Thursday, 25 November 2010

Mr Moskeeto - PS2

Mr Moskeeto is a charming little game and one of those quirky little oddities which could only come from the Japanese gaming industry.

Released as Ka in Japan back in 2001, the little blood-sucking mosquito buzzed across to Europe the following year.

The game gave you control over the titular character, who found himself trapped in the Yamada family household. To survive, the player had to guide the big-eyed bug around the large and varied rooms attacking the human inhabitants and drinking their blood.

Tiny hearts and containers were secreted away throughout the Yamada's residence, and with no time limit, the player was free to explore the interesting abode.

Unfortunately for Mr Moskeeto - and for a large chunk of the gaming community - the lighter blighter’s adventures failed to sell in the West and he was swatted away without a second thought.

I picked the game up a few months after its European release. Lying on a dusty shelf in my local indie game store, I was intrigued by the three silly screenshots on the back and the quote: “Watch as the family’s relationship alters as they take their irritation out on each other.”

However, somewhere down the years, I lost the disc and subsequently forgot all about the little buzzing menace. But I recently found someone selling the game for a good price and my copy dropped through the letterbox this morning. Gran Turismo 5 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood were cast aside as I took a nostalgic trip back through the Yamadas' lives once again.

It still plays well, although Mr Moskeeto’s flying can be a little janky at times, while the camera angles can cause a few problems.

Part of the game’s charm was down to the environments. At eight years old, it’s no surprise to find the muddy textures haven’t held up particularly well, but it is still fun buzzing through the house watching the family go through their daily routines. The soundtrack, too, is simply wonderful, with a nice selection of funky tunes to give the game a lovely atmosphere.

Distracting family members by turning on the stereo, switching off lights and messing with the TV remote still feels great, while the act of attacking weak spots on the family’s body parts is handled remarkably well.

Once zoned in on the target area, a quick press down on the right stick causes Mr Moskeeto to latch on to a bare patch of skin. Then it’s a case of carefully rotating the stick to draw the blood. Do it quickly or too slowly and the victim will react angrily to your presence.

Should this happen, Mr Moskeeto has to attack pressure points on the humans to calm them down. It’s beautifully handled and it’s such a shame the game didn’t receive the love it deserved back in 2002.

Mr Moskeeto is definitely one of my favourite Japanese games from the last generation of consoles. It’s quirky, a genuine joy to play and I would urge anyone with a PS2 to track the game down.

Screenshots are hard to come by, so here's a look at the opening level, which gives an indication of how the game plays:

Monday, 22 November 2010

Deadly Premonition - 360

There's a good chance most gamers haven't heard of Deadly Premonition. It was quietly and unassumingly released a few weeks ago, slipping under the radar as 360 owners busied themselves with Fable III.

Now, following the release of Kinect and Call of Duty: Black Ops, there's every chance this bizarre and quite brilliant game could disappear beneath the waves without so much as a ripple.

But miss out on Deadly Premonition, and you'll be denying yourself the chance to experience one of this year's most refreshing and engaging titles.

Taking elements from games such as Silent Hill, Resident Evil and Shenmue, creator Swery 65 has also added a Twin Peaks-style backdrop and laced the experience with cheesy dialogue, incidental humour and a smorgasbord of interesting characters.

While the influences are clear for all to see, it's safe to say there is nothing quite like Deadly Premonition.

Protagonist Agent Francis York Morgan - just call him York, everyone else does - heads out to the rural town of Greenvale to investigate the brutal murder of a young diner waitress. But what awaits him is anything but your average homicide case.

The game begins with an uninspiring section which could have been lifted from any number of survival horror games. York sneaks about a rain-soaked maze, flicking switches on electricity generators and shooting backwards-bending, shuffling zombies.

But once dawn breaks and the town of Greenvale comes into view, things take a dramatic and completely unexpected turn.

Rather than a mere run-of-the-mill fright fest, Deadly Premonition blossoms into a delicious and overblown parody complete with hammy dialogue, pop culture references and a wonderful, off-beat sense of humour.

Star of the show is York, who is far from being a straight-laced FBI goon. He has an obsession with 80s movies and the murder of young females, has a split personality called Zach and takes daily advice from cups of coffee.

But to appreciate Deadly Premonition, you'll have to dig through the game's archaic array of gamplay issues. Chief among these are the game's driving sections and crude visuals.

Cars corner like buses, while trying to stay on the road is no easy task due to the slippery handling. The graphics are a mixed bag, too, with muddy textures and ropey backgrounds hard to ignore. At times it looks like a 10-year-old PlayStation 2 era game, but there are some lovely touches and places of beauty in and around Greenvale - the fishing spot near Velvet Falls is lovely, while some building interiors are well detailed.

However, despite these shortcomings, Deadly Premonition retains a charm which is absent from most big-budget titles. For a start, it's without doubt the most amusing game I've ever played - and it has nothing to do with the "so bad, it's good" mantra.

The game revels in its obscurity and takes great delight at not taking itself too seriously, with the title's music being a case in point.

Even when addressing a serious plot point or somber set piece, Deadly Premonition injects light-hearted jazz or an infuriatingly catchy whistling tune to drown out the dialogue. It never fails to raise a smile and simply adds another layer of weirdness to this fascinating game.

When York isn't zooming around town in madcap checkpoint races, picking up collectable trading cards, playing darts, drinking cocktails, chain smoking, peeking through windows and raiding mailboxes for ammo, the game meanders into dark and depressing dungeon-style crawls.

