Dec 11
By Matt Gander In Features No Comments

Of all our yearly features, our look back at games that were overshadowed is easily our favourite to compile. We often champion ‘hidden gems’ on Twitter, particularly when they’re discounted on the digital stores, but here we’re able to discuss them in full.

We’ve opted for six overlooked titles his year, all of which we’ve spent a considerable amount of time with. Honourable mentions meanwhile include the delightfully crass run ‘n gunner Rad Rodgers, frighteningly authentic 8-bit ‘demake’ Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, story-driven detective drama The Council, and the addictive pop culture time capsule The VideoKid.

Also, the very literal Limbo-alike Missing The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories; literal because the protagonist is able to rip off their own limbs to assist in puzzle solving. It’s from Swery65, so you know you’re in for a mind-altering experience.

Strange Brigade

When I was much (much) younger, any action figure playset that housed an ‘action feature’ instantly made it to that year’s Christmas list. Things like Castle Grayskull’s “hidden” trapdoor, or Boulder Hill’s delightful combo of a tumbling plastic boulder and gun turret gas pumps made the toy in question beyond desirable.

As such, Strange Brigade – a third-person shooter set during the riveting 1920s – feels like it was tailormade especially for me, involving trap-filled tombs and ruins.

Like Rebellion’s own Sniper Elite series, it’s a one trick pony that pulls off that trick so spectacularly it’s able to carry the weight of the whole experience from start to finish. To wit: Strange Brigade’s combat focuses on destroying large waves of enemies in one fell swoop. Reanimated skeletons, mummies, and other mythological creatures mostly, thanks to the ancient Egypt setting.

Swarms of enemies can be vanquished in various ways. Firstly, there’s a neat side-line of loud and messy explosives including sticky grenades and packs of dynamite. Temporary heavy weapons are another option, limited in ammo but packing a punch. These vary from a blunderbuss shotgun with a widespread, to a flamethrower with an inescapable reach. Finally, each of the playable characters has an ancient amulet to charge by collecting souls, a la Soul Reaver. One character leaps in the air to perform a ground slam, like a 1920’s Tony Stark, while one of the females has a mighty right hook; an attack amusingly accompanied by the chime of a fairground ‘test your strength’ machine.

Visually, it’s a slick package and Xbox One X enhanced to boot. The overgrown environments are detailed, and the vistas spread far into the distance. It’s not uncommon to want to stop and take in the scenery. In fact, you’re actively encouraged to as optional puzzles and hidden collectables are rife.

While only a few puzzles – which mostly take the form of code-cracking mini-games – put your wits to the test, they still help provide a change of pace, as does a jaunt into an underground pirate cove.

To top it all off, the whole shebang is narrated by a charismatic fellow who makes on-the-spot observations, commenting on your shooting proficiency and general performance. It’s even possible to tick him off by standing around idly.

This is easily the most generous package Rebellion has put together, featuring an online co-op mode and a Gears of War-style Horde Mode with waves that come thick and fast.

Rebellion really gave Strange Brigade their all, which only made it all the more disheartening to see it leave the UK chart in a matter of weeks.

Tempest 4000

We often feel Llamasoft’s games are tailored to suit Jeff and Giles’ own finely-honed arcade skills, throwing new and inexperienced players into the thick of it too soon. Tempest 4000, however, offers an easier ride, regularly throwing a few valuable lifelines your way.

It isn’t until around stage 25, a quarter of the way through, that the difficulty ramps up. By this point, you should be well accustomed to escaping danger at the very last second. The super-zapper smart bomb is recharged between stages, instantly clearing whatever is on the grid, while the jump ability allows enemies congregating on the edge of the grid to be dealt with effortlessly. This score-chaser also has one other rather neat addition – an AI droid. Every time we gained this power-up we breathed a sigh of relief, as their presence almost guarantees a safe passage to the next stage.

