Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Vanessa Saint-Pierre Delacroix and Her Nightmare - PC

Vanessa Saint-Pierre Delacroix & Her Nightmare isn't a chapter in Professor Layton's forthcoming game, The Last Specter - it is in fact a fiendishly addictive puzzler from the team at Bad Pilcrow.

The flimsy tale involves little Vanessa - who is mercilessly bullied by her schoolmates - finding a strangely carved box in her father's antique shop. When the box is accidentally cracked open, it promptly sucks up Vanessa, the bullies and her whole town, leaving the little girl with the task of rescuing everyone trapped inside the creepy box.

It's not deep, meaningful or really that important - as the story is simply a framework on which to hang the game's ingenious take on puzzle solving.

The aim is to get Vanessa to the exit on every level but because the game takes place on the sides of a cube, interesting gravity-shifting conundrums come thick and fast.

While Vanessa can move left, right and jump, the player can give her a helping hand by rotating the cube in 90 degree increments. This causes Vanessa to fall through gaps and reach different sides of the box.

Because Vanessa sticks to the original surface for a second before falling, the player is given a brief sliver of time to make adjustments.

Added complexity comes when required to flip the screen to place red blocks in set areas. It's fine at first when shifting a single block on one side of the cube, but later puzzles require the player to move multiple blocks between sides, which requires a fair amount of mental gymnastics and a wee bit of patience.

Add to that the threat of marauding spiders and deadly spikes and even the process of moving one block to the other side of the room - while keeping Vanessa safe - is enough to melt your brain.

With dozens of levels to work through, plenty of incentive to revisit areas to improve times and turns taken and full Xbox 360 controller support, Vanessa Saint-Pierre Delacroix & Her Nightmare is a neat little package.

It costs £5.39 and it should last you a few hours. There's also a generous demo available if you want to try before you buy. To grab a copy of Vanessa's adventure and see videos of the game in action, head over to the Bad Pilcrow website.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

One you might have missed - ilomilo - 360

With so many games released every week, some smaller titles unfortunately slip beneath the waves. One game which deserves a bit more recognition is Southend Interactive's ilomilo - a lovely puzzle platformer on Xbox Live Arcade.

Ilo and milo are friends, who enjoy munching on maple leaf-flavoured biscuits and sipping apple tea. Unfortunately, the two pals get separated and it's up to the player to reunite the pair by traversing the levels, manipulating the environment and solving mind-bending puzzles.

The player can flick between both ilo and milo at any point and teamwork lies at the heart of the game. Things start off at a fairly sedate pace, with the player simply asked to place blocks to reunite the chums.

However, as the game skips along, new gameplay twists are introduced to the player by pirate hat-wearing dandy, Sebastian. These include extendable blocks, spring-loaded cubes, switches, moving platforms and trapdoors, while the game regularly likes to throw a curve ball at the player by messing around with gravity.

It might look like a cute children's game, but ilomilo turns into a wicked and quite brilliant head-scratcher. However, unlike many other puzzle games, ilomilo rarely gets frustrating, thanks in large to the simple control set-up and the adorable presentation.

Ilomilo's bric-a-brac world is reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet's home-made environments, with levels constructed with felt, wooden and carpeted blocks, while the colours are vivid and awash with splurges of marmalade orange and midnight blue.

The soundtrack is just as special, infusing trumpets, flutes, xylophone, harmonica and accordion to give ilomilo the feel of a 70's children TV programme.

The puzzle solving is brilliantly paced, but there is also a generous amount of collectables scattered throughout the levels to snaffle up.

Three ragdoll characters called safkas can be found on every level, photographs unlock artwork, old vinyl records reveal musical tracks - with glorious titles such as Cozy Sofa and Tingly Seaweed - and clusters of little flowers pepper the walkways just waiting to be gathered.

Add to that dozens of delightful and challenging levels for a mere 800 Microsoft points, and ilomilo represents tremendous value for money. So if you haven't experienced this wonderful game yet, I would urge you to at least play the demo to get a flavour of ilomilo's patchwork charms.

