Tag Archives: Video Gaming

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

Developer – Moon Studios

Publisher – Microsoft Studios

Director – Thomas Mahler

Producer – Gennadiy Korol

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

Graphics – 10/10

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

Gameplay – 8/10

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

Controls – 10/10

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

Lifespan – 5/10

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

Storyline – 8/10

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

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

Originality – 8/10

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

Happii

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

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Echoes of Aetheria (PC)

Developer(s) – Dancing Dragon

 

Developed by the same team behind the critically acclaimed indie RPGs Skyborn and Deadly Sin I & II, Echoes of Aetheria is yet another turn-based RPG released by the company making use of the increasingly popular RPG Maker gaming engine used in the development of other indie RPGs such as Chronicles of Dark Lord and Remnants of Isolation. Compared to the two aforementioned indie RPGs, it ranks somewhere in the middle in my opinion; it has charm in most aspects, but not as much charm or as much intensity or complexity as Chronicles of a Dark Lord, but much more immersing and thankfully longer than Remnants of Isolation.

 

Graphics – 7/10

Reminiscent of the steampunk setting of many of the later instalments of the Final Fantasy series starting with Final Fantasy VI, it features excellent use of 16-bit pixel art, as well as variety in location and enemy design. Whilst taking place primarily in various different town and cities, there are also places outside regular civilization to explore, such as caves, forests and desert tombs. Hand drawn graphics were also implemented in addition to represent characters during dialogue sequences, which also give it a further feel of uniqueness to it.

 

Gameplay – 8/10

The gameplay differs slightly from most other RPGs made with the RPG Maker engine. Rather than playing out like a tradition turn-based RPG like Chronicles of a Dark Lord does, the battle system requires having to move players round the battle stages like pieces on a chessboard; a play style similar to From Software’s own turn-based RPG Enchanted Arms. It necessitates arguably a greater level of strategy than in the traditional turn-based RPG, but also has the same sense of gameplay addiction to it as well.

 

Controls – 10/10

Turn-based RPGs generally don’t have any issues with controls as a given it would seem. This game has even less problems than most in terms of controls, since because it was made for PCs, there is also the facility to use the mouse during gameplay, giving players more choice than most other games of it’s kind. It doesn’t matter which style of controls the players happens to prefer; the title plays out just as well using either method, and there have been no necessary complications with it to hinder the overall experience.

 

Lifespan – 6/10

The game can be made to last about 15 to 20 hours, like most RPGs made on the same engine, I’ve noticed. To me, whilst it’s still longer than the average mainstream release, falls way short of the length that a game of it’s kind can be made to last. It’s nowhere near as criminally short as I found Remnants of Isolation to be when I reviewed it for the site last year, but games like these are always worth making last a long as possible for several different reasons besides sheer gameplay addiction.

 

Storyline – 7/10

The story of the game follows Lucien, whom whilst attempting to rescue the bride of a royal wedding held in commemoration of a truce between two previously warring nations, meets a cast of varied and compelling characters, as they attempt to clear their names amidst a government conspiracy against them accusing them of high treason. The game’s story is political and somewhat dark in tone, similar to Capcom’s fourth instalment of the Breath of Fire series; albeit, the story in this game is nowhere near as dark. Nevertheless, it has the feel of an epic story and well written dialogue to match that players can come to expect with a game like this.

 

Originality – 6.5/10

Though it may not go down as being revolutionary in terms of setting new standards for the turn-based RPG genre, the game does have it’s own distinct charm that sets it apart from a fair few others, such as the different combat style and the need to strategize that whilst synonymous in games like this, is presented in a slightly different way. Though Enchanted Arms may have had infinitely more variety in it’s take on this style of fighting than in this game, it can nevertheless provide abundant entertainment in gameplay for how unfortunately short it lasts.

Happii

Overall Echoes of Aetheria is one of the better indie RPG experiences I’ve come across in recent years. It has a pretty well written story, addicting gameplay and a visual style not synonymous of most RPGs developed today.

