Akiba's Beat

May 16
Posted by Mark at 13:45

Following on from the provocatively-titled Akiba's Trip, Akiba's Beat brings us back to Japan's nerd-Vegas Akihabara, where, on a random Sunday, some massive speakers have appeared on the side of the train station. Nobody, mind you, seems to have noticed, save for Asahi Tachinaba- protagonist and inevitable NEET- and one other person who seems far too happy about the matter.

It's in front of the speakers where he meets Saki Hoshino, another one who is able to see the speakers, and her familiar Pinkun, the most annoying thing in the world. She explains that the speakers are the manifestation of the delusion of someone nearby- specifically, the overexcited man from earlier, who is pining for the earlier days of Akihabara, when it was a hub for audiophiles to pick up equipment, rather than the videogames and anime place it is now.


When the source of a Delusion is found, a door to their Delusionscape appears- a dungeon, if you like, to the overworld of Akihabara- and at the end of the Delusionscape is a boss which must be defeated in order to snap the individual (or "Deluser") out of their Delusion, and return Akihabara to its proper state.

With that Delusion cleared up, the day comes to an end, and everybody goes back home. The next day, however, is Sunday again, and there's another Delusion on the other side of town. Asahi and Saki team up again to get to the bottom of the appearances of the Delusions, and see if that's got anything to do with the days repeating.

The design of the Delusionscapes are closer to those found in dungeon crawlers- boxes full of enemies connected by corridors- and don't really offer a great deal to explore or even experience, something which is made all the more obvious by them being simply platforms floating in space, making the limited scope of the dungeons very clear.

Combat is action-focused, with the players' party transporting to a closed arena to fight an arbitrary number of monsters. Standard attacks clock up Skill Points which are spent on more powerful Skills, unlocked by levelling up and triggered by a flick of an analogue stick and tapping the Skill button. A limited number of Action Points also limit you to four actions before having to step out of the way for a short period. While it's hardly going to give Souls or any 'proper' fighting games any sleepless nights, it does make it a little bit more involved than just bash-bash-bash.

Blows that land fill the Imagine Meter, which can be deployed when complete for a short period of hightened attack power- a song can be selected to replace the background music, and hits made in time with the music during the verse increase the damage done when the chorus comes around.

There's also missed potential in the game not supporting multiplayer, as the Action Points could lead to some fun couch co-op teamwork situations, especially as more Skills unlock.

The questlines which take you from Delusionscape to Delusionscape are less interesting, however. These tend to involve little more than running from one end of Akihabara to the other to hear a small amount of dialogue, before running back to hear a bit more, then somewhere else for a tiny bit more, before the game relents and lets you access the next Delusionscape- this is exacerbated by the time loop narrative meaning that often the same thing has to be cycled through a few times in order to unlock the associated Delusionscape.

Sidequests which pop up in between milestones in the main quests don't fare any better, being the same but without the relief of a Delusionscape, or at least no new ones of their own.


The Akihabara of Akiba's Beat is an incredibly small number of anonymous, built up streets, lacking in any meaningful landmarks beyond two large empty spaces, one of which makes up nearly half the overworld. The area is too small to be Grand Theft Auto's Liberty City, and each area- seperated by loading screens- isn't differentiated enough to be The World Ends With You's Shibuya. It might be faithful to the real location, but in practice it just means you spend all your time getting very lost and abusing fast travel to get from place to place- this makes it even more like an exercise in admin than an adventure.

(Acquire also weren't able to licence the shops and adverts in the town, which you probably won't notice unless you're really invested, with only one name really relating to a company you'd have heard of in the West)

The plot, which takes you from Delusionscape to Delusionscape, also takes in the many subcultures Akihabara has played host to from its current love for idol singers, to less recent maid cafes and gothic lolita fashion trends, spending some time with each individual Deluser and showcasing what gives each of the subcultures its appeal- while still being able to take a friendly pop at them, even if it does tend to think it's a lot funnier than it is.

As such, each different Delusionscape brings its own thing to the table- not only does each one have a new setting, the change in art style reflecting the current Delusion, but also adds a new mechanic, even if these are things as simple as 'dead ends' and 'doors'. The wider game is also good at adding new things as you go along, introducing sidequests and later a trading card system to boost your stats. Even if those things aren't as original as they could be, there's always something new around the corner.

