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.

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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.

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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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Jan
30
Posted by Mark at 16:30
Namco Bandai have annouced the sad news that the man who both founded and gave the company its original name, Masaya Nakamura, has passed at the age of 91.

Nakamura founded the company in 1955 as Nakamura Manufacturing, making children's amusement park rides. Three years later, the company would change its name to Nakamura Amusement Machine Manufacturing Company, later abbreviated to Namco.

It wouldn't be until 1978 that Namco would release its first videogame, Gee Bee, with the game that made the company famous, Pac-Man, following the year after.

The firm merged with Bandai in 2005, and in 2007 Nakamura was honoured with the "Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette" by the Japanese government.

Masaya Nakamura passed away on the 22nd of January.

Rest in peace.
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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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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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