Sunday, 17 November 2013

Olav and the Lute

Olav and the Lute is a magical point and click adventure which has been heavily influenced by early Nineties game, Loom. While it only takes around 25 minutes or so to complete, its delightful mechanics, sombre setting and chunky art style make this a perfect game to play while enjoying a coffee.

Olav awakens in a deep underground cave and soon finds a fine magical lute and a broken loom. Using his newly acquired wooden instrument, Olav sets out on a quest to reactivate the loom - a task he hopes will return him to the surface.

By learning and playing music patterns, Olav can manipulate the environment and objects within it. For example, freezing a fast flowing river allows Olav to cross, while healing a giant of a terrible hangover allows the hooded protagonist to gain access to a new part of the world.

Experimenting with the four-note melodies sometimes has nothing more than a cosmetic effect, but it's fun to mess around with the environment and see what happens when a tune is played.

Olav and the Lute was created by Shelly Alon, Quirin Nebas and Daniel and Johann von Appen and is free to either download or play in your browser HERE

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Puppeteer - PlayStation 3

With its stunning presentation, wonderful art style and delightful theatrical flourishes, Puppeteer has upstaged many big name titles this year to become one of my favourite games of 2013.

Essentially, it’s a side-scrolling platform caper, but there's so much style packed into this dark, twisted pantomime that Puppeteer often feels like a completely different beast. The game follows the adventures of Kutaro, a young scamp whose soul is taken by the evil - and wonderfully named - Moon Bear King and poured into the discombobulated body of a wooden puppet.

What makes Puppeteer so special is that all the action takes place on stage in a quaint theatre, where an unseen audience whoop, cheer and applaud valiant deeds, and gasp and squeal in terror as the Moon Bear King and his minions wreak havoc. It's a quite brilliant touch and helps give Puppeteer a truly marvellous atmosphere.

Because of the game's setting, Acts are introduced by the parting of red velvet curtains, while background sets shift and change on the fly with a handmade charm not seen since Sackboy bumbled his way on to the PlayStation 3 back in 2008.
Kutaro leaps through the gorgeous sets collecting shiny trinkets and evading all manner of devious critters. But while the platforming antics are fairly standard fare, Puppeteer throws in a few neat ideas to mix things up.

The first is Ying Yang, a bedraggled feline Who the player controls via the right stick. This magical flying cat can interact with the backdrops, allowing the player to uncover secrets, snuffle out hidden golden shards and free the children who have been imprisoned by the grizzly Moon Bear King.

Kutaro also gets his little wooden hands on Cerberus early in the game - a pair of enchanted scissors which enables our puppet hero to cut through environments and slice up troublesome foes. But that's not all, as you make your way through the game, Kutaro uncovers more knick-knacks to help him on his quest.

As if this wasn't enough for Kutaro to contend with, the cheeky rapscallion has lost his head and is forced to collect makeshift noggins as he scampers around. Each of these imaginative objects is imbued with special powers and experimenting with them and watching the accompanying animation is another of Puppeteer's visual charms.
The game packs in a lot of content and there are plenty of reasons to go back and revisit the levels once you've initially polished them off. There are heads to collect and fabulous picture books to unlock, complete with wonderful paper-style animation and narrated brilliantly by Stephen Greif, who gives a blinding performance all the way through this rip-roaring adventure.

Collected heads can also be viewed, each one featuring a lovely little vignette and the models can be spun and manipulated for a closer peek at the exquisite art style. Puppeteer is also the first game since Batman: Arkham City that I played through in 3D and it truly shines. The depth of the theatre sets look splendid, while objects and characters are thrown around the screen making making it a visual treat from start to finish.

It's a spellbinding title that has me completely smitten. Even with the imminent launch of the next generation of consoles and the promise of bigger and better games, this magical title will definitely be in my top 10 come the end of the year... oh yes it will!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Luigi's Mansion 2 - 3DS

