Hyper Sentinel

Sep 23
Posted by Mark at 15:41

A lot of gaming's retro revival has centred around the beginning of the home console era- either the likes of resurrecting IP from the time like Double Dragon or plundering the graphical limitations of early platforms for the sake of visuals like Castle In The Darkness.


While a lot of that has started to push later in time and look to 16-bit consoles for inspiration, Huey Games are going the other way with Hyper Sentinel, a game heavily influenced by the home computer era- and in particular, Uridium.

This isn't an entirely arbitrary choice of game- the father of Huey Games Ltd's founder, Rob Hewson, is none other than Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultants, publisher of the C64 original.

Both games share the same core- the player controls a ship which flies alongside a larger ship called a Dreadnought. The objective is to shoot away all its defenses, flying back and to until they're all destroyed while avoiding retaliation attacks from both the Dreadnought itself and other enemy craft.

As you'd expect from a game of the era, Uridium is extremely challenging and it's this level of challenge developer Four5Six Pixel is aiming to replicate, upping the enemy count and speed to levels the computers of the era couldn't even dream of- this is also shown at the end of levels, where in 1986 it was enough to slow down and land, 2017 expects you to contend with a huge boss.

And these bosses can start to seriously fill the screen in later levels- a switch from the instadeath of the original to a regenerating health system, which could have been a lazy way of pandering to a modern audience turns these battles into compelling acts of brinksmanship, where you try and do as much damage to the boss as possible without dying, then retreating for a bit to recover.

When I caught up with the development team at EGX, they mentioned that the challenge aspect of the game was a huge draw for its Kickstarter backers, a group of people who have been instrumental in much of the bigger decisions made in development- notably a release on Nintendo Switch which didn't form part of the original Kickstarter campaign was added following community feedback.

The Switch version, getting its first public airing at EGX, is just as featured as its PC version, and the brighty-coloured pixel graphics and fancy effects pop on the screen when played in Handheld mode. The structure of short levels also makes it a great fit for the hybrid platform.

On the subject of Kickstarter, when asked about the future viability of crowdfunding following some fairly major failures and controversies recently, they did point out that it's still good for smaller teams with major followings- Hewson Consultants still have a following on the retro scene today, and a modest target of fifteen grand was very achievable (and exceedable, just breaking the £21k mark) and it's still a good way for indies to make themselves known to bigger publishers.

Its stretch goals went to further enhancements truly differentiating the modern game from its predecessor, including a Survival Mode, where you're simply faced with endless swarms of enemies and expected to keep going for as long as you can, and plenty of side objectives for fulfilling different criteria in each level.

There are also retro graphical modes, including ones which mimick the C64 and, as the developers seemed particularly proud of, ZX Spectrum.

Hyper Sentinel looks to be a very assured game, knowing where to modernise and where to look backwards to its fan-pleasing roots.

Hyper Sentinel is due out early next year on PC, Switch, XBox One and PlayStation 4, with iOS and Android ports to follow.
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Tower of Time

Aug 13
Posted by Ben at 15:25

I recorded a First Play gameplay video for Tower of Time last week, and spent most of it speculating, but failing to nail down, why it wasnít resonating with me. I wanted to spend more time with it, try to see if I could better put in to words my thoughts, try to write something actually Ďcriticalí rather than just spout vagaries.

Despite my hours with the game, despite my pages of note, and a video already behind me, Iím still not sure I can precisely quantify why I didnít click with the game. For those that donít know, and given that Tower of Time is an indie game still in Early Access on Steam Iíd wager that would be most people, Tower of Time is a western rpg with a few quirks with the combat. Its isometric viewpoint brings to mind the likes of Diablo and Pillars of Eternity, but its combat reminds me of the original Dragon Age. Rather than encounters taking place where you stand, instead youíre whisked away to one of the battle maps.

This takes a bit of time to trigger as your opponents trudge towards you, before you get a screen with a description of whether this will be a difficult battle, who youíre likely to face, and what theyíre weak/strong too. Thereís a couple of points Iíd make about this; firstly I think it needs to be speeded up, maybe an alert sound and straight to the preamble screen, thereís no need to stop your movement while your opponents trundle over. Add to that when youíre on the screen showing the enemies stats you canít alter your equipment to best suit them, instead you have to withdraw from battle, go to your character screen and set everyone up, then trigger the slow animation again.

