Gears of War – Ultimate Edition Review

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Nine years. It has been nine years since the original game appeared, a game put up as the Xbox 360 poster child and the title that for many went on to define the console every bit as much as Halo. Nine years since the phrase emergence holes, locust and eat shit and die was a thing. Nine years is a long time for mechanics to hold up, let alone still be enjoyable. Which makes it all the more impressive that it manages to still thrill, entertain and satisfy.

Of course, a lot has changed in those years, not least three other Gears titles that have expanded on the mechanics and locations of the lore. In light of this the more compact nature of the original title is both a blessing and a curse, a game with a simple plot that equates to get the bomb and make sure it explodes. In between the rule is to shoot everything, chainsaw as much as possible and try not to get blown into little pieces. Taking place in a relatively limited amount of locations the accusation that Gears was always a brown game with splashes of red is not entirely undeserved.

It is certainly not an ugly game, however, and the upgraded visuals show off an art style that can still impress today. While this may not be in the same league as other titles releasing this holiday season the destroyed beauty aesthetic holds up in creating stunning vistas. There are some performance hitches and pop in, most commonly at the start of each act, but these are few and far between and rarely impact the moment to moment running and gunning.

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That moment to moment is still the defining feature of this game and still creates an intense thrill when you find yourself in the middle of a firefight. Coming back to the game highlights the quality of arena design that Epic managed to create, each a little puzzle of cover and tactics where thinking on your feet is as much part of the skill as finding the best place to hole up and fight back.

Added to that the weapons remain outstanding to use. Figuring out how to convey both a feeling of viciousness and weight is an art that the Gears had nailed down from the start. Amplified by the way the locust are eviscerated there is a unique feeling to the arsenal that has rarely been replicated in any other shooter. They sound violent, they look violent and when used they act violently. Combined with outstanding sound design these are weapons that you want to shoot when playing, they provide that all-important feedback loop that makes you want to progress simply to find more reasons to use them.

Which does bring us onto an issue? While the more linear nature of the level design never stood out before progress has not been kind to this particular aspect of the original game. Corridors lead a linear path into  occasionally expanded areas, but the confined spaces can feel too prescriptive during level progression, leaving opportunities to explore limited to simple collectible hunting in amongst the grey and brown hues. There is also a lack of verticality in most of the levels, everything taking place on a mostly horizontal axis in front of the player with the occasional requirement to look upwards.

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There is also a noticeable dip in chapter five where the proliferation of the torque bow, a one hit kill explosive weapon, creates an annoying stop and start rhythm to the combat which previously had been more free-form and explorative in the way it presented itself. This leads to a higher degree of frustration as the peeks out of cover initially used to scope the environment can lead to an instant death and a trudge back to a checkpoint that can be placed before a major firefight that had just been completed.

Which leads to the odd issue of a shooter where nothing is unexpected, everything is in front of the player and few surprises exist. And that is if you are playing it new, having never set foot in the original title on the Xbox 360. Despite this, it provides an adventure that retains all the impact and enjoyment that heralded the influence it retains to this day. Playing through this again shows just how well Epic had crafted a game that relied on a simple premise with an outstanding execution. There are few experiences with a gun that can match the lancer bayonet, which means this old age shooter can still mix it up with the best out there.

Pro’s

Still a well crafted top class shooter

Cons

Some pacing issues

Very linear

Score Xbox One 8/10

Dex Review

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Playing Dex for the first time can lead to regular moments of deja vu, in fact working down the cliché list of gaming tropes this Kickstarter funded title triggers an alarming number of them within the first hour. Cyberpunk dystopia? Check. Supernatural abilities? Check. Random hacking spruced up as a type of mini game? Check. But underneath the whiff of familiarity lies an enjoyable adventure that may not re-invent the wheel but knows how to keep it turning.

The game is presented as a 2D side on RPG adventure where you play as Dex, a hacker with powerful abilities who has been contacted by a mysterious individual known only as Raycast. After informing you that you are on the hit list of an entity called The Complex and armed guards are currently storming the building he assists in your escape and asks you to contact Decker. From that point the mystery expands, the questions increase and the aim of the game is to find the truth whilst trying to stay alive.

