Friday, 14 September 2018

Switch Review - The Spectrum Retreat


‘The Spectrum Retreat’ is an intriguing mix of ‘Portal’ style puzzles and ‘Bioshock’ atmosphere, but can one man’s labour-of-love so effortlessly measure up to such celebrated works of gaming art?



Developed by Dan Smith

Published by Ripstone

Released in 2018







I hate Dan Smith. At the age of 15 I was wasting my days running away from zombies on my PlayStation and running away from girls in real life. At the same age Smith started work on ‘The Spectrum Retreat’. “Bored one day, I downloaded the ‘Unity Engine’ and created my first project ‘Spectrum’” recalls Smith. “I thought I was just going to create something simple, a puzzle game that invited you to look at any object and swap colours around. Swapping colours was fun, but I soon found that you can’t design puzzles with zero constraints. The solution was to limit colour swapping to particular cubes and design levels around those, in turn creating the core mechanic of what is now ‘The Spectrum Retreat’”. 


Understandably this challenging intelligent game caught the attention of BAFTA, turning bedroom coder Smith into an Award winner. “By the age of 18, I had a polished 20-minute prototype over three years in the making”. ‘Spectrum’ was nominated and won the BAFTA YGD Game Making Award in 2016. Collaboration with Ripstone publishing followed and with their involvement ‘The Spectrum Retreat’ evolved into the impressive game now available on the Switch eShop.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Snes Review - Sydney hunter and the Caverns of Death (Game 169)

Recently there has been a growing movement to make modern games for older system. But is it fair to judge them against the titles originally available for the systems they target?



Developed by CollectorVision

Published by CollectorVision

Released in 2018



As gamers of the past grow up and start creating games themselves there seems to be a desire to replicate the feel, look and gameplay of the titles they used to love. Digital distribution platforms like Steam are awash with games offering pixel graphics and chip tune music. “Just like you remember” and “recreating the classics” seems to be phrases you find in a lot of modern game descriptions. For some developers though, creating a game that nods to the past isn’t enough. Many wish to create a new game that actually works on an old console; working within the limitations of legacy hardware. VBlank Entertainment has been applauded for making ‘Retro City Rampage’ work on a plethora of consoles, both new and old. The game’s creator Brian Provinciano has talked at length about how he has taken a game that works on a PS4 Pro, and distilled it to the point that it runs on a 486 PC (provided you have a whopping 3.7 MB of hard drive space, and 4MB of RAM to get it up and running).



Similarly the creators of ‘Tangle Wood’ and ‘Paprium’ have delighted fans by promising to create brand new games for those who still have the Mega Drive as their primary console. 



There’s even a phrase emerging to describe these new/old games and ‘Sydney Hunter & The Caverns of Death’ is another “neo-Retro” title. Perhaps inspired by the success of games like ‘Shovel Knight’ and ‘Super Meat Boy’ in March 2015 John Lester took to Kickstarter hoping to find funding for a “new retro-style adventure/puzzle platformer for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System”. The Kickstarter was a huge success partly because John Lester is known by many as “Gamester81” and he understandably used his popular YouTube channel and website to promote the campaign. 



Originally the game was scheduled for a January 2016 release; however it took three years for Lester’s vision to become a reality. “Game development just takes a lot of time” he notes. “That’s one thing I learned about making new games; it takes a lot of time especially for classic consoles like the Super Nintendo”. “Our motto at CollectorVision is: make things right even if takes more time” adds graphic designer Jean-Francois Dupuis. “Each consoles have their own challenges and we’re always learning with each project we’re working on.”




Friday, 17 August 2018

Mega Drive Review - Pocahontas (Game 168)

Action intensive film adaptations were always money makers for publishers. But at a time when the medium was believed to promote violent behaviour, how do you turn an “anti-conflict” animated movie into a video game? 


Developed by Disney Interactive
Published by Disney Interactive
Released in 1995

In the mid Nineties video games were getting a bit of a bad reputation. More realistic graphics had lead to more realistic depictions of violence, ultimately leading to game certification. Of course, despite the opinions of the mainstream press at the time, not all games were violent. However, in even the most cutesy platformers it was implied that you should kill anyone standing in your way. For games aimed at children the player wasn’t murdering everyone in sight of course, designers would mask all the death. In these games your playable avatar would liberate possessed foes, knock them out, put them to sleep or embarrass them until they ran away. Typically Aggression was justified in a games’ plot; the prince would have no choice but to flatten everyone in sight it was the only way to save the princess. If the brave hero didn’t massacre every invading monster the world would fall to an evil oppressor. The end justified the means and violent acts, though undesirable, were necessary to achieve the best outcome. What happens then if you’re tasked with making an action platformer where any form of aggression can’t be justified by your playable protagonist? It was an issue faced by Disney Interactive when adapting the film ‘Pocahontas’.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Snes Review - Beauty and the Beast (Game 167)

The moral of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ film is that desirability shouldn’t be judged based on appearance. If anything the action platform game based on this movie carries the opposite message. 

