The Swords of Ditto, from developers Onebitbeyond, should probably have been talked about before now. It’s got everything you could possibly want from an indie action adventure game:
Swords of Ditto – Indie Action Adventure
As you can see from the trailer, there’s beautiful 2D graphics, upbeat tunes and old-school game design. What more could you ask for? Co-op play and procedurally generated and bite-sized adventures, you say? Well, The Swords of Ditto has all of that going for it too.
Today the developers also announced that the PS4 version of the game would have an exclusive LocoRoco themed quest for you to discover. I’m a sucker for LocoRoco, so I’m happy whenever I get to see those little yellow guys’ smiling faces.
The Swords of Ditto will be launching on PC and PS4 on the 24th of April.
There’s not going to be many names more difficult to remember or type out this year than Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀rs.
Aside from the difficult name, it’s also a noteworthy release thanks to the fact that it’s not just a remaster of a 15-year-old game, but it’s a game published by Konami. The Japanese publisher has been less than prolific in their releases lately and seemed quite happy to fade away from the games industry entirely.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀rs
Moving on, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀rs looks like it’s had some real love and care poured over it. The video below clearly showcases just what the development team have been up to in bringing the game kicking and screaming into the modern age. They’ve done a whole load of work but it boils down to making the game look really sharp and 4K ready:
Zone of the Enders: the 2nd Runner M∀rs also has a ‘1st Person VT Mode’ being touted on its promotional materials. What this mode actually consists of can’t be confirmed yet. Perhaps you’ll be able to play through the whole game in this mode, perhaps not.
It’s fair to say that the original Zone of the Enders was mainly sold to people through a demo for Metal Gear Solid 2 – there’s no way I was the only one who did that. Still, a pleasant surprise was in store for people happy to pay ridiculous amounts of money for a demo. It turned out that the original Zone of the Enders was a great game and this was also true of the 2003 sequel.
Look out for Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀rs when it launches on the PS4 and PC this September.
When reading about indie games it used to be that the bar was set a little bit lower for the small teams that made them. We used to be more forgiving if a title didn’t have quite the sheen that you’d see out of an ‘AAA’ studio. I mean, what do you expect when you’ve only got a team of 5 people working on a game?
This isn’t the case anymore. Nowadays smaller teams are measured on the same scale as anyone else. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by Iconoclasts’ development story. This is because Iconoclasts is a smart, challenging and gorgeous ‘puzzle-action platformer’ that was made by one person. The music, the programming, the writing and the visuals – everything.
So maybe you’ve read the term ‘action-puzzle platformer’ before or maybe it’s a new term I’ve just made up. Who’s to say? In simple terms, Iconoclasts has you playing as Robin, who’s a mechanic with a spanner and a stun gun. This means you jump from platform to platform, using your wrench to fix things, move platforms around and solve puzzles. You’ll also use your stun gun to shoot at the numerous nasties that litter the levels too.
Yes, I could have said ‘this is a game similar to Metroid’ but that would be lazy of me, wouldn’t it? Also, whilst there is some backtracking to do, as you upgrade your moves, your wrench and your gun, there’s not as much as you’d find in a Metroid game.
The puzzles and platforming challenges are well-designed and leave you feeling clever rather than frustrated. The puzzle elements are smartly paced and placed. You’ll rarely encounter something that you ‘need to come back to’ and it’s often fairly clear what you need to do, with the challenge coming from figuring out how to do it. Some of the puzzles require a little too much controller dexterity, as you’ll need to be fairly quick on your feet to do what needs to be done.
What will also require some dexterous button pressing is the fighting and, particularly, the boss battles. Much like the puzzles, most of these are great and ask you to put into practice the skills that you’ve already honed throughout the last area you’ve just spent time in. Sadly, two or three aren’t that fun and introduce unique gameplay elements that don’t appear anywhere else in the game. One boss has you switching characters, which would be fun if you knew how the character controlled. Sadly, the first time you play as this new character and get to try out her entirely bespoke control scheme is during the middle of a hectic boss fight.
Another element that doesn’t always work is the story. I think the fact that I’m even going to talk about the story in a game of this type is pretty astounding, but Iconoclasts has a story that is worth talking about, is better developed than most ‘narrative-driven’ games and will engage mostly everyone.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers but it’s safe to say that Iconoclasts has a story that is full of character and covers some heavy topics. It’s a story about religion, challenging authority of any type and it wants you to question the things you’ve been told by your teachers, preachers and parents. It has a heavily atheist tone, which people that have strong religious beliefs may find off-putting, but it’s brave to see what looks like a simple platformer contain such a fleshed out story, setting and cast.
