Categories
PC Reviews Reviews

Graveyard Keeper Review

No Rest for the Living.

Graveyard Keeper begins on a rather somber note. It opens with a nameless character – the hero – out doing some shopping on a rainy night. The music playing in the background hints that something tragic is about to happen. Words scroll across the screen:

“Even in everyday routine there is a place for loving and feeling loved…especially when someone misses you.”

This can’t be good…

The hero then receives a call from what the Caller ID displays as a woman clutching a heart-shaped pillow. “Isn’t that sweet”, I say to myself. But before I have time to really appreciate the moment, a car horn pierces through the rainfall and the brief and abrupt sounds of an accident fill the night sky. Seems like our hero is very much dead. But this is only the beginning of Graveyard Keeper’s story.

Death Becomes Him

The hero awakens in a fog-ridden space and is greeted by a shadowy figure with red eyes. He informs our hero that he has ‘turned a page’ in his life that he is ‘home’ now, in the graveyard. He christens our hero as the ‘Graveyard Keeper’, and informs us that we must be good in our new role if we are to ever hope to see our lady love again. The mysterious man tasks us with digging up someone named Gerry who apparently has the answers we seek. As the questions begins to mount, our hero suddenly slips out of that foggy realm and awakens in a small house, determined to find Gerry and to make sense of what is going on. Well, it isn’t long before we dig up Gerry – who just so happens to have been buried in our backyard. And whatever serious tones the game was trying to set-up, quickly vanish in the blink of an eye as Gerry turns out to be a talking skull who then prompts you to harvest fresh corpses for meat before giving them a proper burial.

I’ll give you a second to let that sink it.

Graveyard Keeper is a lot like Stardew Valley…if Stardew Valley suddenly found itself in the trappings of a cult classic B-Horror Movie. The gameplay is a farming-sim through and through but instead of the focus being on parsnips and potatoes, Graveyard Keeper is all about creating and maintaining a nice place to lay the dead to rest. Each gravesite has a number within it which indicates the quality of your work, and quality is determined by a few factors. For instance laying down a Flower Bed and a Stone Crucifix are far better options than settling for a flimsy Wooden Cross and nothing else. Quality is also effected by the state of the corpse you inter. While you have the option of being an ethically-sound Graveyard Keeper and take the best care of the dead that are left at your doorstep by a…talking donkey (told you, seriousness goes out the door FAST), you can also bend your morals a bit and harvest a corpse for its precious organs, blood, and even bones. Doing so will go towards your valuable research and help gain points for the game’s Technologies System.

::Ding:: Bring Out Ya Dead!

In order to be able to craft upgrades to further beautify your graveyard, you will need to earn Points. Points come in three distinct categories: Red – which represents your hand-crafting skills, Green – which indicates your understanding of all things in nature, and Blue – which signifies your spirituality and your knowledge of things not of this world. But having knowledge of how to build an item or cultivate certain crops is only half the battle. Resource gathering is also a big factor in Graveyard Keeper so expect to chop wood and mine for minerals in order to put your studies to practical use. While it seems that the game provides you with an awful lot of leeway in how you can go about creating the perfect graveyard, the amount of information and mechanics it throws at you at the onset can be a little overwhelming.

Graveyard Keeper has a lot of flexibility in terms of what you should prioritize. It never really holds your hand but instead gently ensures that you put your hand into each of the myriad of systems it has built into it. The sense of freedom is rather nice but I often felt that even the slightest bit of guidance would have gone a long way. I’m a pretty patient gamer and I have no problem getting down into the nitty-gritty of a game’s mechanics, but I really felt that I needed just a little something to make all these systems a bit more manageable.  On top of the graveyard upkeep and corpses to deal with, expect to farm, mine, study, and sell. Oh, and don’t forget about your relationships with the townsfolk. Much like the graves and the corpses you will so lovingly tend to you, you also need to make sure that your rapport with the living is just as good as with the dead. It takes some getting used to but once you find the proper balance, it eventually all starts to make sense – it just may take you some time to get there.

I’m not a the biggest advocate of farming-sims only because of how much of a time sink they can be. But Graveyard Keeper tickled a certain morbid bone in me and I applaud developer Lazy Bear Games in its clever spin on the genre. Graveyard Keeper promises hours of fun for those willing to invest the time in it. It also helps that its got a wicked sense of humor and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Game code provided by Tiny Build for review. 

Categories
Playstation 4 Reviews Reviews

20XX Review – Playstation 4

A Mighty Challenger

Developed by Batterystaple Games, 20XX is an interesting little platforming experience. The die-hard Mega Man fan in me was constantly at odds with what I was experiencing. “NO!…that’s…that’s just NOT right!”, I would scream incessantly at my television. “…YOU DON’T DO THAT IN A MEGA MAN GAME!!” I went on like this for quite a bit of time. But after I let myself calm down and somewhat begrudgingly 20XX grab me by the hand, I was left with a pretty damn good experience that was a lot more fun and innovative than I initially expected.

No Carbon Copy

At first glance, 20XX is everything you would expect out of a title that is entirely inspired by Capcom’s iconic blue bomber – particularly his X counterpart. Instead of Mega Man X and his saber wielding sidekick Zero, you have Nina and Ace (I didn’t care of the names either) who stand in restrictively as the heroes that players can choose from. All of the abilities/mechanics players would expect are present and accounted for: Nina can jump, shoot, charge and dash her way through enemies and obstacles while Ace uses a bladed weapon to slash throughout opponents at close distances. But the surface level gameplay (which again, is nearly a carbon copy of the Mega Man X series) sort of ends at the surface. Once players take a glimpse at what’s hiding underneath, it soon becomes apparent that 20XX is so much more than a hollow clone of Mega Man.

20XX takes the traditional Mega Man format of choosing a roster of eight Robot Masters/Mavericks that the series is know for and instead replaces it with roguelike gameplay and procedurally generated levels.  At first, I thought of this to be nothing more than a shallow gimmick (hence my conniption fit earlier). But after a few playthroughs, it all started to make remarkably good sense to me. It was – FREAKING GENIUS.

Players are tossed into a random level with no indication of which boss they will be going up against. You have one life – so once that health meter runs out, that’s that. Upon making it to the boss and besting them (which arguably wasn’t that difficult for me) players are given a rather surprising option. Sure, it might seems like the common sense route to take the boss’s ability, but what about added health? Or  boost Nina/Ace’s damage output? Or maybe up their defense stats? This is where the game completely diverts itself from everything players have come to expect from a Mega Man game and injects it with a bit of originality. It soon becomes apparent that the game is all about balance and picking and choosing between the right abilities and stat boosts to keep going and evading death for as long as possible. Make no mistake – death is inevitable. Fortunately, there is an upside to that as well.

Soul Chips n’ Dip

While death in 20XX means an entire run (along with any weapons/buffs players may have acquired) is completely reset, the situation isn’t as dire as one would assume. Players can collect a currency known as Soul Chips through each run which carry over and accumulate. Soul Chips can be used to purchase upgrades players can take on their next run or  permanent stat boosts to health and damage output. 20XX wants to reward you for playing over and over again knowing that each time it will be a little more forgiving, but if players are ever in need of assistance besides grinding for Soul Chips and constructing a proper build, 20XX offers online co-op play so players can have a friend join in on the action (seriously, why hasn’t a Mega Man game done this?).

One would think that after a solid week of the Mega Man X Legacy  Collection 1 + 2, that I would be all mega-ed out. It turns out that I could not be more wrong as Batterystaple Games’ 20XX was able to provide me with a Mega Man X-like experience that I wasn’t initially prepared for. The game offers a lot of replayability in the form of Daily/Weekly events to keep players coming back for more. The randomized nature of each run makes the game hard to put down and the entire packaged is underscored by a very fitting soundtrack of electric guitar riffs. While some of the boss battles can be a little inconsistent and the level design can be a touch too hard to navigate through sometimes, it doesn’t take away from the overall experience. 