Developed by Probe
Published by Hudson Soft 
Released in 1994

According to the Time Out film website, one in three people will pick ‘Beauty and the Beast’ when asked to name a Disney film. Maybe that’s because the 2017 live action remake has reminded everyone just how magical the original 1991 animated film was. Perhaps it’s because the movie became Disney’s first animated film to be adapted into a Broadway musical in 1994. There’s a chance many remember it because ‘Beauty and he Beast’ was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture academy award. Though most likely, people simply pick ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as their most memorable Disney film because it’s superb. Reviews from 101 critics average 93% and it represented the peak of the nineties’ animation renaissance; taking nearly half a billion dollars at the box office.  

The story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is therefore well known. Belle, seeking adventure outside her quiet French village stumbles upon a Beast’s Castle while searching for her lost father. Papa’s freedom is granted by this beast on the agreement that she will
remain, as the beast hopes that one day she will love him as that would break his curse. With this being an optimistic romantic film, naturally the beauty sees kindness within the beast and with the help of a castle full of enchanted characters the pair fall in love.

While Beast maybe a furious imposing mix of man and lion, the film shows us that Gaston, a heavily armed muscular man can defeat him. However even this former war hero can only best-the-beast after a mighty struggle across roof tops then unfairly striking from behind. While the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ game attempts to follow the film’s story there is one significant difference: Beast may look a lot like his cinematic counterpart (with a wonderfully detailed sprite) but he is hilariously weak, a cumbersome oaf who lacks the agility seen in the film’s exciting final scenes.


“The beast is a slow moving lumbering sort of character who’s only offensive move is a swipe with his massive hairy hand” notes Nintendo Power magazine. The main character of the game would not fare well against the angry mob or vicious wolves seen in the movie, given that he can be killed by brushing against a bat or being bitten by a House-spider.

 “You main priority is trying to fight off all manner of dreamlike out of context foes” observes critic James Leach. Fans of the shooter genre are well aware of “bullet hell” games; where a constant bombardment from enemies presents a huge challenge to the player. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is the closest I’ve come to finding a bullet hell platformer. Because your playable character is so weak and moves so slowly, without advance knowledge of enemy placement you simply won’t stay alive. “Sure it looks great but it’s slo-o-ow and can get ridiculously frustrating” noted Super Play Magazine. It gets to the point where you must pre-emptively react to every level foe as Beast’s claw swing literally takes two seconds to do damage. To get any enjoyment from playing ‘Beauty and the Beast’ I had to use a cheat that made the beast invincible. I was simply fed up with getting taken down by fast moving level enemies that I couldn’t see until they were right in front of me and by then it was obviously too late to react without taking damage. You feel compelled to inch through the stages so you can continually check for potential threats but the game makes this impossible. The beast’s rose at the top of the screen acts as a level timer and if you take too long you’ll find yet another way this frail monster can be easily killed. 


Friday, 20 July 2018

Snes Review - The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (Game 166)

A glance at the box may put you off playing ‘The Legend of the Mystical Ninja’ but perhaps the amount of Japanese cultural references should entice rather than put you off this RPG platform hybrid.