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Last Rocket - iPad/iPhone

I stumbled across Shaun Inman's The Last Rocket when I was having a good old rummage through the App Store looking for some tasty morsels.

One glance at the glorious old school visuals and I handed my £1.99 over without a second thought. I've been playing it since last weekend and I can safely say it's a little slice of brilliance.

With the intergalactic war now over, mass production of rockets is due to cease, leaving Flip - the last rocket - on board a starship. Fortunately for the squidgy yellow warhead, he's not redundant quite yet, as a solar flare hits his ship, sending it spinning towards the heart of a nearby star.

By collecting gears for the ship's main computer, our little rocket chum hopes to avert potential disaster - but it's not going to be easy.

The ship is a maze of spikes, fans, flames, moving platforms, switches and conveyor belts. Luckily, the controls are simple and Flip is a dab hand at gravity-defying antics.

A tap on the screen launches him and he’ll stick to any surface he comes into contact with, while a second tap reverses his direction mid-flight. He can also ride air currents, hover, inch along surfaces and crouch to avoid incoming dangers.

Snaffling the spinning gears might be Flip’s main mission, but he doesn't have to collect them all to leave the level - just as well, too, as many of them are perched in precarious positions which could turn Flip into scrap with one false move. In fact, sometimes it is challenge enough simply making it to the exit in one piece.

There are 64 levels to figure out, each one taking up a single screen. And although frustration can creep in occasionally, The Last Rocket has enough charm to pull the player through.

Beautifully presented and a thrill to play, it's a wonderful arcade puzzler. It features lovely retro visuals, an excellent chiptune soundtrack and an adorable new star in the shape of Flip.

So go on, take The Last Rocket on a journey to the stars - it's an adventure that is simply out of this world.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Little King's Story marches on to PS Vita

Perhaps the best news of the week comes from the pages of Japanese magazine Famitsu, which has revealed that brilliant Wii title Little King's Story is to be resurrected on Sony's PS Vita.

The original is one of my favourite games on Wii and tells the story of Corobo, a young lad who inherits the crown to the ramshackle land of Alpoko.

The player guides the pint-sized monarch around beautiful pastoral landscapes, giving villagers jobs, battling creatures and rebuilding his dilapidated kingdom.

It's an epic game which was sadly overlooked when it was released back in 2009. But in a brilliant turn of fortunes, Corobo and the gang will be tramping around Sony's new hand-held thanks to Marvelous Entertainment and Konami.

Titled The King, the Demon King and the Seven Princesses, the new game features spruced-up visuals and touch-screen functionality - more details are expected to emerge at next month's Tokyo Games Show.

A word of caution, though. Original developer CiNG have gone bankrupt since the original's release and the core group of talent who worked on the game are now scattered across Japan representing different companies.

Let's hope Marvelous do the game justice and release a game which will be as good, if not better, than the wonderful original.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Monster Hunter Portable 3rd HD launches in Japan - but what happened to the menus?

While the Western world fawns over Deus Ex: Human Revolution, today, Japanese gamers couldn't give a monkey's about biomechanical augmentations or sneaking about futuristic environments.

That's because Monster Hunter Fever has gripped the nation once again thanks to today's release of Monster Hunter Portable 3rd HD on PlayStation 3.

But while the in-game screens look amazing, I received screenshots from Red Sun Gamer, below, which show that the menu system hasn't been lavished with the same care and attention as the rest of the game. Blocky and pixelated, it's disappointing to see, but I'm sure I could live with it because the rest of the game looks so good. Click on the images to see them in greater detail.

But while fellow hunters in the Far East are currently smacking Gold Rathians and Urukususu about with huge weapons and cooking 10 well-done steaks at a time - we are still waiting for Portable 3rd on PSP to arrive, never mind this HD version.

But with Operation Cherry Blossom in full swing, I'm still hopeful at least one of these games will be released in Europe and the US. In the meantime, I'll continue to slave away on my Japanese import of Portable 3rd - getting herbs, bones, bugs and potions horribly mixed up.

