Tag Archives: Steam

Ori & The Blind Forest (PC, Xbox One & Switch)

Developer – Moon Studios

Publisher – Microsoft Studios

Director – Thomas Mahler

Producer – Gennadiy Korol

Created by a massive collaboration of developers worldwide over a period of four years, Ori & The Blind Forest is a Metroidvania game following the adventures of the game’s titular character Ori and companion Sein as they set out to restore the forest of Nibel, which has come under threat having lost the balance between three elements; waters, winds and warmth. After having played this game almost 100%, I was enthralled with it from beginning to end. Everything from its art style and soundtrack to it’s direction in terms of gameplay and story made for one of the most standout gaming experiences of the eighth generation. 

Graphics – 10/10

Similar to games like Cuphead and Child of Light, the game features entirely hand-drawn graphics, though in this case influenced largely by the works of Hiyao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Locations within the game range from a mixture of light-filled and dark forest settings to vibrant, sunny glades, icy chasms and fiery volcanic formations. No matter the specific location, however, everywhere in this game has a level of eloquence to it in one way or another and it all highlights the meticulous dedication the development team showed to bringing the project to life. The accompanying soundtrack perfectly fits every location, as well as every situation the player finds themself within the game; be that whilst peacefully traversing through sunlit greenery or whilst having to dash away from a volcanic eruption. But even during moments of both absolute tranquility or absolute calamity, the game still maintains that same level of eloquence throughout; in my case, so much so that I didn’t care how many times I died in moments of urgency, which was a lot. I thought it was worth attempting that many times just to soak up the game’s wonderful atmosphere.

Gameplay – 8/10

As a Metroidvania, the game follows most of the typical tropes you would expect to find in a game of the genre; most notably having to gain all manner of different abilities to access each area as the play progresses. However, Ori & The Blind Forest offers players a very interesting spin on things with a unique combat system encouraging players to strategize in accordance with what enemies they’re up against. Combat can also even be a means to access new or hidden locations throughout the game. There is also an ability tree that players can use to upgrade pre-existing abilities or learn new ones by gaining experience in combat, giving the game an RPG feel to it. The combat isn’t as intense as what it is in other Metroidvania games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Dust: An Elysian Tail, but it demands almost as much from gamers as enemies become stronger over time and different abilities need to be used to overcome them. The game also demands a fair bit from players in the respect of exploration, as there are many challenging platformer obstacles to traverse and puzzles to be solved throughout. It challenges players, but not to the point of it becoming inaccessible. 

Controls – 10/10

As in many Metroidvania titles, the staggering variety in controls becomes more and more apparent as the player progresses through the game with the different abilities to learn and incorporate throughout. At first, I thought that it may become a problem, as the same buttons are used for different abilities in varying different respects, but all it is is a matter of getting used to strategizing in accordance with whatever situation the players may find themself in. It reminded me a lot of Metroid Prime in that respect because although that game was a first-person shooter, it doesn’t entirely feel like one in many respects and I found it to be the same case with Ori & The Blind Forest; it’s a Metroidvania game, but there are certain instances in which it doesn’t feel like one in the respect of its control scheme, further adding to the game’s sense of uniqueness. 

Lifespan – 5/10

To complete the game to 100% can take there around 12 hours, which to me, is undoubtedly this game’s biggest drawback. Although this game was undeniably a labor of love and that it shows in every little detail, it just seemed to me a criminally short amount of time for a game of this quality to last. It’s in this aspect where I’m desperately hoping that this is where the sequel, Ori & The Will Of The Wisps comes in; similar to the transition between Onimusha and Onimusha 2. 

Storyline – 8/10

The game’s story follows Ori, a guardian spirit that fell from the Spirit Tree of the forest of Nibel. Ori is later found by a forest inhabitant named Naru, who adopts Ori and raises her. Later, Naru dies of starvation and Ori is left to fend for herself. She later becomes embroiled in a quest to restore the forest of Nibel, which has begun to deteriorate since the forest has lost balance between the elements of waters, winds and warmth. Matters have also been worsened by the fact that the core of the Spirit Tree had been stolen by a demonic, shadow owl named Kuro. Throughout, Ori has to traverse the forest to restore the three elements and the core of the Spirit Tree, whilst coming under the threat of the forest’s many dangerous creatures and natural obstacles whilst also avoiding the clutches of Kuro.

