Thursday, 29 November 2012

Praise the sun! Dark Souls vanquished

After 123 hours, countless deaths and some of the most amazing gaming moments I've ever experienced, I finally delivered the coup de grĂ¢ce and sent Gwyn, The Lord of Cinder into eternal slumber. Yes, I've finally completed Dark Souls.

Over the course of the weekend, I knuckled down and made my way through Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith, dispatching four bosses before finally coming face-to-face with Gwyn in the Kiln of the First Flame.

It was an amazing feeling to finally finish what I consider to be one of the greatest games ever made and even though the 123 hours logged was perhaps a bit extreme, I used that time well, exploring every inch of the game world - which, incidentally, features some of the best level design I've ever seen - and repeated sections to farm souls and upgrade weapons and armour.

Now, NG+ awaits, but I'm considering starting a new character and going through the whole experience again, playing in a completely different style.

So thank you to the spirited brawler who helped me take down Ornstein and Smough, to the multitude of invaders who made my heart beat significantly faster, to the horned Capra Demon for teaching me patience and new swear words, to the person I heard ringing the first Bell of Awakening which raised my flagging spirits, to those goggle-eyed curse frogs who taught me the true meaning of terror, and finally to Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team for delivering a truly epic experience.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Monster Hunter Beginner's Guide

Since cutting my teeth on the first Monster Hunter on PS2, I've been a huge fan of the series and have watched it evolve from a decent idea hampered by unwieldy controls into the sleek and impressive beast it is today. However, despite my best efforts, I've found it incredibly difficult to persuade people to take the plunge.

Those who have tried it have either immediately fallen in love with the game or stopped playing within the first hour as they thought it was too complicated. But fear not, because help is at hand from the duo behind the fabulous and informative My Fair Hunter website.

Roy Blakely and Sarah O’Donnell have lovingly crafted the Beginner's Guide to Monster Hunter - a beautifully presented guide full of gorgeous illustrations and packed with practical information on the series. Topics such as upgrading armour, skills, weapon attributes, questing basics, the role of companions, combining items and recognising monster behaviour are interspersed with tips from the Monster Hunter community to give a general overview of what awaits first-time hunters.

Even though the guide - which is available in either print or digital versions - is aimed squarely at novice hunters, I still think there's enough here for existing Monster Hunter fans to enjoy and besides, it is a rather lovely product.

To get your copy - and to have a free sneak peek at four pages from the guide - head on over to Roy and Sarah's Culty website, where you'll also find a collection of Sarah's Felyne artwork, which can also be purchased.

Happy hunting.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Richard & Alice - update

Back in July, I had the pleasure of playing a small section of Richard & Alice - the forthcoming point and click adventure by Lewis Denby and Ashton Raze. Even though the small slice of action was still in Alpha, there was more than enough included to whet my appetite and make me eager to delve deeper into the intriguing story.

Now the guys are looking for a helping hand and hope to raise a bit of cash to help push Richard & Alice over the finish line. They are using Indiegogo rather than Kickstarter and thanks to the site's flexible funding, even if they don't make the target, they'll still get the cash that's been pledged.

For my thoughts on the Alpha build, click here and to visit Richard & Alice's Indiegogo page, click here. Even if you can't afford to pledge any money to the project, you can vote it up over on Steam Greenlight.

Good luck, guys. Looking forward to seeing the finished product in all its glory.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Kickstarter - Back a winner

Trying to keep up with the plethora of games looking for funding online is an almost impossible task. Every day, some new treasure pops up eager for your cash and saying no can be incredibly difficult, especially when some are only looking for £1 of your hard-earned.

When the big boys muscle their way to the front of the queue, attention inevitably falls on them, while the smaller games who are desperate for just a small slice of the action can be shoved to the side and fall out of favour with an audience always looking for the next big thing. Over the last week or so, a handful of titles have caught my eye on Kickstarter, but they are unfortunately struggling to meet their targets, with deadlines fast approaching. So, here are three of the games I'm currently backing - each covers a different genre, but all deserve a chance of being made.

Simon Roth describes his latest game as "Dungeon Keeper meets Dwarf Fortress on a primordial alien world". Still not convinced? Well, how about a return to the good old days of the god game, with a heavy 70s sci-fi vibe and atmospheric soundtrack?