Developed by Konami
Published by Konami
Released in 1992

During the 16bit era Japanese publishers couldn’t seem to agree on what European gamers actually liked to play. Two decades ago Square decided that we didn’t have a taste for RPGs, so ‘Chrono Trigger’, and ‘SuperMario RPG’ and ‘Seiken Densetsu 3’ never reaches our shores. Konami however felt we actually had an appetite for Japanese oddities. Europe was the only Western region to get to enjoy ‘Parodius’ and all the non-sense that came with it. ‘Pop ‘N Twinbee’ didn’t reach America but found a home here and then there was ‘The Legend of the Mystical Ninja’. 1992 was a time when, in the UK at least, when anime was considered niche and only broadcast late at night. Sushi was misunderstood and not sold in restaurants or super markets. Samurai were only seen in parody movies and were it not for Honda in ‘Street Fighter 2’ it’s likely that the British wouldn’t even know sumo wrestling was a thing. The West was embarrassingly ignorant of Japanese culture yet someone at Konami decided that a translation of ‘Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyuushutsu Emaki’ would be welcomed in America. Admittedly it took a further two years for the game to be available in Europe but many believed it was a game worth waiting for. Super Play magazine called it "one of the best games for the system (if you like this sort of thing), mixing RPG adventure-style wandering with side-on platform action.” It was celebrated in the book ‘1001 Video Games You Must Play before You Die’ and years later Games Radar ranked it as their 45th best SNES game owing to it’s "stellar ancient Japan-inspired soundtrack and beautiful graphics alive with colour” concluding that ‘The Legend of the Mystical Ninja’ is “definitely one of the top games on the SNES."

Friday, 13 July 2018

Switch Review - 60 Seconds

As the Switch grows in popularity more and more indie developers are porting their successful mobile and PC games. But despite enjoying huge unexpected success on Steam, do Console players want to play a game that’s part 3D scavenger hunt and part text adventure?

Developed by Robot Gentleman
Released in 2018

For a game called ‘60 Seconds!’ I seem to have sunk an astonishing number of hours into Robot Gentleman’s quirky survival comedy. It’s a game of two distinct halves and the name actually alludes to the part you’ll play first. The Reds are about to drop a nuclear bomb on a small American town. You have just one minute to collect as much as you can before diving into your personal fallout shelter. Playing as Ted, the game is viewed from above as the slightly portly Dad rushes around his small house clumsily knocking over as much as he grabs. However as he is limited by how much he can carry, what should Ted prioritise? Should he make sure his wife and two children are safely secure in the shelter or selfishly ensure his own survival by gathering water and food? Is a rifle more beneficial than an axe, is there a need for a radio in a shelter or would a gas mask be of greater use? In each play through the house layout and the placing of the items is randomised, which certainly adds a sense of panic to the item hunt. A player may want to take medical supplies with them but unless you can find them in the strict minute limit you’ll have to leave them behind. Thankfully you are granted a brief amount of time to scout out the items in your home prior to hearing the whaling sound of the warning alarm. How long this is depends on the difficulty setting, but its Seconds rather than minutes. 

When a section of a game must be completed in a tight time limit it’s imperative that controls are responsive. Frustratingly this isn’t the case with ‘60 Seconds!’ Ted will only pick up something if it’s directly in front of him which frequently wastes valuable seconds. Equally annoying are moments when there are two items in front of him, as half the time he’ll waste an inventory space picking up the wrong one. It’s telling that for their follow up ‘60 Parsecs’, Gentleman Robot have made the foraging part of the sequel 2D. In 3D there simply isn’t the precision needed especially when the consequences of your item selections matter so much in the second half of the game. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Switch Review - Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop ?!

With a title like ‘Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!’ You’re never going to expect a sensible game. But with impressive depth and addictive  gameplay this is one management sim you laugh along with rather than at.  

Developed by Daylight Studios 
Release by Rising Star Games
Published in 2018


Reaching the destination is satisfying, but any true RPG fan knows that it’s the journey that’s more exciting. No one can save the world alone though, a hero needs a party and they need to be armed for the task at hand. This is why the merchants in an RPG are the real unsung heroes. After all, you can’t vanquish a screen filling end-game boss with a wooden sword.

 But while we depend on these “Armoury Retail Assistants” to stand a chance at success, how much do really know about them? Do they tend to a store filled with expensive weapons, discreetly praying for an apocalyptic event to occur so they can finally shift the Holy Arrows they bought in bulk? Do they spend their downtime regretting establishing a potion shop in a cave that is only accessible once a bomb is used to expose the entrance? Has there ever been an occasion when accounting books have had to be fiddled to disguise where they acquired their rare unique stock?

