Gaming Blog Archive

Back at the tail end of 2017, having taken stock of the ludicrous amount of un-touched games I had sitting on my shelves, I decided to try and make a dent in the backlog pile by writing about my experiences of playing each game.

Below you’ll find each and every article that appeared on ‘The Hacklog’ in chronological order.

Persona 4 took over my life

Originally published: 31st December 2017

Although I’ve been gaming for almost 30 years there’s always been a couple of genres that I’ve never really managed to get into. Real time strategy games, (Unless Sim City counts) and Role Playing Games. In fact my only real experience of playing any form of RPG up until now was Defenders of Oasis on the Sega Game Gear and even that was a struggle.

So for me to take on a Japanese RPG like Persona 4 Golden is taking me right out of my gaming comfort zone. But since owning a PS Vita it’s been one of the titles that has been mentioned time and time again by various websites and YouTube channels as being one of the best gaming experiences on the platform. And as it just so happened to be going cheap on the PSN store before Christmas I decided to give it a try. 60+ hours later of gameplay later I’m glad I did!

You take on the role of the initially un-named protagonist who moves from the big city to the quiet town of Inaba to spend a year living with his uncle Ryotaro Dojima and his young cousin Nanako. During his stay he attends the local high school and becomes friends with Yosuke, Chie, Yukiko and later on in the game Kanji, former Japanese idol Rise and Naoto Shirogane – a young police detective who eventually ends up attending the same school as the others.

Not long after you arrive in Inaba and following a couple of recent murders, Yosuke, Chie and you investigate the widespread rumours of the Midnight Channel. Apparently if you stare into a TV at midnight when it rains you will see your supposed soulmate. Or so you’re led to believe. When you actually try out the rumours for yourself you realise that you are actually able to fully enter an alternate world through the TV screen, which is where you’ll end up spending a good portion of the game. The rest of your time is spent living out your everyday teenage life. You go to school, attend after school clubs, eat at the local Chinese diner and hang out with your friends. And it’s through the time spent with your friends and other key characters within the game that you will start to build up ‘Social links’. Each link that you manage to build up helps to improve and strengthen the persona inside of you. The stronger the link, the stronger the persona.

Your Persona or to put it another way, ‘That alternate creature that lives inside of you’ is pretty much key to progressing through the dungeon crawling sections of the game. At various points during the story certain characters will be kidnapped and thrown into the TV world by a mystery culprit. You then have a set number of days to investigate the TV world, track them down and save them. Each of these sections takes the form of a multi-level dungeon that’s jam packed with treasure to find and monsters to fight. These monsters or ‘Shadows’ as they’re known as in the game take the form of all manner of inventive and highly creative creatures such as dismembered hands, lions on wheels and even what appears to me to look like Skeletor’s head on a wooden body. I could be wrong but that’s what it looks like to me.

At the end of each dungeon you’ll face a boss. This in particular is where having a strong Persona comes into play. You’ll need to use each of your teams Personas individual strengths against the boss’s weaknesses. So you might get one of your team members to bombard a boss that’s vulnerable to ice magic with ice attacks while another team member is the dedicated healer, constantly casting healing spells to top up your health levels. It’s all turn based combat at the end of the day, but there’s a certain satisfaction to be had from conquering a tricky boss through effectively micro managing your team. Oh, and some of those boss fights are pretty damn long by the way so make sure you keep your Vita’s charging lead to hand!

And that’s pretty much Persona 4 in a nutshell. Obviously, there’s an in-depth and rather emotional story to work your way through and you’ll find yourself getting more and more sucked into it as your play time progresses. You’ll get to know each different characters personality traits and after a while you’ll start to care what happens to each of them as well. It’s a game that’s almost a bit like a really good television drama where you can’t wait to watch the next episode because you want to see what happens. It offers such a wealth of fun and escapism without ever really becoming too grindy or boring. It took me just over 60 hours to reach the end credits yet I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer.

If you’ve never tried a JRPG before then I highly recommend Persona 4 Golden as a good entry point. It’s certainly opened up my eyes to a new genre of game that I can’t wait to explore further.

Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy – First Impressions

Originally published: 4th January 2018

With Persona 4 Golden well and truly done and dusted it’s time to crack on with the backlog, starting with both Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy and Far Cry 4 from the PS4 list. I’ll add my thoughts on Far Cry 4 at a later date but for now, I thought i’d share my thoughts on Crash.

Crash Bandicoot is a franchise of games that I’ve always been aware of but never really given much time to. Back in the day when the first Crash game was released on the original Playstation I was very much still into my Super Nintendo and was adamantly holding out for the upcoming release of the Nintendo 64. After all, what did Sony know about making a games console? And Crash Bandicoot? Pah, I’ll stick to Super Mario 64 thanks! In hindsight perhaps my then 16 year old self should’ve taken a more considered approach.

Anyway, fast-forward 20 years and I’m now able to take a look at the first three Crash titles with more mature eyes thanks to Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy on the Playstation 4.

The first thing to mention is how gorgeous everything looks. Developer Vicarious Visions have done an amazing job of lovingly bringing the original games graphics up to a modern day standard. Gone are the jaggy, low-res polygons and textures of old – replaced instead with the sort of lush and vibrant high-definition environments that you would expect from a platform game in 2018. Think more along the lines of the PS4 Ratchet & Clank remake than the disappointing Yooka-Laylee and you’ll get the idea.

I started, as you would probably expect, with the first Crash Bandicoot game. For those that aren’t aware it’s an on-rails 3D platform game. You move Crash using either the left analogue stick or the directional pad depending on your preference. Purists may prefer the traditional feel of the latter option where-as I myself preferred the more familiar analogue controls. You also can also jump or make use of Crash’s spin attack using the X and square buttons respectively. That’s about as complicated as it gets and it feels all the more refreshing for it.

As games go it’s very simple to learn and easy to pick up and play without having to think too much about what you’re doing. Progress forward through each relatively short level, smashing crates and enemies using your spin attack and collecting apples. For every 100 apples you collect you earn an extra life. If you manage to smash all the crates in a level you earn a diamond. If you manage to acquire 3 special tokens during a level you get to have a go at the bonus stages which allow you to earn extra lives. That’s all there is to it.

It’s the simplicity of the first Crash title that makes it so addictive in my eyes. Playing it last night I found myself completely engrossed from the moment I picked up the controller and smiling, even laughing out loud as I progressed through the game. It’s a welcome throwback to a more innocent era of gaming but also a timely reminder of how far we’ve come in 20 years.

I’m looking forward to trying out both Crash 2 and 3 in the coming weeks and obviously, I’ll let you know how I get on.

Review: Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed

Originally published: 9th January 2018

If I were to compare Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed on the PlayStation Vita to any other game in my collection I would probably say it bears a striking resemblance to the 3DS version of Hyrule Warriors. Well, gameplay wise anyway. I don’t recall the likes of Link and Princess Zelda going into battle wearing the skimpiest of skimpy bondage gear that ‘just so happened to fall off at every opportunity.’

That appears to be the main gimmick that this particular game offers on top of the familiar button mashing gameplay. And you’ll be doing a hell of a lot of button mashing, believe me. Whether it’s hammering the square button during one of the many repetitive battles or repeatedly pressing the cross button to skip through the lengthily and mostly tedious dialogue during the cut scenes. Yes there is a plot and story to this game but in all honesty it’s so ridiculous that most players won’t have the required level of patience in order to keep up with it.

The core gameplay revolves around sending one or two of the female characters into a series of quests. Each quest is basically a dungeon that’s filled with enemies that you need to disperse, which you achieve through the aforementioned button mashing. You have a number of largely ineffective special moves that you can access via the right shoulder button as well as the option to transform into a slightly more powerful alter-ego once you’ve filled up your power meter. However you approach the levels presented here you’ll still just be hitting the same couple of buttons over and over and over again. There really is no variety what-so-ever. It’s very much a rinse and repeat formula that gets dull incredibly quickly.

If you happen to lose too much of your characters health bar the game will trigger something called a Costume Break. When this occurs you’ll be treated to a brief cut scene of one of the girls losing most of their clothes for no apparent reason. Clearly the team behind this mediocre title spent more time making sure the boob physics were accurate than they did ensuring the game play was engaging.