Score

44.5/60

7/10 (Fair)

Remnants of Isolation (PC)

Developer(s) – Team Isolation 

An indie turn-based RPG developed with the popular RPG Maker engine, the same engine used to develop other indie RPGs, such as Chronicles of a Dark Lord, Remnants of Isolation has a story and an artistic direction different to that of many other games of its kind. Unfortunately, the game does have its fair share of faults and drawbacks, unfortunately making it dwarf in quality compared with some of the great titles of the genre, such as Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. 

Graphics – 8/10

The most interesting thing about the game in my opinion is the visuals and the conceptual design. Taking place in a mysterious and enchanted prison, it features imagery and characters inspired by a multitude of different cultures and mythologies; most prominently, medieval fantasy. But aside from that, there are also quite a few uniquely designed monsters, such as the Twisted Sentry as well as many of the varied boss fights that take place throughout. 

Gameplay – 6/10

The game plays out very much like a traditional turn-based RPG, such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest; it’s addictive, and satisfying to level up characters. Instead of using money as currency, however, the player must collect souls in order to make better equipment and buy items. The biggest problem with it, however, is the fact that unlike most other games of it’s kind, which have many different playable characters with different abilities, there are only two in this game, thus it doesn’t have anywhere near as much variety as many of the great games that inspired it. It’s especially underwhelming to me, as I have played RPGs, which make use of the same engine, but that have much more substance to them. 

Controls – 10/10

The game incorporates as simple a control scheme as can be found in a video game, and as such, I’m at least satisfied to report that there are no issues with playing the game to address. Many turn-based RPGs over the years have modified the overall formula with varying degrees of success, but over the years, it has been refreshing to see a resurgence of games to incorporate the basic structure of this formula; and this game is no exception. 

Lifespan – 0.5/10

The worst aspect of this game, however, is it’s cripplingly short lifespan. At a stretch it can be made to last about 2 hours, which for a turn-based RPG is deplorable in my opinion. Normally, this kind of game can be made to last considerably longer; some of which surpassing the 100-hour mark, but due to this game’s lack of substance and variety, it lasts only an extremely small fraction of the time that a standout game of its genre can be made to last; even irrespective of the fact that this game was intended to be played multiple times.

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story is particularly well written, and made even more immersing by the fact that there are multiple endings to be triggered. It follows two prisoners, Celesta and Melchior, as they resolve to find a way out of their prison together, in a somewhat similar fashion to Ico. They both need each other to stay alive as they encounter danger after danger throughout the prison. It’s engrossing to see how their relationship develops throughout the course of the game, and how it impacts the rest f the story. 

Originality – 2/10

The only vaguely original mechanic this game has going for it is that of using souls as currency to both buy items and upgrade equipment. Some may say the mechanic of fusing magic together may be something new to the genre, but Final Fantasy IX incorporated a similar, and frankly more satisfying mechanic between the characters Vivi and Steiner, and overall, did little to add any real uniqueness to the game’s combat system. Other than souls as currency, the only way in which the game stands out is in both its artistic direction, and how short it is. And the latter of the two makes it stand out for largely the wrong reasons. 

Niiutral

Overall, Remnants of Isolation does have elements of redeeming value, but as far as an immersing gameplay experience goes, there are far better turn-based RPGs out there. To make a game of it’s potential as short as they did was in my opinion criminal, and if the developers decide to make a sequel, or another turn-based RPG, they need to make some dramatic improvements in my opinion. 

Score

33.5/60

5.5/10 (Below Average) 

Ironcast (PC)

Developer(s)Ripstone Games, Dreadbit & Polygon Hearts

Ironcast is an indie game, developed with the likes of Candy Crush and Jelly Splash in mind, but offers something extremely different; blending it with customization options as well as turn-based RPG combat. For me, it has been one of the best games released on Steam this year so far, since it goes far beyond the level of enjoyment that a simple puzzle game can bring.