It seems that Jeff Minter has dialled down the psychedelics here, too. Previous Llamasoft games are sometimes criticised for becoming too trippy for their own good, with the screen distorting effects obscuring the action. Tempest 4000 remains quite the trip, only now the backdrops and effects no longer distract, allowing you to focus on refining those arcade shooting skills.

We also like the use of vintage Atari slogans on the title screen. Seasoned gamers may notice a few other winks and nods to Atari of yore too, especially within the stage names.

Just to prove how addictive and compelling Tempest is, we booted it up just to grab a couple of screenshots and ended up spending the best part of an hour chasing high scores. It’s a more than welcome addition to the current gaming landscape – Tempest 3K was, lest you forget, released on one of the worst selling consoles of all-time.

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Dec 11
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is off to a great start, topping the UK chart while becoming the fastest selling Switch release so far.

It had even stronger first-week sales than Pokemon Let’s Go: Pikachu and Eevee combined, which debuted at a more than respectable #4 and #6 in November.

Square-Enix’s Just Cause 4 entered at #6. Sales were down an alarming 60% over Just Cause 3, Eurogamer notes. It’s hard to imagine digital sales – not included in the UK charts – bridging the gap.

RDR2 held onto #2, FIFA 19 fell to #3, Battlefield V remained at #4, while Mario Kart 8 Deluxe climbed to #5 thanks to hardware bundling.

CoD: Black Ops 4, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu and Fortnite: Code in a Box Edition occupied the remaining top ten positions.

The last two new entries are technically re-entries – the PS4 version of PUBG arrived at #22, while the Switch iteration of SEGA Mega Drive Classics made #33.

The amount of no shows this week is surprising. Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight, Override: Mech City Brawl, and the belated physical releases of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Tetris Effect all eluded not just the UK top 40, but their respective individual format charts too.

A certain online retailer was unable to fulfil our physical pre-order for Tetris Effect, so we expected to make the lower end of the top 40, at the very least.

Yo-Kai Watch 3 failing to make an appearance in the 3DS top 20 is also most unexpected, given the positive reviews and popularity of the franchise. Perhaps launching it the same week as Smash wasn’t the best idea.

Dec 06
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

With reviews now live, and the Metacritic currently at a resounding 93%, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the talk of Switch town at the moment.

It isn’t the only major release this week, though – various other big releases are also now available, some of which you’d be silly to overlook.

From Bandai Namco there’s Katamari Damacy REROLL, launching at a modest £15.99. A demo is also available. The long-awaited Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is finally out too, exceeding all expectations. Review scores for this slick Metroidvania are clocking in as high as 9/10, and word has it it’s the best Wonder Boy game of all-time.

Speaking of SEGA, SEGA Mega Drive Classics brings a dollop of nostalgia. That’s joined by another helping of arcade re-releases. This week: Twinkle Star Sprites, Double Dragon II, and the 1992 Data East co-op RPG Wizard Fire.

Then flying under the radar we have Gear.Club Unlimited 2, RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures, Carcassonne, and re-releases of the Atelier Arland series.

3DS owners get a big winter release of their own as well, in the form of Yo-Kai Watch 3. Nintendo Life awarded it 9/10: “With a more nuanced battle system, larger sandboxes to explore, even more Yo-Kai to battle and add to your Medallium, this two-and-a-half-year-old game is a fresh as the day it first launched in Japan, and has given western 3DS owners one of console’s best RPGs in the twilight of its years.”

So, how’s about those Smash Bros. reviews? Scores so far include 9.5s from both Destructoid and EGM, a 9.4 from IGN, and 9/10s from The Metro and EDGE. It’s a colossal beast of a game, this time boasting a single player mode that can rival its multiplayer focused counterpart. How Nintendo will top this we never know, but we don’t doubt for a second they’ll one day try.

Here’s the full round-up of new releases. It looks like next week is a busy one, as well. Whereas Xbox One and PS4 release lists are starting to slow, the Switch appears to be just getting started.

