Turning Hollow – Pinwheel Gaming

“Urgh, oh tis a friendly face I see.

“I am Jack Boyles, and I am losing my… my humanity, I am Turning Hollow.

“At what point doth stop? Doth stop when there are not enough souls to be had? Doth stop when there is not enough originality? At what point doth stop?

“The endless amounts of sequels, spin off’s and franchises that occupy the gaming landscape is getting absurd. As the years go by we see less new IPs, instead we see the annual franchise, unnecessary sequels, remasters or remakes. Originality has been loss in the well of greed and like I, these publishers are Turning Hollow. Loosing their purpose from devouring too many souls… Tis all our fault.

“The annual franchises play on our subconsciousness. In age of instant gratification and entitlement, we must hath the new thing despite us knowing in our hearts, tis a reskin, and nothing much has changed we’ll still go and purchase it. ‘But why?’ thou may be thinking. Why are we compelled to purchase this game that’s no different from last year’s edition? Why are we drawn to the same game when we complain that we bored of that experience? The fear of Isolation. Ugh. The fear that thy companion will hath that game and ye missing out, the fear of everyone talking about it and thee being left out, that fear, that fear of thee, not belonging, that fear of isolation; that’s what compels thee.

“So, thou buy the game, everyone else has it, and because thou now feel thee belong, ye are happy, are all together and connecting. Tis that fear of isolation that brought thee all to that place and the sense of belonging feeds the dopamine thy brain needs to keep thou playing and keeps thou buying.

“Success drives industry, I understand that, but success doesn’t mean it needs to produce more. Stories are best left as they are, they are complete and tackle their themes with a satisfying conclusion, therefore no need to hath a sequel. Ohh, ugh. This is taking a level of maturity that most publishers or developers hath not yet understood from the barrage of sequels. For example, The Last of Us released to critical and commercial success, a singular story that deals with it’s theme of parenthood and children developing their independence. But that’s not enough, that’s not enough for publisher, tis not enough for the developer and not enough for those people who just want another one, all because the first one was good and instead of holding on to the original they risk that original being perverted; look at the Matrix.

“I am not saying all Franchises are bad, and there should never be a Franchise again. I am a Nintendo fan and they doth nothing but Franchises but what Nintendo typically doth is add a new mechanic or change the game so tis familiar but fresh. Ahh, haha. The issue is more and more franchises are just churning out what is essentially the same game… tis becoming expectable for that to happen.

“Many other practitioners in other creative industries know when one is enough, they… they know there is no need for a sequel, they close the lid and allow that one piece of art to speak for itself and in the process makes the piece timeless. So why can’t the videogame industry do the same? Is it possible for a game to be a blockbuster and just end there?

“Uh oh, what was I saying, oh yes…

“But tis our fault, we allow these hollow forms to protest for more and more. We doth not say why doth thou want another? What purpose will it serve? Thou should ask one’s self these questions next time they enjoy a new IP and if thou doth not hath a substantial answer to this, ask thou self again; does it need a sequel? Then maybe once great games will not erode in quality by the passing of time.

“Chosen Undead, remember when Halo meant something, I do. Haha.”

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Retimed – It’s Time To Connect Again

Jack Boyles takes a look at Retimed —

We are more connected now as a species than ever before. Technology has made it possible to communicate with people all across the world by the mere tapping of keys; we can video call someone like we are in some ’80s sci-fi movie and we can take photos with instant results viewed by millions in the palm of our hand.

Yet have we never been so isolated, using these devices as our primary source of communication, locked away and pretending to be people we are not.

We need to escape the clutches of our self-imprisonment connect with people face to face.

Team Maniax knows the importance of getting together and having fun with their game ‘Retimed’. It’s a local multiplayer arena shooter up to 2-4 players where you can generate a bubble that slows down time. But is this just a simple mechanic used as a gimmick or is there more to this idea?

Maniax have gone for a great art style here – the sole purpose is to capture the childlike play and fun of the game. It’s the character design here that lends it an attitude and personality without the characters showing their traits. Using character anatomy and clothing as an illusion of characteristic; this of course isn’t a bad thing, it’s a very good and smart thing to do.

Level designs are simple with a few platform areas contained in a relatively small space, though it’s enough to manoeuvre around the map for tactical advantage.

However, it’s the mixture of pace that brings excitement while playing. Your character can slide and dash in the air and that makes traversing the map very fluid. When you mix the element of the time bubble, the game can contrast so quickly it looks you’re in a Zen-like state. Retimed implements its time bubble perfectly, allowing you to focus, use it as a dodging mechanic and as an offensive technique too.

The game feel here is a highlight; it just feels good to play. Combined with the level design, you can quickly feel like you’re a pro when, in fact, you are still a novice.

That’s not to say everything about the game is perfect. Personally, I feel like you don’t get enough bullets, or sometimes, even the opposite, the bullets don’t spawn quickly enough, there was just a sense of emptiness at times.

All in all, this game is a great multiplayer experience to play with friends or family. To rekindle time spent together and to shout, laugh and just enjoy your time spent with someone. Releasing on the Switch (later on PC), it’s a perfect game to sit alongside the family.

