xBox One Review:
 
 
Pixel Heroes:
Byte & Magic
Feb 06
Posted by Mark at 14:35

There's every chance that this game's title alone will tell you everything you need to know. It's going to make a song and dance about its low-res art style, and it's not going to take itself that seriously.

A roguelike, you start your adventure by assembling your rag-tag bunch of adventurers as they head off on their quests to help the citizens of Pixton, a city very aware of its retro appearance, by exploring dungeons and lopping the heads off the various beasties within.

Those dungeons, as befitting the genre, are procedurally generated and unforgiving- and if your characters cark it on their way through, then unless one of them makes it to the end and can pay for a resurrection, they're gone for good.

Those expecting a dungeon-crawler in the vein of Diablo or even Etrian Oddysey will be coming away disappointed, however. Rather than being left to navigate a maze, taking down monsters and collecting loot as you go, the game simply plonks you in a room which will contain either some monsters or a chest, and once that's dealt with, you get a quick shuffle of your inventory and it's onto the next room.

For a genre where inventory management matters so much, it's surprising to see that Pixel Heroes makes such a mess of it- the inventory shares its screen with the character stats, and to equip an item involves choosing it from the inventory menu, pressing and holding 'A', moving over to the character's equipment slot and then releasing the button.

This screen, which contains two grids of items, space for a short description and a graph of the character's stats, winds up being cramped and messy to fit into a screen with the effective resolution of the 3DS' bottom screen, a canvas which has seen many, far better similar screens.

The interface isn't a lot better in the main game, with unnecessarily huge icons for your party's attacks pushing the action into the top third of the screen. Each character can equip two weapons and has two innate skills, and the two groups can be toggled between. The two teams- your team of three, usually facing off against three enemies- trade blows until one team expires.

Only one member of each team can act in each turn, and the one who acts has to rest during the next turn- this reduces battles to alternately attacking and healing, and removes much of the strategic advantages to attacking one member of the enemy team over the other.

The game has its genesis in a mobile game released about six months ago, which goes some way to explaining many of its design decisions- the huge icons being designed to be poked by fat fingers on undulating trains, and the holding of buttons being a holdover from being able to drag across the screen.

In its natural habitat of mobile, this is a nice distraction- bite-size gameplay chunks which are easily operated on autopilot, superfically reminiscent of the games people played in their youth, all mercifcully free of the trappings of microtransaction-driven free-to-play. At home it's just a bit of a waste of time- not involved enough to warrant full attention and made less enjoyable by a lazy port.
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Double
Dragon IV
Feb 05
Posted by Ben at 10:42

There is something to be said for absolutely nailing you inspiration, capturing everything about the original source. Done right you evoke all the fond memories and nostalgia for the original, but there is every chance youíll take things too far. There was that Psycho remake a decade or so back that was essentially a scene for scene remake. It was fine, well acted, well shot, but it was the same as the original, no one needed it. Double Dragon IV kind of shares the same problem, it feels every inch a lost NES Double Dragon game, but thatís not entirely a good thing

Itís difficult to know where to start critiquing Double Dragon IV, so much of it overlaps, you need certain bits to make the good things good, but they also make the bad things bad. So Iíll start with a word about the PC version in the hope that before we publish this these issues are resolved. In game the PC port runs fine, certainly I canít say I noticed any glaring problems, but getting to the point where you can actually play the game is where Double Dragon IV stumbles. Despite Steam recognising the Playstation 4ís DualShock 4 controller natively, the game throws a fit when you try to use it. Itís an easy enough fix on the consumerís end, if you run a controller emulator to mimic a 360 controller youíll be able to use something with a d-pad worth the name, but you shouldnít have to.

Screen size is another problem. Double Dragon IV boots to a windowed mode, you can press F2 to increase the size of the screen, and you can press Ďalt enterí to force full screen mode, but again you shouldnít have to, and itís an issue that still occurs when playing in steamís big picture mode. Finally, closing the game. Thereís no way to do this with a controller, thereís no option on the game menu, you need to force the shut down yourself. Hopefully all this is an easy fix, but it should have been sorted for launch.