The game’s story, as well as it’s art direction, was also heavily inspired by the works of Hayao Miyazaki; it’s vivid, fantastical and packed with emotional moments that will have players on the edges of their seats. But it also perpetuates a sense of moral ambiguity;, especially towards the end. So much so that I found myself questioning who the real hero was and if the villain truly is a villain at heart. This works to separate it from the works of Studio Ghibli as moral ambiguity isn’t that prominent a theme in the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and others who worked for the company and it’s something new to compliment a story that was heavily inspired by the two aforementioned film directors. 

Originality – 8/10

Whilst critiquing the control scheme, I mentioned that there are certain instances in which the controls make it feel like more than a conventional Metroidvania game. But this can be said for every other aspect of Ori & The Blind Forest in addition. It’s largely unconventional in its gameplay, it’s scenery, it’s soundtrack and its story. Ahead of playing it, I knew that I was in for something special with this title, but I wasn’t quite prepared for exactly how special it would turn out to be. Everything from its combat system to it’s environmental design to its themes of loss, tragedy and moral ambiguity make it stand out from most of every other game I’ve ever played. 

Happii

Overall, Ori & The Blind Forest is a must-have not only for Metroidvania fans, but for gamers in general. It’s a title that has had every element handled with a degree of love and care that every standout game should have and whilst it didn’t last as long as what I thought it had the potential to, it’s certainly worth at least one playthrough. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Platypus (PC, PSP, iOS, Windows Mobile & Xbox 360)

Developer(s) – Squashy Software

Publisher(s) – Idigicon

Designer – Anthony Flack

First released back in 2002 and then later ported to a wide variety of different systems, Platypus is a scrolling bullet-hell shooter that makes use of digitized sprites and scenery to create a claymation effect, similar to games like ClayFighter and Skullmonkeys. When I first picked this game up some time ago, I first got the impression that it was a particularly unassuming title, as it was insanely cheap and the box art looked quite substandard. But when I started playing it, I was immediately enthralled with it and largely taken aback by just how good it is. When I subsequently did my research on it, I later found out that not only did it spawn several ports to different consoles and even mobile phones, but that it also got a sequel five years after the release of the original. Researching this game also made me understand what a labor of love it is for many different reasons. 

Graphics – 8/10

To reiterate, the game adopts visuals inspired by claymation, making it a particularly quirky-looking title. It’s vibrant, colorful and it also has a decent amount of variety in both level and enemy design. I was also ready to argue that the game’s first two levels look somewhat similar to each other but after finding out the process behind the making of this game, I knew that I would’ve been far too over-critical. The game’s designer, Anthony Flack, cited that at the time of the game’s development, there had been limited availability of plasticine in his home county of New Zealand. Therefore, he used one lump of it to create every scenery element and individual sprite within the game, photographed them one by one and used photo editing software to color them in various different colors. Personally, I’m amazed the visuals of this game were essentially the work of one man and how well it panned out given the outlandish creative process behind it. The soundtrack is also particularly impressive, comprising of remixes of tracks from old Commodore 64 games; it’s a pretty tokenistic thing for any Commodore fans playing the game who may spend time trying to figure out which game each individual track is taken from. 

Gameplay – 8/10

The game is also particularly fun to play; albeit challenging. It plays out very similar to the likes of Defender or Gradius, with players able to grab a variety of different power-ups throughout in order to gain a foothold against hordes of oncoming enemies. But what makes this game different to the aforementioned examples is that the power-ups, throughout certain instances within the game (especially the boss fights), become more or less a necessity, adding to the game’s sense of challenge. It’s difficult but not inaccessible, as although players may struggle at first, the general strategy is simple enough to exploit. The boss fights in each level are also pretty well throughout. For example, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not the first boss fight was inspired by the Forever Train from Star Fox 64. 

Controls – 10/10

As I always point out with games like this, what cannot be tolerated in a game that relies heavily on individual skills to get through are problems with the control scheme because, in a massive way, it negates the point of having a challenging title and makes it pretty much unplayable. I was very happy to discover in this game that there are no issues with the controls, which although was to be expected since the formula has been tried and tested for many years throughout various generations of gaming, it’s always reassuring when a player dies in-game, it will be down to awareness of their surroundings whilst playing. 

