MercurySteam, the Spanish developer behind Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and the upcoming Metroid: Samus Returns, are venturing into uncharted territory with Raiders of the Broken Planet. A self-published, multiplayer-focused third-person shooter set to release incrementally beginning later this year, Sam and James recently spent some time with the closed beta - here are their thoughts.
James: Whenever you pick up a game you go in with certain expectations, but not knowing a lot this time kept those preconceptions to a minimum. Cover shooters were huge when I first got into gaming and, having largely been away from them for some time, I was excited to try a new twist on the formula. First impressions? I’d say it has my attention.
Sam: After actually going hands-on, I was initially torn over whether or not the game was a little too different. Raiders just about necessitates rock, paper, scissors-style brawling and engaging with a difficult stealth system in the midst of its relentless firefights, so it was a little jarring to find usual shooter tactics didn’t work very well in themselves. It definitely took some adjusting to on my part, but it was good to be forced out of my usual comfort zone.
James: There’s certainly a learning curve, in fact we were both reminding ourselves that our characters actually had individual powers and skills to use in battle, since it’s so easy to slip into old habits and play it like any other third-person action game. It remind me of when I first played the underrated Wanted: Weapons of Fate and kept dying over and over because, due to it’s in-your-face style, I failed to remember that I could use cover. Similarly, here I was a little too bold with my playstyle and it was often my undoing.
Sam: I found that the bizarre cast of ugly, foul-mouthed antiheroes were totally out there; they all play in very different ways, some of which weren’t to my liking, but once I found a character that I clicked with - and, just as importantly, we found a four-player team composition that we clicked with - I thought the game became really rewarding, especially when tackling boss encounters.
James: They certainly didn’t have much charisma between them, but I suppose if Raiders has a penchant for challenging expectations, perhaps something a bit different is refreshing? I’m waiting to be convinced on that front. Nice to have cutscenes to bring them to life a bit, just a shame they don’t grab you like their contemporaries might. Gameplay is king though and in action the moments where the characters’ skills started working together was promising.
Sam: One of the game’s big draws is the promise of 1 vs. 4 asymmetric multiplayer, but we’ve seen this can be a dubious prospect with flops like Evolve and Fable Legends. While I enjoyed both of those games for the most part (I got some time in with Fable before Microsoft pulled the plug), Raiders doesn’t seem nearly as committed to the idea. Levels play out in much the same way for the group of antiheroes whether the enemy is bolstered by a human player or not, while the antagonist doesn’t see any significant gameplay overhaul. What did you think of it?
James: I’d agree. Nothing much stood out that made the encounter decidedly dicier with a human opponent involved compared to just AI - perhaps because the AI hit the spot? Hopefully with a bit more time the nuances will start to show through and there’ll be some more variety to the PvP elements.
Sam: Raiders seems to me like a game that will grow more and more engaging as you engage with it more and more, learning new characters, strategies and compositions all the while. This is a perfect fit considering, if all goes well, players will dip in and out of the game over a period of time with the release of each new campaign. I’m quite optimistic on the whole - are you?
James: It’s definitely got a lot of ingredients, perhaps a few of them aren’t quite cooked yet, but I think the recipe is right. The way the developers are approaching it seems sensible, and actually quite exciting coming in on the ground floor. Hopefully as the community grows and develops a voice it will help to smooth some of the rough edges.
Have you played the Raiders of the Broken Planet beta? Whether you have or haven’t, feel free to join in on our game chat by leaving a comment with your thoughts on MercurySteam’s upcoming shooter.
Nintendo have a habit of tinkering with their handhelds, rehashing and improving designs over a console’s lifespan until we usually end up with a product that, arguably, should have been the one released to the public in the first place.
An improved stand
The current stand that pops out of the back of the Switch is, to be honest, a bit rubbish. The flimsy plastic feels like it’s going to snap every time you try to open it, and it’s so small and unstable it struggles to hold the console upright on anything except a completely flat surface.
Even if you do find one of these there’s no guarantee it will remain upright, as I recently found out when attempting some Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in (coincidentally enough) a moving car. The Switch just refused stay upright on a fold-down table, flopping onto it’s back every time the car came across a bump in the road or a gentle corner, rendering the impromptu multiplayer session over before it could even begin.
What’s more, the angle of the stand is far too steep and can’t be adjusted, so in order to get a comfortable viewpoint while playing, the Switch must be either on a surface that’s almost at eye level, or placed further away from you, meaning you’ll most likely struggle to see what’s happening on the six-inch screen.
