Ghost Blade HD

I must admit that I’m rather ignorant of the Bullet Hell genre. I knew enough to see it as the obvious reference point for Enter the Gungeon, but I can’t tell you why anyone cares about Ikaruga (which is apparently blasphemy to its fan base). So, if you mainline Bullet Hell games and are looking for a recommendation, you might want to look elsewhere (but still read this, I need the views). For those of you wanting to know if Ghost Blade HD is a good place to break into the genre, here was my experience:

One long stream of “What the fuck just happened?!” (Editor’s Note: Install swear jar widget for William’s reviews.)

There is so much visual clutter on screen that just learning how to make since of it all took me a solid half hour or so. Between all the enemy ships, projectiles, and pickups there is always so much activity on screen that it is genuinely hard to keep up with. The game does about as good as could be expected in distinguishing all of this, but I still often felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all.

GhostBlade 2017-03-18 16-14-35-529

Looking at this as a static picture instead of in motion, have to I wonder if part of my issues with the game can be boiled down to how over-designed everything is. The game looks great, but maybe some visual simplification would have helped.

Not helping matters is the fact that the game doesn’t establish it’s own rules well; nor does it always seem to follow them. While playing, it often seems like it only takes one hit to destroy your chosen ship, but I regularly saw enemy projectiles passing right over me. Sometimes, after destroying an enemy ship, all of its projectiles turn into score increasing stars, but that was never something I could anticipate. Those pickups could all condense on the player, but other times you have to manually fly over them to pick them up, with no indication as to why. Ultimately, the game needs a tutorial. The training mode allows you to get used to the controls, but the game does nothing to actually teach players how to play the game.

Once I found myself able to keep up with the visual chaos thrown at me, I still wasn’t quite as into Ghost Blade as I had hoped I would be. For example, the player is given three attack options: a spread shot, a focused shot, and a screen clearing bomb. However, I found the focused shot to be the only useful option. It creates a massive beam that does the most damage, so you’re better off just spamming it and moving your ship from side to side. It’s a ludicrously effective, downright overpowered tactic. While I’m not sure that’s the game’s fault, I just wasn’t connecting with it. Although part of me does have to wonder if I would have been able to get more into the game if it was called “Ghost Square Hammer” instead. (Editor’s Note: …eh, I’ll let it pass. It’s a good song.)

What I definitely can say is the game’s fault are its boss battles. The levels do a good job of varying up the enemies and types of projectiles the players face off against, but the bosses all feel fundamentally the same. They are visually impressive, but if given the choice between an interesting looking bosses and interesting encounters, I’d choose the latter every time.

GhostBlade 2017-03-18 16-10-36-699

This space train boss was insane. It was a Crazy Train, if you will. (Editor’s Note: Ugh…)

Ghost Blade might not have depressed me as much as Ghost Bath, but in the end I still ended up feeling cold and empty. I’m not sure how much of that was because of the game and how much was because of my taste, but I just did not have a lot of fun with Ghost Blade. I guess it could be worse though. I could have been playing “Ghost Pottery” and have been forced to live thought that Patrick Swayze abomination again.

headerGhost Blade HD was developed by Hucast Games.

Point of Sale: Steam (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Wii U 

Price: 9.99; I guess the “Ghost Blade” of the title is the one used to carve money out of your bank account. (Editor’s Note: That’s a rather CUTTING remark. Oh dear, it’s spreading…)

A Review Code for Ghost Blade HD was provided by the developer

Posted in PC Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment

It has taken me a long time to figure out exactly how I felt about Specter of Torment. Unlike that first expansion, Specter of Torment is a complete overhaul of the Shovel Knight formula, and I don’t know if I think that it works the entire time. The combat took me a little while to get used to and a few of the shake ups really didn’t jive well with me. At times, I found myself thinking this was easily the third best of the series, other times I was loving the game so much I thought it outshined it’s brethren in nearly every possible way. Either way, one thing is for certain:

It’s still one of my favorite platformers ever made.

2

In Specter of Torment you play as the Lich Yard’s ghostly guardian Specter Knight in a prequel to the main game. As Specter Knight, you recruit the other members of the Order of No Quarter, with flashbacks showing the audience just how he became the ghastly figure we know in-game. Upon completing Specter of Torment it became clear to me that no one has ever given Yacht Club their proper due as storytellers. Particularly as interactive storytellers.

While the text of the game has some powerful moments that gives Specter Knight more depth than you would expect, the flashbacks really showcase the dev team’s abilities. In these sections, a pre-ghoulifyed Specter Knight and a friend break into the Tower of Fate looking for a powerful relic. The two men are clearly old friends, and the game uses the same core mechanics as the rest of the game to demonstrate how close they are. This is a great way of incorporating storytelling into the actual gameplay itself – something the team has been doing since the original game was released.