Originality – 8/10

Although this wasn’t the first game to use digitized sprites or even claymation, Platypus is one of the games that make players think that it’s far too distinctive to be unheard of on an unjustifiable scale. It blends classic side-scrolling shooting action with a quirky, colorful and unique art style, which certainly will have made it stand out within the circle of independent PC developers throughout the early 2000s and it’s still an experience that remains quite distinctive today. 

Happii

Overall, Platypus is a fun, great-looking game with a great deal to offer in terms of both and replayability. It’s a game that I thought would most likely be another write-off from the word go, but it ended up being something far more special than that and I whole-heartedly recommend it. 

Score

30/40

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)

Alwa’s Awakening (PC)

Developer(s) – Elden Pixels

Director – Mikael Forslind

PEGI – 7

The debut title of Elden pixels, and developed under the supervision of Zoink Games’ Mikael Forslind, Alwa’s Awakening is a throwback to the classic games of the NES era, including Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Metroid and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. An 8-bit Metroidvania game, it focuses heavily on exploration, combat and acquiring a range of different abilities in order to progress from area to area. Playing this game felt like an absolute pleasure, as well as a fitting tribute to games of the late 80s, and I would recommend it to any fan of that era of gaming.

Graphics – 8/10

Conceptually, where this game stands out is the design of the enemies, as well as the boss battles. Though clearly influenced by many aspects of medieval mythology, including other fantasy franchises (elements of Dungeons & Dragons seemed most evident to me personally), the developers took these influences, and formed their own cohesive concepts in terms of visual design, which is quite difficult to do when dealing with medieval fantasy, making it seem all the more impressive. The soundtrack, recorded by Robert Kreese, is also nothing short of stellar, being on par with, if not better than, many classic NES games.

Gameplay – 8/10

Alwa’s Awakening is a Metroidvania game focusing on adventure and exploration, but the developers also boasted a heightened level of challenge compared to many other classic NES games during development, promising an unforgettable throwback experience to suit both the seasoned and casual classes of gamers of that time. When Elden Pixels first announced this, I did get nervous that they would develop a game that was nigh on inaccessible, as what I’ve found in many NES games, such as those in the original Mega Man series. However, wile playing through it, I found it offer a level of challenge that is stern, yet reasonable; a level of challenge on par with Shovel Knight, for example. It came as a relief to me, and I was able to enjoy the game with minimal frustration because of it. There are secrets to uncover along the way, and some of the most invigorating boss fights I’ve seen in a 2D game.

Controls – 10/10

Part of the reason why I found the game to be more accessible that many fully NES titles purposefully made to be hard was because the controls are also flawless. In many Mega Man games, I have experienced problems with the controls, and time and time again, it defeats the object of demanding skill from the player if the developers can’t program the game properly. In this game, however, no such issues exist; the controls are perfect, and any error made will be down to player performance.

Lifespan – 6.5/10

The game can be made to last around 6 to 7 hours in total, taking everything to do within it into account, which by NES standards at the time may have been outstanding, but in the current era, especially for a Metroidvania, it does fall somewhat short in this respect. It is the game’s biggest issue in my opinion, and I think it could have been made to last at least 12 to 13 hours given more things to do within it. However, there is more than enough substance in gameplay for how long it does last, which does emphasize quality of over quantity.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of Alwa’s Awakening follows a girl called Zoe, who is playing video games one night, and after dozing off, she finds herself in the land of Alwa, where her favourite video game is set, and she is thrust into a quest in order to save the land for real. The plot itself may be quite straightforward, but there are certain aspects of it that do well to foster an air of mystery about the game, as was customary among NES title in the console’s heyday. It’s a nice touch the developers added that makes the game more enjoyable to play through overall.

Originality – 7/10

Taking everything into account, I was impressed with how many unique aspects there were within this game compared to other classic 2D titles. As someone who first started out playing video games on the NES, my first ever video games being Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, it was refreshing to take a step back from AAA mainstream titles, and play a game that not only hearkens back to the days of gaming simplicity, but also offers something different to any other NES title.

In summation, Alwa’s Awakening is a welcome addition to ever-growing indie scene, and a definitive joy to play. There’s great gameplay, atmospheric visuals, an excellent soundtrack and a level of challenge that will satisfy all classes of third generation gamer.