Mega Man fans looking for something fun to fill the void until Mega Man 11 (and hopefully Mega Man X9) needn’t look any further. 20XX was clearly developed by a team with an incredible passion Mega Man and their understanding of the genre and what makes it work really shines through.

Playstation 4  Code for 20XX provided to Proven Gamer courtesy of publisher/developer Batterystaple Games.

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Nintendo Switch

Resident Evil 7 Announced For Nintendo Switch…Sorta

It appears that Resident Evil 7 is headed to the Nintendo Switch…but not quite in the way you’d expect.

As of now, Resident Evil 7: Cloud Version has been listed Japanese eShop, with no confirmation on the title coming to other territories.  As the name implies, the game runs entirely through the cloud and cannot be played offline…at all. So if you don’t have a stable internet connection – it appears that you are SOL. But wait – it gets better! The game can be played for 15 minutes for free but after that, you’ll need to purchase a 2,000 yen ticket which lasts 180 days. I mean, one can definitely get through the game in six months, but this move just baffles me. If Capcom wanted to bring RE7 to the Switch, then why not just do it? A $20 online-only rental is just such a bizarre move, but to each their own.

In any case, feel free to check out the trailer below and comment on what you feel about this surprising, yet odd piece of news.

 

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Nintendo Switch

The Proven 5: Indie Games We Want On The Nintendo Switch

If Blossom Tales and Shovel Knight’s sales are indicative of anything, it’s that indie titles are a smashing success on the Nintendo Switch. Yes, the ‘Nindie’ scene is here to stay, so why not compile a wish-list of PC/PS4-bound indie games that we want on the Nintendo Switch. Here we go!

Black Future ’88:

Black Future ’88 is a 2D cyber-punk side-scroller where you climb an ever-evolving procedural tower that upgrades itself the higher you ascend. Your objective is simple: reach top of the tower and assassinate its insane architect in 18 minutes or less…or your heart explodes. Each pulse-pounding second of hyper-intense gameplay is accompanied by a striking synth score certain to blow your speakers out. Black Future ’88 is currently set to release on Steam in 2018.

The Italianeer:

Assuming the role of a rambunctious 10-year-old boy named Luciano, The Italianeer invites you to punch and pummel your way through 1980s New York City to collect a smorgasbord of food items for your family. With drop-in/drop-out co-op support and gameplay similar to arcade beat-’em-ups like The Simpsons or Turtles in Time, you’d be wise to bring a trusted paisano on your delightfully hilarious adventure; every track-suit-wearing jabroni this side of Brooklyn is hellbent on wipin’ that stramboli-eatin’ grin off your face.

The Swords of Ditto:

Equal parts Majora’s Mask and Rogue Legacy, with just a dollop of Adventure Time, The Swords of Ditto is a couch co-op perma-death dungeon crawler that gives you five days to prepare and confront the Evil Witch Mormo to prevent the world’s end. How, you might be asking, does one go about postponing doomsday if death is a permanent inevitability? The answer is simple: when your randomly-generated hero dies, a century passes and one of your descendants begins the cycle anew.

Eagle Island:

A pixel-lover’s paradise, Eagle Island is an avian adventure unlike no other. As Quill, you must explore the eponymous isle in pursuit of a gargantuan deity known as Armaura – a particularly foul…fowl who has shanghaied with your owl companion Ichiro. Fortunately Koji – your spare sidekick  – is ready to swoop into action. Utilizing ‘falconry-based gameplay’, and Ancient Totems to elementally empower your fine-feathered friend, Quill’s journey is poised to be an ornithological outing for the ages when Eagle Island releases Summer 2018.

Pizza Titan Ultra:

Let’s face it: Crazy Taxi is so 2000-and-lame. Picking up would-be passengers and recklessly playing chauffeur was fun but it’s Current Year, and Current Year is all about pizza delivery. Pizza Titan Ultra is a frantic, arcade-style action game where you pilot a 10-story mobile pizzeria and deliver piping-hot pizza pies all over town. Taking place within a futuristic city (if this is the future, sign. me. up!), fulfilling orders in 30 minutes or less is the least of your worries as your custom mech will constantly contend with (i.e. bash) a number of machines that get in the way of your deliveries (see, that’s what you get for putting pineapple on a pizza).

What do you think? Are these titles worthy of the ‘Nindie’ honorific? What indie games do you want on the Nintendo Switch? Sound off in the comments section below.

Categories
PC Reviews Reviews

Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle Review

A cut, slice and stab above the rest.

Let me just get one thing off my chest right off the bat before I begin this review proper. Gun Media – the folks behind the Friday the 13th multiplayer game – should really take some notes. I’ll go into further detail but my goodness; the amount of interchangeable weapons, outfits, and kills Blue Wizard Digital crammed into Killer Puzzle is staggering. With that said, let’s move on to the review.

Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle is an isometric top-down puzzle game cut from the same blood-stained cloth as its predecessor Slayaway Camp – Blue Wizard’s first foray into lighthearted horror game (yes, that is a thing) territory.  You take control of Crystal Lake’s infamous hockey-masked slasher and slay your way through a series of levels plucked from Jason Voorhees’ grisly cinematic history. Controls are limited to sliding the drowned mongoloid boy turned killer across a grid until you come face-to-face with a hapless teenager…at which point Jason does what he does best. Once you dispose of (i.e. decapitate, dismember, disembowel…toss a bookcase on top of) your targets, the proverbial Final Girl..or boy, or person will appear on a designated ‘X’ marker on the map. You final kill is treated to a timed button-press scenario where you have an opportunity to watch a brutal cutscene play out if successful. It is a silly, yet incredibly satisfying way to end a puzzle. 

The game plays out alongside the loving guidance of your mother’s decapitated head. She offers a whole lot more than encouraging remarks and praise for her special, special boy, however.  She also dispenses valuable words of advice (such as alerting you to a environmental gameplay mechanic/gimmicks), hints (by means of telling you which action you should take first), or even going as far to show you the level’s solution. It’s all for the greater good of netting you with more kills. Kills are more than just to satisfy gore-fiends (and believe me, you will be more than satisfied). Murdering teens increases your bloodlust. Maxing out said bloodlust increases your rank and awards you with a random weapon to play with. Kills are also tied to the game’s many unlockable outfits.

As you play new obstacles are introduced. For example, the second level has Jason going to jail (as if he could contained!)  In addition to the inmates – which are your primary targets – the map is also littered with security guards. Approach these guards head on and Jason will be busted, and it’s game over. So you always have to mindful of what each map gives you to work with. Environmental hazards such as bear-traps and open bodies of water are a double-edged. While you can scare the teens into these insta-kill areas (though it is a whole lot more satisfying to kill them yourself), traps can end your life as well. Luckily there is a Rewind feature which lets you undo your last action in case you mess up. There is a Redo button which lets you start and entire level over from the beginning if you feel you messed up to the point of no return. 

I was taken aback by just how much content was crammed into a game built for a mobile platform. For starters there are the levels. Each of the game’s 10+ levels is divided into 13 maps , each landscape more varied and detailed than the next. From New York to NASA, Blue Digital Wizard has taken the very best of Jason’s silver screen stomping grounds. Aside from the main puzzle mode, you also have to option in doing a Daily Challenge. Complete a streak of 13 challenges and you net you a super fancy loot box that undoubtedly holds a badass weapon in it. There is also a Murder Marathon mode. This mode takes the timed button-press mini-game players encounter during the final kill of each map and turns into an endless mode. It’s a fun distraction and actually a way quicker way to increase your rank.

Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle is a definitive must-buy for horror fans. It doesn’t drastically deviate from the formula is established in Slayaway Camp, but it doesn’t have to. The adorably animated cries and screams are well worth the price of admission.

Steam code was provided by Blue Wizard Digital for review.

Platform: iOS, Android, Steam
Release Date: Friday, April 13, 2018

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Nintendo Nintendo Switch XBOX One X

Neon Demons: Aftercharge Hands-On Impressions

“So what’s your game about?”, I asked the representative of Chainsawesome Games as I observed a bit of gameplay from a distance.

“It’s a 3V3 FPS where one team is invisible and the other team is invincible.”

I stood there with a perplexed look on my face. Before I even had time to mull over the ridiculousness of the developer’s sales pitch, I asked him to strap me in cause I wanted to see if what he was selling was as fun as it sounded. I can safely say Aftercharge not only met my expectations, but I could easily seeing it giving the likes of Rocket League a run for its money.

So let’s break this down: one team is invisible and the other team is invincible. One team is made-up of invisible robots whose primary goal is to sabotage six glowing tubes known as Energy Extractors located throughout the map. Successfully destroy all six and your team is victorious. Sounds simple right? Of course it does – you’re invisible for crying out loud! Well, it’s not so cut and dry. Striking one of your luminous objectives causes your cloaking device to stop functioning, thus revealing you to your indestructible adversary – the enforcers.

Now, as an enforcer, your objective is to track down those bothersome robots. Only after you have dropped all three robots (and keep them down) does that translate to absolute victory for the enforcer. Again, how hard can that be, right? If you simply camp the Energy Extractors then surely you can just obliterate those robots and call it a day. Especially if you make use of your tracking device – it’s barely even a competition! Not so fast there, chief. Did I mention that the robot team can revive fallen comrades? And you thought that it was going to be easy.

Aftercharge is very manipulative by means of how it appears and initially plays. Both sides seem to play easier than they actually are. As a robot, you need to shed a lot of what most online FPS titles teach you; a run-and-gun approach does not work here. You need to temper that inherent desire to blindly bash everything and everyone around you for a more coordinated tactic. It’s all about patience and communicating with your teammates to find the perfect chance pull a fast one over on the opposing team. Conversely, there is just as much planning and coordination that goes into playing as an enforcer. Between keeping an eye on the Energy Extractors and keeping robots down, things can get dicey in a hurry – especially when you factor in how quickly robots can revive one another.

For a game with such a simple objectives, I was surprised by the level of depth of each side’s gameplay mechanics. There is a lot of strategy to be found in a set-up like this and all of it hinges entirely on communication. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terrible at online first-person shooters. So much so that I won’t even use a microphone – I’ll just do my own thing and my team be damned. But the cut-and-dry nature of Aftercharge, coupled with how rapid-fire each of the rounds were (seriously, it took me longer to strap on my headset than it did to finish a match) really lends to the accessibility of it. Suddenly I wasn’t so concerned with performing well – I was simply having too much fun to care. It also helps that game controls like a dream and has got a neon-glow TRON-ish vibe going on that I was completely into. 

Aftercharge is set to launch Summer 2018 on PC, Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch (YES!!). Chainsawesome Games mentioned to me that Cross-Play will be a thing between all platforms and that there will likely be beta in July A price point hasn’t been set but the developer is considering a $19.99 price point.

Categories
Nintendo Switch

Super Sphere Bros.: SpiritSphere DX Hands-On Impressions

A bit of disclosure: I am totally not writing a favorable preview of SpiritSphere DX just because I won a 1V1 match against its developer. My inflated sense of self-worth has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of gushing I’m about to unleash. With that being said, I was utterly charmed by this gem of a game. It easily turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of PAX East 2018.

At first glance SpiritSphere DX looks like a concept for a would-be air hockey/pong mini-game meant for Oracle of Ages/Seasons. Kudos by the way to developer Eeendhoorn’s for so skillfully capturing the essence of the 8-Bit era; the sprite work/animation is unquestionably top-notch. The game looks and even feels like am extensive ROM-hack of one of Link’s Gameboy outings. But the more I played it the more I realized that this unassuming ‘sports’ game was cleverly concealing a bit of Smash Bros. goodness within it’s retro-inspired exterior.

In SpiritSphere DX there are four key inputs to be mindful of: ‘Smash’, which allows you to deflect the sphere away from your side of the playing field. ‘Dash’, to make a potentially game-saving sprint towards the eponymous bouncy orb. ‘Item’ lets you make a one-time use of an item you pick up during the match. Items can range from relatively the relatively harmless – such an Arrow Shot or Bomb – to completely game-changing like increased movement speed or make you grow in size. And lastly there is a button assigned to your character’s Special Ability. And yes, SpiritSphere DX has got tons of character.

There are 10 characters to choose from, each one more zanier than the next. Lin for example (a clear-cut female clone of Link) wields a sword and is able to charge her attack to unleash a mighty swing. Baphomet – this game’s Ganon – can grab the approaching sphere and hold on to it before releasing it.  It makes for a insanely unpredictable moment-to-moment gameplay. There is also Ozo, a mage that can only use spells. And a cat…named Buster.

SpiritSphere DX was clearly designed with an eye to the multiplayer experience. While it does have a single-player mode (with an actual story and BOSS FIGHTS!), developer Eeendhoorn wants you to get your buddies together to see who’s best. The game boasts an metric ton of modes such as Squash Mode for 1V1 action, and a ridiculously fun Boss Mode – a 2V1 match where one player controls an over-sized boss. But the most noteworthy of the bunch is Tate Mode. Tate Mode has two players using a single Nintendo Switch flipped vertically with each player holding one of the attached Joy-Cons on each end. I seriously cannot wait to take my Switch on-the-go and challenge folks on a crowded New York City subway; what could possibly go wrong?

If you’ve always dreamed of Mario’s sports series to look and feel like The Legend of Zelda than you have come to right place. SpiritSphere DX launches exclusively for the Nintendo Switch May-June 2018.

SpiritSphere DX is also the winner of the ‘Would Have Upstaged Mario Tennis’ Award  which can be listened to in more detail here.  SpiritSphere DX is being published by Fabraz Company, the creator of the oh-so excellent Slime-san (available now on all platforms)

Be sure to follow along with Fabraz, Eeedhoorn, and  SpiritSphere DX’s progress over at their homepage here

Categories
Nintendo Switch Previews Previews

A Ninja’s Scroll: The Messenger Hands-On Impressions

For me (and most fans I imagine), Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos was the gold standard of Ryu Hayabusa’s 8-Bit adventures. It was a sequel that vastly improved over its predecessor and maintained its signature high-level difficulty. It was the best representation of classic Ninja Gaiden. Little did I know that Sabotage Studios was about to set a new benchmark in 2D side-scrolling platforming with The Messenger – the best Ninja Gaiden game I’ve never played.

The PAX East 2018 demo begins with a displeased ninja dwelling on the bothersome chore that is his daily lessons. Apparently there is a prophecy and said prophecy has foretold the end of the world – an apocalyptic scenario that can only be prevented by an ordained savior known as the ‘Western Hero’. The only problem is that doomsday more of a hamper on the ninja’s free time as he considers the stories to be a whole lot of hooey. Well, it doesn’t long for a demon army to start raining fiery meteors upon the ninja’s village both proving wrong and wiping out his entire village in one fell swoop. It’s at this point where that aforementioned hero shows up (fashionably late of course), hands the ninja a scroll, and tasks him with delivering it to East in hopes of ending the curse that has befallen the land. Pretty serious stuff right?  Well yes…and no.