These grimy episodes are fairly pedestrian, although they do contain nuggets of evidence which are vital in piecing the story elements together.

It's also a genuinely unsettling experience when faced with the game's cover star - the red-hooded Raincoat Killer. He kicks open creaking doors with gusto and leaps at York when he least expects it. These showdowns lead to Quick Time button prompts and furious stick waggling to escape the crazed killer's clutches. Not the most refined system in the world, but it does lead to tense and frantic moments of panic.

While most games would simply fall apart due to the basic gameplay and shoddy visuals, Deadly Premonition's environment, atmosphere, cracking story and off-kilter cast of characters keep things ticking along.

Greenvale's residents are a ramshackle bunch of misfits, each one adding to the general weirdness of the town; the creepy twins who appear as angels in York's dreams, Thomas, the sensitive cooking cop who works part time in a bar called Galaxy of Terror, finger-snapping rocker Keith who helps run the general store and unhinged loon Sigourney, The Pot Lady - it's a delightful mix of weird and wonderful personalities.

As if the gripping main quest wasn't enough, 50 optional sidequests are peppered throughout the game, each one rewarding the player with unique items. These vignettes also give the player an insight into the town's residents, fleshing out their background stories and adding another layer to an already richly rewarding game.

And the madness doesn't stop there. To add to the game's strange flavour, York has to change his clothes - and get them cleaned - and shave at regular intervals. He also has to stave off hunger by chomping down pickles and crackers and grab naps to keep him focused on solving the complex case.

Despite its clumsy gameplay, archaic touches and lack of polish, there's something truly remarkable about Deadly Premonition. It's a touching, melancholic, humorous, gripping and at times disturbing yarn that succeeds in trumping games such as Alan Wake at almost every turn.

It's not for everyone, that's for sure, but those who are willing to embrace its quirks and rough edges are in for a very special experience that will live long in the memory. Hats off to Rising Star for releasing the game in the UK.

The best £20 you'll spend all year - so says Mr Stewart...

Deadly Premonition is only available on Xbox 360 in the UK. A PlayStation 3 version was released in Japan under the title Red Seeds Profile.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - 360/PS3

Set 150 years in the future, Enslaved takes place in rubble-strewn post-apocalyptic America. So far, so cliched, but dismiss this Ninja Theory game at your peril as Odyssey to the West is far from your run-of-the-mill post-war adventure.

Based on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, by Wu Chen-en, Enslaved features protagonist Monkey as he's roped into helping tech wizard Tripitaka escape slavers and get back safely to her village.

If the story of Monkey and Trip's quest rings a bell, then you'll no doubt remember classic Japanese TV series Monkey, which was screened in the UK in the early Eighties. The character names may be the same, but the setting here couldn't be more different from the cult classic TV show.

While the opening segment of the adventure loses its way due to some dodgy camera angles and a laborious and long-winded intro level, Enslaved soon blossoms into one of the finest action adventures you'll play all year.

Lord of the Rings actor Andy Serkis brings his abundant talents to the project, breathing life into the acrobatic lead character, while the writing skills of Alex Garland (28 Days Later and The Beach) have been called upon to weave this re-imagining of the classic tale.

The destroyed ruins of New York set the scene for the opening portion of the game and while post apocalyptic worlds are nothing new in gaming, they have never looked quite as good as this.

It's a riot of saturated beauty, with bright greens, vivid reds and eye-watering blues mixed together to create a visual feast. The colour seems to spill out from the screen creating an interesting and inviting gameworld to spend time in.

It's a relief, then, to find that the core gameplay more than matches the game's stunning visuals. Not only is Monkey a dab hand at beating down enemies with his staff, he is also proficient at clambering up vertigo-inducing structures such as skyscrapers and windmills with ease.

Combat is a simple combination of heavy and light attacks, with Monkey also able to stun enemies and fry them using plasma blasts. While the close quarter battles can occasionally turn into button mashing competitions, they are generally fluid and a visual treat. Later adversaries also require a bit more thought to take down and pose a much greater threat to the fleeing duo.

Brightly coloured orbs are peppered throughout the lavish gameworld, and collecting these enables Trip to upgrade Monkey's abilities. From health boosts to attacking prowess, every element of Monkey's skill set can be enhanced by seeking out these glittering neon treasures.

While Monkey is built to withstand the constant attacks from the mechs and slavers who have invaded America, Trip is a bit more delicate. Monkey has to protect her but can also call upon her to distract enemies while he nimbly flanks them before reducing them to chunks of scrap metal. She can also use her skills to highlight deadly traps on the road ahead and turn her hand to a variety of other useful endeavours.

Puzzles present themselves at regular intervals, each one requiring at least a modicum of teamwork to solve the conundrum - although they lack variety and often feel tacked on just for the sake of it.

The quality of the voice acting and the on-screen mannerisms of the characters is impossible to ignore. There are no wooden performances here, instead the relationship between the two characters unfolds beautifully and every in-game cut scene is a treat to watch.

The delicious blend of stunning visuals, great story and satisfying gameplay is tied together by the spellbinding soundtrack. Written by composer Nitin Sawhney, the musical score is simply breathtaking and is one of the finest collections of tracks I've heard all year.

The game might be linear in its structure, and tread old ground in many places but that doesn't stop Enslaved from being a thoroughly entertaining journey across war ravaged America.

Ninja Theory have learned from the mistakes of Heavenly Sword and have delivered one of my favourite games of the year. The Christmas games rush has already started, but whatever you do, don't let Enslaved pass you by.