Score

46.5/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator (PC, Android & iOS)

Developer(s) – Vile Monarch

Publisher(s) – Gambitious Digital Entertainment

Rating – N/A (Discretion advised)

Developed by Austrian indie outfit Vile Monarch, Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator combines turn-based style combat with the layout of a fighting game to deliver a unique twist on both styles of play, and quirky humour to match. Whilst not having a great amount of replayability for a fighting game, it can make for hours of entertainment, and for the relatively short time it took me to unlock everything, I enjoyed this title.

Graphics – 7/10

Rendered using 8-bit graphics, the developers took influenced most notably from the Monty Python troupe in both it’s character and stage designs. As a fan of Monty Python myself, it was fun identifying where the references were placed; be that either the obvious ones, like the character of John P. Shufflebottom being an obvious caricature of John Cleese’s character from the world famous dead parrot sketch, or obscure ones like the trumpets being blown by rear end in the background of the afterlife stage, reminiscent of a scene from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. There are also references to other aspects of modern and classic thrown in for good measure, which enhance game’s level of visual variety in terms of conceptual design.

Gameplay – 6/10

The object of the game is to string together the longest insults possible by picking from a selection of phrases and conjunctions in the best order to deal as much damage as possible to the enemy, and deplete their health bar before they can deplete the player’s. There are additional characters to unlock, as well as an additional stage, and then there’s also a multiplayer mode whereby people can compete online. For a fighting game, it doesn’t have a great deal of content, and I’m hoping that’s where the games upcoming sequel will come in; Oh… Sir! The Hollywood Roast. It’s not the most plentiful experience available, but well worth the price posted on Steam of £1.59. Stringing elaborate insults together feels satisfying, and it’s also rewarding to be able to identify individual characters weaknesses to deal extra damage.

Controls – 10/10

Issues with the controls are non-existent unless gamers have a problem with their mouse. It’s a simply point and click game typical of a vast majority of PC games, and suffers from no problems in this respect.

Originality – 9/10

In terms of uniqueness, it stands out from any other fighting game ever made. It thrills me to see independent developers trying out new ideas never seen in gaming before, and making them work extremely well, like what has been accomplished with title. The developers have promised a more plentiful experience with the next game, as well as it being much more open to modding like Civilization 5 perhaps, but the first game is definitely a standout starting point worthy of more attention than is has received so far.

Happii

Overall, Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator, whilst having a fleeting single player experience, makes up for that in its quality. It’s an entertaining, reasonably priced and funny gaming experience, and I would recommend it to all fighting game fans out there.

Score

32/40

8/10 (Very Good)

Q&A With Huey Games

Following on from Play Manchester 2016, one game that has continued to impress gaming audiences since I first laid eyes on it is Hyper Sentinel; an arcade shoot ‘em up inspired by 2nd and 3rd generation classics such as Defender, Cybernoid and Uridium. Showcased at many expos, and being the subject of a recently successful Kickstarter campaign, the popularity of the game has been on the rise, and is set for full release later on this year on multiple platforms. Curious to find out more, I’ve conducted a Q&A with the game’s creative director and CEO of Huey Games, Robert Hewson, and the game’s principal developer, founder of Four5Six Pixel Jonathan Port. Here’s what they had to say about Hyper Sentinel:

 

What were the influences behind your game?

Jon: The most obvious visual influence is to Uridium, the twist and flip manouevre has never really been used since, so I thought it would be fun to have that in. In terms of gameplay, major influences are Defender for its frantic action and speed, Tornado Low Level (ZX Spectrum) which you could sweep back the plane wings to speed boost. I loved Cybernoid and its dramatic explosions, so there is definitely some influence there.  More recently Resogun, I like the way the enemies surround and suffocate you if you don’t keep on top.

What has the developmental process been like?

Jon: Development has gone very smoothly. I’ll often implement some features and then let Huey Games take a look. We’ll then go through a short iterative design cycle until the feature feels right. Using this process, some features make it in, and some get left out. It’s about making a game that feels consistent throughout.  To get such close design feedback from a publisher, but still have the freedom to create your own game has been an absolute pleasure.