When the ever bashful Luigi reluctantly entered the spotlight without his more famous brother in 2002's Luigi's Mansion - a GameCube launch title - there was a smattering of grumbling from some, who were disappointed that Nintendo chose not to unveil a fresh Mario platformer to kick-start their dinky box of tricks.
    However, Luigi's Mansion - despite being a rather short caper used mostly to highlight the GameCube's technical fizz - proved to be an enjoyable little gem, which is now, I'm happy to say, fondly remembered.
    Earlier this year, Nintendo finally saw fit to release a spooky sequel and with Halloween only a few days away, it's the perfect time to revisit this gem of a game on 3DS.
    Professor E. Gadd has been happily studying ghostly goings-on in a variety of spooky locales when the Dark Moon above his base in Evershade Valley shatters, turning the once friendly apparitions into mischievous rascals. Who better to sort out this phantom menace than the experienced - if utterly terrified - Luigi? Armed with the wonderfully titled Poltergust 5000, Luigi reluctantly agrees to help the professor by Hoovering up these translucent tykes across five sprawling levels and restore some sanity back to the once peaceful valley.
    The Poltergust 5000 might be nothing more than a modified vacuum cleaner, but it's not just for cleaning up dusty corners and sucking up cobwebs. Luigi uses it to capture ghosts of all shapes and sizes, but first he must stun them with his trusty torch. What follows is a paranormal game of tug of war, as Luigi clatters around the fabulously detailed rooms, frantically wrestling with the obstinate spooks. It's a hugely enjoyable activity, too, and it can be quite a challenge thanks to a decent variety of ghosts who are intent on making life as uncomfortable as possible for the industrious Luigi.
    Later in the game, new elements are added which make Luigi's task even harder, but it rarely becomes frustrating and causes the player to think quickly and change tactics on the fly.
   But even when he's not ghostbusting, Luigi has plenty to keep him occupied. The five huge locations Luigi is forced to visit contain a wonderful array of fiendish puzzles and it's to the game's credit that they never feel stale or lose their focus throughout the course of the lengthy adventure.
    Exploration is a key element and rooting around in gloomy corners amply rewards the player, with the Poltergust 5000 used to snaffle out of reach coins, pull dusty curtains away from grimy windows to reveal shiny trinkets, blow aside rugs to reveal secret switches, and expose glittering gems which had previously been squirrelled away in the game's glorious environments. The whole experience is underpinned with eye-popping art direction, amazing animation, a terrific soundtrack, an extraordinary eye for detail, while a healthy seam of humour runs throughout, causing the player to chuckle away at some of the ludicrous sights.
    While the haunted environments he scuttles around in are magnificent, it's Luigi himself who proves to be the star of the show. He nervously glances around as he creeps about, leaps in the air with a startled yelp if he discovers a supernatural spectacle and all the while his wee knees knock together in terrified tension. He also hums to himself to keep his flagging spirits up, an act which is beautifully choreographed with the game's soundtrack.
    But Luigi's latest adventure isn't perfect and it occasionally stumbles. The constant interruptions from the professor - he contacts Luigi via a bit of technical wizardry in the shape of a humble Nintendo DS far too often - quickly begins to grate, while the mission-based structure of the game can be annoying. Too often Luigi is teleported back to the prof's lab just when things are getting interesting, leaving the player slightly frustrated that they can't snoop around and explore to their heart’s content. I suppose the bite-sized missions have been crafted to suit the mobile nature of the 3DS but it's still frustrating when all the player wants to do is see what new terrors lurk around the next corner.
    Multiplayer has been included, which sees teams of up to four people - either online or via local multiplayer - partake in three ghostly activities. These provide short-term fun, but never match the sheer scope and variety of the single player campaign.
    An intelligent and instantly appealing game, Luigi's Mansion 2 is bursting with creative ideas which, for the most part, are implemented perfectly. So this Halloween lock the door, turn out the lights, put the headphones on and experience one of the finest games on 3DS.

