Tag Archives: Steam

Q&A With Elden Pixels

With Metroidvania titles being one of the most prominent genres developed for among the ever-growing indie development community, one series of games I’ve been following closely over the last three years is the Alwa series. Created by Swedish indie outfit Elden Pixels under principal designer and former developer at Zoink Games, Mikael Forslind, the series began with the release of Alwa’s Awakening in 2017, and most recently in 2020, Alwa’s Legacy. Both titles were initially launched on Steam with Awakening seeing releases on multiple platforms with Legacy set for a release on the Nintendo Switch. In three short years, the series has gained popularity among fans of the Metroidvania genre and among gamers in general, and with the sequel possibly set to make it on multiple platforms in addition, the series’ popularity is set to only increase further. Wanting to find out more about the conception of Alwa, as well as the future of this exciting new series of games, I posed a few questions to Mikael of Elden Pixels to find out more. Here’s what he had to say about Alwa and the future of Elden Pixels:

 

How has it been to experience such an influx of interest surrounding the Alwa series and the fanbase it has already garnished?

Amazing! Every time someone reaches out to us talking about how they enjoyed our games it feels great. We were proud over how well Alwa’s Awakening was received but we felt we could add more to the formula so the design for Alwa’s Legacy came to us quite easily and we were able to improve on everything that the first game offered and this, of course, led to more and more people discovering both games.

 

What were the influences behind the world of the Alwa series?

It was a mix between the fast gameplay of Battle Kid and the more puzzle-platforming style of Trine that was the main inspiration for the first game. After a long night of playing these two games, I blurted out to my friends – “Let’s make a game. How hard can it be?” And here we are a couple of years later.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of developing Alwa’s Legacy?

To me, the best part of making games is actually looking back at a released game and thinking – “Damn, we made it. It’s out there.” I’m not one of those developers that spend years and years on one game. I think a maximum of two years is perfect for a game and I’m proud that both our games took about that time to finish. But seeing a game come together is always nice, and the way we built Alwa’s Legacy was that very early in the process we had all rooms in place but they were basically empty and stayed empty for the longest of time. But once all design was locked down, all art was done and all sprites were done we basically filled the entire world with content in a 3-4 month period. All of a sudden it went from looking empty to being shippable. That’s a great feeling.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of developing Alwa’s Legacy?

Wow, where do I start? I actually wanted to delve into this subject for a long blog post sometime in the future but I’ll try to keep it short here but basically these things were the major headaches during our development – Cancer scare, anxiety, personal finances, IVF treatment, potential pr disaster using Kickstarter, political heatwave during launch and the constant scare of bankruptcy. I’m just happy we were able to overcome all obstacles with our sanity and health intact and we’re all still good friends. And we managed to release a game that everyone seems to really like! That’s a major accomplishment.

 

What’s next for Elden Pixels?

We’re not really sure. We’ve made enough money to breathe for a month or two but nowhere near enough money to fund the next game so right now we’re just exploring what and if we can start a new project. But we’d love to take a stab at porting our first game to NES 8-bit so we’re going to put out a job ad for that very shortly. We might have found some cash to fund this project so we’re very excited, especially since it was already made with the 8-bit restrictions in mind.

 

How important has fan feedback been throughout the development of Alwa’s Legacy?

Since Alwa’s Legacy is a standalone sequel to our first game Alwa’s Awakening we kind of knew what we were doing during the development. So we took more notes from what we didn’t like with the first game to build our second game. But community involvement is very important and we had a lot of feedback from our Kickstarter backers and we did a huge semi-open beta where we built this custom tool so any player could directly report feedback into our project management tool. I love building games with the community involved and it’s definitely something that I want to consider doing in the future.

 

Have any of the guys at Image & Form or Zoink had any input into the game, or any advice to offer you?

Yeah, I worked at those companies for about four years so I made a lot of friends and they’re all beautiful people. A few of them do consulting work so we actually ended up working with Pelle Cahndlerby with the script, Joel Bille did the sound effects and Julius Guldbog did our trailer, all of them are from those companies.

