Monday, 27 April 2009

Little King's Story - Wii

From its thrilling classical score and delicious chalk drawing cutscenes, to its cast of charming characters, garbled narrative and sparkling visuals, Little King's Story is a majestic triumph from the team at CiNG and Rising Star Games.

It clearly takes elements from Nintendo's much-loved Pikmin franchise, but weaves them together with a broad range of its own fanciful ideas to create one of the best games I've played this side of Mario Galaxy.

You play the part of a young boy named Corobo, a lad who accidentally stumbles across a fabled golden crown while out in the woods. Placing the crown on his head, Corobo is transformed into the king of the land of Alpoko - a sleepy, ramshackle kingdom, inhabited by layabouts and loafers.

Taking advice from the marvelous mustachioed Howser the Bull Knight, you set out to transform Alpoko into a bustling, wealthy and all-conquering kingdom.

Starting out by recruiting townsfolk to search for treasure to build the nation's barracks and farmhouses, the seeds of your kingdom are sewn. What follows is an engrossing, slow-burning romp that encompasses global conquest, genocide, religion, epic battles, exploration and expansion...not forgetting the rescuing of fair maidens - all wrapped up in mouth-watering cutesy visuals which belie the game's darker themes.

Initially you can only command five people to explore the pastoral landscapes, with your small army of subjects diligently snaking conga-like behind the pint-sized king. As your expand your horizons new jobs and the ability to command more people becomes available, and each of your citizens can be transformed from skivers into worthwhile members of your fledgling realm. Soldiers, farmers, carpenters, lumberjacks, hunters and miners are just some of the noble professions awaiting your loyal subjects.

Each job class is essential to make progress, and weighing up what mix of characters to take with you on a particular mission requires careful thought. After all, there's nothing worse than celebrating a famous victory, only to find the way across the river is blocked as you didn't bring a carpenter to build a bridge.

Control is via the Wiimote and nunchuck, although the game completely eschews motion control. This is somewhat surprising considering how well it was implemented in the recent Pikmin ports on Wii, but it's not a huge issue. Pressing down on the d-pad cycles through the character classes, while pressing the 'A' button sends your chosen class into the task at hand.

Order a soldier to investigate a hole in the ground, and they'll simply take a peep down into the inky depths before scuttling back to your side. Send a farmer to take a look, and they'll excitedly dive in to unearth whatever treasure lies beneath. However, sending farmers and carpenters in to do battle with an army of angry cows will result in a massacre.

And you will definitely want to keep your individually named subjects free from harm. If a character dies, they can be resurrected, but it is not guaranteed, so learning to look after your army of chums is of paramount importance...unless, of course, you want to see you citizens in floods of tears.

Little King's Story might fool you into thinking the experience will be on the short side, but it's a huge adventure. Only when you reach roughly the four hour mark does the game truly reveal the gargantuan task ahead. New kingdoms waiting to be conquered litter the map, and what awaits are some of the most thrilling hours you will spend with your Wii.

Little King's story delights at throwing new experiences at you at every turn, and features a truly memorable cast of outrageous and colourful characters who are guaranteed to raise a rye smile. The experience is enhanced by wonderful art direction, outstanding stylised cutscenes, gorgeous lighting effects and a full day/night cycle - although no 480p support, unfortunately.

The game is packed with glorious little touches, and just watching your citizens go about their business is a captivating experience. They go to church and huddle together in conversation and when carpenters aren't busy, they spread out a picnic rug and have a smoke!

And there's more - people leave messages for you in the Suggestion Box most mornings, letting you know how well - or badly - you are running the country, citizens fall in love, get married, have kids, while at every turn, there seems to be something new to buy for your ever expanding whimsical empire. From small huts to flower shops and shopping centres, Little King's Story doesn't hold back in delivering new sights to keep you playing.

It is one of the most beautiful, charming and compelling games I have played in years. This is a game that should have TV advertising behind it, as it deserves to sell millions. Magnificent.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

I-Fluid - PC

Independent French developer Exkee have produced a cracking little physics-based game which brings to mind arcade classic Marble Madness fused with console racer Micro Machines.

The premise is extremely simple - guide a globule of water across kitchen tables and messy desks, making sure you avoid all manner of obstacles in the process.

I-Fluid is probably the only game where a sheet of paper or a rack of cooling cupcakes can kill you. Paper absorbs your tiny droplet, while the heat from the fresh-out-the-oven cakes will cause you to evaporate.

