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.
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.
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.
2014’s The Evil Within was renowned game director Shinji Mikami’s spiritual successor to the classic Resident Evil titles of his creation, so, with the seventh instalment of Capcom’s horror series successfully returning to its roots earlier this year, The Evil Within 2 needed to evolve to garner attention. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened: TEW 2 improves and expands on its forebearer in almost every way, making for a great example of a sequel done right.
The Evil Within 2 improves and expands on its forebearer in almost every way, making for a great example of a sequel done right.
While perhaps a little difficult to wrap your head around initially, STEM’s alternate reality is a fantastic means to remove all barriers and let The Evil Within’s design run riot. You’re relentlessly shown exciting new visuals, bolstered by HDR compatibility, all of which are so considered in their grotesquery that they achieve a morbid beauty. Just as you wouldn’t generally link beauty and brutality, The Evil Within 2 revels in making further juxtapositions feel natural next to one another, be that in reality-based and abstract settings, affluence and dilapidation, or low and high technologies.
This serves to complement another of the game’s villains, the artist Stefano, a character that has more than a little in common with BioShock’s fantastic Sander Cohen, complete with his very own Fort Frolic. Using human flesh as his canvas, you’ll bear witness to many of his works, and, somewhat disturbingly, very likely stop to calmly admire them with the fitting accompaniment of an original (and excellent) classical music track.
Having gone quasi-open world, the game’s two truly sandbox areas (one of which is cheekily recycled as a faux third) are, thankfully, packed with exciting and significant optional activities. Compliments for open world design are thin on the ground these days - we, along with many others, have grown tired of the map-filling, tedious brand of busywork many games have come to rely upon. The Evil Within 2’s unique boss encounters, side missions, collectibles and secrets put that issue to rest however, maintaining consistently high quality whilst also serving to fill in the wider narrative and bridge the three-year gap between instalments. This makes scouring the crumbling streets of Union a thoroughly enriching experience, akin to exploring Batman: Arkham City for the first time.
STEM’s alternate reality is a fantastic means to remove all barriers and let the The Evil Within’s design run riot. You’re relentlessly shown exciting new visuals.
What’s more, especially if you up the difficulty to Nightmare, this nonlinearity sees the survival element begin to shine. You might clamber onto a rooftop and use your sniper scope to scout a location in the distance, spotting a tempting loot pile surrounded by enemies before weighing whether or not it's worth pursuing; perhaps you then make some supplies via the simple new crafting system, these convincing you to head in with stealthy intent. You’re spotted. An unnerving chase begins, more and more enemies emerging from all directions, drawn by the ruckus, as you narrowly avoid an incoming swipe and hurriedly slip into the nearest safehouse, breathing a heavy sigh of relief as you stand, shaken, behind the boundary door. That’s just one example of the many possible, and quite memorable, self-contained stories The Evil Within 2’s emergent gameplay can facilitate, in much the same vein as State of Decay.
Frequently breaking away from the open areas for more linear main story segments, as well as trips through a series of tunnels called The Marrow, had us longing to return at times. This feeling isn’t helped by the fact that these sections occasionally force either open combat or stealth on the player, rather than leaving them to choose their own method of approach. Both play styles are at least engaging, with a highly customisable loadout of loud, punchy firearms and a versatile tactical crossbow making up the bulk of your offence, while conventional-but-satisfying hidden melee kills and a slightly dodgy cover system mostly comprise the sneaky side of things.
Having a sizeable arsenal at your disposal unfortunately relieves many of the malformed cast of enemies of their scare factor; provided you’re actively scavenging for resources, you’ll never be in any desperate need for either ammunition or medical supplies, even on the hardest difficulty setting. Throughout a playthrough, which should last around twenty hours, ways to manipulate the dopey AI and reliably spot enemies lying in ambush also become apparent, further tipping the odds in your favour.
Other than some great late game boss encounters, The Evil Within 2 gradually leaks horror until there’s little left to be scared of; this might be either welcome or disappointing, depending on how much you like sitting in your own leakage. Maintaining the first game’s body burning mechanic - which saw enemies have the potential to spring back to life if their corpse wasn’t ousted using a limited supply of matches, à la the Resident Evil remake - would likely have helped the game remain more engaging on that front, however.
All in all, despite a weaker second act by comparison to the superb first, The Evil Within 2 is a mechanically gripping game. It’s a sophisticated mix of old and new, along with Western and Japanese influences, thanks to its diverse development staff. A considered audiovisual feast that, in a year where Resident Evil 7 convinced us first-person perspectives and VR were the unchallenged future of survival horror, compellingly challenged that notion.
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.
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.
