Console Arcade Thu, 15 Nov 2012 21:42:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5 Home Run Stars Review (XBLA) /2012/11/15/home-run-stars-review/ /2012/11/15/home-run-stars-review/#comments Thu, 15 Nov 2012 21:42:58 +0000 Matt Ingrey /?p=16163 Home Run Stars

Baseball is one of those weird American sports that nobody outside of America really seems to care about. In the UK we call it rounders and it’s generally played by little girls. Yet over there it’s a multi-zillion dollar industry and people actually, genuinely care about the results. It fills stadiums.

With there being fewer than seven actual fans of baseball who aren’t US residents, and the game being an Xbox LIVE Arcade Kinect exclusive, the amount of players here is predictably low. It’s hard enough finding multiplayer games on XBLA as it is, but here it’s all but impossible. Weeks after launching at 800 Microsoft Points, the game is hovering around five-hundred players on the leaderboards, a thoroughly dismal return on any kind of investment that was made on the game’s development.

Home Run Stars

The chief problem is that it isn’t worth anything close to those 800 Microsoft Points, and it’d even be a struggle to recommend it in a month’s time when it’s inevitably cut to half that in a weekly deal.

There’s just nothing to it at all. If the game wasn’t Kinect controlled, you would literally press the A button every thirty seconds or so, and then sit and wait. Instead we have the Kinect and so instead of pressing A, you just take a batting stance and then pretend to bat. It does a great job of recognising your input, the game works as it should, but there’s hardly anything else to do beyond that.

The single player mode is the “League,” in which you must battle nine pitchers over ten pitches in three stadiums, with a target score you must achieve to win. The pitcher pitches, you pretend to bat, and you’ll either hit a shot early or late and score low, or you’ll hit it good or perfect and score yourself a home run and an extra ball. The points and bonuses rack up seemingly at random, and despite the presence of aftertouch there’s little you can do to really affect things once you’ve hit the ball and it’s on its way. Once you run out of balls it’s game over, and that’s that.

Home Run Stars

There are other modes, but it comes back to that pathetic pool of players. There are two multiplayer options: Derby (which can be played locally) has each player taking turns hitting balls until one reaches a target score, and Duel has one player pitching while the other bats. Duel is Xbox LIVE only, which made it impossible to find a game no matter how long we waited, and so we can’t tell you how much difference the pitching makes to the experience. We’d wager “very little,” however, and our review of Diabolical Pitch should give you some idea as to what you might be in for. Regardless, even if the mode was so incredible that it elevated the game from a 1/5 to a 5/5, it’d be worthless with nobody online to play against, and that’s all you’ve got.

If your disposable income stretches to a Kinect AND a tablet, another local multiplayer option comes with Microsoft’s new SmartGlass thingamajig, but this mode is unplayable. One player bats as usual, while the other pitches by tapping targets on a screen (which is very unlikely to be a Surface). The pitching mini-game is so simple that a cat could hit perfect pitches every time; simply tap three circles on the screen as they appear. This results in a pitch which is incredibly difficult to hit for the Kinecter. Oh! The pitcher wins again!

Home Run Stars

It feels as though the game was released as a kind of tech demo, to show off Kinect, or SmartGlass, or even Avatar Famestar, a scheme so bizarre that not a single person has actually worked out what the hell it’s meant to exist for. It’s a mini-game spread far too thin, because as a game in its own right, it lacks one fairly fundamental thing: a game.

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Sonic Adventure 2 Review (PSN / XBLA) /2012/11/13/sonic-adventure-2-review/ /2012/11/13/sonic-adventure-2-review/#comments Tue, 13 Nov 2012 21:32:49 +0000 Robin Smith /?p=16154 Sonic Adventure 2

Sonic Adventure was regarded as a good, if flawed, game when it came out on the Dreamcast; it was never going to be heralded as perfect but it managed to remain an air of respectability. Sonic Adventure 2, on the other hand, is a game that took away the best parts of Sonic Adventure and then used the remaining components. Badly. It’s drowning in terrible choices that leave almost every part of what is undoubtedly a technically better game, as a much worse experience overall.

It’s telling that this, the latest in the line of classic Sega games to receive a HD re-release, is actually one of the least competent reissues so far. That’s not to say it’s bad as a re-issue of the original game. It’s just not as good as those that have come before, little more than a re-skin with a bonus video section you unlock via gameplay. Graphically the game has been upscaled well, but little else comes away as having been improved.

It’s important to look at the first Sonic Adventure for comparison, since much of what Sega and Sonic Team did with the original Adventure influenced Adventure 2.

Sonic Adventure 2

The first Sonic Adventure had a bit more of an expanded idea of narrative, multiple characters and diverse play styles. People seemed to like the variation in gameplay, and more expansive story (for a Sonic game anyway). It seemed only reasonable for Sega to try and give the fans more of what they liked.

The key difference between the first title and its sequel is freedom. Unlike the multi-story structure of Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2 forces you to play as every character in the story to see the end. During the first game you unlocked Knuckles, for example, and his gameplay was a fresh, well thought out mechanic that didn’t overstay its welcome. It’s was your choice to play his, or any of the subsequent characters, stories. He even had a well written story worth playing through. He became a well rounded out character.

In Sonic Adventure 2, each part of the game has been handed to people who seemingly had no understanding of why the individual sections of Sonic Adventure worked. The hero side story (the game splits the story into two divergent narrative paths) starts with a good and well paced Sonic stage and then is interrupted by a terribly paced and badly designed Knuckles stage.

The story for whatever side you play flops between good to ok stages; bad to awful stages and the absolutely horrible, make you want to blow your own brain out stages.

The mix of characters only helps to worsen the sense of schizophrenic game design. The worst offenders here are chiefly Rouge; a horribly unlikeable bat character who plays like a terrible take on Knuckles. But other, more established characters, also suffer here. For some reason Tails is forced to stay inside his biplane for the whole game (despite having a history of being able to run as fast as Sonic and fly unaided), while the aforementioned Knuckles partakes in awful treasure hunt stages.

