The Rivers of Alice

Nov 30
Posted by Ben at 16:36

I doubt many will know the background of The Rivers of Alice. It's a point & click game, an enhanced port of an ios game, like an increasing number of games on Steam, and it's not able because it's a game made in conjunction with Spanish indie band Vetusta Morla and artist Ane Pikaza. It's a dreamscape of a game, focusing on the titular Alice, as she tries to recover 4 missing dragonflies.

I have to say I love the look and tone of The Rivers of Alice, all parties should be proud. It's a beautiful looking game, with creative characters, a soft charm. It makes Rivers of Alice hard to dislike, you've got to admire the creativity and care that has gone in to it, it's not something cynical cashing in on a big name, although I've admittedly no idea how big a name Vetusta Morla are in Spanish speaking countries. Credit where credit is due, Vetusta Morla have provided a fantastic soundtrack. It's not all singalong memorable, but it does fit, and there's some superb tracks. Nichos de Luciernagas is a great piece of music, like a less ethereal Sigor Ros, it's certainly something I'd listen to outside the confines of a game.

But how is the game, that's the important bit afterall. Well.... mixed. At its best Rivers of Alice captures that most difficult thing in adventure games, puzzles that you can solve, but make you feel like a genius when you do, that give you a real sense of accomplishment when you piece it all together. It's nice that so many of the puzzles are music based, and a good chunk of the others are abstract and imaginative. It's difficult to talk about them too much without giving too much away, but, early on especially, there's some clever ideas, things that make you think, things that you work through.

However, it's not all so positive. Early on there's a puzzle involving lighting up blocks of flats, piecing it together is fine, makes you feel smart, but it involves an awful lot of waiting around. One of those puzzles where solving it is only half of the battle. There's a puzzle towards the end that I didn't realise existed until I used the hint system and youtube. I had to stand on a tile, but there was nothing to indicate it was an interactive object. The absolute worst moment of the entire game is a slide block puzzle that's part of a much bigger, relatively interesting puzzle. You have an image of the solution you're aiming for, and if you back out of the puzzle to check it, the whole thing resets. It's a difficult puzzle to work out, there's, literally, too many moving parts, and I spent a long time sliding blocks aimlessly and hating every minute. It's the point where my time with the game turned, maybe I just completed the screens in an order that left me with the more difficult puzzles, but either way what had been a challenging but rewarding game turned in to an absolute chore. The final puzzle is another slide puzzle, and another aimless, mindless battle between your will to finish the game and inevitability.

It's a shame, I really do appreciate the challenge River of Alice offers, and maybe it's a case of me not having the head for point & click games, but it really does go sour. I hope that there's people who don't have the issues I did, the best parts of the game, the art and the music, the tone, they all deserve better. Ultimately though, given that Rivers of Alice stops you dead too often, it's hard to recommend, at its best it's better than I've scored it, but at its worst it's a huge disappointment.
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Posted by Ben at 17:12
The title kind of says most of what you need to know. Petit Novel Series - Harvest December, a collection of visual novels for the 3DS, is beginning on the 3DS eshop on December 10th.

I say "beginning", because it's getting a monthly release, with each month being a new story. There's 13 parts, I'm dubious if the release schedule will mean that the series isn't complete for over a year, but that does seem to be the implication.

There's a trailer below, and the series is priced at somewhere around 10 ($11.99)

Show/hide video

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Posted by Ben at 13:52
Anyone bargain hunting on the like of HotUKDeals over the past week or so, ignoring the various reposts of Amazon's lightning deals, you might have spotted a bit of a trend. The recently released Football Manager 2016 has been available for some bargain prices from the unusual source of various non-league football clubs

After buying my copy from Dover Athletic, who are about as distant a team from Manchester (me, and I'm a red if you're wondering) as there is in the English football pyramid, I decided to ask Miles Jacobson about it.

So there you go. As part of Sports Interactive's and Sega's licensing agreement with the Football Conference leagues, the clubs are given copies of the game to sell in their club shops and online. It's a fantastic initiative, whatever the contractual obligations, it's a great way for for the clubs to earn a bit of money, and for Football Manager fans, whether their fully concious of it or not, to grab a bargain while helping out some of the clubs who maybe don't have the finances of the Manchester United's of the world

Oh, and as a thank you to Dover Athletic, here's a fantastic goal they scored the other day

Full gallery (1)
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Flesh Of
Beasts Edition
Nov 24
Posted by Mark at 17:53

I've been playing Pandora's Tower which, as one of the Wii's hidden gems, is an annoying game to play.

It's a perfectly 'core' game, which uses the Wiimote/nunchuck combo meaningfully. Much like Super Mario Galaxy, the player character- Aeron- is mostly controlled traditionally with the analogue stick, and the remote is used as a pointer for aiming the chain used as the game's main weapon and means of interacting with the physical environment.

This is a good example of using motion control intelligently- rather than simply being a gimmicky 'something to do' (as in Galaxy) or being waggle for the sake of waggle (although the game isn't completely free of that) it's being used because it's better than the traditional control alternative, which would be some kind of inevitably faulty auto-aim or first-person section.

