS’s gyroscopic controls or using the X or B buttons to look up or down respectively. This play style makes it much easier to capture ghosts more easily than it was in the first game.

Lifespan – 8/10

The second game can also be made to last considerably longer than the first. To complete this game to 100%, players must invest at least 16 hours into it, as opposed to the mere 6 hours it can take to complete the last game. Since the original Luigi’s Mansion was an unjustifiably short game, the lifespan certainly needed to be extended on, and with the sequel, Nintendo have not failed to deliver; not only is there a longer game to enjoy, but there’s also many more things to do within it to keep players occupied.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of Luigi’s Mansion 2 takes place some time after the events of the original Luigi’s Mansion. Professor E.Gadd has found a way to pacify ghosts using a device called the dark moon. However, trouble soon starts as King Boo shatters the dark moon causing the ghosts to once again become hostile. Gadd immediately enlists Luigi’s help to re-capture King Boo and all of the other ghosts in and around the mansion and restore the dark moon to working order. Although the series is kept fresh with a new story to again further expand upon the lore of the series, and by proxy Luigi’s part in the Super Mario series in comparison to Mario, the problem I found with it was a problem I find with many other survival horror sequels; I knew what to expect going into it. If the threat remains the same, the sense of tension or horror doesn’t. The fact that the game is less atmospheric also contributed to the marring down of this game’s story. But nonetheless, it is a solid plot line that does also contain a small comedic element to balance the scales.

Originality – 8/10

Whilst the overall concept of the series has remained relatively the same with the release of the second game, the elements within the series have been kept fresh with the introduction of new ideas and elements in most of every value that players can come to expect. It introduces new ideas in terms of gameplay, it introduces more scenery and more enemies to match and it also constitutes for a longer in-game experience; something that this series desperately needed if it were indeed to be expanded upon.

Happii

In summary, Luigi’s Mansion 2 is one of the best Nintendo-exclusive experiences on the 3DS. It delivers on everything that players can come to expect from a sequel and more. It’s not quite as good as the original game, but it’s close.

Score

48.5/60

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.

Niiutral

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

Score

41/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

Cuphead (PC & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Studio MDHR

Publisher(s) – Studio MDHR

Director(s) – Chad & Jared Moldenhauer

Producer(s) – Maria & Ryan Moldenhauer

PEGI – 7

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

Graphics – 10/10

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

Gameplay – 8/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 6/10

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

Storyline – 7.5/10

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

Originality – 8/10

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

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

Score

49.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

Developer(s) – Nintendo EPD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Kenta Motokura

Producer(s) – Yoshiaki Koizumi & Koichi Hayashida

PEGI – 7

Released in the holiday season of 2017 for the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey presents players with a return to the open-ended 3D style of play of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, and invigorates the series with new abilities and environments, as well as incorporating elements of classic Super Mario gameplay, such as side scrolling. From start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this title, and whilst it didn’t become my favourite Super Mario game of all time, certainly goes above and beyond many other games in the series in recent years.

Graphics – 9/10

The first thing to say about the visuals is that on a technical level, this is the best that Super Mario has ever looked. Each character and level found throughout the game is wonderfully detailed, and the blending of 3D and 2D make for something particularly special in terms of graphics. Conceptually, the game does fairly well to stand out from the rest of series in addition, which is quite remarkable given the astounding amount of transition the series has gone through over the 32 years it’s been around. After having watched the trailers for the game before it’s release, I was sceptical as to how some of the environments that were shown would fit with a series like Super Mario Bros, but after playing, I was posthumously proven wrong. Each level especially the Metro Kingdom, which I was most sceptical about, adds a new dimension to the series that I hadn’t thought possible beforehand.

Gameplay – 9/10

Much like Super Mario Galaxy 2, the objective of the game is for the player to find power moons, instead of stars, to power up Mario’s newfound ship named The Odyssey to advance from one level to the other in order to reach Bowser and rescue Peach from him. The most standout feature in terms of gameplay is Mario using his new anthropomorphic hat named Cappy to possess certain enemies throughout the game, and thus use their abilities to the player’s advantage. Much like the new settings, it adds another unique twist to the series’ tableau, as well as a new approach to gameplay, which has scarcely been seen in games before. And in lieu of 3D Super Mario tradition, the game simply doesn’t end with Peach being saved from Bowser. After the main game has been completed, there is a plethora of additional power moons to find, as well as additional objectives given to players for completion on a scale never seen before in a Super Mario game.

