GrabbedT
Jul 30
By Matt Gander In Retro No Comments

With Rare Replay just days away we’ve busted out the Mr. Sheen and dusted off our Grabbed by the Ghoulies lookback from Halloween 2013.

Microsoft paid a vast sum for Rare ($375 million, if your memory needs a jog) and so it was understandable, at least from a business point of view, that they wanted a return on that outlay sooner rather than later. With Kameo: Elements of Power and the next Perfect Dark still some way off, Grabbed by the Ghoulies was called upon to begin filling Microsoft’s coffins, sorry, coffers, with cash.

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Rare’s first Xbox-exclusive was both announced and released within a six month period. For a Rare production this was uncommon – their games were objects of affection long before release, with new info and batches of screenshots slowly drip-fed to the press in order to whip up a frenzy every time something new was shown.

Even from an early stage it was clear that Grabbed by the Ghoulies wasn’t going to be quite the labour of love as Rare’s previous efforts. Spiky haired protagonist Cooper could have only been more uncharismatic had Rare stuck a backwards baseball cap on his head, while his love interest – punkish teen Amber – was also rather undistinguished when compared to the company’s other creations. Together they were up against the eccentric Baron Von Ghoul, owner of Ghoulhaven Hall.

comparisons with Luigi’s Mansion were easy to make

With each cob-webbed covered room presenting a challenge or obstacle to overcome, comparisons with Luigi’s Mansion were easy to make. The plot too shared some similarities – Luigi and Cooper both had to venture into haunted houses to save the ones they loved (albeit brotherly love in Luigi’s case). Another difference was the hindrances Cooper faced could mostly be overcome with brawn rather than brain due to a focus on combat.

This wasn’t the first game to feature melee attacks mapped out onto an analogue stick, but it was perhaps the most successful at doing so. Pushing the right stick caused Cooper to unleash a barrage of kicks in that direction, as well as a nifty elbow slam when attacking enemies from behind. Environments were fully destructible – after a ruckus the mansion’s rooms lay strewn with pieces of broken furniture along with the ghostly remains of whatever supernatural enemies Cooper had come up against.

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Weapons too were breakable, but not in a pleasing fashion – most would fall to pieces after a paltry three uses. This did however keep players on their toes, forcing them to search rooms for other ways to maim. Not all enemies could be defeated by melee combat either – mummies, for instance, had to be booted into fireplaces and furnaces with a well-timed kick.

Each room had a challenge to beat in order to unlock the door to the next area. These started out relatively simple, such as having to vanquish all enemies within a time limit, and became more elaborate as the story unfolded. Challenges to defeat a bunch of enemies with only a certain number of attacks, or without weapons, would usually take a couple of attempts to successfully compete. Failure to meet these objectives resulted in the Grim Reaper turning up and killing Cooper with one touch from his long pointy finger. The Reaper would also kill any enemies that crossed his path, prompting him to play his scythe like an electric guitar in an amusing manner.

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KingsQuest2
Jul 29
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

It’s an indie summer alright – this week’s digital offerings including the start of yet another episodic adventure, the penultimate episode of Life is Strange and the return of a cult indie classic. A rather unexpected HD revamp also heads to retail. Even more unexpected than the recent Prototype Biohazard Bundle? Perhaps.

At least Legend of Kay Anniversary has had a fair bit of work put into it visually, with reviewers claiming that it does look rather fetching with a new coat of polygon paint. As we could have foreseen however, the new visuals aren’t enough to elevate it from being anything more than above average. When it was first released in 2005 it was met with 5/10s, 6/10s and the odd 7/10. Ten years on, nothing has changed.

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The 3D platformer is out now on a wide assortment of formats – PS4 (physical and via PSN), PS3 (PSN only), Wii U (physical and via the eShop), Xbox 360 (via Games with Demand only) and PC. Expect to pay around £20.

King’s Quest – Chapter 1: A Knight to Remember is also out now on just about every format going, including Xbox 360 and PS3. This too is a revamp of a long lost franchise – the last time the world saw King’s Quest was back in 1998. Destructoid was smitten with A Knight to Remember, calling it a “modern classic” before handing out a lofty 9.5.

It also received 8/10s from The Metro (“easily the most authentic interpretation of the graphic adventure in the modern era”) and GameInformer. “The team at The Odd Gentlemen has created one of the most endearing, true-to-form adventure games I’ve played in recent years” came the latter’s verdict.

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Although the asking price is double that of your standard Telltale release (£7.99) it would appear that it’s a tad lengthier due to a sandbox area that opens up towards the end of the chapter. A complete package is also available to purchase now, priced £31.99.