It’s clearly something that Singapore-based Daylight Studios has pondered and in this “wacky” simulation game they foreground the true heroes of the RPG genre (albeit it potato form). “[its] is a look at an RPG from the other side,” says Don Sim, CEO and executive producer at Daylight Studios. “We wondered: ‘What do NPCs do when they’re not repeating the same lines over and over again?”. Faizan Abid, the game’s producer, however recalls that it wasn’t specifically RPGs that inspired the game mechanics. “Our team members really loved games like ‘Game Dev Story’, and ‘Game Dev Tycoon’. It was around April/May [2014] when we were reaching the end of our other projects that we decided to really work on one.” Evidently Don Sim, Faizan Abid and art director Julian Futanto sat in a coffee shop and discussed how to fuse the two thoughts. “What we all agreed on was that a team simulation game about making and selling weapons would be awesome. The RPG references were a natural part of it since heroes in any RPG world needed weapons!”

Friday, 6 July 2018

Mega Drive Review - Donald Duck in Maui Mallard : Cold Shadow (Game 165)

When is a Donald Duck game not a Donald Duck game? Disney Interactive’s first original IP was a superb brave platformer that broke from traditions & was closer to ‘Earthworm Jim’ than ‘Castle of Illusion’. So why did it never sit on American shop shelves?

Developed by Disney Interactive
Published by Disney Interactive
Released in 1996


Today The Disney Corporation is a huge media conglomerate encompassing television, cinema, theme parks and retail outlets. Forbes recently placed it in the top five Regarded companies but as founder Walt once said “this whole thing all started with a Mouse”. What Mickey represented was innovation and a belief that “if you can dream it you can do it”. From creating the first feature length animation and changing the face of theme parks through to designing an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, the early days of Disney were built on trail blazing ideas. However, following Walt’s death, the Disney Corporation became a follower rather than a leader.  Their animated films traded on past glory and their live action films pushed a more edgy tone inspired by other studio’s successes. Yet there was one emerging type of entertainment media that the company really failed to anticipate. Throughout the 80s and 90s the video game market was growing exponentially faster than theme parks and animation. Billions of dollars were being made by the gaming industry and Disney characters were losing their appeal.  A national survey taken in 1990 found that Mario was more recognisable among American children than Mickey Mouse. Disney executives reacted in the worst way; they handed over their IP to other companies able to make video games quickly. While this did lead to the creation of ‘Duck Tales’, ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Castle of Illusion’, there was also a lot of dross including notably ‘Fantasia’, which Disney later labelled a betrayal of the film. Despite the varying quality though, games carrying Disney branding were typically amongst the year’s top sellers and the House of Mouse was sharing profits with developers and publishers. “With console games, we weren't a publisher then. We were strictly a licensor," says David Mullich, the first game producer Disney hired in 1987.”There was a Disney drive to regain control, to ensure quality and also to tap into this new lucrative industry”.

There was some excitement in 1995 when it was announced that Disney's own development group; Disney Interactive, were going to deliver more than just film tie-ins. Market research had shown that audiences had a preference for fast paced action and though risky Disney followed the market’s lead. The first original title Disney Interactive developed was an all new Donald Duck game which, in many ways, was bold in both visuals and tone. It seemed the Disney Company was once again taking risks, treading unfamiliar ground in a developing medium.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Switch Reveiw - ICEY

With frantic intricate hack-and-slash gameplay and stunning 2D Graphics, ‘ICEY’ should be a game to delight many. But with an abstract story is it all just  a bit too complicated to be enjoyable?
 
Developed by FantaBlade Network
Released in 2018
 
There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of ‘ICEY’, a game created by an unknown Chinese developer that arrived on the eShop with little fanfare. However on this occasion ignorance may actually aid your enjoyment of this obscure and intriguing title. Like so many other fourth wall breaking, meta stories, the less you know about ‘ICEY’ the more it’ll surprise and delight you.

With this in mind its worth noting that some of the games surprises will be revealed in this review, so if, like me, you'd prefer to go in completely fresh stop reading now.   
 

Friday, 22 June 2018

Mega Drive Review - Cosmic Spacehead (Game 164)

Imagine a 2D platform game when your character’s jumps seem to randomly vary in height. Sometimes the agonisingly slow leaps will reach a ledge yet other times you’ll fall short trying to get across the same sized gap. Imagine a platform game where bouncing on an enemy’s head hurts your playable avatar rather than damaging the foe. In fact, imagine a 2D platform game where you have absolutely no attacks and a single hit sends you back to the start. Imagine a platform game where you do the same thing every stage, where no new game mechanics are introduced and your view is limited to a small circle in the middle of the screen. I would bet right now you’re imagining a 2D platform game that no one would ever want to play, and yet despite this ‘Cosmic Spacehead’ may be more than it initially appears. 

