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.
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.
They say foxes are cunning (if you believe 90's sitcoms at any rate), and the decision to ditch VR for this fox-themed follow up to exclusive Oculus Rift title Lucky’s Tale was certainly that if the aim was to reach a wider audience. Whether the move to a more traditional presentation makes it a more compelling game is another matter.
The accessible design philosophy results in a difficulty level that’s pedestrian for the most part, even coming off the already generous Super Mario Odyssey.
Four clovers are available in each individual stage, with the additional three awarded for hoarding 300 coins, collecting all of the Lucky letters and unearthing a secret. The hidden clovers offer up the most fun, such as requiring you to round up chickens into a pen.
While amusing distractions, these objectives don’t do enough to alter the fact that the game overall is fairly average. If the aim were specifically to please children, then it’s mission accomplished - with only a few moves to learn and basic mechanics to master, this is a decent stab at “My First 3D Platformer” - but beyond that there’s little in the way of compelling character, and with that, not much staying power.
There’s a suggestion from Lucky’s sister, Lyra, that “if only” Lucky wasn’t stuck in a book, she’d be able to help. Perhaps if she had been drawn into the story and the game acted as a drop-in/drop-out couch co-op adventure, it would not only help differentiate from the game’s predecessor, but fill a niche in the genre in need of filling - particularly around Christmas.
You’ll face boss encounters throughout Lucky’s adventure, which register a blip on the challenge-o-meter, but don’t change up the gameplay enough to stand out. ‘Unexpected’ visits from Jinx, the mastermind of the Kitty Litter (an equivalent to Mario Odyssey’s Broodals), are also more a distraction than compelling turns in the narrative.
If the aim were specifically to please children, then it’s mission accomplished, but beyond that there’s little in the way of compelling character.
Similarly, the locations in Super Lucky’s Tale are pretty uninspiring across the board, which, admittedly, stems from their relative proximity to the boundless creativity on display in Odyssey. Though nice and colourful, locales also fail to take any major advantage of the 4K upgrade which the Xbox One X offers - a particularly disappointing fact given the game is the X’s only official launch title.
With all that said, ultimately, the game is fine. Not offensive, not broken (though we have gotten stuck in the floor) and certainly not filled with egregious microtransactions. It’s just fine. Even though Super Lucky’s Tale will only set you back £20 (or £14 on sale at the time of writing), it’s a stretch to heartily recommend in such close proximity to Super Mario Odyssey, which just evolved the genre and left Lucky in its shadow.
Fancy trying your hand at winning a copy of Super Lucky's Tale on Xbox One? Check out our latest giveaway!
Picking up where the first game left off, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 is an all-new original adventure that sees obscure super villain, Kang the Conqueror, hatch a typically outlandish plot for world domination. Thusly, it falls to you and Marvel Comics’ best and brightest heroes to set things straight.
As worlds collide, so too do super heroes and villains from different eras and realities, accommodating a bonkers narrative that’s packed with nods and direct references.
You'll use their abilities in conjunction with one another to solve simple environmental puzzles and progress through Marvel Super Heroes 2’s self-contained levels. While it’s disappointing to see a return to the more fragmented structure of a central hub with the main missions offshooting from it, after it was ditched in favour of a more fluent throughline in The LEGO NINJAGO Movie Video Game, it’s not a death knell when both elements of the game are entertaining in their own right.
While the areas that comprise Chronopolis aren’t nearly as detailed as some of their videogame counterparts - coming directly from Assassin’s Creed Origins’ take, Ancient Egypt fell more than a little flat - the variety is engaging and there are fun optional activities on just about every corner. Easily the highlight amongst these are the substantial Gwenpool (an amalgamation of Gwen Stacy and Deadpool) side quests that burst with energy.
Along the way you’ll engage enemies in combo-building combat, which is a step above the more typical LEGO game fare without matching NINJAGO’s considered freneticism. Even with additional methods of offence at your disposal though, it’s easy just to mash the standard attack button until you inevitably win. This obviously caters to the game’s younger audience, but, when you basically face no repercussions for dying (as usual in this series), adding a little more nuance wouldn’t do any harm. Set-piece battles against some gargantuan bosses are at least a genuinely cool spectacle.
While the areas comprising Chronopolis aren’t nearly as detailed as some of their videogame counterparts, the variety is engaging and there are fun optional activities on just about every corner.
You can bring a local buddy along for the ride in drop-in/drop-out co-op, or sample the game’s competitive modes if you’d rather battle against than alongside each other. With no restrictions on the characters up for selection the latter mode can be unbalanced, but that’s all part of the fun. You can also play against the AI, should you be on your lonesome.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 very much follows the established template, warts and all, with issues like an obstructive camera, clumsy control mapping, and performance blips remaining present and accounted for. None of the issues are invasive enough to undo the game’s consistent charm and fun factor, however; if you’re a Marvel fan, of any age or gaming skill level, there’s a lot here you’ll like.