There is some things to like about Double Dragon IV, particularly if you have an affection for the originals. Thereís a plot that might as well not exist for most of us, but it does fit with games from that time, bouncing around all over the place, trying to explain the level designers locations. The backgrounds and characters look suitably 8bit, crisper and a higher resolution certainly, but they definitely look the part. The music too is, to my memory at least, spot on, it feels like it belongs in an old brawler

The problem is that the same can be said for the gameplay. Even compared to the 16-bit era of Streets of Rage 2 and Final Fight Double Dragon IV feels limited. There are a number of moves at your disposal, beyond the basic punches and kicks thereís a headbut, a roundhouse kick and a barwards punch, but theyíre so inneffective that itís hard to see why youíd choose to use them over standard attacks that have more reach and allow you to combo. Thereís no art to it, youíll soon learn to use the more powerful rising attacks when youíve been knocked down, but largely because youíll spend a lot of the game being knocked down. Enemies will break your combo for no reason, and youíll find that the progressive rise in difficulty is really more a case of enemies doing more damage and becoming cheaper, attacking you as you stand up. Which to be fair will have been your tactic throughout the game, so I guess itís only fair. Then thereís the platforming, thereís not loads of it, but none of it is good, itís probably the right thing to break up the gameplay in some way, but not with something worse.

Itís again a callback to those old NES games, back then games were unfair, they were cheap, and you did have to cheese your way through them. I did have some fun with Double Dragon IV, nostalgic fun sure, but that doesnít necessarily invalidate it. You can never shake the feeling though that Arc System Works should have used those old games as a springboard, that sticking so close to them actually hurts this game. Itís not awful, but nowadays it really doesnít hold up
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Double Dragon IV
Video Review
Feb 02
Posted by Ben at 16:47

Our full review of Double Dragon IV will follow tomorrow. It's half way written, and I know more or less what I think of the game, I'm just a little torn as to where Double Dragon IV s on a scale

It's certainly not a bad game, and it is a faithful sequel. It feels like an old game in a way most retro games don, I'm just not so sure that's a good thing.

As things stand, some of my criticisms of the PC port of Double Dragon IV are accurate, things like controller problems and not being able to close the game from inside the game, but there's every chance that by the time you watch it these things have been patched and fixed. I'll try to remember to annotate the video if it ever happens

Show/hide video

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Hatsune Miku:
Project DIVA Future Tone
Jan 21
Posted by James at 11:15

Rhythm action games, as a genre, have been through some tough times. Just over a decade ago a market still existed for original, mid-budget affairs, with wholly unique soundtracks to boot. Yet today these games are almost nowhere to be seen, and the mainstays of the past Ė Guitaroo Man, Popín Music, Dance Dance Revolution, Ouendan, Rhythm Tengoku Ė either died a slow death or retreated back to the arcade.

But mercifully games based on licensed music and characters have found their way to the home, and itís allowed Sega to sustainably produce and iterate on a new modern rhythm action series for almost a decade. The end result - Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone - is the culmination of all the Vocaloid rhythm games Segaís esteemed AM2 team has worked on over the years.

The Project Diva series feels like a love letter to all things Hatsune Miku, the synthesised idol from Crypton Future Media. A song list comprised of music from fan favourite vocaloid composers? Check. Plenty of unassumingly delightful nods to vocaloid culture? Itís all there. Gorgeously modelled music videos that bring the music to life? Yup.

Since the lyrics are all composed in Japanese, that last point is rather important Ė the scenarios of the story-focused music videos do a lot to bring out the meaning of the lyrics while playing to the compositionsí strengths. Itís not hard to feel the mood while playing a song like From Y to Y, for instance.

Being an arcade conversion, Sega has included over 200 songs, spanning every genre you can imagine, and not only every previous game in the Project Diva series, but the cuter, more bouncy Project Mirai series on 3DS. Those willing to give Vocaloid music a fair shake are unlikely to be disappointed with the selection on offer, and based on my own personal experiences, itís likely youíll still find something to love in the songs that you donít find catchy, thanks to the storyboards in the music video, or some rather brilliant choreography on display.

Tracklist natter aside, Future Toneís roots at the arcade means Sega have brought over some of those arcade sensibilities with it. Basically: It not only looks and sounds the part, but it plays the part. Hereís the gist of it: button prompts fly in from the sides of the screen. You clear them by pressing the appropriate button when the prompts land in their designated zones, which are placed ahead of time to the vocaloid music.

