You only need to read the premise of Finish Line Games’ first-person adventure game, Maize, to be compelled to discover more. It’s a story about a misinterpreted memo leading to the creation of sentient corn, also carrying the promise that things only get more ridiculous from there. That isn’t inaccurate.
Maize is intelligently written and has a charming, endearing, memorable cast with delivery to meet the script’s standard.
We thoroughly explored areas to best absorb their infantile squabbles, but, if you’re not that way inclined, it’s possible to see the game through with a more relaxed approach, thanks to Maize’s gated progression and highlighting of key items. Classic adventure game fans might find the simplistic approach disappointing, but in a time where Telltale Games dominate the genre it’s a natural evolution.
Puzzles involve, in typical fashion, combining and using the random collection of gathered items from your inventory in their relevant places. Reading an item’s description offers an optional (and pretty obvious) hint as to its use, which pretty much rules out getting stuck and the associated frustration.
It took a little over four hours for us to reach Maize’s amazingly dumb (in a good way) ending, which left us grinning throughout the brilliant credits sequence. That parting smile is the same one we’ll look back on the game with, in spite of its unwelcome technical issues.
This game is silly. Don’t get us wrong, we don’t mean that in a bad way, but you have to admit no one was calling for Nintendo’s iconic Mario franchise to collide with Ubisoft’s collective of crazed, rabbit-like creatures. What we’ve ended up with as a result of this unholy alliance however, is truly something special.
For many the setup isn’t that important, but the time and care put into it by Ubisoft really puts across what it meant to them to be able to work awithin the Mario universe.
Battles are where the action is of course, and while Beep-O is fine at the odd puzzle, it’s Mario and co. who you’ll be relying on to tackle the rabbids that went extra wacky during the transition. There are a few ever-so-slightly more sane rabbids on your own team, including Rabbid Peach, who constantly snaps selfies and admires herself to really inject her with personality.
Each character has access to different weapons and skills, but variety feels somewhat lacking, with the same skills having different names depending on the hero in an attempt to disguise what’s essentially a copy and paste exercise. What makes things more frustrating is that you might not unlock the character you really want until near enough the end of the game, though at least you can reset your skills at any time to tailor your team to the challenge at hand.
Speaking of which, challenge maps become available once you’ve completed each mode, these taking an existing level and throwing in different conditions like a one turn limit or added enemy variety. Some of these can be taken on in co-op as well, in a perhaps slightly underdeveloped mode which nonetheless manages to be a great time for players in the same room (there’s no online option).
Combat begs comparisons with fellow tactical, turn-based strategy game XCOM, and disappointingly misses the opportunity to poke fun (as far as we noticed), but, on the whole, it really feels quite different thanks to its more basic approach. For example, Mario and chums can dash through enemies during movement to deal serious damage and then attack with weapons, compounding the damage dealt in a way which also fits in with Mario's head-stomping pedigree. Things can even be further simplified by toggling ‘Easy Mode’ at the beginning of any skirmish, helping to make Kingdom Battle more accessible to all.
Combat begs comparisons with fellow tactical, turn-based strategy game XCOM, and disappointingly misses the opportunity to poke fun (as far as we noticed).
Enemies gain skills and health as you do, making the learning curve quite gradual, but there’s a fair amount more re-skinning going on as you progress. Despite that, when the different classes start to interact you suddenly find yourself being tested in ways you didn’t expect, making it all the more rewarding when you finally take all the units down for a victory.
In the end, there’s not much to complain about with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. It could use more variety in a number of areas - namely abilities, weaponry and the cast of characters on both sides of the titular battle (there’s no shortage to draw from on that front, looking at the recent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) - but, generally, this is an essential purchase for Nintendo Switch owners. An original game that’s of great quality both at home on the big screen and on the go. In fact, it’s so engrossing that at one point we may have missed our stop on the train… and couldn’t be happier about it.
Welcome to Death Squared, a game so dastardly that it keeps a running total of how many times you’ve failed, reminding you of it every time you die. And you will die. A lot. Make no mistake, behind the cutesy aesthetic and quirky sense of humour is a neat little puzzler that takes great pleasure in your misery.