Developed by Supersonic Software 
Published by Code Masters
Released in 1993

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Switch Review - Pode


With a focus on friendship and cooperation, this visually stunning puzzle game should appeal to families, but is there enough here for a lone player to enjoy?

Developed by Henchman & Goon
Released in 2018


Cynical mainstream media has always tried to perpetuate the belief that the only emotions Video Games inspire are negative. Tabloid newspapers talk of video game addicts, fuelled by rage and aggression. As players we are portrayed as ruthlessly competitive, introverted and blood thirsty. However, developer Henchman & Goon believe a game should inspire the opposite feelings in a player. It’s a belief that leads to the creation of ‘Pode’ an enchanting artistic platform puzzler that should only be enjoyed with a friend. 

From the very start, game director Yngvill Hopen “wanted to create a positive gaming experience” she says. “I wanted more games I could play with my young son”. Unsurprisingly this has lead to the creation of a game where two players take control of an adventurer each and together you must utilise your character’s unique talents to solve environmental puzzles. 

Glo the brightest of the pair can jump higher and can also float in a way that mimics Yoshi in the majority of his platforming adventures. She can also drift on air currents and doesn’t sink in water. At the touch of a button this “fallen star” radiates light, a technique that activates specific switches and adds paths through a level; primarily by causing plants to grow. This creates platforms and lifts for her companion Bulder to use. This rock like cube is smaller and can pass through tighter spaces. These holes usually lead to Bulder’s own type of switches that manipulate a stage’s rocks; typically adjusting the height of platforms so Glo can reach previously inaccessible parts of a level. Like Kirby, Bulder can also inhale objects and carry them around a level. Glo can even be inhaled and when inside Bulder she becomes a directional light beam used to activate switches out of reach. The two characters can also stand on each other‘s heads and ride to safety should the level demand it. If this wasn’t enough, as the stages pass you’ll be introduced to even more abilities unique to one character or the other. Levels start off simply but quickly become very complicated as more and more environmental hazards and additional abilities are introduced. However death is never really a concern as a misstep will simply see your character transported to the start of a stage, unharmed and free to try the puzzle once again. The only thing that limits the players’ progression is their inability to use the character’s skills to navigate an environment. 

Friday, 15 June 2018

Switch Review - Henry the Hamster Handler

With a bizarre name and a child pleasing aesthetic you’ll likely have dismissed ‘Henry the Hamster Handler’. But for less than £3, is there more to enjoy than many realise?

Developed by Pocket Money Games
Released in 2018

In an attempt to make me understand the value of money, my parents gave me pocket money for chores. The more jobs completed around the house the more I’d have to spend at the weekend. I would always aim to get at least 79p per week as that was the amount required to buy a game from the ‘16 Bit Pocket Power Collection’. These were cheaply made or old Amiga games that were sold as individual 3 1/4 inch discs wrapped in plastic. They were usually found hanging on a display looking dubiously like bar peanuts. As is often the case, cheap in this case didn’t always mean good. There was a reason shops stuck to 79p for some of these games; after playing, people would have felt conned if they’d paid any more. For a young boy they presented a way to buy a game a week but for the team at Pocket Money Games, these 79p games were inspiration for a company ethos. 

“I remember them” company director Frankie Cavanagh once said on Twitter, “My first job was selling these!” Years later, as their name implies, Pocket Money Games are once again selling (and now creating) games that children will want to spend their Pocket money on. “The intention of all of our games is to be affordable” claims Cavanagh. However, while their output is suitable for children, PM Games are keen to point out that their titles shouldn’t be over-looked by older players. “Our range is designed for kids and kids at heart, [those] that remember spending their last 50p on ‘ghost and goblins’ in their local arcade” explains Cavanagh.

According to their website this fiercely independent game development studio “are dedicated to creating fun and exciting titles at a price that won't break the bank.” After dabbling in VR Titles on Steam, PM Games have now started producing Switch content. For Cavanagh making games for any Nintendo console was always the dream growing up. “I had to do it” he jokes “it’s Nintendo they made the consoles I played as a kid”. 

Their first Switch exclusive game is ‘Henry the Hamster Handler’ which offers gameplay that’ll be familiar to anyone who has played ‘Mario Vs Donkey Kong’, ‘Troddlers’ or ‘Krusty’s Super Funhouse’. “All of our games are influenced by our love of classic arcade and console games” admits Cavanagh. “‘Henry the Hamster Handler’ comes from my love of ‘Lemmings’”.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Mega Drive Review - Pitfall : The Mayan Adventure (Game 163)


'Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure’ is a platform action game; a sequel to the well known Atari 2600 game. While it may remind us of a certain PS4 exclusive that features a wise cracking treasure hunter, is this a relic that is worth unearthing?


