Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Contact - DS

I first became aware of Contact in the pages of EDGE magazine back in 2006. The bright visuals jumped out the page at me, and I immediately started scouring the internet for more information about the game. Unable to hold on for the UK release, I eventually ordered it from the US and fell in love with its quirky gameplay styles and cute visuals.
The player takes control over protagonist Terry, a young boy who, along with the enigmatic Professor, finds himself embroiled in an inter-galactic quest for precious power cells.
The quirky visual style smacks you between the eyes in the game's opening moments, with Terry exploring a a lush and detailed universe via the DS’s touch screen, while the Professor – and his loveable pet – inhabit a stranded starship, which is presented in a simple isometric view on the top screen.
What makes the game interesting is the fact the Professor talks directly to the player, not Terry. So in a sense, you are simply controlling Terry’s actions, while the Professor gives you, the player, advice on what to do next.
Unlike most DS RPGs, Contact dispenses with random turn-based battles, instead adopting a more MMO feel to combat. When prompted, Terry continues to attack until he is successful or flees from danger. To help Terry defeat foes, he finds several suits on his journey, which grant him special attacks. Some take a bit of exploration to find and are well worth hunting down - even though they don’t really add a great deal of tactical nous to proceedings.
While Contact is a traditional Japanese RPG wrapped up in delightful visuals, game director Akira Ueda has woven in some original ideas to spice things up. Decals are adhesive stickers which can be peeled using the stylus to unleash special attacks. These limited powers are useful in tight situations, but restoring their effectivness is sometimes more hassle than it's worth.
Another neat touch is the Chef’s Suit, which allows Terry to rustle up stat boosting food. There’s a limit to how much food Terry can eat, though, so you have to think carefully about when Terry chows down his grub.
There’s a lot of grinding involved and you’ll die quickly unless you’re extremely careful. However, there’s something compelling about the adventure which keeps the player ploughing onwards.
It was never a huge hit and might be quite hard to track down these days. But if you stumble across Contact, you should definitely pick it up. One of my favourite games on the DS.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Ni no Kuni - DS/PS3

I like a bit of Japanese animation from time to time, but not just any old rubbish. No, for me, Studio Ghibli's work shines brightest and I'm a big fan.

The creators of classics such as Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle and Porco Rosso have never embraced the videogame medium, but all that is about to change.

The Japanese company have been working on Ni no Kuni: The Another World on DS - a game which will come on a huge 4GB cartridge, but the real surprise is the title is also set to appear on PlayStation 3.

As you can see, the visuals are sumptuous, and are going to look even better in crisp high definition.

The DS version is due to arrive in Japan later this year, while we might have to wait a little longer for the PS3 version. Here's a video of the PS3 version in action:

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Ilomilo - 360

Swedish-based developer Southend are currently beavering away on their forthcoming Xbox Live Arcade title, Ilomilo.

It’s a beautiful looking game, and with the promise of a few old school gameplay twists, Ilomilo could well be one of this year's more memorable downloadable titles.

The aim is to reunite two characters - Ilo and Milo - by interacting with the blocks which make up their delicious, plushy 3D world. By manipulating their environment and switching back and forth between the two, the player can solve the puzzles and reconcile the two chums.

Lots of devious head-scratchers are planned, while a two-player mode looks to be on the cards.

Older gamers might see shades of ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 classic Head Over Heels present here, and it's hard to think Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond's masterpiece hasn't been a major influence.

The fabric-style visuals are utterly charming, while the soundtrack - judging from the game's trailers - is impossibly cute. There’s been no confirmed release date, but hopes are high that it arrives this side of Christmas.

Need further convincing? Then check out this gorgeous trailer:

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Torchlight - PC

Torchlight has been consuming quite a lot of my time recently. It’s been out since last year on PC, but I find myself being drawn back to it time after time for some dungeon crawling action.

Runic Games are the team behind the mouse-driven Diablo clone, with players descending through randomly generated dungeons filled with monsters, traps and shiny loot.

There are three character classes to choose between - Destroyer (melee), Vanquisher (long-range combat), and Alchemist (magic based).

As you would expect from a game which draws its influence from Blizzard’s Diablo, loot drops are the major pull. Cash, scrolls, healing items, armour and weapons fall from downed foes, and collecting rare items is what drives the player ever deeper into Torchlight’s subterranean labyrinth.

It also helps that the visuals are excellent, with the game wearing its World of Warcraft influence proudly on its sleeve. Bold character design and a tremendous eye for detail make Torchlight a joy to look at, while the point and click interface is simple to use.

A nice selection of difficulty levels mean the game can be as challenging or as laid back as you want, although I would advise everyone to at least try the brutal hardcore mode just to see how crazy things get.

Even those who don’t own a powerful PC can enjoy Torchlight. A special Notebook Mode has been included, meaning anyone who wants to enjoy some quality gameplay can do so without splashing out on a high-end rig.

It’s a cracking game featuring some excellent ideas - sending your pet back to town to sell surplus items is a stroke of genius - and will keep you more than happy until Blizzard release Diablo III.