 

Graphics – 7/10

Aside from having a fairly decent range of different robots to command with each playthrough, the game is set in an alternative reality, where the English are still warring with the French by the year 1886, and England has taken on more of a steampunk theme during the Industrial Revolution. The only gripe I have with the game’s visuals is that the setting of each individual stage can become somewhat repetitive after a while. But where the game’s visuals truly excel is in the level of detail of the robots, as they either generate shields, fire weapons or take damage.

 

Gameplay – 7/10

To progress through each fight, the player must match u different symbols together to collect four different kinds of main resources for their robot; coolant, weapons, energy, and repair substance. These are used to maintain and defend the robot during combat, as well as take down the opposing robot on the other side of the screen. After each battle, the player earns experience points to gain upgrades, as well as money to buy improved weapons and armor. With its Roguelike approach to gameplay, it offers a great deal of entertainment value, as well as a challenging learning curve for players to adapt to in order to progress.

 

Controls – 10/10

Since it’s a turn-based puzzle game exclusive to PC, there was never going to be an issue with the game’s controls, since the scheme is as straightforward as it could possibly have been. It’s actually quite interesting to learn new ways of joining icons on the puzzle board in order to gain as many of the resources on it as possible. Anyone who as ever played Jelly Splash will have a lot of fun with this game in particular.

 

Lifespan – 10/10

As I alluded to, this game incorporates elements of the Roguelike genre of gaming, similar to either Rogue Legacy or Tower of Guns, which gives it infinite replay value. Since there are quite a few gameplay options and different styles of play to explore, this makes it all the more meaningful and varied. It has been very refreshing to see the resurgence of the Roguelike genre within the indie industry, and this game is most definitely one of the prominent examples of which.

 

Storyline – 7/10

The basic premise of the game’s story, as I mentioned, is that the English and the French are at war, and a new ability to wage war has been born in an alternative reality to our own. Soldiers are now fighting with machines known as Ironcasts, and the player character is on the side of the English and must do everything in their power to stave off the French advancement. It’s a pretty typical story, reminiscent of any story in either the Battlefield or the Call of Duty franchises, but although there isn’t any spoken dialogue, the characters still have a lot more personality than many of the characters in any of the aforementioned examples at least.

 

Originality – 7/10

For the longest time, I would look at games such as Candy Crush and Jelly Splash and think that there surely must be some way to modify the same existing formula to make even more remotely interesting than what those games are. Alas, the developers of this game have come up with a very interesting answer to that question, and have made possibly the most interesting puzzle game I’ve seen since Tetris. If this is the kind of gaming experience that Ripstone Games can conceive, I’m looking forward to what they can possibly go on to do in the future.

Happii

Overall, Ironcast is an immensely pleasing title, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a Steam account. It’s an interesting puzzle-based RPG, which can be enjoyed at player’s leisure as opposed to them having to wait for hours at a time for lives to regenerate.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Q&A With Blake Speers

Once again scouting Kickstarter for new and exciting-looking video game projects on the indie scene, I came across a wonderful-looking 2D side-scrolling platformer called Mira’s Brush developed by Canadian developer Blake Speer. The premise of which is that the game’s titular character Mira is tasked with restoring color to the world of Chromaland. The game boasts a number of very unusual and potentially ground-breaking gameplay features such as changing an enemy’s color and stealing their shape in order to gain new abilities; similar to Kirby when he swallows enemies. The developer has also outlined plans on his Kickstarter page to include alternative routes throughout levels, secrets to uncover, varying degrees of difficulty for both seasoned and entry-level gamers and an array of what could turn out to be some very intriguing boss fights.

I got in touch with Blake to see if he would answer a few questions I had about the game and this is what he had to say about Mira’s Brush:

What were the influences behind your game?