Monday, 21 October 2013


Over the course of the last year or so, I've backed many diverse projects on Kickstarter - from the OUYA console and board game Dungeon Roll, to animated graphic novel Niko and the Sword of Light and delicious puzzle game Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake. But last weekend I stumbled across a game which has completely captured my imagination thanks to its setting, subject matter, delightful handcrafted visuals and music.
    Beeswing by Jack King-Spooner takes its inspiration from games such as The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Illusion of Gaia, Earthbound, To The Moon and the Secret of Mana series, but it's immediately clear this will be a game that will tread its own path.
    Jack has drawn from his experiences of growing up in Beeswing - a small village in rural Scotland and a place where all the residents have a tale to tell. He will blend true stories will fiction to create a rich experience with interweaving tales focusing on childhood, community and growing older. Refreshingly, Beeswing will have no combat or puzzles and will instead concentrate on characters and setting - something the aforementioned To The Moon managed so successfully.
    The visuals are already looking rather special, with Jack blending various styles such as watercolour, graphite sketches and clay animation to frame the game's narrative structure. Not only that, but he is also recording the game's musical score which is already sounding superb.
    The game has headed to Kickstarter to enable Jack to finish the project and he also plans to make a physical copy of the game to backers who pledge £35 or more. In fact, the Kickstarter rewards are incredibly generous, with a mere £5 netting you early access to the game, the game upon release and a selection of musical tracks. Throw £10 Jack's way and he'll give you all that plus five other games from various up-and-coming developers.
    The Kickstarter pitch is extremely humble and Jack is looking for a very modest £2250 to complete the project. As I write, he is fast approaching that total after just a few days on Kickstarter so it's looking good so far.
    In my opinion, we need more of this type of game, one which encourages creativity, careful thought and respect for the world around you - and the fact it has no combat is a real plus point in my book. It should be quite a journey and it's one I'm really looking forward to taking.
    Check out Jack's Kickstarter page HERE and pledge some cash if you like what you see.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Toren is back and more beautiful than ever

Back in September 2011, I posted about Toren, a visually beautiful adventure game by Brazilian developer Swordtales.

Not much information was available about the game, but a new video has surfaced ahead of the 2014 Independent Games Festival which shows off much more of what we can expect from this stunning looking title.

As I initially wrote, the game is based inside an ancient tower, where a young girl is kept prisoner and the themes running through the game are based around discovery and growing up.

Ico comparisons are inevitable, with Toren's setting echoing a similar theme to Team Ico's classic, and hopefully we'll learn more about the game in the months to come. You can watch the trailer HERE

 Toren is currently in development for PC, Mac and Linux.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD - Wii U

When it comes to repackaging its past, no one does it quite like Nintendo. They have repeatedly blown the dust from old game carts from previous consoles and released them on various formats, especially titles from the NES, SNES and N64 era - although, infuriatingly, still no sign of Pilotwings 64.

The company has also been castigated for retreading familiar ground from some quarters, regurgitating updated versions of popular first-party tiles such as Mario Kart, Smash Bros, Donkey Kong, Animal Crossing, Pikmin, Mario platformers and Zelda. But Nintendo always manage to pull out the stops to make these core titles worth investigating and it's this quality which draws people to Nintendo's consoles. And that leads us neatly to Nintendo's most recent first-party reboot - a remake of GameCube classic The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker HD.

At its release back in 2003, there was a great deal of negative reaction to the game's visuals - a criticism I never personally understood. Perhaps people were expecting more realism from a new Zelda game and The Wind Waker's cell-shaded visual style jarred with their expectations. However, because of the decision to go with a highly stylised look a decade ago, time has been incredibly kind to this splendid adventure - especially as the game is now presented in glorious pin-sharp high definition.

While Zelda games are known for their devious dungeon designs, familiar weapons and hulking great bosses, it is impossible to go any further without talking a bit more about The Wind Waker's graphics. The visuals are enchanting, boasting rich and vibrant colours, spellbinding lighting effects and wonderful animation - it is quite incredible and one of the most attractive game worlds you'll ever find yourself in. Thankfully, The Wind Waker has much more going for it that just an eye-popping visual charm - underneath the glorious fresh paint job is a classic Zelda adventure which, in my opinion, stands side-by-side with anything else from the Zelda series.

The dungeons and their puzzles have been wonderfully devised and there are several stand-out moments for the series woven into the fabric of the game. But it's the decision to have Link traverse this vast and beautifully realised world by boat which really stands out and is one of the game's crowning glories.

There's something magical about heading out to sea with Link at the helm of the mysterious King of Red Lions, swiftly cutting through the waves and continuously moving ever onwards on the quest for adventure. There are plenty of islands to explore and as new items unlock as you spend more time with the game, returning to areas peppered across the archipelago throws up an abundance of mysterious charms. Splashing about in the salty sea spray and sailing away from the main quest also throws up a galleon-full of wonderful secrets and a beguiling collection of charismatic characters to converse with, making this chapter of Link's adventures one of the very best.

The threat from adversaries is never far away, but The Wind Waker's combat is rather good, making these bouts of hack and slashing highly enjoyable. While going toe-to-toe with enemies could never be described as complex, with Link's ever growing arsenal of weapons - including some old favourites - it is rarely boring. Add to that the use of handy button prompts which allow our green-clad hero to dodge, weave and hurdle opponents opening up weak points, and these frequent scraps are allowed to flow perfectly.