It's annoying not for any design-y reasons one might expect to see in a review, but because it's a glimpse of a alternate future where people didn't overlook the Wii for being casual-focused, where Nintendo didn't reject the hardware arms race and made a console which could handle PS360 ports well, and where the company didn't shit itself in the face of tablets, creating the misguided chimera that is the GamePad.

Perhaps, one where people didn't smell blood in the water after Microsoft backtracked over the xBox One DRM thing and bullied them into making Kinect optional.

Given that Nintendo have similarly blinked and all but confirmed a 2016 launch for NX as well as properly kicked off their mobile initiative in earnest, it's a future we've probably lost forever.
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Disgaea 5

Nov 24
Posted by Ben at 16:41

I don't have a huge history with the Disgaea games. I played the first game on the PS2, got so far, hit a wall, then stopped. I eventually rebought Disgaea on the DS, played it, enjoyed it, hit a wall, then stopped. There's a smattering of other moments, some games on shelves I'll never get around to. I like the series, but I've always stumbled over the depth of it. There's systems on top of systems, and every now and then they get in the way.

The most notable thing about Disgaea 5, right off the bat, is how sharp it looks. The art has always been good but the blown up sprites had started to show their age. There's a lot of character to the Disgaea series, and it's no different here. You worry that starting afresh with the characters every game will eventually catch them out, but Nippon Ichi have assembled another likable cast of characters (mostly), and a pretty good story. Void Dark is systematically taking over the numerous Netherworlds, killing their overlords and enslaving the populace. Serafina, overlord of the richest netherworld, is facing off against Dark Void's Lost army, a fight she's destined to lose, when Killia shows up and gets dragged into the fight. From there they form a rag-tag group of vengeful overthrown overlords, a rebel army that's slowly growing in strength.

One of Disgaea's great strengths is its humour. It's not always laugh out loud funny, sometimes it is, but it's a series packed with incidental moments, funny names, nonsense. I petitioned the council for something called 'lucky boards' in the pocket dimension (your hub world). I didn't know what lucky boards were, but I figured they sounded like a good thing. Now my game is full of rabbits and I need to petition the council to get rid of them. It's hard to dislike Disgaea 5, although some of the characters can "super" start to grate.

For the uninitiated, at its most basic, Disgaea is a turn based strategy rpg. You move your team around the grid levels, setting out your attacks, then hitting execute, before ending your turn. This is where the depth comes in, and where the systems start to show themselves. Chaining attacks increases their power, but as only the character who lands the killing blow gets the experience points, chaining is not without its costs. Using special moves will level them up, reducing their cost and potentially their range. It's where the game is at its strongest for me, a straight forward srpg.

The systems mostly exist outside the battlefield. There's the item world, where you pick an item to level up and with every floor you clear its stats improve. Items, weapons and armour all contain 'innocents', these traits can be removed and placed in something else to give it different attributes. You can capture prisoners from battles, interrogate them and then bring them in to the pocket dimension (and sometimes even recruit them). There's a bunch more too, layers to the combat like towers, layers to levelling characters, layers to getting the best items. It's what makes Disgaea Disgaea.

It's also where the game will start to push people away. I hit a spike, I started a new chapter with a sudden leap in enemy levels. That in and of itself wasn't a problem, the problem was the enemies on a high up platform that I couldn't reach with anyone except my spell caster. There is, it turns out, a solution within the level, revealed to me a couple of levels later, but my solution was less eloquent. I went and recruited more magic users,and levelled them up while improving them some armour in the item world, spamming their spells so they'd have the reach I needed. I had fun playing the game still, but it's the sort of labour that stopped me playing the original game, a difficulty spike can mean a lot of leg work.

This all being said, the story mode of Disgaea 5 acts as a tutorial, quite a lengthy one. Facets of the hub world will be locked away until you make progress in the main story, and occasionally the story missions will introduce mechanics, like the geo tiles. For series diehards this may make the game drag, but given how many systems Disgaea has, not throwing them all at you at once is very much the way to go. Disgaea 5 is easily my favourite exposure to the series, and while it can get in its own way sometimes, it's still one of the most fun games I've played this year.
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Video Review
Nov 23
Posted by Ben at 15:50

We posted our Typoman review yesterday, and here's the accompanying video.

I feel a bit bad for the score I game Typoman, it's not without merit, but reading the review back, a 6 looked comical. I do think some people will find something to like about the game though

The video mainly focuses on the end of Chapter 1 and a chunk of Chapter 2. There's spoilers, solutions to puzzles, which depending on if you're stuck or not will either be a good thing or a bad thing, but don't say you weren't warned Show/hide video

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How Good Does
Ray Gigant Look
Nov 22
Posted by Ben at 10:09

There's been an unusually large number of Vita announcements recently, in fact I've been surprised all year by the amount of content the platform has received.