Both these problems could be solved by sticking a proper stand on the back of the Switch, preferably one that runs the entire length of the console and with decent grip for added stability, and can also be fixed at multiple degrees for better viewing angles.
More comfortable Joy-Cons
I have no problem with the concept of the Joy-Con, in fact, as I mentioned in our recent look at ARMS, I’ve been nothing but impressed by their versatility for things like split-screen multiplayer and their accuracy when used as motion controllers. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be improved upon, most notably in the comfort department.
Using the Switch as a handheld for any significant amount of time is very reminiscent of the original 3DS, who’s angled edges were not very welcoming to the palms. While the Joy-Cons aren’t as uncomfortable as that, a slightly thicker and more rounded design, one a little bit closer to those found on regular controllers, would help alleviate hand cramps and any discomfort that comes with longer gaming sessions, and wouldn’t necessarily damage the console’s portability either.
The same could be said of the Joy-Con’s face buttons, which are a little small and can start to dig into your fingers, especially when playing games like Mario Kart where you’re constantly holding down the A button to accelerate. The control sticks could also do with some tweaking, just to make them a bit more accurate. They’re fine for games where they are mostly used for movement and camera control, like Breath of the Wild, but FPS fans may find the rigidity of the current design off-putting.
The Pro Controller does, admittedly, deal with the latter two issues, but it would be nice if the original design of the Joy-Con was good enough that the Pro could be thought of as a luxury, and not a necessity.
A dock that won’t damage your console
This isn’t technically a handheld issue like the other two, but it’s such a big problem that it needed to be included. How Nintendo looked at the dock before release and decided it was fit for launch boggles the mind.
For such an integral part of the Switch’s ethos, the part that actually helps give the console its name, it’s incredibly poorly built. The plastic feels cheap when compared to rest of the Switch (minus the aforementioned stand), it bends easily, and, worst of all, it has a texture that I can only think was chosen by someone who hates screens and wants to see them die.
The fact that people are selling tiny pieces of sticky-back felt on eBay, perfectly measured for the runners that guide your Switch into the dock, so you don’t scratch the screen is almost ridiculous. As Sam pointed out in his first look at the Switch, docking and undocking with the current design requires almost surgeon levels of steadiness, which can hardly be what Nintendo had in mind when they came up with the concept.
If Nintendo do break from tradition and stand by the design of the Switch, then they at least need to address the dock issue as its damaging such an integral part of the experience.
So, those were a few improvements I’d like to see on any Switch redesign. Do you agree? What would you like to see changed, or is the Switch good as it is? Sound off below.
Last year you might have read Sam’s verdict on the Xbox One version of Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, but since the game began life as a mobile experience, it makes sense that it would find its way to the most portable of the home consoles - the Nintendo Switch.
The world is split up into different islands, which each have a few things to discover and plenty of enemies to combat, but most locations are fairly small, so you can make your way through them relatively easily in a shorter play session and feel like you’ve achieved something while on the go.
The lore, though present, isn’t intrusive either, so there aren’t swathes of detail to commit to memory when you hop on for five minutes before your significant other warns you of the imminent arrival of food. You could even get away with a cheeky session at a family barbecue and there’s no risk of any family members looking over your shoulder in disturbed bemusement at what they see - something that the upcoming and similarly Zelda-inspired Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ is at severe risk of.
Basic puzzle-solving offers more depth than the Candy Crushes and Clash of Clans of the world, without being so engrossing as to make you miss your stop.
Travelling too, there’s a relaxing simplicity to pottering around destroying pottery, and in the familiar touches undoubtedly borrowed from Zelda - from the colour-emphasised NPC text to the protagonist’s sword, shield and tunic combo - which create a comfort blanket of straightforward gameplay and basic puzzle-solving that offer more depth than the Candy Crushes and Clash of Clans of the world, without being so engrossing as to make you miss your stop.
While you can pick up Oceanhorn on the PS Vita, as Gabriella found out recently, the tone and presentation of the game definitely has a fittingly ‘Nintendo’ feel, which helps to manage expectations of a more ‘hardcore’ gaming experience Vita players might have expected, but Oceanhorn isn’t necessarily designed to cater towards.
Finally, if you fancy a big screen experience, then with a quick slide of your Switch into the dock, you can have it. This versatility is unique to the Switch, and with performance strong across both handheld and docked modes, its easy to play however you like.
With so many platforms to play Oceanhorn on at this point, it’s definitely worth giving the Switch version specifically a try, especially if you’re a fan of classic Zelda titles; I’d even go as far as to say experiencing it in this format nudges it above Sam’s initial score. It’s certainly enough to keep you entertained in short bursts, and it might even be a nice entry point for youngsters into a slightly more involved style of gaming. Never has the chance to sail Oceanhorn’s uncharted seas felt more appealing.