Tonally, The Messenger knows that it’s out to completely obliterate genre tropes. What should play-out as a serious, by-the-numbers platformer, feels more like it borrowed a page from Deadpool’s handbook. From the short time I spent with the game, I was met with video game in-jokes and references, a chatty Shopkeeper that constantly breaks the Fourth Wall, and laugh-out-loud moments during a boss fight of all places. It’s the game’s way of telling you to assume nothing and forget nearly everything you have come to expect from the genre. Even the graphics somehow manage to defy expectations. 

Aesthetically the game could not be anymore Ninja Gaiden; the main character is the spitting image of Ryu Hayabusa and is even sporting his trademark blue garb. The graphics are full of color and pop off the screen. Seriously, I have never seen a retro-style title that looked this good. It captures the simple sprites of the NES-era but also elevates the color palette to bold new places. This is further evidenced by The Messenger’s slick gameplay gimmick: a time warping mechanic which transports the game from an 8-Bit backdrop to an even more vibrant 16-Bit style. While I wasn’t able to gather from the demo what the full implications of this graphic swap would be, each style does impact the level design and the layout of certain obstacles. So even though there might be a blocked path/obstruction in the 8-Bit landscape chances are it won’t be there once you transition of 16-Bit. I was also informed by Sabotage Studio that the graphical transition won’t only be available in the moment-to-moment gamplay – that players can look forward to explore the entirety of the game in both 8-Bit and 16-Bit sprites.

For a game that is clearly inspired by one of gaming’s most important franchises, The Messenger doesn’t mess around with perfecting the Ninja Gaiden control scheme. From the sword slashes to gripping to walls, the controls are insanely tight. I often wondered throughout the demo if Ryu Hayabusa controlled with this much accuracy and precision. The game feels exactly the way it should – until it doesn’t because why quit messing with expectations now?  The silly Shopkeeper I mentioned before dispenses fun upgrades such as a Wingsuit (for gliding purposes – obvi) and a Rope Dart to grapple to surfaces. The Shopkeeper also has access to a Skill Tree – something that completely caught me off guard.

My time with The Messenger while short left me with a childish grin on my face. The demo ended with an over-the-top encounter with what appeared to a tall Lich Mage…which revealed itself to just be wearing a really long cape. For all intents and purposes, The Messenger is a 2D Ninja Gaiden love-letter designed to toy with your expectations with every shift of the screen. What begins as a clear homage to Tecmo’s iconic blue ninja quickly tosses the playbook out the window for a completely fresh experience altogether. It’s really obvious why Nintendo showcased this title in its booth; The Messenger is full of heart and its developers’ love for the genre is uniquely apparent.  I cannot wait to get my hands on the full experience when it is released end of Summer 2018.

The Messenger is also the winner of the DoublePlusGood Award which can be listened to in more detail here. Be sure to follow along with Sabotage Studio and The Messenger’s progress over at their homepage here.

Categories
Nintendo Nintendo Switch Nintendo Switch Reviews Reviews

Kirby Star Allies Review

Kirby – Nintendo’s insatiable pink puffball – has finally made his Switch Debut in Kirby Star Allies. And while the formula hasn’t changed too much from previous iterations, fun, four-player action and endless copy abilities to combine elevate Kirby’s latest adventure to new heights.

I feel that I should start off by going over the Kirby Star Allies’ plot – or its lack thereof. It’s as throwaway and predictable as any fan of the franchise would expect, and is mainly there to act as delivery system for the real star – the snazzy new gameplay mechanics. So in case any of you were wondering, here is the story in a nutshell: some heart of darkness something or other has been unleashed by some black mage looking dude (who probably wasn’t hugged enough as a child) and sends all of Dreamland into a tizzy. It’s now up to Kirby to utilize the power of love to win over the hearts of his enemies and assemble a ragtag team of allies to put an end of the dark force…so pretty much every Kirby game ever – moving on.

As the name implies, Star Allies is all about recruiting enemies to your cause and utilizing their unique abilities to your advantage. The gimmick isn’t anything new to the Kirby franchise – the plump pink protagonist has been convincing denizens of Dreamland to fight alongside him for years., but what makes the gameplay mechanic so much more interesting is that Kirby can imbue abilities/weapons with elemental properties. Sure, that Sword Ability is all fine and dandy, but if you happen to have a Burning Leo on your team, you can upgrade your blade into a Sizzle Sword. And along with the added sensation of setting your enemies on fire and watching them run around all frantic-like while engulfed in flames, your blazing blade can also burn down bushes and melt ice blocks. Fire isn’t the only element you can expect to instill into your abilities as Water, Ice, Electricity and Wind are also on hand to further augment your powers. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are also unique abilities when you are equipped with non-elemental abilities such as Suplex, Parasol, and Spider. For example, amplifying the Parasol Ability makes your umbrella grow bigger, allowing you to better protect from falling debris or even block the flow of a cascading waterfall.

Half of the fun in Kirby games has always been about coming across new enemies and wondering what sort of abilities they might bestow. That fun factor has now increased ten-fold when you slowly start to realize just how you can bolster one ability with another. Nintendo doesn’t fail when it comes to bringing Kirby’s most notable feature center-stage as there are no shortage of abilities you can mix and match. But while it certainly is refreshing to see the creativity on hand when you see abilities play off of each other for the first time, a part of me wishes that Nintendo would be a bit more daring, and introduce a radical number of new copy abilities rather use series’ staples over and over again.

From a design perspective, the layout of Kirby Star Allies follows the pattern of Kirby games. Each of the themed worlds is broken up with a series of stages which culminates to a boss fight at the end. Extra Stages can be unlocked as well as a Dream Palace where players can recruit unique allies to Kirby’s cause. The soundtrack is every bit as engaging and memorable as the older games with plenty of fresh tunes mixed in with fan-favorite oldies for your listening pleasure. The aforementioned Extra Stages, for example, feature a classic Kirby tune which makes playing them so much more enjoyable. The simple score goes hand-in-hand with the games accessible nature as everything from the controls to the layout of each level and the placement of enemies, is all designed to make the experience as easy as possible. Which brings me to my own true gripe.

There was a time in the Kirby franchise when being hit by an enemy would result in the player losing their ability. There was also time when reaching a hidden path or utilizing an environment-specific gimmick (like a cannon with an unlit fuse), meant holding onto a specific ability as it wasn’t readily available…and certainly not in the same room as the ‘puzzle’ itself. Yes, Kirby wasn’t meant to be a hard game and I’m not asking for it to be the Dark Souls of copy-ability-based, side-scrolling platformers. But I guess the point I’m trying to make is that perhaps I may have outgrown the series. It seems to be geared towards a much younger audience ,a fact that I wasn’t quite ready to accept as the series had always been a big part of my childhood. But when I realize that I had beaten the entire game without so much as losing a life and had accumulated more lives than I knew what to do with, it made me long for the days when the series was even the slightest bit challenging. Fortunately, co-op and additional modes have transformed Kirby into a crowd pleasure, and playing it with friends on the couch does more to harken back to a simpler time in gaming, than a difficulty spike ever would.

Kirby Star Allies gets a lot of things right. It is brimming with color and dials the cuteness factor way up. While the Story Mode will last no longer than 8-10 hours, there is plenty of extra game to dive into once the main campaign has come to an end.

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Opinions Sony

The Proven 5: Trilogies Sony Should Remake Next

Crash Bandicoot is a Playstation icon – an icon that been out of the spotlight for far too long. While many fans of the series wondered if Crash Bandicoot 4 would ever become a reality, their fervor for a new installment was quelled with the release of Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy. A complete remake of the first three Crash Bandicoot titles bundled in one package, the game went on to sell over 2.5 million copies and became the best selling remastered collection in the Ps4’s history. Now that Crash Bandicoot is set to go multi-platform, the gold standard of trilogy remakes is set to reach an even broader audience and deliver the marsupial mascot to more homes than ever before.  So with the continued success of Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy guaranteed, I thought it might be fun to take a trip down memory lane, and choose five Playstation trilogies that might be worth revisiting.