Sonic Adventure 2

These were tightly designed with well thought out item placement in the first game. Three emerald parts would be hunted using a radar as Knuckles glided about the air and used his claws to cling to surfaces or dig in the ground. Their return in Sonic Adventure 2 is a massively sprawling mess. Levels go from multi-level under and over ground areas, to mazes of tight knit corridors. Knuckle’s ( and Rouge’s ) glide ability is a hindrance here as it often sends the camera into a panic and you end up flying into the unknown. Some objects are hidden in insanely obscure locations and the tip dispensing TV’s often vomit out little more than obscure gibberish. Some of these treasure hunt stages can take up to 30 minutes to complete and that’s if you do well or avoid death. Die during the stage and the emerald locations reset to totally new positions in the landscape.

The story and game have strong points, Sonic’s speed stages on the whole stand up well as both very entertaining and well designed, although it’s actually his new rival character Shadow the Hedgehog who is the games strongest point here. Shadow’s stages tend to be far better designed and more thrilling to partake in and the character is not mired down by the needless additions to his abilities.

It’s a shame so many people came to dislike the character of Shadow over the course of later titles (mostly due to Sega’s sudden inability to grasp just quite how to handle their new creation). His narrative, while slightly stereotypical, actually shows some of the strongest and most interesting writing in any of the Sonic games that came before or indeed since. That’s not exactly a challenge we must admit, but his journey from arrogant and vengeful soul to self sacrificing hero turns into one of the games strengths. One that was later ruined by Sonic Team’s insistence in reviving the character as a clone / robot / robo-clone / alien weapon, or whatever else was flavour of the month.

Another surprise strength here is the addition of Doctor Robotnik (or as he’s known officially from this game onwards, Dr.Eggman) as a playable character. His shooting stages are enjoyable to participate in and make perfect sense in the grand scheme of things. Where Tails’ levels are clunky and badly paced, Eggman’s are much more rhythmic, his upgrades actually applying an extra level of power to the experience, and his insane cackles and hoots bringing a sense of real character and fun.

So while the game is often competently crafted , it’s just not designed very well. Most every character has one or more stages that show little to no thought towards the way they play. In this version the camera is actually made worse by the use of the right stick. The natural tendency to reposition the camera is at odds with the movement of the games scripted camera, causing the view to move about erratically and wildly. This seems an issue with a few of the Dreamcast game ports, but is all the worse when applied to a fast paced game like this.

Sonic Adventure 2

Some times you’ll find enemies being able to attack you through walls of rooms you don’t have access to. Other times you’ll just be given an arbitrary camera angle that completely obscures an easily avoidable trap.

Not only are the main stages a confused mess there is also the odd, inescapable, kart racing sections of the main story. These are literally the single worst examples of car or kart based sections in any game ever produced. Every moment you spend as Tails or Rouge behind the wheels of their Bat car and Car-Plane-Thing (why not just fly the damn thing!) is excruciating and leaves you wondering why you’re still playing. Worse still, Sonic Team thought it an interesting enough feature that once you complete both the kart based sections you unlock more terrible kart racing “fun” as a mini game featuring all the other characters, in solo or two player. Take it from us, it’s a mode you’ll never want to touch.

Talking of minigames, the charming Chao characters return in more expanded artificial life sim. Once again you’re able to feed, name and take care of your Chao, eventually entering them into races. This is the one aspect of the game that’s actually improved upon over the first, with different characters effecting the personalities and look of each Chao based on the time they spend with it, and how they treat them. If all else fails you can make it appear as though Dr.Robotik is having “relations” with a tree. If that floats your boat that is… you sicko!

As you might have gathered by now Sonic Adventure 2 ends up as a train wreck of a game. It has fleeting moments of brilliance, some nice secrets tucked away and an interesting attempt at a real narrative, but it’s filled with so many terrible choices and poor design decisions that it’s just not a game we can recommend.

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The Unfinished Swan Review (PSN) /2012/10/31/the-unfinished-swan-review/ /2012/10/31/the-unfinished-swan-review/#comments Wed, 31 Oct 2012 21:54:52 +0000 Robin Smith /?p=16143 The Unfinished Swan

The Unfinished Swan is a touching and charming story that, defying most video game conventions, manages to be told in a simply fashion, but also extremely well. As a game, this almost entirely narrative driven experience is perfect for children of all ages, but its biggest strength is also its weakness. Entirely faultless in its construction and presentation, the player is always left with a sense of longing.

Many people will have been lead to believe that the game is just about using paint splatters to feel your way through a fantasy landscape. In fact this new and interesting play mechanic is just one of several presented to you as you progress.

The Unfinished Swan

The game tells the story of a young boy who has lost his mother and escapes into a dream world to deal with his loss. Other PlayStation Network titles have had similar emotional backdrops, but unlike Papo & Yo or Journey, The Unfinished Swan is entirely free of the emotional weight. This is a children’s story told effectively and imaginatively via its layers of simple and imaginative play.

If there is one thing that The Unfinished Swan does effectively, it’s allowing this sense of play. Each stage is filled with a simple idea that is quickly built upon until every experience feels new and exciting. The first chapter starts with the well signposted paint-splatter mechanic. The paint helps to show paths and landscapes through the visually featureless world, creating a strange sensation of what it must feel to be blind. Reaching out for anything around you, placing yourself, and slowly advancing when you know where you are.

The Unfinished Swan

This feature is oddly fleeting though and the next moment sees you progressing through a landscape that is ever more obvious. Even to the point of removing the requirement to use the paint at all. The next stage might swap paint for water, used to encourage plants to grow and creep along walls. Other times the throwing mechanic might be used instead to strike objects and create reactions, like lighting the way forward through the pitch-black night.

Each and every moment is an entirely new and fresh twist, despite being based on the first person paint throwing mechanic. One quite inventive use even involves creating new platforms and blocks wherever you choose, in order to create a path onwards.

The big issue here though is not that any of these ideas are bad, boring or ugly; it’s that they are gone all too quickly. As is the game as a whole. It’s likely that anyone playing will clock up just two hours playtime before the credits “roll”. When you take into account that one of the four chapters in the games story is actually an end credit sequence (albeit a brilliant story featuring a surprise guest voice actor), you can see how the game can be quite short.

The Unfinished Swan

It’s this lack of length or contextual mass that will constantly leave you feeling short changed. There’s also a feeling that, while there’s a nice range of ideas on show here, there’s very little actual interaction or exploration on show.