In the final boss for Shovel Knight-proper, you, as Shovel Knight, fight alongside your long-lost Shield Knight. This one boss fight tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the two, and not a single word is ever spoken. By doing something similar here, but in such a radically different context, the team at Yacht Club prove that that earlier moment wasn’t just them stumbling upon brilliance, but is a core aspect of their identity as storytellers. It’s exactly the kind of thing video games should be better at doing after over 30 years of existence.

Yacht Club also used this opportunity to show that they still have plenty of creativity in the gameplay department as well. Specter of Torment sees the gameplay get a total overhaul, starting with how Specter Knight plays. You can stand in place and slash his scythe, but a better option is to use his dashing slash. While in the air, after jumping or falling, a diagonal line will appear on enemies and objects in range, and by hitting the attack button Specter knight will cover the distance, either bouncing off (allowing for a follow-up attack) or carving his way through it, which grants a momentum boost that can be used to reach new areas.

In order to stop this from making the game too easy, these slashes can only move you diagonally up or down, depending on the angle you attack from. Often the angle you start from will lead to your death if you’re too hasty. Because of this, extended platforming sections felt more like playing a rhythm game than a traditional platformer. I’d have to let Specter Knight fall a ways before attacking in order to time a dash right. One of my favorite platforming challenges used this to great effect, as I had to use Specter’s other new ability, a wall run, to catch up to a single moving object before jumping off and falling in order to dash higher up on the wall. This was only one part of a much larger challenge, but the moment never ceased to entertain me.

1

Specter of Torment constantly finds ways to breath new life into level specific obstetrical that make each level feel both fresh and familiar

Thankfully the levels take full advantage of the new abilities. Unlike in Plague of Shadows where you played through mostly the same levels with only slight changes, here every level receives a top to bottom redesign. You fight the same bosses (with one exception), but even these fights have been altered to accommodate the new play style, and this is where the first of my few issues come in. First off, level selection.

Unlike Shovel Knight-proper and the first expansion, there is no overworld in Specter of Torment; instead you are free to tackle the levels in any order you wish. That isn’t bad per-say, but I felt it made the game feel smaller as a whole. You don’t get to see how the townspeople react to Specter Knight like in Plague of Shadows and the wandering adventurers aren’t really a thing here either. Although, to the games credit, this is subverted in a really funny way about half way through.

5

This affects the upgrades as well. Where as in the original game (and in Plague of Shadows), there were these small side dungeons that required a particular power in order to reap the reward. In Specter of Torment that’s not really a thing. When you buy a new ability, you are taken to a short tutorial level where that ability is your only attack or defense option. It’s particularly sad considering that the upgrades here are the best the series has offered up thus far. I did find myself defaulting to a few core abilities, though none of the other abilities felt useless. Regardless, I still miss the sense of scale the world map gave to the adventure. Now it’s just you, your base, and the levels.

The levels themselves are expertly crafted, but I had forgotten how hard this game was. As I think back, it’s not any worse than the precedent Shovel Knight set back in 2014. You will die often, and lose a shitload of cash, just like before. Boss fights are another matter entirely.

10

Playing this on a PC instead of my 3DS had some drawbacks. The PC controls are pretty bad if you’re not using a controller, and there’s some pretty obvious artifacting around the conveyor belt in this level.

Even with the redesigns, I felt most of the bosses were too easy once I found a way to catch them in an endless dash loop, but at least two of them irritated the fuck out of me. Both Propeller Knight and Tinker Knight incorporate auto scrolling into the boss fight, and both times it pissed me off. Most of my deaths from these two bosses came when a cheap hit sent me to exactly the right place for the auto scroll to kill me instantly. The auto scroll sections in each of the three games aren’t exactly my favorites, so their inclusion in the boss fights really drags the experience down.

8

The best new inclusion: Black Knight’s Armored Rhino. Now I kind of want a game about how those two met. You know what, nevermind. Spin offs never work. (Editor’s Note: Except, apparently, for this one!)

While we’re talking about changes that didn’t always work, I’ve got to bring up the music. Most of the songs just sound like remixes of the original songs. I’m not exactly raging at the heavens over the changes, but the original soundtrack was damn near perfect, so why bother changing it to begin with? And for the first half of the game, that was my only real criticism of Specter of Torment. Let that sink in. For most of the game my only major criticism was “I didn’t like the music as much”.

