While some of us at PTC Towers were only wee lads back in the 1990s, the decade's pedigree can't be denied its role in propelling console gaming to the heights it has reached today, spawning influential games left and right.
There’s a two-player co-op mode on offer, but only accessible locally, and you can also begin to feel like a bit of a spare part if you're a newbie and your co-pilot is a veteran. You can opt for a harder difficulty if you do find yourselves sailing through, which opens up two new characters to try out, but bizarrely only in solo play...
In typical arcade fashion, you're offered only one life and therefore a single try to get through the game without being taken down. If you decide to continue after dying you'll get going again from a fairly recent screen, but the game stops counting your time, and with no in-game scoring system to speak of there's now just pride to play for.
If a nostalgia hit is what you're looking for, The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors could scratch an itch. It’s a well-made if slightly one-note adventure that won't kill a huge amount of time.
The trouble with space is that it's mostly empty. Venturing into the unknown in a tiny spaceship in Subdivision Infinity DX, you feel that sense of scale immediately, as enemy ships, gun turrets and collectables flicker as pixels in the distance - particularly in handheld mode.
Subdivision Infinity DX as a whole doesn’t offer a huge amount of variety, and with limited progression and customisation on offer, at least early on, momentum can start to drain fairly quickly. If you absolutely need a space shooter to play on the go, though, Subdivinity offers a taste of the sort of experience you might expect from something like Everspace at a fraction of the cost. What you’ll miss out on is the depth, variety and graphical polish - though it’s a step up from something like Event Horizon or Vostok Inc. - and experience the odd bit of slowdown when things get busy. It all depends what you’re looking for in a space adventure.
It's a well-known fact that there simply aren't enough hamsters in games these days. Fortunately for the sake of humanity, Hamsterdam is here to put the world to rights. Self-styled as an arcade brawler in which you'll become a "Hamster-fu master" patrolling a charming iteration of (you guessed it) Amsterdam, the game seeks to overpower you with cuteness from the word go.
Mini-bosses and bosses shake up the gameplay with a more side-scrolling approach to action, featuring a few QTEs for good measure. This succeeds in effectively mixing things up, but robs you of some of the satisfaction of taking down the game's beefiest villains. As a result, the difficulty curve also feels a little spikey, since these sections require completely different timing and skills, but after a few determined attempts it’s possible to power through.
Fortunately, the experience remains on the entertaining side of challenging even at those sticky moments, and it's impossible not to fall in love with Pimm and her adorable, increasingly impractical outfit choices. At the price point (less than £10, whatever your platform of choice), Hamsterdam poses great value for money and is an absolute joy.
There's something quite satisfying about pulverising someone with a large axe. While Redeemer (the prettier Enhanced Edition, in this case) isn't the first game to offer that combat experience, it is an experience which defines it, or at least the broad strokes of its main character Vasily, who utilises elaborate melee strikes and environmental executions to deal devastating killing blows.
Melee weapons quickly degrade too, leading to a map littered with half-broken hatchets and electric batons which are largely interchangeable, but crucial to dismantling some of the larger enemies. There are guns on offer as well, but they’re often difficult to use at range due to the aforementioned camera perspective.
Overall, while Redeemer: Enhanced Edition might be a fun way to pass the time on your commute (should you opt for the Switch version), it's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend you devote your time to it at home.
The world of strategy has been simmering away under the surface of the mainstream for a few years now. Long since the heyday of Westwood Studios, which ruled the real-time strategy genre with its Command & Conquer and Red Alert series, it’s been turn-based games which have been all the rage, thanks to the rise of Firaxis’ excellent XCOM revivals.
Soon, such is your efficiency at producing and preserving units, either by merging wounded squads or healing them at a player-owned city or facility, you’ll quickly find the map overrun and units begin to block each other from moving around effectively, leading to a major risk of bottlenecks if you aren’t too careful.
While the game works well in docked mode, this title has more of a handheld feel, and the turn-based nature lends itself to pulling it out for a few stops on the bus or morning train commute. Matches themselves, even early in the campaign, can easily last over half an hour a piece as games run across 15 or 20 in-game days (or turns) before one team’s HQ is ultimately vanquished.
Tinymetal’s music is fairly unmemorable and doesn’t get across the sort of drama and excitement you might hope for, especially compared to some of those iconic Red Alert or XCOM tunes. It should be noted that we haven’t unlocked the additional tracks with in-game currency, however. Visually, it’s fairly straightforward, but certainly more stylised, exciting and accessible than the somewhat similar Tiny Troopers Joint Ops XL.
