Tag Archives: Video Gaming

Q&A With Moebial Studios

Continuing on with my efforts to discover new and upcoming video games and sharing them with my readers, last week, I stumbled on another ambitious and exciting title in the works. Aquamarine, developed by Moebial Studios operating chiefly out of Yreka California, is an open-world underwater survival game influenced by an insanely wide array of different science-fiction games, comic books, and films and upon release will be boasting a wide range of gameplay mechanics including vehicular travel and upgrades, morality mechanics, unearthing secrets the world has to offer and wide-scale exploration (to name but a few), which players will have to take advantage of in order to survive in a beautifully designed outlandish underwater world that is the game’s namesake.

Already having reached the half-way point in their Kickstarter campaign at the time of writing, I reached out to the game’s lead designer Patric Fallon to find out more about this game and it’s breathtaking conceptual design as well as to unearth some facts about what games influenced this title and about it’s developmental process thus far. This is what Patric had to say about Aquamarine:

What were the influences behind your game? 

So many! We actually listed some of the main ones on our Kickstarter page. But everything from Lucasarts-style adventure games, to old-school roguelikes, to Dark Souls and Metroidvanias, to survival games like Don’t Starve and The Long Dark have influenced Aquamarine’s design. Aesthetically speaking, we’re pulling a whole lot from psychedelic sci-fi art of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as the comics and animated films of that time. Our core influence for the visuals is French artist Moebius, who’s been having a bit of a popularity resurgence in games lately.

What has the developmental process been like?

It’s been slow, sporadic, and long. Development is tough to do without funds of any kind, but developing while trying to raise funds is also tough. We’ve had some major team changes over the years as well, but once those were handled we finally could move forward at full power. Since planning for this new Kickstarter with our current team, development has gone swimmingly, and we’ve brought Aquamarine to new heights that even surprise me sometimes.

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

Our goal is to have development wrapped by Q4 2020. Many things can change about the game and its release during that time, but we’re making sure our Kickstarter backers will have access to what we’re making ASAP.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

For me, it’s most recently been bringing together the current team we have now and seeing how well all of their work clicks together. Our new lead artist Leo d’Almeida is incredibly imaginative with color and concepts, and our new composer Thomas Hoey is massively talented at evoking a mood and fleshing it out through a composition. All of that coupled with my designs and our animator Drew Brouillette‘s eye for movement and detail has been so satisfying to see come together.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?   

At this point, the only real challenge has been funding. No one works for free, nor should they, and so self-funding development ahead of this Kickstarter has been difficult. I had to uproot myself from living in Brooklyn, NY, for 8 years to move to a tiny Northern California mountain town in order to be closer to family, save money, and finish Aquamarine’s development.

What has been the most frustrating aspect of development?   

I’m not sure if there have been any major frustrations yet, but it can occasionally be problematic that our team is spread around the world in different timezones. But that’s really more about me wrestling my own brain about maximizing this, that, or the other. The truth is that everyone working on Aquamarine is reliable, professional, and above all else EXCITED about making the game. Nothing frustrating about that at all. 

Something I’ve noticed about the game is the comic book art style. Were there any comic book series’ in particular that influenced this game?

Absolutely! In fact, I don’t think the game would exist at all if it weren’t for Moebius’s comic anthology The World of Edena. It’s such a beautiful and ground-breaking book that reading it immediately made me think, “How in the world is there no video game that looks like this? Or feels like this?” That’s how this whole thing began.

In terms of gameplay, how have you and the team been working to deliver a relaxing experience whilst having been influenced by some of the most action-packed games ever developed like Metroid and Castlevania?

Well, we’re essentially talking about two different aspects of game design: overarching design concepts vs. moment-to-moment action. Many of Aquamarine’s overarching design concepts come from my love for Metroidvania and Soulslike games, such as open-ended exploration, little to no hand-holding, item-locked progression, a single currency to collect and spend, and so on. But our moment-to-moment action comes from different genres, such as classic roguelikes, point-and-click adventures, and turn-based tactics games. Having a slower, more contemplative gameplay loop allows us to explore these mechanics from more action-y titles in a different way.

How well has the game been received so far? 

I think we’ve had nothing but positive reactions so far since the Kickstarter launch, and it just keeps ramping up every day. And back when we were showing off super early versions of the demo, people were intrigued by the design ideas we were experimenting with. We even got a snazzy write up in PC Gamer Magazine in early 2019. We’ve also been approached by a handful of publishers and tons of fans curious about getting involved with Aquamarine in some fashion. I think that response will only continue to expand once we reach people who still don’t know we exist.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Currently, we are looking only at PC, Mac, and Linux, simply because that’s been my bread and butter for years. But I’m absolutely interested in what a console port of Aquamarine might look like and will be exploring that possibility if/when the time is right. I think Switch would be our first move on that front.

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

Follow what you care about, not what everyone around you seems to be interested in. I think it’s far too common for game makers to want to capitalize on a trend or make something that’s easy to explain to the majority of gamers. But that’s always a quick way to become another generic title in an ocean of generic titles and lose yourself in the process. Only by sticking to your passions will you make something true to yourself and not get burnt out as you go through the difficult journey of actually making it.

Do you have anything else to add? 

Please check out our Kickstarter and consider backing us. We’re over halfway to our goal!