Whatís always made the series stand out is the depth to these mechanics. Not only do the flying button prompts and fixed zone markers keep things unpredictable yet fair, those that learn to ďdual wieldĒ the controller Ė interchanging the face buttons for the D-Pad and vice versa Ė will discover hidden depths to playing each song.

Dual wielding means that you can clear a button prompt for pressing Cross by tapping down on the D-Pad instead. Left on the D-Pad thus becomes the same as Square, Triangle can be substituted for Up, and so on. Which mercifully allows you to tackle more complex note charts that the developers cook up on the harder difficulties.

For instance, pressing Square, Triangle, Square in time and in quick succession to a three-syllable word would be difficult using just the face buttons, but with practice it soon clicks in your brain that you could dual wield, and either bash out Square, Up, then Square with your two thumbs, or Left, Triangle, left to the music.



This has been a staple to the series since the second entry on PSP, but Future Tone raises the bar in a way that provides a lot more depth to mastering and interacting with each song in the game. There are three main additions: Button prompts that beg to be held down instead of tapped, multi-button presses, and Left/Right markers that require either a trigger tap or a slide. At the arcades, an inviting multi-coloured touch-bar handled the slides, but on PS4 you can either hold down the left trigger, or more characteristically, tilt the controller or slide your thumb over the touchpad.

Having to now hold down some buttons, or press several at once, adds more nuance to the gameís scoring systems. For instance, holding down a button continually adds to your score, but itís no easy feat to do this *and* continue playing the song as normal using the other, unoccupied buttons. Likewise score tracking is a lot more detailed, letting you know the exact boundaries for getting a Great, or an Excellent. Itís a no-nonsense approach to rhythm action that also feels great to play Ė feedback is crisp and the sound effects are inviting, as they should be.

Itís also a return to form after the two PS Vita games introduced some odd new mechanics which had the effect of creating the illusion of more complexity; the first introduced ďscratch notesĒ that forced players onto an imprecise analogue input in response to a precise note Ė tilting the sticks or swiping at the screen. The second game replaced some prompts with on-rails markers, preventing the player from being able to read the music ahead of time.

Future Tone provides a firm but fair challenge that feels familiar and fresh to longtime fans, while keeping the hardest elements out of harder difficulties so not to alienate newer players. Some of the note charts on Extreme difficulty tended to reward memorisation rather than skill, however, but overall thereís little to fault here. Itís one of the best mid-budget home rhythm games in years Ė even if youíre not accustomed to synthesised Vocaloid music this is the perfect introduction.
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Yakuza 0

Jan 19
Posted by Ben at 11:59

One of the problems Sega seems to have had recreating the success the Yakuza series boasts in its native Japan, is that itís a continuing series. With a lot of fan noise Yakuza 3 and 4 both managed to get Western releases when many had given up hope, shining the spotlight on the series, Yakuza 5 even got a PS+ tie in, but for many the thought of joining the series midway through was enough to stop them from following through their interest in the series. Well, itís something Yakuza 0 puts right, and makes for a superb introduction to the Yakuza games

Yakuza 0, as the name might imply, is a prequel. Set while series stalwart Kazuma Kiryu is still learning the yakuza ropes, it opens with him beating a man senseless for a debt he owes a loan shark. Later that night the man is found dead, Kazuma is blamed for the killing and what follows is story of power struggles and land-grabs that involves Kazuma having to fight for his life and leave the yakuza behind. Itís a genuinely quality story, hammy at points for sure, but brilliantly well told, and a joy to watch unfold.


br> Kazumaís story is mirrored to some extent by Goro Majima, the gameís 2nd protagonist. Also cast out of the yakuza, Majima is doing everything he can to force his way back in. Thereís some great moments in Majimaís story, and the times where the two characterís stories intertwine are great, but all in all I found it less engaging. It think part of it is his character, more restrained than his usual larger than life self. Itís something that will bother newcomers less, and I suspect heís been toned down so that a narrative can be hung off him. I canít imagine the usual lunatic Majima bowing and taking the abuse he does. I suspect his environment doesnít help either, some of his side quests are fantastic, but the 2nd city is just less interesting, with less character, than Kazumaís Tokyo district.