Iíve no real complaints about the combat itself, although I do think itís one of the things keeping me at arms length. Tower of Timeís USP is that itís neither entirely dynamic like Diablo, nor to you stop time to set moves like Dragon Age, instead you slow time to a crawl, giving you enough time to drag your team around and set their next move. This means youíre always involved, you canít Ďpauseí the action and ease the pressure on yourself, but equally youíre not getting swarmed with your squad dotted around the battlefield while youíre left with no time to do anything about it.

Iím not sure if this is a problem as such, but I found myself playing almost entirely in slow motion, micromanaging moves and positioning; who attacks who. It sucks the pace out of the game, my own fault I guess, but it did mean combat encounters took an age. Thereís a few little niggles Iíd like ironed out. One is that on quite a few occasions instead of my clicking on an enemy to launch an attack, it would be misread as me wanting to move my character to them. Iíve also found that, while my ranged fighters will pick targets without me having to spell it out to them, when my melee fighters kill an opponent, unless theyíre attacked by someone else, theyíll just stand there, not attacking their nearest opponent, just contributing nothing.

The story is, I think, interesting, your character is actually a general who met a dormant spirit in a newly re-emerged tower as a child. Thereís something off with this spirit, clearly his motivations arenít your best interests, but now youíre tied to him, constantly being called to him. Youíve returned to the tower, and you as a player are put in the unusual position of being in control of a character who takes no active part himself, but is both controlling others, and being controlled. However, and this is where my issues are still a bit nebulous, I just wasnít engaged by it. The characters arenít defined enough, thereís a couple of interesting side stories, but nothing that I can really remember to write here.

Thereís also not enough to do. Tower of Time follows a very defined pattern and it needs more. Youíre basically walking from fight to fight, theyíll be the odd chest, some gold to pick up, and then the occasional story beat. Diablo manages with little story because it has constant battles and meaningful loot, Tower of Timeís pace is too slow and its battles too meaty for that, and thatís fine, but it could really do with some meaningful loot to make the non-battle sections more worthwhile

Still, Tower of Time is pretty well made for a game so early in development (currently on version 0.3.0.8362), and for as much as I played I didnít get close to the end. Not bad considering itís only £11
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Tower of Time
Gameplay Video
Aug 06
Posted by Ben at 16:32

We got sent a code for Tower of Time, the new (first?) game from Event Horizon. A name that's just begging for me to shoe-horn in a reference.

Tower of Time is still in early access, still seemingly very early based on the version number (0.3.0.8362), so bear that in mind with any bugs and some of my thoughts in the video below

In Tower of Time, and what you've missed in the sections preceding this video, you start off as a young boy who finds a hole in the ground. He wanders inside and finds a giant upside down tower. In there he finds a dormant spirit who calls out to him, and continues to do so throughout his life, eventually calling him back to the tower.

You then play almost a watcher roll, as someone invisibly controls your actions so do you control your heroes, soldiers you've sent in to the tower to fight for you. Viewing their progress from the surface above, almost as though (I'm really sorry) you don't need eyes to see.

The gameplay video below shows some of the early sections of the game. I'm going to write a full preview during the week. I want to see more of the game (I already have done), and better put a pin in my thoughts about the game. At the minute it's vague, I'm not connecting with Tower of Time and I can't place why other than meaningless synonyms like "it lacks punch". I don't dislike Towers of Time, I quite like the combat in fact, but I also want to better put in to words what the barrier is

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Behold the Kickmen
First Play
Jul 26
Posted by Ben at 15:08

Dan Marshall, developer of 'Ben There, Dan That', 'Gun Monkeys' , and 'The Swindle', is not a football fan. he did, at some point last year, decide to have a crack at making a football game though, and Behold The Kickmen is the result

Behold The Kickmen isn't really a stickler for the rules of football. It plays a bit like Sensible Soccer, only without enough players, round pitches, a bizarre reading of the offside rule.

There's a VERY SERIOUS story mode, which we don't really go in to in any detail in the video below, but it's fairly funny. Anyone listening to Bob Mortimer's Athletico Mince podcast will be in familiar territory.