There's plenty of reasons to love what Simon Roth has planned for this ambitious game and he's been doing 40+ hour shifts over the last few days to keep Maia's Kickstarter page fresh by answering questions and adding new content to the site. It would be a real shame if Maia didn't reach its Kickstarter target as it is definitely one of the most interesting projects currently looking for funding.

You can visit the Kickstarter page here but be quick - Maia only has five days left and the clock is ticking.

Edit: Maia has now been funded and Simon is now laying out the game's stretch goals. Well done to everyone who contributed.

Spud's Quest
A homage to games such as Dizzy, Metroid and the evergreen Zelda, Spud's Quest is packed with old school charm and, judging by the demo, plays beautifully. Developer Chris D is looking to raise £5000 to finish the game and polish it to retro perfection.

However, as things stand, old Spud is only half-way to his goal with seven days remaining. Download the demo, rediscover the golden age of gaming and then throw a couple of quid in Spud's direction if you can.

Visit the Spud's Quest's Kickstarter page to download the demo and back the project.

Edit: More good news: Spud's Quest has also passed its target with a few days to go. Phew!

Sui Generis
An open-world romp described as Grand Theft Auto meets Morrowind was an offer I couldn't refuse and after seeing what the team at Bare Mettle have up their sleeves, I'm really, really excited about Sui Generis.

It already looks pretty spectacular, with beautiful landscapes and stunning weather and lighting effects, but it is the robust physics engine which is the real star of the show. Not only does this have an effect on objects and items in the world, but it also means epic one-one-one battles are possible.

Combat packs a real punch, with meaty blows sending characters sprawling with well timed swings. With the groundwork in place, Bare Mettle are looking for funding to go full-time on the project to deliver the best game they possibly can.

With seven days to go, Sui Generis is half-way to its target. Find out more on the game's Kickstarter page.

Edit: Sui Generis hit its target with only six hours to go. I'm absolutely thrilled that all three of these games have been funded and can't wait to see how they progress as the months rolls on.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Pioneers is another game of survival, but Eigen Lenk's work in progress is slightly different from other such titles and is showing a great deal of promise.

It's a turn-based exploration game which initially tasks the player with building a ship, garnering a worthy crew, loading the hold with essential supplies, before taking to the high seas in search of fame and fortune.

Quests are dished out from your homeland's cheery citizens but even a simple quest to gather spice from a nearby island is a perilous undertaking. Bears and other wild creatures roam the forested lands and if that wasn't enough to contend with, you need to forage for food, chop trees, set up camp, make sure your band of hardy adventurers don't starve, and interact with local tribes.

Visually, Pioneers is rather smart and uses only four colours - although these change depending on the seasons. It's also packed with character: smoke rises from chimneys, ships bob merrily on the waves, rain pelts down on the explorers as they snuffle about, while a delightful musical score plinks and plonks away in the background.

If you want to try out the latest build, you can find it here, on Eigen's website.

Have fun!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Under the Ocean

Back in 2010, I wrote a little piece about Paul Greasley's brilliant survival game Under the Garden. Since its release, the survival genre has really taken off and now Paul is back with a new game - Under the Ocean, which builds on many of his previous game's features.

Paul has been joined on this project by Michael Reitzenstein, Chris Geehan and Philippe Martins and although still in Alpha, Under the Ocean is already looking polished and plays extremely well.

The game has moved away from the rugged mountain terrain of Under the Garden and takes place on an island, complete with tropical storms and a cave network. By using and combining items washed up on the beach and scavenging the island, your shipwrecked character attempts to survive for as long as he can. That means making a spear to harpoon fish, finding flint and dry leaves to make a warming campfire, sawing planks to create wooden structures and filling buckets with fresh rainwater to keep thirst at bay.

Visuals in this early build are wonderful, with fluid animation and spectacular lighting and weather effects already in place, while Chris Geehan's gentle music is reminiscent of bands such as Hammock and fits the game perfectly.

On top of the main game, there's a sandbox construction mode, where you can futz about and build a whole heap of stuff, including a house, complete with fireplace and windows.

