Upon discovering a planet with a biome conducive to habitation, Axiom Space Agency deploy a probe to scan the new world. They find intelligent life and decide it's prudent to observe this species before making first contact.
The messages are prominent enough to easily draw the eye, ensuring you won't miss a single one, whilst fitting in nicely with the game’s futuristic aesthetic. Visually it evokes a certain familiarity, contrasting dark blues and greys with stark, gleaming whites. Further accentuating this with bright neon hues makes the Espial feel like any of the other spacecraft we've served on throughout our gaming career, though a pervasively uneasy atmosphere does serve to set it apart.
The Station’s narrative is masterfully weaved, giving hints throughout to those with a keen eye.
Which brings us to the real draw: the plot. The Station’s narrative is masterfully weaved, giving hints throughout to those with a keen eye, but ultimately keeping you in the dark until it reaches its climax. Everything comes together right at the very end, which left us mentally replaying key moments and realising their significance as the credits rolled.
The accompanying musical score is barely noticeable at first, allowing you to fully concentrate on the audio messages and sounds coming from elsewhere on the ship, before building to a shattering crescendo as you approach the finish line, adding more than a note of tension.
You can expect the whole experience to last an hour or two, depending on how diligently you explore. Repeated playthroughs will cut that time drastically, though there's relatively little to draw you in for a second round.
Some slight control niggles, a somewhat awkward map and limited gameplay interactions don’t necessarily make The Station a great videogame. Its story, however, makes it a fantastic experience that couldn't be conveyed with as much impact in any other medium.
There's undoubtedly something special about a series which can recycle the same exact main plot thread over and over again while remaining charming, fresh and popular. Perhaps it's some sort of hypnotic magic cooked up by Nintendo, but every time you start a Mario title and Peach is whisked away you merely roll your eyes and think “Oh Peach, here we go again…”
However difficult the Power Moon you’re currently targeting might prove to be, the game barely penalises you for making mistakes, each death only costing you a measly ten coins and popping you back to a recent checkpoint. Mario has three pie segments of life that can be topped up with hearts, or doubled ahead of most boss fights, with these encounters being a fun and rewarding part of the game.
A relaxed approach to failure is an important design choice, making it feel like you’re always progressing and having fun. It also makes this iteration one of the most accessible Mario titles to date, possibly excluding his recent team up with the Rabbids.
The Odyssey itself - the hat-shaped ship you may have spotted in the trailers - is a charming, yet functional, device which marks your progress through the game satisfyingly.
Super Mario Odyssey is everything you could want from a Mario title, and will no doubt go down in history as one of the best in a superlative series.
Previously, in Sunshine for example, you might have needed to load up one of six or seven iterations of a level to gain access to all of its treasures, but here levels gradually unfurl as you collect their Multi-Moons (which are what they sound like) and/or significant Moons with cutscenes pointing you towards them. This makes progression feel natural, and rarely did we come up against a Moon we couldn't get to yet, which is a relief for completionists.
Levels themselves are intricately designed, offering variety emphasised by whatever local lifeforms are pottering about for you to possess. Not only do levels play brilliantly, but they also look stunning and run without a hitch in either of the Switch’s configurations.
Neat touches and charming moments are everywhere here, whether it's the sight of a huge, cartoonish slab of meat twitching as you try to get a hungry bird’s attention, or the 2D sections which have Mario return to his pixelated roots after heading through a warp pipe.
The trip to New Donk City, the New York-themed location most flaunted in Nintendo’s marketing of the game, is charming and doesn't outstay it's welcome despite us having already seen so much of it. A particular highlight is the snowy world, which is inhabited by cuddly polar bears shaped like Pokémon's Spheal - they even have their own Mario Kart-esque mini game.
Odyssey’s soundtrack is suitably upbeat, with a jazzy feel that fits the aesthetic perfectly, though an original song towards the end does stick out a little, while still raising a smile.
In terms of negatives, there are but an insignificant few. Stacking goombas is a treat when it works properly, but it's inconsistent as to when you've successfully jumped on one of your pals or not quite done enough and end up taking damage. The biggest irritation is that Mario's stylish costumes, featuring everything from a snowsuit to a samurai outfit, generally require a level-specific second currency to purchase.
While it might not sound like a big deal, this means that by the time you've naturally come across enough you’re generally ready to move on to the next level. As a result, there’s little to no time to enjoy playing an explorer in the jungle level, for example, instead you end up with an odd mixture of chef's hat and snow gear as you reach a cutscene that’s robbed of any drama as a result.
Of course, it's all in aid of fun and entertainment. This game is silly (it's about hat ghosts, after all) and absolutely more wonderful for it. Rarely is it convenient to play a game relentlessly with the many inconveniences of life getting in the way, but the Switch’s unique form factor combined with Odyssey’s moreishness make playing when and wherever effortless.