Are you tempted? Let us know what you think of the game in the comments.
Last September, Sam reviewed Oceanhorn on the Xbox One, offering an insight as to how the game that began life as a mobile app had fared in transitioning to a home console. With the release of the PS Vita port earlier this month, FDG Entertainment’s colourful action-adventure title returns to its handheld roots - but does it still hold up?
The pairing feels like the lesser-realised equivalent, the intimate experience a perfect fit for such a personal peripheral. The ability to pick up and play anytime, anywhere, delving into these worlds at your convenience, is why the Vita and Oceanhorn’s bite-sized design complement each other so well.
The game’s beautifully rendered on the Vita, making notable improvements over its mobile counterpart, which had previously suffered from muddy textures and poor frame rate as a result of restrictive mobile hardware. A crisper presentation and richer colour palette make it more visually seductive, while a smooth frame rate sees to it that the love-in is never interrupted.
Naturally, the Vita’s twin joysticks give players more responsive control than a mobile touchscreen ever could, but, while this is a godsend when it comes to manoeuvring (provided you aren’t clipping through corners after taking them too quickly), it doesn’t make much difference when button-bashing your way through combat. That said, some tougher enemies will need to be parried in order for you to stand much of a chance, which adds finesse to those occasional encounters.
While Oceanhorn is packed with playfulness, my enthusiasm gradually began to fade over its course thanks largely to the tentative narrative and general simplicity of its world. More confidence and interactivity would really have enriched the adventure, imbuing it with some more personality of its own.
Regardless, the PS Vita feels like a natural home for Oceanhorn, due to its convenient portability and superior control over the similarly accommodating mobile version. Minor criticisms aside, Oceanhorn and the Vita share a complementary chemistry that fondly reminded me of playing Zelda on the Nintendo DS, which is, by all counts, a very good thing.
If you’re interested in trying Oceanhorn on the PS Vita, make sure to check back next week, as we’ll be giving away three EU region download keys.
With Nintendo’s worst-selling console (bar the Virtual Boy, of course) now six feet under, we take a look back on the Wii U's life with some of the independent developers that kept the console ticking, during its infamous game droughts.
With those games in mind, who better to ask about the much-maligned Wii U than their fair creators! We’ve been fortunate enough to speak with Jools Watsham of Renegade Kid fame (Mutant Mudds), Thomas Tyssoy from Rain Games (Teslagrad, World to the West), Knapnok’s Anchel Labena (Affordable Space Adventures), Rodrigue Deperron of Thunder Lotus (Jotun, the upcoming Sundered), Rhys Lewis of Squarehead Studios (Star Ghost), and Asier Quesada and Arturo Monedero from Delirium Studios (The Rivers of Alice, The Delusions of Von Sottendorff). Enjoy!
What was the Wii U like to develop for?
Rain Games: We’ve built all our games in Unity, so in most regards it hasn’t been very different from developing for other platforms. The primary challenge has been in porting, and figuring out how to reduce the amount of RAM we use to fit the Wii U.
Knapnok Games: Wii U was a super exciting machine to work on, it opened up opportunities for creating games that weren't really possible on other consoles.
Delirium Studios: Well, 3DS was rough for programming. Let’s say it is a machine that requires lots of skills if you want to reach a high visual and technical performance! For The Rivers of Alice port to Wii U it was completely the opposite, apart from some audio conversion problems, Unity - we previously developed the game with this engine – allowed us to port the game from PC to Wii U reporting few tech-related problems. We had to redesign the game to make it compatible with the Wii U gamepad screen though.
Were Nintendo helpful/encouraging of your project?
Squarehead Studios: Yes absolutely. They were kind enough to feature Star Ghost on the eShop and they also promoted the game on leaflets included with physical titles. Considering it was a tiny one man, self-published title, I don’t think I could have asked for more.
Thunder Lotus Games: Nintendo did indeed offer much support for the development of Jotun for Wii U. It was important for all concerned that our game (as well as other indies due to release last fall) be available in time for a Nindies promotion Nintendo had planned for September.
Jools Watsham: Yes, it was always great working with the team at Nintendo. They were very supportive of our efforts on the Wii U.
"...it was easier for us to get visibility on the platform compared to other mainstream alternatives as fewer games are released for the Wii U, making it easier to stand out."
Did you ever worry about releasing a game on a console with such a small install base (comparatively speaking)?