So, is Specter of Torment worth playing? Hell. Yes. I say, Lay it on the Line and let the game Rock you to Hell. We all know it’s only a Matter of Time before you cave in anyways, and once you do you’re Never Coming Back. Hell, I think I Want More, so I’ll See You in Hell or When Heaven Comes Down. Till next time everyone. (Editor’s Note: Note to self, sneak yoga music into Will’s next review…)

shovel knight Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment was developed by Yacht Club Games

Point of Sale: Steam (Reviewed), Wii U, 3DS, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Price: $24.99 for the main game, expansions are free; 3 fully featured and awesome games for under $30. It’s pretty much The Orange Box of platforms.

A Review Copy of Specter of Torment was provided by Yacht Club Games.

the-seal

William Shelton has awarded Specter of Torment the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval.

Posted in PC Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Stories Untold Review

I really wanted to love Stories Untold. With its first episode, I felt the strong potential for my infatuation. Much like looking at the popular kids in highschool, it presents itself with so much style that it’s hard not to be immediately impressed. However, as I learned about its systems and limitations, I began to realize how much of a poser it turned out to be.

*Stranger Things theme song quietly playing in the background*

Stories Untold opens its pilot episode, a remake of a game released for free last year, with the view of a desk in front of a player, decorated with some family photos, a coffee mug, and most importantly, a computer straight from the 1980s. The premise starts out simple enough – the player controls an interactive text adventure, and while things happen on the TV screen, things will also happen around the room.

When the world around the player changes as the story moves forward, there are a lot of surprises. For example, I found the sound design of the episodes were one of the best parts of the game. All the sound effects are solid and the voice actors do a great job, portraying the a descent into insanity throughout the four episodes. The soundtrack was also good, but emblematic of Stories Untold‘s issue of being too linear and each phase of songs would only unlock as the player progressed through the story.

Each episode introduces the player to more complicated puzzle concepts in a way that was both confusing and frustrating. In episode one, you’re just typing out a text-based adventure like Zork. Except you are limited by a ridiculous amount of linearity in this text adventure. In one scene, I was inside a destroyed building and needed to move away. The game would only accept the input “look around”, to tell me I was trapped under a wreck. Then I had to “look at wreck” to figure out it was metal and moveable, and after that I literally could  only input “move metal” to finally move onto the next mini-stage. Entering anything else would bring me back to the first text from before “look around.”

Filled with plot gating and overly complicated puzzles, Stories Untold is one helluva throwback to adventure games of yesterday.

Stories Untold‘s overtly linear and unintuitive solutions to puzzles make me unable to recommend it to fans of text adventures. It just doesn’t offer the freedom of the games that inspired it, which is disappointing, because I’m sure many people would love what the game was initially pitched as. However, I can recommend it to some people based on what I saw in the following episodes. Basically, in each of the subsequent episodes, you are given some tools set around the room, each controlled by the computer you’re typing into. The puzzles get frustratingly obtuse, but I can absolutely understand that some people would like that sort of problem solving.

Overall, Stories Untold was absolutely an interesting experiment that I’m glad I was able to experience. I’d recommend it to those fond of the 80’s style SciFi medias that have been popping up lately, but only if a full guide is posted or you’re a puzzle-solving wiz.

Stories Untold was developed by No Code Studio.

Point of Sale: GoG, Steam for $9.99

A digital copy of Stories Untold was bought by Sam Adonis for the purpose of this review.

Sam has a passion for a number of things, including disability advocacy, Teddy Roosevelt, and the indie game community. You can often find him talking about World of Warcraft lore or whatever his latest indie game infatuation is. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @IndieSamAdonis

 

Posted in PC Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

O! My Genesis VR

In 1989, a small studio called Bullfrog released a seminal game that created an entire genre.  It was a strategy game with a small difference: the player was quite simply a god. The original Amiga release sold well enough to get the attention of Electronic Arts, who funded it, and brought the game to every known platform.

No – I’m not talking about Lemmings, I’m talking about Populous. In some ways Populous was more important to kids in the 90s than Lemmings.  Lemmings was the game you played as a kid and secretly as a teenager. Populous was the game you played as a tween to show your gamer-friends how grown up and sophisticated you were.

populous2

This was the “HD” version of Populous

There were two really interesting things about Populous.  The first was how it came to be: its designers were inspired to think differently about video games after playing a board game.  The second really interesting thing about Populous is that after designing over 500 levels, the team realized that they had no actual ending.  All you got was a screen calling you “Master of the Game” and showing you credits.

populous-6

“The battle between good & evil is won. Here are the credits”

They had so much fun creating levels that the need for an endgame simply slipped their mind.  There are also stories that Bullfrog developed the game by playing with LEGO – to get a sense of manipulating the environment.  Of course, they later acknowledged that the LEGO thing was exaggerated somewhat for PR purposes.  But, the fact remains that Bullfrog developed a game that spawned an entire genre – that was almost as quickly nearly forgotten.