Another issue I have with Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is the diabolical camera. For some reason the camera won’t automatically follow you during play. Instead, you have to keep manually adjusting the viewing angle using the right analogue stick or by tapping the left shoulder button in order to re-focus it behind you. This is incredibly annoying when you’re surrounded by a crowd of uninspired monsters, (Tetris blocks, mushrooms, penguins, etc..) and you can’t see what on earth you’re attacking or what happens to be attacking you. The actual graphics in general are decidedly lacking overall to be fair and wouldn’t look out of place on the lesser powered 3DS as opposed to the technically superior Vita.

The repetitive nature of this game also extends to the sound. If you’re the sort of gamer that enjoys hearing the same couple of voice samples repeated over and over and over again then you’ll be in your element here. Thankfully the programmers did include the option to change the voice track over to Japanese which makes things slightly more bearable. Honestly, you’ll want to do this as soon as possible to save your sanity.

Despite all it’s shortcomings though, I don’t completely hate Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed. If you skip through the pointless story and take the game for what it is then it’s an okay way to mindlessly kill half an hour here and there. Just don’t expect anything more than a simple button masher.

20-ish hours with Far Cry 4

Originally published: 14th January 2018

The Far Cry series of games have never really troubled me until now. Having a Wii U as my main system for a few years kind of limited me when it came to any Ubisoft releases aside from a couple of dodgy Assassin’s Creed ports and a yearly dose of Just Dance. I was also possibly the only person in the UK to ever buy and actually play Watch Dogs through to completion on Wii U as well. 

With that in mind it’s actually not surprising that Ubisoft never saw fit to release any more of their top rated franchises on the platform.

Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent here somewhat. Far Cry 4 is the order of the day here so let’s start with one of the least important things in the game. The story-line.

So the game begins with you arriving in the fictional Himalayan country of Kyrat where you meet the sadistic ruler of the land, a rather nasty piece of work called Pagan Min. The whole reason for your spontaneous visit to Kyrat is apparently to scatter your late mother’s ashes. However, for no apparent reason you soon find yourself caught up in an ongoing civil war between Pagan Min and a group of revolutionaries known as the Golden Path. You’ll then spend the next 15 hours or so helping the aforementioned Golden Path in their quest to overthrow the tyrannical ruler and bring peace and hope to the land. Or rather that’s what Ubisoft probably intended you to do. The fact of the matter is and, as the title suggests, I’ve spent a good 20+ hours on this game and I don’t think I’m anywhere close to finishing the story.

You see I just don’t care about it. Likewise, i don’t really care about the main protagonist either. They’re both just an annoying distraction from the sheer overwhelming amount of extra activities and side quests that are included right from the get go. Take a look at the map and it’s as if the programmers couldn’t bare to leave an inch of the vast world without a sprinkling of icons or things to discover. The main story certainly plays second fiddle to the additional content in my eyes. 

In order to reach this multitude of side quests and activities, and indeed the main story missions, you’ll need to start exploring the world around you. And what a world it is! Honestly, it’s one of the most gorgeous and well realised worlds that I’ve ever seen in a video game. Everything about it feels alive. From the way the trees and bushes sway gently in the breeze to the way the water in the lakes ripples and shimmers naturally, reflecting the light of the sun as it shines down. The way elephants and rhinos meander along the dusty roads and across the rustling grass while eagles soar dangerously close overhead. It all helps reaffirm that this is an actual living, breathing world that you’ve been thrown into. No matter how you choose to traverse the land, be it by car, on foot or even on an elephant you’ll constantly find new surprises around each corner. There’s caves full of loot to explore, settlements to strip of collectables, mountains to climb, vast lakes and rivers to dive into and heavily guarded fortresses to conquer. And on your journey to discover all of these places you’ll find plants to pick, wildlife to hunt, vehicles to steal.. the sheer amount of things to do in Far Cry 4 is ridiculous.

If you find the time to take on a few missions you’ll find they’re fairly typical of the open world genre. Head to location A, speak to person B, travel to location C and carry out mission objective D. Rinse and repeat. If you’ve played the likes of the Grand Theft Auto, Assassins Creed or Watch Dogs franchises you’ll know the drill well. 

I do have a few gripes with Far Cry 4 though. The first of which has infuriated me on more than one occasion. Namely, the healing system. Now in order to restore your health if things get a little heated during a mission you have to hold down the triangle button. This causes your character to begin healing himself by bandaging his wounds, pulling projectiles out of his skin, etc.. The problem is though that it takes around 5 seconds to restore one block of health, during which you can’t use any of your weapons. This is perfectly fine if you’ve managed to get yourself away from all the enemy gunfire but bloody infuriating if you’re stuck out in the open with enemies shooting at you from all angles. 9 times out of 10 you’ll end up dying and failing the mission because of this infuriating mechanic. Yes you can craft healing syringes using the plants you collect throughout the world but you can only carry so many of them at a time. If you run out at a crucial moment and need to restore some vital health it’s more than likely you’ll end up dying while you’re sat there desperately holding down the triangle button. If only they’d gone down the route of other similar games where your health gradually restores fully over time.

My other major gripe with the game is the way the local wildlife can sneak up and attack you during missions. Say for example you’ve stealthily made your way to the crest of a hill that overlooks a large enemy outpost. You’re crouching down with a sniper rifle, carefully scoping out your targets when all of a sudden a pack of wolves appear and begin attacking you from the rear. In a moment of panic you spin round and blindly fire a few rounds from your gun. In that very instant all your stealth work and planning go out the window as the enemy outpost is alerted to your presence. They raise the alarm, reinforcements show up and any chance you had of liberating said outpost are over. Very annoying!

Those issues aside though I’m genuinely loving my time with Far Cry 4. It’s certainly a game with a lot to offer and an exciting place to spend a couple of hours. I’m looking forward to giving both Far Cry Primal and the forthcoming Far Cry 5 my undivided attention later this year.

An Egg-sellent Exhibition

Originally published: 23rd January 2018

Gaming back in the 80’s and early 90’s was a completely different kettle of fish to the multi-billion pound global behemoth that we know and love today. These days we’re all used to almost instant loading times, vast movie style single player campaigns and glorious near photo-realistic worlds of epic proportions filled with all manner of intelligent and incredible characters.

30 years ago though the gaming world was a simpler place. 

Back when I was a kid one of the first computers I ever had was a Commodore 64. It was a wonderful 8 bit machine that I had connected up to a 14 inch Ferguson portable in my bedroom. The games came on cassette tapes and the joystick only had the one fire button. Crazy really when you think how many buttons modern controllers have! 

My first experience of playing a Dizzy game wasn’t on my trusty C64 however, it was actually on the ZX Spectrum. I can remember spending a lot of time round my friends house playing Magicland Dizzy on his Speccy to the point where we both became obsessed with trying to complete it. We even started drawing out a map of the entire game world so we knew where things were and what order we needed to do things in. Can you imagine doing such a thing these days?

We completed it in the end anyway. Well, kind of. I was lucky enough to get a copy of it for my C64 after a while and we ended up playing it from start to finish using an infinite lives cheat. But at least we saw all that the game had to offer! And most importantly, it got me interested in the rest of the Dizzy games. I had Fantasy World Dizzy, Spellbound Dizzy and Dizzy: Prince of the Yolkfolk. All of which I pumped countless hours into. They were simple games compared to what we have today but they were so endearing and hooked you in from the word go with their steady mix of platforming and puzzle solving. 

Anyway, fast forward to the present day and little did I know that I now lived in the very same town where the people behind those games grew up.

Phillip and Andrew Oliver, A.K.A The Oliver Twins are the geniuses responsible for the Dizzy series and at the moment they’re being celebrated with a fantastic eggs-hibition at the local museum in Trowbridge. 

I spent a pleasant hour down there this afternoon engrossing myself in the history of the Oliver Twins work and even learnt a few things about Dizzy that I didn’t know before. I also got to sit and play a bit of Dizzy on the NES that they’ve got set up down there!

Take a look at the photos from my visit below and if you’re in the Trowbridge area between now and the 31st March 2018 I’d certainly recommend paying the exhibition a visit.

Review: Child Of Light

Originally published: 28th January 2018

It’s hard to believe that Child Of Light is a Ubisoft game. Not that being a Ubisoft game is necessarily a bad thing but it has to be said that arguably most of their games tend to follow the same cookie-cutter style approach of game design.

