Sunday, 27 February 2011

Deathsmiles - 360

Originally appearing in Japanese arcades back in 2007, Cave's Deathsmiles has been resurrected from its gothic grave by the team at Rising Star Games.

A side-scrolling bullet-hell shooter, Deathsmiles is not for the faint of heart, with the player's character assaulted on all sides by a beguiling array or fabulously detailed occult horrors.

Leading the charge against the demonic hordes is a 13-year-old London lass called Windia, who is looking for a way to escape her Halloween-tinged hell and get back to the safety of her own world.

The shooting mechanics are solid with the player able to fire left and right, while smartbombs are used to unleash hell on the forces of darkness. Holding down both buttons creates a force field, which if penetrated, causes the lead character to auto-attack.

Blasting through waves of enemies rewards the player with a glittering array of crowns, tiaras and rings which when collected are added to a counter at the bottom of the screen. Once enough of these have been snaffled, it's possible to trigger a power up move, which showers the player in bonus trinkets, sending their score rocketing into the eerie twilight.

Deathsmiles' opening levels are relatively straightforward on the default setting, but in true Japanese shooter style, the difficulty soon ramps up with the screen infested with hulking brutes, airborne monstrosities and thousands of deadly bullets.

The scoring system is a complex beast, with the player juggling attack patterns to maximise scoring potential. That said, you can barrel your way through, but players looking to boost their way up the leaderboards will have to put the hours in.

The levels are varied and beautifully presented and the player is also granted flexibility in what order they want to tackle them in - a nice touch which gives players plenty of scope to strategically plan their routes through the game.

Deathsmiles is a short game and it's possible to polish off the experience in around 30 minutes, while infinite continues mean everyone will see the credits roll.

However, simply blustering your way through is missing the point entirely. It's all about repeated playthroughs, perfecting your techniques and chasing elusive high scores.

Deathsmiles is broad in scope and the disc is jam-packed with new modes, insane difficulty grades, control layouts, graphical variations, a two-player co-op option, world-wide leaderboards and a choice of up to five characters to take flight with. Each one has their own strengths and weaknesses and all offer a different spread of fire.

It should also be noted that the game screen can be expanded to fill your TV. Playing in the default small letterbox setting can lead to problems due to the amount of enemies, bullets and other visual effects cluttering the screen.

Cave have once again delivered an intense and brutal shooter which offers deep and rewarding gameplay.

It's a score chasers dream and a generous package, especially with the added bonus of a disc containing the game's soundtrack and another bursting with images and an array of bonuses for fans.

It's great to see Rising Star Games once again having the guts to release such a niche title in the West.

Wouldn't it be great if the company now turned their attention to other Cave shooters such as the delicious Muchi Muchi Pork & Pink Sweets and Akai Katana?

We can but hope.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective - DS

Ghost Trick is another brilliant slice of detective work from the mind of Shu Takumi - the man behind the Phoenix Wright series of adventures. But unlike the Ace Attorney's legal dramas, his latest title is anything but a straightforward crime solver.

In Ghost Trick, the player takes control of the soul of Sissel, a recently murdered man who has no recollection about his death or his past life. With a limited time before Sissel’s soul winks out of existence, the player guides the ethereal being through a series of investigations to find out about his troubled past.

What awaits is a delicious blend of puzzles and a hodgepodge of interesting characters, all wrapped up in a well-paced murder mystery with a twist.

The story begins with Sissel’s crumpled body lying in a junkyard in the middle of the night. Nearby, a young woman is held at gunpoint and unless something happens quickly, she’ll be joining Sissel face-down in the dirt.

By manipulating objects and jumping back through time, Sissel’s soul can affect the world around him, changing the course of history and moving Sissel ever closer to the truth about his death.

But this journey isn’t a straight A to B race against time either, thanks in large to the game’s range of fabulous characters.

Their snappy dialogue and wonderful animation brings each of their off-the-wall personalities to life and gives the game a huge amount of charisma. Dipping into the lives of these colourful characters is a joy and adds another layer to an already absorbing game. It also helps that the stylish environments they inhabit are pleasing to the eye, with plenty of detail adding an imaginative flourish.

While this rag-tag bunch are some of the most lively characters to grace a videogame in years, the simple but effective gameplay holds the experience together.

Sissel’s ghostly countenance has a limited range of movement, leading to mini puzzles as the player uses tricks to move trolleys, knock music boxes from ledges and startle assassins with unexpected noises. He can also use telephone lines to whizz about the city and talk to other spirits he meets on his travels.

While the opening levels start out as nothing more than tutorials, Ghost Trick soon blossoms into a devious and engaging thriller, full of twists, turns and things that go bump in the night.

The player has plenty of time in some sections to alter the environment and fill the holes in the background story, but when Sissel has to rewind time to change a future problem, a countdown begins.

During these frantic moments, the player has to think on their feet as objects have to be triggered at the correct time to change history, otherwise it’s curtains. It makes for a wonderful change of pace and leads to moments of panic as the player frantically scribbles the touchscreen looking for the right solution.

There are several tense moments peppered throughout, especially late in the game which heightens the fear of failure. The flip side to this is that Ghost Trick often descends into a game of trial and error, with some solutions not becoming clear until the player has attempted the scenario several times.

But despite this, the game remains interesting, with the draw of finding new characters and exploring their environments keeping players ploughing their way through.

