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.
Artificial Intelligence is undoubtedly a hot topic these days. Everything from the cheerful Alexa and Google Assistant to the constant, nameless analysis of personal data across the internet aim to make people’s lives easier. As a game which explores these themes head on, The Fall Part 2: Unbound is perhaps more relevant now than ever. This sequel delves deeper into the rules and logic which make constructed intelligence work, and how the smallest actions can push the boundaries of what programming can do.
Sections within the digital landscape, while visually distinct and just as beautifully constructed as the rest of the game, consist of fairly basic platforming and exploration, paired with a handful of encounters with troublesome, formless black entities attempting to protect the system.
One of the biggest potential pitfalls in the game is that the very nature of the puzzles may go over many people’s heads and demand more patience than the fraught nature of modern life traditionally allows. For example, in order to convince the robot butler to investigate a certain area of the house you need to gradually create the environment necessary for the butler to come to the conclusion that taking a look is a logical plan, and something which falls within its given parameters.
We spent a while walking around trying to make sense of what to do with a certain item before finally finding the (or, possibly a) solution. Perhaps to others it may be more obvious, but it definitely requires a certain way of thinking. The game does very little hand-holding either, which is admirable in pushing the player to find the solution, but at times it might be nice to have a tiny clue to save going around in circles.
The player is rewarded for examining each nook and cranny carefully - in fact, often, puzzle-solving elements require it.
The story is the real star of the show, and something which the game clearly prides itself on. It’s unusual to see as deep a characterisation in an AI, certainly it’s the first instance since the Mass Effect series to really delve into the motivations of an artificial being, and to an extent humanise them with the unfettered determination with which they insist on surviving.
More than that, the game manages to tell a lot of its story very visually, not least through some stunning visual presentation of its world, rather than relying on tons of exposition. The player is rewarded for taking the time to examine each nook and cranny carefully - in fact, often, the puzzle-solving elements require it.
All too often when a game has something to say it can hit you over the head with it, but Over The Moon have done an outstanding job balancing the parallels to our world while examining the contradictory nature of imperfect beings striving for perfection through technology.
This cerebral experience is not a popcorn, throwaway title. To crack its tough, mind-bending exterior you’ll need to adopt a certain way of thinking, but once you do, there’s nothing more satisfying than feasting on its gooey centre.
Yes, you read that right, folks: Aperion Cyberstorm is a brand new twin-stick shooter for the dusty, clapped-out Wii U (it’s also available on the Switch and PC, plus it’s on the way to Xbox One, if you’re suitably modern). We enjoyed our brief hands-on preview with the game at last year’s Rezzed, but has that early glimpse of glitter faded, or blossomed into something altogether more splendid?
Cyberstorm’s gameplay is pleasingly simple: blow everything up, look for collectibles and survive - not necessarily in that order.
We would’ve loved to have seen more emphasis on the calmer, explorative sections, as, although the arena and boss encounters are regularly thrilling, juxtaposing moments serve to make them all the more special. A stronger story and deeper exploration would’ve elevated the campaign on the whole, though that doesn’t do too much to detract from the fabulous, frenetic combat and boss designs that are on display and can be tweaked to your liking with a well-balanced array of difficulty settings.
Versus mode brings the party to your front room, in a way only a handful of titles do these days. Get four friends over and you really are in for a treat; you’ll fight each other in a variety of arenas, across nine different match types, in a sea of retina-obliterating colours and patterns.
There’s good ol’ fashioned arena fragfest, a heart-limited survival mode, the you-only-live-once anarchy of Last Stand, timed matches, standard King and Control match types, and even more. This Doctor recommends a prescription of pop and pizza to perfectly compliment the glorious, is-it-skill-or-luck fracas on offer in Versus. If you do happen to be a William-no-associates, fear not, as aPriori have been decent enough to include an option to add bots instead of flesh and blood players.
Onslaught mode is the tenser, Gears-esque Horde mode, where you smash endless waves of radiant rascals, achieving a star rating based on your lasting power. These stars then unlock new, trickier Onslaught maps to weather.
Versus mode brings the party to your front room... Get four friends over and you really are in for a treat!
It’s hard to deny the sheer amount of content on offer here, both in single and multiplayer, but there are a few areas that could’ve done with an extra bit of chim-cheroo. Aside from the Campaign mode misfires, the chief culprit here is the music, which just doesn’t quite achieve true synergy with the game's visuals. Fights generally develop into bullet hell madness, so it’s strange that the techno doesn’t follow suit and amp up the rhythmic intensity.