While there’s no real plot, the banter between David and Iris is consistently amusing, even when they’re insulting your ineptitude.
The game has a heavy focus on cooperative play, regularly introducing new rules and mechanics to test your communication, teamwork and, most likely, friendships. Death Squared wants to be a party game for everyone, but while it provides plenty of laughs, it’s also a little too complicated for anyone to just pick up and play.
Another frustration is that you need four controllers for four-player fun. That sounds pretty obvious, but with the only essential control being movement, it feels like there may have been an opportunity to allow two players to share a Joy-Con (one person utilising the analogue stick and the other the four face buttons) in a similar way to Micro Machines Turbo Tournament on the Mega Drive.
Despite the focus on co-op, playing Death Squared solo is often more rewarding and less frustrating than the chaos of tackling mazes with your mates. Each analogue stick controls a separate character, which means that it can often feel like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. While this can be a gratifying challenge, it also makes it easy to forget which cube you’re about to move, which can lead you to accidentally plummet to your doom. While the controls are simple, they can sometimes feel a bit loose. Not being able to rotate the level also means that depth perception is occasionally an issue.
Between the co-op campaign, four-player party mode and unlockable content, there’s more than 120 puzzles to infuriate and/or delight. It’s just a shame that there isn’t more variety to keep things fresh from start to finish. Once you’ve mastered all the puzzles, there’s little reason to return. Online leaderboards for level times or total deaths could have helped here.
Death Squared will have you tearing your hair out whether you’re playing alone or with friends, but it has the gravitational pull to bring you back for more and more punishment. Each maze generally only takes a few minutes to complete, so it’s the perfect head scratcher and time waster to play on the bus or train - a feature that is obviously unique to the Switch, in our minds making this the definitive version of a solid puzzle game with plenty of character.
Following cancellation concerns and delays, RiME’s blend of puzzling and adventure finally makes its way to our screens; but does it earn a place alongside contemporaries like Journey, Ico and Zelda?
With all that style, is there any room left for substance? Well, the story itself is fairly basic; you're washed ashore, trying to find out why you’ve ended up there. At the end of each stage you run towards a giant keyhole shaped light: walk into it and you’re transported to a new island to uncover new parts of the story.
The cutscenes that play out in these stage breaks give some colour to the story, building a mystery around the recurring, distant figure who also happens to be wearing a red cape. In all honesty, you’ll see the ending coming from a mile off, but Tequila Works should be applauded for tackling the subjects of loss, death and recovery without using any form of dialogue.
Tequila Works should be applauded for tackling the subjects of loss, death and recovery without using any form of dialogue.
RiME is a puzzle-adventure, and the gameplay truly reflects that. The journey revolves heavily around vertical traversal, solving varying puzzles along the way. These puzzles range from platforming tasks to activate switches (you sing to them) or to reach new areas, pushing and pulling items, collecting orbs to open doors/awaken the sentinels and more.
It’s here that the Zelda influence really becomes more of a parody though; you’ll feel like you’ve played through these before, which, in combination with their relative ease (just follow the obvious clues and hints or the helpful fox) leaves little in the way of challenge. One of the stages is actually one huge puzzle quest, which drained the life from us as it slowly moved to a close, getting in the way of the story and wide-eyed-wonder (add the watching-paint-dry slow loading screens to this pile!).
Although the puzzle element of the game is lacking in originality, we still found ourselves enjoying RiME'sgameplay on the whole. This is largely in debt to the elegant visuals, but also down to a bold choice to create a combat-less game world, in which you'll simply jump, roll and sing. This really does help to convey the story of a child lost, trying to make sense of life and friendship and loss.
This sweet tale is underpinned by an absolutely triumphant score. There’s soaring strings, twinkling pianos and ambient noise that all sway and rise like the mighty in-game ocean. The way the music swells when you near the end of a stage is a trick that is definitely cheesy, but my God is it effective. Running up or down huge stone spiral stairs whilst violins and cellos surge is wholly engrossing, even if it does give more than a wink to Ico.