Rob: It has been a genuine pleasure to work with Jon on the iterative process of enhancing and polishing the game. We seem to be on the same wavelength the whole time, I don’t think we’ve disagreed on any of the feedback we’ve given and it is always a delight to get a new build and see all the little touches Jon has added.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

Rob: We are on track for an early summer release now that the Kickstarter has passed its funding goal. Of course, there is still a week left on the campaign so we are hoping to hit a few more stretch goals too! You can check out the campaign at www.hypersentinel.com.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

Rob: I think there was a moment after we’d been through a few rounds of iterative improvement when the boost and the dodge abilities came together, and the compelling loop of the gameplay was suddenly brought to life. After that, tweaking the way the enemies behave, the way the power-ups spawn and all those little details so that they work elegantly with those core mechanics, that is when we began to realise we’d found the fun, which is always the best moment!

 

Jon: Seeing people play your game at an expo and come away thrilled to have played it. When you are so close to the development of a game you never really know until you stand away and just let people play it on their own. It’s a scary moment as you take your game to its first public showing, but to see people really enjoying your own game is a special moment.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

Jon: Hyper Sentinel was originally developed on an Apple centric platform. In order to get the game out to a wider audience we needed to move the code base to an engine that could target multiple platforms. The move to the Unity engine was the greatest technical undertaking. Most of the code has been re-written entirely from scratch to get the best out of that environment. We could have gone down the route of a quick code port, but we decided early on that we should do this right to make the best game possible.

Has your father Andrew had any input into the game?

Rob: Not so much. He attended the first meeting with Jon and could instantly see the potential of the game, but he is taking more of a back seat these days. His wealth of experience is there to tap into when we need it, but that is mostly on the business side.

What impact has your father had on your career as a developer in general?

Rob: I don’t think he really pushed me to pursue a career in the games industry, if anything he was a sobering influence because he knew first hand just how difficult it could be. However, there is no doubt that being surrounded by games from an early age – climbing through the shelves in the Hewson warehouse, attending trade shows, collecting posters and stickers – it clearly left its mark. I remember drawing the Hewson logo and dreaming up game ideas with my friends, so I caught the bug early. By the time I actually got into the industry dad had already left, and although I probably talked to him about it on occasion he considered it a closed chapter in his life. Until I convinced him to write his book, that is.

How well has the game been received so far?

Rob: It has been exceptional. Everybody who plays the game seems to enjoy and appreciate it. One of the most exciting things to see is that it is not just older retro gaming fans who love it, we had loads of kids coming back time and again to play it at the shows we have attended, which is a pleasure to witness.

Jon: The greatest thrill is to see people genuinely excited to play the game. Hyper Sentinel is a hi-score game at its heart, and its great to see people putting in so much time to stay on top of the score leaderboard! 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Rob: So far we can confirm Steam, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android and Amazon platforms. Hopefully we can add even more to the list soon.

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

Rob: Figure out what the hook is for your game, the thing which makes it stand out from the crowd, and polish, polish, polish. Once you’ve finished polishing, polish some more. When you think you can’t polish any further, get some feedback, realise you were wrong and carry on polishing.

Jon: Did Rob say polish? If there is one thing I have learnt from Huey Games it is that a great game doesn’t happen instantly, it’s a process of building over and over from a simple core concept. For aspiring indie developers the most important thing is to finish your game, and that takes an awful lot of hard work and time. If you know you have a great game, just keep going until you get it into people’s hands. 

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

Rob: The game has its own website at www.hypersentinel.com (which currently goes directly to the Kickstarter while the campaign is live) and you can visit our company page at www.hueygames.com

Do you have anything else to add?

Rob: Thank you for having us and a massive thank you to everybody who has supported us along the way!

 

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank both Robert and Jonathan for agreeing to our Q&A session to say congratulations on the successful Kickstarter campaign Hyper Sentinel has had, and to wish them best luck with the game upon release. From what I played at Manchester, Hyper Sentinel seems like a particularly enthralling game, a compelling homage to the 80s classics the developers drew inspiration from, and I can’t wait to play the finished article.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, & iOS Android)

Developer(s) – Cornfox & Bros.

Publisher(s) – FDG Entertainment

Director – Heikki Repo

PEGI – 7

First released on iOS in 2013, subsequently brought to consoles last year and featuring music composed by Squaresoft veterans Kenji Ito, and my personal favourite video game composer Nobuo Uematsu, Oceanhorn borrows a great deal from some of the best franchises in gaming, such as Legend of Zelda and Baldur’s Gate, and brings them together in one very satisfying and critically acclaimed gaming experience. Even after playing a few hours of Oceanhorn, I could tell that this is most definitely one of the greatest indie games I would have ever played to date, and something I would recommend to any fan of adventure games or RPGs.