One of the other smart things Yakuza 0 does to introduce both new and returning players is in how it staggers the content. Itís a little jarring, perhaps, having the serious crime story interrupted for some karaoke, to talk to pretty girls, to meet a foreigner whoís going to teach you new fighting moves, but it introduces mechanics to quickly dabble with, and then leaves you to decide whether you want to spend your time with them. Yakuza 0 holds back mechanics too, in the past it has felt like the Yakuza games will throw everything they have at you, occasionally (re)introducing them in a side-story or as part of the main story, but here theyíre doled out in a way that ensures youíre not overawed or swamped, every couple of chapters youíll get something new to think about, and that runs right in to the back half of the game.

There are a few areas of Yakuza 0 that have been freshened up over previous installments, the chief one is the combat. Both Kazuma and Majima have 3 different types of fighting styles at their disposal, each designed to cater to certain types of enemy. Generally speaking both characters have a standard jack-of-all-trades style as their default, theyíll pack a decent punch, have access to plenty of heat moves, and still be relatively quick. Theyíll have a more powerful moveset, weapon focused, slower, but able to attack through hits and deal large amounts of damage back. Then thereís a quicker style, flashier, littered with combos, but causing less damage per attack. Given the sheer amount of fighting youíll do in Yakuza 0, being able to easily mix things up and explore the combat system is a smart move.



Levelling up has also changed. Rather than grinding for experience, you spend money on yourself, buying your way around the skill tree. Fortunately enemies now spurt money when you slap them about, and the more flourish in your fighting the more youíll earn. It means you can fairly quickly turn both Kazuma and Majima in to solid fighters. The problem is the cost to unlock skills rises dramatically, and spending 30 million to unlock a skill you donít really want but is blocking the one you do want is a bitter pill to swallow. Itís where some of the side missions come in, Kazuma can earn a fortune through real estate if youíre willing to put the time in. Itís not a complicated system, although itís initially daunting, buy some properties when youíre out and about, pick a manager whoís going to have a positive effect on the economy, a security guard whoís less likely to attract trouble, then collect your share. Itís maybe a bit of a grind trying to amass a fortune all at once, perhaps an argument for the mechanic being introduced earlier than it is, but itís certainly quicker than fighting your way to the amounts needed.

One of the great charms of the Yakuza games are the side quests, and Yakuza 0 is no different. They can be a little run of the mill, and a lot of them will involve you just solving your problems by fighting more people, but some of them are smart, and brilliantly funny. Spending time doing the side quests doesnít net you experience anymore, but the characters can reward you in other ways, like working for you or joining you in battle. The downside to the side missions is that it can feel sometimes like youíre tripping over them. Thereís a few too many times where youíll be in the middle of a story mission and get stopped for a side mission to be introduced, even if you donít then follow it up. The same can be true of street fights that occur as youíre making your way around the city, they can get a little much.

Truth is though, Yakuza 0 is the best Yakuza game Iíve played. Itís hard to think how they could have made it more accessible to newcomers, yet thereís enough depth and familiarity for fans of the series to get hooked in to too. On a technical level the engine is showing its age, with shadows popping in, the game slowing you down (in terms of movement speed) during busy moments, and some angular geometry, but itís still a decent looking, and running, game. Yakuza 0 will be missed by many, and thatís their loss, because itís a superb, charming, well told, and joyfully violent game

GALLERY:
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Fate/EXTELLA
The Umbral Star
Jan 17
Posted by Mark at 04:03

Fate/Extella is a videogame about war. Specifically, a war that's taking place in a simulation on a computer on the moon, where the demise of each of the participants' avatars results in the death of their real-world Earth counterparts. Like a really high-stakes Time Commanders.

This war took place between Masters- those with an Earth counterpart- who would pit their Servants- digitised versions of legendary 'heroic spirits'- against one another until one Master remained, who would have their wish granted by the Holy Grail.

The player joins as Hakuno Kishinami, the master of Nero, a Saber class Servant who won the War during PSP dungeon-crawler Fate/Extra, as she and her crew of other Servants attempt to fend off other surviving Servants who seek to end Nero's rule, all with Masters who appear to be clones of the player.

The gameplay is very much in the Warriors mould, albeit without Omega Force's input. Bat aside hundreds of enemies in order to take control of bases on a map, every now and again unleashing a special attack which wipes out everything nearby, and then take on a boss when you've got enough territory.