Ultimately a lot of Akiba's Beat is going to pass straight by a lot of people- what you're going to get out of this really relates to how into your otakudom you are, and even then how much you want to go around an off-brand version of Akihabara. If you do, it's certainly a perfectly enjoyable game, and you'll get a lot out of the setting, but it's a tougher sell to anybody who's not into the virtual tourism.

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Apr
27
Posted by Mark at 17:11
Japanese media being Japanese media, the Fate series has its suite of promotional webcasts where the people responsible bombard fans with information on what's coming up in the franchise's future.

In this case, Marvelous have announced that there's going to be a sequel to Fate/EXTELLA, the Warriorsalike spinoff that I liked enough to give seven out of ten to.

Rice Digital watched the NicoNico stream to find this out, although the fact that the game exists is pretty much the size of it at this stage.

The first game was released on PlayStations both 4 and Vita and is being ported to Switch- it's probably safe to suggest that the sequel will be at least coming to the Sony console.
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The Inner World

Apr 03
Posted by Mark at 15:23

Ahead of the imminent sequel- subtitled The Last Wind Monk- Headup Games have brought Studio Fizbin's The Inner World to console.

There has been a disaster in Asposia, a physics-defying world existing on the inside of a sphere, as the Wind Fountains, Asposia's sole form of ventilation, have stopped blowing, and creatures known as the Basylians have emerged from them, turning the Asposians to stone.

The remaining Asposians have all looked to Conroy- the Wind Monk in charge of one of the fountains- for guidance, which happens to be puritanical and austere. When his endearingly naive apprentice Robert manages to lose the pendant which reminds Conroy of what he cryptically claims is the happiest day of his life, he goes looking for it- meeting local criminal Laura, who helps him discover that Conroy's rule is not as benevolent as it seems.

Taking control of both Robert and Laura at different points in the story, their hand-drawn adventure sees them collecting arbitrary items and hoping that they'll be useful later, in that way that point-and-click adventures are. As they go along, they visit a range of exotic locations and meet plenty of interesting individuals.

The writing that drives the characters carries all the water it needs to, although many of them fall into the trap of being character traits waiting to be fleshed out and on occasion lines will often jar with one another- a character would say something, then immediately say something else that implies they didn't know the thing they said last. There are, however, smiles to be raised if few or no laughs.


The point-and-click game contains its entire control system in its name- you point at a thing and you click it. Historically, this was achieved with a mouse- something that isn't present on PlayStation 4. Instead, you control your character directly with the left thumbstick, cycle through hotspots with L1 and R1 until you find the one that you want, then a menu gives you the options you have for interacting.

There is an easy criticism of the genre in that eventually it boils down to systematically applying every item in your inventory to every part of the scenery or every character until the game relents and lets you progress, and The Inner World's control system serves only to formalise this process, and as such it's all too easy to allow autopilot to set in.

Revealing all the hotspots in a scene may be a necessary evil, maybe as a last resort for a player who just can't work out the solution to the puzzle, but this system takes away not only the immediacy of interacting by forcing you to cycle through all the options you don't want to get to the one you do, but also the joy of working out solutions- or finding interesting 'wrong' answers yourself- by having to go through a better answer before you get to the one you wanted.

It also makes the direct character control almost entirely redundant- some hotspots only make themselves known if you're near them, but this is implemented inconsistently and the cycle will rarely start anywhere near the hotspot you want.

Worse, the touch panel on the DualShock 4, which you'd think would be perfect for this sort of game, isn't used at all.

The Inner World is pleasing enough in that way that modern point-and-clicks can be, but the console port can be very easily skipped in favour of the PC version.

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Mar
25
Posted by Mark at 16:26
In a suprising act of openness for the firm, Nintendo's US QA/localisation/marketing team Treehouse have launched a blog, which can be seen here.

Right now, there's only two posts- one from Bill Trinen, and another from Nate, who wrote the English script for Paper Mario.

