Solar Flux Review [Switch] – Simple, Beautiful, And Addictive

Jordan Zolan reviews Solar Flux on Nintendo Switch.

Playing Solar Flux from Firebrand Games on my Switch, I was reminded of an old quote from French novelist George Sand. He (she) said, “Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.”

With increasingly more powerful systems launching alongside intricate and massive games, it’s hard not to think the age of simplicity is a thing of the past. I love playing through experiences such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Dishonored, Red Dead, and all the rest, but sometimes I crave simplicity at its finest. Solar Flux offers just that, in the form of a beautiful puzzler with soothing notes and serene visuals. It’s a game that doesn’t pack a lot of punch but will keep you engaged and pleased for hours on end.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

Stars are on the brink of burning out, and it’s your job to reignite them before they’re gone.  The object of the game is simple; collect balls of plasma and launch them into a star, with each sun on screen denoting how many balls of plasma it needs in order to accomplish the mission. Sounds simple enough, but the strategy needed to collect and launch plasma safely is a whole different story.

The controls are exceptionally simple. Each level starts with the player needing to launch the ship by aiming towards the desired location. Once launched, the only other options are to fire plasma or use your engines, all accomplished with a touch of the screen. To launch the plasma, simply tap on the star you want to fire at, and to operate the engines, touch the screen behind the ship in the opposite direction you want it to go.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

Even though you have engines, the point of the game is to complete the mission without using them. Every time plasma is launched into a star, a 360-degree shockwave is emitted from the centre of the sun. Time the shockwave just right, and your ship will be nudged in another direction. By riding these waves, you can traverse each level, collect all the necessary plasma, and complete the mission without ever using any fuel. Finishing each level in this manner will yield the player three out of three stars. I personally make it a goal to always get a perfect score on puzzle games such as this, so I found myself replaying levels over and over to achieve perfection.

It wouldn’t be a great puzzler if there weren’t hazards stopping you from completing each mission. Scattered over the maps, you’ll find asteroids, black-holes and comets that frequently lead to your ship’s destruction. Even the stars themselves can ultimately come between you and victory. Space is a stunningly beautiful place but deadly through and through.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

As I played through the scores of levels, 80 in total, Solar Flux began to remind me of the game Zuma and of the classic arcade staple Asteroids. The relationship between physics and geometry during play is of the utmost importance. Not only do you have to launch your ship with precision aim, but you need to know the correct second to shoot plasma, in order to ride the shockwave to the next destination. Shoot too early and you’re flung off in the wrong direction or into the dead of space. Time the shot too late, and your ship could be sent hurtling into an asteroid belt. As the levels go on, I found the increase in difficulty to be both masochistically satisfying and at times wildly frustrating; just how a great puzzler should be.

The sound design is simple and yet hauntingly beautiful. The subtle notes of the underlying score have an empty feeling, giving the sense of being in a cold and vacuous place. Everything from the sound of collecting and shooting plasma, to the shockwave, and even the low hum of your engines, seem to denote an odd calmness. It’s all painfully simple but manages to pull me into the atmosphere the game is trying to create.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

I’ve always had a love for challenging puzzle games. They don’t need to be overly sophisticated in order to be good at what they’re supposed to accomplish. Games such as these force me to think in ways most big blockbuster titles don’t. I’m not exploring ancient cities or long-lost ruins, and I am not gunning down thousands of baddies with a myriad of weapons. Solar Flux simply asks you to collect and discard, but to do so perfectly will take a keen eye and a brilliant sense of timing.

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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.

Hello Neighbor: Hide And Seek Review

Hello Neighbor: Hide And Seek Review [Switch] – A Welcome Visit

Alisa Hail reviews Hello Neighbor: Hide And Seek on Nintendo Switch.

The premise of Dynamic Pixels’ original Hello Neighbor played on our curiosity. Who hasn’t, at least in passing, considered how tempting it would be to sneak into your creepy neighbor’s house and find out what sort of sinister deeds he’s been hiding behind his walls?

Hello Neighbor: Hide and Seek serves as a prequel to the original story, explaining how our neighbor, Mr Theodore Peterson, came to be the way he is. It is also an improvement on its predecessor, even though it fails to escape a few shortcomings of its own.