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.
The original LEGO Star Wars was a breath of fresh air when it released back in 2005, but as its blueprint was reused year-on-year the LEGO series began to shed its new-brick shine. Having taken a lengthy break as a result, returning to find that familiar formula turned on its head was a very pleasant surprise.
The writing, voice performances and visual design are infused with a characterful LEGO flair and knack for slapstick humour that makes the NINJAGO universe immediately likeable, even to the totally uninitiated.
The more you play, the more satisfying the combat gets, as you progressively unlock Ninjanuity tokens used to purchase upgrades from a skill tree. All in all, there’s actually some decent, if simplistic, spectacle fighting here - kids especially will adore the busy visual effects and flashy finishing manoeuvres.
They’ll undoubtedly enjoy piloting transforming Mechs in explosive rail-shooter sections as well, though there’s less here for adults to enjoy. While visually impressive and an occasional welcome change of pace, the shooting is underwhelming when you’ve been spoilt by dedicated shooters.
The LEGO NINJAGO Movie Video Game is far from a cynical cash-in, evolving the LEGO game formula in significant ways to make for an action-adventure that stands up on its own. There are still some familiar foibles here, plus loading takes an age, but the improved mechanics and glut of engaging activities make it a blast whether you’re playing solo, in local drop-in/drop-out co-op, or competitive local multiplayer.
Sundered is a great example of an independent studio building on an earlier success - that being the fantastic Jotun in this case - to create an underground, Metroidvania, corker. The game boasts beautiful art, a soundtrack that perfectly fits the creepy underworld-meets-science-fiction setting and glorious button-bashing combat, but, in the grand scheme of things, is that enough to make it a first place competitor, or just an also-ran?
Sundered’s map is set partly in stone; boss and mini-boss rooms, key corridors, ability rooms and the incinerator are in a constant position. The rest of the map, though, is procedurally generated, changing everytime you die - something that will happen regularly, especially in the earlier stages and during boss fights. Unfortunately, this does mean that many of the areas appear identikit and hollow, which is a real shame considering the quality of everything else on offer.
First and foremost among those elements is the gameplay, which offers a wonderful blend of genres. The irresistible sense of adventure that goes hand-in-hand with the best Metroidvanias, frenetic and thoroughly enjoyable combat, Rogue-like and RPG elements all bind together beautifully. Exploring Sundered’s labyrinthine world of ruins, treasure, foes and platforming puzzles is an endless pleasure, in spite of the repetitive, randomly generated sections.
The combat is a cracking mix of swashbuckling swordplay, gymnastic rolls and leaps, and cannon mastery. What initially feels like a senseless, button-bashing game of luck quickly turns into something all the more meaty, as timing your rolls and jumps helps to not only deflect foes’ fists, but to keep Eshe in constant violent motion.
Believe us when we say, it’s worth playing Sundered just for the sheer awe you’ll feel when the camera pulls back to reveal the full scale of each boss - it really is stunning.
Perfecting these skills comes in very handy, as you’ll find yourself set upon by vast hordes of beasts during your adventure; these hordes can feel unfair as endless waves of the buggers attack - almost always when you’re lacking in health elixirs - so honing both your bashing and weaving to overcome these swarms is essential.
The final rung on the gameplay ladder is of course the RPG and Rogue-like elements. Plundering procedurally generated corridors ticks the latter, but it’s in the former where additional depth lies.
Everytime you die you’re sent back to the Sanctuary (which can get frustrating when you have to constantly backtrack to the same area or boss fight), where the Trapezohedron will turn your shards into enhanced abilities from the skill tree. Want to improve the length of time your deflecting shield lasts? No problem. Want to enhance your health or luck? Likewise. This adds the final touch to Sundered’s quality mix, which will likely keep you coming back for more.
So, the gameplay is great, but we have to give a special mention to the audiovisual presentation, as it just takes Sundered to another level. The gorgeous, hand-drawn art manages to evoke memories of classic Disney - think the underworld palette in Hercules, or the lair of the nasty Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid - the ‘90s games of developer Treasure and mythological tales. Believe us when we say, it’s worth playing Sundered just for the sheer awe you’ll feel when the camera pulls back to reveal the full scale of each boss - it really is stunning.
The aural tones further aid the gloriously dark atmosphere, as foes’ screams blend with the flicker of candles, swipes of sword, moody keyboards and the patter of Eshe’s feet. We also have to shout out Olivier Barrette, the man behind the Trapezohedron’s voice, as his performance perfectly encapsulates the darkness at work in the underground tunnels and rooms.
In summary, the facts are simple: Sundered is a triumphant blend of genres focused in a beautiful, Metroid-style world that just falls short of reaching all-time classic status at the hands of a few niggling niggles. Put the issues (did we mention the loading times are rather painful?) to one side and you have a memorable adventure well worth the £15.99 price tag. The atmosphere alone will have you coming back for more, even if the multiple endings don’t. To buy or not to buy? Don’t let the decision split you in two: go and get Sundered.