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Dec 05
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

The original Energy Cycle gained a reputation within the trophy collecting community for being one of the fastest ways to bag a shiny platinum trophy, albeit by using one of the many video guides available online. Xbox One owners were belatedly treated to the same effortless experience too. The appeal of a sneaky gamerscore/silverware boost shouldn’t be underestimated, as the low budget puzzler seemingly sold well enough to warrant this sequel.

The developers must assume every single person who purchases Energy Cycle Edge will be familiar with the original, as there’s no tutorial to speak of. No easy-peasy opening stage, no overview of the controls, and no tips or pointers – you’re thrown straight into the deep end, simply presented with a screen full of coloured glowing orbs upon starting your first game.

As newcomers, we found this to be a rather discourteous introduction. We initially thought this puzzler used the same mechanics as the Tiger Game.com pack-in Lights Out, entailing finding the correct sequence to turn all lights off (or in this case, changing orbs to a certain colour). After 20 minutes or so of random button pressing and head-scratching, it so transpired that it’s even simpler than Lights Out. It does indeed involve turning all glowing orbs on screen to a single colour. However, one button press will cycle (ah!) through the colours of all orbs in a row; rows that are a jumble of hues to begin with.

Much of the game’s challenge lies in trying to turn the orbs at the end rows the correct colour, as this is where two rows often meet, so you need to anticipate and learn sequences to ensure every orb will end up changing the correct colour without accidentally reversing all your previous efforts.

The omission of a tutorial really defies belief

After around an hour of play, the concept finally ‘clicked’ – an hour that could’ve been far more pleasurable if it wasn’t for some frankly embarrassing oversights. The omission of a tutorial really defies belief. We’re sure even Tetris on Game Boy had helpful pointers for beginners.

Considering this is a puzzler of trial and error variety, it is at least fortunate that there are no time limits, restrictions or penalties – you’re free to keep trying (read: jab buttons randomly) until getting the solution right. That’s to say, it isn’t punishing. And no, that isn’t a positive – nobody expects any game, be it a puzzler or otherwise, to punish players for their mistakes. Except for maybe Dark Souls.

Incidentally, there’s no pre-determined colour per stage to change the orbs either. This also threw us initially too, as we assumed each puzzle demanded a certain colour and working out which was part and parcel. We were rather relieved to find this wasn’t the case, as you can probably imagine.

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Dec 04
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

It’s the big one! Although a few bits and pieces are due out over the next fortnight, this week is definitely the last ‘major’ one of 2018 for new releases – publishers and indie developers are tripping over themselves in order to get their games out in time for Christmas.

Just Cause 4 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are the big hitters. Nintendo are presumably holding back reviews of Smash Bros. – the biggest Switch release of the year – until closer to launch in order to prevent spoilers. We’ll take a closer look during our weekly eShop round-up, but rest assured that it’s an exceedingly generous package. How Nintendo has managed to cram so much content onto a cartridge is a mystery. Absolute masters of their own craft.

It’s pretty much a case of business as usual for Just Cause 4 – sloppy but satisfying chaos and carnage that’s marred by dated mechanics. We’ve also heard a few complaints of performance issues, with the PC version in particular being buggy. Still, reviews are clocking in at 8/10, which is encouraging for those not excited by the other ‘triple AAA’ releases out this winter.

Other notable new releases include THQ Nordic’s Jagged Alliance: Rage!, card-based RPG Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, tactical shooter Mutant Year Zero, the PS4 release of PUBG, mech brawler Override: Mech City Brawl, and The Council’s fifth and final episode. Fans of Persona will also be in their element, as a duo of dancing spin-offs gain belated western releases via SEGA.

This week isn’t all about everything shiny and new. Far from it, in fact. Wonder Boy is back in Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom – a game five years in the making.

VideoChums called it a “phenomenal game and one of the best Metroidvanias ever made” before dishing out 9.1.

The PlayStation Classic launched on Monday, meanwhile. We get the impression a vast amount of pre-orders were cancelled before release – it initially sounded promising, but once more details were revealed, it became apparent Sony are skimping on the good stuff. It was met with a lukewarm reception due to shoddy emulation, a lack of features, and a hit ‘n miss line-up of titles. Somebody at Sony should be forced to play the PSone version of Rainbow Six from start to finish.