The story opens on a pleasant, sunny morning with Mr Peterson’s son and daughter playing a friendly game of hide-and-seek. You take over the role of the little girl, trying to outwit her brother. Through the lens of her imagination, the familiar home transforms into an Alice in Wonderland-like domain. Furniture stretches to preposterous proportions. The ceiling and walls now absurdly high above and the ground now taking on the look of a wild grassland. Each level has a unique look, adding a childlike whimsy to the already surreal art style of the game.

Each stage comes with a set of objectives that need to be fulfilled before moving on to the next. For example, the first level requires you to retrieve several stuffed animals scattered about by your brother and delivering them to a certain location. Achieving these objectives requires solving environmental puzzles or using items you will find scattered around the stage. All the while, your brother is roaming about and if he catches you, he sends you back to the start of the level.

Hello Neighbor: Hide And Seek Review

Hello Neighbor suffered from two major flaws: a glitchy gameplay experience and puzzles that were so out-of-the-box as to defy reason. Dynamic Pixels, clearly having learned from criticisms of their original title, did a worthy job of avoiding both of these shortcomings in Hide and Seek. The game played smoothly enough and I did not notice or come across any particular glitches during my play. There is also a handy feature that allows you to warp back to the starting point if you get stuck somewhere, like say perhaps within a giant bucket you hopped in without any clear plans as to how to get back out.

The game did carry over two issues that Dynamic Pixels has left untouched. Jumping frequently feels too airy and imprecise. Though the jump controls are certainly workable, I had hoped the developer would have tightened the controls as it does require platforming quite often. I also wish stackable objects clicked together when stacked to avoid the issue of objects falling over if you land on them incorrectly or accidentally get too close.

The puzzles in this prequel do a much better job of walking the line between creative reasoning and tying together clearly logically connected elements. Part of the original’s success was the community element needed to solve many of the puzzles without either dumb luck or spending more time than most people have or want to use in order to find the solution.

The puzzles in Hide and Seek are challenging and leave the player with a sense of satisfaction for having solved them without the frustration of trying to figure out something that was clearly not built to be discovered through reasoning alone.

You will need to collect multiple items during each stage and carry them with you in order to solve some of the puzzles. However, you can only hold four items at a time. If you find a new item while travelling around and your stash is full, you have no way to house the new item or switch it out with the one you are already carrying — without simply throwing another item down and hoping you can find it later. While doable, this certainly isn’t the most efficient way to handle item storage and becomes an unnecessary hindrance to progress.

Hello Neighbor: Hide And Seek Review

Though the puzzle solving is fun, there is a downside to the central concept of Hide and Seek. While hiding from your neighbor in the original added an element to the game that gave it a sense of danger necessary for a stealth title, the heavy emphasis on puzzle solving and seek and find in the prequel can make having to stop what you are doing and run feel like more of a nuisance than anything else. It doesn’t help that your brother can see you from quite a distance.

Many times I thought I was in the clear and had lost myself in testing out a puzzle-solving hypothesis when I hear the telltale sound alerting me I am being pursued. I’d have to drop what I was doing and run to the nearest rock or something I can climb. This will often cause the brother’s AI to reset, forgetting where you are and you can watch him wander off into the distance before heading back to where you were. While the hide and seek component does sometimes add to the difficulty, it too often felt unnecessary given the more interesting puzzle element.

Hello Neighbor: Hide and Seek is much tighter than the original in both gameplay and puzzle design. It is clear that Dynamic Pixels has learned from past experience and implemented that into their newest title. I found myself having much more fun with this newest iteration. The puzzle-solving is the most rewarding part of Hide and Seek and in a way, I wish the hide and seek element had been left out entirely. But, when it works well, it at least adds some tension.

It is not, perhaps, the best we will see from Dynamic Pixels, but it is fun and it gives me hope the quirky developer has more up their sleeves than we know.

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.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season PS4 Review

The Walking Dead: The Final Season “Suffer The Children” Review [PS4] – Abandon Hope?