So put the social media away.

My Friend Pedro – Let’s Go Bananas

The Killer, 1989, is probably John Woo’s best film next to Hard Boiled. The scene in the church (the house scene) is action choreography at its best. Action scenes when done right are like a dance, everything unfurls and glides — an artform with style, finesse and grace.

DeadToast Entertainment’s My Friend Pedro is a 2D side-scrolling, run and gun game. Inspired by the movies of John Woo, the goal is to dispatch enemies in extremely cool, inventive ways and to chain them for maximum points. Published by Devolver Digital, this is a highly anticipated indie game.

Starting in a warehouse when a glowing floating banana wakes you up and guides you out, it appears the warehouse is full of henchmen who don’t want you to leave. You must escape and take out these henchmen in the coolest way possible.

My Friend Pedro is all about the gameplay; it’s just pure play and pure fun. You can jump, wall jump, hit, kick, evade (which is a cool little spin), roll and shoot; these mechanics put together to create one of the best game flows I’ve felt in a very long time.

You will jump off a wall, roll, stand up, shoot, then evade; it feels so responsive and innate. Additionally, you can slow down time allowing you to aim with more precision as well as do an awesome spin in the air. Furthermore, if you have two weapons, you can set a lock with one hand while the other has free aim allowing you to clear out sections quickly.

The demo ended with me on a motorbike drinking down a highway, popping wheelies, doing backflips and shooting down cars.

Graphically the game is simplistic with character models being the defining feature. The backgrounds have this noir-esque feel too them, concentrating more on the lighting than the environment itself.

Though, tonally, it fits well with the game providing an ambience to the proceedings. Its strength is that it does not distract from the gameplay, that’s key to the talent of the artist; they knew the gameplay was more important.

So, what do I think? I think this game is fantastic. It’s just so fun! When I put the controller down, I had a grin and knew I’d be buying it.

Everything flows with the game, but most importantly, it just plays well. It reminded me of being a teenager and playing the Tony Hawk games, that enjoyment of just playing. The way you can chain everything together, it’s absorbing and refreshing.

The Switch is the perfect home for this type of title, and for those without a great deal of time, that pick up and play mentality, blast a level here and there, then back to work.

My Friend Pedro is set for a June 2019 release date for Windows and Switch, so grab a banana and go dancing.

Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night

Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night – Going Back To The Castle…

Ritual of the Night, a stark resemblance to its predecessor’s title; for many it will undoubtedly conjure nostalgia and quality.

That predecessor, for many, is a crowning achievement in video gaming, in many lists of the greatest videogames of all time and responsible for coining the term ‘Metroidvania’.

So, this game has some boots to fill, some big ass, sexy, kinky boots that would make some foot fetish person descend into some erotic madness… you know, those kinds of boots.

I have been somewhat hesitant of this title. As a fan of the Metroidvania genre (Super Metroid is my favourite game of all time) and as a lover of the Castlevania games that adopted this playstyle – yes, even the Gameboy Advance and DS bad boys – something felt off.

Watching early demo and gameplay footage, it seemed a bit bare, hollow and clinical. There was no emotion to it; it felt paint by numbers to appease fans.

However, I had faith and was allowed to try out the game. So, does it deserve to reinterpret a beloved title or is it just another Kickstarter corpse?

Readers who may not be aware of what I am talking about: Bloodstained is the spiritual successor to Castlevania and notably Symphony of the Night; the highest rated game in the classic series.

Sharing the same producer, Koji Igarashi, it surpassed its Kickstarter goal and is one of the highest funded products on the platform. Published by 505 Games and with the help of WayForward (who made the criminally underrated The Mummy Demastered), the game has somewhat turned into a cult supergroup.

Bloodstained has you play as Miriam, an Orphan Alchemist who has undergone experiments that allow her to have demonic crystals transplanted into her body.

Now, Miriam must stop another alchemist who had the same experiment, Gebel. Succumbed by the demon crystals, he has lost his humanity. In defeating Gebel, Miriam will end the demon outbreak and retain her humanity.

The gameplay is pretty much what is to be expected from a spiritual successor of the Castlevania series from Koji. A Metroidvania style game where exploration and levelling up is key to your success.

Leveling up is done like a traditional JRPG where experience points are given by defeating enemies and items such as weaponry and clothing provide stat bonuses. Also, you gain abilities by defeating enemies and absorbing their crystals.

Unlike its predecessor, Bloodstained has gone for a 2.5D look that really adds a modern feel to the game; using the dimension to give the world depth and a geographical sense.

A little addition is that the item of clothing selected shows up on your character; it’s something small but really goes a long way. It’s these tweaks that really add a modern touch and make the game look amazing. Moreover, the characters have a cel-shaded aesthetic that keeps it feeling nostalgic.

The demo I played started you on a boat heading to the castle when the demon force ambushes you. You must explore the boat and kill the demons. Though a small area, there was much to find and explore, you can read books to learn more, you can interact with cannons to blow up walls, and the monster types were varied enough to keep it from getting stale.