Take the game I played before this for example. Far Cry 4 felt like 30 hours of side quests with a 10 hour story campaign thrown in at the last minute. Not that this made it a bad game as such but when you spend a good few minutes each time you call up the map screen trying to find the next story mission hiding amongst hundreds of side quest and collectable icons you reach the conclusion that the games production team had their priority’s wrong.

But that ‘gaming by numbers’ approach has been thrown out of the window when it comes to Child Of Light. Instead Ubisoft have come up with something that’s so far removed from their mainstream franchises and so visually beautiful that you could almost forgive them for inflicting the miserable Aiden Pierce on us in the original Watch Dogs. 

In simple terms, Child Of Light is a side scrolling adventure game with some basic RPG elements thrown in. You play the role of Aurora – a young red haired princess who after waking up captive in the strange land of Lemuria has to embark on a quest in order to recover the sun, the moon and the stars and ultimately overthrow the evil Queen Umbra in order to restore normality to the land and return home. 

During your journey you’ll meet a number of other characters who will join you to aid you in your mission. These range from a traditional medieval jester to a field mouse with a business approach that would give Lord Sugar a run for his money. Each of these additional characters have differing skills and elemental powers that can be utilised during the game’s battle sequences. These are your typical turn based RPG style fights that see two of your characters taking on up to three enemies at a time. Each adversary has a particular elemental weakness and in order to successfully defeat them you need to hit them hard with the appropriate type of attack. So for example if a particular enemies weakness happens to be fire then a water based attack will deal the most damage.

By successfully winning these battles you’ll level each of your characters up. This will earn you skill points that you can then use to improve their abilities such as strength, magic, etc.. You’ll also be able to learn new, more effective attacks all of which can then be upgraded to deal even more damage as you progress.

In terms of the game-play then its all pretty standard stuff. 

Where Child Of Light really shines is with its presentation. I’ll just come out and say it – Child Of Light is one of the most beautiful and visually stunning games that I’ve clapped eyes on in 30 years of gaming. Period. 

The world of Lemuria and it’s inhabitants look like they were lovingly painted with watercolours. The backgrounds are so full of depth and detail that you could spend hours casting your eyes over them and still not manage to see everything that they have to offer. It’s almost like somebody has taken the most beautifully illustrated book of fairy tales and crammed it into your PS4. 

The visuals are nicely complimented by the games haunting orchestral soundtrack that manages to convey the mood and emotion of the on-screen events without ever becoming overpowering.

Child Of Light isn’t the longest game I’ve ever played. Nor is it the most in depth. What it is though is a wonderful piece of escapism that gently draws you into its world and tickles your senses in a way that no other Ubisoft game has ever quite managed to. Highly recommended. 

Review: Heavy Rain

Originally published: 11th February 2018

How many of you reading this article remember the Fighting Fantasy adventure books from back in the day? Those of you that do will more than likely appreciate the similarity between that particular series and Heavy Rain that i’m about to suggest. But for those that aren’t familiar with the literary works of Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone, let me fill you in.

Fighting Fantasy were, (and apparently still are) a long running series of books that gave you the chance to choose how the story panned out. Each of the books were set out into numbered paragraphs which you would use as point of reference for any decisions that you had to make. Think of them kind of like an old fashioned text adventure game from the early days of home microcomputers. You would more than likely start the book at paragraph 1 for example and then be given a number of choices, such as ‘To move north turn to paragraph 62’ or ‘To open treasure chest turn to paragraph 124’. It’s a simple and fairly primitive method of doing things but it allowed you to decide the path of which your story would take and how the adventure would flow. You could make different choices each time you read the book of course, encouraging you to go back and re-play the game as many times as you liked.

It’s a similar, if not slightly more advanced concept with Heavy Rain. An impressive update of one of the more intriguing PS3 titles that has been beautifully remastered for the PlayStation 4

Heavy Rain focuses on Ethan Mars. a guy that seemingly has the perfect life. Working as an architect he has a nice home, a loving wife and two kids that he simply adores. Alas, as is often the case in such situations, his happiness doesn’t last for long. During a visit to the local shopping mall with his family, Ethan loses sight of one of his children Jason. With the mall being such a vast and crowded place, Ethan begins to panic and tries desperately to find Jason before any harm should come to him. Unfortunately, his efforts don’t have a happy ending. Jason is knocked down and killed by a passing car and as a result Ethan’s perfect life comes crashing down around him. His marriage breaks up, he’s forced to move from his dream home into something more humbling and his relationship with his remaining son Shaun becomes severely tested.

But that’s just the start of what becomes an extraordinary period of events for Ethan. Not long after we join him as he comes to terms with his new life, Shaun is kidnapped by a notorious criminal known as the Origami Killer – whose M.O is to trap their young victims in storm drains during particularly prominent periods of wet weather. They then set their victims fathers a series of challenges that they must complete in order to gain vital information relating to their child’s whereabouts. If they fail to complete the challenges in time, their child will be left to meet a rather soggy end.

Determined not to lose another child, and seemingly without fear of any consequence, Ethan takes on the challenges set by the killer. These become increasingly more dark and twisted the further into the story you go. From self-amputation and dangerous driving to dodging live electricity conductors and even cold blooded murder. The Origami Killer wants to see just how far our hero will go to save his son.

Ethan isn’t the only character you’ll play as during Heavy Rain though. You’ll also see the story through three other characters eyes. FBI profiler Norman Jayden, journalist and insomniac Madison Paige and former cop turned private eye Scott Shelby. Jayden is assisting the police with their investigation into the Origami Killer while Shelby is carrying out some rather shady personal investigations of his own. Paige meanwhile, having checked into a somewhat seedy motel in order to try and bank some much needed shut eye, becomes involved with Ethan and his mission after finding him in a bad way outside his room. Depending on how you progress their relationship this will eventually lead to Heavy Rain’s infamous sex scene. Sexy it isn’t. Unless unhooking a bra using poorly implemented motion controls do it for you.

As the story nears it’s conclusion all four of the main characters paths and story-lines will eventually come together based on the decisions you made along the way. The ending you’ll get ultimately depends on which of the main characters survived until the end, very much in the style of games such as the critically acclaimed Until Dawn.

The thing is though, as much I enjoyed my play-through of Heavy Rain it never really felt like I was playing a proper game. There’s no real skill involved in playing other than the ability to react to the many quick time events that dominate the main action sequences. In many ways it’s more like you’re partaking in an interactive drama, albeit one with some superb acting, a gripping story-line and some mostly impressive visuals.

That’s kind of what I was getting at when I drew the comparison to the Fighting Fantasy books at the start of this review. In may ways Heavy Rain is their modern day equivalent. Encouraging you to shape the eventual outcome of the story by making critical decisions that affect future events.

No matter which path you decide to take, it’s certainly a story worth getting lost in for a few hours.

Mayhem in Monsterland: The greatest platform game you’ve probably never heard of

Originally published: 13th February 2018

Twenty-five years ago if you were to ask a gamer to recommend you a decent platform game the chances are that they would suggest the likes of Super Mario World on the SNES or the original Sonic The Hedgehog on the Megadrive. The likelihood of anyone suggesting you dust off your ageing 8-bit Commodore in a world that was hurtling towards the 32-bit era at a pace was simply ludicrous!

But those that were willing to take a gamble on the tired old C64 were in for a treat. 

Released inexplicably late in the machines life, Mayhem in Monsterland was a 2D platformer that truly raised the bar when it came to what was achievable using the Commodore’s ten-year-old hardware. Developed by brothers John & Steve Rowlands, better known as Apex Computer Productions, Mayhem offered an experience similar to those available on the then current generation of consoles. From a technical point of view you could go as far as to say the game actually surpassed many of the titles on the likes of the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System without breaking a sweat.

The sad truth is though that by 1993 the majority of gamers had long since moved on from the crusty old Commodore, and only a select few that were still clinging on to their 8-bits would get to experience the delight of the machine’s swansong. I was one of them and even to this day I would put Mayhem in Monsterland right up there as one of my favourite platform games of all time.

