Thursday, 28 July 2011

Bastion - Xbox 360

Creating quite an impression thanks to its beautiful visuals, appealing isometric viewpoint and eclectic soundtrack, Bastion is an inviting proposition.

Indeed, the first few hours in its company provides great entertainment, but despite a smattering of neat ideas and its unique presentation, Bastion struggles to maintain the initial thrill throughout the rest of the six-hour adventure.

While the glossy presentation is impressive, it’s the way the story plays out which takes most of the plaudits.

The protagonist - known simply as The Kid - wakes from his slumber to find his world wracked by The Calamity and quickly scampers off to the Bastion - a sanctuary where he hopes to find fellow survivors.

Upon arrival, it’s clear that even this safe haven has been compromised and under the tutelage of an elderly sage, The Kid sets off to restore the Bastion to its former glory.

But Bastion's twist comes from the way the plot unfolds, with the sage narrating every move The Kid makes, while his gravely voice also fleshes out the game’s over-arching story.

It’s a clever quirk that drives the player onwards and it’s a genuine treat to hear his comments as The Kid smites a pack of enemies or discovers a long-forgotten memento from the past.

But despite its interesting delivery, Bastion can be a trudge in places. The hack and slash nature of the gameplay results in repetitive chapters of action - despite the game’s best efforts to regularly dish out new weapons, upgrades and skills.

It’s true that mixing and matching weapon load-outs is beneficial for taking out certain enemies, but it’s all very straightforward and Bastion really doesn’t pack much of a challenge despite some magnificent looking bosses.

But despite the flaws, it’s always interesting to see the Bastion spring to life though building upgrades, while the inclusion of optional arena challenges and a New Game + are welcome addictions.

But it’s hard to shake the feeling that Bastion is a case of style over substance - with the core gameplay never quite matching the beautiful visuals or slick presentation.

A worthwhile purchase, then, but be aware that Bastion isn’t always what it seems.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Realm of the Mad God - PC

I’ve been prattling on about my love of Roguelikes for years, with Cardinal Quest - see below - the latest dungeon crawler to get under my skin.

But when I found out about Realm of the Mad God - an online Roguelike with a twist - I just had to check it out.

Described as a co-op fantasy MMO shooter, this free-to-play browser-based gem throws the player into an online world, where fast-paced action and joyful 8-bit visuals are the order of the day.

A short tutorial explains the game mechanics and then the player is promptly whisked off to the Nexus - a hub which houses a market selling a range of tempting items and a place where fellow players mill around, haggle for goods and snaffle up free items.

Using the WASD keys to move and clicks of the mouse button to fire, the player initially skitters across beaches and thick forests in the purple robes of a wizard, dispatching enemies with bursts of magic.

Every so often, a pictogram will pop on the side of the play area, directing the throng of players towards a boss character. Everyone scrambles towards these showdowns and once the foe bites the dust, the rush is on to be the first to grab the leftover loot.

But the Roguelike twist to this frenetic action is that when your pixelated character pops his clogs, it’s game over. It’s then back to the Nexus to start a new character and do it all over again.

You might think this rinse and repeat formula would get boring but it never does as there is always something to aim for, be it unlocking new classes, plundering pirate caves for new loot, taking on heavy-set bosses or boosting all your toons to lvl 20.

But while wandering over the map blitzing foes is great fun, the ultimate aim is to gain access to the Wine Cellar - the place where Oryx, the Mad God resides.

Getting in there is no easy task, as you first have to get your grubby paws on an incantation, which has a .6 per cent drop rate from certain dungeon bosses. However, even if you don’t find this spell, someone else surely will.

At this point, every player in the game is summoned to pit their wits against Oryx and his minions in a crazy battle of epic proportions - and a place where you’re sure to meet your maker.

The Realm of the Mad God is a brilliant experience and has bags of charm thanks to its old school visuals, not to mention the smattering of blocky hobbits, elven archers, stone golems and furious crabs.

It’s free so give it a try. Just be warned, it could take over your life.

Play it HERE

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Cardinal Quest - PC

There’s nothing I like more than settling down with a good, old-fashioned Roguelike. An experience akin to having your face rubbed repeatedly against a wall has no reason to be so much fun, but there’s something about permadeath and the fear of losing all your gear and hard-earned progress which always keeps me coming back for more.

While games such as Nethack, Angband, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup and Dwarf Fortress have devoured hours of my time - and the lives of dozens of my heroic adventurers - I'm always on the look out for more entertaining ways to punish my on-screen avatars - and my own sanity.

Step forward Cardinal Quest - a browser-based title which is currently playable as a Javascript prototype - although its website states improved versions are currently in the pipeline.

The aim is to descend into the darkness and slay the Evil Minotaur who has taken up residence in the subterranean gloom.

Stepping into the muddy boots of either a fighter, thief or wizard - each has there own speciality move set - the player gingerly guides their charge through randomly generated dungeons to fulfil their quest.

Not that it's easy, mind. Like any Roguelike worth its salt, Cardinal Quest provides soaring highs and crushing lows.