You are thrown into a singular environment that sprawls over multiple areas. The standard forms of an RPG are followed with characters who would love you to fetch things, investigate things and just give them tons of money while progress with the main questline. As always there are a variety of abilities that can be increased, hard decisions to be made and many thing to pick up and sell off. So far so standard, it should be pointed out that the game has been designed to do what you expect to a high level. There is nothing that will take you by surprise during your playthrough of Dex, no revelatory moment where it moves away from tropes that already exist in other examples of the genre, but that is not to dismiss what it does do well.

dex_highlife_03 ReviewSome of the quests can be cleverly executed leading to both moments of investigation, exploration and combat. For example one quest called for me to assist in taking down a wanted felon, but to do this required me to find out and create a frequency that blocked his synthetics and compose a dart to reduce his super-strength before I met him for the final showdown. Or I could have ignored all of the steps and gone straight to the combat. It managed to move the aims away from a generic go, fetch, talk or simply shoot process that has become a somewhat unwelcome staple in modern RPG titles.

There is also a cohesiveness in both style and theme. The area feels lived in and the contrast between them have and have-nots is reasonably well defined despite the familiarity of cyberpunk. By the end I enjoyed moving to different areas, investigating little nooks and crannies on the hunt for some supplies, secrets and the odd, psychotic gang. In fact there are quite a lot of psychotic gangs, which can start to bring in some of the problems.

I sense that stealth should be a viable option in this game but the truth is it never really felt that way. While areas had placers to take cover this proved consistently less than effective. At a certain point it became easier to take them head on. The combat itself is not bad, just limited. While you can unlock a larger moveset through upgrades the standard formula is chase, punch, kick and then chase again. The AI is not the smartest, at times enemies just run from side to side in order to escape resulting some sections appearing more like Benny Hill than a crack team of guards. Guns can be used in group situations but are wisely limited for the most part by the cost of ammunition.

Screenshot26This can leave encounters feeling more like endurance than any test of skill, preparation turning into a case of buying lots of health packs and bullets for the just in case scenarios. This is not to say it gets annoying, but these tests turn more into attrition instead of something to look forward to. And that is not to mention the hacking sections, a process that takes the form of a twin stick shooter that feels, well, simply fine. There is no real pain for failure, instead just jump back in and keep on going until you pass the section.

This is where Dex falls short. For the impressive quest structure, cohesive and detailed environments and great exploration potential the combat scenarios and fights are just too dull, forming a repeating pattern that resulted in entering a location, running up and punching people, dodge, run away and then run back. There is no switch up because, to be honest, the game never forces you to. It is not the worst issue to have, they become an inconvenience, and it just impacts the areas that should provide me with the most options and enjoyment. This comes recommended, even with this structure, as exploring this world made some headway into the problems I had. After all, that’s what an RPG is all about.

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Nekro Preview

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There is something quite delicious about being evil within a videogame. Normally we are tasked with saving the world, but in this early access preview the name of the game is wanton destruction and apparently the extermination of a large amount of animals. Those poor, poor chickens.

Playing like a cross between a top down shooter and a strategy simulation Nekro tasks you with controlling a demon that has the ability to raise other demons from the dead and control various elements of the world while attempting to complete a set challenge. This could be the elimination of a target, the collection of souls or a standoff where the quest is to simply hold the position. In the early levels they do pack in a variety of goals, it rarely asks you to do the same thing twice and the continuous changes are a good sign of things to come.

The upgrade system is also interesting, allowing me to unlock and upgrade both the demons I can summon and my main avatar. The amount of options is initially bewildering, and sometimes the best upgrade path to take is not always obvious. However this variety of choice is welcome, and it should allow me to customise in the way I want and create a reasonably unique style. For example I concentrated mostly on my demons, making them stronger and finding buffs that would assist them in battle with the intention to stay in the background and support from afar. However that idea does run into some problems while actually playing the game.

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On the field itself the action plays out in a standard loop of killing, eating, earning blood and raising demons. The blood earned from the eating of the dead provides the ability to summon various demons based on what you have unlocked in the skill tree. There is a tipping point where the action can get a little frantic when moving, eating and rising whilst being chased by a large and varied amount of  bad guys but, at least initially, it is not too much of a problem.

There is a problem however, one that caused me to be entirely unable to progress past level 7 and ultimately curtail my whole experience. Up to that point the progression had been tough but manageable. Balancing my army with my own abilities was creating a sense of triumph when a level was completed and there was some interesting choices I had to make when planning my assault so that I did not find myself in too much trouble.