Thankfully, though, these everyday assault courses are littered with objects such as pens, pencils, rulers, and cereal boxes, which help you traverse the levels. Fruit also plays a part, as touching the surface of an apple or orange rehydrates your globule.

It's a wonderful idea and it's a real joy exploring each of the 15 beautiful locations and a thrill to see what lies around the corner.

There are also various modes to delve into, including an entertaining Time Attack mode, which can become very competitive if there are a few of you playing.

Control is straightforward, with the WASD keys used to move, while the mouse adjusts the camera. Music can start to grate after a while, but for the price, it's something I can live with.

The retail version costs £9.99, while Steam users can download it for just £5.99. For that price, PC gamers would be mad to miss it.

Images courtesy of Exkee

Monday, 20 April 2009

Digital Soaps

Looking for a gift for your gaming obsessed partner? Can't decide what to buy? Well, why not hop over to Digitalsoaps for a perfect present?

From classic controllers to keyboards and monitors, Digitalsoaps is packed with fun gaming-related soaps.

My wife bought me the 360 controller below and it looks so good, I really don't want to destroy it by using it.

So head on over to their never know, it might just help you clean up your high scores...

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - The Director's Cut - DS

The Nintendo DS is the perfect platform for point and click adventures, so it is somewhat baffling why more developers haven’t utilised its touchscreen technology to drag forgotten favourites into the 21st century.

However, seizing the opportunity, Revolution Software have brought their excellent 1996 adventure to the console, with a few added bells and whistles.

Switching between American tourist George Stobbart and French journalist Nico Collard, the story unfolds as you slowly become embroiled in a dark and murky international quest involving the fabled Knights Templar.

It’s an engaging story - helped along by gorgeous hand-painted backgrounds(drawn by Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame), wonderful character animation and a soundtrack which sets the tone perfectly.

Players of the original will notice this director’s cut starts with the focus firmly on Nico, as she attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of a local businessman. This shift in focus adds an extra layer to the tale and helps flesh out her background story.

Along with this new angle to the adventure, Revolution have added a few puzzles, such as a sliding blocks mini-game and a jigsaw type head scratcher. They aren't too taxing and are fun asides to the main quest.

Rather than simply take the old interface and port it to the DS, Revolution have significantly improved the control scheme to perfectly suit the DS's touch screen. Rolling the stylus over objects lights up points of interest which can then be interacted with. It's a neat system and one which is far less frustrating than clicking on every object you see.

Point and click adventures live or die by their logical puzzles, and Broken Sword is a resounding success. It’s extremely rare to find yourself aimlessly trying to use everything in your inventory to solve a conundrum, and instead lateral thinking will see you through most of the game’s puzzles.

If, however, you find yourself stuck, a handy hint menu has been included, which makes the game extremely accessible for those who are new to the genre.

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars: The Director’s Cut is a cracking adventure which proves to be an entertaining trip down memory lane for older players, and a wonderful and rich experience for newcomers.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure - DS

The box art and title might suggest that Henry Hatsworth is just another run of the mill kids' adventure on DS. However, spend five minutes in its company, and you'll discover that it is one of the most interesting, absorbing and downright addictive games currently on the market.

Star of the show is the titular Mr Hatsworth, an dapper monocle-wearing English gent, who, aside from enjoying regular cups of Earl Grey, is on a quest to find a legendary golden suit.

The team at EA have blended a solid 2D platform romp with a match three of a kind puzzle element, which is similar to DS title Puzzle League.

Henry's adventure is played out on the top screen, while the puzzle section appears on the bottom. Any enemy Henry banishes with a quick swish of his sword drops down into the bottom screen, becoming a coloured block in the process.

To permanently get rid of the enemy, the player must match three blocks of the same colour. As the blocks are constantly moving upwards, Henry must dispatch the enemy before it reaches the top, otherwise it will reappear.

While this mixture of play styles sounds complicated, it's actually incredibly easy to switch between the two modes. When matching coloured blocks, Henry's platforming fun pauses, so you're not frantically going between both screens.

Power ups also appear on the bottom screen, such as extra lives and health bonuses. However, the real fun comes when Henry transforms into his robot alter ego by building up his supermeter.

Accompanied by a picture of Henry enjoying a cuppa with some of his old Etonian chums, he instantly becomes all powerful, sweeping away all before him. It's not only fun, but incredibly useful in some of the levels, which can become overcrowded with enemies.

Henry Hatsworth's unique mixture of play styles is a breath of fresh air, and although it packs quite a challenge, you won't rest until you finally manage to complete it. Absolutely brilliant.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Gomibako (Trash Box) - PS3

I bought Gomibako a few weeks ago, but it's taken me a while to actually start playing it properly.