Short answer: Jumpman (C64), Kirby’s Adventure (GB), Epic Mickey, Mario Odyssey/Galaxy 2

Longer Answer:
I was one of the first generations of kids to grow up beside home video game systems. Back in 1982, when I was a toddler, this guy Randy Glover had the idea to make a “clone” of Donkey Kong but got carried away playing with the physics and game mechanics. The result was “Jumpman” a game with more unique mechanics from level to level than I’ve seen in a game since until maybe Mario Galaxy. Basically, every level had a new kind idea, including one where you shoot clones, an all-black level that appears as you clear through it, and one where you throw javelins at dragons that look kind of like somebody crushed the Pink Panther in a pixelated trash-compactor. I was obsessed with that game as a kid, and when I turned 16, a friend and I made my first big game, Flags of Doom, kind of an awkward Windows 3.1 clone of Jumpman, but with all new levels.

Flags of Doom came out back in the days of trading bootleg floppies, and if you search hard on the Internet you can find a tiny number of people that played it and liked it. It ended up on a couple of those free software CDs that come with magazines in Eastern Europe.

Until Mario Galaxy came out, I didn’t see another game with that kind of premise. Mario games have always been inventive, but something felt really fresh about the compendium of Galaxy 1 and 2. When I decided it was time to make a game that people might actually intentionally play, I went through my big book of ideas (I have a lot of ideas, most of which are totally unworkable) and found a concept for color stealing that was a bit like a Kirby game. I decided to take the same experimental approach I’d seen in Jumpman, Flags of Doom and Mario Galaxy, and jam it with the power stealing gameplay of Kirby games and the color mechanics of stuff like Epic Mickey and De Blob. 

Around that time I got into Mario Odyssey and I loved the open-ended sense of exploration, with so many options for beginner and more advanced players. That’s when I decided on a very open-ended option-heavy exploration style, where you can basically pop into any level and beat it OR just farm secrets for that completion line. Beating the whole game should be “easy” but finding some of the secrets will mean taking the harder path.

 

What has the developmental process been like? 

I’m a dad with a regular job in an office. I like my job, it’s interesting enough. I also have two kids, one in Kindergarten (Nursery in the UK) and one in Grade 3 (Year 2 in the UK). The development has been spotty, learning the Construct 2 engine (easier than pure coding, of course), playing with the edges of what is possible.

I’ve basically been working every morning until I have to leave and every night once the kids are asleep until I’m essentially asleep at the screen. It’s tough, but I love the challenge of it.

 

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

Based on my current level of progress and how much is still on my checklist, I should have a final version in late October and be ready for launch mid-December. I’ll have some demos to testers along the way.

 

How instrumental has the opengameart community been in terms of the game’s conceptual design? 

Fundamental. All my basic tilesets come from there originally. I’ve since done a bunch of edits for different terrain and to make them stand out a bit, but without those sets and a few key enemy sprites, I’d still just have a prototype. I am learning to push-pixels and slowly getting better but I still turn to the opengameart community often for inspiration or templates.

Part of my goal with this Kickstarter is to enlist more help to make the art stand-out a bit more, make it more unique to this game, and then give some of that art back to the community in the form of original tilesets.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

I absolutely love when an idea finally works. This isn’t one of those “mob and jump” platformers with a lot of repetition. Almost every level I’m learning something new about scripting, about game physics, and every level I bang my head against the screen until it finally works.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

The hardest part for me is all the fiddly bits, UI and physics. I love designing levels, but a lot of the coding and art is beyond my own abilities, which means a lot of research, practice, and reaching out for help.

 

Have you had much experience with art, and if so, did those experiences have an impact on the development of the game? 

I’m not a visual artist by any stretch of the imagination. Even my scribbles are outside the lines. I did take art-history in high school and my wife used to work in art galleries. She took me through the various galleries of Europe in our 20s (we were working and living in England at the time) and showed the history behind some of our favorite pieces.

Each world of Mira’s brush is “inspired” by art movements, but I wouldn’t say most gamers will notice, it’s not in-your-face, more just the theme of each world. For example, the first world is inspired by local indigenous art and local artists of renown like Emily Carr (who also acts as the jumping-off point for a boss in the game). The second world is a mash-up of “primitivism,” cave-art, and the neon aesthetic of the ’80s and ’90s, but again, you’d hardly notice while playing. It’s just a way of breaking up the worlds in a way that’s different from the “ice world,” “fire world,” “desert world,” “clouds.”