But how does it play? I hear you scream, calm down, you’ll wake up your children.

I can safely say that it only took a couple of seconds for all my anxiety to fade. It’s fantastic.

It feels slicker, it looks more beautiful and it plays just how you want it to play. Speaking with a representative, 505 games told me that the game’s speed is the same as Symphony of Night.

Hours of gameplay and various playable characters; this is something where you’ll get your money’s worth. This is a game that many have been crying for, and it delivers. Made for the fans but not for their money – for their love.

Bloodstained is set for release June 18th 2019 for Windows, Xbox and PS4. The Switch version hits slightly later on June 25th:

Mice On Venus – A Singular Vision

It’s always day time here, especially during the night. The artificial sun rays saturate my room from the surrounding buildings, displaying all the shades of red, blue and green.

Laying here, I stare at the waltz dance of the swaying dust particles illuminated by the hues; it’s not long until my meditation is broken. A repetitious blinking light protrudes from the corner of my room, begging for my attention like a child to their mother. I quickly stand and move to mother the console, for I have heard the child’s cry, the cry of a job… The only cry I receive.

A cry for a missing package. Let’s hope the destination remains the same. To the bar, I go and speak with the client, see if I get any leads from him.

It’s a methodical job; tracking the civilians of this grand city. The mundane lives brought by the industry – wake up, work, home, pub, mistress; the same day in, day out. Not I, I would rather be dead… hell, I actively search it at times.

Stepping into the sunstroke streets, I inhale the dense fog into my lungs, the damp air solidifying on my lungs. The city glows from the neon lights humming in the fog and reflecting from the rain-soaked pavement. An outsider would say it looks beautiful, like a painting of Valhalla.

Yes, video game Mice on Venus is being developed by Callum Hancock. An ambitious project, it’s shaping up to be something interesting.

It’s a detective simulation game about investigating cases with ambiguous morality.

Mankind has left Earth, setting up colonies floating in the upper atmosphere of the planet Venus. You play as a PI, and you need to solve cases assigned to you by the world’s citizens. It’s up to you how to go about solving each of the cases.

Each case plays out as a routine, where the world’s citizens follow their own simulated schedules throughout each day. The player must navigate these routines to intercept targets, follow leads and gain information.

I can’t wait to hear more about Mice on Venus.

Omega Strike Review [Switch] – Bringing Back The ’90s

Jack Boyles reviews Omega Strike…

The ’90s were the golden age of action in popular culture. You had such great action movies, movies like Die Hard 2, T2 or Cliffhanger; movies that made you sit down and thrilled you with its set pieces. But these films know pacing — they knew not to shove you with stuff every two seconds.

Then there were ’90s video games. The arcades, light gun games, beat em ups; games like Final Fight, Metal Slug. You also had the console market boom with Nintendo vs Sega. Titles like Metroid, Earthworm Jim or Robocop vs Terminator; the action was everywhere, and it served one purpose, to entertain.

Nowadays, action movies and video games take themselves seriously, albeit ridiculous in nature. I feel that creators miss an important part of what made the action entertainment from this era great… Charm.

However, the team at Woblyware have reminded us of a simpler time of gaming with their title, Omega Strike.

Omega Strike has you play as three freedom fighters whose mission is to stop Doctor Omega and his mutant army from dominating the world. Playing as three of the freedom fighters, you must explore the world to find treasure and abilities in this Metroidvania game.

As previously stated, you play as three characters, the main character being Sarge, a Rambo inspired rifleman who has slick hair, the bulking muscle man Bear equipped with his grenade launcher and Dex the agility character with a shotgun. Each character has their abilities that help you access previously inaccessible areas.

The very start of the game has you with all three playable characters. Upon your first meeting of Doctor Omega, he captures Dex and Bear in a classic ‘removal of power’ move that is a staple of the Metroidvania genre. From here you must find Bear and Dex as well as the remaining power-ups scattered across the open world design. Exploring the map, you’ll come across treasure that gives you chunks of money. Destroying barrels and enemies also drops coins that can be used to buy weapon upgrades.

Though, exploration is a big part of the game. So is blasting down enemies. Bear’s grenades bounce and dip making it suitable for hitting enemies below you, Dex’s shotgun is powerful but has a small range, and Sarge’s rifle has the best range but medium power. Flicking through the players on the fly makes this an easy task.

It’s how solid the game feels that is one of the joyous parts of Omega Strike. The way the game plays is extremely polished and responsive. Jumping from platform to platform and dispatching enemies is generally satisfying; you easily slip into the game flow. At times, it doesn’t even feel like a Metroidvania title and would be more suited too a run and gun game from the ’90s.

Omega Strike is a love letter to ’90s video games on the SNES and Megadrive. The 2D pixel art graphics just spark nostalgia from that era of gaming, opting for a cartoon/simpler look than gritty details.

Furthermore, the soundtrack sounds like many of the instrumentals from a SNES cartridge. The tunes also are very hummable which is something lost from video games today; again, harking back to that ’90s generation of gaming.

Though, as polished as this game is, this becomes one of its issues; it never excels in any department.