It’s not perfect though. Some of the dialogue goes into ‘anime’ territory for me. There are some overbearing monologues delivered throughout the game and there is a new vocabulary to learn along the way. You’ll have to pay attention and piece together just what the game is talking about when it drops in some of its unique jargon. Personally, I found it worth the effort as Iconoclasts delivered a tale that was much more dramatic and darker than its bright and breezy visuals would suggest.
Speaking of which, it’s time I address the well-drawn elephant in the room. Yes – Iconoclasts has some beautiful pixel art.
Everything you get to see throughout the game is brilliantly animated and I can think of no higher praise than to say that quality of the art reminds me of Metal Slug. Enemies bounce, sway and have a real kinetic energy to them that means you can’t keep your eyes off the screen. I may have mentioned how the varied locations are great because they’re well-designed areas to puzzle and platform through, but they’re also really nice to look at and visually varied.
What’s also incredibly wide-ranging is the music. From cheery upbeat numbers to dourer ambient pieces, it’s really impressive to think this was done by one person. Sure, it took this one person 8 years, but you can see where the time has gone and that none of it was wasted!
I always like to stay positive when it comes to reviews. This is because making a game is so very, very difficult (trust me, I know!) that I feel like a bit of an unappreciative grump when all I do is moan about said game I just got to play for free.
With this in mind, let me say that I Fell From Grace, from developer Deep Taiga, is unique. It’s brave in its decision to try something different with its writing style, has some very moody visuals and music that help the game have an overall oppressive and somewhat uneasy tone.
With the intro done, let me put my critical hat on. I Fell From Grace is really not much fun to play, has a writing style that is tiring to read and ineffective at producing an emotion other than frustration, and the game has a story that thinks it’s got a lot to say but ultimately fails to say much of anything at all.
At its most basic level, I Fell From Grace is an adventure game where you walk from left to right, from screen to screen, solving puzzles. It’s listed as a ‘point and click’ adventure, but the controls are more direct, as you control the main character (Henry). There’s not much to comment on when it comes to gameplay as all you do is move left and right, occasionally you’ll have to use an item from your inventory, make a dialogue choice and the rest of the time you’ll be pressing the ‘E’ button a whole lot to interact with everyone and everything.
I Fell From Grace Review – Falling At The First Hurdle
This wouldn’t be too bad if the game had interesting puzzles like you get in classic point and click adventures, but it doesn’t. All of the roadblocks are incredibly simplistic and unsatisfying to overcome. Something you need is stuck in a tree? Find a ladder and use the ladder. Need to see what’s happening on the other side of a vent? Find the camera and use the camera. There are no ‘Aha’ moments here so the ‘game’ itself is really not much fun to play.
The atmosphere is pretty great though. It’s always raining, everyone’s miserable, your boss is mean and heading into town means you’re greeted by homeless drug addicts huddled around flaming barrels outside failing businesses. This won’t be a setting that’s for everyone but for those of us that really appreciate a really downbeat vibe, I Fell From Grace has sorrow in spades.
The story itself appears as if it should be interesting enough and has a strong enough premise. Henry, who you play as works for some big pharmaceutical company and has a wife that is very ill. As with every character in the game, Henry and his wife are having some tough times and have dealt with some catastrophic moments in their past. I don’t want to spoil anything but let’s say that Henry and his wife suffer a tragic loss.
Henry has now become a workaholic and is determined to cure his wife, even to the detriment of actually, you know, being there for her and looking after her. It’s clear that he’s become obsessed and in his pursuit of ‘doing what’s right’ he might make some poor decisions and… fall from grace. *puts on shades*
Not Fooling Me
So what I’m saying is that this is a narrative driven game and instead of worrying about engaging puzzles, the developers have decided to focus all of their attention on telling a compelling narrative, right? Sadly, no. This is another area that I Fell From Grace fails in because the fact is that the story soon descends into meaninglessness.
What starts as a fairly engaging journey into one man’s descent into obsession is soon littered with pointless segues into events that have no bearing on the story or some which simply don’t resolve. It may be the case that playing the game over and over again could help you tie up some of these loose ends, but I’m not convinced this is the case having finished it twice. When a plot involves nightmarish warnings about ‘black spots on the ceiling’ only for you to have the credits roll without a single encounter with a ceiling-based black blotch, you have to wonder if there is any meaning behind the game’s words or actions. It all seems to think that it’s smarter than it actually is.
This is no more apparent than in the decision to make every. Single. Line. Of. Dialogue. Rhyme.
It’s hard to say why this was decided, what exactly this writing style was meant to evoke but all I can say is I grew tired of it within five minutes.