I don't know too much about Ray Gigant, I'd heard the name mentioned, but the announcement that it's coming to the US and Europe has put it on my radar

New publisher Acttil are bringing the game to the west in spring 2016, and it will work on both the Vita and Vita TV (Playstation TV, whatever it's called).

Take a look at the gallery below, looks pretty good, certainly nice enough to make Ray Gigant stand out amongst the other jrpg and dungeon crawlers on the Vita

Full gallery (5)
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Nov 22
Posted by Ben at 09:16

A few weeks back we posted a feature called 'How Good Does Typoman Look'. The game had been featured as an upcoming indie game on the WiiU eShop, I'd missed it there, but after seeing the trailer I was won over. I thought the game looked fantastic, the concept at least, and was expecting good things. Unfortunately, the horrendous mess of Batman Arkham Knight on the pc aside, Typoman might just be the most disappointed I've been with a game all year.

The premise is wonderful. Typoman is a puzzle-platformer, where you must use and rearrange words to progress. Simple things like 'NO' being switched to turn a switch 'ON', 'remove'-ing things, draining the rain. It's cool, and when it's being that, the simple execution of a good idea, it's a good game. The problem is it feels like the developers decided that wouldn't be enough, and maybe they're right, maybe they do need to push on the way they do, focusing more on the puzzles and difficulty, maybe it's just that the balance isn't right.

Typoman is oddly ruthless. The platforming is needlessly precise, considering it's not the focus, final pixel jumps are not uncommon. There'll be sections where one nanosecond pause will guarantee failure, the final boss is a prime example of this. The boss itself wouldn't be too bad, but if you aren't moving the second you respawn after a death you're dead... again. One of the other issues that the final boss flags up that's an issue throughout is how little time you get to think. It's not constant, other times you'll have all the time in the world to not know how to solve a puzzle, but on occasion you'll be faced with imminent death and no respite to even look at the solution, let alone try it out. For the last boss I took to grabbing my phone and taking a picture of the letters available to me, then pausing the game and giving myself the time to think. Typoman really is peculiar in its ruthless streak.

When you do get stuck there's a hint system. Hit the '?' on the WiiU Gamepad, and you'll get a bit of prose, a poem of sorts that points you to the answer. Press the '?' again and the particular word you need to make will light up. It's good that the hint system is there, I certainly made use of it, but it comes with a few problems. The hints, even before you light the word up, can be a little on the nose, essentially giving you the answer when you just want a poke in the right direction. Conversely, you can have the answer, even the word revealed, and still be left staring at the screen with no idea what you need to do.

There's a balance problem with Typoman, it too often leaves you completely bewildered. You'll have everything you need but have no idea where to start. Take the puzzles that involve letter machines, a production line that lets you print letters to build words. You'll have more letters available than you need, it clouds things, especially when the word needed to provoke the action seems unintuitive. You can usually see the logic once you've solved it, but wonder if you'd ever have reached it without using a hint. It's the double-edged sword of the hint system, it's too easy to go to it, it takes away the 'game' a bit, it's too all or nothing. I wish they'd made the hints a bit more like those of a crossword puzzle, something to solve before just handing you the word you need.

Typoman suffers from too many technical issues. The initial load time is long, once you're in the levels there's no loading, but getting there takes surprisingly long. Initially I thought this might be because I was running the game from a harddrive, but too many other people have mentioned it. Similarly the hitching, presumably it's caused by the engine streaming in a new area, but it's off-putting and can occasionally happen at key times. I've had a couple of moments where Typoman has got stuck, where spawned words have glitched through an object causing me to die. There's also an issue where leaving the game paused for a long period will make the pause menu freeze up, but that's a bit of an edge case.

Really the technical issues are the kind of thing that need to be mentioned in the review, but not necessarily the sort of thing that will ruin a game. Typoman's problems are all with its puzzle design and platforming. Difficulty is fine, leaving the player frustrated isn't, especially in the moments where the puzzle has been solved but the application let's you down. It's a shame too, there's moments where I really liked Typoman. There's some good ideas, some cool set pieces, and the concept is great, but once I got through the early sections I'm not sure how often I had fun. It's a game that's almost there, but as it is Typoman is too frustrating for its own good, it leaves you cursing it too often, and it left me feeling like it was a huge missed opportunity.
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Posted by Ben at 15:44
We featured Typoman in our occasional How Good Does ___ Look feature, and now it's out

Priced at 10 on the WiiU eshop, it certainly looks a good idea.

We may or may not do a review at some point, but until them here's the launch trailer

Show/hide video

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Rodea the Sky Soldier
First Play
Nov 18
Posted by Ben at 15:08

If our review of the 3DS version of Rodea The Sky Soldier is anything to go by, and the various scuttlebutt across the internet about the WiiU version, the Wii version of Rodea The Sky Soldier is the one to play. Certainly I'm enjoying my time with it so far

Hopefully this has all come out alright, and you're seeing a 1080p 60fps video of the Wii version of Rodea The Sky Soldier. Granted the game isn't 1080p, it's a Wii game, it looks ok, less than ok at points, but at least you're seeing it roughly as I'm seeing it

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