So, in spite of its limitations, it’s hard not to recommend Aperion Cyberstorm. The music might be a bit of a letdown, the campaign might be a tad corpulent, and the gameplay might not be particularly innovative, but what is here is just ruddy good fun. Get some friends round, bust out those Wiimotes (or Joy-Cons) and enjoy £10.99 well spent.
Platformers can be tricky. The art of a great platformer is to pose a challenge without being frustrating to the point that players are tempted to throw their controller across the room. Somewhat like fighting games, not everyone is gifted when it comes to tackling the genre (*raises hand*), and so there’s equally a challenge in making a game feel accessible to that demographic too. Shu, a delightful indie offering from Coatsink, happily toes that line and - more often than not - passes with flying colours.
If you’re in need of a traditional platformer with some fresh ideas, Shu won’t disappoint.
The musical score really helps to bring the game’s world to life, and while not quite as memorable as the recent instalments of Rayman, which are arguably the gold standard for 2D platformers overall, it brings the kind of gravitas you’d expect from a AAA release to the carefully crafted package of an independent one.
Shu has been available on Steam and PS4 from back in 2016, and since then a few new levels have been added in. On the Switch, which is perhaps the best-suited platform to its pick up/put down gameplay, the Caverns of the Nightjars add-on is bundled for players to enjoy once they’ve polished off the main storyline.
While, at times, frustration can still build and you’ll need to step away (thanks to those race-against-the-end-of-the-world sections), there’s an excellent time to be had here on the whole. If you find yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum and things are feeling a bit easy, you can always try again with a mind to gathering all of the collectables or setting a new best time, so there’s some replay value too.
If you’re in need of a traditional platformer with some fresh ideas, Shu won’t disappoint.
Since leaving Steam Early Access just over two years ago, Red Hook Studios’ aptly titled dungeon crawler has made its way to a number of platforms. Nintendo Switch users are the latest glory hunters to be offered the opportunity to test their mettle, but is this dungeon worth delving?
Outside of a PC, this has to be the best way to enjoy the game.
The risk of forever losing a favourite character, coupled with a hefty amount of information to absorb, can at first seem a little daunting, but push past the opening hours of uncertainty and you’ll be rewarded with a solid, tactical RPG filled with rich, atmospheric environments, unforgiving-yet-satisfying combat and some of the best accompanying narration heard in gaming.
So, after recently releasing on Nintendo Switch, a console that combines many of the advantages offered by the other devices the game calls home - the portability and touchscreen capabilities of the PS Vita or an iPad, the home console experience of a PS4 – is Nintendo’s hybrid the ultimate platform on which to enjoy Darkest Dungeon?
Considering this is the third iteration of the game to arrive on a console, Darkest Dungeon still feels very much like a title that’s been designed first and foremost with mouse and keyboard in mind. Menus aren’t the easiest to navigate with a standard controller setup, and often require awkward button combinations to open stat screens and sub menus. Handheld mode alleviates this somewhat by allowing you to utilise the Switch’s touch screen, but playing this way also comes with a couple of caveats.
Darkest Dungeon and its blend of gothic horror and engrossing fantasy adventure is an excellent and most welcome addition to the Switch’s rapidly expanding roster.
As we found during our time with Severed, the shape, weight and balance of the Switch doesn’t lend itself well to combined Joy-Con/touch screen control for any lengthy amount of time. In addition to that, the already small text and menu icons shrink even further when viewed in handheld mode and can be quite difficult to read, though Red Hook recently stated they’re looking into resolving this issue after receiving player feedback.
In spite of these drawbacks, Darkest Dungeon and its blend of gothic horror and engrossing fantasy adventure is an excellent and most welcome addition to the Switch’s rapidly expanding roster of games. Outside of a PC, this has to be the best way to enjoy the game, effortlessly merging the home and portable experiences offered singularly by other platforms.
After launching on PC and consoles in 2016 to critical acclaim, Furi recently made its way to Nintendo Switch, as publishers and developers alike continue to throw their weight behind Nintendo’s hybrid console and its ever-growing popularity.
From the outset, the game lets you know exactly what kind of punishment you’re in for. Though the words may be spoken by the cocksure introductory boss (whose bark is, in fact, much worse than his bite), the threat of an eternal cycle of annihilation rings true: you’re going to die in Furi. A lot.