The game offers no mini map, a staple in Metroidvania titles since Super Metroid. Unlocking the powers does no more than opening previously inaccessible areas and doesn’t change the way you play or think about the game.

As fun as shooting enemies is, it’s annoying not being able to shoot diagonally; meaning you must jump and shoot whenever an enemy is above or bounce Bear’s grenades off the walls in an attempt to hit an enemy below you.

Moreover, you can only switch the player in a preset way. So, if you want Sarge and you are Bear, you’ll have to scan through Dex to get to Sarge. I feel the ability to switch back and forth would add more depth.

Despite these issues, Omega Strike is a fun and polished game which makes these hiccups just bizarre. Though I cannot deny that is a good game and is enjoyable from start to finish. It may not execute everything correctly but what it does, it does it well enough to make the whole experience cohesively entertaining and engaging.

Both modern and retro gamers will find something in this indie title, though I feel people from the ’90s will get more out of this game.

So, grab your bucket hat and popper trousers.

Indie Title Disco Elysium – Deprived Fun

Jack Boyles takes a look at indie game Disco Elysium…

“When did it all change? When did we become so deprived? So feral? I see these streets, these deteriorating streets in denial with itself, desperately holding onto a more prolific time. And its citizens have all aged with it. Staring with their vacant eyes, expressionless, lost in their own refutation. But then there is me, I. What is I? Where do I fit? After all, I am no different from these inhabitants, dumbfounded and alone in an age of irrationality”.

As we know from my previous articles such as Pixel Noir (my first article for Nitchigamer) I’m a big fan of film noir. The pessimistic world view is something I can relate too. Being a working-class male brought up in a town ravaged by pit closures, not evolving and just lying there stagnated. So, to my pleasure, I got my hands on a new detective game that fits nicely in that world view, Disco Elysium.

Disco Elysium is an isometric RPG that is heavily inspired by tabletop RPG’s using a dice/luck mechanic to see if you are successful in your decision and dialogue. Developed by Zaum Studio and published by Humble Bundle, it markets itself as a hardboiled show in a fantasy setting.

You play as Revachol West, a shamed lieutenant detective of a shore town where misfeasance lays around every corner. You must keep your character’s sanity in check while trying to solve cases, interrogate suspects or explore the streets. The game features many open-ended cases leaving player expression to address them.

Glancing at the game, you are instantly drawn in by the visuals. The game looks beautiful, yet it still manages to have this sense of grit. A painted aesthetic gives a very expressionistic feeling to it, how it uses colour and shade to add detail to the environments instead of having each little detailed applied to them. However, this allows the developers to make the settings more nuanced; for example, a rug with a corner overturned or segments of the tiled flooring wear and tear. This is an excellent example of how strong rendered graphics are and how they can add so much personality into environments. Even the skill cards have the Francis Bacon look of body-distorted imagery. It’s these artistic choices that make Disco Elysium standout from most other indie games as well as showing the quality of the game and focus on encapsulating the mood of the world.

If the visuals weren’t enough for you, the gameplay follows suit with its same level of quality. As I previously stated, this game takes the tabletop formula of dice roll/chance gameplay. You’ll be given certain dialogue trees depending on your stats, though you will have a certain chance of this dialogue being successful which is represented by a dice roll. It’s no different to chance/stat based choices in RPG games such as the early Fallout games. Though it’s that dice roll that makes it more engaging and impactful; like the ball spinning on a roulette wheel, it reminds you that odds are just odds. Furthermore, the dialogue options are plentiful, sometimes hitting around seven choices and specialist choices appearing due to your stats; this game has the potential for many watercooler chatting moments.

Though it’s the skill system in Disco Elysium that surprises yet again, instead of going for your typical speech, charism skills; Disco Elysium goes with a more psychological skill base. You have four tiers of skills: Psyche, Intelligence, Physique and Motoric, all with there own attributes such as Empathy, Conceptualization and Composure to name a few. It’s here you craft what type of detective you are but not by the skills they have but by their personality, doubts and instincts.

The demo starts me with choosing a character type. I went with the alcoholic detective because that’s the type of detective I am. The intro had this inner monologue/debate my character was having with himself, the empathy side and the damn crazed one; me keeping them both in check.

Waking up in my apartment with a smashed window, it’s here you start to realise that as much of an RPG the game is, it’s also a point and click adventure game. Collecting and inspecting your environment and items to put in your inventory and/or for clues. Staring into a mirror, you once again have an internal monologue — to which I made my mess of a detective be that delirious he thought he was handsome (like I said, my kind of detective) which then displayed a character icon at the bottom of my screen of a crazed delirious man… Genius.

It’s from your inventory menu you can select items of clothing, and I refused to find my lost shoe, resulting in a detective walking around with one shoe on… Genius.

From here I spoke with many NPC characters to find out what happened and who I am (because of his drunk ways). I tried to hit on my neighbour. I spoke with the landlord who wasn’t my biggest fan and a colleague who I pretended to know what he was going on about. These characters were top notch and believable due to the excellent writing; I expect to see many memorable characters when the full game is released.