Little risk too since the narrative path is tightly scripted and easily followed with few problems, so at no point are you going to see a Game Over or stage restart screen. If you were to compare this game to anything it would be Dear Esther. You might even say that it’s very much the same style narrative. Walk some way, see something beautiful, hit the narrative beat, and repeat…

Ultimately you’ll find yourself wishing that the ideas on show and the story being told were both twice as long. As it stands now, The Unfinished Swan feels like a tasty pudding dish of a game. Costing more than it should, tasting and looking lovely while it lasts, but nowhere near enough to be classed as a filling meal.

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Serious Sam 3: BFE Review (XBLA) /2012/10/28/serious-sam-bfe-review/ /2012/10/28/serious-sam-bfe-review/#comments Sun, 28 Oct 2012 09:11:49 +0000 Keith Murray /?p=16131 Serious Sam: BFE Review

When Duke Nukem Forever finally released in 2011 (and, to no one’s real surprise, ended up being unmitigated garbage) it felt like the final chapter had been written for a certain style of first person shooters. The testosterone fuelled, no subtlety style had long since gone out of fashion to be replaced with more cerebral takes on the genre like… er, Call of Duty. While it might be flippant to suggest that the more things change the more they stay the same, Croteam seem determined to keep the flame alive with their latest Xbox Live Arcade release, Serious Sam 3: BFE.

Set across twelve different levels, Serious Sam 3: BFE (the BFE stands for Before First Encounter, making this a prequel) sees the titular hero fighting wave upon wave of enemies through the streets of Cairo taking in the Sphinx, the Great Pyramid and beyond. In tandem with this release, a DLC pack entitled Jewel of the Nile (which sadly doesn’t feature either Michael Douglas or Kathleen Turner), adds a further three levels of single player action and also adds to the games multiplayer mode.

Serious Sam: BFE Review

If there’s one thing that will become apparent to the player it’s that, for the first few levels, there’s a strange, subdued atmosphere to proceedings, completely at odds with the highly caffeinated, sheer lunacy that the series is famed for. For sure, the iconic headless kamikaze enemies are present (along with their war cry which is only silenced upon their destruction), as are the gigantic bosses and set pieces which were always a hallmark of the series, but the levels feel cramped and, for the want of a better description, dull.

When it does kicks up a gear, the old muscle memory twitches into life as the player settles into a pattern of amassing ammo, health and armour (how delightful it is to indulge in armour shards in this day and age, eliciting an almost Proustian response in the process). But the feeling will persist that a mouse and keyboard is the true way to control this. Thankfully, as it is, Croteam have done an great job of providing a good experience for console players.

Serious Sam: BFE Review

Boss fights such as Arachnoids or giant, sky-filling space ships are the bread and butter of the series and it’s heartening to see their appearance is a just reward for the rather limited initial levels. When incessant hordes of enemies start to accompany the larger enemies, the need to be au fait with the weaponry becomes tantamount.

To this day, the double barrel shotgun in Serious Sam remains only secondary to Doom’s legendary take on the weapon, remaining as satisfying to use as it ever was. There’s nothing like seeing an enemy split in two, and the shotgun covered in the unfortunate victims giblets, to be convinced of its undoubted power. The melee is just as gruesome but feels overly generous, with Sam not having to be especially close to the enemy to inflict the killer blow.

If there’s any one problem with Serious Sam 3: BFE it’s that the sloppy opening leaves the player feeling underwhelmed, even when the action cranks up. While the lack of a strong opening can be something that haunts many a game, here it never really recovers. When levels become packed as they should, it becomes nothing more than a case of crowd control instead of a combat puzzle to be solved. Here it’s merely a case of selecting the most powerful weapon and running backwards.

Serious Sam: BFE Review

But problems also manifest themselves in other areas. At one point Sam utters his own take on the well-worn internet meme “All your bases belong to us” which is fine in itself, but it would denote that Sam is self aware, and this is most definitely not the case with this character. It feels shoe-horned in, like some kind of nod to modernity but this is a series that is stuck firmly in the past (rightly or wrongly depending on the viewpoint). Deep down it feels like we’ve all outgrown this style of game, that somehow it doesn’t fit anymore. Not because it’s bad, far from it, more that our tastes have changed so much that it might feel like a step too far back for some to take.

Serious Sam 3: BFE is still competent and, at times, a fun experience that evokes a certain nostalgia for titles where more than two weapons can be carried at a time, where the AI can be cheesed by ducking into structures as it tries to find the player and, to be honest, that’s exactly how anyone would expect a game like this to be played. It may no longer be taken seriously by some, but there’s still enough here for those who might hanker for a slice of old school action.

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Zombie Driver HD Review (PSN / XBLA) /2012/10/23/zombie-driver-hd-review/ /2012/10/23/zombie-driver-hd-review/#comments Tue, 23 Oct 2012 20:12:44 +0000 Matt Ingrey /?p=16121 Zombie Driver HD

Zombie Driver HD is not a game which leaves a good first impression. The first thing you’ll encounter will be a (lengthy) loading screen which confirms that the developer doesn’t know the difference between “brakes” and “breaks,” which, in a driving game, is inexcusable. Then a level begins and you find that the game runs at a framerate which can’t even be as high as 20FPS, which results in constant stuttering and more screen tearing than that year the World’s Strongest Man contest ran out of Yellow Pages and they used televisions instead.

Then, when the mercifully short level is over, you’ll discover that developer doesn’t know the difference between “lose” and “loose,” either. Apparently that mistake is still not punishable by death, but it’s hopefully just a matter of time. All told, Zombie Driver HD has put a pretty bad taste in your mouth by the end of the first level.

This would be the place in a review where normally there’d be a “but,” and you’d go “oh, you!” and we’d all have a jolly good laugh at how we tricked you into thinking Zombie Driver was terrible when really it improves a lot. Yes, that’s what normally would be here. Normally. In other reviews. It’s on the way, it must be. It’s coming. Oh! Here it is now… but there is no but.

Zombie Driver HD

If anything, Zombie Driver HD just gets less and less fun the more you play it, and if that first level is the height of the game’s fun, well, at least the game is suitable for vertigo sufferers, eh?