For the first time in a very long time, I don’t know how to start a review. Do I continue as usual? Do I start with explaining what happened? I guess pretty much everyone knows by now.

Telltale Games went bankrupt. I don’t think you could’ve missed it. Some grabbed the opportunity to yell out “I told you so!”, some responded with anger for them not being able to finish one project before jumping onto another, and some responded with sadness and apathy.

I didn’t really realise just how much these news upset me when I first read about it. But the fact is, I am truly upset about it. To me, Telltale Games wasn’t just a game company. It’s someone I have followed from the beginning, someone who inspired me to pursue my passion for games. And to see them basically vaporise like that was…. bizarre, to say the least. But it’s not a new phenomenon.

Fear not, my friends. Ask, and ye shall receive. The creator of The Walking Dead universe Robert Kirkman’s game company Skybound announced that they will be picking up the pieces left by the ruins of Telltale, to see The Final Season through to the end. Even though this is beyond great news, I’ll personally believe the series will have an end when I see it in front of me on my TV-screen.

the-walking-dead-final-season-clem-and-aj.jpg
Like these two, I’ll be waiting.

If you look away from the business and economic aspect of the video game industry, Suffer The Children is all-in-all a very good episode. I will, like the review of the last episode, try and create a spoiler-free review as much as possible.

Episode 2 takes us back to the school and the group of teens we met in the previous episode. There can never be enough drama in one episode, so needless to say there are some things Clementine and AJ have to take responsibility for. As a consequence, they are thrown out of their safe haven.

Unfortunately, they don’t get very far before a group of raiders catch them. This is where we meet a familiar character whose face we haven’t seen since season one. However, this face wasn’t friendly then, and is sure isn’t friendly now, either. This person has become the leader of this horrific group, and they don’t hesitate to threaten Clementine as they give a clear message of what they want; the children at the school.

We learn that there is a small war going on; there is a feud between two groups of people, and the group that catches Clementine and AJ is kidnapping (or as they call it, “recruiting”) children to make them fight for them. Yep, that’s messed up.

However, hope is never lost; with the help of a kind stranger, we manage to make our great escape. If the series would go on, I’m sure we would form an even stronger friendship with this character at some point. The kindness of this stranger teaches us about strengthening the right bonds, and we learn that most people react a certain way for a certain reason, and by learning that reason we understand what makes them tick. 

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It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

Technically speaking, I noticed that the loading screens could, at times, be incredibly long. In addition, the controls felt a little off sometimes. The combat system was very unforgiving, and the game’s own tutorials kept feeding me the wrong controls. Yet, an analysis of the controls in this episode feels like missing the bigger picture.

All things considered, the ending of this approximately 2 ½ hours long episode feels like the biggest cliffhanger ever. When I finished the episode the news of Skybound taking over hadn’t come out yet, and I felt betrayed. Now, there might be hope. Some light at the end of the tunnel. We are in the middle of a story, and the threads are starting to unfold.

I thought I was ending this review feeling sad and frustrated. Even though Telltale as a company may be over, the talented people behind the name are still out there. And some of them will most probably be joining Skybound and create a proper ending to the series, completing an important chapter in video game narrative history.

In the meantime, I’ll be waiting. Patiently.

GRIP: Combat Racing Review [PS4] – Defying Gravity With A Blast From The Past

Going back to some of our favourite games sometimes yields a nice, cool shot of nostalgia. Other times, it reminds us just how far we have come as an industry over even just the last 20 years.

When Rollcage released in 1999 its unique physics made it stand out from the crowd of other racing titles. Drive fast enough and you can defy the laws of gravity by speeding up walls and upside-down snake-like tunnels. GRIP: Combat Racing is a spiritual successor to Rollcage that attempts to revive that original thrill.

In some ways, GRIP does an excellent job of recreating everything that made Rollcage a standout. In other ways, at least on the PS4 version I played, it reminded me how far we have come in the racing genre and why we rarely look back.

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GRIP: Combat Racing has a good variety of over 20 tracks ranging from futuristic cities to snow-covered wastelands.