So, in summary, RiME is a difficult game to really put a number on. For every fantastic moment, there’s a technical issue like the infuriating camera shifts during platforming or a huge frame drop. The game begs to be played multiple times - to find all the collectables and positively explore every nook and cranny - but will most bother? At five to ten hours in its initial playthrough, it’s a great choice for the gamer with limited time, but is the £25-30 price point too rich a prospect? You’ll have to figure these questions out for yourselves, chums, but if you want my two penneth: get it when the price comes down.
A remaster of a DS title released back in 2008, Lock’s Quest is the latest game to rise from the ashes that were once THQ to be offered up on Xbox One, PS4 and PC for a new generation of gamers.
Lock is a complete novice, meaning he needs to gradually learn the trade of archineering (that’s Archimedes engineering, possibly…), unlocking new abilities and defences to hold off the strangely time-conscious enemy. There’s only a couple of minutes at the most to throw down defences before the next assault (which usually lasts about three minutes itself), meaning the mad dash to get to grips with how to use new items can cost you precious preparation time.
Once you reach the battle phase, Lock can hold his own in a fight, flailing wildly by tapping A, or employing a little finesse by hitting three to four buttons in sequence for a more deadly combo attack. In practice, we found mashing to be effective enough if you’re taking on one or two baddies at a time, but it’s easy to get surrounded thanks to the more-often-awkward-than-not terrain, so death is never too far away.
Most of the time, NPCs are responsible for defence up until you arrive, at which point they seemingly pop to the pub.
Mastering the combos, as well as a bit of stick waggling and spinning to execute other attacks and repairs quickly, was, for me personally, the weakest point of the experience. You find yourself (or I do, at least) starting with A automatically when most combos dart between the four main face buttons, which leads frustration to follow failure as you kick yourself knowing you could have done something about it.
The thoughtful building was more my thing, gradually learning the enemy AI’s movements and developing cunning ways to distract them and take them down - or even just delay them for a few more precious seconds.
The main weapons in your arsenal are turrets, but you also get access to traps which can cause trouble in their own right. Putting walls either side of turrets buffs their defence, meaning they can take a few more hits, and later you can assign helpers to gradually repair them over time or increase their range.
Despite there being an army, or at least guards, on hand to help with defence (most of the time, they’re responsible for defence up until you arrive, at which point they seemingly pop to the pub), you’re largely left to fend for yourself - even though this could have make for an interesting collaborative co-op experience.
The story running throughout is entertaining enough, if fairly obvious, and the musical score is well-suited to the game’s aesthetic. That said, a few weeks into the 100 in-game days on offer, you’ll begin to beg for a little more variety as the repetition sets in.
The same is largely true of the game experience as a whole. New enemies, new traps and new defences are gradually introduced, but, fundamentally, you learn everything the game has to offer in the first few battles, with few game changers to upset the board and force you to think differently once you’ve got into a pattern you’re comfortable with.
For the price (£15.99 on Xbox One), there’s some solid gameplay to be had, though if you weren’t already aware you could probably guess it was a port from a different system. Putting a series of different sized walls down would be considerably easier with the added precision of a stylus - a control method the game was originally designed around - but the input on a gamepad is simple enough to get used to in time.
Lock’s Quest might not be a game that’s on your radar, or something you were even looking for, but if you want to flex the strategic muscle on console in particular, then this might be a tempting purchase.
The humble fox, where would we be without it? For starters, the Lylat system would have fallen to Andross and his evil armies decades ago, the animals of Farthing Wood would never have made it to White Deer Park, and, er, that Disney version of medieval Nottingham where all the inhabitants are woodland animals would still be toiling under Prince John’s ludicrous tax laws. Looking to further add to these (sort of) legendary tales of fox glory are Swing Swing Submarine, with their Metroidvania-like, 2D puzzle/platformer, Seasons After Fall.
