Apr 29
By Richard In Reviews No Comments

SlabWell is Q*bert. An isometric puzzler where the goal is to step on all of the yellow tiles once, turning them red. Simple, right? I can go home now. It’s Q*bert. Nothing to discuss. Review over. It’s Q*bert.

Except SlabWell is actually rather fascinating – it shows how you can take a simple premise, think it through and add a touch of good level design to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

It has a really nice way of introducing new wrinkles to its puzzle, as every so often a new element comes into play. These could be blocks where you have to step on them multiple times, or blocks which dictate the direction in which you move. Each new element will get a small cutscene introduction and then be integrated in isolation with a simple puzzle.

Subsequent levels will then make the puzzles harder, introducing new tiles in combination with one or more tile types introduced earlier. It sounds really basic, but in a world where indie games often fail to explain themselves well, it’s really nice to see a game that nails its level design and communication with players.

There are a few other nice features. There’s a rewind mechanic which makes the process of experimenting and trialling differing routes painless. The music is also nice, gentle and playful, evoking the feeling of a David Wise soundtrack.

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Apr 29
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

Even though it was met by not-exactly-glowing reviews, Sony’s Days Gone was able to claim the UK chart top spot, forcing Mortal Kombat 11 to settle for #2.

The most impressive thing here is that MK11 launched on Tuesday, whereas Days Gone arrived on Friday – after just two days on sale the PS4 exclusive was able to become the fastest selling release of 2019 so far. Sales weren’t a patch on God of War or Marvel’s Spider-Man, however.

GI.biz notes physical sales of MK11 were down 43% over MKX, yet it was able to outperform 2017’s Injustice 2. A resounding 71% of MK11 sales also came from the PS4 version.

FIFA 19 dropped to #3, RDR2 rose to #4 enjoying a small sales boost, and then at #5 it’s Ubisoft’s The Division 2.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe moved up to #6, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice fell one position to take #7, while Forza Horizon 4 shifted from #16 to #8.

The ever popular NSMB. U Deluxe remained at #9.

Then at #10 we finally find last week’s chart-topper – the surprisingly good World War Z.

After arriving at a respectable #9 last week, Snooker 19: The Official Video Game dropped to #21. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster and Team 17’s My Time at Portia weren’t as fortunate, both departing the top 40 after just one week on sale.

Apr 28
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

Twin-stick shooters are usually associated with simple control schemes, with most mapping essential commands solely to a joypad’s trigger buttons. Due to starring a duo of comic book-style characters with supernatural abilities, God’s Trigger utilizes every single button on the controller – even the rarely used L3 and R3. As the saying goes, with great power comes complex control schemes.

Rather than throw players into the deep end, there’s a lengthy three stage prologue that’s essentially a glorified tutorial. As you become acquainted with Judy and Harry – a sinner and a saint out to foil the demonic plans of Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death – plenty of time is given to experiment with their numerous abilities.

The two can be swapped between at any time, with Judy able to teleport and attack using a long-reaching chain and the sword-wielding Harry able to dash and smash through brittle walls. Both can also scout ahead to target enemies in advance, allowing foes to be picked off in quick succession without manually aiming.

The stealthy approach is another option; sneaking behind enemies and performing executions resupplies energy reserves for supernatural skills more effectively than going in all-guns-blazing.

Being a shooter of the one-hit variety, death comes quickly and often. Enemies – demonic bikers and religious zealots, mostly – are quick to react to your actions, spinning around on the spot and opening fire the second you enter their line of sight. Precise aiming is essential – miss a shot and all enemies in the vicinity will make a beeline to your position, giving just a few seconds to react.

Fortunately, checkpoints are often mere rooms apart; the onus here being on clearing out rooms full of enemies before moving to the next. Every room possesses its own figurative challenges, and this hugely benefits the game’s flow, forever spurring you onwards.

With ammo limited, using supernatural powers is often the only way to escape a swift and messy end. These skills are inventive and fun to use, able to clear out entire rooms once fully upgraded. Judy’s swirling black hole inhales enemies while showing off the game’s robust physics engine. She can also make enemies turn on one another, and repurpose dead bodies as explosive traps. Later, her chain weapon can be upgraded to snatch weapons out of foe’s hands, reducing the amount of melee combat.