 

How well has the game been received so far? 

I would say all the response has been super positive, but we have a very small number of people that have seen it at all yet. The few that follow closely are exuberant, so hopefully, I can meet their expectations.

 

Was there a particular genre of music that I influenced the game’s soundtrack? 

The game was composed entirely with Beepbox, a web-based tool for writing 8-bit (and now 16-bit) choons, and I tried to keep it poppy and fun. The music is really classic “game-music” in style. I’m still learning, and only the best stuff I can make ends up in the game. All my stuff is heavily inspired by the great Chiptune artists from the midlands to the north half of England and from Ireland, people like Rob Hubbard, Marin Galway, Tim and Geoff Follin, Ben Daglish, David Whittaker, etc. I’m not at their level, but they inspired me to learn and try.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to? 

Right now the game is for PC only. If I make my stretch-goals, I’d love a Switch port, and maybe a PS4/5 store item as well. Nothing is off the table if I get the funding for it. For now, Steam.

 

What has been your favorite area of the game to have designed so far out of so many vibrant and colorful environments?

Hard to say. The urban/modern art world (Tagspire City) is just gorgeous, thanks to the help of a dude called GfxKid, but the best looking levels are in Trois Kingdoms, a world-spanning Egyptian, Greek and Medieval art history with rich purple castles and dark, orange temples. Also, I’m just starting the design of Abstraxis, the abstract world, and the gameplay in that world is going to be nuts.  

 

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

Listen. As of this year, I just turned 40. I have kids, a regular job and other hobbies, but I didn’t want to wait until I’m retired to start getting these games out of my head. Start now, and set yourself a weekly schedule so you get stuff DONE. My own family gets prizes (dinner out, or maybe doughnuts) when I hit a major milestone, and I don’t want to let them down. It pushes me to keep going.

Also, if you’re younger, don’t be afraid to take a regular boring job. I like my boring job, and it fires me up to get creative in the off-hours. Plus, it pays the bills which is how I’m able to focus on getting funds to improve the game rather than make rent. Every dollar of the Kickstarter will go directly toward development, which really makes the whole project more stable and achievable. I work slower than if I quit my job, but the game at least is safe, nobody’s going to come and repossess my computer.

 

Where about on the Internet can people find you? 

Mira’s brush does have a YouTube channel, and I do frequent Reddit, but the best place to follow progress is on Twitter, @MirasBrush – that’s where I’m most active, sharing everybody’s awesome projects and uploading new chiptunes daily.

 

Do you have anything else to add?

No, I really enjoyed this opportunity and hope people check out the game. My Kickstarter isn’t charity, I don’t want a cent for me, it’s all about making the best game I can so people want not just to play it, but complete it.

Thank you!

-Blake

 

 

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Blake for agreeing to speak about his game and to let you know that the Kickstarter project is live now and you can back it via this link to help bring this awesome-looking project to life:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mirasbrush/miras-brush-the-cute-colour-based-platform-game

I hope you guys had as much fun reading about Mira’s Brush as I did talking with Blake and discovering this potentially wonderful game and I wish Blake the best of luck with the campaign.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

 

Super House of Dead Ninjas (PC)

Developer(s) – MegaDev Games

Publisher(s) – Adult Swim Games

PEGI – 12

Developed as a browser game and later ported to Steam, Super House of Dead Ninjas is a 2D platforming roguelike with randomly generated elements making each playthrough a unique experience. Players must fight their way through hordes of enemies whilst descending a tall demonic tower to defeat the game’s end boss. Expecting a very casual experience, I was delightfully surprised to learn what an addictive game it truly is and ended up spending a lot of hours playing it. 

Graphics – 7.5/10

The game adopts 8-BIT graphics to create a dark fantasy world inspired by medieval England and feudal Japan. Although the game’s setting and scenery can become somewhat repetitive after a while, where this game’s conceptual design truly impresses is in the wide variety of monsters to fight. As the player progresses through the game, new enemies constantly appear for the player to have to contend with as well as differently designed versions of previous enemies to keep the variety in check. The game’s bosses are also superbly varied, which again makes each playthrough wonderfully tense as players must strategize on the spot. The game’s soundtrack, whilst I thought it was enjoyable to listen to, I also thought it was a little out of place. Personally, I think a soundtrack that was more akin to the game’s opening theme would’ve fitted better. 