This game is silly. Don’t get us wrong, we don’t mean that in a bad way, but you have to admit no one was calling for Nintendo’s iconic Mario franchise to collide with Ubisoft’s collective of crazed, rabbit-like creatures. What we’ve ended up with as a result of this unholy alliance however, is truly something special.
For many the setup isn’t that important, but the time and care put into it by Ubisoft really puts across what it meant to them to be able to work awithin the Mario universe.
Battles are where the action is of course, and while Beep-O is fine at the odd puzzle, it’s Mario and co. who you’ll be relying on to tackle the rabbids that went extra wacky during the transition. There are a few ever-so-slightly more sane rabbids on your own team, including Rabbid Peach, who constantly snaps selfies and admires herself to really inject her with personality.
Each character has access to different weapons and skills, but variety feels somewhat lacking, with the same skills having different names depending on the hero in an attempt to disguise what’s essentially a copy and paste exercise. What makes things more frustrating is that you might not unlock the character you really want until near enough the end of the game, though at least you can reset your skills at any time to tailor your team to the challenge at hand.
Speaking of which, challenge maps become available once you’ve completed each mode, these taking an existing level and throwing in different conditions like a one turn limit or added enemy variety. Some of these can be taken on in co-op as well, in a perhaps slightly underdeveloped mode which nonetheless manages to be a great time for players in the same room (there’s no online option).
Combat begs comparisons with fellow tactical, turn-based strategy game XCOM, and disappointingly misses the opportunity to poke fun (as far as we noticed), but, on the whole, it really feels quite different thanks to its more basic approach. For example, Mario and chums can dash through enemies during movement to deal serious damage and then attack with weapons, compounding the damage dealt in a way which also fits in with Mario's head-stomping pedigree. Things can even be further simplified by toggling ‘Easy Mode’ at the beginning of any skirmish, helping to make Kingdom Battle more accessible to all.
Combat begs comparisons with fellow tactical, turn-based strategy game XCOM, and disappointingly misses the opportunity to poke fun (as far as we noticed).
Enemies gain skills and health as you do, making the learning curve quite gradual, but there’s a fair amount more re-skinning going on as you progress. Despite that, when the different classes start to interact you suddenly find yourself being tested in ways you didn’t expect, making it all the more rewarding when you finally take all the units down for a victory.
In the end, there’s not much to complain about with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. It could use more variety in a number of areas - namely abilities, weaponry and the cast of characters on both sides of the titular battle (there’s no shortage to draw from on that front, looking at the recent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) - but, generally, this is an essential purchase for Nintendo Switch owners. An original game that’s of great quality both at home on the big screen and on the go. In fact, it’s so engrossing that at one point we may have missed our stop on the train… and couldn’t be happier about it.
Welcome to Death Squared, a game so dastardly that it keeps a running total of how many times you’ve failed, reminding you of it every time you die. And you will die. A lot. Make no mistake, behind the cutesy aesthetic and quirky sense of humour is a neat little puzzler that takes great pleasure in your misery.
While there’s no real plot, the banter between David and Iris is consistently amusing, even when they’re insulting your ineptitude.
The game has a heavy focus on cooperative play, regularly introducing new rules and mechanics to test your communication, teamwork and, most likely, friendships. Death Squared wants to be a party game for everyone, but while it provides plenty of laughs, it’s also a little too complicated for anyone to just pick up and play.
Another frustration is that you need four controllers for four-player fun. That sounds pretty obvious, but with the only essential control being movement, it feels like there may have been an opportunity to allow two players to share a Joy-Con (one person utilising the analogue stick and the other the four face buttons) in a similar way to Micro Machines Turbo Tournament on the Mega Drive.
Despite the focus on co-op, playing Death Squared solo is often more rewarding and less frustrating than the chaos of tackling mazes with your mates. Each analogue stick controls a separate character, which means that it can often feel like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. While this can be a gratifying challenge, it also makes it easy to forget which cube you’re about to move, which can lead you to accidentally plummet to your doom. While the controls are simple, they can sometimes feel a bit loose. Not being able to rotate the level also means that depth perception is occasionally an issue.
Between the co-op campaign, four-player party mode and unlockable content, there’s more than 120 puzzles to infuriate and/or delight. It’s just a shame that there isn’t more variety to keep things fresh from start to finish. Once you’ve mastered all the puzzles, there’s little reason to return. Online leaderboards for level times or total deaths could have helped here.
Death Squared will have you tearing your hair out whether you’re playing alone or with friends, but it has the gravitational pull to bring you back for more and more punishment. Each maze generally only takes a few minutes to complete, so it’s the perfect head scratcher and time waster to play on the bus or train - a feature that is obviously unique to the Switch, in our minds making this the definitive version of a solid puzzle game with plenty of character.