Controls – 10/10

Since the 3D Mario formula has existed for over 20 years, it would be more than reasonable to think there would be no issues with the controls; and so there aren’t. Super Mario Odyssey plays out as seamlessly as any other 3D Mario game since Super Mario 64, and the way in which new combat abilities and enemy abilities that Mario can adopt are also seamlessly integrated into the rest of the formula.

Lifespan – 9/10

The base game will take players there around 10 hours to complete, but after which, that hardly even counts as scratching the surface. Each level has an amount of collectibles to pick up that is unfathomable compared to every other Super Mario game before it. It will easily make for 60-70 plus hours of gameplay, and an excellent addition to the collection of extremely long games on the Nintendo Switch along with Breath of the Wild, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Skyrim.

Storyline – 7.5/10

Following the usual Super Mario Bros formula, Super Mario Odyssey follows the story of Mario having to save Princess Peach from Bowser; only this time, Bowser plans to marry Peach after stealing various relics from each kingdom throughout the world. Mario is also joined by the aforementioned anthropomorphic hat named Cappy, who is also out to rescue a female anthropomorphic hat named Tiara, whom Bowser has Peach wear in preparation for the wedding. Though for the most part the story is largely unoriginal, especially for anything seen in a Super Mario game prior, what makes the way in which is story is told in Odyssey stand out fractionally more than other Mario games is the projection of emotion found throughout. Mario is portrayed as slightly less of an unstoppable superhero capable of beating anyone he comes across, and is shown to feel the difficulty and hardship of what it is he is setting out do. On several occasions, Mario comes painfully close to rescuing Peach from Bowser before the final battle, but he is shown to suffer setbacks, which visibly frustrate him, and though these are not things that haven’t been seen in games prior to this by any stretch of the imagination, it is something new to the series, which in terms of story, has needed for quite some time. But in terms of depth in plot, it still leaves players wanting much more in this respect. It’s certainly my biggest criticism that I have to levy against this game.

Originality – 8.5/10

With that one main qualm I have out of the way, the fact of the matter remains that this game is the most unique Mario experience released since Super Mario Galaxy 2 in terms of every other aspect aside from story. The settings are outstanding and the gameplay is even more so. In recent years, the originality of this series has been very much hit and miss in my opinion, with me contrasting the uniqueness of games such as Super Mario 3D World and Paper Mario: Colour Splash, but Odyssey could possibly pave the way for more unique Super Mario experiences in the future, introducing new elements to the series, which could potentially be either expanded upon or could be spun off into even more new elements depending on what direction Nintendo want to take it into.

Happii

Overall, despite lacking in story, Super Mario Odyssey delivers players, which is in my opinion, the best Super Mario game since Galaxy 2. And whilst it may not be anywhere near as good as the former, it certainly spells a bright future for the franchise, as well as giving players what is probably the longest Mario experience ever.

Score

53/60

8.5/10 (Great)

Q&A With Haywire Studios

During my recent hiatus from writing, I was contact by another independent game development studio I had approached some time ago about bring to the attention of my readers another upcoming indie game, which had successfully met it’s backing goals. Haywire studios, operating out of Adelaide, Australia are currently working on an open-world top-down RPG name A Matter of Time. Employing a classic 8-BIT visual style, and mixing aspects of medieval fantasy and science fiction, the game also incorporates the manipulation of time into it’s core gameplay, with the main character James being armed with a relic known as the Paradox Cape. Not a great deal is known about how exactly the Paradox Cape will affect the game’s mechanics, since it is still quite a ways away from being finished, but the main coder known as CamCog, agreed to answer some questions I sent over to him to get more of an insight into some of the game’s details. Here are their answers:

 

What were the influences behind your game?

The historical side of ‘A Matter of Time’ was very much influenced by my interest in historic battles and how they have shaped the way of warfare. Also, some of the gameplay was inspired by other indie RPG titles such as Hyper Light Drifter and Undertale.

What has the developmental process been like?