You’ve got three modes, with story mode being the main one. For a game called “Zombie Driver” where all you do is drive at zombies, you’d think it wasn’t taking itself too seriously. In fact, the game has a quite remarkable lack of a sense of humour and there are literally no laughs at all. You get assigned some random mission, explained in a voiceover so bad that an actor at one point completely misreads a line and changes the meaning entirely. You’ll then have to drive to a place, kill some zombies, and drive back. Zombies are killed by running over them, or shooting them with a weapon. Rather than using a twin-stick control system like Renegade Ops, Zombie Driver HD controls like a dog. Not just any dog, either. It’s  a blind, rabid 15-year-old dog with three legs and a bladder condition which means it spends 12 hours a day pissing all over your floor.

RT and LT are your traditional accelerate/reverse controls, while the A button (we were obviously playing the XBLA version) allows you to shoot straight ahead if you’ve collected a weapon. This means when you’re faced with a huge pack of zombies it takes ages to kill them as you slowly reverse a bit, go forwards a bit, reverse a bit, go forwards a bit, reverse a bit, die inside, go forwards a bit, each time changing your direction a tiny amount to pick off the zombies to the left and right. That is until your weapon runs out, and then you have to wander around the map slowly looking for the random location at which the developer decided to put a weapon pick-up, then head back to finish off the horde.

Zombie Driver HD

Once you’ve eventually, tediously, picked off every last one (and all the extra ones that come along) you can drive back home. Even just driving from A to B is no fun at all, as the game’s map is appallingly designed so you’ll be constantly driving into corners from which there are no exits. That’s if you can even see the corners, with the game’s top-down view making it almost impossible to see what’s coming and its framerate meaning you don’t have a chance to react to what’s coming even when you see it. There is a map-screen but, hilariously, trying to view the map doesn’t pause the game, so there’s no point at which it’s safe to actually look at it and work out where you’re going. Further adding to the absolute car-wreck of design are night levels, in which you can only see the area directly in front of you, with the rest of the screen being blacked out. Here we see a developer taking a game which is barely playable anyway, and making it less playable. Those night levels are so fun that you’ll long for a quick and painless death because if this is life, death just seems a better option.

Even the structure of story mode is frankly bizarre. Each mission has a sub-objective, which rewards you with cash, things like completing missions quickly or protecting an ally, for example. This cash can be spent on car and weapon upgrades and thus is essential for later missions. What the game fails to tell you is that these secondary objectives are a one-time deal, and if you don’t get them first time you lose that cash bonus forever. You’ll discover it later when your car is too pathetic to complete a mission and you have no way of earning any extra money to upgrade your vehicle.

You’ll head into the “replay mission” menu to earn a few secondaries, maybe grab a few cash pick-ups along the way but as soon as you go to continue the story, all of those extra earnings are gone. Replay another mission and there they are, but they’re not in the “continue story” option where you need them. If you ever reach a point where you don’t have the money or the car to finish a level, you’re screwed. Hitting a brick wall is almost inevitable if you don’t complete secondary objectives, which is kind of funny since you spend so much of the game driving into brick walls. Maybe it’s just being meta.

Zombie Driver HD

Aside from story mode there’s a tournament mode which is almost precisely as bad. Here, you have a series of events from races (with incredibly vague and hard-to-follow track layouts) to checkpoint races (same) to elimination events where you have to destroy opponents with weapons you can’t aim on tracks with vague and hard-to… you get it. When a driving game fails to make the driving fun, there’s not really any mode they can include that’s going to make the game not suck more than an army of Henrys.

Slaughter mode is not even worth talking about, because far too many words have been wasted on this game already. For that, we can only apologise to the English language. When you were conceived you were supposed to be a force for good, a way of communicating on a level with people the world over. If people back then knew that thousands of years into the future you’d be used to describe this travesty of a game, they probably never would have bothered.

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Mark of the Ninja Review (XBLA) /2012/10/17/mark-of-the-ninja-review/ /2012/10/17/mark-of-the-ninja-review/#comments Wed, 17 Oct 2012 06:27:33 +0000 Matt Ingrey /?p=16106 Mark of the Ninja Review

It’s strange to think where videogaming would be today were it not for Metal Gear Solid. It introduced stealth to the masses and the masses seemed to want it, so it’s all we’ve had ever since. It was 2004 when the King of the World passed a law stating that every game must contain a stealth segment, leading to some bizarre occurrences such as the race in Gran Turismo 5 where you’re not allowed to be seen by any of the other cars. If we’re honest, though, Metal Gear Solid had a flaw.

It’s obviously a tremendous game, but the fact is that you play it in 2D. The radar contains more important information than the game-screen, and you’ll often find yourself controlling a dot on a radar more than you’re controlling Snake himself. The problem is that the shift to 3D removes the player’s ability to see all around them, and it’s this which is essential in a stealth game.

Mark of the Ninja is the best stealth game since Metal Gear Solid, and actually plays a better game of stealth, though there’s a fitting tribute within which shows how much Klei respect Konami’s masterpiece. That it plays a better game of stealth isn’t mere hyperbole, either. What it does is take MGS’s radar and transplant it onto a 2D platformer, so now it’s possible to see in real-time, on the game-screen, exactly what your enemies can perceive. Each baddie comes with its own vision cone and they can usually see the area just in front of themselves (it’s dark, you’re a ninja), as long as you don’t stray into some light they will only see you once you enter that cone. Noise, too, is handled similarly. Anything you do which makes noise will send out shockwaves so you can see how far the noise carries, and from this you can deduce whether an enemy will react.

Mark of the Ninja Review

Every piece of information you could possibly need is right there in front of you (save for a marvellous “fog of war” effect for areas you can hear but not see) and means that you can always be prepared for every situation. Seeing two guards facing one another and knowing that each can’t see the other means you can sneak up behind and pick one of them off in a brutal stealth kill completely undetected by the other. Knowing how much noise will be created by a dart you shoot at a light means you can catch the attention of a guard and as he walks past your hiding place and emerge for a brutal stealth kill. Hanging silently above an enemy who’s looking the other way means you can make your move undetected and, of course, brutally.

Oh, yes, the game is violent all right. The very first guard you kill almost comes as a surprise in its violence, but then if you feel that’s too much you can always play the game and kill not a single soldier. There are multitudes of ways to handle every situation, and the player is always in control. All the game does is give you the tools, how you use them is up to you. Maybe you want to use a dead guard to freak out another guard, get yourself a nice little “friendly fire” bonus as he shoots wildly hoping to catch you in the darkness and hitting a colleague instead.