Developed by Activision
Published by Activision
Release in 1994

I’ve recently become hooked on ‘Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion’. While it shares a name with the ‘Epic Mickey’ 3D games released a few years ago, this 3DS game is actually a sequel to the Mega Drive Classic ‘Castle Of Illusion’. It’s a 2D platformer, but built for a modern system. It’s includes music and gameplay mechanics from the 1990 Sega prequel but introduces elements that today’s gamers expect. While it may have remixed versions of the fantastic 16 bit Mega Drive music, it has continue points, it saves your progression and it also has touch screen inputs. ‘Power of Illusion’ is a game made deliberately to please those who loved the earlier 16bit ‘Illusion’ games. But it’s not the only modern game designed to court players who loved older games. Massively popular titles like ‘Shovel Knight’, ‘Retro City Ransom’ and ‘Golf Story’ are modern games made with one foot in the past.  The internet is also awash with “De-makes”; fan made versions of modern games restricted by the technical limitations of older consoles. While many of these are incredibly impressive I couldn’t help but wonder what my favourite PS4 games would be like if technology had been frozen in time. So I went on a mission to see if there were already existing 16 bit games that foreshadow the games I love to play today.

Obviously prequels in the same series share the same DNA. ‘Super Mario Odyssey’ on the Switch has sections where you play ‘Super Mario Bros’ like levels with the familiar NES visuals. But what would a game like ‘Uncharted’ have been like back in 1994?

This was the year that ‘Pitfall: The Mayan adventure’ was published by Activision. The game is a platforming action sequel to the original Atari 2600 ‘Pitfall!’ game and the key elements of the game will be familiar to fans of Naughty Dogs’ incredible series. You explore environments, swing on vines, ride vehicles, find treasure, kill enemies with explosives and rescue someone close to you. There’s nothing here that Nathan Drake hasn’t got used to doing. 


Monday, 28 May 2018

Switch Review - Earthlock


Retro gamers are certainly guilty of romanticising the past. But does this nineties inspired JRPG stick too closely to the PlayStation games that have inspired it? 

Developed by Snowcastle Games
Released in 2018


Many long-term JRPG fans have been dismayed by the direction Square Enix have taken with the ‘Final Fantasy’ series. Once the poster child for the genre, the latest iteration is less “Japanese Role Playing Game” and more the “Role Playing game Japan thinks the modern West wants to play”. Turn based battles have vanished in favour of active real-time combat. The sweeping epic stories have been lost with a shift to a focus on unlikeable generic characters instead. A modern numbered ‘Final Fantasy’ is no longer a single entirety; they offer narratives that only truly make sense if you immerse yourself in a plethora of accompanying anime, spin-offs and manga. “There is so much good here, so much heart” IGN noted when reviewing ‘Final Fantasy XV’. “It just comes with some changes and compromises that were, at times, difficult for this long-time ‘Final Fantasy’ fan to come to grips with”.

While hardcore ‘Final Fantasy’ fans can’t seem to agree if the seventh or sixth game is the best, there is also an awful lot of love for entries 8 and 9. For many the series hit its peak in the nineties with the PlayStation 1 era polygon games. 

For Snowcastle, a small development team in Oslo, this was certainly the golden era. “The 3D JRPGs of the 1990’s we all loved and grew up with” remembers game designer Nikola Kuresevic. The team decided to create “a love letter” to those games, specifically for fans that were turned off by modern sequels. “‘Earthlock’ is a traditional take on the 3D JRPGs of the 90’s with (thoroughly reworked) mechanics that encompass both the new and the old love for the genre” notes Kuresevic. 

Friday, 25 May 2018

Snes Review - Marvelous (Game 162)

In 2017 members of the ‘Sonic’ fan community managed to do what Sega themselves could not. Lead by Christian "Taxman" Whitehead, bedroom coders and small independent developers (who had proved their worth with unofficial HD remakes) banded together. The result was ‘Sonic Mania’ a 2D side scroller that not only shamed twenty years of official games, but also stood toe-to-toe with the much loved original Mega Drive games. Series producer Takashi Iizuka described the project as being made "by the mania, for the mania", explaining that the title came from the developers being "maniacal" about the series. It was labelled a "passion product" born out of the fans' love for the early ‘Sonic’ games.