Come on, Capcom. Let's get this done!

Special thanks to Red Sun Gamer for supplying me with exclusive screens from the game.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

KRUNCH - A great looking retro challenge

Scooting through devious levels filled with hazards is hardly a new premise, but forthcoming Flash game KRUNCH certainly looks to have the level design and visuals to set it apart from the crowd.

The aim is to avoid obstacles and navigate your way through 100 claustrophobic and trap-filled levels, accompanied by a wonderful chip tune soundtrack.

KRUNCH has been created by Canadian duo LeGrudge & Rugged and they are currently searching for sponsorship for their brilliant looking game.

If you want to contact the team and watch a cracking video of the game in action, visit the KRUNCH website or follow them on Twitter

In the meantime, feast your eyes on these rather splendid screens.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Owlboy demo takes flight

Norwegian developers D-Pad Studio have released a demo of their upcoming game, Owlboy on PC - and it's a bit of a corker.

Otus - our feathered protagonists - jumps, swoops, hovers and flies through the beautiful retro-styled Owl Temple, while his cohorts Geddy and Alphonse handle shooting duties as Otus carries them through the levels.

It's a delightful world full of rain clouds, gnomes, top hat-wearing fish, sky pirates, waterfalls and soup - lots of soup.

If that wasn't enough, the same team are working on a competitive multiplayer title called Vikings On Trampolines, which, quite simply, warms the cockles of my heart.

You can grab the demo from the official D-Pad Studio website and the full version of Owlboy will be released later this year.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Age of Empires Online - Games For Windows

The Age of Empires series has been entertaining real-time strategy fans for 14 years. But rather than simply churn out another clone, the developers have done things differently this time around by revamping the visuals and adding online functionality.

Co-op play, player vs player, online trading and in-game chat transform this once stuffy genre into something instantly appealing. Indeed, with so many multiplayer options, quest to take on and shiny loot to grab - not to mention precious experience points to gather to bolster your capital city - Age of Empires Online at times feels more like an MMO than a straight-up RTS.

Its cartoon-tinged visuals might make the game look as if it's aimed at the casual market - especially as they look to have been heavily influenced by Disney's The Emperor's New Groove. However, a cursory glance at the sprawling tech tree reveals that Age of Empires Online is actually a complex beast.

Resource gathering and unit building have always been the bedrock on which the vast majority of real-time strategy titles have been built - and it's no different here. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most frustrating aspects of the game.

It's incredibly hard to keep tabs on all your units as they go about their business - despite the best efforts of the small map in the corner of the screen. Sending units out to work the land efficiently while simultaneously leading several small armies into battle can be a monumental pain because there is just so much going on.

It should also be noted that Age of Empires Online follows a free-to-play model - something which is a blessing and a curse. The plus points come from the fact you'll enjoy hours of entertainment on the cheap. But the flip side to the free fun is that those who don't invest will miss out on a variety of features, including enhanced multiplayer options, extra workshops, a fully-fledged tech tree, additional inventory space, new storylines and powerful epic gear.

To be honest, I would rather just pay a one-off fee to experience the full game but love it or hate it, this freemium model is unfortunately here to stay.

But all things considered, Age Of Empires Online is still definitely worth a look - even if it's only for a quick peek. Just be prepared to throw cash at it if you want to experience everything the game has to offer.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Family Games for iPhone/iPad

Ticket To Ride - iPad - £4.99
Since this adaptation of the classic board game was released several months ago, it's been a daily ritual for me to delve into the wonderful world of trains, dealing with diverted routes and delayed services, while squabbling with other national rail companies.

The sprawling board game is by Days of Wonder and is considered to be a classic. It has won numerous awards for its rich and strategic gameplay and anyone who has taken the time to set the game up with family and friends will tell you Ticket To Ride is quite a journey.

The digital version had previously been available on the Xbox 360's Live Arcade but this version is far superior and at just £4.99 is a must-have game for your iPad.