GRIP offers a nice array of over 20 tracks covering a wide variety of landscapes ranging from futuristic cities to snow-covered mountains, and desolate wastelands. Tracks spiral and wind as players fly through at break-neck speeds. When executed well, it feels far more like being jettisoned down a warp tunnel as you spiral over and under the terrain and passageways, blasting your opponents with rockets and other weapons along the way.

However, as fun as GRIP can be, it suffers from some rather unintuitive track design. Especially in the beginning before you learn the tracks, you will likely find yourself slipping and sliding into an unexpected barrier or falling off the stage. While there are signs designating directions, some of the stages are just open enough to be confusing, especially when driving at high rates of speed. Multiple times I missed an indicator and found myself travelling down what I thought might be a path only for the game to reset me back on the track, thus costing me several seconds. Sure, this will dissipate with time and familiarization, but it makes getting into the game a bit of a frustration for first-time players. It also instantly kills the otherwise smooth action.

GRIP has only a small array of cars, but each handled fairly well. Controls were smooth and the cars maintained a solid hold on the track along turns for the most part. The only time I had my frustration with the controls is when airborne.

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Blasing your opponents out of your way, particularly when playing with friends, is always glorious.

You will, whether from being blasted by an opponent, slipping off the side of the road, or making an unfortunate collision with a barrier, at some point find yourself helplessly tossed into the air where you will notice you lose any real control over your vehicle. Sure, this might be more realistic, but not being able to adjust your direction means you will either just have to watch while you barely miss the side of the track, or end up back on the track facing the wrong direction.

In a combat racing game where being flung about is a major part of the experience, having no control over your direction when airborne seems like a rather unfortunate oversight. Not to mention GRIP’s difficulty levels fluctuate quite a bit and so while falling off the track might not cost you too much in one race, landing the wrong direction just one time might move you from first to fifth almost instantly in another.

The tracks, though varied, lack the lustre and sheen one might have expected from a 2018 racing title. Textures can often look muddy and aside from the neon signs demarcating turns and barriers, the tracks and surrounding areas feel sparse and surprisingly dreary. That is not to say GRIP needs the cartoonishly bright colours of Mario Kart or the ultra-realism of Forza. But, the game’s visual design often looks too much like a throwback and less like a modern-day homage.

Speaking of Mario Kart, three out of four of GRIP’s race modes operate basically like Nintendo’s top racer with a twist or two, including choosing whether winning means reaching the finish line first, or whoever has the fastest trigger finger. You pick up weapons as you drive that you can use to blast your opponents out of your way, along with using green panels on the ground to increase your speed. There is also an arena battle mode that pits you against your friends or online opponents within a limited area.

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When at its best GRIP offers an invigorating battle for victory that feels more like flying than driving.

Though uneven difficulty and unintuitive track design can cause difficulty for players just getting into the game, part of GRIP’s call-back to it’s older inspiration is a solid focus on the individual player’s ability to compete against themselves. The individual campaign mode is appropriately story-free, leaving you to quickly run through three multi-tiered tournaments. The “Carkour” mode allows players to practice their tricks, turns and other aerial acrobatics.

Of course, online leaderboards for race modes add that extra level of motivation. But, I found whether playing with a friend locally or strangers online, GRIP was just as fun and just as challenging.

Though GRIP isn’t as polished as it might have been, and new players will find themselves faced with a steep learning curve, it’s gravity-defying action is both a nice slice of nostalgia and something a little different than your standard racer. It is also always satisfying to watch the car in front of you explode in a bright and brilliant billow of fire, or hammering your opponent with a wave of tiny rockets.

GRIP: Combat Racing is now available on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

Pode – Experience The Warmth That Companionship Brings

Companionship, we are always looking for it, be it in form of friendships, family, colleagues at work… A lover. We like to think we need only ourselves but when we feel empty and alone it’s companionship that saves us, picks us up and reminds us: it’s ok.

Without companionship, I doubt I’d be here, writing this very article, for you.

Pode is a 3D puzzle game developed by Henchman and Goon. You play as Bulder (rock character) and/or Glo (Light character) who explore an ancient ruin of a lost civilization to help Glo return home. Each character has their own unique abilities to help to solve the puzzles littered within the game, however many of the puzzles rely on both characters working together.