Then, the other day I’m poking around the VR section of the PlayStation store and I come across a game being marketed at AU$4.55 – O! My Genesis VR. Aside from a quick demo video, a little text and a few screenshots, there isn’t really much in the way of marketing.

Normally, we put “VR” in brackets when we title VR reviews because we want you to easily see that we’re talking about a VR title.  But this time the game’s developers beat us to the punch.  Frankly, while it’s a unique title, it’s also quite awful. (Editor’s note: Sadly, that remains a trend…) So, for the rest of the review, I’m going to call the game Genesis. I figured this has to be an indie, and I immediately clicked add to cart…

omygenesisstore

I’m so very pleased I did.  Someone has taken Populous and reimagined it for the modern world. They’ve taken the core concept of “playing as a god”, mixed it with a Lemmings design sensibility, and thrown it into a VR engine.  The result is simply magnificent.  The game’s execution is genuinely top-shelf.  The tutorial is a master class in how to pace a teaching level.  The art is cute and fun without being saccharine. The music jaunty without being twee.

Each level is designed as a distinct planet, with a distinct alien race who needs your benevolent guidance, your protection, and your providence.  You have to guide your little charges to resources, as well as protect them from their enemies and other natural hazards. (Editor’s note: No innocent aliens were crushed by god-James.) Eventually, once you’ve reached a certain level of civilization the game introduces an apocalypse where everything goes wrong at once.  Additional powers are unlocked by getting little dudes to worship at shrines.

Using two Move controllers to represent the player’s two hands, one gets a sense of multi-tasking.  For instance, you might be protecting your little guys from a dinosaur badly in need of lunch while catching a meteor with your other hand.  It’s an oddly rewarding experience.  From the perspective of your Minion-esque acolytes, you are an omnipotent god, guiding and protecting their civilization.

This is my second Twitch stream ever – please leave some constructive feedback. I’m a very old man after all. (Editor’s Note: We can confirm this statement is accurate. James is old as balls.)

Within about an hour, however, one completes the first two planets (I say two – the first is a 4 minute tutorial) to be presented with an invitation to buy additional planets.  Right now, there are two more planets in the PlayStation Store – each priced at AU$4.55, which frankly seems about the limit.

starbucks-developer

Yes: I’d like a coffee, but this beverage costs the same as an entire planet!

And here is where the game runs into trouble.  I don’t know if it’s a Sony thing, but one can’t buy the additional planets from within the game.  Maybe my smartphone spoiled me – but I like being able to buy my DLC within the game itself.  While being annoyed, I started to think about the original 500 levels of Populous.

populous-dos-front-cover

The original box art of the IBM version of Populous – does it look familiar?

Now that DLC is a real thing (with a real path to cash), will I ever be master of the game again? Or will level designers keep pumping out new levels forever?  Could Genesis be the first god game that doesn’t end? And, isn’t that a terrible thought?

Unfortunately, no – Genesis will not last forever.  Thanks to commercial concerns, it simply won’t get that opportunity. Bullfrog’s Populous made history by inventing a gaming genre. XPEC Entertainment, however has made history through financial scandal – and now it looks like it might collapse.  It’s a long and ugly story involving allegations of embezzlement, public corruption and of all things, honey cake – and we will cover it in a future editorial.

The upshot is that unless another studio buys the rights to the game and starts building new worlds for Genesis, I don’t think we’re likely to see fresh DLC. But all that aside, we’re here to review a game on its own merits.

Genesis is fun little game that you will play a couple of times.  So, yes, you should definitely commit the $13.65 to buy the game and its two DLC planets.  As an omnipotent deity, I command it. (Editor’s Note: James cannot actually command you. We checked. It’s all good!) I also command you to be realistic – for roughly half the cost of a movie ticket you’re going to get a fun game that shows off what VR can be.

O! My Genesis VR was developed by XPEC Entertainment

Point of Sale: PS4

O! My Genesis VR  is available from the PlayStation Store for AU$4.55 for the  base game, with two DLC packs for $4.55 each.

James has awarded O! My Genesis VR the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval.

A review copy of O! My Genesis VR was purchased by James Newburrie for review.

James Newburrie is old enough to remember when playing video games involved hassling his parents for change and a lift to the arcade. He has owned consoles from every generation (when they were new), and his pile of shame (see: Backlog) is taller than him, and may possibly have grown sentient. He still isn’t sure about the analogue control stick.  These days, he is only really interested in VR games as they are the only reliable escape from his dull, comfortably middle-class corporate life.  James blogs at difficultnerd.com

 

Posted in PlayStation Reviews, Reviews | Leave a comment