Rain Games: Not at all. While the Wii U has a small install base relatively speaking, we were never in a position where the smaller pool of potential players would negatively impact our bottom line. Teslagrad actually did pretty well on the Wii U, and we think part of that is because it was easier for us to get visibility on the platform compared to other mainstream alternatives as fewer games are released for the Wii U, making it easier to stand out.
Knapnok Games: Not really - you always need to scale the cost of your project to match the potential gain on the platform, and we managed to scope the project relatively well so we didn't have to sell hundred of thousands of copies to break even. The advantage of making something on a less crowded console is that you have a much higher chance of standing out.
Squarehead Studios: Not really, though perhaps in hindsight I could have given it a little bit more thought! One of the attractions for me was that although the market has been small, it is composed of highly passionate and knowledgeable gamers. From a developer's perspective, it is very rewarding to be able to connect with the kind of people that really care about what you’re doing.
What are your thoughts on the Wii U now its time has come to an end?
Thunder Lotus Games: It's hard to strike a resoundingly positive tone when speaking of the Wii U. Truly, there were some stellar gaming experiences to be had on the system, but in retrospect, I believe Nintendo never adequately communicated to gamers why they should want the console, nor to devs what manner of unique experiences they wanted to offer on the console. It seems to me that the story of the Wii U is one of unrealized potential - though what precisely it had the potential to ultimately become is up to debate.
Knapnok Games: I think the Wii U was a great platform that tried a lot of different interesting things. One of the core problems of it was that many of these things were contradictory: the GamePad had a touchscreen which is great, but if you wanted to support the pro controller you couldn't utilise the touchscreen. The secondary screen is a really cool feature, the option to continue your game on the GamePad if someone else wants to use the TV. It was cheap to buy Wii Remotes so you could easily make multiplayer games, but then you couldn't really support the thumb sticks of the other controllers. All this gave the feeling that no game was truly designed for the Wii U - because no game could hit all the unique selling points at once.
Delirium Studios: In my opinion, with the new Zelda, Wii U has said goodbye in a more than dignified way. I suspect that many have dusted their consoles off and have given it a small chance again. There are great games for Wii U, and we keep selling on this platform, so (hopefully) it will last a little bit longer!
Rain Games: The Wii U was a strange beast. Now that the Switch is here, it feels almost like a prototype or proof of concept by comparison. The Wii U’s unique parts, like the nun-chucks and gamepad are just done in such an improved form on the Switch! The Wii U had plenty of fun games, particularly in terms of multiplayer that a lot of us have thoroughly enjoyed.
What are your thoughts on the Switch? Will you be developing games for it?
Squarehead Studios: It’s a nicely restrained and well-considered design. Nintendo often throw curve balls into their hardware that can leave you scratching your head, wondering how to take advantage of the quirks whilst also maximising the potential of your game. The Switch looks focussed, with characteristics that seem to cater well to the kinds of games that Nintendo fans want to play. Of course, only time will tell and the age old question of whether Nintendo can keep their pipeline full of new and interesting software is going to be key. I think it would be good for the industry if they can continue to define a viable middle ground, somewhere between snack sized mobile gaming and the massive AAA machinery.
Jools Watsham: The Switch seems to address many of the mistakes Nintendo made with the Wii U in terms of unique features and messaging. We are currently developing for the Switch.
Thunder Lotus Games: I think our initial collective reaction to the Switch here at Thunder Lotus has been as gamers first and foremost, gamers that have each grown up and grown through various generations of Nintendo hardware both portable and stationary. So our reactions have reflected some genuine love of the Nintendo brand (even if that love may have lapsed for some in the Wii U generation): we're all excited to see how great an experience Nintendo can craft with the Switch, now that they're working from what is visibly a clearer and more viable concept of how a living room console can also be portable. We can certainly imagine our games eventually finding a happy home on the switch. We'll see what the future holds in that respect.
There you have it, chums; the Wii U dissected by the developers that made its games. As we open up the console to check its organs for the cause of death, it seems clear that, from a developer’s vantage point, the Wii U was not only easy to make games for, but a comparative lack of competition actually helped to stand out from the crowd. It was, however, tricky to use all of the unique features the console boasted - something Nintendo themselves failed to do.
As one of the thirteen-odd million people that bought a Wii U, I part ways with mine having felt confused and disappointed, though, critically, entertained. I’ll cherish it for the wonderful Zeldas, Marios and Splatoon, as well as the fabulous indie games.