Ghost Trick breathes new life into the staid murder mystery genre thanks to its hatful of surprises and genuinely interesting roster of characters. As a result, it is one of the most refreshing titles to appear on DS in ages and is well worth tracking down.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Dark Souls confirmed for Europe

Namco Bandai have announced they will be releasing their highly-anticipated new game Dark Souls across Europe later this year on both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The spiritual successor to PlayStation 3 exclusive Demon's Souls, Dark Souls boasts a raft of improvements over FROM Software's last game and should be another unmissable RPG from the Japanese company.

Director Hidetaka Miyazaki showed off the game in San Francisco earlier this week, which highlighted typically dark and atmospheric locations. This is what we know so far:

* Exploration will be encouraged, with a seamless, open world to explore. If you can see a tower or castle in the distance, it will be possible to eventually reach it.

* FROM Software are aiming to make the game just as rewarding as Demon's Souls, but this time they plan to ramp up the difficulty.

* Gameplay will be similar to Demon's Souls, learning from mistakes will make the player better.

* Dark Souls does not share the same game world as Demon's Souls.

* The level design will be more complex than Demon's Souls, with more vertical design used throughout.

* Online play will be similar to that in Demon's Souls, with players able to penetrate other people's game worlds.

* Character creation will not be class based, while more spells and items will be available with more focus on weapon customisation.

No release date has been set, but Dark Souls looks like it will be released late this year. In the meantime, check out these amazing screens:

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit - Pictures from Seacrest County

Criterion's Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit was one of my favourite games of 2010. Its blend of high-octane thrills, tight handling and excellent community features made it stand out from the crowd. It even managed to trump the company's Burnout Paradise for sheer fun.

The game also features an excellent photo suite and there's nothing I love more than taking snaps of games in action. So here are a few of my favourite screenshots that I've taken on my travels through Seacrest County.

LittleBigPlanet 2 - PS3

It's been a little over two years since the original LittleBigPlanet arrived on PlayStation 3, giving the system a mascot in the shape of Sackboy and thrilling gamers with its charming cut-and-paste visuals.

It was a heady brew of platform action and player driven content, but niggles and constraints held the game back from reaching its true potential.

With the sequel, developer Media Molecule have strived to iron out these faults and expand upon the original's purely platform-based action. And the results are impressive, even if the floppy physics engine still means Sackboy's leaps and bounds aren't as snappy as Mario's galactic acrobatics.

But it's not all about platforming shenanigans this time around. Sure, there are plenty of levels which require Sackboy to run from left to right and negotiate perilous ledges, but there's enough variety woven in to make every level unique. Mad-cap train rides, a factory full of Sackbots and jaunts through electrical assault courses are just some of the pleasures which await.

Like the original, plenty of collectables can be mopped up, each trinket giving the player bonus items and themes for use in their own levels. Some simply can't be missed, while reaching others often requires more than one player or a bit of lateral thinking.

As you would expect, the visuals are glorious. Sackboy remains as endearing as ever with his goofy smile warming even the iciest of hearts. All clothing items from the original have been transferred over, meaning he now has an enormous wardrobe of fashionable styles.

The visual quality doesn't stop at Sackboy's loveable stitching, as each bric-a-brac area is magnificently crafted. Metal, wood and material are to the fore, but the cake-themed world really takes biscuit, with huge slabs of Battenburg cake used as backdrops, while the player hurls sticky dollops of jam at switches.

Like the original, collecting cardboard keys on certain levels unlocks optional mini-adventures for Sackboy and his chums. These little vignettes prove to be dazzling highlights, with the player taking part in events including rodent races and a Pang-style marshmallow-busting high score challenge.

The floaty jump mechanics haven't been modified, but the experience has been refined thanks to a plethora of new gadgets. The Grapple Gun allows Sackboy to swing across yawning chasms, while other widgets - such as the magnificent Cakinator - fundamentally changes the way levels can be negotiated. Bounce pads are strategically placed throughout many of the levels, too, sending Sackboy pirouetting through the air and saves him from frustrating jumps and climbs.

The game's central story mode is more refined this time around and not the cobbled together effort from the original, with the yarn weaving its way through harebrained plot points and silly situations.

Despite this wide and varied assortment of levels, tricks and traps, it's the community driven aspect which draw so many people into the LittleBigPlanet universe. And while all the player-made levels from the original game have made the leap to this sequel, it's the sheer scope and new ways to play that make LittleBigPlanet 2 such a monumental achievement.

Breaking free from its platform shackles has allowed the bustling community to create top-down racers, tower defence games, RPGs, shoot 'em ups, sports games, pinball tables, Pong and Asteroids clones and a raft of other mind-twisting creations. It's a dazzling array and with gamers across the world refining their skills, this open-ended creation tool is sure to throw up thousands of wonderful levels over the next month or so.

Sorting through these gems is also now easier than before, with Media Molecule highlighting their top picks from an easy to use menu system. Players can still 'heart' their favourites, while comments can also be typed in - a nice touch which expands on the original's word sticking frenzy.

At the time of writing, a total of 3,593,831 levels have been created, and it's a mouth-watering prospect seeing what the community can invent as the years roll by. Of course, you can dismiss all these levels if you want and create your own instead. With a new selection of flexible editing tools, crafting your own masterpiece is easier than before - but be prepared to put in the hours if you want to achieve spectacular results.

LittleBigPlanet 2 is a monumental achievement and just think, this is only the beginning. It's a game which will still be played and enjoyed over the next few years, making it an essential purchase for your PS3. It might only be January, but we definitely have a game of the year contender on our hands.