The basic rules are simple: Players take turns to draw cards and plan and place train routes between cities across the US. Points are then dished out depending on the length of your routes and for connecting towns and cities.

It's a simple premise but the challenge and strategy comes in trying to thwart your opponents. By studying the board, you can guess where your rivals are heading. You can then either try and scupper their plans by sabotaging their routes, or simply focus on completing your own objectives.

Pass-and-play mode was added after launch, allowing up to five players to take part around the iPad. However, even when playing solo, you can pit your wits against up to four computer controlled opponents.

But the icing on the cake is full online play, especially as the multiplayer lobby is always full and the experience is smooth and lag free.

The Europe, Switzerland and 1910 expansions can also be downloaded while in the game, making this digital version of Ticket To Ride the best version yet.

School 26: Summer of Secrets - iPhone £1.99, iPad £2.99
Aimed squarely at pre-teen and teenage girls, School 26 obviously isn't the type of game I would normally play. But underneath the cutesy visuals is a title that has some interesting ideas.

Taking control of Kate, who has just started at her 26th new school, the aim is to forge relationships with other pupils by helping them with their problems. You achieve this by listening to what they have to say and reacting to their issues by choosing between various expressions.

Stories and scenarios play out, friendships are formed and issues resolved in a bright and breezy environment.

It's quite a clever little game, sporting crisp visuals and decent sound effects. Not for everyone, sure, but well worth recommending to someone who has kids around the game's target age.

Horrid Henry's Horrid App - iPhone/iPad - £1.99
Another game aimed at the younger end of the market, this app is based on the recent Horrid Henry film, which itself is based on the children's books written by Francesca Simon and illustrated by Tony Ross.

The app features two games - Go Giddiantus! and Flick the Bogey - with an added bonus in Dress Up mode. There's also an Extras option which takes you online where you can view stills from the film.

Go Giddiantus! is a Canabalt-style game, with Henry constantly running and jumping through levels, picking up collectables and generally causing mayhem.

In Flick the Bogey, the player has to aim water balloons at Moody Margaret and soak her to rack up the points. Both games in the package are decent enough fun for younger kids, although the levels are a little drawn out and tend to become repetitive.

Still, the Dress Up mode will keep the kids entertained as they scramble around looking for new ways to dress up Henry.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Lollipop Chainsaw - 360/PS3

Back in June, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suda 51 - the man behind several brilliant off-the-wall titles including Killer 7, No More Heroes and Shadows Of The Damned.

While chatting about future projects, the Japanese developer said we should "continue to expect the unexpected" from Grasshopper Manufacture.

Well, that "unexpected" turns out to be Juliet Starling, an 18-year-old cheerleader who likes nothing more than lopping the heads off zombies with her unfeasibly large chainsaw.

While the game sports buckets of blood and gory decapitations, the violence is off-set with glitter, sparkles and love hearts, which spew forth from Juliet's chainsaw as she cuts the zombies down.

Lollipop Chainsaw looks to be a delicious mash-up of No More Heroes, Dead Rising and Bayonetta - it's typical Suda 51 and it looks magnificent.

The game will be published by Warner Bros and released next year.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Hide - PC

I'm not a particular fan of survival horrors but I do occasionally like dabbling in the genre. While the Resident Evil series leaves me cold due to its focus on gunplay and stodgy play mechanics, Frictional Games' Amnesia: The Dark Descent ticked all the right boxes thanks to its gothic setting, lack of combat and terrifying twists.

Hide might not match the visual splendor or have the same dramatic set pieces as Amnesia, but it still proves to be a tense and scary affair.

Starting out in a snowy forest in the dead of night - with sirens mournfully wailing in the background - you have to stumble through the icy wilderness searching for locations in a bid to make your escape.

At all times you are stalked by snuffling shadowy creatures armed with torches and it's a truly terrifying sight to see their bright lights filter through the trees as they creep towards your position.

