Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Witness - PS4/PC

A week off work has actually turned into a week of working. Not on the laptop, but playing The Witness on PS4. 

I was drawn in by the visuals, and have stayed on Jonathan Blow’s virtual island for the mind-bending assortment of line puzzles. Who’d have thought there were so many ways fresh ways to present drawing a line between A and B? I certainly didn’t - and now my brain hurts. But it’s just so compelling.

I’ve been slowly rewiring my shattered brain to solve seemingly impossible conundrums. I’ve had to walk away for several hours just to try and forget about it - but The Witness, with its endless snaking lines and multi-coloured boxes, is now starting to invade my dreams.

But I’m moving forward and some of my successes have matched the sheer joy of besting gargantuan beasts in Monster Hunter or seeing the credits roll in Dark Souls.

The island Blow has spewed forth from his devilish mind is a truly stunning creation - and it’s an area ripe for exploration. There’s a run button for the impatient - but I’ve steered clear. After all, what’s the rush? There so much to see around the island that giving the puzzles a body swerve just to stroll around this virtual paradise has been, at times, just what my tired mind needed.

Paying attention to the world around you isn’t a pursuit only to solve some of the riddles - although it has to be said that the work that’s gone into fusing the puzzles with the environment is truly inspired.

There’s loads of amazing little touches scattered around the island. It might be the shape of a rock, a submerged surprise, a shadow depicting a monochrome picture… and there’s more - but go see for yourself. And if the mental gymnastics are getting too much, head down to my favourite spot by the river near the bamboo forest and unwind for 10 minutes. The splashing water soothes the soul. Trust me.

What an amazing experience - and I still have hundreds of puzzle panels still to solve.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Beeswing - PC

Last year, I wrote about Jack King-Spooner's beautiful looking adventure Beeswing. It's a game set in rural Scotland with a stong focus on story-driven narrative and was created thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.

It's not out yet, but Jack assures us it's almost complete. He's ironing out a few minor bugs and finishing the score for the game, which is already sounding rather lovely.

To whet our appettites, he's just released a trailer for the game which lifted the Monday morning blues earlier today. It's looking like it will be something special and I'm very much looking forward to playing through the adventure and finding out more about the town and its residents.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter - PC

Over the last week I've been playing The Vanishing of Ethan Carter on PC. Just wrapped it up and thought it was a thoroughly entertaining experience.

It's a first-person mystery adventure with a heavy emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving. Each section can be tackled in any order and a huge part of the game's appeal was I was free to wander off the beaten path and look for interesting points in the landscape.

I wasn't hoping to discover secrets or side-quests - I was looking for the best angles to fully appreciate the game's stunning scenery. It really is a beautiful game with a selection of jaw-dropping vistas to gawp at. I took a bunch of screenshots during my eight-hour adventure - and they look great thanks to the fact the game has no HUD cluttering up the screen.

The story left me a bit puzzled and I can't say it particularly grabbed me, while the puzzles ranged from immediately obvious to completely obscure. It's only available on PC at the moment but a PS4 version is on the way. Definitely worth a closer look.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Play to Cure: Genes in Space - iOS/Android

Gamers have been given a unique opportunity to help scientists in the battle against cancer, thanks to a collaboration between Dundee-based software developer Guerilla Tea and Cancer Research UK.

The game - a free download on both iOS and Android - is called Play to Cure: Genes in Space and tasks the player with planning a route and then guiding a nifty-looking spaceship along an intergalactic track made from Element Alpha. Back on Earth, this fictional substance - which is actually Cancer Research UK's gene data - can then be analysed by scientists to find genetic faults, which will ultimately help scientists to develop new cancer treatments.

It's an exciting development and one which brings to mind Sony's Folding at Home project on PS3, where people were encouraged to use their games console to run biomedical calculations in an effort to aid research into diseases.