No Time To Rhyme
So I’m sorry to be such a downer on this game. As I said at the start, I really do want to enjoy the time I spend playing games and I do want to encourage developers to try new things and ultimately create great pieces of work that push the boundaries of what we think games are and can be. Sadly, I also have a duty to the game players who need to know that this is simply a failed attempt at something unique.
When reading the dialogue becomes such a chore,
it’s hard not to grow tired and start to snore.
The puzzles aren’t fun and they’re not very clever,
the same goes for the story as it’s not much better.
The graphics are nice and they help set the mood,
it’s a shame everything else just comes off as crude.
I commend you for trying something new, I Fall From Grace,
You may not know the name Luca Redwood, but you should certainly know his games. Both ‘You Must Build a Boat‘ and ‘1000000‘ are absolute must-haves for anyone that wants to play a ‘proper’ game on their mobile device. They’re both excellent puzzle games that have elements of RPG-like progression and they’re probably both dirt cheap now. Go get.
Anyway, with that in mind, it’s time to get excited about Luca’s next game, ‘Photographs’. It’s labelled as a ‘narrative puzzle game’ that interweaves five unique tales into one. The exact details of what these stories involve aren’t exactly spelt out, as you’d imagine, but they’re being touted as ‘tragic stories’. So don’t expect this to be a light-hearted affair.
What’s also worth noting is the art and music. Octavi Navarro is behind the beautiful pixel-art that’s shown throughout the trailer (and presumably the rest of the game). I’d seriously recommend you check out Thimbleweed Park, which she worked on, and her website.
When it comes to the audio, that’s courtesy of Ben Prunty and his previous credits include ‘FTL’ – which had some wonderful music.
So if you aren’t excited by this game now then you never will be. Sadly, there’s no concrete release date but we do know it will hit Steam, iOS and Android sometime this year. We’ll keep you posted.
I should also mention that this isn’t going to be some sprawling epic. From what I remember, when I played the game on the PS4, Xeodrifter is fairly short. It took me about 5 hours (ish) to finish. Which is absolutely not a knock against the game!
I’ll be honest, a large part of why I’m writing about The Legend of Bum-bo is because I find the name ‘Bum-bo’ incredibly fun to say and type. Bum-bo.
The Legend of Bum-bo – A Prequel
Another much smaller part is due to the fact that The Binding of Isaac was one of my favourite games of the last couple of years and The Legend of Bum-bo is said to be a prequel/spin-off of that game. Whilst The Legend of Bum-bo is set in the world of Isaac, it won’t play anything like the rogue-like. Instead, Bum-bo looks more like a tile-puzzle game, with all of the visuals you’d expect from a McMillan game and there’s also a sprinkling of RPG elements too.
Sadly, The Legend of Bum-bo was meant to release in December of last year and Edward McMillen tweeted recently that the game won’t be hitting Steam and iOS until ‘the first half of 2018’. Here’s Ed’s tweet;
For those wondering what’s new with the legend of bum-bo, @jamesid and I have expanded the game a bit and pushed its release back to the first half of 2018. Expect news and a teaser trailer by feb! pic.twitter.com/AEXL1BRxDu
Kudos to Afterparty. I’ve been writing up video game news stories for a while now and I’ve seen my fair share of press releases announcing new titles. So it takes something really special for me to go ‘huh, that’s a neat premise that I’d like to hear more about.’
Turns out that ‘game where you try and beat Satan in a drinking contest’ is just the very premise.
“In Afterparty, you are Milo and Lola, recently deceased best buds who suddenly find themselves staring down an eternity in hell. But there’s a loophole: outdrink Satan and he’ll grant you re-entry to Earth.”
More than just a great idea, Afterparty also has some great pedigree behind it too. This is because the developers are Night School Studios – the guys and gals behind the downright excellent Oxenfree.
Speaking of which, I’m not sure how much longer this deal is running for but Oxenfree is now… free! Head over to GOG.com to claim it right now. The deal’s only good for 24 hours (knowing how timely I am with writing news stories up this is likely hour 23) so grab it now.
It’s a long ways from release, sadly, as the game’s page says it’ll be out in 2019. We also don’t know what it’ll launch on. Let’s take a guess and say PC, PS4 and Xbox One, shall we? Oh hell, since the Switch is doing well, let’s say it’ll come out on that too.
Some of the best ‘tycoon’ games put you in tough spots and force you to make decisions. Theme Hospital and Theme Park would ask you to make choices about what items you wanted to buy and where you wanted to place them whilst also asking you to take care of hiring staff and dealing with events, like flu pandemics or broken down rides before they got out of hand.