That’s part of the learning process, as you may already have learned through exposure to a spate of super tough games inspired by the success of Dark Souls, and most of the time boss encounters in Furi, while imposing at first, are very beatable if approached in the right way. That said, a couple of encounters close to the end of the game do feel overpowered and almost cheap by comparison to earlier fights.
The opening Guardian serves as an introduction to Furi’s combat mechanics, which blend ranged twin-stick shooting elements with close-quarters swordplay. The former comes into effect when enemies are engaging the player in bullet hell-like sections, in which you must dodge a variety of incoming projectiles with the help of a boost ability.
Enemy attacks can become extremely hectic, coming together to form a spinning, colourful kaleidoscope of death as they chuck lasers, fast-moving homing attacks and great walls of energy that encompass entire arenas your way. You’ll need to avoid all of this while also dealing out damage, picking away at a Guardian’s health bit by bit with standard blaster fire, or risking a charged shot to inflict greater damage.
You’re going to die in Furi. A lot.
These ranged confrontations can become stretched across a whole level, with the camera zooming way out to encompass all of the action. It’s here where playing Furi via the Switch’s handheld mode gets a little tricky, as the already small characters become tiny dots lost amidst the chaos on the console’s six-inch screen. It’s not so much of a problem in the more confined melee sections, however, which narrow the action down to a blue ring housing you and your opponent.
This is where timing becomes key, and the game really shows its teeth, as players have to learn and quickly react to a Guardian’s mix of melee and area of effect attacks, each telegraphed by a sound and visual cue, in order to successfully block or avoid them. Blocking melee attacks not only mitigates incoming damage, but also recoups a small amount of health; if you’re lucky (or skilled) enough to pull off a perfect riposte it’ll also temporarily stun an enemy, presenting an opportunity to land a successive flurry of hits.
Both you and the Guardians you face enter an encounter with multiple lives that are incrementally lost when an energy bar has been depleted. You only ever have three lives per fight, while your opponents can sometimes have twice that. It isn’t as unbalanced as you might think, considering that every time you knock one off an enemy’s tally you gain back a lost life, allowing players the exciting opportunity to battle back from the brink of defeat.
With the game’s excellent soundtrack and unique, neon-drenched art style, relatively peaceful pauses between the action can be incredibly atmospheric moments.
Featuring designs by Takashi Okazaki, the man behind Afro Samurai, bosses in Furi have unique personalities and are memorable in many ways, not just for the significant challenge they pose. Some beg for you to turn back, offering an olive branch instead of cold steel, some will openly mock and scorn you, while others simply set to their task with a heavy heart, and it can actually be quite wrenching to see them cut down as a result.
It’s a shame that Furi isn’t one of the titles on Switch that allows you to capture gameplay clips, as, despite the potential heartbreak, emerging victorious from a particularly gruelling boss encounter is a rewarding moment you’ll likely want to relive and share with others.
Aside from this lacking feature and a couple of dropped frames in some of the more intense bullet hell sections, Furi runs more than adequately on Switch. It also comes bundled with all content and updates found on other platforms, including the One More Fight DLC which adds an extra boss.
Featuring combat that feels sharp, fast-paced and satisfying, as well as a ranking system and practice mode that lets you relive individual encounters and engage with those satisfying mechanics at your leisure, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Those looking to cut their teeth on an atmospheric and challenging title ahead of the recently announced Dark Souls remaster should look no further than Furi.
If Furi sounds like your thing, keep an eye out for next week’s giveaway, in which you could win the game on Steam.
When Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King first came to our attention earlier in the year, we immediately thought Castle Pixel’s homage to the top-down Zelda games of the past would be a natural fit for the Switch. As it turns out, Nintendo agree, snapping up the retro inspired action-adventure as a console exclusive.
Blossom Tales is an easy recommendation on Switch; a charming, colourful, and, most importantly, fun, title that feels right at home on a Nintendo system.
So, how does it fare on Switch? Having originally played Blossom Tales on a basic laptop that, while capable of running the game, probably wasn’t the optimal platform to best enjoy it on, reliving Lily’s adventure on Nintendo’s hybrid console was an absolute blast, particularly in handheld mode, where we spent the majority of our playthrough.
Seeing Blossom Tale’s world brought to life in the palm of your hands looks and feels great; colours are bright and punchy, and, despite the game’s tendency to pack the screen with large numbers of enemies at the same time, the Switch version puts in a decent performance, holding a steady framerate in all but the most chaotic of boss fights. Despite an impressive console debut there were some slight, platform-specific issues that cropped up during our time with the game.