The developmental process of the game has definitely been a good experience overall. It has taught (and is still teaching) me much about how to create a great game and what to avoid when doing so. Unfortunately, given that this is my first time developing a big project, it’s been quite a new experience and there have been a lot of unexpected setbacks.  For example, it took way longer than planned to get a graphic designer which led to some of the game’s development being delayed. It’s also very time-consuming and tiring to code a whole game independently, even with the major help of a sound and graphic designer. Despite these setbacks, progress of the game’s development is beginning to go more smoothly and I am hopeful that the final product will be something that I can be proud of.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much work on the game previous to the Kickstarter so the finished product is still quite a long way away – winter 2019 to be exact. However, if all goes to plan, a demo for the game will be released in early 2018, which will at least be something for people to see.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

The most exciting aspect of development has definitely been the making of the ‘A Matter of Time’ universe along with the locations and characters that are included in it. Apart from that, the thought of seeing players’ immerse themselves in the universe that you created is something that inspires me to complete the game.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

The most challenging aspect of development is that the whole game is mainly being coded by me. While it is great to be able to take the wheel and code whatever you want with the only limitation being your skill, it is very difficult for only one person to take this massive workload. I sometimes am finding myself staying up until 2am just trying to figure out how to get a simple issue fixed, which I know could be solved in a matter of minutes by a small team of developers. However, as I stated earlier, the whole developmental process has been somewhat educational and learning to do so much work alone has definitely helped in teaching me so much about game development.


What other kinds of additional abilities will the Paradox Cape have
?

A lot of The Paradox Cape’s details are going to stay a secret until the game’s launch. However, I can give some small details to give you a ‘taste’ of its power. For example, the Paradox Cape will be able to act as a temporary ‘invisibility cloak’ when stealth is key. It will also, when the ability is unlocked, be able to pacify enemies up until a certain strength. Additionally, it can also act as a comfy blanket on a cold day!

 

How well has the game been received so far?

There have been some positive comments on the game’s Kickstarter which indicates that people are somewhat excited for the game’s development. There has also been some small discussion on the game’s Discord server which is good to see as well. Apart from that, however,  not much has been going on in terms of the game’s audience due to there not being much gameplay available for people to witness.

How big a part will time paradoxes play in the outcome of the story?

Time paradoxes aren’t too huge in terms of the game’s storyline, but they will definitely have a big part to play in the game’s mechanics. Unfortunately, due to this being a feature of the Paradox Cape, I am not willing to share the exact details of what will happen.

Was real-life history part of the influences behind this game?

It certainly was, with an obvious example being the place where James is first found, the Battle of Hattin. Groups that are famous in history are also influences for the game. In fact, they are a big part of the game. Some examples are the Templar Knights and the Ayyubid forces.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

The demo will be available for free on itch.io, and the finished game will be available on Steam for an estimated $5 (USD).

Will time travel be implemented into the gameplay?

Definitely. You will even see time travel in the game’s demo when James is transported from the Battle of Hattin to the future.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?

Given that I am a new developer, there is not much amazing feedback I can give. I suppose that the biggest piece of advice I can give based on my experience with this game is to PLAN AHEAD. You do not want to be going into a big project with a ‘just wing it’ attitude. This is one flaw in the way I’ve developed this game that even I have to admit. Not planning ahead caused me to run into a lot of obstacles that I am even now still having to overcome. I will say it again – before you start any big project, it is VITAL that you plan your storyline, mechanics, approach to marketing, budget, etc.

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

Website: http://haywiregamestudios.weebly.com/

Discord: https://discord.gg/pbjyb5B

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/haywiregamestudios/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GameHaywire

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEcnPRw3knE2OzBtfycc6jg

PayPal donation pool: https://www.paypal.com/pools/c/7Z7UNggAQc

 

Do you have anything else to add?

To everyone that has shown support to me throughout the creation of this game. You guys have been a massive inspiration for me. I would certainly not be creating this game if it wasn’t for you. Thanks 🙂

 

Though we may be a long way from experiencing this unique take on the action RPG genre, I have every confidence that this game will be worth the wait. I would like to take this opportunity to thank CamCog and for answering my questions, and to wish him and the rest of Haywire Studios the best of luck with A Matter of Time.

I hope you guys enjoyed my first article back, And there will be many more to come soon.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

The 2017 Play Blackpool Special

This month marked the seventh anniversary of Replay Event’s Play Expo at the Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool. Eager to see what Replay Events had in store, I made my way to Blackpool for the third time to see what indie games, guest talks and throwbacks to classic gaming were being showcased at the expo; and I wasn’t disappointed. Following on from last year’s proceedings, a lot of classic games were back, as well as one of last year’s guest speakers, and a few more gaming veterans, along with some more new up and coming developers showing off their latest video game projects; and here’s what Play Blackpool 2017 had to offer.