But level 7 changed all of that. Tasking me to destroy a statue while being assaulted by waves of bad guys is simply too hard at such an early stage. Hitting me with high level enemies that have a lot of hit points and strong attacks led to my forces being decimated within minutes which left me running around the level trying to do too many things at the same time, never having enough fingers or accuracy to complete any of it. Quite simply it put a stop to the game, it gave me a brick wall I could see no way of getting past and without the option to respec your abilities, I was unable to try a different way. If I passed the level it would be luck more than outright skill.

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It is unfortunately incredibly frustrating and feels more like the end of the game rather than the start. The learning curve, which had already been a little harsh, but still manageable, is completely skewed at this stage with the only option to restart and hope that your next playthrough with different options provides a better chance of progress.

Of course this is still in early access and the fact that this is being updated regularly this particular issue may not be there after future patches and looking on the forums this has already been flagged as a problem area. There is no reason to believe this will not be looked at going forward.

For the moment however it is a bit of a progress stopper, something that was both unexpected and unwelcome. The building blocks for this title are interesting, and there is definitely a genesis here to latch onto, but further development and a bit more refinement is required. I want to enjoy this game, and I was starting to, but there are blockers currently in place that undermine the initial efforts. I hope the developers can continue to even out this difficulty curve, if they do I will definitely return as, after all, it is so good to be so bad.

Life is Strange: Episode One Review

max_concept_art reviewIf it is possible for a single company to have a stranglehold on the interactive storytelling genre, then Telltale are doing a pretty good job at trying to seize the mantle. While the situation is less clear cut on the PC, with a plethora of studios reviving the principles of point and click, the console space is almost exclusively served by the only company which appears to be doing episodic content. So it is nice to see Dotnod Studio attempt to branch into this space with Life is Strange, a 5 part series which is to be released monthly, part one the subject of this review.

The story focusses on Max, a teenager who has recently returned from Blackwell Academy where she spent the last five years studying photography. Starting with a vision of a destructive whirlwind tearing its way towards town, the game cleverly mixes in both an overarching disaster narrative with smaller, more considered character interactions between people Max knows, both in a good and bad way.

These interactions are well done, interesting and at times touching. The games inclinations suggest that Max is seen as somewhat of an oddball by her peers, but that allows for some very endearing moments of kindness between her and the people around her through conversation options and various actions. By the end of the 2 hour or so first episode I felt a real attachment to the person representing my choices on screen, I felt she spoke with my voice and my intentions regardless of the fact the character is both much younger and of a different gender than myself.

01_Life_is_Strange_NIGHTMAREThis is despite some very cringe worthy writing. The dialogue feels very much like it was written by a demographic much older than the characters they were writing for, with lines feeling dated and forced in an attempt to sound a lot more hip and cool than they needed to be. This does lead to points where I could not help but roll my eyes, but despite this, the actual bonds that were being created felt genuine. The friendship with Chloe in particular is already one I want to explore further.

The game also tries to add a new mechanic into the genre. Rather than follow the same formula of conversation, choice and then action, it allows Max the ability to rewind time at any point, but only for a few seconds. Primarily this is used for various puzzles but it can also be used to change dialogue choices and completely change a reply or to find out further information. At this point it feels slightly underdeveloped with its use too obviously signposted and a bit too glaring to feel it has been incorporated intelligently. However, being able to see how a scene plays out differently and having that option to choose- based on seeing both outcomes never feels like you are cheating. While it needs some further expansion the foundation of an interesting twist on the genre have been firmly laid and my hope is that it can be built upon in the next set of episodes.

04_Life_is_Strange_VICTORIAS_ROOMAs a first attempt at interactive storytelling the opening signs are very encouraging. The characters are well rounded and, more importantly, believable. There are some very interesting plot strands developing which makes me want to progress with this story even further. All the groundwork work has been done and to a very high standard, with only the dialogue really being a dragging factor. Some may also point to a general lack of extra conversation options with characters outside the main plot, but for me this is a good thing as and the game never feels like it has unnecessary padding associated with it. The animation is also a little stiff, a factor that is based on the limited budget and the priority the developers set at the start of the project.

Dotnod deserve a huge amount of credit for delving into a genre that is a complete reversal from the initial effort of Remember Me, and doing so with such a strong air of confidence. They also deserve credit for achieving this with a mainly female cast, a brave choice that may have backfired if the tone had been mishandled. Episode 2 is out now and if they can keep to a regular release schedule they have a great chance of making something both interesting, different and ultimately enjoyable.