Every now and then I also get a chance to grab some lunch with Brjann Sigurgeirsson, who’s the head honcho at Thunderful, the owner of Image & Form and Zoink Games and I cherish those lunches because I get so much valuable information and tips from him. He’s such a nice guy. I also get free lunch!

 

If you had the chance to develop for any mainstream development company or work on any gaming series, which one would it be?

I don’t know how much it would be considered mainstream but our first game Alwa’s Awakening was heavily inspired by an NES game called Battle Kid and I would LOVE to develop a game in that series. I think in the hands of Elden Pixels and the original creator we’d be able to make a really cool and fun game. I can easily think of a bunch of cool and creative ideas for a potential sequel.

 

The progression of the series is obviously reminiscent of the transitions between past generations of gaming; i.e. 8-BIT to 16-BIT. Do you see the Alwa series making the transition from 2D to 3D in the future?

If someone asked me to design a 3D game I wouldn’t know how to even approach it. I’d probably have as much as luck as I would if I decided to take up opera singing. So I don’t see that happening in the near future. But who knows, if we find a talented 3D designer somewhere in the future it might happen. Right now we’re more exploring ideas that aren’t based in the Alwa universe.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Right now the game is out on Steam and GOG and we’re releasing it on Switch soon. We want to take it to Microsoft and Sony as well and ask them for a release on their platforms but we haven’t yet. We’re such a small team so we got to think carefully about each decision making sure we don’t take on too much work and releasing on a new platform is a lot of work.

 

Do you have any advice to give to any aspiring developers who may be reading this?

Don’t go into indie development thinking you’ll make money. If you want to make money, get a job in the IT business or something. For me making indie games is like playing in a small rock band. You don’t get to play at the big arenas right away, you probably never will. And it can take years before anyone even notices you. Don’t expect to make that one indie game and make it Shovel Knight style. Sure, it can happen but most likely not. But if you’re dedicated, make cool stuff that people want to enjoy and stay at it, maybe in a few years, you’ll be able to make a living from it. I’m confident that Elden Pixels will eventually be something I can live off full-time, but we probably need a game or two more out before we can do that. But we’ll get there.

 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes, if you take 3 deciliters of water, add 2 deciliters of sugar, 1 deciliter of vinegar essence, 15 small peppercorns, and 2 bay leaves. Boil for a few minutes and then let cool off you’ll have an awesome brine for pickled herring. A Swedish classic!

 

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Mikael for sharing everything he had about the Alwa series and about Elden Pixels and to wish them the best of luck with what the next title they develop may be. Both Alwa’s Awakening and Alwa’s Legacy are available on Steam and I would highly recommend anyone reading who hasn’t played either title that they check them out; I’ve played and reviewed both games and they’re definitely worth playing through at least once. Thanks for reading this Q&A and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Ori & The Will of the Wisps (PC & Xbox One)

Developer – Moon Studios

Publisher – Xbox Game Studios

Director – Thomas Mahler

Producer – Blazej Zywicyriski

Following on from the success of Austrian developer Moon Studios debut title Ori & The Blind Forest, Ori & The Will of the Wisps is another expansive Metroidvania title making use of wonderfully crafted hand-drawn visuals and adding new gameplay elements building on the concept perpetuated by the first game. Personally, I was hooked on this game from start to finish, and whilst I have my nitpicks to address, I was far from disappointed with it. 

Graphics – 10/10

The visual style of the game once again makes use of a hand-drawn art style, taking place in new forests separate from that of the first game called Niwen. Like the last game, it has a variety of different land biomes. Including snowy mountains, barren deserts and dark spider-infested caves. It once again also makes use of a traditional orchestral soundtrack; albeit each individual track does better than Blind Forest to suit the tableau of each different area. 

The game in terms of visual style is certainly a lot more varied than the first, as Blind Forest’s individual areas were mainly different sections of forest with some exceptions, such as Mount Horu. But in Will Of The Wisps, there are areas like Luma Pool, Baur’s Reach, and Windswept Wastes that perpetuate far more of a sense of variety than in the original game.