Bloody Zombies

The first indie game I encountered was a Streets of Rage style beat up set in a post-apocalyptic world entitled Bloody Zombies. Aside from up to four players having to hash it out with zombies along 2D side scrolling environments, one player also wears a VR headset in order to uncover secrets that may be hidden within each stage, and to help the accompanying three players to seek out hidden items for additional points and stronger weapons. A combo system is also incorporated similar to classic fighting games in order for players to compete among one another to see who can earn the highest score at the end of each stage.

The hand-drawn 2D visuals of the game mixed with cel-shaded graphics gives the game diversity in technical design, and although it is generally speaking quite difficult to make a story centred around zombies stand out from a conceptual point of view, the developers of Bloody Zombies, nDreams, have so far done a pretty decent job of it, with things like character and boss designs doing pretty well to stand out. The VR aspect of the game also makes it stand out further, giving it a level of diversity in gameplay never before seen in a 2D beat ‘em up.

 

Mao Mao Castle

Having first laid eyes on this game at Play Manchester last year, Asobi Tech were back to showcase further adjustments made to their on-rail 8-BIT obstacle game Mao Mao Castle. In it, the player controls a ginger cat, be that with a mouse or touchscreen, (or as was showcased at the expo, a motion sensor), the player must guide the cat through obstacles that come towards the player at increasingly high speeds and to survive the constant onslaught for as long as possible. Since the game was showed off in Manchester, new game mechanics have been added; most notably, the inclusion of a power-up that makes the cat temporarily increase in size and bypass ever obstacle effortlessly.

In my opinion, the new mechanics added to the game add a great deal of depth to it, and it also makes it a lot more accessible for entry-level players too, which is needed since it whilst it’s easy to get competitive playing it, speaking from experience, it could be seen as somewhat inaccessible before. But this issue has been fixed with the introduction of the newly implemented gaming features, and I can’t wait to see what the final product has to offer.

All Contact Lost

 

Speaking of challenging games, the next game I tried out at the event was an FPS called All Contact Lost. The object of the game is not too dissimilar to the Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot add-on for the original Borderlands game, whereby players must defend themselves against hoards of oncoming enemies in order to survive for as long as possible and attain the highest score possible. Players have limited time between each round to organise and heal themselves before the next wave is introduced, which get exponentially bigger and harder to deal with in turn.

Amidst a massive influx of FPS games to have hit the gaming industry within the last 20 years, it’s interesting to see how new developers are coming up with new ways to modify the formula and to make playing first-person shooters as enjoyable and as challenging as it ever has been. Where All Contact Lost is concerned, it’s developers, 1st Impact Games, have done a decent job showcasing what could be a potentially insanely addicting game. They told me that their next objective is to add more enemies into the game, which can potentially give it more cause for players to have to adapt to different situations within the game, but it will be interesting to see how 1st Impact implement that.

Medieval Steve

Next, I tried A 2.5D side scrolling game called Medieval Steve developed by jForth Designs. The game was in the early stages of development, but it centred around having to complete various different tasks throughout each level, including collecting hidden items throughout, and even time trials; similar to many features found in modern Super Mario games.

As the game is only in a very early stage of development, there is much more to be added in. But from what I played of the game, I really enjoyed. The time aspect of it was extremely unique compared to many other games to implement similar mechanics like New Super Mario Bros U and Super Smash Bros Melee’s story mode, and with the right amount of attention and further development, it could become a really enjoyable game when its released. If a decent story concept is also added, it could make for a very interesting franchise in years to come too in my opinion.

Space Toads Mayhem        

Space Toads Mayhem was the next game I tried, developed by programmer Lukasz Snopkiewicz. It’s an arcade style bullet hell top-down rail shooter that it insanely addictive, yet gruellingly challenging at the same time. Whilst progressing, players are periodically given a choice between to power-ups, which can either help or hinder the player accordingly dependent on choice the player makes.

In my opinion, this aspect gives the game Roguelike quality to it, which I’ve struggled to find in an arcade game amidst the influx of indie games out there. I’ve seen in other genres with the like of Rogue Legacy and Tower of Guns, but the only other arcade Roguelike I’ve played recently is Don’t Die, Mr Robot. Lukasz was quite surprised to me hear use the word Roguelike to describe his game, but he was intrigued at the same time. It could possibly provide him scope to develop the game later on dependent on when he plans to release it by.

Hyper Sentinel

The last indie game I tried at Play Blackpool this year was a game I’ve grown particularly fond of since I first saw it; Hyper Sentinel created by Huey games under the supervision of Robert Hewson. Combining elements of arcade classics such as Uridium and Bosconian, it involves the player carrying out an assault on different spaceships and taking out it’s weapons and subsidiary ships before having to take on a boss fight at the end.