You play as Mayhem. A small yellow Triceratops tasked with rescuing five different lands that have been transformed into sad, dismal places after a spell cast by an apprentice magician went wrong. Each of the five stages are split into two, making a total of ten separate levels to play through. The first half of each stage sees our hero searching for a set quota of sacks that contain magic dust. Once the quota has been achieved Mayhem must deliver the sacks to the previously mentioned apprentice, Theosaurus, who will then use them to transform the stage into a much happier place. Once transformed you’ll then revisit the now bright and cheerful level and collect magic stars. Secure the required amount of stars and reach the exit within the allotted time and you’ll move on to the next stage.

It’s during the second part of each stage that the game really comes alive. Each world in it’s happy phase is a real treat for the eyes. The Rowlands have employed some clever programming tricks in order to display a number of non-standard colours on screen and the graphics really do pop as a result. Mayhem himself moves at absolute lightening speed as well once he’s collected the relevant power up and has the ability to whizz from one end of a level to another, similar to Sega’s Sonic. In a side-by-side comparison you may even find that Mayhem actually moves quicker than the aforementioned blue hedgehog. At times it’s actually hard to believe that the game is running on what was by 1993, pretty ancient 8-bit hardware.

Mayhem In Monsterland was one of the last commercial releases for the C64 and as such probably passed the majority of people by. Which is a real shame as it really demonstrated what the old machine was capable of with the right coders at the controls. The magazines of the time certainly recognised what a remarkable achievement the game was. Commodore Format rather controversially awarded it a perfect score of 100% saying that “This is as good as it gets.” and describing it as “A stonking game by absolutely anyone’s standards.” while Commodore Force gave it a more realistic 97% with editor James Price describing it as “The best looking C64 game ever.” – High praise indeed!

As it currently stands the only way to experience the game is via emulation. However, British retro publishers Psytronik Software are planning to release a special 25th anniversary collectors edition of Mayhem for the original hardware in the near future. Check out the links below.

25 years on you would be forgiven for wondering what on Earth all the fuss was about Mayhem In Monsterland, especially when you see the sheer wealth of retro-inspired platform games available on modern day systems. The truth is it was a game that was made with love and passion for the humble 64 in it’s final days. A game that, despite the age of the hardware, was still able to stand it’s ground against its console rivals and provide hours of fun – all on a single cassette tape.

I’m glad I was able to experience the C64’s last hurrah in all it’s glory.

Read the original review from Commodore Format here

Check out Psytronik Software here

Review: Cursed Castilla EX

Originally published: 17th February 2018

Retro style platform games seem to have become somewhat of a trend over the past few years. Yacht Club Games NES inspired hit Shovel Knight was the game that appeared to kick start the movement back in 2014 and was so popular that it got ported to every format you could think of, even the Amazon Fire TV, and is widely regarded as one of the best platform releases of recent times.

Cursed Castilla EX takes the retro-inspired theme of the aforementioned title and dials it back a few more notches to a more innocent time when the coin-op was king. It’s a side-scrolling action platformer that is extremely reminiscent of some of Capcom’s finest, particularly Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins and its successor Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts. In fact, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were playing one of those classics if you didn’t know otherwise.

Taking on the role of the games hero, a valiant knight known as Don Ramiro, you must run, jump and climb your way through the levels while all the time defending yourself against the many creatures that lurk within. Along the way you’ll discover treasure chests containing new and more powerful weapons to experiment with, as well as gold coins and valuable food items to help restore your limited health. These food items will most likely be the thing you’ll be hoping for the most to be honest because Cursed Castilla EX is pretty damn tough. Not in an unfair, throw your Vita across the room in a fit of rage style of toughness, but it’ll most certainly present most players with a bit of a challenge.

But it never gets tedious. Each time you mess up and lose a life it’ll be down to an error of judgement on your part and will make you even more determined to get that little bit further on your next attempt. Every continue that you use feels kind of like feeding that extra 10p into an arcade machine. Yes you may lose your score but you’ll get to see what awaits you on the next screen. Of course, if you’re more interested in going for a high score or if you’re just after a much more hardcore challenge then you could stick to a single-credit approach. However you choose to play, there’s plenty of fun to be had.

Visually, Cursed Castilla EX looks great on the Vita. You can customise how the game looks on screen by adjusting the level of zoom or adding some border artwork, and I particularly loved the boot up sequence as well. A gentle nod to the arcade machines of the era.

I was lucky enough to secure one of the limited edition physical releases of the game from Play-Asia which comes with an art book and a soundtrack CD. Sadly this is now out of print although they are available from a number of eBay sellers at the time of writing. Naturally, you can also download the game on its own from the PlayStation Store if you’re not too bothered about having any of the extras.

Overall, Cursed Castilla EX is a fine tribute to those classic arcade hits of the mid-80s. If you enjoyed playing Ghouls & Ghosts back in the day you’ll love this!

Wii U Retrospective: Part One

Originally published: 22nd February 2018

So far on this blog I have mainly concentrated on the PlayStation family of consoles with a little bit of retro gaming thrown in for good measure. But now I feel it’s time to shift focus for a moment and address the elephant in the room. The machine of this console generation that in my opinion deserved so much more love than it got. The warm-up act for the Nintendo Switch if you will. I am of course referring to the much maligned Wii U.

Up until just over a year ago the Wii U was my primary means of getting my gaming fix, with a New 3DS XL as my backup. What ultimately sold the Wii U to me back in 2014 was the promise of Starfox, Mario and The Legend Of Zelda splashed across my living room television in glorious high-definition. Plus I’d never really managed to get fully immersed in the world of PlayStation back then and, well, I guess brand loyalty has to count for something. Nintendo consoles had played a large part in my gaming life since the SNES era, with an N64 and later on a Gamecube finding a place under my TV.

I picked one up just before Christmas of 2014. Two years later the Wii U as a platform was pretty much dead, save for the imminent release of Breath Of The Wild, and a PS4 Slim had replaced it as the console of choice in my household.

So what on earth went wrong? Why did Nintendo’s first voyage into HD waters end up capsizing in such spectacular fashion? 

Well first and foremost let’s take a look at probably the most important element of any console, the games. It’s a popular opinion, mostly born out of ignorance, that the Wii U doesn’t have any games worth playing and that it suffers from a severe lack of third party support. You could be forgiven for thinking both of those statements were true if you’d ever been into any sort of game retailer in the past few years, (More on that later) but that’s simply not the case.

Out of the 64 Wii U games that are currently sitting on my shelf 30 of them, yes 30 are third party releases. WB Games and Ubisoft are the most dominant but there are also titles there from the likes of Activision, 505 Games, THQ, EA and Yacht Club Games. Now I’m not going to sit here and claim that they’re all triple-A titles but the support was most definitely there from some of the bigger publishers during the short life of the machine alongside healthy support from indie developers up until the end. Admittedly, the main competition of the PlayStation and the Xbox are blessed with a considerably larger amount of third party support but then that has kind of been the case for a while now and certainly goes far beyond the life of the Wii U.

Third-party releases for the system included Assassins Creed III and Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag from Ubisoft. The latter being the more competent of the two games and one of the better multi-plats to grace the Wii U. Ubisoft also delivered what is often considered the definitive version of Rayman Legends, a game that makes great use of the Wii U’s gamepad controller, as well as a decent port of Watch Dogs, gamepad focused former exclusive Zombi-U and yearly Just Dance releases. Activision offered two Call of Duty titles in the form of Black Ops 2 and Ghosts alongside a pair of Angry Birds releases and a port of Guitar Hero Live, EA gave us the now obligatory FIFA game, Mass Effect 3 and arguably the best version of Need for speed: Most Wanted, Capcom offered us Monster Hunter 3 and Resident Evil Revelations and Sega delivered its usual quota of Sonic games and the phenomenal Bayonetta 1 and 2.

The Wii U saw continued support throughout it’s life from WB Games who kept fans of the Lego games happy alongside conversions of two of the Batman Arkham titles and a pair of Scribblenauts releases. Bandai Namco brought the cheese-laden Pacman and the Ghostly Adventures and it’s superior sequel to the table together with a decent version of Tekken Tag Tournament.

No third party support though right?

A successful console cannot rely on third party support alone though. Nintendo’s machines have always delivered when it comes to their own first party IP’s and the Wii U certainly made a valiant effort. It’s often said that the system had more exclusive titles than its rivals and while that may indeed be the case it doesn’t necessarily mean that they were all worthy of your time.