Super Mario Odyssey is everything you could want from a Mario title, and will no doubt go down in history as one of the best in a superlative series. If you own a Switch then this is an essential purchase; one packed with hours of enjoyment, even after Bowser (spoiler alert if you’ve been living under a rock your whole life...) is eventually defeated.
Grip Digital and Teotl Studios’ first-person, single-player survival game released on PC and Xbox One to a middling critical reception last year. The addition of virtual reality support helps to elevate the PlayStation 4 release in many ways, though some issues still hamper the otherwise engaging and atmospheric adventure.
A thick air of mystery ebbs and flows as you explore environments and begin to peel it back, often only to uncover more secrets.
With that said, the absence of a formal tutorial means it’ll take a little while to get used to the button-heavy control scheme; once you wrap your head around it however, you’ll be walking, turning and teleporting comfortably without need for an analogue stick. Other VR issues include lengthy, awkward 2D loading screens that somewhat break immersion, and the galling oversight that you can clip your hand through many locked gates and use the teleporter (an item separate to the standard teleportation for travel) to bypass the game’s simple puzzles.
You can’t get up to similar tricks playing on a TV, which might be a good or a bad thing depending on how you’re inclined, but there are also definite boons to playing in our humble, real-world reality. There’s a closer connection to the protagonist as you hear more of their musings and see scenes cut for comfort from the VR experience, plus there’s a sharper presentation in terms of both resolution and a clearer UI, which can serve practical purpose in helping to find obscure collectibles that boost resistances and fill in the wider narrative.
Anything other than a temperature resistance buff is frankly a waste, as that’s the only one of the game’s survival elements that ever really comes into play. Food and water are plentiful, and getting enough sleep is easy done, but staying warm when outdoors at night is near impossible. While the straightforward crafting system can be used to start temporary fires that offer slight respite, the only real solution is to ride out the night somewhere safe. With no means to tell the exact time, you’re only ever acting on a best guess while judging an alien day/night and dynamic weather cycle, so, should you misjudge or spend too long exploring, you might be doomed to get hopelessly caught out from the moment you set off. Due to the game’s manual save points and infrequent auto-saves, it’s possible to lose a lot of progress to this - even totally bugger your save file - leaving you feeling decidedly cheated in the process.
Thankfully, the survival elements are fine tunable, so you can tone them down, turn them off completely, or, if you’re some sort of sadist, make them stricter. This goes a long way to remedying the issue, but being tempted to turn a survival game’s survival aspect off so that you can fully enjoy it is far from ideal.
While The Solus Project isn’t a great survival game, its focus on setting, atmosphere and storytelling make it more immediately engaging than its crafting-obsessed peers. Overall, the game succeeds in spite of failing within its genre - especially when played in VR, with the mode providing a fully-featured and lengthy campaign for headset owners to absorb in affecting fashion.
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.
Severed’s arrival on the Switch is a bit of a strange one. For starters, this being a game that requires a touch-screen to play means it’s one of the few titles in the Switch’s library that has to be played in handheld mode. It will display on a TV if you dock the console, but Sasha, that game’s one-armed heroine, remains completely immobile, no matter how much you manipulate the Joy-Cons.
Slicing off limbs isn’t just for sadistic kicks though, as collecting fallen body parts is key to levelling up Sasha’s abilities. With enough currency collected - be it arms, eyeballs, wings or jaw bones - you get to pick an upgrade from a simple skill tree. It may not be as dense or branching as other, more complicated RPGs out there, but the upgrades on offer in Severed’s skill tree are clear in what they do and what’s needed to unlock them, with everything feeling useful.
If you’re looking for something you can pick up and play on a commute to work or school, then Severed feels perfectly suited for such a job.
Triumphing over the bosses that wait at the end of areas also grants new abilities, such as being able to temporarily blind enemies during a fight or snatch away their buffs like speed or attack boosts. All these extra powers are displayed on your character as living armour, which is a nice way of showing the progress you’ve made. Some of them grant special access to previously inaccessible areas, but having the willpower to go back and unlock them depends on how tolerant you are of the game’s walking animation, which sees you sort of ‘transported’ between a map’s segments that are linked together to create larger, sprawling areas. This can get slightly disorientating if you move too quickly, and using the mini map in the top right of the screen actually felt like an easier, and more efficient way to get around.
During the early stages of the game, you’ll only be tackling one or two monsters at a time, but things quickly escalate and it’s not long before you’re facing three, sometimes four at once. Taking on this many is surprisingly difficult, especially if they’re packing the aforementioned buffs, as even the weaker ones with familiar attack patterns become a real challenge when backed up by their mates. Identifying the most serious threats and taking them out first is key to your success, otherwise it’s easy to end up overwhelmed and frustrated as you frantically try to fend off a barrage of attacks.