Those looking to scratch a strategy itch won’t be disappointed here, with fun and games to be had for a budget-friendly asking price, but the repetition of the experience will start to grate for some before too long.
On top of the main campaign there’s Skirmish, where you battle AI using custom maps and settings, and also an online multiplayer component - but seemingly one too sparsely populated to find a game, even during peak hours.
In the end, Tinymetal: Full Metal Rumble on Switch is a fun little way to spend some portable gaming time, but doesn’t do too much to be exciting or bring a new twist to the genre or platform. There’s little to master, other than the patience for slow-moving and resource-limited units, but there’s still something endearing and easy to enjoy about the game.
Three months ago we previewed Etherborn and opined that the indie debut from Altered Matter - helped to fruition by FoxNext and investors on crowdfunding platform Fig - looked set to impress when the full game landed. Now it’s here; an excellent puzzle-platformer which ignores the laws of gravity, requiring you to throw out conventional logic in order to wrap your head (and featureless in-game avatar) around its brain-teasing levels.
Etherborn isn’t a game where puzzles are a brief aside that mostly serve to control pacing, rather it is in itself one large-scale problem to solve.
Based on our early look at Etherborn, which we now know featured quite a large portion of the game, we wondered aloud how it might evolve in terms of its structure. There are only two additional stages in the final product, both built around the same concept of using light orbs tucked away within them to transform the landscape and allow for your passage. Much the same then, but not disparagingly so, since aesthetic diversity partners with a greater focus on platforming elements and more sprawling real estate to keep things engaging right to the end.
So engaging as to warrant an immediate second playthrough, in fact. Game + mode takes place across the same suite of levels, but the light orbs within them are now deviously concealed from view. This is the first time you’ll really need to manipulate the camera, which closely tracks your movements on an initial playthrough in order to help guide you, whereas in Game + those viewpoints are utilised to mask solutions instead. Again, it’s hard to protest it being unfair that something is hidden off-screen when at the same time you’re serenaded by Etherborn’s gorgeous, equilibrium-maintaining soundtrack.
Our preview also left us with an impression of the game’s story we deemed “vague and introspect”, based essentially on its first half. Having now seen it through, the narrative is largely open to interpretation, but does a good job of getting its abstract concepts across. Our take? A sombre and gleeful exploration of the eternal struggles of the human mind. Fitting, as the game being an effective form of meditation means it also doubles as mental medication.
Etherborn is poignant and not precisely like any other game, perhaps feeling closest to Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s focused body of work (Rez, Child of Eden, Tetris Effect) in the flow state it so easily elicits. It’s a thoroughly lovely, meditative experience that’ll have you sink deep into your seat and slow your breathing while exploring the 3D environments in all of their dimensions. It’s outstandingly clever and effortlessly spellbinding, despite the work it no doubt took the talented team at Altered Matter to get there.
For more on Etherborn, check out our interview with the game's Creative Director, Samuel Cohen.
Mention the word “chippy” to someone in the UK and you’ll most likely induce mouth-watering thoughts of battered cod, mushy peas and chips drenched in salt ‘n’ vinegar. Having spent some time with Rust developer Facepunch Studios’ latest effort, however, the word now conjures up delicious memories of epic boss battles, as well as deep fried fish.
You can ‘hijack’ replays, letting you take control and practice a specific phase of a fight. It’s a fantastic idea and a feature that should be the new standard in future boss rush games.
Occasionally, bosses will throw out power-ups surrounded by a red hue. Grabbing one of these glowing orbs grants the ability within, but also surrounds your ship with an encircling wall of death that’s very tricky to avoid, introducing a further risk-versus-reward element to collecting pick-ups.
Boss fights are multi-staged encounters that have you duking it out with at least two versions of your opponent, with the difficulty, intensity and scale of enemies ramping up after every successive victory. And boy, do things get tough. Enemies eventually fill the small, square battlefield with a dizzying, hypnotic mass of projectiles in an attempt to stop you. Dying is something you’ll be doing a lot in Chippy, but respawning is instant, and each failure is more a learning opportunity than a frustrating setback.
If you do find yourself completely stuck – as we did during one particularly gruelling fight with a boss that could regrow its missing tentacles and cores – scrolling up through the leaderboards and watching the readily available replays of top players is a rather neat way of learning how to beat tougher enemies. By mirroring the fastest player’s technique, we went from utterly hopeless to 15th in the global leaderboards in less than an hour.