As this game is best played as a couch co-op experience you can also play it single-player with the capability of switching characters on the fly.

Both characters influence the world differently, with Bulder controlling rock formations and Glo blooms life in the environments that you help traverse the levels. Each character are opposites, and this is shown through the mechanics; this even extends to some of the slight physic-based puzzles too. It adds to the game an emotional depth, through the gameplay, which is rarely seen in others – one can’t simply complete a level without the other and this is further expressed by using each other as a platform to reach inaccessible areas.

Graphically the game has a very minimalistic style yet it’s utterly gorgeous, taking inspiration from Norwegian art and nature. It has this painted look using a lot of flat tones and colours, where these darker tones combine with brighter lush primary colours. It complements the gameplay by enhancing the relaxing gameplay experience. You’ll find yourself as Glo wanting to bloom life in the whole level just to add the bright colour pallet unfurl in a hollow and lifeless landscape; a great mechanical metaphor of the game’s central themes.

It’s hard to talk about the game because it’s fairly basic, but that’s the point. Minimalism is the heart of the design. Why you ask? So, it doesn’t distract from its main point, companionship. With a button to hold the other character’s hand, we see a game that’s inherently positive. You can’t help being touched by the game when you see these two opposite characters slowly begin to understand each other – especially in today’s social division. You can’t help but smile to yourself at those little tender moments.

Talking with Linn Sovig, the Marketing/Publishing Manager for Henchman and Goon, Linn explained the concept came about so that parents could play a game with their children that they could enjoy. That they both could experience the same positivity together and that they must interact with each other not just through the game’s mechanics, but verbally too.

Linn told me that there are hidden sections within the game and that these hidden sections are each dedicated to loved ones lost during the development cycle.

There is so much heart within this game, so much love and you indulge in the same passion while playing. You can play this game solo, but you will be robbing yourself the entire purpose of this game.

What Henchman and Goon have created here is a rarity within video gaming, something you feel. I urge anyone who plays games with people to buy this game and just experience the warmth the game has to offer.

Pode is out now on Switch with a PlayStation 4 port currently in development. Enjoy and remember what it’s like to feel something again.

Life Is Strange 2 - Episode 1: Roads Review

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 1: ‘Roads’ Review [PS4] – We’re Going On An Adventure!

It’s been 3 years since the very first season of Life is Strange came out – and it gave us so much in terms of storytelling, where they explored how to deal with sensitive issues through the eyes of a teenager.

In the meantime, we were served Life is Strange: Before The Storm and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. In my opinion, they’ve only gotten better at it.

If you played the approximately 2 hour long adventures of young Chris Eriksen and his alter ego Captain Spirit (which is 100% worth your time by the way), then the decisions you made there will somehow carry over in Life Is Strange 2. I probably should have made a review on Captain Spirit, because that was truly an unforgettable experience. As usual, my final verdict for the series will be given at the very last episode.

Now, Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix are back with Life Is Strange 2 – with brand new characters, location, and storyline. We meet Sean and Daniel Diaz from Seattle in Washington, age 16 and 9 respectively. They are seemingly normal boys – Sean has a crush on a girl which he plans to hit on at an upcoming party, and Daniel is a boy who loves candy and to play with his toys.

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Playful big brother Sean.

That is, of course, before everything is destined to go down the drain in a fashionable Life is Strange-style. A supernatural occurrence takes place in their home, forcing the two brothers to escape, and wandering on the United States’ roads on their way to Puerto Lobos, a place in Mexico their father once called paradise. The boys live in a community where their background sadly plays a factor – which is evidently why they are on the run. The news reports them missing, and the cops are looking for them.

Based on the small amount of money they carry – it is not going to take long before they run out. This, eventually, leads to them having to beg other people for food.

Gameplay has improved, and the game looks much smoother now than it has before. As always, the soundtrack of the game is an experience in itself. You can always expect the Life Is Strange-series to contain excellent music that adds to the widely immersive world.

A theme that turns out to become an important aspect of the game is racial discrimination. Even though they have, from their father, clear roots in Mexico, they still identify themselves as Americans. However, when they start to feel exiled from the States, they cling to their Mexican roots. One thing is witnessing it on a general basis – another is witnessing it happening to these young boys. Defenceless and innocent, they become the victims of violence, both verbally and physically.