Gameplay – 10/10

Another area where variety is a lot more prevalent than in the first game is in the gameplay. The combat system has been given a massive overhaul with Ori being given far more combat options than in Blind forest, including a sword for fast-paced combat and a hammer for players preferring power over speed. A lot of the older abilities acquired in the first game are also added for good measure, but they’re acquired earlier on to reacquaint players with classic mechanics in preparation for the introduction of new mechanics throughout the rest of the game. 

Another very welcome addition to the series with the second game is the inclusion of boss fights throughout; they present a level of challenge that wasn’t seen with Blind Forest and add even more depth to the gameplay that is more prevalent in and reminiscent of other Metroidvania titles such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Guacamelee. There are also various sidequests to be undertaken throughout, which is something else that was desperately needed for improvement over the first game. It all makes it even more enjoyable to play than Blind Forest and less of a criminally fleeting experience 

Controls – 10/10

Players will be able to move from the first game to the second without skipping a beat; the core mechanics are the same as what they were in Blind Forest, but even with the introduction of a plethora of new mechanics, the game’s control scheme presents no issues. In this game, it was even more vital for the developers to have gotten the control scheme right with the introduction of time trial sequences involving a lot of intricate platforming and the developers did a flawless job of getting the controls right. 

Lifespan – 6/10

To complete the game 100% takes slightly longer than its predecessor, clocking in at just over 15 hours of gameplay. Although there is the inclusion of so many new gameplay features, I think more of the same could#ve been added to pad out the game even further. But again, my biggest criticism of this game, as it was with Blind Forest, is that it doesn’t last anywhere near as long as what it had the potential to do. Although it’s less of a fleeting experience than the first game, it’s still not long enough of an experience in my opinion. 

Storyline – 7.5/10

Picking up where the last game left off, Ori, Naru, and Gumo are now caring for Ku; the baby owl that hatched from Kuro’s last egg at the end of Blind Forest. After repairing Ku’s damaged wing with one of Kuro’s stray feathers, Ku flies with Ori on her back and the pair crashland into the forest of Niwen. Ori then becomes embroiled in a quest to restore balance to the forest of Niwel by seeking out forest spirits called wisps, whilst also confronting new threats, including a deformed and hateful owl named Shriek.

The story of Will of the Wisps draws a great deal of comparison to that of its predecessor, with Ori Basically having to do the same thing as what she had to do in Blind Forest; just within another forest. Although the themes of loss and tragedy are present and are presented in different ways to the original, there are other elements that are a lot more straightforward than they are in the first game. There’s not much moral ambiguity involved in the second game like in Blind Forest; the player will know who the hero is and who the villain is; where Kuro was a much more sympathetic villain, Shriek, whilst having underlying reasons for being the way she is, is a lot harder to empathize with.

However, there are certain plot threads throughout the story, especially around the mid-way point, which contribute to the narrative in extremely positive ways, and whilst not being anywhere near as unique as the first, certainly makes for an enjoyable story overall. 

Originality – 7.5/10

The game originality was probably the hardest aspect of it for me to cover. In certain areas, it does stand out from other Metroidvania titles, such as it’s combat system and inclusion of sidequests. But in other aspects, it fell short of other aspects in which the first game excelled in; most notably the story. Overall it was a fairly unique game, but I can’t help but feel that there is still a lot more untapped potential for this series overall. Without spoiling any details in regards to the ending, all the signs seem to point to there being a third game sometime in the future, and I think that there is still room for improvement in both the first and second games. 

 

Happii

In summation, however, regardless of the amount of criticism I’ve given Ori & The Will Of The Wisps, I still think that it is fractionally better than Ori & The Blind Forest. The one aspect that it excels in compared to its predecessor is the gameplay, which is, after all, the most important aspect of any game. Its story is unoriginal compared to Blind Forest and it’s relatively short lifespan can still leave players wanting more at the end of it, but that’s not to say that it isn’t worth playing through from beginning to end.; it certainly is. 