A Knight to Remember brings us onto Life Is Strange: Episode 4 – Dark Room (£3.99) nicely. This episode starts out with a shock and a major one at that, prompting a wave of “OMGs” on our Twitter feed. Reviews would suggest that only the episode’s beginning and ending leave an impression though, with both GameSpot and The Metro highlighting the “crawling” pace in-between. Both gave it 6/10.

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TemboT
Jul 29
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

Published by SEGA and developed by Game Freak – yes, the same Game Freak who gave the world PokémonTembo the Badass Elephant recalls fond memories of the 32-bit era. Specifically, around two or three years into the Saturn’s stunted lifecycle. While Sony was wowing gamers with the kind of stuff that showed off the PSone’s 3D abilities, SEGA was busy releasing such offbeat 2D titles as Three Dirty Dwarfs, Mr. Bones, Scud – The Disposable Assassin, Saturn Bomberman and the legendary Guardian Heroes in a pleasantly oblivious manner.

Not only does Tembo himself – an elephant dressed in commando attire – resemble a hero from days gone by, but the difficulty level rivals something from a past era too. We’re talking back when 2D platformers were tough to the point of being brutal, requiring enemy attack patterns to be memorised and level layouts learnt inside out.

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Despite their length and non-linearity, the majority of stages feature just three or four checkpoints each. To make things tougher still, Tembo can only withstand four hits before hitting the dirt…and due to scarcity you can bet that when low on health no pick-ups will be nearby. There are even a few instances when it’s wise to leap over and then return to health pick-ups when at death’s door. Combine all of this with the fact that Game Freak have brought back the somewhat dated concept of lives – five of which being the default amount – and you’re left with something that could only be more ‘old skool’ if it feature a password system.

Even the cut-scenes shun new-fangled visuals, favoring delightfully drawn static images to summarize the plot. An enemy force known as Phantom are attacking the bizarrely titled Shell City with tanks, helicopters, mech units and more. The city has subsequently been left ablaze, and so Tembo is summoned from his jungle homestead to crush tanks, quench flames and save citizens. He’s the ideal man for the job. Well, elephant. You can read more into that statement if you so desire – it genuinely feels as if Tembo, the character, came first and then Game Freak designed a game around his numerous talents. As such, there’s a air of consistency present that some similar games lack.

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LOK_A_Screens_10
Jul 27
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

According to the ever reliable Amazon, the physical release of Legend of Kay Anniversary isn’t out on Wii U until 4th August. If you’re eager to take Nordic Games’ remastered platformer for a spin though it’s out on the eShop this Tuesday for £19.99.

Just like last year’s MX Vs ATV revival, Nordic Games tracked down the original developers to bring this dormant franchise back to life – the last Legend of Kay game was on Nintendo DS back in 2010, although it appears the publisher did give the PS2 original an incredibly belated re-release in 2013(!) after taking it off Koch Media’s hands.

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It sounds like it’s more than your typical HD re-release, boasting of improved character models, clearer sound, hi-res textures and a simplified interface. It now runs at 60fps too. It’s the price point that’s arguably going to swing this one though – Amazon has the physical version for a wallet winning £14.99. Another factor in the game’s favour is that there’s a huge gap in the market for a new 3D platformer. Or at least, one that doesn’t require tons of plastic figures to play.

Reviews of the PS4 and PC versions started to appear earlier today. Considering the original Legend of Kay received barely above average review scores back in 2005, reception for this remake is surprisingly positive so far. Attack of the Fanboy dished out 4/5 while both Defunct Games and PlayStation Lifestyle praised the greatly improved visuals. Both however were left unimpressed with the voice-acting, plot and occasionally bothersome camera. For something that only a select few regard as being a classic, it does however hold up rather well – PlayStation Lifestyle went on to give it an acceptable enough 6.5 while Defunct Games gave it a C+.

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Golf3
Jul 27
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

It appears EA timed the release of Rory McIlroy PGA Tour perfectly – with no other new releases to challenge it, it becomes the first ever golf sim to score a consecutive number one in the UK. That’s according to MCV, anyway. We’re inclined to agree.

LEGO Jurassic World moves up two places to #2, Batman: Arkham Knight remains at #3, F1 2015 drops two positions to #4 and GTA V holds fast at #5.

Positions #6 through to #10 are then made up of all the usual faces, including Minecraft, FIFA 15, The Elder Scrolls Online and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and God of War III: Remastered have however both departed the top ten, falling to #12 and #15 respectively.

The only new arrival in all of chart land is Trials Fusion: The Awesome Max Edition at #37. Curiously, it was a non-arrival on launch – this is its second week of release.

Notable top 40 risers for this week include Battlefield: Hardline – up all the way from #31 to #13 – and LittleBigPlanet 3, up from #36 to #22. This is likely down to hefty price cuts – Amazon, among various supermarkets, have cut Hardline to £24. LBP3 meanwhile is currently a bargain priced £14.99 at Sainsbury’s.