Asides from notably changing the land’s aesthetics, by drastically altering the weather and lighting, each season also has its own unique effect on the platforming side of things. Autumn causes mushrooms to expand their caps, creating makeshift platforms, winter freezes lakes, making them easier to cross, summer sees trampoline-like plant pods bloom into life, while spring rains raise water levels. Often, you’ll need to combine these abilities in order to progress deeper into an area, such as raising a water level with spring rains, and then freezing it with winter’s cold, but doing so, for the most part, feels rudimentary, and you’re never really presented with any kind of obstacle that requires too much thought.
As well as the four seasons, there’s a small selection of local wildlife scattered throughout the game that players will be able to utilise from time to time, including some insect-like critters that have a smack of the metroid about them. Depending on the type, these can be used to grow mushroom platforms, sprout new trees, or break down progress-halting barriers. There’s also a Super Mario-style Piranha Plant that, depending on the season you currently have selected, will create makeshift platforms by spitting out snow, or douse well-placed tree seedlings with water to make them grow.
Watching the brush-tailed avatar trot, sprint and leap through the beautifully hand-painted landscape was one of the highlights of the game.
As a key feature, the game naturally relies heavily upon its season switching mechanic, but the small animation that comes with every change, in which the fox is lifted into the air and the surrounding landscape is transformed, isn't as rapid as it could be, which can get a little tedious when even crossing a small area can sometimes require three or four changes. Also, if you happen to be standing on a moving platform when switching seasons, which is at times necessary, then the brief moment you spend hanging in the air is usually just long enough for the platform to move out from under your feet, causing you to fall.
Little issues like this, coupled with floaty controls and some occasional input lag, cement the feeling that Seasons After Fall was never intended to appeal to hardcore platforming fans, with the game relying instead on its charm, unique presentation and novelty value to keep the player invested, much like Unravel did when it released just over a year ago.
Unlike Coldwood and EA’s title however, whose thread-based puzzles and nostalgia-inducing narrative made it easy to forgive the game its basic platforming mechanics, Seasons’ issues - despite its beautiful visuals, soundtrack and sympathetic protagonist - are harder to look past.
● Lovely, hand-painted art
● Charming soundtrack
● An endearingly cute protagonist
● Manipulating the seasons is cool…
● …but feels like it could have been implemented better, especially in puzzles
● Floaty controls
● No objective indicator makes it easy to get lost
When I sampled World to the West at EGX Rezzed this year, I found it to be a pretty, Zelda-inspired adventure that was pleasant enough, but not much more. As the wisest folks always say: “Don’t judge a book by its reader” and how right they truly are, chums, for World to the West is, in actuality, a charming adventure full of wonderful characters and rewarding exploration.
As you progress, you’ll find yourself taking in rugged deserts, cool blue waters, icy mountains, evergreen forests, a lavish village that houses the hilarious “Affluent Society” (the game pokes fun at the pompousness of the higher classes splendidly) and many more small settlements and habitats. You’ll also find yourself spending a great deal of time puzzle solving and adventuring in the vast underground network of passages and rivers. These pretty much double the size of the already generous map, so you’ll be glad to hear that totem poles scattered across the world act as fast travel points.
Going back to an earlier area with a new power will make you feel immortal, though, as you rip through a previously unreachable destination...
“What kind of puzzle solving and combat can I expect to encounter throughout my adventure?” I hear thee ask. Well, the puzzle solving takes on various forms; some require you to switch between all four characters to unlock an area, taking it in turns to figure out which character is built for each part, whilst others offer more basic puzzles such as getting a key, breaking down a barrier, etc. that require the ability of just one of your band of merry chums. On the whole, the puzzles are great fun to solve, although some will frustrate with their long-winded nature - spending hours searching for stone tablets might irk some folks, but we actually rather enjoyed it!
Going back to an earlier area with a new power will make you feel immortal, though, as you rip through a previously unreachable destination. Add to that the “eureka” moments that accompany many of the puzzles (often leading into an equally rewarding boss fight/new area to explore), and there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
Combat, however, can unfortunately be a little hit-and-miss. This is largely due to Lord Clonington providing so much joy with his bashing and smashing, that the others don’t quite carry the same fun factor. Knaus’ dynamite hitting in the second half of the game can be good fun, as can Lumina’s bolts of electric, but they both suffer dodgy aiming issues. We died many, many times trying to defeat both character’s bosses, and felt that the balance was tipped towards the AI because of these accuracy foibles.