I loved this game and from speaking with other people (the lads at Special Moves Podcast when I bumped into them) are also enjoying this game. It’s just brimming with quality from top to bottom, in all aspects of the game – especially the writing; it’s really impressive. The level of choices you get, I walked away from the demo knowing that’s my detective, the alcoholic, one shoe wearing delirious man and because of those choices, it was my story.

It’s the grey choices that make these types of RPGs enthralling and the team at Zaum Studios know this. The choices I made didn’t feel like good or bad, they felt like choices that could go either way; making my decisions are more impactful because I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. Likewise, the chance mechanic, sometimes that choice might fall flat on its bottom. They are mixing the adventure game genre with RPG elements with stats based on emotions and personality traits. You can see this game going into interesting territory and with the buzz already surrounding this game; so can everyone else.

Disco Elysium is one of the most original, unique and fun RPGs that diehard fans of the genre have been waiting for; this is one game that is going to be a highlight of the indie game scene.

A Look At Indie Title ‘Obviously Inappropriate Content’

Jack Boyles takes a look at indie title Obviously Inappropriate Content…

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Censorship has always been an issue with the game industry; from the days of Mortal Kombat and Night Trap to Grand Theft Auto and South Park: The Stick of Truth. However, it does feel that video games are another convenient scapegoat, and they always will be if we keep shrugging. Pieces of entertainment that change people into the ‘violent, anti-social demons that are here to corrupt your children and loved ones’.

Yet we don’t question society itself not nearly enough on real issues, the fake news phenomenon, proxy wars, news narratives, religion, politics, governments who in reality couldn’t care less, the complete lack of proper workers’ rights and investment, austerity, appalling homelessness; these things that influence our lives and behaviour; people are defined by their experiences.

Appropriate then, that a game is being developed about censorship in video games…

Obviously Inappropriate Content is an Orwellian 2D Shooter Job Simulator. You play a 2D action game which cuts to a desktop mode in which you receive emails. The emails will give you tasks within the 2D game mode, like to screenshot swear words, for example, that you upload in desktop mode.

Think, ‘Metal Slug’ meets ‘Papers Please’. But why, as the player, are we doing this? Well, I’m going to tell you in the next paragraph.

The government is ruled by ‘The Supreme Leader’, who enforces regulations to encourage a positive lifestyle upon the country. You play as a game tester; your job is to censor the videogame in conjunction with the government’s regulations. Throughout the game, the regulations become more frequent, vaguer and longer. However, the company you work for have their own interests at heart that are in opposition to the government. It’s your job to censor enough to keep the government happy, while still maintaining the trust of your company. Your choices will determine the outcome of the game.

The 2D shooter section is the game you are testing called ‘Ural Death Machine’. You run from the left side of the screen to the right, shooting enemies and throwing grenades; dealing with waves of enemies and boss battles such as helicopters. These sections of OIC could be a standalone game. It may lack the finesse of other run and gun games, it still plays fantastically well. Only for that enjoyment to sap when you come across a ‘glitch’ or something you must censor. It really portrays how I imagine game testing is; a mixture of excitement and tedium.

Then you have the desktop mode, in which you receive and respond to emails or messengers from various staff members and government authorities. It’s here you submit your findings, acquire objectives and sustain feedback from either company or government.

Due to the desktop mode, the game (for now) requires the use of a mouse though for the platforming sections you can use either joypad or keyboard. This could be an issue for console porting if an alternative can not be found.

It’s a rarity that we come across games that try and say something worthwhile. Based on the developer – Shuaiying Hou – his own experience of censorship, with the goal of the game to express the effects of censorship within the industry and society.

In my opinion, the triple AAA industry is still making ‘mature’ games that are actually aimed at children. It’s refreshing to see a culture of developers push the medium in a respectable way.

As a fan of dystopian/political satire/social commentary in my video games such as BioShock, the Oddworld series or Deus Ex; it’s great to see a game put you in the shoes of someone who must make that decision.

Someone who asks themselves, is this right? A playable demo can be found here.

Indie Title Eldest Souls – Beware Of The Gods

Happy New Year everyone.

The gods have dealt their hand and the message is understood, they don’t want humanity to succeed any more. Such a futile and archaic notion that the gods think they can prosper without humanity. Who would be there to serve them? Who would be there to pray to them? It is man that gives them power in exchange for hope; now they give us disparity. What the god’s fail to understand is, that man together provides hope, man together provides power. Fear not gods, it will be the hands of a man that will end your tyranny.

Jack Boyles discusses Eldest Souls…

The Souls-like genre (I know, I hate the name too) has been a genre that has exploded the past few years due to the success of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. As such, we’ve seen games like ‘Salt and Sanctuary’, ‘The Surge’ and ‘Elex’ arrive with challenging yet rewarding gameplay; Souls games are slower paced, there’s more strategy and more thinking required than your typical action adventure game. Though it’s not just the gameplay that make the Souls games great, it’s the world building, lore and atmosphere; some of the examples above have these elements within their games yet they never feel a cohesive whole.