The Wii U control pad is used to great effect and although simple, it allows the player to swap items on the fly, while also acting as a handy map - both in dungeons and while cutting a swathe through the expansive seas. It can't be underestimated how this small change affects gameplay as there's now no need to pause the game to fuddle about with inventory management.

Despite its age, The Wind Waker looks and feels like a completely new game. Those who played and loved the original will warm to this beautiful version, while newcomers are in for a treat as they are blown gently through this quite incredible game.

Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is quite simply one of the most magical and beautiful video games ever created and a game everyone should experience first-hand.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

24 hours of Monster Hunter for charity

I've been playing and writing about games for longer than I can remember, so I thought I would put my skills to good use and raise money for The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.

On the weekend of October 11-13th, I'll be playing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on Wii U for 24 hours straight, stopping only for toilet breaks, coffee, the occasional snack and to sharpen outrageously huge longswords and forage for blue mushrooms and whetstones. It's going to be a gruelling play session but I'm hoping people will throw words of encouragement my way on Facebook and Twitter. I'll also be using both these sites to keep everyone up to date on how I'm getting on.

The venture is in conjunction with Edinburgh Sick Kids Friends Foundation - a charity which provides funding over and above NHS provision to help make time spent in hospital better for young patients and their families.

I know times are tough for everyone these days, but if you are able to donate even a small amount, your efforts would be very much appreciated both by myself and the charity. Even if you can't afford to make a donation, please spread the word and cheer me on from the sidelines. It's going to be a crazy 24 hours!

Here's a link to my Just Giving page, where you can make a donation:

Wish me luck!

Update: Well, I survived my 24 hours and had a blast in the process. I started flagging with around five hours to go, but a cracking online session with three Twitter friends raised my spirits and I finished up with a few low rank quests as my fingers had started to go to sleep.This is the final photo I took, and I think it captures how I felt at the end perfectly! Thanks for all the support.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Wonderful 101 - Wii U

It's safe to say that the lure of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and The Wonderful 101 were enough to twist my arm and persuade me to buy a Wii U. Monster Hunter was - as expected - incredible and still remains
in my top games of the year, so could The Wonderful 101 possibly live up to my lofty expectations, too? The answer is mixed and while the game is truly wonderful (sorry, I couldn't resist) in places, some niggles with the game's controls sour the experience slightly, but more of that later.
    The story follows the Wonderful 100 - you are the 101st member - a gallant band of masked superheroes who are in the midst of a titanic struggle against the alien GEATHJERK army - a mob who are intent on destroying the world. It's all a bit cliched, but as a framework to hang the blistering action on, it works perfectly and there's a huge dollop of humour thrown in to keep the story light-hearted and fresh.
    The twist with The Wonderful 101 is that you don't control a single member of this mighty force - you actually control all of them simultaneously. You also have the ability to fuse your heroes together to create mighty weapons of mass destruction, including a brilliant blue sword, a giant gun and an apartment-sized fist, with which to smash the robotic extraterrestrial menace.
    Platinum Games were widely applauded for the implementation of deep and satisfying combat systems in games such as Bayonetta and Vanquish and that rich tradition continues here. However, you will need to spend a bit of time experimenting here to get under the game's skin and draw the most from the experience.

    The action is relentless - rarely does the game pause for breath - with the player buffeted between one eye-popping boss battle to the next even bigger showdown. Learning which formations to unleash on these daunting foes is half the battle and finding their weak point and exploiting it with style and panache is a great feeling. Mind bending combinations can be pulled off and the game allows players to mix and match multiple fighting styles simultaneously to cause complete carnage. These commands are issued either with the Wii U's right stick or by drawing a variety of shapes on the touch pad. It takes a while to get used to this, but perseverance pays off, even if the command input sometimes doesn't quite register properly in the heat
of battle.
    Other issues arise when the action switches from the TV to the pad's screen when your bustling mob are indoors. Everything gets far too cramped and controlling the camera can be more difficult than it really needs to be. That said, it's an ambitious project and one that at least attempts to use the Wii U's gamepad for something other than an extra inventory screen.
    To reward experimentation and effectiveness while battering the alien forces into submission, medals as dished out on the completion of levels, giving the game plenty of replayability for those who simply need to Hoover up all those shiny platinum medals. Collecting achievements in the shape of bottle caps also gives the player plenty to think about while saving the planet.
    Visually, The Wonderful 101 is an absolute triumph, with its magical isometric vantage point giving a fresh perspective on the action, while the stunning tilt-shift effect, bright colours and clean lines simply add to the game's splendid visual appeal. The characters, too, are a delight, with the bunch beautifully detailed and bursting with charm and character. They gleefully slap down GEATHJERK forces with aplomb and enthusiastically scamper across the screen with vim and vigour, accompanied at all times by a stirring soundtrack.
    So while The Wonderful 101 occasionally misses a beat, it's a unique and refreshing all-action experience which rewards the player handsomely. There's really nothing quite like it on the market and is yet another corker of a game on Nintendo's home console.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Wipeout HD - PS3