Hide's lo-fi visuals and eerie sound effects make it deliciously atmospheric and it's incredibly immersive as you crunch through the snow. It's free to download from HERE and you should definitely give this short nocturnal nightmare a try.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Xenoblade Chronicles - Wii

Finally, after years of waiting, the Wii has a quality RPG to call its own.
While some Wii adventures such as Opoona have flirted with greatness, Monolith Soft have finally battered down the door and delivered a brilliant Japanese RPG.

Executive director Tetsuya Takahashi has worked on some of the best-loved RPGs over the course of the last 20 years, including Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger and he has drawn on all his experience to make Xenoblade Chronicles sparkle.

The world that protagonist Shulk and his ragtag cohorts inhabit is beautiful and unique. There's no sprawling sea chart punctuated with dollops of land to be found here. Instead the game is set on the fossilised remains of two hulking titans - frozen for eternity in the middle of an epic battle.

The art design is excellent, with visually stunning environments to explore. Huge expanses of land open up as the journey progresses, giving the player a sense of freedom as they tramp through the majestic scenery.

The struggle between good and evil is represented by Shulk's band of adventurers, who are up against the destructive mechanical might of the Mechon, who are ravaging human colonies.

The storyline, while a little cliched, remains interesting, despite the English voice acting which is average at best. Thankfully, the option to switch to Japanese audio is available, which at least does away with the repetitive and cringeworthy battle cries.

While the visuals raise the roof thanks to great attention to detail and a wonderful sense of scale, it's the solid combat system which steals the show. It borrows heavily from PlayStation 2 classic Final Fantasy XII, with timed hotkey commands used to dust up foes. But added strategy now comes from finding the best place to position your character to inflict maximum damage.

It seems every game these days has talent trees to pour over and Xenoblade Chronicles is no different. However, they are simple affairs and easy to navigate, while new combat skills are introduced at regular intervals.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies on DS shook up the standard JRPG formula by visually representing new weapons and armour on the main characters and Xenoblade Chronicles continues this feature.

A staggering assortment of stat-boosting gems can be forged and fused on to individual items, all of which gives the game a wide and varied range of customisation.

Even when you're not stomping through the main adventure, there are plenty of optional side quests to keep players occupied. Fizzing turquoise globes lie scattered across the enticing environments, each representing an item. Collecting sets of these rewards the player with gems and useful bits of kit, while colony residents are always quick to dish out hunt and gather quests.

The only fly in the ointment is that battles against bunches of foes can be confusing, as the special effect-heavy attacks often makes it hard to know what's going on. But despite the occasional stumble, Xenoblade Chronicles is utterly captivating.

It's an epic and hugely enjoyable quest, with quick thinking replacing mindless button mashing and a truly wonderful game world to explore.

A real gem to add to your Wii collection.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Dinkybox - a groovy place to shop

Have the midweek blues started to get you down? Do you wish you weren't sitting at that desk slogging away over nonsensical facts and figures? Are your customers rude and getting on your nerves? And is your boss stomping around the office in a bad mood spreading misery and negative vibes?

Well I'm here to sprinkle a little happiness by introducing you to a colourful and sugary-sweet shopping website.

Dinkybox describes itself as "The best in groovy collectable toys and comic art supplies" and it's not wrong. Contained within the pages of their vibrant website are a range of products which are guaranteed to plaster a huge grin across your miserable mug.

Along with beautifully presented art kits, pads and pens, the site has a wealth of amazing products that will have you reaching for your credit card.

Chocolate iced donut erasers, Star Wars-themed USB drives, Japanese sticker sheets, Studio Ghibli collectable figures, super-deformed DC superheroes and mini Family Guy models are just some off the enticing products available.

But for me, it's the site's colection of videogame goodies which is the main draw, including the gacha Super Nintendo collection - a tiny assortment of SNES hardware.

Dinkybox's range of Mario fridge magnets, Pac-Man sweets, Professor Layton Plushies, Street Fighter figures, game pad keychains, Final Fantasy straps and Pokemon merchandise are all worth checking out, but really, there are dozens more cool items to browse through.