50/60

8/10

(Very Good)

Q&A With Fishing Cactus

Whilst looking all over the Internet for new upcoming gaming experiences within the indie community, where they have been available, I have tried out either demos or reviewer copies beforehand and given my first impressions on how the game is during their current stages of development and given a subsequent assessment of what I believe the final product can bring to the table. One such game has been Nanotale: Typing Chronicles. Developed by Belgian outfit Cactus Games and acting as a sequel to a previous game made in the same vein called Epistory, Nanotale implements an extremely unique style of combat for an RPG, with players having to type in words to string attacks together, to cast spells or even to solve puzzles to progress throughout the game’s open world.

Wanting to know even more about this insanely distinct project, I contact Fishing Cactus in the hope of securing another Q&A for the site. I received a response from Fishing Cactus’ PR manager and the development team had answered what questions I had regarding the game and they made for some particularly interesting reading. Here’s what Fishing Cactus had to say about Nanotale:

Where did the idea stem from having a gameplay system revolved around typing in the first place, back with Epistory? 

For our very first game, we wanted to do something different from what you can find on the market. One of our Game Designer had the idea of challenging the Typing genre. The rest of the team was not very convinced about it since all the Typing Game we knew where boring and educative while others like Typing of the Dead were more gimmicks. He did a prototype of it and we were all convinced about the potential of the idea. 

You can play the first proto here:

http://epistorygame.com/prototype/

What has the developmental process been like?

We didn’t plan to do a new typing game at first. Epistory was a success and we were afraid to fail at making it better. But, we decided to do it after getting a lot of emails from the community asking us for a new one. It was like “that’s OK. The community is behind us. They will guide us”. So, we asked them how they wanted that new typing game and we developed Nanotale according to what they liked less and more in Epistory, what they would like to see improved, etc… 

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

We just released the second update of the game. The final game is planned for October 2020.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

The Cellular Automata! Cellu-what?

It’s a way of simulating a world using a divide and conquer strategy. Instead of having a massive “World Simulator™” it’s often easier to simulate each object when making a game, This strategy goes further by dividing the world into uniform cells. Each cell has a state and a set of rules to change, if possible, into another state. Cellular automata are used in a very wide range of scientific domains, including computer science, mathematics, physics, and many others. The most famous is probably Conway’s Game of Life, it has only four rules and two states and you can already see a lot of patterns emerging from its simple concept.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development? 

Having the game translated in 11 languages during early access. It was a bad idea and represents a lot of work but we really wanted to do it for our community. Also, players seem pickier when they can play it in their own language. It’s hard to have something that works perfectly in all these languages but I think we are doing OK with it thanks to the community who helps a lot locating bugs. 

Which RPG series’ had the most impact on the development of Nanotale?

None. I admit that for Nanotale, we mostly started from Epistory and continued following what our community wanted. 

There is a great emphasis on the beauty of nature in Nanotale. Does any of that stem from the personal experiences of the development team?

Not really. We just wanted to have fun and create something different from Epistory but as memorable. 

How well has the game been received so far? 

Good! The community is really happy and people who discover Nanotale love it and usually by Epistory after trying Nanotale. 

Have there yet been any ideas considered for the game that have since been scrapped?

Many of them. We always start with too many ideas then you cut according to your budget. Many of the new things we have in Nanotale come from what we had to cut from Epistory. Maybe the next typing game will have what we had to cut from Nanotale. 

The thing is, that if we don’t cut, the game would never go out. And we really have to stick to deadlines. For our community and for the team working on the project.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Windows, MAC, Linux

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

I just want to say that it’s OK not having exactly the game you wanted for the first time as soon as you take pleasure working on it and don’t disappoint your community. 

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/944920/Nanotale__Typing_Chronicles/

Twitter: @nanotalegame
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nanotalegame
Instagram: @FishingCactus

Do you have anything else to add?

Don’t hesitate to add us to your wishlist!!