Gameplay – 7.5/10

The objective of the game is to descend a huge tower whilst hacking and slashing a path through a plethora of enemies in order to reach the bottom where the game’s end boss is waiting. To do so is an insanely addicting experience and since the game is for the most part randomly generated, each playthrough offers a new challenge every time down to the positions of enemies, the layout of each floor and the boss type the player encounters at the end of each segment. The purpose of each playthrough is to collect each of the unlocked weapons and concept art so that gameplay varied is furthermore increased offering players scope to either try new playthroughs using different kinds of weapons or to eventually mix and match weapons and abilities in order to find the best way of traversing the tower as quickly and as unharmed as possible. For such a simplistic concept, it’s staggering to discover just how much variety and how replay value there is to be had with this title. 

Controls – 9.5/10

As the game is built on a formula that has been around for almost half a century, it’s to be expected that there shouldn’t be any problems with the controls and for the most part, there isn’t; for as fast a paced game this is designed to be, everything is set up for players, particularly more seasoned ones, to make it flow as naturally and as fluently as possible. The only one minor gripe I have with the control scheme is the duck mechanic. It took me a while to figure out how to duck and dash at the same time and to do so using a controller is slightly awkward, which did make me unnecessarily die a lot of the time before I finally discovered how to do it, by using both analogue sticks at the same time. Even then it can mar the experience down somewhat, but thankfully, there are generally speaking very little instances within each playthrough that dont call for the use of ducking and dashing so it’s by no means a problem to make the game unplayable. 

Lifespan – 10/10

Although seasoned players will be able to beat this game within ten minutes, the randomly generated content makes for an entirely new experience every time, giving it virtually unlimited replay value. Although some players may seem like all purpose to playing the game is lost once all weapons and abilities are unlocked, this, however, is only the beginning as players can also choose to play through the game using these different weapons every time and effectively give themselves the new challenge that comes with this. 

Storyline – 6/10

As there is only the basic premise, which I’ve already covered, the game offers fairly little in terms of story. It’s very reminiscent of how story in video games would typically be told in old 8-BIT games of the third generation; usually, players would have to rely on the manual to learn more about it, whereas with this game, more details on the story can only be found on the game’s official website or on the Steam page. But with that, there comes the security of not knowing there are no ridiculous plot holes or bad voice acting at least. 

Originality – 7/10

Although the game copies a formula that has existed for a long time, few games provide this much simplicity in design and this much variety in the gameplay at the same time. The game’s enemy design also does well to keep the game fresh throughout without things getting too repetitive and the entire basic premise in and of itself is also fairly unique. There is certainly scope to expand on the game mythology if ever the developers were to make a sequel and the original game would’ve provided enough of a springboard to make that happen. 

Happii

In summation, Super House of Dead Ninjas is an immersive, addictive and insanely fun game to play. It can be played for countless hours thanks to the wonderful amount of variety in gameplay and it’s a title that I can’t recommend enough. 

Score

47.5/60

7/10 (Good)

Q&A With Peyton Burnham

Following another Kickstarter excursion, I came across yet another great-looking game boasting a massive amount to offer players in terms of gameplay, story and wonderful-looking scenery; Rose of Starcross. Inspired by classics such as Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Undertale and others, the game is a top-down turn-based RPG platformer making use of an intricate 8-BIT art style and conceptual design heavily inspired by Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe series, of which I am personally a big fan of.  Wanting to learn even more about this ambitious title, I got in touch with the game’s designer Peyton Burnham who had a lot to say about the game, as well as it’s development cycle and challenges to have been overcome. Here’s what Peyton had to say about Rose of Starcross:

What were the influences behind your game? 