While desperately clearing my PlayStation 3's hard drive to make space for yet another download, I flicked through all the screenshots from the past few years and came across a bunch from various titles. However, it was the pictures I took of Wipeout HD which caught my eye. I'm actually not a huge fan of the series, but the picture editor included with the game really grabbed me and I spent more time messing around with it than actually playing the game. So, here are a few of my favourites.


Saturday, 24 August 2013

Rime - PlayStation 4

Spanish developer Tequila Works are leaving the shadowy world of Deadlight to focus on something much brighter and - in my mind - much more interesting.
    Rime is a glorious looking, cell shaded adventure which - at first glance - reminds me of a delicious mash-up of Ico, Journey and Zelda: The Windwaker and takes the form of an open world trek, exploring sun-kissed landscapes and ancient ruins.
    A trailer was shown at Gamescom last week, which featured a young boy scampering along a beach, running atop grass covered coastal hills, leaping across rocky outcrops and warding off shadowy figures with nothing more than a simple torch.
    It looked magnificent and, while details remain vague, I'm really looking forward to seeing more of this delightful looking game.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Unholy Heights - PC

Satan, Beelzebub, Old Nick - the Devil has many different names but no matter what people have chosen to call him across the millennia, he is usually portrayed in exactly the same way, with cloven hooves, forked tail and horns and is usually wreathed in dancing flames. However, I think it's safe to say that he's never been portrayed as a mustachioed, middle-age landlord with a receding hairline before. Yet, that is exactly what Old Nick looks like in Unholy Heights, a neat little game available via Playism.
    Yes, the economic downturn that has forced nations to their knees and brought misery to millions has even reached the fiery depths of Hell. Bankers, I'm sure you'll agree, have a lot to answer for.
    Forced to leave the warmth of home behind to become financially secure again, the Devil has packed his belongings, crossed the Acheron and built an apartment block slap bang in the middle of fertile countryside. But he isn't looking for students to rip off or an average Joe to reside in his block. Instead, he's looking to cram monsters of all shapes and sizes into his otherworldly development - Unholy Heights.
    Not only do these demons and mythical creatures pay rent, they also rally to the Devil's call and will fight brave adventurers who would love nothing more than to steal the Devil's wealth.
    Monsters wander to the apartments, take a look at the noticeboard and either decide they want to stay, or toddle off to find somewhere better to rest their weary heads. If they are interested in staying, a simple click sends them into one of the available rooms.
    A rag-tag collection of misfits, demons and mythological creatures come and go, each with their own fighting style and having a decent mix is always advisable because it doesn't take long for the fighting to begin.

Once an intruder is spotted, the player has to knock on doors and rouse his demonic army. However, sometimes, this motley crew are out and about doing their own thing, leaving the player short-handed and with limited options. Once engaged in battle, it's wise to keep a close eye on things, because if your tenants die, they are gone forever. Luckily, a simple click sends them scurrying back, while another creature takes its place. Defeat the forces of good, and you'll be rewarded with cash.
    Missions are also available on the block's noticeboard. These are colour coded and completing them unlocks items, new monsters and bundles of cash, which can be spent upgrading rooms, buying items for your tenants, or increasing the size of Unholy Heights.
    Your residents aren't shy and ask for improvements in their rooms, which obviously comes at a cost - but keeping the little blighters happy is certainly worth the extra effort. Of course, you can evict them if you like, or even crank up the rent if they are being particularly bothersome.
    It gets deeper, too, with some monster breeds disliking others and there's even a romantic angle to proceedings, with couples getting together and having baby monsters. The benefit of this is that rather than just one demon residing in a room, you can have multiple bodies - a larger fighting force - and increase the rent as a result. However, more demons means more demands and keeping  everyone in Unholy Heights happy is somewhat akin to spinning plates but it is an essential component of this cracking little game.
    All of the single screen action is wrapped up in a quite splendid soundtrack, which strums and whistles away beautifully in the background and gives things a light-hearted feel, even though battles are anything but.
    There is plenty of depth here - although not everything is crystal clear - and it's one of those titles which effortlessly sucks away hours of your time and quick 10 minute sessions regularly turn into hours of futzing around with your merry band of raucous creatures.
   The game is cheap - less than a cup of coffee - and you really do get a lot for your money. There's also a demo should you wish to try before you buy. Visit: the Playism website for more information on this accessible and entertaining little game.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Pikmin 3 - Wii U