The game itself is simple but encourages players to keep playing thanks to a range of incentives. Collected Element Alpha can be traded for credits, which can be used to upgrade your ship. Experience points are also dished out which are used to level up and unlock new stuff.

Hannah Keartland, citizen science lead for Cancer Research UK, said: "Every single second gamers spend directly helps our work to bring forward the day all cancers are cured. Our scientists' research produces colossal amounts of data, some of which can only be analysed by the human eye - a process which can take years.

"We hope thousands of people worldwide will play Play to Cure: Genes in Space as often as possible, to help our researchers get through this data. We urge people to give five minutes of their time wherever and whenever they can - whether they're waiting for their bus to arrive or they're in the hairdressers having a blow dry. Together, our free moments will help us beat cancer sooner."

Well done to both Guerilla Tea and Cancer Research UK for getting their heads together and producing this ground-breaking game.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Dark Souls II - Cursed

Since completing Dark Souls, I've merely dabbled with NG+ - not really getting anywhere despite my best intentions. However, I have picked up the PC version recently and installed a bunch of mods which make the game look truly spectacular. So I've been going back to it quite a bit and faffing about with the early game. 

To be honest, I've spent most of the time taking screenshots and examining the textures closely rather than playing the game proper. I've also had the urge over the last few days to boot up Demon's Souls again, as it's been quite a while since I last dived into the world of Boletaria.

But of course, Dark Souls II has appeared on the horizon, surrounded by billowing black storm clouds and its heading this way like some terrible, unstoppable, inevitable nightmare.

A trailer was released this week and it made me weep with a mixture of fear and complete joy. Words such as curse, misery and frail hope are scattered throughout, so no change there then. It also shows ivy-strewn castle walls, a giant bandaged-wrapped monstrosity, a long-limbed freak, some god-forsaken fiery demon and spiders. Terrible, awful, spindly spiders.

As if to hammer the point home that this is no laughing matter, the narrator says: "Your wings will burn in anguish, time after time."

I hope at the end of Dark Souls II, FROM Software include a final death tally. That will make frightening reading. My pre-order is in and I'm ready. March can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale- 3DS

I've long been an admirer of Kaz Ayabe's long-running Boku no Natsuyasumi series - in fact one of my first blog posts was about Boku 3 on PlayStation 3 back in 2008. 

Since then I've tracked down the second game on PlayStation 2 but the first game on PS1 - and subsequently ported to PSP - and the PSP-only fourth game in the series have sadly eluded me.

It's a series which has a lot going for it, but with its roots deep in Japanese culture, there was never a chance  of any of the games being translated into English and released in the West - although I know of one brave soul who is currently beavering away on a translation project for Boku no Natsuyasumi 3.

So it was with delight that I discovered that Ayabe's Millennium Kitchen - along with Level 5 - had actually released a title in the West last year on 3DS. It went completely under my radar until chatter over on Twitter alerted me to the game's existence just last month.

While Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale isn't directly linked to the Boku series, there are many similarities here, specifically the hand-painted backdrops, the rural setting, the joy of exploration and the innocence of childhood.

The protagonist is young Sohta Tono, a kid who has arrived in a Tokyo suburb toward the end of the summer of 1971. Here, in this well-looked after collection of houses, shops and businesses, something amazing happens every Friday - huge "Kaiju" mysteriously appear, hulking great monsters who do battle on the edge of town. Or do they?

The strange goings on in this picturesque town are seen through a child's eyes and are open to interpretation, while Sohta and his friends' imaginative tale unfolds beautifully in waves of wide-eyed wonder.

The immaculately told story is utterly charming and while the game is linear in its structure, there are things to do when not following the story arc. Multicoloured Glims are scattered around the town and collecting seven similarly coloured motes of light rewards the player with a monster card which can be used to battle friends in a simple rock, paper, scissors-style game. The monsters have wonderful names such as the Colossal Crustacean and Jumbogon and each card gives a delightful description of the monster along with a roaring sound clip.