While this game lingers in the memory, it’s obviously not the only time when fans of a series have made tribute games. What’s more unusual is that this game has been legitimised by Sega. Typically, fan coders are sent threatening “cease and desist” letters by copyright holders but ‘Sonic Mania’ was officially endorsed. It was given the thumbs up by the original creators of the ‘Sonic’ games it so lovingly took inspiration from.

There are few series as well known as ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’, bit if retro gamers were to name beloved legacy franchises ‘The Legend of Zelda’ would sit atop many a list. When it comes to the minds behind the series, Shigeru Miyamoto will always be mentioned first but the reality is that since the transition to 3D, series producer Eiji Aonuma has probably been of greater significance. He has worked as director or producer on every major release since ‘The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’ but like the ‘Sonic’ fan-community he had to prove his appreciation for the series before he was given the keys to the ‘Zelda’ kingdom.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Switch Review - The Banner Saga

The multi award winning much loved turn-based strategy RPG finally makes it to the Switch. But with complicated combat and a demanding story is this a game that’s practical on the Switch?



Developed by Stoic 

Release in 2018



Any RPG fan knows that in any exploration party you need an elemental mage, a tank and a healer. It turns out that to create these games you also need a core of three individuals with very distinct skills. Writer Alex Thomas, programmer John Watson and artist Arnie Jorgensen all met at Bioware. After working for five years on ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ they felt compelled to leave “one of the biggest names in console development to make a visually stunning passion project.” They ambitiously wanted to make a strategy RPG driven by an intelligent story, one where a player’s choices weren’t simply black and white. “Getting back into a small studio environment has gone a long way to making me feel alive creatively again” notes Jorgensen. 



Friday, 18 May 2018

Switch Review - The Darkside Detective


With Its pixelated graphics, 80’s jokes and simplistic point-and-click interface ‘The Darkside Detective’ could be a game from the classic era of Adventure games. But despite being hilarious, does anyone actually play these games any more ?

Developed by Spooky Doorway 
Released in 2017


For too long there was the mistaken belief that the point-and-click genre was dead. When LucasArts and Sierra hung up their mouse cursors, many people (shamefully myself included) believed that the much love genre vanished with them. But the reality is it simply retreated into the background. 

It’s easy to forget how big the genre was in the mid nineties, thriving on home computers with some break out hits venturing onto console. 3D cards in PCs and the emergence of 32bit consoles changed player expectations. Flat 2D world’s became less fashionable, made to look dated by real-time polygon environments. While developers tried to adapt the genre even one of the greatest point-and-Click games failed to attract an audience. ‘Grim Fandango’ was criticality adored but a huge commercial failure. Established franchises like ‘Monkey Island’, ‘King's Quest’,’ Broken Sword’ and even ‘Leisure Suit Larry’ lost their appeal in three dimensions. Years later Tim Schafer’s ‘Broken Age’ and Ron Gilbert’s ‘Thimbleweed Park’ proved there was a huge audience happy to return to genre in its original 2D format. However, in the intervening period small developers had continued to make these style of games for a small and grateful audience. Primarily in Europe, platforms like the Adventure Game Studio allowed for the creation of a huge range of stories but in all of them the plot was advancd by a lot of mouse pointing and clicking. Although there were breakout hits that found their way onto Steam and mobile platforms, it was primarily fans of the point-and-click genre making games for those with a similar appetite . As game designer Paul Conway puts it “our target audience are players who loved the classic 90s LucasArts and Sierra point and click games, much like ourselves”. 

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Switch Review - The Fall

Growing up John Warner loved games that encouraged exploration and discovery. It’s inevitable that his studio’s first game would involve the same things. But are these still what a modern gamer looks for? 


Developed by Over the Moon Games
Released in 2018

On the surface , ‘Super Metroid’ and ‘The Secret of Monkey Island’ share little common ground. One is a serious, intense action platformer. The other, a comedic adventure game where combat sees you trading witty retorts with an opponent.  But despite the window dressing differing vastly, at their hearts both games revolve around puzzle solving and telling an engaging story.  