It’s not just you who’s violent. The game does an incredible job of making you feel super-human while constantly reminding you that you’re not. Creeping around and stealth killing enemies while completely unseen is amazing but if you get spotted, even the lowliest of grunts will take you out in two seconds of machine-gun fire. Checkpoints are kind, though, always offering you the chance to approach a problem another way if your first solution went wrong.

Mark of the Ninja Review

All this talk of enemies may make Mark of the Ninja sound like an action game but it’s not; it’s a puzzle game in an action game’s skin; the enemies are your puzzles. Each enemy must be approached silently, the situation assessed slowly, until you work out how to pass safely – either with extreme violence or pacifism. Puzzle solved. Either solution will work, too, you just need to discover how to carry it out.

There are so many possibilities, that when you finish a level it’s hard not to go right back and just play it again, to see how differently you can do it. To manipulate guards some other way, to kill everyone, to kill no one. The game’s only weakness is in its scoring mechanic, which gives points for every action. A guard passing you and not detecting you. Distracting a guard. Stealth killing them (or performing a special kill such as friendly fire). Hiding their body. Unfortunately, it means that to maximise your score for each level you have to maximise each kill, and this can be a tedious way to play the game. There’s no pressure to top leaderboards though, because the game is just so much fun however you want to play it that there’s no need to play it any other way.

The game is linear and there’s very little backtracking (beyond those levels you want to replay). There’s a lot of content though, levels are long and full of secrets to find if you explore thoroughly (and safely), including challenge rooms. These are small areas where the focus is more on platforming than stealth, and they’re an interesting change of pace, though they can be as puzzling as the toughest enemy.

Mark of the Ninja

The challenge rooms would be nothing without the game’s exquisite controls which it’s hard to describe as anything other than “tight.” You cling to everything, and pressing the jump button will pull you around or underneath corners before it jumps – it sounds counter-intuitive but in practice it works brilliantly; you’ll never accidentally perform any action leading to your death because the controls make it almost impossible, and that’s essential in a game in which the challenge should always be in the planning rather than the execution.

The execution is just there because it’s fun.

Metal Gear Solid made the world take notice of stealth gameplay, and for nearly 15 years developers have been trying to better it. Mark of the Ninja may not be a better package than Snake’s outing (few games are) but it does stealth better, and for a game whose sole focus is stealth that’s high praise. Indeed, it’s difficult to consider Mark of the Ninja’s stealth gameplay as anything other than perfect.

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NiGHTS into Dreams Review (PSN / XBLA) /2012/10/14/nights-into-dreams-review/ /2012/10/14/nights-into-dreams-review/#comments Sun, 14 Oct 2012 17:08:32 +0000 Robin Smith /?p=16093 Nights Into Dreams

On its original release, NiGHTS into Dreams was a startlingly original and challenging title, both by means of design and visual style. However, its gameplay was quite divisive back in the day and, despite getting a HD spruce up, is likely to remain so.

Whether you’re already a fan of the game or not, credit has to be given to the quality of the package you’re getting with this, the latest of Sega’s downloadable updates to their back catalogue. Not only do you have the up-scaled game, but you also have an original Saturn version of the game (thankfully saves are shared across both versions), with unlockable extra in the form of Christmas NiGHTS, galleries, and a number of other bonus features.

As we said before, NiGHTS into Dreams was, and still is, a divisive game and a new lick of paint does nothing to change that. One of the big problems comes from exactly how you explain NiGHTS to someone for the first time; the game certainly doesn’t do a great job of it. There is a `How To` guide tucked away in there, but even then it’s still likely to confuse.

Nights Into Dreams Review

As a narrative experience it’s quite simple, although explaining it might sound convoluted. You play as one of two children who, in their dreams, meet a sort of “dream jester” by the name of NiGHTS who helps them to find their own inner strength. They in turn aid NiGHTS in saving the land of Nightopia (yes, really) from the Nightmaren – creatures that wish to fill the land of dreams with nothing but nightmares.

At its heart the game is an arcade score attack title; you pick a character, followed by a stage, and then play through it. Back on the original Saturn the game would actually drop you back at the title screen every time you finish a level. Thankfully that’s been addressed with this release and now your left at the character / stage select screen, but it does go to show the games sense of `pick up and play`.

In some ways NiGHTS is an experience in cognitive dissonance. It’s a short and somewhat shallow title; just three stages per character, plus a fourth stage which is shared between both. This last stage is unlocked when all previous ones are cleared with a rank of C or above and it’s entirely possible to finish the whole game in one sitting of less than an hour.

In contrast to this shallow simplicity though is a surprising amount of depth; the challenge of actually finishing at C or higher, which is highly unlikely your first time through, is what brings the player back for repeated plays.

Each stage is cut into four sections and, as NiGHTS, you fly through each section collecting blue orbs to deposit into items known as “Ideya captures”. There release an Ideya and deposit it back at the start of the stage. While it’s quite easy to collect all the Ideya and progress, this will not get you the high pass grade required to unlock the final stage.

Nights Into Dreams Review

To obtain these high scores you have to master each stage. Remembering item placement and stinging together orbs, stars, rings and tricks in ever more impressive combos is key to an A grade. As is good management of the limited time you have. You might have the means to progress with forty seconds left, but in that forty seconds you could lap another two or three times and rack up an even better score… or you could run out of time completely.

For the most part the sensation of flight is well realised, but it’s important to remember that this game was developed with the original Saturn d-Pad in mind. So while you have the use of the left stick to control all the action taking place, you really don’t have total analogue control. This makes flight a little hard to get to grips with at first; some of NiGHTS’ movements can start out feeling erratic or imprecise. Thankfully it doesn’t take long for things to click into place and become more in tuned with the flight mechanic which remains well crafted, even now.

Nights Into Dreams Review

Certainly another issue that will put most people off is the level design, which can sometimes seem a little schizophrenic. Short flight sequences can roll right into underwater sections in which you fly away from the camera and where the quality of control just drops excessively. Mix in often confusing top down views, and it’s unsurprising to see newer players having a hard time. Which is a shame because when everything clicks into place the game can be a sublime experience.

