Dec 18
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

This crowd-funded action platformer is a remarkable collaboration between father and daughter. A spiritual successor to Capcom’s seminal Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, it borrows more than a few ideas and mechanics, only here the relentless spear lobbing is accompanied by a side-line of elusive childhood innocence.

The storyline is especially twee involving the titular Princess and her ghostly canine companion out to recover the scattered pieces of a rickety time-altering robot.

Don’t let the child-like nature of the game’s premise fool you. Battle Princess Madelyn is for battle-hardened gamers weaned on the likes of the aforementioned Capcom classic, offering an arcade mode with ‘old skool’ sensibilities and a more involving story mode with light Metroidvania elements.

Both are as tough as their inspiration, if not tougher. The slow-burning story mode requires a degree of commitment, being surprisingly time-consuming, while the shorter arcade mode demands level layouts and enemy locations be consigned to memory.

Both modes begin in the best possible fashion – with a glorious homage to Ghouls ‘n Ghosts opening graveyard stage, complete with ghoulies that spring out from behind tombstones, and a rousing musical score. Compared to what’s to come this stage is relatively straightforward, giving chance to acquaint with the controls and the three-strike damage system. Take too many hits and poor Madelyn is forced to run around in an old-fashioned nightdress. We guess polka dot underwear would’ve been a step too far.

The arcade and story modes soon reveal their own unique foibles and peculiarities. The biggest problem with arcade mode is that it’s authentic to a fault. There’s no save facility, so all progress is lost when returning to the main menu. That’s to say, it must be completed in one sitting. Each level – which are arrangements of the story mode stages – grants a handful of lives, and there are no additional 1-UPs.

Madelyn does at least begin arcade mode with a few additional skills, including a double-jump not unlocked until story mode’s second boss battle. Fitzy, Madelyn’s canine chum, can also bite enemies from the outset; another skill not gained until later elsewhere.

Once the stockpile of lives has been depleted, you’re placed back at the beginning of a stage… which is what you’d expect for an arcade-like experiance. Indeed, for the most part, it’s akin to playing a long-lost arcade game, albeit one that requires considerably more time and effort. This isn’t something you’ll breeze through in an hour or two.

a demanding experience in more ways than one

The biggest obstacle to bear in mind is that Battle Princess Madelyn uses the universally disliked knockback feature. When Madelyn takes a hit she’s propelled backwards, often into harm’s way. While it definitely helps BPM feel quintessentially retro, it’s also the cause of much frustration. The second stage in arcade mode, for instance, entails traversing dozens of lily pads – take a hit, and you’re almost guaranteed to end up in a watery grave.

All but a minor hiccup when it comes to the game’s third stage – a colossal cave filled with dozens of stalactites to leap across. Some of these have projectile spitting snakes wrapped around, causing Madelyn to be knocked back and halting progress until the location of every snake has been memorised and the safest route found. To be blunt, we’d gladly never step foot in this cave ever again – it took us two entire evenings of play to overcome. There’s also a puzzle to solve here, requiring buttons to be pressed in sequence, which is off the beaten track and in the opposite direction to the few signposts guiding towards the exit. Particularly when taking on this stage in story mode, more than a few peculiar omissions come to light.

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Dec 17
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

According to GI.biz, most of the titles in the UK top ten saw a rise in sales last week. It’s a small reprieve for publishers whose titles underperformed at launch.

Red Dead Redemption 2 has returned to no.1, dethroning Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in the process. Nintendo’s hyperactive brawler is now at #4, making way for FIFA 19 at #2 – which saw a 30% increase in sales – and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 at #3, which enjoyed a 175% sales boost.

At #5 it’s the Switch pack-in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which also saw a 20% sales increase over last week. Proving that the Switch is a popular purchase this Christmas, five other first-party releases moved up the chart too.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy rose to #6 thanks to a price cut to around £25. Battlefield V dropped to #7, Forza Horizon 4 climbed to #8 – up all the way from #17 – Marvel’s Spider-Man swung in at #9, while Crash Bandicoot rounds off the top ten.

After entering at #6 last week, Just Cause 4 is now at #13. Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu and the parent confusing Fortnite: Deep Freeze Bundle also departed the top ten, now sitting just outside.

Fallout 76 and Hitman 2 crept back up the chart, meanwhile, with the former up five places to #14 and the latter up eleven places to #18.

This was also due to price drops – Hitman 2 was available for £20 last week, while £25 seems to be the current average price of Fallout 76.

Dec 16
By Jake In Reviews No Comments

Zarvot is an odd mix. It’s promoted as the story of two cubes getting a present for their cube friend. Though mostly it’s an isometric shooter. But really it’s both. And also not quite either. Plus a bit of fiddly other stuff.

First, some reassurance: the story element works really nicely. My main fear was that it would tread a little too close to Thomas Was Alone, but Zarvot is very much its own kind of weird.

Charcoal and Mustard are getting a present for Red, which involves some enjoyably peculiar encounters, the boss battles in particular – with a carton of milk, for instance. Mustard’s intentionally wonky dialogue entertains, and some more subtle nuances to Red’s character help Zarvot stop just short of outright zany.