Incredibly, it's been 11 years since Captain Olimar first plucked a ruby red Pikmin from the soil of an alien planet and embarked on a quest to find the missing parts of his ruined ship, the S.S Dolphin on the GameCube.
    The brainchild of Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto subsequently spawned a sequel which catapulted the cult classic through the arboretum into mainstream consciousness.
    Evidence of the game's growing appeal can be found by merely glancing at Nintendo's work over recent years. Transferring data from the Wii to the Wii U was anything but a slog thanks to a wonderful animation sequence involving the plant-like Pikmin. Olimar and some of his Pikmin chums are coming to the next Smash Bros game, they made an appearance in Wii U launch title Nintendo Land and nabbing a Pikmin hat in Animal Crossing: New Leaf always brings a smile.
    Now, Pikmin 3 has landed on Wii U, bringing the much-loved series into the high definition era for the first time and with it, a whole heap of expectations from a  Wii U audience starved of first-party Nintendo titles.
    The people of Koppai are running out of food and decide to launch a trio of intrepid explorers - Captain Charlie, Alph and Brittany - into the vast vacuum of space on board the SS Drake to search for vittles to feed their dying planet.
    However, a near disaster while entering a suitable planet's atmosphere scatters the three astronauts and so begins the latest entry in the Pikmin series.

Pikmin 3's gameplay isn't a radical departure to what has gone before - it's still an action/strategy hybrid, where your chosen astronaut romps about beautiful environments, recruiting an army of Pikmin followers to bash through obstacles and drag fruit and assorted trinkets back to the safety of the spacecraft before night descends.
    Once darkness falls, nocturnal creatures emerge, chomping down any Pikmin that have been accidentally been left behind. It can be stress-inducing as the sun sets and you frantically leg it towards safety before suddenly realising you've left a handful of your colourful charges out in the wild.
    However, despite the grim outcome once dusk settles over the land, there's no rush to accomplish tasks and the player is free to get their hands dirty rooting around in flower beds and snuffling out new paths to their heart's content - as long as there is enough fruit juice on board the SS Drake to keep the pint-sized space explorers sustained.
    Fruit that was hastily abandoned in the rush to get to safety the night before is still there the next morning and by taking things at a more relaxed pace, you learn to appreciate the work Nintendo has put into crafting this delightful world.
    The Pikmin come in various flavours, each type having its own strengths and weaknesses and choosing how best to deploy them around the luscious gameworld lies at the heart of the Pikmin experience. Red Pikmin, for example are fire resistant, while the yellow blighters conduct electricity, while rock Pikmin are a dab hand at smashing through glass barriers.
Squads can be split, put into groups and divided among the three explorers and this focus on team work becomes vital as you progress through the game.
    Controlling your Pikmin army and flipping between sets is easily handled but despite Nintendo's best efforts to integrate the Wii U's controller, the old Wiimote and nunchuk system works so much better than playing solely on the pad.
Controlling via the Wii U's controller is a fiddly and frustrating business and it jars when compared to the fluid  motion sensing control option. It's something of a missed opportunity and the Wii U pad is quickly cast aside, only ever glanced at occasionally when you need to check a map of the level. Its one saving grace is that the pad can be used to take pictures which can then be uploaded on to Miiverse for the world to see.