5) The Gex Series

Crash Bandicoot? More like Crash BandiWHO?! (Yes I recycled that joke). Consisting of Gex, Enter the Gecko, and Deep Cover Gecko, the Gex series starred a wise-cracking lizard with a lovable penchant for obscure movie/television references. Having sold a combined total of over 15 million copies, Gex 3 – the final game in the trilogy – was the best selling of the series, shipping over 6 million copies and becoming the best-selling PlayStation adventure game of 1999 with 3 million copies in that year alone. As long as comedian Dana Gould would be able to return to voice the sly-tongued lizard,  Gex would be able to capture the hearts of a whole new generation – and cash in two decades worth of pop culture zingers and one-liners.

4) The Mega Man Legends Collection

Yes, I know. Mega Man Legends died with the cancellation of Part 3 years ago…but I hate myself and I just can’t let go! Made up of Mega Man Legends 1 + 2 and the spin-off The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, the Mega Man Legends games were quite the departure from what gamers thought a Mega Man game was supposed to be. Ditching its 2D roots for a full 3D world complete with voice acting and a super-engaging plot, the games instantly became a classic among Mega Man fans worldwide. And given that the Blue Bomber is set to dazzle gamers once again with Mega Man 11, and X will return in a collection series, I see no reason why Mega Man Volnutt should be ignored. A remake of the entire Mega Man Legends library might be the first step in a proper sequel. And seriously, isn’t about time we get that lovable blue guy off the damn moon?!

3) Prince of Persia – Sands Series

 Prince of Persia was one of the more prolific series during Playstation 2-era of gaming. And since the original trilogy came to an end. gamers have been subjected to a laughable mobile game, a silver-screen adaptation which bombed, and a divisive reboot which failed to capture any of the magic and wonder the original trilogy was known for. Remaking the these three games could invigorate a long dormant fan-base and possibly and show new gamers what the perfect blend of story and gameplay looks like.

2) Syphon Filter, PSX Trilogy

Borrowing elements from GoldenEye 007 and Metal Gear Solid, the Syphon Filter series was every bit as engaging and entertaining as gaming best spy/espionage thrillers. Starring Gabriel Logan, the original PSX trilogy detailed the impending threat of a deadly bio-weapon that could be programmed on a genetic level to target specific groups of people. With the Metal Gear Solid franchise moving forward sans Hideo Kojima and as a shadow of its former self, the timing is right for Gabriel Logan to show gamers just what he is capable of. And besides, the though of tasering someone until they burst into flames in full, remade glory is too much of an awesome sight to pass on. Get on this, Sony!

1) Spyro the Dragon Trilogy

Do I even need to say why this is Number 1 on the list? First off, the series’ debut was not only met with critically acclaim, it was also a commercial success, selling nearly 5 million copies worldwide. Second, if there was ever a character that would be as synonymous with the Playstation brand as Crash Bandicoot was back in the day, it would no other than Spyro the Dragon. It comes as no surprise that rumors persist of a remastered trilogy hitting the PS4 this year – it would be an absolute no-brainer for Sony and Activision to return this series to its former, pre-Skylanders glory. It may possibly have even stronger earning potential than the bandicoot himself.

Honorable Mention – Die Hard Trilogy

Go ahead – convince me why this wouldn’t make be amazing. Bundle it with Die Hard Trilogy 2, and BOOM, Game of the year.

So, reader, what do you make of this list? Do you see Sony perusing bundled remakes given how well Crash Bandicoot’s revival performed? Did anyone expect Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy to sell as…insanely well (*note to self: make some toast in the tub) as it did? Let us know, as well as what trilogy you would like to see remade, in the comments section below.

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Nintendo Switch Nintendo Switch Reviews

Toki Tori 2+ Review

I admit, when I began my initial play-through of Toki Tori 2 +, my first thought was: why can’t I jump? – I’m a freakin’ bird! And why do I waddle so slowly?! But the more time I spent with the adorable puzzle platformer, the more captivated by it I became.

Toki Tori 2+ is a puzzle game through-and-through, and it is your job to guide an adventurous chick from one side of the screen. You do so with very simple and limited controls. The ‘B’ Button allows you to perform a Stomp Technique (who knew chicks were so hefty) while the ‘A’ Button activates a Chirp. The pitch of your Chirp is determined by how hard you press the button down, so light types produce a soft melody while a long press results in something a bit louder. Combinations of light and hard presses generates a song; think of it as a simpler version of an ocarina (and if you don’t get that reference, why are you playing video games?). Both of these tools are used to solve puzzles which are, as I stated before, essentially what the game is all about.

For the most part, Toki Tori 2+’s puzzles involve interacting with the on-screen flora and fauna of the environment. As your movement is very limited, you will have to rely on the various creatures of the world to get by. Sometimes that involves stomping on the ground to force creatures away from you. Other times it involves feeding them a bug which causes them to burp up a bubble for you to be encased in and hover to your next destination…cause video game logic, I guess. And other times it can be as simple as a flying bird snatching you with its claws and carrying you to your next platform. Sounds simple enough, right? But when you put all these elements together, that’s when things can get a bit tricky.

On the onset, Toki Tori 2+ does a wonderful job of lulling you into a false sense of security. It’s charming and unassuming exterior aside, the puzzles begin quite simple enough – perhaps even mind-numbingly so. But as you progress, the more you begin to realize that there is an evil force at play here the escalation in difficulty (and frustration) increases astronomically. There are moments where it feels as if you are keeping track of just too many things at once: okay, I have to lure that bug over here to feed that frog but I also have to make sure all these lobsters in crates shuffle in the right direction…and so forth and so on. It can get a tad overwhelming, and more often than not, you’ll fail and  have to repeat the entire process over from the beginning. It’s this sort of trial and error format that rob you of that ‘a-ha!’ moment and make the proceedings more like a chore.

Fortunately, the game’s adorable aesthetic and simple, hum-worthy soundtrack lighten up the mood enough to keep frustration to a minimum. That coupled with a new checkpoint song (which I have read was not earlier versions of this title), which allows you to place a checkpoint wherever you like, reduces aggravation tremendously. Sure, it doesn’t take away from trial and error aspect I spoke of before, but it does let you set yourself up in a nice place should you fail a puzzle over and over again.

Overall, Toki Tori 2+ on Switch is fiendishly deceptive title which wears a cute little mask to hide its cruel intentions. The difficulty of some puzzles may be a bit much for novice puzzle game players, and certainly isn’t the type of game that is for everyone. But if you are willing to forgive a few minor grievances, you will find a strangely satisfying title to help pass the time between the next big budget release.

Nintendo Switch Review Code for Toki Tori 2+ provided to Proven Gamer courtesy of publisher/developer Two Tribes.

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Opinions Playstation 4 Sony

The Top 5 Playstation Titles Bluepoint Games Should Remake Next

With the recent remake of Shadow of Colossus being met with overwhelming critical acclaim and capturing the hearts of an entirely new generation of players, many are left wondering: where does Bluepoint Games go from here?  While many are eager for the Austin-based developer to shed its ‘master of remasters’ title and create an original work of their own, I would argue that Bluepoint Games should continue to do what it does best. And so, here are the Top 5 Playstation Titles Bluepoint Games should consider remaking.