You can even ‘hijack’ a replay at any moment, letting you take control and practice a specific phase of a fight without having to put in the work beforehand. It’s a fantastic idea and a feature that we think should be the new standard in future boss rush games.
While most bosses share similar fundamentals – destroy or remove multiple secondary cores as quickly as possible whilst avoiding attacks to expose a larger, central core – there are occasional outliers, such as a fight that has you surviving waves of minions while automated lasers drill through their leader’s thick shields, which help to keep things fresh.
Facepunch have also done a decent job of imparting character and personality - there’s a very creepy maggot-like creature, for example - to what are essentially sentient mazes through just a few lines of text. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the arenas that house them, with the same plain black backdrop used for fights regardless of the type of environment bosses are supposed to inhabit.
Even if, like this reviewer, you’re not that into bullet-hell or boss rush games (despite having also enjoyed Furi), we’d recommend you try Chippy. While we’d love to see the game reach additional platforms, it’s inexpensive and doesn’t require a top-tier gaming PC to run. It might be tough as nails in places, to an almost daunting extent, but it’s also exhaustingly moreish and incredibly satisfying. Like any good chippy, really.
As my GCSE German teacher would tell you, I’ve never been particularly blessed with languages. How is it then, that Heaven’s Vault has stuck with me from the first play - back at Rezzed in 2018 - right through until now? More importantly, has that initial promise spawned the Oscar Wilde of video games, or, much worse (but definitely funnier), Danny Dyer?
Like many games before it, Heaven’s Vault utilises an excellent conversation system that not only affects how people interact with you, but what you learn about the settings, story and lore. We’re sure many would site the Mass Effect series here, but since the Brighton branch of PTC (that’s me) has never played any of them, it feels rather more like the ghost of Shenmue. How will you behave around a particularly aggressive slave master, for example? Will you try and sympathise, or downright scold them for their line of work, thus potentially closing off a line of questioning and information? These choices even change the course of your relationship with robot sidekick Six, who bloody loves a good natter.
Discovery and decoding of an ancient language is one of the main parts of the game that we found so compelling back at Rezzed 2018, so it’s wonderful to see it fully realised in the final product. This is where a thirst for adventure really helps, too: interact with everything you can, as often Aliya will remark about inscriptions or glyphs on certain items, and it’s here where the fun begins. If an inscription is split into four parts, let’s say, you’ll be given a potential selection of words to fill in each of the blanks, based on what you’ve previously tried or discovered. This charming element of trial and error further strengthened our desire to explore.
What was all that lark about sky sailing, then? Imagine a blend of Panzer Dragoon and The Wind Waker and you’ll have a decent idea of what to expect, as you pilot the good ship Nightingale along vast rivers in the clouds, to destinations new and old, all the while having one eye out for ruins and wreckages to plunder. The tranquil mood, pastel hues and sublime strings and pianos stave off any potential frustration at the amount of time it can take to get between places in the game, but those of you without patience will be happy to hear that a fast travel option is currently being patched in.
Heaven’s Vault never fails to leave you in awe, in a way only a few games really do.
We’re not sure why you’d want to skip over absorbing more of such a resplendent and alluring game, though. From the dark outlines and subtle colours of the exquisite hand-drawn 2D characters, to the fully 3D, lush environments of the Nebula, Heaven’s Vault never fails to leave you in awe, in a way only a few games really do (here’s looking at you, Breath of the Wild). It’s largely these lavish, luxuriant locales that spur you on to visit as much of the world as possible.
There’s just so much to love about the game, honestly. Sure, it isn’t completely flawless (the lack of music in many of the cutscenes seems odd, especially considering how good the soundtrack is), but the blend of adventuring, sky sailing, story and language are pretty close to perfect. The wealth of choices mean it’s ripe for multiple replays, too, so you’re really getting your money’s worth.
Whether it’s the small touches such as story recaps every time you start a play session, or the big ones listed above, Heaven’s Vault manages to tap into that truly wondrous, almost childlike sense of discovery brought on by experiencing something for the first time. If it sounds like your speed, make sure you don’t miss out on this glorious, glorious experience.
Following its launch on PC and PS4 late last year, Ronimo Games (Awesomenauts Assemble!) have brought their side-scrolling strategy title to Nintendo Switch.