Torchlight is available via the Steam network for £14.99, or from the game’s official website:

Monday, 21 June 2010

Flight Simulator X - Alaska trips

I've been a fan of Microsoft's Flight Simulator series for a few years, but it wasn't until I got my new PC a few weeks ago that I experienced the delights of Flight Simulator X.

For me, the joy isn't in flying passenger jets across the Atlantic at 45,000ft. Instead, I love flying smaller planes at around 5000ft across Alaska and British Columbia.

Unfortunately, FSX's default scenery isn't very detailed, but there are hundreds of add-ons to enhance the game's visuals.

I plumped for Ultimate Alaska, a fantastic paid for add-on by Scenery Solutions which adds a tremendous amount of detail, including accurately modeled cities, real roads, 400 glaciers and a load of other neat touches.

This adds enormously to the enjoyment for the game, and makes exploring America's largest state a pleasure.

I plan on buying the company's Ultimate Europe add-on next month for some flights closer to home.

Incidentally, the pictures here are my own and were taken with Ultimate Alaska enabled.

For more info on the product, visit: Ultimate Alaska

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Densha De Go! Showa Yamanote Line - DS

The latest title in the long-running arcade train driving series arrives next month in Japan. Titled Densha De Go! Showa Yamanote Line, it’s the first game in the series to arrive on the DS.

I have one of the previous titles for PSP, while I also own two PS2 versions: Densha De Go! Final and Densha Do Go! Shinkansen.

Both are excellent, but Final is the superior product, boasting the most comprehensive number of trains and tracks, while it also sports ‘linking’ a system where the player can link together set objectives to earn a bigger score.

This latest game looks great, and controlling the game should be a breeze thanks to touch screen controls.

Densha De Go! Showa Yamanote Line is being released to celebrate 100 years of Tokyo’s Yamanote Line. Players will be able to experience the line as it is today, and also go back in time to see the tracks as they were in the 50s and 60s.

Densha De Go! Showa Yamanote Line is released in Japan by Square Enix on July 22.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 - Wii

The original Super Mario Galaxy rocketed our favourite plumber into orbit on an epic gravity-defying adventure quite unlike anything we had seen before.

Now, two years later, Mario is back in another star-grabbing, mind-twisting platformer, which improves on the original at almost every glorious turn, jump, leap and spin.

Of course, creating a sequel to one of the greatest videogames of all time is no easy task, but with Shigeru Miyamoto once again at the helm, Nintendo have delivered an astonishing piece of software by which all other platform games will now be judged.

While at first glance the game might seem nothing more than a by-the-numbers update to the original, there is far more to Mario's second galactic adventure than initially meets the eye.

Yes, the background story is the usual nonsense about evil Bowser kidnapping the hapless Princess Peach, but such is the joyous way new ideas and gameplay styles have been introduced, that you simply won't care.

Nintendo have gone to great lengths to streamline Mario Galaxy 2, re-introducing the familiar map which makes moving between star systems a much simpler and less time consuming affair than before.

What hasn't changed, though, are the tight controls, excellent camera system, and the ease of navigating Mario through the devious, but brilliantly realised levels.

Every new planet on Mario's adventure conjures up fresh gameplay twists as Nintendo constantly throw out new ideas challenging the player's perception about what to expect from a platform game.

While Nintendo have clearly raised the bar for level design, part of the game's magic lies in the various suit power-ups at Mario's disposal.

His bee, fireball, ghost and spring suits return, but his range of new abilities - and the way they have been woven into the fabric of the game - are equally special. Cloud Mario can conjure fluffy platforms to reach high points, while Rock Mario transforms into a rolling ball of destruction.

However, chief among his new powers is Yoshi. Mario's loveable dinosaur sidekick makes his long-awaited return to the 3D arena, having last been spotted at the end of the 1996 classic Mario 64.

Jumping on his back lets the player target enemies before unleasing Yoshi's sticky tongue to eat them. But that's not all - in one glorious level Yoshi samples the delights of a hot red pepper, causing the green dinosaur to rampage through a rollercoaster level full of twists, turns and gravitational challenges. Yoshi can also eat blue fruit, which inflates him, and a yellow fruit which turns him into a walking lantern.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is slightly tougher in places than the original game, but younger players needn't worry.

There's a generous amount of handholding thrown in to help Mario novices. Optional tutorials lead the player through the finer points, while the option for the game to complete sections is also available should the player fail a task multiple times. Your end reward for this computer-controlled assistance is a bronze star rather than a shiny gold one, but it at least shows players where they are going wrong.

Many people like to have a pop at the Wii due to its lack of graphical grunt, but Mario Galaxy 2 is a riot of bold, colourful visuals. It is a stunning looking title and also boasts dazzling water effects.

The soundtrack is more varied than the first game, with a brilliant arrangement of quirky tunes. Older gamers who remember the classic Super Mario World will grin like idiots when they hear some of its classic tracks again, while riding Yoshi is accompanied with the dinosaur's traditional bongo drum beat.

Super Mario Galaxy is quite an incredible achievement. It's jam packed with outstanding moments and trumps the original game thanks to its new power-ups and stunning level design.

It's not only the greatest platform game ever made, but it's quite possibly the finest game ever to appear on a home console. Recommendations don't come higher than that.