The debut game from Boss Key Productions, a studio headed by Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski, aims to bridge the gap between old school and modern competitive first-person shooters. Placing one foot firmly in arena shooter territory and the other in the hero shooter’s neck of the woods, LawBreakers confidently puts forward a compelling alternative to both that any FPS fan should appreciate.
Variations on these balletic exchanges are constantly occurring in all directions, infusing the high-octane chaos with a choreographed beauty.
It might take a little while to reach that level of play, as you’ll need to execute several button presses and numerous stick adjustments in a tight timeframe, but it’s worth toughing the learning process out, as you’ll feel like a true professional when you master the satisfying traversal and gunplay first individually; then as one cohesive package.
This high skill cap excuses LawBreakers’ apparent lack of hero variety when compared to it peers, with the nine classes each offering more nuance than any single character in Blizzard’s Overwatch. Their tighter ranks still offer plenty of diversity, accommodating most play styles with damage-dealing tanks, nimble but fragile assassins, supports, and hybrid roles in between.
Each class has a fixed loadout consisting of an ultimate and two secondary abilities, generally also wielding a primary weapon with secondary fire function and a sidearm. Ability usage is limited either by a cooldown period or fuel consumption, which calls for different management tactics between combatants favouring either method or a mixture of both, helping to keep players on their toes both as they meet different foes and freely switch between heroes mid-match.
You’re never limited as to which class you can choose to play as, which can be a blessing and a curse. While you won’t be locked out of playing your main, there’s a definite tendency for most players to pick between the faster classes in Assassin, Gunslinger and Wraith, leaving other roles unfilled. A balanced team isn’t as integral to victory here as it is in other hero shooters - individual skill is much more important on that front - but somebody else going healer every now and then would still be nice.
The self-serving player mindset can impact your win/loss ratio when it extends to playing the objective, however. A portion of players approach the five rotating game modes - these including variations on King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, and even American football - as if they were Team Deathmatch. We'd typically pin this entirely on people being people, but we feel Boss Key shoulder some of the blame in this instance. Foregoing Deathmatch modes in a game so openly inspired by the likes of Unreal Tournament and Quake doesn’t cater to a sizeable portion of the audience they've attracted.
You’ll earn experience points towards levelling whether your teammates cooperate or not, and with levels come Stash Drops, LawBreakers’ take on the loot box. They function exactly as you’d expect, upon being opened spitting out four random aesthetic customisation items ranging from throwaway to must-have. Duplicates are converted into currency which can be used to bypass the random element and directly purchase skins you’ve had your eye on, while you can also use real-world money to purchase more Drops.
All in all, LawBreakers has its foibles, but they’re fixable foibles with a patch or two; for every slight misstep, it nails a handful of the fundamentals. The core combat and traversal loop is outstanding, it looks crisp and controls smoothly at 4K/60FPS on PS4 Pro (after a patch fixing the launch day issues you may have heard about), matchmaking is snappy and well-populated, the pulsing soundtrack keeps you hyped-up and ready to compete. This amalgamates in a game that’s seriously engaging and frequently has us declaring “just one more more match” for several matches consecutively.
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
Little Nightmares is a welcome change from the typical puzzle-platformer; it's a dark, twisted tale that's riddled with questions from start to finish, playing upon the whimsical nature of childhood all the while. Unfortunately, it's also a game that's marginally let down by its lacklustre length.
You're encouraged to interact with your environment in Little Nightmares, leading to some bizarre and inventive exploration.
Being unable to take these creatures on toe-to-toe means resorting to stealth, resulting in hurried attempts to scurry under furniture for cover, or to reach the safe embrace of a cramped vent to gain a moment to catch your breath. It's exhilarating stuff, made even more pulse-pounding by the faint flicker of heartbeats that are introduced and become progressively louder the closer you get in proximity to an enemy. This strategic use of sound enforces a sense of imbalance at pivotal moments, further complemented by the likes of The Janitor's clawing swipes. The more you play, the less effect it'll have, however, as strictly scripted enemy behaviour starts to make their pathing predictable.
You're encouraged to interact with your environment in Little Nightmares, leading to some bizarre and inventive exploration. Be it clambering on top of toilet paper to reach a switch, climbing up bookshelves, or creating a string of sausages to use as a swing, these child-like solutions are fantastic at creating a playfully absurd environment. With new and imaginative ways to progress to the next level, there's barely ever a dull moment, despite the oppressive nature of The Maw.
Little Nightmares has combined elements of the survival horror and puzzle-platformer genres into one enticing and inventive package. With a story that gets progressively more malevolent, and an impressively eerie soundtrack to match, the game's lacking three-hour runtime never fully manages to explore the bizarre world in its entirety, however. Despite that, Little Nightmares takes a bold step in a satisfyingly fresh direction, making it an easy recommendation for fans of horror and/or puzzle-platformers.