Developer Over the Moon clearly noticed this, as ‘The Fall’ is best described as a fusion of both, with ‘Flashback’ style platform jumping thrown in. Like it's inspiration, it is a game that’s been intentionally made to focus on exploration. “‘The Falls’ main inspiration is ‘Super Metroid’” admits the game’s director and Over the Moon Founder John Warner.  “I was really inspired to make a game where players had to pay attention and players had to read. And that was the central thing that really moved the gameplay forward”. “‘The Fall’ really is about mystery because it’s about exploration and those two things go hand in hand” adds writer Caleb Allard. “We want to compel the players forward with the mystery and we want to give them solid answers as rewards as they’re going along”. 


Friday, 11 May 2018

Mega Drive Review - Columns (Game 161)

Often regarded as the 'Tetris' of Sega consoles 'Columns' has itself been replicated and imitated for decades. Is the original worth your attention?

Developed by HP / Sega
Published by Sega
Released in 1990

Most of us do not complete many of the video games we own and while this used to be a dirty secret, it has now become a truth universally acknowledged. Back when games had boxes we used to be ashamed of the ever growing literal pile of shame that sat in our game's rooms or under our TV. Today we just don't seem to mind that we own but never play games and with downloadable games things have only got worse. Our consoles and computers are awash with hundred of titles that we will probably never play, let alone finish. Digital platforms like Steam can even tell you how many hours of un-played content you still haven’t experienced along with how many games you've yet to even start.

On YouTube videos and social media, retro gamers often ask themselves if they are collectors or gamers. I've always thought I was the latter and the by-product of playing physical games has been the growth of a collection. The majority of games on my shelf have been played and even studied to the extent that a comprehensive blog post has been written about them. This is usually because I tend to buy games I'm interested in; I've resisted the urge to just pick up everything I see for the sake of building up a collection.

But when bulk buys are often the best way to secure premium titles cheaply, even the most selective of collector ends up with undesired titles on the shelf. For me these are typically sports games, but for years I've had 'Columns' in various compilations. While I've played the game for the purpose of getting an easy virtual trophy in the superb PS3 Sega Collection, I've never played it on legacy hardware. There's a simple reason for this; I've played a lot of 'Dr Mario', I've played a lot of 'Super Puyo Puyo' and I've of course played countless hours of 'Tetris'. I subscribe to the belief shared by the often vocal Sega Power magazine. "'Columns' is practically 'Tetris' right? The world doesn't need another version of 'Tetris'." Mean Machines magazine echoed this viewpoint. "'Columns' is Sega's puzzle game along the lines of 'Tetris' [and] one might argue that there are already too any 'Tetris' alike games on the market".

Friday, 27 April 2018

Snes Review - The Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey & Minnie (Game 160)

Critics and players may have loved 'Magical Quest' but its was frequently criticed for being too easy and too short. Why should you play the sequel to this platformer when its even easier and shorter?

Developed by Capcom
Published by Capcom
Released in 1994

The video games industry struggles with length, it has yet to determine how long a game is meant to be. In film you’ve got a rough ballpark: ninety minutes if you can keep things tight, three hours if you’re stretching things out. A music album will amuse you for about an hour. TV shows typically have two rough lengths; an hour or half of that. Even then the exact amount of content depends on how many adverts are to going to be shown.  However the main story component of a game seems to have no universally accepted length. Arty games like 'Journey' and 'Everybody's Gone to the Rapture' last a couple of hours and the campaign mode of many first person shooter games feels like an afterthought, sometimes failing to reach an hour. 

For most, the story sweet spot seems to be between 10 and 20 hours.  However, we lavish attention on people finding ways to beat a title in a quickly in a speed-run. Conversely, Role-playing games use their length as a sort of qualitative yardstick. Fifty hours seems to be an unofficial bar to clear, but some stretch on for multiples of that. 'Persona 5' takes at least 80 hours just to finish the main story and you can easily treble that  if you're a  player that is obsessed with seeing everything that's on offer. Buying video games, particularly retro titles, can be an expensive hobby and we understandably want to get our money's worth. But when we have no idea how long a game should last, how do we quantify value for money?

With this all in mind, the criticism that a game's too short is in reality back handed praise. The reviewer is essentially saying the game was enjoyable while it lasted and the experience was over sooner than they would have liked. It was something many reviewers said when looking at the Mickey Mouse Snes platformer 'Magical Quest'. According to Capcom the Super NES version sold 1.2 million copies worldwide, so a sequel was inevitable. The follow up, 'The Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey & Minnie’ has built on its predecessor, but while it's certainly the better game it's also even shorter than the "blink and you'll miss it" 'Magical Quest'.