The general atmosphere of the previously mentioned Boku no Natsuyasumi series is intact here, not just because of the lovely hand-drawn locations and the Japanese voice acting, but thanks to the environmental sounds which pepper every scene; birds chirp, katydids and crickets rattle away, Japanese voices from unseen TVs chatter while you're exploring the streets and wind chimes clink in the distance.

There's even a nod to Boku no Natsuyasumi to be found in the game: Stand outside the dry cleaners, and you'll see a small poster featuring a young lad who looks remarkably like Boku from Ayabe's best-loved series.

The soundtrack is another feather in the game's cap, with gentle guitars, tinkling pianos, clarinets and violins combining to creating a superb atmosphere. However, the standout is the game’s opening theme which is upbeat, sickeningly cute and packed with heartfelt lyrics.

Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale lasts around four hours and costs £7.19 from the Nintendo eShop and it is a little gem. I'm so glad I was pointed in its direction - better late than never - and now, I'll just wait patiently to discover if Ayabe-san has Boku no Natsuyasumi 5 up his sleeve for PS4 or Vita.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Super Mario 3D World - Wii U

When Mario made an enthusiastic leap into the third dimension in his Nintendo 64 debut, few could have predicted what an influence the game would have as the years rolled by. The plumber's magical journey spawned plenty of hopefuls vying for his coveted cloth cap, yet not one of them could touch the mustachioed plumber.

Since that memorable 1996 adventure, Mario has appeared in several wonderful platform capers, including the superb Mario Galaxy games on Wii, but it's taken until now for him to make his glorious big screen return to 3D in Super Mario 3D World.

The game moves away from the fabled Mushroom Kingdom and the expanses of starlit space and instead takes place in the Sprixie Kingdom - a place where Bowser has kidnapped the realm's fairies and plonked them in bottles to indulge his evil whims - something Link has been doing for years without anyone batting an eyelid. It's all utter nonsense, of course, and just a loose framework to hang the game's spectacular action on. And spectacular it certainly is, with the game boasting amazing level design, sublime visuals and yet another glorious soundtrack. In fact, the game has more fun crammed into its first hour than most games with a 12-hour campaign can boast.

The game sets out its stall before the player dives into the action, with the ever-changing title screen showing Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad gleefully scampering around, showing the player all the moves that can be pulled off in the game. It's a glorious opening and one which serves to whet the player's appetite for the action to come.

Once the player takes the plunge into the game proper, a world of wonder opens up, with Nintendo's latest brimming with fresh and playful ideas. Chief among these is the ability for the main character to slip into a cat-like onesie, complete with impossibly cute ears and tail. This snug-fitting new suit is a wonderful addition and not just a visual gimmick. It enables Mario to scuttle up vertical surfaces for a limited time, where coin stashes and emerald stars are squirreled away in the magnificent environments. It's also utterly adorable and it's impossible not to smile as Mario gambols along with cat-like agility, swiping and leaping at enemies with gusto.

Of course, it's not just Mario that is open to the player. Toad, Peach and Luigi can also be selected and each has their own particular trait which serves to help the player navigate their way through the brilliantly thought-out levels.

The new twists and turns don't end there either, as Nintendo have decided to get fruity with the arrival of the double cherry. Chomp down one of these, and a clone of Mario appears and it's possible to have multiple characters rampaging around the screen at any one time - all controlled simultaneously. Some levels have been crafted with this transmogrification at their very core, allowing the player to spread themselves out and activate switches which opens up even more hideaways.

Nintendo have clearly worked long into the night not only devising Super Mario 3D World's delicious levels, but in the look of the game. This is Mario's first perspective shifting romp on Wii U and the detail is stunning. Bloom is used liberally throughout, giving the game a wonderfully soft feel, while the patterns and textures used are glorious. Giant springy gelatinous orange blocks that wobble to life when Mario leaps on them are a personal favourite.