 

Score: 7/10

Reviewed on the Xbox One

 

 

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 Review

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Ahh those lovely Europeans. Just when you think the idea of traditional point and click died with LucasArts, back come independent developers to create some astonishingly finely crafted adventures that can delight, amaze, frustrate and, in the case of this gem, ultimately squirm its way into being one of the best adventure games I have played in a very long time.

The big confession to start with is that I have not played the first title in this series and therefore come into this a little cold. However it is to the credit of the writers and characters that I almost instantly felt an affinity to the people I was to take control of. While they may fall into standard tropes of elves, rogues and mages in a magical adventure, each is written and voiced in a way that makes you quickly find a favourite that you cannot help but root for.

bout2_elven_palace reviewFor me it was the dwarven mage Wilbur Weathervane. Ridiculously innocent, genuinely helpful and voiced by a Welshman that appears to be having a ball with the part by the end of the game, I was ready to enrol as his understudy and don the pointy hat myself. The fact I enjoyed this character was all down to the fantastic dialogue and adventures he found himself caught up in, including one memorable section that involved time travel, retro graphics and a very funny set of text. It was incredibly well executed, simultaneously making me smile while also providing a great sense of accomplishment.

And that in itself is not even an isolated incident. The writing is packed full of clever references to real life pop culture that worked in raising a wry smile from me each time. It is very aware of what time it is in as well as the age of the audience it is aiming for and rather than feel like a misstep it comes across as clever and well integrated into each discussion and situation. Most importantly it works, with one standout section asking you to create a story that mingles well known science fiction and fantasy films including the Matrix into a random, and not entirely believable tale, simply to finish a quest. None of it felt forced or the writers trying to be too clever, in fact it felt completely natural to the environment I was in.

The plot is a standard set of doomsday scenarios mixed in with some political intrigue and an unexpected pregnancy (yes it really is that oddball). It worked in getting my attention and keeping it during the substantial length of the adventure. There are a few nice twists and turns that crop up as well providing me with moments of genuine surprise and intrigue that pushed me further into the story. The fantastic graphics and great environments are a joy to explore, showing good detail and presenting a fascinating world. In fact there is almost nothing wrong with this game.

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OK there is one little thing. For the most part the point and click staples of picking everything up and trying to merge it with anything in your inventory before clicking on every inch of the screen are adhered to. The puzzles mostly make sense but there are moments where it can expect leaps of faith. It attempts to alleviate this by allowing the player to see what is still of interest on screen by pressing the spacebar, but this is not always as helpful as it could be. There is also a section around two thirds of the way through that requires trips between a large amount of locations with little signposting and no real indication as to where to go next. It proved to be the most frustrating section and one I have no problem admitting I used a guide to help with. The final section makes up for this lull however, with some of the best locations and puzzles in the game.

It is rare to find a title that evokes the past while providing a modern set of tools that attempts to bring the genre into the present but in The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 everything is in place to deliver a fantastic adventure title with memorable characters that have stuck with me long after the final click. In a lot of ways it feels like the adventure part of the game is a starter for the main course of the dialogue and the people you control. Those relationships are what formed the root of my enjoyment and are by far the most interesting part of the whole game. The reason I want to play the next instalment is partly to make a fishing rod out of a variety of random materials, but mostly to see what happens to the adventurers I have grown rather fond of.

 

Score:  9/10

 

White Night Review | XBox One | PC

white-night-game-logo-low-20140512It is hard not to be initially taken by White Night. The heavy film noir style coupled with the gravelly voiceover harks back to the old style detective and horror movies with the presentation wrapped up in a stark black and white palette. It feels distinctly fresh, different than many other titles that have arrived in the last few months, simply by daring to look different. How it plays however is distinctly old school.

The plot centres on the exploration of a house where the lights have gone out and no one appears to be home. As should be obvious there is some form of tragedy that has occurred and the main aim divulges into two separate requirements, to get out and find out what happened. What this translates to is a noir version of Resident Evil where fixed camera angles present each environment for both exploration and puzzle solving.

It also presents each arena with enemies. Specifically apparition’s intent on consuming the player should they to stray too close. They can be defeated by electric light, and the creation of that is one of the central pillars of the gameplay. The art style is not just an artistic choice; it is also key to progress.