Eldest Souls is an independent game made by Italian Studio ‘Fallen Flag’. Pitched as a Pixel-art Souls-like RPG, as you can tell from the title, it proudly wears its influence on its sleeve.

Humanity has been thriving with kingdoms blossoming on the once forsaken temples which imprison the old god. In retaliation, the old gods have unleashed a great desolation on the world as crops turn to barren wastelands. It’s your job as a lone warrior to slay the old gods ending the great desolation.

Firstly, the pixel art is nothing but outstanding. It manages to evoke so much atmosphere and it really captures the true art of using pixels. Little details of vines hanging from a tree, swords sticking into the ground from fallen warriors all elicit this sense of deprivation using limited visual fidelity.

Then you have the enemy designs, these giant creatures visually show their experience of battle, standing there panting and looking haggard. Everything looks aged and windswept as you travel through the forsaken land. It’s an impressive feat to achieve that sense of foreboding using pixel art, yet it’s that restriction in quality that enhances the atmosphere.

To my surprise the sound design didn’t follow suit with the retro aesthetic, instead, choosing to go with more grounded and realistic sounds. However, it works and works very well. If anything, it supplements the art direction and atmosphere using realistic sounds to strength the sense of danger. It reminds you this world matters and doesn’t care about you.

Sounds are an indicator to the player, as certain roars of enemies let the player know what attack is coming; here that is more important as enemies can’t really indicate attacks by animation as clearly. Furthermore, we have the soundtrack, like Dark Souls, it is very silent allowing the ambience to lure you into this world but when the time comes erupts to heighten your senses; it keeps you alert and to add gravitas to boss battles.

There is no need to worry though, Eldest Souls is a satisfying game to play. Never did I once feel like the character was doing something I didn’t want him to do nor was there any latency. He dashed when I wanted him to dash and he swung his sword when I wanted him to, which is precisely what you want with an game such as Eldest Souls; you would forget the demo I played is still in Alpha.

The introduction of Eldest Souls is surprisingly slow. You wander through the land looking at what has failed before you. Along the way, there are hazards like a strong wind gushing parts of a rickety bridge apart and a spike trap you must avoid. Though these are minor, it does create a small amount of tension and lets the player know that they shouldn’t get comfortable. But most of all it really establishes the sense of isolation; a long hollow walk into an unknown land.

It’s here the game acts as a tutorial, setting up various situations to get to know the controls like smashing down a wooden wall or dashing through the spike traps. Stamina works slightly different to other Souls games, as you have three little bars. A dash will use one bar, upon using all three bars you’ll only be able to dash once a bar is fully filled.

Arriving at the boss you quickly grasp that the combat is more offensive like Bloodborne. As a first boss, I’ll admit it I got slapped about a few times. Unlike those games where you can use what stamina you have as soon as it builds, Eldest Souls lets you wait until the bar fills, meaning any wrong movement has a detrimental effect on you. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to spend with the game, albeit what I played I enjoyed.

Eldest Souls captures the spirit of its obvious inspiration. It may not do much to change the formula but what it does offer is a refined gaming experience. With From Software leaving the Souls brand, as well as the stamina bar in Sekiro; this may be the right game for that core Souls audience.

As polished as Eldest Souls is already, my only concern for the game is the amount of Souls-Borne games we’ve seen; will this game stand up to the already saturated market?

Only time will tell.

Uncanny Valley Review [Switch] – Running Away Leads To More Trouble

Sometimes you just need a fresh start – a switch in lifestyles. To pack your things and go. Sometimes you just need to take the risk for your own sanity or to better yourself. A new start, wiping your history, forward thinking is human nature – we run. But no matter how far you run, the past will catch up and come to terms with; for your own sanity… or to better yourself. Jack Boyles reviews Uncanny Valley…

Uncanny Valley has you playing as Tom who is starting a new job as a nightshift security guard in an isolated, abandoned facility. At the start of the game, Tom is a man who appears to be running from something in his past, evidence from the decision to work for this employer and the nightmares that inhabit his dreams.

Though Tom is not completely alone, he has the company day shift security guard, Buck who is rather a lazy man and Eve, a woman who keeps the facility clean and is reminded of someone in her past when she sees Tom. And that my gorgeous reader, is all you are going to know about the story because the less you know, the better the experience.

Uncanny Valley is a narrative-driven survival horror game that states in the opening:

‘Every action you take within the game will lead to different outcomes. To fully experience Uncanny Valley, multiple playthroughs are recommended’.

There is much to uncover in Uncanny Valley. However, do not be put off by the multiple playthroughs, as a playthrough can last anywhere from 20 minutes to roughly 3 hours maximum. It’s this short length that makes Uncanny Valley compelling to play multiple times.

Moreover, the story-driven game will make you play it several times since, in my opinion, this is one of the better horror narratives out there. It may not have the symbolism and subtext of Silent Hill or the Hollywood budget of Resident Evil. What Uncanny Valley offers is a more grounded and thought-provoking horror experience.