As Mario opens up new locations a few other surprises lie in store. Self-contained mini levels where the player controls Toad are a highlight, with the player tilting and rotating the cube-like settings in an effort to snaffle all the precariously placed stars before the time runs out. Because of the bite-sized nature of these stages, this would make an excellent standalone game on 3DS and the possibility of dozens more portable levels is certainly something I would like to see.

Control - as you would expect - is impeccable, with Mario and chums responding smoothly to button prompts and stick movements. It's also possible to play with all the Nintendo controllers since the launch of the Wii, and you are going to need them all if you want to take part in the game's riotous multiplayer mayhem. It's a madcap dash to the finish line and with up to three others and on a crowded sofa, Super Mario 3D World shines. That said, the single player mode is where the majority of players will find themselves and rest assured - played solo, this is still a wonderful experience.

Super Mario 3D World might not innovate as much as the splendid Mario Galaxy games, but it's still light years ahead of the competition and showcases Nintendo at its playful best. Utterly glorious, packed with an abundance of sparkling content and an absolute joy to play, Super Mario 3D World was the best game I played throughout 2013. A rare and precious treat.


Sunday, 17 November 2013

Olav and the Lute

Olav and the Lute is a magical point and click adventure which has been heavily influenced by early Nineties game, Loom. While it only takes around 25 minutes or so to complete, its delightful mechanics, sombre setting and chunky art style make this a perfect game to play while enjoying a coffee.

Olav awakens in a deep underground cave and soon finds a fine magical lute and a broken loom. Using his newly acquired wooden instrument, Olav sets out on a quest to reactivate the loom - a task he hopes will return him to the surface.

By learning and playing music patterns, Olav can manipulate the environment and objects within it. For example, freezing a fast flowing river allows Olav to cross, while healing a giant of a terrible hangover allows the hooded protagonist to gain access to a new part of the world.

Experimenting with the four-note melodies sometimes has nothing more than a cosmetic effect, but it's fun to mess around with the environment and see what happens when a tune is played.

Olav and the Lute was created by Shelly Alon, Quirin Nebas and Daniel and Johann von Appen and is free to either download or play in your browser HERE

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Puppeteer - PlayStation 3

With its stunning presentation, wonderful art style and delightful theatrical flourishes, Puppeteer has upstaged many big name titles this year to become one of my favourite games of 2013.

Essentially, it’s a side-scrolling platform caper, but there's so much style packed into this dark, twisted pantomime that Puppeteer often feels like a completely different beast. The game follows the adventures of Kutaro, a young scamp whose soul is taken by the evil - and wonderfully named - Moon Bear King and poured into the discombobulated body of a wooden puppet.

What makes Puppeteer so special is that all the action takes place on stage in a quaint theatre, where an unseen audience whoop, cheer and applaud valiant deeds, and gasp and squeal in terror as the Moon Bear King and his minions wreak havoc. It's a quite brilliant touch and helps give Puppeteer a truly marvellous atmosphere.

Because of the game's setting, Acts are introduced by the parting of red velvet curtains, while background sets shift and change on the fly with a handmade charm not seen since Sackboy bumbled his way on to the PlayStation 3 back in 2008.
Kutaro leaps through the gorgeous sets collecting shiny trinkets and evading all manner of devious critters. But while the platforming antics are fairly standard fare, Puppeteer throws in a few neat ideas to mix things up.

The first is Ying Yang, a bedraggled feline Who the player controls via the right stick. This magical flying cat can interact with the backdrops, allowing the player to uncover secrets, snuffle out hidden golden shards and free the children who have been imprisoned by the grizzly Moon Bear King.

Kutaro also gets his little wooden hands on Cerberus early in the game - a pair of enchanted scissors which enables our puppet hero to cut through environments and slice up troublesome foes. But that's not all, as you make your way through the game, Kutaro uncovers more knick-knacks to help him on his quest.