The soundtrack is worth its own commendation, with the sublime underground exploration theme being a particular treat. An army of instruments sway from sleepy harps to acoustic guitars, whistles, flutes, drums and horns. The Lynchian 50s electric guitar that features on one number is a particular favourite here at PTC. Regardless of where you are in the game world, WTTW’s music and sound effects not only work, but excel at injecting emotion into the experience.
In summary, World to the West is an absorbing, delightful adventure that will appeal to many, not just genre enthusiasts. It’s perfect for those looking for a rich world to immerse themselves in, but not the associated time sink of 50 plus hours. A colourful, handsome visual veneer contains a fun, silly story, hilarious characters (play through Clonington’s Affluent Society trials for drink-out-the-nostrils laughter), lovely music, grand puzzles and a world of exploration that begs to be revisited. This game is a steal at £19.99 - in spite of a few minor bugs and issues (fingers crossed for a patch) - so don’t be foolish enough to let it pass you by!
If World to the West sounds like your thing, enter our giveaway to be in with a chance of winning a copy on Steam.
Funded to the tune of more than $1.5 million by almost 22,000 backers on Kickstarter, Dreamfall Chapters originally released episodically on PC over the course of two years. The console version now bundles these parts into one complete package, reworking them with improved and expanded graphics and sound.
Switching character perspective helps keep things varied in the early stages (imagine swapping between Deus Ex and Dragon Age now and then and you’re close), but the game really begins to build steam in the latter half. With the different universes and characters converging, the resulting crossovers are actually quite exciting when you’ve grown attached to a number of cast members. Strong scripting and voiceover contribute to making these connections, but, if you’re unforgiving of dodgy lip sync and facial animations, you might find it hard to do much other than be distracted.
There are some oddities to the game as a whole, which finds it reminiscent of the likes of Fable and Eternal Darkness, in place of anything more modern - that said, a lot of people (ourselves included) still love those games. Chapters isn’t at all focused on mechanics, but weak gameplay can too often feel like a barrier between you and the story.
There’s a lot of backtracking through the same areas, made worse by some vague objectives that lack explicit direction, setting a meandering pace. Puzzles can be time-wasters, too. They’re never illogical, which is a big plus point, but there were numerous occasions where what seemed like an obvious answer just wasn’t an option. Tasked with incapacitating someone in a busy tavern? You can’t accept an invite to join them and ply them with drink. Need to catch a rat? You can’t employ the services of that nearby cat. While these are very likely intentional red herrings, it’s hardly satisfying to discover they don’t work when they arguably should. Chapters is a long game that could easily have been made more concise by trimming unnecessary fat.
Dreamfall Chapters has as many twists and turns as it does ups and downs, helping you stay engaged and justify powering through the sporadic doldrums. Its world, characters and narrative are strong enough to make the game’s weak mechanics worth tackling, even if only as a means to an end. With this in mind, and also accounting for the budget price point (£24.99), Chapters is a game adventure fans should still consider checking out.
GNOG is an incredibly simple game, but, at the same time, it’s quite difficult to quantify. It’s perhaps best described as a colourful, outlandish puzzler in which you interact with a range of living dioramas to solve the problems they pose. Unwavering in its focus on this central concept, the game continuously develops it in engaging ways.
GNOG oozes style from every pore, and to have that presented in an all-encompassing environment made the experience genuinely transformative.
Playing in VR isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. The distracting image drifting issue that plagued many of PS VR’s early titles rears its head once again, requiring you to gradually turn in order to follow the action as it goes walkabout at a crawl. This can become uncomfortable over time, in addition to affecting the PlayStation Camera’s ability to track the headset, but, to make matters worse, holding the options button on your controller to recentre doesn’t remedy the issue in this case. Our usual fix in this unfortunate situation - turning the headset off and back on via the inline remote - also didn’t help, leaving the only solution to close and reopen the game, which is far from ideal.