Way too many to list, honestly! As far as games go, the most obvious ones at first glance would probably be Zelda, Mario, the Toby Fox games, the Mother series and the Souls series for sure but I would mostly just say “games” in general. I take plenty of cues from stuff like Bayonetta to Silent Hill and Resident Evil so really it’s just whatever I love, which is a lot! Same can be said for other media like music, film, and TV!

What has the developmental process been like?

Pretty weird! This is (arguably) my first game so learning EVERYTHING from the ground up has happened during the development process. For a very long time I was fighting my own limitations, getting rid of old systems that were broken, and getting exponentially better at everything so it’s been hectic and super frustrating! But I’ve gotten to a point where I feel confident in my abilities and the base systems I’ve set up for the game! Recently things have been going much more smoothly and I expect that to more or less remain throughout the development.

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

I would say 2-3 years. Like I said I’ve only just recently gotten a good flow and process so it’s hard to judge how long certain things should take. So between feeling like I’ll be getting into a good pace and the fact that the game will be pretty sizable, I think that 2-3 years is a solid prediction.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

Getting to write my music, choreographing cutscenes to it, and then seeing that actually happen in the game is pretty exciting! That’s mostly because I’ve been a musician longer than I’ve been anything else so it’s really cool to get to write music that gets to go with other things. Also, just getting to make a game that I really like is insanely exciting!

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?  

Aside from when I was basically learning how to program and always having to fix stupid and weird bugs, the most persistent challenge has been art 100%. And ESPECIALLY animation. It’s hard, man! Luckily I’ve found an animation method that works for me, but still. 

What has been the most frustrating aspect of development? 

See above! But here I’d also like to add in… marketing! Marketing is a lot of frustration for a ton of reasons. It’s not fun, I can’t work on the game while I’m focusing on it, I feel awful if I DON’T do it, and it’s SUPER IMPORTANT! So a perfect storm of frustration.

As a Steven Universe fan myself, I was chuffed to have confirmed my suspicions that this game drew influence from the show. Do you plan to implement gameplay features reminiscent of the abilities of the Crystal Gems?

I have TONS of gameplay ideas and a few major mechanics that I didn’t introduce or fully exploit in the Demo and it’s very likely some of that stuff might be similar to things you’d see in the show! I don’t normally directly go “oh hey that would be awesome to do in my game.” It’s normally a situation where I just put something in the game because it’s just in my head from watching stuff and playing other games. So short answer… maybe!

How well has the game been received so far? 

As for the few people who’ve actually played it or seen trailers/let’s plays, really well! The people who like it seem to care about it a good bit and want it to succeed which is incredibly flattering and cool.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Right now the plan is PC(Steam and DRM-Free) and the Nintendo Switch!

Will the final game have an even more varied colour palette than what’s been showcased so far?

Absolutely! The main first area is very purple indeed but every major area will similarly be based on different colors. Plus I’m doing a ton of mini-dungeons that’ll just let me do whatever I want color-wise so that’s exciting! Just don’t expect a huge amount of green.

Out of so many wonderful-looking locations, what has been your favourite area to have in the game so far?

I am soooo excited to work on ALL of the major areas that come after the demo. Since it’s my game I got to very selfishly pick all of my favorite types of places! But I will say, the first area after the demo really has my heart in it. It’s cold, cozy, and moody and I love working on it. That being said I seriously can’t wait to get to Demon City.

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

There’s tons of advice out there that’s much better than what I could give and also a lot of similar/repeated advice out there. So I’ll try something more practical and design related! While learning to make games it can be SUPER tempting to put everything you know how to do into your games. Try not to get caught up in showing off what you can do as a programmer or how many features your game has. Try to make decisions for your game that don’t just add to it but enhance it! Harmony is important! We’ve all played games that have stamina bars, crafting, and experience points that don’t need them, right?

Do you have anything else to add?