Once that's all over, it's back to HQ- interestingly named My Room- where you can assign upgrades dropped by enemies during the battle to improve your Servants' skills, and talk to your Servant before entering into the next battle.

There's not a lot to criticise about the combat in the main- it's pleasingly button-bashy and the special moves have enough weight to them to not feel like it'd just be easier to use normal attacks, and all of it looks fittingly spectacular, if there is a lack of variety in some of the larger attacks.

However, around the edges it's different story. The bases the level is split into, rather than being fortresses in an open-ish field, are variously-shaped boxes connected by warps your character zips through automatically, which robs the levels of any sense of place, making navigating without the map unnecessarily difficult.

The enemy's approach to taking your bases is also a little different to the Warriors games of old- any random enemy base can generate a 'Plant', which will spawn enemies to attack a random one of your bases, regardless of how close or connected the two are. This makes conquering a full map feel more like firefighting randomness rather than strategically pushing back an intelligent enemy force.

Talking to your Servant in My Room also offers very little- the plot is mainly progressed through cutscenes immediately before and after each battle, and the dialogue in My Room centres mostly on how much the Servant and the Master love one another, certainly as far as Nero's story is concerned, which is probably a holdover from Fate's visual novel roots. Even talking to other Servants in their sidestories doesn't add very much to the matter.

It's possible to raise the 'bond' between both parties by making the right dialogue choices, but this doesn't appear to have any meaningful effect on the game, beyond dropping a handful of upgrades at certain milestones.

The main plot itself does a decent job of setting up the battles- Hakuno has been split into three parts representing mind, body and soul, and each of those parts have found themselves associated with a different Servant. The three Servants begin to fight one another to bring all three parts of Hakuno together, all while cosmic IT guy Archimedes tries to stop an outside force from destroying the Moon Cell (that computer from the review's intro) during its regular system update, which comes around every few thousand years. However, it doesn't do a great job of explaining the events that lead up to this title, meaning it's easy to let the story wash over you and get on with the fighting.

The computer simulation motif is also kept up in much of the art style and in the smaller 'Code Cast' abilities, which are written to appear similar to programming functions, a reference that will be lost on many but not in such a way that would obfuscate their meaning.

In pure game terms it's hard to recommend over the established Warriors games which do the same thing better, and there's no shortage of licenced games if the historical setting of those puts you off, especially now there's Fire Emblem Warriors on the way. It's also probably not really for the Fate newcomer, as everything in the setting seems to hinge on you knowing what happened at least in Extra.

However, for fans of Fate, the opportunity to see all the characters again in a new setting and play a new game which keeps in with the tradition of changing up the genre between releases, this is something that will go down swimmingly.
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Event[0]

Jan 04
Posted by Ben at 14:20

Event[0] on paper sounds a very known quantity, maybe it is, but it plays its hand pretty well. You find yourself marooned on a mysterious spaceship, the crew long dead, and your only company an A.I. youíre not entirely sure you can trust. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey crossed with Event Horizon, only without the obelisks, the gore, and Sam Neill. And you do need eyes to see. Event[0] is actually more playful than the comparisons it brings to mind, admittedly diphtheria is more playful than Event Horizon, but their rogue A.I. has a bit of personality, and the game itself is less horror focused than the likes of Soma or Routine.

Event[0] isnít an especially long game, which helps keep its aim focused. After an unexplained disaster befalls your ship youíre shot out in to space, drifting aimlessly, until you chance upon the Nautilus, an experimental ship from the 1980ís, equipped with a futuristic engine that allows rapid, deep space travel, and a lonely A.I. who wants you to destroy it. I wonít go any further in to the plot than that, for one thing because thereís not a lot else to it, superficially at least, secondly because discovering the rest is kind of the point of the game.