To access the Alpha, two packages are available. For $7, you can download the Pretty Cool Silver Bear Edition, or the Super Golden Bear Edition for $25, which comes - as you would expect - with a raft of added extras.

I've really enjoyed the few hours I've spent with Under the Ocean and I can't wait to see what the team add in future updates. For more details, visit the official website here.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

This week's indie round-up

Flug GB
Flug GB is a super cool retro style platformer which reminds me of Sonic the Hedgehog and Amiga classic Super Frog. Only one level is available to play at the moment, but gameplay is exactly what you would expect, with blocks to smash, gems to collect, platforms to negotiate and lots of enemies to stomp. With its neat 8-bit soundtrack and sound effects and GameBoy-style visuals, Flug the Slug's adventure if definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Another game influenced by the GameBoy is Anodyne - specifically Link's adventures on Nintendo's much-loved hand-held. It's beautifully presented and gameplay will be instantly familiar to those who have spent time with classic Zelda games of the 8 and 16-bit eras, with the lead character, Young, stepping on switches, collecting keys from battered old chests and defeating enemies to open gates and doorways.
Special mention goes to the soundtrack, which flits between eerie and unsettling, to beautiful and uplifting and gives the game a rather wonderful atmosphere.
Anodyne is due to be released before the turn of the year on Windows, Mac and Linux and it is also eligible for Steam's Greenlight, so pop on over and give this the thumbs up.

Ghost Racer
Due for release any day now is this latest game from Physmo. It's a far cry from their brilliant platformer Mos Speedrun - another game you should vote up on Greenlight - but early indications reveal it has the same 'one more go' factor. It's obviously a racer, but while a casual glance at the screenshot might indicate a frantic arcade racer in the style of Super Sprint, the cars in Ghost Racer have a much more weighty feel, ensuring essential use of the brake to get the best times. While Mos Speedrun featured multiple ghosts of your previous attempts to beat the level - here, ghosts of people's best laps from around the world are shown snaking their way across the tarmac. Trying to keep up and even better these ghost times is utterly addictive and when you add your Game Center friends to the list, the challenge becomes an obsession. I was given early access by the Physmo team and trying to match their times has given me hours of fun already.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Look back: Kirby's Epic Yarn - Wii

Twenty years ago, Kirby - Nintendo's squishy pink blob with a voracious appetite - made his debut in Kirby's Dream Land on the humble GameBoy. In the years since, he has been a regular fixture in Nintendo's catalogue, appearing in several games including Super Smash Bros, but none have quite matched the brilliant Epic Yarn, his 2010 platforming adventure on Wii.

The story is typical twee nonsense about Kirby's journey to Patch Land, but it's the stunning visuals and fresh gameplay twists which make Kirby's Epic Yarn such a joy. Patch Land is quirky and beautiful, with environments stitched together by thread, felt, patterned fabric, layers of hessian and patches of textured material.
But rather than simply used to create a backdrop for Kirby's comfy, laid-back caper, these lush environments can be manipulated to reveal secrets and trigger unexpected results.

Pulling zips reveals items in the scenery, yanking on shiny buttons crumples the landscape to create ledges, while Kirby can squirrel himself underneath cloth covers, creating a small lump in the scenery.

Previous games in the series focused on Kirby's ability to hoover up enemies and take on their special powers. But as he is now made from a strand of pink thread, this signature move is redundant. Instead, Kirby can morph into various shapes and an assortment of delightful vehicles to explore Patch Land.

On his travels through this plushy world, Kirby can also collect sparkling beads which can be used to buy items for the residents of Patch Land, while hidden collectables and felt covered CDs lie hidden away, waiting to be found by those of an inquisitive nature.

Even the world map is a visual treat, with Kirby looking on as secret doorways take shape in spectacular style thanks to a range of brilliant animations after each successful run.

While the visuals are some of the best and most creative on Wii, it's the captivating soundtrack which sews the whole experience together - it even manages to trump Mario Galaxy 2's spine-tingling score and the electronica-tinged themes from sadly overlooked RPG Opoona - with piano tinkles, strings, flutes, maracas and drums used to create a distinctly Charlie Brown vibe.