You routinely (well you don’t have to if you don’t want to) go to work, this repeated mundanity gives you time to explore the facility. Picking breadcrumbs of information scattered across the facility, finding out what happened there. If you are like me, you may figure out what’s happening before the reveal. But when I saw the reveal for the first time, it didn’t stop it from being impactful; it was more impactful. It’s kind of Hitchcockian in that way; let the audience know to build the tension and it’s that slow build of tension that makes Uncanny Valley’s narrative compelling.

Furthermore, your actions really alter the game, with many of my playthroughs having different events, scenarios and endings. It’s in your second playthrough you start to realize how these actions really do affect these outcomes. As one new small change can alter your previous conception of coming events. A small detail you may have forgotten about in the first playthrough may have a much bigger impact.

The developer Cowardly Creations, not only make you think about the decisions you can make but how your knowledge of coming events may still influence your current playthrough.

Additionally, it’s not only narrative consequences you must think of when playing Uncanny Valley. The gameplay can be affected by the consequence system as Tom can get injured in various parts of the body stopping him doing certain actions. A knee injury will stop Tom from crawling in vents or an injured arm will affect him using a weapon.

Marketed as a 2D pixel art story-driven survival horror game, I feel the game takes its cues from adventure games. Gameplay is more about solving puzzles using lateral thinking to progress the story or get you out of situations.

Also, there is a slight stealth mechanic, requiring you to hide more than fight due to the enemies withstanding bullets. Hiding spots such as vents are advisable due to Tom’s lack of stamina – making him easy prey if spotted.

Credit is due to the sound designer for making the enemies terrifying. Hearing the loud bang of the enemy’s movements will instantly set a sense of dread within you as you know if they see you… Tom’s physique is no match. The loud grunted speech when they spot you will jolt you with fear, making you panic.

Added with the raw pixel art aesthetic, it tonally hits its mark. The pixel art, with its limited fidelity mirrors that of the narrative, uncertainty; enough detail for you to know what’s happening but with the finer details missing.

The game isn’t for everyone though. Many players may dislike having to start again and not loading saves at various points to change story outcomes. Another issue I could see some players having is that Tom struggles to defend himself even with a handgun — not being able to run for long period of time; as the result in death can see you starting from the beginning of the game.

I did encounter a glitch where Buck went home from his shift for him to reappear at the end of my shift. It was nothing game breaking and didn’t affect anything storyline wise; though hopefully, nothing like that will come at important times within the game.

Uncanny Valley is a narrative based survival horror game that rivals other indie horror titles and some AAA horror titles. The story twists and turns like a great thriller novel.

Added with the sense of foreboding atmosphere and some terrifying moments executed by its tension building techniques. For me, it’s a great horror experience, throwing away the generic jump scare an opting for an unsettling experience.

As the game is relatively short, it goes hand in hand with the Switch’s pick up and play design. There always feels like there is more to uncover and you will want to keep starting afresh to find what else Uncanny Valley has up its sleeve.

Soundfall – Shooting To The Rhythm

An interview by Jack Boyles.

The rhythm game at one point was a profitable move. Drunkards playing guitar hero in pubs, Sing Stars own YouTube and Bongo playing fun; rhythm-based games were social gaming at its best.

Students in their dorms or families at Christmas were all jamming out on plastic peripherals. Like all gaming fads, rhythm games became oversaturated. People moved on and the peripherals found a new home in your local pawn shop or market. However, in the past few years, a resurgence in rhythm games has started brewing amongst a certain gaming crowd and one such game is brewing in a cauldron; that game is Soundfall.

Developers Drastic Games have set their ambitious busy minds on reinvigorating the rhythm genre. As Soundfall isn’t just a typical rhythm game, it’s a twin-stick shooting, dungeon crawler rhythm game where you blast enemies to the beat of the music. And it bloody well works.

In Soundfall, you must run around these Sci-fi/Fantasy procedurally generated landscapes, destroying enemies, staying alive and grabbing loot. Yet to get serious points, it’s all about blasting to the beat.

First, it all seems overwhelming; enemies chasing you, bullets flying everywhere and keeping to a beat seems like a lot to take in. Then composure settles in, you start to see the word ‘Good’ pop up, you get into the flow, now the word ‘Great’ and then before you know it, everything in its right place.

This was no easy feat, speaking with Nick Cooper, he and his partner Julian Trutmann had tough questions they had to answer themselves:

“In an action game like ours, there are a lot of things to manage. Like enemies spawning in, environmental hazards and exploration, and making everything smooth, and seamless by paying attention to that — and still paying attention to the music was a big challenge.

“How do we communicate that visually? How do we communicate that through sound? Also, a big challenge to communicate was ‘ohh, you hit your action onbeat not offbeat’, how do we make that clear and at the same time not making noise, in terms of both effects and sounds; not to see or hear what’s going on. To make that distinction whilst not being overwhelmed was a challenge”.

It’s that fine balance Drastic Games absolutely level. Looking at the game and playing is intense but you grasp it so suddenly that it just proves the talent of these two developers. Within a good minute, you’ll be running around blasting enemies away like some Colonel composing Moonlight Sonata with Navy Missile Launchers; basking in a sensory overload.

As ex-Epic employees who have worked on Fortnite and Gears of War; Drastic Games know the importance of quality and accessibility.