The game I tried in Blackpool was exactly as how I remember it from the first time I saw it; it was addicting without it being too inaccessible, and it provides a welcome combination of old 8-BIT style visuals with a few modern-day graphical effects thrown in for good measure, such as dynamic lighting. After an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign, the game is edging closer to release, and I personally cant wait to try out the finished product. To read my Q&A with Robert Hewson published during the Kickstarter campaign, follow the link below:

http://scousegamer88.com/2017/03/09/qa-with-huey-games/

David Pleasance

Guest speakers were also present at the event with stories of their time in industry, and what impact it had on them personally, and how their actions and successes changed gaming forever. One such speaker was the former marketing director of Commodore, David Pleasance, (Accompanied by Mark Cale of System 3 Software and Gary Bracey of Ocean Software), whose influence went on to make the Commodore 64 one of the highest selling home computer consoles of the 80s in Europe and beyond following the video game crash of 1983. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, David will be releasing a new book towards the end of the year detailing in greater depth his time with Commodore and the great highs and great lows of his career. Throughout the talk, he discussed his role in the overwhelming sales of the Batman pack for the Amiga 500, and the events that led to the success and downfall of Commodore through the company’s long and storied existence.

With most Play Expos I go to, most often at least one talk given by legends of the industry, and how their influence and actions helped the industry become what it is today, and I always found them to be fascinating as a gamer myself; and David’s talk was no exception. Though I was born towards the end of the third generation of gaming, it’s always enthralling to hear from industry veterans their inside stories and how they shaped the industry into what it is today.

Jim Bagley

As well as home computer consoles having a great impact on gamers during the earlier games of gaming, their influence still continues to impact the current market in a similar way; the subject of the next talk was a case in point. Jim Bagley, a Liverpudlian developer who was at Play Blackpool 2016 detailing his long career developing games for a wide variety of consoles from the ZX80 to the PlayStation 4, was back again this year to discuss another console he has had the pleasure of developing for over the last year; the new ZX Spectrum Next. Announced exclusively last year by the console’s creators at Play Blackpool 2016, Jim Bagley was at the same talk, and immediately asked the team where he could pick up a dev kit. Ever since, he has been programming a number of games intended for released on the system for when the console sees its full release. He also announced his plans to create a series of YouTube videos whereby he will educate viewers how to program video games, whether they have experience or not.

After seeing the ZX Spectrum Next unveiled at last year’s Play Blackpool, I was intrigued to see how after all years, people are still dedicated to developing new games for retro consoles, and how the legacy of the ZX Spectrum has carried on to the current generation of gaming. This year, I found out that many more big-name developers than I first realized have signed up to develop games for the ZX Spectrum next for when it releases, and at the moment, I’m extremely tempted to buy one when it comes out. I never got to play the Spectrum during the console’s heyday, but after having sampled it and other consoles of the same era at many Play expos over the last three years, I’m seriously thinking about starting once the Spectrum Next is released, and I was also very interested in the prospect of learning from Jim Bagley of how to create games at entry level.

Big Boy Barry

The final talk of the expo was with Alex Verrey, AKA Big Boy Barry of the Games World TV program that aired throughout the 90s. Alex gave an extensive account of his time within the gaming industry, his experiences as a presenter, and his thoughts of how the gaming industry has evolved since the fifth generation, as well as his plans for the future. As well as that, he was also hosting tournaments at the expo, as well as taking part in other activities on the main stage.

As a kid, I used to watch Games World a lot of the time, and to meet Big Boy Barry in person was an amazing experience. As an aspiring journalist myself, I took home a great deal of inspiration and advice from Alex’s own experiences of reviewing and discussing video games on a professional level, and that it also reaffirmed my opinion that it’s always about keeping ideas fresh, and to not focus on one thing for too long a time to the point where it becomes stale. The success of the industry and people like Alex has always revolved around introducing new things and keeping a great sense of originality. It’s the same with every successful video game franchise, and it’s also the same with every other success within the industry, just like Alex himself.

 

In summation, Play Blackpool was a fantastic experience as always, and I’m very much looking forward to next year’s proceedings in light of it. The indie games I got to try and critique were outstanding this year, and as I said before, it’s always a pleasure to meet and mingle with so many industry veterans, and to expand my own knowledge of the history of the industry that I love. I will also be attending Play Manchester this year too, but in the meantime, there will be more articles and reviews to come in the preceding weeks.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88