Graphics – 8.5/10

The game’s visuals are vibrant, colourful, diverse, and though outdated compared to most mainstream releases, they are conceptually brilliant. Though in most aspects of this game, the most obvious influence had been The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, I found myself being able to identify a great of conceptual design deviating away from the latter in places such as house basements, which have a heavy steampunk feel to them reminiscent of the game’s main antagonist. Dungeons throughout the game, again much like the Legend of Zelda series, do extremely well to stand out amongst each other, and more than make up for the overworld areas, which can seem quite repetitious after a while.

Gameplay – 9/10

Oceanhorn is an isometric top-down adventure RPG, similar to Baldur’s Gate; Dark Alliance, but set in a much more open world than the latter. There is a heavy emphasis on exploration, combat, character development and dungeon crawling; like Wind Waker, it also features travel by sea along with combat elements thrown in during these sequences too. There is plenty to do in the game to keep player busy besides the main story, and the boss fights are challenging on quite a surprising level in my opinion; even the first boss was fairly difficult to contend with.

Controls – 10/10

I experienced no issues with the game’s controls whatsoever, as not only am I personally quite familiar with this in particular gameplay formula, but there have been countless isometric RPGs to have come and gone over the last 20 years, and it was to be expected that no issues would arise. The best thing about the controls, however is how well two different styles of adventure game, i.e Legend of Zelda and Baldur’s Gate, come together particularly well to form it’s own cohesive concept without presenting any issues with the controls.

Lifespan – 7.5/10

Overall, Oceanhorn can be made to last there about 16 to 20 hours, which for an indie adventure game is fairly impressive; especially considering that is started life as a smartphone game. I’ve found a lot of indie games to be short and sweet, such as Titan Souls and Xeodrifter, so a game like this to me, was a welcome breath of fresh air, and something that can have a great of time invested into it for those willing to explore it, which I personally always admire in any game at all.

Storyline – 7.5/10

The story follows a silent protagonist, whose father leaves the paternal home to traverse the Islands of the Uncharted Seas to seek and kill a giant sea monster known as Oceanhorn. The player character subsequently sets out to destroy Oceanhorn himself, and to discover what became of his father. It seems simple enough, but throughout, the character goes through an unprecedented amount of development, discovering things such as love and hardship throughout the way. It’s one of many ways that this game can be compared to the Legend of Zelda, and whilst I believe the character of Link has been further developed in a single game than what is present in this, it’s still a very solid effort in terms of overall story.

Originality – 6/10

Most players familiar with adventure video games will have very little difficulty pointing out what influenced this title, as they are blatantly obvious from start to finish in nigh on every aspect of it. However, all these ideas come together to form something, which I can find myself to describe as unforgettable to say the least. The elements of the games it borrows inspiration from are made to seem more like charms than rip-offs.

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Overall, Ocean horn, whilst it clearly borrows influence from other games, is in my opinion, the best indie experience of 2016; it’s satisfying to play and beautiful to look at, with a stellar soundtrack, an enjoyable gameplay formula and a pleasantly surprising level of depth in it’s story. It’s certainly worth playing through at least once.

Score

48.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Ziggurat (PlayStation 4, Xbox One & PC)

Developer(s) – Milkstone Studios

Publisher(s) – Milkstone Studios

PEGI – 12

First released on Steam Early Access back in 2014, and going on to see both digital and physical releases on multiple platforms, Ziggurat is a Roguelike first-person shooting dungeon crawler, somewhat reminiscent of Tower of Guns, with a heavy emphasis on combat, player character development and above all, challenge. After having played Tower of Guns, I had fairly high expectations of how good this game would be, and how it would do the things is does; overall, I was not disappointed.

Graphics – 8/10

The game takes place in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world bearing resemblance to game series’ such as Warcraft or Baldur’s Gate. The graphical quality of the title is stunning, especially for a game developed independently, but more importantly, it also does extremely well to break away from games that were clearly taken as influence by incorporating a massive variety of unique creatures and boss characters, such as Sir Arthur and Lady Audrey. Cutting edge graphics can mean much less if there isn’t variety in conceptual design, but this game has both.