An indicator on the bottom of the screen tells you when an enemy is going to attack via a yellow bar, which, once full, means there’s one incoming. Some monsters take time to build their attacks, and can be kept out of a fight altogether if you keep jabbing away to interrupt them, while others deliver ones that can’t be stopped and must instead be blocked.
Battles are triggered by walking into white flames that are dotted periodically throughout the game’s maps, mostly in the dungeon areas. Once activated, you’re locked in until you either emerge victorious or are defeated, in which case you just respawn at the last autosave (usually only a few moments before) with full health, meaning there’s no real punishment for failure other than delaying progress. Dungeons also feature some light puzzles, but they mostly feel like an obligatory inclusion (because dungeons) and all involve simple, familiar mechanics.
Still, if you’re looking for something you can pick up and play on a commute to work or school, then Severed’s simple gameplay, coupled with some light RPG elements and a relatively low-price, means the game feels perfectly suited for such a job. Just be sure to pick up a screen protector.
There’s no doubt that Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a thoroughly lovely game, but does the lack of threat, resulting from its mild demeanour, prevent the adventure from being a truly compelling one?
You’ll welcome the opportunity to lose yourself and potter about for hours on end, which is a good thing, as these trips generally yield valuable resources, mined, chopped and gathered with your conventional array of tools. Not only that, but there are points of interest absolutely everywhere, meaning you’ll forever be finding intriguing secrets, references and Easter eggs that, along with the whimsical score, compel you to forage on.
You’ll welcome the opportunity to lose yourself and potter about for hours on end.
Once you’ve uncovered the whole map, which it's worth noting will be deep into the game, the cycle unfortunately sours somewhat. Backtracking through locations becomes laborious, which isn’t helped by the flawed implementation of fast travel. You have to discover and complete a quest to unlock each of the eight designated fast travel points, walk to the closest one before you can make use of the system (making it not-quite-so-fast travel), then, in the absence of clear labelling, guess as to which exit might lead to your desired location.
If you don’t mind some extra legwork you can also choose to adopt a number of vocations, joining guilds to expand your library of crafting recipes and building farmland to harvest produce used in those recipes. Building structures on a farm allows you to house wild animals after coaxing them onto your plot, as well as to plant trees and crops, which you can then hire a farmhand to tend. There’s no great need to engage with this stuff, you’ll get by just fine without farming or joining the guilds, but there’s fun to be had regardless.
Yonder has a number of clear inspirations - many of which come from Nintendo’s camp, so fingers crossed the game eventually sees a Switch release - but carves out its own corner by providing a unique mix of their elements. While some of the ingredients leave plenty to be desired, its positive themes and relaxed atmosphere provide a welcome break from the onslaught of bombastic video games that everyone can enjoy for a while.
The Town of Light covers bold new ground with its story of a young woman’s treatment in a 1940s mental health facility; with this narrative the clear focus, however, could the moment-to-moment gameplay suffer? Join us for a stroll around the corridors of Volterra asylum, won’t you?
We can’t praise Lka.it enough for attempting to tackle such important, heavy subject matter.
The former, however, is a disappointment. The linear nature of the game could be forgiven if there were puzzles to vary the pacing, but they never really materialise. In the early stages you’re asked to find “warm lights” to keep your doll, Charlotte, nice and toasty, which takes no rocket-surgeon to figure out as there’s only one room with such lights. Similarly, towards the back end of the game you’re tasked with finding your old stuff in the storeroom, but once you’ve interacted with one bag your gaze is automatically directed towards the actual parcel, removing any potentially engaging investigation/problem solving elements - this kind of thing happens a lot during the game’s short duration.
Interactive gameplay may be almost non-existent, but the setting has plenty of depth, thanks largely to the asylum’s design being based on a real-world facility in Italy. Once you finish the game, you’ll be presented with a short live action film that really showcases how spot on Lka.it got it. It’s a pity, then, that the graphics are rather poor, especially when you take into account the always excruciating load times and occasionally stuttering framerate.
Outdoor sections are the real offenders here: there’s ugly texture pop-in and the lighting effects look off, making the whole presentation seem a generation out of date. Inside the facility things fare slightly better, but everything still has a grainy, blocky look to it. The Town of Light does pull it back somewhat with some wonderful graphic novel-inspired flashback scenes - think Deadlight - and marvellous visual effects during playable memories. Corridors wobble, colours revert to monochrome, and light sources pierce as music and voice screech and decay. These are the best sections of the game hands-down, when the story, visuals and sound effects finally align to create a truly affecting blend.