We aren’t done with retro stuff yet. The Bitmap Brothers’ action classic GODS receives an Xbox One remaster, SEGA Mega Drive Classics makes a belated Switch appearance, while Battle Princess Madelyn brings Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts back from the dead.

Monica e a Guarda dos Coelhos may also be of interest, based on a series hardcore SEGA fans may be familiar with – over in Brazil, the Wonder Boy games were reskinned with this cartoon license. This appears to be a tower defence shooter of sorts. And yes, that’s what it’s called on the UK digital stores. Why they didn’t use the translated title – Monica and the Rabbit Guard – is beyond us.

Don’t forget Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Tetris Effect both receive physical releases this week. avaliable for around £25. If you’re after a stocking filler for somebody, look no further. Better than a Brut gift set and socks combined.

New release showcase:

Just Cause 4

Reviews:
Recommended – Eurogamer: “Weather effects and party balloons see a knockabout charmer return in decent form”

8/10 – TheSixthAxis: “Just Cause 4 is the best entry in the series to date, offering spectacular free-wheeling destruction on a scale that’s not been attempted before. Rico remains one of gaming’s most enjoyable protagonists, but more than ever before, it’s really all about what he’s capable of doing rather than the events unfolding around him”

7.9 – IGN: “Just Cause 4 is a slightly better version of Just Cause 3’s destruction-fueled action, but lacks a big new idea to give it an identity of its own”

Sega Mega Drive Classics (Switch)

Reviews:
8/10 – Nintendo Life: “When you take into account how much quality there is on offer here, Sega Mega Drive Classics becomes an easy recommendation”

4/5 – Switch Player: “While not everything is a classic and there’s a few notable omissions, this is still a great mixture of genres couple with neat emulation gimmicks. For Nintendo fans, it’s also a great time travel machine back to see just how the other lived during the great console war”

5/10 – God is a Geek: “While it has loads of games for the asking price, I would rather spend more and buy quality releases piecemeal or buy another collection for the Switch where there is a lot more to the release than just old roms with a few extras”

PlayStation Classic

Reviews:
3/5 – The Guardian: “It looks nice, it’s easy to use and the games are fun to revisit, but the functionality is bare-bones – and all the swagger is gone”

3/5 – TechRadar: “Because it doesn’t enshrine the best-remembered games from the ’90s, the PlayStation Classic isn’t quite everything we hoped it’d be. But what it lacks in software is made up, in part, by its lovingly crafted hardware”

5.5 – IGN: “The PlayStation Classic is more like a halfhearted nod than a top-shelf tribute to Sony’s era-defining console”

Mutant Year Zero

Reviews:
4.5/5 – Windows Central: “Mutant Year Zero is a compelling and enjoyable blend of exploration and tactical combat that will keep you playing day after day”

8.1 – PC Gamer: “Its mix of tense tactics and realtime exploration gets much right, but Mutant Year Zero doesn’t feel quite finished”

7.9 – IGN: “In changing the interplay between stealth and combat, Mutant Year Zero spins an interesting and intense new perspective on turn-based tactics that pushes you to get the most out of every move you make”

Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

Reviews:
8.5 – Destructoid: “It’s one of the more engaging rhythm games I’ve played to date, even if I wish it was open from the start and had more to do”

8/10 – GameSpot: “Although many of Persona 5’s tracks struck a chord because of their evocative attachments to the events of that game, these songs come back around to remind you just how special that journey was. And the fact that these amazing tracks are tied to a great rhythm gameplay system make this game a fantastic new way to enjoy Persona 5’s tremendous music and revisit the Phantom Thieves”

7.0 – God is a Geek: “Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is a rhythm game that is very good but one that should’ve been released later on so it could’ve had a more varied soundtrack with better remixes”

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Dec 03
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

THQ Nordic may have picked a quiet week to launch Darksiders III, but that hasn’t helped it to fly off shelves – the long-awaited follow up enters the UK top 40 at a miserable #32.