5) Metal Gear Solid

So, Konami…how’s uh…Metal Gear Survive working out for you? Oh, not so great, huh? Well, perhaps what you need to do is try to get back in good graces with the gaming community. What better way to do that than to remake the title that propelled Solid Snake into stardom: Metal Gear Solid.Bluepoint already did a Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, so they know the series intimately. Let’s face it, the Fox Engine was destined for more than just a zombie-horde multiplayer mess. Speaking of things Konami messed up…

4) Silent Hill

Damn you, P.T.! Why did you have to be so good? WHY DID YOU GET MY HOPES UP, KONAMI!? For those of you not in “the know”, P.T. a.k.a “Playable Trailer” (nobody calls it that), was a teaser for Silent Hills, a Silent Hill sequel with the potential to completely reinvent the franchise. It was to be a collaboration between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro. Needless to say, people lost their damn minds over the possibilities. Well, Konami ran Kojima out of town and Silent Hills was forever lost to the mist. Sure, we now have Death Stranding to look forward to, but Silent Hill has been neglected for years now (and no, Pachinko Games DON’T COUNT!).  A recreation of the original, terrifying Silent Hill would be a spectacular way to make up for the Silent Hills fiasco.

3) Driver

Released back in 1999 for the PS1, Driver was a complete game changer for the genre; it set an incredibly high bar for story driven, high octane driving. Spread across four distinct cities, Driver’s insane chase sequences and ground-breaking physics made it a must-have title for Playstation owners. While Driver received a minor face-lift when it was ported to iOS  in 2009, it was hardly worth of such a watershed title in Playstation history. Bluepoint Games can completely redesign the cities from the ground up, making them bigger and more realistic worlds to explore. Is there a place for this series in such a crowded driving landscape? Maybe not, but nostalgia alone might be worth the investment.

2) Dark Cloud

Dark Cloud is a long time favorite game of my Nintendo Duel Screen’s Co-host, Stephen Fontana. He asked me to add it to the list, but he really didn’t have to do much convincing. Dark Cloud was an incredibly deep dungeon crawling RPG with an insane weapon crafting mechanic. Throw in an adorable town building mechanic and funny/unique characters and you got yourself a recipe for a classic action-rpg. A sequel was released a couple of years later and both games were touched up and given trophy support last year on PSN, but a full fledged Bluepoint Games remake is incredibly enticing.

1) Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

Released in 1999 for the Sony Playstation 1Crystal Dynamics’ tale of a vampire turned specter was met with critical acclaim. Fans have been clamoring for a remake/reboot for years now. And given that Crystal Dynamics is hard at work its Avengers Project, Bluepoint Games would be a logical second choice to helm the franchise reboot and reintroduce Raziel and Kain to the world.

Well that is it. What do you think? This list can easily be a top 20, so what would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Categories
Nintendo Switch Nintendo Switch Reviews

Dandara Review

The world known as Salt was once home to a peaceful, prosperous people. It was a world populated by musicians and poets, great thinkers and dreamers. Until one day, a dark oppressive force plunged Salt into ruin. Thus begins the tale of Dandara, a remarkable 2D platformer that is unlike any game I have ever experienced.

I honestly did not know what to expect when I sat down to play Dandara for the first time, other than the exploratory structure of the classic ‘metroidvania’ formula. And yes, it does fulfill the necessary requirements of that often overused, yet incredibly accurate descriptor: a free-to-explore map with access to new or previously inaccessible areas guarded by either gaining of new abilities or overcoming an obstacle. But where Dandara differs from the very games it draws inspiration from lies in how it handles movement. Tradition dictates that you, the player, use the directional pad to move about the character on a 2D plane. Dandara ditches the convention entirely and instead opts to relegate movement through jumping and clinging to surfaces around you. When Dandara jumps to a surface, you are able to aim where she can jump to next with the analog stick. Most of the time you are confined to a 180 ° radius of where you can aim Dandara but if you injured and knocked off of a surface, you are given a full 360 ° radius to move freely and regather yourself.

While it might sound limiting at first, and even a tad frustrating (what do you mean I can’t just walk?!), I have never felt such a sense of freedom of movement in a game. Watching Dandara’s gravity defying antics is an absolute marvel to be a part of, made all the more satisfying as you get a better handle of the control scheme. Admittedly, it did take me some getting used to but once I get the hang of Dandara’s movement, I could not help but smile. It was as if Dandara and I were locked in a dance, an elegant ballet, and the world of Salt was our stage. And the same could be said about the game’s combat mechanics.

Any ‘metroidvania’ title worth its salt…(I’ll see myself out) features a decent amount of combat. Fortunately, Dandara is not only packed with a wide variety of too-cute-to-kill enemy sprites, it also features an assortment of weapons and abilities to make all that inevitable killing fun. Aside from your standard blaster (which can fire in after you charge it for a short period of time) Dandara eventually gains access to green-colored missiles that pulverize  stone barriers and deal massive amounts of damage (just like Metroid!!), purple projectiles which ricochet off of surfaces to get to those almost but no quite out-of-reach enemies, and even a defensive shield to guard against oncoming attacks. Your weapons and abilities coupled with the slick and precise movement mechanics, make for intense moment-to-moment gameplay. The enemy placement and layout of the world constantly keep you on yours toes: one moment you’ll be able to observe a situation and execute an attack slowly and methodically and other times you will be frantically jumping, shooting, and then retreating while formulating a plan on the fly. And it’s all due to Dandara’s most notable achievement – its level design.

Dandara’s breathtaking visuals do the ‘metroidvania’ label justice. As a HUGE fan of retro graphics, I completely fell in love with the artistic design and the well-thought out placement of platforms. Each room can often feel like a small puzzle as getting from Point A to Point B is never as obvious as it seems. The game starts off very subtle but eventually the environment itself takes part in how you navigate around the room. From physics-based platforms and alters that can extend Dandara’s jumping reach, it is clear that the developer put a lot of thought and attention to the massive world.

While the 8-Bit era undoubtedly played a factor in Dandara’s design there is an…inescapable…(ugh, and I really hate to make this comparison because it’s lazy but here I am doing it anyway) Dark Souls influence at play here. In an interview with Long Hat House (which can be listened to here) the team acknowledged the elements it borrowed from From Software’s wildly successful Dark Souls series and thankfully it turns out to be more than I initially anticipated. Scattered throughout the world of Salt are campsites (bonfires) where Dandara can rest and use her accumulated essence (souls) to upgrade her base stats and skills such as maximum health, the potency of her health vials (Estus Flask), and so on. Campsites also act as a respawn point when you die…and you will die…a lot. When you die or meet ‘oblivion’ as the game puts (so dramatic), you leave a ghostly echo of yourself in the spot where you met your demise along with all the souls you’ve gathered – I mean essence, SORRY! If you are able to reach your floating phantasmal form, you regain all the essence you lost – no harm, no foul. I get this. Countless of other games have done it. It isn’t anything new. But what I wasn’t expecting these borrowed mechanics to do was play into to Dandara’s overall world-building and help shape the narrative that is compelling you to move forward.

There is a painfully real and haunting aspect to Dandara I honestly was not expecting. Whenever you reclaim your spirit after you die, a text prompt appears which simply states “Dandara – Serious Injuries” referencing how you met your end. Throughout the world of Salt you will encounter the souls of its dead citizens…and the game does not pull any emotional punches when it describes how they met their tragic fate. One soul I discovered early on revealed that the individual I came across had died of sadness. And that just hit me in a way that I wasn’t really prepared for, that I had to take a moment to take that in. It lends a certain authenticity to Dandara, an element that a lot of modern big-budget titles tend to overlook.