Harry’s powers are less centred around destruction, able to freeze enemies on the spot as well as sending them hurtling through the air. Use the force, Harry. His sword only has a short reach, which makes him better suited to firearms than Judy. We soon grew fond of the delightfully overpowered special weapons, which movie buffs will instantly recognise.

The campaign is set over five stages with multiple levels, each with a boss battle at the end. These battles against otherworldly beings are inventive too, and thanks to generous checkpoint pacing they never become frustrating despite becoming more elaborate.

Each stage has its own mission objectives, some of which shake things up significantly. One mission places Judy up high with a sniper rifle, allowing rooms to be cleared out from afar, while another stealthier mission requires the duo to remain unseen. As thing progress obligatory riot-shield carrying enemies are introduced, while a handful of puzzles crop up much later.

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Apr 25
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

The Switch eShop certainly is a hubbub of activity recently, and this week is no different. There’s a heady mixture of genres, which also makes this week more varied than most.

Image & Form’s anticipated SteamWorld Quest is available now, putting a role-playing spin on the successful SteamWorld franchise. IGN dished out an 88% review score, while GameInformer, Destructoid, and Nintendo Life all opted for 8/10s.

“SteamWorld Quest plays it too safe to satisfy hardcore card-crawlers, but the campy characters, gratifying combat, and splashy synergies make it an enticing option for those looking for a traditional turn-based RPG that’s easy to wade into,” said GameInformer.

If you’re looking for something a little meatier, there’s Capcom’s Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. It’s a game more than deserving of a full-on remake, but until then, this HD re-release will suffice.

“It is hard to believe that Dragon’s Dogma originally launched in 2012 as it feels current and fresh seven years later. The deep combat system still feels seamless and fluid, the Pawn system is still as innovative as ever – it works so well, and yet no other developer has decided to crib it for their own games,” reports Digitally Downloaded.

Mortal Kombat 11 is another of this week’s third-party titles. Sadly, we’re still waiting on reviews some three days on from release. Footage suggests developer Shiver has been in the hours to make sure it looks and plays the part. Fans are slightly miffed by the amount of IAPs Warner Bros. has sneaked in, though.

Then from Nintendo themselves, there’s the pick-up and play puzzler BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!, which add a two-player mode into the mix. The Metacritic scores currently sits at 80%, with no review scores lower than 7/10 currently.

“BoxBoy + BoxGirl is the most BoxBoy in any package before it, with three campaigns, co-op, and all sorts of new and familiar accessories to slap on your cubular buddies. The newly introduced cooperative puzzles and some of the new concepts are where BoxBoy + BoxGirl shine the brightest, like a yellow laser striking down pain. Even with a bit too much of a samey feel now four games in, and some performance issues when the levels and abilities get complex, BoxBoy + BoxGirl is a swell puzzle outing for the Switch,” was US Gamer’s verdict. The 3DS’ loss is the Switch’s gain, it seems.

We’ve rounded up the full eShop roster below. Other bits and pieces of note include the Wonder Boy inspired Aggelos, PICROSS S3 – with its new colour mode – and the eccentric Japanese shooter Panty Party. It’s a third-person shooter with undergarments, of all things.

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Apr 24
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

Roughly a year ago developer Holospark released Earthfall, an extra-terrestrial take on Valve’s seminal Left 4 Dead. Despite a decent amount of post-launch content, the co-op shooter never managed to find its niche. If only Holospark had taken Saber’s approach and associated a well-known, if outdated, movie license with their shooter it may have avoided obscurity. Never underestimate the importance of brand recognition.

World War Z also takes inspiration from Valve’s sadly dormant zombie series, with missions involving groups of ragtag survivors co-operatively completing objectives while occasionally stopping to hold their ground by erecting temporary defences. All the while they face sudden waves of undead, and a trickle of ‘special infected’ including the usual assortment of screamers, lurchers, tanks, and more.