White_Night_Launch_Screenshot_2_1425397837Light plays an important part throughout the game as generating it illuminates solutions and creates the ability to defeat the apparitions. But it needs to be electric light, something that is in short supply upon initially entering the mansion, leading to matches being the only way to initially explore the surroundings. There is a thrill of both nervousness and intrigue in exploring this location under limited light, trying desperately to find a light switch to alleviate the brooding atmosphere present in the environment.

This is where the game excels, the slow pace of exploration and gradual unravelling of the story through finding clues and solving puzzles is both tense and exhilarating. There is a pervasive feeling of foreboding in every room that is entered, a sense of danger mixed with intrigue that is very well expressed by the art style where at times the only window open to the player is created by a single match.

White_Night_Launch_Screenshot_3_1425397838The other clever aspect of this is limiting the number of matches that can be carried at any time. With only 12 in the inventory and refills not always available there is a risk and reward balance to take into account when exploring. How far is it worth trekking to explore further when the only supply of light could run out? Certainly there were moments during my playthrough where I feared my supply would dwindle, adding another layer of anxiety to the experience. Coupled with a manual save system it meant each exploration trip became a question of how far could I go before needing to head back to a save location. It is a good dynamic, one that forced decisions onto me on a regular basis and made me question what I needed to do so that I did not lose the progress that I had made so far.

Unfortunately this also leads to the biggest frustration. The apparitions that exist can kill in a single hit and are frustratingly inconsistent in their environment placement. They appear to follow no fixed pattern and appear almost at random, leading to some of the most annoying exploration I have had for a very long time. Due to the fixed camera angles it can be incredibly easy to get caught on a piece of scenery and the darkness means walking blindly into an apparition is far easier than it should be. There have been attempts to provide signs that something is wrong through the flicking of the match light but that is rarely enough indication before I was hit.

It can almost ruin the game as an exploration experience and it comes across as feeling almost forced, as if the developers felt like a threat was required to provide impetuous and fear to the environment they had created. While it does fit in and makes sense with the plot there are points where simple exploration mixed with well-crafted scares and a sense of unease would have provided the same outcome.

White_Night_Launch_Screenshot_4_1425397838There are also a lot of written collectibles, the tale being told piecemeal by journals, diary entries and correspondents. It breaks the flow of the game, consistently stops and starts the gameplay and calls out for the words to be spoken rather than read. However the reality of independent development means this may have been a cost they could not afford to take.

White Night feels like a good idea filled with compromise. A superb setting and art style compounded by the need for a threat that nearly overrode my enjoyment of the game. I liked the exploration and unravelling a tale in an environment that felt both familiar and different, using light to discover my next move and plot my escape. There is a lot to enjoy here, a lot to explore but be warned the frustrations could eventually suffocate that feeling of accomplishment.

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Tulpa Review

logo_artTulpa is a game that created a lot of internal emotions within me. This ranged from confusion to elation with a little bit of frustration thrown in for good measure. All while I navigated a stark set of environments attempting to understand the story presented to me. Moody, atmospheric and stylish the game has a lot going for it, which can make it all the more frustrating when small slips undermine the experience.

All that I can ascertain from the story is that it concerns two characters, a girl and a floating male entity. No names are provided, no text is employed and it plays very much in the vein of a silent movie. There is no doubt it centres on the relationship between the two of them and the open ended nature of the tale, alongside the ability to read into aspects of it what you wish, is impressively subtle while also being mysterious. While I never cared for the characters I was curious about what they represented. Were they relatives, partners possibly? What is it that brings them together? This is not a negative, in fact the ability to make me wonder is a huge positive.

tulpa12 review sizeNavigation is as simple as the story construct; the girl has the ability to jump and move while the floating being can manipulate some, but not all, of the environment. The constriction is that if the two are too far apart both shatter and return to the latest checkpoint. This does not mean both are controlled independently at all times, the developer wisely incorporating a follow mechanic when in charge of one of the characters.

The game takes place through four different areas, each taking a different tone aesthetically while keeping the same overall style. This is a striking look, and one that keeps impressing from the start to the end as I moved between the puzzles that were designed to effectively be the ‘game’ part of this escapade. I always marvelled at what was presented to me, even while not necessarily understanding why it was there.

The dichotomy comes in the balance of puzzles against the overall experience. Each area is effectively broken into a set of problems where either platforming, object manipulation or both is required to progress further. For this to work the game needs to create a consistent visual language, one subtle enough to trigger in the players mind what is required but in a subconscious way. In this aspect there are clear and irritating issues, ones that turn puzzle identification into a series of clicks around the screen in the hope of finding something that can be interacted with.