That said, the Wii U actually played a large part in putting me off investing in Nintendo’s future - a reliance on gimmicks and churning out the same core franchises has severely impacted the love we once shared. The current lack of games on Switch (bar two great titles already available on Wii U in Mario Kart 8 and Breath of the Wild) only proves that Nintendo haven’t learnt their lesson.
I can only echo Rhys Lewis’ sentiments that the gaming industry needs Nintendo firing on all cylinders to fill the middle ground left vacant by Microsoft, Sony and mobile phones. Whether they manage that, only time will tell. Until then, I’m off to drop some flowers on the Wii U's grave. Goodnight, sweet Prince.
Thanks very much to all the developers that spoke to us for this article, we look forward to playing more of your games soon!
This week’s giveaway is for a copy of Forma.8 on Wii U; the game is a new take on the Metroidvania genre from Italian indie developer MixedBag, so be sure to get your entries in here!
With the acclaimed release of SEGA and Platinum Games’ Bayonetta on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 now more than seven years in the past, the stealth release of a PC port earlier this week will undoubtedly have taken many by surprise. While it might have overshot the ideal launch window by a few thousand days, it provides the definitive version of a game that miraculously hasn’t aged a single day, and, as a result, is still very much worth your time.
While perfection is a big ask, Bayonetta's PC port comes very close.
Controlling that action translates incredibly well to a keyboard and mouse, which was somewhat unexpected. We’d happily click our way through the game, but with the gloriously hectic battles looking a little cramped on a 14” laptop screen, we reached for a controller and made use of Big Picture on Steam to pick up where we left off on a 49” TV. Switching over was seamless, but we did run into problems when reverting back. All keys had inexplicably been unbound, which made controlling the game literally impossible until we reconnected a controller to navigate the menus and reset them to default.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only issue of its kind. We were baffled when the game stopped outputting sound, only to discover the audio sliders had randomly depleted; the UI and tutorials turned themselves off, leaving us scratching our heads in the absence of vital information; the subtitles switched from English to Japanese. You also have to invert the camera for uninverted controls, though this one’s intentional. While all incredibly easy set straight, it’s nonetheless bizarre that the options menu can be a law unto itself.
The only other downside is that cutscenes haven’t been lavished with the same care and attention as the gameplay, which makes for some jarring transitions – though it’s hard to get too worked up when their contents just ooze style. Bayonetta’s characters and biblical narrative are utterly bonkers and all the better for it, especially the badass leading woman herself, who’s still empoweringly sassy and sexy.
From gravity-defying platforming to rewardingly deep combat encounters and beyond, Bayonetta is not only as joyous as it always has been, but better than ever, thanks to a some stellar work on the conversion. With a sub-culture for lazy PC porting currently going strong, one that nails the fundamentals this well isn’t only refreshing, but deserves applause, and is an easy recommendation.
Bayonetta is available on PC right now exclusively on Steam, you can download it for just £14.99 here.
Last year I made the silly mistake of walking up all 78 stairs of fair Shadwell Overground’s underground train station, to the nitty-gritty London surface. Learn from every experience, chums, as Lord Cliché always says, and with that firmly in mind I took the lift and whistled me a tune, before escaping out towards Tobacco Dock. Where was I, comrades? Well, Rezzed 2017 of course…
I love a good shmup (see recent release Ghost Blade for proof) and was especially overjoyed to see next stop Aperion Cyberstorm running on the much maligned Wii U! Taking advantage of the Wii U’s local multiplayer capabilities, I jumped into a five player destroy-em-up that managed that winning combination of frantic gameplay and fantastic fun. The single player also proved to be mighty interesting, riffing on many classic space ship games of the past (it felt like the Mega Drive’s exploration shooter Sub-Terrania mixed with genre classic Bangai-O). Keep your eyes on PTC for an interview with developer Apriori Digital in the coming weeks.
My next stop was publisher Soedesco’s stand. Here I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Tyssoy from Rain Games - the makers of Teslagrad - to talk about the Norwegian gaming scene and to play their new game World to the West. WTTW is a top down action-adventure game full of character and cartoony visuals that builds on what the team achieved with Teslagrad. We look forward to playing this one when in releases in early May.
I also had the pleasure of playing 8-Bit Armies and AereA at the Soedesco stand. Fans of Command & Conquer and pixel art will surely adore 8-Bit Armies and it’s classic RTS gameplay, whilst Musical RPG lovers will certainly care for AereA, too. Both games were charming, and will release later in the year in both digital and physical forms.