So far, so predictable. It stumps up surprises in other areas, thankfully. Borrowing a trick from its silver screen counterpart, the festering undead attack in great numbers – a spectacle in itself – forming human pyramids at key locations. Throwing a grenade at the ‘base’ and watching these human towers crumble is oddly satisfying. In fact, the zombies are satisfying to slaughter in general, whether you’re mowing them down with a sentry gun or sneaking around with a machete and a silenced pistol.

Visually, it’s a cut above what we were expecting, with character design showcasing creative flair and the rubbish-strewn environments packing a lot of detail. All four missions are based in vastly different locations too, each with a central theme.

The survivors in New York attempt to flee the city – a journey that takes them through a swanky shopping mall, cluttered city streets and a subway system. The trek through snow-covered Moscow includes a stop at a partly ruined museum and a quaint shopping district, including a climactic battle on a frozen river before heading into a government lab. Jerusalem provides a stark contrast: the sun beats down on the dusty terrain below, and there’s a huge-scale battle at a disused dam – one of many rousing set-pieces.

Finally, there’s a shorter two-stage mission set in Tokyo, which starts out in a quiet village with blossoming cherry trees and ends with a full-on zombie assault at a built-up industrial complex with a harbour.

Each mission has its own quartet of battle-hardened survivors – which provides the PvP MP mode with a sizeable roster of playable heroes – and rather than having their own roles, each can be designated a class of your choosing. Again, Saber has put their own twist on the assortment of classes (assault, medic, engineer, scout, etc) by introducing the trap-carrying Exterminator, the explosion-loving Hellraiser, and the melee-focused Slasher. Credits doled out at the end of each mission can be spent on new skills and improved stats.

Now would be a good time to note that there are no IAPs, loot boxes or other nonsense. Instead, there’s an XP system which slowly unlocks new weapon mods – upgrades that are vital for making progress on the harder difficulties.

Saber has also clearly put effort into making sure mission objectives are varied. While a few co-op shooter tropes are present, you won’t be ferrying around oil cans here. Hurrah for that. The Jerusalem stage adds an NPC to your team, essentially turning the whole mission into an on-going escort quest. Worry not, as they’re able to hold their own. Speaking of escort missions, a quest to protect an armoured bus provides an eventful ride. The numerous instances which involve searching dead bodies for keys/passes are both overused and tedious, however.

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Apr 23
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

You may be surprised to learn that sales of the recent Mortal Kombat games far exceed the MK games of yore. While under Midway’s wing, sales of the PS2/Xbox entries would usually clock in between 1-2 million. Since Warner Bros. rebooted the series, sales of each entry are now around the 5-6 million mark. Not bad going for a franchise some consider past its best.

Reviews of Mortal Kombat 11 went live yesterday, and it was mostly met with a positive reception. It’s likely that there are fewer 9/10s than WB hoped for, and perhaps more 7/10s then they anticipated, but still, an 83% Metacritic is nothing to sniff at.

The Switch version is currently review shy, incidentally. Early footage suggests it runs smoothly in handheld mode, but the visuals take a slight hit when docked. You may have seen posts on social media claiming that it looks “terrible”, which seems way off the mark. It appears a respectable amount of effort has been put in.

Sony’s PS4 exclusive Days Gone is another of this week’s big name releases. Although Sony’s first-party efforts have been mostly excellent this generation, this biker-based zombie shooter has been a cause for concern – the first batch of previews weren’t too positive. It has received extra development time since, however, so there’s still hope Sony can pull another major hit out of the bag. [Update: Reviews added below]

Elsewhere, Capcom’s hack ‘n slash RPG hybrid Dragon’s Dogma makes its way to Switch. It was one of our favourite games on the last generation, full of spectacular set-pieces, combat that’s easy to learn while still featuring some subtle nuances, and unique online functionality that allows AI teammates to be swapped and shared. Oh the things you’ll see.

We’ve rounded up scores below, along with a smattering of scores for Jupiter & Mars – an underwater adventure that’s (for better or worse) drawing comparisons with Ecco the Dolphin.