The star of the game is Kaizen, the A.I. whoíll help you make progress through the ship, so long as youíre nice to him at least. The selling point of Event[0] is that Kaizen can procedurally generate an abundance of dialogue, and will change how he reacts to you dependant on your dealings with him. If youíre friendly, laugh at his jokes, thank him for his help, heíll be nicer to you, obtuse, but friendly. Act the dick and heíll clam up and stop helping you. Itís an interesting idea, one it explores a little with the few other characters Event[0] features, but not one youíll likely experience the full breadth of in your time with the game. In fact itís something I wish theyíd focused on more, put in a few more moments where your instinct pushes you to behave in a way that betrays you, makes you shed your friendly demeanor for a while, or makes you grateful or warm to Kaizen

Given that your dealings with Kaizen are such a large part of the game I wish they were a bit better. Too often I found simple questions garnered unrelated answers. To me they were obvious questions that a lot of players would have, but the responses were that of a system that had picked up on a word , ignoring the context, and carried on a conversation we werenít having. Getting a straight answer is like pulling teeth, deliberate Iím sure, but still frustrating when you have to ask the same thing repeatedly to get a response that moves things on. Which is really what Kaizen is about, and what he should be better at. He did, sometimes, point me in the right direction, and Iíd always thank him for that, but quite often I was looking for hints outside the game to get me moving again. Not solutions, I wanted to discover things for myself, a strength of the game, but something to stop my standstill and get the game moving again.

Itís why I prefer the exploration aspect of the game I wish there was more of that, looking for clues around the environment, discovering things about the world and characters outside of Kaizenís grip. Truth be told itís indicative of Event[0]ís other problem, thereís not enough of it. I donít mind the length so much, itís around 2 hours long, with alternative endings if thatís something that interests you, itís more that itís not a very big world. You donít feel like youíre stuck in a huge space ship because you see so little of it. Maybe there just wouldnít be many usable rooms on a ship like this, but there really are only a handful of rooms, and only a few events to shake up your experience.

Credit elsewhere to Event[0] though, itís a good looking game. Walking around the Nautilus, youíre always pleasantly surprised by how good it looks. Thereíll be sparks, good quality textures, well designed objects, even slightly worrying dust particles floating around (I never did get an answer to what they were). The sound design is great too, from the clickety clackety keyboard to Kaizenís voice, the bleeps and bloops, and some of the ambient music, itís indicative of a very well put together game.

My only qualm really with Event[0] is how many times you run in to a wall with it. Maybe thatís the fun of it for some, maybe I suffered because I heard it was a short game and was there for the ride, rushing through it a little too quickly, and while Iíd like to give specific instances I can only talk around them rather than spoil an aspect of the puzzles for you. All in all though I enjoyed it, itís not a game that will stay with me forever, but it is one Iíd recommend people check out
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Gurumin 3D:
A Monstrous Adventure
27-10-16
Posted by Mark at 17:44

For all the handwaving and suggestion that it isn't the case, there's not a lot of getting around that, now Switch has been announced, the 3DS is approaching the end of its life. So obviously what's going to ease it gently into that good night is a port of a ten-year-old PSP game based on a PC game released two years prior.

Developed by Ys studio Nihon Falcom, Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure follows Parin, a young girl sent to live with her grandparents while Mum and Dad swan off abroad to do some archeology. The mining town that her grandparents live in is also home to a number of monsters, which are only visible to children.

The monsters themselves are split into two factions, one friendly one in Monster Village, accessible from a portal in the back of the town, and another, which attacks and destroys the village. Conveniently, Parin is able to take control of the Legendary Drill, and sets off to help the monsters rebuild their home.

The world beyond the Village has been shrouded in a thick fog, brought on by the monsters' sadness at losing their homes. The fog can be made to recede by cheering the monsters up, and you do this by getting their stuff back, which has been scattered at the end of a series of dungeons.

In this regard, Gurumin seems like the Zelda to stablemate Ys' Final Fantasy, which isn't entirely inaccurate. When I brought up Ys in a What We're Playing last year, I noted in passing that its combat system made it seem a little simplistic by comparison to other JRPGs, and that continues when compared to Zelda- the dungeons are very light on puzzles and as such this is perhaps better described as a combat platformer than it is an action RPG.

This isn't, however, a bad thing- the Drill is a much more versatile weapon than it initially seems as button-combo special attacks unlock as the game progresses, which goes some way to distracting from the lack of the new toys that Zelda would trickle into your hands and encourages more involved play. Even if you do want toys, there's a range of accessories Parin can wear which come with various buffs and bonuses for any situation.

The story, which doesn't give any middle of the road kids' show writers anything to worry about, at least can pull up a smile on occasion, particularly with Parin's sarcastic streak which is just pitched at the right level to stop the game taking itself too seriously without having her come off as a smartarse.