“[We want the game to be] easy to learn, difficult to master. We want to satisfy those hardcore players who want it to be crazy rhythm, bullet hell. But we also want to satisfy the player who want to pick up and jam out to their favorite tunes”.

Soundfall is a game beaming with life, from its use of colours, the environments, character and enemy design. This game art style is like a good fresh glass of juice; revitalizing. It’s tone perfectly complements the premises of the game. The main characters are instantly recognizable in their sci-fi body suits and giant swords. Enemies in the game dance towards you in a cute kind of way; it has the charisma of a Saturday morning cartoon.

Yet it’s how all of this works together that creates a sense of cohesion. Talking about these elements in the aesthetic, Nick said:

“How do we make it so everything in the world behaves in time with the music. We want enemies to act on the beat, we want trees in the background to dance on beat, we want other hazards to act on beat; we want everything to be all tied in with the sound”.

This pulsation in the design pumps you up — it helps you understand the beat. A small touch that’s nothing short of genius.

For demo purposes, only dance music was available, albeit a little inoffensive for me, it creates the perfect soundtrack to the concurrent presentation. It’s all energetic, capturing the essence of what Soundfall is, a pick up and play fun time.

When asking how they chose the music for Soundfall, Nick said:

“We found a bunch of up-and-coming artists we thought were a great fit for the game and art style. We plan on having a wide variety of music to play in Soundfall”.

The demo I played was nothing short of brilliant. I’m not much of a twin-stick shooter guy but here there is enough going on for me to want to play the game.

Soundfall is incredibly polished in every aspect. I found myself bopping along to the music and dispatching enemies as I went from segment to segment, zipping through lasers, collecting loot and beat-blasting enemies.

Above all, you can’t help but feel that this is something special and will be a hit among many a gamer. The title is already building some buzz, with YouTube videos of a family dancing to the trailer and people cosplaying the characters; a hit, I’m sure it will be.

To listen to the full interview click here.

Backworlds – 9 Years In The Making

A lot can change in 9 years; I mean, 9 years ago I would have been 20 years old. I was a university student, playing Halo 3 online, being intoxicated 80% of the week and I was a smoker.

Now I have a job, rarely play an online game – unless its souls/borne or Titanfall 2, I’m lucky to be intoxicated 10% in a single month and I haven’t smoked in at least 3 years. I think of the person I was back then to the person I am now, and the pass self is unrecognizable; a mere fictious entity created by palpable imagination.

Therefore, when I had the chance to speak with Juha Kangas one of the two developers of the indie title Backworlds, I took the chance. You see beautiful reader, Backworlds has been in development for 9 years… 9 Years!

…I smoked 9 years ago.

Backworlds is a puzzle platformer where you play as this cat-like animal traversing luscious landscapes. To navigate the areas, you paint onto the world that reveals another dimension. This other universe will either exhibit hidden platforms or objects, alter the physics within the area or uncloak hidden pathways.

The game manages to adapt both lateral thinking puzzles with the unique painted dimension mechanic compliment each other, making both feel like one and the same. It’s credit to the game design, as complex as the mechanic sounds the game telegraphs the puzzles perfectly to you; never enough to hold your hand but never enough for you to feel lost, instead it gives you a wink.

Speaking with Juha regarding the concept of mechanics and puzzles he went on to say:

“We were in a game jam, it was about 8 years ago, where we got some art and based it on that. We wanted to do something with painting. We would try different concepts like drawing platforms yourself and stuff like that, and then we came up with this thing where you were drawing a mask to show a parallel world”.

Juha went on further to say:

“Other games came out during the making of the game that caused some big changes, for example the game use to be linear at one point but (games) like Fez and stuff like that came out and we was like ok we should make it more open, and now you can skip puzzles just by walking past them”.

But it’s not only the gameplay mechanic and puzzles that stand out. Backworlds art style is simplistic yet beautiful – in addition, it captures the imagination and essence of the game. Talking to Juha about the distinctive art direction, he told me:

“Early inspiration for us was an Irish movie called ‘The Secret of Kells’, an animated movie and that was a big inspiration for us. Then we looked some other things, like ‘Samurai Jack’ and these things that have, like a flat art style that purposefully don’t have a lot of depth to them and we adapted that to our own style”.

Juha also hinted that there may be more to the art style than we think:

“There is no explicit narrative, but there is something at the end of it, that will make you think about the game a bit more – after you’ve played it your like, maybe the art of the game had some more meaning to it”.

After my time with Backworlds you can’t help but think this could – and should – be one of the indie darlings. Those select few indie games that tear through the fabric and gain access to the collective conscious of the everyday gamer.

After a brief time with the game, you quickly realise: this isn’t just one of the best indie games made, it’s one of the best games ever made and I am most certain upon its release many will share the same thought.

I hit many eureka moments within the demo and I am sure there will be many more to come when the full game comes out. An excellently crafted game with a unique idea that is executed perfectly; an absolute sublime work of art.

You can listen to the full interview here and check out Jack’s podcast Drinking Games Podcast.