On more than one occasion playing Tulpa turned into trying to decipher a set of rules that were not always adhered to. At times interactive parts of the environment simply were impossible to identify leading to huge segments of trial and error. Other times puzzles were presented without any clues or indications as to what needed to be looked at, and at other points progression felt like simple, pure luck. These felt like a barrier the designers wanted me to have, an interruption to a carefully laid out journey because something had to be there to justify the tag of game.

tulpa5That is not to say there are not moments of triumph. It should be pointed out that there are plenty of puzzles presented that create genuine moments of pride on completion. One totem puzzle in particular required logical thinking and problem solving which, when solved, made me do exactly what I suspect was intended; smile.

In a lot of ways I applaud the minimalist design, the desire to take this games and create something that furrows a path away from what is considered atypical. While this has been echoed by other titles like Gone Home and Dear Esther the realisation that those titles made was that it can simply be OK to have limited interactivity while still creating an immersive an interesting environment. Tulpa almost feels a little nervous to attempt this and relies on some older puzzle solving tropes to provide a reason to play.

tulpa1This is definitely a title that wants to grant an experience, give me as the player something to reflect on. But that is hampered when design choices simply prove to be more obtuse than engaging and can sour the overall impression when the credits role. It leaves me with mixed emotions and a large amount of respect. If you feel at home searching for the solution to puzzles where the clues are incredibly minimalistic this will provide you with a good few hours of distraction. But if frustration comes easily, and hunting for small things leaves you cold I would stick to a let’s play.

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Switch Galaxy Ultra Review PS4 | PS Vita

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I am a man that fully admits my failings. I am not the funniest person this planet has ever seen, but I do feel that I at least have a sense of humour that could be acknowledged as within the bounds of good taste (those that thought I was going to mention my writing, well, that too). Unfortunately the initial impression of Switch Galaxy Ultra is one of a slightly lecherous persona whose attempts at humour are at times crass and border on mildly offensive. And that is before I actually start to play the game.

Vince Vance travels between planets with the occasional interruption of well-drawn comic book panels to indicate that a story is happening. The art has a great sense of style but the writing that accompanies it is awful. Bad jokes that play on puns and humorous tropes consistently fall flat, with even the in game tips being used to shoe horn in cheap laughs to poor effect. As an introduction, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

But let’s be honest, it is a game after all; even if the writing is a drawback, the actual gameplay can compensate if it knocks it out of the park. The premise is a fast paced lane switcher, where you control Vince’s craft by moving left and right while using boost and brakes to navigate between barriers, fellow ships, jumps and other obstacles. The risk and reward is simple; the more boost you use the faster you become and the faster your reflexes need to be. There are variants put in, like tokens to let you pass through certain coloured barriers, or pickups to gain extra currency for upgrades, but it boils down to go very quickly and avoid anything that will slow you down or damage you.

SGU_VITA_4This simplicity is the charm of the title, and there is no doubt that when I was frantically avoiding obstacles to keep my speed up, those endorphin’s were kicking off left right and centre. The controls are very responsive when using the L1 and R1 buttons to switch lanes and there is a strong reminiscence of Frequency and Amplitude, especially in regards to hitting those Zen moments. This is when the game shines, when the speed and the dexterity is just right to make you believe you can achieve anything it throws at you.

But there are two big Achilles heels that pull this game down from being addictive to simply diverting. The first is in the lack of leader boards, goals or ratings. There is a good time attack game in here, but it is neutered by having no visible way to compare my time against the world, or at least none that was readily apparent. The website does mention leader boards, but none were visible during my time playing the single player. Each course does have a gold standard to be beaten, but that only brings in credits and never feels worth pushing for. Worse is there are no grading or extra goals, nothing to make me want to come back to these routes to try and improve. Well, bar one…

Progress is controlled by an element called Tantalum with 10 available on each route. There is a portal that contains floating Tantalum to be collected before the final part is started, but the problem is that it punishes you for hitting anything by removing one Tantalum per impact, decreasing the overall total earned. What this leads to (very quickly), was needing to replay completed routes to scrounge for missed Tantalum just to move forward, as these are gated by Tantalum values. It should also be noted that I suffered from auto save issues including a large chunk of progress failing to keep my progress.