Your performance in dungeons is also ranked, although the ranking is based mainly on what percentage of the monsters you killed and the random pots you smashed, which threatens to bring the game a little too deep into collectathon territory, but thankfully not so much that getting the best rank becomes the main objective.

What does let the game down are a few technical glitches- for the most part the 3D works well, except for the speechbubble which appears over Parin's head whenever she's in front of something she can interact with, which annoyingly is right at the front of the scene alongside the HUD, which seems like a minor issue, but as it's always right in the middle of the screen directly in front of what you're trying to focus on it can lead to very confused eyes. Additionally all the enemies and NPCs inexplicably seem to be running at half the framerate Parin does, which is just odd.

The jaunty soundtrack and the involved enough combat and levels which put up just enough resistance to pull you out of autopilot without demanding all of your attention, coupled with being on handheld all gather together to help Gurumin fit perfectly into a niche- not quite as much as a console RPG (or for that matter, some of the more bloated 3DS RPGs) but notably more than what passes for RPGs on mobile, this is a very easy game to recommend.
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Mantis Burn
Racing
16-10-16
Posted by Ben at 16:13

It might surprise a few people that Mantis Burn Racing isnít a Playstation Pro launch game, undoubtedly it should get a 2nd wind when Sonyís upgraded console comes out but itís actually available now on standard PS4, Xbox One and PC, and itís a good game even without the novelty of 4K

Mantis Burn Racing is a top town, isometric racing game, reminiscent of Motorstorm RC from a few years back. Itís a more fully featured game than you might expect, with a levelling system, weight classes of cars, vehicle improvements you equip. The game boasts a lengthy career mode, definitely longer than I was expecting, with a number of different race types, online, and split screen multiplayer. It also looks better than I was expecting. I wasnít surprised by how sharp the game looks, but the quality of the textures and the particle effects do go beyond what I expected to see. The most important thing about Mantis Burn Racing though is how smooth it is, the high framerate allows for responsive controls, allowing you control the drifts and slides on the spongey ground.

The solid frame rate does drop occasionally. Iíve only seen it maybe 3 times, but if you get a fleet of cars bunched up at a corner, with dust and debris flying around, the game will drop frames. Itís rare though, and itís not simply caused by all the cars being in one places as you donít see it at the start of a race. One disappointing note on the presentation side is the sound. Thereís not enough engine noise, squealing brakes, screeching of tyres, it makes the races sound flat, itís reminiscent of a phone game.

Itís always a bit of a relief when youíre reviewing a game and itís clear what its strengths and weaknesses are, it makes it easier to criticise, and Mantis Burn Racing is definitely one of those games. Mantis Burn Racing is undoubtedly a good game, itís fluid, controls very well, and thereís some really enjoyable tracks. Itís the kind of racing game where when you make a mistake youíll want to hit the restart button, where youíll want to replay a track because you know you can climb the global leaderboard. Itís something the Ďgearsí system encourages, thereís requirements laid out before each race, winning the event is invariably one, but it may include hitting a certain speed or jumping a certain distance, these reward you with gears that are needed to finish a season, but arenít as strict as you might fear.

Itís a shame then that Mantis Burn Racing doesnít do more to enable this challenge mentality. If you want to find out if you climbed the global leaderboard on a track you have to finish it then restart the event. The game would be helped immensely if things like leaderboards were presented more readily, similarly what track youíre about to drive, a recognisable track image or something would go a long way. One of the main problems with this is that loading a track can take an age. A quick restart should be the default for a racing game like this, Iíve no doubt thereís very good reasons why it's not there, but messing up a lap early, recognising youíve lost the event, or even just wanting to play again all mean a lengthy load time.

Iím also not entirely sure about some of the design decisions around levelling up the cars. There are stats for the cars, but itís very difficult to tell if one car is actually worse than another or if youíre just not used to it. Because everything can be modded and improved often your lap times are as much tied to you making a better car than improving as a player. Itís hard to negate this with the way the game is structured so maybe thereís no complaint there, certainly in career mode, but it is a problem when you race online and can find yourself at a massive disadvantage simply because youíve spent less time with the game than your opponent. This is true in the weekly challenges too, itís arguable that Mantis Burn Racing might benefit from standardisation in some areas.