Venturing forth from Soedesco’s realm I ducked into Wired Productions section of the show to sample their upcoming console game (already available on Steam) - The Town of Light. A first person psychological adventure, the game tells the story of Renée, a woman trying to understand why she has been institutionalised. The subject matter driving the story forward is not something we’ve seen a lot of in the gaming word, and despite a few dodgy frame drops I’d recommend having a look at the game when it releases later this spring.
This was my first time playing a Switch and I have to be honest, I left disappointed; the buttons - triggers especially - were just too damn small for my fat hands.
Next up for me was Nintendo’s own section, and, in spite of being a lifelong fan of the company, I approached with some trepidation. Seeing Overcooked (my game of Rezzed 2016) running and surrounded with laughing people was a lovely start, as was having a quick blast on FAST rmx, the follow up to the excellent FAST Racing NEO. I was after new Nintendo joy though, so waltzed over to have a crack at the other offerings on the table.
De Mambo is a self proclaimed Smash Bros-loving arcade bash-em-up, with local multiplayer mayhem its main focus. I enjoyed the hectic, headless-chicken nature of a four player match, but found myself really enthralled with the single player element of the game. The game presents short, sharp challenges such as pushing items off a stage before the timer runs down, or completing a mini platforming level as quickly as possible. I savoured it's Mario inspired bouquet - keep your onions peeled for this one in the summer.
The rest of Nintendo’s stand left me rather underwhelmed though; Steamworld Dig 2 will be loved by fans of the original but I found it to be rather frustrating. Yes, the graphics were nice, but the game just wasn’t that fun and that’s what I expect from games on Nintendo consoles.
Gonner played a tough game of procedurally generated platforming, boasting an intriguing art style of muted primary colours against black backdrops. I enjoyed it, but it really didn’t feel like new ground, something that resonated through most of Nintendo’s offerings.
This was also my first time playing a Switch and I have to be honest, I left disappointed; the buttons - triggers especially - were just too damn small for my fat hands. It felt quite flimsy too, which was both a surprise and a shame considering how well it has been reviewed on the whole (including by our very own James). I’ll be waiting for a pro controller bundle at a sensible price before I take the plunge.
With that Nintendo fueled melancholy in tow I plundered the stairs to the Unreal Engine showcase, to have a crack at Formula Fusion, a furiously fast racer with more than a slight feel of Wipeout to it. The game looked beautiful; the super smooth framerate highlighting the contours of each vehicle and every bend in the road. Developer R8 are promising a stack load of tracks and content - and online races - when the game launches later in the year.
Pumped full of Formula Fusion techno I hopped, skipped and jumped to the ID@Xbox Arena. I was lucky enough to try many of the games on offer here; from story driven adventure game Blackwood Crossing (review in the next couple o’ weeks, kids) to multiplayer shoot-em-up Full Metal Furies to musical shooter Aaero. There was a lot of decent content here, but one rose several leagues above the rest: Wargroove.
Wargroove is a turn-based strategy game that takes cues from both Advance Wars (it's GBA inspired art style) and Fire Emblem and makes it its own. I played a lot of games at this year’s show and found 10 minutes to be enough playtime for most, Wargroove though was so moreish I found half an hour just slipped away. I’m keeping my flippers crossed that developer Chucklefish get this one finished ASAP, as I’m jonesing for more!
From the green-tinged halls of Xbox I stumbled into the blueish-hues of Sega’s exhibit. Like many I was there for one reason and one reason only: Sonic Mania! Just as expected, the hectic Hedgehog’s latest side-scrolling adventure played as if 3D gaming had never occurred. I myself couldn’t differentiate Mania from Sonic’s 1 & 2 - this will be joyous or displeasing news depending on your opinion/thirst for nostalgia.
I finished my time at this year’s Rezzed with three of my favourite games of the show; sidescrolling action game Sundered, ethereal adventure game Lost Words and stealth/cleanse-'em-up Serial Cleaner.
Sundered comes from Thunder Lotus Games, the makers of the fabulous Jotun. Like Jotun, Sundered features an absolutely gorgeous hand drawn art style that brought to mind classic hand drawn films of the past. The action itself felt like a cross between the great Disney platformers of the 90s (hello Aladdin) and Prince of Persia, whilst also feeling fresh. I look forward to taking on the huge bosses and procedurally generated underground caves when the game is completed.
Lost Words (pictured above) is the evolution of one of my top picks from Rezzed 2016; The Last Word. The name has changed but the quality of storytelling and interesting gameplay mechanics have remained. The game really stands out, not just from everything else at the show, but from the standard independently made swell of platformers and shmups. This year creator Mark Backler showed us some new stages of the game, as you work your way through the diary of a young woman coming to terms with her Grandmother’s stroke. I was left both impressed and deeply moved by Lost Words; keep your eyes on PTC for more from the game, and Mark.