You’ll never lose much progress when doing so, mind, as the game’s nine levels are all relatively short and sweet. There’s no weak link amongst their bizarre and varied ranks, and discovering them for ourselves was all too enjoyable, so we won’t spoil any of them for you. A couple stumped us for a time, but we never became frustrated in the knowledge that answers are always in plain sight; you only ever need to relax and change your perspective for them to present themselves.
UPDATE: An additional patch has been released to fix the trophy issues discussed in the next paragraph. GG on the speedy delivery, KO_OP!
The launch day patch has caused some frustration, however, as it seems to have broken the game’s trophies. Having made sure trophies were unlocking in other games to rule out potential PSN funny business, plus testing GNOG on different accounts to no avail, they’re seemingly unattainable for now.
GNOG is a window into a weird and wonderful world that’s a constant joy to be a part of. With one simple, central mechanic, the three-or-so-hour runtime prevents the game outstaying its welcome and provides more than enough enjoyment to justify its reasonable cost. If you’re going to play GNOG with PS VR, much like Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin before it, Double Fine (this time in partnership with KO_OP) have a must-buy on their hands.
Puyo Puyo Tetris released to a Japanese audience back in 2014, at the time forgoing a western launch due to licensing issues. With those now resolved, the puzzle game mashup arrives on our shores this week, having lost none of its charm in translation.
With licensing issues now resolved, the puzzle game mashup arrives on our shores this week, having lost none of its charm in translation.
There’s an absolute wealth of modes to choose from, each boasting their own further customisation options, all of which are playable solo, but Puyo Puyo Tetris has quite a heavy multiplayer weighting. For the most part, this isn’t your standard high score-chasing fare: though the classic modes are tucked away in the menus, the focus is very much placed squarely upon versus variants, in which you battle up to three opponents. Completing lines in Tetris and grouping Puyos in Puyo Puyo litters an opponent's board with garbage pieces, making it harder for them to stay afloat and bringing you closer to victory. This goes both ways, naturally, but as these pieces are annoying to deal with by design, some will inevitably lament the change in direction.
For those that take to it, however, there’s a lot on the multiplayer front to keep you busy. We can easily imagine the game securing a dedicated player base between its ranked and casual match offerings, largely because it doesn’t place restrictions on Tetris or Puyo Puyo purists competing against one another. That inevitably raises questions with regards to balance, as players are engaging in two fundamentally different games, but, in our experience, SEGA managed to pull it off.
If online leagues seem a little intimidating, you can also play locally, whilst finding a mode to suit any player’s skill set. Party adds power-ups that hinder opponents in a variety of ways, but to counteract any frustration that might cause everyone has infinite lives. Big Bang offers up frantic fun as you slot missing pieces into a range of preset boards as quickly and accurately as possible. Meanwhile, Swap sees each player juggle simultaneous games of Puyo Puyo and Tetris, switching between boards at frequent set intervals.
There’s an absolute wealth of modes to choose from, each boasting their own further customisation options.
While these modes are undoubtedly a good time, they don’t quite match the staying power of the game’s Challenge mode, which offers a more traditional take on its resident duo by (for the most part) tasking you with securing high scores in time-sensitive tasks.
Then there’s our personal favourite - Fusion. Fusion places Puyos and Tetriminos on the same board, each sticking to their established rule set, while also interacting with one another to afford the player new and exciting opportunities. Namely, this involves heavy Tetris blocks smashing through stacks of jelly-like Puyo, which then re-emerge from the top of the board and land atop the piece that ousted them, allowing you to setup and execute some impressive combos with a bit of lateral thinking. Throw in new piece configurations, and you have one harmonious take on two old school properties.
Puyo Puyo Tetris could easily have been a Frankenstein’s monster of a game, though it’s anything but. It’s a fresh-faced and modern reimagining of a couple of all time greats, offering a huge amount of choice and longevity to players at a budget price, making it the best puzzler we’ve played in a good long while.