In terms of negatives, there isn’t much I encountered that marred the overall experience. The map system could be better as I often felt it was working more against me that it was for me. Defying gravity comes with sudden perspective changes, as the rooms you occupy shift and rotate to accommodate your movement. The only issue is that while the room shifts, the map remains static so referencing it was more of a head-scratcher than anything else. Another gripe I have is with the button-layout. Why…oh why..do developers insist on mapping ‘jump’ and ‘shoot’ to anything but ‘B’ and ‘A’, respectively. As a classically trained gamer, that layout is embedded deep into my muscle memory. It does me no good when I’m scrambling in an intense shootout and I accidentally use a health vial when I intended to shoot. And if you are hellbent on mapping the buttons in your own weird way, please…PLEASE give me the option to remap it myself. Okay, rant over. Moving on. 

Dandara has a lot of heart and you can see it coded into every single pixel. It is clear that Long Hat House put a lot of love into Dandara and the labor of that love is more than obvious. It is an experience I won’t soon forget and I encourage you to not let Dandara slip passed you. It won’t offer much in terms of  replayability, but at the price of $11.99, it doesn’t need to. What you have is a beautifully crafted title with the gameplay and soundtrack to make it one of the most unforgettable indie games of the year.

Nintendo Switch Review Code for Dandara provided to Proven Gamer courtesy of  publisher Raw Fury.

Categories
News Nintendo Nintendo Switch

Nintendo Switch Nindies Summer 2017 Showcase Highlights

Today, Nintendo’s Nindies Summer Showcase…um…showcased (there is that college degree at work, readers) a whopping 22(!) indie games coming to the Switch between now and sometime in 2018. The presentation featured a lot of side-scrolling platforming titles with local and online four-player co-op, and a handful of surprises as well, such as:

Super Meat Boy: Forever – Where was Team Meat hiding a sequel to Super Meat Boy and why do I have to wait until 2018 to play it? Yes, readers, Meat Boy is back, and he’s a proud papa! Though I’m not entirely sure how exactly an anthropomorphic piece of raw meat and a living clump of bandages(?) make a baby, but who cares about science when Dr. Fetus has gone and absconded with your adorable little Nugget! Parenthood certainly agrees with Meat Boy as  flesh bag can now punch and slide his way to victory. To top it off, the beefy sequel is set to debut on the Switch – take that, other consoles!

Shovel Knight: King of Cards – I really don’t know how many times I’ve played through Shovel Knight…and I really don’t care; MORE PLEASE! King of Cards brings the final story-based chapter to the critically acclaimed 8-Bit indie title. Playing as the King Knight, this prequel takes the golden-colored goon through four new worlds with over 30 courses to take down the Three Kings. But wait, there’s more! In addition to the side-scrolling fun, King of Cards comes packed with –  you guessed it! – a card game, which looks to be the true selling point if you ask me.

Travis Strikes Back: No More Heroes – Remember Travis Touchdown? Cause I sure do! When No More Heroes launched in 2008, it came at a time when M-Rated games were severely lacking on the Nintendo Wii. While the footage shown revealed no gameplay, I cannot think of a better way to celebrate Travis Touchdown’s 10th Anniversary by bringing him back to the platform where it all started. Expect plenty of Suda51’s signature brand of madness when Travis Strikes Back launches in 2018.

Nintendo sure is doing its best to show that it’s latest console is more than just a place for 1st-Party titles. The future definitely looks bright for the Nintendo Switch and I cannot wait to get my hands on some of these titles – and then take them on the go!

For complete details on the Nintendo Switch Nindies Summer Showcase, click on the video below for all the indie goodness.

Categories
Nintendo Nintendo Switch Nintendo Switch Reviews

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Review

The premise of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is as ridiculous and over-the-top as you would expect. A passing glance at the game’s cover art is indication enough that the experience is going to be unlike any Super Mario Bros. title you’ve played before. But the details of the how and why Ubisoft’s lovable white mascots merged with Nintendo’s iconic Mario and the Mushroom Kingdom are of little importance. The real showstopper, is the game’s first-rate approach to the strategy genre, and how it’s amusing yet analytical gameplay-style may very well be one of Mario’s most entertaining outings.

Presentation-wise, Mario + Rabbids captures the sights and sounds of the Mushroom Kingdom masterfully. Each of the four worlds is undeniably Super Mario Bros. fare with familiar terrain abound; one minute you’ll be in a desert…that has been wreaked by an ice storm, and the next you’ll be on haunted grounds complete with everyone’s favorite videogame ghosts. Each of the four worlds is divided into nine sub-levels that build up to a halfway point, mid-boss battle and culminate to a grandiose, larger-than-life boss fight. As you explore and solve simple block-pushing based puzzles to proceed, you’ll come across Rabbids hanging out doing…Rabbid things, in addition to the seldom Goomba and oversized Bullet Bill hanging out in the background. It very much looks like a traditional Super Mario Bros. game, but that is of course, until you get to the gameplay.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle has often been compared to the likes of XCOM, and rightfully so. At the onset of each encounter you are tasked with moving your ragtag team of three along the battlefield, looking for the best possible vantage point while keeping yourself guarded safely behind blocks and out of your opponent’s line of sight. There is a methodical underpinning at work as each move you make may result in either a perfect victory or your own undoing.  What sets Mario + Rabbids apart from conventional strategy games is how each of the characters plays off one another – quite literally. Victory comes from set-ups and combinations and using each of the players abilities to gain the upper hand. For example, Mario’s Hero Sight is a passive ability that triggers when an opponent enters his line of sight. When used in conjunction with Rabbid Mario’s Magnet Dance ability, you can draw enemies closer to Mario thus activating the ability for a free hit. Combinations such as these are absolutely teeming in Mario + Rabbids; its cartoon-ish exterior hiding the surprisingly deep mechanics that lie within. all these abilities can be unlocked via your characters Skill Tree which lets players custom the teams stats and powers to their own liking. In addition, elemental effects such as Burn, Push, Vampire, and Freeze that are assigned to certain weapons, abilities, and environmental hazards add just the right amount of unpredictability to gameplay as a whole.

But for as well as it plays, and for how adorable the experience is, one cannot help but feel that the Super Mario Bros. aspect of Mario + Rabbids falls a bit short of expectation. On your journey you’ll find the occasional HP-Restoring Mushroom, but where is the Fire Flower, or the Invicibility Star? Mario is no stranger changing into Toad and Tanooki Suits; how great would it have been to see the plumber don a Rabbid Suit? Rabbid Kong and Pirabid Plant are incredible examples of the mash-up enemies you would expect to see in a game with such a loony, madcap setting. Why then, do the majority of the enemies feel so uninspired by comparison? It somewhat feels like a missed opportunity, one that will hopefully be rectified via add-ons/DLC. But if the recently announced Season Pass is any indication, you would be best to temper those expectations.

Technically, the game runs smoothly with the concessional slow-down/frame-rate drop. It’s a minor annoyance and does not hinder the experience at all.

The blending of Super Mario Bros. and Rabbids isn’t a perfect union, but it is incredibly hard to put down once you get started. Expect plenty of replay value as each of the four worlds houses a secret sub-level and 10 Challenges, the latter of which can be played solo or locally with a friend. There are hidden chests full of weapons, art, music and 3D models to discover so completionists may expect to play the game after the credits have rolled.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a game no one asked for, but ultimately will be celebrated for its existence. Its the kind of game that you want to see succeed as it opens up a lot of exciting possibilities for Nintendo and 3rd-Party relationships. If you are a Switch owner with even the slightest interest in something other than the frantic action of ARMS or Splatoon 2, then Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle belongs in your library. It’s so stupidly charming that you can’t help but fall in love with it every time you pick it up.