The HD rumble, an exclusive feature for the Switch version, didn’t really feel like it added much to gameplay and became noticeably irritating after a while due to its intensity, while the default button layout also felt like it could have been better optimised, with the Y and A buttons feeling much better suited for item use than the standard setup which saw X and B allocated the task.
These were both minor issues, however, easily solved with a bit of tweaking in the menus and didn’t detract from the overall experience in any meaningful way, plus the boons of the Switch, particularly flexibility, means it still feels like the best way to enjoy the game.
Being able to pick up and play at any time, almost anywhere, is something that no other platform can offer, and Blossom Tales isn’t a title that’s taxing on the Switch’s battery, meaning it’s possible to leave it in sleep mode, walk away for a few hours, and return to find there’s still plenty of game time left in your console.
Clocking in at around 15 hours to complete, and with a price tag of just £13.49 / €14.99 / $14.99, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is an easy recommendation on Switch; a charming, colourful, and, most importantly, fun, title that feels right at home on a Nintendo system.
Everyone likes money. Making a game hopelessly obsessed with it, focusing on grabbing as much of it as possible, seems like a simple enough idea. Vostock Inc. combines a space exploration experience with a simple, Monopoly-esque construction sim to create a game with a wider variety of experiences compared to your usual idle clicker.
While you wait, there’s the twin-stick shooter aspect of the game, which can be a bit more of a mixed bag than the polished balance of the Moolah-making. You can take out asteroids and crates in space for bonuses, save managers and executives for bonuses, or even take on huge enemy bosses for, you guessed it, bonuses - generally in the form of lots and lots of yellow pieces which your tiny ship can lap up and add to your total.
Enemies spawn a little too frequently at times, sometimes appearing before the graphic congratulating you for defeating a big baddie has even left the screen, but this feels like a deliberate attempt to keep you playing and striving on to the next challenge, rather than a lapse in design.
A few times we’ve found ourselves taking massive damage by being physically stuck between two enemies and bouncing between them at high speed. Fortunately, if you should blow up all is not lost, you have a tiny life pod (which can also protect any executives you’ve collected) that’ll offer some protection as you scatter back to the Motherbase for the system to regain health. Even being destroyed completely only chops away a swathe of the cash you have on you, rather than having any long-lasting implications.
To defend yourself you’ll need to use one of the game’s colourful weapons, which range from a simple machine gun to a laser unicorn attack squad and graviton aperture gun. In practice, merely upgrading the weapon you get on best with works for most encounters, providing you have the dexterity to keep mobile, and providing you invest money now and again, the enemies are rarely overwhelming.
If that wasn’t enough to keep you busy, there’s also plenty of upgrades to Motherbase, your ship and your radar, which can certainly make your life easier - depending on what your priorities are - and there’s the aforementioned executives to look after. These overpaid fat cats (well, one of them literally is a cat lady) are only around to boost your productivity, but they’ll need to be furnished with lavish gifts to be kept happy and let you reap the rewards.
Vostok Inc. consistently punches above its weight, giving compelling gameplay and humour without layering in unnecessary systems and cluttering the experience.
Each has their own personalised 8-bit mini game, varying from driving sims to first-person shooters to Flappy Bird clones, which give you the opportunity to pick up these items, but most are pretty challenging, so you’re better off obliterating a few enemies and asteroids instead. The games themselves are a welcome distraction though, and fill out what is, on the surface, quite a basic experience.
Whether this is a game for you will depend on how you like to play. It’s at its best with a degree of passiveness and patience, waiting for the money total to tick up so you can grab that upgrade before you dash downstairs for dinner. Passing the time before bedtime with the game was initially an exercise in real-world stealth, as destroying asteroids and creating buildings set off the Switch’s overzealous rumble, putting the good night’s sleep of significant others everywhere in jeopardy, but fortunately there is an option to turn this off hidden in one of the multiple options menus.
For something which might look like it only belongs on a mobile phone at first glance, Vostok Inc. consistently punches above its weight, giving compelling gameplay and humour without layering in unnecessary systems and cluttering the experience. The later game may feel more drawn out, as everything takes longer to happen and you’ve explored all of the six systems available, but the thirst for more and more money is strangely addictive - but hopefully in a fun way, rather than the more negative real-world consequences… Without a doubt, for the price (£12.99), this is one well worth snapping up.