My game of Rezzed 2017 goes to none other than ifun4all’s glorious stealth-em-up Serial Cleaner. From my first sight of the game’s stand - full of smiles and laughter - to my last arrest mid-job, the game endlessly entertained me. The game presents a simple premise: clean up all the dead bodies and blood from the crime scene before the police bust you.
And it’s from this simple premise that the game builds each stage. Starting off small with a reduced map, fewer police and only one body to dispose of, the game teaches you how to be successful in a fun, hilarious and intuitive way. Before I knew it I was using cupboards and long grass to hide from PC Plod, jumping out at just the right moment to scoop up a corpse and canter back to my 1970s station wagon. The aural bombast of classic cop show music only heightened my joy. Pray for Curve Digital and ifun4all to get this one finished soon, it really is that good.
Rezzed 2017 had some wonderful moments for me; from Wargroove to Lost Words to Sundered to Serial Cleaner, several independent devs proved yet again that our industry is thriving from the bottom up. With that in mind chums, I’m off to bed. See thee next year.
Were you at this year's Rezzed? Let us know what you thought of the show over in the forums.
If you were around for the early nineties and happened to own a Nintendo console, then chances are Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King will feel instantly familiar. Join us as we take Castle Pixel’s retro-inspired PC title for spin.
Dungeons? Evil wizards? Kingdoms in peril? Seems awfully familiar.
It’s true, the medieval setting and evil-wizard-done-bad storyline is ground already well-trodden by Link and co. in the past, but Blossom Tales boasts more than enough character, humour and alternate takes on classic gameplay tropes to ensure it’s more than just a simple homage.
Blossom Tales is packed with charm, colour and wonderful locations that any Zelda fan, or, indeed, fans of adventure games in general, would love to explore
What exactly sets the gameplay apart?
Useful items like the bow, bombs and boomerang all draw power from a regenerating energy meter, instead of a limited stock of ammunition, so you’ll never be found wanting for the right tool when you need it most. The input of Grandpa and his attentive audience can also introduce gameplay-altering twists on the fly.
Wait. Who’s Grandpa?
While gameplay takes place from Lily’s perspective, the whole story is in fact being told by a grandfather to his two grandchildren, who will occasionally interrupt their narrator with a different take on how the story should proceed in order to make it more entertaining.
Sounds interesting, but I don’t have a gaming PC.
That’s fine, you won’t need a supercomputer. It played well on a basic laptop, but weaker models may struggle to hold a steady framerate during the more intense action sequences.
Is it coming to consoles?
There’s no news of a console version just yet, but considering its source of inspiration we couldn’t help but feel that Blossom Tales would be a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch; something the game’s publisher suggested could potentially become a reality when we reached out to them.
Would you recommend it?
Absolutely! Blossom Tales is packed with charm, colour and wonderful locations that any Zelda fan, or, indeed, fans of adventure games in general, would love to explore. When you also consider the modest price point and lengthy runtime (~15 hours), it’s definitely worth a go.
Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is available now on Steam for £10.99/€14.99/$14.99.
Everything is a game in which you can quite literally control any and everything. Where No Man’s Sky failed to deliver on its galaxy-hopping ambition, this indie project makes good on its titanic promise and is constantly impressive as a result.
Everything's explorative and seamless gameplay loop never ceased to blow my mind, but the sheer freedom won’t be to everyone’s taste.
It’s tonally odd then that this poignance is juxtaposed by bizarre animations and simplistic models that make traversal somewhat comedic. Ground-based creatures either glide along inanimate, wiggle as though a child were manipulating a toy across the floor, or, most amusingly, move in 90-degree increments (upright, flat on their face, standing on their head, lying on their back, then returning to the upright position). It makes for close comparison to the outlandishly bonkers Katamari series, which is interesting, because while Everything isn’t nearly as “video game-y”, they each convey a strong environmental message.
All things are sentient and capable of thought in developer David OReilly’s world: rocks worry that nobody will remember them once they’re gone, bugs wonder if their home will still be there when they return, and household objects lament not having spent more time with family members while they had the chance. When combined with the ability to see the world from new perspectives - for example, how powerless a blade of grass is as creatures tower over and threaten to trample it - the game’s purpose becomes quite striking. All the weird and wonderful things in our world are sharing in life together, so, whatever may happen, live and let live whilst enjoying what you have as best you can.