New release showcase:

Days Gone

9.0 – PlayStation Lifestyle: “Days Gone checks all the boxes of a proverbial PlayStation exclusive, but never feels like it’s stepping on anyone else’s toes. Despite the games, film, and TV that you can easily draw comparisons too, Days Gone handles it all in such a way that it has its own unique identity. The more I played it, the more I loved it, until finally finishing the long journey and not wanting the adventure to end”

8/10 – VideoGamer: “Days Gone is a grim, beautiful B-movie; its action and writing are full of pulpy thrills, and by the end of it, I found myself liking a character called Deacon St. John – an achievement in itself”

8/10 – PSU: “Though a touch derivative and brought low on occasion by the odd technical issue, Days Gone is a sprawling and handsomely made open-world adventure that contains a surprising amount of heart and ample amounts of violence to match”

7.75 – GameInformer: “Days Gone has good gameplay foundations. The scarcity of supplies and ever-present threat of zombies put me on edge as much as it gave me options to escape by the skin of my teeth. But the inability to fully deliver on either the story or open world fronts makes it a title of both possibilities and limitations”

7/10 – Push Square: “A dense selection of overlapping gameplay mechanics make for entertaining action, even if the title’s unremarkable mission design doesn’t always make the best of them. The story can drift, and the overall package isn’t quite as polished as its PS4 exclusive counterparts – but as far as gaming comfort food goes, you could feast on much worse snacks than this”

6.5 – God is a Geek: “Days Gone has some moments of brilliance, but there’re far too may bugs. The hordes improve the game drastically, it’s just a shame that a lot of the game suffers in other avenues”

6.5 – IGN: “Fun in small bursts, but Days Gone’s repetition, bland world, and meandering story make for an unremarkable ride”

6/10 – The Metro: “We wouldn’t particularly recommend Days Gone, and it’s certainly not in the same league as most of Sony’s other PlayStation 4 exclusives, but while we don’t look back at our days with it with any sense of wistfulness we don’t resent the time spent on it either”

Mortal Kombat 11

9.0 – IGN: “It’s a rare fighting game that hits just about every note as strongly as Mortal Kombat 11 does. Everything from its methodical and deep combat to its fantastically absurd story mode and its rock-solid netcode, right down to its extraordinarily comprehensive tutorial is absolutely exceptional”

4/5 – Trusted Reviews: “Mortal Kombat 11 is yet another great entry in NetherRealm’s fighting series. We’re living in a golden age of fighting games right now, and NetherRealm’s latest can happily join some of the generation’s best”

4/5 – Games Radar: “Mortal Kombat 11’s story mode, along with its gameplay, is the most intense and gripping narrative in a fighter that I’ve played in years”

3.5/5 – US Gamer: “There’s a lot to love in Mortal Kombat 11. It’s a fantastic fighter with a roster of 25 varied characters, tons of customization options, beautiful graphics, and one of the best story modes in a fighting game. It’s a shame that modes like the Krypt and Towers of Time inject annoyance and tedium into what was an excellent experience. The progression is complex and obtuse, when it should be easy and straightforward. MK 11 could been an all-time best, but it’s just a contender”

7/10 – Push Square: “Structural foibles detract from the fact that Mortal Kombat 11 is an excellent fighter with lots to offer. Those yearning for the gore-soaked days of old will find plenty to love, and newcomers will be enthralled by its excellent story and deep fighting system”

7/10 – TheSixthAxis: “This game is the pinnacle of Mortal Kombat action. Fights are fluid, weighty, and gorgeous to look at. Unfortunately, that tightly-designed gameplay is bogged down by a grindy system of loot and consumables that only serves to artificially extend your playtime in the most tedious ways imaginable. There is so much heart and care put into this game, from the combat to the gorgeous visuals and memorable story, but that effort feels nullified by the desperate attempt to twist an iconic video game franchise into just another endlessly online service game”