It’s just a shame that the game fails to make good on its early promise with the mighty gut punch of achieved potential. The story rips the veneer off mental health treatment and many other significant issues, but fails to truly discuss the complex depths below the surface and the effect they can have on the individual, family and society itself. Renee’s memories become more and more confusing as the game plows to its denouement, vastly eroding the impact the story could have had.
The Town of Light’s short length, combined with the lack of any truly engaging gameplay mechanics, leaves us with the feeling that this story would’ve been better served as a graphic novel or film. For us, that unrealised potential is a real blow - the game flirts with the idea of being the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest of gaming, but ends up falling well short.
A New Frontier’s previous episode, Thicker Than Water, saw us part with the gang on uncertain terms. Before rejoining Javier and co. in hopes of tying off the loose ends left hanging this past month, From the Gallows continues the customary trend of opening with a flashback to a turbulent time in the Garcia family’s history.
A seemingly critical choice follows thereafter, with seemingly being the operative word, as ever when it comes to Telltale adventures. While switching out the proceeding scene and deciding certain characters’ fates, things quickly reconverge and sprint towards the same conclusion. Whilst this perhaps isn’t surprising, it’s disappointing by comparison to the legitimately different end points offered in the previous season, feeling like a marked step backwards.
From the Gallows puts in a decent technical performance on Telltale’s dated engine, keeping regular foibles like texture pop-in and stuttering to a minimum, while also forgoing out-of-place point-and-click segments on the gameplay front. Despite playing well, a lack of truly burdensome choices (we fell into the large majority on all counts when checking the community stats) and meekly safe progression (there aren’t any real surprises beyond the initial hoodwink) make A New Frontier’s finale the weakest of TWD’s bunch.
With the Garcia family’s story neatly wrapped-up for now, and Clementine’s return not just teased but confirmed, in spite of the fact A New Frontier is a season we can still recommend, we seriously hope to see more imagination and innovation on display come next time around.
New to the season? Check out our reviews of episodes one through four:
Episodes 1 & 2: Ties That Bind
Episode 3: Above the Law
Episode 4: Thicker Than Water
If you’d like a closer look at From the Gallows, have a watch of Gabriella’s full let’s play below.
At first glance, Portal Knights could be mistaken for just another Minecraft clone, but, if you keep looking, it quickly becomes apparent there’s a lot more to it than that. Having been in early access on Steam for the past year - a span of time in which developer Keen Games took constant feedback from the community - Portal Knights features the necessary depth and complexity to make it a varied and fun-filled experience in its own right.
You land at set points after using one of the aforementioned portals, which can be changed by crafting new markers once you’ve gathered a few resources and unlocked some of the more specialist crafting options by upgrading your workbench. The bench is your creative hub, and really where the Minecraft comparison is the most apt, though items are more deliberately sorted and categorised here. You’ll also need additional benches to craft specialist items, be it an anvil for Warrior gear, an archer station for Ranger gear, or an altar for souped-up Mage equipment.
The addictive nature of the game’s main thrust may prove enough to hold your attention for longer than the 30 hours it would take to power through the main questline.
On that note, at the beginning of the game you’re asked to choose one of three fairly bog standard character classes - Warrior, Ranger or Mage. There are a few implications to this choice, as Warriors wield melee weapons, Rangers use (you guessed it) ranged weapons and Mages play with magic wands, naturally. Aside from each class having unique unlockable abilities which you can choose between at roughly five-level intervals, they pretty much serve as loose suggestions, with characters growing based on which skills (Dexterity, Strength, etc.) you assign points to. This means you could make a beefy, tankish magic user if you felt like it, or a particularly nimble Warrior.
Whatever your build, you’ll fight enemies reminiscent of creatures you might come across in The Legend of Zelda, particularly those which add elemental typings to the same base enemy, as Breath of the Wild fans will be all too familiar with (curse you Wizzrobes!). Certain armour provides bonus defence against certain elements, and depending on how willing you are to grind the rarest materials or craft the most complex gear, you can find yourself with astonishingly high defence to absorb the wrath of most foes.
You can team up online with up to three other players if ever you require aid on your quest, with one player acting as host and everyone else coming to visit, but, beyond that, there are no additional modes. The addictive nature of the game’s main thrust may prove enough to hold your attention for longer than the 30 hours it would take to power through the main questline, however.
Portal Knights boasts more deliberate direction and increased complexity over Minecraft, while still managing to keep things straightforward enough to be accessible. The game’s design is endearing and makes basic RPG elements easy to get to grips with, proving to be a good bridge for youngsters in transitioning towards more ‘grown-up’ games, and to be good, laid-back fun for adults.
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.