Take Mario for example. Nintendo’s leading franchise and one that absolutely screams quality. Yet when it came to the moustached plumbers efforts on the Wii U the big N appeared reluctant to take any risks. Instead of the innovation that we had seen previously with previous games such on the N64, Gamecube and Wii we were instead offered New Super Mario Bros U, (and later on New Super Luigi U) a game that took the same model of New Super Mario Bros on the Wii and slapped some HD visuals on top. For all intents and purposes you might as well just have been playing the Wii version again.

Slightly more innovative was Super Mario 3D World, which took the 4 player elements of the New Super Mario Bros titles and placed them into a series of linear 3D levels. Super Mario 64 it was not but it was certainly a fun, if somewhat easy game. The games also included a number of puzzle based levels that featured Captain Toad, who starred in his own often overlooked game Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker later on in the Wii U’s life.

No Nintendo console would be complete without a Mario Kart game and Mario Kart 8 took all the fun of the previous titles and brought it bang up to date with beautiful, crisp visuals and a couple of DLC packs that were well worth your hard earned cash. Easily the best MK game since Double Dash on the Gamecube and one that’s still being enjoyed now both in it’s original Wii U form and as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch.

Not quite as good though were Mario Party 10 and Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. The former being one of the weakest Mario Party games in a long time and the latter seemingly being a hasty and half-arsed release in order to get something into the rather barren Wii U release schedule. Lastly Paper Mario: Colour Splash was an enjoyable if somewhat predictable entry into the series that offered some good humour and simple but repetitive turn based combat.

The Legend Of Zelda series clocked up an impressive 4 releases on the Wii U. An HD update of the Gamecube’s cell-shaded masterpiece the Wind Waker kicked things off. Gameplay remained almost the same as the original but with a few welcome additions such as cutting down the lengthy Triforce Quest near the end of the game and an option to improve your sailing speed later on as you progressed. The Wii U version is now widely regarded as the definitive version of the game and rightly so.

Hyrule Warriors followed in 2014. Essentially Dynasty Warriors with a Hyrule skin layered on top, it’s gameplay consists of all of your favourite heroes from the Legend of Zelda series taking on wave after wave of enemies in order to secure control of different keeps. Along the way you also have to complete certain objectives within each level in order to win. It’s not a traditional Legend of Zelda title as such, but it’s certainly a lot of fun.

Another HD update came next. This time it was the turn of Twilight Princess. A now ten year old game that was released right at the end of the Gamecube’s life. It’s a good, solid title and worth picking up if you’d missed out on it the first time round but you can’t help thinking that the re-release of Twilight Princess was just a way of fanning the flames of Wii U owners everywhere that were chomping at the bit for the often promised and endlessly delayed Breath of the wild.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the wild did eventually find its way onto the Wii U. It was Nintendo’s final release for the system and managed to sell more than a million copies by the end of 2017.

Other much loved Nintendo IP’s found their way onto the Wii U alongside the likes of Mario and Zelda. Yoshi’s Wooly World was a fun platformer that turned the cuteness factor up to 10 and took advantage of the sudden craze for Amiibos by allowing you to unlock different skins for our titular hero just by scanning your favourite Amiibo characters on the gamepad. Super Smash Bros for Wii U also included Amiibo support as well as bundling a special adaptor with some copies of the game that allowed you to use Gamecube controllers instead of the clunky gamepad. A must have for all Smash Bros enthusiasts.

Sadly not all Nintendo franchises were a success on the Wii U. Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush was a solid entry into the series that was let down by poorly implemented controls. In order to control Kirby you had to swipe the stylus across the gamepad’s screen in order to paint rainbow ropes that he could then travel along. The problem is that rather than enjoying the beautifully realised worlds on your HD television you were instead forced to stare down at the inferior gamepad screen for pretty much the whole game. It makes you wonder whether it was originally going to be a 3DS game that then got ported over to the Wii U to help stem the lack of regular releases.

Fox McCloud also suffered a similar fate when Starfox Zero finally limped its way out of Great Fox and onto the Wii U back in 2016. Rather than trying to please long term fans of the series by simply releasing a traditional Starfox game, Nintendo took it upon themselves to implement both the gamepad’s gyroscopic abilities and it’s screen into the controls scheme. Combined with the underwhelming visuals and mediocre campaign, many fans of the Starfox series were left feeling disappointed. Starfox Assault on the Gamecube certainly put it to shame and in many ways still does.

While I’m on the subject of disappointing games I must mention Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival. Not that you could really call it a game as such. The only skill required to play is the ability to place an Amiibo onto the gamepad and lift it off again in order to roll the dice. That’s literally all you do. Why didn’t they release a proper HD Animal Crossing game instead?

The Wii U did see Nintendo experimenting with a couple of new ideas though, the most successful of these being the fantastic online multiplayer ink-em-up Splatoon. A game that tasks you with trying to cover as much of the map with your teams colour using a variety of guns, ink-rollers and other crazy creations. It’s fast and furious and great fun to boot. Naturally a sequel found it’s way to the Switch in the form of Splatoon 2 that delivers more of the same to a much bigger audience.

Fox McCloud also suffered a similar fate when Starfox Zero finally limped its way out of Great Fox and onto the Wii U back in 2016. Rather than trying to please long term fans of the series by simply releasing a traditional Starfox game, Nintendo took it upon themselves to implement both the gamepad’s gyroscopic abilities and it’s screen into the controls scheme. Combined with the underwhelming visuals and mediocre campaign, many fans of the Starfox series were left feeling disappointed. Starfox Assault on the Gamecube certainly put it to shame and in many ways still does.

While I’m on the subject of disappointing games I must mention Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival. Not that you could really call it a game as such. The only skill required to play is the ability to place an Amiibo onto the gamepad and lift it off again in order to roll the dice. That’s literally all you do. Why didn’t they release a proper HD Animal Crossing game instead?

The Wii U did see Nintendo experimenting with a couple of new ideas though, the most successful of these being the fantastic online multiplayer ink-em-up Splatoon. A game that tasks you with trying to cover as much of the map with your teams colour using a variety of guns, ink-rollers and other crazy creations. It’s fast and furious and great fun to boot. Naturally a sequel found it’s way to the Switch in the form of Splatoon 2 that delivers more of the same to a much bigger audience.

Nintendo also tried to appeal to a more mature audience by publishing Valhalla Studios Devil’s Third. A laughably bad third person action shooter with terrible graphics and a ludicrous and unlikable lead character. It did very little to encourage PS4 and XB1 owners to give the Wii U a try and quietly disappeared into the background, never to be seen again.

A mixed bag then in terms of the games that were available for the Wii U. I’ve only covered a handful of them here of course but there was certainly a decent variety of titles available, both first and third party to please fans of almost all genres. Combine physical releases with the multitude of digital content that was available on the Nintendo E-Shop and even the most dedicated gamer would be hard pushed to not find something to play.

So if a lack of games wasn’t the reason the Wii U failed, what was?

Well, in part 2 of this retrospective we’ll take a look at the changing attitudes towards the Wii U as well as Nintendo’s attempts to market the system.

Wii U Retrospective: Part Two

Originally published: 6th March 2018

Welcome to part two of my retrospective look at the Nintendo Wii U. In part one we had a look at some of the system’s games. Taking in the good, (Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Pikmin 3) the bad, (Devil’s Third) and the downright inexcusable. Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival I’m looking at you!

So in this part let’s take a look at Nintendo’s attempts to market it’s first HD gaming experience to an increasingly demanding audience.

The Wii U was launched in Europe in November 2012 and came in two distinct flavours. The budget friendly basic model was white and boasted a frankly ludicrous 8GB of internal storage, while the more desirable premium version came in black and upped the storage capacity to 32GB. The premium pack also came bundled with a sensor bar, a charging stand for the game pad controller and a copy of Nintendo Land. A decent collection of mini games that showed off what the new system was capable of.

The launch line-up was somewhat hit and miss to be fair. New Super Mario Bros U led the way as the first Mario title available at the launch of a home console since the N64. Assassin’s Creed 3, Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Batman Arkham City offered some decent third party support and Sports Connection, Game Party Champions and Funky Barn made up the numbers with their Wii throwback style shovel-ware.