Apart from units actively mining resources, which remain at your base unless commanded to collect pick-ups, all units begin marching towards enemy positions immediately once purchased. They give no thought to their own safety or the size of the challenge facing them, therefore, players must manage resources carefully to ensure troops are sent forth in groups, rather than individually. This leads to some interesting strategization, as you’ll want to find potent combinations that best complement each other.
Missions generally feature at least one main objective along with one or two bonus objectives, which encourage you to experiment with tactics or challenge yourself by deliberately making things harder, adding variety to the straightforward level layouts. Main objectives range from simply destroying enemy bases to more memorable tasks like navigating a limited number of troops through environmental obstacles. Occasionally, you’ll also come across Bonus Battles; these one-off skirmishes give you the freedom to build your own army from all of the units you’ve unlocked thus far.
Both visually and technically, Shawarmageddon fares well on Switch. Frame rates occasionally drop during the largest of battles, but (naturally) Nintendo’s hybrid console offers the most ways to play - docked, handheld and touch - to easily counterbalance that. There’s seamless switching between the latter two, which makes targeting individual units a doddle, though, as we’ve found before, the balance, weight and shape of the Switch just doesn’t lend itself well to this one-handed style of play for long periods of time.
The versatility of the Joy-Cons also facilitates spontaneous bouts of local multiplayer, both docked and on-the-go, with portable play intelligently taking the unconventional approach of splitting matches vertically for optimum use of the Switch’s limited screen space.
Online multiplayer doesn’t hold up quite so well, unfortunately, as you’ll likely struggle to find another player even during peak hours. After just a handful of successful matches (many of which were against the same opponent), we found ourselves ranked 23rd on the global leaderboards, which suggests this mode has a very limited following.
Despite the dearth of online competition, Ronimo have catered their charismatically simple and engaging take on the strategy genre to all play styles on Switch, making it an attractive purchase.
Bust out the hi-tops, gold chains, fluorescent trousers and square hair, gang, for it’s time to revisit the beloved 90s world of ToeJam & Earl. That’s right, the titular twosome are Back in the Groove.
Let’s not forget the baddies, though: the cast of irritants and nasties feature earthlings of all flavours, encompassing autograph-hunting fans, FBI agents, and even sharks. That’s neglecting to mention the likes of ghostly cows, that corpulent, bald casanova, Cupid, and tornadoes that’ll knock you off the edge of a level, back down to the previous one. These foes are rarely threatening, mind, as there’s always a Sunflower forest to hide away in, playing a sublime little jingle whenever you walk into one.
Waltzing around as a bodacious alien, dressed as Vanilla Ice, bopping to a superbly funky soundtrack, is quite the treat in itself.
Now, you could be forgiven for reading all of the above and wondering what the point of the whole shebang is. A fair assessment, perhaps, but that’d be to miss the essence of BITG completely. Waltzing around as a bodacious alien, dressed as Vanilla Ice, bopping to a superbly funky soundtrack, is quite the treat in itself.
Yes, the core gameplay of searchin’ ‘n’ findin’ might not lend itself to the most thrilling of loops, but throw into the mix procedurally generated levels, different difficulties, the kind of laughs that only local co-op play can provide, and mini-games that break up the monotony - on that note, the dancing game is great, but the auto-runner isn’t so much - and there’s scope for even the non-nostalgic to enjoy themselves.
Visually, ToeJam and Earl have thankfully been dragged punching and hollering into the can-only-meet-people-via-an-app age. Gawping at the cartoony wonder of trees, water, snow, desert and caricature-style NPCs is a dream, so it’s a real shame that performance can suffer on occasion, when, in all honesty, the game really isn’t pushing the limits of modern hardware. The mid-level elevator scenes are a prime example of this: fantastic Fresh Prince-inspired backdrops that chug and wheeze as the next level loads.
The undeniable presentational standout here, though, is the absolute funkathon of a score. Squelchy, popped ‘n’ slapped bass smashes through the speakers, throwing some serious aural shapes alongside subdued, crunchy beats. Kickstarter backers had the opportunity to get a copy of the soundtrack on vinyl, and of that fact we’re considerably jealous.
Where does all this leave us though, folks? In reality, ToeJam & Earl is as anti-mainstream as ever, and we appreciate that. If you like local multiplayer games, adore funkadelic basslines, or just have a hankering to revisit 1991, you’ll certainly have fun with Back in the Groove. Comrades with short attention spans, or who find early 90s pop culture and/or the basic trappings of dungeon crawlers abhorrent, though, should breakdance right outta here. PEACE.