While this is a welcome- if unusual- development from Nintendo, it still puts them well behind the social media presence of Sony and Microsoft- and considering a number of recent decisions from the company haven't been met with universal praise, this will be an interesting one to watch.


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Switch
or die trying
Mar 12
Posted by Mark at 19:15

Getting a timely name change seemingly to avoid confusion with a certain newly-released console, Switch - or die trying is another in a long line of precision platformers.

In Switch, you play as the letter I, whose friends- the rest of the alphabet- have all stopped talking to him because he's a bit too self-absorbed, so he sets out to perform acrobatic feats in the hope that it will make them all love him again.

The game's core structure doesn't deviate too much from the templates left behind by the likes of Super Meat Boy and its imitators- the player must reach the goal in a number of self-contained levels by making seemingly improbable jumps and navigating assorted obstacles.

The main weapon in I's arsenal is that old platform favourite, his double-jump. Double-jumping allows him to switch (a-ha!) between his lower- and upper-case forms. Oddly, however, the developers have chosen to put this second jump onto a different button to the normal one.

The game opens with the phrase 'Gamepad strongly recommended', and it's not wrong. On keyboard, the dobule-button-double-jump is a feat of finger gymnastics that isn't entirely comfortable, and distracts from the environment-traversal aspects of the game. Using an XBox pad, the default setting of A to jump and RT to switch helps to give fast double-jumping a nice, natural-feeling rhythm.

It's a motion not entirely dissimilar to clicking your fingers, which is another comparison to that Nintendo console I'm sure the developers would be really happy to hear about.

This isn't the only quirk the game brings to the genre- I is also able to shoot at objects to open doors and even transform platforms, although a reliance on hiding moving targets behind a wall you have to keep sliding down and jumping back up means that on occasion this aspect can feel a lot more like luck than skill.

In later levels elements of the environment such as platforms, barriers around targets and even streams of lava are toggled based on I's current case, similar to forgotten XBox Live Indie title Nyan-Tech, bringing the game slightly into puzzle platformer territory.

As well as simply reaching the exit, each level has two extra objectives in a target time and a collectable ink drop. At the end of the level you are awarded the standard one to three stars for doing so, but progression is kept primarily to how many levels have been finished, relieving the frustration of being unable to get that speed star by a few milliseconds.

The precision platformer is an increasingly oversubscribed field, and a very easy thing to get wrong- and while Switch - or die trying is hardly going to go down as a classic in its field, its gets enough right to stand above some of the genre's less accomplished efforts.
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Feb
27
Posted by Mark at 15:08
Rayark Games' beautiful-looking VOEZ is making the jump from mobile to the extremely mobile-like Nintendo Switch.

Making the announcement via a trailer, the game is going to come out at launch, seemingly only on download.

Show/hide video


The game, which started on mobile, is a music game which features the standard tapping of inputs in time with the music, although what VOEZ-which we believe is pronounced 'Voice'- does differently is move the inputs about too, as if the beatmap itself was dancing.

The touch-based gameplay, of course, means that the game can only be played in mobile mode- a shame as it would probably look quite good on a big TV.

The game's plot follows a handful of teenagers as they start a band- the VOEZ of the title- and go about their usual anime slice-of-life malarkey, managing to clock up over 100 songs along the way, in reality from a range of independent musicians from around Asia.

The mobile version took the format's standard microtransaction-driven business model, but the trailer features a pricepoint of 2,500 Yen, suggesting that with any luck all the free-to-play bullshit might get lost in transit.

There's not been much in the way of confirmation this is going to leave Japan, but the mobile version seems to be in English, so a localization shouldn't be too hard.
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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.

Show/hide video

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'tis the Season

Feb 15
Posted by Mark at 19:11

I bloody love Game of Thrones. It's the best thing.

Every week when the series is running I like nothing more than sitting down in front of the TV to watch these brilliant, well-formed characters played by the best actors working in television absolutely at the top of their game as the deep and engaging story twists and turns, aided by the some of the best production money can buy from their location filming to the CGI special effects.