NiGHTS into Dreams remains a marmite game. If you love it, you’ll always love it and this HD update will be a must have. If you’re new to it then you’re not likely to warm to the game quickly, if at all, and if you didn’t like it to start with… well, you still won’t. But that won’t change the fact that this is a well done tribute to an inventive, challenging and one of a kind game.

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Worms Revolution Review (PSN / XBLA) /2012/10/06/worms-revolution-review/ /2012/10/06/worms-revolution-review/#comments Sat, 06 Oct 2012 07:41:12 +0000 Matt Ingrey /?p=16085 Worms Revolution Review

You might have enjoyed his work in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, or in The Mighty Boosh. Maybe you know him from what is perhaps his most notable role as Douglas Renholm in The IT Crowd. Either way, you probably know Matt Berry and his distinctive voice, and it’s probably brought you many laughs. In Worms Revolution all you’ll want is for him to just shut the hell up.

It’s not a problem with him per se. His delivery is mostly excellent (although on occasion it sounds a bit like Berry doing an impression of himself) and the lines are laugh-heavy. The problem is that there’s just so, so many of them. Each campaign mission is introduced with narration that lasts minutes, when all you want to do is play the game. It’s as if the writers were being paid by the word, or by the joke, and they shoehorned in so many before each level that sometimes it takes longer to sit through these speeches than it does to complete said level. Just when you think the game’s ready to start, the screen fades back in and it’s just more Berry. Pre-release hype certainly suggests that he’s a major selling point but they’ve gone way, way too far.

Worms Revolution Review

Skipping this narration is, of course, an option, but you’ll miss out on most of the game’s humour with it. The move from cartoon-2D to an ugly pseudo-3D doesn’t really work, and the game loses a lot of its slapstick as a result of dull animation. Sure, the same deaths are there, the same weapons, but they’re just not funny now. This isn’t helped by the in-game voiceovers. You can still choose voices for your worms such as the classic pirates, or angry Scottish dudes, as well as some newer ones like memes (“enemy worm, y u no die?”). The problem is that, like Berry, they’re overused to the point of absolute tedium. Instead of relating to the gameplay, such as worms exclaiming “u mad, bro?” when they kill an enemy, the utterances are uttered entirely at random, at a rate of about one every five seconds. They become completely meaningless and when one of them does seem to relate to the on-screen action it feels like a total fluke and so all the potential humour is lost.

The other problem with skipping the dialogue is that it doesn’t do much to speed up the game anyway. Loading is slow and menus are deep and confusing, with everything you need seemingly ten screens away from the last thing you needed. The obvious example is the game’s use of squads. If you start a mission and decide that your squad is ill-equipped to handle it, the only solution is a trip all the way back out of the match menu and into the customisation menu. Even though you can set up a number of different squads, you can’t quickly select the one you want pre-match and instead can only do it by delving into the (deep, confusing) customisation menu.

Squads are one of Worms Revolution’s two changes, which kind of makes a mockery of the term “revolution.” There’s very little in the way of revolution here because it’s really still just Worms, but far slower. Still, to indulge them: there are now four different types of worm. Soldiers are your typical worm, scouts are smaller and faster but do less damage, heavies are slower but strong, and scientists bless your team with +5 health each time their turn comes round. Being 2012, these worms are, of course, hidden behind an in-game economy. To use a team of scientists you’ll have to buy them using credits earned by winning numerous games.

Worms Revolution Review

The different kinds of worms are a peculiar addition, since any non-campaign level is randomly generated. This makes it impossible to select a squad based on the terrain you’re going to encounter, and means you can easily lose a match before you’ve even begun.

So you’ve jumped through all the game’s hoops, got your team ready, started the game, exited the game, gone all the way back through the menus to get a team ready that’s more suited to the next mission’s map, and you’re ready to go. It’s all good from there, right?

Well, kind of. In keeping with the overarching theme, the gameplay itself is slower than David Beckham trying to spell the word “onomatopoeia”, with huge pauses between each turn and sluggish movement, as well as awkward, unresponsive controls. The core gameplay in Worms has always been brilliant, though, and it’s still good here in spite of the flaws. Revolution’s other change to the formula is with “physics items,” which come in two forms. The first are just random bits of scenery that are affected by gravity or which blow up, and are completely pointless, having very little effect on the game. The other is water.

Water is awesome, and is really the only positive to be taken from Worms Revolution. Pockets of water will be strewn around the landscape and shooting at them can cause the water to flood out, washing enemy worms away into the sea, or slowly drowning them if they can’t escape the murky depths. It genuinely changes the way you play, with areas that once would have been safe now becoming perilous. It also allows for the addition of new weapons such as the water cannon, or water strike, which can also lead to some new and interesting deaths. Outside water, it’s very much business as usual, and there’s very few weapons you won’t have used a million times before.

Worms Revolution Review

Worms Revolution is the fourth Worms game on the console downloads, and the third of those in 2D. If you strip away all the extraneous stuff, it still plays a great game of war, but therein lies the problem. You already have Worms and Worms Armageddon available for far fewer of your pennies, and both of them play great games of war with all the extraneous stuff already absent. The water is a great addition, but it’s just not enough.

This is not a revolution worth being part of. Or, as Matt Berry would say… well, we don’t really know what he’d say, but he’d use about a million words to say it.

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Retro City Rampage starts to release next week /2012/10/05/retro-city-rampage-starts-to-release-next-week/ /2012/10/05/retro-city-rampage-starts-to-release-next-week/#comments Fri, 05 Oct 2012 06:30:57 +0000 Jamie Davies /?p=16080 Retro City Rampage

It’s been a long time coming, filled with quite a lot of upsand downs, but from next week you’ll finally be able to play VBlank’s Retro City Rampage… well, kind of.

Befitting the games checkered development process, the game is launching on PSN (and PC) next week. The 9th October in fact. But there’s no mention of when the XBLA or WiiWare versions will launch, nor if this date is for the US PSN only, so things still aren’t totally set in stone.

Although if you’ve been following this game, do you really expect anything less at this point? From next week we finally get to find out if it’s been worth the wait.