Behold The Kickmen, based on what I've played, is fun, quite a lot of fun. Maybe it says more about where I am with football games nowadays, but after a few hours with the game, it had scratched the itch I had, and I've not really wanted to go back. Still, it's cheap, it's available on steam now, and if you like football, or don't but would like to play something resembling football, it might be worth checking out

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Cyberdimension Neptunia:
4 Goddesses Online
May 29
Posted by James at 12:40

A few days ago the MCM Comic Con set up shop over at the ExCeL exhibition centre in London. As usual, Idea Factory International were amongst the exhibitors, bringing with them a the first playable English-language demo for upcoming PS4 and PC game, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online.

As youíve probably gathered from its lengthy title, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is both a new entry in Idea Factoryís flagship RPG series and its take on the MMORPG.

Simply put, weíre looking at a parody of the genre, where the four CPU candidates (think of them as anthropomorphised video game consoles) find themselves taking part in a beta test for a new online game. The gameís novel approach to a beta test revolves around how the four CPUs play it: Rather than witness them playing at their computers, which would make for incredibly dull entertainment, Neptune and company are literally in the game.

There was enough available to play in the demo to get a good feel of the gameís flow. Itís a predictable, but comforting one: You visit the Guild to accept quests, then pick a location to clear some quests, return to the guild, and then accept more quests. The main town square plays host to facilities where you can craft new weapons, buy and sale items, and generally cool down between expeditions to faraway locations.

These locations themselves arenít really anything to write home about Ė environments were rather repetitious in their design and as a result most players are likely to opt for relying on the gameís generously detailed minimap for navigation purposes. This isnít necessarily a bad thing, but considering the quality of the quests at hand Ė collect x items, defeat y enemies Ė expeditions risk feeling like an exercise in box ticking.

The gameís combat looks like itíll offer something more satisfying, however. Battles are active rather than passive, and heavily action oriented. Youíve got free movement of your character, a press of a button will lock on to an enemy, and another button brings up an assigned skill set Ė spells or attacks assigned to each of the four face buttons. Using skills depletes SP, but regular attacks regenerate it. Thereís a pleasing rhythm to skirmishes that see you alternate between low-power attacks and heavy-hitting skills, all relative to which enemies youíre fighting and what moves they might be using.

From a demo alone itís hard to tell how the balancing of the gameís mechanics will play out over its entire running time, but hopefully youíll have to think carefully about which characters to include in your party, which commands you give to your AI companions, and which skills to assign to each skill set.

Despite being a spinoff, Cyberdimension Neptunia is the first game in the series to be made using Unreal Engine 4, and the results speak volumes. Lighting has received a notable upgrade, and thereís copious amounts of motion blur and shadowing. Basically, environments look richer, a big contrast from the spartan locales in previous Neptunias. Unfortunately, other areas of the gameís presentation havenít received the same attention to detail. Character animation is stiff, collision detection is wonky, character models lack detail Ė this all contributes to a rather uneven, inconsistent when youíre jumping around and navigating the landscapes. But overall weíre looking at a welcome, and immediately noticeable improvement.

Tamsoftís previous efforts in the Neptunia series werenít anything special, often coming off as less creative, more derivative versions of existing games in the developerís portfolio. 4 Goddesses Online feels different. The setting and gameplay mechanics fit the seriesí narrative and RPG qualities in a more natural way.

With any hope Cyberdimension Neptunia wonít stick too close to comfortable tropes in the MMORPG playbook. The series is known for using self-deprecating humour to mock bad design, but itís significantly less funny when youíre the one playing through them. Fingers crossed that the finished gameís quests offer something more compelling than what was on display in the demo.
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Prey
PS4
Apr 30
Posted by Ben at 17:12

Prey is a strange thing. The original Ďvertical sliceí we saw of ĎPrey 2í half a lifetime ago looked great, an awful lot of people were suddenly hyped to play the sequel to a game not a huge amount of people had played. This was seemingly a massive surprise to the publisher, so surprising they scrapped it, abandoned Prey 2 completely for years, dropped the number, and have now brought it back as a different Prey game, developed by Dishonored creators Arkane Studios

Thereís currently a demo available on PS4 and Xbox One, itís essentially the whole game, more or less, with various areas being locked unless you buy the game. Slightly confusingly the demo doesnít end when you hit the pay wall, you can continue playing and exploring the environment. Itís an interesting way of doing a demo, I reached the Ďendí of the demo fairly quickly, a locked door I was told explicitly I wasnít allowed to go past, but was allowed to, after turning the game off feeling I was done, return to the game and explore more of Preyís world.