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Brotherly love.

To put it mildly, these incidents are hard to watch. It’s a bold move from the developers, but at the same time, I feel like they are doing the right thing. As a consequence of the tragic event, Sean has to take on a parenting role for Daniel. As a 16-year old, he is still too young to be Daniel’s substitute parent, but it’s what they have.

Taking on this parenting role is of course not fitting for Sean. He has to keep his mask on for Daniel all the way until they finally meet a kind soul who sees them for what they are; kids just trying to survive. This stranger briefly becomes a guardian for the two boys, giving them what they need to keep on going. We, as adults, take on the role of a child in crisis. It’s an unfair and difficult situation, but I think it is an important subject to discuss. A 16-year old is never supposed to be set in that position. Sadly, that is the reality of many.

Life is Strange 2 takes on a more serious note than the other seasons. I’m predicting that this season will be an adventure like no other. We watch them as they grow up, joining them on their ups and downs. Because there will be plenty of them. As usual, Life is Strange creates a moving story about these two boys that I felt an instant connection to. I’m looking forward to seeing where this is going.

Life Is Strange 2 is available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Valfaris

A Look At Valfaris – Rock Out By Killing Aliens

In space, everyone can hear you rock out and kill aliens!

It’s always nice to hear of a comeback story, especially within the games industry, and what a comeback story developer Steel Mantis had when releasing Slain.

On its original release, Slain received relatively poor review scores. A committed Steel Mantis hired programmer Thomas Jenns reworked ‘Slain’ into the now ‘Slain: Back From Hell’ and changed what originally was a mediocre game into a cult classic.

Now for the first time working together on a project from the start, Thomas Jenns and Andrew Gilmour are back to rock our socks off again with ‘Valfaris’, a heavy metal action platformer set in space.

The stupendous citadel Valfaris has reappeared in the orbit of a dying sun after disappearing from the galactic charts. Therion, a valiant son of Valfaris returns home to find Valfaris overrun by an ever-growing darkness. Playing as Therion, you must explore the citadel and rid it from its evil – basically, kill everything.

With artist Andrew Gilmour being a heavy metal fan, the game oozes with the iconography associated with that genre of music. From Therion being a badass bulky meathead with long hair who head bangs, demonic monsters, giant guns and backgrounds you’d expect from an Iron Maiden or Yes album cover, everything is loud and over the top.

Andrew’s detailed pixel art style really makes the environments tangible and the characters – even though completely fictional – believable within the context of that world and medium; like 2000 AD comics did with their characters.

Playing the game you can feel the smog and smell the rust. With the demo only lasting 30 minutes I saw external vistas, internal corridors and a junkyard, all of which transitioned naturally and never felt out of place.

And what to say about the gameplay… It’s good, it’s really good. Everything just feels fluid and right, the shooting and the platforming just meld well together, one never outdoing the other. You have a main pistol and a sword, as well as a secondary weapon that acts as a power weapon that uses energy, so you do not abuse them.

Speaking with Matt from Digital Upper Cut (the publisher) explained that you can level your power weapons too by collecting orbs throughout the level. You’ll be wanting to level up those guns because the game is difficult, many a section I find myself dying a fair few times at, especially the Junkyard Goblin boss.

However, credit here goes to the checkpoints and how each checkpoint is in the exact spot just before a difficult section so you ‘just have that one more go feeling’, as Matt put it when talking after my time with the demo “we say it’s a Nintendo difficulty” (he is referring to old skool Nintendo here). Furthermore, I won’t spoil it, but don’t rest so easy, expect surprises.

Matt informed me that the soundtrack has been composed by Curt Victor Bryant from Celtic Frost, with his style of metal really pumping you up for action and it’s the cherry on top of what looks like a brilliant game. The music makes you push into the action like a crazed madman.

Anyone who wants to shoot and slash monsters needs this game – it’s just a hell a lot of fun. It doesn’t take itself seriously and it completely knows what it is.

Playing the game reminded me of those ’90s action games that were full of gore, fast-paced, adrenaline-fuelled action. This is one to watch out for.