Party Hard Tycoon is aiming to capture that Theme Hospital vibe here. It asks you plan a party, get the right equipment, food and entertainers into the right venue and then place them accordingly so your bash goes off without a hitch. Sadly, the game is littered with problems, the worst being that there’s no interesting decisions to make and throwing parties isn’t as fun as curing someone of ‘Bloaty Head’.
Some positives firstly though. Party Hard Tycoon sure has a style to it, similar to the developer’s previous game ‘Party Hard’. The characters are tiny, pixelated caricatures that are pretty recognizable even though they’re barely larger than 20 pixels tall. Punk rockers, the members of The Village People and a whole host of pop culture icons are recognisable as they rock up to your rocking party.
The loading screens also contain some lush visuals and the music is pretty good too. Which is handy given that this is a game all about partying, where music is vital, and also given the fact that you’ll be hearing the same tracks quite a few times over.
It’s a setup
So the setup is that you’re a party planner, new to the scene, and you’re looking to make a name for yourself. You set about doing this by… planning parties, obviously. You’ll start with small venues, like houses and rundown squats where only 10 or 20 people will show up.
Along the way, you’ll get some messages from random people who are all about partying and will want you to throw a shindig that meets their certain criteria. For example, some woman wanted me to throw a party that had 2 laser projectors installed at the venue whilst another time a Rastafarian chap wanted me to throw a reggae-themed party that had 4 dining room tables placed for the party goers.
You see, these challenges aren’t really complicated and they don’t force you to do anything ‘exciting’. Placing laser projectors and dining room tables is all about clicking twice and making sure you have enough money to buy the items in question. They don’t really change anything.
Which can be said of pretty much every decision you make in this game. Sure, you’re tasked with hiring a venue, selecting a theme and then hiring three members of staff to help you with the party, but these decisions aren’t interesting. They all make basic sense – if you’re hiring a rundown squat, a punk theme will be good. If you’re hiring a fancy country house, maybe a more ‘classical’ theme would be better suited? The obvious answer is yes.
You’re then also asked to place some decorations if you want, but I couldn’t see any tangible benefit to this. Green lines were drawn between the two palms tree I just plonked down, which I assumed was good, but I honestly had no idea.
More importantly, you need to place music equipment and food stations. This is also a boring decision to make because it’s not much of a decision at all. If you can afford a better speaker and if your venue has enough electricity to power it, then you buy the better speakers. If you can buy the fancier food table, do that. The more expensive lasers are more ‘effective’ so grab them. There’s no trade-off, no tough dilemma and no engagement from doing any of this. The better things are better, so it’s better to use them.
Let’s get this party started
After you’ve placed all this stuff you click ‘start party’ and watch as those nicely drawn pixel partiers strut into the venue. This is where a frantic game of plate-spinning kicks off as you try and keep the party running smoothly, right?
The party takes care of itself as whether it goes well or not has been decided already. Remember those ‘better speakers’ I mentioned? They add to the ‘hype’ of the party, with more hype leading to happier revellers. So if you could afford the better gear, your party will be better and if you couldn’t then it won’t. Simple as.
You can do a bit of fudging to make your party go better by telling your staff what to do, but this is, again, a totally unfulfilling series of clicks.
There’s just no reason not to keep telling your photographer to keep taking photos as soon as his cooldown stops. There’s no strategy to ‘using him at the right time’. None. Keep snapping away, Mr Photographer. Keep dancing for everyone, Mr Dancer. Keep refilling the tables, Mr Waiter. Keep on keeping on.
After the party’s finished you get told how many people ‘liked’ it and as a result, you can ‘level up’ as a party planner. This means you can unlock a new venue, a new theme or a new member of staff to use at your next party. This could be interesting, but whilst the venue, theme and staff members differ from party to party, the game never changes.
On top of the throwing parties, part of the game has another layer where you stare at a calendar and a map. The idea is that on different days there are different ‘types’ of partier ready to have it large in different parts of the town. So this would be an exciting chance to plan just where you’re going to throw a party and just what sort of party to throw, right? You can see that all of the rich kids are going to be up for it on Tuesday, in the Upper East side of the city. Time to plan a big bash!
Waiting to throw the perfect party isn’t actually a part of this game at all. This is because the ‘hot spots’ of where people are actively are pretty random, meaning there’s no planning and no decision making. Also, the venues you have at your disposal don’t move about, meaning that if there’s a large crowd of punk rockers looking to mosh in the South of the city, that’s tough luck. Because the ideal venue is located in the North. So there.