I hope you guys check this game’s Steam page out too; as I said in my first impressions article, Nanotale is one of the most unique-looking RPGs I’ve seen for quite some time and having played it, it brings a certain level of satisfaction to be had whilst playing with its very different take on what an RPG should be. I also want to take this opportunity to thank Fishing Cactus for agreeing to answer my questions and to wish them the best of luck with this potentially game-changing title.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Q&A With Liam Dehaudt

Whilst scouring the internet for new indie game prospects, I came across another title that caught my attention slate for release in the near future. The Meldstorm is a 2D side-scrolling rogue-lite with item synergy elements. Players will be able to customize their own weapons on the same level as games like Mothergunship and Fallout 4 with the game revolving around the player character (either a knight, rogue or sorcerer depending on the player’s choice) undertaking the deadly pillar trials; a series of tests requiring combat with an ungodly number of alien enemies and puzzles to solve. Wanting to know more about this game, I contacted its sole developer, Liam Dehaudt, and put forward to him a series of questions regarding how development has progressed and what players can expect to see when the game is fully released on Steam. Here’s what Liam had to say about The Meldstorm:

What were the influences behind your game? 

Risk of Rain influenced the item system but I wanted more deliberate combat (less but more powerful enemies) so I borrowed a lot from Gungeon’s enemy feel, except as a platformer.

What has the developmental process been like?

It’s fun, it started as a hobby but became a bit more. I’ve worked on a few projects before so this is like a test to put everything I’ve learned together. Of course, there are ups and downs but that’s to be expected.

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

I honestly don’t really know. I would have a few months of development left but since I just got a job it’s most likely going to be a while longer. Let’s say late 2020 to early 2021 but that’s a super vague guess.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

Programming is my jam so making the big systems has to be my favorite part. I had a ton of fun making the mods interact with the weapons, and making a general system to create new weapons easily.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development? 

Marketing is tough and makes me want to pull my hair out sometimes. I’m quite new to it so I’m learning a ton, but for now, I’m still pretty clueless.

What has been your favorite boss fight to have created so far?

The final boss is cool and pretty different. I got some cool feedback from Reddit that helped me make him look a lot cooler too. You get the first phase to learn his attacks, then he spices things up in the second.

How well has the game been received so far? 

People seem to like it. The few players I’ve had try it had fun. Like mentioned prior I am struggling with marketing which I think is slowing me down a lot but I think my current audience likes what I’m doing

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

PC/Mac first, if the response is good then I’ll consider everything else.

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

Manage the scope of your game to something doable. Try to stand out. Aim for the top but expect not to get there. Reach out to people who are working on stuff you like.

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

I post all my work on twitter, you can also DM me there if you want: 

https://twitter.com/TheMeldstorm

Also if you like my game, wishlist The Meldstorm:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1220300/The_Meldstorm/

Do you have anything else to add?

Have a nice day ^^

I also want to thank Liam for agreeing to this Q&A and hope you guys enjoyed reading more about The Meldstorm as much as I enjoyed drafting it up. The Meldstorm looks like a very promising game with virtually an infinite amount of replay value and I’m certainly excited for what the final game will have to offer players compared to its current build. I will draft up a review of it upon release, but in the meantime, I wish Liam the best of luck with his debut title.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

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

Developer(s) – Thomas Happ Games

Publisher(s) – Thomas Happ Games

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

Graphics – 9/10

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

Gameplay – 9/10

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

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

Controls – 9.5/10

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

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

Lifespan – 7/10

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

Storyline – 8/10

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

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

Originality – 8/10

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

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

Happii

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

Score

50.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

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 the 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 labor of love and that it shows in every little detail, it just seemed to be 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 plot 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, shadowy 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 the scenery, the 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 makes 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 at minimum. 

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 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, while 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 than many fully NES titles purposefully made to be hard was that 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 the 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 favorite 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 the 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 humor 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 the rear ends 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 the 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 health bar. 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 game’s 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 character’s 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 simple 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 this 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 it 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)