At the time of the system’s launch, Nintendo were most probably riding high from the success and all round 7th generation domination of the original Wii. There were over 100 million of them out there in peoples homes after all so why wouldn’t the people who bought those machines want to upgrade to the new Wii U? Hell, even if only half of the current Wii install base choose to upgrade it would still result in a respectable amount of sales.

Let’s take a look at one of the launch adverts for the Wii U then and see where they went wrong.

Well firstly, and probably most obviously, the commercial barely mentions the fact that the Wii U is in fact a brand new console. Apart from one occasion in the first few seconds, the advert spends the rest of it’s minute or so length describing the Wii U as a ‘new way to play’. In my eyes, most of the casual consumers who originally went out and purchased a Wii because “That sports game looked fun” will more than likely jump to the same conclusion. That being that the Wii U is just an add-on for the original Wii. An expensive peripheral that lets you play the games on a tablet.

There’s more confusion to add fuel to this argument as the commercial progresses.  Roughly eighteen seconds in we see a guy playing New Super Mario Bros U with an old Wii-mote until his partner arrives and decides that she’d like to watch the television. I mean, it makes a fair attempt to promote off-TV play but surely he would be playing the game with the Wii U game-pad in the first place! By showing somebody using a controller from your previous console all you’re doing is further emphasising that the Wii U is just a tablet for the original Wii and not a completely new console.

You could argue I guess that the name Wii U doesn’t do Nintendo any favours either. After all, the console’s name and logo are incredibly similar to their predecessors. Having said that though, such continuity has never really done Sony or Microsoft any harm with the various incarnations of both the PlayStation and the Xbox hardware respectively.

It’s clear that Nintendo were banking on the Wii U selling well on the strength of the original Wii’s success, leading them to put very little effort or imagination into their marketing strategy. It’s also very apparent that they had absolutely no idea who they were aiming the Wii U at. The scant TV advertising suggests they were once again going for the family market, but then why so much emphasis on the more mature third party titles early on that were clearly targeted at the more hardcore gamers?

When you take all this into consideration it’s really not difficult to see why people were so confused!

Nintendo Direct Round-up

Originally published: 9th March 2018

So another Nintendo Direct has been and gone and it delivered both massive hype and tremendous disappointment depending on what your position in the gaming market is. For me personally I was hoping it would offer me a justified reason to invest in a Nintendo Switch at last. Unfortunately that reason never came.

Now if Nintendo would just hurry up and announce a new F-Zero game and a Starfox title that isn’t predominantly shit then I’ll be first in the queue at my local games store come opening time.

That said, let’s take a look at some of the highlights from March’s Direct:

Super Smash Bros. 

This came as absolutely no surprise to anyone but it’s still nice to have it confirmed. Super Smash Bros. is indeed coming to the Switch at some point in 2018. Which version that happens to be remains to be seen. The popular opinion is that it’s likely to be a definitive edition of the Wii U and 3DS game. Most likely with all previous DLC and some extra stages included. Super Mario Odyssey’s New Donk City is pretty much a given as is a stage based on Splatoon. Character-wise there are bound to be a few additional’s added to the already impressive roster. Captain Toad is a possibility of course and potentially Crash Bandicoot given the news that the N-Sane Trilogy is coming to Switch later this year. I’m also predicting that there’ll be Gamecube controller support, with a separate adaptor being made available at launch.

Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy

A previous timed PS4 exclusive that’s now making it’s way to the Nintendo platform. It’s certainly a good fit for the Nintendo Switch and will make a cracking game to play on the go. It should appeal well to the Switch’s audience as well. Don’t be fooled by it’s cutesy exterior though as these games are harder than you remember!

I imagine Switch players who don’t also own a PS4 will pick this one up. Bear in mind it was a budget release on PlayStation so it would be somewhat disappointing if it launches at £60 on Switch.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

One of the Wii U’s often overlooked gems gets a welcome port over to current gen. For those that missed it previously, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a single screen puzzle experience based on the Captain Toad stages in Super Mario 3D World. On each level you play as either the aforementioned Captain or as Toadette and are tasked with collecting a magic star on each level. There are also 3 diamonds to track down on each stage as well as a multitude of other treasures to be found.

The simplicity of this game is what made it so good on the Wii U, and I’d certainly recommend giving it a try when it’s released. Rather surprisingly as well Nintendo have announced that the game will also be getting a port to the ageing 3DS. I think I’m possibly the only person in the world who’s interested picking it up for the system to be fair and I’m surprised that they’ve left it this long to port it over. I always thought it would make a good 3DS game though so we shall see.

Okami HD

A game that I own on PS4 but haven’t yet go around to playing. From what I understand it’s an HD update of a PS2 title that was also ported to the Nintendo Wii a while ago. A heavily Japanese inspired action adventure title with a beautiful hand drawn art style. Now obviously it’s good to see Capcom supporting the Switch, but how many of you would rather have seen an HD update of Viewtiful Joe?

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

It’s good to see a more mature title making its way to the Nintendo Switch and no surprises that it happens to be Ubisoft who’ve made it happen. Ubisoft have a good history of supporting Nintendo platforms, even the Wii U, and South Park: The Fractured But Whole should go down well with those Switch owners that haven’t played it already on other consoles. If it sells well hopefully it’ll lead to a slew of titles aimed at a mature audience finding their way to the Switch in the near future.

Mario Tennis Aces

Arriving perfectly in time for Wimbledon, Mario Tennis Aces looks to be everything that Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash should’ve been back on the Wii U. The motion controlled ‘zone shot’ looks like a way of shoehorning in pointless motion controls though. Oh how I wish developers would get over the whole motion control gimmick!

No doubt we’ll see a new Mario Golf title announced at some point this year as well. But personally I would like to see a new Mario Strikers game. I absolutely loved the admittedly limited game-play of the Gamecube version, so a fully fleshed out update with a larger character roster and HD graphics would be perfect.

Luigi’s Mansion for 3DS

I’m kind of surprised about this one, especially when you consider that it’s sequel has been out on 3DS for years now and this original came out on Gamecube back in 2001. It seems a strange choice of game to re-release. I’m assuming that the visuals will all be tarted up a bit when it comes out but it does feel like Nintendo are just trying to bulk out the 3DS release schedule somewhat just to keep people who haven’t moved on to the Switch happy.

So that’s the pick of the crop from the latest Nintendo Direct. Do any of these games take your fancy? Will you now take the plunge and buy a Nintendo Switch if you haven’t already? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Review: Rainbow Moon

Originally published: 19th March 2018

Rainbow Moon is a traditional, strategic RPG that’s viewed from an isometric perspective. Initially taking on the role of lead hero Baldren you find yourself warping onto the Rainbow Moon, a place that is usually tranquil and free from conflict.

However, upon doing so you’ve inadvertently managed to open up a dimensional gate that all manner of monsters are now escaping from and running riot on the once peaceful planet.

Ultimately, it’s your job as the person responsible for this mishap to rid the Rainbow Moon of these evil creatures, re-seal the gate and return to your own dimension. Thankfully, you don’t have to take on such an overwhelming task alone as during your journey you will be joined by a number of other characters each bringing their own unique strengths to your party. Some are more effective than others when it comes to battles with certain characters being best suited to long range combat, while others fare better when fighting up close and personal.

Every character that you control has their own basic weapon to attack with, such as a sword for Baldren and a longbow for Trisha. But they also have their own unique special attacks that they can unleash on the enemy. These special attacks cost a certain number of ‘Mana’ points each to use but you’ll find that they tend to deal more damage to some of the stronger enemies in the game than the basic attacks, so keeping your Mana points topped up regularly is a must.

The battles in Rainbow Moon are turn based, with each hero and enemy allocated a certain amount of moves per turn. During a turn you could move 2 spaces north and then launch one attack for example. Or if you were already right next to an enemy you could hit them hard with 3 direct attacks in a row. Forward thinking and advanced planning is definitely key here if you want to survive.

When you’re not partaking in epic battles with all manner of weird and wonderful monsters, you’ll be traversing your way around the planet, embarking on both main and side quests for the various inhabitants that you meet along the way. Most of these quests involve infiltrating a dungeon in order to retrieve an item or items for somebody, or clearing an area of monsters. By doing so, you will often gain a new item that will enable you to progress further into the game world. Such as a special hammer to break a large rock for example or a certain key that will open a specific door within an area.