In the end, you’re left with a game that’s really repetitive and doesn’t ask you to do anything of real consequence. There’s no strategy, no decision making and very little impact to your actions. You simply throw bad parties until you can afford better speakers.
In a move that will only surprise people that haven’t heard of Electronic Arts before, EA has shuttered yet another studio. What is surprising is that the studio in question is Visceral Games. Visceral were hard at work on an eagerly awaited Star Wars game, with Amy Hennig spearheading development.
This was exciting because it was believed to be the re-birth of Star Wars 1313, which looked amazing but was binned once LucasArts ceased to be an actual developer and simply turned into a licensing operation. It was also exciting because Amy Hennig was one the major leaders of the Uncharted series. It was meant to be so perfect. Alas, it was simply not meant to be at all.
Visceral Games were most well known for the Dead Space series.
This is the latest developer that EA has closed down. EA is infamous for doing this and have a section of their Wikipedia page dedicated to studios they’ve shuttered.
Amy Hennig was brought onboard to direct Visceral’s ‘Uncharted-like’ Star Wars game. Her future with EA remains up in the air.
This looks like EA is moving away from single-player story-driven games in a big way. The game itself is not ‘dead’ but instead, development will ‘pivot’ to be multiplayer focused.
We have no idea who’s making this Star Wars game now. Good luck to them though.
The game itself hasn’t been cancelled but has instead seen the design take a ‘pivot’. An EA spokesperson said:
“It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design. We will maintain the stunning visuals, authenticity in the Star Wars universe, and focus on bringing a Star Wars story to life. Importantly, we are shifting the game to be a broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency, leaning into the capabilities of our Frostbite engine and reimagining central elements of the game to give players a Star Wars adventure of greater depth and breadth to explore.”
So there it is. EA close down another studio, the ‘marketplace’ has decided that single-player games don’t make enough money and this Star Wars game, which started off as the hotly anticipated Star Wars 1313, now looks like a poisoned chalice.
All the best to those at Visceral affected. Dead Space was dope.
Whilst the headline seems simple enough, it does take some explaining. Sony is a huge corporation and is made up of many companies. One of the companies that make up Sony as a whole is Sony Music Entertainment. Now we have Sony Music Entertainment branching out by creating a new label called ‘Unties’. Still with me?
Unties seems focused on publishing and promoting small indie titles. Their mission statement includes this little snippet:
With the growth of game development environments, high quality game development has become possible even in small scale environments, and the evolution of digital publishing has made it easier to distribute developed titles to users worldwide. On the other hand, with a mixed bag of titles overflowing the market, there are also situations where interesting titles are buried without being noticed.
So far so good. Where it gets interesting is that one of Unties four confirmed games is a turn-based action game called Tiny Metal. It’s going to be available on PS4, PC, Mac and Switch.
Unties is a game publisher owned by Sony Music Entertainment. Sony Music Entertainment is owned by Sony. Sony Interactive Entertainment (the PlayStation people) are also owned by Sony. Obviously.
Unties have confirmed four titles that they’ll be publishing. All are small indie titles.
One of the titles, called Tiny Metal, will be launching on the Nintendo Switch.
Weird, right? I know it’s a little long-winded but the link is there. Sony is involved in the publishing of a title which will be available on the Nintendo Switch. Sure the average consumer will see a logo for a company called Unties, but we’ll know the truth!
This has been an absolutely outstanding year for video games. I already have dozens of games that I don’t have time to play and yet it seems like every day there’s a new trailer for something that needs to be played that I probably won’t get around to.
One of those games is Frostpunk. From the people who made This War of Mine, it’s a total shift from the gritty and grim ‘civilians caught in a warzone simulator’. I kid. Frostpunk is something of a combination between Civilization and Snowpiercer and it’s just as miserable as their last game. Miserable in tone, you understand. This War of Mine was a really rather good game, which is why hopes are high for Frostpunk.
In Frostpunk you’re in charge of a town that needs to survive in harsh conditions and as a result, you have to make harsh decisions. Decisions like “Are we cool with eating dead bodies?” and “How about we enforce child labour?”
Frostpunk is being developed by 11 Bit Studios – the team that made This War of Mine.
It’s billed as a City Building Survival Game’ on their Steam page.
The tone looks to be as desperate as ever. Surviving the tough landscape will mean making tough decisions.
No release date has been announced. We’re still hoping for sometime in 2017 and it’s looking like a PC-only launch.
I’m a big fan of the Civilization series, which Frostpunk gives me the impression of. I also loved This War of Mine’s aesthetic and mood-setting, so I’m hoping these two things combine to make a truly great experience. More to come!