Jupiter & Mars

4/5 – AOTF: “Following the journey of two neon colored dolphins, Jupiter & Mars can be enjoyed both with PSVR and without. Not only is it an actually well made underwater experience, but it also comes with a good message about protecting the future of the oceans in some interesting ways as well”

6/10 – Push Square: “Jupiter & Mars is an enjoyable underwater experience that sadly doesn’t push the boat out. The visuals and music mix for a trippy swim through Earth’s ruins, but the lack of interactivity makes the journey surprisingly dry. If you’re after a relaxed dive through colourful caverns, this might be worth a look, but don’t expect it to make a big splash”

2/5 – Screen Rant: “One of the first things most players will do is swim quickly up to the surface, expecting that triumphant and cinematic dolphin spin-jump to give them a bout of VR indigestion, but Jupiter merely smacks directly into the peak of the sea-level and immediately stops. There’s enough content in Jupiter & Mars to take up a lazy Sunday’s time, but it could have been so much more”

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

8/10 – Nintendo World Report: “Dark Arisen has some of the most unique systems in modern RPGs, and great combat to go along with it. It’s a great adventure, and if they can improve the loads after the inns it’ll be essential”

8/10 – Nintendo Life: “There’s no denying that it is rough in parts and really could have done with a full remaster rather than a straight re-release, but Dragon’s Dogma nonetheless remains a fantastically gripping role-playing experience that manages to straddle the divide between exhilarating real-time action and stat-based adventuring”

3.5/5 – We Got This Covered: “Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen arrives on Nintendo’s portable console, warts and all. It’s more than worth playing, if only for the combat alone, and it’s one of the best mediocre games ever made. If you long for the feelings of adventure that often only come when imagining a good Dungeons and Dragons campaign, this should be up your alley”

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Apr 23
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

In what was likely a quiet week for physical UK game sales, the incredibly belated movie tie-in World War Z had no trouble claiming no.1 in the all-formats top 40.

Publisher Focus Interactive must be pleased as punch, as it also managed to top both the PS4 and Xbox One charts. It’s not often we see a Focus-published title at no.1 – their last was Dontnod’s Vampyr, back in July 2018. In fact, that was their first ever UK no.1

FIFA 19 held onto #2, The Division 2 – last week’s chart topper – fell to #3, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe remained at #4 while RDR2 dropped two places to #5.

A price drop to around £20 has helped Assassin’s Creed Odyssey hold onto #6.

Switch exclusive Yoshi’s Crafted World moved down to #7, while Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice fell one position to #8.

At #9 it’s another new entry – the quintessentially British Snooker 19: The Official Video Game, which also took #6 in the Xbox chart and #8 in the PS4 chart.

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe rounds off the top ten at #10.

World War Z and Snooker 19 weren’t the only new arrivals – Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster took #20 while Team 17’s My Time at Portia sailed in at #27.

Apr 18
By Richard In Reviews No Comments

Homage is difficult. Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a homage to 1980’s video games and the Toronto indie music scene. Both the novel and the film are wildly inventive and beautiful works which use the specificity of the premise and place to say wider things about love, responsibility and growing up. Mockbuster movie Transmorphers is a homage to Transformers. It’s absolute cack.

The difference is care and attention. The developers of Metagal clearly love Mega Man, and this homage to it feels affectionate and true. From the screen-scrolling to the way you upgrade your arsenal by stealing boss’ special powers, there’s a specificity to Metagal that’s hard not to admire. And there’s a lot of time to admire it. The game over screens provide a lot of time to reflect.

It looks the part, with nice, clean pixel graphics, although it feels a lot sharper in handheld mode. When blown up on the TV, it feels out of place and a little blurry. The sound design fares better, as the soundtrack is exactly how we remember NES games sounding (jaunty and twee) rather than what NES games actually sound like (monotonous and painfully high pitched).

Metagal isn’t a straight up copy of Mega Man, though, as it brings its own ideas to the table. Abilities utilize a charging system, as expected, but you start with a blast-shot and the ability to regenerate health. You can also collect cogs along the way that help you by allowing you to restart from the last screen, which helps with the problem of having to repeat vast parts of levels. They’re a valuable commodity.

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