At this point, when the game has lodged its foot in your mind’s door, it proceeds to kick it all the way open, and the mindset you've been conditioned to adopt means you’ll very likely take it in your stride. I’ll avoid any specifics for fear of spoilers, but the game has no end and in time you’re given additional tools that allow you to wreak havoc on your perceived reality to some interesting effect.
As I reach my conclusion and declare that Everything is fascinating, technically astounding, even breathtakingly beautiful in spite of its simplistic presentation, but isn’t necessarily a great video game, you might wonder why this piece is listed as a feature and not a review. Sometimes a game defies being neatly defined by a numerical score - I thought State of Decay did in much the same way - bringing about an uncomfortable catch 22 as one conclusion does disservice to the artistic work, while another misleads the consumer I’m striving to advise. It’s in this situation I decline to do either, and part by recommending you give Everything a fair try should you find its concept intriguing.
Our Nintendo Switch review went live earlier this week following the hybrid console’s launch last Friday, but while I’m also up on the machine in general, there are a number of issues that I don’t deem acceptable.
I take little to no issue with the Switch as a handheld console, in fact, on that front, it’s only impressed me.
It hasn’t happened to me personally (perhaps only because I dock and undock like a surgeon playing Operation), but there are plentiful reports of deep scratches being inflicted on the screen in the process. The resulting consensus is that a screen protector is a must, except that’s far from a perfect fix. Several protectors from different manufacturers are said to have melted along the edges as a result of the heat they’re exposed to when playing a game while docked, which is worrying to say the least.
Whether you opt for a protector or not, you’re sure to incur a few more hidden costs. Throw in a case to keep it safe when you’re out and about; an SD card if you intend to download games from the eShop; a second AC adapter if you don’t want to unplug your dock whenever you need to charge in handheld mode; an additional stand if you want to charge in tabletop mode; a portable battery if you want to stay topped up on the go. Depending on your luck, the pricey Pro Controller may or may not join that list.
As was reported before release, the left Joy-Con can suffer noticeable input lag, become totally unresponsive, and lose sync entirely when unaffixed from the console. All of these problems occur fairly frequently for me, which has gradually beaten me into making the purchase.
I’d be lying if I said these control issues hadn’t put a downer on playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on my TV, but, sadly, it isn’t the only contributing factor. Nintendo’s flagship launch title suffers regular frame drops that mire gameplay at a clunky, stuttering 20FPS, making it feel markedly worse than the consistent 30FPS that handheld mode boasts. A difference in performance quite this pronounced is most definitely not worth the jump in resolution from 720p to 900p, which is cause for concern when the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are targeting a seemingly unrealistic 1080p/60FPS docked.
I’d be lying if I said these control issues hadn’t put a downer on playing Breath of the Wild on my TV, but, sadly, it isn’t the only contributing factor.
Zelda’s motion controls also have me approaching Arms with some degree of caution. Very infrequently (thankfully) you’re asked to guide a ball through a maze as the entire thing spins uncontrollably with every tilt of the wrist - it’s legitimately awful - while the reticule when aiming the bow can drift and make aiming a pain.
It speaks to the quality of Breath of the Wild that I think it’s outstanding regardless of these issues. It packs innovative gameplay into an enormous, enthralling open-world that’s rich with RPG and survival elements; though it’s a large departure for the series, it’s a welcome evolution in my book. It’s just a shame there isn’t much else to play (or do in general with no video apps or browser) at the moment. Keep an eye on the site for our full BOTW review soon.
I can ignore the UI foibles and missing features this early in the Switch’s life - Nintendo earned some slack by righting so many of the Wii U’s wrongs - but the hardware and software issues with the dock really are inexcusable even at this stage. It definitely feels like the console was rushed out, though I can’t be certain why: common sense seems to dictate it’s to avoid direct competition with either the PlayStation 4 Pro or the Xbox Scorpio, but the Switch isn’t really geared towards competing with either of those high-end machines.
If Nintendo can improve on the docked (and docking) experience they’ll have a hybrid console I’d happily recommend.
Ultimately, it’s an impressive handheld console - easily the best on the market - but the implementation as a home console is very lacking in my experience so far. If Nintendo can improve on the docked (and docking) experience they’ll have a hybrid console I’d happily recommend, but, until then, you should probably only consider the Switch if you’re in the market for a new dedicated handheld. While it’s annoying that the Switch doesn’t quite scratch the itch I bought it to satisfy, a superlative entry into the Legend of Zelda series and a better-than-expected handheld mode have been enough to stave off buyer’s remorse.