Screenshots might suggest a Tetris-like element to this excellent little puzzle game, but when you boil the core gameplay down, it's actually nothing like it.

Everyday objects such as microwaves, pencils, teapots, baseball bats and brooms fall from the top of the screen into a rubbish bin. Pressing 'X' rotates the item, while a press of the triangle button causes the object to be thrown down into the bin. The aim of the game is to smash every object into tiny bits of debris so the bin doesn't overflow.

Lightbulbs and pencils shatter instantly if they hit something a bit more substantial such as a metal lighter or mug. However, to smash bigger objects, such as a post box or scooter, you need to use something with a bit of weight behind it multiple times.

While smashing everything in sight is fun, the real fireworks start if a burning object such as a lit cigarette is introduced to the bin. This will set any flammable objects ablaze, and by shaking the Sixaxis, you can dislodge loose debris, causing other objects such as futons and wooden bookcases to catch fire.

To really get the party started, a couple of gas canisters and a naked flame causes a massive explosion. These seismic tremors clear the whole bin of rubbish leaving you with more space to store items.

As you progress through the levels, water and oil are introduced. Dropping a fizzing bath bomb into water causes nearby objects to rot and melt away, while oil and fire make a destructive wave.

Objects are introduced to the play area via a conveyor belt system of the right hand side. By pressing L1, you can store an item, which is displayed on the left side of the screen. This is very useful if the bin is nearly full and a huge object is about to enter the play area.

And talking of huge objects, you'll notice that as you make your way through the game's five levels the objects you have to clear become bigger.

Starting out with coins, pens, footballs, staplers and the like, by the fifth level, you find yourself dealing with hulking mountains, skyscrapers and oil refineries.

Another nice touch comes in the shape of objects called Mottainai. Every so often, one of these objects - a diamond ring, statue, piece of cake etc - enters the play area. These must not be destroyed. Instead, the player has to gently place them in the bin so they can be collected by a weird penguin-like creature who patrols the bottom of the screen. It can be incredibly difficult to keep these objects safe as items rain down from above, but doing so rewards the player at the end of the level.

Gomibako also features its fair share of unusual bosses. A pink piggy bank and HD TV are just two of the end of level obstacles which must be smashed within a tight time limit.

Gomibako isn't a long game, however, there are a few modes to mess around with and it features full trophy support, with 13 cups to be discovered.

The game is currently only available via the PSN store in Hong Kong and Japan. However, the Asian version is in English, so hopefully a Western release for Gomibako won't be far away.

Here's the game's official trailer:

Images courtesy of Sony

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

MadWorld - Wii

Coming hot on the heels of the wonderfully entertaining shooter House of the Dead: Overkill, Sega have more gory, over the top fun in store for Wii owners in the shape of MadWorld.

Created by Platinum Games - made up of members of the now defunct Clover Studios, who brought us the beautiful PS2 and Wii title Okami - MadWorld is an arena-style brawler, with the emphasis firmly on racking up huge scores by delivering brutal and stylish combos.

The first thing to grab your attention is the striking art direction. Taking obvious inspiration from Frank Miller's Sin City with a dash of old school 2000AD comics, MadWorld's mostly monochrome palate is a triumph. It might look flat and lifeless in static screenshots, but when the game is in full-flow, it looks incredible.

Rather than limit the player to punches, kicks and throws, MadWorld revels in letting the player utilise the environment to wreak havoc and inflict maximum damage - enemies can be thrown head first into burning bins or down toilets, street signs can be ripped up and used as weapons, bodies can be chopped in half with your chainsaw, while spiked walls can be utilised for particularly nasty finishing moves.

The gruesome action is accompanied by an excellent hip hop heavy soundtrack, while Greg Proops and Futurama's John DiMaggio provide the entertaining and expletive-laden commentary.

While the core gameplay and high production values shine through, MadWorld unfortunately does have its problems. The central gameplay tends to get repetitive fairly quickly and it's definitely best to experience the brutal action in small doses.

Boss battles can infuriate due to their regenerating health bars, while the MadWorld experience is over in a rather abrupt 5-6 hours. Another fly in the ointment is the lack of 480p support. For a game which relies on its stylised visuals to pack a punch, it is somewhat baffling why Sega and Platinum Games left this feature out.

However, for its fun combat and wonderful visual style, MadWorld deserves to be praised. It's an above average title that is sure to become a cult classic.

Images courtesy of Sega