Source: Joystiq

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Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit Review (PSN / XBLA) /2012/10/02/hell-yeah-wrath-of-the-dead-rabbit-review/ /2012/10/02/hell-yeah-wrath-of-the-dead-rabbit-review/#comments Tue, 02 Oct 2012 20:54:38 +0000 Keith Murray /?p=16069 Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit Review

It’s a hard life being a Rabbit. If the constant threat of Myxomatosis wasn’t bad enough, it’s having to avoid pesky hunters with speech impediments. But in Hell Yeah!: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit, Arkedo’s latest title for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, it seems to be a life of unmitigated cartoon violence.

The player controls Ash who, as the newly appointed rabbit leader of Hell, decides to treat himself to a relaxing bath with his beloved rubber ducky. Unbeknown to him, he finds himself “papped” and the subsequent pictures are plastered all over the Hellternet. While only one hundred people have seen it, Ash looks to limit the damage by tracking them down and reclaiming the offending snaps.

Hell Yeah! is probably best described as a side scrolling platformer with a Metroidvania-style exploration motif, set in a land where just about every enemy encountered is a boss fight. That certainly sounds like a tough, frustrating experience but couldn’t be further from the truth. Ash, aided by his assistant Nestor (who sports a natty top hat and monocle combination; always the pinnacle in sartorial elegance), provides helpful hints and tips along the way, as Ash slices, dices and generally platforms his way through the different layers of rabbit hell.

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit Review

The augments to Ash’s arsenal come in the form of assorted pistols, shotguns, grenade launchers and eventually a hand cannon that even Harry Callahan would be proud of. These help with crowd control as progression through the zones intensifies, and the hordes thrown at the player increase in size and scope. All weaponry can be upgraded at shops dotted around the zones and like everything else in Hell Yeah! are unmissable due to their gaudy nature. While there the player can also buy new costumes and skins for their spinning blades. After all, there’s nothing quite like riding a giant doughnut of death while sporting a jaunty fedora, or Frankenstein mask.

The look of Hell Yeah! is sumptuous, seemingly pulling from many different sources all at the same time. A dash of John Kricfalusi’s unique style, alongside a smattering of Castle Crashers visual punch is added to Arkedo’s style and even the levels reflect this, their locations teeming with eye-catching detail and humorous touches that compliment the frenetic action.

From vast industrial zones packed with fiendishly placed electrical traps, to the gaudy opulence of Casino with its blindingly clean surfaces and interactive slot machines, it’s all terrifically surreal but, most importantly, it works. Even when the player is bouncing on little green bottoms (yes, that’s correct, little green bums) and the accompanying fart noise goes from trump, to a squeak, to a parp, it doesn’t become tired because Arkedo know the value of comedic timing and quality. Sometimes even the smallest fart can be the funniest thing if done correctly.

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit Review

The bosses encountered range from outright hostile, to genial, and everything in between. There’s nothing more disarming than having a gentle conversation with one, as Hell Yeah! Likes to mix things up in how the player both uncovers and approaches a battle. Once enough of a bosses health bar has been depleted a mini game eschews which sees the player having to hit the right combination of buttons to execute a finishing move. These range from sticking a finger in a bee hive while it’s distracted, or performing what looks suspiciously like a Spinning Bird Kick that Chun Li herself would be proud of. However it’s all in keeping with the overall tone of the game and it drives the player on, waiting to see what silliness awaits them.

All the monsters that are vanquished don’t disappear once defeated. They’re cast into what must approximate for another ring of hell, a place called The Island. This could have be ripped straight from H.G. Wells `The Island of Doctor Moreau`, except here they’re forced into doing manual labour in the service of Ash, which will in turn produce goods and items that can be used in the main game.

The micromanagement of this area extends to punishing miscreants or rewarding the hardest workers with some R’n'R on the beach area if they become overworked. The player will become fond of their charges and favourites will be picked due to each monster having two names. Mavis Carpenter also goes by the name Medusor, which we think is rather endearing. As is the nom de guerre adopted by Kermit Bravo, Eyefighter. But without doubt Bamb-bu aka Vince Bernosky is a classy moniker for a giant robot Panda that shoots lasers from their disco eyes. Yes, we actually typed that sentence.

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit Review

It’s this sense of combined fun that makes Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit an off the cuff delight, packed with knowing nods, belly laughs and some razor sharp gameplay. It proves that, once again, small developers can flourish and make distinct and entertaining games.

Who knew Hell really could be so much fun?

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Jet Set Radio Review (PSN / XBLA) /2012/10/01/jet-set-radio-review/ /2012/10/01/jet-set-radio-review/#comments Mon, 01 Oct 2012 21:06:17 +0000 Robin Smith /?p=16060 Jet Set Radio Review

The original Dreamcast release of Jet Set Radio is held in fond regard, even today. While the game wasn’t totally perfect, it was a very inventive and arguably a very important one. Twelve years on, with this latest HD reissue, SEGA do a good job of reminding us what made the game special (while adding a few nice extras). A mix of 3D adventure platformer and stylish freestyle sports game, it laid the groundwork for many games which came after it and made the cell shaded graphic style viable.

If you’re a fan of the original release then you’ll be happy to find out that this is a near exact and faithful upscale; one that brings out all that made the game special but also retains the flaws that bothered the game to begin with. It’s partly due to how far the games scene has progressed that these problems stick out even more today, and for those of you who didn’t experience the game on its original release, they might just be enough to put you off what remains an entertaining, lively and enjoyable experience.

While the cell shaded graphics have been up-scaled well and look more vibrant than ever, some small aspects didn’t come through the process so well. Most notably the graffiti art assets which, while looking than before, are sometimes inconsistent in quality when adorning the neon, cartoon wonderlands you traverse.

Jet Set Radio Review

There’s also an issue with the original 3D camera and the conflict it often arrives at with the distinctly angular level design. Levels, for the most part, are brilliantly constructed, starting out in early stages as a series of smaller sections that later on become interconnected to open the world out into a frantic dash across town against the clock.

Some parts of these interconnected levels have small passages and tight roof to roof jumps that can be obscured by the poor camera. The right stick has been assigned towards full camera control for this re-release but, more often than not, it’s a worse option then the original games L-Trigger “snap behind” option. This is mostly due to its over sensitive and erratic reactions to what you’re inputting; something that can become a real hindrance in the more frantic, later moments of the game. Thankfully the latter method of camera control is still available

So far you’d be forgiven for thinking that we had a bad time with the game, but nothing could actually be further from the truth. Jet Set Radio was always a game that divided people. Its gameplay was often (and still is) quite challenging, and something that could put off less dedicated players – its playful attitude and visual cartoon style almost misleading to those expecting a simple platformer with skates.