You'll turn the air blue as your pixelated character pops his clogs yet again because you weren't keeping an eye on his health bar or because cocksure bravado got in the way of rational decision making.

But what makes Cardinal Quest such a pleasure to play is its simplistic interface, which scraps cluttered menu systems and archaic key commands, making bite-size play sessions a joy rather than a slog.

While a mistimed hit or foolish move can spell certain doom for your brave adventurer, the light-hearted chip tune soundtrack and fast-paced gameplay ensures you'll be back for more with a smile, rather than a grimace, on your mug.

Cardinal Quest is a light, breezy game, but one which also packs a punch. It's perfect for lunch breaks or quick five minute gaps in a busy day at the computer.

So go ahead. Plunder dungeons, sift through rubble to uncover ornate weapons of myth, die quite a lot and try and come back safe and sound with the fabled Minotaur's head in your backpack. Play it HERE

Monday, 25 July 2011

Solatorobo: Red The Hunter - DS

Despite the fact Nintendo decided to publish this Namco Bandai title in Europe, Solatorobo has inexplicably had next to no advertising to back up its charms.

It’s a shame, as with its delightful visual style, likeable cast of animal characters and solid gameplay mechanics, Solatorobo is a neat little game that deserves a lot more love.

The story puts the player in control of Red Savarin - a bounty hunter who, on the back of his mech Dahak, stomps about beautiful Studio Ghibli-inspired floating islands taking on jobs simply to make ends meet.

However, in stereotypical video game style, the hero and his team - including Red’s wonderfully titled close friend Chocolat Gelato - leave their humdrum existence behind as they become embroiled in a plot to save their world from impending doom.

While the story treads a well-worn path, it stays interesting thanks to plot twists and a witty translation, which gently nudges the player through the laid-back action.

Solatorobo features rudimentary RPG elements but it never gets bogged down in a glut of stat menus or complicated tech trees. Instead, Dahak’s abilities are boosted by placing power cells inside his metal innards, while Red’s level is raised by getting into scraps with unsavoury mechanical foes.

Red also has a Hunter Rank, which increases as he takes on jobs and rising up the ladder means he can take on tougher offers from the game’s varied cast and earn shiny gold rings.

These optional quests are one of Solatorobo’s strengths, with the player taking on a variety of tasks including scavenging for pictures, exterminating pesky bugs, cleaning areas by shuffling crates around and gladiatorial arena battles.

The real-time combat is decent – if a little repetitive – with Red relying on his robot chum to do the majority of the grunt work.

Picking up enemies and throwing them around is the main focus of the combat, but waiting for the right moment to manhandle your opponent is key. Sweeping around the back of a lumbering foe or launching a mid-air attack are sometimes required, but more often than not, these brawls turn into little more than an exercise in button mashing.

While the vibrant visuals are impressive for the humble DS, the sound quality isn’t great. Even when playing through headphones, the poor sound compression means the light-hearted soundtrack often descends into a tinny mess. Fortunately, Solatorobo has more than enough plus points to make up for its shortcomings.

A healthy selection of collectable trinkets are peppered throughout the adventure, while high flying races - titled Air Robo GP - feature as a bonus mode from the main menu, complete with a local multiplayer option.

With the focus on the hand-held market currently on the 3DS and Sony’s upcoming PSVita, there’s every chance this little gem might slip away unnoticed. But Solatorobo is well worth hunting down and offers a unique and charming adventure on Nintendo's ageing console.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Async Corp - iOS

Being forced to work on a never-ending production line and sending packages into the ether isn’t exactly the most exciting premise for a game.

But Async Corp's world of corporate drivel, fused with a wry sense of humour and solid gameplay makes for a brilliant little package.

Like the best of puzzlers, Async Corp keeps things simple. Starting with two 6x4 grids filled with coloured blocks, your job is to arrange neatly squared-off data packages of 2x2 or greater by moving blocks of the same colour from one grid to the other.

Once the package has been put together - complete with smiley, feelgood face - the player taps on the slab of colour and sends it on its merry way.

Various modes add neat twists to the formula, but they never veer too far from the original idea – meaning the player never gets their fingers in a fankle due to over-complicated rule sets.

Visuals are clean and simple, while the delightful retro soundtrack helps keep everything moving along nicely.

For just 69p on the App Store, Powerhead Games have created a lovely little slice of puzzle fun which carries a surprising amount of charm under its blocky exterior. Well worth a punt.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Survival - PC

Doe-eyed schoolgirls being frightened to death by supernatural beings is hardly a new premise in the world of videogames but this slip of a title is still well worth checking out.

Placed into the long white socks of a Japanese schoolgirl, our protagonist wakes up in an eerily quiet school and is forced to leg it from blue ghosts who drift menacingly towards her.

To escape the confines of the building, our bewildered girl has to snaffle 10 hearts in 10 minutes before she scrambles towards the exit - and it’s no easy task, with the supernatural freaks lying in wait around every corner.

It’s an interesting mash-up of Pac-Man and Persona and it can be downloaded free from HERE