The game world is littered throughout with all manner of traders and shops who will happily take your hard earned coins and pearls in exchange for a multitude of useful items. These range from recovery potions and magic herbs to top up your health and Mana meters respectively, to brand new weapons, armour and special moves for each character. You’ll also need to ensure you have a regular supply of food and water with you at all times as well to combat both hunger and thirst for your party. Rainbow Pearls can be exchanged for upgrades to your basic stats such as strength, defence and speed, and you’ll need to be upgrading often as well if you want to have any chance of surviving against some of the later monsters in the game.

I must mention at this point that the game does include micro-transactions. Now by no means at all are these mandatory in order to beat the game but a one-off purchase of £2.49 for an absolute ton of coins and pearls certainly does make progression somewhat quicker and more enjoyable without hours upon hours of grinding just to earn enough currency to strengthen your team. It really depends on what type of experience you want to have with the game as to whether you choose to go down the micro-transaction route.

Graphically this game looks absolutely gorgeous. The highly detailed and colourful characters really shine on the PlayStation Vita, and the scenery really pops off of the system’s superior OLED display.

Games such as Rainbow Moon really work well on the Vita. The dungeon crawling gameplay and exploration are ideally suited to those that either have a few minutes or a few hours to kill as it’s the type of game that you can just pick up and play as and when without too much dedication.

A follow up game, Rainbow Skies, is currently in production and due for release later in 2018. In the mean time I would certainly recommend giving Rainbow Moon a try.

Bring back.. Blast Corps

Originally published: 20th March 2018

TLet’s face it. These days most N64 games look like arse. In fact, they looked like arse back in the 90’s as well. Chunky polygons, low-resolution textures and endless pea-soup fog everywhere were a regular occurrence in many N64 releases, and the severe storage restrictions that the console’s cartridges presented meant that there was no real option to include flashy FMV cut-scenes or high quality audio.

Good game-play was key then. And there was one game that had it in absolute spades.

Blast Corps was a pretty unique title from Rare. You took control of a variety of different vehicles such as a bulldozer, a muscle car and a giant mech suit and were tasked with clearing a path for a nuclear missile carrier. In order to do so you would use each vehicles individual abilities to smash up everything that lay in the carrier’s way. One of the mech suits for example could zoom up into the air and then come crashing back down, smashing it’s giant robotic arm into buildings. While the tricky to handle but thoroughly satisfying to master dumper truck could perform handbrake turns into structures in order to destroy them.

As you worked your way through the game the difficulty of the stages increased. Tighter time limits and puzzles that required the use of multiple vehicles made for a frantic and challenging experience, especially if you were going for all the medals and 100% completion.

Sadly given that Rare are no longer the all-conquering development power house that they were during the N64 era there’s little chance of Blast Corps being revived. But just imagine how incredible it would look today with the power that the PS4, Xbox One and even the Nintendo Switch are packing under their hoods! And it’s not just the graphics that would be vastly improved. The number of stages could be increased ten-fold, with even more new stages being made available for download as optional DLC. Then there’s the addition of added rumble support which the original game sadly didn’t have. If any game lends itself to some decent rumble-action Blast Corps is it!

I spent a couple of hours with Knack and I had a good time.

Originally published: 21st March 2018

Knack is one of those games that consistently gets a bad wrap. Even last year when a sequel eventually hit the shelves there were countless numbers of people trying to work out why Sony would even consider doing such a thing. It was, as one critic said “The sequel that nobody asked for to a game that nobody wanted in the first place.” Harsh words indeed.

I didn’t get a PS4 at launch so I didn’t play Knack when it first came out. It was one of those games that I’d planned on picking up and trying eventually but just hadn’t got around to. Thankfully of course my PlayStation Plus subscription came to the rescue and gifted me the game for free. So I thought I’d live stream the first couple of hours of it earlier today and see if it really was as poor as people make out.

First impressions were mixed. Having spent years playing cutesy platformers on Nintendo platforms I was expecting something that tried to ape those games but with a sort of PlayStation spin on top. Think along the lines of Ratchet & Clank or Crash Bandicoot. Both of them are decent enough in their own right but they lack that sprinkling of Nintendo magic that you tend to find in a Mario or Kirby game.

My expectations were, well, pretty much as I expected really! Visually it looks like a PS3 or 360 game. Perhaps on par with a Wii U game at a push. It was an early PS4 release though so I can let them off for that. The first stage that introduces you to the character of Knack and teaches you the various moves looks pretty poor though. If that was your first impression of the next generation of gaming back in 2013 I think you’d probably be reconsidering your latest purchase.

Get that part out of the way though and the Knack opens up into a fairly decent, if somewhat un-inspired action platform game. Knack himself has a variety of special moves that he can use to destroy the enemies he meets along the way, (Most of which look like Shrek) but so far I’ve found that the basic attack to be pretty effective. Somewhat disconcerting to I imagine most players is the evade control being mapped onto the right analogue stick. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried to adjust the camera angle or look around using the right stick only to make a slight lurch to the left or right. Perhaps I’m just too used to the right analogue stick being used for camera control in almost every 3D platformer since the PS2 era. A strange decision indeed.

As I ran, jumped and fought my way through the early levels I found myself reflecting on Knack as a character. What exactly is he supposed to be? He kind of looks a bit like an upside down plant pot with legs in his smaller form and then just resembles a rather menacing mess when he’s bulked out a bit. One thing is for sure though. He just doesn’t have the cute appeal of other more well established mascot characters such as Yoshi or Kirby, and when he speaks all other likeability for the character goes out of the window.

But then despite all of Knack’s shortcomings I actually found myself quite enjoying the game. It’s not a title that’s ever going to find its way to the top of my greatest platformers of all time list, but it’s certainly a fun way to kill a few hours if you’re not in the mood for playing anything too in-depth.

Gaming & Mental Health – My Experience

Originally published: 23rd April 2018

I’ve been wanting to write a piece about gaming and mental health for a while but could never quite find the motivation to sit down and do so. Also with my mind being the busy, overcrowded place that it is most of the time I find it hard to take time out from other, more menial tasks that need doing around the house.

I guess if I were to give taking time out during the day to do something for myself a ranking it would sit right at the bottom of the pile. I can’t rest you see. Not until every last household job that needs doing is completed. In the back of my mind if I think that there’s a cup that needs washing up or the bath needs a scrub I just can’t leave it. It’s probably a form of OCD or something. Even right at this moment as I’m sat outside in the glorious sunshine typing these words my mind is racing, thinking about all the other things that I ought to be doing rather than taking a bit of time out for myself. My mind is comparable to any major city in the world – always busy, never sleeping.

Like so many other people in this country, I suffer from a mental illness. It’s never been given an official diagnosis but the general opinion from various medical professionals and the skeleton local mental health team is that I have moderate depression and anxiety, coupled with a low mood. It’s something that I’ve been able to manage fairly well for the most part but in the past 6 months or so it has unfortunately got the better of me and as a result I’ve spent a lot of my time at home, unable to work. Which naturally has freed up a bit more of my time for gaming.

Previously I’d always thought of gaming as a leisure activity. It was something that I’d do to unwind when I had an hour or so spare of an evening or perhaps something to occupy a wet weekend. I’d never really considered it to be a past-time that could be considered beneficial to my mental health.

As you can probably imagine, being at home all day with only the cat and daytime TV for company, there are occasions where I feel a bit lonely. Frustrated even. I’ve never really admitted this to anybody other than close family and friends before, and medical professionals of course, but since things have got really bad in the past few months I’ve taken to self-harming. It’s not something that I’m proud of but unfortunately it’s something that is out of my control. My mind is a complicated and often scary place to be when I’m on my own and it often causes me to do things that I don’t really want to do.

But gaming has been something that has really helped me out during my dark moments.

It’s offered me a place to escape to when I most need it. Think about it. Playing a video game can instantly whisk you away to an alternative reality where you are a completely different person. That moment when you boot up Uncharted 4 for example. No longer are you that lonely, melancholy person who so desperately wants to slide a blade along their arm – you’re Nathan Drake. An explorer, a treasure hunter, a hero. Your own issues can be set aside for a few hours now because all that matters right now is what’s happening in Nate’s world. Forget how you’re feeling for now because you’re on a quest to find Captain Avery’s treasure and you need to focus on keeping both Sully and yourself alive.