As if this wasn't enough for Kutaro to contend with, the cheeky rapscallion has lost his head and is forced to collect makeshift noggins as he scampers around. Each of these imaginative objects is imbued with special powers and experimenting with them and watching the accompanying animation is another of Puppeteer's visual charms.
The game packs in a lot of content and there are plenty of reasons to go back and revisit the levels once you've initially polished them off. There are heads to collect and fabulous picture books to unlock, complete with wonderful paper-style animation and narrated brilliantly by Stephen Greif, who gives a blinding performance all the way through this rip-roaring adventure.

Collected heads can also be viewed, each one featuring a lovely little vignette and the models can be spun and manipulated for a closer peek at the exquisite art style. Puppeteer is also the first game since Batman: Arkham City that I played through in 3D and it truly shines. The depth of the theatre sets look splendid, while objects and characters are thrown around the screen making making it a visual treat from start to finish.

It's a spellbinding title that has me completely smitten. Even with the imminent launch of the next generation of consoles and the promise of bigger and better games, this magical title will definitely be in my top 10 come the end of the year... oh yes it will!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Luigi's Mansion 2 - 3DS

When the ever bashful Luigi reluctantly entered the spotlight without his more famous brother in 2002's Luigi's Mansion - a GameCube launch title - there was a smattering of grumbling from some, who were disappointed that Nintendo chose not to unveil a fresh Mario platformer to kick-start their dinky box of tricks.
    However, Luigi's Mansion - despite being a rather short caper used mostly to highlight the GameCube's technical fizz - proved to be an enjoyable little gem, which is now, I'm happy to say, fondly remembered.
    Earlier this year, Nintendo finally saw fit to release a spooky sequel and with Halloween only a few days away, it's the perfect time to revisit this gem of a game on 3DS.
    Professor E. Gadd has been happily studying ghostly goings-on in a variety of spooky locales when the Dark Moon above his base in Evershade Valley shatters, turning the once friendly apparitions into mischievous rascals. Who better to sort out this phantom menace than the experienced - if utterly terrified - Luigi? Armed with the wonderfully titled Poltergust 5000, Luigi reluctantly agrees to help the professor by Hoovering up these translucent tykes across five sprawling levels and restore some sanity back to the once peaceful valley.
    The Poltergust 5000 might be nothing more than a modified vacuum cleaner, but it's not just for cleaning up dusty corners and sucking up cobwebs. Luigi uses it to capture ghosts of all shapes and sizes, but first he must stun them with his trusty torch. What follows is a paranormal game of tug of war, as Luigi clatters around the fabulously detailed rooms, frantically wrestling with the obstinate spooks. It's a hugely enjoyable activity, too, and it can be quite a challenge thanks to a decent variety of ghosts who are intent on making life as uncomfortable as possible for the industrious Luigi.
    Later in the game, new elements are added which make Luigi's task even harder, but it rarely becomes frustrating and causes the player to think quickly and change tactics on the fly.
   But even when he's not ghostbusting, Luigi has plenty to keep him occupied. The five huge locations Luigi is forced to visit contain a wonderful array of fiendish puzzles and it's to the game's credit that they never feel stale or lose their focus throughout the course of the lengthy adventure.
    Exploration is a key element and rooting around in gloomy corners amply rewards the player, with the Poltergust 5000 used to snaffle out of reach coins, pull dusty curtains away from grimy windows to reveal shiny trinkets, blow aside rugs to reveal secret switches, and expose glittering gems which had previously been squirrelled away in the game's glorious environments. The whole experience is underpinned with eye-popping art direction, amazing animation, a terrific soundtrack, an extraordinary eye for detail, while a healthy seam of humour runs throughout, causing the player to chuckle away at some of the ludicrous sights.
    While the haunted environments he scuttles around in are magnificent, it's Luigi himself who proves to be the star of the show. He nervously glances around as he creeps about, leaps in the air with a startled yelp if he discovers a supernatural spectacle and all the while his wee knees knock together in terrified tension. He also hums to himself to keep his flagging spirits up, an act which is beautifully choreographed with the game's soundtrack.
    But Luigi's latest adventure isn't perfect and it occasionally stumbles. The constant interruptions from the professor - he contacts Luigi via a bit of technical wizardry in the shape of a humble Nintendo DS far too often - quickly begins to grate, while the mission-based structure of the game can be annoying. Too often Luigi is teleported back to the prof's lab just when things are getting interesting, leaving the player slightly frustrated that they can't snoop around and explore to their heart’s content. I suppose the bite-sized missions have been crafted to suit the mobile nature of the 3DS but it's still frustrating when all the player wants to do is see what new terrors lurk around the next corner.
    Multiplayer has been included, which sees teams of up to four people - either online or via local multiplayer - partake in three ghostly activities. These provide short-term fun, but never match the sheer scope and variety of the single player campaign.
    An intelligent and instantly appealing game, Luigi's Mansion 2 is bursting with creative ideas which, for the most part, are implemented perfectly. So this Halloween lock the door, turn out the lights, put the headphones on and experience one of the finest games on 3DS.

