JuJu Review

Juju

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.

Frugal Gaming Review – Shadow Warrior

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A Mystical, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Kung Fu, Monster, Ghost Story!

Reboot, Remake or Re-Imagining? I’m not sure which one best describes the snazzy new version of 3D Realms 1997 over the top action-fest. Having originally launched just a year after the cult hit Duke Nukem 3D; which was also developed by 3D Realms, the first game to bear the Shadow Warrior name never seemed quite as popular. It was a good couple of years down the line that I first played it, and whilst it was a solid game it never held the same kind of lasting appeal as the old King did. Fast forwarding fifteen plus years and Shadow Warrior, which launched on Steam some time ago, is now available on the current crop of consoles. Whilst it was Take-Two interactive and Borderlands darling developer Gearbox that finally birthed the abomination that was Duke Nukem Forever, it’s a relatively unknown developer backed by an indie publishing heavyweight that has shepherded Shadow Warrior to release. So, have Flying Wild Hog and Devolver Digital managed to outdo the big boys? Well let’s face it outdoing the “shittiest game of 2011” isn’t really that hard, but Shadow Warrior not only makes the Nukem effort look rank amateur, it’s a cracking game in its own right.

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Have You Paid Your Dues Jack?

Filling the shoes of Lo Wang; a wisecracking assassin, you start the game working for a powerful businessman called Zilla. Your task is to retrieve an ancient katana currently in the possession of a collector, if the 3 million dollars that Zilla is prepared to pay doesn’t do the trick, then all options are clearly on the table. Needless to say the money is rejected and you soon find yourself killing loads and loads of people with rather sharp implements and the occasional gun. It’s not long into Shadow Warrior’s 20 odd hour campaign that human enemies will be the least of your worries.

The sword that you were after turns out to be rather special; one of a set of three, that when combined can slay immortals and is pretty much Kryptonite to demons. I did mention demons right? What started as a simple retrieval mission, quickly escalates into pretty much saving the world from all manner of hell spawn. The story actually surprised me, it’s well thought out, well written and the voice acting for the most part is pretty good. It’s funny too, and in a much more grown up way than I was expecting. There is still certainly lowbrow humour, but Shadow Warrior doesn’t rely on this stuff for the laughs, using it more as a homage to the original game and also everything that has influenced it.

shadowwarrior-walkingdead1This Is Going To Take Crackerjack Timing Wang

Gameplay in Shadow Warrior is some of the most fast paced and frantic that I’ve ever experienced in a first person shooter. Enemies swarm, overwhelm and always feel threatening. Combat is played out at such a pace that I really appreciated the ebb and flow of engagements. A five minute onslaught followed by a lull to catch my breath and poke around the corners of the fantastic environments leaves the whole game with a real sense of pace and timing. There is plenty to do in these less hectic periods too. Collectibles abound and hidden areas are scattered throughout the game. Whilst it’s still an A to B kind of game, the levels are so large that it leaves plenty of room for exploration.  From hidden shrines, fortune cookies and pixel art Hentai girls, there is a lot to discover and adds a whole lot of replay-ability for the kleptomaniac inside within.

Whilst I guess that Shadow Warrior is best described as a first person shooter, it has plenty of meaty guns after all and it no doubt that helps with marketing the game, but it’s also somewhat of a disservice to what I consider the star attraction. Apart from shooting down the occasional winged beast with which ever gun was easiest to equip, I played pretty much the entire game with just my trusty katana. Slicing and dicing foes hasn’t felt this good since Jedi Outcast back in 2002, and with a repertoire of unlockable special moves, it really does make you feel like a wise cracking badass katana master.

For those who do prefer gunplay, it’s still solid but nowhere near as rewarding as wielding a sword, nor as refined. Shadow Warrior does feature Iron Sights, but instead of utilising the customary left trigger, you have to half pull in the right trigger, which then zooms you in. Pulling the trigger all the way then fires, it’s as awkward to use and it is to describe and to be honest if guns are your thing then hip-firing seems to work just as well. The selection of death dealing mechanical devices is pretty good and players will find themselves immediately at ease with the selection. Much like the unlockable special katana moves, all the weapons can be upgraded which is a nice touch if that’s the way you want to play.

SW_Screen_1Give Me Your Best Shot Pal. I can Take It

Graphically Shadow Warrior is a bit of a mixed bag. Environments can look stunning at times and the frame rate remains a pretty constant 60fps throughout, which in itself is an impressive feat, considering the amount of action that can be going on around you in the more hectic scenes. Where the game does stumble is in the character models. Most look average and some just look plain bad. It’s more of a niggle than anything else and didn’t detract from the enjoyment that Shadow Warrior offers, but they do definitely stand out as one of the games weaker points.

Shadow Warrior is a great package with a lot to offer. A meaty worthwhile 20 hour campaign, fantastic frantic gameplay, well designed levels ripe for exploration, meaningful weapon and character skill trees and a whole lot more.  Shadow Warrior is perfectly balanced, providing enough nostalgic nods to its forbear and the genre in general whilst feeling and looking resolutely modern. Flying Wild Hog have shown what can be done with some of these older licenses that are ripe for revival and I’m looking forward to seeing what the studio does next.

Hail To The King Baby, his name is Lo Wang.

8.5/10

Developed by Flying Wild Hog

Published by Devolver Digital

Shadow Warrior is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4

Xbox One version reviewed.