The game is an isometric shooter at its heart though, and that doesn’t exactly integrate seamlessly into a story mode. Much of the time you’re just navigating a linear path between arena-based encounters, when barriers appear and you have to clear a wave of enemies before carrying on.

Other elements pop up now and then – a fetch quest, or a bit of platforming – which don’t so much add variety, as not fit in at all. Especially the platforming, which the movement controls simply aren’t up to.

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Dec 14
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

With the Switch being a Christmas must-have, it’s no surprise to see developers eager to get their latest and greatest on the eShop ahead of the big day.

During the next week or so we can expect such big hitters as Firewatch, Donut County, Aaero, and JCB Pioneer: Mars.

This week’s assortment isn’t one to sniff at either. There’s a belated conversion of V-Rally 4, arcade classic Metal Slug 5, SEGA’s seminal JRPG Phantasy Star – at a bargain £5.99 – the slick space shooter EVERSPACE – Stellar Edition, pixel art hoverbike racer Desert Child, and the Mexican Metroidvania Guacamelee! 2.

They’re joined by Kingdom Two Crowns and GRIS. The former is a co-op side-scrolling strategy sim, which garnered an 8/10 from Nintendo Life, while the latter is a frustration-free artistic adventure which has been the talk to Twitter today due to gaining some stunningly high scores. “GRIS is a wonderful artistic achievement, with a simply sublime visual style and soundtrack that grows and evolves through the course of an emotional story,” was TheSixthAxis‘ verdict.

A festive sale is also underway, which includes RE Revelations 2, Puyo Puyo Tetris, Mega Man 11 and more. You can browse the full list, including games under £10, here.

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Dec 12
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

Last week saw the final batch of 2018’s big-name releases. This week, a bunch of smaller titles are vying for your money and attention, with the giant bug blaster Earth Defence Force 5, procedurally generated subterranean adventure Below, and Borderlands 2 VR being standouts.

Bubbling under we have Desert Child – a story-driven pixel art hoverbike racer –party game Big Crown: Showdown, co-op side-scrolling strategy title Kingdom Two Crowns, and a remaster of the notorious Double Switch – 25th Anniversary Edition – a Night Trap sequel of sorts.

The Switch receives a belated conversion of V Rally 4, meanwhile. The VideoKid also makes the jump to PS4, being a Paperboy alike drenched in ‘80s nostalgia. It’ll push your memory skills and reflexes hard, while putting a smile on your face – the pop culture references come thick and fast.

As mentioned last week, the Switch eShop continues to be a hubbub of activity. Looking at release lists, we can expect another 30-40 releases before the year is out. A few titles are even due out on Christmas day, perfectly timed for full storefront visibility.

New release showcase:

Earth Defence Force 5

Reviews:
8/10 – GameSpot: “Despite the series’ long-running nature, Earth Defense Force 5 is a standout action game, revelling in its own absurdity while crafting a brilliantly fun and lively action game around it. Its huge battles are a joy to watch play out both from up close and afar, and the wide variety of weapons and play styles with each player type offers plenty of reason to come back for more after the final bullet has been fired”

7.0 – GameInformer: “Even though the formula is familiar, teaming up with friends to exterminate the alien menace is enjoyable”

5/10 – Push Square: “Mowing down the endless seas of extra-terrestrial arachnids and UFOs while melodramatic voice clips play in the background makes for an excellent stress reliever or a fantastically fun time with some friends, but its complete lack of depth causes the monotony of repetition to quickly seep into what’s an otherwise joyous celebration of video game escapism”

Big Crown: Showdown

Reviews:
7.0 – PlayStation Lifestyle: “Big Crown: Showdown is a safe bet for party games to play that most people will enjoy. A large variety of maps helps to avoid tedium, but the core gameplay mechanics may be a bit too simple to sink into for much more than an hour at a time. There’s nothing wrong with this, and Big Crown: Showdown is perfect for playing with friends, family, and frenemies, especially those who don’t play games very often”

Desert Child

Reviews:
65% – Gaming Trend: “At its best, Desert Child captures the feeling of working toward a big dream while struggling to even buy your next meal. Unfortunately, those moments come sandwiched between a lot of repetition as the initially fun races become a chore that you have to do over and over again. Desert Child’s unique setting, filled out with great art and a killer soundtrack, is fun to explore for a while, but the game runs out of gas a little too quickly”

3.5/10 – Nintendo World Report: “From the gorgeous pixel art to the incredible soundtrack, Desert Child looks outstanding. Looks can be deceiving though, and it’s clear that much more time was spent on crafting a distinct style than fine-tuning gameplay. If you’ve so much as watched a trailer for Desert Child, you’ve already experienced everything worth seeing in the game”

Kingdom Two Crowns

Reviews:
9/10 – Nintendo World Report: “If you are a fan of strategy games (or like thinking strategically but don’t like messing around with menus all day) I would heartily recommend Kingdom Two Crowns – especially if you have a partner to rule with”

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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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