Switch_Galaxy-Ultra_19Now the easiest way to do this is to get to the portal, get your Tantalum, start the finale and slow right down, play it safe. Which is dull and feels like it goes against what the game was designed for. With no extra goals replaying previous routes is just not that fun or interesting, quickly turning into a chore. Those in the back seats are possibly shouting that I could simply be a cack-handed chimp who has all the agility of a very tired sloth but my average return per route was between 7 and 8 Tantalum on the first run. This means that any mistake on that final section becomes far more punitive than it should, leading to me crawling along these final sections being more concerned with progression than having fun. The mode that works the best in getting round this is survival, where all I need to concentrate on is my own skill and this shines through simply because of this back to basics approach.

This leaves a conundrum. A good idea, a smart premise and a decent looking game undone by too many systems in the wrong place. The hook should have been to make me want to replay these routes to get better, as it turns out replaying them felt more like a job. And I already have one of those.

 

 

JuJu Review

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As Scooby-Doo has rightfully pointed out on numerous occasions, kids cause problems. And in this instance curious children once again manage to provoke a world changing event that, luckily, can be undone by completing a platforming adventure. This is the basis for Juju, Flying Wild Hog’s latest release that sees Juju jumping, bouncing and play the bongos over a series of levels in order to defeat the ultimate evil and rescue not just the world, but also his father.

A platformer’s most important asset is the feeling of satisfaction created during forward momentum. As the player spends most of the time in traversal, the sensation caused by pressing the jump button and moving between platforms is incredibly important, and it is something that Juju does very well. It feels good, it is satisfying and more importantly remains consistent from start to finish. Juju always behaves as you expect him to under your control, moves and lands where you push the control stick and responds accurately to all the inputs I gave him. It also had that feeling of being just right, that indistinguishable sensation that the upmost care had been taken in making this feel satisfying to play. There are never any moments that I felt a death was caused by a failure in the control system, simply by a failure in my co-ordination.

JUJU_Launch_(1)The second most important factor is in level design. In this regard the influences are clear, with hints of Donkey Kong and Rayman appearing in various guises. Unfortunately the overall result is not as clever as either of those two titles. Getting from the start to the end is never difficult and, due to this, rarely that interesting. Even finding the secret areas is not problematic as the signposting is readily apparent and hard to miss. Levels do have a natural flow to them but they only start to get interesting and exciting by the last world, at which point they had already started to lose my attention. This simply led to an appreciation, rather than pure enjoyment, a pervasive feeling that everything was just OK, instead of inciting excitement within me. Finishing levels in any platforming game should feel like an accomplishment, a test of both reflexes and problem solving in order to reach the goal. In both these factors, to its detriment, Juju is too forgiving.

Now this may be very intentional. The aesthetic is very bold and bright, the characters skewed more towards the cute and it is hard to shake the feeling that this is meant for a younger audience. In that regard the above observations should be taken with a pinch of salt, as the developer may well be making these decisions intentionally to appeal more to that group. And certainly for a younger gamer this would be a great way to introduce the platforming genre to them, as it avoids many of the frustrations that can arise during play in its more established brethren.

Juju_screen_3There are attempts to try to mix it up now and then; various extra powers are granted during the game, including the ability to swim, ground pound and fire pellets.  These are rarely expanded on during progression though, and no substantive attempts are made to build on these abilities outside the final boss sections. In the case of the pellet, it arrives so late on that it feels a little like an afterthought rather than a conscious decision.

In truth, just about everything that I saw playing this game, I had seen before, and done better in other titles. It should be remembered that this is the studios first attempt at a platformer, and they have taken from the best there is, but in emulating established franchises it only heightens the awareness of what those games did better than this one.

Juju_screen_4The hardest thing about this all is that none of it is bad. The game itself is a thoroughly decent excuse to spend a few hours jumping about a series of great looking environments and collecting flashy gems. It is entirely inoffensive, the animation is of a good quality and the actual act of playing the game never feels frustrating or badly implemented. The problem with this is that it never feels like it wanted to be anything more than good, nor tried to progress beyond the original basic design.  It is not that exciting, neither is it that compulsive. The foundations are all in place and the team behind this managed to get arguably the hardest part right the first time round; in terms of the movement. If there was ever a sequel it could be great, allowing them to expand upon the foundation already present, but as it currently stands it is a fun diversion but one that is hard to wholeheartedly recommend.

Score: 6/10

Reviewed on PS3.

Xbox 360 and Steam versions available.