Gameplay – 8/10

The basic premise of gameplay, along with the game’s story, is that an apprentice wizard must take on the challenge of the Ziggurat in order to graduate from his order. Players must undertake increasingly difficult tasks of ascending the floors of the Ziggurat, which are filled with dangerous monsters and challenging obstacles throughout. Players can take advantage of a massive choice of different weapons, spells and perks that can found across the game in order to survive for as long as possible, and to try and eventually graduate from the wizard’s order. Locations, enemies and bosses, in Roguelike tradition, are procedurally generated, an thus does each playthrough provide a new set of challenges every time, keeping the game insanely fresh, and giving it virtually infinite replay value, which can make for hours upon hours of fun.

Controls – 10/10

Belonging to a genre that has dominated the video gaming market since the sixth generation, Ziggurat’s controls are perfect, providing no unnecessary complications, straightforward control mechanics and incorporating all aspects of gameplay seamlessly. The fact that the player character moves faster than in most other first-person shooters also provides quite a lot of fluency for players who have mastered it after a while, as it can become quite satisfying to be able to effectively dodge a wide variety of simultaneous enemy attacks. By the same token, it can also provide an equal amount of challenge to newcomers, since it can be quite easy to rush through unexplored areas, and accidentally fall for a number of given obstacles such as lava pits.

Originality – 7/10

Though Ziggurat is not the first game of it’s kind to incorporate the basic premise of gameplay that it does, it stands out for a massive number of different reasons; the variety in gameplay combat options it provides, as well as it’s conceptual design and artistic direction in terms of visuals. Although it’s clearly not without it’s influences, it provides a marvellous gaming experience that greatly shines throughout the indie developer community, and it’s certainly worth playing again and again.

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Overall, Ziggurat is a highly enjoyable game, filled with challenge, entertainment and a staggering amount of replayability. It looks great, it plays out wonderfully, and stands out as one of the better gaming experiences on eighth generation hardware.

Score

33/40

8/10 (Very Good)

Undertale (PC)

Developer(s) – Toby Fox

PEGI – 12

Developed by Toby Fox over a period spanning over 2 years following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Undertale was heavily inspired by the Super Mario RPG series, as it combines turn-based RPG mechanics with real-time combat, and having a narrative deeply reminiscent of many more surreal games including Anodyne and EarthBound. Though I have voiced my concerns about developers combining Turn-based combat with real-time combat in the past in reviews of games like Dragon Age: Origins and Final Fantasy XII, the way it’s handled in this game is much more adaptable and sensible than in most others, and it made for a very engaging experience.

Graphics – 7/10

At first glance, the visuals seem extremely basic in terms of graphical quality, but as the game progress, players will start to notice subtle details throughout that really make it stand out, such as reflections in pools of water, raindrops, snowflakes and surprisingly effective use of shadow and lighting. The conceptual design, however, is where this game truly differentiates itself from others, as it takes place in a wide variety of different locations, and has an insane amount of different character designs. My own personal experiences of witnessing many cosplayers dress up as characters from this game speak for themselves, and give testament to how much of a cult following this game has garnished since it’s release.

Gameplay – 8/10

The game focuses on a combat system highly resembling that of any classic Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest game, but it is in how players must evade enemy attacks where it becomes extremely enjoyable. The attack evasion system plays out like bullet hell games such as Galaxian or Gradius, with players having to evade an onslaught of objects on the screen. After being disappointed by a plethora of games that have tried and failed to combine turn-based and real-time combat, it was enormously refreshing to find a combat system that does this, and one that actually works well. It gives testament to Toby Fox’s ability as a games designer if he can succeed where many mainstream developers have failed spectacularly.

Controls – 10/10

Even with a very different control scheme from most other games of this kind to have been released over the last 25 years, the control scheme in Undertale presents players with no unnecessary complications or annoyances. Movement is straightforward, as are the combat mechanics, and like many RPGs before it, the developer didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken and the game is the best it could be in this respect for it.

Lifespan – 3/10

Lasting around 6 to 7 hours, Undertale falls way short of the standard lifespan of an average turn-based RPG, and this stands out as the worst thing about the game in my opinion. If it had much less of a linear progression as it does, then potentially it could have been made to last far longer. Arguably, it can be put down to the fact the developer worked on a budget, but there have been indie games made on a budget with virtually infinite replay value, thus even under the circumstances, the game still feels far too short than what it ought to have been.