    The to HD has had a striking effect and while I've never been one to get overly excited about visuals, seeing the Pikmin world in full, colourful, eye-popping HD really is quite an experience. Every new piece of collected fruit can be rotated and gawped at and it can be a mouth-watering experience, while Nintendo prove once again that when it comes to water effects, they are the best in the business.
    Sound design also stands out and helps give Pikmin 3 its quirky atmosphere. The off-kilter soundtrack plinks and plonks beautifully in the background, while the main characters chirrup away to each other in a garbled tongue in a similar style to characters in Skip Ltd and Punchline's games such as Chibi-Robo, Chulip and Giftpia.
    Aside from the main story mode, there are two others to dive into: Mission and Bingo Battle. Mission is split into three activities: Collect Treasure, Battle Enemies and Defeat Bosses. These are wonderful little timed excursions and can be played either solo or with a friend.
    Bingo Battle is Nintendo at its best and involves a head-to-head competition where players are tasked with finding specific fruit and enemies to complete a line on a bingo card. It's a riot, with players scampering desperately around the level in a bid to outdo their opponent. It's a simple idea, but Nintendo execute it brilliantly and is a mode which will keep everyone laughing and shouting long into the night.
     When it comes to first-party titles, Nintendo are hard to beat. Their core titles are consistently good across all platforms and Pikmin 3 illustrates this perfectly. It might not be radically different to previous games but the Japanese giant have carved out a slice of delightful entertainment which shouldn't go unnoticed. Wonderful and uplifting, Pikmin 3 is a gem.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Rymdkapsel - iOS/Android/PlayStation Mobile

Over the last week or so, I've been spending chunks of my time playing a few strategy titles. I'm slowly working my way through the wonderful and complex world of Europa Universalis IV, but late at night, when I'm looking for something to chill out with, my attention has been fully focused on Rymdkapsel by Martin Jonasson on iOS.
    Presented in a beautiful minimalist style with a hypnotic, droning soundtrack by Niklas Strom, your task is to construct a sprawling space station and in doing so, uncover the secrets of mysterious monoliths which lie scattered across the vast expanses of space.
    Starting out with just a duo of intrepid explorers, you have to build reactors, become self-sufficient by creating food supplies, extract minerals from gas clouds, fortify the station with weapons and create living quarters for your fledgling, spacefarers to thrive.
    The twist is that at certain times, your Tetris-style complex comes under attack from snaking enemies and, as the game progresses, these attacks become more frequent and deadly. Balancing construction with exploration and defence is the central mechanic and it's beautifully executed.
    It all works flawlessly thanks to a refined control system, which simply requires the player to swipe and tap to command the pixel like crew. Games last upwards of an hour and it's a real test of nerve as you try and keep all the plates spinning as the alien enemy swoops in with deadly intent.
    One of the most absorbing games I've played this year and a title I'll keep coming back to in the weeks and months to come.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Last of Us - PS3

Since the PlayStation 3 launched in 2007, Naughty Dog's games have peppered the console's lifespan,
etching out memorable marks throughout the course of the last six years. But as the console prepares to hand over the reins to the PlayStation 4, Naughty Dog has given the console one final hurrah in the shape of The Last of Us.
    While their Uncharted series was centered around suave and assured all-action hero Nathan Drake and his penchant for rooting out ancient treasure in far flung corners of the globe, The Last of Us treads a very different path.
    Twenty years after a fungal plague has turned the majority of the population of America into feral,
zombie-like mutants, grizzled protagonist Joel is forced to take a journey across America with 14-year-old Ellie, who has a secret that must be protected at all costs. What follows over the next 15 or so hours is an emotional, bleak and at times uplifting story, which is expertly delivered thanks to Naughty Dog's technical expertise, a cast of magnificent voice actors and a script which frequently tugs at the heart strings.
    But while the post-apocalyptic backdrop and zombie masses are certainly nothing new in video games, Naughty Dog has decided not to go into this game with all guns blazing. Success in The Last of Us is down to what you have to hand rather than how many guns you can cram into your backpack, and Joel and Ellie's survival is more likely to be down to a sturdy length of pipe rather than an assault rifle.
    Crafting items is a key part of the game and while The Last of Us is a linear adventure, it often pays to scamper off the beaten track to scavenge for materials to cobble together crude bombs, knives and medi packs - all of which are essential if you hope to safely traverse the ravaged landscape.
    Stealth is actively encouraged, not only because ammo is scarce, but because gunfire draws enemies to your position. The infected mutants who shamble menacingly around react to the slightest sound, while aggressive human survivors sweep locations in packs and react with alarming accuracy, diving for cover should the fireworks start.
    But what really make The Last of Us such a memorable experience is its astonishing atmosphere, spine-tingling narrative, eye-popping visuals and excellent sound work. Claustrophobic and decaying interiors packed full of danger and toxic spores give way to outdoor marvels such as beautiful sunsets, lush vegetation, verdant forests and eye-popping cityscapes, while the dusty, haunting score pins everything together beautifully.
    The Last of Us does so much right, than when it does put a foot wrong, the results are jarring. QTE button stabs have been a staple of Naughty Dog's games this generation and unfortunately they make a return here.
Lifting gates requires constant - and completely unnecessary - button presses, while the game also likes to reuse the same tired solutions to environmental puzzles.
    Finding pristine ladders among the chaos and rubble to give the pair access to hard to reach ledges
is a trick used far too often, as is using floating wooden pallets to ferry Ellie across stretches of water. Even Ellie is exasperated by this mind-numbing repetition, voicing her displeasure at one point at
having to once again be transported across choppy water.
    But these niggles aside, you have to take your hat off to Naughty Dog for getting back on track after the disappointing Uncharted 3 and delivering a sobering tale of love, loss and hope which will live long in the memory.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Dungeoning - PC/Mac