There is a chance that the digital version has picked up some slack, however, as the Fury Edition featured all three titles at an alluringly low price.

RIDE 3 also had a rough first week, failing to even make the PS4 and Xbox One top 20 charts, let alone the multiformat top 40.

Following on from last week’s Black Friday shake-up, the UK top five sees only a slight shuffle. FIFA 19 remains no.1 for a second week running, RDR2 climbs to #2, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 moves down to #3, while Battlefield V and Forza Horizon 4 hold onto #4 and #5.

At #6 – up from #9 – it’s Spyro Reignited Trilogy. Nintendo’s Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu is also on the rise, now at #7.

The remaining positions are mostly occupied by top ten re-entries: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey at #8 (was #11), Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at #9, and the Fortnite Deep Freeze Bundle at #10 (was #12).

Fallout 76, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and Marvel’s Spider-Man all departed the top ten, meanwhile, with the friendly neighbourhood superhero falling the furthest to #16.

Nov 29
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

While it’s true that most weekly eShop line-ups have a retro twist, this week’s line-up of new releases is so heavily loaded with nostalgia that we were almost tempted to add a florescent bumbag to our Christmas list.

Hoping to transport you back to the ‘80s and ‘90s are the incredibly slick retro racer Horizon Chase Turbo, shoot’em up revival R-Type Dimensions EX, a HD re-release of the PS2 platformer Asterix & Obelix XXL 2, vertical shooter Rival Megagun, pixel art scrolling brawlers Coffee Crisis and 99Vidas, 2D RPG Cattails, and the N64-style multiplayer FPS Screencheat: Unplugged.

As per usual, Hamster has a couple of arcade games lined-up too: ACA NeoGeo Cup ’98 and Arcade Archives ROUTE 16. The latter is a top-down maze game from 1985, if you’re wondering.

The 2006’s point ‘n clicker Secret Files: Tunguska also gains a Switch re-release. We reviewed the Wii version back in 2008(!): “If you’re hankering from some beard-scratching then you can’t go far wrong with this,” we said.

As for new stuff, SEGA’s back for another season with Football Manager 2019. This War of Mine: Complete Edition offers a depressing take on the survival genre, while underwater puzzle adventure ABZU is set to make a splash. Other full-price titles include Ark: Survival Evolved and Spintires: MudRunner – American Wilds, meanwhile.

The hand-drawn puzzle-driven story NAIRI: Tower of Shirin is worthy of your time too, gaining 8/10 from ourselves earlier today. To quote: “The cute and expressive graphics and the excellent writing harmoniously work together to give the game world a lived-in feel, and even characters only met for a brief while overflow with personality.”

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Nov 29
By Richard In Reviews No Comments

There’s nothing better than a good bedtime story. When I was a young bairn I used to sit under the blankets at night and read with a torch. As the nights get longer and colder, snuggling up with a good bedtime story is essential. NAIRI is a great bedtime story.

NAIRI tells the story of a small girl, whisked away at night after her parents are arrested by the Royal Guard. To say much more would spoil things, so let us just say that adventure, secrets and puzzles ensue. There’s also a great tone, plus anthropomorphic animals galore and cuteness to spare. Perhaps more importantly though, there’s also intrigue and some wonderful world building.

It’s definitely a game you could play with children, but also a game that I, a fully-grown man, found both intriguing and riveting.

I’ve been playing it like a bedtime story, a little bit at a time at night, with the Switch in portable mode. The game facilitates this perfectly. There are puzzles, but not of the predictable ““use tape to create a moustache to impersonate a man who doesn’t have a moustache” type. There’s an option to use the JoyCons as pointers on the TV too – handy for those not playing while under a duvet.

The presentation helps the bedtime story feel. The graphics are lovingly hand-painted, and the music is mellow and relaxing, like a mug of hot tea. What most impressed me, however, is how skilfully HomeBearStudio’s introduces and develops characters.

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