I could definitely say thanks to the people supporting me! Anyone just following me and my game on twitter, anyone supporting my game in any way, and my incredible parents who any of this would be totally impossible without! So thanks! Oh and if you feel like it, consider helping out my game on Kickstarter! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/roseofstarcross/rose-of-starcross

As well as the link to the Kickstarter page, you can also download a demo of the game via this link:

https://peytonburnham.itch.io/rose-of-starcross-demo

You can also follow the development of the game as it happens by following Peyton on Twitter:

@peydinburnham

I’ve briefly played the demo myself and I’ve been particularly impressed with what the game has to offer at even this preliminary stage of development; especially considering that we are still a fair distance away from seeing the finished article. I thoroughly recommend anyone reading this to try the demo out for yourself and to back the Kickstarter campaign, which as of this writing, is there about halfway towards reaching its goal. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Peyton for agreeing to answer my question and wish him the best of luck with the game as well as to thank everyone who took the time to read about Rose of Starcross.

 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Ultimate Demolition Derby (PC)

Developer(s) – 3Romans

Publisher(s) – Global Star Software

Released back in 2005 and seemingly taking a majority of influence from Destruction Derby, Ultimate Demolition Derby is a racing game featuring four distinct game modes and a cast of different characters to choose from. However, especially compared to most other racing games that had been and gone since before this title was released, it falls way below par of what I was expecting. I was perhaps anticipating to play a game made in the same vein as Destruction Derby, but with an interesting twist from what I’d read of it prior, but what it offers is an extremely limited and seemingly rushed gaming experience that fails in every aspect.

Graphics – 2/10

To begin, the game’s visuals fail both on a technical and conceptual level. There are four tracks in the game, which whilst come with their own distinct features and art directions, still feel particularly empty and unimaginative; especially compared to the likes of some of the best in the genre including Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing and ModNation Racers. Ostensibly, it doesn’t even hold up against the original two Destruction Derby games in terms of conceptual design. The game’s only remotely commendable feature is the small variety in car design, as each driver has a distinct car and theme to it; like Twisted Metal but nowhere near as wonderfully varied. In certain levels, the frame rate also drops dramatically in courses where there isn’t even a great number of things included to seemingly eat up the game’s memory, which really made me wonder how that was possible whilst running on Windows XP. 

Gameplay – 1/10

As per mentioned, there are four game modes to choose from ranging from simple round-the-track races to battle mode, but the premise remains the same for all four game modes; the player must eliminate all the other opposing cars to have the best chance of winning. There are also weapons and items to be used in the game to maintain an advantage similar to Mario Kart. but although so far I have loosely compared this game to the likes of Mario Kart and Twisted Metal, this game couldn’t hold a candle to either of them and where this is most evident in is in the game’s play. Offering no purpose or incentive for winning whatsoever, there is no satisfaction to be had whilst playing, which is all the more unforgivable since this game came out in 2005 and by that time, the likes of Mario Kart: Double Dash and Gran Turismo 3 had come and gone and both those games, as well as many many other racing games that came before, had had insanely more to offer players than what they’re given with this sad excuse of a game. 

Controls – 4/10

The controls in the game are also a complete mess as the poor turning mechanics can force players to make one unintentional error after the other. It’s especially annoying since every course in the game has at least two ramps to drive over and the turning mechanics really cause a massive problem when the player is in mid-air. It also doesn’t help that it takes a  very little amount of damage for the car to explode. With these two faults combined, it almost makes the game unplayable; not that it is actually worth playing in the first place, of course. 

Originality – 0/10

As I mentioned before, the game’s only saving grace in terms of any aspect is the amount of variety in character design, but again, comparing it to the many racers that had come and gone by this time, it falls way too short of what any genuinely dedicated development team should strive to deliver to players. The courses have next to no originality about them either. Some of the original development team would later go on to contribute to later and better games, such as Lords of the Fallen, but this is definitely a dark stain on their CVs.

Furiious

Overall, ultimate Demolition Derby is one of the worst racing games I’ve ever played; if not the worst. It’s a lacklustre game that fails to deliver in every single aspect and it deserves to be as thoroughly obscure as it is today. 

Score

7/40

1.5/10 (Painful)

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)