Storyline – 10/10

The story of Undertale follows a player-named human child, who has fallen into a mysterious realm called the Underground, where resides monsters that were once equal to humans, but banished there following a war that broke out between them. The human sets out on a journey to find the king of the Underground, Asgore Dreemurr, and reach the barrier leading back to the surface world. The game’s story was heavily inspired by Internet culture, as well as the concept of motherhood, further taking influence from Nintendo’s Mother series; the character Toriel, in particular, being perhaps the most prominent example of this. The story has a unique blend of comedy, tragedy and moral ambiguity, as players are presented with choices of befriending, fleeing or killing enemies, which in turn influence the direction in which the story goes. It certainly stands out as one of the better and more subtle narratives told in an indie game, and is worth experiencing at least once.

Originality – 10/10

Though the game takes inspiration from a variety of different sources, such as Internet culture, other game series’, and even UK comedy shows such as Mr. Bean, it present players with a gaming experience largely unlike most others. I was overwhelmingly satisfied to witness how well combat was handled against many other RPGs released throughout the previous generation of gaming, and most other aspects of it also contributed to make this a truly unforgettable experience, like it’s story and subtle graphical details. It can be looked upon as one of the most remarkable achievements in gaming in general; made even more remarkable by the fact that it was all the work of one man with limited financial backing, but with unlimited imagination.

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Overall, Undertale is an engaging, subtle and extraordinary video game that will have players amazed and immersed from beginning to end. Though my biggest concern stems from wishing that it could have been made to last a little longer, what there is in the way of story and gameplay makes for an experience unlike many others, and I recommend it to any fan of the RPG genre.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Ultratron (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, Xbox One & Wii U)

Developer(s) – Puppy Games

Publisher(s) – Curve Digital

PEGI – 7

Released on the back of the success of three other arcade-style games, Revenge of the Titans, Droid Assault and Titan Attacks, Ultratron was released earlier this year to much positive critical acclaim, and being ported to a variety of different systems along the way. As far as I’m concerned, it is the best arcade-style game to have been released this year, exceeding the quality of Titan Attacks, and for that matter, every other game I’ve played published by Curve Digital.

Graphics – 8/10

Although the visual style of the game is largely reminiscent of the other three titles Puppy Games have developed, it also has its own specific charm to it in it’s enemy and boss designs as well as various different stage designs as well. There are also more subtle references and allusions to other games they have worked on within this title, such as the colour palettes of each level, as well as other classic 8-BIT games in addition to what games influenced the gameplay, such as Pac-Man and Berzerk.

Gameplay – 9/10

As well as Ultratron being much more addictive than Titan Attacks, it’s also a lot more legitimately challenging without it being to the point of inaccessibility. The bonus levels and the levels whereby enemies are shooting at the player constantly can seem all the more satisfying if they are either accomplished to 100%, or accomplished without the player taking a single hit. Like Titan Attacks and the other titles Puppy Games have developed, the upgrade system is also once again present to give players all the more to play for with each level and to either modify or refine what tactics they use, and how best to approach their own unique style of play.

Controls – 10/10

Though this kind of game had been developed many times before in the past, and as a result, there would have been no errors expected to have been present with the game’s control scheme, I like the different system of using the right analogue stick to shoot rather than a main button on the pad, just like Insomniac Games did with another very similar video game within Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in time called My Blaster Runs Hot. It just makes things far simpler, but without taking any unnecessary risks, and potentially ruining the control scheme altogether.

Originality – 6/10

Ultratron, as well as the other three titles Puppy Games have developed, can only largely be considered a modification of an existing invention, and therefore, it suffers somewhat in terms of uniqueness. Though it comes as much less obvious in it’s visuals than Titan Attacks, I would like to see Puppy Games come up with their very own cohesive concept for a new arcade-style games as opposed to simply attempting to refine something that has been done many times over the last thirty years. Although it has been refreshing to experience them again, they need something more unique to set them apart a bit better in my opinion.

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In summation, despite it’s moderate lack of originality, Ultratron is certainly one of the better indie gaming experiences released this year, as well as the best game of its ilk to come out in 2015. It’s addictive and fun as well as being able to provide a fair challenging, and any fan of old-school gaming should certainly give it a try.

Score

32/40

8/10 (Very Good)