Monday, 21 October 2013


Over the course of the last year or so, I've backed many diverse projects on Kickstarter - from the OUYA console and board game Dungeon Roll, to animated graphic novel Niko and the Sword of Light and delicious puzzle game Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake. But last weekend I stumbled across a game which has completely captured my imagination thanks to its setting, subject matter, delightful handcrafted visuals and music.
    Beeswing by Jack King-Spooner takes its inspiration from games such as The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Illusion of Gaia, Earthbound, To The Moon and the Secret of Mana series, but it's immediately clear this will be a game that will tread its own path.
    Jack has drawn from his experiences of growing up in Beeswing - a small village in rural Scotland and a place where all the residents have a tale to tell. He will blend true stories will fiction to create a rich experience with interweaving tales focusing on childhood, community and growing older. Refreshingly, Beeswing will have no combat or puzzles and will instead concentrate on characters and setting - something the aforementioned To The Moon managed so successfully.
    The visuals are already looking rather special, with Jack blending various styles such as watercolour, graphite sketches and clay animation to frame the game's narrative structure. Not only that, but he is also recording the game's musical score which is already sounding superb.
    The game has headed to Kickstarter to enable Jack to finish the project and he also plans to make a physical copy of the game to backers who pledge £35 or more. In fact, the Kickstarter rewards are incredibly generous, with a mere £5 netting you early access to the game, the game upon release and a selection of musical tracks. Throw £10 Jack's way and he'll give you all that plus five other games from various up-and-coming developers.
    The Kickstarter pitch is extremely humble and Jack is looking for a very modest £2250 to complete the project. As I write, he is fast approaching that total after just a few days on Kickstarter so it's looking good so far.
    In my opinion, we need more of this type of game, one which encourages creativity, careful thought and respect for the world around you - and the fact it has no combat is a real plus point in my book. It should be quite a journey and it's one I'm really looking forward to taking.
    Check out Jack's Kickstarter page HERE and pledge some cash if you like what you see.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Toren is back and more beautiful than ever

Back in September 2011, I posted about Toren, a visually beautiful adventure game by Brazilian developer Swordtales.

Not much information was available about the game, but a new video has surfaced ahead of the 2014 Independent Games Festival which shows off much more of what we can expect from this stunning looking title.

As I initially wrote, the game is based inside an ancient tower, where a young girl is kept prisoner and the themes running through the game are based around discovery and growing up.

Ico comparisons are inevitable, with Toren's setting echoing a similar theme to Team Ico's classic, and hopefully we'll learn more about the game in the months to come. You can watch the trailer HERE

 Toren is currently in development for PC, Mac and Linux.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD - Wii U

When it comes to repackaging its past, no one does it quite like Nintendo. They have repeatedly blown the dust from old game carts from previous consoles and released them on various formats, especially titles from the NES, SNES and N64 era - although, infuriatingly, still no sign of Pilotwings 64.