Dinkybox is based in England and the company have a swift next day delivery service. For more information, check out their fab website.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Monster Hunter Festival - Sapporo, Japan

While gamers across Europe have been slow to savour the delights of the Monster Hunter franchise, in Japan the game is a cultural phenomenon, quite unlike anything we have experienced in the West.

It is so popular that a vast range of merchandise has cropped up - and it's not limited to the usual array of mugs, T-shirts and keyrings.

Monster Hunter-themed noodles, pizzas and ice cream have sated the appetite of Monster Hunter addicts, while specially packaged drinks have quenched the thirst of hunters in the Land of the Rising Sun.

So it's no surprise that when a Monster Hunter event pops up, thousands pour in to find out what's new in the Monster Hunter universe.

With PSPs clutched tightly to their chests, fans gathered in Sapporo last weekend to take in the sights and sounds of the Monster Hunter Festival.

Along with a wide range of exhibits for attendees to gawp at, players battled together, took part in events to become champion hunter and even met with some members of the development team.

Looks like a great day out to me.

For more pictures of the event, visit the Famitsu website

Monday, 15 August 2011

LaserCat - 360 (XBLIG)

At the edge of the solar system, LaserCat and his best friend Owl live on a small planet. There, they grow space onions and astro carrots which they turn into soup.

However, when LaserCat discovers a magical space frog has kidnapped Owl and is holding him hostage in his enormous space castle, out feline chum speeds off to rescue his flying friend.

LaserCat's influences are from the golden era of home computing, when the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 ruled the roost. Nods towards Software Project's Jet Set Willy and Hewson Consultants' Technician Ted are clear, but LaserCat has a twist in its retro-themed tail.

To free Owl, LaserCat must hoover up 30 keys which lie scattered around the castle. When one is collected, he is whisked away to the Riddle Realm where the player is given a general knowledge question. Get the answer right, and the key is yours to keep. Answer incorrectly and it's curtains.

The castle is home to a variety of tricks and traps, but thankfully the control set-up is simple and responsive. To help negotiate the castle, gusty thermals can be used, while save points act as teleporters to minimise needless backtracking.

It's a brilliant little title and as it's another quality game priced at only 80 Microsoft points, LaserCat should be the first thing you buy next time you switch on your 360.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Mos Speedrun: Half price!

Apple's App Store is crammed full of brilliant titles, but few are as much fun as Mos Speedrun.

The retro-flavoured platformer has been out for a while, but for this weekend only, you can pick it up for just 69p.

Developer Physmo have halved the price to celebrate Edinburgh Interactive 2011 and if you haven't bought it already, I would urge you to try this wonderful and charming slice of platform action.

The game has also just had an update to include an excellent video mode, so you can now record your fastest runs through the devious levels.

I took a look at the game back in May and you can check out my review HERE

While you're browsing through the App Store, you might also want to check out Physmo's SeaGlass. It's a Tetris Attack/Puzzle League spin-off, where the aim is to swipe and match coloured blocks to create huge point-scoring chains. It plays beautifully and for just 69p is another must-have title from the App Store.

To find out more about Physmo's games, visit their website

Friday, 12 August 2011

Aban Hawkins & The 1000 Spikes - 360 (XBLIG)

With his wide-brimmed hat and penchant for plundering ancient Aztec ruins, Aban Hawkins' perilous quest has clearly been inspired by Indiana Jones - and what a quest it is, full of tricks, traps, crumbling ledges, pixel perfect leaps - and lots of spikes.

I've been playing it since February and still haven't managed to complete it, meaning it's one of the toughest games I've ever played. This is underscored by the 1000 lives the player is given at the start of the game. But the fact it's so tough just means that completing each treacherous level is incredibly rewarding.

The trial and error gameplay won't be to everyone's taste, while the crushing difficulty will put many off. But those willing to take the plunge into the treacherous depths will be well rewarded with a glorious old school platformer - and for just 80 Microsoft points, you should definitely take a punt on it.