Escapism isn’t going to combat long term mental health problems of course but it certainly helps by offering a change of focus for an over-active mind. Because your primary focus is to succeed in the task that you’ve been set within the game world you’re therefore not over-thinking your own ongoing issues. Which in the short term gives you a break from the often exhausting symptoms of your own long-term conditions.

That shift in focus plays a big part in helping to relieve issues associated with both depression and anxiety. Something as simple as playing a game online against other players can help combat the issue of loneliness in a way. If you’re somebody who spends a lot of time at home – perhaps because you struggle to deal with other people in person – joining an online session of a game enables you to connect with real people in real time without the stress and anxiety of leaving your comfort zone. You’ll also have that one immediate interest in common as well in the form of the game you’re playing, which can help break down barriers when it comes to conversations.

I’ve been told countless numbers of times over the past 6 months or so that the key to beating my mental illness is to exercise. I’m often told to go for a walk or try doing some yoga for example – and i’m sure that both those activities would have a predominantly positive effect on my overall well-being – but I don’t think gaming should be overlooked when it comes to helping alleviate increasingly common mental health issues.

Far Cry 5 Review

Originally published: 30th April 2018

Having spent the best part of the past few weeks sinking as many hours into Far Cry 5 as possible I kind of get the impression that Ubisoft were trying to break away from their usual cookie cutter style of sandbox game.

The majority of the publishing behemoths previous releases have all followed a standard blueprint of a map littered with icons each representing a different type of event or opportunity. It’s a tried and tested formula that we’ve seen replicated over and over again in the likes of the Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs and of course the Far Cry series. However, with Far Cry 5 Ubisoft have taken away the traditional tower climbing method of revealing those in-game activities and instead opted for a more exploration based approach.

In order to discover the different missions available to you in each area you need to spend time talking to the various characters you meet along the way. Thankfully you have the option to skip the often lengthy and dull dialogue that each individual spouts at you during these meetings and crack on with the task in hand. Ultimately though when all is said and done what you’re left with is a vast map covered with icons.

The aforementioned map is divided into three regions, each of which is overseen by a relation of the games main villain Joseph Seed. The leader of a sadistic religious cult. You won’t see much of Joseph throughout the game other than in cut-scenes. Instead your main focus will be on bringing down his family members John, Faith and Jacob in order to weaken his grip and power over the area.

You are free to tackle each region in the order you see fit from the start but each of them has the same overall objective. Complete missions and activities to build up resistance points. The main story missions mostly follow the traditional sandbox formula of travelling to a certain location and clearing that area of enemies before collecting a specific item. While the side missions tend to be a bit more stripped back, often revolving around fetch quests, (I’ve lost my collection of baseball cards. Can you find them?) to more obvious filler material such as the tedious Clutch Nixon stunt missions. If you’re familiar with previous Ubisoft games you’ll know exactly what to expect here.

Visually, Far Cry 5 looks gorgeous. It genuinely feels like you’re wandering around in a real-life, lush, world that’s teaming with wildlife and activity at every turn. My only real criticism is the lack of variety in the environments and a lack of polish on some of the character models. I also encountered some severe slowdown and almost crippling frame rate drops on a number of occasions towards the end of the game.

I kind of get the feeling that Ubisoft were trying to change things up a bit with Far Cry 5 and in many ways they’ve succeeded. There’s no denying that it’s a fantastic game and one that you’ll definitely want to sink a considerable amount of time into. It still bears a striking resemblance to most other Ubisoft sandboxes though, and after a playing for a while you’ll start to feel like you’ve seen and done it all before.

If you enjoyed the previous game and are yet to pick up Far Cry 5 my advice is to wait for the inevitable price drop.

Review: Raiden V: Directors Cut (PS4)

Originally published: 6th June 2018

In this modern age of gaming where the current crop of consoles are capable of generating worlds that offer so much realism and depth that you could be forgiven for mistaking them for an alternate reality, it’s nice to occasionally turn the clock back and revisit a simpler, more innocent time where graphics were anything but photo-realistic and getting the highest score was king.

That’s where the wonderfully simple but utterly addictive Raiden V: Directors Cut fits in. Essentially a classic, bullet hell shooter that’s infinitely re-playable. Not only are there multiple paths through the game and a wide variety of weapons that can all be upgraded to improve their power, Raiden V: Directors Cut also benefits from an absolutely stonking soundtrack. Honestly, if you want to get the best experience out of this game make sure you play it with headphones.

I guess my only real gripe with the game is the sheer amount of screen real estate that’s taken up by various graphs, dials and dialogue boxes. It would’ve been nice to have the gorgeous graphics fill up the entire screen rather than a load of largely un-interesting information. Could this be patched to add in the option to remove it if the player chooses to I wonder?

That aside though, Raiden V: Directors Cut is a superb game that’s absolutely dripping with retro shmup goodness. Highly recommended.

Review: Rad Rodgers – PS4

Originally published: 17th June 2018

Rad Rodgers is a platform game that bears a striking visual resemblance to Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. But whereas the aforementioned Giana Sisters is an often punishing and frustrating game to try and get through, Rad Rodgers offers a far less gruelling challenge.

You take on the role of Rad Rodgers. A young gaming fan with a level of ‘tude taken straight from a 1990’s Nickelodeon cartoon. You’re joined on your journey by Dusty, a wise-cracking contraption that you’ll take charge of during a number of puzzles within each stage. Although these thankfully don’t interrupt the action too often, but do offer a welcome relief from the often hectic platforming action.

Rad starts the game armed with a basic laser blaster which he can use to take down the many different enemies that block the way forward. This can be swapped out as you progress through the game for a number of different weapons such as a rapid-fire gun, flame gun and a rocket launcher.

The idea of the game is to work your way through each level, collecting gemstones, blasting enemies and hunting for 4 special exit tokens that will allow you to open the door at the end of the level and move on to the next. There’s ropes to swing on, poles to climb and countless numbers of platforms to jump between in order to progress. Anyone that ever played a platform game back in the SNES and MegaDrive era will instantly feel right at home here.

The visual style of the game certainly has that 16 bit feel and everything is generally well presented throughout. The only thing that let’s Rad Rodgers down is the sound. You’ll end up hearing the same one liners over and over again and there’s a lot of really crass and childish soundbites in the mix that’ll make you cringe whenever you hear them.

That aside, Rad Rodgers is certainly well worth your attention if you’re a fan of the platforming genre. Just don’t dive in expecting an experience as rich as the Mario games.

Review: Super Destronaut DX

Originally published: 17th July 2018

At a mere £3.99 for the Vita version, Super Destronaut DX is an absolute steal. Not only does it offer a fairly decent challenge that’ll suck up the best part of an afternoon but it also offers perhaps one of the easiest Platinum trophies available. More on that later.

At it’s core, Super Destronaut DX is a Space Invaders clone. You have three lives and your aim is to destroy wave after wave of invaders, all the while trying to survive as long as possible and clock up a decent high score. There’s also a challenge mode that sets you various different tasks to achieve in order to clear each level. For example, score 50,000 points or destroy 100 invaders within 40 seconds. Most of these are fairly straight forward and won’t prove particularly difficult for the majority of seasoned gamers, but they certainly add a little more meat to the bones of the game as a whole.

Presentation-wise everything is pretty much as you would expect. The graphics are bright, colourful and crisp and really capture the retro feel of the game. Likewise, the sound effects perfectly reflect the whole classic arcade shooter vibe that Super Destronaut DX gives off in spades.

I mentioned the ludicrously easy Platinum trophy earlier, and for good reason. Although it’ll please those that might be looking for a quick and easy boost for their trophy collection, it really takes away pretty much all incentive to keep going back to the game once you’ve unlocked it. I’m not joking here when I say you’ll have the Platinum unlocked within an hour. Honestly, this game throws out trophies left, right and centre from the moment you first press the start button. Perhaps the developers should have made them a bit more challenging in order to keep people playing or longer.

Super Destronaut DX is an enjoyable game though and suits the PlayStation Vita perfectly. I guess it’s a case of you get what you pay for at the end of the day. £3.99 is small price to pay for an hour or so’s enjoyment. Just don’t expect much more than that.

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