Over the last few weeks, I've been delighted to see Nick from Physmo release more screens from their forthcoming game titled The Dungeoning.

Physmo have a growing reputation for releasing quality games, with Mos Speedrun, GhostRacer and Seaglass already under their belt. The Dungeoning is looking splendid so far but when Nick told me this was a Roguelike platformer, I almost cried tears of pure ASCII joy.

The Dungeoning is currently deep in development for PC and Mac, and Physmo have announced the game will feature a variety of weapons, projectile-based magic, levelling up and - most importantly - permadeath.

No release date has been announced yet but The Dungeoning is definitely one to keep your eye on. In the meantime, gaze at this small selection of screens from the current build and head over to the official Physmo site for more information.

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Bridge - PC

There is something quite endearing - and familiar - about The Bridge's lead character. Resplendent in blazer, diamond-emblazoned jumper, well-knotted tie and round spectacles, he is an intriguing fellow - and the mystery behind him and the gravity-defying world he inhabits is just as mesmirising.

The Bridge is a puzzler, which likes to futz with gravity, mess with your sense of perspective and takes great delight in being responsible for melting your brain with its collection of gravity-shifting conundrums.

Clearly taking its visual cue from the head-scratching drawings by Dutch artist MC Escher, The Bridge is a thoroughly absorbing title and one which fuses simple controls with visually complex levels.

The player is able to walk the protagonist left and right and can rotate the screen both clockwise and anti-clockwise, with the ultimate goal of reaching a door which then whisks our smartly-presented gentleman into another, more complicated warped world.

Of course, that sounds simple but The Bridge is anything but. Snaffling keys unlocks these doors, but the act of collecting them is a lot tougher than you might initially imagine. They have a tendency to slip into the ether through gaps in the levels as you gingerly rotate the world, dangle tantalisingly just out of reach and perch precariously on ledges.

Even when you manage to collect these monochrome treasures, you still have to navigate your way to the exit - no easy task, especially when giant grinning stone marbles are intent on erasing you from existence and quirky vortexes like to swallow everything and anything that gets too close. Thankfully, The Bridge lets the player rewind time so they are free to finely tune their tactics and this nifty Prince of Persia-like mechanic keeps the game ticking along nicely.

But even though some of the puzzles are maddening - especially when polarity is introduced - the sublime monochrome pencil sketch visuals and gentle music keep the player engaged and seeing what fresh mental torture awaits keeps the player moving doggedly on.

The Bridge, then, is a rather fine game and like any good puzzler there's a wonderful sense of accomplishment when you finally figure out a level. Polished, brilliantly presented and delightfully devilishly, a stroll across this bridge into another world is a trip you should definitely take.

This review initially appeared on the Gert Lush Gaming website. Thanks to Jim for allowing me to post the review here.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Kentucky Route Zero: Act I

I could ramble on at great length about the first act of Kentucky Route Zero. But instead, I'll merely mention the strange characters, the slick art style, the unsettling atmosphere and the joy of driving around its spindly, monochrome map learning more about this eerie twilight-bathed land and its inhabitants. Why won't I go into more detail? Simply, Kentucky Route Zero is a game full of charms best discovered first-hand.

Act one of this fine point and click adventure is available here and although short, it is well worth the asking price. I can't wait to see where developer Cardboard Computer (Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy) plan on taking Conway and his old, rattling truck in the months to come.