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Nintendo Switch News

Hollow Brings First-Person Horror to the Nintendo Switch

When Nintendo unveiled the Switch back in January, I couldn’t help but wonder how great the platform would be for horror titles. Fortunately, I won’t have to imagine what that would be like for much longer as a first-person horror title by the name of Hollow is making its way to the Nintendo Switch later this year. Here are the details courtesy of Hollow’s developer, Forever Entertainment:

“In Hollow, you are one of the pilots that transports precious resource cargo from the mining ship Shakhter-One down to Earth. One day you wake up in an emergency capsule drifting near the facility. You don’t remember who you are, or how you got out there… All you can remember is an autopilot docking code for capsule dock NR 6.

When you dock with Shakhter-One, it is clear that something has gone horribly wrong. The crew is missing and the entire facility is dealing with catastrophic power issues. As you start to uncover the ship’s terrifying secrets, Shakhter-One threatens to take your identity, your sanity, and – ultimately – your life.”

Sign. Me. Up. While the title is also coming out on Steam, I’ll undoubtedly picking this up for the Switch, and likely will be playing in handheld mode. There is something about playing a horror game on a handheld platform that I find completely terrifying. Maybe it’s the fact that you are playing on a tiny screen and have to have the screen closer to your face than usual. Maybe it’s because you have to play with your headphones on. Or maybe its the fact that all you have to fight off the darkness while you are lying in bed, is the small bit of light that is escaping the screen of your portable device.

Whatever the reason may be, Hollows looks to bring a lot of scares to Nintendo Switch owners in late 2017. Be sure to check out the trailer to get a glimpse of what terror awaits.

Categories
Podcasts

MicroSAWFT – How a once strong company has become soft in a toughening market.

It’s been roughly eight weeks since E3 2017 came to end.  In that time, I have had time to reflect on my experiences from the show floor. While I was able to get my hands on a lot of upcoming titles, what I have spent a lot of time thinking about is Microsoft’s Media Briefing, and how just how off its messaging was.

I sat in a crowd of unenthused game’s media as the next iteration of the Xbox Box One was formally unveiled to the world along with a metric ton of dull, uninspired techno-babble. Specs and stats which ultimately are meaningless to what gamers truly desire. Sound and fury signifying nothing.

So…graphics; is that the hill you want to die on, Microsoft?

Now, I know that statement may be a bit of an exaggeration. The Xbox as a gaming platform certainly isn’t dying and is in no danger of going anywhere in the foreseeable future. The Xbox, however, is struggling to maintain its relevancy within a market that is looking to Sony and Nintendo for long-lasting and fulfilling gaming experiences. Microsoft’s latest gambit – a hyper focus on graphical superiority  – isn’t doing the Xbox any favors, especially when the reasons to invest in the platform aren’t nearly as inciting as its competitors.

Take Forza 7, for example – the first title chosen to showcase what the Xbox One X, the ‘beast’, was capable of. There is no denying that the franchise has never looked so well put together, so polished. But why is it that Need for Speed: Payback so much more appealing? It’s because Need for Speed was selling me on an experience. The pitch wasn’t bogged down by resolution, and by frames-per-second. Experiences worth investing in are what the Xbox has been lacking for quite sometime and the fact that graphics, 4K and 60FPS are at the forefront of its messaging, underscores how out of touch with gamers Microsoft truly is.

Microsoft has no issue generating excitement for individual titles: Cuphead looks absolutely fantastic, Sea of Thieves is shaping up to be a unique and memorable multiplayer experience, and Crackdown 3 looks like simple, mindless fun. As a gamer, I am drawn to good games. But what Microsoft lacks is generating excitement for the Xbox platform itself. A handful of games that I can also play on a PC do little in terms of selling me on the Xbox One.

Sony says it’s the ‘best place to play’, and I believe it: Horizon: Zero Dawn sells 3.4 million units. Ni-Oh becomes Tecmo Koei’s most successful title in the West and shifts 1 million + copies. Nier: Automata exceeds expectations and moves 1.5 million units. Sony says ‘greatness awaits’, and I believe it: God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Days Gone, Spider-Man, Shadow of the Colossus, Uncharted: The Legacy, The Last of Us II. There is always something truly magnificent just beyond the horizon on Playstation, and Sony’s continued effort to bolster its exclusive selection of games with impactful, story-driven content is what keeps me returning to its platform time and time again. Nintendo is no different: Breath of the Wild, ARMS, Splatoon 2, Mario + Rabbids, Super Mario Odyssey, Metroid Prime 4. Sony and Nintendo are keen on selling you experiences and putting a great amount of value in their consoles.

What good is ‘the world’s most powerful console’ if it fails to perform its most fundamental function? Honestly, I do not know. Microsoft definitely needs to take time to reassess what truly matters to gamers. It’s sales pitch is hollow at best, and comes off a bit desperate in my eyes. It can showcase a line-up of third party content that looks marginally better on the Xbox One X all it wants. It does not make a compelling argument to invest in its newest console, or its current one for that matter.

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Playstation 4 Reviews

SHU Review

Shu begins like a 2D platformer plucked from the NES era: a malevolent entity unceremoniously appears and lays waste to your hometown. As the last vestige of hope, the village elder tasks you with defeating the ancient evil before it brings about the end of the world. The set-up is as conventional as it gets, but what Shu lacks in narrative it more than makes up for with gameplay.

Much like the classic platformers Shu draws its inspiration from, controls consist of jumping, gliding …and little else. Fortunately, the game’s sensible – albeit linear – level design affords plenty of opportunities to take your basic abilities to stunning new heights. As you make your way from platform to platform, gathering bright, shining butterflies along the way, you will come across currents of wind that will carry your adorable self across massive chasms, and propel you closer towards the end of each level. But as refreshing and nostalgic as the proceedings appear to be at first glance, Shu works in handful of gameplay mechanics to help keep repetitiveness to a minimum.

As you rush towards the one weapon capable of ridding the world of the merciless menace that haunts you, you will come across a number of displaced townsfolk who will join and aid you for a brief period of time. The rotund Joro allows you to add height to your bounce off of trampoline-like flora and ground-pound through reinforced platforms, providing access to a once-restricted areas. Okoro lets you miraculously walk across water. The slender-framed Lati opens and closes budding flowers, in turn creating additional platforms for you jump onto. You and your pals will only have your traversal to worry about as the vibrant world is completely devoid of enemies. Occasionally the aforementioned evil – monstrous a purple cloud with a gaping maw known as the Storm – will chase you as you frantically jump and glide your way through Shu’s 15 levels, adding a sense of urgency to the game’s otherwise playful presentation.

‘Difficult’ and ‘lengthy’ are not words one would use to describe Shu. With a generous checkpoint system and the only challenge stemming from the chase sequences, the delightful platformer can be completed by even the most novice of gamers in a matter of hours. Death never feels cheap and is almost always a result of your own missteps and bad timing. If you are looking for something to brag about, however, completionists and competitive gamers may look to each level’s collectibles and hidden items as well as its leaderboards. If you are so inclined, you may put your speed-run skills to the test and try to best other players from around the world to complete a level as quickly as possible.

Shu’s artistic styling has an undeniable Rayman-like quality about it. It comes as no surprise as the series was a huge inspiration for developer Coatsink. From the characters to the environments, it all pops with the color and vibrancy of a cartoon. Its soundtrack is as equally top-notch and melodic and hypnotic tunes add a layer of wonderment and charm to the overall design.

Shu is an unassuming 2D platformer with a lot of heart. It does away with pointless bells and whistles and provides a pure, uncompromising platforming experience that is simply fun to play. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, or break new grounds in the of Super Meat Boy or Ori and the Blind Forest. But remains and is thoroughly enjoyable title that is worth its $11.99 price of admission.

PS4 Review Code for Shu provided to Proven Gamer publisher/developer Coatsink.