While to an extent it is that, it also demands you take your time to really get the most out of it. To really unlock its extra characters and hidden bonuses you have to learn the patterns of the levels and manage your spray cans /graffiti tagging accordingly.

Jet Set Radio Review

The police, and eventually the mob, will turn up to hinder your progress. Picking a good path through each level and making sure you take as little damage as possible are both key to hitting the highest level pass ranks. Also key is mastering the one of a kind tagging mechanic. Each stage is littered with areas to tag, marked with red arrows; you have to hit each of these tagging spots to pass a stage. There’s also Green arrow tag spots that, while not vital to progression, add to you final score.

Tags come in three sizes; small which take a simple press of the bumper to fill, and medium and large tags that take you to a mini-game style system that requires you to input specific left stick movements in a limited time, all the while surrounded by active level elements. These still give a great feeling of actually painting but also provided an additional challenge. The more tags you hit, the more threats you face, and the more likely you’ll be attacked while tagging.

The thrill in hitting a clean line, avoiding the law and literally painting a part of town red, remains brilliantly addicitve and ultimately makes each stage a great challenge that keeps driving you to come back in an attempt to improve.

Even today the game’s utterly brilliant cast of insane and cool characters are endlessly likeable and entertaining, right down to the madcap mobs of police that chase you down in the middle of tagging – truncheons waving about manically in the air, chanting as they run and throw themselves through the air in a fruitless effort to catch you.

The also soundtrack helps to fill out the vibrant and cool world, all of which make it across from the North American release. Much like the Tony Hawk series, Jet Set Radio had an essential soundtrack that made the game and it’s to its credit that it’s retained here.

Jet Set Radio Review

There’s some differences in the track mixes, and sadly it’s not the superior European edition of the soundtrack (which, as a note, didn’t have to suffer the addition of the out of place Rob Zombie track, Dragular), but for the most part it still stands out as one of the most memorable in gaming.

This re-release of the first Jet Set Radio game is totally faithful in all aspects of the Dreamcast game – all that was good and the problems too. Undeniably it’s aged, but it’s still a funny and entertaining adventure filled with an unexpectedly deep challenge and great cast of characters. There remains a world that’s great to visit and, for those of us who’ve been here before,  is a real treat to come back to.

While its design and challenging nature can put new players off, the nice extras and faithful update means Sega has given the game a faithful update that  is worth checking out.

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Retro/Grade Review (PSN) /2012/09/29/retrograde-review/ /2012/09/29/retrograde-review/#comments Sat, 29 Sep 2012 07:47:08 +0000 Keith Murray /?p=16051 Retro/Grade Review

Plastic Surgery disaster and purveyor of 80′s soft rock Cher once lamented that if only she could turn back time. While this is a concept that is still beyond us in reality, it seems developers 24 Carat Gaming are looking to fulfil the warbling diva’s ambitions in digital form with their release, Retro/Grade for the PlayStation Network.

Coming across as the bastard child of Guitar Hero and Space Giraffe, with a dash of Beat Hazard thrown in for good measure, Retro/Grade sees the player control a ship (piloted by Rick Rocket) over the course of ten levels. The twist is that these are all delivered backwards, as he looks to undo damage done to the Space/Time continuum and attempts to restore the proper flow of time. The story is clichéd to say the least, but it does enough to frame the action without getting bogged down in detail.

Retro/Grade Review

The action starts with a final boss fight, which is fairly unique and something that even Japanese bullet hell shooters wouldn’t attempt. The player quickly has to try and get their head around the concept of absorbing every shot fired at enemies, as they in turn absorb the assorted projectiles fired in Rick Rocket’s Spacecraft in the past, being sucked back from whence they came. Confused? Initially you will be.

As expected there’s a certain rhythm to the levels, but it feels like the one good idea the developers had was stretched out so thinly that even a size zero model would feel a slab of cake is in order. Of course starting with the grand finale means the subsequent levels are very ordinary, with only the occasional mid-level boss to grapple with, but that’s about it in terms of diversity.

At least the levels are packed with detail and sparkle with clarity, it’s just a pity that the player has to actually concentrate on the dull, repetitive gameplay on offer since, once all ten levels are cleared, there isn’t a whole lot left to do. Of course they can be replayed on higher difficulty levels but the gist remains the same, with nothing except some extra bars placed along the horizontal scroll.

Retro/Grade Review

At this juncture, the game only really makes sense if the player plugs in a plastic instrument to use, as a joypad just isn’t responsive enough for the higher levels. Fingers on a fret bar will reach them much quicker than even the most nimble-fingered player will be able to manoeuvre down the time-line, instantly putting those sans instruments at a disadvantage.

But apart from the kudos associated with aiming for the lowest score on the leaderboard (Retro/Grade’s flipping of conventions even extends to scoring), it doesn’t feel like a whole lot of fun to go back to it once completed. Normal mode, and the challenges found in Challenge mode, don’t change the areas used in the main campaign, instead only asking players to meet certain requirements for little in the way of gain (concept art and the like).

It all adds up to a very samey experience, one that makes the player yearn for a dash more excitement. There’s clearly some excellent ideas on show here, but they don’t seem to be fully realised or weren’t properly explored to their limit. If the highest difficulty offered extra levels, or perhaps expanded upon the earlier ideas, or even just mixed them up, it might be a far more memorable experience instead of one that will be forgotten almost as quickly as it was picked up and played.

Retro/Grade Review

If there’s a highlight to Retro/Grade then it’s the music, as it features some truly enjoyable aural delights that accompany the on-screen action. Late 70′s style Kraftwerk and a slice of Selected Ambient Works-era Aphex Twin seems to be the major influence on offer here. It works really well and the player will soon pick firm favourites – if there’s anything that can make you replay certain levels then it’s the prospect of  just being able to hear a particular track.

There’s nothing wrong with Retro/Grade, the initial fun and quirkiness will beckon players in, but they’ll soon find themselves bored with the repetitious nature of the gameplay, which even the challenges and alternate difficulty levels cannot save.

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