Itís a confusing experience. Narratively thatís deliberate, youíre not meant to know whatís going on, but in every other way Prey left me unsure what to make of it. The levels are open, as youíd expect from an Arkane game, but whereas in Dishonored it felt like you were always being directed, here I was always 2nd guessing my movements. Itís not like youíre getting lost, itís not that big an area and thereís a marker on the screen, but I was skipping areas, feeling like I was missing out. I guess at least it gave me something to do once I got to that locked door.

One of the things that had stopped me exploring was Preyís difficulty. Itís not impossibly hard or anything, but thereís an awkwardness to the early sections of Prey. Youíre mainly facing off against small crab-like enemies called Mimics, they flash about, disguising themselves as items in the environment. Itís a really cool concept, weíve spent our gaming lives picking through every bin, every art-deco ashtray, and now theyíll probably kill us. The problem I was having was that they always seemed to appear on my blind side. Fair enough, thatís what Iíd do if I was them, but Iíve seen footage of other people playing and seeing the mimic dart in to an item, then taking advantage of their own trap and laying waste to them. I never managed to take advantage of them nor my environment like that, bar one time when a larger enemyís route was taking it past an exploding barrel.

Part of the problem, I think, for me at least, is that I primarily play this kind of game on a PC with a mouse and keyboard. Playing on the PS4 thereís a lag to the camera movement, something thatís apparently going to be fixed in time for release. The aiming also feels strangely digital, maybe this is me not being as good as I should be, or used to be, with a controller in a first person game, but enemies were easily darting around me. Iíd eventually nail them, particularly with the Goop gun, but I was having a hard time not taking damage. Without wanting to sound like a PC snob, I canít help but feel that the increased speed of movement with a mouse, and the larger FOV that tends to accompany playing on a PC might have a beneficial effect on my experience with Prey

In some ways the Prey demo is exactly what a First Impressions post should be, a question mark. Thereís enough good ideas in there to get me interested, thereís enough flavour of the weapons and skill trees to know thereís more to Prey than you see here, and itís clear that the world Arkane have built is detailed and filled with opportunities. Ultimately though, I canít tell you what I think of the game or if Prey is for me
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Slime-San
Gameplay Video
Feb 19
Posted by Ben at 17:32

We were sent over a preview code for upcoming platformer Slime-San, so we (I) took a look at the first world

I know it's trite and easy, but if you've played such as games as Super Meatboy and N+ then you probably know what to expect. Slime-San is a tough, tricky, but very responsive platform game. The sort of game where you first attempt at a level can be a nightmare, then when you return you wonder why you ever struggled.

I'm not going to go in to huge detail here, there's a video below for that, but Slime-San is very well put together. There's a bunch of additional stuff, not unlike Meatboy, to encourage you to return to the game, restarts are rapid, shame there isn't a pause button on the pad, or a restart button on there (that I know of at least).

Slime-San seems very promising, and it's out in April on PC (Steam, Humble Bundle's Store) which console versions to follow

There's a gameplay video below

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Switch

Feb 18
Posted by Mark at 20:27

This is more of a 'First-ish' Play, as I'd had time to give this a quick go before streaming it.

Anyway, it's another one of them tough-as-nails precision platformers indie developers are so fond of creating- the gimmick this time around being that you get a double-jump.

As you can see from the occasional excursion into the level selection screens, this is very clearly a preview build, but we do get a decent look at much of the game's second and third worlds.

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Pixel Heroes:
Byte & Magic
Jan 26
Posted by Mark at 16:36

Coming in alongside the announcement that Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic is coming to XBox One, we did a quick livestream of failing to complete the first quest.

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Yakuza 0
Gameplay Video
Jan 15
Posted by Ben at 16:55

We posted our written preview for Yakuza 0 the other day, and now I've managed to make enough progress to record the video accompaniment

As you can See Yakuza 0, while not exactly pushing the PS4, isn't a shoddy looking game. There's more to Yakuza 0 than we can show in the video, but you'll see a few fights, some of the side quests, hear me ramble on about stuff, do some shouting at other people's karaoke. You know, the usual stuff

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