And the thing is, you don't get that sort of thing anywhere else. I tried watching that Jersey Shore when it was on MTV and it's just not for me. If you've not seen it, it's a reality show about people getting drunk in nightclubs then going home and having sex and/or a blazing row. Okay, GoT has more than its fair share of drinking and shagging but it all serves part of a wider narrative in a way that it doesn't in this.

Either way, Jersey Shore isn't for me. It doesn't offer me what GoT does. Similarly a lot of what makes Jersey Shore what it is is absent from Thrones, and that's what I appreciate about it, and I'm sure the reverse is true.

And you know? That's fine. I don't think they're making Jersey Shore any more, but I'm sure MTV're making something in a similar vein, and if they want to run nothing but Jersey Shorealikes, that's equally fine. I don't blame them- it's cheap to make, and MTV get a hell of a return on their investment. MTV are a business, and Shore is good business.

So they want to fill MTV 2 with it, that's equally OK, and if they want to launch MTV 3, 4, 5, all the way up to MTV 100 and show nothing but wall-to-wall Jersey Shore on all of it that's absolutely A-OK, so long as I've got my HBO and my Game of Thrones. You all do you, I'll be over here.

-

So it turns out that HBO have announced that the next series of Game of Thrones is taking a bit of a turn. It's not going to be set in the fantasy land of Westeros at some undefined point in what we'd call "The Past" any more, it's going to be set in the modern-day, real world. And instead of being a scripted drama, it's going to be a reality show. About people getting drunk in a nightclub.

And they're also turning Westworld into a shitty mobile Gacha game.

Nintendo's recent announcement that Zelda: Breath of the Wild is going to have a Season Pass has been met with widespread disappointment, from myself as much as anybody else. The reason it's been met with such, is because they've done exactly the above.

As with most criticism that comes from within gaming, there's been an equally loud- if not louder- attempt at shutting the criticism out, mostly by accusing the people of complaining of all sorts of things simply for the act of criticising, but occasionally by coming out with counterpoints that are not incorrect, but also not particularly relevant.

"But business!" cries the journalist. "All the other games companies have been doing it for ages!" exclaims the random on social media. "It's not even the first Nintendo game with DLC!", follows up the smartarse who thinks they've pre-empted the counterargument. "There is such a thing as good DLC!" says someone who's missed the point spectacularly.

Yes, Nintendo are a business and they've have had a hard time of it in the last few years, and the Season Pass model is proven to work as a moneymaker. Equally, the notion that Season Passes are widespread is unequivocally true- a cursory search of XBox One suggests there's 64 of them already, for games as recent as Sniper Elite 4 and For Honor, which only came out this week. Nintendo games have had DLC, even Zelda spinoff Hyrule Warriors (which itself had a Season Pass) and Mario Kart 8's DLC is often cited as a good example of DLC being done right.

All of these points are very true, and nobody is saying otherwise.

But we can make similar points of reality TV, it's good business, it's not a new format (Big Brother started nearly seventeen years ago) HBO- or at least its parent company Warner Brothers- is responsible for The Bachelor, amongst other shows and the first series of The Genius is probably one of my favourite shows of the last few years.

What makes HBO great is the quality of its programming. What makes HBO amazing is that in a sea of trashy reality shows, lazy sitcoms and by-the-numbers police procedurals they stand out for their dedication to not doing that. For them to throw it away on making yet another show in the style of Jersey Shore, even if it was the best possible example of such, would be a crushing disappointment.

Likewise, what makes Nintendo great is the quality of its games. What makes Nintendo amazing is that in a sea of tacked-on multiplayer modes, scummy microtransactions and games being cut into piecemeal DLC chunks so you have to spend 80 to get the same game you used to pay 40 for, they stand out for not doing that, for still making these finely-crafted single-player experiences that the Zelda series in particular is known for being.

Even if Breath of the Wild is still incredible (which I think we all know it's probably going to be) and everybody complaining still goes out and buys both game and Pass on day one to throw that away by sticking a Season Pass on what is really the last bastion of AAA headliners without upsells is equally crushing- and everybody who is disappointed about it is absolutely right to be.
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Feb
10
Posted by Mark at 17:42
Almost a year to the day since closing for relocation, it has been announced that the Heart Of Gaming is to re-open in its new location in Croydon on the 4th of March.


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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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