DSCF8283
Jul 26
By Matt Gander In Features 2 Comments

There’s nothing like selling yourself short. With over 350 glossy full colour pages, Richard Stanton’s (Eurogamer, The Guardian, Rock Paper Shotgun) A Brief History of Video Games can hardly be considered brief.

It’s not Stanton doing the short selling, but rather the book’s publisher – this is the latest in a series of ‘Brief History’ books, ranging from A Brief History of King Arthur to A Brief Guide of Jeeves and Wooster. Variety is the spice of life and all that.

The fact that the author has chosen to cover gaming’s immensely broad history – from Atari to Xbox One – is both a strength and a downfall. Many books illustrating our most prestigious of pastimes already exist, with 2002’s The Ultimate History of Video Games and 2010’s Replay: The History of Video Games amongst the most renowned. However, the gaming industry has a history so rich and diverse that it’s always fascinating to read about it from a different perspective. The majority of gaming history books released in the past have also been from American authors, and as such glossed over such subjects as the UK’s ‘80s computer boom led by good old Uncle Clive.

Aside from a few insignificant systems, including the Amiga CD32 and the Atari Jaguar CD add-on, very little is pushed to the wayside. Stanton has even shrewdly chosen to give the golden age of arcade gaming its own chapter, rather than combining it with the heydays of the Atari 2600 and its competitors. The history of handhelds, including the legendary story of Tetris – which could fill a book in its own right – resides towards the end of the tome, and mostly focuses on Nintendo’s long line of systems. Mobile gaming, starting with the long lost classic that is Snake, also wisely has its own chapter.

Going back to the beginning of both the book and gaming, the early days of the industry are particularly well researched, detailing the numerous stages of development that Ralph Baer’s Brown Box prototypes went through before becoming the Magnavox Odyssey. Space War, nee Computer Space (the first arcade game) and Pong (often mistaken as being the first) receive a chapter each too, going as far as to detail the manufacturing costs involved. Highlighting a clear intention to avoid covering old ground, a few age old anecdotes are omitted – such as the first Pong cabinet on test breaking down because the coin box overflowed. Such stories, as wonderful as they may be, are already well established in gaming’s folklore.

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QUBET
Jul 24
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

If you aren’t already aware, or perhaps unable to tell by the screenshots alone, Q.U.B.E has a lot in common with Valve’s much celebrated Portal. This too is a first-person puzzler which sees a mute protagonist journeying from one white walled testing arena to the next, harnessing the power of a far-flung technology. In this case, gloves that can manipulate coloured cubes. Although not as exciting to wield as Aperture Science’s portal gun, they allow for a surprisingly varied puzzle assortment.

The plot is different enough from that of Portal and its sequel to escape plagiarism too, providing a sound explanation as why you’re shoving blocks around in clinically sterile environments. To wit: a large alien craft formed entirely of cubes is heading towards Earth, and so you’ve been sent on a heroic mission to try and destroy it from the inside. Quite how this is achieved by solving the puzzles within is never explained, but you do receive frequent progress updates via radio from a female operative at a nearby space station. Deep space travel has shot the protagonist’s memory to pieces so a great deal of trust goes into everything the she says. Right from the outlet, the plot intrigues.

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The same can’t be said for puzzles. They start out simple – the level exits are often in clear view, so it’s merely a case of leaping on bouncy blocks and extending cubes out the walls and ground to form bridges and staircases. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine Portal veterans becoming flummoxed during Q.U.B.E’s opening hours. That said, the first few batches of puzzles don’t feel patronisingly easy. They’re straightforward yet pleasing to solve. If ever in doubt, simply look towards the level exit and deduct a solution by working backwards. New blocks – each of which are colour coded – are introduced on a regular basis, while an air of mystery is added to the storyline after an unknown individual intervenes on the radio channel.

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Alphabear
Jul 23
By Jake In Mobile Games No Comments

For what looks at first glance like a simple word game with cute bears, Alphabear is surprisingly complex.

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They had me at cute bears though, especially as they’re reminiscent of the chaps from Triple Town – which is because the game is from the same chaps, Spry Fox. And it’s a free download, so what’s to lose? A check of the IAPs is encouraging too, as unlimited honey – used up each time you play a game – is available for four quid, give or take. It turns out it’s not that simple.

But game before commerce. The aim is to make words from the letters available on the board, which clears space for your bears to grow bigger – and bigger bears mean bigger points at the end of the game. The first complication is that letters expire after a number of turns – and on doing so turn to immovable stone, inhibiting bear growth – so you need to prioritise.

Initially this is ample fun. Hit point targets, and you hatch a new bear – which I’m pretty sure is biologically sound. The bear says a couple of sentences of nonsense using words from the preceding game, and a social networking phenomenon is born. Sort of.

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