Still though, I really like Mantis Burn Racing. Itís got a lengthy career mode, a variety of different race types, and mini challenges thrown in to make things interesting.The tracks are invariably interesting, thereís shortcuts, plenty of room to overtake, even the occasional obstruction on the track. Theyíre fun to replay, nailing drifts and learning when not to be cautious, and a big part of that is the handling coupled with the frame rate. We wonít know how it handles on the Playstation Pro for another month, but certainly if youíre looking for a game that will then make use of the extra power, Mantis Burn Racing is a fun pickup
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Mad Father

04-10-16
Posted by Ben at 06:01

I went in to Mad Father fairly blind. It popped up on Steam, the art looked interesting enough to give it a click, when I did I saw a bunch of positive and excited reviews. People saying how pleased they were the game was finally on Steam, that other people should play it, it seemed genuine enough that I thought Iíd give it a go. It turns out Mad Father is a Japanese game, made in some sort of rpg maker, from 2011, first released in english a year later. It looks how youíd expect, although having seen some footage from the original version itís clear that the new Steam release has had a bit of work put in. I mean, donít get me wrong, weíre not talking about full 3D models with 4k textures, but comparatively itís probably a larger upgrade than the recent Bioshock Remastered

Mad Father is a strange mix of a game, on one hand itís gruesome and horrible, played very straight, but thereís a level of humour and charm to the whole thing. You play as Aya, a young girl whoís mother has not long since died, and whoís father is a scientist she knows is murdering and performing gruesome experiments. Aya, in accordance with her motherís wishes is turning a blind eye to the horror. Sheís awoken one night to the sound of her fatherís screams from his laboratory, when she leaves her room to investigate sheís confronted by the walking dead. Very quickly Mad Father spirals from one horror to another, with Aya barely holding it together.

The game plays out as an adventure game, itís certainly less of a strictly narrative experience than I was expecting. Youíll encounter locked door that needs a key, to get the key you need to break some glass, to break the glass youíll need to find a way to loose a hammer from the grips of a monster. I think one of the reasons Mad Father works is because thereís not a lot of down time, youíre always doing something, and generally those things arenít especially drawn out. Youíre always seeing something new, even when you have to revisit an area thereíll be something thatís changed or something that jumps out that keeps you on your toes.

All that being said itís still a 2D game that looks like an upressed Snes rpg, itís never going to be terrifying. Not to do it down, thereís a tension that runs through the game, moments where enemies will rush you, enough of them that you are, ever so slightly on edge. Sure, another dead body inside a barrel, the head falling off another doll, yet another door slamming, itís not going to make you scream in terror. I think thatís why itís such a good idea it has the tone it does. Iím not quite sure how to explain it, but it plays the horror very straight, youíre supposed to be appalled by what your father has done, by his experiments. Thereís a gritty reality to the whole thing. At the same time though my favourite moments are when Aya has a chat with some undead spirit or another. Generally the spirits want help, but itís presented in a charmingly horrible way, a bit like Gregory Horror Show or something, an adorable atrocity.

Mad Father doesnít come without a word of warning however. While Iím sure a lot of work has gone in to get the game running on modern consoles it kind of doesnít. When you boot the game thereís a configuration tool, chances are leaving Mad Father on its default setting itís not going to run on your system, certainly it didnít run on mine. Thereís an option in there that makes it sound like itís going to cause problems, that the game is going to stress your cpu, pick that one, Iíd be very surprised if many modern pcs are going to be taxed by Mad Father, but it is the only way I could get the game to run.

Aside from that the only complaint I had was one thatís been plaguing 2D rpgs since the beginning, if you set your game with a top down perspective itís not always clear that areas at the side or bottom are exits. I spent far too long stuck fairly early on in the game because a hallway looked like it ended with a solid wall. Thereís a couple of other moments like that, not loads, but I mention it because if it happened to me it could happen to others. Similarly, if you do get stuck, thereís no real hint system, you arenít going to get a prompt or even a repeated bit of text to point you in the right direction. I doubt too many of the puzzles will leave you that stumped, a few of them solve themselves but with enough involvement you donít feel like the game is playing itself.

I really like Mad Father, Iím not sure I can exactly explain why, I think it might be a taste thing, itís right in my zone, for others maybe itís not, I can definitely see how people would get nothing from it. I loved it though, it's only a few hours long, but itís funny, occasionally tense, and tells a good little story, Iíd say itís more than worth the risk
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