The company has also been castigated for retreading familiar ground from some quarters, regurgitating updated versions of popular first-party tiles such as Mario Kart, Smash Bros, Donkey Kong, Animal Crossing, Pikmin, Mario platformers and Zelda. But Nintendo always manage to pull out the stops to make these core titles worth investigating and it's this quality which draws people to Nintendo's consoles. And that leads us neatly to Nintendo's most recent first-party reboot - a remake of GameCube classic The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker HD.

At its release back in 2003, there was a great deal of negative reaction to the game's visuals - a criticism I never personally understood. Perhaps people were expecting more realism from a new Zelda game and The Wind Waker's cell-shaded visual style jarred with their expectations. However, because of the decision to go with a highly stylised look a decade ago, time has been incredibly kind to this splendid adventure - especially as the game is now presented in glorious pin-sharp high definition.

While Zelda games are known for their devious dungeon designs, familiar weapons and hulking great bosses, it is impossible to go any further without talking a bit more about The Wind Waker's graphics. The visuals are enchanting, boasting rich and vibrant colours, spellbinding lighting effects and wonderful animation - it is quite incredible and one of the most attractive game worlds you'll ever find yourself in. Thankfully, The Wind Waker has much more going for it that just an eye-popping visual charm - underneath the glorious fresh paint job is a classic Zelda adventure which, in my opinion, stands side-by-side with anything else from the Zelda series.

The dungeons and their puzzles have been wonderfully devised and there are several stand-out moments for the series woven into the fabric of the game. But it's the decision to have Link traverse this vast and beautifully realised world by boat which really stands out and is one of the game's crowning glories.

There's something magical about heading out to sea with Link at the helm of the mysterious King of Red Lions, swiftly cutting through the waves and continuously moving ever onwards on the quest for adventure. There are plenty of islands to explore and as new items unlock as you spend more time with the game, returning to areas peppered across the archipelago throws up an abundance of mysterious charms. Splashing about in the salty sea spray and sailing away from the main quest also throws up a galleon-full of wonderful secrets and a beguiling collection of charismatic characters to converse with, making this chapter of Link's adventures one of the very best.

The threat from adversaries is never far away, but The Wind Waker's combat is rather good, making these bouts of hack and slashing highly enjoyable. While going toe-to-toe with enemies could never be described as complex, with Link's ever growing arsenal of weapons - including some old favourites - it is rarely boring. Add to that the use of handy button prompts which allow our green-clad hero to dodge, weave and hurdle opponents opening up weak points, and these frequent scraps are allowed to flow perfectly.

The Wii U control pad is used to great effect and although simple, it allows the player to swap items on the fly, while also acting as a handy map - both in dungeons and while cutting a swathe through the expansive seas. It can't be underestimated how this small change affects gameplay as there's now no need to pause the game to fuddle about with inventory management.

Despite its age, The Wind Waker looks and feels like a completely new game. Those who played and loved the original will warm to this beautiful version, while newcomers are in for a treat as they are blown gently through this quite incredible game.

Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is quite simply one of the most magical and beautiful video games ever created and a game everyone should experience first-hand.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

24 hours of Monster Hunter for charity

I've been playing and writing about games for longer than I can remember, so I thought I would put my skills to good use and raise money for The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.

On the weekend of October 11-13th, I'll be playing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on Wii U for 24 hours straight, stopping only for toilet breaks, coffee, the occasional snack and to sharpen outrageously huge longswords and forage for blue mushrooms and whetstones. It's going to be a gruelling play session but I'm hoping people will throw words of encouragement my way on Facebook and Twitter. I'll also be using both these sites to keep everyone up to date on how I'm getting on.