Valfaris is scheduled for a 2019 release on PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One.

Is Digital Gaming Best For Us?

Gamer Debate: Is Digital Gaming Best For Us?

Is digital the way to go?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I can honestly say that gamers are some of the most passionate people on the planet. We like what we like, and rarely do we fail to voice our opinions. With the rise of social media, our voices are louder than ever. Because of our strong opinions, we tend not to shy away from a good debate. Casual debates among gamers, however, can become very heated in nature. One of the biggest ongoing debates is the one over physical vs digital games.

Physical games have been around for decades, but a change is on the horizon. Digital gaming is here and it’s here to stay. I’ve noticed over the last few months, I’ve bought more games digitally than I ever have. Games like Fire Pro Wrestling World, Dead Cells and Oddworld: New N Tasty round out my recent digital downloads. I can’t deny how convenient it is to just buy a game from the comfort of my own couch. Kids are growing up in a world where they don’t need to go out and do anything. I literally had to beg my granny to take me to the video store every weekend as a kid.

Digital gaming has also led to the influx of awesome indie games over the past few years. Smaller companies are now able to push their own titles without the need of massive publishers. My stance on digital gaming is positive. I think it fills a lot of voids, but it may come at a cost. Let’s look at digital gaming and how I feel it affects the gaming landscape.

Physical Space

Physical space is an issue when collecting especially with retro gaming enthusiasts. Can you imagine trying to store a complete collection of Sega Genesis or Sega Saturn games for that matter? Going digital allows you to do away with that space to make room for other important things. (As if other things are more important.)

Is Digital Gaming Best For Us?

Time Saver

Digital games save you time. You no longer need to drive out to a physical store for a game disc. It even beats having games shipped to you through the mail. Anyone can play their games right away on their favourite console. Sometimes you can even pre-load your games and play at the top of the hour. That’s a sweet deal.

Shipping and Handling

For game companies, it’s in their best interest to avoid shipping and packing costs. Companies can save costs on discs, cases, inserts, and the shipping for millions of copies at a time.

Blocks Resale Market

The resale market has long been an issue for video game companies. Places such as Gamestop allow gamers to buy and sell games while the game companies see none of those profits. Going digital can change that outlook while changing the entire resale landscape. Who knows, companies could create their own digital exchange program in the future.

Is Digital Gaming Best For Us?

It’s Unlimited

With games being digital, who wants to worry about something being out of stock? Stock problems are non-existent in the digital world.

But…

You Buy it, you Own it Forever

As of right now, there is no way to sell back a digital game. For people who choose to buy this way, you own that game forever. You can’t transfer, share, or sell that game to anyone else. Often, it’s the trade value from old games that add to the sales of brand new games. Think wisely before making that $60 purchase online.

Internet is Needed

To install digital games, you need to have an internet connection. Not only do you need internet but, it needs to be fast enough to handle a large download. The Internet is a common luxury in 2018, but there is still a population out there without it. This population would be out of the equation.

Is Digital Gaming Best For Us?

Servers

I cringed at Microsoft when they first announced the “always online” aspect for the Xbox One. They made things right although games are becoming increasingly dependent on their online connections. Games such as Fortnite, PUBG and even the upcoming Call of Duty Blackout need online connections to even start the game. What happens if a company decides to pull the plug on their game? Suddenly, our games are gone, and we have no control over it.

What Special Edition?

Out goes the special editions and in comes the Deluxe Digital Editions. Special Editions come with physical items that you can either display or keep for collecting purposes. Deluxe Digital Edition games come with extra digital goodies in the form of a code. This may be added bonuses such as skins, weapons, or in-game currency, etc. This could mean no more Fall Out Pip-Boy Editions.

Is Digital Gaming Best For Us?

Gaming is once again going through changes but, as gamers, we roll with the punches. Regarding physical vs digital, I stand firmly in the middle. I believe in preserving video game history with physical items. At the same time, I believe in decreasing the footprint of unnecessary games.

I imagine that 10 years from now this will probably be a non-issue among us. Let’s just hope that there is still a market for these old physical game cases for us old folks.