Holding the Wiimore horizontally controls Kirby but when motion control is called upon, the results are something of a mixed bag. Putting out fires by adjusting the angle of the controller while in the guise of a fire engine works well, but drawing tracks for Kirby to puff across when he takes the form of a train is an awkward kerfuffle. Thankfully, these episodes are kept to a minimum and are the only missed stitch on an otherwise perfect pattern.

Kirby's Epic Yarn may be easy to complete, but that doesn't detract from the experience. Playing through the game is a genuine treat and its laid-back trappings make it the perfect game to kick back with on rainy Sunday afternoons.

Bursting with creativity in both visuals and gameplay, Kirby's Epic Yarn is a wonderful experience. It's imaginative, utterly charming and an absolute delight to play.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Dragon's Dogma - Wolves hunt in packs!

I love Dragon's Dogma. Actually, scratch that. I ADORE Dragon's Dogma. Yes, the game which many thought would simply be yet another generic high fantasy adventure - including me - actually turned out to be a magnificent achievement by the team at Capcom.

I've just hit the 50 hour mark and for me, it stands head and shoulders above everything else I've played all year.

It's given me some of the most wonderful experiences over these last 50 hours and watching my small ragtag band of surprisingly dextrous travellers attacking monstrous beasts has given me a huge amount of pleasure.

Highlights include a gargantuan battle at dusk against a chimera, where lightning bolts, thick black tornadoes and jets of fire turned the tide in my favour; a night time battle against two hulking trolls at their makeshift camp; and an epic and nerve-shredding assault on a fort which gave the spectacle of Helm's Deep a run for its money.

Holding it all together are the wonderful visuals. There's a solidity to the world of Gransys which even the sprawling might of Skyrim fails to match and a sense of setting out on an epic adventure which so few games have managed to portray effectively.

The lighting effects are at times subtle but immensely effective - from the first grey light of day splitting the horizon, to the late afternoon sun sending golden shafts of light filtering through the trees in the heart of a deep forest. It's mesmerizing and these shifts in colour and hue help give Dragon's Dogma a spellbinding atmosphere - as does the eclectic soundtrack which ranges from rousing orchestral passages and haunting string arrangements to full-blown cock rock nonsense.

And unlike some other games where a day/night cycle simply means a change to the colour scheme, Dragon's Dogma makes tramping around at night a truly terrifying experience, sending the wary scurrying for the nearest campfire and nervously huddling together until dawn.

It's a remarkable game. It's as if director Hideaki Itsuno and producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi set out to make a western-style RPG and instead stumbled across something even better. It's like a perfect fusion of Skyrim, Monster Hunter and Dark Souls and it's magnificent.

All this and I forgot to mention the forgery shop, the barbers, the cross dressing, the creepy court jester, the seemingly endless supply of quests and the fact your trusty sidekick plays a role in other people's games online and returns home to tell you all about what they discovered - usually with a couple of mouldy apples in his pockets for his troubles. Amazing.

Here's to the next 50 hours.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Foam - PC

Over the last few days, I've ploughed around five frustrating hours into Assassin's Creed III. I'm not sure why I bothered. At this stage, it just feels like a re-skinned version of what has gone before and although my Twitter chums tell me it takes anywhere between 6-10 hours for things to open up, I'm really not sure I have the time, patience or inclination to bother going any further.

The antithesis to Ubisoft's big budget trudge is Foam - a quirky little indie game by Stwelin, which has more fun wrapped up in its first 30 minutes than those five wasted hours with Assassin's Creed III.

While Ubisoft's blockbuster has revealed worryingly familiar tasks such as leaping from the top of high places into tiny bales of hay, Foam's colourful world has seen me turn into a one-eyed spiky purple mushroom, interact with strange looking characters, crawl through a tree's interior and receive a telling off for not being able to swim.

It's initially unclear what your objectives are but it only takes a couple of minutes to discover the game is all about exploration and experimenting with objects and items squirreled away in Foam's eerie isometric world.

Objects stumbled upon change the lead character into a range of new guises, which allows the player to explore previously inaccessible areas of the world. It's this gameplay quirk which makes playing Foam so interesting - despite some rather fiddly controls.

I'll say no more for fear of spoilers, but it really is a magical and thoroughly absorbing little game and it's also free, so why not give it a try? Download it here