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.