The venture is in conjunction with Edinburgh Sick Kids Friends Foundation - a charity which provides funding over and above NHS provision to help make time spent in hospital better for young patients and their families.

I know times are tough for everyone these days, but if you are able to donate even a small amount, your efforts would be very much appreciated both by myself and the charity. Even if you can't afford to make a donation, please spread the word and cheer me on from the sidelines. It's going to be a crazy 24 hours!

Here's a link to my Just Giving page, where you can make a donation:

Wish me luck!

Update: Well, I survived my 24 hours and had a blast in the process. I started flagging with around five hours to go, but a cracking online session with three Twitter friends raised my spirits and I finished up with a few low rank quests as my fingers had started to go to sleep.This is the final photo I took, and I think it captures how I felt at the end perfectly! Thanks for all the support.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Wonderful 101 - Wii U

It's safe to say that the lure of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and The Wonderful 101 were enough to twist my arm and persuade me to buy a Wii U. Monster Hunter was - as expected - incredible and still remains
in my top games of the year, so could The Wonderful 101 possibly live up to my lofty expectations, too? The answer is mixed and while the game is truly wonderful (sorry, I couldn't resist) in places, some niggles with the game's controls sour the experience slightly, but more of that later.
    The story follows the Wonderful 100 - you are the 101st member - a gallant band of masked superheroes who are in the midst of a titanic struggle against the alien GEATHJERK army - a mob who are intent on destroying the world. It's all a bit cliched, but as a framework to hang the blistering action on, it works perfectly and there's a huge dollop of humour thrown in to keep the story light-hearted and fresh.
    The twist with The Wonderful 101 is that you don't control a single member of this mighty force - you actually control all of them simultaneously. You also have the ability to fuse your heroes together to create mighty weapons of mass destruction, including a brilliant blue sword, a giant gun and an apartment-sized fist, with which to smash the robotic extraterrestrial menace.
    Platinum Games were widely applauded for the implementation of deep and satisfying combat systems in games such as Bayonetta and Vanquish and that rich tradition continues here. However, you will need to spend a bit of time experimenting here to get under the game's skin and draw the most from the experience.

    The action is relentless - rarely does the game pause for breath - with the player buffeted between one eye-popping boss battle to the next even bigger showdown. Learning which formations to unleash on these daunting foes is half the battle and finding their weak point and exploiting it with style and panache is a great feeling. Mind bending combinations can be pulled off and the game allows players to mix and match multiple fighting styles simultaneously to cause complete carnage. These commands are issued either with the Wii U's right stick or by drawing a variety of shapes on the touch pad. It takes a while to get used to this, but perseverance pays off, even if the command input sometimes doesn't quite register properly in the heat
of battle.
    Other issues arise when the action switches from the TV to the pad's screen when your bustling mob are indoors. Everything gets far too cramped and controlling the camera can be more difficult than it really needs to be. That said, it's an ambitious project and one that at least attempts to use the Wii U's gamepad for something other than an extra inventory screen.
    To reward experimentation and effectiveness while battering the alien forces into submission, medals as dished out on the completion of levels, giving the game plenty of replayability for those who simply need to Hoover up all those shiny platinum medals. Collecting achievements in the shape of bottle caps also gives the player plenty to think about while saving the planet.
    Visually, The Wonderful 101 is an absolute triumph, with its magical isometric vantage point giving a fresh perspective on the action, while the stunning tilt-shift effect, bright colours and clean lines simply add to the game's splendid visual appeal. The characters, too, are a delight, with the bunch beautifully detailed and bursting with charm and character. They gleefully slap down GEATHJERK forces with aplomb and enthusiastically scamper across the screen with vim and vigour, accompanied at all times by a stirring soundtrack.
    So while The Wonderful 101 occasionally misses a beat, it's a unique and refreshing all-action experience which rewards the player handsomely. There's really nothing quite like it on the market and is yet another corker of a game on Nintendo's home console.