The one thing better than a car is a car with massive guns strapped to it. We’ve learned from experience that it isn’t always easy to turn this delicious concept into a game however, as the N64 and PlayStation era brought the dizzying heights of Vigilante 8 as well as the cynical, cash-grabbing lows of 007 Racing. Most recently, you might recall elements of the concept in Mad Max or even Borderlands 2 to an extent, but other than World of Tanks - a far more realistic take on vehicular warfare - the market for this experience is far from saturated.
Other than World of Tanks - a far more realistic take on vehicular warfare - the market for this experience is far from saturated.
Creativity is definitely encouraged in the process, though. The garage and its array of possibilities can be quite overwhelming; even though the controls are constantly in view at the top of the screen, it takes some time to get to grips with the interface, and it’s particularly challenging to work out what each component is until you start throwing them together.
As you begin to level up and the array of jigsaw pieces widens, there’s also the introduction of factions to account for. These require a certain amount of reputation to unlock, and give less traditional design options, such as combining features of aeroplanes and vintage cards, in the specific case of the Nomads.
On the battlefield, the variety on offer starts to show itself, and immediately the priorities for building become more apparent. Specifically, vehicle damage is quite substantial, to the extent that wheels and complete parts of your vehicle may fall off if you take too much punishment, or too specific a ramming from your adversaries.
Wheels are a particularly weak link, leaving you beached and motionless or simply spinning in a circle if you aren’t careful, though this is also an Achilles’ heel you can use against enemies. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you may ditch wheels altogether and go for a hovering vehicle instead, but bear in mind that they’re incredibly hard to control, though traditional vehicles aren’t exactly a walk in the park either.
On the battlefield, the variety of customisation options on offer starts to show itself, and immediately the priorities for building become apparent.
Whatever your approach, taking on missions requires the use of fuel, a limiting factor to the game that’ll ask you to wait 24 hours to refill your tank, or speed the process up through microtransactions. This seeming sharp edge is blunted when you consider the cost in in-game currency is low and can be earned by selling excess parts, however. The missions themselves refresh each day, to give a bit of variety - though they stick to fairly basic archetypes like escort or attack and defend - and are level locked to give you a fighting chance.
In all the game is a solid starting point for a beta, if lacking in character and richness of world, despite a nicely done intro cinematic which is rare these days. You might get more of a narrative pull in other titles, though how much that bothers you really comes down to personal preference. Strong potential is a good starting point for an unknown newcomer like this, and the gradual approach of rolling it out means that you aren’t generally left waiting for a game for minutes on end and, more importantly, there’s a bit of fun to be had once you’re there, assuming you don’t mind putting up with the odd rogue player
Filled with the genre-blending goodness that propelled the original to cult classic status, Hand of Fate 2 is equal parts dungeon crawling RPG, collectable card game, board game, and interactive Choose Your Own Adventure novel. You sit opposite the enigmatic Dealer, who, fittingly, lays bare your fate with his hand of tarot cards.
The game poses a variety of scenarios and leaves you to carve your own path through them, which, coupled with some evocative penmanship, makes each campaign engaging and memorable in its own right.
With freedom of approach often comes the ability to avoid them, though in dodging potential disaster you also decline potential boons. Valuable rewards include food, fame, gold and equipment, all of which can individually be integral to your continued survival.
Any weapons and armour you might gather are put to use in the game’s basic combat sections, which jarringly pull you out of your cosy sit-down with the Dealer into stripped-back, Batman Arkham-style brawls. A range of enemy types are each susceptible to different weapon classes, adding some variety that helps to invigorate things, but HUD elements that telegraph when it’s time to dodge or counter mostly make battles a breeze. Being heavily outnumbered is the one scenario you can’t approach as par for the course, as being flanked and surrounded proves intense when you consider that health is persistent and taking damage can carry very real, far-reaching consequences.
Naturally, that makes eating an axe to the mush as a result of a distracting performance dip all the more annoying. Even on Xbox One X with the settings switched from default to favour performance over resolution, Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t always run smoothly, which is somewhat baffling considering the game’s small environments and nothing-to-write-home-about visuals.
Though Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t do a huge amount in the way of innovating over its predecessor, Defiant Development have refined its winning formula, which is hard to take issue with. The game combines numerous complex systems into a cohesive and accessible whole that could well serve as a gateway into real-world tabletop gaming for many. It's tough choices prompt pause for thought and weave memorable stories that are compelling enough to keep you ploughing through, while also being self-contained and convenient to dip in and out of on a whim.