As well as checking out their Kickstarter page, you can also visit Moebial’s social media platforms via the links below:

Twitter – https://twitter.com/moebial?lang=en

Tumblr – https://moebial.tumblr.com/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/aquamarinegame/

The game’s Kickstarter campaign is continuing to gather momentum and you can help bring the project to life by donating towards the goal. Aquamarine is most definitely a game worth backing and I can’t wait until it’s release to see what kind of experience the finished product brings. As always, I hope you guys had as much fun checking Aquamarine out as I did and hopefully the title will gain enough momentum to be successfully backed before the deadline.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer88

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)

Sheep (PC, PlayStation & Game Boy Advance)

Developer(s) – Mind’s Eye Productions

Publisher(s) – Empire Interactive

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

Graphics – 7/10

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

Gameplay – 7/10

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

Controls – 9/10

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

Lifespan – 4/10

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

Storyline – 5/10

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

Originality – 7/10

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

Niiutral

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

Score

39/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

Gunpad (PC)

Gunpad (PC)

Developer(s) – Megaware Games

Whilst spending the last 4 to 5 years collecting old PC games at a ridiculously prolific rate, there was always bound to be a mixture of obscure gems, adored classics and immediate write-offs, as with any video games console. But with old PC games, the balance has been particularly interesting to behold. But I’ve found that not many PC developers perpetuate this balance quite like the developers in question in this review. Megaware games was an outfit based in the Netherlands, who made their business selling mostly games based on classic arcade titles, which in terms of quality were very much hit and miss. Eventually, they would break the mould and make a couple of unique titles of their own, such as Sleepwalker and Alien Logic until the company shut down as of 2007, but in this review, I’m going to be looking at one of their worst titles. Gunpad is ostensibly a 3D version of Pong, only players are also able to attack each other whilst knocking the ball back and forth. It sounds interesting in concept, but when I witnessed just how badly this game was programmed, it felt like a massive disappointment in the end.

Graphics – 4/10

It wasn’t only disappointing in terms of badly it was programmed, however; rather it was disappointing from the ground up. The game has only one stage to play in and because of that, as well as other aspects, it becomes very repetitive very quickly. There wasn’t even any music composed for it. Whilst I may be able to appreciate that Megaware may have been operating on a budget, I’ve met developers at Expos who sold games door-to-door back in the 80s when they were children that had better graphical quality than this. Whilst the visuals may be about average for the time on a technical level, the developers would’ve simply been better off making a 2D version of Pong with multiple levels than blowing all the budget on what we were given. 

Gameplay – 2/10

The game simply involves racking up more points than the opposition whilst avoiding their attacks. I couldn’t even be bothered to find out what buttons to press to attack back, since the developers even neglected to add a menu to show which buttons did what. After 3 games, I called it quits. The only thing that can be done to heighten the experience is to adjust the difficulty settings, but even on the lowest difficulty settings, the game is unreasonably punishing as very little time is given to react before the start of a round. Its baffling to me how developers can sometimes screw up making a game based on blueprints that have existed for decades. Pong was created by one guy and first released in arcades back in 1972, which makes this all the more embarrassing for the 5 people who worked on this game. 

Controls – 9/10

The control scheme works well enough, but the biggest problem is the camera angle that the game employs throughout. This is actually a 3D first-person version of Pong and as such, it becomes needlessly complicated to determine whether or not the player makes contact with the ball; especially when it veers towards corners. 

Originality – 3/10

The only thing that this game has going for it against the original Pong is that the player can attack their opponent, which whether or not this hinders the CPU’s ability to bat the ball back I don’t know, since again, I could truly be bothered to find out, since I was already jaded by how lacking this game truly is in all aspects. 

Angrii

Overall, players need to steer clear from Gunpad, which won’t be too hard, as I think this review may be the first legitimate review of this game on the internet. It was incredibly disappointing in terms of every aspect involved, but at least I can say that I’ve had some fun reviewing some dross. 

Score

17/40

4/10 (Poor)

Lego Alpha Team (PC & Game Boy Colour)

Developer(s) – Digital Domain & Climax Studios

Publisher(s) – Lego Media

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

Graphics – 7.5/10

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

Gameplay – 8.5/10

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

Controls – 9/10

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

Lifespan – 4/10 

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

Storyline – 5/10

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

Originality – 8/10

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

Happii

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

Score

42/60

7/10 (Fair)

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

Developer(s) – Z-Axis & Activision

Publisher(s) – Taito

ELSPA – 3+

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

Graphics – 8/10

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

Gameplay – 8/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 10/10

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

Storyline – 6/10

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

Originality – 7/10

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

Happii

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

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Dig Dug Deeper (PC)

Developer(s) – Creature Labs

Publisher(s) – Infogrames

ELSPA – 3+

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

Graphics – 5/10

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

Gameplay 6/10

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

Controls – 8/10

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

Lifespan – 3/10

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

Storyline – 1/10

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

Originality – 4/10

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

Angrii

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

Score

27/60

4.5/10 (Mediocre)

The Witness (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Thekla Inc

Publisher(s) – Thekla Inc

Director – Jonathan Blow

Producer – Jonathan Blow

PEGI – 3

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

Graphics – 8/10

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

Gameplay – 7/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 9/10

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

Storyline – 6/10

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

Originality – 8/10

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

Happii

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

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Luigi’s Mansion 2 (3DS)

Developer(s) – Next Level Games & Nintendo SPD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Bryce Holliday

Producer – Shigeru Miyamoto

PEGI – 7

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

Graphics – 7/10

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

Gameplay – 8.5/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 8/10

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

Storyline – 7/10

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

Originality – 8/10

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

Happii

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

Score

48.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Back to Bed (PC)

Developer – Bedtime Digital

Publisher – Bedtime Digital

PEGI – 3

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

Graphics – 8/10

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

Gameplay – 7/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 3/10

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

Storyline – 6/10

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

Originality – 7/10

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

Niiutral

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

Score

41/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)